. Alas, not me: March 2019

29 March 2019

Penumbra: Your health has to come first

A friend of mine was recently telling me about a medical condition she had, which was not cancerous or life-threatening, but which her doctor still wanted to operate on. She had decided that she would let it be as long as it remained elective. I am sure that many would have told her that she should go ahead with the surgery just in case, that her health had to come first. But I couldn't have agreed with her more. 

I have had two surgeries in the last fifteen years. One of these was absolutely necessary if I wanted to avoid either bleeding to death or dying of gangrene. That one I have no regrets about, except in so far as it was my own carelessness that made it needful. The second is more complicated. I was injured at work because of the negligence of others. I suffered nerve damage, which caused persistent numbness in my left shoulder and parts of my left arm, sometimes all the way down to my hand. It also resulted in frequent low level pain in my neck. Movement and strength were not affected, however.

After ten months of tests and various attempts to fix the problem without surgery, it became clear that only surgery would keep the nerve damage from continuing to get worse. So I chose to have the surgery. It's now been seven months since the surgery. My shoulder is just as numb as it was before and I have much more frequent pain and cramping in my neck and shoulder. 

But it doesn't end there. Oh, far from it. I can't discuss the rest, however. And believe me I would love to rant about some of the things I have experienced as the result of choosing to put my health first. What I will say is that having this surgery, which wasn't necessary to keep me alive, was an enormous mistake. It has had consequences for my life and career that have left me angry and depressed much of the time, though I am taking steps to address these difficulties. There are moments I feel like it has ruined my life. But that is self-pity. 

Nothing that my injury could have done to me would have made me feel this way. Nothing. Claiming that the health of the body is the most important thing is a very limited point of view, a very unimaginative point of view. 

18 March 2019

Guest Post: Laura Lee Smith -- The Green Knight and Mouth of Sauron

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.
(LotR 888, paragraph break omitted)
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
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!'
(LotR 889).
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,
     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.
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).

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,
'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
and lere;

     He wex as wroth as wynde,
     So did alle þat þer were.
     Þe kyng as kene bi kynde
     Þen stod þat stif mon nere,
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.

~~~~ 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.)
In turn, the outline for "† ging, n.1" provides:
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.
Works Consulted
Armitage, Simon. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation. W.W. Norton, 2008.

Borroff, Marie. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation. W.W. Norton, 1967.
---. “The Challenge Episode: A Stylistic Interpretation.” Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Authoritative Translation, Contexts, Criticism, edited by Marie Borroff and Laura L. Howes, 1st ed, W.W. Norton, 2010, pp. 93–104.
---. “The Translated Text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Authoritative Translation, Contexts, Criticism, edited by Marie Borroff and Laura L. Howes, 1st ed, W.W. Norton, 2010, pp. 1–64.

“gang, n.” Oxford English Dictionary Online, Third Edition, Mar. 2013, http://www.oed.com.i.ezproxy.nypl.org/view/Entry/76566.
“ging, n.1” Oxford English Dictionary Online, Third Edition, June 2017, http://www.oed.com.i.ezproxy.nypl.org/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/78368.
"Sir Gawayn and Þe Grene Knyȝt."  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, edited by J. R. R. Tolkien and E. V. Gordon, Clarendon Press, 1949.  (https://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/cme/Gawain/1:1?rgn=div1;view=fulltext)
---.  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Edited by J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon, edited by Norman Davis, Norman, editor, 2nd ed., Clarendon Press, 1968.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005.
Tolkien, J. R. R., translator.  “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo, edited by Christopher Tolkien, HarperCollinsPublishers, 1975, pp. 17–93.

15 March 2019

Fragments of the Secret History of Khamul, Sorceror, Ringwraith, King

Provenance: Several scraps of tattered and burnt vellum, discovered on the northwestern slopes of Amon Amarth ('Mount Doom') among the bones of a fell beast in the fourteenth year of Eldarion  Telcontar, son of Elessar. Long held to be bits of the creature's skin, they were subsequently identified as orc-hide, probably from one of the smaller, older breeds commonly referred to in some texts as 'goblins'.

King's Writer, Finduilas, daughter of Findegil, devoted many years of study to the translation and ordering of the faded texts. The commentary below is also hers.


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.****

*old ... cabbages and potatoes -- This is surely Hamfast 'the Gaffer' Gamgee, father of Master Samwise, and grandfather of Elanor, Handmaid to Queen Arwen. The Red Book twice notes his conversation with a Black Rider the night Frodo Baggins, Peregrin Took, and Samwise Gamgee departed for Buckland. It also records his fondness for cabbages as well as potatoes ('the Gaffer's delight').

**Open ... Mordor -- The presence of this phrase here strongly suggests that it was Khamûl --  the only Ringwraith whose name is known, except Gothmog, the lieutenant of Morgul (see below) --  who broke open the door at Crickhollow.

***Bag End is mine -- These words and the reference to her umbrella below together indicate that Khamûl has come face to face with Lobelia Sackville-Baggins (née Bracegirdle), who purchased Bag End from Frodo Baggins in T.A. 3018 and later became a formidable leader in the resistance against Saruman. If Lobelia's words to Khamûl sound familiar, it has been suggested in some quarters that the portrayal of Gollum's obsession with the Ring is modeled on Lobelia's with Bag End.

****sniffling -- thus calling into question the Red Book's interpretation of Khamûl's smelling and its  significance.
uh oh, smells like elves!
After much debate between Finduilas and the sisters of King Eldarion, Finduilas persuaded them that Khamûl here refers to the arrival of Gildor Inglorion and his troop. 

Let the little people blow!
Confirms the accuracy of the otherwise inexplicable inclusion of the words of a Black Rider to himself or his fellow wraiths. Previously it had been thought that one of the guards at the gate of Buckland heard this before he was ridden down. 

He said the word!

Probably 'Elbereth'.
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! 
This clearly establishes once and for all that Gothmog was a man and a Ringwraith, never an orc, though some inferior bards have sought to depict him as such.

04 March 2019

Frodo's terror and grief

Here's a small piece of a much larger project I've been working on over the last few months. I have no idea when the whole will see the light of day, so I may post small excerpts here from time to time in case folks are interested and since I miss posting regularly.

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.