Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The nature of free will


Free will is absolutely central to Christianity - but what kind of a thing is free will as conceptualized by Christians?


It is tricky, because it does not seem to be like anything else - or at any rate I find it hard to find an analogy for free will.

Its properties must include on the one hand an ability to choose, whatever past experience a person has had - yet on the other hand free will must be (and clearly is) influenced by past experiences.

So, free will is, in one sense, an unchanged changer, persisting throughout life; yet in another sense its current choices are affected by previous choices - such that in some sense the probabilities of choices change throughout life (good habits/ virtues practiced over long periods make it more likely the next choice will also be good/ virtuous - and vice versa).


The will must be free, and yet it is clear that the human will is corrupt (this is explained by original sin; but the fact that the human will is corrupt is a matter of observation and experience).

Human have free will, yet will almost always choose wrong; and we are - indeed - helpless to do otherwise; which is why we cannot save ourselves but must have a Saviour.

On the one hand we are saved by Christ - because we cannot save ourselves - yet we are also required to choose, despite that we will inevitably, helplessly choose wrong most of the time.


How to make sense of this?

I think only by assuming that or free will works about other people but not ourselves; our choices can save others but not ourselves.

And the primary choice is to love not hate others; to be loving and humble not prideful towards God.


I think this is pretty much all that most people (nearly everybody) can do with free will.

And I think this is what is implied by the two main commandments from Matthew 22 as interpreted in the Book of Common Prayer:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.


This would mean that the main function of life on earth is to love first God, then neighbour - but that it is the loving of neighbour which requires mortal life on earth, and therefore is the primary function of free will.

Most people cannot live by the Law, cannot reform themselves or even their external lives - but what they must will is described in these two commandments.


And love of neighbour is a matter of will, not action - action is constrained, will is not.

And it is never too late, and we are always free to do this, and nothing whatsoever (either internal or external) stops us doing this, and no amount of experience or habit matters, it can be overturned in the blink of an eye - love of neighbour is the proper domain of free will.

Thus we can, by our love for them, save others (but not ourselves).


Synchronicity and angels


Synchronicity may be explained by angels.

Synchronicity usually refers to happy and extraordinary occurrences in life, when it feels that things have been arranged for one's personal benefit.

I have found that it occurs in a particular mood or emotional state, when I just know that things are building-up towards a synchronous event.

Reflecting on the meaning of synchronicity was a factor in my becoming a Christian - as it implies that the universe is, to a significant extent, interested in me as an individual, which implies a 'personal God'.

But I hadn't thought much about the mechanisms of synchronicity - how such events might be effected in practice.

Then reading (again) about angels (and demons) in Peter Kreeft's book on the subject, I realized that the properties of Guardian Angels, as he describes them, drawn from the writings of Aquinas and others, would be a plausible explanation of to effect synchronicity.

Angels have greater knowledge than humans, greater intelligence, can move very fast, can effect change in the world, and communicate with humans (especially by emotions and general ideas) - and using these abilities to generate synchronicitous events would be a good method of helping specific humans (that being the role of guardian angels).

Of course, human will necessarily remains free - and a synchronicity leads to a choice which could go either way; and humans are free to interpret anything as a meaningless coincidence if they choose; but presumably angels do what they can, within such necessary constraints.


Monday, 30 July 2012

The potential-genius is intrinsically psychologically unbalanced


Most potential geniuses do not become 'recognized' geniuses - in fact, nowadays approximately none of them do.

And the reason is that - as a type - the potential genius is psychologically... unbalanced.

I use 'unbalanced' to refer to a range of abnormalities - because there is not one type of genius.


A potential genius must be highly intelligent, and creative - and it is this matter of creativity which introduces the imbalance.

I am here assuming that potential genius (P-G) is a way of thinking (which sometimes, in some societies, leads to things like supreme artistic attainment and scientific/ technological breakthroughs) and I am trying to examine this in detachment.

I am assuming that P-G is a qualitatively-different way of thinking which enables its possessors to do things which those who lack this way of thinking cannot do.


Studies of people with very high IQ find that many of them are more 'successful' than average in terms of health, life expectancy, wealth and status and indeed most things (except for fertility).

But among very high IQ people, there are the 'normal' ones who are apparently socially well-adjusted and 'successful', and there are those 'maladjusted' who Grady M Towers termed 'The Outsiders'.

It is an interesting observation that P-Gs are more akin to the Outsiders than they are to the mass of 'successful' high IQ types.


So - most very high IQ people are docile, conscientious, friendly, socially-adjusted types (typical graduates of modern highly selective colleges, typical high status professionals in elite jobs) and consequently utterly lacking even the slightest spark of creativity. Their minds run fast and smooth along pre-determined paths towards acceptable goals.

These intelligent-uncreatives have, of course, re-defined creativity in terms of what they themselves can do - which is to make (or assert) socially-acceptable novelty (generated by standard procedures such as random permutation, pick and mix recombination, inversion etc).

But when intelligent-uncreatives encounter real creativity, they are actively hostile - they sense its alien-ness, its uncanny abnormality, its intrinsic unpredictability and uncontrollability - which accounts for the fact that P-Gs are now excluded from elite discourse with unprecedented efficiency - and that virtually no potential geniuses become recognized geniuses.


As IQ rises, so the variation between cognitive abilities increases - i.e. the correlation between the sub-tests of IQ decreases - so that extreme ability tends to be relatively more specific than moderate ability.

In sum, extremely-intelligent people are less often all-rounders than those of moderate intelligence.


Intelligent un-creatives are, I think, those relatively-few all-rounders among high IQ people: those high-IQ individuals with balanced abilities - including a pro-social (compliant, docile) personality .

Whereas P-Gs have a significant element of unbalance, such that extreme abilities in one or more domains are not balanced by extreme abilities in other domains.

Therefore, in potential geniuses extreme high abilities are not held in check but are instead given free-rein.


This means that potential geniuses are all, more or less, unbalanced - at least by the standards of most people; and this unbalance can come out in terms of (more or less severe) psychotic symptoms (such as a tendency to hallucination, delusion, loose associations of thought, trance states), or psychopathy (selfishness, emotional coldness), or an impulsive and willful personality, or prone-ness to intoxication (as a cognitive self-manipulation), or extremely narrow interests, or a refusal or an inability to do what is required or expected...


There is no single pattern of unbalance - but I think it probable that all genuine P-Gs (and all true recognized geniuses) are qualitatively different from the norm as an intrinsic consequence of being unbalanced (unbalanced abilities being necessary to that creativity which makes them a recognized or potential genius).

They are all significantly oddballs in some way or another - eccentrics, mavericks, irritating, unreasonable, nutters, nasties... not team-players.

Recognized geniuses come from potential geniuses which come from those with specialized high abilities that are significantly un-checked and unbalanced; and such people are troublesome to have around, predict and control.

At any rate, the current ruling elite have implicitly decided to exclude such people from organized power - so while modern society has some potential geniuses, we have no actually recognized geniuses. 


Sunday, 29 July 2012

"Christ did not say take and understand, He said take and eat."


And for that folly of wanting to know to much and believe too little... the Church was split.

Peter Kreeft


And that folly has been multiplied a thousandfold since.

We discern good from evil, now as ever, but let uncertainty about our understanding distract, disguise and paralyze us to the point that that which we do not understand fully and finally; we deny, displace and invert.

So we discern good from evil, yet we choose evil; and we do this again and again, yet only because we do not know-for-sure everything about the good; only because we cannot swiftly, briefly and completely answer every question that we can ask ourselves on the subject.


And this is being 'rational'?


Mormons and the family


It is distinctive of the Mormon religion that among modern people in modern societies they have above-replacement fertility and larger families among the more educated and more prosperous.

How is this done?

My feeling is that it is an outcome of the religious emphasis on the family.


For Mormons, the married couple (whose marriage has been sealed in a Temple) is the unit of the highest form of eternal salvation, and their family remain with them in the afterlife and through eternity.

This is, I think, an unique emphasis among world religions. And from it many things follow:

Marriage and family become the focus of life - early marriage is encouraged (and institutional arrangements are made to enable this).

The basic social arrangements (including the family) are patriarchal; which history tells us is stable and viable.

Families will want to have as many children as they can afford to raise decently since they are future companions in the afterlife - and spiritual guidance concerning this will be available to them through prayer and fasting. 

Since the family is the primary social unit, the family needs to be economically autonomous (as a general rule or aspiration) - so families need to live within their means, without borrowing or doles (since sustained cross-subsidy would damage other families).

And since Mormons control fertility by the use of contraception, consequently the largest families are among the wealthiest.


In sum, most of the distinctive features of Mormon fertility seem to derive from the distinctive theological emphasis on the family.

That this distinctive fertility pattern is indeed an aspect of the Mormon church seems to be confirmed by the fact that fit seems to be the same both in the US and the UK.


Saturday, 28 July 2012

What to do about dysphoria?


Dysphoria - feeling bad, unpleasant, pain, alienated, experiencing any form of subjective suffering...

Humans, obviously, dislike this - and what to do about it is one of the most fiercely contested of all areas of discourse.


There is the therapeutic perspective - dysphoria taken to imply disease, and requiring treatment.

The is the distracting perspective - take your mind off the bad feelings.

There is an idea of intoxication, which is an extreme of distraction - make yourself unable to think about it by disabling brain function. In other words, stop being a human. Surprisingly popular option, this one.

Another is the evolutionary view that natural selection has made us to be unhappy strivers, goaded by instincts towards goals we will never be allowed to enjoy - the inference would seem to be that we should try to defy natural selection by a combination of the above (therapy, distraction, intoxication etc).

The neglected idea is that dysphoria is intrinsic to the human condition - it tells us something about the nature of reality. The state of sin as basic, universal, unavoidable. In the past, it seems, almost everyone believed this was the bottom-line.


So either dysphoria is a normal state, from which we have periods of relief - or an abnormal, perhaps pathological state, from which any departure invites therapy.

The first is religious, the second psychological.

The first attempts to obliterate dysphoria - as indeed the primary objective in life, to be avoided at any price. The second regards dysphoria (or some dysphoria) as intractable, not something we should try to avoid at any price but to do with the nature of reality and thus proper beliefs, attitudes, behaviours.


The psychological has now almost wholly displaced the religious perspective in public discourse - indeed the religious perspective on dysphoria is now widely perceived as ignorant, dangerous, cruel, nihilistic...

This may rank as one of the most profound ever changes in human perception - that an experience of dysphoria now automatically implies action to remove that dysphoria - as the major priority.


Friday, 27 July 2012

A Companion to The Notion Club Papers

A Companion to The Notion Club Papers: JRR Tolkien’s projected, highly ambitious but unfinished modern novel of 1945-6

Bruce G Charlton

Posted on 27 July 2012

Note: The following is a set of rough notes, or a draft, towards a projected book on the Notion Club Papers, drawn mainly from this blog but with some improvements in order and sequence. However, as I worked on this I realized that 1. Nobody would publish it and 2. If they did, then nobody would read it and 3. If they did then nobody would be interested by it. 

So I just thought I'd publish what I had done here, in the rough state - but nonetheless probably more coherent and readable than the blog itself. 

Length is approx 25,000 words



JRR Tolkien’s The Notion Club Papers (NCPs) is interesting for many literary and historical reasons. But the most important for me personally, is that the NCPs provide an unique insight into JRR Tolkien’s personality and creativity.

This is important because I have been reading Tolkien for forty years, and have come to regard him as a man of exceptional wisdom, as well as a great author, and one of my most important guides to living.

Therefore, while analytical, this book is not critical; in the sense that I am not much interested in pointing-out Tolkien’s supposed flaws and limitations. While Tolkien was a man, hence intrinsically fallen and sinful, I do not regard myself as competent to detect or analyse his deficiencies, nor do I regard many people alive today as competent to do that. Instead, in the few places I disagree with him, my assumption is that he is probably right and I am probably wrong.  

This is important to emphasise since the most ‘controversial’ assertion of this book is likely to be that Tolkien had a psychological breakdown in 1945-6, severe enough for him to stop work for several weeks and take complete rest. It seems likely that the NCPs was, in its original conception and early drafts, a piece of ‘therapeutic’ writing; designed to help Tolkien out from his bad mental state.

Furthermore, The Notion Club Papers were written during an extended gap in the writing of Lord of the Rings, a period when Tolkien was completely ‘stuck’ in the progress of this great work. It is therefore possible that writing the NCPs was perhaps a tactic to unblock Tolkien’s sources of inspiration, by writing something small scale and unambitious for local consumption by The Inklings. So, it looks as if the beginnings of the NCPs were little more than an elaborate ‘in joke’, a bit of light distraction designed only to be read aloud for amusement and to stimulate discussion at Inklings Thursday evening meetings.

Therefore, at this early point in its conception, the NCPs had no deeper or more serious purpose than gentle parody with an element of summarizing and extending some (presumably) recent and memorable debates among the Inklings. At first the NCPs bore no relation either to the larger world of Tolkiens ‘Legendarium’ (the Silmarillion legends that had been accumulating since the First World War) nor was it related to the ‘Hobbit sequel’ (Lord of the Rings) currently being written. Instead, the focus (in the early parts of the section at one point subtitled The Ramblings of Michael Ramer) was upon some technical aspects of writing science fiction, especially how most plausibly to manage the phenomenon of space travel.

But, as often happened with Tolkien, the work deepened as he was drafting it, and was gravitationally-sucked towards Tolkien’s permanent concerns; and soon the Notion Club was very soon drawing-in the earlier (1936) draft novel The Lost Road, including its annalistic account of the legend of Numenor. During the process or writing the Notion Club Papers, the concept of Numenor was suddenly deepened with the sudden emergence of a new invented language – Adunaic.

Then the Notion Club Papers began to evolve in the direction of being an exceptionally ambitious work. It apparently started developing into a feigned-historical framework to explain the transmission of the supposed manuscripts containing writing of the Silmarillion, Hobbit and ‘Lord of the Rings’ legends; and eventually (perhaps) the NCPs were intended to become an imagined mechanism for achievement of Tolkien and Lewis’s own hugely ambitious aspirations to ‘save’ England from the dryness and corruption of secular materialism.

Indeed, it seems likely that at one point The Notion Club Papers was intended to be the first and introductory novel for the reader who wished to ‘enter’ Tolkien’s world – a modern novel that would provide the modern reader’s link to the fairy tales and mythic works. So, the adult reader would come to approach Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion legends only after reading The Notion Club Papers, and with the perspective resulting from this reading.

In other words, the NCPs became for Tolkien – in its conception, never realized - a hugely important, ambitious and complex work; indeed by far the most ambitious and complex work that Tolkien ever attempted.

But in the end, of course, the Notion Club Papers was never finished; and instead Tolkien returned to writing The Lord of the Rings; and this time (and, I would argue, as a result of the experience of drafting The Notion Club Papers) he was able to take the work through to the wonderful completion we now have.

But what has survived of the written drafts and plans of the Notion Club Papers remain a resource rich and voluminous enough to provide a treasure trove of insights and fertile ground for speculation. This book is intended to represent an early exploration of this territory.



Very few Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans know of the existence of the Notion Club Papers; few who know of it have read it; and my impression is that of those few who have read the NCPs only few like it!

So, why write a book about it?

The short answer is: because the fragments of the Notion Club Papers are absolutely fascinating (to a certain kind of person) so long as you are not reading them as if they are a novel.

Because the NCPs is not much like an unfinished novel, it is much more like a projected novel: notes-towards a novel – but considered as a novel, the Notion Club Papers is not so much incomplete as barely-begun.

Indeed, the NCPs cannot really be enjoyed as a novel, and the writings work better when considered as a series of a dramatic essays; and the comments and notes of Christopher Tolkien are integral.

1936 – the annus divertium (watershed year) for Tolkien and Lewis

The origins of the Notion Club Papers lie in 1936. This was the crucial year for Tolkien and Lewis: not exactly their annus mirabilis (year of miracles) but at least the annus divertium (watershed year) – the year in which the work of both Lewis and Tolkien took a decisive step in the direction for which they are nowadays best known.

According to the evidence presented by Christopher Tolkien in The Lost Road, it was in 1936 (probably), that Lewis and Tolkien agreed each to write an adult fiction that exemplified a particular rare mythical quality they both prized. It was about this time Lewis had finished his first major critical book The Allegory of Love and Tolkien published The Hobbit - so maybe they both felt able to indulge themselves, spread their wings.

Also, The Inklings had been meeting for a few years, so as well as each other they had a more diverse yet broadly sympathetic audience among whom to try-out their ideas. Indeed, quite probably, if Lewis and Tolkien had not made this turn towards 'mythology' in 1936, then we would never have heard of the Inklings. Lewis would probably be known by the general public as a Christian apologist only, and Tolkien as a writer of children's fairy tales; because without his (albeit failed) attempts to write mythic adult novels with The Lost Road and then the Notion Club Papers, then the sequel to The Hobbit would probably have been simply a Hobbit-sequel – instead of the Lord of the Rings as we now know it.


According to Tolkien’s later recollection, the two friends tossed a coin and Lewis was tasked with writing a space travel novel and Tolkien a time travel novel.

Lewis's book turned-out to be a space travel novel published as Out of the Silent Planet (OSP), leading onto Perelandra and That Hideous Strength and then the Narnia chronicles; while Tolkien's time travel story never got further than draft fragments published after his death as The Lost Road (LR - written c. 1936-7) and its ambitiously expanded reworking as The Notion Club Papers (NCPs - written 1945-6).

Also relevant is CS Lewis's unfinished and posthumously published story The Dark Tower (probably written around 1939) - which was projected to be a part of the Science fiction trilogy and following on from Out of the Silent Planet.

The opening of DT is strikingly similar to the NCPs - a group of intellectual colleagues discussing and debating the possibilities of time travel - both the Notion Club Papers and Dark Tower having been influenced by An Experiment with Time by J.W Dunne (DT explicitly so).

The time travel discussion group in the Dark Tower becomes an experimental group, as a machine for watching another time is unveiled - and a member gets exchanged with a copy of himself in that other time. And in broad terms this resembles the way in which the Notion Club's experiments with dreaming begin with observation of the last days of Numenor, but go on to establishing a physical connection with that time, and were at one point probably aiming at the presence of Notion Club members at the fall of Numenor.

My assumption is therefore that Tolkien heard or read The Dark Tower since it was written when the Inklings were at their height,  and took this organizational and plot aspect from it for the NCPs. If so, it would have been typical of Tolkien that he mulled over the Dark Tower and the Inkling discussions on time travel for several years before trying to use them in fiction; and it was equally typical of Lewis to use this material much more quickly - so these 'companion pieces' were drafted about six years apart!


It is likely that without their friendship and collaboration, Lewis and Tolkien would not have made this step into mythology - they needed each other in this respect as in some others. But the relationship was not symmetrical: Tolkien needed Lewis more than the reverse: in the sense that Tolkien needed Lewis in order to get his longer works finished. After the Inklings waned and the friendship with Lewis cooled, Tolkien found it impossible to complete any but the shortest of books.


The importance of OSP has been overshadowed by the Narnia chronicles, while the importance of the unpublished LR/ NCPs was (obviously and rightly!) obliterated by The Lord of the Rings. However, at the time they were written the LR/NCPs, being mythical novels for adults, represented a new thematic departure for the authors, and a new attempt at engagement with a wider adult audience. And if (as I argue below) the core Inklings are to be considered as functionally a Christian, counter-revolutionary, reactionary 'conspiracy', aiming to re-mythologize England' (that is, to reconnect England's increasingly secular and dis-enchanted life with its historical and mythical past) - then 1936 is the year when this project began.


The crucial nature of 1936 may seem hard to justify in the case of Tolkien, since it was only about a year later that he began writing LotR. And of course that was the book which eventually successfully combined the mythic seriousness of the earlier 'Silmarillion' legends with the narrative appeal of the Hobbit. But for a long time The Lord of the Rings was 'merely' a sequel to The Hobbit – implicitly, a somewhat-more-adult continuation of The Hobbit – a continuation of the deeper style of the latter part of The Hobbit – but it was not conceived as the ambitious synthesis it eventually became.

(It would require a more detailed analysis of the early drafts of LotR published in the History of Middle Earth than I am either able or willing to embark upon to prove this textually; but it is unarguable that it was only several years down the line from 1937 that LotR gradually became recognizably the kind of book it eventually became.)

In other words, I believe that the Lord of the Rings probably did not become fully and finally a long, serious, mythic adult novel until after The Notion Club Papers were drafted in 1945-6. My sense is that until about September of 1946, the LotR was - on the whole merely a Hobbit sequel - i.e. primarily an adventure book with only glimpses of mythic depth.

And, as such, the LotR had stalled in 1945, and Tolkien was suffering from a serious case of ‘writer’s block. The explicit reasons for this collapse of momentum had to do with discrepancies in the timings of phases of the moon! – but these reasons are wholly inadequate to explain such a prolonged and dismaying pause.


My guess is that LotR stalled because Tolkien was bored with writing a mere Hobbit sequel, an older children’s adventure story - and this is why he lost enthusiasm for Lord of the Rings and began writing something else – at first a topical and somewhat trivial discussion piece for purely Inklings consumption but very soon something highly ambitious but of a very different sort than the early drafts of Lord of the Rings. The intention rapidly (probably within just a few weeks) emerged of creating a modern-style novel which introduced the (still growing) 'Silmarillion' annals to a general literary audience: framing them as feigned history, and proving a mythic rationale for the transmission of these supposedly ancient texts to modern times.


So it is important to recognize that, although unfinished and unpublished, LR and NCP were in fact for many years Tolkien's most ambitious works. The Lost Road and Notion Club Papers were works in which, from their very beginnings or very soon after, Tolkien explicitly worked at achieving his long-term aspiration and project to re-connect modern men with the world of mythology.

By contrast, the Lord of the Rings was conceived as - more-or-less - an 'entertainment' (that is giving the public more of what they had already showed they liked in The Hobbit); and this idea of LotR as entertainment was (I suspect, I guess) not rejected with final certainty until after the NCPs were abandoned and work on LotR re-commenced in the autumn of 1946. At which point it seems (to me) that Tolkien decided to infuse The Hobbit-sequel/ Lord of the Rings with a new seriousness and mythic depth - drawn from Tolkien's immediate experience in drafting the NCPs.


In summary:

The Lord of the Rings is a different kind of book than The Hobbit – and the reason for this difference is usually considered to be that LotR infuses the Silmarillion into The Hobbit, along the lines of:

Lord of the Ring = Hobbit + Silmarillion

So that the key difference between LotR and The Hobbit is seen to be the extra depth provided by references to the Silmarillion legends – High Elves, Elbereth, Numenor and so on.

But I am suggesting that this conception is wrong in its emphasis. These sources of extra depth are significant, but overshadowed by a deeper sense of purpose driving the Lord of the Rings. This purpose is derived from the Notion Club Papers (with roots in the earlier Lost Road).

In my opinion, therefore, the proximate cause of the distinct nature of The Lord of the Rings (contrasted with the Hobbit) was actually a fusion of the child’s perspective of Middle Earth from The Hobbit with the adult mythic-spirit of Lost Road/ Notion Club Papers - and the relationship of LotR with the Silmarillion was less direct and more optional – glimpses of mythic depth, just as in The Hobbit but glimpses more frequent and more developed.

So the correct formulation is more along the lines of:

Lord of the Rings = Hobbit + Lost Road/ Notion Club Papers   (+ Silmarillion)

The elements of The Lord of the Rings are therefore the foreground matter of the Hobbit, the purpose of the Notion Club Papers and the background of the Silmarillion legendarium


JRR Tolkien’s Personality and creative methods


What follows are my speculations about the nature of JRR Tolkien's psychological breakdown 1945-6.

My impression is that this was mostly a matter of alienation brought-on by overwork - in sum, Tolkien was so busy, so 'hassled', so distracted that he had become cut-off from the source of his creativity.

The source of Tolkien's creativity, from which he had become cut-off, was in dream and trance states in which he experienced images having special significance. These images were, I believe, often visualized - as described by the NCP character Ramer, and later Jeremy; but also were related to language, of words and text fragments, as described by the NCP character Lowdham.

Writing The Notion Club Papers was therefore partly a distraction from his miserable emotional state, but partly it was a therapeutic quest: a - successful - attempt at self-healing. 


To be more specific, Tolkien (I believe) found himself so busy and worried by imposed tasks that (for the first time in his life - and probably the last) he was unable either to dream/ day dream or else unable to connect his dreams/ daydreams with the rest of his life - and so his life felt meaningless and lost its purpose.

Fortunately, Tolkien seems to have understood very well what he was going through and why; and his response was to take some time away from work (at least three weeks), have a complete change of scene, to create as much unstructured time as possible, and - via The Notion Club Papers - to return to his roots, his deepest and most spontaneous motivations, aiming to rebuild from this firm foundation.

His strategy took a few months to have a significant effect, but was completely successful - so much so that the NCP novel lost its raison d'etre and was abandoned unfinished.


Tolkien's work was done at the meeting place of fantasy and creative thought with scholarship and reason.

Tolkien relied on the world of fantasy and creativity (which I believe he accessed both in dreams and also in a creative state of altered consciousness - a light trance) to generate the raw material which he then organized in logically and in scholarly fashion using his intelligence and knowledge. And he also relied on the fantasy mode of thinking to evaluate his ideas - either to validate then as 'true', or to reject them as merely contrived invention.

So, Tolkien's world has, to an unmatched extent, the sense of being real; since it is both rationally coherent and also has an emotional base of reality - so the world seems discovered rather than invented.


This therapeutic aspect of NCPs can best be seen in Part One of the published version – focused on Ramer - which is highly confessional in nature. But by Part Two the fictive element, the plot – focused on thedoings of Lowdham and Jeremy - has begun to take charge.

Tolkien's self-therapy via writing the NCPs is quite different in its aim from that of psychoanalysis - although psychoanalysis is alluded to via the character of Dolbear, who is stated to have such interests. Freudian analysis assumes that dreams are a way to get part the mind's censor; while by contrast Jungian analysis assumes that dreams are a method of healing the psyche, including learning how to heal the mind.

But for Tolkien, dreams (and creativity in general) are potentially glimpses of divine Truth - in the sense that dreams (and similar experiences of altered consciousness) can be ways that God communicates with a mind that when awake is too-much distracted by the 'noise' and chatter of modern life - this much is made clear throughout part one of the NCPs.

So, for Tolkien to be cut-off from the source of creativity and truth-validation of dreams was also for him to be cut off from God. In other words, he had become too distracted and hassled by over-work to hear divine  communications.


The therapeutic aspect of writing the NCPs was, then - perhaps – for Tolkien to re-establish communication with his creative roots in dream and unstructured day-dreaming meditation or trance - to heal himself by dreaming, and by considering and meditating-upon his dreams. Especially those recurrent dreams and dream images which he had been experiencing for some three decades - since at least 1914 (when he painted the Land of Pohja, a dream of which is attributed to Ramer - see below).

But the primary self-therapeutic purpose of writing The NCPS was likely to be Christian; aiming for Tolkien to re-establish a proper relation to God. The creative flow, the feeling of energy and purpose – of sub-creation, were thus 'merely' an index that the divinely-inspired messages were again 'getting through'.

The cause of Tolkien’s breakdown

Tolkien seems to have written most of The Notion Club Papers during the darkest and most difficult time of his life - the period of somewhat more than a year which followed after his appointment to the Merton Chair of English Language and literature in June 1945.

The root of the problem seems to have been over work and stress brought on by the fact that he took on the duties of the new professorship (from October of 1945) while overlapping with duties of his previous professorship (in Anglo Saxon, at Pembroke College). So Tolkien was doing a double work load, plus all the extra work of taking on a new job.


Another factor he refers to in later correspondence was that this was the only period of his academic life when he had to teach subjects in which he was not interested, and that he absolutely hated this. I do not know to which aspect of teaching that this comment makes reference - but the memory of this period was lasting.

The Chronology of late 1945 into 1946 - published in JRR Tolkien: a companion and guide by C Scull and WG Hammond in 2006 - is studded with references to Tolkien's overwrought mental state at this time - including the need to take a period of absence from work on medical advice.

In a nutshell, Tolkien suffered what could loosely be termed a 'nervous breakdown' or psychological collapse at this period - an illness characterized, it seems, by anxiety and depression. And it was precisely during this period he wrote the Notion Club Papers, with their accounts of strange psychological experiences, especially of dream states and perceived travel to other times and places.

It is interesting that Tolkien, despite the extreme psychological stresses, did not stop writing; but worked-through his psychological difficulties in fictional terms. It may also be significant that by the time Tolkien resumed work on the Lord of the Rings from Autumn 1946, and after a prolonged break, the book seems firmly to have become conceptualised as a deeper and more serious book than it was when he embarked upon it as a sequel to The Hobbit.

Indeed, my guess is that the nervous breakdown experience of late 1945-1946 had a permanent effect on Tolkien - and that the effect was beneficial to his writing. On the one hand he was able to write with increased emotional depth. Much more speculatively, it is possible that the experience or his self-therapy was able to give him surer access to altered states of consciousness, especially dreams, which provided a source of other-worldly sub-creative reality to the Lord of the Rings.

I tend to think that without the nervous breakdown of 1945-6, and without the experience of writing the Notion Club Papers - the Lord of the Rings would have been a different and lesser book.

The Notion Club Papers as Tolkien's self-therapy

Having established that Tolkien was having a 'nervous breakdown' at the time he was writing The Notion Club Papers (from late 1945 to middle 1946) -



- it is fascinating to consider why Tolkien should have commenced writing this new book at such a time.


At this time, Tolkien was feeling ill, anxious, miserable - he was suffering from great pressure, responsibility, and over-work (due to doing two Professorial jobs at the same time - including teaching material he did not know well and disliked).

Yet, during all this Tolkien wrote, and re-wrote - scores of pages of text, and began the invention of a new language. (The story runs to about 150 printed pages in the History of Middle Earth, plus a similar amount of supplementary material on language etc.)

This strongly suggests to me that writing the NCPs was therapeutic to Tolkien - in some way it made him feel better - otherwise he would not have done it.


So, if writing the NCP was indeed therapeutic, then the subject matter and form of NCP is presumably telling us about Tolkien's deepest and most urgent satisfactions.

These include at least the following:

1. The Inklings - the great importance to Tolkien (at this point in his life) of the group of mature male friends who are fictionalized as the Notion Club.

2. History - the deep yearning Tolkien had to experience history.

3. Language - that Tolkien would begin to invent yet another imaginary language at this time shows how powerful was this urge - as Lewis said, he had lived 'inside' language.

4. Inheritance and heredity - Tolkien's conviction that his own tastes and abilities were substantially a product of the Suffield ancestors on his mother's side; and that his feeling for history and language derived from generations of West Midlanders going back at least to Saxon times.

5. Myth. The mythical aspects of history, language and heredity burst through from ancient times to transform the modern - these things are not bare facts but become rich, suggestive-of and replete-with personal significance.

The over-arching purpose of the NCPs is to link Tolkien's whole fantasy world with real history - to link the (much needed) spiritual truths of mythic reality (especially the emerging 'Lord of the Rings') with the mundane, materialist reality of modern life.


When reading the NCPs, therefore, it is fascinating to bear in mind the conditions under which the book was written; and to consider the degree of urgency which impelled Tolkien to write what he wrote, at the time he wrote it.

Evidence to prove Tolkien's psychological breakdown 1945-6

I suppose that it is well known among expert scholars that Tolkien had a psychological breakdown in 1945-6 -


- especially since the publication of The JRR Tolkien Companion Guide Chronology edited by Christina Scull & Wayne G Hammond (2006).

But the fact does not seem generally known among Tolkien fans.

Yet it is a fact of considerable interest - especially in terms of the composition of Lord of the Rings, its prolonged interruption from 1944 to the second half of 1946; and it gives added interest to the unfinished Notion Club Papers novel composed during this hiatus and (I suspect) conveying information concerning Tolkien's strange state of mind.


When I first read Humphrey Carpenter's authorized biography of Tolkien, it seemed clear to me that some personal facts had been left out - and I read something to confirm this sometime later - I think it was an interview with Carpenter.

Reading the Notion Club Papers, about five years ago, perhaps? - I became intrigued by the experiences of altered consciousness described in that novel - and strongly suspected that they were Tolkien's own experiences. The novel was begun at the Christmas period of 1945 and was worked-on over the next months (probably).

Reading Warnie Lewis's selected dairies (Brothers and Friends) I noticed two entries which confirmed my suspicions:

Saturday 15 December 1945: "Tollers [i.e. Tolkien] and I went out by the 9.35 [train] on Tuesday morning and spent a pleasant day together; he spoke with much more frankness about his domestic life that he has ever used to me before, and did me good in making me realize how trivial after all are the things which I have to complain of at [the] Kilns."

Tuesday 2nd April 1946: "An exquisite sping morning, J[ack] poor devil in Manchester. To the Bird and baby where I was joined by Humphrey [Havard], Tollers and Chris[topher Tolkien]. Tollers looking wonderfully improved by his restcure at Stonyhurst, and in great spirits (having packed his wife off to Brighton for ten days). He has shut up his house and he and Chris are living at the Bear at Woodstock..."

My impression was confirmed on re-reading Tolkien's selected letters - To Michael Tolkien 1 November 1963: "...I was never obliged to teach anything except what I loved (and do) with an inextinguishable enthusiasm. (Save only for a brief time after my change of Chair in 1945 - that was awful.)


This was amply confirmed by the Chronology (Quotes) :

Page 296 - Christmas vacation 1945-August 1946. Tolkien writes during 'a fortnight of comparative leisure' around Christmas 1945 [the beginnings of The Notion Club Papers].

Page 297 - End of 1945-early 1946 ...But neither [Simonne d'Ardenne] nor Tolkien are in sufficiently good health to do extensive work.

Page 298 - End of February-March 1946. Tolkien is ill, the result of various worries.

Page 299 - 20 March 1946. ... He is unwell, and although his doctor has ordered him to apply for a term's leave, he realizes that this is impossible in the present academic plight, short of a complete collapse. He is, however, going away for a while...

25 March - 1 April 1946. Tolkien stays at New Lodge in Stonyhurst, Lancashire (...). In a letter to Stanley Unwin on 21 July 1946 he will say that he came 'near to a real breakdown' around this time, and went away and 'ate and slept and did nothing else, by orders, but only for three weeks, and not for the six months that my doctor prescribed...

Page 301 - Early June 1946. ... he is unwell and also heavily engaged with an extremely difficult term...

Page 302 - 21 July 1946. Letter to Stanly Unwin... I have been ill, worry and overwork mainly, but am a good deal recovered... I hope after this week actually to - write.

Page 305 - c 23 September 1946... Tolkien returns again to The Lord of the Rings [delayed by the 'tiresome business of the election to the Merton Chair'].

So by September, and probably a few weeks earlier Tolkien was recovered.


This makes the dates of Tolkien's psychological problems building-up to become severe approx December 1945, peaking in March and April of 1946, and resolving around July of 1946.



The shamanistic creative method of JRR Tolkien


Tolkien's remarkable creative method has been elucidated by TA Shippey in his Road to Middle Earth; and amply confirmed by the evidence from the History of Middle Earth (HoME) edited by Christopher Tolkien.

In a nutshell, Tolkien treats his 'first draft' as if it were an historical text of which he is a scholarly editor. So when Tolkien is revising his first draft his approach is similar to that he would take when preparing (for example) an historically-contextualized edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, or Beowulf.

So, as he reads his own first draft, he is trying to understand what 'the author' (himself) 'meant', he is aware of the possibility of errors in transcription, or which may have occurred during the historical transmission. He is also aware that 'the author' was writing from a position of incomplete knowledge, and was subject to bias.


This leads to some remarkable compositional occurrences. For example, in the HoME Return of the Shadow (covering the writing of the first part of Lord of the Rings - LotR) Tolkien wrote about the hobbits hiding from a rider who stopped and sniffed the air. The original intention was that this rider was to be Gandalf and they were hiding to give him a surprise 'ambush'. In the course of revision the rider became a 'Black Rider' and the hobbits were hiding in fear - the Black Riders were later, over many revisions, and as the story progressed, developed into the most powerful servants of Sauron.

This is a remarkable way of writing. Most writers know roughly what they _mean_ in their first draft, and in the process of revising and re-drafting they try to get closer to that known meaning. But Tolkien did the reverse: he generated the first draft, then looked at it as if that draft had been written by someone else, and he was trying to decide what it meant - and in this case eventually deciding that it meant something pretty close to the opposite of the original meaning.

In other words, Tolkien's original intention counted for very little, but could be - and was, massively reinterpreted by the editorial decision. The specifics of the incident (rider, sniffing) stayed the same; but the interpretation of the incident was radically altered. This pattern is often seen throughout the HoME - specific details are retained, while the meaning of these is transformed throughout the process of revision.

(By contrast, most authors maintain the interpretation of incidents throughout revisions, but change the specific details.)


This corresponds to the transmission of texts through history - specific and striking incidents tend to be remembered and preserved - while (due to historical changes in culture, assumptions, background knowledge etc) these incidents get hugely re-interpreted in 'anachronistic' ways. So the incident may stay the same, but its meaning may be reversed.

I have seen this with a couple of folk tales during my life. When I was a child King Midas - everything he touched turned to gold - was regarded as a cautionary tale of greed leading to (potential) death (since his food and drink were also turned to gold). But nowadays, the Midas Touch is regarded as something desirable - it means the ability to make money in any situation. Presumably the benefits of wealth are now regarded as greater than survival!

"Shooting yourself in the foot" used to mean a deliberate act of self-wounding with the aim of being invalided away from the front line of a war. Someone shot themselves in the foot on purpose, but pretended it was an accident. But it now means almost the reverse - an accidentally self-inflicted wound.

In both cases a striking detail is preserved, but its meaning is transformed.


Tolkien's compositional technique recognizes this process - and Tolkien approached his first draft of composition as if the draft were the end product of this type of misinterpretation or distortion. So, his draft containing the striking detail of the sniffing rider'; but it is as if Tolkien assumed that the meaning of the detail had been misunderstood by one of the copyists via whom the text had been transmitted to Tolkien.

But why did Tolkien write in this way? I think there are two reasons. The first is that he was by profession a philologist: a scholarly editor, a man concerned with old and fragmentary and distorted texts - and he brought this skill and perspective to his fictional writing.

But secondly it relates to Tolkien's creative processes - which were 'shamanistic' (and it is one of the purposes of this blog to demonstrate the fact, since it comes through so strongly in the Notion Club Papers). By shamanistic, I mean that I believe much of Tolkien's primary, first-draft creative, imaginative work was done in a state of altered consciousness - a 'trance' state or using ideas from dreams. The re-writing was done in clear consciousness, with full critical faculties brought to bear.


This combination of creating a dreamlike first draft which is then used as the basis for scholarly and meticulous revisions is not unusual among creative people, perhaps especially poets. Robert Graves wrote about this a great deal.

And neither is it unusual for poets to treat their 'inspired' first draft as material for editing. The first draft - if it truly is inspired - is interpreted as coming from elsewhere - from divine sources, from 'the muse', or perhaps from the creative unconscious; at any rate, the job of the alert and conscious mind is to 'make sense' of this material without destroying the bloom or freshness derived from its primary source. In this respect, and others, Tolkien wrote more like a poet than a novelist.

This is, I believe, why Tolkien did not see himself as inventing, rather as understanding. He was not consciously inventing his first drafts but rather 'transcribing' material which came to him during altered states of consciousness, by a process of inspiration which was not under his control. When revising this primary material, if he found that key evidence was missing, he could try and interpolate it like a historian by extrapolation from other evidence, linking between the inspired material; or he could await further poetic inspiration, which might provide the answer.

This interpretation is also consistent with Tolkien's oft stated remarks that the Legendarium came from the language; in the sense that words were often primary data which required to be understood - for example the Anglo Saxon word Earendil. As Tolkien's Legendarium evolved, the meaning of Earendil (the myth behind the word) changed - but the word remained.

Or, the meaning of the Beren and Luthien story changed (Beren was originally an elf) - but key details of the story remained constant.


Tolkien - I think - regarded these key words or key story elements as his primary source material, material which must be preserved throughout revision because it had been inspired. The interpretation of these emotionally-charged, entities (words, story elements, images, artefacts) might change, might even reverse, but the entity should be kept the same throughout all these changes, because that was what had been 'given' to Tolkien from his primary sources, accessed during his most profound creative states.


Personality of JRR Tolkien: classic creative genius


That JRR Tolkien was a first rank creative genius is a matter of judgment at this stage; but there are reasonable grounds for suggesting that this is by now close to being an established objective fact based on consensus and influence - for instance, TA Shippey makes a strong case in 'Author of the Century'.

HJ Eysenck, the eminent psychologist, wrote a book about Genius (1995) shortly before his death and synthesizing a lifetime's research; where he described the typical features of a creative Genius whether in science or the arts. As well as needing 'luck', the Genius also needed very high intelligence (IQ), a strong ego, and - most controversially - Eysenck argued that creativity was associated with a moderately high level of the personality trait termed Psychoticism.

Very high Psychoticism is associated with psychotic mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and also with antisocial psychopaths; very low Psychoticism includes all sorts of traits which are generally regarded as socially desirable such as a friendly and empathic personality, self discipline and conscientiousness. An extremely high level of Psychoticism would usually rule out creative achievement. In general, it is better to be low in Psychoticism oneself, and to have neighbours low in Psychoticism; however, moderately high (but not very high) levels of Psychoticism have one very positive feature: that of enhancing creativity.

For Eysenck, creativity is part way to insanity, in the sense that the weird experiences and crazy ideas of insanity are an extreme version of the processes of creativity. Creativity is therefore seen as a version of the thought processes occurring during dream, the wide ranging associations between material. He also notes that creative people have much higher than average levels of psychotic illness, alcohol and drug usage - and various other signs indicating that the trait of creativity is associated with a tendency towards altered states of consciousness.

Most people who are high in pure, wide-associative-field creativity are not able to achieve much with it, due to low intelligence or the other aspects of a high Psychoticism personality. So there is a very important distinction between creativity and creative achievement - and most highly creative people do _not_ achieve highly; not least because their creativity is usually associated with antisocial traits and rather poor self-discipline.

It is the rare combination of high creativity with high IQ and a strong sense of self (ego strength) which potentially allows high levels of creative achievement. From here on I will say nothing more about ego strength (which is a poorly defined concept) and focus on combination of high IQ and moderately-high Psychoticism as a basis (although not the whole story) for high creative achievement.

In surveying the Notion Club Papers in particular, but in the context of everything I have read by and about JRR Tolkien, I would regard him as a classic creative Genius: with a very high IQ and moderately high Psychoticism.

That Tolkien had a very high IQ would not be disputed by those who know of his biography and very rapid ascent to academic eminence; and the reports of those who knew him. High general intelligence is associated with the ability to understand and learn very rapidly, to solve novel problems, and to reason abstractly. Tolkien was always perceived, and from a young age, as extremely quick-witted.

However, I would argue that Tolkien also showed signs of moderately high Psychoticism such as a tendency towards experiencing altered states of consciousness, and moderately low levels of self-discipline and conscientiousness as evidenced by his truly amazing lack of ability to finish projects in which he was not very interested - such as the Clarendon textbook about Chaucer, over which he spent several decades before abandoning unfinished, or the preface to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (which could have been finished in a few days but was delayed for about a decade until Tolkien died before publishing it). The new Chronology of Tolkien's life (in the recent JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide) is replete with similar examples.

This trait of moderately low conscientiousness goes back to school days and his early university career where, despite his high intelligence and ability, he took two attempts to achieve a financial award to attend Oxford, and even then failed to get a scholarship but instead attained a lower level of funding called an exhibition. And his first university course was 'classics' - the conventional high status Oxford degree, but which did not much interest Tolkien. After scraping a low second class mark in his first set of classics examinations (and only getting that high a mark due to the philological part of the course - otherwise he would have received a disgraceful 'third'), Tolkien switched to an English degree mostly consisting of his beloved philological studies - and excelled from that point onwards, receiving a full Oxford Professorship (the pinnacle of his profession in the UK) at the remarkably early age of 32 (and despite his years of service in the 1914-18 war).

In other words there is a consistent pattern throughout Tolkien's life of very high achievement when doing things that he loved, combined with a near-inability to do things which he did not love. This is a classic pattern of moderately-high Psychoticism seen in many (but not all) creative Geniuses - they do _not_ excel at things that do _not_ engage their deepest interest. Another example was Einstein, whose early scholarly career was somewhat mediocre until the point when he could work on exactly that subject which most engaged him. Einstein was of course - par excellence - the epitome of an imaginative, visualizing, intuitive creative genius.

Therefore Tolkien, like many creative geniuses, could work incredibly hard and fast on topics which deeply interested him; but was almost unable to get himself to work on topics which - although he felt a duty to do them - did not interest him deeply.

To see the difference between a highly intelligent person like Tolkien with moderately high Psychoticism/ high creativity and lowish Conscientiousness; and a person of similar intelligence but with low Psychoticism and high Conscientiousness - one need look no further than his friend CS Lewis.

Lewis could make himself work hard and regular hours even on matters which bored him but which he felt he ought to do - for example correspondence - at which he laboured for about 2 hours per day in later life. Meanwhile Lewis was publishing around a book a year plus scholarly articles and journalism: a vast volume of _finished_ work.

Yet Lewis was not so creative as Tolkien. He is of course much more creative than most people; but in comparison with Tolkien his fecundity was more a matter of selecting, combining and extrapolating from his vast fund of knowledge. And Lewis had a tendency to lapse into pastiche, which is evidence of his lower mode of creation (Tolkien by contrast would lapse into bathos - which is more the mark of a first rank creative genius when having an off-day - think of some of Wordsworth's lamest poems...).

Lewis did have 'visions', or images - from which his fictions often arose (eg the vision of a faun with a parcel which was elaborated into the Narnia books) - but Lewis was not in the same league as Tolkien in terms of creative imagination: the ability deeply to imagine a believable world (believable to the reader and inhabitable by the reader because it was believed and inhabited by the author).

One can also see this in their poetry - Lewis was a skilled versifier, while Tolkien was a lyric poet who at times (albeit rarely, like all but the greatest lyric poets) achieved greatness (e.g. Three rings for the elven kings...', or 'Where now the horse and the rider?").

Like other true lyric poets, Tolkien in his own poetic loves focuses on very specific phrases which have a mystical depth and resonance for him, such as "éala éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended" or "Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað" . This, I take it, is evidence of the highly creative mind, that finds wider associations than usual mortals can discover.

By contrast, Lewis - although a greater and more productive critic of English Literature than Tolkien - seems to me both to interpret as well as write poetry much more narrowly and literally - more as if it were a technical form of prose (which of course is true of almost all so-called-poetry, almost all of the time - i.e. most soi disant lyric poetry is a kind of manufactured fake, displaying borrowed plumes).

Tolkien has often been described as if he were a rather dull character who never did much - that is probably most people's take home image from Humphrey Carpenter's biography. A rather typically stuffy and inhibited English Professor of his stuffy and inhibited era. But the truth is far in the opposite direction: JRR Tolkien was an extraordinary man, with an extraordinary mind, and living at an extraordinarily vivid and creative time - he was not just intellectually brilliant but _wildly_ creative.

In my opinion, when we think of what Tolkien was like, or of who Tolkien most resembled, we should be making comparisons with other imaginative, creative, idiosyncratic geniuses of something like the stature of Einstein. Yes, really.


Ghosts in the Notion Club Papers

The Notion Club Papers seem to suggest that JRR Tolkien believed in ghosts.

On page 179, the subject of haunting is introduced in a way that suggests that all members of the Notion Club accept the reality of the phenomenon.

Ramer is describing his idea of how to use 'the history of things whose paths have, at some point of time or space, crossed the path of my body'.

He argues that the mind uses the memory of its body and that memory may be one example of a record of past events which is embodied in a specific form. He adds that 'disintegration of the form destroys the memory'.

In trying to elucidate this idea, he brings up the example of 'a haunted house', to which Jeremy responds that 'All houses are haunted.' to which Ramer promptly replies 'I agree', and the next participant, Frankley, adds his opinion that 'haunting and atmosphere (which I suppose is what Jeremy means), are something added by accident of history (...) They're not part of the house itself, qua house.'

What is striking is the lack of disagreement among the Notion Club concerning the premise that house haunting is a real phenomenon. The discussions are instead concerned with the precise mechanism of haunting.

Ramer says that 'if you destroy an actual house, qua house, you also destroy, or dissipate, the special haunting. If a haunted house were pulled to pieces, it would stop being haunted, even if it were built up as accurately as possible again. Or so I think, and so-called 'psychical' research seems to bear me out.'

Jeremy points out that 'you can go a long way, short of destruction, without wholly banishing atmosphere or laying ghosts (...). Bricking up windows, changing staircases, and things like that.'

To which Lowdham adds a funny story about a 'well authenticated' case of a haunted house in which builders raised a floor level after which the ghost’s feet were seen walking along under the level of the new ceiling.

[I have heard a version of this story told about Treasurer's House in the city of York, England - but this was reported in 1953, after the writing of the NCPs].

Ramer concludes with the comment that 'I expect there are in fact lots of neglected chances of historical research, with proper training; especially among old houses and things more or less shaped by man.'

So, the NCP consensus is that some hauntings are real, and might even be used for historical research. My reading of this, and the tone of the passage, leads me to suspect that Tolkien was reporting both his own belief in the reality and nature of haunting, and perhaps also the consensus of the Inklings - as if they had had similar conversations to the Notion Club.

On page 196 the conversation again moves onto the subject of ghosts when Jeremy asks Ramer about the nature of other minds that come into contact with Ramer's mind during dreams:

"What kind of minds visit you?" asked Jeremy. "Ghosts?"

"Well, yes of course, ghosts," said Ramer. "Not departed human spirits, though; not in my case, as far as I can tell. Beyond that what shall I say? Except that some of them seem to know about things a very long way indeed from here. It is not a common experience with me, at least my awareness of any contact is not.'

My usual assumption is that Ramer is channeling Tolkien - and if so, then the NCPs suggest that Tolkien had considerable interest in, and experience of, hauntings and ghosts; and that (as was the case for dreams) he regarded hauntings and ghosts as potentially a source of useful historical and geographical information.

Of course such unconventional beliefs of JRR Tolkien can be ignored or simply dismissed; on the other hand, if such an intelligent and well-informed a group as the Inklings really did believe in hauntings and ghosts, there exists the possibility that they may have been right!

Notes added 26 March 2010 - On 24 November 1944 JRRT wrote to his son Christopher about an Inklings meeting at which they had "some illuminating discussion of 'ghosts' ". Presumably this real life Inklings formed the basis of the discussion of ghosts in the Notion Club Papers. Letters of JRR Tolkien, H Carpenter and C Tolkien, 1981 page 103.


Tolkien and the sea-yearning - the meaning of Earendil

I was always puzzled by Tolkien's emphasis on the sea as an ultimate yearning.

In the Notion Club Papers there are the examples of Lowtham (and, especially, his father), and of the Numenoreans (the greatest mariners among all Men, perhaps even greater than the greatest elves), and of the Imram poem.

In Lord of the Rings all elves (even those whose ancestors have always dwelt inland, among the woods) are said to harbour a sea-yearning; indeed most of the most admirable and heroic characters (Aragorn being an exception) have this longing.

And Tolkien's original legendarium hero- Earendil - was of course a mariner. Also the very early Aelfwine character, who visited fairyland and linked it to England.


This has always struck me as strange - since Tolkien did not write very much detail about the sea in the way that he wrote about trees and mountains.

It seems to me that Tolkien's own sea longing was deeply buried, and that - unlike his heroes - in his actual behaviour Tolkien seems not to have had a need to get into boats and launch out onto the waves.


But Earendil may be the clue.

In essence, this complex and changing character was an 'angel'; a messenger, and specifically a messenger from earth to heaven.

Earendil also became an actual angel, apparently; being transformed from a human (elf or man) to a spiritual and semi-divine form. 

And (perhaps) Aelfwine was 'merely' a diluted and more materialistically-plausible version of Earendil the messenger; bringing back knowledge of the elves to Middle earth.


I think Tolkien regarded the sea longing as an aspect or representation of saintliness, where sainthood is conceptualized as being a link between the earthly and heavenly realms, the saint as intercessor for humankind with God.

And that Tolkien saw this - on the one had - as the highest conceivable human calling; yet on the other hand - not his personal calling.

So Tolkien wrote-about the sea-longing as representing sainthood - the highest aspiration; but did not himself share this longing to a significant extent, and did not regard himself as a saint nor called to strive for sainthood.

He was, pretty much, happy enough with trees. 


More specifically still, I would say that the sea-longing stands for ascetic sainthood - the launch into the unknown and placing oneself (ultimately, whatever strivings are needed for navigation) at God's mercy.

The single-minded pursuit of holiness.

The obvious link here is Tolkien's Imram versions of the St Brendan legend, which appears in the NCPs.


Spiritual striving towards sanctity is, at some level, what Tolkien's mariner heroes are doing - when their sea-desire is not corrupted into power-seeking and conquest (as happened to the Numenoreans).


In real life, Tolkien achieved the lower (although still highly admirable) aim of communion with nature in the forms of a well-tilled landscape, of woodland and forest especially, and with yearning glances in the direction of distant mountain peaks.

But although the even-higher yearning towards the sea fascinated Tolkien, it was probably somewhat alien to his nature.

He repeatedly, compulsively, with fascination and admiration, wrote about those individuals (and races) who were subject to this sea-yearning, and seemed to accord them the highest esteem - yet I would guess Tolkien himself did not directly share this yearning, which is why he wrote comparatively little about the sea itself, and even less about the experience of sea-going.

Evil minds attacking during sleep

From The Notion Club Papers - an unfinished novel by JRR Tolkien. In Sauron Defeated - The History of Middle Earth Volume IX. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. 1992. Pages 195-7.

"'[Ramer said:] ...it is largely a rest-time, sleep. As often as not the mind is inactive, not making things up (for instance). It then just inspects what is presented to it, from various sources - with very varying degrees of interest, I may say. It's not really frightfully interested in the digestion and sex items sent in by the body.'

"'What is presented to it, you say?' said Frankley. 'Do you mean that some of the presentments come from outside, are shown to it?'

"'Yes. For instance: in a halting kind of way I had managed to get on to other vehicles; and in dream I did it better and more often. So other minds do that occasionally to me. Their resting on me need not be noticed, I think, or hardly at all; I mean, it need not affect me or interfere with me at all; but when they are doing so, and are in contact, then my mind can use them. The two minds don't tell stories to one another, even if they're aware of the contact. They just are in contact and can learn.

"'After all, a wandering mind (if it's at all like mine) will be much more interested in having a look at what the other knows than in trying to explain to the stranger the things that are familiar to itself.'

"'Evidently if the Notion Club could all meet in sleep, they'ld find things pretty topsy-turvy,' said Lowdham.

"'What kind of minds visit you?' asked Jeremy. 'Ghosts?

"'Well, yes of course, ghosts,' said Ramer. 'Not departed human spirits, though; not in my case, as far as I can tell..'.

"'Beyond that what shall I say? Except that some of them seem to know about things a very long way indeed from here. It is not a common experience with me, at least my awareness of any contact is not.'

"'Aren't some of the visitors malicious?' said Jeremy. 'Don't evil minds attack you ever in sleep?'

"'I expect so,' said Ramer. 'They're always on the watch, asleep or awake.

"'But they work more by deceit than attack. I don't think they are specially active in sleep. Less so, probably. I fancy they find it easier to get at us awake, distracted and not so aware. The body's a wonderful lever for an indirect influence on the mind, and deep dreams can be very remote from its disturbance.

"'Anyway, I've very little experience of that kind - thank God!

"'But there does come sometimes a frightening... a sort of knocking at the door: it doesn't describe it, but that'll have to do. I think that is one of the ways in which that horrible sense of fear arises: a fear that doesn't seem to reside in the remembered dream-situation at all, or wildly exceeds it.

"'I'm not much better off than anyone else on this point, for when that fear comes, it usually produces a kind of dream- concussion, and a passage is erased round the true fear-point.

"'But there are some dreams that can't be fully translated into sight and sound. I can only describe them as resembling such a situation as this: working alone, late at night, withdrawn wholly into yourself; a noise, or even a nothing sensible, startles-you; you get prickles all over, become acutely self-conscious, uneasy, aware of isolation: how thin the walls are between you and the night.

"'That situation may have various explanations here. But out (or down) there sometimes the mind is suddenly aware that there is a night outside, and enemies walk in it: one is trying to get in.

"'But there are no walls,' said Ramer sombrely. 'The soul is dreadfully naked when it notices it, when that is pointed out to it by something alien. It has no armour on it, it has only its being. But there is a guardian.

"'He seems to command precipitate retreat. You could, if you were a fool, disobey, I suppose. You could push him away. You could have got into a state in which you were attracted by the fear. But i can't imagine it.

"' I'ld rather talk about something else.' "



At this point in The Notion Club Papers, Ramer seems to be Tolkien's mouthpiece. I assume that the experiences he describes were, more or less, those of Tolkien (specific examples of this are confirmed in several footnotes by Christopher Tolkien).

This was written, according to the Chronology published in JRR Tolkien: a companion and guide by Hammond and Scull, at around the lowest point in Tolkien's life - associated with him doing the work of two Oxford Professorships at the same time (coving his move from the Pembroke chair of Anglo Saxon to the Merton chair of English Language and Literature), and also having to teach subjects in which he had no interest.

At any rate, it seems that Tolkien had direct personal experience of dreams in which he felt himself under attack by malicious minds.

C.S Lewis drew upon similar experiences in his work - most obviously in the Screwtape letters; and the work of Charles Williams is permeated with the phenomenon. These matters were discussed in The Inklings meetings.

So, seventy years ago it was apparently the case that highly prestigious and able individuals (who had and continue to have a major cultural influence) were openly discussing the 'supernatural' workings of evil purpose in the universe.

Seventy years later, to do so is - for mainstream public discourse, at least in the UK - taken to be evidence of craziness or simple-mindedness (the sort of thing that only 'fundamentalists' might engage in).

Is this progress? What discoveries were made over recent decades that rendered this kind of discussion absurd? Are we (as individuals, as a culture), nowadays, smarter, more insightful, wiser, more-learned, more honest than the circle of Tolkien and Lewis?

Or are we, perhaps, inferior in almost every respect - individually and culturally? So it seems.

In which case they are likely to know better than we; and we should be prepared to learn from them - or at the very least to take seriously what they took seriously.


Tolkien as mystic


It is well known that Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, and attended mass frequently throughout his life. However, the comments of Ramer suggest that (unlike Tolkien's friend C.S. Lewis) Tolkien may in addition have had religious or spiritual experiences, and probably some of his personal beliefs were related to these experiences.

However, these experiences (if that is what they are) are only discussed in fictionalized (or semi-fictionalized) form in Tolkien's work as published so far (so far as I know), perhaps because these experiences were private, or of dubious orthodoxy; or since Tolkien seems to have regarded specifically religious discourse as the province only of priests, accredited theologians and the like (one of the reasons that he was apparently uncomfortable with C.S. Lewis's highly successful explicitly religious writings).

On page 195 of the Notion Club Papers volume, Ramer comments that during sleep the mind inspects material that is presented to it from various sources. The club member Frankley picks up on the word 'presented' and asks whether this means that some of the material come from outside.

Ramer replies: "Yes. For instance: in a halting kind of way I had managed to get onto other vehicles; and in dream I did it better and more often. So other minds do that occasionally to me. Their resting on me need not be noticed, I think, or hardly at all; I mean, it need not affect me or interfere with me at all; but when they are doing so, and are in contact, then my mind can use them. The two minds don't tell stories to one another, even if they're aware of the contact. They are just in contact and can learn."

This strikes me as such an unusual idea that, again, I would regard Ramer as here reporting what was essentially Tolkien's own personal mystical or spiritual experience that was perceived as telepathic contact between his mind and other minds, occurring in dreams, and in which some of these other minds were non-human, and from outside the earth.

This interpretation emphasises the conviction behind the frequent assumptions of Tolkien scattered throughout his works that knowledge obtained in dreams may provide true information which would otherwise be unavailable; although he always makes clear that dreams can be confused, memories are often incomplete and distorted, and that human sinfulness and imperfection may warp the reporting and interpretation.

More than this, Tolkien (via Ramer) also states that there dream experiences have informed him that there is purposive evil in the universe, with a specific purpose of harming humans (among other things, presumably), and that this evil may have widespread influence on humanity via dream experiences.

The reality of purposive evil is of course a major element in Tolkien's legendarium including LotR. This is a view of life which is mainstream among humans throughout most of the modern world, and has been universal (so far as we know) throughout most of history and until recently - yet of course it is not now part of the moral system of secular modern societies, where 'evil' is regarded as only the 'privation', or lack, of good (as Ralph Waldo Emerson termed it).

But the modern secular elite ruling class does not believe in evil as either positive or pervasive. To talk of evil in everyday elite life in the way that Tolkien does here is to elicit sniggering condescension at best, or more likely to be regarded as a deranged and dangerous reactionary.

Nonetheless, it is clear that in 'real life' Tolkien believed in the reality of purposive evil, and this is also a major theme in his works where such evil operates spiritually in dreams as well as materially in the waking world.

There are two notes to this above passage which expand on the point - one which is part of the fictional text on pages 195-6 purportedly authored by the fictional Notion Club Secretary Nicholas Guildford, in relation to the telepathic 'reading' of other minds in contact. This concludes with:

"There's a danger there, of course. You might inspect a mind and think you were looking at a record (true in its own terms of things external to you both), when it was really the other mind's composition, fiction. There's lying in the universe, some very clever lying. I mean, some very potent fiction is specially composed to be inspected by others and to deceive, to pass as record; but is made for the malefit of Man. If men already lean to lies, or have thrust aside the guardians, they may read some very maleficial stuff. It seems that they do."

['Malefit' is a word invented by Tolkien meaning the opposite of 'benefit']

This is amplified by note 47 printed on page 217 which is an early version of this passage, containing the following more explicit account of what Tolkien was driving-at:

"To judge by the ideas men propogate now, their curious unanimity, and obsession, I should say that a terrible lot of men have thrust aside the Guardians, and are reading very maleficial stuff.'

The nature of the 'Guardians' will be elucidated later in the main text as printed. But the first draft makes clear that Ramer (and perhaps Tolkien?) is making the suggestion that purposive evil can perhaps work in dreams to mislead misguided human minds, en masse, to believe false and damaging stuff; and that this may be an explanation for the coordinated deluded behaviour that Ramer sees in mainstream public opinion.

Whether this description of the operations of evil reflects Tolkien's real life conviction, his real life suspicions, or is a purely fictional device - it is a remarkable idea: the idea that humankind has been, and presumably is being, corrupted and led to disaster by wrong human choices made during dreams, and by deliberately false knowledge spread by purposive evil during dreams.

I have never come across anything like this idea before - yet it is just one of the many amazing and haunting ideas which Tolkien scatters through the NCPs; and provides yet more evidence of the depth of fecundity and profound originality of Tolkien's creativity.

Ramer as Tolkien

Several of the characters in the Notion Club seem to contain elements of Tolkien. But the main protagonist of Part 1, Michael George Ramer, seems to contain some of the most surprising - including aspects of belief and behaviour which do not (so far as I know) come through in other writings by or about Tolkien.

In particular, Ramer gives very detailed accounts of psychological experiments concerned with 'telepathic' attempts at space and time travel, mainly using dreams. These accounts are given in such extreme detail, and with considerable conviction, that they raise the likelihood that Tolkien made such experiments himself and had similar experiences (or even exactly the same experiences) as described by Ramer.

If Tolkien did not actually embark on these experiments and have these experiences, then the NCPs constitute evidence that he had at least thought about these matters in considerable detail, and followed through the possible outcomes of such experiments.

Ramer's accounts go beyond anything published elsewhere, as I mentioned, but there are at least three experiences of Ramer which are given specific endorsement by Christopher Tolkien in the notes, as having been actual experiences of his father - while others are fascinations that appear elsewhere in Tolkien's writing at times distant from the composition of the NCPs.

Therefore, my inclination is to assume that these specific confirmations are but the tip of an iceberg - and that pretty-much all of Ramer's comments are probably 'Tolkien talking'.


The NCPs start out with a critical discussion of a science fiction story which has been read out by Ramer - until Ramer is pressurized (mainly by Dolbear) into admitting that he had not 'made-up' the story about visiting another planet, but had actually been to the place: 'there is such a world, and I saw it - once.'

On page 173 Ramer begins to explain that he was attracted by the 'telepathic notion' that the mind can travel while the body is in a trance. He relates this to the phenomenon which he says 'cannot reasonably be doubted' that the future can be foreseen in dreams, and that there are 'authenticated modern instances' of visions of this type. Ramer describes this as a 'case of translation', a transference of observation which is usually obscured by the 'never ending racket of sense impressions'.

This interest in, or belief in, the possibility of 'telepathy' chimes with Tolkien's Osanwe-Kentar (published in the magazine Vinyar Tengwar in 1998 Vol 39). This was probably from work on the Silmarillion Legendarium around 1959-60 (more than a decade after the NCPs). Tolkien here asserts that direct communication of thoughts is possible not just for elves but men also, but it is subject to interference from spoken language. Also that men's abilities are weaker than the elves (especially the Eldar) due to men’s relative lack of control of the body.

Ramer then traces the sequence of his psychological experiments, and the ideas which lay behind them. On page 178 he says: 'I had the notion (...) that for movement or travelling the mind (when abstracted from the flood of sense) might use the memory of the past and the foreshadowing for the future that reside in all things, including what we call 'inanimate matter' (...) I mean, perhaps, the causal descent from the past, and the causal probability in the present, that are implicit in everything. At any rate, I thought that might be one of the mind's vehicles [for travelling in space and/ or time]'.

Ramer’s aim was 'to observe new things far off in Time and Space beyond the compass of a terrestrial animal.'

'...I thought that all I could do was to refine my observation of other things that have moved and will move: to inspect the history of things whose paths have, at some point of time and space, crossed the path of my body.'

'The mind uses the memory of its body. Could it use other memories, or rather, records? (...) The fragments, right down to the smallest units, no doubt, preserve the record of their own particular history, and that may include some of the history of the combinations they are entered into.'

(page 180) 'I expect there are in fact lots of neglected chances of historical research, with proper training, especially among old houses and things more or less shaped by man.'

'So I tried various experiments, on myself; various forms of training. It's difficult to concentrate, chiefly because it's difficult to get quiet enough. (...) I wanted to discover if my mind had any power, any trainable latent power, to inspect and become aware of the memory or record in other things. (...) I don't think I have any special talent for it. (...) It is difficult, and it is also frightfully slow. Less slow, of course, with things that have organic life, or any kind of human associations. (...) It's slow, and its faint. In inorganic things too faint to surmount the blare of waking sense, even with eyes shut and ears stopped.'

My interpretation is that, via Ramer, Tolkien is here either describing his own beliefs and self-experiments; or at the least his own potential beliefs and detailed thought-experiments. Either way, it is telling us something about Tolkien's personality which is considerably at odds with that rather hidebound reactionary which the young Humphrey Carpenter put forward in the authorized biography - a much stranger and intellectually unorthodox personality.

At this point, Ramer's experiments in trying to attain telepathic movement in time and space via inspecting the 'memories' located in other entities seems to have failed. However, at this point Ramer brings in the third 'thread' in his argument - which was the deliberate use of dreaming.

'Remember, I was also training my memory on dreams at the same time. And that is how I discovered that the other experiments affected them. Though they were blurred, blurred by the waking senses beyond recognition, I found that these other perceptions were not wholly un-noted; they were like things that are passed over when one is abstracted or distracted, but that are really 'taken in'. And asleep, the mind rooting about (...) in the day's leavings (...) would inspect them again with far less distraction, and all the force of its original desire.'

Again, to me, this passage has the feel of direct reportage.

Ramer then goes on to talk about some of the dreams: 'I used to get at that time very extraordinary geometric patterns presented to me, shifting kaleidoscopes especially, but not blurred; and other queer webs and tissues too. And other non-visual impressions also, very difficult to describe; some like rhythms, almost like music; and throbs and stresses.'

Again my impression is that Tolkien - via Ramer - is here striving to express something very difficult to express from his personal experience. This, especially, because the passage does not work very well in the narrative and stands-out as being unnecessarily detailed.

'But all the time, of course, I wanted to get off the earth. That's how I got the notion of studying a meteorite' (...) I took to hobnobbing with [a large meteorite in a public park]. (...) It seemed to be quite without results. ‘

However, later Ramer found that 'there had been results. It had evidently taken some time to digest [the memory records in the meteorite], and even partially translate them. But that is how I first got away, and beyond the sphere of the Moon, and very much further.'

This begins to sound more speculative, and yet the following reported experience is explicitly verified by Christopher Tolkien: Ramer reports that he got 'some very odd dreams or sleep experiences. Some were quite unpictorial, and those were the worst. Weight, for instance. Just Weight, with a capital W; very horrible. But it was not a weight that was pressing on me; you understand; it was a perception of, or sympathy in, an experience of almost illimitable weight.'

The note from Christopher Tolkien reads: 'My father once described to me his dream of 'pure weight''.

Ramer is struggling to describe a very strange dream experience, and it seems that it was also describing an actual dream of Tolkien's. This was not what Ramer desired from his dreams, and he again changed strategy:

(Page 183) 'I found it all very disturbing. Not what I wanted, or at least not what I had hoped for. So I turned more than ever to dream-inspection, trying to get 'deeper down'. I attended to dreams in general, but more and more to hose least connected with the immediate irritations of the body's senses. Of course, I had experienced, as most people have, parts of more or less rationally connected dreams and even one or two serial or repeating dreams. And I have had also the experience of remembering fragments of dreams that seemed to posses a 'significance' or emotion that the waking mind could not discern in the remembered scene. (...) Many of these 'significant patches' seemed to me much more like random ages torn out of a book.'

Christopher Tolkien's notes reads: 'Of this experience also my father spoke to me.'

So here we have further corroboration that Ramer is speaking of Tolkien’s experiences. And these experiences constitute an account of experiments in dreaming. In Verlyn Flieger's Question of Time she goes into great detail about the use of meaningful dreams not just in the NCPs but throughout Tolkien's whole corpus. It seems likely to me that this was a major interest of Tolkien’s, including a practical and self-experimental interest; and that he was discussing this via the mouthpiece of Ramer in a form where the whole matter could be discussed week by week in Inklings meetings.

I think it likely that a major motivation for writing the Notion Club Papers was precisely that it served as a semi-fictional vehicle whereby some of Tolkien's most strangest and most compelling beliefs and experiences could be presented candidly, yet somewhat indirectly, for detailed discussion in the safe and trusted context of the Inklings.
Another Ramer-Tolkien parallel identified - The Land of Pohja painting

From The Notion Club Papers, page 194.

[Ramer] "Here are some of the [dream] fragments of this kind. (...)

"And over and over again, in many stages of growth and many different lights and shadows, three tall trees, slender, foot to foot on a green mound, and crowned with an embracing halo of blue and gold."


These are depicted, precisely, in a painting done by Tolkien on 27 December 1914 and entitled The Land of Pohja.

The painting is reproduced on page 44 of J.R.R. Tolkien: artist and illustrator, by WG Hammond and C Scull, Harper Collins: London, 2004.

Since the Notion Club Papers were being written in early 1946, this means that Tolkien had probably had his dream of the three tall trees 'over and over again' for a period of more than thirty years!

Native language?

NCPs pp 201-2


"We each have a native language of our own - at least potentially.


"... the inherited, first-learned language - what is usually mis-called 'native' - bites in early and deep. It is hardly possible to escape from its influence. And later-learned languages also affect the natural style, colouring a man's linguistic taste; the earlier learned the more so.


"In such rare dreams as I was thinking about, far away by oneself in voiceless countries, then your own native language bubbles up, and makes new names for strange new things. "


Tolkien's understanding of such matters is that we inherit much more than 'genes' - but also cultural dispositions, including linguistic.

And that we are drawn, spontaneously, to that which 'fits' these dispositions.

I think Tolkien also regarded these dispositions as 'normative' - as something which ought to structure our lives and efforts (certainly if we are to achieve waht be are best fitted to achieve).


I have a hunch that something of the kind described by Ramer in the NCPs has happened to me in dreams - making up new words for new things; but I have zero recollection of the nature of the language used (native or otherwise) or its relationship to actual terrestrial and historic language.

(Indeed, I suspect the language may have been random/ nonsense/ punning stuff.)


I have, indeed, a feeble aptitude - and perhaps consequently a weak appetite - for learning languages. So what my 'native' language might be 'like' is hard to discern.

The languages I like to hear (aside from English) include Middle English and Old English; and of foreign languages I can recall listening to German radio as a youngster - just to hear the sound of the speech. Swedish sounds pleasing to me.

All these are obviously Gothic-type Northern European languages, but breaking that mould I find Castilian Spanish is lucid and exciting (Tolkien said the same - and he also liked the Castilian-esque Esperanto. Perhaps this preference was related to his half-Spanish Guardian, Fr. Francis?).

I don't much like the sound or sense of French (which I learned for five years, and know better than any other except Middle English), nor Italian, nor indeed Latin (much), nor any of the Gaelics nor Welsh.


But all of these are very superficial preferences and aversions.

So I have not, yet, found a key to my own 'native' tongue.
Spirits speaking - touched in the quick...

From The Notion Club Papers pages 202-3.

In this section, the Notion Club are discussing the nature of verbal communications from 'spirits': from angels and demons.

As argued elsewhere in this blog, in this part of The Notion Club Papers I regard Ramer as essentially a mouthpiece for Tolkien.


'But spirits are often recorded as speaking', said Frankley.

'I know', Ramer answered. 'But I wonder if they really do, or if they make you hear them, just as they can also make you see them in some appropriate form, by producing a direct impression on the mind.

'The clothing of this naked impression in terms intelligible to your incarnate mind is, I imagine, often left to you, the receiver. Though no doubt they can cause you hear words and to see shapes of their own choosing, if they will.

'But in any case the process would be the reverse of the normal in a way, outwards, a translation from meaning into symbol.

'The audible and visible results might be hardly distinguishable from the normal, even so, except for some inner emotion: though there is, in fact, sometimes a perceptible difference of sequence.'


'I don't know what spirits can do', said Lowdham; 'but I don't see why they cannot make actual sounds (like the eldil in Perelandra): cause the air to vibrate appropriately, if they wish, they seem to affect "matter" directly.'


'I dare say they can', said Ramer. 'But I doubt if they would wish to, for such a purpose. Communication with another mind is simpler otherwise.

'And the direct attack seems to me to account better for the feelings human beings often have on such occasions. There is often a shock, a sense of being touched in the quick.

'There is movement from within outwards, even if one feels that the cause is outside, something other, not you.

'It is quite different in quality from the reception of sound inwards, even though it may well happen that the thing communicated directly is not strange or alarming, while many things said in the incarnate fashion are tremendous.'


'You speak as if you knew'said Jeremy. 'How do you know all this?'

'No, I don't to know anything about such things, and I'm not laying down the law. But I feel it.

'I have been visited, or spoken to', Ramer said gravely. 'Then, I think, the meaning was direct, immediate, and the imperfect translation perceptibly later: but it was audible. In many other accounts of other such events I seem to recognize experiences similar, even when far greater'.


'You make it all sound like Hallucination', said Frankley.

'But of course', said Ramer. 'They work in a similar way.

'If you are thinking of diseased conditions, then you may believe that the cause is nothing external; and all the same something (even if it is only some department of the body) muct be affecting the mind and making it translate outwards.

'If you believe in possession or the attack of evil spirits, then there is no difference in process, only the difference between malice and good-will, lying and truth.

'There is Disease and Lying in the world, and not only among men '.


Recalling that the NCPs are broadly based on the kind of discussions had by The Inklings, this is a stunning section for the insights it hints at concerning the nature of their conversations and for Tolkien's probably personal experiences.

The conversation is about spirits, which appear to include angels and demons (fallen angels), and the mode of their communications with humans. Apparently, this is the kind of thing that the real world Inklings discussed - they were not only a literary and social group.

Tolkien displays a strong interest in the subject, and possibly direct experience: 'I have been visited, or spoken to'. I find very convincing the detailed 'phenomenological' description of the experience of being communicated-with by spirits, and indeed the subject matter itself is only marginally relevant to the theme of the novel - so the impression is that it has been introduced because of the beliefs, convictions and personal experiences of the author.

In other words, it seems probable that Tolkien had had the experience of being visited and spoken to by angelic spirits.

Lucid Dreamer

The Notion Club Papers open with Ramer's accounts of what are often termed Lucid Dreams - that is, dreams in which the dreamer is aware they are dreaming, has some degree of control of the dream, and in which the dream experience feels real.


One question is whether Tolkien uses Lucid Dreaming as a literary device (although at the time he was writing there was no concept of Lucid Dreaming - but there was a long tradition of dreams of this type - whether shamanic, mystical, prophetic or pure imagination or fantasy - e.g. 'opium dreams'); or whether, on the other hand, Tolkien was using Ramer to report his own experiences.

I have argued in this blog that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Tolkien was indeed expressing his own dream experiences in a fictional form.


This inference has now been confirmed for me by a personal experience of Lucid Dreaming!

From this it is even clearer that Ramer's experiences are consistent with being precise reports of the experience of Lucid Dreaming.


From the perspective of the NCPs, the striking feature of a Lucid Dream is the feeling of sensory contact with the dream world.

In most instances, dreams are 'dreamy' - they have a feeling of imprecise unreality due to the constant shifting of association and the shortness of memory - so that the dream is happening to the dreamer (who is trying, but failing, to make sense of it), rather than in Lucid Dreams being dreamed-by the dreamer.

The Lucid Dream is not 'dreamy' - except in that it is known to be a dream, and that events unfold in a somewhat slow motion and emphatically experienced way. By contrast, it is more sensitively appreciated and considered than normal everyday reality: as if realer than real.


Furthermore, in a Lucid Dream moral agency is preserved: the dreamer consciously makes choices. This chimes with Tolkien's discussion in NCPs that there is potential for evil influences to enter dreams, but that this can only happen if the influences are invited by the dreamer.


By contrast, normal dreaming is not subject to the agency of the dreamer, and the dreamer is not responsible for what he dreams - because he cannot help what he dreams.


Assuming that Tolkien was indeed a Lucid Dreamer - and one for whom this was a regular experience, rather than my own one off experience - this leads onto further speculations.

The Lucid Dream turns out to be phenomenologically (experientially) identical to Tolkien's description of how elves might create Faerian Drama (as described in the essay On Fairy Stories and again discussed in the NCPs) - I mean the presumed elves experience of creating this kind of drama.


Furthermore, the rather overwhelming experience of Lucid Dreaming raises may of the problems about fantasy, its validity - and the nature of that validity, and the potential benefits and hazards; matters with which Tolkien so often grappled in his writings.

After all, Lucid Dreaming approximates to being given Absolute Power, and none knew better than Tolkien that Absolute Power has a strong tendency to corrupt.


In sum, I am suggesting that Faery, for Tolkien, was directly experienced via Lucid Dreams; and in that sense he was an intermittent visitor to Faery; and perhaps in that sense it was fear of a cessation of Lucid Dreaming which provoked Tolkiens mid-life poem The Sea Bell/ Frodo's Dreme/ Looney - and when the Lucid Dreams had actually stopped in Tolkien's experience, provoked Tolkien's late story of Smith of Wootton Major. The story was his farewell to Faery.


I make the tentative guess that Tolkien was always aware of the fragility and unpredictability of his ability to experience Lucid Dreams of Faery; and that when Tolkien stopped having Lucid Dreams in later life, he was (as it were) no longer 'allowed' to visit Faery himself, but had only fading memories of these experiences, and the hope that the ability would be passed-on to others - as the Faery star was passed-on by the eponymous Smith.


How similar are Dolbear & 'Humphrey' Havard? John Havard's opinion

I have been in contact with John Edward Havard, eldest child of the Inkling Robert Emlyn Havard (1901-1985) - who was nicknamed by the other Inklings things like 'Humphrey', 'UQ/ Useless Quack' and the 'Red Admiral' (with reference to a red beard Havard sported while serving in the Royal Navy during the 1939-45 war).

According to an early comment, Havard is the model for the character Dolbear in the Notion Club Papers.

Although I recognized several similarities (and also differences) between the biography of Havard and that of the fictional Dolbear, I was curious to know whether Havard's son saw any similarities in personality and manner between the fictional and factual versions.

In a nutshell - according to Havard's son, there seems to be some biographical similarities, and a couple of similarities of appearance, but on the whole there is apparently little similarity of personality or manner.

This suggests that Tolkien's use of real life Inklings as models for the Notion Club was based on scattered superficial resemblances rather than on any profound identity of character.


From two e-mails from John Havard to Bruce G Charlton - 19 and 20th November 2010. Quoted with the author's permission.

Page references are to Volume IX of the History of Middle Earth - Sauron Defeated, edited by Christopher Tolkien and published by Houghton Mifflin 1992.


John Havard speaks:

"On page 5, in what Christopher Tolkien assumes is an early draft, there is the first “List of Members”. Here Dolbear is explicitly identified as Havard, the only occasion that this occurs and Christopher suggests that the name is derived from a well known pharmacist in Oxford.

"A much fuller list of members occurs on page 11 at the beginning of the second edition of the Papers, but they now appear to have little relation to individual inklings, nor with the Colleges given or the dates of birth. The ages are some thirty years later than those of the 1940s Inklings and are not even relatively correct. My father was among the youngest of the Inklings while Dolbear is the oldest, and I know of no connection that he had with Wadham.

"The descriptions are perhaps more relevant. Dolbear is described as a chemist who concerns himself with philosophy, psychoanalysis and gardening. Father’s first degree was in chemistry and he did have philosophical interests. Also he had earlier practiced Freudian psychology at the Warneford. He had a fairly large garden though I do not think this was a major interest, he usually had someone to look after it for him. He is described as having a red hair and beard, which father did have when younger, and the nickname “Ruthless Rufus” which could bear some relation to Humphrey or the Useless Quack.

"Page 12. There is an entry for Night 54 which was written by Dolbear when the meeting was held in his house. Individual Inklings did visit us from time to time mostly for social reasons or to go for walks but I was aware of no meetings.

"Pages 18-20. This is the most extensive reference that I have been able to find. Dolbear contributes to the discussion on space travel making use of his scientific background. This is quite consistent with father’s interests, he did comment to Lewis about the text of Out of the Silent Planet and the other novels about space travel.

"The incident where he appears to go to sleep and wake suddenly sounds more like Alice’s Dormouse than anything I can relate to. (He falls asleep again on page 36).

"Page 33. Lowdham says “There is no difficulty with Rufus. The drink urge explains most of him”. This is no doubt intended to be jocular but relates little to reality. Father drank beer but rarely spirits.

"Pages 80 – 81. After the collapse of Jeremy, Dolbear growls “leave him alone”. This may be reference to father’s medical experience but “growls” does not ring a bell.

"I was somewhat taken aback by Dolbear’s directness and gruff manner as I do not recognise this behaviour as typical of father, though I cannot say what may have happened in many years of Inkling meetings.

"I did not find much of father’s character that I recognised in Dolbear when I was reading the Papers. I had the impression that Tolkien was more interested in providing light relief while he followed up the topics discussed than in any serious exploration of character."


Which Inklings are the Notion Club Principals? And who is missing?


There are six main members of the Notion Club. Their resemblances with real-life Inklings are partial and mixed and - in the later drafts - inessential.

But, accepting that, what follows are my current thoughts on the identity of the real-life Inklings upon whom the big six were based.


Members Zero. Significant omissions: CS Lewis and Charles Williams.

I now feel that Lewis is omitted from the Notion Club Papers although at an early stage his initials were tentatively noted next to a character called Franks, who perhaps led to the name Frankley. Lewis was the cause and core of the real-life Inklings - but absent from the NCPs for the simple reason that Part 1 is substantially a debate about Lewis, especially his Space Trilogy.

Another core Inkling, Charles Williams, is also absent from the NCPs because he had died (May 1945) only a matter of half a year before Tolkien began to write the book (Late 1945), and Tolkien was not the man to write fiction about a recently-deceased friend.

Lewis would do this kind of thing - i.e. use fresh experience in his writing, as with A Grief Observed - but not Tolkien. Tolkien believed that raw experience needed many years of composting before use in fiction.

The subtraction of Lewis and Williams makes for a big, big difference between the Notion Club and the Inklings - how could it be otherwise when two of the largest and most distinctive characters of the twentieth century are missing?


The main six members of the Notion Club are 1. Ramer, 2. Guildford, 3. Lowdham, 4. Jeremy, 5. Dolbear, 6. Frankley.

1. Ramer is the main Tolkien mouthpiece in the early part of the NCPs.

2. Guildford is described as the club's recorder who does not read pieces very much - this role is most like Warnie Lewis; but not much else about Guildford is like Warnie: Guildford is rather irritable and critical; Warnie was the opposite.

3. Lowdham's extravert and boisterous character comes from Hugo Dyson (this was identified by initials in an early draft), but many of his interests, abilities and attributes are from Tolkien himself.

4. Jeremy seems a younger character, and behaves almost like a son to Lowdham - and I suspect he comes originally from Christopher Tolkien.

5. Dolbear was identified by initials with 'Humphrey' Havard in an early draft, and has several clear points of resemblence.

6. Frankley. I don't have any sense of him being developed from any real-life Inkling, indeed he doesn't seem to have much of an identifiable personality or role, and I expect he would have been eliminated from later drafts. Perhaps Frankley is the mere residue or shell of the projected CS Lewis 'Franks' character after the obviously Lewis-ite characteristics have been subtracted?

In conclusion – since most of the major real life Inklings are omitted or unrecognizable – then the Notion Club is, in essence – and excepting Dolbear, a society of Tolkien alter-egos: different aspects of the man himself!




The Inklings knew themselves to be swimming against the tide, and that their numbers were small.

The idea of a small 'company' (much like the Inklings themselves) up-against overwhelming odds and charged with saving the world from evil and destruction comes up in several of their key works, and in life.


There is the Fellowship of the Ring, of course; and in the legends of Numenor which Tolkien worked-on from 1936 (in relation to the Lost Road) and again from 1945 (in relation to the Notion Club Papers) there is a small band of The Faithful led by Elendil (elf-friend) who escape the downfall of the island to establish Arnor and Gondor in Middle Earth.

In the Lost Road, Alboin (the precursor of Lowdham) is a descendant of Erendil, and Alboin's son Audoin is linked with Elendil's son Herendil.

In the Notion Club Papers, Lowdham is seen as a descendant of Elendil, and his friend Jeremy as a descendant of Voronwe his friend whose name means "faithful" .


In life, Charles Williams was the inspirational leader of an esoteric Christian group (mostly of women) called the Companions of the Co-Inherence.

In That Hideous Strength, by C.S Lewis, the Company are 'four men, some women and a bear'; a heterogeneous group gathered around the leader Ransome who is in communication with angelic intelligences.

The character of Ransome in THS was influenced by Charles Williams, as is the whole novel - and it seems possible that Lewis regarded Williams as a spiritual leader - someone who seemed to be (to some extent) in touch with higher intelligences.

After Williams' death, Lewis edited Arthurian Torso, the work of a faithful friend in transmission of Williams' vision. Lewis was Voronwe to Williams's Elendil.

I do not think Lewis ever again met anyone who could 'replace' William in his spiritual role, or to whom Lewis would again adopt the role of disciple - C.W was perhaps regarded by Lewis as a lost (potential) saviour of his nation - somewhat like King Arthur.


Tolkien never saw himself as a spiritual leader, yet he was one because of his vision - which came to him and was not created by him. Tolkien was of course an elf-friend: Elendil.

And, as things have happened, JRR Tolkien's elf-friend legacy has been indispensably transmitted by the work of his 'faithful' son Christopher - such that the Elendil-Herendil/ Albion-Audoin/ father-son fictional explorers of the Lost Road turned-out to be a pre-vision of life.
TCBS – Inklings – Notion Club


Tolkien loved clubs, but the first and most influential was the TCBS (Tea Club, Barrovian Society) formed in 1911 at King Edwards School in Birmingham. The story has been told by John Garth in his superb book – Tolkien and the Great War (TGW), 2003.

There were four core long-term members: Tolkien, Christopher Wiseman, RQ Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith (GBS); plus Vincent Trought who died from an illness in 1912. Gilson and Smith both died in the 1914-18 war.

The club began as a purely recreational and convivial group but (TGW p137) ‘Somewhere along the line the TCBS had decided it could change the world (…) Tolkien had told them that they had a ‘world shaking power’ and (…) they all believed it’.

And, of course - as it turned-out, and in ways unanticipated - Tolkien was perfectly correct.


So, how did the TCBS hope to change the world?

‘Smith declared that, through art, the four would have to leave the world better than they found it. Their role would be to drive from life, letters, the stage and society that dabbling in and hankering after the unpleasant sides and incidents in life an nature (…) to re-establish sanity, cleanliness, and the love of real and true beauty in everyone’s breast.’ (page 105).


Gilson: [In a vision…] “I suddenly saw the TCBS in a blaze of light as a great moral reformer (…) England purified of its loathsome insidious disease by the TCBS spirit. It is an enormous task and we shall not see it accomplished in our lifetime.” (page 105)


Tolkien: “the fairies came to teach men song and holiness”. Song and holiness: the fairies had the same method and mission as the TCBS. (page 107).

Tolkien: “What I meant (…) was that the TCBS had been granted some spark of fire – certainly as a body if not singly – that was destined to kindle a new light, or, what is the same thing, rekindle an old light in the world; that the TCBS was destined to testify for God and Truth in a more direct way even than by laying down its several lives in this war.”


So, the TCBS was a club devoted to the transcendental virtues of Truth, Beauty and Virtue – perhaps especially Beauty and Virtue. They were to teach song and holiness…

What of Tolkien’s later clubs – The Inklings and the fictional Notion Club? Were they too devoted to song and holiness?

I would say yes. But not explicitly, and not wholly.

The TCBS was refined from a larger and more frivolous club following disillusionment with the way that conversation was becoming superficial, glib, and facetious. It was only the core four who were the idealists.

Among the Inklings there was, really, only Jack Lewis and Tolkien who were idealists in the TCBS sense – and probably Tolkien more than Lewis. For the other members the Inklings were more of a stimulating social group.

But for Tolkien, I sense that the Inklings retained at least a residue of his youthful hopes as epitomized by the TCBS – and that this came through in a more purified form in the Notion Club where there was, again, a core of serious activist idealists surrounded by a larger group of pleasant, convivial but somewhat facetious types.


What of Charles Williams? Was he not part of the core? I tend to think not. Contrary to what some people say, Tolkien was certainly very fond of Williams while Williams was alive (he turned against him more than a decade later – probably as a result of discovering the extent of Williams involvement in occult magic, or perhaps his philanderings).

But Williams was not engaged in the same project as Jack Lewis and Tolkien – the aim to “rekindle an old light in the world”.


At some point both Lewis and Tolkien became aware that they were not going to be able to “re-establish sanity, cleanliness, and the love of real and true beauty in everyone’s breast” – but only in the breasts of a few. Lewis described himself the last of the almost-extinct dinosaurs in his Cambridge University inaugural lecture in the early 1950s, and Tolkien’s valedictory lecture at Oxford a few years later has a similar elegiac tone.

Tragically, England as a nation was not - after all - going to be purified of its loathsome insidious disease by the TCBS spirit.

Fortunately, like the fairies, the works of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien continue to teach many individual men song and holiness - in England and around the world.

John Wain versus C.S. Lewis and the nature of The Inklings

The English 'man of letters' John Wain


published an early autobiography called Sprightly Running in 1963, the last year of C.S. Lewis's life, in which he reflected on the period when he was a member of The Inklings.

Although Wain liked and respected the Inklings, especially revering Nevill Coghill about whom he wrote an intensely-felt memoir, he conceptualized them as not only reactionary, but actually a counter-revolutionary group:

"The group had a corporate mind" that was both powerful and clearly defined. They were "politically conservative, not to say reactionary; in religion, Anglo- or Roman-Catholic; in art, frankly hostile to an manifestation of the 'modern' spirit", "a circle of instigators, almost incendiaries, meeting to urge one another on in the task of redirecting the whole current of contemporary art and life."


C.S. Lewis immediately published a long letter strongly disputing this analysis of the Inklings in the January 1963 edition of the journal Encounter (he had presumably seen a review copy of the book) in which Lewis - while graciously thanking Wain for saying many kind things about him, and stating clearly that he regarded Wain as a friend ('friend' being a word Lewis used sparingly and rigorously).

Lewis focused on the ideological differences between various Inklings, the non-overlapping nature of some of the friendships within the group, and stating that "Mr Wain has mistaken purely personal relationships for alliances."

In essence, Lewis hotly denied that the Inklings were self-consciously an explicitly strategic, reactionary, counter-revolutionary 'cell'.


Yet, of course, as we now recognize, Wain was substantively correct in every respect except that of supposing that the Inklings was self-conscious in their instigation and incendiary activities.

The Inklings were indeed - at their core of Jack Lewis, Tolkien and Charles Williams, and during their peak years of 1939-45 - a group of Christian reactionaries with very large scale ambitions to redirect the current of modern art and life.

This was very obvious to Wain who opposed this re-directing of art and life back to a pre-modern and religious spirit (at least, he did during the early decades of his life, when he was known as an anti-establishment figure, one of the 'Angry Young Men' of the 1950s - although in later years Wain's work, for instance on Samuel Johnson, strikes me as itself reactionary - or at least nostalgic for the pre-modern era).

That was why the Inklings were friends, that was an essential basis of their friendship: necessary but not sufficient.


The reason for the continued interest in the Inklings is precisely what Wain stated.

But of course, Wain's analysis was itself from a 'modern' perspective; a perspective which sees 'political' activity as necessarily self-conscious and explicit.

Whereas the reality was that the Inklings did not subscribe to this view of politics.

Lewis, Tolkien and Williams were individually, and passionately, engaged in recovering a pre-modern, a Christian spirit for life - with re-connecting with the thread of this spirit as it came down through the centuries - a thread which was almost broken, a spirit which they themselves were among that last examples.

And this, at least, was explicitly perceived - Lewis spoke of himself as a dinosaur left over from a previous era, Tolkien spoke of fighting the long defeat, Williams blurred pre-modern past and present and expounded (in The Descent of the Dove) a history of Christendom in which he discerned a two thousand year thread coming through Anglicanism right down to his own spiritual engagement.


The substantive disagreement of Wain and Lewis over the true nature of the Inklings was only, therefore, a quibble over the degree of self-consciousness with which their counter-revolutionary activities was being pursued; there was no disagreement of the fact and tendency of the Inklings endeavors.

The Inklings were thus in effect precisely as Wain described them: instigators and incendiaries.

The Christian element in The NCPs

Notion Club theology

From about page 193 of Tolkien's Notion Club Papers, the conversation takes on an implicitly theological turn.

The main difference between the Notion Club and the real life Inklings, is that the Inklings probably spent much of their time discussing Christian matters - with the exception of Owen Barfield (an Anthroposophist but who only rarely attended due to living in London), the core shared features of the Inklings were two-fold: they were friends of Lewis, and they were Christians. The nature of the Christianity varied across a fairly wide spectrum from Roman Catholic (Tolkien and Harvard), through Anglo Catholic (Charles Williams) to more protestant wing Church of England (the Lewis brothers - although CSL certainly moved towards Catholicism as he got older).

The Inklings was, like the Notion Club, primarily a society for reading aloud new writings - it was a writers group (as Diana Pavac Glyer makes clear in her superb book on the Inklings - The Company They Keep). Conversation was typically stimulated by whatever was read; however, aside from the issues related to writing (the club's primary purpose) it seems that Inkling conversation was typically of a moral nature, underpinned by shared Christianity.

However, the NCPs do not contain any explicitly Christian discussion. There is nothing to contradict an assumption of shared Christianity among its members, but certainly this aspect is not obvious. The discussions of time and space travel, telepathy, dream knowledge - are all Inklings themes, but in NCP presented apart from the Christian underpinnings they would have had in 'real life'.

The NCP does, however, contain a few pages where 'theology' comes nearer the surface.

Ramer comments on p. 193 that his dreams are sometimes like fragments of a larger whole, with separate dreams actually being somewhat like pages taken from a book. So that, over time, and bringing together memories of several dreams, Ramer gradually realizes that he has been glimpsing parts of a greater whole.

This is certainly a major theme of Tolkien's work. Throughout his whole adult life his fascination with, and presentation of, his own work was as if they were fragments and glimpses of a greater whole - a whole now either lost or at least inaccessible. (TA Shippey's Road to Middle Earth has a brilliant exposition of this aspect of Tolkien.)

Consistent with my understanding of Ramer as Tolkien's lightly-fictionalized mouthpiece, Ramer describes how he feels a larger significance in dreams than is explicable from their actual content, and he explains this on the basis of their fragmentary nature. The most famous and earliest example of this in Tolkien is when as an undergraduate before WWI he was fascinated by a reference to 'Earendil' in an otherwise rather uninteresting Anglo Saxon poem Crist. In a sense the whole Legendarium is an elaboration of this 'fragment' - the Legendarium being the recreated 'lost' whole from which this fragment was presumed to have come.

The Green Wave dream makes an appearance on page 194, as another example of a significant fragment. This was a dream of a vast wave coming over the green land, sometimes with ships riding its crest. The dream was recurrent with Tolkien in real life, also his son Michael (apparently spontaneously so) and is given to Faramir in the Lord of the Rings, and here to Ramer. (Tolkien once said that Faramir was the character in LotR which most resembled him - except for being much braver!) In LotR (as here, in the earlier NCPs) this fragment of the wave came from the larger tale of the destruction of Numemor, and the wave brought the ships of the faithful Numemoreans to Middle Earth where they founded the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor.

Other apparently significant dream fragments reported by Ramer are an empty throne on top of a mountain (I am not sure what this is - perhaps the sacred mountain Meneltarma in Numenor - with the throne empty due to the action of Sauron in introducing the worship of Morgoth?); a wide plain before the feet of a steep ridge with above it an immense sky blazing with equally placed stars rising as a vertical wall not bending to a vault (presumably the edge of the flat, disc world just prior to the destruction of Numenor and the creation of the round globe earth); a dark shape passing across the sky blotting out the stars as it goes (reminiscent of the Nazgul in LotR, but here maybe the eagles of the Lords of the West at the destruction of Numemor?); a tall grey, round tower on the sheer end of the land (perhaps the tower hills on Middle Earth, awaiting the arrival of the great wave?).

Then, on page 194, the report takes an explicitly religious turn when Ramer says: "...one does sometimes see and use symbols directly religious, and more than symbols. One can pray in dreams, or adore. I think I do sometimes, but there is no memory of such states or acts, one does not revisit such things. They're not really dreams. They're a third thing. They belong somewhere else, to the other anchorage, which is not to the body, and differ from dreams more than Dream from Waking.

"Dreaming is not Death. The mind is still, as I say, anchored to the body. It is all the time inhabiting the body, so far as it is in anywhere. And it is therefore in Time and Space: attending to them. It is meant to be so. But most of you will agree that there has probably been a change of plan; and it looks as if the cure is to give us a dose of something higher and more difficult. Mind you, I'm only talking of the seeing and learning side, not for instance of morality. But it would feel terribly loose without the anchor. Maybe with the support of the stronger and wiser it could be celestial; but without them it could be be bitter, and lonely. A spiritual meteorite in the dark looking for a world to land on. I daresay many of us are in for some lonely Cold before we get back."

I believe this is not only theoretical, nor is it fictional; but it is I think an account of Tolkien's own personal experiences and understanding.

This passage is, however, very obscure; indeed I suspect it is wilfully obscure for the reason that Tolkien is speaking directly of his profoundest intuitions.

Such deliberate obfuscation reminds me of a phrase from Robert Frost's poem Directive: "I have kept hidden in the instep arch/ Of an old cedar at the waterside/ A broken drinking goblet like the Grail/ Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it...". Tolkien does not want 'the wrong ones' to understand him. Or of what Robert Graves meant when he said that ancient poetry was often 'pied' or deliberately obscure in a way that only those other bards who were initiated into the same tradition (and inspired by the muse) could understand. Tolkien wants his full meaning to be understandable only to devout Christians.

So, rather than trying to explicate Tolkien's theological meaning, and I am not sure that I can; I will just say that this passage deserves study by anyone who wants to understand Tolkien's deepest convictions, hopes and fears.

And I think the same applies to what follows; a passage that seems to me as beautiful and as deep as anything Tolkien ever wrote.

Ramer continues: "But out of some place beyond the region of dreams, now and again there comes a blessedness, and it soaks through all the levels, and illumines all the scenes through which the mind passes out back into waking, and so it flows out into this life. There it lasts long, but not forever in this world, and memories cannot reach its source. Often we ascribe it to the pictures seen on the margin radiant in its light, as we pass by and out. But a mountain far in the North caught in a slow sunset is not the sun."

Ramer speaking on page 195.

I have already transcribed most of this passage (which I described as wilfully obscure) in an earlier entry on theology in The NCPs - http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2009/11/notion-club-theology.html - here I will try and explicate it, somewhat, line by line. My comments are in [square brackets]:

"Dreaming is not Death. The mind is still, as I say, anchored to the body. [At death, according to (Thomist) Roman Catholic theology, the soul separates from the body - but this does not happen during sleep.]

"It is all the time inhabiting the body, so far as it is in anywhere. And it is therefore in Time and Space: attending to them. It is meant to be so. [While alive we are meant to function in time and be located in space - 'meant' here presumably refers to the divine plan for human life on earth.]

"But most of you [ i.e. Those of you who are Christian.]

"will agree that there has probably been a change of plan [As a result of the Fall, presumably - or perhaps as a result of the incarnation - I'm not sure.] ;

"and it looks as if the cure is to give us a dose of something higher and more difficult. [The cure, I think, refers to human life now, after the fall. "Higher and more difficult would then mean by comparison to how things would have been in Eden, before the fall. Or it may refer to life since the the incarnation of God as Jesus Christ, as contrasted with pagan of ancient Jewish life - the Christian life being higher and more difficult than either of these.]

"Mind you, I'm only talking of the seeing and learning side, not for instance of morality. [I think this probably refers to the transcendental 'goods' of truth and beauty, but not the other one which is morality. I think Tolkien means that God's intention with dream experiences is about exposing humans to something higher and more difficult in the realms of Truth and Beauty, not Morality.] -

"But it would feel terribly loose without the anchor [meaning the soul altogether cut loose from the body would feel terribly loose.].

"Maybe with the support of the stronger and wiser [I think stronger and wiser refers to angels, and the idea that the detached soul needs to be escorted and looked after by angels - which is a traditional belief found in some of the early Fathers of the Church.] -

"and how it could be celestial [i.e. if the soul was being protected by angels.];

"but without them it could be be bitter, and lonely [i.e. To be a lone soul cut loose from its body.].

"A spiritual meteorite in the dark looking for a world to land on. I daresay many of us [Perhaps he means those who did not get angelic assistance?]

"are in for some lonely Cold before we get back." [Before we get back may refer to purgatory, perhaps? I'm not sure.]

"But out of some place beyond the region of dreams, now and again there comes a blessedness, and it soaks through all the levels, and illumines all the scenes through which the mind passes out back into waking, and so it flows out into this life. [Tolkien means that God sometimes communicates with us in dreams, a foretaste of heavenly bliss.]

"There it lasts long, but not forever in this world, [Just a foretaste, not the full experience - although in this an Eastern Orthodox Christian would make an exception for some Saints, those who are considered to live for sustained periods in both heaven and this world.]

"and memories cannot reach its source. [Its source, presumably, is in divine grace and revelation - and not deriving from experiences which we might remember.]

"Often we ascribe it to the pictures seen on the margin radiant in its light, as we pass by and out. But a mountain far in the North caught in a slow sunset is not the sun." [That is to say, the blessedness comes from God, not from that which is illuminated by God.]


In sum, Tolkien seems to be free-associating on the question of what is the ultimate salvation-related human relevance of spiritual experiences in dreams.

Tolkien states that: "the cure is to give us a dose of something higher and more difficult" and that since modern life substantially blocks divine communications during the waking state (or at least it does so for many people, Tolkien included at this point in his life) by excessive noise, chatter and other distractions; this dose is given us - at least partially - during sleep.

This was a very important factor for Tolkien - that dreams were part of creativity, and creativity was (for modern men, who are advanced in corruption) a vital pathway of divine communication.

This links-up with his ideas about sub-creation - the role of fantasy. For Tolkien, the sub-creation of fantasy world is not just an entertainment, but has a profound theological dimension (as he makes clear in the closing passages of his essay On Fairy Stories, when he talks of the Gospel story and relates it to sub-creation).


The essential meaning and purpose of the Notion Club Papers

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 move on to speculations 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 although the Notion Club papers went through several stages in their development, and had several purposes, in the end they were intended to serve an extremely important purpose: to rescue modern England.

More exactly, since 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.

Of this much I was persuaded by the work of Verlyn Flieger - especially her book Interrupted Music.

But I would go somewhat further and suggest that the NCPs would ultimately (if finished) have provided the actual operative myth which brought Tolkien's historical myth/s into action in the modern world.

In other words, the purpose of the NCPs was nothing less than to 'save' England (and perhaps other places too).


What was Tolkien 'saving' us 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."


I believe that 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 has in fact already 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.

But I believe that this extrapolation to an 'ideal' and finished Notion Club Papers can indeed be made - albeit only in outline - and this I hope to explain and demonstrate over the next several blog entries


Superseded the Time and Space Theme
Original deal – times and space – Ramer’s stuff. Evolved to different focus and complexity
If history is myth; then modern socio-politics is also myth

Since the core Inklings project (as made explicit in the TCBS and Notion Club) was the recovery of history as myth; this project (which I too embrace) naturally extends to modern politics, to our current interpretation and understanding of what has happened, and what is happening.

We need, that is, to get away from - or rather subordinate to secondary status - the usual secular explanation, prediction and agenda for what happened to our culture (political, economic, scientific/ technological, socio-psycho-logical etc) - and over-arch these with a 'mythic' (but naturally mythic and True) understanding.

This will enable us, indeed encourage us, to take a step back from the noise and lies of 'current affairs', alliances and interventions, to focus on the task of recovery and reconnection, and to 'work' at an altogether different level and in an altogether different mode (because with altogether different objectives).

This step back becomes not just possible but absolutely necessary since the mythic analysis makes clear that unless the myth is restored then all our efforts (no matter what their explicit intentions) will turn to the Enemy's benefit.

But the myth in question is the fullness of Christianity; that is a pre-modern Christianity in which the world is 'animate' (that is what myth means) and this animate world is understood and prophesied in Christian terms.

So, by this account, the Inklings were trying to backfill-Christianity - that is to fill-in the mythology 'behind' Christianity so that it will again become animated and comprehensive.

This includes a pre-modern cosmology (as described by Lewis's medieval lectures and essays); a conception of the world in which animals, trees landscapes were alive and in relation to humans (as depicted in Narnia and Middle Earth); and in which the world there was a restoration of purposive influences for Good or Ill: God and Devil, Angels and Demons (including gods and goddesses and nature spirits; and for Tolkien there was national, racial, linguistic and familial spiritual heredity.


I continue to be astonished by coming across sections of the Notion Club Papers whose significance I had missed, but which jump-out at me on re-reading.


NCPs, Night 65 (page 228).

[Frankley] "Well, I think there's a difference between what really happened at our meetings and Nicholas's record [of the Notion Club]. (...)

[Ramer] "People of the future, if they only knew the records and studied them, and let their imagination work on them, till the Notion Club became a sort of secondary world set in the past: they could [re-view the past as a present thing]."


Coming in the midst of a section of debate about whether it is possible really to experience the past as it truly was, this has the force of a personal statement from Tolkien (via Ramer).

A further comment makes clear that the pre-requisites of direct contact with the legendary or mythic past are not 'literal' factuality of record keeping, but derives - as Ramer says - "from the profundity of the emotions and perceptions that begot them and from the multiplication of them in many minds..."


Among other things, I get the eerie sense of a coded message planted by Tolkien back in 1946 for the reader today, that if the reader lets his imagination work on these feigned records of a fictional club, they may become real, in the sense of a secondary world set in the past.

At one level the process recommended may (I think Tolkien is saying) provide a mode of access to the real Inklings and their concerns. But this achieved will itself allow further things to happen.

One touchstone of the reality of the past is a sort of non-subjectivity. That the perceived past does not merely mirror or amplify the current reader's understanding, but is capable of surprising and informing the present. Capable of inducing a different perspective.

This new perspective then enables the current reader to perceive things (past and present) that were previously inapparent, which may then induce a further change in perspective.


(Of course, such perspectival shifts are not necessarily good, can be harmful as well as helpful. The new perspective that induces further perspectival shifts might prove to be a trap. As we see all around us.)

The Inklings were historians

Although The Inklings are usually considered to be a literary group, they were really much more like historians.


With the exception of Robert 'Humphrey' Havard (scientist and doctor) all of the main members took an historical perspective on their subject: Tolkien was a philologist, Jack Lewis wrote about medieval literature and society, Charles Williams published several historical 'potboilers'  - and some, such as Warnie Lewis and Gervase Mathew - were straightforward historians, who wrote history books.

But the core Inklings had a specifically mythical interest in history.


This was partly intrinsic to the individuals (and a major reason for their friendship), but found an early formulation in the first books of Owen Barfield  -  Poetic Diction and History in English Words which had a major impact on both Lewis (who had been friends with Barfield since they were undergraduate contemporaries) and Tolkien.


The key activity shared by Lewis and Tolkien - and to very varying degrees by the other Inklings - was the recovery of the mythic vision of history.

That was what the Inklings meetings were about.

Yes they were a writing group, and a social group; but what was being written and what kept the group together around Lewis had this core, implicit, purpose and tendency.


More importantly, it is why the group is still of interest today.

Because the problem for which mythic history is proposed as (at least the start of) a solution is by now very bad indeed, and much worse than in the 1930s and 1940s.


The Inklings were not just historians, nor even historians of ideas: they were engaged in trying to reconnect the modern mind with an historical mode of thought, a mythic mode of thought - by argument, by scholarship, and of course by the imagination.

Real history becoming more mythical

[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, discernably significant, even seen at close quarters. More poetical and less prosaic, if you like."

"In any case, these ancient accounts, legends, myths, about the far past, about the origins of kings, laws, and the fundamental crafts, are not all made of the same ingredients.

They're not wholly inventions. And even what is invented is different from mere fiction; it has more roots."

"Roots in what?" said Frankley.

"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.

"A sort of parallel to the fact that from far away the Earth would be seen as a revolving sunlit globe; and that is a remote truth of enormous effect on us and all we do, though not immediately discernable on earth, where practical men are quite right in regarding the surface as flat and immovable for practical purposes.

"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.

"And mind you, there are real details, what are called facts, accidents of land-shape and sea shape, of individual men and their actions, that are caught up: the grains on which the stories crystallize like snowflakes.

There was a man called Arthur at the centre of the cycle."

The Notion Club Papers - page 227.



At the end, I think Tolkien is alluding to the small, and unpredictable, 'facts' around which myth grows.

There was a man called Arthur at the centre of the cycle - the idea is that someone of this name triggered the myth-making.

Somehow, once a myth has grown, it is impossible to discern these specific facts, and their relevance is either limited or non-existent (because it is the myth which matters) - yet it is also a fact that the myth grew here and nowhere else, around these seeds and not others.

This may simply be a case of human knowledge being very limited.


I saw this process at work when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash, under sordid circumstances.

Immediately beforehand she had been unpopular; immediately after she was killed a vast mythic edifice mushroomed and pushed aside everything which had been before.

There was a grain of truth, or a few grains, at the centre of this myth - but mostly it was an archetypal construction of a beautiful princess and devoted young mother, filled with compassion for the suffering world - there seemed to be elements of Mary - Mother of God, Galadriel and Cinderella.

It did not last, The oral process stripped it away because - well who really knows why.

Probably because the Diana myth did not fulfill a need or serve a purpose; but then, who really knows - explicitly - what specific purpose individual myths are serving?


The daimonic force of great myths and legends

From The Notion Club Papers by JRR Tolkien – in Sauron Defeated, Volume IX of the History of Middle Earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien.

Page 228, Ramer speaking:

“I don’t think you realize, I don’t think any of us realize, the force, the daimonic force that the great myths and legends have.

“From the profundity of the emotions and perceptions that begot them, and from the multiplication of them in many minds – and each mind, mark you, an engine of obscured but unmeasured energy.

“They are like an explosive: it may slowly yield a steady warmth to living minds, but if suddenly detonated, it might go off with a crash: yes, might produce a disturbance in the real primary world.”


This is surely a profound truth.

People do live by myths, or aspire to – and if they lack noble myths (as people mostly do at present), then they live by sordid myths.

And myths have daimonic force.


One current myth with daimonic force are the ‘trickster’ stories (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trickster) , which underlie much popular culture – myths concerning a protagonist who is amoral, un-idealistic, selfish, hedonistic. Someone who breaks the rules, not for higher or transcendent goals, but for their own benefit.

Thieves and fences, serial seducers, bon viveurs, escapists, bounty hunters, skivers and sturdy beggars, druggies and drunks, guns for hire, rock stars and rappers, wide boys, liars, blaggers and charm merchants.


This myth (or rather, the many myths and stories featuring this archetypal figure) has such force because these protagonists are (we imagine) living by id not super-ego, by instinct not training; and thereby in touch with ‘life’ –that connection so painfully missing in the world of the bureaucratic state which we inhabit.

Tricksters are also (supposedly, we would like to believe) indestructibly happy – utterly unconcerned by the future, able to evade all attempts to entrap them with duty, escaping again and again into living for the moment hedonism.

The trickster comes to the fore when other myths are not possible or cannot be conceived, when (in a world where pleasure is the only ‘real’ good) the choice seems between deadly dutiful planned conformity and impulsive parasitic selfishness.


Typically this myth is enacted unconsciously - but not always. There are those (especially among intellectuals) who deliberately take-upon themselves this role, and propagandize it.

There embrace of the daimonic then becomes literally demonic; inflated with pride they are sometimes rewarded with extra-ordinary, quasi-hypnotic powers of mind control and fascination.

They defend themselves with mockery, with promises of invulnerable pleasure to those who follow their teachings, and - if pressed - with the burning conviction that all good is pretense and hypocrisy and that they alone are the truth-tellers.

Although unable to construct or create, in our degenerate, weak, faddish society; such tricksters eild great influence; and the myths of tricksters divert any possibility of constructive dissatisfaction into chaotic predation and self-destruction.


Yes, myth does have daimonic force, easily powerful enough to destroy anything; and the only force which can restrain destructive myth is creative myth.



Living in myth

In their early years, the Numenoreans lived in myth - they were fallen men, and they did not live in paradise exactly - although it was close; but they lived in myth in that they had a personal relationship with the world and (most of the time) they lived in meaning.

They had a broad angle, inclusive, deep perspective on life - later they focused-in so as to achieve power over the world, developed blinkers, ignored much of their perceptual field.

Life then felt unreal, their world was dead and subject to their will, they felt alienated, sought satisfaction in mastery, conquest, and pleasure...


I sense something similar for Byzantium at its best - that people lived inside the Christian myth.

Their lives were experienced within the Christian myth (and not merely interpreted in terms of the Christian myth).

Again, this is not perfection nor paradise; because men are fallen, and life is suffering (substantially) - but this wretchedness was experienced (I believe) as within the Christian mythic frame.


This can be seen most clearly in the lives of the Orthodox Saints. It is not that they lived lives of perfect worldly happiness, but that everything which happens to them is felt as being within providence; the worldly is perceived within the Heavenly frame.


For this to happen, the myth must be true.

And what must be true is that the world is alive, intelligent, relevant to and concerned with 'me' and has a direction.

When the Numenoreans ceased to believe in the true myth of their origins and condition, they became 'modern', they fell again and were destroyed.

When moderns lost their belief in the wholeness of undivided Christianity then in all forms of Christianity and paganism too (a gradual and still incomplete process) - they lost their ability to live within myth: at most they could pretend to live in myth or according to myth (intellectually-appreciated) - they did not experience life as myth.

Pretending doesn't work.


And in terms of living within myth (not with reference to salvation) partial, legalistic, dry, procedural, anti-animistic and anti-pagan forms of Christianity do not work.

Yet it is possible to live within the Christian myth, if that is aimed for, and at least for some of the time, and to aspire and work towards the ideal of continuous dwelling in myth - but the myth must be known as true; and it must be the old Christianity of Saints and Angels, Miracles and Spiritual Warfare - if not precisely Eastern Orthodox in terms of denomination, then certainly in that spirit.

Such a life will not be paradise while on earth; but it may be real.

The lesson of Numenor

(Of course there is no single lesson to derive from the Numenor myth; a true myth is not an allegory but a sub-creation with a life of its own.)


The Numenoreans were given peace and plenty, they were freed from bodily suffering and illness, they were given a beautiful and safe place to dwell, their intelligence and skill were enhanced, they had the friendship and help of the high elves.

Their life span was extended about threefold, so they would have enough time to bring their schemes to fruition.

But they remained Men: mortal men. And for all their enhancements they had the faults of men.


What did they do - what did they make of their opportunities?

For a while they were satisfied to live well - enjoying the simple things of human life enriched by disinterested learning, art, and religion - and faithfully accepted death when it was due...

Then they became scientists and technologists, almost matching the high elves in their ingenious devices, the greatest mariners the world had seen, the greatest military power...

for a while.


But soon they got bored, felt constrained, wanted a change, wanted power and to dominate, wanted the worship and subservience of lesser men - wanted all this and nothing less than than this; here, now and forever.

Wanted perfect satisfaction of all their desires: Good and evil. Wanted permanent worldly gratification.


They rejected beauty for power, rejected truth and freedom for propaganda and totalitarian coercion, disbelieved in the virtue of the one God and his Valar - eventually, in a final rapid spiral down into the pit, embraced the worship of 'the dark lord' Morgoth because they believed he could grant them their desires.

Sensing their own degeneration and decline, ignoring argument, refusing repentance,the Numenoreans built a massive armament and assaulted the gods by force, to take what they wanted - to be gods on earth - and were destroyed in a cataclysmic remaking of the world.

In grasping at gratification of all their desires, they embraced destruction: nihilism.


Numenor is modern man, conceptualized as being enhanced in both individual and social capability but failing to use these gifts for spiritual purposes; and instead pursuing more and ever more personal and material goals, never satisfied yet insatiable - grasping at more life, more power, more pleasure; at first with energy and zeal, then with fear and exhaustion, finally with despair and insane self-hatred...


Repentance and renewal was possible for Numenor at any moment up till the last - the gods and the One held back their justice until they had no choice but to act - but repentance was blocked by pride.

The Numenoreans were insane, having embraced insanity by incremental steps, until - I guess, perhaps - the clearing of illusion at the very end. At the very end when utter failure was obvious and imminent, it is likely death and destruction, annihilation, was chosen.

Chosen on the same basis that Denethor (one of the last true Numenoreans) described in his despair:

"...if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated. (...) But in this at least though shalt not defy my will: to rule my own end."

Thus is pride the strongest of sins, thus is damnation chosen at the last.



Tolkien's Notion Club Papers completed... (a speculative treatment)

(This is a combined and edited version of some previous posts, describing my idea of how JRR Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers might have ended-up.)

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.


In practice, the finished Notion Club papers were intended to be the first Tolkien book which people should read: a modern science fiction type novel which would explain how the Annals (Silmarillion legends) and Romances (Hobbit and Lord of the Rings) came to England, and were translated for a general audience.

Having read the Notion Club Papers - mainstream fiction of a familiar type - the modern reader would be prepared for to move onto reading the much stranger and less familiar Annals and Romances; and would (at some level) then be able to treat them as (or as if) an historical reality.