August 28th, 2010


Literary matters

I bought a copy of The Hoosier School-Master today. It's a classic of Indiana literature, of which I have had only portions read to me in elementary school, or maybe junior high.

Meanwhile, I'm still happily sailing through Der Herr des Ringes and I notice that reading Hobbit dialogue in German loses some of the flavor of the original. Whereas I noticed, and felt, things in the high-falutin' dialogue between, say Gandalf and Denethor, and in all the uplifted prose surrounding the final battle and the victory, and in all the battle vocabulary, when it comes down to English peasants -- which is what the Hobbits are, or at least, how they speak -- things fall kind of flat. The Gaffer is somebody I feel like I've always known, but der Ohm just doesn't sound right. All in all, there are subtle things communicated in English -- especially in stylistically rich books like Huckleberry Finn and LOTR -- that are hard to put into other languages.

As regards my non-fiction reading that I have to report to Charge Conference for Continuing Edgumacation purposes, here's what I've read in the last year.
Eagles and Empire: the United States, Mexico, and the struggle for a continent, by David A. Clary
Pastoring Men, by Patrick Morley
The West Point Atlas of War: The Civil War, ed. Brig. Gen. Vincent J. Esposito
Mistress of the Monarchy: the life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster, by Alison Weir
Witness, by Whittaker Chambers
God and Man at Yale, by William F. Buckley, Jr.
Going Rogue, by Sarah Palin
The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary, by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, & Edmund Weiner
John Wesley’s Ecclesiology: a study in its sources and development, by Gwang Seok Oh
Elizabeth’s Spymaster, by Robert Hutchinson
Warlord: a life of Winston Churchill at war, 1874-1945, by Carlo d’Este
Courage and Consequence, by Karl Rove
Germania: in wayward pursuit of the Germans and their history, by Simon Winder
The Zeal of Thy House, by Dorothy Sayers
Baden-Powell: the two lives of a hero, by William Hillcourt with Olave, Lady Baden-Powell
Green Bar Bill: the story of William Hillcourt, by Nelson R. Block
Apologia, by Bishop William R. Cannon
Aldersgate and Athens: John Wesley and the foundations of Christian belief, by William J. Abraham
Henry Clay: the essential American, by David S. Heidler & Jeanne T. Heidler
The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the darkest hour of the Roman republic, by Robert L. O’Connell

zum Ende gekommen

I finished Der Herr der Ringe this morning. Sam's final line in German is, "Ja, ich bin zurück." And the tears started in my eyes, just as they have always done.

I ordered these books from a publisher in Stuttgart in the spring of 1986, as I was planning on going back to school to get my doctorate. I figured I'd need to pass a foreign language proficiency exam, and I would brush up my German by reading The Lord of the Rings in the target language. Well, I passed my exam (I translated some dull article on Team-Teaching), but I didn't get very far in my reading.

Life was busy, and reading long works in a foreign language is hard. Now and then, whenever I would get bored, or have nothing else to read, I would go back to my German LOTR and read a few more pages. I often read aloud, because pronouncing the German made it easier to understand the syntax. But last winter, when I returned to my reading, I found that in all those years of dinking around at it, I was barely halfway through Book III -- somewhere around the Battle of the Hornburg.

I settled down to read in earnest, and though interrupted by various summer trips, have kept at it. There are still the appendices to browse, but the story is completed. The Lord of the Rings is about half a million words long, not counting the appendices and The Hobbit and what-all. A half a million words is a significant barrier to completion, even in English, but to read half a million words in a foreign language is a major accomplishment.

I would still stumble if I had to stand on a street corner in Germany and make conversation, but I can read German newspapers and websites pretty well. I took 14 hours of German in college, and though it's been 37 years since I last took a course in it, my fluency level now is about the same as then. Which may not be much, but it's something.