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Re: New Beowulf

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  • David S. Bratman
    ... I expect because it s not fully naturalized, as Tolkien said of the Arthurian material. Whether it s a re-telling doesn t count. You d have to ask
    Message 1 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
      On Tue, 29 Feb 2000, Ted Sherman wrote:

      > Why wouldn't a retelling of a Bible story
      > count? Genesis B contains material based on Genesis, but it also
      > contains material that John Milton likely used in Paradise Lost. It's as
      > literary as one can get. Refashioning earlier texts was common
      > throughout the Anglo-Saxon period--and later.

      I expect because it's not fully naturalized, as Tolkien said of the
      Arthurian material. Whether it's a re-telling doesn't count. You'd have
      to ask Tolkien, really; he, not I, was the one who originally said there
      was no real Anglo-Saxon mythology, and surely these major OE texts didn't
      just slip his mind.

      > > He felt there was a pure Anglo-Saxon strain which
      > > he wished to isolate. As Americans, with our melting pot, we're used to
      > > things being naturalized as soon as they step off the boat. Many
      > > Europeans view things differently (one reason for the xenophobic politics
      > > that look so strange to us). "How many years does it take to make a
      > > steward a king, if the king return not?" "Few years, maybe, in other
      > > lands. In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice."
      > >
      > Frankly, I don't see the point of the latter quotations. JRRT might have
      > wished to isolate a "pure Anglo-Saxon strain" but he needn't have tried.
      > There wasn't one. Just when the "English" did begin to develop into
      > their own people and own country, they would be disturbed from Outside.
      > Those disturbances came from the Vikings, the Normans, and later the
      > Flemish, Italians, Dutch, etc., from the late Middle Ages on. King
      > Alfred was probably the closest one could come to a "pure Anglo-Saxon"
      > but his entire life--almost--was spent confronting the Danes.

      The point of the quotation is that, by analogy, mere residence in a
      country doesn't make one part of an ethnic group. What you say shows
      that there was no time when the Anglo-Saxons had Britain quietly all to
      themselves. This is reflected in LOTR when Frodo bristles at the notion
      of the Nazgul wandering around in his own Shire. "But it is not your own
      Shire," says Gildor. "Others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others
      will dwell here again when hobbits are no more. The wide world is all
      about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it
      out."

      So you can't write about hobbits without including their relationship
      with other peoples, and indeed Tolkien doesn't. But that doesn't make
      hobbits any less of an individual, separable people with their own
      traditions and their own customs. And the same is true of the
      Anglo-Saxons. However much time they spent interacting with French and
      Germans, and however many Celts and Vikings were also occupying Britain,
      the Anglo-Saxons were their own people with their own ethnic identity (as
      we'd say today), and the heart of England, the land Tolkien loved, was
      their own country, even though it hadn't always been, and even though
      others might also claim it as their own. (It's not incompatible.)

      > > A fairly clear break, I think, as far as creative literature is concerned,
      > > there being a long gap without much except the Ancrene Wisse, which I
      > > believe is clearly ME, though certainly early ME. As for the Latin
      > > stuff, precisely because it's in Latin it's not OE literature in the
      > > language sense, except insofar as the translations are literature.
      > > (Which they are: after all, King Alfred translated Boethius, who wasn't
      > > English by nationality let alone language, and that's considered a
      > > masterpiece of OE literature.)
      > >
      > No, not really. There is much early creative material, it's just not
      > very popular today, nor is it studied or read much because of its
      > didactic and hagiographic elements. There are early ballads and lyrics,
      > and a few of the romances (Havelock the Dane comes to mind) are rather
      > early. Alfred's Boethius is considered a masterpiece of OE literature
      > precisely because Alfred rendered it into English. Just as Bede's
      > History is a masterpiece. There are also the riddles, chronicles,
      > saints' lives and numerous other works that were translated into OE that
      > are masterpieces of OE prose and/or poetry.

      But they're not major works of the _native OE creative imagination_ the
      way that Beowulf is (even if what we have is a retelling). That's the
      difference. I wouldn't allow my love for the Silmarillion, or the
      History of Middle-earth, or Farmer Giles of Ham, to blind me to the fact
      that LOTR is Tolkien's single outstanding masterpiece; nor does this
      other stuff take away from Beowulf's unique status.

      > BTW, when I mentioned the break between OE and ME, I was referring more
      > to the language. Parts of the island probably retained OE well into the
      > late 12th century, if not the early 13th. The earliest datable document
      > in ME is the entry for the year 1135 in the Peterborough Chronicle of
      > the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

      No language break is is perfectly sharp, either chronologically or
      geographically, but those between OE and ME, and ME and Modern English,
      are sharper than most. In any case the OE/ME evolution was long over
      before the 14th century which was the time of all the major ME literary
      masterpieces. (Yes, I know there was plenty of other literature. I'm
      talking about outstanding masterpieces.)

      > But copies were being made in the ME period; just look at one of the
      > volumes in the Index of Middle English Verse to see how many works were
      > copied. There are numerous copies of Monmouth's History, and they were
      > all copied in the ME period. There are redactions and redactions of
      > numerous works, making the lives of us textual editors interesting.
      > Again, while numerous manuscripts and tales/poetry undoubtedly were
      > destroyed during the centuries, it is quite amazing, really, that we
      > have the number of manuscripts that do survive from the OE and ME
      > periods.

      The glass is half-full! No, the glass is half-empty!

      It would be a lot fuller if the OE literary, linguistic and ecclesiastical
      traditions hadn't been so severely disrupted by the Normans. We can be
      delighted with what we have, and still note there could have been a lot
      more. In particular, as Tolkien noted, there are many OE legendary
      figures (Wayland the Smith comes to mind) of whom we know nothing but
      their names and a few scraps, but of whom mighty epics were perhaps once
      told. No way to be sure.

      If there's any distinctively native English mythology that Tolkien
      ignored when he made his complaint, it's Robin Hood. But not only is
      Robin Hood ME and not OE (thus irrelevant to Lisa's original comment),
      but the literature consisted of ballads and other short works, didn't
      receive any full-scale treatments until the 19C, and unless you count
      Howard Pyle still lacks IMHO a good one.

      David Bratman
      - not responsible for the following advertisement -
    • WendellWag@aol.com
      In a message dated 3/3/00 6:18:11 AM Eastern Standard Time, ... So Tolkien wasn t really English, but German like his ancestors (or some of them anyway)?
      Message 2 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
        In a message dated 3/3/00 6:18:11 AM Eastern Standard Time,
        dbratman@... writes:

        > The point of the quotation is that, by analogy, mere residence in a
        > country doesn't make one part of an ethnic group.

        So Tolkien wasn't really English, but German like his ancestors (or some of
        them anyway)?
      • David S. Bratman
        ... Man, I m getting it from both sides this week, aren t I? If by his German ancestors, you mean the ones who _weren t_ Anglo-Saxons, and who were responsible
        Message 3 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
          On Fri, 3 Mar 2000 WendellWag@... wrote:

          > > The point of the quotation is that, by analogy, mere residence in a
          > > country doesn't make one part of an ethnic group.
          >
          > So Tolkien wasn't really English, but German like his ancestors (or some of
          > them anyway)?

          Man, I'm getting it from both sides this week, aren't I?

          If by his German ancestors, you mean the ones who _weren't_ Anglo-Saxons,
          and who were responsible for the name Tolkien, please refer to Letter 95
          ("For barring the Tolkien (which must long ago have become a pretty thin
          strand) you [CT] are a Mercian or Hwiccian on both sides"), Letter 44
          ("Though a Tolkien by name, I am a Suffield by tastes, talents, and
          upbringing"), and Letter 165 ("I am neither `foolhardy' not German,
          whatever SOME [emphasis added] remote ancestors may have been. They
          migrated to England more than 200 years ago, and became quickly intensely
          English ... I am in fact far more of a Suffield"). In other words, the
          German side was a tiny strand in his ancestry, which would never have
          been noticed had it not been the line that provided his surname. In any
          case they did naturalize, and it was thus more than mere residence.

          If by his German ancestors you mean the fact that the Anglo-Saxons
          originally came from Germany, that's reductionist. The point of my
          quotation about Gondor and the 10,000 years was that it takes time to
          naturalize, a long time. But England isn't Gondor, either, and 1500
          years is surely long enough.

          David Bratman
          - not responsible for the following advertisement -
        • WendellWag@aol.com
          In a message dated 3/3/00 7:20:01 AM Eastern Standard Time, ... I m sorry if that came out sounding nasty. I didn t mean it as an attack on you. An attack on
          Message 4 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
            In a message dated 3/3/00 7:20:01 AM Eastern Standard Time,
            dbratman@... writes:

            > Man, I'm getting it from both sides this week, aren't I?

            I'm sorry if that came out sounding nasty. I didn't mean it as an attack on
            you. An attack on Tolkien, possibly, but not on you.

            I was referring to Tolkien's German ancestors, who were 1/64 of his ancestry
            (or was it 1/32 or 1/128?). There are Americans who make a big deal of what
            country their ancestors immigrated from, even if they immigrated over 200
            years ago. There's something a bit odd about an Englishman making a big deal
            about his ethnic identity. It's not as odd as an American making a big deal
            about his ethnic identity, but it's odd nevertheless.

            Maybe my testiness about this comes from having a two-year argument in the
            letters column of _Amon Hen_ (the Tolkien Society quarterly newsletter) about
            the "Englishness" of _The Lord of the Rings_. There are some T. S. members
            who think that the appearance of any American voices in a movie version of
            the book would be utter heresy.

            Wendell Wagner
          • Ted Sherman
            David, I also was not attacking you, or JRRT; this is just an instance where I think he was wrong (thankfully, there are very few times where I disagree with
            Message 5 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
              David,

              I also was not attacking you, or JRRT; this is just an instance where I
              think he was wrong (thankfully, there are very few times where I
              disagree with him).

              Ted

              WendellWag@... wrote:
              >
              > From: WendellWag@...
              >
              > In a message dated 3/3/00 7:20:01 AM Eastern Standard Time,
              > dbratman@... writes:
              >
              > > Man, I'm getting it from both sides this week, aren't I?
              >
              > I'm sorry if that came out sounding nasty. I didn't mean it as an attack on
              > you. An attack on Tolkien, possibly, but not on you.
              >
              > I was referring to Tolkien's German ancestors, who were 1/64 of his ancestry
              > (or was it 1/32 or 1/128?). There are Americans who make a big deal of what
              > country their ancestors immigrated from, even if they immigrated over 200
              > years ago. There's something a bit odd about an Englishman making a big deal
              > about his ethnic identity. It's not as odd as an American making a big deal
              > about his ethnic identity, but it's odd nevertheless.
              >
              > Maybe my testiness about this comes from having a two-year argument in the
              > letters column of _Amon Hen_ (the Tolkien Society quarterly newsletter) about
              > the "Englishness" of _The Lord of the Rings_. There are some T. S. members
              > who think that the appearance of any American voices in a movie version of
              > the book would be utter heresy.
              >
              > Wendell Wagner
              >
              > ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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              --
              Dr. Theodore James Sherman
              Department of English, Box X041
              College of Liberal Arts
              Middle Tennessee State University
              Murfreesboro, TN 37130
              615 898-5836; FAX 615 898-5098
              tsherman@...
              tedsherman@...
            • David S. Bratman
              ... Americans tend not, however, to make a big deal out of ancestors who were only 1/64th of their ancestry, unless it s something rare and special. I know
              Message 6 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
                On Fri, 3 Mar 2000 WendellWag@... wrote:

                > I was referring to Tolkien's German ancestors, who were 1/64 of his ancestry
                > (or was it 1/32 or 1/128?). There are Americans who make a big deal of what
                > country their ancestors immigrated from, even if they immigrated over 200
                > years ago. There's something a bit odd about an Englishman making a big deal
                > about his ethnic identity. It's not as odd as an American making a big deal
                > about his ethnic identity, but it's odd nevertheless.

                Americans tend not, however, to make a big deal out of ancestors who were
                only 1/64th of their ancestry, unless it's something rare and special. I
                know people who are 1/64th Amerind, and proud of it.

                Tolkien didn't make a big deal out of his ancestry: these are three
                letters over an entire lifetime! But to the extent that he did, it was
                1) to correct the misapprehension, from his name, that he was German; 2)
                because he loved his homeland and felt a special connection with it.
                There's nothing wrong with that: here in California, people whose
                ancestors have been here for a whole hundred years feel a special sense
                of connectedness which they hold over those of us who've only been here
                for 30 or 40 years; and we, in turn, who can remember Silicon Valley
                before it was called that, and when it was full of orchards, have
                something over the dot-com weenies.

                > Maybe my testiness about this comes from having a two-year argument in the
                > letters column of _Amon Hen_ (the Tolkien Society quarterly newsletter) about
                > the "Englishness" of _The Lord of the Rings_. There are some T. S. members
                > who think that the appearance of any American voices in a movie version of
                > the book would be utter heresy.

                I agree with them!

                David Bratman
                - not responsible for the following advertisement -
              • Berni Phillips
                ... Hmmph. Surely they would agree to let Americans voice the orcs! Berni David Bratman is not responsible for the following message: (Just kidding, dear!)
                Message 7 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
                  ----------
                  >From: "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@...>

                  >On Fri, 3 Mar 2000 WendellWag@... wrote:

                  >> Maybe my testiness about this comes from having a two-year argument in the
                  >> letters column of _Amon Hen_ (the Tolkien Society quarterly newsletter) about
                  >> the "Englishness" of _The Lord of the Rings_. There are some T. S. members
                  >> who think that the appearance of any American voices in a movie version of
                  >> the book would be utter heresy.
                  >
                  >I agree with them!

                  Hmmph. Surely they would agree to let Americans voice the orcs!

                  Berni
                  David Bratman is not responsible for the following message:
                  (Just kidding, dear!)
                • David S. Bratman
                  ... What, I _am_ responsible for the following message? DB
                  Message 8 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
                    On Fri, 3 Mar 2000, Berni Phillips wrote:

                    > David Bratman is not responsible for the following message:
                    > (Just kidding, dear!)

                    What, I _am_ responsible for the following message? <g>

                    DB
                  • Ted Sherman
                    ... David, Your comment about the orchards brought back a flood of memories of the Santa Clara Valley when it still have more orchards than concrete. I can
                    Message 9 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
                      "David S. Bratman" wrote:
                      >
                      >and we, in turn, who can remember Silicon Valley
                      > before it was called that, and when it was full of orchards, have
                      > something over the dot-com weenies.
                      >
                      David,

                      Your comment about the orchards brought back a flood of memories of the
                      Santa Clara Valley when it still have more orchards than concrete. I can
                      remember looking down over the valley from Skyline or the Saratoga Gap
                      and seeing blossoms--plum and apricot--from the Santa Cruz foothills to
                      the Mt. Hamilton range.

                      Thanks for the jolt to my memory!

                      Ted
                      --
                      Dr. Theodore James Sherman
                      Department of English, Box X041
                      College of Liberal Arts
                      Middle Tennessee State University
                      Murfreesboro, TN 37130
                      615 898-5836; FAX 615 898-5098
                      tsherman@...
                      tedsherman@...
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