marmota_b: Photo of my groundhog plushie puppet, holding a wrapped present (Default)
[personal profile] marmota_b
Today, in a lesson on war poets (WW1), our teacher said something along the lines of "who knows what we lost in the trenches of WW1, considering what we did get," speaking of some philosophers and writers, pondering how different the world would be if they had died in the war. I immediately thought of Lewis and Tolkien - how diferent the world would be without them! I did not say it aloud, because it would be very much derailing the discussion, but I'm thinking the difference might have, at this point, been even more pronounced than in those cases he named. It would have, most certainly, meant a much more profound difference in my own life.

Just to think of what children's books were like before The Hobbit, and those are people's first introduction to literature. Well, it's not entirely like The Hobbit is the only one (and there's George MacDonald if nothing else), but it's definitely sort of a class for itself. Fantastic literature would, of course, be very different - and considering how many fantasy and sci-fi, or sort of something like that, films we get these days... If all that had emerged from the trenches of WW1 had been modernism, there would certainly be something significant missing from the world as it is today.

I'm definitely biased; someone else might have been hugely impacted by modernism. I wasn't, not that same way. So there's that personal factor. But this is a personal journal; I'm not aspiring to academia here.

So there's no deep thought in this, I'm afraid, but it did make me wonder how much of my imagination as well as my ability to see the beauty of the real world, including the beauty of language, owes to those two. At an early age, just like Lewis points out in a defense of fantasy, their enchanted forests taught me to see some enchatnment in every forest. At an early age, they taught me about the fragile connection between reality and language, without me realising it. Think of all those descriptions Lewis gives, only to end saying it wasn't quite like that, really. "Yrch," said Legolas, falling into his own tongue. It's sort of banal, but it jumped out at me, and remained with me ever since.
("Philosophy was killed by language," the teacher said, in that same abovementioned line of thought, although I sort of missed the connection, because I forgot which philosopher/thinker he was referring to.)
I probably would not be studying English if I had not grown up with their books. I would not have learned to love Englishness without the hobbits and Puddleglum and countless other little instances; and in the very same way, I probably would not have learned to love Czechness so much.

Date: 2015-03-12 01:59 am (UTC)
rthstewart: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rthstewart
How lovely that love both the Czech that is you and the quintessential Englishness of Tolkien and Lewis.

Date: 2015-03-13 03:41 am (UTC)
heliopausa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heliopausa
Yes, what's read in childhood can really make for a lifetime of magic in the world, including the magic of language ("scree, they call it" said Lewis in VDT - such a tiny aside, which some stiff-necked school-teachery readers decry as being too much of an authorial voice, but for me it was even more magic - the whole story-world of damp, foggy valley, and Eustace slipping down the unstable slope of little sharp stones was sharpened by the new word for precisely that grade of stones on that kind of slope - scree. Wow!)

I'd like to hear more about why you say "fragile connection", if you have time. (When's your thesis due?)

(Side-noted: I do think there was a good deal more available to children (in the fantasy/heroic fantasy line) pre-Hobbit than MacDonald. The Lang Fairy books, and Edith Nesbit, and lots of narrative poems, like "How Horatius Held the Bridge" or "Ozymandias", and Arthurian legend (and more!) all were powerful in the imaginative world of children pre-Hobbit. In Winter Holiday (1933), for example, a character seeing a snowy landscape thinks:
"Almost she felt like walking on tiptoe through this new sparkling world. A whole jumble of things was in her mind, Good King Wenceslaus, the Ice Queen, Ib and Little Christina, and the little girl who sat on her wedding chest in the winter forest, waiting for the coming of Frost." )

Date: 2015-03-14 07:55 am (UTC)
heliopausa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heliopausa
I'm guessing Saussure was the hot new theorist when they were looking at language, and that they would be well aware of the ideas - but I don't think they were much influenced by them. I doubt, from my reading of them, that they would accept the idea of the arbitrary connection of words with meaning. (I know who'd know! wellinghall or adaese, who both played in the recent 3SF, and are both hotshot Tolkienists - I'll ask them!) But I personally am out of my depth here - I've never read much linguistics, and certainly not Saussure. (On the other hand, I've read a good deal of Lewis, and a modicum of Tolkien.)

I agree absolutely utterly that knowing someone's language helps you to understand them, and how their language works gives insight into how their thinking works (or our own, of course - I mean, once one has enough of another language to be able to see one's own as not simply the way all languages are!). I enjoy those discoveries very much.

And building on that, yes in writing one works backwards,and tries to give characters the language (and names) which they would have, being themselves. (Both Tolkien and Lewis are great namers.)

I don't know that Hobbits are (or were meant to be) really non-Human at all. I think they are in character essentially an outsiders' view of (an imagined) rural lower-middle- to working-class England.

(End of April? So is trans_element's, I think. So will we think about the Till We Have Faces reread for late May, maybe?)

Date: 2015-03-14 09:40 am (UTC)
heliopausa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heliopausa
Oh - I thought the thesis was the end of it all! Yes, definitely later! :)

Date: 2015-03-22 11:42 am (UTC)
heliopausa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heliopausa
Sorry I'm so late getting back to this - the rest of life has been a bit demanding.

There are two major writers of children's fantasy relevant to discussion above: Edith Nesbit and Walter de la Mare. Edith Nesbit wrote the Bastable books referred to in TMN, of course, but also much fantasy of the 'ordinary children encounter magic' kind. In terms of her inventing non-human hnau, there's Five Children and It, whose non-human character is sharp and cynical and fun.

De la Mare wrote the brilliant, neglected fantasy The Three Mulla-Mungars, aka The Three Royal Monkeys, which posits a spiritual world for the title characters which goes deeper than that in The Hobbit,and posits a language for them too. Here's the beginning of a footnote, from the book, about the meaning of the word Tishnar

"Tishnar is a very ancient word in Munza, and means that which cannot be thought about in words, or told, or expressed. So all the wonderful, secret, and quiet world beyond the Mulgars' lives is Tishnar — wind and stars, too, the sea and the endless unknown. But here it is only the Beautiful One of the Mountains that is meant...."

It's an extraordinary and truly visionary animal fantasy. Hhhmmm.... time I reread it, I think!

(btw, about Saussure.)

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