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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
That's a very interesting example of Tolkien's recycling habit


Oct 14 2012, 10:03pm

Views: 395
That's a very interesting example of Tolkien's recycling habit [In reply to] Can't Post

You roused my curiosity about Tolkien's re-use of this couplet:

Ere iron was found or tree was hewn,
When young was mountain under moon
(The Lord of the Rings, III.8)

ere fire was found or iron hewn,
when young was mountain under moon.'
(The Lay of Aotroun and Itroun)

Which came first? Which was refashioned for a second usage? The chapter "The Road to Isengard" was published in the 1950s as you say, of course, but it was largely written in mid-1942, according to Hammond and Scull's summary Chronology - three years before the 1945 publication of the Lay. However, the excerpts from the LotR composition drafts that appear in The History of Middle-earth do not include Gandalf's verse about the Ents. As is so often the case, Christopher Tolkien does not take it upon himself to account for every change between the drafts he publishes, and the final version. So we have no indication of when the lines were actually put into The Lord of the Rings - it could have been anytime between 1942 and 1952, it seems. Verlyn Flieger's article on "Poetry in The Lord of the Rings" in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia notes that the quatrain is a bit of an orphan. It is given no provenance within Middle-earth, so that it seems to be present only to add some ancientry to Gandalf's lore. She missed the connection you so cleverly spotted, possibly because it was Tom Shippey who wrote the companion article on non-LotR poetry including the Lay of Aotroun and Itroun!

The Lay has an equally obscure background: As Shippey notes, it was originally composed in 1930, but was substantially re-written in ... wait for it ... late 1941 to early 1942, according to Hammond and Scull. I don't know much about this poem, except that Paul Kocher admired it greatly for its blending of medieval models with Tolkien's own poetic style and themes. Kocher's quotes from the poem remind me of the Lay of Leithian, which was written in the same period and has the same meter and rhyme scheme.

So, based on the dates above, the couplet in the Lay of Aotroun and Itroun seems to precede the one from LotR by no less than half a year. No surprise: it was certainly Tolkien's style to borrow from his earlier poetic works when he wanted some verse for his growing epic: besides Tom Bombadil's motifs and Frodo's 'Man in the Moon' song, 'Light as Leaf on Linden Tree' was the source for Aragorn's song of Luthien at Weathertop, and Gimli's poem about Khazad-dum is partly lifted from the Lay of Leithian. So let's say the Lay does take pride of composition, just as you speculated based on the coincidence of publication dates.

However, I have to say I find the second version quite as interesting as the first. The Lay's "Ere fire was found or iron hewn" is a perfectly good image for a "world of old" before Man acquired civilization, although it is rather modernly industrial in its outlook - I miss some kind of Adamistic imagery in this Christian poem. And I think "hewn" is an odd choice of verb for the iron; it seems chosen more for its rhyme than for its suitability. When the subject is switched to the origin of the Ents in the second version, it is now the iron that is not yet "found", and it is trees that are not yet hewn. This fits beautifully the idea that Ents predate the Elves, who only later on used the iron-working skills they learned from the Vala Aule to cut down the Ents' wards, the trees. Hewn is as right for trees as it is wrong for iron, I think.

Thanks for the note, Geordie!

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Subject User Time
Some Tolkien connections geordie Send a private message to geordie Oct 14 2012, 4:16pm
    Sometimes everything seems to be connected, Escapist Send a private message to Escapist Oct 14 2012, 5:02pm
    A delightful Sunday read geordie Hamfast Send a private message to Hamfast Oct 14 2012, 6:37pm
    Interesting borrowings Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Oct 14 2012, 7:03pm
        Not quite - geordie Send a private message to geordie Oct 14 2012, 8:02pm
            Same meter Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Oct 14 2012, 8:18pm
    That's a very interesting example of Tolkien's recycling habit squire Send a private message to squire Oct 14 2012, 10:03pm
        Well, how about this? geordie Send a private message to geordie Oct 14 2012, 11:10pm
        I just remembered - geordie Send a private message to geordie Oct 15 2012, 4:49pm
    All of this mountain and moon talk Hamfast Send a private message to Hamfast Oct 15 2012, 12:41am
    That seems far to obvious to be accidental. Wonderful! It makes me think Ethel Duath Send a private message to Ethel Duath Oct 15 2012, 3:07pm
    Nice little thread Geordie SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Oct 15 2012, 6:42pm


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