Wednesday, November 5, 2014

C.S. Lewis and the Inklings: Faith, Imagination, and Modern Technology

With the ink almost dry, the time has come to share the news of a new collection on the Inklings that I co-edited with my colleagues Salwa Khoddam of the Oklahoma City University and Mark Hall of Oral Roberts University. The new volume, C.S. Lewis and the Inklings: Faith, Imagination, and Modern Technology, is the third in a series of collections to come out of the conferences of the C.S. Lewis and Inklings Society, which I have attended seven times now. The theme of the 16th annual conference in 2013, “Fairytales in the Age of iPads: Inklings, Imagination, and Technology”, provided a large part of the impetus for this collection, and the new book features six essays on this theme. Faith and imagination, of course, tend to be reliably perennial subjects at this conference.

The two previous collections in this series are Truths Breathed through Silver: The Inklings’ Moral and Mythopoeic Legacy, edited by Jonathan Himes, with Joe R. Christopher and Salwa Khoddam (2008); and C.S. Lewis and the Inklings: Discovering Hidden Truth, edited by Salwa Khoddam and Mark R. Hall, with Jason Fisher (2012). I contributed to both of these volumes, and I assisted with the editing of the second and also designed its cover. I took a seat at the table of editors this time around, also contributed a chapter, and again did all the formatting and designed the cover (which you can see above right).

For those who may be interested, I’m happy to share the table of contents here, omitting the usual front and back matter. Three of the chapters focus on J.R.R. Tolkien, nine on C.S. Lewis, three on George MacDonald, and one on Dorothy Sayers. These last two, as I’m sure most of you know, aren’t Inklings per se, but MacDonald has been called an imaginative forebear of the Inklings, and Sayers was on the fringe of the group. We’re hoping the book will be available for purchase by December, and I’ll post again when that happens.

In the meantime, here’s what you can look forward to:
Part I. Faith—C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis’s and Karl Barth’s Conversions: Reason and Imagination, a Realisation—fides quaerens intellectum
Paul H. Brazier

C.S. Lewis and Theosis: Why Christians Are Meant to Become Icons of God
Ralph C. Wood

“Triad within Triad”: The Tripartite Soul as a Structural Design in C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy
Hayden Head

Part II. Imagination—C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald and J.R.R. Tolkien

Entering Faerie-Land: Reading the Narnian Chronicles for Magic and Meaning
Peter J. Schakel

To Risk Being Taken In: C.S. Lewis on Self-Transcendence
Aaron Cassidy

C.S. Lewis’s Problem with “The Franklin’s Tale”: An Essay Written in the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Year of The Allegory of Love
Joe R. Christopher

Redeeming the Narrator in George MacDonald’s Lilith
Jonathan B. Himes

Reflections in the Mirror—Anodos and His Shadow, Frodo and Gollum: The Doppelganger as a Literary Motif in George MacDonald’s Phantastes and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
Mark R. Hall

The Erlking Rides in Middle-earth: Tradition, Crux, and Adaptation in Goethe and Tolkien
Jason Fisher

Part III. Modern Technology—C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien

Looking into the “Enchanted Glass”: C.S. Lewis and Francis Bacon on Methods of Perception and the Purpose of the “New Science”
Salwa Khoddam

The Abolition and the Preservation of Man: C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens, and Wendell Berry on Education
David Rozema

Medieval Memento Mori and Modern Machine in Dorothy L. Sayers’s The Nine Tailors
Denise Galloway Crews

Ecology in the Works of George MacDonald: Nature as a Revelation of God and His Imagination
David L. Neuhouser and Mark R. Hall

Whiner or Warrior? Susan Pevensie’s Role in the Novel and Film Versions of The Chronicles of Narnia
Eleanor Hersey Nickel

The Palantíri Stones in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as Sauron’s Social Media: How to Avoid Getting Poked by the Dark Lord
Phillip Fitzsimmons

Monday, November 3, 2014

Jonah and the Colocynth

After more than five years of (recent) anticipation, which might easily have stretched on indefinitely, Tolkien’s translation of Jonah has arrived! You can read my previous posts on the subject, of which I found there were a surprising number, by following this link.

Tolkien’s translation appears in the new issue of the Journal of Inklings Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2 (October 2014). It is short — naturally, since Jonah itself is one of the shortest books in the Bible — spanning just four pages (5–9). But even so short a translation is valuable new primary material for Tolkien studies. The translation is followed by Brendan N. Wolfe’s essay, “Tolkien’s Jonah”, which is also full of interesting material, including liberal quotation from Fr Alexander Jones’s letters to Tolkien as well as Tolkien’s draft opening to the book of Isaiah! Just to give you a taste, but without stealing all the journal’s thunder: “Heavens hearken, earth give ear, for Jahveh speaks […]” [1] It reads almost like a piece of Beowulf.

Tolkien’s Jonah is a very interesting piece of work and will take time to explore thoroughly. But one small thing in particular really caught my attention while reading it.

Here is the King James Version of Jonah 4:6: “And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.” The English Standard version also uses “gourd”. The Common English Bible calls it a “shrub”, the Complete Jewish Bible “a castor-bean plant”, the Contemporary English Version “a vine”, the Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition “an ivy”, the International Standard Version “a vine plant”, the New American Standard Bible “a plant”, the New International Version “a leafy plant”, the New Revised Standard Version “a bush”, and so on. That pretty much covers all the variations I’ve seen in English language Bibles. So what does Tolkien say?

If you’ve read Jonah in the Jerusalem Bible, you’ve seen “castor oil plant”, but that’s not what Tolkien originally wrote; that was the work of the reviser. And that proves the importance of seeing Tolkien’s original translation. He did consider the castor plant. According to Wolfe, Tolkien even “cop[ied] out the entry for ‘castor’ in the OED, exchang[ed] notes with Jones on the subject, and ultimately opt[ed] for ‘colocynth’.” Colocynth? I can’t recollect ever having seen this word before. Here is Tolkien’s translation of the verse in question: “Then Yahweh God appointed a colocynth to grow up over Jonah, so that it might cast a shade upon his head and relieve his discomfort; and Jonah had great delight in the colocynth.” Now that’s interesting!

The original Hebrew here is קִיקָי֞וֹן [qî·qā·yō·wn], and apparently no one is quite sure what kind of plant this is. It’s a hapax legomenon in Scripture [2], and no further explanation of it is ever given. It’s quite singular in my experience that Tolkien chose this word. Colocynth (I have learned) derives from Ancient Greek κολοκυνθίς “wild gourd”, and it is known more commonly as the bitter apple, bitter cucumber, desert gourd, vine of Sodom, etc. It’s native to the regions of the Biblical world, and it looks like a tiny watermelon (see the photo above).

The reviser evidently didn’t like Tolkien’s theory. This may have been Alan Neame, who was engaged to edit and harmonize the translations of the books of the Old Testament for the Jerusalem Bible, or it may have been someone else involved. This person changed “colocynth” to “castor oil plant”, but how interesting is Tolkien’s translation! And so typical of Tolkien to expend so much thought on a single word!

[1] Quoted in Wolfe, Brendan N. “Tolkien’s Jonah.” Journal of Inklings Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2 (October 2014): 11–26, p. 19. Wolfe is quoting with permission from Tolkien’s unpublished draft of the first chapter of Isaiah, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Tolkien A37/1). Wolfe quotes a little less than fifty words, meaning a sizeable chunk of primary work remains unpublished.

[2] See this blog post for some further commentary on the Hebrew word.