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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reading Group meeting 25/2/12


Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Just a month away from Tolkien Reading Day! We were tackling the Notion Papers Part Two which treats the characters from Part One rather differently by shifting the main focus from Ramer and his dream-travels. It is Lowdham, now, who experiences a kind of ‘possession’, and a form of dream-inspired automatic writing that bears a passing resemblance to Coleridge’s account of the creation of his poem ‘Kubla Khan’. Lowdham writes in Anglo-Saxon which includes Numenorean names and myth, so we were confronted with sizeable chunks of Anglo-Saxon at times. Happily, translations are included!

But we began the afternoon with bits of forward planning before Julie, braving a sudden very sore throat opened with an observation on the Notion Club’s discussion of the (then fashionable) use of the term ‘pants’ instead of ‘desires’, ‘wishes for’.
It reads oddly when Lowdham taxes Frankley about his objection to this ‘neologism’. But Julie pointed out that there is a metrical psalm which uses ‘panting’ in the same way – to mean desiring.
Laura then commented on the other words included in the Club’s discussion of neologisms, onomatopeaic words like ‘doink’, and ‘whooshing’. This short section seems very much the kind of thing a philologist like Tolkien would be fascinated by, as it deals with changes in meaning and sound. Angela picked up the part of the ‘conversation’ that dealt with the relationship between old and new forms and the implication that one had greater merit than the other. The whole section bears out Tolkien deep interest in language, and while, as Laura remarked, we can imagine the Inklings having similar discussions, the vocabulary and detail are not at all what we might associate with Tolkien’s creative writing.
Laura added that as the ‘conversation’ is mainly between Lowdham and Frankley, and Frankley = C.S. Lewis, this illuminates the different perspectives taken by CSL and JRRT, since Lewis was more interested in literature, while Tolkien was more interested in pure language.
Moving away from such technical matters Angela noted the joking reference to Philip Frankley as ‘Horse Friend of Macedon’ – playing on the meaning of Philip in Greek – another sign of Tolkien’s love of language.
Laura continued the theme of names when she noted how many references are included to names with the Anglo-Saxon ending ‘wine’, meaning ‘friend’. So Aelfwine = Elf-friend, just as the real Godwine = God’s friend. The ending was very popular, as in Edwin, Alwin, etc. This led to a diversion into the fate of Harold Godwinson, he of the arrow in the eye, and the claim that he was buried at Waltham. Mike reported that in “The Life of the Last Saxon King” it is argued that the Normans landed first at Bosham, and it was likely that Harold had been interred there. That does not rule out ‘translation’ of his remains to Waltham.

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

Following this, Angela was impressed by the definition in the text of history as ‘surviving intelligible evidence’. Chris commented on history being written by the winners, and we have discussed this in the context of the ‘records’ that make up the story in LotR.
Laura and I had both been surprised to read Lowdham’s comment on ‘Dago-fanciers’, not racially motivated, but linguistically pejorative as he sets up the difference between those, like himself, who prefer Northern European (‘Nordic’) language and culture, and others who prefer Romance languages.
Laura then remarked on the ‘Silmarillion’ moment when after their meeting Lowdham, Guildford (the Club’s note-taker), and Ramer were passing the Radcliffe Camera - a reminder to the reader that the fiction of the Notion Club was that it met in Oxford. It looks to them as though the clouds are like smoke coming from the very top of the Camera. Lowdham also seems to slip into another dimension briefly.
Julie thought this was part of the effect of myth penetrating the real world, and picked out especially the Great Storm which comes later and is clearly linked to the Drowning of Numenor. The idea of myth penetrating the real world was picked up by Mike too who commented on the role of religious fundamentalists in the USA government during the Cold War.
Laura thought the description of the Great Storm was Gothic, and Angela remarked on the scale of the Eagles of the Lords of the West. Mike and Chris wondered if the whole storm episode was perhaps a bit outlandish. It does seem closer to hyperbole than Tolkien’s usual style. Julie thought there was a sense of characters ‘getting in on the act’ and Laura likened it to a stage performance with over-the-top acting. Chris picked this up in his comment on the way the light bulb suddenly fails, describing it as melodramatic.
Laura and Julie noted the use of pathetic fallacy in the description of the wind of the stormm and Chris remarked that in the exchange between Lowdham and Jeremy in their ‘avatars’ as Numenoreans, Jeremy’s melodramatic ‘Only darkness awaits us’ is not Tolkien’s style at all.
Julie then observed a strange disjunction in the story as it moves from a ‘real’ storm in Oxford to a ‘ghost’ storm in Ireland, to which Jeremy and Lowdham have fled as the storm rages.
Laura led us into less complex areas when she drew attention to ‘old Professor Rashbold at Pembroke [college], who we know from NCPs 1 is actually a figure for Tolkien himself. The fact that he is here described as ‘old’ is part of the looking forward that is the fiction of the Papers. It was also noted that the ‘old’ Professor mentions that the text he has been given to translate is heavily Mercian in dialect, bearing out Tolkien’s preference for this. I observed that in his description of this work on the text, Ramer gives the old Prof. a ‘Gandalf’ moment: the reason for his delay in translating the text is, according to Ramer, because ‘it was too easy’!

12:13 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill said...

Laura wondered if there was a reflection in the relationship between Arry Lowdham and his father and the relationship between Tolkien and his son Michael who both shared the same dream of the giant wave, since both relationships include the sense of watery disaster. Angela noted that Lowdham’s father is said in the text to have vanished at sea ‘in 1947’. Laura then noted the comment by another member of the Notion Club ‘the seas were still pretty dangerous at that time, weren’t they? … Mine all over the place?’ which shifts the reader rapidly through several time spaces – that of the Notion Club meeting in 1987, back to ‘memories’ of the aftermath of the ‘Six Days War’ (WW2) which was actually ongoing at the time Tolkien was writing the NCPs.
Laura went on to observe that real names included in the story, such as Sussex, Ireland, Porlock, Dunkirk, anchor the text in the real world, and that the story Jeremy and Lowdham tell of their ‘time travels’ contains echoes of ‘Beowulf’ in the song of the minstrel (Lowdham’s avatar) about King Sheave ( Scyld Scefing in ‘Beowulf’) and their job in that ‘other existence’ as coastguards. Julie thought the long section on King Sheave came across as rather self-indulgent on Tolkien’s part.
Our discussion turned then to the way Tolkien attempts to weave the flight from Numenor into the pre-history of Ireland, and what this would mean if extended further in real history and geography. Mike and Angela both picked up the theme of migration, Mike noting that settlement of the Wild West had been inhibited by the ranges of mountains in the eastern USA which Angela then compared to the original migrations of the Elves, some of whom were inhibited by mountains in Beleriand.
We moved on to discuss Tolkien’s use of Earendel/Eärendil. Julie remarked that the prayer Anglo-Saxon (OE) prayer that begins ‘Eala Earendel’ and was picked up by Tolkien, was in its Latin version one of the great Antiphons, in this case the one for 21st December – the shortest day in the northern hemisphere. In the story, Lowdham knows the Anglo-Saxon significance – perhaps a name for Orion the winter constellation. However, Lowdham thinks the name is older than A-S, implying it is Numenorean.
Laura more or less summed up our afternoon’s discussions when she commented that in the NCPs the reader can almost hear the Inklings themselves and their discussions as Tolkien presented yet another language biased piece of his creative writing for response and interrogation.
After all the dense material of this session, Angela proposed that for our next meeting we should read the less demanding Numenorean story of Aldarion and Erendis from the book “Unfinished Tales” We agreed, thus avoiding for now, yet more A-S, and Aduniac.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Gildor said...

That was a good meeting!

The metrical psalm in question is Ps. 42 - "Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks", or "As pants the hart for cooling streams"in its metrical version - to be found at no. 337 in "The New English Hymnal". (Tate & Brady 1696.)

The religious myth which has come scarily close to exploding (literally) into the real world was the scenario familiar from the Book of Revelation. The problem seems to arise whenever the US gets a Republican president who surrounds himself with Fundamentalist Christian advisers.

1:28 PM  

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