This paper is on line.  Janet wrote some really hairy stuff in an easily accessible style, so I won’t re-cap  much of it here.  She starts with Northrop Frye’s organization of literary forms. Myth -> High mimetic -> low mimetic -> ironic.  There are four phases of language to look for.

  • Metaphoric: subject and object linked by some power. Spells, boasts, oaths, magic.
  • Metonymic: “this” is put for “that”. Language describes something beyond itself. Bilbo uses metonymic language with Smaug, calling himself barrel-rider, ring-winner, luck-wearer.
  • Demotic: Subject and object are clearly separated. Words describe an objective natural order. Astrology is replaced with astronomy. The thing evokes the word, and the word has no power to affect anything.
  • Recurso: the cycle restarts. Matter is a form of energy, which finds science leading us back to the mythical. (!) Terms like romantic and extravagant, which were insults in the Middle Ages, are used approvingly now.

The metaphoric/metonymic distinction separates the two reasons not to speak the name of an evil power.  Songs are metaphoric. They bring you through the recurso.

Q: What did Frodo think he was doing, when he put on the Ring? Boromir, Gollum & Sam all had plans for what they’d do. Not him. Tom: the two scenes with Frodo dominating Gollum imply that Frodo did actually know how to use it. JBC: but Frodo has a pattern of rejecting authority and responsibility. Arthur: Frodo doesn’t have a “ring-induced monologue” like everyone else — does he only desire to dominate Gollum? Tim: Self-preservation is Frodo’s goal.

Q: Larry Niven’s story “Grammar Lesson” revolves around the confusion between english-speakers and an alien race when they don’t get the difference in “my” between “my heart”, “my wife”, and “my car”.  Is that what’s going on here?  A: Yes, he’s making the metaphoric-metonymic-demotic distinction clear.  Note added later: C.S. Lewis did this in The Screwtape Letters, too!