Down the Pub With Tolkien and C. S. Lewis

September 16th, 2007

The following is from an article in the current Times Literary Supplement around a new book about the Inklings, by Diana Pavlac Glyer, The Company They Keep.

[ There is magic in the last line of The Lord of the Rings. To recap: the stolidly courageous Sam Gamgee, having watched his best friend, Frodo Baggins, sail towards the Grey Havens and into a kind of death, is left to walk back to the Shire where he finds his wife and children waiting with the promise of a quiet life far from the slaughter of the War of the Ring. J. R. R. Tolkien finishes with the sentence: “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said”. It is a touchingly understated conclusion which returns the prose to the homely simplicity of the inaugural chapters after the archaic epic mode of The Return of the King.

However, as Diana Pavlac Glyer tells us in her scholarly and perceptive study The Company They Keep, this is not how Tolkien originally intended to finish his trilogy. He had in mind a further epilogue, set sixteen years after the events of the rest of the book, which would have provided another, superfluous glimpse into Gamgee’s domesticity. In this ultimately excised version, a grey-haired Sam reads stories of his adventures to his children, spinning them tales of wizards and orcs and walking trees. There is even the faint suggestion that Sam has been narrating the story of The Lord of the Rings itself, before, at last, we depart the Shire for good, leaving Sam and Rose in a state of connubial bliss, tale-telling by the fireside.
What stopped Tolkien from publishing this ending was his membership of the Inklings – that renowned circle of Oxford writers and academics who met for seventeen years from 1932 and which counted C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and E. R. Edison, the author of The Worm Ouroboros, among their number. It was they who pointed out the glutinous sentimentality of the scene, marshalling their forces to argue that it added nothing of substance to a narrative which had already swollen far beyond the “second Hobbit” requested by his publishers. Glyer suggests that this incident typifies the way in which the Inklings affected one another’s work, despite the fact that in later years its members were frequently to insist that their meetings acted more as a social club than a writers’ circle, brushing aside any suggestion of real influence. ]

That the TLS article begins with the pub, reminds me of last week’s discussion on the LJ BlackGate fantasy magazine site, bg_editor, re taverns and Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery.

Love, C. 

16 Responses to “Down the Pub With Tolkien and C. S. Lewis”

  1. Constance Ashon 16 Sep 2007 at 2:32 pm

    The conclusion of this part in the TLS article made me laugh out loud, by the way, provoking curiosity from el Vaquero:

    [ Tempers must surely have become frayed at times – as Tolkien became unyieldingly critical of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (“about as bad as can be”) or as the English don Hugo Dyson met the latest bulletin from Middle Earth by (according to Tolkien’s son Christopher) “lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, ‘Oh God, no more Elves’”. ]

    I must say, there are so many books that provoke from me the same response as Dyson’s, “Oh God, no more Elves!” (Or dragons, or wizards, or trolls, or dwarves — or even taverns.)

    Love, C.

  2. Sherwood Smithon 16 Sep 2007 at 6:06 pm

    Glyer’s book is excellent. I reviewed it a few months back for SF-Site. If readers like any or all of the Inklings, this book is a must have.

    It’s also extremely interesting for the close look Glyer takes at creative process, particularly collaboration and writers’ groups, and attitudes writers have about them, readers develop about the writers in them, etc. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen this aspect addressed, and she does it so engagingly, so entertainingly, I didn’t realize until the very end just how formidably her scholarship was.

  3. Constance Ashon 17 Sep 2007 at 10:28 am

    Sherwood wrote:

    It’s the first time I’ve ever seen this aspect addressed, and she does it so engagingly, so entertainingly, I didn’t realize until the very end just how formidably her scholarship was.

    That’s what every writer who has worked her writing as rigorously as her scholarship wants to know!

    And it is really, really, really hard work.

    Love, C.

  4. Stacyon 17 Sep 2007 at 11:46 am

    I’ll have to look this book up – I’m completely fascinated with the whole “behind the scenes” of writing, the sawdust and construction phase that gets swept up before publication.

  5. Constance Ashon 17 Sep 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Alas, the book is not, at least not yet, published here in the U.S., according to Bowker’s Books in Print.

    If one is more in funds than I, at the end of a long, $$$$$-dry summer, The Company They Keep can probably be ordered from a U.K. online venue like amazon.u.k.

    Love, C.

  6. betsy dornbuschon 17 Sep 2007 at 1:08 pm

    The movie added the sentimentality right back in with those soul-searching gazes at the end of the last film. Made me choke on my magic ring.

    Sounds like a great book though. I loooove my critique group.

  7. Charleson 17 Sep 2007 at 1:22 pm

    Stacy –

    You might want to check out The Histories of Middle Earth. It’s a 12 volume set edited by Christopher Tolkien laying out his father’s writing process.

    It is quite amazing to see where Tolkien started going with the LOTR and where he ended up taking it.

  8. Sherwood Smithon 17 Sep 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Constance: the book was published here in the U.S. and is indeed available. Just look up Diana Glyer’s name on Amazon, it pops right up.

  9. Constance Ashon 17 Sep 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks, Sherwood.

    How come it’s not in Books in Print, I wonder?

    Kent State University Press (March 1, 2007) — not available in bookstores, generally, then? It’s not in the NYPL collections either.

    Love, C.

  10. Maryon 17 Sep 2007 at 6:23 pm

    You know, Rowling also wrote a much long epilogue for the series, that got axed.

    There is a certain amount of impulse to explain how everyone lived happily ever after.

  11. Brendan Podgeron 17 Sep 2007 at 8:03 pm

    When I first read LOTR it was the in the single book form that left out the appendices. I got to the end and was fuming.

    Sam who had followed and helped Frodo all the way across the world and had freaking carried him half way across Mordor and up Mount Doom got left behind! Such injustice.

    I was very happy to find out the timeline shown in the appendicies has Sam board a ship after Rosie dies and is rejoined with Frodo at last.

  12. Constance Ashon 18 Sep 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Regarding more on taverns — barley for beer — Sumerian tavern keepers warned that they must accept barley as payment for beer, back, presumably, between 4000 and 2000 BC (Isn’t it 2,000 BC when the Sumarian civilization collapsed?!

    This is from page 100 of Fernand Braudel’s Memory and the Mediterranean:

    [ The earliest form of currency used for payment by the Sumerians was a measure of barley. So in Mesopotamia money had its origins in crop cultivation, rather than in livestock, which wa the unit used in Rome (pecunia), in Greece (bous) and in India (rupia). Barley as currency continued to be used for ordinary transactions, since metal, when it made its first appearance (first copper, then silver, in weighted amounts), was a sort of money of account, a scale of reference. Barley continued to be the ‘real’ money.

    . . . . Silver as soon as it appeared and began to be used as real currency for some transactions, tended, in fact, to prevail over other forms of payment. This explains one decision of the code of Hammurabi: if the proprietress of a tavern will not accept grains as the price for a drink, but recieves silver and therefore “makes the price of the drink fall below the price of grain, the proprietress will be seized and flung into the water.”…. ]

    What is interesting too, further than just the idea of taking in a handful of barley to get a beer — from which, presumably, the beer itself is made — is that the word for the tavern keeper in Hammurabi’s law is feminine, opening a window into the urban culture of the region, that long ago.

    Love, C.

  13. Muneravenon 18 Sep 2007 at 2:49 pm

    It is so much easier to say too much than it is to not say enough when you love words. Probably most of us who write need to have friends who will tell us to just shut up already…the story is DONE.


  14. Constance Ashon 18 Sep 2007 at 3:04 pm

    The more I think about it, the more joy I am finding in that barley payment for beer.

    It is the circle of life.

    Barley is what makes beer, barley is the money that pays for beer, beer attracts the money-barley that is the barley out of which comes beer.

    Beer is life, in fact, if you are Vaquero, for instance.

    Which may explain why I, seeming alone of the kindred, rejoice in the Buffy ep, “Beer Bad.”

    Those Sumers were very sophisticated people. It’s too bad their civilization collapsed. I bet their beer was pretty good.

    Love, C.

  15. Brendan Podgeron 20 Sep 2007 at 10:17 am

    Perhaps their civilization collapsed because they swapped from beer to rye whiskey. The rye brings ergotism. Ergotism lowers the immune system. People die of other pathogens they would have otherwise fought off(eg the black death in medieval europe). Society collapses.

    Thank god I hate whiskey.

  16. Constance Ashon 20 Sep 2007 at 10:50 am

    Alas, dear Sir, there are so many holes in your lovely theory.

    Rye, though a close relative of barley, was not grown in that region, being a grain principally of eastern, central and particularly northern Europe. Additionally, rye is believed to strengthen the immune system, particularly if ingested as the liquid ‘rye grass’.

    As well, though distillation is an old technology — the ancient Egyptians employed it for the making of perfume, for instance — the making of whisky is ancient Celtic art, not one of Mesopotamia. Distillation didn’t spread widely through Europe until the the 11th and 12th centuries A.D. , though it is believed that the Irish monks were using it already in the 5th C. A.D. Sumer was already long, long, long and longer yet, gone.

    From this interesting whisky site:

    In his “Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland” published in 1577, Raphael Holinshed describes as follows the incomparable virtues of Uisge Beatha :

    “Being moderately taken,
    it slows the age,
    it cuts phlegm,
    it lightens the mind,
    it quickens the spirit,
    it cures the dropsy,
    it heals the strangulation,
    it pounces the stone,
    its repels gravel,
    it pulls away ventositie,
    it keeps and preserves the head from whirling,
    the eyes from dazzling,
    the tongue from lisping,
    the mouth from snuffling,
    the teeth from chattering,
    the throat from rattling,
    the weasan from stiffing,
    the stomach from womblying,
    the heart from swelling,
    the belly from wincing,
    the guts from rumbling,
    the hands from shivering,
    the sinews from shrinking,
    the veins from crumpling,
    the bones from aching,
    the marrow from soaking,
    and truly it is a sovereign liquor
    if it be orderly taken.”

    I’m not particularly fond of scotch and whiskies either. But wine and beer, those oldest solaces for the pain of being human, I do love, particularly in company of good conversation, good friends and good food.


    Love, C.

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