Welcome, as ever, dear readers.
In my last, I was concerned about the hairy feet of hobbits
as described both in The Hobbit
“They…wear no shoes, because their feet grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly)…” The Hobbit, Chapter 1, “An Unexpected Party”)
and The Lord of the Rings
“…but they seldom wore shoes, since their feet had tough leather soles and were clad in a thick, curling hair, much like the hair on their heads, which was commonly brown…” (The Lord of the Rings, Prologue 1 “Concerning Hobbits”)
As, as far as I can currently determine, Tolkien never explained why he chose to give characters he saw as human—
“The Hobbits are, of course, really meant to be a branch of the specifically human race (not Elves or Dwarves)—hence the two kinds can dwell together (as at Bree), and are called just the Big Folk and the Little Folk.” (to Milton Waldman, “…not dated, but was probably written late in 1951”, Letters, 158)
appendages more fitting for werewolves,
all we can really do is theorize, as I did, but thinking of weird feet made me think about creatures from the work of JRRT’s long-time friend and friendly critic, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963),
(by the original illustrator, Pauline Baynes)
to be found in Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952).
They are probably my favorite characters in the novel, depicted as a kind of rustic committee, speaking something which would sounds like what in Britain is called “Mummershire”, based upon West Country dialects. (Here’s a short useful video so that you can hear what I mean—it’s what Sam in the Jackson movies has been coached to imitate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahznvtDunEw )
They first appear (although that’s not quite accurate as, initially, they’re invisible) after a number of the crew, including the junior member of the Pevensie family, Lucy, have come ashore on an unknown island–
“Almost as soon as they entered this path Lucy noticed that she had a little stone in her shoe. In that unknown place it might have been wiser for her to ask the others to wait while she took it out. But she didn’t; she just dropped quietly behind and sat down to take off her shoe. Her lace had got into a knot.
Before she had undone the knot the others were a fair distance ahead. By the time she had got the stone out and was putting the shoe on again she could no longer hear them. But almost at once she heard something else. It was not coming from the direction of the house.
What she heard was a thumping. It sounded as if dozens of strong workmen were hitting the ground as hard as they could with great wooden mallets.
And it was very quickly coming nearer. She was already sitting with her back to a tree, and as the tree was not one she could climb, there was really nothing to do but to sit dead still and press herself against the tree and hope she wouldn’t be seen.
Thump, thump, thump … and whatever it was must be very close now for she could feel the ground shaking. But she could see nothing. She thought the thing—or things—must be just behind her. But then there came a thump on the path right in front of her. She knew it was on the path not only by the sound but because she saw the sand scatter as if it had been struck a heavy blow. But she could see nothing that had struck it. Then all the thumping noises drew together about twenty feet away from her and suddenly ceased. Then came the Voice.
It was really very dreadful because she could still see nobody at all. The whole of that park-like country still looked as quiet and empty as it had looked when they first landed. Nevertheless, only a few feet away from her, a voice spoke. And what it said was:
‘Mates, now’s our chance.’
Instantly a whole chorus of other voices replied, ‘Hear him. Hear him. Now’s our chance, he said. Well done, Chief. You never said a truer word.’
‘What I say,’ continued the first voice, ‘is, get down to the shore between them and their boat, and let every mother’s son look to his weapons. Catch ’em when they try to put to sea.’
‘Eh, that’s the way,’ shouted all the other voices. ‘You never made a better plan, Chief. Keep it up, Chief. You couldn’t have a better plan than that.’
‘Lively, then, mates, lively,’ said the first voice. ‘Off we go.’
‘Right again, Chief,’ said the others. ‘Couldn’t have a better order. Just what we were going to say ourselves. Off we go.’
Immediately the thumping began again—very loud at first but soon fainter and fainter, till it died out in the direction of the sea.” (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter IX, “The Island of Voices”)
What in the world are these things and where is that thumping coming from?
It seems that these are the subjects of a rather philosophical wizard, whom he has enchanted into their present form to teach them to appreciate themselves and who, in ignorant rebellion, have used one of his spells to make themselves invisible. Lucy is recruited to reverse the spell, and, when she has done so–
“The things she pointed at were dotted all over the level grass. They were certainly very like mushrooms, but far too big—the stalks about three feet high and the umbrellas about the same length from edge to edge. When she looked carefully she noticed too that the stalks joined the umbrellas not in the middle but at one side which gave an unbalanced look to them. And there was something—a sort of little bundle—lying on the grass at the foot of each stalk. In fact the longer she gazed at them the less like mushrooms they appeared. The umbrella part was not really round as she had thought at first. It was longer than it was broad, and it widened at one end. There were a great many of them, fifty or more.
The clock struck three.
Instantly a most extraordinary thing happened. Each of the “mushrooms” suddenly turned upside-down. The little bundles which had lain at the bottom of the stalks were heads and bodies. The stalks themselves were legs. But not two legs to each body. Each body had a single thick leg right under it (not to one side like the leg of a one-legged man) and at the end of it, a single enormous foot—a broad-toed foot with the toes curling up a little so that it looked rather like a small canoe. She saw in a moment why they had looked like mushrooms. They had been lying flat on their backs each with its single leg straight up in the air and its enormous foot spread out above it. She learned afterwards that this was their ordinary way of resting; for the foot kept off both rain and sun and for a Monopod to lie under its own foot is almost as good as being in a tent.” (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter XI, “The Dufflepuds Made Happy”)
Lewis was a medievalist, with a strong grounding in Classical Studies, and a very well-read man, and, like classical and medieval authors, he was perfectly willing to borrow from older sources to tell his story. The most distant ancestor of the Dufflepuds would seem to be a reference—just a passing one—in Aristophanes’ comedy of 414BC, Birds, where the Chorus sings:
“Near the land of the Skiapodes
There is a marsh…” (Birds, 1553, my translation)
Skiapodes is a compound, from skia, “shadow/shade” and pous, “foot”(in the plural, podes, “feet”), and here we see that ancestral form of the umbrella-like appendage of the Dufflepuds. From there, we can trace the idea to the Natural History of Pliny the Elder (23-79AD), who writes of a certain tribe in India:
“…idem hominum genus, qui monocoli vocarentur, singulis cruribus, mirae pernicitatis ad saltum; eosdem sciapodas vocari, quod in maiore aestu humi iacentes resupini umbra se pedum protegant.”
“Likewise there is a race of men who are called “Onelegged”, with a single leg, with a leap of wonderful agility/speed. These same people are to be called “Shade/shadowfeet” because in rather great heat, lying on their backs on the ground, they cover/protect themselves with the shadow/shade of [their] feet.” (Naturalis Historia, Book VII, Chapter 2—my translation)
This interesting description is, in fact, older than Pliny’s work (which was nearly completed in 77AD, but left unfinished at its author’s death in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79), being based, as Pliny tells us, on the text of Indica, by the Ionian Greek physician, Ctesias, who lived and wrote in the early 4th century BC, thus making him a rough contemporary of Aristophanes (c.446-c.386BC).
Lewis could have read Pliny, but not Ctesias, of which only a summary survives in the 9th century anthologizer, Photius (c.810-893AD), and which doesn’t mention the Skiapodes, or he could have found a reference in a number of other, later sources, including everything from Augustine’s (354-430AD) Civitas Dei, Book XVI, Chapter 8, where Augustine appears to be using Pliny’s material but adds an extra detail—the Skiapodes’ leg doesn’t appear to bend at the knee (“…nec poplitem flectunt”…)–to the Etymologiae of Isadore of Seville (c.560-636AD) which, in Book XI, Chapter 3, Section 23, more or less simply echoes Pliny (although he emphasizes that the shade is provided because of the size of the Skiapodes’ feet (“pedem suorum magnitudine adumbrentur”).
And then there are the visual sources, from the Hereford Mappa Mundi of about 1300AD,
where you can spot this
at the top, just left of center,
(and if you want to know more about this marvelous chart, see this—old, but still interesting: https://archive.org/details/cu31924029955428 )
to the remarkable Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493.
(If you don’t know this work, see this intro: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_Chronicle )
In the previous posting, I expressed my puzzlement at Tolkien’s creation of those hairy, horny feet, where they came from (other than from George Macdonald’s goblins), and what they were doing in his work. For Lewis’ work, certainly we can see sources and, judging by their behavior, I can see that the Dufflepuds have at least two potential functions:
1. they suggest the foolishness of vanity (not only are they currently odd-looking, but they had earlier decided that they had once been handsome, and, changed by the wizard, they claimed to be so ashamed of their looks that they sought invisibility—only to want visibility back, once they’d felt the opposite).
2. they are there to lighten the mood—the Dawn Treader had just been attacked by a sea monster, which had strained and shaken all of the characters, and so this dim, countrified committee with its pretensions to good looks could provide a comedy which is certainly a form of relief before the story turns once more to the serious in the next chapter, “The Dark Island”.
Thanks, as ever, for reading.
Beware of loud thumps behind you,
And know that, as always, there’s
If you are a reader who lives in Canada, where copyright laws differ from those in the US, you can find a copy of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader for free at: https://www.fadedpage.com/books/201410B3/html.php Unfortunately, for copyright reasons, Pauline Baynes’ illustrations are not included. You can also see the 1989 BBC version of this part of the novel at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8LW9Zi6IFs )