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Archive for September, 2014

Readers of this blog know that I am a bit of a Tolkien buff–not saying I’m great with the trivia, but JRRT has definitely inspired and shaped the goals and arc of my life quite a bit since I was a wee lad. I read and loved the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings at an early age (fourth grade… I may have read the Hobbit in third, can’t remember), but it wasn’t too long before I moved on to the Silmarillion, and after that discovered Christopher Tolkien’s editions of his father’s earlier drafts of the Silmarillion and other unpublished work. While I’d already decided that I wanted to “be” Tolkien, I suppose it was these posthumous bits and all their accompanying learned notes that first gave me a taste for any sort of scholarly approach to texts.

I don’t remember how old I was when I read the two volumes of The Book of Lost Tales–I may have been in Jr Hi or High School when I finally got to volume two–but at some point early on (probably in one of the non-authorized biographies, now that I think about it) I learned that the start of JRRT’s mythos was a poem about Eärendel the half-elven mariner who… um, shoot, you should probably at least read the Silmarillion before I spoil that for you. Here’s a hint, he comes into the family line of both Elrond and Aragorn in a big way…

Eärendel is derived from Éarendel the “day star,” “brightest of angels” in the Old English poem Crist by Cynewulf (there is a prose translation here), but the name is attested elsewhere in the Germanic languages as well. I don’t have time to write much on this (as much as I would like to dig into this more for myself as well)–classes start Thursday–but in my own particular field (Old Norse mythology) we know him as Aurvandil, whose toe was turned into a star by Thor (and in Saxo’s version he is Hamlet’s/Amleth’s father–will the connections never cease). And of course the Old Norse scholar Peter Foote just had to name one of his collections of essays Aurvandilstá (A’s toe)…

The occasion for this post is the fact that, the day after it was relevant, I ran across this article on the centenary of Tolkien’s Eärendel poem, and so the centenary of Middle Earth. I won’t comment on it (again, lack of time), but it’s pretty interesting, not least with its notes re: a suggested bit of intertextuality with reference to one of Shelley’s poems (said interpretation makes Tolkien come off as a sort of belated English version of the Swedish Gothic Society, I think, in that they also consciously replaced the Classical fetish of earlier Romanticism and Neo-Classicism with a more “Germanic” National Romantic fetish).

And of course I’m posting on this rather late, but that’s because I felt like I just HAD to have some sort of illustration of my own for it, being a rabid Tolkienite and all. My pen brush sketch is pretty rough, but I hope to redo it in photoshop eventually (like I did with my pic of the Valkyrie Mist). More inspired-by than an illustration-of. The poem (or the final version) you can find in volume 2 of The Book of Lost Tales, but I will post the first stanza here (the original version of the first stanza you can find in the article I link to in the previous paragraph):

Éarendel arose where the shadow flows

At Ocean’s silent brim;

Through the mouth of night as a ray of light

Where the shores are sheer and dim

He launched his bark like a silver spark

From the last and lonely sand;

Then on sunlit breath of day’s fiery death

He sailed from Westerland.

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I’ve just run across Neal Stephenson’s Hieroglyphs project, and it sounds pretty cool to me. The project page is here, and a summary on wikipedia is here to supplement the video embedded above, but in short it seems to be an attempt to return to a more conscious attempt to harness the imaginative power of science fiction for the benefit of progress in society at large. It seems to be partially in response to the predominance of dystopian literature in recent years, but I believe some of the authors involved are still careful to note that dystopian can be as essential as utopian imaginings of the future when it comes to motivating and enabling progress. I haven’t gotten too far in my exploration of the project (looks like they have some forums online, a story collection, and lots of other cool stuff going on), but I do recommend the radio program on the project that they link to, which includes interviews with major authors and performances of the three winners of a short story contest the radio show held. I really like Kim Stanley Robinson’s comments on the project, though I also wish someone would have made more of an explicit point of the connection between the material bases of production and the social, cultural, and other possibilities we have for the ways in which we live. KSR’s comments to gesture towards that a bit, though, if I remember correctly. Just finished the final interview with Samuel Delany, and enjoyed that as always (more for Delany than for the interviewer).

Would love to comment on this more (and juxtapose this particular aspect of sci-fi with the other ways in which speculative fiction fosters a healthy imagination), but I have to get back to translating. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy exploring the Hieroglyph project! I will have to pick up a copy of the book soon…

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