20 August 2017

It Wants To Be Found



Near the beginning of his chapter on 'The Heavens' in The Discarded Image, C. S. Lewis quotes from Chaucer to illustrate the view of Medieval science that '[e]verything has its right place, its home, the region that suits it, and, if not forcibly restrained, moves thither by a sort of homing instinct':
Every kindly thing that is
Hath a kindly stede ther he
May best in hit conserved be;
Unto which place every thing
Through his kindly enclyning
Moveth for to come to.  
(Chaucer, Hous of Fame, II, 730 sq.) 
'Kindly' here has its old meaning of 'natural' or 'innate' -- every natural thing has a natural place and a natural inclination to go there.  This is not anthropomorphism, but metaphor, just as it is a metaphor to say (as Lewis also points out) that an object falls to earth when released because it is 'obeying the law of gravity'. Moderns aren't attributing sentience to the object when they speak thus, any more than Chaucer would have been if he said that a stone had a 'kindly enclyning' -- 'a tendency, a propensity, a bent' -- to fall to earth.

I have long been dubious of the position we often encounter, in various forms and places, that the One Ring is in some way sentient. At one extreme, in Peter Jackson's films, we are not just told that 'the Ring is trying to get back to its Master. It wants to be found', but presented with a Ring that can even whisper the names of those it would corrupt. We may also see view of the Ring in William Senior's more sober entry in The Tolkien Encyclopedia: 'as an extension of Sauron, it appears to have a power and sentience of its own' (484). Most scholarly and daunting of all is Tom Shippey. In The Road to Middle-earth (2003), he argues that The Lord of the Rings may be understood as an 'attempt to reconcile two views of evil, both old, both authoritative, both living, both seemingly contradicted by the other' (140).  The view of St Augustine and Boethius is that 'evil is nothing', that it has no independent existence and cannot create, and that it will in the end be 'redressed' by good. The other view holds that evil is in fact 'real, and not merely an absence' (140-41). Our own experience of this world makes the latter view a tempting one to embrace. Shippey continues:

Tolkien's way of presenting this philosophical duality was through the Ring. It seems in several ways inconsistent. For one thing it is notoriously elastic, and not entirely passive. It 'betrayed' Isildur to the arrows of the orcs; it 'abandoned' Gollum, says Gandalf, in response to the 'dark thought from Mirkwood of its Master'; it all but betrays Frodo in The Prancing Pony when it slips onto his finger and proves his invisibility to the spies for the Nazgûl then present. 'Perhaps it had tried to reveal itself in response to some wish or command that was felt in the room', thinks Frodo, and he is clearly right. For all that it remains an object which cannot move itself or save itself from destruction. It has to work through the agency of its possessors, and especially by picking out the weak points of their characters.... These two possible views of the Ring are kept up throughout the three volumes, sentient creature or psychic amplifier. 
(142)
As we can see, it's a very simple matter to come up with quotations from the book that point in the direction of sentience if we take them literally. Even the film's 'It wants to be found', which does not occur in the book, is a reasonable extrapolation from the book's choice of active verbs -- 'betrayed' (FR 1.ii.55), 'abandoned' (56), 'is trying' (55) and many, many more -- to describe what the Ring is 'doing'. Indeed it is difficult to think of a way to speak of the effect the Ring has without making it sound as if the Ring is sentient. Which brings us back to 'obeying the law of gravity' and 'a kindly enclyning.'

What I wonder is this: what if we consider statements such as those Gandalf makes about the Ring betraying Isildur and abandoning Gollum and trying to get back to its Master from the perspective Lewis describes? As he tells us, such a way of speaking was Medieval, and Tolkien was, after all a Medievalist. Sauron made the Ring and 'let a great part of his former power pass into it', so much so that destroying it will undo him forever. Given this, Chaucer might well say that the hand of Sauron is the Ring's 'kindly stede' to which it would, of its nature, try to return, just as a stone returns to earth and fire to heaven.

But the Ring is not a natural thing, someone might object, unlike the stone Pippin which drops in the well in Moria. True enough. But surely even our benighted age does not yet require a demonstration that any object will fall if let go, regardless of whether it is a work of nature or craft? That palantír plummets rather nicely (TT 3.x.583-84); Frodo drops his sword at Weathertop (FR 1.xi.196); Gollum his fish at the forbidden pool (TT 4.vi.689); and, as everyone knows, 'not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall' (TT 3.ii.424).

How would our understanding of the problem of evil in The Lord of the Rings change if we took these expressions of what the Ring is 'doing' as metaphors? If we step back and say 'the Ring slipped off Isildur's finger' or 'the Ring fell out of Gollum's pocket,' doesn't the burden of evil shift? A complete answer would, I think, involve a long and complex examination of the Ring and all those affected by its 'gravity', both individually and together, and especially Bilbo, Frodo, and Gollum. I think I've been moving in this direction for a while. Let's see where it leads. 

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18 August 2017

Justice Is Indivisible



I think of myself as Irish-American first of all, both of those things one and inseparable. I think about the history of my country and the country of my ancestors, beyond which I think of the history of Europe because that is where my people come from and that is the civilization that had the largest influence on the culture I live in. And just because these cultures are important to me doesn't mean I believe they are immaculate, or alone in the contribution they make to the world.

About the last thing I consider of any importance is the color of my skin, which I like just fine, but it doesn't make me better than anyone else. Admittedly, there are lots of things I don't have to worry about much, if at all, because of the color of my skin. The same goes for my being a straight male. And let's not forget that I am a Christian as well (though not a particularly good one). These accidents of birth confer undeserved privileges on me. As little privileged as I feel, it's hard to fail to see that others have a harder time, sometimes a terribly hard time, without them.

But what kind of idiot would I have to be to think that I am being threatened because others want the same privileges as I was born with? If others can reach a point where they don't have to worry about violence and discrimination because of their color or gender or religion or sexuality, how does that harm me? How is my 'race' diminished? Is there somehow only a finite amount of justice or decency or safety or even just plain courtesy in this world? So some of us have to lose justice in order for others to gain it? 

That's stupid, just plain stupid. I'll just stay Irish-American, if that's what it means to be white. I have nothing in common with people who think like that. Nor do I wish to. There's so much I don't understand about the world today, about people and how they see themselves and what they think is important, but 'I know that justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'


08 August 2017

Dol biþ se þe eaðmod leofaþ?



This morning I sat down to finish The Seafarer. As I usually do, I copied out the lines I was going to translate, trying to get a sense of them as write. Almost at once something seemed a bit odd to my still uncaffeinated eye. (The pot was on, just not there yet.) The first sentence made sense grammatically, but even in the world turned upside down in which we now live it just didn't fit its context, as follows:

Dol biþ se þe eaðmod leofaþ; cymeþ him seo ar of heofonum. 
Foolish be he who lives meekly; to him comes grace from heaven.

So, foolish are the meek, but they get rewarded anyway? That didn't seem even vaguely beatitudinous. I double-checked my vocabulary. I double-check the text I'd written out. Those were the meanings of the words, and those were the words I'd written. As I continued on through the next lines, that first seemed even stranger. It fit less and less with what the poet said. 

What was I missing?

A whole line, as it turned out:

Dol biþ se þe him his drythen ne ondrædeþ: cymeþ him se deaþ unþinged.
Eadig biþ se þe eaþmod leofath; cymeþ him seo ar of heofonum
Foolish be he who does not fear the Lord: to him comes death unlooked for.
Blessed be he who lives meekly; to him comes grace from heaven.

Since I copy out three or four words at a time, my eye must have skipped because three of the first four words are the same. 

So once again my respect and sympathy for those in the scriptorium grows. Alcuin said there'd be days like this.

06 August 2017

'Not Unlike the Verse of the English' -- From Rohan to the Havens of Sirion

Alan Lee © 2007 


Many of us no doubt first encountered alliterative verse in Tolkien, in the scene where Aragorn first chants in the language of the Mark, and then translates the words of 'a forgotten poet long ago':
Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
(TT 3.vi.508)
Or later in the stirring lines as the host of Rohan sets forth to war:

From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning
With thain and captain rode Thengel's son
(RK 5.iii.803)
Soon we learned, if The Lord of the Rings had truly fired our imaginations, that the people and culture of Rohan owed much to Tolkien's love of Old English and the people who spoke it. Beowulf, the epic so central to his scholarly and imaginative lives, and the study of which he had so great an effect on precisely because of his scholarly and imaginative lives -- Beowulf was composed in alliterative verse, as was The Wanderer, which provided the model for the lines Aragorn chanted (92-93):
Hwær com mearh? Hwær com magu? Hwær com maðumgiefa?
Hwær com symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?  
Where is the horse? Where is the warrior? Where the giver of treasures?
Where are the seats at the banquet? Where the joys of the mead-hall?
Elsewhere Faramir speaks to Frodo of the men of Rohan, saying that they have not become like the men of Gondor. For they 'hold by the ways of their own fathers and to their own memories, and they speak among themselves their own north tongue.' Of the ways and history of Gondor they have learned only what was necessary for them to learn.
they remind us of the youth of Men, as they were in the Elder Days. Indeed it is said by our lore-masters that they have from of old this affinity with us that they are come from those same Three Houses of Men as were the Númenóreans in their beginning; not from Hador the Goldenhaired, the Elf-friend, maybe, yet from such of his sons and people as went not over Sea into the West, refusing the call.
(TT 4.v.678)
That Faramir, whose heart is of downfallen Númenor and waning Gondor, should link the Rohirrim to those of the Edain who did not go into the West, citing 'our lore-masters' to back up the general impression of the Men of Rohan, is intriguing enough in itself  -- for they escaped the fall that the Númenor suffered -- but for now it is enough to note that his words point to the persistence of their traditional their ways. Which is not to say that their ways have been unchanged for thousands of years, or that he regards them as faultless (he does not), but that their ways and their language are old, more in touch perhaps with what Men were on their own. This may well include their mode of poetry. And the fact that Aragorn's poem about Eorl the Young, who died five centuries earlier, was also in alliterative meter points in the same direction. Indeed the song and the form have persisted long after the poet himself has been forgotten.

From about six hundred years before that comes another example of alliterative verse, and from a source we might not at first expect, given the strong association of this type of verse with Rohan:
'Thus spoke Malbeth the Seer, in the days of Arvedui, last king at Fornost,' said Aragorn: 
Over the land there lies a long shadow,
westward reaching wings of darkness.
The Tower trembles; to the tombs of kings
doom approaches. The Dead awaken;
for the hour is come for the oathbreakers;
at the Stone of Erech they shall stand again
and hear there a horn in the hills ringing.
Whose shall the horn be? Who shall call them
from the grey twilight, the forgotten people?
The heir of him to whom the oath they swore.
From the North shall he come, need shall drive him:
he shall pass the Door to the Paths of the Dead.
(RK 5.ii.781)
Now as Corey Olsen pointed out in discussing these verses in his Signum University course of Tolkien's Poetry, the Anglo-Saxons were not the only people in Medieval Europe to compose alliterative verse. We have many examples of it in Old Norse, Old High German, and Old Saxon. So we should not be surprised to find alliterative verse elsewhere in Middle-earth. But since different races within Middle-earth tend to compose in different meters -- Hobbits in iambic tetrameter, Elves in iambic heptameter, Tom Bombadil in trochaic heptameter -- may we not wonder if Tolkien means alliterative verse to represent a distinctly mannish verse form?

Relevant to this are some notes of Tolkien's, first referred to in Unfinished Tales (146) and later published in The War of the Jewels (311-315), which allow us to make a leap backward into the poetry of the First Age, to the oldest piece of mannish verse we know of, the Tale of the Children of Húrin. The speaker is Ælfwine:
But here I will tell as I may a Tale of Men that Dírhaval of the Havens made in the days of Eärendel long ago. Narn i Chîn Húrin he called it, the Tale of the Children of Húrin, which is the longest of all the lays that are now remembered in Eressëa, though it was made by a man.

For such was Dírhaval. He came of the House of Hador, it is said, and the glory and sorrow of that House was nearest to his heart. Dwelling at the Havens of Sirion, he gathered there all the tidings and lore that he could; for in the last days of Beleriand there came thither remnants out of all the countries, both Men and Elves: from Hithlum and Dorlómin, from Nargothrond and Doriath, from Gondolin and the realms of the Sons of Fëanor in the east. This lay was all that Dírhaval ever made, but it was prized by the Eldar, for Dírhaval used the Grey-elven tongue, in which he had great skill. He used that mode of Elvish verse which is called [minlamad thent/estent] which was of old proper to the narn; but though this verse mode is not unlike the verse of the English, I have rendered it in prose, judging my skill too small to be at once scop [i.e., poet] and walhstod [i.e., interpreter/translator]. 
(Jewels 312-13)

According to Patrick Wynne and Carl Hostetter (2000, 121-22), the elvish name of this verse form strongly suggests alliterative verse, and we know also of course that Tolkien wrote a long, but incomplete alliterative Lay of the Children of Húrin in the 1920s (Lays 3-130).  Should we then see some connection between this and the poem that Ælfwine translated? Christopher Tolkien admits that it's tempting to do so, but suggests that 'this may be delusory' (Jewels 314).  However that may be, we need no such link to see that Tolkien imagined alliterative verse as something composed by Men all the way back into the First Age. The connection to the House of Hador shared by Dírhaval and the Rohirrim is both striking and sad, since he neither crossed the sea to Númenor nor refused the call. For he was slain in the Third Kinslaying at the Havens of Sirion.


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05 August 2017

'Do you bite your thumb at me, sir?' -- A Shakespearean Túrin

Alan Lee © 2007


One of the strangest sidelights on the long dark tale of Túrin Turambar is perhaps the following:

[F]or indeed the speech of Doriath, whether of the king or others, was even in the days of Túrin more antique than that used elsewhere. One thing (as Mîm observed) of which Túrin never rid himself, despite his grievance against Doriath, was the speech he had acquired during his fostering. Though a Man, he spoke like an Elf of the Hidden Kingdom, which is as though a Man should now appear, whose speech and schooling until manhood had been that of some secluded country where the English had remained nearer that of the court of Elizabeth I than of Elizabeth II.
(Jewels 312)
Tybalt wouldn't stand a chance, but then again no one near Túrin did.

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30 July 2017

Long Ago




Last night I returned home after a rare pleasant evening with a friend, watching the day fade into the shadow of the sea. It was late and I was tired, but still I thought I might squeeze in a dozen lines or so of The Seafarer before I could no longer keep my eyes open. I wrote out the lines I meant to translate, and was glad to see that my arm and hand didn't hurt too much. 

I didn't get far, maybe a sentence or so in, before I conceded the battle. My head kept dipping, my eyes closing no matter how I wanted them open. Sleep had the better of me.

This morning when I returned to my desk and glanced over what I had done, I noticed that in the very middle of my vocabulary notes I had scrawled the words 'long ago'. But these words have no source in the lines I was translating, or even on the same page. 

Where had I been? Where had I gone in my sleep that I chose to write down these words?

29 July 2017

In Memoriam John Hurt





The first time I saw John Hurt in was as Caligula in  I, Claudius and the last was as The War Doctor in Doctor Who. Talk about regeneration. 



22 July 2017

The Problem with Tauriel




Unlike many fans of Tolkien I had no problem with Tauriel as a new character developed for the Hobbit films. My opinion of Jacksons' achievement with her is in general much higher than my opinion of his success overall. It was a series of films with moments I loved -- the unexpected party and riddles in the dark scenes in particular -- and one performance I thought was splendid -- Martin Freeman as Bilbo --  but which I thought wasted the assembled talent and the possibilities in the story.  Stephen Fry, a longtime favorite of mine, was dreadfully disappointing, and the scene with the goblins beneath the Misty Mountains was as ridiculous as the scene in the mines in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In fact my reaction to these three bloated movies is aptly summed up in the words of Dáin Ironfoot, as portrayed by Billy Connolly. When the were-worms burst out of the earth before the climactic battle, he cries out in exasperation: 'Oh, come on.'

From the start, however, Tauriel seemed competent, smart, and tough in herself regardless of others. Even in that cringing scene in which the contents of Kili's trousers (now there's a word Tolkien would have chosen to use) are the subject, if not the object, of banter, the goal seemed to be to portray that kind of cagey toughness and wit which Lauren Bacall played so well in To Have and Have Not. Sexy, poised, unafraid.




But she is more than that, too. She looks beyond the borders of her land to see the troubles of the larger world, just as the real Galadriel did before she diminished and went into New Zealand* and turned blue.  Tauriel grasps things that the inward looking males of Mirkwood do not wish to acknowledge. She see that her people may be able to fence themselves in, but cannot forever fence the world out. Like Éowyn she fights well and bravely and fearlessly, but unlike her she already knows how to heal. She understands her own heart.

Even so, despite Jackson's success with her character per se, her story went off the rails like an express train. The idea that she had to have some kind of love interest was a flaw from the beginning. It profoundly, almost contemptuously, underestimated the intelligence of the fans in general and women in particular. Still, an underplayed ending to her story might have approached success (faint praise, I know). Yet her preposterous exchange with Thranduil over Kili's body --- 'Why does it hurt so much?' 'Because it was real' -- exploded the credibility of her character, sacrificing all the good of it for one of the clumsiest weepy endings I can recall seeing. One need only compare Bilbo's scene with Thorin, and the silent witness he bears to the toll of the battle, to know how much better it could have been handled. But Bilbo's response to the losses around him has its origin in the pen of Tolkien, who could write and knew death on the battlefield too well.

So the problem with Tauriel is that creating a good character is not the same as writing a good story for her. Consider how much more firmly the makers of Wonder Woman reined in this aspect of her story, so that there even the banter about the needfulness of men to women subserves the larger tale of Diana's realization of her own heroic stature in a world both larger and lesser than her home, a world which the women of Themiscyra have long fenced out. Had Jackson resisted the temptation to follow the traditional cinematic playbook that requires female characters to have a love interest -- had he even asked himself what Tolkien would have done with her -- Tauriel's story might have proved meaningful instead of maudlin. 

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*No offense to the good folk of New Zealand, which seems a wonderful place. I very nearly moved there long ago.

21 July 2017

Thomas of Erceldoune I -- Preliminary Remarks





Lystyns, lordyngs, bothe grete & smale,
And takis gude tent what j will saye:
I sall ȝow telle als trewe a tale,
Als ever was herde by nyghte or daye:
And þe maste meruelle ffor owttyne naye,
That euer was herde by-fore or syene,
And þer-fore pristly j ȝow praye,
That ȝe will of ȝoure talkyng blyne.

Listen, lordings, both great and small,
And take good heed of what I will say:
I shall you tell as true a tale,
As ever was heard by night or day:
The most marvellous, there's no denying,
That ever was heard before or since.
And therefore readily I you pray,
That ye will of your talking cease.


I am about to embark on a task for which I am not particularly well qualified, being rather an expatriate Classicist than a native Medievalist. But I am going to try to provide some kind of text of the Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune. I am doing this because I find it an interesting work, of undoubted influence, and because no one, as far as I can see, has done so since 1875. I hope that what I come up with will at least be useful because of its accessibility, even if it might not be all that every Medievalist (and sometime Classicist) would want it to be. 
That hat, those shelves!

The 1875 edition, published by the Early English Text Society (reprinted 2008), and edited by the James Murray, is also available at archive.org. The online edition is hard to work with because of the formatting, and the EETS reprint is bit dear. This led me to a mistake. I purchased (though not from EETS) what turned out to be a criminally overpriced, abominably bad scan of Murray's edition. I can only concede that I got what I paid for. It was so poor, blurry, and faint that I found it nearly impossible to read. Had I lashed it to a brick and hurled it through the manufacturer's window, a jury would have called us even. 

I then inquired of the good folk at the Middle English Texts Series whether anyone had an edition in the works for them. They said no, but declared themselves always willing to consider proposals. Though I backed slowly away, I nevertheless kept thinking that this work should be available and readable. So recently I bit the bullet and bought a library rebinding of the actual first edition. It's a wonderful little book, with the library hard covers bound over the original soft covers, and the marvelous ragged edges of a book whose pages came uncut. (If you've never cut pages, it is both thrilling and a little scary. The Collection Budé series of Latin and Greek authors still came with uncut pages as recently as the 1990s.)

What did I mean above when I said I meant to provide 'some kind of text' of this work? Well, nothing as ambitious as a critical edition. I haven't the time or the ability to go see the manuscripts themselves, of which there are five, nor do I have the expertise in Middle English, its northern dialects, or its paleography to establish or emend a text. Murray gives the texts of all five mss. I shall give only the text of the oldest, Thornton (Lincoln MS 91), which was made in the 1430s, a generation or so after the Romance was composed (Murray, xxiii), and about a century and a half after the historical Thomas the Rhymer lived (ca. 1220 - ca. 1298). For this I give two reasons. The oldest ms is often (though not always) the best, since it is closest to the source.  And simplicity: Murray supplies all five mss, as nearly side by side as can be managed on a small page, but this makes following the tale from one page to the next more difficult and at times confusing. At least this was so for me. By restricting myself to the Thornton MS, I aim to provide a text of the story that is easier to follow. In the end, that's what it's all about.

Wherever the other mss offer interesting details or readings of note, I will of course bring them in. Any scholarship more recent than 1875 that I find and can get my hands on will also find a place here along with my own comments on the text. I imagine that in time I will bring in the later material from the ballads, though I am still undecided about what to do, if anything, with the prophecies. But obviously the place to start will be with the Romance itself, which I will begin putting up soon. Any questions and suggestions will as always be welcome. Just be kind: in the fine tradition of Harlan Ellison, I am working without a net here.



14 July 2017

Who Says Middlemarch is Outdated?

The Statue of George Eliot in Nuneaton, Warwickshire




Every now and then at the shop we receive spectacular news. Today a notice came in that a certain edition of Middlemarch contained a printing error, and that, if we had copies containing this error, we had to pull them from the shelves and destroy them. A few words had been dropped from the following sentence:

'Ladislaw had made up his mind that she must be an unpleasant girl, since she was going to marry Casaubon....'

Which produced what can only be considered a major revision:

'Ladislaw had made up his mind to marry Casaubon'

This could work out rather nicely, since it makes possible the ending I found myself wishing for, in which Dorothea ended up with the doctor. Not being at all fond of Casaubon and Ladislaw, I am perfectly content that they should be miserable together.

(It occurs to me, not without some trepidation, that I have just written a blog post on Middlemarch at 1 o'clock in the morning. I may have to adopt several cats.)

10 July 2017

Ava Gardner, Robert Graves, and J.R.R. Tolkien Walk into a room....

Ava Gardner in "55 Days at Peking" (1963)



No, this isn't the beginning of a joke. But it is funny to hear Tolkien tell the story in a letter written January 1965:
I am neither disturbed (nor surprised) at the limitations of my 'fame'. There are lots of people in Oxford who have never heard of me, let alone of my books. But I can repay many of them with equal ignorance: neither wilful nor contemptuous, simply accidental. An amusing incident occurred in November, when I went as a courtesy to hear the last lecture of this series of his given by the Professor of Poetry: Robert Graves. (A remarkable creature, entertaining, likeable, odd, bonnet full of wild bees, half-German, half-Irish, very tall, must have looked like Siegfried/Sigurd in his youth, but an Ass.) It was the most ludicrously bad lecture I have ever heard. After it he introduced me to a pleasant young woman who had attended it: well but quietly dressed, easy and agreeable, and we got on quite well. But Graves started to laugh; and he said: 'it is obvious neither of you has ever heard of the other before'. Quite true. And I had not supposed that the lady would ever have heard of me. Her name was Ava Gardner, but it still meant nothing, till people more aware of the world informed me that she was a film-star of some magnitude, and that the press of pressmen and storm of flash-bulbs on the steps of the Schools were not directed at Graves (and cert. not at me) but at her. ....
Just so you know, the ellipsis at the end is not mine. Whether it was Humphrey Carpenter or Christopher Tolkien who edited out what immediately followed, I don't know. But the omission makes me wonder what came next.  Oddly, I had long remembered the letter for Tolkien's characterization of Graves and his lecture (the italics and the capital A are his), but had entirely forgotten the presence of Ava Gardner.  I really must get out more. 



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And his feet are faster -- Old Tom's Trochees (FR 1.viii.142)

copyright Alan Lee


Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow,
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master:
His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster. 
(FR 1.viii.142)

So I was driving down the road thinking of Tom Bombadil, as one does. The bit about the feet had long seemed to me to be only one of the many odd things Old Tom says. But now it occurred to me that there may be more here than eccentricity. For virtually every word out of Bombadil's mouth is poetry. Whether singing or speaking, his words are rhythmic and predominantly trochaic, though not perfectly regular. We can see this clearly in the lines I quoted, three out of four begin with slow and heavy spondees, but then suddenly switch to trochees and rush off to the end of the line. The other line is entirely trochaic:

Óld Tóm Bómbadíl ís a mérry féllow.
Bríght blúe his jácket ís, ánd his boóts are yéllow.
Nóne has éver caúght him yét, for Tóm, he ís the Máster:
Hís sóngs are strónger sóngs, ánd his feét are fáster.


A trochee is a metrical foot which in English consists of two syllables, the first stressed and the second unstressed. The English noun trochee comes from the Ancient Greek adjective τροχαῖος (trochaios). This in turn derives from the verb τρέχω (trecho), meaning 'run'. Τροχαῖος, moreover, is shorthand for τροχαῖος πούς (trochaios pous), which means 'running foot'. Trochees thus run. They are much swifter than their opposite, iambs (unstressed, stressed), which in poetry both Greek and English have long been used to represent the rhythm of normal speech. All of this will have been well known to Tolkien, who, like many educated Englishmen of his day, had learnt a great deal of Latin and Greek at school. It was this, he said, that helped him discover his love of poetry:

'[As a child] I was, for instance, insensitive to poetry, and skipped it if it came in tales. Poetry I discovered much later in Latin and Greek, and especially through being made to try and translate English verse into classical verse.'
(OFS ¶ 56)

In this connection it is also intriguing that most other poetry in The Lord of the Rings is iambic, though the lengths of the lines vary.  Hobbit poetry tends to be in iambic tetrameter, Elvish in iambic heptameter, or alternating lines of tetrameter and trimeter. Two things make this noteworthy. First, the first elf poem we encounter in The Lord of the Rings is in iambic tetrameter, which we normally associate with hobbits, but we are hearing this poem, which the Elves are singing in Elvish, as it is understood and represented by a hobbit (FR 1.iii.79). Second. Bombadil's songs are also in heptameter, but a largely trochaic heptameter. Thus their seven trochaic beats counterbalance the seven iambic beats of the 'elf meter.' Clearly Tolkien devoted thought to details of this kind, and one wonders what might lie behind this metrical opposition. When the poet is also a philologist who professes that '[t]he incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval' (OFS ¶ 27), there is certainly room for further inquiry.

So the faster feet of which Tom spoke may not be the feet we thought they were.

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04 July 2017

There Were Giants in the Earth in Those Days -- Jakob Grimm's 'Teutonic Mythology'

Jakob Grimm



Teutonic Mythology 
Chapter I. 
Introduction.1
From the westernmost shore of Asia, Christianity had turned at once to the opposite one of Europe. The wide soil of the continent which had given it birth could not supply it long with nourishment; neither did it strike deep root in the north of Africa. Europe soon became, and remained, its proper dwelling-place and home.
It is worthy of notice, that the direction in which the new faith worked its way, from South to North, is contrary to the current of migration which was then driving the nations from the East and North to the West and South. As spiritual light penetrated from the one quarter, life itself was to be reinvigorated from the other. 
The worn out empire of the Romans saw both its interior convulsed, and its frontier overstept. Yet, by the same weighty doctrine which had just overthrown her ancient gods, subjugated Rome was able to subdue her conquerors anew. By this means the flood-tide of invasion was gradually checked, the newly converted lands began to gather strength and to turn their arms against the heathen left in their rear. 
Slowly, step by step, Heathendom gave way to Christendom. Five hundred years after Christ, but few nations of Europe believed in him; after a thousand years the majority did, and those the most important, yet not all.


In a book that deals so much with Heathenism, the meaning of the term ought not to be passed over. The Greeks and Romans had no special name for nations of another faith (for ἑτερόδοξοι, βάρβαροι were not used in that sense); but with the Jews and Christians of the N.T. are contrasted ἔθνος, ἔθνεα, ἐθνικοί, Lat. gentes, gentiles; Ulphilas uses the pl. thiudós, and by preference in the gen[itive] after a pronoun, thái thiudó, sumái thiudó (gramm. 4, 441, 457), while thiudiskó translates ἐθνικῶς Gal. 2, 14. As it was mainly Greek religion that stood opposed to the Judæo-Christian, the word Ἕλλην also assumed the meaning ἐθνικός, and we meet with ἑλλενικώς = ἐθνικῶς, which the Goth would still have rendered thiudiskós, as he does render Ἕλληνες thiudós, John 7, 35. 12,20. 1 Cor. 1, 24. 12, 13; only in 1 Cor. 1, 22 he prefers Krêkôs. This Ἕλλην = gentilis bears also the meaning of giant, which has developed itself out of more than one national name (Hun, Avar, Tchudi); so the Hellenic walls came to be heathenish, gigantic (see ch. XVIII). In Old High German, Notker still uses the pl. diete for gentiles (Graff. 5, 128). In the meanwhile pagus had expanded its narrow meaning of κώμη into the wider one of ager, campus, in which sense it still lives in It. paese, Fr. pays; while paganus began to push out gentilis, which was lapsing into the sense of nobilis. All the Romance languages have their pagano, payen, &c., nay, it has penetrated into the Bohem. pohan, Pol. paganin, Lith. pagonas [but Russ. pagan = unclean]. The Gothic háithi campus early developed an adj háithns agrestis, campestris = paganus (Ulph. in Mark 7, 26 renders ἑλληνίς by háithnô;), the Old H.G. heida as adj heidan, Mid. H.G. and Dutch heide heiden, A.S. hæð hæðin, Engl. heath heathen, Old Norse heið heiðinn; Swed. and Dan. use hedning. The O.H.G. word retains its adj. nature and forms its gen. pl. heidanêro. Our present heide, gen. heiden (for heiden, gen. heidens) is erroneous, but current ever since Luther. Full confirmation is afforded by Mid. Lat agrestis = paganus, e.g. in the passage quoted in ch. IV from Vita S. Agili; and the 'wilde heiden' in our Heldenbuch is an evident pleonasm (see Supplement).
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I can only start at the end here: '(see Supplement)'. See Supplement! And in a parenthesis, forsooth. I can only laugh, not in mockery but wonder. Or awe, if one can be said to laugh in awe. We have here the first footnote, not attached to the text but to the title of the first chapter. Grimm hasn't even said anything yet, and he is already providing footnotes more packed with learning and meaning than whole scholarly books I have read within these lonesome, latter years. (The second chapter is titled 'God'. What if there's a similar footnote on that? Reading it might have the same effect as seeing God face to face.) And Grimm with a wave of his hand tells me, merely, that there's more where this came from: 'see supplement.'

And why, pray, need we see the Supplement? To be filled in on the 'evident pleonasm' of 'wilde heiden' of course. If 'pleonasm' gives you pause, and small wonder if it does, it means 'the use of more words than necessary to convey meaning (e.g., to see with one's eyes), either as a fault of style or for emphasis', as Google tells us. And if we glance at the usage graph for pleonasm -- Google was kind enough to include with its definition -- we will see that this word was in its heyday when Grimm (1785-1863) was employing it to indicate that saying 'wild heathens' ('wilde heiden') was redundant.


So if 'pleonasm' isn't quite as current as 'woke', it also isn't as played out by the poseurs. Now you might well find 'pleonasm' pedantic, or indeed all of this splendid Goliath of a footnote, which is much longer than the first four paragraphs of the book itself -- the first volume of four, mind you. True enough, pedantry can also be a pose, but not here, I think. The immensity of the learning we discover in this footnote, deeply and firmly rooted in languages, fifteen different languages all related to each other, is not just here for display. It provides the philological underpinnings of so much of the grand sweep of history Grimm is about to set before us in those first four amazing introductory paragraphs: the transformative coming together of the Christian and the Heathen in Europe.

The all-knowing panoramic eye that takes in a thousand years of history at a glance seems godlike in a way that writers of the 19th century excelled at, and surely a part of the reason they did so was the view they embodied that Europe and Christianity were of course superior. The soil of Asia was not fertile enough for Christianity to flourish there, and in Africa, well, it could barely get roots down in Africa. But Europe now, Europe had just what Christianity needed. It had the vigor and courage of the onrushing northern invaders, so many of whom were Teutonic. And even if these Germanic peoples possessed in their heathendom one of the two elements that would make Europe "exceptional", and that would be used to "justify" its exceptionalism -- and, therefore, much else that was not admirable -- vis à vis the rest of the world, nevertheless the rediscovery of who those heathens were through their myths and their language was surely also a worthy object of study. And it remains worthy. Wrong again, Alcuin.


28 June 2017

Down here in Cuiviénen! -- A Musical Guest-post by Richard Rohlin


At Lake Cuiviénen - copyright Ted Nasmith


Recently at Mythmoot IV I my friend, Richard Rohlin and I were bantering nerdily, as one does, and I challenged him to write a song about Cuiviénen set to the tune of "Deep in the Heart of Texas." As is his wont, Richard took up that challenge and responded brilliantly. 

For those of us born on the wrong side of the Red River, here's a link to the song, so you can read Richard's rendering with the tune in your head:





The stars at night
Are big and bright
clap clap clap clap
Down here in Cuiviénen!
And Varda's sky
Is wide and high
clap clap clap clap
Down here in Cuiviénen!

The hounds that bay
With Orome
clap clap clap clap
Down here in Cuiviénen!
Go hunting fiends
With leathery wings
clap clap clap clap
Away from Cuiviénen!

The Trees in Bloom
Are bright as Noon
clap clap clap clap
But not in Cuiviénen!
The Valar keep
The world asleep
clap clap clap clap
Down here in Cuiviénen!

The Valar say
We should not stay
clap clap clap clap
Down here in Cuiviénen!
They bid us ride
Towards the light
clap clap clap clap
Away from Cuiviénen!

Teleri stay,
Or long delay
clap clap clap clap
Down here in Cuiviénen! 
Or lose the path
In Doriath
clap clap clap clap
Away from in Cuiviénen!

The Elven tribes
Recall the sight
clap clap clap clap
Of fairest Cuiviénen!
But go no more
Unto its shore
clap clap clap clap
Way back in Cuiviénen!

 And if this isn't enough to spark wonder, I don't know what is. 

'As it was told of old' -- Two observations on FR 1.xi.191

'Beren and Luthien in the Court of Thingol and Melian.' copyright 2017 Donato Giancola


'I will tell you the tale of Tinúviel,' said Strider, 'in brief – for it is a long tale of which the end is not known; and there are none now, except Elrond, that remember it aright as it was told of old. It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all the tales of Middle-earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts.'
(FR 1.xi.191)

Aragorn's words here indicate that the Tale of Beren and Lúthien was not remembered and told 'aright' in places other than Rivendell. Given the multiple, unfinished or abbreviated versions of the Tale Tolkien wrote, he may well be poking fun at himself here.

To say that the end of the Tale is 'not known' is not the same as to say that the lay is unfinished. Indeed the hobbits later hear it sung 'in full' at Rivendell (FR 2.iii.277). What Strider says here, at Weathertop, shows that he fully understands what Sam grasps only later on, that they're 'in the same tale still.  It's going on', because the 'great tales never end' (TT 4.viii.712). 


23 June 2017

Sand of Pearls in Elvenland, or, Boethius on the Shore

Being a lifelong lover of the Sea and the shore, I have always found Tolkien's evocation of the home of the Teleri beyond the Sea appealing. So the moment in The Silmarillion in which Finrod conjures this place in song, only to have it turned against him by Sauron in his song has always been for me, not surprisingly, one of great enchantment and dismay:

Backwards and forwards swayed their song.
Reeling and foundering, as ever more strong
The chanting swelled, Felagund fought,
And all the magic and might he brought
Of Elvenesse into his words.
Softly in the gloom they heard the birds
Singing afar in Nargothrond,
The sighing of the Sea beyond,
Beyond the western world, on sand,
On sand of pearls in Elvenland.
     Then the gloom gathered; darkness growing
In Valinor, the red blood flowing
Beside the Sea, where the Noldor slew
The Foamriders, and stealing drew
Their white ships with their white sails
From lamplit havens. The wind wails,
The wolf howls. The ravens flee.
The ice mutters in the mouths of the Sea.
The captives sad in Angband mourn.
Thunder rumbles, the fires burn --
And Finrod fell before the throne. 
                                                                 (Silm. 171)

In these lines the most striking have always been the turning point: 
The sighing of the Sea beyond,
Beyond the western world, on sand,
On sand of pearls on Elvenland. 
Then the gloom gathered; darkness growing
In Valinor, the red blood flowing
Beside the Sea...
The sound of the water sighing as it slides up the beach is one well known and well loved by me. And there's always this instant, this caesura if you will, when the water pauses ever so briefly as it reaches its highest point before slipping away down the slope.  The words 'on sand, / On sand of pearls in Elvenland' mark that instant of nature and peripety, both for the Sea as Finrod conjures it and for Finrod in his battle against Sauron. The cunning of Sauron turns the memory of Finrod against itself by recalling the Kinslaying.

It is a sweeping moment and the image of 'sand of pearls' is vivid and powerful not only in itself, but more importantly in its contrast to the gloom and 'red blood flowing' which is the next wave, as it were. The very images that Finrod conjures to combat the darkness themselves end in darkness. They do so now because they did so then. Paradoxically, Sauron is here the Undeceiver. He will not allow Finrod to see the pearls shining on the jeweled strand, but forget the blood which stains them. That it was the quest to regain other jewels that led to their staining only increases the irony, and the force of what may be an implicit lesson.

For in one of the poems in The Consolation of Philosophy Lady Philosophy bids all those taken prisoner by the desire to possess (libido) to come to her (Book 3, poem 10):

huc omnes pariter venite capti,
quos fallax ligat improbis catenis,
terrenas habitans libido mentes:
haec erit vobis requies laborum
05    hic portus placida manens quiete
hoc patens unum miseris asylum.
non quicquid Tagus aureis harenis
donat aut Hermus rutilante ripa
aut Indus calido propinquus orbi
10    candidis miscens virides lapillos*
inlustrent aciem magisque caecos
in suas condunt animos tenebras.
hoc, quicquid placet excitatque mentes,
infimis tellus aluit cavernis;
15    splendor quo regitur vigetque caelum**
vitat obscuras animae ruinas;
hanc quisqe poterit notare lucem
candidos Phoebi radios negabit.

Which I render:

Come here all you prisoners,
Whom deceitful lust, which dwells in earthbound minds,
Binds in chains of wickedness.
Here you will find rest from labors,
05   Here a haven waiting in gentle peace,
Here a single refuge open to all the wretched.
No gift which the Tagus bestows with its sands of gold,
Or the Hermus with its red-gold banks,
Or the Indus which, at the edge of the Torrid Zone,***
10  Mixes emeralds with shining white pearls --
None of these gifts could illuminate your vision rather than
fixing your blind minds in a darkness of their own.
Whatever pleases and stirs our minds,
This the earth nurtures in its deepest caverns;
15  But the splendor by which the heavens** are ruled and flourish
Shuns the dark ruins of our minds;
Whoever takes note of this light,
Will deny that Phoebus' rays shine bright. 

It is with the image of just such a haven (portus) or refuge (asylum) that Finrod, the exile and prisoner, seeks to combat the darkness in which he finds himself. But he is as deceived as those whom the brightness of jewels deludes. Their splendor does not illuminate the mind but darkens it, because they themselves come from the lowest deeps of the earth (line 14: infimis tellus aluit cavernis). Even the pearls found on the banks of the Indus at the far side of the world lead only to darkness, as Finrod, mutatis mutandis, finds to his cost. In the context of Finrod's tragic failure it is surely worth pointing out that of all the princes of the Noldor in exile he was the one who 'had brought more treasures out of Tirion' (Silm. 114). Wise and noble, kind and generous he may have been, but also not without fault.

The sand, the pearls, the water, the farthest shores of the inhabited world, the false promise of shiny things that offer neither refuge nor enlightenment, all find themselves transformed in Tolkien's hands from philosophy into the setting for tragedy. Through Fëanor's greedy love of the Silmarils and Morgoth's lust to possess them solely (Silm. 67, 69) -- or libido as Lady Philosophy would call it -- moral and physical darkness come first to Valinor, and then to Middle-earth.  Conversely, it is also not until Beren and Lúthien seek a silmaril out of love, not in order to possess it, but only to give it away, that it begins to become something whose splendor will bring hope to the world and illuminate, however briefly, even the oath-blind minds of the sons of Fëanor (Silm. 250).  And this, too, fits, because in an earlier poem, Lady Philosophy had pointed out that love (amor) binds (ligat) the world together properly (Book 2, poem 8.1-15), and that without love the very mechanism by which the world is moved would be destroyed (16-21). Moreover, she concludes (28-30) in words that line 15 of Book 3, poem 10 echoes:

O felix hominum genus,
Si vestros animos amor,
Quo caelum** regitur, regat. 
O fortunate human race,
If the love, by which the heavens** are ruled,
Also ruled your minds!
It is nothing new of course to note that Tolkien knew his Boethius, but he also seems to have drawn on him for one of his most vivid and exotic images in such away that it allowed him to give dramatic life to the ideas expressed by Lady Philosophy in her dialogue with Boethius.
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*  This line appears to be an allusion to Horace Serm. 1.2.80, where he refers to a woman 'inter niveos viridesque lapillos', that is, ‘amid her pearls and emeralds’. 'Niveos' -- 'white as snow' -- emphasizes the shining brightness of the color, just as 'candidis' does in Boethius. Roman politicians would wear a specially whitened toga, the toga candidata, to make themselves more visible. 

Given Tolkien's extensive reading in Classics, it is quite possible, even likely, that he will have read this satire of Horace, and so recognized Boethius' allusion.

** 'Caelum' is singular in Latin, but I have translated it as plural to avoid the suggestion that Boethius is talking about Heaven.

*** The Torrid Zone was the area nearest the equator which was commonly thought too hot to sustain life.



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My Bentley's Horace



16 June 2017

'Our king, we call him' -- The Identity of the Speaker at RK App. A 1043-44




In the section of Appendix A called The North Kingdom and the Dúnedain an anonymous speaker tells something of the return of King Elessar to the North:

There were fourteen Chieftains, before the fifteenth and last was born, Aragorn II, who became again King of both Gondor and Arnor. 'Our King, we call him; and when he comes north to his house in Annúminas restored and stays for a while by Lake Evendim, then everyone in the Shire is glad. But he does not enter this land and binds himself by the law that he has made, that none of the Big People shall pass its borders. But he rides often with many fair people to the Great Bridge, and there he welcomes his friends, and any others who wish to see him; and some ride away with him and stay in his house as long as they have a mind. Thain Peregrin has been there many times; and so has Master Samwise the Mayor. His daughter Elanor the Fair is one of the maids of Queen Evenstar.' 

(RK App A 1043-44)
Let's look at the facts of this quote and see if we can make an educated guess about the identity of the speaker here.

  • 'Our King, we call him' establishes the speaker as a hobbit, likely addressing an audience from outside the Shire.
  • 'Our King, we call him' is also quite informal in tone, suggesting that the speaker is addressing someone he or she knows.
  • The need to identify Sam as the Mayor, and Peregrin as the Thain, also indicates an external audience. Hobbits would know these facts.
  • The reference to the Brandywine Bridge as the Great Bridge also points to an external audience, since the evidence from within the Tale indicates that amongst themselves the hobbits tended to call it the Brandywine Bridge, or just the Bridge (FR Pr. 5; 1.i.24; iii.71; iv.88; v.99 twice, 100, 107 twice, 108; viii.137; ix.150; RK 6.vii.996; viii.998 twice, 999, 1000, 1001, 1003; App A 1044; App B 1,096, 1097).
  • 'Thain Peregrin has been there many times' dates this comment after S.R. 1434 (FA 13), when Pippin became the Thain, perhaps much later (thus, 'many times').
  • Since Elanor became a maid of the Queen in S.R. 1436 (FA 15), we can bring forward the terminus post quem to that year.
  • 'So has Master Samwise' shows that Sam has not yet crossed the Sea, as he did in S.R. 1482 (FA 61). This fixes the terminus ante quem.
  • The speaker speaks as one explaining to an outsider, pointing out that Sam is the Mayor, that Elanor is his daughter, and that Peregrin is the Thain.
  • Identifying Elanor as the Fair and as one of Arwen's maids seems a point of local pride, like 'Our King', but claims no kinship with her.
  • The speaker seems to be none of the hobbits mentioned in the statement. 
So who is the most likely candidate in the years S.R. 1436-1482 (FA 15-61) to be familiar with these matters and addressing a known audience outside the Shire in an informal tone? By far the most obvious choice would be Merry Brandybuck, who, as friend of the King -- and after S.R.  1432 (FA 11) himself the Master of Buckland -- must have been at the Brandywine Bridge to meet the King. Whom he is addressing is impossible to say, but we might guess, not unreasonably, that he was writing to Éowyn, to Éomer, or to them both, since they never forgot their friendship with him (RK App B. 1097 twice).

14 June 2017

The Filial Piety of 'Master Samwise'



I noticed some time ago that Sam is called Master Samwise in interesting places. There is of course the chapter title, The Choices of Master Samwise, and the uniquely and curiously named Longfather Tree of Master Samwise in Appendix C. It became even more intriguing when I noticed that in Appendix B, The Tale of Years, Sam is always called 'Master Samwise' after Aragorn makes him an official Counsellor of the North-kingdom in S.R. 1434. While this might be thought to suggest the origin of the title, it isn't as easy as that. In the entries under 1436 and 1442 we read, respectively: 

King Elessar rides north, and dwells for a while by Lake Evendim. He comes to the Brandywine Bridge, and there greets his friends. He gives the Star of the Dúnedain to Master Samwise, and Elanor is made a maid of honour to Queen Arwen.
  
Master Samwise and his wife and Elanor ride to Gondor and stay there for a year. Master Tolman Cotton acts as deputy Mayor.

Master Tolman Cotton is Elanor's grandfather, the father of Sam's beloved wife, Rose. That he, too, is named 'Master' while serving as deputy Mayor, might suggest that the title was associated with the Office.  And it may be, but there is another detail we need here.

The first time Sam is called Master Samwise is by Mablung, one of the two Rangers of Ithilien who guard him and Frodo while Faramir and his other men are attacking the Haradrim. He does so as part of a jocular exchange between them.

'Go quietly when you must!' said Sam. 'No need to disturb my sleep. I was walking all night.' 
Mablung laughed. 'I do not think the Captain will leave you here, Master Samwise,' he said. 'But you shall see.'
(TT 4.iv.662)

Faramir of course does not leave Sam and Frodo behind, and in their discussions he calls Sam 'Master Samwise' no fewer than four times (TT 4.v.669 twice, 679, 682). Of the nine times altogether in which Faramir addresses him by name, he always calls him Samwise (4.v,668, 677. 681; vi.684; vii.695), just as Frodo had introduced him: 'Samwise son of Hamfast, a worthy hobbit in my service' (4.iv.657). Now the use of 'Samwise' here is as remarkable as the use of 'Master'.  For the present passage is only the third time we have heard Sam's full name, which does not occur within the Tale itself before this book, and both of the prior uses serve to associate Sam closely with Frodo.  In The Passage of the Marshes Frodo says 'Samwise Gamgee, my dear hobbit -- indeed, Sam my dearest hobbit, friend of friends' (4.ii.624); and in The Black Gate Is Closed the narrator reminds us that Gandalf's 'thought was ever upon Frodo and Samwise' (TT 4.iii.644). The Tale of Years, moreover, parallels the pairing the narrator has here named. For until the Fellowship is broken Frodo is always referred to alone, and Sam is not mentioned at all. Yet afterwards it is almost invariably 'Frodo and Samwise' until Frodo begins suffering the aftermath of the quest. The Tale of Years gives an added subtle emphasis to this pairing by recording the births of Frodo and Sam, but not of Merry and Pippin. History seems to have suddenly taken particular notice of Sam.

Frodo's introduction of himself and Sam to Faramir, moreover, is also only the second time in the Tale that we have ever heard the Gaffer's first name. On that first occasion, we should remember, we learned that Bilbo used to call him 'Master Hamfast', which is deemed to be 'very polite' (FR 1.i.22). So, we see that 'Master' is a title of courteous address in both the Shire and Gondor,* but it is also a great honor, because it is a great condescension in the old sense, for someone in Sam's position -- a servant -- to be addressed in this way. As such, the honor Faramir does Sam here is even greater than that which Bilbo did the Gaffer, if not without a degree of gentle irony. With this we may contrast the bitter mockery dripping from Gollum's 'kind Master Samwise, the hobbit that knows so much' (TT 4.viii.715), a characterization he offers not long after Faramir and the hobbits part company.**

I would argue that what we are seeing here, with the use of 'Samwise', and 'Hamfast', and 'Master', and all the attention paid to Sam and his family in the Appendices, is best explained by the filial piety of Elanor, daughter of Master Samwise and Mistress Rose, and her descendants, the Fairbairns of Westmarch.  Elanor no doubt heard her father addressed as 'Master Samwise' many times during the time they spent in Gondor while she was handmaiden to Queen Arwen -- a detail that is pointed out in two different Appendices. The entry in The Tale of Years we saw above.  The other mention we find in a quote embedded in Appendix A's section on the history of the North-kingdom and the Dúnedain. The quote makes clear that its source lies within the Shire:

There were fourteen Chieftains, before the fifteenth and last was born, Aragorn II, who became again King of both Gondor and Arnor. 'Our King, we call him; and when he comes north to his house in Annúminas restored and stays for a while by Lake Evendim, then everyone in the Shire is glad. But he does not enter this land and binds himself by the law that he has made, that none of the Big People shall pass its borders. But he rides often with many fair people to the Great Bridge, and there he welcomes his friends, and any others who wish to see him; and some ride away with him and stay in his house as long as they have a mind. Thain Peregrin has been there many times; and so has Master Samwise the Mayor. His daughter Elanor the Fair is one of the maids of Queen Evenstar.' 
(RK App A 1043-44)

We also know from the Note on Shire Records in the Prologue that her family not only had custody of the Red Book, but added what we call the Appendices to it:

To these four volumes there was added in Westmarch a fifth containing commentaries, genealogies, and various other matter concerning the hobbit members of the Fellowship. 
The original Red Book has not been preserved, but many copies were made, especially of the first volume, for the use of the descendants of the children of Master Samwise. 
(FR Pr. 14)
Once again we see the marvels of attention Tolkien paid to even the smallest details, investing great thought into creating not only the Tale itself, but also the commentaries upon it and the relationship between them and their author(s) and the text. 'Samwise' also occurs in the synopses attached to The Two Towers and The Return of the King, which leads me to wonder how Tolkien thought of them as connecting to the text. Did he, when compelled by the exigencies of publication costs, decide to incorporate into his work the idea that the one book had already been broken into three as part of its frequent copying by the descendants of 'Master Samwise'? And does the chapter title, The Choices of Master Samwise, suggest that all the chapter titles derive from the Fairbairns of Westmarch? 

How little escaped his eye from the top of that tower. 

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Addenda


* In Rohan, too, it seems clear: Merry is called Master nine times by the men of Rohan, including by Théoden King in his final moments (RK 5.iii.796, 800 twice, 801, 802, 803; v.831; vi.842; App. B. 1097). This may be further evidence of ancient connections between hobbits and the Éothéod, since both once dwelt in the vales of Anduin. Since Gollum also originated there, his use of it may suggest the same, even if hearing Faramir use it prompted his memory.

** One of these days I mean to investigate Gollum and Faramir as antitheses in Book 4.

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11 June 2017

Sir Orfeo, Faërian Drama, and the Quenta Noldorinwa

Copyright Ted Nasmith


In a forthcoming article I argue that in The Hobbit we can see Tolkien using the fairies of medieval Romance, specifically in Sir Orfeo, to recreate Elves that can be taken seriously, like those in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, and unlike the gossamer-winged sprites of Victorian England. (I posted an earlier, much shorter incarnation of this paper here last September).  One of the fascinating points to be noted in studying these texts from this perspective is that in Sir Orfeo it is Orfeo, a mortal Man, who can summon up visions by means of song, while in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings this power belongs exclusively to the Elves. In my article I suggest that in the transference of this ability from Men to Elves we might be seeing the birth of what Tolkien termed 'Faërian Drama', which is 'a dream that some other mind is weaving' (OFS, 63, ¶ 74).

One of the passages I cited to illustrate this Elvish art describes the first meeting of Elves and Men, as initiated by Finrod:
Long Felagund watched them, and love for them stirred in his heart; but he remained hidden in the trees until they had all fallen asleep. Then he went among the sleeping people, and sat beside their dying fire where none kept watch; and he took up a rude harp which Bëor had laid aside, and he played music upon it such as the ears of Men had not heard; for they had as yet no teachers in the art, save only the Dark Elves in the wild lands. 
Now men awoke and listened to Felagund as he harped and sang, and each thought that he was in some fair dream, until he saw that his fellows were awake also beside him; but they did not speak or stir while Felagund still played, because of the beauty of the music and the wonder of the song. Wisdom was in the words of the Elven-king, and the hearts grew wiser that hearkened to him; for the things of which he sang, of the making of Arda, and the bliss of Aman beyond the shadows of the Sea, came as clear visions before their eyes, and his Elvish speech was interpreted in each mind according to its measure. 
(S 140-41)

Yet today I discovered in the Quenta Noldorinwa, one of the predecessors of The Silmarillion, a very interesting difference in its version of the first encounter of Elves and Men:

That night Felagund went among the sleeping men of Beor's host and sat by their dying fires where none kept watch, and he took a harp which Beor had laid aside, and he played music on it such as mortal ear had never heard, having learned the strains of music from the Dark-elves alone. Then men woke and listened and marvelled, for great wisdom was in that song, as well as beauty, and the heart grew wiser that listened to it. 
(Shaping 104-05)
In the passage from the Quenta Noldorinwa, which Christopher Tolkien dates securely to no later than 1930, the visionary experience of the Men is completely absent, however much they may have profited by Finrod's singing otherwise. The version of the tale we find in The Silmarillion dates to the 1950s, after Tolkien had finished writing The Lord of the Rings (Jewels, 173, 216-17). It is also worth noting here that one of the characteristics of Faërian Drama as portrayed in The Silmarillion passage quoted above is that the listener does not need to know the language of the Elves to comprehend their song. The hobbits in The Lord of the Rings have precisely this experience when they hear Gildor and his Elves singing in the woods of the Shire (FR 1.iii.79), an episode which dates to the earliest draft of what became the chapter Three's Company (Return 58-59).

It's as if between the two versions of this scene we can see dramatized the very transference of which I spoke above, in which Tolkien shifts the power of visionary enchantment from Orfeo to the Elves,

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