22 October 2017

Guest Post -- Meredith McEwen on Goldberry


Some weeks ago, following up on discussions in the class Meredith McEwen refers to below, I posted some observations on Goldberry. Soon thereafter Meredith had some astute remarks of her own to add to the conversation, and she has been gracious enough to allow me to share them with everyone. My thanks to her for allowing me to post them here. 


_____________________________


While discussing Goldberry and Tom Bombadil in Corey Olson’s intrepid Exploring the Lord of the Rings class, several of my fellow readers commented that “Goldberry” doesn’t sound at all like an appropriate name for a water-spirit. I wholeheartedly agree and got to thinking about who the River-woman’s daughter might truly be. What does the river nourish? Many things along its course: the flora and fauna surrounding the Withywindle. Perhaps “berry” is metaphorical for the “fruit” of the river plants- a golden flower among the reeds and lilypads. In particular, water-lilies can produce a yellow flower and the yellow iris grows in reed beds (reeds and water-lilies being the two plants explicitly named in connection with Goldberry). If you came across such a flower in the woods, might it look like a golden berry floating upon the river or swaying along the riverbank?

Goldberry’s role in Middle-Earth has always been a mystery to me, but I now strongly suspect she’s the spirit of the river flowers (the “daughters” of the river). The comparisons to a “reed by a pool” and a queen “clothed in living flowers” or wearing a gown “green as young reeds” create an undeniable connection to flowers and plant life. Tom recounts to the hobbits that he first met Goldberry “sitting in the rushes” by the pool of the Withywindle where water-lilies first bloom in the spring and “linger latest” in the autumn. The longevity of the lilies may be due to her influence as a flower spirit. Tom’s errand to collect lilies is more than the simple act of a husband bringing flowers to his wife: he uniting her home with his.

I also have to note that Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book contains an Estonian story called “The Water-lily, the Gold-Spinners”. The story is of a maiden who, after escaping a wicked witch’s cottage where she was forced to spin gold thread, is transformed by that witch into a yellow water-lily. The Prince who helped her escape asks a Finnish wizard how to rescue the maiden. The wizard explains that the Prince must transform into a crab, swim down into the river to where he can reach the water-lily’s roots, and cut the roots to remove the flower from the river. Then the prince will be able to transform both himself and maiden back into their natural forms and live happily ever after.


While it’s a tenuous connection, we know that Tolkien read Lang’s collections as a child. In Tolkien’s original Adventures of Tom Bombadil, the hero’s plunge into the river is involuntary, however he does succeed in “uprooting” Goldberry from the river bottom when they marry and she moves into his house. Perhaps the seeds of their relationship were planted in the Estonian fairy tale.



15 October 2017

Review: Ragnarok

Ragnarok Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

More complete and profound a retelling of Norse myths and their power than other less accomplished authors have recently published. Framed by the story of 'a thin child in wartime', Byatt's work illuminates both myth and the tottering world in which we now dwell.

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Iliad 1.1-52 Mythgard 2017 Webathon Recording



I make no pretense of being great at reading Homer aloud.  I am well aware I made a number of mistakes in this recording. There were times I stuttered, syllables I slurred, and a couple of rough breathings (a mark /ʽ/ before an initial vowel indicating an /h/) I just plain missed. At least once I jumbled two syllables, saying θυμῷ (''thymo' -- 'heart') at the end of line 33, when I should have said μύθῳ ('mytho' -- 'word'). Homer said that Chryses obeyed Agamemnon's 'word', which I by spontaneous metathesis corrupted into 'obeyed his heart.' I don't know whether that counts as evidence of something for the oral transmission of poetry or not. I am still amazed I made it through ἤϊε -- three vowels, three syllables, not a consonant in sight -- without hurting myself. I risked redefining hiatal hernia right there. But the cause was a good one.

However that may be, Corey Olsen at Signum University asked me for a recording of some Homer for the webathon for this year's annual fund. I obliged. For those who may be curious, or who, living in glassless houses, might want to throw stones, here it is. On the page below are Homer's Greek and Fagles' translation of these lines (1.1-52). I have divided both the Greek and English into new matching paragraphs, in the hope that it might help those with little or no Greek have some idea of how what they are hearing corresponds to what they are seeing. However, beyond the first few lines the line numbers of the Greek and the English do not match. 



μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,
πολλὰς δ᾽ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
5    οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ᾽ ἐτελείετο βουλή,
ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.

τίς τ᾽ ἄρ σφωε θεῶν ἔριδι ξυνέηκε μάχεσθαι;
Λητοῦς καὶ Διὸς υἱός: ὃ γὰρ βασιλῆϊ χολωθεὶς
10    νοῦσον ἀνὰ στρατὸν ὄρσε κακήν, ὀλέκοντο δὲ λαοί,
οὕνεκα τὸν Χρύσην ἠτίμασεν ἀρητῆρα
Ἀτρεΐδης: ὃ γὰρ ἦλθε θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν
λυσόμενός τε θύγατρα φέρων τ᾽ ἀπερείσι᾽ ἄποινα,
στέμματ᾽ ἔχων ἐν χερσὶν ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος
15    χρυσέῳ ἀνὰ σκήπτρῳ, καὶ λίσσετο πάντας Ἀχαιούς,
Ἀτρεΐδα δὲ μάλιστα δύω, κοσμήτορε λαῶν: 

"Ἀτρεΐδαι τε καὶ ἄλλοι ἐϋκνήμιδες Ἀχαιοί,
ὑμῖν μὲν θεοὶ δοῖεν Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχοντες
ἐκπέρσαι Πριάμοιο πόλιν, εὖ δ᾽ οἴκαδ᾽ ἱκέσθαι:
20    παῖδα δ᾽ ἐμοὶ λύσαιτε φίλην, τὰ δ᾽ ἄποινα δέχεσθαι,
ἁζόμενοι Διὸς υἱὸν ἑκηβόλον Ἀπόλλωνα."

ἔνθ᾽ ἄλλοι μὲν πάντες ἐπευφήμησαν Ἀχαιοὶ
αἰδεῖσθαί θ᾽ ἱερῆα καὶ ἀγλαὰ δέχθαι ἄποινα:
ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ Ἀτρεΐδῃ Ἀγαμέμνονι ἥνδανε θυμῷ,
25    ἀλλὰ κακῶς ἀφίει, κρατερὸν δ᾽ ἐπὶ μῦθον ἔτελλε:

"μή σε γέρον κοίλῃσιν ἐγὼ παρὰ νηυσὶ κιχείω
ἢ νῦν δηθύνοντ᾽ ἢ ὕστερον αὖτις ἰόντα,
μή νύ τοι οὐ χραίσμῃ σκῆπτρον καὶ στέμμα θεοῖο:
τὴν δ᾽ ἐγὼ οὐ λύσω: πρίν μιν καὶ γῆρας ἔπεισιν
30    ἡμετέρῳ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ ἐν Ἄργεϊ τηλόθι πάτρης
ἱστὸν ἐποιχομένην καὶ ἐμὸν λέχος ἀντιόωσαν:
ἀλλ᾽ ἴθι μή μ᾽ ἐρέθιζε σαώτερος ὥς κε νέηαι."

ὣς ἔφατ᾽, ἔδεισεν δ᾽ ὃ γέρων καὶ ἐπείθετο μύθῳ:
βῆ δ᾽ ἀκέων παρὰ θῖνα πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης:
35    πολλὰ δ᾽ ἔπειτ᾽ ἀπάνευθε κιὼν ἠρᾶθ᾽ ὃ γεραιὸς
Ἀπόλλωνι ἄνακτι, τὸν ἠΰκομος τέκε Λητώ:

"κλῦθί μευ ἀργυρότοξ᾽, ὃς Χρύσην ἀμφιβέβηκας
Κίλλάν τε ζαθέην Τενέδοιό τε ἶφι ἀνάσσεις,
Σμινθεῦ εἴ ποτέ τοι χαρίεντ᾽ ἐπὶ νηὸν ἔρεψα,
40    ἢ εἰ δή ποτέ τοι κατὰ πίονα μηρί᾽ ἔκηα
ταύρων ἠδ᾽ αἰγῶν, τὸ δέ μοι κρήηνον ἐέλδωρ:
τίσειαν Δαναοὶ ἐμὰ δάκρυα σοῖσι βέλεσσιν."

ὣς ἔφατ᾽ εὐχόμενος, τοῦ δ᾽ ἔκλυε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων,
βῆ δὲ κατ᾽ Οὐλύμποιο καρήνων χωόμενος κῆρ,
45    τόξ᾽ ὤμοισιν ἔχων ἀμφηρεφέα τε φαρέτρην:
ἔκλαγξαν δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὀϊστοὶ ἐπ᾽ ὤμων χωομένοιο,
αὐτοῦ κινηθέντος: ὃ δ᾽ ἤϊε νυκτὶ ἐοικώς.
ἕζετ᾽ ἔπειτ᾽ ἀπάνευθε νεῶν, μετὰ δ᾽ ἰὸν ἕηκε:
δεινὴ δὲ κλαγγὴ γένετ᾽ ἀργυρέοιο βιοῖο:
50     οὐρῆας μὲν πρῶτον ἐπῴχετο καὶ κύνας ἀργούς,
αὐτὰρ ἔπειτ᾽ αὐτοῖσι βέλος ἐχεπευκὲς ἐφιεὶς
βάλλ᾽: αἰεὶ δὲ πυραὶ νεκύων καίοντο θαμειαί.



Rage -- Goddess sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters' souls, but made their bodies carrion,
05   feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving towards it end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

What god drove them to fight with such a fury?
10   Apollo the son of Zeus and Leto. Incensed at the king
he swept a fatal plague through the arm -- men were dying
all because Agamemnon spurned Apollo's priest.
Yes, Chryses approached the Achaeans' fast ships
to win his daughter back, bringing a priceless ransom,
15   and bearing high in hand, wound on a golden staff
the wreaths of the god, the deadly distant Archer.
He begged the whole Achaean army, but most of all
the two supreme commanders, Atreus' two sons,

"Agamemnon, Menelaus, all Argives geared for war!
20   May the gods who hold the halls of Olympus give you
Priam's city to plunder, then safe passage home.
Just set my daughter free, my dear one ... here
accept these gifts, this ransom. Honor the god
who strikes from worlds away, the son of Zeus, Apollo!

25   And all the ranks of Achaeans cried out their assent:
"Respect the priest! Accept the shining ransom!"
But it brought no joy to the heart of Agamemnon.
The king dismissed the priest with a brutal order
ringing in his ears:

                               "Never again, old man
30   let me catch sight of you by the hollow ships!
Not loitering now, not slinking back tomorrow.
The staff and the wreaths of the god will never save you then.
The girl -- I won't give up the girl. Long before that
old age will overtake her in my house, in Argos,
35   far from her fatherland, slaving back and forth
at the loom, forced to share my bed! Now go,
don't tempt my wrath -- and you may depart alive."

The old man was terrified. He obeyed the order,
turning, trailing away in silence down the shore
40   where the battle lines of breakers crash and drag.
And moving off to a safe distance, over and over
the old priest prayed to the son of sleek-haired Leto,
lord Apollo:

                    "Hear me, Apollo, god of the silver bow
who strides the walls of Chryse and Cilla sacrosanct --
45   lord in power of Tenedos, Smintheus, god of the plague!
If I ever roofed a shrine to please your heart,
ever burned the long, rich bones of bulls and goats
on your holy altar, now, now, bring my prayers to pass.
Pay the Danaans back -- your arrows for my tears!"

50   His prayer went up and Phoebus Apollo heard him.
Down he strode from Olympus' peaks, storming at heart
with his bow and hooded quiver slung across his shoulders.
The arrows clanged at his back as the god quaked with rage,
the god himself on the march and down he came like night.
55   Over against the ships he dropped to a knee, let fly a shaft
and a terrifying clash rang out from the silver bow.
First he went for the mules and the circling dogs, but then,
launching a piercing shaft at the men themselves,
he cut them down in droves --
60   and the corpse-fires burned on, night and day, no end in sight.


                                               

14 October 2017

The Wonder of the Unexplained (TT 3.v.498)



Carl Emil Doepler


From early on, people have wondered if Tom Bombadil is really Eru Ilúvatar in disguise. As early as September 1954, within weeks of the first volume's publication on 29 July, Tolkien was answering the question of whether Old Tom was God (No: Letter 153). Even at the stage of page-proofs, the question of who Tom seems to have arisen. Naomi Mitchison, who had been reading them early that year, had written to Tolkien with a number of inquiries to which Tolkien responds, but does not answer. At one point he writes:

There is of course a clash between 'literary' technique, and the fascination of elaborating in detail an imaginary mythical Age (mythical, not allegorical: my mind does not work allegorically). As a story, I think it is good that there should be a lot of things unexplained (especially if an explanation actually exists); and I have perhaps from this point of view erred in trying to explain too much, and give too much past history. Many readers have, for instance, rather stuck at the Council of Elrond. And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally). 
(Letter 144, 25 April 1954)

Other mysteries remain as well, and always will I hope. The Watcher in the Water (FR 2.iv.308-09), the 'fell voices on the air' in the night on Caradhras (FR 2.iii.289), the 'nameless things' that gnaw the world 'far, far below the deepest delving of the dwarves' (TT 3.v.501) make up an intriguing set, centered on the Misty Mountains around Moria. Why did Galadriel marry such a dolt? The man Brego and Baldor met at the Door to the Paths of the Dead (RK 5.iii.797-98). Who is that guy? Where does the locked door lead outside which Aragorn found Baldor dead (RK 5.ii.787)? Was that an Entwife Sam's cousin Hal saw up on the North Moors, or was Hal as daft as everybody but Sam seems to think he is (FR 1.ii.xx.44-45). And whose voice was speaking to Sam as he debated what to do when Frodo seemed dead (TT 4.x.731-32). These are only a few of the mysteries we encounter that unexplained make our experience all the richer.  But there's one that seems to have an explanation, but is it the explanation that is suggested to us?

Recall the the night Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas spend beneath the eaves of Fangorn. They briefly see an old man, cloaked and leaning on a staff, wearing a hat pulled down over his eyes (TT 3.ii.442-43). They assume that is Saruman, but the next day they meet Gandalf the White, and Gimli wonders whether they had seen Saruman or Gandalf: "'You certainly did not see me,'answered Gandalf, 'therefore I must guess that you saw Saruman.'" (TT 3.v.498).

But must we guess the same? We never receive a definitive answer, never see a bit of evidence that it was Saruman. Saruman certainly never tells. Who then? In Letter 107 says that he thinks of Gandalf as 'an Odinic wanderer', since Odin sometimes appeared as a wanderer cloaked and in a broad-brimmed hat, much the same garb as Gandalf and (it seems) Saruman wear. He was also called 'All-father' (Alföðr), not unlike Ilúvatar, literally 'the father of the universe', which has il 'all' as one of its roots (Lost Road, 361).

Carl Emil Doepler

Do I really think it's Ilúvatar they see? No. That's not very likely, but it's fun to speculate (so idly) that a visit from god himself might lie hidden in plain sight.  Wouldn't be the first time, I imagine.

06 October 2017

Review: Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology

Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology by Dimitra Fimi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was with a learned touch and a clear, precise voice that Dimitra Fimi gave us Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits. This essential work she followed up, in splendid alliance with Andrew Higgins, with J. R. R. Tolkien: A Secret Vice. Now she devotes that same scholarship and persuasive clarity to Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology.

Calling out this intriguing partnership of myth and genre, Dr Fimi analyzes the ways in which today’s writers have drawn upon primary texts, centuries old folklore, 19th and 20th century scholarship (some of it problematic if not downright loony), as well as the fantasy of earlier writers (e.g., Alan Garner), and transformed these sources into stories of their own that resonate with their own times and concerns. In this regard they have much in common with Celtic writers, both Irish and Welsh, as far back as the Middle Ages.

Whether the young protagonists of these tales travel themselves to the past or to the Otherworld, or whether the past and the Otherworld come to them, these fantasies combine education and pleasure, utile dulci: family, culture, nationality, and growing up blend with enchantment, adventure, and wonder. They all take place within a continuum of ‘Celticity’, which sometimes seems best understood as a portmanteau of ‘Celtic’ and ‘elasticity’. If the writers Dimitra Fimi has studied here – Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Mary Tannen, Pat O’Shea, Lloyd Alexander, Kate Thompson, Henry Neff, Jenny Nimmo, and Catherine Fisher – have not told tales as up to date as they might have been from the perspective of contemporary scholarly understanding of the Celts, they have succeeded in telling tales that will inform and delight the young of all kinds, and spur them onward to learn both more and better. Thanks to Dr Fimi’s fine synthesis, the readers of the present volume will also go forward, informed and delighted, about these works in particular and about the writing of Children’s fantasy in general.


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