Monday, July 26, 2010

The Darkness Beneath (More Nightmares for the Tolkien Children?)

The Darkness Beneath (More Nightmares for the Tolkien Children?)

So, Janice once commented, after hearing me read out a passage from THE HOBBIT (from Chapters IV [goblin tunnels] or V [lost in dark, Gollum] I think, though it cd have been VIII [Mirkwood]), that Tolkien's bedtime stories must have occasionally given his children-listeners nightmares and gotten him into hot water with Mrs. T. I was reminded of that recently when listening to the Derek Jacobi audiobooks of ROVERANDOM and LETTERS FROM FATHER CHRISTMAS (the expanded edition of THE FATHER CHRISTMAS LETTERS).* For such a light-hearted book, ROVERANDOM has one surprisingly dark passage (both figuratively and literally) that I only noticed when Jacobi's reading drew it to my attention:

[T]he deeps [of the sea] are . . . full of dark and awful places where light has never been and never will be, because they will never be uncovered till light has all gone out. Horrible things live there, too old for imagining, too strong for spells, too vast for measurement. [p.63]

cf. also the passing mention of "the deep, dark, unmentionable monsters of the black abysses [who] do horrible and wicked things." [page 71]

This rather reminded me of two passages in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, first when Gandalf is discussing The Watcher in the Water:

Something has crept, or has been driven out of dark waters under the mountains. There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world. [LotR.327]

the second comes as part of Gandalf's account of his battle with the Balrog:

Gandalf: Long I fell, and he fell with me . . . we plunged into the deep water and all was dark. Cold it was as the tide of death . . .

Gimli: Deep is the abyss that is spanned by Durin's Bridge . . .

Gandalf: Yet it has a bottom, beyond light and knowledge . . . Thither I came at last, to the uttermost foundations of stone . . . We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counter . . . at last he fled into dark tunnels. They were not made by Durin's folk . . . Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day . . .

I know about the associations of Ungoliant with the dark places beneath the world, but these seem to me a wholly separate, parallel set of associations with (1) immemorial darkness, (2) ancient evil, and (3) subterranean waters. I've long been struck by the possibility of a link between Charles Williams' P'o-l'u and Lovecraft's Lost R'lyeh (both of which feature dark ancient octopoidal entities of uttermost evil)** on the one hand and Tolkien's Watcher on the other; these passing references in as innocuous a tale as ROVERANDOM make me think this was a more important element in Tolkien's cosmology than I'd realized; I'll be on the look-out, next time I read the earlier Silm. material, for any other hints at this, particularly in the Ungoliant/Earendel/moon-boat stories.


current reading: THE LOST EXPLORERS by Alexander Macdonald

current audiobook: GOD IS NOT GREAT by Christopher Hitchens; THE BOOK OF GENESIS (King James Bible).

*I just tried to see about upgrading these to cd, but only the audio cassette version seems to be available. Anyone know if a cd edition of these has ever been released? If not, what a pity: Jacobi does a wonderful job, particularly with FCL.

**it seems there is a chance that Williams knew of at least some of Lovecraft's work, but I haven't been able to track down anything concrete or specific. And of course both (or even all three) might be drawing on a common older source unknown to me.


CNB said...

They appear to be available on CD, at least in the UK.

Carl Anderson said...

Interesting that there is a certain element of wateriness (along with the deepness, ancientness, etc.) in the Tolkien references. One wonders if this is somehow related to his well-known "dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave"?