Tags: tolkien

ENT-ymology

Earlier this week I was listening to a renowned professor recite Latin poetry. It was a fascinating experience, because the words positively flowed. Unlike in English poetry, where we tend to do things by stress, Latin poetry works because of meter and vowels that have to be either long or short because of their position. So, for example, if I want to write something in hendecasyllables, it *must* have eleven syllables with five feet, and in each of those feet there have to be however many syllables, blah blah blah. The point is that meter--which is really to say rhythm--is of vital importance in Latin poetry. As a result, its recitation is almost musical--not quite a song, because the pitches aren't fixed, but nearly chant-like. 

Now, the particular poem I was listening to was a love poem, and the meter is typically considered bouncy (there's an ictus [emphasis] on the first syllable of each foot, which makes it go BUM bum bum BUM bum bum, etc.). That's all well and good, but the gentleman reciting it had a deep, rumbly sort of voice, and with his particular style the poetry seemed to flow like a brook, bubbling and rushing down around rocks in the creek-bed. It seemed as natural and continuous as the wind in the trees, or....

Wait, I thought to myself, what did I just suppose?

And in an instant--an instant more revelatory than any research could be--I got Treebeard's voice. 

You may well laugh, and say, "Ho, Rachel! You've read the books, you've watched the movies, of course you got his voice!" Well, yes, but you see, this instant made it absolutely, totally clear where the inspiration for the Ents' voices came from (remember, Tolkien started his collegiate career as a classicist!)--the sort of rumbly, flowing sound that the poetry has when delivered just so is precisely what I always imagined when I read Treebeard's lines. 

In short, Treebeard was a Roman poet. 

This may seem very silly to you, considering that there is precisely no evidence that Tolkien ever woke up and thought, "Goodness, I'll take some Catullus poetry and use its meter as the basis for Treebeard!" But it is tremendously important to me, because whenever there are those precious moments in which the fantastic and otherworldly become realized in the form of something actual and historical, I find myself that much closer to those in the past. The thing, of course, is that my field happens to be one that is chock full of stories. All of history, really, is a series of stories, and we only consider the present not a story because we live it. Our own sub-created stories, fictional though they may be, reflect certain elements of our own world in their way, though maybe a bit dimly and disguised. Thus, you see, why I am happy to find Treebeard hiding in Latin poetry. 

Of Fairy-Tales and Self-Sacrifice

I love fairytales. The real thing, that is; Disney adaptations are all well and good for kids, but I prefer some gore in my fairytales (more on that later). They've been around for a loooooong time, of course--but why am I doing a post on fairytales? Well, I'll tell you. (Of course I will. This is a my blog, right?--don't answer that.)

When I was a wee child of < REDACTED BY BIRTHDAY FAIRIES >, a certain movie trailer for a certain movie that's based on a certain-book-trilogy-that-I-solidly-maintain-is-actually-just-one-book came out. I was intrigued--really intrigued--but, of course, I was far too young to view the movie and was told as much. I was annoyed, but remembered that, in fact, we owned that book. I went off, obtained the book, and began to try to read. At some point, someone informed me that the prequel was written for children and, as such, would be better for me to start with. I tried to read it--then got bored--and went back to the one I had started to read initially. (By the time that I was < ALSO REDACTED BY BIRTHDAY FAIRIES, BUT APPROXIMATELY THREE YEARS AFTER FIRST REDACTION >, I came to fully appreciate that prequel and still reread it to this day.)

The point is that I was a very odd child, and had a very strong sense of myth at a young age. I read bits and pieces of myths from Hawthorne's Wonder Book, Lang's Fairy Stories, and then some miniature Hans Christian Anderson collections. For a long time, I was confounded as to why fairytales as frequently bloody and war-ridden as these would be transformed into as shiny, squeaky-clean things as the Disney adaptations.

As it was, my love of fairytales progressed into a love of fantasy because, when PROPERLY done, I interpret it to really be just modern fairytales, though often sans fairies. But I still couldn't figure out why on earth I preferred them so greatly to other forms of entertainment.

Then, one evening, I was looking over some artwork online detailing the life of Christ. There was one particular piece, though I don't remember who painted it, that showed in excruciating detail the scourging at the pillar. I winced when I looked at it--but in that moment, something clicked. What if terrible (and often bloody) things happen to people in fairytales as an outward sign of inner self-sacrifice in much the same way that Christ's death on the cross was a sign of his love for us?

When one examines fairytales in depth, especially those that are romantic in one way or another, there's a great deal of suffering and pain that the hero and heroine often go through. This isn't gratuitous suffering, though--it serves to solidify and ground the love that the hero/heroine feels for the other in a very real, human way. Although it may well seem morbid, this is a tactic that originates in our own Christian tradition--when God sent his Son to redeem the world in the ultimate act of love, however painful and bloody it may have been. We don't fight to protect something that we hate, after all; and every fairytale involves fighting.

In consequence, because this ultimate act of love is so firmly rooted in our tradition, it becomes natural that it should filter down through our myths and folklore. In some ways, the redemption of the human race through Christ is the best story in the world--it has all the elements of a beautiful story, with the tremendous advantage that it's true. All stories, we would hope, would reflect the basic truth of God's love and the ultimate triumph of light over darkness--maybe through shadows and mirrors, but it's there all the same. We may think that novel such-and-such is just about a mythical war of a mythical land between a mythic people and the powers of evil--but it's still reflecting the basic truth that God's goodness will always overcome the powers of evil, no matter how hard and impossible it might seem.

I love happy endings.

"For if God be with us, who is against us?" - Romans 8:31