Wednesday, 28 January 2015

My new essay on The Notion Club Papers is posted at L Jagi Lamplighter's Superversive Blog

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http://www.ljagilamplighter.com/2015/01/28/j-r-r-tolkiens-unfinished-work-the-notions-club-papers/

Here is the essay in full:


J.R.R. Tolkien’s Unfinished Work: 

The Notion Club Papers


By Bruce G Charlton


The Notion Club Papers (NCPs) is an unfinished and posthumously-published modern science fiction novel by JRR Tolkien which he wrote in 1945-6 and read aloud to The Inklings during a long gap in the writing of The Lord of the Rings. He had become bogged-down over what seems an almost trivial detail in the narrative: synchronizing the phases of the moon in the different parts of the tale.


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The draft novel material can be found on pages 143-327 of the Sauron Defeated, which is The History of Middle Earth Volume Nine, edited by Christopher Tolkien and published twenty years ago (1992) – and in addition there are a further hundred pages of drafts of the history of Numenor which was intended to have been integrated into the story.


This is a big chunk of writing, done at the peak of Tolkien’s powers, so it may be surprising that it is not better known – but of course the Notion Club Papers form merely one part of a scholarly volume also dedicated to charting the evolution of Lord of the Rings, so few Tolkien fans are aware of its existence.


Yet even when they are aware of the NCPs, few Tolkien fans trouble to read it. And this is understandable. What we have is a mere fragment: a scrappy ‘set-up’ for a very ambitious fiction which is mostly unwritten. Furthermore, the novel is not just un-finished, but hardly begun I terms of its action. Most novel readers are looking for a complete and coherent story with clear characterisation – and the NCPs do not offer anything of that type.


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Why read it then?


I can only try to explain what draws me back to this tantalising work again and again.


In the first place there is a delightful sense of eavesdropping on a real-life Inklings meeting, because (as the name implies) the ‘Notion Club’ is modelled upon the Inklings, as reading and discussion groups of – mostly – dons, and meeting in the evening in Oxford Colleges. The style, and even the topics, of discussion at the Notion Club fit very well with what is known of the Inklings at their best.


Secondly, these fragments are worth reading because the NCPs is thematically focused on some of Tolkien’s deepest and most enduring concerns and yearnings – in particular his desire to provide England with a mythology that he felt it lacked, and to re-connect the impoverished modern world view with the richer, deeper perspective of the past. There are particular passages, here and there, which jump out at me; and feel like Tolkien talking of his inmost desires and deepest convictions.


And thirdly because the NCPs were at one point intended to be Tolkien’s fictional link from the modern world to his whole ‘Legendarium’ of the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion legends. Specifically, it seems that the Notion Club was to describe how the stories of ancient and magical times were transmitted to modern times: partly by the dreams experienced by members of the Notion Club, and probably also by two Notion Club members actually voyaging West across the Atlantic Ocean, discovering a long-lost route and coming to the land of the elves.


Yet another aspect is the development of the concept of Numenor, including the invention of the language Adunaic, as the everyday language of the Island. Among this material is a fascinatingly ‘garbled’ version of Numenorean history. Which Tolkien constructed as an example of the way that the original correct information from the elves might have become distorted by the passage of time and cumulative errors of many generations of men.


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For the past few years I have been accumulating thoughts about the Notion Club Papers and putting them onto a blog of the same name http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/.


One of the most interesting ‘discoveries’ was that the NCPs were written at a time when Tolkien was suffering from severe psychological stress almost amounting to a ‘nervous breakdown’.


This was probably caused by Tolkien having taken on the duties of the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature while at the same time fulfilling his previous role as Professor of Anglo Saxon, during the period while a replacement was being appointed. Not only was he doing two jobs, but each of these jobs was heavier than usual because of the wartime shortage of academic manpower.


It is perhaps because of Tolkien’s psychological state that the NCPs contain – indirectly and put into the mouths of several characters - some of the most personal and autobiographical material Tolkien ever intended for public consumption.


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And if the writing Notion Club Papers was indeed a ‘therapeutic’ process for Tolkien, then this treatment was apparently effective – since in the late summer of 1946 Tolkien resumed writing the Lord of the Rings and this time he was able to take the work through to completion without any further major hold-ups.


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So The Notion Club Papers is interesting in its own right, and was also a pivotal work in the development of the Lord of the Rings from a hobbit-sequel into what it became.


Because, although it is now hard for us to believe - while he actually was writing it, the NCPs was the most ambitious work that Tolkien has attempted – a book involving both modern ‘science fiction and multi-layered and linked ancient history: both real and fictional. The Notion Clob Papers were, indeed, themselves a development of an incomplete story begun in 1936 called The Lost Road and now available as volume five of Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle Earth.


So, the combined efforts of The Lost Road and Notion Club Papers represented a whole decades-worth of effort, albeit intermittent, to bridge the ancient and modern, the factual and fictional, in a single complex work which would explain and introduce all his tales of Faery.


But when Tolkien abandoned The Notion Club Papers, it seems that this vast ambition was instead, somehow, channelled-into the emerging Lord of the Rings, enriching and deepening the concept.


All admirers of the Lord of the Rings therefore have reason to be grateful for the fragmentary and unfinished Notion Club Papers.


THE TREATMENT

Tolkien's Notion Club Papers completed... (a speculative treatment)


(This is a combined and edited version of some previous posts, describing my idea of how JRR Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers might have ended-up.)

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Having brooded (some would say obsessively - and they would be right!) over Tolkien's Notion Club Papers for a couple of years, I am now going to speculate about where the NCPs were tending; what the NCPs would have been about and what they would have been like - if ever Tolkien had finished the novel.

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In a nutshell, I believe that the Notion Club Papers were intended to serve an extremely important purpose: to rescue modern England from its spiritual malaise.

At least - that was what the Notion Club themselves would be depicted as doing fictionally - and the finished book would be intended to make this possible in the mundane world.

Tolkien's ouvre (his Legendarium) was intended to make a mythology for England; the Notion Club Papers were intended to link his mythical Legendarium to modern England. (I got this from the work of Verlyn Flieger - especially her book Interrupted Music.)

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I suggest that the NCPs would - ultimately (if finished) - have provided a feigned history of the processes that brought Tolkien's historical myth/s into action in the modern world.

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What was Tolkien 'rescuing' England from?

This is made explicit in the NCPs:

[Jeremy] ..."Sometimes I have a queer feeling that, if one could go back, one would find not myth dissolving into history, but rather the reverse: real history becoming more mythical - more shapely, simple, discernibly significant, even seen at close quarters. More poetical and less prosaic, if you like.(...)

"They're not wholly inventions. And even what is invented is different from mere fiction; it has more roots." (...)

"[The roots are] In Being, I think I should say," Jeremy answered; "and in human Being; and coming down the scale, in the springs of History and the designs of Geography - I mean, well, in the pattern of our world as it uniquely is, and of the events in it as seen from a distance. (...)

"Of course, the pictures presented by the legends may be partly symbolical, they may be arranged in designs that compress, expand, foreshorten, combine, and are not at all realistic or photographic, yet they may tell you something true about the Past."

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With the NCPs Tolkien was intending to tell us something true about the past, something that we need to know because at present England's past is merely history, when it should be myth.

The Notion Club Papers were intended to make England's history into myth - i.e. to reverse the process of myth dissolving into history described by Jeremy in the quote above.

Tolkien wanted, that is, contemporary history to dissolve into myth; and the NCPs were (as they evolved) aimed at achieving this.

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Arguably, Tolkien achieved his goal, although by other and less direct means - in the sense that many people (like myself) nowadays 'use' Tolkien's Legendarium as a myth by-which (and through-which) they understand and interpret the current world.

We do this despite the lack of an explicit and comprehensive mythical link between the Legendarium (saturated, as it is, with purpose and meaning) and the nihilistic modern world of objective irrelevant 'facts' and purely-individual subjectivities.

However, in order for this to have happened via the NCPs, they would need to have needed to end-up very differently from how they set out: in literary terms, the NCPs would have required very substantial re-writing, in ways which we can only extrapolate from hints and glimmerings.

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The basic situation which the Notion Club inhabit is an Oxford (England, Western Civilization) that is out-of-contact with Faery: in more general terms, a society out-of-contact with myth. Hence vulgar, coarsened, materialistic; without depth, meaning or purpose.

The action of the Notion Club throughout the novel, I speculate, would have been aimed at restoring this contact between Faery and England; and indeed I speculate that the climax of the novel would have been precisely this re-establishment of contact.

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As scholars and writers, the Notion Club would have been aware of the necessity for human contact with Faery (i.e. with myth) in order that their work (as well as their lives) may be profound, imaginative and ennobled - and rise above mere 'utility'.

The means by which the club would restore contact with myth would, I assume, be the usual ones employed by Tolkien and of which hints exist in the incomplete and surviving NCP text: by a quest, by a hero who is an 'elf friend', and by a 'messenger' between Faery and the mundane world.

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As they stand, the NCPs are - to me - an endlessly fascinating fragment, full of evidence about Tolkien and his deepest concerns; but it seems to be a work of extremely limited appeal (at least, I only know of two or three other people than myself who find it at all interesting or enjoyable!) - and therefore I assume that the story in its present form would either be unpublishable, or else destined only for a microscopically small cult audience.

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If the NCPs had been completed they would therefore, I believe, have ended-up very differently from the way they exist at present.

The overall purpose of the NCPs (within Tolkien's books) would have been to provide a frame for Tolkien's legendarium - in other words, a pseudo-historical 'explanation' for how the legends of the elves, Numenor and ancient Middle Earth were transmitted to our times (transmitted specifically to England, and even more specifically to Oxford).

In other words, approximately to link The Silmarillion, Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to the modern reader by a feigned history.

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The Notion Club Papers novel would, then, describe how a link between Middle Earth (this modern world) and Faery was re-established.

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The shape of the novel would presumably have been the same as Tolkien's other works - some kind of heroic quest in which the hero or heroes come into contact with 'Faery' and an ennobled by contact with 'higher things' and made wiser by their experience.

Clearly, the Notion Club Papers would therefore require need a protagonist with whom the reader would identify. That is a character whose thoughts and feelings the reader would get to know in the course of the story.

But such characters are lacking (or indirect and inexplicit) in the current NCP drafts.

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The existing form of the NCPs, i.e. the literary conceit of their being the formal minutes of club meetings, would therefore need to be dropped or relaxed; to bring in much more direct forms of narrative or reportage.

This was already beginning to happen in the later parts of the NCPs, with the introduction of letters from Lowdham (plus some footnotes), and an extended 'dream sequence' which reports Lowdham's inner state during an Anglo Saxon episode.

So, in the NCP novel there would be a great expansion of such letters, and also probably diaries and journal entries - so as to bring the reader into more direct contact with the action.

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In terms of character, the ANC would therefore need to get inside at least one of Guildford, Ramer, Lowdham and Jeremy.

My guess is that the protagonist would have been Guildford - the recorder, who would become the narrator, and would speak directly to the reader (to posterity) about the collection of minutes, letters, poems, fragments and journal entries which he has gathered and collated with the aim of preservation and propagation.

Probably, Guildford would have remained a rather background character in terms of the action and excitement, and it would have been the extrovert Lowdham in particular would emerged as the most obvious hero - supported by Jeremy who would, I guess, end-up being the main person responsible for achieving the quest to re-connect with Faery.

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I suspect the Ramer character might therefore have receded in importance. His role might be in learning the languages necessary to interpret the documentary material eventually recovered from Faery by Lowdham and Jeremy.

Ramer's role at the end of the ANC would perhaps be as scholarly interpreter of the texts brought back to Oxford by Jeremy (who seems not to be skilled as a philologist or historical linguist).

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I would imagine that Lowdham - accompanied by Jeremy - would make the breakthrough to physical contact with faery: set sail for the West with Jeremy, be responsible for navigating the boat, and eventually actually land in Faery where he would meet his father - and the High elves.

But then Lowdham would stay-behind in faery (with his father) and Jeremy would be the one who returned to England bringing the legendarium - especially the Red Book of Westmarch and Bilbo's Translations from the Elvish.

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In sum, the Notion Club Papers would be presented as a collection of minutes, letters, journal entries etc. collected by Guildford concerning the Notion Club in general and Lowdham and Jeremy in particular - telling the story of how a link between faery and England was re-established by the efforts of the Club - firstly in dreams then ultimately by a voyage to Faery.

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However, the link between Faery would be firstly psychic, and only secondly physical - the early parts of the NCPs are concerned with the initial glimpses of myth and faery via dreams, then a break-through of visionary material from the past - so powerful that it had an actual physical effect on Oxford and nearby areas of England (the storm replicating the downfall of Numenor).

This stage would also provide sufficient linguistic information for the Notion Club (with its linguistic, historical and philological expertise) to be able to interpret the extensive documentary material which would eventually be brought back by Jeremy.

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This requires an intermediary: Dolbear - who turns-out to be a wizard/ angel/ messenger from Faery.

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The character of Dolbear jumps-out of the Notion Club Papers as somebody about whom there is more than meets the eye. Almost everything he says is wise and cuts-deep. He seems to understand more of what is going-on than anyone else.

We know Dolbear has certainly been working, independently, with Ramer even before the meetings were reported and also later with Lowdham - on their dreams and interpretations.

Dolbear is also hinted to be a kind of grey eminence at the least; someone greatly respected by the other members (underneath their chummy chaffing) and probably somebody who is - in fact - actually stage-managing the whole process by which the Notion Club re-establishes contact with Faery.

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In this sense Dolbear resembles Gandalf - who is a wizard or an 'angel' in disguise; in the sense of being a higher being from the undying lands who is a messenger and catalyst. Probably the reader would not have access to Dolbear's inner life - he would (like Gandalf) be observed rather than experienced.

Dolbear would make things happen, by hints and directions and providing key pieces of information - never by force. And at the end of the story Dolbear would return (like Gandalf) whence he came - to Faery.

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This is (I speculate) the meaning of Dolbear seeming to sleep though the meetings, yet remain apparently aware of everything which is happening in them - indeed more aware of the implications of the meetings than are the active participants.

I suspect that during sleep Dolbear is in contact with Faery and with the Notion Club at the same time. He is therefore a conduit or passageway linking Oxford and the undying lands - he transmits the proceedings of the Notion Club to Faery, and receives instructions of what to do.

Dolbear's trance-like states of sleep are therefore (I believe) the specific means by which the inhabitants of Faery are encouraging the renewed contact between England and Faery which the Notion Club themselves seek.

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The Oxford setting is highly significant, as is the general similarity between the Notion Club and The Inklings.

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Tolkien saw himself as the inheritor of an English racial memory of Faery. In his earliest legends (now published as Lost Tales) England had indeed been a part of Faery - with a place to place mapping between mythic and modern places, and England was especially favoured for this reason.

Tolkien regarded this inherited memory as coming down his mother's side of the family, and therefore centred in Warwickshire (Mercia).

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And Tolkien had less strong but similarly mystical feelings about Oxford as he did about the nearby West Midlands of England, and of course he spent most of his working life at the University, and this was where most of his friends lived.

But mostly, for Tolkien, Oxford had a special role in scholarship related to Faery. And from a practical point of view, Oxford in the early and mid-twentieth century was the perfect place from which knowledge of Faery might have been disseminated throughout the rest of England.

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So, my guess is that the NCP novel would have described the Inkling's-like Notion Club in Oxford as having first established a psychic link with Faery - with visionary material glimpsed during dreams, then having recovered extensive documentary evidence from Faery, and brought it back to Oxford for secret safe-keeping, translation and dissemination.

The benefits of this mythic, faery knowledge would then enhance first the Notion Club members, then the rest of the University, with elven craft, depth, wisdom and mystery.

A special quality in the work of the Notion Club, and Oxford, would have been recognized by the English (who were genetically predisposed to appreciate it) and the effects and benefits would have been spread throughout England by means of Oxford's role in educating the administrators and teachers of the rest of England.

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So, in order to re-establish contact between Middle Earth and Faery there would need to be efforts form both sides: both a push and a pull.

On the one hand there was a push from the members of the Notion Club, who sensed the shallowness and literalness of their world, the damage of materialism, and the ugliness of industrialization (e.g. Ramer's horrible dream of Oxford through the ages) - and sought to enrich life by contact with Faery.

And on the other hand there was a pull from the inhabitants of Faery. The elves were assumed to have benign intentions towards humans and seek to help them.

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Especially the inhabitants of Faery wish to help Men to adopt an attitude of love towards nature; to become 'elvishly' capable of disinterested craft, art, science and scholarship as things to be loved for their own sakes, rather than as a means to another end.

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In sum - the The Notion Club Papers would (I imagine) describe how the post-medieval process of 'myth turning into history' would be reversed; and first the Notion Club, then Oxford, then England, then maybe eventually the World - might again connected with Faery, and re-enchanted by elvish wisdom and suffused with an elvish perspective.

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In practice, the finished Notion Club papers were intended to be the first Tolkien book which people should read: a modern science fiction type novel which would explain how the Annals (Silmarillion legends) and Romances (Hobbit and Lord of the Rings) came to England, and were translated for a general audience.

Having read the Notion Club Papers - mainstream fiction of a familiar type - the modern reader would be prepared for to move onto reading the much stranger and less familiar Annals and Romances; and would (at some level) then be able to treat them as (or as if) an historical reality.


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Very well read, but disgracefully badly presented. Review of the Audiobook of The Silmarillion (of 1977) by JRR Tolkien read by Martin Shaw

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Martin Shaw reads The Silmarillion with great commitment and seriousness; slowly and with a very detailed inflection; and this seems to me the best - and only - way to read this work (Christopher Tolkien adopts the same style in the excerpts he has recorded).

The Silamarillion - published in 1977 - was made by Christopher Tolkien (helped by Guy Gavriel Kay) from the unpublished manuscripts left by his father - these have since been published much more fully in the Twelve Volume History of Middle Earth leaving the Silmarillion of 1977 in a rather strange and not-quite-canonical position among Tolkien's works - something like a sneak preview or an interim report.

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/christopher-tolkiens-reflections-on.html

My own view of the 1977 Silmarillion is mixed. I cannot feel it to be a single entity, like a novel - it seems like a collection of disparate pieces, carefully arranged, but neither novel-like nor annal-like.

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For me, the 1977 Silmarillion starts dully (I know some people love it; but I find it hard to tolerate the descriptions of creation and the gods), and broadly gets better to reach a peak with the section on Numenor titled Akallabeth. This gives the whole history, tragedy of the the rise and fall, of a great civilization.

And not just any civilization - Numenor is the most delightful, the most desirable, civilization ever described! - at least for mortal Men. I would rather have lived in the early years of Numenor than at any other time or place in Tolkien's universe (or, indeed, this one!) - which is not surprising since it was made to be an earthy paradise for (fallen) Men, as a gift and reward for their long travails against Morgoth.

However, this paradise inhabited by the noblest and wisest and most fortunate of Men, becomes incrementally corrupted into one of the vilest tyrannies in history; one which makes war upon the gods; an act which leads to its destruction by a direct act of the One God (and a re-shaping of the earth).

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In general, I find the Silmarillion much more enjoyable and satisfying to hear read aloud as an audiobook, than I do to read it myself. Therefore I recommend this performance as a way of extending the appreciation and knowledge of Tolkien's world beyond the Lord of the Rings.

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However, as a production, the boxed set of 13 CDs is disgracefully deficient.

There is no description of the book - not even the elvish names of the sections of the book; no description of each CD; no description of the tracks to enable navigation; there no information about any aspect of the audio production except the name of the reader. For example, there is some effective introductory and closing music - but no indication of who wrote or performed it.

Harper Collins, Tolkien's publisher, ought to be ashamed at such a slapdash and shoddy presentation.

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Saturday, 3 January 2015

TV biography of CS Lewis by AN Wilson

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For UK residents, this excellent 1 hour biographical documentary on CS Lewis is aviable as a podcast from the BBC for the next four weeks:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03jrw5j/narnias-lost-poet-the-secret-lives-and-loves-of-cs-lewis

This is beautifully filmed and very well constructed - and indeed includes some surprising and novel elements such as an interview with June Flewett who as a child was a wartime evacuee at The Kilns, and much loved by both Jack and Warnie; and an interview with actor Robert Hardy who was a pupil at Magdalen College.

The present is AN Wilson, undeniably a heavyweight expert on English Literature; and one who - although still presenting as a strange and mannered personage - has mellowed with age from the almost-unbearable rampant smugness and snobbery of his youth.

Wilson wrote a mostly-bad biography of Lewis about 25 years ago, at a time when he was divorcing his wife/ losing his Christian faith - and developing a spiteful animus against the subject of his biography. But since then he has publicly recovered his Christianity and apparently developed a warmer appreciation of Lewis. I would dissent from several of his biographical interpretations, but they not unreasonable.

Anyway, Wilson does an excellent job here - getting a great deal of information into the hour without any sense of hurrying - and this is one of the best documentaries I've seen for a while.

Lewis-ites should try and watch it. 

(An alternative availability of the show is listed in the comments below)

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Saturday, 22 November 2014

From Eriol and AElfwine to Bilbo Baggins - framing Tolkien's Legendarium for the modern reader

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Continuing from

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/christopher-tolkiens-reflections-on.html

In Tolkien's very earliest stories dating from 1917, now published as The Book of Lost Tales volumes one and two, framing device was a mariner called Eriol who found his way to Elfland, and heard the stories sung and recited in The Room of the Log Fire, in The Cottage of Lost Play.

This Eriol was therefore the link between the ancient legendary or mythic world - and the modern world; and over the next decades Eriol became variously re-named and transmuted through AElfwine in the early versions of The Silmarillion in the 1920s and 30s, through the Lost Road fragment of 1936 and the Arundel 'Arry' Lowtham character of the Notion Club Papers of 1945-6 - all of whom were mariners who reached Elfland (Tol Erresea) and brought the ancient legends back to Middle Earth (i.e. the British Isles).

But in the end, it was Bilbo Baggins who did this job - as described in the Prologue: concerning Hobbit to the The Lord of the Rings ^

So Eriol = Aelfwine = Arundel = Bilbo.

Cottage of Lost Play = Elrond's House in Rivendell

Room with the Log Fire = Hall of Fire

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^By the end of the first century of the Fourth Age there were already to be found in the Shire several libraries that contained many historical books and records.

The largest of these collections were probably at Undertowers, at Great Smials, and at Brandy Hall.  This account of the end of the Third Age is drawn mainly from the Red Book of Westmarch.  That most important source for the history of the War of the Ring was so called because it was long preserved at Undertowers, the home of the Fairbairns, Wardens of the Westmarch.

It was in origin Bilbo's private diary, which he took with him to Rivendell.  Frodo brought it back to the Shire, together with many loose leaves of notes, and during S.R. 1420-1 he nearly filled its pages with his account of the War.  But annexed to it and preserved with it, probably in a single red case, were the three large volumes, bound in red leather, that Bilbo gave to him as a parting gift.  To these four volumes there was added in Westmarch a fifth containing commentaries, genealogies, and various other matter concerning the hobbit members of the Fellowship.

The original Red Book has not been preserved, but many copies were made, especially of the first volume, for the use of the descendants of the children of Master Samwise.  The most important copy, however, has a different history.  It was kept at Great Smials, but it was written in Gondor, probably at the request of the great-grandson of Peregrin, and completed in S.R. 1592 (F.A. 172).  Its southern scribe appended this note:  Findegil, King's Writer, finished this work in IV 172.  It is an exact copy in all details of the Thain's Book in Minas Tirith.  That book was a copy, made at the request of King Elessar, of the Red Book of the Periannath, and was brought to him by the Thain Peregrin when he retired to Gondor in IV 64.

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Christopher Tolkien's reflections on The Silmarillion of 1977 in the Introduction to The Book of Lost Tales

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Christopher Tolkien published The Silmarillion in 1977 as a single volume work; but just six years later he explicitly stated that he had made a mistake in the way that work was presented.

...it is certainly debatable whether it was wise to publish in 1977 a version of the primary 'legendarium' standing on its own and claiming, as it were, to be self-explanatory. The published work has no 'framework', no suggestion of what it is and how (within the imagined world) it came to be. This I now think to have been an error. 

He says this in one of the most interesting and enlightening pieces of JRR Tolkien criticism and discussion I have encountered - the Introduction to the first volume of The Book of Lost Tales.

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The acknowledged problem is that The Silmarillion of 1977 is presented as a free-standing, and supposedly self-explanatory volume; with no context or framing. The reader does not know how to read it; especially in relation to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

So, the reader jumps straight into an Old Testament-like account of how the world was made by the One Creator God and his many minor gods - yet there is no indication of who is telling us this - and how do they know about it? How is it that we hold in our hands a purportedly true account of the making of the world, and the first doings of elves and men within it?

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What Christopher Tolkien reveals, which is amply confirmed throughout the multi-volume The History of Middle Earth, is that this question of the provenance of these ancient (feigned) histories had been a matter of deep and lasting concern to JRR Tolkien - he had never ceased to worry over it, but had not reached any clear conclusion - which was why Christopher Tolkien decided to just say nothing.

However, by 1983 Christopher had decided that this was an error, and that he should have framed The Silmarillion to indicate that the book had been written by Bilbo Baggins as one of his Translations from the Elvish during his residence at Rivendell, with presumably some indication of where Bilbo had obtained his information (eg. Elrond, the resident and visiting Noldorin High Elves from Valinor, and Aragorn) and how Bilbo's book had come down to us in modern times.

...apart from the evidence cited here, there is, so far as I know, no other statement on this matter anywhere in my father's writings; and (wrongly, as I think now) I was reluctant to step into the breach and make definite what I only surmised.

This provenance is sketched-out in the Prologue to the second Edition of The Lord of the Rings as having been a copy of The Red Book of Westmarch etc., made by a Gondorian scribe called Findegil in Fourth Age 172 - and this feigned MS has (somehow) come into the hands of JRR Tolkien (and then presumably his son Christopher) and used as the basis for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and - now - The Silmarillion of 1977.

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So, the reader of The Silmarillion (1977) should read it as a modern editor's presentation of one of Bilbo Baggins's Translations from the Elvish - done in Rivendell and handed to Frodo Baggins for safe keeping just before he returned to the Shire after the destruction of the One Ring.

It should not be regarded as a 'God's eye view' of what happened; but as a summary and synthesis by one well-informed Hobbit; gathered from the partial and only-partially-reliable manuscript resources of Rivendell, supplemented by oral evidence - many, many years (sometimes many thousands of years) after the events described.

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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

If Charles Williams did preside at Inklings meetings - why might this fact have been unrecorded? The Tolkien Red Herring

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I have argued that there are good grounds for believing that Charles Williams (rather than CS Lewis) assumed a dominant, 'presiding' role at Inklings meetings during the 1939-45 years he was in Oxford -

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/evidence-that-charles-williams-presided.html

If I am correct about this, why would it not have been mentioned specifically such that the fact was not suspected?

The main evidence would have needed to come from CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Lewis does not say that Charles Williams 'took over' from him at Inklings meetings; however, Lewis was always keen to emphasize the convivial aspects of the Inklings and downplay the formal elements. And his almost unbounded admiration of and praise for Williams in letters after CW's death and the introduction to Essays Presented to Charles Williams certainly do not contradict the idea of CW presiding.

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But JRR Tolkien said nothing of this kind - indeed, Tolkien threw a large Red Herring into Inklings studies which has confused most scholars since; when from the late 1950s or early 60s Tolkien began to 'rewrite' his own relationship with Charles Williams, and present a distorted history of his own relationship with Williams - downplaying his own friendship, claiming not to like William's work, claiming Williams was really just a favourite of CSL, and that this happened because Lewis was too impressionable.

Tolkien is, indeed, so negative about Williams that many Inklings scholars state that Tolkien was jealous of Williams having displaced himself as Lewis's best friend.

*

However, there is no trace of this in published contemporary evidence of letters, diaries etc, deriving from while Williams was still alive and in the period afterwards. This is unanimous that Tolkien and CW were good friends, and got on well together, there is no trace of 'jealousy' -

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/was-tolkien-jealous-of-charles-williams.html

Above, I argue that Tolkien retrospectively changed his mind against Williams, after some of the revelations concerning Williams life which were published in the late 1950s (perhaps related to Williams's participation in ritual magic and/or his un-Christian relationships with young women) - but this was all more than a decade after Williams's death.

*

It also seems that Tolkien was strongly and decisively influenced by Williams's novel The Place of the Lion; but much of this clear influence is only evident in the unpublished novels The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers  -

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

*

Since Tolkien only became famous, and oft-interviewed, after he had turned-against Charles Williams, and after CS Lewis had died, the best potential source of information on the nature of Inklings meetings and their conduct was already distorted; the well was poisoned, in effect.

Of course this is a negative explanation for an absence of evidence - and is clearly not a decisive argument! Still, perhaps it helps explain why it seems possible that CW may have 'led' the Inklings meetings, despite there being no specific evidence to confirm this assertion.

*

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

What was Lewis thinking when he wrote his 'puff' for Lord of the Rings; what were Unwin's thinking by printing it so prominently on the cover or book flap?

*

"If Ariosto rivalled it in invention (in fact he does not) he would still lack its heroic seriousness..."

Wait! What? Ariosto! Who he?

What microscopic proportion of the English speaking population have even heard of Ariosto, let alone read him, leave aside - having read him - regarding surpassing Ariosto's  imputed 'inventiveness' as a compelling recommendation for reading Tolkien?

Crazy stuff. Incompetent. Off-putting.

Luckily, not off-putting enough to torpedo the book.

*

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Tom Bombadil 'has no fear' - what is the significance?

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In the Lord of the Rings chapter entitled 'In the House of Tom Bombadil'; in response to a question from Frodo concerning 'who is' Tom Bombadil, his wife Goldberry responds:

Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.

The stand-out significance of this is that Tom has no fear.

This is unusual, perhaps unique among the healthy and long-lived inhabitants of Middle Earth - even Gandalf, Saruman and Sauron experience fear; because to have no fear is usually a defect - unless there is indeed nothing to fear.

To be afraid is necessary, for almost every living thing, since it is fear which protects us from harm.

*

And this exactly seems to be the case with Tom: he rationally has no fear, because he has nothing to fear, because nothing can harm him - which means that Tom Bombadil cannot neither be hurt nor killed.

Tom is the Master, because he is invulnerable - he has never been 'caught'.

*

Why would he be invulnerable? Probably because he is a god of some kind. But the other gods we are told of are vulnerable, can be harmed, and experience fear.

Why would Tom in particular be impossible to harm?

Perhaps because he wants nothing, but is absolutely content with what he has, and what he has cannot (or at least will not) be taken from him...

Or if it may be taken from him at some point in the future (as seems all too likely, seems in fact to have happened - assuming Tom is not still to be found on Middle earth), then concern for that future loss casts no shadow over the present.

 *

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Tolkien describes how his own best creative processes occurred in dreams (speaking via Michael Ramer of The Notion Club)

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Excerpted from The Notion Club Papers pages 188-9 - part of the volume Sauron Defeated, edited by Christopher Tolkien, 1992. The speaker is Michael Ramer - who often apparently serves as Tolkien's 'mouthpiece' in this novel-fragment

**
...For a mind, rest is not oblivion, which is impossible for it. The nearest it can get to that is passivity: the mind can be very nearly passive, contemplating something worthy of it, or which seems worthy...

If it has by nature, or has acquired, some dominant interest - like history, or languages, or mathematics - it may at times work away at such things, while the old body is recuperating. It can then construct dreams, by no means always pictorial. It can plan and calculate.

My mind... makes up stories, composes verse, or designs pictures out of what it has got already, when for some reason it hasn't at the moment a thirst to acquire more.

I fancy that all waking art draws a good deal on this sort of activity.

[Note - other continuations of this passage in different drafts]:

A: I fancy that all waking art draws a good deal on this sort of activity - the best bits and passages, especially, those that seem to come suddenly when you're in the heat of making. They sometimes fit with an odd perfection; and sometimes, [although] good in themselves, they don't really fit.

B: I fancy that all waking art draws a good deal on this sort of activity. Those scenes that come up complete and fixed, that I spoke of before, for instance. I think that those really good passages that arise as it were, suddenly when you're abstracted, in the heat of making, are often long-prepared impromptus.
**

I believe that Tolkien was here describing how his 'best bits and passages' (whether of stories, verse or pictures) - which often occurred to him suddenly, seemingly unplanned and unprepared ('impromptu) and 'in the heat of making' - had actually already been constructed by the dreaming mind during sleep; which had been 'working away' at his dominant interests.

So the best bits and passages of Tolkien's works were (it seems) pre-prepared and ready for use ('complete and fixed'), and they would either fit directly into the larger work (with an 'odd perfection'); or else these units (despite being 'good in themselves') would need subsequently (and probably reluctantly) to be deleted from the larger work; because on consideration they didn't really fit.

*




Thursday, 25 September 2014

Tolkien's five best anthology poems

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Compiled from:

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/if-you-were-including-tolkien-in.html


Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie


*


All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.


*


Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
 

They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
 

Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?





Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!


*


The world was young, the mountains green,
No stain yet on the Moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone,
When Durin woke and walked alone.
He named the nameless hills and dells;
He drank from yet untasted wells;
He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head.

The world was fair, the mountains tall,
In Elder Days before the fall
Of mighty kings in Nargothrond
And Gondolin, who now beyond
The Western Seas have passed away:
The world was fair in Durin's Day.

A king he was on carven throne
In many-pillared halls of stone
With golden roof and silver floor,
And runes of power upon the door.
The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shone for ever fair and bright.

There hammer on the anvil smote,
There chisel clove, and graver wrote;
There forged was blade, and bound was hilt;
The delver mined, the mason built.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
And metal wrought like fishes' mail,
Buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
And shining spears were laid in hoard.

Unwearied then were Durin's folk;
Beneath the mountains music woke:
The harpers harped, the minstrels sang,
And at the gates the trumpets rang.

The world is grey, the mountains old,
The forge's fire is ashen-cold;
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin's halls;
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dum.
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.


*

Monday, 8 September 2014

What is the meaning (fanciful etymology) of Dolbear's name?

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I guess 'bear' means bear, because Dolbear is stereotypically bear like^ - while 'Dol' means pain, and is the medical 'unit' for pain - so maybe this is a pun on the fact that the real-life model for Dolbear - Havard - contributed an appendix to CS lewis's book 'The Problem of Pain'.

This Dolbear may mean 'Pain (expert)-bear'.

?
*
^Tendency to fall asleep, gruffness, hairiness. 

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/how-similar-are-dolbear-humphrey-havard.html
*

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Inklings and the Sexual Revolution: the Politics of the Inklings

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The sexual revolution (or 'sexual liberation' - it is the same phenomenon) - which is the expansion of legitimate and approved sex outwith the context of (real) marriage - is probably the main socio-political 'litmus test' or 'hot button political issue' in the modern world.

When it comes to The Inklings, there is no doubt that the views of the core Inklings on this issue are against the sexual revolution. And this is true, whatever failures individual inklings may have exhibited in living-up-to this ideal.

Given this fact, and the central importance given in modern culture to 'which side' of the issue an individual occupies (to oppose the sexual revolution is a vilifying, sacking, fining and indeed imprisonable offence in many Western societies including the UK and USA) it is surprising that most of those who write about the Inklings are (to varying degrees) advocates of the sexual revolution.

Aside from the core Inklings of Tolkien, Williams, and the Lewis brothers; and other major figures such as Havard - there is some advocacy of the sexual revolution within the peripheral Inklings and their visitors. Even Charles Williams is a bit slippery on this issue - with his advocacy of something rather like the adulterous Platonic passion of Chivalric love.

Owen Barfield may be an example of advocating the sexual revolution - although I find it hard to know either way - in the sense that he had an extra-marital affair/s, and two simultaneous non-married sexual relationships that I know of) and did not seem to feel any particular objective problem about this. John Wain (a much more peripheral figure) was an open and active advocate of the sexual revolution; in public and in private.

But whatever may be said on this side; it is blazingly obvious that the core Inklings were and would be solidly against the sexual revolution as it has panned-out and continues in the West.

So, this is a neglected aspect of the Politics of the Inklings in modern scholarship. It appears mainly in the context of ridiculous accusations of 'misogyny' (based, presumably, on ignorance of the facts); or the misconception that there was something strange and distorted about the Inklings knowledge and experience of Women; or even the idea (going back to William Ready's wildly error-full book Understanding Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings) that there was some homosexual element to the Inklings (on the Freudian basis that zero evidence equals repression, hence constitutes conclusive proof).

Here, there is a difference according to the focus. The great bulk of high status Tolkien scholarship is secular - and indeed mostly Leftist (Shippey excepted) - although a Roman Catholic element is becoming more frequent). The sexual revolution element is either ignored, or else Tolkien is either argued or simply assumed to be wrong when it comes to matters pertaining to the sexual revolution (sometimes very aggressively so!). By contrast Lewis scholarship is and always has been rooted in Christian authors - and is written from a perspective in opposition to the sexual revolution. Charles Williams scholarship, on the other hand, while mostly 'religious' mostly nowadays comes from 'Liberal Christians' - i.e. those evasive, deluded or fake Christians who self-identify as Christian but embrace and advocate the sexual revolution in one or another form.

However, Lewis aside, Inklings scholars and critics fail to perceive that the central tendency of the Inklings is very strongly against the sexual revolution; and that this is intrinsic to what the Inklings were about - not something lightly to be ignored, attacked or deleted.

This is a no-brainer. To put it plainly; if you are pro-Inklings and yet you approve the sexual revolution; then you have either fundamentally misunderstood The Inklings, or else adhere to a distorted and dishonest account of what it was they were about - trimmed to fit your pre-existing prejudices and convictions.

*

Friday, 29 August 2014

My recent Inklings pilgrimage

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Beside the remnants of 'Tolkien's Tree' (Pinus nigra) in the Oxford Botanic Gardens


On Addison's Walk, Magdalen College - where CS Lewis had the late night conversation on myth with Tolkien and Dyson which led to his conversion


Beside Charles Williams's grave - St Cross churchyard
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Thursday, 28 August 2014

What was the real, core, functional personnel of The Inklings during the Charles Williams years of 1939-45?

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I am developing the thesis that Charles Williams was the dominant personality of The Inklings during the war years when he lived in Oxford,

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/evidence-that-charles-williams-presided.html

Following on, I have tried to establish who the other regular members were during this period.

*

Surveying the available evidence summarized in Humphrey Carpenter's The Inklings, and Diana Pavlac Glyer's The Company They Keep and checking in Warnie Lewis's diaries, and various letters and biographies of CS Lewis - it is clear that for the period of 1939-45 there were only four regular Inklings:

1. CS Lewis

2. Warnie Lewis

3. JRR Tolkien

4. Charles Williams.

There were several other people who were 'visitors' during this time, or else very infrequent; others began the period but drifted away (e.g. Coghill) or moved away (e.g. Fox), or whose membership was delayed by war service (Havard), - but only these four were regular attenders throughout the whole six years.

*

So, the Inklings seems to break down into into at least three distinct periods:

1. The early phase, probably from the late 1920s to 1939 - when the Inklings were dominated by Tolkien and Lewis but had a fairly large group (about seven) of fairly regular attenders.

2. The Charles Williams Years - 1939-45 - when the regular group became small, and probably therefore more intense and focused in their proceedings than at any other time, (quite aside from the fact that any group containing CW could not help but be highly intense and focused on him!), and with concerns I have surmised here:

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/the-nature-of-charles-williams.html

3. And the later years from Williams death in 1945 to about 1949, when Tolkien and Lewis again dominated, and the group recruited new members, and some members became more regular (eg Dyson moved to Oxford in 1945).

So again the average Inklings meetings became larger (about seven - this is also implied by Warnie's post-war diary comments about 'small' Inklings meetings when there were four present - as if the usual was more); until Tolkien withdrew and the evening meetings ceased - after which the group continued as its established convivial drinking club meeting, with a much larger and looser membership, on Tuesday lunchtimes at the 'Bird and Baby' pub then the Lamb and Flag.

*

Monday, 25 August 2014

The nature of Charles Williams influence on The Inklings - the mythologizing of everyday life

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Continuing from:
http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/evidence-that-charles-williams-presided.html

*
If we assume that Charles Williams did indeed lead, preside-over and dominate the Inklings meetings during the period 1939-45 while he resided in Oxford; then what was the nature of his influence?

I think it likely that Charles Williams did what he always did, in all situations and with all people - that is he mythologized everyday life.

CW took the people and purposes of life and revealed the underlying mythical patterns behind them - the spiritual and poetic reality behind superficially prosaic appearances.

He did this as the Oxford University Press in Amen House, London - where he gave the staff classical names (The Publisher became Caesar, for example). He wrote Masques which allegorized the matter of publishing, he addressed people by their mythical names, he re-explained what they did in terms of very elevated roles.

His novels were exactly about this.

Whereas Lewis and Tolkien were (pre-CW) mostly writing about a linear link-up between the realities of mythic History and prosaic modern life - Williams was all about (unnatural, unreal) modern life being invaded by the supernatural which is reality.

This, I presume, was Williams work, week upon week, in the meetings with the Inklings.

I am not aware of any direct evidence to support this idea of Williams influence on the Inklings - but indirect evidence is the two post-Williams novels That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis, and The Notion Club Papers by JRR Tolkien.

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/notion-club-papers-are-tolkiens-charles.html
*

Friday, 22 August 2014

Evidence that Charles Williams 'presided' at Inklings meetings 1939-45

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Continuing from:

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/warnie-lewis-on-charles-williams-and.html

It is generally assumed that CS Lewis presided over Inklings meetings throughout the span of that group's existence - indeed Humphrey Carpenter's group biography of the Inklings argued that the group was nothing but a group of Lewis's friends. And the meetings were held in Lewis's rooms.

However, I believe a strong case can be made that for the period 1939-45 when Charles Williams was living in Oxford, and was the most regular attender at Inklings evenings (according to Warnie Lewis) - Lewis stepped back into the role of merely hosting the Inklings, and CW dominated and presided over the meetings.

When I talk about presiding, I am of course referring to an informal gathering - yet, in all regular groups of friends there is a dominant figure - one who is the main authority, final court of appeal, who controls the discourse. And I think this is the role that Williams took over from Jack Lewis.

1. The main reason to believe this is that Williams was a dominant man: someone who (in his own distinctive way) dominated every human situation in which he found himself - with the possible exception of formal meetings with the Publisher of Oxford University Press Sir Humphrey Milford. He reportedly evoked voluntary deference from such large and powerful characters as Jack Lewis, TS Eliot and WH Auden.

2. Williams was the oldest of the regular Inklings.

3. Williams was by far the most published Inkling - the senior author.

4. Williams was the best connected of the Inklings, had friends and colleagues among major and famous literary figures of the era.

5. Williams was a figure in London - in this sense a wordly man, compared with the 'ivory towered' dons.

6. Williams was, in effect, a professional theologian - whose books were read, pondered, discussed, by real theologians - he had for a while been invited to contribute essays, books, plays on theological matters.

7. Williams was a successful poet, regarded as one of the most important of that era. Tolkien and Lewis had both intended to be poets (first and foremost) in their early adulthood - neither had succeeded; but Williams had.

So, I think that there are many reasons to suppose that - even despite the lack of direct evidence of what actually happened in the group - it was Williams who probably presided-over and dominated the Inklings meetings, and in this sense 'led' the group; from moving to Oxford until his death.

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Warnie Lewis on Charles Williams and the Inklings - implications for understanding the Inklings as based on and around Charles Williams

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From Warren Hamilton Lewis's diary for Tuesday 15 May 1945 (In "Brothers and Friends", edited by CS Kilby and ML Mead, 1982):

At 12.50 this morning I had just stopped work... when the telephone rang, and a woman's voice asked if I would take a message for J [=Jack = CS Lewis] -

"Mr Charles Williams died in the Acland [hospital] this morning".

One often reads of people being 'stunned' by bad news, and reflects idly on the absurdity of the expression; but there is more than a little truth in it. I felt just as if I had slipped and come down on my head on the pavement...

I felt dazed and restless, and went out to get a drink: choosing unfortunately the King's Arms, where during the winter Charles and I more than once drank a pint after leaving Tollers [Tolkien] at the Mitre, with much glee at 'clearing ones throats of varnish with good honest beer', as Charles used to say.

There will be no more pints with Charles: no more 'Bird and Baby': the blackout has fallen, and the Inklings can never be the same again. 

I knew him better than any of the others, by virtue of his being the most constant attendant...

And so vanishes one of he best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet. May God receive him into His everlasting happiness. 

*

Comments:

1. Despite that I don't think Charles Williams mentions Warnie Lewis in any of his writings; nor do his biographers mention Warnie - it is clear that they were good friends. (This also emphasizes that C.W's own recorded written accounts of himself and his own doings are extremely partial, hence biased.)

2. As of 1945, Warnie knew Williams better than the others - which means better than Tolkien, or Havard, or Barfield. His evaluation of Charles as "one of he best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet" should be given considerable weight, because Warnie was among the kindest and most empathic of men.

3. Warnie regarded Williams as absolutely central to The Inklings and indeed the most constant attender at the meetings (presumably aside from Jack and Warnie Lewis themselves). Therefore, an evaluation of whatever The Inklings was 'about' must be focused on what C.W brought to the group. 

My current feeling is that Charles Williams was both the trigger of The Inklings, and functioned in its heyday as as the senior figure and arbiter of the Inklings - when considered in its function as a serious intellectual group:

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/was-charles-willimas-grey-eminence.html

(Note: this present view of CW as leader supersedes my previous idea of Williams as a 'grey eminence' - or power behind the throne.)

This entails that it is NOT CS Lewis, nor JRR Tolkien, who was the primary person or spiritual leader among the Inklings - but instead Charles Williams.

There is very little direct evidence for this claim, but I hope to explore it in future postings.

Therefore, although they continued to meet for a few years after his death, once Williams was gone, so was the core reason for the Inklings Thursday evening meetings at Lewis's rooms - and the group dwindled to become essentially a convivial and casual gathering for drink and conversation at the Bird and Baby (Eagle and Child pub).

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Continued at:
http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/evidence-that-charles-williams-presided.html

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Was JRR Tolkien a lunatic?

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Tolkien certainly seemed to think so!

...if the evidence of his fictional alter egos is anything to go by.

Or rather, Tolkien was humble enough to recognize that this was how he would appear to others.

*

And he defused the accusation by the pre-emptive strike of having some of the main characters with whom he identified described as one or another form of lunatic; but so-described by those whose opinions and world views were narrow, cynical, and often corrupt.

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e.g. The autobiographically-hinting poem titled Looney (published in the Oxford Magazine in 1934; later re-named The Sea Bell, published in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and fictively nicknamed Frodo's Dreme).

Bilbo's nickname of 'Mad Baggins' (mentioned at the end of The Hobbit).

Frodo described as 'cracking' (and Bilbo as 'cracked') by Sandyman in Lord of the Rings.

Specifically, this lunatic, mad, cracked status was accorded to characters who exhibited a strong interest in (or claimed to have visited) visit elves or the land of faery. 

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Tolkien - the 'most unfortunate' man (According to Warren Lewis, 1936)

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Diaries of Warren H (Warnie) Lewis: 21 January 1936

News today that Tolkien, playing squash and stretching for a high ball, said sharply t his partner "Don't do that again: it hurts" - thinking that the partner had playfully kicked him in the leg. 

He was then taken off to a doctor and it was found that he had broken a ligament in his leg and will be in bed for the next ten weeks. 

J [standing for Jack - i.e. Warnie's brother, C.S. Lewis] went to see him after tea, but found Madame there, so could not have much conversation with him. 

Of all the men I have ever met, poor Tolkien is the most unfortunate.

From Brothers and Friends: The diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis. Edited by Clyde S Kilby and Majorie Lamp Mead. Harper and Row: San Fransico, 1982.

**

NOTES:

1. "broken a ligament in his leg" - this refers to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

2. "Madame" seems to refer to Tolkien's wife, Edith. Warnie makes several other references to Edith in his journals, and apparently regarded her negatively as someone who tried to keep Tolkien to herself and away from his friends and colleagues. I also get the impression, indirectly but strongly, that Warnie also regarded Edith as a demanding and 'neurotic' personality in her own right.For instance, on 24 March 1934, he juxtaposes a discussion of Mrs Moore with Edith in such a way as to imply a similarity of character; and Warnie certainly found Mrs Moore a very difficult person to live-with (even before her neurotic and demanding aspects were exacerbated by some kind of dementia).

Tolkien's squash partner has been identified:

McIntosh, Angus (1914–2005). Angus McIntosh read English at Oriel College, Oxford, taking first-class honours in 1934, and stayed on to earn his diploma in Comparative Philology at Merton in 1936. He became a friend of Tolkien, and together they played regular games of squash; one of these, at the end of January 1936, ended abruptly when Tolkien tore his Achilles Tendon. In later years, it is said, McIntosh sometimes claimed that he was entitled to a share of Tolkien’s royalties for The Hobbit andThe Lord of the Rings, given that his friend only began to write those works while laid up with his squash injury. This was surely tongue-in-check, though some have taken the story at face value: The Hobbit was substantially in existence already by 1936, while The Lord of the Ringswould not be conceived until late in 1937.
From 1936 to 1938, McIntosh was a Commonwealth Fellow at Harvard University, then took up a lectureship in English at University College Swansea. During the Second World War, he served in the Tank Corps but transferred to Intelligence and worked in cryptography at Bletchley Park. After briefly returning to Swansea, he became a Lecturer in English at Christ Church, Oxford (1946–47) and an Oxford University Lecturer in Medieval English (1946–48). He and Tolkien jointly conducted a seminar on Middle English during Hilary Term 1948. Later that year, McIntosh moved to Edinburgh University as the first Forbes Professor of English Language and General Linguistics. Later he became a principal founder of the Edinburgh schools of epistemics (informatics) and Scottish studies. He retired from his chair in 1979.
Among many works in which McIntosh was involved were the Linguistic Survey of Scotland, the Middle English Dialect Project, A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, the Scottish National Dictionary, the Linguistic Atlas of Late MediƦval English, and the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. He was also active with the Scottish Text Society and the Early English Text Society.
Tolkien and McIntosh continued to see each other from time to time, in Oxford and Edinburgh. In 1962, McIntosh contributed an essay, ‘The Textual Transmission of the Alliterative Morte Arthure’, to the festschrift*English and Medieval Studies Presented to J.R.R. Tolkien on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday.

http://www.hammondandscull.com/addenda/guide_by_date.html

*

Comment: Why does Warnie, a most sensitive and kind man, refer to Tolkien as 'most unfortunate'? From his other journal references, I think it refers partly to Tolkien's marriage and domestic situation - as understood and evaluated from Warnie's perspective (who loved nothing better than a life of calmness and quietness, preferably with his brother); and partly to Tolkien seeming to have have a lot of misfortunes and unpleasant duties in his life.

*

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Lord of the Rings - significance of the first and last words

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Although JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (LotR) is classified as a fiction, it not meant to be read as such - and this is clear from its first and last words.

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The first words - from the Prologue: Concerning Hobbits  - are:

This book is largely concerned with Hobbits, and from its pages a reader may discover much of their character and a little of their history.  Further information will also be found in the selection from the Red Book of Westmarch that has already been published, under the title of The Hobbit.  That story was derived from the earlier chapters of the Red Book, composed by Bilbo himself, the first Hobbit to become famous in the world at large, and called by him There and Back Again, since they told of his journey into the East and his return:  an adventure which later involved all the Hobbits in the great events of that Age that are here related. 

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The last words, from Appendix F: The languages and peoples of the Third Age, are:

It must be observed, however, that when the Oldbucks (Zaragamba) changed their name to Brandybuck (Brandagamba), the first element meant 'borderland, and Marchbuck would have been nearer. Only a very bod hobbit would have ventured to call the Master of Buckland Braldagamba in his hearing.  

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What are we to make of this?

1. LotR is principally about hobbits - hobbits begin it, and hobbits end it.

2. LotR is presented as a factual history - it opens with background information concerning the the textual origin of LotR. It closes with a description of the historical languages from which the Lord of the Rings has been translated. 

3. LotR is a profoundly philological work. 

The first paragraph is concerned with textual sources. The last paragraph is a philological joke -the previous paragraph explains that the translation of the word Brandywine in Brandywine River refers to an habitual hobbit jest that changed its original name of 'Branda-nin' meaning border water, to 'Bralda-him' meaning 'heady ale' - so that to call the Master of Buckland 'Braldagamba' would be to suggest that he was drunk. 

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In sum, we may conclude from just its opening and closing paragraphs that The Lord of the Rings is a philologically-inspired feigned-history focused on hobbits - which is, of course is exactly what Tolkien said it was!

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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

No elves! - another reason why Tolkien did not like Narnia

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There is not much doubt that for Tolkien the main element of faery was... fairies: that is to say, elves.

Lost Tales and Tolkien's early poetry was about the elves, the Silmarillion was from an elvish perspective, the Lord of the Rings was substantially about the end of the age of high elves - made especially clear in the Epilogue
http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-epilogue-to-lord-of-rings-what.html

And Tolkien's last work - Smith of Wootton Major - was also about elves.

But Narnia had no elves - and no real equivalent substitute for elves - therefore would have been regarded by Tolkien as missing-the-point - and, therefore, in a sense Narnia was not-really-faery at all.

No wonder Tolkien was so bitterly disappointed with Narnia! :

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/timing-and-causes-of-breakdown-of.html

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Note: I personally do like Narnia! But I agree with Tolkien in that it does not strike me as being an example of faery - it is a different kind of place. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Review of The Simarillion audiobook, read by Martin Shaw, 1998

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The Silmarillion: Of Turin and Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin.
Audiobook (on cassette tape) 1998.
Comprising unabridged segments from the 1977 Simarillion edited by Christopher Tolkien assisted by Guy Gavriel Kay.
Read by Martin Shaw. (Approximately 3 hours in total).

Rating - Three stars from a possible five.

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I regard these tapes with a rather mixed attitude, due to my reservations about the 1977 Silmarillion.

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/how-tolkien-could-should-have-published.html

On the plus side, Martin Shaw reads very well - with a powerful focus and a convincing pronunciation of the Elven language parts. Certainly, I found it much easier and more enjoyable to hear The Silmarillion read aloud, than I do to read it myself (which I almost never do).

In this sense, this audiobook serves a very valuable purpose.

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But it does nothing to dispel my reservations about The Silmarillion - indeed it has extended and amplified them!

I now feel that there are profoundly alien elements in The Silmarillion, which are carried over from Tolkien's earliest days as an immature writer, when his work was of the natyire of pastiche: I am thinking particularly of the tales relating to 'the children of Hurin' and especially Turin.

I have previously written that I believe Christipher Tolkein made a serious error in leaving-out from teh conclusion of the 1977 Silmarillion the prophecy of Mandos of the return and final defeat of Morgoth, and especially concerning Turin's role at the end of time - thereby eliminating ultimate hope from the Silmarillion:

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

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I reinforce this criticism, and would add that it is alien and almost monstrous to create a book which is about the utter destruction of hope: this is profoundly un-Tolkienian (if we assume that Tolkein true and deepest nature is seen in Lord of the Rings and the other mature stories such as Leaf by Niggle and Smith of Wootton Major).

It feels to me that the Tale of Turin - and the surrounding Children of Hurin material - is alien to the work of Tolkein - and was probably been passively and inappropriately carried over from the Finnish Kalavela 'rewrite' era of Tolkien's youth - and being retained in the Legendarium for sentimental rather than artistic or moral reasons.

The basic set-up of this story is totally at odds both with Christianity and with the way that Middle Earth functions as a whole; because the misfortunes are described as inescapably fated, and driven by Morgoth's specific malice towards Hurin.

This set-up has many, many problems!

1. It is not clear why Morgoth should have such a specific malice against Hurin and his family - when there were so many others Morgoth would plausibly have been equally or more likely to focus his hatred upon.

2. Morgoth (a picture of Satan) should not be able to affect the fundamentals of human fate by his malice; because Morgoth was almost nothing but malice - and if this malice is allowed to affect fate, then it makes resistance to him unnatural and futile; and makes Morgoth more powerful than Eru and the Valar.

3. Hurin, Turin and the rest should not be helpless against Morgoth's malice - when it is absolutely vital - in terms of the metaphysics of Arda - that they remain free to choose, to choose Good, and to escape Morgoth's will. But in this part of the Simarillion, fate is seen as evil, inescapable; and the humans like helpless puppets writhing and squirming against the strings which inexorably control them.

But this is monstrous - indeed blasphemous! - from the moral world which Tolkien created in Lord of the Rings; and indeed in many other parts of the Silmarillion.

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So, whatever its virtues as a free-standing story, isolated from the Legendarium - the story of Hurin's children, and especially of Turin Turambar - are completely wrong from the perspective of Tolkien's mature works - and should not be included with them; and especially, should not be integrated with them!

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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy - thirteen years on...

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Thirteen years ago I went to the cinema to watch the first Peter Jackson movie of The Lord of the Rings, and within four minutes from the title I was absolutely convinced that this was going to be a great experience of my life:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhjDnrw34QA

My enjoyment was helped by the fact that back in 2001 I had not read LotR for quite a large gap of years. I had dipped into it frequently, but I had not read it all nor sequentially. Therefore I was not much aware of the many detailed changes and omissions made by the Fellowship of the Ring movie.

Anyway, I enjoyed it as much as any movie I have ever seen. And when I saw the DVD extended version, I liked it even more.

The Two Towers was considerably worse as a movie - badly edited, with a ridiculous 'Aragorn is dead... NOT' addition, and a real mess being made of the Ents - which somewhat overcast the perfection of Gollum.

The Return of the King marked a return to the very high level of the first movie, with perhaps the best moments of the whole series in the charge of Rohan across the Pelennor Fields and Eowyn's slaying of the Nazgul and his steed - and (strangely, perhaps) the lighting of the beacons of Gondor.

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Thirteen years on, I am unfortunately more aware of the bad aspects of the treatment, script, directing and acting - yet I still rate LotR as one of the very greatest of all movies.

Why? Two major reasons: the mise-en-scene and the music.

1. The mise-en-scene includes the design - by illustrator Alan Lee (mostly) and all the other aspects of the visuals, as chosen and implemented  by Peter Jackson.

This was quite simply a revelation to me. For example, in the above opening sequence, I had never been able to form in my mind a picture of Sauron, or a picture of the battle of the Last Alliance in Mordor, or what Hobbiton actually looked like.

Suddenly, there it all was! Just as I would have wished to imagine it, but had failed.

2. The musical score, by Howard Shore, is by far the best music ever written for any movie (except, of course, I haven't seen every movie - or anything like!). It is not just an enhancement of emotions, and extremely beautiful and thrilling qua music; but - especially at the very end - pretty much carries the main narrative in all its turns and closures, in a manner that can only be compared with Wagner.

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Aside from this, the script, the direction and the acting are good enough on the whole not to spoil the visuals and music - and often enough better than that; with many delightful touches from Gollum, Sam, Merry and Pippin, Gandalf, Denethor, Wormtongue, Eowyn...

But on repeated viewing the faults do rather stand out; and it was extremely dismaying to see them repeated and so much amplified in the Hobbit movie (I could only stomach part one) - where they they were no longer able to be sufficiently compensated by visuals and music.

Still and all - I continue to cherish the Jackson Lord of the Rings movies for what they did so well - for their revelations that filled in where my imagination failed - and for their overall truth to the story and message of the Book.

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