Monday, December 30, 2019


“Celtic is a magic bag, into which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come . . . Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight, which is not so much a twilight of the gods as of the reason.”

 JRR Tolkien, "English and Welsh". Lecture at the University of Oxford on October 21, 1955. 

Tolkien was not a fan of things Celtic, and was annoyed when readers saw Celtic influence in his work. "Needless to say they [the names] are not Celtic! Neither are the tales. I do know Celtic things (many in their original languages Irish and Welsh), and feel for them a certain distaste: largely for their fundamental unreason. They have bright colour, but are like a broken stained glass window reassembled without design. They are in fact ‗mad‘ as your reader says— but I don‘t believe I am." Letter to his publisher Stanley Unwin, 1937.


Grim said...

Chesterton had a similar, slightly less-hostile sense. Of Colan of Caerleon:

His harp was carved and cunning,
As the Celtic craftsman makes,
Graven all over with twisting shapes
Like many headless snakes.

His harp was carved and cunning,
His sword prompt and sharp,
And he was gay when he held the sword,
Sad when he held the harp.

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.

He kept the Roman order,
He made the Christian sign;
But his eyes grew often blind and bright,
And the sea that rose in the rocks at night
Rose to his head like wine.

He made the sign of the cross of God,
He knew the Roman prayer,
But he had unreason in his heart
Because of the gods that were.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I knew the third stanza. I hadn't realised it was part of a larger whole.

Grim said...

Oh, far larger, and most worthy. You should read The Ballad of the White Horse. If you don’t know it, you will find it a great gift.

james said...

"But because it is only Christian men Guard even heathen things.

(Notice that archaeology is a Western thing?)