Farewell to Alastair Fowler, Mythopoetic Scholar Extraordinaire

On October 9, a bright scholarly light left the world, with hardly a whisper in the press or online. Alastair Fowler, CBE, FBA, and distinguished literary critic and poet, studied under C.S. Lewis at Oxford and received his degrees from there before going on to teach at universities in his native Scotland, England, and the United States from the early 1960s until the late 1990s. Our readers here have surely felt the influence of Fowler, whether or not they realize it. He edited Lewis’s brilliant Spenser’s Images of Life, and, since he extrapolated upon Lewis’s notes and lectures, Fowler’s input upon this brilliant volume, published four years after Lewis’s death, was vital. He made numerous contributions to literary scholarship, particularly upon the works of John Milton and Edmund Spenser.

His edited volume of Paradise Lost, along with his Spenser and the Numbers of Time both made important additions to scholarship in the 1960s, but he was still publishing in the early 2000s, producing How to Write and often criticizing the growing influence of new historicism. Considering Lewis’s abhorrence of “the personal heresy,” it is not surprising Fowler was suspicious of a critical trend that often focuses less on texts and more on the author’s personal life and issues of power and culture.

His scholarship on Spenser provides vital tools for understanding some of the crucial symbols that come into play in Troubled Blood: ChrisC mentioned Fowler in our comments here as Louise Freeman pondered possibilities prior to the novel’s publication two years ago and a few months ago as John Granger speculated on Ink-Black Heart before its release. Thank you, Chris, for making that great connection! A brief Google search reveals no other articles linking Fowler to the Strike novels, but it would certainly have been interesting to hear his take on Strike and Spenser.

Although it is unlikely that any of us who study Lewis, Milton, and Spenser have not, somewhere, used or been influenced by Fowler’s scholarship, his death has not received much public attention. A brief obituary in the Times gives his honorifics but none of his publications or other literary achievements, simply listing his family. Since he and his wife, who passed away three years ago, were married for 68 years, and he was apparently loved by his children and grandchildren, his personal achievements were pretty spectacular. Sadly, his tremendous academic impact, which should continue upon the printed page for many years to come, does not have the interest of an internet trend or celebrity scandal. However, we here at Hogwarts Professor will continue to be grateful for his contribution to the study of important authors and for the tools he has given us.

Thank you, as well, to ChrisC for those great comment shout-outs and for letting us know of the passing of this brilliant scholarly voice.