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THE WRITE GAME – THE FORGE

Indeed. It has been a  seminal influence on my fictional writings, but not just upon my writings. It also greatly influenced many other things I did or am still doing in life, everything from detective work to my inventions.

I also learned a great deal about things like map-reading and ambush setting by playing D&D.

 

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The playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is one of many authors to have gleaned skills from Dungeons & Dragons, now 40 years old. CreditÁngel Franco/The New York Times

When he was an immigrant boy growing up in New Jersey, the writer Junot Díaz said he felt marginalized. But that feeling was dispelled somewhat in 1981 when he was in sixth grade. He and his buddies, adventuring pals with roots in distant realms — Egypt, Ireland, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — became “totally sucked in,” he said, by a “completely radical concept: role-playing,” in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.

Playing D&D and spinning tales of heroic quests, “we welfare kids could travel,” Mr. Díaz, 45, said in an email interview, “have adventures, succeed, be powerful, triumph, fail and be in ways that would have been impossible in the larger real world.”

“For nerds like us, D&D hit like an extra horizon,” he added. The game functioned as “a sort of storytelling apprenticeship.”

Now the much-played and much-mocked Dungeons & Dragons, the first commercially available role-playing game, has turned 40. In D&D players gather around a table, not a video screen. Together they use low-tech tools like hand-drawn maps and miniature figurines to tell stories of brave and cunning protagonists such as elfish wizards and dwarfish warriors who explore dungeons and battle orcs, trolls and mind flayers. Sacks of dice and vast rule books determine the outcome of the game’s ongoing, free-form story.

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Dungeons & Dragons has influenced a shelf full of writers. CreditEthan Gilsdorf

For certain writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives. As Mr. Díaz said, “It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.”

The league of ex-gamer writers also includes the “weird fiction” authorChina Miéville (“The City & the City”); Brent Hartinger (author of “Geography Club,” a novel about gay and bisexual teenagers); the sci-fi and young adult author Cory Doctorow; the poet and fiction writer Sherman Alexie; the comedian Stephen Colbert; George R. R. Martin, author of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (who still enjoys role-playing games). Others who have been influenced are television and film storytellers and entertainers like Robin Williams, Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”), Dan Harmon (“Community”) and Chris Weitz (“American Pie”).

With the release of the rebooted Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set on Tuesday, and more advanced D&D rule books throughout the summer, another generation of once-and-future wordsmiths may find inspiration in the scribbled dungeon map and the secret behind Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

Mr. Díaz, who teaches writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his first novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” was written “in honor of my gaming years.” Oscar, its protagonist, is “a role-playing-game fanatic.” Wanting to become the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien, he cranks out “10, 15, 20 pages a day” of fantasy-inspired fiction.

Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.”

And, he said, he was typically his group’s Dungeon Master, the game’s quasi-narrator, rules referee and fate giver.

The Dungeon Master must create a believable world with a back story, adventures the players might encounter and options for plot twists. That requires skills as varied as a theater director, researcher and psychologist — all traits integral to writing. (Mr. Díaz said his boyhood gaming group was “more like an improv group with some dice.”)

Sharyn McCrumb, 66, who writes the Ballad Novels series set in Appalachia, was similarly influenced, and in her comic novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun” D&D even helps solve a murder.

“I always, always wanted to be the Dungeon Master because that’s where the creativity lies — in thinking up places, characters and situations,” Ms. McCrumb said. “If done well, a game can be a novel in itself.”

What makes a D&D story different from novels and other narratives is its improvisational and responsive nature. Plotlines are decided as a group. As a D&D player, “you have to convince other players that your version of the story is interesting and valid,” said Jennifer Grouling, an assistant professor of English at Ball State University who studied D&D players for her book, “The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games.”

If a Dungeon Master creates “a boring world with an uninteresting plot,” she said, players can go in a completely different direction; likewise, the referee can veto the action of player. “I think D&D can help build the skills to work collaboratively and to write collaboratively,” she added. (Mr. Díaz called this the “social collaborative component” of D&D.)

Ms. Grouling also cited “a sense of control over stories” as a primary reason people like role-playing games. “D&D is completely in the imagination and the rules are flexible — you don’t have the same limitations” of fiction, or even of a programmed video game, she said. A novel is ultimately a finished thing, written, edited and published, its story set in stone. In D&D, the plot is always fluid; anything can happen.

The playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, 44, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” said D&D “harkens back to an incredibly primitive mode of storytelling,” one that was both “immersive and interactive.” The Dungeon Master resembles “the tribal storyteller who gathers everyone around the fire to tell stories about heroes and gods and monsters,” he said. “It’s a live, communal event, where anything can happen in the moment.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire said planning D&D adventures was “some of the very first writing that I did.” And the game taught him not just about plot but also about character development.

Playing D&D has also benefited nonfiction writers. “Serving as Dungeon Master helped me develop a knack for taking the existing elements laid out by the game and weaving them into a coherent narrative,” said Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic and author of “My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind.” “And yet you were constrained by the rules of the D&D universe, which in journalism translates into being constrained by the available, knowable facts.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire agreed that fictional worlds need rules. “For a story to be satisfying, an audience needs to understand how the world works,” he said. “ ‘The Hunger Games’ is a perfect example of: ‘O.K., these are the rules of this world, now go! Go play in that world.’ ”

Over and over again, Ms. Grouling said, tabletop role players in her survey compared their gaming experience to “starring in their own movies or writing their own novels.”

As for Mr. Díaz, “Once girls entered the equation in a serious way,” he said, “gaming went right out the window.” But he said he still misses D&D’s arcane pleasures and feels its legacy is still with him: “I’m not sure I would have been able to transition from reader to writer so easily if it had not been for gaming.”

THE WORM OUROBOROS

I have been re-reading the Worm Ouroboros by ER Eddison lately and have found it to be immensely entertaining, stimulating to my imagination, and very useful for my own writings.

THE SUNKEN CAER SIDI OF LYONESSE

The Lost Land of Lyonesse – Legendary City on the Bottom of the Sea

The Lost Land of Lyonesse – Legendary City on the Bottom of the Sea

In Arthurian legend, Lyonesse is the home country of Tristan, from the legendary story of Tristan and Iseult.  The mythical land of Lyonesse is now referred to as the “Lost Land of Lyonesse,” as it is ultimately said to have sunk into the sea. However, the legendary tale of Tristan and Iseult shows that Lyonesse is known for more than sinking into the ocean, and that it had a legendary presence while it remained above ground. While Lyonesse is mostly referred to in stories of legend and myth, there is some belief that it represents a very real city that sunk into the sea many years ago. With such a legendary location, it can be difficult to ascertain where the legend ends and reality begins.
The story of Lyonesse most logically begins with Tristan and Iseult. The story of Tristan and Iseult is a tragic story of love and loss. It is an Arthurian tale, inspired by Celtic legend. It is said that the story was possibly the inspiration for the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere, as both stories push the boundaries of love, family, loyalty, adultery, and betrayal. While the story of Tristan and Iseult can vary based upon who is telling it, the plot follows a common theme. Tristan, a young boy from Lyonesse who has been orphaned, it taken in by his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, which borders Lyonesse.
Tristan and Iseult. The End of the Song by Edmund Leighton
Tristan and Iseult. ‘The End of the Song’ by Edmund Leighton, 1902 (Wikimedia Commons)
As the years pass by, Tristan is very loyal to his uncle, as he raised him as his own son. When Tristan is grown, Mark sends him to Ireland to retrieve the fair maiden Iseult and bring her to Cornwall, as she and King Mark are set to marry. Tristan loyally follows his uncle’s orders, and journeys to Ireland.  On the return trip from Ireland, however, the pair are exposed to a love potion and fall madly in love with one another. Iseult eventually arrives in Cornwall and marries King Mark, but the love potion is very powerful, and Tristan and Iseult cannot deny their love for one another. Tristan and Iseult both love King Mark, but their love for one another is stronger. Eventually the pair is discovered and King Mark is devastated. While Tristan should be sent immediately to the gallows for adultery, King Mark harbors an affection for him, as his nephew. King Mark agrees to forgive Tristan, on the condition that Tristan return Iseult to him. Tristan does so, and he and King Mark make amends.
Iseult with King Mark, Edward Burne-Jones
Iseult with King Mark, Edward Burne-Jones, 19th Century (Wikimedia Commons)
In most variations, the sinking of Lyonesse occurs well after the stories of Tristan, Iseult, and King Mark take place. The sinking itself is not mentioned in Arthurian legend, although some say that Lyonesse sunk when Tristan left for King Mark’s court.  In Lord Tennyson’s epic Idylls of the King, Lyonesse is the location where Arthur and Mordred fought their final battle. One passage foreshadows Lyonesse’s sinking:

Then rose the King and moved his host by night
And ever pushed Sir Mordred, league by league,
Back to the sunset bound of Lyonesse –
A land of old upheaven from the abyss
By fire, to sink into the abyss again;
Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwelt,
And the long mountains ended in a coast
Of ever-shifting sand, and far away
The phantom circle of a moaning sea.

There are some variations in the legends that surround the sinking of the land. Prior to its sinking, Lyonesse would have been quite large, containing one hundred and forty villages and churches. Lyonesse is said to have disappeared on November 11, 1099 (although some tales use the year 1089, and some date back to the 6th century). Very suddenly the land was flooded by the sea. Entire village were swallowed, and the people and animals of the area drowned. Once it was covered in water, the land never reemerged. While the Arthurian tales are legendary, there is some belief that Lyonesse was once a very real place attached to the Scilly Isles in Cornwall, England. Evidence shows that sea levels were considerably lower in the past, so it is very possible that an area that once contained a human settlement above-ground is now beneath the sea level.
Scilly Isles
Some believe that Lyonesse was a real place attached to the Scilly Isles (pictured). Source: BigStockPhoto
It is said that all that remains of Lyonesse is today’s still-standing island of Scilly. Fisherman near the Scilly Isles tell tales of retrieving pieces of buildings and other structures from their fishing nets. These stories have never been substantiated, and are viewed by some as tall tales. They also say they can see remnants of a forest when the sea is at low tide. On a more ghostly and spiritual level, some claim to hear the church bells of Lyonesse ringing during stormy times. As the legends of Lyonesse continue in today’s story-telling, it also remains a part of modern English literature. In 1922, Walter de la Mare wrote:

In sea-cold Lyonesse,
When the Sabbath eve shafts down
On the roofs, walls, belfries
Of the foundered town,
The Nereids pluck their lyres
Where the green translucency beats,
And with motionless eyes at gaze
Make ministrely in the streets./
And the ocean water stirs
In salt-worn casement and porch
Plies the blunt-nosed fish
With fire in his skull for torch.
And the ringing wires resound;
And the unearthly lovely weep,
In lament of the music they make
In the sullen courts of sleep:
Whose marble flowers bloom for aye:
And – lapped by the moon-guiled tide
Mock their carver with heart of stone,
Caged in his stone-ribbed side.

It is no surprise that the story of the sinking city of Lyonesse has come forth with many variations throughout the years. The image of a large, functioning city inhabited by thousands of people suddenly sinking into the sea, never to emerge again invokes an image that is both awesome and horrifying. From the legendary tales of Tristan and Iseult, to Arthur’s final battle with Mordred, to the stories of a city being swallowed by the sea, the tales of Lyonesse invoke a vast array of thoughts and emotions by those who wish to know more about this legendary city, and who like to believe that it’s legendary tales are founded upon a very real lost city.
Featured image: Artist’s depiction of Lyonesse being swept away (AnnoyzView)
Sources:
The Legend of Lyonesse – Lyonesse Falmouth. Available from: http://www.lyonessefalmouth.co.uk/legends/legends.html
Lyonesse – Wikipedia. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyonesse
The Land of Arthur: Lyonesse – King Arthur’s Knights. Available from: http://www.kingarthursknights.com/theland/lyonesse.asp
Lyonesse – Princeton. Available from: https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Lyonesse.html
Lyonesse, the lost land off Cornwall – Legend of King Arthur. Available from: http://www.legendofkingarthur.co.uk/cornwall/lyonesse.htm
Tristan and Iseult – Wikipedia. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tristan_and_Iseult
By M R Reese

SAMARKAND: THE CITY OF SAMARL

Continuing on with the myth of Terra-Ghanae (or Earth-Iÿarlðma).

Below is described the Capital (political, military, and spiritual) City of the Realm of Kitharia, and one of the main cities of the Sidh. In addition it is the home of the Samarls, the de-facto rulers of the Sidh and a major influence upon the other Eldeven races.

Samarkand (The City of Samarl): The city of Samarkand sits in exactly the same geographic point as the city of Samarkand on our world, but resides in Ghanae (properly called Iÿarlðma by the Eldevens). Both cities also share the same name. However all similarities end there. Samarkand was designed by the Sidelh but was built by the Adharma. Both races share a similar view of architecture in that they encapsulate information in material objects. Books or written materials are rare among the Sidelh and completely absent among the Adharma. The giants instead are excellent masters of mnemonics, and therefore pass history thousands of years old down orally with very little variation or embellishment between transmissions. They also weave information into every building, statue, column, piece of furniture and art, and physical device they create. The entire city then is one huge library of historical, arcane, and mythological information if one knows how to read the text.

Samarkand is the capital city of Kitharia, the most populous and powerful nation known among the Eldeven peoples. Since the Sidelh are slow to reproduce they have invited many other races of Eldevens to dwell in their city and the Sidelh are actually often outnumbered by the non-Sidelh living there. Nevertheless the non-Sidelh are often granted citizenship after a time, as are their families, and so often easily integrate into Kitharian society, to become stout defenders and loyal citizens of their adopted homeland.

The ruler of the Samarkand, and by extension Kitharia, is the individual known as the Samareül. He is elected by a secret group of individuals and once elected he takes no public name other than his title of Samareül, which means Priest-King. The Samareül is elected for life, and is rarely deposed. The Samareül is the supreme judge, most influential political leader and chief priest of Kitharia, being considered the living representative of Samarl, or God. Strangely enough however the Kitharians and most Eldevens for that matter have no formal religion or religious beliefs, and most seek no relationship with God at all. Instead the relationship between Samarl and the Eldevens is considered the de-facto representative relationship and chief obligation of the Samareül.

(The current Samareül is looking to change this state of affairs wishing to make a religious and spiritual relationship among the Kitharians and eventually all Eldevens to be a matter of personal relation between the individual and Samarl. This has led to strained cultural, societal, political, and in some cases racial [such as between the Sidelh and the Lorahn] relationships among some parties, and to the establishment of a strange interlinked alliance between the courts of Samarkand and Constantinople on religious and spiritual matters. I’ll discuss this in more detail in a later posting.)

The city is dominated by an acropolis into which is carved (in the fashion of the Adharma who carve their homes into mountainsides) the Palace and administrative houses of the Samareül. The acropolis is also said to contain numerous secret passages into which the Samareül and his officials keep stored many ancient and secret artifacts and devices, including weird machines which are said to be able to peer into other worlds and through time. This acropolis is called the Jlæthÿlîrel. There is also a rumor that the passages themselves have created a sort of scrying channel and that the channels may be decorated with glyphs of unknown design. This acropolis is sometimes called the onŵl-Samarkando, or, Helm of Samarkand.

The city also has numerous districts in which various Eldeven races mix rather freely, but it also has segregated districts. These are most evident between the Sidelh, and the small enclave of Adharma (who rarely take citizenship) who prefer to live there for periods of time as trusted resident aliens. Politically the situation is stable at most times, except during periods of war. There is a large public gathering area called the Msýthariørl where public elections, entertainments, athletic events, public rites, demonstrations of arcane force and skill, and debated counsels are held. It can hold nearly one-half of the entire population of the city at any given time.

There are also a number of industrial and manufacturing districts to produce and market goods, the Eldarik Houses, the Armories and Internal Towers, the Plarshoel (or, Walking Houses – the giants built the city so that certain buildings can move around the city on tracks, allowing the city to be reconfigured for both ease of trade and transport, and for periods of war and self-defense – unknown to most the city walls can likewise move allowing them to be “interlocked” in various defensive configurations as needed), the sa-Elturaere (the Temple for the study and practice of Elturgy and Elturael – Arcane magic), various markets and domestic areas, the Jmyatŗ Skella (the Crafting District), the Tĕna (Quarters of the Peace Officers), the Nhil (the Warband Quarterings), and the newly created Praşklyřt (the Hall of Investigation – to study and counteract the creation of monsters, discussed later).

As mentioned above the entire city is also a sort of architectural library. However many believe that actual Elturgy was used by the Sidelh to recast the work of the giants so that a secret code now also lies hidden within the structure of the city foundations. To what purpose no-one is really sure.

The River Qira runs through the city (including partially underground) and the river Qala now runs completely around the city in a near perfect circular moat, and then runs away through artificial channels so that the river approaches the city from the East and leaves by routes facing due West, South, and North.

The city is composed of seven plateaus, or levels, the highest being the Jlæthÿlîrel, and the lowest section being an underground area of hot springs and baths called the Myņil.

 

THE MYTHICAL SILK ROAD CEMETARY

I love the Silk Road. I’ve been studying it since college and I once did a major paper on Buddhist missionary efforts Westward and Christian missionary efforts Eastwards along the Silk Road.

Superb discovery.

1,700-Year-Old Silk Road Cemetery Contains Mythical Carvings

by Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor | November 24, 2014 07:40am ET

An ancient cemetery – silk road


[Pin It] A cemetery dating back around 1,700 years has been discovered in Kucha, a city in China. The city played an important role along the Silk Road trade routes that connected China to the Roman Empire. Archaeologists have uncovered 10 tombs in the cemetery, seven of which are large structures made with bricks. This image shows part of the cemetery facing north.
Credit: Chinese Cultural Relics

A cemetery dating back roughly 1,700 years has been discovered along part of the Silk Road, a series of ancient trade routes that once connected China to the Roman Empire.

The cemetery was found in the city of Kucha, which is located in present-day northwest China. Ten tombs were excavated, seven of which turned out to be large brick structures.

One tomb, dubbed “M3,” contained carvings of several mythical creatures, including four that represent different seasons and parts of the heavens: the White Tiger of the West, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the Black Turtle of the North and the Azure Dragon of the East. [See photos of the ancient Silk Road cemetery]

The M3 tomb also “consists of a burial mound, ramp, sealed gate, tomb entrance, screen walls, passage, burial chamber and side chamber” the researchers wrote in a report published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

The cemetery was first found in July 2007 and was excavated by the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, with assistance from local authorities. The research team, led by Zhiyong Yu, director of the Xinjiang Archaeological Institute, published the findings in Chinese in the journal Wenwu. The article was recently translated into English and published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

Who was buried here?

The identity of the people buried in the cemetery is a mystery. The cemetery had been robbed in the past and no writing was found that indicates the names of those buried or their positions in life.

The seven large brick tombs were likely constructed for people of wealth, the researchers said.

But, when the skeletal remains were analyzed, the researchers found that the tombs had been reused multiple times. Some of the tombs contain more than 10 occupants, and the “repeated multiple burials warrant further study,” the researchers wrote.

City on the Silk Road

The excavators think the cemetery dates back around 1,700 years, to a time when Kucha was vital to controlling the Western Frontiers (Xiyu) of China. Since the Silk Road trade routes passed through the Western Frontiers, control of this key region was important to China’s rulers.

“In ancient times, Kucha was called Qiuci in Chinese literature. It was a powerful city-state in the oasis of the Western Frontiers” the researchers wrote.

For the dynasties that flourished in China around 1,700 years ago “the conquest and effective governance of Kucha would enable them to control all the oasis city-states in the Western Frontiers,” the researchers said.

In fact, one ancient saying was, “if you have Kucha, only one percent of the states in the Western Frontiers remain unsubmissive.”

Chinese Cultural Relics is a new journal that translates Chinese-language articles, originally published in the journal Wenwu, into English. The discovery of the 1,700-year-old cemetery was included in its inaugural issue.

Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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SIGURD, ROLAND, THE PRINCES OF IRELAND, AND THE ICELANDIC SAGAS

I’ve been sick the past couple of days. Caught my wife’s cold. Didn’t sleep at all last night. Slept a little today.

On the upside of all of that I’ve been able to start my October Reading early.

I have four books in particular that I began last night and that I’m really looking forward to reading up until Halloween.

Sigurd and Gudrun – Tolkien’s retelling of the Volsungs. Seigfried was one of the first three books I ever checked out and read from the library on my own (in 2nd or 3rd grade), and I not long ago finished Tolkien’s alliterative rendering of The Fall of Arthur. Which was absolutely fantastic and has rekindled my interest in alliterative poetry. So I’m really looking forward to this. The magical sword Gram was the basis of the magical sword in my own writings, Wrothcholire.

Chanson de Roland – The Song of Roland (about Roland and the Paladins of Charlemagne) was the second book I ever checked out of the library to read on my own. I haven’t re-read it in years but I got a superb English Medieval Library copy of the work and look forward to it greatly. Roland’s sword Durandal also had a big effect on me (as did the Oliphant) while I was growing up and I also incorporated many of its properties into Wrothcholire.

The Princes of Ireland – This is historical fiction (a genre I greatly enjoy reading) and I have heard many very good things about the author, Edward Rutherfurd. I hope he is as good in his own way as Patrick O’Brian was with the Jack Aubrey books.

The Sagas of the Icelanders – I have recently been enjoying Mike Drout’s excellent lecture series on The Norsemen. When he got to the sections on the Vikings and the Poet Serial Killers it made me want to re-read the Icelandic Sagas. So I got a good copy that is a mix of the various types of Sagas. I haven’t started it yet but will tomorrow. I haven’t read the Icelandic Sagas since college. I’m interested to see what I will notice now I did not notice when I was a young kid at college.

Well, I suspect that my fiction and literature reading for October will be excellent indeed.

Good night

THE SHADOW…

I think that there is actually something to be said for this observation. I have recently been studying the historical sources upon which Tolkien built Middle Earth. Tolkien was meticulous about most sources, some he greatly modified, and a few he dismissed altogether as irrelevant (though they weren’t).

But I do not think that Tolkien would have been pleased, and I certainly am not, at those who followed and how sloppily they drew upon history or changed it into fantasy altogether. Whereas Tolkien wanted fantasy that was realistic and historical as well as fantastic and mythological far too much of modern culture is built upon the opposite premise (to the detriment of modern culture): that fantasy and fiction and myth should somehow inform or even replace history.

That completely misreads fantasy, entirely disregards the whole point of good fiction and totally misunderstands myth.

Shivering in Tolkien’s shadow

Middle Earth has swallowed up our understanding of the Middle Ages

by Josephine Livingstone / July 17, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine

There’s a drawing of a smug-faced dragon on the front cover of JRR Tolkien’s newly-published translation of “Beowulf.” Its green, scaly body loops and knots into a pretzel-esque shape that medieval historians call the “interlace” pattern. You might recognise these loops from Swedish runestones, crumbling Anglo-Saxon crosses or bad tattoos.

The drawing of the dragon, however, is not actually medieval—early medieval dragons’ snouts are usually rounded, not pointy. As the copyright page explains, it is a drawing by Tolkien himself. The very dust-jacket of this new book sums up why an 88-year-old translation of an extremely old poem will sell. We don’t want to read medieval poetry, but we do want to read JRR Tolkien. “Beowulf” is only about 3,000 lines long, but it is here fatly supplemented both by Tolkien’s commentary essays and two of his works of fan-fiction, “Sellic Spell” and “The Lay of Beowulf.” These are both his original creations, inspired by—but sadly not as good as—the literature of medieval northern Europe.

Ever since The Hobbit appeared in 1937, Tolkien’s oeuvre has become a cipher for the look and feel of “medievalness.” From Monty Python’s Holy Grail to Game of Thrones, most modern depictions of the 5th to the 15th centuries in European history bear Tolkien’s distinctive mark. Today, the phrase “Middle Earth” conjures hobbit-holes, not the beautiful Old English word middangeard—the middle space between heaven and hell, where humans live out their short lives. The Lord of the Rings has grown so monumental that medieval culture shivers in its shadow.

Tolkien himself was a philologist, and one of the virtues of this translation is his respect for the source material. From sloppy journalistic articles to preposterous movie adaptations starring Ray Winstone, “Beowulf” has invited a lot of nonsense from modern people. This is not surprising, given how little we know for certain about the poem.

These are the facts: It was written down in the 10th or 11th century, but could be hundreds of years older. The manuscript is fairly hefty—about 25cm by 19cm—but looks straightforwardly like a book. Other texts in it are illustrated, but not “Beowulf.” It was singed in the fire that devastated Robert Cotton’s manuscript collection at Ashburnham House in 1731, although the text miraculously escaped destruction, aside from a few lost words. It now resides in the British Library.

“Beowulf” tells of events that take place in the deep past, not in Britain but somewhere in Scandinavia. They concern a hero named Beowulf who arrives to save a community from a monster named Grendel. He kills Grendel and then he kills Grendel’s vengeful mother. The hero becomes a king. Many years later, his kingdom is terrorised by a dragon, which he kills, but which also kills him. He dies heirless…

BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES TAPESTRY

Well, I’ll say one thing about it. It sure looks cool.

You can also magnify sections.

 

Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ Tapestry Revealed

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