Monday, 25 September 2023

Review of Twenty-First Century Tolkien by Nick Groom (2023)

Nick Groom. Twenty-first century Tolkien: What Middle Earth means to us today. Atlantic Books: London, 2023. pp xxiii, 451.

Nick Groom, the author of Twenty-first century Tolkien, approaches Tolkien from almost the opposite side to myself; in terms of what we each think is significant about Tolkien the Man, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; and more fundamentally, also, in what we think is good and true in the world!

The core problem for me, is that Groom has an incompatible and, I feel, incoherent understanding of the subject matter itself: i.e. what we mean by "JRR Tolkien", and what "Tolkien" actually should-be. 

Twenty-first century Tolkien is an eclectic brew (including biography, textual analysis, literary history, cultural criticism and much else); but I think mostly about what can be termed "the Tolkien phenomenon", as this developed from publication and up to Amazon TV's Rings of Power in 2022. 

(The gulf between my own aesthetic and moral evaluations, and those of Nick Groom, is evidenced by the fact that he liked Rings of Power, thought it was conceptually interesting, well done, and a valid contribution to Tolkien's legacy; whereas my own evaluations were... rather different!)

Perhaps the main value to the book is its extensive information concerning how other people (not Tolkien himself) have interpreted, adapted, and exploited Tolkien's written works; across a wide range of media - especially radio, television, movies - particularly interesting in including unpublished and unmade examples. 

Groom's accounts of these are interesting and amusing, at a gossipy level - and I found myself reading-out sections to the family, about the astonishing absurdities and excesses of various plans and scripts for adapting The Lord of the Rings.  

But I began to realize what would turn out to be the core problem of this book for someone like myself; which is that Groom seems to like and approve-of - or at least take seriously as valid options - a great deal of what seems to me the most ignorant, incompetent and crass interpretations. 

And indeed this is the main problem I have with Twenty-first century Tolkien, throughout. For Groom; the proper subject matter of discourse is not JRR Tolkien As Such; but the Tolkien phenomenon - which is, in principle, anything and everything people have thought, said, written, depicted - which is (in almost any way) linked-with Tolkien's work. 

Groom goes to the extreme (that is, it seems extreme and indeed absurd to me, although fairly mainstream in Literary Criticism for several decades) of stating that "we" cannot any longer regard Tolkien (his life, his work) as a "purely literary" phenomenon; and that this means that we ought to cease regarding the original text as the subject matter. 

Groom says we "cannot" (I think he means that he believes we "should not") separate Tolkien the Man, his literary works, and the cumulative cultural products of the Tolkien Phenomenon/ Industry. 

Part of this argument is an extensive 'revisionist' reinterpretation of Tolkien's written works; by which Groom ingeniously homes-in upon those elements which contradict the accepted (and, I would say, true!) generalizations concerning Tolkien: such that his 'world-building' in Lord of the Rings was uniquely coherent and detailed. 

Groom highlights instead the inconsistencies, loose ends, and vagueness in the printed text; and emphasizes the zig-zag and exploratory way in which that final text was developed, through sometimes many drafts (as described in The History of Middle Earth). 

On the one hand, Groom's approach does highlight the exceptions behind the generalization; on the other hand, by the time Groom has finished his exposition, the Lord of the Rings has been almost inverted into something almost unrecognizable - to my mind almost an anti-Tolkien! 

But - and I think this is significant - Tolkien thus regarded has become something much more palatable to the institutionally-leftist and reflexly-secular assumptions, convictions and tastes of modern academia. 

I agree with Groom that it is possible to regard "Tolkien" in exactly the way he advocates, and I also agree that this is indeed how many or most people do regard Tolkien. 

As a clear example, the Peter Jackson movies have, as a matter of sheer fact, overwritten some aspects of the books in the memories of many who appreciate both - such that the two cannot be reliably distinguished or kept separate. 

This is, at least partly, because the "virtual reality" power of a movie is something largely passively and uniformly imposed-upon the audience; while by contrast a book's power is much more actively and personally co-created by the reader. This unfortunately means that even a bad movie (and Peter Jackson's movies are superb, greatly amplifying their power to usurp!) can penetrate and distort the impact of a book.

For example, the idiotic depiction of the Ents in Bakshi's 1978 animated Lord of the Rings (the first picture on this page) often jump into mind when I am reading the book; despite or exactly because I so much despise them!

In other words; the Tolkien phenomenon much more often, because so much more easily, degrades more than it enhances what is valuable in the original literary source. Unfortunately, in this world it is facile to mock, subvert, degrade and destroy - but very difficult to make something beautiful, true and virtuous. And what is easy happens more often than what is difficult. 

As Tolkien himself made clear; evil distorts and pollutes, it cannot create - and there have been few phenomena in the history of this world that are more purposively evil (in terms of their inversion of values) than the modern mass media

Insofar as we deliver Tolkien into the "phenomenon", we assimilate his texts into the mass media; and inevitably to that extent will his work be corrupted - and indeed inverted.  

But for me; to redefine Tolkien in this way, and open-endedly - such that "Tolkien" is being continually changed by... well, whatever latest Tolkien-themes cultural product has an impact - is a gross and indeed lethal diminution of what Tolkien and his work can be for us. 

In other words, to regard Tolkien as having disappeared-into, and been assimilated-by, the Tolkien Phenomenon; is merely to regard Tolkien as Just Another evanescent attention-grabbing aspect of mainstream mass media. 

Whereas, by contrast (and as this blog is intended to exemplify), to focus upon Tolkien the Man and his Books, can be to live in the presence of an unique and exceptionally valuable individual author - one who I personally would not want to be without.


Tolkien can give us a positively life-transforming, culturally challenging, deep perspective; but only if we are prepared to separate him sufficiently to discover his particular nature and contribution.

Saturday, 26 August 2023

Charles Williams, the City of God, and this mortal life as palimpsest of the eternal

I first came across Charles Williams in Humphrey Carpenter's The Inklings (1979) which I read in 1987, while living a somewhat Inklings-like life; researching English, and a Don in Durham Castle, University College, Durham. 

Carpenter does an excellent job of portraying Williams as an interesting and unusual person; so that the reader is drawn to investigate further - which I did. 

I have been thinking lately about that way of living (or something aimed-at in living) that I associate with the work and practice of Charles Williams - by which the mundane world is understood as (what I have termed) a palimpsest - as when a new medieval text is written on a secondhand parchment, and the pre-existing manuscript can sometimes be seen shining-through. 

The idea is that we are at first aware only of the mundane 'natural' and surface level of meanings; but underneath these, there is a super-natural reality, of eternal and archetypal forms.  

Thus; for Williams the City of London (or any city) represents the City of God; and its mercantile exchanges of goods and money, represent the Christian spiritual "exchange" between "co-inherent" Men. In his novels and poems, and also apparently in his own life and that of his 'disciples', this seems to have been the daily practice of Charles Williams - anything in the passing show, might be experienced as a symbol of some-thing archetypal and eternal.  

From long before I counted myself a Christian, this had a strong initial appeal to me; as an attitude that seemed to lend depth and meaning to a mundane, everyday world that so-often, so-badly lacked depth and meaning (consisting of dull bureaucracy, transient distractions, the pursuit of low motivations and rejection of high). 

It came naturally too: I suspected, sometimes detected, much going-on beneath the surface; including good things of which people seemed often unconscious, and good influences that were unnoticed, unintended, unsuspected... 

In other words; the reality was largely negative and implicit in in its effects; and my idea was that to make it positive ought to enhance its power to enhance life. 

"Power" was indeed a part of the concept - including Will Power. I was sympathetic to the idea that there could be a collective focusing of will power for Good; and that this kind of activity might do good in ways that were again unnoticed and unconscious. 

(Indeed, such ideas were prevalent a few decades ago, and people would often organize mass activities of 'will power' - such as prayer, meditation, and many varieties of ceremonial activity; with the expressed aim of doing some-Good to the world... In a sense, the underlying idea was that Good could be done-to masses of people - "whether they liked it or not"! 

So there were ideas of a realler-reality beneath the surface; and ideas of the Good-stuff being present and operative without awareness, working-away in all kinds of positive ways, but unknown and unsuspected. And maybe "some way" of tapping into this underlying world by those (relatively  few) who recognized the nature-of-things; and thereby influencing things-in-general for the better - although they probably would never know it. 

And so I continued for many a year. 

And I gained satisfactions by it: both an immediate satisfaction of seeing beyond or below, and the motivation of doing more so. 

Yet, of course, there was no purpose to it. Ultimately, it was hedonic in its intent - a way of making life more enjoyable, but without making life qualitatively different. 

And there were disadvantages - because regarding actuality as a palimpsest devalues it relative to the deep past and the hoped-for future. Indeed, the surface seems ever-thinner, as the mind penetrates to 'eternal verities' beneath; and this life itself - mortal life, full of ephemeral objects and ideas - seems futile. It is going nowhere - but to change, corruption, death; so why do we linger in this vale of mere shadows when there is a bright and pure and flawless world awaiting us on the other side? 

Indeed, why did we ever come here at all - when there exists a world so much better; and a world which we will (apparently) experience as wholly satisfying? 

What is the point, if temporarily incarnating into such a mixed and messy world of temporary stuff; if/when there is an archetypal and timeless reality to which we might in principle have dwelt-within? 

And when we try to abolish time and sequence, and start believing that what is now is always, what was is also now, and what is to come has already-happened - then various terrible implications begin to sink-in. 

We have bought meaningfulness as a terrible cost; the cost of abolishing purpose hence choice - leading to paralysis as we contemplate an essentially tragic state of being. 

So, in the end I found - as, I believe, did Charles Williams - that despite the immediate allure and benefits of regarding this mortal life as a palimpsest written over an eternal and ideal world that can be accessed by the determined adept; when taken seriously and over the long term, such an attitude detracts-from and devalues (rather than enhances and validates) the mundane life.  

Saturday, 5 August 2023

The Shire was not an anarchy nor did it have a government; but had a clan- (family-) based system of authority

Some people have badly misunderstood The Shire as some kind of an 'anarchy'; with the implication that a lack of much in the way of formal government mistakenly-equated with a condition of unconstrained individual 'freedom'. 

But this idea of the unconstrained individual, free to do whatever he wanted, is very modern; and anarchy did not exist in traditional societies - although the delusion that it did, and that ancient tribal hunter gatherer societies were some kind of anarchy dates back at least to Engels, and Rousseau before him. 

On the contrary; it seems clearly implied that The Shire was - like many ancient and small scale societies - based upon extended families - that it was a kind of clan-based society.

In clan societies, individuals 'identity' is as part of their family; and it is families who regulate individual behaviour - using the relatively fluid and informal, but nonetheless authoritative, means by which families spontaneously operate. 

Thus we are told that hobbits are deeply interested by genealogy - that is family ancestry; and individual hobbits are nearly always discussed in terms of their familial descent and membership. 

Furthermore; there is also an implicit Shire class system; with some hobbit families identified as 'gentry' (such as Baggins, Bolger, Boffin) - and a few of these (such as the Tooks primarily, and Brandybucks secondarily) as something-like an aristocracy in that they have an hereditary and patriarchal (primogeniture) authority over others. 

This dominance by certain clans appears to be rooted in the hereditary competence for rulership of Fallohide hobbits; who seem to be both bolder and more intelligent than the other Stoor and Harfoot types.  

(Although formally patriarchal; it is also clear that  - just as in real life Men's families - exceptional female-hobbits may establish substantial - but non-hereditary - authority, or even dominance: examples are, buy implication, Bilbo's 'remarkable' mother Belladonna Took, and Lobelia Sackville Baggins, who we hear described apparently dominating first her wealthy husband, and later her son.)     

In such a clan society; there is almost nothing corresponding to the individuality of anarchism; since personal identity is - spontaneously - immersed in the family; which is indeed regarded by other hobbits as definitive. 

Bilbo and Frodo, as wealthy (hence independent) bachelors, who care little for the opinion of other hobbits, are, of course, notable exceptions, since they - apparently - do whatever they like! 

But there will have been extremely few Shire hobbits who could afford to lose their 'respectability' (i.e. their guaranteed place in Shore society) by steeping outside of family expectations.  

An important factor is that The Shire does not much resemble any actual historical society of Men; and this is mainly because hobbit-nature is different from Man-nature - especially in that hobbits have very little desire to dominate and control others; so that Big Man societies or monarchies do not develop. 

Again, there is an exception with Lotho Sackville-Baggins, who is power-driven and briefly becomes a Big Man (the "Chief"). Lotho is widely disliked, yet meets with very little significant resistance to his monopolizing of power from other hobbits, confirming their innate lack of dominance instinct. 

The exception is the Thain - who is head of the Tooks, the most powerful clan; and with the strongest Fallohide inheritance which fits them for ruling both intellectually and temperamentally. Thus, the Tooks refuse to acknowledge Lotho's authority, and indeed defend their territory with lethal force when Lotho send 'ruffians' to intimidate them.

In conclusion, The Shire is very far from an anarchy; and instead seems to be a society with a clan-family structure that is similar to those of many historical Men, plus a small degree of national government (e.g. the mayor, shirrifs and postal service). But the end result is significantly modified compared with Men to become something unique; by the different and less dominating and power-driven nature of hobbits*. 


*Note: This resistance to the temptations of power is exactly what makes hobbits the best of all races to bear The One Ring; and indeed suggests that this is precisely the reason that Illuvitar enabled hobbits to 'evolve' from Men, probably during the Third Age.    

Thursday, 27 July 2023

Why I found it necessary to revise the "polar metaphysics" of ST Coleridge and Owen Barfield

The transcendental philosopher says; grant me a nature having two contrary forces, the one of which tends to expand infinitely, while the other strives to apprehend or find itself in this infinity, and I will cause the world of intelligences with the whole system of their representations to rise up before you. Every other science presupposes intelligence as already existing and complete: the philosopher contemplates it in its growth, and as it were represents its history to the mind from its birth to its maturity....

It is equally clear that two equal forces acting in opposite directions, both being finite and each distinguished from the other by its direction only, must neutralize or reduce each other to inaction. Now the transcendental philosophy demands; first, that two forces should be conceived which counteract each other by their essential nature; not only not in consequence of the accidental direction of each, but as prior to all direction, nay, as the primary forces from which the conditions of all possible directions are derivative and deducible: secondly, that these forces should be assumed to be both alike infinite, both alike indestructible. The problem will then be to discover the result or product of two such forces, as distinguished from the result of those forces which are finite, and derive their difference solely from the circumstance of their direction. 

When we have formed a scheme or outline of these two different kinds of force, and of their different results, by the process of discursive reasoning, it will then remain for us to elevate the thesis from notional to actual, by contemplating intuitively this one power with its two inherent indestructible yet counteracting forces, and the results or generations to which their inter-penetration gives existence, in the living principle and in the process of our own self-consciousness.

from Biographia Literaria by ST Coleridge, 1817.


The above passage has stood for over two hundred years as the basis of a "polar metaphysics" that has underpinned several of the most valid and coherent metaphysical explanations of a Romanticism compatible with Christianity

These include the work of Owen Barfield (especially as elucidated in his book What Coleridge Thought) and William Arkle (appearing as contrasting feminine and masculine poles, geometrically or by analogy with physics described in A Geography of Consciousness and The Hologram and Mind). 

Although these two 'contrary forces' can indeed be the basis of a coherent and valuable metaphysics; as Coleridge immediately makes apparent it is also necessary to add further assumptions - such as that these forces are 'infinite' and 'indestructible'; in other words, eternally self-originating and self-sustaining. 

It is also necessary to add at least a further two similar factors; namely purpose and time; because to explain the phenomena of this world it is necessary to explain change, and necessary too to explain the direction (teleology) of change. 

Put together; these are the basis of Coleridge's Polar Metaphysics/ Polarity/ Polar Logic; which was his fundamental and most original philosophical idea - an idea never popular, seldom well-understood, yet nonetheless always retaining influence.

[Note: It should be noticed that Coleridge's Polarity is almost the opposite of what modern people mean by "polarization".] 

So, we get what amounts to a complex, abstract, dynamic, and difficult to conceptualize, explanatory scheme - with at least four elements.

Moreover; polarity a 'model' of reality that does not arise from common sense, and is utterly incomprehensible to children, or simple people, or those incapable of or unwilling to make sustained and concentrated effort. 

Thus; having grappled with Polar Metaphysics until I felt I did understand it - I still found it very difficult to explain, such that it was difficult to be sure I had genuinely understood it - or indeed that other people had understood it.

Furthermore; given that Polarity/ Polar Logic was associated by Coleridge by the idea of an animated universe: a reality in which nothing was "dead" or "mineral"; and instead everything was alive, conscious, purposive... 

Given this; the metaphysics of Polarity led to the strange and wrong-seeming necessity to explain organisms and other actual, concrete and experienced living beings, in terms of these abstract forces and tendencies...

This felt the wrong way round! Surely the primary reality was the living beings, and the abstract explanations are (merely) ways of conceptualizing their attributes? 

So, I decided to dispense with the abstractions of Polarity/ Polar Logic and start by assuming the primacy of "beings". 

It is such Beings (each, in some degree and to some extent - alive, conscious, purposive) that already-contain, inextricably, as of their ultimate nature, attributes that can be distinguished in terms of the categories of polarity.

It is Beings for which we assume attributes such as being 'infinite' and 'indestructible'; eternally self-originating and self-sustaining.  

Beings, in other words, are actual things (but including immaterial 'spiritual' things) that do not need to be 'explained' because each Beings has always been; and each Being has essential attributes by which (as we know from our experience of our-selves and other Beings) there can be change, even transformation - while remaining the same Being - while retaining its eternal identity.       

Therefore; I assume (I define) Beings as innately comprising all the needful aspects which might abstractly be considered as elements of Polarity. 

Beings are the primary categorical assumption of my metaphysics: Beings are how the universe of reality is (and always has-been) divided. 

To which must be added the possibility of relationships between these eternal Beings - and then, I think we have a far more concrete and comprehensible scheme than Coleridge's: yet one that can equally well Cause the world of intelligences with the whole system of their representations to rise up before you!


Saturday, 1 July 2023

Review of The Battle of Maldon by JRR Tolkien (2023), edited by Peter Grybauskas

JRR Tolkien. The Battle of Maldon, together with The homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm's son, and The Tradition of Versification in Old English. Edited by Peter Grybauskas. HarperCollins: London, 2023, pp xx, 188.

This book constitutes mostly unpublished and new material, but is centred on The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm's Son ("HBBS") a poem-play for voices/ radio-play by JRR Tolkien. This has been generally available since c.1965; when it was it was included in a version of Tree and Leaf. That is where I first read it nearly fifty years ago; and I've re-read several times since. 

However, I found that this new edition - with its better layout, and ancillary material - made a much greater impact on me; and the play itself was therefore experienced as far more enjoyable. This alone would have made the new collection worthwhile.  

The poetic play (which has been broadcast on BBC radio) has a strange origin; since it was first published in the prestigious professional academic journal Essays and Studies - where it was bracketed by a scholarly, and somewhat more conventional,  introduction and epilogue from Tolkien that discussed the Old English poetry-fragment called The Battle of Maldon.  

Yet despite the very peculiar nature of the original academic publication (which runs to 35 pages in this edition, with a further 15 pages of scholarly notes by Grybauskas); Professor Tom Shippey (in Roots and Branches, 2007) rates HBBS as among the top-three philological publications of JRRT's career. This; in terms of its professional influence and citations (although Shippey personally regards some of Tolkien's main points as mistaken). 

Grybauskas, in the present volume, also suggests that HBBS should be regarded as a third major essay to make-up a trio with the much-more-often-discussed essays On Fairy Stories and Beowulf: the monsters and the critics. Taken together; these three provide a special and deep insight into Tolkien's creative processes, relevant to The Lord of the Rings in particular. And Grybauskas cites some comments by Tolkien himself to support this claim of a trio of JRRT's most important Middle Earth-relevant pieces. 

This large claim for HBBS is vindicated by The Battle of Maldon (2023) - especially as it is now supported by the first-time publication of some hundred pages of lecture-preparations (or projected essays), probably from the 1930s, by Tolkien; in the section of this book entitled The Tradition of Versification in Old English

Despite some parts of highly technical philology, which I could not understand; this series of Tolkien's notes contains much really fascinating discussion that has autobiographical relevance to several of Tolkien's core, long-term concerns and fascinations.  

These special interests of Tolkien include the nature of poetry and its different functions; the working-out of language changes on poetry - both in oral transmission and scribal transmission - and how these two aspects interact in terms of the various aspects of poetry such as vocabulary, pronunciation, and metre. 

All this is, in turn, directly relevant to JRRT's almost obsessive concern with the fictional provenance of his Legendarium: i.e. the question of how texts, of various sources, were preserved and transmitted down to the present day and the editorial hand of Tolkien himself. 

This concern with (imaginary) provenance derives from his professional studies in philology; but is  what lies behind the supposed origins of The Lord of the Rings mentioned in the Prologue and Appendices... The fiction's feigned historical nature; and the basis of the Romance in (for example) Bilbo's Translations from the Elvish, The Red Book of Westmarch (from Bilbo, Frodo and Sam, mostly), and other texts by Merrie Brandybuck. 

There are further references to provenance in the 'editorial' introduction to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and - even more so - the unpublished Notion Club Papers

The other main section of the book is relatively short, but clearly of importance: this is Tolkien's (previously unpublished) 12 page prose translation of The Battle of Maldon fragment - with a further 14 pages of scholarly notes from Grybauskas. The Battle of Maldon serves both as a new publication from Tolkien, and also - in context of this volume, as an essential reference from-which to understand HBBS and the Tradition of Versification lecture notes. 

In conclusion: Congratulations are due to Peter Grybauskas, and to the Tolkien Estate. This is a very worthwhile and interesting book, continuing the excellent start made to HarperCollins recent "post-Christopher Tolkien era" series; continuing CRT's epic work in producing scholarly and enjoyably-readable editions of Tolkien's unpublished or relatively "minor", hence neglected, works. 

Monday, 26 June 2023

Romanticism Come of Age; a second edition of the biography of Owen Barfield by Simon Blaxland-de Lange

Simon Blaxland-de Lange. Owen Barfield: Romanticism come of age. Temple Lodge Publishing: Forest Row, UK, 2006/ Second Edition 2021. pp. xvii, 367. 

Blaxland-de Lange's is the only biography of Owen Barfield, and it is very good. 

Indeed, because its greatest strength is that BdL has such a deep understanding of Barfield's ideas, this biography is a way by which someone could approach reading Barfield from scratch. By reading the biography first, the potential explorer can discover which of Barfield's very various books he would be most likely to enjoy and appreciate - and therefore where he might best start reading. 

The biography's great strength, might also be regarded as a stumbling block; which is that BdL is - like Barfield - a serious, indeed professional, Anthroposophist - a follower of Rudolf Steiner. 

This has the great advantage of providing valid and thorough explanations of this aspect of Barfield, which aspect is usually so badly covered by most other writers about Barfield - few of whom have made the (considerable!) effort necessary to get to grips with Steiner's vast oeuvre

On the other hand; the book is written on the basis of Anthroposophical assumptions, and includes reference to Steiner concepts; that will strike the na├»ve reader as bizarre, as well as startling. Yet, there is also a good deal of Steiner, and indeed the core of his work; that is potentially of primary importance to everyone; so to attain understanding is well worth a bit of effort.   

The organization of the book is somewhat eccentric. It begins conventionally enough, with a "biographical sketch" which gives an overview of Barfield's life, and some of the major incidents - ending with some snapshots of his attitudes and concerns at the end of his ninety-nine year life. 

After this, the book is presented in a thematic way, with different chapters covering different aspects of Barfield's life and ideas - and these chapters are not in any overall chronological arrangement, but instead each chapter includes whatever is relevant to its particular concern. 

This means that - after the first overview - the book chapters can be read, without loss, in almost any order; and this has been my practice over the decade-plus since I bought the first edition. 

Second edition differences are minimal. Indeed, I could only myself detect the addition of an Appendix making available for the first time Psychography; which was an aborted draft attempt, from the late 1940s, at a spiritual autobiography by Barfield - which runs at 12 pages, and stops in Barfield's late teens. 

This is well worth reading, as a further insight into some fundamental aspects of Barfield - including his extreme shyness and reserve in talking on the topic of himself. 

For instance, he writes about the psychological effects of his problem with stammering; but never actually says what that problem was! If the reader did not already know about this problem from elsewhere, then the passage would be highly mystifying - and the problem sounds more sinister, and shameful, than it actually was.  

In sum: Romanticism Come of Age is probably the only indispensable book about Owen Barfield - anyone who is interested by Barfield will want a copy, and will consult it frequently. 

Wednesday, 14 June 2023

Frodo's dream of the Elf Tower, in Crickhollow

Eventually [Frodo] fell into a vague dream, in which he seemed to be looking out of a high window over a dark sea of tangled trees. Down below among the roots there was the sound of creatures crawling and snuffling. He felt sure they would smell him out sooner or later. Then he heard a noise in the distance. At first he thought it was a great wind coming over the leaves of the forest. Then he knew that it was not the leaves, but the sound of the Sea far-off; a sound he had never heard in waking life, though it had often troubled his dreams. Suddenly he found he was out in the open. There were no trees after all. He was on a dark heath, and there was a strange salt smell in the air. Looking up he saw before him a tall white tower, standing alone on a high ridge. A great desire came over to him to climb the tower and see the Sea. He started to struggle up the ridge towards the tower: but suddenly a light came in the sky, and there was a noise of thunder.

Frodo's dream in the house at Crickhollow, the third night of the quest; from A Conspiracy Unmasked in The Fellowship of the Ring


For long I was puzzled by the above dream, because it does not correspond to anything that happens in The Lord of the Rings. 

A partial answer was provided by the analysis of Frodo's dreams in Verlyn Flieger's A Question of Time

From studying The Treason of Isengard volume in The History of Middle Earth; it turns-out that Frodo's Crickhollow dream is a revised version of a dream that, in an earlier draft, accurately and literally referred to Gandalf being besieged by the Black Riders in one of the three Elf Towers that lie to the west of The Shire; from the tops of which Shire hobbits believe that the sea can be seen. 

Later revisions leading to the published dream in The Fellowship of the Ring, had Gandalf held captive by Saruman on the tower of Orthanc (i.e. not an Elf Tower). And, during the night following the Crickhollow dream (the first sleep in the House of Tom Bombadil) Frodo accurately saw Gandalf's rescue from Orthanc by Gwaihir the eagle - a correct vision of an event remote in space, and also in time; since the rescue had happened some eight nights earlier than this dream. 

But why did Tolkien retain this dream for the published text, after plot revisions had made it obsolete and without reference to real events of the story? And why was Frodo's accurate clairvoyance delayed by more than a week? 

There are two possible kinds of question and answer to why: the first asks what was Tolkien's actual and conscious motivation and suggests a possible answer; while the second is to ask what makes inferential sense in terms of the logic of the story - even though Tolkien might not have been aware of it at the time of writing. 

Flieger's explanation refers to the first of these questions - it is a speculation as to why Tolkein might consciously have preserved the Elf Tower dream. She says the published dream functions mainly as an effective "mood piece", characteristic of Frodo, and one that establishes him as A Dreamer - often previsionary, or able to see other times and places - within the rest of the story. 

But I believe that more can be said. Frodo only becomes A Dreamer after Gildor named him Elf Friend

This naming can be seen to have had a lasting and transformative effect on Frodo - giving him elvish qualities and attributes that were immediately apparent; first to Goldberry, then to others able to discern such things in the later story.   

However, it can further be suggested that the elvish ("magical") transformation was something that built-up over a period of time

Thus the first night after being named Elf Friend, Frodo dreamed the Elf Tower dream - which was a real things, but an event that never happened. 

The second night's dream (in the house of Tom Bombadil) was an impressively accurate dream, but several days late. 

The third night's dream - which happened during the second night at Tom Bombadil's - was again accurate, but even more impressive; because it was a prevision of Frodo's arrival in the undying lands some time after the narrative of The Lord of the Rings has ended - presumably at Elvenhome (the Lonely Isle of Eressea).  

Therefore, my suggestion as to Tolkien's unconscious (not deliberately-intended), but perhaps implicit, reason for including the inaccurate Elf Tower dream; could be understood as depicting stages en route to Frodo becoming a full Elf Friend, and a fully-fledged Dreamer. 

Thursday, 1 June 2023

The trade-off between life and works: Legolas, Gimli and the stones of Minas Tirith

'We will come', said Imrahil; and they parted with courteous words. 

'That is a fair lord and a great captain of men,' said Legolas. 'If Gondor has such men still in these days of fading, great must have been its glory in the days of its rising'. 

'And doubtless the good stone-work is the older and was wrought in the first building,' said Gimli. 'It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.' 

'Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,' said Legolas. 'And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for. The deeds of Men will outlast us, Gimli.' 

'And yet come to naught in the end but might-have-beens, I guess,' said the Dwarf. 

'To that the Elves know not the answer,' said Legolas.

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien

I have always found the above to be a particularly deep and resonant passage; and so do many others. 

At one level, the difference between short-lived, distractible but procreative Men; and the Elves and Dwarves who are (especially Elves) potentially relatively longaevus - seems to be profound. Elves and Dwarves are both capable of greater works of arts and crafts, better able to work on long 'projects' without losing interest...

Yet this is only a relative difference, and sooner or later, all the achievements - all the 'stone work' - of Middle Earth, will decay, and be destroyed. 

The rate of change can be diminished by better work, by steadier and more focused effort - but, it seems, only by a 'slowing' of existence. 

Dwarves and Elves have a longer time horizon, but this goes-with a lower rate of procreation, a lesser focus on reproduction - which stands-for and is symptomatic-of a tendency towards desiring to slow life, trying to hold-things static, attempting to prevent decay by 'crystallizing' achievement... 

But, this has a price; being bound-up with a tendency against life.  

Men, by comparison, are more alive, do more stuff (good and bad, careful and slapdash); just keep on trying different things; bounce-back after defeats and start again - have kids, rebuild the ruins, make another new civilization... 

But Men never seem to get very far with anything they attempt; and they each soon die, and their best civilizations are brief. 

So; in this mortal world, in all we know of this material universe, entropy will always win in the end - whether sooner or later; it will prevail. 

If we imaginatively identify with the perspective of God the Creator, take his Point of View (POV); then this continual dismantling of creation by entropy is unsatisfactory

Of course, we (as God) can keep-on creating forever and without limit; yet this is always going to be a matter of patching-together repairs and not a restoration to a pre-entropic state. We can continually compensate for the damage of entropy - a bridge collapses, so we build a new one; a Man dies and another is born - yet whatever we do, entropy accumulates

More familiarly for Christians, a closely analogous situation occurs with Sin (which may be understood as an aspect of entropy). God can compensate for the effect of Sin, can repair the consequences, can provide the world with help from Angels and Saints... but nonetheless Sin accumulates. 

The way out from this unsatisfactory situation was for God to create another world from this one; by using this one. 

In other words: God's creative plan was two-stage (which is why Jesus was necessary - for the second stage). 

While the first creation is mandatory; the second creation is discretionary: optional, opt-in, for those who choose it. 

The second creation is a 'world' without entropy, a world in which the tendency for destruction and sin has been left-behind. 

I am talking about Heaven, of course. 

And Heaven did not arise until after Jesus Christ.

The reason that Jesus Christ is an essential aspect of salvation; is that He was what made it possible for Heaven to exist, for Heaven to be populated... 

To put it bluntly; God the primary creator needed Jesus Christ in order to make possible the second - and final - creation that is Heaven. 

Jesus Christ came from within the prime creation, lived within the world of entropy - and died; but did so in perfect alignment with the values, aims, love, of God the prime creator. 

In other (more familiar) words; Jesus was a mortal Man who was fully divine. Mortal in body and by living in the primary creation, divine in terms of wholly Good and on the side of God; knowing and being in complete-harmony-with God's creative plans.

Thus Jesus was unique: nobody-else could have done the job (not even God the prime creator) because Jesus knew - experientially, from living fully in both worlds - 'how' to guide Men from this primary and entropic-mortal creation to the secondary and eternal-immortal creation that is Heaven.

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Tolkien's On Fairy Stories audiobook, from the Catholic Culture Audiobooks website

A few days ago, I stumbled across a new unabridged audiobook version of JRR Tolkien's seminal essay On Fairy Stories, published on the website of Catholic Culture Audiobooks

The superb performance is by voice-actor James W Majewski; who really seems to understand what he is reading, so that it is expounded with great clarity. Even better, he reads at a measured pace yet with a quietly-passionate intensity that revealed the essay to be - itself - one of Tolkien's greatest works of imagination.  

I have read and re-read OFS more times than I can count (including the annotated scholarly edition); yet, I felt I had never really grasped it before, never recognized that it was so highly wrought, while also having originated in Tolkien's deepest well-springs of creativity.

Monday, 15 May 2023

The perilous necessity of seeking enchantment

I have been re-reading that most inspiring of essays: On Fairy Stories, by JRR Tolkien; and considering the need some of us feel (in the 'modern world') for enchantment

Tolkien describes how this can be found in the best of Fairy Stories - or what we nowadays, since Tolkien's essay, term 'fantasy' literature. 

But what of 'real life' - of our lives outside of fairy stories? What of our disenchanted mundane lives? Is there any kind of 'cure' for disenchantment - something in-addition-to our leisure-time and recreational immersion in artistic recreations of faery?

What should we do when we awaken from the enchanted realms of a fairy story, and find-ourselves back in the mundane world?

Such questions are the basis of the 'romantic' impulse; and for people such as Tolkien (and myself, and many others) they are unavoidable and compelling matters; they are matters of life and death. 

We can try to ignore or drown-out the 'horns of Elfland' - the call of enchantment - but we will always be comparing our actual lives with the possibilities experienced in 'fairy stories'. 

For us, the prospect of life stretching ahead is intolerable without enchantment; so it is not a matter of whether we pursue enchantment; but how

Yet, as Tolkien often emphasizes; this seeking of an enchanted mortal life is perilous; just as true faery is perilous. He frequently depicted this - most explicitly in Smith of Wootton Major, most pessimistically in his poem The Sea Bell; and it forms the background motivation to the embryonic plot of The Notion Club Papers

The fundamental problem is that mortal Men in this world cannot attain any Good with permanence - because that is the entropic nature of our-selves and the world; and from the fact that such joys are subject to 'habituation'/ tolerance/ fatigue - so that they cannot be sought directly and repeated 'stimuli' (use of symbols, rituals, or exposure to art-works) will decline in effectiveness. 

Many have tries to create for themselves an enchanted life; all have failed - in the end we are up-against our own corrupt and limited natures. 

Many, many people have ended up in the tragic situation depicted at the end of The Sea Bell; unable to forget, yet unable to attain, 'faery' - and finding no consolation in 'the world'. 

A Christian can and should be consoled by the ultimate prospect of resurrected life in Heaven; which is (as Tolkien makes clear at the end of his essay) the only possible actuality of that which we glimpse in faery. It is resurrection that makes the quest for enchantment a matter of truth rather than delusion. 

Yet, that still leaves the problem of how we structure our earthly lives in the years ahead... indeed in this day, and this moment...  

A further problem is that the consciousness of Modern Man has developed so as to become so resistant to enchantment - that there seem to be many people who claim not to experience it, not to want it. 

And there are others who (whatever they may they claim) seem never to experience any kind of enchantment; but instead seem (so far as I can tell) to live disenchanted lives; to the point of being hostile to the whole idea - and regarding any taint of romanticism is childish, insane or evil

Sadly, many self-identified Christians are of this aggressively disenchanted type: the kind of Christians who regard any whiff of faery, magic, romanticism as indicating the stench of Hellish brimstone (and who regard Tolkien himself as one of the devil's party). 

I say 'sadly' - because, despite that the quest for enchantment may be personally tragic; not-to-want it at all, and to regard enchantment as stupid, malign of delusional, strikes me as a kind of self-maimed half-life. 

I cannot help feeling sorry-for such people - even when they are frustrating or maddening to deal-with. 

My best positive suggestion, that I have discussed many times before on this blog; is to apply some of the lessons of Owen Barfield's concept of Final Participation - which I have further analyzed into concepts such as Primary Thinking and heart-thinking. 

In particular; the idea that - instead of seeking an overwhelming and immersive experience of enchantment, of faery, such that we hope to experience 'being there', inside that world -- we may choose to seek to participate-with such a world in the realm of purposive conscious thinking

Instead of (mentally) lowering-our-selves-into enchantment, instead of sinking-into a dream-like realm; we might instead aim to rise-above the mundane: to weave our conscious thinking with thoughts of (experiences from?) faery. 

This Final Participation is not a final answer; because there is none on this side of death; but engaging with an assumed living and potentially present realm of faery is something that lacks some of the problems of the more usual attempt at 'travelling'-into/ dwelling-within faery - not least because it is immune to that loss-of-effectiveness that plagues all attempts to lose-ourselves. 

With the Final Participation idea; we do Not try to lose our-selves or our awareness of this-world - but aim instead to remain our-selves; indeed to expand and strengthen our-selves as we encounter enchantment; which can be done by aligning our motivations with that which is Good in faery.  

Such is difficult because it is a creative activity; and creating just-is difficult. Also because it entails the discernment of what is Good in our-selves and 'the enchanted' - and working-from that.

But - however difficult, intermittent, and only-partially-successful, is such a creative endeavor; it is nonetheless something that provides a very deep level of satisfaction, and a potential for profound learning.

So, Final Participation in faery seems like a valid Life Quest for those of us for whom a 'romantic life' is a fact of our natures. 

Monday, 24 April 2023

Could Tolkien’s orcs be incarnated demonic spirits? An invited guest post by commenter WW

What follows is a guest post by commenter WW which I invited him to contribute on the basis of several very interesting comments on this theme:


Could Tolkien’s orcs be incarnated demonic spirits? It was hard for Tolkien to describe the history and nature of orcs to his own satisfaction; and the problem has continued among his commentators. I will suggest that orcs were constructed from material bodies made to house Melkor/ Morgoth’s demon followers in a form that could procreate on Middle Earth. Sauron, as the heir of Morgoth, was later able to accelerate, expand, and modify orc proliferation and this may be the reason he was referred to as the Necromancer. 


It is my belief that although consigned to existing as spirits today, there was a time that demons existed as mortal beings on this earth - a large number of them in the form of what we would call “orcs” (but never Men). In addition, I also believe that there are demon beings that were incarnated in some form prior to the creation of this earth, and therefore subsequent to their own re-incarnation here.

Orc actually means “demon” in old English, and so language, as something Tolkien used as the foundation for his stories, might give us the first clue, or at least a sense of ‘permission’, that exploring this line of thinking between demons and orcs might not be completely without merit.

To understand the basis for this belief, I would first reference Mormon theology and creation myth. In writings known to Mormons as “The Pearl of Great Price”, Abraham is shown a vision of the state of affairs leading up to the creation of this earth. In that vision, he sees two groups of beings: Souls and spirits. The souls I take as being those with bodies (this being consistent with the definition of a soul in other parts of Mormon teachings). Regarding the spirits, I am unsure as to whether they may have had bodies prior to when Abraham sees them. As such, I wouldn’t be able to say at this time whether they had always been spirits, or at some point also had bodies and through events and circumstance found themselves without them. Regardless, it seems at the time of the creation of the earth they were spirits.

Among the embodied souls were those named “Noble and Great Ones” (which Abraham was told he had been a part of) who were tasked by God to be 'rulers' for the spirits and, as I take it, learn from and work with God to bring about the salvation of those spirits. Part of that commission was in the creation of this world for those spirits to inhabit. How that played out, I think, is very similar to what Tolkien wrote of in the Ainulindale, and in my own thinking I use his terms - Valar, Maia, and even the Eldar/Elves, etc. - to describe the different groups of the embodied individuals who assisted with that creation. I will note, but won’t expand here in the discussion of demons and orcs, that among the Valar were the lead Powers known as the Aratar, or “Noble / Exalted Ones”, which correlate to Joseph Smith’s Noble and Great Ones just mentioned, and which Abraham was a part of (although obviously known by a different name).

Unlike these Great Ones and other bodied individuals, the spirits, however, would not have directly participated in this creation. They would ultimately incarnate here as Men, and their non-participation in the creation of this earth may be one reason why Elves and other beings noted that they seemed strangers to it.

The rebellion of Melkor and his demonic spirit followers

Just as in both the Ainulindale and in Mormon teachings, Satan-Melkor rebelled and sowed discord prior to and during earth’s creation, launching a ‘war’ or conflict in Heaven, and ultimately drawing away a significant number of beings to his cause. These followers of Satan-Melkor would have consisted of both other embodied souls as well as spirits. In the case of previously embodied ‘demons’, Balrogs would be an example, as would other power-seeking Maia like Sauron.

As for the spirits who followed Satan-Melkor, these would have become demons also and it is these, specifically, that I believe were incarnated as orcs once Melkor found a way to make this possible.

It is important to note here that what a being became leading up to this point was a result of their choices. God did not make good and evil beings (or any beings at all), but rather through their own choices and agency, already-existing beings became or revealed themselves as good or evil actors. In other words, demons, at least at first, actively made choices that turned them into such. I say at first, because in the making of their choices, they also turned themselves into slaves-servants of Satan-Melkor, and thus were left with very little choice at all in the end but to remain in that state, with no hope for repentance – at least in this story. There may be other stories and some other creation for them, but not here.

It is because of this lack of choice and state of slavery they found themselves in, that I believe once Satan-Melkor chose to incarnate and become part of this creation, the Demons would have no choice but to also follow their master and aid him. When he called, they had to come, even if they would have wished not to incarnate on this earth at all. It was not their choice to make.

The bodies of orcs

Drawing again on Mormon theology, it would appear that the bodies that housed Elves and Men were originally created with 'enmity' or protection that prevented evil spirits from being born into them. As in, only the Children of God (Men and Elves) could be born into the bodies that had been created for them.

Thus, Melkor could not simply take these bodies as they were and put his own followers into them. If one of his objectives was to bring his servants into this earth with him (and I believe it was), he would need to find another means to do so. Having no original creative power himself, he would need to rely on his ability to take already-existing creation and twist/ mar it into something fit for his purpose.

As Tolkien relates, Melkor imprisoned and tortured Elves and Men from the very beginning, and although not known exactly how or ever consistently resolved by either in-story characters or out-of-story guesses or communications by the author and others (to my knowledge, at least), it seems clear that these actions in some way resulted in the orc.

One line of thinking has been that these orcs were literally the identities or spirits of Elves and Men twisted to Melkor’s service through this torture and entrapment. My own view, and one of the main assumptions underpinning this post, is otherwise.

Rather, this twisting actually involved Melkor taking these bodies created for Jesus-Eru’s children, and finding a way around the ‘enmity’ or original protection designed into them. Thus, perverting God’s initial creation to be suitable to house his demon slaves.

To say more clearly, he would have used the bodies of Elves and Men he captured to conduct experiments on how to get around the protection, using his ability to twist and corrupt matter and creation to his purposes, which was to have bodies/ vessels for his slaves to use in joining him in this creation.

He could not, however, design the bodies to have the same fair form as Elves and Men. The changes required would have had to be too radical to preserve that. Rather, these orc-bodies would have had to be marred and twisted to such a degree as to be differentiate significantly from the original creation, not ever to be confused with it. Where the bodies for Eru’s children were for joy and happiness, even though marred and fallen to some extent, the orc-bodies seemed miserable, meant for pain, fear, and hate.

How Melkor was able to accomplish this great perversion and thus house his demon followers would not be known today, for good reason. Through the first three ages of the world, it seems that once ‘created’, orcs were able to procreate just as Men and Elves did and thus provide a natural means for demons to incarnate on earth. Sauron and even Saruman were able to accelerate, expand, and modify Orc proliferation to their own ends even after Melkor was banished, probably relying on some knowledge of his dark arts to accomplish this, with added experiments of their own, perhaps.

Specifically, Sauron’s involvement in these dark arts may be why he was referred to as the Necromancer in the Hobbit and LOTR. Following the War of Wrath, it seems the orcs were largely eliminated, or went underground/ into hiding. The reemergence of Sauron seems to have been strongly correlated with the reemergence and building of the Orc hordes, perhaps due to his direct involvement and carrying over the practices learned from his former master.

As a quick tangent, and not to overly complicate things, Sauron’s necromancy also may have involved rehousing the spirits of evil Men into various physical forms and bodies. These would not have been orcs, however, or really demons, but rather Men who chose evil and became Sauron’s servants. The King’s Men of Numenor, becoming the Black Numenoreans, would be included. Perhaps the Mouth of Sauron was just such a being, an evil man housed unnaturally and given long life as a result in Sauron’s service.

In any case, in the years following the 3rd age and the War of the Ring, the orcs were made extinct. With no orcs left to create other orcs, and with Melkor, Sauron, and Saruman all gone, there was no knowledge left, apparently, on how to start again and create bodies to re-house their spirits. This is why we would not expect to see demons in bodily form today, but only experience them through spirit-mind afflictions.

Since they were not born as Men, and have no path of being so, these once-embodied demons have no hope of a resurrection, since that is the path that Jesus-Eru set.

Implications of orcs being demons

One test or approach Bruce suggested to assess the possibility of whether demons were once orcs was to compare the morality and behavior of orcs (from what we can read) with that of demons. It is a good suggestion. My sense in doing so, is that we should expect to find some inconsistencies, however – perhaps significant ones – along with some consistencies.

An explanation for why might lie in assessing our own behavior and situation as mortals on earth.

It is likely (in my opinion) there is a 'core' to ourselves - our own being and personality - that persists through time and various transformations but may be altered (sometimes significantly) depending on the bodies we take up and circumstances we come into. Therefore, demon/ orc behavior and morality may have also altered with them taking on bodies, and so one wouldn't expect that their behavior to be perfectly consistent between their spirit and embodied states.

In other words, we, as fallen Men, might in many ways be unrecognizable to our former (and future) selves were we to see ourselves in those states, and so the demons who became orcs might have been altered similarly during their mortal experience, particularly with being subject to pain and all other things a body brings. As noted earlier, theirs does not seem to be a particularly happy experience, obviously, perhaps both due to the nature of their spirits but also the nature of the cruel bodies that were made for them to take on.

In further assessing and (in my case) dismissing whether orcs were actually just as Men and Elves, but corrupted, there are some hints within the text of the LOTR itself. As one example, there is an interesting dialogue between Treebeard, Merry, and Pippen, that may shed some light, or at least give us a window into Treebeard’s understanding of the origin of orcs.

In the dialogue, Treebeard suggests that orcs are counterfeits of elves, created by the Enemy, just as Trolls were counterfeits of Ents. But in saying this, Treebeard states that Trolls were never Ents, don't possess their same strength, etc., and so one might infer that elves are referred to in that same sense. A cruel mockery of God's initial creation, but not actually the beings of Elves turned into orcs, which wouldn't be referred to as merely a counterfeit, but rather as the real thing corrupted.

Additionally, one would need to ask that if the orcs did procreate as Men and Elves, and were also comprised of a spirit with a body, then what spirits are they? I can't imagine that Eru would have allowed any of his children or the spirits aligned with good to be forced into those bodies. They would have had to come from somewhere else, and existing hordes of demon-spirits/ Melkor slaves may be the best solution as to what, then, would be expected to be housed in these bodies. Meaning, Melkor, and later Sauron and Saruman, would have had to draw from an already existing pool of evil spirit-slaves (made slaves due to their choices before this creation, as mentioned before) to support their orc armies.

Lastly, and not happily, I suggest that while the orcs are relegated to spirit-only forms now, there may, in fact, still be embodied demons here on (or within) earth, and so we aren’t left with a completely house-less demon horde to deal with. In saying this, I do not think it would be many – perhaps only a couple/ few. These beings would be known as Balrogs, I suppose, and would have been driven to or found hiding in the deep places of the earth, similar to the Balrog that the Fellowship encountered in Moria. I have no other insight into this than my own experience and intuition, and so this is probably the most speculative notion (of an extremely speculative train of thought!).

I view the current orc-demon-horde as largely mindless servants of evil. With Melkor and Sauron gone, however, they may still operate under the direction of these embodied evil beings in hiding, and thus what we see on display in our own world is the influence of these Balrogs – who are very aware and cunning - spreading through their demon-spirits hordes and into the minds of Men. Concentrations of demonic influence in our current world might actually serve as clues as to where these Balrogs are located physically and/ or the topics, concerns, and strategies on which they are largely focused (and which may and probably do differ between, and sometimes conflict with, other Balrogs / Demon leaders).

There are happier topics to think on, obviously. And I guess in some ways one really only wants to take this so far as to understand the nature of the evil one is up against, and no further if not absolutely necessary. That is the approach I have tried to follow. So, while I definitely would hope for clarification, correction, or confirmation on much that I have written and guessed at here, I would hope it continues to be in the context of a much larger and better story about the Good forces and powers at work, and our ultimate redemption.


Note from author WW

In another post, Bruce explored the nature of demons and posed some thoughts suggesting that they may never been incarnated. This post picks up and explores an alternative view, and represents a collection and expansion of some thoughts in the comments section of that post, that there may be reason to believe that demons (at least many of them) actually have been incarnated at one time on this earth.

In exploring this possibility, I have drawn on the stories and mythologies of Tolkien’s Legendarium and Joseph Smith’s Mormonism, for lack of better descriptors. There may be other ways to understand these things, but these are languages and stories that I am most familiar with and so that is what I have used.

This is also a part an ongoing work of imagination at this point for me, but imagination meant to help me understand reality. As such, I am not arguing that what I write here is necessarily true, but it does reflect my current understanding of how things may be. I am also not arguing that Tolkien or Joseph Smith intended these interpretations, or even considered them, in their writings. So please take this post in that spirit, and I would expect there to by a wide range of opinions on this matter, as nothing I find is definitive, and my train of thought is speculative. My own views and guesses continue to evolve, and some of what is written here will most likely be wrong. But, there is potentially enough right to not throw it out completely.

I also have not really been focusing on orcs or demons in my own thinking up to this point (for good reason), so much of what I try to summarize here is based on or gleaned from efforts focused on other, more ‘positive’ topics. This is another reason that some details about orcs here may not be completely right or some of my assumptions and conclusions thought through as well as they ought to have been.

Saturday, 22 April 2023

Review of Inkling, Historian, Brother: A life of Warren Hamilton Lewis, by Don W King, 2022

Don W King. Inkling, historian, brother: a life of Warren Hamilton Lewis. Kent State University Press: Ohio, USA, 2022. pp 300. 

I am delighted to read a biography of CS Lewis's beloved brother 'Warnie'; coming fifty years after his death; long after I had resigned myself to being permanently starved of detailed information on this most warmly genial participant in the Inklings club. 

I have read and re-read the published 1982 selection from Warnie's superb journal Brothers and Friends, until my copy fell to pieces and I had to buy another. What appealed was the eye for detail rooted in a gift for getting the maximum of enjoyment and appreciation from the small things in life; coupled with a natural gift for supple and memorable prose (of a completely different flavour than his brother's). 

But the fact that Brothers and Friends never went into a second edition suggested to me that there was little interest in Warnie among the reading public. Nonetheless; I read everything I could find about him, and even contributed a tiny publication to the literature; but I was curious for more. 

I was not disappointed by Don W King's book; and devoured it over just a couple of days. It fills in all of the 'gaps' of things that I most wanted to know. 

I was especially interested by the details of Warnie's military service in the regular army, throughout and after World War I. 

I would, however, dissent from King's evaluation of Warnie's 18 year army career as successful. I am struck by the fact that he retired with the rank of Captain - having not been promoted the next step to Major throughout his last 15 years of service (as would have been expected, I believe). 

From Warnie's attitudes - expressed throughout the journal and letters quoted in this biography and elsewhere - I would infer that he performed his military administrative roles adequately, but no more - because he aimed for no more than that. From quite early on, he was essentially treating the army as a job; so he was aiming at the easiest possible lifestyle within the externally-imposed constraints, and culminating in an early retirement at age thirty-seven (i.e. as soon as an adequate pension had accumulated).

It was not until after he was recalled from the officers reserve in 1939 at the start of WWII that Warnie was given the 'acting', then honorary, rank of Major by which he is known among Inklings scholars; a title which he used thenceforth in civilian life. 

(The convention in Britain was that retired officers should only use their rank as a civilian title, for ranks of Major or higher - i.e. not for Lieutenant or Captain.)    

Another aspect of Warnie's life which is well described here, is his inland sailing in the narrow boat Bosphorus. This turned out to be a more important activity than I had realized - with Warnie spending anything from a quarter to a third of the year afloat in the middle 1930s. 

These experiences also led to his first writing for publication, with several extended essays on aspects of buying and maintaining such vessels, and navigating inland waterways. From the excerpts and summaries provided by Dr King; these were very well written and full of interest - despite the extreme level of detail (eg accounting and diaries) which he incorporated. 

Again, it was Warnie's spontaneous personal enjoyment of these 'small things' which was communicated to the reader. 

I also enjoyed some further information on the January walking tours that Warnie took with Jack in the same era - between retirement from the army and the outbreak of war in 1939. These are among the best passages in the selection in Brothers and Friends, and more information in summary (but not Warnie's prose!) can be found in Joel Heck's CS Lewis chronology

I personally would have appreciated even more detail and even more quotation from these walk diaries; especially considering that they were regarded by Warnie himself as among the high points of his life. 

Short of paying a personal visit to the archives in Wheaton College, Illinois (which I doubt will happen) I don't suppose I will ever see all the material on this matter. But perhaps I can hope for a more generous selection from the diaries to be published somewhere, at some point. 

A further excellent aspect of this biography is the detail concerning Warnie's history books about 17th century France - especially in the reign of Louise XIV. I don't take any pleasure in this era and place, but I have read the first of these volumes, and found it very well done - elegant and memorable. 

It was good to know of the other volumes in this series; and of how well the books (especially the early ones) were received by historians and newspaper critics alike. It is a fine achievement - especially considering that Warnie had no university training, and did not become an historian until his late middle age. 

In evaluating Warnie as a man; I believe that King has done a good job. Warnie's great character flaw was his alcoholism - he was of an archetypical Irish type of an intermittent but very extreme binger; periods of moderation or teetotalism, punctuated by drinking constantly and in large amounts for several days until he required hospital admission. 

Alcohol also brought-out and amplified the worst aspects of his character; avoidance of unpleasant duties, self-indulgence, and snobbery. These traits were not apparent when he was relatively or absolutely sober; most of the time completely submerged by his personal considerateness and 'good manners' that were so personally attentive and kindly as to be outstanding, even remarkable.

Warnie seems to have been sad, even a depressive, throughout life - and although he had a few good friends, it was his brother Jack that formed the focus of his love. Dr King describes this as 'dependence' - perhaps because it was a source of pain as well as joy; but I find this to be unpleasantly reductionist: great love does induce 'dependence' - but it is the love that is primary.

This leads on to a consideration of the faults and limitations of this book; because it is, throughout, prone to 'explain' Warnie's (and Jack's) characteristics in 'Freudian' terms. In other words, to explain personality in terms of childhood experiences (rather than, for instance, in terms of heredity); and to use concepts such a 'repression'. 

For instance, Warnie's apparent - relative to Jack - lack of extreme and lifelong distress over the death of his mother when he was thirteen, is regarded as repression; and posited as a cause of later attitudes. Such unfounded speculations are so common among biographers, that they obscure the fact there is essentially zero positive evidence (and considerable counter-evidence) that there is any such thing as 'repression'.    

Dr King does not seem to reach a clearly stated conclusion about the vexed question of the personality of Mrs Moore - and whether Warnie's negative descriptions and dislike of her are warranted or unreasonable. However, King does explore the issue very thoroughly; and he provides all the material necessary for a satisfactory understanding - especially in light of some recent revelations that 'solve' this longstanding 'mystery'.

My take is as follows: Living with Mrs Moore was - overall - fine for several years; but, due to senility,  she progressively deteriorated first in personality, then in cognition, until it became a continual and worsening torment - both for Warnie and Jack too.  

But this situation was exacerbated by the fact that Jack absolutely refused to acknowledge, or even discuss, the matter with Warnie; but instead behaved towards Mrs Moore with an absolute obedience showing neither debate nor dissent at her increasingly unreasonable behavior and demands. 

Warnie was left to deal with this situation in complete solitude and without support; and found the whole thing incomprehensible, and deeply hurtful; but he never knew the reason for it. And this was probably a major life stress that contributed substantially towards the worsening alcoholism of Warnie's later years

We now know that Jack had originally had a sexual relationship with Mrs Moore, but this had ceased when he became a Christian; after which Jack felt he had wronged her (i.e. wronged her by the earlier sexual relationship, especially since she was still legally married to Mr Moore), and (in summary) Jack determined to do a penance of looking after her in every way (without complaint) until she died. 

This Jack told to Owen Barfield, who told Walter Hooper - who only revealed it in 2009 - and it became public only after Hooper's death. But, importantly, Jack never shared with Warnie the history of his relationship with Mrs Moore, or the nature of his vow to look after her

I do not know why Jack decided to keep these facts from Warnie (I see no sign in any of Jack's writings), but I have little doubt that the lack of this information harmed Warnie in ways that I think Jack never realized. Jack seems not to have realized how badly the situation in The Kilns affected Warnie; or that it might have been ameliorated had the brothers been able to discuss things.  


To conclude; Don W King's biography is a boon to fans of Warnie, and a book for which I am very grateful. 

Its main 'fault' is that it is not twice as long - so as to include even more of Warnie's own words. 

But perhaps Dr King will at some point be encouraged to extend his publishing endeavors on behalf of CS Lewis's 'older, but less famous, brother'? 

Implications of the truth that Aslan is Not a Tame Lion

I was always struck by CS Lewis's hardline attitude to happiness or self-gratification in relation to Christianity - the way he emphasized the problem of mixing-up the 'therapeutic' aspect of belief with the business of what is actually true. 

In the Screwtape Letters and Great Divorce (as well as his more abstractly theological works) Lewis negatively depicted people who fluently excused whatever they wanted to do - what they currently enjoyed doing, or what made them feel better - by making arguments that linked these to Christianity. 

In the Narnia chronicles; this was encapsulated in the phrase stating that Aslan (i.e. Jesus) is Not a Tame Lion. That is to say; Christianity cannot be comfortably domesticated and stay Christian. 

Certainly it is a real problem; but - especially in The Last Battle - Lewis also depicted the opposite problem, which happens when the cruelty and destructiveness of the evil demon Tash is explained as being the actions of Aslan; or later, the oxymoronic false-invention Tashlan, syncretized from both good and evil deities. 

These actual evils - in reality motivated by greed, selfishness and sadism - were effectively propagandized as consistent with the fact that Aslan is Not a Tame Lion 

And therefore the fact that God is not aiming at our immediate self-gratification is twisted into a mask for 'the devil'. 

In other words; on the one hand it is true that, at a superficial level of here-and-now, the goodness of God may be experienced as harsh life-lessons that are, nonetheless, necessary for our ultimate and eternal benefit. 

Yet, on the other hand, to know when this is actually the case, and when evil outcomes are instead a product of evil intent; requires honest discernment as to the motivations. 

So, the experienced and observed miseries and sufferings of this world are not evidence in either direction - they might be necessary and temporary means to a good end; or they might be the end in itself: cruelty, destruction, misery, suffering might be the actual purpose of evil beings. 

The correct answer must come from discernment, and the discernment - while taking-account-of-evidence, cannot derive-from evidence. 

As always, we are driven down to an acknowledgment that all knowledge depends on intuition; an individual act of an individual being. 

And, further, that Christian discernment entails acknowledgement that there is a side of Good (i.e. God) and a side of evil (i.e. the demons). We first need to know this in order to choose one or the other side; and only by choosing a side can be - even in principle - make a discernment as to whether a particular event was motivated by good or evil intent.

For a Christian; to deny that good and evil are separate and opposite sides, amounts to the false-deity of Tashlan - in other words, to base discernment on an assumption of unity, oneness, 'non-dualism' is itself (merely) a type of evil. 

From this analysis we can see that Christianity is related to self-gratification (i.e. the pleasurable, comfortable, desirable) in that God wants us to be deeply and eternally happy; but such a goal entails that we must sometimes be temporarily and superficially miserable. 

To know what is going-on in the here and now we need to depend on divine guidance - which (because God is The Creator, is Good, and is our loving parent/s) we have all been equipped-with. 

We all have potentially available both direct access (i.e. in our stream of thinking) to true inner guidance (because we have within-us something of the divine, being children of God)...

And this inner guidance also enables us to have access indirectly to external guidance - both directly from the Holy Ghost, and indirectly from all other sources of information such as legitimate and wise authority (e.g. of Men and books), true-tradition, and any other cultural product. 

In sum; deep self-gratification is a sure guide to the operations of God and His agents; while superficial self-gratification may be a consequence of the manipulations - or sadism - of evil Men and/or the beings of supernatural evil.


Wednesday, 5 April 2023

Correcting CS Lewis's definition of Joy

From Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis, 1955. 

Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing....  

With that plunge back into my own past there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country... the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together into a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss, which suddenly became one with the loss of the whole experience, which, as I now stared round that dusty schoolroom like a man recovering from unconsciousness, had already vanished, had eluded me at the very moment when I could first say It is. 

And at once I knew (with fatal knowledge) that to "have it again" was the supreme and only important object of desire...

The imaginative longing for Joy, or rather the longing which was Joy

Yesterday on a train to the Northumberland town of Hexham, a clear and sunny day, travelling with my son, and for more than half-an-hour; I was filled with that 'romantic' feeling (which seems so much more than just a feeling) which CS Lewis called Joy, and which Novalis first described as Sehnsucht - specifically a 'longing' for the enchanted Blue Flower.   

Everything I saw, and the conversation, was layered with meanings. I felt that I was in exactly the right place for... For what was needed at that exact time. Gratitude was probably the main emotion.  

I know this feeling well, and am familiar too with the 'longing' aspect of it; yet I have never been contented by Lewis's (or Novalis's) definition of this feeling in terms of the attribute of longing. That seems superficial, and also incidental. 

The core of the experience of Joy is, surely?, in terms of its intended function; I seek an explanation of why this feeling may happen, and what it is implicitly pointing-at (which is not, I feel sure) merely 'more of the same', more than merely the feeling's own perpetuation. 

In brief; I have always felt that the reason for each instance of Joy was that I was supposed to learn something; but what I actually learned, or was supposed to learn, was something I found it impossible to be sure about. 

The content of the experience seemed to matter more than the feeling; yet it was not just the content that led to the feeling - it was not not just my perceptions, nor other stimuli... 

And that 'longing' was actually more like the awareness that - even while I was experiencing Joy - I simultaneously knew that these feelings would end, and that everything I saw - every circumstance that 'led-to' the feeling - would change. 

Hence (as always) the here-and-now Joy was permeated with simultaneous nostalgia - I yearned, as-if I had already lost it. I yearned for what I actually was now-experiencing... 

What is fundamentally happening in such moments is, I think, that we are bumping-against the evanescence of this mortal life and earth - we are up-against the fundamental nature of this life as intrinsically mortal; a life of entropic decay, inevitably terminated by death. 

This life is unrepeatable, and everything will be lost; including our capacity to have such experiences, our memories of such moments. 

It is exactly at such moments when the content - or more exactly the 'framework' - of Joy becomes crucial; at such moments we need to know what this life is for - given that it is always dissolving-away-from-us. 

Such moments are when we are brought to confront our fundamental convictions regarding the nature of reality. And what happens then, depends upon those fundamental convictions.  

If our conviction is that this mortal life is all-that-there-is; then Joy is utterly tragic. 

But if our conviction is that this mortal life is a prelude to a further and eternal life that takes-up and builds from exactly these moments - then Joy is the greatest of possible boons: a literal foretaste of Heaven. 

Saturday, 1 April 2023

What more can we do with The Inklings (and Notion Club Papers)? Scholarship, Criticism, Philosophy, Fanfiction?

There is always, eventually, a finite amount given us of what we most like and find most important

For example, it seems as if not much more will be discovered about The Inklings; and The Notion Club Papers is incomplete, inconsistent and tantalizingly brief. 

So, apart from re-reading the same material; what can we do?

The classic answer within academic English Literature is some combination of scholarship and criticism. 

Scholarship such as 'editorial' activities - especially examining the primary source material (the actual manuscript evidence). For example, there is (so he tells us) more material from the Notion Club Papers that Christopher Tolkien did not include in his published version. Maybe we, or someone else, will find and publish this extra stuff, sooner or later.

This is what happened with The Lord of the Rings; when - after JRR Tolkien died - his son Christopher made available earlier drafts and much excluded and additional material. This has provided, for some people including myself, a way of extending the experience of reading LotR and inhabiting its world, beyond the core text itself.   

But probably there is now not much extra material, and what is unpublished is almost certainly not as good as what has been published; and anyway the material may be inaccessible to us. 

Similarly, the accounts of Inklings meetings - in journals, letters and other references - have probably nearly all been discovered and published - and what is yet to come is likely to be of lesser significance and less enjoyable. 

We could therefore move on to literary criticism, in its broadest sense; and while this is in theory without limit  in practice, there are only so many valid and interesting critical things to say that capture the spirit of the original - and that is surely what we crave.

We want more of that which attracted us in the first place. We don't just want to read 'about' it - but to explore deeper and further the same spirit. 

The most obvious (and satisfying) is literary biography - and that was the way in which The Inklings first became known; via books and essays about the group itself; and by (more or less detailed) references to the group in biographies of CS Lewis, Charles Williams and JRR Tolkien. 

Such biographical investigation can be extended to accounts of other Inklings - and their works. I have explored Owen Barfield, Warnie Lewis and Neville Coghill - in this spirit; and done some research into Robert 'Humphrey' Havard

This blog takes a further approach: which is philosophical. 

I am trying to understand and extract the philosophy of The Inklings and Notion Club; and then to explore and extend that philosophy in an open-ended fashion... In whatever manner and direction that I find to be valuable in my life. 

This philosophical approach is open-ended and - when done in the proper spirit and with proper motivations (and for those who enjoy and appreciate philosophical thinking) - its reward is exactly of the kind craved; which is to say that it is 'more of the same kind of thing' - it feels like part of the same 'world', and it engages me because I have participated in its creation and it arises from some need of other personal impulse. 

And philosophy can be done by private thinking, through writing - whether or not published; and by discussion - whether face-to-face, or through some kind of correspondence. 

But not many people enjoy and appreciate philosophy, and therefore they cannot appreciate 'the spirit' in a philosophical sense. And there may is another possibility which could be called Fanfiction. Which is to use 'the world' of The Inklings of Notion Club as the basis for some kind of fiction.

This could, in principle, be in any fictional form: novel, short story, drama - on the TV, movies, theatre or a small group. Or by the newer form of actual Fanfiction websites. 

Fanfiction is probably the form most directly addressed to the problem of providing 'more of the same kind-of-thing' - and then it is a question of how well this is done, and the depth at which it is achieved. 

Perhaps the most famous Inklings Fanfiction was the chapter 'Thursday Evenings' in Humphrey Carpenter's influential group-biography The Inklings. In this, Carpenter brilliantly synthesizes an ideal or 'representative' meeting of JRR Tolkien, the Lewis brothers, Havard, and Charles Williams during the early Second World War; using material from journals, letters and published articles - as well as his own invention. 

There exists at least one good quality Notion Club Papers fanfiction - a very brief story by "Shakespearianfish". More could, in principle, continue to fill-in or extend the original texts. 

I have myself attempted (in 2011) a summary and speculative 'Treatment' (as if for a movie) of how Tolkien might, eventually, have completed the NCPs - which was also posted as part of a Companion to the NCPs, first published in 2012. Although I cannot write fiction; preparing this essay provided me with exactly the kind of experience of 'inhabiting' the spiritual world of the Notion Club Papers that I have been describing. 

Of course; some (maybe most) Fanfiction is very superficial (eg focusing on romantic relationship - so called "shipping", which may extend into pornography); some is satirical or in other ways subversive of the primary work. 

Therefore - whether deliberately, or in its actual effect - Fanfiction can damage the primary experience of the primary material; and may tend to cloud or poison its spirit. But the same applies to literary biography, criticism, and even scholarship (by tendentious reasoning or merely through narrow or dull pedantry).  

Scholarship and Criticism, Philosophy and Fanfiction, are all potential responses to that yearning we may get for some phenomenon that engages us powerfully, and which evokes a spirit that we wish to sustain at least - and perhaps to explore and learn-from. 

My Treatment for how The Notion Club Papers might have been completed

Tolkien's Notion Club Papers completed by Bruce G Charlton
(a speculative, summary 'treatment' - as if for a movie) 

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.

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.)

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.