Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Charles Williams in the TLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 He focuses his discussion of Wms' writings on a single unfinished and unpublished poem, passing breezily over the novels -- the works by wh.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 28, 2016


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

KEMEN the Ring of Earth

ËAR the Ring of Sea

MENEL the Ring of Heaven

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

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

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

--John R.

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Silmarillion at Marquette

So, I've been coming to the Archives, and working with the Tolkien manuscripts at Marquette, off and on since August 1981 -- thirty five years now. And I still get blown away by finding new things there, often by returning to something I've already seen before a long time ago.

The latest example: the Silmarillion material at Marquette.  There's not a lot of this -- only five pages (two and a half sheets) -- and I've known about it for a long time, but I never really looked at it in detail before.

Basically, for those who don't know about this already, the material that came from Tolkien amounted to thousands of pages. A volunteer sorted it out into books not long after it arrived,* after which archivist Wm Ready put together a travelling exhibit of some more interesting pieces.**  Then around 1978 two women re-processed the collection, establishing an exact count in which every draft of every chapter had its own folder and designator. And, in the process, they found two sheets of Silmarillion material that had somehow gotten in with the rest at least two decades before,, before it ever left England.  And could now, after the publication of THE SILMARILLION itself the year before, be recognized for what it was.  Taum Santoski got in touch with these two processors a decade or so later and tried to find out the location of these sheets within the LotR material but to no avail; while they'd been proud of the discovery they hadn't made any record of the details and no longer remembered where they'd been among those hundreds and thousands of pages.

As for the pages themselves, they were long ago identified as to which page belongs to which part of THE SILMARILLION by Taum, in his little 1983/84  Exhibition catalogue.

(1) The opening paragraphs of THE VALAQUENTA [SILM page 25]
[Marq. 3/9/36: 1a; item #44 in Taum's catalogue]

--the verso of this page (:1b) also contains Silm material, in this case drafting for disconnected individual lines about various of the Valar and a passing reference to AElfwine.

(2) The opening of Chapter III in THE SILMARILLION: "Of the Coming of the Elves"
[SILM page 47]
[Marq.  3/9/36: 2a & 2b; item #43 in Taum's catalogue]

--here we have two stages of drafting, one in ink and the other in pencil, both being variant texts of the same passage, curiously enough on opposite sides of the same piece of paper. Also odd is that the ink text looks to be the earlier, with the pencilled obverse version being closer to the text of the published book.

(3) a passage from "Of the Rings of Power" (the final section of THE SILMARILLION)

N.B.: This one I'd forgotten about, and didn't go and re-check today, so here I'm dependent on Taum's description of it and don't know what exact page of THE SILMARILLION this text corresponds to.

In any case, it's clear why this page wound up at Marquette: the back of this sheet features the scene in which Galadriel leads Frodo and Sam to her Mirror.

So there it is: only a fractional collection when considered against the great mass of LotR papers, yet a highly interesting little batch of documents.   I'm glad to have the chance to see them again, after all these years.

--John R.
current reading: the same.
current research: the earliest LotR Mss.

*i.e, Book I of FR, Book II of FR, Book III of TT, &c.

**this circulated until around the time of Tolkien's death, I gather, at which time it was discontinued so Marquette cd better safeguard the Mss.