I encountered Jared Lobdell’s work because he was one of the few critics to make C.S. Lewis’ WWII-era science fiction–what I call the Ransom Cycle–a study of its own. His 2004 book, The Scientifiction Novels of C.S. Lewis: Space and Time in the Ransom Stories, takes seriously Lewis’ literary context and looks intertextually at the Ransom Cycle in terms of genre and the books that shaped its form and content. Scientifiction Novels was interesting in that it tried to treat Lewis’ incomplete novel “The Dark Tower” as an integral part of the Ransom universe, struggling to decide what that meant. I would differ with Lobdell on the directions he sometimes took–and am wary about completing the novel (as he attempts to outline)–but it is an appreciative effort.
Jared Lobdell has more work out and on the way. Here he describes a little bit of the process of trying to get Eight Children in Narnia to print after nearly 20 years from brainchild to bookstore.
Along about the time of the C S Lewis Centenary in 1998, I had the idea of writing two books on C.S. Lewis’ fiction: one on the Ransom novels and one on the Narnian stories (actually the book on the Ransom stories started a little earlier). The Ransom book duly appeared in 2004 from McFarland. Reviews were sparse and I remember Joe Christopher found it very curious that I had not only included “The Dark Tower” (Walter Hooper’s title) but had provisionally re-titled it and suggested how it might have come out had Lewis finished it.
The Narnia volume was ready for publication in 2006 and in fact accepted by Open Court, which had published three of my books on Tolkien. But after accepting it, and paying me half the agreed-upon advance on royalties, they found themselves unable to publish it for ten years. I revised it from time to time, but the approach remained essentially in place. I wanted to look at the creation of a Victorian (or Edwardian) children’s story by an author with whom (and with his friends) I corresponded, and whom I had read for close to sixty years (now close to seventy), who was a coeval (and favorite) of my parents, whose every book I read, and whose birthday, by the way, I shared (along with Madeleine L’Engle and Louisa May Alcott). I never did make it to study under him at Oxford, but to me he was of my world.
My approach in Eight Children in Narnia is straightforward, fundamentally an overview, a book at a time (with looks at their different kinds), then a conclusion. If I trace the original vision of the faun with the umbrella hurrying home to tea to Debussy’s l‘Apres-midi d’un faun or the “valiant” Lucy of Narnia to the “valiant” Lucia da Narni in Shellabarger’s 1947 novel Prince of Foxes (but not the film, which omits her) or the first description of the Professor to a combination of two of the Council of Days in The Man Who Was Thursday, that is because reading and listening (and living) as much as possible within Lewis’s world, these seem to me virtually self-evident.
When I started reading Lewis, his most recent novel was That Hideous Strength. and I read that and its two predecessors while I was in grade school. My reactions to Lewis were, as the pavement artist says, “all my own work,” pretty much — a few of them he confirmed in correspondence, a few Owen Barfield confirmed in conversation and correspondence, a couple by Ronald Tolkien in correspondence. They could still be “wrong,” I suppose, but like Lewis himself (if we believe him), where I fail as a critic I may be useful as a specimen. There may still be one dinosaur left.
Jared Lobdell is an historian, economist, and literary critic, as well as a friend and correspondent of several of the Inklings. Besides Eight Children in Narnia, his most recent publications are his self-published Poems 1957-2002, an exceedingly slim volume, and Tax Revision By Commission in Pennsylvania 1889-1949, presumably of minimal interest to anyone reading this. Currently, he is putting together a volume of his essays and studies on the Inklings, with long essays on Nevill Coghill and Lord David Cecil, (and Canon Fox), and his essay pointing out Hugo Dyson’s Jewish parentage (born Henry Victor Dyson Tannenbaum). He has the concluding essay in Laughter in Middle-Earth.
Dr. Lobdell’s book on the Narnian Chronicles should be excellent.
I’m very appreciative of the approach he takes to the Ransom books. Lewis professedly read American science fiction pulp magazines, and I’ve shown (CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society) that he drew upon Donald Wandrei’s “Colossus” (Astounding, Jan. 1934) in The Great Divorce. I’m working now on an article contending for the likelihood that Lewis read two of H. P. Lovecraft’s major stories (At the Mountains of Madness and “The Shadow Out of Time”) in 1936 issues of Astounding, and that this reading left traces in (especially) Lewis’s “Dark Tower” fragment. Tolkien may also have read and been influenced by Lovecraft before writing his unfinished Notion Club Papers. The article also attempts to summarize what is known about Inklings – Lovecraft Circle “connections.” It doesn’t come to a lot, but there’s more than might have been expected; for example, Lovecraft read several of Charles Williams’s novels (but was put off by their orthodoxy), and Clark Ashton Smith read some Tolkien late in his life. Tolkien almost certainly read stories by Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith late in his life, but, again, there’s no real chance of “influence.”
Some or all of the Lovecraft Circle (HPL, CAS, Robert E. Howard, notably) and the Inklings did have some important reading in common — Haggard, Wells, Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James, Lord Dunsany, etc.
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Dale, I appreciate your column in the NYCSL Bulletin on the stories that Lewis drew into himself. I also saw your note on John Garth’s blog, and was a little surprised by the idea of HP Lovecraft perhaps haunting the Inklings. I’ll have to read those stories and think about it. What Jared Lobdell opened up for me was that 18th c. background.
I’ll be able to do little more than to point out that Lewis seems to have been reading Astounding during the period that those Lovecraft stories appeared and that there are some interesting similarities with some of his own writing. Much of the article I’m working on attempts to apply remarks Lewis made to other authors, notably Rider haggard, to Lovecraft, as a way of helping to explain why people read HPL despite his oft-mentioned literary shortcomings.
To put it too simplistically, but with some truth, when Lewis and Tolkien first were receiving scholarly attention (including things in fanzines, too), the emphasis was typically on medieval literature and canonical British literature. This was fruitful and appropriate. Jared Lobdell’s England and Always stood out for its presentation of LotR as an adventure story in the Edwardian mode, relating it to Haggard, Buchan, Doyle, et al. If I can make some contributions along such lines, I’m happy. Dr. Lobdell’s writings are learned and also enjoyable to read — sensible, clear, fresh. I trust as soon as this Narnian book is available, we’ll read about it here!
Re the faun. I often wonder how much E. M. Forster’s story ‘The Curate’s Friend’ might have to do with Mr Tumnus, especially given the story’s themes.
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Re Lewis and pulp. I think maybe there’s a tendency to see Tolkien and Lewis as college professors who largely ignored the popular fiction of the day, but I’m not sure this is necessarily true. Lewis in particular was a pretty omniverous reader.
For example: years ago, I and a bunch of other people rented an old manor on the edge of Dartmoor, in the UK. It reminded me a lot of certain Anglo-Irish houses I’d visited: big and dark and musty, still with most of its original furniture. The library was the usual collection of books on horses, shooting, old editions of ‘Punch’ etc, but some of it was a bit more recent (ie, the early Fifties), a venerable SF magazine being a case in point. There was a story in this about a group of intrepid explorers who discover an ancient city buried beneath a desert. They then discover all the previous rulers being kept in a state of suspended animation, the last one being a queen as beautiful as she is clearly evil – and whom the mc accidentally wakes. The whole city starts to collapse around the explorers after he does so and they flee, never finding out what happened to her.
I guess the corollaries with the Charn sequence in ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ are obvious (I think there was even a similar injunction not to succumb to temptation). Needless to say, I tried to track down the story online subsequently, without success. It was one of thousands written during that period, and long since consigned to oblivion (well, unless you count mouldering away on a bookshelf in some English country house).
I can’t remember now who told us, at the Oxford Lewis Society, how omnivorous of exciting narratives Lewis was – for example, having a “boy’s” magazine before him while invigilating examinations in the Schools.
This sounds very interesting (as does the Inkling essays volume, come to that)! There are such (ahem) worlds of adventures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that I have maybe just heard of, if that. Thinking in terms of Eight Children in Narnia, gets me wondering what stories there were of children not only time-travelling (cf. E. Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet: know to Williams, after his childhood but well before his fatherhood, as far as I can see), but space-travelling. And when were there any stories about anyone, old or young, more-than-simply-space-travelling, as the Pevensies and Digory and Polly (et al.) do? ‘Multiverse’ stories? – or what should or might we call them?
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