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The paper is a space/time/dream travel story, written at the same time as The Lord of the Rings was being developed. The story itself involves the minutes of the meetings of an arts discussion club at Oxford, a fictionalization of (and a pun on) Tolkien's own Club, The Inklings.
Behind the ScenesEdit
During these meetings, Alwin Arundel Lowdham discusses his lucid dreams about Númenor; through these dreams, he "discovers" much about the Númenor story and the languages of Middle-earth (notably Quenya, Sindarin, and Adûnaic — the last very interesting since it is the sole source of most of the material on this language). While not finished, at the end of the given story it becomes clear Lowdham himself is a reincarnation of sorts of Elendil. (Alwin is a modernisation of the name Ælfwine, Old English for Elf-friend, or Elendil in Quenya.) Other members of the Club also mention their vivid dreams of other times and places.
Tolkien not only created fictional meetings for these papers; he also created a fictional history for the manuscript of the papers. According to the papers, the meetings occurred in the 1980s; they even mention events that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. About one-quarter of the papers were found among sacks of waste paper in 2012 at Oxford by a Mr. Green. Mr. Green published a first edition containing excerpts from these papers, indicating that they were written during the 1980s by one of the participants. Two scholars read the first edition, asked to examine the manuscripts, and then submitted a full report. The "Notes to the Second Edition" mentions the contradictory evidence in dating the manuscripts, and an alternative date is presented: they may have been written in the 1940s.
These papers, which make a number of comments on Lewis' Space Trilogy, remind one of Wikipedia:C. S. Lewis' commentary to Tolkien's poem The Lay of Leithian, in which Lewis created a fictional history of scholarship of the poem and even referred to other manuscript tradition to recommend changes to the poem.
The Notion Club Papers may be seen as an attempt to re-write The Lost Road, published and discussed in The Lost Road and Other Writings, as being another attempt to tie the Númenórean legend in with a more modern tale. There is, however, no direct connection between the modern settings of the two stories within the fictional frame.
By an odd coincidence, The Notion Club Papers mentions a great storm occurring during 1987 in England, and indeed the fictional commentary notes that this provides evidence that it could not have been written in the 1940s. In real life the Great Storm of 1987 occurred in October of that year.