As ever, dear readers, welcome.
Since Grima attempted to brain Gandalf with something he seems to have randomly picked up in Orthanc,
things have not gone well for Pippin. Tempted to examine the makeshift weapon, he has suffered an interrogation from Sauron
and now is flying south at great speed on Shadowfax with Gandalf as his companion.
(a drawing by Anna Kulisz)
As they ride, Pippin:
“…heard Gandalf singing softly to himself, murmuring brief snatches of rhyme in many tongues, as the miles ran under them. At last the wizard passed into a song of which the hobbit caught the words: a few lines came clear to his ears through the rushing of the wind:
‘Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree.’
‘What are you saying, Gandalf?’ asked Pippin.
‘I was just running over some of the Rhymes of Lore in my mind,’ answered the wizard. ‘Hobbits, I suppose, have forgotten them, even those that they ever knew.’
‘No, not all,’ said Pippin. ‘And we have many of our own, which wouldn’t interest you, perhaps.’ “
(The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 11, “The Palantir”)
It’s not only wizards and hobbits who have such lore, however. Treebeard
also has a stock, as we can see in his conversation with Merry and Pippin:
“ ‘What are you, I wonder? I cannot place you. You do not seem to come in the old lists that I learned when I was young. But that was a long, long time ago, and they may have made new lists. Let me see! Let me see! How did it go?
“Learn now the lore of Living Creatures!
First name the four, the free peoples:
Eldest of all, the elf-children;
Dwarf the delver, dark are his houses;
Ent, the earthborn, old as mountains;
Man the mortal, master of horses;”
Hm, hm, hm.
“Beaver the builder, buck the leaper,
Bear, bee-hunter, boar the fighter;
Hound is hungry, hare is fearful…”
“Eagle in eyrie, ox in pasture,
Hart horn-crowned; hawk is swiftest,
Swan the whitest, serpent coldest…”
Hoom, hm; hoom, hm, how did it go? Room tum, room tum, roomty toom tum. It was a long list.’ “
(The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”)
It’s interesting to note that both Gandalf and Treebeard’s lore is patterned in verse forms, Gandalf’s in a 6-line stanza of a/b/c/b/d/b and Treebeard’s, which has the suggestion of the common Old English four-stress, alliterative line which we see in poems like Beowulf.
Hwaet! We Gardena in geardagum
Theodcyninga thrym gefrunon…
Silence! We Spear-Danes in the so-long past time
Heard of the heroics of high kings of the people…
(My translation—not strictly accurate, but I want to give the feel of the form. For the original, as well as a more literal translation, please see one of my favorite Old English sites: https://heorot.dk/beowulf-rede-text.html For more on the form, see: http://oe.langeslag.org/docs/s01c_verse.pdf )
There’s a telling detail, by the way, in Treebeard’s “ Room tum, room tum, roomty toom tum”. If we emphasize certain syllables, we can see that he’s trying to stir his memory of the next lines by doing the stresses of the poem: ROOM tum ROOM tum ROOM-ty TOOM tum, as in DWARF the DEL-ver DARK are his HOUS-es .
Keeping things in your memory is an ancient concern in Western culture, going back to the Greco-Roman world, particularly for public speakers—politicians and lawyers–and the Greeks even had a goddess for memory, Mnemosyne (Mnay-MAH-sih-nee, in modern—American—English pronunciation).
There were various ingenious methods created both for remembering and for developing the memory, some of them quite elaborate, such as that cited in our earliest-surviving Latin rhetorical text, the anonymous Rhetorica ad Herennium (c.80BC), in which the author explains a complex association system based upon loci, “places” and imagines, “figures/images”.
(Here’s the Latin with an English translation, if you’d like to learn more: https://archive.org/details/adcherenniumdera00capluoft You’ll want to turn to Book III, Section XVI and beyond, beginning on page 205.)
As well, just as appears to be the case in Middle-earth, the use of rhythm and/or rhyme is common in Western wisdom literature, even for remembering the most basic things. In English, for example, with what can sometimes seem like a completely arbitrary spelling system, how do we remember which comes first, I or E in a word?
“I before E,
except after C—
Or, when sounded like AY,
As in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh’.
Or the Julio-Gregorian calendar—which months have how many days?
“Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November.”
This, unfortunately, leaves out 28-day February, with its extra day, every four years, and so there is a little more:
“All the rest have thirty-one
Save February at twenty-eight,
But leap year, coming once in four,
February then has one day more.”
This starts out with a bounce, but stumbles, doesn’t it, at “Save February at twenty-eight”? Perhaps if we rewrote it as something like
“Thirty-one the rest—but wait—
Except in leap year—one in four—
And then that month has one day more.”
(For an article which covers a good deal of ground on the subject of this little useful rhyme see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Days_Hath_September
Mnemosyne was said to have been seduced by Zeus, who appeared to her disguised as a shepherd.
He slept with her over nine days and the fruit of that seduction was the 9 Muses,
who inspired all of the arts, which, although they require creativity to bring into being, also require their mother’s gift of memory to retain what is created. Several goddesses are involved in the creation of poetry—Calliope,
so I wonder who may have inspired Merry and Pippin to suggest adding to Treebeard’s lore:
“ ‘We always seem to have got left out of the old lists, and the old stories,’ said Merry. ‘Yet we’ve been about for quite a long time. We’re hobbits.’
‘Why not make a new line?’ said Pippin.
Half-grown hobbits, the hole-dwellers.
Put us in amongst the four, next to Man (the Big People) and you’ve got it.’ “
As always, thanks for reading.
Keep your thoughts in order,
And know that there will always be