Saturday, 13 April 2019

The name Lowden in the Notion Club Papers - a dissent from John Garth

John Garth has speculated that the name Lowden - of the character in the Notion Club Papers - was derived from a place name near Nottingham, England - as follows:

I happened to be showing [my mother] a map of the area just east of Nottingham. This is the location of the village of Gedling where Tolkien was staying when he wrote ‘The Voyage of √Čarendel the Evening Star’. Rather randomly, my mother read out the name of a neighbouring village, Lowdham. L-O-W-D-H-A-M: the distinctive spelling matches the character’s surname, though no one seems to have made the connection between the two until now. I’m told by Andrew H. Morton, author of the excellent focused study Tolkien’s Gedling 1914, that the village of Lowdham would have been a pleasant spot, just the right distance for a Sunday walk from Gedling. So Lowdham of the Notion Club not only speaks Tolkien’s memory of the 1914 √Čarendel discovery, but is named for the immediate area of the poem’s composition. It’s also worth noting that on the fake title page Tolkien drew for ‘The Notion Club Papers’ (Sauron Defeated 154), the date of publication is 2014. Surely here he was thinking consciously, as we are now, of the centenary of Middle-earth, and identifying its beginning as the poem he wrote on 24 September 1914. The light of √Čarendel shines throughout the external history of Middle-earth as surely as it shines through the internal history, going from the Two Trees all the way to Frodo’s star glass.

Since this speculation has been repeated elsewhere, I think it is worth recording my dissent from this derivation which I noted in the comments, but which did not elicit a response:

Against this is the fact that the *earliest* spelling was Loudham, with a ‘u’ – emphasizing the idea that he was ‘loud’ (like Dyson). You may be right but I had always (vaguely) assumed that re-spelling Loudham with with a ‘w’ was just adopted to make the name less crudely ‘Dickensian’ (i.e. the novelistic convention by which people’s names reflect their distinguishing characteristic).

My point is that the spelling Lowden came after the spelling Loudham (as mentioned by Christopher Tolkien in the Introduction, page 150) - so that it is the origin of Loudham that needs explaining, not Lowdham. And therefore that the place near Nottingham has nothing to do with the case.

On the other side - and supporting Garth's original argument, as a philologist, it is possible that Tolkien was going by the sound of names rather than by the spelling; and on that basis there is 'no difference' between Lowdham and Loudham.

However, I think it is unlikely and that Loudham was named as a joke on the (original) 'loudness' of voice and personality that was a defining characteristic of Hugo Dyson - the Inkling who Loudham was intended to reference, in the earliest drafts. But that as the Notion Club character developed and became deeper and more significant (and quite different from Dyson), the 'corniness' (or over-obviousness) of such a name became inappropriate, and was 'disguised' by respelling it.


Anonymous said...

Why not both? An interplay of 'loud' (and perhaps even 'ham' - did Dyson's manner sometimes include 'hamming it up'*?!), and the memorable location - which, as you suggest, eventually begat a softening of the 'Dickensian'.

David Llewellyn Dodds

*This sense of 'ham' apparently being a later 19th-c. Americanism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Perhaps. But knowing the Loudham spelling came first does make a difference - I would say. For example, if the spelling had Not been modified to Lowdham, the place name connection would probably not have been noticed.

Anonymous said...

Resort to the ominous Wikipedia now informs me that there "are an alabaster slab and a figure of a knight in armour, in the chancel of the church, inscribed to the memory of Sir John de Loudham" (1318) - that is, the 13th-c. Church of St. Mary in Lowdham, suggesting a (mediaeval) flexibility as to spelling, and an 'ou' spelling Tolkien could have seen on visiting the Church. So, the case seems still open...

David Llewellyn Dodds

P.S.: The Loudham spelling seems to turn up more often in names, in my Wikip search: Loudham Hall in Pettistree, Suffolk, Sir Thomas de Loudham in connection with the Ipswich Whitefriars and a Henry Loudham associated with the Ipswich Blackfriars, the Priory of Campsea Ashe (sometimes spelt Campsey Ash), Suffolk, belonging to a Loudham family after the Reformation, and John Loudham as MP for Northhampton in 1399...


Bruce Charlton said...

@David - I don't think it likely that Tolkien would have given Loudham a name that had hidden meaning to Tolkien. The character was a version of Dyson, who had a very different personality and range of interests from T.

And the name was given at the very initiation of the NCPs at a point when the story was apparently little more than an amusing squib to entertain the Inklings, and perhaps to provoke conversation. If there was a link to the place of Loudham, it would probably need to be related to Dyson (rather than Tolkien), or to something about the place (e.g. in relation to Dyson) that the other Inklings knew about.