Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Abel Pitt as Adam Fox


I have made only sporadic attempts to 'identify' the list of Notion Club Paper members (listed on pages 159-160) with real life Inklings, and others have already done so.

Indeed the striking thing about the Notion Club is how un-like the Inklings they are: no central Lewis character (no central character at all), lacking a Warnie character, and nobody with the peculiar impact of Charles Williams.

Nonetheless, sometimes I have tried to follow the associations in Tolkien's mind which may have led to the names and brief descriptions on the members page.

That is the fun of it: to 'get' an in-joke, and by such means to understand the workings of Tolkien's mind.


Thus, in the bath this evening, I recognized Notion Club member Abel Pitt as a play on real life Adam Fox: and (from Google) I discover that Jason Fisher has already made this connection.


The fictional biography of Pitt runs:

Dr Abel Pitt. Trinity. Born 1928. Formerly Chaplain of Trinity College; now Bishop of Buckingham. Scholar, occasional poet. 

The obvious clue is that Pitt, like Fox, is an Anglican clergyman, both were scholars and occasional poets - but the real Fox was Dean of Divinity (at Lewis's college of Magdalen), a much more elevated position than Chaplain.

Abel is Adam's son in the Old Testament; but what link is there between Fox and Pitt?


My guess is that coal/ col links Pitt and Fox - a coal-pit is where coal is extracted while a colfox (a fox whose ears and tail are tipped with coal-black) appears in Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale).

The joke would presumably be that Adam Fox was best known for publishing a book length poem called Old King Coel.

If so, this is an interesting example of Tolkien's philological high spirits that he embedded such fancies in his story, and illustrative of the characteristic scholarly foolery of the real life Inklings that he would expect them to get the joke.



bgc said...

From David Bratman:

Tolkien was a philologist, and I would like to think better of him that he would make such a crude, strained, and convoluted joke in his own specialty.

King Coel, a Celtic name, is etymologically unrelated to "coal" and (outside of the famous rhyme) isn't even pronounced the same. I think we have adequate evidence that Tolkien's imagination wasn't fired by vague sound-alikes, but by deep philological relationships....

William Pitt and Charles Fox were the long-term antagonists and party leaders for 20 years during the later part of the reign of George III, and "Pitt v. Fox" is the summation of that era in British political history. Every schoolboy in Tolkien's day would have known this.

I'm not entirely sure that Tolkien would have made that joke either, but if he did it's a piece of straightforward donnish humor.

bgc said...

Anonymous Lurker (on the Miscellany blog) agrees with the Fox-Pitt political pun - looks like I'm out-voted, but then I am not a democrat, and prefer the Coal/ Col/ Coel pun!

Troels said...

If Tolkien would name the Barfield-calque ‘Ranulf Stainer’ as a joking reference ‘to Barfield's devotion to the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner’ I don't think we should complain too much on the joke being too crude :-) I think it is a better argument against to merely say that it is a rather convoluted joke.

Based on my own googling, I suspect that the reference to Jason Fisher is to the appearance in the recent book that he has edited, Tolkien and the Study of His Sources, the identification appears in the contribution by Diana Pavlac Glyer and Josh B. Long, ‘Biography as Source: Niggles and Notions’ in a section titled ‘The Notion Club Papers’ on p. 201 they note simply:
‘Abel Pitt, the former chaplain of Trinity and occasional poet, is Adam Fox;’ but they don't offer any justification of this identification. My quotation above regarding Barfield is also from that essay.

Incidentally this blog is also referenced in that paper:
‘John Havard comments, “I did not find much of father’s character that I recognised in Dolbear when I was reading the [Notion Club] Papers. I had the impression that Tolkien was more interested in providing light relief while he followed up the topics discussed than in any serious exploration of character.”[12]’
where note 12 is a simple reference to

Anonymous said...

Wildly tossing out suggestions:

Any allusion via political rivalry to the Inklings getting Fox elected Professor of Poetry in 1936?

Fox became a Canon of Westminster Abbey in 1942 and both the Abbey and Buckingham Palace (acquired by George III - under whom both Fox and Pitt later served as Ministers) are in the City of Westminster. (The Bishop of Buckingham is a suffragan of Oxford Diocese, created in 1913.)

Any tangential play with David Cecil as political historian/biographer?

Might Adam Fox have been more like William Pitt the Younger than Charles James Fox?

With respect to word- and name-plays, in Masefield's Box of Delights (1935), which if I am not mistaken Lewis delighted in (I'm not sure about Tolkien) there is the pseudonymous 'Cole Hawlings' (which plays both with 'hauling coal' and 'Cole' as a name thanks to 'old King Cole'), who is in fact the Blessed Raymond Lully.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - It is an enjoyable game! I suspect your association of ideas may be too political for Tolkien, but who knows?

Anonymous said...

I have now, at last, read all of Sauron Defeated (HME IX) once and am, so informed, trying to get caught up with this blog as a whole. En route, I may ignorantly first address something in one place which you and commenters have thoroughly addressed elsewhere: for which, my apologies.

As Troels notes, ‘Ranulph Stainer’ is some sort of joking reference ‘to Barfield's devotion to the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner’, and so ‘Ranulph Stainer’ is some sort of Barfield-calque. There are wordplays with German 'Stein' and Old English 'stan'(and Scots 'stane') and the English surname 'Stainer' and perhaps specifically Dr. John Stainer sometime organist and choirmaster of Magdalen College and University Organist at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin - and, conceivably, with the English 'stain' and 'stainer' (in the senses of 'one who colours' and 'one who sullies, blots, blemishes').

With 'Rudolf' (the Old English form, 'Hrothulf', among other things being the name of Hrothgar's nephew in Beowulf) he plays via 'Ranulf', an English and Scots name of old Norse origin - and notably, part of the etymology of Edwin Ransom's surname as given in chapter 11 of Perelandra: 'Ranolf's son'.

This, I think, is part of the complex play in NCP with names and characters and Ransom as first significantly based on or indebted to Tolkien, but increasingly, with the writing of THS, also (or more) on and to Williams.

I wonder how far NCP is a play with 'the true story of "Ransom" ' as, e.g., Numemor is with 'the true story of Atlantis'.

Christopher finds Ramer "very puzzling". I wonder if part of the puzzle is wordplay between the elements 'ram-' and 'ran-'. (I also wonder if there is a play with the 'Oxford "-er" ' as in 'soccer' and 'rugger' and 'brekker' and 'Maggers', and, assuming it is a schwa sound, with either or both Sanskrit and Hebrew 'Rama'.)

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - Thanks for this. What seems clear is that the Inklings loved this kind of stuff - because the manuscript was read to them, and Tolkien must have assumed that that would 'get' the philological puns simply from hearing them.

Anonymous said...

This may be simply fortuitous, but, reading the Wikipedia article on the "Radcliffe Camera" in aid of brooding over Ramer's dream-vision including it, I see Radcliffe's first biographer is William Pittis (a copy of his book, Some Memoirs, is scanned in the Internet Archive). Any 'Pitt'/'Pittis' play? (Pittis is also one of the contenders for author of The Memorial of the Church of England - of which Internet Archive has scans of 1705 and 1711 eds.) Fetching-far, admittedly, and yet...?

I also see the Oxford "-er" nickname for the Camera is given as 'Radders' or (linked) 'Radder' (also applied to the tunnel between it and the Bodeleian "in 1930s slang"). Might 'Ramer' also be contrasting with this? Tolkien's own "-er" nickname was 'Tollers'.

David Llewellyn Dodds