Tag Archives: Arthurian legend

Mythology In Space: Part 5

This week, I turn to what I consider a more complete synthesis of mythology and science fiction: the space trilogy by C. S. Lewis. I believe that some of the modern day criticisms of this series (which are relatively few and minor) have arisen from unfamiliarity with the literary works which Lewis apparently used as sources for some of his ideas.  Familiarity with Platonic and medieval concepts of the universe goes a long way in helping with the understanding and appreciation of the three books in question. The author also works in some influences from Arthurian legend. Then, of course, there is the author’s Christian perspective, so at least a nodding acquaintance with theology is helpful.


Stylistically, the series is a good example of science fiction from the first half of the twentieth century. As such, it is outdated and inaccurate in light of the extensive data produced by various NASA missions, but this is alright. I mean, it’s science fiction, right? More accurately, these are fantasies disguised as science fiction. They were written at a time when historical limitations in knowledge and technology left more room in the solar system for the exercise of the imagination.

From the September 8, 1947 cover of TIME magazine.
From the September 8, 1947 cover of TIME magazine.

And the author’s imagination was prolific as well as being informed by his scholarship and understanding of classical works of literature. He was the product of a school of thought so aptly described by Dorothy Sayers in her essay entitled The Lost Tools of Learning. This shows in the quality of his thoughts and the effectiveness of his written expression. Overall, I found this trilogy a refreshing and unique blend of Greek philosophy, Christian theology, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.

The three books of the trilogy are (in order) Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. In the next few weeks, I will briefly examine each of these stories.

Mythology on Canvas (Part 6)

The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones
The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones

Edward Burne-Jones was a well known pre-Raphaelite painter from England. I will feature a number of examples of his work. The painting I have chosen for this week is The Beguiling of Merlin from 1874.  As is the case with many paintings of stories from mythology,  the full impact comes from knowing the back story (i.e. that which is understood but is not shown).

There are various versions of this account taken from Arthurian legend. Without going into too much detail, the Lady of the Lake, Nimue, captivates Merlin’s fancy and persuades him to teach her his secrets of magic. Once she knows enough, she entraps him in the trunk of a tree while reading aloud from his book of spells.

The painting depicts that stage at which the tree is in the process of closing around Merlin, who is either unable or unwilling to resist his infatuation with the Lady. Merlin, whom we often think of as possessing a white beard, is shown with a clean shaven face of intrigued and perhaps suspicious expression. The tall, striking woman looking down at him while holding an open book away from him serves as the centerpiece of the composition. And, of course, an informed viewer who knows what is in progress might feel a sense of dread.