Welcome, dear readers, as always.
My last posting employed a quotation from Tolkien, to be found in a letter to Prof. L.W. Forster from 31 December, 1960:
“The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme. They owe more to William Morris and his Huns and Romans, as in The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains. “ (Letters, 303)
And, in that previous posting, I had discussed what seemed to me to be some influences direct and indirect upon Tolkien’s work from the first of those two works, William Morris’ (1834-1896) 1889
The House of the Wolfings.
(And, as ever, here’s a copy for you: https://archive.org/details/cu31924013528124/page/n7/mode/2up This is an American reprint from 1892.)
In this posting, I want to examine that second book, also published in 1889, The Roots of the Mountains Wherein Is Told Somewhat of the Lives of the Men of Burg-dale Their Friends Their Neighbours Their Foemen and Their Fellows in Arms
(Here’s your copy: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/6050/6050-h/6050-h.htm –an 1896 reprint of the second edition )
After reading both this and Wolfings, I found myself a bit puzzled. Certainly I saw things which might have been influences, but really nothing struck me as related to the Dead Marshes and the Morannon. Instead, in Wolfings, there were names like “the Mark” and “Mirkwood” and some suggestions of Eowyn and Arwen and Galadriel to come, and this is the sort of thing which I discovered, as well, in Roots.
Here, we had “(the) Dale” (Chapter I) as well as:
“This was well-nigh encompassed by a wall of sheer cliffs; toward the East and the great mountains they drew together till they went near to meet, and left but a narrow path on either side of a stony stream that came rattling down into the Dale: toward the river at that end the hills lowered somewhat, though they still ended in sheer rocks; but up from it, and more especially on the north side, they swelled into great shoulders of land, then dipped a little, and rose again into the sides of huge fells clad with pine-woods, and cleft here and there by deep ghylls: thence again they rose higher and steeper, and ever higher till they drew dark and naked out of the woods to meet the snow-fields and ice-rivers of the high mountains. But that was far away from the pass by the little river into the valley; and the said river was no drain from the snow-fields white and thick with the grinding of the ice, but clear and bright were its waters that came from wells amidst the bare rocky heaths.
The upper end of the valley, where it first began to open out from the pass, was rugged and broken by rocks and ridges of water-borne stones, but presently it smoothed itself into mere grassy swellings and knolls, and at last into a fair and fertile plain swelling up into a green wave, as it were, against the rock-wall which encompassed it on all sides save where the river came gushing out of the strait pass at the east end, and where at the west end it poured itself out of the Dale toward the lowlands and the plain of the great river.” (Chapter I)
All of which reminded me of Rivendell—
And this, which seemed even closer to the description of that body of water which lay in front of the eastern gate of Moria:
Besides the river afore-mentioned, which men called the Weltering Water, there were other waters in the Dale. Near the eastern pass, entangled in the rocky ground was a deep tarn full of cold springs and about two acres in measure, and therefrom ran a stream which fell into the Weltering Water amidst the grassy knolls. Black seemed the waters of that tarn which on one side washed the rocks-wall of the Dale; ugly and aweful it seemed to men, and none knew what lay beneath its waters save black mis-shapen trouts that few cared to bring to net or angle: and it was called the Death-Tarn. (Chapter I)
There were details, too:
1. a reminiscence of The Hobbit, Chapter 18, “The Return Journey”, when Gandalf and Bilbo spent “Yule-tide” with Beorn:
“Natheless at Yule-tide also they feasted from house to house to be glad with the rest of Midwinter, and many a cup drank at those feasts to the memory of the fathers, and the days when the world was wider to them, and their banners fared far afield.” (Chapter I)
2. lots of grey-eyed people, like a major character “the Friend” (aka “Sun-beam”—Chapter VII)
3. a woman-warrior, “the Bride”, who seems, at first, reminiscent of Eowyn:
“But just as the Alderman was on the point of rising to declare the breaking-up of the Thing, there came a stir in the throng and it opened, and a warrior came forth into the innermost of the ring of men, arrayed in goodly glittering War-gear; clad in such wise that a tunicle of precious gold-wrought web covered the hauberk all but the sleeves thereof, and the hem of it beset with blue mountain-stones smote against the ankles and well-nigh touched the feet, shod with sandals gold-embroidered and gemmed. This warrior bore a goodly gilded helm on the head, and held in hand a spear with gold-garlanded shaft, and was girt with a sword whose hilts and scabbard both were adorned with gold and gems: beardless, smooth-cheeked, exceeding fair of face was the warrior, but pale and somewhat haggard-eyed: and those who were nearby beheld and wondered; for they saw that there was come the Bride arrayed for war and battle, as if she were a messenger from the House of the Gods, and the Burg that endureth for ever.” (Chapter XXVI)
She becomes more so when, cast off by the protagonist, “Gold-mane”, she fights, is wounded, and eventually marries a secondary protagonist, “Folk-might”, after a lingering and tentative courtship (Chapters XXXVI, XL, and L), like Eowyn and Faramir.
4. The image of a revealed banner appears:
“But before the hedge of steel stood the two tall men who held in their hands the war-tokens of the Battle-shaft and the War-spear, and betwixt them stood one who was indeed the tallest man of the whole assembly, who held the great staff of the hidden banner. And now he reached up his hand, and plucked at the yarn that bound it, which of set purpose was but feeble, and tore it off, and then shook the staff aloft with both hands, and shouted, and lo! the Banner of the Wolf with the Sun-burst behind him, glittering-bright, new-woven by the women of the kindred, ran out in the fresh wind, and flapped and rippled before His warriors there assembled.”
And this could be a foreshadowing of the banner which Arwen has woven for Aragorn:
“…For he saw that instead of a spear he bore a tall staff, as it were a standard, but it was close-furled in a black cloth bound about with many thongs…And with that he bade Halbarad unfurl the great standard which he had brought; and behold! It was black, and if there was any device upon it, it was hidden in the darkness.” (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 2, “The Passing of the Grey Company)
5. But, for me, the most striking single description was this:
“It was a bright spring afternoon in that clearing of the Wood, and they looked at the two dead men closely; and Gold-mane, who had been somewhat silent and moody till then, became merry and wordy; for he beheld the men and saw that they were utterly strange to him: they were short of stature, crooked-legged, long-armed, very strong for their size: with small blue eyes, snubbed-nosed, wide-mouthed, thin-lipped, very swarthy of skin, exceeding foul of favour.” (Chapter XV)
“In the twilight he saw a large black Orc, probably Ugluk, standing facing Grishnakh, a short crook-legged creature, very broad and with long arms that hung almost to the ground.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)
(A favorite Alan Lee)
So much for “Roots”, but I would also include a “Branch”.
Tolkien was very sensitive on the subject of language choice in The Lord of the Rings, defending himself at some length in the draft of an unsent letter to Hugh Brogan, September, 1955, when Brogan had apparently suggested in an earlier letter that the occasional archaizing seemed artificial to him:
“Of course, not being specially well read in modern English, and far more familiar with works in the ancient and ‘middle’ idioms, my own ear is to some extent affected; so that though I could easily recollect how a modern would put this or that, what comes easiest to mind or pen is not quite that. But take an example from that chapter that you specially singled out (and called terrible): Book iii, ‘The King of the Golden Hall’. ‘Nay, Gandalf!’ said the King. ‘You do not know your own skill in healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle, if it must be. Thus shall I sleep better.’… For a king who spoke in a modern style would not really think in such terms at all, and any reference to sleeping quietly in the grave would be a deliberate archaism of expression on his part (however worded) far more bogus than the actual ‘archaic’ English that I have used. (Letters, 225-6)
This has always struck me as a very reasonable defense, but I would add something more from Tolkien’s—and my—reading of Morris. As early as 1914, JRRT wrote to Edith Bratt:
“”Amongst other work I am trying to turn one of the stories [from the Finnish folk-collection of Elias Loennrot, the Kalevala]—which is a very great story and most tragic—into a short story somewhat on the lines of Morris’ romances with chunks of poetry in between…” (letter to Edith Bratt, October, 1914, Letters, 7)
These ‘Morris romances’ — novels like Wolfings and Roots, as well as his earlier work, like his translation of the Odyssey (1887)—had come in for serious criticism for their language choices. In fact, a expression which was used into the 20th century for such archaizing, “Wardour Street”, was invented specifically for criticizing Morris’ prose:
“This is not literary English of any date; this is Wardour-Street Early English—a perfectly modern article with a sham appearance of the real antique about it. There is a trade in early furniture as well as in Early English, and one of the well-known tricks of that trade is the production of artificial worm-holes in articles of modern manufacture.”
(Archibald Ballantyne “Wardour-Street English” Longman’s Magazine, LXXVII, Oct.1888, 585-594)
In the 19th century, Wardour Street, London, was the center of the used and antique furniture trade and so this term, in 1888, had punch: fake “Olde Englishe” language in a text was the equivalent of faking antique furniture: both created for the purpose of deceiving readers/buyers into believing that they were receiving something authentic (“authentick”).
Morris, just from the two novels I’ve cited in these postings, has had, perhaps, a stronger influence upon Tolkien than has been previously understood, but, for myself, I agree with this reviewer of The Roots of the Mountains about Morris and, with some adjustment in terms of his criticism of Morris’ prose for Tolkien’s , maybe it will serve for Tolkien, as well:
“Much dust has been raised, and it was practically impossible that some should not be raised, about the ‘Wardour Street’ style of The Roots of the Mountains…Now, Mr. William Morris’ Wardour Street is on the whole a very superior specimen of the article…There is less narrative verse (though there are songs, &c, and good ones), and since, good as Mr. Morris’ prose always is, it is less good than his verse, we lose something…The old merit of Mr. Morris’ work, both in prose and verse, its adjustment of literary and pictorial merit, appears throughout the book…”
( Unsigned, The Saturday Review, 12/14/89, 688)
Thanks, as ever, for reading,
Check your furniture for worm-holes,
And know that, as always, there’s
Ballantyne’s 1888 review disappeared into the back pages of literary history, but the term he had invented was carried into the 20th century by the once-commanding figure of H.W. Fowler, whose books on the English language were once gospel for correctness. Here’s where “Wardour Street” was kept alive:
“As Wardour Street itself offers to those who live in modern houses the opportunity of picking up an antique or two that will be conspicuous for good or ill among their surroundings, so this article offers to those who write modern English a selection of oddments calculated to establish (in the eyes of some readers) their claims to be persons of taste & writers of beautiful English.” (700)
H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 1926
(We should note, by the way, that the actual inventor isn’t mentioned here—I wonder what Fowler might have to say about “lack of proper citation”?)