Thursday, December 31, 2009

“From eckward to andward”

The Dark Tower, an abandoned time-travel novel (or sorts) by C.S. Lewis, is, despite its brevity, densely packed with fascinating words, allusions, and ideas. Among many points that have struck my interest on this (my first) reading of it was the following passage — quoted by Lewis from the fictional book, Time Angles:

“An uncontrolled time proceeding in the backward-forward direction is subject, as is known, to fluctuations during which small extensions of it (say .05 of a second) will make a measurable angle with the backward-forward direction. If, now, we suppose this increased to a right angle, this time will proceed from eckward to andward” — so the words appeared to Scudamour’s memory when he told us the story — “and will cut an ideally normal time at right angles.” [1]

So far as I can tell, the words “eckward(s)” and “andward(s)” are Lewis’s own inventions. I have been unable to find them in anything predating The Dark Tower (except as completely unrelated proper names). For the most part, the time-travel literature on which Lewis drew for inspiration (e.g., H.G. Wells, J.W. Dunne, Murray Leinster, et al.) either coin nothing new, making do with existing words; or else borrow terminology from the world of spatial dimensions — e.g., Leinster’s “sidewise in time”. H. Beam Piper, whose works were probably too late to have influenced Lewis, adopts “paratime”, which serves well enough — but there is something remarkable to me about Lewis’s invented adverbs, “eckward” and “andward”. They feel just right; they appear perfectly appropriate and look like genuine English words. Naturally, I was curious about their possible etymologies. Now, I have not read all of the available scholarship on The Dark Tower — far from it! — but from a quick search, it does not appear to me that anybody has written much of anything on this subject. If anyone out there knows otherwise, please pass the details along! In the meantime, I’ve had some thoughts.

Two possibilities to explain “eckward” and “andward” come readily to my mind: Greek and Old English. To tip my hand, I think it’s probably the latter, but I’ll address them both, and I welcome your input.

To make up Lewis’s words, the Greek prefixes in question would most likely come from the prepositions ἐκ, ἐξ “out of, (away) from” and ἀνά “(up)on, along, up through, thereon”, respectively. The resulting meanings would therefore be something like eckward = “in a direction away from or out of (normal time)” and andward = “in a direction along or up through (normal time)”. The first would serve us well, but the second would not; such a meaning seems opposite to what Lewis meant. The only scholar whom I have found to venture any opinion on the matter is Sanford Schwartz. He (only tangentially) advances the Greek theory in his recent book — for “eckward”, at least; I haven’t seen an opinion on “andward” [2]. But while Greek would ordinarily be a natural assumption for Lewis (after all, the Four Loves are all given their Greek names), there are some problems here.

For one, as I’ve hinted already, the explanation for “andward” isn’t nearly as good as the one for “eckward”. And where would the d come from, if the prefix is the Greek ἀνά? For another, Latinizing ἐκ, ἐξ to “eck–” would not follow the established pattern for the use of that prefix in English (e.g., it’s eclipse, not *ecklipse or *eklipse). For yet another, the suffix, –ward, is most definitely Germanic. If the prefix were Greek, we’d have rather uneasy bedfellows from competing word-stocks. Such admixtures are not unprecedented in English, but they are not as common as unalloyed compounds. And especially in the case of a neologism by someone with Lewis’s knowledge of language (rivaled among the Inklings only by Tolkien’s or Barfield’s), one would have to expect more consistency. So what is the other alternative?

As I said, –ward is Germanic, going back to Old English –weard, ultimately from a Germanic root meaning “to turn”. Cognates to the Old English include Old Saxon –ward, Old High German –wart, Gothic –wairþs, and Old Norse –verðr. Might the prefixes be Old English along with the suffix? Certainly! If they are, the most likely sources are OE and “without, against” and éce “eternal, perpetual, everlasting” [3]. The latter already carries a temporary meaning, so we have reason to feel optimistic! Moreover, there actually is an attested OE word andweard, which, had it survived, would have become a Modern English word of precisely the form in question, “andward”. It means “present” in the spatial sense (i.e., “without any specific direction”), but this would obviously tempt a knowledgeable word-maker to apply it to the temporal dimension as well. If this hypothesis is the correct one, then the two words would mean something like andward = “all time in the present” and eckward = “all time perpetually conceived”, both contrasted with the mundane temporal dimension we all know from experience.

This etymology fits the story very well, where the fictive time-scientists of Lewis’s Othertime explain that “[a]t the [...] moment of intersection [of two perpendicular timelines] the whole series of events in each of these times will then be contemporary to those living in the other”, and “a consciousness which succeeded in passing [from one timeline to another] would attain to endless time, and the Time Square [i.e., a two-dimensional temporal plane], though finite, would be endless or perpetual” [4].

I feel satisfied, therefore, that the Old English etymology is most likely the one Lewis had in mind, in spite of his more typical attraction to the Greek or Latin. What do my readers think of this hypothesis? And why haven’t other writers, of both fictional time-travel stories and nonfiction books on time, picked up these very useful words? As someone who used to speculate on temporal dimensionality quite a lot (once upon a time :), I would certainly have found them useful!

[1] Lewis, C.S. The Dark Tower and Other Stories. Ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977, p. 84.

[2] Schwartz, Sanford. C.S. Lewis on the Final Frontier: Science and the Supernatural in the Space Trilogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

[3] An alternate possibility is OE éc “also”, with a meaning of “also-time”, but this strikes me as a bit less plausible.

[4] Lewis, pp. 84, 87.


  1. Lewis was a coalbiter, wasn't he? Sounds like the kind of thing he'd do, making up words from etymological roots (as would tolkien, too -- also a coalbiter). I like the etymological work you did. And to top it off you did it about a little-known work on time travel: awesome! ^___^ Happy New Year!

  2. He was indeed! And while Lewis had a clear preference for the Mediterranean languages over the Germanic ones, the idea that he had a genuine distaste for or aversion to the languages of the north (as I often hear) is probably mistaken. The horror borealis attributed to Philip Frankley, the Lewis-like character in Tolkien’s Notion Club Papers, is thought to have been more characteristic of Hugo Dyson than of Lewis.

    Thanks very much for the feedback, and Happy New Year to you too. :)

  3. How's the job search going?

  4. Lewis had a piercingly strong love for what he called "The Northernness." It was this which formed his basis for his friendships with Arthur Greeves and, later, with Tolkien.

    If it were possible to find instances of "eckward" or "andward" in print only after the presumed writing of The Dark Tower in the 1930s/40s but before its publication in 1977, that would serve as intriguing circumstantial evidence that it is, as sometimes charged, inauthentic.

    Unfortunately the lack of citations wouldn't be evidence for anything either way, but it's a point perhaps worth checking.

  5. Alex, I suppose I should have updated interested readers — then again, I normally keep personal matters out of Lingwë (that’s what Facebook is for! :).

    I got two offers in the first two weeks of my job search, and I accepted the one that was a better fit for me. Then, I took a break of about three weeks before starting that job (able to do so because of severance pay from the old one), and I started it on December 2. I’ve been there now for about a month, and it’s going very well indeed.

    Thanks for asking! :)

  6. David, wasn’t Lewis’s favorite myth the story of the Norse god Balder? I seem to recall something about this in Surprised By Joy, but I don’t have a handy copy nearby.

    If it were possible to find instances of “eckward” or “andward” in print only after the presumed writing of The Dark Tower in the 1930s/40s but before its publication in 1977, that would serve as intriguing circumstantial evidence that it is, as sometimes charged, inauthentic.

    I haven’t found anything before or after. The only references I’ve seen are to The Dark Tower itself, and even these are scant, and most nothing more than quotation. (Though I admit this is only based on online searches.)

    As to the charge of forgery, isn’t this mainly just Kathryn Lindskoog? I’m familiar with the basic arguments, but I find the charge hard to swallow. If Hooper forged it, why would he do it? If purely to make money from Lewis’s name, then why not forge other stories and novels as well? Because he had been “caught” by Lindskoog?

    And even if he wanted to, could he really have produced a fair-copy manuscript that would have fooled the eyes of Warnie Lewis, Owen Barfield, Roger Lancelyn Green, and Gervase Mathew (at a minimum). Too, Hooper’s claim that Mathew recognized the story and remembered the first four chapters having been read to the Inklings in 1939 or 1940 would have been an outright lie. Mathew died the year before The Dark Tower appeared, so he would not have been able to contradict Hooper, but I still find it hard to believe that it was all lies and forgery.

    Rather than a complete forgery, I have heard some say that the first part of the manuscript was incontrovertibly Lewis, but that the story might have been extended into its later part(s) by Hooper, and/or that Hooper might have rewritten parts of the story throughout. Is the MS. available to scholars to examine?

    What do you think of the controversy?

  7. Glad to hear it!

    I hope I was not being inappropriate by asking on here. I would add you on FB, but as we have only had a few conversations here, and I don't really know you, I don't know if that would be appropriate either :).

  8. Really good post, by the way.

  9. Jason, there is not room in your blog to say what I think of this controversy.

    I will just note that claimed evidence that the work in hand was a forgery included echoes of works unpublished at the time of its supposed composition, so it occurs to me that words apparently invented in the story would be a good further example of that.

    The ms. in hand I consider most probably but not proved to be the story of that kind that Lewis definitely composed. However the propositions you view with incredulity include ones that very easily could be true. Further sayeth not.

  10. Not at all inappropriate, Alex. No worries. And if you would like to friend me on Facebook, I would welcome that also. Glad you liked the post. :)

  11. David, thanks for your comments (and for your email with the pointer to those previous discussions). I certainly don’t know enough to take a definite side in the debate, but I am curious to learn more.

  12. Just thinking aloud, but both terms sound (and look) more Germanic to me. Like "andward" for "and(ers) + -wärts," and "eckwärts" for "eck(e) + -wärts" using modern German parts of words. Almost like a beginning German speaker (or even an actual German speaker very colloquially) might try to use for concepts of "other-wards or elsewhere" and "corner-wise or diagonally" respectively. Also, for actual related German words, "anderwärts" is a "proper" NHG word meaning roughly "elsewhere," and "heckwärts" is a ship/nautical term meaning "aft." I'm guessing Lewis was using vaguely Germanic-sounding words, i.e., "andwards" and "eckwards" to mean something like "off to the side" or "diagonally" respectively, in relation to the time stream(s). But, just a guess...

  13. Chad, yes, I agree. The words definitely appear Germanic to me as well. Thank you for the additional information from Modern German, which I think helps to firm up the case.

  14. I'm also now reading "The Dark Tower" for the first time. As Lewis uses the terms "eckwards-andwards" in contrast to "backwards-forwards" to describe the diagram appearing on p. 87, I took them to mean "left" and "right", respectively. It seems to me that Lewis would have gone on to introduce two more terms, meaning "up" and "down", as an advancement on the work of the historical character X, whose two-dimentionsal "map of time ... was essentially correct as far as it went".

  15. He might well have done, and I’d say “left, right, up, and down” are reasonable interpretations. Anyway, they capture the intended orthogonality. Lewis meant to describe a set of four (possibly six) mutually perpendicular temporal “directions”, analogous to the spatial directions we all know.