Friday 21 January 2011

An imaginary completed Notion Club Papers - form and character


The Notion Club Papers were probably written over a period of about 9 months between late 1945 and the middle of 1946.

As they stand there are a fascinating fragment, full of evidence about Tolkien and his deepest concerns; but of extremely limited appeal and either unpublishable or else destined only for a small cult audience.


If the NCPs had been completed they would, I believe, have ended-up very differently from the way they exist at present.

As argued by Verlyn Flieger in Interrupted music, I believe the purpose of the NCPs would have been to provide a frame for Tolkien's legendarium - in other words, a pseudo-historical 'explanation' for how the legends of the elves, Numenor and ancient Middle Earth were transmitted to our times (transmitted specifically to England, and even more specifically to Oxford).

How a link between Middle Earth (this modern world) and Faery was re-established.

The name I will give to this imaginary completed book is Annals of the Notion Club (or ANC for short; drawing upon the work of Flieger and of TA Shippey in describing Tolkien's fascination for 'Annals' - and their hinted depths beyond)


The shape of the Annals of the Notion Club would have been the same as Tolkien's other works - some kind of heroic quest in which the hero or heroes come into contact with 'Faery' and an ennobled by contact with 'higher things' and made wiser by their experience.

This implies that the ANC must have had a hero or heroes, and that (for dramatic interest) the reader would need to know the thoughts and feelings of this hero or heroes.

In other words, there would need to be characters - something which is lacking or indirect and inexplicit in the current NCPs.

In other words, character, feelings, thoughts would need to be more explicit - more novelistic.


The form of the NCPs, i.e. the literary conceit of their being the formal minutes of club meetings, would therefore need to be dropped or relaxed; to bring in much more direct forms of narrative or reportage.

This was already beginning to happen in the later parts of the NCPs, with the introduction of letters from Lowdham (plus some footnotes), and an extended 'dream sequence' which reports Lowdham's inner state during an Anglo Saxon episode.

So, in the ANC there would be a great expansion of such letters, and also probably diaries and journal entries - so as to bring the reader into more direct contact with the action.


In terms of character, the ANC would therefore need to get inside at least one of Guildford, Ramer, Lowdham and Jeremy.

My guess is that it would have been Guildford - the recorder, who would become the narrator, and speaking directly to the reader (to posterity) about the collection of minutes, letters, poems, fragments and journal entries which he has gathered and collated with the aim of preservation and propagation.

Probably, Guildford would have remained a rather subordinate character in terms of the action and excitement, and the extrovert Lowdham in particular would have emerged as the most obvious hero - supported by Jeremy who would - I guess, end-up being the main person responsible for achieving the quest to re-connect with Faery.

I suspect the Ramer character might therefore have receded in importance. His role might be in learning the languages necessary to interpret the documentary material eventually recovered from Faery. He might have done this in collaboration with Lowdham, or mostly on his own - but Ramer's role at the end of the ANC would perhaps be as scholarly interpreter of the texts brough back to Oxford by Jeremy (who seems not to be skilled as a philologist or historical linguist)

I would imagine that Lowdham would make the breakthrough, be responsible for navigating the boat and actually arriving in Faery; but then would stay-behind in faery (with his father) and Jeremy would be the one who returned to England bringing the legendarium.


In sum, the ANC would be presented as a collection of minutes, letters, journal entries etc. by Gulidford concerning the Notion Club in general and Lowdham and Jeremy in particular - telling the story of how a link between faery and England was re-established by the efforts of the Club - firstly in dreams then ultimately by a voyage to Faery.

The link between Faery would therefore be firstly psychic, and then secondly physical - such that at first there were glimpses, then a break-through of visionary material from the past having physical effect in England (the storm replicating the downfall of Numenor), then an actual voyage to Faery and the return of extensive documentary material - including recovered knowledge of how to understand it.


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