I have been spending some time in Middle Earth the last few days, watching Sir Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. It made me think of much I don’t like about my fellow Americans, particularly white males. With their scruffy look, tattoos, and exaggerated machismo, I see many of them as little better than Tolkien’s orcs. Take this quote from The Lord of the Rings:
Much of the same sort of degraded and filthy talk can still be heard among the orc-minded; dreary and repetitive with hatred and contempt, too long removed from good to retain even verbal vigour, save in the ears of those to whom only the squalid sounds strong. [Italics mine]
Look at our movie heroes. How many of them remind you of the figure above? Sly Stallone, Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis, Dwayne Johnson, Russell Crowe—all could be cast as Middle Earth villains. The tent-dwelling homeless population of Los Angeles all look like orcs. It’s a look they tend to strive for: The “No one messes with me” look. I mean, who would want to? Even the police are not eager to make contact with males who look mean and diseased at the same time. Would you even want to share a police cruiser with one of them?
As for myself, I’m not into aggressive squalor. I’d prefer to throw in my lot with the elves, hobbits, wizards, dwarves, and men of Middle Earth.
England has produced a rich crop of fantasy writers who have latched onto the brilliantly coruscating speech of the Middle Ages and the Elizabethan Era. Their styles are at times midway between poetic and overblown. There is a framing story in which a narrator is escorted by a strange bird to the planet Mercury (?!), where there is a war between the Demons and the Witches. BTW, our narrator is dropped in the second chapter and is not heard from again.
Who are the good guys? Well, E. R. Eddison, the author of The Worm Ourobouros (1922) is content to follow both sides. Unlike Tolkien, there is no clear cut good or evil. In fact, good and evil seem to be intermixed. Here is a sample of the language:
Juss, Goldry, and Spitfire, and ye other Demons, I come before you as the Ambassador of Gorice XI., most glorious King of Witchland, Lord and great Duke of Buteny and Estremerine, Commander of Shulan, Thramnë, Mingos, and Permio, and High Warden of the Esamocian Marches, Great Duke of Trace, King Paramount of Beshtria and Nevria and Prince of Ar, Great Lord over the country of Ojedia, Maltraeny, and of Baltary and Toribia, and Lord of many other countries, most glorious and most great, whose power and glory is over all the world and whose name shall endure for all generations. And first I bid you be bound by that reverence for my sacred office of envoy from the King, which is accorded by all people and potentates, save such as be utterly barbarous, to ambassadors and envoys.
I am still in the beginning chapters of The Worm Ourobouros, so I have not made up my mind about the book—yet. Will I be enthralled by the poetic language, or slightly nauseated by the endless archaisms? Time will tell. On the plus side, my copy of the book has introductions by Orville Prescott and James Stephens (who wrote the truly poetic The Crock of Gold). His work is also admired by the likes of James Branch Cabell, J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert Silverberg, and C. S. Lewis.
There is to be a wrestling match to the death between Gorice XI of Witchland and Lord Goldry Bluszko of Demonland in lieu of an outright war (at least for the time being):
My hippogriff travelleth as well in time as in space. Days and weeks have been left behind by us, in what seemeth to thee but the twinkling of an eye, and thou standest in the Foliot Isles, a land happy under the mild regiment of a peaceful prince, on the day appointed by King Gorice to wrastle with Lord Goldry Bluszco. Terrible must be the wrastling betwixt two such champions, and dark the issue thereof. And my heart is afraid for Goldry Bluszco, big and strong though he be and unconquered in war; for there hath not arisen in all the ages such a wrastler as this Gorice, and strong he is, and hard and unwearying, and skilled in every art of attack and defence, and subtle withal, and cruel and fell like a serpent.
I have had this book on my shelves since the late 1960s, when I bought it from the famed sci-fi/fantasy bookstore called A Change of Hobbit while it was still located in Westwood. The bookstore is no more, but it left behind fond memories by many sci-fi writers, including Harlan Ellison, who once wrote an original story while sitting in the display window of the store with a typewriter.