Wednesday, April 8, 2015

More on Tolkien and the Nobel Prize

It’s old news now that Tolkien was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature by C.S. Lewis in 1961. But I was doing a little poking around related to the news stories of 2012, when I came across something I didn’t expect. A couple of things, actually.

First, C.S. Lewis made another nomination a year later. In 1962, he nominated Robert Frost. Little did he know that Frost had been nominated in 1961, the same year as Tolkien, and that the Nobel committee had ruled him out because of his advanced age. He was 86 at the time. According to the Nobel nomination database, these are the only two nominations Lewis made. He died, of course, a year after nominating Frost.

And there’s something even more interesting. Among the other nominees competing with Tolkien in 1961 was E.M. Forster, who, like Frost, was ruled out because of his age. Well, Forster had been nominated many times before. Although he never won the Prize, he’d been nominated in thirteen different years over a twenty-year period — 1945–46, 1950, 1952–57, 1960–61, 1963–64. Here’s the interesting thing. In one of those years, 1954, Forster was nominated by two nominators, two Oxford dons, and in fact, two Inklings — Lord David Cecil and J.R.R. Tolkien! These were the sole nominations made by either man, again according to the Nobel nomination archive. In the event, the nomination went to another E.M. — Ernest Miller Hemingway. And it’s hardly a side note that this was the same year The Lord of the Rings finally arrived!

I can’t recall ever seeing this talked about before. Has anyone else? It’s news to me that Tolkien ever nominated anyone for the Nobel Prize.

Also, in case you’re interested in more than highlights, in Tolkien’s own year of nomination, 1961, 93 nominations were made for 55 authors. These included Frost and Forester and few others mentioned in the press a couple years ago, but the complete list of nominated authors follows. Several are connected to Tolkien in smalls ways — e.g., W.H. Auden, Edmund Wilson, Robert Graves — and a number of these authors went on to win the Prize eventually. Tolkien was competing with some excellent authors here, along with a fair few who have disappeared into the nooks and crannies of history.

Ivo Andrić
Jean Anouilh
W.H. Auden
Gaston Bachelard
Simone de Beauvoir
Karen Blixen
Heinrich Böll
Maurice Bowra
Georges Duhamel
Lawrence Durrell
Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Johan Falkberget
E.M. Forster
Gertrud von le Fort
Robert Frost
Romulo Gallegos
Armand Godoy
Julien Gracq
Robert Graves
Graham Greene
Gunnar Gunnarsson
L. Hartley
Adrianus Roland Holst
Taha Hussein
Aldous Huxley
Pierre-Jean Jouve
Ernst Jünger
Yasunari Kawabata
Miroslav Krleza
André Malraux
William Somerset Maugham
Eugenio Montale
Alberto Moravia
Giulia Scappino Mureno
Pablo Neruda
Junzaburo Nishiwaki
Sean O’Casey
Ramón Menéndez Pidal
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Cora Sandel
Aksel Sandemose
Jean-Paul Sartre
Giorgos Seferis
Ignazio Silone
Georges Simenon
Charles Percy Snow
Michail Solochov
John Steinbeck
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
Junichiro Tanizaki
Miguel Torga
Tarjei Vesaas
Simon Vestdijk
Arthur David Waley
Edmund Wilson


  1. It's fascinating to see that Tolkien backed Forster. They have such different modes of writing. But in some ways – awareness of environmental destruction, for example – there are some surprising crossovers. Mark Atherton's book “There and Back Again: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Origins of The Hobbit” observes another: in “Howard's End” (1911), Forster (or Margaret Schlegel, the heroine) wonders:

    “Why has not England a great mythology? Our folklore has never advanced beyond daintiness, and the greater melodies about our country-side have all issued through the pipes of Greece. Deep and true as the native imagination can be, it seems to have failed here. It has stopped with the witches and the fairies. It cannot vivify one fraction of a summer field, or give names to half a dozen stars. England still waits for the supreme moment of her literature--for the great poet who shall voice her, or, better still, for the thousand little poets whose voices shall pass into our common talk.”

    I pointed this out in a letter to “Amon” when I was about 18 and “Howards End” for A-level English. I was convinced at the time that Tolkien must have read Forster's book before coming up with his idea for a “mythology for England”. These days I would want much more evidence before drawing any such conclusion. Your new discovery demonstrates at least that the question of Forster's possible influence is worth revisiting.

    John Garth

  2. Verlyn Flieger also connected Forster's "great mythology" quotation to Tolkien in one of her books, but I can't remember whether it was Splintered Light or one of her later works.

    Forster and Tolkien both received the Benson Medal from the Royal Society of Literature: Forster in 1937 and Tolkien in 1966.

    Besides those you've already mentioned, three other Tolkien connections come to mind from the list above:

    (1) from Renée Vink's contribution to the Tolkien 2005 conference proceedings, I learned that Tolkien agreed with something Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her 1964 memoir, Une morte douce, although he may have known the quote only from a review he'd read. Vink nicely compares the "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" to Beauvoir's novel All Men Are Mortal.

    (2) As noted somewhere in the online corrigenda of Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull and later in a Mallorn article by Charles Noad, Maurice Bowra wrote against Tolkien being named a Companion of Honour. A few lines online of Bowra's poem "The Deserted Warden" makes me wonder if it could be fruitfully compared to Tolkien's "The Mewlips"

    (3) A mention in Tolkien's letters of "Joad" was once read by the volume's indexers, Hammond and Scull, as a reference to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, but as shown in their corrigenda, they have decided that this was instead a reference to the popularizing philosopher, C.E.M. Joad.