New Age began with Cowper Powys

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The Independent Online
JOHN COWPER Powys published his vast, 1,100-page novel The Glastonbury Romance in 1933, the year that Hitler came to power. It explores the origin of evil, and the sources of the good that can combat it, against a backdrop of rural English mysticism. With his pervasive symbolism of the Holy Grail and his urge to root religious faith in much older, pagan patterns of existence, Powys managed to pinpoint the central features of New Age beliefs fully half a century before the term came into common use.

Through the progress of the idealistic John Geard, the Crow family and the people of Glastonbury, Powys sought to convey "a jumbled-up and squeezed- together epitome of life's various dimensions".

It is no great surprise, perhaps, that thousands of baby-boomer readers who grew up with J R R Tolkien should now want to spend their mature adulthood with the sprawling chronicles of Powys.

Born in 1872 to a Welsh family, in his father's Derbyshire rectory, Powys taught in girls' schools and as an adult education lecturer after graduating from Cambridge. He also lectured regularly in the US, sowing the seeds of a future fan-club there. Like his brothers Llewellyn and Theodore Francis (author of Mr Weston's Good Wine), John embarked on a literary career. He published his first novel, Wood and Stone, in 1915. Separated from his wife Margaret, he eventually set up home in Wales with his American lover, Phyllis Plater.

Wolf Solent in 1929 began his series of lush, pantheistic West Country epics, of which The Glastonbury Romance proved the most successful. In the 1940s, Powys turned to Welsh historical themes in novels such as Owen Glendower, and wrote critical studies of figures such as Dostoyevsky and Rabelais. He died in 1963, and the zealous Powys Society has worked hard to build his reputation ever since. At last, it looks as if their efforts might be bearing fruit.