Sunday, 4 January 2009

A Visit to Kortirion

Happy New Year to all. With what is happening in the Middle East (again) not a great way to start the New Year and the ravens (Huginn and Muninn) are fluttering around Wotan and saying this will not be an easy year all around!!

So the best remedy to troubling times?? Reading and study!! And I have set up a list of projects which I will track on this blog to keep me up on all the current languages I know - solidify my proficency in Portugese and start a new one for me, Russian (and a new script!).

During the holidays my partner and I took a short day trip to Warwick - a town steeped in Tolkien inspiration. There is a great article about this on the Tolkien Society website by Lynn Forest-Hill which I will quote sections of here. Warwick Castle is now privately owned by an entertainment group and it does smack of going to a historical DisneyLand - but the tours are done very well and you do get a sense of what Tolkien was thinking when he looked upon the hill (which is reported to have had a hall on the top of it prior to the Norman invasions that looked like Lynn Forest-Hill writes....

"(Tolkien's)foremost biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, has written that Tolkien 'found Warwick, its trees, its hill, and its castle, to be a place of remarkable beauty' and yet little notice has so far been taken of the way all those elements of Warwick that were so attractive to Tolkien can be seen echoing in his works throughout his life."

"During the late sixties his residency in the town was celebrated.
Anglo-Saxon Warwick, on its rocky outcrop, commanded a crossing on the river Avon. It was fortified in 914 during the Anglo-Saxon offensive against Mercian Viking settlement, becoming one of the Anglo-Saxon burhs or fortified towns of the kingdom of Mercia. (By the time Doomsday Book was written it was a royal borough). Tolkien himself acknowledged that his kingdom of Rohan was Anglo-Saxon England, specifically Mercia. He gave the horsemen of Rohan not just Old English as their language, but the dialect of Anglo-Saxon known as Old Mercian, which would have been used in pre-Conquest Warwick and the surrounding shire. Tolkien did not want his Rohirrim to speak standard West Saxon although, or perhaps because, that was the dominant language of language and literature before the Conquest. Tolkien's best known contribution to Anglo-Saxon studies was his analysis of Beowulf, and this poem is widely thought to have been composed for Offa King of Mercia, although the language of the manuscript is primarily West Saxon. Tolkien's attitude to the elitism implicit in the status accorded to West Saxon can be deduced from one of his early letters in which he wrote: 'I think I shall have to refuse to speak anything but Old Mercian.'
The physical aspect of Anglo-Saxon Warwick suggests the pattern of Edoras, the chief settlement in Tolkien's Rohan. Early Warwick would have been fortified with a stout wooden palisade. Its halls, including that of its lord Earl Thurkill, as well as all the smaller dwellings and buildings would have been primarily constructed of wood. Like the hall of the kings of Rohan, Earl Thurkill's great wooden hall could have looked out from its elevated position on the hill on which modern Warwick now stands, over the rolling green countryside of Warwickshire; but that Warwick was swept away in the years following the Norman invasion of 1066 and a new town developed with a feudal lord, a steward of the newly defined 'county'. The Anglo-Saxon stronghold became a Norman castle, looming over the countryside, as much a threat and declaration of power as a protection to the local people. Norman castles were intended to quell an unruly conquered populace. In the aftermath of 1066, stone replaced wood as the means of differentiating the rulers from the ruled. Tolkien once corrected an impression that he deplored war by saying that it was not only modern warfare that he had in mind, but the cultural catastrophe of the Norman Conquest. We know, however, that Tolkien admired the stone-built castle on its rock rising above the river which became a model for Middle-earth locations such as Minas Tirith, Amon Hen and Amon Sul, as well as Edoras - all fortified places set on imposing rocks, hills or mountains. Nor would he have ignored the beauty of the Beauchamp chapel or its association with Richard Beauchamp earl of Warwick, one of the great knights-errant of the Middle Ages. Sir Richard epitomised in life the values of knighthood set down in the manuscripts of medieval romances upon which Tolkien drew for inspiration. The other medieval buildings that survived the 1694 fire that devastated Warwick would have added to the sense of stepping back in time. Also from the medieval period Warwick's medieval hospital or Maison Dieu has its reflection in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith to which Merry Brandybuck, Eowyn, the Lady of Rohan, and Faramir, second son of the steward of Gondor are taken after their separate encounters with the deadly Lord of the Nazgûl. Tolkien uses the two historical aspects of Warwick, the Anglo-Saxon and the post-Norman medieval as sources for two of the most clearly defined kingdoms of Middle-earth - Rohan and Gondor. They are neighbours and allies in the book, but their social, cultural, and political situations are clearly differentiated, and that differentiation can be illuminated through the history of Warwick. In The Lord of the Rings Tolkien maps geographically what was in reality a temporal change. He contrasts the society and culture of Rohan with the culture and society of Gondor, and as Rohan is Anglo-Saxon, Gondor is influenced by Norman and French culture and history. Here Tolkien changes the scale. Where Meduseld, the hall of the kings of Rohan sits on a hill, Minas Tirith's rocky location is a shoulder of Mindolluin, in the White Mountains, where the Steward of Gondor sits isolated in his massive citadel above the city. However, while Theoden of Rohan regains his nobility in old age, Denethor the Steward echoes the Carolingian usurpation of the Frankish Merovingians in his arrogant refusal to bow to the 'last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity'. Although the scale changes in a reflection of the historical shift, the configuration of Minas Tirith like that of Edoras reiterates the geography of Warwick.

Warwick's associations in Tolkien's life are of two principle kinds, and these are interwoven in the medieval English romances which were the focus of much of his academic work. His marriage to Edith Bratt in the church of St Mary Immaculate on Wednesday, March 22nd was the culmination of a period in Tolkien's life that bore striking similarities to some of those same romances. These romances were popular stories of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, composed as poems in different dialects of Middle English, probably for oral performance by travelling storytellers and minstrels, and they formed an important part of the inspiration for his later epic The Lord of the Rings.

One of the funniest moments of our trip was when David and I went to St. Mary Immaculate and as we were entering I said to the lady at the desk - is this the church where Tolkien married Edith Bratt - she looked at me and went "who?" - ashame - this knowledge could increase their offerings and profits at their book store!!!

Lynn Forest Hill continues

"Three versions of this poem (Kortiron among the Trees) were published by Christopher Tolkien in the first Book of Lost Tales (1983), for Tolkien worked on it intermittently for around fifty years - a testimony to the importance he placed on the ideas expressed in the poem and inspired by Warwick, to which he dedicated it. There are marked differences between the versions in the vocabulary which expresses the poem's most significant features, but some concepts remain unchanged, or only slightly modified. Two extracts must serve as examples.

The first version begins:
O fading town upon a little hill,Old memory is waning in thine ancient gates,The robe gone grey, thine old heart almost still;The castle only, frowning, ever waitsAnd ponders how among the towering elmsThe Gliding Water leaves these inland realmsAnd slips between long meadows to the western sea
And slowly thither have a many gone

Since first the fairies built Kortirion.

And from the third version:

O ancient city on a leaguered hill!
Old shadows linger in your broken gate,Your stones are grey, your old halls now are still,Your towers silent in the mist awaitTheir crumbling end.
The River Gliding leaves these inland realmsAnd slips between long meadows to the Sea,
The Fair, the first-born in an elder day,Immortal Elves, who singing in their way
Pass like a wind among the rustling trees.

The earliest version of the poem is full of the freshness and vigour of its youthful creator, even if its ideas are expressed with a certain rawness. The rhythm and metre are suitably measured to convey the stateliness of the subject. The second version is even more measured, while the third shows the mature creativity that is found in Tolkien's major prose works as well as in the poem. In this late version the archaisms that belonged to a pre-war deference to the authority of the past are rejected as 'thy' and 'thine' become simply 'your'. The anthropomorphism is gone - the grey robe, old heart, and frowning castle are exchanged for grey stones, old halls and silent towers, and the greater simplicity has greater power. Unchanged are the melancholy and nostalgia, the sense of diminishment or 'fading', particularly of the elves, and their association with trees and hills. The imagery of water - the flow of the river and the importance of the sea - signalled by its capitalisation in the later versions, these are all themes Tolkien refers to again and again in his later work. In The Lord of the Rings, the elves are leaving Middle-earth, and so it is losing the beauty and wisdom associated with them. The sea is often a presence sensed or feared, and in both this book and in The Silmarillion it is connected with loss, separation and exile. The story of the elves in all Tolkien's works is the story of their passing and re-passing over the great western or Sundering Sea.

Kortirion as a concept went through many changes. Originally the city on the Isle of Tol Eressea, it was a refuge for Elves returning into the West from which they originated but were not permitted to enter. By the time Tolkien wrote The Silmarillion, the city had become Tirion and it too was built on a green hill and was the home of elves in the far west from which the most destructive of them emerged. The creation of Kortirion in the poem was thus an early step towards the ethical cosmology and epic mythology which underpins Tolkien's vision of Middle-earth as it is alluded to in The Lord of the Rings and described in The Silmarillion."

The full article is worth a read

It was a great day out with lots of pictures which are being shown on the slide show widget I have put on this blog.

Here's to an exciting 2009!!

Selections quoted from: Kortirion among the Trees: the Influence of Warwick on JRR Tolkien's vision of Middle-earth by Lynn Forest-Hill

1 comment:

Jason Fisher said...

New look to the blog, I see. Nice, with blue being my favorite color and all; very thoughtful of you. ;)

I have to say, I find it vaguely troubling that “a private entertainment group” has bought a bona fide medieval castle and turned it into some kind of, well, in their words, into “Britain’s greatest mediaeval experience.” Nice touch, retaining that antique a (excuse the sarcasm :), but the website reminded me of nothing so much as Medieval Times here in the U.S., a ridiculous parody of the medieval (and parodied in turn in the Jim Carrey film, Cable Guy). Warwick at least has the benefit of a genuine castle, but I find it almost sad that it’s been turned into watered-down entertainment like this.

Am I a being a total killjoy or fuddy-duddy here? Their website is pretty awful, I think. I guess what I’m saying is, I think I’d rather a historical society simply preserved the castle, rather than turn it into a mock “renaissance faire ground”.

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