An U.L.S. — The Underground Library Society– Post by M. C. Tuggle

Standard

uls-logo-31

I want to thank M. C. Tuggle for joining the Underground Library Society!

I will have another post for the U. L. S. up on Sunday.

Now, here is M. C. Tuggle’s post:

I Am Beowulf

by M. C. Tuggle

I follow the rusting railroad tracks, occasionally veering off to wade through icy streams so the Mechanical Hound cannot follow my scent. When I find Granger and his small band of rebels, he welcomes me with hot coffee, which I greedily drink, then chase down with the bitter fluid Granger assures me will change my scent and confuse the Hound. Then he asks what book I choose to become by committing it to memory.

There is no question which book it will be.

After all, I’ve joined the resistance against a totalitarian government that controls its subjects by keeping them in perpetual ignorance. Numbed by mindless, ever-present mass media, the population exists without a past, either as individuals or as part of a living tradition. Only the present moment exists for them. Independent thought is quickly detected and snuffed out, and anyone with a book is a criminal who can be executed on the spot.

So of course the book I choose to memorize and become must be Beowulf.

After all, the oppressed people of Fahrenheit 451 need a vision that will rouse them out of their apathy. Once they rediscover who they are and what they were meant to be, maybe a fire will grow in their bellies and inspire them to reclaim their humanity.

Also, practical issues aside, I just love Beowulf. It’s the high school classic that made me into a future English major. The gritty details of battle against Grendel, his mother, and the dragon are as vivid and breathtaking as the greatest adventure tales of Robert E. Howard or H. Rider Haggard. And the action in Beowulf is not only entertaining, but significant. The tale is packed with commentary on the human condition as well as eye-opening insights into history, religion, and culture.

In Bradbury’s dystopia, historical amnesia has been weaponized to keep the people alienated and aimless. In Beowulf, on the other hand, one’s history is a vital part of one’s existence. Early in the story, when a Danish watchman challenges Beowulf and his crew, Beowulf identifies himself by telling the watchman about his lineage:

“We belong by birth to the Geat people and owe allegiance to Lord Hygelac. In his day, my father was a famous man, a noble warrior-lord named Ecgtheow.”

And in stark contrast to the soul-crushing conformity and stupor of Fahrenheit 451’s dystopian society, the world of Beowulf celebrates achievement, battle, and nobility. Upon first viewing Beowulf, the Danish watchman remarks, “Nor have I seen a mightier man-at-arms on this earth than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken, he is truly noble.”

Beowulf also gives us an overview of the history of Western civilization. It offers a glimpse of Britain’s transition from a pagan to a Christian culture. My take on this classic is that it is a rewriting of an oral epic from pagan days. What makes it unique is that it mirrors the history of the spread of Christianity, particularly in northern Europe, where the world-weary religion of southern European slaves and the poor reinvented itself to appeal to the more prosperous, more aristocratic, and more worldly north.

In doing so, the new religion embraced much of the pagan worldview of northern Europe, and this update of a pagan classic reflects that.

Consider the book’s undisguised pagan values. The hero sets out to save the Danish king’s mead hall, a place where members of the warrior class drink, feast, and share the spoils of battle. Prized weapons are named, something we do not see in the Iliad or Odyssey. And instead of promoting turning the other cheek, or looking to an eternal reward as life’s ultimate aim, Beowulf glorifies revenge and worldly honor: “It is better for us all to avenge our friends, not mourn them forever. Each of us will come to the end of this life on earth; he who can earn it should fight for the glory of his name; fame after death is the noblest of goals.”

I have four translations, or modernizations, of this epic poem. My favorites are by JRR Tolkien and the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. If forced to pick, I’ll have to go with Heaney’s shimmering retelling. That’s the book I would memorize.

END

M. C. Tuggle writes science fiction, fantasy, and mystery stories, and occasionally gets some published. His observations and rants about the writing craft appear on his blog mctuggle.com

uls-logo-11

Thank you again to M. C. Tuggle!

Who Are Some Of Your Favorite European Poets?

Standard

As I continue this series about favorite writers, I am trying more and more to narrow each grouping. I am not sure this is narrowed enough, but since this is not an academic project, I will go with these groupings.

Here are a few poets, among the many possible, who are some  of my favorite European poets:

shakespeare-67698_960_720

(https://pixabay.com/)

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare is not only the greatest playwright, but he is also among the best poets. I have the honor this semester of teaching his poetry, and we are focusing on his sonnets, in my Renaissance Imagination class at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. If you have not read his sonnets, then I recommend them highly. He deals with intensely personal issues that resonate throughout much poetry, of life and death, aging, time, and love.

 

Seamus_Heaney_Photograph_Edit

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney was a brilliant poet, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature and whose work ranged from the deeply personal to that which dealt with contemporary issues in Ireland, including the Troubles to his extraordinary translation of Beowulf, the one that I use when I teach the ancient English poem.

 

dante-3072141_960_720

(https://pixabay.com)

Dante Alighieri

Dante is someone whom I think all people who consider themselves to be educated, formally or self-educated, should read. His work spans the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and his extraordinary The Divine Comedy, consisting of Inferno, Hell; Purgatorio, Purgatory; and Paradiso, Paradise is one of the most crucial poems ever written. This narrative poem takes the reader through Dante’s vision of the afterlife, and he is guided by the Roman poet Virgil and then his perfect woman, Beatrice.

I ask all of you–who are some of your favorite European Poets?

Dining With Character, Part 3 — Revisited

Standard

pub in oxford-315963_960_720

https://pixabay.com

To continue this series, I wanted to invite major characters from British mythology.  As before, I am imagining what it would be like to invite a few fictional characters to a dinner and have conversation with them.

Beowulf_Cotton_MS_Vitellius_A_XV_f._132r

https://en.wikipedia.org

(This is the first page of the extant original copy of Beowulf, written in Old English.)

 

Today’s guests are Beowulf, King Arthur, and Aragorn, all kings from British epics: Beowulf by an unknown poet, Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. These books range from the Dark Ages, circa the mid 800s to the Middle Ages, circa 1485 to the contemporary world in the mid 1900s. These texts are all important to me, both as a reader and as a teacher, because I have used all of these books in different college classes, primarily in the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. While covering a very long historical range, they all deal with the difficulties faced by leaders especially when the fate of their kingdoms rests in their decisions and actions.

King_Arthur_and_the_Knights_of_the_Round_Table

https://commons.wikimedia.org

(King Arthur and his knights)

For this entry, we would dine again at a traditional British pub, and we would be seated around a fairly large, wooden, round table.  This seems appropriate, given the attendees.

Aragorn300ppx

“Aragorn300ppx” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aragorn300ppx.png#/media/File:Aragorn300ppx.png

I would like to ask these three kings what it was like to lead soldiers actively into combat. Unlike the leaders of contemporary armies, they faced death directly with their fellow fighters. I would also ask them what they see the main responsibilities of leaders to be. I would also like to ask them if they consider fate to be real, or are they in control of their own destinies?  Given the variation in optimism and pessimism that ranges in their attitudes, their approaches to facing the difficulties of life and death would be fascinating to explore.

I would certainly be curious to see how these three warrior kings spoke with each other. I think a checking of the swords at the door might be a very good idea.

historical-odtworstwo-904716_960_720

https://pixabay.com

What questions would you ask these leaders or other leaders in mythology?

Dining With Authors: A Bit Of A Mystery

Standard

question-mark-1098294_960_720

https://pixabay.com

I am currently teaching a course Medieval Literature at The Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College, and I am having a great time exploring these texts. Among the texts we are studying are Beowulf, Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, and Le Morte D’Arthur. Many themes and historical circumstances connect these works, but for the purposes of this post, I am concerned with the mysterious nature of their authors.

BLBeowulf

Unknown Author Beowulf, British Library Cotton Vitellius A.XV

Beowulf is an old English poem, probably written during the 800s or 900s A.D. and is arguably the oldest piece of English literature.  That is a scholarly debate and interesting, but it is not my main point here. The works deals with a warrior hero and is set in ancient Scandinavia.  The poet is usually called “the Beowulf poet.”  We have neither a clear idea nor evidence to indicate who he might have been.  That he was educated is clear, but was he a member of the clergy or nobility or someone else? We don’t know.

Arthur-Pyle_Sir_Gawaine_the_Son_of_Lot,_King_of_Orkney

 Howard Pyle from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (1903)

We also do not know the identity or background of the person who was the poet of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight. An argument can be made about the approximate area of Britain from which he originated, but even that is scholarly supposition.  We simply do not know who this writer was.

King_Arthur_and_the_Knights_of_the_Round_Table

https://en.wikipedia.org

On first glance, a different situation might seem to be the case with Le Morte D’Arthur, since an author’s name is attached to the work: Sir Thomas Malory. There is, however, a problem because there were at least seven people who claimed that name at that time, and we cannot be certain which one, if any, wrote the work.  Ah the interest of the literary mystery!

Given that uncertainty surrounding the identities of these three writers, I thought I would issue an invitation to these three unknown authors to dine at a pub with me and see who arrives.  Who do you think might be there? Who might choose to sit and dine with me and discuss their writings?

mysterious

https://pixabay.com

A New Semester

Standard

Muhlenbergcollege

https://www.flickr.com

Today is the beginning of a new semester at one of the two colleges where I am teaching; next week the other school begins, and I am very excited. I always feel like this at the beginning of a new session.  I certainly needed the winter break after last semester, which was very busy, but now I am filled with energy and ready to begin.

I will have a varied group of classes, but tonight I begin with Medieval Literature at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College.  Among the texts we will read are Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and Le Morte d’Arthur.  I love these works, and I hope that the class enjoys studying them.

I have to go and put the finishing touches on today’s opening lecture.

005

Photograph by my wife Liz French (2014)

Dining With Characters: Part 3

Standard

pub in oxford-315963_960_720

https://pixabay.com

It has been a while since I have made an entry to this series, so I thought it was definitely a good time to do so. As before, I am imagining what it would be like to invite a few fictional characters to a dinner and have conversation with them.

Beowulf_Cotton_MS_Vitellius_A_XV_f._132r

https://en.wikipedia.org

(This is the first page of the extant original copy of Beowulf, written in Old English.)

 

Today’s guests are Beowulf, King Arthur, and Aragorn, all kings from British epics: Beowulf, Le Morte d’Arthur, and The Lord of the Rings. These books range from the Dark Ages, circa the mid 800s to the Middle Ages, circa 1485 to the contemporary world in the mid 1900s. These texts are all important to me, both as a reader and as a teacher, because I have used all of these books in different college classes. While covering a very long historical range, they all deal with the difficulties faced by leaders especially when the fate of their kingdoms rests in their decisions and actions.

King_Arthur_and_the_Knights_of_the_Round_Table

https://commons.wikimedia.org

(King Arthur and his knights)

For this entry, we would dine again at a traditional British pub, and we would be seated around a fairly large, wooden, round table.  This seems appropriate, given the attendees.

Aragorn300ppx

“Aragorn300ppx” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aragorn300ppx.png#/media/File:Aragorn300ppx.png

I would like to ask these three kings what it was like to lead soldiers actively into combat. Unlike the leaders of contemporary armies, they faced death directly with their fellow fighters. I would also ask them what they see the main responsibilities of leaders to be. I would also like to ask them if they consider fate to be real, or are they in control of their own destinies?  Given the variation in optimism and pessimism that ranges in their attitudes, their approaches to facing the difficulties of life and death would be fascinating to explore.

I would certainly be curious to see how these three warrior kings spoke with each other. I think a checking of the swords at the door might be a very good idea.

historical-odtworstwo-904716_960_720

https://pixabay.com

What questions would you ask these leaders?