Friday, 29 April 2016

What if The Lord of the Rings really *had* been an allegory of World War II?

In his Foreword to the 1966 Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was at pains to emphasize that the book was not an allegory: in particular it was not an allegory of the 1939-45 World War:

The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.

It is interesting to unpack this putative allegory of a imagined allegorical LotR, using what I know of Tolkien from other sources to fill-in gaps or uncertainties:

The One Ring = The Atom Bomb

Sauron = Hitler
Mordor = Germany under National Socialism

Saruman = Stalin
Isengard = Soviet Communism

The Free Peoples = USA and UK
The one who seizes the Ring and enslaves Sauron - presumably would have been Aragorn, Boromir or Denethor = Roosevelt/ Truman


In reverse, we could play with the idea of what would have happened in WW II if it had followed the lines of LotR...

The plot would focus on the destruction of the Atom Bomb (and implicitly all knowledge required to make it) by a small team of English patriots led by George Orwell, who infiltrate Germany and destroy the evil research establishment which is making the A-bomb.

The climactic end would be the death of Hitler (as the ready-for-use prototype explodes?) and the end of the Nazi regime in Germany with the return of the Holy Roman Emperor.

En route there would be the destruction of Soviet Communism, the restoration of the Tsar, and the exile of Stalin. Stalin then makes his way to England, is welcomed by the corrupt Socialist Prime Minister, Konni Zilliacus; then Stalin invites foreign mercenaries, takes over in a secret coup, enslaves the native English and manages to pollute or destroy much of the countryside before Orwell and his English patriots return and raise a successful counter-revolution; after which Stalin is stabbed by his deputy Lavrentiy Beria - who is immediately executed by a mob of pitchfork-wielding rustics (despite Orwell's protests).

England repudiates industrialization, is demilitarized, sealed against immigration, and made into a clan-based dominion ruled by benign hereditary aristocrats; and made a protected nation under the personal care of the restored King Albrecht - the exiled Duke of Bavaria, and heir to the US monarchy, who had been given the throne by popular acclaim during the course of the war, and is now ruling from his palace in Richmond, Virginia.

Orwell, traumatized and made consumptive by his wartime experiences, sails West toward the sunset in a small boat and eventually arrives in... Ireland; where he ends his days peacefully as a subsistence crofter...

No wonder, then, that Tolkien cordially disliked allegory, in all its manifestations.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The initial appeal of Charles Williams

The first time I tackled Charles Williams was after reading Humphrey Carpenter's group biography The Inklings, which was during late 1987 when I was living in Durham Castle (part of University College) as a resident don, wearing an academic gown at all mealtimes - which were taken at High Table in the 'medieval' hall; and attending a variety of somewhat Inkling's-esque groups for eating and drinking, conversation, and discussion of our reading and writings.

What most interested me about Charles Williams was the idea of a supernatural 'real' world behind the everyday world, and The Place of the Lion was the book which most attracted me. I was also interested by his idea of romantic theology - especially the Via Positiva - which I interpreted as a path to higher consciousness via the creative life; and his mystical idea of The City as a microcosm of Heaven (I think I read some of the essays in Image of the City).

At that time, I was not a Christian, but I was very interested - in a detached way - by Christian theology, monasticism, ritual and various aspects of Christianity. I was reading and much influenced by the ultra-Liberal theologian Don Cupitt; I subscribed to the Dominican journal Blackfriars, I sporadically attended the college chapel and once read a lesson there, and choral evensong at Durham Cathedral (located only a hundred yards from the Castle). I read Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue with broad approval - with its call for a revival of Thomism.

In sum I was a serious dabbler on the edges of Christianity - but in a way that made no fundamental difference to my life or beliefs, and made no demands upon me: none at all.

Anyway - from this context I attended a couple of evening meetings of a Book Club which included some of my college friends - including a meeting in a small modern house on a housing estate where we discussed a Charles Williams novel: I think it may have been Many Dimensions. The reason I am unsure is that I had been unable to locate a copy, and indeed only a couple of the participants in the meeting had actually read the book; which was out of print and very hard to find. Indeed, it was an absurd choice for a Book Club! - but there you are.

I have a strong recollection of the flavour of that meeting, but nothing of the content. The flavour was strange to me - because we were located in this very mundane suburban setting, a group of very respectable but junior academics (or academic-related people - such as librarians, and a college chaplain as I recall); discussing very strange supernatural matters with an attitude of seriousness, and as if such things as Charles Williams described in his novels might actually happen - at any moment.

As I walked away from that meeting some thirty years ago, it was a dark late evening and I looked about me at the night sky and the lights of the city and thought how strange people were - how strange I was; that nobody could have guessed that behind the curtains inside a small, boxy, semi-detached, modern furnished house there would be a group of people discussing the breakthrough of divine and demonic forces into exactly such a world - even a sense of expectation that such thing might be just out of sight and about to change everything - if not this evening than tomorrow, or next week.

It struck me that behind the quietest, most 'conforming' and respectable of people there lurked extraordinary, wild wishes or fantasies - yearnings that were only semi-serious, and expressed with very English politeness, reserve and diffidence; yet which were so strange that they must have sprung from depths.

Ever since, Charles Williams has carried for me something of the flavour of that evening, and that group; and of a time when I learned something surprising about the nature of people.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Review of Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac Glyer

Diana Pavlac Glyer. Bandersnatch: CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and the creative collaboration of the Inklings. Black Squirrel Books: Kent, Ohio. 2016, pp. xix, 200 (including notes, bibliography and index). Includes 5 illustrations by James A Owen.

In 2007 Diana Pavlac Glyer published The Company They Keep, which was the most significant biography of The Inklings since Humphrey Carpenter's original biography some thirty years earlier. I found TCTK to be a sheer delight - having read it through at least three times and consulted it frequently.

Glyer's important achievement was to undo the major error of Carpenter's mostly excellent biography, which was Carpenter's insistence that the Inklings was just a group of Jack Lewis's friends and having no other or wider significance: Carpenter was insistent to the point of perversity on this point, even devoting a whole chapter ('A fox that isn't there') to hammering it home. But in this important respect Carpenter was about as wrong as it is possible to be! - as Glyer has proven.

Glyer's first act of clarification concerning the Inklings was to distinguish the small, select writing group who met on 'Thursday evenings' (not always Thursdays, in fact) from the larger, more diffuse group who met to converse at lunchtimes (Tuesday, later Monday) at the 'Bird and Baby' pub.

Having made this crucial distinction, Glyer was able to demonstrate, by hundreds of examples, large and small(lovingly culled from published and manuscript sources), that what held the Inklings together and constituted their raison d'etre was writing: in essence the Thursday evening group was primary, and it primarily existed for reading and commenting-on work in progress.

It was this Thursday evening group who supported and shaped the composition of The Lord of the Rings and other significant work especially from Jack and Warnie Lewis, and Charles Williams. And this was done through a range of interactions from shared enjoyment and encouragement to write, through verbal and written comments to argument and criticism (including, rarely, negative criticism of a damaging type - notably Hugo Dyson's de facto veto on reading Lord of the Rings while he was present during the 1945-7 period, which Glyer believes led to the end of the group).

The pleasure of TCTK and Bandersnatch is that Glyer provides examples of all these interactions - so we get a microscopic close up of the Inklings at work on their main work - which was writing.

I personally would not have wanted TCTK any differently than it is - which is a somewhat haphazard treasure trove of main text and extensive footnotes with the usual scholarly apparatus plus a valuable biographical index (including original material) by David Bratman - but I recognize that this rather seventeenth century style of book is a barrier to many or most readers - who prefer a biography to read more like a novel or at least a personal memoir; and this is what Glyer has provided with Bandersnatch. It contains essentially the same material and argument as TCTK but in a single continuous narrative.

A secondary fuction of Bandersnatch (and also TCTK) is to argue for the importance of groups to writers: a tertiary function is as a kind of self-help book to apply lessons from the Inklings to the forming and sustaining of writers groups.

I believe that Glyer is correct to emphasize the importance of writers groups and collaborations - the Romantic movement was founded in Somerset and Bristol and transferred to The Lake district by Coleridge, Wordsworth and Southey; and the New England Transcendentalists grew up around RW Emerson. More recently I used to know the novelist Alasdair Gray from Glasgow, Scotland - who had been part of a formal writing group presided over by Philip Hobsbaum, and which included other published writers such as James Kelman, Liz Lochhead and Tom Leonard - these continued to work and publish together for some time.

Hobsbaum (who was a poet, critic and university teacher) indeed seemed to have a special gift for forming successful writers groups, as he moved between universities ( - perhaps his most eminent group was in Northern Ireland, and included future Nobellist Seamus Heaney.

So, it is clear that many writers benefit from a group of the right kind. On the other hand, the talent or genius must be there for a group to assist in drawing it out - and it is a feature of genius that (purposively - but by trial and error) it seeks the conditions for its own fulfilment - so I would regard writers groups as essentially a spontaneous coalescence of individual genius; rather than, with Glyer, giving the writers group a primary role in creativity.

Monday, 25 April 2016

The incompleteness of argument in Rudolf Steiner's Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception - the "least read, most important book Steiner ever wrote" according to Owen Barfield

I have recently been grappling (almost literally!) with Rudolf Steiner's The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception (1886) - on the basis that (according to Joel Wendt) Owen Barfield described it in the mid 1980s as 'the least read, most important book that Steiner ever wrote' ; this comment coming from Barfield - a man who had by that time been dedicated to Anthroposophy for more than sixty years, and was (inter alia) intellectually perhaps the leading British Anthroposophist of all time.

It is not easy to read and understand Goethe's Conception - but fortunately I had also read Steiner's following two books which provide the philosophical back-up to the Goethe Volume: these are Truth and Freedom (1892) and The Philosophy of Freedom (1894).

Having given these books my best effort I have reached the following conclusion, that Steiner's views are not wrong but are fatally incomplete - so that what he states as proven is not proven but merely asserted; and that for completeness and cohesion the argument requires the framework of a personal God (i.e. theism); but Steiner did not become a Christian until 1899, so these books did not really make sense at the time they were published.

This is a significant fact from the perspective that Steiner regarded these three volumes as the foundation of all his subsequent thought, Barfield apparently/ probably agreed - and subsequent Goethian science is usually described in the terms of reference established by Steiner in 1886 (in other words, without reference to a deity).

I will attempt an extremely bald summary of what I understand Steiner to have been arguing in these three books, and especially 'Goethe's conception'  - and what is required to complete and make sense of the picture.

Steiner is trying to prove logically that thinking (of a certain kind), as such, is valid - because everything else is inevitably and ultimately known in terms of thinking. On the one hand he shows, I think successfully, that Men have nothing other than thinking as their ultimate knowledge, so that it makes no sense to strive for something more or other than thinking as the basis of knowledge.

So, thinking is the only reality. Steiner goes on later to make a kind of 'pure' thinking the basis of spiritual science - including the claim that it really is a science.

But Steiner also tries to argue that thinking (with some qualification relating to the nature of this thinking) is necessarily valid - that thinking is true, correct, really real. I personally think this is impossible to prove in the way Steiner tries to prove it; the set-up simply does not contain the necessary knowledge elements for such a proof to be possible. 

So Steiner shows that we cannot have anything other than thinking but not that this thinking is a correct 'picture' of reality. Somebody might say that this is the case for humans as a species, but that this might be an arbitrary constraint of the way humans happen to be set-up - also that different humans may be set up differently, with different cognitive processes leading to different 'intuitions'.

In sum - Steiner as of 1886-94 does not successfully prove that intuitive thinking is, as he claims, intrinsically and necessarily 'scientific'.

However, I believe that Steiner (and Goethe, and Barfield) are indeed essentially (and with some qualifications) correct in this assertion - I believe that it is true that Man is set-up to be a scientist, and the true (Goethian) science is built-into our thinking.

What I am stating here is that the real reason that this is true is (to put it simply) because God created Man that way, and God created reality so that Man could understand about reality everything that he would spontaneously ask and need to know.

So there are indeed (as Steiner was at pains to state) no limits to our knowledge of that which we want to know; and (as Goethe was at pains to state) Man is indeed the most exact instrument for attaining scientific knowledge; and therefore all technologies, statistics, computers, machines and mechanisms are intrinsically prone to mislead due to their dazzling 'offer' of what is actually a misleading and ultimately false precision - unless all this is subordinated to the intrinsic and built-in human way of knowing.

In sum - Steiner's early 'epistemology' trio of books are indeed of great importance and vital relevance both to understanding and setting-right our modern condition; but they absolutely require that theistic, and probably specifically Christian, framework which Steiner and Barfield both attained - although both Steiner and Barfield (and perhaps Goethe too) perhaps neglected, or at least underestimated, the logical, rational role that was provided by theism in underpinning their conception of science.

Friday, 22 April 2016

The Inklings in a group portrait

At last someone has done a picture of the Inklings: James A Owen, for a newly published book Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac Glyer (review to follow).

Up till now, the only example was mine own masterpiece, which I posted two years ago accompanied by the challenge to actual artists to do better:

I am prepared to acknowledge that Owen has indeed done better! I like the picture, although the likenesses are not good (good artists are not necessarily good at capturing a likeness) - but the important things is we now have a proper group portrait of The Inklings, only about 70 years after they last met!

First of many - I hope...

If Barfield is accepted as the Inklings' philosopher, in a lineage of Coleridgian Romantic philosophy focused on The Imagination, then the Inklings as a group-identity are not 'reactionary' but looking towards the future evolution of consciousness

If it is assumed that the Inklings can be characterized as more than the sum or their parts and more than a shared essence -
Then Owen Barfield may be regarded as the philosopher of the Inklings, and Tolkien as the supreme practical exponent; Lewis as the mediator and Williams as the initiator and guide.

Despite that these individuals disagree - we can synthesize from various of their elements a group-identity from selected and complementary aspects of each; a group-identity which is not an average, and not shared by all of them, and to which none of them as individuals would subscribe.

Whether we do this or not is entirely a matter of what use or value we find in such an idea - working (as we should) in the broader context of the Inklings core and shared and universal ideal value - which was indeed Christianity.

(Christianity defined in some simple, basic and 'minimal' sense).

Taken in this spirit - the Inklings have an intellectual lineage (via Barfield) which links them with Romanticism - especially Coleridge and Goethe; as transmitted via Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield himself. In other words, a focus on Imagination as the primary mode of thinking.

And furthermore, this lineage is forward-looking and not reactionary. I mean, this lineage does not look back to an ideal of immersive 'Original Participation' (rather like the un-self-conscious living in nature of Bombadil, the Ents, Silvan Elves, or to some extent the Hobbits) - but forward to an as yet only partially glimpsed and achieved Final Participation.

As a first example to consider: The Lord of the Rings - in terms of the deeply-appreciative reader's engagement with the book - takes its place in this tradition as being a supreme example of Final Participation (albeit temporary and partial).

So, instead of regarding LotR as in itself a yearning for the past and embodying a vision of history as a long decline and defeat; we instead regard it in terms of how we think LotR - how the book works in our thinking as an objective reality.

And because the objective reality of LotR is one which we cannot take 'literally' (it is a feigned history) we then experience it as fully-imaginable, fully-real; a mode of thinking that is more-satisfying-complete-and-imaginable-than-mundane-life (we cannot, or at least do not, appreciate workaday life in the modern world as fully imaginable - hence it does not seem fully real) - yet a reality that we simultaneously 'know' is essentially and substantially a consequence of our own minds.

We imagine, and we know we imagine, and this imagination is very-highly engaging: we participate in it.

So, although Tolkien rejected Barfield's anthroposophy; and although Barfield did not personally enjoy or appreciate the Lord of the Rings, the tow can be formed into a complementary structure which expresses some distinctive to 'The Inklings' - yet which is apparent only in retrospect and to those who were not themselves Inklings.

I am far from saying this is the only or best way to consider The Inklings - but it seems a legitimate, coherent, and potentially very fruitful line of enquiry.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The link between evolution of consciousness and reincarnation in the work of Owen Barfield

Owen Barfield's central idea, and the one for which he is best known, is the evolution of consciousness - meaning that the nature of human consciousness has changed throughout history such that people in different eras and places had very different relationships with the world: these changes fall into three general categories of Original Participation, the Observing Consciousness and Final Participation.

He traces the evolution of consciousness mainly by observing the characteristic changes in the meaning and usage of words, which seem to display a cohesive development - and also looks at other cultural evidence. Barfield's idea of evolution in this regard is not natural selection, but a developmental process (akin to the growth and differentiation of a living entity): the emergence and unfolding of human destiny, interacting with the agency and free will of individual humans.

What is seldom appreciated or emphasized is that for Barfield the evolution of consciousness is divinely designed, and bound-up with reincarnation. To put it concisely, the reason for the evolution of consciousness through history is that this provides the necessary conditions by which successive reincarnations of  human spirits may learn what they require to develop towards divinity.

So, for Barfield (although this is hinted at much more often than made explicit) it is God who 'provides' the evolution of consciousness in order that reincarnating human spirits may have the necessary experiences they need to growth towards the ultimate goal of Final Participation - whereby firstly, and stepwise, the Ego or Self has become separated from its original 'unconscious' immersion in the environment and strong in its purpose and will - awake, alert and in-control; then secondly the now strong and purposive Self/ Ego comes back into a participatory relationship with The World.

To underlying rationale (the 'point') of the evolution of consciousness is, for Barfield, bound-up with the reality of reincarnation; and therefore those (such as myself) who disbelieve in reincarnation as the normal human destiny, yet who believe in the evolution of consciousness, need to be clear that we differ from Barfield; and are, indeed, denying the main reason for evolution of consciousness as Barfield understood it.

To put it bluntly: those individuals who are sympathetic towards Barfield's core idea of the evolution of consciousness yet who do not believe in reincarnation, need to explain what the evolution of consciousness is for - if not to provide the conditions necessary for educating the reincarnating human spirit.  


Note: My personal 'take' on reincarnation is that it is not the normal human destiny - but that reincarnation happens to some individuals for particular purposes - for instance, a sage, prophet or saint may be a reincarnate who has returned to assist in the divine work - indeed I suspect that many of the wise intuitive individuals such as Rudolf Steiner and perhaps Owen Barfield himself, who claim direct personal knowledge of the reality of incarnation, are themselves actually some of these rare and atypical persons. As a believer in Mormon theology, my explanation for the evolution of consciousness is that humans have a pre-mortal spiritual existence before being voluntarily incarnated into life on earth - and the evolution of consciousness allows pre-mortal spirits to be 'placed' - by God - into the historical era which best addresses their personal spiritual needs: i.e. their specific needs for mortal experience of a particular kind. 

Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Inklings 'Group-Theology' implicit in Barfield, Lewis, Tolkien and Williams

My ultimate reason for reading the Inklings is a 'spiritual advisers' - as a group, and not only as individuals, I believe they constituted an unique and profound Christian theology for our times.

My new-found, recent ability to understand and empathise with the work of Owen Barfield has led to some 'notion' of how the Inklings work as a complementary group - and how one might derive from this group a theological perspective which is not found in any one of them alone - and, furthermore, which would not be endorsed by any one of them.

What I am suggesting here is, then, something greater than (or at least different from!) the sum of the parts contributed by individual Inklings. And, to reiterate, I am aware than none of the four would be likely to affirm the final totality that I derive from their combination.


In other words, what I am doing here is making a judgement concerning the core contribution of each of the four main Inkling authors (CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams and Owen Barfield) and assembling these into a single cohesive philosophy or 'ideology' - which includes elements of all four, each unique to that individual, yet combined in a complementary fashion.

(I also believe that each of these authors is abundantly worth individual study! So this synthesis is not meant to replace that study, but to provide an additional angle on them.)

I have already attempted to do this at various points on this blog, but without including as a vital participant - because I didn't previously understand what he was up-to. However, I now find that Barfield adds something which makes for a very different philosophy than when he is either left-out or regarded as merely confirmation of the other authors.


The Inklings work is mostly about imagination - and Barfield's unique contribution to the Inklings perspective is that imagination is potentially real knowledge - i.e. imagination may provide true knowledge about this world: this mortal life on earth and its meaning and purpose.

Without Barfield, there exists a gap between the Inklings account of imagination and the nature of religious, Christian, living. In other words, without Barfield, the Inklings cannot address and alleviate the problem of alienation in the modern world - the problem that we feel our subjectivity to be cut off from reality.

In sum, CSL, JRRT and CW all accept that there is a qualitative gulf between mortal life and Heavenly life - and that all men are in a state of exile. Barfield, by contrast, sees the difference as quantitative and the gap as something which can be closed - initially for brief periods, but with the possibility of an increasing and more sustained closeness between our 'everyday' modern mortal experience and a full participation-in and knowledge-of divine things.

Metaphysically, this is because Barfield is a follower of Rudolf Steiner who adhered to what he termed 'monism' - that there is ultimately one world, and that all the supernatural and ideal elements are, and are meant to be, in one world. This is in contrast to the kind of 'Platonism' seen in (especially) Lewis and Williams - where the real world is (and should be) transcendent; elsewhere, outside of mortal linear time and 3D space.

The element Barfield adds is therefore that imagination is (or can become) not only an analogy or symbolism, but actual knowledge of worlds that the other Inklings regard as higher and other.

Barfield also brings a very different understanding of the role of 'modernity' in terms of Christian history. Tolkien and Lewis see modernity as in essence a bad thing, a corruption - and would advocate a return to earlier modes of thinking. Williams is not far from this - but his Romantic Theology (his primary idea, in my view) is put forward as an optimistic future possibility - something that might revitalize Christianity and lead to a future of new and great achievements. But CW remains profoundly alienated with respect to the human condition: deeply pessimistic and dark in mood and spirit.

Barfield also regards modernity as deeply unsatisfactory - but sees it as a necessary transitional stage to a potentially greater, and ideal, future state of consciousness - superior to anything which has gone before: a 'grown-up' Christianity which combines the 'participation' in life of earlier phases of human existence with the self-aware, purposive, clear-headed and 'scientific' way of thinking of modernity. Barfield is therefore optimistic about human possibilities (although realistic about the fact that modernity seems to have rejected these possibilities and instead descended ever more deeply into materialism and positivism).


In sum, while Barfield's analysis and diagnosis of present spiritual problems is similar to CSL, JRRT and CW - his 'treatment' involves moving forward from this situation to a situation that is superior to any which have yet existed. This movement forwards (progression) is to be achieved by that 'evolution of consciousness' which constitutes Barfield's master idea; and the consciousness aimed-at is not the trance-like or dream-like ('shamanic' or classically mystical) states which are the focus of Lewis, Tolkien and Williams's interest - but by a self-aware, clear, purposive primary thinking of Man as a wholly-free agent.

This is seen as the mode of full, adult imagination; and it is the imagination of this state which constitutes our direct contact with reality - and the solution (however transitory) to modern alienation.

Much more can, and I hope will soon, be said on this theme of the Inklings Group-Theology - but that is enough for now!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Reviews of Unancestral Voice and Night Operation by Owen Barfield

Unancestral Voice (1965) is usually described as a novel, but it isn't: it is a philosophical 'dialogue', of the type pioneered by Plato. All the interest lies in the philosophy; and this is extremely interesting. I have now read the book twice, pretty carefully, and although I have learned a lot, I still feel that I have only scraped its surface.

Owen Barfield is, indeed, a very deep and rigorous thinker, who has a very appealing authorial persona - in other words it is a great pleasure to spend time in his company. However, he is not easy to read - or, at least, I do not find him so; and it took me quite a few years and attempts before I manged to tune-into him.

Unancestral Voice is about metaphysics - that is, it is concerned with the most fundamental level of understanding about reality. Indeed, its focus is pretty much the same as the very first philosophers of Ancient Greece, which is the nature of change. What happens when things change - what is it that changes, what remains the same - how can we conceptualize and explain this?

In particular, Barfield writes about evolution, including ancient ideas and the more recent theory of Natural Selection; and (speaking as a professional biological evolutionary theorist, who has read and thought about the subject a great deal for some 25 years) I have found Barfield's insights revolutionary - far, far deeper than anything else I have ever read on the subject.

There is also consideration of Rudolf Steiner, DH Lawrence, the sexual revolution, modern alienation, law and justice - and the whole is (very indirectly, but firmly) put into a Christian context.

I don't suppose very many people would find this book anything like as interesting as I do - but I can assure potential readers that any efforts to get to grips with it will be time very well spent; and indeed I think that, within Barfield's oeuvre some of the material here is not dealt with anywhere else - Unancestral Voice is thus close to being an indispensable book. I already know that I shall be re-returning to it - and more than once.


Night Operation (1975) is also called a novel, and described as dystopian science fiction; but again it is actually in the Platonic Dialogue genre - and the descriptions of the future and the (rather limited) action of the (undeveloped) protagonists is of little or no dramatic interest.

So, it ought to be read more as an essay than a story - and taken as such it is very interesting and at times heart-liftingly beautiful. It is also surprisingly waspish - even aggressive! - in its satire of modernity, sexuality and what we would now call Political Correctness.

Barfield saw clearly the way that things were going in The West - and the ways that problems would emerge and be dealt with: he is prescient in capturing the quality (rather than the detail) of our bizarre and insane world as it has turned out forty years after the book was published.

I think this very strong, in-your-face, anti-Leftism may be why this book has been so persistently mis-described in the accounts of it which I have read over the years (since most Barfieldians seem to be on the Left politically, and spiritual rather than religious - they would not relish those 'reactionary' aspects that I appreciated).

So the book came as a great surprise to me - very different in flavour and focus from what I expected.

However, Night Operation is very short indeed! Just 64 pages and running, I would guess, at considerably less than 20,000 words - yet it was sold in 2008 at the price of a full novel. As it was, I had to pay a lot to get a copy, even secondhand.

So, overall, I would say that Night Operation is well worth reading, but not really worth the cost.

The Owen Barfield Literary Estate would do better to make Night Operation available free online, and then perhaps the book might get the readership it merits.