Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tolkien, Elf-friends, and Dreams

This week, a lot of the excerpts of Tolkien's writing seemed to be focused on dreams, in particular dreams as a means of travel and as a way of obtaining knowledge, both within his stories and within his own life. In particular, Tolkien seems to blend together dream and reality in his writing, incorporating both his own experiences of dreaming and using his characters' dreams as windows into the broader world they inhabit. In addition, this notion of visions within dreams at least has helped me to understand a bit better what Tolkien believes an elf-friend to be and the sort of elf-friend he claims himself to be.

In his letters, he mentions an "Atlantis complex" on a number of occasions. He describes this as being a "terrible recurrent dream (beginning with memory) of the Great Wave, towering up, and coming in ineluctably over the trees and green fields." (Letters, no. 163) This is a dream that he also gave to Faramir, the character in Lord of the Rings who he says "speaks for me [when he] speaks of his private vision of the Great Wave," (Letters, no. 180). Of course within the world of Middle Earth, this dream has reality within the flood that destroyed Numenor, and seems to add to the illusion that Tolkien is conveying to the reader a tale that he's simply discovering and translating. In this sense, Tolkien seems to be very similar to Alwin Lowdham, who conveys the dreams he has of Numenor to his fellow writers in the Notion Club.

Lowdham's place in the world of Lord of the Rings is a strange one, as The Notion Club Papers was abandoned by Tolkien and isn't a part of the canon. The story takes place in Oxford and ostensibly seems to be set in our world, but Lowdham has incredibly vivid dreams of the history of Middle Earth, including the story of the Downfall of Numenor and accounts of three of the languages spoken in Middle Earth. Tolkien's "Atlantis complex" dream also makes an appearance, as the character Ramer experiences the tsunami that sunk Numenor (among his other dreams of Middle Earth). Ramer and Lowdham both seem to be the sort of elf-friend within The Notion Club Papers as Tolkien purports to be in his writing of The Lord of the Rings. All three elf-friends aren't summoning these new languages, landscapes, and events from their imaginations. All of these things seem to be coming from somewhere else beyond their minds, as if they are simply being shown fragments of a different world. How exactly this is happening isn't made clear within The Notion Club Papers, or by "Tolkien the elf-friend", but it does seem to be fairly clear to me is that these characters are all supposed to be playing Tolkien-esque roles within the Notion Club.

Even the characters within Lord of the Rings seem to have a similar relationship with dreaming, as we saw this week within the passage where Frodo, Merry, and Pippin all have dreams at Tom Bombadil's house. Frodo's dream in particular seems to be of a similar nature to those described in The Notion Club Papers, as he seems to be having a vision of the tower of Isengard with Saruman on top of it (which also makes sense, as Frodo is called an elf-friend by Goldberry just before this segment). This further strengthens the tie between elf-friends and dreams, and leads me to believe that dreams are a way in which the elf-friend can inhabit the story while also finding themselves outside of it.

-Chris Eidsmoe

1 comment:

  1. What does it mean to say that "The Notion Club Papers" aren't part of the "canon" when Tolkien clearly means to be tying the experiences of the characters into the story of Numenor? Simply the accident of publication (or not!)? And if Tolkien himself had the dream of the wave, is his own experience inside or outside his story-canon? RLFB