Monday, 30 November 2009

Yay!


Just a little reminder that the New Rite is 40 years out of date today. It seems an anniversary worth commiserating, since we have all had our run-ins with it - I am sorry to say that I grew up with it. When I was a teenager, I read about the Second Vatican Council, and making my mind up about the doctrinal and liturgical shortcomings of the post-Conciliar Church, I ''converted'' to the Old Rite and haven't looked back since. I only wish I had done so rather further back than a mere 4 years ago.

I wonder if the misguided old people (people generally over 60) so attached to the New Rite hate the Old Rite so much because their only experience of it was Low Mass, and that the priests who celebrated Mass were mumbling, clumsy and just garbled the whole thing? A little while ago, I attended a ''lecture'' (let's call it that), where arguments for the aliturgical practices of the New Rite were propounded by several old men, and my only thoughts (other than I have heard these arguments before, and I am even less convinced by them when conveyed in so hackneyed and impertinent a manner) were that I feel sorry that you are so insane and that your faith is clearly rather lukewarm and severely damaged - it just reminded me of the general marring of the human soul by Sin and I felt sick that they were so Protestant. These misguided people are, I presume, sincere in their beliefs - but then I guess so are members of the Flat Earth Society. I, of course, blame Low Mass and the '62 Missal for the New Rite, so I think I shall start praying for the end of both these unfortunate things; less Low Mass and more Sung Office as I have always said - Mass is so commonplace, and the miracle which occurs at Mass, which ought to be the high point of anybody's day, has just become somewhat stale and samey because of it...

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Advent...


Well, Advent is finally upon us. It is less sombre than Lent, and the Church, even as the Gnomes standing upon the high walls of Gondolin watching for the dawn with expectancy, and to raise their voices in song at its uplifting, too waits for the coming of Christ, the liturgical Sun and the Sun of Justice. It is a liturgical season of rather blended feelings; on the one hand, the use of violet colour Vestments reminds us of our penance and the sorrow of the Church Militant unites itself to the sorrow of the old Israelites awaiting the Messias (indeed it behoves us all to unite ourselves to the old Israelites in asking God for the Christ-child), but on the other hand, the Church ceases not to say Alleluia in the Liturgy of the Mass, nor wholly to assuage gladness in the Sanctorale. As Dom Prosper put it: ''This is the reason why the Alleluia accompanies even her sighs, and why she seems to be at once joyous and sad, waiting for the coming of that holy night which will be brighter to her than the most sunny of days, and on which her joy will expel all her sorrow.'' (The Liturgical Year, Volume I, Advent).

I wish all readers a solemn and blessed Season of Advent. Follow this link to listen to the Tallis Scholars sing Byrd's Vigilate, an excellent motet for Advent. I tried to upload it but it didn't work...

Letters from Fr Christmas...


During Advent and Christmastide between the years 1920 and 1943, the children of J.R.R Tolkien received letters from Fr Christmas (yes I realise this spans 23 years, but there was a 12 year age difference between the eldest and the youngest). Every December (sometimes earlier) an envelope bearing a beautiful stamp from the North Pole would arrive at the Tolkien household addressed to the Tolkien children, and inside would be a letter written in a strange spidery script (not dissimilar to that of Bilbo's hand), beautifully coloured watercolour paintings, drawings, runes and sometimes even a present. These letters were full of heartwarming stories about life at the North Pole; about the accident-prone but good-natured North Polar Bear, how the reindeer escaped and scattered presents all over the place, the wars they all had with the nasty goblins who lived in the caves near Christmas House etc. I wish I could receive a nice letter and some drawings from Fr Christmas! Here is sample, from the first letter to John, then aged only 3:

Christmas House, North Pole
22nd December 1920.

Dear John,

I heard you ask daddy what I was like and where I lived. I have drawn me and my house for you. Take care of the picture. I am just off now for Oxford with my bundle of toys - some for you. Hope I shall arrive in time: the snow is very thick at the North Pole tonight.

Your loving Father Christmas.

Tempus Adventus...


Tomorrow is the First Sunday of Advent, which I am especially pleased about. ''Time after Pentecost'' gets a bit ''samey'' after so many weeks, and Advent is one of my favourite Seasons of the Liturgical Year. I simply adore Christmas, liturgically mind you, and in the theology of the Church - the whole apostate and meaningless ''festive season'' just fills me with wrath; especially since one is now expected, ritual requires it, to buy presents for people etc. Now, I enjoy buying things for people, because I like to make people happy and feel special, but I prefer to buy things spontaneously and of my own volition, not because I am expected to as a matter of principle. So far I have brought only one Christmas present, for my father (which was, despite the 65% off, more than I could afford), and buying for my mother is impossible. She is the sort of woman who tells you she likes something, then when you buy it for her changes her mind; or you buy something that you think is nice and she hates it. Buying presents for people is especially hard for someone like me, since I can't be expected to know fully what people like - I am genuinely not interested in the whims or private tastes of people - but saying this to most people, and pretty much everything else which I have written so far, only makes people think that you hate Christmas. I know I won't get what I really want...perhaps, though, it is enough to just watch and wait for the coming of Our Lord and at Midnight of Christmas Day to simply think about the dual significance of Christmas - the humility of the Christ-child, as frail as any newborn baby, and just as adorable, but also the immensity of His Majesty declared by the voices of the Angelic host, singing:

Gloria in Excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.

The above photo has nothing to do with Advent liturgically, it just depicts the dawn seen over the leagues of the Sea. One thing from Tolkien that rather reminds me of Advent, or Christmas, is the first Dawn of the Sun seen from Beleriand by the Woodland Elves. In Book III of The Lord of the Rings, there is a delicious description of Merry and Pippin looking out from the woods at the battle between the Men of Rohan and the Uruk-hai. Tolkien says: ''Out of the shadows the hobbits peeped, gazing back down the slope: little furtive figures that in the dim light looked like elf-children in the deeps of time peering out of the Wild Wood in wonder at their first Dawn.'' At the first light of the Sun, the horns rang, and the Orcs were defeated. This may or may not be resonant with most people, but I think it is a nice simile - Advent, dawns, beginnings, new hope etc.

Cædmon's Hymn...


The main thrust of my Latin course is my translation (and essay on) of St Bede's The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. When I first read this book years ago, I found it rather tedious, and in all honesty, only read it in order to have said ''I read it'' - not having much of an interest in the obscure and minor points of English church history, miracles, stories etc; so when I relegated it to underneath my bed (I only have one bookcase in my room, dedicated to Tolkien books - which I read most often - and elsewhere books are either stacked up along walls, stuffed in drawers, or the ones I read seldom, under my bed), I thought I'd never have to look at it again. When I began the more advanced Latin course at University, I moaned when I saw what the course entailed, but I am actually finding it more interesting in Latin than in English. At the moment, I am translating Book IV, Chapter XXIV, about the earliest English poet Cædmon, a herdsman attached to the double Monastery at Whitby during the Abbacy of St Hilda. On the night of a certain feast, where there was much song and a harp was passed to him, he got up and went home (being ignorant of the art of song), but that night, he was visited in his dreams by a man who saluted him and besought him to sing something. This he did, and he made a fitting song unto the Creator:

Quo accepto responso, statim ipse coepit cantare in laudem Dei Conditoris versus quos numquam audierat, quorum iste est sensus: ''Nunc laudare debemus auctorem regni caelestis, potentiam Creatoris et consilium illius, facta Patris gloriae: quomodo ille, cum sit aeternus Deus, omnium miraculorum auctor extitit, qui primo filiis hominum caelum pro culmine tecti, dehinc terram Custos humani generis omnipotens creavit.'' Hic est sensus, non autem ordo ipse verborum, quae dormiens ille canebat; neque enim possunt carmina, quamvis optime conposita, ex alia in aliam linguam ad verbum sine detrimento sui decoris ac dignitatis transferri. Exsurgens autem a somno, cuncta quae dormiens cantaverat memoriter retenuit, et eis mox plura in eundem modum verba Deo digni carminis adiunxit.

My translation:

When he heard this reply, he immediately began to sing in praise of God the Creator verses which he had never heard, of which this is the sense: ''Now it behoves us to praise the maker of the heavenly kingdom, the power of the Creator and his counsel, the things made of the Father of glory: how he, since he is the eternal God, stands out as the author of all miracles, who first, as the almighty Guardian of the human race, created for the sons of Men the heavens for a roof, and then the earth.'' This is the sense, not however the order of the words themselves, which he sang while sleeping; for neither are songs able, however well they are composed, to be translated literally from one language to another without loss of its decorum and dignity. But arising from sleep, he retained the memory of all that he sung sleeping, and soon added more words to the songs in the same manner, fitting for God.

The Anglo-Saxon staves, of which St Bede gives a Latin rendering, exist in an Old Northumbrian version of The Ecclesiastical History commissioned by King Alfred for the edification of the people. The song was written in the alliterative metre of all traditional Anglo-Saxon poetry, which I produce here. Interestingly, notice the word middangeard (Middle-earth). It is likely that Tolkien knew well The Ecclesiastical History, and since the form was common, and meant simply the ''lands of Men'' between the seas (or not uncommonly, between Heaven and Hell), it is hardly surprising for it to crop up in Bede:

Nu sculon herigean heofonrices weard, meotodes meahte and his modgeþanc, weorc wuldorfæder, swa he wundra gehwæs, ece drihten, or onstealde.
He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum heofon to hrofe, halig scyppend; þa middangeard moncynnes weard, ece drihten, æfter teode firum foldan, frea ælmihtig.

The above silhouette shows the ruins of Whitby Abbey, plundered by the Vikings in the 9th century, founded again in the 11th century, and similarly plundered by Protestant visitors (wreckers more like) when Henry VIII was sovereign.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Etymologies...


This book is absolutely fascinating. I have reached Part III now, Word Studies, and I have reached ''nasturtian.'' This part gives a list of (mostly) Germanic words revived or some even coined by Tolkien and goes through the etymological significance of each in detail. It is greatly interesting - so absorbing even that while reading it this morning, my mother had to shake me after having called my name twice! It seems strange to me that many names Tolkien uses have far more philological significance than I had hitherto thought, but it doesn't surprise me, and I reproach myself for having underestimated the genius of the man so impertinently. Tolkien had an immense knowledge of languages and could ''invent'' them backwards, as he did with the tongues of Rohan (Anglo-Saxon) and Dale (Old Norse), or could even (non-Middle-earth fashion) invent words to fill gaps in old dictionaries, as he did to supplement the Gothic language. More on this (perhaps) later.

For now, I wish to comment on a rare Latinate word which appears in Bilbo's song of Eärendil in Rivendell. In this wonderful song, full of wonderful philological archaisms, Bilbo calls Eärendil (I am still undecided as to whether he means Eärendil the man, the Mariner, or the Morning Star, but perhaps this is besides the point - comments below would be welcome) the ''flammifer'' of Westernesse. I say it is a rare Latinate word because it is unusual for Tolkien to deliberately use a poetic word of Latin derivation in a Middle-earth setting - most others, such as Westernesse or Easterling, Oakenshield etc, are of Anglo-Saxon or Old Norse derivation. The word ''flammifer'' means ''flame-bearer'' and is, of course, related to the familiar words Conifer (Cone-bearer), Signifer (Standard-bearer), Aquifer (Water-bearer), Crucifer (Cross-bearer), Thurifer (Incense-bearer), and even Lucifer (Light-bearer) - although we seldom use the fair latter form because of its Satanic connotations.

While the word flammifer does not itself appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, the Dictionary lists a rare (very rare, I had never heard of it!) adjective form ''flammiferous'' - a word deriving from the 17th century. Interestingly, Eärendil was the first Middle-earth character to be invented. In 1913, when he was my age, Tolkien discovered the name Earendel in Crist, an Anglo-Saxon poem about Christ. The famous stanza goes:

éala éarendel engla beorhtast
ofer middangeard monnum sended
[Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,
over Middle-earth sent unto Men]
Tolkien identified Earendel (the name means star or radiance) with St John the Baptist, the Prophet who heralded the coming of the Messias. While no such coming happens in Middle-earth (although Andreth alludes to a possible ''incarnation'' in the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth - see The History of Middle-earth, Volume X), a very moving moment occurs towards the end of The Silmarillion when Eärendil first ascends the heavens; the miserable people of Beleriand look up and behold! their despair is turned suddenly to hope, and they call the new Star Gil-Estel, the Star of High Hope - even the Sons of Fëanor rejoice that it is now forever beyond the grasp of evil hands - for each of them sees the new Star as a sign for the fall of Morgoth.

I have to go to work now! I have used the above image recently; it is John Howe's depiction of The Doors of Night. The ship is, of course, the Flammifer of Westernesse, Eärendil the Mariner.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Interesting book...


A while ago, I posted about this very interesting book. Two people recommended it to me; my Latin teacher (who has excellent literary taste) and my old therapist. The book takes on the nature of a kind of Sherlock Holmes murder mystery. If you can mind the swearing and the blasphemy (the author is unfortunately an atheist) it is rather edifying. I can't say that I entirely identify with the boy, since he likes Science and Maths (two subjects for which at school I had a heartfelt loathing), is an atheist, for so-called ''logical'' and ''reasonable'' reasons, and has some strange ideas about colours and days of the week. I suppose that with books, memoirs, diaries etc, written by people with mental illnesses (such as Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen - a very bright lady who has Borderline Personality Disorder, or The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, a woman who suffered Clinical Depression), one is to expect something untoward somewhere, but they explore regions of the mind which are altogether dark or full of nightmares. I have found that reading some of my own stuff back to myself, often it is very ''bitter'' sounding. You'll often find that some of the most brilliant persons ever to have contributed to the vast tapestry of human genius have had something ''wrong'' with them. Mozart and Einstein (arguably) had Asperger Syndrome; John Nash (the brilliant Mathematician) has Schizophrenia; Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci,Tchaikovsky and Oscar Wilde were homosexual. I wonder whether something being wrong somewhere is integral to genius? Therefore, is it a ''sin'' to try and cure the defect? Is it a defect? I ask because one of the qualities of having Asperger Syndrome is being a natural expert in a particular area of interest. Would I be interesting at all if I were not a Tolkienist? What does cure entail? Were I to change anything, I would that I were not more or less ''shunned'' by people for whom I have cordial love and respect.

I heartily recommend that book though!

More Lay of Leithian...

Forgive the lack of posts recently, but I have been unwell (violently sick in fact!) these past two days. I thought, since I wish to retain a steady readership, and readership does go down if there are no posts, that I'd continue with the wonderful Lay of Leithian. We had reached the stage of the departure of Beren from Doriath I believe. Tolkien goes on:

''A guileful oath
thou sworest, father! Thou hast both
to blade and chain his flesh now doomed
in Morgoth's dungeons deep entombed,''
said Lúthien, and welling tears
sprang in her eyes, and hideous fears
clutched at her heart. All looked away,
and later remembered the sad day
whereafter Lúthien no more sang.
Then clear in the silence the cold words rang
of Melian: ''Counsel cunning-wise,
O king!'' she said. ''Yet if mine eyes
lose not their power, 'twere well for thee
that Beren failed his errantry.
Well for thee, but for thy child
a dark doom and a wandering wild.''
''I sell not to Men those whom I love''
said Thingol, ''whom all things above
I cherish; and if hope there were
that Beren should ever living fare
to the Thousand Caves once more, I swear
he should not ever have seen the air
or light of heaven's stars again.''
But Melian smiled, and there was pain
as of far knowledge in her eyes;
for such is the sorrow of the wise.
(The History of Middle-earth, Volume III, Chapter III).

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Memory...


Tolkien the Catholic, Tolkien the philologist, Tolkien the lexicographer, Tolkien the Latinist, Tolkien the scholar, Tolkien the poet, Tolkien the intellectual, Tolkien the loremaster, Tolkien the genius...don't let us forget Tolkien the artist. The above painting is by J.R.R Tolkien, found from google images, and depicts Lothlórien in the Spring. Laurelindórenan, the Land of the Valley of Singing Gold, Lórien of the Blossom, the Dreamflower - it's one of those places where I always wanted to live.

One of the central themes in Tolkien is the poignancy of Memory, that is, the Memory of fair things lost indefinitely, and since he writes chiefly of the Elves, it is a constant motif. Memory ties in significantly with Tolkien's ideas about the second ''fall'' (or error) of the Exiled Elves, the Noldor (or Gnomes - I may in fact start calling them this*). At the end of the First Age, the Eldar of Beleriand were counselled by Eönwë to return into the West to receive the pardon (or in some cases, the judgement) of the Valar. Many hearkened to the summons and left the grey shores, but some, many of the greatest and noblest of the Eldar, (eg: Galadriel and Gil-galad) decided to remain in Middle-earth, and these went eastwards into Eriador where they founded kingdoms - Ost-in-Edhil nigh to the great Dwarrowdelf of the Dwarves in Eregion and at Lindon, where there were still havens. In Eregion, the Elves struck up a friendship with the Dwarves of the Misty Mountains, such as there had never been before, to the profit of both their realms.

On a time, there appeared in Eregion a certain sage of wise and fair countenance, calling himself Annatar, Lord of Gifts, and he posed as an emissary of the Valar, sent to heal the desolate lands. He became the friend and counsellor of Celebrimbor, son of Curufin, the greatest craftsman of his age, and Celebrimbor respected Annatar, for his knowledge and subtlety were great, and together with his small band of followers, the Gwaith-i-Mírdain (The People of the Jewel-Smiths), under the tutelage of Annatar, they wrought the Rings of Power. ''Annatar'' was, of course, Sauron the Deceiver.

The chief power of the Great Rings was not, as the film trilogy makes out, for the purposes of government - it was, in fact, the prevention or slowing of decay, or change viewed as something unfortunate but inevitable, the preservation of beautiful things, things beloved or desired, or at least the semblance of all these things. The most potent of these things were the Three, unbeknown to Sauron, and these Three were never touched by him. But, as you all know, Sauron wrought in secret the One Ring in Orodruin, and with this Ring he could see the thoughts and govern the actions of the wearers of the lesser Rings (even the Three), and would eventually utterly enslave them. But when Sauron assumed the One Ring, and spoke the famous leit-motif ''One Ring to rule them all,'' etc, the Elves were immediately aware of him, and in wrath and great fear they removed the Rings, and hid them. Sauron then made war on the Elves, Eregion was destroyed, and the West-doors of Moria were shut. He seized the Great Rings (all except the Three, which were hidden) and gave them to those who would accept them, for reasons of greed or ambition. Etc., etc..

As I have said, the Elves desired only the memory of ancient bliss to be made a reality in Middle-earth - which is, I suppose, where the source of their error lay. They wanted the perfection of the West but in Middle-earth, where they were comfortably above the other uncouth inhabitants (the wild Men and the Dwarves - the Men of Númenor came seldom to Middle-earth in those days). Therefore, the Elves became obsessed with ''fading'', and they were sad. Their art, therefore, became also sad. When Sauron posed as Annatar, he feigned sympathy with this ideal, for it suited his purposes, and therein he sought to twist it, and proposed to them that with his aid, they might endeavour to make Middle-earth a separate paradise, against the Valar. Sure enough, when Sauron was vanquished at the end of the Second Age, his control over the Great Rings was lost, and the Three (while never openly declared) were released, free to act according to their initial design.

Interestingly, there are two important aspects of the ''memory'' of the Eldar depicted in The Lord of the Rings. The one is in the House of Elrond (or perhaps even in the person of Elrond Halfelven himself), a place where Tradition (songs, tales, customs, all concerning the good) is preserved in reverent memory. The House of Elrond is a place of reflection, a veritable mirror or seeing-glass into the history of Arda. The other place is Lothlórien, where the history of Arda seemed to be alive and not just seen in Memory, just as real as the trees and grass. The Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, stood in wonder at it:

''The others cast themselves down upon the fragrant grass, but Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever. He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lórien there was no stain.'' (The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter VI, Lothlórien).

When Sam described the feeling, that it was like ''being inside a song'' as it were, Haldir knew immediately what he meant. Sam felt, of course, the power of Nenya, the Ring of Adamant (one of the Three), which preserved the land of Lothlórien against the menace of Dol Guldur. All outside was dark. But, all the beauty and the memory of good depended upon the Quest of Mount Doom. Galadriel told Frodo that he was not responsible for the fate of Lothlórien, but only for the completion of his task (which encompassed the fate of all realms where the memory of good things was kept in reverence, such as in Gondor (although in the case of Gondor, things are more complex, and arguably, as Faramir says, they had less lore and had become more like the Men of Rohan). But, since the beauty of Lothlórien was preserved with the power of Nenya, what would happen to that beauty if the One Ring were in fact destroyed? Some had argued at the Council of Elrond that the Three would be eternally released, and that the Elves would be free to heal the hurts of the world, and to preserve in a vivid tradition the memory of ancient days. But, as Elrond himself believed, wise in all lore, the other proved the case. The One Ring was indeed destroyed, but the powers of the Three were not enhanced or set free, but were made impotent. ''For our spring,'' said Galadriel, ''and our summer are gone by, and they will never be seen on earth again save in memory.''

I suppose these are all the reasons I find Tolkien's work so beautiful and so resonant, for I too dislike change and would preserve what Memory there was unstained of things of past beauty and happiness. But, inevitably, things grow stale, ends come, beauty is forgotten, Death comes. One of the most beautiful, but sadly seldom read, passages in Tolkien comes from Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings, the Death-bed of Aragorn, and so we might endeavour to reckon the present life of Men:

''Now, therefore, I will sleep.'' said Aragorn. ''I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world. The uttermost choice is before you: to repent and go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together that shall there be evergreen but never more than memory; or else to abide the Doom of Men.''

''Nay, dear lord,'' said Arwen, ''that choice is long over. There is now no ship that would bear me hence, and I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or I nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Númenoreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One [God] to Men, it is bitter to receive.''

''So it seems,'' he said. ''But let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of old renounced the Shadow and the Ring. In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!''

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Graves...


Today's wonderful Mass with the blessing of the graves at Chislehurst has put me in mind of my mother's youngest brother Sean, who died young (aged 18) in 1990. Since my grandparents moved back to Ireland, his grave at a nearby cemetery has been turfed over, and (to my knowledge) no one has been near or by it since early this year. I spoke to my friend about this over lunch today, and she suggested planting snowdrops. I must at least visit the cemetery myself, maybe tomorrow after Mass. He was, afterall, my godfather.

Saturday afternoon...

It's nice to have Saturdays off now - I can have some sort of a life besides University and work this way. At Midday today, I was privileged to attend, and serve (as Thurifer), the High Mass of Requiem followed by the blessing of the graves at St Mary's, Chislehurst. Mass was lovely, but I have more or less run out of things to say about it (having reported so many Masses recently), so instead of going over the oft-heard ''how great and marvellous Mass in the Old Rite is'', I shall say nothing repetitive...so ends Patricius lamely. I am sure there will be photos available shortly.

Afterwards, I met up with a friend of mine and together we drove out to a nice cafe for lunch. We chatted about various things, one of them being my new Tolkien book, which arrived yesterday. I have read very little of it as yet, but I shall go and sort that out presently.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The '62 Rite...


I recently attended a High Mass according to what was mostly the ''liturgical'' norms of 1962. I found the whole ceremony (the music was quite splendid) rather unedifying, untidy, somewhat ungodly (notice these words contain the prefix -un, denoting the absence or lack of a quality, which is fairly typical of the Bugnini half-arsed, DIY, stripped-to-the-bones, or in many cases, mutilated beyond recognition, approach to Liturgy - neither Old Rite nor entirely New Rite, a rather pitiful middle state, rather like your average Anglican!) and was just left with the even stronger conviction that I prefer the Old Rite, and that if you're going to do it, at least do it properly. I can think of no greater enemy to the Traditional Liturgy than pedantic adherents to '62, who would, I expect, do anything to prevent anyone from finding out that the Traditional Roman Rite is centuries older than the 20th century. For people curious about the Traditional Liturgy often turn to the ''powers-that-be,'' as did I when I first ''converted'' to the Old Rite four years ago. I can put it no better than by saying that expecting Miranda, I was greeted by Caliban...

Not having ''watched'' a '62 Rite High Mass from the Congregation for some time now, I forgot how untidy it is, and how, on certain points, it looks entirely meaningless. To give just two examples - the Epistle and Gospel. The Celebrant of High Mass, according to the rubrics of '62, reads neither (nor any other lesson, I wonder what an Ember Day would be like!), but retires to the Sedilia for the Epistle with the Deacon (since neither have a liturgical function at these points), returning to bless the Subdeacon, who transfers the Missal (again, to what purpose is this? Since the Celebrant no longer reads the Gospel, it won't be needed until the Offertory!), and stands at the Epistle corner for the Gospel. If the conduct of the Ministers and Servers is not reckoned to a nicety, it just looks awful, with people getting in each other's way etc.

I wonder to what extent this is reminiscent of the evolution of Low Mass? I am here referring to the ''laziness'' which seemed to be a part of it. If I remember rightly, Bugnini's justification for doing away with the parts of the Mass proper to the Celebrant at the Epistle and Gospel was that in the ''early church'' he didn't read them then. Even were this true, it is still a monstrous anachronism, and its purpose is plainly aliturgical, and, as Tolkien asked, since when was primitiveness any guarantee of value?

There are, of course, other examples of the liturgical ineptitude of '62, but I have not the skill to elaborate them. I leave that to readers. Suggestions in the comment box please! The above photo is, of course, of the Orc liturgist Bugnini, the Freemason who wrought the destruction of the Liturgy, and whose name, an interesting blogger recently picked up, calls to mind the Semitic god Ba'al. Do bearers of this name, by implication, promote idolatry I wonder!?

Is this the kindly face of Satan?


A few weeks ago, my mother and I watched a film called Vera Drake, set in London around 1950. I had never heard of it before, but my mother had clearly seen it. When I asked her what it was about, she simply said ''a woman called Vera Drake.'' As the film progressed, I realised what it was about and was confessedly horrified by what I saw, which was the grotesque and altogether unnatural and evil tampering with the Laws of God. The film is clearly a piece of abortionist propaganda, and is about a ''kindly'' middle-aged working class woman who procures illegal Abortions, thinking this to be an act of generosity. In other words, she was a callous witch. When she was arrested, her explanation to the police was that she ''helped out'' young women who ''couldn't cope.'' I need not explain that this manifests a tragic crisis of moral standing in someone.

I often wonder whether this terrible yoke of the Devil over the minds of Men, especially in the last century or more, is the reason so many people, no doubt ''sincere'' (is that the right word? Where is Tolkien when you need him) in their erroneous and monstrous beliefs, are so morally corrupt. I think that it is a devastating tool devised by the Devil to weaken resistance to his will. It just strikes me as terribly discrepant that people can commit acts of atrocity, like the Nazis one minute, and can then go about their business as though nothing untoward has happened. Something is clearly wrong somewhere. Does the same principle apply, I wonder, to people who despise the Traditional Liturgy? Yea more! To people who are vegetarians, give up drinking (not Pioneers, one of my mother's cousins is a Pioneer, or those who were previously alcoholic - I am here referring to people like Ian Paisley who stupidly think that Alcohol is inherently bad - perhaps if they bothered to read the Scriptures they'd note that God invented wine!), people who join funny Eastern religions/philosophies etc. Never mind about Asperger Syndrome - they are the real lunatics!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The History of Gollum...


People often assume that literary taste is subjective. They could not be more wrong. As W.H Auden once said, if you dislike The Lord of the Rings, I shall never trust your literary judgement again! Anyway, one of the marks of objectively exquisite literature is its ability to manipulate one's emotions. The Lord of the Rings does just this for me. It is at once so sorrowful and poignant but also jovial in places and supremely melodious. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest works of mythopoeic fiction ever to have been composed, and by one man over a period of about 13 years. In one of his letters, Tolkien wrote: ''Hardly a word in its 600,000 or more has been unconsidered;'' and I suppose this gives you at least some measure of the man. I had a delightful conversation the other evening with a friend of mine about the creature Gollum, and I venture to here organise my thoughts about this tragic character, integral to the story, and paradoxically the greatest service to Frodo, who for long pursued him with evil purpose.

We are first introduced to the creature Gollum in The Hobbit, where he is the mysterious furtive creature who dwells on an island deep within the Misty Mountains and plays a riddle game with Bilbo. Tolkien writes that he knows nothing whatever about the wretch, or his origin, and since The Hobbit was not composed by Tolkien as part of the whole, it suffices to give a mere résumé of its content. It is to The Lord of the Rings that we now turn.

Gollum was akin in ancient days to Hobbits of Stoorish kind that dwelt in the Vales of Anduin - indeed, nigh to the Gladden Fields where the Ring was lost. Gandalf tells us that there was among this strange, clever-handed people a family of high repute, governed by a matriarch of some sort, and that the most curious (and devious) member of this family was young Sméagol. He was accustomed to delve into the earth to find the roots of things, the roots of plants and trees, the basins of deep pools, and the roots of the Mountains. He was also interested in the history of things; his sight was therefore constantly downwards, and backwards. On his birthday he and his friend Déagol, a creature of similar sort, went fishing on the Anduin. A great fish caught hold of Déagol's hook, and he was dragged into the river. Whilst underwater, he caught sight of something shiny in the river-bed, and so grabbing hold of it, he came back to the surface. He swam over to the bank and opened the palm of his hand, to find a gold ring.

Sméagol, having espied him from behind a tree, came to him as he gloated over his prize, and whispered into his friend's ear: ''Give us that, Déagol, my love.'' When Déagol refused to give the ring to Sméagol, Sméagol throttled him, put on the ring, and cunningly buried the body. Returning to his home, he found that while wearing the Ring, he was invisible. This was to his liking, and he turned the power to evil uses, until he was shunned by his family, who kicked him. They called him gollum, for he now muttered and cursed, making gargling sounds in his throat, and they cursed him. His grandmother, desiring peace, therefore banished him from the house and he took to wandering. He wept for the hardness of the world, and he sat by the river until the Sun burned him. Seeing, therefore, the Misty Mountains from afar, desire came over him to live there, away from the cruel Yellow Face which burned him. And so, by night he came into the highlands of that region until he discovered a cave out of which flowed a stream. And thus came Gollum, with the Ring of Power, to the Misty Mountains.

In the caves of the Misty Mountains, the Ring became a torment almost unbearable to Gollum, and all the ''great secrets'' concealed in the Mountains just turned out to be darkness. There was nothing left for Gollum to do, except gnaw at the bones of fish he caught (or not seldom, a wandering Orc he ensnared) and remember his life in bitterness. The murder of Déagol was a torment to Gollum, and he would oft repeat in the dark that his ''precious,'' his ''birthday present'' was indeed his own, Déagol ought to have given it to him, it was his birthday present etc. He was altogether ruined and wretched; the Ring devoured him. He hated everything, he hated and loved the Ring, although he could not get rid of it, having no will left in the matter. As the Shadow lengthened in Southern Mirkwood, and the Dark Lord sent forth his dark thought from the woods, it abandoned Gollum, only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo Baggins from the Shire!

There is much to be said for the encounter between Bilbo and Gollum in the Misty Mountains. They had much in common, as can be seen from the riddles that they chose. There was a great deal in both their minds that was similar, and certainly it must have been pleasant for Gollum to hear a kindly voice in the dark, recalling to him long forgotten memories of trees, of wind and of rain. After Bilbo's escape, Gollum endured his loss as long as he could, but in the end his desire for the Ring overcame his fear and hatred of the Orcs, the Sun and the Moon, and he left the Misty Mountains. Significantly, since he lost the Ring (or more accurately, since the Ring lost him), he began to recover somewhat, and he became conscious of his immense age, and he was famished, although cunning. He made his way towards Mirkwood following Bilbo's trail. Later, Gandalf learned that he had made his way to Esgaroth, and even to the streets of Dale, where almost certainly Gollum will have heard rumour of the Quest of Erebor, and the return journey of Bilbo to the Shire. Afterwards, Gollum tried to pursue Bilbo across the leagues of Wilderland and Eriador, but he turned aside. Gollum's trail, when the Wood-elves of Northern Mirkwood essayed to track him, led them through Mirkwood and back, but they found him not, although all the woods was full of the rumour of him. The Woodmen told tales of a new terror, a ghost that drank blood.

The trail turned southwards, out of the regions of the Woodmen and western Mirkwood, and was lost. When he was found, years later by Aragorn by the pools of the Dead Marshes, it was plain that the feet of Gollum had taken him league by league, step by step, down into the land of Mordor. No doubt Gollum felt some kind of ''summons'' (perhaps some residue of the power of the Ring), and was drawn towards the Dark Land; at least there he would find allies to help him get his revenge upon the thief Baggins! He was caught lurking on the confines of that evil realm, and was taken to the Dark Tower for questioning and examination. There he was tortured and thus Sauron discovered that the Ring was not lost, that it was a Great Ring, and that it was long in possession of a halfling, ''Baggins'' from the ''Shire.''

Aragorn brought Gollum through long leagues and much weariness and pain back to Mirkwood, where he was kept in prison by the Wood-elves, who treated him with as much kindness as their wise hearts would allow, hoping for his cure. There he was guarded unceasingly, but at length, the Elves, in the pity of their hearts, would let Gollum out of his prison, and oft in days of fair weather would lead him through the woods where he liked to climb the trees. On one such day, Gollum refused to come down from the great tree, and the Elves were attacked by Orcs from the Mountains. The Elves drove the Orcs back with great slaughter, for they were from the mountains and unused to the woods, but when they returned, they found that Gollum was gone, and the guard about the tree slain or taken prisoner. Thus they learned that the escape was planned, and much of the hidden counsels of the Elven-king were known to the Enemy. In those days, the evil things, long-since driven out since the fall of the Dragon Smaug, returned in greater numbers, and Mirkwood was once again an evil place. The Elves followed the trail of Gollum deep into Southern Mirkwood, but they gave up and dared not continue farther, for the forest was evil, and they were moreover drawing nigh to Dol Guldur.

The tale of Gollum's travels is not clear after this, but I suppose that after he escaped the Orcs, he tried again to find the Shire, and went into Moria. There he would have ''given up,'' being starving hungry and very weary, until the Fellowship of the Ring came to the West Doors, where he would have followed them. The above painting is a ''sketch'' by the Tolkien artist Ted Nasmith, and depicts Gollum by the Forbidden Pool. More on Gollum soon.

Niveus, Nivea, Niveum...


It snowed heavily on Candlemas this year. I took that photo from an upstairs window. The garden always looks so ugly during the Winter, but when it's all covered with snow, it's just lovely. If I remember rightly, that evening the Servers at Mass largely outnumbered the Congregation!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

New Tolkien book...


Glyphweb.com is a valuable Tolkien resource, a near-complete Encyclopedia of Middle-earth (although I have looked some things up on there and not found them!), and sometimes they have news and updates. I found this out today. A new book is now ready in paperback; The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall and Edmund Weiner. For anyone interested in the linguistic side of ''Tolkien studies'' (such as myself), this book is a must-have. It is on offer at Amazon at £5.73.

Between 1919 and 1920, Tolkien was an assistant lexicographer for the then ''New English Dictionary.'' One of his supervisors, Dr Henry Bradley, was highly impressed with Tolkien's scholarship, then only a man in his late 20s. He said of him: ''His work gives evidence of an unusually thorough mastery of Anglo-Saxon and of the facts and principles of the comparative grammar of the Germanic languages. Indeed, I have no hesitation in saying that I have never known a man of his age who was in these respects his equal.''

The compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary was interrupted by the First World War. By 1919, when Tolkien joined the staff, most of the work had been completed. And so, Tolkien was set to work on words of Anglo-Saxon and other Germanic derivation in the W section. To get a glimpse of the skill required for the etymological and philological rigours of this task, let us look at the word ''wasp.'' The entry under this word cites comparable forms in Old Saxon, Middle Dutch, Modern Dutch, Old High German, Middle Low German, Middle High German, Modern German, Old Teutonic, primitive pre-Teutonic, Lithuanian, Old Slavonic, Russian and, of course, Latin. It is hardly surprising that Tolkien himself wrote of this period: ''I learned more in those two years than in any other equal period of my life.''

As I say, well-worth the read by the looks of things (I have already ordered my copy!). Humphrey Carpenter is often woefully brief in descriptions of Tolkien's life, so this book, by three eminent lexicographers with access to the Oxford English Dictionary archives, promises to be truly edifying.

More from the Lay of Leithian...


It has been some time now since I wrote about The Lay of Leithian. We had arrived at the moment where Thingol pronounces his cunning doom upon Beren, and thus was Doriath enmeshed within a greater doom, the dreaded Doom of Mandos. Tolkien continues:
Then Thingol's warriors loud and long
they laughed; for wide renown in song
had Fëanor's gems o'er land and sea,
the peerless Silmarils; and three
alone he made and kindled slow
in the land of the Valar long ago,
and there in Tûn [Túna] of their own light
they shone like marvellous stars at night,
in the great Gnomish hoards of Tûn,
while Glingal* flowered and Belthil's* bloom
yet lit the land beyond the shore
where the Shadowy Seas' last surges roar,
ere Morgoth stole them and the Gnomes
seeking their glory left their homes,
ere sorrows fell on Elves and Men,
ere Beren was or Lúthien,
ere Fëanor's sons in madness swore
their dreadful oath. But now no more
their beauty was seen, save shining clear
in Morgoth's dungeons vast and drear.
His iron crown they must adorn,
and gleam above Orcs and slaves forlorn,
treasured in Hell above all wealth,
more than his eyes; and might nor stealth
could touch them, or even gaze too long
upon their magic. Throng on throng
of Orcs with reddened scimitars
encircled them, and mighty bars
and everlasting gates and walls,
who wore them now amidst his thralls.

Then Beren laughed more loud than they
in bitterness, and thus did say:
''For little price do elven-kings
their daughters sell - for gems and rings
and things of gold! If such thy will,
thy bidding I will now fulfill.
On Beren son of Barahir
thou hast not looked the last, I fear.
Farewell, Tinúviel, starlit maiden!
Ere the pale winter pass snowladen,
I will return, not thee to buy
with any jewel in Elfinesse,
but to find my love in loveliness,
a flower that grows beneath the sky.''
And so, bowing before the King and Queen of the realm, he departed from the land of Doriath.

*Glingal and Belthil were the original names of ''Glingol'' and ''Bansil'' - again, two archaic forms for the Two Trees of Valinor, Laurelin and Telperion. Interestingly, Tolkien retained Glingal and Belthil late into the Legendarium, and they survive as the names of the two images, wrought by Turgon in Gondolin, of the Two Trees, a fair and poignant memory of ancient bliss in exile.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Can the Devil read minds?

A parishioner asked me yesterday whether the Devil could read minds. I answered that as a finite being, he could not possibly read the minds and pay special and particular attention to each individual mind constantly. I suppose only God can do that, since He exists eternally in a constant ''moment'' being fully aware of everything in Time and Space outside the periphery of temporal and contingent things. And I don't suppose that the Devil is really interested in things not related to sin and the corruption of Men's thoughts, and so small things like the mind's perception of beauty (well perhaps this is small to him) only anger him when thrust upon his attention. The Devil is a terrifying entity all the same, and I don't suppose that there is any power conceivable greater than he, save God alone (to quote the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth).

However, if we turn to Volume X of The History of Middle-earth, Tolkien writes very eloquently on the subject of ''mind-reading'' among the Valar. He says:

''No one, not even one of the Valar, can read the mind of other 'equal beings':* that is one cannot 'see' them or comprehend them fully and directly by simple inspection. One can deduce much of their thought, from general comparisons leading to conclusions concerning the nature and tendencies of minds and thought, and from particular knowledge of individuals, and special circumstances. But this is no more reading or inspection of another mind than is deduction concerning the contents of a closed room, or events taken place out of sight. Neither is so-called 'thought-transference' a process of mind-reading: this is but the reception, and interpretation by the receiving mind, of the impact of thought, or thought-pattern, emanating from another mind, which is no more the mind in full or in itself than is the distant sight of a man running the man himself. Minds can exhibit or reveal themselves to other minds by the action of their own wills (though it is doubtful if, even when willing or desiring this, a mind can actually reveal itself wholly to any other mind). It is thus a temptation of minds of greater power to govern or constrain the will of other, and weaker, minds, so as to induce or force them to reveal themselves. But to force such a revelation, or to induce it by any lying or deception, even for supposedly 'good' purposes (including the 'good' of the person so persuaded or dominated), is absolutely forbidden. To do so is a crime, and the 'good' in the purposes of those who commit this crime swiftly becomes corrupted.

''Much could thus 'go on behind Manwë's back': indeed the innermost being of all other minds, great and small, was hidden from him. And with regard to the Enemy, Melkor, in particular, he could not penetrate by distant mind-sight his thought and purposes, since Melkor remained in a fixed and powerful will to withhold his mind: which physically expressed took shape in the darkness and shadows that surrounded him. But Manwë could of course use, and did use, his own great knowledge, his vast experience of things and of persons, his memory of the 'Music', and his own far sight, and the tidings of his messengers.

*[marginal note] All rational minds/spirits deriving direct from Eru are 'equal' - in order and status - though not necessarily 'coëval' or of like original power.'' (The History of Middle-earth, Volume X, Morgoth's Ring, Part Five, Myths Transformed, Text VII (ii)).

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?


This past week I have felt rather sick. I said in my previous post that for this reason I made recourse to my books, the best of friends, but they were cold and stale, as was my music. This feeling is still there, and the oft and familiar ''heaviness'' is still in my chest - I understand now how the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain felt when they had their visits from the dark horseman (a Ringwraith) during the night, and I always assumed that ''heaviness of heart'' was just a saying. At first I blamed having spent a 39 hour week at work, way beyond my contracted hours, and being tired because of it. It is, also, depressing work - or was; to be more accurate, the nature of my new work is more mind-numbingly tedious than depressing, but when you're sick, it can be just as depressing as having to deal with the great unwashed (the general public) anyway and so there is an added lethargy and time drips and drips and drips, until it seems that every time one looks at the clock, time seems either to have halted altogether or is worse, going backwards.

This morning was no different, and I couldn't face getting up - on a Sunday too! My usual favourite day of the week! I went out in the morning, greeted a neighbour (one of the odd ones we don't actually get on well with) and he studiously ignored me. I often find this with people I try to make an effort with, but I suppose that charity requires that I continue to accept abuse in good humour. Before Mass, a friend kindly (and astutely) asked what was wrong, but I didn't actually know. I still don't completely. This last week I have been thinking about things; about academia, about Latin and my obvious ineptitude at it, about family, about Love (the unrequited stuff) and about having a piece of paper to say you did a Degree, and it all seems rather sad.

I am quite certain that most readers will be sick of these ''sob-story'' posts, but it needs to be out somehow, and to what or to whom else can I turn? I sincerely hope someone takes the trouble to read it. I know for a fact that my mother doesn't read this blog, and I oft think that she, although people may gainsay this, doesn't understand me at all, and often enough doesn't seem interested in listening to my problems. My father is much the same. Then there are friends: they exist only in books. Acquaintances; I am afraid that I don't know them enough, nor do they know me enough, for me to properly go into my problems with, even if they were interested. Psychologists? They are paid to sympathise with patients and I rather doubt that they think about their work when they go home at 5:00pm. Utterly insincere. Then comes the Confessional, and how that puts me off! I suppose the most difficult thing about Confession is getting the gumption to actually go there in the first place. Before this wasn't a problem, and was rather routine for me. I would go once a week, confess my sins, and be done with it. It was a chore, but not a terrible chore like doing the washing up (which took me literally two and a half hours this evening), and it became complacent. Then I realised something terrible and wonderful about myself and I couldn't go, out of sheer fear and shame.

Until I work this out, I am rather stuck. In the last few days, I had begun to write blog posts (one about Gollum) but gave up because I couldn't think properly, or I just thought that the inarticulate nonsense I had composed would just serve to make me look stupid. So to whom shall I turn? What patron shall I ask? People say prayer, and they are probably right, but what I really want is someone genuinely interested and sympathetic to talk to - prayer is the gift of faith, but I don't want answers from the Saints revealed in parables or some other strange, unknowable way. I need something immediate, but I doubt that such a thing exists. I suppose that I actually put more people off by writing things such as this than invite them as friends. What do readers think?

The above painting is by Ted Nasmith and depicts Treebeard, one of my favourite characters from The Lord of the Rings. I like him because he is old, grave, melancholic and plain-wise, having wisdom with years (very long years) of experience. I am also fascinated by the Ents - like Elves in their longevity and their love of growing things, but also more like unto Men since they do change (albeit slowly) with the passing years. The Ents' hunt for the Entwives is probably one of the most moving things I have ever read. Treebeard is not, of course, one of the Wise on account of his age, since there are many things that he does not know or understand, but he is very interesting all the same.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

What is it like to be me?


''How odd is his voice, how odd his manner of speaking and his way of moving. It is no surprise, therefore, that this boy also lacks understanding of other people's expressions and cannot react to them appropriately.'' (Hans Asperger, 1944).

When I tell people that I have Asperger Syndrome, they react differently. Some ask what it means (by which, presumably, they mean what the symptoms are and whether or not they have it, or it is contagious), some either stare blankly at me or look away or downwards, whatever the implications of this reaction may or may not be; others look at me as if to say: ''I know what you are,'' in the most condescending fashion. Confessedly, when I first heard the term said of me, I initially thought it incorrect - how could anything possibly be wrong with me (of all people) - it was everyone else who was wrong. When I went to a Child Guidance Clinic (after a referral from my Primary School for disruptive behaviour), my hippy therapist (that is how my father described them, by which he meant that they were all politically liberal and correct) wrote that I was ''living in a bubble.'' I have thought about this phrase almost constantly since I first saw it on my medical records three years ago, and I am yet to determine whether it is especially profound or stupid. Maybe Time will tell. Time, if anyone remembers Riddles in the Dark, is the destroyer of all things, the eater of worlds.

When I first received my diagnosis (in hindsight, I cannot believe that I condescended to be treated as a laboratory hamster for months), it was rather upsetting, and my head spun with conflicting thoughts and feelings; it was very loud, almost as if there were a war of sentiments and notions going on in my head. I get a similar feeling when more than one person is talking to me at the same time. I felt as though I didn't seem to quite fit in anywhere; I was not quite far along the Autism Spectrum to be classically Autistic; Asperger Syndrome sounded like a road that went nowhere, a window into nothing (like the Eye of Sauron), or a stream that went into the sand. It seemed like a magnet, pulling and pulling at my mind, pulling me into the realms of solitary wandering and pain, seeing the world through the bars of a cage, a prison that one could not see or feel, or escape from. I could only look from a distance at the relationships and friendships of other people, which I wanted to be part of, and I just felt alone, and bitter. For a long while, I belied reality with the notion that this was what I wanted, the other children were naturally less intelligent than I, less artistic, less sensitive to music and art, they all seemed to be more interested in frivolity than thinking, which I liked to do best. Boys were especially disgusting, and I had more girlfriends in Primary school - maybe because they were more like me than the boys were. Girls at any rate were sensitive to things with a particular quality of beauty, such as art. Among boys, any aesthetic appreciation was scoffed at as ''gay.'' I certainly cannot explain my preferences, even if I would. I was alone, perforce and by choice, a lot of the time, but it was a reluctant choice or acceptance. Perhaps it was a case of ''beware of wishing for your heart's true desire, lest you end by getting it.''

I often find that by writing things like this I am trying to articulate something very personal but incomprehensible. I hope these posts are at least intelligible and readable. Last night when I said that I was in pain and in dire want of personal literature, I meant it sincerely. But, most of my books have been read again and again, and like Tolkien and Lewis in the early 1940s, I have decided that not enough literature to my personal taste exists - so I shall have to compose some myself. Perhaps this is why, in a moment of temporary insanity, I proposed to the others my vague idea of writing a blog. Names for the blog were suggested - amusingly Mac proposed ''Attack of the Orcs'' - I thought then ''it won't be a blog about writers of The Tablet'' but I thought better of actually saying that. This is a Catholic blog, uncompromisingly so, but it has also become an eclectic blog, and I hope readers enjoy it.

As is my wont, I have strayed from the topic. Sometimes I feel that I am rather useless. I little sympathise with others who have Asperger Syndrome. They mostly seem to be great mathematicians or scientists or engineers. As my father said of me once, ''you don't even know how to change a light bulb.'' I suppose being entirely impractical does in fact make me useless. What can I say? My mind is rather peculiar. I suppose to a lot of people I am that rather odd young man who knows a lot about Tolkien. But what possible use is knowledge of Tolkien? The other day, a young boy asked me why, at 21, I hadn't moved out, married and had my own house. I suppose the answer to that, other than the obvious pecuniary reasons, is that I simply can't. I am not sure that I could live on my own, so when I said in answer to another question (why I wasn't married) that ''I just want someone to look after me,'' I was actually being serious.

With most of my friends, I have little in common beyond the most obvious things (faith, biological gender etc), and I am yet to meet someone with as much of a knowledge of Tolkien as myself. Someone I work with told me, when he saw that I was reading The Book of Lost Tales, that he had read The Children of Húrin, but he happens to be a non-believer, and worse, one of those vegetarians, so what little we had to talk about suddenly dried up. Am I too dismissive?

One of the most tragic things about having Asperger Syndrome is my impaired Theory of Mind abilities. Theory of Mind is a psychological term which means the ability to recognize and understand the thoughts, beliefs, desires and intentions of other people in order to make sense of their behaviour and predict what they are going to do next. My mother often says, in other words, that I can't ''walk in other people's shoes.'' This is not always a bad thing - for example, I am not interested in how Protestants or other heathens see things because they are irretrievably wrong. But it is tragic when someone is upset and I lack the ability to console them. All I see is that someone is upset, and I am expected to do something, or say something, but I am altogether inept. When trying to explain to a young boy how declensions and conjugations work in Latin once, it just would not sink in, and I said to him ''it's not difficult; I can understand it, why can't you?'' My mother then told me that people have minds different to my own. In hindsight, I don't think I understood that until I was about 8 years old.

So the question: what is it like to be me? Now that I think of it, I can't answer that question, because I don't know myself. Having Asperger Syndrome can have personal and intellectual benefits, but these are always at the clear expense of something fundamental to the human person. It's almost like being forced to carry, or drag, an immense weight that hinders me in the course through life. I am, therefore, naturally melancholic, and I suppose because of all of the above, I am doomed to walk through this world alone, to my life's end.

By the way, I actually think that my voice is beautifully deep and melodious, whatever Hans Asperger may have said! The above photo is of my favourite flower, the beautiful Purple Saxifrage.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Patricius is learning...

When my beloved Latin teacher introduced me to a monk from Ealing Abbey, she said of me ''he knows everything about Tolkien.'' Now, while I do enjoy the occasional censing (such as during the Holy Sacrifice), I believe that she erred on this particular occasion. While going through The History of Middle-earth this evening, Volume IV, I turned to the altogether unknowable Anglo-Saxon version of the Annals of Valinor (interestingly, these Annals were first composed in Anglo-Saxon). Now, I know no Anglo-Saxon at all (my cousin suggested that I learn it in order to better understand Tolkien - yeah right!), but I discovered for the first time this evening the etymology of the famous Arkenstone from The Hobbit, which Thorin prized over all the riches of Erebor. Tolkien renders ''silmarils'' as ''Eorclanstánas'', which Christopher Tolkien speculates is related to the Gothic airkns, which is ''holy.'' When I first read The Hobbit (now many years ago), I assumed (then knowing nothing about Tolkien the man) that all the strange names were arbitrary, just as they seem to be in inferior works of fiction, and in all honesty, I haven't given it any thought since then. I seldom read The Hobbit, and haven't read it at all this year - this must be rectified soon.

I have spent a while in pain this evening, and when I came in from work, longed to read something very personal and resonant, but not even Tolkien worked, and I didn't even like my music - it all seemed very stale and ''samey.'' Any suggestions for November reading (other than academic stuff) would be welcome...

Monday, 9 November 2009

Those Anglicans...


See Damian Thompson's blog for news about the Anglicans. It's all very interesting, and very very generous. I wonder if this pastoral provision were on offer in the '40s, whether Tolkien's wife Edith would have remained Catholic. Finding Confession irksome (don't we all) and other things, ''arrangements'' were made for her to ''go back'' to her local Anglican church - a most grievous thing in Tolkien's life. I actually think this was because of poor catechesis. The priest who instructed her in the faith in Worcester (I can't remember his name) was not a very erudite man. But such things can never be known, and who now knows the secret counsels and griefs of that strange mind, who in the early days of their marriage, accompanied Tolkien gladly to Mass and Benediction.

The question...


The above painting is by the Tolkien artist John Howe. In many ways, I prefer his work to that of Ted Nasmith, although I don't think I can explain why adequately - I can put it no better than ''I know what I hate.'' Anyway, it depicts the Doors of Night, the ''dragon-headed door'' or the ''gateway of the moon'' as it is called in ancient tales, set against the Wall of Things - imagine the airs, the three airs, coming to a sudden end, the fence or wall of the world, a vast dome, within which there is a portal into the Void. The Doors of Night are one of the oldest things in Tolkien, going back even to before the Lost Tales. The Lost Tales themselves tell us somewhat of their origin:

''Thus came it that the Gods dared a very great deed, the most mighty of all their works; for making a fleet of magic rafts and boats with Ulmo's aid - and otherwise had none of these endured to sail upon the waters of Vai - they drew to the Wall of Things, and there they made the Door of Night (Moritarnon or Tarn Fui as the Eldar name it in their tongues). There it still stands, utterly black and huge against the deep-blue walls. Its pillars are of the mightiest basalt and its lintel likewise, but great dragons of black stone are carved thereon, and shadowy smoke pours slowly from their jaws. Gates it has unbreakable, and none know how they were made or set, for the Eldar were not suffered to be in that dread building, and it is the last secret of the Gods; and not the onset of the world will force that door, which opens to a mystic word alone. That word Urwendi only knows and Manwë who spake it to her; for beyond the Door of Night is the outer dark, and he who passes therethrough may escape the world and death and hear things not yet for the ears of Earth-dwellers, and this may not be.'' (The Book of Lost Tales, Volume I, Chapter IX, The Hiding of Valinor).

The above quotation is not ''canonical.'' The tales comprising the early History of Middle-earth were revised extensively over the years into what is now the published Silmarillion, and so there is no reason to go by what this says to the letter. The names Vai, Moritarnon, Tarn Fui and Urwendi are of course obsolete. I sometimes prefer the old tales, if just because they are more ''unknowable'' or rudimentary or mysterious. The question is this: when exactly were they wrought by the Valar? No definitive answer is given in the canonical Legendarium; indeed, there is no entry for ''Door of Night'' given in the Index of The Silmarillion, and it only crops up once in the tale - right at the end. They are certainly not mentioned in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings.

One theory concerning their origin goes that they were created at the dawn of the first light of the Sun and Moon, as a sort of ''portal'' into the Outer Void, where the Sun and Moon would go out and return. Another is that they were created at the end of the First Age of the Sun as a portal to cast out Morgoth. Which is more in fitting with the rest of the tale I wonder? My supposition is that the former is more likely; if only because the latter seems to suggest too great a creative labour for the Valar so late into the history of Arda, and it seems nicer. Although I have often wondered about the presence of ''dragons'' - creatures of Morgoth, even if they are lifeless. Smoke is said to constantly issue from their jaws. Perhaps they are like gargoyles? Morgoth, in the Outer Void, is impotent and perhaps blind, until towards the end of the history of Arda he regains somewhat of his former might and closes in about Arda as a great shadow - so maybe the Dragons were set there to guard against his return, a way rather after the manner of Cathedral gargoyles of cheating the Devil into thinking that the Kingdom of Arda is a place already evil with the purpose of driving him off. Who knows?

I dreamt of it once, when I was staying with my grandmother; I stood on the edge of a vast precipice and beheld the world mapped out below, romantically as an unbroken ''forest kingdom'' and beheld the sky, from which there seemed to be suspended a kind of candelabra or chandelier, great candles perched upon vast tree branches, with leaves of the most divers and sweetest green, and at the four corners of the earth there were four pillars around which there were steep stairs. I longed to fly like a bird to that place. It was eerily beautiful. That's when I woke up and I remember no more...

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Fireworks...

I am appalled that I can hear fireworks going off on Remembrance Sunday - you'd think people would have a bit of respect. But then, I suppose that a great many people take freedom for granted. In my opinion, fireworks should be restricted to public displays for a few nights a year, and only Gandalf should make them...

Numquam Mortuorum obliviscemur...


...may we never be forgetful of the dead.

Today is Remembrance Sunday, a solemn and grave day in the secular calendar which rightly remembers those who gave their lives nobly in the defence of liberty against thraldom, monarchy against tyranny. As such, the Church (uniquely on a Sunday) can offer one Mass of Requiem for the repose of the souls of those who made the supreme sacrifice in the Two World Wars; ''Greater love hath no man than this'' said our Incarnate Lord.

All of us will have relatives, close and distant, who died in both Wars. My great-great uncle was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for valour in the defence of Great Britain during the First World War (I have never seen it, but my mother has; it was given to my great-grandmother who kept it - to my knowledge, the family still have it somewhere). My great-uncle John died at Monte Cassino in 1944, aged 24 years. On his anniversary some years ago, my father found his information on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and printed it off and had it framed for my grandmother (his younger brother my grandfather died a year or two before). All but one of Tolkien's best friends were killed in the grievous Battle of the Somme, and when Humphrey Carpenter published Tolkien's biography in 1977, he dedicated the work to the memory of the ''T.C.B.S'' - ''the Tea Club and Barrovian Society'' (an allusion to their fondness for having tea, illicitly, in the school Library at King Edwards, and in Barrow's stores near the school) - one of the many ''clubs'' of Tolkien's life and in many ways the forerunner of the famous Inklings. All but two members of this informal club would be dead by 1918, lives tragically cut short.

Tolkien has a plethora of very moving stuff on the subject of War, and I have been hard-put-to-it (God grant that this does not sound slovenly) to choose what to include in this post, but I have here a short selection from his Letters and a quote from The Lord of the Rings. Alas, though, that some are too great to be posted. For anyone with a copy of Tolkien's Letters, I would strongly recommend letter 5, which was written in 1916 to Geoffrey Smith, a member of the T.C.B.S, on receiving the news of the death of Rob Gilson. It is very beautiful, and deals chiefly in matters of grief and about the great holiness of selfless sacrifice and courage.

In the summer of 1940, two evacuees from Ashford stayed with the Tolkiens at their house at 20 Northmoor Road. On their departure, Tolkien wrote this to his son Michael, then serving as an anti-aircraft gunner in the RAF (for which he was later awarded the George Medal):

''Our evacuees went off again this morning, back home to Ashford (they were railway folk), after scenes of comedy and pathos. I have never come across more simple, helpless, gentle and unhappy souls (mother and daughter-in-law). They had been away from their husbands for the first time in their married lives, and found they would prefer to be blown to bits.'' (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no.39).

This next one was written to Tolkien's youngest son Christopher on 30th January 1945, number 78 of ''Pater ad Filium natu (sed haud alioquin) minimum'' (The father to the son born the youngest but by no means the least) when he was in the RAF:

''I can see clearly now in my mind's eye the old trenches and the squalid houses and the long roads of Artois, and I would visit them again if I could...

''I have just heard the news...Russians 60 miles from Berlin. It does look as if something decisive might happen soon. The appalling destruction and misery of this war mount hourly: destruction of what should be (indeed is) the common wealth of Europe, and the world, if mankind were not so besotted, wealth the loss of which will affect us all, victors or not. Yet people gloat to hear of the endless lines, 40 miles long, of miserable refugees, women and children pouring West, dying on the way. There seem no bowels of mercy or compassion, no imagination, left in this dark diabolical hour. By which I do not mean that it may not all, in the present situation, mainly (not solely) created by Germany, be necessary and inevitable. But why gloat! We were supposed to have reached a stage of civilization in which it might still be necessary to execute a criminal, but not to gloat, or to hang his wife and child by him while the orc-crowd hooted. The destruction of Germany, be it 100 times merited, is one of the most appalling world-catastrophes. Well, well - you and I can do nothing about it. And that shd. be a measure of the amount of guilt that can justly be assumed to attach to any member of a country who is not a member of its actual Government. Well the first War of the Machines seems to be drawing to its final and inconclusive chapter - leaving, alas, everyone the poorer, many bereaved or maimed and millions dead, and only one thing triumphant: the Machines. As the servants of the Machines are becoming a privileged class, the Machines are going to be enormously more powerful.'' (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no. 96).

One of the most poignant themes in The Lord of the Rings, as seen brilliantly in the person of Samwise Gamgee, is the ennoblement of the simple by courage (brave at a pinch I think the saying goes). I have no doubt that this was inspired by Tolkien's own friends and experiences. In conclusion to this post, I shall quote a memorable passage from Tolkien's magnus opus:

''It was Sam's first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead man's face. He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace - all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind.'' (The Lord of the Rings, Book IV, Chapter IV, Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit).

Unfortunately in the great wars of this world it is the ordinary folk that suffer, and the Orcs, the drivers of the machines, the monstrous wheels of Power, wielding Men as pawns on a chess-board, grow fat on the suffering and misery of innocent people. May God grant those who died in the Two World Wars in the service of Liberty eternal rest and may their memories never be forgotten. The above photo is of a young Tolkien, scarcely older than me, when he was a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers during the First World War.

Confirmations at Spanish Place...


Yesterday morning, I made my way to St James' church at Spanish Place (arguably the most beautiful church in London) with some very good friends for the Traditional Rite Confirmations. I served as Crozier-bearer, one of the four ''Capellani'' (so-called in the Caerimoniale Episcoporum) or Chaplains who wait on the Bishop. The occasion was splendid (much better than my own impoverished New Rite confirmation), with a wonderful choir and the ceremony was well-rehearsed. The Bishop decided not to use the Crozier when he addressed the candidates (so I had, perforce, to retire at this point) and he spoke most eruditely and relevantly to them about the importance of adoration in the eyes of supplicants in Religious art. I spoke to Arthur Crumly, who served Benediction as Thurifer, beforehand for the first time too. Photos of the event can be seen here.

Afterwards, my friends and I met up again outside the church and we had a lovely picnic and day out at the British Museum. I hardly recognised the place, but then I hadn't been there since Primary School. On the train home, we bumped into some of the other Blackfen people, purely by coincidence, and we all had a nice chat on the way home.

When I think of my own Sacraments, I am sometimes quite angry about having been deprived of the Traditional Liturgy for most of my life. But I then thank God that the young Servers from Blackfen, who served so well yesterday, are growing to love God through the medium of the Traditional Liturgy which I missed out on. It rather sheds a new light on that wonderful Response to the Versicle ''Introibo ad Altare Dei'' (''I shall go unto the Altar of God'') - ''ad Deum Qui laetificat iuventutem meam'' (''unto God who giveth joy to my youth'').

The above image is a detail of one of the reredos' found on one of the side altars which line the side of the nave. I am yet to fully explore this church, but I am only ever there for great occasions - indeed the last time I was there was for High Mass on the Octave Day of Christmas. Anyway, must dash now and finish the hoovering. My father was having a nap earlier, so I decided not to wake him up, but it's getting dark very early and I shall be at work all week, so best get it done now.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Confirmations...

Tomorrow morning I shall be at Spanish Place for the Traditional Rite Confirmations - my first Saturday off in Lord knows how long! I am thinking about it with enthusiasm, and about my own Confirmation 10 years ago. I was confirmed by the wonderful Bishop Henderson, in the New Rite of course. My Confirmation name was Francis - a name I chose because it is aesthetically pleasing, and because when I was 11 years old I didn't know many Saints. I am yet to actually develop a devotion to St Francis but perhaps this will come in time - I have, at any rate, read about his life. Does anyone know why the age of Confirmation candidates has gone up over the years? I was 11 when I was confirmed, my mother was 8, and my grandmother was even younger I believe...

Being so pious and decorous, the afternoon of my Confirmation, I went home to play Tomb Raider on my computer...

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Legendarium...


Tolkien often referred to his Middle-earth stuff as the ''legendarium.'' I wrote about the significance of this umbrella term in a post a while back. I was thinking, though, that whereas before I lamented the fact that Tolkien died before completing his great work, I now perceive that this adds somewhat to the reality of it all - all mythology is incomplete. Legendarium once meant the lives of the Saints, afterall.

I wrote before that this ''reality'' found expression in the most unlikely character of Bilbo Baggins, busy gathering from divers sources the legends that were to comprise the Red Book of Westmarch. I like to think of this book as an illuminated manuscript, like one of the old, beautiful Books of Hours of the High Middle Ages. Even more selfish, perhaps, I sometimes wish that Tolkien's work was never published, but that his wife Edith had gathered all the fair copies that she made, compiled this wonderful illuminated manuscript, and tucked it away in the Bodleian Library, ready for someone like me to come across decades, perhaps even centuries, later. I'd give anything to have that first impression of Tolkien's work again - familiarity can become stale afterall...

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Gnomes et al...


No one responded to my challenge the other day! Here are the answers. I asked whether anyone could spot any discrepancies between the section of Canto IV which I posted and the published Silmarillion. There are only three, although they are quite significant. The first is Tolkien's use of the term ''Gnomes'' to refer to the Noldoli (later Noldor). I suppose Tolkien's intent, when he composed the Lost Tales, in his selection of that term was its phonetic suitability, much like Elves, Orcs and Ents, and its ''wisdom'' connotation. He continued to use it for many years, and it even appeared in early drafts of The Hobbit. However, he later abandoned it. In a draft for the last paragraph of Appendix F of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote:

''I have sometimes (not in this book) used 'Gnomes' for Noldor and 'Gnomish' for Noldorin. This I did, for whatever Paracelsus may have thought (if indeed he invented the name) to some 'Gnome' will still suggest knowledge. Now the High-elven name of this people, Noldor, signifies 'those who know;' for of the three kindreds of the Eldar from their beginning the Noldor were ever distinguished both by their knowledge of things that are and were in this world, and by their desire to know more. Yet they in no way resembled the Gnomes either of learned theory or popular fancy; and I have now abandoned this rendering as too misleading. For the Noldor belonged to a race high and beautiful, the elder Children of the world, who now are gone. Tall they were, fair-skinned and grey-eyed, and their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finrod [Finarfin]...'' (The History of Middle-earth, Volume I, The Book of Lost Tales Part I, Chapter I).

Regarding the ''wisdom'' connotation of the word ''gnome.'' The Greek gnōmē conveys ''thought'' or ''intelligence'' and in its plural form ''proverbs'' or ''sayings.'' The 16th century writer Paracelsus used the term as a synonym of pygmaeus. Paracelsus ''says that the beings so called have the earth as their element...through which they move unobstructed as fish do through water, or birds and land animals through air.'' (Oxford English Dictionary s.v Gnome). The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that whether Paracelsus invented the word himself or not it was intended to mean ''earth-dweller,'' and discounts any connexion with the other word gnome. There is a reference to this in The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien too, no. 239.

The next discrepancy is to be found in lines 1102-1103 where Tolkien makes mention of two people, Finrod and Felagund. Finrod was the original name of Finarfin, and confusingly the name Finrod became the name of his son in later legends - although it makes more sense because the form is Sindarin. Felagund's older name was Inglor. Felagund was a name that the Dwarves gave him, in view of the fact that he delved for his dwelling the caves of Nargothrond, and it means ''Hewer of Caves.'' As the work is so vast, I haven't been able to pin-point the exact point when the names were rearranged, but often Christopher Tolkien himself, the greatest of all Tolkien scholars, is unable to provide a definitive answer.

The third discrepancy is of course Tolkien's spelling of Dairon for Daeron. The form was changed (for the better in my opinion) late in the legends, as can be seen when after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien returned to the Lay, creating substantial edits to the Lay, and began to use the newer form. The Lay was, of course, never finished.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Thinking about things...


I think a lot, perhaps too much. I was thinking, when I woke up this morning, about the Church's teaching on homosexuality. I memorised this quote by the then Cardinal Ratzinger by rote: ''although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is, however, a strong tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil. It must be seen, therefore, as an objective disorder.'' This requires some thought. I do not disagree with the Church's teaching, since it is founded on the authority of God and the order of nature, but the whole thing seems to suggest to me that people of that ''inclination'' are beyond any use or any good, without the possibility either to love or be loved by someone else, which is tragic. Their ''inclination'' is objectively disordered - that's it; they are unclean pieces of flesh, they have to be cut away. Called to chastity and continence etc, etc...

Most homosexual people fill me with revulsion and contempt. It sickens me to see them parade their perversity about, and the very notion of those ''marriages'' is monstrous. But then, for those poor ones with that accursed condition (what else is it?) who try to live chastely according to the teachings of the Church it must be terrible. Terrible in the sense that they belong to neither group really; they do not fit in with the ''gay rights'' people, who wear their perversity with a badge of pride, because quite rightly they see them as more bestial than human; and at the same time, according to the very words of Cardinal Ratzinger, they do not quite fit into the Church either. People do not look at them the same way, they are ''objectively disordered'' in spite of themselves. Are they born that way? Does God make ''mistakes?'' Something is horribly wrong somewhere; perhaps it is some evil fruit of the Fall? Are they evil? It all seems rather tragic; that they are doomed to forever straddle between Church and Secular, in the knowledge that they'll never quite belong to either one.

The above photograph is, of course, of Oscar Wilde. A brilliant man, whose romantic affairs were, how shall I say it, irregular. Wilde was married to Constance Lloyd, a woman he probably really did love, since she was very grave and beautiful. I enjoy his work, as I also enjoyed the works of Plato and Michelangelo...