“Thor: Ragnarok and C.S. Lewis’ Mythic Passions” by Josiah Peterson

We discovered on Monday that Lewis mocked his best friend for comparing works that are as different as the Old English epic with the late Middle English romance by Malory. He then went on to do this very thing: set side-by-side the Beowulf poet not only with Malory, but also Austen, Morris, Shakespeare, and Brontë. Lewis’ mythic imagination is broad enough to draw from all these storytellers, but he deeply loved the legends rooted in the early dark ages as they find their way into the Beowulf poem and the grand Arthuriad. Conceived as a loose series, we are pleased to tug at the edges of Inklings-related Arthuriana with this arboreal piece as it intersects with pop culture and Lewis’ lifelong love of myth that began in the North before Malory’s romance entered his world

David Llewellyn Dodds, Guest Editor


Imagine a film version of one of your favorite stories—a Narnia Chronicle say—and imagine that while the characters’ names have been retained, their relationships have been altered and major plot lines have been changed. There are love interests where there weren’t any before, villains turning up in the wrong place, and pivotal moments of character development omitted completely. Hard to imagine right?

Even if the movie worked well as a movie, and perhaps you even enjoyed it, you would wish there hadn’t been such license taken with the parts of the original that you really liked. Why couldn’t they have done justice to the story you loved? Or if they had to make the film they made, why didn’t they simply change the characters’ names and cut ties with the original piece?  I think this would have been C.S. Lewis’s response to the last blockbuster Marvel film, Thor: Ragnarok, which made over $850 million worldwide and has just been released on DVD and streaming.

Lewis was a huge Norse mythology nerd. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he writes about how he saved up his money as a child to buy an illustrated version of the Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods[1] and how his lifelong friendship with Arthur Greeves started when Lewis discovered a copy of Myths of the Norsemen on Greeves’s bedside.

“Next moment the book was in our hands, our heads were bent close together, we were pointing, quoting, talking—soon almost shouting—discovering in a torrent of questions that we liked not only the same thing, but the same parts of it and in the same way.”[2]

Helen Cooper, Emeritus Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge (Lewis’s old chair), observes that Lewis was introduced to medieval literature through Norse mythology rather than the Arthuriad and that his passion for the Norse preceded his love for Malory by at least three years.[3] She observes,

“The roots of Lewis’s [medieval] interests were…Norse myths…They gave him, in fact, a very different kind of experience from how most schoolboys of his generation first encountered the medieval. That was much more likely to be grounded in Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur…He did not find Malory until he was sixteen.”[4]

Lewis’s love for Norse mythology continued into his adult life. In his address before the Oxford Socratic Club, “Is Theology Poetry,” Lewis writes,

“If Christianity is only a mythology, then I find the mythology I believe in is not the one I like best. I like Greek mythology much better, Irish better still, Norse best of all.”[5]

What was it Lewis enjoyed about the Norse myths?  He talks about two things that really capture his imagination in Norse mythology: Northernness and tragedy.

Northernness was the strongest evoker of joy for C.S. Lewis, and it primarily came through Norse mythology. He describes his reaction to first confronting Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods:

“Pure ‘Northernness’ engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of a Northern summer, remoteness, severity…”[6]

His previous experiences with joy had come from a vernal toy garden his brother Warnie had made in a biscuit-tin lid and an autumnal vision from reading Squirrel Nutkin. But the wintry Northerness is what would return to him time and again, leading to what he described as a “Renaissance” of imagination in his later teen years.[7] Lewis can’t exactly explain what it is he gets from Northernness. He writes,

“I desired with almost sickening intensity something that is never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote).”[8]

For all of Lewis’s famed joviality, he seems to have had a saturnine streak in his soul.

Thor: Ragnarok is not a film featuring “Northernness.” But for one infamously green-screen scene of a Norwegian fiord,[9] the Thor movie is filled with summery color pallets, brightly colored spaceships, and climates that allow for short sleeves and exposed shoulders. The fight scenes in Asgard don’t exactly align with the accompanying Led Zeppelin lyrics “We come from the land of the ice and snow, From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow.” The movie is more psychedelic than pale and characters jump through space so fast we never get a real sense of remoteness.

Lewis’s saturnine streak continued in his love of tragedy. In the same talk on “Is Theology Poetry?” Lewis describes one of the poetical failures of Christianity, “worst of all, the whole cosmic story, though full of tragic elements, yet fails of being a tragedy.”[10] In contrast he says, “Odin, fighting against enemies who are not his own creatures and who will in fact defeat him in the end, has a heroic appeal which the God of Christians cannot have.”[11] Lewis appreciates the specifically Norse take on tragedy because the fighting against insurmountable odds puts right and wrong into stark relief. The good side knows that they will lose, but they fight anyway. They fight out of fealty to something greater than personal success.

The Marvel Ragnarok is not this kind of tragedy. It has graver consequences than most Marvel films but the characters are never forced to ask whether it is worth fighting if they know they are going to lose. Because Marvel can’t stand unambiguous authority figures, there are no gods in the Marvel universe worth laying down your life for. The highest motives Thor and his allies can muster is the defense of civilian life which, while certainly not a bad motive, is hardly the paradigm of sacrificial allegiance to the good.

So how would Lewis have responded to Thor: Ragnarok? He would have liked that the film finally captured Thor’s humorous side; Lewis once described Thor as “something of a Yorkshireman.”[12] But overall Lewis would probably have responded to Marvel’s adaptation of Ragnarok the same way he responded to the 1937 film adaptation of a novel he particularly liked, King Solomon’s Mines:

“Perhaps…the original was not ‘cinematic’ and the [director] was right, by the canons of his own art, in altering it. But it would have been much better not to have chosen in the first place a story which could be adapted to the screen only by being ruined.” [13]

He adds a caveat that is comforting for those of us who admire Lewis and yet enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok, “Ruined, at least, for me.”[14]

References

This blog is an adaptation of “C.S. Lewis on Thor: Ragnarok” published in the January/February issue of CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis Society, http://www.nycslsociety.com/back-issues.html

[1] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, (New York: Harcourt Inc., 1995), 75-67.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, (New York: Harcourt Inc., 1995), 130.

[3] Helen Cooper, “C.S. Lewis as Medievalist,” C.S. Lewis at Poet’s Corner (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016), 146-7.

[4] Ibid.

[5] C.S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” The Weight of Glory, (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1980) 119.

[6] Lewis, Joy, 87.

[7] Ibid, “Renaissance.”

[8] Ibid., 19.

[9] Alex Leadbeater, “Thor: Ragnarok’s Removed Trailer Scenes and Reshoots Explained,” ScreenRant.com, 11 March 2017, accessed 13 February 2018. https://screenrant.com/thor-ragnarok-trailer-changes-not-in-movie-reshoots/

[10] Lewis, “Poetry,” 118.

[11] Ibid.

[12] C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things,” God in the Dock, (Grand Rapids: WM. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), 279.

[13] C.S. Lewis, “On Stories,” On Stories, (New York: Harper One, 2017), 5.

[14] Ibid.


Josiah Peterson is a rhetoric instructor and debate coach at The King’s College, NYC and lives with his wife Rachelle and infant daughter Hosanna in Brooklyn, New York.

He is pursuing his MA in Cultural Apologetics through Houston Baptist University.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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85 Responses to “Thor: Ragnarok and C.S. Lewis’ Mythic Passions” by Josiah Peterson

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    This opens upon so many engaging vistas or lines of thought – the Inklings and the ‘Northern’ and ‘Germanic’ mythology (best attested by Norse accounts), and (the nature of) story and dramatization – including the cinema, and various (re)tellings, and ‘later’ – including ‘medieval’ – attention to earlier (hi)story, and ‘atmosphere’, and what is characteristic of various mythologies, and of historical ‘cultures’: thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder, do we think of the landscape of Beowulf as the same barren, arboreal, northernness–even though it is a legend piece rather than a myth one?

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I tend to – but that may be from forgetting some descriptive details (!); I should do some rereading…

        Liked by 1 person

        • What would you say is the difference between “legend” and “myth,” Brenton?

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          • I would separate each word in two:
            1. Legend in a popular sense, like “legendary,” awesome, etc.
            2. Legend as literature about activities in the periods of recorded history in a world not too unlike our own where there can be a religious or secular narrative about primarily human heroes. Contrast this with folktale, less ostensibly historic looking and closer to home, often with normal characters.
            1. Myth as a genre of literature, a sacred founding narrative, typically about divinity or part divinity and/or related to god(s) and set in the remote past or a world much different than ours. Though in the past, itis about how the world and humanity have come to be in its present form, so it is about the present in this way.
            2. Myth as literature, i.e. mythology
            Of course, there might be overlap and this is just my napkin sketch.

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  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Something that struck me about your saying, “Thor: Ragnarok is not a film featuring “Northernness”, is the possibility of play with expectations – and my own experience of reading Charles Kingsley’s Hypatia (1853)* where the ‘Northerness’ of the Goths sharply contrasts with their Egyptian surroundings (which I take to be deliberate on Kingsley’s part). But it sounds like the Marvel folks are not carefully working anything like this out, here. (I’ve only seen The Avengers (2012) of Marvel Thor-and-Loki films, so far, but this has got me wondering how much of an element of ‘Northerness’ there may be in in the differences of Loki’s and human perspectives, there.)

    *I urge those unfamiliar not to be put off by various features of its current (13 March) Wikipedia article, which seem very misleading to me.

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  3. I recently read Lewis’ “On Stories” and thought that another quote from page 6 was along the lines of what Lewis would have written if he were to see Jackson’s “The Hobbit” films.

    “Of its many sins – no the least the introduction of a totally irrelevant young woman in shorts who accompanied the three adventurers wherever they went – only one here concerns us.”

    One of its many sins was Tauriel’s part being added in! Good post, thanks!

    Regarding the Marvel Thor films, they definitely have shied away from the “Northerness” aspects of the Norse mythology. Since most of what we see in Avengers is modern-day Midgard-centric (their avenging those who would do harm to Earth) rather than Asgard-centric I think this is expected. In the standalone Thor films, we do see a little more of this when they are outside of the capital city in Asgard it has that Norherness feel to it on the ocean and with the cliffs, etc…

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  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    For better or worse, a lot of my experience of recent (or even 21st-century) films begins with Honest Trailers – and often enough, ends there, too (so far, in any given instance), though Solicitous Younger People introduce me to things they like… (which is how I saw The [Marvel] Avengers… and for that matter The Avengers (1998), which did not measure up to The Avengers (1965-68), but did not spoil that for me, either).

    I saw the first of the Jackson Hobbit installments on an airplane, which, sadly, was more than enough for me – though I can’t help thinking it would be interesting if I happened to know some high-tech Tolkien aficionado who could stand it who would make a ‘cut’ I could watch with the most book-like bits of the three parts.

    I’ve just gone IMDB browsing and find a film ‘Thor’ apparently only released in the Philippines which was contemporary with Lewis (1962) – and nothing else. Warnie and Tolkien were alive when the apparently Canadian ‘The Mighty Thor’ Marvel cartoon series was broadcast in 1966, but there’s no suggestion it was shown in the UK (I wonder how I missed it – I don’t remember it!). I loved The Vikings (1958), which appeared during the lifetimes of most of the Inklings, though I think I only first saw it as a teenager. I wonder if there are a lot of ‘Norse’-themed movies (so to put it)? – you’d think there must even be books about this, but how to find out…? Ditto, older Arthurian movies, for that matter!

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    • I have been called an immoral human being because I didn’t hate the Jackson Hobbit films. I like action films, and I thought they were pretty good action films with lots of flaws. I have the same complaint of the Jackson films as I do for critics who reduce Narnia to bible allegories: they misunderstand the complex worldview of the original author.
      I think Thor was rich for a movie. I’m intrigued by the fact that we don’t have a great Arthur movie, but have some TV shows.

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      • Hannah says:

        How about the series “The Last Kingdom” for ‘Norse’-themed movies? (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4179452/?ref_=nv_sr_1)? The setting is historical, England roughly around 800-900 A.D. with invading Vikings fighting the native Saxons for more ground (and power?); but issued in 2015 & 2017, not the 1960s.

        Liked by 1 person

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          I don’t know it, but it looks interesting… And, it reminds me of Alfred the Great (1966), which I enjoyed a lot, though I don’t think I saw it before Camelot (1967), which I was also neglecting to think of: David Hemmings from Alfred to Mordred in a year! (Lots of famous actors in Alfred, I now see – from Wikipedia, as it seems unknown to IMDB! – whom I did not know, then!)

          Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Whoa – didn’t immediately see the Wikipedia External Link to an IMDB article which did not turn up when I title-searched (!) – and I see I somehow mis-saw the date, too: make that, from Mordred to Alfred in two years (1969).

            There’s also a handy link to the Wikipedia article, “List of historical period drama films and series” – ! (I was hoping such a thing existed but could not think of apt search terms…)

            Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        “I thought they were pretty good action films” – I remember a Swedish friend whom I got to know showing around The Kilns saying something like that about the LotR films (with, I think, even more laudatory adjectives), and gratefully agreeing. And I see that about the opening of the first Hobbit installment – though it also presents interesting matter for consideration about the events of the story and how we learn of them (as well as about verbal narrative and film drama).

        It is intriguing (and, to me – in my movie-loving naivete? – astonishing) that “we don’t have a great Arthur movie” – I haven’t begun to catch up with the TV shows properly, yet.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Have you seen “When the Raven Flies”? It’s many years since I saw it so I can’t really vouch for how good it is but when it comes to northerness it is a classic.

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        That is new to me, but it sounds like I should try to see it! It reminded me, if somewhat tangentially, of a film of similar vintage which I loved, Pathfinder [Ofelas] (1987), where ‘Tjudr’ are attacking Sami/Lapps – which I now discover was (in some sense) ‘remade’ in 2007 featuring Vikings in North America!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Aonghus Fallon says:

    I’m guessing as far as the Marvel Comic Franchise is concerned, the mc is a super-hero who happens to be Thor (ie, as opposed to a god who ends up a super-hero) with the result that his mythological background is largely secondary to the story?

    As a young man, Lewis was also a big fan of Irish mythology, Yeats depiction of it in particular – he would have been born at the latter end of the whole ‘Celtic Revival’ movement – although this interest seems to have diminished with age. Curiously enough, Tolkien disliked all things Celtic and was no big fan of Ireland, either – although he visited here on a regular basis as an extern. Go figure!

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      He did like the Welsh language, at least, though – I was delighted when I first read his O’Donnell Lecture, ‘English and Welsh’ (1955). (And worked interestingly with the Breton in ‘The lay of Aotrou and Itroun’ – eventually published in The Welsh Review!)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Josiah Peterson says:

      Definitely the mythology is secondary. I think they tried to make it more relevant in the comics from which the movie is adapted. One example demonstrating the disregard for the source material is that the character Hagen, who in the original mythology is a minor villain, is one of the “warriors three” good guys in the movies. Hagan is actually given the scene that is closest to sacrificial reverence for the good when he stands up to Hela even though he is obviously going to lose. He’s such a contradiction and minor character that he can’t redeem the film for Lewis’s vision.

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  6. I’m not convinced that the original Norse gods feature a “sacrificial allegiance to the good” either, could you give me some examples? Admittedly I have only read the Poetic Edda but I found it rather striking how little “Good vs Evil” there was in it.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Tolkien’s lecture, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” (1936), is interesting in this context, in its attention to “the central position the creed of unyielding will holds in the North. […] ‘The Northern Gods’, Ker said,’have an exultant extravagance in their warfare which makes them more like Titans than Olympians; only they are on the right side, though this is not the side that wins. The winning side is Chaos and Unreason’ – mythologically, the monsters – ‘but the gods, who are defeated, think that defeat no refutation’.” [with note 18 to W.P. Ker’s The Dark Ages, p. 57.] He later says, “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.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        The Internet Archive has scans of the original 1904 edition, the 1911 ‘Second Impression’, and a copy with “MCMXXIII” [1923] on the title page, and in all three the passage quoted begins on page 57 and continues onto page 58. I blush to say, I have never looked at this interesting passage, with which Tolkien seems to concur, in context, but am encouraged to, now (sometime soon). Page 57 has a footnote about “ragnarokr”, “used regularly by Snorri”, and “ragnarok”, “which occurs repeatedly, while the other only occurs once, in the mythological poems”, and the paragraph ends on page 58 with footnotes to the Laxdaela saga and Faereyinga Saga – all of which suggests that Ker may provide useful documentation relevant to the question in hand.

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        • Thank you for the links, Ker’s text was really interesting! Ragnarök is certainly an epic battle and I agree with Tolkien’s description of “the central position the creed of unyielding will”. However, does that necessarily mean that it is a fight of Good vs Evil? These are fighter gods and when they are attacked they fight. The Norse gods don’t show any great morals before Ragnarök so I’m not convinced that a heroic death makes them Good. They may be courageous and unyielding but I see no real indication of them fighting for something greater than themselves. I see it more as very fallible gods making a courageous but futile stand against destiny. It’s certainly epic battle against chaos but I’m not sure that chaos imply evil, a storm can destroy everything in its path without any ill intent or moral wrong.

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    • Josiah Peterson says:

      This is a great observation and one that David has already offered a good answer to but I thought I’d jump in too.
      I also struggle to see the “sacrificial allegiance to the good” when I read the Norse myths. The Norse gods seem only mildly less capricious and vain than the Greeks. Couldn’t even their heroic stands, fighting against all odds, be a mere exercise of vainglory? All the old mythological characters are a mixed bag. There is no notion that a divinity will be necessarily good and loving as there is in Christianity.
      I think Lewis was able to see the best that was contained in the myths. At their best, the sacrificial allegiance to the good is what Norse myth displays.
      In his essay “First and Second Things” (which you can find in “God in the Dock”) Lewis critiques the Nazis’s appropriation of Norse mythology, writing: “What business have people who call might right to say that they are worshipers of Odin? The whole point about Odin was that he had the right but not the might. The whole point about the Norse religion was that it alone of all mythologies told men to serve gods who were admittedly fighting with their backs to the wall and would certainly be defeated in the end.”
      There’s a the very least a loyalty to something greater than oneself. I explore this somewhat more in the Bulletin piece.

      Liked by 1 person

      • But you do argue that “Because Marvel can’t stand unambiguous authority figures, there are no gods in the Marvel universe worth laying down your life for. The highest motives Thor and his allies can muster is the defense of civilian life which, while certainly not a bad motive, is hardly the paradigm of sacrificial allegiance to the good.”
        I’m not convinced that the Norse sagas feature any gods worth laying down your life for either. Powerful and reasonably benevolent gods you really would like on your side, yes, but I struggle to see any reason for anyone to die for them unless they thought it would help them in the afterlife. If anything I’d say that Marvel’s Thor is more moral than the original. These gods are not better than ordinary men, they are just much more powerful (in strength or wisdom etc.). The fact that they are ultimately destined to be defeated doesn’t change that although it makes the mythology darker and more interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Josiah Peterson says:

          I agree the gods of mythology don’t hold a candle to the Christian god.
          I think Lewis was drawn to what they represent. To quote the same essay:
          “The gods will fall. The wisdom of Odin, the humorous courage of Thor…and the beauty of Balder will all be smashed eventually by the realpolitik of the stupid giants and misshapen trolls. But that does not in the least alter the allegiance of any free man.”
          He sees gods as representing wisdom, courage, and beauty. These are worth aligning yourself with even if you are bound to lose.

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          It’s worth quoting some more of that second Tolkien passage: “Already before euhemerism saved them by embalming them, and they dwindled in antiquarian fancy to the mighty ancestors of northern kings (English and Scandinavian), they had become in their very being the enlarged shadows of great men and warriors upon the walls of the world. When Baldr is slain and goes to Hel he cannot escape thence any more than mortal man.

          “This may make the southern gods more godlike – more lofty, dread, and inscrutable. They are timeless gods and do not fear death. Such a mythology may hold the promise of a profounder thought. In any case it was a virtue of the southern mythology that it could not stop where it was. It must go forward to philosophy or relapse into anarchy. For it 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. ‘As a working theory absolutely impregnable.’ So potent is it, that while the older southern imagination has faded for ever into literary ornament, the northern has power, as it were, to revive its spirit even in our own times. It can work, even as it did work with the gothlauss viking, without gods: martial heroism as its won end. But we may remember that the poet of Beowulf saw clearly: the wages of heroism is death.” [Note: ‘gothlauss’ has an eth and is italicized.]

          I wonder what the contours of that “in our own times” is – my first thought is, the Nazis in 1936, but it can also include Lewis’s complaint to Arthur on [13 October 1918]: “is it not an abomination the way the Germans have named their trench systems after the heroes of the Ring? […] Anything more vulgar than the application of that grand old cycle to the wearisome ugliness of modern war I can’t imagine.” And perhaps Nietzsche’s ideas of “der Wille zur Macht” – and not only Prussian fascination with “martial heroism” detached from what is deeper and higher.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Don’t we have a more immediate connection in the fact that Tolkien himself found them potent? Tolkien seems mostly interested in that heroic ultimate defeat, in that will to keep fighting even if everything is most likely lost. To keep going even if they no longer see a point in it, not because it is Right but because they stubbornly refuse to give-up. If that’s really what he found the most potent I would assume that’s what he’s referring to.

            For a Germany on the rise in 1936 I have a hard time imagining that that defeat would be the main draw of the mythology. I imagine that they would be more interested in the other parts of the mythology in which the gods are still strong, cunning and mostly winning, where defeat is for a distant future.

            However, I really know very little of what Tolkien though and believed but this discussion on the topic seems relevant: http://www.arnastofnun.is/page/greinar_og_erindi&detail=1004466

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            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              Wow, thanks! I look forward to reading that Tom Shippey article – which is new to me – as soon as I can!

              Meanwhile, I was reading Tolkien as here attending to the possibility of people in practice isolating or hiving off “naked will and courage”/”martial heroism” even “without gods” (taking “gods” as radically allied to ‘cosmos and reason’ as opposed to “Chaos and Unreason”). This also assumes any Prussian, Nazi, or Nietzschean (etc.) self-conception as ‘reasonable’ (etc.) is correctly seen as quite wrongheaded. (If I recall correctly, there are contemporary analyses of deeply pessimistic or nihilistic elements in Nazism, with Eric(h) Voegelin’s Die Politischen Religionen (1938) including an example of this.) I also think that in Tolkien’s treatment of Rohan there is a critique of an imbalance in favour of “martial heroism” which represents a truncation of what these people once were and thought – however understandably it came to pass in Rohan’s historical circumstances.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Interesting, I will have to think about that. I fear the conversation has moved above my head but I’ve really enjoyed it this far. Thank you!

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                My general ‘take’ is that with the Valar, Tolkien is imagining Elven(-derived) sources that are more (though still insufficiently) accurate accounts of ‘the gods’ (in their goodness but creaturely limits) that all surviving ‘Indo-European’ – and Finno-Ugeric – accounts, much as Lewis is later (in the Ransom cycle) imagining the ‘true’ character of Olympian ‘gods’ as planetary Intelligences.

                Liked by 1 person

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Oops: that all>than all…

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  7. Dorothea says:

    I agree… although I liked the movie, I’d have preferred to watch it in its own story as opposed to an “adaptation”

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    • Josiah Peterson says:

      To be fairer to the movie I probably should have pointed out that the movie doesn’t purport to be an adaptation of the original myth, but rather an adaptation of a comic that is an adaptation of the original myth. Marvel still bares blame, but more with the comic writers than the screenwriters.
      I haven’t been able to read the entire Ragnarok series of comics, but other than featuring a lot more death, it doesn’t seem any more faithful to the original Norse mythology.
      Marvel seems to have a problem with depicting unambiguous moral authorities. Odin is compromised, T’Chaka is compromised, Fury is compromised, even Captain America is morally compromised. It’s all just characters trying to do their individual best. There’s never anything above them to be loyal to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • But would you argue that Oden is not morally compromised in the original sagas? What of the mead he stole from Suttungr despite swearing a ring-oath for example?

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        • Josiah Peterson says:

          You are undoubtedly more familiar with the primary sources on Norse myths than I am. I base my case on all the writings I could find on what Lewis says about them. He may be wrong, but I don’t think I’m misrepresenting his view.
          I think part of an explanation would lie in the great disconnect between what the mythological gods represent and what they are portrayed as doing. Look at the way people, including medieval writers, talk about Jove and its hard to reconcile it with the petty, lusty, abusive figure we see in Ovid. Lewis is looking to the Norse ideal. (See response to your other comment).
          I don’t see characters in the Marvel universe that are put forth as representatives of particular ideals. Maybe Cap with his “fighting bullies,” theme.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Then I’ll go and take my argument with C. S. Lewis instead 😉 Or perhaps I’ll find that I agree with him in the context he’s writing in. However, I found the Poetic Edda to be a surprisingly enjoyable read, you may want to try it if these are arguments you are interested in.

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            • I myself did love the Eddas too, and I think Lewis was a fan of this literature (though it was n’t as influential as it was for Tolkien. I actually loved Jeramy Dodds’ translation of the Poetic Edda: https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2017/04/26/ragnaroknroll-edda-tollers/
              “there’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that” he he

              Liked by 1 person

            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              It is our 26th anniversary today – and my wife already had Jan de Vries’s translation of the Poetic Edda (the Dutch Wikipedia saith: “Edda. Vertaald en van inleidingen voorzien. Amsterdam 1938. (Herziene herdrukken in 1942, 1943, 1944, 1952, 1978, 1980, 1988)”) when we married – and I have been meaning to read it ever since I learned Dutch, and, idiotically, still haven’t, but ‘you guys’ may at last have given the sufficient nudge, here! I love the Jean Young translation of Snorri’s Prose Edda (U California P, 1966) – which we have enjoyably read aloud en famille (I think, after The Lord of the Rings) – and one of the first books I bought in my time in England as an undergraduate is E.V. Gordon’s Introduction to Old Norse (OUP) – and I could kick myself for never yet having learned Old Norse, much as I enjoyed studying Old English (and, for example, translating most of Beowulf, however crudely). But I have the impression that the Poetic Edda is exceedingly tricky to read in its poetic complexity…

              Liked by 1 person

              • Happy anniversary! We normally go to dinner, but reading some Old Norse works too.

                Like

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Thanks! We had a very nice dinner – after I had been away for hours at a Chaplaincy Council meeting some 40 km distant – after I could not find what I did with our Poetic Edda – no doubt taking it off the shelf some time and putting it down in A Really Good Place (with the result it’s probably buried in one of the stacks of books with which our house is canyonous) – and starting Halldór Laxness’s Brekkukotsannáll (in its translation as The Fish Can Sing:1957) to read on the train, instead!

                Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I do like that exchange in the 2012 Avengers:

            Liked by 1 person

      • Dorothea says:

        But isn’t that (ambiguity in character) a good/realistic thing? I mean, I would criticize marvel comics for often being too black/white about things. The ‘bad guys” are always too unambiguously bad…there’s little room for sympathy. At least the “good guys” retain some ambiguity. On the other hand, you’re right. As figures of supreme authority (which Odin kind of is), the figures should be less ambiguous. However, part of the Nordic myth involves the gods being unambiguous to begin with…I’m not quite sure what you mean to say here.

        Liked by 2 people

        • It does seem the series is pushing for greater and greater ambiguity and character complexity as it goes. What’s interesting with Black Panther is that we get the complexity and unresolved questions, but there are clear moral lines.

          Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            From reviews I’ve read, I want to catch up with Black Panther! (I did not like Marvel comics in my youth because I never felt sure I’d manage to get the next installment of continuing stories, in contrast to Gold Key Comics like Turok, Son of Stone, where the adventures were completed within one issue!)

            Like

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          That degree of ambiguity of ‘gods’ in different mythologies is a fascinating matter and one subject to lively attention since at least the Greeks (Plato’s discussion of banning poets, for example). Tolkien’s remarks to Robert Murray (Letter 156: in 1954) about his approach in his mythology are interesting: “all the ‘angelic’ powers concerned with this world were capable of many degrees of error and failing between the absolute Satanic rebellion and evil of Morgoth and his satellite Sauron, and fainéance of some of the other higher powers or ‘gods’.” Something like a refining of the Northern gods as we know them from surviving sources, without making them like Biblical or, say, Miltonic, angels?

          Of the famous Rúnatal in the Hávamál in the Codex Regius, including:

          I know that I hung on a windy tree
          nine long nights,
          wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
          myself to myself,
          on that tree of which no man knows from where its roots run.

          No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn,
          downwards I peered;

          the Wikipediast sensibly observes, “To what extent this parallelism is an incidental similarity of the mode of human sacrifice offered to Odin and the crucifixion, and to what extent a Pagan influence on Christianity, or vice versa, may have occurred, is a complex question on which scholarly opinions vary.” One might add, as some have (including David Jones in his poetry), typological possibilities – cf. Lewis on “a likeness permitted by God to that truth on which all depends” in chapter X, “Second Meanings”, of Reflections on the Psalms.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. dalejamesnelson says:

    Lewis couldn’t have been thinking of Marvel comics when he wrote in An Experiment in Criticism (published 1961), “A taste for the comics is excusable only by extreme youth because it involves an acquiescence in hideous draughtsmanship and a scarcely human coarseness and flatness of narration” (pp. 72-73). I mention this remark since comic books came up here and because I wonder what comics (I’m assuming he means comic books — he could mean comic strips in boys’ magazines or even in the Sunday papers, couldn’t he?) he -was- thinking of.

    The remark makes me wish Lewis had been acquainted with Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant. I don’t know if those Sunday panels appeared in any British newspapers.

    I think there might be one other remark, probably in a CSL letter, related to comics — as something that one or both of his stepsons read.

    Were the really nasty American comics sold in England? — the ones that prompted the famous Congressional inquiries.

    Mr. BEASER. Let me get the limits as far as what you put into your magazine. Is the sole test of what you would put into your magazine whether it sells? Is there any limit you can think of that you would not put in a magazine because you thought a child should not see or read about it?

    Mr. GAINES. No, I wouldn’t say that there is any limit for the reason you outlined. My only limits are bounds of good taste, what I consider good taste.

    Mr. BEASER. Then you think a child cannot in any way, in any way, shape, or manner, be hurt by anything that a child reads or sees?

    Mr. GAINES. I don’t believe so.

    Mr. BEASER. There would be no limit actually to what you put in the magazines?

    Mr. GAINES. Only within the bounds of good taste.

    Mr. BEASER. Your own good taste and salability?

    Mr. GAINES. Yes.

    Senator KEFAUVER. Here is your May 22 issue. This seems to be a man with a bloody ax holding a woman’s head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that is in good taste?
    Mr. GAINES. Yes, sir; I do, for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.

    Senator KEFAUVER. You have blood coming out of her mouth.

    Mr. GAINES. A little.

    Whole text, with illustrations, here:

    http://www.thecomicbooks.com/gaines.html

    See also here:

    http://www.thecomicbooks.com/old/kefauver.html

    I wonder if Joy was aware of this controversy. It was covered in American news magazines, at least.

    It is often represented as the efforts of governmental clods and a pathetic excuse for a psychiatrist (Dr. Wertham) to censor an art form, etc. But look at the evidence….

    Dale Nelson

    Liked by 2 people

    • Josiah Peterson says:

      Wow, I was unfamiliar with that exchange.
      Lewis was not entirely opposed to illustrations. He loved Arthur Rackham illustrations for the Ring Cycle, and (speculation) probably was familiar with his work on Wind in the Willows (a book Lewis seemed particularly fond of). He certainly read Reader’s Digests.

      Like

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        Lewis’s 18 Aug. 1960 letter to the (American, I take it) Fr. Richard Ginder is relatively accepting of comics. Perhaps they are blamed for too much, he says. He thinks kids reading comics are better off than their parents “who read nothing but the newspapers… i.e. nothing but lies, libels, poppycock, propaganda, and pornography.”

        DN

        Like

    • Dale, that was awesome! Whatever Lewis’ experience with comics was, I don’t know that there’s much connection to the great American tradition (which can be critiqued on its own merits, not as a genre).

      Like

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        I have the nagging sense that somewhere there is a brief reference specifically to one or both of Lewis’s stepsons reading comic books.

        Douglas was born in 1945, so while it is possible that he encountered pre-Comics Code (1954) American comics, my guess is that he wouldn’t have had much, if any, exposure to them. David was born in 1944. One hardly imagines either boy bringing gory American comics to England, and I have my doubts about whether they would have been sold (openly, anyway) in Britain.

        I know next to nothing about any British-made comic books. I think that, in England, “comics,” at the time, often didn’t refer to what Americans usually think of, but to “papers” that had serials in comic strip form, and probably various text features, etc.

        American comic books in the second half of the 1950s and the very early 1960s would have included familiar DC/National superhero comics, “funny animal” magazines, romance comics, and the dear old Atlas comics (predecessor of Marvel) featuring funky monsters like Pildorr, Lo-Karr, Orrgo, Kraa, Gomdulla the Living Pharaoh (an active mummy), Groot, Sporr, Fin Fang Foom, Goom, Googam, Grottu, the Glob, Spragg, Gorgilla, Zzutak, and even Thorr — a monster, using the double-R form of the thunder god’s name that Tolkien fancied in “On Fairy-Stories.” While Jack Kirby drew stories with these grotesques, Steve Ditko was drawing tales with his brand of eerie atmosphere.

        Dale Nelson

        Like

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      The Wikipedia “Prince Valiant” article quotes the “Biographical History” note from “Harold R. (Hal) Foster Papers | An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University” online: “The tales were so epic that Edward, The Duke of Windsor called Prince Valiant the ‘greatest contribution to English literature in the past hundred years.'” Unfortunately, without a reference as to where and when he said this and read them. He was already the Duke of Windsor when the first episode of ” Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur (the full title) appeared on February 13, 1937″ (Syracuse U), “although the formal documents were not signed until 8 March” – a couple weeks later (Wikipedia). And the inventory notes “letters arrived from fans from around the world including those in Germany, Greece, the Philippines, Tahiti and Sweden. At least one letter is in Greek and several are in German” – and includes translations of Prince Valiant books into Spanish, Portuguese, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish as well. Admittedly, that still does not tell us when and how they may have been known in the UK!

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Happily, that “Prince Valiant” article also has a link to the Wikipedia article, “List of works based on Arthurian legends”, which includes a section on films. Lewis could have seen Bing Crosby in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949), and Knights of the Round Table (1953) – featuring Ava Gardner (whom Tolkien did not recognize when Robert Graves introduced them in 1964: see Letter 266) as Guinevere, but Lancelot and Guinevere was released in the UK less than two weeks before Lewis had his heart attack in June 1963.

        Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Jill Lapore has a fascinating – and pretty hair-raising article – “The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman”, including Dr. Wertham’s interrelations with Dr. Lauretta Bender:

      https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/origin-story-wonder-woman-180952710/?no-ist

      Like

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      For some reason, I’ve only ever (in my youth) seen – and enjoyed – the 1954 Prince Valiant film, and never caught up with the books – which would spare me the discomfort of wondering if I’d miss an installment elsewhere. But my compliments for thinking of it, Dale, as Wikipedia notes “Valiant (Val) is a Nordic prince from Thule, located near present day Trondheim on the Norwegian coast” and in “1946, shortly after Val marries Aleta, she is kidnapped by the Viking raider Ulfran. Val’s pursuit takes him past the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and the Saint Lawrence River, arriving at Niagara Falls 1,000 years before Columbus. Defeating Ulfran, Val is reunited with Aleta, and the couple spend that winter with friendly Native Americans.” And, in summarizing the film, “Usurper Sligon (Primo Carnera), a worshipper of the old Norse god pantheon, along with other rebel Vikings, have forced the exile of the Christian royal family of the Viking kingdom of Scandia: King Aguar (Donald Crisp), his wife, and their son Prince Valiant (Robert Wagner).” Northerness, pagan and Christian, meets the Arthurian in an adventure comic!

      Like

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        No, no, David. Don’t think of a movie when you think of Prince Valiant. Don’t even think of the artists who have continued it. Look into Hal Foster, who was in the Howard Pyle-N. C. Wyeth tradition. His Sunday installments were works of art.

        Dale Nelson

        Like

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Back in the day I met – and loved – a lot of things by way of old movies or series (George Reeves as Superman crushing what looked like liquorice revolvers) on local television – for example, I saw a lot of Johnny Weissmuller – and later even Elmo Lincoln – before I ever read a word of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ actual Tarzan. I’m sure our excellent local public library had Tarzan books, but I somehow never took the step – and they may well have had Hal Foster in book form – as well as the Newspaper Room at the Main branch (where I later worked!) having lots of out-of-town newspapers (and microfilm archives) – but, again, somehow it never occurred to me to see if I could catch up on Prince Valiant…

          Like

          • dalejamesnelson says:

            David, I do remember going to the library to look up Prince Valiant on microfilm.

            Some kids will have had access to seven volumes of Prince Valiant (“in the Days of King Arthur,” remember!) published by Hastings House mostly in the 1950s. These reprinted some of Hal Foster’s artwork in black and white, with the text being adapted by Max Trell. The black and white format perhaps let Foster’s artwork come through even better than the color versions in the Sunday newspapers, although where those were printed well, the color could be quite good.

            More recently, Fantagraphics republished the whole saga as done by Foster for the Sunday installments, in oversize full-color paperbacks, but one never gets used to the way the lips of men as well as young women are colored a deep red.

            Dale Nelson

            Like

            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              Thanks! A good (big) library may well have those Fantagraphics edition. Which libraries would historically have considered which sorts of publications were appropriate – at all – or in setting spending priorities is an interesting question. (Obviously, libraries with Sunday papers would have the Sunday funnies – and, with Fiorello La Guardia reading the comics on the radio in 1939, maybe few libraries would consider keeping them apart. (We used to have ‘purple daisy’ books which children’s card holders had to have special permission to get a look at, while the translation of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom was kept in a desk drawer and adults had to surrender their cards to be held while perusing it.) Incidentally, looking up La Guardia in Wikipedia to check that date, I read he later arranged “police protection with his personal assurances for local artists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, when they were threatened by Nazi supporters for their new patriotic comic book superhero, Captain America”!) At home, we had the daily, but I loved going to my grandparents to read those Sunday funnies in color – as you say, very bold colors: I don’t remember how bright other guys’ lips were, or weren’t, though – in Prince Valiant’s case, could that include playing with mediaeval manuscript illumination conventions? Attempting a quick search, I think this zodiacal man has lips more pink than red, however:

              Like

              • dalejamesnelson says:

                Do you, David, or anyone else here, need a get-your-blood-boiling read in this connection?

                I have just the book for you — Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper (from 17 years ago!).

                Baker writes about the great loss, especially to things like the old color funnies supplements, when libraries went to microfilm — and the further losses to print archives as they go to digitization.

                He has a fascinating anecdote from the Nixon era about an intriguing little bit that was documented in one edition of a newspaper, but removed at White House request from the later edition(s). You guessed it — it was a later edition that was microfilmed and digitized. The item was picked up by a news magazine — but the newspaper item itself is, apparently, not extant anywhere. Baker has some horrendous examples of gobbledygook when digitized text was made from murky microfilm… the original papers having been discarded.

                Dale Nelson

                Like

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Thanks – and, Whew! What dismaying stuff! In my day, the local newspapers were kept in huge bound copies in the back room, with microfilms as the first resort for readers – to prevent wear and tear on the archival originals: a sensible approach! Even then, of course, what was bound would be a particular edition if there happened to be updates in the course of the day – but I’m not sure what principles or chances were at work, here, as to which.

                But I was saddened to see the dispersal of lps when cds came in, from the Films and Recordings Department. I can’t imagine only new cd duplicates of old lps were involved, and, even then, there were already public concerns about the differences between digital and analogue recording character.

                Like

  9. Hannah says:

    A question in the line of: “Why couldn’t they have done justice to the story you loved?” – Has anyone seen the new film version of “A wrinkle in time”? Is it really as bad as the reviews are making out? It will not even be shown in the cinemas here in Europe ….

    Like

    • Josiah Peterson says:

      I haven’t had a chance to see it yet but a friend of mine who has immediately made the connection when he read the sentence you highlight. I’m not optimistic.
      I hadn’t heard about it not playing in Europe.

      Like

      • Hannah says:

        Thanks for your great post!
        I just checked and Disney did decide that some days ago for at least Holland (and Belgium), but I did find an announcement of the European premiere in London, so maybe it will be shown in other European countries.

        Like

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Terry Mattingly has an interesting post on it, “What’s the ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ news story? Flashback to wisdom from Madeleine L’Engle”, with a link to an article of his, “Finding the faith in Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time” drawing on an interview of his, when, “nearly two decades ago, I had a chance to spend two hours talking to L’Engle about the crucial themes woven into her book”:

          https://www.getreligion.org/getreligion/2018/3/17/the-news-story-with-a-wrinkle-in-time-flashbacks-to-wisdom-from-madeleine-lengle

          I also immediately thought of what I had read about the film when I read, “Why couldn’t they have done justice to the story you loved?” – and of how disappointing I had already found whichever official release of the 2003 Disney version it was I saw! By contrast, her own complete audiobook of it is great – we’ve listened to it (and that of A Wind in the Door) so often that we probably know great swatches by heart (or used to).

          I had the pleasure of showing her around The Kilns and chatting with her, when she came to visit.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Hannah says:

            Thanks for the link to that article, David! And the audiobook sounds great! An advantage of only listening is that you can keep your own imagery from reading the book. I know of people who for that reason didn’t go to the Jackson movies …

            Like

            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              Yes! I think Tolkien is very interesting on that matter in “On Fairy-Stories” – even a spoken performance of a narrative including dialogue is different from the most refined and faithful attempt to dramatize it, and such a ‘bardic’ performance (so to call it) – as by Madeleine L’Engle herself – allows all the audience-members to keep their own mental imagery, however each may differ from the others in the details of such pictures in the mind’s eye.

              I heard an interesting guest lecture at Harvard (I blush to say I cannot immediately think by whom) putting the case that the metrical complexity of Old English verse as brilliantly analyzed by Eduard Sievers suggested pitch-changes in performance sort of corresponding to the effect of Gregorian chant – in order to bring the words across clearly to each hearer even in a big hall. I can’t remember whether in arguing this he addressed the matter that such a performance might well deliver the words clearly without a lot of ‘dramatic expression’ on the part of the ‘scop’ (speaker/’singer’) – which would reinforce allowing the hearer to form personal mental images. (I’m a pretty dramatic reader of Bible Lessons in Church services, but I’ve heard interesting discussion of the preferability of a clear, ‘neutral’ reading aiding the hearer more – and feel something of that in, say, Russian chant with vernacular Scripture text in Orthodox services.)

              Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I just ran into what seems a thoughtful, as well as detailed and knowledgeable, review – though I’m not sure how spoilerish it may be for anyone who has not read the book, yet – I don’t think very spoilerish… (maybe the details will tantalize rather than spoil…):

            http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/sdg-reviews-a-wrinkle-in-time

            Like

  10. Pingback: Inklings & Arthur on Pilgrim in Narnia | The Oddest Inkling

  11. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Meanwhile, “Teenager Finds King Bluetooth’s Lost Treasures, Including a Thor’s Hammer”! In reading this account, one is struck by Laura Geggel writing “the team uncovered remarkable artifacts, including […] a Thor’s hammer (a representation of a mythical weapon forged by dwarves)” – Tolkien’s preferred spelling of ‘dwarves’! – has that become common?*:

    https://www.livescience.com/62323-king-bluetooth-treasure-found.html

    “Archaeologists believe the riches belonged to the Danish king Harald Gormsson, more commonly known as ‘Bluetooth,'” and “Bluetooth is known for bringing Christianity to De[n]mark in the 10th century”, do not, in this case, combine to lead to the frequent question about such troves: what is a Thor’s Hammer doing in a Christian context?

    *Hmm… both the free online Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries list it as a spelling (second).

    Liked by 2 people

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