Saturday 22 December 2012

Was Tolkien jealous of Charles Williams friendship with Lewis? Certainly NOT


It is an error, although very commonly repeated, that Tolkien was jealous of Williams' friendship with Lewis.


There is not a scrap of contemporary evidence to support the idea, indeed everything written during Williams' life supports the idea that Tolkien was very fond of Williams (and of his participation in the Inklings), and that this fondness extended until after Williams death with the preparation of Essays Presented to Charles Williams (in which On Fairy Stories first appeared).

I have argued elsewhere that Tolkien's Notion Club Papers, the attempted-novel of 1945-6 (after Williams death), was heavily influenced by Williams

Yet later on, from around 1960, there were several retrospective comments from Tolkien (e.g. in letters now published) about him not having much liked Williams, and that Williams was Lewis's friend.


The most plausible explanation for this sequence is that Tolkien read one or both of two books which contained biographical material on Williams and which were published at the end of the 1950s: Anne Ridler's Image of the City and other Essays (1958), or Alice Mary Hadfield's An Introduction to Charles Williams (1959) - both of which revealed aspects of Williams biography of which Tolkien had probably been unaware, and of which Tolkien strongly disapproved.

Thus, Tolkien retrospectively changed his opinion of Charles Williams, and 're-wrote' the history of their relationship in correspondence etc. published post-1960.


What aspects of Williams' life, revealed by Ridler and Hadfield, might have provoked this change?

A couple of candidates are

1. Williams involvement with occult magic societies (related to the Golden Dawn); and/ or

2. Tolkien may have picked-up on the hints about Williams' adulterous 'Platonic' or 'Tantric' philanderings with various young women.

For example, if Tolkien asked around William's close friends in Oxford, he may have heard about the Lois Lang-Sims episode (documented in Letters to Lalage) which actually happened in Oxford during the era of Inklings meetings - yet was surely concealed from Tolkien (and Lewis).


In sum, Tolkien was friendly with Williams for all of Williams life, and cherished his memory for more than a decade after Williams death; but Tolkien reacted to posthumous revelations concerning Williams biography (understandably - albeit somewhat dishonestly) by convincing himself that he had never much liked Williams, and suggesting that Williams had been forced into the Inklings by Lewis.


The retrospective comments on Williams make Tolkien sound as if he was jealous of Williams friendship with Lewis, and this has led to the myth of jealously being an early factor in the breakdown of Lewis and Tolkien's friendship.

But going from contemporary evidence written during William's life, Tolkien was exceptionally friendly with Williams - meeting him frequently in Inklings, regularly with Lewis on Monday mornings to read the emerging Lord of the Rings in draft, lending Williams the precious manuscript of Lord of the Rings, and sometimes going out for a drink with Williams - just the two of them.

And also there is abundant evidence that Tolkien remained great friends with Lewis until around the time that the Narnia books were written.


So, the evidence suggests that Tolkien was not jealous of Williams' friendship with Lewis, and Williams had nothing to do with the cooling of relationship between Tolkien and Lewis.

Friday 21 December 2012

New Peter Jackson Hobbit Movie review



Saturday 15 December 2012

Quality of prose - Lost Road better than early drafts of Lord of the Rings


Something which had escaped me before, but became clear on reading them on adjacent days: the prose of Tolkien's unfinished Lost Road (In Volume 5 of the History of Middle Earth) is far superior to the early drafts of Lord of the Rings (published in the Return of the Shadow volume 6 of HoME).

This is not a subtle matter either.

It emphasizes the point I made earlier. That the Lost Road (and its attempted revision in Notion Club Papers) was by far the most ambitious work Tolkien had attempted.

This was not only ambition but attainment - Tolkien must have been aware that it took him many years of work, and perhaps not until after the Notion Club Papers were abandoned in 1946, before he could be sure that the 'New Hobbit' had matched, and surpassed, what Tolkien had already achieved in his 1936 attempt at The Lost Road.


Excerpt from The Lost Road :

On the whole he had been luckier than his father; in most ways, but not in one. He had reached a history professorship fairly early; but he had lost his wife, as his father had done, and had been left with an only child, a boy, when he was only twenty-eight.

He was, perhaps, a pretty good professor, as they go. Only in a small southern university, of course, and he did not suppose he would get a move. But at any rate he wasn't tired of being one; and history, and even teaching it, still seemed interesting (and fairly important). He did his duty, at least, or he hoped so. The boundaries were a bit vague. For, of course, he had gone on with the other things, legends and languages-rather odd for a history professor. Still, there it was: he was fairly learned in such book-lore, though a lot of it was well outside the professional borders.


And the Dreams.

They came and went. But lately they had been getting more frequent, and more-absorbing. But still tantalizingly linguistic.

No tale, no remembered pictures; only the feeling that he had seen things and heard things that he wanted to see, very much, and would give much to see and hear again-and these fragments of words, sentences, verses. Eressëan as he called it as a boy-though he could not remember why he had felt so sure that that was the proper name-was getting pretty complete.

He had a lot of Beleriandic, too, and was beginning to understand it, and it's relation to Eressëan. And he had a lot of unclassifiable fragments, the meaning of which in many cases he did not know, through forgetting to jot it down while he knew it. And odd bits in recognizable languages.

Those might be explained away, of course. But anyway nothing could be done about them: not publication or anything of that sort. He had an odd feeling that they were not essential: only occasional lapses of forgetfulness which took a linguistic form owing to some peculiarity of his own mental make-up.


The real thing was the feeling the Dreams brought more and more insistently, and taking force from an alliance with the ordinary professional occupations of his mind.

Surveying the last thirty years, he felt he could say that his most permanent mood, though often overlaid or suppressed, had been since childhood the desire to go back. To walk in Time, perhaps, as men walk on long roads; or to survey it, as men may see the world from a mountain, or the earth as a living map beneath an airship.

But in any case to see with eyes and to hear with ears: to see the lie of old and even forgotten lands, to behold ancient men walking, and hear their languages as they spoke them, in the days before days, when tongues of forgotten lineage were heard in kingdoms long fallen by the shores of the Atlantic.


But nothing could be done about that desire, either.

He used to be able, long ago, to talk about it, a little and not too seriously, to his father. But for a long while he had had no one to talk to about that sort of thing. But now there was Audoin. He was growing up. He was sixteen...

Alboin had scattered tales and legends all down Audoin's childhood and boyhood, like one laying a trail, though he was not clear what trail or where it led.

Audoin was a voracious listener, as well (latterly) as a reader. Alboin was very tempted to share his own odd linguistic secrets with the boy. They could at least have some pleasant private fun. But he could sympathize with his own father now-there was a limit to time. Boys have a lot to do.


There came a night, and Alboin lay again in a room in a house by the sea: not the little house of his boyhood, but the same sea.

It was a calm night, and the water lay like a vast plain of chipped and polished flint, petrified under the cold light of the Moon. The path of moonlight lay from the shore to the edge of sight.

Sleep would not come to him, although he was eager for it. Not for rest-he was not tired; but because of last night's Dream. He hoped to complete a fragment that had come through vividly that morning. He had it in hand in a note-book by his bed-side; not that he was likely to forget it once it was written down...

I wish there was a 'Time-machine'," he said aloud. "But Time is not to be conquered by machines. And I should go back, not forward; and I think backwards would be more possible."

The clouds overcame the sky, and the wind rose and blew; and in his ears, as he fell asleep at last, there was a roaring in the leaves of many trees, and a roaring of long waves upon the shore. "The storm is coming upon Númenor!" he said, and passed out of the waking world.


Thursday 6 December 2012

What was Tolkien aiming at with The Lost Road? Clues from the protagonist's names


The standard 'explanation' which Tolkien gave (in later years) for beginning to write the abortive novel The Lost Road was a kind of prank whereby he and CS Lewis decided that they should write the kind of book that they both liked, concerned with space and time travel; and they tossed a coin to decide who would do which.

Lewis got Space leading to Out of the Silent Planet etc and Tolkien got Time but failed to deliver.

Reference to Letters 257 and 294 of  The Letters of JRR Tolkien 1981.


Well, this is some kind of explanation; but the most striking feature of The Lost Road is its ambition: it was conceived on an epic scale as by far the biggest and most complex single work Tolkien had ever attempted writing.

It is inconceivable that Tolkien would embark on such a lot of work just for a bet: clearly he had bigger fish to fry.

But what?


I think the clue is in the names of the protagonists:

 The thread was the occurrence time and again in human families... of a father and son called by names that could be interpreted as Bliss-friend and Elf-friend. 

These, no longer understood, are found in the end to refer to the Atlantid-Numenorean situation and mean 'one loyal to the Valar, content with the bliss and prosperity within the limits prescribed' and 'one loyal to friendship with the High Elves'. 

Letter 257. 


The meaning of these names demonstrate two of Tolkien's deepest and most recurrent themes: the necessity of living 'within the limits prescribed' by God, especially death; and the importance for human life to be ennobled by that which is represented in the nature of the High Elves - which is disinterested love of the world, understanding (pure 'science') for its own sake (not for power), and craft and creation.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

My Amazon reviw of Sauron Defeated - Volume 9 of The History of Middle Earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien


Sauron Defeated, edited by Christopher Tolkien 482 pages. Published 1992.


This book has three great strengths:

1. Two versions of the delightful Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings.

This was the original end of LotR, and remained so until an advanced stage in its production, and Tolkien seems always to have wished it had remained so - but he was persuaded to delete it by some of his friends.


2. The Notion Club Papers - an extremely important unfinished novel by JRR Tolkien in a 'modern' setting but with much reference to space and time travel. This was written in the middle of composing the Lord of the Rings, so has Tolkien at the height of his powers. Also, there are many coded clues to Tolkien's own deepest, and secret, beliefs.


3. Several alternative versions of the history of Numenor, with a lot of extra (and more vivid) detail than can be found in the LotR or Silmarillion.


Without exaggeration, and speaking as a long-term Tolkien fan, this is one of the most interesting books I have ever read.

Full stop.