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Posted September 12, 2001
Splintered Light and Sundered Veil
J.R.R. Tolkien claimed that he transcribed, not created, the tales of Middle Earth. He also said that Middle Earth is not pure fantasy in time or space, but depicts our earth and its inhabitants in some remote time. When I was sixteen and had read Tolkien for the first time, I didn't know this. I only knew that I wanted middle earth - its air, its mountains and magic - to be real. I tried once, with my best friend, to pretend we were running from Black Riders as we headed out on an errand one day. I only tried this once, because the pretense failed completely. Many years later I read Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. Then I read his Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning. Soon after, I reread Tolkien, and read The Letters of Tolkien. It was then that I entered middle earth. It was real, and has been ever since. I suspected that Barfield had something to do with my entrance into middle earth. Now I find that another has made a similar connection: Verlyn Flieger. She argues for and documents the connection as she sees it in Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World. Therein she confirms that Tolkien knew what he was up to writing the middle earth history - in particular the accounts gathered in The Silmarillion - and knew it was not sheer fantasy. Flieger argues that these accounts were profoundly influenced by the work of Owen Barfield - in particular his Poetic Diction. Her linguistic claim, that the languages of middle earth develop just as Barfield says our languages did and do, is an ingenious hypothesis, and she demonstrates this. Arguably, on only literary/critical grounds. Conclusively, with biographical notes and her discussions of Tolkien's essays 'On Fairy-Stories' and 'Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.' It is with those that she demonstrates convincingly the connection between Barfield and Tolkien. And that connection is nowhere more beautifully and surely captured than in a biographical note: 'C.S. Lewis's comment that Tolkien `had been inside langugae' was thus no figure of speech, but the literal truth. He had been inside the word, had experienced its power and seen with its perception. Others who knew Tolkien came to much the same conclusion. Simonne d'Ardenne, one of Tolkien's Oxford students and herself a philologist, found antoher way to put it...Mlle. d'Ardenne recalled saying to him once, apropos his work: `You broke the veil, didn't you, and passed through?' and she adds that he `readily admitted' having done so.' [p. 9] Logos - as living Word, in which one may get, may live and move and have one's being - connects Tolkien with Barfield as nothing else will. That, though, means one might need to read Barfield too. Flieger brings Tolkien's Silmarillion to life; she brings Tolkien to life; she points one to both Tolkien's and Barfield's philological and philosophical thought and work. Most of all, she gets one as near to being `inside language' - inside Logos - as one has reason to hope, at least by individual effort alone. In that regard, Splintered Light is worth far more than its price just for the above quoted passage alone.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.