Friday, February 26, 2010

Publication of Middle-earth Minstrel imminent

Sound the Valaróma and lift your voices in the Hymn to Elbereth — the publication of Brad Eden’s new book, Middle-earth Minstrel: Essays on Music in Tolkien (McFarland, 2010), is on the horizon! Pictured at right, the cover features the 13th-century manuscript of the traditional English song, “Sumer is icumen in” — a very nice design. In case you weren’t aware of this title, here is the publisher’s description:
The twentieth century witnessed the dramatic rise of fantasy writing, but few works are as popular or enduring as the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. Surprisingly, little critical attention has been paid to the presence of music in his novels. This collection of essays explores the multitude of musical-literary allusions and themes intertwined throughout Tolkien’s body of work. Of particular interest is Tolkien’s scholarly work with medieval music and its presentation and performance practice, as well as musical influences from his Victorian/Edwardian background. Discographies of Tolkien-influenced music of the 20th and 21st centuries are included.

This new book follows closely on the heels of the Walking Tree collection, Music in Middle-earth (separately published in German). It’s inevitable that some of the subject matter will overlap, but from what I can tell, the two books are really quite different and should complement each other nicely — like, say, a tonic and a major third. It’s also interesting to see that Brad Eden has an essay in both collections! I myself have the lead essay in Brad’s book. You can peruse the contents of Music in Middle-earth by following the link above, but for the contents of Middle-earth Minstrel, direct your eyes due south. (My thanks to Brad for permitting me to share this with you.)

  • Introduction, Bradford Lee Eden
  • Horns of Dawn: The Tradition of Alliterative Verse in Rohan, Jason Fisher
  • “Inside a Song”: Tolkien’s Phonaesthetics, John R. Holmes
  • Ǽfre me strongode longað: Songs of Exile in the Mortal Realms, Peter Wilkin
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Fortunate Rhythm, Darielle Richards
  • Tolkien’s Unfinished “Lay of Lúthien” and the Middle English Sir Orfeo, Deanna Delmar Evans
  • Strains of Elvish Song and Voices: Victorian Medievalism, Music, and Tolkien, Bradford Lee Eden
  • Dissonance in the Divine Theme: The Issue of Free Will in Tolkien’s Silmarillion, Keith W. Jensen
  • “Worthy of a Song”: Memory, Mortality and Music, Amy M. Amendt-Raduege
  • “Tolkien is the Wind and the Way”: The Educational Value of Tolkien-Inspired World Music, Amy H. Sturgis
  • Liquid Tolkien: Tolkien, Middle-earth, and More Music, David Bratman
  • Performance Art in a Tunnel: A Musical Sub-Creator in the Tradition of Tolkien, Anthony S. Burdge

This is going to be a terrific collection. I know, because I’m reading a proof now. And no, I can’t share, so do yourself a favor: follow this link to pre-order a copy. The list price is currently $35 USD, but if you pre-order and the price goes down, Amazon will honor the lowest price during the pre-order period. You get free shipping too. That’s hard to beat. And you’ll help out this humble blogger by putting a few cents into my Amazon Affiliate account. When exactly is the book coming? A date hasn’t been fixed yet, but my guess is late spring, early summer. Once it has actually arrived on bookshelves, you can be sure I’ll have more to say about it, and when any of you have read my essay, please don’t be shy about letting me know.

Friday, February 19, 2010

New feature: read Lingwë in your native language

If you take a look at the top of the sidebar (to the right of this post), you’ll notice a new widget, courtesy of the good folks at Google. You can now read Lingwë in more than fifty languages, automatically translated for you by Google, all without ever leaving this page. I would love to hear from my friends out there on how well Google handles Lingwë in Polish, Finnish, German, Bulgarian, and whatever other languages you read.

I’ve already give a cursory inspection to the results in French and Italian, with a less than cursory look at several others. Comme ci, comme ça … così, così … así, así. What do you think?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

At last, vindication!

More than two years ago, as readers long in the tooth may recall, I wrote about a preposterous new book, Quest for Middle-earth, by Dirk Vander Ploeg. As I wrote in the original post, I reviewed the book (or as much of it as I could stomach) for — this was back when I spent more time doing that; I have since pretty much given up writing Amazon reviews (in part, because of this experience). But no more than a month after posting my Amazon review, it had been taken down. I wrote about that here at Lingwë also. In the same post, I riffed, perhaps too mean-spiritedly, on a laughable interview with DVP. The answers were laughable, I should say, not the interview; it turned out that the interview itself was prompted by my Amazon review! The most telling admission to come out of the interview was that Mr. Vander Ploeg “studied communications in college, both journalism and marketing, but majored in marketing as there was more money to be made.” His motives couldn’t have been more plain.

I complained again on Lingwë that the Amazon review had not been reinstated (in one of my worst-written posts; it makes me wince to read it again), even after Amazon representatives claimed it had been. I wasted more time than I care to admit going back and forth with Amazon on this. In the end, they claimed the review was not in keeping with their standards. Specifically, they said it was removed “because your comments in large part focused on authors and their intentions, rather than reviewing the item itself. Our guidelines do not allow discussions that criticize authors/artists or their intentions […].” Nonsense. Just browse Amazon at random, and you’ll find plenty of reviews that do both but weren’t removed. And as I wrote on Lingwë back in 2007, my review was only removed from the product page; you could actually still find it on Amazon, if you knew where to look.

Now I had just about forgotten all of this, so imagine my surprise when Google alerted me this afternoon to this web page. Apparently, Mr. Vander Ploeg has achieved the distinction of making UFO Watchdog’s Hall of Shame, “a list of those we deem are not advancing the field of UFO research. Some are frauds. Some are delusional. Some are just nuts!” Some, I daresay, are all three. Surprise, surprise: the good folks at UFO Watchdog quote my Amazon review: “It had to happen eventually — that the Da Vinci Code, Nostradamus, Celestine Prophecy, Mayan Calendar, extraterrestrial, mock-religious, mock-scientific movement would infect Middle-earth and seek to capitalize shamelessly on the success and popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien.” Indeed!

So, taking a look at the product page for Quest for Middle-earth, I now find that my review has been silently reinstated. Silently, because no one from Amazon ever notified me (and this, after a chain of emails lasting more than two years). I have no way of even knowing when they restored it. Well, I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth! And now you know what to do if one of your reviews is ever suppressed: simply make a lot of noise, carp and grouse for over two years, and you’ll wear ’em down, I reckon. At least, that’s what I did.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Haitian Creole joins Google Language Tools

No doubt prompted by the recent earthquake and the surge in interest the tragedy has brought with it, Google Language Tools has just added Haitian Creole to its language offerings. It’s still in ALPHA mode, meaning it may not be quite ready for prime time, but give it a spin. Anyone out there reading this with the appropriate background, please feel free to let us know how accurate the translations are. One note: as of the time of my writing this, you won’t see the language in the dropdown list on the front page of GLT; you need to get to the second screen — i.e., just do any translation, it doesn’t matter what; then you should see “Haitian Creole ALPHA” on the dropdown list.

Also, considering how many times I’ve written about Google Language Tools (this post makes five), I decided it was high time for a label. So, if you want to find these posts more quickly in the future, just use the ‘Google’ label below.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The secret lives of irregular verbs

From A New Introduction to the Italian Language, by Henry Marius Tourner (Edinburgh: Neill & Co., 1794)Ah, irregular verbs. They are the bane of first-year language students everywhere. The grammars of most languages are fairly regular — sure, nouns and adjectives offer occasional surprises (e.g., the gender-switching plurals of Italian, on which I am preparing a separate post), but is there any feature of grammar that bedevils students more than the irregular verb? I don’t care if we’re talking about English, Italian, German, Sanskrit, or Ancient Greek — just about all natural languages have them. (It’s been claimed that a few, like Turkish and Chinese, have very few irregular verbs or even none at all; and of course, artificial languages, like Esperanto, are designed quite deliberately to have none.)

Students find them intimidating, nothing more than columns of more or less random variants to be stumbled through and memorized. But all words have etymologies, even the irregular forms of verbs. Etymology is really nothing more than asking how a word became the way it is. The inquiry is normally confined to root words (nouns, adjectives, infinitive verbs, and so on), but the question may be asked of particular forms too. In fact, it should be asked of particular forms, especially those for which no intuitive explanation comes readily to mind. When we do so, we find that a lot of the so-called irregular forms aren’t really so irregular after all. Let’s look at some examples.

In the Germanic languages

English has a large number of so-called irregular verbs, close to 200 of them. Moreover, these are among the most commonly used of all English verbs. It’s been estimated that when you use a verb in everyday English conversation, something like 70% of the time it’s one of the “irregular” ones. But most of these are not really (or were not originally) irregular. Rather, most of them followed very specific, if fairly complex, rules for changing their internal vowel. This process is called ablaut, and it runs the whole gamut of the Germanic language family, from the earliest recorded languages to the present day. Students of Old English often encounter the terminology of “strong” and “weak” verbs — which is another way of saying the same thing.

Even today, when we have lost touch with the rules that made these verbs more regular, we can still detect patterns. Consider just a couple of the representative classes: (1) ring, rang, rung; sing, sang, sung; spring, sprang, sprung; (2) blow, blew, blown; grow, grew, grown; know, knew, known; show, shew, shown; throw, threw, thrown. Notice shew, the original past tense of show, unfamiliar to most of us today but still in use as recently as 1915. This form has now been supplanted by a seemingly more “regular” form, showed. In reality, though, the attempt to regularize the verb has really made it less consistent with other verbs of its class. And this process of “regularization” is gaining momentum. Consider: hang, hung, but also hanged; plead, pled, but also pleaded.

Some verbs are irregular in English for a different reason. Ever wonder why the past tense of go is went? Or why we have to be, I am, I was? Phonologically, these forms have nothing whatsoever in common. As it happens, went is the past tense of wend, a verb synonymous with to go but almost extinct in Modern English. It clings to life in a few phrases such as “to wend one’s way”, and in computer programming constructions such as WHILE … WEND. But while wend has all but wended away, its past tense, went, has stuck around, stuck to a different verb! Lingusts call this process suppletion. In the case of to be, we again have forms from two different Old English verbs: beón and wesan. As a side note, in Old English, gán “to go” had yet a different irregular past tense: ic gá “I go”, but ic éode “I went”. But I digress.

In the Romance languages

A major class of Romance verbs represents the case of simple erosion, a process occurring in all languages all the time. Erosion occurs for many reasons, from easing pronunciation to nothing more than laziness. There are innumerable examples in English — e.g., every, pronounced “evry”, probably pronounced “probly” (even “prolly”), walked pronounced “wakd”. And how about one from French — est-ce que pronounced “esque”. Eventually, the spelling of these works is likely to change. But to return to verbs, where this kind of erosion or contraction has occurred, traces of the older, “uneroded” verb form survive in different forms or tenses of the modern verb, right alongside newer forms.

Think about the following Italian verbs: bere “to drink”, versus bevo “I drink”; dire “to say”, versus dico “I say”; fare “to do”, versus faccio “I do”. Where did these consonant changes come from? In turns out that bere is contracted from an older form, bevere, dire from dicere, fare from facere. These earlier forms may be found in the works of Dante and Boccaccio. And seen in this new light, the forms bevo, dico, and faccio look much more regular. We find the same phenomenon in French, where the verb boire “to drink” has “irregular” plural forms buvons, buvez, boivent. Why? Again, because of older form(s) of the infinitive, beivre, boivre > boire. We find boivre and beivre, in illo ordine, attested in the twelfth-century Roman de Renart and the thirteenth-century Fables of Marie de France.

Another class of Romance verbs appear to be irregular only because two verbs coalesced into one — suppletion again. This explains the case of Italian andare “to go”, versus vado “I go”, French aller / vais, Spanish ir / voy, Portuguese ir / vou, Catalán anar / vaig, and so on. What we have here is a pair of Latin verbs, īre and vādere, both meaning “to go”. Rather than one verb winning out over the other entirely, we ended up with surviving forms from both. Why? So far as I know, that’s a mystery. But it’s a mystery taken up with remarkable consistency into Latin’s many daughter-languages! Not quite so irregular as things might first have appeared, eh?

Summing up

Learning how irregular verb forms originated makes remembering them much easier. Typically, there are three major explanations for irregular forms. (1) Ablaut, or the changing of internal vowels to convey grammatical information; these are the “strong” verbs of the Germanic languages. (2) The erosion or contraction of forms over time, as in the examples of Italian bere and dire. And (3) suppletion, where forms from independent (synonymous) verbs coalesce into a single verb in the modern language.

These are hardly the only reasons verbs become irregular — I haven’t touched on changes due to orthography, or brought about by historic vowel and consonant shifts — but if you take the time to learn how these three broad classes operate, you will be surprised how often those troublesome irregular verbs begin to fall in line.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hot off the virtual presses!

Ages ago, I wrote about the online Literary Encyclopedia, which, in spite of its breadth and quality still seems largely undis-covered — largely, but not completely; I’ve started to see a few references to it popping up here and there. When last I wrote, a bit more than a year ago, the Literary Encyclopedia comprised some 5,000 entries, totaling roughly nine million words; today, they’re up to 6,400 entries and ten million words. That is to say, they’re growing at roughly 2,000 words every day. Pretty impressive.

I’m writing today to announce the publication of my newest entry, a 2,200-word overview of J.R.R. Tolkien’s History of Middle-earth. You can only read the first 150 or so words without a subscription, but subscriptions aren’t terribly expensive — and in any case, your local library or university may already have one. Look into it! Anyone who has full access and reads my entry, I welcome opinions. The twelve-volume History of Middle-earth, the inception of the series, its progress over more than a dozen years, and the subsequent reception and critical response — these are not the easiest things to summarize in 2,000 words!

According to my original schedule, I should have had many, many more entries written by now, but alas, the intrusions of “real life” being what they are, this is only the second in the series I proposed (the first was a general entry on the Inklings). I hope to pick up the pace a little bit, though, and I am already working on a third entry, on C.S. Lewis’s The Dark Tower and Other Stories. I have also cleared the way to write an entry (or more than one) on Lloyd Alexander, at some point when time permits.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sometimes the whale wins ...

I last updated readers on J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of the Book of Jonah in August 2009, a little over five months ago. Since then, I’ve heard from some of you, impatient as I was. Release dates have come and gone on the various pages at Amazon, etc. According to, in fact, the British edition was due to appear next week; but gave a much later date (December 2010). So, understandably confused, I inquired with my contact at the publisher, Darton, Longman & Todd. I just heard back, and sadly, he conveyed the worst possible news.

I don’t have any details yet (nor am I assured of getting any), but apparently the project has been killed. In their words, “I’m afraid we’ve had to cancel publication unfortunately. I’ll make sure is amended ASAP” — which I took to refer to Amazon, Bowker, and every other distributor and bibliographic database that had been informed of the planned publication.

So, I guess all we’re going to get — at least, for the foreseeable future — is the wonderful cover design and a lot of “what could have been” speculation. I will, of course, let you know if I ever hear that the project has been brought back to life. But for now — bollocks.

Friday, February 5, 2010

If you’re planning a visit to the ’Zoo

The schedule for the Forty-fifth International Congress on Medieval Studies, also known simply as Kalamazoo, has been published. The conference runs May 13–16, 2010 at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. One of the event’s innumerable sponsors is Tolkien at Kalamazoo, which is running seven sessions this year. I won’t be attending Kalamazoo myself, but as a public service, here’s what those who do can look forward to (for dates and times, you can refer to the full published schedule):

Four paper sessions:


  • Elvencentrism: “Elven Nature Preserves” in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ann Martinez, U. of Kansas
  • “Worlds on Worlds”: Tolkien, Lewis, and the Medieval and Modern Theological Implications of Extraterrestrial Life, Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State U.
  • Inside Literature: Tolkien’s Explorations of Medieval Genres, John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar
  • J.R.R. Tolkien and The Battle of Maldon: An Example of “Freer” Verse?, Stuart D. Lee, U. of Oxford

  • Neues Testament und Märchen: Tolkien, Fairy Stories, and the Gospels, John William Houghton, Hill School
  • “Justice is not healing”: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Pauline Constructs in “Finwë and Míriel”, Amelia A. Rutledge, George Mason U.
  • Tolkien on the Old English Pater Noster: Digging Niggling Calligraphy, John R. Holmes, Franciscan U. of Steubenville
  • The Lord of the Fish: Tolkien and the Book of Jonah, Michael Foster, Independent Scholar

  • Tolkien as Pearl Maiden: Exhortation as Parable, David Thomson, Baylor U.
  • Casting Away Treasures: Tolkien’s Use of The Pearl in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Leigh Smith, East Stroudsburg U.
  • The Pearl and The Jewels: Beren and Luthien [sic] and The Pearl, Janice M. Bogstad, U. of Wisconsin–Eau Claire

  • To Be or Not to Be? The Enigma of the Balrog in Tolkien’s Mythology, Bradford Lee Eden, U. of California–Santa Barbara
  • Tolkien’s Ramblin’ Men, Peter Grybauskas, U. of Maryland
  • “It is enough to make the dead rise out of their graves!”: Tolkien, Oliphant, and Gendered Conventions of the Supernatural, Sharin Schroeder, U. of Minnesota–Twin Cities
Two roundtables:

A roundtable discussion with Jennifer Culver, U. of Texas–Dallas; Deborah Sabo, U. of Arkansas–Fayetteville; John D. Rateliff, Independent Scholar; Corey Olsen, Washington College; Janice M. Bogstad, U. of Wisconsin–Eau Claire; and Merlin DeTardo, Independent Scholar. Presider: Douglas A. Anderson, Independent Scholar.

A roundtable discussion with Victoria Wodzak, Viterbo U.; Michael Foster, Independent Scholar; Jon Porter, Butler University; Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State U.; Corey Olsen, Washington College; and Benjamin S. W. Barootes, McGill U. Presider: Judy Ann Ford, Texas A&M U.–Commerce.

And another session (as usual at Kalamazoo) just for fun:

  • Readings from Sigurd and Gudrun [sic], Yvette Kisor, Jennifer Culver, and Bradford Lee Eden
  • “The Road Goes Ever On” by Donald Swann, Eileen Marie Moore
  • The Lord of the Ringos, Michael Foster and Amy Amendt-Raduege
In addition to papers to be delivered under the impresa of Tolkien at Kalamazoo, a quick search of the full schedule turned up a few more papers and sessions of interest, to wit:

  • Jeff Smith’s “Bone”: Revising Tolkien and Lewis’s Antimodernist Fantasies, Andrew Taylor, Western Michigan U.
  • Landscapes of Lord of the Rings Online, Ryan T. Harper, U. of Rochester
  • Middle-Earth [sic] and the Waste Land: Greenwood, Apocalypse, and Post-War Resolution, Edward L. Risden, St. Norbert College
Plus an entire session of papers presented by students from the NEH Summer Institute on Tolkien conducted at Texas A&M–Commerce last summer. The session is being run by Judy Ann Ford, one of the Institute’s two co-directors (and the other co-director, Robin Anne Reid, is in charge of Tolkien at Kalamazoo). I was particularly pleased to see this session, as I was one of the guest instructors at the Institute. I wrote a little bit about the Institute here (see the penultimate paragraph). It’s very nice to see the Institute bearing fruit.