FAMILY MATTERS: Andrew O’Hehir gives a nice overview of Tolkien’s “The Fall of Arthur” in the pages of the New York Times that only stumbles at the very end. A couple of reasons why Tolkien abandoned that poem, which his son Christopher notes in the new book, involved the pressures of work and his family.
Tolkien the Elder’s interest also seemed to flag as his conception of Middle-earth started to grow. All sounds pretty reasonable to me. If you’ve ever tried to compose a long work of fiction or nonfiction, and you have a young family, that line about Tolkien’s situation might resonant as strongly for you as it did for me. I can relate to the bard. I can easily see us, side by side in the pub down the road from Merton College, throwing back what’s left in our pint glasses.
“I’m stuck!” he says. “I can’t get a bleedin’ moment to meself for Arthur!”
Tears pop from my eyes. I pound my fist on the bar.
“Aye John, you dinna hae to tell me! Barkeep, two more glasses!”
Near the end of his review, O’Hehir thinks Tolkien more likely broke off his work because the alliterative, Anglo-Saxon style of the poem doesn’t fit the Arthur of history: “If there was ever any historical cognate to Arthur, he was a Celtic Briton who spoke a language ancestral to modern Welsh and Cornish. To write about him in the Germanic or Anglo-Saxon verse style of later centuries … can only have struck this eminent philologist as an uncomfortable linguistic and historical pastiche.”
Holy smokes that’s fancy. Maybe it’s true, but more compelling for me is the fact that in the years when he composed his Arthur fragment, Tolkien and his wife had four kidlings — two early teens, two pre-teens. I’m sure any attempt to write about Arthur’s clash with Saxon invaders paled beside the battles taking place in the Tolkien house!
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Bookmark them and make a point of dropping in on a weekly (or more frequent) basis. You don’t have to do too much, but the small gestures count for so much. They encourage the small publishers to continue on with their sacred work and, who knows? You might find yourself discovering some exciting new voices. Hope you’re having an excellent week, friends.