By Geoffrey Ashe The Flowering Hawthorn, by Hugh Ross Williamson. Illustrated by Clare Leighton (Peter Davies, 16s.).
H"do you comment on a book when a great deal of it is a transmutation of your own work by a more notable author'? To me, the immense quarry of material about Glastonbury once afforded a big and rambling volume, From the same source (with generous acknowledgments of my role as middle-man) Mr. Williamson has extracted a light and lucid one. It has pictures, too.
Reading time is an hour or so. Yet most of the essentials are here: the Abbey's unique Christian continuity from pre-Saxon days; its links with the early Church; its Avalonian, Arthurian and Marian aspects: its reconciling action among the different peoples of Britain. All these are firmly disentangled from bogus mysticism and given their proper Catholic setting.
Many readers will care more about the famous Thorn and St. Joseph of Arimathea. Mr. Williamson makes much of both. He is not afraid to trust his sense of the probabilities where tangible data fail-as they do.
The key sentence is on page 48. In history, Mr. Williamson urges, "the man who is wise believes everything until it is disproved." A hair-raising maxim. However, his real point is that the book should be read in a certain spirit, While professional scholars may object, he is more right than wrong.
To favour the Glastonbury legends is to risk going beyond the evidence. But to reject them for lack of documentation is to risk losing the spell. And the spell, the strong magic, is the major fact. To lose it is to move away from historical truth. No "accuracy" can make up for that.
In "The Flowering Hawthorn" the spell is unfalteringly evoked. It is vivid mythology. I don't mean that it is fiction, but that the point of the story. the communication of vision. matters more than the literal truth or untruth of details. Nevertheless, it packs in a surprising number of details. Most of them are sound. I notice, though. that Mr. Williamson locates Arthur's battle of. Mount Badon in two different places. Also. on page 96. he puts "Shrewsbury" for "Shaftesbury" . . . but Inca culpa, he got "Shrewsbury" from me.