Guest Post: Christmas Gift List #4 — Forgotten Inkling: The Writings and Legacy of Roger Lancelyn Green

roger-lancelyn-green-2A Guest Post from Chris Calderon!

In an appendix to her otherwise excellent The Company They Keep, Diana Glyer provides a list of the members of the literary club known as the Inklings, an informal collection of writers centered around the twin fantasists J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  While Glyer’s appendix is thorough, it is by no means complete.  There is at least one name missing from the roster of men who according to Philip and Carol Zaleski, “altered, in large or small measure, the course of imaginative literature (The Fellowship, 4).” The name belongs to Roger Lancelyn Green.

Roger Green made a decent enough use of his time on earth.  In a life that included friendships with both Tolkien and Lewis, he managed both a family, and a career as a critic and author of children’s books, as well as being a central yet overlooked member of the informal Inkling literary club.  Many of his books for kids are still available, while his criticism has been neglected and allowed to go out of print.  This is a mistake because what scholars have done is to let a valuable resource fall through the cracks.  Because of literary critical neglect there’s a gap in our knowledge about both Lewis and Tolkien, and of the shared literary aesthetic that was central to the lives of all three men.

roger-lancylyn-greenRoger Green’s literary criticism is nothing less than a window into a moment of time long since vanished.  The best term that could describe this period is to call it a “storybook culture”.  It is a span of history stretching from roughly 1881 to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.  That terminus point is important, for one of the unstated premises of all of Green’s work is that until the civilizational crisis brought about by the Great War, there was no perceived animosity between Literature and Myth.  This aesthetic harmony between Literate Culture and Myth is best demonstrated in the wide acceptance of classic children’s storybooks as legitimate art fit for both the high and low of the reading public.

In Green’s work we are shown a time in which authors of adventure novels like Treasure Island or King Solomon’s Mines are not only acclaimed in the popular press, but are also granted a cultural status that used to be reserved for poets like Keats or Shelly.  An author like Henry Rider Haggard could serialize his stories in the most widely circulated pulp magazine of the day at one moment, and then, in the next, find himself hobnobbing among both the London Literati as well as among the higher levels of English politics.

It isn’t perhaps until later reflection that one realizes Green is chronicling the Modernist Britain and Paris of James Joyce and T.S. Eliot before the advent of World War I or the Bloomsbury Group.  It is then the reader may realize, “this is a snapshot of how good things used to be before disillusionment set in”.  What Green is doing now is a vital piece of literary excavation in an attempt the set the record straight about the real value and relation between “Literate” and “Popular” fiction.  He is also, perhaps, providing a subtle hint at where the Inklings may belong in this literary lineage.   For these and other reasons Green’s literary criticism is an invaluable source for understanding the history and inner workings of Mythopoeia.

9-rudWhile this annual Christmas guide can’t hope to fill in that gap, it is hoped that by sharing some the notable works of a forgotten Inkling that some small effort has been done to compensate for decades of critical neglect.  In addition, Green’s work can prove a genuine treasure trove of Inkling lore for those who are eager for more info on their favorite writers.  With that in mind, the following holiday gift suggestions are taken from a lifetime’s passion by one of the most important, yet hidden scholars of Mythopoeia.

The Heart of the Matter: Andrew Lang and Tellers of Tales

At the center of each work of Green’s criticism runs a single thread connecting it all.  It is the concept of Mythopoeia.  It is this same thread which runs like an undergirding pattern throughout the collective literary tapestry of all the major Inklings.

The two immediate sources for gaining an understanding of this particular strain of thought are Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories, and Lewis’s Myth Became Fact.  The sum idea is that the work of creative fiction serves both a literary and a religious function.  It is the claim that literature even has a hidden religious aspect that makes the thought of the Inklings so novel in the post-modern 21st century.  An unspoken assumption in all this might be that fiction in general needs this religious sanction in order to exist, as it cannot create a sense authority on its own.

It is this external Christian sanction that is the critical – aesthetic lens through which Green views all his subjects.  Nowhere is this more evident than in his critical biography of Andrew Lang, and his literary survey Tellers of Tales: Children’s books and their authors from 1800 – 1968.

In Tellers of Tales the Mythopoeic lens of criticism is applied to various writers across a century and a half of time.  Green lays his cards on the table near the very end, in the final chapter of his survey, in words that serve as an aesthetic credo:

“Most stories of adventure have their day and their popularity wanes, leaving only a choice selection to share the second shelf with the best survivors of the holiday tale and the school story.  But the kind of book for which the shelf of honor is reserved when we come finally to judge the relative importance on the volumes in this alcove of the world’s library seems almost always to be the tale of wonder and imagination.  There is a hidden element in these books, and in some of the best of the romantic adventure stories, which accounts for this: but the element is hidden – we may call it ‘the mythopoeic’ or ‘the numinous’ without pinning it down in any precise way – and we seek for it in vain here in this our life which hides so many mysteries.  But sometimes, like reflections in a mirror of things that we cannot see in themselves, we catch a glimpse for a moment of what we seek – only it is always gone before we can give it a name or a shape – and most often we catch at least its echo or its shadow in our hearts as we read those kinds of books which we call poetry, fairy tales, romances, tales of wonder and imagination.

“To find these mysterious qualities on the nursery shelf we must take down books like The Princess and Curdie or The Wind and the Willows, She or The World’s Desire, The Hobbit or The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’; while for the joy of delighted laughter, with the impossible made gaily real and probable – and so, once again, over-leaping the limits of the prosaic world of everyday – after such older volumes as those which contain Alice,…The Enchanted Castle, Just So Stories, we can take down Winnie-the-Pooh or Mary Poppins (Green 269)”.

In addition to the usual list of suspects, Green also bring various other writers into the same fold.  Here, for instance, is part of his evaluation of an author who proved to be one of J.K. Rowling’s primary inspirations:

“It is difficult to describe the excellence of E. Nesbit’s best books.  The only way to appreciate them is to read theme, and, as is the case with all the really great children’s books, they are as enjoyable by the adult as by the child.  They may be ‘escapist’ literature, but the escape is to the healthy stimulation of a game in the fresh air before returning to the stuffy schoolroom of life.  They are irresistible because they seem to be the irresistible outpourings of the author’s mind: often untidy and inarticulate, but always vividly alive and eager, with a joyous enthusiasm that disarms criticism (ibid 214)”.

With Andrew Lang: A Critical Biography, Green adds a missing link to both the history and thought of Mythopoeia.  To some Tolkien fans, Lang’s name may have a vague sort of familiarity.  Tolkien mentions Lang as a precursor in his Fairy Stories essay.  In many ways, the Lang biography can be considered a sort of sequel to the earlier essay.  Green uses the life of his subject to jump back into the themes and ideas that were briefly sketched in by his Middle-Earth predecessor.

At certain points Green’s analysis echoes more than a few sentiments found in Tolkien’s lecture.  For instance, there is the question of the criteria for a genuine Fairy Story in regards to Lang’s Colored Fairy Book Collection:

“The “Fairy Book Series” …contained little besides traditional tales, although these were adapted and re-written to make them suitable for children.  It is actually only the first of the series that contains much besides folktales – and Lang departs further than he ever does in later volumes from any settled scheme.  Thus…there are two from The Arabian Nights, and – strangest choice of all – a condensed version of the first part of Gulliver’s Travels made by May Kendall.  How Lang came to allow this last to be included is inexplicable, for it is quite alien to anything in any of the fairy books, which never again depart from the traditional tales further than Madame d’Aulnoy, Hans Andersen and “The Three Bears (Green 81).”

Compare Lang’s words above with Tolkien’s ambiguity regarding Traveler’s Tales, Dream Narratives, and Beast Fables as worthy of genre inclusion.  The irony is that even Tolkien seemed more than willing to utilize all three elements in his work if the story called for it.  Likewise, Green is often willing to show the same disregard for personal taste in the service of letting the book be the boss, as is shown in his appeal to Kipling and Carroll as mythopoeic writers.  This is perhaps one of the important aspects of Green’s criticism in that he acknowledges a wider, more open playing field for various authors and genres to work in.  In this way, the idea of Mythopoeia can apply to other genres as well.

In addition to all this, Green is able to telegraph his readers that he is working on the same level of esoteric criticism as his friend C.S. Lewis.  In Green’s case, this is done by subtly pointing to Lang’s awareness of the hermetic symbolism that underlies many of the best fairy stories (italics mine):

“…his labours did not end with the demolition of Max Muller, and in his next step another early influence came into play – his devotion to ghost stories and to the magical writings of the old Mages, Cornelius Agrippa, Petrus di Abano, and the like (Green 71)”.

If this method of making an indirect point through clues, or selected word choice sounds frustrating, then all that can be said is that it is a tradition with a long history, and so far, J.K. Rowling is the only writer I know of who has ever practiced it on a deliberate, conscious level.

Finally, Green demonstrates Lang’s clearest relation to the concept of Mythopoeia by showing that Lang’s studies in the history of religion show many affinities with that of both Lewis, Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton:

“Instead of dividing religion geographically and as it were vertically, into Christian, Moslem, Brahmin, Buddhist, and so on, I would divide it psychologically and in some sense horizontally, into the strata of spiritual elements and influences that could sometimes exist in the same country, or even in the same man (web)”.

In much the same way:

“…Lang, after a careful study…ventured upon a…suggestion; that the earliest and natural belief of primitive man was in a single God the Creator, the righteous Maker and Judge of men, and that degradation rather than evolution had followed in the wake of the earliest stages of civilization (ibid 73)”.

What Green and Lang mean by degradation is the perhaps over-harsh word for the gradual development of the classical world mythologies, such as the classical Greek Pantheon and the Norse Sagas of Asgaard.  Their argument is that while all myths are works of fiction, they nonetheless have their origin, and hence their value, in the meeting place between the Divine and human imaginations.

“That is exactly the attitude of most paganism towards God.  He is something assumed and forgotten and remembered by accident; a habit possibly not peculiar to pagans.  Sometimes the higher deity is remembered in the higher moral grades and is a sort of mystery (Chesterton, web)”.

Taken in isolation, these three elements of Lang’s criticism wouldn’t amount to much.  However, once they are put together as part of one big religious and literary – critical aesthetic, then patterns begin to emerge.  Lang is revealed to be working in the same Christian artistic tradition as Tolkien.  He also lays out much of the same criteria Tolkien would discuss years later in his 1939 essay; a work that could be considered as a key to The Lord of the Rings.  The sum total of Green’s biography is that, while he never used quite the same terms as Tolkien did in his scholarly writings, Andrew Lang still comes across as a critic with an understanding of Escape, Consolation, and Recovery; and of the value that literature can have in expressing those very same ideas.

If there’s no other reason for tracking down a copy of Green’s Andrew Lang: A Critical biography, then perhaps the best persuader comes from Green himself, right near the start among the opening lines of acknowledgement (italics, once again, mine):

“The nucleus upon which this book is founded was a Dissertation on Lang’s imaginative writings submitted a few years ago for the Degree of Bachelor of Letters at Oxford; and my gratitude to Professor D. Nichol Smith and Professor J.R.R. Tolkien for their unfailing guidance and encouragement leaves with me a debt that can never be adequately repaid (Green x)”.

A.E.W. Mason

The cultural milieu of Green’s critical timeline is best on display in A.E.W. Mason: The Adventure of a Storyteller.  Through the historical figure of Mason, along with his life and works, Green is able to immerse the reader in this Edwardian-Modernist culture as he charts the course of Mason’s career.  Throughout the book, Mason, like the Inklings, is revealed to be more a man out of time than of it.  All of his life he seems to have clung to the remnants of the chivalric code of honor.  This is something that is on display in his best known work, The Four Feathers, where an upper class officer in the British Army is compelled to prove his bravery to others at any cost.  While the charge of colonialism could be aimed at Mason, such criticism misunderstands the author.  In fact, as Green makes clear, Mason considered himself a liberal in politics.  Such revelations may give one pause to consider whether or not this reflects the thinking of the more famous Oxford circle, particularly in Lewis’ claims of being a Democrat in The Abolition of Man.  Ultimately, Green’s biography is the story of an Arthurian trying to survive an age of Imperialism.

Besides recounting Mason’s life and exploits, what Green is attempting here is a move some might consider daring from a critical perspective.  He is trying to test the concept of Mythopoeia in order to see how many varying types of books in wildly differing genres the idea can hold and still maintain its theoretical consistency.  In doing this, Green often makes a series of deliberate breaks from the criteria established by Tolkien.  The irony is that Green gets away with it, and that the Mythopoeic theory can proves resilient enough to take the strain of various genres.  For instance, while Four Feathers contains no overt fantastic elements, the novel’s setting of 19th century Africa brings the protagonist into contact with the tip of antiquity and perhaps to the very edge of the Transcendent.  In doing so, Mason brings his story to the very edge of myth, one the hallmarks of a good Fairy Story.

Kipling and the Children

If Mason’s Arthurian values run as an undercurrent of Mythopoeic Romanticism in both his life and fiction, then this same strain is expressed in a more searching form in the work of Rudyard Kipling.  In Kipling and the Children, Green sets out to make the case for The Jungle Book author as a writer of what Tolkien called “Fairy Stories”.  In claiming the mantle of Mythopoetic Writer for Kipling, Green makes some rather startling observations.

“…Kipling ventured into ‘the world’s fourth dimension’ and brought back an echo, a reflection from that which cannot be heard or seen – by the ears or, yes, of the body, though we are forever reaching out after it.

“In Kipling’s case this isn’t quite the touch of the numinous which we feel in the stories of George Macdonald or C.S. Lewis – but the Law of the Jungle is as much a part of the ‘Tao’ – the Basic Knowledge of Good and Evil, of Right and Wrong conduct implanted in mankind – as the more consciously recognized duty of Curdie to the King and of the dwellers of Narnia to Aslan… (Green 118 – 19)”.

The Story of Lewis Carroll

Green is also adept at narrating The Story of Lewis Carroll.  As very brief biography of the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Green’s book is concise and to the point while also managing to provide most of the creative background that made up Carroll’s two best known works.

The one potential drawback to Green’s overview concerns this same background material.  The whole point of Green’s book is to show Carroll as a Mythopoeic writer able to stand alongside both Tolkien and Lewis.  In doing so, Green’s judgment acts as a response to a criticism raised by Tolkien regarding the two Alice books as to whether or not “Dream Visions” have any place in a work of Mythopoeia.

If Green meant The Story of Lewis Carroll to be his intellectual defense against Tolkien’s criticism, then it is a question of whether or not he is being deliberately esoteric.  In terms of relating his work to other Mythopoeic authors, Green brings up the important figure of George Macdonald, yet he paints Carroll as “isolated” from outside influences (46).  On the other hand, he notes in passing that John Tenniel recommended Carroll use an illustrator who once worked on an edition of Ruskin’s The King of the Golden River (70).  It could be possible that Green is playing a misdirecting tactic similar to that used by J.K. Rowling, and which may have been used by the rest of the Inklings.  It is also interesting to note that in a footnote of the 1971 Oxford Classics Edition combining both works, Green tells readers to consult Martin Gardner’s footnote contained in the latter’s Annotated Alice (pg. 189) which states that:

“The Tweedle Brothers defend Bishop Berkeley’s view that all material objects, including ourselves, are only “sorts of things” in the mind God (Gardner ibid)”.

Such hints and clues all point to intriguing avenues for plentiful critical thought and development.  It is therefore frustrating that Green is content to leave all his clues as just that, and not provide a full commentary on Carroll’s thinking as an author.  Either way, other critics such as R.B. Shaberman, have long since noted the influence Macdonald may have exorcised on Carroll’s twin masterpieces.  Despite these minor frustrations, Green’s biography is well worth tracking down.

Fifty Years of Peter Pan

In this book, Green raises the Question of Canon.  Another way of saying it is that the heart of this particular book is the question of what counts as a Definitive Text?  Fifty Years of Peter Pan is Green’s book-length, behind-the-scenes chronology of composition for J.M. Barrie’s children’s classic, along with the multiple rewrites that the story went through on its way from stage play to novel.  What may surprise both long-time fans and new readers is just how unfocused the actual “Text” remains.  Green’s chronicle of the genesis of “The Boy who could Fly”, and Barrie’s attempts set down the character’s exploits, are fascinating in that the author was perhaps never able to reach a definitive narrative.  Instead, the reader is left with the impression of a cast of characters and their setting, and yet they are left without anything to do.

I’ve written about issues related to this topic once before.  As of this writing, my earlier opinion still stands.  I still think that the Imagination is capable of creating stories by itself, and it is the job of all artists, regardless of medium, to play a metaphorical game of Go Fish, in the hopes of transcribing the truth of any given work of fiction or art.  What I mean by “transcribing the truth” is that that it is the job of the artist, in terms of pure storytelling, to try and nail down the correct narrative sequence of events for any given story with as much accuracy as possible.  I don’t know if Barrie accomplished that goal as much as he could have.

In her scholar’s intro to The Annotated Peter Pan (xvii), children’s author Jane Yolen lists as many as six variations of the Pan story, including one in which Peter features as just a baby (ibid).  These variations extended across Barrie’s entire career as a writer.  The result is that it was possible for multiple generations of audiences to have grown up with different and separate ideas as to who Peter Pan is, and what his story is supposed to be.  Green gives a nod to this conundrum when he contrasts what might be considered the current standard version of the Pan myth with the one he grew up with:

“Walt Disney’s cartoon film of Peter Pan, the latest American contribution, is certainly the furthest remove from the original conception and, once again, anyone brought up on what we may surely consider the genuine Peter Pan, finds it hard to accept (Green 166)”.

Whether or not anyone agrees with this logic, these criticisms do not detract from either Barrie’s labors, or Green’s chronicle of them.  If anything, it gives the Pan writings a dignity that might not be appreciated in a casual reading.  What Green has done in Fifty Years of Peter Pan is to open a window on the creative process in action.  In doing so, he forces the reader to ask what makes for a good story, and what elements go together to make a story part of the Canon?

Into Other Worlds: Space Flight in Fiction from Lucian to Lewis

On the surface, this book delivers on the promise of its subtitle.  Spanning from Greco-Roman times to the mid-twentieth century, Into Other Worlds takes the reader on a guided tour of man’s interest in, and exploration of Outer Space in the field of literary fiction.  Through this set-up, Green is also able to give his readers an idea of the slow development of the genre now known as Science Fiction.  He does this by examining works from the usual list of suspects (Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells), as well as those who are less well known (Edgar Allan Poe, Cyrano De Bergerac).

If a written history tour was all Green had in mind when he penned this book, then there wouldn’t be much of anything to discuss.  The good news is that Green and his text deserve a lot more credit, for it turns out his critique is much richer on the inside than on the outside.

It helps to unpack a few selections from Green’s book in order to understand the nature and content of the game he is playing here.  The relevant passage reads as follows:

“…the Apocalyptic Journey into Space has a certain connection with the voyages of such adventurers as…Cyrano De Bergerac.  These stem from the Revelation of St. John, who became almost a professional guide to such travelers, though the Patriarch Enoch in a Jewish work of much the same date was led by the Angel Raphael.  Enoch came, on his way through the circle of Heaven, ‘far to the east of the Earth, and I came to the Garden of Righteousness’.

“This is the Earthy Paradise, usually situated at the world’s eastern verge, and tenanted by the Phoenix who sits on his Tree above the Well at the World’s End (Green 23)”.

What Green is doing in these excerpts is an impressive tour-de-force of critical excavation and workmanship.  He is able to take separate yet conjoining elements from several different branches of fiction and non-fiction and demonstrate their relation to one another in just a paragraph or two

In the above passage, by relating the literary concept of the “Journey into Space” with the “Revelation of St. John”, Green is up to two things at once.  On the one hand, he is making the bold claim that modern Science Fiction bears an allegorical relation with the Bible.  At the same time, he is subtly tipping his hat to anyone in the know that his book is working shared territory.

By shared territory I mean that in this book, Green is basically working right alongside Lewis on one of his favorite subjects: Medieval Cosmology.  This another way of saying that fans of Planet Narnia will discover much to enjoy in Green’s text.  Michael Ward’s seminal paradigm shifting tome was among the first to alert readers to the hidden literary/symbolic dimensions in the Narnia Chronicles.  This symbolism is based on the idea of Seven Heavens, a model or conception of the Universe which stretches far back into antiquity.

It is also no mistake that Green begins his study with the Ancient Greek author Lucian and concludes with a study of Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra.  In this way, the books opening and closing chapters are bookended by the literary image of celestial, floating islands in the sky (or Aether if you’re of a medieval turn of mind).

This overarching image is a further clue to Green’s overall strategy.  His goal with Other Worlds is very similar to that of his two friends, Lewis and Owen Barfield.  By starting near the end of Ancient Greece and concluding in his own time, Green is smuggling in a hidden overview of man’s perception of the cosmos as it changes over time.  His book may further be a very subtle and clever critique of how our modern perception has lost something vital in exchanging a Sacramental view of life for one that is mechanical.  In all this, Into Other Worlds presents itself as an esoteric, yet highly rewarding experience.



There is a lot unpack in the criticism of Roger Lancelyn Green.  Reading his biographies is a lot like coming across a series of old, forgotten photo albums and boxed away memory nooks in the attic.  Once you open the lid or cover from just one, you find yourself captured by a flood of memories you didn’t even know existed.  To the newcomer, it really will be an undiscovered country.  The passage and cruel subtractions of time have a paradoxical effect on our relation with the past.  The further away we get from an historical event, the more difficult it becomes to separate fact from fiction.  It is hard to tell the difference between real life and make – believe when the past itself looks like a storybook to modern eyes.  Nonetheless, the people Green talks about were all real, and so was the world they inhabited.

In chronicling the traces and history of Mythopoeia through the interweaving work of several authors within a chosen period of time, he is able to rescue a valuable literary outlook from the rubbish heap of history.  This doesn’t mean Green doesn’t make an occasional misstep of his own.  His single flaw is in paying a kind of lip service to the modern Realist school of Literary Naturalism.  This is the kind aesthetic criteria that gained ground with the Industrial Age.  Its adherents, such as Upton Sinclair and H.L. Menken, insisted that the sole criteria of art lay in capturing an ephemeral “real life” in a work of fiction with as much photographic clarity as possible.

What these writers seem to forget is that all fiction, by its nature, depends on “artifice”.  “Exaggeration,” as Chesterton observed, “is the definition of Art.” The truth is that fiction, by its nature, can have only a thematic, not realistic, relation reality.  The good news is that Green is much too unrealistic in his thinking to ever be enticed to the siren song of Naturalism.  With his acknowledgement of “indescribable qualities” in art, Green places himself squarely in the camp of the Romantics as they were known and operated around the tables of the Eagle and Child, or in the lodgings of Oxford.

In the end, it is the presentation of this forgotten country, its laws and customs, and the people who lived there that make the criticism of Roger Lancelyn Green worth hunting down.  His work is still out there, though it’s hard to find and can only be got through the second hand arm on most bookselling outlets.  Still, the effort is worth it for the treasures lying in wait.  This holiday season, if you are a die-hard fan of either Tolkien or Lewis, you would be doing them both an honor if you tried to find your own copy of any of the priceless gems listed above.  It will be well worth your time to discover the history and inner working of the Mythopoeic art.


  1. Brian Basore says

    This is wonderful! I’ve posted notice of it at the Jabberwocky area of the forum at Lenny’s Alice-in-Wonderland site.

  2. This is a very stimulating piece – I intend to link to it from my Albion Awakening blog in the next couple of days – we have featured a piece on RL Green recently.

    Minor quibble: RLG was one of Lewis’s closest friends for the last decade of his life, was an undergraduate taught by Lewis and a postgraduate supervised by Tolkien – and was certainly part of Lewis’s circle — but I would *not* describe him as an Inkling; since he did not attend the evening meetings (which had apparently finished by 1950), and RLG is not featured as a member in Humphrey Carpenter’s, Diana Pavlac Glyer’s, or the Zaleski’s Inkling group biographies. One of the Sons of The Inklings, perhaps.

  3. Bruce,

    Wow, thanks for the shout out. I just thought this was a lot of neat info to share (also thanks are due to Brian Basore).

    In writing this whole thing I was going by a best guess estimate based on textual inference more than anything else. The dedication to Tolkien in the preface of the “Lang” bio is dated “2nd November, 1945”. Also, in my copy of “Tellers of Tales”, Green states:

    “So “Tellers of Tales”, my first real book to be published…appeared at the beginning of 1946 (Green 8 – 9)”.

    Also, Green first appears in Lewis’s correspondence on Dec. 28th, 1938, where they discussed David Lindsey’s “Voyage to Arcturus” and Olaf Stapledon (see “Collected Letters Vol. 2, pg. 236). According to Walter Hooper, at the time “Greed was reading English Literature and had been attending Lewis’s “Prolegomena” lectures. He had written to thank Lewis for “Out of the Silent Planet (Hooper ed., Lewis ibid)”.

    To m thinking, those dates are important as they establish whether Green was known to the Inklings before or after the end of the group’s Glory Period in 45 with the passing of Charles Williams.

    My thinking, based on Greens own words, was that he must have had some kind of extensive conversation with both Lewis and Tolkien in order to write even half of what he did. If Green had completed his doctoral thesis (the Lang Bio) in December of 45, and published his first book in 46, then there is at least a window of time open when Green could have met Lewis, possibly followed by Tolkien, then been introduced to the group and survived the collective vetting process, and carried on the discussions from there.

    Granted, this is all theoretical, but it is at least one possibility. The problem is that aside from his own bibliography and correspondence, Green has left behind nothing like an official bio or anything, so its all a guessing game as far as scholarship is concerned (bummer!).

    Still, thanks for the appreciation. One of the things Green has been retroactively helpful at was in establishing an idea of how the Inklings “might” he seen themselves and their work in relation to a larger cultural tradition. In fact, I think Green more or less validates a statement made by Rayner Unwin about Tolkien that “He was essentially a Victorian”.

    Thanks to Green, it may now be more easy to make the case that the Inklings were extending the Tradition of Victorian Fantastic Writing. I’ve only just started, but a good secondary source might be Stephen Prickett’s “Victorian Fantasy”, in case anyone else wanted to pick up this particular thread.

    The Unwin quote comes from a documentary called “Secrets of Middle – Earth: Inside Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. Copies of it can be found here:

    Again, can’t say enough thanks for the shout-out.

  4. John Fitzgerald says

    Really excellent, Chris. Great work. Well done.

  5. John F.


  6. Chris, did I miss it, or does your piece not mention the C. S. Lewis biography by Green and Walter Hooper? That was a treat to read when it first came out in the mid-1970s.
    With regard to the 1881-1914 period you mention, might I suggest it could be slightly narrowed to identify the 25 years, 1887-1912, of the Golden Age of Modern Fantasy (“fantasy” here including what eventually became distinguished as “fantasy,” “science fiction,” and “dark fantasy” or “horror”)? This quarter-century includes an enormous amount of the fiction and poetry that the young C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien read and loved. It’s bounded by Haggard’s She (1887) and Doyle’s Lost World (1912). It includes such fantasy as the prose romances of Morris (The Well at the World’s End etc.), MacDonald’s Princess and Curdie and Lilith, Nesbit’s Five Children and It, and early Dunsany; such science fiction as Wells’s Time Machine, War of the Worlds, etc., and Hodgson’s House on the Borderland; and such dark fantasy as Stoker’s Dracula, Blackwood’s “The Willows,” Chesterton’s Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, and the early antiquarian ghost stories of M. R. James. I’ve written at some length about this period in a piece for Fadeaway #50, available online here:
    I’ve also written about imaginative work from this period in an entry on 19th- and 20th-century literary influences on Tolkien for the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia edited by Michael Drout and in some entries in an ongoing series called “Jack and the Bookshelf” for CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society, where also an article on Lewis and Weird Fantasy appeared some years ago.
    These pieces could be considered extensions or appendices of Green’s Tellers of Tales. I hope it’s not unseemly for me to mention my own work; probably some readers who like Green’s excursions into the bibliography of the Pre-Inklings Fantastic would enjoy them.
    Dale Nelson
    Mayville, ND

  7. Prof. Nelson,

    Sorry for the late reply (for which I blame both work and the holidays).

    Thank you for that informative article. One of the genuine services it does is to connect the dots between all the major writers of the period (i.e. Kipling, Haggard, Nesbit, etc). This can be helpful as it might be a pointer to the possibility of a shared tradition between disparate artists.

    A topic I’ve been interested in for a while is whether or not to trace out a history Mythopoeia’s literary pedigree. Between your essay and the works of Prickett, Green, and a fourth author, Stanton Linden, it might be possible for a much clearer timeline to come into focus.

    I’m also glad I’m not the only one who thinks Tolkien was inspired by Lovecraft. For a good modern novel written in the Jamesian tradition of horror, check out “Ghost Story” by Peter Straub. For a good mash-up of James, Tolkien, and Blake, check out “The Talisman” by the same author.

    Finally, is there anyone left out there who can even remember the Ballantine Fantasy Series? How about Arkham House?

  8. Dale Nelson says

    Chris, Lovecraft, Lewis, and Tolkien were influenced by some of the same authors. I don’t think there’s any indication that Lewis or Tolkien influenced HPL or that he influenced them. The closest I have seen any scholar come to suggesting such a possibility is that John Rateliff thinks Charles Williams’s conception of the horrible antipodean realm of P’u-Lu (the House of the Octopus) might owe something to Lovecraft and Cthulhu. So far as I remember offhand, Mr. Rateliff has only mentioned the idea (in his Sacnoth’s Scriptorium blog) and hasn’t developed it in an article yet. I really doubt it, myself.

    But one could chart some overlap between books mentioned in Lewis’s remarks on sf, fantasy, and weird fiction (as we call them now) in his letters and essays, and Tolkien’s scattered remarks on things he had read (on the one hand) and Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature” survey (on the other hand).

    You mention the Ballantine Fantasy Series. In my “Jack and the Bookshelf” column on Pratt and de Camp’s Land of Unreason (which was in Lewis’s library), I took occasion to correlate titles in the series with books catalogued in Lewis’s library after his death. There was a lot of overlap. It should be noted that some of those books in Lewis’s collection were probably books that Joy Davidman Lewis brought into the house. She was on the edges of Fletcher Pratt’s group before moving to England. I figure Joy was responsible for Lewis’s library including a copy of Robert Bloch’s The Opener of the Way. Yes, there was at least one Arkham House book at the Kilns, it appears (unless Opener was also published by someone else by 1969 when the catalog was made). Did Lewis ever look into it? There’s no evidence of that. I should say also that some of the books in the catalog MIGHT have been Warren’s books originally.

    For the New York C. S. Lewis Society I have written two pieces on Lewis and American pulp sf. I am virtually certain of an influence of Donald Wandrei’s “Colossus” on Lewis’s The Great Divorce. (Wandrei, of course, was co-founder of Arkham House and was a member of the Lovecraft circle.) CSL might also have been influenced by stories written by Edmond Hamilton and Jack Williamson. American pulp magazines were, without question, available in England during the relevant time. As for things by authors such as Dunsany, Hodgson, Blackwood, Haggard, et al. — it seems there’s likely to have been influenced both on REH, CAS, and HPL, and on CSL. In my article for the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia I argue for influence on Tokien exerted by Haggard especially, H. G. Wells, John Buchan, etc.

    Please check my publications list on my faculty page if interested — Dale Nelson at Mayville State University.

    Incidentally, while I don’t believe Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard were aware of any of the Inklings, Clark Ashton Smith did know of Tolkien’s Middle-earth fantasy by 1960 or so. I don’t have details right at hand.

    In this inquiry it is important to assert as fact no more than what one is able to prove, and to label reasonable speculations as such, and to beware of letting wishes “become” facts!

    Dale Nelson

  9. Here’s the paragraph (from my “Jack and the Bookshelf” piece for the New York C. S. Lewis Society, on Pratt and de camp’s Land of Unreason) on the overlap between books in CSL’s library as catalogued in 1969, and the Ballantine Fantasy Series:

    Land of Unreason is one of a bunch of books Lewis owned that were to be reprinted in 1969-1974, when Tolkien’s American paperback publisher, Ballantine, cast about for additional material for the fantasy market. Lewis’s library and the approximately 60 titles of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, edited by Lin Carter, both include William Beckford’s Vathek, five James Branch Cabell books, Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, F. Marion Crawford’s Khaled, Roger Lancelyn Green’s From the World’s End (the Ballantine edition was called Double Phoenix and included a work by another author), Rider Haggard and Andrew Lang’s The World’s Desire, Haggard’s The People of the Mist, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land (two volumes as printed in the Ballantine series), George MacDonald’s Phantastes and Lilith (also some shorter MacDonald fantasies, gathered by Lin Carter for a book called Evenor), George Meredith’s The Shaving of Shagpat, Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist, and William Morris’s The Water of the Wondrous Isles and The Wood Beyond the World. (Interestingly, Morris’s The Well at the World’s End, praised by Lewis, was not in the 1969 catalogue of his library. Perhaps he owned a copy that was later acquired by someone as a keepsake. The Well was reprinted by Ballantine in two volumes.) Also, the Lewis library included eleven titles by Lord Dunsany, an author mined for six Adult Fantasy releases. Richard Hodgens, a member of the New York C. S. Lewis Society, translated a portion of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (“Vol. 1: The Ring of Angelica”), the whole of which Lewis read in the original Italian. The Lewis book collection also included fantasy by Mervyn Peake, E. R. Eddison, and David Lindsay that Ballantine reprinted just before the launching of the Adult Fantasy series proper. Lin Carter would have been impressed by Lewis’s collection. Most of the material reprinted in Carter’s series that Lewis did not own belonged to the American Weird Tales magazine tradition (e.g. four volumes of stories by Clark Ashton Smith) or had never been published before (e.g. Sanders Anne Laubenthal’s somewhat Charles Williams-y Excalibur or Joy Chant’s somewhat Lewisian-Tolkienian Red Moon and Black Mountain).

    —–Again: I suspect that some of the books in Lewis’s posthumously-catalogued library had belonged to Joy Davidman Gresham before her marriage to Lewis. He might or might not have read them. I am doubtful about Lewis reading Cabell, for example.

  10. Ah! I’d forgotten this. It seems Lovecraft had read Charles Williams.

    But I’m not, now, finding documentation for Rateliff suggesting that Williams had read Lovecraft! I know I’ve seen it, though.

  11. Here’s a discussion of C. S. Lewis’s enjoyment of American pulp science fiction:

    Dale Nelson

  12. This may also be of interest:

    Dale Nelson

  13. Here’s one more link dealing with CSL and science fiction.

    All these links etc. do seem to me to relate to the kind of thing that Roger Lancelyn Green, the original subject of this entry, was interested in.

  14. Prof. Nelson,

    Thank you for the links. It’s encouraging to know some still remember Anthony Boucher. I’ll have to track down a copy of that Jack Williamson story, and I wonder what an author like Ben Jonson would make of the Ed Hamilton short.

    In the final chapter of “Into Other Worlds”, Green references Lewis’s “On Stories” were David Lindsey’s “Voyage to Arcturus” is likened to Kafka, and Green in turn connects Lewis with both Lindsey and E.R. Eddison as writers working in the shared trope of the “Dream “Vision” (Green 178 – 184).

    Right now, the best resource for undigging Lewis’s thought is a Wheaton College list of items from CSL’s bookshelf.

    The real value come from the fact that they list which books Lewis not only underlined, but also annotated. I’d argue that those books that are annotated and underlined might be important for gauging the contours of CS’s work.

    I also found an article by Amy H. Sturgis discussing both Tolkien and Lovecraft:

    Finally, to answer your original question, the reason I didn’t list Green’s “Lewis” bio is convoluted, yet explanatory. My initial thought was that Green’s book might work as an “introductory text”, yet I made the mistake of thinking there was nothing very “in-depth” about it. It took wanting to see if that same literary pedigree for Mythopoeia could be established historically that eventually sent me back to Green when I found out about the rest of his non-fiction bibliography.

    My thinking was that I could take for granted that most die-hard fans had already read Green’s bio of CSL. Perhaps it was a mistake, yet at the same time this could be a list that appeals to the more dedicated side of the base, as well as scholars. I don’t know if that should prove true at all. However, it explains that I was counting on pre-familiarity from the fans on this one.

    One thing is for certain, Green single-handedly made me sit up and take notice, and now I am diving back into the Lewis bio once more. This time I’m wondering what this or that mention of say, J.M. Barrie could mean and such like that.

    Hope some of this was helpful.

  15. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Eric Rauscher has an interesting speculative article on Lovecraft and Williams in the Williams Society Quarterly – I think in one of the issues after the latest of those in the Archive on the Society’s website, alas: my own archiving (alas, again) is too messy for me immediately to say which.

    I wonder where The Strand Magazine may come into this – Mark read Sherlock Holmes in The Strand in That Hideous Strength (did young Lewis, as well?), but we don’t know whether Williams read Nesbit’s The Amulet in The Strand or after it appeared as a book, but read it he did, as he quotes it in his early Arthurian Commonplace Book (my edition of which I apologize for still not having published!). But The Strand went interestingly on – lately getting better acquainted with Agatha Christie, I see she published in it, as did Elizabeth Goudge – an Inklings lover who can be see as continuing the Mythopoeic tradition in various ways.

    Henry Treece, C.S.Lewis and Beatrix Potter (Bodley Head Ltd 1969) by Green, Margery Fisher, and Marcus Crouch, is a book I would love to read someday!

    Do ‘we’ know where Green’s papers are, or whether Green family members – such as the late Richard Lancelyn Green, or Cilla West, or Scirard Roger Lancelyn Green – have written one thing or another about him?

  16. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    If you’ll excuse a bold tangent, I’ve just read the Dutch original of what Johan Huizinga’s son published in translation as In the Shadow of Tomorrow: A Diagnosis of the Spiritual Distemper of Our Time (London & Toronto: Heinemann, 1936) and am a bit over half-way through Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (1938) in Dutch and wonder whether the Inklings read the former, or other works of his (in, say, German, or French?), for he seems astonishingly Inklings-compatible and -complementary! Homo Ludens appeared in French translation in 1938 and in Switzerland in German in 1944 (though not in English till 1949), and someone has a copy of the first English ed. online (see its Wikipedia article’s link), if you want to see what I mean (try, for instance, chapter seven).

  17. D.L. Dodds,

    It’s funny but it wasn’t until after I’d finished the above paper that it actually occurred to me that I know just about nothing on Green aside from his interactions with Tolkien and Lewis.

    The most amount of info on Green and his life and career seems to be in Vol. 3 of Lewis’s “Collected Letters” where Walter Hooper provides a lot of background detail.

    I’m also familiar with the work of Marcus Crouch, although I think he gives Lewis the short shrift in “The Nesbit Tradition”. His other major flaw dovetails with the problem “Naturalism” in literary criticism as I mentioned above. Still, he is worth a look for a lot of helpful background info, as both Lewis and Tolkien crop up in his works, and Green cites him as an authority in “Tellers of Tales”.

    I didn’t know Nesbit wrote that book for the Strand! One of the great things is how these writers all seem to interconnect.

    One last thing, if you go to the Internet Archive database, Anthony Boucher’s work is preserved in the form of an old time radio show, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. They are surprisingly literate and well done. I think Doyle would have been proud.

  18. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Dear ChrisC,

    Many thanks – I had no sense of Marcus Crouch, even as a ‘name to know’!

    I heard a fascinating talk on Anthony Boucher by Joe R. Christopher at Mythcon, once – but don’t know what he may have published on him…

    We got a boxed set of those Boucher Holmes stories on CD at Half-Price Books, once – I had never heard of such radio plays till we bumped into it – and I don’t know if it’s complete, so I’ll go a-looking in the Internet Archive (we’ve liked to listen to the holiday-linked ones annually as the days come round: I agree as to their quality!). What a world of very interesting old radio drama (etc.) YouTube and Internet Archive have brought – and continue to bring – me to! Internet Archive also has a lot of The Strand scanned (though not as late as Christie & Goudge vintage, alas, that I’ve discovered), and even indexed – however, some of the copies they scanned seem to have lots clipped out of them (a bane of our existence, when I used to work in the History and Literature Department of a public library)!

    By the way, en route to looking something else up in John Garth’s Tolkien at Exeter College a few minutes ago, I re-encountered: “The first topic on record [for the Apolausticks, founded by Tolkien] was Lewis Carroll, whose ‘Alice’ and ‘Sylvie and Bruno’ books had pioneered the Oxford tradition of the fantastic.”

    Last by certainly not least, my belated explicit thanks for this essay and all its insights and food for thought!

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