9787RE: [mythsoc] Reading the Road to Middle Earth
- Jul 11, 2003David (I hope we're all on a firstname basis here),
Regarding Prof. Flieger, let me say that I find her book--as the saying
goes--suggestive. And she is covering the philosophical dimension that is
really of high interest to me. Again, I hate to speak too soon and when I am
really out of my depth, but here goes. Prof. Flieger hinges here entire
discussion of Barfield's influence on Tolkien on a single reported
conversation. Unfortunately, my copy of Carpenter's The Inklings is about 100
miles away from here, so I can't check the context, but the conversation reads
like second hand information. My guess is that Carpenter got it from
Barfield; if so, Barfield would have been recalling something many years after
the fact. None of this is much of a problem, in general terms, except that
Prof. Flieger makes so much hay out of Tolkien's reportedly having said that
Barfield's conception had "modified his whole outlook."
Now, I don't really want to seem as though I am quibbling over nothing, but to
my mind there are very large and important issues here with respect to
language, myth, and imagination that need to be sorted out carefully. I would
have liked to see further textual evidence of Barfield's influence on Tolkien.
For instance, there is precious little said in Tolkien's letters. I would
really like to know, let us say, whether Tolkien's copy of Poetic Diction
exists and whether it contains any marginalia.This might tell us a great
deal--or not, as the case may be.
In a certain sense, Prof. Flieger's using the reported conversation as a hinge
was both unnecessary and perhaps even forstalled a potentially more
interesting discussion. She could have easily said simply that Barfield's
theories cast an interesting light on Tolkien; this would have been more
judicious, in my judgment, when there seems to be little or no direct evidence
of influence outside the reported conversation. Then we might have been
treated to a discussion not only of the similarities but of what I suspect are
real and deep differences in their appoaches.
This is nowhere more apparent than on the issue of Rudolf Steiner and
Anthroposophy. Barfield is quite explicit about the importance of Steiner's
work, but this seems to get soft-pedalled all too often. It is hard not to
suspect that this is happening in Splintered Light when Prof. Flieger says
that the Inklings "found Anthroposophy more than a little difficult to grasp."
Positive antipathy might be a more apt description, at least in the case of
Lewis; Tolkien, as a faithful Roman Catholic, is hardly likely to have been
more sympathetic than Lewis. Barfield's whole theory is geared towards an
idea of the evolution of consciousness that it is hard to imagine would get a
sympathetic hearing from Tolkien. This does not mean that there are not
important convergences in their respective ways of thinking. But, it is
important to understand both convergences and divergences, so that we can
figure out where to go from here.
I am trying to work out what I think about all this. I am working in Theology
where even now, so many years after the Inklings with all their influence, the
imagination is undervalued and poorly understood. Prof. Flieger has my
gratitude for making a serious beginning--she certainly deserves your
accolades. But it is very important to get the issues clarified to the extent
that this is possible. When you say that the approaches of Shippey and
Flieger are "more complementary that contradictory", I say: That's good. Now
let's figure out how the "more" and the "than" really work out.
My apologies for the undue length of this.
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