Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Review of 1968 BBC documentary 'Tolkien in Oxford'

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON_dD-LKlCA 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/writers/12237.shtml

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Duration 26 minutes

In a nutshell, this is a treasurable 15 minute documentary consisting of interviews-with and comments-from Tolkien - all indispensable; plus some very fine readings from Lord of the Rings by the actor Joss Ackland (who has also acted CS Lewis in the original Shadowlands, and performed The Screwtape Letters on Audiobook)...

BUT this wonderful 15 minutes is bracketted and interspersed by about ten-minutes-worth of some of the most embarrassing interviews I have ever seen, made-up of material from (presumably) Oxford university students - in addition being interrupted, and generally spoiled, by ineptly pretentious and profoundly disrespectful technical and editorial gimmickry.

So - you have to watch this documentary; but it will make you cringe, and cringe, and cringe again.

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Friday, 4 April 2014

The strange opening scene of The Lord of the Rings

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I have read The Lord of the Rings many times over many years; but it has only recently struck me that the book begins strangely - in the sense that I had, in a way, completely forgotten what is the opening scene; or, at least, my memory had placed this scene somewhat later.

The opening scene is a conversation among peripheral-character hobbits at the Ivy Bush inn, presided over by Sam's father - The Gaffer Gamgee; and whose only significant other character is the nasty miller Sandyman.

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It is interesting and peculiar that Tolkien chose to open his epic romance with such a scene. The Hobbit has nothing similar, since we have seen Bilbo talking with dwarves, elves, men and a wizard - but the book lacked hobbit to hobbit interactions.

So one purpose served by this scene is to give the Hobbit fans a better idea of the characteristics of hobbits - which was indeed the primary intention of LotR.

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What are these characteristics of hobbits?

Well, they seem - at this point - to be exactly like the kind of rural folk of the south of England that lived around me as a child, and not-at-all idealized: the Ivy Bush conversation has just that tone of spiteful gossip, ameliorated by a loyalty which is primarily to family, then to village, then region, then to the race of hobbits - and which stops at that point.

This is the typical 'peasant' insularity and almost delight in suspiciousness - a determination to be 'down-to-earth' shrewd, nobody's fool...

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So there is a suspicion of the Hobbiton Hobbits towards the strange Bucklanders 'a queer breed, seemingly'; but mitigated by local-familial connections 'After all his father was a Baggins.'' And towards non-Hobbits who Sandyman regards as 'outlandish folk' - such as dwarves and 'that old wandering conjourer, Gandalf'.

And a suspicion of anything 'above' the mundane and everyday concerns of 'Cabbages and Potatoes' - and the Gaffer pours scorn on Sam's interest in 'stories of the old days', 'Elves and Dragons' and even worries that Bilbo has taught him to reading and write - 'I hope that no harm will come of it'.

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Tolkien's enjoyment in writing this scene is palpable, and the language is beautifully judged to communicate a great deal on many levels. But what a strange way to begin the book!

On the face of it, and I am sure in practice, it is very off-putting to open proceedings in such an apparently leisurely fashion (in retrospect we can perceive that there is no padding, everything is there for a reason - but that is now how it looks at first reading); with a bunch of genuinely-ignorant yokels gossipping at the local tavern.

There is some important plot and character exposition, but in an almost perversely-unsophisticated way - because it comes via narrowly parochial rustic speech and concerns of the protagonists.

In practice, the scene probably serves as a filter, to draw-in 'people who like this sort of thing' and discourage those who don't; and also it demonstrates that The Shire is no idyll; but on the contrary, aside from the diminutive stature of its occupants, almost indistinguishable from the English countryside of a century ago.

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Saturday, 29 March 2014

My attempt at a group portrait of the Inklings

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A few months ago, I asked why there was no group portrait of the Inklings - and hoped that somebody would soon have a try at one

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/wanted-group-portrait-of-inklings.html

Still not response - so today I sat down and had a try myself.

Unfortunately I cannot draw - nonetheless here it is:

The First Ever Group Portrait of the Inklings:


For Heaven's sake - it shouldn't be difficult to do better than that!

So please, someone, do it!

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Note: What I was attempting is Tolkien vigorously making a point to Jack who is rather smugly avuncular; Warnie looking at his brother with deep affection, 'Humphrey' Havard  apparently dozing (like his alter ego Dolbear in the Notion Club Papers) - and Charles Williams looking partly louche - partly saintly (eyes directed Heavenward).

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Sunday, 23 March 2014

Is it immature to regard Tolkien as a great writer?

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Do I still think, as I did then, that Tolkien was the greatest writer in the world? 

In the strict sense, no. 

You can think that at thirteen. If you still think it at fifty-three, something has gone wrong with your life

Terry Pratchett, writing in Meditations on Middle Earth edited by Karen Haber, 2003. I have added the emphasis.

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This is an important challenge to Tolkien's stature as a writer and as a thinker - it is, indeed, the crux of the wide divergence of opinion regarding the evaluation of Tolkien.

On the one hand, is a strong taste and preference for Tolkien fine and dandy for teenagers, but a sign of immaturity in an adult - as Pratchett argues from his own experience?

Or, as I would argue, is the opposite the case - that Tolkien is fundamentally a mature taste; and it is Pratchett whose evaluation is adolescent?

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I should immediately at this point correct any impression that I dislike Pratchett's work; on the contrary I regard Terry Pratchett as my favourite fiction writer alive in Britain today. I think he is blimmin' marvellous. Which is why he is worth debating.

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What lies behind this is a traditionalist - and religious - perspective; in confrontation with a progressive - and atheist - perspective: Tolkien is himself, and speaks on behalf of, the traditionalist Christian; Pratchett is himself, and speaks on behalf of, the modern, secular, Leftist and indeed politically correct perspective of modernity.

To the traditionalist, progressivism is immaturity - it is a refusal to grow-up (what I have 'famously' termed psychological neoteny); while to a progressive, traditionalism is a refusal to grow up - it is a 'clinging' to childhood certainties and structures.

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So what we have here is a very profound distinction between two utterly different philosophies of life. And it comes through in multiple ways.

Pratchett is topical and satiric, Tolkien is timeless and humorous; Pratchett is cynical, Tolkien is pessimistic; Pratchett's best work has a female-centred perspective, Tolkien's is a Patriarchal world: Pratchett's world is full of antiheroes, there are none in Tolkien; in Pratchett's world the highest values are kindness, the relief of suffering and tolerance - and cowardly selfish people are regarded with affection, in Tolkien's world the highest values are love and courage; for Pratchett equality and counter-cultural rebelliousness are positive values, while in Tolkien deference to hierarchy and obedience are positive... and so on.

These are two utterly different world views - and it is natural that from TP's perspective Tolkien is out of date, and indeed has an immoral basis which can only be acceptable when firmly placed in an ironic frame - or else is regarded indulgently as a teenage phase or craze or fad - which sensible people grow-out-of.

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In my opinion Pratchett's work is very uneven in quality - and sometimes very shallow; but it is interesting that the best characters in Pratchett, and the most moving situations and incidents, are very traditional: Granny Weatherwax is hardly a progressive, Tiffany Aching is a great traditionalist, and Vimes's primary quality is decency - a very old-fashioned virtue.

So Pratchett, unavoidably - in pursuit of depth and truth - must include traditionalism and an implicit real-religiousness - inside his essentially modern, progressive, satirical, cynical, atheistic and politically correct framework.

There it is somewhat ironic, distant, against-the-grain and deniable - but it is what gives the best of Pratchett's work the warmth and heart which makes it so worthwhile.

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Nowadays, Terry Pratchett is best known outside his fiction for two 'causes':

1. Militant atheism - as a prominent member of the Humanist Association.

2. Proselytizing advocacy of euthanasia - specifically, the view that people should be humanely murdered when their lives have reached a certain threshold of suffering, or lack of dignity, or when they do not experience enough pleasure or satisfaction.

So, from TP's current perspective, this is what mature adults believe and how mature adults behave - thus naturally Tolkien is necessarily immature

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Pratchett is, indeed, an absolutely mainstream, counter-cultural, rebellious 'radical' - in that he has accepted a knighthood from the monarch (SIR Terry Pratchett), and supports medical research charities (for dementia) and is a major contributor to a trendy animal charity (Orangutans) and all the rest of it - all very highly socially acceptable stuff.

By contrast, it would be, in the UK, a disciplinary/ sacking/ imprisonable/ hate crime offence to read-out certain passages from Tolkien's letters to certain people in certain situations. After all, Tolkien was a traditionalist Roman Catholic - and it is utterly beyond the pale for anyone to articulate, never mind to advocate, Christian views in the public arena in Britain today.

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So we have the usual modern situation that the supposed radical is feted and fashionable; while the views of a reactionary and conservative have become so truly counter-cultural as to be dangerous - requiring coordinated suppression from the state; and a taste for literature rooted in the values and perspectives of centuries is regarded as immature.

To label Tolkien as an immature taste is not just a slander, but also a hinted threat - the threat that if you have not grown out of Tolkien, if you have not stopped taking him seriously, before you reach adulthood; then you are either a bit of a joke, or else potentially in trouble - and if ridicule is not enough to make you abandon your loyalty, then other and even nastier methods can and maybe will be deployed...  

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Friday, 7 March 2014

Seven books about Tolkien I do NOT recommend

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Looking through my bookshelves I have, over the years, bought several books about Tolkien which I consider to be a waste of money and the time spent reading them.

In order to save others (or, at least, those 'others' who share my tastes and preferences) from the same mistakes, I list here my NOT recommendations:

1. Tolkien: a biography by Michael White - NOT

2. Defending Middle Earth: Tolkien, myth and modernity by Patrick Curry - NOT

3. A look behind the Lord of the Rings by Lin Carter - NOT

4. There and back again in the footsteps of JRR Tolkien by Mathew Lyons - NOT

5. Tolkien and the Critics edited by ND Isaacs and RA Zimbardo - NOT

6. A Tolkien Compass edited by Jared Lobdell - NOT

7. Understanding Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings by William Ready - NOT (except that this one is so bad that it is almost enjoyable).

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Friday, 7 February 2014

Who are the Children of Ilúvatar?

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The usual answer is Elves and Men.

But the correct answer is Elves, Men, Angels (Maia) and the Valar including even Melkor/ Morgoth and Manwe.

These are all the same species or kind, evidenced by the fact that they all look pretty much the same - varying mainly by size - and can interbreed. 

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So the Maia are known to be lesser than the Ainur, but of the same kind - and the Maia Melian married and had a child with the Elf Thingol; their half-Maia half-Elven child Luthien had a fertile marriage with Beren; and there were Elf Human marriages between their descendants including Idril and Tuor, and Arwen and Aragorn. 

Furthermore, there was at least one probable recorded marriage of a Silvan Elf and a Prince of Dol Amroth. 

So clearly Men and Elves and Maia were of the same kind, and Maia are Valar - so all of these are, it seems, Children of Iluvitar. 

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Only the primary creator God (the One, Illuvatar, Eru) is set apart as a being of different kind, and outside of the world...

But wait! If we go back to the Lost Tales to try and recover Tolkien's original conception and image of the nature of Illuvatar; in The Music of the Ainur (the Ainur being the senior Valar) we find:

"Behold, Illuvatar dwelt alone. Before all things he sang into being the Ainur first, and greatest is their power and glory of all his creatures within the world and without. Thereafter he fashioned them dwellings in the void, and dwelt among them, teaching them all manner of things, and the greatest of these was music."

And dwelt among them! 

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So, by joining and building these speculative inferences; it seems to be implied, or perhaps simply assumed, that The One, Illuvatar/ Eru is also man-like - God with body, parts and passions!

So, the Father of the Children of Illuvatar is of the same kind as His Children.

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Of these various beings, it seems that only Men are 'mortal', in the sense that at death their spirits leave the world of the 'dwellings' that were fashioned in the void for Valar and Elves; thus Men are only visitors to these dwellings in the void. 

After death, it seems, Men's spirits leave these dwellings in the void and go to where Illuvatar also dwells; and this can be seen as a higher destiny for Men.

Men are the same kind as Illuvatar the creator and Father, and share his dwelling after death; and the Children of Illuvatar (Valar, Elves and Men) are a chain of familiarly-related beings, a 'Heavenly' Father with sons and daughters... 

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The saddest thing about all this is that the family seems to be sundered - with Elves and Valar remaining in the world while Men and Illuvatar will gather outwith that world.  

So, the greatest hope of universal salvation is for a New World, an Arda Remade, where all the Children of Illuvatar can come to dwell again together - as indeed was prophesied, or hoped-for, by Finrod:

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2008/09/tolkiens-marring-of-men.html

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Thursday, 6 February 2014

What is the meaning of Tolkien's King Sheave legend?

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From  JRR Tolkien The Lost Road edited by Christopher Tolkien (History of Middle Earth Volume Five) , 1987

http://www.thetolkienwiki.org/wiki.cgi?KingSheave/ProseVersion

This is my favourite rendition of the versions of the legend Tolkien prepared from various ancient sources including Beowulf, and from his own imagination. It is a very beautiful, haunting, mysterious story.


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To the shore the ship came and strode upon the sand, grinding upon the broken shingle. In the twilight as the sun sank men came down to it, and looked within.

A boy lay there, asleep. He was fair of face and limb, dark-haired, white-skinned, but clad in gold. The inner parts of the boat were gold-adorned, a vessel of gold filled with clear water was at his side, [added: at his right was a harp,] beneath his head was a sheaf of corn, the stalks and ears of which gleamed like gold in the dusk. Men knew not what it was.

In wonder they drew the boat high upon the beach, and lifted the boy and bore him up, and laid him sleeping in a wooden house in their burh. They set guards about the door.

*

In the morning the chamber was empty. But upon a high rock men saw the boy standing. The sheaf was in his arms.

As the risen sun shone down, he began to sing in a strange tongue, and they were filled with awe. For they had not yet heard singing, nor seen such beauty. And they had no king among them, for their kings had perished, and they were lordless and unguided.

Therefore they took the boy to be king, and they called him Sheaf; and so is his name remembered in song. For his true name was hidden and is forgotten. Yet he taught men many new words, and their speech was enriched.

Song and verse-craft he taught them, and rune-craft, and tillage and husbandry, and the making of many things; and in his time the dark forests receded and there was plenty, and corn grew in the land; and the carven houses of men were filled with gold and storied webs.

The glory of King Sheaf sprang far and wide in the isles of the North. His children were many and fair, and it is sung that of them are come the kings of men of the North Danes and the West Danes, the South Angles and the East Gothfolk. And in the time of the Sheaf-lords there was peace in the isles, and ships went unarmed from land to land bearing treasure and rich merchandise. And a man might cast a golden ring upon the highway and it would remain until he took it up again.

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Those days songs have called the golden years, while the great mill of Sheaf was guarded still in the island sanctuary of the North; and from the mill came golden grain, and there was no want in all the realms.

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But it came to pass after long years that Sheaf summoned his friends and counsellors, and he told them that he would depart. For the shadow of old age was fallen upon him (out of the East) and he would return whence he came. Then there was great mourning.

But Sheaf laid him upon his golden bed, and became as one in deep slumber; and his lords obeying his commands while he yet ruled and had command of speech set him in a ship.

He lay beside the mast, which was tall, and the sails were golden. Treasures of gold and of gems and fine raiment and costly stuffs were laid beside him. His golden banner flew above his head. In this manner he was arrayed more richly than when he came among them; and they thrust him forth to sea, and the sea took him, and the ship bore him unsteered far away into the uttermost West out of the sight or thought of men. Nor do any know who received him in what haven at the end of his journey.

Some have said that that ship found the Straight Road. But none of the children of Sheaf went that way, and many in the beginning lived to a great age, but coming under the shadow of the East they were laid in great tombs of stone or in mounds like green hills; and most of these were by the western sea, high and broad upon the shoulders of the land, whence men can descry them that steer their ships amid the shadows of the sea.

**


The legend of King Sheave featured in Tolkien's unfinished novel The Lost Road of 1936 and its revised version The Notion Club Papers of 1944-6. Clearly it fascinated Tolkien, and seemed significant.

On the one hand this purported to be history, and Sheaf was listed as an ancestor of the real-life Kings - and therefore a direct ancestor of the current Queen of England!

On the other hand the legend is clearly mythic, and indeed magical.

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What are the striking features?

1. "they had no king among them, for their kings had perished, and they were lordless and unguided."

A strange situation - a lordless people, unguided? Usually somebody takes over, siezes power, when the king's line dies-out. This sounds much like a metaphor for the human condition.

2. "He was fair of face and limb, dark-haired, white-skinned, but clad in gold."  "he began to sing in a strange tongue, and they were filled with awe. For they had not yet heard singing, nor seen such beauty." 

A marvelous boy is washed ashore, and this unguided people are smitten by his beauty and the beauty of his singing. They recognize him as a gift for their good, destined or intended to be their leader, and make him such.

3. "he began to sing in a strange tongue".

Sheaf is not of their people, he is from else where, another culture.

4. "Song and verse-craft he taught them, and rune-craft, and tillage and husbandry, and the making of many things... the dark forests receded and there was plenty, and corn grew in the land; and the carven houses of men were filled with gold and storied webs. The glory of King Sheaf sprang far and wide ... His children were many and fair... of them are come the kings of men ... there was peace in the isles, and ships went unarmed from land to land bearing treasure and rich merchandise. And a man might cast a golden ring upon the highway and it would remain until he took it up again."

The golden King has all virtues - wisdom, the arts, craft, the secrets of agriculture; he was a great military leader, he was a patriarch with many sons, he established peace and honesty.

5.  "Sheaf summoned his friends and counsellors, and he told them that he would depart. For the shadow of old age was fallen upon him ... he would return whence he came... But Sheaf laid him upon his golden bed, and became as one in deep slumber"

In the mortal world, Sheaf ages, and comes to a time when he needs to return; but he does not die - instead voluntarily falls into a deep sleep.

6. "the sea took him, and the ship bore him unsteered far away into the uttermost West ... Nor do any know who received him in what haven at the end of his journey.

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Who was Sheaf? Where did he come from? What was his purpose?

In the context of Tolkien's other work it seems that Sheaf was a Vala or Maia, one of the gods or an angelic representative of similar order to Melian or Gandalf (also Saruman and Sauron).

Indeed, since Sheaf had sons, the closest parallel is specifically with Melian.

Melian (although not 'sent' to do this) wed the High Elf Thingol and their daughter was Luthien who married Beren and thereby brought an elvish (and Maian) strain into Men's ancestry - with descendants such as Earendil, Elrond, Elros and the Numenoreans, Arwen and Aragorn: people whose influence in Middle Earth was profound.

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Thus Sheaf is a male equivalent of Melian - but Sheaf married and had children ('sons') by a mortal woman, or perhaps many women; whereas Melian married an 'immortal' male elf.

Sheaf came from the West - therefore was, presumably, 'sent' by the Valar - to lead wisely and well; to bring prosperity, peace, beauty and good order; and to infuse the blood of humanity (especially the legitimate kings) with the nobility of the gods.

Presumably, when his mortal frame wore-out, Sheaf returned to the West, there to resume his angelic form.

(Rather as did Gandalf the Grey return to the West when slain, returned in spirit presumably, to be restored to his resurrected (?) and perfected body back to Middle Earth - at least for a short period.)

Ultimately, all this is suggested by Sheaf's coming from The West, from his personal qualities, and his return to The West.

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King Sheave is one of several Tolkien stories when 'healing' - knowledge, beauty, order - comes to a society from elsewhere - from The West.

The return of the Noldorian High Elves is one example. Although a very mixed blessing the Noldor did indeed bring arts, crafts, sciences and beauty of life - for example in their great cities such as Gondolin, Doriath and Nargothrond; or the realm of Lothlorien.

Then there was the return of the Numenoreans from The West to Middle Earth, to found Gondor and Arnor. 

And in Smith of Wooton Major, Faery is to the West of the village; and from Faery comes that which elevates and ennobles mundane life - coming via messengers such as the eponymous Smith and his grandfather.

And of course Tolkien's earliest legendarium (Lost Tales, from the 1914-18 world war) had its origins in the story of an Aelfwine (elf-friend) character who sails to - and establishes human contact with - 'Elfland', Tol Eressea, the island of elves to the West.

This theme and basis for the Legendarium continued through thirty more years, including the (finished) Quenta Silmarillion, the unfinished Lost Road and the unfinished Notion Club Papers - after which the idea was finally abandoned.

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But, the intriguing thing about all this is that - plausibly, by Tolkien's understanding of such things - it really happened!

King Sheave 'really happened' in the sense that the evidence that it (or something like it) happened is, while somewhat slim and scattered, of the same general type and authority (ancient writings) as 'normal' historical evidence used to establish 'normal' historical events.

No wonder Tolkien was fascinated.

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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Tolkien: first contact - circa 1970...

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The very first time I heard about Tolkien was when aged about ten or eleven, when a friend played me a few minutes on a cassette tape from what he called 'a fairy tale for grown-ups' called The Hobbit.

It was from the (apparently?) long-lost 1961 BBC Radio adaptation read by David Davis - who was one of the best and favourite performers on children's radio during my childhood

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Davis_(broadcaster)

Here is a snippet of his voice - although when I knew him it had matured to be a little deeper and more 'gravelly' than here:

http://www.radioacademy.org/hall-of-fame-member/david-davis/

I was intrigued - but did not get around to reading The Hobbit for myself until I was 13, under the influence of another friend who perhaps lent me a copy.

I loved it so much that I did not want to read The Lord of the Rings because I knew that it did not have very much more about Bilbo - I just wanted another book all about Bilbo.

Still, eventually (i.e. after a few weeks resistance) I read LotR; and the rest is history...

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Review of JRR Tolkien audiobook Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Orfeo - read by Terry Jones (1997)

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Rating - three stars (out of five)

This is a complete recording (on four CDs) of Tolkien's translations of three Middle English poems, plus his introductory editorial comments.

The actual material, and what Tolkien has to say about the poems, is excellent - consequently I have listened to this audiobook set many times over the past several years.

If I had a gun held to my head, I would need to acknowledge that I do not think Tolkien's translations capture the spirit of the original poems - in particular, Pearl in its original language seems to me one of the very greatest of poems in my experience - and I don't think that greatness comes through in the modern English version. Nonetheless, it is very helpful in appreciating the original - and I think that was Tolkien's primary intention.

My major reservations about this audiobook relate to Terry Jones as the reader.

To be brutally honest, he is inadequate. His voice is not very pleasant to listen to for long periods, he has several intrusive speech impediments; and worst of all he is not a good enough actor or dramatic reader.

Jones does his best, and his main virtue is an earnest sincerity - so that I do indeed listen to these CDs with enjoyment. But they could be so much better with another reader.

Terry Jones is best known as one of the Monty Python team, and it might seem surprising that he was even considered for this job. But the reason is fairly obvious in the sense that Jones is a 'professional' medievalist who has published a monograph on The Knight's Tale from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, plus some popular history (albeit he is a skeptical, debunking and anti-Christian kind of medieval historian - of a sort which would have been uncongenial to Tolkien and even more so to CS Lewis).

On the whole, this is the weakest by-far of the Tolkien audiobooks I have encountered - but it is likely that we will be stuck with this version for some considerable time to come, because I don't suppose that there is much demand for recordings of these works.

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Saturday, 28 December 2013

A Notion Club FanFiction

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I was pleased to discover this FanFic by 'shakespearianfish': Further Entries of the Notion Club Papers.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9947242/1/Further-Entries-of-the-Notion-Club-Papers

Very well done, I thought - an accurate pastiche of the original NCP style and characterization.

More please!

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Monday, 16 December 2013

Light on a very strange personality: Review of Charles Williams' letters to his wife 1939-45

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To Michal from Serge: Letters from Charles Williams to his wife Florence 1939-1945

Edited by Roma A King. Kent State University Press: Ohio, USA. 2002. pp 315

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I have spent a leisurely couple of weeks reading these letters - selected from almost-daily missives over nearly six years - having at last found a not-wildly-overpriced secondhand copy after a few years of waiting.

These letters are very well worth reading for the scholar of Charles Williams life and works - somebody such as myself; but would be almost totally without interest for anybody else.

*

(Note: Michal and Serge were pet names: Michal for Florence and Serge for Charles.)

The reason for their limited appeal is that there is very little in these pages of letters except:

1. Microscopic discussions of money - down to the level of shillings earned and spent.

2. Repeated and prolonged (and un-convincing) praise of Michal by Serge.

3.  Complaints of misery, discomfort, loneliness etc.

*

There is almost nothing about The Inklings, or even CS Lewis - who Williams was in real life often meeting (with Tolkien, Warnie, Havard and others) for a few hours on Monday mornings (in various places, to read and be read to by Lewis and Tolkien) rooms, Tuesday lunchtimes (at the Bird and Baby pub) and Thursday evenings (for Inklings meetings in Lewis's rooms at Magdalen College).

There is almost nothing about Williams' incessant socialising and conversing with his wide circles of 'disciples', admirers, acolytes - such as his future biographer Alice Mary Hadfield; and almost nothing of his actual work at his employers: the Oxford University Press.

If indeed he was doing any significant work at the OUP. CW did so much of his own book and essay writing (for money), reviewing other people's books (for money), tutorial work and lecturing in Oxford (for money) and around the country (usually free) - not to mention the socialising - it seems that the OUP position by this time was simply a sinecure!

*

So what about the focus on money? This goes way beyond anything reasonable or sensible - indeed, it is an act of self-justification. Williams is telling his wife, over and over again, that he is working to get her money - which he sends in dribs and drabs enclosed with most of the letters - ten shilling notes (that is half a pound), mostly pounds, the occasional two pounds... meticulously documented in terms of their provenance.

My interpretation is partly that these were a bribe for the continued affection and attention of Michal, and partly a displacement activity - by writing about money all the time and everyday, CW was able NOT to write about a lot of other things.

*

What about the over-the-top praise of Michal?

One might initially suppose that for a husband to write wild overpraise of his wife day after day for six years - he would have to mean what he said... but on reflection I think almost the opposite was the case.

What kind of wife demands to be called a genius, compared with a goddess, credited with superhuman powers of goodness, intuition, inspiration and so on; day after day, year after year?... what reasonable wife could endure it?

My firm conclusion (consistent with other sources of information I have found in memoirs) is that Charles Williams wife was a Psycho Hose Beast^, a High Maintenance Woman, an hysteric, an extremely unstable neurotic.

Therefore Michal apparently demanded incessant, ludicrous over-praise, and was so jealous that Williams could not write positively about anybody - not even his best men friends such as CS Lewis and TS Eliot - without immediately denying his affection for them, denigrating them, stating that he would always rather be with his wife instead.

Indeed, I infer that CW was completely sincere in his wish to live with Michal (if in almost nothing else); he stated, and I believe, that it was the only way he could find rest in this life; lacking which his life was always a matter of being 'on show', and with a mask in place, and unsettled, and not-at-home.

Williams really, really wanted to live with Michal - as husband and wife (and also, he very powerfully missed the physical side of marriage - especially sleeping next to each other and entwined, as well as sex).

Yet Michal would not be with him. What kind of wife lives apart from her husband for six years - living here and there, in London and out of it, sometimes with people she loathes - because she doesn't like Oxford? Answer: the kind of woman who does not want to live with her husband, and who will seize upon any excuse NOT to live with her husband.

*

Why this terribly sad situation?

Obviously there were faults on both sides, and especially Charles' previous infatuation with the secretary Phyllis Jones, which he never completely broke free from; plus presumably his weirdly ritualistic 'use' of young women as a source of energy to sublimate into his writing...

I infer that Michal was already, by nature, extremely unstable and neurotic; and the Phyllis Jones business unleashed this with extraordinary and permanent force - one observer said that it made the main topic of her conversation for many years after Charles died.

So there was probably a considerable element of Michal punishing Charles, and punishing him day after day for year after year; but also this behaviour probably came naturally to her as a mixture of her dependence on him with her anger and revulsion at his betrayal.

*

The modern reaction to CW's situation - is why did he put up with it? Why did he not just 'dump' Michal? Perhaps to take-up with one/ several/ many of his young female admirers - who would have been only too willing to oblige.

There are many reasons (including morality) but at root Williams did not want to - he wanted Michal back, and that was the only thing he wanted because it was an absolute necessity to his psychological survival.

Thus the tedious harping on the money he brings in and sends to her, the wild overpraise, the pandering to her jealousy by including many spiteful (and dishonest) remarks about the people he lives among; and the massive act of self-censorship going on in these letters - which represent a real but tiny minority chunk of CW's Oxford life, such that the reality of 90 percent of his waking life as seen by everybody around him including those very close to him; is utterly excluded from these letters.

*

Another factor is CW's son Michael (note the 'e' in the name). It is one of the most disappointing aspects of this not-very-well-edited volume that there is almost no information about Michael Williams (1922-2000) who is a major focus of CWs concern, indeed his desperate worry over the whole period of these letters - but especially the early years.

In fact, CW's evident and active concern for his son is one of his most likeable and 'human' qualities; any father can empathize with this, and it is greatly to CW's credit.

It is clear that Michael had some undefined psychological problems, and also that he had suffered some kind of illness in his teens which threatened his eyesight - and perhaps caused or threatened some kind of permanent problem either of mental handicap or psychotic or neurological type.

But although this is my own area of medical expertise, there just isn't enough information provided here to give more than the vaguest idea about what the problem was. Charles and Michal obviously knew what the problem was, so it never gets spelled-out in correspondence - but the editor should have found-out and told us!

The fact that in the last couple of years of this book, Michael was reviewing books for the prestigious (and paying) magazine Time and Tide, shows that he must have been intelligent and had considerable ability as a writer - yet he is always talked-of as being unstable, irritable, prone to outbursts of bad manners, lacking in application, prone to unreasonably strong dislikes (of Oxford, for example), and so on.

The editor needed to tell us about this - but he didn't; and I can't discover anything anywhere else. Yet Michael seems like he was probably some kind of missing 'key' to Charles Williams personality and behaviour.

*

So these letters provide vital information for the Charles Williams scholar - albeit mostly indirectly and by omission.

For me, the letters demonstrate that Charles Williams is not to be trusted in his evaluations of his wife, since his behaviour is not consistent with his statements.

Indeed, there is very little in these letters which can be trusted because the content has been so selected, slanted and distorted for the consumption of Michal/ Florence: they are fundamentally evasive, and they 'ring false' at many or most points throughout.

*

Also these letters are of near-zero literary value; and this is related to their falseness, and their extreme degree of self-censorship.

They reveal a fundamental problem with Charles Williams as a person, which spills over into Williams as a writer; which is that Williams' personality was compartmentalised, un-integrated.

So that while Lewis and Tolkien are the same person in their fiction, non-fiction and letters - and both were among the greatest of letter writers, from a literary perspective - Williams was by contrast a collection of hermetically-sealed masks (!), and his work is therefore extremely uneven in quality - according to which mask he is wearing; often lacks depth (because of the partiality of perspective); and almost-never attains the heights of either Lewis or Tolkien.

*

Yet it is hard to blame Williams for this; indeed after reading these letters I do not really blame him. He had great gifts - as were apparent to men of genius such as Eliot, Auden, Lewis and others; and he helped many people greatly; but he found life terribly difficult; almost a minute-by-minute struggle to find the energy and motivation to keep going.

I don't know whether many people would have done much better than CW did, given his inner trials.

All in all, I feel very sorry for Charles Williams. 

*

But Williams' fundamental flaw (for which I do blame him) was dishonesty - not by making up lies, but in the more insidious form of incomplete and misleading factuality.

At some point (and perhaps under intense and sustained pressure from Michal?) he took a step into a life of deception, and compartmentalisation; and this infected his work, and severely-limited his achievement so that Charles Williams will never be popular, nor indeed readable outside of a small 'cult'.

To Michal from Serge documents the end stage of this process - but although it was the end, with Charles dying suddenly, during a 'routine' abdominal operation to treat 'adhesions' from a previous operation, I did not detect any sense that his life's work was complete, or that he was 'ready to die'.

Quite the opposite - Williams' life was opening-out, with a delayed flowering and general success - many opportunities ranging from a Readership or Tutorship at Oxford, or a Professorship at Birmingham University (offered him, but turned-down)...

Had he lived, who knows what he might have gone-on to do?

But in the event, he didn't; and we must make what we can, of what we have: which is a lot.

*

^Note: the term 'psycho hose beast' comes from the brilliant 1992 movie Wayne's World, and is self-defining in that context.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Review of the new Hobbit movie - The Desolation of Smaug

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There is no review of the second Hobbit movie - The Desolation of Smaug.

I'm sorry, but I just can't face it.

I'll take a look when it comes onto TV; and I can use fast-forward.

*


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Tolkien's stinking Nazgul-pterodactyl in Lord of the Rings (probably) came from Charles Williams' Place of the Lion

*

I was always puzzled why the pterodactyl-bred, fell, winged beast upon which the King of the Nazgul rode should smell foul - since I would not expect a reptile to smell overpoweringly bad.

But I suspect that the idea of a reeking pterodactyl came from Charles Williams novel - The Place of the Lion - which Tolkien read in 1936

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/tolkien-and-lewiss-annus-divertium-of.html

In the following excerpt it can be seen that the Nazgul's steed is indeed implied to be a pterodactyl (or some kind of dinosaur bird) and also that it stinks.

From The Battle of Pelennor Fields - The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien - 1955.

The great shadow descended like a falling cloud. And behold! it was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, fingering in forgotten mountains cold beneath the Moon, outstayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil. And the Dark Lord took it, and nursed it with fell meats, until it grew beyond the measure of all other things that fly; and he gave it to his servant to be his steed. Down, down it came, and then, folding its fingered webs, it gave a croaking cry, and settled upon the body of Snowmane, digging in its claws, stooping its long naked neck... Suddenly the great beast beat its hideous wings, and the wind of them was foul. Again it leaped into the air, and then swiftly fell down upon Éowyn, shrieking, striking with beak and claw.

*

And in the following excerpt can be seen the stinking pterodactyl making its earlier appearance:

From The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams - 1933.

As she gazed she heard another sound above, and looked up to see the earlier horror flying round in circles high over her. There she stood on the edge of a swampy pool, with the pterodactyl wheeling round in the sky, and one remote companion. ... Her voice failed; she heard herself making grotesque noises in her throat, and suddenly over him there fell the ominous shadow of the pterodactyl.

(...)

It was five minutes to eight. She thought abruptly, as she very often
did, "O I must get it." Doctor of Philosophy--how hard she had worked
for it! The...O the smell!

In full strength it took her, so violently that she stepped backward and
made an involuntary gesture outward. The horror of it nearly made her
faint. It must, she thought, be something to do with these new houses;
some corrupt material had been used. The smell was corruption. Something
would have to be done; the Council Surveyor must be called in. Perhaps
it wouldn't be so bad downstairs. Her window faced the fallen houses;
the dining-room looked the other way. She would go down and see.

As she moved the sunlight that was over her papers, except for the light
shadow that she herself cast, was totally obscured. A heavy blackness
obliterated it in an instant; the papers, the table, all that part of
the room lay in gloom. The change was so immediate that even Damaris's
attention was caught, and, still wrinkling her nose at the appalling
smell, she glanced half round to see what dark cloud had suddenly filled
the sky. And then she did come much nearer to fainting than ever before
in her life.

Outside the window something was...was. That was the only certainty her
startled senses conveyed. There was a terrific beak protruding through
the open window into the room, there was the most appalling body she had
ever conceived possible; there were two huge flapping wings; there were
two horrible red eyes. And there was the smell. Damaris stood stock
still, gasping at it, thinking desperately, "I'm dreaming." The beastly
apparition remained. It seemed to be perched there, on the window-sill
or the pear-tree or something. Its eyes held her; its wings moved, as
if uncertainly opening; its whole repulsive body shook and stirred; its
beak--not three yards distant--jerked at her, as if the thing were
stabbing; then it opened. She had a vision of great teeth; incapable of
thought, she stumbled backward against the table, and remained fixed.


**

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Wanted: A group portrait of an Inklings meeting

*

It seems extraordinary, almost unbelievable, but so far as I know - nobody has yet done a group portrait of an Inklings meeting.

But if anyone could do this - whether a detailed drawing, or a painting; and do it reasonably well, reasonably authentically - then I think it would be used all over the place.

Certainly I'd love to put any such attempts onto this blog - as I did with some pictures of The Notion Club:

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/notion-club-visualized-by-afalstein.html

Get to it - you artists!

*

I was thinking of something along the lines of Poet's Pub - below; by Alexander Moffat - showing the circle of writers associated with Hugh MacDiarmid in an amalgum of their Edinburgh Rose Street 'watering holes' such as the Cafe Royal, Milne's Bar or the Abbotford:

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Numenor as a nation of Elf-Friends

*

The concept of Numenor entered Tolkien's Legendarium in 1936 (according to the introduction to The Lost Road, by Christopher Tolkien) - a couple of decades after the world was first conceived in the Lost Tales - during Tolkien's military years of World War One.

This entailed inserting a Second Age into the chronology of Tolkien's world - which was a lot of work and added many complications including a 'Second Fall' of Man - as he called it. The First Fall of Man was a fall into worshipping Morgoth as if he was The One God, and that came before the Elves met Men, and thus before the recorded history of the Simarillion).

So I think it is reasonable to assume that Numenor served some very important function (or functions) for Tolkien - brought something or some-things he had come to regard as vitally important.

So, the question is what was the function of Numenor in Tolkien's world - why did he feel a need to insert a 'Second Age' into his chronology?

*

My answer is that in essence Numenor served as a bridge between Elves and Men (the relationship of which is the main underlying theme of Tolkien's stories - taken as a whole).

*

1. Geography

In the first place, Numenor is physically situated between Elfland and England (or The British Isles) - much closer to Elfland (Tol Erresea) but a 'half-way-house' nonetheless.

*

2. Racial characteristics

Numenorean-Men are mid-way between Elves and Men, share characteristics of both; in a sense Numenoreans are 'mortal Elves' since they combine (almost) High Elven artistic and scientific skills and 'magic' (healing, intuition, far-sight, fore-sight etc) with Man's mortality; regarded as the Gift to Men from Eru - that gift being the privilege to leave the confines of the world after death (therefore with the hope of true immortality, rather than the Elvish prospect of life in this world serially continued, but until the end of the world only).

Indeed, it seems that the Valar may have been hoping that the Numenoreans would have been better than either Elves or Men - the best of both worlds, in effect!

And perhaps in a sense Numenoreans were the best-of-both, at first; although they ended-up being the worst of both worlds (High Elvish power with Mannish greed and impatience...) - since neither Elves nor ordinary Men ever did anything of such appalling blasphemy as to make war upon the Valar in their own domain.

*

3. Ennoblement of Men

The Numenoreans were the basis for the ennoblement of Men by Elves - both by blood and by blessing.

By blood because of the infusions from those rare marriages between Men and High Elves - Beren and Luthien (half High Elf, half Maia - minor god), Tuor and Idril, and much later Aragorn and Arwen.

(Perhaps of relevance is the union of a Numenorean Prince of Dol Amroth with a Silvan Elf - but from the rather casual and indifferent way this is mentioned and its vaguely legendary status, it seems that marraiges between Men and Silvan Elves may have been bother commoner and less much significant than when High Elves were involved - http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Princes_of_Dol_Amroth ).

*

But also by blessing.

I have commented that High Elves seem able to make a Man (or Hobbit) into an Elf-Friend by simply pronouncing it:

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/i-name-you-elf-friend-blessing-of-frodo.html

To be an Elf-Friend is to be a partly Elven in terms of certain 'magical' enhancements, and to have a partially Elven nature implanted.

Similarly, but much more powerfully, the Numenoreans seem to have been given a blessing by the Valar - to make them into a race of (as it were) permanent Elf-Friends.

This seems to be a necessary explanation because it seems very unlikely, almost inconceivable, that all the Numenoreans get their Elvish enhancements by genetic descent from Elros - the brother of Elrond and original Half-Elven Founding Father King of Numenor.

*

Also, Tolkien once said (I think in one of his Letters) that the union of Aragorn and Arwen and the residual Numenorean lineage of Arnor and Gondor was (fictively) how later, modern man had been ennobled (somewhat) with an Elvish strain.

My feeling is that this was not meant to be a direct genetic kind of inheritance, but a more diffuse and spiritual kind of blood relationship; which also involved some kind of 'blessing' conferred by the greater on the lesser - analogous to Gildor and Frodo.

But that notion is very speculative indeed!

*

Monday, 28 October 2013

Lord of the Rings: "Deeply sad, almost without hope..." True - but only in a literary sense

*

On page 200 of his (indispensable!) collection of essays Roots and Branches the greatest ever Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey describes The Lord of the Rings as "deeply sad, almost without hope".

Of course he is correct, right down to the 'almost' - but this quality is, to a very significant extent:

1. A contingent artifact of the publication history of Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion of 1977.

2. True of LotR as a literary work, but not true of Tolkien the man.

*

A. The sadness and almost-hope-less-ness of LotR is a contingent artifact of the last-minute deletion of the Epilogue

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-epilogue-to-lord-of-rings-what.html

which would, to my mind, have left the reader with a most positive and less pessimistic sense of the story.

*

B. Furthermore, the original frame for the LotR - which involved some English (or proto-English) person receiving the legends of the Elves (or Numenoreans) by travel to Elfland, Faery or Numenor, was a more positive frame - in the sense of implying some special role or destiny for these legends.

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/i-name-you-elf-friend-blessing-of-frodo.html

*

C. When LotR is interpreted in the light of the Silmarillion, then the fact that the transcendentally hopeful Second Prophecy of Mandos was omitted from the Silmarillion of 1977 makes it an almost wholly sad story.

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/what-is-point-of-tale-of-turin-turambar.html

*

D. Also, the decision to omit The debate of Finrod and Andreth from The Simarillion of 1977, robbed it not only of what would have been perhaps its most moving piece of writing, but of its strongly implicit link to the incarnation of Jesus; and the ultimate optimism of Christianity.

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2008/09/tolkiens-marring-of-men.html

*

And finally, Tolkien's works can be seen as exemplars of his philosophy of subcreation described in On Fairy Stories, which essay ends with a tremendous expression of Christian hope:

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/epilogue-to-on-fairy-stories.html

*

In conclusion, The Lord of the Rings, as published, and considered as a literary work, is indeed 'deeply sad, almost without hope; furthermore the available biographical information suggests that Tolkien was himself often deeply sad, and also pessimistic about the future of this world; but although both sad and pessimistic, Tolkien-the-man was not 'without hope' - and was quite the opposite - Tolkien was profoundly hopeful, convinced in his hope.

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/was-jrr-tolkien-pessimist-no-not-really.html

*

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The wind siezes them and drives them away... Failing to get to Faery: Tolkien's strangely lame recurrent plot idea

*

For a period of about thirty years - stretching from his earliest sketched and planned stories published in Lost Tales all the way down to The Notion Club Papers - Tolkien recurrently noted what seems like a very bad idea for a plot, which is that someone has a long and hazardous voyage to the land of the elves - and then just as it comes into sight, sound or smell they get driven back to mortal shores.

I present three excepts, with bold emphasis added to the relevant passage:

*

From 1920 - The History of Eriol or AElfwine, Book of Lost Tales Volume 2 - page 327:

The night-flowers are opening in Faery,' said AElfwine; 'and behold,' said Bior," 'the Elves are kindling candles in their silver dusk,' and all looked whither his long hand pointed over their dark stern.

Then none spoke for wonder and amaze, seeing deep in the gloaming of the West a blue shadow, and in the blue shadow many glittering lights, and ever more and more of them came twinkling out, until ten thousand points of flickering radiance were splintered far away as if a dust of the jewels self-luminous that Feanor made were scattered on the lap of the Ocean.

'Then is that the Harbour of the Lights of Many Hues,' said AElfheah, 'that many a little-heeded tale has told of in our homes.' Then saying no more they shot out their oars and swung about their ship in haste, and pulled towards the never- dying shore. Near had they come to abandoning it when hardly won. Little did they make of that long pull, as they thrust the water strongly by them, and the long night of Faerie held on, and the horned moon of Elfinesse rode over them.

Then came there music very gently over the waters and it was laden with unimagined longing, that AElfwine and his comrades leant upon their oars and wept softly each for his heart's half- remembered hurts, and memory of fair things long lost, and each for the thirst that is in every child of Men for the flawless loveliness they seek and do not find.

And one said: 'It is the harps that are thrumming, and the songs they are singing of fair things; and the windows that look upon the sea are full of light.' And another said: 'Their stringed violins complain the ancient woes of the immortal folk of Earth, but there is a joy therein.' 'Ah me,' said AElfwine, 'I hear the horns of the Fairies shimmer- ing in magic woods -- such music as I once dimly guessed long years ago beneath the elms of Mindon Gwar.'

And lo! as they spoke thus musing the moon hid himself, and the stars were clouded, and the mists of time veiled the shore, and nothing could they see and nought more hear, save the sound of the surf of the seas in the far-off pebbles of the Lonely Isle; and soon the wind blew even that faint rustle far away.

But AElfwine stood forward with wide-open eyes unspeaking, and suddenly with a great cry he sprang forward into the dark sea, and the waters that filled him were warm, and a kindly death it seemed enveloped him.

Then it seemed to the others that they awakened at his voice as from a dream; but the wind now suddenly grown fierce filled all their sails, and they saw him never again, but were driven back with hearts all broken with regret and longing.

*

From 1936 - The Lost Road (HOME Volume 5) - page 80

The  Straight  Road.....  water (island  of   Azores?)..... off.

AElfwine [?restores?restrains] Eadwine. Thinks it a vision of delirium.

The vision of Eressea and the sound of voices.

Resigns himself to die but prays for Eadwine.

Sensation  of  falling.

They come down in [?real] sea and west wind blows them back.

Land in Ireland

*

From 1946 - The Notion Club Papers (From HOME Volume 9) - page 278

Treowine sees the round world [?curve] below, and straight ahead a shining land before the wind siezes them and drives them away.

*

So - what is going on?

I noticed this passage because it seems so clearly inadequate as a plot climax: to endure long voyages and great hardship, to get within sight of Faery - but to fail to land there!

(Unless AElfwine did not actually drown but reached the shore alive - but this then leaves the needless complication of explaining how he returned to the British Isles without a boat.)

Furthermore, the rationale behind these stories was (apparently) Tolkien's need to explain how it was that the knowledge of the elves had come down to modern men. The whole reason (it seems to me) for these Western voyages in search of Elfland was so that men could meet the elves and discover from them their legends.

So the West-voyaging character - initially called Eriol (one who dreams alone), then AElfwine (Elf-Friend), and later seemingly Arundel (Elf-Friend) Lowdham and his friend Jeremy from the Notion Club - was supposed to be the link between modern England and the ancient myths of Faery.

Why then do these drafts have this character apparently failing to land?

*

I suspect the reason would, if known, be enlightening of Tolkien's motivations in writing his legendarium - perhaps of his ambivalence about the project, or an anxiety - so that he had a tendency to shy-away from the necessary plot at the last moment. That, at least, is what it looks or feels like, to me.

I have a theory. My theory is that Tolkien had himself visited Faery - presumably in vivid and memorable and true-seeming dreams, of the kind which are all over his works - but he was ambivalent about revealing either this fact or the information he derived in any direct way.

Of course, we eventually got to hear about the history of Erresea and Valinor withot menition of any intermediary Man such as Eriol. AElfwine or Lowdham - all mention of which was deleted from the Lord of the Rings as it appeared, without this kind of framing device.

*

The actually-used fictive framing device is that Bilbo and Frodo (plus Sam and Merry) supposedly wrote the information used in the Hobbit and LotR in The Red Book of Westmarch, having consulted with Elrond and other experts; and the Red Book had reached Tolkien by unexplained routes, and he was merely an editor who made stories from this source.

But before Tolkien reached this partial-solution, his last attempt at the Eriol/ AElfwine explanation was in The Notion Club Papers - and it may be that the Saint Brendan poem 'Iram' included in the NCPs contains the answer, encoded:

‘O! stay now father! There’s more to say.
But two things you have told:
The Tree, the Cloud; but you spoke of three.
The Star in mind you hold?’
‘The Star? Yes, I saw it, high and far,
at the parting of the ways,
a light on the edge of the Outer Night
like silver set ablaze,
where the round world plunges steeply down,
but on the old road goes,
as an unseen bridge that on the arches runs
to coasts than no man knows.’

‘But men say, father that ere the end
you went where none have been.
I would here you tell me, father dear,
of the last land you have seen.’
‘In my mind the Star I still can find,
and the parting of the seas,
and the breath as sweet and keen as death
that was borne upon the breeze.
But where they they bloom those flowers fair,
in what air or land they grow,
what words beyond the world I heard,
if you would seek to know,
in a boat then, brother, far afloat
you must labour in the sea,
and find for yourself things out of mind:
you will learn no more of me.’
*

It may be that, like St Brendan, Tolkien knew from 'direct' personal experience (I mean, by vivid visionary dreams) what was in the Lands of the Gods and Elves - but that he felt he could not, or should not, speak of it - and his message was that if we would seek to know, then in a dream-boat far afloat we must labour in the sea of myth, and find for ourselves these things out of mind; because we will 'learn no more of' Tolkien.

*

The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun - JRR Tolkien

Written 1930, Published 1945






In Britain's land beyond the seas

the wind blows ever through the trees;

in Britain's land beyond the waves

are stony shores and stony caves.



There stands a ruined toft now green

where lords and ladies once were seen,

where towers were piled above the trees

and watchmen scanned the sailing seas.

Of old a lord in arched hall

with standing stones yet grey and tall

there dwelt, till dark his doom befell,

as still the Briton harpers tell.



No child he had his house to cheer,

to fill his courts with laughter clear;

though wife he wooed and wed with ring,

who love to board and bed did bring,

his pride was empty, vain his hoard,

without an heir to land and sword.

Thus pondering oft at night awake

his darkened mind would visions make

of lonely age and death; his tomb

unkept, while strangers in his room

with other names and other shields

were masters of his halls and fields.

Thus counsel cold he took at last;

his hope from light to darkness passed.



A witch there was, who webs could weave

to snare the heart and wits to reave,

who span dark spells with spider-craft,

and as she span she softly laughed;

a drink she brewed of strength and dread

to bind the quick and stir the dead;

In a cave she housed where winging bats

their harbour sought, and owls and cats

from hunting came with mournful cries,

night-stalking near with needle-eyes.



In the homeless hills was her hollow dale,

black was its bowl, its brink was pale;

there silent on a seat of stone

before her cave she sat alone.

Dark was her door, and few there came,

whether man, or beast that man doth tame.



In Britain's land beyond the waves

are stony hills and stony caves;

the wind blows ever over hills

and hollow caves with wailing fills.



The sun was fallen low and red,

behind the hills the day was dead,

and in the valley formless lay

the misty shadows long and grey.

Alone between the dark and light

there rode into the mouth of night

the Briton lord, and creeping fear

about him closed. Dismounting near

he slowly then with lagging feet

went halting to the stony seat.

His words came faltering on the wind,

while silent sat the crone and grinned.

Few words he needed; for her eyes

were dark and piercing, filled with lies,

yet needle-keen all lies to probe.

He shuddered in his sable robe.

His name she knew, his need, his thought,

the hunger that thither him had brought;

while yet he spoke she laughed aloud,

and rose and nodded; head she bowed,'

and stooped into her darkening cave,

like ghost returning to the grave.

Thence swift she came. In his hand she laid

a phial of glass so fairly made

'twas wonder in that houseless place

to see its cold and gleaming grace;

and therewithin a philter lay

as pale as water thin and grey

that spills from stony fountains frore

in hollow pools in caverns hoar.



He thanked her, trembling, offering gold

to withered fingers shrunk and old.

The thanks she took not, nor the fee,

but laughing croaked: "Nay, we shall see!

Let thanks abide till thanks be earned!

Such potions oft, men say, have burned

the heart and brain, or else are nought,

only cold water dearly bought.

Such lies you shall not tell of me;

Till it is earned I'll have no fee.

But we shall meet again one day,

and rich reward then you shall pay,

whate'er I ask: it may be gold,

it may be other wealth you hold."




In Britain ways are wild and long,

and woods are dark with danger strong;

and sound of seas is in the leaves,

and wonder walks the forest-eaves.



The way was long, the woods were dark;

at last the lord beheld the spark

of living light from window high,

and knew his halls and towers were nigh.

At last he slept in weary sleep

beside his wife, and dreaming deep,

he walked with children yet unborn

in gardens fair, until the morn

came slowly through the windows tall,

and shadows moved across the wall.



Then sprang the day with weather fair,

for windy rain had washed the air,

and blue and cloudless, clean and high,

above the hills was arched the sky,

and foaming in the northern breeze

beneath the sky there shone the seas.

Arising then to greet the sun,

and day with a new thought begun,

that lord in guise of joy him clad,

and masked his mind in manner glad;

his mouth unwonted laughter used

and words of mirth. He oft had mused,

walking alone with furrowed brow;

a feast he bade prepare him now.

And "Itroun mine," he said, "my life,

'tis long that thou hast been my wife.

Too swiftly by in love do slip

our gentle years, and as a ship

returns to port, we soon shall find,

once more that day of spring we mind,

when we were wed, and bells were rung.

But still we love, and still are young:

A merry feast we'll make this year,

and there shall come no sigh nor tear;

and we will feign our love begun

in joy anew, anew to run

down happy paths-and yet, maybe,

we'll pray that this year we may see

our heart's desire more quick draw nigh

than yet we have seen it, thou and I;

for virtue is in hope and prayer."


So spake he gravely, seeming-fair.



In Britain's land across the seas

the spring is merry in the trees;

the birds in Britain's woodlands pair

when leaves are long and flowers are fair.



A merry feast that year they made,

when blossom white on bush was laid;

there minstrels sang and wine was poured,

as it were the marriage of a lord.

A cup of silver wrought he raised

and smiling on the lady gazed:

"I drink to thee for health and bliss,

fair love," he said, "and with this kiss

the pledge I pass. Come, drink it deep!

The wine is sweet, the cup is steep!"




The wine was red, the cup was grey;

but blended there a potion lay

as pale as water thin and frore

in hollow pools of caverns hoar.

She drank it, laughing with her eyes.

"Aotrou, lord and love" she cries,

all hail and life both long and sweet,

wherein desire at last to meet!"




Now days ran on in great delight

with hope at morn and mirth at night;

and in the garden of his dream

the lord would walk, and there would deem

he saw two children, boy and maid,

that fair as flowers danced and played

on lawns of sunlight without hedge

save a dark shadow at their edge.



Though spring and summer wear and fade,

though flowers fall and leaves are laid,

and winter winds his trumpet loud,

and snows both fell and forest shroud,

though roaring seas upon the shore

go long and white, and neath the door

the wind cries with houseless voice,

in fire and song yet men rejoice,

till as a ship returns to port

the spring comes back to field and court.



A song now falls from windows high,

like silver dropping from the sky,

soft in the early eve of spring.



"Why do they play? Why do they sing?"




"Light may she lie, our lady fair!

Too long hath been her cradle bare.

Yestreve there came as I passed by

the cry of babes from windows high.

Twin children, I am told there be.

Light may they lie and sleep, all three !"




"Would every prayer were answered twice!

the half or nought must oft suffice

for humbler men, who wear their knees

more bare than lords, as oft one sees."

"Not every lord wins such fair grace.

Come wish them speed with kinder face!

Light may she lie, my lady fair;

long live her lord her joy to share!"




A manchild and an infant maid

as fair as flowers in bed were laid.

Her joy was come, her pain was passed;

in mirth and ease Itroun at last



in her fair chamber softly lay

singing to her babes lullay.

Glad was her lord, as grave he stood

beside her bed of carven wood.



"Now full" he said, "is granted me

both hope and prayer, and what of thee?

Is 't
not, fair love, most passing sweet

the heart's desire at last to meet?

Yet if thy heart still longing hold,

or lightest wish remain untold,

that will I find and bring to thee,

though I should ride both land and sea!"




"Aotrou mine," she said, " 'tis sweet

at last the heart's desire to meet,

thus after waiting, after prayer,

thus after hope and nigh despair.

I would not have, thee run nor ride

to-day nor ever from my side;

yet after sickness, after pain,

oft cometh hunger sharp again."




"Nay, love, if thirst or hunger strange

for bird or beast on earth that range,

for wine, or water from what well

in any secret fount or dell,

vex thee,"
he smiled, "now swift declare!

If more than gold or jewel rare,

from greenwood, haply, fallow deer,

or fowl that swims the shallow mere

thou cravest, I will bring it thee,

though I should hunt o'er land and lea.

No gold nor silk nor jewel bright

can match my gladness and delight,

the boy and maiden lily-fair

that here do lie and thou did'st bear."




"Aotrou, lord," she said, " 'tis, true,

a longing strong and sharp I knew

in dream for water cool and clear,

and venison of the greenwood deer

for waters crystal-clear and cold

and deer no earthly forests hold,

and still in waking comes unsought

the foolish wish to vex my thought.

But I
would not have thee run nor ride

to-day nor ever from my side"




In Brittany beyond the seas

the wind blows ever through the trees;

in Brittany the forest pale

marches slow over hill and dale.

There seldom far the horns were wound,

and seldom hunted horse and hound.



The lord his lance of ashwood caught,

the wine was to his stirrup brought;

with bow and horn he rode alone,

and iron smote the fire from stone,

as his horse bore him o'er the land

to the green boughs of Broceliande,

to the green dales where listening deer

seldom a mortal hunter hear:

there startling now they stare and stand,

as his horn winds in Broceliande.



Beneath the woodland's hanging eaves

a white doe startled under leaves;

strangely she glistered in the sun

as she leaped forth and turned to run.

Then reckless after her he spurred;

dim laughter in the woods he heard,

but heeded not, a longing strange

for deer that fair and fearless range

vexed him, for venison of the beast

whereon no mortal hunt shall feast,

for waters crystal-clear and cold

that never in holy fountain rolled.

He hunted her from the forest-eaves

into the twilight under leaves;

the earth was shaken under hoof,

till the boughs were bent into a roof,

and the sun was woven in a snare;

and laughter still was on the air.



The sun was falling. In the dell

deep in the forest silence fell.

No sight nor slot of doe he found

but roots of trees upon the ground,

and trees like shadows waiting stood

for night to come upon the wood.



The sun was lost, all green was grey.

There twinkled the fountain of the fay,

before a cave, on silver sand,

under dark boughs in Broceliande.

Soft was the grass and clear the pool;

he laved his face in water cool.

He saw her then, on silver chair

before her cavern, pale her hair,

slow was her smile, and white her hand

beckoning in Broceliande.



The moonlight falling clear and cold

her long hair lit; through comb of gold

she drew each lock, and down it fell

like the fountain falling in the dell.

He heard her voice, and it was cold

as echo from the world of old,

ere fire was found or iron hewn,

when young was mountain under moon.

He heard her voice like water falling

or wind upon a long shore calling,

yet sweet the words: "We meet again

here after waiting, after pain!

Aotrou! Lo! thou hast returned-

perchance some kindness I have earned?

What hast thou, lord, to give to me

whom thou hast come thus far to see,"




"I know thee not, I know thee not,

nor ever saw thy darkling grot.

O Corrigan! 'twas not for thee

I hither came a-hunting free!
"



"How darest, then, my water wan

to trouble thus, or look me on?

For this of least I claim my fee,

if ever thou wouldst wander free.

With love thou shall me here requite,

for here to long and sweet the night;

in druery dear thou here shall deal,

in bliss more deep than mortals feel."



"I gave no love. My love is wed;

my wife now lieth in child-bed,

and I curse the beast that cheated me

and drew me to this dell to thee."




Her smiling ceased, and slow she said:

"Forget thy wife; for thou shall wed

anew with me, or stand as stone

and wither lifeless and alone,

as stone beside the fountain stand

forgotten in Broceliande."




"I will not stand here turned to stone;

but I will leave thee cold, alone,

and I will ride to mine own home

and the waters blest of Christendome."




"But three days then and thou shall die;

In three days on thy bier lie!"




"In three days I shall live at ease,

and die but when it God doth please

in eld, or in some time to come

in the brave wars of Christendom."




In Britain's land beyond the waves

are forests dim and secret caves;

in Britain's land the breezes bear

the sound of bells along the air

to mingle with the sound of seas

for ever moving in the trees.



The wandering way was long and wild;

and hastening home to wife and child

at last the hunter heard the knell

at morning of the sacring-bell;

escaped from thicket and from fen

at last he saw the tilth of men;

the hoar and houseless hills he passed,

and weary at his gates him cast.

"Good steward, if thou love me well,

bid make my bed! My heart doth swell;

my limbs are numb with heavy sleep,

and drowsy poisons in them creep.

All night, as in a fevered maze,

I have ridden dark and winding ways."


To bed they brought him and to sleep:

in sunless thickets tangled deep

he dreamed, and wandering found no more

the garden green, but on the shore

the seas, were moaning in the wind;

a face before him leered and grinned:

"Now it is earned, come bring to me

my fee,"
a voice said, "bring my feel"

Beside a fountain falling cold

the Corrigan now shrunk and old

was sitting singing; in her claw

a comb of bony teeth he saw,

with which she raked her tresses grey,

but in her other hand there lay

a phial of glass with water filled

that from the bitter fountain spilled.



At eve he waked and murmured: "Ringing

of bells within my ears, and singing,

a singing is beneath the moon.

Grieve not my wife! Grieve not Itroun!

My death is near-but do not tell,

though I am wounded with a spell!

But two days more, and then I die-

and I would have had her sweetly lie

and sweet arise; and live yet long,

and see our children hale and strong."


His words they little understood,

but cursed the fevers of the wood,

and to their lady no word spoke.

Ere second morn was old she woke,

and to her women standing near

gave greeting with a merry cheer:



"Good people, lo! the morn is bright!

Say, did my lord return ere night,

and tarries now with hunting worn?"




"Nay, lady, he came not with the morn;

but ere men candles set on board,

thou wilt have tidings of thy lord;

or hear his feet to thee returning,

ere candles in the eve are burning."




Ere the third morn was wide she woke,

and eager greeted them, and spoke:



"Behold the morn is cold and grey,

and why is my lord so long away?

I do not hear his feet returning

neither at evening nor at morning"




"We do not know, we cannot say"


they answered and they turned away.



Her gentle babes in swaddling white,

now seven days had seen the light,

and she arose and left her bed,

and called her maidens and she said:

"My lord must soon return. Come, bring

my fairest raiment, stone on ring,

and pearl on thread; for him 'twill please

to see his wife abroad at ease."




She looked from window tall and high,

and felt a breeze go coldly by;

she saw it pass from tree to tree;

the clouds were laid from hill to sea.

She heard no horn and heard no hoof,

but rain came pattering on the roof;

in Brittany she heard the waves

on sounding shore in hollow caves.



The day wore on till it was old;

she heard the bells that slowly tolled.

"Good folk, why do they mourning make?

In tower I hear the slow bells shake,

and Dirige the white priests sing.

Whom to the churchyard do they bring?"




"A man unhappy here there came

a while agone. His horse was lame;

sickness was on him, and he fell

before our gates, or so they tell.

Here he was harboured, but to-day

he died, and passeth now the way

we all must go, to church to lie

on bier before the altar high."




She looked upon them, dark and deep,

and saw them in the shadows weep.

"Then tall, and fair, and brave was he,

or tale of sorrow there must be

concerning him, that still ye keep,

if for a stranger thus ye weep!

What know ye more? Ah, say! ah, say!"


They answered not, and turned away.

"Ah me," she said, "that I could sleep

this night, or least that I could weep!"


But all night long she tossed and turned,.

and in her limbs a fever burned:

and yet when sudden under sun

a fairer morning was begun,

"Good folk, to church I wend," she said.

"My raiment choose, or robe of red,

or robe of blue, or white and fair,

silver and gold-I do not care."

"Nay, lady,"
said they, "none of these.

The custom used, as now one sees,

for women that to churching go

is robe of black and walking slow."




In robe of black and walking bent

the lady to her churching went,

in hand a candle small and white,

her face so pale, her hair so bright.

They passed beneath the western door;

there dark within on stony floor

a bier was covered with a pall,

and by it yellow candles tall.

The watchful tapers still and bright

upon his blazon cast their light:

the arms and banner of her lord;

his pride was ended, vain his hoard.



To bed they brought her, swift to sleep

for ever cold, though there might weep

her women by her dark bedside,

or babes in cradle waked and cried.





There was singing slow at dead of night,

and many feet, and taper-light.

At morn there rang the sacring knell;

and far men heard a single bell

toll, while the sun lay on the land;

while deep in dim Broceliande

a silver fountain flowed and fell

within a darkly woven dell,

and in the homeless hills a dale

was filled with laughter cold and pale.



Beside her lord at last she lay

in their long home beneath the clay;

and if their children lived yet long,

or played in garden hale and strong,

they saw it not, nor found it sweet

their heart's desire at last to meet



In Brittany beyond the waves

are sounding shores and hollow caves;

in Brittany beyond the seas

the wind blows ever through the trees.



Of lord and lady all is said:

God rest their souls, who now are dead!

Sad is the note and sad the lay,

but mirth we meet not every day.

God keep us all in hope and prayer

from evil rede and from despair,

by waters blest of Christendom

to dwell, until at last we come

to joy of Heaven where is queen

the maiden Mary pure and clean.