As always, dear readers, welcome.
In my last, I was discussing Tolkien’s
reading as mentioned in his comments to the draft of an interview with him in The Daily Telegraph Magazine for 22 March, 1958.
In a footnote to his comments, JRRT mentions that he particularly enjoyed the historical novels of “Mary Renault” (her pen name–she was actually Eileen Mary Challans, 1905-1983).
Tolkien began by writing:
“I read quite a lot—or more truly, try to read many books.”
and then adds in parentheses: “(notably so-called Science Fiction and Fantasy)”, which he footnotes as “I enjoy the S.F. of Isaac Azimov.” (from Letters, 377—excerpts from all of his comments appear on pages 372-378)
Isaac Asimov (the correct spelling–1920-1992),
was actually Dr. Isaac Asimov, Professor of Biochemistry at Boston University, but also the author numerous novels, in particular three series,
Galactic Empire (1950-1952)
and Robot (1954-1985)
over 380 short stories, as well as other works.
As Tolkien isn’t specific, and Asimov was prolific, it’s probably impossible to know, at the present time, which books by Asimov Tolkien enjoyed. I find it a little odd, however, that, when he mentions Science Fiction, JRRT doesn’t include the work of his friend and encourager, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963),
who, between 1938 and 1945, produced his own trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945).
As well, although Tolkien wasn’t specific in his mention of Asimov, Lewis has given us a few clues to his Science Fiction reading in an essay, “On Science Fiction”, which appears in the posthumous collection Of Other Worlds (1966) (Here’s a LINK to your own copy: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=9116 )
For me, Lewis is the kind of writer with whom you may disagree but, because he never writes anything without quiet wit and deep thoughtfulness, you read because you may disagree and therefore can learn more about what you know—or think you do.
In this essay, Lewis makes distinctions among subgenres, mentioning
1. novels set in the future—and he further subdivides those into
a. works which are imaginatively set in time to come, in which differences from the present are important to the narrative (and he condemns the author who, having presented a future as a backdrop, “then proceeds to develop an ordinary love-story, spy-story, wreck-story, or crime-story”, suggesting that such writers are “Displaced Persons—commercial authors who did not really want to write science fiction at all, but who availed themselves of its popularity by giving a veneer of science fiction to their normal kind of work”)
b. works which are “satiric or prophetic”, using that future to reflect upon the consequences of present actions
2. that which Lewis calls “the fiction of Engineers”, explaining:
“It is written by people who are primarily interested in space‑travel, or in other undiscovered techniques, as real possibilities in the actual universe. They give us in imaginative form their guesses as to how the thing might be done.”
3. a third whose motive Lewis is at some pains to describe, the essence being that the author, living in a world in which elements like science and exploration have removed the marvelous from the everyday around us, employs fiction to take readers to places of wonder or terror. As he puts it:
“ It is not difficult to see why those who wish to visit strange regions in search of such beauty, awe, or terror as the actual world does not supply have increasingly been driven to other planets or other stars. It is the result of increasing geographical knowledge. The less known the real world is, the more plausibly your marvels can be located near at hand. As the area of knowledge spreads, you need to go further afield: like a man moving his house further and further out into the country as the new building estates catch him up. Thus in Grimm’s Märchen, stories told by peasants in wooded country, you need only walk an hour’s journey into the next forest to find a home for your witch or ogre.”
Lewis then subdivides this genre, although confessing that:
“But here sub-species and sub-sub-species break out in baffling multitude. The impossible—or things so immensely improbable that they have, imaginatively, the same status as the impossible—can be used in literature for many different purposes.”
Those purposes might include:
a. “It may represent the intellect, almost completely free from emotion, at play.”
b. “the impossible may be simply a postulate to liberate farcical consequences”
c. “Sometimes it is a postulate which liberates consequences very far from comic”
4. “Eschatological”—“This kind gives an imaginative vehicle to speculations about the ultimate destiny of our species.”
So far, these subgenres are clearly defined. The last Lewis discusses seems more impressionistic.
5. “in the next type (and the last I shall deal with) the marvelous is in the grain of the whole work. We are, throughout, in another world. What makes that world valuable is not, of course, mere multiplication of the marvelous either for comic effect… or for mere astonishment… but its quality, its flavor. If good novels are comments on life, good stories of this sort (which are very much rarer) are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience.”
But when he begins to list works which, to his mind, fit this category, the essay might better have been called “Fantasy/Science Fiction”, since the list includes works like The Odyssey, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, and even The Lord of the Rings. There are a certain number of actual Science Fiction works scattered throughout the essay, however, and, as one, David Lindsay’s (1876-1945)
A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)
JRRT once wrote that he had read “with avidity” (Letters, 34), we might imagine at least some of the others might have appeared on Tolkien’s shelves or at least on his library card. Here’s a list in the order the books (and occasional short story or novella) appear in the text (more or less—I group more than one work by the same author together—I’ve also included LINKS to any work out of copyright):
John Collier (1901-1980), Tom’s A-Cold (1933)
George Orwell (Eric Blair) (1903-1950), Nineteen Eighty-four (1949)
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Brave New World (1932)
Jules Verne (1828-1905), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869-70) https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2488/2488-h/2488-h.htm
Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), Prelude to Space (1951); Childhood’s End (1953)
H.G. Wells (1866-1946), “The Land Ironclads” (1903) (https://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0604041h.html ); The Sleeper Awakes (1899/1910) (https://ia902606.us.archive.org/26/items/sleeperawakes00welluoft/sleeperawakes00welluoft.pdf ) ; The Time Machine (1895) (https://archive.org/details/ost-english-timemachineinven00welluoft ) ; The First Men in the Moon (1901) (https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1013 )
Olaf Stapledon (1886-1950), Last and First Men (1930)
Edwin Abbott Abbott (1808-1882), Flatland (1884) (https://archive.org/details/flatlandromanceo00abbouoft )
Charles Williams (1886-1945), Many Dimensions (1931)
W.H. Hodgson (1877-1918), The Night Land (1912) ( https://gutenberg.org/ebooks/10662 ) ,
“Ray Bradbury’s stories” (unspecified)
If you take these as “recommended by Lewis” and you haven’t read some, or even any of them, why not start at the top and read all the way down? Here’s a great place to do it–
And thanks, as always, for reading this.
Remember—use bookmarks—no dog-earing!
And know that, as ever, there’s