Saturday 30 April 2011

NCPs and The Dark Tower by C.S. Lewis


Following a reminder from commenter HenryOrientJnr I belatedly got around to reading CS Lewis's posthumously published and unfinished story The Dark Tower - which was projected to be a part of the Science fiction trilogy - following on from Out of the Silent Planet.

It is an excellent story - but that aside, the relationship to the Notion Club Papers is striking.


(Verlyn Flieger has noted some of the following points in A Question of Time, although I had previously overlooked them.)


The Dark Tower (DT) was probably written around 1939, which places it chronologically closer to Tolkien's The Lost Road in 1937, then to the Notion Club Papers of 1945-6.

The opening of DT is strikingly similar to the NCPs - a group of intellectual colleagues discussing and debating the possibilities of time travel - both obviously (DT explicitly) having been influenced by An Experiment with Time by J.W Dunne.

The time travel discussion group in the Dark Tower becomes an experimental group, as a machine for watching another time is unveiled - and a member gets exchanged with a copy of himself in that other time.

In broad terms this resembles the way in which the Notion Club's experiments with dreaming begin with observation of the last days of Numenor, but go on to establishing a physical connection with that time (and were at one point probably aiming at the presence of NCP members at the fall of Numenor).


My presumption is that Tolkien heard or read the DT (since it was written when the Inklings were at their height) and took this organizational and plot aspect from it for the NCPs.

As was typical of Tolkien, he mulled over the Dark Tower and the Inkling discussions on time travel for several years before trying to use them in fiction; and it was equally typical of Lewis to use this material much more quickly - so these 'companion pieces' were drafted about six years apart!


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