Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Evil in Ireland -- Tolkien and Warnie

So, back some time ago when I was asked to write a guest editorial for MALLORN, I pointed out that there are some things about Tolkien we know because of detailed contemporary evidence. Other things we have to piece together as best we can from fragmentary, sometimes contradictory, evidence. And still others we just have to more or less take on faith. An example of the last is Tolkien's statement that in Ireland you could feel the evil in the very ground, seeping up from below, held back only by the great piety of its people. I commented about this in a post from 2009 ), in which I reproduced the following quote:

George Sayer tells a remarkable story 
about Tolkien describing Ireland as 
'naturally evil.' He could 'feel,' Sayer relates,
'evil coming up from the earth,
from the peat bogs, from the clumps of trees, 
even from the cliffs, and this evil
was only held in check by the great 
devotion of the southern Irish
to their religion.'

A year and a half later, 'BGC' posted a comment saying
I'm pretty sure I have read something of this kind said by, or attributed to, Warnie Lewis (who was, of course, himself Irish) - maybe in his journal or attributed in a letter to Jack - but I can't seem to locate it.

It is certainly more the sort of thing Warnie would have said, in one of his deporessive moods; and very unlike Tolkien.

And now just a few days ago 'Wurmbrand' (Dale Nelson) shared his discovery of that passage BGC had remembered:*

here is the passage that BGC was recalling:

"There is something wrong with this country -- some sullen brooding presence over it, a vague sense of something mean and cruel and sinister: I have felt the same feeling in the hills behind Sierra Leone, and once in 1919 at Doagh in Co. Antrim. A beastly feeling. On the merely physical side, it was most depressing country. I have never seen any place so enclosed before: wherever you go, the grey road is flanked by old stone walls, and banks on the top of which grow thick hedges, the whole overhung by heavy motionless foliage on old trees and lidded with a grey brown sky. After a time the longing for any sort of escape from these everlasting tunnels became acute, and one almost fancied it to be accompanied by a sensation of choking from trying to breathe air from which the oxygen was exhausted. The natives were as depressing as their landscape: during the whole morning I did not see anyone of any age or either sex who was not definitely ugly: even the children look more like goblins than earthborns....I wonder can it be possible that a country which has an eight hundred year record of cruelty and misery has the power of emanating a nervous disquiet? Certainly I felt something of the sort, and would much dislike to see this place again....[Later in the day, after leaving Waterford on our run down the Suir River, we passed Ballyhack, where there were some early Norman castles.] There was [also] a long succession of big houses, all very shut in and desolate, of which J remarked that Walter de la Mare could write detestable stories: and we talked for some time about horror and its treatment in fiction."  (
BROTHERS & FRIENDS p. 111-112)
This was written in 1933, years before Tolkien himself first set foot in Ireland. And interestingly enough CSL seems to have disagreed with Warnie -- Warnie's entry for the next leg of their walking tour, in the Plymouth area recounts that

J[ack] and I argued briskly about the country [around Plymouth] we had walked through, J contending that not to like any sort of country argues a fault in oneself: which seems to me absurd . . . I suspect he was talking for victory. [ibid 112]

Congratulations to Dale N. for his connecting the dots and for sharing his discovery.

--John R.
current reading: more on Milne (who suffered badly from Conan Doyle syndrome)

*I've reposted it here because I think those who agree with me about the importance of Dale's discovery are more likely to come across it this way than if it only appeared as a comment on a post from eight years ago.

P.S.: Happy Tolkien Day, all.


Paul W said...

What do you mean by 'Conan Doyle syndrome'? :)

Clive Shergold said...

I am intrigued by this curious case of similar reactions from an Ulster Protestant (Warnie, also of course Jack) and an English convert to Catholicism (Tolkien was strongly aware of himself as a convert, see Letters 267).

Ireland is, alas, two countries, and it seems that each person feels the evil in that part of Ireland they might be expected to find welcoming. Warnie is depressed or even horrified by Co Antrim, in the Protestant Northern Ireland, while Tolkien finds the evils of Eire only just restrained by the Catholic faith of its inhabitants, which he shared and gloried in.

I spent a week in Northern Ireland once (and Eire never). The countryside is beautiful, especially the Antrim coast around the Giant's Causeway. I felt more uncomfortable with the human expressions of faith: murals in Belfast, kerb-stones painted red/white/blue/red/white/blue in smaller villages, and several series of small religious posters displayed along roadsides; theological propositions I might agree with, but expressed somehow in a manner petty and ineffective (other than to emphasise boundaries).

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Clive
re-reading the quote, I think it's clear that CSL did not agree with Warnie on this point.

What's interesting in contrasting Tolkien's and Warnie's views is that Warnie includes the people, whom he considers as benighted as the land, while Tolkien singles out the people's resistance to evil for praise, in terms that remind me of his comment about descendents of Noah's race in MYTHOPOEIA.

I've only been to Ireland once myself, for a week, when researching the dissertation. I stayed the whole time in Dublin, buried in libraries, except for one memorable trip out to Dunsany Castle when Lord Dunsany (Randel Plunkett, the nineteenth baron) very kindly showed me around, including the secret passage (the door to which I'd have never spotted on my own).

--John R.

Wurmbrand said...

The Warren Lewis anecdote has a pendant. Warren remembered the eerie Irish experience a few months later, thanks to a man named Keir, after a dinner at University College in Oxford. I take it the man was David Lindsay Keir (1985-1973), an expert on English Constitutional history. Warnie wrote in his diary (23 Nov. 1933) that Keir had “done the same Clyde Shipping Co. tour” as he and Jack had. “I was very interested when he began (before I had said anything about it) to comment on the eerie atmosphere of the country round Waterford: I am glad to find that it was not merely my imagination. (Or am I? Would it not be a more reassuring business if it was merely my imagination?).”

Dale Nelson

Clive Shergold said...

Looking through Gilbert & Kilby's C. S. LEWIS: Images of His World confirms that Jack's view of Ireland did not match his brother's. A quote from Roger Lancelyn Green on p.142 implies (quotes of quotes of quotes get a bit ambiguous) that Jack thought the mountains of Donegal were 'as near heaven as you can get in Thulcandra', and Walter Hooper is quoted as saying that Jack considered the Carlingford Mountains held the loveliest spot he had ever seen (p.143). They also quote from an unpublished letter of Jack's: 'I begin to have a very warm feeling for Ireland in general'. (The book does detail its sources.)

Incidentally, am I correct in thinking that Lancelyn Green is a compound surname? Wikipedia refers to him as just 'Green', which seems incomplete.

John D. Rateliff said...

Clive S. wrote

"Incidentally, am I correct in thinking that Lancelyn Green is a compound surname? Wikipedia refers to him as just 'Green', which seems incomplete."

--it's a case of a middle name being used as if it were part of the surname. A famous example is Doyle, whose name was Arthur (first), Conan (middle name), Doyle (surname) but has come over time to be referred to as 'Conan Doyle'. Similarly, 'Lancelyn' was a traditional middle name in the Green family: witness his son Richard Lancelyn Green. The Tolkien family middle name 'Reul' is a similar family tradition, but never used as if part of the surname (so far as I've seen).

--in haste;
John R.

Clive Shergold said...

I followed this up. According to The Free Library: 'The estate [Poulton Hall] has belonged to the Lancelyns since 1093 but by the 17th century the family had moved out of its old castle and into a new house. Extensions were added in succeeding centuries to create the rambling, 50-room edifice that stands today. A name was also added - the family became Lancelyn Green after Elizabeth Lancelyn wed Thomas Green in the 18th century.'
So it appears that Lancelyn Green is a double-barrelled but non-hyphenated surname like Vaughan Williams (who is never just 'Williams'). It would explain why even Roger's wife is a Lancelyn Green.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Dale:
Thanks for the additional piece of evidence.

Dear Clyde:
I don't think WHL meant his observation to stand for Ireland as a whole (as Tolkien seems to have done) but for specific regions. The CSL quote does, by contrast, seem to be for the entire island.

As for my own comment, I shd have added that what little I saw of Ireland struck me as stunningly beautiful. even greener than England.

Clive Shergold said...

Late, but on the topic of Tolkien and landscape: may I draw your attention to this Tolkien-influenced cartography of real places: