Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Off to the Shire

If I don't answer email for a few days, it's because hobbits don't have internet access (I don't know this for a fact; I am only guessing).  

I'm off to speak at A Long-Expected Party in the Shaker Village outside of Lexington, KY.   I'll be talking about Tolkien's "mythology for England" (even though he never wrote those exact words) and reading Beowulf in Old English at a huge bonfire, among other things.  Should be fun.  

I anticipate a massive email backlog when I return, so don't think I am ignoring you (unless you were rude, and then I am), but ping me if I don't respond by Thursday afternoon. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

Poor Results at Emulating Tolkien's Style
(but it does show that the "Mythology for X" has moved a bit more deeply into the culture)

Today the WSJ has an editorial that begins:
Once upon a time, in the land that FDR built, there was the rule of “regulation” and all was right on Wall and Main Streets. Wise 27-year-old bank examiners looked down upon the banks and saw that they were sound. America’s Hobbits lived happily in homes financed by 30-year-mortgages that never left their local banker’s balance sheet, and nary a crisis did we have.
Then, lo, came the evil Reagan marching from Mordor with his horde of Orcs, short for “market fundamentalists.” Reagan’s apprentice, Gramm of Texas and later of McCain, unleashed the scourge of “deregulation,” and thus were “greed,” short-selling, securitization, McMansions, liar loans and other horrors loosed upon the world of men.

Now, however, comes Obama of Illinois, Schumer of New York and others in the fellowship of the Beltway to slay the Orcs and restore the rule of the regulator. So once more will the Hobbits be able to sleep peacefully in the shire.

With apologies to Tolkien, or at least Peter Jackson, something like this tale is now being sold to the American people to explain the financial panic of the past year.

Well, they really do have a lot to apologize for in that lede, mostly for butchering Tolkien's style so badly that it's not even recognizable except for the words Hobbits, Mordor and Orcs. It interests me how people do this so frequently. They recognize something different in the style, and they glom onto that, but they haven't been paying enough attention.

So here, WSJ, is how it should have been done (I make no comment on the actual content of the editorial. Not related to my purpose here):

Then all listened while X in his clear voice spoke of America, the land built by FDR, and of the Regulations of Power, and for time, peace and prosperity were on Wall and Main Streets. Wise where the regulators in those days, and young bank-examiners performed their duties well and bravely, seeing that their banks were sound. In those times the Hobbits lived quietly in the Shire in 30-year-mortgaged homes, and they meddled not at all in the balance sheets of their bankers, who were not troubled by the world outside.

But that time ended, and evil things began to stir again in the land or Mordor. And the shadow that arose was "Reagan," and his Orcs, and his "Market fundamentalists," spread across the lands. At the same time, Gramm of Texas, in flattery and imitation of the greater Reagan, began his "deregulation," a smaller shadow under his master's great shadow. “Greed,” was multiplying in the mountains, and short-sellers were abroad, now armed with securitization. And there were murmured hints of still worse creatures: McMansions, liar loans and other horrors.

I could go on, but it gets tedious, and I don't really agree either with the satire or with what the WSJ is satirizing. But my point is that it is possible to create a "Tolkienian" feel without immediately reaching for the "Lo!"

Now, because I'm a hopeless geek, I decided to see how many times Tolkien uses "Lo!" and in what situations. They are:

  1. FR: Galadriel shrinks back to regular elf woman after "All shall love me and despair." 
  2. TT: none
  3. RK: passing of the Grey Company -- this one seems unnecessary. They just go through a rock wall and there's a stream. 
  4. RK: sun on Théoden's shield -- appropriate, as the battle is taking the epic turn. 
  5. RK: Nazgûl's shadow blocks sun -- balance to previous example
  6. RK: Éowyn's fight with the Nazgûl -- if there's one place where you need a "Lo!", it's here. 
  7. RK: Théoden opens eyes when Merry thinks he's dead -- I don't think this one is necessary or that it works, though note part of epic scene
  8. RK:Éomer defies black ships -- works here. 
  9. RK: Denethor is holding a palantír -- don't think it's necessary to express the surprise. But does preserve the epic tone. 
  10. RK: In the retelling of the Passing of the Grey Company -- maybe, but I don't think it fitswith retell by Legolas and Gimli, though you could argue that they are influenced by the awe of Aragorn. 
  11. RK: When Aragorn seizes the black fleet -- appropriate for epic action, though again, this is in the indirect voices of Legolas and Gimli.
  12. RK: The Field of Cormallen, when the Minstrel sings the Song of Frodo. Utterly appropriate. 
  13. RK: When Aragorn finds the sapling of the white tree. 2 times.  Don't know if it needed both, but this is meant to be a moment where we get the Strider/Aragorn contrast, the feeling that he will not be able to be an epic king and the sign of the tree that shows he has been transformed that way. 
So, 1 example of "Lo!" in Fellowship, none in Two Towers, but 11 in RK. These are mostly in the "high epic" modes of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the events surrounding that, so the epic style is at work. If I (perish the thought) were Tolkien's editor, I would have suggested he drop the one with Theoden's eyes, the entering the cave in the Passing of the Grey Company, and probably the two in the re-telling by Legolas and Gimli. But the rest work really, really well (and the ones I object to probably work well for others).

But the larger point is that Tolkien would never (as you can see) use "Lo!" simply for the kind of background narration that happens in the Preface, The Shadow of the Past or The Council of Elrond. And that's the analogous style-situation that the WSJ writers are trying to conjure up.

Grade: C- . Needs closer study. Do the reading again and come see me in office hours. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Anglo-Saxon Aloud Greatest Hits: Now Available

The studio called today, and the CDs are finished. I will be able to start shipping them on Tuesday or perhaps sooner. If you would like a copy, you can order them by using this PayPal button. Cost is $30.00 USD ($25.00 for the CD and $5.00 for domestic US shipping)

Anglo-Saxon Aloud Greatest Hits is a 2-CD set that includes ten poems in Old English, their Modern English translations, and commentaries on each of them as well as an introductory lecture. The poems included are: Cædmon's Hymn, The Battle of Brunanburh, The Wanderer, The Ruin, The Wife's Lament, Wulf and Eadwacer, Deor, The Fortunes of Men, Riddle 47 ('Book-Moth') and The Dream of the Rood.

I will have copies with me at A Long-Expected Party in Kentucky next weekend. For listeners who don't use PayPal or who are overseas, email me at and we can make arrangements. You can also send me land mail at Prof. M. Drout, Wheaton College, 26 E. Main Street, Norton, MA 02766, USA. Thanks to all the listeners and readers who have given me so much encouragement. And if people like Anglo-Saxon Aloud Greatest Hits, I can maybe someday put together Anglo-Saxon Aloud: Unplugged.
Medieval History Job at Wheaton

Come here to Wheaton and be my colleague.

Our History department is starting a search for a medieval historian. This is the search that go put on hold last year due to health issues in the department (which have, thankfully, all turned out ok). It's a tenure-track job, teaching load of 5 courses per year (four the first year), fully funded junior leave (1 semester at full pay or 1 year at 1/2 pay), fully funded post-tenure sabbatical (same), good yearly research/travel budget and a clear path to tenure (the tenure line is for this particular job; it's not one of those situations where three people are hired for two lines).

Although the job ad (given below) lists a variety of areas, I know that they are in strong support of medieval (but they've left their options open, depending on which classical and late antique applications they come across), and they are particularly interested in Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Carolingian history.

Wheaton is a small, highly selective liberal arts college in Massachusetts, 30 minutes south of Boston and 25 minutes (or less) north of Providence, RI. We have about 1400 students and around 120 tenured/tenure-track faculty. Average class size is 15-19 students, though that can vary depending on the subject.

For Anglo-Saxonists, it may be encouraging to know that around 25-30 students regularly take Old English (though I've had as many as 40 in a semester) and 15 or so of those go on to do an advanced class in Beowulf, so there would be a reasonably sized body of students who could do work with primary texts in Old English. Our Latinist is Joel Relihan (translator of Boethius, among many other things), and our medieval Art Historian Evie Lane (of the Corpus Vitrearum project), so we have a good community of medievalists who work closely together on our "Connected" courses and regularly visit each other's classes.

Wheaton is also a very good place for collaboration across disciplines. The scientists and mathematicians are easy to work with and interested in pursuing complex, trans-disciplinary projects (including thus far those linking English, Biology, Math, Computer Science and, soon, Psychology). We're in the process of building a beautiful new Science Center, which should be done in 2011.

Wheaton departments are fiercely autonomous in matters of hiring (as they should be), so I won't be a part of the search formally. I will be constantly lobbying for a medievalist, though.

Medieval/Ancient World

The Department of History at Wheaton College (MA) seeks a tenure-track assistant professor with scholarly and teaching expertise in the fields of classical, late antique, and/or medieval history. The History Department is especially interested in social or cultural historians whose thematic expertise includes gender, popular religion, material culture, cross-cultural contact, or the history of science or the environment. Geographic field open; preference for Celtic world, northwestern Europe, or southeastern Europe. Ph.D must be in hand at time of appointment. Send letter of interest, CV, and three letters of reference by November 15, 2008 to Anni Baker, Chair, Department of History, Wheaton College, Norton, MA, 02766. Preliminary interviews will be conducted at the 2009 AHA annual meeting. AA/EOE. Wheaton College seeks educational excellence through diversity and strongly encourages applications from women and men from historically underrepresented groups. Wheaton offers a competitive benefits package, including benefits for domestic partners.

Monday, September 15, 2008


[update: possible communications failure, either on my part or on the part of the publisher. Hard copy MS arrived today, probably too soon to have only been sent when I emailed back saying I couldn't evaluate a >200-page MS in electronic form. So all is good and I will be able to evaluate something that looks interesting].

I know that the publishing industry is a difficult one right now, that academics are a pain in the butt to work with (for example, deadlines are absolute for students, only a suggestion for many academics), and that the economic climate is very bleak right now.

But, jeez. Ask someone to review a manuscript, which, if you do a good job, is at least ten hours of work for $100.00. That's ok. It's the going rate, and it's important to the field to review, so I pretty much always say 'yes.'

But then to send the MS as an email attachment? So, I'm either supposed to read 200 pages on screen, or I'm supposed to print the 200 page MS on my own dime and my own time? You've got to be kidding me.

It's not even the money; it's the rudeness.

(So now it's time to see how a nice passive-aggressive response works. I've written back saying, "I've received your various forms and guidelines. You can mail the MS to this address." If the editor then comes back with "I already sent the attachment," then I say, "Oh, I can't read 200 pages on screen." We'll see if the editor gets the point).

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Anglo-Saxon Aloud Greatest Hits

[UPDATE: As soon as I actually have the CDs in hand, I will link in the PayPal page for ordering as well as ways to order in other ways. I have to see what the final cost is on the whole business before I can set a price. I anticipate that this will be around September 23rd]

Well, that was fun.

I've been working for a while on:

Then, on Wednesday, I checked in with the studio about when they would need the final edited master CDs and the cover art if I needed my first press run before A Long-Expected Party. "Friday morning," was the answer. So I had a pretty sleepless Wednesday night and an exhausting, fifteen-hour Thursday. But everything is now done.

Anglo-Saxon Aloud: Greatest Hits is not just stuff pulled from Anglo-Saxon Aloud, but also what many emailers have asked for: poems not only in Old English, but in Modern English translation with short introductions. It is a 2-CD set, with almost exactly two hours of material. It took me so long because I had to write the translations and do notes for the introductions. Then, because my former student who did the graphic design for Beowulf Aloud has selfishly graduated, I had to do the cover art myself. Me and Photoshop: not a good match.

But it's done. And assuming all goes well, I'll have copies with me at A Long-Expected Party.
Contents: General Introduction. Cædmon's Hymn (all poems have an intro, Old English version and Modern English translation), The Battle of Brunanburh, The Wanderer, The Ruin, The Wife's Lament, Wulf and Eadwacer, Deor, The Fortunes of Men, Riddle 47 (Book-Moth), The Dream of the Rood.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Alaric Hall's Elves in Anglo-Saxon England

This is the first paragraph of my review of this excellent book for The Medieval Review. When the full text is up on their website, you should be able to find it here.

Hall, Alaric. Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief,
Health, Gender and Identity.
Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press,
2007. Pp. xi, 226. $80.00. ISBN: 1843832941, ISBN-13:

Reviewed by Michael D.C. Drout
Wheaton College

Despite its seemingly hyper-specialized title, Alaric Hall's Elves
in Anglo-Saxon England
is a book that should be read by all
medievalists. Hall's conclusions about his subject are significant,
but far more important is his methodological approach, which is a new
model for early medieval scholarship. His demonstration of the ways
that rock-solid philology can be combined with cross-cultural
historical scholarship, folkloristic analysis of later material and
some contemporary literary theory is far more deserving of the title
"New Philology" than any turn to manuscript studies and variants in
the 1980s ever was. Hall's exceedingly careful reconstruction of the
cultural categories in which ælf existed shows how comparative
philology can be extended to become comparative cultural studies. By
putting linguistic history into an anthropological framework and using
as comparanda folklore dating from as late as the seventeenth
century, Hall is able to recover information about medieval cultures
that would otherwise be lost forever. The genuine excitement of such
recovery and the technical precision with which it is done are both

Monday, September 01, 2008

"Fox" is a shade of pink?
Once more, philology illuminates language and culture

In Richard Fortey's Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, I learned that the plants we call fuschias are named after an early botanist, Professor Fuchs (and "Forsythia" is named after a Mr. Forsythe).

I thought it was interesting that what is now a color name as much as a plant name (I'll bet it is now used more frequently as a color name), was a personal name, and that that personal name meant "fox." So I did a little digging in my trusty copy of Onions and elsewhere.

Leonhart Fuchs was a professor of Medicine at the Tübingen University in the 16th century. In 1703 Charles Plumier named a plant after him, the Fuchsia (the "world's most carefully spelled flower").

In Modern German, Prof. Fuch's name means "fox." In Old High German, the word for fox is fuhs. In Old Saxon vuhs, Dutch vos, and in Old English, of course, fox, all implying a West Germanic ancestor, *fuxs.

There would then be a feminine form in common Germanic, such as Old English focge, Middle Low German vohe or Old High German foha (which according to Onions, appears in German dialect as fohe). Other related words, Old Norse fóa, Gothic fauho (final vowel is long), thus a Common Germanic ancestor of fux-, arising from *puk-. This is assumed to be the basis for Sanskrit púcchas, which means "tail."

There are parallels in Russian and Polish: pukh, meaning hair or down. Onions speculates that the origin of the word may be "the tailed one."

So, if you describe a dress as being "fuschia" (to use the American spelling), you are, through a long train, connected to a furry tailed animal that looks nothing like an exotic pink plant.

And there is another weird connection between foxes and plants. Digitalis, "foxglove" goes back to Old English, foxenglofa (second o is long) and there must somehow be a deeper connection between foxes and this particular plant, because in Norwegian revbjelde, "fox-bell" is the name for the same plant. So the "fox" is the common part: you can see how the flower can look like a glove, or look like a bell, but why associate it with the fox? I wonder.

No science is more romantic or inspiring as philology, and none better illuminates the mysteries of the past.

(Marcel, maybe we can translate that into 19th-Century German...)