Many of you will know what a pleasure it is to hear Charles Huttar read a paper, to meet and converse with him – and how fruitful to your knowledge, understanding, and further thought. And many more who have been his students and daily colleagues over the years will probably say the same, if even more emphatically. But those who know him solely as a writer know they are not lacking such benefits, though mediated by another form. What T.S. Eliot said of Charles Williams, we may say of him: “no one who has known both the man and his works would have willingly foregone either experience.” Those who have already read his exhilarating, magnificent contribution to The Inklings and King Arthur, may find a deft, concentrated, thought-provoking complement to it in today’s post, while those who have not, yet, will find a spur to long to do so the sooner.
David Llewellyn Dodds, Guest Editor
Historians still debate the pros and cons of whether King Arthur actually existed.
In “The Figure of Arthur,” Charles Williams doesn’t take a position on the matter. He notes that no contemporary author mentions him by name; “Arthur” enters history more than three centuries later. But he also notes that recent discoveries lend some credibility to the earliest accounts of battles to which the name became attached, and to that extent they force reconsideration of what may have been a too-easy skepticism. (Incidentally, R. G. Collingwood, the eminent historian and archeologist of the Romano-British era whom Williams cites, was Lewis’s colleague at Magdalen College.)
What interests Williams, instead, is “the myth of Arthur” as he calls it (in the very first line of the history of the Arthurian legends that he left unfinished—hence a “torso”—and elsewhere [3, 93-94]).
What interests us, mainly, is the rather different myths that Williams and other Inklings made of the Matter of Britain. On these Sørina Higgins’s new book sheds light from a welcome variety of angles. But that theme is only one strand in a vaster tapestry woven by artists and historians alike, calling on their imaginations to fill the enormous gaps in the reliable evidence (not documentary alone) that is available for reconstructing and understanding the past.
In his 1950 essay “Historicism” C. S. Lewis describes the legitimate role of imagination in the historian’s scholarly work, but his main object is to refute those who step outside their discipline and try to extrapolate from pathetically inadequate data something they insist is “the meaning of history.” I have summarized elsewhere Lewis’s catalog of the various ways all the data we could possibly amass must inevitably fall dismally short (“The Limitations of Historiography” 35-38). For one thing, history is not yet complete, and only God knows the future. We may, by divine revelation, know some of God’s purposes in broad outline, but how any particular event fits into the plan remains God’s secret. Looking at the past “we see pictures in the fire,” Lewis writes, and “the more indeterminate the object, the more it excites our mythopoeic . . . faculties” (“Historicism” 105).
Vast reaches of history are “indeterminate.”
At the end of That Hideous Strength  the company at St. Anne’s learn that the seventy-ninth Pendragon will leave them and return to Venus, there to dwell in “Aphallin” with King Arthur and others. Whatever Lewis’s personal opinion about Arthur’s historicity, in Lewis’s myth the king not only once lived but did not die. As Dr. Dimble, a historian by profession, explains,
“We discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history” and, moreover, that “something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres.”
In the sixth century Logres “nearly succeeded” in “break[ing] through. . . . A secret Logres” has continued “in the heart of Britain all these years” and was instrumental in the defeat of the N.I.C.E., “only just in time” (441-42). None of those at St. Anne’s will be named in the history books, but as Charles Williams once said (Dimble refers to him only as “one of the modern authors”), building an altar may be required here so that the fire can fall there (443).
Throughout this conversation at St. Anne’s, Lewis is greatly indebted to Williams. Other events in That Hideous Strength are spoken of as instances of divine action (see my “How Much . . .” 31-34, 44-46). Williams shared that belief but did not feel obliged to veil it in a myth—see his The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church (1939). The audacious subtitle seems a contradiction in terms: what historian can discern the blowing of that divine Wind? Williams explicitly names the Holy Ghost. Lewis says only “the haunting,” but he means the same thing.
The mystery surrounding Arthur captivated J. R. R. Tolkien as well, in his middle years, but that was only one of the gaps in our knowledge of history into which the Inklings were spurred to insert imagined possibilities. All three authors played with the idea of a mysterious linkage between different eras through the reappearance of objects of power (in Williams, the Holy Grail, the Stone and the Ship of Solomon) or persons (for example, Merlin in That Hideous Strength) or the emergence of persons related in some fashion to others from a distant time. Tolkien’s interest in this last theme and how it could fit into his vast, developing mythology is evident from the posthumously published (and fragmentary) Book of Lost Tales and “Notion Club Papers.”
The clairvoyance of Lewis’s Jane Studdock, which is central to the plot of his novel, she has inherited from her Tudor forebears. Similarly crucial is the sixteenth-century ancestral connection of Pauline Anstruther in Williams’s Descent into Hell (1937), but the doctrines of Coinherence and Substitution that undergird that myth render it much more complex. It involves a quadrilateral relationship of persons, spanning not just four centuries but twenty, and raises speculation about the nature of time.
When Pauline’s friend Peter Stanhope persuades her to let him carry her obsessive fear of meeting her doppelgänger, she is freed to cross back to the time of Queen Mary, meet and speak to her ancestor who agonizes in fear of being burnt at the stake, and in turn take up his burden of fear. But the voice that Pauline hears making him that offer, though it is “her own voice,” comes from a figure standing behind her, looking exactly like her (as she discovers when she turns, no longer in fear but willingly, to gaze). It is her Double, and it is also the “immortal” One, the Author of all Substitution, who, two millennia before, promised his followers that he would dwell within them. The voice said, “Give it to me, John Struther,” and when John accepts that offer his agonized cry—which was certainly real; Pauline had heard it—becomes a “roar of triumph, . . . ‘I have seen the salvation of my God.’” These are the very words recorded in the sixteenth-century martyrology that Pauline had heard quoted as a part of her family lore (55-56), but not until a woman from the twentieth century visited him in prison had he been able to utter them. Thus Williams’s myth calls into question, or at least gets us thinking about, the fixity of the past itself and the puzzle of divine foreknowledge and human free will.
The farther back we go into history, the greater the “indetermina[cy],” the gaps that set the imagination to work, whether in the form of speculation—either by reasonable Inference or by sheer conjecture—or that of mythopoesis. Williams’s early play The Chapel of the Thorn explores Christian-Druid relationships on the Welsh border in the early Middle Ages, a topic that Suzanne Bray addressed briefly in the first post of this series. His late play Terror of Light, set at the very start of Church history, imagines acts and conversations of Christ’s most intimate followers, female as well as male, that Luke did not record in his second treatise, the Book of Acts. Lewis employed techniques of the historical novel to portray the culture of Glome, an imagined barbarian kingdom on the edge of civilization in a slightly earlier period.
Before that, when written records give out, even those that merely codify oral traditions, the historian’s work is taken over by other “sciences”—a quite imprecise word, in this context—archeology, anthropology and its subdiscipline comparative religion, biology, and astronomy, in roughly that order. We label that period, billions of years, “pre-history,” a misleading term since, as Lewis says, history “may mean . . . the total content of the past . . . in all its teeming riches” (“Historicism” 105). There is also philology, a discipline pursued by both Lewis and (preeminently) Tolkien, which investigates words themselves to uncover facts about human history. Lewis’s Studies in Words used methods and theories laid down by Owen Barfield to trace through the centuries semantic changes that Lewis found many of his students—and prominent critics as well—failed to notice.
Two of Lewis’s poems play with possibilities about human and animal life before Noah’s flood, surviving now only in legend. His stories of an alternate Eden (Perelandra) and another Creation (The Magician’s Nephew) deserve a quick glance, though they don’t strictly fit into this account since neither serves to fill a gap in earthly history; Venus is a different planet, and Narnia is a universe to itself. But Lewis did question the received “scientific” accounts of early human consciousness and the origin of religion, because of their heavy reliance on conjecture based on naturalistic presuppositions. (The eminent biologist Stephen Jay Gould would later ridicule them as Kiplingesque “just-so stories.”) In youth, having dipped into Frazer’s Golden Bough, Lewis had accepted them, but in The Problem of Pain he offered his own alternate accounts, consonant with Christian belief.
Existing myths from antiquity underlie Lewis’s Ransom trilogy: that which assigns planets to different gods to govern and that of Satan’s rebellion and continued warfare against God, so that not only divine but also diabolical forces work in history, truly a hideous strength. Lewis embellishes these myths with inventions of his own, the enemy’s attempt to destroy all life on a newly created Mars, which is thwarted by “gigantic feats of [angelic] engineering” that to an earthly viewer resemble canals, and the consequent protection of the other planets by confining the enemy to Earth and cutting off communication therefrom.
Tolkien, refashioning the same ancient myth, had gone much farther back—indeed, to a time when the universe itself was only an idea in the mind of the One (as in Plato) and the rebel figure Melkor tried to corrupt the Creation according to his own designs. The tales go on from there, taking place within (but hardly filling) an enormous gap of countless years (scientists would read “billions”) and still not getting close to what we call the beginnings of “history.” Tolkien’s imagination could reach far beyond the scientists’ to envision the creation of sun and moon replacing, in their lesser way, the two Trees that Melkor ruined; massive changes in the maps of Middle-earth, whether wrought by ordinary geological process or, more likely, by demonic or angelic action (as, for example, the drowning of Númenor, explaining more fully in terms of divine action what Plato had sketched of Atlantis—possibly, it is now thought, from real folk memories of the breakthrough of ocean into the Mediterranean basin); the creation of a bright new object traversing the heavens; and, provoked by human hubris, the transformation of a flat earth to a globe.
Another prominent theme in Tolkien, alongside such fantastic imaginings, is history itself: the awe-inspiring contemplation of vast reaches of time, the work of historians in the use of evidence and preservation of records, and the limits imposed on the historian by being embedded in a particular culture. Part of what attracted readers to The Lord of the Rings from the start was exposure to a much larger world than their familiar one—strange yet credible (disbelief being suspended), working by other physical laws yet subject to much the same psychological and moral laws across the ages. In place of Fred Flintstone-like caricatures, readers found in Tolkien a sense that there might be many things in heaven and earth undreamt of in their philosophy.
Similar realizations come to characters within the stories. To some, it was exciting to discover that “halflings” were real, not mere legends. The hobbits, drawn out of their secluded Shire, encounter elves, which Sam for one has longed to see, and other marvels unheard of—Ents, Woses (Ethan Campbell explained these in his Valentine’s Day post), Púkel-men, the Mines of Moria, Lórien, the eroded statues of Isildur and Anárion, the Dead Marshes. All are windows on a far-distant past. Some access to those years is found in ancient records like those studied by Gandalf, and in scraps of folklore too easily dismissed as old wives’ tales—resources similar to those that Tolkien himself and his university colleagues might comb through for historical evidence. More astounding to the hobbits might have been facts not handed down through centuries but stored up in the memory of still-living persons. All such knowledge contributes to the Fellowship’s success, as when Aragorn reforges the broken sword, compels the Oathbreakers of old to help turn the tide of battle, and uses ancient herb-lore to revive Frodo and Faramir.
Moreover, Tolkien casts himself in a historian’s role, not a creator of fiction in a modern sense (except in the two works centering on hobbits and a few lesser stories) but a gatherer of and commentator on ancient documents—poetic tales, annals, linguistic and ethnic studies, and the work of great historians of ancient times, such as the elf Pengolodh who lived in the Second Age and was himself greatly dependent on the much earlier Rúmil.
Of course, all these pretended relics of past ages are in fact Tolkien’s own compositions. This is the master-fiction of his legendarium, that this great twentieth-century subcreator of an imagined world, which yet is our world, poses as only a collector of the mythology of an ancient and very advanced culture, of which our own age is a remote and greatly diminished successor. But there was a limit even to what those revered Elvish historians could know—thus, gaps impossible to fill. Especially, although in their thirst for knowledge they inquired diligently about the history and the destiny of humankind, these things remained hidden from them, held in secret in the mind of the One.
 C. S. Lewis, ed. Arthurian Torso: Containing the Posthumous Fragment of The Figure of Arthur by Charles Williams and a Commentary on the Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams by C. S. Lewis (Oxford UP, 1948).
 S. Higgins, ed. The Inklings and King Arthur (Apocryphile Press, 2018).
 In Christian Reflections, ed. W. Hooper (Cambridge UP, 1967), 100-13. (Legitimate role: 100, 110-11; try to extrapolate: 100-2, 104-12.)
 Section 3 of C. Huttar, “How Much Does That Hideous Strength Owe to Charles Williams?” Sehnsucht 9 (2015): 19-46.
 New York: Macmillan, 1946.
 J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fall of Arthur, ed. Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).
 In War in Heaven (1930); Many Dimensions (1931); and “The Last Voyage,” in Taliessin through Logres (1938; Oxford UP, 1950), 82-88.
 Respectively, volumes 1-2 of “The History of Middle Earth” (HME), ed. Christopher Tolkien (1984), and Part 2 in HME 9 (1992).
 Williams, Descent into Hell (1937; Eerdmans, 1965), 169-72.
 Williams, The Chapel of the Thorn, ed. S. Higgins (Apocryphile Press, 2015); Terror of Light, in Collected Plays (Oxford UP, 1963), 327-74; Lewis, Till We Have Faces (Bles, 1956).
 Lewis, Studies in Words (Cambridge UP, 1956); Barfield, History in English Words (Methuen, 1926), and Poetic Diction (Faber and Gwyer, 1928). I still regularly use the paperback copy of Studies in Words, 2nd ed., that Barfield gave me in 1967 when it was just out.
 Lewis, “The Adam Unparadised” (original title “A Footnote to Pre-History”) and “The Late Passenger” (original title “The Sailing of the Ark”). In Poems, ed. W. Hooper. Bles, 1964. 43-44, 47-48.
 S. J. Gould, “Sociobiology: The Art of Storytelling.” New Scientist 80 (1978): 530-33.
 See Lewis, Collected Letters, ed. W. Hooper, 3 vols. (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004-7), 1:231.
 Lewis, The Problem of Pain (Centenary Press, 1940), chapters 1 and 5.
 Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (1938; Macmillan Paperback, 1970), 67, 95, 100, 110-11, 120-24, 142-43; for the quotation, 144.
 Tolkien, The Silmarillion (Houghton Mifflin, 1977), 15-22, 76, 97-102, 246-50, 259-82; The Lost Road and Other Writings (HME 5), 1987.
Charles A. Huttar (Ph.D., Northwestern University) is Professor of English Emeritus at Hope College. He has published extensively on Lewis, Williams, and Tolkien (as well as a variety of other subjects, especially in medieval and early modern literature and art). Before moving to Hope, he taught for eleven years at Gordon College. He is the editor of Imagination and the Spirit (1971) and co-editor of Word and Story in C. S. Lewis (1991, 2007) and The Rhetoric of Vision: Essays on Charles Williams (1996), both of which received the Mythopoeic Society’s Scholarship Award. His photographs of Lewis and Tolkien have also been published. His primary book project currently is a study of the mythography of metamorphosis in C. S. Lewis’s writings.
This is so playful without loss of seriousness, and so rich in understated suggestions, possible conclusions, points for discussion, bold theses, and so on, that it would reward I don’t know how much rereading, savo(u)ring, and brooding over!
But I will pounce upon one thing which is teasing my mind, particularly (and therewith inviting me to extensively re- (or further) acquainting myself with sources, I suspect). When you write, “except in the two works centering on hobbits”, I see what you mean about The Hobbit (1937) , and indeed recall (though too vaguely) various things from Tolkien’s Letters to that point, but you tantalize me about the second work “centering on hobbits”, The Lord of the Rings. I do remember it began as the “new Hobbit”. And I have never yet read right through The History of Middle-earth, volumes VI-VIII. But am I right in suspecting you are thinking of more than how long and how thoroughly it remained the “new Hobbit” over the course of writing and rewritings? If so, what-all? The stylistics of LotR, among other things? (When I write “you”, I do not mean to exclude better readers of Tolkien than myself from springing in with obvious answers, probably likelihoods, and so on!)
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No, I wasn’t thinking along that line at all. I only meant that Tolkien’s usual way of presenting his mythology is to pretend he is only the editor of (or, even more modestly, the one who presents to the world) ancient works of poetry, prose narrative, actual history, etc., that he has “discovered,” whereas we know that they are all his own compositions; note how Lewis understood that conceit of Tolkien’s and played along with it (Glyer, “The Company They Keep,” 111ff.). But in the Bilbo-Frodo tetralogy (if I may call it that) he seems to drop that pose and come across as himself the storyteller in a more or less ordinary novelistic tradition, with a distinct narrator’s voice. So at least I summarized it in my blog (having a word limit and a deadline to contend with). “Seems” — for it really isn’t that simple– in the LoTR foreword and preface he says that the story he tells is “based on” the Red Book of Westmarch, of which he has somehow got hold of a late scribal copy — that is, he hasn’t just made it up — but he also refers to his “composition” of the material “drawn from” that source. And in the last two chapters (which are set in the Shire, after peace has returned) he tells us more about that book.
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I am not alone in finding that whole aspect of the work fascinating. One of the reasons I love epistolary and letter-tinged work is the “found” element–how would Lewis have found demonic letter? who published the logs of Flowers to Algernon? what did Pamela think when her story was published? I like to play along, and so in Tolkien I wonder all the time about what isn’t there for us.
“the Bilbo-Frodo tetralogy”–you might be the first on that one, and is it better than my LOTR-Hobbit shortcut I use? Perhaps.
Except that I’ve never liked calling LotR a “trilogy” (just because it happened to be issued in 3 volumes — and not like the old three-decker, but over a period of time). There are clearly six “books”; the physical appearance in 3 volumes is more “accident” than “essence.” Yet I settled for “tetralogy” because, after all, there are four volumes with four separate titles.
To use the heroes’ names in designating it has a nice parallel in what I now call the “Ransom trilogy” (realizing that “space trilogy” is of questionable accuracy) – though you, Brenton, have told us of two other works in which Ransom appears. But Lewis didn’t publish them, so “trilogy” will do.
Yes, Ransom Trilogy will do (though I use other casual designations). I changed it to the Ransom Cycle in my work because of the possibilities it opens (without leaving behind the fact that we have a published SF Trilogy).
Thank you for ‘unpacking’ this! Antoine Paris has a fascinating paper, ‘Playing with Philology: Unreliable Philology in The Lord of the Rings’ in Tolkien Among Scholars (Lembas Extra 2016), pp. 161-75 (including (p. 174) “a stemma codicum, that is tot say a family tree of the existing manuscripts” between the Red Book and The Lord of the Rings), in which he quotes from Appendix F, II ‘On Translation’, where Tolkien begins by saying, “In presenting the matter of the Red Book, as a history for people of today to read, the whole of the linguistic setting has been translated as far as possible into terms of our own times.” But he does not really get into that tantalizing matter you note of seeming to “come across as himself the storyteller in a more or less ordinary novelistic tradition, with a distinct narrator’s voice.” Is what we read an adaptation – a translation with expansions and contractions as well as variant readings, a ‘retelling’, a novelization, or what? Tolkien ‘unreliably’ does not spell out the answer to this for us!
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For those who (unlike myself) easily read French, Antoine Paris has a related paper in Les illusions de l’autonymie : la parole rapportée de l’Autre dans la littérature (Colloque organisé par le Centre de Recherche en Poétique, Histoire Littéraire et Linguistique (CRPHLL) et l’Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour (UPPA) 2-3-4 décembre 2015), available at the academia.edu account of Christine Copy.
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Thanks for your reference to the Paris article. I may get around to looking at it sometime, but that will have to take its place in a long queue. I gave a paper at the Mythcon in Washington DC (1994) on “The Tolkien Canon and the Problem of Authority” (having just finished reading the whole HoME), which I think tried to do the same kind of thing that Paris is doing now; never published (like too many of my conference papers), and the burgeoning Tolkien bibliography soon became too much for me (and some of it too specialized)! I wish I were enough of a Tolkien scholar to offer anything like an authoritative response to your final question. But apart from the essay in the Inklings and Arthur volume, I haven’t been able to do much with Tolkien (except teaching a course) since an MLA paper in 2004 (another thing still awaiting finishing touches for publication). Too busy with Lewis and Williams (inter alia).
Anyhow, here is my response, subject to correction by those better informed. Yes, it is what you say, an adaptation, partly translated from the Red Book, but more than that, a retelling in his own words. As you said in your March 7 comment, that description is largely a matter of style. I would like to see an analysis of viewpoint in LotR (authorial? “omniscient” passages? etc.). Maybe Thomas’s article on Tolkien’s narrators in the “Legendarium” collection deals with this; I haven’t read it yet — which shows how far I am behind.
To change the subject: My last post on this thread was part 1 of my response to Hannah’s questions on Sunday. I promised to deal with her other question, but I ended that first response with an invitation to others to “chime in.” So far no one has, which is my excuse for delaying my own second installment. But it’s an important question.
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I just reread your blogpost and there is already a lot there in answer to my other question, e.g. on Lewis’s ‘Historicism’ ….
God gave us sufficient knowledge in HIs Word to understand His plan and purpose with our world and lives, so it is not about finding more answers (eg in old myths and legends), but to better understand and reveal them in this era, that is só split between either the rationalistic scientific or the subjective experiential (faith) approaches; both being ‘rather’ too narrow to really understand the wonder, depth and riches of His Word. Maybe you could elaborate on what you already relayed about it in your post, even if no one else chimed in? E.g. on the old sense of “scientia”, the pre-cartesian way of knowing? (and Brenton ‘liked’ your first answer!)
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I’m not sure I agree. It depends on what you mean by “sufficient.” All that you need to know? Yes. But we’re often obsessed by the lust* to know more — when our job is to “trust and obey.” * “Lust”? Compare Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, whom interpreters have diagnosed with “libido sciendi.” What do you do with the fact that God’s Word Himself told his disciples (on more than occasion) that there were things He didn’t know? St. Paul had it right in Romans 11: “O the depths . . . . How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out.” “Understand” indeed! Even if you limit it, as you do, to “our world and lives,” those who think they understand are always in for surprises! Even scientists (in the modern sense of the word), to whom God’s has given the special task of understanding our world, continue to come up with new knowledge (what a pity that so many refuse their discoveries the respect that they deserve). At the end of that sentence you’re quite right, about science and faith experience each being too narrow in itself, but I’m uncomfortable with your word “either,” as if they are opposites that we have to choose between. Surely it is not “His Word” alone that is filled with “wonder, depth and riches,” but the Book of Nature too, which is also God’s revelation (as the Scriptures often remind us). And then there is so much that remains “past finding out.” What is God’s purpose in other worlds than ours? (Do we need to know? Could we even understand?) Please reread the last chapter of “Perelandra” and marvel at Lewis’s wisdom, as well as the complexity of that great Ode/Vision/Dance. I always find that passage thrilling — and also humbling.
Now as to the old sense of “scientia,” it wasn’t a “way of knowing” that I had in mind (and I don’t know what Descartes has to do with it). This quote from the on-line resource “Word Origins” explains it better than I could: “Etymologically, science simply means ‘knowledge’, for it comes via Old French science from Latin scientia, a noun formed from the present participle of the verb scīre ‘know’. It early on passed via ‘knowledge gained by study’ to a ‘particular branch of study’, but its modern connotations of technical, mathematical, or broadly ‘non-arts’ studies did not begin to emerge until the 18th century.”
I am not a scholar, which might be why my language does not seem to come across the way I meant it to. Of course we do not have to choose between those two sides, but it is exactly because of searching for a middle ground between them, that I am wondering about how “mythopoesis is different from ‘sheer conjecture’”?.
And sufficient knowledge (through the Word (and Christ) and Nature) is of course not exhaustive. There is só much to discover and learn, that we will never come to the end of it and fully comprehend to wonder and mystery of it all, which is only great!
Which leads me to why I mentioned pre-Cartesian. In my understanding it was with Descartes that man started to see himself as the measure of all things, and knowing only that for certain, which can be noticed through the senses and ‘measured’. How can they then assume that by their natural powers they can discover an ‘inner meaning of the historical process’?
A quick aside, with respect to “scientists (in the modern sense of the word), to whom God’s has given the special task of understanding our world” – I’m finally catching up with C.P. Snow’s The Search (though only in his own 1958 abridgement of the 1934 text, alas), which Dorothy Sayers’s references in Gaudy Night got me so eager to read, and (though fictional) it seems a fascinating book to juxtapose with Surprised by Joy (for one thing), and in general for a glimpse from a different angle of education – and (popular) thought – in England in the first couple decades of the last century.
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Ah, this reference? Lord Peter Wimsey in Gaudy Night: ‘An elderly scientist telling him “The only ethical principle which has made science possible is that the truth shall be told all the time” ….
Is a main reason, why science really could take off in the 16/17th century, the knowledge that as God’s creation there is order and structure in the universe, that can be studied as a God given task?
Yes – I’ve finally read far enough in The Search to reach that passage Wimsey quotes – in Part III, Chapter 8, “End of a journey”, about five-sixths of the way through (I was beginning to be afraid it got cut in Snow’s 1958 abridgment!) – no spoilers from me (when Sayers so neatly avoids any), but don’t skip ahead to look it up: its placement turns out to be important in the unfolding of the story!
I think I would answer ‘yes’ to your question, too – a subject that seems to me to tie in very interestingly with, especially, both The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength among Lewis’s works.
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Charles, did you read the whole HoME in one sitting?
Not literally in one sitting — but over a 4- to 6-week period, I think. Having had my paper proposal for Mythcon accepted, I spent a lot of money (by my scale) to get hold of those 12 volumes quickly. I have copious notes in a notebook. My Vita still lists a contemplated book on “J. R. R. Tolkien, Historian,” but that has been long pre-empted as my work has taken other directions.
Wow, that’s fast. I counted the History at 2.8-2.9m words, I think. That’s a lot for a month or two. Well done.
I should note that I welcome clarity about historiography.
Just volume IX, Sauron Defeated, took me 16 days!
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And Sauron Defeated is one of the easier reads!
Indeed! Ditto, The Lost Road (at least, The First Part – the only part I’ve read yet), and, I think, Morgoth’s Ring – but I don’t seem to have notes about how long either took me!
Confession time. I have been uneasy about your responses to these recollections of mine. I’ve been looking for my 1994 notebook, leading up to the Mythcon that August, and I’ve finally found it. It contains 99 pages of notes on my reading for that paper (starting with over a week reading Shippey), but I have to tell you that — this is the confession — I did NOT then time read the last 2 volumes of HoME. (I have, since.) Between 13 June and 7 August I logged 182 hours, so you can see that it was far from a full-time job. (I also wrote the paper, of course, called “The Tolkien Canon and the Problem of Authority.”) Nothing heroic, really. Especially since I was looking for things pertaining to my topic, and surely skipped some pages.
I recall that what sparked my paper proposal was a long series of exchanges on TOLKIEN-L (remember that, in the BITNET era?), as HoME was just getting under way. My nom de net in that discussion group was Niggle, which I think aptly fits the way I work. I think I had some good new stuff, back in ’94 — but others were working on it too. About halfway through my 99 pages of notes I find a page headed “Literary Activity (Feigned to Be) Represented in the Tolkien Middle-earth Corpus,” with column headings across the page, ranging from CREATION through Revising, Gathering, Ordering, Retelling, Compilation, Abridgment/Epitomes; then SCHOLARSHIP: Commentary, Translation, and finally Editing (JRRT and CRT). I wish I’d been able to go farther with that project, but I had to teach in the fall, and then take a sabbatical in England January to June that was consumed by entirely different (non-Tolkien) projects. Meanwhile it soon became evident that the :”others” were wrapping it all up very nicely.
Draw from this sad story what lessons may fit your own case.
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Well, not a terribly embarrassing confession! Thanks for sharing. I am someone who works like that (though with typed notes). I find at this moment in my PhD that I just can’t “niggle” anymore. If it isn’t teaching it is dissemination. I have 400 unfollowed threads in my notes (and I assume you have 40000).
o, o, Mythcon! I wish they had extensive audio-visual archives where we could look up such things – though that might have been and be a copyright nightmare for them to organize and administer.
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A quick note: yes, a real fairly detailed analysis of viewpoint in LotR – and (editions of) The Hobbit – would be great! Some of the authorial remarks in both sound like those an ethnologist with field experience – Paris uses the term ‘hobbitological’ at one point…
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Another quick note: it’s also fascinating how, after LotR (if I recall correctly), Tolkien begins to apply that ‘novelistic’ retelling style to earlier ‘histories’ – as Unfinished Tales (1980) first let us see.
Thanks for this fascinating post! It reminded me so of the book by Rolland Hein “Christian Mythmakers” in which he puts myths opposite to (rationalistic) systematizing of everything, which started during the Enlightenment:
“Systematizing flattens, drains away colour and life, but myths round out, restore” (p. xi) … By some magic, imagination sends us on a journey toward gestures, images ….metaphors, symbols … and myths (p. x). … Myths are first of all stories, which confront us with something transcendent and eternal (p. 3).” And so, to add your Lewis quote “we see pictures in the fire … .. the more indeterminate the object, to more it excites our mythopoeic faculties” (Historicism p. 105). Christian mythmakers therefore were revealing the transcendent and eternal through the myths/stories they created.
So I was surprised to read that “Williams shared that belief, but did not feel obliged to veil it in a myth”, so a veiling instead of revealing …
And I was puzzled by this sentence: “The farther back we go into history, the greater the “indetermina[cy],” the gaps that set the imagination to work, whether in the form of speculation—either by reasonable Inference or by sheer conjecture—or that of mythopoesis.”. Could you say a bit more about what you mean by those differences between ‘speculation’ and mythopoesis?
The second half of your post reminded me, of what Lewis realized through his Addison’s walk discussion with Tolkien and Dyson on their fascination with myths:
“That if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself in a Pagan story . . . I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it ….: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. ……… Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.
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Dear Hannah, I read your first comment about an hour ago (nearly 2-1/2 hours now, since I began writing this reply!) and have been brooding on how to respond. I see it as asking two separate questions, one about “veiling” and “revealing” and the second about speculating (of two kinds) and making myths. Rather than put off a full answer for who knows how long, I will try to respond to the first question now and then come back to the second later. (Also, i see a second comment of yours, which hadn’t yet come to my inbox previously, that amplifies the second question — another good reason for coming back to that later.)
Lewis and Williams agree that God is at work in history, but a history scholar, working within the methodology of his/her discipline, does not have access to what colleagues would accept as evidence for including those factors in any historical account. That’s why I called attention to the paradoxical quality of the subtitle of Williams’s book. I’ve developed this distinction in the article I referred to, where I talk about the limitations of historiography. But I’ll add this much here. In the subdiscipline of church history, an academic historian (whether a believer or not) has to work with certain kinds of evidence that permit other historians to engage in judging the conclusions reached. (In that way the community of historians is a sort of “scientific” community, in the old sense of “scientia” when theology was called the queen of the sciences. That is, it’s based in gathering bits of evidence, interpreting them, and putting them together to form a larger picture — always ready to revise conclusions when that picture is challenged by new evidence or better interpretation. But the historian’s methodology differs from that of what we call “science” today in that history deals with past events in a context that no longer exists, none of which can be repeated (“replicated”) and the historian’s work is archival (in a broad sense including oral and material evidence), not experimental or empirical.
To be sure, some sciences do try to infer past events from contemporary observation. That’s more connected with your second question, and I’ll try to remember to take that up in part 2 of my reply.
All that was a longer explanation that I had thought I’d need. But anyhow, Williams wasn’t an academic historian so he could afford to be more explicit (a key word in that paragraph of mine) about his insights, and in the subtitle he alerts us to be on the lookout for circumstances and events in which it would be reasonable to infer the work of the Holy Spirit, so long as that isn’t excluded from the start by one’s obliged methodology.
If one believes in divine action at all, it is an easy step to accepting that the spiritual realm operates by laws of cause and effect that aren’t the same as those to which scientists are limited. (That’s why all those attempts to “test” experimentally the efficacy of prayer are simply misguided.) But Williams’s idea that building an altar may be required here so that the fire can fall there makes perfect sense in the spiritual realm (central to which are the principles of Exchange and Coinherence that Williams so often spoke of).
Lewis, though, did not wish to have his Dr. Dimble be so explicit. Hence “the haunting” — which I suppose could be one way of saying what the HOLY Ghost does (as well as other ghosts of the Hallowe’en type). Lewis veiled it there in a metaphor; elsewhere, in myths, For an example, I’ll turn again to Williams, his novel “Descent into Hell” to which I’ve devoted a paragraph. Much has been written on this novel, even in the particular scene of “time travel” (if you will). I don’t believe I’m merely repeating what everyone else has also seen in it. Yes, myths can comprise revelation … yet still, through a glass, darkly. Some readers catch part of what’s revealed; others, different parts. Can anyone say she or her has got it all? Isn’t there likely to be more, still escaping us for now? Thus, “veiled.”
A myth is never as easily parsed as we might prefer to have it be — because the kind of language that can be easily parsed cannot, by its nature, come close to capturing the whole truth. (Isn’t it curious how many different interpretations there are of the book we call “Revelation”?) I have wondered sometimes if there is a connection between insisting on having it all “plain” — between that, and lacking (to use the familiar phrase) “ears to hear.” But all this is getting us into your other question, which was amplified an hour later in your second post. So I will save further response for another day, and meantime if others wish to chime in — welcome!
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Thanks for your long reply! Would that veiling ‘that Williams did not feel obliged to’, be like Jesus sometimes telling His message (veiled) in parables?
I found a part of your article on line with ao this sentence: “In his essay Lewis refutes “Historicism”, the assumption that by one’s natural powers it is possible to discover an ‘inner meaning of the historical process'”, as that rationalistic systematizing will only drain and flatten all meaning?
Is ‘the old sense of “scientia” very different from this and more like the old medieval, onthological (pre-cartesian) way of studying what is there? And yes, that does lead to my second question.
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Regarding veiling (or not veiling), in my reply above I referred to three different kinds. Williams in his subtitle to “The Descent of the Dove” chose to name the Holy Spirit explicitly (not veiled) because that was a central theme of the work and he didn’t want readers to miss the point. I think he was writing mainly for readers who already believed in a general way (abstractly) that God is at work in history but perhaps hadn’t thought much about it and, he hoped, would respond positively to examples, or might have their horizons expanded with the idea that people like Montaigne and Voltaire could be God’s instruments (as we are told King Cyrus was) at a time of the Church’s or the world’s particular need. Nonbelievers would of course feel (rightly or wrongly) that other explanations were sufficient to account even for such remarkable phenomena as the way the slave-girl Felicitas faced martyrdom..
Lewis, on the other hand, said “haunting” (in “That Hideous Strength”) rather than “Holy Ghost” because he wanted to slip in under readers’ guard — their knee-jerk defenses against churchy terminology. He has told us how few reviewers of the first novel in that series even caught the allusions to Christian myth. That might have encouraged him to continue “veiling.” But both Lewis and Williams, as I said, used veiling in their mythmaking because certain things could be presented in no other way.
How Jesus’ parables fit into that schema I’m not sure. Off-hand I’d say that’s a fourth kind of veiling, a mere sketch designed to start the listener mulling over the many meanings hidden therein. But we can see in them something of Lewis’s M.O., too, for there were also those whose eyes and ears were stubbornly closed.
Hein’s idea that rationalistic systematizing will only drain and flatten all meaning is true enough, but it isn’t what I was getting at in my article, nor (more to the point) Lewis in “Historicism.” Best to read the essay itself. It’s only a little over 13 pages in “Christian Reflections.”
On the word “scientia” I have already responded.
Finally, a quick response to two relatively trivial points in your March 4 message:
“…. to choose between those two sides, . . . or search for a middle ground between them . . .” Consider yet a fourth possibility, not one nor the other nor something in between, but both sides together, fully.
“Man is the measure of all things” – an ancient maxim, attributed to Parmenides (pre-Socratic, early 5th century BCE). So it didn’t originate with Descartes. How important was it in his system?
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Hoping to chime in some time soon, but dozy with a sudden cold, at present!
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Still hoping… (My cold’s only mildly lingering, but this will take more brain-work than I quite feel up to, yet…)
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This is part 2 of my response to your initial comment (March 11). Part 1 I sent right away, and promised this follow-up. You wrote:
“I was puzzled by this sentence: ‘The farther back we go into history, the greater the “indetermina[cy],” the gaps that set the imagination to work, whether in the form of speculation—either by reasonable inference or by sheer conjecture—or that of mythopoesis.’ Could you say a bit more about what you mean by those differences between ‘speculation’ and mythopoesis?”
I found it a challenging question, and it’s taken me this long to work out even an initial reply (which still needs work, for it touches on matters central to my current writing project on Lewis.) The difference I see is between the working of the rational mind and the working of the Imagination. I’ve capitalized that last word to make it clear that I’m using it NOW in Lewis’s narrower sense—excluding other activities that sometimes are called imagination but that lack the full moral responsibility we find in a writer like Lewis, Tolkien, or MacDonald. Examples of that lesser imagination are what Lewis calls Castle-building and the sort of whimsical entertainment put forward by Kipling (whom I mentioned in the blog). ….. Just in passing, would others agree with me that “Puck of Pook’s Hill” is a more “responsible” (less frivolous) piece of work than the “Just-So Stories”? To put it another way, would you agree that there is some sort of thesis behind it (whether right or wrong doesn’t matter)—or if not a thesis, at least a “What if?”—reflecting a patriotism in Kipling that isn’t jingoistic? ….. Such, anyway, is what I meant just now by “the Imagination.”
Earlier in that sentence, I spoke of “gaps that set the imagination to work”—using the word in yet a third sense, to refer to the creative work done by anyone who undertakes seriously to summon up visions of a distant, almost wholly unknown, past. Dominating this work, as I’ve just said, may be either the rational mind or the Imagination (capital I). I’ll deal with these in reverse order.
The word “mythopoesis” is commonly applied today to a broad range of “making,” from primitive myth and folklore to contemporary fantasy. It is often used indiscriminately to include things that our discourse needs to keep distinct. Here again I would rule out the merely whimsical, the tall tale, and . . . . (There’s no need now to provide a full list of what’s NOT included, nor am I yet prepared to do so. In his essay “On Fairy-Stories” Tolkien has done, carefully and knowledgably, something similar to what I’m trying to do regarding Myth.) You may recall Lewis’s saying that much “filth and imbecility” is to be found in the myths of the world, along with glimpses of divinely given truth. So when I attribute to mythopoeia deep insight in the filling of gaps, I mean mythopoeia in this narrower sense. (I wish I had used “Myth-Making” in the title for this blog, because the Greek word that Lewis preferred has become a sort of specialists’ jargon.)
Is that insight something acquired or something given? I am tempted to use the word “inspiration, and I believe a case could be made for doing so, but I’ll content myself for now with “invention”—in the old sense, the writer’s work of discovering (or uncovering) what is out there to be found. On the other hand, the modern sense of “invention” characterizes what I’ve called the speculative approach—to which I now turn (passing over till another time the interesting question to what extent this distinction parallels that which Lewis draws between allegory and symbol (see Allegory of Love 45-46).
One kind of speculation I call reasonable inference—working from the data that one has, so as to give, for example, some highly generalized account of what happened in the first few billion years of that huge gap (galaxy formation, the expansion of space, and all that). Lewis clearly indicated his approval of responsible scientists who carry out the work that is proper to their field of inquiry. But it’s equally clear that he opposed those who go beyond their incomplete data—relying instead on unscientific presuppositions—to spin imaginary narratives. When they do so, he believed, they are no longer scientists. That what I labeled was “sheer conjecture.” It is what biologist Stephen Jay Gould more recently, a decade or two after Lewis’s death, began to observe among the practitioners of the “softer” sciences. In his own time, Lewis was especially concerned with the false images of prehistoric humans that quickly came to dominate popular culture and with vastly overconfident stories about the origins of religion, grounded in the Deistic (or Naturalistic) axiom that divine revelation is unbelievable. Both these kinds of speculation claim to fill the gaps in history with factual accounts. Mythopoesis, on the other hand—Lewis’s approach—has the advantage of claiming only that it might have happened in some fashion like this. As Sir Philip Sidney said long ago, the poet (by which he meant any “maker” practicing fiction) “nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth.”
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A quick, but hearty, note of thanks for this!
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. It will take me at least as long to think about the many layers in your answers and I do look forward to reading your writing project on Lewis!
Here some thoughts that jumped out in my initial reading. Your differentiation in kind of imaginations was very helpful. Would there be a comparison between “the moral responsibility of “writers like Lewis, Tolkien or MacDonald” and that of the scientists “who carry out the work that is proper to their field of inquiry” in your last paragraph? And would that be because they were and are working “in the old sense, of discovering (or uncovering) what is out there to be found”?
You greatly clarified the word mythopoesis! And thanks for the reference to Lewis’s distinction between allegory and symbol in the Allegory of Love 45-46, which I have just read.
A personal note on why myths and symbols are so central for me: I only came to Christianity later in life, after a long search, having grown up in a very scientific and atheistic environment. And it was so great to discover that e.g. water was not just H2O and the rainbow not just some breaking of light, but só much more! And that Christ is ‘true myth’, just like Lewis did on that Addison’s walk!
Thank you, Hannah, for all these comments – and for your personal note. I woulkd live to meet you sometime, if there’s a chance of that. I live in Michigan but travel a bit. But in a sense I feel we’ve met already. If this is to continue, perhaps it should be by ordinary email. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org. (I hope that doesn’t violate blog protocol.)
Thanks for your invitation to continue this discussion! As I live in Holland (Europe), like David, mailing will be best and will surely not be breaching blog protocol.
Further to my question on the differences in the imagination at work, whether in the form of speculation .….. or mythopoesis: Would ‘sheer conjecture’ be in the sense of subjective views, fantasy worlds? This topic is só important, with e.g. discussions on “fake news/post truth”, but also historicity of the Bible, eg. Genesis 1-3 seen as ‘just myths’ and not as historical events.
How then to show that mythopoesis is very different from ‘sheer (subjective) conjecture’?
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