Monday, 17 September 2018

Till We Have Faces - is it CS Lewis's best or worst book?

This is a real question - in the sense that some people - including his best friend Owen Barfield - say that the 1956 novel Till we have faces (TWHF) is Lewis's best fiction book, and Lewis himself sometimes said it was his best book! On the other hand it has never been very popular among the majority of Lewis devotees. I myself don't care for it*.

But this is also something of a trick question, in the sense that, uniquely in the entirely of Lewis's prose writings (novels, essays, theology, literary criticism, letters, journals) TWHF does not read as if it was written by Lewis.

So, those who enjoy Lewis's writing style would not be likely to enjoy TWHF. Indeed, they might - like me - actually dislike it because it appears under Lewis's name and with Lewisian expectations; even though, taken in and of itself, TWHF is a good quality novel.

The reason why TWHF reads differently is that it was, in effect, co-written by Lewis and his wife Joy Davidman - who was a professional writer and editor. To my eye and ear, TWHF is an edited book - that is, a book subjected to line-by-line editing; and this is unique to Lewis's oeuvre.

Lewis, in fact, wrote many of his most loved books in a single, 'first' draft, merely requiring correction. His personal letters are thus just as good as the Screwtape Letters! His journals are as good as The Allegory of Love. His journalistic essays, his sermons, his devotional books share a style and a spirit.

So why did Lewis think it was his best book? Perhaps because he wrote it with his wife, who soon after died. Perhaps because he laboured over it, and achieved something different from anything he had managed before. Perhaps because authors nearly always favour their least popular book - their beloved but unpopular child!

Why, then, did Barfield like TWHF best? I think perhaps because - and this comes across in many of OB's reflections on Lewis, Barfield had reservations about Lewis's normal, natural style. He recognised that Lewis was accessible and effective, and in a sense what was needed in his time and place - but Barfield's own taste in literature was more highbrow; and TWHF is Lewis's most highbrow novel, by some margin.

 
*Note: I do, however, love the title! One of the best ever, I would say. 

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

My 'depictions of the Inklings by the Inklings' essay is posted at Superversive Inklings

L Jagi Lamplighter has posted my 'depictions' essay at the Superversive Inklings website - which is well worth browsing.


Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The Last Battle - Narnian litmus test


The Last Battle - Book 7 of the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis - is a real fan base-breaker, and serves as a litmus test of which side someone occupies in the culture wars.

This is the kind of book that gets either five star (top) reviews; or else elicits one star loathing.

I can recall before I was a Christian finding the book utterly intolerable, viscerally detestable - despite a long-term liking for several of the earlier books in the series. This is very common. Such people as I was, and as most Western people currently are, find exactly what is best about the book, to be the most revolting. They are simply revealing their own lost-ness and self-inflicted nihilism; and lashing-out with displaced anger against politically correct pseudo-flaws which are actually the book's deepest and most complex virtues.

It is the anger of the damned who know - deep down - that damnation is their own choice, that they could be saved - the door will open if they knock; but who have instead taken the ultra-selfish, ultra-short-termist, ultra-egotistical choice in Life; have disguised this under a show of fake-virtue - and don't want reminding of the fact.

But now... well... the first part of Last Battle is really hard to read, because it is so sad, and so real (here and now), and so effective at raising then dashing our hopes; but the book as a whole, including its later section especially, is absolutely wonderful! And the marvel of the second part depends on us having gone through the first part; and the resulting reshaping of priorities.

The passage on the dwarfs in the stable, for example, was directly instrumental in the late stages of my conversion, in crossing the line to become a Christian. It simply elicits gratitude. And several other parts of the book have become touchstones for particular problems in these end times, or for the ultimate nature of God, salvation and Heaven.

(This despite my very definitely not being a Platonist, like Lewis - here it doesn't matter.)

So, if you have not yet read The Last Battle, or have not read it recently; then perhaps you should - not least to see how you perform in the test, what colour you turn the litmus paper...


Comment from David Llewellyn Dodds - Listening again to Brahms's Alto Rhapsody the other day, I was struck by the similarity between Goethe's text and the experience of those Dwarfs in the Last Battle - and heartened by the prayer. We know Lewis knew some Goethe, and it got me wondering if this part of 'Harzreise im Winter' might have contributed to Lewis's work, here. (Interesting to compare, in any case, and leaving me wondering about any broader context of both...)

Sunday, 2 September 2018

The genius of Tolkien's dwarves explained in terms of life history theory and the endogenous personality: a guest post by Kevin McCall

Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a slow life history world. Hobbits mature at 33 and regularly live to 100. Numenoreans also mature slowly (Gilraen at 22 was at first considered too young to marry Arathorn) and live to between 100 and 200. At over 100, Dain was considerd a mere “stripling” at 32 when he killed Azog and the dwarves regularly live 250 to 300 years.

 Furthermore, dwarves invest highly in their marriages: “For dwarves take only one wife or husband each in their lives, and are jealous, as in all matters of their rights”

All the things that are associated with slow life history should be associated with Middle Earth: the dwarves, hobbits, and the men of Gondor value their families and and Middle earth must be a highly stable environoment that changes slowly. All in all a highly "conservative" world, in the best sense of the word.

Most remarkable is the degree to which the dwarves match the ideas about genius described by Bruce Charlton in The Genius Famine. According to this book, the genius exhibits the endogenous personality:

“The Endogenous personality is the ‘inner’ Man; a person whose outlook on life is ‘inward.’ He is inner-directed, inner-driven, inner-motivated; one who uses inner modes of thinking, inner evaluations, in-tuition; one who is to a high degree autonomous, self-sufficient; one who is relatively indifferent to social pressures, influences and inducements”

In contrast to the exogenous personality:

“He stands in stark contrast to the Exogenous personality; that is, to most people. The Exogenous Personality is orientated toward the environment, particularly the social environment. These are people who want more than anything else social (including sexual) status, worldly success; people whose perceptions are directed outwards and who try to align their behaviour with group norms.”

Many dwarves exhibit this characteristic: “As for the men, very many also do not desire marriage, being engrossed in their crafts.” The endogenous personality is more common in men than in women and dwarves have an imbalance of men and women: “It was said by Gimli that there are few dwarf-women, probably no more than a third of the whole people.”

We can imagine that in dwarf society due to their high investment in marriage, marriage and children would be highly valued. Dwarf craftsmen would not have children, but would probably take apprentices at a young age, focusing not on reproducing but on passing down their knowledge. Furthermore, the ordinary dwarves, including dwarf women would be more endogenous, more focused on work and crafts than ordinary human beings. Dwarves would not be anti-social but dwarf socialization would be based around crafts and work.

The Genius Famine states “it was group selection which led to the evolution of geniuses.” In fact, the dwarves exhibit a high degree of group cohesion: after Thror was killed by Azog, all the dwarves, even those not descended from Durin began a massive war against the orcs: “Durin's folk gathered all their host, and they were joined by great forces sent from the Houses of other Fathers; for this dishonour to the heir of the Eldest of their race filled them with wrath.”

The dwarves are a species that relies on the products of genius rather than using genius occasionally, as is the case for humans: “There need not be many such men – indeed, there should not be too many, since the necessary mind is relatively unfit for the primary, day-to-day, activities of survival and reproduction of the species. But such men are needed – sooner or later, from time to time.”

It appears that about one third of the dwarf population is genius craftsmen, while the remaining two thirds raise a family in addition to their work. Actually, the number is fewer than this since of the dwarf women: “some desired none [husbands], some wanted one they could not have and would have no other.” This is the dwarven gambit: a species sustained by genius rather than by reproduction. In the harsh but stable environment of their mountain domains, the dwarves rely on the products of their craftsmen. Yet, there is a cost to produce such a large proportion of geniuses: “It is because of the fewness of women among them that the kind of the Dwarves increases slowly, and is in peril when they have no secure dwellings.”

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

JRR Tolkien's nervous breakdown

(This post is adapted from several previous posts on this blog, supplemented by subsequent information. For what I mean by a nervous breakdown, see below*.) 

I believe that JRR Tolkien suffered what could be termed a 'nervous breakdown' in 1945-6; after taking-up the Merton Professorship of English Language and Literature in June of 1945, and at exactly the time when he was writing the Notion Club Papers (NCPs). The Notion Club Papers is therefore itself an indirect source of evidence about Tolklien's state of mind.

This period of 1945-6 was also associated with an apparent marital crisis, during which Tolkien (with his son Christopher) and his wife separated for some weeks.

My impression is that this breakdown was mostly a matter of alienation brought-on by overwork and stress.


Evidence to prove Tolkien's psychological breakdown 1945-6

Tolkien's nervous breakdown is a fact of considerable interest - especially in terms of the composition of Lord of the Rings, with its prolonged interruption from 1944 to the second half of 1946; and it gives added interest to the unfinished Notion Club Papers novel. This was composed during this hiatus and (I suspect) indirectly conveys information concerning Tolkien's strange state of mind.

Humphrey Carpenter's authorized biography of Tolkien (1977), describes that there were significant problems during his marriage; but these were not made explicit by Carpenter; nor were the problems referenced to any particular time or situation.

I have drawn on several sources of information below, which are identied as they occur. My first inference is that the main nervous problems began in late 1945.

From Joel Heck's chronology of the Lewis brothers:

December 11-14 1945: Tuesday-Friday. An Inklings victory holiday takes place at The Bull Hotel, Fairford, with Jack, Tolkien, Warren, and, part of the time, Dr. Havard.

December 11 Tuesday. Warren and Tolkien go to Fairford on the 9:35 a.m. train and spend the day together. In the afternoon Warren and Tolkien take a two-hour walk around by Sunhill and Meysey Hampton with Tolkien talking frankly about his domestic life.

From Warnie Lewis's selected dairies (Brothers and Friends):

Saturday 15 December 1945: "Tollers [i.e. Tolkien] and I went out by the 9.35 [train] on Tuesday morning and spent a pleasant day together; he spoke with much more frankness about his domestic life that he has ever used to me before, and did me good in making me realize how trivial after all are the things which I have to complain of at [the] Kilns."


From the Tolkien Chronology in the JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide by WG Hammond and C Scull:

Christmas vacation 1945-August 1946. Tolkien writes during 'a fortnight of comparative leisure' around Christmas 1945 [the beginnings of The Notion Club Papers].

End of 1945-early 1946 ...But neither [Simonne d'Ardenne] nor Tolkien are in sufficiently good health to do extensive work.

End of February-March 1946. Tolkien is ill, the result of various worries.

20 March 1946. ... He is unwell, and although his doctor has ordered him to apply for a term's leave, he realizes that this is impossible in the present academic plight, short of a complete collapse. He is, however, going away for a while...

25 March - 1 April 1946. Tolkien stays at New Lodge in Stonyhurst, Lancashire (...). In a letter to Stanley Unwin on 21 July 1946 he will say that he came 'near to a real breakdown' around this time, and went away and 'ate and slept and did nothing else, by orders, but only for three weeks, and not for the six months that my doctor prescribed...

From Joel Heck's Lewis chronology:

Tuesday 2nd April 1946: "An exquisite sping morning, J[ack] poor devil in Manchester. To the Bird and baby where I was joined by Humphrey [Havard], Tollers and Chris[topher Tolkien]. Tollers looking wonderfully improved by his restcure at Stonyhurst, and in great spirits (having packed his wife off to Brighton for ten days). He has shut up his house and he and Chris are living at the Bear [Hotel] at Woodstock [a small town just north of Oxford]..."

April 11 Thursday. Jack and Warren go out to Blenheim by the 6:25 p.m. train for an Inklings dinner to celebrate the Tolkien’s last night at the Bear. Present are both Tolkiens (Christopher and Tollers), Humphrey Havard, Jack, and Warren. They have a good dinner, good beer, and good talk.

From the Tolkien chronology: 

Early June 1946. ... [Tolkien] is unwell and also heavily engaged with an extremely difficult term...

21 July 1946. Letter to Stanley Unwin... I have been ill, worry and overwork mainly, but am a good deal recovered... I hope after this week actually to - write.

And from Joel Heck's chronology of the Lewis brothers, we have the following: 

August 22 Thursday. Warren dines with Tollers (Tolkien) at Merton College this evening during a thin rain. They dine in Common Room by candlelight, a party of seven, and Warren is seated on the right of Garrod. They have a glass of port and then coffee after dinner, where Warren talks with the Chaplain. They (Warren and Tolkien) attend a meeting of the Inklings with Christopher Tolkien, B (a gate crasher [almost certainly JAW Bennet - invited, without consulation, by Tolkien the previous week]), and Jack. [From Warnie's diary we learn that Tolkien read from 'a magnificent myth which is to knit up and concludes his Papers of the Notions Club' - referring to the downfall of Numenor, in one of its versions. So Tolkien was still working on the NCPs in late August.]

Back to references in the Tolkien chronology:

c 23 September 1946... Tolkien returns again to The Lord of the Rings [delayed by the 'tiresome business of the election to the Merton Chair'].

On September 30th Tolkien writes a letter (published in the JRRT Selected Letters of 1981) to Stanley Unwin to say he has again started working on The Lord of the Rings.


In conclusion; by the end of September 1946, which was the time we know that he began work again on The Lord of the Rings, it seems that Tolkien had recovered from his breakdown.

This makes the dates of Tolkien's psychological problems building-up to become severe by December 1945, peaking in March and April of 1946, and resolving in July of 1946.


The probable cause and effects of Tolkien’s breakdown

Tolkien seems to have written most of The Notion Club Papers during the darkest and most difficult time of his life - the period of somewhat more than a year which followed after his appointment to the Merton Chair of English Language and literature in June 1945.

The root of the problem seems to have been overwork and stress brought on by the fact that he took on the duties of the new professorship (from October of 1945) while overlapping with duties of his previous professorship (in Anglo Saxon, at Pembroke College). So Tolkien was doing a double work load, plus all the extra work of taking on a new job.

Another factor he refers to in later correspondence was that this was the only period of his academic life when he had to teach subjects in which he was not interested; and he absolutely hated this.

From Tolkien's selected letters - To Michael Tolkien 1 November 1963: "...I was never obliged to teach anything except what I loved (and do) with an inextinguishable enthusiasm. (Save only for a brief time after my change of Chair in 1945 - that was awful.) 


It seems that this put sufficient stress on Tolkien's marriage that he talked about the resulting problems with his friends; and Ronald and Edith temporarily separated for some period of time in early 1946 as described above.

(Unless, as is possible,  problems in the marriage were themselves a contributory cause of his nervous breakdown.) 

It is interesting that Tolkien, despite the extreme psychological stresses, did not stop writing; but apparently worked-through his psychological difficulties in fictional autobiographical terms - specifically the Notion Club Papers. This story has many descriptions of unusual mental states - such as trances and lucid dreams which Christopher Tolkien confirms were sometimes accounts of JRRT's own experiences.

It may also be significant that by the time Tolkien resumed work on the Lord of the Rings in the autumn of 1946, probably during September; and after a prolonged break, the book seems firmly to have become conceptualised as a deeper and more serious book than it was when he embarked upon it as a sequel to The Hobbit.

My guess is that the nervous breakdown experience of late 1945-1946 had a permanent effect on Tolkien - and that the effect was beneficial to his writing. On the one hand he was able to write with increased emotional depth. More speculatively; it is possible that the experience of his 'self-therapy' in writing the Notion Club Papers was able to give him surer access to altered states of consciousness, especially dreams, and these provided a source of other-worldly sub-creative reality to the Lord of the Rings.

Without the nervous breakdown of 1945-6, and without the experience of writing the Notion Club Papers - The Lord of the Rings would have been a different, and probably lesser, book.




*Note on the meaning of 'nervous breakdown'. 

I should clarify the key inference which I make: and this is quite simple. That when Tolkien has a period of time off work, leave of absence, of a few weeks, on psychological grounds - then this is strong evidence of psychological illness. I believe this inference is correct, because (partly due to my training in psychiatry) I know that it was unusual in the mid-twentieth century to take time off work explicitly for psychological reasons. Indeed, it is still unusual - and the majority of people who are diagnosed with anxiety or depression do not stop work. It is even more unusual for people who have stopped work for psychological reasons in addition to take a rest cure away from home, a therapeutic holiday, as Tolkien did; but this difference may be more a matter of fashion. Therefore, I consider it very highly probable that JRR Tolkien suffered significant psychological problems, and that these would at the time have been regarded as severe enough to be termed a 'breakdown'  (since he needed to stop work). The diagnosis of these kinds of problem is not precise and has changed over the decades - the usual symptoms are mostly anxiety and depression. The illness was certainly 'neurotic' rather than psychotic, and was an exacerbation of predisposing personality ('reactive') rather than coming out of the blue ('endogenous'). But during Tolkien's era the term 'depression; was reserved for severe illness requiring admission to a hospital. So the diagnosis of the 1945-6 episode at that time was probably some kind of stress-related anxiety state - which was usually termed a nervous breakdown.

My dissatisfaction at the metaphysics of Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams

 The lion archetype launched upon an unsuspecting world...

The fact that I have just re-read Charles Williams's The Place of the Lion for (about) the sixth time (in thirty years) is evidence of my fascination with this book. And this despite that I also regard it as extremely flawed! - being written in a clumsy and unconvincing (intrusively facetious*) style, and lacking effective expression in some of the most important passages.

What I like so much about it is probably similar to what I like about Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers (itself a work which lineally descends, via The Lost Road, from Tolkien's own reading of PotL in 1936). And that is the idea of 'the hero' working by means of a gain in understanding and a change of consciousness - and 'the quest' therefore being, mostly, a matter of discussion, thought, reading and meditation.

Yet I realised how far away from Williams my own understanding has moved, so that regard his plot - the nature of threats and the solution to it - as no longer credible; it would have been credible at earlier times in English history, but not in recent generations. In this sense I think Williams was simply mistaken in his basic understanding of the world.


In terms of what he personally sought, Williams aimed to revive, strengthen and adopt the 'medieval' metaphysical system; which was itself lineally descended from the Ancient Greek philosophical breakthroughs of the age of Plato (this is what Rudolf Steiner would term the Intellectual Soul - see Owen Barfield's Romanticism Comes of Age, for an analysis).

My understanding of this consciousness is that it divides reality into categories, and is has a primary role for proxy-action - for the intercessions of particular individuals (who have been-through mystery-initiation processes) to act on-behalf-of ordinary humanity. Thus, in PotL the world is threatened by the categories of basic ideas, of ultimate archetypes; and these are defeated by an individual asserting authority over them on behalf of Man (and the Christian God).

This is a model in which reality is knowable only by mystic-priests, and these do their salvific work - by means of symbol and ritual - on behalf of the mass of people. It is thus a version of 'Temple Religion', or the work of monasteries - but putatively translated to a modern context.

This, I regard as a half-way house consciousness - in between the ancient individualistic immersion in the divine and the modern materialist self-exclusion from the divine; but no longer viable. I do not believe that there really are such entities as Plato's ideas or archetypes; not do I believe that intercession is possible any longer (although it was possible in the past).


We are confronted by a reality which we must apprehend each for himself by intuition; and in which our individual salvation depends on a directly attained knowledge; and personal freedom, agency, choice... The reason (as I understand it) for this necessity is that Man's divine destiny is linear, sequential, non-repeating - although with some cyclical aspects; so that history resembles a spiral.

Salvation is individual - we are Not converging onto a single 'type' but rather we ultimately are aimed-at becoming our-unique-selves And fully-harmonised with the divine purposes.

To make this possible, God has taken care that every specific place, hour, day, lunar month, year, and era are different - so that each individual human life may be provided with the experiences best-suited to its spiritual progression (then; it is up to each of us to learn from these experiences).

On the other hand, it is only from the repetitions and regularities of life that we are able to learn. So we get both.


Therefore, I have to regard the basic set-up of Place of the Lion as mistaken and - not just unlikely, but impossible. This recognition has triggered a compelling line of thought in me (that has not reached a conclusion)  - which is based on 'If not, Then what?'...

In other words; what would be an analogous but correct plot for a more-metaphysically-accurate version of Place of the Lion?

 
*As replicated by the illustration...

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Depictions of the Inklings, by the Inklings

An Inklings meeting was the (usually) Thursday late-evening meeting in CS ('Jack') Lewis's rooms at Magdalen College, Oxford; to read work in progress, criticize it, and have conversations arising from this.

It is important to recognise that the focus of the Inklings was the writing of its members; even though one of the members – Robert E ‘Humphrey’ Havard - did little writing, and that mostly of a scientific nature (he was JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis’s doctor).

Havard and Warren (‘Warnie’) Lewis functioned mainly as an enthusiastic and critical ‘audience’ for the three main writers: Jack Lewis, Tolkien (nicknamed ‘Tollers’) and Charles Williams. Of course there were many other guests, readers and conversationalists during the fifteen or so years that the Inklings were active.

These true Inklings meetings probably began in the early 1930s and finished in October 1949 – when Warnie Lewis recorded for the first and final time that nobody had shown-up for a scheduled meeting – except himself and his brother Jack.

The Inklings was not, therefore, the Tuesday (later Monday) lunchtime gatherings at various pubs in Oxford, again focused on Jack Lewis, which happened especially at the 'Bird and Baby' pub (a slang term for the Eagle and Child), or sometimes at the Lamb and Flag situated opposite.

These lunchtime pub meetings were certainly attended by The Inklings, but also a wide range of others on a casual basis; and they were occasions for general, mostly light, conversation. These informal, convivial meetings continued until Jack Lewis's death in 1963.

There is no direct transcript of an actual Inklings evening, featuring the actual people who attended. The nearest to this are a few, paragraph length, summary entries in Warnie Lewis's diary - a selection from which is published in Brothers and Friends: the diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis edited by Marjorie Lamp Mead (1988).

The best known word-by-word depiction of an Inklings meeting is a chapter in Humphrey Carpenter's group biography The Inklings (1978); which is not an actual meeting, but one that he creatively reconstructed by sampling and synthesizing from multiple writings of the Inklings, together with hints from Warnie's diary. This features the Lewis brothers, JRR Tolkien, Havard and Charles Williams – and these seem to have been the core Inklings of the 1939-45 war years. The only survivor - Havard - endorsed Carpenter’s account as providing the genuine flavour, although probably more intellectually concentrated than a typical real meeting.

JRR Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers (an unfinished and posthumously published novel to be found in Christopher Tolkien's edited The History of Middle Earth, Volume 9, Sauron Defeated, 1992) comprises a highly Inklings-style meeting of a club that was based explicitly upon The Inklings and written to be read at Inklings meeting during 1945-6; but with different, fictionalized and composite participants. This probably captures the spirit of an Inklings meeting more closely than any other source.

CS Lewis also left a short depiction of an Inkling's-esque meeting which can be found in an unfinished fragment of a story named The Dark Tower, and which was posthumously edited and published by Walter Hooper in 1977. The tone of discussion – its mixture of humour and seriousness - is similar to that of the Notion Club.

Owen Barfield was an infrequent, but very keen, Inklings participant - and arguably the Inklings evolutionarily-arose from the Barfield-Jack Lewis conversations and written debates of the 1920s. Barfield published a novel entitled Worlds Apart (1963) which describes a weekend length conversation of a very Inklings-like character - including characters based on Barfield and Jack Lewis.

What was the key to the Inklings as a club? My guess is that it worked and kept-on working because of the friendship between the participants; but to keep going for so long and with such intensity, the meetings required two further elements.

The first was the shared serious focal element of being helpful with the writing of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien; indeed the club was absolutely vital to the writing of The Lord of the Rings.

The second element was that – especially from the perspective of Jack and Tollers, these writings had a broad cultural significance; they were Christians who were fascinated by myth and the imagination as things of real importance and modes of truth. In other words; the Inklings meetings were (for CSL and JRRT specifically) not only enjoyable and helpful – they were doing something important.

And this is where the – mostly absent – Owen Barfield came in; because he was the philosophical theorist among the Inklings, whose life’s work was to explain exactly why – and in exactly what sense - myth and imagination were important, real and true.

This is why, I believe, the Inklings was so much more than a fluid assembly of Jack Lewis’s friends (as Humphrey Carpenter regarded them), and so much more than a writers’ workshop (as DP Glyer regards them, see Note). The Inklings were, and are, a group of major cultural significance; which is why public interest in these men and their private meetings has grown significantly with every decade over the past seventy years.

Note: For further discussion of sources relating to the Inklings, see Diana Pavlac Glyer's The Company They Keep (2008). This important book is a very thorough and enjoyable account of the Inklings as writers, and of their interactions. But DPG is not, as I am, in profound sympathy with the core Inkling ‘philosophy’.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Faramir, Boromir and Providence in Lord of the Rings?

From The Council of Elrond, Boromir speaking:

On the eve of the sudden assault a dream came to my brother [i.e. Faramir] in a troubled sleep; and afterwards a like dream came oft to him again, and once to me.

In that dream I thought the Eastern sky grew dark and there was a growing thunder, but in the West a pale light lingered, and out of it I heard a voice, remote but clear, crying: 

Seek for the sword that was broken: 
In Imladris it dwells; 
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells. 
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand
For Isildur's Bane shall awaken
And the Halfling forth shall stand.

This is a very interesting passage, for several reasons. Most obviously, the content of the prophecy is remarkable. On the one hand it is expressed in a riddling form, that none of the recipients could fully understand. Only Denethor knew what Imladris was (i.e. Rivendell), and he did not know exactly where to find it. - just that it was in a 'far Northern dale'.

(I am unsure whether Denethor realised that Isildur's bane was the One Ring, or even suspected it; but I doubt it - or else Denethor would surely have 'briefed' Boromir on the matter and instructed him what to do with the Ring.)

But the prophecy was certainly helpful; and some aspects of the prediction are remarkably exact - especially that in Imladris a token would be shown - i.e. the One Ring; and that the Halfling would stand forth - which was fulfilled when Frodo volunteered to be the Ring Bearer.  The dream came to Faramir on 19th June and the Council of Elrond was 25 October - and a lot happened between the two events; specifically Frodo was in great peril and in danger of death several times.

To an alert observer (Elrond, Gandalf, Aragorn) the prophecy would confirm that there was a destiny ruling their choices and actions; and there was a 'right answer' they ought to seek and do.

Who, exactly, was it that sent this prophetic dream - clearly it was divine, and also benign: on the side of Good. I think it most likely that this dream came from Eru, The One, God - rather than one of the Valar (angelic rulers or gods); because I don't think the Valar have that kind of detailed foresight, nor (at least in the Third Age) do they seem to intervene directly in this proactive and strategic way.

Did this mean that Frodo was never really in danger, and also his dangers were pretend, and his decisions could not have been otherwise? No. I think we must assume that a Halfling would have offered himself as Ring Bearer, but it need not have been Frodo - but if it had not been Frodo, then things would probably have turned-out worse, overall. Furthermore, the Council needed to choose the correct Ring Bearer - the Halfling would have stood forth, but the Council might have chosen somebody else.

Also Frodo's wrong choices, and failures to resist The Ring's temptation, led to the permanent psychological damage he suffered from the stabbed with the Morgul knife on Weathertop.   

An example of things turning out worse is probably that it was intended to be Faramir who undertook the journey to Imladris; since the dream came to him first and many times, but to Boromir only once - and perhaps merely as a confirmation of its objective validity.

It was the bad decision of Denethor (based on his bias and also the beginnings of his corruption, despair and exhaustion) that over-ruled the proper choice of Faramir and enabled Boromir instead to join the Fellowship of the Ring; and it was of course the corrupted Boromir who prevented Plan A being pursued by attacking Frodo and attempting to take The Ring. We can infer that if Faramir had been present, 'things' would have turned-out better.

Overall, it seems that God provided the kind of prophecy which left a great deal of hard work to the forces of Good, in terms of both interpretation and action; and all the important decisions still needed to be made by Men (also hobbits, dwarves, and elves) unaided... Or, unaided except by their intuitive sense of what was right; which all the best characters have (even when they sometimes fail to follow it for various reasons).

This fits with a picture of the world in which God has made the world such that Men's agency is primary; is indeed absolutely sacred - but made a world in which God is always present, and will sometimes intervene directly (as divine Providence) in order to create situations where it is possible for Men to make the right choices, leading to the best possible outcomes (the best possible - given the cumulative effects of evil in the past).



Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Review of Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth - edited by Catherine McIlwaine (Bodleian Library, Oxford University, 2018)


Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth - edited by Catherine McIlwaine. Bodleian Library, Oxford University, 2018. pp 416.

This is a sumptuous, large format, beautifully illustrated 400 page book which serves as the catalogue for a current Tolkien exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford - but it also serves as the single best, and best value, one-stop-shop for the visual material associated with JRR Tolkien.

Amongst other achievements, Maker of Middle Earth includes - in larger scale and at a higher quality of reproduction - much (not all) of the material from The Tolkien Family Album (1992) JRR Tolkien; artist and illustrator (1995). 

In addition it has some seventy pages of essays (by eminent scholars) on Tolkien's biography, the Inklings, Faery in Tolkien, the Elvish languages, the Northern spirit, and Tolkien as artist.

For me, there were several special pleasures in this book. The first was in seeing new-to-me photographs of Tolkien and his family - and seeing larger and sharper versions of many I was familiar with and especially like; such as JRRT asleep with toddler Christopher on a garden lounger in Northmoor Road.

I enjoyed seeing Tolkien wearing a tweed suit and digging a sandcastle on a (presumably chilly) 1925 summer holiday, with sons John and Michael. There are several characterful photographs of JRRT's mother; and of his young and beautiful wife Edith, showing why Tolkien regarded her as the inspiration for Luthien. In general, these family pictures are delightful, revealing the happiness, love and importance of this vital aspect of Tolkien's life (something which sets him apart from the other Inklings, and indeed from most other writers).

All my favourite Tolkien paintings, pen and pencil illustrations were there; and some examples of the complex doodles he distracted himself with, while trying to work on The Silmarillion

There are a lot of letters and manuscripts in facsimile - not just Tolkien's wondrous script; but an example from 1893 of his mother's fine and original penmanship, suggesting an hereditary element. And several 'fan letters' - mostly from now-famous people; the 19 year old Terry Pratchett, for example, evidently having been deeply moved by Smith of Wootton Major. Some letters were from children - I  liked these better.

(My letter to Tolkien didn't make the cut, I'm afraid - I wonder what I wrote? Questions about elves, I expect.)

There are also maps! - sketch maps, drafts of maps, fragments of maps; reproduced in large scale and clearly. 

And there is something I have wanted to see again for a long time... the 1969 poster map of Middle Earth illustrated by Pauline Baynes (below). For many formative years this was a fixture on the wall of my bedroom - carted from place to place. I spent many an hour examining the pictures with a magnifying glass, to extract the last drop of detail... There was another similar, but not quite so good, poster of The Hobbit.

In sum, if you are know a Tolkien lover, and you will needing to buy him a Birthday/ Christmas present soon - look no further. And any reader of this blog will surely want to put Maker of Middle Earth onto his own Birthday/ Christmas list.




Friday, 27 July 2018

Tolkien's noblest book: Unfinished Tales (1980; edited by Christopher Tolkien)


It is a controversial choice, no doubt; but for me Unfinished Tales - the first 'History of Middle Earth volume, edited by Christopher Tolkien and published in 1980 - is the noblest of Tolkien's works: the one that has the most heart-stopping passages of high style and grandeur.

I came across this book in the summer of either 1985 or 1986, when I found a paperback copy at a holiday cottage rented by my parents; and it was responsible for triggering a resurgence of love for Tolkien which had by that time subsided from the heights it reached in my middle-late teens.

After JRR Tolkien died in 1973, his youngest son Christopher (by then nearly fifty years old) took responsibility for his legacy, especially the unpublished writings - during which CRT became, in my opinion, the most important - because irreplaceable - literary scholar of the past century.

By which I mean that in the same way nobody-else could ever have written what JRRT did; nobody-else could ever have edited JRRT in the way that CRT did (and, astonishingly, still does). Thus we have a first rate writer whose oeuvre was massively amplified by first rate posthumous editions of a mass of unpublished and inaccessible material.

Christopher began* with a stumble (as he later acknowledged) with the 1977 Silmarillion - but with  Unfinished Tales he hit his straps, and from then continued in a truly transcendent synergy with his father's writings. It is perhaps this being the very first of CRT's couple of dozen collections from the unpublished writings and drafts, that gives UT its special place in my heart. Since CRT (apparently) did not know in 1980 whether UT would be the only selection from JRRT's unpublished manuscripts; UT has the character of being something like The Cream of these works - sampled from across a wide range of times and subjects.

The whole collection is wonderful - but I will here mention just a few of my personal favourites.

Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin is a detailed fragment of a large but incomplete narrative. I find the character or Tuor very appealing, and (as an unseen frame) the sketched story has the ultimate happy and strange conclusion that Tuor - a Man - eventually (somehow) became an Elf: one of the Eldar. 

There are two pieces on Numenor; which together make the best source on this fascinating 'earthly paradise' devised for Men: its early freshness and innocence, and its later extremity of both power and corruption. Truly, a tale for our times...

The History of Galadriel and Celeborn is a miscellany, and indeed self-contradicting (but I don't care about that); and studded throughout are answers to some of the questions about Elves I had been most longing to have answered for many years - especially about the Silvan/ Wood Elves, which have always evoked a great yearning within me.

Cirion and Eorl is about the friendship of Gondor and Rohan; and contains a lovely account of the oath-making between the leaders of these nations: that is certainly one of the noblest passages Tolkien ever achieved. It moves me to tears.

The Quest of Erebor is a pure delight - being a 'framing' account of The Hobbit narrative from Gandalf's point of view. At only a slightly lower level; The Disaster of the Gladden Fields, and The Hunt for the Ring deepen the understanding and appreciation of Lord of the Rings.

The Istari (i.e. the wizards) was another chapter I seized upon with eager cries, since (like so many people) I had been particularly intrigued by Gandalf, Saruman and Radagast; and here we get their back-story.

The hardback edition ends with a corrected, added-to and improved version of Christopher Tolkien's fold-out map of Middle Earth, modified from the one he originally drew for The Lord of the Rings. Ideal for reference - and a treasure in its own right.


*Note: I should add that even before the Silmarillion in 1977, CRT had edited and published several 'minor' works by his father; such as the Bilbo's Last Song for a poster by Pauline Baynes; and the translations of Sir Gawain, Pearl and Sir Orfeo; and Baillie Tolkien (CRT's wife) had edited the first collection of Father Christmas Letters. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Tolkien's beatitudes - his affirmation even of clumsy, insufficient, vague wish-fulfillment fantasy fiction; so long as its motivations are Good

Note: The Beatitudes are that part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel, which consists of a series of statements beginning with 'Blessed are...' - blessed (apparently) being the English translation of the Latin (Vulgate) Bible word 'Beati'. 

From Mythopoeia, a poem by JRRT Tolkien that was begun probably late 1931-1932; but only reaching the form containing this passage probably about 1946.

Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate,
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bare, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow's sway.

Blessed are the men of Noah's race that build
their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things nor found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organised delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).
Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have turned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.



So, what does this section of the poem mean?

The statements of blessing follow a statments that : of Evil this
alone is dreadly certain: Evil is
. Tolkien is drawing a contrast with those who sustain evil, and those who reject it and respond by imagining something better - even when those imaginings are grossly imperfect.

The three Blessings are given upon three types of imperfect creator: those that hate evil but have timid hearts, those of faith who yet lack ability, and those who discern something better than this world - but only vaguely.

Tolkien firmly endorses all three types of flawed creator - and indeed he expresses admiration at their determination to 'do the right thing', as best they can, despite the high probability of (worldly) defeat.

A later passage endorses this - by drawing an allegorical equivalence between the creator as a maker (minter) of coins, but the fact that the actual coins produced are of poor quality with blurry images; and indeed even what is depicted on the coins is not clearly known.

It is the aspiration, and bravely acting upon it, that makes such Men blessed - even when they fail.

And some will succeed - some have passed beyond the fabled West. And, as things turned-out; Tolkien himself became one of them.

I would that I might with the minstrels sing
and stir the unseen with a throbbing string.
I would be with the mariners of the deep
that cut their slender planks on mountains steep
and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,
for some have passed beyond the fabled West.
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.


Monday, 9 July 2018

Reading The Notion Club Papers - again...

About forty pages in, and enjoying it more than ever!

It begins with a kind of hobbit - talk section; perhaps the nearest thing to a transcription of an Inklings meeting that exists.

Then moves onto the most self-revelatory material ever published from Tolkien - in the mouth of his alter ego, Ramer.

Wonderful stuff! If you haven't yet read the NCPs, why not try? They can be found in volume 9 of The History of Middle Earth: Sauron Defeated (1992).

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Reading Tolkien's character from his face - viewing Tolkien in Oxford (1968) with the sound turned-off...

There is an interesting (and flawed) half hour documentary about JRR Tolkien that was made in 1968 - see link below; and I was watching it with the sound turned-off, and focusing on Tolkien's face (as one does...). This turned-out to be a surprisingly interesting and enlightening experience!

Tolkien was in his mid-seventies at the time of this production; but most of the 'faces' being interviewed were young Oxford students, aged around twenty years. What was extraordinary was how animated this old-man Tolkien was - how mobile and expressive his face; and how much more so than the faces of the young people.

Tolkien is extremely engaged by his environment, alert to the surroundings and the interview situation; his face showing what he feels from moment to moment, with sudden changes in emotion very obvious, and quick smiles, laughs and an impish humour.

Tolkien comes across as exceptionally alive and open, quick-witted, unselfconscious, unguarded and spontaneous - especially considering that he knew he was being filmed and recorded for television.

What I want to emphasise is how unusual this is; what an unusual man Tolkien was. This ought not to be any kind of surprise, because geniuses always are unusual people - one way or another. And how his personality, his nature, was - of course - exactly what was needed to write what he did.

There seems to be no barrier between Tolkien's emotional life and its expression; many of the other people interviewed have faces like masks; there is a public persona, and the inner life is both shielded and blocked.

This perhaps needs emphasising in light of the impression from Humphrey Carpenter's official biography that Tolkien's external life (after the First World War) was dull and uneventful... Well, that clearly did not apply to Tolkien's own experience of his life. We can see this.

What is clear from watching Tolkien is that his moment-by-moment response to being-alive was - at least sometimes, and probably even more so when young than in here in his twilight years - one of tremendous vividness, and power.





Monday, 2 July 2018

Solving Tolkien's flat-earth versus spherical-earth problem with the help of Owen Barfield

[Jeremy - in The Notion Club Papers, by JRR Tolkien]

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.

If you went back would you find myth dissolving into history or history into myth?... Perhaps the Atlantis catastrophe was the dividing line?

Tolkien had a problem with his legendarium: the First and Second Ages took place on a flat earth; but at the drowning of Numenor (i.e. the 'Atlantis catastrophe'), and the advent of the Third Age (and the time of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings) the world became a round: a sphere. By this change - which was accomplished by direct action of The One/ Eru/ Iluvatar - the undying lands (Eressea and Valinor) became qualitatively separated from the mortal lands (Middle Earth); so that only the enchanted ships of the Grey Havens could get from one to the other - ordinary ships that went West just came around the globe to reach the other side of the Middle Earth land mass.

But this change in planetary geography due to the Numenor/ Atlantis catastrophe was also the dividing line between a magical-enchanted world of the elves; and the mundane world of Men. The Third Age was a transitional phase between these, during which the High and Grey elves left Middle Earth, and the 'magical Men' of Numenor faded and were diluted into being like the mundane men of Middle Earth (although in LotR we meet several of the very few-remaining 'pure' Numenoreans such as Aragorn, Faramir and Denethor). 

In the Fourth Age (our Age) the elves have all departed or faded into invisibility; the Men have lost all their magic, and the world is disenchanted - lacking contact with, or belief in, elves, or the Valar. (Presumably the Ents and the Dwarves have gone extinct, or concealed themselves.) Hobbits, as a type of mundane Men, are said to remain, but hidden.

Tolkien was never happy about the mechanics and implications of this flat-to-round earth transition; and he kept tinkering with the 'cosmology' until shortly before he died; even (astonishingly, in his seventies) planning at one point to rewrite the entire Silmarillion as a round-earth mythology, involving enormous changes - quite beyond then-resources of Tolkien's time and energy.


Yet there was a possible solution to this problem - and it was one that had been worked-out in detail by Tolkien's fellow Inkling Owen Barfield.

I shall describe this in a moment - but it needs to be made clear that Barfield's solution was never an actual possibility for Tolkien, for many reasons. Barfield was essentially CS Lewis's friend, and Tolkien and Barfield had never been close - probably they spent very little time together outside Lewis's presence. Furthermore, Barfield did not enjoy Lord of the Rings, indeed he apparently was unable to finish reading it. And then, although both were strong Christians, there was a denominational gulf between the two - since Tolkien was a devout traditionalist Roman Catholic and Barfield a heterodox Anthroposophist-Anglican.

Barfield was, indeed, a philosopher with so radical and original a metaphysics that few - even of his admirers and scholars - have been able fully to grasp and explicate the sheer scope of what he assumed, argued and asserted.

For Barfield consciousness was primary, and 'matter' was merely a secondary 'condensation' from pure consciousness. Furthermore consciousness 'evolved' - which means it changed by a process of developmental unfolding; in accordance with the divine plan to enable Men incrementally (and over many thousands of years, and multiple incarnations) eventually to attain to god-hood.

The aimed at divine mode of consciousness was what Barfield termed Final Participation: 'final' because it was divine, and 'participation' because it entailed becoming co-creators with God. Because consciousness was primary, Final Participation happened in thought, in thinking. God thought the universe into existence, this thought was objectively real; and if man attained to this level of consciousness, each Man (in harmony with God's purposes) would become a participant in this creation.

And, because consciousness is primary, for Barfield there was no reality apart-from consciousness. What we perceive (what know by our senses, and by reasoning from sensory data) is all we know of anything. There is an indescribable stuff (what Barfield terms the unrepresented) that exists independently of our perceptions of it; but perceptions can only be understood with concept,s, by thinking - so we know nothing about this unrepresented reality.

We only know what we think, and our thinking is a product of our consciousness, and our consciousness can change qualitatively.

What we regard as objective facts are actually 'Collective Representations. In other words, beings with the same quality of consciousness, perceive the world in the same way, and therefore usually come to regard the world as consisting of data which they suppose to be independent of consciousness. When everybody perceives a tree, then people tend to assume that what is really there is a tree; when actually 'a tree' is a concept that is absolutely dependent on consciousness. 

(It can immediately be seen how alien this way of understanding would have been to Tolkien, even if he had known and grappled with it - which he would have been unlikely to do; probably regarding it as pride-full and blasphemous.)


If Barfield's understanding of the evolution of consciousness was applied to the Numenor/ Atlantis Catastrophe, we would understand it to be a qualitative change in consciousness, imposed upon the inhabitants of the world by The One. It was consciousness that changed, primarily; and as a result, the world became perceived as spherical instead of flat.

(It is not a matter of whether the earth 'really had been' flat, or not; but that such a question is meaningless - since there is no 'really' which is independent of consciousness. To the Second Age consciousness of elves, men, dwarves, Sauron, orcs etc; the new form of consciousness perceived the world as round. And there is no going-behind this perception.)

So, the drowning of Numenor really was, as Jeremy of the Notion Club Papers suggested, a 'dividing line' - in which the era of enchanted myth changed-into the era of mundane history. The change was instantaneous; but the working through of this change took some thousands of years.

(Such a Barfieldian perspective also explains how Tolkien's legendarium is real: really-real, not just applicable fiction! It is real because it is 'about' consciousness; it is a way of 'representing' consciousness and its development, under divine shaping.)


So where does that leave Modern Man, in our Fourth Age - which Barfield sometimes called the Age of the Consciousness Soul? Well, we are of course disenchanted, can no longer perceive the elves or the gods; indeed we deny the reality of any God at all. Whereas the enchanted world of Tolkien's First and Second Age was one where most things were alive and conscious and in communication to some degree (a residue of this remained in the Third Age, in Lothlorien - preserved by Galadriel's ring)  for mundane man, everything is dead: indeed Man understands himself to be dead, and consciousness to be an illusion or epiphenomenon of material processes. Because only matter is real, and matter is experienced as un-alive...

But this is incoherent, insane; it is not a viable form of consciousness: it is consciousness turned against itself. It simultaneously claims to know, while denying even the possibility of knowledge. It claims to discern meaninglessness, to know exactly that which is un-knowable (i.e. to know with certainty how things really-are, independent of that consciousness which knows). 

We need to move into a Fifth Age of Middle Earth; in which we can begin to know that consciousness is primary, and to know that consciousness and reality are indivisible.

This was not a matter that Tolkien addressed in any of the work published during his lifetime - but it is a special appeal of the Notion Club Papers that Tolkien comes to the very edge of this matter; which is a thing that can be done in high fantasy.

In a nutshell, we can - if we choose - regard the Notion Club as a fantasy version of The Inklings; and the unfinished text as the start of a process by which these Fantasy Inklings would, in the course of the full narrative and as its climax, solve this most important of all the problems facing modern materialistic Man.


Saturday, 30 June 2018

Tolkien's How and Why problems in 'framing' his Legendarium for a modern audience - reflections on re-reading Interrupted Music by Verlyn Flieger (2005)

As Verlyn Flieger clarifies in her 2005 book Interrupted Music; Tolkien had two main problems in providing a 'frame' within-which to present his entire Legendarium (Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Adventures of Tom Bombadil and material from his unfinished Silmarillion). These can be summarised as clarifying How and Why the reader has these stories in his hand...


The How refers to the provenance of the text; that is the process by which a story or history from a remote (and fictional-mythic) past came-down the many generations to reach JRR Tolkien, who is presenting it to the modern reader. Starting with the 'Lost Tales' from the late World War I period, Tolkien tried many explanations.

One idea was of an ancient mariner who visited Fairyland, heard and brought back the stories - sometimes he also participated in the subsequent history; these original manuscripts were translated from Elvish into some other language such as Old English, and handed down between scribes and in libraries in a normal historical fashion - Tolkien being the latest translator and adaptor.

Another idea was that a  modern man - or several people - visited the undying lands in a dream or meditative trance - and brought-back the material. He, or someone else expert in ancient languages, was then inspired by such dreams to learn and translate the ancient languages.

In the end, Tolkien actually framed Lord of the Rings with an apparatus which presents his material as being derived from a book called The Red Book of Westmarch, which is a collection of translations from Elvish legends heard by Bilbo i Rivendell; plus the diaries of Bilbo Frodo and Sam and some other material such as a book on the herblore of the Shire by Merry. Somehow, a copy of The Red Book came down the ages to Tolkien who (somehow) translated it, and used the material to write his various books.

There are some holes in Tolkien's eventual, actual solution to the How problem - but on the whole it seems to work satisfactorily for most readers; although Tolkien was not altogether happy with it, and he kept 'niggling' at it through the editions of The Lord of the Rings and his introductory words to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.


The Why is a much more difficult problem - and Tolkien never really got further with solving this problem than the lecture On Fairy Stories - which provides a general justification for Fantasy fiction, rather than a specific reason for why his own legends were important. In particular, Tolkien was never able to explain something important to him - which is why his stories were specifically important for England.

There is, in fact, an answer to this Why problem - and I am sure that Tolkien knew exactly what that answer was, but was (for various reasons, good and not good) reluctant to use that particular answer.

The answer is to refer to divine destiny, and to imply or assert that the mythic text that came across many generations to emerge into modern times in the form of Tolkien's books were enabled to do so because modern people need them. In other words that God made it possible; that God preserved and protected the knowledge; and made modern people able to get access to it. For example, God provided the intuitive insights to modern scholars that enabled them to translate ancient lost languages, and to correctly fill-in gaps in surviving texts, and to do so with sufficient literary quality to engage and influence modern readers.

Of course, such a claim would mean making explicit reference to Christianity - putting Tolkien's books into an explicitly Christian frame; which he was clearly reluctant to do. It would furthermore have entailed Tolkien putting himself forward as an instrument of divine destiny (a mere instrument, as he humbly understood it) - which he was willing to do in private among friends, but not in public; because the mainstream atheistic public would surely have regarded such a claim as insane, idiotic or arrogant.

But we ourselves can, if we wish, frame Tolkien's work in this fashion - and I certainly do!


Note: Verlyn Flieger's Interrupted Music is well worth reading for its detailed and accurate scholarship - although it is significantly flawed by fairly frequent intrusion  of mainstream academic deference to political correctness and materialism - 'virtue signalling' and reductionism (eg. repeatedly and wrongly stating that Frodo's mental state at the end of LotR is Post Tramatic Stress Disorder; and that LotR is essentially about war: A War Book). This prejudicial and corrupting leftism crept into this author's later work; as happened to almost-all authors over recent decades; except in some instances when the work was explicitly - non-liberal - Christian.) 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Good and evil in Tolkien

One of the most ridiculous statements made by those literary modernists who dislike Tolkien, and especially The Lord of the Rings, is when they state that the characters are divided unrealistically and simplistically into Good and Evil. Yet, in reality, the opposite is the case - corruption of Good is extremely common, and there are several important examples of repentance of evil.

Starting with The Hobbit - the dwarf leader Thorin becomes corrupted by greed and resentment. On his deathbed he repents and apologises to Bilbo. This is somewhat like Boromir, whose desire for the One Ring gradually masters him, and he tries to take it from Frodo by force; before confessing and repenting to Aragorn as he dies.

Aragorn is an example of a good character who resists corruption; Gandalf and Faramir are others. However, each of these is 'paired' with another who is corrupted. Gandalf is one of three wizards we meet, of whom Saruman has gone over to the side of evil - and refuses to repent although given three opportunities; while Radagast has abandoned his duty and mission to become a 'neutral' in the war.

Faramir is the steadfast brother of corruptible Boromir; and the returned King Aragorn's corrupted twin is Denethor, Steward of Gondor and Boromir's father - who succumbs to despair, compounded by envy of Gandalf and refusal to recognise the legitimacy of Aragorn and yield his power.

When we first meet Theoden, King of Rohan, he has also been corrupted into despair and dishonesty by Saruman's tool Wormtongue; but Theoden repents and remakes himself, to die a noble death in battle - thanks to the tough but compassionate intervention of Gandalf.

Among the hobbits, there are also pairings: the good Baggins's with the corrupt (and pretentious, Frenchified) Sackville-Baggins's (of whom, Lobelia is redeemed through her courage in face of the ruffians); and, Sam with the anti-Sam: Ted Sandyman. Frodo is, tragically albeit temporarily and understandably, corrupted and broken by the ring, at the last moment - taking it for himself; only being saved from the terrible consequences by the providential intervention of Gollum. Frodo repents but is unable to escape his guilt, his mortal life is blighted, and he requires healing in the undying lands. In this respect Frodo is contrasted with the uncorrupted Bilbo, who voluntarily gives-up the ring (as does Sam); and (like Sam) lives-out a long and happy life.


What is lacking in Lord of the Rings is any significant characters who are evil, at the start of Lord of the Rings, and repent before the end (albeit most of the book takes place in a single year); although Gollum gets very close; as does Wormtongue (after the scouring of The Shire) - but neither can set aside their resentments.

And this is - unfortunately - true to life. Once someone has thoroughly sided with evil, it is very unusual for them to repent and reform. In LotR the nearest I can think of, is groups such as The Dead, from the Paths of The Dead - who broken their oath to Isildur and fought for Sauron, but removed their curse by helping Isidur's heir Aragorn; or the Dunlanders - who are defeated in the Battle of Helm's Deep, and are surprised by their decent treatment by their enemies, the men of Rohan.

But those who falsely complain about the division into good and bad characters are in reality complaining about the clear distinction between good and evil sides.

These are indeed distinct - and mainstream atheist modernists dislike and disbelieve this clarity; much preferring ambiguity over what is good and evil; or superficial good being actually evil; or all the characters being self-seeking hedonists and cowards; or the characters divided between witty, intelligent evil ones that we admire, and dumb, gullible good ones that we pity or despise...

From a perspective where there is no God and all morality is arbitrary and expedient (or hypocritical), Tolkien's critics are correct; which is why correcting their ignorance has no effect on their opinion of Tolkien's work. Likewise, the ignorant criticisms of of those who suppose that Tolkien's characters speak in what strikes them as a ridiculous 'Hollywood' fake medievalism; do not change their minds when confronted with evidence of Tolkien's extreme subtlety of linguistic register, and (surely obvious?) deep scholarship concerning real archaic forms and words.


So, I am never surprised by those who dislike and do not enjoy Tolkien. There are 'good reasons' of individual preference why anyone may not enjoy anything - not matter its quality.

However, given the generality and depth of corruption among modern intellectuals (perhaps especially academics); the fact that so many literati hate a work that contains so many convincing and moving depictions of goodness and repentance, is only to be expected.
  

Note: There is a much wider range of corruption on display in The Silmarillion - where we see the fall of the elves greatest scholar and craftsman, Feanor; and several other once-great elves who fall to despair, lust, anger, pride etc. Taking Tolkien's fiction overall, there is, indeed, a pattern of the very greatest being those who are most deeply and terribly corrupted to evil: Melkor, was the greatest of the Valar, Turin Turambar was the greatest warrior of all-time, Al-Pharazon was the most powerful Man ever, Saruman was the greatest wizard, Denethor was the most powerful Man of his age... Indeed, there is a clear tendency that those who have the greatest accomplishment are most greatly tempted - the Noldorian elves and the Numenorean Men being the clearest examples. The result is, typically, a polarisation among the great.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Tolkien - first picture of his genius


The cover of John Garth's pamphlet 'Tolkien at Exeter College' gives us the first picture of JRR Tolkien (in 1914) in which his genius is apparent... or, more exactly, a picture that is consistent-with some key aspects of Tolkien's genius.

The inset circular photograph of young Tolkien is a blow-up of the larger group photo; where Tolkien is situated at the extreme right of the back row.

What does this photograph tell us. That Tolkien had arrived late for the photo-shoot, and in some unorthodox fashion - since he could easily have been sat on the step in the front row on the left, where there is space; but he ended up standing apart from the main group - indeed setting himself apart from the main group.

Having squeezed himself into the photo at the back, Tolkien chose to stand apart from everyone else, leaning from the top step; almost hanging by his right hand from the trunk of a cultivated tree, with his left hand enclosing the bark affectionately. The face is difficult to read, but seems to proclaim confidence and a kind of defiance.

This the the photograph of a self-motivated nonconformist, a man ploughing his own furrow, listening to inner  - not a 'poseur' because, being at the back, nobody could see what he was doing; he was not showing-off, not making-a-point by his unorthodox stance (unlike like some of the chaps slouching in the second row!).

Tolkien's position and pose was an unconscious expression-of, rather than a public assertion-of, his independence and inner motivation.

Of course there is a lot more to being a genius than what we can see in this photograph, but some of the essential components are there, on display, aged 22.

 

Monday, 11 June 2018

The root of The Problem with the 1977 Silmarillion

John Garth (in Tolkien and the Great War - pages 279-80) puts his finger on the root of The Problem of the 1977, single volume Silmarillion; which is that when Tolkien was re-drafting stories, he did not work from the original text of the stories - such as we can now see presented in the later edition of Lost Tales; but instead he worked from a summary of the stories that he had prepared in 1925 for an old school teacher to whom Tolkien sent some of his work.

This created the basic character of the Silmarillion from then onwards - which is precisely that it reads like a Summary - not like 'the real thing'; everything is at a distance, and I am not engaged by it.

Or, to put it another way, the sections (except perhaps the first creation myth) are essentially 'annalistic' in style - rather like the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, or indeed the Appendicies of Lord of the Rings....

This, in itself, need not have been so damaging, except for the way that the 1977 Silmarillion is presented. The 1977 Silmarillion is without any feigned historical frame, implicitly presented as a arc-ing story; and implicitly as within-universe - yet without any context.

In sum, the 1977 Silmarillion is not presented as the (feigned historical) 'annals' of the legend, but instead as-if the sections were a kind of novel.

As I've written before; this could, in principle, easily be set right by a different presentation of the Silmarillion material.

The Silmarillion legendarium can never have the kind of 'mass appeal' of The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings; but I believe it could and should be made available in a 'within-universe' form similar to the Appendices; a form that is both more accessible, and less 'universe-hostile', than the detached and scholarly presentation of The History of Middle Earth.

 

Sunday, 10 June 2018

John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War (2003) - my audio book mini-review


Powerful and profound

One of the half-dozen best books ever written about Tolkien; and indeed one of the best books about friendship, war, and the formation and nature of a genius. 

This audio version is well read by the author, who has a rare gift for speaking poetry. 

Listening to Tolkien and the Great War moved me to tears more than once, despite that I already owned and knew the paper version - this brings an extra dimension.  

*

Note:

If you only read three books about Tolkien; this should be one of them (and Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle Earth (1982) should be one of the others.)

It is not just a wonderful biography of Tolkien; it is just one of the best (of many hundreds) of 'biographies' that I have read.

Tolkien and the Great War is not a full account of Tolkien's entire life; instead it operates in the sub-genre of specialised biography that focuses on a particular time and aspect of a person.

This focuses on the forces that shaped 'John Ronald's formative life in childhood, at school, as a university student, in the army and shortly afterwards; the thirty-ish years before he became the more familiar scholar and author 'Professor Tolkien'.

Close attention is given to Tolkien's early poetry (until his middle twenties he intended to become 'A Poet', and even submitted a volume of poetry hoping for publication); and the Lost Tales stories - which were later - albeit at some cost of concreteness, vividness and humour - shaped into the more familiar 'Silmarillion' narrative/s.   

One special fascination of the Lost Tales is their biographical applicability; the way that characters, places and incidents derive-from and map-onto Tolkien's life and reading. On the one hand this is a mark of their immaturity and rawness; on the other, it is what makes them worth our attention nowadays; above and beyond them being 'early drafts' of more achieved later works.  

My own special interest in Tolkien and the Great War is that it helped me to understand, actually to feel, the deep motivations of Tolkien's creative writing.


Thursday, 7 June 2018

Tolkien and The Machine


Melko's Machine-dragons invading Gondolin, by Roger Garland, as described in the Lost Tales and based on his personal experience of seeing the first tanks at The Somme


JRR Tolkien was hostile to what he termed The Machine - by which he meant some physical or social contrivance to attain an end directly; at the cost of being a mere model of reality, which is to say partial and distorted.

Exponents of The Machine in Tolkien's reality began as early as Melko in the Lost Tales (who later became Melkor-Morgoth), the late and corrupt Men of Numenor (who used magical technology to conquer Middle Earth, and to invade Valinor), and Saruman (with his mind of 'metal and wheels'). The One Ring is itself a Machine - promising the user a coercive short-cut to his desires

Tolkien was intensely suspicious of machines of any degree of complexity - his Shire Hobbits 'did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom'. Even the simplest of Machines, such as a bow and arrow, introduce new temptations (the ability to kill at a distance, and impersonally). 

Yet he recognised that even these simple machines could be a 'slippery slope' to evil. The greatest craftsmen of the Noldorian High Elves, Feanor (who made the Silmarils, the Palantiri, and invented elvish script) and Celebrimbor (who made the elven rings, but who aided Saruman in ring-lore) - were to a greater and lesser extent corrupted and seduced by the Machine.

Another Machine is bureaucracy (including the military) - the narrow specialisation and coordination, by coercion and bribing, of individuals to attain a single imposed purpose: this was what Saruman did first in his Empire and later to the Shire Hobbits. 

Even learning itself (and Tolkien was a professional scholar) is a Machine, and can corrupt - Saruman seems to have been corrupted mainly by studying 'the arts of the enemy' - initially in order to understand and better fight him.

I think Tolkien would, if pressed, even have regarded such Machines as writing and books, music and art, as fraught with peril, in the hands of Men. the High Elves love of such this-worldly things is so intense as to be corrupting, as the strive to stop change, never to forget, sinfully to hold on to that which ought to be let-go-of...

In sum, I think Tolkien regarded The Machine as a temporary mortal contrivance to go beyond Man's natural capacities, and therefore always corruptible.

The Machine is always incomplete and distorted, and Machines will be superseded in Heaven where Man will be raised to attain directly and wholly that which can at present only be approximated by insufficient contrivances.


Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Qoheleth Resources for your Inklings collection!


I've mentioned Richard Johnson's second-hand mail-order bookshop Qoheleth Resources before; but it is worth emphasising that this is a superb place to go for your Inklings needs.

In the past couple of weeks he has sent out his Inklings lists (available free on request) with probably several hundred books, magazines, CDs and casettes; all reasonably priced, and many a real bargain.

As well as picking up hard-back replacements for my tattered and disintegrating 1970s editions, replacing losses and the like; I always find something Inklings-esque that is new - indeed unheard-of - and that I want.

And for a beginner to build an Inklings collection from scratch; Qoheleth would be unbeatable.

Add to this that Richard is a Christian, a scholar, and a gentleman - and what could be better!

(Most of his books are indeed on Christian themes.)

He answers individual requests in a personal and helpful way.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Superversive Inklings - Notice of a new blog

Superversive Inklings

This is going to be run by L Jagi Lamplighter (author of the on-going Rachel Griffin series of fantasy novels). One of my essays is featured, and I hope others will appear there.

BTW: The word 'superversive' was made to be the opposite of 'subversive'.

 

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Who is the 'coolest' background character in Lord of the Rings?

I guess that everybody has their favourite? Mine is Imrahil - the Prince of Dol Amroth...

What man, and what a place that is!

beyond, in the great fief of Belfalas, dwelt Prince Imrahil in his castle of Dol Amroth by the sea, and he was of high blood, and his folk also, tall men and proud with sea-grey eyes. 

last and proudest, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, kinsman of the Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and a company of knights in full harness riding grey horses; and behind them seven hundreds of men at arms, tall as lords, grey-eyed, dark-haired, singing as they came.

foremost on the field rode the swan-knights of Dol Amroth with their Prince and his blue banner at their head. ‘Amroth for Gondor!’ they cried. ‘Amroth to Faramir!’ Like thunder they broke upon the enemy on either flank of the retreat

at their rear the banner of Dol Amroth, and the Prince. And in his arms before him on his horse he bore the body of his kinsman, Faramir son of Denethor, found upon the stricken field.

Tirelessly Gandalf strode from Citadel to Gate, from north to south about the wall; and with him went the Prince of Dol Amroth in his shining mail. For he and his knights still held themselves like lords in whom the race of NĂºmenor ran true. Men that saw them whispered saying: ‘Belike the old tales speak well; there is Elvish blood in the veins of that folk, for the people of Nimrodel dwelt in that land once long ago.’ And then one would sing amid the gloom some staves of the Lay of Nimrodel, or other songs of the Vale of Anduin out of vanished years.

from Dol Amroth came the harpers that harped most skilfully in all the land

Very much an aspiration, but much too cool for the likes of me... I am not worthy! 

(Note added - my son points out that what I was asking-about was really concerning a 'background' character - rather than the 'minor' character I originally wrote in the title... So I've changed it.)

Monday, 21 May 2018

Re-reading the Lindop biography of Charles Williams

I have been re-reading the biography of Charles Williams by Grevel Lindop, published in 2015, and which I reviewed at the time. I was surprised to notice that it was as much as three years since I read it; because since then I don't think I have seriously read (or re-read) any of Charles Williams's works - it seems that the biography all-but finished-off Charles Williams as a significant writer, for me...

Re-reading makes clear why. I find it an almost-literally painful experience to read this biography - except for the earliest chapters, concerning CW's childhood and youth. Once Williams has married, and had an unloved/ disliked son; and has engaged with the Rosy Cross ritual magic group, and especially when he begins his tedious and disgusting relationship with Phyllis Jones - he loses me.

The documentation of a recurrent, addictive, unresisted (indeed rationalised and celebrated) cycles of manipulative and exploitative, sadistic/ psychologically-vampiric relationships with young women - on the excuse that these energised the writing of poetry - is another seedy and sickening aspect. It is actively unpleasant to dwell in this 'world', I find.

And, in general, I find Williams to be a wholly dishonest person - in all the writings and all the reports of interactions, there is a person of total self consciousness; who never did a spontaneous action, never spoke or wrote an unguarded word...

Now, of course, this is a disease; it was (to some extent) a dispositional, inbuilt thing - but one can see that these vices were deliberately, effort-fully, developed and strengthened by Williams (especially by his use of magical rituals) - and always with the excuse of needing to do so, to write poetry...

In considering Charles Williams, everything hinges on the poetry... Yet I find the poetry, essentially, worthless - in the sense of not being poetry at all; and performing no essential function; doing nothing distinctive or indispensable...

I consider it to be contrived, pseudo-poetry; concocted from a talent for verse, and pretence. In this it is not unusual; because I consider very nearly all modern and modernist poetry to be of this kind - indeed almost everything that puts itself forward as highbrow poetry for the past century... real poetry is extremely rare (even among the output of real poets).

CW is an example of a very common post-romantic phenomenon - someone who wants to be a poet - but cannot discern poetry, therefore cannot know that they are not a poet (or else deny what they know: that they aren't) - there is a dependence on the evaluation of others.

Throughout his life, by the evidence or multiple letters, Williams never knows whether his work is any good; he cannot tell whether he has written well or not - he cannot discern poetry, which is the basis of being a poet (and a critic, for that matter).

(Astonishingly, CW seems never to have mentioned in print the best living Eng. Lang. poet of that era: Robert Frost. Since everybody knew all-about Frost at that time; this can only mean Williams was unable to discern Frost's poetic greatness.)

Most of CW's published poetry is off-the-cuff doggerel; some is deft rhyming; but his most prestigious poetry - in Taliessin Through Logres - was (Lindop reveals) an editorial collaboration with Ann Ridler... No real poetry can be an editorial collaboration, and this is not real poetry but a simulacrum in the modernist style (which is, itself, only very seldom and peripherally capable of real poetry).

As for CW's literary criticism - it is undermined by this same lack of discernment. More specifically, Williams is unable to detect the presence or absence of that special lyric quality that defines and distinguishes poetry. Probably this is linked with Williams being 'tone deaf', insensitive to and unable to hear music as music; or know when he was singing accurately - because, at root, poetry is song.

So, I am saying two things here; the first is that Charles Williams was overall not a good writer (not a poet at all); and secondly that this was related to an extremely deep and continuous pretentiousness, insincerity... dishonesty.

Lindop makes clear what was scattered throughout the previous biographical information - Charles Williams was a man who played roles all the time, with everybody, including himself - and if there was a real CW - a CW who was communicating-directly and spontaneously, a CW who dropped the pretence - then nobody ever seems to have seen it; nor does it ever appear in his writings.

It is also clear that Charles Williams was a man who suffered - all the time, hour by hour and day by day (you can see this in the photographs, back to childhood); and for that I feel very sorry. But how did he deal with it? It seems to me that in his twenties, Williams chose a path of play-acting, power-seeking, pleasure-seeking, and palliation; he tried to distract himself from himself,and from the human condition, by pathological busyness, pathological socialisation, strategies of self-indulgence... and this negated any possibility of genuine achievement as a writer, and indeed genuine friendship...

There were plenty of people who regarded themselves as good friends of CW, but nobody who CW regarded as a good friend. Everybody seems to have been hoodwinked by him, in one way or another - because he hoodwinked himself; how life was an endless process of hoodwinkings, 24/7.

Thus I return to my conclusion of the original review: the main interest of Charles Williams is the effect he had on others; and ultimately this reduces to the many ways that other people projected-onto him - saw in CW and his play-actings and writings what they wanted or needed.

Thus Charles Williams's best work is something of an ink-blot - there are potentially fertile ideas outlined, hinted-at; but never actually-actualised in the text. His characteristic ideas such as Romantic Theology, Exchange, Substituion...are interesting ideas, which he fails to develop interestingly. For example, he made romatic theology into a far-fetched system of symbolism; he made exchange and substitution into a quasi-bureaucratic system which he dictatorially imposed on his followers.

My favourite of his works, the novel The Place of the Lion is like this. It is a great idea for a novel - I've read it several times; but the reader has to make the novel out of the ideas... it isn't achieved. The novel is technically inept (at the level we find it hard to know who is speaking, and what is happening), and the climactic and key passages don't come-off. Yet, for Lewis and Tolkien this book was exactly what was needed when they came across it, and they were able to complete the novel in their own minds, in line with its aspirations, in a way that stimulated their own imaginations.

But it is no accident that Charles William's reputation essentially died with the man.


Sunday, 6 May 2018

Tolkien and fandom


When I first became interested in JRR Tolkien in the middle 70s, there was not much attention paid to him by the British mass media - but when there was, there was always some reference to the popularity in US college campuses, and to phenomena such as the 'Gandalf for President' lapel button, and graffiti along the lines of 'Frodo Lives'. Then The Lord of the Rings (LotR) movies in the early 2000s triggered another - much larger - wave of mass-, and the social-, media fandom.

When I consider the phenomenon of Tolkien popularity represented by the Gandalf for President button, I can find no relationship at all between that and what I value in Tolkien or LotR, with what is actually-in Tolkien; indeed the joke political slogan is the antithesis of what the LotR represents ex-plicitly, im-plicitly and every kind of plicitly... Saruman for US President/ Sauron for UN President would make a great deal more sense.

In their way, 'fans' of Tolkien are sincere; and may expend a great deal of time, money and effort in their fan activities. Yet, in the end it gets the participants nothing-at-all - it corrupts Tolkien rather than learning from him.

Fandom - but its appetite for novelty, and it mass nature, always corrupts; and always corrupts in the direction of prevalent mainstream ideology: whether that be 60s hippiedom, late 70s environmentalism, or - since the 80s and increasingly - the various facets of the sexual revolution, political correctness and 'social justice'.

Instead of learning-from Tolkien; it is quite normal for fans to read-into Tolkien whatever happens to be the current nihilism, hedonism, materialism, atheism... somehow fans find in Tolkien exactly what they seek - or else try (in effect) to 'teach' Tolkien about feminism, socialism, radical sexuality... whatever - for example via the vast mass of fan fiction (including 'slash' fiction) that quite explicitly inserts this kind of stuff into Tolkien's world.

Other fandoms are closely analogous - revealing that this is a property of fandom rather than being related to specific authors or their work. In Harry Potter, another work of Christian fantasy with traditional values at its heart; the main fan website was initially obsessed with the 'shipping' (romantic relationships between) the main characters, in all possible and inconceivable combinations. Later the web pages and fandoms were quite explicitly and systematically enlisted for a check-list of current social justice campaigns, such as agitation for same sex 'marriage' legislation. And the fans duly complied, with apparent enthusiasm and zeal.

Or Brandon Sanderson - I recently attended a talk, reading and book signing done by Sanderson; which was packed with hundreds of fans who turned-out and paid money to be there... and I say fans, because in the Q&A session every single one of the couple of dozen questions was related to the most trivial, ephemeral and superficial aspects of his work. There was not one single interesting, insightful, or challenging question asked by this mass of people; not the slightest indication that the novels were anything other than depictions of magic systems and 'cool' personalities.

Sanderson is an active Mormon, and all of his work is permeated with a serious consideration of religion and spirituality; both on the surface and as underlying structure. But it was clear that for Sanderson's fandom this was of sub-zero interest - invisible and irrelevant. 

The phenomenon of fandom is therefore at best trivial and fashion driven, there being more in common between fans (regardless of what they are fans-of) than between fans and the subject of their fanaticism. Fandom is corrupting and destructive of whatever is good in the authors and works that get caught-up by it; and in its advanced form, fandom embodies subversion and inversion of whatever is specific and distinctive in its subject matter; the aim being to reinterpret and rewrite it in line with currently-dominant, top-down, manipulative social campaigns that ultimately emanate from (and are funded by) the global Establishment elites.

So the phenomenon of fandom is a product of evil purpose; and has a malign influence all-round. No wonder that the elderly Tolkien was so confused and appalled by its first stirrings in the 1960s, and by the 'Gandalf for President'-type expressions.

Journalists thought that this was 'ungrateful' of him, because masses of fans led to more sales and more money in Tolkien's pocket.

But Tolkien was not a 'professional author' - he wrote from the heart and for the highest motivations. And he realised that fandom had nothing to do with him or his work; but on the contrary was the attempted obliteration of his work, the attempt to harness his books for a dark agenda.