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Old 02-16-2018, 08:35 PM   #1
Balfrog
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The Root of the Boot - A Philological Parody?

A carry-on from an earlier piece of analysis looks at the possibility of The Root of the Boot in Songs for the Philologists being a parody of another well-known Elizabethan historical incident. In this case the troll is argued to be once again a lampooning of William Shakespeare, while Uncle John and Tom are supposedly John and Thomas Heywood.


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Shakespeare scholars/historians will no doubt be aware of the 'William Jaggard affair'. Ms. Seth explains The Root of the Boot (and its predecessor Pero & Podex) as a light-hearted poking of fun at Shakespeare; which is in-line with Tolkien's known general dislike of the Bard of Avon. The poem, however, does have a 'philological backbone' - as Ms. Seth describes it.
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Old 03-05-2018, 11:16 AM   #2
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Presumably for copyright reasons, Ms. Seth didn't provide the full text of the original poem (on which this theory is based); I've found a source which provides a scan of the whole poem, for discussion purposes. Tolkien Gateway has the 'Stone Troll' version.

Okay, so first off: it's very obvious from comparing the two poems side-by-side that the change from John to Tim came with the change in the rhyme scheme. Specifically, when editing the poem, Tolkien clearly decided to put an internal rhyme into the third line of each verse, to match the one in the first. 'John' doesn't rhyme with any good body parts; 'Tim' does.

Secondly, the identity of the troll with Shakespeare depends on assuming that it's the same troll as Bill Huggins in The Hobbit. 'The Root of the Boot' gives the troll no name; why assume he's the same one as William, rather than Bert - or indeed, perhaps this troll is also called Tom! Ms. Seth makes no argument for her identification of the two, which means the entire case is built on 'Tom', 'John', and 'the concept of stealing'.

So let's look at the poem. Tom is there - but he seems to have that name mostly to rhyme with 'with his big boots on'. John is definitely there - but it's proverbially the most common name in English. So there's not much of a case to be built there.

And the content of the poem? Well, the first verse claims that the troll has 'seen no man nor mortal' - hardly evocative of Shakespeare's fame. Ms. Seth's 'birchyard' (verse 2) is an obvious rhyme for 'churchyard'. Verse 3 drops into a religious tone, saying that the body is worth nothing compared to the soul; Verse 4 continues this by condeming Uncle John to Hell, and Verse 5 has Tom trying to send the troll to join him. Spirited stuff! But is it Shakespeare?

It, ah... seems unlikely, frankly. Yes, you can draw links between the poem and plagiarism - but you could equally claim it's about literally any situation in history that involves someone taking something and getting away with it. There is nothing that ties it directly to the Shakespeare story, and the Shakespeare theory doesn't explain the religious angle.

Also: would Tolkien really write this in a cunning analogy for a historical drama involving Shakespeare?

So he rued that root on the rumpo,
Lumpo, Bumpo!


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Old 03-06-2018, 02:46 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huinesoron View Post
Presumably for copyright reasons, Ms. Seth didn't provide the full text of the original poem (on which this theory is based); I've found a source which provides a scan of the whole poem, for discussion purposes. Tolkien Gateway has the 'Stone Troll' version.

Okay, so first off: it's very obvious from comparing the two poems side-by-side that the change from John to Tim came with the change in the rhyme scheme. Specifically, when editing the poem, Tolkien clearly decided to put an internal rhyme into the third line of each verse, to match the one in the first. 'John' doesn't rhyme with any good body parts; 'Tim' does.

Secondly, the identity of the troll with Shakespeare depends on assuming that it's the same troll as Bill Huggins in The Hobbit. 'The Root of the Boot' gives the troll no name; why assume he's the same one as William, rather than Bert - or indeed, perhaps this troll is also called Tom! Ms. Seth makes no argument for her identification of the two, which means the entire case is built on 'Tom', 'John', and 'the concept of stealing'.

So let's look at the poem. Tom is there - but he seems to have that name mostly to rhyme with 'with his big boots on'. John is definitely there - but it's proverbially the most common name in English. So there's not much of a case to be built there.

And the content of the poem? Well, the first verse claims that the troll has 'seen no man nor mortal' - hardly evocative of Shakespeare's fame. Ms. Seth's 'birchyard' (verse 2) is an obvious rhyme for 'churchyard'. Verse 3 drops into a religious tone, saying that the body is worth nothing compared to the soul; Verse 4 continues this by condeming Uncle John to Hell, and Verse 5 has Tom trying to send the troll to join him. Spirited stuff! But is it Shakespeare?

It, ah... seems unlikely, frankly. Yes, you can draw links between the poem and plagiarism - but you could equally claim it's about literally any situation in history that involves someone taking something and getting away with it. There is nothing that ties it directly to the Shakespeare story, and the Shakespeare theory doesn't explain the religious angle.

Also: would Tolkien really write this in a cunning analogy for a historical drama involving Shakespeare?

So he rued that root on the rumpo,
Lumpo, Bumpo!


hS
I wonder, though, if it *is* referencing *something*, given that according to your source some of the other poems in the book "poke fun at the academic community". If so, however, it could just as well be, say, a controversy at Leeds itself as anything to do with Shakespeare.

Speaking of plagiarism- the other rather interesting thing, which I don't think Ms Seth touched on, is that the original version seems to be modelled directly on the traditional folk song, "The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night", which also has "successful theft" as its subject. ("The Stone Troll is similar, but as noted has a somewhat different rhyming scheme).
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Old 03-06-2018, 04:17 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nerwen View Post
I wonder, though, if it *is* referencing *something*, given that according to your source some of the other poems in the book "poke fun at the academic community". If so, however, it could just as well be, say, a controversy at Leeds itself as anything to do with Shakespeare.
I agree with Ms. Seth that it has to be doing something. The poem doesn't really seem to have any inherent philological merit, unless you count 'making up words and rhyming them'. The next poem in the book (shown on the scan) seems to be in a Scandinavian language, while the other Tolkien poem shown is a story about Lit' and Lang'; there must be something that made The Root of the Boot worth including.

A little more research has turned up this chapter listing for the book, which shows that all of Tolkien's songs (at least) were set to the tune of various folk tunes, including...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nerwen View Post
Speaking of plagiarism- the other rather interesting thing, which I don't think Ms Seth touched on, is that the original version seems to be modelled directly on the traditional folk song, "The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night", which also has "successful theft" as its subject. ("The Stone Troll is similar, but as noted has a somewhat different rhyming scheme).
... well, that.

It is worth noting that Wikipedia's version of 'The Fox...' includes specific mention of a character named John. It also ends with the fox and his family chewing on the bones-o, bones-o, bones-o. We can also be sure that Tolkien remembered the source even much later than the original drafting - the line 'A couple of you will grease my chin' is directly evoked by The Stone Troll's 'A bit of fresh meat will go down sweet'.

Okay. Most of the songs seem to have been in non-English languages, but a look at some of the others might hint at what Tolkien was thinking about when he wrote them. I've managed to shake up a scan of From One to Five, which helpfully includes notes on how it was edited to fit the book. The first verse, as originally written, ran:

One old man of Yorkshire
Wrote [a play?] in dialect
Had the verse been sounder
T'royalties had been rounder - poor he!


Far more than The Root of the Boot, that reads like a direct commentary on someone (as does the rest of the poem)... but is it? There's no pre-Tolkien Yorkshire dialect playwrights or poets who spring out from a quick Google, and the other verses (particularly the one about 'two poor loons [who] tried to talk in Norse') seem to be just making jokes about philology in general (or sometimes not even that!).

The same source also provides Natura Apis, another Tolkien song, this time about bees. Once again, it could be an allegory - but there's nothing to suggest it is.

~

So I guess I'm going to walk back on my earlier claim. Tolkien's contributions Songs for the Philologists may look like they have a deeper meaning, but an examination of the available texts shows that the most likely truth is that the English-language ones were simply silly little nonsense rhymes, pulled from Tolkien's files or written to fill the space. All of them were modelled on folk songs, to allow them to be sung by the philologists in question; none of them seem to be any deeper than that.

hS
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Old 03-17-2018, 10:55 PM   #5
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Huinesoron

"Specifically, when editing the poem, Tolkien clearly decided to put an internal rhyme into the third line of each verse, to match the one in the first. 'John' doesn't rhyme with any good body parts; 'Tim' does."


Would be more sympathetic except:

(i) Shin & Tim don't rhyme. Sorry no cigar! Tim/Shin looks like a forced fit – and not a great one at that. Tolkien would have been well aware that the rhyming isn't as well done as the rest. Then why make a change?
(ii) Tolkien doesn't strictly follow rhyming pattern through-out (e.g. Stone Troll: Line 6 endings don't always rhyme with Line 1 & 2 endings). Thus, though you make a good point about rhyming – one can't come to a definitive conclusion.

"Secondly, the identity of the troll with Shakespeare depends on assuming that it's the same troll as Bill Huggins in*The Hobbit. 'The Root of the Boot' gives the troll no name; why assume he's the same one as William, rather than Bert - or indeed, perhaps this troll is also called Tom!"

Please read the essay again carefully. Tolkien is on record for voicing disdain over Shakespeare – not other Elizabethan/Jacobean playwrights. That in itself is a good enough reason for lampooning him. Tom and Bert are identified as Thomas Nashe and Robert Greene per Ms. Seth's previous analysis. Though Ms. Seth has lumped them in with Shakespeare they are part of a famous piece of Elizabethan history (according to her claim) – and Tolkien is not on record for poking fun at them.


"And the content of the poem? Well, the first verse claims that the troll has 'seen no man nor mortal' - hardly evocative of Shakespeare's fame. Ms. Seth's 'birchyard' (verse 2) is an obvious rhyme for 'churchyard'."

Poetic license! 'seen no man or mortal' – meaning Shakespeare's way above the rest – in a class of his own perhaps! More likely that he'd not chewed on the bones of other playwrights in the same way before latching on to those of John Heywood.

Birches meant a lot to Tolkien at Leeds – this is the philological side. As such I find it hard to believe that birchyard was simply inserted to rhyme with churchyard.

"There is nothing that ties it directly to the Shakespeare story, and the Shakespeare theory doesn't explain the religious angle."

Except the Elizabethan era words and the philological nature of the publication. What did you expect – Tolkien to outright call the troll - Shakespeare, or Tom – Mr. Heywood?

As to the religious angle – perhaps you're unaware of the trouble John Heywood got himself over his particular Christian beliefs. Take a look at Wikipedia for starters. There is ample talk about his faith – how he was almost hanged – and how he had to flee England. The religious element in the poem is thus quite appropriate.

"Also: would Tolkien really write*this*in a cunning analogy for a historical drama involving Shakespeare?"

Only Tolkien can answer that. But I'm inclined to believe Tolkien was capable of writing anything he wanted. Perhaps you aren't convinced – but this is her second assertion of a parody theme involving Elizabethan playwrights. Maybe you'll change your mind after Part II of this series where a third parody is presented!

"... simply silly little nonsense rhymes, pulled from Tolkien's files or written to fill the space. All of them were modelled on folk songs, to allow them to be sung by the philologists in question; none of them seem to be any deeper than that."


Hmm ... folk songs ... for philologists? Seems odd. Just because Tolkien left no record of what was behind them - doesn't mean there wasn't anything. We all know the depth of Tolkien's prose works. It's brave of you to dismiss that his verse in Songs for the Philologists could not possibly have been formulated in the same mode. To me some extracted philological meaning that fits the poetry is far better a solution than no meaning.


Nerwen

"... it could just as well be, say, a controversy at Leeds itself as anything to do with Shakespeare."

Did you have anything particular in mind you would like to share?
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Old 03-18-2018, 01:53 AM   #6
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Thankfully, there is an extremely simple way to prove that The Root of the Boot (in its original form) must be allegorical, as you propose in your last paragraph to me: simply demonstrate the same thing for the other Tolkien poems in the volume! I've dorectly linked 'From One to Five' and 'Natura Apis', and my link to the original 'Root' also includes 'Lit and Lang'. A demonstration tha all of these are allegories for specific events related to Eng Lang (or Lit, since the Root apparently is - Shakespeare, for philologists?!} would surely be a feather (swan or otherwise) in your or Ms. Seth's metaphorical cap.

(One other point: shin/Tim may not be a perfect rhyme, but it's a darnsight better than leg/John. The verse needed a rhyme - that line has an internal rhyme (which we know Tolkien was fond of - 'Errantry', probably his most complex poem, is built entirely on internal rhymes and half-rhymes!) in every verse - and it needed to rhyme with 'shin' (to work with 'kin' later on). There can't be that many monosyllabic named ending in -in or something close to it - and the Tim/Tom pair has a great appeal in its own right! Either way, whyever he chose Tim, it's abundantly clear that the name had to change to fit the rhyme.)

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Old 04-22-2018, 09:42 PM   #7
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Huinesoron

"Thankfully, there is an extremely simple way to prove that The Root of the Boot (in its original form) must be allegorical, as you propose in your last paragraph to me: simply demonstrate the same thing for the other Tolkien poems in the volume!"

I think that would be an entirely unreasonable expectation for a pamphlet titled Songs for the Philologists. It wasn't: 'Allegorical Songs for the Philologists'.

"One other point: shin/Tim may not be a perfect rhyme, but it's a darnsight better than leg/John."


I get your point – but equally as previously noted – it wasn't an absolute necessity to have a perfect or even pseudo rhyme sequence – nor does the final result possess it. In any case, one might theorize that the change could have been a dual one - for both your reason and Ms. Seth's.

In other words Tolkien may have killed two birds with one stone (troll) !
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