[The following is a guest post from CJ Stone on the newly revised Kindle edition of his book, "The Trials of Arthur," which explores the life and work of British Druid activist Arthur Pendragon. CJ Stone is an author, columnist, and feature writer. He has written four books: "Fierce Dancing: Adventures in the Underground" (Faber & Faber 1996); "The Last of the Hippies" (Faber & Faber 1999); "Housing Benefit Hill & Other Places" (AK Press 2001); and "The Trials of Arthur" (Thorsons/Element 2003). He is currently working on his fifth.]
“The new Druids and especially those involved in direct action such as Arthur, are therefore not fringe figures with ideals and preoccupations detached from those of a wider national community, but some of the more colourful contributors to a set of arguments and activities which involves a large part of that community.” - Ronald Hutton, from the forward of “The Trials of Arthur: Revised Edition”
It was just over three years ago that Arthur Pendragon asked me if I could get our book re-printed. It had originally been published by Thorsons/Element, an imprint of HarperCollins, in 2003, but had since gone out of print.
I contacted a friend on the off-chance: John Higgs, the writer of “I Have America Surrounded,” a biography of Timothy Leary. John had written a film script based upon our book, so I knew that he’d be interested.
This is where the magic kicks in, as it often does in Arthur’s life.
It just so happened that John had recently set up a publishing company in order to publish a book by a friend of his, and he had some ISBN numbers spare.
I have to say that I was never very pleased with the old book. I’d had a lot of difficulty writing it, and had had to deal with a fairly serious depression in the middle of it. I was about six months into it, and struggling, when 9/11 happened. After that I couldn’t see what relevance a book about road protests and Paganism in the 90s had any more. The world had suddenly turned apocalyptic in front of our eyes.
But I struggled on with it, very slowly, and, in the end, did the best job I could. It came out in 2003.
The second half was always much better than the first half, being as much about the protest scene in the UK in the 90s as it was about Arthur. And I rushed the first and last chapters in order to beat the deadline. I always knew they would ask me to re-write these chapters.
Except they never did. They asked me to re-write the last chapter, but the first chapter stayed the same, with all of its faults. It was clumsy, turgid, awkward and it entirely failed to do what any decent opening chapter should do: it failed to draw you into the story.
Thus, when Arthur asked me to get the book republished, I decided to re-write that first chapter.
Only now something magical happened again. I wrote two chapters to replace the original first chapter, but then I just couldn’t stop writing. I wrote chapter after chapter, much to Arthur’s annoyance, who wanted to get the book out quickly. And I have to say, in Arthur’s defence, that he had a point. My struggles with the earlier book had meant that we’d missed deadline after deadline, and the book had been seriously delayed.
Thus it was that we decided on a compromise. We republished the book as it had originally appeared, and I carried on writing what I thought was a brand new book.
Only it didn’t turn out like that either.
After a while I just found I was rewriting the old book again, and the whole project got shelved, while I waited for new material.
No new material turned up.
It’s funny how long it can take to spot the obvious at times. I had half a book I liked, and a published book I didn’t like. I was thinking of releasing some of my old books on Kindle, and spoke to John Higgs again. This was only a few weeks ago.
“Shall we put the Arthur book out on Kindle” I asked?
“Sure, why not?” said John. “Only why don’t you put those two chapters back in?”
Those were the two chapters that had turned into seven chapters and which we had jettisoned in favour of bringing out the book in its original form. So I looked at the two chapters and then at the seven chapters, then at more material I had, plus two more chapters that Arthur had written, and it all just slotted into place.
We had a brand new book on our hands.
And I have to say that, unlike the original book, this is one that I am genuinely proud of. It’s not only that it reads better – that it is faster paced and more compelling, or that the first chapter draws you right into a magical scene and then doesn’t let you go - it’s also that it all suddenly makes perfect sense.
I can clearly see the relevance at last.
Yes, it’s mainly about long-forgotten battles for the soul of Britain – about road protests and protests around access to the Stonehenge monument on solstice night – but it also brings up important issues about identity, about freedom, about culture, about our place on this planet, and about who we think we are.
That’s the point about Arthur. People say he’s crazy. It takes not knowing him to think that. Once you meet him you know how gloriously sane he actually is. It’s the rest of the world that seems crazy by comparison.
Whatever you think the mechanism of his claims might be – is he the reincarnation of a historical Arthur, or just the current representation of a mythological spirit? Did he become Arthur by living the part, or did he evoke something that was already there? Is ‘Arthur’ a title, or a name? Could anyone be Arthur if they chose? – However you think the process has evolved, the fact is that by his very presence he challenges much of what we take for granted in our 21st century world.
He takes us back to a magical time when our souls were our own and we were free to make decisions based upon the needs of the Earth and of our fellow creatures, rather than the hypnotism and propaganda of the global elites. He asks us to be heroes: to have adventures, to be bold and upfront in our lives, and gives us some hilarious and compelling examples of how he went about achieving the role for himself.
This is the true glory of Arthur’s achievement, that he makes Paganism an adventure again, rather than a learned squabble between rival factions. He brings it out of the library and onto the field of battle. He turns it into a battle cry for the Earth and for the dispossessed of the Earth. He makes it fun to be alive.