Monday 24 April 2023

Could Tolkien’s orcs be incarnated demonic spirits? An invited guest post by commenter WW

What follows is a guest post by commenter WW which I invited him to contribute on the basis of several very interesting comments on this theme:


Could Tolkien’s orcs be incarnated demonic spirits? It was hard for Tolkien to describe the history and nature of orcs to his own satisfaction; and the problem has continued among his commentators. I will suggest that orcs were constructed from material bodies made to house Melkor/ Morgoth’s demon followers in a form that could procreate on Middle Earth. Sauron, as the heir of Morgoth, was later able to accelerate, expand, and modify orc proliferation and this may be the reason he was referred to as the Necromancer. 


It is my belief that although consigned to existing as spirits today, there was a time that demons existed as mortal beings on this earth - a large number of them in the form of what we would call “orcs” (but never Men). In addition, I also believe that there are demon beings that were incarnated in some form prior to the creation of this earth, and therefore subsequent to their own re-incarnation here.

Orc actually means “demon” in old English, and so language, as something Tolkien used as the foundation for his stories, might give us the first clue, or at least a sense of ‘permission’, that exploring this line of thinking between demons and orcs might not be completely without merit.

To understand the basis for this belief, I would first reference Mormon theology and creation myth. In writings known to Mormons as “The Pearl of Great Price”, Abraham is shown a vision of the state of affairs leading up to the creation of this earth. In that vision, he sees two groups of beings: Souls and spirits. The souls I take as being those with bodies (this being consistent with the definition of a soul in other parts of Mormon teachings). Regarding the spirits, I am unsure as to whether they may have had bodies prior to when Abraham sees them. As such, I wouldn’t be able to say at this time whether they had always been spirits, or at some point also had bodies and through events and circumstance found themselves without them. Regardless, it seems at the time of the creation of the earth they were spirits.

Among the embodied souls were those named “Noble and Great Ones” (which Abraham was told he had been a part of) who were tasked by God to be 'rulers' for the spirits and, as I take it, learn from and work with God to bring about the salvation of those spirits. Part of that commission was in the creation of this world for those spirits to inhabit. How that played out, I think, is very similar to what Tolkien wrote of in the Ainulindale, and in my own thinking I use his terms - Valar, Maia, and even the Eldar/Elves, etc. - to describe the different groups of the embodied individuals who assisted with that creation. I will note, but won’t expand here in the discussion of demons and orcs, that among the Valar were the lead Powers known as the Aratar, or “Noble / Exalted Ones”, which correlate to Joseph Smith’s Noble and Great Ones just mentioned, and which Abraham was a part of (although obviously known by a different name).

Unlike these Great Ones and other bodied individuals, the spirits, however, would not have directly participated in this creation. They would ultimately incarnate here as Men, and their non-participation in the creation of this earth may be one reason why Elves and other beings noted that they seemed strangers to it.

The rebellion of Melkor and his demonic spirit followers

Just as in both the Ainulindale and in Mormon teachings, Satan-Melkor rebelled and sowed discord prior to and during earth’s creation, launching a ‘war’ or conflict in Heaven, and ultimately drawing away a significant number of beings to his cause. These followers of Satan-Melkor would have consisted of both other embodied souls as well as spirits. In the case of previously embodied ‘demons’, Balrogs would be an example, as would other power-seeking Maia like Sauron.

As for the spirits who followed Satan-Melkor, these would have become demons also and it is these, specifically, that I believe were incarnated as orcs once Melkor found a way to make this possible.

It is important to note here that what a being became leading up to this point was a result of their choices. God did not make good and evil beings (or any beings at all), but rather through their own choices and agency, already-existing beings became or revealed themselves as good or evil actors. In other words, demons, at least at first, actively made choices that turned them into such. I say at first, because in the making of their choices, they also turned themselves into slaves-servants of Satan-Melkor, and thus were left with very little choice at all in the end but to remain in that state, with no hope for repentance – at least in this story. There may be other stories and some other creation for them, but not here.

It is because of this lack of choice and state of slavery they found themselves in, that I believe once Satan-Melkor chose to incarnate and become part of this creation, the Demons would have no choice but to also follow their master and aid him. When he called, they had to come, even if they would have wished not to incarnate on this earth at all. It was not their choice to make.

The bodies of orcs

Drawing again on Mormon theology, it would appear that the bodies that housed Elves and Men were originally created with 'enmity' or protection that prevented evil spirits from being born into them. As in, only the Children of God (Men and Elves) could be born into the bodies that had been created for them.

Thus, Melkor could not simply take these bodies as they were and put his own followers into them. If one of his objectives was to bring his servants into this earth with him (and I believe it was), he would need to find another means to do so. Having no original creative power himself, he would need to rely on his ability to take already-existing creation and twist/ mar it into something fit for his purpose.

As Tolkien relates, Melkor imprisoned and tortured Elves and Men from the very beginning, and although not known exactly how or ever consistently resolved by either in-story characters or out-of-story guesses or communications by the author and others (to my knowledge, at least), it seems clear that these actions in some way resulted in the orc.

One line of thinking has been that these orcs were literally the identities or spirits of Elves and Men twisted to Melkor’s service through this torture and entrapment. My own view, and one of the main assumptions underpinning this post, is otherwise.

Rather, this twisting actually involved Melkor taking these bodies created for Jesus-Eru’s children, and finding a way around the ‘enmity’ or original protection designed into them. Thus, perverting God’s initial creation to be suitable to house his demon slaves.

To say more clearly, he would have used the bodies of Elves and Men he captured to conduct experiments on how to get around the protection, using his ability to twist and corrupt matter and creation to his purposes, which was to have bodies/ vessels for his slaves to use in joining him in this creation.

He could not, however, design the bodies to have the same fair form as Elves and Men. The changes required would have had to be too radical to preserve that. Rather, these orc-bodies would have had to be marred and twisted to such a degree as to be differentiate significantly from the original creation, not ever to be confused with it. Where the bodies for Eru’s children were for joy and happiness, even though marred and fallen to some extent, the orc-bodies seemed miserable, meant for pain, fear, and hate.

How Melkor was able to accomplish this great perversion and thus house his demon followers would not be known today, for good reason. Through the first three ages of the world, it seems that once ‘created’, orcs were able to procreate just as Men and Elves did and thus provide a natural means for demons to incarnate on earth. Sauron and even Saruman were able to accelerate, expand, and modify Orc proliferation to their own ends even after Melkor was banished, probably relying on some knowledge of his dark arts to accomplish this, with added experiments of their own, perhaps.

Specifically, Sauron’s involvement in these dark arts may be why he was referred to as the Necromancer in the Hobbit and LOTR. Following the War of Wrath, it seems the orcs were largely eliminated, or went underground/ into hiding. The reemergence of Sauron seems to have been strongly correlated with the reemergence and building of the Orc hordes, perhaps due to his direct involvement and carrying over the practices learned from his former master.

As a quick tangent, and not to overly complicate things, Sauron’s necromancy also may have involved rehousing the spirits of evil Men into various physical forms and bodies. These would not have been orcs, however, or really demons, but rather Men who chose evil and became Sauron’s servants. The King’s Men of Numenor, becoming the Black Numenoreans, would be included. Perhaps the Mouth of Sauron was just such a being, an evil man housed unnaturally and given long life as a result in Sauron’s service.

In any case, in the years following the 3rd age and the War of the Ring, the orcs were made extinct. With no orcs left to create other orcs, and with Melkor, Sauron, and Saruman all gone, there was no knowledge left, apparently, on how to start again and create bodies to re-house their spirits. This is why we would not expect to see demons in bodily form today, but only experience them through spirit-mind afflictions.

Since they were not born as Men, and have no path of being so, these once-embodied demons have no hope of a resurrection, since that is the path that Jesus-Eru set.

Implications of orcs being demons

One test or approach Bruce suggested to assess the possibility of whether demons were once orcs was to compare the morality and behavior of orcs (from what we can read) with that of demons. It is a good suggestion. My sense in doing so, is that we should expect to find some inconsistencies, however – perhaps significant ones – along with some consistencies.

An explanation for why might lie in assessing our own behavior and situation as mortals on earth.

It is likely (in my opinion) there is a 'core' to ourselves - our own being and personality - that persists through time and various transformations but may be altered (sometimes significantly) depending on the bodies we take up and circumstances we come into. Therefore, demon/ orc behavior and morality may have also altered with them taking on bodies, and so one wouldn't expect that their behavior to be perfectly consistent between their spirit and embodied states.

In other words, we, as fallen Men, might in many ways be unrecognizable to our former (and future) selves were we to see ourselves in those states, and so the demons who became orcs might have been altered similarly during their mortal experience, particularly with being subject to pain and all other things a body brings. As noted earlier, theirs does not seem to be a particularly happy experience, obviously, perhaps both due to the nature of their spirits but also the nature of the cruel bodies that were made for them to take on.

In further assessing and (in my case) dismissing whether orcs were actually just as Men and Elves, but corrupted, there are some hints within the text of the LOTR itself. As one example, there is an interesting dialogue between Treebeard, Merry, and Pippen, that may shed some light, or at least give us a window into Treebeard’s understanding of the origin of orcs.

In the dialogue, Treebeard suggests that orcs are counterfeits of elves, created by the Enemy, just as Trolls were counterfeits of Ents. But in saying this, Treebeard states that Trolls were never Ents, don't possess their same strength, etc., and so one might infer that elves are referred to in that same sense. A cruel mockery of God's initial creation, but not actually the beings of Elves turned into orcs, which wouldn't be referred to as merely a counterfeit, but rather as the real thing corrupted.

Additionally, one would need to ask that if the orcs did procreate as Men and Elves, and were also comprised of a spirit with a body, then what spirits are they? I can't imagine that Eru would have allowed any of his children or the spirits aligned with good to be forced into those bodies. They would have had to come from somewhere else, and existing hordes of demon-spirits/ Melkor slaves may be the best solution as to what, then, would be expected to be housed in these bodies. Meaning, Melkor, and later Sauron and Saruman, would have had to draw from an already existing pool of evil spirit-slaves (made slaves due to their choices before this creation, as mentioned before) to support their orc armies.

Lastly, and not happily, I suggest that while the orcs are relegated to spirit-only forms now, there may, in fact, still be embodied demons here on (or within) earth, and so we aren’t left with a completely house-less demon horde to deal with. In saying this, I do not think it would be many – perhaps only a couple/ few. These beings would be known as Balrogs, I suppose, and would have been driven to or found hiding in the deep places of the earth, similar to the Balrog that the Fellowship encountered in Moria. I have no other insight into this than my own experience and intuition, and so this is probably the most speculative notion (of an extremely speculative train of thought!).

I view the current orc-demon-horde as largely mindless servants of evil. With Melkor and Sauron gone, however, they may still operate under the direction of these embodied evil beings in hiding, and thus what we see on display in our own world is the influence of these Balrogs – who are very aware and cunning - spreading through their demon-spirits hordes and into the minds of Men. Concentrations of demonic influence in our current world might actually serve as clues as to where these Balrogs are located physically and/ or the topics, concerns, and strategies on which they are largely focused (and which may and probably do differ between, and sometimes conflict with, other Balrogs / Demon leaders).

There are happier topics to think on, obviously. And I guess in some ways one really only wants to take this so far as to understand the nature of the evil one is up against, and no further if not absolutely necessary. That is the approach I have tried to follow. So, while I definitely would hope for clarification, correction, or confirmation on much that I have written and guessed at here, I would hope it continues to be in the context of a much larger and better story about the Good forces and powers at work, and our ultimate redemption.


Note from author WW

In another post, Bruce explored the nature of demons and posed some thoughts suggesting that they may never been incarnated. This post picks up and explores an alternative view, and represents a collection and expansion of some thoughts in the comments section of that post, that there may be reason to believe that demons (at least many of them) actually have been incarnated at one time on this earth.

In exploring this possibility, I have drawn on the stories and mythologies of Tolkien’s Legendarium and Joseph Smith’s Mormonism, for lack of better descriptors. There may be other ways to understand these things, but these are languages and stories that I am most familiar with and so that is what I have used.

This is also a part an ongoing work of imagination at this point for me, but imagination meant to help me understand reality. As such, I am not arguing that what I write here is necessarily true, but it does reflect my current understanding of how things may be. I am also not arguing that Tolkien or Joseph Smith intended these interpretations, or even considered them, in their writings. So please take this post in that spirit, and I would expect there to by a wide range of opinions on this matter, as nothing I find is definitive, and my train of thought is speculative. My own views and guesses continue to evolve, and some of what is written here will most likely be wrong. But, there is potentially enough right to not throw it out completely.

I also have not really been focusing on orcs or demons in my own thinking up to this point (for good reason), so much of what I try to summarize here is based on or gleaned from efforts focused on other, more ‘positive’ topics. This is another reason that some details about orcs here may not be completely right or some of my assumptions and conclusions thought through as well as they ought to have been.

Saturday 22 April 2023

Review of Inkling, Historian, Brother: A life of Warren Hamilton Lewis, by Don W King, 2022

Don W King. Inkling, historian, brother: a life of Warren Hamilton Lewis. Kent State University Press: Ohio, USA, 2022. pp 300. 

I am delighted to read a biography of CS Lewis's beloved brother 'Warnie'; coming fifty years after his death; long after I had resigned myself to being permanently starved of detailed information on this most warmly genial participant in the Inklings club. 

I have read and re-read the published 1982 selection from Warnie's superb journal Brothers and Friends, until my copy fell to pieces and I had to buy another. What appealed was the eye for detail rooted in a gift for getting the maximum of enjoyment and appreciation from the small things in life; coupled with a natural gift for supple and memorable prose (of a completely different flavour than his brother's). 

But the fact that Brothers and Friends never went into a second edition suggested to me that there was little interest in Warnie among the reading public. Nonetheless; I read everything I could find about him, and even contributed a tiny publication to the literature; but I was curious for more. 

I was not disappointed by Don W King's book; and devoured it over just a couple of days. It fills in all of the 'gaps' of things that I most wanted to know. 

I was especially interested by the details of Warnie's military service in the regular army, throughout and after World War I. 

I would, however, dissent from King's evaluation of Warnie's 18 year army career as successful. I am struck by the fact that he retired with the rank of Captain - having not been promoted the next step to Major throughout his last 15 years of service (as would have been expected, I believe). 

From Warnie's attitudes - expressed throughout the journal and letters quoted in this biography and elsewhere - I would infer that he performed his military administrative roles adequately, but no more - because he aimed for no more than that. From quite early on, he was essentially treating the army as a job; so he was aiming at the easiest possible lifestyle within the externally-imposed constraints, and culminating in an early retirement at age thirty-seven (i.e. as soon as an adequate pension had accumulated).

It was not until after he was recalled from the officers reserve in 1939 at the start of WWII that Warnie was given the 'acting', then honorary, rank of Major by which he is known among Inklings scholars; a title which he used thenceforth in civilian life. 

(The convention in Britain was that retired officers should only use their rank as a civilian title, for ranks of Major or higher - i.e. not for Lieutenant or Captain.)    

Another aspect of Warnie's life which is well described here, is his inland sailing in the narrow boat Bosphorus. This turned out to be a more important activity than I had realized - with Warnie spending anything from a quarter to a third of the year afloat in the middle 1930s. 

These experiences also led to his first writing for publication, with several extended essays on aspects of buying and maintaining such vessels, and navigating inland waterways. From the excerpts and summaries provided by Dr King; these were very well written and full of interest - despite the extreme level of detail (eg accounting and diaries) which he incorporated. 

Again, it was Warnie's spontaneous personal enjoyment of these 'small things' which was communicated to the reader. 

I also enjoyed some further information on the January walking tours that Warnie took with Jack in the same era - between retirement from the army and the outbreak of war in 1939. These are among the best passages in the selection in Brothers and Friends, and more information in summary (but not Warnie's prose!) can be found in Joel Heck's CS Lewis chronology

I personally would have appreciated even more detail and even more quotation from these walk diaries; especially considering that they were regarded by Warnie himself as among the high points of his life. 

Short of paying a personal visit to the archives in Wheaton College, Illinois (which I doubt will happen) I don't suppose I will ever see all the material on this matter. But perhaps I can hope for a more generous selection from the diaries to be published somewhere, at some point. 

A further excellent aspect of this biography is the detail concerning Warnie's history books about 17th century France - especially in the reign of Louise XIV. I don't take any pleasure in this era and place, but I have read the first of these volumes, and found it very well done - elegant and memorable. 

It was good to know of the other volumes in this series; and of how well the books (especially the early ones) were received by historians and newspaper critics alike. It is a fine achievement - especially considering that Warnie had no university training, and did not become an historian until his late middle age. 

In evaluating Warnie as a man; I believe that King has done a good job. Warnie's great character flaw was his alcoholism - he was of an archetypical Irish type of an intermittent but very extreme binger; periods of moderation or teetotalism, punctuated by drinking constantly and in large amounts for several days until he required hospital admission. 

Alcohol also brought-out and amplified the worst aspects of his character; avoidance of unpleasant duties, self-indulgence, and snobbery. These traits were not apparent when he was relatively or absolutely sober; most of the time completely submerged by his personal considerateness and 'good manners' that were so personally attentive and kindly as to be outstanding, even remarkable.

Warnie seems to have been sad, even a depressive, throughout life - and although he had a few good friends, it was his brother Jack that formed the focus of his love. Dr King describes this as 'dependence' - perhaps because it was a source of pain as well as joy; but I find this to be unpleasantly reductionist: great love does induce 'dependence' - but it is the love that is primary.

This leads on to a consideration of the faults and limitations of this book; because it is, throughout, prone to 'explain' Warnie's (and Jack's) characteristics in 'Freudian' terms. In other words, to explain personality in terms of childhood experiences (rather than, for instance, in terms of heredity); and to use concepts such a 'repression'. 

For instance, Warnie's apparent - relative to Jack - lack of extreme and lifelong distress over the death of his mother when he was thirteen, is regarded as repression; and posited as a cause of later attitudes. Such unfounded speculations are so common among biographers, that they obscure the fact there is essentially zero positive evidence (and considerable counter-evidence) that there is any such thing as 'repression'.    

Dr King does not seem to reach a clearly stated conclusion about the vexed question of the personality of Mrs Moore - and whether Warnie's negative descriptions and dislike of her are warranted or unreasonable. However, King does explore the issue very thoroughly; and he provides all the material necessary for a satisfactory understanding - especially in light of some recent revelations that 'solve' this longstanding 'mystery'.

My take is as follows: Living with Mrs Moore was - overall - fine for several years; but, due to senility,  she progressively deteriorated first in personality, then in cognition, until it became a continual and worsening torment - both for Warnie and Jack too.  

But this situation was exacerbated by the fact that Jack absolutely refused to acknowledge, or even discuss, the matter with Warnie; but instead behaved towards Mrs Moore with an absolute obedience showing neither debate nor dissent at her increasingly unreasonable behavior and demands. 

Warnie was left to deal with this situation in complete solitude and without support; and found the whole thing incomprehensible, and deeply hurtful; but he never knew the reason for it. And this was probably a major life stress that contributed substantially towards the worsening alcoholism of Warnie's later years

We now know that Jack had originally had a sexual relationship with Mrs Moore, but this had ceased when he became a Christian; after which Jack felt he had wronged her (i.e. wronged her by the earlier sexual relationship, especially since she was still legally married to Mr Moore), and (in summary) Jack determined to do a penance of looking after her in every way (without complaint) until she died. 

This Jack told to Owen Barfield, who told Walter Hooper - who only revealed it in 2009 - and it became public only after Hooper's death. But, importantly, Jack never shared with Warnie the history of his relationship with Mrs Moore, or the nature of his vow to look after her

I do not know why Jack decided to keep these facts from Warnie (I see no sign in any of Jack's writings), but I have little doubt that the lack of this information harmed Warnie in ways that I think Jack never realized. Jack seems not to have realized how badly the situation in The Kilns affected Warnie; or that it might have been ameliorated had the brothers been able to discuss things.  


To conclude; Don W King's biography is a boon to fans of Warnie, and a book for which I am very grateful. 

Its main 'fault' is that it is not twice as long - so as to include even more of Warnie's own words. 

But perhaps Dr King will at some point be encouraged to extend his publishing endeavors on behalf of CS Lewis's 'older, but less famous, brother'? 

Implications of the truth that Aslan is Not a Tame Lion

I was always struck by CS Lewis's hardline attitude to happiness or self-gratification in relation to Christianity - the way he emphasized the problem of mixing-up the 'therapeutic' aspect of belief with the business of what is actually true. 

In the Screwtape Letters and Great Divorce (as well as his more abstractly theological works) Lewis negatively depicted people who fluently excused whatever they wanted to do - what they currently enjoyed doing, or what made them feel better - by making arguments that linked these to Christianity. 

In the Narnia chronicles; this was encapsulated in the phrase stating that Aslan (i.e. Jesus) is Not a Tame Lion. That is to say; Christianity cannot be comfortably domesticated and stay Christian. 

Certainly it is a real problem; but - especially in The Last Battle - Lewis also depicted the opposite problem, which happens when the cruelty and destructiveness of the evil demon Tash is explained as being the actions of Aslan; or later, the oxymoronic false-invention Tashlan, syncretized from both good and evil deities. 

These actual evils - in reality motivated by greed, selfishness and sadism - were effectively propagandized as consistent with the fact that Aslan is Not a Tame Lion 

And therefore the fact that God is not aiming at our immediate self-gratification is twisted into a mask for 'the devil'. 

In other words; on the one hand it is true that, at a superficial level of here-and-now, the goodness of God may be experienced as harsh life-lessons that are, nonetheless, necessary for our ultimate and eternal benefit. 

Yet, on the other hand, to know when this is actually the case, and when evil outcomes are instead a product of evil intent; requires honest discernment as to the motivations. 

So, the experienced and observed miseries and sufferings of this world are not evidence in either direction - they might be necessary and temporary means to a good end; or they might be the end in itself: cruelty, destruction, misery, suffering might be the actual purpose of evil beings. 

The correct answer must come from discernment, and the discernment - while taking-account-of-evidence, cannot derive-from evidence. 

As always, we are driven down to an acknowledgment that all knowledge depends on intuition; an individual act of an individual being. 

And, further, that Christian discernment entails acknowledgement that there is a side of Good (i.e. God) and a side of evil (i.e. the demons). We first need to know this in order to choose one or the other side; and only by choosing a side can be - even in principle - make a discernment as to whether a particular event was motivated by good or evil intent.

For a Christian; to deny that good and evil are separate and opposite sides, amounts to the false-deity of Tashlan - in other words, to base discernment on an assumption of unity, oneness, 'non-dualism' is itself (merely) a type of evil. 

From this analysis we can see that Christianity is related to self-gratification (i.e. the pleasurable, comfortable, desirable) in that God wants us to be deeply and eternally happy; but such a goal entails that we must sometimes be temporarily and superficially miserable. 

To know what is going-on in the here and now we need to depend on divine guidance - which (because God is The Creator, is Good, and is our loving parent/s) we have all been equipped-with. 

We all have potentially available both direct access (i.e. in our stream of thinking) to true inner guidance (because we have within-us something of the divine, being children of God)...

And this inner guidance also enables us to have access indirectly to external guidance - both directly from the Holy Ghost, and indirectly from all other sources of information such as legitimate and wise authority (e.g. of Men and books), true-tradition, and any other cultural product. 

In sum; deep self-gratification is a sure guide to the operations of God and His agents; while superficial self-gratification may be a consequence of the manipulations - or sadism - of evil Men and/or the beings of supernatural evil.


Wednesday 5 April 2023

Correcting CS Lewis's definition of Joy

From Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis, 1955. 

Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing....  

With that plunge back into my own past there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country... the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together into a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss, which suddenly became one with the loss of the whole experience, which, as I now stared round that dusty schoolroom like a man recovering from unconsciousness, had already vanished, had eluded me at the very moment when I could first say It is. 

And at once I knew (with fatal knowledge) that to "have it again" was the supreme and only important object of desire...

The imaginative longing for Joy, or rather the longing which was Joy

Yesterday on a train to the Northumberland town of Hexham, a clear and sunny day, travelling with my son, and for more than half-an-hour; I was filled with that 'romantic' feeling (which seems so much more than just a feeling) which CS Lewis called Joy, and which Novalis first described as Sehnsucht - specifically a 'longing' for the enchanted Blue Flower.   

Everything I saw, and the conversation, was layered with meanings. I felt that I was in exactly the right place for... For what was needed at that exact time. Gratitude was probably the main emotion.  

I know this feeling well, and am familiar too with the 'longing' aspect of it; yet I have never been contented by Lewis's (or Novalis's) definition of this feeling in terms of the attribute of longing. That seems superficial, and also incidental. 

The core of the experience of Joy is, surely?, in terms of its intended function; I seek an explanation of why this feeling may happen, and what it is implicitly pointing-at (which is not, I feel sure) merely 'more of the same', more than merely the feeling's own perpetuation. 

In brief; I have always felt that the reason for each instance of Joy was that I was supposed to learn something; but what I actually learned, or was supposed to learn, was something I found it impossible to be sure about. 

The content of the experience seemed to matter more than the feeling; yet it was not just the content that led to the feeling - it was not not just my perceptions, nor other stimuli... 

And that 'longing' was actually more like the awareness that - even while I was experiencing Joy - I simultaneously knew that these feelings would end, and that everything I saw - every circumstance that 'led-to' the feeling - would change. 

Hence (as always) the here-and-now Joy was permeated with simultaneous nostalgia - I yearned, as-if I had already lost it. I yearned for what I actually was now-experiencing... 

What is fundamentally happening in such moments is, I think, that we are bumping-against the evanescence of this mortal life and earth - we are up-against the fundamental nature of this life as intrinsically mortal; a life of entropic decay, inevitably terminated by death. 

This life is unrepeatable, and everything will be lost; including our capacity to have such experiences, our memories of such moments. 

It is exactly at such moments when the content - or more exactly the 'framework' - of Joy becomes crucial; at such moments we need to know what this life is for - given that it is always dissolving-away-from-us. 

Such moments are when we are brought to confront our fundamental convictions regarding the nature of reality. And what happens then, depends upon those fundamental convictions.  

If our conviction is that this mortal life is all-that-there-is; then Joy is utterly tragic. 

But if our conviction is that this mortal life is a prelude to a further and eternal life that takes-up and builds from exactly these moments - then Joy is the greatest of possible boons: a literal foretaste of Heaven. 

Saturday 1 April 2023

What more can we do with The Inklings (and Notion Club Papers)? Scholarship, Criticism, Philosophy, Fanfiction?

There is always, eventually, a finite amount given us of what we most like and find most important

For example, it seems as if not much more will be discovered about The Inklings; and The Notion Club Papers is incomplete, inconsistent and tantalizingly brief. 

So, apart from re-reading the same material; what can we do?

The classic answer within academic English Literature is some combination of scholarship and criticism. 

Scholarship such as 'editorial' activities - especially examining the primary source material (the actual manuscript evidence). For example, there is (so he tells us) more material from the Notion Club Papers that Christopher Tolkien did not include in his published version. Maybe we, or someone else, will find and publish this extra stuff, sooner or later.

This is what happened with The Lord of the Rings; when - after JRR Tolkien died - his son Christopher made available earlier drafts and much excluded and additional material. This has provided, for some people including myself, a way of extending the experience of reading LotR and inhabiting its world, beyond the core text itself.   

But probably there is now not much extra material, and what is unpublished is almost certainly not as good as what has been published; and anyway the material may be inaccessible to us. 

Similarly, the accounts of Inklings meetings - in journals, letters and other references - have probably nearly all been discovered and published - and what is yet to come is likely to be of lesser significance and less enjoyable. 

We could therefore move on to literary criticism, in its broadest sense; and while this is in theory without limit  in practice, there are only so many valid and interesting critical things to say that capture the spirit of the original - and that is surely what we crave.

We want more of that which attracted us in the first place. We don't just want to read 'about' it - but to explore deeper and further the same spirit. 

The most obvious (and satisfying) is literary biography - and that was the way in which The Inklings first became known; via books and essays about the group itself; and by (more or less detailed) references to the group in biographies of CS Lewis, Charles Williams and JRR Tolkien. 

Such biographical investigation can be extended to accounts of other Inklings - and their works. I have explored Owen Barfield, Warnie Lewis and Neville Coghill - in this spirit; and done some research into Robert 'Humphrey' Havard

This blog takes a further approach: which is philosophical. 

I am trying to understand and extract the philosophy of The Inklings and Notion Club; and then to explore and extend that philosophy in an open-ended fashion... In whatever manner and direction that I find to be valuable in my life. 

This philosophical approach is open-ended and - when done in the proper spirit and with proper motivations (and for those who enjoy and appreciate philosophical thinking) - its reward is exactly of the kind craved; which is to say that it is 'more of the same kind of thing' - it feels like part of the same 'world', and it engages me because I have participated in its creation and it arises from some need of other personal impulse. 

And philosophy can be done by private thinking, through writing - whether or not published; and by discussion - whether face-to-face, or through some kind of correspondence. 

But not many people enjoy and appreciate philosophy, and therefore they cannot appreciate 'the spirit' in a philosophical sense. And there may is another possibility which could be called Fanfiction. Which is to use 'the world' of The Inklings of Notion Club as the basis for some kind of fiction.

This could, in principle, be in any fictional form: novel, short story, drama - on the TV, movies, theatre or a small group. Or by the newer form of actual Fanfiction websites. 

Fanfiction is probably the form most directly addressed to the problem of providing 'more of the same kind-of-thing' - and then it is a question of how well this is done, and the depth at which it is achieved. 

Perhaps the most famous Inklings Fanfiction was the chapter 'Thursday Evenings' in Humphrey Carpenter's influential group-biography The Inklings. In this, Carpenter brilliantly synthesizes an ideal or 'representative' meeting of JRR Tolkien, the Lewis brothers, Havard, and Charles Williams during the early Second World War; using material from journals, letters and published articles - as well as his own invention. 

There exists at least one good quality Notion Club Papers fanfiction - a very brief story by "Shakespearianfish". More could, in principle, continue to fill-in or extend the original texts. 

I have myself attempted (in 2011) a summary and speculative 'Treatment' (as if for a movie) of how Tolkien might, eventually, have completed the NCPs - which was also posted as part of a Companion to the NCPs, first published in 2012. Although I cannot write fiction; preparing this essay provided me with exactly the kind of experience of 'inhabiting' the spiritual world of the Notion Club Papers that I have been describing. 

Of course; some (maybe most) Fanfiction is very superficial (eg focusing on romantic relationship - so called "shipping", which may extend into pornography); some is satirical or in other ways subversive of the primary work. 

Therefore - whether deliberately, or in its actual effect - Fanfiction can damage the primary experience of the primary material; and may tend to cloud or poison its spirit. But the same applies to literary biography, criticism, and even scholarship (by tendentious reasoning or merely through narrow or dull pedantry).  

Scholarship and Criticism, Philosophy and Fanfiction, are all potential responses to that yearning we may get for some phenomenon that engages us powerfully, and which evokes a spirit that we wish to sustain at least - and perhaps to explore and learn-from. 

My Treatment for how The Notion Club Papers might have been completed

Tolkien's Notion Club Papers completed by Bruce G Charlton
(a speculative, summary 'treatment' - as if for a movie) 

Having brooded (some would say obsessively - and they would be right!) over Tolkien's Notion Club Papers for a couple of years, I am now going to speculate about where the NCPs were tending; what the NCPs would have been about and what they would have been like - if ever Tolkien had finished the novel.

In a nutshell, I believe that the Notion Club Papers were intended to serve an extremely important purpose: to rescue modern England from its spiritual malaise. At least - that was what the Notion Club themselves would be depicted as doing fictionally - and the finished book would be intended to make this possible in the mundane world. Tolkien's ouvre (his Legendarium) was intended to make a mythology for England; the Notion Club Papers were intended to link his mythical Legendarium to modern England. (I got this from the work of Verlyn Flieger - especially her book Interrupted Music.)

I suggest that the NCPs would - ultimately (if finished) - have provided a feigned history of the processes that brought Tolkien's historical myth/s into action in the modern world.

What was Tolkien 'rescuing' England from? This is made explicit in the NCPs: [Jeremy] ..."Sometimes I have a queer feeling that, if one could go back, one would find not myth dissolving into history, but rather the reverse: real history becoming more mythical - more shapely, simple, discernibly significant, even seen at close quarters. More poetical and less prosaic, if you like.(...) "They're not wholly inventions. And even what is invented is different from mere fiction; it has more roots." (...) "[The roots are] In Being, I think I should say," Jeremy answered; "and in human Being; and coming down the scale, in the springs of History and the designs of Geography - I mean, well, in the pattern of our world as it uniquely is, and of the events in it as seen from a distance. (...) "Of course, the pictures presented by the legends may be partly symbolical, they may be arranged in designs that compress, expand, foreshorten, combine, and are not at all realistic or photographic, yet they may tell you something true about the Past."

With the NCPs Tolkien was intending to tell us something true about the past, something that we need to know because at present England's past is merely history, when it should be myth. The Notion Club Papers were intended to make England's history into myth - i.e. to reverse the process of myth dissolving into history described by Jeremy in the quote above. Tolkien wanted, that is, contemporary history to dissolve into myth; and the NCPs were (as they evolved) aimed at achieving this.

Arguably, Tolkien achieved his goal, although by other and less direct means - in the sense that many people (like myself) nowadays 'use' Tolkien's Legendarium as a myth by-which (and through-which) they understand and interpret the current world. We do this despite the lack of an explicit and comprehensive mythical link between the Legendarium (saturated, as it is, with purpose and meaning) and the nihilistic modern world of objective irrelevant 'facts' and purely-individual subjectivities. However, in order for this to have happened via the NCPs, they would need to have needed to end-up very differently from how they set out: in literary terms, the NCPs would have required very substantial re-writing, in ways which we can only extrapolate from hints and glimmerings.

The basic situation which the Notion Club inhabit is an Oxford (England, Western Civilization) that is out-of-contact with Faery: in more general terms, a society out-of-contact with myth. Hence vulgar, coarsened, materialistic; without depth, meaning or purpose. The action of the Notion Club throughout the novel, I speculate, would have been aimed at restoring this contact between Faery and England; and indeed I speculate that the climax of the novel would have been precisely this re-establishment of contact.

As scholars and writers, the Notion Club would have been aware of the necessity for human contact with Faery (i.e. with myth) in order that their work (as well as their lives) may be profound, imaginative and ennobled - and rise above mere 'utility'. The means by which the club would restore contact with myth would, I assume, be the usual ones employed by Tolkien and of which hints exist in the incomplete and surviving NCP text: by a quest, by a hero who is an 'elf friend', and by a 'messenger' between Faery and the mundane world.

As they stand, the NCPs are - to me - an endlessly fascinating fragment, full of evidence about Tolkien and his deepest concerns; but it seems to be a work of extremely limited appeal (at least, I only know of two or three other people than myself who find it at all interesting or enjoyable!) - and therefore I assume that the story in its present form would either be unpublishable, or else destined only for a microscopically small cult audience.

If the NCPs had been completed they would therefore, I believe, have ended-up very differently from the way they exist at present. The overall purpose of the NCPs (within Tolkien's books) would have been to provide a frame for Tolkien's legendarium - in other words, a pseudo-historical 'explanation' for how the legends of the elves, Numenor and ancient Middle Earth were transmitted to our times (transmitted specifically to England, and even more specifically to Oxford). In other words, approximately to link The Silmarillion, Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to the modern reader by a feigned history.

The Notion Club Papers novel would, then, describe how a link between Middle Earth (this modern world) and Faery was re-established.

The shape of the novel would presumably have been the same as Tolkien's other works - some kind of heroic quest in which the hero or heroes come into contact with 'Faery' and an ennobled by contact with 'higher things' and made wiser by their experience. Clearly, the Notion Club Papers would therefore require need a protagonist with whom the reader would identify. That is a character whose thoughts and feelings the reader would get to know in the course of the story. But such characters are lacking (or indirect and inexplicit) in the current NCP drafts.

The existing form of the NCPs, i.e. the literary conceit of their being the formal minutes of club meetings, would therefore need to be dropped or relaxed; to bring in much more direct forms of narrative or reportage. This was already beginning to happen in the later parts of the NCPs, with the introduction of letters from Lowdham (plus some footnotes), and an extended 'dream sequence' which reports Lowdham's inner state during an Anglo Saxon episode. So, in the NCP novel there would be a great expansion of such letters, and also probably diaries and journal entries - so as to bring the reader into more direct contact with the action.

In terms of character, the ANC would therefore need to get inside at least one of Guildford, Ramer, Lowdham and Jeremy. My guess is that the protagonist would have been Guildford - the recorder, who would become the narrator, and would speak directly to the reader (to posterity) about the collection of minutes, letters, poems, fragments and journal entries which he has gathered and collated with the aim of preservation and propagation. Probably, Guildford would have remained a rather background character in terms of the action and excitement, and it would have been the extrovert Lowdham in particular would emerged as the most obvious hero - supported by Jeremy who would, I guess, end-up being the main person responsible for achieving the quest to re-connect with Faery.

I suspect the Ramer character might therefore have receded in importance. His role might be in learning the languages necessary to interpret the documentary material eventually recovered from Faery by Lowdham and Jeremy. Ramer's role at the end of the ANC would perhaps be as scholarly interpreter of the texts brought back to Oxford by Jeremy (who seems not to be skilled as a philologist or historical linguist).

I would imagine that Lowdham - accompanied by Jeremy - would make the breakthrough to physical contact with faery: set sail for the West with Jeremy, be responsible for navigating the boat, and eventually actually land in Faery where he would meet his father - and the High elves. But then Lowdham would stay-behind in faery (with his father) and Jeremy would be the one who returned to England bringing the legendarium - especially the Red Book of Westmarch and Bilbo's Translations from the Elvish.

In sum, the Notion Club Papers would be presented as a collection of minutes, letters, journal entries etc. collected by Guildford concerning the Notion Club in general and Lowdham and Jeremy in particular - telling the story of how a link between faery and England was re-established by the efforts of the Club - firstly in dreams then ultimately by a voyage to Faery.

However, the link between Faery would be firstly psychic, and only secondly physical - the early parts of the NCPs are concerned with the initial glimpses of myth and faery via dreams, then a break-through of visionary material from the past - so powerful that it had an actual physical effect on Oxford and nearby areas of England (the storm replicating the downfall of Numenor). This stage would also provide sufficient linguistic information for the Notion Club (with its linguistic, historical and philological expertise) to be able to interpret the extensive documentary material which would eventually be brought back by Jeremy.

This requires an intermediary: Dolbear - who turns-out to be a wizard/ angel/ messenger from Faery.

The character of Dolbear jumps-out of the Notion Club Papers as somebody about whom there is more than meets the eye. Almost everything he says is wise and cuts-deep. He seems to understand more of what is going-on than anyone else. We know Dolbear has certainly been working, independently, with Ramer even before the meetings were reported and also later with Lowdham - on their dreams and interpretations. Dolbear is also hinted to be a kind of grey eminence at the least; someone greatly respected by the other members (underneath their chummy chaffing) and probably somebody who is - in fact - actually stage-managing the whole process by which the Notion Club re-establishes contact with Faery.

In this sense Dolbear resembles Gandalf - who is a wizard or an 'angel' in disguise; in the sense of being a higher being from the undying lands who is a messenger and catalyst. Probably the reader would not have access to Dolbear's inner life - he would (like Gandalf) be observed rather than experienced. Dolbear would make things happen, by hints and directions and providing key pieces of information - never by force. And at the end of the story Dolbear would return (like Gandalf) whence he came - to Faery.

This is (I speculate) the meaning of Dolbear seeming to sleep though the meetings, yet remain apparently aware of everything which is happening in them - indeed more aware of the implications of the meetings than are the active participants. I suspect that during sleep Dolbear is in contact with Faery and with the Notion Club at the same time. He is therefore a conduit or passageway linking Oxford and the undying lands - he transmits the proceedings of the Notion Club to Faery, and receives instructions of what to do. Dolbear's trance-like states of sleep are therefore (I believe) the specific means by which the inhabitants of Faery are encouraging the renewed contact between England and Faery which the Notion Club themselves seek.

The Oxford setting is highly significant, as is the general similarity between the Notion Club and The Inklings.

Tolkien saw himself as the inheritor of an English racial memory of Faery. In his earliest legends (now published as Lost Tales) England had indeed been a part of Faery - with a place to place mapping between mythic and modern places, and England was especially favoured for this reason. Tolkien regarded this inherited memory as coming down his mother's side of the family, and therefore centred in Warwickshire (Mercia).

And Tolkien had less strong but similarly mystical feelings about Oxford as he did about the nearby West Midlands of England, and of course he spent most of his working life at the University, and this was where most of his friends lived. But mostly, for Tolkien, Oxford had a special role in scholarship related to Faery. And from a practical point of view, Oxford in the early and mid-twentieth century was the perfect place from which knowledge of Faery might have been disseminated throughout the rest of England.

So, my guess is that the NCP novel would have described the Inkling's-like Notion Club in Oxford as having first established a psychic link with Faery - with visionary material glimpsed during dreams, then having recovered extensive documentary evidence from Faery, and brought it back to Oxford for secret safe-keeping, translation and dissemination. The benefits of this mythic, faery knowledge would then enhance first the Notion Club members, then the rest of the University, with elven craft, depth, wisdom and mystery. A special quality in the work of the Notion Club, and Oxford, would have been recognized by the English (who were genetically predisposed to appreciate it) and the effects and benefits would have been spread throughout England by means of Oxford's role in educating the administrators and teachers of the rest of England.

So, in order to re-establish contact between Middle Earth and Faery there would need to be efforts form both sides: both a push and a pull. On the one hand there was a push from the members of the Notion Club, who sensed the shallowness and literalness of their world, the damage of materialism, and the ugliness of industrialization (e.g. Ramer's horrible dream of Oxford through the ages) - and sought to enrich life by contact with Faery. And on the other hand there was a pull from the inhabitants of Faery. The elves were assumed to have benign intentions towards humans and seek to help them.

Especially the inhabitants of Faery wish to help Men to adopt an attitude of love towards nature; to become 'elvishly' capable of disinterested craft, art, science and scholarship as things to be loved for their own sakes, rather than as a means to another end.

In sum - the The Notion Club Papers would (I imagine) describe how the post-medieval process of 'myth turning into history' would be reversed; and first the Notion Club, then Oxford, then England, then maybe eventually the World - might again connected with Faery, and re-enchanted by elvish wisdom and suffused with an elvish perspective.