Tolkien News (to me)

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If one judged by recent posts, it might be hard to tell that The Cimmerian is a “website and shieldwall” for Robert E. Howard and J.R.R. Tolkien. The Man From Cross Plains has dominated our recent blog activity, but never think we’ve forgotten Tollers. The Cimmerian will be giving the Loremaster of Middle-earth his due in the coming weeks and months. I stumbled upon a couple of news items relating to John Ronald Reuel yesterday. While both concerned revelations that are weeks old (at least), I hadn’t known about either of them and I assume that both articles would be news to many others.

The first item is from the online version of The Daily Telegraph, one of the most highly-regarded and popular papers in the UK. The Telegraph article reveals that between March 25 and March 29, 1939, Tolkien attended, and was trained at, the Government Code and Cypher School in London (the project was later moved to Bletchley Park, in JRRT’s beloved Buckinghamshire). He was one of a cadre of fifty academics assembled by the British Foreign Office in anticipation of a formal war with Nazi Germany. Their job would be to crack German codes, something for which JRRT’s deep and innate affinity for linguistics would make him well suited.

Apparently, Tolkien’s tester at GCCS judged him to be “keen” for the project. Tolkien, however, subsequently declined the Foreign Office offer for reasons unknown. In the Telegraph article, an official from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ, the successor to GCCS), conveniently hiding behind his anonymity, speculated that Tollers “wanted to concentrate on his writing career.” Said technocrat goes on to make the utterly wild, unsubstantiated guess that perhaps “it was because we (the British government) declared war on Germany and not Mordor.”

My mind boggles. Had this government lackey (who had no problem using JRRT’s name to promote his museum) even tried to contact the Tolkien estate or a prominent Tolkien scholar like Tom Shippey? He certainly gave tolkien_1916no indication of that from what the Telegraph reported. In case the bureaucratic card-puncher/museum-keeper at GCHQ is unaware of the fact, Tolkien spent the horrific Battle of the Somme in the trenches. Mr. Tolkien also had a son in the RAF during the Second World War. Yet, “Mr. Anonymous” (who has probably never heard a shot fired in anger) felt qualified to posthumously impugn JRRT’s motivations and patriotism.

If monetary, political and literary concerns were behind Tolkien’s declension of the GCCS’s offer, what evidence is there? Tolkien had zero assurance of a “big payoff” from the novel he was only beginning to write. As for “Germany vs. Mordor,” I urge “Mr. Anonymous” to read the relevant missive in Carpenter’s The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien where JRRT, a man with a wife and children to provide for, turned down a lucrative offer from a publishing house in Nazi Germany and told the Gestapo to go to hell.

It continues to be astounding to me how many authors (and other artists) we respect here at The Cimmerian were once involved, in some way, with war-time intelligence work. Not just Tollers, but also Harold Lamb and Algernon Blackwood. There may be others I’m forgetting. Edgar Rice Burroughs was the oldest American war correspondent in the Pacific theater during the Second World War (he was present at Pearl Harbor and later witnessed some of the first kamikaze attacks). Hollywood director, John Ford, worked for the U.S. Navy in several capacities. Not to mention that Christopher Lee fought as a member of the SAS against the Nazis.

Other Tolkien-related news emanates from the heart of Texas, ironically (or fittingly) enough. According to The San Marcos Daily Record, Steven Beebe, a professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, has discovered a few pages from a manuscript by C.S. Lewis. Apparently, that manuscript was to be the beginning of a collaborative book co-authored by Lewis and Tolkien called Language and Human Nature.

Beebe, who discovered the manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, will publish his analysis of the manuscript in the academic journal, Seven, in 2010. It is possible that Language and Human Nature, which was originally scheduled to be published in 1950, was abandoned after the long friendship between Tolkien and Lewis began to wane. One can only imagine what that book might have been like. Lewis was originally highly disdainful of philologists before he met JRRT. He later famously recanted that position (to some extent). What that meeting of two brilliant minds might have produced is almost painfully tantalizing.

On a more mundane front, I was just informed today that The History Channel, as part of its series, “Clash of the Gods,” has been televising through the month of October a segment devoted to the “pantheon” (Tolkien never looked upon his Valar and Maiar as true divinities) that Tollers described in The Silmarillion. According to fairly reputable sources, the show doesn’t do a half-bad job, all things considered.

*Thanks to Chris Hale for the heads-up on the History Channel program.