That Woman – the Queen of Drum

Reminiscent of the queen of Drum in her flight from Drum-land is this drawing by William Morris, from his book World Beyond the Wood.

One of my favourite things to talk about at a C. S. Lewis Society meeting is what I call the forgotten stories of C. S. Lewis.  Lewis created many narratives in his lifetime, beside those in the Narnian Chronicles or the “Space Trilogy.”

One of the best is “The Queen of Drum.”  As is his wont, Lewis has reworked a classic story; in this case, the Hippolytus of Euripides.  His queen character is fascinating.

In a letter to Arthur Greeves (Sunday, 29 March, 1931), Lewis writes about a female character in one of the works of James Elroy Flecker.  He says, “Some sensuality one pities, other kinds one admires – full, Pagan magnificence.”  The queen of Drum is one of those full, magnificent Pagan characters.  Lewis’s queen loves the land of Fairy, but she is not a fairy queen.  She is more like the famous character She, of H. Rider Haggard legend.  Or, one may be reminded of Lilith in George MacDonald’s novel.  It seems that the queen of Drum is modeled after such a character as Lewis encountered in some of his favourite books.  We know Lewis loved Haggard and MacDonald; why not create something of a like character of his own?

We have in “The Queen of Drum” just that sort of woman.  She is transcendent in that she is an unusual combination of primary female traits, of singular beauty, and intriguing demeanor.  She has a power of influence that carries with it an awe such as we would attribute to a goddess.  This power of her personality is both attractive – at least to males – but also has something of an edge, something threatening about it.  The queen, like Haggard’s Ayesha, is confrontational, assured, and powerful – she can do what the men cannot do and she does it.  She is other-worldly, for she carries with her the wonder of the atmosphere of that place to which she so often resorts.  She also has a sensual power with men and knows how to use it to her advantage.  She manipulates the General in the story perfectly.  The King calls her a Maenad – that fits her pretty well.

John Maesfield, Poet Laureate, to whom Lewis sent a copy of “The Queen of Drum” for review, senses the same kind of presence in the queen, quoting Yeats, “She need but lift a pearl pale hand, And all men’s hearts must burn and beat” (see p. 178, Narrative Poems).  How one wishes Waterhouse had been alive to paint the scene of the queen in Canto I, when we first meet her:

… There, at his side,
With sharp, unlooked for sound, a door flung wide
As from impatient hands, and tall, between
The swing of the flung curtains, stepped the Queen ……
She too was tired, the blood
Drained from her quiet cheek.  Wind-broken skies
Had havocked in her hair, and in her eyes
Printed their reckless image.  Coldest grey
Those eyes, and sharp of sight from far away;
More bright a little, something steadier than
Man cares to meet with in the face of man
Or woman; alien eyes …. (Narrative Poems, p. 132).

Let’s not say she is necessarily bad; but you don’t want to mess with her.  She is something like Tolkien’s Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, but she probably would have taken the Ring of Power and used it.  Lewis has here created a fascinating character not to be forgotten.

Reference: C. S. Lewis, Narrative Poems, edited by Walter Hooper (New York, Harcourt-Harvest Edition, 1979), ISBN: 0-15-602798-4.

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Please note that the content and viewpoints of Rev. Beckmann are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.

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The Rev. David Beckmann has for many years been involved in both the Church and education. He helped to start a Christian school in South Carolina, tutored homeschoolers, and has been adjunct faculty for both Covenant College and the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. He founded the C.S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga in 2005. He has spoken extensively on C.S Lewis, and was the Director of the C.S Lewis Study Centre at The Kilns from 2014-2015. He is currently a Regional Representative for the C.S. Lewis Foundation in Chattanooga and Director of the Christian Study Center of Chattanooga.

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