26 October 2019

Eärendil and Wade's Boat, Or, what do you mean you're not going to tell us the story?

Artwork copyright Donato Giancola


Alan and Shawn over at The Prancing Pony Podcast (which, if you don't already listen to it, why not?) have just published another excellent and fun new episode (# 141, "Starship Trooper") on Eärendil and the poem about him that Bilbo sings in Many Meetings (FR 2.i.233-36).

Crucial to the tale of Eärendil the Mariner is his ship, Vingelot or Vingelótë, without which Eärendil would have been stuck in a port on a western bay where lonely sailors pass the time away talking about their homes. The name Vingelot gives us a tantalizing and frustrating example of how very easily stories can be lost, likely forever.

In Chaucer's Merchant's Tale is a (for us) obscure reference to 'Wades bote' (IV E 1424). Wade, son of Weyland the Smith, evidently had many stories told about him in the Middle Ages, of which virtually all trace has vanished. The boat was named Guingelot, which is even closer to Vingelot than appears at first glance, since in Norman French the word would have been pronounced something like Wingelot or Wingelok (Skeat).

In his 1598 edition of Chaucer Thomas Speight commented upon this line, and Thomas Tyrwhitt in his 1775 edition was scathing about Speight's neglect, as quoted below:

Ver. 9298. Wades bote] Upon this Mr. Speght remarks, as follows: "Concerning Wade and his bote called Guingelot, as also his straunge exploits in the same, because the matter is long and fabulous, I passe it over." Tantamne rem tam negligenter?* Mr. Speght probably did not foresee, that Posterity would be as much obliged to him for a little of this fabulous matter concerning Wade and his bote, as for the gravest of his annotations. The story of Wade is mentioned again by our author in his Troilus, iii. 615. 

He songe, she playde, he tolde a tale of Wade.


It is there put proverbially for any romantic history; but the allusion in the present passage to Wades bote can hardly be explained, without a more particular knowledge of his adventures, than we are now likely ever to attain.

Tolkien, too, had many ideas about the 'straunge exploits' of Eärendil in his ship, the vast majority of which are known only, as with Wade, through comments and outlines (Lost Tales 2.252-277) and some thirty lines of poetry, in which Tuor, the father of Eärendil, is briefly called Wade (Lays 142):


'But Wade of the Helsings    wearyhearted'                     

 Upon which Christopher Tolkien comments (Lays 144):

The likeness of Guingelot to Wingelot is sufficiently striking; but when we place together the facts that Wingelot was Earendel's ship, that Earendel was Tuor's son, that Tuor was peculiarly associated with the sea, and that here 'Wade of the Helsings' stands in the place of Tuor, coincidence is ruled out. Wingelot was derived from Wade's boat, Guingelot as certainly, I think, as was Earendel from the Old English figure (this latter being a fact expressly stated by my father, II. 309).
Why my father should have intruded 'Wade of the Helsings' into the verses at this point is another question. It may conceivably have been unintentional - the words Wada Haelsingum were running in his mind (though in that case one might expect that he would have struck the line out and not merely written another line against it as an alternative): but at any rate the reason why they were running in his mind is clear, and this possibility in no way diminishes the demonstrative value of the line that Wingelot was derived from Guingelot, and that there was a connection of greater significance than the mere taking over of a name -- just as in the case of Earendel.




  


* 'so great a matter [handled] so negligently?'

12 October 2019

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent book, well-written and told in a compelling way. The narrator has a distinct voice and carries the tale in a way that most first-person narrators fail to do. She was interesting in herself, rather than merely interesting to herself. Most first person narrators make me think of Auden's line: 'Oh, miserable wicked me, how interesting I am!' Not Offred, who grows more interesting as her tale goes on, and who in time made me forget the question of how her society came to this point. The last page of her narrative reminded me strongly of the end of Matheson's I am Legend.

I found, however, that the anticlimactic 'Historical Note' that follows immediately afterwards severely lessens the impact of Offred's last scene. For me, it left a powerful moment with the aftertaste of disappointment. I would suggest not reading the 'Historical Note' at once, but let the ending sink in and resonate.

View all my reviews

05 October 2019

The Last Enchantment -- FR 2.viii.377



As they passed her they turned and their eyes watched her slowly floating away from them. For so it seemed to them: Lórien was slipping backward, like a bright ship masted with enchanted trees, sailing on to forgotten shores, while they sat helpless upon the margin of the grey and leafless world. 
(FR 2.viii.377)
Up to this point in The Lord of the Rings the word 'enchantment' and forms of the verb 'enchant' are used synonymously, or nearly so, with 'spell'. Afterwards 'spell' has a negative meaning. A spell tricks or deceives or dominates those upon whom it is cast. The only time it may not do so is when Legolas, speaking of the Huorns, refers to 'the spell' of the forest (TT 3.viii.541). It is worth noting, however, that he is not affected by that spell, but Gimli's fear may well indicate that he is (TT 3.ix.549). At the very least Gimli could not be said to have a positive view of 'the spell of the forest'. 

Concomitant with this narrowing of the meaning of 'spell' is the near disappearance of 'enchant' or 'enchantment' from the text. Only one form of it occurs hereafter, referring to Saruman's voice -- 'Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment' (TT 3.x.578) -- and significantly that enchantment fails to attain its ultimate goal.

When Lothlórien begins to fade from Middle-earth, enchantment fades with it. While we could not say that only 'the deceits of the enemy' remain (FR 2.vii.362), this shift in usage is a harbinger of the passing of Faërie in Middle-earth.

31 August 2019

A Wizard or a Warrior -- But Why not Both?



'I am learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey. First he was a conspirator, now he's a jester. He'll end up by becoming a wizard – or a warrior!' 
'I hope not,' said Sam. 'I don't want to be neither!'
FR 1.xii.208
But maybe both?
[Sam] felt that he had from now on only two choices: to forbear the Ring, though it would torment him; or to claim it, and challenge the Power that sat in its dark hold beyond the valley of shadows. Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dûr. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be.
RK 6.i.901

Two passages nearly seven hundred pages apart tell us about the working of the Ring on the mind. Do the 'wild fantasies' now arising in Sam's mind reveal the role he imagined for himself as a boy when he was listening to Mr Bilbo telling, say, the tale of Gil-Galad, just as Boromir's fantasies about becoming king of Gondor reflect his childhood desire for the Stewards to ascend the throne (FR 2.x398; TT 4.v.670)? The pull of the Ring's power allows us to imagine the fulfillment of desires we already had somewhere within us, even if we had set them aside as childish things.