Monday 8 November 2010

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     *


Denis Bridoux said...

Thank you for the connection which had escaped me.

The same three trees occur in the drawing called 'Eeriness'. In my review of Tolkien Maker of Middle-earth for Tolkien Studies, I comment on these drawings as follows. "In Eeriness (p.169), a wizard-like figure with cloak, hat and staff is facing a path between two rows of menacing trees. A dog or cat-like figure appears on the back of his cloak. As the three slender trees appearing lit from within in the left of Eeriness may be the same as those at the centre of The Land of Pohja (p.177), the figure may represent Väinämoïnen, the wizard in the Kalevala. The latter artwork includes an ingenious quasi-theatrical device, not presented in the exhibition, namely a purple flap which covers the top left-hand corner of the page and which, when turned, shows a freezing land where the Sun and Moon have been stolen by Louhi, the Old Mistress of Pohjola."

The three "Blessed Trees" (a quote from the same page of The Notion Club Papers) from the drawings, dated 1914, would be the forerunners of Silpion and Laurelin which appear less than a year later in the watercolour of The Shores of Faery (dated May 1915).

Tolkien, as a master of thrift, kept reusing evocative themes and imagery in various guises and incarnations throughout his life. This is actually a characteristic of his creative style. Once part of the ‘leaf-mould’ of his mind, elements keep reappearing, sometimes bleeding across his universes. Later, on the following page in The Notion Club Papers (p.195), he gives a saying “A mountain far in the North caught in a slow sunset is not the Sun”, which, beyond its symbolic meaning, may also be an evocation of The Land of Pohja.

Bruce Charlton said...

Dear Denis - Thank you for this!

I have been brooding on the Notion Club Papers - to a degree perhaps more than anybody else ever has! - for more than a decade; and I still keep finding new things. Indeed, I have the strange illusion (?) that I come across things which I would have sworn weren't there on the previous readings! - it's that kind of book...