Friday Feature: “The Atlantis Theory” by David Russell Mosley

If you haven’t yet, it is time to head over to fellow Signum University faculty member David Russell Mosley’s blog on Patheos. I’ve been a long reader of his “Letters from Elfland,” which provides intelligent and accessible readings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, often in connection to C.S. Lewis and the fantastic tradition. There are a few of us trying to think about the matrices of theology and literature in the foundations of that fantastic tradition, and Mosley is one of them.

Prof. Mosley has been building toward something. While I’m sure it has been a long, slow build, a big move was his blog, “Are the Elves in C. S. Lewis?”  Now he has pulled back the curtain to reveal this blog, “The Atlantis Theory: The Numenorean Connection Between the Works of Lewis and Tolkien.”

Now, I know that when the average reader sees “Atlantis Theory,” they are going to think of the kind of documentary they show on the History channel. This is not the working of a conspiracy theorist looking to disintegrate the whole network. Instead, this is the outline of a reader of Tolkien and Lewis, attempting to take seriously the links that biographers and critics have drawn between their work and their lives. The result–which is filled out on my work in The Screwtape Letters and the Ransom Cycle–is worth a consideration.

I am in the midst of an excellent and exhausting research trip to the UK. In the morning I will return to the Bodleian library to continue the transcription of C.S. Lewis’ first attempt at long-form prose fiction (an Arthurian tale he wrote when he was 17). I don’t have time at this moment, but I want to test Mosley’s theory to see if it is capacious enough to allow for the integrity of these world builders. So many Tolkienist readers reduce C.S. Lewis to a jigsaw puzzle genius where all the pieces are blue squares, and wonder why Lewisian readers think the Narnian is so good at drawing skies. Mosely does not do this, but thinks critically–even in the brief form of a blog–about what the links can mean, suggesting the space for more work yet to come.

Since I can’t run these tests right now, I didn’t want readers of A Pilgrim in Narnia to miss out. Head on over to Letters from Elfland and dialogue with the letter-writer himself.

 

Advertisements

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
This entry was posted in Feature Friday, Fictional Worlds and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Friday Feature: “The Atlantis Theory” by David Russell Mosley

  1. Chris Marsh says:

    I am not convinced that Mosley has treated Lewis fairly here. In fact, I got the distinct impression from Mosley’s argument that most of Lewis’s works are derived from Tolkien (“so it is more as though Lewis, seeing the great works of Tolkien, decided to stitch his own fiction into Tolkien’s”). This is despite the fact that the Lewis’s inclusion of Atlantis in his works are all brief and passing references. The Ransom Cycle is for the most part indebted to Tolkien (I am excluding Tolkien’s vital role in getting Out Of The Silent Planet published) in the sense that Lewis used Tolkien himself (not Middle Earth) as a model for his protagonist. Hence it is unsurprising that Lewis gives his Ransom character the Christian name of Elwin (a name, that in the end was never used by Tolkien) as a fitting salute to his friend. The suggestion that the reference to Atlantis found in The Magician’s Nephew is referencing Tolkien’s work is (as Mosley all but admitted) speculative at best. On this basis, Mosley draws the most extraordinary conclusion that no fewer than eleven of Lewis works are indebted to Tolkien’s Middle Earth and are meant to exist within the same universe. I fail to see how a single reference to Atlantis across the entire seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia and a single never published reference to Dr. Ransom in the preface of The Screwtape Letters can justify such a conclusion. The references to Atlantis in the Ransom Cycle are perhaps the only (if very slender) true connection Lewis made to Middle Earth. However, even this connection cannot substantiate Mosley’s claim that C. S. Lewis attempted to graft his Ransom trilogy on to Tolkien’s Legendarium.

    Like

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      More as a side-note than an attempted response (at this point), could there be a chronological-composition-history element to ‘Elwin’ as Ransom’s name and the names of Tolkien’s characters in The Lost Road, as they got on with their ‘project’ of attempting time- and space-travel novels?

      More speculatively, what conversations might (even, must?) there have been in embarking on this project? What entertainments of possible ‘complementarity’, if not more, between the ‘results’?

      Another speculative question already ‘under discussion’ (I think maybe independently, to start with, on the part of various minds – I think especially that of Professor Bruce Charlton in his Tolkien’s Notion Club Papers blog, but perhaps that o Brenton, here, too – and maybe that of Professor Grevel Lindop?) is exactly how much Lewis and Tolkien having both read The Place of the Lion when they did may have contributed, in various ways, to the form, or even the fact, of this ‘project’.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this Chris. Let me go two opposite ways in response.
      But, in a preliminary way, I don’t know that he has been unfair; he may not be right in his conclusions. They are two different kinds of things, I think. And I don’t know that Mosley is trying to offer a definitive reading, but a suggestive element that could suggest links we might not see (at least, that is how I do these sorts of things–what does brining Ransom into the Screwtape world do to our reading of both?).
      Now, first, the conclusion that Lewis takes up Tolkien’s work is not a negative thing in and of itself. What Inklings biographer sort of cast away as “pastische” I see as a great literary moment. I love Shakespeare’s work. When I read the stories he adapted–and adapted strongly–, say Ovid or Chaucer or some fo the history texts and legends floating around, I love Shakespeare’s work more. Was there any story that Shakespeare didn’t steal from another? That’s what makes great work. I feel the same about Lewis. When I see him pulling Charles WIlliams, William Morris, Tolkien, Beatrix Potter, HG Wells, Arthuriana, biblical narratives, legends and more into a single book, That Hideous Strength, I get even greater pleasure.
      Second, I’m not sure Mosley’s exactly right on this one. I think that Atlantis does sit behind both authors. Lewis wanted to integrate that into his work more obviously, while Tolkien wanted to let the influence simply be infuence and not source for his legendarium. That’s true I think.
      I want to push the mythic element further by turning Mosley’s work upside down. I don’t have time to do this properly–I am on the road. But here is a quote from a paper I wrote a year ago. I hope it will see that even if we disagree, I am taking Lewis seriously in this enterprise:
      “Moving further … from the questions of inter-text relationship to the interplay of fictional worlds, I argue that the way that Lewis uses other authors in his own fiction betrays a hermeneutic of friendship that informs all of his work. Lewis draws together individual speculative universes at the elbows, combining worlds where they have the most intertextual possibilities. Moving beyond quotations and allusions to the echoes of other worlds, we see that Lewis’ uses other subcreated worlds by hyperlinking them into his own narratives. His narratives presuppose not simply the literary canon—the hypotexts that Lewis is evoking—but the cultural, historical, and conceptual framework in the speculative universes of the hypotexts in question. Lewis has little phrases, efficient images, or single words that work as hyperlinks, so that when the reader “clicks” on the highlighted text, she experiences not just a quotation from an author, but that previous author’s entire speculative world. Moving further with Glyer’s analysis from the questions of inter-text relationship to the interplay of fictional worlds, I argue that the way that Lewis uses other authors in his own fiction betrays a hermeneutic of friendship that informs all of his work. Lewis draws together individual speculative universes at the elbows, combining worlds where they have the most intertextual possibilities. Moving beyond quotations and allusions to the echoes of other worlds, we see that Lewis’ uses other subcreated worlds by hyperlinking them into his own narratives. His narratives presuppose not simply the literary canon—the hypotexts that Lewis is evoking—but the cultural, historical, and conceptual framework in the speculative universes of the hypotexts in question. Lewis has little phrases, efficient images, or single words that work as hyperlinks, so that when the reader “clicks” on the highlighted text, she experiences not just a quotation from an author, but that previous author’s entire speculative world. “

      Like

    • Chris,

      If we want to talk about fairness, I’m not sure you’ve treated my research entirely fairly, particularly as regards my feelings about Lewis’ fiction. I in no way meant to suggest that Lewis was a poor writer or lacked imagination or anything of the kind when I suggested that he attempted to stitch his own work into Tolkien’s Legindarium. After all, Lewis also stitches his work into the stories surrounding King Arthur (even if he doesn’t select a particular teller of those tales), and I do not think this a bad thing or anything that makes him inferior as a writer.

      Now then, to the charges against Lewis’ use of Atlantis as being only a slender (if at all) connection to the work of Tolkien. I think the use of Numinor and turning the reader to unpublished works by Tolkien is more than a slender or tenuous connection, but rather robust. Lewis almost certainly wrote that since he was always endeavoring to help Tolkien publish all his Middle-earth material. Either way, it clearly shows that at least by the time we reach That Hideous Strength Lewis has now re-couched all three books into the world of Middle-earth, as existing in the much later history of Middle-earth (namely our present, at the time anyway). Lewis also makes it very clear that Numinor is Atlantis, something even Tolkien in his published fiction never firmly does, though he admits to it in his letters as I have documented. So the question becomes can we see the Chronicles of Narnia as existing in the same world as the Cosmic Trilogy? There is no conclusive evidence of this, you’re right. The closest we get is the reference to Atlantis being a civilization associated in some way with magic; the same association he makes with it in the Cosmic Trilogy.

      On its own this would be very tenuous indeed, but I do believe it strengthened by the fact that Lewis at least considered the idea of attaching his Cosmic Trilogy to The Screwtape Letters. This at least implies that Lewis was open to the idea of having multiple of his works exist within the same “world”. Lewis attaching the Cosmic Trilogy to Tolkien’s Legendarium also suggests that he is interested in relating his works to other great works. More research certainly needs to be done. Someone, perhaps someday me, needs to search through Lewis’ letters and possibly his MSS. to look for references to the writing of these works to see if there is anything that either refutes or confirms my claims.

      Also, someone, again perhaps me, needs to dig deeper within the works themselves to see what obstacles there are to this reading: for instance the dust come from another world in the Atlantean box in The Magician’s Nephew, as well as the existence of “other worlds” in the same book.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thanks for this, with its “Elves” post link as well! I can’t dialogue over there, as I can’t accept Disqus’s terms of use, but let us hope Professor Mosley may take a peak over here, too.

    I have been wondering, in a lazy sort of way, for some while in how far one could link Narnia and the other worlds beyond the Wood (such as Charn) with the Ransom romances – or should I say, ‘chronicles’? – and so with Tolkien’s legendarium via that ‘Numinor’ reference – but also, with at least some of Charles Williams’s fiction, notably The Place of the Lion. Michael Ward, whose work I only finally caught up with in the course of this past year, does not explore such possibilities, but his explication of the Planetary Influences in Narnia seems to me quite compatible with them.

    The Atlantean in The Magician’s Nephew as well as in That Hideous Strength had not properly struck me, till Professor Mosley’s pointing it out. Another feature of The Magician’s Nephew comes to stand in a new light, as a result: the apparent Holmesian (or Sherlockian) taking Holmes to be a real person (and the Bastables, too, for that matter: and what, in the present context, of Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane, and their baby brother, known as the Lamb in Nesbit’s other, three ‘chronicles’? ) might have implications for taking the matter narrated in (at least some of) Williams’s ‘thrillers’ as historical!

    Like

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Williams alternates, curiously, between narrating actions which could not escape public notice – in Shadows of Ecstasy (novel one, rewritten and published fifth), Many Dimensions (no. 3), and All Hallows’ Eve (no. 7) – with ones which could, largely speaking, in the other four (even though the world seems, in fact, on the verge of destruction in three of these!).

      This ‘feature’ is complicated by (as I take it) Many Dimensions clearly being a sort of sequel to War in Heaven (no. 2). And further, Williams’s friend, John Pellow, suggested, as Williams was working on or projecting the third (in what form we do not know!), offering all three to a publisher as a ‘trilogy’, noting Williams liked the idea. Joe Christopher has made an interesting case, in comparison to the Fu Manchu books, for treating the first three as indeed a sort of trilogy (if that does any justice to what he wrote in the Williams Society Quarterly a few years ago).

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        It might be worth adding, that Lewis turns to narrating an action which could not escape public notice in That Hideous Strength after narrating ones which could, largely speaking, in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra (and The Screwtape Letters, considered Ransomly) – I’d have to think about The Dark Tower – but he certainly returns to narrating ones which could escape public notice, largely speaking, in the Narnia books – perhaps least in Jadis’s London activities, though even there she seems merely physically powerful and wild on a relatively limited scale.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You could check the papers from that period to see if Jadis showed up.
          Screwtape would be unremarkable, but the conspiracy (or counter-conspiracy) of Out of the Silent Planet builds and then breaks out in That Hideous Strength. I doubt many at the time would have linked Lewis’ fictionalized account of history in OSP to the apoclypse of Edgestow. After all, the only link was Dr. Ransom–a fictional name of a man going by another title who never left the house.

          Like

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Are you a Holmesian? You do it well! It would be lovely to see how close an account of Jadis ‘going to town’ we could find in a London paper of the turn of those centuries! Whew – how fictionalized might other details of That Hideous Strength be? What drastic thing happened Where involving Whom?

            Like

    • Hannah says:

      As to your “Holmes being taken to be a real person”, this has been done in a great and funny way in an episode of the Murdoch Mysteries – series 7, epis. 4,
      with Holmes giving food for thought to Arthur Canon Doyle, who also appears on the scene, with his clever answers. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2989548/

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Interesting! I wonder if anyone has surveyed the ‘split’ between later writers treating Holmes as real, as possibly real, and as a fictional character? For example, as far as I remember, the characters in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Wimsey stories treat Holmes as a fictional character (whereas they themselves are, of course, real people – for whom genealogical info is provided), but D.L.S. herself was also one of the great contributors to the origins and elaboration of Holmesian Scholarship treating Holmes as Watson as real!

        Like

        • Hannah says:

          That ís fascinating! Your wonderings about that ‘split’ reminds me of the study I once did on the shifts in the role of the Fool in relation to cultural changes in the various adaptations of Shakespeare’s King Lear , with the Fool even disappearing in some of them, making the role/character of Lear really weird without his Fool as external counterpart.
          And your remark on Peter Wimsey being real with a supposedly historic genealogy while Wimsey himself is treating Holmes as fictional and while D.L.S. contributed greatly to treating Holmes as real, sounds só complex; have you found any material by D.L.S. herself on that subject?
          Anyway, it made me look up that geneology and history of Wimsey and
          is very revelationary for me, e.g. on the relationship between Wimsey and Bunter – I didn’t know that they met as soldiers in the great War …

          Liked by 1 person

    • Regarding Holmes: The only potential problem with taking that line seriously, if we want to see a connection between the Cosmic Trilogy and the Narniad, is that Mark Studdock is said to have been a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories. This would require us to imagine a world where not only did Holmes actually exist but either Watson or Watson perhaps via Doyle wrote them for Strand Magazine. That is, of course, totally possible, but it is much simpler to assume that in the Cosmic Trilogy Holmes is naught but a fictional character created by Doyle and once beloved by Mark Studdock.

      Also, call me David, please.

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Thanks, David! Ah, yes – that wonderful return of Mark Studdock to reading the Holmes stories… I shall have to brood over the exact wording… I suppose the Holmesian response would be along the lines of, ‘But, of course, where do we encounter John Hamish Watson’s chronicles of Holmes’s cases but as purveyed to sources like The Strand by the Literary Agent, A.C. Doyle?’

        (Delightful thought – Lewis as the extrapolator of Holmesian-like scholarship to the activities of that Other Literary Agent, Edith Nesbit, conveying various other chronicles to the readers of The Strand – ?)

        Like

    • David, I’m so late responding, but I appreciate the dialogue here. “The Woods Between the Worlds”–an idea perhaps suggested by Green’s work–is a great image for what Lewis does to literature. I used “hyperlink” (see my note above and a paper coming out).
      At the Bod, must go.

      Like

    • Extollager says:

      Are we starting to get all Wold Newton?

      Dale Nelson

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Have with You to Wold Newton, or A Figo for Thy Meteorite Then, the Fig of Spain

        Which is to say, I suppose it depends whether Lewis was doing it indeed in the 40s and 50s, or whether one is being a Josë-come-lately (though quite independently) in proposing it.

        Like

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Ach: a ‘peek’, not a ‘peak’ (though helping peak stats in whichever directions never hurt)!

    Like

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    “It’s all in Plato” – well, the textual origins of specific Atlantis myth, anyway! (which Lewis explicitly discusses somewhere). How are Lewis and Tolkien, whether independently or collaboratively, endebted to the unfinished Timaeus-Critias sequence? And how did they read that? It occurs me that each and both are doing what Socrates-Plato calls for in The Republic (and could further be contended to be exemplified in The Laws), writing stories that ‘do justice’ to the gods.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Might we bring in Tolkien’s 1965 Letter 276, here, with its (tantalizing!) reference to Lewis’s “own mythology (incipient and never fully realized)” being “quite different” from “the Silmarillion and all that” – and being “at any rate broken to bits before it became coherent by contact with C.S. Williams and his ‘Arthurian’ stuff” after Perelandra? Why and/or how is, e.g., Lewis’s free eldil and Planetary Intelligence part of his “mythology”, thought to be “broken to bits” by C.W.’s “‘Arthurian’ stuff” (meaning what, exactly? – including introducing Merlin?). And is Tolkien aware of, but not addressing, how Lewis’s angelology could be combined – and could be meant by Lewis to be combined – with Tolkien’s own “Silmarillion and all that” angelology?

      And, again, is Tolkien aware of, but not addressing, how Lewis’s and his own angelologies could be combined (and Lewis’s might be meant to be combined) with C.W.’s Place of the Lion angelology?

      It seems to me, at least, that we have here three distinct but quite compatibly and even complementarily ‘interlaceable’ angelologies, which can all be seen as very distinctly examples of ‘doing justice to “the gods”‘.

      And what of the explicitly named Classical ‘gods’ (and Jewish demonology) of Narnia? A fourth ‘class’ of ‘interlaceable’ not simply mortal non-humans! Green reported Tolkien as saying, “Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about?’ with reference to the draft of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I would contend (plausibly in Michael Ward’s sense – and in others as well) that Lewis clearly did know what he was talking about in making a world in which “Nymphs” and “a Faun” appear in combination with other mortal non-humans – and that it seems strange that Tolkien did not recognize that he did know what he was doing (including, as a parallel and possible component with the angelologies of the Ransom and his own chronicles).

      Liked by 1 person

      • What were the books on Tumnus’ shelves? Was one “Fauns and their Ways” or something? It was that book that JRRT was responding to, I think–If I recall the conversation in Humphrey Carpenter.
        Thanks for that reference to the Tolkien letter. I didn’t know it and it’s a stunner. Part of my work is playing with the idea of whether Lewis had a larger mythological framework. I just don’t have the conclusions as yet. Connecting Ransom to Screwtape gives us “the heavens, the earth, and the depths of the earth,” a classical tri-fold. We see in that Screwtape preface an essentialized language, which may be a Tolkien idea but something they clearly talked about. And all of Lewis’ worlds are created worlds, with the same God (even if the lords of those worlds are different).
        Do the worlds of CW, JRRT, & CSL overlap in the angelic? I don’t know that we can go there quite yet. But I think that the three authors overlap on a few points: interest in the angelic, a dialogue with mythology, experience of war, character-based fantasy, the supernatural (including magic, the hallows, elemental physics), and incomplete retellings of Arthur.

        Like

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Yes: Nymphs and Their Ways is really one of the titles Lewis gives, saying, “They had titles like […]”. I suppose the made-up title Green quotes from Tolkien, “The Love-Life of a Faun”, is specifically playing with Lewis’s “The Life and Letters of Silenus”. I think Lewis is positively (fictionally) suggesting (in one or another sort of Platonic way) that Silenus, here (and later, Bacchus), and quite possibly Fauns in general, have been malignly misrepresented in Earthly accounts: in Narnia, they can be seen as they really are.

          Tolkien’s 1963 Letter 252 is interesting to compare with Letter 276: “Williams’ influence actually only appeared with his death: That Hideous Strength, the end of the trilogy, which (good though it is in itself) I think spoiled it.” How? Why? (Yet, in any case “good […] in itself”!)

          Finally, thanks for a good, thought-provoking sketch of ‘overlap’!

          Like

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Speaking of interrelated worlds – the Wikipedia “University of Edgestow” article just led me to the “Rainbow Mars” one, where I learned it is a story in a 1999 Larry Niven collection of the same name, in which “Svetz uses his time machine to visit Mars, which he finds populated by the creations of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, C. S. Lewis, H. G. Wells, and Stanley G. Weinbaum. The story began as a collaboration with Terry Pratchett; a number of his ideas remain in the final draft, mainly the use of Yggdrasil”!

    I wonder if any Wiki-savvy-and-patient person could manage to get your edition of the Ransom Screwtape preface noticed in their article, “The Space Trilogy”?

    Like

    • Wow, this link made my head swim. I will have to see Rainbow Mars. Very cool. I am looking for this collection as we speak.
      I would love to see the Ransom-Screwtape thing on Wiki, but it must never be done by the original researcher.

      Like

  6. Pingback: The Shocking, Horrifying, You-Can’t-Believe-It! Reason This Blogger Isn’t Taking A Break | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  7. Pingback: A Brace of Tolkien Posts (125th Birthday Week) | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  8. Pingback: A Brace of Tolkien Posts #TolkienReadingDay | A Pilgrim in Narnia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s