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24331Re: [mythsoc] The Fall of Arthur

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  • John Rateliff
    May 24, 2013

      On May 24, 2013, at 7:55 AM, Jeanette Rost wrote:
      Didn't Tolkien say that one of the reasons he wrote "The Lord of the Rings" was that England had been overrun so many times by so many enemies that her myths and legends had been lost, and so he wrote a new legend for England?  Of course, the first thing that would spring to most people's minds after reading that would be,  "But what about King Arthur?"  Although I have not researched it, I have read in several places that the Arthurian legend originated with "Le Morte d'Arthur" and is actually French, not English, which would explain why Tolkien apparently did not consider it to be the one English legend that was not lost.

      Hi Jeanette

      Actually, the Arthurian legend starts out as Welsh. Then it gets picked up in two separate strands by the French (Chretien) and English (Layamon). Tolkien is bringing both together here into a fused tradition of his own, similar to what Malory had done. So Malory's LE MORTE D'ARTHUR (1485) actually comes at the end of a long tradition, and pretty much everything in English written after it follows its lead to some extent.

      Re. Arthur and 'the Mythology for England', Tolkien was pointing out (in the Letter to Waldman) that it's hard to make Arthur an English hero since it's the English (Angles, +Saxons, + Jutes) who Arthur's fighting in the earliest versions of the story. It'd be like the English destroying the Iroquis confederation and then making Hiawatha the great American hero. And yet that's pretty much exactly what happened with the King Arthur legend: the people who embrace it are by and large descendents of Arthur's enemies. Weird, huh?

      There are definite similarities in Tolkien and the Arthurian legend - perhaps they could be reduced to "decency does matter" - but I am surprised to read that Tolkien linked his work to the Arthurian story.

      I think the take-away from THE FALL OF ARTHUR might be 'don't let pride blind you to your true loyalties'

      On May 24, 2013, at 8:43 AM, Alana Joli Abbott wrote:
      John, regarding Williams's work on Arthur, where are those poems currently in print, do you know? A quick Amazon search showed only out-of-print editions, but I may not be going about the search the right way.

      It will be interesting to compare!

      As Travis says, the Eerdmans edition is probably your best bet, via bookfinder.com or abebooks.com. This reprints the second and third of Williams' Arthurian books, TALIESSIN THROUGH LOGRES (1938) and THE REGION OF THE SUMMER STARS (1944), as well as the unfinished prose history/summary of the Arthurian legend (THE FIGURE OF ARTHUR) Wms was working on when he died and CSL's extensive commentary on Wms' cycle (WILLIAMS AND THE ARTHURIAD), both of which had been published under the title ARTHURIAN TORSO (1948).

      The first in the cycle, HEROES AND KINGS (1930), is more or less impossible to get (I only have a partial photocopy myself). Be warned that it includes a bondage poem (illustrated!); Wms' religiosity cd sometimes take him into strange places (cf. Lois Lang-Sims' little memoir). 

      All these, and more, are collected by David Llewellyn Dodds in a volume in the series ARTHURIAN POETS simplely called CHARLES WILLIAMS (Boydell & Brewer, 1991). Unfortunately this is fairly hard to find, but you may be able to get it through Interlibrary Loan and the like.

      By the way, if you do find the Eerdmans volume, feel free to ignore Lewis's advice about his recommended order to read the poems in, which suggests mixing them together from both books. Far better, I found, to just read each book through in its entirety; the order in which the poems were written instead of their correlation to the external chronology of the Arthurian cycle. Whatever works best for you.

      Hope this helps.


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