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  1. I'm a day late, but we've arrived at Night 69! It really is quite a Night - no storms this time, but we finally turn to the time travel proper with the extended dream sequence related by Lowdham from Ælfwine the Anglo-Saxon's perspective. Tolkien has been building up a sense of mystery, and now takes the first steps towards an extended reveal (which alas! was never completed).

    There's quite a lot to discuss here, I think. For one thing, we have one of the clearest signs of Tolkien's interest, on some level, in things Irish with the poem about Saint Brendan. As much as Tolkien expressed dislike for the Irish language, I think Irish (both the language and literature) played an important role in his ideas about northwestern Europe.
    We've also got a return to Germanic with the long scene in Anglo-Saxon England (including a 'modernized' version of the poem Monath módes lust mid mereflódethat Lowdham had 'seen' in a more archaic dialect in Night 66). We then get a story within the flashback, taking us into the more obscure legendary days of the Lombards or Longobards (which have been foreshadowed a few times already in the NCP). This was obviously an important step for Tolkien in his road back in time, and King Sheave of the Longobards featured prominently in the earlier time travel story The Lost Road. It's interesting to think exactly what role Tolkien thought this had: was this supposed to be on a purely mythical level as a dim Germanic memory of the great Men from the Sea and the legacy of Númenor on Middle-earth? Or a more authentic history-myth, with Sheave sent from the True West? Or something else? What would Tolkien have done with that episode, if he'd continued further with the story?
    And of course, Lowdham and Jeremy's journey around has any number of fascinating details, from Land's End in Cornwall to the 'queer old fellow' in Ireland. Christopher Tolkien notes some of the intriguing details (like the Aran Isles, which take us back to matters Irish again), but there's a lot there still. And of course Lowdham and Jeremy's coordinated dreaming is rather interesting . . .
    But specifics aside, I feel like Tolkien was really hitting his stride right around this part of the NCP. The style is confident, and there's a palpable sense of adventure which has been well-built up over the previous Nights. The extensive discussions of frame and foreshadowing of specific elements (Brendan, Sheave, Númenor) make these natural progressions rather than bizarre and arcane splashes of ancient mythology. The energetic storytelling of this part makes the pretty abrupt end after this Night all that more jarring (we'll discuss the fragments and possibilities for the rest of the story next week).
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  2. I will admit that my knowledge of British and Irish geography was a bit challenged while reading Night 69, and so I turned to Google Maps to help me. From there it was a small thing to add the locations to a map that can be shared in case others find their geographical knowledge of the British Isles similarly challenged . . . Oxford I have only listed the Radcliffe Camera as the starting-point, but if there are other places missing (or if I have found the wrong place), you are very welcome to point it out and I will add them.

    More comments on the actual story of Night 69 to follow
    Last edited by Troelsfo; 10/Dec/2012 at 10:17 PM. Reason: Updating to new Plaza formatting
    Troels Forchhammer, physicist, Denmark
    The love of Faery is the love of love: a relationship toward all things, animate and inanimate, which includes love and respect ...

  3. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
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    Oct 2007

    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1" ="WebWizRTE">Thanks, Troels! And while we're dealing with places, just a word about the slightly-maligned Porlock, dismissed by Jeremy as "not very exciting" (and known to students of Eng. Lit. as the place from which the Person came who derailed Coleridge's vision of Xanadu). It is actually rather a pretty little place, on the edge of some very beautiful countryside. Some views:
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1" ="WebWizRTE">
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1" ="WebWizRTE">Unlike LotR, I don't really find Night 69 all that satisfactory as storytelling - in some ways it's a bit of a ragbag of rather disparate elements (Imram, King Sheaf / Sheave, Ireland, etc.) that shows the limitations of the "frame". However, the 'rags' are made from really excellent material, and among much elseemphasise the importance of the recurring vision of the great wave that bears the ship inland - a vision only hinted at in The Lord of The Rings, but that is found even after that work's publication, in Smith, where the great wave silentlycasts on shore the ship with its Elven warriors returning from the Dark Marches.
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1" ="WebWizRTE">
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1" ="WebWizRTE">I look forward to LotR's ideas of the Irish connections! Edited by: Dorwiniondil
    I am no longer young even in the reckoning of Men of the Ancient Houses.

  4. Some random thoughts and comments . . .

    One of the points about The Notion Club Papers that has been very obvious to me in this read-through is the fundamentally linguistic nature of the work. I suspect that this may have influenced my lack of attention in my first reading, when I had even less knowledge of the languages used (whether the Old and Middle English, Adunaic or Vallonian) than I have now (which is to say none at all). I strongly suspect that this would also have come between the story and any hope of publication in a form other than the present: no publisher would have considered this for publication (certainly not until the last half decade of Tolkien's life, when they would, of course, have been happy to publish anything from his hand).

    We have spoken recently of Tolkien's use of poetry in Chunks of Poetry in The Silmarillion and here we see Tolkien putting most of a chapter in poetry as the whole King Sheave text is of course in an alliterative meter (it seems to me to follow the same meter as Tolkien used for his Vólsunga lays), and I strongly suspect that LotR will tell me that it scans perfectly well— though for my own pleasure, I would have preferred he had skipped a number of the‘filler’ words (such as definite articles, conjunctions etc.): I like for each half-line to have only four syllables ...

    If we take, for instance, lines 40 - 43 (if you write out the text as an alliterative poem as it is in The Lost Road):
    The boat they hauled, / and on the beach moored it
    high above the breakers, / then with hands lifted
    from the bosom its burden. / The boy slumbered.
    According to my tastes, it would have more power if some of the small filler words were removed,
    Boat hauled they on beach moored it
    high over breakers, then hands lifted
    burden from bosom. The boy slumbered.
    I realize that this is just a matter of taste, but thought that I'd throw it in regardless Of course the decision to write it out as prose even if it is really poetry may have contributed to the decision not to cut the lines‘to the bones’ as I suppose it may not have worked quite as well if read as a prose text.

    Now, this makes me wonder when people actually see the alliterative meter? I think I read the first couple of lines without noticing, but then caught on at the line‘a ship came sailing, shining-timbered,’ though the alliterative pattern of the first line is also quite nice (the head-stave is ‘deep’ but there is an additional alliteration of‘yore’ and‘ocean’).
    I also went back to Christopher Tolkien's comments in The Lost Road about King Sheave and how he is related to other figures, which is very interesting even in the very condensed form that he often uses for the commentary on his father's writings.

    The Irish connections are intriguing, I agree, and I also look forward to more on those . . . (no pressure, of course . . . )
    Last edited by Troelsfo; 10/Dec/2012 at 10:16 PM. Reason: Updating to new Plaza formatting
    Troels Forchhammer, physicist, Denmark
    The love of Faery is the love of love: a relationship toward all things, animate and inanimate, which includes love and respect ...

  5. Having referred to our discussion of the use of poetry in The Silmarillion (and through that to Carl Phelpstead's excellent article in Tolkien Studies V, ‘“With chunks of poetry in between”: The Lord of the Rings and Saga Poetics’) ,I wanted to say something more about the use of poetry in night 69. Most of what follows will be either well known or quite obvious to those who have been carefully reading along, but I still think that it may be worth saying anyway

    The poems, or poetic interjections, of this chapter are (at least):
    1. The Death of St. Brendan(named). Rhyming couplets. I don't think there's a meter here?
    2. Hwæt! Éadweard cyning Ælfredes sunu’ (unnamed). Alliterative
    3. Monath módes lust mid mereflóde’ (unnamed). Alliterative
    4. Hwæt! wé on geádagum of Gársecge’ (unnamed). Alliterative
    5. King Sheave(named). Alliterative

    Of these, no 4 is of course ‘just’ the Old English (I think?) version of the first lines of no 5.

    One distinction is very important here — the first of these poems is presented as modern, a new creation by Phillip Frankley of the Notion Club, but of course here to further the story, while the others are presented as old, the underlying premise is, I would say, that the scene described actually did happen to Ælfwine and Tréowine, ancestors of Lowdham and Jeremy.

    When I started looking closer into The Death of St. Brendan, I realized how closely this poem relies on Tolkien's various versions of the story of the drowning of Númenor, The Fall of Númenor (at least three variants extant), The Drowning of Anadûne (at least four variants extant), and The Akallabêth (extant in three variants) — so much so, actually, that the poem must be only partially intelligible without knowledge of some of the conceptions introduced in this story: in the published version, Imran, how is the reader to understand what the poet means by stating
    ‘The Star? Why, I saw it high and far
    at the parting of the ways,
    a light on the edge of the Outer Night
    beyond the Door of Days,
    where the round world plunges steeply down,
    but on the old road goes,
    as an unseen bridge that on arches runs
    to coasts that no man knows.’
    Imram, lines 101-8
    In the poem St. Brendan refers to three things that he remembers from his voyages: a cloud, a tree and a star (lines 21-4).

    The cloud is, in the version in the text proper (Death), not given much emphasis and instead the mountain that appear out of the cloud seems to be the focus of lines 33-52. This is addressed in the Imram version, but I suspect that Tolkien's focus was actually on the mountain, which is surely the peak of the Meneltarma (as we have come to know it from the published Akallabêth), which is rumoured to have risen again as a lonely island in the western seas after the Downfall.

    The following section of the poem is, for me, the most difficult to decipher. St. Brendan and crew arrives at ‘a land at last with a silver strand’ (Death line 57) where ‘the waves were singing in pillared caves’ (Death line 59, Imram line 51 and in Deathpearls lay on the ground’ while in Imram, the waves were ‘grinding gems to sand’. Both of these images certainly recalls the Elven-strands of the Blessed Realm: recall how Eärendil was covered with the dust of gems as he walked through the deserted ways of Tirion. Following that the ship sails through a gate (recalling the gate to the harbour of Alqualondë that was made of living rock) into a hollow in the isle where grows a huge tree with white leaves. Here is where I get unsure how to interpret the poem: is this tree related to the other white trees of Tolkien's Arda (from Telperion over Nimloth to the White Tree of Gondor), or is it something else? The voices that sing at the end of this passage are surely Elves, but what island is this? The poem suggests that this island is still in the normal world (i.e. before reaching the old road bridge as mentioned above), but Tol Eressëa would surely be on the other side (or not at all). And what is the thing about the leaves falling when the men sing?

    The rest of the poem with its references to Eärendil's star (unnamed) and the Straight Road (here called the ‘old road’, Deathline 114, Imram line 106) are more straightforward.
    Overall the introduction of The Death of St. Brendan in the text serves several purposes. First it connects the whole field of the Irish imrama with his legendarium, suggesting a continuity of legends of the peoples coming to the western edge of Europe, created by, in Ramer's words (Night 65) ‘the emotional force generated all down the west rim of Europe by the men that came at last to the end, and looked on the Shoreless Sea, unharvested, untraversed, unplumbed!’ But in addition to tying this knot, the poem also serves to weaken the protestations of the hitherto sceptical Philip Frankley, and by taking the wind out of his sails, the whole opposition within the Notion Club is significantly weakened, leaving them open to consider actual mind-time-travel by dream as Lowdham and Jeremy — or perhaps I should call them Ælfwine and Tréowine — begin their story. The poem, or perhaps rather its style, also serves as an additional piece to the understanding of Frankley's personality: he is one who composes in this style.

    The remaining poetry is all presented as being Old English or translated from Old English, and is all in the alliterative style that Tolkien had mastered better than any (see also our discussion ‘A one-man twentieth century alliterative revival’). The first of these is situational — the skald greeting his Ring-giver, extemporising a situational verse — Phelpstead has more to say on this, explaining that ‘In Icelandic saga, particularly the Íslendingasögur, situational verses are typically represented as being extemporized by characters, implausible as this seems given the nature of skaldic verse.’ (p.29) and here we see Tolkien following this tradition. In the text of the chapter, both Ælfwine and Tréowine are presented as having some skaldic prowess, Ælfwine enough that the king asks him to speak.

    At the end of his first lines (greeting the king), Ælfwine's carefully memorized staves are forgotten, and he instead launches into the familiar poem (see night 66, where it is given in even older language) of the spirit seeking across the sea, leaving him somewhat confused. This is interesting in that it implies that the Anglo-Saxon Ælfwine is also feeling something of the pull that is drawing the modern Alwin to him, connecting them with each other and with (at least) the Númenórean Elendil.

    Ælfwine leaves the verse-making to his friend Tréowine, who then recites the story of King Sheave, of which we get the first six lines in Old English followed by the whole poem translated into modern English, but following the alliterative meter of the Old English poem. There is much to be said about this poem and its ties both to Tolkien's earlier Lost Roadand to various European legends, including our very own Scyld from whom the Scyldinga (Skjoldunger in Danish) of Leire were supposedly descended, but as that would merely be repeating what Christopher Tolkien has already expertly said in The Lost Road and Other Writings, I will refrain from that here One thing, however, still deserves to be said: that this poem serves to strengthen the ties mentioned above of Tolkien's Atalantë legend with the body of legends from the peoples of the western rim of Europe. At this point it is quite clear that Tolkien's Akallabêth / Atalantë is not in any way a part of a ‘mythology for England’ but has become something that might be a myth for all of the western edge of Europe.

    At the end of the poem, Ælfwine steps in again to finish the poem for his friend, which serves to show him as probably the superior skald of the two friends.
    Last edited by Troelsfo; 10/Dec/2012 at 10:09 PM. Reason: Updating to new Plaza formatting
    Troels Forchhammer, physicist, Denmark
    The love of Faery is the love of love: a relationship toward all things, animate and inanimate, which includes love and respect ...


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