Saturday 27 December 2014

Saturday 22 November 2014

From Eriol and AElfwine to Bilbo Baggins - framing Tolkien's Legendarium for the modern reader


Continuing from

In Tolkien's very earliest stories dating from 1917, now published as The Book of Lost Tales volumes one and two, framing device was a mariner called Eriol who found his way to Elfland, and heard the stories sung and recited in The Room of the Log Fire, in The Cottage of Lost Play.

This Eriol was therefore the link between the ancient legendary or mythic world - and the modern world; and over the next decades Eriol became variously re-named and transmuted through AElfwine in the early versions of The Silmarillion in the 1920s and 30s, through the Lost Road fragment of 1936 and the Arundel 'Arry' Lowtham character of the Notion Club Papers of 1945-6 - all of whom were mariners who reached Elfland (Tol Erresea) and brought the ancient legends back to Middle Earth (i.e. the British Isles).

But in the end, it was Bilbo Baggins who did this job - as described in the Prologue: concerning Hobbit to the The Lord of the Rings ^

So Eriol = Aelfwine = Arundel = Bilbo.

Cottage of Lost Play = Elrond's House in Rivendell

Room with the Log Fire = Hall of Fire


^By the end of the first century of the Fourth Age there were already to be found in the Shire several libraries that contained many historical books and records.

The largest of these collections were probably at Undertowers, at Great Smials, and at Brandy Hall.  This account of the end of the Third Age is drawn mainly from the Red Book of Westmarch.  That most important source for the history of the War of the Ring was so called because it was long preserved at Undertowers, the home of the Fairbairns, Wardens of the Westmarch.

It was in origin Bilbo's private diary, which he took with him to Rivendell.  Frodo brought it back to the Shire, together with many loose leaves of notes, and during S.R. 1420-1 he nearly filled its pages with his account of the War.  But annexed to it and preserved with it, probably in a single red case, were the three large volumes, bound in red leather, that Bilbo gave to him as a parting gift.  To these four volumes there was added in Westmarch a fifth containing commentaries, genealogies, and various other matter concerning the hobbit members of the Fellowship.

The original Red Book has not been preserved, but many copies were made, especially of the first volume, for the use of the descendants of the children of Master Samwise.  The most important copy, however, has a different history.  It was kept at Great Smials, but it was written in Gondor, probably at the request of the great-grandson of Peregrin, and completed in S.R. 1592 (F.A. 172).  Its southern scribe appended this note:  Findegil, King's Writer, finished this work in IV 172.  It is an exact copy in all details of the Thain's Book in Minas Tirith.  That book was a copy, made at the request of King Elessar, of the Red Book of the Periannath, and was brought to him by the Thain Peregrin when he retired to Gondor in IV 64.


Christopher Tolkien's reflections on The Silmarillion of 1977 in the Introduction to The Book of Lost Tales

Christopher Tolkien published The Silmarillion in 1977 as a single volume work; but just six years later he explicitly stated that he had made a mistake in the way that work was presented. is certainly debatable whether it was wise to publish in 1977 a version of the primary 'legendarium' standing on its own and claiming, as it were, to be self-explanatory. The published work has no 'framework', no suggestion of what it is and how (within the imagined world) it came to be. This I now think to have been an error. 

He says this in one of the most interesting and enlightening pieces of JRR Tolkien criticism and discussion I have encountered - the Introduction to the first volume of The Book of Lost Tales.


The acknowledged problem is that The Silmarillion of 1977 is presented as a free-standing, and supposedly self-explanatory volume; with no context or framing. The reader does not know how to read it; especially in relation to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

So, the reader jumps straight into an Old Testament-like account of how the world was made by the One Creator God and his many minor gods - yet there is no indication of who is telling us this - and how do they know about it? How is it that we hold in our hands a purportedly true account of the making of the world, and the first doings of elves and men within it?


What Christopher Tolkien reveals, which is amply confirmed throughout the multi-volume The History of Middle Earth, is that this question of the provenance of these ancient (feigned) histories had been a matter of deep and lasting concern to JRR Tolkien - he had never ceased to worry over it, but had not reached any clear conclusion - which was why Christopher Tolkien decided to just say nothing.

However, by 1983 Christopher had decided that this was an error, and that he should have framed The Silmarillion to indicate that the book had been written by Bilbo Baggins as one of his Translations from the Elvish during his residence at Rivendell, with presumably some indication of where Bilbo had obtained his information (eg. Elrond, the resident and visiting Noldorin High Elves from Valinor, and Aragorn) and how Bilbo's book had come down to us in modern times.

...apart from the evidence cited here, there is, so far as I know, no other statement on this matter anywhere in my father's writings; and (wrongly, as I think now) I was reluctant to step into the breach and make definite what I only surmised.

This provenance is sketched-out in the Prologue to the second Edition of The Lord of the Rings as having been a copy of The Red Book of Westmarch etc., made by a Gondorian scribe called Findegil in Fourth Age 172 - and this feigned MS has (somehow) come into the hands of JRR Tolkien (and then presumably his son Christopher) and used as the basis for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and - now - The Silmarillion of 1977.


So, the reader of The Silmarillion (1977) should read it as a modern editor's presentation of one of Bilbo Baggins's Translations from the Elvish - done in Rivendell and handed to Frodo Baggins for safe keeping just before he returned to the Shire after the destruction of the One Ring.

It should not be regarded as a 'God's eye view' of what happened; but as a summary and synthesis by one well-informed Hobbit; gathered from the partial and only-partially-reliable manuscript resources of Rivendell, supplemented by oral evidence - many, many years (sometimes many thousands of years) after the events described.


Tuesday 18 November 2014

If Charles Williams did preside at Inklings meetings - why might this fact have been unrecorded? The Tolkien Red Herring

I have argued that there are good grounds for believing that Charles Williams (rather than CS Lewis) assumed a dominant, 'presiding' role at Inklings meetings during the 1939-45 years he was in Oxford -

If I am correct about this, why would it not have been mentioned specifically such that the fact was not suspected?

The main evidence would have needed to come from CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Lewis does not say that Charles Williams 'took over' from him at Inklings meetings; however, Lewis was always keen to emphasize the convivial aspects of the Inklings and downplay the formal elements. And his almost unbounded admiration of and praise for Williams in letters after CW's death and the introduction to Essays Presented to Charles Williams certainly do not contradict the idea of CW presiding.


But JRR Tolkien said nothing of this kind - indeed, Tolkien threw a large Red Herring into Inklings studies which has confused most scholars since; when from the late 1950s or early 60s Tolkien began to 'rewrite' his own relationship with Charles Williams, and present a distorted history of his own relationship with Williams - downplaying his own friendship, claiming not to like William's work, claiming Williams was really just a favourite of CSL, and that this happened because Lewis was too impressionable.

Tolkien is, indeed, so negative about Williams that many Inklings scholars state that Tolkien was jealous of Williams having displaced himself as Lewis's best friend.


However, there is no trace of this in published contemporary evidence of letters, diaries etc, deriving from while Williams was still alive and in the period afterwards. This is unanimous that Tolkien and CW were good friends, and got on well together, there is no trace of 'jealousy' -

Above, I argue that Tolkien retrospectively changed his mind against Williams, after some of the revelations concerning Williams life which were published in the late 1950s (perhaps related to Williams's participation in ritual magic and/or his un-Christian relationships with young women) - but this was all more than a decade after Williams's death.


It also seems that Tolkien was strongly and decisively influenced by Williams's novel The Place of the Lion; but much of this clear influence is only evident in the unpublished novels The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers  -


Since Tolkien only became famous, and oft-interviewed, after he had turned-against Charles Williams, and after CS Lewis had died, the best potential source of information on the nature of Inklings meetings and their conduct was already distorted; the well was poisoned, in effect.

Of course this is a negative explanation for an absence of evidence - and is clearly not a decisive argument! Still, perhaps it helps explain why it seems possible that CW may have 'led' the Inklings meetings, despite there being no specific evidence to confirm this assertion.


Wednesday 5 November 2014

What was Lewis thinking when he wrote his 'puff' for Lord of the Rings; what were Unwin's thinking by printing it so prominently on the cover or book flap?


"If Ariosto rivalled it in invention (in fact he does not) he would still lack its heroic seriousness..."

Wait! What? Ariosto! Who he?

What microscopic proportion of the English speaking population have even heard of Ariosto, let alone read him, leave aside - having read him - regarding surpassing Ariosto's  imputed 'inventiveness' as a compelling recommendation for reading Tolkien?

Crazy stuff. Incompetent. Off-putting.

Luckily, not off-putting enough to torpedo the book.


Tuesday 4 November 2014

Tom Bombadil 'has no fear' - what is the significance?

In the Lord of the Rings chapter entitled 'In the House of Tom Bombadil'; in response to a question from Frodo concerning 'who is' Tom Bombadil, his wife Goldberry responds:

Tom Bombadil is the Master. No one has ever caught old Tom walking in the forest, wading in the water, leaping on the hill-tops under light and shadow. He has no fear. Tom Bombadil is master.

The stand-out significance of this is that Tom has no fear.

This is unusual, perhaps unique among the healthy and long-lived inhabitants of Middle Earth - even Gandalf, Saruman and Sauron experience fear; because to have no fear is usually a defect - unless there is indeed nothing to fear.

To be afraid is necessary, for almost every living thing, since it is fear which protects us from harm.


And this exactly seems to be the case with Tom: he rationally has no fear, because he has nothing to fear, because nothing can harm him - which means that Tom Bombadil cannot neither be hurt nor killed.

Tom is the Master, because he is invulnerable - he has never been 'caught'.


Why would he be invulnerable? Probably because he is a god of some kind. But the other gods we are told of are vulnerable, can be harmed, and experience fear.

Why would Tom in particular be impossible to harm?

Perhaps because he wants nothing, but is absolutely content with what he has, and what he has cannot (or at least will not) be taken from him...

Or if it may be taken from him at some point in the future (as seems all too likely, seems in fact to have happened - assuming Tom is not still to be found on Middle earth), then concern for that future loss casts no shadow over the present.


Tuesday 7 October 2014

Tolkien describes how his own best creative processes occurred in dreams (speaking via Michael Ramer of The Notion Club)


Excerpted from The Notion Club Papers pages 188-9 - part of the volume Sauron Defeated, edited by Christopher Tolkien, 1992. The speaker is Michael Ramer - who often apparently serves as Tolkien's 'mouthpiece' in this novel-fragment

...For a mind, rest is not oblivion, which is impossible for it. The nearest it can get to that is passivity: the mind can be very nearly passive, contemplating something worthy of it, or which seems worthy...

If it has by nature, or has acquired, some dominant interest - like history, or languages, or mathematics - it may at times work away at such things, while the old body is recuperating. It can then construct dreams, by no means always pictorial. It can plan and calculate.

My mind... makes up stories, composes verse, or designs pictures out of what it has got already, when for some reason it hasn't at the moment a thirst to acquire more.

I fancy that all waking art draws a good deal on this sort of activity.

[Note - other continuations of this passage in different drafts]:

A: I fancy that all waking art draws a good deal on this sort of activity - the best bits and passages, especially, those that seem to come suddenly when you're in the heat of making. They sometimes fit with an odd perfection; and sometimes, [although] good in themselves, they don't really fit.

B: I fancy that all waking art draws a good deal on this sort of activity. Those scenes that come up complete and fixed, that I spoke of before, for instance. I think that those really good passages that arise as it were, suddenly when you're abstracted, in the heat of making, are often long-prepared impromptus.

I believe that Tolkien was here describing how his 'best bits and passages' (whether of stories, verse or pictures) - which often occurred to him suddenly, seemingly unplanned and unprepared ('impromptu) and 'in the heat of making' - had actually already been constructed by the dreaming mind during sleep; which had been 'working away' at his dominant interests.

So the best bits and passages of Tolkien's works were (it seems) pre-prepared and ready for use ('complete and fixed'), and they would either fit directly into the larger work (with an 'odd perfection'); or else these units (despite being 'good in themselves') would need subsequently (and probably reluctantly) to be deleted from the larger work; because on consideration they didn't really fit.


Thursday 25 September 2014

Tolkien's five best anthology poems


Compiled from:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie


All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.


Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?

They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.

Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!


The world was young, the mountains green,
No stain yet on the Moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone,
When Durin woke and walked alone.
He named the nameless hills and dells;
He drank from yet untasted wells;
He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head.

The world was fair, the mountains tall,
In Elder Days before the fall
Of mighty kings in Nargothrond
And Gondolin, who now beyond
The Western Seas have passed away:
The world was fair in Durin's Day.

A king he was on carven throne
In many-pillared halls of stone
With golden roof and silver floor,
And runes of power upon the door.
The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shone for ever fair and bright.

There hammer on the anvil smote,
There chisel clove, and graver wrote;
There forged was blade, and bound was hilt;
The delver mined, the mason built.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
And metal wrought like fishes' mail,
Buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
And shining spears were laid in hoard.

Unwearied then were Durin's folk;
Beneath the mountains music woke:
The harpers harped, the minstrels sang,
And at the gates the trumpets rang.

The world is grey, the mountains old,
The forge's fire is ashen-cold;
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin's halls;
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dum.
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.


Monday 8 September 2014

What is the meaning (fanciful etymology) of Dolbear's name?

For the relationship between the fictional Dolbear and real life Inkling Havard, see:

I guess 'bear' means bear, because Dolbear is stereotypically bear like^ - while 'Dol' means pain, and is the medical 'unit' for pain - so maybe this is a pun on the fact that the real-life model for Dolbear - Havard - contributed an appendix to CS Lewis's book 'The Problem of Pain'.

This Dolbear may mean 'Pain (expert)-bear'.

^Tendency to fall asleep, gruffness, hairiness.

Note added 7 October 2015:

The above is probably wrong - the name Dolbear is apparently a version of one of Robert Havard's nicknames 'Dull Bear'  - which itself may have derived from or been linked with Dolbear and Goodall - the name of a chemist/ pharmacist in Oxford up to 1937

If Havard was called Dull Bear then this would also explain the many bear references in Dolbear's character in the Notion Club Papers.

This information comes from an interview with Robert Havard's son Mark (aka Colin)


Friday 5 September 2014

The Inklings and the Sexual Revolution: the Politics of the Inklings

The sexual revolution (or 'sexual liberation' - it is the same phenomenon) - which is the expansion of legitimate and approved sex outwith the context of (real) marriage - is probably the main socio-political 'litmus test' or 'hot button political issue' in the modern world.

When it comes to The Inklings, there is no doubt that the views of the core Inklings on this issue are against the sexual revolution. And this is true, whatever failures individual inklings may have exhibited in living-up-to this ideal.

Given this fact, and the central importance given in modern culture to 'which side' of the issue an individual occupies (to oppose the sexual revolution is a vilifying, sacking, fining and indeed imprisonable offence in many Western societies including the UK and USA) it is surprising that most of those who write about the Inklings are (to varying degrees) advocates of the sexual revolution.

Aside from the core Inklings of Tolkien, Williams, and the Lewis brothers; and other major figures such as Havard - there is some advocacy of the sexual revolution within the peripheral Inklings and their visitors. Even Charles Williams is a bit slippery on this issue - with his advocacy of something rather like the adulterous Platonic passion of Chivalric love.

Owen Barfield may be an example of advocating the sexual revolution - although I find it hard to know either way - in the sense that he had an extra-marital affair/s, and two simultaneous non-married sexual relationships that I know of) and did not seem to feel any particular objective problem about this. John Wain (a much more peripheral figure) was an open and active advocate of the sexual revolution; in public and in private.

But whatever may be said on this side; it is blazingly obvious that the core Inklings were and would be solidly against the sexual revolution as it has panned-out and continues in the West.

So, this is a neglected aspect of the Politics of the Inklings in modern scholarship. It appears mainly in the context of ridiculous accusations of 'misogyny' (based, presumably, on ignorance of the facts); or the misconception that there was something strange and distorted about the Inklings knowledge and experience of Women; or even the idea (going back to William Ready's wildly error-full book Understanding Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings) that there was some homosexual element to the Inklings (on the Freudian basis that zero evidence equals repression, hence constitutes conclusive proof).

Here, there is a difference according to the focus. The great bulk of high status Tolkien scholarship is secular - and indeed mostly Leftist (Shippey excepted) - although a Roman Catholic element is becoming more frequent). The sexual revolution element is either ignored, or else Tolkien is either argued or simply assumed to be wrong when it comes to matters pertaining to the sexual revolution (sometimes very aggressively so!). By contrast Lewis scholarship is and always has been rooted in Christian authors - and is written from a perspective in opposition to the sexual revolution. Charles Williams scholarship, on the other hand, while mostly 'religious' mostly nowadays comes from 'Liberal Christians' - i.e. those evasive, deluded or fake Christians who self-identify as Christian but embrace and advocate the sexual revolution in one or another form.

However, Lewis aside, Inklings scholars and critics fail to perceive that the central tendency of the Inklings is very strongly against the sexual revolution; and that this is intrinsic to what the Inklings were about - not something lightly to be ignored, attacked or deleted.

This is a no-brainer. To put it plainly; if you are pro-Inklings and yet you approve the sexual revolution; then you have either fundamentally misunderstood The Inklings, or else adhere to a distorted and dishonest account of what it was they were about - trimmed to fit your pre-existing prejudices and convictions.


Friday 29 August 2014

My recent Inklings pilgrimage

Beside the remnants of 'Tolkien's Tree' (Pinus nigra) in the Oxford Botanic Gardens.
(The gash in the stone wall to the right of my head and slightly up, was made by a large branch falling from this tree, unexpectedly - leading to the need to cut-down the tree for public safety reasons.)

On Addison's Walk, Magdalen College - where CS Lewis had the late night conversation on myth with Tolkien and Dyson which led to his conversion

Beside Charles Williams's grave - St Cross churchyard

Thursday 28 August 2014

What was the real, core, functional personnel of The Inklings during the Charles Williams years of 1939-45?


I am developing the thesis that Charles Williams was the dominant personality of The Inklings during the war years when he lived in Oxford,

Following on, I have tried to establish who the other regular members were during this period.


Surveying the available evidence summarized in Humphrey Carpenter's The Inklings, and Diana Pavlac Glyer's The Company They Keep and checking in Warnie Lewis's diaries, and various letters and biographies of CS Lewis - it is clear that for the period of 1939-45 there were only four regular Inklings:

1. CS Lewis

2. Warnie Lewis

3. JRR Tolkien

4. Charles Williams.

There were several other people who were 'visitors' during this time, or else very infrequent; others began the period but drifted away (e.g. Coghill) or moved away (e.g. Fox), or whose membership was delayed by war service (Havard), - but only these four were regular attenders throughout the whole six years.


So, the Inklings seems to break down into into at least three distinct periods:

1. The early phase, probably from the late 1920s to 1939 - when the Inklings were dominated by Tolkien and Lewis but had a fairly large group (about seven) of fairly regular attenders.

2. The Charles Williams Years - 1939-45 - when the regular group became small, and probably therefore more intense and focused in their proceedings than at any other time, (quite aside from the fact that any group containing CW could not help but be highly intense and focused on him!), and with concerns I have surmised here:

3. And the later years from Williams death in 1945 to about 1949, when Tolkien and Lewis again dominated, and the group recruited new members, and some members became more regular (eg Dyson moved to Oxford in 1945).

So again the average Inklings meetings became larger (about seven - this is also implied by Warnie's post-war diary comments about 'small' Inklings meetings when there were four present - as if the usual was more); until Tolkien withdrew and the evening meetings ceased - after which the group continued as its established convivial drinking club meeting, with a much larger and looser membership, on Tuesday lunchtimes at the 'Bird and Baby' pub then the Lamb and Flag.


Monday 25 August 2014

The nature of Charles Williams influence on The Inklings - the mythologizing of everyday life

Continuing from:

If we assume that Charles Williams did indeed lead, preside-over and dominate the Inklings meetings during the period 1939-45 while he resided in Oxford; then what was the nature of his influence?

I think it likely that Charles Williams did what he always did, in all situations and with all people - that is he mythologized everyday life.

CW took the people and purposes of life and revealed the underlying mythical patterns behind them - the spiritual and poetic reality behind superficially prosaic appearances.

He did this as the Oxford University Press in Amen House, London - where he gave the staff classical names (The Publisher became Caesar, for example). He wrote Masques which allegorized the matter of publishing, he addressed people by their mythical names, he re-explained what they did in terms of very elevated roles.

His novels were exactly about this.

Whereas Lewis and Tolkien were (pre-CW) mostly writing about a linear link-up between the realities of mythic History and prosaic modern life - Williams was all about (unnatural, unreal) modern life being invaded by the supernatural which is reality.

This, I presume, was Williams work, week upon week, in the meetings with the Inklings.

I am not aware of any direct evidence to support this idea of Williams influence on the Inklings - but indirect evidence is the two post-Williams novels That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis, and The Notion Club Papers by JRR Tolkien.

Friday 22 August 2014

Evidence that Charles Williams 'presided' at Inklings meetings 1939-45

Continuing from:

It is generally assumed that CS Lewis presided over Inklings meetings throughout the span of that group's existence - indeed Humphrey Carpenter's group biography of the Inklings argued that the group was nothing but a group of Lewis's friends. And the meetings were held in Lewis's rooms.

However, I believe a strong case can be made that for the period 1939-45 when Charles Williams was living in Oxford, and was the most regular attender at Inklings evenings (according to Warnie Lewis) - Lewis stepped back into the role of merely hosting the Inklings, and CW dominated and presided over the meetings.

When I talk about presiding, I am of course referring to an informal gathering - yet, in all regular groups of friends there is a dominant figure - one who is the main authority, final court of appeal, who controls the discourse. And I think this is the role that Williams took over from Jack Lewis.

1. The main reason to believe this is that Williams was a dominant man: someone who (in his own distinctive way) dominated every human situation in which he found himself - with the possible exception of formal meetings with the Publisher of Oxford University Press Sir Humphrey Milford. He reportedly evoked voluntary deference from such large and powerful characters as Jack Lewis, TS Eliot and WH Auden.

2. Williams was the oldest of the regular Inklings.

3. Williams was by far the most published Inkling - the senior author.

4. Williams was the best connected of the Inklings, had friends and colleagues among major and famous literary figures of the era.

5. Williams was a figure in London - in this sense a wordly man, compared with the 'ivory towered' dons.

6. Williams was, in effect, a professional theologian - whose books were read, pondered, discussed, by real theologians - he had for a while been invited to contribute essays, books, plays on theological matters.

7. Williams was a successful poet, regarded as one of the most important of that era. Tolkien and Lewis had both intended to be poets (first and foremost) in their early adulthood - neither had succeeded; but Williams had.

So, I think that there are many reasons to suppose that - even despite the lack of direct evidence of what actually happened in the group - it was Williams who probably presided-over and dominated the Inklings meetings, and in this sense 'led' the group; from moving to Oxford until his death.


Warnie Lewis on Charles Williams and the Inklings - implications for understanding the Inklings as based on and around Charles Williams

From Warren Hamilton Lewis's diary for Tuesday 15 May 1945 (In "Brothers and Friends", edited by CS Kilby and ML Mead, 1982):

At 12.50 this morning I had just stopped work... when the telephone rang, and a woman's voice asked if I would take a message for J [=Jack = CS Lewis] -

"Mr Charles Williams died in the Acland [hospital] this morning".

One often reads of people being 'stunned' by bad news, and reflects idly on the absurdity of the expression; but there is more than a little truth in it. I felt just as if I had slipped and come down on my head on the pavement...

I felt dazed and restless, and went out to get a drink: choosing unfortunately the King's Arms, where during the winter Charles and I more than once drank a pint after leaving Tollers [Tolkien] at the Mitre, with much glee at 'clearing ones throats of varnish with good honest beer', as Charles used to say.

There will be no more pints with Charles: no more 'Bird and Baby': the blackout has fallen, and the Inklings can never be the same again. 

I knew him better than any of the others, by virtue of his being the most constant attendant...

And so vanishes one of he best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet. May God receive him into His everlasting happiness. 



1. Despite that I don't think Charles Williams mentions Warnie Lewis in any of his writings; nor do his biographers mention Warnie - it is clear that they were good friends. (This also emphasizes that C.W's own recorded written accounts of himself and his own doings are extremely partial, hence biased.)

2. As of 1945, Warnie knew Williams better than the others - which means better than Tolkien, or Havard, or Barfield. His evaluation of Charles as "one of he best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet" should be given considerable weight, because Warnie was among the kindest and most empathic of men.

3. Warnie regarded Williams as absolutely central to The Inklings and indeed the most constant attender at the meetings (presumably aside from Jack and Warnie Lewis themselves). Therefore, an evaluation of whatever The Inklings was 'about' must be focused on what C.W brought to the group. 

My current feeling is that Charles Williams was both the trigger of The Inklings, and functioned in its heyday as as the senior figure and arbiter of the Inklings - when considered in its function as a serious intellectual group:

(Note: this present view of CW as leader supersedes my previous idea of Williams as a 'grey eminence' - or power behind the throne.)

This entails that it is NOT CS Lewis, nor JRR Tolkien, who was the primary person or spiritual leader among the Inklings - but instead Charles Williams.

There is very little direct evidence for this claim, but I hope to explore it in future postings.

Therefore, although they continued to meet for a few years after his death, once Williams was gone, so was the core reason for the Inklings Thursday evening meetings at Lewis's rooms - and the group dwindled to become essentially a convivial and casual gathering for drink and conversation at the Bird and Baby (Eagle and Child pub).

Continued at:

Thursday 21 August 2014

Was JRR Tolkien a lunatic?


Tolkien certainly seemed to think so!

...if the evidence of his fictional alter egos is anything to go by.

Or rather, Tolkien was humble enough to recognize that this was how he would appear to others.


And he defused the accusation by the pre-emptive strike of having some of the main characters with whom he identified described as one or another form of lunatic; but so-described by those whose opinions and world views were narrow, cynical, and often corrupt.


e.g. The autobiographically-hinting poem titled Looney (published in the Oxford Magazine in 1934; later re-named The Sea Bell, published in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and fictively nicknamed Frodo's Dreme).

Bilbo's nickname of 'Mad Baggins' (mentioned at the end of The Hobbit).

Frodo described as 'cracking' (and Bilbo as 'cracked') by Sandyman in Lord of the Rings.

Specifically, this lunatic, mad, cracked status was accorded to characters who exhibited a strong interest in (or claimed to have visited) visit elves or the land of faery. 


Tolkien - the 'most unfortunate' man (According to Warren Lewis, 1936)

Diaries of Warren H (Warnie) Lewis: 21 January 1936

News today that Tolkien, playing squash and stretching for a high ball, said sharply t his partner "Don't do that again: it hurts" - thinking that the partner had playfully kicked him in the leg. 

He was then taken off to a doctor and it was found that he had broken a ligament in his leg and will be in bed for the next ten weeks. 

J [standing for Jack - i.e. Warnie's brother, C.S. Lewis] went to see him after tea, but found Madame there, so could not have much conversation with him. 

Of all the men I have ever met, poor Tolkien is the most unfortunate.

From Brothers and Friends: The diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis. Edited by Clyde S Kilby and Majorie Lamp Mead. Harper and Row: San Fransico, 1982.



1. "broken a ligament in his leg" - this refers to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

2. "Madame" seems to refer to Tolkien's wife, Edith. Warnie makes several other references to Edith in his journals, and apparently regarded her negatively as someone who tried to keep Tolkien to herself and away from his friends and colleagues. I also get the impression, indirectly but strongly, that Warnie also regarded Edith as a demanding and 'neurotic' personality in her own right.For instance, on 24 March 1934, he juxtaposes a discussion of Mrs Moore with Edith in such a way as to imply a similarity of character; and Warnie certainly found Mrs Moore a very difficult person to live-with (even before her neurotic and demanding aspects were exacerbated by some kind of dementia).

Tolkien's squash partner has been identified:

McIntosh, Angus (1914–2005). Angus McIntosh read English at Oriel College, Oxford, taking first-class honours in 1934, and stayed on to earn his diploma in Comparative Philology at Merton in 1936. He became a friend of Tolkien, and together they played regular games of squash; one of these, at the end of January 1936, ended abruptly when Tolkien tore his Achilles Tendon. In later years, it is said, McIntosh sometimes claimed that he was entitled to a share of Tolkien’s royalties for The Hobbit andThe Lord of the Rings, given that his friend only began to write those works while laid up with his squash injury. This was surely tongue-in-check, though some have taken the story at face value: The Hobbit was substantially in existence already by 1936, while The Lord of the Ringswould not be conceived until late in 1937.
From 1936 to 1938, McIntosh was a Commonwealth Fellow at Harvard University, then took up a lectureship in English at University College Swansea. During the Second World War, he served in the Tank Corps but transferred to Intelligence and worked in cryptography at Bletchley Park. After briefly returning to Swansea, he became a Lecturer in English at Christ Church, Oxford (1946–47) and an Oxford University Lecturer in Medieval English (1946–48). He and Tolkien jointly conducted a seminar on Middle English during Hilary Term 1948. Later that year, McIntosh moved to Edinburgh University as the first Forbes Professor of English Language and General Linguistics. Later he became a principal founder of the Edinburgh schools of epistemics (informatics) and Scottish studies. He retired from his chair in 1979.
Among many works in which McIntosh was involved were the Linguistic Survey of Scotland, the Middle English Dialect Project, A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, the Scottish National Dictionary, the Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediæval English, and the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. He was also active with the Scottish Text Society and the Early English Text Society.
Tolkien and McIntosh continued to see each other from time to time, in Oxford and Edinburgh. In 1962, McIntosh contributed an essay, ‘The Textual Transmission of the Alliterative Morte Arthure’, to the festschrift*English and Medieval Studies Presented to J.R.R. Tolkien on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday.


Comment: Why does Warnie, a most sensitive and kind man, refer to Tolkien as 'most unfortunate'? From his other journal references, I think it refers partly to Tolkien's marriage and domestic situation - as understood and evaluated from Warnie's perspective (who loved nothing better than a life of calmness and quietness, preferably with his brother); and partly to Tolkien seeming to have have a lot of misfortunes and unpleasant duties in his life.


Tuesday 5 August 2014

Lord of the Rings - significance of the first and last words

Although JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (LotR) is classified as a fiction, it not meant to be read as such - and this is clear from its first and last words.


The first words - from the Prologue: Concerning Hobbits  - are:

This book is largely concerned with Hobbits, and from its pages a reader may discover much of their character and a little of their history.  Further information will also be found in the selection from the Red Book of Westmarch that has already been published, under the title of The Hobbit.  That story was derived from the earlier chapters of the Red Book, composed by Bilbo himself, the first Hobbit to become famous in the world at large, and called by him There and Back Again, since they told of his journey into the East and his return:  an adventure which later involved all the Hobbits in the great events of that Age that are here related. 


The last words, from Appendix F: The languages and peoples of the Third Age, are:

It must be observed, however, that when the Oldbucks (Zaragamba) changed their name to Brandybuck (Brandagamba), the first element meant 'borderland, and Marchbuck would have been nearer. Only a very bod hobbit would have ventured to call the Master of Buckland Braldagamba in his hearing.  


What are we to make of this?

1. LotR is principally about hobbits - hobbits begin it, and hobbits end it.

2. LotR is presented as a factual history - it opens with background information concerning the the textual origin of LotR. It closes with a description of the historical languages from which the Lord of the Rings has been translated. 

3. LotR is a profoundly philological work. 

The first paragraph is concerned with textual sources. The last paragraph is a philological joke -the previous paragraph explains that the translation of the word Brandywine in Brandywine River refers to an habitual hobbit jest that changed its original name of 'Branda-nin' meaning border water, to 'Bralda-him' meaning 'heady ale' - so that to call the Master of Buckland 'Braldagamba' would be to suggest that he was drunk. 


In sum, we may conclude from just its opening and closing paragraphs that The Lord of the Rings is a philologically-inspired feigned-history focused on hobbits - which is, of course is exactly what Tolkien said it was!


Wednesday 30 July 2014

No elves! - another reason why Tolkien did not like Narnia


There is not much doubt that for Tolkien the main element of faery was... fairies: that is to say, elves.

Lost Tales and Tolkien's early poetry was about the elves, the Silmarillion was from an elvish perspective, the Lord of the Rings was substantially about the end of the age of high elves - made especially clear in the Epilogue

And Tolkien's last work - Smith of Wootton Major - was also about elves.

But Narnia had no elves - and no real equivalent substitute for elves - therefore would have been regarded by Tolkien as missing-the-point - and, therefore, in a sense Narnia was not-really-faery at all.

No wonder Tolkien was so bitterly disappointed with Narnia! :


Note: I personally do like Narnia! But I agree with Tolkien in that it does not strike me as being an example of faery - it is a different kind of place. 

Friday 18 July 2014

Review of The Simarillion audiobook, read by Martin Shaw, 1998


The Silmarillion: Of Turin and Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin.
Audiobook (on cassette tape) 1998.
Comprising unabridged segments from the 1977 Simarillion edited by Christopher Tolkien assisted by Guy Gavriel Kay.
Read by Martin Shaw. (Approximately 3 hours in total).

Rating - Three stars from a possible five.


I regard these tapes with a rather mixed attitude, due to my reservations about the 1977 Silmarillion.

On the plus side, Martin Shaw reads very well - with a powerful focus and a convincing pronunciation of the Elven language parts. Certainly, I found it much easier and more enjoyable to hear The Silmarillion read aloud, than I do to read it myself (which I almost never do).

In this sense, this audiobook serves a very valuable purpose.


But it does nothing to dispel my reservations about The Silmarillion - indeed it has extended and amplified them!

I now feel that there are profoundly alien elements in The Silmarillion, which are carried over from Tolkien's earliest days as an immature writer, when his work was of the natyire of pastiche: I am thinking particularly of the tales relating to 'the children of Hurin' and especially Turin.

I have previously written that I believe Christipher Tolkein made a serious error in leaving-out from teh conclusion of the 1977 Silmarillion the prophecy of Mandos of the return and final defeat of Morgoth, and especially concerning Turin's role at the end of time - thereby eliminating ultimate hope from the Silmarillion:


I reinforce this criticism, and would add that it is alien and almost monstrous to create a book which is about the utter destruction of hope: this is profoundly un-Tolkienian (if we assume that Tolkein true and deepest nature is seen in Lord of the Rings and the other mature stories such as Leaf by Niggle and Smith of Wootton Major).

It feels to me that the Tale of Turin - and the surrounding Children of Hurin material - is alien to the work of Tolkein - and was probably been passively and inappropriately carried over from the Finnish Kalavela 'rewrite' era of Tolkien's youth - and being retained in the Legendarium for sentimental rather than artistic or moral reasons.

The basic set-up of this story is totally at odds both with Christianity and with the way that Middle Earth functions as a whole; because the misfortunes are described as inescapably fated, and driven by Morgoth's specific malice towards Hurin.

This set-up has many, many problems!

1. It is not clear why Morgoth should have such a specific malice against Hurin and his family - when there were so many others Morgoth would plausibly have been equally or more likely to focus his hatred upon.

2. Morgoth (a picture of Satan) should not be able to affect the fundamentals of human fate by his malice; because Morgoth was almost nothing but malice - and if this malice is allowed to affect fate, then it makes resistance to him unnatural and futile; and makes Morgoth more powerful than Eru and the Valar.

3. Hurin, Turin and the rest should not be helpless against Morgoth's malice - when it is absolutely vital - in terms of the metaphysics of Arda - that they remain free to choose, to choose Good, and to escape Morgoth's will. But in this part of the Simarillion, fate is seen as evil, inescapable; and the humans like helpless puppets writhing and squirming against the strings which inexorably control them.

But this is monstrous - indeed blasphemous! - from the moral world which Tolkien created in Lord of the Rings; and indeed in many other parts of the Silmarillion.


So, whatever its virtues as a free-standing story, isolated from the Legendarium - the story of Hurin's children, and especially of Turin Turambar - are completely wrong from the perspective of Tolkien's mature works - and should not be included with them; and especially, should not be integrated with them!


Wednesday 2 July 2014

The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy - thirteen years on...


Thirteen years ago I went to the cinema to watch the first Peter Jackson movie of The Lord of the Rings, and within four minutes from the title I was absolutely convinced that this was going to be a great experience of my life:

My enjoyment was helped by the fact that back in 2001 I had not read LotR for quite a large gap of years. I had dipped into it frequently, but I had not read it all nor sequentially. Therefore I was not much aware of the many detailed changes and omissions made by the Fellowship of the Ring movie.

Anyway, I enjoyed it as much as any movie I have ever seen. And when I saw the DVD extended version, I liked it even more.

The Two Towers was considerably worse as a movie - badly edited, with a ridiculous 'Aragorn is dead... NOT' addition, and a real mess being made of the Ents - which somewhat overcast the perfection of Gollum.

The Return of the King marked a return to the very high level of the first movie, with perhaps the best moments of the whole series in the charge of Rohan across the Pelennor Fields and Eowyn's slaying of the Nazgul and his steed - and (strangely, perhaps) the lighting of the beacons of Gondor.


Thirteen years on, I am unfortunately more aware of the bad aspects of the treatment, script, directing and acting - yet I still rate LotR as one of the very greatest of all movies.

Why? Two major reasons: the mise-en-scene and the music.

1. The mise-en-scene includes the design - by illustrator Alan Lee (mostly) and all the other aspects of the visuals, as chosen and implemented  by Peter Jackson.

This was quite simply a revelation to me. For example, in the above opening sequence, I had never been able to form in my mind a picture of Sauron, or a picture of the battle of the Last Alliance in Mordor, or what Hobbiton actually looked like.

Suddenly, there it all was! Just as I would have wished to imagine it, but had failed.

2. The musical score, by Howard Shore, is by far the best music ever written for any movie (except, of course, I haven't seen every movie - or anything like!). It is not just an enhancement of emotions, and extremely beautiful and thrilling qua music; but - especially at the very end - pretty much carries the main narrative in all its turns and closures, in a manner that can only be compared with Wagner.


Aside from this, the script, the direction and the acting are good enough on the whole not to spoil the visuals and music - and often enough better than that; with many delightful touches from Gollum, Sam, Merry and Pippin, Gandalf, Denethor, Wormtongue, Eowyn...

But on repeated viewing the faults do rather stand out; and it was extremely dismaying to see them repeated and so much amplified in the Hobbit movie (I could only stomach part one) - where they they were no longer able to be sufficiently compensated by visuals and music.

Still and all - I continue to cherish the Jackson Lord of the Rings movies for what they did so well - for their revelations that filled in where my imagination failed - and for their overall truth to the story and message of the Book.


Friday 6 June 2014

Tolkien and Lewis - Juvenile nonsense for immature escapists? Or serious literature for desperate situations?


From Windows to eternity by Jenny Roberts (1999)

[Scene - Moscow, USSR, 1984. On a covert and illegal mission to deliver Bibles to persecuted Orthodox and Baptist Christians.]

Only the day before, another Russian Orthodox believer, an art historian who had been put into a psychiatric hospital when at the age of sixteen, he professed faith in Christ, had summed up his country by an apt comparison.

"Tell us about the Soviet Union" I had asked this man.

"This is the land of Mordor". Then he added, with a smile into his greying beard, "You are hobbits!"

He was, of course, referring to Tolkien's epic novel The Lord of the Rings... People we visited loved this novel; they typed it out in its entirety and passed it to one another.

They loved C.S Lewis too, his Narnia stories, and it seemed to me that I had stumbled into a land which, like Narnia, lay under an evil spell, where, memorably, 'it was always winter and never Christmas'. 


Sunday 1 June 2014

Review of JRR Tolkien - Beowulf: a translation and commentary


Beowulf: a translation and commentary; together with Sellic Spell. By JRR Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien. HarperCollinsPublishers: London, 2014. pp xiv, 425


For reasons which others may be unlikely to share, for me for this was the most enjoyable posthumously published work of JRR Tolkien for the past decade.

This is because I was reading the book from my love of Tolkien and my fascination with his mind - and from this perspective it was a revelation.

I should be quite candid and admit that the poem Beowulf does nothing-much for me - I find it pretty uninteresting and difficult to plough-through. I dutifully ploughed-through Tolkien's translation of the poem, except for the bits when my concentration wandered and I was taking nothing in; and it seems much better than the other translations of Beowulf I have tried to read - but still, I didn't really enjoy it. Nor did I really understand what was going on - I could not really follow the poem.

There is also a Tolkien composed fairy tale called Sellic Spell (tale of wonder), which is an idea of one of the 'sources' for Beowulf - and a rhyming poem. These were fine, and I am glad to have read them; but did not make much of an impact on me. 


However - it was when I broke off reading the translation and turned to Tolkien's commentary that my enjoyment became spontaneous, and dutifulness turned to sheer fascination.

These notes to Beowulf show, in detail, by multiple worked examples, and as if 'live' and in-action, Tolkien actually at work as a philologist; without compromise and on his subject of subjects - operating from his deepest and most spontaneous motivations. This was what he did, this was his meat and drink.

I knew about Tolkien as a philologist, from reading the superb work of Tom Shippey - but this was the first time when I had a sufficiently large and concentrated dose of Tolkien on the job to perceive for myself, at first hand, what Tolkien was up-to - and how his style of philology (now extinct) operated.


Tolkien's style of philology combined several activities now separated into specialisms. Some of it was editorial and paleographic - a matter of trying to read a damaged and corrupted manuscript when some words were were lost, others wholly or partially illegible; and where the whole was distorted by later copyists errors (and where the copyist only partially understood what he was copying).

On top of all this, the sheer paucity of Anglo Saxon writing which existed and survived, means that pretty much every word of every manuscript, plus those from related manuscripts and cultures (eg Icelandic) must be brought to bear. So, in one very obvious sense, Tolkien's style of philology is extremely detailed and an extremely close reading.


But in another sense, this activity is extraordinarily wide-ranging, inclusive and creative. These old style philologists worked like artists - no, they worked as artists because they knew that they could only do their job via a profound understanding of, sympathy with, the language and culture of those societies from whom the manuscripts originated.

Tolkien's philology was therefore rooted in his deep and spontaneous love of these 'Dark Age' cultures - Anglo Saxon England and the 'Germanic' - Gothic and Scandinavian - roots and branches leading to it, from it, and sideways in cousinly relation. Tolkien himself could only explain this love in terms of heredity from his mother's side of the family, in the West Midlands of England.

So, the whole scholarship as depicted in the Beowulf commentary is driven by an intense and personal concern with Anglo Saxon society - Tolkien finds himself with only fragments to work with, but relies upon this extraordinarily detailed and empathic scholarship to fill the gaps and draw-out the meanings.


This explains why I cannot really respond to Beowulf itself, but respond so strongly to Tolkien's commentary - because the commentary reveals that the poem is almost incomprehensible to the modern mind; and incomprehensible in multiple ways, from my ineradicable confusion over all the people whose names begin with H, the detailed genealogy, and feuding based on transgressions which seem trivial; and indeed the actual nature of Anglo Saxon and related societies - their concerns and interests, their morality, their motivations... all are alien in the extreme. The rhetorical conventions (such as kennings, and extreme understatement) are also traps for the inexpert.

Also, much of the poem (and much that is important to its effect) is in the form of references to other works well known at the time but now either the province of experts, informed guesswork - or just lost and utterly obscure.

The modern reader can only really misunderstand and mis-appreciate Beowulf. Even the idiosyncratic charms of stressed alliterative verse would not have been apparent to its audience, because for them that was the only kind of English verse that had existed for many centuries (the traditional of alliterative verse existed in England for much longer than has, yet, the current tradition of rhymed and/or iambic (blank) verse.


So for those fascinated by Tolkien the artist, the commentary is sheer delight. It also (and perhaps most importantly) contains some passages of writing in Tolkien's best and most profound style - where his deepest personal concerns come very close to the surface (from pp 349-50):

But the special situation of the English - a people amid the ruins, cut off from their old lands, the lands of the heroes of their ancient songs, and gradually as their knowledge grew feeling themselves to be in the Dark Ages after the departure of the glory of Rome - gave special poignancy to this feeling, and special pictorial vividness to it. 

Both of the passages from Beowulf... are filled with the vision of deserted and ruined halls... "he sees... the hall of feasting, the resting places swept by the wind robbed of laughter - the riders sleep, mighty men gone down into the dark..."

Nobody would have better understood or been better able to play Hrothgar's part than [King] Alfred - who won his mother's praise for... the lays of his northern heroic fathers - and yet felt himself almost alone in the Dark Age, attempting to save from the wreck of time some sparks surviving from the Golden Age, from Rome and the mighty Caseras and builders of that fallen world.


Finally, I must express gratitude (the word seems too feeble), yet again, to Christopher Tolkien for his indefatigable work on the books by his father which continue to emerge despite that CRT is now 89. Christopher is the perfect companion and guide to the works of JRRT; and I get great pleasure from reading his words and comments and interpretations; and from the shape he has given the many,  many posthumous volumes he has by now brought to our eager attention.

Furthermore, the love of his father which is expressed by Christopher's editorial activity and by his profound sympathy with his father's world, is a beautiful and inspiring thing.

May God bless him.


Note added to explain my non-responsiveness to Beowulf qua poetry:

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Why modern man is like the orcs


Continuing from an argument presented in:

It seems that it is not a case of orcs being inevitably damned - qua orc (they are not born-into a state of damnation - that could never happen in a world created by a good God); but a matter of orcs never, as a matter of fact, repenting their sins.

It is as if their nature and training and circumstances combine such that orcs will never admit to themselves (or to God) that they have erred or sinned; they are never humble; they are motivated (and controlled) by negative emotions such as pride, hatred, greed, idleness, fear...

Such people exist. But with people we can never be 100 percent sure (as we are with orcs) that one of them, one day, may not take what seems the very simple step of fully acknowledging their own defects.

But the difference between orc-like people and actual orcs is 'merely' a matter of hostorical probabilities - the likelihood of repentance being, say 0.1% for the most evil man, and zero percent for an orc.

In practice there are plenty of people who could repent, but don't - don't get anywhere near repenting no matter what happens to them. They always blame others for everything; always see themselves as the victim.

Orcs are simply these people taken to the limit.

How does this happen? Because first Morgoth, then Sauron, create societies of inverted virtue; where evil is the good, ugliness is a positive, lies are approved, virtue is punished - and orcs are brought-up in such a depraved society so they know nothing else.

In other words, pretty much the same as modern Men under political correctness, or Communism - except these are not (yet) so overwhelmingly, monolithically inverted as the societies of Morgoth or Sauron.

So what would happen if an orc was born and raised among good men, elves or hobbits? I predict he would be like a bad man, elf or hobbit - that is to say he would (due to his inbred, ruined nature) be as bad as a bad man, elf or hobbit - but not necessarily any worse.

Would he be capable of repentance? Maybe - in fact yes! At least as capable as a bad man, elf or hobbit. Which is to say: very unlikely, but not impossible.


Sunday 27 April 2014

Why is the Lord of the Rings so good at nourishing the spiritual flame?


While it is possible to interpret the Lord of the Rings as containing many Christian, and specifically Roman Catholic, symbols and references - this is not obvious, and indeed any reference to the regular, daily partaking of Mass (which was the focus of RC spirituality in Tolkien's day) in the life of Middle Earth is completely absent.

Likewise, Middle Earth has many resemblances to the pre-Christian pagan world - except that there is no paganism at all! - indeed, no church or formal religion of any kind.

And in this respect, Tolkien's world is completely 'unrealistic' - at least in terms of all known earthly and human societies (which have always been very religious; at least, until the past few decades when the Mass Media has taken-over).


And yet, the Lord of the Rings is a spiritually awakening, nourishing and sustaining book - a strongly spiritual work - at least, for those of certain aesthetic tastes and a certain cast of mind - as I can attest from decades of personal experience; and as I can perceive from the speech and writing of many others.

How is it that an apparently non-religious work seems to be able to maintain a spiritual perspective in people, despite its almost complete lack of religion?


I think the answer is metaphysical - in other words, it is related to the basic set-up of imagined reality which structures the story and the ancillary material.

When people say that Middle Earth seems real - realer, in a sense, than this earth - this is what they probably mean.

It is not convincing characters, nor detailed landscapes and maps, nor the specifics of languages and history that sets Tolkien's mythic world apart from any other I have encountered; it is a step back from all that: the sense that everything fits together in a deep and coherent fashion.


And I mean everything fits together - from the individual pieces of dialogue and the micro-decisions of characters right up to the sweep of the War of the Ring and behind it the History which led to that war.

I do not mean that this was fitt-ed together - explicitly or deliberately by the author - but that it sprang from a comprehensive 'metaphysical' imagination concerning the whole nature of reality in Middle Earth.

So all the details - small and large - grew from and within that metaphysical imagination.


So we may read Lord of the Rings, at least to some extent, from a God's eye view - giving a comprehensive and detailed vision of what happens and why in a convincingly simulated world - therefore we understand the essential nature of Middle Earth (its meaning, purpose and relationships) in way we cannot understand for this earth we live in.

But the fact that it was written by a Man, and the preconditions of human creativity, means that there is a necessary - although very general; non-religious, non-denominational - spiritual relationship between Tolkien's imagining and reality.

Therefore, it is possible (for those who most strongly respond to it) for Lord of the Rings to work at a very deep, subliminal level for Christians and pagans and atheists alike (and, presumably, other religions too).


What effect this spirituality has is another matter: clearly this kind of deep but generic spirituality lacks the power, specificity and strength that a religion may have for a devout and active adherent.

But, on the other hand, it seems that many denominations and religions lack, or are deficient in, exactly the kind of spiritual depth and overview which Lord of the Rings supplies.

And such people may (often without realizing that this is what they are doing) compensate for this religious deficiency - at least to some extent - by a complementary and imaginative identification with Middle Earth.


Wednesday 16 April 2014

Review of 1968 BBC documentary 'Tolkien in Oxford'



Duration 26 minutes

In a nutshell, this is a treasurable 15 minute documentary consisting of interviews-with and comments-from Tolkien - all indispensable; plus some very fine readings from Lord of the Rings by the actor Joss Ackland (who has also acted CS Lewis in the original Shadowlands, and performed The Screwtape Letters on Audiobook)...

BUT this wonderful 15 minutes is bracketted and interspersed by about ten-minutes-worth of some of the most embarrassing interviews I have ever seen, made-up of material from (presumably) Oxford university students - in addition being interrupted, and generally spoiled, by ineptly pretentious and profoundly disrespectful technical and editorial gimmickry.

So - you have to watch this documentary; but it will make you cringe, and cringe, and cringe again.


Friday 4 April 2014

The strange opening scene of The Lord of the Rings


I have read The Lord of the Rings many times over many years; but it has only recently struck me that the book begins strangely - in the sense that I had, in a way, completely forgotten what is the opening scene; or, at least, my memory had placed this scene somewhat later.

The opening scene is a conversation among peripheral-character hobbits at the Ivy Bush inn, presided over by Sam's father - The Gaffer Gamgee; and whose only significant other character is the nasty miller Sandyman.


It is interesting and peculiar that Tolkien chose to open his epic romance with such a scene. The Hobbit has nothing similar, since we have seen Bilbo talking with dwarves, elves, men and a wizard - but the book lacked hobbit to hobbit interactions.

So one purpose served by this scene is to give the Hobbit fans a better idea of the characteristics of hobbits - which was indeed the primary intention of LotR.


What are these characteristics of hobbits?

Well, they seem - at this point - to be exactly like the kind of rural folk of the south of England that lived around me as a child, and not-at-all idealized: the Ivy Bush conversation has just that tone of spiteful gossip, ameliorated by a loyalty which is primarily to family, then to village, then region, then to the race of hobbits - and which stops at that point.

This is the typical 'peasant' insularity and almost delight in suspiciousness - a determination to be 'down-to-earth' shrewd, nobody's fool...


So there is a suspicion of the Hobbiton Hobbits towards the strange Bucklanders 'a queer breed, seemingly'; but mitigated by local-familial connections 'After all his father was a Baggins.'' And towards non-Hobbits who Sandyman regards as 'outlandish folk' - such as dwarves and 'that old wandering conjourer, Gandalf'.

And a suspicion of anything 'above' the mundane and everyday concerns of 'Cabbages and Potatoes' - and the Gaffer pours scorn on Sam's interest in 'stories of the old days', 'Elves and Dragons' and even worries that Bilbo has taught him to reading and write - 'I hope that no harm will come of it'.


Tolkien's enjoyment in writing this scene is palpable, and the language is beautifully judged to communicate a great deal on many levels. But what a strange way to begin the book!

On the face of it, and I am sure in practice, it is very off-putting to open proceedings in such an apparently leisurely fashion (in retrospect we can perceive that there is no padding, everything is there for a reason - but that is not how it looks at first reading); with a bunch of genuinely-ignorant yokels gossipping at the local tavern.

There is some important plot and character exposition, but in an almost perversely-unsophisticated way - because it comes via narrowly parochial rustic speech and concerns of the protagonists.

In practice, the scene probably serves as a filter, to draw-in 'people who like this sort of thing' and discourage those who don't; and also it demonstrates that The Shire is no idyll; but on the contrary, aside from the diminutive stature of its occupants, almost indistinguishable from the English countryside of a century ago.


Saturday 29 March 2014

My attempt at a group portrait of the Inklings


A few months ago, I asked why there was no group portrait of the Inklings - and hoped that somebody would soon have a try at one

Still not response - so today I sat down and had a try myself.

Unfortunately I cannot draw - nonetheless here it is:

The First Ever Group Portrait of the Inklings:

For Heaven's sake - it shouldn't be difficult to do better than that!

So please, someone, do it!


Note: What I was attempting is Tolkien vigorously making a point to Jack who is rather smugly avuncular; Warnie looking at his brother with deep affection, 'Humphrey' Havard  apparently dozing (like his alter ego Dolbear in the Notion Club Papers) - and Charles Williams looking partly louche - partly saintly (eyes directed Heavenward).


Sunday 23 March 2014

Is it immature to regard Tolkien as a great writer?


Do I still think, as I did then, that Tolkien was the greatest writer in the world? 

In the strict sense, no. 

You can think that at thirteen. If you still think it at fifty-three, something has gone wrong with your life

Terry Pratchett, writing in Meditations on Middle Earth edited by Karen Haber, 2003. I have added the emphasis.


This is an important challenge to Tolkien's stature as a writer and as a thinker - it is, indeed, the crux of the wide divergence of opinion regarding the evaluation of Tolkien.

On the one hand, is a strong taste and preference for Tolkien fine and dandy for teenagers, but a sign of immaturity in an adult - as Pratchett argues from his own experience?

Or, as I would argue, is the opposite the case - that Tolkien is fundamentally a mature taste; and it is Pratchett whose evaluation is adolescent?


I should immediately at this point correct any impression that I dislike Pratchett's work; on the contrary I regard Terry Pratchett as my favourite fiction writer alive in Britain today. I think he is blimmin' marvellous. Which is why he is worth debating.


What lies behind this is a traditionalist - and religious - perspective; in confrontation with a progressive - and atheist - perspective: Tolkien is himself, and speaks on behalf of, the traditionalist Christian; Pratchett is himself, and speaks on behalf of, the modern, secular, Leftist and indeed politically correct perspective of modernity.

To the traditionalist, progressivism is immaturity - it is a refusal to grow-up (what I have 'famously' termed psychological neoteny); while to a progressive, traditionalism is a refusal to grow up - it is a 'clinging' to childhood certainties and structures.


So what we have here is a very profound distinction between two utterly different philosophies of life. And it comes through in multiple ways.

Pratchett is topical and satiric, Tolkien is timeless and humorous; Pratchett is cynical, Tolkien is pessimistic; Pratchett's best work has a female-centred perspective, Tolkien's is a Patriarchal world: Pratchett's world is full of antiheroes, there are none in Tolkien; in Pratchett's world the highest values are kindness, the relief of suffering and tolerance - and cowardly selfish people are regarded with affection, in Tolkien's world the highest values are love and courage; for Pratchett equality and counter-cultural rebelliousness are positive values, while in Tolkien deference to hierarchy and obedience are positive... and so on.

These are two utterly different world views - and it is natural that from TP's perspective Tolkien is out of date, and indeed has an immoral basis which can only be acceptable when firmly placed in an ironic frame - or else is regarded indulgently as a teenage phase or craze or fad - which sensible people grow-out-of.


In my opinion Pratchett's work is very uneven in quality - and sometimes very shallow; but it is interesting that the best characters in Pratchett, and the most moving situations and incidents, are very traditional: Granny Weatherwax is hardly a progressive, Tiffany Aching is a great traditionalist, and Vimes's primary quality is decency - a very old-fashioned virtue.

So Pratchett, unavoidably - in pursuit of depth and truth - must include traditionalism and an implicit real-religiousness - inside his essentially modern, progressive, satirical, cynical, atheistic and politically correct framework.

There it is somewhat ironic, distant, against-the-grain and deniable - but it is what gives the best of Pratchett's work the warmth and heart which makes it so worthwhile.


Nowadays, Terry Pratchett is best known outside his fiction for two 'causes':

1. Militant atheism - as a prominent member of the Humanist Association.

2. Proselytizing advocacy of euthanasia - specifically, the view that people should be humanely murdered when their lives have reached a certain threshold of suffering, or lack of dignity, or when they do not experience enough pleasure or satisfaction.

So, from TP's current perspective, this is what mature adults believe and how mature adults behave - thus naturally Tolkien is necessarily immature


Pratchett is, indeed, an absolutely mainstream, counter-cultural, rebellious 'radical' - in that he has accepted a knighthood from the monarch (SIR Terry Pratchett), and supports medical research charities (for dementia) and is a major contributor to a trendy animal charity (Orangutans) and all the rest of it - all very highly socially acceptable stuff.

By contrast, it would be, in the UK, a disciplinary/ sacking/ imprisonable/ hate crime offence to read-out certain passages from Tolkien's letters to certain people in certain situations. After all, Tolkien was a traditionalist Roman Catholic - and it is utterly beyond the pale for anyone to articulate, never mind to advocate, Christian views in the public arena in Britain today.


So we have the usual modern situation that the supposed radical is feted and fashionable; while the views of a reactionary and conservative have become so truly counter-cultural as to be dangerous - requiring coordinated suppression from the state; and a taste for literature rooted in the values and perspectives of centuries is regarded as immature.

To label Tolkien as an immature taste is not just a slander, but also a hinted threat - the threat that if you have not grown out of Tolkien, if you have not stopped taking him seriously, before you reach adulthood; then you are either a bit of a joke, or else potentially in trouble - and if ridicule is not enough to make you abandon your loyalty, then other and even nastier methods can and maybe will be deployed...  


Friday 7 March 2014

Seven books about Tolkien I do NOT recommend


Looking through my bookshelves I have, over the years, bought several books about Tolkien which I consider to be a waste of money and the time spent reading them.

In order to save others (or, at least, those 'others' who share my tastes and preferences) from the same mistakes, I list here my NOT recommendations:

1. Tolkien: a biography by Michael White - NOT

2. Defending Middle Earth: Tolkien, myth and modernity by Patrick Curry - NOT

3. A look behind the Lord of the Rings by Lin Carter - NOT

4. There and back again in the footsteps of JRR Tolkien by Mathew Lyons - NOT

5. Tolkien and the Critics edited by ND Isaacs and RA Zimbardo - NOT

6. A Tolkien Compass edited by Jared Lobdell - NOT

7. Understanding Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings by William Ready - NOT (except that this one is so bad that it is almost enjoyable).


Friday 7 February 2014

Who are the Children of Ilúvatar?


The usual answer is Elves and Men.

But the correct answer is Elves, Men, Angels (Maia) and the Valar including even Melkor/ Morgoth and Manwe.

These are all the same species or kind, evidenced by the fact that they all look pretty much the same - varying mainly by size - and can interbreed. 


So the Maia are known to be lesser than the Ainur, but of the same kind - and the Maia Melian married and had a child with the Elf Thingol; their half-Maia half-Elven child Luthien had a fertile marriage with Beren; and there were Elf Human marriages between their descendants including Idril and Tuor, and Arwen and Aragorn. 

Furthermore, there was at least one probable recorded marriage of a Silvan Elf and a Prince of Dol Amroth. 

So clearly Men and Elves and Maia were of the same kind, and Maia are Valar - so all of these are, it seems, Children of Iluvitar. 


Only the primary creator God (the One, Illuvatar, Eru) is set apart as a being of different kind, and outside of the world...

But wait! If we go back to the Lost Tales to try and recover Tolkien's original conception and image of the nature of Illuvatar; in The Music of the Ainur (the Ainur being the senior Valar) we find:

"Behold, Illuvatar dwelt alone. Before all things he sang into being the Ainur first, and greatest is their power and glory of all his creatures within the world and without. Thereafter he fashioned them dwellings in the void, and dwelt among them, teaching them all manner of things, and the greatest of these was music."

And dwelt among them! 


So, by joining and building these speculative inferences; it seems to be implied, or perhaps simply assumed, that The One, Illuvatar/ Eru is also man-like - God with body, parts and passions!

So, the Father of the Children of Illuvatar is of the same kind as His Children.


Of these various beings, it seems that only Men are 'mortal', in the sense that at death their spirits leave the world of the 'dwellings' that were fashioned in the void for Valar and Elves; thus Men are only visitors to these dwellings in the void. 

After death, it seems, Men's spirits leave these dwellings in the void and go to where Illuvatar also dwells; and this can be seen as a higher destiny for Men.

Men are the same kind as Illuvatar the creator and Father, and share his dwelling after death; and the Children of Illuvatar (Valar, Elves and Men) are a chain of familiarly-related beings, a 'Heavenly' Father with sons and daughters... 


The saddest thing about all this is that the family seems to be sundered - with Elves and Valar remaining in the world while Men and Illuvatar will gather outwith that world.  

So, the greatest hope of universal salvation is for a New World, an Arda Remade, where all the Children of Illuvatar can come to dwell again together - as indeed was prophesied, or hoped-for, by Finrod: