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Meeting Tolkien

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  • Meeting Tolkien

    Michael: Greetings! I work at Wheaton College in Illinois. On campus we display a museum/library called the Wade Center which houses the primary writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Owen Barfield and George MacDonald. In addition to manuscripts, we also possess Lewis's wardrobe and Tolkien's desk, on which he wrote The Hobbit - a great draw for students and researchers. If ever you visit the Chicago area, please visit. (We are the alma mater of Billy Graham, also.) Behold the Man or not, you'd be most welcome.

    Over the years, we've attempted to round out as complete a correspondence concerning these writers as possible, with emphasis on Tolkien and Lewis. One of my tasks is to collect this material (I recently received permission from the ever-gracious Sebastian Peake for copies of two fan letters that Lewis wrote to Mervyn in the late 1950s - at one time, it was Wheaton's plan to collect the Peake papers). I know that you are not the world's most ardent Tolkien fan, but I was wondering if you'd relate the particulars of your brief meeting with him. What were your impressions and such - and did you meet Lewis in the course of things?

    Thank you so much for your availability on this forum. It's great fun and most enlightening reading.

  • #2
    I met Lewis at the Globe pub, where sf writers used to meet in the fifties and sixties. He seemed a very pleasant man. I wasn't then familiar with his writing. I knew he'd written an sf trilogy I hadn't been able to get into and some children's books. Like Tolkien, he impressed me as being a rather benign academic type, well-mannered, almost shy. Tolkien was perhaps more uvuncular, certainly to the young me, and very polite and pleasant. I certainly formed very good impressions of them as people -- no 'side'. They tended, as far as I saw, to identify with those of us who had an 'odd' taste in reading matter and both were certainly knowledgeable -- as knowledgeable as I was if not more so -- about sf and fantasy, both American and English. I had no impression that they thought of themselves as being in any sense apart from those others of us who enjoyed what was then a very marginal taste. Neither had reached the status later given them (mostly after their deaths) by the world. Tolkien, like T.H.White and Peake, encouraged me to write (not that I really needed any encouragement) and in that sense was very supportive. I liked him a lot. Lewis seemed a bit more abstracted when I met him, but then he tended to be surrounded by the whole crowd at the Globe, whereas I met Tolkien on his home ground in Oxford. I really don't have much to say, except I was a little embarrassed, having written to Tolkien to tell him I was collecting all his books and then discovering I didn't like them very much. When I later made an effort to read them, including the non-fiction, didn't like Lewis's very much either, of course, but then I didn't like Arthur Clarke's very much and got on with him (and still get on with him). No doubt they wouldn't have liked mine. One rarely judges a person by the fiction they produce (unless it's John Norman). Apart from White and Peake, my orientation, I suppose, was towards American writers like Leiber and Anderson and I certainly didn't feel any need to disparage any of the Inklings (especially since I loved Williams's work). My argument, of course, has since been with the adulation given them and a largely academic presumption of their superiority over writers I consider more interesting, as well as being better prose stylists. I think Tolkien was very kind to me, looking back, especially since I mispelled his name in the letter I first wrote to him! I didn't then have any argument with them over their religious 'bias', since I hardly knew what it was in those days, having had an almost entirely secular background and only a sort of anthropological curiosity about religion which I assumed was connected with earlier generations. I developed a taste for the sung Mass and while we lived near Oxford and London would pretty regularly attend Choral Evenson, since I find it sublime, even if I don't much care for the superstitions it's based on! It was only later that I identified what I found unpalatable in some writers (including Chesterton and Belloc) as being a form of High Anglicanism or Catholicism, and there it had as much to do with their right-wing politics, their tacit support of fascism and so on -- but much of this I realised long after I'd begun the Elric stories which, with their origins more in Freud and Jung for me, were a kind of 'intervention' into the budding genre. Can't think of much else to say. Much of my memory of Tolkien is smell, to be honest -- tobacco smoke. I learned years later that I was allergic to nicotine! Could explain a lot!
    Must admit your description of your collections makes you sound like the Citadel of Repression to me, so many of those writers being associated with antisemitism and so forth -- I have a developed suspicion and visceral dislike of almost all of them! And as for Billy Graham... :) I never thought, by the way, of Behold the Man being anti-Christian and most of the reviews it got in the Christian Press were far more generous to me than I ever was to Lewis!

    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
    The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
    Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
    The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
    Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

    Comment


    • #3
      PS I should have mentioned that my papers are mostly housed at the Bodleian, along with many of Tolkien's and Lewis's, and that it might be possible to find more material there, such as the note Tolkien sent me and so forth. I just don't know what is actually there, having only visited it once and been a bit shocked at the amount of space it took up. I gave them all my stuff piecemeal up until the time I left for Texas (the rest I have given to Texas A&M, since they already had a sophisticated collection of my books, manuscripts and so on). Should anyone come across anything, they are welcome, of course, to make photocopies.
      Curator is Dr Judith Priestman.

      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
      The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
      Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
      The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
      Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

      Comment


      • #4
        "One rarely judges a person by the fiction they produce (unless it's John Norman)."

        At the risk of hijacking this thread, can you amplify on this point? I obviously don't know you well, but I'd still hazard that this comment seems out of character for you. I can't easily imagine you pre-judging someone based solely on their fiction. I think I know what the objection might be - but I always perceived Norman's work as a kind of slightly tiresome porno version of E.R. Burroughs' Mars type of fiction. But even given the tedious nature of his fiction, do you truly suppose you have an insight into the real man?

        Maybe there's background here that I don't understand or know...

        Still, it would appear that Norman used to make a tidy sum writing these crazy novels - they seem to have sold in the millions and in numerous printings. As they are "fiction" (not abusive of real women or men) I'd have assumed you would be more forgiving.

        Comment


        • #5
          Gratitude

          Thank you for the terrific reply. It would not, perhaps, alter your perception of us at Wheaton as the Citadel of Repression to know that we also possess the papers of Malcolm Muggeridge (and Madeleine L'Engle and Frederick Buechner). Even so, if ever you're in the area...(For some time I've been trying to pull Gene Wolfe and Fred Pohl onto campus, both living just a few miles from here, but to no avail.) I very much look forward to your memoir of Mervyn and Maeve later this year.

          Comment


          • #6
            "One rarely judges a person by the fiction they produce (unless it's John Norman)."

            With respect, I would like to hear more on this as well. Is this a function of the fact that you are a producer of fiction yourself? I can think of many instances where writers are, if not judged, then at least "colored" by the works they produce, although admittedly, this characteristic is more prevalent in other arts, such as music and acting, and may be more common to those authors that are less varied, shall we say, in their output.

            Comment


            • #7
              Given MM's utter contempt for pornography and fetishism, it comes as no surprise to me that he would read a Gor novel and immediately dislike its author.

              Originally posted by Guest
              As they are "fiction" (not abusive of real women or men) I'd have assumed you would be more forgiving.
              Writers write what they know. I think Norman's writing perhaps tells us more about what's going on in his head than we want to know...
              "Wounds are all I'm made of. Did I hear you say that this is victory?"
              --Michael Moorcock, Veteran of the Psychic Wars

              Comment


              • #8
                Cheers, Archivist. Having given a lecture on the 'flaws' in Tolkien (a result of his Catholicism) at the stronghold of Opus Dei a few years back and being treated with considerably courtesy, I'm pretty sanguine about entering these citadels... I'll certainly let you know if I'm coming your way, though no doubt I'll be in Spain again before that... Re. Muggeridge, there's a marvellous interview he did with Wodehouse where Wodehouse sent him up somewhat. "Of course," says Muggeridge (circa 1965), "no one wears spats or silk hats or so forth, as in your Drones stories, any more do they ?" Wodehouse looks at him in mild surprise. "Oh, don't they ?" he replies.
                All very best,
                MM

                Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

                Comment


                • #9
                  The thing about Norman is that he was published by a known S&M fancier (my own sometime publisher and friend the late Don Wollheim) and published a whole volume of S&M scenarios. His later books were simply tracts telling his readers how women enjoyed being beaten and subjected to various demeaning practices. That is, he's prepared to stand by his books pretty convincingly. I, on the other hand, don't really believe that the multiverse consists of an eternal battle between actual Lords of Law and Chaos. I don't even believe in magic (aside from certain forms of shamanism) or, indeed, in the enduring existence of a human soul! I said it all, of course, in one book, King of the City, in which I put my philosophy in the mouth of my central character. All I know about anything is "I wasn't. I am. I will not be." It's amazing I remain the optimist I am. I've known thriller writers, for instance, who manage to kill half-a-dozen people before breakfast but are in their own lives the mildest and most pleasant of people, with a singular respect for human life. I've even known racists who seem to want every other race but their own to meet a gory end, yet in real life make exceptions for all those people they happen to know personally. I'm not saying I approve of some of their published statements, but it does show that people are not especially consistent (unless they're A. Hitler, I know) and that authors should not necessarily be judged by their books. William Golding, for instance, was a much nicer person than you'd assumed from the tone of most of his books while other writers I've known, who seem benign in print, are pretty unpleasant. All that said, I am culturally a Christian and, because of that, I hope I'm a good one! I'm a sucker for Christian idealism, but I don't see organised religion as delivering the message very well. I used to attend services at St Martin's, London, because they have a fine choral evensong but also have a muscular programme of helping the weak and destitute. I'd rather such institutions were less inconsistent than most writers... Or politicians.

                  Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                  The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                  Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                  Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                  The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                  Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Michael, I realize that I'm treading on harrowingly thin ice, but might I recommend to you the writings of a fellow named Ravi Zacharias? He's a charming, brilliant Indian living in Atlanta. His speciality is engaging the pagan mind - or perhaps the cultural Christian desiring to push beyond cultural to spiritual - with the validity (claims, demands) of orthodox Christianity. No superstition involved. And I quite agree with you about the horrendous state of contemporary ecclesiastical presentation, a subject both fascinating and repellent. However, from my campus vantage, I am also greatly encouraged by the creativity and vitality of young evangelicals, muscled and spirited.

                    (Also: that's a great Mugg-Wodehouse story. Last year we hosted a MM centenary celebration, full of snappy bits just like that one, great fun.)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Thanks for the reply.

                      My own opinion of Norman, entirely without knowing the man, is that he is an outsider to the S&M world with which he wished to be associated. He doesn't write about it as someone knowledgeable of that alternative culture (given his obvious disregard for ideas common to that culture, like "safe wording") and he even claims that his approach is one of "Imaginative Sex" as his book title on the subject suggests - taking place entirely in the mind and without the abuse of real people. He also writes under a nomme de plume, so again there is a desire to distance himself from his authorial output. Under the false name of John Norman, he has for years supplied the fantasy literature of the S&M culture. To me that's just marketing savvy - removed from a deeper connection to the work he produces he is free to become even more extreme in his fiction.

                      I agree that his work has an objectionable message that is particularly demeaning to women. I guess I just don't care because I can't make that leap from fiction to real world consequences - I don't find Norman's work that persuasive, nor do most people I should think. I thought the first handful of stories were okay, and then the rest became repetitive to the point of boredom (something that could be said of Anne Rice's own spankfest literature: the Sleeping Beauty stories).

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Thanks, I'll keep an eye out for Ravi Zacharias.
                        Norman has that obsessional quality, true, which you tend to associate with the walls of public toilets. I agree the first few he did for Ballantine, before the series switched to DAW, were reasonable attempts at Burroughs style adventures, but the rest of it is distasteful. My argument with retailers in the UK was that they put 'girlie' mags on the top shelf but the Norman books were often in the young adult section. It seemed a poor lesson to be offering the young boys who mostly bought that sort of stuff.

                        Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                        The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                        Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                        Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                        The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                        Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Distasteful and Badly written. I picked up a cheap copy of one along your own Shores of Death really cheap at a second hand bookshop in Brighton and I was amazed that books that were so poorly written could become such a popular series. Well, apart from the obvious BDSM Subject matter and sleazy covers.

                          Truthfully, reading from the book was funny, if only to marvel at his techniques of bulking up the pages via poor quality writing.

                          Kudos to Norman for managing to write such a popular series of books, just a shame about the subject matter. Maybe if he'd stuck to writing Burroughs-esque fantasy and not delved into his own fantasies, he may have a better reputation in the field. Not a great one, but at least it wouldn't be as a writer of sexist, soft core, fantasy novels.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I, on the other hand, don't really believe that the multiverse consists of an eternal battle between actual Lords of Law and Chaos.

                            What!? So it really is just fantasy then - and not symbolic of an unknown sentient or non-sentient force? !!! :D

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