It Takes You Away
12 December 2018 at 08:49 #66551thane16 @thane16
Oh, that’s a lovely dream. And then …to wake. It can be a bleak time, Christmas: despite the white picture-post-cards of trees warmly lit and candles in café windows, there are many who experience misery. Remembering the lost, the fallen and the misgivings of the season…But there’s joy too. In hidden moments.
I remember that two weeks after mum died in October of ’74 I had a dream. I was taken by an officious but gentle group of people into a large overgrown building with many stairs and elaborate doors. The floor was quiet and the building old but not ostentatious. I was left in a room, beautifully decorated, with over-stuffed furniture and after a few moments, my mother walked in, healthy, over-joyed and smiling. We talked (but I don’t recall the subject matter) and after five minutes she explained she had to go through another door and that I couldn’t follow for many years. She disappeared quickly and I woke up.
That morning, my auntie, who had been staying with us, was sitting at the kitchen table alternately crying and laughing and she told me this happened: “since your mum died, I’ve been cooking for you and your dad in the way your mum would. I would iron the way she did too. All the time I felt her presence. But this morning, I felt it even more. It wasn’t scary but I received the distinct impression that she was now saying goodbye and encouraging me to continue as I have. Soon after (about two hours ago), for the first time in two weeks, her presence is gone. She left.”
When I told her about my dream, she cried and laughed some more. A year later she married dad. She was with him when he died in 2015.
Puro12 December 2018 at 09:06 #66553
It can be a bleak time, Christmas: despite the white picture-post-cards of trees warmly lit and candles in café windows, there are many who experience misery. Remembering the lost, the fallen and the misgivings of the season…But there’s joy too. In hidden moments.
You’ve just expressed why my favorite Christmas special is The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. I know it’s not everyone’s fave, but it mixes joy and loss just perfectly for me. The last few minutes are some of my favorites in all the Who I’ve seen. :’)12 December 2018 at 11:10 #66555
@thane16 – And that is an amazing dream, especially with what your auntie said afterwards.12 December 2018 at 14:42 #66563Craig @craigEmperor
Thanks for all the responses last night everyone. I’d had a few wines, as you maybe could tell, but as @cumquat says, we have a great sense of community.
I don’t know if I’ve ever posted this link before so just in case – we were in a documentary about cancer patients. Just thought you might be interested. And, yes, we did get married by Elvis in Vegas!12 December 2018 at 17:52 #66566
This episode for me is the gift that keeps giving, it’s so rich with allusions.
Thanks @nerys for your post. 🙂
@cathannabel I absolutely love Gide, The Vatican Cellars and The Counterfeiters being among my all-time favourite books. Haven’t read Theseus though, so that’s really fascinating thank you.
I totally see your point and agree, @mudlark, about the Minotaur’s labyrinth being markedly different from the troll caves. That said, I also think the cultural overlaps are impossible to ignore. Scandinavia is rich with labyrinth legends, generally with a virgin maiden at the centre guarded by a troll. So we don’t need Theseus to interpret the caves as labyrinthine and Trine as the maiden. And we don’t need Ariadne for the string to have mythical significance, since there’s at least one Nordic/Germanic tale about a hero guided to his fair maid by a thread. So, you really can take your pick between exclusively Nordic/Germanic folklore or classical allusion. However, the Minotaur is perhaps the most obvious connection. And interestingly, both Trine and Ariadne are names that translate as “pure” – albeit with different connotations.
I’ve become a bit intrigued by the word “umbilical” to refer to the string. I know Ribbons uses some odd words anyway, but umbilical? Not sure if there might be a birth metaphor in the Solitract myth, but I definitely think there could be a broader parent/child analogy, in which the Solitract symbolises the orphaned/abandoned child (c.f. Ryan and Hanne.)
The moment the Doctor first sticks her head through the mirror struck me as similar in both visuals and sound to the moment Frodo first wears the ring in LOTR. The Tolkienesque elements are numerous for obvious reasons, but I wonder what examples there might be of Jacksonesque cinematography, too.
And @craig It’s an honour to share in your memories. Hope you feel ok today.12 December 2018 at 18:00 #66567nerys @nerys
@craig I remember you posting about your wife before. Thank you for continuing to share your thoughts about her here. She must have been such a lovely person!12 December 2018 at 23:01 #66570
Yes, there is always that cross connection of recurrent themes and it goes back a very long way. People don’t always realise how much traffic there was across the whole of Europe, not only in goods but in cultural ideas and material traditions, even in prehistory. This was further facilitated during the centuries of the Roman empire, not excluding the people beyond its borders, and that cross fertilisation increased further in historic times as the population grew. A few days ago I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 Extra about the stories collected by the brothers Grimm, and though they were all collected in Germany and are often thought of as being from a long established regional folk tradition, in fact they are a rag bag of tales derived from many diverse sources including the courtly and sophisticated world of Perrault to the middle eastern tradition of the 1001 Nights – themselves a collection from several different countries – and beyond.
Somehow, nevertheless, the myths and legends of the North have a resonance for me that classical mythology does not, though the latter has its own appeal. It has been so since I was a child, as if it were some atavistic inclination,* and that is a great part of the appeal of this episode for me, from the very first atmospheric shot of the Tardis and crew in the pine woods which gave me a tingle up my spine.
*My ancestry at least as far back as the 16th century is English with an infusion of Welsh, but perhaps that includes a strain of Viking (when I was young and travelling in Europe I was often mistaken for Danish or North German).13 December 2018 at 11:49 #66595
@mudlark That’s fascinating. I always thought the Grimm tales were regional folklore.
I was introduced at uni to the enormous contribution that Jacob Grimm made to linguistics and philology. His work was on Indo-European languages (similarities in vocab and predictable, systematic differences in phonology.) He helped cement the hypothesis that the Indo-European language family derives from a single common ancestor.
I wouldn’t stake my life on it, but I’m sure he also believed that the similarities between Indo-European myths, like the similarities in language, could be explained in terms of a single prehistoric society that spread throughout Europe, taking its oral tradition in different directions – both figuratively and quite literally.
So that might explain why the Grimm brothers didn’t confine themselves to purely German tales: they didn’t see folk tales as existing in geographical isolation.
My own theory, based on no research, is that what began as a Proto-Indo-European prehistoric religion was supplanted by other religions over time, but lived on via the oral tradition as myth, legend and folklore.
If such a “family resemblance” did exist, it can only have been compounded by the movement of people that you describe.
Reading around the topic yesterday, I stumbled across a BBC article. It said that modern scholars of linguistics and mythology have, through comparative analysis, managed to date some of our folk tales back to the bronze age.13 December 2018 at 13:10 #66596
So that might explain why the Grimm brothers didn’t confine themselves to purely German tales: they didn’t see folk tales as existing in geographical isolation
The point is that by the time the Grimm brothers were collecting them the stories had been thoroughly assimilated into German folk culture and given a regional twist, and they thought of them as having their roots in Old Germanic beliefs. Insofar as they noted the similarities to stories found elsewhere in Europe they seem to have thought of the latter as having the same origin. Certainly the collected tales were understood by their contemporaries and by most people subsequently as being specifically German in character, and Nazi propagandists eventually exploited that perception in their own perverse way.
My very battered copy of the collected Grimm’s Fairy Tales was given me when I was six, but it wasn’t intended primarily for children and has a lengthy essay by Joseph Campbell at the back in which he discusses at some length the multiple origins of European folk tales and the ways in which these were transmitted, retransmitted and transmuted to form the base of a common tradition and re-emerge in regional variants.13 December 2018 at 23:20 #66619
I was a bit rushed when I posted earlier, but I have been thinking further about what you wrote and am inclined to continue the discussion, even though it means straying further off topic.
The idea that the interwoven threads in traditional stories have their origin in a prehistory common to all speakers of Indo-European languages is an enticing hypothesis. The problem, as you are clearly aware, is proving it. For a start it is a mistake to assume that there is an exact correspondence between linguistic and cultural dissemination, and the migrations and mingling of populations is a lot more complex than the old idea of waves of invaders displacing or wiping out whole populations. DNA analysis alone has shown that. Then we are faced with the problem of interpreting all the intangible aspects of preliterate societies.
It is a joke among archaeologists that any artefact which cannot be identified as having an obvious practical use tends to be classified as ‘ritual’ and probably related to religious belief. But, as I and my contemporaries were taught, you can infer practice from material evidence, but you cannot reliably infer belief from practice. We still don’t know a great deal about religious beliefs in pre-literate European societies other than what we can, with reservations, deduce from the material evidence and from what observers in the Greek and Roman world recorded, and it must be borne in mind that the accounts of the latter observers may be clouded by misunderstandings, preconceptions and prejudice.
Apart from the accounts of Classical authors, the earliest documentary sources of evidence are stories and legends written down during the medieval period but having an origin in an oral and much earlier tradition dating back at least to later prehistory: the Tain in Ireland, for example, or the stories which make up what we know as the Mabinogion, or the Poetic and Prose Eddas which record much of what we know of Northern Mythology. As an example of how stories migrate, the stories in the Mabinogion include tales of Arthur and such stories are found again in Brittany, brought there by migrants from Britain. From Brittany they came later to be incorporated in medieval French courtly romances, and in that form they returned to England and were reworked by Mallory into the Morte D’Arthur , which is a long way removed from the stories in the Mabinogion, though the names of some of the knights of the round table correspond to those of British chiefs or petty kings recorded in the sparse historical records of the post Roman Roman period.
When it comes to the stories collected by the Grimm brothers and their successors, there are some which incorporate elements of are probably pre-Christian beliefs, but the cultural churn and process of cross-fertilisation was and is continuous and we do not need to reach back into prehistory to account for the common elements which those tales share with other traditional stories around the world, even if those elements have roots in prehistory.14 December 2018 at 01:59 #66623
The idea that the interwoven threads in traditional stories have their origin in a prehistory common to all speakers of Indo-European languages is an enticing hypothesis. The problem, as you are clearly aware, is proving it.
Not really. It’s just convergent evolution with the admixture of complex language (the specific language is immaterial, it’s the capacity to pass on information that matters).
Whether that information is passed on as “respect the great sky fire” or “respect the great sky dandelion”, semiotically it is pretty much the same thing.
The specifics will likely be rooted in local circumstance (the old canard about the Inuits having 48 words for snow may be nonsense, but I’ll bet they have shit ton of adjectives that are rooted in snow and ice).
And language really wants to converge: it takes entire academies to hold the line for some of them. But even the French call a black girl une fille black, not une fille noir or nègre. David Attenborough once called Hom Sap “The Compulsive Communicator”.
And that is before the processes you describe above have got to work.
The labyrinth and the minotaur of classical legend are to me firmly rooted in the Mediterranean and sun-baked Knossos, not the North of myth, legend and fairy tale which is evoked here.
What you describe her is a difference in ecological biogeography. Both north and Med started with personifying their gods and wondering how hard it might be to get to see them and came to a striking similar conclusion: a difficult path protected by beasties.
It’s not just traffic. It is inherent.15 December 2018 at 00:53 #66646
@mudlark It’s a fascinating topic. Apologies, I misunderstood your original point about the German-ness (or not) of the Grimm tales. And thank you for your response. You have me curious about those ancient Irish tales 🙂
I take your point (and agree) that the similarities between myths can be explained in terms of the cross-fertilisation that you describe, without recourse to a “common ancestor” theory. But I don’t think the two theories are mutually exclusive – far from it.
As for proving it, I’m guessing that, absent a Tardis, we’d be hard-pressed to definitively “prove” anything much about ancient pre-literate cultures, but that there are certain things we can deduce with a degree of confidence.
So re: the common-origin theory, l suppose it depends on your feelings about the strength of the hypothesis: the reliability of the methodology and so on. With that in mind, I’ve located and pasted a link to the study. I hope to come back to it when I’ve a bit more time, because there is so much technical language that I find most of it completely impenetrable!
I note that for a number of tales, but by no means all, the research concludes that they were more likely descended vertically from a single ancestor-myth than disseminated horizontally among contemporary populations. But it’s a matter of establishing likelihood, not proof.
One area I feel I can comment on with some degree of knowledge is language/linguistics, and I do think there are some linguistic elements that support the common-ancestor idea. An example might be the relationship between the Greek god Zeus and the Norse(?) god Tiw/Tyr. Linguistically those names are related. But according to Grimm’s law neither of them could have given rise to the other (Zs don’t turn into Ts.) So there had to be a parent word, along the lines of “Deus” – that could have become Zeus in one language and Tyr in the other, consistent with what we know about the pattern of consonant changes that occurred as the original proto-Indo-European language diverged. And if there was an original name “Deus” then there would have been an original proto-Indo-European god, called Deus, whose story, I would suggest, took different paths but continued to be told even as the consonants in his name shifted and the language used to tell his tale evolved.
So it’s the linguistic elements that I understand best, and that incline me towards the common-ancestor idea, although not independent of the cultural churn that you describe.
And on a linguistic note again: @pedant I think French people often say “black” because there isn’t an equivalent neutral everyday word in French. “Noir(e)” is too loaded. English people say “sushi” because it’s more concise, and sounds fancier, than “that raw fish like they do in Japan.” I think it’s just linguistic borrowing for the sake of economy, not evidence of a will to converge. And I don’t think languages do want converge. I think they want to change, constantly, and go off in their own direction. Institutions like the Académie Française hold languages back from changing – but not from converging. In fact, I’m not sure two different languages can converge in any meaningful sense.
You also seem to be suggesting that very similar tales and myths occurred spontaneously in isolation from each other. But that would be an awful lot of coincidences, everywhere you look.
And on snow: Never mind the eskimos… 🙂
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/23/scots-thesaurus-reveals-421-words-for-snow&ved=2ahUKEwiU7YrUtKDfAhXoUBUIHfRTDucQFjAMegQICRAB&usg=AOvVaw1o9f2ekvbTR6jaHUBe5XhF15 December 2018 at 18:29 #66660
I think it’s just linguistic borrowing for the sake of economy,
Yes, that’s one of the many mechanisms of convergence.
Put two groups of people together and their languages will converge, either through creolisation or one being dominant but borrowing heavily from the other. It is even true of accents (witness the way native Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Surrey accents have virtually disappeared thanks to 1m post-War Londoners being moved in, forming Estuary English).
Languages drift apart through isolation, not mixing. People don’t want to communicate, they need to. That is the driver.15 December 2018 at 21:32 #66667
I don’t think the two theories are mutually exclusive – far from it.
They aren’t, I agree. The evidence suggests that the Europe, Asia and the Americas were originally populated by descendants of very small groups of modern humans who survived a bottleneck in their migration from Africa, and since we can assume these migrants and their ancestors in Africa, like their descendants, were storytellers, this could easily account in major part for the fact there are recurrent themes to be found everywhere. Those early populations of hunter gatherers were for a long time widely dispersed, though, and just as very different languages evolved on the foundation of the basic grammatical structure, so I think must the stories have developed regional characteristics and elaborations. Even in historic times when we have written evidence of a process of convergence and cross fertilisation, such regional differences and ‘flavours’ are apparent. The myths of the Classical world and of Scandinavia have elements in common, as to some extent do all those in the Indo-European sphere, but they also have distinctive features and, to me at least, they each convey a very different aura which I was sensible of even as a young child. They are, though, known to us largely through the written record. The Classical myths survive chiefly in the literary and probably somewhat ‘tidied up’ form in which they were recorded, as for example in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, while the pre-Christian Scandinavian myths were written down at a time when Christianity was taking hold, and that influence is occasionally detectable. Difficulties arise though if, for example, we try to trace back a connection between recorded Greek myths and religion and those of the precursor Minoan culture, known almost entirely from the archaeological evidence, though at least one clear link does exist in the legend of the Minotaur.
But to return to the point at which we started, what I was discussing originally was specific to a particular group of stories collected at a particular point in time, the elements and origins of which can be traced evidentially within a documented, historical context. The generalities of the prehistoric background may be surmised and perhaps reconstructed in some part from linguistic evidence, but it is on a different level. Where there is no written record the specifics can’t be known or pinned down in the same way because all we have for those is limited to the material evidence which archaeology can provide.
The early Irish stories in which you expressed an interest are rich and interesting and, again, very different in ‘flavour’ from those of the Scandinavian and Germanic traditions, and there is a wealth of Irish folk tales. In Irish rural communities the seanchai, traditional story tellers preserved and handed down the oral tradition of story telling and it survived into the late 19th century before being seized upon and somewhat romanticised by the proponents of the ‘Celtic Revival’.15 December 2018 at 21:41 #66668
@pedant I see what you’re saying. I think we’re probably on the same page but maybe the problem is my understanding of the word convergence.
My take is this: If you put two different groups of people together, speaking different languages, the people will want and need to communicate, as you say.
So the first generation will establish a very basic pidgin containing elements of both languages, but completely lacking the depth and sophistication of either.*
The second generation will instinctively develop the pidgin of the first generation into a fully-fledged, gramatically complex creole. The creole isn’t an amalgam of two languages; it’s a whole other language built from the crude raw materials of a pidgin.
I don’t see this as convergence. On the contrary, I think the crudeness of the pidgin and the individuality of the creole are byproducts of the fact that languages don’t easily converge.
But they do change. Old words become obsolete; new words are incorporated; grammar rules fall out of use, and so it goes on. This isn’t necessarily a consequence of isolation. I think it’s largely down to a changing world and the linguistic creativity of teenagers.
I don’t see borrowing as a “mechanism of convergence.” English might pinch a French word here and there, but that’s window dressing. If I take a few apples from next door’s tree, that doesn’t mean our gardens want to converge.
For two languages to converge in any meaningful sense, surely their syntax and grammar would have to dovetail somehow – which is impossible.
Accents are a different kettle of fish.
* Clearly I’m talking here about true pidgins. A number of creole languages are called “pidgin” but are not technically pidgins.16 December 2018 at 00:40 #66670
For two languages to converge in any meaningful sense, surely their syntax and grammar would have to dovetail somehow – which is impossible.
English has its roots in as High Germanic, but the influence of French on it is such that it is impossible to miss and modern English would not exist as it does without a big ‘ole dash of old French, thanks to those pesky Normans. That it continued to evolve, hoovering up words from other languages and shedding genders is neither here not there: a High Germanic and a Romance language converged into modern English.
However – and this is exactly the kind of slippery issue that such process can throw up – convergent evolution is about convergence of idea, not of expression. So two entirely unrelated species (or only related so far back that it makes no odds) end up being strikingly similar in habit because they fill similar ecological niches. The point being that the propensity for storytelling need not have come from a single mutation in one individual, as my blue eyes do, but independently once the brain was complex enough. Two stylistically unrelated cave drawings could easily both say “Good hunting technique shown here” , yet not have a common ancestor.
Hence with “maze vs cave” is a question of ecosystem, not semiotics. Our home system my be comfortable – and comforting to us – but is rarely as objectively special as we like to think. Other people have things to say too.
Also – and this to @mudlark as well – be careful of seeking to “prove” things. Science does not use “proof” in the way that mathematics does, but more in the sense of “test”. The proof of the pudding(‘s quality) is in the eating. The exception that proves (the limit of) the rule. Proving grounds to see how well it works, not just if it does. Proof spirit (of how loud it goes kerblam to indicate alcohol content).
Trying to find proof in the more (to modern ears) familiar sense is a fool’s errand. Although, as the gentleman from Tralfamadore knew, one should always uphold the honour of fools.16 December 2018 at 10:49 #66682
Yeah, ‘demonstrate’ might have been a better choice of word, though obviously I was using ‘proof’ in the sense in which historians and archaeologists sometimes use it, not according to strict scientific or mathematical usage. I’m not totally clueless.
As an illustration of what I mean, I was once tasked with evaluating an earthwork site in the middle of a village. To me, on the basis of comparison with multiple other sites, they looked like the remains of a medieval manor house with formal gardens and a fishpond, which was not how they were identified in the county Record of Sites and Monuments. There had been no excavation, no excavation was planned, and my identification amounted to no more than informed opinion, but I did some fossicking in the county record office and found an early 17th map of the village on which the plot in question was shown, clearly marked ‘scite of …. Manor’.16 December 2018 at 14:31 #66685
Well, you’ve just rather elegantly illustrated the key element of scientific method (form hypothesis >> test (prove) hypothesis), so that’s not really the issue.
It was more a point about how slippery language can be, even when talking about language – a slip I made with a different word, even while trying to make the point.16 December 2018 at 20:24 #66689
you’ve just rather elegantly illustrated the key element of scientific method
Which is how archaeologists and those engaged in the ancillary disciplines roll these days – though there are still some whose heads appear to be a bit too elevated in the conjectural clouds or who are inclined to give rather *too* free a rein to their imaginations. Archaeology is a bit of a hybrid, and I’ve known scientists who dismiss it as a bastard offshoot of the humanities, and historians and those who specialise in architectural or art history who think it is too grubby to touch – although on the evidence I doubt if the latter group know the first thing about scientific method. No one would claim it can be rated among the pure sciences, but it is founded in the science of observation and validated by scientific method.
I am happy to concede your point on the slipperiness of language – one has to only to try translating from one language to another to realise that – and perhaps I was relying too much on context to convey meaning. Debating on the internet does have its pitfalls, after all.18 December 2018 at 02:03 #66750
@mudlark I’ve enjoyed learning from our discussion and it would be nice if I could find some point of disagreement just to carry it on! But I think we see eye to eye and I just got a bit fixated on the common ancestor idea. 🙂
Ha ha, from my perspective, Middle English is a good example of what I’m talking about because it entailed such a prolonged and thorough butchering of Old English! I suspect we broadly agree but are arguing semantics.
Given your last post, it might help if we pin down that word convergence, because it’s another slippery one that’s got a very specific meaning in linguistics. Initially I sidestepped it since I know not everyone delights in language geekery…
When two or more language communities have prolonged contact, possible outcomes might be:
1) A creole evolves – if there’s a language barrier
2) A”mixed” or “fusion” language evolves – if it’s a fully bilingual community
3) Each language undergoes structural changes under the influence of the other, but both languages continue to be spoken independently from each other.
This third process is (rather unhelpfully for our discussion) referred to as “convergence.”
I’ve been ignoring this particular bit of slipperiness and assumed you mean “converge” in its common-usage sense of “merge” or “unify.” Perhaps this is where we misunderstand each other, I don’t know.
Languages “converge” in a technical sense, but they don’t merge like rivers or starlings in flight.
It goes without saying that the above processes happen because people need to communicate. But I think if you use that as a basis for saying something like “Language really wants to converge” you move beyond the idea of people needing to communicate and say something about the nature of language – and that’s where my issue lies.
My point is this: languages don’t lend themselves to blending or merging. They are self-contained systems and when they come together, they clash. It takes infants at the language acquisition stage to kind of instinctively dismantle/deconstruct the contact languages and engineer something new from the wreckage.
If in your view, children’s instinct for extreme linguistic re-engineering counts as “language wanting to converge” then I’ll take your point. It’s just I wouldn’t put it in quite the same way. To me it sounds a bit like “My fist converged with his face” 🙂
Unless loan words are systematic and part of a wider transformation, I don’t think they’re strong evidence of convergence in any sense of the word. Black is now a French word; omnishambles is now an English word. We wouldn’t cite “omnishambles” as evidence that English “really wants to converge with BBC satire.”
They’re both just words that worked their way into the mainstream because there was a niche for them.31 December 2018 at 08:44 #66981
I’m thinking about the show a lot while BBC America is running an eight-day marathon. Yesterday the thought popped in my head of something that would have made this episode a classic. I can understand any number of good, valid reasons they didn’t go with this, but I wish they had.
Can you imagine if, instead of the Solitract appearing to the Doctor as a frog, they’d gotten David Tennant – or any of the ex-Doctors – to play the Solitract? Or, heck, Carole Ann Ford? That would have been incredible, would have taken me away indeed.31 December 2018 at 17:14 #66986
Well, the best reason for not doing this is that it would have been 100 degree proof spirit fanwank. Exactly the sort of masturbatory nonsense that a show that really was in decline would go for.
So take it as a good sign that they didn’t…31 December 2018 at 18:43 #66989
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