30 May 2019
07 May 2019
Again she fled, but swift he came.
He called her by her elvish name;
And there she halted listening.
One moment stood she, and a spell
His voice laid on her:
I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again:
Mine ear is much enamour'd of thy note;
So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape;
And thy fair virtue's force perforce doth move me
On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee.
I would love to hear of other instances.
01 May 2019
'Though [Bilbo] had found out that the thing needed looking after; it did not seem always of the same size or weight; it shrank or expanded in an odd way, and might suddenly slip off a finger where it had been tight.’‘Yes, he warned me of that in his last letter,’ said Frodo, ‘so I have always kept it on its chain.’
26 April 2019
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In letter 142 Tolkien says that "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work" and that "the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism." Nothing could make how literally Tolkien meant 'fundamentally' as clear as Jonathan S. McIntosh's excellent study,The Flame Imperishable.
This book needs to be read twice. In fact it deserves to be read twice.
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23 April 2019
Review: The Inklings and King Arthur: J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This review first appeared in Sehnsucht vol. 12 (2018) 154-56
With the publication of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur, writes Sørina Higgins in her introduction to this volume, three truths became evident: that The Fall of Arthur is an important text worthy of study per se and for what it can add to our understanding of Tolkien and his legendarium; that in this work Tolkien draws on the significant cultural figure of Arthur whom many other British writers of his era found socially, morally, and spiritually relevant to their times; and that the coming of Tolkien’s Arthur also afforded the best opportunity for a study of the Arthuriana of the major Inklings. To illuminate these truths, Higgins has gathered twenty different scholars, herself not least, who turn their lights upon the Inklings and Arthur from a series of five different viewpoints. Through diversity in scholarly experience and choice of text, as well as in theoretical approach and theological perspective, this volume succeeds in all its goals. As often as scholars return to Arthur and the Inklings, they will return to this fine work.
Since intertextuality is integral to the entire concept of this book, the first section, “Texts and Intertexts,” quite properly begins with chapters that define terms (Higgins), review the history of Arthurian texts (Ordway), and demonstrate the lush web of significant connections between the Inklings and their sources as well as the among the works of the Inklings themselves (Dickieson). A splendid investigation of the place of Avalon as an evocation of the spiritual world that lies beyond ours reveals much about the ideas which Lewis, Williams, and Tolkien shared on the healing of the world and of ourselves (Huttar), while an initial exploration of Barfield’s Saving the Appearances leads to a provoking analysis of the role that myth, here in the form of the Grail, can play in helping us to regain a perspective on ourselves as part of a greater whole (Gaertner).
“Histories Past,” the second section, approaches the crossroads of myth and history that Arthur bestrides. For Lewis this crucial position revealed the struggle between the two; for Williams their coinherence meant that each affected the other; for Tolkien myth and history resonated together with spiritual truth (Imbert). Chesterton’s poems on Arthur similarly address the conflict between myth and history, which only the return of Christ will reconcile, and which takes place within the same broader context as Tolkien’s view of the Gospel as the Fairy-story that came true (Moore). The Fall of Arthur and The Lord of the Rings mythically reimagine the Middle Ages, constructing their perspective on nature, chivalry, and Christendom as a part of a cultural conversation with the Modernism of the Twentieth Century (Grewell).
“Histories Present” opens with a survey of the rise of Scientism, the prevailing intellectual culture of the Inklings’ time, and their responses to it, both their counterattacks on the narrowness of its vision, and their construction through Arthur of alternative moral visions (Jewell and Butynskyi). The Fall of Arthur subverts Arthurian myth by showing what harm the misappropriation of myth can do in the struggle between medieval community and individual domination, thus proving a dark foreshadowing of the central conflict in The Lord of the Rings (Drigger). In The Chronicles of Narnia Lewis seeks by quest and by healing the blighted land to recover from the despair inflicted by The Great War and mapped out in The Waste Land (Hooper). Through Arthur, often a racist or nationalist symbol, Williams holds up Otherness as a mirror in which we may see our own faults staring back at us, and mourns what humanity loses because of our attitudes towards the Other (Utter).
With “Geographies of Gender,” the scene shifts first to Tolkien’s Guinever, who, as heir to a mythic and literary tradition every bit as varied as Arthur’s, weaves together its Celtic and Germanic strands with the threads of Fate and Free Will, to create a figure embodying the transition from Britain to England, and challenging the notion that Tolkien’s female characters are lacking (House-Thomas). Charles Williams’s Arthurian poetry, with labyrinthine brilliance, seeks to advance his understanding of the City, or the Kingdom of God, through the essential interplay of Masculine and Feminine, but falters owing to its author’s troubled attitude towards women (Rasmussen). Similarly, in That Hideous Strength Lewis construes the Masculine and Feminine of the Spirit through the dual roles of Pendragon and Fisher King inhabited by Ransom (Shogren).
In “Cartographies of the Spirit,” the fifth section, we find George MacDonald mining the medieval revivalism of Victorian times to re-imagine contemporary notions of chivalry, seeking a moral way forward, not back, in which the true knight is the servant of all (Johnson). Similarly, in Williams’s Arthurian plays the choice of servitude brings freedom, another example of the paradoxical coinherence of the City of God, whose greatest expression is the Incarnation (Wells). War in Heaven shows the quest for the Grail to be more important than the Grail itself, because through the Eucharist it creates a communion of faith and experience (Bray). In Williams’s Arthurian poetry the Grail and the Eucharist again promise the union of Heaven and Earth, which may be achieved through service to the Grail, but the failure of Arthur and Logres is a failure to serve, thus causing the Grail to depart, but leaving still the promise of the Eucharist (Stout).
The literary Arthur, revised and re-visioned, is always a myth for its time, so Malcom Guite suggests in his conclusion to this volume. Through Arthur writers such as Malory and Tennyson addressed the spirit of their age. So, too, the Inklings. With a characteristically prophetic insight that seeks a recovery of vision, their Arthurs answer the despair and the marred self-image of the West since the First World War. That vision, that rex quondam, rexque futurus, is the mythic whole which we have lost that gives the parts meaning. In The Inklings and King Arthur Sørina Higgins has given us a study equal to its subject.
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08 April 2019
29 March 2019
18 March 2019
The Mouth of Sauron's encounter with the Captains of the West in The Lord of the Rings has been reminding me of the Green Knight's visit to King Arthur's court in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
The initial set-up is quite different, naturally. The Green Knight comes in uninvited without any introduction or explanation -- the reader is thus in the same boat as members of Arthur's court -- whereas Tolkien gives us some backstory on the Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr when he comes out in response to the heralds' challenge. The Green Knight arrives alone on a color-coordinated steed that seems an ordinary animal except for its hue, but the poet hints the knight himself might possibly be supernatural ("Half etayn in erde I hope þat he were"). Intriguingly, the similarly color-coordinated fellow who approaches Aragorn & Co. is almost exactly the inverse, i.e., a living man on a possibly supernatural mount:
[O]ut of [the Black Gate] there came an embassy from the Dark Tower. At its head there rode a tall and evil shape, mounted upon a black horse, if horse it was; for it was huge and hideous, and its face was [...] more like a skull than a living head, and in the sockets of its eyes and in its nostrils there burned a flame. The rider was robed all in black, and black was his lofty helm; yet this was no Ringwraith but a living man.The core similarity, of course, is the disrespectful address. In each version, the stranger boldly rides right up to the company and makes a big show of looking them up and down and asking who is in charge. He is very specifically pretending not to be able to discern the leader -- a matter which would be self-evident both from the man's own physical location, bearing, and adornment and from his followers' reactions, since they would doubtless be turning to him or looking his way. Here's Tolkien in LotR
(LotR 888, paragraph break omitted)
Now halting a few paces before the Captains of the West he looked them up and down and laughed.
'Is there anyone in this rout with authority to treat with me?' he asked. 'Or indeed with wit to understand me? Not thou at least!' he mocked, turning to Aragorn with scorn. 'It needs more to make a king than a piece of Elvish glass, or a rabble such as this. Why, any brigand of the hills can show as good a following!'Clearly, the Mouth of Sauron knows who Aragorn is, since he specifically picks him and his Elvish glass out for the first round of mockery. Here's the Middle English poet's verse (ll. 221-231):
Þis haþel [knight] heldez [proceeds, goes, comes] hym in and þe halle entres,
Driuande [lit: driving] to þe heȝe dece, dut [feared] he no woþe [danger],
Haylsed [greeted] he neuer one, bot heȝe he ouer loked.
Þe fyrst word þat he warp [uttered], 'Wher is', he sayd,
'Þe gouernour of þis gyng [company]? Gladly I wolde
Se þat segg [man, knight] in syȝt, and with hymself speke
To knyȝtez he kest his yȝe,The Green Knight's words are less overtly disrespectful here; he does not call into question Arthur's intellectual capabilities, compare him to a "brigand," or refer to his followers as "this rout" or "a rabble." Or does he? The word "gyng" (l. 225) stands out initially due to its visual resemblance to "gang." Tolkien's notes and glossary translate it as "company" (1st ed. p. 160) and his own translation uses "gathering" (p. 23). Likewise, Borroff goes with "crowd" in her verse translation, both in the 1967 original and a revised version for the Norton Critical Edition (2010).
And reled [rolled] hym vp and doun;
He stemmed [stopped, halted], and con [did] studie [look carefully, lit: study]
Quo walt [possessed] þer most renoun.
Still, Borroff's commentary on these lines in "The Challenge Episode: A Stylistic Interpretation" cites the OED to suggest the word conveys an ambiguously deprecatory sense.
Indeed, the first several definitions or subdefinitions in OED's entry for "ging, n. (1, 2a, 2b, 3a) are consistent with this neutral usage; it can mean (for example) a company of armed men, a great personage's retinue, household, followers, or retainers, or even more generally a gathering of people. 1, 2a, and 2b are attested at various times from 1043 (in Old English) through 1632, while 3a is attested ?c1200–1877. But then we reach definition 3b:
b. depreciative. A crew, a rabble.As we have seen, the Mouth of Sauron refers to the host as "this rabble."
Curiously, the Green Knight seems to have come indoors ("heldez hym þe halle entres on horseback. He does not dismount on entering the feast-area, but instead drives or presses forward to the high dais ("Driuande to þe heȝe dece," rendered by Tolkien as "pressing forward to the dais"). In this regard, the Green Knight seems more overtly disrespectful than the Mouth of Sauron; an emissary summoned forth to answer a challenge might well ride up to the enemy awaiting him, but an unexpected visitor dropping in at Christmas revels "in halle" (l. 101) should surely, at the very least, approach the dais on foot.x;">The Green Knight's insolence devolves into increasingly open mockery (ll. 280-86, 309-15) and then to loud laughter (l. 316). Arthur initially identifies himself and graciously invites him to join in the feast and let them know his business after, but the Green Knight declines. He's not there for a fight, of course, because "Hit arn aboute on þis bench bot berdlez chylder" (l. 280). Instead, he challenges them to a beheading game. When his startling offer is met with stunned silence, the Green Knight throws off all restraint (ll. 309-22):
'What, is þis Arthures hous,' quoþ þe haþel þenne,So Aragorn, unlike Arthur, passes the test insofar as keeping his cool under open mockery and laughter: "Aragorn said naught in answer, but he took the other's eye and held it, and for a moment they strove thus," until the challenger quails (LotR 889). The similarities in set-up perhaps reflect that, in each case, the emissary seeks to undermine, to provoke, to throw the good guys off their game, and ultimately to set a trap for them. ~~~~ Coda - Miscellaneous DetailsThe Green Knight issues his challenge on horseback, since immediately afterward "Þe renk on his rouncé hym ruched in his sadel" to look around at the company (l. 303). Moreover, once the challenge has been accepted, "Lyȝtly lepez he hym to, and laȝt at his honde" (l. 328). So he's kinda doubling down on the not-dismounting thing until he gets what he wants. The scene in LotR does not include a similar challenge/exchange. The Mouth of Sauron is answering the heralds' challenge: "Come forth! [...] Let the Lord of the Black Land come forth! Justice shall be done upon him. For wrongfully he has made war upon Gondor and wrested its lands. Therefore the King of Gondor demands that he should atone for his evils, and depart then for ever. Come forth!" (LotR But this is a fundamentally different kind of challenge than the Green Knight's proffered exchange of one beheading for another. The Mouth of Sauron does offers the company an exchange, but it, too, is fundamentally different from that offered by the Green Knight, since the terms are wildly unequal on their face (rather than like for like): He invites total submission and capitulation in return for the non-torture of one hobbit.
'Þat al þe rous [fame, talk] rennes of þurȝ ryalmes so mony?
Where is now your sourquydrye [pride] and your conquestes,
Your gryndellayk [fierceness] and your greme [wrath], and your grete wordes?
Now is þe reuel and þe renoun of þe Rounde Table
Ouerwalt wyth a worde of on wyȝes speche,
For al dares for drede withoute dynt schewed!'
Wyth þis he laȝes so loude þat þe lorde greued;
Þe blod schot for scham into his schyre face
He wex as wroth as wynde,
So did alle þat þer were.
Þe kyng as kene bi kynde
Þen stod þat stif mon nere,
~~~~ Note on Etymology: From the OED's etymological notes on "gang, n.
Sense 8 probably developed primarily from the conception of a group of people going about together, whereas senses 9 and 10 were probably additionally influenced by sense 7, as denoting a group or set (of people or animals) having characteristics in common. Compare earlier ging n.1 It is uncertain whether there was any influence from early Scandinavian uses in compounds, or whether these simply show a parallel development; compare Old Icelandic þjófa-gangr group of thieves, gaura-gangr group of ruffians, and also drauga-gangr group of ghosts, músa-gangr group of mice. (Dutch gang and German Gang denoting a group of criminals show borrowings < English.)
Origin: Of uncertain origin. Either (i) a variant or alteration of another lexical item. Or (ii) a borrowing from early Scandinavian. Etymon: i-geng n.
Etymology: Either (i) aphetic < i-geng n., or (ii) < early Scandinavian (compare Old Icelandic ...
1. A company of armed men, a troop, army, host.
a. A retinue (of a great personage); a household, a body of retainers or followers.
b. In plural. A person's followers or people. Also: people in general.
a. gen. A gathering of people, a company; a band, a gang; a set. Also figurative.
b. depreciative. A crew, a rabble.
c. spec. The crew of a ship or boat. Cf. gang n.
4. In Old Testament usage: the Gentile nations collectively; heathen peoples.
NOTE: The citations are rather rough - I'll have to go back and clean them up at some point.
15 March 2019
Being uncertain that the old half-deaf halfling, who stank of cabbages and potatoes,* had even understood my questions, I returned the next morning. 'Knock thou gently, knock thou slowly,' W-K had said, 'We don't want to attract too much attention. Save your Black Breath, and no "Open in the Name of Mordor."** I don't care how much fun it is. There'll be time for that later.'
No sooner had I touched the door of Baggins' home than it swung open. A female, so old and mean looking I almost offered her a job, stared up at me with the most delightful venom in her eye.
'Who are you?' she spat out. 'What do you want here?' It's mine, I tell you, all mine, my precious -- Bag End is mine.'***
'Charmed to meet you, madam,' I hissed. (I really was quite taken with her. Perhaps halflings weren't half useless after all.). 'My name is Khamûl ...'
'Are you deaf? Go on with you! Get away from my door! There's no admittance. Now Good morning to you!' she shrieked.
The whole while she was hitting me with her umbrella.***
I must confess, it had been so long since I felt my heart beat that I almost didn't recognize it when it did.
Then I smelled it, or rather, her. She smelled like she had bathed in some infusion of flowers that had been steeping since the deeps of time. I sneezed. I couldn't stop myself. I didn't know what to do. I hadn't sneezed in over 4,000 years. My nose began running like an arterial hemorrhage. I fell back to my horse at the end of the lane. I couldn't stop sniffling for days.****
uh oh, smells like elves!
Let the little people blow!
He said the word!
Which I told him prophecies are tricky things, but did he listen? No, mate, he did not. He just went on about the Houses of Lamentation again, like always. Been there. Done That. Got the gold ring. Serves him right for appointing Gothmog his second in command. Gothmog! Almost fell off his horse when we chased that elvish nag to the ford, he did, and then had his fell beast shot out from under him!
04 March 2019
Yet Frodo does not witness Boromir’s moment of recognition and repentance. Shaken by ‘terror and grief’ Frodo has put on the Ring and fled (FR 2.x.400). It may not be the horror and pity that moved Bilbo, but it is closer to those feelings than he has come before. Seeing the effects of the Ring on a comrade and a friend (TT 4.v.664) – and as we know Frodo has long feared for those he calls his friends on this ‘adventure’ of his – he now grieves for one whom he believes 'has fallen into evil’ (FR 2.x.401). His terror is natural, just as it had been in the Barrow, but the grief he feels here is as important as the courage he found there, and is as important for Frodo as the pity Bilbo felt for Gollum was for Bilbo. For the pity and the grief transcend the horror and the terror. Frodo grieves for someone whom he has run away from in fear of his life. Here is a Frodo very different from the one who sat in Bag End the previous spring judging Gollum worthy of death, reproving Gandalf because he and the elves of Mirkwood had let him live, and yielding the point with only a poor grace. Now, in terror of a present and immediate threat, he shows how he has grown beyond the hobbit who pronounced summary judgements on a potential threat he had never seen.
24 February 2019
It is curious that Galadriel uses her mirror to test the only two members of the Company who will ever bear the Ring. Does this fall under her knowing ‘in part what also shall be’ (FR 2.vii.357)?
At the Ford of Bruinen Frodo defies the Ringwraiths' demand for the Ring, and attempts to command them to '[g]o back to the Land of Mordor, and follow me no more!' (FR 1.xii.215). In response they laugh at him and tell him that they will take him to Mordor. In The Mirror of Galadriel Frodo offers to give Galadriel the Ring. In response she, too, laughs, but clearly at herself and her situation, and tells him that it is time for him to leave Lothlórien (FR 1.vii.365-366).
05 January 2019
MALCOLM: Dispute it like a man.
MACDUFF: I shall do so;
But I must also feel it as a man:
I cannot but remember such things were,
That were most precious to me.
Macbeth Act 4 Scene 3
I love how people to tell you to let things go, as if there were something wrong with you for being unhappy that you have been wronged. Or as if there were a switch installed somewhere (they never told you about) that triggered some ejection seat of grief and pain.
We must let things go. Of course we must. But to pretend they are gone, that they have been let go, before they have been fully felt, fully grieved, is a dangerous road to walk. Worse than deceiving others, it is deceiving ourselves. Wound? What wound?