Monday, September 27, 2010

Tolkien and White

Whilst I prepare some thoughts on the UnDark Dark Ages, I return to jot some thoughts on another subject altogether. This past summer I returned to a book I read 25 years ago and foolishly decided to teach it: T. H. White's The Once and Future King. I enjoyed it so much I decided to teach it again this semester.

I noticed some connections and while I haven't been extensive in my search, I hadn't noticed anyone else comparing White and the Inklings, particularly Tolkien.

A few points worth considering I think:

They were contemporaries.

They were both born and spent early years in the Empire rather than Britain

They both trained in English.

They both had absent fathers: Tolkien's father died, White's was an alcoholic from whom White's mother divorced when White was 14.

They both spent some important years of their teens separated from parents and in the hands of "tutors" who would greatly influence them.

They both had to do without a maternal connection: Tolkien because his mother died, White's was emotionally distant, distant enough to warp the man.

They both draw on multiple ancient/medieval traditions in telling their tales

They both published their first attempts at what they would become most known for in 1937.

They both kept their audiences waiting until the '50s for the conclusion to their 1937 works.

They both have something to say to their times and the modern world.

They are both engaging in medievalisms of various kinds.

They both have compelling heroes.

They both have something to say about war, heroism, and love.

Those are a few things. The more I think about it, the more I think that a comparison of White, Tolkien, and Lewis in terms of theme, characterization, influences, medievalism etc might be in order.

There are of course differences as well: for example White was too young to see action in WWI and was a conscientious objector to WWII and lived in Ireland during that whole period. It on the subject of war and battle I think that I would start a comparison.

1 comment:

Bruce Charlton said...

I really enjoyed TOaFC when I discovered it in my late teens, and always imagined that the Inklings might have enjoyed it too.

Well, it seems that Lewis, at least, did not like the book - to put it mildly.

From Collected letters vol 2, 1931-49. Page 456:

[Re:] "Sword in the Stone. I strongly disagree. One of the most deeply vulgar books I've ever read. Its humour is exactly on the level of an urchin with a lead pencil drawing a moustache on the lip of a classical statue. What can be cheaper than his Palomides? It is the work of a sad, shabby little mind."


However, in the next volume of collected letters, we actually find Lewis actually sending TH White an appreciative 'fan' letter about Mistress Masham's Repose (done in a kind of medieval pastiche style).