Archive for category Chaucer’d
Article Series - Chaucerizing
I am, as noted, at a writer’s retreat hosted by Mary Robinette Kowal. I’ve been here an hour and already it is many shades of wonderful.
One of the great things about a retreat like this is the truly terrific folks you get to meet. Last year, for instance, I got to meet and hang out with Monte Cook, who is a Legend in the world of role-playing games. Plus, he is a helluva nice guy.
Monte is quite particularly known for his connections with Dungeons and Dragons, so I told him last year that I would Chaucerize one of my favorite D&D spells in his honor.
I then completely forgot about it.
Until this afternoon, as I was driving through Atlanta traffic on the way to the retreat at which I would see him once more.
So — and please don’t try this at home kids — I Chaucer’d the Fireball Spell right then and there.
I hereby present, in honor of his Monte-ness and with great apologies for its tardiness, the Bal of Fyre Spel:
First, the original, taken from the d20 site online (thank you, iPhone!):
A fireball spell is an explosion of flame that detonates with a low roar and deals 1d6 points of fire damage per caster level (maximum 10d6) to every creature within the area. Unattended objects also take this damage. The explosion creates almost no pressure.
And how Chaucer might’ve said it:
A Bal of Fyre Spell is a blasyng of flamme that goeth oute with a low noyse and giveth IdVI partes of fyre harme for eche witch ranke (up to XdVI) to everi creature nere unto hit. Thinges not helde taketh this harme als wele. The blasynge of flamme ne maketh not pushing of the aire.
There were some difficulties in translating this — being in Atlanta traffic being one of them — but the part that most bent my mind around was how a fourteenth-century fellow might think about our modern idea of air pressure, particularly of the concussive variety. I settled on a push of air, but I can’t say I’m completely sold on it.
Anyone else out there have a better idea?
Article Series - Chaucerizing
When I Chaucer’d a short passage from Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World, I mentioned that I was planning to do something longer from one of the later books.
Well, here it is, folks. Inspired by my time here at JordanCon. A bit from the Jordan-Sanderson last book. Not a lot to note as preamble about this except to say that the chapter that this is from is the best one in the whole series.
Well, I think so, anyway.
Perrin Aybara, one of my two favorite characters in the Wheel of Time, at last comes into his glorious own here. In this chapter, more than anywhere else, he becomes Thor, and there is nothing wrong with that.
This snippet — which gives only a taste at the power pounding through these pages — comes from chapter 40 of Towers of Midnight, Book 13 of the Wheel of Time (page 613 in my copy). If there’s interest, I might record it at some point so I can provide audio of it.
Towers of Midnight, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Toures of Mydnyght, by Hrodebert Iurdane and Bromdune Alisaundresson
Perrin saw now what he was making, what he’d been trying to make all along.
Perun sawe what he was y-makynge now, what he hadde bene temptynge evere to mak.
[First, I've opted to go ahead and "translate" Perrin's name through the use of the Slavic god who is, I'm sure, one of his mythological forebears (the other big one being Thor). That aside, the phrase all along in connection with time (rather than distance) doesn't occur until the 17th century. I considered translating with something wordy, like "al and alday" (thinking of Troilus and Criseyde 2.457). Instead I opted for a simple word that implies the long continuity of Perrin's labors.]
He worked the largest lump into a brick shape. The long piece became a rod, thick as three fingers. The flat piece became a capping bracket, a piece of metal to wrap around the head and join it to the shaft.
He laboured the largest lomp into a bryke shap. The longe pece becam a rodde, thikke als thre fyngres. The flat pece becam a hede plat, a pece of metall to wrape aronde the hede and to the shaft joyne hit.
[The word capping, as used here, dates from the 18th century, and bracket is from the 16th. I've done my best.]
A hammer. He was making a hammer. These were the parts.
He understood now.
A hamer. He was y-makynge a hamer. These weren the partes.
Understondeth he now.
He grew to his task. Blow after blow. Those beats were so loud. Each blow seemed to shake the ground around him, rattling tents. Perrin exulted. He knew what he was making. He finally knew what he was making.
Groweth he to his taske. Stroke aftir stroke. Those strookes weren lowde. Eche stroke ysemed to shake the grounde him aronde, ratelynge tentes. Perun gloryede. Knew he for fyn what he was y-makynge.
[The verb to exult did not exist in Chaucer's day. Alas, for it is a good one. Ditto triumph, celebrate, and many another possible replacement. In the end, I opted for the verb to glory, which Chaucer never used but would have heard.]
He hadn’t asked to become a leader, but did that absolve him of responsibility? People needed him. The world needed him. And, with an understanding that cooled in him like molten rock forming into a shape, he realized that he wanted to lead.
He ne had noght axide to be a ledere, bot dide that of duetee him absolue? Peple him nedede. And als understondynge in him colede like molten rokke shapynge hitself, Perun knewe he desired to lede.
[Chaucer, like most men of his time, had no standard spelling. The word asked, for example, comes in various forms -- from which I've chosen the one that has the orthographical "play" of an axe in it. The word responsibility didn't exist for Chaucer, but duty very much carried the meaning intended here. I've also played a bit with the metaphor of the forming rock: tweaking the language would allow Chaucer to suggest a theological (or existential) rightness to the shape the rock is taking. It is, we might say, acquiring its natural form. And if there is anything that this wonderful scene is about, it is about Perrin doing just that.]
Article Series - Chaucerizing
It’s been awhile since I Chaucer’d something — taken a passage out of a book and translated it into the Middle English of the end of the fourteenth century — and I’ve been feeling the itch again. Since I’ll be heading to JordanCon this week, I could think of no better text to work with than one from Robert Jordan.
This decision, in turn, led me to a conundrum: the same conundrum, as it happens, that I face when I think about Chaucerin’ George R.R. Martin. Of the many awesome scenes and passages, which bit do I do? One wants some text that is exciting and fun and linguistically interesting, but it also needs to be short: Despite what my students think, I do have a life of my own.
In the present case, I’ve decided to start with my favorite passage from The Eye of the World, the first book (not counting the prequel) of The Wheel of Time series. Meanwhile, I’ve also begun eyeing a longer passage — my favorite from the whole series — that occurs in the Jordan-Sanderson Towers of Midnight.
At any rate, let’s get to a first look at Jordan as Chaucer might have written it. The passage in question comes from the mouth of the character Thom Merrilin, a sort of traveling bard who may be more than he seems.
The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan
The Eyhe of the Erthe, by Hrodebert Iurdane
[Chaucer knew and used the word world, but I'm trying to keep in mind that he wrote to be heard aloud, and I think "Eye of the Earth" is pretty darn smooth.]
I have all stories, mind you now, of Ages that were and will be.
I have al tales, remembrestow now, of former Ages and Ages to be.
[For Chaucer, "stories" are generally considered non-fictional, while "tales" can include more imaginative narratives. I've also taken some liberty with Jordan's transitive verb mind: Chaucer could have done this, but he would have been on the cutting edge to do so. More likely he would have gone to the old standby "remember" and subsumed the pronoun into it; the result is a rather pedagogical admonition in the middle of the sentence, which fits the context well.]
Ages when men ruled the heavens and the stars, and Ages when man roamed as brother to the animals.
Ages whanne men reuled the hevenes and sterres, and Ages whanne man romede als brother to the beestes.
[The word animal comes into English right at the end of Chaucer's life, but I suspect that an older word would be more his style here since Thom is talking about a very distant age.]
Ages of wonder, and Ages of horror. Ages ended by fire raining from the skies, and Ages doomed by snow and ice covering land and sea.
Ages of wonder, and Ages of horrour. Ages endede by fyre fallynge doune as reyne from the skyes, and Ages domede by snawe and yse that covereth londe and see.
[A couple of interesting things to note here: for Chaucer, fire could mean both fire, which he considered an element, and passion, which he considered elemental. I could perhaps have worked to cut off the wordplay, but I actually think it fits well with Jordan's idea of balance. Also, though rain is an Old English word, I can't recall the form "raining" being used until the 16th century. Odd, eh?]
I have all stories, and I will tell all stories.
I have al tales, and I wol telle al tales.
[Nothing much to add here except to say that if you come to my talk on Saturday morning you'll start to see how very much Thom seems to be talking for Jordan here!]
Article Series - Chaucerizing
I recently had the chance to hang out for a few days with the incomparable Mary Robinette Kowal, recent (and well-deserved) winner of a Hugo award for one of her excellent short stories. Mary is, if you don’t know, the author of the novel Shades of Milk and Honey, whose pages are wrought of the strangely combustible mix of Regency manners and milieu with magic.
Anyway, at one point Mary and I were talking about voicing and language patterns, and I told her (not for the first time) that I loved how she’d worked so hard to maintain the “Austen voice.” She thanked me, smiled, then mentioned that more than one reader has complained about how she wrote “Old English.”
Read the rest of this entry »
Article Series - Chaucerizing
It’s no secret that among my favorite people on the planet is Mary Robinette Kowal. She’s been ripping up the proverbial charts of the speculative fiction industry of late, with awards (little ol’ thing called the Campbell) and book deals and generally exquisite swellness. She was even recently nominated for a Hugo (!), for her excellent short story “Evil Robot Monkey.”
I offered to Chaucerize something of Mary’s, and she left it up to me to determine what it would be. I naturally chose her Hugo-nodded tale of a monkey and its potter’s wheel. So here, on the occasion of her moving into a new domicile, is a loosely Chaucer’d snippet from “Evil Robot Monkey,” which I suggest you read in full (in Modern English, naturally) just as soon as you finish up here:
Mary Robinette Kowal, “Yvele Metal Ape”
Perhaps no better statement about the craziness of this week can be made than the simple fact that this moment — 11:42pm on Wednesday — is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and take a breath for many days.
Alas, it is only the big gulp of air before the next plunge.
This week, you see, is my annual “Shako Week,” wherein I seem to spend every last waking moment preparing the campus literary magazine for printing. As usual, things are taking longer and longer as we try to get things done — though our publication date (naturally) never changes. The past week or so has been spent trying to get students tracked down and straightened out and working in a timely manner, which sounds simple enough but can feel frightfully akin to herding cats:
We have almost all the raw material collected now. So all I have to do is put it together into a magnificent publication. By Friday.
In the meantime, I’ve been having lots of papers to grade. Finally got my desk cleared today — just in time for a round of papers from my Honors Tolkien class, which are filling my inbox at this very moment (they’re due at midnight; six minutes, people!).
My Third-year Review materials were, until yesterday, an ongoing item on my agenda, too. Got that turned in. Hopefully they’ll keep me around another year. I won’t know for some weeks.
Had a small “fire” to deal with for the Secular Commentary Series involving the abbreviating of Latin titles. Extinguished, but it took a few hours. That was a couple days ago. I think. The days are blurring.
Because I lacked things to keep me busy, I had two out-of-nowhere requests for translations today. The first was from a cadet, who for reasons unknown to me wants to inscribe on his class ring a Latin translation of the first part of the old Jesuit saying “O God, give me the boy and I will give you the man.” Strikes me as a bit on the pedophilian side without the whole, but I’m supposing he’s thinking more about testosterone. Very well: “O Deus, donate me puerum.”
The next translation request was a favor for Mary Robinette Kowal, who has done me enough favors that I couldn’t possibly deny her volunteering me to answer Delia Sherman’s call for someone to translate a spot of Old French (“Ja non! Sire, c’est offence! Mien braz est vostre, et ja ne guerpirai.”) into Middle English. I had a few minutes during the end of my office hour this morning — the 5-10 minutes I ought to have been cracking open Othello for class — and so wrote Mary:
It’s important to keep in mind that “Middle English” covers about 500 years of rapidly shifting language, and that at any given time it is incredibly inconsistent across England (folks spoke and wrote in sometimes radically different ways from one town to another). I’m suspecting, based on the French provided, that we’re talking late 13th century, courtly dialect. So I turned to a London dialect, circa Chaucer. If that’s incorrect, I need to know. Otherwise:
I nevere! Lord, it is blaspheme! Myn armes ben thyne, and I nyl nat straye.
I had some question about translating “arm” — is it meant to be the body part or the armament? I’m not sure the French can handle the double entendre as well as the English, but I thought it might be well to include it if possible; thus, the plural “arms” in my translation. Also, the verb “stray,” as used here, highlights the importance of time. It is adopted into English from Anglo-Norman during Chaucer’s lifetime, and so it would have been a sort of courtly “buzzword” during the timeperiod I’m imagining.
I’m now bummed that I mistyped “late 13th century” for the French; I meant “late 14th century.” Damnit.
Naturally, lots of students from my three classes have been wanting to meet with me for one consultation or another. I suspect that this is because they noticed I was very, very busy.
How busy? I was nonstop yesterday, working to the last minute possible before driving across the peninsula and the river to an afternoon medical check-up (still breathing!), only to turn around, drive back, run into the house, grab two slices of pizza, smile at the Wife and Hobbit (“Daddy home!”), then rush out (“Bye, Daddy!”) and sprint to my office with pizza in hand, eating as I ran. I got back around 11, I think. It’s been a blur.
Ditto today, only with the added fun of teaching, a nagging stiff neck (with accompanying headache), and, as luck would have it, getting a surprise visit from a faculty teaching evaluator. Actually, I mean that last bit literally. It was lucky. While I was unprepared for her presence, I happened to be teaching the start of Othello, which I daresay I can do pretty darn well on a moment’s notice. So I think it went well.
Still, I was distracted.
First, I was distracted by the fact that the Wife is very ill. Her months-long lingering on-and-off cold finally ‘ploded (ex- or im-, you’re choice) yesterday. She’s miserable, and now I’m stressed about leaving her alone so much with the Hobbit — who, as luck would have it (sarcastic this time), is an extra handful since we chose this week as the week to start potty-training.
Second, I was distracted by the fact that I knew that this evening I would be engaged in the formal activities of The Citadel Honor Court. I’ve written before about how torn up I get about Honor Violations. It’s terrible for me, and I have no doubt it’s far worse for the students who stand accused. Most of the time, if cadets know they’re guilty, they just resign — quit school, in other words, before they can get kicked out — but some cadets, either because they’re innocent or because they simply are hoping beyond hope, go through the full extent of a trial, which is a dreadful experience.
Tonight, from 5:30 until I was dismissed around 9:00, was my third time in the Court. It’s too close to me now to explain the experience other than to say that something about it shakes me to my core, and to confess that this long, rambling post was surely a vain attempt to distance myself from it.
I have doubts about sleep as the clocks round to midnight.
A clip of Benjamin Bagby reciting the opening of Beowulf in Old English with his own Anglo-Saxon harp accompaniment. (This one’s for you, Ken!)
Article Series - Chaucerizing
A long time without much Chaucerin’. Blame is shared, no doubt, by the time-crunch of the semester and the mental wipe-out that followed the completion of The Middle English Metrical Paraphrase of the Old Testament.
A few spare minutes at this turn of the year, however, have put me in the mood for dusting off my free Dell microphone. Perhaps it’s the spiked eggnog, or maybe it’s the glazed-eyed hangover of holiday travels, but what I’ve decided to read for y’all is a terrific little book I’ve been absorbed in of late, a true classic that a fellow could read (at the incessant prompting of an 18-month old) over and over and over again until he just starts reading it in odd voices so as not to go completely bug-!@#$ crazy. I present to you, therefore,
The Leche Seuss, Grene Eyren and Hamme:
As ever, the tapestry-esque cover art is courtesy of the amazingly talented Mary Robinette Kowal.
Unlike previous renditions of my Chaucerin’, I’m not quoting the original text here since, well, any decent human being should have it memorized already. Plus, I didn’t change much as I read it other than doing a quick substitution for “train.”
Oh, I should also note that I’m well aware of my wandering pronunciation on this one. Trying to do voices in Middle English — and fighting the urge not to laugh about it — completely destroyed any semblance of control that I had on some of the proper sounds. “Ich,” for instance, which is the form of the first person pronoun I used for the Sam-I-Am-Not character, ought not to be pronounced the same way it’s spelled in Modern English. Oh well. ‘Tis all for fun anyway.
Still, extra credit goes to those who can note other errors.
Happy New Year.