. Alas, not me: November 2015

29 November 2015

The biter bit -- Gandalf and Sauron Share a Perspective

© Jeff Murray

As Merry tells his comrades of the storming of Isengard by the Ents, he doubts the accuracy of Saruman's previous repute, 'wonder[ing] if his fame was not all along mainly due to his cleverness in settling at Isengard.' 
'No,' said Aragorn. 'Once he was as great as his fame made him. His knowledge was deep, his thought was subtle, and his hands marvellously skilled; and he had a power over the minds of others. The wise he could persuade, and the smaller folk he could daunt. That power he certainly still keeps. There are not many in Middle-earth that I should say were safe, if they were left alone to talk with him, even now when he has suffered a defeat. Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, perhaps, now that his wickedness has been laid bare, but very few others.' 
(TT 3.ix.567, emphasis mine)
Later, after Pippin has looked into that same palantír and encountered Sauron, Gandalf says: 
'Easy it is now to guess how quickly the roving eye of Saruman was trapped and held; and how ever since he has been persuaded from afar, and daunted when persuasion would not serve. The biter bit, the hawk under the eagle's foot, the spider in a steel web! How long, I wonder, has he been constrained to come often to his glass for inspection and instruction, and the Orthanc-stone so bent towards Barad-dur that, if any save a will of adamant now looks into it, it will bear his mind and sight swiftly thither.... 
'I wish I had known all this before,' said Pippin. 'I had no notion of what I was doing.'
'Oh yes, you had,' said Gandalf. 'You knew you were behaving wrongly and foolishly; and you told yourself so, though you did not listen. 
(TT 3.xi.598, emphasis mine)
Pippin's experience with the palantír re-enacts for us, on a smaller scale, that of Saruman himself, who thus became the fool (TT 3.viii.583) that Gandalf often considered Pippin to be (FR 2.iii.272, iv.306-07, 313; TT 3.ix.570, xi.593-94, 598; RK 5.i.754). To Sauron he is now one of 'the smaller folk' whom he 'could daunt.'

13 November 2015

Nora Kershaw Chadwick Once More, Briefly

In my last post I mentioned that I had been unable to find a photo of Nora Kershaw Chadwick, and asked if anyone could help. A reader, John Machin, responded, kindly sending me a copy of the Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Alumni newsletter from Cambridge University (issue 5 August 2012), which contained a photo of both Nora Kershaw Chadwick and H. Munro Chadwick.

My thanks to John Machin, and to the editors of the newsletter.

Here are the photos:

07 November 2015

The Pleasure of a Name Inked on a Page -- Nora Kershaw

Recently I posted a brief review of Simon Cook's J.R.R. Tolkien's Lost English Mythology, in which he argues that Tolkien's engagement with Hector Munro Chadwick's 1907 work, The Origin of the English Nation, was essential to the formation of the legendarium we all know as Middle-Earth, and which Tolkien in part regarded as a restoration or rediscovery of a lost mythology of England. I found Simon Cook's treatment of this subject so interesting and persuasive that I decided to read not only Munro's The Origin of the English Nation, but also his later work, The Heroic Age (1912).

While it was the work of only a few minutes to find e-books of both, I am still quite fond of tree-books, especially old ones. They have a heft and a texture that lends them a presence I cherish. If the paper and ink are of a high enough quality, you can even feel the letters on the page. So, despite all the advantages of e-books -- which are many and I own many -- tree-books are my first love, and you know you never get over that. For books like these, I wanted the real thing.

Again the search didn't take me long. I found first editions of them both on Biblio.com at fair prices, the one in the US, the other the UK. Within a couple of weeks I was unwrapping them, feeling their weight, even sniffing them to see if they had that old book smell (juuust right, not too musty). Then I opened The Origin of the English Nation to the title page, which was pretty normal:

It was when I turned to the inside of the front cover and looked at the inscription that things began to get interesting.

I glanced over the end page quickly, having owned many old books with names inscribed at the front. The first detail that caught my eye was the date, April 1912. That was when the Titanic sank.  A coincidence to be sure, but a mildly interesting one that makes you wonder about the person's life for a moment. Did she buy the book before or after she heard the news? Was she reading it when she heard? Did she know anyone on the ship? Did she exchange a few words with the bookseller about the disaster as he wrapped the book up for her to take home?  

And any mention of steamships in these years always brings to my mind another young woman of this era, my grandmother who left Ireland in 1910 for New York, returned home at some point during the First World War, intending to stay there  -- her ship was stopped and boarded by a German submarine -- but was persuaded to go back to New York by an Irishman she met on the ship, my evidently rather smooth grandfather. 

All these moments, lost in time.

Another part of the story this page tells came with Newnham College, a women's college not even forty years old in 1912, and only the second such college at Cambridge, promoting the radical idea that women should have the same educational opportunities as men. As Anne Jemima Clough said in 1875, a college of their own was what women needed:
How much more effectually, & with how much less mental strain, a woman can study, where all the arrangements of the house are made to suit the hours of study, – where she can have undisturbed possession of one room, – and where she can have access to any books that she may need. How very rarely, – if ever, – these advantages can be secured in any home we all know, and it is surely worth some sacrifice on the part of parents to obtain them for their daughters at the age when they are best fitted to profit by them to the utmost.
(quoted in Short History of Newnham)
Not that the process went smoothly. Though many illustrious women received an education through Newnham and colleges like it, they were for many years denied real degrees for their studies and full membership in their Universities. A failed attempt to win these privileges in 1897 led to riotous behavior that caused expensive damage in Cambridge's market square, but it wasn't the women protesting their rejection who did this. It was their male counterparts 'celebrating' it (Short History of Newnham).  Women in fact received the right to vote (1918, limited; 1928, universal) before Cambridge granted them (1948) the privileges that were their due as students who had satisfactorily completed a course of studies.

Enter Nora Kershaw. I saw her name in the midst of this tale, (presumably) a young student in 1912, right after what some have called The Perfect Summer, and right before the First World War came crashing down on Europe. But who was she? How does she fit into this context, this history? 

Perhaps the best thing about the internet (cat videos notwithstanding) is all the information it offers up with a few keystrokes. So I searched for Nora Kershaw, and the story got better. For what follows I want first of all to acknowledge my debt to Sandra Ballif Straubhaar's article on Nora Kershaw, An Extraordinary Sense of Powerful Restlessness, in Women Medievalists and the Academy (Wisconsin, 2005, ed. Jane Chance) 367-379. 

Born in 1891, Nora Kershaw read English and Old English at Newnham from 1910 to 1914. Of the next two bits of information, the first made me laugh out loud in recognition. A friend of Nora Kershaw's once recounted: 
I remember Nora’s tussle with her mother over her clothes.  Then one day she came to school in a state of great delight and excitement as she had been given a dress allowance and henceforward was to be responsible for her own clothes.  That afternoon she went downtown and came back jubilant with a Chaucer, a Spenser and I don’t know how many other books that she had bought with her dress allowance--no clothes of course. 
(quoted in Straubhaar, 367)
The second made me first realize precisely why she purchased the book I had in my hands, and then made me sit up in surprise. While at Newnham Nora Kershaw studied Old English with Hector Munro Chadwick (1870-1947), who was quite open-minded and advanced when it came to women at University.
Even in the earlier days of his career, when the position of women in the University was not officially recognized, [H. M. Chadwick] treated them with the same consideration as his men students, always convinced of the important part they could and did play in learning.  Whether men or women, his students met with the kindliness and old-world courtesy which ever marked his bearing to his fellow humans and, more than that, they were treated as fellow scholars 
 (quoted in Straubhaar, 368)
Ten years later in 1922, after returning to Cambridge and publishing her first book -- Stories and Ballads of the Far Past -- Nora Kershaw married him, becoming Nora Chadwick.

Wait. What? Nora Chadwick? One of the most prominent and prolific medievalists of the 20th century? The one who wrote -- among many, many other more important works1 -- The Celts and The Druids, which I had read as a young man? Yes, that Nora Chadwick.*

And here I was, holding this book that had been hers, in which she had written her name. To me this is cool.  Can't do this with an ebook.

Thank you again, Simon Cook.


Regrettably, I have not been able to find a photograph of Nora Kershaw Chadwick to include in this post. An image comes up pretty quickly in a google search, but further investigation indicates that it is not Nora Chadwick, but another scholar by the name of Mary Boyce. If anyone could supply me with an image or a link to one, I would be grateful.  --- update 13 November 2015 -- thanks to the kindness of a reader, I now have a photo of Nora Kershaw Chadwick here.

1 For a complete bibliography of her more than 50 published works, see Straubhaar's article.

03 November 2015

A Few Poems, mostly silly, from Mythgard's "Almost an Inkling" Writing Contest

First the rather ridiculous, a couple of clerihews, none too good:

No Ring


Beyond comparison.
He stepped ashore.
No Númenor.


and a sonnet -- which may also be ridiculous, but not on purpose -- about the heartbreaking, too little known, tale of Andreth and Aegnor (Morgoth's Ring, volume X of The History of Middle-Earth, 323-25):

On sunlit heights our love ensnared our youth
In longing, passion’s swift flame, sharp and brave
To speed my years in dreams that knew not truth:
My love was time’s own master, I its slave.
How fair, how strong he’ll be, how bright his eye,
As clear as heaven’s lights in heaven’s kindling shine.
How glad his smile – how glad he smiled at me, how shy,
Once, once. How light his trembling hand on mine.
How long ago. How many Winters deep,
How many Summers bare of fruit remain,
Now all my nights are old and full of sleep?
Now word comes he loves and loves in pain.
Does he? Oh, does he wait for me as I
Awaited him? Wait still and waiting die?

01 November 2015

So Sorry I Only Tore His Arm Off -- Beowulf 956-89

As I've mentioned here before, I've been working my way through Beowulf lately, pretty slowly and no doubt amateurishly, but I'm loving every minute of it. Not too long ago I went over the passage I give below, in which Beowulf, having just fought Grendel, speaks of it the next morning to the crowd outside Heorot:

Beowulf maþelode,  bearn Ecþeowes:

"We þæt ellenweorc      estum miclum,

feohtan fremedon,   frecne geneðdon

eafoð uncuþes.   Uþe ic swiþor

þæt ðu hine selfne      geseon moste,                      
feond on frætewum   fylwerigne.

Ic him hrædlice   heardan clammum

on wælbedde   wriþan þohte,

þæt he for handgripe   minum scolde

licgean lifbysig,   butan his lic swice.                      
Ic hine ne mihte,   þa Metod nolde,

ganges getwæman:   no ic him þæs georne ætfealh,

feorhgeniðlan.   Wæs to foremihtig,

feond on feþe.   Hwæþere, he his folme forlet

to lifwraþe   last weardian,                                        
earm 7 eaxle.   No þær ænige swa þeah

feasceaft guma,   frofre gebohte.

No þy leng leofað      laðgeteona

synnum geswenced,      ac hyne sar hafað

in niðgripe,   nearwe befongen                                
balwon bendum.   Ðær abidan sceal,

maga mane fah,   miclan domes,

hu him scir Metod   scrifan wille."

Ða wæs swigra secg,   sunu Eclafes,

on gylpspræce   guðgeweorca,                                
siþðan æþelingas   eorles cræfte

ofer heanne hrof   hand sceawedon,

feondes fingras.   Foran æghwylc wæs

steda nægla gehwylc,   style gelicost,

hæþenes handsporu,   hilderinces                            
egl unheoru.   Æghwylc gecwæð

þæt him heardra nan   hrinan wolde,

iren ærgod,   þæt ðæs ahlæcan

blodge beadufolme   onberan wolde.

‘With kind hearts and cold courage,
We have entered this struggle against the unknown,

Ungrasped power, and snapped its strength,

I wish you might have seen it yourself,

The feast-weary fiend, scales dragging,

Falling in the hall, dead-tired.
I wanted to catch him quick, hold him

Hard with a hand-grip, cradle him

In a death-bed, a slaughter-couch,

So he might find a savage sleep,

His ghost lifting from the body-bed.
He was bound to stay in my unyielding grip

Unless his flesh could flee. I wanted

Him dead, no bones about it --

But I couldn't hold him the restless enemy,

Against God's will.  He slipped my grasp
To save his life he left his hand behind,

His arm and shoulder -- a nice touch!

The token claw gave him cold comfort,

No hope of life, that loathed spoiler,

Tortured by sin; but pain grabbed him
In a hard grasp, a wailing wound,

A misery-grip.  There he must wait,

Stained with crime, till bright God

Brings judgment on his dark deeds.'

After this, Unferth son of Ecglaf,
Boasted less of his battle-works,

His courage quiet, while all warriors

Gazed on the claw, the fiend's fingers,

Nailed near the roof by Beowulf's strength.

Each claw-nail, each hand-spur 
In the heathen's banged up death-grip,

Was stiff as steel.  The old talk was dead --

Men claimed no hard thing could pierce him,

No ancient iron, no trusted blade,

Could cut his bloody battle-fist.
(transl. Craig Williamson)

What's going on here is wonderful. Beowulf is quick to share the credit with his men (thus "We" in 957), who did little or nothing to help him, but just as quick to blame himself (thus "I" in lines 959-65), for failing to accomplish all he had set out to do. He virtually apologizes for failing to do more than mortally wounding Grendel by tearing off his arm.  But not even a hero who fights sea monsters (574-75) and can swim home from Friesland wearing thirty coats of mail (2354-68) can do what God wills not (966). This tells us two things. First, how great a hero it took to kill Grendel; and, second, how even such strength as that avails nothing against the will of God. And Beowulf accepts the limits of his strength here, surrendering his enemy and God's to the judgement of God.  In the very same way he had surrendered the outcome of the battle to God's will before it began (685-87).

Unferth, the king's counselor, with whom Beowulf had traded barbs and boasts the night before (499-606) is now reduced to silence by Beowulf's deeds just as he had previously been by his words. And those deeds, proven by Grendel's arm, not only silence the 'old talk' about the impossibility of defeating such a monster with weapons, but seems to allow no new talk, since in fact Beowulf had defeated the feond without them, just as he had said he would (675-687).

When you're down in the trenches of grammar, trying to sort out cases and syntax, parsing your way through a word or two at a time -- Why, why, why is that in the genitive plural? -- it's all too easy to overlook the way the poet has woven the story together. But when you have the fortune to notice as elegant a web as this one, it makes every moment of struggle worthwhile.


Beowulf and Other Old English Poems, edited and translated by Craig Williamson, with a foreword by Tom Shippey, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia 2011). 978012222753