Thursday, May 31, 2007

The road not taken ... yet

You don’t hear that much about Alan Garner any more, which is a shame because his fantasy books (or most of them) are wonderful. Like Tolkien and Lewis, he plumbed mythology — mainly the Celtic and Norse — to provide depth and context for the struggles of his characters. Like Charles Williams, he brought that mythological past into the present, situating it right alongside everyday people going about everyday business, unaware. More recently, J.K. Rowling has taken this same approach, setting her magical world alongside the unsuspecting Muggle world. But unlike Tolkien and Lewis and Rowling, Garner’s landscapes and landmarks really exist.

Thinking especially of the Alderley Edge books (The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath), that landscape, the real Alderley Edge, is in modern-day Cheshire. And almost all of the natural landmarks Garner describes in Colin and Susan’s adventures were — and are — really there. The Old Quarry, the Wizard’s Well, Goldenstone, Radnor Mere, Redesmere, Macclesfield, and on and on. A visitor to north central England could, without too much difficulty, find these spots and retrace the characters’ steps. And some have actually done so!

How fantastic would that be? Can you imagine exploring the many mines and caves that dot the place, on the lookout for the svart alfar? Taking care not to get stuck in the Earldelving (which really scared me as a kid). It's no wonder Alderley inspired Garner to write stories like Weirdstone. The very landscape is so evocative and so little changed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What's in a name? [Updated]

Onomastics is an interest of mine, and since I've already made a partial translation of my name into Quenya, I thought I'd take a moment to discuss the etymology of my own name, for those very, very few who might be interested.

Jason – “Healer”. Greek Ιασων /iason/, from ιασθαι /iasthai/ “to heal”.

My mother originally wanted to name me Travis (< Old French traverse “a crossing”, once indicative of the profession of toll-collector). Luckily, that didn’t happen.

Aldrich – “Old/All Ruler”. It seems to contain the Old English elements ald, eald “old” + ríc, ríce “ruler, powerful person”. The latter is a common element of personal names in English (as is ælf “elf”). Or it may be eal "all" + dryht(en) “lord, ruler”. In either case, the meaning is pretty much the same. There are a number of cognate forms, including French Aldric and Aldéric, and Germanic Aldridge, Al(l)ric(k), Eldritch, et al.

The name comes from my father’s mother’s brother: Aldrich Vrska, a second-generation Czech immigrant. Does anyone know the meaning of the name Vrska? [Update:] Poking around the Internet, I found a great Czech dictionary online, and based on that, I think the name Vrska probably derives from vršek "knoll", or more likely, the plural, vršky "knolls". Surnames derived from features of the local landscape are, after all, very common. But here's the really fun part: the word vrš has a whole series of "fish" meanings — "fish basket", "fish pot", "kiddle". (What's a kiddle? It's — you guessed it! — a kind of fish basket. :P)

Fisher – “Fisher”. Pretty self-explanatory. The only point to make here is that this is the English, and not the German, form of the name (though, of course, they're related). That is, its antecedent is Old English fiscere “fisher”. I hate seeing people misspell my name Fischer. Ech!

Anyone with an etymology of his or her own name, please feel free to leave it in the comments! :)

Farewell, Lloyd Alexander

This is coming a bit late here, but for those who don't participate in the Mythsoc Yahoo! Group (where we have been discussing this), I wanted to note that Lloyd Alexander passed away a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, he lived a long life and wrote many wonderful books. I still read them today, and if you haven't, you should think about giving them a look. As Pauline Alama put it on the Mythsoc Group:
He seemed to be as lovely a person as he was an author, and his gentle world view is much needed in the times we're living through. I hope his books will continue to reach young readers for many years to come.
He meant a very great deal to me growing up. He will be missed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Tolkien Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Diary

Tolkien EncyclopediaSo, about six months ago a great big book called The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment finally appeared. Since others have already done it for me, I won't rehearse the long list of the book's problems and production nightmares (you can read about them here, at the editor, Michael Drout's, blog) — I'll just say that I contributed twelve entries to the volume, most of which I'm pretty happy with. One of them was chosen as a sample entry for the Routledge / Taylor & Francis website. Doing twelve entries also tied me for sixth eighth place among the top ten contributors, but hey, it's not about quantity but rather quality, right?

Earlier this year, I learned about the Encyclopedia Diary, a project launched by a fellow contributor with the goal of systematically reading and reviewing every entry in the whole Encyclopedia — all 537 of them! Squire discussed his Diary, what is it, and why he started it at his blog, squiretalk, and the idea behind it appealed to me very much. So, again, long story short, I've been participating in the project since February, along with squire and another Encyclopedia contributor, N.E. Brigand. These guys have real names, of course, but as Treebeard might say, "Hoo! Now that would be telling! Not so hasty." ;)

Some of my own entries have been reviewed, with quite a few valuable opinions and insights, as well as some very legitimate criticisms. I've also had the chance to do some 64 reviews — and counting — myself. Drop in and browse! And if you're lucky enough to have one of these rare, expensive books, I know that squire would welcome your input. And as Tolkien once said, "Touching your cap to the Squire may be damn bad for the Squire but it's damn good for you" [1]. What does that mean? I'll leave you to ponder it.

[1] Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977. p. 128.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Should I have said, "Musings of an Air-Fish"?

Tempting. For those who don't recognize the allusion, it's George MacDonald:

"It was a curious creature, made like a fish, but covered, instead of scales, with feathers of all colours, sparkling like those of a humming-bird. It had fins, not wings, and swam through the air as a fish does through the water." (from The Golden Key)
MacDonald is often connected with the Inklings, as a sort of imaginative progenitor of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and their like-minded friends.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What does lingwë mean anyway?

So, whether you've stumbled upon this blog by accident or were directed here by that subtle, yet so irresistable, urge to click a link somewhere — you're probably wondering about lingwë. I could say that this was about the hundredth name I tried for my blog and that I was beginning to become frustrated and desperate (which is true), but let's just set that aside for the moment. The word lingwë is Quenya. It means “fish”, as in Jason Fisher. And on top of that, it's roughly homophonic with lingua (“language” in Italian, from Latin), a nice bonus. It seemed a lucky coincidence to me, and quite à propos, since the vast majority of my posts are likely to revolve around two things: J.R.R. Tolkien and language/linguistics.

So. There you are: lingwë. At least it wasn't eorclanstanas, which I thought about using. Think how you'd feel having to type that!

Welcome. :)