Tolkien's friend Lewis's Narrative Poems

Extollager

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I've been delving into Tolkien's work (unpublished in his lifetime) of the second half of the 1920s and well into the 1930s, and commented on some poems by his friend C. S. Lewis here:

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/foru...e-earth-50-pages-per-month-6.html#post1786676

An important part of the context of Tolkien's creativity -- one underestimated by some of his fans -- was the shared interest in fantasy of his fellow scholar and friend. If I'm not mistaken, when Tolkien first shared some of his "Silmarillion" writings with Lewis, it was in the form of poetic efforts, and at about the same time Lewis was writing fantasy in the form of narrative poetry too. His works in this form include

Dymer (a new myth, published pseudonymously in 1926 before Lewis's Christian conversion)
Launcelot
The Nameless Isle
The Queen of Drum

They are all in the book Narrative Poems. If you are interested, you might want to get a used copy, as it appears that the publisher now issues the book as a less-attractive print-on-demand edition.

I propose to comment on some or all of these poems here and hope others will discuss them with me. I would like to keep them in the context of Tolkien's creative work of the time. Both men, for example, are writing in the vein of Northern-inspired myth and legend ... and yet "Nameless Isle" is, if memory serves, an unrecorded adventure of Odysseus -- ? No; some other mariner, I guess. A beautiful "witch-hearted queen" nurses the creatures of the wood -- beasts and creeper-plants -- at her breasts; a "hunched and hairy" dwarf and a marble maiden appear....

There's some fine sensory imagination in these poems.

They should be a good detour from Tolkien for a few days. Tolkien's and Lewis's poetical works of this period represent a major part of what they were up to prior to Lewis writing his space trilogy and Tolkien starting The Lord of the Rings!

81kvSQ8NdjL.jpg
 
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I started a rereading of Lewis's Narrative Poems with the alliterative one, "The Nameless Isle" -- Lewis working with a poetic challenge that Tolkien took up in "The Fall of Arthur," etc.

Some quick observations.

1.Lewis finished "Isle." He tells the story economically without rushing it. Tolkien, regrettably, didn't finish "The Fall of Arthur," though there's enough of it to make reading it well worthwhile for Tolkien fans and others.

2.Tolkien seems more drawn to describing battles of heroic armies than Lewis (here, and elsewhere in their work). There's no battle in "The Nameless Isle," and as I think of Lewis's fantasy in general, he doesn't seem to have the interest in the battle set-pieces that Tolkien did. Tolkien's subjects tend to be grim (in his alliterative verse).

3.Lewis's verses are more sensuous than Tolkien's. The skies, the topography of the isle, the beauty of the isle's lady, etc. are rendered richly. Tolkien aims for a more remote quality, Lewis for a more immediate. Mind you, it could be the immediacy of a vivid, sometimes somewhat eerie, beautiful dream...

4.Lewis reminded me of William Morris -- e.g. The Wood Beyond the World. Tolkien didn't.

5.Tolkien's verse seems to "chant." Tolkien's seems more than Lewis's like something you might hear recited by a bard in a hall. Lewis's is more in the vein of Romantic poetry. A J. W. Waterhouse might have painted scenes from it.
Waterhouse%20Windswept.jpg


It's not a choice between them! I enjoy both, but they are different.
 
Next I read Lewis's "Launcelot." You could have an interesting Mythopoeic Society-type meeting if people got together to discuss this poem and Tolkien's "Fall of Arthur" at the same time, the two poems being the two authors' most sustained imaginative and poetic work with the Arthurian material, written, it turns out, at about the same time, in the early 1930s. Naturally one wonders if there was some kind of understanding between the two friends about each one taking on an Arthurian subject of his choice.

Lewis's poem develops a quality of strangeness, as, from the point of view of the court and particularly of Guinever, the return of the Grail knights is awaited with increasing foreboding. Gawain returns, close-mouthed. More of the knights return, and it seems they mostly associate with one another, with allusions and jests they don't share with the people who had been at home all this time. And then at last Launcelot returns quietly. Most of the poem (which may be unfinished) is his story told to the Queen, of entering the blasted realm of the Fisher and passing beyond it into two more strange places -- ending with a truly bizarre and macabre encounter that I won't spoil for you. The Launcelot poem gives us a heroic knight who, in the Grail quest, failed to achieve the greatest glory. The poem deserves to be read by any fantasy fan, as does "The Nameless Isle," which is quite different in atmosphere. I hardly ever run across anyone who seems to have read either. What a shame!
 
Have you read Tolkien's essay On Fairy-Stories? Early on, writing as a Christian, Tolkien says that it is man who is supernatural, while the fairies are "natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom. The road to fairyland is not the road to Heaven; nor even to Hell, I believe, though some have held that it may lead thither indirectly by the Devil's tithe." Lewis alludes to this idea in "The Queen of Drum."

His protagonist is the beautiful young queen who nightly joins the Elves, the center of her life far from the humdrum court and the side of her old and perhaps impotent king. She is publicly reproached for her absence-without-leave and defends herself with spirit. Afterwards she and a sympathetic though uneasy Archbishop converse. But a revolution breaks out. The general consigns the king to a watery dungeon and offers the queen the choice between willing or unwilling sexual submission. She is given a few hours to resolve the matter. Entrusted to a young jailor, she slips a heavy gold armlet down and punches him flat in the mouth with it, and escapes the squat castle. The Archbishop too receives an ultimatum from the general. The Archbishop cannot deny that he has honored worldly considerations, but finds at the bitter end that he must say no and is beaten to death. The queen resourcefully continues her flight from (hum)Drum, encounters an Elf-lord who gives her bread and honey, and at last comes to a threefold division of the road. The Archbishop, a spirit, urges her to take the right-hand path to Heaven, not the middle road or the leftward path to Hell. She chooses the central path to Faerie, and the poem ends with a question:

---She has tasted elven bread.
And so, the story tells, she passed away
Out of the world: but if she dreams to-day
In fairy land, or if she wakes in Hell,
(The chance being one in ten) it doesn't tell.---

John Masefield: "I have greatly enjoyed it, and feel an extraordinary beauty in the main theme -- the escape of the Queen into Fairyland," etc. It is worth looking up!

By the way, it contains a rare use, outside the writings of Lovecraft and his imitators, of the word eldritch.
 
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I've been delving into Tolkien's work (unpublished in his lifetime) of the second half of the 1920s and well into the 1930s, and commented on some poems by his friend C. S. Lewis here:

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/foru...e-earth-50-pages-per-month-6.html#post1786676

An important part of the context of Tolkien's creativity -- one underestimated by some of his fans -- was the shared interest in fantasy of his fellow scholar and friend. If I'm not mistaken, when Tolkien first shared some of his "Silmarillion" writings with Lewis, it was in the form of poetic efforts, and at about the same time Lewis was writing fantasy in the form of narrative poetry too. His works in this form include

Dymer (a new myth, published pseudonymously in 1926 before Lewis's Christian conversion)
Launcelot
The Nameless Isle
The Queen of Drum

They are all in the book Narrative Poems. If you are interested, you might want to get a used copy, as it appears that the publisher now issues the book as a less-attractive print-on-demand edition.

I propose to comment on some or all of these poems here and hope others will discuss them with me. I would like to keep them in the context of Tolkien's creative work of the time. Both men, for example, are writing in the vein of Northern-inspired myth and legend ... and yet "Nameless Isle" is, if memory serves, an unrecorded adventure of Odysseus -- ? No; some other mariner, I guess. A beautiful "witch-hearted queen" nurses the creatures of the wood -- beasts and creeper-plants -- at her breasts; a "hunched and hairy" dwarf and a marble maiden appear....

There's some fine sensory imagination in these poems.

They should be a good detour from Tolkien for a few days. Tolkien's and Lewis's poetical works of this period represent a major part of what they were up to prior to Lewis writing his space trilogy and Tolkien starting The Lord of the Rings!

81kvSQ8NdjL.jpg
I've been thinking today about how strikingly similar Lewis's Dymer is to Peake's Titus in Gormenghast. Both adolescents have been denied, by their educations in basically totalitarian states, the intellectual tools for critical analysis of their societies, in which human flourishing is impossible. It's their "blood" that prompts them to rebel and escape at last.
 

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