Friday, July 01, 2005
Sung to the tune of “My Old Kentucky Home”
From Guy Davenport’s essay, “Hobbitry”, in The Geography of the Imagination. Reflections on Tolkien, as professor, boring the author out of his mind, so he could never quite conceive how this mumbling, dry pedant of Anglo-Saxon could be inhabited by an author of wonderful tales. Then:
The closest I have ever gotten to the secret and inner Tolkien was in a casual conversation on a snowy day in Shelbyville, Kentucky. I forget how in the world we came to talk about Tolkien at all, but I began plying questions as soon as I knew that I was talking to a man who had been at Oxford as a classmate of Ronald Tolkien’s. He was a history teacher, Allen Barnett. He had never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, he was astonished and pleased to know that his friend of so many years ago had made a name for himself as a writer.
“Imagine that! You know, he used to have the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky. He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins and good country names like that.”
And out the window I could see tobacco barns. The charming anachronism of the hobbits’ pipes suddenly made sense in a new way.
Bonus points if you can transmogrify the Kentucky state song to tell a tale of the Fellowship, and Frodo. “A few more days for to tote the weary load/ No matter, ‘twill never be light.” Seems promising. Also, “The day goes by like a shadow o’er the heart/ With sorrow where all was delight/ The time has come when the people have to part/ Then my old Kentucky home, good night!” Sort of a downer of a state song.
Funny tale of my visit to Oregon. Friend of a friend lets his four year old watch LOTR; has later occasion to ask the lad whether “he would like to be the ringbearer” at a family wedding. Kid bursts into hysterical tears.
Substantive posting to resume when jetlag subsides.
A friend’s son was disappointed when he found out that he wouldn’t get to wear a costume as the Ring Bear.
It’s Mordor out there!
My big beef with Tolkein’s Beowulf scholarship is that asserted, without any evidence to speak of, that the book was deeply Christian. The actual Christian references in Beowulf are extremely thin, amounting to little more than monotheism, Noah’s flood, and giants (from Genesis). Part of his (unexpressed) argument seemingly was that since Beowulf wasn’t an awful person, he must have been Christianized.
Pedantry is a good thing, though. Not many realize that. A.E. Housman disappointed people who met him, too. (People bigoted against pedantry, I mean. Haters of that type.)
Gandalf took out his lute and began to sing:
Oh, Shellbyville is “IT”!
Oh, Shelbyville is “IT”!!
S - H - for “Shelbyville”,
I - T - for “IT”!