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RE: [mythsoc] Reading the Road to Middle Earth

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  • 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 1 of 4 , Jul 11, 2003
      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.
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