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Re: [mythsoc] Article in The New Yorker about Tolkien (or whatever)

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  • Mike Foster
    Wendell, Published long ago in GILBERT, the American Chesterton Society’s magazine. Cheers, Mike OFF THE SHELF by Mike Foster The Once and Future King
    Message 1 of 18 , Dec 3, 2011
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      Wendell,
      Published long ago in GILBERT, the American Chesterton Society’s magazine.
      Cheers,
      Mike

      OFF THE SHELF by Mike Foster

      <I>The Once and Future King<I> by T.H. White

      This comitragic retelling of the King Arthur myth began with a book off the author’s shelf.

      In January, 1938, Terence Hanbury White’s lonely and loveless life as a bibulous bachelor was already half over when he wrote author David Garnett, perhaps his only friend, about his newest book, <I>The Sword in the Stone<I>.

      He was 31, a failed teacher living on credit with little but his books, two adopted owls, and an Irish setter bitch, but he allowed himself a rare bit of hope and happiness in his letter: “Do you remember I once wrote a thesis on the Morte d’Arthur? Naturally I did not read Malory when writing the thesis on him, but one night last autumn I got desperate among my books and picked him up in lack of anything else. Then I was thrilled and astonished to find (a) that the thing was a perfect tragedy, with a beginning, a middle, and an end implicit in the beginning, and (b) that the characters were real people with recognizable reactions which could be forecast. Anyway, I somehow started writing a book. It is not a satire. Indeed, I am afraid it is rather warm-hearted—mainly about birds and beasts. It seems impossible to determine whether it is for grown-ups or children. It is more or less a kind of wish fulfillment of the things I should have liked to have happened to me when I was a boy.”

      <I>The Sword in the Stone<I> happily lived up to his hopes. White began his four-part modernization of Thomas Malory’s 1485 classic <I>Le Morte D’Arthur<I> by subcreating a story that Malory hadn’t told: the tale of the boyhood fostering of Arthur in the palace of Sir Ector. The boy Arthur, called Wart by his obnoxious foster-brother Kay, stumbles upon the cottage of the dotty, delightful Merlyn, a character whose eclectic knowledge and anti-establishment views reflect the author’s.

      Merlyn becomes the tutor of Wart and Kay, and due to White’s brilliant device of the notion that Merlyn is living backwards, born in the future, sage and passionate observations about the twentieth century on the brink of its second Great War are woven into a story that is by turns laugh-out-loud funny and misty-eyed romantic. Wart learns natural history by being turned into fish, hawk, owl, ant, and wild goose, and these lessons will teach him how to be a king. When Wart pulls the legendary sword from the stone and old Sir Ector kneels before his fosterling now his liege, White quotes Malory verbatim. Had Chesterton lived long enough to read it, he would have loved this book.

      The success of this first volume led to a second in 1939,<I>The Queen of Air and Darkness<I>. As in <I>The Two Towers<I>, the second volume of Tolkien’s <I>The Lord of the Rings<I>, White trifurcates his story. Part of it is Arthur’s continuing education in how to rule, culminating in his notion of the Round Table. The second part of it is slapstick farce with the comical knights Pellinore and Palomides in dragon drag as they pursue the Questing Beast. The third and most sinister part introduces the young Orkney boys, Gawain, Gaheris, Agravaine, and Gareth, and their malevolent monsteress of a mother, Morgause. White based this chillingly vain, sadistic, and amoral woman on his own mother, sad to say. The book ends with her seduction of Arthur at his coronation and the engendering of Mordred, the king’s son and nemesis.

      In 1940, <I>The Ill-Made Knight<I> introduced Lancelot and Guenever and their fatal passion. White’s master-stroke in this third story was the creation of an <I>ugly<I> Lancelot, filled with self-loathing and self-doubt—a far cry from the stereotype of the Goulet-good-looking shining knight of most versions.

      Like a symphony, each of these three books introduces a new theme that modulates, harmonizes, and dissonates with those before: the humanistic education of the simple, decent Wart, the revenge-obsessed hate of the Orkney clan, then the wrongful love that will undo all that the Round Table promised.

      Finally, in 1958, White added the final movement to this symphony of story, <The Candle in the Wind<I>. This resolved all the themes of the first three. White ends his tale myth on the eve of Arthur’s great battle with the usurper Mordred, but not with the death of Arthur, but with his last hope: that what he tried to do will not be forgotten even if it finally fails. On the last pages, Thomas Malory enters as a character, a young page the King charges with chronicling the story. White’s Arthur then knights the writer who inspired his story.

      Combined with the previous three volumes, this became <I>The Once and Future King<I>. It was that rarest of books, both a popular and a critical success. Its mix of humor and heartbreak was part of the appeal, as was the encyclopedic lore about everything from hawking to medieval medicine to courtly customs. White rounded and humanized Malory’s flat characters, especially the star-crossed Lancelot, while staying true to the original plot. The musical based on the book, <I>Camelot<I>, popularized White still further, and 1963, his last year of life, might have been his happiest one, as he toured the United States on a lionizing lecture tour.

      On Jan. 17, 1964, while on a Mediterranean cruise, he died of acute coronary disease and was buried in Athens. His self-composed epitaph reads: T.H. WHITE/ 1906-1964/ AUTHOR/ WHO FROM A TROUBLED HEART/ DELIGHTED OTHERS/ LOVING AND PRAISING/ THIS LIFE.

      <I>The Once and Future King<I> is indeed a book to be praised, inspiring both laughter and grief, a book that was love at first read. Pull it off the shelf and re-read it: you will find that, like the best loves, it grows richer and riper with age.

       
      Sent: Saturday, December 03, 2011 9:55 AM
      Subject: [mythsoc] Article in The New Yorker about Tolkien (or whatever)
       
       

      There is an article in the December 5th issue of The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik.  It's about Tolkien and, um, recent young adult fantasy . . . or something.  I'm not sure.  It looks like such a mess that I'm not going to bother to read it.  If someone else does, perhaps they might want to discuss it.
       
      Wendell Wagner
    • Sara Ciborski
      Yes, it s a mess a things that could be corrected. The main one is the unflattering picture of Tolkien as professor, right at the beginning, based on anecdotes
      Message 2 of 18 , Dec 3, 2011
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        Yes, it's a mess a things that could be corrected. The main one is the unflattering picture of Tolkien as professor, right at the beginning, based on anecdotes and untrue. Then there are some remarks about fantasy in general that are not quite right.

        Sara Ciborski (mostly lurking for last few years)

        On Sat, Dec 3, 2011 at 10:55 AM, <WendellWag@...> wrote:
         

        There is an article in the December 5th issue of The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik.  It's about Tolkien and, um, recent young adult fantasy . . . or something.  I'm not sure.  It looks like such a mess that I'm not going to bother to read it.  If someone else does, perhaps they might want to discuss it.
         
        Wendell Wagner




        --
        Sara Ciborski
        603-313-2625
        655 Gilsum Mine Road
        Alstead, NH 03602
      • Troels Forchhammer
        I do wonder if it is because I want to that I believe that I can see some moral ambiguity in The Lord of the Rings - things such as Treebeard s nobody is
        Message 3 of 18 , Dec 3, 2011
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          I do wonder if it is because I want to that I believe that I can see some moral ambiguity in The Lord of the Rings - things such as Treebeard's "nobody is entirely on my side", Boromir's pride, the insistence that even Sauron started out good, Denethor, Sam putting is foot in his moth outside Shelob's lair, and even the apparent camaraderie between Shagrat and Gorbag (wanting to set up for themselves in a place without bosses) and much else indicates to me that "realist emotional ambivalence" is certainly NOT "unknown to Tolkien" as implied by Godnik, even if the ambiguity is not displayed by Gandalf or Aragorn (or Faramir, for that matter). 

          Nor is the story devoid of psychological themes - the inner struggle of Frodo is shown also by the increasing narrative focus on Sam as the conveyor of the story, and though it is through Sam's eyes that we witness the struggle, it seems to me no less insistent for that - I think that it, for me, stands out all the more sharply for being witness through sympathetic eyes that are helpless to avail. 

          I suppose that none of this is new or surprising to anyone reading this, but is it all just because I am sympathetic to the tale? Am I imagining things, or is Godnik an imperceptive reader? Or is it something else at work? My training insists that I suggest the incommensurate world-views of warring paradigms, but in that case, which paradigms are that? 

          Troels Forchhammer

          On 3 December 2011 19:36, Sara Ciborski <saraciborski@...> wrote:


          Yes, it's a mess a things that could be corrected. The main one is the unflattering picture of Tolkien as professor, right at the beginning, based on anecdotes and untrue. Then there are some remarks about fantasy in general that are not quite right.

          Sara Ciborski (mostly lurking for last few years)


          On Sat, Dec 3, 2011 at 10:55 AM, <WendellWag@...> wrote:
           

          There is an article in the December 5th issue of The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik.  It's about Tolkien and, um, recent young adult fantasy . . . or something.  I'm not sure.  It looks like such a mess that I'm not going to bother to read it.  If someone else does, perhaps they might want to discuss it.
           
          Wendell Wagner


          --
              Love while you've got
                  love to give.
              Live while you've got
                  life to live.
           - Piet Hein, /Memento Vivere/
        • Mike Foster
          Well, Troels, insofar as “imperceptive reader,” the author’s name is Gopnik. He may be perceptive inasmuch as perhaps THE ONCE & FUTURE KING THE LORD
          Message 4 of 18 , Dec 3, 2011
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            Well, Troels, insofar as “imperceptive reader,” the author’s name is Gopnik.
             
            He may be perceptive inasmuch as perhaps THE ONCE & FUTURE KING > THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
             
            Mike
             
            Sent: Saturday, December 03, 2011 4:33 PM
            Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Article in The New Yorker about Tolkien (or whatever)
             
             

            I do wonder if it is because I want to that I believe that I can see some moral ambiguity in The Lord of the Rings - things such as Treebeard's "nobody is entirely on my side", Boromir's pride, the insistence that even Sauron started out good, Denethor, Sam putting is foot in his moth outside Shelob's lair, and even the apparent camaraderie between Shagrat and Gorbag (wanting to set up for themselves in a place without bosses) and much else indicates to me that "realist emotional ambivalence" is certainly NOT "unknown to Tolkien" as implied by Godnik, even if the ambiguity is not displayed by Gandalf or Aragorn (or Faramir, for that matter). 

             
            Nor is the story devoid of psychological themes - the inner struggle of Frodo is shown also by the increasing narrative focus on Sam as the conveyor of the story, and though it is through Sam's eyes that we witness the struggle, it seems to me no less insistent for that - I think that it, for me, stands out all the more sharply for being witness through sympathetic eyes that are helpless to avail.
             
            I suppose that none of this is new or surprising to anyone reading this, but is it all just because I am sympathetic to the tale? Am I imagining things, or is Godnik an imperceptive reader? Or is it something else at work? My training insists that I suggest the incommensurate world-views of warring paradigms, but in that case, which paradigms are that?
             
            Troels Forchhammer

            On 3 December 2011 19:36, Sara Ciborski <saraciborski@...> wrote:


            Yes, it's a mess a things that could be corrected. The main one is the unflattering picture of Tolkien as professor, right at the beginning, based on anecdotes and untrue. Then there are some remarks about fantasy in general that are not quite right.

            Sara Ciborski (mostly lurking for last few years)


            On Sat, Dec 3, 2011 at 10:55 AM, <WendellWag@...> wrote:
             

            There is an article in the December 5th issue of The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik.  It's about Tolkien and, um, recent young adult fantasy . . . or something.  I'm not sure.  It looks like such a mess that I'm not going to bother to read it.  If someone else does, perhaps they might want to discuss it.
             
            Wendell Wagner
             
            --
                Love while you've got
                    love to give.
                Live while you've got
                    life to live.
            - Piet Hein, /Memento Vivere/
          • davise@cs.nyu.edu
            I enjoyed the article, though certainly it is a mess. The main point is the dominance of LotR in the fantasy literature and the proliferation of books that
            Message 5 of 18 , Dec 4, 2011
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              I enjoyed the article, though certainly it is a mess. The main point is the dominance of LotR in the fantasy literature and the proliferation of books that borrow liberally from themes that it created, in particular Eragon.

              The argument that "The Once and Future King" is superior to LotR on account of its moral ambiguity has been made before; there was an article by Alison Lurie to the same effect 25 or 30 years ago. I'm not buying it. I'm not a huge fan of "The Once and Future King" and it seems to me that the weaknesses of the book much outweigh its advantages.

              A more interesting issue as regards moral ambiguity, for me, is that the Hobbit, despite in general being for younger readers, has more moral ambiguity than LotR. Neither the dwarves nor the elves in the Hobbit are anything like the pure-hearted good guys that they (mostly) are in LotR. The Silmarillion, again, is full of moral ambiguity. Has anyone proposed any explanation of why Tolkien went to such a comparatively black and white point of view in LotR? Troels is certainly right that LotR is not at all as purely black and white as some critics paint it, but I don't think it can be denied that it is much more so than the Hobbit or the Simlarillion.

              --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, "Mike Foster" <mafoster@...> wrote:
              >
              > Wendell,
              > It’s worth reading. Gopnik anecdotalizes Tolkien’s teaching foibles, then moves on. He gleefully slags the Eragon book as the pastichiest of the imitators. His final point is worth discussion: he suggests the one work that may be superior to LotR in the medieval fantasy is T.H. White’s THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING for adding elements Tolkien lacks, such as sex.
              >
              > Mike
              >
              > From: WendellWag@...
              > Sent: Saturday, December 03, 2011 9:55 AM
              > To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
              > Subject: [mythsoc] Article in The New Yorker about Tolkien (or whatever)
              >
              >
              >
              > There is an article in the December 5th issue of The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik. It's about Tolkien and, um, recent young adult fantasy . . . or something. I'm not sure. It looks like such a mess that I'm not going to bother to read it. If someone else does, perhaps they might want to discuss it.
              >
              > Wendell Wagner
              >
            • Mike Foster
              The point on the moral ambiguity of THE HOBBIT is well-taken. Likewise, the Elves & Dwarves of THE SILMARILLION are certainly not the Elves we meet singing
              Message 6 of 18 , Dec 4, 2011
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                The point on the moral ambiguity of THE HOBBIT is well-taken.  Likewise, the Elves & Dwarves of THE SILMARILLION are certainly not the Elves we meet singing “Tra-lillie” in THE HOBBIT.
                 
                Bilbo, of course, is invisibly out of the Battle of the Five Armies.
                 
                As for THE ONCE & FUTURE KING, it has both sex and humor that exceeds Tolkien, but LOTR hangs tough and ends up winning, rather like Marquette or Wisconsin yesterday.  Smile
                 
                Tolkien will then meet the winner of the BRIGHTON ROCK vs. THE GREAT GATSBY game. 
                 
                Cheers,
                Mike
                 
                Sent: Sunday, December 04, 2011 9:46 AM
                Subject: [mythsoc] Re: Article in The New Yorker about Tolkien (or whatever)
                 
                 

                I enjoyed the article, though certainly it is a mess. The main point is the dominance of LotR in the fantasy literature and the proliferation of books that borrow liberally from themes that it created, in particular Eragon.

                The argument that "The Once and Future King" is superior to LotR on account of its moral ambiguity has been made before; there was an article by Alison Lurie to the same effect 25 or 30 years ago. I'm not buying it. I'm not a huge fan of "The Once and Future King" and it seems to me that the weaknesses of the book much outweigh its advantages.

                A more interesting issue as regards moral ambiguity, for me, is that the Hobbit, despite in general being for younger readers, has more moral ambiguity than LotR. Neither the dwarves nor the elves in the Hobbit are anything like the pure-hearted good guys that they (mostly) are in LotR. The Silmarillion, again, is full of moral ambiguity. Has anyone proposed any explanation of why Tolkien went to such a comparatively black and white point of view in LotR? Troels is certainly right that LotR is not at all as purely black and white as some critics paint it, but I don't think it can be denied that it is much more so than the Hobbit or the Simlarillion.

                --- In mailto:mythsoc%40yahoogroups.com, "Mike Foster" <mafoster@...> wrote:

                >
                > Wendell,
                >
                It’s worth reading. Gopnik anecdotalizes Tolkien’s teaching foibles, then moves on. He gleefully slags the Eragon book as the pastichiest of the imitators. His final point is worth discussion: he suggests the one work that may be superior to LotR in the medieval fantasy is T.H. White’s THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING for adding elements Tolkien lacks, such as sex.
                >
                >
                Mike
                >
                > From: WendellWag@...
                > Sent: Saturday, December 03,
                2011 9:55 AM
                > To:
                href="mailto:mythsoc%40yahoogroups.com">mailto:mythsoc%40yahoogroups.com
                > Subject: [mythsoc] Article in The New Yorker about Tolkien (or
                whatever)
                >
                >
                >
                > There is an article in the December
                5th issue of The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik. It's about Tolkien and, um, recent young adult fantasy . . . or something. I'm not sure. It looks like such a mess that I'm not going to bother to read it. If someone else does, perhaps they might want to discuss it.
                >
                > Wendell
                Wagner
                >

              • David Bratman
                I don t think it s a terrible article, though more useful on Paolini than it is on Tolkien. It points out the way the Tolclones puff along in the original s
                Message 7 of 18 , Dec 4, 2011
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                  I don't think it's a terrible article, though more useful on Paolini than it is on Tolkien. It points out the way the Tolclones puff along in the original's wake, how they are different from LOTR and what they lack. But it also points out, as C.S. Lewis would have, that however bad a writer Paolini may be, he must have _something_ that's appealing to readers.

                  Gopnik's problem in dealing with Tolkien is that he likes LOTR but feels guilty about doing so. See his revealing comments here: http://bnreview.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Guest-Books/Adam-Gopnik/ba-p/6333

                  What he really, really doesn't get is the role of good and evil. He says that "Modernist ambiguity ... is unknown to Tolkien," and if by "ambiguity" he means "doubt as to what is good and what is evil" and if by "Tolkien" he means "LOTR" it's correct as far as it goes; besides leaving out the Silmarillion (previously dismissed as "dull as dishwater"), where as often as not no course of action is desirable, he then confuses the clarity of morality in LOTR with clarity of the characters; nor does he have any idea _why_ Gandalf and Aragorn show no "inner doubts" (whether that's true depends on what you mean by "inner doubts", and they're the only protagonists who don't).

                  As for Tolkien's teaching and his subject, it's telling that he should cite Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, very bright and intelligent men who preferred to feign a sort of lowbrow common-man ignorant mulishness. Ask somebody like W.H. Auden or Robert Burchfield and you'd get a very different answer.
                • Sara Ciborski
                  Well, I m going to take this opportunity (the noting of Gopnik s praise for THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING) to express my opinion of that book, which (my opinion) I
                  Message 8 of 18 , Dec 4, 2011
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                    Well, I'm going to take this opportunity (the noting of Gopnik's praise for THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING) to express my opinion of that book, which (my opinion) I usually suppress because it seems to be shared by so few:     it was one of the worst books I've ever read, or tried to read---I gave up not too far along when there was something about the brutal murder of a unicorn. Just now I checked Amazon to see what negative reviewers, if any, may have said,  to remind me about its defects. Comments include that it is a desecration, a dull-witted hatchet job on a thing (the legend) of uncommon beauty, and that it's full of pop culture references that jar you out of the story and that it's very boring (lots of them say that).  The minority view for sure, but I agree with it.
                    Sara Ciborski

                    On Sat, Dec 3, 2011 at 11:09 AM, Mike Foster <mafoster@...> wrote:
                     

                    Wendell,
                    It’s worth reading.  Gopnik anecdotalizes Tolkien’s teaching foibles, then moves on. He gleefully slags the Eragon book as the pastichiest of the imitators.  His final point is worth discussion: he suggests the one work that may be superior to LotR in the medieval fantasy is T.H. White’s THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING for adding elements Tolkien lacks, such as sex. 
                     
                    Mike
                     
                    Sent: Saturday, December 03, 2011 9:55 AM
                    Subject: [mythsoc] Article in The New Yorker about Tolkien (or whatever)
                     
                     

                    There is an article in the December 5th issue of The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik.  It's about Tolkien and, um, recent young adult fantasy . . . or something.  I'm not sure.  It looks like such a mess that I'm not going to bother to read it.  If someone else does, perhaps they might want to discuss it.
                     
                    Wendell Wagner




                    --
                    Sara Ciborski
                    603-313-2625
                    655 Gilsum Mine Road
                    Alstead, NH 03602
                  • David Bratman
                    At someone else s impetus, I ve performed a full-scale fisking of Gopnik s article. If you care to read it, it s at
                    Message 9 of 18 , Dec 5, 2011
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                      At someone else's impetus, I've performed a full-scale fisking of Gopnik's
                      article. If you care to read it, it's at
                      http://kalimac.blogspot.com/2011/12/tolkien-reconstructed.html
                    • Doug Kane
                      ... Nice title. ;-) dck
                      Message 10 of 18 , Dec 5, 2011
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                      • Bill West
                        Further discussion on the New Yorker blog: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/backissues/2011/11/tolkien-tedious-or-tremendous.html As for Paolini, I tried
                        Message 11 of 18 , Dec 5, 2011
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                          Further discussion on the New Yorker blog:

                          http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/backissues/2011/11/tolkien-tedious-or-tremendous.html

                          As for Paolini, I tried to read the first book but couldn't finish it.
                          However it is quite an accomplishment for a then 16year old(or
                          thereabout in age). I hope he finally attended
                          college and I have hopes that his writing will improve with maturity.

                          Bill West
                        • Croft, Janet B.
                          ... Nice title. ;-) dck **And nice fisking. Janet ... The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.orgYahoo! Groups Links
                          Message 12 of 18 , Dec 5, 2011
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                            > http://kalimac.blogspot.com/2011/12/tolkien-reconstructed.html

                            Nice title. ;-)

                            dck

                            **And nice fisking.

                            Janet

                            ------------------------------------

                            The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.orgYahoo! Groups Links
                          • nmb@kingcon.com
                            I just joined the group and noticed you discussed Adam Gopnik s article in the New Yorker a couple of months ago. I too thought it was a mess, but for
                            Message 13 of 18 , Jan 27, 2012
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                              I just joined the group and noticed you discussed Adam Gopnik's article in the New Yorker a couple of months ago. I too thought it was a mess, but for different reasons. Here's a letter I wrote to the magazine, which unfortunately they didn't publish.

                              Adam Gopnik, in his review of Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance" ("The Dragon's Egg," December 5th), seems to have muddled up his Eddas and Sagas. There is nothing remotely approaching "big Icelandic romance" in the Elder or Poetic Edda. This anonymous collection of obscure and disjointed medieval poems is hard to even make sense of without reference to the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, written c. 1220, or to the anonymous Volsunga Saga. "Big Icelandic romance" better refers to another work of Snorri's, Heimskringla, his collection of sagas of the kings of Norway, or to Egil's Saga, also attributed to Snorri. If Paolini's Eragon books "are effectively co-written with Tolkien," then Tolkien's books are effectively co-written with Snorri Sturluson. Snorri created the character of the wandering wizard and loremaster with the long grey beard, broad-brimmed hat, and magical staff; he called him Odin. Tolkien called Gandalf an "Odinic wanderer." It was on Snorri's templates that Tolkien modeled his dwarves and trolls, heroes and kings, shapeshifters, wargs, dragon, valkyries, giant eagles, magic swords, and cursed ring of power. And he expected his readers to know it. Reviewing "The Hobbit," C.S. Lewis wrote, it "has the air of inventing nothing. [Tolkien] has studied trolls and dragons at first hand and describes them with that fidelity which is worth oceans of glib `originality.'" Lewis was also the one to compare Tolkien's work to a marriage between "The Wind and the Willows" and—not the Elder Edda—but the grand and sweeping Njal's Saga.

                              Nancy Marie Brown
                              author of The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman (Harcourt 2007) and the soon-to-be-published Song of the VIkings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myth (Palgrave-MacMillan 2012)
                            • Travis Buchanan
                              Excellent response Nancy, and thanks for the information! Cheers, Travis Not all those who wander are lost. - J. R. R. Tolkien ... Excellent response Nancy,
                              Message 14 of 18 , Jan 27, 2012
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                                Excellent response Nancy, and thanks for the information!

                                Cheers,

                                Travis



                                Not all those who wander are lost.
                                                        - J. R. R. Tolkien



                                On Fri, Jan 27, 2012 at 1:40 PM, <nmb@...> wrote:
                                 



                                I just joined the group and noticed you discussed Adam Gopnik's article in the New Yorker a couple of months ago. I too thought it was a mess, but for different reasons. Here's a letter I wrote to the magazine, which unfortunately they didn't publish.

                                Adam Gopnik, in his review of Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance" ("The Dragon's Egg," December 5th), seems to have muddled up his Eddas and Sagas. There is nothing remotely approaching "big Icelandic romance" in the Elder or Poetic Edda. This anonymous collection of obscure and disjointed medieval poems is hard to even make sense of without reference to the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, written c. 1220, or to the anonymous Volsunga Saga. "Big Icelandic romance" better refers to another work of Snorri's, Heimskringla, his collection of sagas of the kings of Norway, or to Egil's Saga, also attributed to Snorri. If Paolini's Eragon books "are effectively co-written with Tolkien," then Tolkien's books are effectively co-written with Snorri Sturluson. Snorri created the character of the wandering wizard and loremaster with the long grey beard, broad-brimmed hat, and magical staff; he called him Odin. Tolkien called Gandalf an "Odinic wanderer." It was on Snorri's templates that Tolkien modeled his dwarves and trolls, heroes and kings, shapeshifters, wargs, dragon, valkyries, giant eagles, magic swords, and cursed ring of power. And he expected his readers to know it. Reviewing "The Hobbit," C.S. Lewis wrote, it "has the air of inventing nothing. [Tolkien] has studied trolls and dragons at first hand and describes them with that fidelity which is worth oceans of glib `originality.'" Lewis was also the one to compare Tolkien's work to a marriage between "The Wind and the Willows" and—not the Elder Edda—but the grand and sweeping Njal's Saga.

                                Nancy Marie Brown
                                author of The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman (Harcourt 2007) and the soon-to-be-published Song of the VIkings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myth (Palgrave-MacMillan 2012)


                              • davise@cs.nyu.edu
                                Hi Nancy! Welcome to Mythsoc! ... I suppose that you also noticed that we discussed your article Practical Education and your book The Abacus and the
                                Message 15 of 18 , Jan 28, 2012
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                                  Hi Nancy! Welcome to Mythsoc!

                                  --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, nmb@... wrote:
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                                  > I just joined the group and noticed you discussed Adam Gopnik's article in the New Yorker a couple of months ago.

                                  I suppose that you also noticed that we discussed your article "Practical Education" and your book "The Abacus and the Cross" back in November.

                                  I have since then read "The Abacus and the Cross" (biography of Pope Sylvester II), and immensely enjoyed it.

                                  -- Ernie
                                • nmb@kingcon.com
                                  What a nice welcome! I should have found this group years ago. --Nancy Marie Brown
                                  Message 16 of 18 , Jan 30, 2012
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                                    What a nice welcome! I should have found this group years ago.
                                    --Nancy Marie Brown

                                    --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, davise@... wrote:
                                    > I suppose that you also noticed that we discussed your article "Practical Education" and your book "The Abacus and the Cross" back in November.
                                    >
                                    > I have since then read "The Abacus and the Cross" (biography of Pope Sylvester II), and immensely enjoyed it.
                                    >
                                    > -- Ernie
                                    >
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