Monday, August 20, 2018


So I'm trying to re-watch movie!FotR for the first time in over a decade, and it is irksome.

Among many other issues too numerous to mention, I can see no reason for the hobbits to escape the Black Riders on the road, in the forest, and at the easily-jumped dock (other than plot armor).

And why is Merry stealing Sam's lines?!

'I am being eaten alive!' cried Pippin. 'Midgewater! There are more midges than water!' 
'What do they live on when they can't get hobbit?' asked Sam, scratching his neck.
MERRY [smacking cheek]: What do they eat, when they can't get hobbit?
[PIPPIN falls into water for no reason.] 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

C.S. Lewis & Terry Pratchett

Vimes talking to Carrot about the light:
"Vetinary sits up half the night writing, and in the morning the candle's burned down.  Poisoned by the light.  The light's something you don't see. Who looks at the light? [...]  We don't look at the light because the light is what we look with."  (Pratchett, Feet of Clay 289)
Opening passage of CSL's "Meditation in a Toolshed":
I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it. 
Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"Je fus li chevaliers navré"

Vinaver again, talking about interlace in the early romances:
When about eight hundred pages after the first appearance of the wounded knight and some time after the last occurrence of the theme we meet the knight again and discover, for the first time, that his name is Trahans le Gai, his remark: 'Je fus li chevaliers navré' is intended for those who have not forgotten any detail of the earlier episodes.  The assuption is not only that the reader's member is infallible, but that the exercise of such a memory is in itself a pleasurable pursuit which carries with it its own reward.
Vinaver pp. 82-83 (footnote omitted).

So I was familiar with navré in modern French, but wondered about its meaning in OF.  Here's what wiktionary has to say about its etymology:
Past participle of navrer (“to upset, dismay”), from Middle French, from Old French navrer, nafrer (“to hurt by piercing or cutting”), from Old Norse nafra (“to pierce or bore with an auger”), from nafarr (“auger”), from Proto-Germanic *nabagairaz (“auger", literally "nave-spear”). Cognate with Old English nafogār (“auger”), Old High German nabagēr (“auger”). More at auger.
Or, as the Anglo-Norman Dictionary suggests, naufré as adjective might simply be translated as "wounded" (see nafrer).

And just as fus is the passé simple of être in modern French, fus appears to be a past form of estre in earlier phrases of the language (see estre3).

So perhaps the above-referenced phrase means something like "I was the pierced (wounded) knights" - i.e., the knights Lancelot slew or wounded in avenging him as requested?

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Sin or Misfortune

"[N]ever does the magic of [the love-drink], all-powerful though it is, remove the cause of Tristan's misfortune–his sense of allegiance to" his uncle and overlord, King Mark (Vinaver 47).

Vinaver provides the following discussion, apparently recounting the discussion between Tristan and the hermit Ogrins:
'We love each other,' he says to the hermit who tries to make him repent, 'because of the potion we drank: ce fut pechiez;[fn] and pechiez can mean either sin or misfortune, or possibly both.  (47-48)
This is more or less where I was planning to end the post -- I was just going to share Vinaver's comment on the word "pechiez."  But then I looked at the footnote for context.  Strangely, Vinaver does not provide a closing quotation mark to show where his translation of Tristan's words ends.  And then, without explanation, he drops a footnote to Iseult's words in Béroul's version of Le Roman de Tristan, ll. 1413-16:
Il ne m'aime pas, ne je lui,
Fors par un herbé dont je bui
Et il en but: ce fu pechiez.
(I checked because the unexplained pronoun "il" made me wonder if it was Iseult speaking.)

So it turns out that, at least in this section, Tristan does not seem to use the word "pechiez."  Rather, the Ogrins/Tristan dialogue includes these lines (ll. 1379-92):
'Par foi! Tristran, qui se repent
Par foi et par confession,
Deu du pechié li fait pardon.' 
    Tristran li dit: 'Sire, par foi,
Que ele m'aime en bone foi,
Vos n'entendez pas la raison:
Q'el m'aime, c'est par la poison.
Ge ne me pus de lié partir,
N'ele de moi, n'en quier mentir.' 
Ogrins li dist: 'Et quel confort
Puet on doner a home mort?
Assez est mort qui longuement
Gist en pechié, s'il ne repent;
Doner ne puet nus penitence
A pecheor senz repentance.'
So in this passage, Ogrins (not Tristan) uses "pechié" (ll. 1380, 1390) and "pecheor" (l. 1392).  But I can't help thinking that the hermit's use of these words (unlike, perhaps, Iseult's) is likely to carry only the connotation of sin, rather than misfortune, given that he is urging repentance.

And now I'm suddenly thinking of Claudius in Hamlet II.3:
But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? 'Forgive me my foul murder'?
That cannot be; since I am still possess'd
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
May one be pardon'd and retain the offence?

Béroul. The Romance of Tristan. Edited by Stewart Gregory, Rodopi, 1992. 
Vinaver, Eugène. The Rise of Romance. Oxford University Press, 1971.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Fyghtynge Like Lyons in Malory

  • "Than Arthure as a lyon ran unto kynge Cradilment of North Walis and smote hym thorow the lyffte syde, that horse and man felle downe."  (22)
  • "But whan kynge Arthure saw the batayle wolde nat be ended by no manner, he fared woode as a lyon and stirred his horse here and there on the ryght honde and on the lyffte honed, that he stynted nat tylle he had slayne twenty knyghtes." (23)
  • "Be than com into the felde kynge Ban as ferse as a lyon, with bondis of green and thereuppon golde." (25)
  • "Be that tyme com into the prees kynge Arthure and founde kynge Ban stondynge amonge the dede men and dede horse, fyghtynge on foote as a wood lyon, that there com none nigh hym as farre as he myght reche with hys swerde..." (26)
And how do we get our blow-by-blow description of the battle?  "Bloyse wrote the batayle worde by worde as Merlion tolde him, how hit began and by whom, and in lyke wise how how hit was ended and who had the worst. And all the batayles that were done in Arthurs dayes, Merlion dud hys master Bloyse write them. Also he dud write all the batayles that every worthy knyght ded of Arthurs courte." (29)  It's not entirely clear to me whether Merlyon was present during the battle; but I'm not sure it makes any difference to his knowledge of Every. Single. Detail.  

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Code-Switching in Lord of the Rings?

There are probably other and better examples, but this one just struck me tonight:
‘Alas!’ said Aragorn. ‘Gandalf the Grey fell into shadow. He remained in Moria and did not escape.’  
At these words all the Elves in the hall cried aloud in grief and amazement. ‘These are evil tidings,’ said Celeborn, ‘the most evil that have been spoken here in long years full of grievous deeds.’ He turned to Haldir. ‘Why has nothing of this been told to me before?’ he asked in the elven-tongue.  
‘We have not spoken to Haldir of our deeds or our purpose,’ said Legolas. ‘At first we were weary and danger was too close behind; and afterwards we almost forgot our grief for a time, as we walked in gladness on the fair paths of Lórien.’  
‘Yet our grief is great and our loss cannot be mended,’ said Frodo. ‘Gandalf was our guide, and he led us through Moria; and when our escape seemed beyond hope he saved us, and he fell.’  (LotR II.7 at 355)
It looks like both Celeborn and Legolas are code-switching in this scene.

Celeborn's comment to Haldir obviously switches from the Common Language to the elven-tongue as this rebuke is an internal matter, an aside not intended for all the visitors.

But of course Legolas understands and responds to defend Haldir -- and Frodo jumps in to offer clarification to Legolas's comment.

However, it's already been established that Frodo is not particularly fluent in the elven-tongue(s).*

So I infer that Legolas has responded in the Common Language; otherwise, Frodo would not be able to jump in as he does.  I think it's clear that Frodo is responding to Legolas's seeming down-playing of their grief ("we almost forgot our grief for a time"), without quite understanding the motivation behind Legolas's words (as he would if he'd understood Celeborn's aside to Haldir).

All citations to: Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005.


  • cf. "It was singing in the fair elven-tongue, of which Frodo knew only a little, and the others knew nothing." (79 - Exiles, in the Shire)
  • cf. "At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them." (233 - in Rivendell)
  • "...then another clear voice spoke in an elven-tongue. Frodo could understand little of what was said, for the speech that the Silvan folk east of the mountains used among themselves was unlike that of the West. Legolas looked up and answered in the same language." (342)
  • "Then he shut off the light again, and spoke words of welcome in his elven-tongue. Frodo spoke haltingly in return. ‘Welcome!’ the Elf then said again in the Common Language, speaking slowly. ‘We seldom use any tongue but our own; for we dwell now in the heart of the forest, and do not willingly have dealings with any other folk....'" (343)

Friday, July 20, 2018

When Worse Comes to Worst...

It occurred to me today, as it has occasionally, that the expression "if worse comes to worst" (as I usually think of it) would also make sense in some other similar-sounding variants.

According to Ben Zimmer in the NYT "On language" column (2/4/2011):
The earliest version of the idiom [1596] is in the form “if the worst come to the worst,” complete with definite articles and a subjunctive form of the verb come
Move forward another couple of centuries [past Robinson Crusoe in 1719], and the more compact versions “if worst comes to worst” and “if worse comes to worst” battle for supremacy, especially in American English. For some language commentators, “if worse comes to worst” makes so much more sense that they assume it must have come first. 

In general, I understand the expression to mean "if the worst happens."  But here's how we might think of it in some different variations, which I've organized from most to least hits on a google phrase search:
  • "worse comes to worst" (353k hits) might suggest "things are already bad, but if they become catastrophic..."
  • "worst comes to worst" (285k) might suggest "if the worst we can imagine or plan for comes to pass..."
  • "worse comes to worse" (169k) might suggest "things are already bad, but if they get even worse..." (to me, this feels a bit like "curiouser and curiouser")
  • "worst comes to worse" (17k) might suggest "if things get even worse than the worst we can imagine or plan for..."

To my surprise, the google ngram viewer didn't come up with anything whatsoever for my own personal favorite variation (but by far the least popular) "worst comes to worse."

So I created an ngram chart of (1) worse comes to worse - blue, (2) worse comes to worst - red, and (3) worst comes to worst - green:

Interesting to see that the traditional/original version (green) has not only been overtaken by the "logical" version (red) starting in the late 1970's, but it is also losing ground relative to the much feebler version "worse comes to worse" (blue) and perhaps even heading for parity with it.

If I were to hazard a guess, I might suppose that "worse comes to worse" appeals to people who feel it is more "correct "to avoid hyperbole.

And one more ngram chart, showing "worst comes to the worst" against the top two contenders:

There are further iterations to explore, including "worst come to the worst" vs "worst comes. to the worst" -- the latter seems to have gained traction in 1858 and never looked back

Friday, July 13, 2018

Silent Reading and the Rise of Romance

In The Rise of Romance, Vinaver suggests we might "look for the cause and the meaning of the change" (3) by the "strangely similar" emergent phenomenon of silent reading (4):
[St. Ambrose] read, Augustine tells us, to himself, that is to say silently: 'his eyes wandered along the page and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were at rest.'  This to St. Augustine seemed remarkable: he had never seen anyone read like that, and he thought that perhaps St. Ambrose wanted to avoid being questioned 'by some doubtful and attentive listener' or, more probably, wished to preserve his voice which was easily weakened. 'Whatever his motive in so doing, doubtless in such a man it was a good one.'  What St. Augustine could not have known was that in watching St. Ambrose read he was seeing the birth of a new world....

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Havelok's Age, Take Two

Til he [Godard] was biforn hauelok brouth,
Þat he haue[de] ful wo wrowht,
Boþe with hungre and with cold,
Or he [Havelok] were twel winter old,

(ll. 2452-55)

So, my previous theory was that Havelok might have been as young as seven when Godard handed him over to Grim, and thus 19 when his work ethic kicked in.

While seven is certainly before 12, I'm thinking we have to adjust Havelok's age upward, to 10 or 11, for a more natural reading. If so, he'd be 22 or 23 when it finally occurred to him to pitch in to help the family. 

Friday, July 06, 2018

Godard is Placed on a Mare With All Warranted Dignity

A charming scene, showing all the courtesies offered to an old enemy captured in flight after all his men have been slain:
But dunten him so man doth bere,
And keste him on a scabbed mere,
Hise nese went un-to þe crice:
(ll. 2448-50).  Apparently, it was not unusual for folks to be tied on ignomoniously (head at the tail end of the beast) on their way to execution.  The note for 2450 says:
2450. Cf. ll. 2505 and 2822. This appears to have been a common, but barbarous, method in former times of leading traitors or malefactors to execution. Thus in the Romance of Kyng Alisaunder, the treatment of the murderers of Darius is described:
He dude quyk harnesche hors,
And sette theron heore cors,
Hyndeforth they seten, saun faile;
In heore hand they hulden theo tailes.
—l. 4708.