Sunday, 18 October 2009

The fascination of the Notion Club

I find the Notion Club Papers (NCPs) to be one of the most fascinating books I have ever read.

Some basic information can be found at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Notion_Club_Papers.

I was stimulated to read the NCPs by Verlyn Flieger's wonderful book on Tolkien: A Question of Time. Flieger's Interrupted Music adds even more depth of understanding.

There are several reasons why the NCPs are so compelling:

1. The book is an example of Tolkien writing a modern novel, with modern characters more or less in the science fiction genre.

2. The characters are somewhat based on the real life Inklings, and the nature of their conversations certainly resemble a kind of idealized Inklings meeting.

3. The characters of Ramer and Lowdham, Ramer in particular, embody aspects of Tolkien's personality which are seldom, or never, represented anywhere else in his published work.

Indeed, my feeling is that parts of the NCPs represent the most candid, most undisguised autobiography that Tolkien ever wrote (or at least that has been published so far). If I am correct about this, the reason is that the NCPs were written to be read privately to the real life Inklings (who were old and trusted friends) and probably would never have been published without considerable further revision (and opportunity for elaboration and concealment).

4. According to Flieger's speculations, the NCPs may have represented an extremely ambitious and complex attempt to 'frame' the whole of Tolkien's Legendarium - including the Silmarillion, The Numenor legends, The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings - in a science fiction novel set in the future, the NCPs itself having an elaborate fiction of how it was discovered and edited, and was itself a fiction masquerading as fact.

So, while an unfinished and unpublished (until half a century later) novel, much of it in note form, is obviously something of somewhat limited and specialized literary appeal - in terms of Tolkien's life and work, the Notion Club Papers has a very important place.

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