Friday 5 November 2010

The Notion Club Papers are Tolkien's Charles Williams novel


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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



David Bratman said...

"C.W. is present in the novel's structure, rather than its personnel." That could be - it's an interesting point. I see something of CW in Jeremy, though others have suggested he more resembles Roger Lancelyn Green.

That NCP is Tolkien's "Charles Williams novel" is something I've tried suggesting several times, e.g. in articles in Tolkien's Legendarium ("Their [NCP and Lost Road's] resemblance to C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy and Charles Williams's novels is unparalleled elsewhere in Tolkien's work," p. 81) and C.S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy ("If That Hideous Strength is Lewis's Charles Williams novel, this one is Tolkien's, suggesting that he was far more favorably impressed by Williams's approach to myth than he later let on," v. 3 p. 295).

Bruce Charlton said...

I speculated about the identification of Jeremy in an earlier blog entry:

I guessed Christopher Tolkien and/ or perhaps Charles Williams.

I hadn't considered RLG - but surely it seems unlikely Tolkien would have thought of him as an Inkling?

At that point (1946) I would have thought RLG hadn't really made friends even with Lewis - that friendship came about due to RLG's assistance and encouragement with the Narnia books, did it not?

David Bratman said...

On the other hand, Tolkien knew Green well before Lewis did, as he supervised Green's thesis work on fairy-tales in 1943-44.

Bruce Charlton said...

Ah yes - I had forgotten that. So RLG could be plausible as having similar academic interests to Jeremy...