If superior in degree to other men and to his environment, the hero is the typical hero of romance, whose actions are marvelous but who is himself identified as a human being. The hero of romance moves in a world in which the ordinary laws of nature are slightly suspended: prodigies of courage and endurance, unnatural to us, are natural to him, and enchanted weapons, talking animals, terrifying ogres and witches, and talismans of miraculous power violate no rule of probability once the postulates of romance have been established. Here we have moved from myth, properly so called, into legend, folk tale, marchen, and their literary affiliates and derivatives.

Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism

I’m still around: the start of a new semester, combined with a bad cold and general lack of inspiration robbed me of my desire to publish anything here.

I’ve been mixing up my continued reading of Malory with Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, a collection of Arthurian narrative poems that the poet laureate of Victorian England composed. Tennyson’s work, like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, is permeated by a melancholy nostalgia for a world that is no more.

But it is interesting to observe that, although Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur is old enough now to appear to us as some ancient, mythic tome, it is already an early work of scholarship on the Arthurian mythos. Arthur is someone already vanishing backwards in time when he begins to be documented.

 This carries over in macro form to humanity in general: man only begins to be documented a good ways into the story, and there is a greater distance between the beginning of civilization and antiquity, than there is between antiquity and ourselves.

The kind of nostalgia or longing that romance stirs up isn’t a conservative nostalgia for the good old days, or (if we are gazing into the distant future instead) a progressive utopianism, but rather a sense that the ‘mundane’ world we inhabit is somehow bookended by a numinous world that is too large for us to see from our perspective.

The Hebrew word olam frequently comes up in the Old Testament in conjunction with God’s reign and sovereignty. The term doesn’t have an easy correspondence in English and is often translated as, “eternity.” But olam has a connotation of distance that eternity does not; it suggests vast spatial distances where human sight fails, distances of time (past and future) beyond human reckoning.

These are just some evening meditations offered up for you.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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2 Responses to Romance

  1. That’s interesting about the Hebrew word for eternity. Now, I have another perspective on it, and I’ll recall that whenever I see the word eternity in the Old Testament. Thanks!

    I also picked up a copy of Tennyson’s poems recently. It covers some of the Idylls and a few other famous poems of his (Lady of Shallot, Tiresias, Lotus Eaters, etc.). Reading his work makes me wish that we had a poet with mastery of the Classics and as great an imagination in modern times.

    • Josh W says:

      You’re welcome! Tennyson is great. I was first introduced to him as a teenager when I read In Memoriam A.H. and was quite moved by it. But for some reason I never bothered digging into more of his works until recently.

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