Monday, June 13, 2016

Cockshut on Lewis

So, I've been reading through the latest issue of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES w. great interest, starting from the back; the round-table discussion of Lindop's new biography of Wms by eight Wms scholars, who are clearly trying to get their heads around some of the revelations of said book.

The next part to seize my attention was "Lewis in Post-War Oxford" by A. O. J. Cockshut, who was a student there in the early postwar years. Cockshut has a number of interesting things to say about Oxford and Lewis's role in it during his time there. Perhaps the three most important deal first with Lord David Cecil's election to a professorship in 1948. Although Cockshut was being tutored by Cecil and viewed him as a personal friend, he felt Lewis was the more substantial of the two* and shd have gotten the post.

The second comes in Cockshut's passing judgment on 'The Great Kirk', Lewis's tutor who had trained him in logic and argumentation: 'Many [who have read SURPRISED BY JOY] will have been struck by the admiring way Lewis describes [Kirk's] perverse and stupid style of reasoning . . . Here was a man -- if we are to believe Lewis's account -- to whom it had never occurred that reason is a tool of the intellectual life, which can perform some tasks and not others' (Cockshut p. 74)

The third and perhaps more important event was the fight over whether to expand the syllabus to include works written since 1830 (i.e., all the Victorians and perhaps the early Moderns). Cockshut says Lewis sent a circular signed by himself and two other dons (who go unnamed) to everyone attending the faculty meeting held to decide the matter (chaired, we are told, by Cecil): this document urged rejection of the expansion. But the reason Lewis gave was, according to Cockshut, disingenuous to the point of being specious.

As Cockshut tells it, Lewis at the meeting argued that the Victorian age was one of the greatest in English literature, even rivaling "the great seventeenth century" (the era of Shakespeare and Milton and Donne).  ' "And that is why we should not allow undergraduates to study it. Think of the things they would have to know before they could begin to understand it." He then gave a list of background material that might occupy a professor for years'. (Cockshut p. 74). Cockshut believes that Lewis was being deliberately sophistical. 'Moreover, some would have felt that as it had already been announced that he was leaving Oxford for Cambridge, it would have been tactful to leave his colleagues to themselves in deciding their syllabus and the content of what they would have to teach' (Cockshut p. 75)'.  Cockshut's final conclusion is devastating: that at that meeting '[Lewis] was guilty of the serious offense of regaling people who were his intellectual and professional equals with sophistry' (Cockshut p. 75-76)

On the whole, an interesting piece, and one I'm glad to have had the chance to read. Even leaving aside Cockshut's opinions, he provides some new details previously unknown to me about this significant event.  I'd like to see a copy of that circular, for example, and to know who the other two who signed it with Lewis were.

--John R.
current re-reading: AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

*I think this underestimates Cecil's achievements, but pass over that for now since I've posted about  that elsewhere.

More on Dunsany as a characte

Having just received an interesting comment on an earlier post (the one about S. T. Joshi's novel THE ASSAULTS OF CHAOS), I thought I'd repost it here so it didn't just disappear into the ether:

 Rat said...
You may be amused to know (if you don’t already) that there was once a Japanese video game company called Sacnoth (, named in honour of just what it sounds like, which produced, among various other titles, a game called “Koudelka” which featured a young Edward Plunkett (the game was set in 1898 in Aberystwyth) as one of its three primary protagonists. Also featured were Roger Bacon, Madame Blavatsky, and the magic cauldron from the Mabinogion. A very unusual little piece of work, to say the least. Not to say that it was very good, or that it has aged well, but it’s worth looking up on YouTube, at least.

I had known there was such a company, but not that they had released a videogame in which Dunsany himself was a character; thanks for sharing.

Of the games known to me, the one in which Dunsany most prominently features was MYTHOS, Chaosium's ccg of the Cthulhu Mythos. Even there he's a minor character, one of the author allies that characters can bring into the game via the Europe expansion.

And speaking of Lovecraft-as-a-character, just today I found there's another novel out in which he features as a character: THE BROKEN HOURS by Jacqueline Baker.  More on this one later, perhaps.

--John R
current reading: THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (latest issue)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Keeping it close to his chest . . .

So, I'm currently reading on what I think must be the best kept secret of the last few years in Tolkien studies: Raymond Edwards' new [2014] biography of Tolkien. This came out a while ago (2014) and seems to have sunk without a trace, despite being, so far at least, the best Tolkien biography since Carpenter. I saw a favorable mention on Wayne & Christina's site, but it didn't really register for me till a friend recommended it last week (thanks, Bill).

I'll hold off discussing the book as a whole until I've had time to finish it, but I was amused by the short final chapter on the films, which has every sign of being added at the publisher's behest (and of having been written before the final HOBBIT film was out). While admitting he's "not a fan" of the LotR films, aside from the first one, his criticisms are generally well-stated and restrained, until he gets to the part where he memorably describes Lee Pace's Thranduil as "distressingly reminiscent of Caligula as he might have been played by David Bowie in his cross-dressing phase".  He concludes of the HOBBIT films as a whole "not as bad as it might be, and the dragon is splendid" (p.288)

More on this one later.

--John R.
current reading: TOLKIEN by Raymond Edwards, roundtable discussion of the Lindop Ch.Wms. biography in the newest issue of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (p.127-166).

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Inquiries while at Marquette

So, having received some queries re. various points in the manuscripts since I was last here, I brought along a short list of things to look up if I had time. In case anyone else out there might be interested in the same points, I thought I'd post the results.

#1. Andrew F. queried a line in THE HOBBIT (Chapter IV, second paragraph), where the published text reads

'a crooked way and a lonely and a long'

Checking the manuscript page of this passage (Ms. 1/1/3), I find it seems to have originally read

a crooked way and a lonely way and long
   before being changed to
a crooked way and a lonely and long  *

In the typescripts (TS 1/1/54 and TS 1/1/35) this is changed to

'It was a hard path and a dangerous path, a crooked way
and a lonely and a long.'

Both typescripts have the exact same reading, which seems to confirm that Tolkien wanted it this way. I noticed this while putting together MR. BAGGINS and consider it one of several cases in THE HOBBIT where Tolkien choses an evocative slightly nonstandard usage (in this case, an elliptical ending) for effect.

#2 through #5 come from Andrew McC via comments on my blog (cf. the entry for Feb. 15th).
One query concerns Hama, the other three all pertain to Pippin's meeting with Gwinhir [Bergil]

#2 The Ale of Hama. (VIII.236 & 264).
In the manuscript, the passage in question falls on the last sheet of Marq. 3/7/8. ('This is not the House of Eorl'), and reads

            and the ale    ale
of Hama and all who fell

The illegible word lacks a descender and hence cannot be 'birg' (A.McC.'s suggestion, which I found ingenious). Whatever it is, it begins (probably) and ends (definitely) with an ascender and is about four letters long. One possibility is hard, though that seems a little unsatisfactory.

#3 of the Nine; Pippin & Gwinhir #1 (MT II.026).
A.McC. suggests that the illegible word in the following passage might be Band:

of whom ^your lord  Boromir was one,
of the of the Nine I should say

The question mark here is in the original (pencilled over the word), but 'ring' seems fairly clear, if indiscreet of Pippin to mention.

#4 balled fists? Pippin vs. Gwinhir #2 (MT II.027)
Come on good ferret, bite if you like. and he made for   up his fists

Pencilled over the illegible word: 'bent?'
That more or less looks right but doesn't make sense. Whatever the word, its first letter is an ascender (and thus 'b' is possible). Its last letter is an ascender. There's no ascender in the middle (thus it's not 'balled', A.McC's suggestion). There's no descender at all (thus it's not 'put' or something along that line). Consider me stumped as to this one.

#5 But do not speak so darkly; Pippin vs. Gwinhir #3.
MT II.028.   HME.VIII.285 (& .293, Nt26).
Here the illegible passage comprises the last three words of the fifth line and the first word of the sixth line.

while the sun still shines.   and light

The first illegible word looks like Stands but is slightly longer.
The second illegible word is about three or four letters long.
Of the two words between, one is definitely and and the other probably light
So think we're a little closer on this one but not there yet.

Hope this helps.

--John R.

*the details are slightly more complicated; I can provide them if anyone's interested

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Charles Williams in the TLS

So, thanks to David Doughan for letting me know about a letter to the editor regarding Charles Williams that appeared in a recent issue of the TLS (TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT). The letter itself wasn't available through the online TLS at their website (that is, not to non-subscribers), so I put off posting about this till I had time to go down to Suzzallo-Allen and make a copy of the piece. Having done so, but before I got around to posting anything re. it to the blog, I discovered that there'd been not one, not two, but three follow-up letters, plus (what I had not known before) that the original letter was in response to the cover story of a previous issue. So here's the whole sequence:

(1) Geoffrey Hill's cover-story review of Grevil Lindop's new biography THE THIRD INKLING [March 25th, cover + pages 3-5]

(2) letter from Olivia Byard re. Anne Ridler [April 8th, p. 6]. This is the original letter David D. drew to my attention.

(3) letter from A. N. Wilson objecting to Hill's review and Byard's letter [April 15th, p. 6]

(4) letter from Andrew McCullach praising Ridler [also from April 15th]

(5) letter from Andrew Anderson praising Wms' poetry and expressing puzzlement at Hill's review [April 22nd]

Of all of these, by far the weirdest is the original article. I'm not familiar with Hill's work, but a little checking revealed he's a distinguished figure, the former Professor of Poetry at Oxford (a title Wms coveted but that eluded him). And yet what he writes here seems to me to be willfully obtuse.

First and foremost, Hill objects strongly to the 'Third Inkling' in the book's title -- yet surely the only reason anyone reads or has even heard of Wms today is through his links with the Inklings; it's pretty much the only thing that has kept him from sliding off into oblivion. Hill values Wms chiefly as a critic --which I think as eccentric a view as saying CSL shd be remembered primarily as a poet. He focuses his discussion of Wms' writings on a single unfinished and unpublished poem, passing breezily over the novels -- the works by wh. Wms is best known today -- and I don't think even  mentioning that Wms was a playwright (a part of his work so important to him that his persona in his next to last novel is universally recognized as the great playwright of his day). Instead Hill wanders off into discussions of Coventry Patmore and Walter Landor, Robert Lowell and Ford Madox Ford; anything, it seems, to avoid discussing Wms himself. Insofar as Hill has any thesis, I think it's that he sees a spark in Wms that, had he followed up on it rather than get distracted by all that Arthurian business, might have led to his becoming a poet Hill wd have found interesting.

I think I'll file this one under damning with v. faint praise.

Two tangential points: Hill repeats, without much comment, the famous story of Wms' lecture on chastity. I have to say that my sympathies here have always been with the students, who thought they'd come for a lecture and wound up getting preached at for an hour (or howeverlong an Oxford lecture of the day was). I've been in classrooms like that, and can imagine the sinking feeling when it sunk in to one and all that they weren't getting any answer that wd help on their exams.

And secondly, I was surprised to see that Lindop's book has achieved the feat of getting Wms's picture on the cover of the TLS -- something I'm pretty sure Wms never pulled off in his lifetime. A pity their caricaturist made him look exactly like T. S. Eliot, whom he really didn't resemble at all.

Next up were the letters. First Olivia Byard had a piece ("Anne Ridler and Charles Williams") that essentially argues that Rider was a promising young poet who was captured by Wms to her own detriment. Byard reveals what I had not known before, that Ridler was another of the young women with whom Wms engaged in dodgy practices: "[she] had a ten-year romantic relationship with Williams from the age of eighteen on. It was never completely consumated, but she describes long years of titillation, secret meetings and control -- something she thought she would never escape, until Vivian Ridler came into her life". Essentially Byard advocates a new appraisal of Ridler's work, independently of the shadow her involvement with Wms cast across her life and works.

This strongly worded piece called forth two responses under the shared header "Anne Ridler and Charles Williams". The first is a defense of Wms by A. N. Wilson, who had written glowingly of Wms a few months back in his own review of Lindop's book. Wilson describes Byard's letter as "mean-spirited" and praises Wms' poetry, theology, and novels. The second letter, by Andrew McCulloch, devotes his letter to praising Ridler and her poetry.

Finally (so far as I know) came a letter ("Charles Williams") from Andrew Anderson, expressing his puzzlement at the review and his own personal enjoyment of Wms' Arthurian poems. So the somewhat fractious sequence came to a quiet end in appreciation of a poet little-read today but of whom Lindop has written hoping to revive some interest therein. He's certainly succeeded in raising Wms' profile after many years of his drifting toward oblivion, or at least settling into a very small  and out of the way niche. Now the interesting thing will be to see if it takes.

--John R.
current reading: this and that (Lovecraft's Letters; THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW; bits of Lewis & Currie's pseudo-biography of JRRT.; bits of Tolkien Mss; &c)

Saturday, May 28, 2016


So, thanks first to Morgan* and then to Wayne and Christina themselves for forwarding to me the information that the original names for the Three Elven Rings of Power have in fact been published,
in Wayne & Christina's LOTR READER'S COMPANION, page 671. Now that it doesn't violate any protocol or copyright I can post them here:

KEMEN the Ring of Earth

ËAR the Ring of Sea

MENEL the Ring of Heaven

At least two out of these three are familiar through their usage elsewhere, namely in KEMENTARI, 'Lady of the Earth', one of the names of Yavanna the earth-mother goddess figure among the Valar, and the other in MENELTARMA, the name for the great holy mountain at the center of Numenor (and, later, the volcano in the sea in Imram and THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS).

By the way, I don't know how to insert a diaeresis into a blog post, so just in case  that name of the Ring of Sea came through without one it shd be pronounced with two syllables not one:  eh-ar not eer.

Thanks again to all who pointed out to me that this was, after all, in print, esp. Wayne and Christina for printing it in the first place. As I said in my response to their comment on the other post sharing the good news, their books may now be taking on that aspect of the collection as a whole: so many good things that no one can take them all in.

--John R.

*and also the person, whose name I don't know, who'd posted the information to the website where Morgan had found it.