Tolkien’s death of Smaug: American inspiration revealed

My latest article for the Guardian:

As well as its familiar roots in Icelandic mythology, this Middle-earth story also has some surprising transatlantic sources

The Desolation of Smaug by Tomás Hijo, http://tomashijoart.bigcartel.com/

The Desolation of Smaug by Tomás Hijo (work in progress), http://tomashijoart.bigcartel.com/

The dragon soars overhead, its underside armoured with gems from its hoard. The bowman has one arrow left. Then a bird flutters to his ear and whispers the monster’s sole vulnerability – a bare patch at its breast. The last arrow strikes home. Exit Smaug the Magnificent.

It’s a marvellous moment, thrillingly told in The Hobbit (though mashed out of recognition in the last of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films, released this week). But Tolkien did not conjure the scene from thin air. The peculiar manner of Smaug’s death comes via a surprising source…

Read on at the Guardian

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Middle-earth turns 100

Diamond in the Sky, by Dr Wendy LongoIt is 100 years since Middle-earth began. The earliest glimpse of any character or situation from his mythology was in a poem, ‘The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star’, which J.R.R. Tolkien dated 24 September 1914. He wrote it at the home of his aunt Jane Neave, Phoenix Farm in Gedling, Nottinghamshire.

I examine Tolkien’s 1914 creative breakthrough closely in the forthcoming Tolkien Studies 11, I give a brief account of those findings in a centenary article for the Guardian, and I star in a Tolkien Society video speaking about it all to at the annual Oxonmoot gathering. What follows here is a further insight which didn’t make it into those pieces.

A century on, it’s worth probing whether this poem really counts as the first poem of Tolkien’s legendarium. Though Humphrey Carpenter identifies ‘The Voyage of Éarendel’ as ‘the beginning of Tolkien’s own mythology’ (Biography 79), Tolkien himself did not do so explicitly. And there are still vital ingredients missing from it. ‘The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star’ has a basic connection with the later story of Eärendil – the idea of a mariner who sails over the brink of the world and becomes the Evening Star Venus. But the September 1914 Éarendel lacks all clear motive for his voyage, lacks a history of any sort, lacks a Silmaril, and even lacks an Elvish name – the name Éarendel is straight out of Anglo-Saxon.

And Tolkien actually gave the label ‘the first poem of the mythology’ to one written ten months later, July 1915’s ‘The Shores of Faery’ (The Book of Lost Tales, part two, 271), which has enduring Middle-earth elements such as the Two Trees, but also has names such as Valinor and Taniquetil in his invented languages – the genuine hallmark of his legendarium.

However, there is evidence that he did indeed see the writing of ‘The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star’ as the breakthrough moment. I’d like to claim credit for detective work here – but in fact it was all down to my mother, though she has never read Tolkien.

In ‘The Notion Club Papers’, Tolkien’s 1945–46 story of Inklings-like figures in Oxford getting drawn into the lost Númenorean past , one Club member, Lowdham, quotes lines from the Anglo-Saxon poem Crist:

‘Éalá Éarendel engla beorhtost
ofer middangeard monnum sended!

— and adds: ‘“Hail Earendel, brightest of angels, above the middle-earth sent unto men!” When I came across that citation in the dictionary I felt a curious thrill, as if something had stirred in me half wakened from sleep. There was something very remote and strange and beautiful behind those words, if I could grasp it, far beyond ancient English….’ (Sauron Defeated 236)

In his 1977 J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (72), Carpenter puts these fictional words in Tolkien’s own mouth – a sleight of hand, but not an outrageous one. After all, Tolkien is plainly putting his own memory into the head of Alwin Arundel Lowdham.

He’s also doing some pretty obvious signposting with those names. I don’t need to explain Arundel – it’s the name of a real town in Sussex, but its purpose in ‘The Notion Club Papers’ is to remind us of the names Éarendel and Eärendil. Alwin is a version of Old English Ælfwine, which means ‘elf-friend’ and therefore connects this character with the elf-friends in Tolkien’s legendarium – notably the mariner Ælfwine who hears and records the Lost Tales of the Elves.

But what about the surname Lowdham?

Christopher Tolkien notes (Sauron Defeated 151) that ‘The fact that Lowdham is “loud” and makes jokes often at inappropriate moments derives from [Hugo] Dyson’ – the Inkling who famously kiboshed readings of The Lord of the Rings by complaining ‘Oh God, not another Elf!’ And indeed one manuscript has Dyson’s initials next to the name. But as Christopher observes: ‘Lowdham is the very antithesis of Dyson in his learning and interests.’ In fact, the character voicing J.R.R. Tolkien’s memory of discovering the name Éarendel is more like an alter ego of the author himself.

Here my mother comes in. I happened to be showing her a map of the area just east of Nottingham. This is the location of the village of Gedling where Tolkien was staying when he wrote ‘The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star’. Rather randomly, my mother read out the name of a neighbouring village, Lowdham. L-O-W-D-H-A-M: the distinctive spelling matches the character’s surname, though no one seems to have made the connection between the two until now. I’m told by Andrew H. Morton, author of the excellent focused study Tolkien’s Gedling 1914, that the village of Lowdham would have been a pleasant spot, just the right distance for a Sunday walk from Gedling.

Gedling and Lowdham OS Popular series 1920s

‘Not very long ago for those with long memories, nor very far away for those with long legs’: Lowdham and Gedling mapped shortly after the First World War

 

So Lowdham of the Notion Club not only speaks Tolkien’s memory of the 1914 Éarendel discovery, but is named for the immediate area of the poem’s composition. It’s also worth noting that on the fake title page Tolkien drew for ‘The Notion Club Papers’ (Sauron Defeated 154), the date of publication is 2014.

Surely here he was thinking consciously, as we are now, of the centenary of Middle-earth, and identifying its beginning as the poem he wrote on 24 September 1914. The light of Éarendel shines throughout the external history of Middle-earth as surely as it shines through the internal history, going from the Two Trees all the way to Frodo’s star glass.

  • Tolkien at Exeter College, by John GarthMy new booklet Tolkien at Exeter College: How an Oxford undergraduate invented Middle-earth is now available via my website. With 64 pages and more than 40 images, including previously unseen original sketches by and photographs of Tolkien, it incorporates extensive new research to add significantly to the account I give in Tolkien and the Great War.
  • I write much more about Tolkien’s 1914 creative breakthrough in my article ‘“The road from adaptation to invention”: How Tolkien came to the brink of Middle-earth in 1914’, due out imminently in Tolkien Studies 11.

Image: Diamond in the Sky, by Dr Wendy Longo via Flickr. Map: Ordnance Survey Popular One-inch Series, via Sabre.

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Tove Jansson, queen of the Moomins

Tove Jansson with Moomins, 1956

Love-hate relationship: Tove Jansson pictured in 1956 with the creations which she could never quite escape

The international children’s laureate of disaster and displacement, Tove Jansson, was born one hundred years ago, on August 9, 1914, just as Europe was going to war. She is most famous for creating the Moomins, a family of hospitable and adventuresome trolls who vaguely resemble tubby two-legged hippos. Today, there is a thriving Moomin-industry around them: a theme park, a museum, a movie is on its way.

The Moomins emerged fully in a story written in 1939 during the attempted Soviet invasion of her Finnish homeland, Moomin and the Great Flood. At the end of that book, the reunited Moomin family find a house “like a tall stove” in a beautiful valley where “they spent the whole of their lives, apart from a few times when they left it and travelled for a change.”

The last phrase turned out to be misleading. Jansson still had catastrophes to get out of her system. Continue reading at the Daily Beast…

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Why World War One Is at the heart of Lord of the Rings

The Fellowship of the Ring first edition cover

Inspired: The first volume of The Lord of the Rings

It’s sixty years since the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s first volume of The Lord of The Rings. Why was he so inspired by the Great War—and a group of schoolfriends?

War runs like iron ore through the bones of Tolkien’s Middle-earth—and most of all through The Lord of the Rings, the masterpiece which first saw the light 60 years ago today.

The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of three, was published on July 29, 1954, a date picked by his publisher for solely practical reasons. Yet it is a curious coincidence that it was almost exactly the 40th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. Because it was during that war that Tolkien first created Middle-earth….   Continue reading at the Daily Beast…

This post is also available in Portuguese at the Tolkien Brasil website.

More on this blog about Tolkien and the Great War:

Read the definitive account in my acclaimed book Tolkien and the Great War.

More Tolkien features via my website

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Fanfare for the common prof

John Carey: The Unexpected Professor

Sparky: Carey’s memoir has laugh-out-loud moments, but on literature it is too breezy to really engage

Review: John Carey, The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books (Faber. ISBN 9780571310920)

My first encounter with John Carey was hearing him on Dickens at the St Cross Building – the English Faculty at Oxford University. His Violent Effigy is sharp and illuminating; but I kept going back to his lectures because his readings lit up the comedy which was prone to be undervalued by over-serious youngsters such as I was. Much later I read the Faber Book of Science, a polyphony of observation and ideas superbly expressed by scientists from Da Vinci to Dawkins, which Carey edited. That the same man could have filled these diverse roles suggests broad and healthy sympathies. Now his sparky, wide-ranging, and often hilarious autobiography seems to confirm that assessment. If there is a problem with the book it’s a common enough one with biographies, in which the rise is more interesting than the summit and decline; and especially with the autobiographies of successful people, which rarely chart the decline and linger instead, smugly, in the sunny uplands.

The son of professionals who left school at 15, Carey has bucked the family trend of non-academic anonymity. But he was a late developer, and frankly this book is all the better for it: the chapters on childhood and youth are easily the best. The Unexpected Professor presents itself as ‘a history of English literature and me, how we met, how we got on, what came of it’. The ‘me’ element turns out to be considerably more engaging than the English lit aspect. Here, in the opening chapters, the detail of common objects and habits of life imparts vitality, and there are laugh-out-loud moments, especially in his account of national service.

Continue reading at Oxford Today

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Secrets of The Hydra: how Tolkien research uncovered lost Wilfred Owen magazines

Hydra magazine cover, February 1918

One of the missing issues of The Hydra, rediscovered in an Oxford attic thanks to my researches. The magazine was produced by officers being treated for war trauma. Wilfred Owen published his first classic war poems in its pages.

Historic missing issues of a magazine edited by First World War poet Wilfred Owen have been found and donated to archives in Oxford, in a move hailed as ‘a stunning discovery’. When copies also went to an Edinburgh university, it prompted a well-earned fanfare in the Scottish press. What was not revealed then was the part played in that discovery by J.R.R. Tolkien, by dogged research, and by a marvellous coincidence.

The Hydra: The Magazine of Craiglockhart War Hospital was edited for six issues in 1917 by Owen, who was being treated for shell shock there. In this Edinburgh hospital he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, who called the place ‘Dottyville’. Under Sassoon’s guidance, Owen found his poetic voice and began writing in his classic ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ mode – elegant yet blunt, brutal yet deeply moving. He published two of these poems in The Hydra, and several by Sassoon also appeared in its pages.

The Hydra was named in reference to the hospital’s pre-war hydrotherapy role, but some issues had a fearsome cover image showing the many-headed monster of Greek myth – a classic piece of wry humour by officers suffering from war trauma. Such is the Hydra’s significance that the First World War Poetry Digital Archive, run by Oxford University, makes all its issues available for reading online. All, that is, except for three issues which, despite a nationwide appeal in 2006, were feared lost forever.

I had read about the Hydra in Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration, which tells of Owen and Sassoon at Craiglockhart. Regeneration, along with Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong, catalysed my interest in finding out what Tolkien’s war experience had been like, and so kickstarted my work on what eventually turned into a book, Tolkien and the Great War. While researching it, I found that a school contemporary of Tolkien’s called George Henry Bonner had gone on to be hospitalised at Craiglockhart and had edited the Hydra in 1918. I was intrigued by this link between Tolkien and Owen, though they never met. Owen is the benchmark for war writers, but in my book I argue that Tolkien also tells the truth about war in his own very different, mythic way.

Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen

The meeting of Siegfried Sassoon and, right, Wilfred Owen at Craiglockhart had profound effects on Owen’s writing, which came to set the benchmark for war poetry

 

Bonner came up again in a letter to Tolkien from a mutual friend, which I read at the Bodleian Library. ‘Bonner seems to be in great favour with the B’ham TCBSites,’ the 1913 letter from R.Q. Gilson said. ‘I don’t know whether they propose his admission to the charmed circle.’ The TCBS, or Tea Club and Barrovian Society, was a clique founded by Tolkien at King Edward’s School in Birmingham just before he came up to Oxford in 1911. Initially rather frivolous, on the outbreak of war it suddenly grew up, and its core members became the first to read Tolkien’s earliest ‘Middle-earth’ writings almost exactly 100 years ago.

Bonner was not a core ‘TCBSite’, and indeed may never have been admitted ‘to the charmed circle’. But he went on to a post-war career in journalism, and it struck me that if anyone was likely to leave a first-hand record of youth, including more about Tolkien’s circle, surely it would be a professional writer. Research on childhoods a century ago can be rather like trawling for coelocanths: you cast the net wide and once in a blue moon you haul in something really valuable. Finding living relatives may be the key, so I set my sights on Bonner’s.

I turned to Edinburgh Napier University, which now runs a campus on the old Craiglockhart hospital site. Librarian Catherine Walker could find nothing further about Bonner. As to the magazine, Napier only had scans of the extant issues, and she said: ‘If I ever find the missing issues, or issues from an original set of Hydra for our collection at Craiglockhart, then I can retire a very happy librarian.’

On the trail of Bonner, many sporadic hours of sleuthing, mostly online and in the British Library, revealed a literate and eloquent figure who was born in 1895 but swam against the tide of modernity. School records show he was interested in supernatural fiction and in Swinburne, and in debates ‘never fails to convulse the House’. He came up to Magdalen in Michaelmas 1914 but almost immediately enlisted in Kitchener’s Army, ending up in an anti-aircraft battery until invalided home in late 1916 with neurasthenia – shell shock, or as we call it today, post-traumatic stress disorder.

George Henry Bonner

George Henry Bonner was at school with Tolkien in Birmingham before going to Oxford and on to war service

Treatment at Craiglockhart ran from November 1917 to March 1918 (where in one Hydra editorial he noted that ‘the exigencies of the service have taken from us Mr Sassoon’). Bonner himself wrote poetry: a sonnet appeared in the Basil Blackwell anthology Oxford Poetry 1920, alongside the work of Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden, edited by Vera Brittain and others. He had briefly returned to Magdalen, presumably to take a shortened degree, and was said to have gone on to Fleet Street. I found book reviews in the Occult Review and various essays in The Nineteenth Century, notably a series in which he made ‘The Case against “Evolution”’. However, I could find no journalism by him later than 1928, no trace of his fate, and no clue as to family.

Even after Tolkien and the Great War came out in 2003 the question still nagged at me, and I tried another tack: exploring his family tree in hopes of finding someone with traceable descendants. His only sibling, an observer in the Royal Flying Corps, had died over Northern France ‘in an attack by five enemy machines’ in 1917, 20 years old and unmarried. I could find no cousins, and gave up the attempt.

The breakthrough, so sudden it felt almost miraculous, came just after I moved from London to Oxford in 2009. I decided it was time to pick up several old threads of research, as I mentioned to my friend Peter Gilliver, an associate editor at the Oxford English Dictionary. ‘For a start, there’s this chap Bonner…’ I said.

The words were hardly out of my mouth before Peter responded, ‘Not Bonner whose wife used to work at the Dictionary?’ He mentioned a first name which sounded familiar, but it was not George, and anyway Peter’s Dictionary colleague surely could not have married anyone born in 1895. However, my notes confirmed that George Bonner’s younger brother had gone by the very name Peter had mentioned. That there was no connection between the Bonner brothers of Birmingham and this Oxford acquaintance of Peter’s seemed unlikely.

Excited, I dialled the Oxford number Peter had given me, and a polite voice confirmed that I had found the son of George Henry Bonner. Might I call on him to show him my research and talk about his father, I asked. By all means, he said.

And gave me an address just three minutes’ walk from my flat.

I showed Mr Bonner my notes. He showed me family photographs, and explained that his father had named him in memory of the brother killed in the war; but that he had died in 1929. He did indeed have some of his papers, and a few days later he fetched them down.

It all seemed too good to be true, and I immediately saw I had been right to rein in my hopes of a Tolkien-related breakthrough. There were plenty of articles, poems, even a play; but nothing personal – no diaries or letters, nothing whatsoever from school or referring to it or to his former school friends.

What really caught my eye were issues of the Hydra, with George Bonner’s name in pencil. At home I checked the issue numbers. And so I was able to tell his son that he had two of the three missing issues. We talked about what he could do with them, and I told him I knew they would be greatly welcomed at Oxford and at Edinburgh Napier.

Hydra article Oxfordshire Limited Edition

My article on the Hydra discovery as published in Oxfordshire Limited Edition

Last summer he handed most of his father’s papers over to Magdalen College, where he had also been an undergraduate. I went to look over the Hydra issues with Dr Stuart Lee, director of the First World War Poetry Digital Archive. They provide a fascinating glimpse into a lost world, in which traumatised officers understandably fell back on the comfortable certainties of life as they had known it before the war. The Hydra reads like a school or college magazine, and reports enthusiastically, and often with gentle wit, on the clubs and pastimes fostered by the hospital inmates: debates, literature, poultry-keeping, sports, model boats, photography and gardening.

Dr Lee said: ‘This is a stunning discovery. It was long assumed that these editions would never resurface but to have access to them again after nearly 100 years is immensely useful to adding to our understanding of life at Craiglockhart.’

Ben Taylor, archives assistant at Magdalen, called the rediscovered Hydra issues ‘the jewels in the crown’ of the Bonner papers, which he has now catalogued. ‘It’s hugely exciting when lost treasures turn up like that, and wonderful to think that there will always be incredible “lost” documents waiting in attics and filing cabinets to shine brilliant new lights on things,’ he said.

‘They contain light-hearted prose, satire, poetry and artwork by many other young men, otherwise unknown to history. The magazines give vivid voice to their everyday preoccupations and frustrations, their worries, hopes, beliefs and disillusionments.

Mr Taylor added: ‘Bonner’s other papers give another layer of intimacy to this picture. He wrote a number of poems while at Craiglockhart, most of which were never published. In “Twilight” Bonner writes of the dread that comes to him with nightfall. “Let Us Taste Of The Joy Of Battle”, one of Bonner’s most vivid pieces, recounts the mental breakdown of a young infantry officer. I felt genuinely privileged to be allowed the hints and glimpses of Bonner’s inner life which these papers contain. From his efforts to be published, it is clear that he wanted very much to be read.’

[Added 2 July 2014: The Magdalen archivists have now highlighted the acquisition as ‘Treasure of the Month’ on the college’s blog, including lines from ‘Let Us Taste Of The Joy Of Battle’ and other Bonner writings.]

George Bonner’s son has no desire for the limelight, so I’ve kept his full name out of this piece. But his act of generosity did not end with Oxford. He also had doubles of some issues, and has donated these to the archive at Napier. Catherine Walker was delighted when I broke the news to her. Although she had retired as campus library manager just a week earlier, she remains curator of the archive. ‘You have managed to leave me speechless – no easy feat,’ she replied. ‘I would imagine that you can see my smile from wherever you are, as I can’t quite believe what I have read.’

Even though it turned up nothing about Tolkien, it is indeed astonishing, and feels hugely rewarding, that one small tangent of my research has reunited the missing Hydra issues with their home. And perhaps somewhere, in another attic or cupboard, the very last missing issue still waits to be rediscovered.

 

A Hydra illustration inspired by the Antaeus myth – a story which also prompted Wilfred Owen's poem

A Hydra illustration inspired by the Antaeus myth – a story which also prompted Wilfred Owen’s poem

In Bonner’s Hydra editorial for January 1918, he writes: ‘Our late Editor, Mr Owen, has reduced the Antaeus saga to blank verse. This poem we hope to print in our next number.’ The poem does not appear in the newly-found issues, and perhaps was never published in Owen’s lifetime. But Owen did write an article in the January 1918 issue of The Hydra about the Greek myth of Antaeus, saying: ‘Now surely every officer who comes to Craiglockhart recognises that, in a way, he is himself Antaeus who has been taken from his Mother Earth and well-nigh crushed to death by the war giant or military machine . . . Antaeus typifies the occupation cure at Craiglockhart. His story is the justification of our activities.’

The article seems to have prompted the idea for a competition for the best picture inspired by the Greek myth. The illustration above was the winner of a competition at the hospital and is simply credited to a ‘Mr Robertson’. In his February editorial, Bonner writes: ‘Treating the legend in a somewhat unconventional manner, Mr Robertson shows us the youth Antaeus leading back into the green paths of nature the tired warrior at whose soul the horrors of darkness still clutch. Round his feet wood fairies and brownies dance, while beyond in the sunrise, there stretches through quiet ploughlands the path to the Golden City.’

 

This article, appearing here in a slightly modified form, was first published in Oxfordshire Limited Edition, the magazine of the Oxford Times, on 12 June 2014. The quotation from the 27 April 1913 letter from R.Q. Gilson to J.R.R. Tolkien is reproduced courtesy of the Tolkien Trust. Images from the Hydra are reproduced courtesy of The President and Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford.

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Tolkien’s Beowulf: one man’s passion for the threshold between myth and reality

New Statesman Beowulf review by John Garth

My review in the New Statesman, including a 1914 illustration of Beowulf

Review

Beowulf: a Translation and Commentary, Together with “Sellic Spell”
J.R.R. Tolkien
Edited by Christopher Tolkien
HarperCollins, 425pp, £20

In his story “Leaf by Niggle”, J.R.R. Tolkien imagines an artist painting a picture he can neither complete nor abandon. “It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots.” In the end the picture is never put on show.

The metaphor captures the scale and gorgeous impracticality of Tolkiens writing but not its fate. Most of his “tree” has been saved and his posthumous titles outnumber those published in his lifetime by roughly three to one. In this latest book, a deep root is exposed: his work on the Old English poem Beowulf. The surprise is how “fantastic” the root turns out to be, twisting thirstily through the scholarly subsoil to tap the groundwater of a forgotten folk tale – or “fairy story”, as Tolkien prefers to call it.

Continue reading at the New Statesman

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Assuming Character: Oxford’s new Story Museum

Neil_Gaiman_Badger

Neil Gaiman as Badger from The Wind in the Willows, photographed by Cambridge Jones for the Story Museum

Facing a big throne nestled among an array of trumpety horns, the boy holds up a slotted board filled with words from a fantastical pick’n’mix. He steps up and perches on the cushioned seat. Trumpets blare. A voice announces: ‘Presenting the flying! lion! of Wonderland!’

Here I must own up: the ‘child’ is me, and it’s been decades since I was in short trousers. But Oxford’s new Story Museum has that effect on visitors. As co-director Kim Pickin guides me around the site and its debut exhibition 26 Characters, I repeatedly find myself seeing it all through my own childhood eyes, or picturing how my five-year-old daughter will enjoy everything here. My audio recording of this peregrinatory interview is peppered with heartfelt wows and goshes.

For the exhibition, 26 children’s authors were dressed up as their favourite fictional characters for photographs by celebrity portraitist Cambridge Jones.

Continue reading at Oxford Today…

 

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A celebration of words: The Oxford Literary Festival 2014

Christ Church dining hall, a model for the one at Hogwarts, rings out with the chants of children chanting ‘Set him free!’ Enter a hooded, robed figure — not Dumbledore, but an even more senior wizard, released briefly from enchanted imprisonment in a cavern.

Kevin Crossley-Holland's novel Arthur: The Seeing Stone

History and enchantment: Kevin Crossley-Holland’s novel Arthur: The Seeing Stone

Kevin Crossley-Holland gamely stayed in character for an hour while Merlin received the This Is Your Life treatment from Nicolette Jones, in charge of the young people’s programme at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival. He posed medieval riddles, recounted the legendary origin of Stonehenge, and mined Geoffrey of Monmouth, Thomas Malory and the Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen for details from the lives of the wizard and of Arthur. In return, young members of the audience told him about Gandalf and Harry Potter. ‘Harry who?’ asked Merlin.

A slightly younger life story was recounted elsewhere in the Festival — the story of the English language in Britain. Prolific linguistics author David Crystal and his wife Hilary introduced their book Wordsmiths and Warriors, an attempt to do for the language what travelogues have done for literature, by visiting key places in the history of English.

Continue reading at Oxford Today…

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JRR Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf: bring on the monsters

Guardian Review, Saturday 22 March 2014

Guardian Review, Saturday 22 March 2014

This week, HarperCollins announced that a long-awaited JRR Tolkien translation of Beowulf is to be published in May, along with his commentaries on the Old English epic and a story it inspired him to write, Sellic Spell”. It is just the latest of a string of posthumous publications from the Oxford professor and The Hobbit author, who died in 1973. Edited by his son Christopher, now 89, it will doubtless be seen by some as an act of barrel-scraping. But Tolkien’s expertise on Beowulf and his own literary powers give us every reason to take it seriously.

Continue reading at The Guardian…

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