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Porius by John Cowper Powys
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JC Powys was a contemporary of Robert Graves' and seems to have operated from much the same milieu. But Graves' historical fiction seems to work on drawing similarities from the past and showing them to our modern eyes, to explain them. JCP's work seems to stand on the opposite principal: to show the past and emphasize the differences, so the author is shrouded in the haze of the camp-fire. A bardic figure standing in the twilight pounding out a strongly rhymed performance, building an hypnotic performance that leaves an impression, but no information,no empathy. Music rather than communication. I found the narrative too poetic to easily explain or reveal the action. I didn't care for this style. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Oct 13, 2013 |
A six month effort for me...and indeed, a very challenging read. There is all of the raw material for a great novel here, and many episodes of superb historical, psychological, and philosophical literature, but Powys cannot sustain these very long. The most difficult aspect is the sleepwalking narration and easily distracted internal monologues that dominate the entire narrative...everything is many times clouded and shrouded over with very foreign symbolism. Porius reads like the Eumaeus episode of Ulysses, but without having earned the reader's full attention at any step of the way. ( )
1 vote albertgoldfain | Apr 23, 2013 |
This is a big fat book! I have a hard time finding time to read, so this took me about two months to get through - and I put other reading on hold to focus on this! The plot and characters are not too complex though, so I didn't have a hard time understanding what was going on and how it fit in with the rest of the story.

The action of the story occurs over a week, Thursday to Thursday, in late October, 499 A.D. Almost all the action happens in a valley in Britain, I think it is in Northern Wales. Probably the main characteristic of the book is that outer action is handled quite quickly, while inner action can go on for pages and pages. Our hero Porius can dispatch a dozen enemy warriors in a short paragraph, but wonder for a dozen pages about the significance of a bit of hanging moss.

This is most certainly a metaphysical novel. I think it is fair to say that it is anti-Christian, at least against the sort of Christianity that is militantly orthodox. The novel paints a grand historical panorama stretching from an Age of Gold in the distant past to a new Age of Gold some time in the future, with various gods or religions rising and falling along the way.

The interesting puzzle is, what does a dozen pages of meditation on moss have to do with a coming Age of Gold? The battle seems to be between simplicity and complexity. The simple perspective views the world in black and white, evil versus good, God versus the Devil. The complex point of view brings in many sorts of beings and multi-dimensional evaluations. Chance and Free Will characterize the complex point of view, against the simplicity of predetermination.

I wonder if the screen play of the 2004 movie King Arthur was inspired by this book. That movie also presents a negative view of the Christian Church of that time, and brings up Pelagius, also a recurrent theme in this book.

This book is actually quite impressive in that it keeps quite a steady pace and even tone for the whole 873 pages. That is a slow pace and a tone so rich it is almost cloying. The book certainly does not indulge the reader. It is not demanding - the sentences are plenty long but mostly they are just cascades that explore the facets of some phenomena. The syntax does not get all twisted into a puzzle the way Henry James seems to like to do. Powys doesn't make it hard to follow him, but it is a long walk through the deep dark damp woods and so not likely to be enjoyed by Cancun beach margarita drinkers! ( )
1 vote kukulaj | Apr 4, 2012 |
North Wales AD 499, the third week of October. The last of the Roman legions has long left Britain, leaving the country in a chaos of competing tribes and interests. The House of Cunedda, an ancient and noble Romanised Brython family, is trying to hang on to the hegemony given to them by the Romans over this small corner of the British Isles. Threatening them are, on the one hand, the aboriginal Welsh, the subjugated forest people, under the leadership of their Druid and their three ancient Princesses; and on the other, an alliance of the Ffichtiaid (the Picts) and the Gwyddelaid (the Scots). To make things worse, a Saxon horde under the leadership of Colgrim is advancing to put everyone to the sword. King Arthur and his court, with Merlin, and his cavalry, the only possessors of horses in this horseless land, arrive to help the House of Cunedda in return for their assistance in trying to unify Britain and fight off the growing number of Saxon invaders. Against this historical background of violent transition between the Roman and Saxon eras of British history the story of Porius, the heir of the House of Cunedda, unfolds.

The novel is huge, in every sense of the word. At over 2800 pages in manuscript, and almost 800 pages (of very small type) in this latest and most complete edition, it teems with life and incident and characters, historical, mythical and fictional. The various machinations and alliances between the political interests, the marriage of Porius and his cousin Morfydd, who is in love with his best friend Rhun, who in turn is in love with Merlin's sister Gwendydd; the secret plot of Arthur's nephew and heir Medrawd to usurp Arthur's throne; the secret alliance on the part of the three Princesses and the Druid of the forest people with Colgrim's Saxons, are just some of the narrative incidents described. The novel also describes a clash of ideologies, with Christian thinking competing with Mithraic ritual and ancient Druidic practice and Merlin's mystical Earth worship for ideological dominance over the coming age, with Christianity itself rent asunder by the Pelagian heresy.

The text bristles with references to the ancient Welsh mythology contained in the Mabinogion, The Tale of Taliesin and Y Gododdin, Boethius, the letters of Sidonius and Cassiodorus, the Arthurian romances of Chretien de Troyes, Eschenbach and Geoffrey of Monmouth, Pelagian texts and Aristophanic comedies, Greek, Welsh and Persian phrases, and underpinning it all, in the way that The Odyssey underpins Ulysses, is an Alchemical initiation rite.

The discourse is characterised by an extreme precision of observation and description, and by an extreme slowness of pace. John Cowper Powys can spend two paragraphs describing a rotting ash branch, the colour of a mist, or the sound of a reed bed in the wind. Action is suspended while the character's emotional states and thoughts are minutely described in a fashion that owes much to Henry James or Proust. The interaction of memory, psychology and intention with the wider cosmic forces in the universe are given as much space in the narrative as descriptions of food, clothes, dwellings and weapons, mountains and forest. Horses, dogs, water rats, owls and trees play as prominent a part in the plot as human characters. John Cowper Powys was one the greatest prose stylists of the 20th century. The prose is richly gorgeous, sinuous, evocative, and capable of describing the most fleeting psychological and natural states. The book demands and receives the most intense absorption on the part of the reader.

However, early readers of the novel found it overwritten; it was rejected in its original form and first published in a heavily excised and shortened version. The fact is that Powys achieved something so original and so unusual, so difficult and so tenuous with this novel, that it is not surprising that it has languished in obscurity since it was completed. For Porius may be read as an extended examination of ...

Read the full review on The Lectern ( )
24 vote tomcatMurr | Jul 28, 2011 |
A new addition out recently. The text almost certainly completely restored. The sledding is tough but old Powys never fails to deliver the goods. The attentive reader or observer can see that is from this novel that I took my LT name. Not that I identify with the character in any way. The name began as poor-ious, but I got tired of looking at the name, so changed to the present one. My real intention is to proselytize for JCP. I know all-too-well how tough the book is. It forces the reader to slow down, ie., move at the pace old Powys wants you to move. Sample every manifestation of Nature along the way. Notice things we are not in the habit of noticing. As Rob Davies says. Powys's eye for the fine details of nature is every bit as acute as that of Louis J. Halle, Joseph Wood Crutch, Charleton Ogburn, John McPhee, name him. Though Davies didn't mention these names. ( )
11 vote Porius | Oct 13, 2008 |
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Porius stood upon the low square tower above the southern gate of Mynydd-y-Gaer and looked down on the wide stretching valley below, a valley that was still covered by the aboriginal forest but which now bore the name Eternus or Edeyrn, the name of a favourite among the sons of the Brythonic chieftain Cunedda from whom Porius was the fifth in succession.
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In a Roman fort in Wales at the turn of the sixth century, Porius, the son of a reigning prince, is aided by Merlin the magician, Nineue, and Medrawd in a battle for cultural survival.

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