Tolk of the Devil

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I wish someone would translate Lord of the Rings (1954-5) into English. By that I mean (of course) that I wish someone would translate LOTR into good English. I’ve looked at Tolkien’s bad English in “Noise Annoys” and “Science and Sorcery”. Here’s another example:

Pippin declared that Frodo was looking twice the hobbit that he had been.

“Very odd,” said Frodo, tightening his belt, “considering that there is actually a good deal less of me. I hope the thinning process will not go on indefinitely, or I shall become a wraith.”

“Do not speak of such things!” said Strider quickly, and with surprising earnestness. – The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), Chapter 11, “A Knife in the Dark”

Strider should have added: “Or in such a way!” In the second paragraph, Frodo suddenly talks like a Guardian-reader. Why on earth did Tolkien use “thinning process”, “indefinitely” and “actually” amid otherwise good, simple English? Thinning is obviously a “process”, so there’s no need to say it is, and “indefinitely” and “actually” are badly out of a place in a fantasy novel, let alone in dialogue there. “Considering” is less bad, but it should go too. I would improve the paragraph like this:

“Very odd,” said Frodo, tightening his belt, “seeing that there is now a good deal less of me. I hope the thinning will not go on much longer, or I shall become a wraith.”

Now there’s nothing incongruous: the only un-English word is “very”, but that doesn’t seem un-English on the tongue or to the eye. The Guardianese is gone, but it should never have been there in the first place. Tolkien should not have written like that in Lord of the Rings. And not just as a professional scholar of language: simply as a literate Englishman. H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1926) had been in print for twenty-eight years when The Fellowship of the Ring was first published. It’s hard to believe that Tolkien wasn’t familiar with it.

If he wasn’t, that’s a great pity. If he was, the bad prose in LOTR becomes even more inexplicable and unforgiveable. Alas for what might have been! Imagine if, per impossibile, Tolkien’s masterwork had been edited by the second-greatest Catholic writer of the twentieth-century, namely, Evelyn Waugh.

When bad prose appears in something by Waugh, it’s deliberate:

I had a fine haul – eleven paintings and fifty odd drawings – and when eventually I exhibited them in London, the art critics, many of whom hitherto had been patronizing in tone as my success invited, acclaimed a new and richer note in my work.

Mr. Ryder [the most respected of them wrote] rises like a fresh young trout to the hypodermic injection of a new culture and discloses a powerful facet in the vista of his potentialities … By focusing the frankly traditional battery of his elegance and erudition on the maelstrom of barbarism, Mr. Ryder has at last found himself.Brideshead Revisited (1945), Book II, “A Twitch Upon the Thread”, ch. 1

Waugh was deliberately mocking the mixed-metaphor-strewn prose and pretensions of modern critics. Waugh paid great attention to language and compared writing to carpentry. It was a craft and good craftsmen do not work carelessly or use bad materials. Nothing in Brideshead is careless or casual, as we can see when the narrator, Charles Ryder, first meets the “devilish” æsthete Anthony Blanche, who has “studied Black Art at Cefalù” with Aleister Crowley and is “a byword of iniquity from Cherwell Edge to Somerville”. Blanche has a stutter and Waugh uses the stutter to underline his iniquity. Or so I would claim. Here is Blanche engaging in some papyrocentric performativity:

After luncheon he stood on the balcony with a megaphone which had appeared surprisingly among the bric-à-brac of Sebastian’s room, and in languishing, sobbing tones recited passages from The Waste Land to the sweatered and muffled throng that was on its way to the river.

“’I, Tiresias, have foresuffered all,’” he sobbed to them from the Venetian arches –
“Enacted on this same d-divan or b-bed,
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the l-l-lowest of the dead….”

And then, stepping lightly into the room, “How I have surprised them! All b-boatmen are Grace Darlings to me.” Brideshead Revisited, Book I, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, ch. 1

Talking about the Greek sage Tiresias, who experienced life as both a man and a woman, Anthony Blanche, a man whose surname is the feminine form of the French adjective blanc, meaning “white”, stumbles over the initial consonants of three words: “divan”, “bed” and “lowest”. Is it a coincidence that the same consonants, in the same order, appear in the Greek diabolos, meaning “devil”?

I don’t think so. If Blanche had stuttered on “surprised” too, I would be even more certain. But the –s isn’t essential. After all, it was lost as diabolos journeyed from Greek to Latin, from Latin to French, and from French to English, where it appears as “Devil”. And what does Charles Ryder later call Anthony Blanche after Blanche has spent an evening tête-à-tête trying to turn Ryder against Ryder’s great friend Sebastian Flyte? You can find out here, as Ryder discusses the evening with Sebastian:

“I just wanted to find out how much truth there was in what Anthony said last night.”

“I shouldn’t think a word. That’s his great charm.”

“You may think it charming. I think it’s devilish. Do you know he spent the whole of yesterday evening trying to turn me against you, and almost succeeded?”

“Did he? How silly. Aloysius wouldn’t approve of that at all, would you, you pompous old bear?” – Brideshead Revisited, Book I, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, ch. 2

Blanche is “devilish” and his reputation for “iniquity” is well-deserved. That’s why I think the three words over which Blanche stutters were carefully chosen by Waugh from The Waste Land. Waugh was a logophile and that is exactly the kind of linguistic game that logophiles like to play.

Nail Supremacy

Ὁ γαρ ἡδονής και ἀλγηδόνος ἧλος, ὃς πρὸς το σώμα τήν ψυχην προσηλοῖ, μέγιστον κακὸν ἔχειν ἔοικε, τὸ τα αἰσθητά ποιεῖν ἐναργέστερα τῶν νοητῶν, καὶ καταβιάζεσθαι καὶ πάθει μᾶλλον ἢ λόγῳ κρίνειν τήν διάνοιαν.

• ΠΡΟΒΛΗΜΑ Β’. Πώς Πλάτων ἔλεγε τον θεὸν άεὶ γεωμετρεῖν.


Nam voluptatis et doloris ille clavus, quo animus corpori affigitur, id videtur maximum habere malum, quod sensilia facit intelligibilibus evidentiora, vimque facit intellectui, ut affectionem magis quam rationem in judicando sequatur.

• QUÆSTIO II: Qua ratione Plato dixerit, Deum semper geometriam tractare.


For the nail of pain and pleasure, which fastens the soul to the body, seems to do us the greatest mischief, by making sensible things more powerful over us than intelligible, and by forcing the understanding to determine them rather by passion than by reason.

• Plutarch’s Symposiacs, QUESTION II: What is Plato’s Meaning, When He Says that God Always Plays the Geometer?

O l’Omertà o la Morte

• φασὶ γοῦν Ἵππαρχον τὸν Πυθαγόρειον, αἰτίαν ἔχοντα γράψασθαι τὰ τοῦ Πυθαγόρου σαφῶς, ἐξελαθῆναι τῆς διατριβῆς καὶ στήλην ἐπ’ αὐτῷ γενέσθαι οἷα νεκρῷ. — Κλήμης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς, Στρώματα.

• They say, then, that Hipparchus the Pythagorean, being guilty of writing the tenets of Pythagoras in plain language, was expelled from the school, and a pillar raised for him as if he had been dead. — Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, 2.5.9.57.3-4

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #57

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Do and DieThe Reason Why, Cecil Woodham-Smith (1953) (posted at O.-o.-t.-Ü)

Liddell im WörterlandLiddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott (1843)

Lunar or LaterMoon: From 4.5 billion years ago to the present: Owners’ Workshop Manual, David M. Harland (Haynes 2016)

Headlong into NightmareHeadlong Hall (1816) / Nightmare Abbey (1818)

Twisted TalesBiggles’ Big Adventures: Four Classic Stories Starring the British Empire’s Most Fearless Pilot Adventurer, Captain W.E. Johns (Sevenoaks 2007)

Stop the Brott – staying the serial slaying of a sanguinivorous psychoanalyst


• Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Sphere Hear

οὐσίαν θεοῦ σφαιροειδῆ, μηδὲν ὅμοιον ἔχουσαν ἀνθρώπωι· ὅλον δὲ ὁρᾶν καὶ ὅλον ἀκούειν, μὴ μέντοι ἀναπνεῖν· σύμπαντά τε εἶναι νοῦν καὶ φρόνησιν καὶ ἀίδιον. — Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Βίοι καὶ γνῶμαι τῶν ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ εὐδοκιμησάντων

    “The substance of God is spherical, in no way resembling man. He is all eye and all ear, but does not breathe; he is the totality of mind and thought, and is eternal.” — Xenophanes’ concept of God in Diogenes Laërtius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers (c. 280-320 AD), Book IX, chapter 2 (translated by R.D. Hicks, 1925)

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #41

κατ’ ἐπακολούθημα δὲ καὶ περὶ τῆς ἐγκυκλίου καλουμένης παιδείας, εἰς ὅσα εὔχρηστος, περί τε ἀστρολογικῆς καὶ μαθηματικῆς καὶ μαγικῆς γοητείας τε ἐπιδραμητέον. αὐχοῦσι γὰρ δὴ καὶ ἐπὶ ταῖσδε οἱ Πανέλληνες ὡς μεγίσταις ἐπιστήμαις. — Κλήμης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς, Στρώματα.

   “By consequence, also we must treat of what is called the curriculum of study — how far it is serviceable; and of astrology, and mathematics, and magic, and sorcery. For all the Greeks boast of these as the highest sciences.” — Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Book II.

Straight to Ell

Another new review of Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta’s The Eyes:

Γκροτεσκο, ώμο, βίαιο… Σε υπερθετικο βαθμό. Δοκιμαστηκαν οι αντοχές μου και η ανοχή μου. Δεν ξέρω εάν είναι αυτοβιογραφικο, εάν είναι κριτική στον σύγχρονο τρόπο ζωής ή απλά το πόνημα ενός σαδιστη ψυχοπαθους.

Είναι η ματιά του συγγραφέα στα τεκταινομενα ή όσα είδαν τα μάτια του;

Οποια και εάν είναι η απάντηση, η ανάγνωση αυτού του βιβλίου χρειάζεται κότσια, γερό στομάχι και αποστασιοποιηση.

2.5 τα αστεράκια, χάριν στρογγυλοποιησης έγιναν 3. — Review


Translation: Grotesque, shoulder, violent … in the superlative degree. They tested my strength and my tolerance. I do not know if it’s autobiographical, if criticism of modern lifestyle or simply the essay a sadistic psychopath.

It is the look of the author in foursomes or what they saw his eyes?

Whatever the answer, read this book takes guts, a strong stomach and detachment.

2.5 the stars, thanks Rounding became three.


Previously pre-posted:

Eyeway to Ell