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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Reading Group meeting 11/2/12


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

The pre-meeting discussion today covered such unrelated matters as how long copyright protection should last and where we should hold our Reading Day Feast. We then moved on to looking at the plan for the intended Leeds Blue Plaque as the Tolkien Society’s involvement in this project has been overseen by Ian. We were also slightly depleted as a meeting owing to several members being diverted to an encounter with that other Ring of Power and its fateful part in the Twilight of the Gods (Wagner, not Nietzsche).

So to our second foray into The Notion Club Papers part One, which Mike and Ian began with their comparisons between Frank Herbert’s idea of ‘folding’ space under the influence of the ‘spice’ in the Dune books, with Ramer’s dreaming in NCP1 – the point being that in both instances travelling is accomplished without actually moving.

Ian then wondered if Tolkien was trying to induce a trance-like state by his writing, which does not always have the pinpoint clarity and accessibility of LotR as it explores strange ideas.

Mike observed that in the 1950s evangelical Christians had been exploring all possible means of promoting Christianity including the use of sci-fi in which Christian morality could be implicitly encoded. Ian wondered how much of this lay behind the storytelling in the Dan Dare stories in the Eagle comic.

I remarked that I thought Tolkien’s/Ramer’s description of the perfect little golden planet created by an ‘adoring hand’ (p.199) suggested a spiritual implication, and I also noted what seemed like a reference to the Valar when Ramer speaks of the life forms he encountered in his ‘dream travels’, because they seem able to choose their own physical shapes, however, as Angela noted, Ramer describes then as ‘elvish’, but this is more like an adjective describing their nature than a definition of their racial characteristics.

Laura contrasted the golden planet with the final description Ramer gives of returning to earth, which, when he sees it from space looks diseased and foul and only as he gets closer can he see that the ‘fungus-buildings’ and ‘house ringworm’ were the buildings of Oxford.

Ian proposed that what Tolkien was really doing with Ramer’s dream travelling was to create a kind of worm hole in the quantum mechanical sense through which it was possible to pass from one place in time/space to another.

Staying with science, Laura remarked that Tolkien includes flashes of humour in NCP1, offering the example of Arry Lowdham joking that Rufus Dolbear was exploring the dream travel option. When he fell asleep he was going off to his ‘dream lab to see if the retorts are bubbling’.

Angela bridged the gap between earth and space when she compared the Stone of Erech in LotR to the meteorite that so fascinated Ramer that he goes out at night to ‘commune’ with it and tap into its ‘memory’. We noted the importance of meteorites in Tolkien’s work with recollections of Turin’s sword Gurthang, forged from shards of another sword which had been made from meteorite iron by Eol the Dark Elf in The Silmarillion.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Ian remarked that Gimli should have found the Stone of Erech alien as his race was created from Middle-earth, but we hear nothing about this. I wondered if it was because he was still afraid of the Host of the Dead.

Laura picked up the theme of things, rather than just people having memories and recalled a film in which a the slabs of a stone staircase ‘retained’ the memory of the sacrifices for which they had originally been used. Julie thought this idea of the memory retained in things was widespread, and Angela and Chris remarked that it is found in LotR where Legolas is sensitive to the stones of old ruins and to the resentment of Fangorn.

I asked if Ramer’s idea that we all have native languages which are not those into which we are born, had any weight? There was some consideration of this possibility, but Julie’s observation of Tolkien’s use of Hebrew-sounding names in NCP1 was more accessible. Ian then mentioned that while reading Herodatus he found a story that in itself made the case for Phrygian regarded as the original language because it was older than Egyptian. Laura remarked that she thought the original language was the ‘Ur’ language!
Laura and Mike thought the earliest possible language would have been associated with food so a baby would first learn either ‘Mother’ or ‘Milk’. I thought the earliest language might have originated as sounds indicating various forms of danger. Angela recalled that monkeys in India have different alarm calls for leopards and for tigers.

We went on to discuss Ramer’s dismissive attitude to psychoanalists and the ‘marginal stuff’ in dreams that they ‘muck about with’. I took this to be Tolkien’s critical opinion. Ian remarked that Tolkien was being careful to differentiate what he was doing with Ramer and his dreams from standard psychoanalytic work.

Julie commented on Ramer’s experience of picking blackberries and then in dreams seeing endless twisting briars so his sleep was disturbed by earlier repetitious effort. Kathleen remarked that she had it from swimming.

Angela observed that she had a problem with Ramer’s assertion that he ‘fell wide asleep’. Ian suggested this was more differentiation, as Tolkien tried to avoid Ramer’s dreaming seeming like an out-of-body experience.

Chris then directed our attention to the embedded stories in NCP1, particularly the strange back door and emotion story and the unhappy librarian story. Chris wondered if this one could have been something Tolkien had experienced in a different form. The librarian had received a bequest and used it properly only to find accidentally that it had been superseded in a later will. We thought the writing of this ‘story’ had a particular reality to it that suggested some real event might lie behind it.

I asked if all the references to fragments and fragmentation in NCP1 might be taken as a reference to Tolkien’s own way of working. Chris wondered if it was Tolkien’s response to his experience of reading out bits of The Silmarillion to the Inklings and getting less than positive responses. We mentioned the very fragmented nature of The Silmarillion before Christopher’s editing.

Ian went on to speculate on the possibility that Tolkien might have ‘used’ a palantir as a device for looking backwards, as he was dealing with time travel. Angela noted that Gandalf says palantirs can look into the past.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

I was interested in the character Jeremy’s brief reference to Elvish Drama, and Angela noted that there is another specific reference to The Drama of the Silver Tree – tantalising references without detail. Julie and Angela remarked that on the same page Tolkien includes a sign for the Great Door (associated by Ramer with fear) and this sign is like a Greek pi with sloping sides – we knew the sun and moon are said to pass through doors in Tsil, or Lost Tales, but this seemed different.

Mike noticed that at the start of NCP2 there is reference to a ‘torn sheet’ of paper, and wondered why Tolkien emphasises the fragmentary nature of the NCPs. He wondered if it was preparing the way for ‘finding’ LotR in a similarly fragmentary state. Ian thought it controlled acceptance of the story – this is all there is, don’t ask what isn’t there. It was also a known device in storytelling as well as being accurate in reality as many medieval and older documents are found in a fragmentary state. Chris observed that Christopher Tolkien had put together the real fragments of his father’s works. I mentioned CT’s footnote that shows the relationship between ms A and ms B of the NCP1 in which Tolkien in 1945 wrote of ‘old C.R. Tolkien’s little books of memoirs … though besides Jeremy only Ramer and Dolbear bothered with Tolkien pére and all the elvish stuff.’

Julie thought this looking forward was creepy. It certainly makes NCP a weird experience to read!

Nevertheless, we agreed to go on to read NCP2 up to the end of evening 69. This includes little bits of Anglo-Saxon to get us limbered up for the big bits!

12:19 PM  

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