Monday, December 24, 2007

Asterisk Reality

Scott Kleinman in his medievalist-oriented blog "Mern Þonke" explains Tom Shippey's employment of this seductive (well, you're reading yours truly, a bona fide if underused --to adapt Steve Malkmus' song lament for my/his/our generation from "Brighten the Corners"-- doc in Old & Middle English lit too!) concept which I mentioned in an already rambling end to my Newgrange post immediately preceding this one. I figured this needed clarification for those of you not aware of how a philologist differs from a philatelist. Let alone what's PIE. Here's SK on TA (around p. 15 in Road to Middle Earth) on JRRT:

The term "refers to the philological technique of reconstructing aspects of cultures of the past based on surviving linguistic and narrative materials. In philology, comparison of, say Latin pater, Sanskrit pitar, and English father (along with a few dozen other languages) enables us to suggest that each of these languages is descended from a common ancestor, called Proto-Indo-European. Further, we can conlude that the word for father in Proto-Indo-European probably began with a p-. Further reconstruction allows us to suggest that the Proto-Indo-European word was probably something like *pater, with the asterisk indicating that the word has been reconstructed rather than attested from surviving evidence. And yet still further, we can take a word like English feed and trace it to the same Indo-European root. This gives us a window into the cultural consciousness of a lost civilisation. But, like its asterisked linguistic forms, this civilisation does not exist in reality. It is an asterisk reality, reconstructed from evidence surviving in cultures (and sometimes multiple cultures) from later periods in history. Shippey's argument in The Road to Middle Earth is that J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth is a sort of asterisk reality; Tolkien has taken surviving evidence to reconstruct languages and cultures unattested by any historical record but possible given the languages and cultures that are attested.

Image credit. You try finding the right image for "asterisk + Tolkien." A cartoon pamphlet in Jack Chick's ubiquitous series, 1984's "Dark Dragons," attacked among its D&D targets not only Tolkien but C.S. Lewis, according to this fascinating entry at The Escapist: In the first printing of Dark Dungeons, this particular panel included a footnote that has since been removed. The words "occult books" had a double asterisk next to them, and the corresponding note below read "Including C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, both of which can be found in occult bookstores."

The story behind this footnote is detailed in Secrets of Dark Dungeons by P.D. Magnus, which tells us that the bit about Lewis and Tolkien was submitted to Chick by a man named John Todd - a preacher who "claim(ed) to have been an important figure in international witchcraft before his salvation" and often spouted rants and sermons about massive satanic conspiracies. . . .

Strangely enough, the footnote was removed by Chick Publications because their policy is that they "must be able to prove what is printed by more than one source."

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