Archæology

The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

September 30, 2003

Not leaving well enough alone

So I’m looking through the frame by frame analysis of the first Return of the King trailer, and amid the silliness (literary romance becomes both schmaltzy and full of thud and blunder) was the following editorial comment about Gandalf sending forth a beam of light at a Nazgûl: this is pure Tolkien. Well, no, actually. On both occasions that this is described in the books, the light comes from Gandalf’s hand, not from his staff.

What is interesting is not the discrepency between film and books (being less egregious than many other examples, though I do wonder what the reason was for the change), but rather what the comment reveals about The One Ring staffers’ attitude towards both the films and the books. Apparently something which is pure Tolkien is notable in these films, and the details and nuances of the books are of no matter in the transition from page to screen (or perhaps even on the page alone). Both of these views strike me as odd.

Posted by jamie at 14:29+12:00 | Comments (15) | Permalink

September 26, 2003

Books I own and haven’t read

I love books. I do not own many books. You might think, then, that I would have read all of those books I do own. Sadly not so. Here are a few books I have that I am in fact unlikely ever to read, yet which are just marvellous:

Algazel’s Metaphysics : a mediaeval translation

When it says “mediaeval translation”, it means that this is the (mediæval) Latin translation of the original Arabic text. The brief preface gives a list of the manuscripts containing the text, with comments such as these: “written in rather good Gothic”, “It is a poor text. Let one of many examples suffice.”, “given in the appendix all variants found (except obvious blunders)”, “abbreviations are in moderate number, and such as are used are regular and not capricious”, and finally “punctuation of the manuscript is superabundant”.

It all just makes me want to rush out and mark up the Alexander Turnbull Library manuscript of Boethius’s De institutione musica using this transcription DTD.

La Révélation d'Hermès Trismégiste

Two volumes on occultism in the late classical world. Author M. Louis Massignon is quite happy not to translate anything into French, nor to provide transliterations into the Roman alphabet of Greek. Quite right!

Burchardus de Bellevaux’ Apologia De Barbis

One of 350 copies, “printed on Barcham Green hand-made paper by Walter Lewis”, and with the editor’s preface written in Latin. The text is a defence of the wearing of beards by monks, arguing that they are not anathema. Heady stuff.

Compotus Rolls of the Obedientiaries of St. Swithun’s Priory, Winchester, from the Winchester Cathedral Archives

Published in 1888, this is rough-edged paper holding pages of account information, with a handy glossary explaining, among other things, what nombles are. And now I see that nombles also crop up, in the spelling noumbles, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where it appears not to be reliably familiar to the audience.

I really should get around to giving some of these away to people who will actually use them, rather than simply delighting in them as I do.

Posted by jamie at 10:29+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

September 21, 2003

IPA Zounds version 1.2

Yesterday I released version 1.2 of IPA Zounds. The changes from the previous version include a font selector for the GUI and an option to format rules more fully, vertically aligning groups of binary features.

Posted by jamie at 07:57+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

September 19, 2003

Verse in The Lord of the Rings

This week I was treated to two excellent lectures on the subject of song in The Lord of the Rings, and it reminded me of Michael’s criticism of the rhyme schemes and stress patterns. I think this is one of those occasions where analysis and comparison are helpful in bringing out the true quality of a work. I likewise had never cared much for the verse as poetry (though that is in fact true of poetry as a whole, not just Tolkien’s); now, however, I can see more of what is going on.

There are, for example, many end-of-line rhyming schemes in use. A quick perusal reveals ABAB (The Fall of Gil-galad), ABACBABC (Song of Beren and Lúthien), ABCCB (Man in the Moon), AABB (Galadriel’s verses to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli), and AABCCB (one of Gollum’s songs). Many verses do not use rhyme in any deliberate way, particularly the songs of Rohan which, in keeping with the Anglo-Saxon parallel, use alliteration to join half lines (“Forth rode the king, fear behind him”). He never uses the heroic couplet. Bilbo’s song on Eärendil has a complicated metrical scheme which is apparently in imitation or competition with the Middle English Pearl. Here’s a sample verse, with some hopefully useful colour coding:

And over Middle-earth he passed
and heard at last the weeping sore
of women and of elven-maids
In Elder Days, in years of yore.
But on him mighty doom was laid,
till Moon should fade, an orbéd star
to pass, and tarry never more
on Hither Shores where mortals are;
for ever still a herald on
an errand that should never rest
to bear his shining lamp afar
the Flammifer of Westernesse.

There may be more going on than I have indicated.

Posted by jamie at 17:50+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

September 15, 2003

Computer wishlist for March 2007

In March 2007, I expect the following from my computer:

Not too much to ask, surely?

The last point is something that has cropped up in working on the next release of IPA Zounds, which does vertical grouping of binary features. I don’t want to resort to a monospace font in order to have a correctly aligned display.

For example, here is an example bit of output with (depending of course on your settings and your browser’s ability to cope with CSS) a proportional font:

sɛkundus → sɛkundu ( s → ∅ / _# )
         → sɛkundɔ ( u → ɔ / _# )
         → sɛgundɔ ⎛ ⎡−continuant⎤ → [+voiced] / [+syllabic]_[+syllabic] ⎞
                   ⎜ ⎢−voiced    ⎥                                       ⎟
                   ⎜ ⎢−vibration ⎥                                       ⎟
                   ⎝ ⎣−sonorant  ⎦                                       ⎠

And here’s the same thing with a monospace font (depending on browser settings):

sɛkundus → sɛkundu ( s → ∅ / _# )
         → sɛkundɔ ( u → ɔ / _# )
         → sɛgundɔ ⎛ ⎡−continuant⎤ → [+voiced] / [+syllabic]_[+syllabic] ⎞
                   ⎜ ⎢−voiced    ⎥                                       ⎟
                   ⎜ ⎢−vibration ⎥                                       ⎟
                   ⎝ ⎣−sonorant  ⎦                                       ⎠

Ideally, I wouldn’t have to do anything more than state (in some simple, logical way) that the different parts of the parentheses and brackets are meant to be joined, and lo the computer will make it so.

(It may be that, even if you see all of the characters in the examples, the second one doesn’t have the parentheses and brackets lining up — in my case this is because the browser is having to use a different font from normal to deal with the IPA characters, which has a different size. See the second point above.)

Posted by jamie at 09:05+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

September 12, 2003

An excellent reason to learn Old English

Byrhtnōþ responds to the vikings’ demand for tribute in The Battle of Maldon:

Byrhtnōþ maðelode,      bord hafenode,
wand wācne æsc,      wordum mǣlde
ierre and ān-rǣd,      aġeaf him andsware:

“Ġehīerst þū, sǣ-lida,      hwæt þis folc  sæġeþ?
Hīe willaþ ēow tō gafole      gāras sellan,
ǣtrenne ord      and ealde sweord,
þā here-ġeatwe      þe ēow æt hilde ne dēag.
Brim-manna boda,      abēod eft onġēan,
sæġe þīnum lēodum      micle lāðre spell,
þæt hēr stent unforcūþ      eorl mid his weorode,
þe wile ealgian      ēðel þisne,
Æðelrēdes eard      ealdres mīnes,
folc and foldan.      Feallan sculon
hǣðne æt hilde.      Tō hēanliċ mē þynċeþ
þæt ġē mid ūrum sceattum      tō scipe gangan;
unbefeohtne,      nū ġē þus feorr hider
on ūrne eard      inn becōmon.
Ne scule ġē swā sōfte      sinċ ġegangan;
ūs sceal ord and ecg      ǣr ġesēman,
grimm gūþ-plega,      ǣr wē gafol sellen.”

(Note that this text differs in orthography from the full text cited. The text above is that in Pope and Fulk, Eight Old English poems.)

Posted by jamie at 19:20+12:00 | Comments (0) | Permalink

September 05, 2003

Adapting books for film

David makes the point that changes to a book are necessary in adapting it to film, and implies that this is defence enough for the differences between the movies of The Lord of the Rings and the book. I agree with his point, but not with the implication.

Let’s be specific, to circumvent charges that simply knowing some of what goes on in the film, rather than having actually seen it, are failures in my argument. If my understanding of what happens in the film is wrong, it will be easy to set me straight.

My argument is that Peter Jackson has needlessly changed the content of the books in such a way that the spirit and style of the original work has been damaged or lost, and that therefore even if the movie is a good one, it is not a good adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Note that Peter Jackson has been saying for years that he is a fan of the books and is trying to be faithful to them (within the limits of a transfer to a different medium). I won’t get into whether the film is a bad one per se.

So, examples of changes which cannot be justified as a necessary part of changing the medium of the work, which go against the spirit and style of the book:

I could of course go on and on; these are simply some of the more egregious examples. You’ll note that I have made no mention of what was cut.

By the way, my pick for the best example of a film adaptation of a book is The Princess Bride, which I believe illustrates my point. The content is in places very different, but the style and spirit of the two works are the same.

Posted by jamie at 10:04+12:00 | Comments (10) | Permalink

September 03, 2003

I am at a loss

I have just discovered (not at all accidentally) a scathing review of the movie The Fellowship of the Ring. I haven’t seen any of the Lord of the Rings films, and have no intention of doing so. Without knowing anything about them, but knowing what film can and cannot handle well, I knew from before they were made that they would not capture what I love and find important in the books. I had read some bits about the films which made me cringe, but this review goes into considerable detail, and I am left at a loss for why anyone might think a Tolkien purist would find them an acceptable adaptation of the books. In fact, I am unable to understand why anyone would find the movies good, based on what I read there.

Note too that the review doesn’t actually touch on the issue of language and culture, except for the egregious dialogue changes and inventions. Elsewhere I read that in the film Shire there are hobbits dancing an Irish jig, which goes to show that there is not only no fidelity to the events of the books, but also no understanding of the nature of the books and what they are describing — Tolkien was meticulous in his use of real world analogues for the various peoples of Middle-earth and the languages they used, and in no way can anything Celtic be ascribed to the Shire. Another review which I read long ago and cannot now find again expressed a similar sentiment when noting that the talk between Gandalf and Frodo (corresponding to the chapter The Shadow of the Past) takes place at night rather than on a beautiful sunny day. Did Peter Jackson not think Tolkien knew what he was doing?

When all is said and done, it is needless to criticise the movies, even for not being what they were advertised as being. I am not lessened by their existence, nor is my Middle-earth. But I am strangely sad that in place of the reprise of Beowulf’s Grendel in the appearance of the arm and shoulder of the troll in Moria, not to mention its hot blood, the film audience is treated to something which has its roots only in Conan.

Posted by jamie at 22:31+12:00 | Comments (5) | Permalink

Footnotes and hypertext

My use of footnotes in academic essays, particularly the one I am currently working on, is not really proper. They veer too much into either digressions of only tangential relevance (in which case they shouldn’t really be included at all) or go off in a relevant direction that doesn’t quite fit with the main thrust of the argument (in which case they should be either omitted or incorporated into the body of the essay). It occured to me yesterday, when I started thinking about how I was going to put up the completed essay on the web, that I use footnotes as a primitive and very limited form of hypertext, to escape the linearity of the paper essay. (This may be an indication that I am simply poor at organising my thoughts and material, and I wouldn’t wholly dispute such a claim.) I think I use parenthetical remarks in non-academic writing for the same purpose, with even less success.

When the time comes to put the essay up on the web, I may put in a bit more effort and reorganise/rewrite it to derive as much benefit as I can from the different medium. In that respect, it would be a resurrection of Mythesis, although I suspect it would end up just being a mess. Hyperlinks everywhere, all the content in small chunks, without any driving force behind it. I guess that’s the challenge.

As a footnote to the above, in doing a conversion of the DVI file of my essay to UTF-8 encoded text, I noticed that it translated the typographic ligatures that LaTeX automatically generates into the correct corresponding Unicode characters (rather than their approximate equivalents). So instead of using ffi in sufficient, it used ffi (U+FB03), sufficient to cause more display problems for my unwitting readers. Militant and unsympathetic though I am, I think I’ll hold off on such flagrant (not to say rather strained) geekery.

Posted by jamie at 14:10+12:00 | Comments (5) | Permalink