Man on the moor
PUBLISHED: 15:01 21 January 2014 | UPDATED: 15:01 21 January 2014
PHILIP DALLING examines the lives of two radical poets and asks whether Exmoor could have influenced the creation of Narnia
Did freezing Exmoor inspire Narnia’s permanent winter?
Was the freezing winter landscape of Exmoor an inspiration for the ice-bound world of Narnia, in the classic series of novels by C S Lewis?
Rare tree species raised on Exmoor can be held
Examples of rare trees, including species found growing nowhere in the world except along the steep and rocky coastal woodlands and valleys of the Exmoor National Park, are set to increase in years to come.
Exmoor National Park Authority is attempting to raise new examples of rare whitebeam or Sorbus tree varieties from seed taken from its own existing woodlands.
Autumn 2013 was an excellent season for tree fruit and nuts, and National Park staff were able to take seed from rare Sorbus margaratae and Sorbus devoniensis specimens growing in several of its woodland areas.
Now ENPA staff, helped by local expert Tim Greenland of Exmoor Trees nursery, are attempting to germinate some of the seeds extracted from the fruits. If this is successful and the trees can be raised, they will in a few years time be planted back into the Authority’s woodlands.
Exmoor National Park Authority has more information about the rare Sorbus varieties in the Trees and Woodlands pages on its: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk
The haunting moorland landscape, with its bleak hillsides, deep wooded valleys, and towering coastal cliffs, has for more than two centuries proved a major influence on the work of some of England’s most distinguished literary figures.
Giants such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, and William Hazlitt, head a list which also has room for popular and romantic novelists such as RD Blackmore, Marie Correlli, Henry Williamson, Evelyn Waugh and RF Delderfield.
Few accounts of the writers who drew inspiration from Exmoor include the name of Clive Staples Lewis, the academic, religious apologist and best-selling author, best remembered today for The Chronicles of Narnia.
Lewis is a literary name who, despite his worldwide fame, slipped out of life almost unnoticed, dying on the same day in November 1963 as American President John F Kennedy.
Fifty years on, the world of letters made amends when a memorial plaque to Lewis was installed in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner. His reputation had been kept alive in the meantime by the phenomenal sales of the Narnia books, originally published between 1950 and 1956, by the equally successful adaptations of the novels for stage and screen, and by the film Shadowlands, which depicted the writer’s relationship with an American admirer who eventually became his wife.
One of C S Lewis’s greatest pleasures in life was to take what were then known as walking tours, in company with his older brother Warren (Warnie) Lewis and other members of the Oxford University literary grouping known as the Inklings, which included Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien.
The Lewis brothers in particular were experienced and hardy walkers, used to covering 30 miles a day or more whatever the terrain. They also relished the worst the weather could throw at them, and a favourite time of year for their walks was January, before term began again at the university.
In the opening days of January 1930, the Inklings stayed on Exmoor. One day, they awoke to a typical moorland morning, bitterly cold, and with the hills draped in thick fog.
Lewis later wrote: “Some of the others were inclined to swear at (the weather), but I rejoiced to meet the moor at its grimmest.”
A frozen Exmoor landscape made even more mysterious than usual by the dense mist was no doubt a good match for the world of Narnia in the grip of permanent winter, as discovered by the four children in the first of the novels, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Another potential link between Lewis’s Exmoor experiences and his creation of the circumstances surrounding the discovery of Narnia lies in the fact that the children in the novel had to push through a furry, womb-like tunnel to travel between the wardrobe and the ice-world.
Lewis and his companions, as the author later recalled, had to push through the all-enveloping fog – ‘needless to say there was not a particle of view to be seen’ – before conquering the icy summit of Dunkery Beacon.
Exmoor in its summer glory was also well known to Lewis. In August and early September 1925 the author spent a three-week family holiday near Oare, close to the Devon/Somerset border, with its church famed as being the spot where Lorna Doone was shot in Blackmore’s novel.
Lewis spent much of the time walking, alone, in the Doone country, on one occasion following the East Lyn River through the Brendon Valley to Lynton.
Firebrand poet who followed in Shelley’s Exmoor footsteps:
Spreading seditious propaganda in the spring and summer of 1812 was a dangerous occupation, even in the wilds of Exmoor.
When the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley inserted pamphlets bearing his revolutionary views into wax-sealed bottles and cast them into the waters of Lynmouth Bay, hoping they would be picked up and read around Britain’s coasts, the nation was at war with both Napoleonic France and the United States of America, and luddite mobs were smashing machinery.
In June of that year, the month Shelley arrived in what was then a tiny Exmoor fishing village, Spencer Perceval became the first and only British Prime Minister to be assassinated.
When Shelley’s manservant fly-posted revolutionary material in Barnstaple, the nervous authorities ordered surveillance of the poet who, with the help of a local boatman, fled across the Bristol Channel to Wales.
Fast-forwarding to the 1930s, Britain was a land of economic and industrial depression, social inequality, and hunger marchers. Faced with the growing threat of Fascism on the continent of Europe, the country was a maelstrom of upheaval, to the concern of the authorities.
Once again, a turbulent national political climate was echoed locally along the Devon/Somerset border, throwing up another radical poet and revolutionary firebrand to follow in the footsteps of Shelley. On this occasion, the spreader of what many contemporaries regarded as sedition was a woman.
Teresa Hooley was the daughter of a Midlands lace manufacturer, brought up in a prosperous and solidly Conservative household. The Oxford English Dictionary however defines the word Hooley (of Irish origin) as meaning ‘a wild and unruly party’. Teresa and her siblings, with a strong streak of Celtic blood in their veins, lived up to their name and rocked a great many boats in the early years of the 20th century.
Her half-brother, Ernest Terah Hooley, once described as Europe’s greatest swindler, floated companies with household names such as Schweppes and Dunlop, was a friend of King Edward V11, made and lost millions and experienced the inside of jails and bankruptcy courts.
A second brother was a pioneering hero of the Tank Corps during World War One, winning the Military Cross before dying from influenza a fortnight before the Armistice.
Following World War One Teresa Hooley married and moved to live in Egypt. A dislike of British imperialism, provoked by her experiences during this time, helped to shape her extremist political views.
Following the break-up of the marriage and her return to England, Teresa became a prominent poet. More than a dozen collections were issued by national publishers, and she shared the task of writing a column for the Daily Mirror with Edith (later Dame Edith) Sitwell.
One of the most prominent literary critics of the era forecast (correctly) that Teresa Hooley was one of the few women writers whose work would survive into the 21st century. Her poetry, notably A War Film, written after she had been deeply shocked by a post-1918 cinema depiction of the Battle of Mons, still appears in anthologies today.
Her politics, as the 1930s dawned, shifted dramatically from an earlier role chairing a Conservative women’s group to a position on the far left.
On Exmoor, she made herself widely unpopular with landowners when she campaigned for better housing conditions for farm labourers, having condemned the condition of many existing tied cottages as ‘medieval. On one occasion she was threatened with a horse-whipping by an enraged former military man, who accused her publicly of being ‘a class traitor’.
She campaigned in favour of the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War and, with her Irish roots to the fore, wrote highly controversial poetry condemning long prison sentences given to IRA men, whom she considered to be patriots.
At the end of the 1930s she campaigned with figures such as Sir Stafford Cripps (later to be Chancellor of the Exchequer in the post-war Attlee Labour government) for a Popular Front to be established with the Communist Party of Great Britain and other left-wing groups.
During World War Two she joined forces with Exmoor landowner Sir Richard Acland, a former Liberal MP for the Barnstaple constituency, who together with writer and broadcaster J B Priestley formed a new political party called Common Wealth. With the main parties having declared an electoral truce for the duration of the war, Common Wealth won parliamentary by-elections. Teresa Hooley was adopted as a candidate, but failed to win a seat in the House of Commons.
Teresa Hooley’s softer side, and in particular her love of animals and of the Exmoor landscape, can be seen in her poetry collections. Although the majority of her work is out of print, several volumes can be ordered from Devon County Libraries.