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Reading the Road to Middle Earth

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  • bowring
    Tom Shippey s Road to Middle Earth has finally been reissued in a new edition. What a book! I am glad I read his Tolkien: Author of the Century first,
    Message 1 of 4 , Jul 8, 2003
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      Tom Shippey's Road to Middle Earth has finally been reissued in a new edition.
      What a book! I am glad I read his Tolkien: Author of the Century first,
      otherwise I would not have enjoyed it nearly so much--RME is so much better.
      There are some interesting things to puzzle out, too. For instance, RME
      doesn't so much as mention Owen Barfield's theories about language, whereas
      Flieger, in her book Splintered Light, makes Barfield an important influence
      on Tolkien's views on language. I am not steeped enough in all this to really
      evaluate the two positions adequately, but I have two suspicions: (1) that
      Tolkien's philological training had already largely immunized him against
      "chronological snobbery", Barfield's important contribution to Lewis'
      intellectual cadre; (2) that Tolkien went no further than Lewis did in the
      direction of Barfield's key theories about the evolution of consciousness.
      Large and important questions.

      (I have another pet suspicion: that because Barfield outlived all the other
      principals by a good bit, and that many like Flieger got to know him and to
      one degree or another came under his influence, he had a large hand in shaping
      the reception of issues like the "Great War," theory of language,
      interpretation on the Imagination, etc. I would also count him among the
      writers that have most influenced my thinking on these issues, but the
      evolution of consciousness business, at least in its Anthroposophical form,
      just doesn't ring any bells for me--or rather, the bells jangle. I am not
      entirely happy with such discussions of Lewis' and Tolkien's "philosophy" of
      the imagination as I have thus far encountered.)

      I also find a lingering sense of pathos at Shippey's discussion of the
      possibility of the salvation of elves, etc. Alas....

      Fortunately, Shippey's book is not entirely off the topic (he has at least a
      toe over the border into my territory) of my dissertation. It has me
      thinking.

      Kevin
    • David S. Bratman
      ... Best critical study of Tolkien ever, I d say. ... Well, Flieger and Shippey are discussing different aspects of Tolkien s multi-faceted imagination;
      Message 2 of 4 , Jul 9, 2003
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        At 06:43 PM 7/8/2003 , Kevin wrote:

        >Tom Shippey's Road to Middle Earth has finally been reissued in a new edition.
        > What a book!

        Best critical study of Tolkien ever, I'd say.


        >There are some interesting things to puzzle out, too. For instance, RME
        >doesn't so much as mention Owen Barfield's theories about language, whereas
        >Flieger, in her book Splintered Light, makes Barfield an important influence
        >on Tolkien's views on language.

        Well, Flieger and Shippey are discussing different aspects of Tolkien's
        multi-faceted imagination; they're more complementary than contradictory.
        (And if RME is the best critical study on Tolkien, "Splintered Light" is a
        distinguished first runner-up.)

        - David Bratman
      • bkillian3
        I havn t read either of those books yet, but would like to very soon. Barfield did seem to have influenced Tolkien to some extent, but as a Catholic I am sure
        Message 3 of 4 , Jul 9, 2003
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          I havn't read either of those books yet, but would like to very soon.

          Barfield did seem to have influenced Tolkien to some extent, but as
          a Catholic I am sure Tolkien did not go for all of Barfield's ideas,
          or at least his interpretations of certain facts. I find Barfield
          very interesting, but it's difficult to really understand where he
          is coming from in some areas. The idea that Tolkien and Barfield
          seemed to share the most was the idea that language was supremely
          poetical at its very birth, and denoted a sort of iconic perception
          of the world, what Barfield would call 'concrete thinking'. Tolkien
          makes a reference to this in The Hobbit and again in LOTR.

          BTY...Why is the salvation of elves in question?

          --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, bowring <bowring@b...> wrote:
          > Tom Shippey's Road to Middle Earth has finally been reissued in a
          new edition.
          > What a book! I am glad I read his Tolkien: Author of the Century
          first,
          > otherwise I would not have enjoyed it nearly so much--RME is so
          much better.
          > There are some interesting things to puzzle out, too. For
          instance, RME
          > doesn't so much as mention Owen Barfield's theories about
          language, whereas
          > Flieger, in her book Splintered Light, makes Barfield an important
          influence
          > on Tolkien's views on language. I am not steeped enough in all
          this to really
          > evaluate the two positions adequately, but I have two suspicions:
          (1) that
          > Tolkien's philological training had already largely immunized him
          against
          > "chronological snobbery", Barfield's important contribution to
          Lewis'
          > intellectual cadre; (2) that Tolkien went no further than Lewis
          did in the
          > direction of Barfield's key theories about the evolution of
          consciousness.
          > Large and important questions.
          >
          > (I have another pet suspicion: that because Barfield outlived all
          the other
          > principals by a good bit, and that many like Flieger got to know
          him and to
          > one degree or another came under his influence, he had a large
          hand in shaping
          > the reception of issues like the "Great War," theory of language,
          > interpretation on the Imagination, etc. I would also count him
          among the
          > writers that have most influenced my thinking on these issues, but
          the
          > evolution of consciousness business, at least in its
          Anthroposophical form,
          > just doesn't ring any bells for me--or rather, the bells jangle.
          I am not
          > entirely happy with such discussions of Lewis' and
          Tolkien's "philosophy" of
          > the imagination as I have thus far encountered.)
          >
          > I also find a lingering sense of pathos at Shippey's discussion of
          the
          > possibility of the salvation of elves, etc. Alas....
          >
          > Fortunately, Shippey's book is not entirely off the topic (he has
          at least a
          > toe over the border into my territory) of my dissertation. It has
          me
          > thinking.
          >
          > Kevin
        • bowring
          David (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
          Message 4 of 4 , Jul 11, 2003
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            David (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.
            Yours,
            Kevin
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