Monday, March 07, 2005


These Germanic sea raiders, ancestors of the English, in short order gave the Pictish and Scottish aggressors what was coming to them. Then, with eyes ever on the main chance, a complete lack of any sense of international morality, and no fear whatever of being prosecuted as war criminals, they very unidealistically, though as it turned out sensibly, proceeded to subjugate and ultimately to dispossess the Britons whom they had come ostensibly to help.

--Thomas Pyles, The Origins and Development of the English Language, 2nd ed. 114.

Thus the word raid is a northern dialectal variant of the word road: both come from OE rad, which originally meant 'a riding, a journey'; it is a telling comment on life in the turbulent North during the Middle Ages that a riding of Scots into England or of Englishmen into Scotland should come to mean a raid.

--Charles Barber, The English Language, 138-139.

In Norse, at any rate, the gods are within Time, doomed with their allies to death. Their battle is with the monsters and the outer darkness. ...For in a sense [Southern, i.e. Greco-Roman, mythology] had shirked the problem precisely by not having the monsters in the centre--as they are in Beowulf to the astonishment of the critics. But such horrors cannot be left permanently unexplained, lurking on the outer edges and under suspicion of being connected with the Government. It is the strength of the northern mythological imagination that it faced this problem, put the monsters in the centre, gave them victory but no honour, and found a potent but terrible solution in naked will and courage.

But we may remember that the poet of Beowulf saw clearly: the wages of heroism is death.

--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics, 25-26.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I need a copy of that Tolkien essay. Get me one, hmm? :)