Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My book reviewed in Mythlore

Six months on, professional reviews of Tolkien and the Study of His Sources are beginning to appear, and as promised, I’m going to be sharing them here (excerpts, at least). After an assortment of very positive ratings and short reviews that have been popping up online — for example, see Amazon and GoodReads — scholars and professional reviewers are now giving the book greater attention in the academic and popular periodicals of the Tolkien community. The first of these longer, more thorough reviews appeared in Beyond Bree, but today I’m going to share the second, published in Mythlore, mainly because you can read the whole thing online.

Veteran Tolkien scholar and teacher Mike Foster gives the book a strong endorsement, using words like “artful”, “superb”, “illuminating”, “satisfying”, and even “stellar”. He concludes: “As Fisher observes in his essay, ‘most of the low-hanging fruit has long gone’ (37–38). Scholars including Shippey, Rateliff, Douglas A. Anderson, Verlyn Flieger, John Garth, and Janet Brennan Croft may have climbed higher up the Tree of Tales to harvest, but this book proves that, like Niggle’s Tree, plenty of fruit still remains for the picking.” Indeed! Although my book is, in some ways, the first of its kind, there is no absolutely reason it should be the last. (In fact, I can just about guarantee that it won’t be.)

Mike Foster’s review offers those who have not yet read the collection a very solid summary of what it has to offer. For those who have read the collection, what do you think of the review? Agree or disagree? Anything to add? I’ll be excerpting the review in Beyond Bree by Nancy Martsch in a coming post, and I am aware of several others which should be appearing in the months ahead — Mallorn, Hither Shore, The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, to name a few.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Another Gandalf who signed himself with a G.

Probably because of their success in Austin, food trucks have now arrived in Dallas. One of these is Gandolfo’s Deli, and this got me thinking about the name, Gandolfo, as a variation on Gandalf. I’ve seen it before — Castel Gandolfo, for one, is a town in Lazio, about a half-hour drive south of Rome, and the likely site of the fabled Alba Longa. I actually came within 100 km of this small town when I visited Italy in 2005. Most of our time was spent in Tuscany, but we made a couple of ventures into Umbria and Lazio as well — the latter, to the environs of Vacone, an even smaller località than Castel Gandolfo.

We know that Tolkien’s Gandalf has a Germanic name, specifically Old Norse. Tolkien borrowed the name from the Dvergatal section of the Völuspá (it also appears in the Ynglinga Saga, part of the Heimskringla of Snorri Sturluson [1]). I need not unduly repeat myself and others here (for one example, a long time ago, you might want to read this), but we can gloss the name as gandr “wand, magic staff” + álfr “elf, fairy”. So much is well known, but what of the name, Gandolfo? Is it related, or merely coincidentally similar? Should we expect Gandolfo to have a Romance etymology, rather than a Germanic one? If so, I can’t come up with anything plausible — anyone have any ideas? — so I am inclined to think it may have been borrowed into the Italic branch from the Goths, Franks, Lombards, Bretons, or another Germanic tribe of Late Antiquity. More on these etymological ruminations in a bit. First, back to Gandolfo.

What is its provenance? As with most things Italian, we start by looking directly to Latin. In this case, we would expect to find something like Gandolphus or Gandulphus. There are a number of historical figures with this name, and one in particular jumped out at me: Magister Gandulphus, a medieval canonist of twelfth-century Bologna (d. ca. 1185), and author of Sententiae. Gandulphus was a contemporary of the better known Peter Lombard (d. 1160), bishop, canonist, and author of Libri Quattuor Sententiarum. This was a much more influential work in medieval theology, one on which no less than Thomas Aquinas wrote commentaries a half-century later, but the Sententiae of Gandulphus were every bit as important in their day. In fact, “[t]he two works [appear] so similar in purpose, method, and content […] that some have been tempted to find the work of Peter Lombard in debt to the writings of the Bologna canonist” [2]. Some have even gone so far as to use the “p word” (plagiarism) — though to be fair, I’ve seen the same charges being made in the other direction as well.

Now I have no idea whether — and no particular reason to think that — Tolkien was familiar with this Gandulphus, not in the way we know he was of the semi-legendary Norse figure, but it is an interesting coincidence that the writings of Gandulphus were identified with a siglum. The signing of glosses and other writings with sigla is not unusual, but in this case, it does catch the eye. Gandulphus used various sigla in the extant writings — g., G., Ga., Gan., and Gand. are all recorded [4]. Of these, the siglum, G., is especially tantalizing, since it is also Gandalf’s sign. Readers of Tolkien will remember that Gandalf used the same siglum to mark his fireworks (in two different runic alphabets), to sign the letter he left for Frodo in Bree, and (apparently) to mark a stone on Weathertop.

So it appears that we have two personages with the name Gandalf (allowing for spelling), both signing their writings or otherwise identifying themselves with a G. I don’t mean to imply a direct borrowing here — with all that we know of the history of Tolkien’s Gandalf, it would seem unlikely that Tolkien had yet another source. Nor would he need a source to tell him that Gandalf should sign with his initial; that could proceed perfectly naturally from the character alone. But it is a surprising coincidence to find a real and a fictive Gandalf both doing this. The Norse Gandalf does not — not that we know very much about him.

So, to return to the etymology. The meaning of the first Norse element is, in fact, a bit unclear. It seems to have something to do with wizards, their magic, and/or the equipment by which they work it. It’s often calqued as “wand”, but this implies (incorrectly) that the Modern English reflex for ON gandr is actually “wand”. It isn’t. English wand is indeed borrowed from the Scandinavian branch (no pun intended!), but from ON vöndr “wand, switch, twig” — cognate to Gothic wandus < *bi-windan “to wind”. The second element definitively means “elf, fairy” and is a mainstay of Germanic anthroponymy (Alfred, Alvin, et al.). It is unattested in Gothic, but would have been something like *albs [3]. In theory, a third- or fourth-century Gothic or Lombardic name along the lines of *Wandalbus or some such could have been introduced into Latin as Gandolphus. What about the change in the vowel from front (a, æ, e) to back (o, u) — does this rule out a gloss of “elf”? No indeed. The Modern English oaf is one of several dialectal variations on elf. Drayton used the form aulf, Shakespeare ouphe. The idea was that an elf-child or “changeling” was sometimes left in place of a newborn baby, and that this child showed itself to be foolish, simple, or contrary-minded — that is, elf in the ancient sense became oaf in the modern sense.

It should be mentioned that there is an alternative theory. While most lexicographers agree that oaf derives from elf, it has been argued that oaf derives rather from auf “owl” (among its cognates, Old English úf, Old High German úvo, and Old Norse úfr “a bird of unknown kind”). Compare this to Italian gufo “owl”, and likewise compare French goffe “dull” and Modern English goof. This is one of a series of bird-names used metaphorically for silly, foolish, or mentally defective people — e.g., cuckoo, booby, dodo, gull (cp. gullible) — making it a pretty strong contender to explain the word oaf. But of course, this seems less likely to be the explanation for the second element in Gandolfo — unless Gandolfo was originally the name of a country clown or court jester.

So unless a reader can unearth an alternative explanation for the independent development of this name in the Italic family, I’m going to presume that it was most likely borrowed into Latin from one of the Continental Germanic tribes during the early centuries A.D., as were many other names, and that it has the same meaning as the Scandinavian Gandalf. That Tolkien’s Gandalf — a kind of angel, really — would bear some similarities to Gandulphus — not an angel, but a medieval Italian canonist [5] — is probably just an entertaining coincidence. But one, I think, worth spending a few words on. :)

[1] There are some eye-catching tidbits in the Ynglinga Saga as well (in addition to elements I discussed in my essay on Tolkien and the Heimskringla, which has been reviewed favorably). One passage, for example: “Olaf came to the kingdom after his father. […] He had Westfold; for King Alfgeir took all Vingulmark to himself, and placed his son Gandalf over it.” Olaf, though unrelated to elf, looks rather like it. Alfgeir is related to elf, and may be glossed “elf-spear”. Westfold, a part of the Vingulmark, of course, would cause any reader of Tolkien to sit up! There is also an Eastfold. But again, most likely no more than coincidence.

[2] John F. Sweeney, S.J. “Book Review of Le Mouvement Théologique du XIIe Siècle: Etudes, Recfarches et Documents, by J. de Ghellinck.” Theological Studies 11 (1950): 627–30, p. 628.

[3] William H. Bryson. Dictionary of Sigla and Abbreviations to and in Law Books Before 1607. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975, pp. 72–3. See also Wilfried Hartmann and Kenneth Pennington. The History of Medieval Canon Law in the Classical Period, 11401234: From Gratian to the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX. Washington, D.C: Catholic University of America Press, 2008., pp. 73–4.

[4] This is one of the difficulties with Gothic. Its limited surviving lexis is skewed toward Christian words and away from the older pagan Germanic traditions. A sad loss in the native word-stock, one which would be repeated some five or six centuries later in England.

[5] There is a Saint Gandulphus as well, or more than one, distinct from Magister Gandulphus of Bologna. Of one St. Gandulphus, it has been written that “Many Persons derided his Miracles, and even his Wife scornfully told him, that he performed them just as she farted: Whereupon she violently broke Wind, and continued to do so, whenever she spoke a Word, on the same Day of every Week to her Death” (George Lavington. The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists Compared. Volume I. London: J. and P. Knapton, 1754, p. 202; italics original). Let that be a lesson never to insult the magic of a wand-elf!

Friday, January 20, 2012

My book now available for Kindle

I’m not sure quite when this happened, but one of my friends has let me know that my book, Tolkien and the Study of His Sources, is now available for the Kindle. If you’ve been waiting to buy a copy, either because of the price, or because you simply prefer an e-book format, then you can follow this link to buy one today. At the moment, the Kindle e-book is only $14.99, which is a big savings from the print edition. Personally, I prefer print books (how does one autograph an e-book?! ;), but it’s nice to have a choice. I know some folks like to have both print and digital formats, and that’s certainly all right with me too! No word on other digital formats, but they will undoubtedly be coming too.

I hope that even more people will be able to (afford to) read the book now. And as always, you have an open invitation to let me know what you think! It’s been about six months since the book was published, and the feedback and reviews have been very positive so far.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Celebrating Tolkien’s 120th birthday

I am very pleased to be able to share some detailed information about a special upcoming issue of L’Arc et le Heaume, the publication of Tolkiendil (the French Tolkien Society). This is an exciting publication for me, since I contributed an essay — but especially for the franco-phone Tolkien community, for even better reasons. But I will let Vivien Stocker, its editor, do the rest of the talking from here. Everything that follows this paragraph is the announcement Vivien forwarded to me. I’ve edited it only slightly (e.g., giving the titles of the essays in both French and English).

[Vivien Stocker:] As you already know, this year will mark the 120th anniversary of Tolkien’s birth. To celebrate the event, the association Tolkiendil, which promotes the work of J.R.R. Tolkien throughout the French-speaking world, will publish a special issue of its magazine L’Arc et le Heaume, release scheduled for the coming summer. Several authors honoured us by writing brand new essays for this volume, or by providing us with texts never published in French before. In addition, The Tolkien Estate, HarperCollins and Verlyn Flieger allowed us to translate Tolkien’s own essay on Smith of Wootton Major, previously issued in the expanded edition of that tale in 2005 and still unreleased in French. Thus, we are proud to announce the contents of this volume:
  • Vivien Stocker: “Éditorial”
  • Isabelle Pantin: “Tolkien et le Romantisme” [Tolkien and Romanticism]
  • Thomas Honegger: “Plus de Lumière que d’Ombre? Approches Jungiennes de Tolkien et de l’Image Archétypale de l’Ombre” [More Light than Shadow? Jungian Approaches to Tolkien and the Archetypeal Image of the Shadow]
  • John D. Rateliff: “Un Fragment, Détaché: Bilbo le Hobbit et Le Silmarillion” [A Fragment, Detached: The Hobbit and The Silmarillion]
  • Tom Shippey: “Arbres, Tronçonneuses, et Visions du Paradis” [Trees, Chainsaws, and Visions of Paradise]
  • Jason Fisher: “La Jeune Fille Elfe dans la Forêt: Une Image Récurrente chez Tolkien” [Tolkien’s Recurrent Image of the Elf Maiden in the Wood]
  • Jérôme Sainton: “Amdir ah Estel”
  • Jean-Rodolphe Turlin: “Wandering Madness: Le Motif de l’Errance dans l’Œuvre de Tolkien” [Wandering Madness: The Motif of Wandering in Tolkien’s Works]
  • Ursula Le Guin: “Schémas Rythmiques dans Le Seigneur des Anneaux” [Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings]
  • Ted Nasmith: “Une Longue Histoire” [A Long Affair]
  • Bertrand Bellet: “Sir Orfeo, une Traduction” [Sir Orfeo, a Translation]
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: “Essai sur Smith de Wootton Major” [Essay on Smith of Wootton Major]
The entire volume will be in French. We hope to present the original versions of English articles online on Tolkiendil.com after its release. For more information, follow this link. [By the way, the wonderful portrait above, which I reproduce here with permission, is by the talented Belgian artist, Pascal Legrand.]

Monday, January 16, 2012

Are the grammar books all right about alright?

I used to be a bit of a perfectionist when it came to language. I was known — infamous, I should say — for correcting everyone’s grammar, from the time I first learned what grammar was, all the way to the time I started learning about the differences between prescriptive and descriptive grammar. Nowadays, I’ve given up correcting people’s grammar — not because it doesn’t need correcting (!), but because I’ve learned that it is practical usage, even incorrect usage, that moves the wheels of language. If people are going to start spelling nightlight as nitelite, well, why not? If people want to use they in the singular, well, this has a long pedigree in English usage (if it was good enough for Shakespeare). And if people want to spell all right as one word, alright, let them.

For the record, I spell it all right, and consequently, it tends to catch my eye when people spell it alright. This is what happened while I was reading a political commentary by the well-known journalist, David Frum. The title of the column is, “In South Carolina, the kids are not alright” [link]. The title doubly caught my eye, and you might be able to guess why. Frum adopts the renegade spelling alright, referring to a song by The Who in which it is so spelled. But the same phrase is the title of a successful, award-winning film, The Kids Are All Right. See that? Thirty-five years more recently than the song, and thirty-one more recently that a documentary film about The Who with the same title, the newer film reverts to the “correct” spelling. My guess is that the 1965 song was the inspiration for the title of the 2010 film, but I don’t know that for a fact.

But although (all though) I write all right, it doesn’t bother me when others write alright. Why not? Apart from the fact that the linguistic winds are always (all ways) blowing change into the sails of the language, and apart from the fact that the compound form is already (all ready) deeply entrenched in popular usage, there is a long, legitimizing history of this form. The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary has it, marked obsolete, and dates one of its earliest uses (c. 1230) to a passage in the Ancrene Riwle. The OED gives the passage thus, “And alriht so of þe oðre wittes”. In fairness, some editors of this work have transcribed it al riht (two words). For example, J.R.R. Tolkien [1], and much more recently, Bella Millett [2]. In fact, most editions of the Ancrene Wisse have it as two distinct words, though I have seen one or two which have it as a single compound word, and it was obviously also (all so) the case with the edition consulted by the staff of the OED. How can we answer which is right, among all the extant manuscripts, and with all the editorial preferences imposed on them? [3]

But this is rather beside the point, or perhaps it even reinforces the point, as I hope some of the parenthetical phrases in the preceding paragraph suggest. All right comes down to us from the Middle English al riht(es) or alriht(es), in turn from Old English eal(l) riht or eal(l)riht. Certainly, the origin of this, and all of these similar collocations, is as two distinct words, but it has been written as one for nearly as long as it has two. In my view, there is no reason for anyone to feel guilty about writing alright, all right? It’s a perfectly good word, albeit (all be it) wrong by convention. But grammar is a fragile thing. Tomorrow, who knows?

And now, I am wondering: have today’s francophones started writing çava (as one word)? After all, the OED gives alamode as a perfectly good alternative for à la mode.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Ancrene Wisse: The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle, MS Corpus Christi College, Cambridge 402. Early English Text Society, No. 249. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. See, for example, p. 36, l. 21f., where Tolkien reads al riht al swa (“all right also”).

[2] Bella Millett, ed. Ancrene Wisse: A Corrected Edition of the Text in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 402, with Variants from Other Manuscripts. Early English Text Society, No. 325. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. This is essentially an edition updated from Tolkien’s of forty years earlier. Compare to [1] the passage on p. 27, here read a bit differently, as al riht alswa. By “corrected edition”, does she mean to say she’s correcting previous editors or correcting the scribes? :)

[3] To give one notable example: Frances M. Mack and Arne Zettersten, eds. Ancrene Riwle: The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle, BM MS Cotton Titus D xviii. Early English Text Society, No. 252. London: Oxford University Press, 1963. Here, to compare to the same passage in the previous notes, we have yet a third transcription: alriht alswa. Arne Zettersten also discusses alriht, again giving it as a single word, in his Studies in the Dialect and Vocabulary of the Ancrene Riwle. Lund Studies in English, No. 34. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup, 1965. This was the translation into English of Zettersten’s doctoral thesis, and it bears all the signs of influence and advice from Tolkien, a friend and colleague to Zettersten at the time. I am tempted to call Zettersten a protégé of Tolkien’s, but I am not quite sure it would be accurate. But Mack and Zettersten’s edition came just one year after Tolkien’s, as the Early English Text Society attempted to work its way through all of the extant manuscripts.