Tuesday, July 31, 2007

“Bellatrix are for kids” — now with SPOILERS!

In case it wasn’t obvious from the title of this post, I’ll be spilling the beans here, in toto, so if you haven’t read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows yet and don’t want anything spoiled — then bail out now!
For those on the edge of their seats to read my thoughts on the final installment in the Harry Potter heptology (yes, I stole that from Jon Stewart — and no, I don’t think it’s a real word :), I apologize for the delay in the promised post(s). Of course, I may be flattering myself to think there’s anybody out there at all, but just in case there is, I’m going to take a crack at putting down some reactions. I’ve been jotting down notes for the last week, and so let’s see if I can make sense of any of them ...

There’s so much to say, really, that I’ve decided to start by offering a rebuttal to some of the criticisms I’ve been reading since the book came out. Rowling herself was well aware that she couldn’t possibly please everybody with her last Harry Potter novel — that it was the last was already a strike against her! — but I have still been rather surprised at the number of mixed, or even outright negative, reviews. As I’ve perused them, I’ve noticed that the same complaints seem to crop up again and again.

This, that, or the other death was pointless or unnecessary. Hedwig and Colin Creevey are most often given as examples of the “gratuitous” murders rampant in the book, but I’ve also seen the same complaint made of Fred, Lupin, and Tonks. And even some of the other characters, like Mad-Eye Moody. I have a couple of responses to this complaint. First, I’m not sure these deaths are pointless or unnecessary. But second, and more importantly, if they are, well, isn’t that the point? Isn’t that war? By definition, death is part of all life-and-death struggles, and very often, the innocent die ... often unexpectedly, without fanfare, and even without “taking the bad guy with them.” Such murders may even underscore the wanton evil that is Voldemort better than so-called “meaningful” deaths, I think.

Speaking of deaths, Snape’s was lame, and he didn’t get to do enough in the book. Again, I disagree with this gripe. Snape’s death was another of those moments of lurid violence that only Voldemort is capable of, and the suddenness of it emphasizes Snape’s sacrifice all the more. Some readers have been grousing that Snape “ought to have had something more important to do.” Well, he may well have — it seems that Dumbledore expected Snape to be the inheritor of the Elder Wand, with which he would presumably have “had a job to do” in facilitating Voldermort’s downfall — but the unexpectedness of his demise makes it all the more tragic. And another related complaint I’ve read is that Snape’s portrait ought to have appeared in the headmaster’s office at Hogwarts. I even thought the same thing when I read the book. Well, in an online chat with J.K. Rowling that I participated in yesterday morning, she answered this question, saying “[i]t was deliberate. Snape had effectively abandoned his post before dying, so he had not merited inclusion in these august circles. However, I like to think that Harry would be instrumental in ensuring that Snape’s portrait would appear there in due course.” That’s good enough for me.

Speaking of Snape, what was with his being in love with Lily? And it was lame that we learned about this through a long series of memories viewed in the pensieve. It wasn’t lame at all. I liked that method of revelation because Snape was gone. It was done, all in the past, fait accompli. There could be no debating, no discussion, no questions, no recriminations. It was just revealed, purely on Snape’s terms. And I especially liked seeing a snippet, once again, of “Snape’s Worst Memory,” which we now learn was not the humiliation he felt at James and Sirius’s mistreatment of him; his worst memory was calling Lily a Mudblood and driving a permanent and irrevocable wedge between them. I found his feelings for Lily completely unexpected (though I understand many readers saw this coming), and I loved that choice. It was touching that the silver doe was Snape’s patronus, because it had been Lily’s. Snape’s feelings of love for Lily and guilt over her death were indeed sufficient cause for Dumbledore’s never-wavering trust. And that Snape wanted to leave his life with his eyes on Lily’s (in the face of her son, Harry) is a testament to his enduring love and loyalty to her memory.

Why did we need yet another magical object, in the form of the Hallows? Weren’t the Horcruxes enough? No, because the Hallows represented temptation for Harry. If he simply had his mission (to destroy the Horcruxes), then the plot might have been one-dimensional indeed. Besides, if you complain “not another magical object,” then you may as well get rid of Sirus’s mirror, the deluminator, the Vanishing Cabinet, and the pensieve, among many other such objects, that have appeared in each book. Pretty much every one of the seven introduces some new magical object, often more than one. But returning to the Hallows, hasn’t Dumbledore always said that it’s an individual’s choices, more than any particular abilities, characteristics, or birthright, that determine whether he is good or evil? And that the ultimate character-defining dilemma comes down to doing what is right or doing what is easy. Harry needed the Hallows to offer him something “easy”, a temptation not unlike Satan’s temptation of Jesus for forty days in the wilderness. And speaking of those forty days, ...

What was up with the boring, plodding, dragging mess in the middle? I didn’t think it was a mess, myself, though I will allow that it certainly did slow down the pace of the book. But wasn’t this just the calm before the storm of the Battle of Hogwarts, which more than made up for it in excitement? I think this was an important period in the narrative because it gave Harry the chance to catch his breath and really think about his next move, as opposed to merely reacting to events outside his control. It introduced the Hallows and offered Harry a temptation, one that Voldemort would certainly have taken in Harry’s place. The fact that Harry, in the end, turns his back on the promise of the Hallows proves him worthy to destroy (rather than replace) Voldemort. Some readers suggest that the middle “400 or so pages” should have been collapsed down into about 100 or so (just three, maybe four chapters). Frankly, I think that’s much too severe. We had to have time to see how the Locket horcrux was eroding Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s resolve; we had to have time for Ron to leave, to learn about the Snatchers and the deluminator, and to return — just in time to be instrumental in the destruction of the Locket; and we had to have time to take a deep breath before plunging back into the action. I found the “pause” in the middle to be pretty effective, overall, and I don’t think I’d presume to suggest any changes. At least, not on the strength of my one reading.

And finally, the Epilogue sucked! It was twee, treacly, superficial, and we didn’t even learn nearly enough about what everybody is doing now. I liked the Epilogue, and I don’t consider myself overly susceptible to emotional manipulation either. The focus is on the core group, which I think is appropriate. It’s on family, which bookends the lack of a strong, loving family with which the series opens. It’s on unity and reunion, and it’s on the return to Hogwarts. Some readers wanted to know all about Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s jobs. But while we can all be curious (and Rowling has since answered all these questions and many more), it’s not important to the end of this novel. Harry, who’s always been so uncomfortable with his fame, is now a father, husband, and all around “normal” guy. Some readers complained that Luna should have been mentioned in the epilogue, as well as George, and any number of other characters. I don’t think that was necessary, myself. After all, this isn’t the coda to the movie Stripes, where you see a cheesy snapshot of each and every character with a goofy curriculum vitae of the rest of their lives. Personally, I felt that the balance between what was made clear and what was left unsaid was just right. Moreover, Harry’s praise of Snape (whose name, Severus, he gave to his second son) brought a heart-swelling and very satisfying closure to his combative relationship with the man. That revelation made even me cry — which is not an easy thing to do!

So, your turn! Anything you really didn’t like? Anything you’ve heard others complain about that you want to rebut? Agree or disagree with me on any of the points I’ve made here? Bring on the comments!

Friday, July 27, 2007

“A car that runs on the tears of children ...”

Here’s a great clip from a recent episode of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, in which Jon Stewart and John Oliver make fun of all those jerks who kept trying to spoil Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for little kids waiting in line at the bookstore last Friday night. There are no spoilers in the clip, so watch and enjoy! (You need Flash to play to clip.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Explore the Harry Potter cover art

NOTE: There are no spoilers here, unless you don’t like examining the dustjacket art too closely.

Here is a fun link I came across recently. It’s a Flash-based* cover art explorer for the U.S. justjacket art by the wonderfully talented Mary Grandpré. Just choose a cover — and this includes several de luxe edition covers I had never seen before — and then move the magnifier around to explore the details close-up. Pretty interesting. That’s a shot of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, zoomed in on Ron and Hermione, above.

And while I’m posting links, the same site offers a pronunciation guide as well, though not a complete one. Wondering how to pronounce some of those character names, incantations, and potions (e.g., Felix Felicis or Rufus Scrimgeour)? Check this guide for the “official” pronunciations — not that this will stop me continuing to use some of my own. :)

* If you don’t have the Adobe Flash Player installed, just follow the link.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New York Times review — spoilers redacted

For the exceedingly spoiler-conscious who have not finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, use your own judgment on whether to read this post. Follow any links with caution, most obviously the link to the Times). I am very carefully attempting to avoid any spoilers at all in this post, but your definition of such may differ (although mine is extremely broad, so you’re probably okay — but you have been warned.)
The early book review [<- SPOILERS] of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows run by the New York Times has drawn heavy fire recently, both for running a full review two days before the book was released, and for revealing what many would consider to be spoilers. Now that I’ve read the book, I went back and read that review. Sure enough, there are definitely things in it that I consider spoilers. They’re relatively minor, but I still wouldn’t have wanted to know about them in advance!

I thought it would be amusing to take the review and redact it for what I considered to be the unsuitable, spoiling content. The results aren’t too pretty — which is to say, not that much of the review survived my edits. See for yourself below if you like. Note that you’ll still be able to read parts of the review, and while I think those legible parts spoil nothing at all, there’s a possibility you might disagree. So, caveat lector!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Revelio Totalus!

I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows yesterday in the early evening after a couple of marathon reading sessions Saturday and Sunday (not counting reading the first three chapters when I got home from picking the book up at midnight). Jennifer finished it in the wee hours this morning.

All I can say is: it’s lucky I’m not a house elf, because it absolutely blew my socks off! :)

Seriously (or should I say Sirius-ly? :), an incredible conclusion to the series. An imaginative triumph, answering all the outstanding questions in (to me) a very satisfying way. Full of harrowing, tragic events, scenes of unprecedented suspense and excitement, and a beautiful symmetry befitting everything that has been leading up to these final pages over the last ten years.

I’ll be blogging about it in detail over the next few days, I expect. I’ll continue to warn about spoilers for a little while, since I realize many people will not have finished the book yet. I’m also planning to read it again next week.

I might also point out that even though some people think I’m a robot, the book brought tears to my eyes — more than once. Well done, Jo — well done!

Friday, July 20, 2007

3,440 pages down — 784 to go!

As you all must know, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes out tonight. Jennifer spent an hour in line this morning getting our place in line for tonight (sheesh!), and now it's just a matter of waiting. I get to leave work early today, so we’re going to lunch at Henk’s (mmm, German! :P). Then we’re off to see the newest film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Then, it’s Harry, Harry, Harry, all weekend long!

You can be sure I’ll have some posts on the subject in the next week or two (or more), but unlike some people (e.g., The New York Times — for shame!), I’ll warn you before I drop a spoiler on you. That’s a promise! :)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mything links ...

Forbidding abode in Iceland!Here are some interesting and fun links I’ve been meaning to post for a few days now. I've just decided to put them all together in one post. Hope you enjoy!

First off, an online slide rule using Viking runes instead of Arabic numerals. Now, even though I have absolutely no clue what to do with a slide rule myself (there are geeks, and then there are geeks), there’s apparently a huge subculture of “slide rule nuts” still alive and thriving on the Web. They even have their own dedicated listserv (and probably more than just this one). The original poster described this latest addition thus:
Finally Norsemen, Vikings, and others who can read runes (and who have internet access), have available to them a virtual slide rule that they can use to do their trigonometric problems with [...] I hope this virtual Runic slide rule will be a great help to Norsemen everywhere in plotting courses to navigate their longships.

Second, Nick Humez — Harvard alumnus, mythology enthusiast, and pro-am folk musician — has produced an interesting new CD, Myth Songs. Seventeen tracks, spanning varied musical styles and mythologies from Greece to Iceland to Egypt and many places and ages in between. Humez summarizes each song, identifies his sources, and offers a few samples here. My favorite is definitely “Sleipnir”, a calypso number based on Old Norse legend (though wouldn’t a calypso number have been better for the Greek naiad of that name? :). The tune is extremely catchy and amusing, too. I can’t restrain myself from pointing out that Humez mispronounces Niflheim, but nobody’s perfect.

And finally, there’s a really interesting new documentary film out about the huldufólk of Iceland. Apparently, though they don’t talk about it with outsiders very often, Icelanders still believe to this day in the huldrer, mysterious little “hidden people” of folklore — think elves, dwarves, trolls, and so forth (in the Scandinavian sense, not the Tolkienian). Alan Garner used the term “huldrafolk” in the Alderley Edge books, which is where I first encountered it many years ago. And as in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, apparently the Icelanders believe they share the modern world with the last remnants of this furtive society. This also reminds me of a novel I read more recently, Troll: A Love Story, by Johanna Sinisalo. It’s a novel set in present-day Finland, where the trolls of legend still really exist. A very imaginative book! Anyway, the documentary is called Huldufólk 102 — check out the trailer — I simply have to see this!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What the fudge*, Amazon?!

I just received an email alerting me that the issue with my disappearing review of Dirk Vander Ploeg’s book, Quest for Middle-earth, “has been resolved”, so naturally, I high-tailed it to the product page straightaway to gloat over its restoration to prominence. But no! Trickery and chicanery worthy of Loki himself! Not only is my review still M.I.A. (but yet I can still find it via the comments, so it definitely still exists), but now, the product page no longer includes it in its statistics for the reviews and ratings of the book.

And even more mysterious, there’s another (new) five-star review for this abominable mockery of Tolkien — and a terribly written one at that. So, now that my review has somehow been excluded from the statistics, DvP’s book has all the appearance of a highly recommended five-star title!

What’s going on here?! Methinks I scent a conspiracy! “Awake! Awake! Fear, Fire, Foes! Awake!”

* No, not Cornelius Fudge. ;)

Etymologies of “occlumency” and “legilimency”

This morning, while I was home for lunch, Jennifer asked me what I thought the sources were for these two J.K. Rowling neologisms. We talked about it a little — I’d had some passing thoughts, but hadn’t looked into them any more closely than that, and I said I would. She suggested a blog post. And so, voici, voilà ...

The fact that the incantation for both spells ends in —mens immediately suggests the Latin mens “mind”, which is also perfectly consistent with their intended functions. But Wikipedia also suggested an echo of the combining form —mancy, which they defined as “divination”, as in necromancy or bibliomancy. That’s a good thought, but of course, that element (from Greek —μαντία) derives from the same source as Latin mens, Greek μένος “mind”. As a side note, this root also gives us mantis, as in praying mantis, in which mantis actually means “prophet” (cf. Greek μαντις “seer”), and mantic, an uncommon adjective meaning “prophetic”. Sybill Trelawney would be so delighted! :)

So that’s the last element down. What about the first?

In “legilimency”, the element legili— unequivocally incorporates the meaning of Latin legere “to read”, but it’s so much fresher than that hackneyed old metaphor, “reading minds”. This verb has secondary uses, too, of “to collect, to choose” (unmentioned by Wikipedia), both of which enrich the meaning still further and seem appropriate to how Rowling has described the process and experience of legilimency.

Then, according to Wikipedia again, occlu— in “occlumency” comes from the Latin occludere “to close up, to block off” (cf. Modern English occlude). That certainly makes sense — though where has the –d– gone? In any case, they’re on the right track, but I would like to submit an alternate or additional possibility as well. The Latin occulere (no missing phonemes here!) means “to conceal, to cover up, to hide”, which sounds just as appropriate, if not more so. It’s also the source for our Modern English word occult (from the past participle occultus “concealed”), which is a pretty compelling bonus, if you ask me.

So there you have it: the likely etymologies for “occlumency” and “legilimency”. It’s just too bad we can’t actually perform these thaumaturgic “sleights of mind” in real life, isn’t it?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More on Gollancz’s translation of The Pearl

Despite the almost apocalyptic proliferation of spam, identity theft, pornography, and 419 scams, the Internet really is still a wonderful thing. How else would I have come by the information I’m about to share? (Err, I mean, without any effort whatsoever on my part. I suppose I could have, umm, gone to a library, if you want to get technical. But I digress ... :)

A week or so ago, like a bolt from the blue, a complete stranger from Friesland (a Frisian-speaking province in the Netherlands) dropped me a line to offer some information on the Israel Gollancz translation of The Pearl. Those who’ve been paying attention will remember that I didn’t have ready access to it when I blogged about Tolkien’s translation of wryþe in the poem.

So Jan Veltman emailed to tell me that in the 1891 translation, Gollancz renders the line (Þat God wolde wryþe so wrange away) as “that God should work so all amiss.” In Gollancz’s subsequent editions (1918, 1921, 1936), it seems he tweaked the translation slightly: “That He would work so all amiss.” Thank you, Jan!

This is very interesting, actually, because it’s the loosest of the translations I’ve yet seen. The word wryþe does not mean “work”, and even Gollancz himself defines the word as “turn” in his accompanying glossary (in accord with everybody else), and “all amiss” isn’t particularly accurate either (though it’s clearly dictated by the choice of “work”). It appears Gollancz’s rendering was more poetic than accurate, which (if such choices are widespread in the translation) may help to explain why Kenneth Sisam referred to Gollancz’s 1921 Pearl as “a minor edition” [1].

And it may offer another reason for why Gordon and Tolkien planned an edition of Pearl, meant to follow quickly on the heels of their successful edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and to eclipse Gollancz just as quickly, I daresay. In the event, Tolkien was unable to commit the necessary time to the project, and even Gordon failed to complete it before his death in 1938. His wife, Ida, with some help from Tolkien, managed finally to bring it to press in 1953. As attentive readers will remember, I don’t have a copy of that edition either, but Jan happened to have a spare and very generously offered to send it to me for my own collection. Like I said, the Internet really can be a wonderful place!

[1] Sisam makes this statement in the notes to Pearl in Sisam, Kenneth. Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose (with Glossary). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921. Reprinted with corrections, 1964.

Monday, July 16, 2007

“Hahae,” quoth the mighty Pugnax ...

Terence and PlautusSooner or later, anybody who corresponds with me for any length of time encounters my use of “hahae” as an inter- jection of amusement or laughter. A quick search reveals that it’s even popped up here in my blog. My friend, N.E. Brigand, actually asked me about it late last week, so it seemed an explanation might be in order.

There are perhaps two surprises here. 1) I’ve been using it — in various reduplicative forms: e.g., hae, hahae, hahahae — for something like twenty years now. And 2) I didn’t make it up.

It’s actually an attested Latin interjection of laughter. It’s even in my Harper Collins Latin Concise Dictionary (London: Harper Collins, 1997, p. 97), and it’s certainly in some of the bigger Latin and etymological dictionaries. [1]

As it happens, I crammed about three years of Latin into a single year of high school back in 1985-6. I’d started teaching it to myself — a bit here, a bit there — during junior high school, and especially during the summer before I started my freshman year of high school — in fact, I’d done the same thing with French before I took it in junior high school (and later, all through high school as well). In both cases, it gave me a substantial advantage over my classmates, and in the case of Latin, the teacher put me right into independent study after the first two weeks, whereupon I worked my way through three years of high school Latin, just me and my trusty Wheelock — and only a periodic assignment or test from the teacher. Like I said, independent study! (And by the way, the same thing happened again at the end of high school, when I’d exhausted the official curriculum for French. You’d think I’d be more fluent, wouldn’t you? :)

At some point, I encountered hahae reading Roman drama. It’s particularly conspicuous in the works of Terence and Plautus. (How I wish I could have said Terrance and Phillip here, hahae. You see? There it is again! :) There’s actually a whole section on Terence’s use of hahae in a published thesis with the accurate but not very thrilling title, The Interjections in Terence, which I happened upon very recently. [2]

I began using it immediately myself, most often (in those days) written with a pretentious, unnecessary diaeresis, like this: hahaë. I got my friend, Gary, doing it, too, and we’re both still using it to this day. And what about Pugnax in the title of this post? Well, these plays I was reading always seemed to have a hot-headed protagonist called Pugnax, so in the early days of the adoption of hahae, we seemed always to be adding “quoth the mighty Pugnax”, or something similar, in parenthesis. Yes, we were actually saying this at age fourteen or fifteen. I know, I know — we’re as amazed as you are that we weren’t more popular with the ladies. They really missed out! ;)

[1] Speaking of etymology, there are closely related forms and cognates attested in a variety of other languages. Most of these are probably onomatopoeic in origin, which must account for the preponderance of similar forms across language families. A sampling: French haha; Old English, Middle High German, Old Frisian (ha)há; Middle English ha3e, hahe “pleasure”; Middle High German hage “pleasure”; Hungarian hahota “loud laughter”; Finnish hahottaa, hohottaa; Arabic kahkahah; Greek κακάζω, καγκάζω. And do you really want the sources?! I’ll add them if anybody does, but I’m not so sure people are really interested that after all. Suffice to say, they’re mostly the usual suspects (e.g., Skeat, Stratmann, et al.)

[2] Newton, Walter Russell. The Interjections in Terence. Thesis for Syracuse University. Portland: Andover Press: 1899, pp. 33-34. Newton explains that “[t]his interjection is not used in Terence to express hearty, sincere amusement, but is usually ironical, derisive, or contemptuous.” Who knew? :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Quackery at the expense of Tolkien — redux

Ready for a long and belligerent gripe? Then read on! :)

About a month ago, I blogged about an improbable new book, Quest for Middle-earth by Dirk Vander Ploeg, as unqualified a would-be Tolkien scholar as ever there were. I also wrote a scathing review on Amazon which has subsequently, and mysteriously, disappeared from the book’s product page! (It’s still possible to get to the review by viewing my review comments; when you do that, the review shows up perfectly. To save you the trouble, just click here. I’ve opened an inquiry with Amazon about this issue!)

Well, I was reviewing some of the recent articles over at Tolkien Library, when I came across this: an interview with Dirk Vander Ploeg himself. Well, I tried to restrain myself (okay, okay, half-heartedly, I admit), but no, I simply must respond to some of his statements there. Feel free to read along with me. ;)

Asked what prompted him to write a book about Tolkien, Vander Ploeg answers, in part:
I believe that mankind was seeded by an alien race. This explains the “missing link” in evolution. According to certain researchers our DNA was altered, genes spliced, etc. Homo Erectus thus because Home Sapien [sic] — literally overnight. God or what creatures of the time believed to be Gods may have caused this intervention. The Bible and the Book of Enoch agree that the Nephilim took human wives and created a new race of supermen. I believe these were the elves and Tolkien used this storyline in the Silmarillion.
That whirring sound you hear is Professor Tolkien spinning in his grave. Even given the enormous leap required to believe that “mankind was seeded by an alien race”, there is just so much rampant fallacy here. I count at least six unfounded assumptions (not including the unidentified “certain researchers”).

He goes on to say “[t]hese elves were the demigods of history and folklore and had names such as Hercules and Achilles.” So, Hercules and Achilles were Elves?! Obviously, this is just rhetotric aimed at dramatic effect.

And then, “I have always believed that mankind has reached high levels of civilization several times in our past, but natural disasters, such as Noah’s flood, caused them to decline.” So, Noah’s flood was a natural disaster? I thought it was a deliberate punitive act of God? And wasn’t it God’s flood and not Noah’s? Perhaps Vander Ploeg is thinking of Evan Almighty. Or maybe I’m just being picky; let’s move on ...
As I was watching the first two movies it was as if pieces of a puzzle were falling into place, creating a history that I knew was true. Everyone has heard or read stories about dragons, giant eagles, elves, all seeing eyes and trolls. I decided to investigate Tolkien to see if he had knowledge of ancient history and I discovered that he did.
Aha! So the germ of his “research” project was the Peter Jackson film adaptations? The reference to an “all seeing eye” makes that painfully clear. Not good, not good.
I also realized almost immediately that the quest for the ring was actually a grail quest. It was King Arthur and Camelot all over again.
Hardly. The (so-called) Quest of the Ring would more aptly be called a reverse quest. Where the Grail Quest was the search for an object, the Ring “Quest” is a desperate flight into exile to lose one — to destroy it, in fact. No, while there are, arguably, a few subtle echoes of Arthuriana in The Lord of the Rings, the Quest motif itself cannot really be said to be one of them. This belies a substantial misreading of the book. (Of course, we haven’t established yet that Vander Ploeg even has read it, but I’m coming to that next.)

Asked how he first got interested in Tolkien’s works, Vander Ploeg replies with this eye-opener:
I actually had no interest in Tolkien. I had once tried to read the Hobbit and didn’t get 50 pages into the book before giving up. It was only after seeing the first two movies that I went out and purchased The Return of the King and devoured it. Couldn’t wait a year until the release of the third instalment.
Oh dear. From a failed attempt to read a children’s book, to “no interest”, to Hollywood-inspired fan-mania, and finally to a leap into reading some Tolkien at last, but starting with the very end of the story. Not promising at all. And did he ever go back to read The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers? We may never really know.

Then, asked what special qualifications he had for writing this book ... well, you ought to read that one for yourself: you deserve a good laugh. I’m still chuckling over it myself.

Asked where he “researched” his hypothesis, he lists several nonexistent Tolkien books (actually parts of The Silmarillion), together with several popular news stories disseminated on the web. No doubt this is a mere abridgment of the stunning research bibliography in his book. No doubt.

And finally — my personal favorite — when asked whether, during his research, he read much about Tolkien and could recommend anything, he said: “I scoured the Internet plus some old college English literature books. The best way to learn about Tolkien is to read his books including the Similarion [sic].” That’s it?! There are decades of substantial critical and scholarly work on Tolkien, and he overlooked all of it and gave us an egregious typo for The Silmarillion instead. He didn’t even read the Carpenter biography by the sound of it. The “Internet plus some old college English literature books” — I am simply awed by the man’s erudition.

There are plenty of other quibbles I could have made — e.g., he calls the Tolkien / Gordon edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight a “prose translation”, when it’s not a translation at all (and it’s in verse), and concludes from this mistake that Tolkien was a “grail historian”, when that poem isn’t about the grail at all — but really, do I have to go on? It should be pretty obvious by now that this book is exactly what I called it in my review of more than a month ago — Balderdash!

Two reviews forthcoming ...

I’ve just gotten the assignment to write two book reviews for the Fall/Winter issue of Mythlore, the semiannual academic journal of the Mythopoeic Society. The books I’ll be reviewing are Tom Shippey’s new collection, Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien (Walking Tree, 2007); and the mammoth four-volume set, C.S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy, edited by Bruce L. Edwards (Praeger, 2007). The issue is due out in October.

What with this, and an essay slated for Tolkien Studies Volume 5 next year, I need only get something into Mallorn (the journal of the Tolkien Society) to complete a trifecta, hahae. :)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Pig-Latin and Dog-Greek

My wife, Jennifer, just forwarded me an interesting article that touches just a bit on “dog linguistics” — not just how to train your dog to respond to commands, but which commands work best, for phonological and psychological reasons. I couldn’t help but think of Garm and Dog Latin when I read it:
Farmer Giles had a dog. The dog’s name was Garm. Dogs had to be content with short names in the vernacular: the Book-latin was reserved for their betters. Garm could not talk even dog-latin; but he could use the vulgar tongue (as could most dogs of his day) either to bully or to brag or to wheedle in. Bullying was for beggars and trespassers, bragging for other dogs, and wheedling for his master. Garm was both proud and afraid of Giles, who could bully and brag better than he could.
Mull that over a bit while I go on a bit of a holiday. It’s Jennifer’s birthday on Saturday, so I’m taking a few days off. When I get back, I may some more to say about Garm. (BTW, the title of this post comes from a book review Edgar Allan Poe once wrote — not a very complimentary one, if I need point that out. :)