“Ubi sunt?” – Song of the Rohirrim: a lament

Viking warriors – wallpaper – vintaged

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

This lament the great J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, and placed in the mouth of Aragorn son of Arathorn – heir of Isildur and rightful King of the West, of Eriador, in Tolkien’s magisterial Middle Earth mythos – as he was describing the Land of Rohan and its inhabitants, the Rohirrim (“Horse Lords”); and later, in part, in the mouth of Theoden, King of Rohan and Lord of the Rohirrim, himself.

But it is of a mode that would have been easily recognized by our forebears in the ancient and medieval worlds, for it is a well-known poetic form: the lament, known by scholars as “Ubi Sunt?” from its Latin incipit: “Where is…?” It is a lament for the greatness of things now past, and perhaps, irrecoverable: “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” as we might say.

Hiraeth

Tolkien disliked allegory, but he did allow for what he called “applicability.” And so we can agree with him that The Lord of the Rings was not written as a direct allegory of any historical event, either World War Two, or the Cold War, or today’s social, cultural, and political struggles, with which this blog – originally intended merely as a celebration of things English, British, and Anglican – has become inexorably and inescapably emmeshed.

But we, as Men of the West (*), in this present age of the world, can also recognize that this passage, a lament for the Rohirrim, is applicable to our current age, and can also serve as a lament for us – for the West – in our present and dire situation.

A lament, yes, but perhaps also a rallying-cry?

For the Rohirrim, by their defense against the assaults of the fallen wizard Saruman, and later and most famously by their critical role in overthrowing the Siege of Minas Tirith in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, did much to help break the power of the Shadow, and make possible the destruction of Mordor and of its Dark Lord, Sauron.

So where, Men of the West, are our Rohirrim? Where is our King Theoden (whose name meant “Lord of the People”)? Who is our Aragorn Elessar?

Ubi sunt…?


* “Men of the West” in the old sense, in which “Man” or “Men” was inclusive of all members of a people, folk, tribe, or region – or humankind in general, depending on context – and not merely those who are biologically male.


Following are some additional quotes by Professor Tolkien, some of which may encourage us, and some of which may, let us hope, strengthen our resolve:

“Always after a defeat and a respite,” says Gandalf, “the shadow takes another shape and grows again.”
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” says Frodo.
“So do I,” says Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

conversation in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

Faramir, Ranger of Gondor and son of Denethor, Steward of Minas Tirith

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

Haldir, an Elf of Lothlorien, in “The Fellowship of the Ring”

“I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron; but I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentlehobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.”

– Professor J.R.R. Tolkien: a toast at a “Hobbit Dinner” in Rotterdam, Netherlands, 1958.

 

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Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads

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Sample covers of three of the books in the series of medieval mysteries, The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, by Ellis Peters.

Any writer who can make a living by her pen can be proud of her work, but it wasn’t until 1977, when A Morbid Taste for Bones introduced Cadfael, that Pargeter made her bid for literary immortality.

Source: Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads

The Anglophilic Anglican has alluded to this excellent series of historical mysteries – “The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael,” by Ellis Peters (nom de plume of medieval scholar, author, and Shrewsbury, England, resident Edith Pargeter) – but I have not addressed them directly. Let me make up for that omission, now!

For those who may not be aware, the Cadfael Chronicles are a long-running series of medieval mysteries comprising 21 volumes – 20 novels and a short-story collection – written between 1977 and 1994, and set in 12th-century England: specifically, in the years 1137–1145, in and around the town (city) of Shrewsbury, near the Welsh border, and its Benedictine monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The protagonist, the eponymous Brother Cadfael of the aforementioned monastery, is both monk and herbalist, as well as a sort of medieval private investigator; a veteran Crusader and one-time sailor who – having seen much of the known world, in his first half-century or so – has chosen this quiet (?) harbor to live out the remainder of his earthy life.

Let’s let Levi Stahl tell it: Continue reading “Brother Cadfael: An Appreciation | CrimeReads”

The Tolkien Option: Consolation and Eucatastrophe — 1517

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“Tolkien calls this sudden, unexpected turn in a story the eucatastrophe. According to Tolkien, it is the highest function of all good stories. It derives from the Greek words, ‘eu’for ‘good’, and ‘katastrophe’ for destruction. It is a good catastrophe, the collision of grief and joy.”

Source: The Tolkien Option: Consolation and Eucatastrophe — 1517

In my previous post, I alluded to J.R.R. Tolkien’s lexical coinage and philosophical concept, eucatastrophe. So I thought it only fitting to post a link to this essay (also referenced in my preceding post) from the good folks at 1517:

“Recovery, escape, and consolation. These are the essential elements of a good fairy story, writes J.R.R. Tolkien. As air, water, and food are to humanity, so are recovery, escape, and consolation to the fairy tale.

“Tolkien’s view of recovery helps us regain a proper view of the world, to see life as it should be; through our journey in a good story, we see our own world more clearly. Escape is the longing that good stories give us; the desire to be freed from the prison of death and darkness.

“And now, at last, we come to Tolkien’s final element of a good fairy story: consolation. We see the consolation of a good story most clearly in its denouement…”

Click through and read on, for more!

Laura Ingalls Wilder: the conversation continues

An old and cherished college friend sent me the linked article, below, with this notation: “Interesting article and perspective from ALA’s office of intellectual freedom of the (former) LIW award.”

ALA Laura Ingalls Wilder Award ALSC


Will some librarians consider it right to purge her works from library collections? We hope not.

Source: Laura Ingalls Wilder Award – when is it censorship? – Intellectual Freedom Blog


Following is my reply:

It is indeed an interesting article and perspective, and I’m glad the conversation is continuing. There is a lot in that article with which I agree. And of course, the ALSC has a perfect right to rename their award if they want to, regardless of my or anyone else’s opinion of the action!

But just as James LaRue points out – accurately – that books must be taken in their entirety, and in context, so too, I believe, must actions. And I cannot help but take this action in the context of a time in our social history in which nearly every icon of our past is under attack, one way or another.

This most recent spasm of historical iconoclasm began in the summer of 2015, when that despicable nutcase killed those poor people in Charleston, SC; and it began with attacks on Confederate flags, rapidly spreading to other iconography: street, park, and school names, and then monuments. But it didn’t end there. The Confederacy was just low-hanging fruit. I haven’t kept as precise and voluminous records as I should have, in retrospect, but some examples that come immediately to mind:

The statue of Teddy Roosevelt – our most progressive President at least until his cousin FDR, and possibly until JFK – was attacked, where it stands in front of the Museum of Natural History in NYC. The very gravesite of Andrew Jackson, certainly a controversial figure but also an American President and the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, has also been attacked, and his picture on the $20 bill is to be replaced. Thomas Jefferson’s statue has been defaced on the very campus of the university (University of Virginia) he founded; here in Maryland, the statue of Francis Scott Key has been defaced, and the National Anthem he gave us attacked (completely erroneously) as racist.

In 2016, students at Yale University’s English Department (!!!) launched a petition calling on the English department to abolish a core course requirement in “Major English Poets” to study canonical writers including Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, saying that the reading list had too many white male authors. Ummmmm… to what demographic do they think that major English poets belong??? That was the most high-profile, but not the only, report of such doings I recall reading. I find myself wondering what Nancy and Del, or Bob and LeRoy, even Ira [former professors we shared – liberals all, but in the old-school sense], would think about all this…

There are similar attacks on culture, history, and heritage going on throughout the West. I could, with a little brain-searching and research, probably come up with dozens of additional examples; these are just those that came to me with a few minutes’ thought. But it is within the context of these sorts of shenanigans that I interpret the decision to strip Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from that award.

Yes, the essay you linked makes some good points, and, as I say, I agree with a number of them. But it is possible to come up with good, noble-sounding, perhaps even nobly-intended, justifications or rationalizations for each and every one of the incidents I described above, and many more than I did not mention. But taken as a whole, looking at the big picture, what I see is the history, heritage, and culture of the West – indeed, Western civilization itself – under attack. Sustained, persistent, intentional.

I would be fundamentally and vigorously opposed to the destruction of any culture! I am certainly opposed to the attempted destruction of my own. In the larger scheme of things, removing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from an award is not going to make or break Western civilization. But making that decision, even for the best-intended reasons, is another stone removed from the wall. Keep taking enough out, and how long before the whole structure tumbles?

Her response was very gracious:

“I do see what you’re saying. And wish I knew the answers… if there are any. And I will always love and respect you my dear friend!”

I replied,

“It is very mutual, my dear friend! And we are living in a time concerning which people many centuries in the future may scratch their heads… or shake them, with sadness. I very much fear that if we continue as we seem to be going, we are on the cusp of a new Dark Age.”

Her response was sober, and sobering:

“I think we both hope you are wrong about that! But I have to wonder…”

Indeed we do. We do indeed…

 


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Scrubbing Laura Ingalls Wilder Is A Dangerous Step Toward Ignorance | The Federalist

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Pretending things that make us uncomfortable never happened isn’t going to make America better, or make American children more informed.

Source: Scrubbing Laura Ingalls Wilder Is A Dangerous Step Toward Ignorance

I do not fully agree with this article, because I do not fully agree that we need to continually apologize for, or even “contextualize,” everything that occurred in our past that makes some present-day observers squeamish. But I certainly do agree with the title (“Scrubbing Laura Ingalls Wilder Is A Dangerous Step Toward Ignorance”)!

And I also agree with the comment of a dear Facebook friend (who is also a follower of this blog; she may choose to identify herself if she wishes), who wrote, in response to a Wall Street Journal article which, unfortunately, is behind a firewall,

“Those who refuse to acknowledge history are doomed to repeat it. This is ridiculous. I should have expected this, I suppose, when they began badmouthing Twain’s work. The Little House books teach a great deal about the time they were written, in an entertaining way so that people will actually remember. Modern mores are already taught now, and people should be trusted to be able to filter through, seeing the changes in time periods as far as attitudes go. Ignoring history doesn’t make it go away.”

To which I can only add, “give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile”… “don’t let the camel’s nose in the tent”… whatever image you use for it, the truth remains: if you start to permit people to alter, suppress, or remove history, there’s no telling where you’ll end up. Nowhere good, that’s for certain!

It started with Confederate flags, then moved to renaming schools, streets, and parks, then to removing monuments. It started with the Confederacy, but has expanded to include Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Francis Scott Key – even Washington and Jefferson. And in literary terms, English poets, Mark Twain and, now, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

These are people who do not understand, or even try to understand, removing, altering, or destroying that which is not understood; people placing the worst possible construction on works and people which and who are complex and multi-faceted. Simplistic responses from – pardon me for saying so, but it’s true – simple minds.

It is depressing and disillusioning. What has happened to this country? We used to be so much better than this!

 


Do you appreciate and/or enjoy these posts, and want to support The Anglophilic Anglican in my defense of Western Christendom, and enjoyment of Western culture and civilization?

Then please consider supporting me on Patreon!

Many thanks in advance.

Middle School Reading Lists 100 Years Ago vs. Today – with musings on the implications for our culture and its future

Middle School Reading Lists 100 Years Ago vs. Today

“I recently dug up a 1908 curriculum manual in the Minnesota Historical Society archives. It provided instructions on everything from teacher deportment to recommended literature lists for various grades…”

Source: Middle School Reading Lists 100 Years Ago vs. Today | Intellectual Takeout

Writer and educator Annie Holmquist compares 7th & 8th grade readings lists for 1908 Minnesota with one from 2016. What she found may not surprise many readers of this blog, but it may sadden us: the idea that the curriculum has been “dumbed down” over the last century appears to be all too true.

Noting the disparity in age of the literary works on the 1908 list compared to the 2016 one, she points out,

“Older is not necessarily better, but the books on the first list suggest that schools of the past were more likely to give their students time-tested, classic literature, rather than books whose popularity may happen to be a passing fad…

[Nota Bene: C.S. Lewis had some good things to say on the subject of reading old books.]

She then goes on to add,

“A second striking difference between the two book lists are the themes they explore. The first is full of historical references and settings which stretch from ancient Greece (Tanglewood Tales) to the Middle Ages (Harold, Last of the Saxon Kings) to the founding of America (Courtship of Miles Standish). Through highly recognized authors such as Longfellow, Stevenson, Kipling, and Dickens, these titles introduce children to a vast array of themes crucial to understanding the foundations upon which America and western civilization were built.”

I would like to highlight her statement, quoted above, that the books on the 1908 reading list “introduce children to a vast array of themes crucial to understanding the foundations upon which America and western civilization were built,” because that is a big piece of what we have lost over the last hundred years, in my opinion.

Education nowadays seems to have as one of its core values the elevation of the wonders of multiculturalism… and a subsequent, and consequent, devaluation of “the foundations upon which America and western civilization were built.” Is it any wonder that our children are graduating from grade school, and later college or university, with little knowledge and less appreciation for America, and Western civilization?

And it it any wonder that the foundations, left thus untended, or even undermined, are becoming more than a little shaky?

Moving along: to be honest, she is a bit too generous in many aspects of her assessment of the contemporary list for my tastes. But you can read that on your own, and make your own judgements. However she is square on the money, I think, when she writes,

Unless we give our students challenging material to dissect, process, and study, how can we expect them to break out of the current poor proficiency ratings and advance beyond a basic reading level?

Quick answer: we can’t.

Or as they say in computer lingo, “garbage in, garbage out.” That is not to say that everything our children are being taught today, literature-wise or otherwise, is garbage. But the percentage of low-quality selections is too high. As in so many other areas of life, the concern is more for making sure that students are exposed to works that are contemporary and multicultural, rather than time-tested and substantive.

Anyone who is paying attention cannot help but notice an overall decrease in literacy and erudition over the past century. But what really brought it home to me was the opportunity I had, some years ago now, to pore over a stack (actually a shelf) of old yearbooks at my alma mater, the former Western Maryland College (now “McDaniel College”), that went back at least to 1912, that I recall.

Some years were missing, and I didn’t have time to skim through them all, but the decline (dare I say, degeneration?) was clear to see – and particularly in the years following World War Two. The early ones were indeed erudite! And that at a level one would never even think to expect of a yearbook, nowadays. Articulate, polished, witty, and replete with plays on words and classical references, they were an embodiment of what college education used to stand for, back in the days of its glory.

There hadn’t been too much slippage by my mother’s time there (she graduated in 1949), but they still weren’t quite up to the standard set by those earlier volumes. By the time of my brother’s college years (he graduated in 1975) the rot was well on – the references weren’t to classical heroes and classical philosophy, but to football, beer, and girls.

And by my time – I entered in 1983, left in 1985, and returned to finish up from 1989-91 – it was about what you’d expect: the “Animal House” approach to the college experience (with a side of incipient political correctness, even at the beginning, and especially during my second tour there). I don’t know what they’d be like now, and I’d almost prefer not to imagine…

But of course, college doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The seeds are sown at home, naturally, but the sprouts are tended and watered (or not) in grade school. If the early school curriculum is dumbed down, it’s no wonder that colleges and universities must spend so much time remediating that lack, to even get students up to where they can function at the “college level” – and why so many seem to have given up on academics and what used to be called “higher education,” being content to function as glorified (and expensive) trade schools.

It’s really quite sad, and one of the many factors (whether symptom or cause being one of those chicken-and-egg questions that may not be wholly answerable) in our overall cultural and societal decline. If there are two institutions which have done the most to preserve, foster, and transmit Western culture and civilization over the last millennium, they are the Church and the University. If both are failing, as it appears they are – whither the West?

Michaelmas; a sonnet for St. Michael the Archangel | Malcolm Guite

Continuing my sequence from Sounding the Seasons, the collection of my sonnets for the church year, published by Canterbury Press, the 29th September brings us the feast of St. Michael and All Angels which is known as Michaelmas in England, and this first autumn term in many schools and universities is still called the Michaelmas term.

Source: Michaelmas; a sonnet for St. Michael the Archangel | Malcolm Guite

Today, September 29th, being Michaelmas – the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels – in the Western Christian calendar, here is a Michaelmas sonnet by the inestimable Malcolm Guite. Includes both the written sonnet, and a recitation of it by Malcolm, a priest in the Church of England, and a gifted poet. With commentary, including this excellent short sketch of Michael (whose name means “Who is like God?”) himself:

“The Archangel Michael is traditionally thought of as the Captain of the Heavenly Host, and, following an image from the book of Revelation, is often shown standing on a dragon, an image of Satan subdued and bound by the strength of Heaven. He is also shown with a drawn sword, or a spear and a pair of scales or balances, for he represents, truth, discernment, the light and energy of intellect, to cut through tangles and confusion, to set us free to discern and choose.”