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Pretty much all historical recreations of the Arthurian legend in fiction bore or irritate me, because (a) they're historically inaccurate or take unforgiveable liberties with chronology, geography, politics and so on; (b) the attempt at Dark Age speech and names is awful; and/or (c) they are so tied to Malory's outline story that you pretty much know all the twists and turns and there are no surprises. A recent exemption to these for me is Philip Reeve's Here Lies Arthur in which there are surprises and a feel for aspects of a Dark Age Britain.
Much more interesting are modern updates to the legend, as in Charles Williams' War in Heaven or C S Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet for example or Peter Dickinson's trilogy about Merlin, The Changes: A Trilogy. Here the modern obsession with the Arthurian legend interacts with modern(ish) life in a more meaningful way.
Have you read the original version of T. H. White's Sword in the Stone? (He later edited it to include it in The Once and Future King). I thought it rather fit into your modern update category.
I'm also fond of Mary Stewart's series, though I hadn't read Monmouth when I read it the first time, so I found it surprising.
No, I haven't read the original version of The Sword in the Stone though I'm willing to grant it may be a modern update; wasn't it set in the Wars of the Roses for The Once and Future King version?
It's some years (35? 40?) since I read The Crystal Cave, but I particularly liked Andre Norton's roughly contemporary Merlin's Mirror which gives the Merlin legend a more SF dimension.
Oh, you meant a modern setting. I didn't understand. No, it is set in Malory's time, just reflecting modern concerns.
I'll have to look for the Andre Norton.
Leonard Wibberley wrote a modern return of Arthur, The Quest for Excalibur (touchstones not working) which I liked parts of. There's also David Lodge's Rummidge series (first book is Changing Places which is supposed to be Parsifal, though it wasn't close enough to draw me into a story of modern academia, one of my least favorite kind of books.
Hi, new here. :)
I just bought Here Lies Arthur; it looks interesting. Glad to hear you liked it.
I like Helen Hollick's Arthurian series too, the first of which is The Kingmaking. Very well researched and excellent characterizations. Similar feel to Cornwell, but they are both so differently written I can't really compare them.
Hi, even newer here. :)
2> I, too, get mad at some 'historical recreations' and especially the pure fantasy ones. I have, however, discovered the books of M.K. Hume, a fairly new-comer to this genre. Dr Hume has written a trilogy on Arthur (Artor) King Arthur: Dragon's Child, King Arthur: Warrior of the West, and, King Arthur: The Bloody Cup.
She has also completed the first two books of a trilogy on Merlin (Myrddion), namely, Prophecy: Clash of Kings, and Prophecy: Death of an Empire. These books are a kind of 'prequel' to the King Arthur series, but the last one in the series won't be released until early 2013.
With a bit of delving, I found that Dr Hume is a student of medieval literature, who had an urge to write her version of the Arthur and Merlin stories and set them in what we know of those historical times.
It also turns out that, far from being a mainly (as one could reasonably expect) male-teller-of-historically-accurate-blood-thirsty-tales-living-in-the-UK and one who has good access to local historical sites and records -- she is a retired school-teacher living in the suburbs of Brisbane (near me) in Australia. She has had to travel very far (physically, geographically and metaphorically) to realise her dreams. I couldn't put the novels down and I'm craving for the latest release next year. I believe there are also Taliessin novels in the works, preliminary titled "The Twilight of the Celts".
A couple of the many reviews could probably express it better than I:
“……The first part of this King Arthur Trilogy is tremendously stirring stuff and rather well-written, taking time to establish the historical context of the period… Prophesy and destiny are in this way mixed with history and personality, cutting through the legend to the people underneath, making it all very real and meaningful and thoroughly engaging the reader. Outstanding.” – N. Megahey, www.amazon.com
“…..it’s an altogether totally original version of the Arthur legend, owing more to Cornwell and Iggulden than to Malory….. but it’s the characters who stand out in this fantastic story of how his arch-enemies sought to bring about the demise of the man who united Britain at the very beginning of the Dark Ages. It’s a slice of history that’s totally, utterly believable. Magnificent. Read them all. www.booksmonthly.co.uk
I commend these books to lovers of Artor, Myrddion, Targo, Gruffydd, Bedwyr...
7> Thanks, Marlie5! I've added these to my wishlist. :)
6> I was also a fan of The Kingmaking series. I thought her twist on Arthur was likely a good characterization due to the fact that he had some definitely fiendish moments. So many storylines paint him as this virtual saint that it doesn't seem realistic.
Yes, I quite enjoyed the first of Helen Hollick's trilogy (called Pendragon's Banner in the UK, I think) though I didn't get round to the remainder. I even published a couple of items of hers (one on the historicity of Arthur) in an Arthurian journal I used to edit (called, unsurprisingly, Pendragon, and which appeared in print from about 1965 to 2009).
I'm always suspicious of Arthurian novels where Arthur is called Artor--it suggests to me that the author has probably subscribed to a theory that Arthur is either Roman or Sarmatian (that is, modern Arthur is derived from the Latinised name Artorius).
where Arthur is called Artor--it suggests to me that the author has probably subscribed to a theory that Arthur is either Roman or Sarmatian
Is that so bad, in fiction?
Artúir, Arthwys... In fiction, it seems okay to use a name that is identifiable (and readable!) and that might have still been in use in the Romano-Britain period. 'Arthur' seems a little too modern to be able to obtain an authentic feel of the 5th or 6th centuries and it also smacks of the much later romantic legends.
In theory, BarkingMatt, no, that's perfectly OK, and I would normally agree with you there.
In practice, though, I find that the effort of twisting a British Arthur in a 5th/6th-century context to something that fits the latest (or latest revived) re-envisioning, combined with an often inconsistently- imagined re-contextualising, means that artistry, characterisation and language tends to go out of the window. And life's too short to plough through the usually these very bulky novels with a fine-toothed nit-picking comb. (It's bad enough with the so-called non-fiction Arthurian studies that these novels are frequently based on!)
No, I'm not convinced that in British Late Antiquity (or the Dark Ages, if you prefer) many individuals were still using the kind of Celtic case endings that were around in the Late Iron Age when the Romans arrived in Britain. Linguists are very happy with the evidence that points to case-endings (Latin -us or Celtic -os, for example, that might give us Arturus or Arturius) disappearing and the subsequent shift of stress onto the new penultimate syllable that in 5th/6th-century Britain would mean that Arturus would have given way to Arthur. The form Arthur (and scores of other warriors' names) appears without case-endings in The Gododdin, and even if the mention of Arthur is a late insertion (as some scholars propose) nobody is suggesting that all those other 6th/7th-century warriors from the vicinity of modern Edinburgh should have had Latin case-endings in poetry that is recognisably in an early form of Welsh despite being 7th-century.
In other words (!) to describe the name Arthur as "a little too modern to be able to obtain an authentic feel of the 5th or 6th centuries" is very wide of the mark. Sorry, Marlie5!
I should add that a very large proportion of the inscribed memorial stones from Dark Age Britain were, it is true, couched in Late (and not very Classical) Latin, and so include names that do use case-endings. But that's only to be expected: the prevailing political set-up was increasingly being Christianised, the scribes who were recording events were increasingly Christian and the official language they used was ecclesiastical or increasingly Vulgar (that is, spoken) Latin. Other than poetry like The Gododdin (which originated in oral forms) most official script would continue to be in Latin until Early Modern times.
But that certainly doesn't mean that most Britons spoke only in Latin or only used Latinised forms of their British names in everyday speech.
But that certainly doesn't mean that most Britons spoke only in Latin or only used Latinised forms of their British names in everyday speech.
True, the fact that successor states like Wales and Cornwall spoke Celtic languages - not Romance like in Gaul / France - weighs heavily against it.
Early Welsh did borrow some specialised words from Latin, however, like 'eglwys' (church) from 'ecclesia', and later on from Norman French: 'ffenestr' (window) is cognate with French 'fenetre', itself borrowed from Latin.
I think Arthurian legend is the same as any other fiction genre: there are people who can write it and there are people who can't. Unfortunately for the trees of the world, those who can't write Arthurian legend exponentially outnumber the few folks who can. The same is true for knock-offs of every sort.
The publishing industry is well aware of those facts and compensates for them by coming up with cover art of the most stirring sort they can find and (often) some excellent blurbs to help sell their crap. But crap is crap, after all, and consumers are left to sort the wheat from the chaff as best they can.
One way is to watch those customer "reviews" on venues like Amazon.com. In post #7, for example, Marlie5 posts the following snippet:
“…..it’s an altogether totally original version of the Arthur legend, owing more to Cornwell and Iggulden than to Malory….. but it’s the characters who stand out in this fantastic story of how his arch-enemies sought to bring about the demise of the man who united Britain at the very beginning of the Dark Ages. It’s a slice of history that’s totally, utterly believable. Magnificent. Read them all."
If a reader puts a mean eye on that passage, (s)he quickly sees how much it's actually worth: 1) Beyond Sir Thomas Malory, there is and can be no such thing as an "altogether totally original version of the Arthur legend." 2) If it were "altogether original," it would by definition be "totally original," and literate people don't abuse modifiers in such ways. 3) No Arthurian legend can be "a slice of history." If it were a slice of history, it wouldn't be a legend. 4) In view of points 1, 2, and 3, it's safe to judge that the yahoo who wrote that snippet isn't qualified to advise readers on what is or is not good reading, no offense to Marlie5 intended.
My preference for Arthur set in early medieval setting (you may prefer "Dark Age") is probably just because I grew up with that De geschiedenis van Koning Arthur (http://www.librarything.com/work/3678978 - basically that version is still following Mallory, but with an attempt of setting it back several centuries - no jousting knights and such).
I didn't call Marlie5 a yahoo. I called whoever wrote that snippet a yahoo. Marlie5 did NOT write that snippet.
Okay, I believe you, it's later in the afternoon here and I've had a couple of beers. No offense intended.
I used to have beers in the afternoon. That's why I quit drinking.
An incisive review critique--thanks!
I'm not a German speaker so haven't come across this book, but guess there must've been an English translation as 'King Arthur' by J T Haar as that seems to ring bells. Not read that either though...
>23: It's Dutch actually, but yes, there does seem to be an English translation. Never mind though, it's not like I'm recommending it. It was just my first encounter with Arthur, way back in the 60s.
>ed.pendragon, dekesolomon - I'm interested and rather bemused that my newbie post trigged some deep analysis by you both. However, I would be more interested in your learned opinions AFTER you've read at least one of the five novels written by the author so far in the two trilogies. Assuming, of course, that you do intend to read some of the recommendations in this topic and not just spend your time engrossed in PPP (picking posts to pieces)! No offense intended either...
Marlie5 -- I didn't pick your post to pieces. I picked that anonymously authored snippet to pieces. In doing so I implied that good readers wouldn't have been impressed by that snippet. But I didn't state the implication in so many words because I didn't want to hurt your feelings. I still don't want to hurt your feelings.
No. I'm not going to read that book because I gave up on that genre (and the people who write within it) years ago. I have other places to invest my time and money these days. That said, if a serious author -- say, Robert Silverberg or Piers Anthony or pick your own -- ever puts together an Arthurian fantasy, I'd be moved by curiosity to spend a few bucks for the paperback. If THAT was any good, I'd spring for the hardcover. But I'm not gonna waste time and money with a piece o' junk on the recommendation of some klutz who can't manage his modifiers.
Still no offense intended.
However, I would be more interested in your learned opinions AFTER you've read at least one of the five novels written by the author so far.
Put like that, I suppose I'd better shut up. After all, what do learned opinions count for?
>27 Please allow us good readers (and we're all good readers here) decide for ourselves whether we want to be impressed or not by someone's review.
Maybe I'm mistaken. I thought this topic was for discussing books on the Arthur Legends. If you "gave up on that genre (and the people who write within it) years ago", then what are you doing here?
Oh, and please don't call the books I recommended "a piece o' junk". I don't know how old you are, but you're starting to sound like a spoiled brat!
I'm done with this exchange - it's wasting my reading time.
I am an author and have an Arthurian novel out in paperback and kindle, "Merlin's Charge". It's been out a couple of years, now, but I just found this Library Thing TODAY (my publisher pointed it out, woot!). In my novel Merlin is preparing young Arthur for his future... along with a grail quest (a pagan version of it)!
My Arthurian interest first started with listening to the Camelot soundtrack over and over, as a kid, LOL. My fascination exploded when Excalibur came out on the big screen!!!
I had to buy several copies of The Mists of Avalon, when it was a big hit, back in the 80s. Friends kept "borrowing" it... ugh, LOL
I got a marvelous copy of Malory's LE MORTE D'ARTHUR for my birthday last May. It has many many fantastic Aubrey Beardsley illustrations throughout! That book started all the modern versions of the story (before then it was just scattered disparate Celtic tales that always conflicted with themselves).
Congratulations on being published--do hope your novel has something new to say, and doesn't feature as many exclamation marks as your first post.
Malory's LE MORTE D'ARTHUR ... started all the modern versions of the story (before then it was just scattered disparate Celtic tales that always conflicted with themselves).
It's true that Malory revived Arthuriana in the late 15th century, though in a way it hadn't really gone away and was consistently plundered for political ends during the Wars of the Roses. In addition, Malory didn't really have that much of an impact subsequently until the poet Robert Southey brought out an edition in the early 19th century which caught the Romantic imagination, inspiring writers and artists such as the Pre-Raphaelites.
But when you suggest that pre-Malory the story was 'just scattered disparate Celtic tales' I'll have to disagree with you there: he specifically says that he drew on 'French' tales for his 'whole book' of King Arthur. The 'Celtic tales' you refer to mostly pre-date the 12th century, a good three centuries or more before Malory. In any case, to suggest they were 'just' scattered tales conflicting with one another is rather disparaging and dismissive.
>and doesn't feature as many exclamation marks as your first post.
I seem to talk more like silent movie title cards on the internet. Talking on the internet is never anything like novel writing, LOL... (and my "title cards" don't have an editor)
My own opinion about the old Celtic tales comes mostly from a fabulous thick Arthurian Encyclopedia I have that is filled with all sorts of British characters, places and brief stories from A to Z. I didn't mean to be "disparaging and dismissive" since I find it all very very fascinating (but they do all contradict each other, as a whole!). And those old tales are also very immoral... or amoral. Malory added morality.
The French court, French knights and French chivalry certainly inspired and shaped the morality of Malory's book, written in France, and the Celts in France at that time were longing for their "golden dawn". I have read that Le Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy maybe inspired Malory's Camelot.
My novel is pagan. I set Merlin's Charge in the 6th century in the power vacuum of Rome's leaving. Christianity is so new there (without books) and so it is unrecognizable to the Roman Catholicism of Malory's time.
> 32 -- I can't help wondering what any pagan would want with the Holy Grail, which is by definition a Christian relic.
The holy grail has pagan roots. The old French word "grail" originally means "a meal". In my story it is a town's communal cauldron that has been stolen for magic purposes by a bad witch. I use fantasy in a way that I think the people of the time would have thought about life and nature.
Many Christian things have pagan roots.
And as a vessel parallels have been suggested to Dagda's cauldron, and that of Bran the Blessed (in the Mabinogion). Personally I think not unreasonably. But whatever its roots, the myth indeed got thoroughly Christianized.
My own opinion about the old Celtic tales comes mostly from a fabulous thick Arthurian Encyclopedia.
I'd be interested to know which book this is.
And those old tales are also very immoral... or amoral. Malory added morality.
This is a very sweeping statement, Peter, which I can't let pass. No-one writes in a moral vacuum, and though one can write an 'immoral' book which goes against the accepted moral codes of a particular society, it's virtually impossible to write an 'amoral' book which has no morals at all (except in hyperbolic terms). Those 'Celts' you mention (which ones, by the way? The Welsh? The Irish? Bretons?) who supposedly composed immoral/amoral tales: which of their tales do you think are lacking in any kind of morality?
And as for Malory 'adding' morality, again, some examples would be useful.
I have read that Le Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy maybe inspired Malory's Camelot.
Where have you read this? This is a new one on me.
The old French word "grail" originally means "a meal" ...
No it doesn't. It may have orginally meant a serving dish, and this is how Chretien de Troyes in the late 12th century envisaged it, something that could hold a large fish and so a kind of platter; he is, as far as scholars know, the first writer to refer to this mysterious grail (which was not originally even called 'holy').
What it certainly wasn't, until later writers transformed it, was a chalice, cup or even cauldron. Antiquarian speculation came up with the particular notion that the grail originated in a Celtic cauldron.
Yes, I have to agree, there is no sign in Chretien etc. of the the grail being anything beyond a dish. In that respect any platter would do.
Like I said, personally I don't think the link to Celtic mythic cauldrons is entirely beyond reason*. But if I somehow gave the impression that would be irrefutable "fact" - no it isn't. Certainly not.
* I'm thinking of cultural heritage. Half forgotten ideas, bent beyond what anybody originally involved would have believed possible. Obviously the grail, as envisioned by later medieval authors, has lost any real link to those (if it ever had one).
Like you, I'm not averse to the notion that Celtic cauldrons of plenty and/or rejuvenation may have indirectly influenced the concept of the magical grail, but just because something is 'like' something else it doesn't mean there is a direct link. For example there are Australian animals that fill similar niches to animals in the rest of the world but that doesn't mean that they are related; or, more famously, just because we find pyramids in the New World as well as the Old, the concept of building pyramids doesn't have to have somehow diffused itself from one type to the other. Nor, just because the Celts had mythical wonder-working vessels, does it follow that any wonder-working vessels subsequent in time must have evolved from the earlier types.
Having said that, there are suggestive parallels between the pagan Irish cauldron tales written down in Early Christian times, the 12th-century Mabinogion tale of Bran the Blessed's cauldron fetched from Ireland, and an obscure possibly 10th-century Welsh poem recounting a raid on the Otherworld by Arthur and his men. But it is a big jump then to Chretien's unfinished Perceval poem in precise details, tone and culture, as you rightly point out.
With amorality in the old tales, I'm thinking about the adultery in particular. There's no consequence for anything sexual in the pre Malory stories, in my Arthurian encyclopedia. It's just matter of fact, and that's that about it. The movie musical Camelot boils the tale finally down to the emotional disaster of the romantic triangle. That's what brings down the whole kingdom, and that's very moralistic indeed (and a universal truth - anybody can ruin their own "kingdom", their marriage, with adultery, by hurting feelings).
>I have read that Le Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy maybe inspired Malory's Camelot.
I think it was Michael Wood who mentioned that when talking about Burgundy and Malory, but not sure offhand. Yes, there are Celts many places (French Burgundy too). That might be one reason Arthurian myths are the most popular secular myths out there.
I think the "idea" of the grail is timeless if you don't literally make it a chalice. The deeper idea of what it is and what it does fits earlier pagan myths just fine.
Pendragon et al: Can any of you guys from the UK shed any light on why it was that Romans tolerated all sorts of religions in the peoples they conquered EXCEPT Druidism. I understand that Romans used to hunt Druids with dogs, like animals. Is that true and if so, why did they do it?
I don't know too much about it, so I wouldn't care to comment on how they were persecuted. And it isn't true all other religions were always tolerated. But they certainly were persecuted.
The given reason was that Druids would have practiced human sacrifice, and that this would have been sufficiently abhorrent to the Romans. Be that as it may.
Personally I suspect there were political reasons as well (some Druids possibly forming a sort of intellectual backbone for anti-Roman feelings in Gaul and Britain).
Most, if not all, political systems prosecute or persecute perceived threats to their stability. The Romans tolerated most religions because their gods and goddesses were quickly assimilated to Roman deities and because associated rituals all around the Mediterranean basin were largely familiar (prayers, animal sacrifices, votive offerings and so on).
However, religions which were associated with revolutionary thinking or suspected of inciting insurrection, whether Judaism, Druidism or incipient Christianity, were very quickly stamped on in a show of practical realpolitik. Any excuse would do, as is common with all totalitarian regimes: whether supposed Druidic human sacrifice for the Romans, alleged child torture by Jews in medieval Christian Europe or perceived blasphemy by female punk bands protesting against political corruption in Russia.
I don't recall the instance of Druids being hunted with dogs, but that sounds like the routine sort of thing security forces or police do in most countries these days when chasing criminals or even criminalised individuals, so it wouldn't surprise me at all.
Peter, I don't really want to bang on about the differences between morality, immorality and amorality (any good dictionary, encyclopaedia or philosophy handbook will clarify them) but if you are limiting lack of morals to adultery I think you need to broaden your horizons. Specifically on Malory, there are several candidates for the original Thomas Malory, author of Le Morte, but the most familiar one (hailing from Newbold Revel) was imprisoned for various misdemeanours including kidnapping, robbery and rape. Whatever the truth of the matter, don't assume that most knights of the time, towards the end of the Wars of the Roses, were whiter than white, morally speaking, or free from heinous actions. In fact, don't assume that they were chivalrous in any Victorian sense of that word.
Now, as for 'Celts', are you talking about ethnicity, religion, culture or language?
You regard the 'grail' as timeless, but I am still confused as to what you're pinning this label on. Is it a wonder-working object? Folktales and story collections such as The Arabian Nights are full of these, and they aren't called grails. Is is a means of rejuvenation? It would be anachronistic to call Medea's cauldron a grail. Is it a mysterious object that one has to quest for? I think it would be stretching matters to describe the Golden Fleece that Jason's Argonauts searched for as a grail. All these facets of the grail are found in various cultures and at different times, but it seems as if you are trying to turn things on their head by calling mystical Celtic cauldrons grails.
By the way, you still haven't told me your references, other than a vague mention of Michael Wood, author of many books. (I don't count the musical Camelot as a proper reference: it merely reflects the 20th-century morality of the lyricist of the musical and of T H White, on whose The Once and Future King the musical was based.)
>but if you are limiting lack of morals to adultery
For the post, yes I was. The difference in how sex was regarded was a very noticeable thing in my encyclopedia stories, to me, and that's all I meant to point out about that, especially since the core story that most of us grew up on was about a kingdom ruined by romantic problems. Yes, there are many types of morals - for another post perhaps.
I choose to count the movie version "Camelot", and the rather different stage version, and the very different White book, all, because they all have a different focus that most certainly counts because they thoughtfully reflect their place and time when they were created - like all Arthurian tales retold through the years have done (like Malory's did, and we count him, too). That's what's so nice about Arthurian legends - they are always retold. If somebody wants to watch the movie Camelot I always tell them to make sure they watch Excalibur first since the musical is so narrow in its focus that it rather takes the "legend" part of it all for granted. It's all there, but assumed or just hinted at. (Disney's version exists, too, so *it exists*, but I just HATE that one! LOL)
>Now, as for 'Celts', are you talking about ethnicity, religion, culture or language?
I was referring to Malory in Celtic Burgundy thinking about the Celts in Wales, and all that implies.
I don't remember offhand where I heard or read that Le Mont-Saint-Michel maybe inspired Malory's Camelot, and if it wasn't from a Michael Wood comment then it was somebody else. But I remember it from somewhere. It wasn't just voices in my head (I hope!!!)
Just Google: "holy grail pagan". There's pages of stuff. So other people have thought about it, too.
>It would be anachronistic to call Medea's cauldron a grail
Her cauldron is SO ungrail-like - if a person did that in story they would have a lot of explaining to do! You CAN call something a "grail", that is grail-like in many ways, in an ARTHURIAN fiction. You can suggest that the Christian story of it has been too narrow, for a story. Maybe not one you would write, but there are many ways to tell old stories - especially stuff as rich as Arthurian ones!
(My encyclopedia is: Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends by Ronan Coghlan)
Oops, I meant "Celtic Normandy"
Here is some of what is under "grail" in my encyclopedia (I just dug the book out of hidden piles, ugh):
(and now I have to type it out, ugh, LOL)
"...In its final forms, the Grail was the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, the dish on the table at that event, or (in Wolfram) a stone. F. Anderson has argued that the Grail was, in origin, the holy object of a nearly worldwide mystery cult which showed the Trinity symbolically. J.L. Weston thought it part of a pagan fertility rite, involving a story similar to that of Adonis. Certainly the idea of a sickly king and a corresponding sickly land seems to indicate some kind of fertility story but, while Miss Weston felt it must be of oriental provenance, it may be of Celtic origin. It was thought to serve people with food and this calls to mind the cauldron of plenty, which is found in Celtic mythology... (I'm skipping some here) ... the story of Arthur's expedition to Ireland to obtain a cauldron in Culhwich may be early forms of the story of a Grail quest. "
(And I WAS wrong to call it a "meal", yes indeed it means "dish" - I was thinking of the word "dish" wrong)
I will have to look up "Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by James MacKillop". Sounds marvelous! I may have checked it out from the library before but don't remember offhand...
On a different note, you've probably all come across this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/oct/09/jrr-tolkien-new-poem-king-arthur
This is due to be published in the next few months, but it may put some people off that, like his posthumous The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, it's a poem.
> 50 -- Actually, what pisses me off at Tolkein is that he was such a lousy poet. I was just getting ready to go to the woods, track down Tom Bombadil and kill him, when "the poet" hit me with
"Tra la la lally!
Come back to the valley!"
Luckily I kept my sanity long enough to get to the Long Lake and the Battle of the Lonely Mountain. Thorin Oakenshield saved Tolkein's poop as far as I'm concerned.
Well, that's a song lyric, not a poem per se. Another song lyric:
A merry note
While greasy Joan doth stir the pot
But you can't say Shakespeare was a lousy poet.
And Bombadil is supposed to be rather silly -- his story-songs were originally written for the Tolkien children.
Most of the lore poems in LOTR I like -- yeah, he's no Yeats, but still...
(and how did your Bombadil get into The Hobbit?)
Actually, I quite liked his poetic rendition in Modern English of the old sagas in The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, which simultaneously displayed his knowledge of the different versions of the tales and his respect for Northern poetic conventions and traditions. Must re-read it sometime, but without being distracted by Christopher Tolkien's copious notes and references.
I always felt, though, that it was a mistake to mix in the whimsy of the Tom Bombadil poems to LOTR, and rather dislike the supposedly extempore songs sung, for example, by the goblins in the mines in The Hobbit. In other contexts this kind of doggerel is fun and full of wit, whether in the collection The Adventures of Tom Bombadil or when it's compared to folksong and nursery rhymes. But for me it rather jars in the middle of the respective stories, though Tolkien may have had the literary genre of chantefable in mind as an exemplar, with its alternating mix of song and prose.
> 52 -- RE: how bombadil got into The Hobbit
I thought Bombadil WAS in The Hobbit. Forty years ago, I read The Hobbit and LOTR through -- twice -- and now, forty years later, you say I've got Bombadil misplaced. I won't argue with you because a) you could be right and b) I'm not about to go between the covers and reread all that slop in an attempt to prove you wrong. The point I was trying to make is that after forty years of reading other stuff, I've still got Tra la la lally! Come back to the valley! (That was the wood elves, I believe?) stuck in my head. In short: Tolkein was not only a BAD poet, he was a MEMORABLY, UNFORGETTABLY, LOUSY poet.
> Pendragon -- You've got your opinion and I've got mine, and I'll be pleased if you're honest enough to admit that I am among the very least of the many thousands of others who have noticed the fact that Tolkein was a lousy poet.
As a yarn-spinner, he led me through twelve or fourteen hundred pages of badly plotted fantasy before he wrote himself into a corner at Mt. Doom. If Gandalf could send eagles to rescue Sam and Frodo from the volcano, he could have sent eagles to carry them there in the first place -- thus bypassing all the elves and the assortment of bad-news boogers the hobbits had to elude in order to get to Mt. Doom on foot -- and let's not forget the fact that, had the old goat sent eagles to carry Sam and Frodo TO the mountain, all of the people and creatures who died in that awful war would have survived because the war would never have been fought.
I read the whole thing through -- twice -- forty years ago, when I was living in barracks. I lost the books or gave them away many long years ago. Today I live in a room full of hardcovers and Tolkein's works are not among them -- which is a situation I do not intend to remedy. I went to see the movies because I wanted to see what all those millions of dollars could do with the fantasy. I have to admit they were fantastically well-done but -- even so -- the tale is so badly flawed that not even Hollywood could fix it. The filmmakers get high marks from me for their skill with cameras and makeup, and for the fact that they eradicated all but one of the crappy poems.
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