Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Morris in the Morning

So, this morning I got up early --like 4 a.m. early -- to be able to see a Zoom talk on William Morris. Hosted by the William Morris Gallery, a group I hadn't even heard of till the day before,* it was a forty-five minute lunchtime lecture** by assistant curator Ainsley Vinall and focused on the aspect of Morris of most interest to me; 'William Morris's Fantasy Fiction'.*** Here's a brief description of the event.

Something he said that stood out for me was his suggestion that it's best to think of Morris and Tolkien and C. S. Lewis as kindred spirits working along the same lines, rather than treating Morris as the influencer and Tolkien/Lewis as the influenced. The real progenitor of all three, he suggested, was Walter Scott through his Waverley Novels. I've only read one of those, years ago, and didn't think much of it. Clearly it's time I gave it another try: any suggestions as to which one much appreciated.

Also, having read all Morris's fantasy fiction, which dates mostly to the end of his career, and knowing how important Morris's THE EARTHLY PARADISE was in inspiring Tolkien's BOOK OF LOST TALES project, I shd probably go back and read some one of Morris's early verse romances, such as THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JASON, if I can find a good edition.

So, getting up so early wrecked my schedule for the rest of the day, but I'd say it was worth it.

--John R.
--current reading: SYLVIE & BRUNO by Lewis Carroll

*Thanks to D. for the tip

**lunchtime in the UK that is

***I planned to devote a chapter of my dissertation to Morrris as the means through which medievalism became the default setting of modern fantasy, as well as devoting the first column in my 'Classics of Fantasy, series to Morris's masterpiece, THE WELL AT THE WORLD'S END.


David Bratman said...

I have no suggestions on Scott, whom I've never read any more than most other people today have, but I will note that he was ranked highly by C.S. Lewis, who liked to praise Scott in defiance of his then low and declining reputation.

Or supposedly so. It might be worth noting that, in Edward Eager's Knight's Castle (1956), not only are the children - contemporaries of the book's writing, unlike the children in Eager's previous book, who were a generation earlier - big fans of Ivanhoe, the book assumes its reader has read it too.

Paul W said...

The wikipedia entry on the 'Waverly novels' seems fairly well done, good place to start. I personally enjoy Ivanhoe quite a bit, I've read it several times. Most of the film and TV adaptions fail to live up to the text.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi David. Hi Paul.

Thanks for the tip. The one I read was THE HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN, which assumed the reader had a good deal of knowledge already about the historical events that formed the story's backdrop. Unfortunately I knew nothing about what was going on in Scotland at the time, which undercut the story's effectiveness. I do remember the book's being famous for its supposedly realistic depiction of a madwoman: I kept thinking Tolkien's Gollum did a better job of getting inside a mad person as character.

Yes, CSL defended Scott for churning out potboilers in order to pay his debts, sacrificing his artistic integrity but behaving like a gentleman.

--John R.