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Logres, Azania, Wakanda and the Inklings

26 January 2019

King Arthur And His Knights of the Round TableKing Arthur And His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Roger Lancelyn Green was one of the lesser-known members of the Oxford Inklings, the literary circle of whom J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and perhaps Owen Barfield are the best known.

Many of them seemed to be drawn to the stories of King Arthur and the Matter of Britain, and there are several references to those in their works. Many of those references passed right over my head when I read them. I knew about King Arthur from childhood, and still have a book of stories that I read that were drawn from the Arthurian cycle, but it was an eclectic collection, and was of little help in understanding some of the Inklings’ references.

I read bits of Tennyson and bits of Malory, but I could never remember who the characters were, and which ones did what. Epic, it seems, is just not my style.

But this book was on our shelves — how it got there, I don’t know. So I thought I’d read it to try at least to get a sense of the characters and what they had done. It was no epic, it was prose written for children, so I ought to be able to follow it.

I read it about 12 years ago, and it at least helped me to get the bigger picture. When I picked it up again last month, however, I discovered U had forgotten much of it. What was the Dolorous Blow and who struck it? Was it Sir Percivale or Sir Galahad whose rightful place was the Siege Perilous? I had just forgotten. I had forgotten all about Sir Launcelot and Elaine, and reading it was like reading a new story (I did remember about Launcelot and Queen Guinivere). Now I must go through it again, taking notes.

But the thing that struck me most this time around was the relationship between Logres and Britain.

It seems that in the early Arthurian stories Logres was just a pre-English name for what is now England, before the English arrived to turn it into England. But the Inklings seem to have invested it with a special meaning, which is referenced in their books, and which Roger Lancelyn Green seems to be at pains to explain here. Logres , for the Inklings, seems to have been a kind of Platonic ideal of Britain (an Idea I might try to expand on in my blog).

So this seems to be more than just a children’s book, a retelling of the Arthur mythos for children. Roger Lancelyn Green, perhaps realising the weakness of the epic, adopts a prose style very similar to The Mabinogion. Perhaps the oral originals of the Mabinogion had been epics, but the written form was prose, and the style of this reflects that. Could be the key to Charles Williams’s epic poetry? Perhaps, though there is no mention here of Broceliande.

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Perhaps there is more that can be said about Logres and the Inklings.

It was in one of our monthly Neoinklings gatherings where we were discussing the current situation in South Africa, that the conception of Logres in this book, and among the Inklings generally, struck me — see South African Camelot | Notes from underground,and it was that discussion that got me seriously re-reading King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

It was a link that had struck me earlier, on re-reading That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis a couple of years ago — see here That hideous strength and Rhodes must fall | Khanya. Roger Lancelot Green was not just a member of the Inklings, he was a student of C.S. Lewis at Oxford, and they may have discussed some of these questions in tutorials. So I don’t think it is too far-fetched to think that, since That Hideous Strength was first published in 1945, and King Arthur eight years later, that RLG incorporated some of the elements of those discussions into his description of the relationship between Logres and Britain.

When I read King Arthur 12 years ago I didn’t really pick much of this up, and did not really see the parallels with South Africa. It was only a few months later, in December 2007, that the ANC Conference at Polokwane elected Jacob Zuma and his supporters to the ANC’s top leadership and the National Executive Committee of the ANC, signalling the disapperance of South Africa’s equivalent of Logres. Reading it again post-Zuma leads me to see the period between 1994 and 2004 as South Africa’s Logres moment.

What shall we call it, that South African Logres? A mythical country that represents all that is best about a country. The PAC called it Azania, and perhaps that is appropriate as a semi-mythical realm, but because of rivalry with the ANC the ANC would not, of course, accept it. A more recent candidate might be Wakanda — see Black Panther and the values of Wakanda | Khanya. But the symbolism of Wakanda is wider than just South Africa. One could say that in a sense Wakanda is the Logres of Africa, or at least sub-Saharan Africa.

I discussed individual guardian angels recently in relation to another book I had read, and the extent to which one’s guardian angel resembles the old Roman notion of the genius. But in addition to individual guardian angels there are also the angels of the peoples. See Deut 32:8-9 — When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of God. For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. In the Septuagint “sons of God” is rendered “angels of God”, and this implies that each nation has its own god, a national spirit, almost the equivalent of a guardian angel in a person. This was the “genius of Caesar” that early Christians refused to worship, and the film Black Panther implies a similar genius for the King of Wakanda.

Psalm 81/82 (which in the Orthodox Church we sing with great gusto on Holy Saturday, banging the chairs and stamping on the floor) says that the gods of the nations have messed up, and the Psalm ends with a prayer that the Lord will judge them and toss them out — something which Jesus claimed to do at his crucifixion (John 12:31).

The theological question here is does each nation have one national spirit, or two? Is there a good one and a bad one, like the guardian angel and the tempting demon of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters?

According to Charles Stewart in his book Demons and the Devil (p 48) “The main doctrinal point is simple: NO DUALISM. Satan is not to be regarded as a power equal to God. He is God’s creation and operates subject to divine will.” In addition Stewart notes that Satan is strictly and intrinsically evil. The Church does not accept the existence of intermediate or ambiguous fairy-like creatures such as neraides, gorgones and kallikantzaroi; Satan is singular. He is the leader of demons who are fallen angels of the same order as himself. There is no real concern for the names of demons.

C.S. Lewis has a slightly different view of intermediate or ambiguous fairy-like creatures. Professor Dimble, speaking to his wife, says:

“Well the word ‘angel’ rather begs the question. even the Oyeresu aren’t exactly angels in the same sense as our guardian angels. There used to be things on this earth pursuing their own business. They weren’t ministering spirits sent to help humanity, but neither were they enemies preying up[on us… all the gods, elves water-people, fate, longaevi.”

“You think there are things like that?”

“I think there were. I think there was room for them then, but the universe has come more to a point…. The things weren’t bad in themselves, but they were already bad for us. They withered the man who dealt with them.”

This section is interesting, as one of the places were Lewis explicitly discusses the differences between modernity and premodernity.

When St Paul discusses the principalities and powers, or rulers and authorities, it seems that they are not strictly and intrinsically evil. Our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers and authorities, the world powers of this darkness (Ephesian 6:10-12), yet in Romans 13 he says the rulers and authorities have been instituted by God.

Walter Wink has also recently expounded some of these ideas, as we discussed at another of our Neoinklings gatherings. But in all these discussions the niggling question remains: one or two? Is there one genius, or egregore, or exousia, which can sometimes be good and sometimes evil? Or do we have a good genius and an evil genius? Is Britain sometimes temped to follow Logres, and sometimes tempted to go over to the dark side? Or is Britain, like Satan, strictly and intrinsically evil, and Logres strictly and intrinsically good? Or can we see them sometimes in one way, and sometimes in another?

Another thing about Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur is the strange abstraction of three eras. It is a twentieth-century view of a twelfth-century view of the fifth century. It is abstract. There are no towns and villages, only castles, hemitages and monasteries. There are wandering knights, hermits and damsels. There are no farmers or artisans. The knights, of course are a military order, and so there is lots of violence and bloodshed, with plenty of heads being chopped off, and people dying of wounds, yet this is also contrasted in the same text with the virtues of love and forgiveness. The decline of Logres is caused by lack of forgiveness, which leads to the break-up of community and fellowship.

The quest for the Holy Grail seems to have made an appeal to the 12th-century imagination, though Charles Williams picks it up again in his War in Heaven for the twentieth century. But why did it become so popular in the 12th century? One possibility is that in the 11th and 12th centuries there was a huge change in Western theology (it did not affect the Orthodox Church, since the great schism had already taken place by then). It was a change in Eucharistic theology, and I suspect that this change led to the popularity of the Grail stories in that period. See here: Eucharistic theology and witchcraft | Khanya.

About 25 years ago, which South Africa was about to enter its Logres period of 1994-2004 an old friend, Graham Pechey called for “a new symbiosis of the sacred and the profane, the quotidian and the numinous” that would explore some of these issues. Is Black Panther a 21st-century vision of an African King Arthur, and is Wakanda an African Logres, or at least one seen through American eyes?

I tried to do that quotidian and numinous thing in my novel The Year of the Dragon, but so far no one seems inclined to discuss it, or even to read it, much less review it.

But perhaps the time is ripe for someone to write an epic in which the idlozi of Jacob Zuma plays Mordred to Nelson Mandela’s Arthur.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Irulan permalink
    28 January 2019 5:21 pm

    great post, but how recently did Walter Wink expound these ideas Steve?

    • 28 January 2019 6:54 pm

      Well, here’s a list of books dealing with the topic in publication order, so you can see what “recent” means in this context:

      Lewis, C.S. 1952. Out of the silent planet.
      Caird, G.B 1956. Principalities and powers: a study in Pauline theology.
      Lewis, C.S. 1960. That hideous strength.
      Williams, Charles 1964. The greater trumps.
      van den Heuvel, Albert H 1965. These rebellious powers.
      Williams, Charles 1965. The place of the lion.
      Caird, G.B 1966. A commentary on the Revelation of St John the Divine.
      Montgomery, John Warwick 1974. Myth, allegory and gospel.
      Montgomery, John Warwick 1975. Principalities and powers: a new look at the world of the occult.
      Russell, Jeffrey Burton 1977. The devil: perceptions of evil from antiquity to primitive Christianity.
      Wink, Walter 1984. Naming the powers.
      Kelly, Henry Ansgar 1985. The devil at baptism: ritual, theology and drama.
      Lagerwerf, L 1987. Witchcraft, sorcery and spirit possession: pastoral responses in Africa.
      Block, Daniel Isaac 1988. The gods of the nations: studies in ancient Near Eastern national theology.
      Burnett, David 1988. Unearthly powers: a Christian perspective on primal and folk religion.
      Russell, Jeffrey Burton 1988. The Prince of Darkness: radical evil and the power of good in history.
      Peretti, Frank E 1989. Piercing the darkness.
      McAlpine, Thomas H 1991. Facing the powers: what are the options?.
      Stewart, Charles 1991. Demons and the devil: moral imagination in modern Greek culture.
      Arnold, Clinton E 1992. Powers of darkness.
      Reed, Annette Yoshiko 2005. Fallen angels and the history of Judaism and Christianity.

      All of those are ones I’ve read, or are on my to-read list. There may well be others that should be on the list, but it should give the chronology of “recent”.

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