Tuesday 28 August 2012

The Place of the Lion unfolding?


Two days ago I finished my (fourth?) re-read of Charles Williams The Place of the Lion - and on the same day this news story broke:


So,  lion was sighted not far from St Albans (CW stamping ground), but has now disappeared; we assume having been absorbed into a spiritual adept.

The archetypal images breaking through?...

Time will tell. 


;-) for those who are confused... 


Tuesday 21 August 2012

Is there anything *like* Tolkien?


In some recent e-mail discussions with Dale J Nelson, we touched on the question of whether there was anything like Tolkien.

This was a burning question for me aged c. 14 years once I had read and re-read Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit) to the point of wanting to read something else.

What did I find?


Having seen a reference to Spenser's Fairie Queene on the LotR blurb, I picked this up to look-at in a second hand bookshop - I pretty quickly put it down again!  But I was never foolish enough to tackle Ariosto (to which C.S Lewis bizarrely compared LotR - what on earth did he think he was doing?!)

Then having done some background reading (for example, in Lin Carter's A look behind the Lord of the Rings I tried some older fantasy and also some more recent fantasy.

I read Lord Dunsany's King of Elfland's Daughter but it was hard work and made no impression - I failed to read E.R Eddison's Worm Ourorboros. I actually enjoyed Evangeline Walton's Island of the Mighty - which was a retelling of the 'Mabinogion' Welsh legends - but it was nothing like Tolkien.


In sum - I found only a couple of books (or a couple of pairs of books) which were post-Tolkien and resembled him enough to satisfy re-readings.

The Minippins (aka The Gammage Cup) by Carol Kendall, and its sequel The Whisper of Glocken -  which are rather like The Hobbit.

And the Weirdstone of Brisingamen  and The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner - which are somewhat like Tolkien's world breaking into the modern world.

To this double-duo I would add the quintet of books by Lloyd Alexander that begins with The Book of Three - which are a somewhat Tolkien-like version of the Mabinogion (again). 


However, none of these are at all like Lord of the Rings in their flavour - except perhaps for the earlier more Hobbit-like chapters leading up to Rivendell. All are on a much lower level than Tolkien - but I retain a strong affection for Kendall and Alexander, and sometimes re-read them - I have later been put off Garner by his subsequent developments (post The Owl Service - which is absolutely brilliant, albeit already tending towards the constipated evil of his later work) but there are a couple of very fine passages to which I return.


To return to the original question - there is, in my experience, nothing like Tolkien.


Note: there is something like Lewis's Narnia books, however - which is Borrobil by William Croft Dickinson which was published in 1944, therefore before Narnia. Presumably I am not the first to notice the resemblance, since the Puffin edition has a cover illustration by Pauline Baynes. I would say that Borrobil is about as good as Narnia - better in some ways - but written in a 'neo-pagan' tradition rather than being Christian.


Monday 20 August 2012

Timing and causes of the breakdown of Tolkien and Lewis's close friendship and alliance

Note added 14 February 2021: Since reading Tolkien's Modern Reading by Holly Ordway (2021) I am persuaded that my account below, about the Narnia stories coming-between Tolkien and Lewis, is wrong; being based on selective and distorted information. Further explanation can be found at my review of Ordway's book:

The critical rift in JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis's friendship can probably be dated to early 1949, when Tolkien heard Lewis read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

This fact was forcefully brought home to me by Lars Walker's blog posting at Brandywine Books - http://brandywinebooks.net/?post_id=5003

Lewis later remarked that Tolkien disliked the book intensely, and Roger Lancelyn Green confirmed this from a meeting with Tolkien about the end of March 1949.

But if early 1949 was the critical incident, then we need to understand the background to the incident (and why it caused a rift) and also understand why the rift was not repaired.

This can, I think, be understood from studying the Chronology section of The JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide (2006) by Christina Scull and Wayne G Hammond - in conjunction with the biographical material relating to CS Lewis and Warnie Lewis's journals.


I have several points to make:

1. The rift was due to Tolkien - as will be seen...

2. The background was Tolkien having substantively finished writing The Lord of the Rings (LotR) sometime between 14 August and 14 Septenber 1948, on vacation at his son Michael's house in Woodcote near Oxford.

3. The rift was Narnia-induced in early 1949

4. The rift was not repaired because Tolkien withdrew to retype and revise LotR and also because Tolkien went through a psychological 'breakdown' (similar to the breakdown of 1945-6, documented elsewhere in this blog).

5. The end of the strong friendship is confirmed by the the end of The Inklings (i.e. the Thursday evening meetings) on October 27th 1949 - when Warren Lewis wrote in his journal that 'No-one turned up.'


Point 2. Finishing LotR

I believe that strong friendship between men is typically a by-product of an alliance, a joint-project.

From about 1936-1949 Tolkien and Lewis had a joint writing project - initiated by the idea of Lewis writing a Space Travel novel (which became Out of the Silent Planet and the following series) and Tolkien a Time Travel novel (which became the unfinished Lost Road and Notion Club Papers and the 'hobbit-sequel' which grew into LotR).

When Tolkien finished the first draft of LotR he did not need Lewis in the way that he had. Indeed, he now needed long periods of time alone to work on typing and refining the draft, pulling together the threads and removing inconsistencies.


Point 3 - Narnia

At a point when Tolkien no longer felt he needed the stimulus and editorial input of Lewis, but on the contrary needed to spend more time alone, Lewis revealed that he was not working along the same lines as Tolkien.

By writing LWW Lewis had (or so I infer Tolkien felt) broken-off their joint project which was initiated in 1936 - a project which was a continuation of Tolkien's long term project - dating from his his TCBS days from school, university and the army - and which might be described as a recovery of myth for modern England - a reconnecting of history with mythology intended to save the modern world from nihilistic materialism.


(In reality, Lewis was so productive, and so diverse in his output, that his writing of one type of book did not imply he had 'broken-off' the idea of writing another type of book. And Lewis's main project being non-denomenational Christian evangelism - including via the Narnia tales - does not imply that he would have stopped working on the long term joint project with Tolkien. So this interpretation of LWW would have been a mistaken inference on the part of Tolkien - if, as I am assuming, this was the reason for Tolkien's response to Narnia.)


Point 4 - Tolkien's state of mind

Reading through the Chronology for 1948-9, it is clear that Tolkien was again going through a disturbed period of psychological turmoil. From Feb 12 1948 he has three weeks leave of absence from work at the University, and goes to Brighton with his son Christopher - presumably to rest.

On 20 March 1948 he says in a letter that he has been unwell since October with 'poisonous' teeth accounting for some of the problem (presumably, a chronic dental infection - which might indeed produce long term symptoms of fatigue, demotivation and a depressed mood).

Yet, more than a year later, in a letter of 12 May 1949, Tolkien is still reporting 'indifferent health', trying to arrange two terms of leave, and has still not had the 'poisononous' teeth removed. (They were eventually extracted in March 1950.)

Then, in Autumn 1949, commences what is (for me) the single most embarrassing, and indeed disgraceful, episode of Tolkien's biography: the year-plus period of tortured maneuverings by which he tries to place The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion with the editor Milton Waldman at the publisher Collins - and where he chronically deceives, misleads and manipulates his long terms friends and colleagues at George, Allen and Unwin publishers.


So, the rift between Tolkien and Lewis was created and sustained by Tolkien by a coincidence of push and pull factors.

On the one hand, the pull between the two men was diminished by the completion of the Lord of the Rings - and on the other hand, the men were pushed apart by Tolkien taking offence at Lewis opening-up a new line of fictional work with the Narnia chronicles - then by Tolkien's need to work alone on revisions plus his disturbed state of mind - perhaps a depressive reaction to chronic tooth infection, and perhaps a moral lapse of yielding to the temptation of sacrificing his friendships in order the better to promote his literary works.

I think it is very likely that the rift was down to Tolkien not just for the above reasons, but because Lewis was a man incapable of taking offence or burning his bridges. While Tolkien was touchy and easily offended, Lewis retained friendships (such as Arthur Greaves and Owen Barfield) through great difficulties over many years - he also had friends of many types, both sexes, and continued to make new friends right up to the end of his life (e.g. Walter Hooper).


However, although Tolkien is, in a sense, 'to blame' for the rift with Lewis - there is also the fact that he suffered far more from the rift - in the sense that he never found a replacement for the stimulus and editorial input of Lewis.

When his alliance with Lewis dwindled, and the Inklings ended their Thursday evening meetings, then Tolkien found himself unable to complete large scale works for the rest of his life.

My impression is that, psychologically, Tolkien's alliances shifted from Lewis to his son Christopher - although naturally the relationship was of a qualitatively different kind.

While Lewis effectively got Tolkien to finish and publish his friend's work without excessive delay, Christopher himself finished and himself published his father's work - but after his father died.

These were the two great literary relationships of JRR Tolkien's life, and beyond.


Note added: 


Sunday 5 August 2012

The greatest mystery of C.S Lewis's life - is it so mysterious?


According to his brother Warren (Warnie), the greatest mystery of C.S Lewis's early life was his attachment to 'Mrs Moore' (Janie Moor or 'Minto')  from 1917 (when Jack was 18, and Janie was 45) to her death in 1951.

(The situation is well summarized in  


The mystery comes from the absolute secrecy with which Lewis treated the business, so that the topic was out of bounds to everybody including Warnie (who lived with Jack and Minto) - indeed this was one topic about which Jack was routinely misleading, deceptive, dishonest - often describing Minto as his mother, even in letters written in Latin to the future Saint, the priest Don Giovanni Calabria.


Of course, nobody will ever know the truth about it, but the matter is comprehensible on the basis of Lewis's personality.

I believe that what happened was that the relationship between Lewis and Minto was initially sexual (this is now generally accepted), but when this ceased (the time and reasons for which are not known, but was almost certainly before or at the time Lewis gradually became a Christian around 1929-31), Lewis felt he had done Minto a great wrong.

At this time, I strongly suspect that Lewis made a vow to do service to Minto for the rest of his life, as a penance for the wrongdoing. I suspect that this was a private matter and that he told nobody - but for the rest of his life he stuck to this penance, and that this is what explained the extraordinary servility of the relationship between Jack and Minto for the last 20 or so years.

It would also explain the most tragic aspect of Jack's penance, the point at which its rigidity harmed the person he loved most: that is his brother Warnie.

Because this secret penance of Jack's affected Warnie in multiple ways, every day of his life - since the household now revolved around the whims of Minto with no possibility of discussion, no disagreement being allowed.


Jack would always side with Minto against Warnie on all matters where there was conflict, no matter now unreasonable, or even malicious, she became - which was deeply wounding to Warnie.

And even as Minto dwindled into dementia in the last years of Minto's life this continued - until the situation became unbearable for Warnie and he lived on his House Boat as much as possible throughout the later years of World War II. When this escape became impossible, Warnie took refuge in binge drinking.

For the rest of his life sustained binges of helpless drunkenness would punctuate things, leading to hospital admissions and almost killing him on several occasions. And of course, once established, alcoholism often is impossible altogether to dislodge; and leads to lying both to oneself and to others.


So the main ill effect of Jack's servile penance to Mrs Moore was inflicted his beloved brother Warnie.

That Jack would serve Mrs Moore as a rigid, inflexible penance for their early illicit sexual relationship seems highly plausible; that it caused Warnie's late life binge-drinking alcoholism was tragic.

But - given a couple of plausible assumptions - it is not really a mystery.