When I was sixteen – way way back when local libraries were tiny and the only way to get there was to walk – one evening I arrived at the Reservoir library soon before closing time. I was anxious, and quickly found the map section. I’m talking about large maps: 1 m x 1 m. I had a copy of Middle-Earth implanted in my mind and I went searching through the map outlines of northern Europe. I was looking for clues, clues as to what might have motivated aspects of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.
I found … nothing. Except somehow in a related search that night I read mention of the Kalevala, ancient northern European legends that were somehow linked to Tolkien’s research.
I had already read all of CS Lewis’s fiction books at this time. I knew he had been a friend of Tolkien, that they both had a Christian background, and that along with Charles Williams and many others they had been members of the same literary group, the Inklings.
But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to know more. The many stories of both of them came alive to me and I couldn’t help but wonder what inspired the places they wrote about. (And don’t worry; I did have that nagging nuisance voice in my mind suggesting to me that it was all just fiction.)
Have you read CS Lewis? The six Narnia books including The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. And his SF Trilogy: Voyage to Venus, Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength (which brought King Arthur into the picture). I read his Till We Have Faces and all of his published short stories, as well as much of his non-fiction (The Problem of Pain for example). These books inspired me, a definite influence on my life, my reading and my writing.
As the years passed I read Tolkien. I lined up outside a book shop in the mid-1970s for one of the first published copies of The Silmarillion, the sequel to The Lord of the Rings. I learned to write in the runes detailed in The Hobbit, and I read that most incredible book that inspired me more than I could ever express – The Tolkien Reader.
A few more years passed, I married, and I continued my quest for the influences upon the life and writings of both Tolkien and Lewis.
My Adventurous Quest.
I had started when I was a teenager, then finally I neared the end of all the biographies written about either of them. Then I found it – first one, then the other, were quoted as mentioning the most significant influence on their writing was Phantastes by George Macdonald.
They both referred to the same book! Incredible. And I had read that book and it was one of the three or four most influential books in my life to date. You just have to read Phantastes. It is the definitive fairytale. When I read it, it was like I lived it. I still use ‘scenes’ from that book in my meditations.
So I read more of Macdonald works, and I read everything I could about him. Meanwhile, in my twenties I got hold of another book. This other book came to me by the most exceptional circumstances with an ancient copy of HG Wells’ The Dream. The book, The Magic Ring by Baron De La Motte-Fouque, was also an incredible find. Whether it was mostly fact or fiction I didn’t know, but everything I did manage to research from that book turned out to be true, so I wondered if the rest was also.
Then years later I read something about the number one influence in George Macdonald’s writings – and it was The Magic Ring.
So the trail that I found begins with The Magic Ring, moves to Phantastes, then to the writings of Tolkien and Lewis … then to me … and now to you.
So who got to Lewis and Tolkien – I will blame the Baron. But of course all this raises a question: what were the influences on the writings of Baron De La Motte-Fouque?