On 'Tyrfing' and .... Other Fings

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[page 8] ON 'TYRFING' AND.... OTHER FINGS. by -Pete Mansfield - {Title Art: The title is written in stylized block letters that are shaded black except for the bottoms of the letters, where some white is retained.} {Divider: A line made of hyphens and o's separates the title and image above from the text below.} If you were to ask me what I think is the best fantasy that's come my way, I'd say that the 'RING' trilogy undoubtedly takes pride of place in my estimation. And if you were to pursue the subject further and enquire as to who my favourite authors are, apart from Professor Tolkien (and Lord Dunsany of course), I'd come up with the names of Poul Anderson, and the old team of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. Now each of these emminent @eminent@ authors have one thing in common - Tolkien, as a Professor of Philology and a student of folklore, has written several articles on his chosen subject; Fletcher Pratt was presented as a student of myth under his pseudonym of George U. Fletcher, and had proved this point nearly a decade earlier in his collaborations with de Camp; de Camp in his turn is also well versed in the subject as is shown by his two non-fiction works '_Lands Beyond_' and '_Lost Continents_'; while Anderson's knowledge of mythology is ably demonstrated by that pleasantly written tale known as '_The Broken Sword_'. [page 9] Now, the reason for this particular article is that folklore is a thing in which I am very interested, and a lot of fantasies have been based on it in it's various aspects. There has been many a story based on Classical mythology: also, to a lesser extent, on the Scandanavian @Scandinavian@ epics. And Poul Anderson seems to run practically the whole gammut @gamut@ of Norse and Celtic mythology in his fine book about the land of 'Faerie'. The Aesir, Tuartha de Danaan, leprechauns, elves, trolls - they're all here. Even a touch of the Classical is present in the form of the small, pathetic faun who flees from the White Christ who has invaded his native land. Now while I'd like to discuss the whole lot, I'd better limit myself to the two main mythical aspects of the epic. The first of these is a little piece to do with _that_ sword, and the second is about changelings. The great invincible sword of Icelandic saga was forged not by a giant, but by the dwarves for one Angantyr. It's name, 'Tyrfing', was from the old name for the Visigoths, which was 'Tervingi', and like the broken sword of Anderson's tale it was so endowed with evil that once drawn from it's sheath it could not be put back until blood had been shed. It also eventually brought death to whosoever wielded it, following the ancient Danish tradition that a traitor or murderer must die by his own sword. In fact legend preserves a fine example of this in that 'Tyrfing' caused two brothers to fight to the death on the island of Samsö - and then slew the victor in the hands of his father. It was for deeds such as this that the sword was infamous, and it was for this reason that the owner Angantyr ordered it to be buried with him. However, his daughter later used it bravely - having called her father back from the grave (in the best, Norse tradition) to ask for it. A parallel to this tale is drawn in Anderson's yarn where the hero, Skafloc, is mortally wounded by his own blasphemous glaive. The sword then slips from the bloody grasp of the triumphant Valgard, his changeling counterpart ..... it twists in the air and then seems to poise ..... it plunges point foremost to impale the wretched changeling's throat - and destiny has been fulfilled. A fitting and traditional ending. Changeling lore is quite a fascinating subject, and one in which I'm equally interested - though strangely enough my thoughts always go first to Lovecraft when I dwell at length [page 10] on the subject. In his 'Pickman's Model' he tells of some of the blasphemous pictures of the mad artist of Boston, one Richard Upton Pickman who in later life (Unknown Kadath) became a ghoul. Amongst these paintings were two of particular interest which rather set me thinking. One, 'The Lesson', is of "...A squatting circle of nameless doglike things in a churchyard teaching a small child how to feed like themselves. The price of a changeling...". Lovecraft then goes on to tell of "..the old myth about how the weird people leave their spawn in cradles in exchange for the human babies they steal. Pickman was showing what happens to those stolen babies - how they grow up...". And embodying the thought of what happens to the young who are left as changelings was a painting of "... an ancient Puritan interior - a heavily beamed room with lattice windows, a settle, and clumsy seventeenth century furniture, with the family sitting about while the father read from the Scriptures. Every face but one showed nobility and reverence, but that one reflected the mockery of the pit. It was that of a young man in years, and no doubt it belonged to a supposed son of that pious father, but in essence it was the kin of the unclean things. It was their changeling...". It is Mr. Anderson himself who enlightens us as to the begetting of the changeling, and who also gives us some insight into the reason for these creatures! The elves motivation in stealing human children is simple enough - these foster-sons can do many things that their eldritch fosterers find impossible. The high and haughty lords of Faerie may be able to conjure up storms, hunt in the form of foxes and fly as the eagle; but they have their limitations which make the human race superior in some respects - and in some respects alone. Whereas the genus 'homo-sapiens' can endure and, in fact, actually _enjoy_ the glare and light of the sun, the faerie folk must avoid it and live in darkness or their own artificial light. Morals can touch the all-important iron and the holy water, and rejoice in the sight of the cross and the name of the White Christ - but to these people who are above nature, as we know it, these things are anathema. Another interesting point is that whilst the changeling counterpart can also do these things, he is so unreliable, hot-blooded and short-tempered that the magical powers of the high elves would not be safe in his hands. [page 11] One paragraph of the "Broken Sword' epic deals with the actual begetting of a changeling (Valgard to be precise) and as such proves to be very interesting. After he had done the necessary deed with the mad troll female Gora, the elf earl Imric "...walked nine times widdershins about her where she squatted, singing a somg @song@ no human throat could have formed, a song which certain beings had sung once, shambling around a strangely carved monolith, to bring forth the fruits of a quaking steamy world...". Shades of H.P.L.!! One story that couldn't possibly be left out in this connection is one of the Pratt / de Camp collaborations from UNKNOWN. The tale in question, THE LAND OF UNREASON, is set in the locale of Shakespeare's ' A Midsummer Night's Dream ' and is what one might expect from the team that produced the whacky 'Harold Shea' series. The story gets under way on the eve of a Midsummer Day during the last War when one of the Little People is out searching for a changeling babe. If a bowl of milk has been left outside a house the fairy, in this case a naïve creature called Sneckett, will take his tribute and by-pass the house. But if on the other hand the tribute is _not_ there, then the indignant creature will have the right to take the child of the house and leave an imp or changeling in its place. However, when a certain person drank the milk that had been left in tribute - and left a bowl of high proof scotch in its place ..... he found himself abducted by a rather befuddled fairy!! Whilst on the above, the authors say that there is something in Frazer's 'Golden Bough' about St. John's Eve and the changelings. However, I must admit that, at a cursory glance, I can't find anything relating to the latter in his truly gargantuan work. Leaving the team of Pratt and de Camp -- let's get down to the facts ((?)) of the matter. According to JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY of 1828 the word is derived from "change" - forsooth! Apparently the word arises from "...an old superstitious opinion, that the fairies steal away children, and put others that are ugly and stupid in their places...". The UNIVERSAL ENGLISH DICTIONARY furthermore informs us that it can be "...in human or animal form...", while the INTERNATIONAL adds that it can be either the "...one that is left, _or_ taken in place of another...". [page 12] Due to the fact that "...a baptized @baptized@ child was thought to be immune from such molestation..." (same source), we find that "...in the highlands of Scotland babies were strictly watched until then..", or so the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA assures us. Moving on to that invaluable source, the DICTIONARY OF FOLKLORE? MYTHOLOGY & LEGEND, we were confronted with a real mine of information on the subject. Whereas the changeling is supposed to be the offspring of faeries in this country, France and Italy; in Germany, Scandanavia @Scandinavia@ and amongst Slavic peoples it is thought to be begotten by underground dwarves or gnomes. Or, in various parts of the world, by a witch or daemon. The faith in baptism is clarified by, the explanation that it comes from an older belief that infants are peculiarily @peculiarly@ liable to daemoniacal attack until after certain purificatory rites. This excellent dictionary then illustrates the several ways of getting rid of a changeling with a handful of anecdotes from various countries. The best way is to make the wretched creature laugh if possible, the accepted method being to boil water in the shells of a broken egg. But there are a few other ideas on the subject, such as the woman who was advised to whip the changeling and did so with the hoped-for result. This belief is from Brittany, Wales and France, but in England this sort of thing is just _not_ done. The warm-hearted English mother had ideas of her own. She lavished exceeding loving care on the changeling and recieved @received@ her own child back from the grateful supernatural mother, along with "good luck forever" for both her and her child. This old changeling belief has been referred to by quite a number of authors. The best example is probably in Scot's DISCOVERY OF WITCHCRAFT (1584) in which he declares that "....They have so fraied us with .. elves, hags .._changelings_, incubus .. and such other bugs, that we are afraid of our own shadowes....". In less forceful words is it mentioned by Shakespeare, by Spencer in his 'Faerie Queene', by H. More, and by Gay and Croker in their 'Fables' and 'Fairy Legends of Southern Ireland', respectively. I could dig up quite a few more anecdotes and examples while on this subject, but I think it'd be best if I ended with an epistolary discussion that transpired between Mike Moorcock and myself some time ago with regard to Anderson. [page 13] Mr. Moorcock started off the topic in the following manner: "...Personally, by the way, I've always considered THE BROKEN SWORD to have been strongly influenced by THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Know what you mean, also, about these books being better than the old escapist fantasies of ERB and REH. Actually, of course, a damn sight more work goes into books like THE BROKEN SWORD - tons of research before the novel's even started. ERB and REH, however, just sat down at a typer and bashed out novel-length epics in less than a week...". I agreed with Mike about the similarity of the two stories -- particularly as there is a parallel in the terrible Ring that Frodo is carrying deep into Mordor and probable death; and the equally terrible sword that is Skafloc's burden in the Anderson epic. And there is also the common motif of the "Sword that was Broken and is forged again", of course. However, I pointed out that the Rings trilogy had its Stateside publication in 1954, '55 and '56, so that the influence was doubtful. But Mike likes to press his point:- ".....No reason why Anderson couldn't have got a British edition of the first RING book. Or maybe Tolkien and Anderson were both influenced by another author we don't know about. That's quite feasible too..." Having an implicit faith in the integrity of these learned authors, I maintained that the latter suggestion was the more likely of the two -- and this is borne out by the fact that the FELLOWSHIP title was first published in _July_ of 1954 (British edition) and Abelard-Schuman released THE BROKEN SWORD in the same year. As it's more than apparent that both men are remarkably well versed in the Icelandic sagas and kindred subjects, it is in this genre of literature that we should seek for the genesis of both tales. With my admittedly limited knowledge of the field, I can think of but one literary source which is the Finnish national epic, THE KALEVALA, with its quest for the mysterious and elusive talisman known as the 'Sampo'. I am convinced, beyond any shadow of doubt, that Mr. Anderson's yarn shows many traces of this - particularly in the relationship between Skafloc and Freda, and Kullervo and his sister in Runo XXXV - and at some future date this should make a fascinating topic for an article. For the time being, however, I contend that both authors were influenced by the Finnish 'The Land of Heroes'. Would either of these erudite persons care to comment?

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