Thursday 19 May 2011

Thoughts on reading about Ents

I have been running late with just about everything this month (for an explanation, see the latest edition of my  Tolkien Transactions), including reading the April issue of Mythprint (vol. 48 no. 4, whole no. 345) — the bulletin of the Mythopoeic Society.

The first article is about Ents, “Tolkien's Ents: Sylvan and Pagan Influences” by Professor Fernando Cid Lucas and translated by the editor, Jason Fisher.

The first thing that caught my attention (that is, it took my attention away from reading the text) was the description of the topic of the article as ‘the Ents (or tree-men).’ It was the use of ‘tree-men’ that caught my eye: why ‘tree-men’ rather than ‘man-trees’ or some other phrase? Of course I can't know what Professor Lucas wrote in the original (presumably Spanish) text, but I was strongly reminded of Gamling's words in The Lord of the Rings when he speaks of ‘these half-orcs and goblin-men that the foul craft of Saruman has bred’ (LotR, book III,7 ‘Helm's Deep’), and in particular of Tolkien's description in text X of ‘Myths Transformed’ in Morgoth's Ring when he speaks of Saruman committing his vilest deed in ‘the interbreeding of Orcs and Men, producing both Men-orcs large and cunning, and Orc-men treacherous and vile.

What is the difference between Men-orcs and Orc-men?

The ‘large and cunning’ as opposed to ‘treacherous and vile’ makes me think that the Men-orcs were probably the Uruks of Isengard, while the Orc-men probably were of the same kind as the Southener the four hobbits and Aragorn saw in Bree. But is my reasoning correct, and can this be presumed to follow common usage — I can't say.

In Danish, I would say that the last part of the compound word is the most important, that this is the base that is modified by the prefixing of other words (we don't use hyphens or spaces in our compounds, which occasionally creates some very special compound words such as ‘sporvognsskinneskidtskraber’ — tram rail dirt scraper). If the same is the case in English (Tolkien's usage in Morgoth's Ring would at least suggest that the last part signified which of the parent creatures the half-breeds most closely resembled physically), then the legend of the Ent and the Eagles (The Silmarillion, part III chapter 2 ‘Of Aulë and Yavanna’ or The War of the Jewels part 3 chapter VI  ‘Of the Ents and the Eagles’) would suggest that it was better to say ‘Man-trees’ of the Ents.

Having now spent this much space splitting hairs on a single term, let me say a few things about the main thrust of the article.

The article posits the so called Green Man tradition as well as the possibly related Jack-in-the-green tradition as influencing Tolkien's concept of the Ents. This in itself is hardly controversial (even if the article doesn't mention that the term ‘Green Man’ was coined by Lady Raglan and published in the journal Folklore in 1939, not long after Tolkien had started writing The Lord of the Rings and before he got to the giant Treebeard), and it does leave me slightly disappointed as there was nothing new for me to learn about the Green Man, Jack-in-the-green, Tolkien or Ents. I am probably slightly better versed in matters of English folklore than the average Dane, but the readership of Mythprint are the members of the Mythopoeic Society, whom I would assume to be familiar with both the Green Man and Jack-in-the-green at the level at which they are dealt with in this article (this may not have been the case for an original Spanish-reading audience).

I am not as such averse to source-criticism, but I do believe that it must contribute more than just a source. A source is, to me, uninteresting if it doesn't tell me something new about the thing, the author, or perhaps even the source itself. In this case I think that there are several routes that could be pursued if the article had been a little longer — could, for instance, the symbolisms of fertility and growth that are present in both the Green Man and Jack-in-the-green help us understand the Ents? We do see the growth aspect realized in Merry and Pippin when they drink the Ent-draughts, so could we use the fertility / spring-rebirth aspects of these figures to learn something about the Ents and their role in Tolkien's stories and in Middle-earth?  Or could we use our knowledge of the Ents to say something about what Tolkien may have believed about the Green Man?

And how is this related to the etymology of Ent? The word is cognate with Norse jotunn which were the opponents of the Aesir in the Norse mythology, and at least some of the jotunn were clearly personifications of natural forces (e.g. Surtr who is the jötunn of fire and heat). Is there a synergy to be found here that might tell us more about the role of Ents in Middle-earth?

So, all in all this was, in my view, a very promising article that was unfortunately cut too short, stopping without fulfilling the promise. I hope that Professor Lucas will take up the topic again with an eye to how the sources may inform our understanding of the Ents or some other angle that will teach us something new.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Tolkien Transactions XII

Tolkien Transactions XII
April 2011

This issue of my summary of Tolkien related ‘goings-on’ on the 'net is long overdue. The delay is, I hope, fully explained by the fact that I came back from my Easter holidays (spent off-line in camp) to the announcement that Nokia is closing down all R&D activities in Copenhagen during 2012, which includes my own job. Popping up to the surface again after this announcement, and catching up with everything else, has unfortunately taken me until now.

For this reason, I have also chosen to limit myself rather more than usual, and to occasionally pass on a link merely with a headline and no further description of the contents. The items, however, still have to fulfill the three strict criteria: 1: it has some relevance to Tolkien, 2: I have seen it, and 3: I've decided that it's interesting enough to pass it on here.

As always, disclaimers apply about newness, completeness and relevance (or any other implication of responsibility) :-)

= = = = News = = = =

Tyler Kepner, N.Y. Times, Saturday, 30 April 2011, ‘R.A. Dickey's Well-Named Arsenal’
Along with this piece:
Ben Yakas, Monday, 8 May 2011, ‘Is This The Greatest NY Times Correction Of All Time?’
Just a bit of a laugh, really ;-)

Josh Vogt, Monday, 18 April 2011, ‘Open enrollment for online courses on J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle Earth’
Not really sure that I want to advertise this — mostly because I'll be terribly envious of anyone who do participate in Dimtra Fimi's on-line courses from the University of Wales :-)

John di Bartolo, Tuesday, 19 April 2011, ‘ More than a remnant of the faithful!’

= = = = Essays and Scholarship = = = =

BC, Saturday, 9 April 2011, ‘Tolkien's Notion Club Papers completed... (a speculative treatment)’
Bruce Charlton here gives his best guess at how a hypothetical finished version of the Notion Club Papers might have looked like. Interesting idea with some clever commentary regardless of whether one agrees or not.

JF, Thursday, 14 April 2011, ‘Umlaut and Tolkien’
If you think that the Germanic i-mutation is a challenge, then Jason's essay, complete with examples from Tolkien's work, is a great help.

BC, Thursday, 14 April 2011, ‘Tolkien as a Lucid Dreamer of Faery’
A bit speculative, I'd say, but still possible . . . 1

JF, Wednesday, 20 April 2011, ‘Early responses to “Goblin Feet”’
Very interesting!

BC, Thursday, 28 April 2011, ‘Can *elves* repent?’

JF, Friday, 29 April 2011, ‘Ye, Yea, Yay, Yeah’
Jason lays down the law regarding ye, yea, yay and yeah — and nay, ye need not fear that I am kidding you (even more oddly it appears that ye / you swapped sense, gramatically, in the change from Middle English to (Early-ish) Modern English — my use is, I believe, Middle English).

= = = = Announcements and Reviews = = = =

H&S, Sunday, 10 April 2011, ‘The Art of _The Hobbit_’
Perhaps the most important bit of news this April — Wayne and Christina will be publishing a book titled The Art of "The Hobbit". From the comments it is evident that I am not the only one looking very much forward to this book. See also
H&S, Friday, 15 April 2011, ‘The Hobbit 75th Anniversary’

Josh Vogt, Tuesday, 19 April 2011, ‘The Tolkien Professor announces upcoming Exploring the Hobbit book’
Another promising-looking book coming out in association with the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit.

PC, Tuesday, 26 April 2011, ‘The History of the Hobbit: Revised and Updated One Volume Edition’

PC, Wednesday, 27 April 2011, ‘Tolkien publications for 2011 by Harper Collins - Q&A with David Braw’

= = = = Other Stuff = = = =

JF, Tuesday, 5 AprilL 2011, ‘Another last-minute conference schedule’
Anyone knowing the annual Tolkien conference at the University of Vermont? Anyone who knows of a report of this year's conference?

Sean Kirst, Thursday, 7 April 2011, ‘Tolkien Reading Day 2011: Green trees, great books, old friends’
A report from a Tolkien Reading Day event.

JDR, Tuesday, 12 April 2011, ‘A Day at Marquette’
One day I'd like to be able to spend a day — or maybe a few — doing Tolkien research at the Marquette . . .

JF, Wednesday, 13 April 2011, ‘A Description of C.S. Lewis's Lost Aeneid’

AK, Friday, 15 April 2011, ‘EXCLUSIVE: Q&A Interview with Dr. Dimitra Fimi’
A moderately interesting interview with links to some very interesting articles by Fimi, a couple of which are available for free.

LS, Saturday, 16 April 2011, ‘A Small Tolkienish/Old English thang’

DB, Thursday, 28 April 2011, ‘it's the bashers again’
David Bratman responds to the claim of ‘racial essentializing’ of The Lord of the Rings. All I can say is ‘Well said!’ Or, in Danish, ‘Godt brølt, løve!’ (Well roared, lion!)

BC, Saturday, 30 April 2011, ‘NCPs and The Dark Tower by C.S. Lewis’
A comment on the possible connections between Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers and Lewis' posthumously published The Dark Tower.

= = = = Web Sites = = = =

Middle-earth Network

My Middle-earth

Middle-earth News

= = = = Sources = = = =

John D. Rateliff (JDR) — ‘Sacnoth's Scriptorium’

Jason Fisher (JF) — ‘Lingwë — Musings of a Fish’

Michael Drout (MD) — ‘Wormtalk and Slugspeak’

Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull (H&S) — ‘Too Many Books and Never Enough’

Pieter Collier (PC) — ‘The Tolkien Library’

Douglas A. Anderson (DAA) et Al. — ‘Wormwoodiana’

Corey Olsen (CO), ‘The Tolkien Professor’

David Bratman (DB), ‘Calimac’

Larry Swain (LS), ‘The Ruminate’

‘Wellinghall’, ‘Musings of an Aging Fan’

Various, ‘The Northeast Tolkien Society’ (NETS), ‘Heren Istarion’

Bruce Charlton (BC), ‘Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers’

Andrew Higgins (AH), ‘Wotan's Musings’

Sam Bosma (SB), ‘Sam Blogsma’

John Howe (JH), ‘John Howe’

Various, The Mythopoeic Society

Troels Forchhammer (TF), ‘Parmar-kenta’

Arwen Kester (AK), ‘Middle-earth News’

Mythprint — ‘The Monthly Bulletin of the Mythopoeic Society’

Amon Hen — the Bulletin of the Tolkien Society

— and others