Ainulindalë: The God Who is Music and Beauty

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.

Then said Ilúvatar: ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.’

Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void. Never since have the Ainur made any music like to this music, though it has been said that a greater still shall be made before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days. Then the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Ilúvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased. (The Silmarillion, pp. 3-4)

“In the beginning,” the holy prophet declares, “Elohim [God] created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And Elohim said …” With a mere word the Lord Almighty speaks the universe into being: “Let there be light,” and there is light. “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters.” “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night”–and so it was and is. Elohim commands, and the chaos obeys. Potentiality becomes actuality. The creation story of Genesis 1 stands out starkly from the ancient Near Eastern myths that preceded and succeeded it. The Babylonian myth, for example, speaks of a great battle between Tiamat, the dragon mother of the gods, and Marduk, the god of rain and storm. Marduk slays Tiamat, splits her body in half and from it creates the heavens and the earth. New creation is achieved through struggle and death. Such are the necessities of existence. Into this world of deities, violence, and blood, a new story is spoken, of the one God, the maker of heaven and earth. This God need only speak, and the cosmos appears; he need only command, and nature obeys. The only necessity is his sovereign will.

But millennia before humanity fell into polytheistic belief and ages before Elohim revealed himself to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, the first-created race, the Quendi (translated by Tolkien as “Elves”), also spoke of the one Creator and his making of the world. They called him Eru (“The One,” “He that is Alone”) and Ilúvatar (“Father of All”). A comparison of the biblical and Elvish accounts confirms that Eru and Elohim name the same transcendent Deity (see Kevin R. Hensler, “God and Ilúvatar“).

Though notable differences exist between the Ainulindalë and Genesis, perhaps the most striking–and certainly the most profound–is the former’s introduction of the divine music. Whereas Elohim speaks, Eru sings. The Silmarillion text does not explicitly state that Eru sings the Ainur into being, but it is mentioned in another ancient manuscript:

Then said Rúmil: ‘Hear now things that have not been heard among Men, and the Elves speak seldom of them; yet did Manwë Súlimo, Lord of Elves and Men, whisper them to the fathers of my father in the deeps of time. Behold, Ilúvatar dwelt alone. Before all things he sang into being the Ainur first, and greatest is their power and glory of all his creatures within the world and without. Thereafter he fashioned them dwellings in the void, and dwelt among them, teaching them all manner of things, and the greatest of these was music.’ (“The Music of the Ainur,” The Book of Lost Tales, I:52; emphasis mine)

Scholars debate whether this version of the creation story represents a second and independent Elven tradition or a corruption of the original Silmarillion tradition; but both traditions witness to the eternal music of the One.

Eru opens his mind to the Ainur and instructs them in his music. The Ainulindalë states that he propounded to them various themes, which they in turn sing to him, each according to their limited understanding; “for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.” Through practice and careful attention, they grow together as a divine choir. When they are ready, Eru reveals to them an even more beautiful theme. “The glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.” To experience the divine music is to be drawn into the transcendent beauty that is God.

Eru invites the Ainur to improvise upon this great theme he has taught them, not just to repeat it but to add to it, “each with his own thoughts and devices.” This is a remarkable passage. Not only are the Ainur given to participate in the music of their Creator–and thus in his divine life–but they are given the freedom to sub-create, to adorn and develop the theme in new ways, much as a symphonic composer will modify a theme through the course of a movement, introducing new motifs and variations, harmonies and tone colors.

I find the image of divine music powerfully evocative. It immediately brings to mind the eternal communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May we envision their mutual life as one of music, the three persons of the Godhead singing to each other their love and joy to make one symphony? I haven’t yet found any theologians who say exactly this, and I’m not even sure what it would mean, but David Bentley Hart comes close to saying what I cannot yet express:

The harmony of Father and Son is not the absolute music of an undifferentiated noise, but the open, diverse, and complete polyphony of Father, Son, and Spirit. … The most elemental statement of theological aesthetics is that God is beautiful: not only that God is beauty or the essence and archetype of beauty, nor even only that God is the highest beauty, but that, as Gregory the Theologian says, God is beauty and also beautiful, whose radiance shines upon and is reflected in his creatures (Oration 28.30-31). … God’s beauty is delight and the object of delight, the shared gaze of love that belongs to the persons of the Trinity; it is what God beholds, what the Father sees and rejoices in the Son, in the sweetness of the Spirit, what Son and Spirit find delightful in one another, because as Son and Spirit of the Father they share his knowledge and love as persons. This cannot be emphasized enough: the Christian God, who is infinite, is also infinitely formosus, the supereminent fullness of all form, transcendently determinate, always possessed of his Logos. True beauty is not the idea of the beautiful, a static archetype in the “mind” of God, but is an infinite “music,” drama, art, completed in–but never “bounded” by–the termless dynamism of the Trinity’s life; God is boundless, and so is never a boundary; his music possesses the richness of every transition, interval, measure variation–all dancing and delight. And because he is beautiful, being abounds with difference: shape, variety, manifold relation. Beauty is the distinction of the different, the otherness of the other, the true form of distance. And the Holy Spirit who perfects the divine love, so that it is not only reflective but also evocative–calling out to yet another as pure delight, outgoing, both uncompelled and unlimited–also makes the divine joy open to the otherness of what is not divine, of creation, without estranging it from its divine “logic”; and the Spirit communicates difference as primordially the gift of the beauty, because his difference within the Trinity is the happiness that perfects desire, the fulfillment of love; for the Spirit comes to rest in the Son, there finding all the joy he seeks, reinflecting the distance between Father and Son not just as bare cognizance, but as delight, the whole rapture of the divine essence. (The Beauty of the Infinite, pp. 176-177)

Because the divine essence is the music of the Holy Trinity, the singing of the angels becomes theophany and revelation, offered to the glory of the eternal Composer, through the divine Word who is simultaneously Vocalist and Music, in the joy and rapture of the Holy Spirit. The hymnody of the angels resound in the Divine Liturgy of Holy Church:

We who mystically represent the Cherubim,
and who sing to the Life-Giving Trinity the thrice-holy hymn,
let us now lay aside all earthly cares
that we may receive the King of all,
escorted invisibly by the angelic orders.
Alleluia.

“Where were you,” the Almighty asks Job, “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (38:7).

(Go to “The Secret of the Secret Fire”)

* * *

I dedicate this series to my beloved son Aaron. He loved The Silmarillion. He read it multiple times, knew the stories and genealogies inside-and-out. We had many conversations about all things Tolkien. May his memory be eternal. 

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67 Responses to Ainulindalë: The God Who is Music and Beauty

  1. It is a great pleasure and delight to se you treat the Ainulindalë with the theological reverence and respect it deserves in these articles. It amuses me immensely to se you treat it as if it is just as valid as the biblical account. I must admit, Tolkeins creation myth captures my imagination far more completely than the account in Genesis. So wonderful to see you drawing on it like this for serious theological reflection.

    God does not merely speak; he sings! Amen

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  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Vulgate: “cum me laudarent simul astra matutina, et jubilarent omnes filii Dei?”, Douay-Rheims: “When the morning stars praised me together, and all the sons of God made a joyful melody?”
    The Septuagint (q.v.) includes “phonei megalei’: cf. “a Great Music”? And that nice detail of Isaiah 6:3, “Et clamabant alter ad alterum”, “And they cried one to another”.

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  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    And, there’s Dryden’s “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687”, stanza 1:

    From harmony, from Heav’nly harmony
    This universal frame began.
    When Nature underneath a heap
    Of jarring atoms lay,
    And could not heave her head,
    The tuneful voice was heard from high,
    Arise ye more than dead.
    Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
    In order to their stations leap,
    And music’s pow’r obey.
    From harmony, from Heav’nly harmony
    This universal frame began:
    From harmony to harmony
    Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
    The diapason closing full in man.

    And, its “Grand Chorus”:

    As from the pow’r of sacred lays
    The spheres began to move,
    And sung the great Creator’s praise
    To all the bless’d above;
    So when the last and dreadful hour
    This crumbling pageant shall devour,
    The trumpet shall be heard on high,
    The dead shall live, the living die,
    And music shall untune the sky.

    (Even more enjoyable in Handel’s setting…)

    (“Grand Chorus”: “I have conquered the cosmos” -?!)

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  4. Jonathan says:

    I think DBH has the musical metaphor right: polyphony. A traditional harmonic symphony would better describe creation, history, etc.

    He also importantly, I think, excludes the idea of absolute music, i.e. music that is utterly dissociated from language. The development of polyphony in the western tradition is of course associated with language, both secular songs and sacred. And I wonder if this is where Tolkien’s account differs, comes closer to representing something like absolute music.

    Anyhow, many thanks for this treatment of Tolkien. This is exactly the right combination, I think, of seriousness and lightness with which one should approach his fantasy. Are you going to continue to work your way through the Silmarillion?

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    • Jonathan says:

      Okay, so I had to go back and give the first four paragraphs of the Ainulindalë a close reading. What Tolkien describes therein is essentially a Mahler symphony. One of these great big spectacular performances involving a choir along with a a full — or more than full — orchestra. But Tolkien cleaves to simile: he writes “like unto countless choirs singing with words.” So, not actually choirs singing with actual words. And what exactly does it mean to “speak” or “propound” or “declare” a musical theme? It can only mean to play that theme, not to describe it in language. Furthermore, Tolkien writes of “harmony,” which in musical terminology means something more than merely the euphonious combination of sounds or parts. However, I don’t know how musically trained Tolkien was and if he intended the term in this way. But I think all this is interesting and significant because I think the Ainulindalë offers a depiction of music in its most complex form such as a cultured person writing in the early or middle twentieth century would have known it. Maybe it’s worth pointing out that this is quite another thing from polyphony, which reached its historical apex at the end of the 16th century. Now consider that DBH’s polyphony metaphor is describing the life of the Godhead, whereas Tolkien’s heavenly music is talking about the Ainur. Shouldn’t we expect totally different musical metaphors for these two realities? I’m not saying the angels couldn’t sing polyphony. I just enjoy this — accidental, I think — contrast that’s sprung up between the musical metaphor in the DBH quotation and that employed by Tolkien.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Jonathan, could you explain the difference between, say, a Mahler symphony and polyphony.

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        • Jonathan says:

          I shall try. This will be painting with pretty broad strokes and oversimplifying too much. Also, I am not a musicologist or in any way certified to teach anything about music to anyone. “But my father was a piano mover, so…” Just kidding (I can’t seem to get Groundhog Day out of my head since watching it the other week). But I was once a classically trained cellist who also studied music history and composition. Anyway, here goes. If anyone else can be more articulate or correct here than I will be, I hope he or she will jump in. Also, apologies this is written in haste.

          All music that is more than just a single melodic line harmonizes, in the sense that the different parts of the music somehow “go together.” But there are different ways of theorizing how harmony in this basic sense is brought about by the composer. In the western tradition there have been, over the last thousand years or so (which is about as far back as we have musical notation that we can decipher today), two great musical developments. The first was that of polyphony, the second that of harmonically organized music, or what is also called tonality, the system of major and minor keys. Again, all music is tonal or has tonality, because the octave is a mathematical fact, an inherent property of sound. What is more arbitrary is how a given musical culture divides the steps or intervals — the discrete tones — between the tonic (middle C, let’s say) and the octave (the next C to the right or left of middle C on the keyboard). In the west, a major or minor scale uses eight steps (including the octave) variously spaced, hence the term octave, but acknowledges twelve actual intervals between the tonic and the octave, and this is called the dodecatonic or chromatic scale. For harmonic and tonal music — modern music that has developed since the 17th century and reached the peak of its complexity even as it began to transcend the tonal system, in the decades around the turn of the 20th century — the eight or twelve steps in the scale are key — literally! Everything revolves around the tonal center, or key, of a piece of music. The massive, intricate structures of western art music, whether vocal or instrumental, chamber music or a symphony, take their meaning, if you will, or in any case their intelligibility from their harmonic development according to the deeply ingrained sense of (modern) tonality we all have. Even if you know nothing about music and wouldn’t put it in these terms, if I am hammering a G7 chord over and over again you instinctively want me to move to a C major chord to resolve what you will feel as a kind of tension. In music this is called cadence, and as I said it depends on a system of organizing tones that we call tonality. Harmonic music aligns its parts according to principles derived from tonality. And as the very simple example I’ve just provided indicates, it depends to a great extent on movement or progression. Even more recent music that departs from tonality is understood dialectically, as a departure from tonality, or as what is called chromatic. Heck, even jazz is talked about in the technical language that tonality has given us. (There are lots of other aspects of music, of course: the timbre of different instruments, rhythm, etc., but the most essential element of music is the way it is organized, or rather the way music identifies and organizes the tones of the scale.) So the modern composer of music composes vertically. He writes the different parts — or voices, as they are called — of a complex piece of music always mindful of how they stack up. It literally looks like succeeding stacks of notes on the pages of a score. Generally the melody is at the top (the highest register) and carries the theme, though there are plenty of exceptions there. Everything underneath or apart from the melody or main thematic line of music has to “harmonize,” i.e. make the right chords in conjunction with that main line. We speak of a chord progression because what gives music much of its character, what we hear at a very deep level whether we know it or not, is the movement of the music from one chord to another, and analogously, in longer works like a symphony, from one key to another. Such movement produces tension, because after a certain amount of development (the themes are usually what are said to develop, the smaller increments of musical meaning) in this way, the ear and the mind craves resolution, cadence, which is usually a return, by however unexpected means, to the original tonal center.

          It was not always so. In polyphony, each voice or part is independent, its own melody. There are tonal centers — as I said, tonality in the most basic sense is something that any music has, because the octave is obvious to all ears, that sound that is “the same again but different.” But the tonal center in polyphony is nowhere near as important. It doesn’t provide a set of principles for composing music vertically. Instead, the individual lines/voices/parts are written against each other. They still create euphony, still sound like they “go together,” wonderfully so. The difference is difficult to describe, even for musicologists. What is lacking in such music is harmonic progression. There is still dissonance and cadence, because you have more than one tone at a time and not just any two or more tones go together euphoniously. But you are not listening for layers, so to speak, with all voices but one in a kind of subordinate position to the melodic line. Instead there is a harmony through parity. It took quite a while for tonality in the restrictive sense, the modern keys and harmonic forms, to develop. No sooner was it well established at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the nineteenth, than people forgot how the older music worked, even Baroque forms like counterpoint (which is sort of halfway between polyphony and tonality). Composers in the latter half of the nineteenth century began to experiment with ways of getting beyond tonality, even as that form of music reached its maximal development. Some composers, like Franz Liszt in his later work, arrived at their chromaticism through a study of Renaissance polyphony. But as I was saying, tonality is so well entrenched in our minds that we hear everything now as either conforming to or departing from it. You can’t unlearn such a deeply inscribed pattern of recognition. Though there is a ton of music that is not tonal, we still teach music in terms of tonality; it takes extra effort from there to learn how counterpoint or polyphony work, even if one has been raised on atonal, chromatic, avant-garde type stuff. Tonality is the language in which we all think, musically, even if we also become fluent in other musical languages, and that means we all think in terms of harmony, i.e. with a musical syntax that is fundamentally hypotactic, dependent on subordination, and composed around both hierarchical or vertical organization and horizontal development (harmonic progression).

          I brought up the distinction because perhaps there is a theological or metaphysical analogy to be made. The TriUne God must be polyphony, so to speak, in His own inner life. But take any moment or place in created Being and it is like you are looking at a nineteenth century symphonic score, a myriad of parts that have to align somehow vertically and move toward an end that is, in some sense, inherent in the beginning.

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          • brian says:

            Thanks for this, Jonathan. I dabble at cello, so I can’t claim musical understanding, but I love the instrument. Let me try out some philosophical analogies to see how they might fit. It seems to me that tonal music is akin to Hegelian dialectic. Ultimately, it subsumes the other into a dominant form of self-determining appropriation. Nietzsche is an interesting case; influential on Wagner and one of the few philosophers to write with style. Yet one wonders if his own stress on the conatus essendi and aphoristic puncturing of system is not still beholden to a “totalizing” aggression inherent in will-to-power. I am not sure how far these analogies hold; baroque as a middle point between the patrimony of the Middle Ages and early modernity, classical as growing out of Enlightenment sympathies, etc. In any event, perhaps you should reconsider the way you contextualize the relation between the music of creation and the “polyphony” of Triune Being. A nineteenth century score adhering to a theme introduced from the Origin might suggest a hierachy of power that is still too indebted to following out a teleology discoverable in nature or history. Rather, the gospel reveals that attachment to the pluperfect fullness of the Origin astonishes by relations more intimate and outside prediction of a narrowly construed reason. The voice of each unique singer is indeed integrated into the “symphonic kingdom,” but in a manner of winsome, “dramatic peace” that exceeds every effort of dialectic to reduce singular energies to a predetermined (tonal) course.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Let me just say that I didn’t intend any evaluative comparison between polyphony and harmony/tonality. They are different theories or paradigms, that’s all, and could maybe be useful in phrasing the difference between the economic and immanent trinities. I know critics do try to tether one or the other to a historically contextualized worldview that the critic may advocate for or against. And there are clear intellectual, perhaps we could even say ideological affinities between the form of music in one period and the ideas current at that time (it is interesting to note, however, that the last and greatest high water mark of polyphony was c. 1600, not exactly medieval but the turning point between what musicologists refer to as the late Renaissance and the early baroque). But all you have to do is look at two contemporaneous and closely related composers like Liszt and Wagner to see how very different metaphysical commitments can lead in the same musical direction. Both of those men transcended tonality and in similar ways, but from rather different motivations. In any case, if symphonic being, let’s call it, can be sophianic, then it can achieve or contain its own kind of perfection — or pluperfection. But I think I’m missing what you’re saying and not responding well.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Oh, and also this whole tangent came about because I wanted to say why it might make good intellectual sense whyTolkien evokes a Mahlerian symphony more than polyphony in his mythos, because he is not writing about the inner life of Eru/Iluvator, but about the creation. I think most people would identify the sonata form or the symphony, the most iconic versions of the tonal tradition, as more inherently narrative than polyphony, and narrative is what Tolkien is about here. Again, I’m not trying to be evaluative, just descriptive, and I’m attempting to do justice to the difference between speculation about God’s inner life and the way we represent sacred history. Of course we also think there is a connection between that speculation and that representation.

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  5. brian says:

    Jonathan,

    I was just throwing out some speculative hypotheticals as I felt your response merited some attempt at discussion. In general, I agree with your descriptions so far as my musical understanding allows for intelligent comment (it’s not that advanced.)

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    • Jonathan says:

      I think one of the most interesting questions for me as a writer is, Why did Tolkien feel he had to write a creation myth? In fact, he retells the biblical creation myth after his own fashion, because he is writing about our world — if he were not in some sense doing that, then Father’s humorous reference to the Silmarillion as deuterocanonical scripture would make no sense. But it does make sense and it’s humorous because we sense that it’s true. But Tolkien wants to tell these wonderful sweeping stories of elves and men in middle earth. Why does he need to reenvision creation in order to do that?

      And since he is in a way retelling creation and history, he too must be invested in the connection between God’s inner life and the creation and history that unfolds from that supra-historical life. There is no Church, no sacraments, in middle earth. There are only stories. You wrote something above about a symphony taking its theme — the musical story — from the Origin, and I for one would like to hear more about that. Tolkien says the Ainur each know a part of Iluvatar, takes a theme from him, and each can embellish that part in its own way. Angelic artists?

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  6. Jonathan says:

    Last thought on Tolkien: As we see clearly in Tolkien’s restatement of the creation mythos, Middle Earth is postlapsarian. But it is not messianic, either in expectation or post-incarnational. It has neither prophets nor gospel. Is this a problem for us? Is it a problem for the Elves or Men or other beings of Middle Earth?

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I’d say, have (another) look at “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” in Morgoth’s Ring. I think Middle-earth is “messianic […] in expectation”, characterized by typology, looking to the Incarnation. (Cf. “On Fairy-Stories”, too.)

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      • Jonathan says:

        I’ll do that. Thanks for the tip. But it still seems rather downplayed in Middle Earth. Religion — if that’s what I was talking about, I’m not totally sure — generally is in what we now call fantasy, and in all of its medieval and Renaissance precursors. Not the ‘supernatural’ or prophecy or mysticism, but religion as a historical, cultural institution. I don’t know why that is.

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Thinking out loud – it’s curious that the most developed expression of ‘cult’ that springs to mind is the details of the cult of Morgoth developed by Sauron in Númenor as found, e.g., in the Akallabêth in The Simarillion!

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        • Jonathan says:

          Actually, maybe I do know why that is. This is a pet theory of mine, and freshly hatched, so treat it gently please: The content of fantasy is basically the allegorized content of cult. The thing isn’t going to always be a symbol of itself, that would be redundant. (It is useful for things — discourses — to be symbols of themselves occasionally, in emblematic or iconic moments.) You don’t need religion in fantasy for fantasy to be true to its essence, to mean the way it means, and so when some secondary purpose compels it to be there, it will not feel as authentic as other elements of the fantasy.

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    • Grant says:

      Tolkien believed that myth should reflect truth religious, moral, philosophical (and most certainly linguistic and philological in his case) but not explicitly and should definitely avoid referencing or depicting a religious structure as we know it our primary real world, as this quote from one of his letters indicates when he was discussing the lack of good English legends and fairy-stories (letter #131):

      ‘Of course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be missing. For one thing its ‘faerie’ is too lavish, and fantastical, incoherent and repetitive. For another and more important thing: it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion.

      For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary ‘real’ world. (I am speaking, of course, of our present situation, not of ancient pagan, pre-Christian days. And I will not repeat what I tried to say in my essay, which you read.)’

      In case people don’t understand the reference to Arthurian legend not being properly naturalized that is because Arthurian stories arose from those known in the past as the Britons which in the past didn’t mean people who inhabit the island of Britain in general but specifically that Celtic group who inhabited the most of Britain ( not including Picts and few others who inhabited the now Scottish Highlands) before and during the Roman occupation (hence Arthur title as king of the Britons). These people become the Welsh, Cornish and the Bretons in France (a number of Romano-Britons of the south-west immigrated to the Gallo-Roman province of Armorica in the 6th century in enough numbers to remain the territory ‘lesser Britain’, hence the island being known as ‘Greater or Great Britain’), and from these people came the source of the Arthurian legend (originally the English or Saxons are his enemies). This passed into the circles of both Norman and French courts developing the legend with both Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Arthurian romances. Only afterwards was it developed by English authors, so it isn’t at it’s heart an English legend at all (at least not most of it) being more Celtic and French.

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      • Jonathan says:

        Thanks for this quotation. Do you know what essay he’s referring to? His point about Christianity in mythos and fantasy is intriguing. But I can take or leave the criticism of the Arthurian material. It’s an enormous tradition spanning centuries and several languages. Much of it is bad, and some of it is very good, or works its way into very good literature, for example the Parzival. I don’t understand what he means about it not being “English.” It certainly appears in the English language. (I hope the racial thing isn’t really there, because that would be silly, it’d be like me refusing to allow that Kerouac was an important American author because he was of French Canadian extraction… to take only the most innocuous example that comes to mind.)

        Do you know if Tolkien comments anywhere on the Continental traditions stemming from the Song of Roland and other chansons de geste and eventually culminating in the renaissance epics, which certainly also deserve the name of fantasy — Ariosto, Tasso, Spenser? Because those explicitly involve the Christian religion, though I think in rather superficial ways, for the most part. The epic literature of the medieval and renaissance periods was very much informed by the titanic struggles between Christian Europe and the Muslim world (7th and 8th century invasion of Europe, Crusades, fall of Byzantium and Ottoman invasion of Europe). This is not a popular observation to make these days, but it seems undeniable to me. I’ve long been struck by the fact that that sort of thing was not something Tolkien showed much interest in, it’s not what we usually mean by “myth” even if it does merit the name of fantasy, because it comes from much too developed a society. And yet the contemporary tradition of epic fantasy, among whose progenitors and architects one normally places Tolkien, owes much more to the line that comes down, in English, from Spenser, than it does to Beowulf and the Kalevala.

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Professor Paul J. Smith has an interesting paper, “French Connections in Middle-earth: The Medieval Legacy” in Tolkien Among Scholars (Lembas Extra 2016) (pp. 119-35), which has three section titles – ‘French Loanwords’, ‘Tolkien and the Chanson de Roland’, and ‘Tolkien and Crétien de Troyes’:

          http://tolkienshop.com/contents/en-uk/d268.html

          Charles Williams makes Islam an important part of his late verse retelling of the King Arthur stories (focusing on the Holy Grail), and Humphrey Carpenter published a playful critical poem Tolkien wrote Williams about this retelling (though not about his inclusion of Islam) in his book, The Inklings. Lewis was the first to comment about Williams’s poetry at length, in Arthurian Torso.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Thanks for all the links and such, David. I would like to someday be able to read Higgins’ book about Arthur and the Inklings.

            Arthurian Torso is a fascinating book. Williams is so sui generis, and Lewis made quite the effort to unpack his work for his readers. Unfortunately, I doubt Williams will ever speak to a wide audience in the way Lewis and Tolkien have done and continue to do, often to the same audience. Those two make a perfect pair, Lewis being more the medievalist and Tolkien more the philologist and folklorist. Obviously each had elements of the other kind of scholar in him. All I’m saying is that they are complementary. And for proof that Tolkien was the philologist between them, one has only to consider how beautiful are the phonaesthetics of his fantasy, whereas this was an area in which Lewis… did not excel. Tolkien’s fantasy was so much driven by his glossopoeia, the creation of language and the very sound of a language and its natural rhythms — the musicality of language — and it’s not surprising given the portion of the literary deposit that most attracted his attention. Of course medieval and renaissance poetry was just that, poetry, highly conscious of itself as wrought and sounded language. But it was much further removed from an oral tradition. Even the medieval stuff that caught Tolkien’s eye (Pearl/Gawain Poet) was a poetry closer to an oral tradition than that of other contemporary work better known today, i.e. Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Chaucer — deliberately so, perhaps, part of the so-called alliterative revival. I don’t mean performance. All poetry was written, at least into the seventeenth century, if not clear through to the twentieth (and still, I think, for the most part), with the idea that it would be read aloud. By oral tradition I mean a kind of consciousness of which the medieval world retained only echoes and stylizations. Tolkien’s affinity was pretty clearly for the bardic musicality of the oral tradition, Lewis’ for the architectonics of imagery and allegory that it takes the sprawling epic romance of a more “civilized” milieu to construct. (And yet that Alliterative Revival stuff was heavily imagistic and allegorical in a way Tolkien’s work really just isn’t, not to my eye; it was sort of the exact midway point, in literary terms, between Beowulf and The Faerie Queene, or a perfect combination of the two modes…)

            Eh, well… so much for my morning riff.

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        • Grant says:

          Tolkien was not adverse to the Arthurian mythos as a whole, far from it, he wrote a poem called the Fall of Arthur which wasn’t published in his lifetime (it has since been published posthumously by his son Christopher, held great love and respect for the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (the poet who he believed also wrote the Pearl), whose author he held as good as Chaucer (and delivered a lecture then essay on the poem which is very interesting). He loved Mallory, and he did work with British (by which I mean Welsh, and particularly Breton lays, even writing his own version as he did with the Kalevala).

          This isn’t a racial thing, it’s a language and cultural thing, he was after developing a specifically English mythology that he felt had been lost and was missing, something rooted in English culture, language (and specifically pre-Norman conquest English) and history, with resonances that related to England and the English. It is something deeply tied to his profession as a philologist (he was this first before all else) and his mythology his a project that was following along the same vein as Ellias Lorrent’s imaginative recovery and version of the Kalevala, or Jacob Grimm’s attempted to recover the native German spirit in their mythology and legends. It was belief that language, culture and mythology are strongly tied together, and to understand fully the language and it’s development you also would engage in a practice of imaginative recovery and reconstruction of the mythology that gave content, colour and life to it.

          In the case of English and wider Germanic mythology he believed a much fuller and coherent mythology had once lain behind the few stories we have left, notably Beowulf and then by the High Middle Ages these had become small bits only partly remembered and in some cases who’s meaning was forgotten, referenced in passing in stories that were using those elements or making references in other stories. By the 19th century it had almost all been forgotten, relegated to children’s stories barely remembered, elves becoming tiny silly creatures and so on. It’s worth remembering that it was the 18th and 19th centuries that saw the recovery of much of works that had been lost for quite a while, such as Beowulf, or the Icelandic Eddas and so on.

          A major aim in developing his mythology was continuing along the same lines as Grimm and Lonnett, while also demonstrating the importance of mythology to linguistic origins and development and understanding a culture and it’s past (a mythic history being as important as history and archaeology). In many ways it was the increasing lack of an audience within academic circles to lead to him working on these ideas, developing his languages and mythology, and attempting to imaginatively recover the rich and coherence mythology that had existed but now only remained in fragments and half-forgotten references in others stories mostly. For example we know among the early English from Continental origins to the early centuries not only knew of elves but their were important part of their mythology, indicated not least by the widespread references in names with elf (or ælf, at least Northumbrian anyway), such as Alfred (elf-counsel) but very little has remained. And another means of reconstruction was as developed both language and mythology was working out what was meant in say references to ‘light elves’, ‘dark elves’, ‘sea elves’ etc so this becomes related to the elves that responded to the call to come to Valinor, light elves being those who saw or journeyed to the trees of Valinor (and saw or journeyed) to their light, the dark elves those choose to stay in Middle Earth (originally the Great Lands in the Lost Tales version). Sea elves (then the Solosimpi) were those who either tarried or in the Lost Tales were stuck on Tol Eressëa, and through Ossë learned to love the sea and travel on ships, in later Silmarillion they already loved water but ended up tarrying and not heading the call with the Vaynar (originally the Teleri I think) and the Noldor (also long know as the Gnomes due to it’s connotations suggesting knowledge or the knowing or wise ones). But they also there remained on the shore with Ossë and developed fully their love of sea and ships.

          After all, many of his peers were surprised that Tolkien ended up producing so little in terms of publication after the 1920’s particularly after a number of very eminent works (such as his Beowulf address and essay, which by some metrics is still the most sited article in the humanities as a whole) and re-defined how the poem was approached and studied. And after the LOTR was published felt he got lost mostly in doing his side hobby, and to an extent looked down on him, without realise this was part of his academic work, just not one that had an audience any-more, particularly as he was a poetic scholar at heart (even put forth opinions on contested items where he couldn’t fully establish such an opinion in a scholarly setting such as a line in Beowulf in the LOTR as Gandalf, Aragorn and co come into Edoras, ). But the Rohirrim very much (besides the horses) Mercian English (his own homeland) right down to calling their land the Mark.

          Anyway, all the above said to get back to his view as to why Arthur and Arthurian legend not being English, because in the above sense it isn’t. It doesn’t have roots in English culture or mythology at all, it is as I said in my first post rooted in British legend (as he said in it’s soil) by which I mean the Britons, which become the Welsh, Cornish and the Bretons (simply alternate spelling of Briton) in which he is first sited in the 9th century as leading the successful attack against the English/proto-English invaders, including making him (Arthur) the victor of the battle of Badon. Badon (and war) is historical being mentioned by St. Gildas in The Ruin and Conquest of Britain, though it’s unclear who was the victor as he only mentions Ambrosius Aurelianus who began the counter attack against the English (culminating in Badon and relative peace Gildas knew in probably the early to mid-6th century), Whether Arthur existed or was developed from Celtic deity/semi-deity and then become connected later is unknowable now, lost to the mists of time. From these legends then taken up by the Norman French and French proper (particularly through Geoffrey of Monmouth, who’s work was sponsored and popularized by the conquering Normans who saw it’s value as a history of Britain that would de-legitimize English claims with the older claim to rule of Arthur, who some claimed descent from, probably through Breton lines). It was stories told mostly in Norman and French courts during a time in England when the ruling class where not themselves English from 1066 for nearly 300 years (only with Richard II did England have a king who spoke English as his native language once again), they were not mythologies and stories driving from the English themselves, these as I said, and Tolkien strongly believed had been mostly lost, for a number of reasons, not least he felt 1066 itself (which to he largely regarded as cultural and linguistic tragedy for England, lamenting the French influence on English since then, preferring Middle English to modern English and Old English(es) above both). Only in the 1300-1400s did Arthurian legends get developed in English and by English authors (such as the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight poet and Thomas Mallory), but they only brought little fragments of what remained of English myth and legend to the non-English mythology (mostly the aforementioned poem, which he felt drew on the oral traditions more and was rooted in them with his major complaint against Shakespeare was that Shakespeare knew these traditions, but largely left them unused). He loved the works and believed them to be great works of literature (and Middle English literature at that), but they were not examples of English legend, but as he says a work not truly naturalized. And this is for the best, they are a British legend, one showing the genius and wealth of British (Celtic Britons), and French mythology and thought, and this is the cultural rootedness that should be celebrated on the whole when enjoying them, and the resonances that should be heard.

          He felt himself to be strongly English, rather than British, not in some prejudiced manner that looked down on other cultures, far from it, he admired and loved many others, Welsh, Finnish and Spanish for example (and knew and enjoyed Greek and Latin mythology very well despite his preference of the Germanic languages and mythology). Rather he left culture and cultural roots were important, place and locality and the oral traditions of a people were important, and he left this was something his country, England rather than Britain, lacked, particularly in relating to say Wales, or Ireland. This is what he wished to give when doing his work, or at least hoped he might someday with in fact in the original Lost Tales, the mariner there who visits the Lonely Isle and meets the Elves and provides the frame narrative for the ancient tales is known to them as Eriol was to be the father of Hengist and Horsa (the legendary leaders of original three ships of Angles, Jutes and Saxons, proto-English, that settled in Britain), and the Lonely Island itself would have become Britain and more specifically England during the great faring forth of the elves in that version. This was later changed to a character called Ælfwine, a Englishmen of the old or Anglo-Saxon England days who came to the Lonely island fleeing Danish invasion, here England is no longer the Lonely Island itself, but remained an area special to the elves, which is why Ælfwine remembered them. But anyway, because he wished to bring a mythology that was English, rooted in English history and cultural origins, centring in the island but coming from a mythological tradition and stretched into the Germanic mythology to the Continent from which the English culture first dwelt dwelling in an area known as the Angle. Angels being the common name the Old English peoples seemed to know themselves by, eventually at least under Alfred as the Angelcynn for the people and the ænglisc for their language and this ultimately becoming English and from Angle coming England. Only very rarely in some titles is the term Anglo-Saxon such as Afred using Anglosaxonum Rex, though Æthelred used in English Engla cyningc (King of the English), and Cnut would use ealles Engalandes cyningc (King of all England). On the other hand, Celtic areas kept the reference of English as Saxons (or words derived from this such as Season in Welsh or Sasannach in Scottish Gaelic) to how they were known generally when as raiders and pirates during the late Roman period and the early English settlement in eastern Britain.

          Anyway, I hope this clarified what Tolkien intended there, a good book to help is Tom Shippey’s (he’s a philologist and Old and Middle English literature scholar like Tolkien even attending both the same school, university and holding Tolkien’s chair in Leeds, as well as being probably the foremost Tolkien scholar today) book J.R.R. Tolkien: author of the century (there is also the Road to Middle-Earth and numerous papers but that is his latest book and corrects some positions held in earlier works such as The Road to Middle Earth).

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          • Jonathan says:

            This is interesting to learn about Tolkien, as it sheds light on his motivations as a writer. I was perhaps thrown by the term “English.” Linguistically and culturally, what you’re talking about — or rather what Tolkien intended — is usually nowadays called Anglo-Saxon. English is the language of Chaucer, Mallory, the Pearl Poet (Gawain), Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton… Tolkien. With very little training, you can read the vernacular that was being written down in England in the fourteenth century. But to read Anglo-Saxon you have to learn an entirely new language, it is very much like learning German or Danish. Middle/modern English owes a great deal to Anglo-Saxon, but it also owes a lot to French and Latin, as well as Nordic, and above all, I would say, to the historical experience of the English-speaking people over the last thousand years. If Tolkien felt himself to be English — well, so he was. But that designation includes an enormous amount of language and culture and history that has little enough to do with the Anglo-Saxons directly. I mean, just look at the guy’s name! His family came from Germany in, I think, the 18th century. It is peculiar, to me, to think of the “real” England somehow not including the history of the lower two-thirds of Great Britain after the eleventh century, or even perhaps after the ninth century.

            It’s true that the most important works of Arthurian literature for a long time were written in forms of French and German. But the English eventually wrested the mythos back from the Continent and turned it into the iconically English mythos that it is today and has been since the fifteenth century. Europe for the most part lost interest in Arthur in the course of the fourteenth century, but he only increased in stature in the English-speaking portion of the British Isles (the Celtic parts didn’t care about him, wouldn’t have recognized him if he’d come home to them). Such are the ironies of history.

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          • Grant says:

            Tolkien tended to avoid the term Anglo-Saxon and preferred Old English, I might guess it might be because he felt it created a sense of a division of English from the English of the Anlgo-Saxon period, as if they were another people. But rather they were English, if early English (and he knew they certainly referred to themselves as English) as was the heart of the English culture, customs and traditions rooted in the landscape that he knew growing up in the countryside just outside Birmingham (and heard in the dialects and locally bound cultures around the country). That the Norman changes didn’t elimate that base of tradition, that combined with his love of the Germanic tradition might be the reason though I’m only guessing here, for myself I tend to favour Old English partly because of a degree of this argument but more so because English of the early medieval period (the Anglo-Saxon period) knew themselves as English (Anglo-Saxon only coming in as a Latin title only attested once or twice). It seems a matter of courtesy to acknowledge the past inhabitants of the land I live in as they would have wished to be identified and called.

            Tolkien though definitely aware of his name and family’s German origins felt himself English probably from his strong ties to the landscape he grew up in (and would know English place within the Germanic languages linguistic development probably better than anyone, certainly today, particularly with philology’s near death as a academic discipline though it has been revived in recent years).

            It should be noted though that he wasn’t uncritical in his admiration of the Germanic tradition (and this stronger during both his experiences in the Great War and then seeing how that spirit as he saw it was perverted by the Nazis leading up to and during WWII). While he admired the noble spirit in the Germanic tradition and in the Germanic mythology, in facing the long defeat in that worldview. In the Germanic pagan tradition the monsters and chaos win in the end and the gods and men will fall, Valhalla for example being only a place of waiting for warriors for that final end, when all is consumed and falls into the abyss. In the face of this hopelessness, the Germanic tradition held and promoted the idea of holding firm with courage and honour and striving against the dark even though it was ultimately hopeless and doomed to fail (it is not surprising to me that gospel had such power in early England when it was first heard, and had such a powerful and quick response).

            However it too much in Tolkien’s view celebrated warfare and bloodshed for it’s own sake, and it is something he show criticism of, for example in his translating of the Battle of Maldon poem (a Old English elegy of a battle between English and Danes, in which the English fell), and of course in the LOTR. There through Faramir you see this criticism voiced with Faramir’s admiration of the Rohirrim’s courage but critiques their love of war, and in the arc of Eowyn’s character, from one pursuing glory on the battlefield (particularly after having been trapped and feeling powerless for so long), to facing death itself in an essential spiritual struggle in the person the Witch-King, and emerging from the struggle desires war no longer, but transcends the limitations of the Rohirrim’s worldview without rejecting her heritage, and stands with Faramir to become a lady of healing, committed to heal rather than hurt, no longer rejoicing in war but in the healing of hurt.

            And the Celtic (Briton at least) have not wholy forgotten Arthur, in appearing in the Mabinogi (such as Culhwch and Olwen) also Welsh Arthurian stories such as Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain, Peredur son of Efawg, Geraint son of Erbin, Preiddeu Annwf, and stories of Myddin (Merlin). And of course the Cornish have never lost their sense of Arthur, they have claimed him, and he and his legend is soaked into that land as it were, it’s everywhere reaching further out beyond Cornwall into south-west areas such as famously Glastonbury (the area of the larger kingdom of Dumnonia that comprised Cornwall/Kernow) but it’s focused in Cornwall. And though Cornwall is in England it has never been English, the Cornish identity has always kept itself distinct (with Cornish remaining spoken into the 19th century, and having been revived in the mid to later 20th century). I certainly remember from my grandmother and her family the Tregurtha’s that the Cornish are definitely not English 😉 .

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          • Jonathan says:

            Well, it all sounds a bit dubious to me, I have to say. Maybe it’s just because I’m an American mutt whose ancestors came to the New World shores from the Welsh Marches and Ulster and Galicia. I can tell you that in contemporary American academic parlance (and I thought the UK as well) Old English is only a language; Anglo-Saxon, on the other hand, refers to the language and the culture that spoke it, a culture that occupied *a portion* of what is today the polity of England, but which by no means makes up the bulk of what the term “English” connotes. Such usage is actually, I take it, consonant with Tolkien’s misgivings. Anyway, thank you for bringing to light Tolkien’s thought on his literal place as a writer. An interesting contemporary to compare him with in this regard, and certainly a masterful fantasist and world-builder, albeit of a very different and much more mystical kind, is John Cowper Powys. A current English author (presently residing in the West of Ireland, I believe) and also something of a fantasist, I suppose you could say, who would seem to share some of Tolkien’s sentiments about the early medieval English is Paul Kingsnorth.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            A fascinating book recommended to me when I was studying Roman-British archaeology, is Eilert Ekwall’s Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names (1936, new editions 1940, 1947/51 and the last in 1960).

            The 1947 Third Edition is available online in the Internet Archive:

            https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.184064

            as are a couple other interesting-looking works of his with which I am not yet acquainted! (He has a nice little English Wikipedia article devoted to him, too!) I can’t remember if I’ve ever run into a reference to him by Tolkien, but I can imagine he probably was delighted by Ekwall’s great Dictionary.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Following up on the remarks above about oral poetry (for the sake of thoroughness), the Iliad and the Odyssey in Greek seem at least to reflect that oral tradition as poems such as Beowulf do in English.

            There are still living oral poetic traditions in some languages/cultures today.

            A classic introduction to the subject is Albert Lord’s The Singer of Tales (1960). His English Wikipedia article (which is worth reading) notes “His wife Mary Louise Lord completed and edited his manuscript of a posthumous sequel The Singer Resumes the Tale (published 1995) which further supports and extends Lord’s initial conclusions.”

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          • Jonathan says:

            Right. Except that Beowulf wasn’t written in English, there being no such language at the time of its composition. “Old English” really should not bear that name. It is approximately as foreign to English — middle or modern — as Dutch is today. So scholars call it Anglo-Saxon, after two of the more influential groups of people who used that now extinct language. This was my point, back up the line a ways. It’s conventional to say Homeric poetry was written in “Greek” but this is about as accurate as to say that Beowulf was written in any kind of “English.” Modern England and English culture and landscape is about as different from Anglo-Saxon Britain as modern Greece and Greek culture is from 7th century BC Ionia. Anyone who wants an oral poetry tradition in the English language can look to the ballad tradition, which was very deliberately preserved (but also to a considerable extent invented) in the modern period, between the 16th and 19th centuries, in Britain and then in America. That’s a tradition of oral poetry that has only very recently gone extinct, in the middle of the 20th century. You can listen to the last practitioners of it as a *living* tradition recorded in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and represented in Alan Lomax’s work.

            To try and recap some of what has been said here: Tolkien may have had one or both of two points or interest. In the first place, and what I judge to be totally legitimate, he may have had an interest in Anglo-Saxon culture and poetry etc for its own sake. Very good. His scholarship is to be praised, and not only because it gave us a good deal of his literary output, for which I trust we’re all grateful. But in the second place, he may have had a very modern and ideological interest in elevating a certain idea of Englishness, one tied to the Anglo-Saxons. This I find problematic in several ways, which I have already stated or alluded to, and I see no need to defend such a commitment on the great author’s part in order to celebrate him as a great author. It is important to be able to make such distinctions, or literature becomes the plaything of politics and actually loses its timeless quality while at the same time failing to honestly engage with and evoke the deep past. We are all subject to certain ideological shortcomings, and these will be determined by the times we live in and the places we live in. Even the most far-seeing writers operate within finite horizons, and Tolkien was no exception. I’m not saying that he was what is nowadays in America (and probably the UK) called a “bigot.” By no means. He was a refined and gracious man, by all accounts. What I am saying is that some of his thought, as Grant has presented it to us here, closely resembles thinking about race and place that was going on elsewhere in Europe in Tolkien’s youth and for a good while before, and which many people today, as well as in the aftermath of the cataclysms that shook Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, consider to have contributed to said cataclysms. So, that’s all I have to say about that. It’s worth saying, in my opinion, because it can be easy sometimes to exonerate fantasies of their political and ethical questionableness simply because they are fantastical. This is something I had to wrestle with in my scholarly work on an English poet I love dearly, Edmund Spenser (and, for what it’s worth, in a few intense conversations about Spenser in Irish pubs!).

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            The EETS edition of Caxton’s translation from the Dutch, The Historie of Reynart the Foxe, if I recall correctly, has some interesting discussion of words which might be Dutch or might at that time (1485) be found in Dutch and English.

            Having studied Old English at Harvard and Oxford, when I turn to Heliand and puzzle my way through (with the help of a recent English translation) it seems a lot like Old English to me, but I daresay more proper scholars and philologists than myself could instantly tell me in detail why they describe its language as Old Saxon. (I now rather kick myself that I did not take the courses in Old Saxon and Old Frisian at Oxford when I had the chance…)

            My wife, who is a Greek scholar as I am not, at the end of her course in school sat exams that included Homer as well as Plato.

            And I remember with fascination when Joseph Yehuda’s Hebrew is Greek (1982) appeared (though I have never got round to trying to read it!).

            Having learned Dutch better than any other of my ‘second languages’, but not well enough to read Shakespeare’s or Chaucer’s Dutch contemporaries as easily as I read Shakespeare or Chaucer, I am still fascinated to see how much closer to each other early forms of both languages often are in many respects, in vocabulary and grammar. Yet when I tried reading Old English (in my characteristic traditional Harvard pronunciation) to a small child familiar with both Dutch and English, the reaction was striking – and I take it reflected an apprehension that, whatever this was, it was neither the one nor the other.

            All of which is to say that those living things which are languages go on growing and changing and can be described in different ways (often with more or less controversy). I have, for better or worse, never dug into the history of the conventions of English usage in this context, but, pulling the only one I have to hand (rather than online) from the shelf, Henry Sweet’s The Student’s Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon (NY: Macmillan, 1897), I find him saying (p. vii), for example, “All Anglo-Saxon dictionaries contain words which are not Old-English, but belong to Transition-English (1100-1200), or even to Middle-English.”

            As to Tolkien and ‘Englishness’ (so to put it), it would have been fascinating to know what, if anything, he said when Lewis read out chapter 17 of That Hideous Strength at an Inklings meeting, and got to Dimble discussing Logres and Britain (and France and China) and “our haunting”. In any case, it is worth bearing in mind such things as Tolkien’s poem re. Williams’s use and treatment of Byzantium (printed in Carpenter’s The Inklings) and his remarks in late 1943 to his son Christopher about his own “political opinions” and “patriotism” and his love of “England” in Letters 52-53 and in the summer of 1944 in Letters 77-78 and about “all the confused ideas of race or nation” in Letter 81, and again about “patriotism” the next summer in Letter100.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        For something on Tolkien and a great gem of English Arthurian literature, see:

        https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2018/02/14/wood-woses-tolkiens-wild-men-and-the-green-knight-by-ethan-campbell/

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      • Grant says:

        I see what you are saying and do find some of both yours and David’s insights interesting, though I’m not sure I entirely agree. I would caution between drawing a parallel between the views of Tolkien of the importance of culture being rooted in it’s language (it’s history and develop), traditions, landscape (with the link with traditions, myths and meanings), locality and mythology that gave it the bones and how myth and language are joined and the history of this development with 19th century racial theories. I’m not sure this is what you are alluding to, but I suspect so, perhaps it my inadequate presentation that gave this impression in which case I apologise. I’m sure his view can still find criticism and indeed has often been so in academic circles, during both his lifetime and beyond, often very unfairly and with deliberate misrepresentation. He never really swam with mainstream academic option and often charted his own course often very much against the tide of contemporary opinion (often doing him no professional favours), but he had sometimes quite significant disagreements with a number of prevalent views at the time (and since since some still hold). He left his job for the Oxford English Dictionary for he’s University of Leeds chair with some relief and was well know for having strong disagreements with them over their origin of words (he was often more right 🙂 ). Personally I feel he had significant justification in a number of his views, and even today (partly because philology almost died out a practised academic discipline, with the aforementioned Tom Shippey being one of the important figures to bring the discipline back to to life) he is a philologist almost without peer in the depth of knowledge in English and number of other Germanic languages.

        Personally I’m more content to call the language Old English (just as Middle English and all it’s variations is called as compared to later forms of English to our own), just as with Attic Greek, Koine Greek, medieval Byzantine Greeks (I presume) and modern Greek. Sure they essentially become different languages as the languages evolve and change, but it seems silly to me to say that it isn’t Greek (except insofar as it’s not contemporary Greek), it is still an ancestral form the language and it’s native speakers were known as Greeks (in the versions of that word in the various languages of themselves and their contemporaries ). The same with English in my opinion, the people in this early medieval period that spoke it called themselves and their language(s) as English (in it words older versions), and most others tended to refer to ‘Anglo-Saxon’ inhabitants by the ancestral version of words that lie behind most modern European language’s words for English today (whether from Vulgate Latin into the Romance languages of Season in Welsh or Sassanach in Scots Gaelic, as this only refers to English not to say Saxons of Saxony). To me, if they understood themselves to be called English, and were understood as that, they are English though obviously quite different from the English of today (but then so are the English of the 1200-1500s, in some ways less so but it’s still another country, another language even as with earlier times it remains connected with, having continuity with and embedded in our current language and culture in complex and mysterious ways). I don’t down Anglo-Saxon will remain the main norm by which English of the medieval period will be called in academic circles, but to me that is mostly just a modern tradition of academy itself, the things that often tend to happen in insular cultures that are academia and their fades, personally I don’t constrained by it or wholly accepting of it (but then I’ve long been outside of academia). So to be fair, you nomenclature would usually be considered more correct, but I think I more with Tolkien on this for a good or ill 🙂 , still in my opinion his company isn’t a bad place to be caught in on the whole. And as I suggested Tolkien was not uncritical at all of English culture both Old and current, the hobbit culture displays both what he saw as praiseworthy in late 19th/early 20th century rural culture as well as a well-meaning critique of English provincialism, short-sightedness, suspicious and dislike of foreigners, pettiness and small-mindedness (I’ve already alluded to problems he felt with Old English/Anglo-Saxon period).

        He saw this and also saw the disappearance during his lifetime of many old traditions that had ancient roots been lost before his eyes and people abandoned them unthinkingly or thought little of them until to late, but this is story hardly limited to the cultures of the UK, to many areas during the 20th century much has been lost rather then retaining what was good in such things. The attraction of the new and shiny, we were all like magpies during the last century I believe, oh well, what is done is done.

        To close, I would also say it depends what period you talking about when you say that during the period called Anglo-Saxon those people only covered a portion of the area now known as England. 6th-(most of) the 8th centuries you would be correct, those much less so in the last. Offa of Mercia essentially saw the border with the Welsh kingdoms (and so Wales) become mostly what it already is, even establishing his dyke to mark that territory. Northumbria had also taken most if not all what is now northern England (and what is now eastern southern Scotland) just prior to the Danish conquest), before and during Alfred the Great’s reign Wessex had come to the river Tamar leaving only Cornwall remain, and that was conquered by Alfred (due in part to the Cornish understandably allying with the Danes against their great threat of Wessex). And under his son Æthelred both the Danelaw was re-taken (and England became one kingdom) and defeated a united force of Danes, Picts, Scots and Welsh) and saw England essentially in the same size as it is now, though slightly larger. It would remain in it’s current for more or less through the next rulers, Sweyn Forrkbeard and Cnut’s takeover, and then Edward the Confessor and Harold until William and the Normans to over at and following Hastings in 1066. So in reference to later centuries it would be as I see it on the whole correct to say it did not politically cover the territory we now know as England (just as we would have to apply distinctions when talking about the Scots from the early centuries as Dal-Raida Irish settlers in the western parts of present day Scotland to their eventual ascendancy taking over both the Picts and other cultures of the Caledonian Highlands as well as the north Britons or north Welsh of a kingdom we only know as Stratheclyde now, it’s own name being lost to the mists of history).

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  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Music is characterized by sequence (in the general sense, ‘one after the other’), but the Ainulindalë is also characterized by a Vision – like a famous letter of Mozart’s (which Tolkien may have known)?

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  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I just encountered an intriguing passage to juxtapose here in Novalis’s “Die Christenheit oder Europa” (in Charles E. Passage’s 1960 translation): “the hatred of religion extended itself quite naturally and consistently to all objects of enthusiasm. It made imagination and emotion heretical, as well as morality and the love of art, the future and the past. With some difficulty it placed man first in the order of created things, and reduced the infinite creative music of the universe to the monotonous clatter of a monstrous mill, which, driven by the stream of chance and floating thereon, was supposed to be a mill in the abstract, without Builder or Miller, in fact an actual perpetuum mobile, a mill that milled of itself.” Compare what Melkor gets up to, musically and later!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    By the way, Fr. Aidan, can you tell us more about the manuscript reproduced and the Quenya text quoted in transcription, in the first article?

    A discussion of the musical terminology would extend interestingly to the Quenya ‘original’, even if that would take a lot of explaining to most of us…!

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  10. Jonathan says:

    So there’s this specific musical form called a fantasy. . . No but seriously, I’ll stop now.

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  11. David Llewellyn Dodds says:
  12. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I’ve read that Tolkien’s favorite composer was Sibelius.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Makes sense in terms of the music. Also, he was kind of obsessed with Finnish. It wasn’t that long before Tolkien’s day that Lonnrot (I’m probably missing a couple of umlauts there) put together the ‘Kalevala’ and that kind of non-Indo-European mythography had more influence on Tolkien’s world-building and storytelling, as compared to the Old Norse and Celtic stuff (which were of course hugely influential), than people sometimes realize.

      You know who else loved any kind of mythos associated with large mysterious snow-laden forests and knew all these languages? Longfellow. He of ‘Hiawatha’ fame, which poem I understand previous generations of Americans had to memorize in quantity. There but for the grace of God went JRRT.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        We know that Tolkien heard Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s ‘The Death of Minnehaha’ in 1912 (which the delightful LongfellowChorus channel on YouTube makes possible for all of the rest of us!). And John Garth, who made this widely known, also has a very interesting article including note of what Tolkien said about Longfellow and the possible interrelations of Longfellow’s Hiawatha and some of Tolkien’s early work:

        http://muse.jhu.edu/article/562214

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jonathan says:

          Oh, this is fantastic! Well done! And let me admit here and now that I secretly enjoy Longfellow. After all, he gave my hometown her epithet, Queen of the West. Anyway I enjoy his poetry more than I ought.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I’ve learned to enjoy it despite a fourth-grade teacher who loved it not wisely but too well and rather scared me off for quite a while by the contours of her enthusiasm! He’s varied and vivid and there’s a lot to enjoy – including his translation of Dante, as far as I’ve sampled it!

            There’s a really fun free audiobook (to my taste, anyway) of The Song of Hiawatha read by an Englishman, Peter Yearsley, at LibriVox.org

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  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Fr Mark Christian has pointed me to this passage from the first volume of Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology:

    God’s beauty is the actual living exchange between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as this exchange is perfect simply as exchange, as it *sings*. The harmony of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the triune perichoresis, transcends its character as goodness because it has no purpose beyond itself, being itself God. And the harmony of a discourse thus taken for itself and for the sake of itself, is its beauty, its aesthetic entity.

    Correspondingly, our enjoyment of God is that we are taken into the triune singing. Perhaps we may say that we are allowed to double the parts. And here too we must insist on concreteness. That the proclamation and prayer of the church regularly bursts into beauty, indeed seems to insist on music and choreography and setting, is not an adventitious hankering to decorate. A congregation singing a hymn of praise to the Father is doubling the Son’s praise, and the surge of rhythm and melody is the surge of the Spirit’s glorification of the Father and the Son. … We close the doctrine of God with this evocation of God’s being, beyond which there is no more to say: God is a great *fugue*. There is nothing capacious as a fugue. (pp. 235-236)

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  14. Jonathan says:

    To bring this back round to the original ideas, can anyone recommend any work on the theology and metaphysics of music such as it was conceived before the modern period? I’m more or less familiar with the quasi-mystical philosophy and aesthetics of ‘absolute music’ as the idea was evolved in the 18th and 19th centuries, but music as a cosmic idea obviously goes back much deeper in the past and much further afield than the Certified Company of Germans Who Thought Hard. Does anyone have any recommendations of scholarship or source books in Pythagorean traditions of conceiving music, for example, or then again, treatments of music as it appears in the kind of literature that was inspiring to Tolkien? We of course do not have any music from the cultures that produced, say, Beowulf or the sagas, not really. But music is always being talked about in just about every literature. For instance the Kalevala, as I remember, starts out with a reference to singing, just as does Homer. Much of this has to do with orality of poetry, as has been mentioned already, but I wonder if there’s more to it and if anyone has written anything interesting on the historical and literary relationship between music and mythology/cosmogony.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      James L. Miller’s Measures of Wisdom: The Cosmic Dance in Classical and Christian Antiquity (Visio : Studies in the Relations of Art and Literature I) (UTorontoP, 1986) might be interesting in this context – if you have access to a good (academic) library. He was one of the people who taught me Old English, and as a graduate student job I went through all 55 volumes of Analecta Hymnica collecting possibly useful examples for this book when he was working on it – yet (it taking another four or five years to appear) I got out of touch, lost sight of it, and have yet to read the ‘finished product’ myself!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Jonathan says:

    And in reference to the topic of early English history, or let’s say rather the deep history of the whole island of Great Britain and not only of the Anglo-Saxons, though them too, some 20th century poets come to mind and seem to me worth mentioning. There was Tolkien’s contemporary and co-religionist as well as fellow-veteran of the Great War, David Jones. A fascinating poet, in my opinion his masterpiece is The Anathemata, one of the very great poems in the English language (well, mostly in English, there’s more than a little Latin and especially Welsh in there too, and these additions make for a splendid musicality in the text, one that perhaps bears some strutural resemblance to Tolkien’s use of invented language). And there’s Geoffrey Hill. I can’t say much about him, because he’s largely incomprehensible to me, but I can say he’s interesting to some people, and his Mercian Hymns are wonderful, I know that much at least. Finally, I should mention George Mackay Brown, a Scot (and another Catholic, he by way of conversion), or perhaps I’m supposed to say an Orcadian. GMB never really left the Orkney Islands of his birth. He wrote a very interesting and musical poetry from his interest in the archaic life of that place. These three men dug deep in their places or ancestries to produce their art, perhaps in a way similar to the genesis of Tolkien’s art. If people are interested in that line of the conversation here, and enjoy challenging modern poetry, they are not to be missed. I really think someone should write on Jones and Tolkien together. Modernist poetics and fantasy fiction are not usually put together in academic circles, which maybe shows you something about what’s wrong with academia, but those two really harmonize together.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      There are some fascinating connections between David Jones and three Inklings, all of which may have been explained by now, but I have not seen the explanations, if so. Lewis mentions The Anathemata in his inaugural lecture in Cambridge, De descriptione temporum, while Jones includes a reference to Tolkien in his acknowledgements in The Anathemata – without further details. Jones wrote a review article about Charles Williams’s Arthurian poetry and Lewis’s commentary on it, and we know Williams read Jones’s earlier great work, In Parenthesis, in proof, and had invited Jones to the performance of his Canterbury Festival play about Cranmer.

      I have only lately seen all sorts of interesting things by, with, and about David Jones on YouTube, including this splendid sample of his poetry:

      and another in this introduction by his biographer:

      I’m always meaning to read more George Mackay Brown and Geoffrey Hill, and would also recommend Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts (and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the revival of Sydney Goodsir Smith’s The Wallace, a Triumph in Five Acts at the Edinburgh Festival back in the day).

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Also well worth listening to is the late Sir Geoffrey Hill’s last lecture as Professor of Poetry at Oxford, in good part about Charles Williams:

        [audio src="http://media.podcasts.ox.ac.uk/engfac/poetry/2015-05-05_engfac_hill.mp3" /]

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      • Jonathan says:

        Ah yes, Briggflatts. I should have mentioned that as well. I am a great fan, though I do think the others went deeper in their thought and history, that Bunting was more superficial his interest being more purely in the musicality of his poetry. (He also had some wider-ranging historical interests, such as in Japan.) That said, his musicality might, at least in places, be superior or more heightened to anything in the others’ work. He is trendier, I suppose, more the iconic modernist.

        I think Faber is reissuing Jones’ books. And about time, too. David Bentley Hart just reviewed a new biography of Jones, I think, in First Things.

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          My impression of David Jones (whom I’ve read most of, of these poets) is also that he “went deeper in [his] thought and history”.

          And, thanks for the tip! I enjoyed “the first of [my] three free articles for the month”, DBH’s review. I agree with him that among the reprinted books “The Sleeping Lord, if nothing else, affords the uninitiated a taste of Jones’s lyrical voice and of his imaginative range.” It might be best to try first. And (which I think he implies) that In Parenthesis (about the Great War) is also probably easier to read before The Anathemata. The two collections of essays, also reprinted, Epoch and Artist, and the subsequently published book, The Dying Gaul and Other Writings, might make for an even easier first acquaintance.

          About The Anathemata he says, “In a sense, it is a long meditation on all the differing dimensions of Britain’s particular praeparatio evangelica, and on the power of the Mass to make all those dimensions present again in sacramental anamnesis.”

          Reading that after our comments back and forth, and especially what Grant says about Eriol and Ælfwine, it strikes me that Tolkien is perhaps peculiarly imagining the Anglo-Saxon or English dimension of Britain’s particular praeparatio evangelica as indebted to contact with the Elves and through the Elves those of the Ainur who became Valar.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Your last paragraph, David, is intriguing and, I imagine, correct, in that I could see Tolkien thinking and working that way. The thing is, as far as I understand the history — I welcome correction here — the Saxon/English element of Britain was Christianized by the Britonnic/Celtic. The evangelical preparation of the archipelago off the northwest coast of Eurasia would seem to have been initiated by the Celtic population residing therein during the latter phase of its own “heroic” period. Though it was a mixed effort: Wasn’t there famously a Northumbrian king who was trying to observe the Latin liturgical calendar while his wife was observing something more Hibernian, with the result that one of them was fasting while the other was feasting? Then again, perhaps the Celts simply are the Elves (at least to the Sassenach) and the silly “Irish bar” down the street from me (down the street from half of America) boasts more wisdom than it knows. . .

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          • Jonathan says:

            David, pardon my reaching into the extremities of literary obscurity here, but you might appreciate this. It occurs to me that we might profitably think of Tolkien in conversation with certain slightly earlier poets. I have in mind extravagant Victorian stylists like Robert Bridges and the greatest and weirdest of them all, Charles Doughty. His epic The Dawn in Britain is an antecedent (however much disowned) of the work of Jones and Pound. (I happen to love both Bridges and Doughty.) And the more I think about it, this delving deep into history and coming up with, among other things, a fiercely archaic yet somewhat invented English style is a trend you can also pick out in the developing genre of fantasy fiction through the twentieth century, from Lord Dunsany and E R Eddison (known and respected by the Inklings) through Jack Vance and R A Lafferty and Gene Wolfe.

            I don’t really know where I’m going with this. Could be I’ve opened a treacherous and too deep a vein, and soon the Balrog will emerge.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            There seem (as far as I’ve read) to be in some sense various distinct Christianizings of pagan Anglo-Saxon/English (Jutish, Frisian, etc.) ‘newcomers’ by Christians already in Britain, by Christianized Irish/Scoti, and by missionaries from the Continent.

            I’ve just lately watched the 2004 three-part documentary Britain AD: King Arthur’s Britain on YouTube thanks to Timeline – World History Documentaries who have licensed it to present there. I’d like to know a lot more about its sources, the work of the scholars interviewed and so on, and some of it does not sound so different from things I heard discussed when I was studying Roman-British archaeology formally decades ago, but it is very interesting.

            Yes, the ‘Celtic'(-like) character of the Elves is an intriguing element… and it occurs to me that very interesting questions arise (which I cannot immediately recall Tolkien discussing anywhere) if Elves are having contact with either pagan or Christian Anglo-Saxons (or other human beings) after the Incarnation. I wonder if St. Anthony’s experience as recounted by St. Jerome in his Life of St. Paul the Hermit (ch. 8) might offer any parallels. He ” sees a mannikin with hooked snout, horned forehead, and extremities like goats’ feet” and “asked who he was. The answer he received from him was this: ‘I am a mortal being and one of those inhabitants of the desert whom the Gentiles deluded by various forms of error worship under the names of Fauns, Satyrs, and Incubi. I am sent to represent my tribe. We pray you in our behalf to entreat the favour of your Lord and ours, who, we have learned, came once to save the world, and “whose sound has gone forth into all the earth.” ‘ “

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            As to such styles and dictions and undertakings variously antecedent to and contemporary with the Inklings, that is a very interesting matter to which I have not properly given enough thought! Charles Doughty – it seems ages since I’ve thought of him, and I’ve never properly read him – or much of Bridges (though I like what I’ve read, though, again, when it’s in his special spelling I do not find the going as easy). When I think of Wagner’s making a sort of ancient German to write the Ring in (if that’s a fair way of putting it), I wonder who-all did similar things in English – whether for original work or (verse) translations aspiring to give as close a sense of their originals as possible? And then there is the whole fascinating dimension of Tolkien’s work as modern English translations of Westron and Adûnaic and various Elven-language sources.

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          • Jonathan says:

            Well I think Spenser is the grandfather and patron saint of archaism in English-language fantasy. I am also susceptible to arguments that, thanks to the geography of his Fairy Land, his epic romance is the first “modern” fantasy.

            For Doughty, I love his Travels in Arabia Deserta. I don’t think it’s humanly possible to read The Dawn in Britain all the way through. William Morris is, with George McDonald, usually given as standing at the source of modern (as in, later modern) fantasy, and he wrote in a consciously archaic English. Americans of the 19th and 20th century generally didn’t go in for that kind of thing, seeing as they conceived themselves as something new under the sun, but you could read Melville and Faulkner and that whole line of American writing as archaizing and, if not fantastical, at least quasi-allegorical.

            About Tolkien as a “translator” of Elvish… That is a fascinating topic. I can’t speak to it here beyond relating anecdotally that there is a humorous moment in Gene Wolfe’s fantasy masterpiece, The Book of the New Sun, where the narrator remarks wryly on the difficulty of translating from a language that has not yet come into existence. The series is set in the far future and is therefore, like Tolkien’s fantasy, actually about the earth, a way of speaking about creation through sub-creation.

            Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            You’re quite right about Spenser and Morris. Tennyson’s translation of a bit of Beowulf having come to mind, searching about I (re)encountered this fascinating list by Marijane Osborn which had somehow quite slipped it:

            https://acmrs.org/academic-programs/online-resources/beowulf-list

            Longfellow, too!

            It would be fun to run various of these down for a first (or another) look!

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        • Grant says:

          On Tolkien posing his works as translations from one of his Elvish dialects this is indeed the frame of some versions of the Silmarillion (and associated material) in which Ælfwine (which unlike Eriol before him would have seen Christianzed early English be in contact with the Elves at least through this figure) the mariner who seeks out and finds Tol Eressëa (fleeing attacking Danes) finds and learns their stories. And when he wishes to record the stories the elves write them out (I’m not sure if Rumil was the scribe or a more ancient source) so he can translate them (the seem to find the idea fascinating and quite fun). Furthermore, Tolkien wrote some of these works in Old English, some of which he then translates into modern English.

          A Christopher Tolkien did come to feel that his father did intend the Silmarillion when it would be published in later years to have been composed by Bilbo Baggins (they being the three books of Elvish lore he gives to Frodo I think), but without firm statement from his father before he died decided not to include that introduction when he published the Silmarillion (though he later regretted not including that frame to the work as he states in The Lost Tales Book 1). The Hobbit itself (at least as a work brought into his larger mythology with LOTR as opposed to a somewhat independent work that re-used similar concepts) Bilbo again becomes the narrator (with possibility it being imagined as a translation of that earlier work), and any discrepancies between itself and the LOTR (particularly the 1st edition, such as Bilbo and Gollum resolving their differences quick amicably and Gollum showing him the way out) being put down to Bilbo bending the truth (and thus an effect of the Ring in this case). Some of this was latter changed with the next two editions to bring the Hobbit more in line with LOTR and the larger mythology it was now firmly brought into.

          He also during the later years felt more uncomfortable with some things such as the Sun and Moon myths (believing that the Elves would know our modern cosmology) and felt that the legends would be best understood as human distortions of that part of the Elven mythos (or bad translations 🙂 ). Probably in the end he might have changed them altogether, though the Númenor storyline was an earlier step to reconcile the later state of things with the earlier more mythological depiction of the work (with the bending of the world and the drawing of Valinor away from the mortal realm into the unseen world, which can be only reached by the Straight Road (in which Men could not reach but if sailed would only come back upon themselves as the world as now a sphere (at least to them). I often wonder what that version would have been like, and how other things would have been altered and adapted to fit, it’s interesting to think about.

          And the English and Picts both were mostly Christianized by the ‘Celtic’ church, though this was mostly Irish missionaries (both mainlain Ireland and Dal-Raida Scots) such as St.Columba or St.Aiden (of Lindisfarne fame) and St.Cuthbert who succeeded him. There was the mission of St.Augustine from Pope Gregory the Great to the kingdom of Kent and it’s king King Æthelberht, particularly because he had a Christian wife in Bertha (daughter of Charibert I King of Paris), which did succeed (Æthelberht converted and St.Augustine became the first bishop of Canterbury (later Archbishop). This created the situation you mentioned with two different liturgical calendars operating among the English kingdoms particularly split between north and south (leading to the Synod of Whitby to resolve the matter).

          Liked by 2 people

          • Jonathan says:

            Æthelbert! I knew it!

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            One has (since I got it somewhere) the impression that the P-Celts like St. Patrick succeeded in bringing the Good News to the Q-Celts in Ireland and they brought it on to the Q-Celts (Scoti) in the islands and the north and on the Anglo-Saxons, without there being written records of much successful contact between the Christian P-Celts and the pagan Anglo-Saxons further south – which I think that Britain AD: King Arthur’s Britain documentary is trying to correct with reference to evidence of peaceful contacts.

            Then again there is also something Tolkien attends to at some stage(s) of his (re)telling, the Battle of Heavenfield, about which the Wikipediast justly observes, “An alliance between Cadwallon of Gwynedd and King Penda of Mercia had led to an invasion of Northumbria. This was an odd alliance between a Christian king of Brythonic descent and a pagan king of Anglian descent.”

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          • Grant says:

            Yes, it does seem much of the attempt to evangelize the early English came from Irish church, with not to much done by the British church. We know that St. Gildas in On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain (in which he analyses the history of the Britons since Rome’s governance had effectively ceased to be to his day through a theological perspective using the Old Testament as a model, in which the unfaithfulness of the Britons and their civil wars lead to the ravaging of the island and the loss of eastern territory in order to warn and exhort his present readers, in particularly five ‘tyrants’ who are continuing these these terrible sins and practices, to avoid a worse fate) talks about the present state the Britons found themselves after having won the last conflict with the incoming proto-English. Here he laments the partition of the island following Badon, that though foreign wars have ceased (as far as he knew at least) there were martyr’s sites (such as St.Alban) that could no longer be venerated. This seems to imply from his perspective at the early 6th century AD little contact, nor desire of contact with the nascent English, and no sense from his writing of a desire to evangelize the invaders.

            And later with St. Augustine we know there were some tense meeting with the British church over both Easter (when it is calculated), the pope authority and evangelising the English in which the Britons did not agree with St.Augustine and not apparently showing much desire to evangelize those who conquered much of what was their island (apparently St.Augustine prophesied their further defeats because of this, but this may well be retrospectively put in due to what happened later).

            Still things are complicated, very early in the 5th century the arising of the early English territories (no less than British kingdoms) is very murky with little evidence how such formations happened. St.Gildas mentions a ‘supreme tyrant or ruler’ invited 3 boats of Saxons across to help him and the Britons fight off a Pictish invasion. This ‘supreme tyrant’ whoever he was is the historical figure behind Vortigern of Arthurian and Welsh legend (first appearing under that name with St.Bede in his Ecceslastical History of the English People, who was mostly using St.Gildas), though St.Gildas doesn’t mention the names either of the leaders of these ‘three boats’ though later tradition named them the legendary Hengest and Horsa, which later rebelled against the Britons. But we don’t know who wide either ‘supreme tyrant’s authority was or his actual status, and we don’t know the full status of the ‘three boats’, it’s likely they were one significant arrival with a number of others, being settled in a manner similar to federate troops or people. This was a situation that happened throughout late Western Roman Empire, settling incoming Germanic people’s in land given to them for them help defeat the Empire, presumably the civiltas of the diocese of Britannia were fully a similar practice. We do know Roman titles endured a long time among the Britons (St Germancus encountering people bearing such titles a tribune for example in the 550’s during is visit to Britain to combat Pelagianism that was strong there (unsuprising as Pelagius was of British origin), and know Roman towns endured in some cases well into 6th century, if wood began to replace stone and brick for building materials in a number of areas, and a 6th century moment for one Voteporigis in Dyfed (now Wales) written in Latin and Irish Ogham script calls him by the Roman honourific Protictoris (this is quite possibly also one Voteporius who is one of the five tyrants which St.Gildas castigates for his murderous and warlike ways).

            How the English structured themselves early on we can’t be sure, and it might much more complicated them just rebelling or invading at least early on, perhaps being more a party in a particular area that took power with which at least in some areas the proto-English group supported or lead. It is interesting for example that Wessex’s royal tree is marked as beginning with one Cerdic (which is a Brittonic derived name) which whether this person was a actual historical figure or not, the inclusion of a British name is an interesting feature that is unlikely to be a later addition and hints at more complex events in the 5th century. This is more so when we find not that much evidence in the archaeological record for a great burning and destruction of towns that St.Gildas refers to when the proto-English troops first rebelled and called fellows over the sea. He paints a picture of near total destruction, however no evidence of mass burning or abandonment has been found (unlike for example Boudica’s revolt which has appeal evidence for large-scale burning and destruction in the Roman towns and cities in her forces path). We also know genetically most long-term inhabits of areas of England have majority of their genetic material that is in continuity with those inhabiting the island long before Angles, Jutes and Saxons came (even though their and Danish presence is often seen in the genes of the long-term inhabitants of England). So images of large scale genocide or forced expulsion are likely highly exaggerated by St.Gildas (whether knowingly or not) for effect.

            This also makes the relationships and political alliances potentially quite complicated, the conflicts of the 5th century could have been as much a part of a civil wars as it was foreign invasion (even as it lead to cultural and linguistic replacement of the native British culture with that of the forming English one, with often only slight traces of Brittonnic influence on the Old English language evident, and Latin influence seems mostly from the Church).

            And as the situation you reference concerning Cadwallon’s invasion and attack on Northumbria with Penda, it is clear things weren’t always so clearly down ethnic lines in these conflicts, with Briton kings allying with English and vis versa were it might be advantageous for them or suite the objectives they had. Northumbria for example had a long standing friendship for quite a while with the emerging Scotland (the Dal-Riada territory) from which the missionaries had come, and which had sheltered Oswald while he was in exile, the same who would go on to defeat Cadwallon). What is true is that Cadwallon would mark the last time Gwynedd would be able to project it’s power across the island (and in which a British or Welsh king would be the senior partner in an alliance with an English kingdom) and probably ruled in the same territory as the one St.Gildas identified as both the most powerful of his ‘tyrants’ and the one he felt most saddened over (as this one had originally entered the monastic life and had promising, and it is quite possible St.Gildas knew him personally). This is one Maglocunus, the dragon of the island, later remembered in Welsh tradition as Maelgwn Gwynedd, probably when Gwynedd was the or one of the most powerful territories in Britain.

            But yes, it does seem while things more much more complicated that perhaps either St.Gildas, St.Bede or later tradition reflects, the British church while playing a big part in evangelizing Ireland played little part in evangelizing the English peoples.

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  16. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Jonathan, David, Grant, and all other readers: you will find this series of articles by Jonathan McIntosh of great interest: “The Music of the Ainur.” There are some four dozen articles in this series.

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    • Jonathan says:

      This is pure gold. I might have to buy McIntosh’s book. The metaphysics of Faerie is a topic close to my heart. My MFA thesis (the critical portion of it) is on the metaphysics of fiction.

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  17. Fr. Kimel,

    Are you planning on expanding this series out into ‘Valaquenta’, or the addendum text in the Silmarillion, ‘Akallabeth’ that deals with the fall of Numenor? These would be fantastic companions to your work here. BTW the comments have been pure gold!

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you, Jedidiah, for your kind comment. No, I do not plan, at this time, to write beyond the Ainulindale at this time. I foresee one more article in this series, and then it will be off to something else.

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  18. Jonathan says:

    Tolkien was apparently working on an Arthurian poem. I have just checked it out from the library. In his edition, Christopher Tolkien includes an essay on the relationship between this poem and the Silmarillion. . .

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