Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthlm's Son

The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthlm's Son

History of the Poem

This is an old English poem written by a monk. Tolkien describes here what the poem is about.

 " In August of the year 991, in the reign of AEthelred II a battle was fought near Essex. On the one side was the defense-force of Essex, on the other a Viking host that had ravaged Ipswich. The English were commanded by Beorhtnoth son of Beorhthelm, the duke of Essex, a man renowned in his day: powerful, fearless,proud.

The problem here is that Beorhtnoth was now an old man. Although " vigorous and valiant" still.
The poem doesn't have a beginning or an end. It's focus is on two men sent out during the night by the Monks to recover their masters headless, mutilated body from the battle field.
The poem is the conversation the two men are having while searching for Beorhtnoth's remains.

The Review: 

This old English poem, like I mentioned above, has no beginning or an end. It starts as the two men, Torthelm & Tidwald, and searching the vast darkened battle field for Beorhtnoth's mutilated and headless body amongst the dead.
Beorhtnoth's pride and sense of honor resulted in his death and the death of his men. The Norwegian viking's were encamped on Northey Island after sailing up the estuary of the Pante, now called the Blackwater.
Beorhtnoth could of easily held off the enemy by guarding the bridge but when asked by the Vikings to cross for a fair fight, he obliged. Being a honorable man.

This story would of been a common one for Tolkien seeing and there were only three old English poems in the likes that he studied and wrote about. The Battle of Maldon (This poem) Beowulf, and Sir Gwain.

 The slight bickering between the two men about how his pride killed him in the end, Beorhtnoth's senseless death out of battle courtesy and miss judging his opponent. The two men find his body eventually, after seeing thieves stealing from the dead and challenging them, they heave his remains in a wagon  and make back to the monks. This is where the story ends.

Its a short but readable short story with great notes by Tolkien's view points on the tale.

Monday, April 25, 2011

On Fairy Stories

On Faerie stories

Written by Tolkien for the Andrew Lang Lecture for the university of St Andrews (Scotland)  in 1939, and later revised in 1947, On Faerie Stories gives us a glimpse's into the creative driven purpose of Middle Earth and the fascination Tolkien had with faerie literature.

I had decided to read this lecture and give it its own review apart from the rest of the book (The Tolkien Reader) because of its importance and relevance to modern fantasy as we know it.

In the essay, Tolkien describes how legends and myths became nothing more than children's tales, where as the origin of these tales were intended for adults long ago.And this (in his mind) was a great loss to humanity.

 Today, you can walk into any book store, new & used, and find a massive assortment of science fiction, medieval epics, and fantasy in all kinds. We have movies, video games, role playing games such as Dungeons & dragons and we are not strangers to fantasy by all means. In fact, fantasy escapism is readily available to everyone world wide. 

But the origins of this new wave of escapism is largely due to Tolkien and C.S Lewis. Because of Tolkien we have authors in the likes of Robert Jordan and J,K Rowling who can write a series of books. And book publishers cashing in on it. Obviously there is more and more need of it.

I found it interesting that Tolkien says in his essay : "It is part of the essential malady of such days-producing the desire to escape, not indeed from life, but from our present time and self-made misery-that we are acutely conscious both of the ugliness of our works, and of their evil."

Tolkien was disgusted with modern Europe during the rise of the industrial revolution: 'The rawness and ugliness of modern European life'-is the sign of a biological inferiority, of an insufficient or false reaction to environment.' he said. Calling anything in the likes of the combustible engines, smoke stacks, and pollution creating technology's as Orc inventions.

To Tolkien the fantasy realm held more value than our current world state and lack of nature conscience society. He stated : 'And actually faerie-stories deal largely, or (the better ones) mainly, with simple or fundamental things, untouched by fantasy, but these simplicities are made all the more luminous by their setting. For the story makers who allows himself to be 'free with' Nature can be her lover not her slave...'

In retrospect this is true of Tolkien's Middle Earth. He valued these things in the story's he read and passed them on. As this is true for me, reading The Lord of the Rings and suddenly feeling awakened to nature, and noticing trees and rivers, for what felt like the first time. And seeing my world as a lot more fragile than before Noticing the ugliness of busy urban life and machinery. Seeking more green in my life.

Tolkien states : 'It was in fairy stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.'

The realism of creation was Tolkien's gift. He suggested that if God is the main creator, we're made in his image therefore we can sub-create secondary worlds. The importance of these worlds is the believability of it. Having rules like our own world. Death.Famine, and so on. Having the reader believe the world  and its realism as long as they remain within the pages.

the idea that people calling fantasy 'escapism' bugged him greatly. He writes: 'Evidently we are faced by misuse of the words, and also by a confusion of thought'.

He goes on to say; 'Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it.'

For Tolkien fans this hits awfully close to home.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tales From The Perilous Realm

                          Tales from the Perilous realm 

History of the book:

 Now there is little known about the writing of the short stories of this collected work. Throughout his career, Tolkien wrote a number of short stories that never saw a publishers desk until his death.
Though we do know that Leaf by Niggle was released around the same time as Tree & Leaf (The professors essay on faerie story's).

The Book Review:

I started reading this book around the same time as I started packing up my house (again) for the 3rd move of the year. I am glad to say we've upgraded to a nice townhouse. It's a very British thing town homes. lol

Farmer Giles of Ham- was originally written in Latin and translated in English for us un-Latin like folk.
 It's a cute tale of a Farmer (bit of an alcoholic if you ask me) who is accidentally mistaken for a town hero. His legend makes its way to a king, who sends him a sword (unknown to him, its a dragon slayer) and he is put forward as protector of the people against a man eating dragon. The dragon pleads for his life and offers a large amount of treasure to repay the people of the land for eating their family's and Giles and his dog are rewarded as well. There are moments where the king gets insulted and tries to get Giles hung because he wont answer to him. But The dragon and Giles become friends in the end and he spares its life. 

Leaf by Niggle- So as far as I can tell its a allegorical story about purgatory. Niggle is a painter who dies ( But doesn't know it) and is sent to purgatory until he reaches Level 2. In level 2 he meets his old neighbor and sets out to recreate his last painting in real form. This was a strange story but good all the same. Its great to read something from Tolkien that didn't quite reflect his Middle Earth writings.

The Adventure of Tom Bombadil-  More set into a rhythmical poetry style. Tom Bombadil's adventures a quite ordinary. The one that strikes closes to mind is the Bombadil Goes Boating where he goes off to see old farmer Maggot and hos family. The kind of quiet day in the Shire view.

Smith of Wootton Major - a strange tale about a cook who takes on an apprentice, who turns out to be a faerie king, and awards a special child a star (placed in a piece of cake) and the child grows up to be a man who becomes the town smithy. He is allowed to travel to faerie land because of the star. Eventually he must give up his star so another child can have it.