Tolkien's reuse of his own material

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Hi all, I have recently been reading a kindle version of Tolkien's unfinished Fall of Arthur, an attempt to rework the death of Arthur into the old northern European alliterative verse form - see for example https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/a/Alliterative_verse.htm for a summary of this. JRRT seems to have started this in the early 1930s but abandoned it a few years later despite having strong encouragement from people whose opinions he respected. He had a lot of similar abandoned projects, but happily for us, some of them turned up in reused form in works which were published. Alliterative verse was something he delighted in and tried to reproduce in various places - apparently at one stage Elvish poetry such as the Lay of Beren and Luthien was intended to use this form, but in the end as it appears in LotR and elsewhere, elvish poetry uses couplets with one or more rhyming schemes (some folk will remember me rabbiting on about this when we were doing the LotR slow read).

Anyway, the passage which caught my eye was this - the context is that Arthur has taken a bunch of knights and soldiers eastwards in a kind of holy quest to crush evil, and has just reached the borders of a forest called Mirkwood:

                       Gawain loudly

cried as a clarion. Clear went his voice
In the rocks ringing above roaring wind 
and rolling thunder: ‘Ride, forth to war,
ye hosts of ruin, hate proclaiming!
Foes we fear not, nor fell shadows
of the dark mountains demon-haunted!
Hear now ye hills and hoar forest,
ye awful thrones of olden gods
huge and hopeless, hear and tremble!
From the West comes war that no wind daunteth,
might and purpose that no mist stayeth;
lord of legions, light in darkness, 
east rides Arthur!’ Echoes were wakened.

And this in turn reminded me of Theoden when restored by Gandalf, and before the battle of the Pelennor Fields:

Arise now, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Dire deeds awake: dark is it eastward.
Let horse be bridled, horn be sounded!
Forth Eorlingas!

and

Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor![

Together with Eomer's cry of despair when he thinks Eowyn is dead:

Death! Ride, ride to ruin and the world's ending!

Clearly he has borrowed his own earlier work, and repurposed it for the Rohirrim. All of which made me wonder if he did this just because he had a great love for this poetic form, or whether he had in mind a connection between Theoden and Arthur?

Comments

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    This is very cool. I love your insights into poetic forms.

    It seems to me that Tolkien drew heavy inspiration from Anglo-Saxon history and culture for the people of Rohan, so of course he would draw on their poetic forms. It seems to me (un-academic as I am) that the tropes of Arthur got woven into Aragorn's story, as the king foretold to return to defend his people at the hour of their greatest need.

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    David Day’s book Tolkien’s Heroes covers the inspiration for various people and races. If I remember, the Rohirrim in particular are based on the Anglo saxons. But Arthur was a Briton, who fought saxons. Did Tolkien ever discuss celts vs saxons? So much of his work is Saxon- based. Could that be why he abandoned it? Didn’t know enough about Celts?
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    @Apocryphal said:
    David Day’s book Tolkien’s Heroes covers the inspiration for various people and races. If I remember, the Rohirrim in particular are based on the Anglo saxons. But Arthur was a Briton, who fought saxons. Did Tolkien ever discuss celts vs saxons? So much of his work is Saxon- based. Could that be why he abandoned it? Didn’t know enough about Celts?

    I read back through Christopher Tolkien's comments about the textual history of this poem and that (as with so many of his father's projects) it wasn't clear why it was abandoned given that it had had positive feedback from a couple of trusted individuals to whim he had shown it. His (CT's) best guess was simply that pressure of other projects and commitments caused an initial lapse, and after that other things took over which seemed to him more congenial. (Perhaps the incorporation of elements in LotR satisfied what he was really wanting?)

    However, I am a little dubious that the reason was too little knowledge of Celts (though I agree with your view that Arthur was a Celtic post-Roman leader seeking to defend against the Saxons). It seems to me that what JRRT loved was not so much Saxon history or culture, but rather the poetic form that the Saxons shared with many other people-groups across northern Europe. So I don't think he would be taking sides Celtic vs Saxons, but I do think he would be borrowing the way they wrote poetry and conceived of the world, and wanting to insert it into the mouths of his own mythological people.

    During his life he frequently expressed great affection for the alliterative form, and it does not surprise me that he gave it to the Rohirrim, which (IMHO) were his favourite human group in Middle Earth.

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    @Michael_S_Miller said:
    This is very cool. I love your insights into poetic forms.

    It seems to me that Tolkien drew heavy inspiration from Anglo-Saxon history and culture for the people of Rohan, so of course he would draw on their poetic forms. It seems to me (un-academic as I am) that the tropes of Arthur got woven into Aragorn's story, as the king foretold to return to defend his people at the hour of their greatest need.

    Carrying on from my thoughts about @Apocryphal 's post, it's an interesting question whether Aragorn or Theoden is more like Arthur! In the early strands of the Arthurian material, Arthur left Britain in order to help the beleaguered Roman Empire - this ultimately led to his downfall through leaving Britain for too long in the hands of Mordred, and allowing "dragon-prowed" ships to invade from the east.

    It seems to me that this is a close parallel to Theoden taking the Rohirrim to the defence of Gondor, knowing that it would potentially leave Rohan exposed to attacks across the River and that there might be no Rohan left to go home to. The parallel stops at some point - Arthur comes back to Britain and dies there fighting Mordred, while Theoden dies on a foreign field and leaves Eomer to return to a country which is safe and at peace. But the setup stage is, surely, virtually the same?

    Aragorn - yes, he certainly fulfils the foretold king bit very nicely, so carries another piece of the Arthurian puzzle. But isn't there a sense in which Aragorn doesn't fit in very well with Stewarded Gondor (as opposed to Royal Gondor) - and there is a keen sense that he is more at home with Theoden and Eomer than Denethor?

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    edited January 16
    > @Apocryphal said:
    > David Day’s book Tolkien’s Heroes
    > covers the inspiration for various
    > people and races. If I remember, the
    > Rohirrim in particular are based on
    > the Anglo saxons. But Arthur was a
    > Briton, who fought saxons. Did
    > Tolkien ever discuss celts vs saxons?
    > So much of his work is Saxon- based.
    > Could that be why he abandoned it?
    > Didn’t know enough about Celts?

    Pursuing various early projects of JRRT, I came across his "Lay of Aotrou and Itroun" which is part of a short series of works he wrote based on Celtic and specifically Breton material... his interest in Celtic literature, and his attempts to invent new works based on those poetic forms, seems to have happened in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

    For this he chose not the alliterative metre of Saxon and Norwegian (and his own Fall of Arthur) but rhyming couplets with eight syllable lines... a pattern which he ended up using very extensively for formal poetry, especially Elvish, in LotR.


    For example... (from the Lay of Aotrou and Itroun)

    > He heard her voice, and it was cold
    > as echo from the world of old,
    > ere fire was found or iron hewn,
    > when young was mountain under moon.

    Which surely has to remind any of us of

    > The world was young, the mountains green,
    > No stain yet on the Moon was seen
    > ...
    > The world is grey, the mountains old,
    > The forge's fire is ashen-cold

    Furthermore, the pivotal character in the Lay is a fairy ("corrigan" in Breton tradition, signifying one who us attractive and alluring but perilous) who has a fountain and a phial containing a potion...

    It's probably not too much of a stretch to say that in terms of poetry, though not necessarily culture or lifestyle, JRRT's Celtic studies emerged in Elvish material, plus those of other peoples derived from Elvish patterns, and his Saxon/Norwegian studies emerged in men, especially the Rohirrim.
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