An Epitome of the Idiosophical method
(The core of Idiosophy is that the idiosopher can be misinformed and incorrect at every step in a logical process, and still arrive at a meaningful conclusion.) Our starting point is an earlier post, on which Tom commented, wondering what the “Ents’ Marching Song” would sound like in Latin.
1. The riposte humorous: Hexameters! Longfellowish sprawling hexameters.
2. Noticing a flaw in the joke: Wait, no. Archy the cockroach liked hexameters because he had six feet. Ents all have two feet.
3. Transfiguration: But ents have lots of toes. Ent-latin should have big feet with lots of syllables.
4. Observation: They do. The first line is definitely one long foot. I suppose it’s possible to argue that the second line is a jumble of small troches and dactyls, or maybe iambs and anapests with stray syllables at either end, but that’s not how I hear it.
In the willow-meads of Tasarinan I walked in the spring.
Ah, the sight and the smell of the spring in Nan-Tasarion!
LotR, III, iv
5. Following the thought wherever: How could we construct a sound-pattern for big feet that makes them into poetry? Alliteration is matching the sound at the beginning of the foot. Rhyme is matching the sound at the end. If we’re just using iambs and troches, rhyme and alliteration are our only choices. With big feet, though, we have the possibility of matching sounds elsewhere. That would be a novel poetic structure! Dactyls have three syllables. Can we match the middle consonant?
6. Noticing that someone smarter is ‘way ahead of me: “Errantry” has lots of that kind of central sound-match. It’s neither rhyme nor alliteration, but my ears enjoy it the same way.
he built a gilded gondola
to wander in and had in her
a load of yellow oranges
and porridge for his provender…
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, 3.
7. The unexpected arrival: J.R.R. Tolkien was a Modernist writer, and “the most striking element of modernist poetry is the invention and experimentation of new modes of expression.” This is what my heroes in the Oulipo are interested in, too. This is derived from a root as mathematical as any of their self-imposed constraints.
Up at the top of the page, I promised a meaningful conclusion. Coincidentally, Dimitra Fimi just published an essay in the Times Literary Supplement about world-building. She points out that writing speculative fiction is about creating a different set of rules from those we see in the world around us, and writing your story in strict adherence to those rules. But, she says, that’s exactly what the Oulipians do, except they’re doing it at the level of the text, while fantasy and science-fiction writers do it at the level of the story. So it’s entirely reasonable that JRRT was doing this on purpose,working on both levels at once.