Monday, December 13, 2010

The Scholar-Geek

Curt Emanuel over at The Medieval History Geek just posted how he's not a geek according to this quiz. I had to find out how someone as interested in the period and well-read as Curt could possibly not be close to 100%, so I took the quiz. I'm a Scholar-Geek, which fits I suppose. Sadly, I only scored 88% on the scholar side, which is said to so far be more than 100% of my fellow scholars on the test, which means that I'm the only one to take it so far. But it was fun and a bit funny if you to take it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tolkien Transactions VI

Well, as typical in the six weeks from the beginning of October to just before Thanksgiving, the teacher of 5 college level courses, 3 of which are writing courses, and four of which are new preps, is swamped with only occasional forays into thinking about other things. Sadly, none of them blog related. So while I have a half post on the Undark "Dark" Ages that I hope to finish next week, very little has been done here, or really anywhere in my "life of the mind" corner of existence. Soon to change for a few weeks before the final projects come in and time to finish off the semester and begin prepping for the next.

While I start writing again, an internet friend by the name of Troels Forschammer has posted on Usenet in Tolkien related groups a collection of blog posts and other related Tolkienana on the web each month. That is a welcome addition to Tolkien studies I think. I also think his efforts deserve a wider audience than the Usenet groups. So I offered to share his posts here for those interested in things Tolkien, and Troels accepted. So this is the sixth in Troels' series, for October 2010, and I'm a bit behind in posting it since Troels sent it to me a few weeks ago. Still, it should prove useful to folks. Thanks for doing this, Troels! I think it a real service to other Tolkien readers, fans, and scholars.

Tolkien Transactions VI October 2010

The time has come for a new issue of my attempt to extract the best or most interesting (in my highly subjective estimate) of Tolkien-related events this past month. This time I have ignored a lot of things such as the news that Tolkien is the third-highest earning dead celebrity (following Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley), that _Mythlore_ can be read at the _Encyclopædia Britannica_ site, a theory about Lewis being inspired to prolificacy (shot down in the comments), that some author has made a snide remark at Lewis and Tolkien in a footnote in his autobiography and a lot of other items. Still, as usual, please chime in with interesting stuff that you have found elsewhere! All the usual disclaimers apply about newness, completeness and relevance (or any other implication of responsibility) :-)


John D. Rateliff (JDR) - "Sacnoth's Scriptorium"

Jason Fisher (JF) - "Lingwë - Musings of a Fish"

Michael Drout (MD) - "Wormtalk and Slugspeak"

Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull (H&S) - "Too Many Books and Never Enough"

Pieter Collier (PC) - "The Tolkien Library"

Douglas A. Anderson (DAA) et Al. - "Wormwoodiana"

Corey Olsen (CO), "The Tolkien Professor"

David Bratman (DB), "Calimac"

Larry Swain (LS), "The Ruminate"

'Wellinghall', "Musings of an Aging Fan"

Various, 'The Northeast Tolkien Society' (NETS),

"Heren Istarion"

Bruce Charlton (BC), "Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers"

_Mythprint_ -- 'The Monthly Bulletin of the Mythopoeic Society'

_Amon Hen_ -- the Bulletin of the Tolkien Society - and others


JF, Thursday, October 28, 2010, "Parma Eldalamberon 19"

The announcement that _Parma Eldalamberon_ 19 has gone to the printer. The issue will be available for shipping by November 15 according to the journal's web-site:

PC, Wednesday, October 20, 2010 "Lot of correspondence between J.R.R. Tolkien and Roger Verhulst"

From the description at the Tolkien Library site: 'Very interesting lot of letters discussing Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis. and the unpublished book by W.H. Auden on J.R.R. Tolkien.' I fully agree that this is a 'very interesting lot of letters' -- offered for sale, but if you're only interested in the contents, you can read them on the Tolkien Library site (thanks to Pieter for making these available for fans on a tight budget!)

PC, Tuesday, October 19, 2010, "A one page handwritten letter signed J.R.R. Tolkien to BBC Radio Producer Terence Tiller" The Tolkien Library offers a handwritten Tolkien letter for sale. While this in itself is possibly interesting to fans with a bigger Tolkien budget than mine, the letter itself is not without interest. Writing to BBC Radio Producer Terence Tiller, Tolkien gives his permission to Tiller to make an adaptation for radio of _The Lord of the Rings_, but he also expresses his doubts about how such an adaptation can be achieved. The story on the Tolkien Library site also includes a good, fairly high resolution, scan of the letter.

'Compa_Might', Monday, October 18, 2010, "Tolkien & Co. Return in The Dragon's Apprentice"

Does any of you know the series _The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica_? Apparently this series features three Inklings, Tolkien, Lewis and Williams, as 'Caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica', doing some fantastic things. The series has its own web-site at It'd be interesting to hear if anyone knows this series and what they think about it.

JF, Tuesday, October 12, 2010, "The contents of Middle-earth and Beyond"

This is an announcement of the list of contents for the upcoming book, _Middle-earth and Beyond: Essays on the World of J.R.R. Tolkien_, edited by Kathleen Dubs and Janka Kašcáková. At 150 pages, I can't help but wonder what the price will be (at the time of writing this, the book does not yet show up for pre-order anywhere that I can find)? The earlier volume that Jason speaks of (_Thruths Breathed Through Silver: The Inklings' Moral and Mythopoeic Legacy_) sells at £25.49 at Amazon UK, so we should probably expect something in the same range. I agree with Jason that the list of contents does look promising (in addition to Jason's essay, there are two essays on Tom Bombadil, one about 'Grotesque Characters' in _TH_ and _LotR_ and other promising titles as well), and I will look forward to the reviews.

JDR, Monday, October 11, 2010, "Ransome's Tolkien"
I know that there is more to it than that, but right now I'm envious
enough to accuse John Rateliff of blogging about this just to spite
all of us fans who will never get a chance to hold this treasure in
our hands ;-) The item in question is the advance page proof copy
of _The Lord of the Rings_ that was sent to Arthur Ransome by Allen
& Unwin at Tolkien's suggestion and in the hope that he would write
"a sentence or two about it which we could use to assist in ensuring
that it gets rapid recognition as the work of genius it undoubtedly
See also the items at the book-seller's page:

Kelly Faircloth, Saturday, October 9, 2010, "How to learn from
Tolkien without flat-out copying him: Top fantasy writers speak!"
A panel discussion with authors Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson,
Naomi Novik, Joe Abercrombie, Peter V. Brett, and debut author
Deborah Harkness speaking about their influences, and whether
fantasy writers are still knocking off Tolkien.

Oskar Stevens, Friday, October 8, 2010, "Tree man rumored to star in
new Tolkien movie"
Sometimes the news in which Tolkien's name appears are . . .
grotesque to say the least. The story of the Indonesian Dede is
certainly one of those (the above is just one of many links to
variations of this story). I shan't say why this story suddenly
(re-)surfaces, but as one commenter said, the poor man has probably
had his full of being the freak. Fortunately there are no Ents in
_The Hobbit_ and Aragorn hadn't encountered them either prior to the
War of the Ring, so I hope that he is safe from Hollywood for now.

JF, Thursday, October 7, 2010, "The new issue of Mythlore"
I guess this really ought to read 'The upcoming issue of Mythlore'
as Jason is announcing the table of contents and that the issue has
gone to the printer. My copy has not yet arrived in Denmark, but
surely it can't be long now . . .

_Greenwich Citizen_, Wednesday, October 6, 2010, "Lewis and Tolkien
Expedition: Expert to explore two literary figures in lecture"
This is the story about the Rev. Dr. Earl F. Palmer giving a lecture
in Greenwich about Tolkien and Lewis titled 'Defiant Traditionalists
Who Believed in God - J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis'. Apart from
what is listed here, does anyone know more about Palmer's work on
Tolkien and Lewis?

JDR, Saturday, October 2, 2010, "Christine O'Donnell, Tolkien
Following the sudden rise to notoriety of O'Donnell, Rateliff
comments on her paper, thinking that '[o]n the whole, this is a
decent little piece' and that '[w]here O'Donnell is on much firmer
ground is in her discussion of Eowyn'. In the end, his conclusion is
that he would 'like to see more work in the field from the intern!'
The intern being O'Donnell's niece, Jenna Murry.

The Hobbit films . . .
As in September the planned films inspired by Tolkien's _The Hobbit_
make up a very large proportion of the news-stories mentioning
Tolkien's name. It appears that there have been some four main
stories to cover this month: the negotiations concerning the
financial re-organisation of MGM resulting about mid-month in the
go-ahead for the film, the troubles with the New Zealand actors',
that Peter Jackson is taking over as director of the films after
Guillermo del Toro left the project in May, that Jackson's _Hobbit_
may become the most expensive film ever made (until it is surpassed
by some other film). The clear runner-up has been all the casting
stories. I'll let you in on a little secret: I really do not care! I
will go see the film (with my expectations probably better adjusted
this time round . . .), and I am grateful for the attention the
films have created for Tolkien's work, but as for the rest of the
media attention on the upcoming films I'd much rather that it'd go

Essays and Scholarship

BC, Saturday, 30 October 2010, "Evidence to prove Tolkien's nervous
breakdown 1945-6"

BC, Saturday, October 30, 2010, "1945-6 Tolkien's darkest time -
whilst writing the Notion Club Papers"
This is why I am subscribed to various other news-feeds that deliver
me tons of uninteresting (or worse) items. Bruce Charlton is here
blogging about _The Notion Club Papers_ and in these two posts
Charlton argues that Tolkien was having a nervous breakdown in the
period of 1945-6 when he was working on this book rather than on
LotR, arguing further that Tolkien experiences during this time
influenced his writing also when he took up writing LotR again. I'll
happily go through another thousand drab and irrelevant items to
discover another interesting source such as this.

Unknown, Monday, October 25, 2010, ""Rationality" sets science
fiction apart from fantasy"
This article reports on an essay by one Simone Caroti who argues
that the use of estrangement and cognition is the key factor
separating science fiction from fantasy. The author of this review /
commentary agrees to a large extent with Caroti, but not entirely.
Caroti's paper is also available on-line from
<>. I haven't had
time to read Caroti's paper, so I cannot very well comment on this,
but I remain sceptical of this attempt to create a distinction
between science fiction and fantasy (between magic and technology)
that is based on rationality -- that 'that science fiction uses a
"plausible rational framework" to support the speculative aspects of
the story.' as the unknown author of the review puts it.

Anthony and Jessica, Sunday, October 17, 2010, ""Frodo Lives!"...Or
Does He?"
An obituary for Len Rosenberg, Tolkien enthusiast, a 'part of the
original New York Tolkien Society, founded by Richard "Dick" Plotz'
and partner of the late Alexei Kondratiev. Also posted here is a
link to Len's 1973 college paper titled, as the blog-post, '"Frodo
Lives!"...Or Does He?', which deals with the reception of Tolkien's
work in the US.

DB, Friday, October 15, 2010, "religion in Middle-earth"
Also posted to the Mythsoc Yahoo mailing list:
David Bratman responds to two parallel queries on the Mythsoc list,
from John Rateliff asking which books on Tolkien and religion that
the members on the list could recommend, and by Ellen Denham asking
for input for a panel she was to appear in where the starting point
was Lin Carter's criticism of the lack of religion in Tolkien's
LotR. Acting both as a response directly to Lin Carter as well as a
more general commentary on the question and the most relevant of the
available books on the subjec this is a highly recommendable

JS, Friday, October 8, 2010, "J.K. Rowling among the Inklings"
I have already discussed this blog-post in a separate thread, so I
won't go into details with it here. The thread can be found on
Google here:


I have agreed (truth be told, I eagerly offered to do it) to write
the review of _Tolkien Studies_ vol. 7 for _Mallorn_, the journal of
the Tolkien Society, so I expect to also post some longer reviews of
the articles in the Tolkien newsgroups.

DB, Thursday, October 28, 2010, "Beowulf iss meyn nahma"
Bratman's been to see a performance of the first part of _Beowulf_
(ending, as far as I can make out, about line 1060) recited in the
original Anglo-Saxon. I'd certainly love to try that, though I'm
afraid I'd have to spend a lot of time studying the poem to get
ready (I can, with the help of a modern translation, only just make
sense of the Anglo-Saxon text -- see e.g.

Gray Hunter, Sunday, October 24, 2010, "Book Review: _The Music of
The Lord of the Rings Films: A Comprehensive Account of Howard
Shore's Scores_ by Doug Adams"
While reading this review -- in particular so soon after reading
Jessica Burke's account of the performance at Radio City below -- I
had the idea that what I would really like to do was to have a
version of Jackson's films that is purged of all acting: a version
that shows scenes, settings, landscapes only, and where actors, if
present at all, are only a part of the setting. they are not trying
to do plot. This version of the films, I would have shown while
listening to a live performance of Howard Shore's music, and thus I
would have the two things that they really got exactly right in the
New Line Cinema films.

JDR, Thursday, October 21, 2010, "A Day at Marquette (part two)"
So, this ends up here ;-) Starting as the second part of Rateliff's
report of his stay at the Marquette (looking, among other things,
into Taum Santoski's papers and Boorman's LotR script), this post
continues to explain how he found himself with a copy of a new(ish)
book, _Fantasy, Myth and the Measure of Truth: Tales of Pullman,
Lewis, Tolkien, Macdonald, and Hoffman_ by William Gray, because of
references to Rateliff's own work in the book. To cut it short, the
book has made Rateliff reconsider his policy of not buying books on
multiple authors, even if one of them is Tolkien.

Jessica Burke, Monday, October 11, 2010, "Howard Shore's Musical
Score at Radio City"
Jessica Burke went to hear the live performance of Howard Shore's
score for Peter Jackson's _The Two Towers_ film together with the
other char of the North East Tolkien Society, but though she loved
the score, she was not happy about the experience, feeling that the
simultaneous screening of the Jackson film took attention away from
the music, and that a not insignificant fraction of the audience was
there not for the music, but for the film.

Reading LotR

One Elethena is blogging at the Northeast Tolkien Society web-site,
Heren Istarion. Elethena is evidently reading LotR in connection
with a class, but whether as a student or teacher is not clear to
me. Most of these pieces are fairly short and quickly read, but they
nevertheless make some interesting reflections.

Elethena, Monday, October 25, 2010, "Of Rohan and Gondor"
A commentary on 'The Battle of the Pelennor Fields' focusing on the
differences in the ways that Denethor on one side and Éowyn and
Éomer on the other side deal with their despair.

Elethena, Wednesday, October 20, 2010, "To Defend a Land Worth
Saving: For the Love of Gondor"
When Gondor appear on the brink of ruin at the start of book five,
we _care_ -- and this is no coincidence, but a concern that is
carefully built up by Tolkien according to Elethena.

Elethena, Wednesday, October 13, 2010, "Rohan, Home of the Horse
Lords, Northern Courage and Blatant Disobedience"
Reflections on the differences between loyalty and obedience as
exemplified by the Rohirrim: 'Faithful heart may have forward
tongue', says Théoden, but the faithful heart may also be forward in
other ways and yet be even more faithful for that.

Elethena, Sunday, October 3, 2010, "The Lady and the Golden Wood"
On the peril and beauty of Galadriel in particular, but by extension
also Elves in general, to mortal Men.

Elethena, Monday, September 27, 2010, "Of Wargs, Shippey, and Middle
Earth, the Land Worth Saving: Musings on The Fellowship of the
Mostly on the topic of the _land_ itself: on the value that Tolkien
ascribes to the very lands the company come to.

Other Stuff

_Mythlore_, vol. 47 no. 10, October 2010, Whole no. 339
This issue of _Mythlore_ is dedicated to Alan Garner in celebration
of the fiftieth anniversary of the release of his first novel, _The
Weirdstone of Brisingamen_. The reviews are interesting and
readable, but not really relevant here, and so there is, this month,
very little of direct Tolkien relevance.
Under the heading "Free Lecture on J.R.R. Tolkien" we find the
following announcement:
Long-time Mythopoeic Society Member and Pro-fessor Mike
Foster will discuss ‚J.R.R. Tolkien and the Languages of
His Legendarium. at 6:00 PM, Monday, November 29, 2010, in
the Prucha Archives Reading Room in Raynor Library (1355 W.
Wisconsin Avenue) at Marquette University.
If any AFT/RABT poster has the opportunity and inclination to go, I
for one would be very interested in a report.

_Amon Hen_ 225, September 2010,
Ian Collier, "Announcements"
The good news is that the talks given at the TS Oxonmoots are now
going to be collected and published in some form of proceedings --
the Peter Roe Booklets were mentioned, but possibly just as an
example of format.
Angela Nicholas, "Halbarad Dúnadan: an unsung hero"
An attempt to look at the (scarce) evidence that illuminates
Halbarad's character, with an associated attempt (albeit this is not
stated quite in quite as forthright a manner) to stretch this
evidence to breaking point in extrapolation. Still, if you have an
interest in Halbarad, these four (!) pages will tell you all there
is to know -- and then some :-)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

New HA Issue and Share postmedieval cluster

It is with very great pleasure that I announce the publication of The Heroic Age Issue 14.1! This issue marks a number of rather exciting firsts. It is the first, so far as I know, joint publication of a shared cluster of essays between two different organizations, with two different emphases in the field, in two different formats (one entirely online and the other chiefly [though not exclusively] in print. For us at HA it is also the first of a series of new practices: in this case, guest editors putting together a section of essays in their areas of expertise. In this inaugural issue, we have Eileen Joy of postmedieval and the Babel Working Group has put together a cluster of essays published in both HA and in postmedieval: Essays by Elaine Treharne, Gillian Overing and Clare Lees, and Mary Dockray-Miller appear in HA at At the Palgrave website for a limited time, essays appearing in the postmedieval authored by Jacqueli!
ne A Stodnick and Renée R Trilling , Kathleen Davis, Carol Braun Pasternack, and Lisa M. C. Weston and appear at In addition, John Sodeberg contributes the first of a new column for us in the field of late antique/early medieval archaeology.

Another first for HA is that we have an embarrassment of riches. So we have split the issue slightly in order to give each section its due and recognize each set of authors for their excellent work. 14.2 which will appear later this month is guest edited by Andrew Rabin on Anglo-Saxon Law. We are pleased to have Kathryn Powell, Lisa Oliver, Nathan Breen, Jay Paul Gates, Rebecca Brackman, Daniela Fruscione. Along with these fine articles, we are quite pleased to have a review essay by Marijane Osborn. A full table of contents is available at:

I'd like to thank Deanna Forsman, Eileen Joy, Andrew Rabin, and Brad Eden for their hard work in helping all this come to fruition. I would also like to mention and thank Bill Hamilton, Kris Vetter, and Heather Flowers for editing and copy editing; without them performing this task, this issue would not appear. Thank you all. I hope you, the reader enjoy the issue(s), and as always, commentary is welcome.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tolkien and White

Whilst I prepare some thoughts on the UnDark Dark Ages, I return to jot some thoughts on another subject altogether. This past summer I returned to a book I read 25 years ago and foolishly decided to teach it: T. H. White's The Once and Future King. I enjoyed it so much I decided to teach it again this semester.

I noticed some connections and while I haven't been extensive in my search, I hadn't noticed anyone else comparing White and the Inklings, particularly Tolkien.

A few points worth considering I think:

They were contemporaries.

They were both born and spent early years in the Empire rather than Britain

They both trained in English.

They both had absent fathers: Tolkien's father died, White's was an alcoholic from whom White's mother divorced when White was 14.

They both spent some important years of their teens separated from parents and in the hands of "tutors" who would greatly influence them.

They both had to do without a maternal connection: Tolkien because his mother died, White's was emotionally distant, distant enough to warp the man.

They both draw on multiple ancient/medieval traditions in telling their tales

They both published their first attempts at what they would become most known for in 1937.

They both kept their audiences waiting until the '50s for the conclusion to their 1937 works.

They both have something to say to their times and the modern world.

They are both engaging in medievalisms of various kinds.

They both have compelling heroes.

They both have something to say about war, heroism, and love.

Those are a few things. The more I think about it, the more I think that a comparison of White, Tolkien, and Lewis in terms of theme, characterization, influences, medievalism etc might be in order.

There are of course differences as well: for example White was too young to see action in WWI and was a conscientious objector to WWII and lived in Ireland during that whole period. It on the subject of war and battle I think that I would start a comparison.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why the Dark Ages Weren't Dark II

For a few years now, I've been producing headwords for an encyclopedia for a publisher on the Early Middle Ages in NW Europe, roughly 300-1100. The headword lists are huge. There is just simply too much to include and consider, all the more important since the perception is that nothing interesting or important happened in that period (or at least from 400 on). In the meantime the editor at the publisher has produced some other encyclopedia on other topics and has now soured on the idea of riding heard on 600-1000 articles of varying length between two covers. Instead the project has shifted gears to more of what I would call "state of the field" essays in a 600 page volume. And considering the size of my lists of headwords, this is probably the best thing to do. So I've proposed the following loose and general breakdown to be tightened up as I go along. What even this loose program demonstrates, even in its incomplete state, is how much there is going on in this period. I also plan in the series of blog posts to address each of the topics in some way. And thanks Steve for the nudge! I'll try and post as often and much as I can.

Late Antique and Early Medieval NW Europe: an overview of the region in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries that will include an overview of the current debate about the "fall of Rome", but will also include discussion of non-Roman regions as well as specialized focus on Britain, Brittany, and Gaul. A large part of this will be archaeological as well.

Religion: This article will address and span the late antique and early medieval issue, talk about paganism and Christianity and the achieved synthesis, the conversions, monasticism, the holy man, the peregrinatio, the role of church leaders in their kingdoms, political theology, etc etc. I placed it here since it easily spans the period and the region and holds the whole together so to speak

Ethnography, Ethnogenesis, and the Peoples of Early Medieval NW Europe: as the title indicates, this one discusses the problems of identifying ethnicities and peoples and who is who, cultural anthropology of regions and peoples, etc.

Linguistics and Languages: a discussion of the development of the vernacular languages; Latin to Romance, Latin as literate language, the problems with Old English and the Celtic substrata's lack of influence on the language, how medieval thinkers thought of their language, Pictish, Celtic languages and their survivals, other related issues.

Political History and Institutions: as it sounds, overview of the primary events, focus on the political institutions, though, since in such a short space a discussion of the political history of all the regions would be far too much.

Social History: self-explanatory

Economy: trade, land and land use, cities, coinage, slavery as economic factor, etc.

Intellectual History: the major intellectual developments of the period, science, philosophy and theology, navigation, computistics, cartography/geography, political theology, technology, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, etc.

Literature: primarily an overview of genres: heroic, hagiographic, epistolary, sermons, biblical literature, exegesis, scientific, etc. orality

Writing Systems, Palaeography, Epigraphy, and Codicology: the development of these three over the period, ogam, runes, Latinate alphabets, writing in the vernacular, writing in Latin, principle scripts, manuscript construction

The Arts: the non-literary arts, metal-working, glass, painting (outside of mss), music and performance, wood working, ivory, personal ornamentation, instruments, music in the church, music in other contexts, textiles, architecture, etc.

Concluding Essay: The Myth of the "Dark Ages"

Input? Stuff I've missed?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why the Dark Ages Weren't Dark I

I am always surprised when topics like this rear up again and again and again. In more than one forum in which I participate the issue of "the Dark Ages" and how the late antique and early medieval period were just so bad, and so much worse than the Roman period is taken practically at face value, as, believe it or not, historical fact. *SIGH*!!! And then there was even someone on ANSAX who brought up whether the language should be called "Old English" at all and not rather Anglo-Saxon, since it was simply a German dialect and not really related to modern English. OI!

So I've decided it's time to do something about it. Ok, t'is a little something and not many read this and all that, but nonetheless, this is my little corner and I will gladly use it for this purpose. What purpose? Get to the point! Consider this post an introduction to a discussion on Why the so-called Dark Ages Weren't Dark, not even a bit gloomy.

For this first foray, I'll mention a recent book that while it focuses mostly on the second half of the Middle Ages, still makes the argument that the "Dark Ages" did not exist. Sorbonne philosopher Remi Brague has written The Legend of the Middle Ages: Philosophical Explorations of Medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Well ok, that's the English title, not the original French. The book in some 16 essays argues that the period was philosophically rich and moving. There's also Douglas Rushkoff who has been arguing that we adapt some medieval ideas about banking and the self and other practices to our modern world to make it a better place. I outline these briefly since it is late and this post has already taken a week to get this far. So I'll launch the series and hope for more posting in the near future.

Monday, September 06, 2010


So the beginning of the school year's craziness is settling down slowly but surely as the receptions, meetings, student concerns and all those initial matters that eat up so much time finally dissipate, and we get down to the nitty gritty of what we do: teach, research, write, and have regular meetings with stuff to do. I've already been placed on a departmental committee though we have yet to meet, and I'm "embroiled" in a "fight" to put a graduate level Anglo-Saxon lit course on the docket for next semester. Fight is too strong a word; but our current head is an Americanist and the previous incarnations of this spot (used to be 3 people, and now there's me) were heavy on the Shakespeare and late medieval stuff....but there seems to be some interest, curiosity mostly since most of them have never really encountered Old English, Latin, or Anglo-Saxon literature. So hopefully it will pass the request phase and be on the schedule for Spring, and then one hopes that a sufficient number of grad students sign up to make it a go. As part of my evangelism for the course, I've volunteered to give a lecture for the Honors program (the whole university and town are the target audience) on an Anglo-Saxon topic involving the Vikings, always a hot topic. It will occur during the registration period for next semester. More on the topic and the paper anon.

But this post is really about something else. Way back when last fall, Eve Salisbury asked some questions regarding the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo based in part on a letter the current director had received. There was conversation on Facebook where the original post occurred, and I blogged about it here, with comments that followed. I am not certain that the actual questions that Dr. Salisbury actually asked were ever answered. I thought perhaps as we move into another Congress season of preparing for the event, it might be a good time to address those queries.

The first question was "What are the concerns out there?" The chiefest concern I think is really nothing that the organizers of Kalamazoo can do anything about. This came up in the discussions on Facebook and comments on my blog post. That is, that there is an attitude out there that "it's just Kalamazoo." Of course, this can be said for just about any conference. I once had a colleague who felt that way about just everything he did: conference paper, publication, whatever. To him, quality didn't matter. If it got accepted, it was a line on the CV that made him look good: anyone looking at the CV wouldn't know whether it was a good paper or not.

That attitude is pervasive; it is made all the more so because of the pressures that young scholars face in the market place to a significant degree and older scholars feel in terms of seeking tenure should they be lucky enough to have a TT slot. Adjuncts dream of feeling these pressures but generally are too busy making ends meet by teaching at multiple institutions to do so in an effective way. Or at least that was my experience. The point is that the CV building is more important than the production of quality work. It is my belief, however, that sooner or later, such an attitude catches up with you. Sooner or later, shoddy work for the CV line will be noticed. What's more, such dead weight, kills the field. One hopes that those who think they can get by with shoddy papers at conferences will realize their own contribution to the death of an otherwise vibrant field of study.

How can we change the response? That I don't know. I am open to suggestions of how to convince the people who say "It's just Kalamazoo" to "It's Kalamazoo." I'll share a story again that I've shared before. I encountered a fascinating text that so far as I could discover there had only been a not well done dissertation on the text from the early 20th century. SO I began translating it and researching and proposed a paper. Sadly for me, the rest of the school year was overwhelming and I didn't get back to the project and had a very shoddy paper to show for it. My attitude has never been "it's just Kalamazoo", so I was already very ashamed and embarrassed at this turn of events. I hoped that since it was in a session with a wide range of papers, occurring right after lunch, and more or less out of the way, that I might get away with a small audience. But alas, no. A large audience was in attendance, among them the five biggest names in the field related to my paper. I embarrassed myself. Those big names wrote me off that day, and some of them I am still trying to show that I have something to say in the matter how good my papers are, they remember that first encounter. The lesson: it can never be "just Kalamazoo". One never ever knows who will show up at a session; shoddy work can get noticed and can have a career effect. Don't deliberately do bad work and say "its just Kalamazoo" because sooner or later, it'll be found out that you do bad work.

How would I like to see the Congress in the future?

Well, that's a good question. I actually have no problems with the Congress. The structure is good and allows time for networking and other types of meetings to occur. My biggest problems have less to do with the actual event and more to do with the planning.

1) I have submitted sessions that have been refused for no good reason I can see. Going through the CFP and the program later, I have found *NO* sessions related to what I proposed, or at most one. I do keep track of such things.

2) I have also noticed a tendency to group topic sessions: so that in one session block there will be 5 Anglo-Saxon sessions and then the next two session blocks none at all. That's just bad planning and having worked on the other side of the table, I know the tools that we left behind designed to prevent such nonsense actually work!

Certainly, field session overlap cannot be avoided entirely. But it certainly can be better. And yes, I am more than well aware of the restrictive resource allocation that the MI experiences. But there is really one person who puts it together, always has been, and it isn't the invaluable, fantastic Coordinator whom I love and adore. Unless things have changed since I've been there.

So I'd like to see more even handed, consistent treatment of session offerings and session organization.

Is the ZOO still worth visiting?

Without question. Not only do I often (not always admittedly) hear good papers, but projects I'm involved in get carried a step further, I meet new people every year, I hear papers outside my area, I make new connections the enrich my own scholarship and teaching. There is no question that the Congress at Kalamazoo is worth visiting, and that in fact it is a given that I will try to make it each year as 1 of my 2 or 3 conferences a year.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Heroic Age 13

On behalf of the staff and editorial board of The Heroic Age, it is with very great pleasure that I announce the release of Issue 13: Also please take note of updated links pages, Calls for Papers, and other items at the main site:

I would like to give special thanks to Deanna Forsman without whom this whole endeavor would fall apart, Bill Schipper for his archivist activities, Bill Hamilton and Heather Flowers for editorial help, and others who read, edited, and were patient through the too long process.


Larry J. Swain
Editor in Chief
The Heroic Age

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Čapek and C. S. Lewis Ruminations

Some readers will know that Karel Čapek, the scifi writer who gave us robot (from his Rossum's Universal Robots, from which play Isaac Asimov took the term and so it became common in English, in the short form of the story), wrote a work published in 1936 titled in English War with Newts. The basic plot is that under the surface of the Pacific a race of intelligent newts is discovered, then taught, then exploited, and finally they rebel by waging war on humans. The work is a political and social satire and very obviously fits many a historical and current situation. The most obvious point is the evils of colonialism, a theme shared by many works from Shakespeare's The Tempest-though admittedly Shakespeare I don't think was aware of the power of his description in that regard-to the recent reboot of Battlestar Gallactica.

Not quite two decades and a world war later, C. S. Lewis published volume four in the Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair. The plot takes the heroes underground where an intelligent race of "gnomes" or "earthmen" from deeper down in the earth are held in thrall by the evil Lady of the Green Kirtle who is planning to use the gnomes to invade and wage war on humans on the surface. The gnomes are from Bism, and once the Lady is conquered and killed, the enchantments she devised to hold the gnomes enslaved is broken and they wish to return to that land flowing with molten rock rivers in which there are salamanders cavorting.

Some of the similarities will be apparent. Colonialism is bad in both texts; both texts uphold those from beneath as an enslaved race, both depict that race as exploited. The differences are that in the latter Lewis depiction the gnomes and their wise salamander friends simply return to their world as it was before the enslavement from above. Well, that's the easy way to describe it anyway.

Now I'm not suggesting influence or direct borrowing here. But I do find it interesting how many points of contact there are between the two, only a few of the more obvious I have outlined here. It also interests me that both make use of medieval typology about gnomes and salamanders in Lewis' case and newts in Čapek.
All this mumbling and seeing connections was brought about by a local theater company that put on a play version of Čapek's work; I could not help but see points of contact between the two.

And speaking of Newts and exploitation, Newt Gingrich is back in the news. Some might recall that ol' Newt described himself as "inherently medieval" a year or so ago. And now, he is feeling quite free to distort medieval history in order to support his political agenda. For those who don't read or regularly follow the Got Medieval blog, let me at least suggest that you read this post: Professor Newt's Distorted History Lesson. There you have it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Note Taking???

Jonathan Jarrett posted recently about his methods of note taking: Curt Emanuel followed up with his own method of note taking here. Both posts have comments from other readers which are insightful and helpful. I thought that perhaps I might frighten the two of you who read this with my own "method" of note taking and keeping track of things.

I do take notes. Sort of. I am very visual oriented. If I read it, generally I remember it, though not always where I read it. So I do jot notes on papers I hear, but not many, hoping that if I like the paper, it will appear in print. If I really like what I hear, I'll ask for a copy, though I confess that many are unwilling to share.

Now before going on about note taking, let me say two things about hearing conference papers and two tools that I wish were more widely used in our field.

The first is something that the Society of Biblical Literature does. SBL holds a large conference, a little bigger than K'zoo, each year. Papers are longer than our standard 20 minutes, but other than that there is a great deal of commonality between the two. Each year, the SBL used to publish SBL Proceedings, or something like that that consisted of papers read at the conference (this was back when I was an active member more than 20 years ago now. I can no longer find any such thing on their website, so Stephen or some other SBLer can give me some info, perhaps). Session organizers, I believe, nominate papers from their sessions for inclusion in the published SBL proceedings, authors would polish said papers, and in they would go into a fairly thick but enormously useful and interesting collection of the best of the conference.

I've tried to do something similar on a much smaller scale. At various times in the past, I have written organizers and authors of various sessions at Leeds and Kalamazoo and suggested doing a special section in The Heroic Age that would essentially be a session or two sessions of papers as read at the conference with the addition of footnotes. We'd actually put these up as PDFs for download, and so begin a process of perhaps having an Late Antique-Early Medieval would involve little editing on HA's part, authors would retain copy right and so could continue to work on their contribution and publish a version elsewhere with only a nod in our direction, and of course would be free other than the cost of hosting, give CV lines, and make scholarship more widely available online. Combine this effort with the new discussions on more open peer editing recently practiced at The Shakespeare Quarterly and subsequent discussions, and in my view we'd have a winner publication. Minimal work by editors, authors, and minimal costs with the benefit of a wider dissemination of good scholarship that benefits interested readers, scholars, authors, and conference organizers alike seems a good initiative to get behind and encourage.

Alas, I've never been able to drum up interest. Usually my proposal is met with silence. I am thinking that I may just simply go ahead and institute a practice next year in the session I'm involved in K'zoo and just do it....though I have been reluctant since *I* am involved that that taint the effort. Anyway....there it is. It is a tool that would make some note taking unnecessary.

A second tool that I wish were more widely used and done in the field is the marvelous practices of the Old English Newsletter. Two issues of the four that OEN publishes each year (ok, now the only 2 issues actually printed in traditional format)are the annual bibliography in Anglo-Saxon Studies and the Annotated Bibl. Also published each year are abstracts from conferences on papers dealing with Anglo-Saxon studies. Once again the online environment and HA provide an opportunity to create useful tools for the field as well.

First, the bibliography would be extremely useful. Copied in part from OEN and from TOCS-IN for classics, an online bibliography for the field of Late Antiquity and Early Medieval Studies (excluding Anglo-Saxon England) would be very helpful in a lot of ways. The biggest thing needed is PEOPLE. While eventually and over time one hopes to build the database backwards, what would be useful is just simply starting with this year (or whatever year) as Year One. Many hands make quick work. So one person is in charge of Merovingian studies, and under that person several colleagues contribute a little. One or two people Irish studies and so on. It would be pretty easy to build a database/wiki if people would be willing simply to input what they read in their own field.

Second, the summary of what is published. We all read journal articles. Not necessarily when they first appear, but we do read them and get to the lastest Peritia, Scholastica, Medium Aevum etc. Simply write a summary, the same summary perhaps that you would do for your own notes and filing system or Library Thing or whatever you use to keep track. Very helpful, and collecting such notes together in one place gives one a good overview of what is going on in the field, even fields outside one's own.

Third, related to the conference proceedings would be the conference abstract of papers in the field for conferences. Most conferences require a submitted abstract, so simply submit the abstract to the abstract wiki after you send the paper in. Organizers of sessions have abstracts, simply submit them to the wiki.....quick work, many hands, one useful tool.

Ok, that covers that....I dream big. I think these would be very useful and for the most part would simply be gathering together work we already do for ourselves.

Back to the main subject method of note taking. I don't have a method. I take notes...I write in margins of books and articles, I highlight, I have know those blank books they have at book stores, and I jot ideas, articles, info, etc in there. But I also have electronic notes and files. I have a database of materials I have that is not complete in any way, shape or form, but during breaks (like I have those!!!) I do input material. So my note taking is as eclectic as I am: pen and paper, marginalia and other types of glossing, electronic, once in a while I even write up summaries of material.

One thing about databases, notes, and the like: leave room for serendipity!!! Seriously, some of my best finds of information have been the result of accident while browsing something else.

Ok, enough. I will be moving soon, so I am not certain whether there will be posting for awhile. Not that I'm frequent in the first place. But there it is.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tolkien's Macbeth Update

Thanks to Troels and Jonathan who commented on my Tolkien's Macbeth post and gave me a good bit of info on an issue I hadn't actually looked into.

As a bit of an update, researching something else entirely, I was poking about the Rigsthula and came across a description of the great king who heals and sooths minds. Sounds familiar, eh?

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Ok, yes, a totally lame title for the post.....but there ya go. This post is actually about something else though: Stephanie Trigg's questions. Stephanie, whom I don't know personally, apparently has organized some "blogging" stuff for the New Chaucer Society meeting this year and posted questions on her blog, forwarded to ITM. For a number of reasons, I thought I'd take some time and address the questions she asks here, because for the most part they are good ones to ask. It also allows me to be more expansive than I could be in the comments section of her blog. So here goes....

1) what would you say were the distinctive features, if any, of blogs by medievalists?

I'm not sure I can class them altogether as a group. There are funny blogs, personal blogs, professional blogs, and of the latter blogs that deal in some way with everything in the field. There are blogs that post the news, assume an author long dead's voice, and so on. I'm not sure I can say anything about medieval blogs as a whole....there are some blogs out there that are distinctive by medievalists.

Medievalists are people. As such, I'm not sure I can say that medievalists as a class are sufficiently distinguishable from other kinds of bloggers other than by content of their blogs.

2. does blogging build new communities?

Oh, absolutely. Speaking for myself of course, there are a large number of people whose writing I would not read or know had I not encountered their blogs, or their comments on someone else's blog and followed the links to their blogs.

But community of any kind involves reaching out. The electronic medium of the Web makes responding to someone posting a blog post much easier and quicker than responding to a published article. But if the experience of blogging and reading blogs is passive...that is, I write, maybe some people read, but there is no follow up discussion or spawning of other blog posts...then there can really be no community in any meaningful sense. There are readers, much like say a Will Wheaton has readers the majority of whom will never leave a note or send him an email much like a traditional columnist or journalist for a newspaper or magazine. So community, even "blogging community" takes effort.

To that end, others have certainly taken this in hand with "blogger meet-ups" at major conferences, conference sessions based on blogs and blog posts, exchange of emails and so on. I myself have included various bloggers in the work of The Heroic Age as readers, authors, and editors simply because of their blogs. And many are now "friends" on Facebook so that the "blogging community" in medieval studies has now branched into email listservs, scholarly publication, social networking sites, and even into traditional print venues.

Certainly one can question how permanent the community is, and rightly so, but in my view it is no less permanent than the community one sees at a conference year after year, and the blogging community is usually more in touch with one another.

One of the advantages in this regard that blogging has over email lists and similar venues too (I've just mentioned an advantage over the yearly conference) is that one can give more free rein to one's thoughts and treat it like an essay. Or not. But even at the height of the e-list, serious exchange was limited by the attention span of the reader who typically did not want to read an entire disquisition. Such exchanges were few. On the other hand, one knows exactly what one is getting into when reading a blog post, or can simply save the post until another time: a response is not expected or required though always appreciated. So a blog holds a transitional, perhaps even liminal space between personal and professional communication, between email and article or paper, between formal and informal. It has a number of advantages in that space.

Now what was the question? Oh yes, building communities. Yes, no question about it. A different kind of community than an e-list, a different kind of community than conference colleagues even when there is overlap in those communities. But a community nonetheless for all that.

3. Does blogging affect the way we write (and read) medieval criticism and historical studies?

Now that is a good question. Two questions really, so I'll answer as two. First, I haven't noticed any affect on reading as reading. I do know that because of a blog post I have been pointed to primary and secondary literature that I would not otherwise have encountered or known about. I also know that because I read medieval blogs by bloggers who work in fields different than my own, that I have had my horizons enlarged as a result. So it affects the WHAT I read more than the HOW I read criticism and history.

It has affected the way I write in a few ways. First, I often try out fledgling ideas on my blog as a kind of first pass to see if they'll fly. Likewise, rather than just reading a book or article and putting it down for possibly consultation at a later date, I now quite often attempt to interact at least in some way with the book or article by blogging. This in turn I hope makes me a better writer, but also internalizes what I read more effectively (which I suppose ought to be said under the reading bit above). So blogging has affected my writing by adding another pre-writing layer.

4. Does knowing the "real" identity of the Chaucer blogger affect your sense of (a) his blog or (b) Chaucer?

No and No.

5. Have you read Brantley Bryant's book, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog? Medieval Studies and New Media?

No I haven't, though I am a regular reader of the blog and have been for some time.
In my view, the book and the blog (hey, that could be a good title for something...) are better classified as Medievalism and New Media than Medieval Studies, but no sense in quibbling.

6. Has medieval blogging (whether you read and/or write blogs) changed the way you think about the nature of academic work?

Only in one sense: blogging is so far anyway not considered by the academy and tenure committees and so on as academic work even when enlisted in the aid of students, teaching, service, or even research. It should be. It must be. But I'm not holding my breath.

7. Has blogging had any affect on the kind of work you do in medieval studies?

Yes. I now have a couple papers in progress that are a direct result of someone else's post or comments on a post somewhere in the blogosphere. Further, other work in progress has been helped along by posting about it. So the short answer is yes.

I've declined to answer the last question, "if you could ask Chaucer a question about his blog, what would it be?" I don't really have any questions of either the "character" Chaucer of the blog, nor the creative mind behind it other than "when's the next post coming?"

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tolkien's Macbeth

Teaching Macbeth this last semester, I saw a couple of things that I had never read being reference to Tolkien before. That doesn't mean that they haven't been, I am just unaware of anyone who has so made the connection.

It is well known, however, that the scene of Elsinore Wood coming to Macbeth was a scene that Tolkien didn't like, and so rewrote into his Ents' attacking Isengard. He speaks about this in the Letters and many others have repeated and mentioned it.

But there are two other places where I see at least a Tolkienian analogue. In Act 4.1 MacBeth has gone to the Weird sisters and asked them to tell him the future. Among the prophecies he receives is that "none of woman born Shall harm MacBeth." Macbeth then says, "Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn the power of man for none of woman shall harm Macbeth."

One can easily see the analogue. The Witch-King in Book V of Lord of the Rings is bloody, bold, and resolute placing faith in the prophecy "no living man may hinder me" (given in another form elsewhere as "not by the hand of man shall he fall."). The Witch King, hereafter Alf, is very confident because of this prophecy as MacBeth is. And as with most prophecies of this sort (like the Delphi Oracle) both Tolkien's and Shakespeare's prophecies turn on the interpretation of a single word that the prophecy receiver understands in a normal way but is meant in a slightly different fashion. Both are surprised to learn of their error while facing an armed opponent set to slay them, and both are so slain. So the similarities go beyond just the fact that both have similar prophecies: the narrative structure is much the same as well. I haven't checked a Folklore encyclopedia or anything so for the moment all I can say is analogue; but it is tempting to say source or inspiration. But I'll hold off.

A bit later in Act 4.4 Malcolm the rightful heir to the throne of Scotland and MacDuff have a chat. In this chat it is mentioned about the glorious king Edward of England. The image is practically Arthurian in nature: the perfect kingdomm that contrasts so sharply to what Scotland has become under the usurper MacBeth's rule. In this discussion Malcolm talks about "a most miraculous work in the good king". Apparently the good kind, calling on God of course, heals "strangely-visited people". He also has prophecy and "sundry blessings hang about his throne." Sound familiar Tolkienistas? Yes, it does sound rather like Aragorn, son of Arathorn: who has some gift of prophecy and foresight, who heals "strangely-visited people" with this touch apparently, and when he comes to his throne there are certainly sundry blessings.

Now some of this is typical: the whole image owes a lot to very old, traditional images of good kings. But before MacBeth and coming to know his sources (this play was written for King Jimmy I of Merry Olde...who claimed to be able to heal subjects with his touch) I had not encountered the idea of the healing by the king before. So another element to check out.

But as much as Tolkien is said not to have liked Shakespeare, (and Tolkien later clarifies this mentioning specifically the elves and faeries in Midsummer's Night Dream), it is interesting to see the number of analogues between Macbeth and LoTR.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Last of the Christmas Reading

So, at last, six months later, I get to mention the last of my reading over Christmas break. No worries, I haven't been able to read much of anything since. That fact is frustrating. The wonderful thing about becoming a tenure track faculty person in a couple of months is that I will not have duties this time next year other than to pursue my research agenda (and Heroic Age, and SASLC, and an encyclopedia....but I digress).

Anyway, way back when as I refreshing my mind in pre to become a professional medievalist, I bought a whole bunch of books to read. Among them was this one: The Devil's Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe by James Chambers. I never got around to reading it. In my defense, the stack was pretty high, and you know, I lived above a drinking establishment, and there was Civilization and Quake to play, and there was a paper to research to submit with my applications and it didn't have to do with Mongols. But I've been carrying this around for a long time and decided it was time I gave it its due.

So to the book. Chambers is, or was, an amateur military historian, of the sort that only Britain really can have. He was also a journalist. Thus, the book is largely narrative. As an introduction to the Mongols, narrative was just the thing. Chambers relates events from disparate locales and traces seemingly unrelated events across a wide expanse of territory showing that these events divided by thousands of miles conspired to create other events that affected China and Hungary, for example. He is best, I think, when he is describing Mongol tactics.

The book is light on references. But Chambers makes up for it. The appendix and bibliography has a full list of primary and secondary works. Chambers often quotes the primary works, though he is honest that in the cases of works in Arabic, Chinese, Persian etc, he is dependent on French, German, Latin, and English translations. But the references are there nonetheless and should I ever get around to look them up or include them in a class (hey, I've put Italo Calvino, Marco Polo, and ibn Batuta into conversation, why not add some sources about the Mongols?). And everyone has heard of Ghengis Khan, but few will have heard of Subadei, equally a military genius. It was he who brought the Mongols to Europe, and it was he who suggested further attacks into Europe to the Khan. In some cases one can not but hear the "wa wa wa" music to read of the mistakes of the Europeans, or the loss of territory and life because noblemen wouldn't support their king in his efforts to protect their land.

Chambers also describes the political infighting following the Great Khan's death. The empire imploded. Perhaps not as badly as other places in other times, but nonetheless a Mongol empire that included Europe was within grasp but too many hands in the pot do rather spoil the dish, or the empire...whichever.

This is a good read for those like me who don't know much of anything detailed about the Mongols. I imagine it has remined in consistent print for about 30 years now because of this and because it is useful for teaching high school or introductory level history in colleges. But if you're like me, then I'd recommend the book.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Shakespeare III

The two of you who read this may recall that I started way back in January to talk about what I was doing with Shakespeare in my first all Shakespeare course. I'd actually even made a second post on the subject. While the course is now over and some of the course activities are fading from my memory to make room for current and future courses, I'm trying to recall what I all we did and how. I'll be doing "Shakespeare for Teachers" in the Autumn, and to save myself doing 4 new preps, I decided I would simply retool my Spring 2010 Shakespeare course. So I am attempting to review class plans as I prepare the next one. So I return to a Medievalist mucking about in Shakespeare.

My last post in February mentioned that we had started MacBeth, and I discussed going through Act I. After pointing out the features I wanted them to note in Act I, the sisters as Fate, the natural world, the position of MacBeth etc, I set them loose on Acts II and III, once again in groups, each group responsible for studying and presenting a scene in those acts, getting them to pull out what themes and images and characterization they could. For Act IV, we performed some scenes and parts of scenes and I had them write questions based on those scenes for the midterm. For Act V, we returned to class discussion.

Elements to note: I talked about Aristolean definitions of tragedy and comedy current in the day, we discussed analogues with Marlowe's Faustus and the presentation of evil and the devil in both plays. We explored the juxtaposition of fate and free will; we noted the imagery of evil and its result on the land. In fact, I pointed out inversions and warped orders: the natural order is disturbed and the land suffers, the order of gender relationships is changed to detrimental effects, the social order is disturbed as a thane usurps the kingship. I talked about Renaissance notions of Order and how it works.

Among the other issues, I introduced the class to source and psychological criticisms. I am interested in this play how Shakespeare has changed his sources to create a MacBeth utterly different than the MacBeth of history or of Holinshed. Also, I wanted to explore the MacBeths states of mind as we move through the play and introduce them to a psychological reading of the characters. As with other critical approaches, I stuck to a fairly introductory discussion and application with them.

We also could not resist some historicism, and so we talked about the situation in 1609 or and the post-Guy Fawkes rebellion and so on, as well as the necessity to flatter the king, the growth of the Banquo legend and who James I was in relationship to that legend. Last but not least we compared the notions of heroism in Henry V (our first course play) and MacBeth and compared and contrasted the two as mirror images: Henry rises from being an inadequate human being to being an epic king, MacBeth falls from a practically epic hero to being an utter villain. Along the same lines we talked about political theology in the two plays, and Shakespeare's playing with the notion of evil.

By and large the students had a hard time completing this play. The themes, heavy atmosphere, and difficult imagery made for difficult reading.

This brought us to 6 weeks into the semester. The first week was introductory, and we spent 2 1/2 weeks on each play so far. Week 7 was dedicated to the first group presentations and they were to have read The Tempest while we were doing this. There were two presentations assigned: each group was to read a play we were not reading in class. This first presentation was pretty easy: present the play, it's historical setting, the themes and major characters, and the plays place in the canon of Shakespeare's works. Some groups did comedies, some tragedies. Two groups wanted to do Hamlet so I combined them to work on Hamlet...the Hamleteers ended up being quite awesome. But group presentations took two days, a week of the course.

That's the end of week 7. Week 8 was spent on The Tempest. By this point, people are dropping like flies. The problem with teaching at this school and teaching an elective is that people don't stop working to attend school, so often by midterm time I've lost half the class. I'm not alone, so I know it isn't me. Everyone has this problem, though it makes grading post-midterm much easier. Anyway, class attendance was dropping precipitously in part because everyone including me wanted Spring Break and because of the other problem.

So, I did most of the talking. I finished up some things I had wanted to say about MacBeth, then talked about Romance-Comedy combo of genres. I talked about the growth and development of the Romance tradition and the typical motifs, images, and tropes. I then did the same for comedy and we talked about then how these elements are played out in the play. I even told them the story of Yvain to illustrate the beginning of the genre.

We talked again about the disruption of the social order that needs to be put right, contrasted Prospero with the Weird Sisters and MacBeth, talked about notions of liminal space, and the role of forgiveness. We situated the island and noted the relationships of Prospero, Caliban, Ariel, and Miranda. We focused a lot of discussion on the character Caliban and his supposed rape attempt, to fill the island with Calibans, and of course the role of language and civilization in Caliban's life.

We also took on a little post-colonial and feminist criticism.

The Tempest got a bit of short shrift in many ways which is too bad. But onward! Then followed the midterm.

Next time I'll pick up in week 10 of the course and Taming of the Shrew.

Monday, June 07, 2010

I mentioned some time ago that I was working on a Cynewulf paper. I've been reworking my draft of late. Below is the new, way too long introduction, but it says things I want to say and establish. I'd love to have some input and reaction, and I'm certain that others have been here previously. I just don't know who or where or the proper vocabulary. Oh, and this version doesn't include the copious footnotes. So there it is. Enjoy.

Much of Anglo-Saxon poetry is a “mash-up” of genres. A "mash-up" is a current popular culture term that has a number of uses. In the computer field, the term is used to describe a new service, application, or web site that combines data or functionality from multiple sources. Similarly, the terms is used in modern music to describe a song that seamlessly integrates the lyrics and music of another song or songs into itself. A classical quodlibet is an early example of this. A "mash-up" is not another term for intertextuality: the latter studies how one text has absorbed and transformed another.1 Nor is it allusion or inference; lastly a "mash-up" is not simply the study of sources. All of these have their place in the literary critic's toolbox, and admittedly there are times when drawing a sharp contrast between the source critical study and the intertextual study is difficult as they meld into one another. A "mash-up," however, is a farrago, not a transformation of one thing by another, not only the discovery of the original sources on which the creator is drawing, what the creator alludes or references. Rather, a "mash-up", this farrago, is the combination of texts, genres, sources, ideas, tropes, etc into something that is both hybrid and yet new. Much of our study of Anglo-Saxon poetry, especially that in Old English, has focused on the Source Critical with some nod in more recent years to the intertextual. While this is not the only critical approach to Old English poetry, these approaches have towered as among the most common, and perhaps, even the most important.

Typically, the poems that have attracted the most attention from scholarship are those that merge a “native” Germanic genre with some kind of Christian genre or theme. Examples are not difficult to find, nor are illustrations of this point limited to the Anglo-Saxons. One could examine Dream of the Rood, Judith, Exodus just to name three in the Old English corpus. Genesis B, Heliand, and even the Ludwigslied are near contemporary parallels from the continent. Commonly, approaches to these texts have examined the sources where discoverable, examined various editorial and philological concerns, and noted the "Germanization" of Christian or Greco-Roman themes, tropes, motifs, or admired the Germanic heroic poetry on its own terms.

In our discussions of the Germanic and Christian in Old English poetry, however, the approach has typically been to explore or assume a specifically "Christian" element and observe how that element is given a "Germanic" expression. Thomas Hill noted more than 20 years ago that it is a "commonplace to observe that Cynewulf Germanicizes his source...."2 Such ideas are not limited to Cynewulf but are part of the discussion of every poem in the surviving Anglo-Saxon poetic corpus. Much of these kinds of study assumes a dichotomy between Christian and pagan, Christian and German, or even German and Christo-Roman.

What the reminder of this paper seeks to do is reopen this question. While Cynewulf is certainly drawing on known sources, he is not merely recasting them into a Germanic heroic poem. He is rather taking elements of Near Eastern culture, Greco-Roman culture, Christian commentary and theology, and his own cultural outlook drawing on multiple texts, genres, and images to produce a true "mash-up" poem about the Ascension. The poet is not merely derivative of his sources; he is merely giving a Christian theme a coloring drawn from his native culture. It is more than those things: more than source study, more than intertextual, more than expressing an old idea in new language, however loaded that language may be. Perhaps most of all, the dichotomy that we too often draw between Christian and German, Christian and pagan, etc., distorts the picture of what Anglo-Saxon poets were doing.

The process by which this will be approached will take three phases. The first part examines Cynewulf's use of the catechetical genre as source, inspiration, and perhaps as his goal in producing this poem. Second, the paper examines cultural motifs and ideas about kingship, throne-ascensions, and images of divine and human kings extending from the ancient context of the Hebrew psalms to Cynewulf's own contemporaries and beyond. The third part looks at the result of the Ascension, the giving of gifts and what that catalog of charismata in Cynewulf's poem indicates in the foregoing context. All three of these building blocks, however, will be cast against a backgroud that Cynewulf is not being just intertextual, not just giving a Germanic coloring a Christian scene and so on but is taking part in a process of creating something new.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Matters Theological

N. B.: I began this post way back in the first days of April and never had time to finish it. With a few more moments of late, I here it with you anyway and then onward to other posts!

My wife bought me Jim Lahey's My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method for Christmas. I recommend it; it really is a simple method of making delicious bread. What does this have to do with theology? Simple. One of the things that got Lahey going on bread is that we moderns had somehow made it far too hard and involved. In fact, I stayed away from making bread except in a bread machine for just those reasons. Anyway, his method is simple: mix the ingredients, let stand 12 to 18 hours, bake at nearly 500 in a dutch oven. Fabulous.

Now, considering his research, the way the loaf looks, and imagery of ancient and medieval loaves, I think the man has discovered why bread is so ubiquitous in the ancient and medieval world. Easy, simple, delicious. And it suddenly hit me the way that only the obvious can. When in the Lord's prayer it says "Give us this day our daily bread....", well, I just figured out what that means in real terms. For a handful of ground grain, a bit of yeast, salt and water or salt water, and about 30 seconds of mixing, one has daily bread. Surely there were times when even some of those simple ingredients would not be available to all strata of society. Even in the modern period---I recently taught Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya in which just this sort of unavailability of grain to make the necessary bread to survive happened. And one can't help but think of the dole in the Roman Colosseum: keep the crowd satisfied by throwing them a daily bread supply and keep them entertained with the games, and they don't riot. Panem et circenses, as ol' Juvenal phrased it. Anyway, I digress...ok, I'm digressing some more and will mention that one of my favorite blogs is Bread and Circuses. Anyway, making bread and reading Lahey's personal journey to get past our modern, industrialized approach to something closely akin to the bread eaten by our forebears--and what Jesus was talking about in requesting that God give us that tasty, mouth-watering, loaf everyday. From Jesus' mouth to God's ear...

Now for the medievalist, when you look up the passage in the Vulgate, ol Jerome translated the Greek into Latin as "supersubstantialem"--trying to come to grips with the Greek: epiousios, usually glossed as "sufficient for the day." Jerome justifies his translation in his commnetary on St. Matthew's gospel by claiming that when this word in appears in the LXX or in Symmachus that the word indicates "future" bread, as does the word in the Gospel according to the Hebrews (which for Jerome is the "authentic Matthew"). So rather than "daily" bread, Jerome and all Vulgate dependent readings spiritualize the bread...the bread of life rather than the the bread necessary for life. It has been an interesting week that now connects Gospel of the Hebrews, making bread, and the Lord's prayer.

But that's not all. Over at Magistra et Mater we have a meditation on whether the Fall and Science can be partners. Wow. Huge question, and certainly not the first time such a question has been asked. Magistra answers it by looking at the differences between hunter-gatherer societies and agrarian cultures--the latter being less advantageous t most human beings, who by the way were the ones growing the grain, grinding it into flour, and making the bread for the upper classes. Anyway, the value of myth is that there are many applications: from a psychological one of describing the growth from childhood to adulthood, or Magistra's application of the change from hunter-gatherers (eating what the garden produces as needed vs. agriculture post-fall) to agrarian societies, or Star Trek's frequent dealing with the theme that we have outgrown Eden: that what defines us is the need to push on and out and explore and know.

What all these interpretations, and most of the theological ones such as "disobedience" miss in the story of the Fall is the result: that now Adam and Eve know good and evil. There's even a hint in the word "know" of deciding or determining good and evil. But that's the issue: it isn't simply the disobedience over munching a piece of fruit, but it is the knowing of things that are the provenance of the divine: what good and evil is. This definition fits well the growth of humanity whether we apply it to society, to children becoming adults or what have you: moving from childhood to adulthood comes with knowing what is good and evil, right and wrong and being responsible for those choices; moving from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies was also attended with increased control from the top of society in the form of law--which as Paul points out teaches us what is good and evil. In asking any question about the Bible and science though one can only note the irony that the Bible made modern science possible--regardless of whether one looks for reconciliation between the myth and the science--one might argue that such is the result of knowing good and evil. Further, while the Bible makes modern science possible and in fact informed early science to a gread deal, the child has replaced the parent--not only in proving that much of what was taken as "true" in the Bible isn't, but in that our new priesthood wears white lab coats; rather than training in the Bible and skills and arts that are focused ultimately on getting one closer to the divine, our education system now is largely concerned with making certain students achieve high science and math scores on standardized tests. I like the irony.

And speaking of Paul, discussion of Paul on the Synoptic-L list has turned slightly to noting that we really only have Paul's word for what he says about Peter and earliest Christianity. It's an interesting discussion especially when one realizes that so much of the modern historiography of the earliest strata of Christianity depend directly on reading that episode and what it might mean against a larger canvass. But we do only have one side, and the question is how historically accurate is that presentation and how much weight can be placed upon it? Unanswerable question on the basis of the evidence we have. But a good question and issue to keep in mind when doing early Christian history.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kalamazoo 2010

The 2010 International Congress on Medieval Studies at WMU in Kalamazoo, MI has come and gone for another year. A friend, about whom more later, compared the Congress to Christmas: so much work to prepare, so much excited anticipation, so much fun, over so fast. How true!

Some months ago on FB we were asked about the usefulness of the Congress and I responded to the issue at length in what was intended as a Part One post: Looney Kalamazoo Part the First. There were several issues raised in comments and of course the original questions that Eve Salisbury asked that have yet to be answered. I intend to return to those issues at some point over the summer here. But for now, this reflection on this year's Congress will have to do.

My Congress experience was abbreviated this year. But honestly I was happy to be going at all. Many will recall that I was not in attendance at Congress in 2009. And sadly, though I agreed to be on an interesting panel discussion, I had to pull out of it. It was scheduled for a Thursday, and as a contingent employee, and a poor scholar, I can not afford to give up teaching days: if I don't hold class (like on a Thursday of Congress week), I don't get paid. Simple as that. So four hours of class time is a hit my wallet can not take, especially if I was going to go to Congress. Thus, I could not attend the traditional Wednesday night revelries, and missed all four sessions Thursday and any business meetings. Thus and so.

I took the first train out on Friday morning: all went smoothly and I arrived at the venue about 11:30. I booked a luncheon with two grand bloggers and men I'm pleased to call friend: The Great Nokes ofUnlocked Wordhoard and the too humble Curt Emanuel of Medieval History Geek. BTW, Curt is reporting in some detail on the papers he heard at the Congress, so always a good way to fill things in and get a wider perspective. Good job Curt. Anyway, lunch with these two and one of Scott's students, Eric, was so much fun and enjoyable that we all decided not to attend the 1:30 session but sat and talked instead.

I did make the 3:30 session 369 on Friday afternoon: Identity and Latinity in the British Isles. The session had a paper by two people whom I deeply respect and usually try if I can to attend their papers. The first was Leslie Lockett who read a bit more on retrograde verse in a paper titled: Anglo-Latin Verspielerei and Literary Elitism. I didn't take notes and at this remove I can not do justice to the paper; but essentially as I recall she talked about retrograde verse (where the poetic lines may be read forward and backward) and the elitism it signaled: especially in one Oswald of Ramsey, aka Oswald the Younger, in the eleventh century. I haven't studied this chap before, so his verses may make an entry in Medieval Literature I Didn't Know. But Lockett introduced us to his retrograde verses and his claim to be like Vergil by being able to compose them. It was quite interesting, as Leslie's papers almost always are. I look forward to her book.

The second paper was by Damian Fleming: Raca! Latin, English, Hebrew and Linguistic Identity in Aelfric and Byrhtnoth who talked about how the two Anglo-Saxon authors deal with this Hebrew word and its meaning as transmitted to them through Greek and Latin and they transmit it into Old English.

The third paper was by Carin Ruff who has been working on Alcuin's grammar. The paper was titled "Magisterial Personae and Anglo-Latin Exceptionalism". I won't say too much about this one since I believe it is going into Carin's book and I'll be reading it when it appears and reporting on it.

After the session and touching base with some good folk, including Bruce Gilchrist with whom I sat during the session, I headed on down to the olde book exhibit to encounter both friends and books (sometimes they are the same thing too!). I ran into fairly soon old friend and up and comer Jena Webb and Francesca Bezzone! Jena, I'm proud to say, I've watched grow up. She was 17 when I met her at my wedding to Erika, one of Erika's brides maids. She was a classics major at Marquette and she and her sister came down to Chicago to geek out with us on occasion. Then off she went to NUI in Galway and to make it short, is now completing her degree with a dissertation on the Old English Judith. This was her first hop across the pond for Congress. So, Jena went from shy teenager to friend, colleague, and collaborator. I suppose I take a sort of avuncular pride in her success though I really had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Jena brought along with her Francesca Bezzone from Italy and also a student at NUI. Frances is a delight and a well rounded scholar in her own right. She's currently working on the Vita Germani and did some impressive Latin two-stepping in her paper...but I'll get to that in a moment. I spent a good deal of time during Congress in their company and was utterly delighted.

I also ran into old friend Melodie Harris. We haven't seen each other in some years and it was grand to catch up. Mel has now finished her Phud; in fact, she was supposed to be walking and being hooded during the Congress weekend and opted to come see me, ok, maybe it was to read her paper and all that. Maybe.

Then it was off to the annual Anglo-Saxonists dinner with Bruce Gilchrist and Mel Harris (not an Anglo-Saxonist btw). We sat at table with Pat Conner, Stuart Lee, and others. I think a good time was had by all. It was a great pleasure to make Stuart's acquaintance and Pat is always a companionable dinner companion at these things. The dinner seemed more sparsely populated than in previous years: some posited the food, but I think it was the fact that no bus service was offered this year, making the trip more difficult. Fortunately, the fabulous Bruce drove to Kalamazoo, so he played taxi service. But Leslie Lockett was present, and I met in person Irina Dumitrescu at long last, ran into the incredibly gifted Kathryn Powell, chatted with Don Scragg, and briefly touched based with Tom Hall. All in all, a good time.

Then it was off to the BABEL Working Group's reception celebrating the launch of their journal postmedieval. They had been going for some hours by the time we three got there (Bruce, Mel, and I), but nonetheless there were many still about. I met Michael Moore, not that Michael Moore, but the other one. And I made the official acquaintance of the fabulous ADM! Got to talk to Lisa Carnell a little bit more than just a "hi" and a wave as often happens at the registration desk. I got caught up with the ITM crowd including the talented Mary Kate Hurley who is in the midst of her dissertation. And I even exchanged 2 or 3 words with Eileen Joy who was ever the hostess moving among the gathered making sure a good time was being had by all. And it was.

Then it was off to bed. Saturday morning dawned and brought me to the realization that I was sharing a bathroom with a young woman, or perhaps more than one. It didn't matter to me any: I'm old, married more than once....I don't know if it concerned them any. We stayed out of one another's way. So if those female colleagues happen to read this or you know them let me just extend my congratulations to them on the maturity and professionalism with which they handled the situation.

I then went off to breakfast and the book exhibit, consuming quantities of coffee. I like my coffee. I wandered around the books for a bit, caught up with Juleen Eichenberger former editor at MIP when I was there and with MIP friends. Then off to the session I was presiding over.

The Heroic Age sponsored a session. Yes, even we got into the game. We had three papers. The first, by the aforementioned Francesca Bezzone, titled "Small Reliquaries and Wooden Plates: The Language of Relics in the Vita Germani by Constantius of Lyon. Francesca examined the Latin vocab referring to relics and reliquaries. What I found most interesting, and was the majority of the paper, was the new use of capsa and capsula to refer to something around the saint's neck that seems to have been a relic in a container (leather bag? small box?) of some kind. Very interesting and very carefully done! I don't know of anyone working on the VG, so it is good to have someone doing so, and I'm hoping to nab her paper for HA's anniversary issue.

The second paper was by Michelle Ziegler and had pretty pictures. OOO, shiny. Ok, sorry, was just thinking of Family Guy with James Woods....oooo, piece of candy....anyway, Michelle's paper was titled "Saint Aethelthryth and the Virgin Mary through the Ages". Beginning with Bede, the associations of the Virgin and the saint are wide spread.

Last but not least in this session was Michel Aaij. Michel is the only person I know who works in part on studying the "medievalism" of early medieval saints' cults in modern Europe. And it can be fascinating stuff indeed. This paper took on three saints and introduced us to such goodies as childrens' books on Elizabeth of Hungary and an opera about St. Boniface (in which Boniface and Christianity are the bad guys and the pagans speak for the trees!) among many another very interesting item. A fascinating subfield.

After this great session, it was the Heroic Age
business lunch. We were all business. We even just had sandwiches from the Fetzer lobby we were so business. That's how dedicated we are. No luxuries for us; just all work.

Next came my session. It was number 465, organized by fabulous Mary K. Ramsey and Dana Oswald kept us moving along as presider. I'll say right now that I have a hard time really absorbing papers in my own session. I'm too nervous, even after all the papers I've done, about my own. This year too, I eschewed a paper copy and read off my notebook screen. I think it worked out well and may never read off paper again. Certainly saves a tree.

Richard Burley read "The Eloquent Devil in Translation" in which he looked at the devil's use of rhetoric in Old English texts. This I now know is part of a larger work Richard has already done and will continue to expand. I've asked him to work it up for HA, so keep an eye open for it.

Then there was me. I think I gave the abstract for this paper a while ago, titled Texts of Terror: essentially I argue that the Vita S. Eadmundi and the Old English Judith represent two diametrically opposed policies for reacting to the Vikings; in between the composition of the one and the preservation of the other lie 2 decades and Aelfric of Eynsham whose own approach to the Vikings changes over the course of his writing career.

Last, but far from least, was the aforementioned Jena D. Webb reading on Judith, "A Jewelled Warrior" A Study of the Physical Ornamentation in the Judith. Jena examined what I've often overlooked: there is actually quite a bit in the poem about Judith's adornment. She noticed something else too, but more of that anon.

No one threw fruit or other things, there were about 30 people in the room, and there was a pretty decent question and answer period. So all in all, I think it were a good session.

I went from there to the book hall again. I wanted to explore the possibility of getting some of the dissertation and some other projects in process into book form, so I missed some good sessions for that time slot. I didn't receive any definite news sadly so I'll be doing some writing of letters etc this summer.

I went to my first wine hour in years. I met many a good person, including Jonathan Jarrett of Tenth Century. Sadly the conversations were short, too short, and I would have liked to run into others I met there again and conversed more. Alas, it was not to be.

This brings us to Saturday evening. For dinner, I joined (aka invited myself) Jena Webb, Francesca Bezzone, Kim Laporte for dinner at Bell's. The company was fabulous, the good quite good, and the beer the best. One can ask for little more than that.

After dinner, I had quite a long and delightful conversation with a young Anglo-Saxonist who had been in my session and asked me a question, one Erica Leighton. After I left the poor woman to her own devices for dinner, I went to change out of the zoot suit and into something more comfie for the Sat evening festivities. Jena Webb and I hiked up to the St. Louis reception in Fetzer and spent a delightful time first talking to each other (shocking I know) and then with Michael Fletcher of MTSU and Lydia, and several other folks whose names I didn't hear because I'm getting old and deaf. But I see their faces and they were a great time.

From there, we went on over to the ol' dance party Medieval style. Many drinks, no dances, and a large number of conversations occurred. Too many to recount here. After the dance a group of us, including Bruce Gilchrist, Yvette Kisor, Jena Webb, Erica Leighton, Lynn Wolstadt, and some others were having conversations outside of Valley III. Erica took things in hand and ordered pizzas, so there was some early morning nosh. Good job Erica! But I have to say, I have great friends! Even if we do only see one another once a year.

Sunday morning dawned. I, as usual, overslept the first session, and so once again missed many a good paper. I spent the second session in the book exhibit picking up my purchases, proposal forms, and some sales talking to friends and saying goodbyes to Bruce, Jena, and others of the gang. Lunch was a lonely affair.

There are many I missed. There are many whom I only saw once and would have liked to see more. There are many I met and should have mentioned in the foregoing and haven't for no reason other than I'm a bit slow. There are good papers I would have liked to have heard and business meetings to have attended. But there it is. It was successful. It was fun. It stretched the ol' brain box as I learned new things. It spurned me on to achieve better papers, better research, and carry on the discipline. It made me want even more to teach this material to others. It made me glad I spent all this money, 30 years of my life, and all this effort to become a medievalist. See you next year.