Sunday, 19 May 2019

Video interview with Bruce Charlton: The vital relevance of The Inklings


Keri Ford has done a half hour video interview with me on the subject of The Inklings, including many subjects such as the development of this blog, the spiritual meaning of The Inklings, and their importance for the future.

Thanks to Keri for this opportunity to expound my opinions in this medium for the first time!
 

Friday, 17 May 2019

The first enchantment of Lord of the Rings

Ever since my first reading, the episode when Frodo, Sam and Pippin meet the High Elves (led by Gildor Inglorien) in the Shire, walk with them, and are given an outdoor feast at Woody End, has been one of my very favourites in the book. I now perceive that I have been responding to the first enchantment of the story, as experienced by the protagonists.

For Sam and Pippin, this is the first time they have met elves at all; for Frodo, it is implied this is his first meeting with High elves; those elves thousands of years old, who were born in the undying lands and dwelt with the gods - and who regard themselves as exiles in Middle Earth.

The enchantment is perceived in the beauty of the singing, the language, and the light (reflected starlight and a glow like that of the not-yet-risen moon) that surrounds the elves as they walk through the Shire.

At first the elvish conversation is rather superficial, indeed more than a little facetious and condescending (since elves tend to regard mortal hobbits as children); but quite quickly a tone of seriousness enters, as the elves realise that the hobbits are being pursued by Nazgul, and therefore 'great matters' are afoot.

The feast is permeated with a magical quality - the food and drink are better than mortals can contrive; and an act of enchantment is performed by Gildor on Frodo, which has the immediate and permanent effect of making Frodo into an elf-friend (a change that is immediately visible to The Wise) and a prophetic dreamer.

I find the combination of The Shire - an 'English' countryside very familiar to me from childhood - and elvish magic to have irresistible appeal.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Many Mansions: Charles Williams, Modernity, and the Mass - guest post by John Fitzgerald

There is much to be gained, I feel, in reading and reflecting on the work of Charles Williams in the midst of the political, social and cultural turbulence of our times. His concepts of co-inherence, substitution and exchange form, to my mind, a razor-sharp riposte to both the atomised individualism of the free-market right and the divisive identity politics of the liberal left.

 The individual, first and foremost, is sacrosanct for Williams. Personhood, for him, cannot be subsumed into the collectivities of race (Fascism) or class (Communism). But this by no means makes Williams an individualist. The person is a unique, unrepeatable being with a high and holy calling. But he or she is not a random, free-floating agent, shorn of ties to the past and future and operating in a sealed off, customised bubble of the self. No. The individual, in a society which genuinely aims at the Good, forms part of an organic whole, grounded in history and oriented towards the Divine. Through participating in a deep-rooted project which transcends the individual self, men and women are saved from alienation and despair and given purpose and direction. In service we find our freedom - a wider, more comprehensive good, which neither obliterates nor idolises the individual self, but allows what is unique and unrepeatable in each of us to flourish and shine.

Everything co-inheres for Williams, not just the political and social realms, but the whole universe. There is no boundary between the living and the dead and the natural and the super-natural (or 'arch-natural' as Williams called it). We are all interlinked and interconnected. The dead pray for the living as the living pray for the dead, and the natural and arch-natural worlds form one and the same reality.

This is what Williams depicts in his poem Taliessin on the Death of Virgil (from his 1938 collection Taliessin Through Logres), where those who have drawn sustenance from Virgil's poetry down the centuries save him from post-mortem oblivion and guide him towards salvation:

In that hour they came; more and faster, they sped
to their dead master; they sought him to save
from the spectral grave and the endless falling,
who had heard, for their own instruction, the sound of his calling.
There was intervention, suspension, the net of their loves,
all their throng's songs:
Virgil, master and friend,
holy poet, priest, president of priests,
prince long since of all our energies' end,
deign to accept adoration, and what salvation
may reign here by us, deign of goodwill to endure,
in this net of obedient loves, doves of your cote and wings,
Virgil, friend, lover, and lord.

Virgil was fathered of his friends.
He lived in their ends.
He was set on the marble of exchange.

There is a marvellous outpouring of gratitude here for one who gave so much to so many but now lies helpless - a mutuality, reciprocity and relationally which we in the contemporary West would do well to tune into and put into practice. But even if Williams' ideas were successfully transposed to the political and social spheres, it would still (one imagines) take decades to reorientate society from today's dominant materialist paradigm to this generous, all-encompassing vision of the visible and invisible working in tandem for the common good.

The buffered, 'secular self' of post-Enlightenment modernity acts as a brake on human flourishing. In denying the reality of the arch-natural it cuts us off from the Divine and stifles our potential. It serves as a limit rather than a liberation, and for meaningful change to occur, in either the individual or the corporate realms, this reductionist barrier has to be dismantled.

This is where Williams comes into his own as an unveiler of the sacramental nature of reality and the deep pattern of meaning and purpose woven into creation. This quality is embedded in everything he wrote - novels, theology, literary criticism and poetry - but I want to single out in this brief essay the way he portrays the Mass in his poem Taliessin at Lancelot's Mass (the concluding poem of Taliessin Through Logres) and the final chapter of his novel War in Heaven (1930). The Mass is especially important because natural elements (bread and wine) become imbued with arch-natural significance and there is a profoundly Williamsesque intertwining of levels. Taliessin at Lancelot's Mass paints an evocative picture of solidarity between the living and the dead and a renewed sense of purpose and direction after the passing of Arthur. Logres is broken and has sunk into Britain, but that is a minor detail in this great poem of reparation and fraternity, which gathers the whole Arthurian community - living and deceased - in thanksgiving for what has gone before and in anticipation of the restoration, at the appointed hour, of God's holy kingdom. It is a poem which encourages us to see further than the premises of a materialist science allow and to feel ourselves part of a wider community of seen and unseen presences:

In the ritual before the altar Lancelot began to pass;
all the dead lords of the table were drawn from their graves to the Mass;
they stood, inward turned, as shields on a white rushing deck,
Between Nimue of Broceliande and Helayne of Carbonek ...

Then at the altar We sang in Our office the cycle of names
of the great attributed virtues; the festival of flames
fell from new sky to new earth; the light in bands
of bitter glory renewed the imperial lands.

At the end of War in Heaven, the legendary Grail Priest and King, Prester John, celebrates a Mass of the Holy Grail (or Graal, as Williams calls it) in thanks for the rescue of a four year old boy, Adrian, the son of Lionel and Barbara Rackstraw, from black magicians who also aimed to destroy the Grail itself. Those attending the Mass - the Duke of the North Ridings, for instance - become aware of other presences around them:

The Duke leaned forward a little in perplexity; he saw the forms with which he was acquainted, but here and there, only always just to one side or in some corner, he seemed to see other forms. They had vanished in a moment, yet they had been there. He had caught certain of the faces which he knew in the great gallery of the ancestors in the Castle, and other faces more antique and foreign than these, a turbaned head, a helmed and armoured shape, outlandish robes, and the glint of many crowns. They had vanished, and he saw Adrian plunge to his feet and go to the celebrant's side. And clear and awful to his ears their voices floated.

Then comes a moment of radiant luminosity when the veil of perception is lifted, time and space are transcended, and Lionel, Barbara and the Duke are shown a world of three-dimensional grandeur and depth, as in C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle, when, in the final chapter, the protagonists see all the countries in all the worlds, including Narnia and England, jutting out like spurs from the towering mountains of Aslan's country:

He (Prester John) stood. He moved his hands. As if in benediction He moved them, and at once the golden halo that had hung all this while over the Graal dissolved and dilated into spreading colour; and at once life leapt in all those who watched, and filled and flooded and exalted them. "Let us make man," he sang, "in our image, after Our likeness," and all the church of visible and invisible presences answered with a roar: "In the image of God created He him: male and female created He them." All things began again to be. At a great distance Lionel and Barbara and the Duke saw beyond Him, as he lifted up the Graal, the mixing universe of stars, and then one flying planet, and then fields and rooms and a thousand remembered places, and all in light and darkness and peace.

'The privileged place of encounter,' wrote Pope Francis in 2015, 'is the caress of mercy of Jesus Christ on my sins ... It is thanks to the embrace of mercy that one feels like answering and changing, and from which a different life can flow.' This is undoubtedly true, particularly on a personal level, yet I feel we also need a sense of the vast array of spiritual forces lined up on our side - the serried ranks of angels and archangels and the Communion of Saints, who watch over us and encourage us at all times.

There have been novels and films aplenty, over the years, about the demonic influences pressing against us, but little concerning the powers for good who work invisibly for the salvation and transfiguration of individuals and nations. This is precisely the kind of awareness we need at this time - a breaking open of the small, empirical self and a growing consciousness of the all-embracing pattern that holds us, nurtures us and makes us active participants in a meaningful universe.

A happy, fulfilled society should be a partnership between those here now, those gone before us, and those yet to come. But such wide-ranging vision will always feel beyond us if we cannot perceive the spiritual reality that surrounds and enfolds us. 'In my father's house are many mansions,' says Christ in St. John's Gospel. There is no-one better, for where we are now in history, at pointing the way to these mansions than Charles Williams.

I am sure that as time goes on people will feel increasingly trapped and boxed-in by the bureaucratic, technocratic cage of hyper-modernity. I hope and pray that their search for an 'off-ramp' leads them to Charles Williams and that his collapsing of borders between the natural and arch-natural worlds gives them the hope, sustenance and clarity of vision that they need. Williams' finest hour, perhaps, might be just around the corner.


John Fitzgerald blogs at Deep Britain and Ireland


Thursday, 9 May 2019

The temporary breakdown in Tolkien's marriage in 1946?

I remember when I first read Humphrey Carpenter's 1977 biography of JRR Tolkien, that it heavily hinted at some unspecified marital problems of a fairly serious type; and I have been waiting for the past several decades to learn about these in more detail.

I now feel that these can be pinpointed to a period in late 1945 to early 1946.

I have located this significant marital disharmony at the exact same that Tolkien seems to have had a 'nervous breakdown', with enforced absence from work; although I am unsure of the direction of causality.

Overall, I suspect that it was Tolkien's nervous breakdown that caused, or exacerbated, the problem to the extent that that he and Edith decided to spend some time apart, while he recovered his state of mind.

There seems to have been a build up of problems with Tolkien speaking about this to Warnie Lewis in December 1945, and period of separation in March-April of 1946 which Tolkien called a rest-cure. This had Christopher and his father living in a pub, while Edith and (presumably) Priscilla went to Bournmouth.

This time apart (variously described as ten days or three weeks) seems to have been helpful; and I don't know of any other periods when separation was needed.

I have always assumed that the nature and chronology of the Tolkien marital problems was known about for sure by some Tolkien scholars who have had access to unpublished material, including Humphrey Carpenter; but had not been made public presumably due to the sensitivities of living people.

Is any reader able to confirm or refute my inferences on this matter? If you would rather not make your response public, then I can be emailed at the address in the sidebar.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Tolkien and reincarnation

Although reincarnation is firmly excluded from his devoutly practised Roman Catholic Christianity, as being Not True; Tolkien seems to have had a spontaneous and intuitive belief in the reality of some version of the very-broadly-defined possibility of deceased souls (or significant aspects of them) returning in different bodies.

This seems the likeliest reason for the repeated occurrence of reincarnation - not only in his fictions, but also in remarks he made in private life.

In his fiction; elves are able to reincarnate if killed - although this is only made clear in posthumously published material; Glorfindel being an example. He was himself killed while killing a Balrog at the fall of Gondolin, and he returns to Middle Earth to dwell with Elrond and perform the role of saving Frodo's life at the Fords of Bruinen.

In his posthumously-published writings (The History of Middle Earth sequence, edited by Christopher Tolkien) we find Tolkien grappling with the logistics of elvish reincarnation. But this seems like a surface concern with the logic of the system - underlying which is Tolkiens intuitive conviction that elves do reincarnate. Since elves are a type of human, both being 'children of Illuvatar' and interbreeding, the implications are obvious. 

Among Dwarves, the primal ancestor Durin is known to have reincarnated seven times - although the  details are unclear, it seems that this really was the soul of Durin reappearing after having died. It seems to be implied that Durin is an unique instance among Dwarves; however it establishes the principle of possibility. 

Arwen is also a sort-of reincarnation of Luthien; who had become a Man and died - although Arwen cannot have been a literal reincarnation for that reason (she must have had a different soul). In this respect Arwen resembles several characters among Men who seem to be 'throwbacks' to earlier ages; by a process that is not reincarnation but shares some aspects. For example, Denethor, Faramir and (especially) Aragorn are 'pure' Numenoreans, that have - by some non-genetic heredity - been born in a later age, separated by many generations from similar forbears.

In Real Life, Tolkien sometimes stated profound convictions of a similar kind in relation to modern Men. In particular, he sometimes expressed a belief that each person has an innate real-language, which may differ from any language he had actually encountered (see scattered refs in JRR Tolkien's Letters, 1981. Edited by H Carpenter and C Tolkien). This conviction is given more detail, while being lightly fictionalised, in the discussions of The Notion Club Papers (published in The History of Middle Earth, Volume 9).

Furthermore, in regard to himself (and presumably validated by an inner, intuitive, sense of knowledge) Tolkien stated that he inherited (but he did not seem to mean 'genetically', but by some other mode of inheritance) some very specific traits from his mother's side of the family (the Suffields). These include a special affinity with the West Midlands of England, and the historical languages of its Old- and Middle-English dialects (see Letters).

(Tolkien seems to have regarded his Tolkien and Suffield ancestors rather analogously to Bilbo's Baggins and Took ancestors - in both cases the surname was misleading, and the maternal line was primary.) 

There are other example; but I think there is enough here to conclude that Tolkien was fascinated by the mysterious, spiritual ways in which personal characteristics were transmitted down generations. And that he probably believed that it was possible - even if it did not happen often, or 'nowadays' - for a soul to be reborn with a new body.

And further, that Tolkien found this to be a fascinating and attractive possibility - so much so, that he risked - and attracted (Letters 153) criticism from his co-religionists by expressing these beliefs.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Tolkien (the movie) - 2019

The new Tolkien 'biopic' movie was rather frustrating. The first half was extremely good; not least in its ambition - there was a real attempt to make the movie about friendship, language, Tolkien's love of Edith and other similarly important things. This was done in a highly creative way, resulting in a film unlike any other I have seen.

The whole atmosphere and style was original and enjoyable; and some of the scenes - especially of the school and the boys' 'club' were really delightful. The plot was only loosely based on reality, but the spirit was really quite authentic.

The makers even manged to illustrate Tolkien's particular way of making and exploring languages in a highly effective and enjoyable fashion.

So the 'set-up' was very good, and I was beginning to hope that this might be a first rate movie.

But in the second part of the movie, it pretty much fell to pieces - notably in a fantasy nightmare Battle of the Somme sequence which was implausible, boring and embarrassing.

But in general, the narrative lost its grip, the plot strayed further and further from reality (including what all Tolkien lovers had been dreading - the obligatory false-fabricated homosexual intrusion; albeit mercifully understated and brief). The ending looked very anachronistic, felt perfunctory and was unsatisfying.

Overall, Tolkien (the movie) was worth watching, and there is plenty of evidence that it was an ambitious and sincere attempt at producing a story loosely-based on Tolkien's early life and most passionate motivations. But it is easier to begin well than to end gratifyingly; and this movie began well and then fizzled-out.


Note: The definitive account of Tolkien's early life in the period covered by the biopic, is Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth - which is undoubtedly one of the very best books ever written about Tolkien.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Fantasy assists in the evolution of Creation - Tolkien speaks, and then obfuscates...

The respected Inklings scholar David Llewellyn Dodds (who I am lucky to have as a regular commenter here!) has noticed an extremely important phrase that Tolkien devised for the second draft (Manuscript B) of his Essay On Fairy Stories - which is cited on page 247 of Tolkien on Fairy Stories edited by Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A Anderson (2008).

I will give the paragraph leading up to the phrase. Note: There is an opened bracket which is not closed:

But the presence of the Greatest does not (in God's Kingdom depress the small. Redeemed Man is still Man. Stories and Fantasies still go on, should go on. The Gospels have not abrogated Legends: they have hallowed them. As they have not abrogated motherhood, or fatherhood, or supper. Horses have been ennobled by Pegasus: and still may be. For all we know, indeed we may fairly guess, in Fantasy we may actually be assisting in the evolution of Creation.

In Fantasy we may actually be assisting in the evolution of Creation.

This is a clear indication that Tolkien regarded the proper use of imagination - specifically in his own (and other people's) 'subcreation' of Fantasy (such as Fairy Stories) to be a participation in the ongoing divine work of creation.

In other words, Tolkien is saying that subcreation is part of Creation; and this implies that subcreation is not something that merely happens inside people's minds or brains; but that subcreation actually changes 'objective reality' in a permanent fashion.


But of course, Manuscript B of the essay On Fairy Stories is 'only' a draft - and the wording was changed for the final text - as published variously in Essays Presented to Charles Williams (1947), and republished in Tree and Leaf, The Monsters and the Critics and other collections. I will first put the Manuscript B sentence, then the equivalent sentence from the final draft, as given on page 79 of Flieger and Anderson, 2008, ibid:

MS-B: For all we know, indeed we may fairly guess, in Fantasy we may actually be assisting in the evolution of Creation.

FINAL: So great is the bounty with which [Man] has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. 


Having MS-B in front of us for reference, I think we can see that, Tolkien does not necessarily change the substantive meaning of the sentence - but he does make its meaning much less clear.

Indeed, the final and published version looks rather like obfuscation - a deliberate concealment of meaning! Because it is not at all clear what 'the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation' actually means.

'Multiple enrichment' is clear enough, albeit rather imprecise; but 'effoliation' is a word so obscure that it is not listed in my Longman's Dictionary nor even in the two-volume Shorter Oxford Dictionary. According to some sources, it is an archaic term that means something rather like 'defoliation' - the removing or falling-off of leaves from a plant.

However, the full Oxford English Dictionary defines the obsolete verb effoliate as 'to open into leaf' with a citation from the 1671 Anatomy of Plants by Nehemiah Grew (see discussion in comments below). So, this was an archaic term, known to only a handful of lexicographical experts, and discoverable only by those with access to major libraries... so, why would Tolkien use it in these circumstances?


At the very least, we could infer that in placing the word effoliation at the climax of his conclusion, the penultimate sentence of the whole essay; Tolkien was not aiming at being clearly understood! Quite the opposite.

A further significant change is in altering 'Creation' with a capital 'C' to lower-case 'creation'. With the capital, Creation implies divine making, without it... well the situation is ambiguous - it might refer to divine creation, but it might instead refer to any other kind of human creative activity.

On the one hand, to enrich Creation would be to participate with God in his handiwork; but to enrich creation might be merely to add to the stock of human arts and crafts.


Furthermore, the phrase 'assisting in the evolution of Creation' deserves notice. The evolution of creation implies change in Creation through time, and implies that Creation really does change - that God's Creation is significantly different now from the past. And the word 'assisting' suggests that this evolved difference is partly due to a positive contribution from Man.

This apparently implies that Man has (by Fantasy) added-to the goodness of God's Creation. But by dropping 'assisting' and 'evolution' from the final version; these potentially heretical implications are deleted. 


It is up to the reader to interpret what was going on here; but my understanding is that Tolkien believed what he wrote in Manuscript B (as do I!) - and was quite deliberately (by using an extremely obscure term in an unconventional way) throwing-up clouds of concealing dust in the final and published version - presumably an act of self-censorship, perhaps done in order to avoid accusations of unorthodoxy, or even heresy.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

For Tolkien, Subcreation is a type of real - objective - creation

When, in the essay On Fairy Stories, JRR Tolkien discusses Subcreation, which is what he terms the world-building Faerie fantasy he was then engaged upon in Lord of the Rings; he does so in an explicit relationship to the primary creative activity of God.

What an extraordinarily audacious comparison! - especially from a devout and traditionalist Roman Catholic. Just think! Tolkien is comparing his writing to God's creation of... everything. And not just comparing, but asserting that his writing is a subtype of the same general activity.

This suggests that Tolkien did not regard his writing as 'merely' something that could entertain; and even attributing a educational and inspiring effect seems insufficient to account for 'Subcreation' if it is being assumed that this occurs only in the minds of Men and is temporary.

The activities of the Notion Club (written about 1945-6), with their fictionalised Inklings personae seem to confirm that Tolkien - covertly, inexplicitly - likely regarded imaginative, truthful writing as potentially having an objective effect on the real world.

The Notion Club are engaged in a variety of Subcreative activities - writing stories and poems, and engaging in types of meditation and lucid dreaming. And the effect is to create a physical link with the drowning of Numenor - such that the massive storm is 'channeled' through this imaginative-link into the modern Atlantic, where it assaults the West coast of Ireland and Britain, causing damage and flooding even in Oxford.

The question is whether this was 'only' fiction, and 'not really true' from Tolkien's point of view; or whether perhaps he was using fiction to present his deepest beliefs in a way that avoided any suspicion of conflict with the official Roman Catholic theology which he whole-heartedly affirmed.

I am confident of the latter - I think there is a great deal of evidence consistent with Tolkien using the Notion Club Papers to reveal, at a remove, some of his most heartfelt convictions. This also seems confirmed by some of the comments by Tolkien concerning the Lord of the Rings, in letters to readers written after its publication.

Tolkien believed, therefore, that it was possible for fantasy to be truth-full, and for this truth to have 'real world' and objective effects - working via the minds of Men, but not confined to the minds of men.

And this is what he meant by the term Subcreation. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Review of The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson


I have recently finished my fourth or fifth read-of/ listen-to The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (published in 2013) - which has taken its place as one of a handful of children's fantasy books that I genuinely love (others in this select group being The Hobbit, Narnia, Wind in the Willows, and The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander).

The Thing about The Rithmatist is that it is technically unfinished; as the book was intended to be the first of a trilogy. And in reality is never can be finished - at least not in the same fresh carefree style of this first volume.

Brandon Sanderson tried to write a second volume, but apparently got blocked by worries/ threats relating to political correctness - he calls them sensitive topics - apparently about writing about a re-imagined history of Native Americans. If there is one thing that absolutely blocks writing in a fresh and carefree way, it is trying to be sensitive about the 'concerns' of evilly-motivated Leftist activists...

So even if the trilogy gets completed in terms of plot and event, it cannot now be done in the style of the first volume (not least due to a seven plus year gap in which Branderson has published a very large number of other works).

Luckily, The Rithmatist works just fine as a stand-alone volume. There is a lot of humour, likeable characters, adventure and peril - set in a 'clockpunk' universe with a highly original yet convincing hard-magic system, based on animated chalk pictures (!).

It has, like Tolkien, a wonderful sense of 'depth' to the story - with all kinds of convincing hints of a deep backstory; including serious religious elements - since, unusually for a modern fantasy - there is a very Christian-like religion at the heart of the story (Sanderson is an active Mormon).

Best of all, The Rithmatist has a Good Heart; it is a warm and humane book - as must be all those books that I really cherish. 

Saturday, 13 April 2019

The name Lowden in the Notion Club Papers - a dissent from John Garth

John Garth has speculated that the name Lowden - of the character in the Notion Club Papers - was derived from a place name near Nottingham, England - as follows:

I happened to be showing [my mother] a map of the area just east of Nottingham. This is the location of the village of Gedling where Tolkien was staying when he wrote ‘The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star’. Rather randomly, my mother read out the name of a neighbouring village, Lowdham. L-O-W-D-H-A-M: the distinctive spelling matches the character’s surname, though no one seems to have made the connection between the two until now. I’m told by Andrew H. Morton, author of the excellent focused study Tolkien’s Gedling 1914, that the village of Lowdham would have been a pleasant spot, just the right distance for a Sunday walk from Gedling. So Lowdham of the Notion Club not only speaks Tolkien’s memory of the 1914 Éarendel discovery, but is named for the immediate area of the poem’s composition. It’s also worth noting that on the fake title page Tolkien drew for ‘The Notion Club Papers’ (Sauron Defeated 154), the date of publication is 2014. Surely here he was thinking consciously, as we are now, of the centenary of Middle-earth, and identifying its beginning as the poem he wrote on 24 September 1914. The light of Éarendel shines throughout the external history of Middle-earth as surely as it shines through the internal history, going from the Two Trees all the way to Frodo’s star glass.

Since this speculation has been repeated elsewhere, I think it is worth recording my dissent from this derivation which I noted in the comments, but which did not elicit a response:

Against this is the fact that the *earliest* spelling was Loudham, with a ‘u’ – emphasizing the idea that he was ‘loud’ (like Dyson). You may be right but I had always (vaguely) assumed that re-spelling Loudham with with a ‘w’ was just adopted to make the name less crudely ‘Dickensian’ (i.e. the novelistic convention by which people’s names reflect their distinguishing characteristic).

My point is that the spelling Lowden came after the spelling Loudham (as mentioned by Christopher Tolkien in the Introduction, page 150) - so that it is the origin of Loudham that needs explaining, not Lowdham. And therefore that the place near Nottingham has nothing to do with the case.

On the other side - and supporting Garth's original argument, as a philologist, it is possible that Tolkien was going by the sound of names rather than by the spelling; and on that basis there is 'no difference' between Lowdham and Loudham.

However, I think it is unlikely and that Loudham was named as a joke on the (original) 'loudness' of voice and personality that was a defining characteristic of Hugo Dyson - the Inkling who Loudham was intended to reference, in the earliest drafts. But that as the Notion Club character developed and became deeper and more significant (and quite different from Dyson), the 'corniness' (or over-obviousness) of such a name became inappropriate, and was 'disguised' by respelling it.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Why is Paul Kocher's Master of Middle Earth (from 1972) 'still' one of the best books about Tolkien's work?

Paul Kocher's Master of Middle Earth is one of the handful of very best works of Tolkien scholarship - 'yet' it is by far the earliest; published in 1972 during Tolkien's life, and before The Silmarillion (1977), before the biography, letters, chronology and the many posthumous volumes edited by Christopher Tolkien.

This is an interesting fact; because it demonstrates something of the nature of genuinely great literary criticism. It clearly shows that the limiting factor on the quality of literary criticism is the person writing it - his ability and motivations. This turns out to be more important than the person's access to 'material'; and it explains why the 'age of the internet' and a massive increase in the accessibility of information has done Nothing Whatsoever to expand the quantity of high-quality literary scholarship.

From the evidence of this book (I have not yet read any of his other writings) Kocher was clearly an exceptional man - intelligent, thoughtful, and deep. Furthermore, he writes from a shared Christian perspective, he shares Tolkien's assumptions more fully - I think - than any other of the major Tolkien scholars and critics. 

Master of Middle Earth has a density of insights that is outstanding, yet unobtrusive, elegant. He seems never to be merely summarising, there is nothing perfunctory - nothing for the sake of appearances. Everything said seems to have a reason and importance. Thus a slim paperback of 200 pages manages to cover a great deal of ground.

And like all the best critical writing, it is worth reading for its own sake. The chapter on Cosmic Order is one of the best discussions of providence and free will that I have seen anywhere; and indirectly a clarification of the deep and fatal flaw of our modern materialist society that rejects creation and tries (but fails) to live coherently in an accidental and purposeless universe. The chapter on Aragorn has all kinds of wisdom about the nature of goodness, heroism and authority - as well as being a wonderful account of the character and his development.

This book was written immediately after Kocher retired from a distinguished academic career, mostly at Stanford; and seems to have been written for pure love, and from a very personal engagement.

Freed from working responsibilities; he is unselfconscious about ignoring literary convention and consensus. So that Kocher greatly admires Tolkien the poet; and attends closely to his three longer, free-standing works - Imran, the Homecoming of Boerhtnoth..., and the Lay of Aotrou and Itroun (still hardly known). And on the other hand, he doesn't much like The Hobbit; and is mostly critical of its faults - deploring the way that it gets linked with the Lord of the Rings.

The permanent value of Kocher's book reminded me why the very best of old scholarship, biography and criticism - Samuel Johnson or ST Coleridge on Shakespeare, for instance - is never superseded by the most recent and comprehensive work.

The older writers are, nearly always, wiser, more intelligent, and better motivated - and write for the amateur enthusiast with general interests. Whereas the moderns are nearly-all lesser individuals; writing for professional advancement; seeking to impress appointment and promotions committees; and wanting approval from the peer review cartels that award prizes and honours. 
 

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Noel Appleby - the average, archetypal hobbit

Two of my favourite scenes from the movie version of Lord of the Rings involve the actor Noel Appleby (credited as Everard Proudfoot) playing an un-named hobbit whose archetypal character frames the action of the film between the arrival of Gandalf and the return of the four hero hobbits after the quest.

Watch from 3:40:


And:



This is really excellent directing and acting; because these little scenes carry a great deal of weight.

Due to the story cuts involved in making the screenplay - these brief visual statements were needed to illustrate what the average hobbit thought about wizards, magic and the like at the beginning.

And, at the end, Mr Appleby had to show - quickly and effectively - that life in The Shire had not been at all affected by the War of the Ring. (In the movie version, not the book). And that Frodo, Pippin, Merry and Sam were regarded as just a bunch of prodigals returned; whose clothes and manners all-too-obviously showed our Everyman hobbit that the 'heroes' had developed much too high an opinion of themselves.

As Tolkien himself said - and embodied in the text - most hobbits would be pretty uninteresting to live among. Sam was the closest of the four adventurers to the average type; but his character was raised and ennobled by his fascination with elves and wonders - and his aspiration for 'higher things'.

Take that away - and you get Everard of the Proudfoots... or should I say Proud-feet?

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Secret cult of the White Hand (Tolkien-themed surreal-satire)

A simple household candle... or is it?

Few have yet noticed the sinister resurgence of those who revere the name of Saruman.

I became aware of the problem some years ago when a shiny black pillar was erected near to my place of work, and I realised it was a coded reference (a 'dog whistle' as it were) to the Tower of Orthanc. All easily deniable, of course - indeed the pillar was topped by a signpost - yet the dark sympathies were obvious to the sensitive eye, trained by years of being the unacknowledged victim of microaggressions.

We all know that Saruman was the Worst Person Ever; but to hear these cultists, he was a man 'ahead of his time', with 'some good ideas'. 'At least he was aiming in the right direction', they will say - pleading that the man was 'misunderstood'.

That, at least, is as far as they will go in public; but in private it's another matter. There is, indeed a covert Neo-Orthanc party; meeting in shady corners of the internet and seedy corners of our universities. Here, in what they imagine to be 'private', some of the more extremist (or perhaps just more honest?) will exchange their real feelings about their hero.

For these fanatics, Saruman's only 'fault' was that he happened to be on the losing side; and was defeated by an unsavoury colation of tree giants and reactionaries. But so far as his visionary politics goes? Well, that they believe was wholly A Good Thing.

They will cite his advanced ideas on destroying the 'Nordic' races, such as the Rider of Rohan, and replacing them with his mixed Master Race of the Urak Hai - who blended (according to these misguided but dangerous cultists) 'the best' qualities of Dunlander Men and Orcs. Hence the symbolism of the severed White Hand and the cloak of 'many colours'...


If you have been unaware of all this, then I am sorry to disturb your peace of mind; but it is necessary to know what is going-on if we are to resist, and hopefully, defeat it.

Once you realise, you will see the signs everywhere, crudely disguised - not only (albeit most explicitly) white-ish hands in various positions and poses; but black shiny long things, things with shifting colours, endless visual references to their hero's hat (pointy triangular things), or his soothing seductive voice (soothing, seductive things)...


The reason I raise this is that me and some mates have started to organise riots and beatings of people we suppose to be in some way connected with the Neo-Orthanc tendency. We have a cool name - Antisar - and there seems to be no shortage of money to pay for our costumes, bike lock batons and coach rides to city centres.

Some foreign guy with a funny accent always foots the bill and is very encouraging - although the single red eye in the centre of his head is disconcerting until you get used to it.

Don't worry about getting into trouble: we all wear masks or headscarves (I told you it was cool!) and nobody ever makes us take them off.

Nor will you be ignored; the mass media are always there before we are, and they are always on our side and can relied upon to conceal any (rare) instances when brothers or sisters get over-enthusiastic or indiscriminate in a good cause.


Remember: when it comes to Neo-Orthancs, they are everywhere and they are evil; and anyone who hates them is therefore, by definition, Good.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Fantasy is a literary genre

From about fortyfive years of experience, since I read Lord of the Rings (LotR), I agree with Tolkien's opinion (offered in On Fairy Stories) that fantasy is essentially a literary form.

After I read LotR, I tried to repeat or extend the experience by seeking in other art forms. At that time, there was not much material (that I could access, anyway) but I eagerly looked at such posters and pictures I could discover - including those by Tolkien himself.

But I found almost all of them unsatisfactory; and of those I did like (such as the work of Pauline Baynes) I would not say that they added to my experience of the books, or increased its depth - it was more a matter of taking the edge off my hunger. Tolkien's own pictures are often very good, but not in the sense of amplifying what he had done in the books. None of them looked like the real places (or people).

I have always found the musical side unsatisfactory too. My search began with medieval and folk music; and while I did develop a taste for these forms, I could never find anything which I felt fitted into the world of LotR - nothing that could have been perfomed in that world. Since then this has not changed. I never find that any musical setting genuinely fits the world of the book. Although I really enjoy Howard Shore's music from the movies (and own CDs of both the soundtrack and orchestral suite) - this is quite separate from my experience of the books. Certainly I cannot imagine Shore's music actually being sung or played in Middle Earth. The same applies to the way that songs are performed in audiobooks, and audio dramatisations adapting the novels; they may be good, but never 'fit'.

As for the matter of visual dramatic adaptation itself - again it is different. When Middle Earth is visually depicted in a movie or drama, the primary and specific fantasy element is closed-off rather than deepened. The LotR movies are about as good as movies can be - but there is a great gulf between fantasy in movies, and literary fantasy.

Literary fantasy is capable of much greater depth and active-power than movies - because reading a fantasy is (potentially) a collaboration, while watching an movie is (mostly) a passive and immersive experience. Now, clearly many people read novels as substitute movies; and want to be 'drawn in' and pulled along'; they call a desirable novel a 'page turner' and are desperate to reach the end and know what happened.

But the best novels, and the best fantasy, is much more than that; which is why we always want to re-read the best work, and engage with it/ think about it rather than 'lose ourselves' in it. I am, of course, aware that there are many/ most people who never re-read - but there are many/ most people who simply 'consume' LotR; and at most have fantasies 'about' it, or 'based-on' it - rather than getting from it the special quality that fantasy offers. And there are people who have that kind of 'exploitative' relationship to all books.

The kind of ideal, active engagement I am talking of is almost sure to be personal and idiosyncratic; it can't be manufactured, and it must be based on a spontaneous affinity between the reader and the work (and its author). There are likely to be only a few books that evoke this kind of reading, for most readers - and the great bulk of our reading is on a lower level, and for lower motives.

But if we do have this relationship with a book - and I suppose it would be the ideal kind of relationship which both author and reader seek - then we perceive the basic unsatisfactoriness of other art forms, when it comes to the genre of fantasy.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Charles Williams and the avoidance of Glastonbury

I am currently reading a book called The Avalonians by Patrick Benham (2nd edition 2006); which is about the people involved in the spiritual re-awakening of Glastonbury in the late 19th, early 20th century.

On particular series of events kept reminding me of Charles Williams's novel, War in Heaven (written 1926, published 1930) - which is about the Holy Grail (spelled Graal) turning-up in England and being pursued by various characters.

I shall try to summarise what happened in real life. In 1898 an English doctor, John Goodchild, bought a strange glass cup in Italy, and was guided by visionary experiences to conceal it in a well in a field Glastonbury. His hope was that it would be found by three maidens and would initiate a rebirth of the feminine aspect of Christianity.

in 1906, the cup was indeed discovered following a vision revealing its whereabouts experienced by Wellesley Tudor Pole. He sent two maidens (two sisters surnamed Allen) to seek it, they found it - and the cup ended up in Clifton, Bristol where it was venerated by a number of people, in a brief, priestess-led, Christian sect.

Tudor Pole regarded the cup as having been possessed by Jesus, and as a kind of physical version of the spiritual grail. He tried to get the cup evaluated and dated by various experts; and in 1907 the matter was taken in hand by Archdeacon Wilberforce (reminding me of the Archdeacon protagonist in War in Heaven), who invited all kinds of nobles and intellectuals to his house to view the cup and try to ascertain its provenance - the cup was later passed around several experts (also including mediums and occultists) with rather contradictory and inconclusive results.

This was supposed to happen in secrecy, and the process was by invitation only; but one of the participants seems to have 'gone to the newspapers' (specifically the Daily Express) and stories claiming some version of  'the Holy Grail has been found in Glastonbury' were investigated and splashed all over the English press in the summer of 1907.

At this time Charles Williams was 20 years old, working in the Methodist Book Room in London, commuting from his home in St Albans; where there was a large scale historical pageant at which he got to know his future wife Florence. Did Williams hear this press coverage of the (or at least 'a') Holy Grail being discovered in Glastonbury, and apparently taken seriously by some contemporary experts (plus some mystics) as being suitably ancient? And did he put some press-derived version of this story into memory, to be adapted and reused some nine years later when composing the early version of War in Heaven?

This led me to notice a further striking thing, an all-but omission from Charles William's published work on the Grail, and indeed on historical Christianity; which is that he seems to have no interest in Glastonbury.

This omission seems striking to me, since the many both Christian and Arthurian legends and histories that twine so luxuriantly around Glastonbury seem - on the face of it - to be exactly the kind of thing that would fascinate Charles Williams. The 'myth' that Joseph of Arimathea brought the Grail to Glastonbury was very well known; and at times many people regarded it as the resting place of Arthur and Guenevere.

Furthermore Williams seems not to have had interest in (or contact with) the Christian esotericists who were during Williams's life associated with the place (e.g. Wellesley Tudor Pole, Dion Fortune, and composer Rutland Boughton who wrote an opera The Birth of Arthur).

In short, Williams's neglect or avoidance of the subject of Glastonbury strikes me as More Than A Coincidence - but I have no explanation for it.

Any suggestions?
 

 

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Galadriel and Eowyn Tolkien's exceptional women, and why they 'work' for him (but seldom for other authors)

There are two 'dominant' women characters in Lord of the Rings, Galadriel and Eowyn. Three generations of readers testify to the fact that they 'work' narratively - and in this respect they stand-apart from the many thousands of dominant women characters that have become such a tiresome cliche in recent decades (in fiction, on TV, at the movies - and in 'news' stories) who strike the reader as contrived, incoherent, preachy - mostly just plain Unconvincing.

Aside from Tolkien's far greater skill, the main reason why Galadriel and Eowyn work and so many others fail is that G & E are both presented as exceptional.


Galadriel is second only to Elrond as the most dominating person among the free people's of Earth; and she even has a kind of priority over Elrond in being older, having been born in Valinor - and therefore having the greatest personal 'magical' power (and from being his mother-in-law!).

However, Galadriel is presented as exceptional. Within the Lord of the Rings this exceptional nature is implied by her being the only women of the White Council, and among a handful of the most beautiful women of all time. Further, in the Unfinished Tales and Silmarillion it is emphasised that she was even more exceptional; in being a woman of 'Amazonian' stature and strength - similar in combat ability to all but the very greatest elf warriors.

But Tolkien never asserts that this makes Galadriel typical of 'women' - on the contrary she is an unique phenomenon, and marked out as such from birth. She is the female complement to Feanor - both High Elves who attained god-like stature due to their attributes.

By contrast, modern authors generally imply or actually assert that exceptional women such as Galadriel are numerous - either in actuality or in potential; or would be numerous, if not oppressed; or should be normal if women were properly motivated - by which they mean pursuing success in the public realm rather than in the family context.

Galadriel is indeed married to Celeborn, and had a daughter. This merits analysis. Celeborn is officially the ruler of Lothlorien (one of only two large elf kingdoms, the other being Mirkwood) - and described (in LotR) as the greatest of the elves of middle earth; because he is a Sindarin elf, born in middle earth - but as such of lesser wisdom and authority than the High Elves. He is a member of the White Council, along with other Sindar such as Thranduil of Mirkwood (who he outranks in age and experience, and because of his wife), and Cirdan the shipwright - but while Galadriel defers to Celeborn in public, she is clearly a personage of greater stature than her husband.

Anyway, Galadriel is married and a mother - and the greatest female power in history; and there is no other like her among the Children of Illuvatar.


What about Eowyn? She is a warrior, who does the great feat of slaying the Nazgul's flying beast; then (after Merry has made her sword effectual) the Witch King and Chief of the Nine; one of the greatest heroic feats in the entire history of Middle Earth. Clearly, an exceptional woman - and she is an ordinary mortal Man, and her success is in the realm of pure fighting, which is a masculine domain.

However, it is neither implied nor claimed that Eowyn is the match of the male Riders of Rohan in strength or swordcraft - as she could not have been; and her great feat was not the product of her being a great warrior, but the product of amazing courage fortified by her love for Theoden; a feat perfomed to protect her uncle and adoptive father.

Courage, yes indeed; but also a desperate, reck-less disregard of her own life. Because - like many and probably most real-life exceptional women, women of genius - Eowyn is (until she loves Faramir) somewhat crazy. So she is Not presented as a 'role model' or template for how 'women in general' ought-to live - indeed when healed in body and spirit; Eowyn quite explicitly abandons her life as shield maiden, and man-in-disguise.


So, what can we learn? In Tolkien as in real life, there are exceptional women of high attainment in the public realm - and also that such women are exceptional, they are rare. Furthermore, when they are mortal Men (not semi-divine elves), such women are often somewhat crazy, extremely odd - and recognised as such.

So there are real warrior queens, like the English national heroine Boudica (Boadicea); and like Boudica they are often damaged, crazed persons. There are also rare and exceptional women who are truly great political leaders - like Queen Elizabeth I - but she was also an extremely strange person, and by no means a model for women-in-general.

There are many women genuises, especially in literature; but again they are rare and (almost always) somewhat crazy, in one way or another.

(Don't take my word; try for yourself - First make a list of the best-ever women literary authors - novelists, essayists and poets (there aren't any great women playwrights); and then evaluate them biographically for craziness, chaos, weirdness, extreme eccentricity etc.)

So Tolkien's ability to include powerful and exceptional women who accomplish greatly in traditional realms of masculine attainment - and to do so absolutely convincingly in narrative terms; is simply that Tolkien knows such women exist, but he never tries to pretend that they are anything but exceptional.

Tolkien does not try to pretend that such women ever have been, are, could be, or should be, anything other than very uncommon.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

The problem of professional fantasy writers - the author-editor system

The greatest fantasy fiction has been written by 'amateur' authors such as Kenneth Grahame, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien; and therefore the fact that the fantasy publishing genre has grown to become a significant money-making activity has set a ceiling on quality, even as it has massively amplified the quality.

Admittedly that quality ceiling among professional authors is a high one; yet it does exclude the truly great work. The exception which proves this rule is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, the only first-rate work of fantasy in recent decades - and one that was written by a first time author over a period of a decade.

Harry Potter may also be regarded as first rate at its best, albeit the quality is uneven and the series sags in the middle; and JK Rowling became professional, famous and wealthy during the writing. I do not think it is known for sure how much of the superb last volume (Deathly Hallows) was composed early in the gestation of the series - but even if DH was mostly conceptualised from the start, actually producing it under such unprecedented intensity of publicity and expectation was an astonishing achievement.

There are some obvious reasons why professional fantasy does not scale the highest heights. One is the volume of production needed to make a living as a writer: the continuous pressure of time. Another is that there is never very much work of the first rank, so that when a genre expands it almost inevitably does so by the increase in somewhat lower quality work.

But a significant fact is the publication system of author-editor collaboration - which the fantasy genre inherited from science fiction (and, I think, other high volume genres - and magazines such as the New Yorker). The author prepares a first draft, which he then 'turns-over to a professional editor, who then works on the text with the author; detecting errors, pointing-out weaknesses and omissions, making suggestions about structure - often at a very fine level of detail. This process may be repeated several times.

This author-editor system acts as a quality control mechanism and also increases 'efficiency' by allowing the author to concentrate on what he does best - which is seldom the kind of detailed and prolonged critical examination of his own creative work.

By contrast, the old system had no editor (although sometimes the author's agent would perfom some of the activities of a modern editor) - the author interacted with the publisher directly, and the 'quality control' was done by the author (and whatever method the author chose) and was official only at the level of the typesetting and proof-reading (where, for example, spelling was checked, and sometimes altered to the publishers standard form).

Grahame's Wind in the Willows is inconsistent to the level of gross incoherence - a modern editor would never have allowed such a hodge-podge to be published; yet the book is unsurpassed in children's literature. CS Lewis's fictions were mostly second draft and published unchanged. The Narnia Chronicles are riddled with errors - but that does not stop them from being first rate. Tolkien did his own editing for Lord of the Rings, which he hated doing - and greatly damaged his efficiency; but he did a superb job with his own work, and of course he produced one of the great books of all time.

As a strong generalisation; to be a professional author, a writer must be efficient. But mandatory efficiency is the enemy of human accomplishment at the very highest level.

Quantity comes at the cost of quality - but in a complex fashion. The lowest quality is filtered-out, average quality may rise, and the limit on quality is detectable only by the exclusion of genius.

Any system that increases efficiency will prevent first-rate accomplishment. It is as simple as that; and confirmation can be found in most areas of creative human endeavour - including science, medicine, teaching and scholarship.


Note: However, music may be an exception - at least up to the advent of Romanticism. Most of the greatest classical composers up to Beethoven were professionals, were highly productive - and they were efficient. I'm not sure why - but music often is an exception to other rules of creativity; perhaps because it depends so much upon sheer technical skill.  
 

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Review of the Audiobook Narnia Chronicles (2002)

I have recently been listening to the (unabridged) Audiobook version of the Narnia Chronicles, from 2002. Each book has a different narrator: LW&W - Michael York; Prince Caspian - Lynn Redgrave; Dawn Treader - Derek Jacobi; Silver Chair - Jeremy Northam; Horse and his Boy - Alex Jennings; Magician's Nephew - Kenneth Branagh; Last Battle - Patrick Stewart.

Overall, I rate them as an excellent series; and a very valuable way to experience the Narnia books. Indeed, I would say that I enjoyed listening to these audiobooks (all at least twice, some more often) more than any other experience of the Narnia world - I got even-more out of the listening experience than I did from actually reading the books myself.

Having said this, and emphasising that all are at-least good; the quality of narration is a bit uneven. In particular, I liked least Michael York's reading of the first volume; which is unfortunate given that this is the most likely starting point.

Favourite was probably Kenneth Branagh's Magician's Nephew, from which I realised that this volume was much better than I had realised before; and Alex Jenning's Horse and his Boy, which was a sheer joy from start to finish, exceeding the expectation I had had from this least known but most 'perfect' of the Narnian stories. Jeremy Northam has prepared meticulously and lets the story of the Silver Chair speak for itself. I would also commend Patrick Stewart for the versatility of his Last Battle; spanning the full range from utter despair to Heavenly joy.

It is interesting to me that I did not especially like the Narnia books as a child; and - apart from LW&W I think I only read Silver Chair... or some of it. I tried to re-read them about 20 years ago, before I was a Christian, but didn't get very far... Somehow, they just didn't 'grab' me (and certainly nothing like I experienced from reading The Hobbit). Even after I was smitten with Tolkien-mania as a teen, and then later still became fascinated by the Inklings, I had to rather force myself through Narnia...

It was Brian Sibley's BBC dramatised version - which I bought in a boxed set in a bookshop sale on CD, and which the family listened-to during car journeys around a deceade ago - that really opened-up the Narnia stories for me (for which, many thanks!)

Since then, I just appreciate them more and more; get ever more from them with each experience, and from reading scholarship and criticism of the series - and would now regard the the Narnia Chronicles as one of my absolute favourites... a Desert Island book. 


Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Romantic Religion by RJ Reilly (1971/ 2006)

Romantic Religion: A Study of Owen Barfield, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and J. R. R. Tolkien by RJ Reilly (1971/ 2006)

Over the past couple of years I have come to regard Romantic Religion by RJ Reilly as one of the very best books I have read - I am now on my third slow, detailed read-through.

The book is probably the earliest (1971) serious study of the ideas of The Inklings - and its central chapters focus on Owen Barfield, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and J. R. R. Tolkien. As such, and despite its narrowish selectivity; RR remains far-and-away the deepest and best explanation/ analysis/ advocacy of the underlying (implicit) significance of this literary, philosophical and theological group of friends.

The title Romantic Religion encapsulates the thesis; although in fact it would be more accurate if the title were Romantic Christianity, since that is The religion at issue here; and one that could not be substituted by any other.

The method is to define Romanticism, mainly by means of its historical lineage; and then (in the first main section) to use Barfield as the philosopher who best understood Romanticism and its unique significance and necessity. Lewis, Williams and Tolkien are then considered separately in terms of how they exemplify, and how diverge from, the framework of Barfield.

This time reading; I have become convinced that Romantic Christianity is the best term for what I personally believe, and regard as the essential future of Western Man - and especially English Man! I shall probably be referring to myself, in shorthand, as a Romantic Christian from now onward.

Of course Romantic (and Romanticism) are mostly, in the cultural mainstream of the past century and more, rather widely differently understood from the Inklings (and especially Barfield) mode. Indeed, 'romantic' is usually a pejorative or pitying term, signifying escapist, wish-fulfilling unrealism.

Nonetheless, Romantic remains the best term, for both its historical and etymological accuracy - and because many of the common ideas of 'Romantic' are entirely appropriate and correct from a Barfieldian-Inklings perspective: for example, a focus on love, creativity, fantasy and imagination, nature, ecstatic emotion, inspiration and intuition.

All of these seem to me desirable, as well as necessary; so long as they are rooted in Christianity. Indeed, it was-and-is the subtraction of Christianity from Romanticism, as early as Byron and Shelley, that led to the degeneration of the historical Romantic movement: degeneration into hedonism, Leftist politics and the sexual revolution.

No doubt I shall quote from Romantic Religion in the future; but anyone who shares my conviction on these matters, and who is prepared to make the effort to engage with such a book, would need to read RR; if not entirely, then at least extensively.


Note: I find it significant that such an outstanding piece of intellectual and critical work, by such an deeply intelligent and rigorous scholar, should originally have been done as a PhD thesis at Michigan State University (a long way from the Ivy League); by an academic who was teaching rather than research orientated (he spent his career at the University of Detroit); and it was issued by an obscure publisher: The University of Georgia Press. This confirms a pattern I have often observed with genuinely high quality and original work in the late 20th century - it comes from the cultural periphery, not the centre. Or rather - what is officially the centre is actually trivial, derivative or corrupting - almost wholly, and vice versa. The reasons will be obvious to regular readers of this blog.  

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Hobbits and Wombles


After reading The Hobbit in the early 1970s I suffered a kind of craving for more of the same; or, since (after finishing Lord of the Rings) that was not possible; then for something similar.

In A look behind the Lord of the Rings (1969), Lin Carter made reference to the Minnipins novels (The Gammage Cup and the Whisper of Glocken) by Carol Kendall - and I managed to find the two books about these rather Hobbit-like people; which I greatly enjoyed (and have re-read many times - including aloud to my children).

Other Hobbit-like stories came from the Wombles which were in a series of books by Elizabeth Beresford, and some delightful BBC stop-animation puppet features broadcast from 1973-5; commencing shortly after I was gripped by Hobbit-mania.


The Wombles are rounded and comfort-loving, furry all-over (not just their feet), live underground - and, in a sense, represent how Hobbits might have adapted to living hidden in the modern world; since they live by scavenging whatever is lost or abandoned on Wimbledon Common in London; and improvising from it everything that they need.

For a few years, Britain was gripped by an obsession with Wombles; including a Wombles pop-group (comprising grown men in hypertrophied costumes miming to recordings) that released a series of initially OK but progressively worse-and-worse songs about Wombles. In sum; Wombles were overexposed and hyped to the point that everyone was thoroughly fed-up with them, and glad to see the back of them.

Nonetheless, the original book and the TV series were charming, cozy, entertaining and Hobbit-like.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

How fast could CS Lewis read? A guest post from Kevin McCall

Note: This was originally published at Superversive Inklings

It is well known that C.S. Lewis was an extremely fast reader. Richard Ladborough, in his essay “In Cambridge” in the book C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table writes: “It is now common knowledge that his [Lewis’s] memory was prodigious and that he seemed to have read everything.”

 In his essay “Jack on Holiday” in the same book, George Sayer says, “But when the coffee or tea had been cleared away (I think he preferred tea), he liked to settle down to an hour or two of silent reading. He would choose a book from my shelves, usually a novel, and often one that he had read before, for he held the view that the qualities of a good book could not be appreciated at the first reading. … He read very fast and if the book were a humorous one (he pronounced that word with an h) often chucked or laughed aloud.”

In his essay “C.S. Lewis: Supervisor” collected in C.S. Lewis Remembered, Alastair Fowler compares his own reading to Lewis’s: “Reading habits, of course, were different in the fifties; I used then to read ten hours a day. Lewis, who read far faster, read with surer grasp, and read whatever commitments allowed – read even at mealtimes – read prodigiously.” Lewis also completed an English degree at Oxford (with First Class Honours) within one year rather than the typical three years.

Not only was Lewis a fast reader, he also had an extraordinary memory for the details of what he had read. Douglas Gresham writes in his foreward to A Grief Observed “Helen Joy Gresham (née Davidman), the ‘H.’ referred to in this book, was perhaps the only woman whom Jack ever met who was his intellectual equal and also as well-read and widely educated as he was himself. They shared another common factor: they were both possessed of total recall. Jack never forgot anything he had read, and neither did she.”

Alastair Fowler also recalls Lewis’s powerful memory: “The flow of Lewis’s writing and speaking had much to do with this remarkable memory. Memory feats were common enough in Oxford then, especially among classicists. Edgar Lobel the papyrologist and fungiphage, to mention one, modestly denied having Homer by heart – but added, ‘Mind you, if you said a verse I dare say I could give you the next one.’ Lewis could have claimed much the same of Paradise Lost.”

It is natural to ask, how fast could Lewis read? Also, how did Lewis read? Was he an efficient skimmer who knew which words to skip or did he have some nearly superhuman ability to take in huge volumes of text? A letter written to C.S. Lewis’s brother Warren Lewis on May 10, 1921 provides a way to calculate Lewis’s reading speed. Here is the relevant passage: “Which reminds me, did you ever read Daudet’s ‘L’Immortel’? It is a novel about the Academie Francaise: if you like sheer cool premeditated insolence you should order this by the next mail – tho’ perhaps I should warn you that it is only a couple of hours reading, and you may like books that last, on the world’s end.”

Copying the Project Gutenberg English translation of L’Immortel into a word document shows that the book contains 69,265 words. Rounding to 70,000 and dividing by 120 minutes indicates that Lewis read 583 1/3 words per minute (Wpm). If we assume a single-spaced page is approximately 500 words, Lewis could read 70 pages per hour. (Though if Lewis was reading the book in French, his English reading speed is likely faster).

Ronald Carver’s 1985 paper in Reading Research Quarterly, “How good are some of the world’s best readers?” provides some clues to answer the second question. Carver selected 16 readers on the basis of their excellent reading ability: four college students who made high scores on a test of vocabulary and reading comprehension, four accomplished speed readers, four professionals whose jobs required large amounts of reading (“a writer for the New Yorker magazine,” “a copy editor for a major metropolitan newspaper who had been recommended by managing editor as one of the best of the 12 copy editors they employed,” “the former head of a major medical school who had served as editor of a nationally known medical journal,” “a history professor at a major university who also wrote book reviews for newspapers”), and four people who had achieved very high scores on various tests (a member of Mensa who had been successful on the same tests given to the college students, a perfect scorer on the SAT, a perfect scorer on the GRE, and a test taker who had scored above 700 on the GMAT). Carver gave tests of reading comprehension, vocabulary, and intelligence (Raven Advanced Progressive Matrices). Most importantly, Carver tested subjects’ ability to write summaries of various 6,000 word passages and to recall important details from these same passages when given time to read the passage corresponding to reading speeds of 24,000 Wpm, 6,000 Wpm, 1,500 Wpm, and 375 Wpm.

Carver found that while many of the research participants could write good summaries while only spending a short amount of time with the passages, their ability to recall details fell precipitously as time given to read passages decreased. He concluded that none of the readers showed the ability to recall and comprehend details taken from the entire passage above while reading at speeds above 300-600 Wpm. Beyond 600 Wpm, the speed readers were really skimming, not reading.

Carver describes reading and skimming as follows: “What is ordinarily called reading involves an attempt to comprehend the thoughts the author intended to communicate on a sentence-by-sentence basis … When skimming, the individual does not attempt to comprehend the complete thought expressed in each sentence. Instead, the individual is simply trying to extract as much general information as possible about the passage by sampling only isolated words and phrases.”

C.S. Lewis’s calculated reading speed of 583 1/3 Wpm is at the very top of the range described by Carver, suggesting that Lewis really was reading rather than skimming. Lewis’s ability to recall details with great accuracy provides further support for this view. In addition to Lewis’s rapid reading and excellent memory, he also had profound insight into what he had read and skill in describing it. Alastair Fowler wrote: “For he talked like an angel. My idea of how angels might talk derives from Lewis. His prose is brilliant, amusing, intimate, cogent; but his talk was of a superior order. It combined fluent, informal progression with the most articulate syntax, as if, somehow, it was a text remembered – and remembered perfectly”

Since Carver only tested 16 people, it is certainly possible that an extraordinary reader slipped through his selection process. Among individual readers, the best overall performance was achieved perfect scorer on the GRE, called TEST-GRE by Carver. Carver writes, “Of the 16 superior readers tested, TEST-GRE seems easily to qualify as the best reader in terms of being able to comprehend the most while reading the fastest. There is evidence that she or he could read eighth-grade material at around 500 Wpm.” But, TEST-GRE was randomly selected from among over 200,000 people who had made a perfect score within recent years, so this person could just as easily not have been selected. Similarly, there could have been an even better reader with a perfect score on the GRE who was not selected.

Carver also makes an interesting comment on the fourth best overall scorer, a speed reader selected on the basis of a reported ability to read 81,000 words per minute, “From the Raven Test, and from the scores on the two book tests at 1,500 Wpm, it appears that SPEED-81,000 is an exceptionally intelligent person who ordinarily skims at very fast rates. However, there were no data which replicated the 81,000 Wpm reported when she or he completed the speed-reading course given by the Reading Foundation of California.”

Can we find an upper bound on claims of extremely fast reading? In fact, the well-known savant Kim Peek provides such an upper bound. Peek was able to read two pages of a book in 8-10 seconds (one with each eye) and recall every word he had read with nearly perfect accuracy. Peek could thus read 12 pages every minute, which works out to 720 pages per hour, and assuming again that a single-spaced page is approximately 500 words implies that Kim Peek could read 60,000 words per minute.

However, Peek was not actually reading. He was not comprehending the thoughts expressed on each page but memorizing the text contained in the book. He would have scored almost perfectly on Carver’s tests of detail recall but would not have been able to write a good summary. Peek’s reading speed provides reason to be skeptical of claims to read above 720 pages per hour.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Where in Middle Earth would you most like to live?

Having enjoyed last week's 'survey' of Your Favourite Inklings - I thought we might try another. 

Where in Middle Earth would you most like to live? To remind you of the possible choices - here is a map (click to enlarge):


Please explain your choice, and include what time (era) you would have most wanted to inhabit that place.

As usual - I will give my own answer (which, again, you may be able to guess from previous posts on this blog) after a few of yours have come-in...

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Who is your favourite Inkling - as a person?

I don't mean who was the best writer or the best person; neither do I mean which Inkling you respect the most... I simply mean which of the Inklings is your favourite person - someone with whom (given appropriate circumstances) you might have developed an affectionate relationship.

And let's include here the extended definition of the group that includes the people who met for conversation and drinks on Tuesday or Monday lunchtimes, at the 'Bird and Baby' or Lamb and Flag pubs; as well as those 'inner ring' who met on Thursday evenings in CSL's rooms to read works in progress.

Which Inkling do you like best as a person cengenial to you? Who of these would you have most liked to spend time with - conversing, eating or drinking, walking-with...?

You don't have to be restricted to a single name - and please explain your reasons. 

For those of you who don't already know my views - I'll give my personal choice later.

'Canonical' Inklings from David Bratman's list (if you want to mention somebody else not mentioned here - Walter Hooper, Roger Lancelyn Green, Dorothy L Sayers... that's fine, but for interest please include your justification):

Barfield, Owen (1898-1997)
Bennett, J. A. W. (1911-1981)
Cecil, Lord David (1902-1986)
Coghill, Nevill (1899-1980)
Dundas-Grant, James (1896-1985)
Dyson, H. V. D. (1896-1975)
Fox, Adam (1883-1977)
Hardie, Colin (1906-1998)
Havard, Robert E. (1901-1985)
Lewis, C. S. (1898-1963)
Lewis, W. H. (1895-1973)
Mathew, Gervase (1905-1976)
McCallum, R. B. (1898-1973)
Stevens, C. E. (1905-1976)
Tolkien, Christopher (1924-
Tolkien, J. R. R. (1892-1973)
Wain, John (1925-1994)
Williams, Charles (1886-1945)
Wrenn, C. L. (1895-1969)

Charles Williams - my evaluation from 2010

I published the following on my main blog on November 4 of 2010 - in other words, before reading the Lindop Biography; and reviewing the post now I am surprised to see how much of William's story I had pieced together from the scattered sources. The Lindop biography didn't, therefore, change the quality of my evaluation so much as solidify it - and thereby intensify it.

At present I find I am not reading CW very often; and have pretty much set aside the theology - although I continue to re-read Place of the Lion with strong appreciation. 

But I still feel there is some more to learn, and look at the CW shelf from time to time, with a nagging sense of unfinished business...

**

Charles Williams (1886-1945) was a strange man.

Great friend of C.S. Lewis and the Oxford Inklings circle at the end of his life, he inspires very divergent responses.

To Lewis, and TS Eliot, he was a man of advanced spirituality, and apparent holiness. His 'theological' writings and novels have a very strong following (including, for what it is worth, the current Archbishop of Canterbury - who is President of the Charles Williams society - and a scholar of C.W's works. This at least means that C.W. really is intelligent and subtle - because the Archbish can certainly judge that kind of thing).

On the other had there are those who find C.W. creepy, pretentious, and at best a hazardous guide to spirituality - at worst an actively dangerous advocate of magic and demonic flirtations - altogether a character prone to an unhealthy degree of fascination with power and perversity.


While on the whole I find Williams valuable and stimulating, at times I too veer towards the idea that he was not a good example.

His Letters to Lalage certainly confirm the creepy side of his nature - there is something vampiric about his hyper-charged, perverse, platonic sexual relationship with this beautiful and intense young woman (only a year before his death).

The letters to his wife are just plain dishonest: evasive, elaborately deceptive, fearful, terribly sad...


On the whole, my impression is that Williams was someone who lived very close to the edge - very close to utter despair.

I think he kept himself distracted - he seems always to have been 'busy' or in company, to have made-himself busy and have collected company - which I take as a sign he was actively avoiding silence and solitude.

He sought extreme situations in order to generate energy, in order to feel in contact with life.

And he did this (justified this) primarily to re-direct these energies and meanings into 'poetry'.


C.W.'s work is always slapdash, his writing is deliberately and habitually obscure, he is pretentious - for example in his verse, which is a mixture of contrivance and accidental effects. (Although apparently effective enough to fool C.S Lewis and perhaps T.S Eliot - neither of whom were what I would call poets themselves. Tolkien, who was - albeit rarely - a real poet, could never get anything for C.W's verse.)

And C.W. would not have disagreed with me, I am sure - he knew what he was doing and why.


I do blame C.W. for his refusal to admit that he was not a real poet; because a lot of his worst behaviour was designed to get energy and inspiration for generating his fake poetry.


His 'big ideas' about positive theology, the City, the way of affirmation of images - are good ideas badly expressed - perhaps because they are undermined by his personal need for them?

The writings on exchange, co-inherence etc are either simple, banal and wrong; or else expressed so complexly, defensively and obscurely as to be ineffective communications. Indeed, they are quasi-magical, or therapeutic, rather than Christian ideas.

His idea that romantic love is a viable alternative to the ascetic is purely speculative, and in the absence of even a single real world example of its validity or effectiveness, seems merely special pleading for his own irrational and un-admirable obsession (despite being married) with a younger (and un-admirable) woman. 


But he did have some extraordinary insights - at least it seems to me.

Here and there, in Descent into Hell and The Place of the Lion; and quite often in his best prose like the Descent of the Dove and He came down from Heaven, he really does seem inspired, and produces wonderful momentary clarifications.


Lewis and the Inklings knew nothing of Williams disreputable behaviours; they saw only his good side, and they loved the man.

There is indeed much to love about him - he gave of himself very freely.

In sum, he is one of those maddening people that seems just one small psychological step away from being really valuable, perhaps even a saint? - but he never did take that step. So his legacy is flawed and his character almost as much demonic as holy.


That step was simply to acknowledge that he was not a poet, not a real poet - not that which he so much wanted to be.

It was this rather small dishonesty with himself which caused nearly all of C.W's troubles.


Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The shamanic creativity of JRR Tolkien

Note: This is cross posted from Superversive Inklings

Tolkien's remarkable creative method has been elucidated by TA Shippey in his Road to Middle Earth; and amply confirmed by the evidence from the multiple volumes of The History of Middle Earth (HoME) edited by Christopher Tolkien. What happens is that Tolkien treats his 'first draft' as if it were an historical text of which he is a scholarly editor. So when Tolkien is revising a first draft, his approach is similar to that he would take when preparing (for example) an ‘edition’ of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, or Beowulf.

Thus, as Tolkien reads-again his own first draft, he is trying to understand what 'the author' (i.e. himself) 'meant', he is aware of the possibility of errors in transcription, or distortions that may have occurred during the steps of historical transmission. He is also aware that 'the author' was writing from a position of incomplete knowledge, and was subject to bias.

This creative ‘method’ leads to some strange compositional occurrences. For example, in the HoME volume The Return of the Shadow (covering the writing of the first part of The Lord of the Rings - LotR) Tolkien wrote about the hobbits hiding from a horseman who stopped and sniffed the air. The original intention was that this was to be Gandalf, and the hobbits were hiding to give him a surprise 'ambush'. However, in the course of revision, the sniffing horseman became a 'Black Rider'; and the hobbits were hiding in fear of him. The core incident remained but its significance was inverted.

Furthermore; the nature and intention of the Black Riders was originally a mystery to Tolkien; only later, over the course of many revisions and as the story progressed, did these horsemen develop into the Ringwraiths, wearers of the Nine Rings, and the most powerful servants of Sauron.

This is a remarkable way of writing! It think it probable that most writers know what they mean in their first draft, and in the process of revising and re-drafting they try to get their expression closer to that known meaning. But Tolkien did the reverse: he generated the first draft, then looked at it as if that draft had been written by someone else, and he was trying to decide what it meant - and in this case eventually deciding that it meant something pretty close to the opposite of the original meaning: with hostile Nazgul substituting for friendly wizard; hiding from fear replacing joke ambush.

In other words, Tolkien's ‘original intention’ counted for very little, but could be - and was, massively reinterpreted by editorial decisions. The specifics of the incident (rider, sniffing, concealed hobbits) stayed the same; but the interpretation of the incident was radically altered. This pattern is often seen throughout the HoME - specific details are retained, while the meaning of these is transformed throughout the process of revision. By contrast, I suspect that most authors maintain the interpretation of incidents throughout revisions, but change the specific details.

This sequence corresponds to the transmission of texts through history - specific and striking incidents tend to be remembered and preserved - while (due to historical changes in culture, assumptions, background knowledge etc) these incidents get hugely re-interpreted in 'anachronistic' ways. So the incident may stay the same, but its meaning may be reversed.

I have seen this with a couple of folk tales during my life. When I was a child King Midas - everything he touched turned to gold - was regarded as a cautionary tale of greed leading to (potential) death, since food and drink were also turned to metal. But nowadays, the Midas Touch is regarded as something desirable - it means the ability always to make money in every situation. Presumably the benefits of wealth are now regarded as greater than mere life!

"Shooting yourself in the foot" used to mean a deliberate act of self-wounding with the aim of being invalided away from the front line of a war. Someone shot themselves in the foot on purpose, but pretended it was an accident. But it now means almost the reverse - an accidentally self-inflicted wound; such as when a politician makes a ‘gaffe’ during a press conference, and ends-up being sacked.

In both cases a striking image (the gold-transforming touch, the firearm discharged at the boot) is preserved, but its meaning is transformed.

Tolkien's compositional technique recognizes this process - and Tolkien approached his first draft of composition as if the draft were the end product of this type of misinterpretation or distortion. So, his draft containing the striking detail of the ‘sniffing rider'; but it is as if Tolkien assumed that the meaning of the detail had been misunderstood by one or more of the copyists and clerks via whom the text had been transmitted to Tolkien.

But why did Tolkien write in this way? I think there are two reasons. The first is that he was by profession a philologist: a scholarly editor, a man concerned with old and fragmentary and distorted texts - and he brought this skill and perspective to his fictional writing.

But secondly it relates to Tolkien's creative processes. This relates to the key question – ignored so far: How did Tolkien arrive at his first draft? And this is where the ‘shaman’ aspect of the title comes in. Because Tolkien’s way of arriving at a first draft could be described as 'shamanic'.

Shaman is a term used to describe spiritual practitioners of tribal people that do their work in a state of altered consciousness – such as trances, fasting, frenzies or lucid dreaming. By calling Tolkien shamanic; I mean that much of Tolkien's primary, first-draft creative, imaginative work was done in a state of altered consciousness – either an awake 'trance' state or using ideas from exceptionally clear and memorable (sometimes recurrent) dreams. The altered state generated the first draft; then re-writing was done in normal everyday ‘clear consciousness’, with his full critical faculties brought to bear.

Clues to this being Tolkien’s practice are scattered throughout his biographical material; but I became aware of it particularly when studying the disguised autobiographical aspects of The Notion Club Papers (in Volume 9 of HoME, Sauron Defeated). There are descriptions of lucid dreams, detailed visions of history, overpowering imagination, hallucinations of mysterious languages, ghosts, psychometry (knowing the history of an object by touching it) and many other altered states of consciousness and ‘paranormal’ experiences. The supporting notes by Christopher Tolkien link several of these fictional descriptions to JRRT’s real life incidents and experiences.

This combination of first creating a dreamlike first draft, then using it as the basis for scholarly and meticulous revisions, is not unusual among creative people, perhaps especially poets. Robert Graves wrote about the ‘poetic trance’ a great deal; and Graves’s ideas of proleptic (historical) and analeptic (predictive) thinking were what enabled him to ‘inhabit’ imaginatively, and he would say in reality, another time and place: that is, to be an inspired prophet.

The first draft - if it truly has been inspired - is interpreted as coming from elsewhere, beyond the mind of the artist; for instance coming from divine sources, from 'the muse', or perhaps from the creative/ collective unconscious. At any rate, the job of the alert and conscious mind of the artist is to 'make sense' of this inspired material without destroying the bloom or freshness deriving from its primary source. In this respect, and others, Tolkien wrote more like a poet than a novelist.

This is, I believe, the psychological basis of the fact (often cited) that Tolkien did not see himself as inventing, rather as discovering. He was not consciously inventing his first drafts but rather 'transcribing' material which came to him during altered states of consciousness, by a process of inspiration which was not under his control. When revising this primary material, if he found that key evidence was missing, he could try and interpolate it like a historian by extrapolation from other evidence, linking between the inspired material; or he could await further poetic inspiration to be validated by intuition. Sometimes he did one, sometimes the other.

This interpretation is also consistent with Tolkien's oft-stated remark that the essence of his Legendarium originally came from the languages he had made – what became called Quenya and Sindarin. I think he meant that words were often primary data, attained in an intuitive trance state; and these words required to be understood. This is where his professional philology and his spare-time creative writing fused.

For example, Tolkien came across the Anglo Saxon word Earendil in a poem called Crist. Then, over the decades as Tolkien's Legendarium evolved, the meaning of Earendil (the myth behind the word) gradually changed – as Tolkien ‘learned’ about the history of Middle Earth - but the same word remained (although subtly re-spelled; since philologists are .

Or, if we read the early Lost Tales (written during the First World war) and through the drafts of the Silmarillion over the next forty plus years, we can observe that the meaning of the Beren and Luthien story changed. For instance, Beren was originally an elf; but later the special significance of the story was that Beren was the first mortal Man to marry, and have children, with an immortal elf-maia. Yet the key ‘first draft’ detail of Luthien dancing for Beren among the flowers in the woods remained constant – and this was based on a real life magical experience of Tolkien with his wife. In this case; the shamanic state of altered consciousness was, apparently, a shared one.

A further well known example is Tolkien’s recurrent ‘Atlantis’ dream of a great green wave, rolling over the land – a dream which independently also occurred for his son Michael. This primary image, from an altered conscious state; was eventually embedded into the complex Silmarillion narrative of Numenor and its downfall, and the dream itself was given to Faramir in The Lord of the Rings – as well as being discussed by the Inklings-like club members in the (unfinished) Notion Club Papers

Tolkien regarded key words, images and story elements that came to him in ‘shamanic’ states as his primary source material. The interpretation of these emotionally-charged, entities might change, might even reverse; but the entity should be kept the same throughout all these changes, because that element was what had been 'given' to Tolkien during the altered consciousness of his most profound creative states.

Given to Tolkien by whom? …it might be asked. Well, insofar as these primary story elements were true and good; Tolkien would have assumed that they came as a gift of God. And this, I think, was the deep reason that such story elements absolutely needed to be preserved throughout even decades of revisions.