Saturday, 27 March 2021

High fantasy as intrinsically Christian

I have been pondering what it is that I most value in my favourite books of the 'fantasy' genre - or indeed in other media such as movies and TV. And I think it is a particular 'enchanted' feel, which could be described as including both animism and providence


Animism is the conviction that the natural world is alive and conscious - such that living beings (animals, trees) are also conscious; but most specifically those things that are usually considered to be not-alive ('dead') such as mountains, rivers, the sea - are also considered to be alive, aware, purposive to some significant degree. 

Thus, when the protagonists of a high fantasy are on a journey, then the landscape through which they move is a 'character' (or series of characters) in the story. 

Whereas in a low fantasy (sword and sorcery etc.) the landscape is just an environment: background scenery, or a series of challenges. 


Providence in high fantasy refers to the fact (or sense) that there is someone in the background influencing the course of events; more generally that there is a purpose or destiny (direction or teleology) influencing events. 

In high fantasy there is a 'macro' level of meaning, above or behind the plot. 

By contrast; low fantasy may be set in the context of a 'micro', close-up reality that is not going anywhere in particular - and success and failure tend to be defined in terms of happiness versus misery, attaining personal goals versus being thwarted or killed.  


From a Christian perspective, both animism and providence could be seen as referencing divine creation - a reality of meaning, purpose and personal relatedness; or even as a foretaste of the condition of Heaven. 

In this sense, high fantasy is an intrinsically Christian genre - since the personal-divine basis of reality is pretty-much specific to Christianity. 


Note added: The original English 'definition' of Romanticism comes from Wordsworth and Coleridge Lyrical Ballads (1798); in relation to which it was said that Wordsworth was writing about (implicitly animistic) nature, and Coleridge was dealing with the supernatural (with reference to some kind of providence). 

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Review of The Minnipins/ The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall (1959)

I found this book after seeing it recommended by Lin Carter as being a good post-Tolkien, Hobbit-like children's' story. In fact; I found its (inferior) sequel first, in the Bristol City Library - and then afterwards bought a paperback copy of The Minnipins (also called The Gammage Cup in the US edition). 

It has proved to be an enduring favourite of mine, which I have re-read multiple times over the decades - mostly recently last week. 

The Minnipins is an nigh-perfect children's fantasy; and deserves to be considered one of the classics of the genre. 

It ticks all of the boxes: assured and convincing world-building of a charming and believable society; likeable and distinctive characters; original and sinister baddies; good writing - prose and folk-rhyming - spanning from excitement through humour, lyrical beauty, with touching emotional scenes; and a very well-structured plot that moves through several interesting phases to a satisfying conclusion. 

Perhaps what raises The Minnipins is its memorability. Some of the rhymes and 'maxims' (used for chapter headings) really stuck; and some of the scenes became vividly established in my imagination on an apparently permanent basis. 


Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Hobbit music? From the Jaye Consort


This album was the first recording of Medieval Music I ever heard (borrowed from my history teacher and mentor John Reeve). This pioneering band (from 1967) is hilariously rough and ready, improvised and (obviously) done in a single take - in a pretty convincing recreation of how things might actually have sounded IRL. You will hear why I call it Hobbit music - due to the rasping intermittent drone of the longest instrument depicted on the cover. I can just imagine the rustics at The Green Dragon Inn, Bywater falling-about with laughter while dancing to this Estampie. 


Review of Elidor by Alan Garner (1965)


The cover of my teenage copy of Elidor

I have always been disappointed by Alan Garner's Elidor (1965); coming as it does between two of my very favourite children's fantasy books The Moon of Gomrath (1963) and The Owl Service (1967). Indeed, I simply did not enjoy Elidor when first I read it (aged 14 0r 15), or at subsequent attempts. 

Yet, Elidor has been the most well-known of Garner's four children's fantasies; being often taught in schools, and leading to a BBC TV series. So I thought I would give the book another try - this time in the audio version read by Jonathan Keeble. 

I can see why I was not much taken by the book, since it is structured more like a thriller than a fantasy. The fantasy elements are swamped by the detailed, realistic descriptions of physical and social life in Manchester and its suburbs - which are often grimy; replete with arguments, angst and stresses; and containing implied 'social commentary' (which are very likely the exact reasons why British school teachers appreciated this book above Garner's true fantasies).  


Furthermore the book starts slowly and with a miserable tone. Following a deal of childish bickering, the fantasy land of Elidor is briefly glimpsed and seems almost-wholly unpleasant and hazardous. Malbron - the only Elidorian man the children talk-with - is a callous and unsympathetic character, and we know hardly anything about him - or indeed Elidor. 

The early chapters set up the main interest of the book which is that four siblings have been given (against their will) the task of guarding four treasures of Elidor, needed to stop the land being destroyed. 

However; I felt that I did not know enough about Malebron to be confident that he was honest, or to care whether Elidor was a place worth saving at great risk to the children. 


The siblings return to modern Manchester with the treasures disguised as modern objects - and the best part of the book is the exciting middle section during which the children gradually realize that the treasures are hazardous (giving-off a strong and disruptive electromagnetic field).

The treasures are also attracting sinister warriors from Elidor - who are repeatedly trying to break-through to the modern world, and getting closer and closer... 

After the slow pace and detailed descriptions of the main book; the ending is abrupt, feels incomplete, and is emotionally unsatisfying. 

Furthermore - it is so complete a plot re-set, as to leave the children in their modern world without any record or residue of their experiences: apparently the modern world is completely unchanged by its period communication with Elidor. 


So, the retrospective reframing of the Elidor narrative - looking back from its ending - is that its only purpose was to save a land we barely know; and that the process has been futile from a modern perspective.

Everything that happened 'might as well' have been a dream or a delusion (as some of the siblings tend to believe, about halfway through the story)...

And this was, unfortunately, Garner's own retrospective reframing (in Boneland some half century later) of his first two novels (Weirdstone of Brinsigamen and Moon of Gomrath) - as nothing more than dream-delusions of one of the child protagonists. As I remarked in my review - this is anti-fantasy, being subversive of fantasy - as evidenced by its rejection of eucatastrophe

The actual ending of Elidor comes across as cynical, pretentious, and indeed aggressive. 


This is very interesting to me in contrast with Garner's previous Moon of Gomrath; which ends with the liberation of the Old Magic into the modern world, and the implication that things will never be the same again - that, indeed, the modern world is just about to be transformed (for the better, it is implied) by a resurgence of enchantment and a renewed contact between Man, nature and the spiritual powers. 

My best guess would be that Garner underwent some kind of profound disillusionment between the writing of Gomrath and Elidor - which left him increasingly bitter and resentful (which is how he generally strikes me, as a person). 

But this is speculation; what is clear from the texts is that Garner lost his youthful optimism and decided to explore and evoke downbeat pessimism and despair in his later fiction, lectures and essays. 


My evaluation of Elidor is that overall it fails structurally as a novel and as a fantasy; and fails to establish credible characters and motivations in relation to Elidor. On the plus side, it is genuinely tense and exciting through the middle section and until near the end - which section, after all, includes most of the book.  

 

Thursday, 18 February 2021

My attempted completion of Frodo's poem: O! Wanderers in the shadowed land

Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin are in the Old Forest...

*

Frodo tried to sing a song to encourage them, but his voice sank to a murmur. 

O! Wanderers in the shadowed land
despair not! For though dark they stand,
all woods there be must end at last,
and see the open sun go past:
the setting sun, the rising sun,
the day’s end, or the day begun.
For east or west all woods must fail…

Fail - even as he said the word his voice faded into silence. The air seemed heavy and the making of words wearisome. Just behind them a large branch fell from an old overhanging tree with a crash into the path. The trees seemed to close in before them.

*

It's a lovely lyric; but - thanks to the increasing threat of the Old Forest, it never gets completed. The commentary in Christopher Tolkien's The History of Middle Earth seems to suggest that the poem was never taken any further. 

So, I thought I would have a shot at providing a final line for the poem - by completing a rhyming couplet beginning with For east or west all woods must fail… 


I can immediately inform you that I failed to attain an altogether satisfactory result; the the best completion I managed, the one that is most in spirit with the rest of the poem is:

For east or west all woods must fail…
East or west, all woods must fail.

But that is very obviously pinched from Robert Frost's poem that ends with a repeated "And miles to go before I sleep"...


The ideal last line would either complete the argument, or else explain why the poem stopped. 

So, here are a few other suggestions, from which you can take your pick - or yourself try to do better. 

For east or west all woods must fail…
If not at Harvard, then at Yale. 

For east or west all woods must fail…
It's like escaping from a jail!

For east or west all woods must fail…
And that's the ending of my tale.


Perhaps the best, however, is surely:

For east or west all woods must fail…
Alas! I've trodden on a nail.

 

POSTCRIPT:

Following a to and fro at my BC's Notions blog, and using the breakthrough provided by WmJas Tychoneivich, this is my personal preferred version of the completed poem:

O! Wanderers in the shadowed land
Despair not! For though dark they stand,
All woods there be must end at last,
And see the open sun go past:
The setting sun, the rising sun,
The day’s end, or the day begun.
For east or west all woods must fail
As out of shadow wends our trail.


Wednesday, 17 February 2021

The grave of JRR Tolkien's Aunt Grace Bindley Mountain (nee Tolkien) - giving the day of her death

 



The inscription reads: 

IN 
LOVING MEMORY 
OF

WILLIAM CHARLES MOUNTAIN, J.P.
WHO DIED 26TH JANUARY 1928
"LIFE'S RACE WELL RUN:
LIFE'S WORK WELL DONE."

ALSO OF HIS BELOVED WIFE
GRACE BINDLEY
WHO DIED 3RD MARCH 1947

From Hammond and Scull's Addenda and Corrigenda to The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (2006) Vol. 2: Reader’s Guide - 

John Benjamin and Mary Jane Tolkien had at least eight children: *Arthur Reuel, Tolkien’s father (1857–1896); Mabel (?1858–1937, not to be confused with *Mabel Tolkien, née Suffield, Tolkien’s mother; m. Thomas Evans Mitton, b. ?1856); Grace Bindley (1861–1947, m. William Charles Mountain, 1862–1928); Florence Mary (b. 1863, m. Tom Hadley); Frank Winslow (1864–1867); Howard Charles (1866–1867); Wilfrid Henry (1870–1938, spelled ‘Wilfred’ in census records); and Laurence George H. (b. 1873, m. Grace D., b. ?1873).The ‘Myers Newcastle Time Line’ website by Alan Myers states that Tolkien visited Newcastle upon Tyne in each of the years 1910–1912, but offers no evidence for these dates. 

Christine Ahmed, in the article ‘William Mountain: A Northern Industrialist, Now Forgotten’ and in the article ‘Tolkien in Newcastle’, provides details of the life of Tolkien’s uncle William Mountain, an industrialist who for twenty-four years led the company Ernest Scott and Mountain, maker of electric lighting for mills and factories, as well as pumps, dynamos, and high-speed engines for railways and collieries. In 1913, the firm having expanded too quickly, it was bought by C.A. Parsons. Mountain became a consultant, went into a partnership with his son and son-in-law, and worked in a wire manufacturing business. He was a member of the local Literary and Philosophical Society, and in 1925 became a Vice-President of the North East Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers (now the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers).

Mountain and his family lived in the Newcastle upon Tyne area at 9 St George’s Terrace, Jesmond; in South Street, Hexham; at ‘The Hermitage’, a twenty-room house in Sheriff Hill, Gateshead; and in Sydenham Terrace, Newcastle. According to Ahmed, Tolkien’s paternal grandmother (i.e. Mary Jane Tolkien) ‘stayed with the Mountains from 1911 to 1915 when she died’, but gives no source for this statement; a Mary J. Tolkien is, however, listed in official death records as having died at Newcastle upon Tyne in 1915. William and Grace Mountain are buried in Jesmond Old Cemetery in Newcastle; an article on the cemetery’s website illustrates their joint gravestone, which gives his date of death as 26 January 1928, and hers in March 1947 (we cannot make out the day from the photo).

*

Jesmond Old Cemetery is included in the route of one of my daily walks - so I took the opportunity to fill in a missing detail from Scull and Hammond's account above; namely, the exact date on which Tolkien's Aunt Grace died - which they could not read from the photo. 

As you can see, she is listed as having died on 3rd March 1947.  

The cross is made of very light grey granite, and the grave is situated about 75 yards from the North-West corner and 10 yards from the South-West wall. It is being rapidly broken apart by the expansion of living stumps of shrubs that - until about a decade ago, covered and concealed the grave.  


Sunday, 14 February 2021

Review of Tolkien's Modern Reading, by Holly Ordway (2021)

Holly Ordway. Tolkien's modern reading: Middle-earth beyond the Middle Ages. Word on Fire: Park Ridge, Illinois, USA. pp ix, 382. (39 illustrative plates and two full page portrait photos of JRRT.)  


Tolkien's Modern Reading by Holly Ordway is a book which changed the way I think about Tolkien - and in several respects. Which I regard as quite an achievement! - given how much I have read and brooded-on Tolkien over nearly fifty years. 

Ordway solidly proves her core argument; which is that Tolkien read a great deal of 'modern' fiction (defined as post 1850 - but including works right up to the end of his life); that he enjoyed much of it; and took some works seriously enough to affect his own writing: often fundamentally. 


Tolkien's Modern Reading operates at various levels, and its interest for me increased the deeper it went. 

At a surface level, Ordway documents the specific works of modern literature that Tolkien is known to have read, including the evidence that he did indeed know and read each particular book. This sets-out the scope of TMR

Then there are specific incidents and details which are known to have influenced particular aspects of (especially) The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings. For instance Tolkien once stated that the fight with Wargs in The Hobbit was based on a scene in a book by SR Crockett - Ordway tracks-down and quotes the specific passage, and its vivid illustration is reproduced. 

In my experience (e.g. my 1988 analysis of the Scottish novelist Alasdair Gray), this is how fiction writers generally work - that is, they select and modify elements of their own experience and reading to generate elements in their fiction. 

But more interesting to me is the next layer of depth, which is conceptual. An example I found striking is Ordway's insight into Tolkien's comment that his goblins were influenced by those in George MacDonald's Princess and the Goblin fantasy. 

Ordway clarifies that Princess and the Goblin was the first popular work to depict goblins as essentially underground, tunnel-dwellers - and always malicious by nature. But before MacD's time goblins and hobgoblins were regarded as above-ground, household fairies - some were benign and helpful. 

This is of considerable cultural significance, given the vast proliferation of evil, underground goblins in modern fiction and Dungeons and Dragons-type games; and we can now see that this idea came originally from George MacDonald but crucially via his influence on Tolkien's Hobbit.

(Before The Hobbit was published, but known only to Tolkien's family; nasty, underground, tunneling goblins feature in The Father Christmas Letters).  


Perhaps a deeper form of influence is also illustrated by MacD - which is negative influence. Ordway's idea of negative influence is when, for example, Tolkien regarded a fantasy author or book with some mixture of approval and disapproval, such that he determined to avoid what he regarded as a particular fault. 

The MacDonald example is The Golden Key. Tolkien was writing an introduction to the book which he had loved early in his life; but when he re-read Tolkien found there was much he disliked. The negative influence was that Tolkien then wrote Smith of Wootton Major to do right what he regarded MacD as having done wrong. 

Another example of negative influence suggested by Ordway relates to Charles Williams and CS Lewis's overt usage of Christian material in their work. This seems to have led to Tolkien adopting the opposite strategy of removing nearly all explicit references to Christianity, or any religion; and yet making the work as a whole engage with Christian issues by the nature of its plot, characters, events etc. 


The concept of negative influence is one that I believe will turn-out to have exceptional applicability in understanding Tolkien. I can think of many instances in which an aversion for some aspect of another writer's work, or even Tolkien's own earlier work, served as a structuring lesson in what to avoid from now, and a stimulus to do better in the future.   

Tolkien's early anthologized poem Goblin Feet (with its tiny, delicate, precious, 'Victorian' fairies) is one of the first known examples; the 'silly' Rivendell elves of The Hobbit another - these leading up to the tall, noble, wise, powerful (and not at all 'silly'!) elves of The Lord of the Rings

A further instance of Tolkien being negatively influenced by himself, was the avuncular narrator of The Hobbit who occasionally indulges in asides to the adult reader, above the children's head. He later regretted this; and ensured that The Lord of the Rings was absolutely free from any such condescension or 'archness'. 


The importance of Tolkien's modern reading should have been obvious to everyone, all along - but was not. To the extent that many authors have, with greater or lesser degrees of exaggeration, made vast and sweeping, negative and derogatory assertions regarding Tolkien's ignorance and loathing of such fiction, and denying any significant influence from it. 

And, for this, the main fault lies with Humphrey Carpenter and his authorized 1977 Tolkien biography, the selected letters (1981), and The Inklings group-biography of 1978. 

It was Carpenter who so deeply-planted the idea that Tolkien had read very little modern literature and liked even less. And this has (by a kind of 'Chinese whispers') grown over the years among writers on Tolkien to wild assertions that he had read very little since Chaucer - or even since the Norman Conquest!  

Based on Carpenter's excessively simplified and distorted accounts; this further led onto other false assertions such as that Tolkien tried to impose (or did - somehow impose) his irrational personal preferences and limitations onto the Oxford English syllabus. 


Carpenter - with the status of being (even now!) the only author granted access to a mass of personal and private diary and letter material and allowed to quote from it; and writing with the (apparent) endorsement of the Tolkien Estate - created a set of initial false assumptions that have ever since distorted Tolkien scholarship. 

Explicating and clarifying the malign influences of Carpenter is a recurrent topic throughout Tolkien's Modern Reading; and, although a side-theme, may prove to be Ordway's major achievement - given the many and extreme distortions of understanding for which Carpenter was responsible.  

Indeed, one of the most significant aspects of this book is the long-overdue discrediting of several basic evaluations of Humphrey Carpenter - a necessary process of adjustment which readers of this blog have known that I have been advocating for several years.   


Ordway documents something I had long-since inferred from internal evidence; that Carpenter (by his own account, on public record) did not like Tolkien or his work - nor indeed did he like any of the Inklings; and that his original motivation with the biography was to write a subversive account of Tolkien. 

The significant negative distortions which have been the legacy of Carpenter's Tolkien and Inklings* biographies cannot, therefore, be regarded as an accident, but resulted from a combination of unsympathetic attitudes and egregious intentions. 

(In addition, so HC also said; he was settling some scores with the Christian Oxford of Carpenter's childhood - his father Harry had been Bishop of Oxford and Warden of Keble College - an Anglo-Catholic Anglican foundation. Humphrey rebelled and reacted-against this conservative and religious upbringing; to adopt a mainstream-media-type leftist and counter-cultural ideology and lifestyle.) 


Carpenter's biography was written quickly, leading to significant factual errors (documented by Hammond and Scull, in The JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide and elsewhere); although Tolkien (1977) was, and remains, a very deft and readable book, and is a highly-skilled work of compression of a great deal of factual material into a modest length. And, of course, it is mostly accurate!

Yet the biography's first draft was regarded as completely unacceptable by the Tolkien family. It was 'torn to pieces' in detail by Christopher, according to publisher Rayner Unwin. And the version we know was (again hastily - in just a week or two) revised, and the worst passages excised, before being passed for publication. 

Yet, and this is the take-home-message; the basic animus with which Carpenter approached Tolkien of course remained; and in may ways has been perpetuated to this day**. 


It was also Carpenter who seeded the idea that Tolkien had a violent dislike of the Narnia books by CS Lewis. This effect was achieved by picking-up, distorting and exaggerating some much milder comments by Roger Lancelyn Green. This was linked to the - now widespread - idea that this extreme aversion to Narnia was responsible for a cooling in the Lewis-Tolkien friendship. 

What Ordway describes is a much milder dislike, which Tolkien recognised as due to his limited range of sympathy; plus a few specific sharper criticisms of the early draft chapters of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. These include the inconsistency at the inclusion of Father Christmas (Christ-mas), and an apparent queasiness at Lewis's use of a mythologically-lecherous faun to befriend Lucy and take her home. 

Yet Tolkien also described the Narnia Chronicles as "deservedly popular" to a correspondent. One decisive fact is that Tolkien handed his granddaughter Joanna the Narnia Chronicles from his own bookshelf, for her to read. 


I was perhaps particularly struck by this re-analysis of Tolkien and Narnia because I had myself absorbed and accepted the idea of Tolkien's extreme hostility to the point of using it as key evidence in understanding the 'cooling' of Tolkien and Lewis's friendship.

Reflecting on the way I came to this idea; I wonder how many other falsely exaggerated and distorted - and negative - assumptions I still hold; which were perhaps insidiously implanted by Carpenter or other authors who had a hidden and hostile agenda towards Tolkien and the Inklings more generally?

It is hard to exaggerate how powerfully assumptions can come to dictate interpretation of evidence; and when these assumptions are based on selection and distortion with a negative intent; the resulting negative attitudes can be surprisingly difficult to detect and to eradicate. So the assumption of Tolkien's ignorance-of and hostility-towards modern literature has become a cherished prejudice that has, so far, survived a vast mass of contradictory evidence.  


At any rate, I am grateful to Holly Ordway's Tolkien's Modern Reading for setting me right on several important aspects of Tolkien - who is someone with great personal significance in my life. 

Those who value Tolkien the man - as I do will certainly want to read this book. 


Notes:

*The major negatively-influential (oft-repeated) distortion of Carpenter's Inklings biography of 1978 was that the Inklings were nothing more than a convivial group of Jack Lewis's friends who had negligible influence on each other's writing. 

This idea was very thoroughly addressed and decisively refuted by Diana Pavlac Glyer in The Company They Keep (2006). Indeed Tolkien's Modern Reading resembles TCTK in terms of being structured by an overall contra-Carpenter thesis, pursued by exhaustive scholarly documentation.  


**In considering the malign influences of Carpenter; I think the Tolkien Estate must take significant blame. Not only for choosing, or at least allowing, Carpenter to kick-start his career as a professional writer with what was intended to be something of a 'hatchet job' biography. 

(Indeed, HC wrote several of these throughout his career. Colin Wilson - a delightful man, by all accounts, describes HC posing as a well-disposed ally, and accepting Wilson's generous hospitality as a house guest. Then Carpenter comprehensively mocked and rubbished Wilson in his hostile and dismissive 2002 group-biography The Angry Young Men.

After providing the 'authorized' imprimatur for Carpenter to publish misleading quotations, and launch several denigrating distortions; the Tolkien Estate then failed to issue specific explicit corrections. They also failed to do something which would have been better - to break Carpenter's 'monopoly' by allowing later (more sympathetic and honest) biographers to have the same publishing-access to private papers as enjoyed by the careerist and subversive Carpenter. 

So long as Carpenter remains the only person who has been allowed to publish restricted material from journals, letters etc; for so long will the distortions of the 1977/8 biographies be sustained. 

After 43 years it is past-time for more authorized biographies, and further (less distortedly-selected and -quoted) publications

Writers with a track record of scholarly excellence, readability and empathy - such as Holly Ordway, Diana Pavlac Glyer and John Garth - would be much more suitable official biographers; and begin to redress the subtle, chronically-poisoning effects of Humphrey Carpenter. 


Thursday, 21 January 2021

Dwarves are biologically not viable (Tolkien nods again...)

"Dis" (Fili and Kili's mother) as imagined by Ancalinar - but I suspect she was (even-) less feminine than this, since Tolkien said dwarf-women were indistinguishable from the men. 

The Dwarves' numbers, although they sometimes flourished, often faced periods of decline, especially in periods of war. The slow increase of their population was due to the rarity of Dwarf-women, who made up only about a third of the total population. Dwarves seldom wedded before the age of ninety or more, and rarely had so many as four children. They took only one husband or wife in their lifetime, and were jealous, as in all matters of their rights. The number of Dwarf-men that married was actually less than half, for not all the Dwarf-women took husbands; some desired none, some wanted one they could not have and would have no other. Many Dwarf-men did not desire marriage because they were absorbed in their work

From Tolkien Gateway, summarizing the available 'canonical' information from the Appendices of Lord of the Rings and History of Middle Earth Volume 12.

JRR Tolkien clearly wanted his dwarves to be dedicated to their craft; and not interested in sexual relationships; but he went too far in this and inadvertently made dwarves biologically non-viable. 

He describes the 'slow increase' in their numbers; but from the information given dwarf numbers could not increase at all over the long term, but would inevitably decline - since dwarf fertility was far below the minimum rate needed to replace those who died. 

The fact that dwarf women were only about 1/3 of the population means that each woman would need to replace herself, and two men - plus a margin to account for death before the age of fertility. So minimum replacement fertility would be three-point-something. 


But we are also told that not-all the dwarf-women took husbands (and it is implied they did not reproduce at all) meaning that women were effectively less than 1/3 of the dwarves. 

Therefore each dwarf women who did reproduce would need to have considerably more than three-point-something children. For instance perhaps only 1/4 of the dwarves were women who reproduced - meaning that the minimum replacement level would need to be four-point-something children per dwarf women. 

However, we are told that dwarf-women only rarely had as many as four children; and the tone of the passage suggests that four children was an upper limit and the usual number was considerably less.  


Putting this all together; this means that the dwarves fertility was less than the minimum required to replace those who died.  

There could be a modest increase before the first generation of dwarves began to die out. Their 'average' life expectancy was given as 250 years. However, this number did not take account of premature deaths; and it is described in Tolkien's writings that large numbers of dwarves were slain in battle, through all the ages of the world. 

And Tolkien also says that dwarves married later than 90 years old - so only a couple of new generations could be fitted-in before even the first dwarf generation began to die out (even if only a small proportion of these founders were slain prematurely). 


Pretty obviously this was a mistake of Tolkien's - and he would have wanted to revise it had the problem been pointed-out. 

The simplest solution would be to state that those dwarf women who did have children had enormous families. 

Alternatively, we can imagine a tragic scenario where a large first generation of dwarves was created - but after a couple of hundred years, the race began inexorably to go extinct... 

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Palantir problems... Tolkien on the evil of despair

That greatest of Tolkien scholars, Tom Shippey, noticed something profound yet hidden in the Lord of the Rings - which provides narrative 'evidence' for Tolkien's frequent theme that it is always wrong to despair

Despair is wrong primarily because we live in the ongoing creation of a God who loves us as his children; so this world is being-created, moment by moment, with an eye to the primary purpose of life: which is providing each of us with the experiences we most need to learn from in terms of our Christian choice of resurrected life in Heaven. 

 

(Conversely, this world is Not designed for atheist-materialists, who disbelieve in Heaven. Their lives are indeed, by their own assumptions, meaningless and pointless.)


So, 'general' despair is wrong, and a consequence of lack of 'faith' - that is, lack of trust in God's loving goodness and personal concern for each-of-us. But specific causes of despair are also a mistake; mistakes of inference. 

Why? Because despair is the certainty of bad outcome, such that one gives-up hope. And - simply put - despair is always wrong because we never have conclusive reasons to give-up hope. 

 

Despair is not based on probability, but certainty - and that certainty is always false. A high probability of a bad outcome should be called pessimism. It is not despair because it is a best guess, and estimate; and we realise that even the very improbable sometimes happens. 

Note: It is vital to distinguish between despair and pessimism; and between hope and optimism. 

Despair is a sin, and is always-wrong; hope is a virtue and (for a Christian) always-right. Optimism and pessimism are merely conjectural judgments about the likely future - constrained by individual ability, information and honesty...

 

But more fundamentally, despair is not even about strict-probabilities of the future of a known situation; since we are very unlikely to be framing, to be understanding accurately, the real nature of the situation.

Even if we know a lot about a situation, we never know every-thing about it; and some specific thing (some 'fact') that we do Not know, may have the capacity to transform our understanding. 

If we knew that particular fact, then our 'conclusive reason' for despair would go. 

 

In the Lord of the Rings, there is a seeing-stone device called a palantir, which may be used to gather information. Yet, whenever we see a palantir in use to gather more information and make a judgment, an error is made.

Always, something important about the user's assumptions are wrong, and some vital fact is missing; and therefore his interpretation of the factual information is in error. 

 

For example, when Sauron sees Pippin in the Orthanc stone, Sauron assumes this is the hobbit ring-bearer ('Baggins') who has been captured by Saruman - and he dispatches a Nazgul to collect this precious prize. 

This is a mistake, which happens because Saruman does not realise that the palantir is no longer in Saruman's hands - and because he assumes the stone is being deliberately used, rather than merely the object of hobbit curiosity - an 'accident'. 

Later, Aragorn shows himself deliberately to Sauron, after Sauron has discovered that Isengard was defeated and (presumably) the stone taken. 

Sauron then assumes that Aragorn, as the heir of Isildur, has taken the Ring and is learning to use its power. Sauron therefore 'hastily' launches his assault on Gondor before this has been fully prepared - and is defeated. 

 

A third example is easily missed (I missed it! - but this is where Tom Shippey contributed his key insight) because it can be inferred only by a careful calculation of chronology. It is that Denethor uses the palantir at the time when Frodo has been captured by Sauron - and sees a hobbit in the enemy's hands

Denethor assumes that this is the Ring bearer hobbit whom Gandalf sent into Mordor, and that Sauron now has the Ring. Denethor therefore despairs, his mind breaks, and he descends into madness, suicide; and the attempted murder of his son Faramir (who Denethor assume, also falsely, to be certainly fatally injured). 

What Denethor does not know is that although this is indeed Frodo, and he is indeed in the enemy's hands - at that time Sam has the One Ring; and is not in captivity. 

And it turns-out that this small unknown fact is enough to transform the entire situation from one of 'certain' despair - to the success of the quest. 


This warning of Tolkien's is of crucial significance to these times. 

There really has been a successful global coup, and the world really is ruled by an evil totalitarian government. And there probably are a large proportion of the population who have taken the side of evil. 

From what I know, according to my framing of the situation, the probabilities for the future seem extremely adverse: therefore I am a pessimist about what is coming.

 

Yet my understanding is at least distorted, and may be wrong; and my information is certainly incomplete. There are many facts of which I am unaware. So I have zero grounds for certainty. 

On the other hand, I know that this is God's creation and is being-created moment by moment; and that (since we are all God's beloved children) this creation is always taking into account each individual in ways that I cannot comprehend - but can guess-at based on the way that loving parents regard all their individual family members. 

God does Not see mankind as an homogeneous mass; but instead sees each person as a beloved son or daughter in relationships with other sons and daughters. 

And God is not trying to optimise our temporary, mortal earthly happiness (although that is a factor); but is instead primarily focused on our eternal salvation and life as participants in the work of divine creation.  


We do not have the advantage of a palantir, which always shows the factual truth. But even the palatir does not show the whole truth; and it cannot interpret what its pictures mean. So, even a palantir may well be deceptive - fatally deceptive. 

Our information is much less honest and reliable than that of a palantir; and we are even less 'wise' than either Sauron or Denethor...

So, as Christians we do not have grounds for general despair; and being poorly-informed fools, neither do we have specific grounds for despair - there may well be a transformative fact of which we are unaware. 

 

Therefore, be not afraid; be of good cheer! That is the only faithful and accurate way.

Trust in God! Follow Jesus Christ! 

And you cannot be wrong. 

 

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Saruman's character in Scouring of the Shire as exemplifying Sorathic evil

I have recently written about Sorathic evil - the purest, most negative and destructive form of evil; as being the direction in which the world is going, here-and-now. 

But, Sorathic evil may be hard to understand. We are used to explaining evil actions in terms of fulfilling personal desires - whether the 'Luciferic' desires of immediate gratification by lust or cruelty, or the longer-term 'Ahrimanic' desires of power and control. 

It seems hard to imagine why 'mere destruction' would motivate someone when they might instead fulfil their desires? 

 

Well, it does happen. Perhaps if we introspect honestly, we can recognise the Sorathic within ourselves, as at least a momentary impulse?

An example are those resentment-fuelled spite-fantasies directed against people that we hate, or even who merely annoy us in some way that gets under our skin. For instance; day-dreaming the wish that somebody we have come to regard as smug, entitled, arrogant, privileged - will suffer massive public humiliation, fatal illness, or agonizing violence. Or somebody who 'thinks they are beautiful' and you 'wish' they would suffer a disfiguring accident that would make them hideous. Or when the idea flashes into mind that maybe I should kill myself and leave an accusatory suicide note; so that he/she/they will suffer lifelong agonies of guilt ("That will show them!").

If you can recognise any or all of these scenarios, then that is an example of the Sorathic evil in you. What identifies them as Sorathic is that the primary satisfaction is in the misfortune of others, rather in gratification of oneself. 

Indeed, someone in the grip of Sorathic evil might plot and scheme, expend time, money and resources - and maybe even take risks to his own health and safety - in order to inflict harm on others. 

Cutting off your nose to spite your face is the proverbial expression of Sorathic evil - although this makes a paradoxical quip out of what is truly the worst kind of evil; and such mockery misses that this 'nose-cutting' is exactly the kind of thing that people will do, when in the grip of Sorath


Saruman, in the Lord of the Rings, begins the story as in the grip of typically Ahrimanic evil. Saruman is a very 'modern' figure in the world of Middle Earth; an industrialist with a mind of 'metal and wheels', who even talks in slippery, euphemistic, manipulative management-speak. He works by surveillance (the palantir) and seeks control; even going to the trouble of creating the race of Uruk-Hai; a more obedient and loyal kind of orc-Man, who will stick to orders.  

But evil is a downward path - unless there is repentance: and that path has a slippery slope. 

Ahrimanic evil (while it lasts) retains some Good - insofar as order is better than chaos - and requires virtues such as prudence, hard work, loyalty, obedience...

When Saruman is defeated, he has a chance for repentance; but rejects it. Stripped of power, he refuses to recognise any wrongdoing. 

In particular (and this is amplified in the posthumously-published notes of Unfinished Tales) Saruman is spitefully-motivated against Gandalf. By the end of Lord of the Rings, Saruman has come to exemplify Sorathic evil - since he lives in order to hurt Gandalf, and - by proxy - the hobbits who Gandalf loved and cared for. 

The Scouring of the Shire is a representation of how the brief interlude of Ahrimanic evil administered by Lotho Sackville Baggins, gives way to a frenzy of destructive Sorathic evil when Saruman arrives. 

At first under Lotho - trees were felled to fuel furnaces; later under Saruman ('Sharkey') trees were felled because this would make the hobbits miserable. At first the rivers were carelessly polluted by the outflow of productive industrial processes, but later they were polluted because it would render them hideous... 

Evil as a means to an end, as a by-product; was replaced as evil for its own sake.

 

In his final speech, Saruman reaches the end-point of Sorathic evil when he deliberately courts death by stabbing Frodo in front of the army of hobbits. 

Having reached a point where he cannot destroy the Shire, Saruman tries to saddle the hobbits with a legacy of guilt and regret for having vengefully committed 'deicide' ('god-murder'; in that Saruman is a minor god; a maia or angel).  

But Frodo is protected by his mithril mail, and pardons Saruman - thwarting even his intended indirect 'suicide by cop' and inflicting a further wound of obligation upon the wizard. Yet this act of mercy only increases Saruman's resentment. 

The end-stage of Sorathic evil is despair, and the only perceived 'solution' is suicide. 

Thus Saruman (semi-deliberately) goads Wormtongue into killing Saruman; and thus the wizard 'finally' achieves his own death by that means.

 

Looking at Saruman's descent into Sorathic evil, it is striking how very small, how petty the wizard has become compared with the proud, powerful, 'wise' administrator of the grandiose, world-dominating schemes of his Ahrimanic phase - just a few months earlier. 

And indeed, Sorathic evil can only tend towards being be small and petty, because it becomes less-and-less capable of the deferred gratification needed for making and sticking-with complex, long-term plans and manipulations. 

From this we can see that evil cannot go straight to the Sorathic extremity - without rendering itself ineffectual.  Lucifer and Ahriman are needed in the earlier stages to break-open the Good and allow the Sorath in*. 

 

Thus Luciferic and Ahrimanic evils alternate until they have created a situation of vulnerability where Sorathic destruction can take-over. 

On the other hand, the descent from Ahrimanic into Sorathic evil may be very rapid indeed - some historical examples suggest that it may happen in just day, or even hours - so that great tyrants may die suicidally while wishing the like destruction on everybody and everything else ('after me the deluge' - as a desired outcome). 

At the societal level, in 2020 we reached the threshold of Sorathic evil within only months of the triumph of Ahriman...

 

In the West, we had the Luciferic promises of the 1960s - of a world of unrestrained hedonism; leading incrementally, decade by decade, to the Ahrimanic global prison of 2020 with promises of a world of omni-surveillance and totalalitarian-control (a system, apparently, pioneered in China to be rolled-out everywhere else). 

Yet, such was the triumph of evil and the feebleness of spiritual opposition in this atheist, materialist, leftist-corrupted world; that as the year reached its second half there was already evidence of merely, pettily destructive Sorathic frenzy - with violent riots, destruction, arson, terror, rape and murder; being not just officially funded, organised and defended; but publicly-advocated and approved. 

At a micro-level the brief "all in it together" spring solidarity of March-May devolved into the masked mutual hostility and informer-culture of the summer onwards.

This happened even though such a spread of chaos erodes the very basis and capability of the global coup and its carefully-constructed Ahrimanic System!

 

The Sorathic spirit can also be seen in the apparent-gratuitousness of using surveillance and control technologies and enforcement for crushing society, church, education, sports, theatres, music, cinema, museums, singing and dancing - and finally Christmas.

In a single year has been wrought a truly colossal destruction of Culture

A genuinely Ahrimanic spirit would be subverting and using Culture to monitor, manipulate and control the population... Ahriman would exploit Culture to 'keep people happy' (in a bread and circuses fashion) while explicitly and covertly feeding them pro-System propaganda. 

But the Sorathic spirit of resentment and spitefulness is ever-increasingly getting the upper hand, and engaging in dysfunctional destruction for its own sake. The Sorathic spirit is destroying the Ahrimanic apparatus in all its aspects (including police and military functionality) - destroying, but not replacing. 

 

Because the world is so advanced in evil; such a Sorathic destruction of The System is not any kind of liberation, but an progression of evil delivering the world into chaos: a world of end-stage Sarumans, pursuing personal, petty grudges spiralling downwards into the finality of despair and suicide.  

(And a despairing, or spitefully-motivated, suicide is - surely? - a choice for damnation.)

So, although the Luciferic, Ahrimanic and Sorathic types of evil fight each other, this conflict is not a negation - but the advance of evil; because evils don't cancel, they synergise

 

We cannot defeat Ahriman with Sorath, one cannot be played-off against the other - but only with God. 

If The Ahrimanic System is destroyed by Sorath, then we would be in far worse spiritual situation than if The System remained. 

Yet such a Sorathic collapse looks like a distinct probability for 2021...

 

If we want to resist Sorath spiritually - in our-selves, in our societies; this can only be achieved from a base in The Good. 

If we want Good (i.e. Godly) outcomes; the negative can only be defeated by the positive

The only true enemy of Sorath is Jesus Christ.


*I got this phrase from Ama Boden. Thanks!

Saturday, 2 January 2021

The third-comers of the Children of Illuvatar. What is the role of Hobbits in the destiny of Middle Earth? (A theory by Billy and Bruce Charlton)

(The following is another insight I have recently developed in conversation with my son Billy - indeed Billy should get most of the credit for this idea since the main conceptual breakthrough was his.) 

 

Do the Hobbits have a special role, or purpose, in the destiny of Middle Earth? Were they just an evolutionary accident, or was the fact of their (apparently) arising during the Third Age of Middle Earth for an important reason? 

It is clear that Hobbits - in actual fact - played an essential role in the defeat of Sauron; in some very obvious ways (Bilbo finding the ring, Frodo bearing it to the Cracks of Doom); but also in several essential but non-obvious ways - when Hobbits are overlooked, or their abilities unknown or discounted. But was this role in any sense planned?

What is fascinating about Hobbits is that they represent a departure from the 'usual' idea that the future of Middle Earth is determined by individuals and peoples with special powers. The usual way that the Valar tried to prosecute the war of Morgoth, then Sauron, was through enhancement of either personal, magical or 'technological' power. 

A prime example of this is the High Elves - who were super-elves; and another is the Numenoreans - a race of super-men (including the lineage of 'half-elven' who also had divine descent from Melian the Maia). Sending five wizards to work against Sauron in the Third Age was a further instance. 

 

The fatal problem with this super-power strategy was corruption; because so many of the most powerful individuals (and, indeed, races) began Good but became evil. The usual result was the super-powered Good was neutralised or overcome by super-powered corruption onto the side of evil. 

This began with the most powerful Vala, Morgoth; then the most powerful elf, Feanor - who also led many of the most powerful elves - Noldor - into evil works; including Celebrimbor who made the Three Elven Rings but without whom the (more powerful) One Ring could not have been made. 

There was a whole string of corrupt Dark Numenoreans (surviving as the Corsairs of Umbar), until nearly the whole of the Numenoreans were corrupted. The last and most powerful Numenorean King - Ar-Pharazon - was on the side of evil. And there was a powerful dark Numenorean magician who became the Nazgul Witch King. 

Of the Wizards, although Gandalf was a great success, he was substantially negated by the corruption of the originally most powerful wizard - Saruman; and the other three wizards were either almost ineffectual/ neutral (Radagast), and (perhaps, as speculated in Unfinished Tales) the mysterious lost Blue Wizards became grey eminences behind the Sauron-allied Eastern men.  

We could say (to adapt Spiderman): With power, goes great desire for more power...

 

So, we could imagine that the Hobbits were an opposite strategy against Sauron. Instead of enhancing 'power' - where power is seen as the ability to impose one one's will on others, the Hobbits arose. Half the size of men, weaker, less intelligent; their special abilities mainly concerned with quietness and concealment; and their relative immunity to the temptations of power

In a world where corruption to evil is the plague of all with power; Hobbits seem intrinsically the most resistant of all races to this kind of corruption (Tom Bombadil is one-off, not a race). 

Of course, average/ normal Hobbits have all kinds of petty vices such as greed and laziness, narrow materialism, and a negative clannish parochialism of attitude. But their typical lack of desire for power, or to dominate, becomes a special strength in the world of the Third Age. 

 

Consequently, as Anti-Power specialists, Hobbits display an unique resistance to the One Ring - as exemplified even by Gollum (who carried it for hundred of years, and survived); but also (in different and better ways) by the other Ring-bearers Bilbo, Frodo and Sam. 

The story makes it clear that (ultimately) the entire hope of Middle earth rested upon these four Hobbits; and only the Gollum-Frodo-Sam trio - with Frodo as the bearer - could have led to the destruction of the One Ring.  

 

So, if we accept that the emergence of Hobbits was 'meant' - and not just a happy accident - who made them happen? 

Were they a contribution by one of the Valar - as Aule made dwarves or Yavanna made ents, with Illuvatar secondarily providing the necessary creative life? 

We suggest that the most likely; is that Hobbits were a direct, but secret and undeclared, intervention by Illuvatar

At about the same time as the Valar were yet again trying their usual strategy of supplying power-enhanced individuals - wizards - for the fight against Sauron; perhaps The One, God: Illuvatar quietly made Hobbits. 

 

This would make Hobbits the third-comers among the Children of Illuvatar - coming in the Third Age after first elves, then Men, emerged in the Elder Days. The Hobbits' special role, prepared from the first but only evident at the very end of the Age, was to be the destruction of the One Ring and thereby of Sauron; which we could assume was the main priority of that Third Age, after Isuldur had failed to destroy the Ring at the end of the Second Age. 

The covert emergence and existence of Hobbits was, indeed, part of the plan. Very few of the wise and powerful knew or cared anything about Hobbits - which is exactly what enabled them to do their vital job. They were continually - and for Saruman and Sauron fatally - despised, underestimated and overlooked - left-out of all plans and considerations. 

Yet again and again this neglect and condescension is exactly what enabled Hobbits to make their decisive interventions - not just the Ring-bearers; but also Merry in slaying the Witch King; or Pippin in accidentally misleading Sauron when seen in the Palantir; or both of them in triggering the awakening and mobilization of the Ents and Huorns.  

 

In conclusion, we suggest that the Hobbits arose in the Third Age of Middle Earth, as part of a new, different and secret plan by Illuvatar - The One - to oppose Sauron and to destroy the One Ring. Therefore, Hobbits ought not to be considered as merely 'small Men', but as a separate and unique creation of God, with a separate and vital - albeit temporary - role in the history of the world. 


Saturday, 19 December 2020

What happened to Tolkien's elves on the Great Journey?

 The separating-out of the elves

Readers of The Lord of the Rings (LotR) narrative may be aware of two kind of elves: wise and magical High Elves, such as Gildor, Glorfindel and Galadriel; and ordinary Silvan ('Wood') Elves such as those majority of Mirkwood and Lothlorien elves (of whom we 'meet' Haldir and his brothers) . 

But it is only in the Appendices that there is any inkling of an explanation that there are also Sindar or 'Grey' elves, such as Cirdan, Thranduil and Celeborn - apparently 'in-between' the High and Silvan.  

With the Simarillion, it became apparent that there was a very complex 'family tree' of elves - and that this has been extremely important in the history of Tolkien's world ('Arda'), including Middle Earth. 

This was the Sundering of the Elves - and was the way in which an originally unified society of elves (albeit in three tribes) was divided and differentiated. Divided - by being physically separated; and differentiated - because this separation had further consequences in terms of accentuating differences.  


Briefly, and simplified; what happened was that the elves came to exist in Middle Earth, but deep in history the Valar invited all the elves to come to live in the Undying lands due to the threat of Morgoth. 

There was a Great Journey by which some of the elves travelled from east of the Misty Mountains (which were at that time a vast, almost impassable barrier) west across Middle Earth, across the sea, to the Undying Lands. 

At each stage of the journey, some elves either refused the call of the gods, or turned aside, or delayed. 

Therefore the elves could be arrayed along a line between the highest of High Elves, the Vanyar - who obeyed the call and did everything perfectly right - and the Avari who refused the call of the Valar, stayed in Middle Earth, and did not even begin the Great Journey.  

 

But it should be said that the summons by the Valar may itself have been wrong*. It may be that to remove the elves from Middle Earth, where it had pleased Eru Illuvatar (the One) to create them, was misguided; and revealed a lack of trust in God, or an excessive fear of Morgoth. 

It may have been The Divine Plan that - in some way not known, because it was never allowed to happen - the tragic story of the elves would have been averted or ameliorated by Not summoning, and dividing, them.  

Maybe the unwilling, 'wild' Avari elves were correct in remaining, and not even starting the Great Journey? However, their motivation of the Avari for refusing the call may not have been good, and that seems to have been confirmed by their lesser wisdom, powers, and their sad eventual fate; which was to dwindle, fade and become discarnate spirits, indistinguishable from ghosts...

 

So, the major divisions of elves were initially between the Avari - who refused the journay, and the others who began it. Then at the Misty Mountains, another group called the Nandor adandoned the journey - whose remnant at the time of LotR was the Silvan elves. 

Then among those who crossed the Misty Moutains - a further group called the Teleri lagged behind the main group of Noldor and Vanyar. The Teleri split into those who later went on to the undying lands to join the Noldor and Vanyar as the High Elves (those who had lived in the primordial light of the Two Trees) - and the Sindar/ Grey elves who remained on Middle Earth. 

What is interesting, and has been hard for me to understand, is the 'mechanism' by which elves attitudes-to and experience-of the Great Journey became associated with different 'levels' of power and wisdom - that that these differences became hereditary. 

How did the Great Journey lead to permanent differences between High, Sindarin, Silvan and Avari elves? Differences so lasting that the - although later in history the Silvan and Avari became intermingled and indistinguishable in lifestyle - the Silvan elves had a latent desire to Go West, and were allowed to.

 

The main 'explanation' seems to be related to 'light'; to a sense in which the Great Journey was to the West facing the divine light of the Two Trees. Presumably this attitude to light and the light itself combine to make a permanent and hereditary change in the constitution of the elves? 

This is, at least, how I tried to understand it. The key to this explanation is that the sundering was something mostly done-to the elves - the elves were transformed-by 'light'.

They made choices; but and then the light affected-them as a consequence.

 

I personally find this unconvincing and incoherent - but until recently I could do no better. 

While I can immediately see that dwelling in the undying lands, bathed in the light of the Two Trees, could have an ennobling effect on elves - I don't see that light could do this when the elves were still in Middle Earth, and when it relates to what seem like small differences in decisions along a journey. 

In particular, I find it hard to understand how the Sindar were made wiser and more powerful (a 'natural aristocracy' among the Silvan elves) merely by starting-out on the Great Journey, getting across the Misty Mountains... but then deciding to stay in Middle Earth. It is hard to see how this experience could have such a significant and hereditary effect upon the group.  

Why were the Sindar so different from the Silvan elves, when both left the Great Journey - and the difference was only derived from which side of the Misty Mountains this leaving happened. (It seems fanciful to suppose that the tall mountains shielded the Silvans from the remote influence of 'the light' - although I suppose that is one possibility...)

Also, it seems to be unjust, or arbitrary, that later generations of elves should be rewarded or punished for the attitudes of their ancestors. Why should Avari elves be forbidden to take ship to the Undying lands (As I believe was the case), when indistinguishable Silvan Elves have this privilege? 


The idea I developed (in conversation with my son Billy) is that the Great Journey worked on the innate spiritual predispositions of the elves, to separate-out the spiritually various types of elves which were originally mixed. If there had been no call from the Valar; this mixture of 'highly' spiritual, middlingly spiritual, and unspiritual elves would have remained in a single society.

Having made this separation, then the fact that the different innate types lived in different environments (as a consequence of their previous decisions) amplified these differences.  

Think of it as a paper chromatography strip (as in the illustration above). Originally all elves of all types were mixed; but the trials, fears, temptations of the Great Journey from East to West, separated and spread-out the elves across Middle Earth - a bit like the colours on the chromatography paper. 

Those elves who had no interest in change, who feared change, who wanted to remain innocent (and ignorant) hunter gatherers, or who did not have any interest in the gods; simply refused to begin the journey. 

And those with greatest natural affinity for the light - those elves who were already, innately, the most like to the Valar and who, therefore, wanted to become even more like the Valar - were motivated to continue to the end of the Journey.   

 

And some, like the Sindar, had some of the traits of the Valar, and a significant - but not overpowering - desire to develop these traits. They went some way along the journey - but were not 100% committed to the idea. After being delayed (when their Lord - Thingol - went missing) perhaps they liked the new regions in which they found themselves? 

In the end, they changed their minds, and decided to remain in Middle Earth - but now (with the departure of the high-er elves than themselves overseas) they found themselves the 'top elves' in Middle Earth! Perhaps this 'removal of superior competition' was itself a reason to stay? 

After all, the portion of their Teleri kindred who did cross the sea found themselves at the bottom of the status hierarchy in Valinor; and perhaps as a result kept themselves apart from the gods, Vanyar and Noldor - living on the coast beside their ships, and specialising in the natural abilities of lyrical poetry and singing; rather than the higher attainments of being-godlike (Vanyar) or arts and crafts (Noldor).  

By staying in Middle Earth, and developing their own 'middle'/ Grey elvish cultures; the Sindar became (until the Noldor returned) the undisputed masters of the free peoples of Middle Earth; and built some great cities/ civilizations - especially Doriath, ruled by their High King, Thingol Greycloak (who was technically a High Elf, being (I think) the only Teleri elf to return to Middle Earth from Valinor).

 

In sum, therefore, it seems that the Great Journey's primary function was to sort and separate-out the different types of elves; who had always been present, but previously were mixed together. Having been separated, these differences became accentuated - and the elves become more of what they already were. 

In some cases this may have been harmful. Probably, the Avari were harmed by the removal of their 'higher-motivated', more able brethren. At any rate, by the LotR they seem to have disappeared, or merged with the Silvan elves. An analogous 'cultural stunting' may have affected the left-behind Silvan elves; which may explain why they were willing - indeed keen - to be ruled-by Sindar or Noldor elves. 

The Noldor elves developed their artistic and 'scientific'/ technological talents to a very high degree; but perhaps their concentration, and exclusion of other elvish influences, also led to the pride, possessiveness and desire for power, which afflicted so many of them - notably the greatest: Feanor and some of his sons; and his descendent Celebrimbor, who made the Dwarven and Men's rings of power; helped by Sauron. 

 

The residue of Silvan elves who began the journey, but were quickly daunted from completing it - became much like Avari - except for a latent desire to cross the sea to the undying lands, and (presumably) the capacity to fit-in when they got there. 

This 'Yearning for The West' trait was, like most traits, inherited down the generations; and, although not strong, it could be awakened (as with Legolas, a Sindar) by seeing the sea, or hearing gulls. Awakening of sea yearning became more likely as Middle Earth grew less appealing - from the tainting by Morgoth and Sauron, the fatigue and fading of the elves in mortal lands, and from the increasing domination of Men (or orcs).

The Sindar experienced this increasing yearning more strongly than the Silvans, from having had it more strongly to begin with; and by the time of Lord of the Rings, there were few of this race remaining. 

Nonetheless, the desire to cross the sea was weaker in the Sindar than in the Noldor, who had lived in Valinor. Thus the Noldor elf Galadriel went West shortly after the death of Sauron; while her Sindar husband, Celeborn, remained in Middle Earth for a while longer; his ties to Middle Earth being stronger and his desire for The West weaker. 

 

*On page 259 of Unfinished Tales, there is a comment that Oropher - father of Thranduil and grandfather of Legolas - arrived in Mirkwood with a few other Sindar (disillusioned and disaffected after the run of Doriath); and despite becoming their Lord; he deliberately adopted the language of the Silvan elves and 'merged' with them culturally. Tolkien says, Oropher and his companions wished 'to become Silvan folk, and to return, as they said, to the simple life natural to elves before the invitation of the Valar had disturbed it.' 

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Walter Hooper - an appreciation

This year we have seen the death of Christopher Tolkien and Walter Hooper (March 27, 1931 – December 7, 2020) - who were our primary links to those great men JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. 

Christopher Tolkien was, of course, JRR's youngest son; and from early childhood there was a special bond between them. The relationship between Walter Hooper and CS Lewis was very different - they first knew each other by correspondence; but the amount of time they spent together was only a matter of weeks, and too-swiftly terminated by the death of Lewis - before Hooper could take up a job as his secretary. 

What set Hooper apart from other Lewis scholars was his intense and sustained interest in every aspect of Lewis's life. My favourite of the books Hooper edited were Lewis's early diaries (All My Road Before Me), the Companion and Guide, and the three volumes of collected Letters. These all display Hooper's insatiable curiosity.

For example, if Lewis mentioned somebody in his letters, Hooper would not only identify them, and track down some information about them - he would often arrange to visit and speak with them (or, if they had died, with their relatives or friends). 

Hooper is therefore the reason why Lewis's biography is known with a richer and and more detailed context than almost anybody else I have read (perhaps only Ralph Waldo Emerson, among authors I know, has been studied in similar detail; and he had a century's 'start' on Lewis.). To read Hooper's editions of the diaries or letters is therefore an immersive experience: you can really believe you were there!

And this, I presume, is exactly why Hooper spent more than 50 years on his multi-faceted work as a literary executor, editor and introducer; because by doing so he could imaginatively be present all through his hero's life.

We whose lives are shaped by their works; are therefore extremely fortunate that both Lewis and Tolkien, in their different ways, were exceptionally well-served by two younger men who so lovingly curated their legacy. 


Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Eagles or Beagles?

Some musings on this vital question can be found at my BC Notions blog...


Tolkien needed to discover the importance of eucatastrophe - it did not come spontaneously to him

In JRR Tolkien's essay On Fairy Stories (1947) he invented the word 'eucatastrophe' for the happy turn of events which, he argued, characterised the truest fairytale genre. 

In a eucatastrophe (meaning 'good catastrophe') things become more and more terrible, until a bad outcome (catastrophe) seems inevitable. Then there is a joyous happening, some unexpected twist - an escape or victory snatched from the jaws of defeat; which produces a characteristic lift of the reader's heart and spirit. 

Tolkien argues that this type of 'happy ending' (when done well) is a special and desirable quality; and one of the main reasons why someone might want to read fairy stories. 

It might be supposed that - having already written the Hobbit, with its own eucatastrophic plot turn ("The eagles are coming!"), and happy ending - the eucatastrophe came naturally and spontaneously to Tolkien. But the evidence of his projections and drafts indicates that - on the contrary - his first thoughts on stories often led to unhappy endings - to the point of making an incoherent and unsatisfying plot.


I have already analysed the way that - from Tolkien's earliest work right through to the Notion Club Papers drafts of 1946 - he kept returning to the idea of a plot where a mariner nearly managed (after many perils and adventures) to sail to Elvenhome... but at the last moment, something prevented it, and he failed to get there

This strikes me as unsatisfying as the end of any story; but more to the point, it fails to provide that eucatastrophe which Tolkien later regarded as the main feature of 'Fantasy' literature. Yet Tolkien's 'first thoughts' on plots often seemed to converge on this kind of failure.

 

I was reading Tolkien's plans for his unfinished time travel novel The Lost Road - which he worked on in 1937. The text and editorial discussion are found in Christopher Tolkien's The History of Middle Earth - Volume 5 (1987). 

The projected story involved several 'reincarnations' of a Father-Son duo that recur throughout history, each forming a sub-story within the novel; each incarnation going backwards in time through actual human history, to reach the mythic last days and fall of Numenor. Numenor would be the climax; and, if there was to be one, that would be the eucatastrophe.

As I said, the story was not finished (less than 40 pages of novel, plus texts describing Numenor); however, Tolkien left some notes on how he intended to continue it - I am focusing on those listed on page 76. What I find striking is that Tolkien, here as so often, projected a messy, rather 'sordid' plot - with a disappointed and sad ending. 

 

In the climactic Numenor story; JRR Tolkien wrote (as summarised by Christopher, quotes are from his father's notes, square brackets indicate my explanatory insertions): 

Elendil spoke the phrase ["The Eagles of the Lord of the West"], but he was overheard, informed upon, and taken before [the King] Tarkalion, who declared that the title [Lord of the West] was his... The outcome of Elendil's arrest is not made clear... but it is said that [Elendil's son] Herendil is given command of one of the ships [built to invade Valinor], that when they reached Valinor Tarkalion set Elendil as a hostage in his son's ship, and that when they landed on the shores Herendil was struck down. Elendil rescued him and set him on shipboard, and 'pursued by the bolts of Tarkalion' they sailed back East. 'As they approach Numenor the world bends; they see the land slipping towards them'; and Elendil falls into the deep and is drowned.

 

Wow! What a stunningly miserable, depressing, unsatisfying ending to a projected novel! We go back and back in time, through father and son reincarnations; and to culminate there is a rather sordid, gangster-thriller-like plot about hostages and the son's treachery; and then it all finishes with Numenor destroyed and everybody killed!

Now, of course, Tolkien has second and third thoughts about this; and would surely have changed this radically if and when the book had ever been completed and published. But my point here is that Tolkien's first thoughts, his spontaneous 'instinct' for the story; was that it should end in total despair and destruction - about as far away from a eucatastrophe as can be imagined!

My understanding is therefore that Tolkien's natural, spontaneous tendency was to end his stories in disappointment and despair. The desirability, and perhaps necessity (at least for fairy stories) of a 'eucatastrophic' ending was, apparently, a relatively late discovery; hard-won, built on deep thought and personal experience; and something that went 'against the grain' of his own personality and instinct as a writer.

 

Friday, 20 November 2020

Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic Alignment among Tolkien's orcs

My son Billy is a keen Dungeons and Dragons player and game-master; and when he was trying to explain to me how the Alignment system worked, he devised an example using Tolkien's orcs - which ended-up by throwing light on the different nature of the orcs themselves. 

Lawful Evil - Saruman's Uruk-Hai 

Neutral Evil - The orcs (or goblins) of the Misty Mountains, including Moria. (These are depicted in most detail in The Hobbit.) 

Chaotic Evil - The ordinary rank-and-file Mordor orcs


The Alignments of evil can be differentiated by how selfish the orcs are, how short their time horizon; and by how much good is mixed with their evil qualities. 

The three Alignments can be seen played-off against each other in the Uruk-Hai chapter of The Two Towers, when representatives of all three alignments can be seen contrasted, as a mixed companyof orcs carry Merry and Pippin across the fields of Rohan.

 

Lawful Evil

The Uruk-Hai are Saruman's elite warriors, cross-bred by the wizard from Men and Orcs. They are Lawful Evil because they have Good qualities of loyalty, obedience and courage - which are directed-towards evil goals. 

The Uruk Hai are personally loyal to Saruman, whom they worship; seem to lack selfishness and personal ambition; and they follow Saruman's orders as an abstract Good - which gives them satisfaction (and not just because they fear being punished if they were to disobey).

Thus Ugluk ensures that Merry and Pippin are healed of wounds, fed, and given an energizing draught; so that they have the strength to run long distances and can be delived to Saruman quickly and in good condition; according to his orders. He also, for the same reason, protects his prisoners against the Chaotic Evil Mordor orcs - who merely want to eat, despoil and torture the prisoners.

In a sense, Lawful Evil is evil 'only' because it is harnessed to evil purposes; and because it denies any personal responsibility - being ruthless in pursuit of obedience and loyalty.

The paradox is that lawful evil is by far the most effective type of evil (just as the Uruk-Hai are by far the most effective orc troops); but that its effectiveness is a consequence of the evil being mixed-with good.

 

 Chaotic Evil

At the opposite extreme from the long-termist, self-effacing obedience and loyalty of the Uruk-Hai, are the rabble of Mordor Orcs. These are a much 'purer', unmixed form of evil. 

They delight in inflicting pain, laughing at misery, and in killing - and are just as happy to torture and cannibalise orcs as anyone else. 

In a sense, Chaotic Evil orcs are impulsive psychopaths; liable at any moment to fight each other to death, and abandon the mission and ignore orders to indulge in a spree of looting, arson, murder. They will go to considerable efforts to destroy; simply because they enjoy destruction. Any mission can be sabotaged (hostages beaten, tortured, killed, dissected, eaten) simply because they become overwhelmed by the immediate desire to do harm. 

It is presumably these orcs who chop down trees and leave them to rot, pollute their own drinking water, and burn crops. They are like virulent parasites who kill their own hosts, then each other - and then die themselves.

Chaotic Evil orcs are only ruled by the immediate threat of punishment for disobedience; or by the kind of coercive mind-control that Sauron or the Nazgul Witch-King can impose upon them. Left to themselves, they are useless - and self-destroying.


Neutral Evil 

The orcs of the Misty Mountains seem to be exmaples of Neutral Evil, as is Shagrat and, to a lesser extent, Gorbag who are captains in Cirith Ungol. Their moral nature lies between Lawful and Chaotic evil - with aspects of both; but Neutral Alignment has a self-sufficiency which is its own.

The Hobbit depicts a goblin (orc) civilization in the Misty Mountains - in which individuals are loyal to their orc king (Bolg); and cooperative to the point of risking their lives in pursuit of his killers (i.e. Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves); eventually waging war upon them (in the Battle of the Five Armies). 

Neutral Evil Orcs seem to have a clannish, gangster-like society with a medium-term time horizon; able to cooperate in construction of the underground chambers and tunnels and invention of weapons and machines; wanting mainly to be left alone to live by relatively low-key theft, piracy, kidnap and the like. One can imagine them running protection rackets with the surrounding Men.

Their evil is in their means employed, more than their ultimate ends. In terms of their virtues - they are loyal, but not lawful; they are reasonably obedient - but it is easily overwhelmed by temptation. They lie without conscience, even to their leaders; when they think they can get away with it - and pretend to the same kind of virtues as Men; but purely expediently. 

Neutral Evil orcs do not seem to be motivated by conquest - except when their numbers increase and they need more resources.

This aspiration of Neutral Evil orcs is spoken in the conversation Sam overhears between the Mordor orc-leaders Shagrat and Gorbag: 

[Gorbag]: 'the war's on now, and when that's over things may be easier.' `It's going well, they say.' 'They would.' grunted Gorbag. `We'll see. But anyway, if it does go well, there should be a lot more room. What d'you say? - if we get a chance, you and me'll slip off and set up somewhere on our own with a few trusty lads, somewhere where there's good loot nice and handy, and no big bosses.' 'Ah! ' said Shagrat. `Like old times.' 

The nostaligic tone for the good-old-days when there were 'no big bosses' - when orcs ran their own affairs - is unmistakeable! 

While Lawful Evil orcs live to serve, and ask for nothing more; and Chaotic Evil orcs serve to live (or else they will soon kill each other); Neutral Evil orcs crave their own version of an autonomous Good Life - The Orcian Dream...


Sunday, 18 October 2020

The breaking of Frodo's Barrow Down's sword and the Morgul Knife

When Frodo was fleeing the Nine Black Riders and had crossed the Ford of Bruinen onto the Rivendell bank - with The Nine still on the opposite bank - there is a scene when Frodo draws his sword and shouts defiance (rather feebly). But the Witch King merely gloats, raises his hand, casts a spell, and the sword breaks in Frodo's hand.

This broken sword is one of four apparently identical weapons that Tom Bombadil gave the hobbits from the treasure horde accumulated by the Barrow Wight; after Tom had broken-open the barrow. They are described as long, 'leaf shaped' daggers for use by Men - but the right size to be swords for the hobbits. These were Numenorean blades, from the Kingdom of Arnor. 

 

Later, on the eve of The Fellowship setting out on their quest to destroy the One Ring; Bilbo apologises that he forgot to have Frodo's broken sword mended; and gives him Sting instead - an Elven blade originally from Gondolin. This is a symbolic gesture of handing-on responsibility; and has important repercussions later - for example this type of Gondolin magical blade was made for use against giant spiders (as we learn in The Hobbit), and Sting was able to cut through Shelob's massively-thick web - when Sam's Numenorean blade could not. 

 

But why was the Witch King able to break Frodo's Numenorean blade when, as we discover later, these were magical blades specifically forged to destroy the Nazgul Chief himself? (When he was known as the Witch King of Angmar, and was attacking the northern Numenorean Kingdom of Arnor.) How could the Nazgul Chief destroy by magic, a magical anti-Nazgul weapon?

The problem arises because it was Merry's use of exactly such a blade in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, that enabled the Chief of the Nazgul to be killed - it is described as undoing the spell by which the wraith's body was kept-together; such that a follow-up thrust from the ordinary (non-magical) blade of Eowyn was able to 'finish him off'. 

 

The reason, I suggest, was because Frodo had been stabbed by a Morgul Knife on Weathertop - and this was a black magical weapon that had the effect of making Frodo a wraith. This wraithing process was far advanced by the time that Frodo crossed the Ford of Bruinen - Frodo was even becoming transparent, and falling under Sauron's control. 

I assume that the Morgul Knife was indeed magically forged by Sauron - a very rare - possibly unique at the time, difficult to make, sentient weapon (although one that Glorfindel recognised, so presumably not the first such weapon) - designed so that the tip would snap-off after stabbing then - under its own power and sense of direction - work its way to the heart. Once the knife tip reached the heart, the wraithing process would have been complete. 

The intent of the Witch King, according to Gandalf, was indeed to stab Frodo directly in the heart; making him immediately a wraith. The plan of the Nazgul was, apparently therefore, to capture Frodo and take him to Sauron as a new 'ringwraith' - and unable to die; where Frodo would have been tormented 'forever'.  

This explains why the Witch King did not try to kill Frodo (e.g. with a sword) when he had the chance. Sauron did not want Frodo to die, but to be kept alive for the worst and longest-lasting punishment Sauron could devise - for having taken the One Ring and kept it. 

 

But this wraithing had not quite happened by the time the Ford to Rivendell was reached; because Frodo had, at the last moment, resisted the Witch King's attack, and spoken the name of Elbereth - momentarily dauting and distracting the Witch king, so that the stabbing blow missed the heart by several inches - enough to delay the wraithing (in a Hobbit, which is more resistant to the corruption of evil than a Man) for several weeks. 

Nonetheless, Frodo was most of the way towards being a wraith by the time of the Ford of Bruinen, and he therefore had a 'spiritual connection' to the ringwraiths - a channel had been opened-up. Frodo could see and hear the Nazgul much more clearly than could the other Hobbits, and indeed by this time he saw the Nazgul more clearly than he saw his companions. 

Presumably, therefore, the Witch King was able, via this magical connection, to destroy even Frodo's magically-anti-Nazgul sword, by an unspoken command and a gesture. 

This breaking of the Numenorean sword then created the desired plot-opening by which Frodo needed a sword at the last minute, and provided a reason for Bilbo giving him Sting. 


Acknowledgement: To my son Billy, for the suggestions and conversation which led-up to this insight - putting to rest a long-term uncertainty.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

The Inkling Robert "Humphrey" Havard as a medical scientist

An Inklings outing to The Trout, Godstow, near Oxford - 'Humphrey' Havard is third from the Left (in the middle); and his son John - who helped me with the research published below - is seated at the extreme right. CS Lewis sits in between the Havards.

Charlton, BG. Reflections on a scientific paper of 1926 by the medical ‘Inkling’ Robert Emlyn ‘Humphrey’ Havard (1901–1985). Medical Hypotheses. 2009; Volume 72: Pages 619-620

Summary

Robert Emlyn Havard (1901–1985; general practitioner and sometimes medical scientist) was the only non-literary member of the Inklings – a 1930s and 1940s Oxford University club which included Lewis and Tolkien. Despite spending most of his time in family medicine, Havard was a productive medical scientist. While still a student at Cambridge University, Havard co-authored an influential study published in the Journal of Physiology of 1926 entitled ‘The influence of exercise on the inorganic phosphates in the blood and urine’. The style and structure of this paper provides a charming window into the elite medical science of the 1920s.


Havard: The medical Inkling

The Inklings was a group of friends and colleagues who gathered around Lewis in Oxford University during the 1930s and 1940s [1]. The group would meet weekly after dinner in the evening at Lewis’s rooms in Magdalen College to read works-in-progress, and more informally to converse in the Eagle and Child (‘Bird and Baby’) pub in St Giles.

Lewis is now world famous as author of the Narnia fairy stories, and was probably the greatest lay Christian writer of the 20th century. The other world famous Inkling was Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Charles Williams the novelist, poet and theologian was a later member. Other well-known Inklings included the philosopher Owen Barfield, Nevill Coghill – who became known as a Shakespearian director and published the best known modern English version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the ‘angry young man’ novelist and literary scholar John Wain, and the biographer Lord David Cecil. Lewis’s brother Warren (‘Warnie’) was usually in attendance: he was a popular historian of the France of Louis XIV. Tolkien’s youngest son Christopher later joined, and is now the only surviving Inkling – Christopher Tolkien is the most important scholar of his father’s work.

In a recent book on the Inklings, The company they kept [2], Diana Pavlac Glyer notes that almost all of the regular members of the group were active authors – producing academic books, essays, novels, stories, plays and poems. The Inklings essentially functioned as a writers’ group that provided mutual encouragement, criticism and editorial assistance. Superficially at least, the odd-man-out was Robert Emlyn Havard (1901–1985), who was a general practitioner and sometimes medical scientist and the family physician for both Lewis and Tolkien.

Havard appears in fictional form as the somnolent but shrewd character ‘Dolbear’ in Tolkien’s posthumously published story The Notion Club papers [3]; and Lewis’s Prince Caspian is dedicated to Havard’s daughter [4]. He had various nicknames bestowed on him by the group including ‘Humphrey’, ‘the Red Admiral’ (due to a beard grown while in the navy) and UQ – which stood for the ‘Useless Quack’. Indeed, in his sneering and pervasively unreliable biography of Lewis, Havard is depicted by AN Wilson as something of a buffoon [5].

This was far from the case, as can be seen from Havard’s early career as a medical scientist. The most complete account of Havard’s life so-far is by Walter Hooper in his Lewis: a companion and guide [6]. Havard began by taking a first class degree in chemistry at Keble College, Oxford then studying medicine at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and Guy’s Hospital in London to graduate with the Oxford medical degree of BM BCh in 1927. He took an Oxford DM (Doctor of Medicine) in 1934 while working at Leeds University in the Biochemistry Department, and in the same year returned to Oxford as a research fellow in The Queen’s College, and around this time became a general practitioner.

Despite spending most of his time in general medical practice, Havard was a productive medical scientist with his name on more than two dozen papers published in first rank journals such as Nature, the Lancet, Biochemical Journal and the Journal of Physiology. He had three spells of research and publication – the first mainly to do with human biochemistry during the mid 1920s while he was still a medical student; a second studying more clinical aspects of biochemistry from the early 1930s as a medical graduate doing a doctorate in Leeds and Oxford, and the third from the early 1940s when working on anti-malarial drugs while an above-conscription-age volunteer for military service during world war two [2].

Exercise, phosphates and fun

During his days as a medical undergraduate in Cambridge, Havard co-authored (with George Adam Reay) an influential study published in the Journal of Physiology of 1926 entitled ’The influence of exercise on the inorganic phosphates in the blood and urine’. It was this amiable paper, with its depictions of a time when doing science was akin to an undergraduate ‘jape’, that provoked the following reflections.

This paper was certainly not earth-shattering, nonetheless seems to have been one of the most cited of that year’s volume of J. Physiol. There are currently 13 references to be found on the Google Scholar database (http://scholar.google.co.uk) (quite a lot for such an old paper) with the most recent reference in 1971.

The style and structure provides a charming window onto the very different science of the early 1920s; with its un-translated ‘varsity’ slang, ‘clubby’ style of referencing which lists only authors surnames without initials (in 1926 the membership of the Physiological Society was less than 400 [7]) and delightful vignettes concerning the conduct of experiments.

One striking feature is that the experimental methodology reported in the paper is described as having changed significantly throughout the period of the experiment, and results are given both for before and after these trial-and-error modifications. A modern scientific paper would surely omit the earlier failed attempts. Indeed, the style of this article is less like a modern paper than a slice of laboratory life. The impression is that these scientific pioneers wanted to share not just their results, but the nuts and bolts of how results were generated.

Havard and Reay describe how ‘the exercise took the form of the subject running up and down the laboratory stairs, 40 ft in height, until he was exhausted’ during and after which many one cubic centimetre blood samples were taken from the subject’s finger in order to measure the phosphate etc. – which seems likely to have been a painful procedure. However, one of the main subjects listed was ‘R.E.H.’ himself, so he could not be accused of inflicting on others something he avoided himself.

Indeed, all the experimental subjects are listed by their initials, and presumably therefore identifiable by those ‘in the know’ (so, none of our present-day worries about ‘confidentiality’ are in evidence). In one of the tables we are told that that subjects include G.B. described as ‘A rowing man’, W.E.T. a ‘Rugby “Blue”’ (a ‘Blue’ was awarded to Oxford undergraduates for competing at the highest level of university sport), H.K.B.O. a ‘Running “Blue”’, E.H.F a ‘Sprinter’; and again Havard himself who is, by contrast to these athletes, only ‘Partly trained’.

Collecting urine samples was a problem – we are informed that H.K.B.O. (despite – or maybe because? – of being a Running Blue) was unable to produce a urine sample for 7 min after his exercise. In another experiment R.H.B (‘Running’) was ‘as exhausted and distressed as any of the untrained subjects’ – which must have been rather humiliating for him. But then R.H.B seems not to have been a Blue.

Three women were included as subjects. Miss (I assume it was a Miss) M.M. did exercise which was rather disdainfully dismissed as ‘not very vigorous’; Miss B.E.H. managed ‘more vigorous’ exercise; while the Amazonian Miss C.E.L. was able to perform ‘very vigorous’ exercise – unfortunately however after these exertions she was depicted as ‘very exhausted’. Havard noted, with obvious regret, that the women produced ‘anomalous results’ which were ‘difficult to account for’.

In conclusion the authors reported that phosphate goes up a little then markedly down on exercise, and that trained men show less of these exercise-induced changes in their blood inorganic phosphate.

A snapshot from a lost era

My interest in this paper was stimulated because it presents in microcosm a snapshot of science from an all-but lost era of the ‘invisible college’ of collaborating and competing researchers who knew each other well-enough to dispense with formalities, and whose world was essentially private despite publication in widely circulated journals [8]. To the hard-nosed professional modern scientist, such early 20th century papers look eccentric and idiosyncratic. The paper is indeed ‘amateur’, but mostly in a desirable sense of describing science as an avocation done for intrinsic reasons and the esteem of peers, rather than a vocation rewarded by a secure income and managerial power.

But much more important and striking is the total absence of exaggeration, hype, or spin: the paper’s openness, candour – in a word honesty. This marks the biggest and most dismaying contrast between publications of the science of 80 years ago and of modern science. There has indeed been a loss of innocence, collegiality and fun; but a loss of unvarnished truthfulness is the most serious change against current practice [9].

I have said that Havard was not himself a writer, but on the evidence of this early article, Havard was an unusually vivid scientific author from his mid-twenties. Indeed he wrote essays and journalistic reviews dating back to his student days and continuing through into the 1950s. Furthermore, Havard contributed posthumous memoirs of both Lewis [10] and Tolkien [11].

All of which helps explain why, despite not being a literary man, ‘Humphrey’s’ presence at the Inklings meetings was so highly valued.

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Robert Havard’s eldest son John, who kindly gave me a list of some of his father’s publications, and provided fascinating background information by means of e-mail and telephone conversations. John Havard’s brother Mark (i.e. RE Havard’s second son) also corresponded, and reminded me that the doctor in CS Lewis’s 1943 novel Perelandra was named ‘Humphrey’.

References

[1] H. Carpenter, The inklings, George Allen and Unwin, London (1981).

[2] D.P. Glyer, The company they keep: CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien and writers in community, Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio (2007).

[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Notion Club papers, Morgoth’s ring: history of middle earth volume IX, HarperCollins, London (1992).

[4] C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian, Geoffrey Bles, London (1951).

[5] A.N. Wilson, CS Lewis: A biography, Collins, London (1990).

[6] R.E. Havard and G.A. Reay, The influence of exercise on the inorganic phosphates of the blood and urine, J Physiol 61 (1926), pp. 35–48.

[7] W.F. Bynum, A short history of the physiological society 1926–1976, J Physiol 263 (1976), pp. 23–72. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (0)

[8] T. Kealey, Sex, science and profits: how people evolved to make money, William Heinemann, London (2008).

[9] B.G. Charlton, The vital role of transcendental truth in science, Med Hypotheses 72 (2009), pp. 373–376.

[10] R.E. Havard, Philia: Jack at ease. In: T. James and C.S. Como, Editors, Lewis at the breakfast table and other reminiscences, Harvest/HBJ Book, New York (1979), pp. 215–228.

[11] R.E. Havard and J.R.R. Professor, Tolkien: a personal memoir, Mythlore 17 (1990), pp. 61–62.