Thursday, December 31, 2009

“From eckward to andward”

The Dark Tower, an abandoned time-travel novel (or sorts) by C.S. Lewis, is, despite its brevity, densely packed with fascinating words, allusions, and ideas. Among many points that have struck my interest on this (my first) reading of it was the following passage — quoted by Lewis from the fictional book, Time Angles:

“An uncontrolled time proceeding in the backward-forward direction is subject, as is known, to fluctuations during which small extensions of it (say .05 of a second) will make a measurable angle with the backward-forward direction. If, now, we suppose this increased to a right angle, this time will proceed from eckward to andward” — so the words appeared to Scudamour’s memory when he told us the story — “and will cut an ideally normal time at right angles.” [1]

So far as I can tell, the words “eckward(s)” and “andward(s)” are Lewis’s own inventions. I have been unable to find them in anything predating The Dark Tower (except as completely unrelated proper names). For the most part, the time-travel literature on which Lewis drew for inspiration (e.g., H.G. Wells, J.W. Dunne, Murray Leinster, et al.) either coin nothing new, making do with existing words; or else borrow terminology from the world of spatial dimensions — e.g., Leinster’s “sidewise in time”. H. Beam Piper, whose works were probably too late to have influenced Lewis, adopts “paratime”, which serves well enough — but there is something remarkable to me about Lewis’s invented adverbs, “eckward” and “andward”. They feel just right; they appear perfectly appropriate and look like genuine English words. Naturally, I was curious about their possible etymologies. Now, I have not read all of the available scholarship on The Dark Tower — far from it! — but from a quick search, it does not appear to me that anybody has written much of anything on this subject. If anyone out there knows otherwise, please pass the details along! In the meantime, I’ve had some thoughts.

Two possibilities to explain “eckward” and “andward” come readily to my mind: Greek and Old English. To tip my hand, I think it’s probably the latter, but I’ll address them both, and I welcome your input.

To make up Lewis’s words, the Greek prefixes in question would most likely come from the prepositions ἐκ, ἐξ “out of, (away) from” and ἀνά “(up)on, along, up through, thereon”, respectively. The resulting meanings would therefore be something like eckward = “in a direction away from or out of (normal time)” and andward = “in a direction along or up through (normal time)”. The first would serve us well, but the second would not; such a meaning seems opposite to what Lewis meant. The only scholar whom I have found to venture any opinion on the matter is Sanford Schwartz. He (only tangentially) advances the Greek theory in his recent book — for “eckward”, at least; I haven’t seen an opinion on “andward” [2]. But while Greek would ordinarily be a natural assumption for Lewis (after all, the Four Loves are all given their Greek names), there are some problems here.

For one, as I’ve hinted already, the explanation for “andward” isn’t nearly as good as the one for “eckward”. And where would the d come from, if the prefix is the Greek ἀνά? For another, Latinizing ἐκ, ἐξ to “eck–” would not follow the established pattern for the use of that prefix in English (e.g., it’s eclipse, not *ecklipse or *eklipse). For yet another, the suffix, –ward, is most definitely Germanic. If the prefix were Greek, we’d have rather uneasy bedfellows from competing word-stocks. Such admixtures are not unprecedented in English, but they are not as common as unalloyed compounds. And especially in the case of a neologism by someone with Lewis’s knowledge of language (rivaled among the Inklings only by Tolkien’s or Barfield’s), one would have to expect more consistency. So what is the other alternative?

As I said, –ward is Germanic, going back to Old English –weard, ultimately from a Germanic root meaning “to turn”. Cognates to the Old English include Old Saxon –ward, Old High German –wart, Gothic –wairþs, and Old Norse –verðr. Might the prefixes be Old English along with the suffix? Certainly! If they are, the most likely sources are OE and “without, against” and éce “eternal, perpetual, everlasting” [3]. The latter already carries a temporary meaning, so we have reason to feel optimistic! Moreover, there actually is an attested OE word andweard, which, had it survived, would have become a Modern English word of precisely the form in question, “andward”. It means “present” in the spatial sense (i.e., “without any specific direction”), but this would obviously tempt a knowledgeable word-maker to apply it to the temporal dimension as well. If this hypothesis is the correct one, then the two words would mean something like andward = “all time in the present” and eckward = “all time perpetually conceived”, both contrasted with the mundane temporal dimension we all know from experience.

This etymology fits the story very well, where the fictive time-scientists of Lewis’s Othertime explain that “[a]t the [...] moment of intersection [of two perpendicular timelines] the whole series of events in each of these times will then be contemporary to those living in the other”, and “a consciousness which succeeded in passing [from one timeline to another] would attain to endless time, and the Time Square [i.e., a two-dimensional temporal plane], though finite, would be endless or perpetual” [4].

I feel satisfied, therefore, that the Old English etymology is most likely the one Lewis had in mind, in spite of his more typical attraction to the Greek or Latin. What do my readers think of this hypothesis? And why haven’t other writers, of both fictional time-travel stories and nonfiction books on time, picked up these very useful words? As someone who used to speculate on temporal dimensionality quite a lot (once upon a time :), I would certainly have found them useful!

[1] Lewis, C.S. The Dark Tower and Other Stories. Ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977, p. 84.

[2] Schwartz, Sanford. C.S. Lewis on the Final Frontier: Science and the Supernatural in the Space Trilogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

[3] An alternate possibility is OE éc “also”, with a meaning of “also-time”, but this strikes me as a bit less plausible.

[4] Lewis, pp. 84, 87.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A short review of “Three Rings”

Last May, I learned that one of my essays was being reviewed in the new issue of Hither Shore, then still forthcoming. That issue (Volume 5) is now in print, and most of it is available on Google Books. Having duly perused it, I also found a review in English of Tolkien Studies, Volume 5 (2008) by Thomas Honegger (running on pages 259–62), in which my essay, “Three Rings for—Whom Exactly? And Why? Justifying the Disposition of the Three Elven Rings” received the following favorable comments:
Lastly, Jason Fisher provides a straighforward study of the origin of the three elven rings. He points out that the final names and attributions to their wearers were given relatively late (first galley proofs). He establishes likely reasons for Tolkien allocating the ring of fire to Gandalf, the ring of air to Elrond, and the ring of water to Galadriel and shows how he strengthens the bond between wearer and ring by means of textual allusions. Finally, Fisher unearths a nice piece of ‘Tolkienian depth’ by paralleling the fate of the three silmarils — which find their final resting-places in the sky, the ocean, and the fires of the earth, respectively — with the three elven rings, so that it may indeed by not surprising that Elrond, the descendant of Eärendil who ‘carries’ one of the silmarils across the sky each night, is given the ring of air. (p. 261, ego-stroking emphasis added :)
It’s so nice to be read! My thanks to Thomas for the review.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mythcon 41 Call for Papers

Regular readers will remember that I’ve written about Mythcon — the Mythopoeic Society’s annual conference and fantasy convention — from time to time. For example, here is my detailed conference report for Mythcon 39. I was unable to attend Mythcon 40 this past July in Los Angeles, but I did have a paper read there. My good friend Randy Hoyt (also the webmaster for the Mythopoeic Society) filled in for me.

It was at Mythcon 39, though, that Randy and I first began talking about bringing Mythcon to North Texas. In its forty year history, it has never been to Texas at all, let alone to the Dallas/Fort Worth area (the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S.). The closest Mythcon has come to Texas is Norman, Oklahoma (Mythcon 37), a bit more than 200 miles; Nashville, Tennessee (Mythcon 34), more than 600 miles; Boulder, Colorado (Mythcon 27), right at 900 miles. Every other Mythcon over the past forty years has been 1,000 miles or more away! So in our view, a Texas Mythcon was long overdue.

And so, it’s happening in 2010: Mythcon 41 will be held at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas over the long weekend of July 9–12. Randy Hoyt and I are co-chairing the conference, with the on-campus sponsorship of the Department of Continuing Education! Even though the conference is months away, we have already opened registration, here. Room and board packages will be available, but we are finalizing the costs now. Those will be posted on the Mythopoeic Society website as they become available.

In the meantime, I’m happy to share the Mythcon 41 Call For Papers. You don’t have to present a paper in order to attend Mythcon, but for the scholars among you (amateurs welcome!), please consider proposing one. We have a conference theme, “War in Heaven” (see below for more details), but papers do not have to deal directly with this theme. However, we do especially welcome papers on the theme. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions, either here or via email.

Mythcon 41 Call For Papers

Mythcon 41: War in Heaven
The 41st Annual Mythopoeic Conference
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
July 9-12, 2010
Download: Call For Papers (PDF)
Proposals for papers are due: 4/15/10

Guests of Honor

Tim Powers, Author
Tim Powers is a science-fiction and fantasy author. He has received numerous awards and nominations for his works, including the World Fantasy Award for his novels Last Call (1992) and Declare (2000). He has been nominated for four Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, most recently for Three Days to Never (2006).

Janet Brennan Croft, Scholar
Janet Brennan Croft is the editor of Mythlore, one of the premier periodicals on the Inklings and fantasy literature. She has published many articles and three books on J.R.R. Tolkien, including War in the Works of Tolkien (2005), which won the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies.

Additional Special Guests to be announced!

Theme: War in Heaven
From the great epic poems of ancient Greece and ancient India to the Book of Revelation and the Poetic Edda; from John Milton and William Blake to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams; from Philip Pullman to Neil Gaiman and beyond, theomachy (conflict amongst and against the gods) has been a perennial theme in mythology and mythopoeic literature. Moreover, the year 2010 marks our theme with special significance as the 80th anniversary of the publication of Charles Williams’s novel War in Heaven.

Papers dealing with the conference theme are especially encouraged. We also welcome papers focusing on the work and interests of the Inklings (especially J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams), of our Guests of Honor, and other fantasy authors and themes. Papers from a variety of critical perspectives and disciplines are welcome. Each paper will be given a one-hour slot to allow time for questions, but individual papers should be timed for oral presentation in 40 minutes maximum. Participants are encouraged to submit papers chosen for presentation at the conference to Mythlore, the refereed journal of the Mythopoeic Society. Paper abstracts of no more than 300 words, along with contact information, should be sent to the Papers Coordinator at the address below (e-mail preferred) by April 15, 2010. Please include your A/V requirements and the projected time needed for your presentation.

All paper presenters must register for the full conference; please see the Mythcon 41 web page for information and rates.

Robin Anne Reid
Mythcon 41 Papers Coordinator
Department of Literature and Languages
Texas A&M University-Commerce
Commerce TX 75429

The Mythopoeic Society is an international literary and educational organization devoted to the study, discussion, and enjoyment of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and mythopoeic literature. We believe the study of these writers can lead to greater understanding and appreciation of the literary, philosophical, and spiritual traditions which underlie their works, and can engender an interest in the study of myth, legend, and the genre of fantasy. Find out about the Society’s activities at: