wolfinthewood: Wolf's head in relief from romanesque tympanum at Kilpeck, Herefordshire (Default)
[personal profile] wolfinthewood
Happy New Year!

Yesterday the writings and visual art works of creators who died in the course of 1945 came out of copyright in Britain and the other EC countries. (This does not apply to any of their works that were first published posthumously, nor to translations that were published more recently, or were made by translators who are still alive, or who died less than 70 years ago.)

For several years I have marked the New Year by posting details of some of the authors whose works are coming out of copyright. This year I plan to make two such posts, one today, and another in a day or so.

In this post I shall focus on three British authors of speculative fiction: David Lindsay (b. 1876), E.R. Eddison (b. 1882) and Charles Williams (b. 1886).

Williams, who worked for Oxford University Press, was a close friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and a core member of the informal reading and discussion group known as the Inklings. Eddison was an occasional visitor at meetings of the group. Lewis and Tolkien admired his books. They also greatly admired David Lindsay's science fiction novel A Voyage to Arcturus (1920).


Lewis acknowledged that A Voyage to Arcturus was a major influence on his Ransom trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet [1938], Perelandra [1943] and That Hideous Strength [1945]). This is particularly noticeable with respect to Out of the Silent Planet. But Lindsay's book is wilder and more inventive than anything by Lewis. It is also a much less comfortable read, on several levels. Here is a very short extract, just to give some of the flavour:

It was dense night when Maskull awoke from his profound sleep.…

He felt something hard on his forehead. Putting his hand up, he discovered there a fleshy protuberance the size of a small plum, having a cavity in the middle, of which he could not feel the bottom. Then he also became aware of a large knob on each side of his neck, an inch below the ear.

From the region of his heart, a tentacle had budded. It was as long as his arm, but thin, like whipcord, and soft and flexible.

As soon as he thoroughly realised the significance of these new organs, his heart began to pump. Whatever might, or might not, be their use, they proved one thing - that he was in a new world.

-----------

The 1920 edition was published by Methuen and is extremely scarce. There isn't a single copy listed on Copac, the consolidated online catalogue of the main UK research libraries. Gollancz reprinted the book in 1946. I first read it in the early seventies, in the paperback edition published in the famous Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. For many years I owned a copy but I can't seem to find it. Maybe I got rid of it in one of those desperate attempts to make room for more books…

So I was glad yesterday to find a free e-edition on Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg Australia has The Haunted Woman, Lindsay's second book, which I have never read, but hope to get round to reading soon. For more about Lindsay see Violet Apple, a site dedicated to his life and works.

Ballantine also reissued the fantasy novels of E.R. Eddison. I remember reading them in the seventies, but do not think I ever owned them. His first book, The Worm Ouroboros, is available on the Internet Archive. I have been rereading it, not with much pleasure. I think he overdoes the pseudo-archaic, high-fantasy style, and his one-dimensional, violent characters fail to engage my interest. Moreover, it requires a special sort of cheek to swipe poems by Dunbar, Carew, Herrick, Wotton, and even Shakespeare and incorporate them in your text as anonymous old songs.

Charles Williams was considerably more prolific than Lindsay or Eddison. During his lifetime he published works of literary criticism, theology and biography, as well as poetry, plays and novels. A number of works left in manuscript have been published since his death.

His seven novels are all available on the Project Gutenberg Australia site. They are stories of supernatural occurrences in a contemporary English setting. In War in Heaven (1930) the Holy Grail is located in a country church and this sparks a contest over its possession. In The Greater Trumps (1932) an ancient set of Tarot images is magically misused and its powers run out of control. And so on and so forth. Williams, like his friend Lewis, was a devout Anglican, but I don't find the theological subtext in these books a barrier to their enjoyment, and I still read them with pleasure.

His reputation as a poet rests on his sequence of poems on Arthurian themes. The following poem is from the collection Taliessin Through Logres (1938). Cradlemas, the decadent king, is a character invented by Williams.

The Calling of Arthur

Arthur was young; Merlin met him on the road
Wolfish, the wizard stared, coming from the wild,
black with hair, bleak with hunger, defiled
from a bed in the dung of cattle, inhuman his eyes.

Bold stood Arthur; the snow beat; Merlin spoke:
Now am I Camelot; now am I to be builded.
King Cradlemas sits by Thames; a mask o'ergilded
covers his wrinkled face, all but one eye.

Cold and small he settles his rump in the cushions.
Through the emerald of Nero one short-sighted eye
peers at the pedlars of wealth that stand plausibly by.
The bleak mask is gilded with a maiden's motionless smile.

The high aged voice squeals with callous comfort.
He sits on the bank of Thames, a sea-snail's shell
fragile, fragilely carved, cast out by the swell
on to the mud; his spirit withers and dies.

He withers; he peers at the tide; he squeals.
He warms himself by the fire and eats his food
through a maiden's motionless mouth; in his mood
he polishes his emerald, misty with tears for the poor.

The waste of snow covers the waste of thorn;
on the waste of hovels snow falls from a dreary sky;
mallet and scythe are silent; the children die.
King Cradlemas fears that the winter is hard for the poor.

Draw now the tide, spring moon, swing now the depth;
under the snow that falls over brick and prickle,
the people ebb; draw up the hammer and sickle.
The banner of Bors is abroad; where is the king?

Bors is up; his wife Elayne behind him
mends the farms, gets food from Gaul; the south
is up with hammer and sickle, and holds Thames mouth.
Lancelot hastens, coming with wagons and ships.

The sea-snail lies by Thames, 0 wave of Pendragon,
roll it, swallow it; pull the mask o'ergilded
from the one-eyed face that blinks at the comfort builded
in London's ruins; I am Camelot; Arthur, raise me.

Arthur ran; the people marched; in the snow
King Cradlemas died in his litter; a screaming few
fled; Merlin came; Camelot grew.
In Logres the king's friend landed, Lancelot of Gaul.


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