IMC 2017: Sessions

Session 242: J. R. R. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches

Monday 3 July 2017, 14.15-15.45

Organiser:Dimitra Fimi, Department of Humanities, Cardiff Metropolitan University
Moderator/Chair:Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar, Brighton
Paper 242-aTolkien's Beowulf: Translating Knights
(Language: English)
Yvette Kisor, School of American & International Studies, Ramapo College of New Jersey
Index terms: Language and Literature - Old English, Medievalism and Antiquarianism
Paper 242-bMappa Mundi to Mappa Middle-Earth: Positioning J. R. R. Tolkien's Cartography between Medieval and Modern Practices
(Language: English)
Anahit Behrooz, School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures - English Literature, University of Edinburgh
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Literacy and Orality, Medievalism and Antiquarianism
Paper 242-cTales of the Corrigan: From Folklore to Nationalist Reinvention
(Language: English)
Aurélie Brémont, Centre d'Études Médiévales Anglaises (CEMA), Université Paris IV - Sorbonne
Index terms: Language and Literature - French or Occitan, Medievalism and Antiquarianism
Paper 242-dTreebeard's Priesthood and the Franciscan Sanctity of Tolkien's Natural World
(Language: English)
Victoria Holtz-Wodzak, Department of English, Viterbo University, Wisconsin
Index terms: Medievalism and Antiquarianism, Monasticism, Religious Life
Abstract

This session will address aspects of Tolkien’s medievalism. Yvette Kisor examines the frequent use of the word ‘knight’ in Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, especially to translate a range of Old English terms. Anahit Behrooz addresses Tolkien’s cartography as a liminal space between medieval mapmaking and modern practices. Aurélie Brémont discusses the transformations of the Corrigan from Breton folklore to Tolkien’s The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun. Victoria Holtz-Wodzak considers the ways in which medieval Franciscan theology shaped Tolkien’s portrayal of the natural world.

Kisor – Tolkien’s Beowulf: Translating Knights
Those encountering Tolkien’s prose translation of Beowulf for the first time are often struck by its rather dated language. In particular, the many knights who traverse Hrothgar’s hall strike a discordant note for many – rather than Beowulf, one seems to have stumbled upon an Arthurian romance. In the opening lines one finds reference to ‘knights of his table’ (19) and once Beowulf reaches Heorot we find ‘An esquire his office heeded’ (399-400) and ‘a chamberlain who in courtesy to the knight’s need ministered, in such things as in that day were due for men on warlike errantry to have’ (1503-6); shortly thereafter ‘A deed of knightly valour I shall achieve’ (516-7) cries Beowulf and ‘Verily the Geatish knight’ (544-5) … one does not have to look far to find numerous examples of the like. At this point one might remember that Tolkien made his translation in the 1920s (according to Christopher Tolkien, his father’s translation was completed by 1926; vii, 2): but even Gummere’s 1910 translation, though it has many a ‘lo’ (I counted seven) and ‘erst’ (thirteen), it contains not a single knight.

Tolkien defends this choice, though not directly, in his ‘Prefatory Remarks on Prose Translation of Beowulf‘, his 1940 introduction to the Clark Hall translation. He asserts that the language of Beowulf was ‘literary, elevated, recognized as old (and esteemed on that account)’ (xvii). This helps explain the many expressions of ‘thou hast’ and the accented final ‘-ed’ endings (xvi-ii) in his own translation; as for the knights, he addresses the use of the language of chivalry in the poem – the only choice in many cases, he asserts (xxii). He acknowledges the danger of calling to mind the Arthurian court, but finds that possibility much preferable to invoking, however incidentally, the spectre of African tribes or American Indians through overuse of ‘chief’ and ‘warrior’ (xxii). But what Old English words are being rendered as ‘knight’? A survey of the many instances of this word in Tolkien’s translation shows a number of Old English terms that Tolkien translates as ‘knight’: þegn, hæleð, secg, eorl, leod, beorn, æþeling, guðrinc, magorinc. This seems to go far beyond an avoidance of ‘warrior’ and ‘chief’; a consideration of Tolkien’s translation practice concerning the range of terms he translates as ‘knight’ reveals a practice that associates him not with his contemporary translators but marks his translation as uniquely his own.

Behrooz – Mappa Mundi to Mappa Middle-Earth: Positioning J.R.R. Tolkien’s Cartography between Medieval and Modern Practices
From the now famous map of ‘The West of Middle-earth After the Third Age’ to the intriguing diagrams of his sub-created cosmos in the ‘Ambarkanta’, J.R.R. Tolkien’s cartography was prolific. This paper will situate Tolkien’s cartography in a liminal space between medieval traditions of mapmaking and more modern and contemporary practices, arguing that he borrowed from both traditions in order to emulate various cultural and ideological concepts through his maps.

Brémont – Tales of the Corrigan: From Folklore to Nationalist Reinvention
In Tolkien’s The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, we meet the Corrigan, an evil creature who condemns Aotrou to death because he refuses to love her. She is the familiar figure of the Celtic fairy woman, beautiful woman or ugly crone, benevolent or cruel. But it is surprising to see such a creature called a ‘korrigan’. Korrigans are mischievous small folks that haunt the Breton moors, but they have no links to fairies or white ladies. Where did Tolkien get the idea to call his Breton fairy a Corrigan? Was the Breton fairy folk used at some point in history for ideological and political purposes?

Holtz-Wodzak – Treebeard’s Priesthood and the Franciscan Sanctity of Tolkien’s Natural World
An important, and little-explored, medieval root of Tolkien’s work is the medieval Franciscan belief in the sanctity of the natural world. As Bonaventure and Dus Scotus explain, because God is love, and because God expresses that love in and through his creation, the world itself becomes holy. In Tolkien’s hands, this idea finds clear expression in Treebeard, who represents a natural priesthood that takes its inspiration from both the Catholic priesthood and a Franciscan view of a world that derives its sanctity from the very fact of its creation. In so doing, Tolkien branches out from medieval Franciscanism and offers the modern reader a very old idea in a new container. His work becomes a conduit for the Franciscan sanctification of nature to a secular world, where it finds expression in the growing body of eco-critical analyses of the Legendarium.