Friday, May 22, 2015

Tolkien and E. M. Forster

So, thanks to Doug and, I think, Andrew for drawing to my attention a post by Jason Fisher from about five weeks earlier regarding Tolkien and the Nobel Prize:

As Jason points out, the news recently (some three yrs ago) came out that C. S. Lewis had nominated JRRT for the Nobel Prize in literature back in 1961/62: 

  Even though Tolkien's didn't win, of course, it was interesting that he'd actually been officially nominated. And it was good to know that Lewis's high opinion of Tolkien had not been diminished by the two men's drifting apart towards the end of their lives.  But what Jason uncovered was that Lewis also nominated Robert Frost the following year.*  That's not only an excellent choice (Frost having been among the premier poets of the century, and unlike his peers Eliot and Pound he had been widely and enduringly popular as well**) but it reveals something about Lewis's tastes, Frost not being a poet he mentions much in his writings. I knew that Lewis's short list had apparently been Frost, Eliot, Tolkien, and Forster (cf. COLLECTED LETTERS III.1224), but not that he'd actually nominated Frost in addition to JRRT.

But even more interesting is Jason's news that Tolkien himself got to nominate someone for the Nobel Prize back in 1954, and that he (along with fellow Inkling Lord David Cecil***) picked E. M. Forster -- a novelist whose name has, so far as I know, never been linked with Tolkien before, aside from a few of the earlier studies of the history of fantasy that looked at both Forster's chapter on fantasy**** in ASPECTS OF THE NOVEL and JRRT's seminal ON FAIRY-STORIES. Forster was a core member of the Bloomsbury Group but didn't go in much for its signature experimentalism (unlike fellow Bloomsburian Virginia Woolf, who excelled at it); most of his works predated Modernism. I suspect that Tolkien was thinking not of PASSAGE TO INDIA but HOWARD'S END (a very English novel) and perhaps also A ROOM WITH A VIEW. All in all, the news is a good reminder that Tolkien was much more widely read than is the general impression, and it suggests he was more in attune with his own times than Humphrey Carpenter made him out to be.

So, kudos to Jason for rounding out our picture of JRRT in a new and interesting way.

--John R.
currently on the road, and reading (slowly) CHILDREN OF THE SUN by Martin Green [1976]

*one thing Tolkien and Frost share is that both started their careers as Georgians, before that literary movement was largely destroyed in The Great War
**along with Yeats and Larkin, probably the only three of whom this cd be said.
***a much maligned figure, by the way, blasted by both F. R. Leavis from one side and Kingley Amis from the other
****by which Forster means a book like MOBY DICK, oddly enough

1 comment:

Jason Fisher said...

Thanks, John! A bit late, but I'm only just seeing this post now. :)