06 August 2018

Review: Tom's Midnight Garden

Tom's Midnight Garden Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful, charming book that, like the garden in the title, may hold just as much for the reader older in years as for the young.

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30 July 2018

And Death Shall Be No More -- The Dream of the Rood ll. 112-14

The Ruthwell Cross - geograph.org.uk - 939546
Lairich Rig / The Ruthwell Cross

Frineð he for þære mænige   hwær se man sie,
se ðe for dryhtnes naman    deaðes wolde
biteres onbyrigan,   swa he ær on ðam beame dyde.

He will ask before the multitude   where the man is,
Who for the Lord's name's sake  would taste
Of bitter death,   just he already did on the tree.
The Dream of the Rood  ll. 112-14 

The verb onbýrigan in line 114 means 'to taste of'. It is a compound of býrigan, 'to taste'. What I find cool here is the echo of a different, but very similar sounding verb, byrigan, which means 'to bury'. It  differs only in the length of the 'y'. But I like the distant suggestion that those who taste of death, as Christ has already done on the cross, also bury it. 


Scholars have likely noted this ten thousand times already. Nevertheless....

27 June 2018

Review: Beowulf and the Critics

Beowulf and the Critics Beowulf and the Critics by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not to be confused with The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, this book supplies Old English scholars and fans and scholars of Tolkien with two versions of the writings that lie behind that briefer and more focused work. It makes a wonderful companion to Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell.

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17 June 2018

Revising The Hobbit in Life and Fiction

In the summer of 1950 Tolkien received from Allen & Unwin, his publishers, proofs of the forthcoming second edition of The Hobbit (Letters no. 128). To his surprise he found that without consulting him they had removed the original Chapter 5, Riddles in the Dark, and substituted a new version, which he had sent to them three years earlier as 'a specimen of rewriting' (Letters no. 111) and which he had not originally meant to have published as written (no. 128). This new version, as many know, presents a very different portrayal of Gollum, Bilbo, and the Ring, one far more in keeping with the dark power invested in the Ring in The Lord of the Rings.** In a brilliant stroke Tolkien recast the version given in the first edition of The Hobbit as a lie Bilbo told Gandalf and the dwarves. 

With mischief in his heart, however, Tolkien did not stop there. For in the Prologue we meet the following comment on The Red Book: 
This [first] account Bilbo set down in his memoirs, and he seems never to have altered it himself, not even after the Council of Elrond. Evidently it still appeared in the original Red Book, as it did in several of the copies and abstracts. But many copies contain the true account (as an alternative), derived no doubt from notes by Frodo or Samwise, both of whom learned the truth, though they seem to have been unwilling to delete anything actually written by the old hobbit himself.
(FR Pr. 13)
Publishers are much more pliant when they are your fictional characters. Take that, Rayner and Stanley Unwin!



**  For a side by side presentation of Chapter 5 in the first (1937) and second (1951) editions, see here.