The Notion Club Papers

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The Notion Club Papers is the title of an abandoned novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, written during 1945 and published posthumously in Sauron Defeated, the 9th volume of The History of Middle-earth. It is a space/time/dream travel story, written at the same time as The Lord of the Rings was being developed. The story itself revolves around the meetings of an Oxford arts discussion group called the Notion Club, a fictionalization of (and a play on words on the name of) Tolkien's own such club, the Inklings.

During these meetings, Alwin Arundel Lowdham discusses his lucid dreams about Númenor, a lost civilization connected with Atlantis and also with Tolkien's Middle-earth. Through these dreams, he "discovers" much about the Númenor story and the languages of Middle-earth (notably Quenya, Sindarin, and Adûnaic — the last being the sole source of most of the material on Adûnaic). While not finished, at the end of the given story it becomes clear Lowdham himself is a reincarnation of sorts of Elendil. (Alwin is a modernization of the name Ælfwine, Old English for Elf-friend, or Elendil in Quenya.) Other members of the Club also mention their vivid dreams of other times and places.

Although unfinished, the text of The Notion Club Papers runs for some 120 pages in Sauron Defeated. Embedded within the story are Tolkien's versions of European legends: 'King Sheave', and 'The Death of St. Brendan', a three-page poem also titled 'Imram'. Sauron Defeated includes some further 40 pages of commentary and notes on The Notion Club Papers by Christopher Tolkien, and reproduces examples of the pages hand-written by Tolkien.

Future setting, frame-story, contrived provenance[edit]

The Notion Club Papers is elaborately constructed. The main story (the Notion Club, itself the frame of the Númenor story) is set within a frame-story. Both the main story and the frame-story are set in the future (Tolkien created the work in 1945).

In the frame-story, a Mr. Green finds documents in sacks of waste paper at Oxford in 2012. These documents, the titular Notion Club Papers, are the incomplete notes of meetings of the Notion Club; these meetings are said to have occurred in the 1980s. The notes, written by one of the participants at the meetings, include references to events that 'occurred' in the 1970s and 1980s. Green publishes a first edition containing excerpts from the documents. Two scholars read the first edition, ask to examine the documents, and then submit a full report. The "Notes to the Second Edition" mentions the contradictory evidence in dating the documents, and an alternative date is presented: they may have been written in the 1940s (which was of course when Tolkien actually created the matter).

The Notion Club Papers mentions a great storm occurring during 1987 in England, on 12 June.[1] The actual Great Storm of 1987 occurred in October of that year.[2]. Christopher Tolkien drew attention to this, saying "my father's 'prevision' was only out by four months".[3]

Relations with other literature[edit]

Included in The Notion Club Papers are a number of comments on C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy. These are similar in style to Lewis's commentary on Tolkien's poem The Lay of Leithian, in which Lewis created a fictional history of scholarship of the poem and even referred to other manuscript tradition to recommend changes to the poem.

The Notion Club Papers may be seen as an attempt to re-write The Lost Road, published and discussed in The Lost Road and Other Writings, being another attempt to tie the Númenórean legend in with a more modern tale. There is, however, no direct connection between the modern settings of the two stories within the fictional frame.

Jane Stanford links The Notion Club Papers to The Johnson Club Papers in her 2011 biography of John O'Connor Power, That Irishman. The two books have a similar title page. The Johnson Club was a 'Public House School' and met in taverns like the Inklings. The purpose was 'Fellowship and free Exchange of Mind.' The two clubs presented papers 'which were read before the members and discussed'. Samuel Johnson, like Tolkien, had a strong connection with Pembroke College, Oxford. Stanley Unwin, Tolkien's publisher, was a nephew of Fisher Unwin, the founding member of The Johnson Club.[4]

According to Christopher Tolkien, had his father continued The Notion Club Papers, he would have linked the real world of Alwin Lowdham with his eponymous ancestor Ælfwine of England (the fictional compiler of The Book of Lost Tales) and with Atlantis. One of the members of the Notion Club, one Michael George Ramer, combines lucid dreams with time-travel and experiences the tsunami that sank Númenor. He can't tell if it is history, or fantasy, or something in between.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sauron Defeated, pages 157 and 252.
  2. ^ Great Storm 1987: The day 18 people were killed BBC News Online.
  3. ^ Sauron Defeated, note 1 on page 211
  4. ^ Stanford, Jane, 'That Irishman The Life and Times of John O'Connor Power', Part Three, pp. 115, 117-118. ISBN 978-1-84588- -698-1

Further reading[edit]

  • Jane Chance (2003). Tolkien the Medievalist. Psychology Press. pp. 137–. ISBN 978-0-415-28944-3. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  • Michael D. C. Drout (January 2007). J.r.r. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship And Critical Assessment. CRC Press. pp. 593–. ISBN 978-0-415-96942-0. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  • Verlyn Flieger (2005). Interrupted Music: The Making Of Tolkien's Mythology. Kent State University Press. pp. 131–. ISBN 978-0-87338-824-5. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  • Verlyn Flieger (2001). A Question of Time: J. R. R. Tolkien's Road to Faėriė. Kent State University Press. pp. 125–. ISBN 978-0-87338-699-9. Retrieved 4 February 2013.