New Tolkien book to be published –and BEYOND (or maybe BACK)

Houghton Mifflin will soon publish a new book drawn from J. R. R. Tolkien’s unpublished materials. The Tolkien Society’s web site reports that the book, titled The Fall of Gondolin, is due to be published in August 2018.

Tolkien’s son Christopher has been revising and publishing tales from his father’s archives since 1977, starting with The Silmarillion:

Other new books edited and revised by Christopher Tolkien include 2012’s The Children of Húrin:


and 2017’s Beren and Lúthien:


This is the purchase I want to make, though–a boxed set including The Silmarillion, unfinished material from the Tolkien archives, and one of my favorite texts ever, Tolkien’s own translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:

Gawain is the real stuff of medieval fantasy. Tolkien produced another great translation of an authentic work of Middle English fantasy, Sir Orfeo. Here it is in a volume which also includes Tolkien’s translations of Gawain and, by the same author as Gawain, a poem called Pearl:


Just as no one knows who wrote Orfeo, no one really knows who wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. At least we know more about this person than we do about the author of Orfeo. Many call the author of Gawain by the name “Pearl poet,” after one of his other works, the allegorical poem Pearl. Other poems by the same man include Patience and the unappealingly titled Cleanness (which we might translate “Purity”).

File:Pearl Poet.jpg
The Pearl Poet. Image in the public domain. Source: via Wikimedia Commons.



















The best contemporary translation of the Pearl Poet’s most famous work, Gawain, may be Simon Armitage’s:


although I am also partial to Keith Harrison’s:


Green Grow the Rushes, O

Green Grow the Rushes, O


Happy Winter Solstice!

In honor of the day, I’m thinking of the old folk song, “Green Grow the Rushes, O.” It’s frequently listed as a “song of Christmas,” yet many of its references are clearly pagan. Here is a nice rendition:

No one knows when this enigmatic folk song of the British Isles first appeared. It is listed as Roud #133 in the extensive ongoing catalogue of folk ballads compiled by Steve Roud beginning in the early 1970s. Roud is a prominent member of The Folklore Society,  a learned society based in London with the avowed purpose studying  “all aspects of folklore and tradition, including: ballads, folktales, fairy tales, myths, legends, traditional song and dance, folk plays, games, seasonal events, calendar customs, childlore and children’s folklore, folk arts and crafts, popular belief, folk religion, material culture, vernacular language, sayings, proverbs and nursery rhymes, folk medicine, plantlore and weather lore.”

The song, which exists in numerous versions and variants, is a cumulative counting song. The first verse, in one of its most well-known versions, goes like this:

I’ll sing you one, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What is your one, O?
One is one, and all alone,
And ever more shall be so.

From there, the verses accumulate numbers and the items associated with them, all the way to twelve. The refrain “Green grow the rushes, O” occurs after each numbered item. A traditional list includes:

One: “one is one and all alone and ever more shall be so”

Two: “two, two, the lily-white boys, clothed all in green o”

Three: “three, three, the rivals”

Four: “four for the Gospel makers”

Five: “five for the symbols at your door”

Six: “six for the six proud walkers”

Seven: “seven for the seven stars in the sky”

Eight: “eight for the April rainers”

Nine: “nine for the nine bright shiners”

Ten: “Ten for the Ten Commandments”

Eleven: “eleven for the eleven who went to heaven”

Twelve: “twelve for the twelve apostles”

These web sites discuss several frequently-seen versions:

That last site also provides a very good introduction to the mysteries surrounding the text, with its mixture of Christian, pagan, and astrological/astronomical references. Here’s another site providing some interesting speculations about the song:,,-1866,00.html.

There’s also a sweet Sesame Street version with all the religious/esoteric implications removed—for example, “the lily-white boys” become “the little green frogs.”

Note: this song should not be confused (but frequently is) with “Green Grow the Rashes,” a Robert Burns poem set to music, and a staple in many “Celtic” concerts and albums.

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