Thursday, August 25, 2005

Tolkien, Benn & All That

While doing research on the great British Individualist, Ernest Benn (I do wonder about details of his involvement with F.W. Hirst and Antony Fisher), I came across an interesting interview with the grandson of Edward A. Wyke-Smith, Charles Wyke-Smith. The novelist E.A. Wyke-Smith was the author of a popular children's book, The Marvellous Land of Snergs which had been published by Benn in 1927. The novel follows two children, rescued by the "The Society for the Removal of Superfluous Children," transporting them to a "world apart," the Land of Snergs, where dwarf-like people feast and enjoy life.

Charles Wyke-Smith says
"Tolkien himself wrote of his children’s love of the story, and apparently they even made up Snerg stories of their own."

"Tolkien, in a letter to W. H. Auden in 1955, mentioned that his children enjoyed The Hobbit, then adds a footnote: "Not any better I think than The Marvellous Land of Snergs, Wyke-Smith, Ernest Benn 1927. Seeing the date, I should say it was probably an unconscious source-book for the Hobbits, not of anything else." (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, Houghton Mifflin, 1995, p 215)

"In 1994, Tolkien scholar Douglas Anderson contacted my Aunt Nina, E.A’s older daughter, after looking in the London phone book for any Wyke-Smiths that he could find. He had referenced The Marvellous Land of Snergs in The Annotated Hobbit."

"I’ve always known through my aunt that there was a connection with my grandfather and Tolkien, and that Tolkien’s children had liked the Snergs story...And certainly, you don’t have to look far to see numerous connections between the Hobbits and the Snergs — in their physical descriptions, their love of communal feasting, the numerous similar locations through which the heroes of the two stories travel, such as dangerous forests and underground caverns, and even the heroes’ names — Gorbo and Bilbo - indicate to me that Tolkien must at least have been influenced by Snergs."

"I think perhaps that when Tolkien read Snergs, ...the sense of place and the characters stuck with him, and when he was inspired to write The Hobbit, these influences came through in his story."

" ...[I]t’s not unreasonable for anyone who has read both books to think that Tolkien used Snergs as more than an "unconscious source" for The Hobbit. At the same time, if Tolkien did indeed draw ideas from Snergs for The Hobbit, by the time he got to LOTR, he had certainly elevated them to a far more sophisticated level."

While Snergs may not live in Kentucky, even Tolkien took a liking to them and introduced them to us.

Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Cyrus The Great and the Inscription

History Carnival #14 mentions Mohraz's (Mohamad Razagh in Iran) discussion of Cyrus The Great's ( 580-529 BC) inscription cylinder. It may be the first written statement of rights:
I am Cyrus, the king of the world, great king, legitimate king (son of Cambyses) whose rule Bel and Nebo loved and whom they wanted as king to please their hearts.

When I entered Babylon as a friend and established the seat of government in the place of the ruler under jubilation and rejoicing, Marduk, the great lord (induced) the magnanimous inhabitants of Babylon (Din Tir) (to love me) and I daily endeavored to praise him. My numerous troops walked around in Babylon in peace, I did not allow anybody to terrorize (any of the people) of the country of Sumer and Akkad. I strove for peace in Babylon (Ka Dingir ra) and in all his (other) sacred cities. As to the inhabitants of Babylon (who) against the will of the gods (had/were I abolished) the corvee (yoke) which was against their (social standing). I brought relief to their dilapidated housing, putting an end to their main complaints. Marduk, the great lord, was well pleased with my deeds and sent friendly blessing to myself, Cyrus, the King, who reveres him, to Cambyses, my son, as well as to all my troops, and we all (praised) his great (name) joyously, standing before him in peace I returned to (these) sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Sumer and Akkad who Nabonidus has brought to Babylon (su sa na) to the anger of the lord of the gods unharmed in their chapels, the places which make them happy.

May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities ask Bel and Nebo daily for a long life (six lines destroyed) and always with good words remember my good deeds that Babylonians incessantly cherished me because I resettled them in comfortable habitations I endeavored to strengthen the fortification of Imgur-Enlil and the great fortification of the City of Babylon the side brick wall by the city's trench which the former king (had built and had not finished). This was finished around (the city), that none of the former kings, despite the labor of their yoked people, had not accomplished. I rebuilt and completed with tar and brick and installed large gates entrances were built by cedar wood covered with brass and copper pivot I strengthened all the gates I saw inscribed the name of my predecessor, King Ashurbanipal.

As Moraz says:
On this historical turning point, by order of Cyrus, all the captive nationalities held as slaves for generations in Babylon were freed and the return to their homeland was financed. Among the liberated captives were 50,000 Jews held in Babylon for three generations whose return toward the rebuilding of their temple in Palestine, a policy that was followed by Darius and his successors. Some of the liberated Jews were invited to and did settle in Persia. Because of such a generous act, Cyrus has been anointed in the Bible. He is the only gentile in the Bible, who has been titled Messiah, an is mentioned explicitly as the Lord's shepherd and his anointed (Messiah). Other references to Cyrus are attested in Isaiah 45:4 where Cyrus is called by name and given a title of honor; he is also called to rebuild the God's city and free His people (Is. 45:13) and is chosen, called and brought successful by God (Is. 48:14-15).

What took place after the victory in Babylon was contrary to the standard of the time. Based on the inscriptions of the neighboring countries (Assyrians, Babylonians), it was customary to destroy the vanquished cities, level houses and temples, massacre the people or enslave the population, replace them with snakes, wolves and even carry away the soil to make the land barren. But here, peace and liberty replaced the massacre and slavery, and construction substituted for destruction. After Cyrus, his son Cambyses ruled for eight years (530BC to 522 BC) and captured Egypt, and as a sign of respect toward their culture and religion, he prostrated himself before the goddess, Meith and paid homage to Apis, the Egyptian totem (Bull).

After Cambyses, Darius took over the throne and ruled form 522BC to 486BC. From 518BC to 515BC he established peace and tranquility in Egypt and also paid homage to their totem, Apis. Darius, in his inscriptions, expresses faith in the commands of Ahuramazda. He declares "Whoever worships Ahuramazda, shall receive happiness in life and after death." He calls Elamites faithless, and because they did not worship Ahuramazda, yet he does not pressure them to change faith. Darius exhorts his successors "thou shalt be king thereafter, protect yourself from the lies and punish the liar and deceitful."

All in all, an admirable point in time (and thanks to Mohraz for the insights)

Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism
Tolkien's Ol' Kentucky Hole?

Are Hobbits from Kentucky? Ralph Luker mentioned History Carnival #14 was out at Natalee Bennett's Philobiblon and, lo and behold, her first mention was that of The Elfin Ethicist's discussion of an interesting source for Hobbits: Kentucky, which referrs to John Holbo in his The Valve - A Literary Organ. He discusses Guy Davenport’s essay, “Hobbitry”, from The Geography of the Imagination (1981). Davenport mentions:

The closest I have ever gotten to the secret and inner Tolkien was in a casual conversation on a snowy day in Shelbyville, Kentucky. I forget how in the world we came to talk about Tolkien at all, but I began plying questions as soon as I knew that I was talking to a man who had been at Oxford as a classmate of Ronald Tolkien’s. He was a history teacher, Allen Barnett. He had never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, he was astonished and pleased to know that his friend of so many years ago had made a name for himself as a writer.

“Imagine that! You know, he used to have the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky. He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins and good country names like that.”

And out the window I could see tobacco barns. The charming anachronism of the hobbits’ pipes suddenly made sense in a new way...

"Practically all the names of Tolkien's hobbits are listed in my Lexington phone book, and those that aren't can be found over in Shelbyville. Like as not, they grow and cure pipe-weed for a living. Talk with them, and their turns of phrase are pure hobbit: 'I hear tell,' 'right agin,' 'so Mr. Frodo is his first and second cousin, once removed either way,' 'this very month as is.' These are English locutions, of course, but ones that are heard oftener now in Kentucky than in England.

"I despaired of trying to tell Barnett what his talk of Kentucky folk became in Tolkien's imagination. I urged him to read The Lord of the Rings but as our paths have never crossed again, I don't know that he did. Nor if he knew that he created by an Oxford fire and in walks along the Cherwell and Isis the Bagginses, Boffins, Tooks, Brandybucks, Grubbs, Burrowses, Goodbodies, and Proudfoots (or Proudfeet, as a branch of the family will have it) who were, we are told, the special study of Gandalf the Grey, the only wizard who was interested in their bashful and countrified ways."

Luker continues:
I've admitted that I found all of that fascinating, largely because, like Davenport and Barnett, I'm a Kentuckian, but when I first read this I was wondering how much of it should I discount because Davenport was also a Kentuckian. I've read and discounted some of the claims that English and Scots-Irish immigrants settled in remote pockets of mountainous eastern Kentucky and preserved 18th century folk culture and language largely unchanged into the 20th century. But Lexington and Shelbyville are in the lush bluegrass central part of the state. They've never been isolated in ways that the mountain communities have been.

So, I thought I'd just toss these claims out for discussion by those who know more about The Lord of the Rings than I do. What would a well-informed historian do when confronted with this kind of evidence? Did Davenport discover the hobbits, living unbeknownst in central Kentucky or was his own provenance over-reaching?

...ClioWeb's Jeremy Boggs sends this via e-mail: "I'm from far southwest Virginia, Wise county to be exact, and I remember a few Baggins last names in the phone book. I went to Morehead State U. (in Morehead, Ky, my freshman year) and also remember a guy named Boffins. AND I remember a rather elderly man back home saying "eleventy-first" instead of one-hundred eleven, but I never thought to tie it to Tolkien's work until your post. Really interesting, I'll have to look into it more."

Although The Elfin Ethicist is somewhat skeptical. Upon looking for Hobbit names in Kentucky census records, she says:
I'm not terribly impressed with the results. In particular, the disproportionately low concentration of Goodbodies, Tooks, and Proudfeet relative to the rest of the country is disappointing.

Worse still, I found 123 entries for Goodbody, 81 for Took, and 541 for Proudfoot in the British listings at Infobel UK. There are ten British entries for Gamgee, compared with no legitimate-looking listings at all in the US. There are also 58 British Boffins, but only twelve in America and none in Kentucky.

Some of those are business names, but that was disheartening. I was only slightly encouraged by finding a scarcity of Bagginses in the UK; there were just two likely-looking British listings, compared with one in Kentucky.

That does not in any way disprove the account we have from Barnett via Davenport. It merely means I haven't done anything to corroborate it.

Originating from the region that is known as "Kentuckiana" (I'm from the Indiana portion with a fair knowledge of Western Kentucky--my family has been in the region since the early 1800's), I'm not that surprised. There are nooks and crannies of small valleys and wooded hills thereabouts that, in my childhood, I spent much time. Many are out of the way, and not observable from the main roads. The culture there has a different sense of time, of place. The language of Tolkien is akin to that of the area. For many small communities, there was more contact with the Ohio River than with the big cities. Louisville, Cincinnati are far away from these. The Amish with their farms have more connection with many of these folk than city people do. I've known people there that could be mistaken for Bagginses and Brandywines, even a few Tooks (talk about family pictures--wasn't that my grandmother?)! They kept pretty much to themselves. Might not even be in most censuses.

Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism


I have a fondness for the Gadsden flag and happened to come across a website devoted to it (even includes tatoos!).

Tip of the hat to Guillermo Fajardo of Argentina and the Spanish language libertarian website, Red Liberal.

Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism