Saturday, April 29, 2006

An Embarrassing Revelation

The word will get out somehow, so I'll declare it here. In the unscripted preface to a paper I just gave at Dartmouth, I confided to my audience that the reason I became a medievalist has much to do with my sixth grade reading of The Lord of the Rings. [Invoke every cliche you wish at this point.]

I also stated that, even though I enjoyed the filmed version, for me the most unfortunate omission was the encounter with the Barrow Wight, that undead creature who reminds me so much of the Norse draugr. That's the scene early on when Frodo finds himself inside an ancient grave, menaced by a cadaver he glimpses only as a disembodied hand ... and learns that the world into which he has been thrown is at once darker and fuller than he could ever have imagined. Since I read that scene as a boy, barrows have had an eery grip on my imagination -- probably because Tolkien is so adept at evoking the lethally uncanny there. I also appreciate the obscured glimpse the barrow scene provides of histories that have unfolded beyond the scope of the already capacious Big Mythology of the Lord of the Rings cycle.

And that childhood reading is why I happened to be pontificating about fairy mounds, alternative worlds, and lost British history in Hanover NH last Thursday.


Glaukôpis said...

Hey, it works. And if there can be academic Tolkienists, then why not Medievalists inspired by Tolkien? I mean, Tolkien was clearly inspired by Medieval texts and cultures.

sterna said...

I see nothing embarassing about this. If a barrow wight, draugr, or haugbúi suggested to me that I take a particular action, I would take that suggestion very seriously indeed.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Both points well taken!