Thursday, December 12, 2019

Inspector Morse: Death Is Now My Neighbour

I really liked this episode -- great ending for Morse personally and professionally, complete with a satisfying comeuppance to the reckless and ruthless and utterly creepy Clixby Bream.

But Clixby was right about one thing; Shelly Cornford certainly was naive.

I can somewhat see how he tricks her into not telling her husband the first time he propositions her.  She's in an alien environment, after all, and might quite innocently believe Clixby's representations about how things would go awry if she told Denis.

When we come to the second episode, however, Clixby's winning argument is that Denis would never forgive her if he lost the Mastership because she was unwilling to whore herself out for him.  If that were true, surely she would lose nothing by running it by Denis first.  (After all, the argument is premised on Denis eventually finding out that she didn't have sex with Clixby and being permanently angry and resentful about it.)  So when she sends Clixby to the other room, surely all she has to do is call Denis and say, "Hey, sweetie, Bream is telling me he'll make sure you get the Mastership if I have sex with him.  And he told me you'd never forgive me if I didn't -- is that true?"

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Weapons Screening at Meduseld: Wizards, Dwarves, and Men

The companions are warned right at the gate of Edoras that all weapons must be left at the threshold of Meduseld. Basically everyone but Legolas ignores the TSA instructions and acts totally surprised that "no weapons" actually refers to him. Here's the highlights reel:
Gate-guard: Théoden gives you leave to enter; but any weapon that you bear, be it only a staff, you must leave on the threshold. The doorwardens will keep them. (509)

Háma: Here I must bid you lay aside your weapons before you enter. (510)

Legolas (handing over his knife, quiver, and bow): Keep these well, for they come from the Golden Wood and the Lady of Lothlórien gave them to me.

Háma: No man will touch them, I promise you.

Gandalf (after Aragorn and Gimli balk): Here at least is my sword, goodman Háma. Keep it well. Glamdring it is called, for the Elves made it long ago. (511)

Aragorn (reluctantly, at Gandalf's bidding): Here I set it, but I command you not to touch it, nor to permit any other to lay hand on it. In this Elvish sheath dwells the Blade that was Broken and has been made again. Telchar first wrought it in the deeps of time. Death shall come to any man that draws Elendil's sword save Elendil's heir.

Háma: It shall be, lord, as you command.

Gimli: Well, if it has Andúril to keep it company, my axe may stay here too, without shame.

Háma (to Gandalf): Your staff. Forgive me, but that too must be left at the doors.

Gandalf: Foolishness! Prudence is one thing, but discourtesy is another. I am old. If I may not lean on my stick as I go, then I will sit out here, until it pleases Théoden to hobble out himself to speak with me.


One thing I hadn't remembered noticing before -- and have highlighted above -- is that the gate-guard specifically states that staffs are prohibited weapons. So Gandalf's feigned surprise and indignation is quite an act. (And both Háma and Aragorn surely see through his protestations, despite Aragorn's concurring characterization of the staff as an old man's support.)


What I noticed here flows from the characterization of each weapon:
  1. Legolas mentions only the origin of his weapons (not their names or lineage), and asks Háma merely to keep them well. This is sufficient, as Háma is clearly afraid of handling weapons from Faërie and volunteers that they will remain untouched.
  2. Gandalf provides name and origin of his sword, and likewise asks Háma to keep it well (no special request and no reaction from Háma).
  3. Aragorn provides name, lineage, and history of Andúril and commands that no one touch it, and Háma, clearly awed, indicates the command will be obeyed.
  4. Gimli does not provide a name or lineage for his axe, nor does he require it to be untouched once he leaves it. We might infer from this it's an ordinary axe, and that only dwarvish pride spurs him to follow Aragorn's lead: He's sure as heck not going to comply, if Aragorn is exempt! 
    This strikingly echoes the situation at Lothlórien, where Gimli wasn't going to be the only one blindfolded! (Tellingly, he first relents on condition that Legolas would be blindfolded too, and -- just as tellingly -- the Elf balks at this until the whole Company ultimately agrees to the condition.)

For this, I was struck by Aragorn saying "Death shall come to any man that draws Elendil's sword save Elendil's heir."

He makes it sound like a curse that lies on the sword (think Túrin). But is Andúril indeed cursed? Who exactly would have cursed it, and when? Surely not Aragorn -- I don't think he has the power.

Is he threatening to kill anyone who draws the sword? Seems unlikely; how would he do it, weaponless? And how would he know if someone drew the sword?

One potentially significant fact is that Aragorn doesn't provide a timeframe as to when death will come to a man (other than him) who draws Elendil's sword. So quite possibly Aragorn is saying something perfectly true -- since death shall come to all men -- and making it sound like a curse by suggesting that he himself is exempt. And in a sense Aragorn is exempt, because it is given to him to choose the time of his death. That is, death technically does not come to him; rather, he goes to death, when his work is done and the time is right.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Few Stories About the Rohirrim

Uglúk's lore:
  • they "have better night-eyes than most Men" (454)
    • STATUS: This may or may not be true; riders miss the hobbits at night (457) but are described as "keen-eyed" when they hunt down the remaining orcs  after dawn (459)
  • "their horses [...] can see the night-breeze" (454)
    • STATUS: confirmed, in Tolkien's typically ambivalent way: "Whether because of some special keenness of sight, or because of some other sense, the horse lifted and sprang lightly over them; but its rider did not see them" (457)
Isengarders' taunts to the Northern orcs:
  • they "will catch you and eat you" (452)
    • STATUS: hahaha! or more likely, leave your stinking orc corpses on the road unburied -- except where the corpses are numerous enough to burn in a big heap (440)
Aragorn's explanation of what he, Gimli and Legolas have observed:
  • "they do not heed the wrath of Fangorn, for they come here seldom, and they do not go under the trees" (441)
Story that they pay tribute to Sauron/Mordor:
  • At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf reports Gwaihir's words: "They pay a tribute of horses [...] and send many yearly to Mordor, or so it is said; but they are not yet under the yoke" (262).  Aragorn is very surprised and deeply grieved to hear this; Boromir is certain it is "a lie that comes from the Enemy" (id.)
  • On the brink of actually meeting them, Gimli reminds Legolas and Aragorn that "Gandalf spoke of a rumor that they pay tribute to Mordor" (431).  Aragorn now says he believes it "no more than did Boromir" (431), although he remains uncertain about their loyalties (262, 430, 433). 
    • STATUS: When Gimli asks about it, Éomer angrily refutes it (436).

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Saruman and the Boggart: A Slight Point of Connection

Just noticed a tiny point of connection between Saruman and Rowling's boggarts. It is a point merely implied by Gandalf's words, and not fully developed in Tolkien; but coincidentally brought to fruition in one of Harry Potter's Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. (I am not in any way suggesting that Rowling had it in mind.)

For simplicity, I'm reporting the dialogue as if it were a script.
Gimli: I will come. I wish to see him and learn if he really looks like you.

Gandalf: And how will you learn that, Master Dwarf? Saruman could look like me in your eyes, if it suited his purpose. And are you yet wise enough to detect all his counterfeits? Well, we shall see, perhaps. He may be shy of showing himself before many different eyes together. [...]
(Tolkien, LotR, III.10 at 576-77).

Hermione: [A boggart is] a shape-shifter. It can take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us most.

Lupin: [...] So the boggart sitting in the darkness within [the wardrobe] has not yet assumed a form. He does not yet know what will frighten the person on the other side of the door. [...]This means that we have a huge advantage over the boggart before we begin. Have you spotted it, Harry?

Harry: Er — because there are so many of us, it won’t know what shape it should be?

Lupin: Precisely. It’s always best to have company when you’re dealing with a boggart. He becomes confused. Which should he become, a headless corpse or a flesh-eating slug? I once saw a boggart make that very mistake — tried to frighten two people at once and turned himself into half a slug. Not remotely frightening.
(Rowling, HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban, ch. 7 at 133-34).

However, in the event, Saruman is not shy appearing before many different eyes - he appears as "an old man, swathed in a great cloak, the colour of which was not easy to tell, for it changed if they moved their eyes or if he stirred. His face was long, with a high forehead, he had deep darkling eyes, hard to fathom, though the look they now bore was grave and benevolent, and a little weary" (LotR, III.10 at 578). It is his voice that ultimately holds the peril. And when Gandalf's voice proves stronger, forcing Saruman to turn back when he would leave them, even this last chosen mask fails; "[h]is face was lined and shrunken" as he comes slowly back to the iron rail (id. at 583).

And Rowling's boggart cycles through many forms, each dismissed in turn with laughter by the targeted student, going faster and faster -- "Crack! The banshee turned into a rat, which chased its tail in a circle, then — crack! — became a rattlesnake, which slithered and writhed before — crack! — becoming a single, bloody eyeball" -- until it is thoroughly confused and finally banished by the group's laughter (PoA, ch 7 at 138).

And this brings us on to a second, perhaps more significant, point of connection.  Because, of course, the power of Saruman's voice is likewise finally shattered by laughter.  In a final gambit, Saruman has turned his full attention and persuasiveness to Gandalf.  The onlookers recognize these two wizards are "[o]f loftier mould [...]: reverend and wise.  It was inevitable that they should make alliance" (LotR, III.10 at 582).  Even Théoden fears betrayal.  And yet --
Then Gandalf laughed.  The fantasy vanished like a puff of smoke.

Works Consulted

Rowling, J. K.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Scholastic Inc., 2001.
Tolkien, J. R. R.  The Lord of the Rings.  50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Thursday, August 29, 2019

That Hideous Strength: Lewis Boosts His Friends

I (ahem) still haven't gotten around to discussing C. S. Lewis's references to "Numinor" in any detail.

But I think it's important to note that he wasn't only cross-promoting Tolkien in That Hideous Strength -- he was also cross-promoting Williams:
   "I  wish you'd read the poem I'm reading," said Camilla. "For it says in one line just what I feel about this waiting:
All lies in a passion of patience, my lord's rule."

   "What's that from?" asked Jane.

   "Taliessin through Logres.”

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Jill Pole: from Lost Girl to Lodestar

The Silver Chair, ch. 1:
"It's an extraordinary thing about girls that they never know the points of the compass," said Eustace.
"You don't know either," said Jill indignantly.
"Yes I do, if only you didn't keep on interrupting."
The Silver Chair, ch. 2:
Scrubb was quite right in saying that Jill (I don't know about girls in general) didn't think much about the points of the compass.  Otherwise she would have known, when the sun began getting in her eyes, that she was traveling pretty nearly due west.
Apparently "more than a year" later, in The Last Battle, ch. 6:
And after that [...] it was hard to pick up their bearings.  It was Jill who set them right again: she had been an excellent Guide in England.  And of course she knew her Narnian stars perfectly, having traveled so much in the wild Northern Lands, and could work out the direction from other stars even when the Spear-Head was hidden.  As soon as Tirian saw that she was the best pathfinder of the three of them he put her in front.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Two Gems

I.  POW Education in WWII

The preface to Oronzo Cilli's Tolkien's Library: An Annotated Checklist introduces one very special secondary source of information about books Tolkien owned or read in his lifetime:
"Germany and Britain agreed in 1941 to allow prisoners of war to sit examinations, and an international inter-library loan system was organised by the Bodleian Library.  Several institutions were involved, including the University of Oxford, which instituted a special Honours Examination in English Literature and Language, granting a certificate or diploma. The 'course has been specially prepared by Professor Tolkien and Mr. C. S. Lewis of Magdalen which would bring a student up to Honours standard if carefully studied.' (British Red Cross Society, 1942).  [...]  In March 1943, Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Leonard Rice-Oxley were appointed to be examiners of Allied prisoners of war in Germany who had worked on the Board's set syllabus."
Apparently there are 17 reported awards to POWs who sat examinations under the program, as attested by the signatures of Tolkien, Lewis, and Rice-Oxley.  The examination schemes Tolkien and Lewis prepared were published in 1949; they appear to have encompassed B.1 Old English and B.2 Chaucer and his Contemporaries.

II. An Indirect Pre-History of "The Root of the Boot"?

Dr Dimitra Fimi gave a keynote address at Tolkien 2019 about possible vulpine predecessors and analogues of "The Root of the Boot" in song/poetry and folktale ("Tolkien, Folklore, and Foxes: a
thoroughly vulpine talk in which there may be singing!").

It's well-known, I believe, that "The Root of the Boot" is sung to the folk tune ''The Fox Went Out," but Fimi traces the origins of that song back to a Middle English poem (albeit one that was languishing unpublished in the 1920's when Tolkien first started working on his song):
"In 1952, two scholars published their respective editions of a 15th century Middle English poem found in a manuscript in the British Museum, conventionally called 'The Fox and the Goose.' The first scholar was called Rossell Hope Robbins in his 'Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and XVth Centuries'. The second was R. H. Bowers in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology. The poem begins like this: 'Pax uobis,' quod the ffox, 'for I am comyn to toowne.' It fell ageyns the next nyght the fox yede to with all his myghte, with-outen cole or candelight, whan that he cam vnto the toowne."
After a sing-along, Fimi continues:
"Bowers himself [...] pointed straightaway to the similarities between the Middle English poem with 'The Fox Went Out', while in 1961, George Perkins wrote the definitive article that proved that the Middle English poem is indeed the ancestor of this folk song. [...] The poem is written in the dialect of East Midlands, with perhaps some northern influences. The manuscript is dated within 25 years either way of 1500, although probably it's existed long before that. As Robbins notes, it would have been a very popular song, as it is one of the songs quote which would be sung at popular gatherings in the hall, in the inn or on the green or on the road unquote. It's clearly incomplete, as you see it's missing its beginning there, its opening, and it contains a number of irregularities [...] and therefore it seems to have been remembered, with some omissions, from oral tradition. It could well be a hundred years older than the manuscript, it could be older than that yet." 
(Source note: Transcribed from; the second segment, following the sing-along, starts at t=780.  The Bowers edition of the poem -- a scant two pages -- is available on JSTOR.)

We know from Tolkien's Library: An Annotated Checklist that Tolkien mentioned a 1959 work by Robbins, Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Centuries.  But I don't see any reference to George Perkins or R. H. Bowers.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Mrs. Beaver and the Great Escape

As a kid, and even as a young adult, I reacted to Mrs Beaver's pottering around in the little house on top of the dam much the same way as the children and Mr Beaver do.  I was impatient with her and anxious for them to just leave already!

Now I'm seeing it a little differently.  Mrs Beaver is perfectly clear-headed and practical, and she's thinking several steps ahead of everyone else.

It starts in Chapter 8, when she is the one who points out that what Edmund can tell the White Witch depends on when he slipped away.  This gets them thinking and remembering in useful ways; they realize Edmund did hear about Aslan's return before he left.  And they can't be sure if he heard about the plan to meet him at the Stone Table.

Mr Beaver immediately assumes the White Witch will go directly to the Stone Table and they will be cut off from Aslan.  Mrs Beaver more shrewdly reckons on her knowledge of the White Witch's character and predilections:
"The moment that Edmund tells her that we're all here she'll set out to catch us this very night, and if he's been gone about half an hour, she'll be here in about another twenty minutes."
She's right, of course, and Mr Beaver acknowledges it without hesitation.  Indeed, he urges everyone "we must all get away from here. There's not a moment to lose."

At that, everyone except Mrs Beaver begins bundling themselves into coats (ch. 10).  I won't say they're panicking, but they are certainly not stopping to plan or even consider anything beyond getting out of the house and heading to the Stone Table.  But Mrs Beaver, cool as a cucumber, starts packing five sacks with food and supplies.  She has thought several steps ahead of her companions, and has an answer for everything:

  • They aren't in imminent danger, because the White Witch "can't be here for quarter of an hour at least."
  • They don't need a big head start, because "we can't get [to the Stone Table] before her whatever we do, for she'll be on a sledge and we'll be walking."
  • But it's not hopeless to get through even though the White Witch will get there first, because "we can keep under cover and go by ways she won't expect."
She even takes the time to proportion the five loads to the members of the party, saving the smallest one for Lucy as the smallest of the group.

And what about the sewing machine, which is probably the lightning rod for her seeming sentimentality and impracticality?  Mrs Beaver does not, in fact, actually attempt to bring it, but only mentions it wistfully after her packing is complete and the loads are distributed:  "I suppose the sewing machine's too heavy to bring?"  Her desire not to leave it behind is, of course, largely sentimental (she doesn't want the witch "fiddling with it, and breaking it or stealing it, as likely as not"), but both the phrasing and the timing of the question flag it as strictly rhetorical, and the brief exchange with Mr Beaver on the subject does not appreciably delay their departure. 

The narrator does mask her wisdom a little at the end, apparently adopting the children's impatient perspective with a twice-repeated "at last" sandwiching the sewing machine interlude (it's prefaced by "'Well, I'm nearly ready now,' answered Mrs Beaver at last, allowing her husband to help her into her snow-boots." and followed by the children begging her to hurry "And so at last they all got outside...").  But we shouldn't let that distract us from the underlying reality: Mrs Beaver was right.  They absolutely had the time to bring food with them for the journey.  And I would note that Mr Beaver, for all his own impatience, likewise takes the time to stop and lock the door before they actually set off.

* * * 

Coda: It occurs to me now that there is something special about Mrs Beaver's post-packing sewing machine comments.  The children have been impatient all along, and were quite wrong about it.  But when Mrs Beaver expresses her regrets at leaving the sewing machine behind, I think that is also symbolic -- or perhaps more precisely, an instance of synecdoche.  Her sphere is largely a domestic one, and she is leaving her hearth and home behind with no assurance that it will be there safe and sound for her return.  To the contrary, it will surely be violated by the White Witch.

And from that perspective, Mr Beaver's locking the door -- ineffective as he knows it will be even to slow down the White Witch -- is perhaps also a symbolic gesture of acknowledgment, sympathy, and support.

A Few White Horses in Middle-earth...

A discussion on twitter about Gandalf's shenanigans at the Ford of Bruinen got me a little curious about where (else) we see white horses in Middle-earth. Here is the result of my admittedly cursory investigation.

In The Silmarillion, Oromë rides his white horse Nahar (which is shod with gold and shines like silver in the shadows).

White horses appear in the riddle game in The Hobbit -- the "Thirty white horses on a red hill" are teeth.

Passing lightly over what Bilbo's ostler may or may not have said to his tipsy cat, in The Lord of the Rings, white horses are closely associated with Rohan - for example, those entering Théoden's hall see a tapestry of Eorl the Young on a white horse; Rohan's banner is a white horse on a field of green; the king's mount Snowmane is (predictably) a "great white horse"; and after Théoden's death, the Riders of the King's House ride around his barrow on white horses singing.

And of course Gandalf shows off a bit at the Bruinen flood by conjuring up water in the form of "white riders upon white horses." Presumably this is partly for psychological effect, to counteract the Black Riders on black horses. It's also rather a fitting image, since Frodo has been "persuaded to mount Glorfindel's white horse" Asfaloth for the race to the ford.

But on twitter, @STORI3D_PAST and @alas_not_me look into this instance a bit further: