Friday, 7 January 2011

The essential meaning and purpose of the Notion Club Papers


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 move on to speculations 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 although the Notion Club papers went through several stages in their development, and had several purposes, in the end they were intended to serve an extremely important purpose: to rescue modern England.

More exactly, since 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.

Of this much I was persuaded by the work of Verlyn Flieger - especially her book Interrupted Music.

But I would go somewhat further and suggest that the NCPs would ultimately (if finished) have provided the actual operative myth which brought Tolkien's historical myth/s into action in the modern world.

In other words, the purpose of the NCPs was nothing less than to 'save' England (and perhaps other places too).


What was Tolkien 'saving' us 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."


I believe that 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 has in fact already 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.

But I believe that this extrapolation to an 'ideal' and finished Notion Club Papers can indeed be made - albeit only in outline - and this I hope to explain and demonstrate over the next several blog entries.


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