Monday, May 25, 2020

Trumpkin's Alliterative Exclamations: A Collection

From Prince Caspian:
  1. Beards and bedsteads! (332) - trochaic 
  2. Horns and halibuts! (345) - mixed (troche + dactyl) 
  3. Bulbs and bolsters! (346) - trochaic 
  4. Whistles and whirligigs! (347) - dactylic 
  5. Soup and celery! (357) - mixed 
  6. Thimbles and thunderstorms! (360) - dactylic 
  7. Lobsters and lollipops! (361) - dactylic 
  8. Giants and junipers! (365) - dactylic 
  9. Tubs and tortoiseshells! (372) - mixed 
  10. Bottles and battledores... (377) - dactylic 
  11. ...bilge and beanstalks... (383) - trochaic 
  12. Cobbles and kettledrums! (384) (in thought) - dactylic 
  13. Wraiths and wreckage! (385) - trochaic 
  14. Weights and water-bottles! (395) - trochaic 
  15. Crows and crockery! (403) - mixed 
And, in loving mockery by an owl in The Silver Chair: Crabs and crumpets! (574)

I didn't notice much connection between the exclamation and the surrounding passage, with one rather significant exception.  When Aslan confronts Trumpkin, we get: 'Wraiths and wreckage!' gasped Trumpkkin in the ghost of a voice.  So here we have alliteration both on the R sound and also on the hard G, and then the two alliterative pairs are connected semantically, if you will, with wraith and ghost.  I think this emphasizes the devastation Trumpkin experiences in encountering the very Lion in which he disbelieved.  One might say this is the last gasp of his former Aslan-free life; his disbelief has been wrecked on the body of Aslan, and if the smug skepticism at the center of his being has been killed, there may be nothing left of it but a ghost or wraith.


C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia. 1st American ed, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Rule of Three

Just noticed something cool in C.S. Lewis's use of triads to bring readers around to a viewpoint they might otherwise resist.

Here's one from Prince Caspian (p. 355), where the approach is essentially point, counterpoint, and deeper truth:
'Pah!' said Nikabrik. 'A renegade Dwarf. A half-and-halfer! Shall I pass my sword through its throat?' 
'Be quiet, Nikabrik,' said Trumpkin. 'The creature can't help its ancestry.' 
'This is my greatest friend and the saviour of my life,' said Caspian. 'And anyone who doesn't like his company may leave my army at once.'
And another from The Silver Chair (p. 608), when Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum realize they've been eating a Talking Stag and we're led further up and further in (so to speak) to a fully Narnian perspective:
This discovery didn't have exactly the same effect on all of them.  Jill, who was new to that world, was sorry for the poor stag and thought it rotten of the giants to have killed him.  Scrubb, who had been in that world before and had at least one Talking Beast as his dear friend, felt horrified; as you might feel about a murder.  But Puddleglum, who was Narnian born, was sick and faint, and felt as you would feel if you found you had eaten a baby.  
Only Puddleglum's comment is provided verbatim.  It's followed by: "And gradually even Jill came to see it from his point of view."

C.S. Lewis.  The Chronicles of Narnia. 1st American ed, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001.

The Right Books

Remember in The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader' how unprepared Eustace Clarence Scrubb is for his dragon adventure because he has "read none of the right books" (p. 463)?  Indeed, he has "read only the wrong books" (p. 464).

Well, already in the first chapter of Prince Caspian we can see that Edmund Pevensie has (thank goodness!) read exactly the right books.  He and his siblings have been magically jerked out of a semi-deserted English railway station (with "hardly anyone on the platform except themselves") onto a deserted island.  They are taken by surprise and certainly ill-equipped, as they have only two sandwiches among them and all the wrong clothes -- and they quickly grow thirsty under the hot sun.  But fortunately:
'It's like being shipwrecked,' remarked Edmund.  'In the books they always find springs of clear, fresh water on the island.  We'd better go and look for them.'  (p. 319)
After their thirst is assuaged, they start worrying about food and "[o]ne or two tempers very nearly got lost at this stage" (p. 321).  But again Edmund draws on his book-learning:
'Look here.  There's only one thing to be done.  We must explore the wood.  Hermits and knights-errant and people like that always manage to live somehow if they're in a forest.  They find roots and berries and things.'  (p. 321) 
So, to summarize.  The right books involve dragons (p. 463), hermits and knights-errant (p. 321), and shipwrecks (p. 319).  The wrong books are "books of information" with "pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools" (p. 425) and "a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains" (p. 464).

I can see how this might rub some people the wrong way, much like Lewis's quite useful distinction between the "literary reader" and the "unliterary reader" (despite the seeming whiff of snobbery in the phrase, the key is not what someone reads, but why and how they read; the tell-tale is re-reading).

Here, I think the crux is that the right books prepare you for an encounter with Narnia and the Deeper Magic, even helping you, perhaps, build resilience by developing imaginative and/or spiritual resources for the curveballs life may throw your way.  The wrong books can only prepare you for things foreseen.


This is perhaps further underscored by the narrator's comment (p. 408): "The sort of History that was taught in Narnia under Miraz's rule was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story."

Edition Referenced:
Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia. 1st American ed, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001.

Friday, May 15, 2020


'I believe you once said you were taught Greek when you were a little boy,' said Stephen as he paddled gently back to the frigate.  
'To be sure I was taught it,' said Jack, laughing. 'Or rather I was attempted to be taught it, and with many a thump; but I cannot say I ever learnt it. Not beyond zeta, at all events.'
O'Brian, The Thirteen Gun Salute at 273

"Mr. Bilbo has learned him his letters - meaning no harm, mark you, and I hope no harm will come of it." 
Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Sunday, April 05, 2020

King John: The Bastard's Completed Rhymes

In King John, I noticed the Bastard completing others' rhymes, by which I mean he plays off another character's final line to form a rhyming couplet.  That is, his first line rhymes with another character's unrhymed closing line.

Here's where it happens.

Act I - KING JOHN'S palace.
Two instances, both involving Queen Elinor.

The Bastard first finishes off Queen Elinor's line, expressly accepting her invitation to spurn his right of  inheritance, following with a couplet of his own, and then a second acceptance (essentially to follow her in to battle).
QUEEN ELINOR: I like thee well: wilt thou forsake thy fortune,
Bequeath thy land to him and follow me?
I am a soldier and now bound to France.  (1.1.154) 
BASTARD: Brother, take you my land, I'll take my chance. (1.1.155)
Your face hath got five hundred pound a year,
Yet sell your face for five pence and 'tis dear.
Madam, I'll follow you unto the death.

And again once he's been knighted Sir Richard Plantagenet, though his rhyme scheme thereafter launches as ababcc, a more complicated pattern.
QUEEN ELINOR: The very spirit of Plantagenet!
I am thy grandam, Richard; call me so. (1.1.173) 
BASTARD: Madam, by chance but not by truth; what though? (1.1.174)Something about, a little from the right,
In at the window, or else o'er the hatch:
Who dares not stir by day must walk by night,
And have is have, however men do catch:
Near or far off, well won is still well shot,
And I am I, howe'er I was begot.

Act II - France. Before Angiers.
He finishes off Austria's line. 

The Bastard's needling on the lion theme gets to Austria, and the Bastard makes it into a couplet to mock him.
BASTARD [To AUSTRIA]: Sirrah, were I at home,
At your den, sirrah, with your lioness
I would set an ox-head to your lion's hide,
And make a monster of you. 
AUSTRIA:                              Peace! no more. (2.1.305) 
BASTARD: O tremble, for you hear the lion roar. (2.1.306)
(2.1.301-06).  This is a much less formal setting than Act I, and from here on out, the Bastard's quips do not lead into rhymed couplets of his own.  He's just jumping in with little zingers here and there.

Act III, scene 1 - The French King's pavilion.
He finishes off Austria's line. 

Just typical of their relationship, really.
AUSTRIA: Do so, King Philip; hang no more in doubt. (3.1.229) 
BASTARD: Hang nothing but a calf's-skin, most sweet lout. (3.1.230)

Act V, scene 3 - The field of battle.
He finishes off the Dauphin's line.

Now that he no longer has the Dauphin to kick around, the Bastard needs to find a new butt for his mockery.
LEWIS (DAUPHIN): Strike up our drums, to find this danger out. (5.2.182) 
BASTARD: And thou shalt find it, Dauphin, do not doubt. (5.2.183)

Is Turn-About Fair Play? 

I found only one instance where another character seizes the initiative to turn the Bastard's closing line into a rhyming couplet.  This takes place in Act II.

At this point, the new plan is for France and England to join forces against the city as a common enemy (rather than letting the citizens sit back and eat popcorn while they battle it out amongst themselves).  The Bastard is utterly delighted in the plan to attack the city from three directions, as France and Austria are to attack the city from opposite sides and thus may potentially injure each other.  First Citizen hijacks his final line by completing the rhyme, introducing an idea for a deeper alliance (marrying the Dauphin to King John's niece) to spare the city.
BASTARD: O prudent discipline! From north to south:
Austria and France shoot in each other's mouth:
I'll stir them to it. Come, away, away! (2.1.432) 
FIRST CITIZEN: Hear us, great kings: vouchsafe awhile to stay, (2.1.433)
And I shall show you peace and fair-faced league;
Win you this city without stroke or wound;
Rescue those breathing lives to die in beds,
That here come sacrifices for the field:
Persever not, but hear me, mighty kings.


Lion Heart and Calf Skin

Act I establishes Philip Faulconbridge as the bastard son of Coeur de Lion (1.1.87, 139, 261).  King John tells him he can still inherit as the first-born son of his mother's marriage, i.e., as Faulconbridge's "calf, bred from his cow" (1.1.127).  But Philip renounces his inheritance and embraces his status as a royal bastard, complete with leonine imagery.  Indeed, he tells his mother she is not to blame for allowing Richard Coeur de Lion to seduce her, as "He that perforce robs lions of their hearts / May easily win a woman’s" (1.1.276-77).

Act II opens with the following stage direction:  "Enter, before Angiers, at one side, with Forces, Philip King of France, Louis the Dauphin, Constance, Arthur, and Attendants; at the other side, with Forces, Austria, wearing a lion’s skin."  This is perhaps a bit strange.  For example, although these two forces enter from opposite sides of the stage, they are in league; the Dauphin explains to Arthur that the Duke is on his (Arthur's) side to make amends to Richard Coeur de Lion's posterity (i.e., Arthur) by "rebuk[ing] the usurpation / Of thy unnatural uncle, English John" (2.1.9-10).  But for present purposes, let's be sure to zoom in on one very special aspect of the stage direction: It specifies Austria's costume.  He is "wearing a lion's skin."  This seems odd, but perhaps he is trying to channel Heracles/Hercules?  (Gallic shrug.)

Once King John and his forces enter, the Bastard immediately takes issue with Austria, razzing him after his first line for no apparent reason.  Faced with Austria's understandable bafflement, the Bastard reveals that he takes umbrage at his having the temerity to wear a lion's skin.
AUSTRIA: What the devil art thou? 
BASTARD: One that will play the devil, sir, with you,
An he may catch your hide and you alone.
You are the hare of whom the proverb goes,
Whose valor plucks dead lions by the beard.
I’ll smoke your skin-coat an I catch you right.
Sirrah, look to ’t. I’ faith, I will, i’ faith! 
BLANCHE: O, well did he become that lion’s robe
That did disrobe the lion of that robe. 
BASTARD: It lies as sightly on the back of him
As great Alcides’ shoes upon an ass.—
But, ass, I’ll take that burden from your back
Or lay on that shall make your shoulders crack.  (2.1.137-49)
So in these few lines, he calls Austria a coward and an ass, and threatens to take the lion's skin from him and/or beat him up.  He refers to the skin several times (as Austria's hide, skin-coat, and burden), suggesting both the lion skin and a threat upon Austria's person.

Still later in the same scene, when King Philip issues his call to arms, the Bastard briefly responds to Philip ... and then gratuitously pivots to poke at Austria again, now telling him he'd cuckold him (give him ox horns and make him a monster) if he were at Austria's home.  Once again, he is ringing changes on the lion skin theme (with the lion's hide standing ever more clearly for Austria's own skin, and referring to Austria's lady as his "lioness"):
BASTARD: Sirrah, were I at home
At your den, sirrah, with your lioness,
I would set an ox head to your lion’s hide
And make a monster of you. 
AUSTRIA:                            Peace! No more
BASTARD: O, tremble, for you hear the lion roar.  (2.1.300-06).
We see here that the Bastard also turns Austria's half-line into the first half of a rhyming couplet, a little poetic trick in Shakespeare which often seems to show dominance on the part of the one completing the couplet.

Finally, in Act III, an alliance is brokered between the warring kings; Austria supports it.  Constance, enraged by Austria's betrayal (he is no longer supporting her son Arthur against King John), exhorts him to "Doff [the lion's hide] for shame, / And hang a calfskin on those recreant limbs."  Austria is beside himself at the insult and responds like a boastful fool, suggesting it's only Constance's status as a woman that protects her from his righteous vengeance; so the Bastard immediately calls his bluff.
AUSTRIA: O, that a man should speak those words to me! 
BASTARD: "And hang a calfskin on those recreant limbs." 
AUSTRIA: Thou durst not say so, villain, for thy life! 
BASTARD: "And hang a calfskin on those recreant limbs." (3.1.137-39).

But Austria does nothing about it.  From that point on, Austria never speaks again without the Bastard shooting him down, even though his remarks are addressed to King Philip.
AUSTRIA: King Philip, listen to the Cardinal. 
BASTARD: And hang a calfskin on his recreant limbs. 
AUSTRIA: Well, ruffian, I must pocket up these wrongs,
Because — 
BASTARD: Your breeches best may carry them. (3.1.205-09)
The Bastard again interjects to cut him off with a rhymed couplet here:
AUSTRIA: Do so, King Philip. Hang no more in doubt
BASTARD: Hang nothing but a calfskin, most sweet lout. (3.1.229-30)
And a third time, when Austria criticizes King Philip's adherence to the alliance he's made rather than disavowing it as instructed by the Pope's legate:
AUSTRIA: Rebellion, flat rebellion! 
BASTARD:                                          Will ’t not be?
Will not a calfskin stop that mouth of thine? (3.1.309-11)

Off-stage, immediately after Act III, Scene 1, the Bastard finishes the job; he re-enters in Scene 2 with Austria's head.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Luck as a Quasi-Divine Gift or Favor

A passage from O'Brian's The Ionian Mission concerning Jack Aubrey's luck (pp. 267-68) reminds me a bit of Bilbo Baggins's luck in The Hobbit:
'The skipper's luck is in,' murmured Bonden[.] [...] 'I only hope it's not come in too hearty, that's all[.]' [...]
Joe nodded. Although he was a heavy man, he perfectly grasped the meaning of Bonden's 'luck.' It was not chance, commonplace good fortune, far from it, but a different concept altogether, one of an almost religious nature, like the favour of some god or even in extreme cases like possession; and if it came in too hearty it might prove fatal – too fiery an embrace entirely. In any event it had to be treated with great respect, rarely named, referred to by allusion or alias, never explained. There was no clear necessary connection with moral worth nor with beauty but its possessors were generally well-liked men and tolerably good-looking: and it was often seen to go with a particular kind of happiness. It was this quality, much more than his prizes, the perceived cause rather than the effect, that had made the lower deck speak of Lucky Jack Aubrey early in his career; and it was a piety at the same old heathen level that now made Bonden deprecate any excess.

And again in O'Brian's The Reverse of the Medal, p. 71:
It was a question of the man's luck, a quality or rather an influence that sometimes set all one way, for good or bad, and sometimes shifted like a tide, but a tide whose ebb and flow obeyed laws that no ordinary men could see. [...] [B]roadly speaking luck and unluck were held to have little or nothing to do with virtue or vice, amiability or its reverse. Luck was not a matter of deserts. It was a free gift, like beauty in a very young woman, independent of the person it adorned; though just as beauty could be spoilt by frizzed hair and the like so ill-luck could certainly be provoked by given forms of conduct such as wanton pride, boasting of success, or an impious disregard for custom.

In The Hobbit, luck is treated as a personal possession -- one that may be conferred at birth -- and naming it does not necessarily undermine or destroy it.  Here are some references to Bilbo's luck (from the HarperCollinsPublishers 2016 facsimile edition of the original 1937 Hobbit):
  • ch. V, p. 89: [Bilbo's] tongue seemed to stick in his mouth; he wanted to shout out; 'Give me more time! Give me time!' But all that came out with a sudden squeal was; 'Time! Time!'  Bilbo was saved by pure luck. For that of course was the answer. 
  • ch. VIII, p. 162: In the end he made as good a guess as he could at the direction from which the cries for help had come in the night -- and by luck (he was born with a good share of it) he guessed more or less right, as you will see.
  • ch. VIII, p. 172: Knowing the truth about the vanishing did not lessen [the dwarves'] opinion of Bilbo at all; for they saw that he had some wits, as well as luck and a magic ring -- and all three are very useful possessions.
  • ch. IX, p. 191: The luck turned all right before long: the eddying current carried several barrels close ashore at one point and there for a while they stuck against some hidden root.
  • ch. X, p. 195: Dreary as had been his imprisonment and unpleasant as was his position (to say nothing of the poor dwarves underneath him) still, he had been more lucky than he had guessed.
  • ch. XII, p. 218: 'Now is the time for our esteemed Mr Baggins, who has proved himself a good companion on our long road, and a hobbit full of courage and resource far exceeding his size, and if I may say so possessed of good luck far exceeding the usual allowance -- now is the time for him to perform the service for which he was included in our Company; now is the time for him to earn his Reward.'
  • ch. XVIII, p. 293: When Gandalf saw Bilbo, he was delighted. 'Baggins!' he exclaimed. 'Well I never! Alive after all -- I am glad! I began to wonder if even your luck would see you through! [...]'
I think it's interesting they all come to appreciate Bilbo's luck, but Tolkien still lets us know Bilbo was even luckier than any of them suspected.  

But I would also note that Bilbo's reference to his own luck in conversation with Smaug proves somewhat unwise (ch. XII, p. 229):
'I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number.'
'Lovely titles!' sneered the dragon. 'But lucky numbers don't always come off.'
'I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider,' went on Bilbo beginning to be pleased with his riddling.

Smaug "thought he understood enough" of Bilbo's riddling talk, and reveals some of that understanding, to Bilbo's increasing unease (ch. XII, p. 230):
'Let me tell you I ate six ponies last night and I shall catch and eat the eight others before long. [...] Ha! Ha! You admit the 'us'[.]  Why not say 'us fourteen' and be done with it, Mr Lucky Number?'

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Constancy: The Star to Every Wand'ring Bark

Julius Caesar, 3.1.64-71:

CAESAR (after CASSIUS joins his plea to that of METELLUS and BRUTUS):
I could be well moved, if I were as you:
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me:
But I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumber'd sparks,
They are all fire and every one doth shine,
But there's but one in all doth hold his place:

Sonnet 116, ll. 2-8:
... Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark 
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. 

Naming: Romeo and Juliet vs Julius Caesar

Romeo and Juliet 2.2:
Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

Julius Caesar 1.2:
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that 'Caesar'?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;

Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with 'em,
Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar.

And of course, Mercutio tries to conjure Romeo with his beloved's name in Act II, Scene 1.  Of course, he's using the wrong name since he doesn't know Juliet has supplanted Rosaline in Romeo's affections.

P.S. The problem with posting these things as I encounter them in the text...  Another naming passage has cropped up in Julius Caesar 3.3.27-36:
THIRD PLEBEIAN: Your name, sir, truly.
CINNA: Truly, my name is Cinna.
FIRST PLEBEIAN: Tear him to pieces! He’s a conspirator.
CINNA: I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet!
FOURTH PLEBEIAN: Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses!
CINNA: I am not Cinna the conspirator.
FOURTH PLEBEIAN: It is no matter. His name’s Cinna. Pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going.
(Text in first two quotes from MIT digital Shakespeare.  Text and line numbers in the third from Folger Digital Texts.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Variations on a Theme: Bid me ... Farewell

There's a sort of symmetry in these scenes.

From Richard III 1.2.213-219:
GLOUCESTER: Then bid me kill myself, and I will do it. 
LADY ANNE: I have already. 
GLOUCESTER: Tush, that was in thy rage:
Speak it again, and, even with the word,
That hand, which, for thy love, did kill thy love,
Shall, for thy love, kill a far truer love;
To both their deaths thou shalt be accessary.

From Richard III 1.2.251-253:
GLOUCESTER: Bid me farewell.  
LADY ANNE:  'Tis more than you deserve;
 But since you teach me how to flatter you,
 Imagine I have said farewell already. 

From Much Ado About Nothing 2.3:
BEATRICE:  Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner.   
BENEDICK:  Fair Beatrice, I thank you for your pains.  
BEATRICE:  I took no more pains for those thanks than you take pains to thank me: if it had been painful, I would not have come.  
BENEDICK: You take pleasure then in the message? 
BEATRICE:  Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knife's point and choke a daw withal. You have no stomach, signior: fare you well. 

From Much Ado About Nothing 4.2:
BENEDICK:   Come, bid me do any thing for thee.  
BEATRICE:   Kill Claudio.  
BENEDICK:   Ha! not for the wide world.   
BEATRICE:   You kill me to deny it. Farewell.