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 https://youtu.be/rAAYOnkVnwk?t=699; 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:


Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Foreshadowing in LWW?

I just noticed that Edmund humiliates and mocks a defenseless stone lion when he arrives at the White Witch's courtyard in chapter 9 -- although only once he realizes he is safe, of course:
And he stood there gloating over the stone lion, and presently he did something very silly and childish.  He took a stump of lead pencil out of his pocket and scribbled a mustache on the lion's upper lip and then a pair of spectacles on its eyes.  Then he said, 'Yah! Silly old Aslan! How do you like being a stone? You thought yourself mighty fine, didn't you?'  
This perhaps foreshadows, or establishes a pattern for, the greater humiliation and mockery unleashed by the White Witch and her minions in chapter 14, once they realize the mighty, much-feared Aslan is genuinely at their mercy.

In both cases, their fear, once assuaged, seems to goad them into acts of desecration; as if they could avenge themselves for their own timorousness on the object of their fear.

And in both cases, the humiliations or desecrations do not necessarily achieve what is hoped; certainly, despite Edmund's scribbles, "the face of the great stone beast still looked so terrible, and sad, and noble, staring up in the moonlight, that Edmund didn't really get any fun out of jeering at it."

Sunday, August 04, 2019

The Magician's Nephew: Who Displays Sexist Attitudes, and Why?

Just a few quick notes on The Magician's Nephew around the halfway point, since I think Lewis is very deliberately bringing in sexist attitudes into the story.

1. It is Uncle Andrew who first articulates such attitudes in order to pooh-pooh Digory's (somewhat Chestertonian) idea that if magic is real, the old fairy tales must be too - and thus the wicked old magician Uncle Andrew will get his comeuppance.

Uncle Andrew initially quails, but then dismisses fairy-tale justice as "a natural thing for a child to think--brought up among women, as you have been. Old wives' tales, eh?"

In other words, to allay his own fears, he must attack Digory as a mere child, and more specifically as a child subject to the particularly foolish/credulous influence of women, and he must attack the idea of fairy-tale justice as "old wives' tales." Because of course, old wives are not worth listening to; they cannot possibly pass down useful bits of folk-wisdom for the ages.

2. Next up is Digory.  We have already seen that Polly "was quite as brave as he about some dangers (wasps, for instance) but she was not so interested in finding out things nobody had ever heard of before."  So it is established that her reluctance generally reflects different values rather than lack of courage; that is, for both of them, the uncertainty and danger of exploring is weighed against the reward, which she typically values less than Digory.  When they come to something on Charn that interests her more than it interests Digory, she takes the lead.

Now, when Polly rightly tries to discourage Digory from striking a bell in the midst of the hall of statues (after he himself has advised that they must be very quiet to avoid triggering collapse of the ruined walls!), Digory immediately resorts to sexism:
"That's all you know," said Digory.  "It's because you're a girl.  Girls never want to know anything but gossip and rot about people getting engaged." 
"You looked exactly like your Uncle when you said that," said Polly.
3. The third instance involves two would-be sources of law and order in the London of Polly and Digory's time, once Jadis starts rampaging there.  A policeman asks Uncle Andrew "Are you in charge of that there young woman?" and a Cabby speaks kindly but patronizingly to Jadis: "Now, missie, let me get at [the horse's] 'had, and just you get off.  You're a Lidy, and you don't want all these roughs going for you, do you? You want to go 'ome and 'ave a nice cup of tea and a lay down quiet like; then you'll feel ever so much better."

Here, the assumptions of the policeman and the Cabby are laughably off-base; the reader already knows Jadis is strong, ambitious, and utterly ruthless -- far beyond Uncle Andrew's control or the calming influence of tea and a lie-down.

~ ~ ~
So, Uncle Andrew wields sexism against Digory and the idea of justice; Digory wields it against Polly and common prudence.

The policeman imagines Jadis must be in someone's charge (and that someone must be a man, no matter how weak and ineffectual); the Cabby imagines Jadis must be overwrought because she does not conform to the cultural expectation of ladylike behavior.

In none of these does Lewis invite the reader to sympathize with narrow, gender-based expectations or criticisms.