29 December 2017
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An enjoyable read, which got steadily more interesting as it went along. It does a good job of maintaining a child's perspective, though it's not a children's book, and of suggesting that there's more out there in the dark, in the woods beyond the lights of Oxford, than most adults would be comfortable admitting. The characters range from a Dickensian evil landlord and a wastrel father to the Devil, werewolves, and (apparently) Cerunnos. Lewis and Tolkien also appear as peripheral characters, who are welcome and amusing, but may not be strictly necessary as themselves. On the other hand, there is no little irony in their seeming ignorance of the perilous realm that surrounds and even penetrates Oxford. And this may be the point of their presence, since their ignorance underlines the greater ignorance of the modern world.
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15 December 2017
If we appear to have singled out Dr. Leslie rather often for disagreement, this is because his [edition] is usually the most accessible, and often the most able, defence of interpretations which we find unacceptable.
This was unexpected and rather difficult. There was some scattered clapping, but most of them were trying to work it out and see if it came to a compliment.
Amazon to Adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s Globally Renowned Fantasy Novels, The Lord of the Rings, for Television with a Multi Season Production Commitment
"I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd."
'Really, you three, especially Rob, are heroes,' [Wiseman] wrote. 'Fortunately we are not entirely masters of our fate, so that what we do now will make us the better for uniting in the great work that is to come, whatever it may be.'
(quoted in Garth  137)
And Aragorn the King Elessar wedded Arwen Undómiel in the City of the Kings upon the day of Midsummer, and the tale of their long waiting and labours was come to fulfilment.
12 December 2017
A couple of years back I stopped to buy some bagels, and had the following conversation with the man behind the counter:
He: What can I get you?
Me: A dozen everything bagels, please.
He: All of them everything?
Me: Everything all of them.
He: You got it.
I suddenly felt like I was on Seinfeld.
03 December 2017
I never told you a curious thing - I have meant to include it in several letters - wh[ich] provides a new instance of the malignity of the Little People. I was going into town one day and had got as far as the gate when I realised that I had odd shoes on, and one of them clean and the other dirty. There was no time to go back. As it was impossible to clean the dirty one, I decided that the only way of making myself look less ridiculous was to dirty the clean one. Now w[oul]d you have believed that this is an impossible operation? You can of course get some mud on it - but it remains obviously a clean shoe that has had an accident and won’t look in the least like a shoe that you have been for a walk in. One discovers new catches and snags in life every day.
02 December 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
'If we insist that the Bible is "more" than a work of literature, we ought at least to stick to the word "more," and try to see what if means.
'What I think it means is that we have to turn again to the traditional but still neglected theory of "polysemous" meaning. One of the commonest experiences of reading is the sense of further discoveries to be made within the same structure of words. The feeling is approximately "there is more to be got out of this," or we may say, of something we particularly admire, that every time we read it we get something new out of it. This "something new" is not necessarily something we have overlooked before, but may come rather from a new context in our experience. The implication is that when we start to read, some kind of dialectical process begins to unfold, so that any given understanding of what we read is one of a series of phases or stages of comprehension.'
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25 November 2017
Unity Valkyrie Mitford (1914-1948) was the fourth of the remarkable daughters of Lord Redesdale.
Fans of Tolkien will immediately notice the similarity of phrasing to the first chapter of The Hobbit:
The mother of this hobbit -- of Bilbo Baggins, that is -- was the famous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took.
There's no denying that the Mitford sisters were indeed noteworthy, some of them even notorious; and the world brims with remarkable daughters. So Hooper's phrasing may be a matter of chance. But it would also be no surprise if Hooper consciously echoed a work Lewis esteemed so highly.
21 November 2017
How often Christ's cry upon the cross re-echoes through one's aching soul; that most desolate and piercing cry the saddest ever uttered in this sad world.... We do not know how God answered it; but we believe that, in spite of cruelty and sin and death, the answer is peace. I think the answer to you comes through the testimony, the living proof, of those most glorious boys, who never looked back, and went to death like Bridegrooms, like Phoebus Apollo running his course; Phoebus, who sent his shafts to Julian in his last moments on earth, and was answered by the flicker of his eyes; that gleam from Julian which will speak to you, in the long hours of waiting and darkness, of the immortality of the soul and the deathlessness of love.
In a cultural situation in which the elder generation chose to phrase its condolence letters and its exhortations in such terms, it is small wonder that poets who were themselves soldiers employed a similar amalgamation of Christian and pagan imagery and concepts, in which the idea of the soldiers as new Christ, who lays down his life for his friends and his country, is inextricably intertwined with classical exempla. Some poets invoked not just classical allusions but the Olympians by name, and in a tone that would imply utter sincerity did we not know that the soldiers of 1914 were nominally, and often much more than nominally, Christians, and their poetry is permeated with invocations of Jehovah and Christ. Yet, although of course no British poet (soldier or civilian) writing in 1914-18 would have claimed to 'believe in' the Olympian gods in the sense of assuming those gods' objective reality, pagan imagery of the Olympians and the heroes is inextricably interwoven with Christian imagery. The Christian soldier must fight for justice and the protection of the weak; it is his Christian duty -- and Zeus and the heroes of Troy will spur him on to do so.(Vandiver 206)
In that book, moreover, I came across a poem I am not sure I'd seen before. However that may be, the poem now struck me in a new way:
Deaf to the music, once a boy
His Homer, crib in hand, had read;
Now near the windy plains of Troy,
He lives an Iliad instead.
Far from saying that the actual experience of real war shows the boy how insufficient literature in general and Homer in particular are, Shillito's poem implies instead that the actual experience of war shows the boy precisely how real Homer is. The contrast is not between reading the Iliad and experiencing actual war but between reading the Iliad and experiencing the Iliad. Thus the Iliad is assumed to occupy both realms -- active and contemplative -- simultaneously.
(246, italics original)
Poetry I discovered much later in Latin and Greek, and especially through being made to try and translate English verse into classical verse. A real taste for fairy-stories was wakened by philology on the threshold of manhood, and quickened to full life by war.
(OFS ¶ 56)
In May 1944 in a letter to his son, Christopher, then in the RAF, Tolkien recommended writing as a means of expressing what he was feeling in the service:
I think also that you are suffering from suppressed 'writing'. That may be my fault. You have had rather too much of me and my peculiar mode of thought and reaction. And as we are so akin it has proved rather powerful. Possibly inhibited you. I think if you could begin to write, and find your own mode, or even (for a start) imitate mine, you would find it a great relief. I sense amongst all your pains (some merely physical) the desire to express your feeling about good, evil, fair, foul in some way: to rationalize it, and prevent it just festering. In my case it generated Morgoth and the History of the Gnomes.
(Letters, no. 66)
12 November 2017
Except at the making of Eve Adam slept
Not at all (as men now sleep) before the Fall;
Sin yet unborn, he was free from that dominion
04 Of the blind brother of death who occults the mind.
Instead, when stars and twilight had him to bed
And the dutiful owl, whirring over Eden, had hooted
A warning to the other beasts to be hushed till morning
08 And curbed their plays that the Man should be undisturbed,
He would lie, relaxed, enormous, under a sky
Starry as never since; he would set ajar
The door of his mind. Into him thoughts would pour
12 Other than day's. He rejoined Earth, his mother.
He melted into her nature. Gradually he felt
As though through his own flesh the elusive growth,
The hardening and spreading of roots in the deep garden;
16 In his veins, the wells filling with silver rains,
And, thrusting down far under his rock-crust,
Finger-like, rays from the heavens that probed, bringing
To bloom the gold and diamond in his dark womb.
20 The seething, central fires moved with his breathing.
He guided his globe smoothly in the heaven, riding
At one with his planetary peers around the Sun;
Courteously he saluted the hard virtue of Mars
24 And Venus' liquid glory as he spun between them.
Over Man and his mate the Hours like waters ran
Till darkness thinned in the east. The treble lark,
Carolling, awoke the common people of Paradise
28 To yawn and scratch, to bleat and whinny, in the dawn.
Collected now in themselves, human and erect,
Lord and Lady walked on the dabbled sward,
As if two trees should arise dreadfully gifted
32 With speech and motion. The Earth's strength was in each.
The first three quatrains (lines 1-12) called at once to my mind Tolkien's characterization of the dreams of Elves:
With that [Aragorn] fell asleep. Legolas already lay motionless, his fair hands folded upon his breast, his eyes unclosed, blending living night and deep dream, as is the way with Elves.(TT 3.ii.442)
and he could sleep, if sleep it could be called by Men, resting his mind in the strange paths of elvish dreams, even as he walked open-eyed in the light of this world.
Finally in this lovely web of influences we should not forget that Tolkien modeled the way Treebeard spoke 'on the booming voice of C. S. Lewis' (Carpenter, 1977, 194), just as Lewis drew on Tolkien to shape his hero, Ransom, the philologist and hero of his Space Trilogy.
09 November 2017
FYTTE THE FIRST
Als j me wente þis endres daye,
ffull faste in mynd makand my mone
In a mery mornynge of Maye,
28 By huntle bankkes my self allone,
I herde þe jaye, & þe throstyll cokke,
The Mawys meynde hir of hir songe,
Þe wodewale beryde als a belle,
32 That alle þe wode abowte me ronge.
Allone in longynge thus als j laye,
Vndyre-nethe a semely tree,
[was] j whare a lady gaye
[36 Come rydyng] over a longe lee.
If j solde sytt to domesdaye,
With my tonge, to wrobbe and wrye,
Certanely þat lady gaye,
40 Never bese scho askryede for mee.
29-32 -- The singing of the birds, just as one would expect in May, also helps to root the story in the ordinary world.
-- meynde hir: 'reminded herself', 'recalled'.
-- beryde: 'resounded'.
33 -- Allone in longyng: see note on line 26.
34 -- semely tree: not the same as the so-called Eildon Tree (80, 84), another landmark, whose location is commemorated by a monument. See image 1 above.
-- lee: 'lea' denotes open land not currently under the plow, either used for pasturage or left fallow.
Hir palfraye was a dapill graye,
Swylke one ne saghe j neuer none;
Also dose þe sonne on someres daye,
48 Þat faire lady hir selfe scho shone.
Hir selle it was of roelle bone,
ffull semely was þat syghte to see!
Stefly sett with precyous stones,
52 And compaste all with crapotee,
Stones of Oryente, grete plente;
Hir hare abowte hir hede it hange;
Scho rade over þat lange lee;
56 A whylle scho blewe, anoþer scho sange;
Hir garthes of nobyll sylke þay were,
The bukylls were of Berell stone,
Hir steraps were of crystalle clere,
60 And all with perell over-by-gone.
Hir payettrelle was a of jrale fyne,
Hir cropoure was of Orpharë,
And als clere golde hir brydill it schone,
64 One aythir syde hange bellys three.
[She led iij grehoundis in a leeshe,
viij rachis be hir fete ran;
To speke with hir wold I not seesse;
68 Hir lire was white as any swan.
Fforsothe, lordyngs, as I yow tell,
Thus was þis lady fayre begon.]
Scho bare an horne abowte hir halse,
72 And under hir belte full many a flone;
41 -- palfrey: a riding horse of the Middle Ages, known for a smooth, quick gait that made it ideal for travelling long distances.
*42 -- Molde: type, nature, character.
*45 -- furthermore: in addition.
*46 -- clothing: the trappings or caparison. In image two we see two caparisoned horses, one in blue, the other in red.
|lmage Two, by Jean Fouquet ca 1450s 1455-60.|
46 -- Swylke one: 'such a one'. See next note.
56 -- a whylle...anoþer...: sometimes...sometimes....
57 -- garthes: the girth of the saddle.
58 -- berell stone: beryl, of which emerald and aquamarine are examples.
60 -- perell: pearl or mother of pearl.
-- over-by-gone: 'ornamented all over'.
61 -- payetrelle: peitrel, a 'protective breastplate' or 'breast collar' for a horse. See image three.
-- jrale fyne: an unknown precious stone. Murray says: 'I can get no light on iral-stane; the scribes also seem not to have understood it, and hence their alterations, rial, alarane, &c'. He guesses that iral-stane was the original reading, since that would rhyme with schone in line 63, which fyne obviously cannot.
-- Orpharë: probably signifying that the crupper has an ornamental band or fringe of gold, from orfevrie, 'goldsmith's work', from Latin 'aurifaber', goldsmith.
*66 -- rachis: a rache or ratch was a hunting dog that tracked its prey by scent, unlike greyhounds, which rely on sight.
*67 -- To speke with hir wold I not seesse: Since he has not spoken with her yet, this sentence seems unlikely to mean, 'to speak with her I would not cease'. Here 'with hir' makes more sense taken to mean 'regarding her'. He can't stop talking about her.
*68 -- lire: cheek.
*70 -- fayre begon: 'beautifully turned-out'.
71 -- halse: neck.
Lyle, E.B., Thomas of Erceldoune: The Prophet and the Prophesied, Folklore 79 (1968) 111-121.
________, The Relationship between Thomas the Rhymer and Thomas of Erceldoune, Leeds Studies in English 4 (1970) 23-30.
________, The Visions in St Patrick's Purgatory, Thomas of Erceldoune, Thomas the Rhymer, and The Demon Lover, Neuphilologishe Mitteilungen 72 (1971) 716-722.
Paton, Lucy Alan, Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, Boston (1903).
Swainson, Charles, Provincial Names and Folklore of British Birds, London (1885).
26 October 2017
|Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier, Hamlet (1948)|
A friend of mine once told me that the more you read, the more jokes you get.
Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
Lying down at OPHELIA's feet.
No, my lord.
I mean, my head upon your lap?
Ay, my lord.
Do you think I meant country matters?
I think nothing, my lord.
That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
What is, my lord?
You are merry, my lord.
Ay, my lord.
'Come lygge thyne hede downe on my knee,
And [þou] sall se þe fayreste syghte,
þat euer sawe mane of thi contree.' (1.194-96)
Come lie thine head down on my knee,
And thou shalt see the fairest sight
That ever saw a man of thy country.
I don't think this is what my friend meant, but in a November of the soul you take what you can get.
|Northrop Frye statue outside the Moncton Public Library, not yet defaced by adherents of subsequent critical schools|
In this miraculous paragraph Northrop Frye explains not only why sad songs are always the best, but also how Tolkien could write both The Hobbit and The Children of Húrin:
In literature there are two great organizing patterns. One is the natural cycle itself; the other, a final separation between an idealized and happy world and a horrifying or miserable one. Comedy moves in the direction of the former, and traditionally closes in some traditional formula as "They lived happily ever after." Tragedy moves in the opposite direction, and towards the complementary formula "Count no man happy until he is dead." The moral effect of literature is normally bound up with its assumption that we prefer to identify ourselves with the happy world and detach ourselves from the wretched one. The record of history, in itself, does not indicate this: it indicates that man is quite as enthusiastic about living in hell as in heaven. To see misery as tragic, as a destroyed and perverted form of greatness and splendor, is a primary achievement of Greek literature. The Bible's vision of misery is ironic rather than tragic, but the same dialectical separation of the two worlds is quite as strongly marked.
The Great Code, 73It would also make a terrific passage to set for an examination essay, followed by the single word: discuss.
22 October 2017
15 October 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
More complete and profound a retelling of Norse myths and their power than other less accomplished authors have recently published. Framed by the story of 'a thin child in wartime', Byatt's work illuminates both myth and the tottering world in which we now dwell.
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
τίς τ᾽ ἄρ σφωε θεῶν ἔριδι ξυνέηκε μάχεσθαι;
"Ἀτρεΐδαι τε καὶ ἄλλοι ἐϋκνήμιδες Ἀχαιοί,
ἔνθ᾽ ἄλλοι μὲν πάντες ἐπευφήμησαν Ἀχαιοὶ
"μή σε γέρον κοίλῃσιν ἐγὼ παρὰ νηυσὶ κιχείω
ὣς ἔφατ᾽, ἔδεισεν δ᾽ ὃ γέρων καὶ ἐπείθετο μύθῳ:
"κλῦθί μευ ἀργυρότοξ᾽, ὃς Χρύσην ἀμφιβέβηκας
ὣς ἔφατ᾽ εὐχόμενος, τοῦ δ᾽ ἔκλυε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων,
Rage -- Goddess sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters' souls, but made their bodies carrion,
05 feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving towards it end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.
What god drove them to fight with such a fury?
10 Apollo the son of Zeus and Leto. Incensed at the king
he swept a fatal plague through the arm -- men were dying
all because Agamemnon spurned Apollo's priest.
Yes, Chryses approached the Achaeans' fast ships
to win his daughter back, bringing a priceless ransom,
15 and bearing high in hand, wound on a golden staff
the wreaths of the god, the deadly distant Archer.
He begged the whole Achaean army, but most of all
the two supreme commanders, Atreus' two sons,
"Agamemnon, Menelaus, all Argives geared for war!
20 May the gods who hold the halls of Olympus give you
Priam's city to plunder, then safe passage home.
Just set my daughter free, my dear one ... here
accept these gifts, this ransom. Honor the god
who strikes from worlds away, the son of Zeus, Apollo!
25 And all the ranks of Achaeans cried out their assent:
"Respect the priest! Accept the shining ransom!"
But it brought no joy to the heart of Agamemnon.
The king dismissed the priest with a brutal order
ringing in his ears:
"Never again, old man
30 let me catch sight of you by the hollow ships!
Not loitering now, not slinking back tomorrow.
The staff and the wreaths of the god will never save you then.
The girl -- I won't give up the girl. Long before that
old age will overtake her in my house, in Argos,
35 far from her fatherland, slaving back and forth
at the loom, forced to share my bed! Now go,
don't tempt my wrath -- and you may depart alive."
The old man was terrified. He obeyed the order,
turning, trailing away in silence down the shore
40 where the battle lines of breakers crash and drag.
And moving off to a safe distance, over and over
the old priest prayed to the son of sleek-haired Leto,
"Hear me, Apollo, god of the silver bow
who strides the walls of Chryse and Cilla sacrosanct --
45 lord in power of Tenedos, Smintheus, god of the plague!
If I ever roofed a shrine to please your heart,
ever burned the long, rich bones of bulls and goats
on your holy altar, now, now, bring my prayers to pass.
Pay the Danaans back -- your arrows for my tears!"
50 His prayer went up and Phoebus Apollo heard him.
Down he strode from Olympus' peaks, storming at heart
with his bow and hooded quiver slung across his shoulders.
The arrows clanged at his back as the god quaked with rage,
the god himself on the march and down he came like night.
55 Over against the ships he dropped to a knee, let fly a shaft
and a terrifying clash rang out from the silver bow.
First he went for the mules and the circling dogs, but then,
launching a piercing shaft at the men themselves,
he cut them down in droves --
60 and the corpse-fires burned on, night and day, no end in sight.
14 October 2017
|Carl Emil Doepler|
There is of course a clash between 'literary' technique, and the fascination of elaborating in detail an imaginary mythical Age (mythical, not allegorical: my mind does not work allegorically). As a story, I think it is good that there should be a lot of things unexplained (especially if an explanation actually exists); and I have perhaps from this point of view erred in trying to explain too much, and give too much past history. Many readers have, for instance, rather stuck at the Council of Elrond. And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).
(Letter 144, 25 April 1954)
|Carl Emil Doepler|
06 October 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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02 October 2017
The singing drew nearer. One clear voice rose now above the others. It was singing in the fair elven-tongue, of which Frodo knew only a little, and the others knew nothing. Yet the sound blending with the melody seemed to shape itself in their thought into words which they only partly understood. This was the song as Frodo heard it....
On the green bank near to the very point of the Tongue the Lady Galadriel stood alone and silent. 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.
Even as they gazed, the Silverlode passed out into the currents of the Great River, and their boats turned and began to speed southwards. Soon the white form of the Lady was small and distant. She shone like a window of glass upon a far hill in the westering sun, or as a remote lake seen from a mountain: a crystal fallen in the lap of the land. Then it seemed to Frodo that she lifted her arms in a final farewell, and far but piercing-clear on the following wind came the sound of her voice singing. But now she sang in the ancient tongue of the Elves beyond the Sea, and he did not understand the words: fair was the music, but it did not comfort him.
Yet as is the way of Elvish words, they remained graven in his memory, and long afterwards he interpreted them, as well as he could: the language was that of Elven-song and spoke of things little known on Middle-earth.(FR 2.viii.377)
'Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten.'
Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
'I pass the test,' she said. 'I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.'