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Bowerthane:
Has anyone been to see this new Tolkien biopic yet?

The trailer looks promising and anything that serves notice of Lieutenant Tolkien’s service on the Somme may put a sock in some of the more ignorant pomposity spouted by Tolkien-bashers.  And yet and yet, for those of us who grew a weeny bit sick of the Peter Jackson jamboree, maybe any change would be as good as a rest.  As far as I’m concerned nobody has made a live-action film of The Hobbit yet, because that cinematographic ‘trilogy’ is not Professor Tolkien’s story.  It’s just Peter Jackson-and-shop making up sh*t and using Professor Tolkien’s name to print money.

So before I blow a tenner down the Showcase, what say you good people?



( By a peculiar co-incidence I was dipping into my Der Herr der Ringe the other night.  That’s a German-language version of The Lord of the Rings I bought long ago um mein Deutsche zu üben because I need to and, occasionally, I still use it for that purpose.

And you’ll never guess what, but I spotted my first ever foreign-language typo.

No, honest.  In the original chapter The Muster of Rohan where Hirgon says, “From the North to the Field of Dagorlad there is skirmish and rumour of war.” the German translation has “Vom Norden bis zur Walstatt von Dargoland gibt es Scharmützel und Kreigsgerüchte.”

Tch, tch, so much for the German reputation for being pedantic to a fault.  In defence of which I do notice that, on the map, the place-name is clearly “Dagorlad”.  That is, it’s left untranslated* with just “(Walstatt)” underneath in German.  So I’m assuming that some independent-minded typesetter, ill-briefed subeditor or even a whole proofreader is responsible for this.  Darg is German for ‘peat’ so one surmises that Mr Good Intentions, without referring to the map or editorial policy, mistook ‘Dagorlad’ for a garbling of ‘Peatoland’ because that, more or less, is what it’s been changed to auf Deutsche.  So it’s still a bit uncharacteristic of the Germans that their left hand didn’t know what their right hand was doing.

So... you’ll all just have to, to keep this to yourselves and try not to panic, won’t you?


*Place-names translated or partially so include the Schicksalsberg for Orodruin, the Totensümpfe for the Dead Marshes, the Steinkarrental for the Stonewain Valley, Entwasser for the Entflood, Schneeborn for the Snowbourne, Fennfeld for Wetwang, Druadanwald for the Druadan Forest and I’m damned if I’m leaving the Überquerung des Poros out of this.  Also, ironically, I notice the map has the spelling of Cirith Ungol that Christopher Tolkien insisted upon, Kirith Ungol, for fear it would be mispronounced – because that would not be much of a risk amongst native German speakers, anyway.)



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The moral right of the author to be identified stirring in James Graham’s basement has been asserted.

Bowerthane:
Blimey.  Didn't think it was that bad.

Bowerthane:
Well now, as Eanflaed and Phyllis may have begun to suspect, lately I have enjoyed watching my own DVD set of the BBC version of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.

In the course of which I began to suspect that, in their version of Lyra’s world, the BBC team have taken our 1940s as their baseline.  Certainly the screen-print design style and elegant, spacy typography on the four card insets enclosed in the boxed set, advertisments for National Aerobus and the Arctic Institute for instance, are bang-on right for our Second World War years.

Yet what has that to do with Professor J. R. R. Tolkien, do I hear you cry?

Oh I don’t.  Have it your way.  But if there’s one thing that basing Lyra՚s world more or less on our 1940s made me realise, it was that, presumably, there’s no reason why a version Professor Tolkien wouldn't have been lecturing, tutoring and even telling the Nazis to stick their “wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine” up their arisch and no mistake at Lyra’s Oxford when it all kicked off between her and the Magisterium.  He may even have been one of the scholars we glimpsed in, say, the refectory scene where Lyra met Mrs Coulter, or one of those jostled aside by Lyra and Roger in the opening* sequence.

Now: what kind of daemon do you think... he would have?  Eh? 

Mind-bogglier than that, even: what kind of Lord of the Rings was he writing?

Were the “bats... above [ Bolg’s] army like a sea of locustsˮ the daemons of the goblins who marched to the Battle of Five Armies?  Or since “the shadow that made them can only mock, it cannot make: not new real things of its ownˮ would the baddies be soulless creatures, without daemons at all?

Would Gandalf have spoken “slowly in a clear cold voice. ‘Saruman, your daemon is Dust.’ˮ when he excommunicated his old boss from the steps of Orthanc?



Tricky one, eh?   



Would Lobelia Sackville-Baggins’ daemon settle as a shrew?

Or would rabbit, badger, mole, koypu etc. daemons be common amongst hobbits, and how might theirs differ from the daemons of the dwarves? 

Or would the baneful influence of the Ring make Gollum's daemon settle as a frog or toad?   A cane toad maybe, of the sort that poisons crocodiles by the creek-full in Australia, say?

Would the Rohirrim ride hither and yon on their full-size horse daemons, not unlike that Gyptian chap holding a horse’s head in the opening sequence of the 2008 film The Golden Compass. Less than convenient on a narrowboat, I admit, but right up the Horse-lords’ street.



As a silvan elf, would Legolas have a grey squirrel daemon?  Or a red one?

Would Wormtongue have a slow-worm daemon?

Would Galadriel have a swan daemon?

Would Ioreth have a jabberjay daemon?

Would Lotho Sackville-Baggins have a praying mantis daemon?

Would Fëanor’s daemon settle as a salamander?


Discuss...



---oo0oo---


Also: has anyone taken an interest in the etymology of Bolvangar?  The ‘Bol-’, I’m fairly sure now, is the Norse counterpart of English’s ‘bale-’ in ‘baleful’, from Old English bealo meaning ‘evil, calamity, injury, wickedness’.  Likewise our equivalent to the ‘-vangr’ is the place-name ending ‘-wang’, of which two examples survive both of which seem to mean ‘watermeadow’, in which sense Professor Tolken uses it for his ‘Wetwang or Nindalf’ at the mouths of the Entwash, but in Old English means the same as vangr in Old Norse, ‘plain, field’.  As I think has been discussed elsewhere on this forum, the Old Norse pagan paradise Fólkvangr means ‘field of the people', where Freyja rejoices with her half of the dead, including her half of the slain ( it’s the ones she doesn’t want who go to Valhalla) to bardsong in bucolic bliss.  Sorta what Woodstock would have looked like if it had all been Wagner’s idea.  If memory serves, Bishop Ulfila used their Gothic forerunner, waggs, to translate ‘Eden’ in his Bible, suggesting that waggs had afterlife-cum-paradisical connotations for the heathen Gothic kinsfolk he was setting out to convert, somewher either side of the Danube, as early as the fourth century.

So anyway Bolvangar really does mean ‘place of evil’ and we might render it Balewang, were we so minded, and Philip Pullman is more of an etymologist than he lets on about.



---oo0oo---


* The one that involved yet-another cameo appearance of my mother’s old mixing bowl from way back in my childhood in the early 1970s.  It was white on the inside and beige on the outside and you can spot it, if you’re quick, when Lyra and Roger’s race spills into the kitchens but before the Master of Jordan shouts after Lyra.  I’ve spotted it three times, now: first in the film Gosford Park and the second time in Downton Abbey.  It occurs to me, if these film- and series-makers were subcontracting to the same production company, it may actually be one and the same bowl.

And I’ve no idea what became of the one my mother used to use, all those years ago.

Could it have ended up as a theatrical prop, dare I wonder?

Bowerthane:
By the way, I have finished watching and re-watching the second series of the BBC’s ‘His Dark Materials’ series, their adaptation of The Subtle Knife on DVD at last.
 
Has anyone else taken an interest in the etymology of the name Æsahættr?  Of course it is Old Norse for ‘god destroyer’ but I was hoping that somebody with a less rudimentary knowledge of Old Norse than I might know a thing or two about quite which sense of this Norse word hættr Philip Pullman means to imply.  Etymologically it is the ‘same word’ as Modern English hate and therefore of Old English hete which seems to have a near-enough range of denotations ( “hate, malice, persecution, judgement” says my Sweet) to carry the point.  So a straight rendition into the Old Mother Tongue, Ōsehete, might do though maybe Ōsescaþa or Ōsebana are better semantic fits and more characteristic of the Old English’s way of putting things.
 
The other mystery is how could anything made in Cittàgazze come by a germanic name?  Clearly Cittàgazze is Southern Mediterranean in culture, not the sort of mileau where you’d expect ClubMed to be called the Wendelsea Guild.  Shouldn’t Æsahættr have been Deomori or Theothanatos or derived therefrom?  Yahuketel as the angels may have put it ( with or without the Triumph of the Superman:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3eEHZCahVU )
 
Oh, and: what about Trēowscēawere as Old English for alethiometer? Hwēolwihta for the mufeta, the wheelwights?  I’m guessing that ‘Gallivespians’ is Latin-based because vespa is Latin for wasp in which connection Latin gallus for cock would make sense as the first element, leaving Coccwæspcynn or Coccwæsplingas for how the Old English might have put it.  The Cockerwasplings, as we might say.
 
 
 
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Spoiler alert: for all of you fellow fans of my mum’s old mixing bowl from the 1970s at home and abroad, the bitter disappointment is that, this time, I regret to report that the BBC have failed to use it to the slightest advantage once throughout all seven episodes.  Not even in the kitchen scene where Lyra re-invents omellette making off her own bat.  If Major Parry used it to make that soup he must have done it out of shot, Mary Malone never ran a test on one despite it being a human artefact, the Guild of the Torre degli Angeli never purloined one from any of the other worlds they accessed, nor did anyone else in Cittàgazze knock it to the ground despite what must have developed into some sort of stampede as they realized the Spectres were moving in, there were no trepanned ones on display in the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Lord Boreal stuck to collecting such ephemera as space suits, the skeleton of some hobbit-like hominin and chunks of the Berlin Wall but no mixing bowl that I could see, the Magisterium blanket-bombed the witches’ island but still managed not to prang it, and gripping though the fight scene was at the top of the Tower of the Angels between Will Parry and that Cittàgazze boy in many ways, they missed the coup de théâtre of Lyra using it to knock out the latter.  True to form it was just have-some-more plot development with exposition as required and all fleshed out with engaging characters set in an imaginary world of a verisimilitude not seen since Tolkien, so the whole scene focussed totally on Will becoming the possessor of the Subtle Knife as its next rightful albeit reluctant bearer, neglecting the mixing-bowl angle entirely.
 
 
Well... I suppose that some people might find that subtle.  But from any mixing-bowl point of view it was a case for the wooden spoon.
 
 
 
Better luck with this new series of The Crown, I say.  Let’s hold out for a scenario involving the present Queen shoving Ted Heath’s head into it.  Full of manure.
 
 
 
 
 

Bowerthane:
Now guess what’s happened?


 
Thanks to Humphrey Carpenter’s The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien I have long known that, in the months leading to the outbreak of the Second World War, Professor J. R. R. Tolkien agreed to be assessed as a cryptographer only nothing came of it.  On the second of February 1939 he wrote to a C. A. Furth of the-then Allen & Unwin publishers: “I shall have [ to do] some work in preparation for a possible ‘National Emergency’ ( which will take a week out).1 I have to go to Scotland either in March or April.”
 
Somewhat of this process is also described in COLOSSUS, the Secrets of Bletchley Park’s Codebreaking Computers edited by B. Jack Copeland ( ISBN-13: 978-0-19-284055-4, OUP 2006) where Michael Smith writes of Commander Denniston, then the Head of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC & CS):

    “Denniston, who realised that the elderly classicists who made up the bulk of his codebreakers desperately needed an injection of new talent, had spent the months before the war touring the universities looking for the mathematicians and linguists needed to break the German Enigma cipher.
   “‘He dined at several High Tables in Oxford and Cambridge and came home with promises from a number of dons to attend a “territorial training course”,’ Cooper said. ‘It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this course for the future development of GC & CS. ...’
   “The academics who attended the course were made to sign the Official Secrets Act and told that on receipt of a telegram they should report to Bletchley Park.  Initially, all the codebreakers were crowded into the Mansion, with the exception of Knox and his small team of mathematicians, Turing, Twinn, and John Jeffreys, who were working on the Enigma traffic in an adjoining cottage.”
 

As it is in The Secret Listeners ( ISBN 10 1781310793, Aurum Press 2013) by Sinclair McKay:
 
   “Some months before war broke out, the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) – in essence, the codebreaking arm of the Foreign Office – had established itself in a faintly ugly country house on the edge of an unremarkable provincial town. And it was within the bounds of this plain house and its estate – Bletchley Park – that an extraordinary line-up of the country’s finest minds was assembled.”
 
 
In The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien Carpenter’s footnote reads: “In January 1939 Tolkien was asked whether in the event of a national emergency ( i.e. war) he would be prepared to work in the cryptographical department of the Foreign Office.  He agreed, and apparently attended a four-day course of instruction at the Foreign Office beginning on 27 March. But in October 1939 he was informed that his services would not be required for the present, and in the event he never worked as a cryptographer.”   For those who don’t know, the Rape of Czechoslovakia began in January 1939, was completed by mid March and was the greatest, single tipping point in the lead-up to the outbreak of the Second World War. As a huge fan of Alan Furst’s novels I cannot recommend higher his The Polish Officer ( ISBN 978-0-7538-2556-3, Orion Books 1995) for evoking the heartsink moment when, realising that Hitler’s forces weren’t stopping in the Sudetenland but taking the whole of Czechoslovakia, that this means war ( and the game was certainly up for Appeasement).
 

However, lately I have bagsed a DVD of the Pen & Sword documentary about Bletchley Park titled Bletchley Park and the Ultra Secret. According to this, including a close-up of a source document with Professor Tolkien’s name typed in a list with other Oxford academics ( with “Dec” penned to its right), it was to neither “the Foreign Office” nor Scotland that Professor Tolkien came, but Bletchley Park itself. Ironically, what aroused my suspicions was how silly I felt because, having mugged up about the heroines of the Strategic Operations Executive for my kiddies’ book and developed an interest in both the SOE and Bletchley Park for their own sakes, I should have guessed that this ‘I’m off to Scotland’ business was no more than the bog-standard, off-the-shelf cover story that just about everyone recruited to either had to tell even their nearest and dearest.  All the time that Christine Granville GM, Odette Sansom GC, Violette Szabo GC, Nancy Wake GM, Princess Noor of Oudh GC and Pearl Witherington CBE were kicking Nazi arse in Occupied France and Poland, their loved ones thought they were driving staff cars for the top brass in Scotland.
    Furthermore, in my copy of The Debs of Bletchley Park by Michael Smith ( ISBN 978-1-78131-388-6, Aurum Press 2015) it says, here:
 
“All the academics were given some training in codebreaking and made to sign the Offical Secrets Act.  They were told to keep a ten-shilling note in their pockets at all times for a railway ticket and to wait for a telegram saying simply that ‘Auntie Flo is unwell’.  Upon receipt of the message, they were to make their way to Station X.
    “In the days following Chamberlain’s declaration of war, the messages went out and the dons began arriving at Bletchley.”
 

Station X is simply the MI6’s official designation for Bletchley Park.  So for all that Professor Tolkien never worked there as a cryptographer, and whether or not his four-day assessment took place at Bletchley Park, Scotland or “at the Foreign Office” as the balloon went up, he was surely given the right directions for Bletchley Park. Directions the importance of which, as a signals officer in the Lancashire Fusiliers during the First World War, Professor Tolkien would not have needed labouring, and quite possibly did have the wit and experience to memorise them clearly rather than keep a written copy, even if the academics were not told to do exactly that, anyway.


 
In which light the plot thickens.  For disbelievers may scoff and true believers may nibble a little just to be polite, but it’s a hard fact, which fellow Tolkienists and anyone else who read Professor Tolkien’s landmark lecture On Fairy Stories with anything like interest and attention should recall, that in one of the key passages, he discusses the relationship between modernity and reality in these terms:
 
“For my part, I cannot convince myself that the roof of Bletchley station is more ‘real’ than the clouds. And as an artefact I find it less inspiring than the legendary dome of heaven. The bridge to platform 4 is to me less interesting than Bifröst guarded by Heimdall with the Gjallarhorn.”
 
 
   Thickens because, having checked, it turns out that Professor Tolkien’s reference to a trip to Scotland need have nothing to do with his cryptographic assessment, anyway.  It was earlier in the same month, the eighth of March 1939, that Professor Tolkien first delivered the original version of On Fairy Stories at St Andrews University, Scotland.  Only later in the same month, presumably from the twenty-seventh to the thirtieth of March at least, did he undertake this “course of instruction” if Carpenter’s dates are correct.
 
   Thickens because, at the end of my copy of The Secret Listeners there happens to be an excerpt from The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay ( ISBN 10 1845136330, Aurum Press 2016), in which the following occurs; “‘I got to Bletchley around midnight,’ recalled another veteran. ‘Everything was in darkness. There were some iron steps going over the bridge. There wasn’t a soul about.’”
 
   So... well yes, it could all be some wild and crazy co-incidence that, of all the railway stations in Britain Professor Tolkien should quite randomly plump for the one and only ( I’ve checked) Bletchley Station at the Bletchley, in Buckinghamshire, the ground plan of which abuts the Bletchley Park estate.  A railway station that then, as now, does have a platform 4 ( I’ve checked) and a footbridge ( I’ve checked) he’d have to walk over to and from it ( I’ve checked) and most likely did if then, as now, platforms 1 and 2 handled the through trains between Birmingham New Street and Euston, whereas platform 6 handles trains to and from Bedford.
 
   Some, wild and crazy co-incidence that, of all the railway stations in England with which Professor Tolkien was likely to be familiar ( Oxford’s, one in Birmingham and give or take Paddington) he quite randomly plumped for one with which there is no special reason he should be familiar at all, still less in any of its particulars.
 
   Or for that matter why he should plump for a railway station at all to illustrate his point in a lecture.
 
   Unless of course there was a special reason why these details about Bletchley Station were known to Professor Tolkien before he left Oxford early in 1939, when he was still writing/ um-ing and ah-ing about/ touching up/ re-writing his Andrew Lang lecture.  Some special reason why, as a sometime signals officer on the Somme and still on the Reserve List as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers, he understood the importance of making sure he understood information, and of keeping it clear in his head...
 
 

All I wonder now is whether that “Dec” was penned to the right of Professor Tolkien’s name in the December of 1938 because Bletchley Park first contacted him in the December of 1938 .  “In the months leading up to the war, Commander Denniston had toured Britain’s universities, looking for professors and lecturers who might make good codebreakers.  Initially, he targeted linguists and classicists,” etc. it says here in The Debs of Bletchley Park. Knowing Professor Tolkien’s other great talent ( for not getting his finger out) it could refer to December 1939 when Bletchley Park received his acknowledgement of their message that his services would not be required, but I doubt it because “Dec” is penned to the right of the names of other Oxford dons, above and below his.
 
 
 
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The moral right of the author to be identified outside the barracks by the corner light, signalling the attack by whistling Lily Marleen, has been asserted.

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