Sunday 25 December 2011

The year's work in Inkling's/ Notion Club studies


2011 was certainly a 'breakthrough' year for me in relation to the project of this blog - meditating on the Notion Club Papers as a focus for engaging with the Inklings and their distinctive teaching for my time and place.

And it is fitting that I should finish this year by re-reading Verlyn Flieger's valedictory book Interrupted Music of 2005.

Anyone who finds this blog interesting really must read Flieger's book - it is an outstanding piece of work, and in many respects this blog is merely an extrapolation of her insights.


(Although mine are, mostly, extrapolations that VF would regard as inappropriate; or at the least excessively speculative. Indeed she has implied as much in some e-mails! Furthermore, Flieger often distances herself from Tolkien's reactionary perspective; whereas I regard this as one of the most important things which Tolkien has to teach us. I have come to regard JRRT as not 'merely' my favourite writer of fiction, which he already was for more than thirty years; but as something akin to a Holy Elder - a 'spiritual adviser'.)


Saturday 24 December 2011

Living in myth


In their early years, the Numenoreans lived in myth - they were fallen men, and they did not live in paradise exactly - although it was close; but they lived in myth in that they had a personal relationship with the world and (most of the time) they lived in meaning.

They had a broad angle, inclusive, deep perspective on life - later they focused-in so as to achieve power over the world, developed blinkers, ignored much of their perceptual field.

Life then felt unreal, their world was dead and subject to their will, they felt alienated, sought satisfaction in mastery, conquest, and pleasure...


I sense something similar for Byzantium at its best - that people lived inside the Christian myth.

Their lives were experienced within the Christian myth (and not merely interpreted in terms of the Christian myth).

Again, this is not perfection nor paradise; because men are fallen, and life is suffering (substantially) - but this wretchedness was experienced (I believe) as within the Christian mythic frame.


This can be seen most clearly in the lives of the Orthodox Saints. It is not that they lived lives of perfect worldly happiness, but that everything which happens to them is felt as being within providence; the worldly is perceived within the Heavenly frame.


For this to happen, the myth must be true.

And what must be true is that the world is alive, intelligent, relevant to and concerned with 'me' and has a direction.

When the Numenoreans ceased to believe in the true myth of their origins and condition, they became 'modern', they fell again and were destroyed.

When moderns lost their belief in the wholeness of undivided Christianity then in all forms of Christianity and paganism too (a gradual and still incomplete process) - they lost their ability to live within myth: at most they could pretend to live in myth or according to myth (intellectually-appreciated) - they did not experience life as myth.

Pretending doesn't work.


And in terms of living within myth (not with reference to salvation) partial, legalistic, dry, procedural, anti-animistic and anti-pagan forms of Christianity do not work.

Yet it is possible to live within the Christian myth, if that is aimed for, and at least for some of the time, and to aspire and work towards the ideal of continuous dwelling in myth - but the myth must be known as true; and it must be the old Christianity of Saints and Angels, Miracles and Spiritual Warfare - if not precisely Eastern Orthodox in terms of denomination, then certainly in that spirit.

Such a life will not be paradise while on earth; but it may be real.


Sunday 11 December 2011

Charles Williams' Companions of the Co-inherence - can anybody understand?


In 1939 Charles Williams founded an Order called The Companions of the Co-inherence - I believe it is still going in some form.

The Order was based on a set of seven 'sentences' with (supposedly) illustrative or explanatory Biblical quotations.

I have read these sentences innumerable times, and still find them completely baffling.

I would be grateful to anyone who could convincingly explain them to me:


1. The Order has no constitution except its members.

As it was said: Others he saved, himself he cannot save.

2. It recommends nevertheless that its members shall make a formal act of union with it and of recognition of their own nature.

As it was said: Am I my brothers keeper?

3. Its concern is the practice of the apprehension of the Co-inherence both as a natural and a supernatural principle.

As it was said: Let us make man in our image.

4. It is therefore, per necessitatem, Christian.

As it was said: And who ever says that there was when this was not, let him be anathema.

5.. It recommends therefor the study, on the contemplative side, of the Co-inherence of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, of the Two natures in the single person, of the Mother and Son, of the communicated Eucharist, and of the whole catholic Church.

As it was said: figlia et tuo figlio.

And on the the active side, of methods of exchange, in the Sate, in all forms of love, and in all natural things, such as child-birth.

As it was sais: Bear ye one another's burdens.

6. It concludes in the Divine Substitution of Messias* all forms of exchange and substitution, and it invokes this Act as the root of all.

As it was said: He must become, as it were, a double man.

7. The Order will associate itself primarily with four feasts: the Feast of the Annunciation, the Feast of the Blessed Trinity, the Feast of the Transfiguration, and the Commemoration of All Souls.

As it was said: Another will be in me and I in him.


Friday 2 December 2011

Pauline Baynes - my most-loved illustrator?


Perhaps Pauling Baynes is the only illustrator whose work I love - and even then only some of the Tolkien and Lewis work.

Why should this be? Partly, no doubt, the connection with favourite authors, and partly the fact that I came across the work in my early teens when I was more open and unformed. But plenty of other things from that era have fallen away, and while I like many other Tolkien (or Lewis) illustrators, none move me in the same way.


Baynes illustrated Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham, then Lewis's Narnia chronicles (somewhat hit and miss, but with some definite hits), then - my favorite - Tolkien's Adventures of Tom Bombadil (poems), Smith of Wooton Major; and various maps and posters including those of Middle Earth and the Hobbit journeys, and the cover of the single volume 1970s paperback Lord of the Rings - all of which I used to examine with a magnifying glass to appreciate every last detail!


All these are done in a developed pastiche of the Luttrell Psalter - a medieval book of the Psalms with copious marginal illustrations (and perhaps the most enjoyable of all ancient English manuscripts).


My favourite illustrations are those which contain figures and landscape, especially figures in 'movement' - which (like the Luttrell Psalter) is a frozen and stylised kind of movement - beautifully balanced as a formal composition.

I am quite simply transported by some of these illustrations.


From what I have read of Baynes, she did not really understand either Tolkien or Lewis, nor did she sympathise with their outlooks (although clearly a nice and likable person, she was a very mainstream arts and crafts type Leftist in lifestyle and beliefs) - and yet by the magic of true inspiration she was able to create these masterworks, which not only illustrate but amplify and frame some of Tolkien and Lewis's major features.

This is, of course, quite normal for true creativity, it is inspired, it comes from without not from within.

Baynes supplied the drawing technique, the design - but the genius was supplied her, probably via the spirit of Tolkien and Lewis - and more reliably and frequently in the case of Tolkien than Lewis.


Wednesday 16 November 2011

A small company


The Inklings knew themselves to be swimming against the tide, and that their numbers were small.

The idea of a small 'company' (much like the Inklings themselves) up-against overwhelming odds and charged with saving the world from evil and destruction comes up in several of their key works, and in life.


There is the Fellowship of the Ring, of course; and in the legends of Numenor which Tolkien worked-on from 1936 (in relation to the Lost Road) and again from 1945 (in relation to the Notion Club Papers) there is a small band of The Faithful led by Elendil (elf-friend) who escape the downfall of the island to establish Arnor and Gondor in Middle Earth.

In the Lost Road, Alboin (the precursor of Lowdham) is a descendant of Erendil, and Alboin's son Audoin is linked with Elendil's son Herendil.

In the Notion Club Papers, Lowdham is seen as a descendant of Elendil, and his friend Jeremy as a descendant of Voronwe his friend whose name means "faithful" .


In life, Charles Williams was the inspirational leader of an esoteric Christian group (mostly of women) called the Companions of the Co-Inherence.

In That Hideous Strength, by C.S Lewis, the Company are 'four men, some women and a bear'; a heterogeneous group gathered around the leader Ransome who is in communication with angelic intelligences.

The character of Ransome in THS was influenced by Charles Williams, as is the whole novel - and it seems possible that Lewis regarded Williams as a spiritual leader - someone who seemed to be (to some extent) in touch with higher intelligences.

After Williams' death, Lewis edited Arthurian Torso, the work of a faithful friend in transmission of Williams' vision. Lewis was Voronwe to Williams's Elendil.

I do not think Lewis ever again met anyone who could 'replace' William in his spiritual role, or to whom Lewis would again adopt the role of disciple - C.W was perhaps regarded by Lewis as a lost (potential) saviour of his nation - somewhat like King Arthur.


Tolkien never saw himself as a spiritual leader, yet he was one because of his vision - which came to him and was not created by him. Tolkien was of course an elf-friend: Elendil.

And, as things have happened, JRR Tolkien's elf-friend legacy has been indispensably transmitted by the work of his 'faithful' son Christopher - such that the Elendil-Herendil/ Albion-Audoin/ father-son fictional explorers of the Lost Road turned-out to be a pre-vision of life.


Charles Williams and the Positive Way


It has always been mysterious to me what Charles Williams was aiming-at with his writings on the Positive Way – also called the Via positiva or the path of “affirmation of images”.

But I think I understand now.


The Negative Way is the best known method of attaining sanctity, deification or theosis. It is the path of asceticism, as practiced by many monastics through Christian history; and still a focus of Eastern Orthodoxy exemplified by Mount Athos.


The Negative Way is merely a means to an end, not the end in itself – yet the ‘technique’ has proved itself many times – it entails (for example) long periods of prayer and chanting (often extending into night vigils), physical deprivation (heat or cold) and exercises (standing, prostrations), fasting, celibacy… In general, the purpose is to enable the aspirant to control worldly desires thus to enable a direct awareness of reality – that is God.


The Negative Way is the most direct and proven route to sanctity, yet it is apparently a path to which few are called – it is generally believed among Christians that there are other paths – less steep, and perhaps leading less high, but valid nonetheless, and perhaps more generally applicable.


What, then, is the Positive Way? Clearly it is not the opposite of the Negative Way; since that route would (presumably) lead to damnation.

As a married man with a child, a poet, writer, inspirational lecturer, conversationalist and spiritual counsellor; Charles Williams was deeply engaged with the world, and did not feel called to the ascetic path. He tried, therefore, to walk – and to clarify for others in similar state - the lesser known Positive Way.

In this he was, I think, only partly successful – at least, I have been unable until now to understand what he meant – and the explanations of Charles Williams scholars have not been clear to me.


The clue is in the alternative term Affirmation of Images – that behind the images is reality. The Positive Way is that the images of things – God’s works, and Man’s works that come from God – are visions of reality: visions, that is, of The Good: of God.


By images is meant words – poetry, prose, the worlds of scripture and ritual; also music; also the visual arts of painting, architecture, beautiful things… insofar as these beautiful things are divinely inspired – insofar as these things are consecrated to God.

The difficulty of the Positive Way is to engage with these images such that the individual may participate in the reality of Good.


In sum, the Positive Way is a kind of Platonism – in which the initiate sees past the change and corruption, distortions and deceptions of the world and perceives the eternal ideas underlying this. It is an instance of the principle that every small and transient thing is symbolic of greater and timeless things, the world is a microcosm, ‘as above so below’.

Hence (perhaps) Charles Williams attention to poetry and literature generally, his attention to the minutiae of everyday life, love and work – and his swift and sure relation of these worldly matters back to eternal principles.

It was this he hoped to teach by daily interactions, by formal lectures, from his books and writings, and through the Companions of the Co-inherence.


By means of various techniques such as the purposive use of contracts of exchange – the deliberate and explicit sharing of joys, fears, burdens - (techniques which could be considered analogous to the ascetic methods of the Negative Way) C.W. aimed to (or hoped to; albeit was sometimes corrupted and distracted away from) train his followers into habits of consecration: habits of referencing the mundane to the divine.


(And without any trace of approximation or dishonesty – he insisted upon maximum accuracy and precision in perceiving the phenomena which were to be referred – no blurring or haziness was to be permitted.)


Tuesday 8 November 2011

What did Charles Williams bring to The Inklings?


Charles Williams very clearly had an important role in the Inklings.

Someone of his stature and personality cannot fail to have influenced the other members of this group in frequent meetings, and indeed the work of Tolkien and Lewis underwent changes from around the time of Williams participation.

How can the nature of these changes be characterized?


The change relates to Unseen Warfare - the insight that Life is a battle between Good and Evil, a struggle: a matter of choices and temptations; one path leads up towards Heaven, the other down towards damnation.

Tolkien and Lewis were naturally aware of Unseen Warfare as a human reality - but Charles Williams very explicitly lived Unseen Warfare, analyzed it, spoke and wrote of it continually.


Unseen Warfare (the title comes from a classic of Christian mysticism) was C.W's big subject, especially in his novels, especially in his best novels: Place of the Lion, Descent into Hell and All Hallows Eve.

Tolkien and Lewis began to write fiction more seriously from 1936, shortly afterwards Lewis and Williams began to correspond and meet, and from late 1939 Williams was present in Oxford and regularly participating in social events and meetings.

I suggest that C.W. likely brought Unseen Warfare into focus for Lewis and Tolkien as the main thing in Life and potentially the main thing in story - and thereby provided a deep narrative purpose for the fictions of Lewis and Tolkien.


The topic of Unseen Warfare is so dominant in Lewis (yet so unusual a topic) that it is somehow easy to miss: Perelandra and That Hideous Strength are novels of UW and so are the Chronicles of Narnia: the Screwtape Letters is perhaps the most successful work about UW ever published.

In Tolkien, Unseen Warfare was present in The Hobbit, especially moments like the struggle of courage when Bilbo first approaches Smaug through the tunnel in the Lonely Mountain: there is on the one hand the right thing to do, and there is also the temptation of cowardice and dishonesty.

But UW expands to take a focal place in the story of The Lord of the Rings, with the major characters of the quest wrestling with their inner demons throughout.

LotR is essentially about Unseen Warfare, the sanctification and ennoblement of the heroes - especially the Hobbit protagonists but also Aragorn, Gandalf, Galadriel; and the failure and damnation of the villains (Saruman, Boromir+, Gollum, Denethor).

UW is not an incidental component of Lord of the Rings but the main thing.


Unseen Warfare - which Williams perhaps, arguably saw more clearly and lived more intensely than anyone of his era in England, therefore provided a major underlying narrative dynamic for Lewis and Tolkien's narratives.


The Inklings, by which I mean essentially Tolkien and Lewis with the others role being that of support and stimulus, had a great underlying purpose - which was to restore myth to modern man.

They wanted to restore modern man by re-connecting with myth - modern man who who was languishing in a literalistic and lifeless world of 'history'.

But which myth specifically? Because this was not a post-modern, eclectic, Jungian concern with myth as therapy and a tool for self-development: the Inklings concern with myth was salvific and Christian.


In a general sense, Lewis and Tolkien saw the world in terms of the 'Platonic' schema of Life versus Reality - that behind the growth decay and change of Life was an eternal, timeless, unchanging world of Reality.

Williams shared this, but was more explicit about it - The Place of the Lion is explicitly about a breakthrough of Platonic archetypes into the modern world.

But analytic elements such as the contrast between Life and Reality, or Platonic  forms, are static and are not conducive to the telling of a story - for philosophy to generate stories there must be an individual who negotiates a path through Life; a path with Reality - truth, beauty and virtue - on one side; and on the other side the various temptations of the World such as vice, power, pride, despair...

This is a vision of life as Unseen Warfare - with the proper business of life being about these choices.


In sum, the Inklings already saw myth in broadly Platonic terms before the C.W. connection, their aim was to connect with myth, but the perspective of Unseen Warfare - coming into sharp focus in the person and works of Williams - joined up this general project with specific stories.

Unseen Warfare was a way in which philosophy could be brought alive in narrative; and which also implicitly Christianized that narrative in a manner that was pervasive and yet unobtrusive.


As such, Unseen Warfare need not be Christian, but for Williams it was - yet implicitly in the stories.

Williams novels are all about Christian Unseen Warfare, yet don't focus on explicit Christian theology and indeed contain surprisingly little reference to Christianity.

The same applies to Lewis and even more to Tolkien.

Unseen Warfare is built-in; specific Christian themes of Love and Humility are there, and also a great deal of Natural Law virtue - including heroic pagan virtues such as courage and loyalty, and the transcendental unity of virtue with beauty and truth - of wickedness with lies and the destruction of beauty.


Christian Unseen Warfare is thus built-into the post-C.W. novels of Lewis and Tolkien as the deepest structuring narrative element - and I suggest that this may have been a consequence of Williams intense participation in the Inklings.


+My mistake - Bronomir is not 'damned'. He repents just before his death.


Saturday 29 October 2011

Native language?


NCPs pp 201-2


"We each have a native language of our own - at least potentially.


"... the inherited, first-learned language - what is usually mis-called 'native' - bites in early and deep. It is hardly possible to escape from its influence. And later-learned languages also affect the natural style, colouring a man's linguistic taste; the earlier learned the more so.


"In such rare dreams as I was thinking about, far away by oneself in voiceless countries, then your own native language bubbles up, and makes new names for strange new things. "


Tolkien's understanding of such matters is that we inherit much more than 'genes' - but also cultural dispositions, including linguistic.

And that we are drawn, spontaneously, to that which 'fits' these dispositions.

I think Tolkien also regarded these dispositions as 'normative' - as something which ought to structure our lives and efforts (certainly if we are to achieve waht be are best fitted to achieve).


I have a hunch that something of the kind described by Ramer in the NCPs has happened to me in dreams - making up new words for new things; but I have zero recollection of the nature of the language used (native or otherwise) or its relationship to actual terrestrial and historic language.

(Indeed, I suspect the language may have been random/ nonsense/ punning stuff.)


I have, indeed, a feeble aptitude - and perhaps consequently a weak appetite - for learning languages. So what my 'native' language might be 'like' is hard to discern.

The languages I like to hear (aside from English) include Middle English and Old English; and of foreign languages I can recall listening to German radio as a youngster - just to hear the sound of the speech. Swedish sounds pleasing to me.

All these are obviously Gothic-type Northern European languages, but breaking that mould I find Castilian Spanish is lucid and exciting (Tolkien said the same - and he also liked the Castilian-esque Esperanto. Perhaps this preference was related to his half-Spanish Guardian, Fr. Francis?).

I don't much like the sound or sense of French (which I learned for five years, and know better than any other except Middle English), nor Italian, nor indeed Latin (much), nor any of the Gaelics nor Welsh.


But all of these are very superficial preferences and aversions.

So I have not, yet, found a key to my own 'native' tongue.


Monday 17 October 2011

Spirits speaking - touched in the quick...


From The Notion Club Papers pages 202-3.

In this section, the Notion Club are discussing the nature of verbal communications from 'spirits': from angels and demons.

As argued elsewhere in this blog, in this part of The Notion Club Papers I regard Ramer as essentially a mouthpiece for Tolkien.


'But spirits are often recorded as speaking', said Frankley.

'I know', Ramer answered. 'But I wonder if they really do, or if they make you hear them, just as they can also make you see them in some appropriate form, by producing a direct impression on the mind.

'The clothing of this naked impression in terms intelligible to your incarnate mind is, I imagine, often left to you, the receiver. Though no doubt they can cause you hear words and to see shapes of their own choosing, if they will.

'But in any case the process would be the reverse of the normal in a way, outwards, a translation from meaning into symbol.

'The audible and visible results might be hardly distinguishable from the normal, even so, except for some inner emotion: though there is, in fact, sometimes a perceptible difference of sequence.'


'I don't know what spirits can do', said Lowdham; 'but I don't see why they cannot make actual sounds (like the eldil in Perelandra): cause the air to vibrate appropriately, if they wish, they seem to affect "matter" directly.'


'I dare say they can', said Ramer. 'But I doubt if they would wish to, for such a purpose. Communication with another mind is simpler otherwise.

'And the direct attack seems to me to account better for the feelings human beings often have on such occasions. There is often a shock, a sense of being touched in the quick.

'There is movement from within outwards, even if one feels that the cause is outside, something other, not you.

'It is quite different in quality from the reception of sound inwards, even though it may well happen that the thing communicated directly is not strange or alarming, while many things said in the incarnate fashion are tremendous.'


'You speak as if you knew'said Jeremy. 'How do you know all this?'

'No, I don't to know anything about such things, and I'm not laying down the law. But I feel it.

'I have been visited, or spoken to', Ramer said gravely. 'Then, I think, the meaning was direct, immediate, and the imperfect translation perceptibly later: but it was audible. In many other accounts of other such events I seem to recognize experiences similar, even when far greater'.


'You make it all sound like Hallucination', said Frankley.

'But of course', said Ramer. 'They work in a similar way.

'If you are thinking of diseased conditions, then you may believe that the cause is nothing external; and all the same something (even if it is only some department of the body) muct be affecting the mind and making it translate outwards.

'If you believe in possession or the attack of evil spirits, then there is no difference in process, only the difference between malice and good-will, lying and truth.

'There is Disease and Lying in the world, and not only among men '.


Recalling that the NCPs are broadly based on the kind of discussions had by The Inklings, this is a stunning section for the insights it hints at concerning the nature of their conversations and for Tolkien's probably personal experiences.

The conversation is about spirits, which appear to include angels and demons (fallen angels), and the mode of their communications with humans. Apparently, this is the kind of thing that the real world Inklings discussed - they were not only a literary and social group.

Tolkien displays a strong interest in the subject, and possibly direct experience: 'I have been visited, or spoken to'. I find very convincing the detailed 'phenomenological' description of the experience of being communicated-with by spirits, and indeed the subject matter itself is only marginally relevant to the theme of the novel - so the impression is that it has been introduced because of the beliefs, convictions and personal experiences of the author.

In other words, it seems probable that Tolkien had had the experience of being visited and spoken to by angelic spirits.


Sunday 16 October 2011

Tolkien and the world historical disaster of Vatican II


I feel particularly sorry for Tolkien that the Latin Mass, which was the focus of his life and something he saw as eternally dependable, was taken from him (and millions of other Roman Catholics) by the unforced error that was Vatican II (an elite-led 'liberalization' of the Church by dominant Leftist Catholic clergy and religious orders).


Vatican II was a real body blow, and I suspect the most deeply dismaying event of Tolkien's whole life.

His friend George Sayer said that when participating in a modern English-language Mass in the late 1960s/ early 70s, Tolkien spoke-out the Latin words, loud and clear - presumably continuing this protest to the end of his life.


Unless and until the truly dread-full lapse and fall - a negative event of world historical significance - represented by Vatican II and what followed, is explicitly repented and reversed by the Roman Catholic Church; then that institution will certainly continue to dwindle and dwindle as a spiritual force for Good in the world.


Tuesday 11 October 2011

From Hobbit-sequel to Lord of the Rings - the role of The Notion Club Papers


1936 was the crucial year for Tolkien and Lewis: not exactly the annus mirabilis (year of miracles) but at least the annus divertium (watershed year).

In 1936 (probably), Lewis and Tolkien agreed each to write a book that exemplified a particular rare mythical quality they both prized.

About this time Lewis finished his first major critical book The Allegory of Love and Tolkien published The Hobbit - so maybe they both felt able to indulge themselves, spread their wings.

Also, The Inklings had been going for a few years, so they had a sympathetic audience among whom to try out their ideas.


But (to indulge in alternative history!) if Lewis and Tolkien had not made this turn towards 'mythology' in 1936, then we would never have heard of the Inklings:

Lewis would probably be known only as a Christian apologist and Tolkien as a writer of children's adventure books (because The Hobbit sequel would have been simply a Hobbit-sequel - and not the Lord of the Rings).


Lewis's book turned-out to be a space travel novel published as Out of the Silent Planet (OSP), leading onto Perelandra and That Hideous Strength and then the Narnia chronicles;

while Tolkien's time travel story never got further than draft fragments published after his death as The Lost Road (LR - written c. 1936-7) and its reworking as The Notion Club Papers (NCPs - written 1945-6)...

but which (very significantly) fed-into LotR.

So, without the Lost Road and NCPs there would be no LotR.

And this fact is not sufficiently - or not at all - recognized!


It is likely that without their friendship and collaboration, Lewis and Tolkien would not have made this step into mythology - they needed each other.

The relationship was no symmetrical: probably Tolkien needed Lewis even more than the reverse: needed Lewis in order to get his longer works finished.

After the Inklings waned, Tolkien found it impossible to complete any but the shortest of books.


The importance of OSP has been overshadowed by the Narnia chronicles, while the importance of the unpublished LR/ NCPs was (obviously and rightly!) obliterated by The Lord of the Rings.

However, to view these works through the retrospectoscope is misleading.

At the time they were written these mythical fictions represented a new departure for the authors, and a new attempt at engagement with a wider adult audience.

If the core Inklings are to be considered as functioning as a Christian, counter-revolutionary, reactionary 'conspiracy' to re-mythologize England' (to reconnect England's increasingly secular and disenchanted life with the mythical thinking; as I argue passim in this blog) - then 1936 is the year when this project began.


This may seem hard to justify in the case of Tolkien, since it was only about a year later that he began LotR. And of course that was the book which eventually successfully combined the mythic seriousness of the earlier 'Silmarillion' legends with the narrative appeal of the Hobbit.

But for a long time The Lord of the Rings was 'merely' a sequel to The Hobbit - it was not conceived as the ambitious synthesis it eventually became.

My personal impression from reading the early drafts of LotR published in the History of Middle Earth is that it was actually many years down the line that LotR became recognizably the kind of book it eventually was.

Indeed, it could be argued (and I am arguing it here!) that The Hobbit-sequel/ Lord of the Rings probably did not become fully and finally a long, serious, mythic adult novel until after The Notion Club Papers were drafted in 1945-6.

Until about Septenber of 1946, I think that LotR was - on the whole - 'merely' a Hobbit sequel - i.e. primarily an adventure book with just glimpses of mythic depth.

And, as such, LotR had stalled - for explicit reasons (to do with discrepancies in the timings of phases of the moon!) which seem wholly inadequate to explain such severe 'writers block'.


My guess is that LotR stalled because Tolkien was bored with writing an adventure story - and this is why he embarked on the highly ambitious Notion Club Papers - taking-up again the main Inklings project to influence the direction of English culture by 're-mythologizing' it.

The intention of the NCPs seems to have been to produce a 'modern' style novel which introduced the (still growing) 'Silmarillion' annals to a general literary audience: framing them as feigned history, and proving a mythic rationale.


So it is important to recognize that, although unfinished and unpublished, LR and NCP were in fact for many years Tolkien's most ambitious works.

The Lost Road and Notion Club Papers were where Tolkien explicitly planned at, aimed-at, achieving his long-term aspiration and project to re-connect modern men with the world of mythology -

...whereas, by contrast, the Lord of the Rings was conceived as - more-or-less - an 'entertainment'; and this was (I suspect) still not rejected with any certainty until after the NCPs were abandoned and work on LotR re-commenced in the autumn of 1946.


At which point it seems (to me) that Tolkien decided to infuse The Hobbit-sequel/  Lord of the Rings with a new seriousness and mythic depth - drawn from Tolkien's immediate experience in drafting the NCPs.


The Lord of the Rings is usually considered to be a fusion of the Hobbit and Silmarillion, along the lines of :

LotR = Hobbit + Silmarillion

But I am suggesting that this is wrong.


In my opinion, the proximate cause of the nature of The Lord of the Rings was actually a fusion of the Middle Earth world of The Hobbit with the mythic-spirit of Lost Road/ Notion Club Papers - and the relationship of LotR with the Silmarillion was less direct and more optional.

So the correct formulation is more along the lines of:

LotR = Hobbit + LR/ NCPs   (+/- Silmarillion)


Note added: The main incompleteness of the argument above, concerns the timing of writing the NCPs (late 1945 to summer of 1946) and my assumption of a significant discontinuity in the manuscript of LotR. What would clinch the argument above would be the demonstration that the LotR MS written after NCP is significantly different from what came before. Or at least there would need to be an increased clarity and firmness of purpose after NCP - of the type and in the direction suggested (such that linkages between the mythic era and modern man were stronger and plainer). I do not have a clear enough grasp of the progress of the LotR MS over this time period to be sure whether or not this is the case - it seems to me that there may be such a discontinuity, but I may be wrong.

Monday 26 September 2011

A note on Hobbit government


Hobbits were not Men (or, at least, they were a very distinctive race of Men - long separated) - in particular they were much less status-seeking than men, and less aggressive. A different species naturally has a different form of government.

Despite the apparent 'anarchy' of the Shire at the beginning of Lord of the Rings; overall, I think that Tolkien advocated a religious monarchy, somewhat on the Byzantine model - Gondor under the Kings (before the Stewards) was the nearest thing in the Third Age - and the link between Gondor and Constantinople is explicit in Tolkien's private writings (although the religion in Gondor was extremely vestigial), but Numenor was a more exact parallel.

In other words, Numenor/ Gondor was a monarchy that united spiritual and secular leadership - in which God chose the King, and the King represented God to his people.

Divine sanction was revealed in LotR by Aragorn's 'miracles' of healing - and healing of a type only he could achieve (curing the Black Breath of the Nazgul King).

The authority of the King was absolute, except that he must not go against the will of God (implicitly) - and it just happened to be the King Aragorn's judgment and will (for the good of his subjects) that he left The Shire to govern itself (subject to protection from the King's Men).

A good, kind King would have regarded Hobbits rather as we regard children or mentally-incompetent persons - creating for them a protected environment where they can conduct their own games safely.

But Hobbits could not, and probably should not, be integrated into the world of Men - there could only be some kind of parallel Hobbit society - else they would have been enslaved by bad men.

(I would *guess* - no supporting evidence that I know of - that the Rangers had for centuries been preventing this from happening in Bree, while they were also protecting the Shire Hobbits from invasion).


Wednesday 21 September 2011

Abel Pitt as Adam Fox


I have made only sporadic attempts to 'identify' the list of Notion Club Paper members (listed on pages 159-160) with real life Inklings, and others have already done so.

Indeed the striking thing about the Notion Club is how un-like the Inklings they are: no central Lewis character (no central character at all), lacking a Warnie character, and nobody with the peculiar impact of Charles Williams.

Nonetheless, sometimes I have tried to follow the associations in Tolkien's mind which may have led to the names and brief descriptions on the members page.

That is the fun of it: to 'get' an in-joke, and by such means to understand the workings of Tolkien's mind.


Thus, in the bath this evening, I recognized Notion Club member Abel Pitt as a play on real life Adam Fox: and (from Google) I discover that Jason Fisher has already made this connection.


The fictional biography of Pitt runs:

Dr Abel Pitt. Trinity. Born 1928. Formerly Chaplain of Trinity College; now Bishop of Buckingham. Scholar, occasional poet. 

The obvious clue is that Pitt, like Fox, is an Anglican clergyman, both were scholars and occasional poets - but the real Fox was Dean of Divinity (at Lewis's college of Magdalen), a much more elevated position than Chaplain.

Abel is Adam's son in the Old Testament; but what link is there between Fox and Pitt?


My guess is that coal/ col links Pitt and Fox - a coal-pit is where coal is extracted while a colfox (a fox whose ears and tail are tipped with coal-black) appears in Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale).

The joke would presumably be that Adam Fox was best known for publishing a book length poem called Old King Coel.

If so, this is an interesting example of Tolkien's philological high spirits that he embedded such fancies in his story, and illustrative of the characteristic scholarly foolery of the real life Inklings that he would expect them to get the joke.


Tuesday 20 September 2011

The lesson of Numenor


(Of course there is no single lesson to derive from the Numenor myth; a true myth is not an allegory but a sub-creation with a life of its own.)


The Numenoreans were given peace and plenty, they were freed from bodily suffering and illness, they were given a beautiful and safe place to dwell, their intelligence and skill were enhanced, they had the friendship and help of the high elves.

Their life span was extended about threefold, so they would have enough time to bring their schemes to fruition.

But they remained Men: mortal men. And for all their enhancements they had the faults of men.


What did they do - what did they make of their opportunities?

For a while they were satisfied to live well - enjoying the simple things of human life enriched by disinterested learning, art, and religion - and faithfully accepted death when it was due...

Then they became scientists and technologists, almost matching the high elves in their ingenious devices, the greatest mariners the world had seen, the greatest military power...

for a while.


But soon they got bored, felt constrained, wanted a change, wanted power and to dominate, wanted the worship and subservience of lesser men - wanted all this and nothing less than than this; here, now and forever.

Wanted perfect satisfaction of all their desires: Good and evil. Wanted permanent worldly gratification.


They rejected beauty for power, rejected truth and freedom for propaganda and totalitarian coercion, disbelieved in the virtue of the one God and his Valar - eventually, in a final rapid spiral down into the pit, embraced the worship of 'the dark lord' Morgoth because they believed he could grant them their desires.

Sensing their own degeneration and decline, ignoring argument, refusing repentance,the Numenoreans built a massive armament and assaulted the gods by force, to take what they wanted - to be gods on earth - and were destroyed in a cataclysmic remaking of the world.

In grasping at gratification of all their desires, they embraced destruction: nihilism.


Numenor is modern man, conceptualized as being enhanced in both individual and social capability but failing to use these gifts for spiritual purposes; and instead pursuing more and ever more personal and material goals, never satisfied yet insatiable - grasping at more life, more power, more pleasure; at first with energy and zeal, then with fear and exhaustion, finally with despair and insane self-hatred...


Repentance and renewal was possible for Numenor at any moment up till the last - the gods and the One held back their justice until they had no choice but to act - but repentance was blocked by pride.

The Numenoreans were insane, having embraced insanity by incremental steps, until - I guess, perhaps - the clearing of illusion at the very end. At the very end when utter failure was obvious and imminent, it is likely death and destruction, annihilation, was chosen.

Chosen on the same basis that Denethor (one of the last true Numenoreans) described in his despair:

"...if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated. (...) But in this at least though shalt not defy my will: to rule my own end."

Thus is pride the strongest of sins, thus is damnation chosen at the last.



Saturday 10 September 2011

Humphrey Carpenter and Tolkien


I have been re-reading Humphrey Carpenter's authorized Tolkien biography, which I have read many times before - but not for quite a while.


Although more than 30 years old, Carpenter had access to private papers (such as diaries) which has not been granted to anyone else; and the biography therefore remains essential, indeed definitive.

HC also edited Tolkien's letters (with Christopher Tolkien) - an exceptional job of work; and published the definitive study of The Inklings (very enjoyable, but deeply flawed by permeating assertions of the triviality of the group).

In sum, the Tolkien connection launched Humphrey Carpenter on a successful career as a man of letters, and he naturally became regarded as a Tolkien and Inklings expert (which indeed he was) - yet he never seemed comfortable in this role, and he is most memorable for his carping and sniping remarks than his for his insights or enthusiasm.


Carpenter's greatest achievements in the Tolkien biography are technical: he is completely in command of the information and imposes shape on it, he compresses a lot of facts into a small span, and he does this with an easy and readable style.

And, as it turned out, HC became (more or less) a professional biographer, turning his hand to a wide range of subjects, always producing something factual, well-organized, understandable and readable (and doing so remarkably quickly).


But there are problems.

The main is that Carpenter was no more than lukewarm about Tolkien's work, and as a person was not on Tolkien's wavelength. Tolkien was a reactionary even among reactionaries - but HC was a very mainstream, flexible, left-liberal intellectual pundit - often to be heard on the radio as a presenter or interviewer, comfortable in  the fashionable world of The Arts.


Humphrey Carpenter was highly competent and professional, but he didn't really have anything distinctive to say - or rather his own views were simply those of his class and time, hence come across as shallow and predictable.

(For instance HC wrote Secret Gardens a 'group biography' about the authors of children's stories, terribly disappointing, a book which harped on the note that the characteristic feature of children's book authors was that they never grew up...)

The HC Tolkien biography is therefore always at its weakest when it moves away from facts to their interpretations.


Like many or most modern biographers, Carpenter tries to explain enduring adult traits in terms of childhood events: distinctive childhood events are causally linked with distinctive adult traits.

e.g. HC asserts that the death of Tolkien's mother left JRRT a pessimist. This sounds reasonable, but is nonsense; HC has no way of knowing any such thing, and there is no 'scientific' evidence for a link between maternal death and pessimism and plenty of exceptions (not least CS Lewis).

Then again - due to his being deeply leftist in assumptions - HC tries to explain things which should be assumed.

For instance, Tolkien's delight in all-male company in The Inklings is normal in global and historical terms, and it is the modern tendency for mixed sex groupings at work and in leisure which is a first time experiment.

Mystifyingly, much is made of Tolkien's 'ordinaryness' - and HC tries to excuse this, or explain it. The solution to the mystery is probably that moderns have developed an expectation that 'writers' should have sensational biographies - but it is precisely this 'post-romantic' expectation which is at fault, and there is no reason at all why writers should have vivid lives (and many reasons why they should not).


These faults in Carpenter stem, ultimately, from his insufficient sympathy and liking for Tolkien.

The mammoth labour of working with difficult primary sources, the years of note taking, the difficulties of collation, the relentless focus on a specific individual - all this will swiftly become a hated drudgery - a job of work - unless sustained by genuine interest and affection; a commission done for money and career is just not the same thing at all.


The process of writing a full scale, official biography of somebody whom you do not actually love therefore tends to produce in writers a growing resentment against the biographical subject; which leads to petty (or not so petty) acts of revenge - or at least to using the subject as a means to advance the biographers career (by false emphasis and distortions (rather than trying to write the best possible biography).

The most extreme example is Lawrance Thomson's biography of Robert Frost; and Humphrey Carpenter's Tolkien and Inklings books are very mild by comparison - but there is animus at work, albeit in the background.


The Inklings biography has distorted scholarship for decades because it continually asserts that the Inklings were nothing but a group of Lewis's friends who met for a while. This is contrasted with the straw man (apparently derived from a writer called Charles W Moorman III) of a group of homogeneous and selected people self-consciously and strategically engaged on some activity such as Christian evangelism.

Both alternatives are false. Carpenter's Inklings biography is absurd in its self defined task of writing a book about nothing but the ephemeral and trivial; a book trying to prove there is nothing to write a book about!


Carpenter regards the Inklings primary concerns as either absurd or mistaken, and simply cannot believe that serious people could believe or want what Tolkien, Jack Lewis or Williams believed or wanted - but if he did believe it then he would loathe it.

So HC can therefore only explain-away or excuse or ignore the core features of Tolkien, and of Lewis and the other Inklings.

And after he has done this, there is indeed not much left: just a group of Lewis's friends meeting to entertain each other. Nothing more. Silly to mention it really...


On the other hand, people such as myself recognize and want to understand what was going on in that last generation of strong and distinctively British Christian spirituality and major literary achievement.

Williams remains enigmatic, but Tolkien and Jack Lewis are towering giants that are for many moderns our main link with a lost world of honesty, beauty and virtue; the world of myth; the world of real Christianity.


But for Humphrey Carpenter this was not the case. He was a pleasant and likeable personality; a well adjusted member of the intellectual and arts elite; he was clever, hard-working and efficient; but not a man of great insight, nor of heroic stature, nor of great integrity.

And HC was a man whose motivations, life and ideology were essentially hostile to Tolkien and the other Inklings.

So despite his crucial contributions, Carpenter's position among Tolkien scholars is modest: and the real exemplars are deep and non-mainstream writers with a positive personal affinity with Tolkien, enabling them to attain to major interpretations and insight - Christopher Tolkien, TA Shippey and Verlyn Flieger.


Monday 5 September 2011

Tolkien and Women - a word


The word is 'unspoiled'.


I am immensely grateful for the two volume JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide by Scull and Hammond - however, unsurprisingly perhaps, the authors prefer to judge Tolkien by current standards of political correctness rather than the opposite.

(In this they follow the lead of Humphrey Carpenter in his official biography of 1977; whenever Tolkien's views differ from Carpenter's - Carpenter as representative of modern liberal opinion - the un-argued assumption is that Tolkien is wrong.)


For instance, from Tolkien's letter to his son Michael of 6-8 March 1941, Scull and Hammond quote the section: "Before the young woman knows where she is... she may actually fall in love. Which, for her, an unspoiled natural young woman, means that she wants to become the mother of the young man's children, even if that desire is by no means clear to her or explicit..."

Scull and Hammond then comment: "Today (in the West) few would suggest that all young women desire motherhood and cannot be happy otherwise..."

They refer to 'all' young women and miss-out the word 'unspoiled'.


It is perfectly obvious that Tolkien (along with almost everyone who lived up until 1965, and still at least 80 percent of people alive today) would have regarded the majority of modern young women today as 'spoiled'. And therefore Tolkien is perfectly accurate in his generalization.


Later in the letter Tolkien says: "you may meet in life (as in literature) women who are flighty, or even plain wanton ... women who are too silly to take even love seriously, or are actually so depraved as to enjoy 'conquests', or even enjoy the giving of pain - but these are abnormalities, even though false teaching, bad upbringing, and corrupt fashions may encourage them. Much though modern conditions have changed feminine circumstances, and the detail of what is called propriety, they have not changed natural instinct."


Tolkien is often regarded as being obviously mistaken in his view of women on the evidence that most modern women are unlike the women Tolkien describe.

But Tolkien was not mistaken.

Tolkien simply regarded most modern women as having been spoiled by false teaching, bad upbringing and corrupt fashions.


Saturday 6 August 2011

Morgoth versus Sauron - Tolkien on the nature of evil

What follows is one of the most interesting, and important, explanations of the nature of evil I have ever encountered; as exemplified by Tolkien's legendarium and as understood by Tolkien. 

It makes understandable the difference between the primary evil of Morgoth (Lucifer), and the secondary and derivative evils (such as Sauron, and Saruman) as seen in later ages.

My comments and reflections on this appear on my Miscellany blog:

J.R.R.Tolkien, written c. 1958, edited and published by Christopher Tolkien in The History of Middle Earth volume X: Morgoth's Ring, Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

Edited excerpts follow:

Sauron was ‘greater’, effectively, in the Second Age than Morgoth at the end of the First. Why? Because, though he was far normaler by natural stature, he had not yet fallen so low.

Eventually he also squandered his power (of being) in the endeavor to gain control of others. But he was not obliged to expend so much of himself. To gain domination over Arda, Morgoth had let most of his being pass into the physical constituents of the Earth – hence all things that were born on Earth and live on and by it, beasts or plants or incarnate spirits, were liable to be ‘stained’.

Morgoth at the time of the War of the Jewels had become permanently ‘incarnate’: for this reason he was afraid, and waged the war almost entirely by means of devices, or of subordinates and dominated creatures.

Sauron, however, inherited the ‘corruption’ of Arda, and only spent his (much more limited) power on the Rings; for it was the creatures of earth, in their minds and wills, that he desired to dominate. In this way Sauron was also wiser than Melkor-Morgoth. Sauron was not a beginner of discord; and he probably knew more of the ‘Music’ than did Melkor, whose mind had always been filled with his own plans and devices, and gave little attention to other things.

The time of Melkor’s greatest power, therefore, was in the physical beginnings of the World; a vast demiurgic lust for power and the achievement of his own will and designs, on a great scale.  (…)

Thus, as ‘Morgoth’, when Melkor was confronted by the existence of other inhabitants of Arda, with other wills and intelligences, he was enraged by the mere fact of their existence, and his only notion of dealing with them was by physical force, or the fear of it. His sole ultimate object was their destruction.

Elves, and still more Men, he despised because of their ‘weakness’: that is their lack of physical force, or power over ‘matter’; but he was also afraid of them. He was aware, at any rate originally when still capable of rational thought, that he could not ‘annihilate’them: that is, destroy their being; but their physical ‘life’, and incarnate form became increasingly to his mind the only thing that was worth considering.

Or he became so far advanced in Lying that he lied even to himself, and pretended that he could destroy them and rid Arda of them altogether. Hence his endeavor always to break wills and subordinate them to or absorb them into his own will and being, before destroying their bodies. This was sheer nihilism, and negation its one ultimate object:

Morgoth would no doubt, if he had been victorious, have ultimately destroyed even his own ‘creatures’, such as the Orcs, when they had served his sole purpose in using them: the destruction of Elves and Men. (…)

Melkor could do nothing with Arda, which was not from his own mind and was interwoven with the work and thoughts of others: even left alone he could only have gone raging on till all was leveled again into a formless chaos. And yet even so he would have been defeated, because it would still have ‘existed’, independent of his own mind, and a world in potential.

Sauron had never reached this stage of nihilistic madness. He did not object to the existence of the world, so long as he could do what he liked with it. He still had the relics of positive purposes, that descended from the good of the nature in which he began: it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall, and of his relapse) that he loved order and co-ordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction. 

(It was the apparent will and power of Melkor to effect his designs quickly and masterfully that had first attracted Sauron to him.)

Sauron had, in fact, been very like Saruman, and so still understood him quickly and could guess what he would be likely to think and do, even without the aid of the palantíri or of spies; whereas Gandalf eluded and puzzled him. 

But like all minds of this cast, Sauron’s love (originally) or (later) mere understanding of other individual intelligences was correspondingly weaker; and thought the only real good in, or rational motive for, all this ordering and planning and organization was the good of all the inhabitants of Arda (even admitting Sauron’s right to be their supreme lord), his ‘plans’, the idea coming from his own isolated mind, became the sole object of his will, and an end, the End, in itself.

Morgoth had no ‘plan’: unless destruction and reduction to nil of a world in which he had only a share can be called a ‘plan’.

But this is, of course, a simplification of the situation. Sauron had not served Morgoth, even in his last stages, without becoming infected by his lust for destruction, and his hatred of God (which must end in nihilism).

Sauron could not, of course, be a ‘sincere’ atheist. Though one of the minor spirits created before the world, he knew Eru, according to his measure. He probably deluded himself with the notion that the Valar (including Melkor) having failed, Eru had simply abandoned Ea, or at any rate Arda, and would not concern himself with it any more. 

It would appear that he interpreted the ‘change of the world’ at the Downfall of Numenor, when Aman was removed from the physical world, in this sense: Valar (and Elves) were removed from effective control, and Men under God’s curse and wrath.

If he thought about the Istari, especially Saruman and Gandalf, he imagined them as emissaries from the Valar, seeking to establish their lost power again and ‘colonize’ Middle-earth, as a mere effort of defeated imperialists (without knowledge or sanction of Eru).

His cynicism, which (sincerely) regarded the motives of Manwë as precisely the same as his own, seemed fully justified in Saruman. Gandalf he did not understand. But certainly he had already become evil, and therefore stupid, enough to imagine that his different behaviour was due simply to weaker intelligence and lack of firm masterful purpose. He was only a rather cleverer Radagast – cleverer, because it is more profitable (more productive of power) to become absorbed in the study of people than of animals.

Sauron was not a ‘sincere’ atheist, but he preached atheism, because it weakened resistance to himself (and he had ceased to fear God’s action in Arda). As was seen in the case of Ar-Pharazon.

But there was seen the effect of Melkor upon Sauron: he spoke of Melkor in Melkor’s own terms: as a god, or even as God. This may have been the residue of a state which was in a sense a shadow of good: the ability once in Sauron at least to admire or admit the superiority of a being other than himself. Melkor, and still more Sauron himself afterwards, both profited by this darkened shadow of good and services of ‘worshippers’.

But it may be doubted whether even such a shadow of good was still sincerely operative in Sauron by that time. 

His cunning motive is probably best expressed thus. To wean one of the God-fearing from their allegiance it is best to propound another unseen object of allegiance and another hope of benefits; propound to him a Lord who will sanction what he desires and not forbid it. Sauron, apparently a defeated rival for world-power, now a mere hostage, can hardly propound himself; but as the former servant and disciple of Melkor, the worship of Melkor will raise him from hostage to high priest.

But though Sauron’s whole true motive was the destruction of the Númenóreans, this was a particular matter of revenge upon Ar-Pharazon, for humiliation. Sauron (unlike Morgoth) would have been content for the Númenóreans to exist, as his own subjects, and indeed he used a great many of them that he corrupted to his allegiance.

Note - Melkor could not, of course, ‘annihilate’ anything of matter, he could only ruin or destroy or corrupt the forms given to matter by other minds in their subcreative activities.
Note – [Sauron’s] capability of corrupting other minds, and even engaging their service, was a residue from the fact that his original desire for ‘order’ had really envisaged the good estate (especially physical well-being) of his ‘subjects’.


Melkor incarnated himself (as Morgoth) permanently. He did this so as to control the hroa, the flesh or physical matter, of Arda. He attempted to identify himself with it. A vaster, and more perilous, procedure, though of similar sort to the operation of Sauron with the Rings. 

Thus, outside the Blessed Realm, all matter was likely to have a Melkor ingredient, and those who had bodies, nourished by the hora of Arda, had as it were a tendency, normal or great, towards Melkor: they were none of them wholly free of him in their incarnate form, and their bodies had an effect upon their spirits.

But in this way Morgoth lost (or exchanged, or transmuted) the greater part of his original angelic powers, of mind and spirit, while gaining a terrible grip upon the physical world. For this reason he had to be fought, mainly by physical force, and enormous material ruin was a probable consequence of any direct combat with him, victorious or otherwise.

This is the chief explanation of the constant reluctance of the Valar to come into open battle against Morgoth. Manwë's task and problem was much more difficult than Gandalf's.

Sauron's, relatively normaler, power was concentrated; Morgoth's vast power was disseminated. The whole of Middle-earth was Morgoth's Ring, though temporarily his attention was mainly upon the North-west. Unless swiftly successful, War against him might well end in reducing all Middle-earth to chaos, possibly even all Arda.

It is easy to say: It was the task and function of the Elder King to govern Arda and make it possible for the Children of Eru to live in it unmolested. But the dilemma of the Valar was this: Arda could only be liberated by a physical battle; but a probable result of such a battle was the irretrievable ruin of Arda. Moreover, the final eradication of Sauron (as a power directing evil) was achievable by the destruction of the Ring. No such eradication of Morgoth was possible, since this required the complete disintegration of the matter of Arda.

The last intervention with physical force by the Valar, ending in the breaking of Thangorodrim, may then be viewed as not in fact reluctant or even unduly delayed, but timed with precision. The intervention came before the annihilation of the Eldar and the Edain.

Morgoth though locally triumphant had neglected most of Middle-earth during the war; and by it he had in fact been weakened: in power and prestige (he had lost and failed to recover one of the Silmarils), and above all in mind. 

He had become absorbed in kingship, and though a tyrant of ogre-size and monstrous power, this was a vast fall even from his former wickedness of hate, and his terrible nihilism. 

He had fallen to like being a tyrant-king with conquered slaves, and vast obedient armies.


Monday 25 July 2011

On JRR Tolkien's The Marring of Men


My only official Tolkien-related publication:


Rank and Pay of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis

Published as:

Charlton BG. Warren H Lewis was an Honorary Major, with Captain as his substantive rank. On W.H. Lewis’s military rank. The Chronicle of the Oxford University C.S. Lewis Society. 2007; 4: 36-37.


Warren Hamilton 'Warnie' Lewis was only an honorary Major, and held the substantive rank of Captain.

C.S. Lewis’s brother Warren Hamilton (‘Warnie’) Lewis (June 16, 1895 - April 9, 1973) is, frequently (and correctly) referred-to, as ‘Major Lewis’. However, it is worth noting that Warnie’s rank of major was honorary, and his ‘substantive’ rank was actually captain – one rank below that of major.

I received this information from Dr Alistair Massie; Curator of the National Army Museum in London. At my request, he looked-up the relevant Army Lists for W.H. Lewis and sent me photocopies. These photocopies are now lodged at the Marion E Wade Center at Wheaton College, Illinois, USA.

Warren Lewis was a volunteer (he was Irish by nationality, hence not subject to conscription) who served in the Royal Army Service Corps for 18 years from 1914-1932. He retired from regular Army Service in 1932 with the rank of captain, after which he was placed on the Reserve of Officers. On 24 August 1939 he was brought back onto active army service (this was just before the UK’s declaration of war on Germany in the 1939-1945 World War, when reservists were recalled). Warnie then became a temporary major on 27 Jan 1940 until he was accorded the honorary rank of major on 27 March 1947 upon becoming permanently retired.

This means that from the time that Warnie was a temporary major he was entitled to be called major, and he went straight to being an honorary major, so he did not revert to being called captain. Nonetheless, his retirement pay remained only that of a captain.

The significance of this information is that Warnie's Army career was apparently an un-distinguished one. British Army officer’s ranks are second lieutenant, lieutenant, captain then major – and it would usually be expected that a career officer with 18 years of service would retire with the substantive rank of major (or higher). Yet Warnie did not attain any promotion in the 15 years of service from becoming a captain in 1917 until his retirement in 1932. His promotion to Major in 1940, after being recalled in 1939 from the reserve of officers, was just a temporary or 'acting' major rank (presumably to perform a specific job in a specific situation), and this continued until he was retired in 1947 as honorary major – but still on the lesser pay of a retired captain.

WH Lewis’s apparently mediocre early-life professional army career makes all the more remarkable and praiseworthy Warnie's post-retirement development into a respected member of the famous and intellectually-distinguished group of Oxford Inklings, the author of seven published books of French history, and a diarist of high reputation.

This late-blooming of Warren’s abilities as a writer and conversationalist was perhaps due to the influence of daily contact with his brother Jack, supplemented by frequent association with the other Inklings [1].

1. Diana Pavlac Glyer. The company they keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as writers in community. Kent, Ohio, USA: Kent State University Press, 2007.


Sunday 24 July 2011

If history is myth; then modern socio-politics is also myth


Since the core Inklings project (as made explicit in the TCBS and Notion Club) was the recovery of history as myth; this project (which I too embrace) naturally extends to modern politics, to our current interpretation and understanding of what has happened, and what is happening.

We need, that is, to get away from - or rather subordinate to secondary status - the usual secular explanation, prediction and agenda for what happened to our culture (political, economic, scientific/ technological, socio-psycho-logical etc) - and over-arch these with a 'mythic' (but naturally mythic and True) understanding.

This will enable us, indeed encourage us, to take a step back from the noise and lies of 'current affairs', alliances and interventions, to focus on the task of recovery and reconnection, and to 'work' at an altogether different level and in an altogether different mode (because with altogether different objectives).

This step back becomes not just possible but absolutely necessary since the mythic analysis makes clear that unless the myth is restored then all our efforts (no matter what their explicit intentions) will turn to the Enemy's benefit.

But the myth in question is the fullness of Christianity; that is a pre-modern Christianity in which the world is 'animate' (that is what myth means) and this animate world is understood and prophesied in Christian terms.

So, by this account, the Inklings were trying to backfill-Christianity - that is to fill-in the mythology 'behind' Christianity so that it will again become animated and comprehensive.

This includes a pre-modern cosmology (as described by Lewis's medieval lectures and essays); a conception of the world in which animals, trees landscapes were alive and in relation to humans (as depicted in Narnia and Middle Earth); and in which the world there was a restoration of purposive influences for Good or Ill: God and Devil, Angels and Demons (including gods and goddesses and nature spirits; and for Tolkien there was national, racial, linguistic and familial spiritual heredity.


Thursday 14 July 2011

The Notion Club visualized by Afalstein





Although (I suppose I should point out) the illustrations of the characters are not consistent with Tolkien's descriptions of their appearances; I like all of these pictures, which seem to capture something of the spirit of the Club.


Sunday 12 June 2011

Is reward more dangerous than punishment?


From The Letters of JRR Tolkien - letter number 131 to Milton Waldman, 1951:

The Downfall [of Numenor] is partly the result of an inner weakness in Men - consequent, if you will, upon the first Fall (unrecorded in theses tales), repented but not finally healed.

Reward on earth is more dangerous for men than punishment!

The Fall is achieved by the cunning of Sauron in exploiting this weakness. Its central theme is (inevitably, I think, in a story of Men) a Ban, or Prohibition.


If it is indeed true that reward on earth is more dangerous for men than punishment, then this is a truth which has been lost from our culture.

I take it that 'reward on earth' means material goods, worldly pleasures.

If it is true, then we are in big trouble, and have been in big trouble for several generations - since for us there is nothing that is real except 'on earth', and indeed for us there is no such thing as 'reward'.


We don't even think of earthly happiness as a reward because in modern culture we don't believe there is anybody or any-thing to do the rewarding; we don't believe in God, we don't believe that the universe cares about what we do.

We regard happiness as simply the natural state of things.

So, if we personally are not happy at this moment, if anybody is unhappy ever, then this can only be because it is someone's fault.

Since happiness is regarded as spontaneous, unhappy people must have been made unhappy - ultimately by other people.


For our culture the contrast with 'reward on earth' is not reward in heaven (we don't believe in heaven), nor even anything to do with reward (we don't believe in rewards), and certainly not in hell (hell is a wicked joke); but the opposite of reward on earth is simply 'misery on earth'.

Modern culture has no higher value than comfort.


We moderns cling to the comforts of life like the devil-worshipping Numenoreans, but not heroically - our elites are anything-but heroic.

Rather than be deprived of the comforts of life, our elite want the 'right' to be killed quickly and painlessly.

So this is what we have come to! A culture focused upon the process of dying - not death as a state (we don't believe in that), but merely on the process of dying.


Ours is a very different state from Numenorean hubris - who determined to conquer the gods and achieve eternal life (because life for them - on their earthly paradise, with their enhanced powers of mind and body - was such delight).

We have killed the gods, hence rendered each and every life meaningless, purposeless, alienated - so we ask 'nothing more' than that life feels pleasant, right up to its end.


Of course, logically, we ought to be killing ourselves sooner rather than later; why put it off? - do it while we can still implement our choices for ourselves.

But somehow, we don't believe our own nihilism to that extent.