Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Books this Summer: Part Two

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate my friend Jonathan Himes on the publication of a new critical edition, translation, and commentary on the two Old English fragments usually called “Waldere”. His book, The Old English Epic of Waldere (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), has won a ringing endorsement from Tom Shippey, who wrote:
Though long overshadowed by Beowulf, the romantically-discovered fragments of the Old English epic of Waldere give us our earliest vernacular glimpse of the Nibelungs and related legends. Jonathan Himes’s new edition now combines scholarly rigour with reader-accessibility, puts the case for identification of the speakers, and provides welcome expansion on the background of the legend, the problems of the manuscript, and issues both archaeological and literary. It will replace all previous editions and give a new stimulus to study of an often-bypassed poem.

By way of a further bridge to the world of Tolkien (if Shippey weren’t enough), one of those previous editions Jonathan’s book will make obsolete is Arne Zettersten’s (Manchester University Press, 1979), the first to use ultraviolet light to facilitate otherwise difficult readings [1]. In addition to consulting these prior editions and the prevailing scholarship on the fragments, Jonathan has also returned to the source, examining the fragments first-hand in an effort to resolve outstanding textual cruces in the manuscripts. But lest you worry this edition is aimed at paleographic specialists only, Jonathan makes clear in his preface that “[t]he whole introduction” (at least) “is written to be intelligible to ordinary readers that they might deepen their appreciation of Old English poetry” [2]. Likewise, the translation. Also welcome are ten illustrations (adaptations of drawings from the original Anglo-Saxon manuscripts) by Jonathan’s brother, Brent. Please note that you can read excerpts by following both links above; the CSP website, in particular, offers a substantial preview (thirty pages).

One final note of interest: Jonathan gives an acknowledgement to Dr. Robert Boenig, “a fine medievalist and mentor” [3]. Boenig is known for, among other things, the wonderful collection of primary texts, Anglo-Saxon Spirituality: Selected Writings (Paulist Press, 2000) as well as essays on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis [4]. But on a more personal level, it was under Bob Boenig’s tutelage that I took my first serious steps in learning Old English, at Texas A&M University in the Fall of 1993. I would venture to guess he probably doesn’t remember me, since I decided not to continue with graduate school. I imagine that, for a time, Dr. Boenig was concerned about my sudden disappearance, but I hope he would be pleased to learn that I have continued my study of Old English over the years, even if I never earned the piece of parchment to substantiate it to a hiring committee. :)

[1] See Kiernan, Kevin S. “Old Manuscripts/New Technologies.” In Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: Basic Readings. Ed. Mary P. Richards. New York: Routledge, 1994. 37–54.

[2] Himes, Jonathan B., ed. The Old English Epic of Waldere. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009, p. xiv.

[3] loc.cit.

[4] For example, “Tolkien and Old Germanic Ethics.” Mythlore 13 (1986): 9–12; and “Critical and Fictional Pairing in C.S. Lewis.” In The Taste of the Pineapple: Essays on C.S. Lewis as Reader, Critic, and Imaginative Writer. Ed. Bruce L. Edwards. Bowling Green, OH: Popular, 1988. 138-148.

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