Williams’ Arthuriad, however, differs from Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the same way that his novels do. Whereas Tolkien and Lewis created secondary worlds for their characters in which their adventures unfold, Williams uses this primary world, and he emphasizes this from the very first lines of the book;
Recalcitrant tribes heard ;
orthodox wisdom sprang in Caucasia and Thule ;
the glory of the Emperor stretched to the ends of the world.
Charles Williams differed from his friends and colleagues CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien in that he did not create a mythology whole-cloth as they did; Lewis with his stories of The Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien with his tales of Middle-Earth. What Williams did was to adapt a pre-existing mythos to his purposes; that of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. It is not that Lewis and Tolkien didn’t have plenty of source material from which they drew their fantasies. Lewis, according to his autobiography Surprised by Joy, wrote a number of animal-stories when he was younger under the influence of Rudyard Kipling and Beatrix Potter. Tolkien stitched together a lot of Norse and Anglo-Saxon material for his Middle-Earth, and those who know those sources better than I claim that there is little that is original in his work.The Arthuriad is going to be about Europe, or rather Britain-In-Europe, or Britain as a part of Europe. Once, while I was enjoying the 1982 Granada TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted, I made a remark about, as an American, how English the whole series struck me. Indeed, Anthony Andrews’ and Jeremy Iron’s Sebastian and Charles were kind of a baptism for me into what I have come to think of as Deep England. A very perceptive friend parsed it differently. He said that the milieu of Brideshead Revisited was England, indeed, but it was that submerged and subjugated Catholic England that Waugh depicted in his novel, the flavor of which came across so strongly in the TV adaptation. It was about the survival of ancient and life-giving folkways in a hostile and unforgiving environment.
I think that what Williams is attempting here is something even more ambitious. His cycle of poems is going to be treating England as a part of Christendom, through the language of myth. It surprises me that in the (in)famous frontpiece of Taliessin Through Logres, where the body of a naked woman is superimposed on a map of Europe, that part of Europe which eventually became Protestant does not figure prominently. Williams never treated non-conformist Protestants with contempt in his fiction; his depiction of the communion service in The Place Of The Lion is one of my favorite scenes in his whole corpus, but the flavor of the Arthurian poems is strongly that of Christendom united, certainly before the Protestant Reformation and almost as if the Chalcedonian and Orthodox-Catholic schisms had never taken place.
This is as it should be. Arthur, inasmuch as he can be fixed in history at all, is a pre-schism figure and shrouded in Druidic shadows. History is compressed. The rise of Islam, and its conquest of Constantinople are shoe-horned, for poetic purposes as yet undivined by me, into this cycle of poetry, and the Emperor is given a suzerainty in the West that he never had .
HOWEVER, for some reason, the woman’s right elbow bends at Cordoba, from whence Aristotelian thought gained purchase in the late Middle Ages, and from that Occam’s Nominalism, Protestantism, and secularism. Williams’ poetic language seems much more Neoplatonic to me;
Carbonek, Camelot, Caucasia
were gates and containers, intermediations of light ;
geography breathing geometry, the double fledged Logos
Maybe that last line is a jazz-handed reference to the Chalcedonian Definition, I don’t know, and maybe Williams will be treating the rise of Scholasticism and Aristotelianism elsewhere (The milk rises in the breasts of Gaul, trigonometrical milk of doctrine. Man sucks it ; his joints harden). I don’t know. I am not an English literature student, nor a theologian, and Williams’ poetry is heavy sledding. I don’t think his poetry is the equal of Blake’s but it seems much more certain in its referents. Maybe too certain.