Sunday, 26 December 2010

My hopes for The Notion Club Papers - separate cover publication

*

Although I am forced to admit that when I have recommended reading the NCPs I have found that other people's responses have usually been under-whelming; nonetheless my main hope is that at some point this will be published under separate cover; prefaced by the relevant Lost Road material, and marketed as something-like:

'The Notion Club Papers: an unfinished novel by JRR Tolkien'.

This might conceivably happen if, or when, the History of Middle Earth is re-issued - at which point the present Lost Road volume might be shorn of its Lost Road material and re-named The Quenta Silmarillion.

(This would itself provide a much more readable,  'Silmarillion' than the current 1978 compilation - and highly marketable, especially with its Last Battle/ end of time conclusion.)

The Lord of the Rings material might be re-organized into a three volume unit (instead of three and one third volumes, as at present) - with the great selling point of the Epilogue.

This would liberate volume IX of such a putative second edition of HoME to be dedicated to The Notion Club Papers, and might attract a smallish but devoted 'cult' readership of people like myself; that is to say, Tolkien-o-philes who (for some reason) might become utterly obsessed with this story!

And the prospect of a 'new novel' by Tolkien would surely attract enough publicity to justify the venture.

Well, I can dream...

*

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tolkien and the 'good German' - The Lost Road fragment

*

Christopher Tolkien, from The Lost Road:
 
*

"From Elendil's words at the end of The Lost Road there emerges a sinister picture: the withdrawal of the besotted and aging king from the public view, the unexplained disappearance of people unpopular with the 'government', informers, prisons, torture, secrecy, fear of the night; propaganda in the form of the 'rewriting of history' (...); the multiplication of weapons of war, the purpose of which is concealed but guessed at; and behind all the dreadful figure of Sauron, the real power, surveying the whole land from the Mountain of Numenor. 

"The teaching of Sauron has led to the invention of ships of metal that traverse the seas without sails, but which are hideous in the eyes of those who have not abandoned or forgotten Tol-Eressea; to the building of grim fortresses and unlovely towers; and to missiles that pass with a noise like thunder to strike their targets many miles away. 

"Moreover, Numenor is seen by the young as overpopulous, boring, 'over-known': "every tree and grass-blade is counted", in Herendil's words; and this cause of discontent is used, it seems, by Sauron to further the policy of "imperial" expansion and ambition that he presses on the king. 

"When at this time my father reached back to the world of the first man to bear the name "Elf- friend" he found there an image of what he most condemned and feared in his own."

The History of Middle Earth volume 5 - edited by Christopher Tolkien - The Lost Road. 1987. Paperback edition - page 77.

*

JRRT's son, Christopher, has said that in decribing Numenor, Tolkien was thinking of the Nazis in Germany - who took over in 1933. 

As a philologist of Germanic languages, Germany was the centre of Tolkien's intellectual world; and he was appalled by the change in this beloved culture under National Socialism. 

In The Lost Road, he reflects on the moral conflicts of a person caught up in such political processes - where a beloved country becomes evil; and the dreadful dilemma between the short term and immediate duty to family, and the ultimate duty to 'God'. 

Much of this shortish fragment (about 35 continuous pages, with a few dozen other pages of fragments) of an unfinished novel consists of an agonized discussion between Elendil - leader of the 'good Numenoreans' - and his son Herendil who has been partially corrupted by the majority of evil Numenoreans (led, from behind the throne, by the evil demon (fallen angel) Sauron (who at that time was man-like, exceedingly beautiful, intelligent and eloquent, and of greater than human stature).  

Herendil urges his father to adopt a quietist attitude, withdrawing from public life, refraining from criticism of the regime. To be a 'good German' in the Middle Earth equivalent of a National Socialist tyranny. Elendil cannot bring himself to do this. Herendil fears the secret spies, the torture chambers, and being killed as a human sacrifice to the devilish Morgoth. 

And there the fragment stops. 

*

Saturday, 20 November 2010

How similar are Dolbear & 'Humphrey' Havard? John Havard's opinion

*

I have been in contact with John Edward Havard, eldest child of the Inkling Robert Emlyn Havard (1901-1985) - who was nicknamed by the other Inklings things like 'Humphrey', 'UQ/ Useless Quack' and the 'Red Admiral' (with reference to a red beard Havard sported while serving in the Royal Navy during the 1939-45 war).

According to an early comment, Havard is the model for the character Dolbear in the Notion Club Papers.

Although I recognized several similarities (and also differences) between the biography of Havard and that of the fictional Dolbear, I was curious to know whether Havard's son saw any similarities in personality and manner between the fictional and factual versions.

In a nutshell - according to Havard's son, there seems to be some biographical similarities, and a couple of similarities of appearance, but on the whole there is apparently little similarity of personality or manner.

This suggests that Tolkien's use of real life Inklings as models for the Notion Club was based on scattered superficial resemblances rather than on any profound identity of character.

*

From two e-mails from John Havard to Bruce G Charlton - 19 and 20th November 2010. Quoted with the author's permission.

Page references are to Volume IX of the History of Middle Earth - Sauron Defeated, edited by Christopher Tolkien and published by Houghton Mifflin 1992.

*

John Havard speaks:

"On page 5, in what Christopher Tolkien assumes is an early draft, there is the first “List of Members”. Here Dolbear is explicitly identified as Havard, the only occasion that this occurs and Christopher suggests that the name is derived from a well known pharmacist in Oxford.

"A much fuller list of members occurs on page 11 at the beginning of the second edition of the Papers, but they now appear to have little relation to individual inklings, nor with the Colleges given or the dates of birth. The ages are some thirty years later than those of the 1940s Inklings and are not even relatively correct. My father was among the youngest of the Inklings while Dolbear is the oldest, and I know of no connection that he had with Wadham.

"The descriptions are perhaps more relevant. Dolbear is described as a chemist who concerns himself with philosophy, psychoanalysis and gardening. Father’s first degree was in chemistry and he did have philosophical interests. Also he had earlier practiced Freudian psychology at the Warneford. He had a fairly large garden though I do not think this was a major interest, he usually had someone to look after it for him. He is described as having a red hair and beard, which father did have when younger, and the nickname “Ruthless Rufus” which could bear some relation to Humphrey or the Useless Quack.

"Page 12. There is an entry for Night 54 which was written by Dolbear when the meeting was held in his house. Individual Inklings did visit us from time to time mostly for social reasons or to go for walks but I was aware of no meetings.

"Pages 18-20. This is the most extensive reference that I have been able to find. Dolbear contributes to the discussion on space travel making use of his scientific background. This is quite consistent with father’s interests, he did comment to Lewis about the text of Out of the Silent Planet and the other novels about space travel.

"The incident where he appears to go to sleep and wake suddenly sounds more like Alice’s Dormouse than anything I can relate to. (He falls asleep again on page 36).

"Page 33. Lowdham says “There is no difficulty with Rufus. The drink urge explains most of him”. This is no doubt intended to be jocular but relates little to reality. Father drank beer but rarely spirits.

"Pages 80 – 81. After the collapse of Jeremy, Dolbear growls “leave him alone”. This may be reference to father’s medical experience but “growls” does not ring a bell.

"I was somewhat taken aback by Dolbear’s directness and gruff manner as I do not recognise this behaviour as typical of father, though I cannot say what may have happened in many years of Inkling meetings.

"I did not find much of father’s character that I recognised in Dolbear when I was reading the Papers. I had the impression that Tolkien was more interested in providing light relief while he followed up the topics discussed than in any serious exploration of character."

*

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Epilogue to On Fairy Stories

*

I first read Tolkien's essay On Fairy Stories about 1975, and liked it a lot - except for the Epilogue, which made no sense to me. It still made no sense to me when I re-read the essay about three years ago.

But I can understand it now, having become a Christian in the meantime.

Indeed, I can now perceive that this is one of the most important things that Tolkien ever wrote - because it was apparently the point when he justified to himself his own longstanding desire to write Fantasy.

*

Epilogue to On Fairy Stories, by JRR Tolkien - excerpts with my notes in [square brackets].

*

"Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it.

"If he indeed achieves a quality that can fairly be described by the dictionary definition: “inner consistency of reality,” it is difficult to conceive how this can be, if the work does not in some way partake of reality.

"The peculiar quality of the “joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.

"It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, “Is it true?”

"The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): “If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.” That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist).

"But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater—it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world." (...)

*

[Tolkien is saying that successful fantasy is that which generates the peculiar emotion of joy, from a 'turn' in the story that he terms the eucatastrophe (the 'good catastrophe'). He is saying that this joy comes from recognition of a truth, and that this truth is ultimately a human version of the good news of the Christian story.

[In other words, while successful Fantasy does indeed offer legitimate satisfactions such as 'recovery, escape, consolation' there is even more to Fantasy than this.

[Tolkien is stating that the reason for Fantasy's power to delight and inspire, is that it is a 'far-off gleam or echo' of Christian story - and therefore that this power comes ultimately from God - and not from the artist. It is divinely inspired - and not a product of craft or artistry.]

*

(Epilogue continued)

"I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature.

[Tolkien means that the Fantasy writer, he is talking of himself, has had the impulsion to write Fairy Stories implanted by God - or rather than God has used the desire (which is probably in origin a corrupt and prideful desire) for his own purposes.]

"The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe.

"But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation.

[This is the key sentence. The 'desire and aspiration of sub-creation' which Tolkien himself experiences 'has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation' - in other words, Tolkien's deep longing to write Fairy Stories can contribute - in however small a scale - to God's plan for the world. Tolkien goes on to spell this out:]

*

"The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” (...)

"But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on.

"The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.”

"The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed.

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

[This is, of course, precisely what the character Niggle does in the story Leaf by Niggle which - in most editions - accompanies the essay On Fairy Stories. Niggle's detailed picture of a many-leaved tree and its surrounding environment (or rather, his imagined ideal for such a picture) becomes real in heaven; is indeed added-to heaven, and assists in the salvation of human souls.]

*

"All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know."

*

[Tolkien is saying that all real Fantasies will 'come true' in God's time, but we cannot know in advance what 'coming true' will entail except that each real Fairy Tale will be recognizably its worldly self, yet also transfigured into some unimaginably greater eternal form.]

*

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Philology in the Notion Club Papers

*

Tolkien was a philologist by profession, and his professional career spanned the tail-end of the 'romantic' era of philology and the establishment of philology as a professional academic specialization - en route (as it turned out) to its fragmentation and extinction into linguistics, sociolinguistics and so on.

*

It is often forgotten that Nietzsche was a philologist in his early academic career, at a time when philology was somewhere near the zenith of prestige in academia.

At that point philology was something of a 'master discipline' in the German university system; a creative science which fused history and intuitive speculation in a rediscovery of culture and modes of thought.

Tom (T.A.) Shippey's The Road to Middle Earth is, of course, the indispensable study of Tolkien as philologist - and is probably the most important book ever written about Tolkien.

*

Shippey describes Tolkien's method of going from words to speculate on the roots of words, and from there to inferences about the kind of life which would have led to words having that set of association and connotations.

In this sense, the Tolkien cosmology began with his iterative speculations on a possible society which might have led to the word Earendil as it appeared in the Old English poem Crist.

Tolkien often asserted this in interviews - that the language came first, and the mythic fantasy served (merely) to create a situation which might have generated the language.

*

As might be expected, The Notion Club Papers is full of philology - both the main protagonists (Ramer in Part One and Lowdham in Part Two) are professional philologists. And Lowdham is, in this respect, the most like Tolkien.

Indeed, The NCPs served as the stimulus for Tolkien to invent (or discover) yet another language, following-on from Quenya (language of the high elves in the undying lands) and Sindarin (language of the grey elves of Middle Earth and the exiled Noldor): this time Adunaic (everyday langauge of the Numenoreans).

*

Among the real world Inklings, it was probably the marginal and occasional figure of Owen Barfield who influenced Tolkien most, in a philological sense (Tolkien seemed to have been utterly dismissive of Jack Lewis's dabblings in philology in his book Studies in Words; although he had good things to say - including a mention in The NCPs - about Lewis's partial invented language of Old Solar).

Barfield wrote a book called Poetic Diction, adapted from his BLitt thesis, that had a major impact on Tolkien, and the whole way he thought about words and history.

(As I understand it) Barfield explained that modern words differ from ancient words not merely in meaning, but in their whole nature - ancient words refer to things which have no equivalent among modern words.

So that a single ancient usage - especially of a word like 'spirit' - had numerous *simultaneous* connotations; which cannot actually be captured by a linear and sequential list of all the specific meanings of that word in its various usages.

*

This is exactly the point made by Jeremy in The NCPs when he talks of real history becoming more mythical - as one goes further back in time:

"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." [Page 227]

*

I see one of the therapeutic aspects of writing The NCPs was a recovery of Tolkien's delight in philology, epitomized by the exuberant act of commencing to invent a new language.

Yet, somewhat ironically, even as he renewed his delight in philology, and even as he had (from 1945) just attained promotion to a more senior Professorship in Oxford (indeed, one of the most prestigious academic Chairs in the world), Tolkien was also turning-away from professional academic philology towards the philology of his own imagined world.

From onward, 1945 Tolkien barely published any heavyweight academic philology - although he would normally have been expected to do so. His best energies went instead into his creative writings, and into the philology which underlay them.

It is likely that a crucial change in perspective behind this came from the writing of the lecture and essay On Fairy Stories, during which he clarified to himself the validity, the importance, of sub-creation - that sub-creation might actually be more important than academic philology.

And of course history has proved him to be correct. Academic philology has disappeared, while Tolkien's sub-creative writing (including his 'old fashioned, romantic philology) has gone from strength to strength.

*

Monday, 8 November 2010

More on the Christian element in The NCPs

*

Ramer speaking on page 195.

I have already transcribed most of this passage (which I described as wilfully obscure) in an earlier entry on theology in The NCPs - http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2009/11/notion-club-theology.html - here I will try and explicate it, somewhat, line by line. My comments are in [square brackets]:


"Dreaming is not Death. The mind is still, as I say, anchored to the body. [At death, according to (Thomist) Roman Catholic theology, the soul separates from the body - but this does not happen during sleep.]

"It is all the time inhabiting the body, so far as it is in anywhere. And it is therefore in Time and Space: attending to them. It is meant to be so. [While alive we are meant to function in time and be located in space - 'meant' here presumably refers to the divine plan for human life on earth.]

"But most of you [ i.e. Those of you who are Christian.]

"will agree that there has probably been a change of plan [As a result of the Fall, presumably - or perhaps as a result of the incarnation - I'm not sure.] ;

"and it looks as if the cure is to give us a dose of something higher and more difficult. [The cure, I think, refers to human life now, after the fall. "Higher and more difficult would then mean by comparison to how things would have been in Eden, before the fall. Or it may refer to life since the the incarnation of God as Jesus Christ, as contrasted with pagan of ancient Jewish life - the Christian life being higher and more difficult than either of these.]

"Mind you, I'm only talking of the seeing and learning side, not for instance of morality. [I think this probably refers to the transcendental 'goods' of truth and beauty, but not the other one which is morality. I think Tolkien means that God's intention with dream experiences is about exposing humans to something higher and more difficult in the realms of Truth and Beauty, not Morality.] -

"But it would feel terribly loose without the anchor [meaning the soul altogether cut loose from the body would feel terribly loose.].

"Maybe with the support of the stronger and wiser [I think stronger and wiser refers to angels, and the idea that the detached soul needs to be escorted and looked after by angels - which is a traditional belief found in some of the early Fathers of the Church.] -

"and how it could be celestial [i.e. if the soul was being protected by angels.];

"but without them it could be be bitter, and lonely [i.e. To be a lone soul cut loose from its body.].

"A spiritual meteorite in the dark looking for a world to land on. I daresay many of us [Perhaps he means those who did not get angelic assistance?]

"are in for some lonely Cold before we get back." [Before we get back may refer to purgatory, perhaps? I'm not sure.]

"But out of some place beyond the region of dreams, now and again there comes a blessedness, and it soaks through all the levels, and illumines all the scenes through which the mind passes out back into waking, and so it flows out into this life. [Tolkien means that God sometimes communicates with us in dreams, a foretaste of heavenly bliss.]

"There it lasts long, but not forever in this world, [Just a foretaste, not the full experience - although in this an Eastern Orthodox Christian would make an exception for some Saints, those who are considered to live for sustained periods in both heaven and this world.]

"and memories cannot reach its source. [Its source, presumably, is in divine grace and revelation - and not deriving from experiences which we might remember.]

"Often we ascribe it to the pictures seen on the margin radiant in its light, as we pass by and out. But a mountain far in the North caught in a slow sunset is not the sun." [That is to say, the blessedness comes from God, not from that which is illuminated by God.]

*

In sum, Tolkien seems to be free-associating on the question of what is the ultimate salvation-related human relevance of spiritual experiences in dreams.

Tolkien states that: "the cure is to give us a dose of something higher and more difficult" and that since modern life substantially blocks divine communications during the waking state (or at least it does so for many people, Tolkien included at this point in his life) by excessive noise, chatter and other distractions; this dose is given us - at least partially - during sleep.

This was a very important factor for Tolkien - that dreams were part of creativity, and creativity was (for modern men, who are advanced in corruption) a vital pathway of divine communication.

This links-up with his ideas about sub-creation - the role of fantasy. For Tolkien, the sub-creation of fantasy world is not just an entertainment, but has a profound theological dimension (as he makes clear in the closing passages of his essay On Fairy Stories, when he talks of the Gospel story and relates it to sub-creation).

*

The nature of Tolkien's psychological breakdown - inferred from The NCPs

*

What follows are my (informed, I hope) speculations about the nature of JRR Tolkien's psychological breakdown 1945-6.

My impression is that this was not really a matter of anxiety and depression, but a matter of alienation brought-on by overwork - in sum, Tolkien was so busy, so 'hassled', that he had become cut-off from the source of his creativity.

And that source of Tolkien's creativity was in dream and trance states in which he experienced images with perceived special significance.

(These images were, I believe, mostly visualized - as described by the character Ramer, and later Jeremy; but sometimes there was probably linguistic generation, of words and text fragments, as described by the character Lowdham.)

*

Tolkien (I believe) found himself so busy and worried by imposed tasks that (for the first time in his life - and probably the last) he was unable either to dream/ day dream or else unable to connect his dreams/ daydreams with the rest of hs life - and so his life felt meaningless and lost its purpose.

Fortunately, Tolkien seems to have understood very well what what he was going through and why; and his response was to take some time away from work (three weeks), have a complete change of scene, to create as much unstructured time as possible, and - via The Notion Club Papers - to return to his roots, his deepest and most spontaneous motivations, aiming to rebuild from this firm foundation.

His strategy took a few months to have a significant effect, but was completely successful - so much so that the NCP novel lost its raison d'etre and was abandoned unfinished.

*

Specifically, Tolkien's work was done at the meeting place of fantasy and creative thought with scholarship and reason.

Tolkien relied on the world of fantasy and creativity (which I believe he accessed in dream and also in a creative state of altered consciousness - a light trance) to generate the raw material of his creativity, which he then organized logically using his intelligence; and he also relied on the fantasy mode of thinking to evaluate his ideas - either to validate then as 'true' or to reject them as merely contrived invention.

So, Tolkien's world is, to an unmatched extent, both coherent and has a visceral base of reality - the world seems discovered rather than invented.

*

This therapeutic aspect of NCPs can best be seen in Part One of the published version - which is highly confessional in nature - but by Part Two the fictive element, the plot, has begun to take charge.

Tolkien's self-therapy via writing the NCPs is quite different in its aim from that of psychoanalysis - although psychoanalysis is alluded to via the character of Dolbear, who is stated to have such interests.

Freudian analysis assumes that dreams are a way to get part the mind's censor; by contrast Jungian analysis assumes that dreams are a method of healing the psyche, including learning how to heal the mind.

But for Tolkien, dreams (and creativity in general) are potentially glimpses of divine Truth - in the sense that dreams (and similar experiences of altered consciousness) can be ways that God communicates with a mind that is too-much distracted by the 'noise' and chatter of modern life - this much is made clear throughout part one of the NCPs.

So, for Tolkien to be cut-off from the source of creativity and truth-validation of dreams was also for him to be cut off from God. In other words, he had become too distracted and hassled by over-work to hear the communications of God.

*

The fundamental therapy of writing the NCPs was, then - perhaps - to re-establish communication with his creative roots in dream and unstructured day-dreaming meditation or trance - to heal himself by dreaming, and by considering and meditatibg-upon his dreams - especially those recurrent dreams and dream images which he had been experiencing for some three decades - since at least 1914 (when he painted the Land of Pohja).

The process does indeed sound superficially like Jungian therapy - but this is deceptive.

Tolkien was not (I believe) trying to recover his creativity (for example in order to re-commence writing the Lord of the Rings - although this was in fact what actually happened).

Nor was Tolkien trying to make himself calmer and less miserable (although this happened as well).

But I suspect the primary self-therapeutic purpose of writing The NCPS was for Tolkien to re-establish a proper relation to God; and that the flow of creativity and feeling of energy and purpose were 'merely' an index that the divinely-inspired messages were again 'getting through'.

*

Another Ramer-Tolkien parallel identified - The Land of Pohja painting

*

From The Notion Club Papers, page 194.

[Ramer] "Here are some of the [dream] fragments of this kind. (...)

"And over and over again, in many stages of growth and many different lights and shadows, three tall trees, slender, foot to foot on a green mound, and crowned with an embracing halo of blue and gold."

*

These are depicted, precisely, in a painting done by Tolkien on 27 December 1914 and entitled The Land of Pohja.

The painting is reproduced on page 44 of J.R.R. Tolkien: artist and illustrator, by WG Hammond and C Scull, Harper Collins: London, 2004.

Since the Notion Club Papers were being written in early 1946, this means that Tolkien had probably had his dream of the three tall trees 'over and over again' for a period of more than thirty years!

**

Note added 1 May 2013. It is worth noting that the 'dreary' Land of Pohja is featured in the Finnish Epic The Kalavela which made such a large impact on Tolkien (and also Longfellow - as can be seen he used the Kalevala metre for Hiawatha) .

Rarely can we meet together,
Rarely on can meet the other,
In these dismal Northern regions,
In the dreary land of Pohja,
Let us clasp our hands together,
Let us interlock our fingers;
Let us sing a cheerful measure,
Let us use our best endeavours,
While our dear ones hearken to us,
And our loved ones are instructed,
While the young are standing round us,
Of the rising generation,
Let them learn the words of magic,
And recall our songs and legends,
Of the belt of Väinämöinen,
Of the forge of Ilmarinen,
And of Kaukomieli's sword-point,
And of Joukahainen's crossbow:
Of the utmost bounds of Pohja,
And of Kalevala's wide heathlands.


From http://web.abo.fi/instut/iamsr/waeno/kalevala.html     *

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Notion Club Papers as Tolkien's self-therapy

*

Having established that Tolkien was having a 'nervous breakdown' at the time he was writing The Notion Club Papers (from late 1945 to middle 1946) -

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2010/10/1945-6-tolkiens-darkest-time-whilst.html

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2010/10/evidence-to-prove-tolkiens-nervous.html

- it is fascinating to consider why Tolkien should have commenced writing this new book at such a time.

*

At this time, Tolkien was feeling ill, anxious, miserable - he was suffering from great pressure, responsibility, and over-work (due to doing two Professorial jobs at the same time - including teaching material he did not know well and disliked).

Yet, during all this Tolkien wrote, and re-wrote - scores of pages of text, and began the invention of a new language. (The story runs to about 150 printed pages in the History of Middle Earth, plus a similar amount of supplementary material on language etc.)

This strongly suggests to me that writing the NCPs was therapeutic to Tolkien - in some way it made him feel better - otherwise he would not have done it.

*

So, if writing the NCP was indeed therapeutic, then the subject matter and form of NCP is presumably telling us about Tolkien's deepest and most urgent satisfactions.

These include at least the following:

1. The Inklings - the great importance to Tolkien (at this point in his life) of the group of mature male friends who are fictionalized as the Notion Club.

2. History - the deep yearning Tolkien had to experience history.

3. Language - that Tolkien would begin to invent yet another imaginary language at this time shows how powerful was this urge - as Lewis said, he had lived 'inside' language.

4. Inheritance and heredity - Tolkien's conviction that his own tastes and abilities were substantially a product of the Suffield ancestors on his mother's side; and that his feeling for history and language derived from generations of West Midlanders going back at least to Saxon times.

5. Myth. The mythical aspects of history, language and heredity burst through from ancient times to transform the modern - these things are not bare facts but become rich, suggestive-of and replete-with personal significance.

The over-arching purpose of the NCPs is to link Tolkien's whole fantasy world with real history - to link the (much needed) spiritual truths of mythic reality (especially the emerging 'Lord of the Rings') with the mundane, materialist reality of modern life.

*

When reading the NCPs, therefore, it is fascinating to bear in mind the conditions under which the book was written; and to consider the degree of urgency which impelled Tolkien to write what he wrote, at the time he wrote it.

*

The Notion Club Papers are Tolkien's Charles Williams novel

*

This idea strikes me as so obviously true, that I am amazed I haven't realized the fact before.

(Even if I read it somewhere, which I don't recall, I never realized it.)

The NCP's are structured like a C.W. novel - a novel about how the supernatural and mythical breaks through into normal everyday life.

This would explain why there is no character in the NCPs that is like Charles Williams - C.W. is present in the novel's structure, rather than its personnel.

*

The Notion Club Papers also, in this respect, makes a companion piece to C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength (THS) - which is often recognized as being Williams-influenced.

Furthermore, THS forms the final part of a trilogy which began with Out of the Silent Planet (OotSP).

It is well known that OotSP was the product of a game between Tolkien and Lewis in which they decided to write an example of the kind of book that they both liked; on tossing a coin Tolkien was allocated the topic of time travel - which led to the unfinished Lost Road story, while Lewis was allocated space travel - which led to OotSP, Perelandra and THS.

This bet, and the resulting stories, happened before WW II and before C.W. came to live in Oxford- therefore the initial stories (Lost Road and OotSP) were not affected by C.W.

However, by the time that Lewis's trilogy had reached THS, and Tolkien's Lost Road had undergone major revision to become the NCPs, then Williams influence via Inklings meetings had become profound.

*

So another aspect of Tolkien's Notion Club Papers is that they could be considered in terms of expressing Tolkien's views of the kind of novel which Charles WIlliams wrote. Tolkien's other fiction is either set in an imagined or an historical world; but in the NCP's both imagination and history are blended with a contemporary setting - each influencing the other.

*

However, unlike both Lewis in THS, and Williams in his novels, the themes of the NCPs do not include a focus on the warfare waged in this world by supernatural evil - this represents one of the important differences between Tolkien and his friends.

Tolkien disapproved of those who took a close interest in evil and its workings - and he objected to these aspects of Lewis's work.

Presumably Tolkien would have been made exceedingly uncomfortable by (what he would have regarded as) the dangerous fascination with magic and the occult which was recurrently exhibited by Charles Williams.

*

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Evidence to prove Tolkien's psychological breakdown 1945-6

*

I suppose that it is well known among expert scholars that Tolkien had a psychological breakdown in 1945-6 -

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2010/10/1945-6-tolkiens-darkest-time-whilst.html

- especially since the publication of The JRR Tolkien Companion Guide Chronology edited by Christina Scull & Wayne G Hammond (2006).

But the fact does not seem generally known among Tolkien fans.

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

*

When I first read Humphrey Carpenter's authorized biography of Tolkien, it seemed clear to me that some personal facts had been left out - and I read something to confirm this sometime later - I think it was an interview with Carpenter.

Reading the Notion Club Papers, about five years ago, perhaps? - I became intrigued by the experiences of altered consciousness described in that novel - and strongly suspected that they were Tolkien's own experiences. The novel was begun at the Christmas period of 1945 and was worked-on over the next months (probably).

Reading Warnie Lewis's selected dairies (Brothers and Friends) I noticed two entries which confirmed my suspicions:

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

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

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

*

This was amply confirmed by the Chronology (Quotes) :

Page 296 - Christmas vacation 1946-August 1946. Tolkien writes during 'a fortnight of comparative leisure' around Christmas 1945 [the beginnings of The Notion Club Papers].

Page 297 - End of 1945-early 1946 ...But neither [Simonne d'Ardenne] nor Tolkien are in sufficiently good health to do extensive work.

Page 298 - End of February-March 1946. Tolkien is ill, the result of various worries.

Page 299 - 20 March 1946. ... He is unwell, and although his doctor has ordered him to apply for a term's leave, he realizes that this is impossible in the present academic plight, short of a complete collapse. He is, however, going away for a while...

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

Page 301 - Early June 1946. ... he is unwell and also heavily engaged with an extremely difficult term...

Page 302 - 21 July 1946. Letter to Stanly Unwin... I have been ill, worry and overwork mainly, but am a good deal recovered... I hope after this week actually to - write.

Page 305 - c 23 September 1946... Tolkien returns again to The Lord of the Rings [delayed by the 'tiresome business of the election to the Merton Chair'].

So by September, and probably a few weeks earlier Tolkien was recovered.

*

This makes the dates of Tolkien's psychological problems building-up to become severe approx December 1945 - and resolving around July of 1946.

*

1945-6 Tolkien's darkest time - whilst writing the Notion Club Papers

*

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

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

Another factor he refers to in later correspondence was that this was the only period of his academic life when he had to teach subjects in which he was not interested, and that he absolutely hated this. I am unsure exactly what aspect of teaching that this comment refers to - but the wound was lasting.

The Chronology of late 1945 into 1946 - published in JRR Tolkien: a companion and guide by C Scull and WG Hammond in 2006 - is studded with references to Tolkien's overwrought mental state at this time - including the need to take a period of absence from work on medical advice.

In a nutshell, Tolkien suffered what would loosely be termed a 'nervous breakdown' at this period - an illness characterized, it seems, by anxiety and depression.

And it was precisely during this period he wrote the Notion Club Papers, with their accounts of strange psychological experiences, especially of dream states and perceived travel to other times and places.

It seems reasonable to imagine that Tolkien was going through something similar at this time - however modified these experiences were in the telling (previous entries in this blog detail the specific documented links between Tolkien's experiences and those of Ramer - I would guess that this is the tip of an iceberg of correspondences).

It is interesting that Tolkien, despite the extreme psychological stresses, did not stop writing; but worked out these experiences in fictional terms.

It may also be significant that when Tolkien resumed work on the Lord of the Rings after the break at this time, the book had firmly become a deeper and more serious book than it was when he embarked upon it as a sequel to the hobbit.

My feeling is that the nervous breakdown experience of late 1945-1946 had a permanent effect on Tolkien - and that the effect was beneficial to his writing; on the one hand increasing its emotional depth, and on the other hand - and this is very speculative - giving him a surer access to altered psychological states, especially dreams, which provided a bedrock of other-worldly sub-creative reality to the Lord of the Rings.

I tend to think that without the nervous breakdown of 1945-6, and without the experience of writing the Notion Club Papers - the Lord of the Rings would have been a different and lesser book.

*

Who is Wilfrid Jeremy? C.W? C.R.T?

*

While I realize that the Notion Club members do not have exact correspondences with the real life Inklings, there is clearly a germ of some real life Inklings in them :- Ramer as Tolkien (in views and experiences), Loudham as Dyson (in personality), Dolbear as Havard (pretty exact depiction, I guess!).

The great absences are Lewis - who was the leader of the real life Inklings - and Williams, who died shortly before the NCPs were written.

The absence of Lewis is explained in term of the Notion Club spending so much time talking *about* Lewis.

But what of Williams?

Could Williams contribute to the character of Jeremy perhaps?

My suspicion comes from the frequent bird-like comparisons of Jeremy - perhaps Tolkien found something bird-like in the mannerisms of Williams?

But Williams was older than Tolkien - whereas Jeremy comes across as a younger, more eager, impulsive member of the Notion Club.

So my main identification is with Christopher Tolkien.

I have no idea whether the young Christopher Tolkien was bird-like in some of his mannerisms - but I would not be surprised if he was.

Also this would fit with Jeremy's relative youthfulness among the other club members, and his taking on the role of the eternal 'son' in the reborn 'avatars' of the NCP plot.

Christopher Tolkien does not mention any such relation between himself and Jeremy, but then he does not discuss Jeremy's relation to the real Inklings, whereas he does for all the other major characters - which might be a significant omission!

So those are my guesses for the germ of Jeremy - probably Christopher Tolkien, perhaps a dash of Charles Williams.

*

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Real history becoming more mythical

*

[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, discernably significant, even seen at close quarters. More poetical and less prosaic, if you like."

"In any case, these ancient accounts, legends, myths, about the far past, about the origins of kings, laws, and the fundamental crafts, are not all made of the same ingredients.

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

"Roots in what?" said Frankley.

"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.

"A sort of parallel to the fact that from far away the Earth would be seen as a revolving sunlit globe; and that is a remote truth of enormous effect on us and all we do, though not immediately discernable on earth, where practical men are quite right in regarding the surface as flat and immovable for practical purposes.

"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.

"And mind you, there are real details, what are called facts, accidents of land-shape and sea shape, of individual men and their actions, that are caught up: the grains on which the stories crystallize like snowflakes.

There was a man called Arthur at the centre of the cycle."

The Notion Club Papers - page 227.

*

Comment:

At the end, I think Tolkien is alluding to the small, and unpredictable, 'facts' around which myth grows.

There was a man called Arthur at the centre of the cycle - the idea is that someone of this name triggered the myth-making.

Somehow, once a myth has grown, it is impossible to discern these specific facts, and their relevance is either limited or non-existent (because it is the myth which matters) - yet it is also a fact that the myth grew here and nowhere else, around these seeds and not others.

This may simply be a case of human knowledge being very limited.

*

I saw this process at work when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash, under sordid circumstances.

Immediately beforehand she had been unpopular; immediately after she was killed a vast mythic edifice mushroomed and pushed aside everything which had been before.

There was a grain of truth, or a few grains, at the centre of this myth - but mostly it was an archetypal construction of a beautiful princess and devoted young mother, filled with compassion for the suffering world - there seemed to be elements of Mary - Mother of God, Galadriel and Cinderella.

It did not last, The oral process stripped it away because - well who really knows why.

Probably because the Diana myth did not fulfill a need or serve a purpose; but then, who really knows - explicitly - what specific purpose individual myths are serving?

*

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The daimonic force of great myths and legends

*

From The Notion Club Papers by JRR Tolkien – in Sauron Defeated, Volume IX of the History of Middle Earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien.

Page 228, Ramer speaking:

“I don’t think you realize, I don’t think any of us realize, the force, the daimonic force that the great myths and legends have.

“From the profundity of the emotions and perceptions that begot them, and from the multiplication of them in many minds – and each mind, mark you, an engine of obscured but unmeasured energy.

“They are like an explosive: it may slowly yield a steady warmth to living minds, but if suddenly detonated, it might go off with a crash: yes, might produce a disturbance in the real primary world.”

*

This is surely a profound truth.

People do live by myths, or aspire to – and if they lack noble myths (as people mostly do at present), then they live by sordid myths.

And myths have daimonic force.

*

One current myth with daimonic force are the ‘trickster’ stories (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trickster) , which underlie much popular culture – myths concerning a protagonist who is amoral, un-idealistic, selfish, hedonistic. Someone who breaks the rules, not for higher or transcendent goals, but for their own benefit.

Thieves and fences, serial seducers, bon viveurs, escapists, bounty hunters, skivers and sturdy beggars, druggies and drunks, guns for hire, rock stars and rappers, wide boys, liars, blaggers and charm merchants.

*

This myth (or rather, the many myths and stories featuring this archetypal figure) has such force because these protagonists are (we imagine) living by id not super-ego, by instinct not training; and thereby in touch with ‘life’ –that connection so painfully missing in the world of the bureaucratic state which we inhabit.

Tricksters are also (supposedly, we would like to believe) indestructibly happy – utterly unconcerned by the future, able to evade all attempts to entrap them with duty, escaping again and again into living for the moment hedonism.

The trickster comes to the fore when other myths are not possible or cannot be conceived, when (in a world where pleasure is the only ‘real’ good) the choice seems between deadly dutiful planned conformity and impulsive parasitic selfishness.

*

Typically this myth is enacted unconsciously - but not always. There are those (especially among intellectuals) who deliberately take-upon themselves this role, and propagandize it.

There embrace of the daimonic then becomes literally demonic; inflated with pride they are sometimes rewarded with extra-ordinary, quasi-hypnotic powers of mind control and fascination.

They defend themselves with mockery, with promises of invulnerable pleasure to those who follow their teachings, and - if pressed - with the burning conviction that all good is pretense and hypocrisy and that they alone are the truth-tellers.

Although unable to construct or create, in our degenerate, weak, faddish society; such tricksters eild great influence; and the myths of tricksters divert any possibility of constructive dissatisfaction into chaotic predation and self-destruction.

*

Yes, myth does have daimonic force, easily powerful enough to destroy anything; and the only force which can restrain destructive myth is creative myth.

*

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Evil minds attacking during sleep

From The Notion Club Papers - an unfinished novel by JRR Tolkien. In Sauron Defeated - The History of Middle Earth Volume IX. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. 1992. Pages 195-7.

"'[Ramer said:] ...it is largely a rest-time, sleep. As often as not the mind is inactive, not making things up (for instance). It then just inspects what is presented to it, from various sources - with very varying degrees of interest, I may say. It's not really frightfully interested in the digestion and sex items sent in by the body.'

"'What is presented to it, you say?' said Frankley. 'Do you mean that some of the presentments come from outside, are shown to it?'

"'Yes. For instance: in a halting kind of way I had managed to get on to other vehicles; and in dream I did it better and more often. So other minds do that occasionally to me. Their resting on me need not be noticed, I think, or hardly at all; I mean, it need not affect me or interfere with me at all; but when they are doing so, and are in contact, then my mind can use them. The two minds don't tell stories to one another, even if they're aware of the contact. They just are in contact and can learn.

"'After all, a wandering mind (if it's at all like mine) will be much more interested in having a look at what the other knows than in trying to explain to the stranger the things that are familiar to itself.'

"'Evidently if the Notion Club could all meet in sleep, they'ld find things pretty topsy-turvy,' said Lowdham.

"'What kind of minds visit you?' asked Jeremy. 'Ghosts?

"'Well, yes of course, ghosts,' said Ramer. 'Not departed human spirits, though; not in my case, as far as I can tell..'.

"'Beyond that what shall I say? Except that some of them seem to know about things a very long way indeed from here. It is not a common experience with me, at least my awareness of any contact is not.'

"'Aren't some of the visitors malicious?' said Jeremy. 'Don't evil minds attack you ever in sleep?'

"'I expect so,' said Ramer. 'They're always on the watch, asleep or awake.

"'But they work more by deceit than attack. I don't think they are specially active in sleep. Less so, probably. I fancy they find it easier to get at us awake, distracted and not so aware. The body's a wonderful lever for an indirect influence on the mind, and deep dreams can be very remote from its disturbance.

"'Anyway, I've very little experience of that kind - thank God!

"'But there does come sometimes a frightening... a sort of knocking at the door: it doesn't describe it, but that'll have to do. I think that is one of the ways in which that horrible sense of fear arises: a fear that doesn't seem to reside in the remembered dream-situation at all, or wildly exceeds it.

"'I'm not much better off than anyone else on this point, for when that fear comes, it usually produces a kind of dream- concussion, and a passage is erased round the true fear-point.

"'But there are some dreams that can't be fully translated into sight and sound. I can only describe them as resembling such a situation as this: working alone, late at night, withdrawn wholly into yourself; a noise, or even a nothing sensible, startles-you; you get prickles all over, become acutely self-conscious, uneasy, aware of isolation: how thin the walls are between you and the night.

"'That situation may have various explanations here. But out (or down) there sometimes the mind is suddenly aware that there is a night outside, and enemies walk in it: one is trying to get in.

"'But there are no walls,' said Ramer sombrely. 'The soul is dreadfully naked when it notices it, when that is pointed out to it by something alien. It has no armour on it, it has only its being. But there is a guardian.

"'He seems to command precipitate retreat. You could, if you were a fool, disobey, I suppose. You could push him away. You could have got into a state in which you were attracted by the fear. But i can't imagine it.

"' I'ld rather talk about something else.' "

*

Comment:

At this point in The Notion Club Papers, Ramer seems to be Tolkien's mouthpiece. I assume that the experiences he describes were, more or less, those of Tolkien (specific examples of this are confirmed in several footnotes by Christopher Tolkien).

This was written, according to the Chronology published in JRR Tolkien: a companion and guide by Hammond and Scull, at around the lowest point in Tolkien's life - associated with him doing the work of two Oxford Professorships at the same time (coving his move from the Pembroke chair of Anglo Saxon to the Merton chair of English Language and Literature), and also having to teach subjects in which he had no interest.

At any rate, it seems that Tolkien had direct personal experience of dreams in which he felt himself under attack by malicious minds.

C.S Lewis drew upon similar experiences in his work - most obviously in the Screwtape letters; and the work of Charles Williams is permeated with the phenomenon. These matters were discussed in The Inklings meetings.

So, seventy years ago it was apparently the case that highly prestigious and able individuals (who had and continue to have a major cultural influence) were openly discussing the 'supernatural' workings of evil purpose in the universe.

Seventy years later, to do so is - for mainstream public discourse, at least in the UK - taken to be evidence of craziness or simple-mindedness (the sort of thing that only 'fundamentalists' might engage in).

Is this progress? What discoveries were made over recent decades that rendered this kind of discussion absurd? Are we (as individuals, as a culture), nowadays, smarter, more insightful, wiser, more-learned, more honest than the circle of Tolkien and Lewis?

Or are we, perhaps, inferior in almost every respect - individually and culturally? So it seems.

In which case they are likely to know better than we; and we should be prepared to learn from them - or at the very least to take seriously what they took seriously.