Wednesday, May 29, 2013


It's a tale you don't hear about too often, but it is a good one.

Written by J.R.R. Tolkien, it's the story of a little dog named Rover and the adventures he has after being turned into a toy by a wizard.

An easy read, if you like other books by Tolkien and fairy tales, I recommend you give it a go. The places and creatures he describes are very imaginative and it contains some lovely ideas. For example: a seagull that flies to the moon with messages for the wizard who lives there with a little white flying dog.
I don't want to say too much because it's lovelier if you read it for yourself.

The edition at my house even has illustrations by Tolkien himself!

I find his depictions of mermaids interesting because one of them married a wizard and they moved to the land. He mentions mermaid tails with aversion. He remarks on her "deplorable" tail. Having a fish tail would certainly be shocking for humans to see, but he seems to disdain them for some reason in the midst of all the unusual things that are going on. Is he just projecting the views of the two-legged people's society (from the story) into his narration, or is it something else?  

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Passion for Rings

In The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki there is a ring that is coveted greatly. The passion for this ring and the terms in which it is spoken of is similar to The One Ring from The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien.

The story of this ring begins thus: "A ring owned by King Helgi was a widely famed treasure. Both brothers wanted it, and so too did their sister Signy."

King Hroar offered to give his brother, King Helgi, his share of the kingdom in exchange for the ring, saying, "I want the ring, the one that is the best treasure in your possession and that both of us would like to own." Basically, Hroar saw this ring as worth half a kingdom.

Helgi agreed to this deal, "after such a speech, nothing else is fitting but that you should have the ring."

However, that is not the end of the episode. Hrok, with the encouragement of his mother Signy, also decided he wanted the ring. He demanded that King Helgi (his uncle) give him a third of the kingdom or "the great ring." Helgi informed him that Hroar had the ring and that his claims were arrogant.

Isildur and The One Ring
Hrok then went to Hroar, and asked for the ring. Hroar replied, "I have given so much to get this ring that I will by no means part with it."

Hrok then asked to see it, saying he wanted to know if it was really "as much a treasure as it is claimed." Hroar readily showed it too him and Hrok threw it into the sea after saying, "I have never seen a comparable treasure, and the reason you esteem the ring so highly is obvious. The best solution, it seems to me, is that neither of us, or, for that matter, anyone else should enjoy it." He had no right to such an action. His claim on the ring was small enough, and Hroar had traded half the kingdom for it. Hroar chopped of Hrok's foot in response. After healing, Hrok assembled an army with which he defeated and killed Hroar. Helgi then defeated Hrok and instead of slaying him, broke all his limbs so that he was a cripple the rest of his life. And this was all between family! Many people searched the waters for the ring and Hroar's son, Agnar, finally found it after diving for it.

So, that's a summary of the ring episode. Although this ring was not imbued with the magical and evil properties that The One Ring possessed, it was coveted in much the same way, resulting in wars and the loss of limbs (Frodo lost his finger, Hrok, his foot). Hrok referred to it as "the great ring," giving it a title, much like, "The One Ring."  In The Lord of the Rings, it was suggested the the ring be thrown into the sea, but that idea was rejected because it could be found again eventually.

However, Hroar's ring could have been an arm ring and not a finger ring like The One Ring.
The Saga of Hrolf Kraki. Translated by Jesse L. Bylock. Published by Penguin Books, 1998.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A thousand years ago feels like yesterday

I felt like they were my neighbors, my relations, my community, these Icelanders from a thousand years ago.

I think it was the style in which their sagas were written.

Many authors these days take an over-the-shoulder, inside-the-soul, point of view with their characters, telling you exactly what the character is thinking and feeling in every excruciating detail. I like that. However, the sagas were not written that way, they were written in a rather external fashion. Yet I felt close to the people.

They seemed real because the lens through which I saw them was as if I were a part of the community. I am told a bit of what they are feeling, I hear of their actions, I know who is best friends with who and how they are related. Just like in real life. In real life I don't know every thought, every pleasure, every pain that passes through my friends, let alone acquaintances that I see frequently.  And so the sagas, by being distant, seem real because I see a community functioning, like my home school co/op, like my extended family, like my Christian community. I see the major events that take place and I hear a little of the inside scoop through those more directly involved.

Additionally the descriptions of people are sometimes vivid, so it's like you can see them. I can see their face and external appearance (physique, clothing), but I can't see their mind. Like real life.

Interestingly, books written in first person or with a very over-the-shoulder view often  leave you guessing as to the person's looks.

They were so human, driven by their feelings of greed, anger, ambition, brokenheartedness and by what was acceptable in their culture.  The women were not meek sheep in the kitchen. A number had strong characters and were driving forces in the stories as they struggled for revenge. And they often manipulated/strong-armed their husbands into getting their way.

And so the sagas easily bridge the gap between then and now, despite culture and language barriers.