Saturday, May 15, 2010

Read (some of) Middle-earth Minstrel online

Apologies for the crickets, but it’s been a very busy couple of weeks. Only a short update today, but I hope to be back in full force soon.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Brad Eden’s new collection, Middle-earth Minstrel: Essays on Music in Tolkien, is now available for purchase. To help you decide whether this is a book you’d like to add to your own collection, I’m happy to report that you can now read parts of it online. Thanks to Google Books (or jeers and curses to them, depending on your point of view), you can preview Middle-earth Minstrel before you buy, including the table of contents, the introduction, and the first chapter. The amount you can view may vary, and it may change from day to day for all I know — I would swear I could preview more than this just a few days ago! Check it out while you can.

The chapter you can read online just so happens to be mine, “Horns of Dawn: The Tradition of Alliterative Verse in Rohan” — as of right now, you can basically read the whole thing (everything but the last few end-notes and the bibliography). For anyone who’d like to, point your browsers here, and feel free to share the link. If you do read my essay, I would welcome any feedback, questions, or criticisms. I imagine that copies of the book are wending their way to reviewers even now, so I should be able to share the opinions of others soon. Well, soonish.


  1. Greetings from Kalamazoo! Right now Kristine Larsen is talking about Gollum and the moon in the "Teaching Tolkien" panel. Brad Eden's book had sold out here at the dealer's room before I got to the McFarland table, but I grabbed an order form so I can get the conference discount.

  2. Informative AND highly readable (a combination that goes together less often than I would like). Well done, Jason!

  3. Hey Jason,

    That was excellent! You have sooooo completely sold me that book! I love the music from the LOTR movies and play it [often:)] on my tin whistle or piano or harp. The harp sounds really nice with the elvish music; the tin whistle is superb with the hobbit tunes; and let me tell you, if I had a hardanger fiddle (Hardingfele) I would have a blast with the rohan fanfares (for now I play them on the whistle). Anyway, I really enjoyed your article, and I wish I could find some source tunes from the anglo-saxon period. If you know of any recordings or written music that are based on anglo-saxon music, let me know please! I've heard Benjamin Bagby, but nothing else.

    I look forward to reading the whole book,


  4. I liked your essay very much, and in several places I was left with a desire to learn more about the issue that you discuss (the links between Mercia and Rohan is one prominent example). As Doug points out, "Informative AND highly readable" -- an opinion to which I agree. For me the final test of any paper on Tolkien's work is that it helps me increase (or deepen or expand or whatever) my appreciation of Tolkien's work, and your paper certainly does that, thank you.

    When you discussed the horns of the Rohirrim, I kept expecting a reference to the letter in which he lists "the horns of the Rohirrim at cockcrow" among the passages that "now move [him] most" (number 294 to Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, 8 February 1967). For a few moments, this expectation was strong enough to distract me as I kept looking for something that didn't come (eventually I went back and reread those paragraphs) ;-) Out of curiosity, was it a conscious choice not to include this reference (you might see it as so well known that it didn't bear repetition), and if so, what was the reasoning?

    My own degree is in physics, and though I have, through my love and interest for Tolkien work, grown an interest also for matters of philology, I nevertheless tend to sort brutally among the Tolkien papers that I read. For this reason I generally rely on the first page or so to arouse my interest. Going back after reading the whole essay, I fail to recognize the reason for it, but I nevertheless distinctly remember asking myself, after reading your introduction, "why is this interesting?" If I have understood correctly what I have read, you actually argue that Tolkien's knowledge and opinions about Anglo-Saxon culture in general, and Mercian culture in particular, informs the Rohirrim and allows us, as readers of The Lord of the Rings to get a deeper understanding of this people, but it also works the other way: his portrayal of the Rohirrim allows us to learn more about his views on Mercian culture. Trying to second-guess myself, I think that my reaction to the introduction was possibly due to a failure on my part to understand, based on the introduction alone, how this essay would increase my appreciation of Tolkien's work as a reader.

    Another thing that struck me regards the context of this essay. It appears in a book on music and musicality in Tolkien's work, but at points it seems as though it has been adapted to that topic rather than originating in this topic. When reading your essay, my impression was that your main point is the link between Rohan and Mercia -- a link in which music is not the strongest part (partly due to the lack of Mercian source material), though it obviously does play a part. I would very much love to see a longer essay from your hand focusing on this link. An essay where the musical strands of this link would, naturally, also be scrutinized, as in the present essay, but where this would be a part of a longer argument.

    In The Hobbit Tolkien notes how "that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to." The same, unfortunately, is true of reviewing. I am sorry that I have spent so much more space on the less favourable parts, so let me end by emphasizing that my overall impression is very favourable indeed.

    Thank you!

  5. Thank you, N.E. Brigand, Doug, Lilly, and Troels for the comments. To you, Troels, I owe more than a mere thank you! I appreciate your taking so much time to elaborate on your reactions to my paper. Please don’t worry about having focused on aspects you perceived as deficiencies; as you say, it’s in the nature of reviewing!

    To reply to one or two of your queries …

    Regarding Tolkien’s powerful feelings for “the horns of the Rohirrim at cockcrow”, yes, it was a deliberate omission. This passage is in my notes, along with a lot more that didn’t make it into the paper. The reason why is a rather mundane and disappointing one, I’m afraid: the contributors to Brad’s book were cautioned in the strongest possible terms to minimize quotation. Brad had been given an austere limit if he were to avoid paying permissions fees to Tolkien’s publisher(s). Even worse, I came along at the very end of the project, exhorted to contribute at a time when the book was almost finalized. Consequently, I may have suffered the greatest quotation limit of all, since most of the manuscript was already set. I pushed those limits a bit, in some cases creatively, but this was a passage I deemed inessential, and so I omitted it. I could have paraphrased it, but any paraphrase would have remained so close to the original that readers might have questioned that choice. Rather than explain that, I simply left it out; I didn’t feel it was a great loss. As you say, it’s well-known. A bit like being able to take for granted the Milton Waldman letter rather than having to quote from it.

    On your question about the context, yes, this is but a part of a larger vein of research (to which I alluded in one of the notes to the paper, if you noticed — see 20n2). I can’t say yet when or where this material will appear, but stay tuned. :) Throughout Brad’s book, “music” is defined rather broadly; I think it’s certainly more inclusive here than in the Walking Tree collection.

    Thanks again for the valuable feedback. It is very much appreciated.

  6. What pages you can see on Google Books depends on where you are (or where Google thinks you are) and how many pages you have seen already. Most in-print books have certain pages that are banned for everybody; for the rest, you are allowed to see a certain fraction of the remaining pages (what fraction is determined between Google and the publisher). Often people outside the U.S. can only see the default snippet view unless they use a U.S. proxy site.

    I hadn't thought about the drum-talk of the Woses for many years. We now know, as perhaps JRRT did not, that drum-talk (and its relative, whistled speech) arises in languages that have tone: essentially, the text to be transmitted is stripped of all vowels and consonants, and only the tones are sent, using differently tuned drums. In order to compensate for the massive loss of information, simple words are conventionally replaced by complex phrases that have the same meaning.

    Interesting that a tone language should exist in the known regions of Middle-Earth! One wonders if the Eldar were sensitive to the distinctions.

  7. John, thanks for those comments.

    What pages you can see on Google Books depends on where you are (or where Google thinks you are) […]

    That makes sense. I was right, by the way: I can see nearly all of the book from my work computer, but I can only see the front matter and first chapter from my computer at home. Interesting.

    I hadn’t thought about the drum-talk of the Woses for many years. We now know, as perhaps JRRT did not, that drum-talk (and its relative, whistled speech) arises in languages that have tone […]. Interesting that a tone language should exist in the known regions of Middle-Earth! One wonders if the Eldar were sensitive to the distinctions.

    This is a great point, John, one I would have loved to make in my essay. If only I’d known it, hahae. Can you recommend some reading on the subject.

    As to tonal languages in Middle-earth, there is one, per Tolkien himself: Entish. In Appendix F to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes that Entish is “unlike all others [languages]: slow, sonorous, agglomerated, repetitive, indeed longwinded; formed of a multiplicity of vowel-shades and distinctions of tone and quantity which even the loremasters of the Eldar had not attempted to represent in writing” (emphasis added). Whether Tolkien meant tone in the formal linguistic sense might be debatable, but I think he probably did.

    And of course, the Ents’ and Woses’ both having tonal languages (in spite of the differences in their vocal apparatus) makes sense, given their cultural and geographical proximity. This is a point I did make in my paper, which your comments about tonal languages reinforce.

  8. Hi, I too enjoyed the chapter a lot; thanks!

    Regarding your suggestion that the elvish roots OR 'up' and ROM 'horn' may be related in the name Orome, it may be interesting to note that Tolkien in the very early Qenya Lexicon derived the name from a root OR'O, which yields words for 'East' and 'Sunrise' (and is distinct from ORO 'steepness, rising', though much confused with it; see PE12:70-1, and BoLT I Appendix). I don't think the QL relats the name itself to horns, though in the BoLT the horn is already an attribute of Orome. A thorough review of the evolution of the name/character throughout the mythos could be illuminating in this regard.

  9. Thanks very much, Hlaford. I appreciate your feedback, and I think you’re onto something with the comments about the early Qenya. If I ever have occasion to revise the essay, you all have given me ample food for further thought! :)

  10. I'm not sure that in Tolkien's day the technical distinction between pitch and tone 'lexically significant pitch or pitch contour' had yet arisen. I suspect that writing today about Entish he would have used pitch. Drum communication apparently is used in both pitch-accent and tone languages, however.

    J.F. Carrington studied drum communication back in the 1930s. Searching Google Scholar for "talking drum" will probably find suitable citations.