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C.S. Lewis's Ransom Trilogy sprang, on the personal level, from a conversation and a coincidence. The conversation was with his friend Tolkien, and though Lewis has left no record of it, Tolkien mentions it no fewer than five times in his published Letters, with convincing consistency. According to Tolkien, what happened was that Lewis said to him, 'If they won't write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves.' They agreed accordingly 'each to write an excursionary “Thriller” . . . discovering Myth', one about space travel and one about travel in time, and the toss of a coin gave time to Tolkien and space to Lewis. The results of the agreement were very different. Lewis had finished his first 'excursionary thriller', Out of the Silent Planet, by November 1937, when he submitted it to J.M. Dent and it was rejected. Tolkien then stepped in and used his influence with the publisher Stanley Unwin, who had by this time accepted The Hobbit, to reconsider his friend's work, which duly appeared in 1938, with its two sequels in 1943 and 1945. Lewis attempted to repay the favour by working 'plugs' for Tolkien's projected time-thriller into the postscript to Out of the Silent Planet and the preface to That Hideous Strength, but Tolkien's efforts to fulfil their agreement only appeared many years later and unfinished, as 'The Lost Road' and 'The Notion Club Papers' in volumes 5 and 9 of the twelve-volume History of Middle-earth edited by Christopher Tolkien.
A recent volume of essays, edited by Allen Frantzen and John Niles, has as its title Anglo-Saxonism and the Construction of Social Identity. It is the purpose of this essay to argue that Anglo-Saxon studies, if not Anglo-Saxonism, have been affected increasingly over the last two centuries by the destruction, or rather the repression, of social identity for one particular group: a repression the more ironic for having been practised on the group which, in another recent opinion, that of Adrian Hastings, in fact gave the initial model for all later ‘constructions of nationhood’ – the English.
My argument starts with a comment made in an earlier work by Allen Frantzen, his 1990 study, Desire for Origins. Almost at the end of this, Frantzen remarks that his book has been based on the premise ‘that the place of Anglo-Saxon studies in modern intellectual life is marginal’. Given the evidence that Frantzen adduces, there can be little doubt that this premise is correct. Two points might however be added to it. One is that this marginality ought to be surprising rather than taken for granted (an argument pursued below). The other is that if anything Frantzen's summation is an understatement. Within academia, especially American academia, ‘marginal’ may well be a fair description.