Thursday, 25 September 2014

Tolkien's five best anthology poems

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Compiled from:

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


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


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

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


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

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

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





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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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Monday, 8 September 2014

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

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

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

?
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^Tendency to fall asleep, gruffness, hairiness. 

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/how-similar-are-dolbear-humphrey-havard.html
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Friday, 5 September 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, 29 August 2014

My recent Inklings pilgrimage

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

1. CS Lewis

2. Warnie Lewis

3. JRR Tolkien

4. Charles Williams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, 25 August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

His novels were exactly about this.

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

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

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

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/notion-club-papers-are-tolkiens-charles.html
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Friday, 22 August 2014

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

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Continuing from:

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

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

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

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

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

2. Williams was the oldest of the regular Inklings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Was JRR Tolkien a lunatic?

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Tolkien certainly seemed to think so!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NOTES:

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

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

Tolkien's squash partner has been identified:

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

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

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

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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What are we to make of this?

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

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

3. LotR is a profoundly philological work. 

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

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

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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

No wonder Tolkien was so bitterly disappointed with Narnia! :

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

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

Friday, 18 July 2014

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

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

Rating - Three stars from a possible five.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This set-up has many, many problems!

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, 6 June 2014

Tolkien and Lewis - Juvenile nonsense for immature escapists? Or serious literature for desperate situations?

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From Windows to eternity by Jenny Roberts (1999)

[Scene - Moscow, USSR, 1984. On a covert and illegal mission to deliver Bibles to persecuted Orthodox and Baptist Christians.]

Only the day before, another Russian Orthodox believer, an art historian who had been put into a psychiatric hospital when at the age of sixteen, he professed faith in Christ, had summed up his country by an apt comparison.

"Tell us about the Soviet Union" I had asked this man.

"This is the land of Mordor". Then he added, with a smile into his greying beard, "You are hobbits!"

He was, of course, referring to Tolkien's epic novel The Lord of the Rings... People we visited loved this novel; they typed it out in its entirety and passed it to one another.

They loved C.S Lewis too, his Narnia stories, and it seemed to me that I had stumbled into a land which, like Narnia, lay under an evil spell, where, memorably, 'it was always winter and never Christmas'. 

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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Review of JRR Tolkien - Beowulf: a translation and commentary

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Beowulf: a translation and commentary; together with Sellic Spell. By JRR Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien. HarperCollinsPublishers: London, 2014. pp xiv, 425

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For reasons which others may be unlikely to share, for me for this was the most enjoyable posthumously published work of JRR Tolkien for the past decade.

This is because I was reading the book from my love of Tolkien and my fascination with his mind - and from this perspective it was a revelation.

I should be quite candid and admit that the poem Beowulf does nothing-much for me - I find it pretty uninteresting and difficult to plough-through. I dutifully ploughed-through Tolkien's translation of the poem, except for the bits when my concentration wandered and I was taking nothing in; and it seems much better than the other translations of Beowulf I have tried to read - but still, I didn't really enjoy it. Nor did I really understand what was going on - I could not really follow the poem.

There is also a Tolkien composed fairy tale called Sellic Spell (tale of wonder), which is an idea of one of the 'sources' for Beowulf - and a rhyming poem. These were fine, and I am glad to have read them; but did not make much of an impact on me. 

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However - it was when I broke off reading the translation and turned to Tolkien's commentary that my enjoyment became spontaneous, and dutifulness turned to sheer fascination.

These notes to Beowulf show, in detail, by multiple worked examples, and as if 'live' and in-action, Tolkien actually at work as a philologist; without compromise and on his subject of subjects - operating from his deepest and most spontaneous motivations. This was what he did, this was his meat and drink.

I knew about Tolkien as a philologist, from reading the superb work of Tom Shippey - but this was the first time when I had a sufficiently large and concentrated dose of Tolkien on the job to perceive for myself, at first hand, what Tolkien was up-to - and how his style of philology (now extinct) operated.

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Tolkien's style of philology combined several activities now separated into specialisms. Some of it was editorial and paleographic - a matter of trying to read a damaged and corrupted manuscript when some words were were lost, others wholly or partially illegible; and where the whole was distorted by later copyists errors (and where the copyist only partially understood what he was copying).

On top of all this, the sheer paucity of Anglo Saxon writing which existed and survived, means that pretty much every word of every manuscript, plus those from related manuscripts and cultures (eg Icelandic) must be brought to bear. So, in one very obvious sense, Tolkien's style of philology is extremely detailed and an extremely close reading.

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But in another sense, this activity is extraordinarily wide-ranging, inclusive and creative. These old style philologists worked like artists - no, they worked as artists because they knew that they could only do their job via a profound understanding of, sympathy with, the language and culture of those societies from whom the manuscripts originated.

Tolkien's philology was therefore rooted in his deep and spontaneous love of these 'Dark Age' cultures - Anglo Saxon England and the 'Germanic' - Gothic and Scandinavian - roots and branches leading to it, from it, and sideways in cousinly relation. Tolkien himself could only explain this love in terms of heredity from his mother's side of the family, in the West Midlands of England.

So, the whole scholarship as depicted in the Beowulf commentary is driven by an intense and personal concern with Anglo Saxon society - Tolkien finds himself with only fragments to work with, but relies upon this extraordinarily detailed and empathic scholarship to fill the gaps and draw-out the meanings.

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This explains why I cannot really respond to Beowulf itself, but respond so strongly to Tolkien's commentary - because the commentary reveals that the poem is almost incomprehensible to the modern mind; and incomprehensible in multiple ways, from my ineradicable confusion over all the people whose names begin with H, the detailed genealogy, and feuding based on transgressions which seem trivial; and indeed the actual nature of Anglo Saxon and related societies - their concerns and interests, their morality, their motivations... all are alien in the extreme. The rhetorical conventions (such as kennings, and extreme understatement) are also traps for the inexpert.

Also, much of the poem (and much that is important to its effect) is in the form of references to other works well known at the time but now either the province of experts, informed guesswork - or just lost and utterly obscure.

The modern reader can only really misunderstand and mis-appreciate Beowulf. Even the idiosyncratic charms of stressed alliterative verse would not have been apparent to its audience, because for them that was the only kind of English verse that had existed for many centuries (the traditional of alliterative verse existed in England for much longer than has, yet, the current tradition of rhymed and/or iambic (blank) verse.

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So for those fascinated by Tolkien the artist, the commentary is sheer delight. It also (and perhaps most importantly) contains some passages of writing in Tolkien's best and most profound style - where his deepest personal concerns come very close to the surface (from pp 349-50):

But the special situation of the English - a people amid the ruins, cut off from their old lands, the lands of the heroes of their ancient songs, and gradually as their knowledge grew feeling themselves to be in the Dark Ages after the departure of the glory of Rome - gave special poignancy to this feeling, and special pictorial vividness to it. 

Both of the passages from Beowulf... are filled with the vision of deserted and ruined halls... "he sees... the hall of feasting, the resting places swept by the wind robbed of laughter - the riders sleep, mighty men gone down into the dark..."

Nobody would have better understood or been better able to play Hrothgar's part than [King] Alfred - who won his mother's praise for... the lays of his northern heroic fathers - and yet felt himself almost alone in the Dark Age, attempting to save from the wreck of time some sparks surviving from the Golden Age, from Rome and the mighty Caseras and builders of that fallen world.

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Finally, I must express gratitude (the word seems too feeble), yet again, to Christopher Tolkien for his indefatigable work on the books by his father which continue to emerge despite that CRT is now 89. Christopher is the perfect companion and guide to the works of JRRT; and I get great pleasure from reading his words and comments and interpretations; and from the shape he has given the many,  many posthumous volumes he has by now brought to our eager attention.

Furthermore, the love of his father which is expressed by Christopher's editorial activity and by his profound sympathy with his father's world, is a beautiful and inspiring thing.

May God bless him.

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Note added to explain my non-responsiveness to Beowulf qua poetry:
 http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/poetry-in-translation-why-it-is-bad-and.html

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Why modern man is like the orcs

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Continuing from an argument presented in:

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/unrepentant-orcs.html

It seems that it is not a case of orcs being inevitably damned - qua orc (they are not born-into a state of damnation - that could never happen in a world created by a good God); but a matter of orcs never, as a matter of fact, repenting their sins.

It is as if their nature and training and circumstances combine such that orcs will never admit to themselves (or to God) that they have erred or sinned; they are never humble; they are motivated (and controlled) by negative emotions such as pride, hatred, greed, idleness, fear...

Such people exist. But with people we can never be 100 percent sure (as we are with orcs) that one of them, one day, may not take what seems the very simple step of fully acknowledging their own defects.

But the difference between orc-like people and actual orcs is 'merely' a matter of hostorical probabilities - the likelihood of repentance being, say 0.1% for the most evil man, and zero percent for an orc.

In practice there are plenty of people who could repent, but don't - don't get anywhere near repenting no matter what happens to them. They always blame others for everything; always see themselves as the victim.

Orcs are simply these people taken to the limit.

How does this happen? Because first Morgoth, then Sauron, create societies of inverted virtue; where evil is the good, ugliness is a positive, lies are approved, virtue is punished - and orcs are brought-up in such a depraved society so they know nothing else.

In other words, pretty much the same as modern Men under political correctness, or Communism - except these are not (yet) so overwhelmingly, monolithically inverted as the societies of Morgoth or Sauron.

So what would happen if an orc was born and raised among good men, elves or hobbits? I predict he would be like a bad man, elf or hobbit - that is to say he would (due to his inbred, ruined nature) be as bad as a bad man, elf or hobbit - but not necessarily any worse.

Would he be capable of repentance? Maybe - in fact yes! At least as capable as a bad man, elf or hobbit. Which is to say: very unlikely, but not impossible.

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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Why is the Lord of the Rings so good at nourishing the spiritual flame?

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While it is possible to interpret the Lord of the Rings as containing many Christian, and specifically Roman Catholic, symbols and references - this is not obvious, and indeed any reference to the regular, daily partaking of Mass (which was the focus of RC spirituality in Tolkien's day) in the life of Middle Earth is completely absent.

Likewise, Middle Earth has many resemblances to the pre-Christian pagan world - except that there is no paganism at all! - indeed, no church or formal religion of any kind.

And in this respect, Tolkien's world is completely 'unrealistic' - at least in terms of all known earthly and human societies (which have always been very religious; at least, until the past few decades when the Mass Media has taken-over).

*

And yet, the Lord of the Rings is a spiritually awakening, nourishing and sustaining book - a strongly spiritual work - at least, for those of certain aesthetic tastes and a certain cast of mind - as I can attest from decades of personal experience; and as I can perceive from the speech and writing of many others.

How is it that an apparently non-religious work seems to be able to maintain a spiritual perspective in people, despite its almost complete lack of religion?

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I think the answer is metaphysical - in other words, it is related to the basic set-up of imagined reality which structures the story and the ancillary material.

When people say that Middle Earth seems real - realer, in a sense, than this earth - this is what they probably mean.

It is not convincing characters, nor detailed landscapes and maps, nor the specifics of languages and history that sets Tolkien's mythic world apart from any other I have encountered; it is a step back from all that: the sense that everything fits together in a deep and coherent fashion.

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And I mean everything fits together - from the individual pieces of dialogue and the micro-decisions of characters right up to the sweep of the War of the Ring and behind it the History which led to that war.

I do not mean that this was fitt-ed together - explicitly or deliberately by the author - but that it sprang from a comprehensive 'metaphysical' imagination concerning the whole nature of reality in Middle Earth.

So all the details - small and large - grew from and within that metaphysical imagination.

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So we may read Lord of the Rings, at least to some extent, from a God's eye view - giving a comprehensive and detailed vision of what happens and why in a convincingly simulated world - therefore we understand the essential nature of Middle Earth (its meaning, purpose and relationships) in way we cannot understand for this earth we live in.

But the fact that it was written by a Man, and the preconditions of human creativity, means that there is a necessary - although very general; non-religious, non-denominational - spiritual relationship between Tolkien's imagining and reality.

Therefore, it is possible (for those who most strongly respond to it) for Lord of the Rings to work at a very deep, subliminal level for Christians and pagans and atheists alike (and, presumably, other religions too).

*

What effect this spirituality has is another matter: clearly this kind of deep but generic spirituality lacks the power, specificity and strength that a religion may have for a devout and active adherent.

But, on the other hand, it seems that many denominations and religions lack, or are deficient in, exactly the kind of spiritual depth and overview which Lord of the Rings supplies.

And such people may (often without realizing that this is what they are doing) compensate for this religious deficiency - at least to some extent - by a complementary and imaginative identification with Middle Earth.

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Review of 1968 BBC documentary 'Tolkien in Oxford'

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON_dD-LKlCA 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/writers/12237.shtml

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Duration 26 minutes

In a nutshell, this is a treasurable 15 minute documentary consisting of interviews-with and comments-from Tolkien - all indispensable; plus some very fine readings from Lord of the Rings by the actor Joss Ackland (who has also acted CS Lewis in the original Shadowlands, and performed The Screwtape Letters on Audiobook)...

BUT this wonderful 15 minutes is bracketted and interspersed by about ten-minutes-worth of some of the most embarrassing interviews I have ever seen, made-up of material from (presumably) Oxford university students - in addition being interrupted, and generally spoiled, by ineptly pretentious and profoundly disrespectful technical and editorial gimmickry.

So - you have to watch this documentary; but it will make you cringe, and cringe, and cringe again.

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Friday, 4 April 2014

The strange opening scene of The Lord of the Rings

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I have read The Lord of the Rings many times over many years; but it has only recently struck me that the book begins strangely - in the sense that I had, in a way, completely forgotten what is the opening scene; or, at least, my memory had placed this scene somewhat later.

The opening scene is a conversation among peripheral-character hobbits at the Ivy Bush inn, presided over by Sam's father - The Gaffer Gamgee; and whose only significant other character is the nasty miller Sandyman.

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It is interesting and peculiar that Tolkien chose to open his epic romance with such a scene. The Hobbit has nothing similar, since we have seen Bilbo talking with dwarves, elves, men and a wizard - but the book lacked hobbit to hobbit interactions.

So one purpose served by this scene is to give the Hobbit fans a better idea of the characteristics of hobbits - which was indeed the primary intention of LotR.

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What are these characteristics of hobbits?

Well, they seem - at this point - to be exactly like the kind of rural folk of the south of England that lived around me as a child, and not-at-all idealized: the Ivy Bush conversation has just that tone of spiteful gossip, ameliorated by a loyalty which is primarily to family, then to village, then region, then to the race of hobbits - and which stops at that point.

This is the typical 'peasant' insularity and almost delight in suspiciousness - a determination to be 'down-to-earth' shrewd, nobody's fool...

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So there is a suspicion of the Hobbiton Hobbits towards the strange Bucklanders 'a queer breed, seemingly'; but mitigated by local-familial connections 'After all his father was a Baggins.'' And towards non-Hobbits who Sandyman regards as 'outlandish folk' - such as dwarves and 'that old wandering conjourer, Gandalf'.

And a suspicion of anything 'above' the mundane and everyday concerns of 'Cabbages and Potatoes' - and the Gaffer pours scorn on Sam's interest in 'stories of the old days', 'Elves and Dragons' and even worries that Bilbo has taught him to reading and write - 'I hope that no harm will come of it'.

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Tolkien's enjoyment in writing this scene is palpable, and the language is beautifully judged to communicate a great deal on many levels. But what a strange way to begin the book!

On the face of it, and I am sure in practice, it is very off-putting to open proceedings in such an apparently leisurely fashion (in retrospect we can perceive that there is no padding, everything is there for a reason - but that is not how it looks at first reading); with a bunch of genuinely-ignorant yokels gossipping at the local tavern.

There is some important plot and character exposition, but in an almost perversely-unsophisticated way - because it comes via narrowly parochial rustic speech and concerns of the protagonists.

In practice, the scene probably serves as a filter, to draw-in 'people who like this sort of thing' and discourage those who don't; and also it demonstrates that The Shire is no idyll; but on the contrary, aside from the diminutive stature of its occupants, almost indistinguishable from the English countryside of a century ago.

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Saturday, 29 March 2014

My attempt at a group portrait of the Inklings

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A few months ago, I asked why there was no group portrait of the Inklings - and hoped that somebody would soon have a try at one

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/wanted-group-portrait-of-inklings.html

Still not response - so today I sat down and had a try myself.

Unfortunately I cannot draw - nonetheless here it is:

The First Ever Group Portrait of the Inklings:


For Heaven's sake - it shouldn't be difficult to do better than that!

So please, someone, do it!

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Note: What I was attempting is Tolkien vigorously making a point to Jack who is rather smugly avuncular; Warnie looking at his brother with deep affection, 'Humphrey' Havard  apparently dozing (like his alter ego Dolbear in the Notion Club Papers) - and Charles Williams looking partly louche - partly saintly (eyes directed Heavenward).

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Sunday, 23 March 2014

Is it immature to regard Tolkien as a great writer?

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Do I still think, as I did then, that Tolkien was the greatest writer in the world? 

In the strict sense, no. 

You can think that at thirteen. If you still think it at fifty-three, something has gone wrong with your life

Terry Pratchett, writing in Meditations on Middle Earth edited by Karen Haber, 2003. I have added the emphasis.

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This is an important challenge to Tolkien's stature as a writer and as a thinker - it is, indeed, the crux of the wide divergence of opinion regarding the evaluation of Tolkien.

On the one hand, is a strong taste and preference for Tolkien fine and dandy for teenagers, but a sign of immaturity in an adult - as Pratchett argues from his own experience?

Or, as I would argue, is the opposite the case - that Tolkien is fundamentally a mature taste; and it is Pratchett whose evaluation is adolescent?

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I should immediately at this point correct any impression that I dislike Pratchett's work; on the contrary I regard Terry Pratchett as my favourite fiction writer alive in Britain today. I think he is blimmin' marvellous. Which is why he is worth debating.

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What lies behind this is a traditionalist - and religious - perspective; in confrontation with a progressive - and atheist - perspective: Tolkien is himself, and speaks on behalf of, the traditionalist Christian; Pratchett is himself, and speaks on behalf of, the modern, secular, Leftist and indeed politically correct perspective of modernity.

To the traditionalist, progressivism is immaturity - it is a refusal to grow-up (what I have 'famously' termed psychological neoteny); while to a progressive, traditionalism is a refusal to grow up - it is a 'clinging' to childhood certainties and structures.

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So what we have here is a very profound distinction between two utterly different philosophies of life. And it comes through in multiple ways.

Pratchett is topical and satiric, Tolkien is timeless and humorous; Pratchett is cynical, Tolkien is pessimistic; Pratchett's best work has a female-centred perspective, Tolkien's is a Patriarchal world: Pratchett's world is full of antiheroes, there are none in Tolkien; in Pratchett's world the highest values are kindness, the relief of suffering and tolerance - and cowardly selfish people are regarded with affection, in Tolkien's world the highest values are love and courage; for Pratchett equality and counter-cultural rebelliousness are positive values, while in Tolkien deference to hierarchy and obedience are positive... and so on.

These are two utterly different world views - and it is natural that from TP's perspective Tolkien is out of date, and indeed has an immoral basis which can only be acceptable when firmly placed in an ironic frame - or else is regarded indulgently as a teenage phase or craze or fad - which sensible people grow-out-of.

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In my opinion Pratchett's work is very uneven in quality - and sometimes very shallow; but it is interesting that the best characters in Pratchett, and the most moving situations and incidents, are very traditional: Granny Weatherwax is hardly a progressive, Tiffany Aching is a great traditionalist, and Vimes's primary quality is decency - a very old-fashioned virtue.

So Pratchett, unavoidably - in pursuit of depth and truth - must include traditionalism and an implicit real-religiousness - inside his essentially modern, progressive, satirical, cynical, atheistic and politically correct framework.

There it is somewhat ironic, distant, against-the-grain and deniable - but it is what gives the best of Pratchett's work the warmth and heart which makes it so worthwhile.

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Nowadays, Terry Pratchett is best known outside his fiction for two 'causes':

1. Militant atheism - as a prominent member of the Humanist Association.

2. Proselytizing advocacy of euthanasia - specifically, the view that people should be humanely murdered when their lives have reached a certain threshold of suffering, or lack of dignity, or when they do not experience enough pleasure or satisfaction.

So, from TP's current perspective, this is what mature adults believe and how mature adults behave - thus naturally Tolkien is necessarily immature

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Pratchett is, indeed, an absolutely mainstream, counter-cultural, rebellious 'radical' - in that he has accepted a knighthood from the monarch (SIR Terry Pratchett), and supports medical research charities (for dementia) and is a major contributor to a trendy animal charity (Orangutans) and all the rest of it - all very highly socially acceptable stuff.

By contrast, it would be, in the UK, a disciplinary/ sacking/ imprisonable/ hate crime offence to read-out certain passages from Tolkien's letters to certain people in certain situations. After all, Tolkien was a traditionalist Roman Catholic - and it is utterly beyond the pale for anyone to articulate, never mind to advocate, Christian views in the public arena in Britain today.

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So we have the usual modern situation that the supposed radical is feted and fashionable; while the views of a reactionary and conservative have become so truly counter-cultural as to be dangerous - requiring coordinated suppression from the state; and a taste for literature rooted in the values and perspectives of centuries is regarded as immature.

To label Tolkien as an immature taste is not just a slander, but also a hinted threat - the threat that if you have not grown out of Tolkien, if you have not stopped taking him seriously, before you reach adulthood; then you are either a bit of a joke, or else potentially in trouble - and if ridicule is not enough to make you abandon your loyalty, then other and even nastier methods can and maybe will be deployed...  

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Friday, 7 March 2014

Seven books about Tolkien I do NOT recommend

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Looking through my bookshelves I have, over the years, bought several books about Tolkien which I consider to be a waste of money and the time spent reading them.

In order to save others (or, at least, those 'others' who share my tastes and preferences) from the same mistakes, I list here my NOT recommendations:

1. Tolkien: a biography by Michael White - NOT

2. Defending Middle Earth: Tolkien, myth and modernity by Patrick Curry - NOT

3. A look behind the Lord of the Rings by Lin Carter - NOT

4. There and back again in the footsteps of JRR Tolkien by Mathew Lyons - NOT

5. Tolkien and the Critics edited by ND Isaacs and RA Zimbardo - NOT

6. A Tolkien Compass edited by Jared Lobdell - NOT

7. Understanding Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings by William Ready - NOT (except that this one is so bad that it is almost enjoyable).

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Friday, 7 February 2014

Who are the Children of Ilúvatar?

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The usual answer is Elves and Men.

But the correct answer is Elves, Men, Angels (Maia) and the Valar including even Melkor/ Morgoth and Manwe.

These are all the same species or kind, evidenced by the fact that they all look pretty much the same - varying mainly by size - and can interbreed. 

*

So the Maia are known to be lesser than the Ainur, but of the same kind - and the Maia Melian married and had a child with the Elf Thingol; their half-Maia half-Elven child Luthien had a fertile marriage with Beren; and there were Elf Human marriages between their descendants including Idril and Tuor, and Arwen and Aragorn. 

Furthermore, there was at least one probable recorded marriage of a Silvan Elf and a Prince of Dol Amroth. 

So clearly Men and Elves and Maia were of the same kind, and Maia are Valar - so all of these are, it seems, Children of Iluvitar. 

*

Only the primary creator God (the One, Illuvatar, Eru) is set apart as a being of different kind, and outside of the world...

But wait! If we go back to the Lost Tales to try and recover Tolkien's original conception and image of the nature of Illuvatar; in The Music of the Ainur (the Ainur being the senior Valar) we find:

"Behold, Illuvatar dwelt alone. Before all things he sang into being the Ainur first, and greatest is their power and glory of all his creatures within the world and without. Thereafter he fashioned them dwellings in the void, and dwelt among them, teaching them all manner of things, and the greatest of these was music."

And dwelt among them! 

*

So, by joining and building these speculative inferences; it seems to be implied, or perhaps simply assumed, that The One, Illuvatar/ Eru is also man-like - God with body, parts and passions!

So, the Father of the Children of Illuvatar is of the same kind as His Children.

*

Of these various beings, it seems that only Men are 'mortal', in the sense that at death their spirits leave the world of the 'dwellings' that were fashioned in the void for Valar and Elves; thus Men are only visitors to these dwellings in the void. 

After death, it seems, Men's spirits leave these dwellings in the void and go to where Illuvatar also dwells; and this can be seen as a higher destiny for Men.

Men are the same kind as Illuvatar the creator and Father, and share his dwelling after death; and the Children of Illuvatar (Valar, Elves and Men) are a chain of familiarly-related beings, a 'Heavenly' Father with sons and daughters... 

*

The saddest thing about all this is that the family seems to be sundered - with Elves and Valar remaining in the world while Men and Illuvatar will gather outwith that world.  

So, the greatest hope of universal salvation is for a New World, an Arda Remade, where all the Children of Illuvatar can come to dwell again together - as indeed was prophesied, or hoped-for, by Finrod:

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2008/09/tolkiens-marring-of-men.html

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Thursday, 6 February 2014

What is the meaning of Tolkien's King Sheave legend?

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From  JRR Tolkien The Lost Road edited by Christopher Tolkien (History of Middle Earth Volume Five) , 1987

http://www.thetolkienwiki.org/wiki.cgi?KingSheave/ProseVersion

This is my favourite rendition of the versions of the legend Tolkien prepared from various ancient sources including Beowulf, and from his own imagination. It is a very beautiful, haunting, mysterious story.


**

To the shore the ship came and strode upon the sand, grinding upon the broken shingle. In the twilight as the sun sank men came down to it, and looked within.

A boy lay there, asleep. He was fair of face and limb, dark-haired, white-skinned, but clad in gold. The inner parts of the boat were gold-adorned, a vessel of gold filled with clear water was at his side, [added: at his right was a harp,] beneath his head was a sheaf of corn, the stalks and ears of which gleamed like gold in the dusk. Men knew not what it was.

In wonder they drew the boat high upon the beach, and lifted the boy and bore him up, and laid him sleeping in a wooden house in their burh. They set guards about the door.

*

In the morning the chamber was empty. But upon a high rock men saw the boy standing. The sheaf was in his arms.

As the risen sun shone down, he began to sing in a strange tongue, and they were filled with awe. For they had not yet heard singing, nor seen such beauty. And they had no king among them, for their kings had perished, and they were lordless and unguided.

Therefore they took the boy to be king, and they called him Sheaf; and so is his name remembered in song. For his true name was hidden and is forgotten. Yet he taught men many new words, and their speech was enriched.

Song and verse-craft he taught them, and rune-craft, and tillage and husbandry, and the making of many things; and in his time the dark forests receded and there was plenty, and corn grew in the land; and the carven houses of men were filled with gold and storied webs.

The glory of King Sheaf sprang far and wide in the isles of the North. His children were many and fair, and it is sung that of them are come the kings of men of the North Danes and the West Danes, the South Angles and the East Gothfolk. And in the time of the Sheaf-lords there was peace in the isles, and ships went unarmed from land to land bearing treasure and rich merchandise. And a man might cast a golden ring upon the highway and it would remain until he took it up again.

*

Those days songs have called the golden years, while the great mill of Sheaf was guarded still in the island sanctuary of the North; and from the mill came golden grain, and there was no want in all the realms.

*

But it came to pass after long years that Sheaf summoned his friends and counsellors, and he told them that he would depart. For the shadow of old age was fallen upon him (out of the East) and he would return whence he came. Then there was great mourning.

But Sheaf laid him upon his golden bed, and became as one in deep slumber; and his lords obeying his commands while he yet ruled and had command of speech set him in a ship.

He lay beside the mast, which was tall, and the sails were golden. Treasures of gold and of gems and fine raiment and costly stuffs were laid beside him. His golden banner flew above his head. In this manner he was arrayed more richly than when he came among them; and they thrust him forth to sea, and the sea took him, and the ship bore him unsteered far away into the uttermost West out of the sight or thought of men. Nor do any know who received him in what haven at the end of his journey.

Some have said that that ship found the Straight Road. But none of the children of Sheaf went that way, and many in the beginning lived to a great age, but coming under the shadow of the East they were laid in great tombs of stone or in mounds like green hills; and most of these were by the western sea, high and broad upon the shoulders of the land, whence men can descry them that steer their ships amid the shadows of the sea.

**


The legend of King Sheave featured in Tolkien's unfinished novel The Lost Road of 1936 and its revised version The Notion Club Papers of 1944-6. Clearly it fascinated Tolkien, and seemed significant.

On the one hand this purported to be history, and Sheaf was listed as an ancestor of the real-life Kings - and therefore a direct ancestor of the current Queen of England!

On the other hand the legend is clearly mythic, and indeed magical.

*

What are the striking features?

1. "they had no king among them, for their kings had perished, and they were lordless and unguided."

A strange situation - a lordless people, unguided? Usually somebody takes over, siezes power, when the king's line dies-out. This sounds much like a metaphor for the human condition.

2. "He was fair of face and limb, dark-haired, white-skinned, but clad in gold."  "he began to sing in a strange tongue, and they were filled with awe. For they had not yet heard singing, nor seen such beauty." 

A marvelous boy is washed ashore, and this unguided people are smitten by his beauty and the beauty of his singing. They recognize him as a gift for their good, destined or intended to be their leader, and make him such.

3. "he began to sing in a strange tongue".

Sheaf is not of their people, he is from else where, another culture.

4. "Song and verse-craft he taught them, and rune-craft, and tillage and husbandry, and the making of many things... the dark forests receded and there was plenty, and corn grew in the land; and the carven houses of men were filled with gold and storied webs. The glory of King Sheaf sprang far and wide ... His children were many and fair... of them are come the kings of men ... there was peace in the isles, and ships went unarmed from land to land bearing treasure and rich merchandise. And a man might cast a golden ring upon the highway and it would remain until he took it up again."

The golden King has all virtues - wisdom, the arts, craft, the secrets of agriculture; he was a great military leader, he was a patriarch with many sons, he established peace and honesty.

5.  "Sheaf summoned his friends and counsellors, and he told them that he would depart. For the shadow of old age was fallen upon him ... he would return whence he came... But Sheaf laid him upon his golden bed, and became as one in deep slumber"

In the mortal world, Sheaf ages, and comes to a time when he needs to return; but he does not die - instead voluntarily falls into a deep sleep.

6. "the sea took him, and the ship bore him unsteered far away into the uttermost West ... Nor do any know who received him in what haven at the end of his journey.

*

Who was Sheaf? Where did he come from? What was his purpose?

In the context of Tolkien's other work it seems that Sheaf was a Vala or Maia, one of the gods or an angelic representative of similar order to Melian or Gandalf (also Saruman and Sauron).

Indeed, since Sheaf had sons, the closest parallel is specifically with Melian.

Melian (although not 'sent' to do this) wed the High Elf Thingol and their daughter was Luthien who married Beren and thereby brought an elvish (and Maian) strain into Men's ancestry - with descendants such as Earendil, Elrond, Elros and the Numenoreans, Arwen and Aragorn: people whose influence in Middle Earth was profound.

*

Thus Sheaf is a male equivalent of Melian - but Sheaf married and had children ('sons') by a mortal woman, or perhaps many women; whereas Melian married an 'immortal' male elf.

Sheaf came from the West - therefore was, presumably, 'sent' by the Valar - to lead wisely and well; to bring prosperity, peace, beauty and good order; and to infuse the blood of humanity (especially the legitimate kings) with the nobility of the gods.

Presumably, when his mortal frame wore-out, Sheaf returned to the West, there to resume his angelic form.

(Rather as did Gandalf the Grey return to the West when slain, returned in spirit presumably, to be restored to his resurrected (?) and perfected body back to Middle Earth - at least for a short period.)

Ultimately, all this is suggested by Sheaf's coming from The West, from his personal qualities, and his return to The West.

*

King Sheave is one of several Tolkien stories when 'healing' - knowledge, beauty, order - comes to a society from elsewhere - from The West.

The return of the Noldorian High Elves is one example. Although a very mixed blessing the Noldor did indeed bring arts, crafts, sciences and beauty of life - for example in their great cities such as Gondolin, Doriath and Nargothrond; or the realm of Lothlorien.

Then there was the return of the Numenoreans from The West to Middle Earth, to found Gondor and Arnor. 

And in Smith of Wooton Major, Faery is to the West of the village; and from Faery comes that which elevates and ennobles mundane life - coming via messengers such as the eponymous Smith and his grandfather.

And of course Tolkien's earliest legendarium (Lost Tales, from the 1914-18 world war) had its origins in the story of an Aelfwine (elf-friend) character who sails to - and establishes human contact with - 'Elfland', Tol Eressea, the island of elves to the West.

This theme and basis for the Legendarium continued through thirty more years, including the (finished) Quenta Silmarillion, the unfinished Lost Road and the unfinished Notion Club Papers - after which the idea was finally abandoned.

*

But, the intriguing thing about all this is that - plausibly, by Tolkien's understanding of such things - it really happened!

King Sheave 'really happened' in the sense that the evidence that it (or something like it) happened is, while somewhat slim and scattered, of the same general type and authority (ancient writings) as 'normal' historical evidence used to establish 'normal' historical events.

No wonder Tolkien was fascinated.

*

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Tolkien: first contact - circa 1970...

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The very first time I heard about Tolkien was when aged about ten or eleven, when a friend played me a few minutes on a cassette tape from what he called 'a fairy tale for grown-ups' called The Hobbit.

It was from the (apparently?) long-lost 1961 BBC Radio adaptation read by David Davis - who was one of the best and favourite performers on children's radio during my childhood

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Davis_(broadcaster)

Here is a snippet of his voice - although when I knew him it had matured to be a little deeper and more 'gravelly' than here:

http://www.radioacademy.org/hall-of-fame-member/david-davis/

I was intrigued - but did not get around to reading The Hobbit for myself until I was 13, under the influence of another friend who perhaps lent me a copy.

I loved it so much that I did not want to read The Lord of the Rings because I knew that it did not have very much more about Bilbo - I just wanted another book all about Bilbo.

Still, eventually (i.e. after a few weeks resistance) I read LotR; and the rest is history...

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Review of JRR Tolkien audiobook Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Orfeo - read by Terry Jones (1997)

*

Rating - three stars (out of five)

This is a complete recording (on four CDs) of Tolkien's translations of three Middle English poems, plus his introductory editorial comments.

The actual material, and what Tolkien has to say about the poems, is excellent - consequently I have listened to this audiobook set many times over the past several years.

If I had a gun held to my head, I would need to acknowledge that I do not think Tolkien's translations capture the spirit of the original poems - in particular, Pearl in its original language seems to me one of the very greatest of poems in my experience - and I don't think that greatness comes through in the modern English version. Nonetheless, it is very helpful in appreciating the original - and I think that was Tolkien's primary intention.

My major reservations about this audiobook relate to Terry Jones as the reader.

To be brutally honest, he is inadequate. His voice is not very pleasant to listen to for long periods, he has several intrusive speech impediments; and worst of all he is not a good enough actor or dramatic reader.

Jones does his best, and his main virtue is an earnest sincerity - so that I do indeed listen to these CDs with enjoyment. But they could be so much better with another reader.

Terry Jones is best known as one of the Monty Python team, and it might seem surprising that he was even considered for this job. But the reason is fairly obvious in the sense that Jones is a 'professional' medievalist who has published a monograph on The Knight's Tale from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, plus some popular history (albeit he is a skeptical, debunking and anti-Christian kind of medieval historian - of a sort which would have been uncongenial to Tolkien and even more so to CS Lewis).

On the whole, this is the weakest by-far of the Tolkien audiobooks I have encountered - but it is likely that we will be stuck with this version for some considerable time to come, because I don't suppose that there is much demand for recordings of these works.

*

Saturday, 28 December 2013

A Notion Club FanFiction

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I was pleased to discover this FanFic by 'shakespearianfish': Further Entries of the Notion Club Papers.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9947242/1/Further-Entries-of-the-Notion-Club-Papers

Very well done, I thought - an accurate pastiche of the original NCP style and characterization.

More please!

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Monday, 16 December 2013

Light on a very strange personality: Review of Charles Williams' letters to his wife 1939-45

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To Michal from Serge: Letters from Charles Williams to his wife Florence 1939-1945

Edited by Roma A King. Kent State University Press: Ohio, USA. 2002. pp 315

*

I have spent a leisurely couple of weeks reading these letters - selected from almost-daily missives over nearly six years - having at last found a not-wildly-overpriced secondhand copy after a few years of waiting.

These letters are very well worth reading for the scholar of Charles Williams life and works - somebody such as myself; but would be almost totally without interest for anybody else.

*

(Note: Michal and Serge were pet names: Michal for Florence and Serge for Charles.)

The reason for their limited appeal is that there is very little in these pages of letters except:

1. Microscopic discussions of money - down to the level of shillings earned and spent.

2. Repeated and prolonged (and un-convincing) praise of Michal by Serge.

3.  Complaints of misery, discomfort, loneliness etc.

*

There is almost nothing about The Inklings, or even CS Lewis - who Williams was in real life often meeting (with Tolkien, Warnie, Havard and others) for a few hours on Monday mornings (in various places, to read and be read to by Lewis and Tolkien) rooms, Tuesday lunchtimes (at the Bird and Baby pub) and Thursday evenings (for Inklings meetings in Lewis's rooms at Magdalen College).

There is almost nothing about Williams' incessant socialising and conversing with his wide circles of 'disciples', admirers, acolytes - such as his future biographer Alice Mary Hadfield; and almost nothing of his actual work at his employers: the Oxford University Press.

If indeed he was doing any significant work at the OUP. CW did so much of his own book and essay writing (for money), reviewing other people's books (for money), tutorial work and lecturing in Oxford (for money) and around the country (usually free) - not to mention the socialising - it seems that the OUP position by this time was simply a sinecure!

*

So what about the focus on money? This goes way beyond anything reasonable or sensible - indeed, it is an act of self-justification. Williams is telling his wife, over and over again, that he is working to get her money - which he sends in dribs and drabs enclosed with most of the letters - ten shilling notes (that is half a pound), mostly pounds, the occasional two pounds... meticulously documented in terms of their provenance.

My interpretation is partly that these were a bribe for the continued affection and attention of Michal, and partly a displacement activity - by writing about money all the time and everyday, CW was able NOT to write about a lot of other things.

*

What about the over-the-top praise of Michal?

One might initially suppose that for a husband to write wild overpraise of his wife day after day for six years - he would have to mean what he said... but on reflection I think almost the opposite was the case.

What kind of wife demands to be called a genius, compared with a goddess, credited with superhuman powers of goodness, intuition, inspiration and so on; day after day, year after year?... what reasonable wife could endure it?

My firm conclusion (consistent with other sources of information I have found in memoirs) is that Charles Williams wife was a Psycho Hose Beast^, a High Maintenance Woman, an hysteric, an extremely unstable neurotic.

Therefore Michal apparently demanded incessant, ludicrous over-praise, and was so jealous that Williams could not write positively about anybody - not even his best men friends such as CS Lewis and TS Eliot - without immediately denying his affection for them, denigrating them, stating that he would always rather be with his wife instead.

Indeed, I infer that CW was completely sincere in his wish to live with Michal (if in almost nothing else); he stated, and I believe, that it was the only way he could find rest in this life; lacking which his life was always a matter of being 'on show', and with a mask in place, and unsettled, and not-at-home.

Williams really, really wanted to live with Michal - as husband and wife (and also, he very powerfully missed the physical side of marriage - especially sleeping next to each other and entwined, as well as sex).

Yet Michal would not be with him. What kind of wife lives apart from her husband for six years - living here and there, in London and out of it, sometimes with people she loathes - because she doesn't like Oxford? Answer: the kind of woman who does not want to live with her husband, and who will seize upon any excuse NOT to live with her husband.

*

Why this terribly sad situation?

Obviously there were faults on both sides, and especially Charles' previous infatuation with the secretary Phyllis Jones, which he never completely broke free from; plus presumably his weirdly ritualistic 'use' of young women as a source of energy to sublimate into his writing...

I infer that Michal was already, by nature, extremely unstable and neurotic; and the Phyllis Jones business unleashed this with extraordinary and permanent force - one observer said that it made the main topic of her conversation for many years after Charles died.

So there was probably a considerable element of Michal punishing Charles, and punishing him day after day for year after year; but also this behaviour probably came naturally to her as a mixture of her dependence on him with her anger and revulsion at his betrayal.

*

The modern reaction to CW's situation - is why did he put up with it? Why did he not just 'dump' Michal? Perhaps to take-up with one/ several/ many of his young female admirers - who would have been only too willing to oblige.

There are many reasons (including morality) but at root Williams did not want to - he wanted Michal back, and that was the only thing he wanted because it was an absolute necessity to his psychological survival.

Thus the tedious harping on the money he brings in and sends to her, the wild overpraise, the pandering to her jealousy by including many spiteful (and dishonest) remarks about the people he lives among; and the massive act of self-censorship going on in these letters - which represent a real but tiny minority chunk of CW's Oxford life, such that the reality of 90 percent of his waking life as seen by everybody around him including those very close to him; is utterly excluded from these letters.

*

Another factor is CW's son Michael (note the 'e' in the name). It is one of the most disappointing aspects of this not-very-well-edited volume that there is almost no information about Michael Williams (1922-2000) who is a major focus of CWs concern, indeed his desperate worry over the whole period of these letters - but especially the early years.

In fact, CW's evident and active concern for his son is one of his most likeable and 'human' qualities; any father can empathize with this, and it is greatly to CW's credit.

It is clear that Michael had some undefined psychological problems, and also that he had suffered some kind of illness in his teens which threatened his eyesight - and perhaps caused or threatened some kind of permanent problem either of mental handicap or psychotic or neurological type.

But although this is my own area of medical expertise, there just isn't enough information provided here to give more than the vaguest idea about what the problem was. Charles and Michal obviously knew what the problem was, so it never gets spelled-out in correspondence - but the editor should have found-out and told us!

The fact that in the last couple of years of this book, Michael was reviewing books for the prestigious (and paying) magazine Time and Tide, shows that he must have been intelligent and had considerable ability as a writer - yet he is always talked-of as being unstable, irritable, prone to outbursts of bad manners, lacking in application, prone to unreasonably strong dislikes (of Oxford, for example), and so on.

The editor needed to tell us about this - but he didn't; and I can't discover anything anywhere else. Yet Michael seems like he was probably some kind of missing 'key' to Charles Williams personality and behaviour.

*

So these letters provide vital information for the Charles Williams scholar - albeit mostly indirectly and by omission.

For me, the letters demonstrate that Charles Williams is not to be trusted in his evaluations of his wife, since his behaviour is not consistent with his statements.

Indeed, there is very little in these letters which can be trusted because the content has been so selected, slanted and distorted for the consumption of Michal/ Florence: they are fundamentally evasive, and they 'ring false' at many or most points throughout.

*

Also these letters are of near-zero literary value; and this is related to their falseness, and their extreme degree of self-censorship.

They reveal a fundamental problem with Charles Williams as a person, which spills over into Williams as a writer; which is that Williams' personality was compartmentalised, un-integrated.

So that while Lewis and Tolkien are the same person in their fiction, non-fiction and letters - and both were among the greatest of letter writers, from a literary perspective - Williams was by contrast a collection of hermetically-sealed masks (!), and his work is therefore extremely uneven in quality - according to which mask he is wearing; often lacks depth (because of the partiality of perspective); and almost-never attains the heights of either Lewis or Tolkien.

*

Yet it is hard to blame Williams for this; indeed after reading these letters I do not really blame him. He had great gifts - as were apparent to men of genius such as Eliot, Auden, Lewis and others; and he helped many people greatly; but he found life terribly difficult; almost a minute-by-minute struggle to find the energy and motivation to keep going.

I don't know whether many people would have done much better than CW did, given his inner trials.

All in all, I feel very sorry for Charles Williams. 

*

But Williams' fundamental flaw (for which I do blame him) was dishonesty - not by making up lies, but in the more insidious form of incomplete and misleading factuality.

At some point (and perhaps under intense and sustained pressure from Michal?) he took a step into a life of deception, and compartmentalisation; and this infected his work, and severely-limited his achievement so that Charles Williams will never be popular, nor indeed readable outside of a small 'cult'.

To Michal from Serge documents the end stage of this process - but although it was the end, with Charles dying suddenly, during a 'routine' abdominal operation to treat 'adhesions' from a previous operation, I did not detect any sense that his life's work was complete, or that he was 'ready to die'.

Quite the opposite - Williams' life was opening-out, with a delayed flowering and general success - many opportunities ranging from a Readership or Tutorship at Oxford, or a Professorship at Birmingham University (offered him, but turned-down)...

Had he lived, who knows what he might have gone-on to do?

But in the event, he didn't; and we must make what we can, of what we have: which is a lot.

*

^Note: the term 'psycho hose beast' comes from the brilliant 1992 movie Wayne's World, and is self-defining in that context.