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.