Tuesday 20 September 2016

How to do research into the spirit of the nation - from Tolkien's Notion Club Papers

Edited from The Notion Club Papers, by JRR Tolkien - Volume 9 of the History of Middle Earth - pages 266-8 (re-paragraphed):

'Well,' said Jeremy, 'we stuck to the west coasts as much as we could, staying by the sea, and walking as near to it as possible, when we did not go by boat. Arry is an able seaman, and you can still get small sailing craft in the West, and sometimes an old sailor to help who can still handle a boat without petrol. But after our wreck we did not sail again till we got round to North Devon. We actually crossed by boat from Bideford to South Wales in July, and then we went on to Ireland, right up the west coast of it by stages.

'We took a look at Scotland, but no further north than Mull. There seemed nothing for us there, no feel in the air at all. So we went back to Hibernia. The great storm had left more traces there than anywhere, and not only in visible damage. There was a good deal of that, but much less than you would expect, and it did not interest us so much as the effect on the people and the stories that we found going about.

'People in Galway - well, for the matter of that, from Brandon Hill to Slieve League seemed to have been pretty well shaken by it, and were still scared for weeks afterwards. If the wind got up at all, as of course it did from time to time, they huddled indoors; and some would begin to trek inland.

'We both heard many tales of the huge waves "high as hills" coming in on the Black Night. And curiously enough, many of the tale-tellers agreed that the greatest waves were like phantoms, or only half real: "like shadows of mountains of dark black wicked water". Some rolled far inland and yet did little damage before, well, disappearing, melting away. We were told of one that had rolled clean over the Aran Isles and passed up Galway Bay, and so on like a cloud, drowning the land in a ghostly flood like rippling mist, almost as far as Clonfert.

'And we came across one old man, a queer old fellow whose English was hardly intelligible, on the road not far from Loughrea. He was wild and ragged, but tall and rather impressive. He kept pointing westward, and saying, as far as we could gather: "It was out of the Sea they came, as they came in the days before the days". 'He said that he had seen a tall black ship high on the crest of the great wave, with its masts down and the rags of black and yellow sails flapping on the deck, and great tall men standing on the high poop and wailing, like the ghosts they were; and they were borne far inland, and came, well, not a soul knows where they came.

'We could get no more out of him, and he went on westward and vanished into the twilight, and who he was or where he was going we did not discover either. Apart from such tales and rumours we had no real adventures. The weather was not too bad generally, and we walked a lot, and slept pretty well. A good many dreams came, especially in Ireland, but they were very slippery; we couldn't catch them. Arry got whole lists of ghost-words, and I had some fleeting pictures, but they seldom fitted together.

'And then, when we thought our time was up, we came to Porlock. As we crossed over the Severn Sea earlier in the summer, Arry had looked back, along the coast to the south, at the shores of Somerset, and he had said something that I couldn't catch. It was ancient English, I think, but he didn't know himself: it faded from him almost as soon as he had spoken. But I had a sudden feeling that there was something important waiting for us there, and I made up my mind to take him back that way before the end of our journey, if there was time. So I did.

'We arrived in a small boat at Porlock Weir on Saturday, September 13th. We put up at The Ship, up in Porlock itself; but we felt drawn back shorewards, and as soon as we had fixed our rooms we went out and turned westward, going up onto the cliffs and along as far as Culbone and beyond. We saw the sun set, dull, hazy, and rather grim, about half past six, and then we turned back for supper. The twilight deepened quickly, and I remember that it seemed suddenly to grow very chilly; a cold wind sprang up from the land and blew out westward towards the dying sun; the sea was leaden. We both felt tired and anxious, for no clear reason: we had been feeling rather cheery.

'It was then that Arry turned away from the sea and took my arm, and he said quite clearly, and I heard him and understood him: Uton efstan nu, Treowine! Me ofthyncth thisses windes. Mycel wen is Deniscra manna to niht. And that seemed to break my dreams. I began to remember, and piece together a whole lot of things as we walked back to the town; and that night I had a long series of dreams and remembered a good deal of them.'

'Yes,' said Lowdham, 'and something happened to me at that moment, too. I began to see as well as to hear. Treowine, that is Wilfrid Trewyn Jeremy, and I seemed to have got into the same dream together, even before we were asleep. The faces in the hotel looked pale and thin, and the walls and furniture only half real: other things and faces were vaguely moving behind them all. We were approaching the climax of some change that had begun last May, when we started to research together.

'Anyway, we went to bed, and we both dreamed; and we woke up and immediately compared notes; and we slept again and woke and did the same. And so it went on for several days, until we were quite exhausted. So at last we decided to go home; we made up our minds to come back to Oxford the next day, Thursday.

'That night, Wednesday, September 17th, something happened: the dreams coalesced, took shape, and came into the open, as you might say. It seemed impossible to believe when it was over that years had not slipped by, and that it was still Thursday, September 18th, 1987, and we could actually return here as we had planned. I remember staring incredulously round the dining-room, that seemed to have grown strangely solid again, half wondering if it was not some new dream-trick. And we went into the post-office and a bank to make sure of the date!

'Then we crept back here secretly, a week ago, and stayed in retreat until yesterday, conferring and putting together all we had got before we came out of hiding.'


Comment: I love this section of The Notion Club Papers!

There has been a great storm, caused by the spiritual dream connection established by the Notion Club between the fall of Numenor and modern times. Lowdham and Jeremy stagger out into the great storm, having taken on the personae of characters from Numenor - and disappear for several months. The above is an account of their activities.

Why do I like it so much? I think the idea of two friends roaming the British Isles seeking... something: some breakthrough: they will know it - only - when they find it. They go to places where they have a hunch they will find it, and monitor their own states, especially their dreams...

It is rather like the children's game of seeking a hidden something, where the clue is 'getting warmer' as you walk towards the hiding place, 'getting colder' as you walk away from it.

I imagine that, if you really got stuck, this would have to be the way forward, the way to proceed.

1 comment:

Rainforest Giant said...

I live an ocean and a continent away but I see you're on to something. I have been having dreams that to me are clearly linked to the spirit of my land. Dreams of water, underground cities and community and changes. Undercurrents that the spirit of my nation is now changing but that the old way is trying to resurface.

I wonder if it will come back or if we will sink back below the surface and only be found by future historians as a side-note to the history of man. We will either meet the fate of all multinational empires or become a nation-state again.

Nations can form out of invasions but old nations return? Has that ever happened? Is Wales Arthur's Britain?