Astonishing connections in Foster's "The Return of Nature"

Louis Proyect

Others sitting around the Magdalen dinner table and connected, at least indirectly, to these discussions were the literary Romanticists Clive Staples Lewis and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Lewis was an Oxford tutor who converted to theism and then Christianity in 1929-31. In the late 1930s, '40s, and '50s he was to write The Screwtape Letters, the "Narnia" series, and the famous Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). J. R. R. Tolkien was an Oxford philologist, professor of Anglo-Saxon, and later author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien had been directly inspired by Morris's epic poem from the Icelandic Sagas, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs, and by Morris's historical fantasies, The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains, based on Germanic prehistory. These works by Morris played a considerable role in inspiring Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Morris wrote his historical romances as a socialist attempting to explore the historical-aesthetical roots that would inspire a revolt against the capitalist society of his day. Tolkien, from a conservative Romantic perspective, was also rebelling against capitalist modernity and technology "It may seem odd," Meredith Veldman has written, "that Tories such as Lewis and Tolkien should find Morris, the revolutionary Marxist, so appealing, but the common quest for community overcame these political barriers and drew Lewis and Tolkien to Morris." Both Morris and Tolkien drew heavily on ecological themes. Tolkien was quite explicit about the nature-loving character of his work, telling the Daily Telegraph in 1972, "In all my work I take the part of trees against their enemies. Lothlorien is beautiful because the trees were loved." With respect to England of the 1970s, he wrote: "The savage sound of the electric saw is never silent wherever trees are still found growing." The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings referred to sixty-four species of wild plants, as well as a number of invented varieties. How much figures like Lewis and Tolkien interacted with Tansley is unknown, but it is clear that both idealists and materialists around the Magdalen dinner table were discussing nature and ecological ideas, whether by way of Romantic culture or materialist science. Typically, there was a strong affinity in their views when it came to nature conservation.

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