Academic journal article Mythlore

Prince Caspian and Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair

Academic journal article Mythlore

Prince Caspian and Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair

Article excerpt

EVEN a casual glance at C. S. Lewis's personal writings--his diaries, his autobiography, and his private correspondence, particularly that to his lifelong friend Arthur Greeves (1)--reveals Lewis's deep love for the writings of William Morris, the late Victorian poet, co-inventor of the genre of fantasy, artist, designer, and political activist. Lewis was especially attracted to the eight prose romances (or proto-fantasy novels) Morris wrote from the late 1880s through the mid 1890s. Their lives, however, were in some ways reverse images of each other's. As an undergraduate at Exeter College, Oxford in the 1850s, Morris had intended a career as an Anglican priest, yet he abandoned his faith, avoiding organized religion for the rest of his life. (2) On the other hand, Lewis went through his studies at University College, Oxford more interested in philosophy than religion, converting to Christianity only in his early thirties. How such a writer with a growing Christian faith reacted to one whose faith had been a diminishing one is a topic of great interest. After his conversion Lewis could have reacted to Morris differently than he did--denying Morris's influence, say, or criticizing his apostasy. Instead Lewis finds ways to graft aspects of his own spirituality of longing onto Morris, thus imaginatively redeeming Morris, if only partially. This complex process is best seen in Lewis's appropriation of Morris's late work, Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair.

Lewis often patterned his own imaginative fiction after the work of others--Milton's Paradise Lost for his Perelandra, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress for Pilgrim's Regress, H. G. Wells's First Men in the Moon for Out of the Silent Planet, George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin for The Silver Chair, and Charles Williams's novels for That Hideous Strength (Boenig). (3) William Morris should be added to that list, (4) for Child Christopher, the least well-known of Morris's prose romances, is a major source for Prince Caspian, the second of Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. What Lewis really did with it reveals not only how Lewis treated source material, but also indicates something of Lewis's tolerance towards an author he termed "pagan" yet to whom he owed a significant spiritual debt.

Lewis bought May Morris's Collected Works of William Morris in 1930 (Stand 365); Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair is included in its seventeenth volume. It is a loose adaptation of the late-thirteenth-century English poetical romance, Havelok the Dane. All three works in this concatenation of influence deal with young orphaned princes who are silently and gradually deposed by regents. The rightful heirs are disregarded and tacitly demoted, but they overcome obstacles until they gain the kingdom that is rightfully theirs.

As Lewis was a medievalist who had read Havelok the Dane and thought it "great stuff" (Road 184), it is worthwhile to summarize it briefly before turning to Morris's Child Christopher. Available to Lewis both in the medieval manuscript, which is housed in Oxford's Bodleian Library (MS Laud Misc. 108), and in the edition of 1868 edited by W. W. Skeat for the Early English Text Society (Skeat), (5) the romance reveals little if any interest in religion. It tells the story of both Havelok, a young Danish prince, and Goldborough, an English princess whose misfortunes resemble those of Havelok. Goldborough's dying father, king of an English realm whose capital is Lincoln, chooses Earl Godrich to be regent, making him promise to marry her off some day to the best, strongest, and fairest man in the kingdom. The earl grows accustomed to the power the regency bestows on him, so he imprisons Goldborough in Dover Castle and neglects her interests entirely. Meanwhile Havelok's dying father entrusts his young son and his two sisters to Earl Godard, who soon murders the sisters before Havelok's eyes. The evil regent gives him over to a fisherman named Grim, who promises to drown the boy at sea. …

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