Owen Barfield

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Owen Barfield
Biographical information
Born9 November, 1898
Died14 December, 1997
WebsiteOwen Barfield Literary Estate

Arthur Owen Barfield (9 November 1898 - 14 December 1997) was a philosopher and fellow Inkling with J.R.R. Tolkien. He did not attend a great deal of the Inklings meetings due to living and working in London, a ways away from the Eagle and Child.

Barfield argued that language was more "poetic" in its more ancient forms noting that the same word described both a spiritual and physical reality for the ancient speakers, making no distinction. He noted, for example, that in some languages the word for "heaven" is the same as the word for "sky".[1]

Tolkien was very fond of Barfield's works and his linguistic views were most influenced by Barfield, specifically his concept of ancient and original unity between meaning and sound.[2]

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I met Tolkien but never had a long talk with him…I wish I had…We did not get to talk for several hours. He's an important figure in the English literary world of our time. I don't have any affinity with it – the mythical world. The real enthusiasts of the Tolkien society have more than enjoyed it they have made a kind of cult of it.[3]

S. - How far did you know Tolkien?
B. - I didn't know him very well. I met him a number of times at meetings of the Inklings - I didn't go always - and also with Lewis. Once we had a short walking tour, Lewis, Tolkien, and I, just when war was threatening, but then we never talked as we are talking now. And I never became an enthusiast for The lord of the Rings.
S. - I got stuck on page 337.
B. - I don't think I got as far as that. I got The Hobbit, read it to my son.
S. - Tolkien quoted you in one of his lectures, I think.
B. - He told Lewis, not long after he had read Poetic Diction, that to a certain extent it changed him - that he found there were things he could no longer say at his lectures. That was brought up by Verlyn Flieger in her book Splintered Light.[4]

Barfield said that Tolkien's children were very fond of his book The Silver Trumpet and regarded it as a sort of Bible:

Tolkien's children for a time regarded it as a kind of Bible...many of the characters, were kind of catch-words in the family...[5]

In a letter to Barfield, dated June 28, 1936, Lewis wrote:

I lent The Silver Trumpet to Tolkien and hear that it is the greatest success among his children that they have ever known. His own fairy-tales, which are excellent, have now no market: and its first reading – children are so practical! – led to a universal wail 'You're not going to give it back to Mr. Lewis, are you?' All the things which the wiseacres on child psychology in our circle said when you wrote it turn out to be nonsense. 'They liked the sad parts,' said Tolkien, 'because they were sad and the puzzling parts because they were puzzling, as children always do.' The youngest boy liked Gamboy because 'she was clever and the bad people in books usually aren't.' The tags of the Podger have become so popular [as] to be almost a nuisance in the house. In fine, you have scored a direct hit.[6]

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  1. Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, CT: Weslyan University Press
  2. Verlyn Flieger, Green Suns and Faerie: Essays on J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 243–244
  3. "Saving the Final Appearance: A Visit with Owen Barfield a few months before his death", Allen Pitmann (accessed 8 September 2014)
  4. 'Owen Barfield: Interview with Elmar Schenkel'. Sept 1991 in Old Crow 2, Amherst Mass, 1993. Reprinted, in English, as "Interview mit Owen Barfield." Inklings: Jahrbuch für Literature und Ästhetik 11 (1993), pp. 23-38
  5. "Owen Barfield and Clyde Kilby on C.S. Lewis" dated 3 November 1977, YouTube (accessed 25 December 2014)
  6. "Owen Barfield: A Biographical Note" dated 1 April 1985, Wheaton.edu (accessed 20 May 2020)
The Inklings
J.R.R. Tolkien · Owen Barfield · J.A.W. Bennett · Lord David Cecil · Nevill Coghill · James Dundas-Grant · Hugo Dyson · Adam Fox · Colin Hardie · Robert Havard · C.S. Lewis · Warren Lewis · Gervase Mathew · R.B. McCallum · C.E. Stevens · Christopher Tolkien · John Wain · Charles Williams · Charles Leslie Wrenn