The Inklings and King Arthur

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.

The Sword in the Stone; the Green Knight; the Round Table; Queen Guinever; the Holy Grail; the wizard Merlin; the war against the traitorous Mordred… these are just some of the images from the Arthurian tradition that the group of writers known as The Inklings were fascinated by, and returned to, throughout their fiction. We will be reading the Arthurian legend through the works of Inklings authors, including J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur, C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, and Charles Williams’ poetry, examining their different perspectives and the ways they have used Arthurian plots and images: as vehicles of spiritual meaning; as doorways to an enchanting world of chivalry; to explore ideas about Englishness, love, religion, politics, and history. We will also be studying the work of medieval, Victorian, and additional twentieth-century Arthurian writers, placing the Inklings’ approaches in a historical and literary context, in order to determine why the Inklings returned to Arthur so often, and what impact they had on the shape of Arthurian literature.

Weekly Schedule

This course includes two pre-recorded 90-minute lectures per week with one 60-minute discussion session as assigned. Please remember to indicate your availability and time zone in the Goldberry registration system.

Note: The Summer 2023 semester will include a 1 week summer break June 19-23, 2023

Course Schedule

PART I: Starting Points & Sources

Week 1 – Identities: who were the Inklings? Who is King Arthur?

  • “The Matter of Logres: Arthuriana and the Inklings” by Sørina Higgins
  • Extract from The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter
  • Extract from The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Carol Zaleski and Philip Zaleski
  • Extract from The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

Week 2 – Locating Logres: Welsh and French versions of Arthur

  • “Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain”
  • “Peredur son of Efrawg”
  • “Geraint and Enid”
  • Perceval: The Story of the Grail by Chrétien de Troyes

Week 3 – “The English National Epic”: Malory’s Le Morte Darthur

  • Books 1-3, 8, 14, 21: Le Morte Darthur by Sir Thomas Malory
  • “Mark vs Tristram” by Owen Barfield and C.S. Lewis

PART II: The Inklings as Arthurian Writers

Week 4 – Rewriting Arthur: Roger Lancelyn Green

  • King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green

Week 5 – Charles Williams’ Arthuriad

  • Taliessin Through Logres and the Region of the Summer Stars by Charles Williams

Week 6 – Translating Arthur: J.R.R. Tolkien

  • The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by J.R.R. Tolkien

Digital Tour: The Inklings’ Oxford

Week 7 – The Quest for the Grail: Charles Williams and Owen Barfield

  • War in Heaven by Charles Williams
  • Night Operation by Owen Barfield
  • “The Holy Grail” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Special Guest Lecturer: Owen A. Barfield, grandson of Owen Barfield

Week 8 – The King, The Wizard, and the Pendragon: C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength

  • That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

PART III: Arthurian Influences on Other Inklings Texts and Vice Versa

Week 9 – “A Regular King”: T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone

  • The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White

Week 10 – King Arthur in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

With a lecture from the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford

Week 11 – King Arthur in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia

  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

Week 12 – After the Inklings: Their Legacy in Film and Media

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone directed by Chris Columbus
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring directed by Peter Jackson
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader directed by Michael Apted

Required Texts

Notes: The Amazon links are provided for convenience only, and we encourage students to purchase texts wherever they wish. Students are not required to acquire the precise editions listed below, but are requested, when reading works in translation, to seek out the listed translators. Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur must be based on the Caxton edition.

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Summer 2023Dr. Sara Brown
Summer 2019Sørina Higgins, Dr. Gabriel Schenk & Dr. Maggie Parke

Course Artwork

Art by Emily Austin. Used by permission of The Apocryphile Press.

This course explores how J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and other Inklings authors interpreted the Arthurian legends in their work.

START: May 1, 2023

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LITD 5307