Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Seldom-read early poetry by Tolkien

In the early part of the twentieth-century, Tolkien published a number of poems that are little-known today — some of which I’ve talked about recently. Today, I thought I’d share some even less familiar lines than those, which Tolkien published at the very early date of 1903. Have a look first at this passage:

He knew the history of our own clime,
From early days down to the present time;
And it was whispered through the villes, around,
He was a prophet and that he had found
Out many signs and secrets of the stars
And planets, and of Mercury and Mars.
Good qualities he had and bad ones too—
For, human nature is the same all through—
There never lived a man on earth who had
Not in his nature points both good and bad.
He understood the language of the trees
And flowers, and their many mysteries;
And often he would talk, around the cots,
About the goblins, to the little tots. [...]
But, owing to his age, he would forget
And contradict himself quite often, yet,
He always found the words to set him free [...]
More than a little redolent of Tolkien, the man, as we would come to know him many decades later, wouldn’t you say? With hints of Gandalf perhaps? Have a look at another passage:

A kind old face with long and hoary beard; [...]
Had bade him enter from the dusky hall,
And join their fellowship with words and song. [...]
The lines seem to prefigure Gandalf as well, with possibly a little of Treebeard thrown in — but once again, decades before those characters would take their more familiar forms. And now, a few lines of a different mood:

The keen suspense began to work on me;
I glanced aside to see what she could see;
Beneath a black veil gleamed two fiery eyes;
A cold sweat on my face began to rise.
I took all in; now firmly I believed,
That, through my good turn, I had been deceived.
That face was coarse and not a woman’s face,
Or else a man had stolen in her place.
Here, it feels as though we might be sensing the earliest inklings of the Black Riders, the Barrow Downs, and perhaps even the evil Corrigan in “The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun”, some forty years yet unconceived. Were all these ideas really running around in Tolkien’s mind as long ago as 1903? One more, shall we?

This is where the baby dwells—
In the land of fairy-bells,
Where the goblins grin and lurch,
Straddled on a fairy perch,
Dressed in blue, and red, and green,
(Finer sight was never seen)
Where the fairy maidens come,
When the goblins beat the drum,
Pumpkin, hollow, yellow, bright,
Calling to the dance of night,
To the ring of fairy bells;
This is where the baby dwells.

Shades of Draytonesque “pigwiggenry” again here, on which I dwelt at some length in my series on the longer poem, “Errantry”. Fairies and goblins were indeed a much greater part of Tolkien’s early imagination than his later, as illustrated here once more. All these preceding passages fit in rather nicely with the rest of Tolkien’s juvenilia, don’t they, and yet these lines are all but unknown to scholars of the Oxford don — and entirely unknown, I daresay, to more casual fans. Why should that be? They aren’t any worse than the rest of his juvenilia. In any case, when these poems were published, Tolkien was leaving adolescence behind, already 22 years old ... Let that number sink in a moment ...

Nonplussed yet? Okay, some of you are probably waiting for a straightforward explanation, but those more knowledgeable should be scratching your heads in confusion by this point. Tolkien was born in 1892, you say, meaning he would have been only 11, not 22 years old, in 1903. And how is it we haven’t heard of these published poems, anyway? On the other hand, these lines do sound like others he wrote in his youth. Is this all just an elaborate hoax? No, I assure you, it’s no prank.

So, did somebody get the date wrong? No, not the date. The name. And it’s not wrong, just incomplete. Allow me to explain.

J.R.R. Tolkien was indeed born in 1892, as many of you know. But, er, I may have forgotten to mention, these lines were written by James Kenneth Tolkien, a Canadian, born in 1881. They’re part of a collection of poems called The Inn of Gahnobway, published in Montreal in 1903. The collection even begins with a “Publisher’s Letter” in which it is maintained by a “Mysterious Traveller” that he “came across these manuscripts in a hollow rock,” a topos at once familiar to readers of the English Tolkien.

The other Tolkien — J.K., not J.R.R. — would go on to publish at least two other collections, the last I know of in 1928 (Thoughts Here and There). But I haven’t been able to learn much else about the elusive Canadian — and certainly not whether he might be one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “remoter cousins to the ninth degree” as it is so tempting to suspect. This is actually a distinct possibility, I’d say, given the common spelling of this uncommon surname. One can easily imagine the two Tolkiens, close in age, undoubtedly unaware of one another, shared a common Prussian ancestor among the Tollkühn’s of Saxony. But until more information comes to light, we can’t know this for sure. If there are any genealogists reading, we’d all appreciate anything you might be able to uncover.

In addition to the similarity of their verses (not to the point of being uncanny, but certainly to the point of being intriguing), J.K. Tolkien even seems to resemble J.R.R. a little bit. Sensitive eyes, patrician cheekbones. Though I guess there’s a tendency toward resemblance in most daguerreotypes, hahae. And his signature also has a similar calligraphic quality (though no doubt partly a function of its Age). Take a look. A pretty remarkable coincidence, all of this, isn’t it?

Monday, December 29, 2008

A “juxtalingual” translation of Beowulf

Juxtalingual BeowulfI don’t think it would be quite accurate to say that I collect editions and translations of Beowulf — certainly not the way this fellow does! — but I do own several. I tend to buy editions / translations that I find useful in some way, especially ones that offer something the other copies I own do not. The first copy I ever bought was a mass market paperback of the Burton Raffel translation, which I read at the tender age of twelve or thirteen (before I could really appreciate it). Almost a decade later, I found myself learning Old English, and so I started picking up copies of the poem in the original tongue — copies with full or partial glossaries, facing-page translations, and so on. Some of these I still own; others I do not (e.g., Raffel).

I’m a big fan of interlinear translations in particular. These are translations where, instead of putting the original on one page and the translation on the facing page, each line in the original language is followed immediately by its translation. I own a few of these — The Aeneid and The Canterbury Tales spring readily to mind — and I’ve used others (e.g., interlinear translations of the Bible can be helpful for settling arguments ;). I don’t have one for Beowulf, though, mainly just because I haven’t come across one during my book-hunting excursions. In fact, I’m not sure there’s even one in print.

But out hunting books on Christmas Eve, I came across something very interesting: a 1960’s collegiate reissue of Benjamin Thorpe’s transcription and translation of Beowulf, together with the short poem, Widsith, and the fragmentary Fight at Finnesburg. Thorpe called his 1855 translation a “literal” one, and the book’s cover calls it a “word-for-word translation”, but what really caught my eye was the publisher’s blurb on the inside of the front cover. Here, it has been described as “a juxtalingual translation with alternating columns of Anglo-Saxon and modern English” (emphasis added).

The meaning of “juxtalingual” is obvious enough — but as much as I like it, I don’t think it’s a real word! I haven’t found it in any dictionary (online of off; I don’t have access to the O.E.D. — anyone?), and a Google search yields absolutely no results * — rare indeed! Searching Google Books returned some hits, but all of them were snippets of this very marketing blurb, from a series of high school and college book catalogs published in the 1960’s and ’70’s. So who exactly coined this interesting word? Was it an editor at Barron’s Educational Series, in Woodbury, New York? Or perhaps Vincent F. Hopper, who wrote the introduction for the reissue?

And with all this fuss, what does a “juxtalingual” translation look like? Basically, the lines of the original are split at the caesurae, producing a narrow column, facing which (on the same page) is a corresponding column in translation. Words inserted for sense (but not literally present in the Old English) are shown in italics. With the exception of the front matter, the copy I hold in my hands is identical to the 1855 edition — so identical, in fact, that I suspect it may have been photographically reproduced, rather than reset.

I’ve given you a taste in the photo above (click to enlarge). What do you think? I like it. The translation is quite serviceable, and it’s handy to have it carved up into such bitesize pieces.

* Er, until now, that is. As soon as the Googlebots finish digesting this post, “juxtalingual” will suddenly appear, like a conjurer’s coin — er, if anybody ever happens to search for it. Don’t you think there ought to be a long, jaw-cracking German word for “the act of producing (perhaps deliberately) the first indexed reference to be returned by an online search which previously yielded no results and/or the glee accompanying it” ...? I certainly do!

Note to self: learn more German. :)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Imaginative and the Imaginary: Northrop Frye and Tolkien

For goodness sake, has it really been two weeks since my last post?! I’m terribly sorry about that. :)

Part of my silence of late is explained by the fact that I’ve been busy organizing and selecting from my notes, doing satellite reading for, and then writing a book review. I haven’t been working on it for quite six months, but it almost feels like it. Anyway, the review is finished, and at almost 4,000 words, it’s pretty substantial.

I’m not going to dig any deeper for now (you’ll have to wait for it to appear in print), but I wanted to share some related findings, specifically on Northrop Frye’s view of Tolkien. In the book I was reviewing, the author bases part of his analysis on Frye’s theory of literary modes (as systematized in Anatomy of Criticism), so I’ve found myself reading Frye again.

Tom Shippey was probably the first to invoke Frye in Tolkien studies, though several others have done so since (and with varying degrees of success). I don’t have a first edition of The Road to Middle-earth, but I’m assuming the short discussion of Frye’s modes goes all the way back to 1981. If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know. In any event, Shippey pointed out that “[t]here is another way of approaching the question of the trilogy’s literary status, which has the further merit of concentrating attention on its prose style as well as on poetry. This is via Northrop Frye’s now-famous book, The Anatomy of Criticism (1957), a work which never mentions The Lord of the Rings, but nevertheless creates a literary place for it with Sibylline accuracy.” He goes on to explain: “Mr. Frye’s theory, in essence, is that there are five ‘modes’ of literature, all defined by the relationship between heroes, environments, and humanity. [...] Clearly the mode intended [to characterize The Lord of the Rings] is the one below ‘myth’ but above ‘high mimesis’, the world of ‘romance’ whose heroes are characteristically ‘superior in degree [not kind] to other men and to [their] environments’.” [1]

Shippey is correct: Frye does not mention Tolkien or The Lord of the Rings in Anatomy of Criticism. (However, he does mention C.S. Lewis and other writers related to Tolkien studies.) Who would have expected him to? Frye’s book was published only two years after The Return of the King. But ... As part of my research for the book review, I came across a couple of very interesting items which, together, tell a somewhat different story.

First, I learned that Victoria University Library (in the University of Toronto system) holds first edition copy of The Lord of the Rings personally annotated by Frye — among some 2,000 other similarly marked volumes! Apparently, Victoria is to Frye was Marquette and the Bodleian are to Tolkien. According to VU, the copies Frye read are British impressions from 1956. I am unaware of any definitive proof he read and annotated them in that year or the early the next, but I suspect he did (more on why in a moment). If he did, it would have given him a hypothetical opportunity to have included Tolkien in Anatomy of Criticism. I would love to get a look at the scholia with which Frye illuminated his copies! It’s possible there is some date evidence there as well, which would also be valuable.

As a short sidebar, there’s a slight question in my mind about the date of 1956 – because there was no impression of The Return of the King in that year. The second impression dates from November 1955, and the third, January 1957. But it could simply be an oversight. Assuming the date is correct for the other two volumes, Frye’s set was most likely a 5th or 6th impression of The Fellowship of the Ring, a 4th impression of The Two Towers, and a 3rd impression of The Return of the King. A valuable set, even without Frye’s annotations! And I’ll just leave it there for now. </geekOut>

As I hinted above, there is a little more evidence to place Frye’s reading as early as 1956. The University of Toronto Press has been systematically publishing the hundred or so personal notebooks Frye kept on his academic research, and from which he produced most of his published scholarship. Last year, Volume 23 in UTP’s Collected Works of Northrop Frye, imaginatively entitled Northrop Frye’s Notebooks for Anatomy of Criticism, hit the scholarly circuit. My local library doesn’t own a copy, but I managed to get one from Texas Tech University through interlibrary loan. And hwæt to my wandering eye should appear?

Frye mentions Tolkien three times in the material from which (in part) he assembled Anatomy of Criticism. The raw material for Anatomy published here consists of some eighteen notebooks — now that is some meticulous work! Frye continued adding notes to some of these after the publication of his book, but the internal evidence (as I make it out) suggests that Frye’s comments about Tolkien date from c. 1956–8. In a couple of cases, it’s pretty apparent to me that the notes antedate publication of Anatomy of Criticism. The bottom line? Frye apparently had read The Lord of the Rings before publishing his watershed book, and he had even imagined where it fit into his theory of modes! Shippey was correct on both counts: that Frye never mentioned him in Anatomy (a mere technicality, as it transpires), but also that the “romantic” is the most applicable mode. By the way, for those keeping score, Frye did mention Tolkien a number of other times in other books — e.g., The Secular Scripture (1976) and in the Notebooks on Romance (2004). The point here, though, is the evidence to connect Frye’s thinking about Tolkien to the early and seminal Anatomy of Criticism, published immediately on the heels of The Lord of the Rings.

In two of the three instances where Frye mentions Tolkien, it is in the context of laying out his theory of modes (six of them, rather than five, in these drafts; in itself, probable evidence to antedate the notes). Tolkien is connected in both cases to a mode Frye calls “sentimental romance” — in the company of writers such as Goethe, Hugo, Scott, Hawthorne, Melville, Morris, and MacDonald. Sounds about right. In the first of these two, Frye just happens to mention “Faerie” on the same page! [2] He also mentions “mythopoeia” elsewhere (in association with William Blake).

The third Tolkien reference is of a more subjective nature. Here, Frye writes: “I thought I had this in: in reading Tolkien, which I did with great & almost uncritical pleasure, it nevertheless struck me, somewhere around Appendix VI, that there was a point at which the imaginative turns into the imaginary.” [3]

Some thoughts:

1) “Had this in” — what? Does Frye mean to say he thought he had included the observation in the manuscript of Anatomy of Criticism, but then realized he hadn’t? Or is he referring to another notebook? There’s no immediate context to clarify that. And herein lies the difficulty in trying to interpret personal notes! 2) “Appendix VI” must be Appendix F; the appendices in The Lord of the Rings are represented by letters, not Roman numerals. Assuming he does have Appendix F in mind, unless his memory lapsed, what would he mean by identifying it (i.e., the very end of the book) as the point at which he questioned the imaginative vs. imaginary? Any theories? 3) It appears here pretty unequivocal that Frye enjoyed reading Tolkien. Elsewhere, I have seen mildly disparaging comments (e.g., The Secular Scripture) reported to suggest Frye did not. 4) And what about that larger assertion he makes here, that “there was a point at which the imaginative turns into the imaginary”? Any comments, anyone? I’ll save mine for another day; I’ve rambled on too long already. I know that Frye wrote a relevant essay, “The Imaginative and the Imaginary”, but I haven’t managed to read it yet. Obviously, much food for thought — and a cud to last a good while longer still.

It is fascinating to see this early discussion of Tolkien, even at such brevity, and especially associated with Frye’s most important work. And the irony of finding the needle in this haystack of notebooks is hardly lost on me. Frye’s voluminous notebooks are indeed not unlike Tolkien’s own mountain of drafts, recensions, and scribbled notes. The History of Middle-earth, too, stands analogous to (and a mere shadow of) the “notebooks project” at UTP. That both these Zettelkasten are now available should keep scholars busy for many years to come.

[1] Shippey, Tom. The Road to Middle-earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology. Rev. and expanded ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2003, p. 210, 211.

[2] Northrop Frye. Collected Works of Northrop Frye, Volume 23: Northrop Frye’s Notebooks for Anatomy of Criticism. Ed. Robert D. Denham. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007, pp. 111, 274.

[3] Ibid., p. 284.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Brushing up on your Old Norse?

I meant to share this last week, but what with the holidays, I’ve fallen a little behind. The Viking Society for Northern Research has decided to make its entire catalog of publications (going back to 1895) available in high-quality PDF format, free of charge! Those of us who go in for this sort of thing will hardly be able to conceal our staggerment! Yes, yes, I can see how excited you are already. Go ahead and follow this link and start downloading. Go on now; I’ll wait. :)

Okay, now that you’ve probably got several downloads in progress (believe me, I did the same thing), let me continue. Personally, I think this ought to be the new model for academic publishing. After all, as one commenter here pointed out, “Our works are too obscure to charge money for them, at least after a few years when their usefulness has increased but demand decreased.” So true. And we scholars want our works to be read, don’t we? And to be built upon. Too many useful works sink into total obscurity once they go out of print. Sure, you can still find the odd copy now and then, mostly through antiquarian booksellers, online and off — but we’re scholars, not rare book dealers; how many of us have the budget to pick up a personal copy of everything we need? And sure, there are often (though not always) library copies available, but this kind of book is usually non-circulating. How much better to be able to conduct our research in the comfort of our own homes? (They tend to frown on coffee, scones and jam, and carelessly-belted bathrobes in the reading rooms of special collections. What? That’s how I do my research! Don’t you? ;)

The Viking Society will continue to sell “hardcopies” of books currently in print, and they reserve the right to wait five years from the publication of new books to make them available online. Both are perfectly reasonable limitations. Also bear in mind that many more recent works are still protected by copyright. Just because they’re made available to scholars here at no charge doesn’t grant anybody license to redistribute the files, print them out and sell them, reissue them via print-on-demand, or any other careless thing. I hope it goes without saying we shouldn’t abuse the Viking Society’s generosity. :)

Anyway, I won’t post a laundry list of all the many goodies available now (with more on the way), but suffice to say that the first thing I downloaded was Christopher Tolkien’s facing-page edition and translation of The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise, published in 1960. I had been looking to add this to my collection for years! I’ve come across copies now and then, but I always shied away from the price tag (usually in the neighborhood of $200 USD). It just goes to show you: patience is usually rewarded. I still want a hardcopy for my library, but until I can get one at a price I can afford, it’s wonderful to have the work available for research.

Monday, November 24, 2008

WOTD: Plumb

It’s been a little while since my last WOTD; perhaps a better acronym would be WOTW or even WOTM. But as often happens, I was recently asked whether I knew anything about the origin of the word plumb — not the fruit; that’s plum — and as most often happens, I do know something.

Plumb is one of those surprisingly useful words. It can be a noun, adjective, adverb, and verb, with a range of apparently unrelated meanings — apparently unrelated, but as we’ll soon see, in fact connected by a central metaphor. As a noun, a plumb is a simple tool: a weight fixed to one end of a line. It’s used to determine depth or verticality. For depth, one drops the weighted end of the line in and lowers it until the weight touches the bottom; the length of the line meted out at that point is the depth of the hole, water, or what have you. To establish verticality, one simply lets gravity pull the weighted end downward, then one marks the line. Why is it called a plumb, then? The word comes from Old French plomb(e), in turn from Latin plumbum “lead”. If you remember your Periodic Table of the Elements, you’ll know that the symbol for Lead is Pb (= Plumbum). A plumb line is so called because the weight attached to one end is usually a small lead ball.

The word and some of its compounds (e.g., plumb bob, plumb rule, or plumb line) goes back at least as far as Chaucer. In his late 14th-century Treatise on the Astrolabe, he describes “a plomet hangyng on a lyne” as well as the use of “a plom-rule” “[t]o fynde the lyne meridional to dwelle fix in eny certeyn place.” The word also appears in the Promptorium Parvulorum, the first English–Latin dictionary (compiled in 1440).

Because one use for a plumb is to determine depth, the verb to plumb eventually took on a metaphorical shading, “to explore the depths, to examine, to probe” — as in “to plumb the limits of human understanding”. And because another use for a plumb is to determine verticality with precision and exactitude, an adjectival and adverbial use developed, meaning “perfect(ly), exact(ly), complete(ly)” — as in “plumb center”, “plumb crazy”, or “plumb done in”. This usage is generally more colloquial, regional, or rural.

Let me close by calling your attention to two or three related words. Everyone knows what a plumber is, but most people don’t realize that plumber and plumbing derive from an underlying reference to lead — as in a pipes made out of that metal. Lead for our drinking water?! Perish the thought!

And how about the verb, to plummet, meaning “to drop downward rapidly” — just as a lead weight does! And finally, the colorful noun, aplomb, meaning “confidence, poise, skill” — the very opposite of leaden, isn’t it? But it comes to us from the French à plomb “perpendicular” — perpendicularity, naturally, being a measure taken with a plumb.

So, till next time, I hope y’all found this post plumb int’resting. (Did I really just write that? *groan* :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Perelandra Project

With the success of recent films based on the works of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as well as that of the musical version of The Lord of the Rings, you might be thinking, isn’t it about time for an opera based on Perelandra, the second book of Lewis’s Space Trilogy?

Well, the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society and the Donald Swann Estate agree. As they explain here, “The opera [Perelandra] was written in collaboration with C.S. Lewis between 1960 and 1964. The sale of the film rights shortly after Lewis’ death, however, placed a long-term embargo on its performance. The opera is now receiving a long-awaited second premiere. It is to be performed in its original, three-act version as a ‘theatrical oratorio’.” The music is by Donald Swann, also known (among other things) for the musical adaptations of Tolkien’s songs and poems published in The Road Goes Ever On. The libretto — which C.S. Lewis called “just stunningly good. It brought tears to my eyes in places” — is by David Marsh.

The performance will take place in Oxford, England on 25, 26, and 28 June 2009. And what’s an opera without an international colloquium on the novel? This will take place at Oxford University over 26–7 June, with a keynote address by Walter Hooper. You’ll find the Call For Papers, which “may treat [any or] all aspects of Perelandra (literary, theological, historical and other)”, here. The deadline for abstract proposals is 20 April 2009.

As if that weren’t enough, they’re also running a competition for original artwork inspired by the novel. Submissions will be judged by the eminent fantasy artist, Alan Lee, also known for his illustrations of Tolkien’s world. Winners may be displayed at the opera and colloquium, and could even earn a spot in the CD, production book, and other accompanying material. Plus, there’s a first prize of £100 and two second prizes of £50. Submissions must be received by 15 February 2009. For more details, follow this link.

This could well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — especially to see the opera, which has only been performed once before, more than forty years ago. For those who can’t make it, a recording is in the works, but if you have the means (alas, I don’t!), then this is a combination of events that shouldn’t be missed.

(Hat-tip to Gary for bringing this to my attention! :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

A new publication in an unknown encyclopedia

As some of you know, I have written entries for a couple of different encyclopedias — The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (ed. Michael D.C. Drout, 2006), and Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: An Encyclopedia (ed. Robin Anne Reid, coming out in two volumes at the end of this year). This week, I’m happy to report another — in the online Literary Encyclopedia — even though the announcement may be greeted by vacant expressions.

The Literary Encyclopedia has been around for quite some time (since 2000), yet it appears to be still largely undiscovered. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s better known in the U.K., where it originated. What is it, exactly? Well, apart from the simple answer — an online literary encyclopedia, duh :) — it is “an expanding global literary reference work written by over 2,000 specialists from universities around the world, and currently provides more than 5,500 authoritative profiles of authors, works and literary and historical topics and grows by 60–70 articles each month. [...] The Literary Encyclopedia offers good coverage of canonical literature originally written in English, French, German and Russian, and is extending its coverage of Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek. It is built on historical principles so that all our data can be arrayed by date, country and genre and readers can explore writing in its historical context. [...] The publication is very much a living relationship between current scholars and readers and not a repository of information formerly published in printed works.”

Quite an ambitious undertaking! Its more than 5,000 entries add up to more than nine million words. It also has more than 20,000 placeholders for entries they’d like to see written. With no practical limits as to scope or length, this is where an online encyclopedia has the opportunity to leave a print encyclopedia far behind. But what about the quality? From what I’ve read (admittedly, only a tithe), the entries are solidly researched, accurate, and well written. As with any collection by many hands, however, there may be a bad entry here or there. If you find one, send them some feedback. (And there’s another advantage an online encyclopedia has over a print publication.)

So, back to me. My first entry for them is a roughly 2,800-word essay on the Inklings. (Note that you’ll only be able to read the first 500 or so words without a paid subscription. More on that in a moment.) Following this, I will be writing a series of entries on works by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. If you have absolutely nothing better to do, you can search these out among their forthcoming entries. A new one should be appearing every two or three months from now until, oh, some time in the middle of 2010. For anyone curious to see it, an abbreviated version of my publication vita is online as well, here.

As far as The Literary Encyclopedia’s other contributors on the Inklings, I’m in good company. The encyclopedia currently has essays by Brian Rosebury (the biographical entry on Tolkien, as well as entries for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion), Dimitra Fimi (Unfinished Tales), and Peter Schakel (the biographical entry on Lewis and entries for several of his works).

Now, as I hinted above, The Literary Encyclopedia is not free — but considering some of the “encyclopedias” that are free, it may be wise to remember that old adage, “you get what you pay for.” In any case, a membership isn’t going to set you back too much — and considerably less than buying a print encyclopedia. At present, it’s about $19.95 USD for a full year. There’s also an option for one-time, one-month access. And here’s another good reason to spring for access, or better yet, to encourage your public or university library to do so: The Literary Encyclopedia grants free memberships to institutions of higher education in countries whose per capita income is lower than the world average. So you’re being a good Samaritan too. If you want to bug your librarian about this, here are some talking points.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Michael Crichton’s “Beowulf”

By now, you’ve probably heard the news that Michael Crichton died last week after a protracted struggle with cancer (read his obituary at The Guardian). His death was private and unexpected (he had completed a new novel, scheduled for release next month, now postponed). Most readers have come to associate Crichton with techno-thrillers and scientific mysteries built around the latest “bleeding-edge” technology of the day in which they were written — e.g., the mind/computer connection (The Terminal Man), cloning (Jurassic Park), virtual reality (Disclosure), time travel (Timeline), nanotechnology (Prey), global warming (State of Fear), and so on. Despite an obvious sympathy for technology, Crichton’s novels are usually cautionary tales, warning readers about the dangers as well as (perhaps even more than) the benefits of new technologies.

But though he’s better known for these techno-thrillers, they aren’t the only kinds of books he wrote. He wrote a good deal of nonfiction, for example, including books on the medical industry, the artist Jasper Johns, and an excellent memoir, Travels. If you like exotic and adventure travel, give this book a try. He also wrote a couple of terrific historical novels. (And I’m not thinking of Timeline, which is half-historical, half-techno-thriller.)

From The Guardian obit:

He returned to books with two historical novels, The Great Train Robbery (1975), based on the 1855 theft of gold from a London to Folkestone train, and, the following year, Eaters of the Dead, one of his best and most overlooked books. Presented as a lost manuscript written by an Islamic envoy kidnapped by Vikings in 932 [sic *], it was a retelling of the Beowulf story, which he originally wrote on a bet that he could make that myth relevant to a modern audience.

Now I’ve read almost everything Crichton wrote, but when it came to picking a book to read in memoriam, I chose Eaters of the Dead, which I hadn’t read since some time in college. (You may know it as The 13th Warrior; the novel was reissued with that name, regrettably, after a rather poor film adaptation about ten years ago). Like most of Crichton’s other early novels (e.g., The Terminal Man, The Andromeda Strain, and The Great Train Robbery), it’s quite good — better than you might guess if you’ve only ever read the most recent Crichton. Tight, well-written, and engrossing. But Eaters of the Dead is perhaps the “Crichton novel” least like any of the others. As The Guardian pointed out, it’s a kind of retelling of Beowulf, but much more as well.

The novel is presented as a lost manuscript, a meta-narrative frame many writers before and after have used, including Tolkien [1]. The novel, then, is held out to be a part of the historical account made by Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, a genuine historical figure who visited the Rus (Vikings in the region of the Volga, in modern-day Russia, whence the name). Ibn Fadlan is a primary source of our knowledge of several Viking social practices, including the famous cremation by funereal pyre [2]. But Crichton, very cleverly, incorporates a retelling of the Beowulf legend as part of this manuscript, planting, as it were, the “historical” seed for the genuine Beowulf poem. This, of course, is bound to appeal to fans of mythology — and of Tolkien, who wrote from a similar angle (and who likewise admired Beowulf).

As Ruth Johnston Staver explains in A Companion to Beowulf

Eaters of the Dead [...] attempts to retell Beowulf’s story through the foreign voice of the Arab Ibn Fadlan. The new story, while recognizable, is changed to a point of confusion, at least for unwary readers. The confusion begins with the novel’s format. It is apparently a manuscript translated from the Arabic and Latin and written around AD 922 by an Arab emissary from Baghdad, who was sent to meet with the King of the Bulgars and was caught up on a side adventure. The novel opens with an introduction that appears to be a scholarly history of the manuscript, and it sounds like real histories of manuscript fragments. There are places, names, and dates, but they are all fictional. All through the novel this pretense is maintained, with fictional scholarly footnotes on the translation and a fictional appendix. [3]

The names are similar, yet not the same. Why? Crichton probably means to reflect the vagaries of history. His names are different enough to suggest that either his Ibn Fadlan or the genuine Beowulf poet has gotten them wrong, or at least, not quite right. Instead of Beowulf, we have Buliwyf; for Grendel, wendol; for Hrunting, Runding; for Heorot, Hurot; for Hroðgar, Rothgar; and so on. The pairs of names feel like they could easily be authentic erosions, one from the other. Likewise, the story is similar, and yet not the same. Instead of one Grendel as in the poem, the novel gives us an entire tribe of creatures, the wendol, whom Crichton implies in the faux-pendix, may be an isolated group of Neanderthals who survived into the historical period. There are conflicts between wendol (Grendel), their mother, and a dragon, but they occur in a different order in the novel. One of Crichton’s most inventive manipulations relates to the dragon. In the novel, the glowworm dragon of Korgon, it turns out, isn’t quite what it appears:

At first,

Here is what I saw: high in the air, a glowing fiery point of light, like a blazing star [...]. Soon appeared a second point of light, and yet another, and then another. I counted past a dozen and then ceased to count further. These glowing fire-points appeared in a line, which undulated like a snake, or verily like the undulating body of a dragon.

But then,

[...] the glowworm dragon of Korgon bore down upon us in thunder and flame. Each blazing point grew larger, and baleful red, flickering and licking; the body of the dragon was long and shimmering, a vision most fierce of aspect, and yet I was not afraid, for I determined now that these were horsemen with torches, and this proved true. [4]

So, what appeared to be a dragon, and was “recorded” in the poem, Beowulf, as the genuine saurian article, is here in Ibn Fadlan’s manuscript account revealed to have been nothing more than a clever, and doubtlessly effective, military stratagem. This has the feeling of genuine historicity, don’t you think? How else to explain a dragon? Unless, of course, they really existed. (Did they? :)

It all boils down to a gripping medieval tale in its own right, presented through a frame of feigned historical authenticity, with many points of contact (but not total congruency) with Beowulf. It’s not your run of the mill Michael Crichton, certainly, but every bit as good as his best techno-thrillers, and perhaps deeper and better written than most of them. [5] If you’re looking for a way to remember Crichton, and especially if you haven’t read Eaters of the Dead, why not give it a try? I daresay even Tolkien would have thought it a cracking good tale.

* Kidnapped is overstating it a bit; compelled would be more accurate. And the action takes place in AD 922, not 932. Tsk, tsk, tsk, basic fact-checking. ;)

[1] For more on Tolkien’s use, as well as discussion of the tradition, see Mark Hooker’s essay, “The Feigned-Manuscript Topos,” in A Tolkienian Mathomium. Llyfrawr, 2006, pp. 153-177.

[2] See further, Ibn Fadlan, Ahmad. Ibn Fadlan’s Journey To Russia. Ed. Richard N. Frye. Princeton (NJ): Markus Wiener Publishers, 2005. This is the first complete English translation of Ibn Fadlan’s writings.

[3] Staver, Ruth Johnston. A Companion to Beowulf. Westport (CT): Greenwood Press, 2005, p. 189. See the entire discussion of the novel on pp. 189–91.

[4] Crichton, Michael. Eaters of the Dead. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976, p. 126.

[5] For a more developed critical comparison, read Hugh Magennis’s essay, “Michael Crichton, Ibn Fadlan, Fantasy Cinema: Beowulf at the Movies,” in Old English Newsletter 35.1 (Fall 2001), in HTML or PDF format.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Company They Keep released in softcover

If you’ve been waiting to pick up a copy of Diana Pavlac Glyer’s landmark study of the Inklings, now’s the time. The publisher (the Kent State University Press) allowed the hardcover to go out of print (regrettably) — but they’ve made up for it now by releasing the book in paperback a couple of weeks ago. This says a lot, actually; most books on Tolkien, Lewis, and the Inklings never get a second printing, or never go from hardcover to soft. The book is now also quite a bit more affordable than it used to be. So if you’ve been dilly-dallying for while now, then just follow this link to The Company They Keep and order yourself a copy. :)

If you still need to be convinced, let me just point out that Diana’s book won the 2008 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies (beating a set of very impressive finalists), and was even nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Related Book, which is practically unheard of for Tolkien, Lewis, and Inklings studies. In The Company They Keep, Diana challenges the conventional wisdom (from Humphrey Carpenter on) that the Inklings really didn’t influence each other in any particularly striking ways — challenges and overturns it decisively. The work was something like twenty years in the making — and some of us can remember getting the first inklings of it (pun intended ;) almost that long ago in Diana’s paper, “More than a Bandersnatch: Tolkien as a Collaborative Writer”, delivered at the Tolkien Centenary Conference in 1992 (and published in its proceedings, which are now, sadly, out of print — see what I mean about most of these specialized books of the Inklings?).

And maybe a couple of blurbs would help. In his review in Tolkien Studies 4 (2007), Dale Nelson wrote that “Glyer is to be commended for restrained use of jargon despite writing about a subject that must have offered much opportunity for displays of literary theory. [...] Glyer shows incontrovertibly that the Thursday evening sessions did function as a writers’ group, as such groups have been anatomized by recent theorists. She is thorough.” Dale’s review is available online if you have Project Muse.

In his review for Mythlore, Andrew Lazo went even further, calling it a “deeply satisfying feast,” and asserting (rightly, in my view) that “Diana Pavlac Glyer has vaulted herself into the company of the very best thinkers and writers on the Inklings.” As if that weren’t enough: “Glyer stands on the shoulders of giants, and yet with balance, style, and sheer hard work she manages to dwarf them.” You can read this review for free, online.

The Tolkien Library also has some good information, here, including this assessment: “While the content of the book is very great, important facts are discussed and compared, and there is tons of interesting information, it remains easy and is very enjoyable to read. This book will probably become the standard book when people need to know something about The Inklings.” They also have an interview.

Hopefully that’s all the convincing you need, but let me just close with this: The Company They Keep belongs on the bookshelves of all serious readers of Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, Barfield, and the rest of the Inklings — and indeed on the bookshelves of writers and students of writing and writers’ communities, too. And now, with an affordable softcover, there’s just no excuse not to pick up a copy. I hope this hasn’t sounded too much like a commercial, hahae, but there are certain books one just feels strongly about. And it’s annoying when they go out of print — but then surprising and wonderful when (as so rarely happens) they appear again. ;)

P.S. The appendix and index by David Bratman are, collectively, a work of art, ne plus ultra. Would be bibliographers and indexers should take them as a model.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast already in progress ...

Friday, November 7, 2008

The origins of Tolkien’s “Errantry” — Part 3

The title of this post may prove to be something of a misnomer, since I’ll be talking less about “Errantry” than about “Goblin Feet” and other early verse; however, today’s long-promised post is the continuation (and most likely, conclusion) of Parts 1 and 2, both very much about “Errantry” — so what the present title may lack in accuracy may be made up for, I hope, in other ways.

By way of a preamble, let me remind readers that the last time we met on the subject, I promised

a third and final part to this series, [...] touch[ing] on some further similarities between Nimphidia and Tolkien’s very early poem, “Goblin Feet” (1915), arguing that, to some extent, the latter may be a kind of bridge between Drayton and “Errantry”. And as a sidebar to this secondary comparison, I’ll offer a comment or two on George MacDonald, yet another early influence whom Tolkien would later disavow and throw to the wargs.

“Goblin Feet” is part of a cluster of early poems Tolkien composed from roughly 1914–1916, earlier by many years than “Errantry”, and yet the latter bears a strong resemblance to the poems of this early period. Like “Errantry”, “Goblin Feet” embodies “the Victorian tradition of fairy tininess and delicacy that he [Tolkien] was soon to abjure” [1] or, in Carpenter’s stronger words, “to detest heartily” [2]. Carpenter tells us that Tolkien wrote the poem “to please [his fiancée] Edith who said that she liked ‘spring and flowers and trees, and little elfin people’” [3].

Tolkien would seem to have liked them well enough himself, to judge by some of the creative output of these years — is it really likely that he detested these diminutive fairies already, but continued to people his poems with them solely for the enjoyment of his wife? Not too likely, I would think. And just how prevalent were these verse-fairies? Let’s take a quick look at a sampling from the period —

  • “Wood-sunshine” (1910) — with its “light fairy things” and “sprites of the wood” [4]
  • “You & Me and The Cottage of Lost Play” (1915) — where two children “rollicked in the fairy sand” and in “fairy towns”, “dancing fairy-rings / And weaving pearly daisy-strings, / Or chasing golden bees” [5]
  • “Tinfang Warble” (1915) — “O the hoot! O the hoot! / How he trillups on his flute! / O the hoot of Tinfang Warble! / Dancing all alone, / Hopping on a stone, / Flitting like a fawn” — and in the earliest draft, Tinfang Warble is a leprechaun! [6]
  • “An Evening in Tavrobel” (1916) — where “brimmed the buttercups with light”, and “gleaming spirits there did dance / And sip those goblets’ radiance”, and “tiny faces peer and laugh” [7]
  • And of course, “Goblin Feet” [8], which I’d like to examine a little more closely now.

Tolkien wrote “Goblin Feet” at the same time (even over “the same days of April [1915]”) as “You & Me and The Cottage of Lost Play”. It’s a precious little poem, bordering on twee, and very much of the same flavor as “Errantry” and Drayton’s Nimphidia, as we’ll see in a moment. Tolkien, of course, came to hate it. Reminded of it in 1971 (a half-century after writing it!), Tolkien said “I wish the unhappy little thing, representing all that I came (so soon after) to fervently dislike, could be buried for ever” [9]. Such vehemence! But I think it would have been a shame to lose the poem, myself.

Even quoting selectively, the likeness between it, “Errantry”, and Nimphidia is striking:

... I am off down the road
... Where the fairy lanterns glowed
And the little pretty flittermice are flying:
... The air is full of wings,
... And of blundering beetle-things
That warn you with their whirring and their humming.
... O! I hear the tiny horns
... Of enchanted leprechauns
And the padding feet of many gnomes a-coming!

The poem, with its diminutive vantage point, its “flittermice” and “beetle-things”, not to mention “the gauzy wings of golden honey-flies” near the end of the poem, fits perfectly into the Elizabethan (and later, the Victorian) fairy tradition on which I elaborated in the previous two posts. The use of the word gnome is interesting, though, isn’t it? Around this time (and in the years immediately following), Tolkien was still using words like fairy, fay, and gnome in The Book of Lost Tales — which would eventually become elves (note: not elfs). But Tolkien would come even to lament the choice of elves. He wrote in 1954, “I now deeply regret having used Elves, though this is a word in ancestry and original meaning suitable enough. But the disastrous debasement of this word, in which Shakespeare played an unforgiveable part, has really overloaded it with regrettable tones, which are too much to overcome” [10]. And so we’re back to Tolkien’s grudge with Shakespeare, Drayton, and their mileu, by whom fairies, gnomes, and elves had all been debased. Yet clearly, early on, his poetry was indebted to the “debased” images they developed.

A loose end I promised to come back to is the question of Tolkien’s original liking for George MacDonald, which later turned into a strong distaste. I’ve written about this elsewhere [11], so I won’t rehearse the entire argument here, but in the same letter from which I’ve just quoted, Tolkien acknowledges that his orcs “do to some extent resemble” “the goblins of George MacDonald.” A few months earlier, Tolkien wrote to a different correspondent, “They [orcs] are not based on direct experience of mine; but owe, I suppose, a good deal to the goblin tradition (goblin is used as a translation in The Hobbit, where orc only occurs once, I think), especially as it appears in George MacDonald, except for the soft feet which I never believed in” [12]. Hm, now why should the “soft feet” of “goblins” sound familiar? Hm, could it be “the padding feet of many gnomes a-coming” in “Goblin Feet”?

(And as a side note, Gollum has soft, padding feet, too. We read that Gandalf “gathered that his padding feet had taken him at last to Esgaroth, and even to the streets of Dale, listening secretly and peering,” if you remember. Gollum, I daresay, would have been only too happy to grub around among the lines of Tolkien’s early poem for its “flittermice”, “beetle-things”, “coney-rabbits”, “glow-worms”, and “honey-flies”.)

I think it must be admitted that in spite his professed odium for Shakespeare’s and Drayton’s fairies, and later for the soft feet of George MacDonald’s goblins, he owed something to each of them at various points in his early career. Moreover, despite assurances that the dislike came about “so soon after” them, Tolkien’s use of precious, diminutive fairies persisted for at least two decades beyond these early poems (to “Errantry” in the early 1930’s and into The Hobbit, where it finally began to change). And we’re lucky that early work such as “Goblin Feet” was not “buried for ever”, as it allows us to trace this imaginative debt.

Unlike “Goblin Feet” and most of the other early poems we sampled above, “Errantry” evolved into a more serious and mature poem, thereby escaping the murrain Tolkien laid on “Will Shakespeare and his damned cobwebs.” Had it not, then surely Tolkien would have wished it lost as well. One can only wonder what similar goodies remain unpublished [13]. Perhaps in time, we may see an even greater preponderance of Drayton’s fairies come to light in the lively verse of Tolkien’s youth. I — for one — hope they come indeed. In Tolkien’s own words: “Come sing ye light fairy things tripping so gay.”

For those with a further interest in this subject, let me recommend Dimitra Fimi’s essay, “‘Come sing ye light fairy things tripping so gay’: Victorian Fairies and the Early Work of J.R.R. Tolkien”, published in Working with English: Medieval and Modern Language, Literature and Drama, 2, pp. 10–26. Dimitra has much of interest to say about “Goblin Feet”, “Wood-sunshine”, et al., though her focus is on the Victorian tradition (whereas, I am looking much further back). Read her essay online, here.

[1] Shippey, Tom. “Poems by Tolkien: Uncollected.” The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Ed. Michael D.C. Drout. New York: Routledge, 2006, p. 533.
[2] Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977, p. 74.
[3] loc.cit.
[4] The poem is unpublished but quoted in part in Carpenter, p. 47.
[5] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Book of Lost Tales. Part One. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984, pp. 20–1.
[6] Ibid., p. 115. Christopher Tolkien notes that his father dated the poem to 1914; however, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull date the earliest manuscript to April 1915. See Scull and Hammond’s J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader’s Guide, p. 1007.
[7] Leeds University Verse, 1914–1924. Leeds: Swann Press, 1924, p. 56–8. The poem is a revision of an earlier one, called “Two Eves in Tavrobel”, composed in July 1916. See Scull and Hammond’s J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, p. 125.
[8] Oxford Poetry, 1914–1916. Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, 1917, pp. 120–1.
[9] Quoted in BoLT1, p. 24.
[10] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981, p. 185.
[11] Fisher, Jason. “Reluctantly Inspired: George MacDonald and the Genesis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major.” North Wind: A Journal of George MacDonald Studies 25 (2006): 113-120.
[12] Letters, p. 178.
[13] “Wood-sunshine”, for example, and a companion poem to “An Evening in Tavrobel”, among others known and unknown.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tolkien in Vermont (April 2009)

It’s a little way off yet, but Chris Vaccaro asked me if I could help spread the word on the Tolkien conference at the University of Vermont next April. As regular readers of Lingwë will know, I’ve attended this conference for the past three years (read about Tolkien 2008 here, Tolkien 2007 here). Unfortunately, I won’t be able to be there next year, but I can highly recommend it — whether you give one of the papers or just enjoy them.

Here’s the CFP for anyone who’d like to submit a proposal:

Tolkien at the University of Vermont 2009, an academic conference devoted to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, will be held at the UVM in Burlington , Vermont on Saturday, April 11th and Sunday, April 12th. The keynote address will be delivered by Professor Jane Chance of Rice University.

The conference organizers seek 20-minute papers on any topic related to Tolkien or his texts, but the following topic will be given priority consideration: sex and/or gender in Middle-earth or related to Tolkien’s life or works.

Please send a one-page abstract electronically to Christopher Vaccaro at or by mail to James Williamson at 400 Old Mill, University of Vermont , Burlington , VT 0540 as early as possible. Please include Tolkien 2009 in the subject line. Deadline is January 30th, 2009. For further information, contact the conference organizers.

Ladies and gentlemen, sharpen your pencils. :)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Read my newest book reviews online

As I wrote recently, I have two new book reviews published in the latest issue of Mythlore. The news — they’re now available to read online for free at the Mythopoeic Society’s website. Point your browsers here, and let me know what you think:
  • My review of Ross Smith’s Inside Language: Linguistic and Aesthetic Theory in Tolkien. This book has also been reviewed by Dimitra Fimi for Tolkien Studies, in Volume 5 (pp. 229–33). A review by Carl Hostetter for VII is forthcoming.
  • My review of Verlyn Flieger and Douglas Anderson’s expanded edition of Tolkien On Fairy-stories. So far as I am aware, this is the first published review of Tolkien On Fairy-stories. Anyone know of another?
As I understand it, the reviews published in Mythlore will be available online for each issue from now on. We can thank the Mythopoeic Society’s webmaster, Randy Hoyt, for this. And so, let me return that favor by pointing out that Randy has just published the newest issue of his excellent ‘mythozine’, Journey to the Sea. In it, you’ll find a great interview with Verlyn Flieger, among other goodies. Following the interview, Randy directs readers back to my review of the expanded edition of Tolkien On Fairy-stories that Verlyn Flieger co-edited.

We’re all one big happy family, aren’t we? :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Diversion: Canterbury Tales Rap

You’ll either love it or hate it. It really gets going about twenty seconds in. :)

Monday, October 27, 2008

More new languages at Google

Google World Domination is proceeding according to plan. :)

Several months ago, I noted that the good folks at Google had very thoughtfully expanded the suite of languages available in their automated translation site, Google Translate. At the time, they had more or less doubled the number of languages available for machine-assisted translation, up to 22. I happened to stop by there again this morning, only to realize they’ve done it again (once more, without fanfare).

Now, you can perform rough translations in an incredible 33 languages (plus English, so, 34). New on the menu — Catalan, Filipino, Indonesian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese. They’re leaning heavily on the Slavic tongues, with 11; second to that are the Romance and Germanic languages, with 6 each. I have to say I’d like to see a little more diversity. Where is Swahili? How about Armenian and Albanian? What about a better representation of the Indian subcontinent? But all complaints aside, congratulations to Google on yet more impressive work. What would we do without these guys? (Seriously.)

Before I close, let me offer this sidebar. I reported back in May that several translations I tested in Hindi were woefully buggy (one of them, absolutely wrong). Well, I’m happy to report today that those have been corrected. Whether Hindi is fully ready for prime-time is hard for me to judge, but every improvement increases the value of this utility.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cracking the top 5,000

It’s actually been quite a while since I reviewed anything for Amazon — but somehow, overnight, I’ve gone from a rank of 7,740 to 4,354, cracking the exalted ranks of the top 5,000 reviewers. How is that possible? I was wondering the very same thing.

Amazon has changed the way it ranks its reviewers (it turns out that the ranks had grown rather, well, rank). Many abuses of the review system had come to light, and so Amazon decided to change how it promotes its reviewers. The Amazon Customer Review Team posted an announcement last night:

You may have noticed that we’ve recently changed the way top reviewers are ranked. [...] Here's what’s different:

1. Review helpfulness plays a larger part in determining rank. Writing thousands of reviews that customers don’t find helpful won’t move a reviewer up in the standings.

2. The more recently a review is written, the greater its impact on rank. This way, as new customers share their experiences with Amazon’s ever-widening selection of products, they’ll have a chance to be recognized as top reviewers.

3. We’ve changed the way we measure review quality to ensure that every customer’s vote counts. Stuffing the ballot box won’t affect rank. In fact, such votes won’t even be counted.

We look forward to hearing what you think about our new top reviewers list.

This seems to me like a step in the right direction. As you’ll observe from the graphic above, Amazon is actually still reporting the old rank (labeled “classic”) alongside the new rank. So, whatever secret sauce they’ve thrown into the calculations seems to have cut my reviewer rank almost in half, catapulting me into the top 5,000. Hm, think I’ll celebrate by stopping by Amazon and writing a review. :)

By the way, a side-effect of these new change is that Harriet Klausman, long-time Top Reviewer (with a ridiculous 17,531 reviews written!), has dropped from the top spot down to #442. Interesting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Non silebo

I must apologize for the dearth of reading material here at Lingwë. I had meant to write my third post on “Errantry” (it’ll be more about “Goblin Feet”, actually), but that will still be a bit longer in coming, I’m afraid. In the meantime, it’s been too quiet around here, so at the very least, let me take a moment to post a couple of announcements.

First, I’ll be conducting a small, informal Reading Room discussion next week at TORn. The larger discussion, already underway, concerns Tolkien’s watershed lecture/essay, “On Fairy-stories” — my portion, starting Monday, pertains to the section called ORIGINS and the accompanying Note B. Feel free to stop by and join us, or just read along. :)

Second, the table of contents for the upcoming issue of Mythlore has been announced, which means that the issue cannot be far behind. I have two book reviews published in it: on Ross Smith’s Inside Language: Linguistic and Aesthetic Theory in Tolkien and Verlyn Flieger and Douglas Anderson’s expanded edition of Tolkien On Fairy-stories. The latter was in fact what precipitated the Reading Room discussion mentioned above, though we are keeping primarily to Tolkien’s essay. I hope anyone who reads either of my reviews will take a moment to let me know what he or she thought of them. By the way, Ross Smith’s book was recently reviewed for Tolkien Studies by Dimitra Fimi and for VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review by Carl Hostetter (that issue is still forthcoming).

That’s it for the moment, but keep an eye out for several more posts of the shorter variety (but still interesting, I hope) over the next few days. Hence the title of this post (for those with any background in Latin, or any cleverness with Google :). I’m going to try to finish my “Errantry” series next week or soon after.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The origins of Tolkien’s “Errantry” — Part 2

Last week, I offered some thoughts on the origins of one of Tolkien’s fairly early poems, “Errantry” — mainly a partial and tentative refutation of Randel Helms’s theory that it (along with the other poems in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil) was a scholarly parody of Charles Williams, as well as an expansion on John Rateliff’s 1982 identification of Chaucer’s Tale of Sir Topas as a likelier source for the poem. I ended that post with the promise to return with another possible source, this one (I suggested ominously) “more controversial”. And so here we are.

I may as well not beat around the bush. The source I have in mind is Michael Drayton’s Nimphidia ... *crickets* (no pun intended) ... I know, the most probable reaction here is to object that Tolkien very specifically belittled Nimphidia and castigated Drayton as responsible in large part for all that Tolkien felt was wrong in the portrayal of fairies and Faërie. Be that as it may, I believe there are grounds from which to mount a pretty successful comparison, and so I mean to make the attempt. Drayton, in fact, offers encouragement in the very first line of his poem: “Olde Chavcer doth of Topas tell” [1].

Coming up next week, I’ll have a third and final part to this series, in which I’m going to touch on some further similarities between Nimphidia and Tolkien’s very early poem, “Goblin Feet” (1915), arguing that, to some extent, the latter may be a kind of bridge between Drayton and “Errantry”. And as a sidebar to this secondary comparison, I’ll offer a comment or two on George MacDonald, yet another early influence whom Tolkien would later disavow and throw to the wargs. Ambitious? In the end, it will be up to you to tell me whether I’ve made my case. For now, let’s press on with Drayton and “Errantry”.

Nimphidia: The Court of Fayrie is one of those poems, so common during the Elizabethan period, in which fairies and elves were tiny, precious things, smaller than a cowslip, drinking from a dew-drop, and so on. The portrait was perhaps epitomized best in Queen Mab, who appears not only in Nimphidia, but in works by Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, Robert Herrick, Thomas Hood, and others (all the way to Percy Bysshe Shelley and beyond). This was the image Tolkien came to deplore, calling down “a murrain on Will Shakespeare and his damned cobwebs” [2]. But Nimphidia is, for its type, a marvelous poem, vivid in detail, and quite long (more than 700 lines). That being said, the poem will certainly not be everybody’s cup of tea (though the same has been said of Tolkien).

I won’t take the time to rehearse the entire story-line of the poem, but I recommend reading it in full if you haven’t. In a nutshell (appropriately enough), the poem is essentially a love triangle cum heroic quest. The hero is a “Fayrie knight” errant called Pigwiggen (Harry Potter fans might remember J.K. Rowling’s use of the name). He loves the “faire Queene Mab”, which angers her spouse, the “king Oberon”. The tale unfolds in a bucolic and diminutive “Eluish” setting, where Pigwiggen encounters ants, bumblebees, butterflies, glow-worms, wasps, among other miniature friends and foes in quest of Mab’s love. It is adorable, delightful fare. Let me hit a few specific points, and offer a few quotations, which I hope will establish the validity of comparing it to “Errantry”.

Remembering those lines from Sir Topas so reminiscent of Tolkien’s “Errantry”, consider the following assortment of lines from Nimphidia (the lines all occur in close proximity, but I have edited out a few intervening passages in order to emphasize, but not distort, the similarity to Tolkien):
A little Cockle-shell his Shield, [...]
His Speare a Bent both stiffe and strong, [...]
The Pyle was of a Horse-flyes tongue, [...].
And puts him on a coate of Male,
Which was of a Fishes scale,
His Rapier was a Hornets sting,
His Helmet was a Bettles head,
And for a plume, a horses hayre,
[...] (ll. 490–509)

The resemblance is rather striking, don’t you think? The “Rapier [...] a Hornets sting”, furthermore, reminds one immediately of Bilbo and the Elvish knife he used for a short-sword in The Hobbit. I need hardly remind you he called the sword Sting. This should come as no great surprise, since soon after writing “Errantry”, and (I would argue) still very much in the same imaginative place, Tolkien set to work on The Hobbit. During Pigwiggen’s encounter with the Wasp, too, we find this passage: “I am a Waspe behold my sting, / At which the Fayrie started” (ll. 211–2). Compare this to the Mirkwood Spiders’ answer: “Ugh! He’s got a sting has he? Well, we’ll get him all the same [...].”

And the resemblance doesn’t end there. Consider the following pairs of lines: “a bridal bed / of flowers and of thistle-down”, “For feare of ratling on the stones, / With Thistle-downe they shod it”; “He wove a tissue airy-thin / to snare her in [...] / He caught her in bewilderment / with filament of spider-thread”, “A Cobweb ouer them they throw, / To shield the winde if it should blowe”; “he made her soft pavilions / of lilies [...] / with blossom for a canopy”, “And for the Queene a fitting bower, / [...] is that faire Cowslip flower”; “in ship of leaves and gossamer”, “Their Harnasses of Gossamere”; “he threaded gems in necklaces”, “A Bracelet made of Emmotts eyes”; and so on. In fact, had I not tipped my hand by retaining the antique spelling, I daresay many readers might find it difficult to tell which lines are Tolkien’s and which Drayton’s.

In addition to their imagery and phrasing, both poems share similarities of meter, too. Tolkien’s is more complex, but both rely heavily on sing-song feminine rhymes. And finally, both poems close with an emphasis on memory. In Nimphidia, the waters of Lethe bring forgetfulness to Oberon, wiping away his jealousy and thus bringing the adventures of Pigwiggen to a happier ending. In “Errantry”, the appeal is not to forgetfulness, but memory: “He tarried for a little while / [...] and coming home / with honeycomb to memory his message came, and errand too!” Finally, I would note in passing the curious reference in Drayton’s Nimphidia to “Nigromancie” (l. 34). This is echoed directly in The Hobbit, but more obliquely in “Errantry”, which has “sigaldry” (l. 28) and “glamoury” (l. 88). [3]

Now let me offer some response to the potential objection, that Nimphidia couldn’t be a source for “Errantry” because of Tolkien’s obvious distaste for the poem. In the essay, “On Fairy-stories”, Tolkien makes this very clear, doesn’t he? He writes of the “flower-and-butterfly minuteness” of the fairy tradition that

it was largely a literary business in which William Shakespeare and Michael Drayton played a part. Drayton’s Nymphidia [sic] is one ancestor of that long line of flower-fairies and fluttering sprites with antennae that I so disliked as a child, and which my children in their turn detested.

But did he really detest these fairies as much as he says, or might Tolkien be overstating his odium? It would not be the first time he had changed his mind, and I will dare to gainsay him in this case too. On several occasions Tolkien claimed to dislike someone or something which he demonstrably had liked or which or who had influenced him much earlier on (e.g., Celtic mythology, George MacDonald, the Matter of Britain, not to mention The Hobbit itself). These instances, I think, are reason enough to question, and perhaps even to overturn, this claim in “On Fairy-stories”. After all, if Tolkien really did hate this fairy image as much as he says he did, why the more than superficial resemblance to it, here in “Errantry” as well as in other early poems? Tom Shippey said that “Errantry” itself “seems to be just the kind of fairy poetry Tolkien would later abjure. In it an unnamed but tiny fairy-knight marries a butterfly but then leaves her to battle dragonflies and honeybees” [4]. Mutatis mutandis, this is the very story of Nimphidia.

More likely then, it strikes me, is that Tolkien liked Drayton and the whole precious fairy tradition from the Elizabethan to the Victorian Age well enough to imitate it in his early work (or perhaps he could simply think of nothing more original yet) — even though his opinion of it would make a complete volte-face later.

Clearly, however, his ideas were changing around the time he first drafted the Andrew Lang lecture of 1938–9. He had, by this time completed The Hobbit and begun The Lord of the Rings, which was taking him into very different imaginative territory. In many ways, “On Fairy-stories” represents the critical moment of change, in which Tolkien’s new, more original theories of storytelling began to supplant his older, more imitative ones. By the end of this process, his views on fairy-stories would change markedly. The transformation of the early “Errantry” into the much more mature “Eärendil was a mariner” seems to me to encapsulate perfectly the evolution of Tolkien’s own tastes and conceptions — from fairy to Faërie, as it were. This same change can likewise be observed in Tolkien’s early appreciation and imitation of George MacDonald, which by the middle of the 1960’s would have evaporated into a strikingly similar dislike. More on that in the next installment, where I will examine “Goblin Feet”, elaborate further on these questions (and my suggested answers), and attempt to tie up the loose threads.

[1] Drayton, Michael. Minor Poems of Michael Drayton. Ed. Cyril Brett. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1907, p. 155. We cannot demonstrate this incontrovertibly, but it seems probable this is an edition Tolkien might have read.
[2] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981, p. 143.
[3] For more on these two rare words, see 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. 185–7.
[4] Shippey, Tom. “Poems by Tolkien: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.” The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Ed. Michael D.C. Drout. New York: Routledge, 2006, p. 516.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The origins of Tolkien’s “Errantry” — Part 1

We’ve been talking a little bit about Tolkien’s early poetry over the last few days, in the comments to my last post, as well as in some email the post prompted (a more selective we there :). In one of those comments, I mentioned that I had once considered assembling a variorum edition of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. That statement led N.E. Brigand to share via email an abstract for a paper he’s proposed writing on a related subject, and in that abstract was a comment which jogged a faint chord of memory — all of which “set the rocket off” for a post on some of the sources (or at least some overwhelming analogues) for “Errantry”, one of Tolkien’s most famous early poems.

That catalytic statement, which I don’t think N.E. Brigand will mind my sharing, was this: “even ten years later [i.e., after the publication of ATB], Paul Kocher, one of Tolkien’s most astute interpreters, was treating ‘Errantry’ as if it derived from ‘Eärendil was a mariner’, when the reverse is true.” Indeed, and this is what I remembered: that it was not only Kocher who missed something important in his approach to the poem, but also Randel Helms.

Just over twenty-five years ago, John Rateliff published a short but valuable piece in Notes and Queries. He writes:

In his book Tolkien’s World Randel Helms suggests that many of the poems in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil are scholarly parodies and singles out one, ‘Errantry’, as ‘a friendly parody of Charles Williams’ Taliessin poems’. Aside from the fact that ‘Errantry’ was originally published [...] five years before Taliessin Through Logres, Helms has missed a much more obvious parallel: that between ‘Errantry’ and Chaucer’s ‘Tale of Sir Topas’. [1]

I would add that not only was “Errantry” first published in a 1933 issue of Oxford Magazine, it was certainly drafted much earlier. Tolkien recalled reciting it during one of the earliest meetings of the Inklings, in the early 1930’s, and it was in existence well before that. A penciled draft survives, along with five further revisions, all predating the first publication. [2] It may therefore have predated Williams’s Taliessin poems by perhaps as much as a decade!

Chaucer’s tale, for those unfamiliar with it, is something of a parody of more serious works of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the “Thomas Rhymer” traditions. It’s well worth reading. In his note, Rateliff offers a half-dozen illustrative lines from the poem. I’ll give you a little extra here, to give you a bit more of the flavor [3]:

His heer, his berd was lyk saffroun,
That to his girdel raughte adoun;
His shoon of Cordewane.
Of Brugges were his hosen broun,
His robe was of ciclatoun,
That coste many a Iane.
His Iambeux were of quyboilly,
His swerdes shethe of yuory,
His helm of laton bryght;
His sadel was of rewel boon,
His brydel as the sonne shoon,
Or as the mone lyght.

His spere was of fyn ciprees, [...]

[And so on. I could easily have quoted a dozen other lines of much the same sort.]

One can’t help but notice just how similar these lines are to those in “Errantry” (and to those in its more serious-minded descendent, “Eärendil was a mariner”). And if you don’t know what Cordewane, ciclatoun, or quyrboilly might be, well, did you really know what habergeon, chalcedony, and malachite were? ;)

And I hope you noticed the “rewel boon”. Ruel-bone (variously spelled, rewel, rowell, reuel, etc.) refers to a somewhat uncertain material, but probably whale ivory (note that Sir Topas’s sword-sheath is also made of ivory), and it’s fairly common in Middle English literature. Tolkien himself used this term elsewhere: in jottings on the story of Tuor and Turgon, where Turgon has a sheath of ruel-bone; also in The Lay of Leithian — “'teeth like ruel-bone”; and in the poem “The Sea-Bell” — “cliffs of stone pale as ruel-bone”). Equally (if not more) interestingly, there is also Tolkien’s middle name, Reuel — unrelated except by a coincidence of its sound and word-shape, but evocative nonetheless. [4]

There are two other important elements in Sir Topas I should mention. One is the presence of the “queen of Faïrye” in the story; the other is “a greet geaunt” going by the name, “sir Olifaunt”. That should naturally strike a third note in the chord of memory — “Oliphaunt” (like “Errantry” and “The Sea-Bell”) is another poem collected in, but written and published prior to, The Adventures of Tom Bomabil. And like “Errantry” (but unlike “The Sea-Bell”), “Oliphaunt” was incorporated directly into The Lord of the Rings. “Oliphant”, of course, has its own history, which I will not rehearse here. But most of the poems comprising ATB were being written and published during the 1920’s–30’s; the three I’ve written about here can be further narrowed down to roughly 1927–34, a time when Tolkien was doing major work with Chaucer (culminating in his 1934 essay, “Chaucer as a Philologist”).

Rateliff doesn’t mention any of this (the ruel-bone; the Queen of Faëry, to use Tolkien’s spelling; or the Giant called Olifaunt) in his short piece — he presses no further than the similarity of the lines of the formula, “his this was of that” — but I think all these points deepen the probability that Sir Topas was a conscious source for Tolkien. In my next post, I’m going to discuss another possible source (or analogue, at least), and probably a more controversial one. Stay tuned for that, and in the meantime, please feel free to comment on this first post. I will probably put this post and the next one together as a conference paper, to be eventually rewritten and submitted for publication, so I welcome feedback.

[1] Rateliff, John D. “J.R.R. Tolkien: ‘Sir Topas’ Revisited.” Notes and Queries Volume 29, Number 4 (August 1982), p. 348.
[2] J.R.R. Tolkien. The Treason of Isengard. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1989, pp. 85–6.
[3] The text quoted here is from Walter Skeat’s 1880 edition.
[4] See also 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. 181–2.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tolkien Studies 5 — at long last!

As regular readers of Lingwë will know, the latest volume of Tolkien Studies has been available online to Project Muse subscribers since the middle of July, and I’ve been chomping at the bit (to fall back on a regionalism here in Texas) for my copy ever since. I’d hoped to have it in my hands before I left for Mythcon in the middle of August, but that date came and went too. I’ve now learned that due to a miscommunication between WVUP and their distributor, the contributor copies never went out! At least, not until I had squeaked about it several times. My most recent nag resulted in the discovery that the distributor had never dealt with the list of contributor copies, and once WVUP realized that, the copies went out immediately. I got mine, at long last, this past Friday. Since then, I’ve been looking through it eagerly. I suppose I can take credit for the whole throng of contributors finally getting their copies, if I’m willing to admit I’m a real whiner. ;) (Actually, I was very nice and pretty patient in each of my messages.)

The issue contains loads of great stuff, as usual, and it will take some time to digest, again as usual. Some of the highlights include the featured essay by Brian Rosebury, on revenge and moral judgment; an article by Carl Phelpstead on the prosimetric qualities of The Lord of the Rings; Corey Olsen’s paper on the Ents and Entwives, which I saw delivered in Vermont in 2007; and my own essay on the Three Elven Rings. Even better, immediately following my essay, Tolkien’s substantial essay on “Chaucer as a Philologist” is finally brought back into print after more than 70 years, along with the version of The Reeve’s Tale Tolkien prepared for recitation in 1939 (an even rarer piece). That’s Chaucer’s Reeve pictured on the cover of the issue (above), from the Ellesmere MS.

Volume 5 also contains the usual assortment of book reviews, an extensive Year’s Work essay by David Bratman, and the Bibliography for 2006. I am pleased to say that I have two entries in the bibliography, and that I am mentioned (also twice) in the book reviews. (I may get into Bratman’s Year’s Work essay next year. :) The two items in the bibliography are my essays on Tolkien and George MacDonald, published in North Wind, and “‘Man does as he is when he may do as he wishes’: The Perennial Modernity of Free Will”, published in the collection, Tolkien and Modernity (Walking Tree).

The latter is also one of the book reviews. My essay is really only mentioned, not judged, in the review by Shaun Hughes. He had an awful lot to cover in his review, so I suppose I would rather get no more than a mention than be severely criticized, hahae. Still, something more substantive would have been nice. In actuality, there may be more of an engagement with my essay than is at first apparent: Hughes spends nearly a full page [p. 250] on the Boethian view of free will, something I took up in my essay at some length. Though he says nothing so specific, perhaps those comments were stimulated by my paper.

The real easter egg was in the same review, but in a quite unexpected place. Talking about Tolkien’s treatment of wanhope (“despair”) [pp. 246—7], Hughes directs readers to the article by Anthony Burdge and Jessica Burke on that subject in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment — and to my own review of that entry in the Tolkien Encyclopedia Diary. Which actually gave me another unforeseen citation in the issue [p. 256]. Hughes makes no judgment of his own on the Burdge / Burke essay, or on my critique of it, but I wonder very much what he was thinking.

I will be reading and absorbing the rest of the issue for some time to come, but in the meantime, I welcome any and all feedback on my essay, as well as comments of any kind of the issue in general. I have read one reaction to my essay already, here. The review was highly complimentary — which I appreciated, of course — but with a couple of small quibbles too — which I welcome just as much. Anyone else care to comment, question, or critique? :)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

WOTD: Oubliette

I found my arms swathed down — my feet tied so fast that mine ankles ache at the very remembrance — the place was utterly dark — the oubliette, I suppose, of their accursed convent, and from the close, stifled, damp smell, I conceive it is also used for a place of sepulture.

Ivanoe, Sir Walter Scott (1819)

This is a wonderful little word. An oubliette is a dungeon or prison cell whose only means of egress is through a trapdoor in the ceiling. For that reason, it’s usually deep underground, dark, cold, and made of earth and stone. It’s basically the opposite of the chamber in which Frodo was imprisoned in the Tower of Cirith Ungol, which was at the very top of the tower and could be reached only through a trapdoor in its floor, though I daresay one might still call that an oubliette.

The etymology of the word should be readily apparent to French speakers. It derives (fairly recently, too) from the French oublier “to forget”, which in turn comes from Latin oblīvisci “to forget” (and from which we derive the Modern English oblivion). With this etymology in mind, the chamber in the Tower of Cirith Ungol really would have become an oubliette if Sam hadn’t come along, and all the Orcs had killed each other off leaving Frodo all alone in the Tower!

With a slightly related etymology and meaning is perdition. Like oubliette, the word comes to us from Latin by way of French. In this case, it’s the French perdre “to lose” (which is not so different from forgetting), from Latin perdĕre, which means “to lose utterly; to destroy, finish, ruin” (more literally per “to an end” + dăre “to put”). Perdition refers more figuratively to eternal punishment in hell, which is rather what being lost or forgotten in an oubliette must feel like. I can’t help but think of the Man in the Iron Mask.

Are there opportunities to use oubliette metaphorically in the world today? Ever been stuck in an elevator between floors? I have, and I’d say it’s pretty close. A small, claustrophobic cell from which the only escape may be through a trapdoor in the ceiling. More rhetorically, one might use the word to describe a kind of figurative cul de sac in an argument, or perhaps a social or political trap into which one has fallen.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering 9/11/2001

There are so many possible clips, so many things I might say (even at the risk of too much presumptuousness, for me to speak from such a distance in time and space from those events). So rather than do that, let me offer you this very moving clip of Jon Stewart in what must certainly be The Daily Show’s finest hour.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rain, rain, go away ...

Rain yesterday, rain today, rain tomorrow. And it’s looking like Hurricane Ike will be pulling into town some time this weekend. Certainly much diminished by then (and I absolutely do not mean to make light of the storm or the travails of anybody in its immediate path, past, present, or future) — but still bringing a lot of rain. Well, I suppose we need it; we’ve been suffering through drought conditions here in North Texas all year. And at least, Mother Nature will be helping me water my lawn instead of the City of Dallas. I try to see the silver lining in any major catastrophe, you see.

But it means wiping my dogs’ feet constantly. Come on! *sigh* :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Recent ego-surfing

Like most independent scholars of moderate ego (okay, giant ego, but I’m working on that ;), I have a healthy interest in tracking down references to my publications and posts. As such, I find myself ego-surfing on a pretty regular basis, and so I thought I’d share a few of the more interesting places I’ve turned up online recently. (A topic for a different post would be all the weird or terrible things other Jason Fishers are out there doing, tarnishing my good name!)

It wasn’t unexpected, but I was tickled to find myself finally appearing in Google Scholar searches, mainly thanks to my recent article in Tolkien Studies, and to a review in the same issue of a book for which I wrote a chapter. More on that in a future post. What was very unexpected, on the other hand, was to find that I am mentioned by name in Wikipedia’s major entry on The Hobbit. And no, I didn’t put it there myself! ;) In fact, I’m cited twice in the article; in both cases, it’s my review of John Rateliff’s The History of The Hobbit (published in Mythlore 101/102) being referred to. In the first case, my own words are quoted; in the second, a modicum of Old Norse source-study I incorporated into my review. The additions, made by one Davemon back in May, came as a pleasant surprise.

I’ve also been making a regular appearance on Richard Nokes’s excellent medieval website, Unlocked Wordhoard. Since he added me to his blogroll about three months ago, he’s linked to me a half a dozen or so times. I’m grateful for it. Over the last year and more, various other blogs have summarized, responded to, and/or linked to my posts, too. A small sampling of some of the more interesting ones: Elendilion, commenting on my post about the Tolkien Encyclopedia Diary, among other posts [in Polish]; a post on “Elven Latin” at Face of the Moon, linking to my musings on the etymologies and relationships between Gandalf and Albus Dumbledore; Sam Riddleburger’s thoughts on my thoughts on his thoughts (wait, what?) on Lloyd Alexander; a response to my post about the mythical Marathi Hobbit, among other posts [in Spanish]; and a detailed answer to my post on “old Entish swords” in Beowulf and Tolkien over at Eldamar [in Italian]. Finally, a nod to L’Imbrattacarte, where I got a special honor of being mentioned in the blog’s very first (and so far, only) post [in Italian].

This mutual admiration society runs both ways, too. Since I posted a link to Randy Hoyt’s new mythopoeic website, Journey to the Sea, for example, I’ve seen two or three other sites pick up on that post and link to him as well. To some extent, we all share our traffic, and these links and blogrolls can be crucial for reaching a larger audience — which, let’s be honest, is really why we’re all doing this: to be read. And so, thanks for reading this post, and thanks to everyone who has linked back to me from their own blogs and websites. Much obliged.

And now, let the ego-surfing resume. :)