Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My book is moving forward

My book on source criticism, Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays, is moving ever closer to publication. I have learned that McFarland has completed its copyediting with only two questions (each on the length of a quotation from poetry). They called the manuscript “very clean” — something I worked at very diligently myself, and for which I also owe thanks to friends who read the manuscript — see the acknowledgements when the time comes! The next step is the galley proof, coming this summer. It’s during that stage that I will be assembling the index. Following that, it will just be a matter of waiting!

The book is also being more and more actively advertised. McFarland has already produced a full-color promotional flyer for the book (if you want a copy, email me), and I have heard from friends that the flyer was circulating at the PCA in San Antonio in April and at the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo earlier this month. My book is now listed on McFarland’s website, and it is available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, among others. The number of Google hits on the exact phrase, “Tolkien and the Study of His Sources”, has gone from none to just a few to well over 500 today.

One additional note. Some e-tailers are reporting a release date of August 16, but I’m told that the date is actually not yet firm, so don’t take that to the bank. It could well be later. I’ll keep you posted as the book nears completion.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The ends of worms — and their beginnings

I’m just wrapping up my most recent reading of The Lord of the Rings, and various new things have attracted my attention this time around. (The sign of a truly great book: that after perhaps thirty readings, I am still noticing new things, or noticing old things anew.) I wrote about one of these small observations recently, but here is another, and a somewhat more ambitious one.

First, a reminder of the opening to The Hobbit — “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” Many of you can probably rattle this off from memory, as I can.

I have pointed out before — in a paper delivered at Mythcon a few years ago, and which has been accepted for publication (details to come later) — that “in the opening passage of The Hobbit, the narrator explicitly tells us that ‘the ends of worms’ are not to be found in Bilbo’s comfortable hobbit hole. But metaphorically, the end of a Worm is, in fact, in this particular hobbit hole, the end of the worm, Smaug.” Before you congratulate me on my cleverness, let me hasten to add that I am not the first person to observe this clever wordplay. My friend N.E. Brigand noted this independently, but Richard Matthews beat us both by thirty years! He wrote, “Tolkien tells us in the first paragraph that this is ‘not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms.’ If we pause to consider what he writes, we may conclude that the alpha and omega of Bag End is not limited in its significance to the fact that Bilbo will make an end of that ‘giant worm,’ the dragon” [1].

Returning to The Return of the King, something struck my eye this time — and once again, I may not be the first person to have said it, but I don’t recall having read this anywhere. Perhaps N.E. Brigand, or another friend, will remember if he has seen this before and let us know. It turns out that The Lord of the Rings, like The Hobbit, concludes with the end of another Worm, and on second glance, The Fellowship of the Ring, again like The Hobbit, begins with one, more or less. First, the end; then, I’ll go back to the beginning.

In “The Scouring of the Shire”, the final episode in the hobbits’ adventures unfolds with a confrontation between Frodo and Saruman. As we all know, Frodo prevails and dismisses Saruman. “Worm! Worm!” calls Saruman, and Gríma Wormtongue slinks out to follow his master, reluctantly. First, he was called Gríma — Old English for “mask, helmet”, and a foil for Éowyn’s alter ego, Dernhelm (which means “helm of secrecy”). Then Wormtongue, as his poisoned words undermined the health and authority of King Théoden. Fleeing Rohan after Gandalf sets Théoden’s mind free again, Gríma returns to his true master, Saruman, who insults him still further, shortening Wormtongue to Worm. Not that this is undeserved. [2]

But coming back to Bag End, Frodo offers Gríma the chance to leave Saruman (just as Gandalf did some weeks before, encountering the pair travelling away from Isengard). Long story short (or is it too late for that already? :), Saruman kicks Gríma in the face as he grovels, and Gríma evidently reaches his breaking point at last. Having finally taken enough abuse, “suddenly Wormtongue rose up, drawing a hidden knife, and then with a snarl like a dog he sprang on Saruman’s back, jerked his head back, cut his throat, and with a yell ran off down the lane. Before Frodo could recover or speak a word, three hobbit-bows twanged and Wormtongue fell dead.”

“And that’s the end of that,” Sam observes wryly. “A nasty end, and I wish I needn’t have seen it; but it’s a good riddance.” Notice that? The “nasty end” of Worm(tongue): “nasty”, “ends of worms” — these are the same words in the opening paragraph of The Hobbit. And as “a purely Bywater joke”, the New Row just below Bag End (replacing the old Bagshot Row, which Saruman ordered wantonly dug up) was called “Sharkey’s End”, in reference to the murder of Saruman. This is the second-to-last chapter in the novel, nearly the end of the book (excepting the appendices).

And now back to the beginning, to the second-from-first chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring. “The Shadow of the Past” is a largely expository and mood-setting chapter, in which Gandalf tells Frodo all about the Ring. Part of that story occurs involves Gollum (then still known as Sméagol), who had murdered his friend Déagol, stolen the Ring, then used the invisibility it conferred for finding out secrets, stealing anything he coveted, and killing small unwary creatures. His relatives shunned him, and his grandmother finally expelled him. On his own, he wandered and explored.

Then, notice the telling phrase in this passage (Gandalf speaking): “So he journeyed by night up into the highlands, and he found a little cave out of which the dark stream ran; and he wormed his way like a maggot into the heart of the hills, and vanished out of all knowledge. The Ring went into the shadows with him, and even the maker, when his power had begun to grow again, could learn nothing of it.”

Here at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings is another Worm, one whose name, Sméagol, is derived from the same root as that of the greater worm, Smaug (meaning “one who squeezes into a small hole”), and one who, again, will meet his own end toward the end of the War of the Ring. And another nasty end it is too — and occurring in a hole too, as he falls into the Crack of Doom! This same word, “nasty”, is (unsurprisingly) applied to Gollum on several occasions, the first a mere seven or eight paragraphs after he is likened to a worm.

Coincidence? It seems very unlikely to me. It could have been a fortunate accident of Tolkien’s unconscious, but I don’t think it’s coincidence, and it may have been deliberate. There are other uses of the worm metaphor in The Lord of the Rings that might be worth closer attention too. As I recall, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum are all compared to worms cowering in the mud when the Nazgûl fly over them on the approach to Mordor. Merry too is compared to “a worm in the mud”, crawling on the ground behind the Lord of the Nazgûl on the Pelennor Fields at Minas Tirith. But for now, I find it quite satisfying to see the “ends of worms” at the beginning and end of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

[1] Mathews, Richard. Lightning from a Clear Sky: Tolkien, the Trilogy, and the Silmarillion. San Bernardino: Borgo Press, 1978, p. 8.

[2] It’s actually Gandalf who first calls Gríma a worm (at least, it’s the first time we hear it): “'The wise speak only of what they know, Gríma son of Gálmód. A witless worm have you become. Therefore be silent, and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till the lightning falls.” Later, Treebeard too calls Gríma “that worm-creature of [Saruman’s]”. By the way, recall how Gríma desires Éowyn as the reward for his treason? It would appear he inherited his unseemly lustful nature from his father, as Gálmód is Old English for “lustful-minded, licentious”.

Blogger has gone wonky

Termporarily, I hope, but whatever the issue, its symptoms include not being able to sign in and leave comments as yourself, which several of you have experienced (some of you have commented anonymously as a stop-gap). Even I cannot leave comments on my own posts — unless anonymous, which I would rather not do. Strangely enough, I also can’t sign out. Attempting to sign out just reloads the Blogger dashboard!

Blogger is aware of the problem, and they seem to think they’ve got a resolution, but it’s still not working for me. Stay tuned, and thanks for your patience. I will reply to your recent comments, but I would prefer to wait until I can do so under my own proper Blogger profile.

Update: Blogger’s log-in/log-out and comment functions seem to be working better now. Hopefully none of you are still having problems posting comments. After a few days or perhaps a week, if the difficulties really seem over, I’ll most likely delete this post.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The first peek into Tolkien Studies 8

I have begun poking through the essays and reviews in the latest volume of Tolkien Studies, which I now have before me. There is much to read, and much that looks to be of enormous interest, but perhaps the most personally relevant is the review of Brad Eden’s Middle-earth Minstrel, since I am a part of that collection. I hope you will indulge me for beginning there, and offering some excerpts. It is my blog, after all. :)

First, it’s a short review. That was a bit disappointing. Considering the thoroughness of the review of The Ring Goes Ever On, which is nearly one hundred pages, Seaman’s three-page review seems a bit superficial. Two essays in the collection go entirely unmentioned, three others are assessed in just one sentence each, and another two get only two sentences apiece. Four essays form the core of the reviewer’s interest and praise, and each one of these gets a long paragraph, more or less.

My own essay is one of those reviewed in a single sentence, albeit a positive one: “Jason Fisher’s examination of alliterative verse in Rohan and Mercia shows good command of the material and helpfully reveals some of the ‘Old English undercurrents’ in Rohan and its environs” (p. 129). This comes in Seaman’s paragraph on “[o]ther essays in this volume [that] relate somewhat more obliquely to music but deserve mention because they possess inherent scholarly interest” (loc.cit.). That’s good, so far as it goes.

I will say that I agree in large part with Seaman’s overall assessment with the book. But I feel he’s given it rather short shrift. This could be in part because he also reviewed another collection on Tolkien and music in the same volume of Tolkien Studies. That review of Music in Middle-earth (ed. Steimel and Schneidewind, Walking Tree) gets about seven pages of coverage, almost double Middle-earth Minstrel. Admittedly, it’s the longer of the two books, but Seaman discusses every one of the essays in it, and in each case, the essays are described and assessed much more thoroughly — at minimum, in three or four sentences each, often much more. The simplest explanation, I suppose, is that Seaman liked and engaged with Steimel and Schneidewind’s book much more than with Eden’s, but it’s a shame he couldn’t find a little more to say. The latter review, following on the heels of a better, more thorough one, comes across as dismissive by contrast.

Is it a little too self-indulgent of me to spend this much time reviewing a review? Hmm. Well, it’s not very often that reviewers are themselves reviewed, though perhaps they should be. I’ve often thought that reviewers — myself included; good lord, yes! — are given a pass on their errors and oversights even as they criticize authors and editors for theirs. After all, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? So perhaps it’s good to review the reviews, at least from time to time, and not tetchily or at too great a length.

On top of that, it’s my blog, so it should come as no surprise that I want to discuss reviews of my work. If not here, where? ;)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lingwë is four years old today!

Not a proper post, but I didn’t want the day to pass entirely unheralded. I started Lingwë – Musings of a Fish four years ago today, with few clear ideas of what I would end up doing with it. Since then I’ve written some 340 posts, which have been collectively viewed more than 100,000 times by well over 30,000 visitors from more than 150 countries — including some of the most far-flung and alien places I could imagine. 23 visits from Kazakhstan? And not all of them from the same internet cafe either. Most were from the largest city, Almaty, but I’ve also had a few visits each from Astana, Atyrau, and Chimkent. Incredible!

Or to take a slightly more familiar case, there is Japan, with over 800 visits across 85 cities; Ireland, with more than 400 visits from 23 towns; Denmark, with more than 200 visit, from a whopping 78 different localities (most of them small villages, I would think). And many more. It’s a humbling reminder of both how small, and how large, our world really is. A geography lesson every time I dig into my site statistics.

I hope to be at this for years to come, and please keep your feedback coming as well. If there’s one thing I’ve learned doing this and reading all of your comments, always entertaining and insightful (and even sometimes inciteful, hahae), it’s that this is really your blog too.

Monday, May 23, 2011

An apocryphal anecdote?

Stanley Vestal (1877–1957) was a prolific historian of the American West, known more particularly as an expert on the Sioux Indians. He was, in fact, made a member of the tribe by Chief Joseph White Bull, the oldest nephew of Sitting Bull. He grew up in the south-central part of the United States, mainly in Kansas and Oklahoma. In 1908, he became the very first Rhodes scholar from Oklahoma — which had officially become one of the United States less than a year before. In fact, he was one of the earliest Rhodes scholars, full-stop; the scholarship had been established just six years earlier. Vestal carried out his studies at Merton College, Oxford, from 1908 through 1911, earning a second Bachelor’s degree in 1911 and a Master’s in English Language and Literature in 1915 (awarded in absentia). In the same year, he began teaching at the University of Oklahoma. While there, he established a prestigious writing program, authored several textbooks on professional writing, and (much later) left the University an important collection of photographs of the American Western Frontier. Vestal was a pen name (he grew up as Walter Stanley Campbell), under which he wrote a few novels, none of them much remembered today.

These are the facts. But I came across an anecdote recently which gave me pause. Having already mentioned Merton College, you might wonder whether this anecdote has anything to do with Tolkien (who, as most of you probably know, taught at Merton College from 1945–59). It certainly does.

In Stanley Vestal: Champion of the Old West, Ray Tassin describes a return visit Vestal and his friend Frank Reid made to England from the end of June through August, 1953. This was some forty years after Vestal’s time at Oxford, and less than a decade after Tolkien took up his post as Merton Professor of English Language and Literature. Tassin writes:
Vestal’s first goal was his old college, Merton. He was eager to see it again, especially his old rooms and certain parts which had not been open to undergraduates when he had been a student there. But the porter was out and his boy dared not leave the lodge. While Vestal and Frank [Reid] talked to him one of the dons came in and volunteered to show them around. He was Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, well-known fantasy books. Tolkien took them everywhere, including the room where the queen lived when King Charles lived at Oxford. The tour concluded with Danish lager in the don’s rooms. [1]
This story — which was published the same year Tolkien died — well, it sounds like a bit of a stretcher, don’t you think? Consulting Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond’s exhaustive Chronology (and online addenda), there is nothing to corroborate this anecdote. Even if Tolkien were inclined to this sort of friendliness toward an American visitor, he was extremely busy with the galley proofs of The Lord of the Rings during the two months in question, conducting examinations, working with the BBC to set up a radio broadcast of his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and plenty more besides. He was so busy that he was postponing meetings!

So while I suppose it’s possible he showed a Merton alumnus around the College, it’s seems a bit more likely that he didn’t; or if he did, that the rest of the story is exaggerated, or made up entirely. Tassin’s book cites no sources other than Vestal’s letters of the period, but I don’t think these letters have been published. The University of Oklahoma has digitized and put online a pretty extensive portion of the Campbell Collection, but this doesn’t include much of his correspondence. It’s possible his letters are held privately in the Collection, and I know a reference librarian there, so I will have to make an inquiry. It would be interesting to learn whether Vestal himself records Tolkien’s name in his letters (though even if he does, it doesn’t necessarily prove the anecdote, in whole or in part).

It’s an interesting claim, though, isn’t it? Not something I ever expected to stumble on. Who knew there was a direct connection (claimed, at least) between Tolkien and the same U.S. state where I was born!

[1] Tassin, Ray. Stanley Vestal: Champion of the Old West. Norman, OK: A. H. Clark Co. [Imprint of the University of Oklahoma Press], 1973, pp. 260–1.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A new collective plural?

Continuing my tradition of “explor[ing] the implications of one word” [1], something caught my eye during my current (re)reading of The Lord of the Rings. In “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”, we encounter these stirring words:
For now men leaped from the ships to the quays of the Harlond and swept north like a storm. There came Legolas, and Gimli wielding his axe, and Halbarad with the standard, and Elladan and Elrohir with stars on their brow, and the dour­-­handed Dúnedain, Rangers of the North, leading a great valour of the folk of Lebennin and Lamedon and the fiefs of the South. But before all went Aragorn with the Flame of the West, Andúril like a new fire kindled, Narsil re-forged as deadly as of old: and upon his brow was the Star of Elendil. [2]
It’s the phrase “a great valour of the folk of Lebennin [etc.]” that attracted my notice. This usage struck me as a bit unusual. Here, valour looks like it might be intended as a collective noun, like a gaggle of geese, a skulk of foxes, a swarm of bees, etc. It’s possible to read it differently, of course — valour doesn’t have to be a collective term. But whatever the case, the phrasing is a bit outside normal English usage. The word valour is seldom used with the indefinite article. I did a little poking around and haven’t been able to find an example of the phrasing, “a valour of <plural noun>”, that predates Tolkien. Not saying there isn’t one somewhere, but from what I can tell, it could be original with him. (If someone knows of something similar antedating this usage, please share.)

There are reasons to suppose it might be intended as a collective phrase. Elsewhere in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien uses a very similar construction many times. A few quick examples will suffice to make the point: (1) “a great following of Hobbits”, (2) “a great expanse of years”, (3) “a great troop of Orcs”, (4) “a great host of men”, (5) “a great cavalry of horsemen”, (6) “a great concourse of trumpets”, (7) “a great company of hill-trolls out of Gorgoroth”, (8) “a great welter of cloud and smoke”, and many others.

Colorful collective nouns for groups of animals and people go back to the middle of the 15th century. Many of these are first recorded in Lydgate’s Hors, Shepe, & the Ghoos (c. 1470); others, in The Boke of St. Albans (c. 1480). These early sporting and hawking terms brought us an unkindness of ravens, a charm of goldfinches, a parliament of owls, a knot of toads. Later, the idea was extended to people — a pity of prisoners, a hastiness of cooks, and so on. These are wonderfully imaginative, so it’s no wonder that people have continued to coin new ones in all the centuries since. We now have the likes of a murder of crows, a frenzy of sharks, an unction of undertakers, a blur of impressionists, and — one of my favorites — a shrivel of critics. [3]

I’m not sure whether Tolkien intended to coin a new collective noun, but doesn’t a valour of knights sound perfect? (Prior to this post, the exact phrase “a valour of knights” returned zero results from Google. Of course, that will no longer be true once this post makes it into their indexes.)

[1] Salu, Mary and Robert T. Farrell. J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979, p. 17.

[2] RK, p. 123.

[3] For more, see Lipton, James. An Exaltation of Larks: The Ultimate Edition. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tolkien Studies 8

Douglas Anderson has just announced the contents for the next volume of Tolkien Studies, which should start going out to subscribers toward the end of next month. In fact, he has launched a new blog, “Tolkien and Fantasy”, for which this announce-ment is first post. Hopefully, Doug will have a lot of other interesting things to say here as well; keep an eye on it!

So, without further ado, here are the core contents of Tolkien Studies, Volume 8, omitting the usual front and back matter and the book reviews, for which see Doug’s blog:
  • “Legend and History Have Met and Fused”: The Interlocution of Anthropology, Historiography, and Incarnation in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy-stories”, by Philip Irving Mitchell
  • Tolkien’s Goldberry and The Maid of the Moor, by John M. Bowers
  • Language in Tolkien’s “Bagme Bloma”, by Lucas Annear
  • “Wingless fluttering”: Some Personal Connections in Tolkien’s Formative Years, by José Manuel Ferrández Bru
  • Robert Quilter Gilson, T.C.B.S.: A Brief Life in Letters, by John Garth
  • The Hen that Laid the Eggs: Tolkien and the Officers Training Corps, by Janet Brennan Croft
Of these, the essay on Tolkien’s poem in Gothic has really whet my appetite. John Garth’s short essay should be excellent as well, as I hope the one on Goldberry will be. I know, I know, some of you may be saying, “another essay on Goldberry?!” But I actually think there is still a lot to say about her. I have some notes of my own which I hope to assemble into an essay one of these days.

One final note. It also appears that Brad Eden’s collection, Middle-earth Minstrel, to which I contributed an essay (as you all must be tired of hearing by now), will be reviewed by Gerald Seaman. The same book was reviewed in Beyond Bree by Chris Seeman. Two reviewers with homophonic surnames reviewing the same book — what a bizarre coincidence. :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2011 Mythopoeic Award Finalists

Hot off the presses, the Mythopoeic Society has announced the finalists for its four annual book award categories. The award categories are: Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature, Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature, Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies, and Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies. Books can be nominated to the reading committees by any Society member in good standing (consider joining). From this larger pool of nominated books, committee members read and then nominate five finalists in each category. Books are eligible for three years following publication, and it is not unusual (as this year) to see repeat finalists.

You can peruse the entire list of finalists by following this link. Normally, I read and vote on both the nonfiction committees (for a couple of years I read on all four committees, until it became too time consuming), but this year I couldn’t vote for a finalist because I am a named contributor to one of the nominated books in Inklings Studies. To avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, Society policy dictates I recuse myelf in such a case. And as it happens, the book to which I contributed the lead essay — Brad Eden’s Middle-earth Minstrel — has now been named a finalist as well, so I must also refrain from voting for a final winner too.

The downside is that I cannot vote for the MSA in Inklings Studies at all this year, but the upside is quite an upside — I am part of a book that has been named an award finalist! Woot! :)

So this year, I’ll be more a spectator than a participant in the awards process. It will be exciting observing the process from the other side for a change. My congratulations to all the finalists! Best of luck to you!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Peskipiksi pesternomi

Pixie Mayhem, © Mary GrandPré
I was thinking about the scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where Professor Gilderoy Lockhart foolishly releases a cage-full of “freshly caught Cornish pixies” into the classroom. Any true Potterphile can probably quote by rote the spell with which Lockhart attempts to subdue the rioting pixies, but in case you’ve forgotten, it’s peskipiksi pesternomi. Totally ineffectual, and probably something Lockhart made up on the spot. It actually looks like it could be the scientific name (genus and species) for the Cornish pixie, doesn’t it? And setting aside Lockhart’s incompetent buffoonery, there’s a bit of interesting word-play going on here. Let’s have a closer look.

On the surface, one would parse the incantation as something like “pesky pixie, pester no(t) me”, which is basically what the Harry Potter Wiki proposes. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but I have a bit more to add.

First, pesky — what’s the etymology of the word? According to the OED, it’s a mid-18th century U.S. colloquial word, “origin uncertain”, “conjectured to be an alteration of *pesty […]”. Most etymological dictionaries agree — e.g., Ernest Weekley: “[U.S.]. App[arently] from pest”. Alternatively, some suggest a source in the Irish Gaelic peasgach “troublesome”, from the noun peasg “impediment” [1]. Whether the word is really of American origin may be debatable. Even if we ruled out the Irish source, Joseph Wright has noted roughly contemporary examples from Scots, Yorkshire, Oxford, and other dialects, and Eric Partridge has found evidence of a possible origin in Essex. Anyway, this is beside the point. What is the point? It’s that we’re not sure of the origin of the word pesky.

Well, here’s a theory I’ve never seen before — could it be related to pixie? It’s a longshot — especially if the word really did originate in America — but a case can be made. Let me offer this longish excerpt from Walter Skeat’s Notes on English Etymology:
Pixy. The Devonshire pixies, or fairies, are well known; in Cornwall the form is not pixy, but pisky, which I believe to be older. I once thought that pixy might be connected with puck, [… but t]here can be little doubt that the word is really Scandinavian; for there is no reason against the introduction of Scandinavian words into a county such as Devonshire, which is easily reached by sea. At any rate, it is well worth notice that the very word, with the same sense, is in use in Swedish dialects, particularly in South Sweden[, … including] the form pysk, more commonly pyske, pjyske, pjäske, pjöske, a little goblin [… etc.]. [2]
Now Rowling’s pixies are indeed from Cornwall, so they really ought to be called *piskies, shouldn’t they? And given this form, together with the “plaguey” nature of elfs and fairies in English folklore (cf. elf-shot, elf-child, etc.), it seems not altogether unreasonable to suppose pesky is not an alteration of *pesty, but of pisky.

Even if the words are not actually related — and they probably aren’t; after all, pest and pester are not (though you’d think they would be) — this view still informs the reading of Lockhart’s spell. The metathesis between the s and k sounds in both words is part of the amusing sound-play of the spell, along with the similar sounding pester. This particular transposition of sounds is quite common in the history of the English language (cp. Modern English ask, but Old English acsian, and in some dialects of Modern English, ax.).

See what happens when you let a few pixies out?! Now, I’ll ask you to just nip the rest of them back into their cage. :)

[1] Since this is not the mainstream view, I’ll offer two sources. Mackay, Charles. The Gaelic Etymology of the Languages of Western Europe. London: N. Trübner & Co., 1877, p. 323; and Hotten, John Camden. The Slang Dictionary. London: John Camden Hotten, 1865, p. 199.

[2] Skeat, Walter. Notes on English Etymology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901, p. 218.

Monday, May 9, 2011

More Tolkien at Kalamazoo

John Rateliff has kindly posted a list of all of the Tolkien presentations associated with the Tolkien at Kalamazoo sponsoring organization — something I normally do too. Rather than duplicate all of that information here, I will just point you to John’s post. But since John hasn’t had time to search the program book for other Tolkien-related presentations, I am happy to add those additional papers below.

The Festive Video Game Workshop session contains one Tolkien-related presentation: “A Narrative of One’s Own: Finding a Spot for Player Heroes in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings”, by N. M. Heckel of the American Military University.

And the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Deptartment of Comparative Literature is sponsoring a session on Tolkien and the Medieval Mediterranean, with the following three papers:
  • “Gondor’s Debt to Byzantium”, by Christopher Livanos
  • “Crossing the Borders: Unconscious in Dante’s Inferno, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and Wood and Burchielli’s DMZ”, by Faith Portier
  • “The Presence of the Middle East in The Lord of the Rings”, by Marryam Abdl-Haleem
Livanos’s paper sounds particularly interesting to me, since I have an essay on the same subject in my own forthcoming book, Tolkien and the Study of His Sources. Abdl-Haleem’s paper also sounds quite fascinating. But alack, once again I will not be at Kalamazoo. I do hope to attend the event someday.