Thursday, December 31, 2009

“From eckward to andward”

The Dark Tower, an abandoned time-travel novel (or sorts) by C.S. Lewis, is, despite its brevity, densely packed with fascinating words, allusions, and ideas. Among many points that have struck my interest on this (my first) reading of it was the following passage — quoted by Lewis from the fictional book, Time Angles:

“An uncontrolled time proceeding in the backward-forward direction is subject, as is known, to fluctuations during which small extensions of it (say .05 of a second) will make a measurable angle with the backward-forward direction. If, now, we suppose this increased to a right angle, this time will proceed from eckward to andward” — so the words appeared to Scudamour’s memory when he told us the story — “and will cut an ideally normal time at right angles.” [1]

So far as I can tell, the words “eckward(s)” and “andward(s)” are Lewis’s own inventions. I have been unable to find them in anything predating The Dark Tower (except as completely unrelated proper names). For the most part, the time-travel literature on which Lewis drew for inspiration (e.g., H.G. Wells, J.W. Dunne, Murray Leinster, et al.) either coin nothing new, making do with existing words; or else borrow terminology from the world of spatial dimensions — e.g., Leinster’s “sidewise in time”. H. Beam Piper, whose works were probably too late to have influenced Lewis, adopts “paratime”, which serves well enough — but there is something remarkable to me about Lewis’s invented adverbs, “eckward” and “andward”. They feel just right; they appear perfectly appropriate and look like genuine English words. Naturally, I was curious about their possible etymologies. Now, I have not read all of the available scholarship on The Dark Tower — far from it! — but from a quick search, it does not appear to me that anybody has written much of anything on this subject. If anyone out there knows otherwise, please pass the details along! In the meantime, I’ve had some thoughts.

Two possibilities to explain “eckward” and “andward” come readily to my mind: Greek and Old English. To tip my hand, I think it’s probably the latter, but I’ll address them both, and I welcome your input.

To make up Lewis’s words, the Greek prefixes in question would most likely come from the prepositions ἐκ, ἐξ “out of, (away) from” and ἀνά “(up)on, along, up through, thereon”, respectively. The resulting meanings would therefore be something like eckward = “in a direction away from or out of (normal time)” and andward = “in a direction along or up through (normal time)”. The first would serve us well, but the second would not; such a meaning seems opposite to what Lewis meant. The only scholar whom I have found to venture any opinion on the matter is Sanford Schwartz. He (only tangentially) advances the Greek theory in his recent book — for “eckward”, at least; I haven’t seen an opinion on “andward” [2]. But while Greek would ordinarily be a natural assumption for Lewis (after all, the Four Loves are all given their Greek names), there are some problems here.

For one, as I’ve hinted already, the explanation for “andward” isn’t nearly as good as the one for “eckward”. And where would the d come from, if the prefix is the Greek ἀνά? For another, Latinizing ἐκ, ἐξ to “eck–” would not follow the established pattern for the use of that prefix in English (e.g., it’s eclipse, not *ecklipse or *eklipse). For yet another, the suffix, –ward, is most definitely Germanic. If the prefix were Greek, we’d have rather uneasy bedfellows from competing word-stocks. Such admixtures are not unprecedented in English, but they are not as common as unalloyed compounds. And especially in the case of a neologism by someone with Lewis’s knowledge of language (rivaled among the Inklings only by Tolkien’s or Barfield’s), one would have to expect more consistency. So what is the other alternative?

As I said, –ward is Germanic, going back to Old English –weard, ultimately from a Germanic root meaning “to turn”. Cognates to the Old English include Old Saxon –ward, Old High German –wart, Gothic –wairþs, and Old Norse –verðr. Might the prefixes be Old English along with the suffix? Certainly! If they are, the most likely sources are OE and “without, against” and éce “eternal, perpetual, everlasting” [3]. The latter already carries a temporary meaning, so we have reason to feel optimistic! Moreover, there actually is an attested OE word andweard, which, had it survived, would have become a Modern English word of precisely the form in question, “andward”. It means “present” in the spatial sense (i.e., “without any specific direction”), but this would obviously tempt a knowledgeable word-maker to apply it to the temporal dimension as well. If this hypothesis is the correct one, then the two words would mean something like andward = “all time in the present” and eckward = “all time perpetually conceived”, both contrasted with the mundane temporal dimension we all know from experience.

This etymology fits the story very well, where the fictive time-scientists of Lewis’s Othertime explain that “[a]t the [...] moment of intersection [of two perpendicular timelines] the whole series of events in each of these times will then be contemporary to those living in the other”, and “a consciousness which succeeded in passing [from one timeline to another] would attain to endless time, and the Time Square [i.e., a two-dimensional temporal plane], though finite, would be endless or perpetual” [4].

I feel satisfied, therefore, that the Old English etymology is most likely the one Lewis had in mind, in spite of his more typical attraction to the Greek or Latin. What do my readers think of this hypothesis? And why haven’t other writers, of both fictional time-travel stories and nonfiction books on time, picked up these very useful words? As someone who used to speculate on temporal dimensionality quite a lot (once upon a time :), I would certainly have found them useful!

[1] Lewis, C.S. The Dark Tower and Other Stories. Ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977, p. 84.

[2] Schwartz, Sanford. C.S. Lewis on the Final Frontier: Science and the Supernatural in the Space Trilogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

[3] An alternate possibility is OE éc “also”, with a meaning of “also-time”, but this strikes me as a bit less plausible.

[4] Lewis, pp. 84, 87.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A short review of “Three Rings”

Last May, I learned that one of my essays was being reviewed in the new issue of Hither Shore, then still forthcoming. That issue (Volume 5) is now in print, and most of it is available on Google Books. Having duly perused it, I also found a review in English of Tolkien Studies, Volume 5 (2008) by Thomas Honegger (running on pages 259–62), in which my essay, “Three Rings for—Whom Exactly? And Why? Justifying the Disposition of the Three Elven Rings” received the following favorable comments:
Lastly, Jason Fisher provides a straighforward study of the origin of the three elven rings. He points out that the final names and attributions to their wearers were given relatively late (first galley proofs). He establishes likely reasons for Tolkien allocating the ring of fire to Gandalf, the ring of air to Elrond, and the ring of water to Galadriel and shows how he strengthens the bond between wearer and ring by means of textual allusions. Finally, Fisher unearths a nice piece of ‘Tolkienian depth’ by paralleling the fate of the three silmarils — which find their final resting-places in the sky, the ocean, and the fires of the earth, respectively — with the three elven rings, so that it may indeed by not surprising that Elrond, the descendant of Eärendil who ‘carries’ one of the silmarils across the sky each night, is given the ring of air. (p. 261, ego-stroking emphasis added :)
It’s so nice to be read! My thanks to Thomas for the review.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mythcon 41 Call for Papers

Regular readers will remember that I’ve written about Mythcon — the Mythopoeic Society’s annual conference and fantasy convention — from time to time. For example, here is my detailed conference report for Mythcon 39. I was unable to attend Mythcon 40 this past July in Los Angeles, but I did have a paper read there. My good friend Randy Hoyt (also the webmaster for the Mythopoeic Society) filled in for me.

It was at Mythcon 39, though, that Randy and I first began talking about bringing Mythcon to North Texas. In its forty year history, it has never been to Texas at all, let alone to the Dallas/Fort Worth area (the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S.). The closest Mythcon has come to Texas is Norman, Oklahoma (Mythcon 37), a bit more than 200 miles; Nashville, Tennessee (Mythcon 34), more than 600 miles; Boulder, Colorado (Mythcon 27), right at 900 miles. Every other Mythcon over the past forty years has been 1,000 miles or more away! So in our view, a Texas Mythcon was long overdue.

And so, it’s happening in 2010: Mythcon 41 will be held at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas over the long weekend of July 9–12. Randy Hoyt and I are co-chairing the conference, with the on-campus sponsorship of the Department of Continuing Education! Even though the conference is months away, we have already opened registration, here. Room and board packages will be available, but we are finalizing the costs now. Those will be posted on the Mythopoeic Society website as they become available.

In the meantime, I’m happy to share the Mythcon 41 Call For Papers. You don’t have to present a paper in order to attend Mythcon, but for the scholars among you (amateurs welcome!), please consider proposing one. We have a conference theme, “War in Heaven” (see below for more details), but papers do not have to deal directly with this theme. However, we do especially welcome papers on the theme. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions, either here or via email.

Mythcon 41 Call For Papers

Mythcon 41: War in Heaven
The 41st Annual Mythopoeic Conference
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
July 9-12, 2010
Download: Call For Papers (PDF)
Proposals for papers are due: 4/15/10

Guests of Honor

Tim Powers, Author
Tim Powers is a science-fiction and fantasy author. He has received numerous awards and nominations for his works, including the World Fantasy Award for his novels Last Call (1992) and Declare (2000). He has been nominated for four Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, most recently for Three Days to Never (2006).

Janet Brennan Croft, Scholar
Janet Brennan Croft is the editor of Mythlore, one of the premier periodicals on the Inklings and fantasy literature. She has published many articles and three books on J.R.R. Tolkien, including War in the Works of Tolkien (2005), which won the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies.

Additional Special Guests to be announced!

Theme: War in Heaven
From the great epic poems of ancient Greece and ancient India to the Book of Revelation and the Poetic Edda; from John Milton and William Blake to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams; from Philip Pullman to Neil Gaiman and beyond, theomachy (conflict amongst and against the gods) has been a perennial theme in mythology and mythopoeic literature. Moreover, the year 2010 marks our theme with special significance as the 80th anniversary of the publication of Charles Williams’s novel War in Heaven.

Papers dealing with the conference theme are especially encouraged. We also welcome papers focusing on the work and interests of the Inklings (especially J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams), of our Guests of Honor, and other fantasy authors and themes. Papers from a variety of critical perspectives and disciplines are welcome. Each paper will be given a one-hour slot to allow time for questions, but individual papers should be timed for oral presentation in 40 minutes maximum. Participants are encouraged to submit papers chosen for presentation at the conference to Mythlore, the refereed journal of the Mythopoeic Society. Paper abstracts of no more than 300 words, along with contact information, should be sent to the Papers Coordinator at the address below (e-mail preferred) by April 15, 2010. Please include your A/V requirements and the projected time needed for your presentation.

All paper presenters must register for the full conference; please see the Mythcon 41 web page for information and rates.

Robin Anne Reid
Mythcon 41 Papers Coordinator
Department of Literature and Languages
Texas A&M University-Commerce
Commerce TX 75429

The Mythopoeic Society is an international literary and educational organization devoted to the study, discussion, and enjoyment of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and mythopoeic literature. We believe the study of these writers can lead to greater understanding and appreciation of the literary, philosophical, and spiritual traditions which underlie their works, and can engender an interest in the study of myth, legend, and the genre of fantasy. Find out about the Society’s activities at:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Parma Eldalamberon 18

I recently got word from editor Christopher Gilson that the latest issue (#18) of the journal Parma Eldalamberon has now been published. Actually, I heard from him before it was published, but I’ve been sadly remiss about sharing the goodies. The 150-page issue is called “Tengwesta Qenderinwa and Pre-Fëanorian Alphabets, Part 2”. Funny how these issues sneak up on us, isn’t it? I think we were all surprised by #17, and even though I’ve known something of the contents of this issue for some time, the news of its publication was still unanticipated (but very welcome).

For a detailed description of the issues, allow me to pass along the description that Chris gave me (which includes some details not mentioned on the website):
This issue of the journal is divided into two sections. The chronologically earlier is “Pre-Fëanorian Alphabets, Part 2,” presenting the rest of the group of invented scripts from about 1924 to 1929, the first part of which was published in Parma Eldalamberon, no. 16. The scripts include a couple of versions of Qenyatic that are designed for writing English, and some variations fairly similar to one of the versions of Qenyatic, which are called Angloquenya or Andyoqenya.

As in earlier editions of various other Tolkienian scripts, “Pre-Fëanorian Alphabets, Part 2” has tables of letter values, and samples of poems, prayers, and story fragments in the various alphabets. Those portions of the texts that are written in the invented scripts themselves are reproduced from copies of Tolkien’s manuscripts. The samples have been transcribed by the editor, Arden R. Smith, who has provided his usual careful commentary on the documents, and a detailed analysis of the phonetic intent of the various letters and symbols used by Tolkien in the documents.

The other section of this issue of the journal is the Tengwesta Qenderinwa or ‘Quendian Grammar’. You will recall that in Christopher Tolkien’s introduction to the Etymologies he said that Tolkien “wrote a good deal on the theory of sundokarme or ‘base-structure’,” and that it “was frequently elaborated and altered” (Lost Road, p. 343). This theory is the central part of the Tengwesta Qenderinwa, which also gives a description of the sounds of Primitive Quendian, and of patterns such as the combinations of sounds produced in the derivation of primitive words or word-stems by prefixion, infixion or suffixion.

Primitive Quendian is conceived of as a language that was never recorded, the knowledge of which could only be “guessed or discovered” by comparison of the various later Elvish languages that were written down. Thus there is an introductory survey of all these languages, called Lambion Ontale or ‘Descent of Tongues’, and there is a “Tree of the Descent of Tongues,” drawn by Tolkien, reproduced from the manuscripts.

Tolkien worked on the Tengwesta Qenderinwa in the late 1930s and again in the early 1950s; and the text underwent many minor and some major revisions in both the internal details of the conception and the manner in which Tolkien chose to convey his ideas. All of the textual history is presented in this issue, and the editors, Christopher Gilson and Patrick H. Wynne, have noted the relations between the linguistic data in the Tengwesta Qenderinwa and the Etymologies, and the historical connections with the contemporary texts of the Quenta Silmarillion and the Annals.
This sounds like another terrific issue. I know I’ll be picking up my copy soon. I recommend those of you interested in Tolkien’s invented languages do likewise!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tolkien/Lewis lecture this weekend in Dallas

First, my apologies for the silence here at Lingwë over the past few weeks. I lost my job on November 2 and have been engaged in the search for a new one since. The good news is that it looks like I’ll be gainfully employed again starting the first week of December. But in the meantime (and considering that Thanksgiving is just around the corner, with Christmas following soon after), Lingwë will probably continue to be fairly quiet for the next few weeks. Still, I will bring you what small news items I can during that time. Like this one ...

If you live in or near the Dallas / Fort Worth area, there is a lecture and dinner this coming Saturday. Short notice, I know, but I only learned of this yesterday. The well-known scholar Peter Kreeft will be speaking at Highland Park Presbyterian Church (a few blocks from Southern Methodist University) on Saturday, November 21, 2009 starting at 6:30 PM. The subject of the lecture is “Lewis, Tolkien, and the Culture War”. The event is not free, but it includes dinner for $75 or $100 (including a pre-dinner reception with Dr. Kreeft). There is also a silent auction, and the proceeds of the auction and dinner go to support the College of St. Thomas More in Fort Worth. This lecture is part of their series of short courses and college lectures, The C.S. Lewis Center for the Study of the Common Tradition: Lewis, Chesterton, Tolkien, and the Great Tradition.

For more information or to reserve tickets for the evening, call Nancy Lovell at (214) 536-2329; or send an email to Nancy Lovell or Michelle Monse. Or you can contact CSTM directly at (817) 923-8459.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Teaching Tolkien — update!

This past summer, I wrote about Marc Zender’s class at Harvard, “Tolkien as Translator”, as part of the broader topic of Tolkien in the classroom. Well, I’m pleased to pass along news that Marc will be teaching the class again, this time at the Harvard Extension School. While I’ve only seen the bulk of the Harvard campus from the outside, I’ve actually been inside one of the buildings of the Extension School (my oldest friend taught an English class there a couple of years ago), so I have a nice mental image of what Marc’s class might be like. Like my friend’s class, Marc’s will take place during the evenings — specifically, Wednesday evenings from 5:30–7:30. Classes start early next year, January 27, 2010.

Dick Plotz will be back for coming class, and this time, he’s bringing a friend: Robert Foster, author of A Guide to Middle-earth (1971), revised and expanded to include The Silmarillion and republished as The Complete Guide to Middle-earth in 1978. Now, that is exciting stuff! I still have a heavily thumbed and sometimes dog-eared copy of Bob Foster’s book from my childhood. Tolkien fanatics the world over owe him so much. His encyclopedia Tolkieniana was much better than J.E.A. Tyler’s Tolkien Companion (with its twee preface, fortunately abandoned in the 2002 revised edition). I hadn’t realized it until now, but Tony Tyler died very recently (October 2006). Tempus neminem manet. Requiescat in pace.

For those in the greater Boston area who might like to take the class, follow this link to learn more about it. To go directly to the syllabus in PDF format, this link. And at the risk of appearing insufferably self-congratulatory, I must take a moment to share this comment from Marc:
I wanted you to know that your comments back in May were instrumental in effecting a couple of changes to the syllabus, including the addition of the more complete edition of “Nomenclature”, and the general correction of my thoughtless usage of *Middle-Earth, with post-hyphen majuscule [...]
I am very happy to have been of service! The next time I make it to Boston, we should compare notes over a pint (or two).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dwarves and spiders — another angle

The response to my post on “The Attercops of Mirkwood” has exceeded all expectations. In fact, it is now, officially, the most heavily commented post I’ve published to date. For those keeping score, the nearest runner-up is my post on “‘Old entish swords’ in Beowulf and Tolkien”. I’m not quite sure why, but the Beowulf posts always seem to draw people out.

Well, by way of two sources (pointing ultimately to the same source), I was reminded of another medieval text which may connect dwarves and spiders, in this case contextually rather than linguistically. Rather than clumsily stuff this into the crowded thread of comments on the previous topic, I decided to write a follow-up post — voici, suivant.

Of what was I reminded? Among his notes to the chapter “Flies and Spiders” in The Annotated Hobbit (rev. ed.), Doug Anderson alludes to the Lacnunga (“Remedies”), a medieval English collection of medicinal and magical remedies, charms, and spells to ward off or cure an assortment of monsters and maladies. The book cited by Anderson, pointed out to him by Kelley Wickham-Crowley, is too late to have influenced Tolkien [1], but several other editions and discussions of this text were published before The Hobbit. The contents of the book are quite varied and variously written in Old English, Old Irish (or something approximating it), and Latin. Of these, one in particular stands out in the present context: a charm to protect against dwarves.

Actually, the late 10th- or early 11th-century manuscript (British Library MS Harley 585, folio 167) reads “wið weorh man sceal niman […]” [2], but *weorh is clearly in error for dweorh “dwarf”, as all subsequent editions and discussions, as well as contextual evidence in the Lacnunga itself, agree [3]. For some reason a bit beyond me, Cockayne translates this as “[a]gainst a warty eruption, one must take [...]”; it must be because he didn’t realize the MS was in error, and yet I do not think *weorh is anywhere attested with any meaning at all, “warty” or otherwise. In any case, since then, it has been agreed this is a charm against dwarves (just as there are charms against elves and other sprites and maladies).

As part of the charm’s elaborate procedure, one must sing a rather curious incantation, which begins, hér cóm ingangan inspiderwiht “here came along a spider wight” [i.e., creature; cf. Tolkien’s Barrow-wights]. What the incantation means, exactly, is unclear. According to Walter John Sedgefield, “[t]he incantatory passage is full of obscurities, but the general meaning can be puzzled out [...:] the sense is that the spider is to ride off, using the dwarf-demon as his horse ... as soon as they have ridden away, the wounds begin to cool” [4]. Well, is that all it takes?! ;)

Much more recently, Philip Shaw has written that “[t]he term spiderwiht is one of the best-known cruces of Old English literature, and, indeed, the history of the English language” [5]. If he is not overstating the matter, we can well suppose such a crux would have attracted Tolkien’s attention at some point during his career. We can’t be certain that “spider” was even the intended meaning, and Shaw goes over several possible theories to explain the word (including scribal error). What is clear is that there is no such Old English form, and though the Modern English “spider” is clearly related to OE spinnan “to spin (e.g., a web)”, I know of no one who has conclusively accounted for the word’s appearance as Middle English spinnere, spi(n)þre, spi(n)ther, etc. In his Middle English Dictionary, Stratmann gives as a probable source Middle Low German spinnere, which is as good as anything. But whatever the word was meant to convey, the editions in print before The Hobbit was published say it was “spider”. I can imagine Tolkien reading this and grumbling, “rubbish! there is no such form!”

So, does the charm bring dwarves and spiders together? Maybe. Could the charm have put dwarves and spiders together in Tolkien’s mind, or reinforced a connection already there? Certainly it could have, assuming this is a text he read and a crux he pondered. It could well be that he made notes on this very subject, now locked away somewhere in the bowels of the Bodleian, awaiting the careful and patient attention of a scholar on a mission. Or with a special interest in spiders, dwarves — or both.

[1] Grattan, J. H. G., and Charles Joseph Singer. Anglo-Saxon Magic and Medicine: Illustrated Specially from the Semi-Pagan Text Lacnunga. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1952. Cited in The Annotated Hobbit, rev. ed., p. 214n17.

[2] For the facsimile manuscript of this passage, see Cockayne, Thomas Oswald. Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England Being a Collection of Documents, for the Most Part Never Before Printed, Illustrating the History of Science in This Country Before the Norman Conquest. Volume III. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1866, p. 42 (translation on the facing page).

[3] See, for example, Bosworth and Toller, p. 1192; and Grattan and Singer, p. 160 (and note 12); and others cited in this post.

[4] Sedgefield, Walter John. An Anglo-Saxon Prose-Book. Manchester: University Press, 1928, p. 419. For his edition of the text of the charm, see p. 358.

[5] Shaw, Philip A. “The Manuscript Texts of Against a Dwarf.” Writing and Texts in Anglo-Saxon England. Ed. Alexander R. Rumble. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2006, p. 101.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Attercops of Mirkwood

In my post on Slavic echoes (or the lack of them) in Tolkien’s works, and especially in the comments which it prompted, I talked about the temptation to find such echoes in unlikely places out of mere wishful thinking. But I also acknowledged that Tolkien’s linguistic borrowings were diverse and layered. He liked to imbue words with multiple shades of meaning, or even double-meanings, within and across languages. A classic example of Mordor, which in Sindarin is the “black land”, but which also points to Old English morðor “murder”.

Having thus set the table, let me serve you up a dish of spiders. Specifically, the great poisonous Spiders of Mirkwood. It is pretty well known by now that Bilbo’s taunt, “Attercop! Attercop!”, simply means “poisonous spider” [1]. The compound átor-coppe “spider” is attested in the Old English literature. I do not know of any occurrence of this compound form in Old Norse (one does find köngur-váfa, in which the second element, rather chillingly, means “ghost”), but I’d think it would have been *eitr-koppr. The Old English compound also made its way into Welsh as adargop, eventually shortened to adrop.

Gilliver, et al., think that Tolkien encountered the word while making notes on the 13th-century poem “The Owl and the Nightingale” as an undergraduate. Could be, but I wonder whether he might have seen the poem by Robert Graves, “Attercop: The All-Wise Spider”, published in 1924 [2]. Tolkien used the word “attercops” in early drafts of the poem “Errantry”, probably composed at the beginning of the 1930’s, perhaps even a bit before. (“Attercops” survived into the version published in The Oxford Magazine, 1933, but was not retained in the version printed in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, 1962.) In his poem, Graves is more complimentary to the reviled creature (“Attercop, whose proud name with hate be spoken”), but the poem, and its use of this archaic word, could have been prominent enough to catch the eye of Tolkien, a young poet himself at the time. Tolkien later described Robert Graves and a lecture he (Graves) gave in 1964: “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” [3]. Bees, eh? Well, in Old Swedish, a kopp was a “bee”, and *etter-kopp might have been a good substitute for “wild bee” (or today’s Africanized “killer” bees). Ah, but this is just in fun.

Returning to real etymology, the first element in “attercop” goes back to Old English átor (and variously, áter, áttor, ǽtor, etc.), meaning “poison”; cognate forms in the other Germanic languages include Old Norse eitr, Old High German eitar, Old Saxon êttar, hêttar, and among the modern languages this survives in Swedish etter. In Modern English, the word adder, a kind of poisonous snake, derives from Old English nædre, but it could be that átor “poison” influenced the word.

The second element, cop(pe), is usually said to mean “spider” (it survives in Modern English cobweb), but I think it probably came to refer to the arachnid relatively late, and there is much more to say about its earlier etymology. There are three possibilities: (1) “head”, (2) “cup”, and (3) variously “pock, bag, blister”. But when you boil these down, I think it all comes down to one source: PIE *keup “a hole, a hollow”, which gave IE *kaput “head”. How does a head come from a hollow? Think about it. :)

From PIE *keup / IE *kaput developed such related words as Sanskrit कूप /kūpa/ “a pit, well, hollow, cavity”; Greek κύπελλον “cup, goblet”, from κύπη “a hole, hollow”; and Latin caput “head” and cupa “vat, cask, butt” (if you’re snickering at the latter, it’s the source of Modern English butler). Moving forward into the Middle Ages, we have Old Church Slavonic kupa “cup”, OE copp, cuppe “cup, vessel”, ON koppr “cup, small vessel”, and Middle High German kopf “a drinking vessel”. Ah, but that last word looks familiar, doesn’t it? Modern High German has Kopf for “head”, along with Haupt, phonologically related. Modern Dutch, Danish, and Swedish have kop, kop, and kopp, respectively, for “cup”, and Afrikaans gives kop the additional shades of a hilltop and (informally) common sense (i.e., what’s in your kop “head”).

What about “pock, bag, blister”? Where in the world do those come from? Well, a pock is a small hole, related to the American southern dialectal poke (cf. “a pig in a poke”), which is a bag. These two are clearly related, not by etymology but by sense, to PIE *keup “a hole, hollow”. In addition to the meanings of both “cup” and “head”, Modern Frisian kop also has the sense of “blister, bubble, pock”, and so it’s no great leap to the sting of a poisonous spider. But this leap is not mine; I came across this theory (more tenuous than the others, if you ask me, but still connectable to them) in a 19th-century issue of the Proceedings of the Philological Society of London [4].

We’ve thus found a kind of double meaning — “head” versus “cup” — is the second element of attercop. Spiders are both “heads of poison” and “cups of poison”, and they may even have “bags of poison” or deliver a “pox of poison”. But I’m not finished yet.

Where do these Attercops live? Mirkwood of course. Again, it is pretty well known that Tolkien took the compound name for his forest from the Old Norse Myrkviðr, and he extrapolated an unattested Old English form, Myrcwudu, for use in his own legendarium [5]. The first element, English mirk, later murk(y), means “dark(ness)” in all the Germanic languages, e.g., ON myrkr, OE mirce, myrce, OS mirki, Modern Norwegian and Swedish mörk, Danish mørk. Even in Tolkien’s own invented languages, we have Queyna morë and Sindarin môr “dark”. This goes back to an Indo-European root *mer meaning “to flicker” (cf. Lithuanian mirgėti “to glimmer”), from which the Primitive Germanic *merkwia “twilight”.

So where’s the double-meaning? Ah, well, recall Tolkien’s interest in Finnish. There, we find the Finnish word myrkky, which is quite close phonologically, but which doesn’t mean “dark” at all; no, it means “poison”, just like the first element of “attercop”! Cognate to these are Estonian mürk, Hungarian mérĕg, and Lappish mir’hku, all meaning “poison”, and all looking like the first element in Mirkwood. Russian моръ “plague, pestilence” may also connected to the idea of poison. Coincidence? It could be, but I tend to doubt it. We know Tolkien studied Finnish (and to some extent modeled his own Quenya on it). The word myrkky doesn’t seem to occur anywhere in the Kalevala; however, we do find the phrase kuolla myrkystä “to die of poison” in Charles Eliot’s Finnish Grammar, the book Tolkien used in his studies of the language [6].

And I’ve still got one more. Who else have we got in the Mirkwood episode besides the Spiders, Mr. Baggins, and his Sting? Dwarves. How on earth could dwarves and spiders be connected etymologically? It just so happens — and I’ve known this for ages, but have had it up my sleeve awaiting the right opportunity — that dialectal Swedish uses the word dwerg for “spider”; of course, many of you probably know that its primary meaning is “dwarf”. Welsh exhibits the same behavior, where corr is both “dwarf” and “spider”, “the name probably given from the mythical skill of the dwarfs in handicraft” [7]. It’s all about metaphor, and quite possibly Tolkien knew of one or both of these usages.

So, double-meanings, ranging fairly wide, but among languages we know Tolkien studied and with strong ties to the same characters and setting in his first novel. Whether consciously intended or not, such interwoven meanings, like a spider’s web — or better, Ariadne’s thread — they help us to appreciate the ever rewarding complexities of Tolkien’s imagination.

[1] See, for example: Gilliver, Peter, Jeremy Marshall, and E.S.C. Weiner. The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 91–2; and Rateliff, John. The History of The Hobbit, Part One: Mr. Baggins. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007, p. 321n27.

[2] Graves, Robert. Mock Beggar Hall. London: Hogarth Press, 1924, pp. 14–5.

[3] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981, p. 353 (#267).

[4] Wedgwood, Hensleigh. “Notices of English Etymology.” Proceedings of the Philological Society of London, Volume II, Number 26 (22 November 1844), p. 6. For the same point again, see also the excellent and thorough, Adams, Ernest. “On the Names of Spiders.” Transactions of the Philological Society. Berlin: A. Asher & Co., 1859: 216–27, p. 217.

[5] Gilliver, et al., p. 165.

[6] Eliot, C.N.E. A Finnish Grammar. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1890, p. 143.

[7] Adams, p. 221.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Slavic echoes in Tolkien — A response

This may be old news, depending on how many of you read the Ukrainian literary journal, Літературознавчі студії (“Literary Studies”), published under the auspices of the Institute of Philology at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev. Doesn’t everyone? Hahae, I know, neither do I. Not speaking Ukrainian is a bit of an obstacle, but hey, that’s why we invented machine translation. Thus armed, I have tackled an essay in the latest issue. Why? Well, because the author cites me, of course! Why else would I bother? Did I mention it’s in Ukrainian?! ;)

All kidding aside, the essay in question is “Слов’янські відлуння у творчості Дж.Р.Р. Толкіна” (“Slavic echoes in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien”), by Дмитро Кузьменко (henceforward, Dmitry Kuzmenko). For those who’d like to read it (with or without the help of robots), Kuzmenko has put a copy of the paper up on his website, here. It’s fairly short, a little under 2,000 words, but for those who’d like it even shorter, let me boil down the author’s argument.

Kuzmenko begins with the acknowledgement that Tolkien’s fictive world is one apparently “devoid of any influence of the Slavic culture and especially its literature”, but then asserts that “more detailed analysis shows otherwise” [1]. What does such analysis reveal? Kuzmenko spotlights several pieces of evidence:

  • Tolkien’s invented language, Quenya, “has a few Russian words and suffixes”, which probably came about when Tolkien attempted to learn some Russian in 1918 [2].
  • Kuzmenko asserts that “many [of Tolkien’s] toponyms […] were also words of Slavic origin”, such as Rhovanion; or if not necessary given Slavic names, they correspond to Slavic features, as he says the Anduin River springs from the Danube, “which flows mainly among the Slavic peoples and played an important role in their folklore”.
  • The example of the wizard Radagast and his home at Rhosgobel, both usually taken to have Slavic sources, although “the exact etymology of the word ‘Radagast’ remains controversial”; it is here that Kuzmenko cites me, specifically this post written for Lingwë.
  • The Variags of Khand, who (it can scarcely be argued) take their name from the Varangians, Norsemen who settled in the regions we now call Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine.
  • The original name for the character who would become Beorn in The Hobbit: Medwed, a Slavic name with the meaning “bear, honey-eater” (and which I also discuss at some length in the post on Radagast).
  • Kuzmenko suggests that “several images [...] at first glance have a Germanic origin, but on closer examination reveal Slavic parallels”, and discusses three: Mirkwood, Wargs, and the dragon Smaug.
In the end, Kuzmenko’s conclusion, that Tolkien “consciously or unconsciously achieved a literary effect in terms of Slavic culture through the prism of the Germanic”, goes too far on too little evidence. Tolkien’s intentions are essentially set aside as irrelevant and the researcher’s own argument put forward in their place (“consciously or unconsciously”, he says; but doesn’t it matter which?). Better would be to say that Tolkien did indeed incorporate a few Slavic elements into the multifaceted and multi-sourced structure and background of Middle-earth, but that he did so quite sparingly and, in almost every case, only at its furthest margins. Kuzmenko also offers little in the way of original research. The examples he gives may nearly all be found in the works he cites, most significantly in Robert Orr’s 1994 essay, “Some Slavic Echoes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth” [3].

Kuzmenko’s essay therefore doesn’t break new ground, which unfortunately tends to undermine its mission of convincing us that Slavic elements in Tolkien’s writings deserve greater attention and investigation. Tolkien himself would seem to discourage the mission, having said that “Slavonic languages are for me almost in the same category [i.e., no aptitude]. I have had a go at many tongues in my time, but [...] the time I once spent on trying to learn Serbian and Russian have left me with no practical results, only a strong impression of the structure and word-aesthetic” [4].

There is a problem inherent in arguments like those of Orr and Kuzmenko; actually a couple of problems. For one, the mere existence of Slavic cognates to Germanic words we know were of interest to Tolkien says nothing about whether Tolkien was or was not aware of them, let alone whether he intended them to be detectable by readers (with one exception: “Variag”). For another, we often don’t know which cognates were the older ones, the Germanic of Slavic, though in some cases — as of, say, Gothic versus Old Church Slavonic — it’s pretty clearly apparent which is older. Third, even if a Slavic form is older and was borrowed into Germanic, we have no reason to assume either that Tolkien knew this, or that he cared if he did know. And if we are only interested in cognates, why not trot out a whole wealth of Sanskrit words? Why not? Because there is absolutely no evidence that Tolkien had Sanskrit in mind at any stage of the development of Middle-earth. One can make almost as definitive a rejection of the Balto-Slavic branch — but instead of absolutely no evidence, it’s rather simply very little. Certainly much less even than the Goidelic branch of the Celtic family, which Tolkien himself largely rejected.

For one example of something that has been made too much of, take Medwed, the original name for Beorn. Yes, this name is incontrovertibly Slavic. But why should this be cause for Slavists to rejoice? Tolkien rejected the name before publication of The Hobbit, replacing the Slavic name with a Germanic one. The fact of that rejection says something about Tolkien’s attitude toward the suitability of Slavic elements in Middle-earth, and should probably discourage the overenthusiastic search for others.

Note that I don’t mean to discourage all research in this area — far from it; I’m thinking only of the really overzealous, “no stone unturned” searches. As I indicated above, there is one very clear exception case, in Variag. This form, retained in the final published Lord of the Rings, is undeniably Slavic, from the Russian варяг, in turn from Old East Slavic (i.e., Old Russian, sometimes called Old Ukrainian) varęgŭ. The word is still in use today, actually. In Belarussian, as I understand it, вараг means both Varangian, but also (colloquially) any “tall, burly man”, and in the Arkhangelsk dialect of Russian, варяза is used to mean “a man from beyond the sea, a foreigner” (this is almost exactly, but coincidentally, analogous to the Semitic ferengi, which I have discussed before).

But aha! Despite the clearly Slavic word-shape Tolkien chose, its source is ultimately Germanic. Cognates include Old English wǽrgenga, Lombardic waregang, Old Frankish wargengus, cf. medieval Greek βαράγγως — all ultimately sourced to Old Norse væringi, váringi, from Proto- Norse *váringr, believed to derive from vár “vow, oath, pledge” + ganga “to go”, in the sense of foreigners pledged to service. [5] The word isn’t attested in Gothic, but if the Goths used the word, it would most likely have taken the form *wadjagagga, from wadi “pledge” + gagga “to go” (cf. the genuine faúragagga “a steward, lit. fore-goer”). The point is that although Tolkien chose a Slavic form for its presentation in the Middle-earth of the Third Age, the word, the very idea, of the Variags has its roots in Scandinavia, much as Beowulf has roots in Scandinavia but is seen through a distinctly English lens. And whatever (few) other Slavic echoes one might detect in Tolkien’s legendarium should, I expect, be regarded in the same way.

[1] Kuzmenko, Dmitry. “Slavic Echoes in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien.” Literary Studies (National University of Kiev) 24 (2009): 217–221. All quotations are in English, machine-translated, then edited for sense by me. If you speak Ukrainian, please feel free to suggest corrections.

[2] Kuzmenko gives no source for the claim that Russian left an imprint on Quenya; however, he must have gotten this from Ivan Derzhanski’s entry, “Russian Language”, in Michael Drout’s Tolkien Encyclopedia (pp. 581–2). Kuzmenko includes Drout as an entirely generic entry in his bibliography, but does not explicitly cite it in the essay.

[3] Orr, Robert. “Some Slavic Echoes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.” Germano-Slavica 8 (1994): 23–34. This is a solid essay, worth reading, but I think Kuzmenko may have relied rather too heavily on it. Kuzmenko’s assertion that “several images [...] at first glance have a Germanic origin, but on closer examination reveal Slavic parallels” is uncomfortably similar to Robert Orr’s “elements which at first appear to be simply taken from Germanic, but which on closer inspection appear to have various sorts of Slavic associations” (p. 23). Moreover, the three examples Kuzmenko gives — Mirkwood, Warg, and Smaug — are the same three Orr discusses, in the same order.

[4] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981, p. 173 (#142).

[5] Blöndal, Sigfús. The Varangians of Byzantium. Trans, rev., and rewritten (!) by Benedikt S. Benedikz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Reprinted 1981, 2007. pp. 4–6.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lloyd Alexander and his Welsh mythological sources

A new piece I’ve written on Lloyd Alexander has just appeared in the latest issue of Randy Hoyt’s online mythology ’zine, Journey to the Sea. In the article, I take a look at some of the Welsh mythological underpinnings to Alexander’s five-volume Chronicles of Prydain (plus The Foundling and Other Tales from Prydain). That’s a tall order, so my examples are necessarily abbreviated, but I hope that the essay will prompt others to explore the subject further, perhaps even crack open a copy of the Mabinogion themselves.

Here’s how Randy described the new issue:

I have published the fourteenth issue of my online myth magazine Journey to the Sea. This issue includes an article by [...] Jason Fisher on Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Cycle and an article by me on Where The Wild Things Are (the book [by Maurice Sendak]).

In addition to these two typical examples of modern mythopoeic literature, the third article looks the film Katyń by Polish film director Andrzej Wajda. The film is not fantastical at all — I suppose it qualifies as historical fiction, looking at the tragic 1940 massacre in the Poland forest Katyn — but Laura Gibbs looks at how Wajda wove the Greek myth of Antigone into the film.

Any and all feedback is welcome, both here and at Journey to the Sea. If you haven’t been reading the ’zine, now would be a great time to start!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mythlore 107/108 on the way

The Isengard Theme, from Howard Shore’s film score to The Lord of the RingsFrom Janet Brennan Croft comes news that the newest issue of Mythlore went to the printer earlier this week. For those keeping score, this is issue 107/108, Volume 28, Number 1/2 (Fall/Winter 2009). I have a book review in this issue — as I have had for each issue these past two years. This time, I’m taking a close look at Matthew Young’s Projecting Tolkien’s Musical Worlds: A Study of Musical Affect in Howard Shore’s Soundtrack to Lord of the Rings. Also, a book to which I contributed a chapter, Truths Breathed Through Silver, is being reviewed, so I will be paying especially close attention to that. Truths was also reviewed in the current issue of Tolkien Studies, which I discussed (inter alia), here.

For those who don’t subscribe purely for my book reviews (hahae!), here is the full table of contents for this issue. It looks like it’s going to be a great read.

  • Perilous Shores: The Unfathomable Supernaturalism of Water in 19th-Century Scottish Folklore, by Jason Marc Harris
  • The Noldor and the Tuatha Dé Danaan: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Irish Influences, by Annie Kinniburgh
  • Tolkien’s Sigurd & Gudrún: Summary, Sources, & Analogs, by Pierre H. Berube
  • Amanda McKittrick Ros and the Inklings, by Anita G. Gorman and Leslie Robertson Mateer
  • Ancient Myths in Contemporary Cinema: Oedipus Rex and Perceval the Knight of the Holy Grail in Pulp Fiction and The Sixth Sense, by Inbar Shaham
  • The Heart of the Labyrinth: Reading Jim Henson’s Labyrinth as a Modern Dream Vision, by Shiloh Carroll
  • No Sex in Narnia? How Hans Christian Andersen’s “Snow Queen” Problematizes C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, by Jennifer L. Miller
  • Innocence as a Super-power: Little Girls on the Hero’s Journey, by David Emerson
  • Naming the Evil One: Onomastic Strategies in Tolkien and Rowling, by Janet Brennan Croft
  • And reviews of: Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Douglas A. Anderson; The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, by Laura Miller; Projecting Tolkien’s Musical Worlds: A Study of Musical Affect in Howard Shore’s Soundtrack to Lord of the Rings, by Matthew Young; Esotericism, Art, and Imagination, edited by Arthur Versluis et al.; three new books on The Wind in the Willows, including two annotated versions; Truths Breathed Through Silver: The Inklings’ Moral and Mythopoeic Legacy, edited by Jonathan B. Himes with Joe R. Christopher and Salwa Khoddam; and Volume VI of Tolkien Studies.
Subscribers should start receiving their copies in a couple of weeks (maybe three, depending on where you live). There is, I’m told, still time to subscribe. :)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

WOTD: Hysteropotmos

I was thumbing through a copy of the World Dictionary of Foreign Expressions (which I picked up recently at a library book sale for all of $1), when an interesting word snagged my eye: hystero-potmos, defined as “[a] person who, after being presumed dead, surprisingly comes back home after a long period of absence. A person who, after being presumed killed in battle, escapes from captivity and surprisingly returns home” [1]. Readers of Tolkien will of course remember the following comical scene:

He had arrived back in the middle of an auction! There was a large notice in black and red hung on the gate, stating that on June the Twenty-second Messrs. Grubb, Grubb, and Burrowes would sell by auction the effects of the late Bilbo Baggins Esquire, of Bag-End, Underhill, Hobbiton. Sale to commence at ten o’clock sharp. It was now nearly lunch-time, and most of the things had already been sold, for various prices from next to nothing to old songs (as is not unusual at auctions). Bilbo’s cousins the Sackville-Bagginses were, in fact, busy measuring his rooms to see if their own furniture would fit. In short Bilbo was “Presumed Dead,” and not everybody that said so was sorry to find the presumption wrong.

.....The return of Mr. Bilbo Baggins created quite a disturbance, both under the Hill and over the Hill, and across the Water; it was a great deal more than a nine days’ wonder. The legal bother, indeed, lasted for years. It was quite a long time before Mr. Baggins was in fact admitted to be alive again. The people who had got specially good bargains at the Sale took a deal of convincing; and in the end to save time Bilbo had to buy back quite a lot of his own furniture. Many of his silver spoons mysteriously disappeared and were never accounted for. Personally he suspected the Sackville-Bagginses. On their side they never admitted that the returned Baggins was genuine, and they were not on friendly terms with Bilbo ever after. They really had wanted to live in his nice hobbit-hole so very much.

This was my immediate thought when I read the definition. Apparently the word survives today (just barely) in narrow legal parlance, used in just such situations as Mr. Baggins found himself! But the origins of the word go back to Greek (and later, Roman) antiquity. Variously translated as “later-fated” or “double-fated” (more properly, the latter is deuteropotmos), the component etymons (so says the WDFE) are ϋστερον “later, latter” + πότμος “fate, death”. (Πότμος, not to be confused with ποταμός “river”.) Now I’m not an expert in Greek, but my recollection is that the usual word for death is θάνατος (as in the poem “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant, which I still dimly recall from high school English :). Are fate and death really etymology linked, as suggested here? It certainly does makes sense.

The great Liddell / Scott lexicon of Classical Greek formalizes the connection. It defines πότμος as “that which befalls one, one’s lot, destiny, usu[ally] one’s evil destiny, a mishap, esp[ecially] like μοϊρα and μόρος, death”, following which are given a number of references to the literature, including Homer, Pindar, and Euripides [2]. Homer, of course, is the most obvious: what is Odysseus if not the archetypal hysteropotmos? The other two words given here, μόρος and μοϊρα, deserve a footnote. The first is defined by Liddell and Scott as roughly synonymous with πότμος, “fate, destiny, death”, and its etymology takes us, along with μοϊρα, to the proper noun, Μοϊρα “Moera, the goddess of fate [...] often in Hom[er] the goddess of death” [3]. Normally portrayed in the plural, as a Triple Goddess, the Moirae are the Fates, the “apportioners”, measuring out the lives of men. Once they became fixed at three, they were named Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, the Spinner, Measurer, and Cutter of the thread of life. In the case of hysteropotmoi, perhaps Atropos was taking a well-deserved nap. ;)

I said πότμος was not to be confused with ποταμός, but I wonder, could there be a metaphorical relationship between fate and rivers? Liddell and Scott give no such indication in their entry for the latter [4], but rivers are full of mythological and liminal significance: the Styx (Στύξ) most of all. It makes sense to suppose they might share a common origin, but is there any evidence? Ah well, something for further investigation, I suppose.

The oldest reference I have found to the word hysteropotmos itself (apart from its use in antiquo) is in the Allgemeines Fremdwörterbuch, an 1829 lexicon of foreign words in German. The definition given there is, “ein Zurückgeschiffter, wiederbelebter Scheintodter, vom Tode Erstandener” [5]. If my scant German hasn’t failed me (and if I’m not misreading the Fraktur), this is, “someone who has come back, revived from being apparently dead, risen from death” — German speakers, please feel free to improve on this.

The word has been around for quite a long time, and it’s surprisingly useful (especially for describing the literary motif of the Zurückgeschiffter) — but the word has been all but forgotten. It is essentially dead. Perhaps this word itself should be brought back, made verbum redivivum, to become an hysteropotmos itself. That would be a beautiful irony, wouldn’t it?

[1] Adeleye, Gabriel G., and Kofi Acquah-Dadzie. World Dictionary of Foreign Expressions: A Resource for Readers and Writers. Eds. Thomas J. Sienkewicz and James T. McDonough. Wauconda, Ill: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1999, p. 171.

[2] Liddell and Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1870, p. 1229.

[3] Ibid., p. 943, italics original.

[4] Ibid., p. 1228.

[5] Heyse, Johann Christian August. Allgemeines Fremdwörterbuch, oder Handbuch zum Verstehen und Vermeiden der in unserer Sprache mehr oder minder gebräuchlichen Fremden Ausdrücke [etc.]. Hannover: Hahn, 1829 , p. 361.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Google Language Tools grow again

Over the past year and a half or so (most recently, here), I’ve been providing regular updates on the addition of new languages at Google’s Language Tools site. For those not yet familiar with it, Google provides automated translation between quite a wide variety of languages, easily surpassing the old Babelfish website I used to use before Google (originally owned by defunct search site, Alta Vista, and now owned by Yahoo).

Well, they’re at it again. Google has had Persian in beta testing for some time now, but I didn’t think that alone worth blogging about. But they’ve evidently just rolled out a major release, and those industrious little devils at Google are up to fifty-one languages now! This includes a few of the important oversights I and my fellow commenters mentioned the last time I wrote about this subject. Now I’m not saying we had any influence on the choices, hahae — but at least we’ve got Afrikaans, Swahili, and Albanian now. And I was really pleased to see Irish, Welsh, and Icelandic.

Here is the current list of supported languages:

Afrikaans, Albanian, Arabic, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Filipino, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malay, Maltese, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Welsh, and Yiddish.

And that’s not all. You might remember that I complained about the oversight of most of the Indian subcontinent (with only Hindi represented so far)? And you may notice this is still true in the list above. Well, Google is now offering something it’s calling the Google Translator Toolkit, to help you “create content in other languages in an easy-to-use translation editor.” Tucked away inside this new feature (which you’ll find here) is a feature for uploading and translating documents. The languages offered there include a total of sixty!

Some of these are variants and dialects (e.g., Brazilian versus European Portuguese, and simplified versus traditional Chinese), but there are also entire languages, ranging all over India: Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalim, Marathi, Nepali, Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu. But I experimented with them a little and couldn’t quite figure out what Google intends here (but I admit I did not RTFM ;). Certain common phrases in my test document were translated, but most weren’t. It seems that full support for these languages isn’t available yet, but in any case, this probably provide a clue as to which languages Google will be rolling out next for machine-translation.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sungon sigebyman: maþþum oþres weorð!

Big news yesterday or the largest trove of Anglo-Saxon artifacts ever discovered, running to more than 1,300 objects so far, many of them gold. Just about everybody seems to be talking about it, so I’ll keep my own comments fairly brief.

The hoard, taken together, adds up to some eleven pounds of gold and more than five pounds of silver. The remark-able discovery was made by one Terry Herbert with his trusty metal-detector in soft soil in the Staffordshire countryside, right in the heart of the English Midlands. The estimated dates of the items — no doubt, these will be refined in time — range somewhere between the seventh to eight (or even early ninth) centuries. The dates and location, therefore, suggest that these treasures belonged to the Kingdom of Mercia during its ascendancy, not long after the Christianization of England. Indeed, one of the items is a gold band bearing a Latin inscription from the Book of Numbers (or Psalms), which seems to read: [.]irge domine disepentu[r] inimici tui et [f]ugent qui oderunt te a facie t[u]a.

What is a discovery like this worth? Let’s not even mention the record prices of gold recently (apophasis, I know; so here you go). Scott Nokes said it best, I think:
This BBC report is unintentionally hilarious […] Worth a seven figure sum, eh? How about “priceless,” instead? It’s rather like saying a lost child was found wandering the streets and “experts say his organs might fetch tens of thousands of dollars on the open market.”
And naturally, it hasn’t taken long for the news sites (so-called) to begin invoking Tolkien with rather more enthusiasm than good sense, as here, where the Times Online compares the row between the landowner and the “metal detectorist” to the struggle for possession of Sauron’s Ring. I suppose such comparisons are inevitable, even if silly, but wouldn’t a better comparison have been made with the hoard of Smaug?

PS. The title of this post is a mash-up of phrases from the Old English Exodus and Maxims I (in the Exeter Book). Feel free to try your hand at translating it if you like, and leave your effort(s) as a comment. :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Checking in with the Viking Society

About nine months ago, I learned (and shared here) that the Viking Society for Northern Research had taken the decision to put all of its books online for free. As I said then, not all of their books were yet available online. As noted by David Bratman, one of these was Volume XIV (1953–57) of Saga-Book, which has (among many other goodies) Christopher Tolkien’s essay, “The Battle of the Goths and the Huns” (pp. 141–63). Two other publications by Christopher Tolkien were already (and still are) available: his edition and translation of The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise (1960) and his introduction to Gabriel Turville-Petre’s edition of Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (1956).

Well, Saga-Book, Vol. XIV, with Christopher Tolkien’s essay, is now available online — along with a number of other additions, all of them here. If you haven’t visited the site and filled out your collection yet, now would be a great time. I will probably save more extended comments on the Christopher Tolkien essay for another post, but in the meantime ...

Here’s another essay to which I’ll call your attention: “Thustable” by (again) Gabriel Turville-Petre, from his 1972 collection, Nine Norse Studies. This piece first appeared in the rather hard-to-find English and Medieval Studies Presented to J.R.R. Tolkien on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday (ed. Norman Davis and C.L. Wrenn, 1962). It’s a short and fascinating study of the toponym Thurstable, in Essex, and its connection to the cult of Thor (Þunor, in England).

And another: an essay by fellow Inkling J.A.W. Bennett in Saga-Book, Vol. XIII (1946–53), “The Beginnings of Runic Studies in England”. An interesting tidbit: Bennett’s mention of the 17th-century Earl of Arundel, at roughly the same time Tolkien adapted that name for his (sadly unfinished) Notion Club Papers, and roughly the same time when Bennett first joined the Inklings. Coincidence? There’s another essay by Bennett in Saga-Book, Vol. XII (1937–45) on the history of Norse studies in England.

How about one more? Saga-Book, Vol. XVII (1966–69) also contains a very good essay by the eminent Norse scholar, Ursula Dronke, called “Beowulf and Ragnarök”, which is essentially a response to Tolkien’s 1936 lecture, “Beowulf : The Monsters and the Critics”. In that lecture, writes Dronke, “Professor Tolkien offered an interpretation of Beowulf in the light of the Norse myth of Ragnarök, the Fate of the Gods. [...] This interpretation has received criticism on two main grounds [...]. Before commenting upon these criticisms, I should like to add a third [...].” And finally, Dronke concludes:
When early scholars traced the mythological parallels of Beowulf, they did not reckon with the mind of a poet well-versed in Christian apologetic techniques against the pagans, deliberately using, and diminishing the stature of, older myths for his Christian didactic purposes; an imaginative explorer who obliterated most of the tracks of his journey; an ingenious craftsman creating from strangely assorted stones of native tradition a mosaic of symbolic design. Yet the assumption of such a mind, and such a context, would do much to explain the enigmas of Beowulf. [p. 325]
And so on and on. So many treasures, ripe for the plucking.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A treat for Lloyd Alexander fans

In preparation to write a new piece on Lloyd Alexander (the details of which I will announce here soon), I have just spent a week or so re-reading the five-book Prydain cycle (1964–68). At one time, I used to read them every couple of years, but it has now been a decade or more since I last did so. They still hold up! They are, of course, not as dense and absorbing as Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but on the whole, I find them superior to Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia — though that opinion may raise some hackles. I have also just read (and for the first time) his How the Cat Swallowed Thunder (2000), a delightful and beautifully illustrated tale for small children. Parents with toddlers (and/or cat-fanciers), do look for it.

By happenstance, not too long ago, I heard from a new Lingwë reader who had enjoyed some of my previous posts on Lloyd Alexander (inter alia). Ed Pierce was kind enough to send me some of his own thoughts and reminiscences on Alexander, as well as a wonderful twenty-minute documentary called A Visit with Lloyd Alexander, produced for Penguin USA in 1994. The film is full of treasures for Alexander fans — including his home in Drexel Hill, his wife Janine, the original harp on which Fflewddur Fflam’s is based, a needlepoint of Hen Wen, Alexander’s Newberry and other medals, the very typewriter on which he typed two letters to me in the 1980’s, and much more. The greatest treasure, of course, is being able to hear him speak about his life, his process, and his books, with all the warmth, charm, wit, and humor that made him one of the greatest writers for young people in the history of letters. I consider that no exaggeration.

The video is in three parts. Its uploader disabled embedding, so I will simply give you the links: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, each around seven minutes in length. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My evil takeover of Wikipedia is almost complete!

Exactly one year ago today, I wrote (inter alia) about having found myself represented as an authority in Google Scholar and in Wikipedia’s major entry on The Hobbit. Today, September 2, is also the 36th anniversary of Tolkien’s death, the 35th observance of which escaped my notice last year. Please raise your glass of English bitter, miruvor, or whatever you’re drinking and toast the Professor with me!

Well, as you can imagine, I have scarcely flagged in my ego-surfing since then, and like Mr. Toad, I come to you today with more to brag about. I hope you will indulge me. Not only has my presence on Google Scholar expanded — to two pages, hahae — but I am now cited as an expert (for what it’s worth) in three different Wikipedia entries. Actually, I am mentioned in a fourth, but that’s just a technicality: the contents, through Volume 5, of the journal, Tolkien Studies.

So, what are these three? (1) I am still in the entry for The Hobbit, with the same two references there as before. (2) An entry I wrote for the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment on “Manuscripts by Tolkien” has been cited and quoted in a Wikipedia entry called “Middle-earth canon”. And finally, at least for now: (3) my entry on the Inklings for the online Literary Encyclopedia has been cited in Wikipedia’s entry for “Edward Tangye Lean”.

I suppose there is still no good reason for me to have my own Wikipedia entry — for heaven’s sake, John Rateliff only recently got one! — but I do have a page on the German Ardapedia. That’s a start! Wikipedia is bound to follow suit one of these days. All in good time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Books this Summer ... *NOT*

A few months ago, I wrote (here, and here) about the upcoming publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of The Book of Jonah. As I said there, the publisher informed me that the original publi-cation was being bumped from July to “the end of August”. Well, since the end of August is now approaching rapidly, I dropped them a line to inquire again.

Alack! We are now looking at February, 2010. My contact explained: “I’m afraid we’ve had to postpone this title with a view to publish at the same time as Doubleday in the US. The new date is now late February 2010. You might want to keep an eye on Doubleday for their own release date as we will not be able to sell our own edition in the US.”

So, in addition to the new date, there is now the fact that Doubleday will be publishing an edition in the United States (where Darton, Longman & Todd will not be selling theirs). There is nothing at the Knopf Doubleday website as yet, so I can’t comment on price and contents of the U.S. edition for now. I will certainly keep you apprised when/ if I learn anything more.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Books this Summer: Part Two

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate my friend Jonathan Himes on the publication of a new critical edition, translation, and commentary on the two Old English fragments usually called “Waldere”. His book, The Old English Epic of Waldere (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), has won a ringing endorsement from Tom Shippey, who wrote:
Though long overshadowed by Beowulf, the romantically-discovered fragments of the Old English epic of Waldere give us our earliest vernacular glimpse of the Nibelungs and related legends. Jonathan Himes’s new edition now combines scholarly rigour with reader-accessibility, puts the case for identification of the speakers, and provides welcome expansion on the background of the legend, the problems of the manuscript, and issues both archaeological and literary. It will replace all previous editions and give a new stimulus to study of an often-bypassed poem.

By way of a further bridge to the world of Tolkien (if Shippey weren’t enough), one of those previous editions Jonathan’s book will make obsolete is Arne Zettersten’s (Manchester University Press, 1979), the first to use ultraviolet light to facilitate otherwise difficult readings [1]. In addition to consulting these prior editions and the prevailing scholarship on the fragments, Jonathan has also returned to the source, examining the fragments first-hand in an effort to resolve outstanding textual cruces in the manuscripts. But lest you worry this edition is aimed at paleographic specialists only, Jonathan makes clear in his preface that “[t]he whole introduction” (at least) “is written to be intelligible to ordinary readers that they might deepen their appreciation of Old English poetry” [2]. Likewise, the translation. Also welcome are ten illustrations (adaptations of drawings from the original Anglo-Saxon manuscripts) by Jonathan’s brother, Brent. Please note that you can read excerpts by following both links above; the CSP website, in particular, offers a substantial preview (thirty pages).

One final note of interest: Jonathan gives an acknowledgement to Dr. Robert Boenig, “a fine medievalist and mentor” [3]. Boenig is known for, among other things, the wonderful collection of primary texts, Anglo-Saxon Spirituality: Selected Writings (Paulist Press, 2000) as well as essays on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis [4]. But on a more personal level, it was under Bob Boenig’s tutelage that I took my first serious steps in learning Old English, at Texas A&M University in the Fall of 1993. I would venture to guess he probably doesn’t remember me, since I decided not to continue with graduate school. I imagine that, for a time, Dr. Boenig was concerned about my sudden disappearance, but I hope he would be pleased to learn that I have continued my study of Old English over the years, even if I never earned the piece of parchment to substantiate it to a hiring committee. :)

[1] See Kiernan, Kevin S. “Old Manuscripts/New Technologies.” In Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: Basic Readings. Ed. Mary P. Richards. New York: Routledge, 1994. 37–54.

[2] Himes, Jonathan B., ed. The Old English Epic of Waldere. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009, p. xiv.

[3] loc.cit.

[4] For example, “Tolkien and Old Germanic Ethics.” Mythlore 13 (1986): 9–12; and “Critical and Fictional Pairing in C.S. Lewis.” In The Taste of the Pineapple: Essays on C.S. Lewis as Reader, Critic, and Imaginative Writer. Ed. Bruce L. Edwards. Bowling Green, OH: Popular, 1988. 138-148.

Friday, August 14, 2009

New Books this Summer: Part One

In addition to two other books now on the horizon — Elizabeth Solopova’s Languages, Myths and History, and Tolkien’s own translation of The Book of Jonah — Walking Tree has just issued the surprise announcement (a surprise to me, anyway) of a new collection of essays by J.S. Ryan, Tolkien’s View: Windows into his World. Even better, this is just the first of two volumes — the second, according to the preface by Peter Buchs, will appear next year. This collection, now available, includes twenty essays by Ryan, all but one previously (and variously) published over the past four decades!

Thanks to, I can share the full table of contents with you. The fourth essay, “Trolls and Other Themes – William Craigie’s Significant Folkloric Influence on the Style of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit”, is a new piece written expressly for this collection, and by its title promises to be fascinating. Here’s what readers can look forward to (omitting only the front and back matter):

Part A. Early Biographic Pieces and Emerging Tastes
  • Those Birmingham Quietists: J.R.R. Tolkien and J.H. Shorthouse (1834–1903)
  • The Oxford Undergraduate Studies in Early English and Related Languages of J.R.R. Tolkien (1913–1915)
  • An Important Influence: His Professor’s Wife, Mrs Elizabeth Mary (Lea) Wright
  • Trolls and Other Themes – William Craigie’s Significant Folkloric Influence on the Style of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit
  • Homo Ludens — Amusement, Play and Seeking in Tolkien’s earliest Romantic Thought
  • Edith, St. Edith of Wilton and the other English Western Saints
Part B. The Young Professor and his Early Publishing

  • Tolkien and George Gordon: or, A Close Colleague and His notion of ‘Myth-maker’ and of Historiographic Jeux d’Esprit
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: Lexicography and other Early Linguistic Preferences
  • The Work and Preferences of the Professor of Old Norse at the University of Oxford from 1925 to 1945
  • The Poem ‘Mythopoeia’ as an Early Statement of Tolkien’s Artistic and Religious Position
  • Tolkien’s Concept of Philology as Mythology
  • By ‘Significant’ Compounding “We Pass Insensibly into the World of the Epic”
  • Barrow-wights, Hog-boys and the evocation of The Battle of the Goths and Huns and of St. Guthlac
  • Dynamic Metahistory and the Model of Christopher Dawson
  • Folktale, Fairy Tale, and the Creation of a Story
  • The Wild Hunt, Sir Orfeo and J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Mid-Century Perceptions of the Ancient Celtic Peoples of ‘England’
  • Germanic Mythology Applied – the Extension of the Literary Folk Memory
  • Perilous Roads to the East, from Weathertop and through the Borgo Pass
  • Before Puck – the Púkel-men and the puca
In both content and mission, this collection would seem to have much in common with Tom Shippey’s Roots and Branches (also Walking Tree, 2007). Both Ryan and Shippey knew Tolkien (though Ryan, earlier, and much better), both have focused their academic studies around the same medieval Germanic Lit. and Lang. as Tolkien, and both bring a “creation from philology” approach to their research on Tolkien’s own fiction. Ryan can go one better than Shippey in having attended Tolkien’s lectures at Oxford in the middle 1950’s. As such, he is one of the few still living who can attest to what Tolkien was like as a teacher and mentor. (Another is Arne Zettersten, whom I have once had the pleasure of meeting. A topic for another post is Zettersten’s book on Tolkien, available only in Swedish for now.)

Sometimes Ryan and Shippey have covered similar ground, but other times, “J.S. Ryan finds sources for some of the elements of Tolkien’s work not discussed by Shippey” [1]. In any case, they are both source-scholars and philologists in absolutely the best sense, and therefore particular role models to me, since I consider myself cut from the same cloth — though obviously, of nothing close to the same caliber and experience.

Yet I’ve read very little of Ryan’s work, for the very straight-forward reason that most of it seems to be out of print! [2] From essays published in journals like Seven and The Minas Tirith Evening Star, to his collection of lectures, Tolkien: Cult or Culture? (published in 1969, but still a relevant question!). Considering the number of times Ryan’s work has been cited, however, it’s a shame so much of it is so hard to lay hands on. But perusing the summaries in Judith Johnson’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Six Decades of Criticism is enough to show that I would find a great deal to interest me in Ryan’s body of work. And therefore, a very loud “thank you” to Walking Tree for bringing out these two volumes!

[1] Michael D.C. Drout and Hilary Wynne, “Tom Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century and a Look Back at Tolkien Criticism since 1982”, Envoi 9.2 (Fall 2000): 101–34, p. 108.

[2] Some of Ryan’s essays (especially those published in Mythlore) can still be gotten in back issues. His essay, “Folktale, Fairy Tale, and the Creation of a Story”, which is included in this new collection, was previously printed in Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism (ed. Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs, Houghton Mifflin, 2004).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hemingway’s Silmarillion?

Hemingway’s Paris notebooksMy apologies for more than three weeks of dead air here at Lingwë. The culprit was a half-day presentation I gave on Tolkien, Gothic, Old Norse, and Old English at Texas A&M University at Commerce a couple weeks ago (first, the preparation for it kept me away; then, catching up on the rest of my to-do list). But an opinion piece I recently read — the latest chapter in an ongoing debate — prompts my return today.

As long-time readers will know, I’m a big fan of Ernest Hemingway. For example, I began (but haven’t managed to finish) a series of posts on Hemingway’s short stories. In the July 19 issue of the New York Times, A.E. Hotchner, long-time friend and later biographer of Hemingway, writes about a new edition of Hemingway’s posthumous memoir, A Moveable Feast. As Hotchner describes it, this is:
a significantly changed edition of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece, “A Moveable Feast,” first published posthumously by Scribner in 1964. This new edition, also published by Scribner, has been extensively reworked by a grandson who doesn’t like what the original said about his grandmother, Hemingway’s second wife.

The grandson has removed several sections of the book’s final chapter and replaced them with other writing of Hemingway’s that the grandson feels paints his grandma in a more sympathetic light. Ten other chapters that roused the grandson’s displeasure have been relegated to an appendix, thereby, according to the grandson, creating “a truer representation of the book my grandfather intended to publish.”
Hotchner then recounts his own friendship with Hemingway and personal involvement with the book during the late 1950’s, and he dismisses any claims by Seán Hemingway — whom Hotchner will not even name (he is simply “a grandson” with an axe to grind) — that Mary Hemingway “cobbled the manuscript together from shards of an unfinished work”, or that she herself invented the final chapter. Hotchner asserts that Hemingway “certainly intended it for publication”, and says moreover that the book as published is in fact “essentially” what Hemingway left behind. And he seems to be in a position to know. It was, in fact, Hotchner who suggested the title, “A Moveable Feast” (Hemingway’s own erstwhile description of Paris, he says).

And Hotchner’s indignation goes further. “Someone who inherits an author’s copyright is not entitled to amend his work,” he says. “With this reworking as a precedent, what will Scribner do, for instance, if a descendant of F. Scott Fitzgerald demands the removal of the chapter in ‘A Moveable Feast’ about the size of Fitzgerald’s penis, or if Ford Madox Ford’s grandson wants to delete references to his ancestor’s body odor.”

I think this is a legitimate cause for concern, but it bears pointing out that Seán Hemingway obviously sees things differently. Clearly, there are two sides to the story here.

In his review of the new edition, Christopher Hitchens describes the edition’s additions: ten additional sketches, followed by a selection of “fragments”. While readers may be glad to have them, one can (and probably should) ask whether Hemingway wanted them to be published at all, or published as part of this book. A question like this is often unanswerable; however, in this case Hemingway himself wrote that “for reasons sufficient to the writer [i.e., himself], many places, people, observations and impressions have been left out of this book.” By what right are they inserted back into it by a later editor, even if related by blood? Ah, but are these really Hemingway’s words at all? Seán Hemingway contends that the author’s preface was a fabrication!

If we believe Hotchner, the book was finished by Hemingway himself, who gave Hotchner “the completed manuscript of the Paris book to give to Scribner’s president.” It was certainly not entirely complete — it evidently had no title as yet, for example — but Hotchner says it was essentially a finished work. Why then is there such debate, why do so many contend it was “cobbled” or “pasted together” by Mary Hemingway? I admit I am no expert on the provenance of the manuscript(s). I wonder, though, whether the typescript Hotchner transported to the offices of Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York survives. If so, one should be able to turn to it for Hemingway’s own vision of the work, no? And if that were so, I can’t see what the fuss is all about. The fact that there is such a fuss, then, suggests there probably is no (surviving) typescript.

What troubles me more than the addition of the new material — which, honestly, I would like to read — is the removal of much of the final chapter, supposedly (but definitely? can we be so sure?) invented by Mary Hemingway. The scholarly approach would be to search the Paris notebooks for this material, but even if it weren’t found, that wouldn’t rule out Hemingway’s having written it from scratch in the late 1950’s in Cuba. Was this final “wistful paean to Hadley Richardson” a “removeable” feast? Alas, the jury is apparently still out.

All of this naturally reminds one of analogous situations with other deceased authors, their posthumous publications, and their Estates. Comparison to Tolkien’s unfinished “Silmarillion”, edited and published by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, is perhaps natural — though there are some major differences.

For one, Christopher Tolkien was much closer to his father than Seán Hemingway could be to Ernest — for the very obvious reason that Seán Hemingway was born after his grandfather’s 1961 suicide. He never met the man. Christopher Tolkien was therefore in a far superior position to know his father’s wishes for his book than Seán Hemingway could have been. Also, the state of the respective authors’ manuscripts is not really comparable, from what I know. Too, there is nobody analogous to Hotchner in Tolkien’s milieu. And while for their final books both Tolkien and Hemingway drew at their end of their lives on raw material written many decades earlier, an important distinction is that Tolkien was writing and revising this material almost the entire time; whereas, Hemingway hadn’t even seen the Paris notebooks in thirty years! (And there are plenty of other differences as well.)

Nevertheless, the problems and decisions confronting the editor of any posthumous publication are often very similar. And for two such beloved authors as Tolkien and Hemingway, the stakes in “getting it right” are high. Here, Seán Hemingway discusses specific differences between the Paris notebooks and the first published edition of A Moveable Feast. If you’ve read Doug Kane’s Arda Reconstructed: The Creation of the Published Silmarillion, the rhetorical habiliments of Seán Hemingway’s argument may sound very familiar — from “snippets of text” to the “intentional and carefully conceived narrative device” to the “order of the chapters” to judgments that “this kind of editorial decision [...] seems completely unwarranted”. Any one of these phrases could have equally come from Kane. And Doug, if you’re reading, I don’t mean that to sound condescending or dismissive. You’re in good company. :)

So, was A Moveable Feast Hemingway’s “Silmarillion”, a work he sketched out, even substantially, but never quite completely finished? And Seán Hemingway and Christopher Tolkien, both scholars in their own right (Classics and Old Norse, respectively), quite independent of their work on their relatives’ unfinished books — how much common experience do they share? Both have champions as well as critics. In the case of A Moveable Feast, much (to me) depends on this finished typescript to which A.E. Hotchner refers. On the other side of the Atlantic, there is certainly no such thing — a single complete manuscript with genuine author/ity — for The Silmarillion.

For what it’s worth, if I have to render a personal judgment, I find myself siding with Seán Hemingway (and Christopher Tolkien, mutatis mutandis). He can, after all, present evidence on the basis of extant documents as to the nature and extent of changes made to the final book. What he cannot do, it seems to me, is answer whether there might have been intermediate steps, now lost, in which those changes came into being by Hemingway’s own hand. (As such, “restored edition” is perhaps a misnomer.) Likewise, many claims of editorial intercession on Christopher Tolkien’s part may be answered in the very same words. Hotchner’s claims, on the other hand, require documentary evidence which I am not sure exists. If it did, the debate would be, would have been, easily resolved, and yet it rages on. Unless Hotchner can demonstrate, rather than merely assert, that the final chapter, the author’s preface, and other textual “discrepancies” (from the point of view of the Paris notebooks) came indeed from Ernest Hemingway and not from Mary or Scribner’s editor(s), then his accusations must be treated as opinion, not fact.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Lewis/Tolkien collaboration that might have been (but never was)

Yesterday, I touched on the exciting discovery of an unpublished C.S. Lewis manuscript and promised to bring you a fuller picture of the material, its background, and implications soon. Well, dear readers, how soon is now? (Wouldn’t “The Smiths of Wootton Major” be a great name for a cover band? ;)

Dr. Steven Beebe has very kindly taken time out of his busy schedule (he leaves for Oxford again next week) to provide a little more detail on his discovery. For the full story and Dr. Beebe’s analysis, we will have to wait for next year’s Seven — and for publication of the fragment, somewhat longer. In the meantime, I have learned that the manuscript is fairly brief, seven and one-half pages long, written in ink in Lewis’s characteristic handwriting. Also, Dr. Beebe tells me that the handwriting deteriorates toward the end (I wonder whether he’s ever taken a stab at untangling Tolkien’s difficult “spidery hand”?), which suggests these pages were probably written all in a single sitting. As to the content, Lewis “spends the opening couple of pages developing a precise definition of ‘language’ and the nature of language and then provides information about the meaning of meaning” [1].

This choice of words put me in mind of The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism, by C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards, both of Magdalene College, Cambridge (not to be confused with Lewis’s Magdalen College, Oxford). This book was published in 1923 and was widely read and influential, and is in fact still in print today. Its table of contents has much in common with other works on language by the Inklings (I am thinking of Lewis’s Studies in Words and Barfield’s Poetic Diction, in particular). Barfield definitely knew The Meaning of Meaning. He refers to it explicitly in the preface to the second edition of Poetic Diction, where he takes the opposing view, explaining that Poetic Diction was meant, in part, to answer Ogden and Richards. [2] It seems likely to me that Lewis also had it in mind to make some answer to Ogden and Richards in his planned book with Tolkien, and I would have expected the same of Tolkien had he ever written a single word for the project. Lewis wrote as late as 1950 that Tolkien had not, and we have no reason to suspect that he ever did. Unless I have missed it, the Tolkien scholars in the best position to know whether Tolkien ever penned anything at all, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, do not even mention the planned collaboration at all in their J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide.

Somewhat of a surprise to me, Dr. Beebe actually discovered the manuscript seven years ago — interesting, the preponderance of sevens: a seven-page manuscript, discovered seven years ago, being discussed in the journal Seven. He tells me, “I knew it was an unpublished manuscript about language but I didn’t make the connection that it was the planned Lewis/Tolkien book until this past spring when I was a visiting scholar at Oxford University during my sabbatical from Texas State University. I had a chance to visit with both Walter Hooper and Michael Ward about my conclusions while I was in Oxford” [3].

What more do we know about this planned collaboration between Lewis and Tolkien? Not a great deal — and this is no surprise, since in the end, their plans came to nothing — but we do know a little. Tolkien and Lewis refer to the project in passing in subsequently published correspondence [4]. Joe Christopher wrote about the planned book in the journal, Mythlore, in 1975 [5]. There, he referred to a much earlier published reference to the collab-oration: Chad Walsh’s C.S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics, a short book published in 1949. In that book, Walsh refers to a forth-coming (as he then thought) “text on semantics, Language and Human Nature, to be written jointly by Lewis and his friend, Prof. F. R. R. Tolkien [sic], but” (he writes) “I gather that it is still in the blueprint stage” [6].

Joe Christopher goes on to speculate that some of what Lewis would have written might have found its way into Studies in Words, while some of Tolkien’s thoughts might have ended up in the essay, “English and Welsh”. To that I would add that some of Tolkien’s views were undoubtedly hinted at in “On Fairy-stories”, particularly in the comments he addressed to Max Müller.

It strikes me as distinctly possible that Lewis incorporated some of his thinking into Studies in Words, though Dr. Beebe has said that the manuscript fragment “us[es] examples and illustrations not found in any of his published work” — particularly likely in the introductory and concluding (“At the Fringe of Language”) chapters. Studies in Words was first published in 1960, and though only a decade later, the relationship between Lewis and Tolkien had cooled considerably. For his book, Lewis solicited Tolkien for some linguistic commentary to incorporate into its second chapter, but he used very little of it, evidently pricking Tolkien’s pride a little. Tolkien wrote to his son, Christopher:

I have just received a copy of C.S.L.’s latest: Studies in Words. Alas! His ponderous silliness is becoming a fixed manner. I am deeply relieved to find I am not mentioned.

I wrote for him a long analysis of the semantics and formal history of *BHŪ with special reference to φυσις. All that remains is the first 9 lines of PHUSIS (pp. 33-34) with the characteristic Lewisian intrusion of ‘beards and cucumbers’. The rest is dismissed on p. 36 with ‘we have not a shred of evidence’. He remains at best and worst an Oxford ‘classical’ don – when dealing with words. I think the best bit is the last chapter, and the only really wise remark is on the last page: ‘I think we must get it firmly fixed in our minds that the very occasions on which we should most like to write a slashing review are precisely those on which we had much better hold our tongues.’ Ergo silebo. [7]

Judging from these rather harsh words, the planned collaboration had by this time become impossible, if not just on the basis of time, then certainly on the basis of the diminishing compatibility of their viewpoints. In some ways, this “long analysis” might be construed as Tolkien’s one contribution to the planned collab-oration — the spirit of it, anyway — but it too remains unpublished (and let’s be honest, would be of very limited interest to most readers). Happily, the Lewis fragment hopefully will be published; Dr. Beebe is in discussion with the Wade Center about it even now. And it promises to be very interesting indeed!

[1] Private correspondence with Dr. Steven Beebe.

[2] Myers, Doris T. C.S. Lewis in Context. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1994, pp. 4–11.

[3] Private correspondence with Dr. Steven Beebe.

[4] For example, see Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981, letter #92, p. 105, where Tolkien wrote to his son Christopher at the end of 1944: “We also begin to consider writing a book in collaboration on ‘Language’ (Nature, Origins, Functions).” In a footnote to that letter, Carpenter adds that “this book was to be called ‘Language and Human Nature’ and was to be published [in 1949] by the Student Christian Movement Press.” For his part, Lewis wrote in January of 1950 that “My book with Professor Tolkien — any book in collaboration with that great but dilatory and unmethodical man — is dated, I fear, to appear on the Greek Kalends.” Yet it did not appear even then. (Letters of C.S. Lewis. Revised and enlarged edition. Ed. Walter Hooper and W.H. Lewis, San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1993, p. 399).

[5] Christopher, Joe R. “A Note on an Unpublished (and Probably Unwritten) Collaboration.” Mythlore #10, Vol. 3, No. 2 (1975): 29. More recently, see also Diana Glyer’s excellent book on collaboration among the Inklings, The Company They Keep. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2007, p. 146.

[6] Walsh, Chad. C.S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics. New York: Macmillan, 1949, p. 10.

[7] Tolkien, Letters, p. 302.