Friday, 19 June 2015

What was an Inklings meeting like? - Depictions of The Inklings

1. An Inklings meeting was the (usually) Thursday evening/ night meeting in CS ('Jack') Lewis's rooms; to read work in progress, criticize it, and have conversations arising from this. These true Inklings meetings probably finished in October 1949.

The Inklings was not the Tuesday (later Monday) lunchtime gatherings at various pubs in Oxford, again focused on Jack Lewis, which happened especially at the 'Bird and Baby' (Eagle and Child), later the Lamb and Flag. These were attended by The Inklings, but also a wideish range of others - and they were just for general, mostly light, conversation. These informal, convivial, conversational meetings continued until Jack Lewis's death in 1963.   

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

3. The best known word-by-word depiction of an Inklings meeting is a chapter in Humphrey Carpenter's group biography The Inklings (1978); which he creatively reconstructed by sampling and synthesizing from multiple writings of the Inklings, together with hints from Warnie's diary.

4. JRR Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers (an unfinished and posthumously published novel to be found in Christopher Tolkien's edited The History of Middle Earth, Volume 9, Sauron's Defeat) comprises a highly Inklings-style meeting of a club based explicitly upon The Inklings and written to be read at The Inklings; but with different, fictionalized and composite participants.

This probably captures the spirit of an Inklings meeting more closely than any other source.

5. CS Lewis also left a short depiction of an Inkling's-esque club which can be found in an unfinished fragment of a story named The Dark Tower, and which was posthumously edited and published by Walter Hooper in 1977.

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

For further suggestions - see Diana Pavlac Glyer's The Company They Keep (2008).


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Michael Moorcock's "Epic Pooh" essay on Tolkien and the Inklings

Some 25 years ago I came across Michael Moorcock's essay focused on Tolkien in a collection of essays entitled Wizardry and Wild Romance (1987, Gollancz); and I have just been re-reading it.

It strikes me as an uncriticizably-bad essay - in the sense that it is an almost perfect example of that inversion of Good which is the hallmark of New Leftism in its post-sixties and politically correct form.

So, from Moorcock's perspective; virtue is wickedness, courage is cowardice, deep scholarship is criticized as populist, everything beautiful is named ugly, truth is put down as evasion - and all the opposites.

This is also the situation in Moorcock's fiction - it is a world of moral subversion, inversion and destruction; in which entropy is embraced and chaos is king (except that 'kings' are baddies).

I have, indeed, read a lot of Moorcock's books - at least twenty, probably more; at the time of my life when I embraced his nihilism. But, although I was always expecting to find evidence that Moorcock was (as so many journalists said) an important, perhaps great, writer; and although I kept trying book after book; I never could perceive it.

He seemed superficial and inept - in the sense that the books felt slapdash, pointless; and I could seldom understand what was actually going-on (this, I assume, was due to narrative inability, poor storytelling technique).

And I never re-read any of them - which is, for me, decisive; except for a comic James Bond parody called The Russian Intelligence, which made me laugh out loud.


But the Epic Pooh essay is well worth re-reading; not (I hasten to add) for its critical analysis nor its ludicrous pretense at objectivity of standards; and certainly not for its sprawling, hasty, lazy non-structure - but as a case study of the phenomenon of middle class disaffection.

Because Moorcock's main term of abuse is 'middle class' - yet of course he is himself middle class (far more so than I am). However, Moorcock is a characteristic part of the upper middle class; which is the bohemian artist, drop-out, liberated, sexual revolutionary, drink and drugs type middle class.

These drop-out upper middle class  types imagine themselves tougher, realer and more honest than the  lower middle class and the respectable skilled and semi-skilled working class (i.e. the kind from whom my own ancestors and relatives were drawn) - these are despised as smug/ pathetic/ infantile/ square/ repressed/ hypocritical (etc etc).

The bohemian middle class have a snobbish disdain amounting to disgust, directed against the old English hard-working and (mostly) clean-living 'bourgeoisie'; and always they side with tramps, prostitutes, muggers, thieves and beggars; their values are aristocratic: amoral and hedonistic; their gods are style and cool.


All through Epic Pooh, Moorcock is continually, swaggeringly advertising his own toughness in contrast with what he depicts as the the escapist timidity of Tolkien and co.

But Moorcock's idea of toughness is 'smoking behind the bike sheds' teenage rebel stuff; like getting expelled from his experimental private school, drinking to excess, taking drugs, advocating bizarre and promiscuous sex, going on 'demos', and participating in the rock music scene.

Against such indomitable modern heroism; what have the likes of Tolkien and CS Lewis to offer other than serving in the front line trenches during the first world war?


The irony is that Moorcock's brand of middle class moral rebelliousness is now the official ethics of mainstream bureaucracy and civil service; his transgressive sexual practices and orientations are now taught and advocated in primary schools; his once-edgy feminist privileging is now enforced by everybody including the Royal Mail, the Royal Mint, the Royal Society and the Royal Family; the 'revolutionaries' of the sixties are now the recipients of knighthoods and peerages.

Meanwhile, Tolkien is still excluded by the literary establishment, still maintains his devoted readership; Tolkien's values of Christianity and traditional morality cannot legally be expressed either in public or in private.


In his recent interviews, Moorcock apparently still romanticizes himself as a bold and dashing Robin Hood liberationist of 'the people'; indomitably fighting the overwhelming forces of repressive tradition, pervasive patriarchy, and hegemonic Christianity.

Pose is all. And all there is, is pose.


Thursday, 11 June 2015

Owen Barfield and the Truth of Imagination - Philosopher of the Inklings

Owen Barfield deserves his description as 'the fourth Inkling' - along with CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Charles Williams - because, although he attended few meetings, his influence is undeniable (especially on Lewis, but also on Tolkien) and his core philosophical concern was exactly that shared by the other three Inklings.

Indeed, Barfield stated this primary concern more explicitly and over a longer period than any other Inkling (because he started publishing so young and lived an active life up to the age of ninety-nine).

This theme is the Truth of Imagination. Barfield's life-long concern was to understand how the Imagination is a source of Truth, a source of knowledge, a way of accessing reality.


This was also Tolkien's concern, most evident in the concept of Subcreation described in his essay On Fairy Stories - and in his many reflections on myth and history.

It was Lewis's concern in his Platonism - where the Imagination was seen as a mortal and earth-bound way of understanding the primary eternal forms of Heaven - this crops up all through Lewis's ouvre - for instance at the end of The Last Battle and his book on the Medieval world view - The Discarded Image.

And Charles Williams many considerations of Romantic or Positive Theology (via  positiva)  - his multi-form efforts to show that the poetic imagination could be a path towards salvation and theosis; and his best and most explicitly Platonic novel The Place Of The Lion - in which the imagination opens-up a (dangerous, indeed deadly) channel for the eternal forms to invade this world. Furthermore, in his actual life, and to a high degree, Williams lived by the truth and reality of imagination.


Of course, this concern with the Truth of Imagination was mostly a matter of the confluence of spontaneous personal interests rather than of direct personal 'influence' of one Inking upon another - especially in the case of Charles Williams whose ideas were fully expressed before he even heard of the Inklings (in 1936), and before he actually attended meetings regularly (from 1939-45).

By contrast with Williams, Barfield had done most of his thinking and formulating back in the 1920s, before The Inklings, around the time of his Great War with Lewis (a sustained epistolatory debate from 1925 to Lewis's conversion circa 1930); and when the friendship was forming between Lewis and Tolkien. Barfield's early BLitt thesis, and his first two books (Poetic Diction and History In English Words) also (by his own account) influenced and changed Tolkien at this time - both as a professional philologist and in his imaginative writing.

Once we are sufficiently clear about the nature of The Inklings primary concern, the importance of Owen Barfield becomes obvious.


Monday, 1 June 2015

The contrasting dream-worlds of Lewis and Tolkien


CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien both used their dreams, and the relationship between dream-life and the awake state, as an important source in their fictional writing.

But the nature of that dream life seems to have been very different - Lewis's mostly negative and Tolkien's including the very positive.


By Lewis's account, he was prone to nightmares throughout his life, and these nightmares are distressingly well remembered.

One of Lewis's strangest works is the posthumously-published fragment from the Space Trilogy sequence, The Dark Tower, which depicts a truly nightmarish world that is so peculiar in its details as to suggest it came directly from a nightmare. To my mind, the particular quality of Lewis's nightmarish writings is a sense of living in an inescapable, eternal world of suffering from which God is excluded - a world which lacks even the concept of God.

In sum, it seems that the usual content of Lewis's dream material was negative, and its contribution to his writing was predominantly in terms of an awareness of horror, misery and sin.


Tolkien, by contrast, reports dream content that is both more varied and includes a lot of positive, euphoric, beautiful experience as well as the eerie, oppressive, nightmarish...

In particular, I would emphasize from the above references, the likelihood that Tolkien's experiences of Faery, of Elfland, were substantially derived from dreams - indeed from 'lucid' dreams in which we retained a degree of awareness of the dreaming state, and was able to exert control over the content and development of the dream while still experiencing it as emotionally-real.

This is also related to a major negative theme in Tolkien's work, which is the profound, inconsolable sense of loss experienced by the traveller to Faery on his return to the 'normal' mortal world - this is the experience of Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings, the protagonist in the poem The Sea Bell, the protagonist of Smith of Wootton Major and of 'Arry' Lowdham's Father in The Notion Club Papers (to name but a sample).

Since Tolkien (apparently) vividly and memorably experienced Faery in some of his dreams; then I would interpret this these as being a fictional version of Tolkien's own sorrow of waking from magical, mythical dreams, into the disenchanted, materialistic world of (much of) his everyday life.


Friday, 15 May 2015

Charles Williams died seventy years ago today - i.e. his work is out of copyright at the end of this calendar year, and he is the first Inkling to be thus liberated

A significant anniversary therefore; and a further chance for this neglected author to find readers.

For reasonable reasons (mainly wilful obscurity) CW's readers will never be many, but those who are attuned to him are often bowled-over.

In the meantime, several works - including the novels - are already available on the Project Gutenberg Australia web pages


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Review of The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski (2015)

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York. 2015. pp 644 (512 pages of text - 132 pages notes, references, index etc).


This new book fills a niche for those of us who regard the Inklings as being much more than merely a collection of CS Lewis's friends - and who see them as a group of thinkers and writers who have something of vital importance to say to us now.


There is a large amount of published material concerning the Inklings, scattered across works focused on the specific members - especially Lewis, Tolkien and Williams - but only two previous full-dress group biographies: The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter (1978) and The Company They Keep by Diana Pavlac Glyer (2007).

Both are excellent - Carpenter's a masterpiece of deft orchestration, and Pavlac Glyer's an intense and thorough exploration. But Carpenter is insistent that the Inklings are nothing more than a social group, while Pavlac Glyer regards them as primarily a mutual-help writers group.

The Zaleskis get the focus right for the first time, because they regard the Inklings primarily in a context which might be termed 'socio-spiritual'. In other words, the Inklings are seen as important primarily because they are perhaps the major and most influential representatives of a counter-cultural movement which aims to heal the alienation, meaninglessness, purposelessness, ugliness and nihilism of modernity.

Here is the Zaleskis' conclusion, excerpted from the Epilogue:

As symbol, inspiration, guide, and rallying cry, the Inklings grow more influential each year… It is plain that Tolkien has unleashed a mythic awakening and Lewis a Christian awakening.

The Inklings' work… taken as a whole, has a significance that far outweighs any measure of popularity, amounting to a revitalization of Christian intellectual and imaginative life. They were twentieth-century Romantics who championed imagination as the royal road to insight, and the ‘medieval model’ as an answer to modern confusion and anomie…
They were at work on a shared project, to reclaim for contemporary life what Lewis called the ‘discarded image’ of a universe created, ordered and shot through with meaning.

Lewis’s work was all of a piece… he was ever on a path of rehabilitation and recovery.

Tolkien [was a man who made the effort to] create new languages and surrounded them with new myths for the sake of reenchanting English literature.

In his fiction, Charles Williams reclaimed mysterious, numinous objects… from past epochs and relocated them in modern England to demonstrate the thinness, even today, of the barrier between natural and supernatural…

Owen Barfield excavated the past embedded within language, secreted in the plainest of words, in order to illuminate the future of consciousness in all its esoteric, scarcely imaginable, glory...

Though surpassed in poetry and prose style by the very modernists they failed to appreciate, though surpassed in technical sophistication by any number of academic philosophers and theologians, the Inklings fulfilled what many find to be a more urgent need: not simply to restore the discarded image, but to refresh it and bring it to life for the present and future.

This seems to me just right, is lucidly expressed, and needed saying!


So, The Fellowship is the best-yet book on the Inklings in terms of its primary focus; also its balance and detail. Indeed, The Fellowship is very well-written and constructed - following Tolkien, Lewis and Barfield in a three stranded chronology - then introducing Williams at the point when Coghill, Lewis and Tolkien encountered The Place of the Lion.

(In my opinion, this was the exact point when the Inklings 'gelled' and their implicit purpose began to emerge -

The decision to include Barfield to make a core quartet is well justified. Indeed, this was the first time that Barfield has 'come alive' for me, as a real person; and at last I appreciate his prolonged sufferings and disappointments.

Until recently, I have found Barfield's writing the most difficult to engage-with - perhaps because his prose style is relatively plain and his ideas are both deep and unfamiliar. But I am now looking forward to re-engaging with the work with this most subtle and elusive of the Inklings.


The pen-portraits of Tolkien and Lewis strike me as almost wholly accurate and empathic. However, I disagree when the authors are critical of Tolkien - repeatedly! - for what is termed his 'heigh stile'; that is to say his use of archaic forms of language in a context of modern speech.

Of course, archaic pastiche is not to everybody's taste - on the other hand, too much should not be made of it, since clearly it did not prevent Lord of the Rings becoming probably the best loved of all very popular fictions of the twentieth century.

But, personal preferences aside, it is surely unwise to bracket Tolkien's use of archaisms with those of other authors; because Tolkien was the most gifted philologist of his generation, and (according to Tom Shippey) no-one alive can match him in knowledge and understanding.

Tolkien knew exactly what he was doing with the English language, and he did it.


Unlike the other three main Inklings in this study; Charles Williams, as seems almost inevitable, is described 'from the outside' and we don't get a feel for what he was 'really like'.

However, this is not really a failure on the part of the Zaleskis; because I don't know whether there ever has been, or ever will be, anyone who can identify with Charles Williams to the extent of understanding his core being and motivation!

Despite thirty years of intermittent effort in reading dozens of accounts of the man and plumbing his works, I myself regard Williams inner self as a mystery; and this seems to have been the case for everyone who wrote about him. Indeed, all we can say is that those who thought they did understand Williams (such as CS Lewis or TS Eliot) can now be seen to have been mistaken.

I was impressed with the evaluation of Williams ouvre, and I agree with the negative judgement on his poetry. Williams reputations stands or falls on his novels (especially The Place of the Lion) and his main critical and theological work - although I personally have a blind spot about The Figure of Beatrice, which most people regard as one of Williams very best things.


The Zaleskis also have a blind spot, about Lewis's The Screwtape Letters! This book strikes them as sophomoric and an over-extended joke; and as probably destined for long-term oblivion. My opinion is the opposite, and that Screwtape will survive and be cherished when Mere Christianity, Miracles and the other apologetics have come to seem dated. Time will tell.


The Fellowship wears its scholarship lightly, but it is very accurate - and I only spotted a handful of trivial errors among the tens of thousands of facts. In only one respect would I regard the book as significantly mistaken - and that is a matter of interpretation.

The Fellowship repeats near-universal belief that Tolkien did not much like Charles Williams, and that he was jealous of Lewis's devotion. This leads the Zaleskis to doubt Tolkien's sincerity in his letter of condolence to William's widow in 1945 when Tolkien says 'I had grown to admire and love your husband deeply'.

But I have argued that in reality, according to all contemporary evidence, Tolkien did 'love' Charles Williams until more than a decade after Williams death.

Indeed, it was only after the revelations concerning CW's infidelities and involvement with ritual magic became public knowledge in the late 1950s that Tolkien had anything negative to say about him. Only then did Tolkien apparently revise his attitudes - and it is these retrospective re-interpretations that have misled biographers.


That Tolkien was indeed prone to negative retrospective re-evaluations during the early 1960s is confirmed on page 484 of this study, which documents Tolkien's contemporary 'sniping' posthumous comments about CS Lewis (including Letters to Malcolm), and explains them as probably due to his 'drear' state of mind during this period:

'mired in the bottomless bog... trapped fast by illness, overwork, and anxiety over his wife's health, his children's faith, and his own failing powers. Exhaustion and depression lowered his inhibitions and loosened his tongue.'

This is an important thing to get right, since it concerns the core dynamic of The Inklings in their most intense and important phase - during the 1939-45 war, when Williams was living in Oxford. So, my hope is that this might be corrected in a future edition of this study - assuming, that is, that the authors are convinced by my arguments!


Despite The Fellowship's relative comprehensiveness, there still remains much to be done in Inklings studies; not least because the fascination and influence of this group continues to deepen and spread.

Jack Lewis's life has been thoroughly documented - but the same cannot yet be said of Tolkien's. A detailed new biography of Charles Williams is imminent from Grevel Lindop. The fifth most important Inkling - especially as a listener and audience - was Warnie Lewis, and his life and work is still somewhat hazy; and this is even more the case for 'Humphrey' Havard. Plenty of work ahead...

In the meantime, here at last we have the definitive book, the go-to volume, on the Inklings. It is the first book to read if you want to find out about this group

For this much thanks!


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

On beginning to understand Owen Barfield - a matter of perspective.

I have been intermittently plugging-away at the writings of Owen Barfield over the past several years - I have read a selection of summaries and excerpts, essays online, read and watched interviews, the official biography; but so far had only really been able to engage with the enjoyable and stimulating Platonic dialogue Worlds Apart; which is a philosophical conversation between a variety of contrasting characters, taking place over a few days in a country house setting.

However, just over the past few days, I have quite suddenly 'tuned-into' what Barfield was getting-at; and have been finding it a very insightful and valuable thing.

The aspect which has grabbed my attention is his long-term endeavour to clarify how it is that Imagination (in a particular meaning, but one not far from ordinary usage) is not just a valid way of knowing, but an absolutely essential component of knowing (when knowing means genuinely to appropriate for oneself).

It was this which provided the focus of Barfield's 'Great War' (an extended epistolary debate with CS Lewis when they were best friends in the mid-1920s, and before Lewis became a Christian). Lewis loved Imagination, but not as a way of reaching reliable and valid knowledge. Barfield was trying to induce Lewis to change his mind on this matter, although Lewis never fully did so. I now think Barfield was correct.

Yet I still do not find Barfield at all easy to read - it is slow, it is hard work - but at least I have grasped what he is up-to; and discovered it is a matter with which I am in sympathy, I can at last begin to appreciate him and evaluate his contributions.

The lesson here is one that I have encountered before: with many writers there is a 'key' which unlocks them for appreciation and understanding; and that key is often a matter of perspective, which itself comes from an empathic identification with their agenda.

Since the writer may not himself be aware of his own true agenda, and since critics may also misapprehend this (or read-in a different agenda) this is something that the reader may need to discover for himself.

But the effort is worthwhile, because the key opens the author.


Thursday, 12 February 2015

Brilliant and deep understanding of Lord of the Rings in a five minute videa


I was seriously impressed by this little, slightly facetious, video.

I may have been reading and thinking about LotR for more than forty years, but this tiny and user-friendly cartoon surprised me with several insights which - as soon as stated - were obviously correct.

The above link is where I watched it, but the vid is primarily located at:


Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Christianity of the Inklings has disappeared, is no longer available

One of the sad things I experienced about being an Englishman coming to Christianity via the Inklings, is the (delayed) realization that the Christianity they knew and practiced has gone.

So the Inklings reader may become a Christian, in hope of in some way emulating either JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis or Charles Williams - but then he, like I, will find that there is nowadays no remotely similar church he can join; that the Christian way of life from 1945 (when Charles Williams died) has gone - gone, except for some rather horrible, deceptive, almost parodic, institutional residues.


JRR Tolkien was a very traditional Ultramontane, scholastic type of Roman Catholic. Towards the end of his life, Tolkien was made very miserable by the changes introduced by the second Vatican council, especially the vernacular Mass; and would have been appalled and made even more miserable by liberalizing changes since he died in 1973.

He could only have found the kind of church he admired by joining the Society of St Pius the Tenth (SSPX) or similar - but I suspect he would have found their formally schismatic and excommunicate status intolerable.

I think he would have stayed a Roman Catholic but would have been extremely unhappy.


Lewis was a mainstream Anglican who after converting began on the Protestant side of the denomination and moved gradually towards a more Catholic practice (eg taking more frequent Holy Communion, attending confession with an Anglican Monk).

But Lewis did not get much satisfaction from attending church - he did it primarily from duty; and he would not have tolerated the incremental liberalisation of the Church of England, the abandonment by senior Bishops of belief in miracles, the Virgin Birth, even the divinity of Christ; the introduction of priestesses from 1992, and so on.

I think Lewis would have continued to attend a church; but what kind of church? Would Lewis have become a non-denominational conservative evangelical, or a Roman Catholic (like his 'disciple' Walter Hooper)? Perhaps...

Or would he have become Russian Orthodox - a Platonist faith with which he had considerable sympathy and some links? That option seems most likely to me.


Charles Williams was highly heterodox in his interests - although a traditional Anglican in his theology. his practice was Anglo-Catholic, but as a mature man he seems to have like church-going even less than Lewis; and towards the end of his life had founded his own loose Christian association: The Companions of the Coinherence.

I think Charles Williams would have left the Church of England and set up his own sect, or group, or mini-church - probably some kind of Anglican group using the Book of Common Prayer. Williams did not have much regard for priests, and so perhaps he might have made this a denomination with pastors but not priests.


So, the main Inklings would by now have necessarily become outsiders to - or at most marginal, fringe, and reluctant members of - their own denominations; and we to try to follow in their footsteps cannot help but do the same, if we wish to preserve their true legacy.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

My new essay on The Notion Club Papers is posted at L Jagi Lamplighter's Superversive Blog


Here is the essay in full:

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Unfinished Work: 

The Notion Club Papers

By Bruce G Charlton

The Notion Club Papers (NCPs) is an unfinished and posthumously-published modern science fiction novel by JRR Tolkien which he wrote in 1945-6 and read aloud to The Inklings during a long gap in the writing of The Lord of the Rings. He had become bogged-down over what seems an almost trivial detail in the narrative: synchronizing the phases of the moon in the different parts of the tale.


The draft novel material can be found on pages 143-327 of the Sauron Defeated, which is The History of Middle Earth Volume Nine, edited by Christopher Tolkien and published twenty years ago (1992) – and in addition there are a further hundred pages of drafts of the history of Numenor which was intended to have been integrated into the story.

This is a big chunk of writing, done at the peak of Tolkien’s powers, so it may be surprising that it is not better known – but of course the Notion Club Papers form merely one part of a scholarly volume also dedicated to charting the evolution of Lord of the Rings, so few Tolkien fans are aware of its existence.

Yet even when they are aware of the NCPs, few Tolkien fans trouble to read it. And this is understandable. What we have is a mere fragment: a scrappy ‘set-up’ for a very ambitious fiction which is mostly unwritten. Furthermore, the novel is not just un-finished, but hardly begun I terms of its action. Most novel readers are looking for a complete and coherent story with clear characterisation – and the NCPs do not offer anything of that type.


Why read it then?

I can only try to explain what draws me back to this tantalising work again and again.

In the first place there is a delightful sense of eavesdropping on a real-life Inklings meeting, because (as the name implies) the ‘Notion Club’ is modelled upon the Inklings, as reading and discussion groups of – mostly – dons, and meeting in the evening in Oxford Colleges. The style, and even the topics, of discussion at the Notion Club fit very well with what is known of the Inklings at their best.

Secondly, these fragments are worth reading because the NCPs is thematically focused on some of Tolkien’s deepest and most enduring concerns and yearnings – in particular his desire to provide England with a mythology that he felt it lacked, and to re-connect the impoverished modern world view with the richer, deeper perspective of the past. There are particular passages, here and there, which jump out at me; and feel like Tolkien talking of his inmost desires and deepest convictions.

And thirdly because the NCPs were at one point intended to be Tolkien’s fictional link from the modern world to his whole ‘Legendarium’ of the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion legends. Specifically, it seems that the Notion Club was to describe how the stories of ancient and magical times were transmitted to modern times: partly by the dreams experienced by members of the Notion Club, and probably also by two Notion Club members actually voyaging West across the Atlantic Ocean, discovering a long-lost route and coming to the land of the elves.

Yet another aspect is the development of the concept of Numenor, including the invention of the language Adunaic, as the everyday language of the Island. Among this material is a fascinatingly ‘garbled’ version of Numenorean history. Which Tolkien constructed as an example of the way that the original correct information from the elves might have become distorted by the passage of time and cumulative errors of many generations of men.


For the past few years I have been accumulating thoughts about the Notion Club Papers and putting them onto a blog of the same name

One of the most interesting ‘discoveries’ was that the NCPs were written at a time when Tolkien was suffering from severe psychological stress almost amounting to a ‘nervous breakdown’.

This was probably caused by Tolkien having taken on the duties of the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature while at the same time fulfilling his previous role as Professor of Anglo Saxon, during the period while a replacement was being appointed. Not only was he doing two jobs, but each of these jobs was heavier than usual because of the wartime shortage of academic manpower.

It is perhaps because of Tolkien’s psychological state that the NCPs contain – indirectly and put into the mouths of several characters - some of the most personal and autobiographical material Tolkien ever intended for public consumption.


And if the writing Notion Club Papers was indeed a ‘therapeutic’ process for Tolkien, then this treatment was apparently effective – since in the late summer of 1946 Tolkien resumed writing the Lord of the Rings and this time he was able to take the work through to completion without any further major hold-ups.


So The Notion Club Papers is interesting in its own right, and was also a pivotal work in the development of the Lord of the Rings from a hobbit-sequel into what it became.

Because, although it is now hard for us to believe - while he actually was writing it, the NCPs was the most ambitious work that Tolkien has attempted – a book involving both modern ‘science fiction and multi-layered and linked ancient history: both real and fictional. The Notion Clob Papers were, indeed, themselves a development of an incomplete story begun in 1936 called The Lost Road and now available as volume five of Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle Earth.

So, the combined efforts of The Lost Road and Notion Club Papers represented a whole decades-worth of effort, albeit intermittent, to bridge the ancient and modern, the factual and fictional, in a single complex work which would explain and introduce all his tales of Faery.

But when Tolkien abandoned The Notion Club Papers, it seems that this vast ambition was instead, somehow, channelled-into the emerging Lord of the Rings, enriching and deepening the concept.

All admirers of the Lord of the Rings therefore have reason to be grateful for the fragmentary and unfinished Notion Club Papers.


Tolkien's Notion Club Papers completed... (a speculative treatment)

(This is a combined and edited version of some previous posts, describing my idea of how JRR Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers might have ended-up.)

Having brooded (some would say obsessively - and they would be right!) over Tolkien's Notion Club Papers for a couple of years, I am now going to speculate about where the NCPs were tending; what the NCPs would have been about and what they would have been like - if ever Tolkien had finished the novel.


In a nutshell, I believe that the Notion Club Papers were intended to serve an extremely important purpose: to rescue modern England from its spiritual malaise.

At least - that was what the Notion Club themselves would be depicted as doing fictionally - and the finished book would be intended to make this possible in the mundane world.

Tolkien's ouvre (his Legendarium) was intended to make a mythology for England; the Notion Club Papers were intended to link his mythical Legendarium to modern England. (I got this from the work of Verlyn Flieger - especially her book Interrupted Music.)


I suggest that the NCPs would - ultimately (if finished) - have provided a feigned history of the processes that brought Tolkien's historical myth/s into action in the modern world.


What was Tolkien 'rescuing' England from?

This is made explicit in the NCPs:

[Jeremy] ..."Sometimes I have a queer feeling that, if one could go back, one would find not myth dissolving into history, but rather the reverse: real history becoming more mythical - more shapely, simple, discernibly significant, even seen at close quarters. More poetical and less prosaic, if you like.(...)

"They're not wholly inventions. And even what is invented is different from mere fiction; it has more roots." (...)

"[The roots are] In Being, I think I should say," Jeremy answered; "and in human Being; and coming down the scale, in the springs of History and the designs of Geography - I mean, well, in the pattern of our world as it uniquely is, and of the events in it as seen from a distance. (...)

"Of course, the pictures presented by the legends may be partly symbolical, they may be arranged in designs that compress, expand, foreshorten, combine, and are not at all realistic or photographic, yet they may tell you something true about the Past."


With the NCPs Tolkien was intending to tell us something true about the past, something that we need to know because at present England's past is merely history, when it should be myth.

The Notion Club Papers were intended to make England's history into myth - i.e. to reverse the process of myth dissolving into history described by Jeremy in the quote above.

Tolkien wanted, that is, contemporary history to dissolve into myth; and the NCPs were (as they evolved) aimed at achieving this.


Arguably, Tolkien achieved his goal, although by other and less direct means - in the sense that many people (like myself) nowadays 'use' Tolkien's Legendarium as a myth by-which (and through-which) they understand and interpret the current world.

We do this despite the lack of an explicit and comprehensive mythical link between the Legendarium (saturated, as it is, with purpose and meaning) and the nihilistic modern world of objective irrelevant 'facts' and purely-individual subjectivities.

However, in order for this to have happened via the NCPs, they would need to have needed to end-up very differently from how they set out: in literary terms, the NCPs would have required very substantial re-writing, in ways which we can only extrapolate from hints and glimmerings.


The basic situation which the Notion Club inhabit is an Oxford (England, Western Civilization) that is out-of-contact with Faery: in more general terms, a society out-of-contact with myth. Hence vulgar, coarsened, materialistic; without depth, meaning or purpose.

The action of the Notion Club throughout the novel, I speculate, would have been aimed at restoring this contact between Faery and England; and indeed I speculate that the climax of the novel would have been precisely this re-establishment of contact.


As scholars and writers, the Notion Club would have been aware of the necessity for human contact with Faery (i.e. with myth) in order that their work (as well as their lives) may be profound, imaginative and ennobled - and rise above mere 'utility'.

The means by which the club would restore contact with myth would, I assume, be the usual ones employed by Tolkien and of which hints exist in the incomplete and surviving NCP text: by a quest, by a hero who is an 'elf friend', and by a 'messenger' between Faery and the mundane world.


As they stand, the NCPs are - to me - an endlessly fascinating fragment, full of evidence about Tolkien and his deepest concerns; but it seems to be a work of extremely limited appeal (at least, I only know of two or three other people than myself who find it at all interesting or enjoyable!) - and therefore I assume that the story in its present form would either be unpublishable, or else destined only for a microscopically small cult audience.


If the NCPs had been completed they would therefore, I believe, have ended-up very differently from the way they exist at present.

The overall purpose of the NCPs (within Tolkien's books) would have been to provide a frame for Tolkien's legendarium - in other words, a pseudo-historical 'explanation' for how the legends of the elves, Numenor and ancient Middle Earth were transmitted to our times (transmitted specifically to England, and even more specifically to Oxford).

In other words, approximately to link The Silmarillion, Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to the modern reader by a feigned history.


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


The shape of the novel would presumably have been the same as Tolkien's other works - some kind of heroic quest in which the hero or heroes come into contact with 'Faery' and an ennobled by contact with 'higher things' and made wiser by their experience.

Clearly, the Notion Club Papers would therefore require need a protagonist with whom the reader would identify. That is a character whose thoughts and feelings the reader would get to know in the course of the story.

But such characters are lacking (or indirect and inexplicit) in the current NCP drafts.


The existing form of the NCPs, i.e. the literary conceit of their being the formal minutes of club meetings, would therefore need to be dropped or relaxed; to bring in much more direct forms of narrative or reportage.

This was already beginning to happen in the later parts of the NCPs, with the introduction of letters from Lowdham (plus some footnotes), and an extended 'dream sequence' which reports Lowdham's inner state during an Anglo Saxon episode.

So, in the NCP novel there would be a great expansion of such letters, and also probably diaries and journal entries - so as to bring the reader into more direct contact with the action.


In terms of character, the ANC would therefore need to get inside at least one of Guildford, Ramer, Lowdham and Jeremy.

My guess is that the protagonist would have been Guildford - the recorder, who would become the narrator, and would speak directly to the reader (to posterity) about the collection of minutes, letters, poems, fragments and journal entries which he has gathered and collated with the aim of preservation and propagation.

Probably, Guildford would have remained a rather background character in terms of the action and excitement, and it would have been the extrovert Lowdham in particular would emerged as the most obvious hero - supported by Jeremy who would, I guess, end-up being the main person responsible for achieving the quest to re-connect with Faery.


I suspect the Ramer character might therefore have receded in importance. His role might be in learning the languages necessary to interpret the documentary material eventually recovered from Faery by Lowdham and Jeremy.

Ramer's role at the end of the ANC would perhaps be as scholarly interpreter of the texts brought back to Oxford by Jeremy (who seems not to be skilled as a philologist or historical linguist).


I would imagine that Lowdham - accompanied by Jeremy - would make the breakthrough to physical contact with faery: set sail for the West with Jeremy, be responsible for navigating the boat, and eventually actually land in Faery where he would meet his father - and the High elves.

But then Lowdham would stay-behind in faery (with his father) and Jeremy would be the one who returned to England bringing the legendarium - especially the Red Book of Westmarch and Bilbo's Translations from the Elvish.


In sum, the Notion Club Papers would be presented as a collection of minutes, letters, journal entries etc. collected by Guildford concerning the Notion Club in general and Lowdham and Jeremy in particular - telling the story of how a link between faery and England was re-established by the efforts of the Club - firstly in dreams then ultimately by a voyage to Faery.


However, the link between Faery would be firstly psychic, and only secondly physical - the early parts of the NCPs are concerned with the initial glimpses of myth and faery via dreams, then a break-through of visionary material from the past - so powerful that it had an actual physical effect on Oxford and nearby areas of England (the storm replicating the downfall of Numenor).

This stage would also provide sufficient linguistic information for the Notion Club (with its linguistic, historical and philological expertise) to be able to interpret the extensive documentary material which would eventually be brought back by Jeremy.


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


The character of Dolbear jumps-out of the Notion Club Papers as somebody about whom there is more than meets the eye. Almost everything he says is wise and cuts-deep. He seems to understand more of what is going-on than anyone else.

We know Dolbear has certainly been working, independently, with Ramer even before the meetings were reported and also later with Lowdham - on their dreams and interpretations.

Dolbear is also hinted to be a kind of grey eminence at the least; someone greatly respected by the other members (underneath their chummy chaffing) and probably somebody who is - in fact - actually stage-managing the whole process by which the Notion Club re-establishes contact with Faery.


In this sense Dolbear resembles Gandalf - who is a wizard or an 'angel' in disguise; in the sense of being a higher being from the undying lands who is a messenger and catalyst. Probably the reader would not have access to Dolbear's inner life - he would (like Gandalf) be observed rather than experienced.

Dolbear would make things happen, by hints and directions and providing key pieces of information - never by force. And at the end of the story Dolbear would return (like Gandalf) whence he came - to Faery.


This is (I speculate) the meaning of Dolbear seeming to sleep though the meetings, yet remain apparently aware of everything which is happening in them - indeed more aware of the implications of the meetings than are the active participants.

I suspect that during sleep Dolbear is in contact with Faery and with the Notion Club at the same time. He is therefore a conduit or passageway linking Oxford and the undying lands - he transmits the proceedings of the Notion Club to Faery, and receives instructions of what to do.

Dolbear's trance-like states of sleep are therefore (I believe) the specific means by which the inhabitants of Faery are encouraging the renewed contact between England and Faery which the Notion Club themselves seek.


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


Tolkien saw himself as the inheritor of an English racial memory of Faery. In his earliest legends (now published as Lost Tales) England had indeed been a part of Faery - with a place to place mapping between mythic and modern places, and England was especially favoured for this reason.

Tolkien regarded this inherited memory as coming down his mother's side of the family, and therefore centred in Warwickshire (Mercia).


And Tolkien had less strong but similarly mystical feelings about Oxford as he did about the nearby West Midlands of England, and of course he spent most of his working life at the University, and this was where most of his friends lived.

But mostly, for Tolkien, Oxford had a special role in scholarship related to Faery. And from a practical point of view, Oxford in the early and mid-twentieth century was the perfect place from which knowledge of Faery might have been disseminated throughout the rest of England.


So, my guess is that the NCP novel would have described the Inkling's-like Notion Club in Oxford as having first established a psychic link with Faery - with visionary material glimpsed during dreams, then having recovered extensive documentary evidence from Faery, and brought it back to Oxford for secret safe-keeping, translation and dissemination.

The benefits of this mythic, faery knowledge would then enhance first the Notion Club members, then the rest of the University, with elven craft, depth, wisdom and mystery.

A special quality in the work of the Notion Club, and Oxford, would have been recognized by the English (who were genetically predisposed to appreciate it) and the effects and benefits would have been spread throughout England by means of Oxford's role in educating the administrators and teachers of the rest of England.


So, in order to re-establish contact between Middle Earth and Faery there would need to be efforts form both sides: both a push and a pull.

On the one hand there was a push from the members of the Notion Club, who sensed the shallowness and literalness of their world, the damage of materialism, and the ugliness of industrialization (e.g. Ramer's horrible dream of Oxford through the ages) - and sought to enrich life by contact with Faery.

And on the other hand there was a pull from the inhabitants of Faery. The elves were assumed to have benign intentions towards humans and seek to help them.


Especially the inhabitants of Faery wish to help Men to adopt an attitude of love towards nature; to become 'elvishly' capable of disinterested craft, art, science and scholarship as things to be loved for their own sakes, rather than as a means to another end.


In sum - the The Notion Club Papers would (I imagine) describe how the post-medieval process of 'myth turning into history' would be reversed; and first the Notion Club, then Oxford, then England, then maybe eventually the World - might again connected with Faery, and re-enchanted by elvish wisdom and suffused with an elvish perspective.


In practice, the finished Notion Club papers were intended to be the first Tolkien book which people should read: a modern science fiction type novel which would explain how the Annals (Silmarillion legends) and Romances (Hobbit and Lord of the Rings) came to England, and were translated for a general audience.

Having read the Notion Club Papers - mainstream fiction of a familiar type - the modern reader would be prepared for to move onto reading the much stranger and less familiar Annals and Romances; and would (at some level) then be able to treat them as (or as if) an historical reality.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Very well read, but disgracefully badly presented. Review of the Audiobook of The Silmarillion (of 1977) by JRR Tolkien read by Martin Shaw

Martin Shaw reads The Silmarillion with great commitment and seriousness; slowly and with a very detailed inflection; and this seems to me the best - and only - way to read this work (Christopher Tolkien adopts the same style in the excerpts he has recorded).

The Silamarillion - published in 1977 - was made by Christopher Tolkien (helped by Guy Gavriel Kay) from the unpublished manuscripts left by his father - these have since been published much more fully in the Twelve Volume History of Middle Earth leaving the Silmarillion of 1977 in a rather strange and not-quite-canonical position among Tolkien's works - something like a sneak preview or an interim report.

My own view of the 1977 Silmarillion is mixed. I cannot feel it to be a single entity, like a novel - it seems like a collection of disparate pieces, carefully arranged, but neither novel-like nor annal-like.


For me, the 1977 Silmarillion starts dully (I know some people love it; but I find it hard to tolerate the descriptions of creation and the gods), and broadly gets better to reach a peak with the section on Numenor titled Akallabeth. This gives the whole history, tragedy of the the rise and fall, of a great civilization.

And not just any civilization - Numenor is the most delightful, the most desirable, civilization ever described! - at least for mortal Men. I would rather have lived in the early years of Numenor than at any other time or place in Tolkien's universe (or, indeed, this one!) - which is not surprising since it was made to be an earthy paradise for (fallen) Men, as a gift and reward for their long travails against Morgoth.

However, this paradise inhabited by the noblest and wisest and most fortunate of Men, becomes incrementally corrupted into one of the vilest tyrannies in history; one which makes war upon the gods; an act which leads to its destruction by a direct act of the One God (and a re-shaping of the earth).


In general, I find the Silmarillion much more enjoyable and satisfying to hear read aloud as an audiobook, than I do to read it myself. Therefore I recommend this performance as a way of extending the appreciation and knowledge of Tolkien's world beyond the Lord of the Rings.


However, as a production, the boxed set of 13 CDs is disgracefully deficient.

There is no description of the book - not even the elvish names of the sections of the book; no description of each CD; no description of the tracks to enable navigation; there no information about any aspect of the audio production except the name of the reader. For example, there is some effective introductory and closing music - but no indication of who wrote or performed it.

Harper Collins, Tolkien's publisher, ought to be ashamed at such a slapdash and shoddy presentation.


Saturday, 3 January 2015

TV biography of CS Lewis by AN Wilson

For UK residents, this excellent 1 hour biographical documentary on CS Lewis is aviable as a podcast from the BBC for the next four weeks:

This is beautifully filmed and very well constructed - and indeed includes some surprising and novel elements such as an interview with June Flewett who as a child was a wartime evacuee at The Kilns, and much loved by both Jack and Warnie; and an interview with actor Robert Hardy who was a pupil at Magdalen College.

The present is AN Wilson, undeniably a heavyweight expert on English Literature; and one who - although still presenting as a strange and mannered personage - has mellowed with age from the almost-unbearable rampant smugness and snobbery of his youth.

Wilson wrote a mostly-bad biography of Lewis about 25 years ago, at a time when he was divorcing his wife/ losing his Christian faith - and developing a spiteful animus against the subject of his biography. But since then he has publicly recovered his Christianity and apparently developed a warmer appreciation of Lewis. I would dissent from several of his biographical interpretations, but they not unreasonable.

Anyway, Wilson does an excellent job here - getting a great deal of information into the hour without any sense of hurrying - and this is one of the best documentaries I've seen for a while.

Lewis-ites should try and watch it. 

(An alternative availability of the show is listed in the comments below)


Saturday, 22 November 2014

From Eriol and AElfwine to Bilbo Baggins - framing Tolkien's Legendarium for the modern reader


Continuing from

In Tolkien's very earliest stories dating from 1917, now published as The Book of Lost Tales volumes one and two, framing device was a mariner called Eriol who found his way to Elfland, and heard the stories sung and recited in The Room of the Log Fire, in The Cottage of Lost Play.

This Eriol was therefore the link between the ancient legendary or mythic world - and the modern world; and over the next decades Eriol became variously re-named and transmuted through AElfwine in the early versions of The Silmarillion in the 1920s and 30s, through the Lost Road fragment of 1936 and the Arundel 'Arry' Lowtham character of the Notion Club Papers of 1945-6 - all of whom were mariners who reached Elfland (Tol Erresea) and brought the ancient legends back to Middle Earth (i.e. the British Isles).

But in the end, it was Bilbo Baggins who did this job - as described in the Prologue: concerning Hobbit to the The Lord of the Rings ^

So Eriol = Aelfwine = Arundel = Bilbo.

Cottage of Lost Play = Elrond's House in Rivendell

Room with the Log Fire = Hall of Fire


^By the end of the first century of the Fourth Age there were already to be found in the Shire several libraries that contained many historical books and records.

The largest of these collections were probably at Undertowers, at Great Smials, and at Brandy Hall.  This account of the end of the Third Age is drawn mainly from the Red Book of Westmarch.  That most important source for the history of the War of the Ring was so called because it was long preserved at Undertowers, the home of the Fairbairns, Wardens of the Westmarch.

It was in origin Bilbo's private diary, which he took with him to Rivendell.  Frodo brought it back to the Shire, together with many loose leaves of notes, and during S.R. 1420-1 he nearly filled its pages with his account of the War.  But annexed to it and preserved with it, probably in a single red case, were the three large volumes, bound in red leather, that Bilbo gave to him as a parting gift.  To these four volumes there was added in Westmarch a fifth containing commentaries, genealogies, and various other matter concerning the hobbit members of the Fellowship.

The original Red Book has not been preserved, but many copies were made, especially of the first volume, for the use of the descendants of the children of Master Samwise.  The most important copy, however, has a different history.  It was kept at Great Smials, but it was written in Gondor, probably at the request of the great-grandson of Peregrin, and completed in S.R. 1592 (F.A. 172).  Its southern scribe appended this note:  Findegil, King's Writer, finished this work in IV 172.  It is an exact copy in all details of the Thain's Book in Minas Tirith.  That book was a copy, made at the request of King Elessar, of the Red Book of the Periannath, and was brought to him by the Thain Peregrin when he retired to Gondor in IV 64.


Christopher Tolkien's reflections on The Silmarillion of 1977 in the Introduction to The Book of Lost Tales

Christopher Tolkien published The Silmarillion in 1977 as a single volume work; but just six years later he explicitly stated that he had made a mistake in the way that work was presented. is certainly debatable whether it was wise to publish in 1977 a version of the primary 'legendarium' standing on its own and claiming, as it were, to be self-explanatory. The published work has no 'framework', no suggestion of what it is and how (within the imagined world) it came to be. This I now think to have been an error. 

He says this in one of the most interesting and enlightening pieces of JRR Tolkien criticism and discussion I have encountered - the Introduction to the first volume of The Book of Lost Tales.


The acknowledged problem is that The Silmarillion of 1977 is presented as a free-standing, and supposedly self-explanatory volume; with no context or framing. The reader does not know how to read it; especially in relation to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

So, the reader jumps straight into an Old Testament-like account of how the world was made by the One Creator God and his many minor gods - yet there is no indication of who is telling us this - and how do they know about it? How is it that we hold in our hands a purportedly true account of the making of the world, and the first doings of elves and men within it?


What Christopher Tolkien reveals, which is amply confirmed throughout the multi-volume The History of Middle Earth, is that this question of the provenance of these ancient (feigned) histories had been a matter of deep and lasting concern to JRR Tolkien - he had never ceased to worry over it, but had not reached any clear conclusion - which was why Christopher Tolkien decided to just say nothing.

However, by 1983 Christopher had decided that this was an error, and that he should have framed The Silmarillion to indicate that the book had been written by Bilbo Baggins as one of his Translations from the Elvish during his residence at Rivendell, with presumably some indication of where Bilbo had obtained his information (eg. Elrond, the resident and visiting Noldorin High Elves from Valinor, and Aragorn) and how Bilbo's book had come down to us in modern times.

...apart from the evidence cited here, there is, so far as I know, no other statement on this matter anywhere in my father's writings; and (wrongly, as I think now) I was reluctant to step into the breach and make definite what I only surmised.

This provenance is sketched-out in the Prologue to the second Edition of The Lord of the Rings as having been a copy of The Red Book of Westmarch etc., made by a Gondorian scribe called Findegil in Fourth Age 172 - and this feigned MS has (somehow) come into the hands of JRR Tolkien (and then presumably his son Christopher) and used as the basis for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and - now - The Silmarillion of 1977.


So, the reader of The Silmarillion (1977) should read it as a modern editor's presentation of one of Bilbo Baggins's Translations from the Elvish - done in Rivendell and handed to Frodo Baggins for safe keeping just before he returned to the Shire after the destruction of the One Ring.

It should not be regarded as a 'God's eye view' of what happened; but as a summary and synthesis by one well-informed Hobbit; gathered from the partial and only-partially-reliable manuscript resources of Rivendell, supplemented by oral evidence - many, many years (sometimes many thousands of years) after the events described.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

If Charles Williams did preside at Inklings meetings - why might this fact have been unrecorded? The Tolkien Red Herring

I have argued that there are good grounds for believing that Charles Williams (rather than CS Lewis) assumed a dominant, 'presiding' role at Inklings meetings during the 1939-45 years he was in Oxford -

If I am correct about this, why would it not have been mentioned specifically such that the fact was not suspected?

The main evidence would have needed to come from CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Lewis does not say that Charles Williams 'took over' from him at Inklings meetings; however, Lewis was always keen to emphasize the convivial aspects of the Inklings and downplay the formal elements. And his almost unbounded admiration of and praise for Williams in letters after CW's death and the introduction to Essays Presented to Charles Williams certainly do not contradict the idea of CW presiding.


But JRR Tolkien said nothing of this kind - indeed, Tolkien threw a large Red Herring into Inklings studies which has confused most scholars since; when from the late 1950s or early 60s Tolkien began to 'rewrite' his own relationship with Charles Williams, and present a distorted history of his own relationship with Williams - downplaying his own friendship, claiming not to like William's work, claiming Williams was really just a favourite of CSL, and that this happened because Lewis was too impressionable.

Tolkien is, indeed, so negative about Williams that many Inklings scholars state that Tolkien was jealous of Williams having displaced himself as Lewis's best friend.


However, there is no trace of this in published contemporary evidence of letters, diaries etc, deriving from while Williams was still alive and in the period afterwards. This is unanimous that Tolkien and CW were good friends, and got on well together, there is no trace of 'jealousy' -

Above, I argue that Tolkien retrospectively changed his mind against Williams, after some of the revelations concerning Williams life which were published in the late 1950s (perhaps related to Williams's participation in ritual magic and/or his un-Christian relationships with young women) - but this was all more than a decade after Williams's death.


It also seems that Tolkien was strongly and decisively influenced by Williams's novel The Place of the Lion; but much of this clear influence is only evident in the unpublished novels The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers  -


Since Tolkien only became famous, and oft-interviewed, after he had turned-against Charles Williams, and after CS Lewis had died, the best potential source of information on the nature of Inklings meetings and their conduct was already distorted; the well was poisoned, in effect.

Of course this is a negative explanation for an absence of evidence - and is clearly not a decisive argument! Still, perhaps it helps explain why it seems possible that CW may have 'led' the Inklings meetings, despite there being no specific evidence to confirm this assertion.


Wednesday, 5 November 2014

What was Lewis thinking when he wrote his 'puff' for Lord of the Rings; what were Unwin's thinking by printing it so prominently on the cover or book flap?


"If Ariosto rivalled it in invention (in fact he does not) he would still lack its heroic seriousness..."

Wait! What? Ariosto! Who he?

What microscopic proportion of the English speaking population have even heard of Ariosto, let alone read him, leave aside - having read him - regarding surpassing Ariosto's  imputed 'inventiveness' as a compelling recommendation for reading Tolkien?

Crazy stuff. Incompetent. Off-putting.

Luckily, not off-putting enough to torpedo the book.


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Tom Bombadil 'has no fear' - what is the significance?

In the Lord of the Rings chapter entitled 'In the House of Tom Bombadil'; in response to a question from Frodo concerning 'who is' Tom Bombadil, his wife Goldberry responds:

Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.

The stand-out significance of this is that Tom has no fear.

This is unusual, perhaps unique among the healthy and long-lived inhabitants of Middle Earth - even Gandalf, Saruman and Sauron experience fear; because to have no fear is usually a defect - unless there is indeed nothing to fear.

To be afraid is necessary, for almost every living thing, since it is fear which protects us from harm.


And this exactly seems to be the case with Tom: he rationally has no fear, because he has nothing to fear, because nothing can harm him - which means that Tom Bombadil cannot neither be hurt nor killed.

Tom is the Master, because he is invulnerable - he has never been 'caught'.


Why would he be invulnerable? Probably because he is a god of some kind. But the other gods we are told of are vulnerable, can be harmed, and experience fear.

Why would Tom in particular be impossible to harm?

Perhaps because he wants nothing, but is absolutely content with what he has, and what he has cannot (or at least will not) be taken from him...

Or if it may be taken from him at some point in the future (as seems all too likely, seems in fact to have happened - assuming Tom is not still to be found on Middle earth), then concern for that future loss casts no shadow over the present.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Tolkien describes how his own best creative processes occurred in dreams (speaking via Michael Ramer of The Notion Club)


Excerpted from The Notion Club Papers pages 188-9 - part of the volume Sauron Defeated, edited by Christopher Tolkien, 1992. The speaker is Michael Ramer - who often apparently serves as Tolkien's 'mouthpiece' in this novel-fragment

...For a mind, rest is not oblivion, which is impossible for it. The nearest it can get to that is passivity: the mind can be very nearly passive, contemplating something worthy of it, or which seems worthy...

If it has by nature, or has acquired, some dominant interest - like history, or languages, or mathematics - it may at times work away at such things, while the old body is recuperating. It can then construct dreams, by no means always pictorial. It can plan and calculate.

My mind... makes up stories, composes verse, or designs pictures out of what it has got already, when for some reason it hasn't at the moment a thirst to acquire more.

I fancy that all waking art draws a good deal on this sort of activity.

[Note - other continuations of this passage in different drafts]:

A: I fancy that all waking art draws a good deal on this sort of activity - the best bits and passages, especially, those that seem to come suddenly when you're in the heat of making. They sometimes fit with an odd perfection; and sometimes, [although] good in themselves, they don't really fit.

B: I fancy that all waking art draws a good deal on this sort of activity. Those scenes that come up complete and fixed, that I spoke of before, for instance. I think that those really good passages that arise as it were, suddenly when you're abstracted, in the heat of making, are often long-prepared impromptus.

I believe that Tolkien was here describing how his 'best bits and passages' (whether of stories, verse or pictures) - which often occurred to him suddenly, seemingly unplanned and unprepared ('impromptu) and 'in the heat of making' - had actually already been constructed by the dreaming mind during sleep; which had been 'working away' at his dominant interests.

So the best bits and passages of Tolkien's works were (it seems) pre-prepared and ready for use ('complete and fixed'), and they would either fit directly into the larger work (with an 'odd perfection'); or else these units (despite being 'good in themselves') would need subsequently (and probably reluctantly) to be deleted from the larger work; because on consideration they didn't really fit.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

Tolkien's five best anthology poems


Compiled from:

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


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.


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!


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.


Monday, 8 September 2014

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

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'.

^Tendency to fall asleep, gruffness, hairiness.

Friday, 5 September 2014

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

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.