Saturday, November 11, 2017

John Wain (IV) -- Havard, Warnie, Tolkien

(continued from previous post)

In addition to his portraits of Lewis, Williams, and Dyson, Wain also gave brief depictions of Havard and The Major:

Of the other Inklings, only his brother and Dyson struck me as sharing Lewis's taste for the ordinary pub, though I am sure Williams, who had beer and sandwiches for lunch every day of his life, had no sort of objection to it as a convenience, as it is to any London man of letters . . . Havard, to be sure, was always expressionless and imperturbable, the man of healing who has looked on life in all its forms and its extremities, and Warren Lewis ('Warnie'), the seasoned officer, much travelled, unsurprised by anything, was gravely courteous and affable, like a Major who has been invited to take a glass in the Sergeants' Mess.

He immediately follows this with more about Tolkien:

Only Tolkien seemed mildly though attractively odd: slight in build beside the bulk of either Lewis, his utterances almost sotto voce by comparison with their deep, measured tones* or the manic sea-lion roaring of Dyson, he stood looking round him with a gnomish, lop-sided grin, irresistibly suggesting a leprechaun that has unexpectedly wandered into human company. He had no objection to conviviality, quaffed his pint of draught cider willingly enough, and yet he always seemed to me to bring with him an atmosphere too fey for the prosaic cheerfulness of an English beer-house, something that belonged in the Hall of the Mountain King.

It's a tribute to Wain's skill as a writer that this exact smile can be seen on Tolkien's face in a surviving clip of film in which Tolkien describes his glee at finding that blank sheet of paper among those he was grading and writing down the first line of THE HOBBIT. Elsewhere I've seen Tolkien described as almost birdlike, by which the writer meant his conversation hopped around from topic to topic, rather than proceeding by measured steps in a logical progression like CSL, which may be part of what Wain is getting at.

In the end, sadly, it was their very own leprechaun, who had wandered from some cleft of the wooded mountainside into their snug haven, who ruined it for them. Without consulting the others, Tolkien went to Charlier Blagrove and asked if they might have the use of the private sitting-room, regularly, every Tuesday. Glad to meet what  he thought were the group's wishes, the landlord opened up the room the next Tuesday and always thereafter. There was no going back. Jack Lewis confided to me, sadly[,] that it had spoilt his Tuesdays for him. 'I miss the sense of meeting in an open tavern.' I was very sorry. He had many problems in his life at this time,** and it seemed needless to rob him of one of his few remaining pleasures.

Personally, I can easily see that the loudest members of the group, like Lewis and Dyson, could prefer the loud outer room, while the quieter ones like Tolkien and Havard might have liked the inner room where they cd be heard. Taken with his earlier comment about Tolkien's being "almost dementedly solipsistic" (I take him to mean that Tolkien was one of those professors who taught his subject rather than his students), I get the sense that Wain is trying to be fair to Tolkien but finding it a bit hard (that 'leprechaun . . . wandered from some cleft of the wooded mountainside' seems to me to include a touch of parody).


One small corrective: Wain says that upon Lewis's marriage to Joy Davidman,  CSL 'made no attempt to introduce his wife into the circle in the bar-room'. This is in error: Lewis did bring Davidman to some of their meetings in the pub, but it was not a success and she stopped coming after only a few attempts.


--John R.
current reading: THE PROUD TOWER (chapter on the Dreyfus Affair)


*surviving recordings show that Lewis's voice sounded a good deal like Alfred Hitchcock, but with a different accent. Imagine Hitchcock being impersonated by Sean Connery and you'll come pretty close.

**since Blagrove died in 1948, this must refer to about that time or slightly before, in the period when Janie Moore's health was failing due to encroaching Alzheimers.


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