Six books in the Kosmos

By Adrian Laing

It is a real challenge to isolate a few titles which were behind the writing of Kosmos because the work does not easily fall into any specific category or single genre. That said, here are six titles which need to be highlighted:

Why Kosmos, not ‘cosmos’? Well, Kosmos was good enough for the Prussian born Alexander Von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) and captures the Greek sense of the word meaning the natural order of the universe rather than a more formal or scientific cosmologyas used for example by Carl Sagan. Throughout von Humbolt’s long treatise you gain a sense that the more he understands the hard physics of the universe the more he feels there is a ‘natural order’ which prevails over chaos. Hence, he is admired by both scientists and those who do not feel inhibited about expressing the pure joy of experiencing the exquisite balance of nature, irrespective of the complex hard mathematics and science of it all.

Terence Hanbury (T.H.) White’s ‘The Once and Future King’is probably the most influential of all the historical and fictional works of King Arthur and the Merlin character who is first introduced in Chapter 2 of ‘The Once and Future King’ as a magician with a ‘long white beard and long white moustaches which hung down on either side of it’. T.H. White’s Merlyn is old, magical and mischievous. When we think of ‘Merlin’ it is the T.H. White character that has rooted itself in our minds.  Even J.K. Rowling admits to having been influenced by this work. When T.H. White graduated with a first-class degree in English in 1928 from Queens’ College Cambridge, his thesis was based on Thomas Malory’s ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’. 

Sir Thomas Malory (c.1415 – 1471)wrote ‘The Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table’as eight romances spanning over 500 chapters. William Caxton published the work under the snappier title ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’in 1485. Merlin’s role as Arthur’s guide, magician and ‘fixer’ is clearly established, and his ‘other worldly’ characteristics forever defined. The likely source of Malory’s inspiration included the works Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘History of the Kings of Britain’and the separate work: ‘Vita Merlini’.

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‘Geoffrey of Monmouth’ composed a number of works in Latin in the mid-12thcentury. Most serious scholars seem to agree that Geoffrey had no inhibitions about creating a narrative of the history of Britain and its Kings as he saw fit without letting the ‘truth’ hinder his work. But his extensive writings, including those concerning Merlin, are studied for what they are rather than what they purport to be. In other words, the myths and legends become the reality and the works that follow from Malory to T.H. White are enhanced not weakened by the mythological foundations. Merlin’s past becomes ever more complex as we look further into his genesis. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Merlin is a pagan-type prophet and man of the wild. All of these ‘Merlins’ come together in Kosmos as a being of the same soul.

What is Moby Dick doing here, you may ask? Well, Kosmos, as I need to keep explaining, is sort of three books in one: a romantic novel, a court room trial and a Merlin-based fantasy. I am still trying to think of a single book which influenced the whole rather than the parts of Kosmos. But in terms of a book which I read in awe and was carried away by its long and winding paths into a wild ending I can think of no better reference than the tour de force that is Moby-Dick. Except maybe that one by Cervantes ….

There is an analysis by the late French philosopher Michel Foucault in his ‘Order of Things’of ‘Don Quixote’by Miguel de Cervantes which should make any aspiring critic weep with envy. It is so passionate, erudite, free-flowing and authoritative that it almost defies belief. And what has Don Quixotegot to do with Kosmos? The Merlin character in Kosmos is intended to be a character as Foucault describes Don Quixote, as follows: ‘His whole being is nothing but language, text, printed pages, stories that have already been written down. He is made up of interwoven words; he is writing itself wandering through the world among the resemblances of things.’

And so, in that sense Merlin wanders into Kosmos ‘among the resemblances of things’ trying to restore and remember his history which is, and has always been, the sum of his own mythology.

SFFSam MissinghamNew, SFF