Sunday, 9 October 2011

Be Very Qwiet, I am Hunting Tolkienian Woodwoses

This week in The Mythgard Institute's Tolkien and the Epic course, Wotan has been part of an incredible experience of exploring the Finnish national poem The Kalevala, Tolkien's earliest work on his version of the Kullervo story and then Tolkien's transformation of this story into his own secondary world cycle of Turin Turambar. Our guide through this exploration has been the famous Tolkien scholar and one of my favorite writers on Tolkien - Dr Verlyn Flieger - who I am very excited to hear will be taking part in future Mythgard Institute courses - spring enrollment is now open for two excellent courses

Wotan has a long list of ideas to explore from these two weeks of lectures (and for Wotan these resulted in very late night but very well worth it web moots!).

One item that jumped out at me as I was re-reading The Children of Hurin (CoH)was the inclusion of an interesting word seemingly taken from Tolkien's primary word academic work and put into his secondary one. In the The Children of Hurin, when the hapless Turin is staying in Doriath he is taunted by an Elf named Saeros and Turin hurls a drinking vessel at him. Then Saeros says

"How long shall we harbour this woodwose? Who rules here tonight? the King's law is heavy upon those who hurt his liegers in the hall....Outside the hall I can answer you, Woodwose!" (CoH, p.88)

There has been some really good work on the word and meaning of "woodwose" especially in Dr T.A. Shippey's Road to Middle Earth and on a recent excellent blog post by Jason Fisher

What interests Wotan is WHEN this word might have found its way into Tolkien's secondary world and why?

Tolkien's earliest professional encounter with the word probably came with his work in the 1920's on the late 14th century alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which he worked with E.V. Gordon on publishing as a Middle English Text for students with notes and glossary while he was teaching at Leeds in 1923-1925 (finally being published by Oxford University Press in 1925).

In the second passus of the poem Sir Gawain travels to find the Green Chapel and encounters several mythical and real beasts including the wildmen of the wood

"Sumwhyle wyth wormez he werrez, and with wolues als,
Sumwhyle wyth wodwos, þat woned in þe knarrez,
Boþe wyth bullez and berez, and borez oþerquyle,
And etaynez, þat hym anelede of þe heȝe felle;

Sometimes he fights with dragons and sometimes with fierce wolves
Sometimes with woodwose that haunted the mountains
Both with bulls and bears and occasionally a boar
And giants chased him through the fells (my translation)

Interestingly the same term is found in another Middle English alliterative romance - The wars of Alexander translated chiefly from the Historia Alexander di Magni de preliis by Leo Archpresbyter in the 10th century.

Wroȝt full of wodwose → · & oþer wild bestis;
And þan him hiȝtild his hede · & had on a Mitre,
Was forgid all of fyne gold · & fret full of perrils,

Although in this case the editor of the text Rev Walter W. Skeat glosses the word as faunus or Silvanus giving it a more classical meaning (which would make sense for a romance about Alexander the Great.

Turning back to the Turin cycle - the actual use of the word "woodwose" is not evident in any of the earlier versions of the Turn story.

Tolkien evolved the germ of the Turin story from his work on the Kalevala's Kullervo story - first developing his own version of the Kullervo tale with original names (and evidence of early Qenya) and then using some of the themes in an original story around the hapless Turin (one of the great legendary cycles of Tolkien's complete legendarium)

The earliest versions of this key scene in Turin's life (it causes him to become an outlaw which sets the whole doom of his life in motion) as found in The Book of Lost Tales (Turambar and The Foaloke) from 1918-1919 and in the alliterative poem The Lay of the Children of Hurin all seem to follow a similar narrative pattern. Tolkien would have worked on the alliterative poem (published in volume three of The History of Middle Earth) while he was teaching at Leeds (1920-1925), at the same time as he was working with Gordon on the Middle English text of Sir Gawain. In these early versions of the Turin story, The offending Elf is not the later Saeros but Orgof - who is described in The Lay as as "of the ancient race that was lost in the lands where the long marches from the quiet waters of Cuivienen were made in mirk of the midworld's gloom" (Lays, p.18) - so is Orgof an Avari? (but I digress). Orgof taunts Turin and Turin retaliates by throwing a large drinking vessel at Orgof who is struck by it and falls to the floor dead.

In the alliterative poem Turin says:

"Thou fool, he said, fill thy mouth therewith and to me no further thus witless prate by wine bemused and he fell backward and heavy his head there hit upon the stone...." (Lays, p.19)

This story pattern continued through Tolkien's prose Sketch of the Mythology (1927) and the 1930's The Quenta (Qenta Noldorinwa). In the Earliest Annals of Beleriand the date of 184 is given for "Turin slays Orgof, kinsman of the Royal House, and flees from Thingol's court. In the Later Annals of Beleriand the same basic story event is given.

We then have the period when Tolkien turned his attention to the great matter of the second and third ages culminating in the great works of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (in which Elrond refers to Turin as a great elf friend of old).

According to Hammond and Scull's J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide regarding Tolkien and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

"Sir Gawain became a set text on the Oxford and English School in 1947, and every two years from 1946 Tolkien gave a series of lectures about it, usually spread across two or three terms. The number of lectures in the course increased over the years in 1956-7. During this time Tolkien also supervised or examined several B.Litt theses on various Arthurian texts or topics, including two on Sir Gawain.' (Hammond and Scull v.2, p. 924)

In addition to this in 1952-3 Tolkien was chosen to give the WP Ker lecture in Glasgow and on 15 April 1953 he gave this lecture on, you guessed it, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to 300 attenders (and later published in J.R.R. Tolkien The Monster and the Critics)

Turning back to Turin, the first post LOTR Turin mention we have is in The Gray Annals and here the story of Orgof being killed by Turin with a drinking cup persists (War of the Jewels, p. 81)

But this treatment starts to change in the next major work Tolkien did on the early part of the Turin cycle and the scene with Turin and Orgof/Saeros - this appears in a 12 page typescript which in HOME's War of the Jewels Christopher Tolkien describes as "a 12 page typed manuscript composed ab initio by my father and bearing the title "Here begins the the Tale of the Children of Hurin, Narn i Chin Hurin, which Dirhaval wrote" and what follows is the story that first appeared in Unfinished Tales and then in the later The Children of Hurin. Hammond and Scull indicate this work is from the late 1950's.

There are two interesting developments here. First the introductory note to the Narn now indicates that this work was the tale of a man named Dirhaval (a name possibly meaning Star Watcher -more work to be done here) of the Havens which he wrote during the time of Earendel. Dirhaval is said to come from the House of Hador and dwelt at the havens of Sirion where he gathered together tales from eyewitnesses. Tolkien also states "The lay was all that Dirhaval ever made, but it was prized by the Eldar for Dirhaval used the Grey-Elven tounge in which he had great skill. He used the that mode of Elvish verse which is (long space left in typescript - later to be filled by Minlamad thent) which was of old proper to the Narn, but though this verse mode is not unlike the verse of the English, I have rendered it in prose, judging my skill to be at once scop and walhstod." (War of Jewels, p.312). A note indicates that "walhstod' is Old English for interpreter.

A bit further along, Tolkien also says "I have not added to Dirhavals tale, nor omitted from it anything he told, neither have I changed the order of the history.

The second major change is the narrative of the story of the early Turin story which is now represented as being part of Dirhaval's Narn. Orgof has now become Saeros (possibly in Sindarin this means "bitter rain" - good name for a baddie) and the story arc has now been significantly expanded

  • Saeros taunts Turin at the table
  • Turin takes up a heavy drinking vessel and throws it at Saeros
  • Saeros falls backward with great hurt (but does not die)
  • Turin draws his sword but Mablung the Hunter restrains him
  • Saeros spits blood and utters the woodwose lines
  • Turin leaves the hall - Saeros and Mablung have words
  • Next morning Saeros waylays Turin and attempts to kill him
  • Turin and Saeros fight
  • Turin throws Saeros to the ground and strips him
  • He lets Saeros go and chases him through the wood
  • Mablung and others see this and call it Orc Work
  • Saeros attempts to leap a great cleft but falls back with a cry and crashes on the rocks below
  • "Long will Mandos hold him"
Therefore in this expanded version of the story Tolkien creates more opportunity for Saeros to have a voice and it was in this development of the narrative that the opportunity arose to have Saeros come up with a pejorative word for Turin and Tolkien's use of the word 'woodwose' not only accomplishes this but also foreshadows the orc like behavoir Turin will adapt by chasing Saeros naked through the wood with his sword (truly the act of a wildman) as well as a later episode of someone leaping over a cliff (his doomed sister Nienor). As Dr Flieger also said in her talk it is due to this action of killing Orgof/Saeros that Turin does become a wildman of the wood by becoming an Outlaw and living with Gaurwaith (The Wolfmen of the Wood).

So perhaps Tolkien's increased primary world focus on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight during the time of developing and expanding the Turin cycle gave him the very word he was looking for to both brandish a nasty term at Turin and foreshadow both his later history and fate.

One last point - in the context of the secondary world - I wonder what the original word in Sindarin Dirhaval used which became rendered as the Anglo-Saxon wodwose. "Wildman of the Woods" in Sindarin would have been something like 'Adan alag en thewair' - so perhaps this is close to what Tolkien as walhstod saw - alas this is lost in the vestiges of real or feigned time.

Tolkien Works Cited

The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two, edited by Christopher Tolkien (New York: Random House, 1983)

The Lays of Beleriand, edited by Christopher Tolkien (New York; Random House, 1984)

The War of the Jewels, edited by Christopher Tolkien (New York: Random House, 2002)

The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, edited by Christopher Tolkien (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, edited by Christopher Tolkien (London: HarperCollins 1999)

The Children of Hurin edited by Christopher Tolkien (London, HarperCollins, 2007)

' "The Túrin Prose Fragment: An Analysis of a Rúmilian Document". In Vinyar Tengwar 37 (December 1995), (edited by Arden Smith) pp. 15-23

The Story of Kullervo and Essays on “The Kalevala” edited by Verlyn Flieger in Tolkien Studies Volume 7 (2010), p. 211-278


Hammond Wayne G & Scull, Christina The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide

(2 vols) .London: HarperCollins;

Posted from Andrew Higgins IPAD


Jason Fisher said...

Nice post, Andy! The second Middle English example you gave was especially interesting. Do you know of any others? I haven’t made a search, but maybe you have.

You mention that Skeat glossed wodwos in a pseudo-Classical fashion (“faunus or Silvanus”). Bosworth and Toller likewise glossed its Old English antecedent wudu-wása as “satyr, faun”. In their glossary to Sir Gawain, Tolkien and Gordon give a sort of hybrid pagan/Classical gloss: “satyrs, trolls of the forest”.

Have you read the poem “Wodwo” by Ted Hughes? Have a look and tell me if this doesn’t sound a lot like Gollum!

Andrew Higgins said...


Wow thanks for the Ted Hughes that is brilliant and definately reminds one of Gollum love the last lines about the roots,

I found the Alexander passage by doing a search for wodwose in the corpus of Middle English literature. I was actually looking for line from Sir Gawain and found this and have downloaded the poem to read. Will keep my eye open for other woodwoses.

BTW last for the Mythgard Institute Turin Turambar calls Professor Olsen started by talking about how to go about doing source work on Tolkien and your book was mentioned by one of the students and Corey said he was intending to read it and had great respect for your work. I posted to the MI discussion board the review I did for Amazon - so we are spreading the word.

If MI ever wants to do a course in working with Tolkien's Sources you would be the one to approach and your book would be the perfect textbook!

We finish Turin this week and then move on to Volsunga Saga, Sigurd und Gudrun and then The Lay of Leithan!

Take care


Jason Fisher said...

Very kind of both you and Corey. I really appreciate your helping spread the word! :)

Troels said...

One ought also, I think, look at Elfhelm's description of the Drúedain as ‘the Woses, the Wild Men of the Woods’ in book V ch. 5 ‘The Ride of the Rohirrim’.

In The War of the Ring we learn that Elfhelm first had used the word Druedain but that this had been struck out and replaced by Woses (p. 352). In note 14 to the chapter on the Drúedain in Infinished Tales Christopher Tolkien ties the two uses, Elfhelm's about the Drúedain in LotR and Saeros' about Túrin in the Narn, together.

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