A combination of events – both meteorological and medical – have kept me housebound for the best part of a month now.
First it was the rain. Then came the flu. Grey day followed grey day. Rain fell, then puddled, then fell again. I felt like a cabin-feverish character from James Mitchener’s frontier epic Centennial. I had to supress an urge to leave the cabin every morning to check my beaver traps.
I also had to contend with a 10-year-old girl on holiday from school who was alarmingly healthy. By this odd confluence of circumstance – rain, flu, bored child – I found myself watching and re-watching the box set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, with special emphasis on the final instalment.
I did take a break from Middle Earth, but only to watch The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on Netflix.
There was, it seemed, no escape from epic battles, monsters, deposed kings and portentous dialogue. It begins to get to you after a while, especially the dialogue.
“Mark this,” I said to the newsagent the other day, “certain things have been put in motion that cannot now be undone.”
“Right,” he said. “The usual milk, bread and fags then.”
Watching Leinster line out against Connacht the other evening on the telly, I found myself muttering: “The board is set. The pieces are moving.”
And then, as the kick-off hung in the air, I announced: “And so it begins. The great battle of our times.”
Perhaps it was a side-effect of the flu virus, or perhaps it was due to my long isolation, but I found myself stuck, linguistically speaking, in some cross between the Shire, Mordor, Gondor, Rohan and Narnia.
“Too long have my eggs been boiling,” I informed my wife.
“Dark have been my dreams of late,” I announced to no one in particular at the breakfast table.
“I come back to you now,” I said to my family on my return from putting out the bins, “at the turning of the tide.”
The world of the epic is a reassuring place in many ways. Things are pretty black and white there, and there is a comforting continuity to events.
Things are “long foretold” and eventually “come to pass”. Dark powers rise (generally in the east) but are defeated by the various races (dwarves, elves etc) that “still stand free”.
There are battles, of course, and blood is shed, but, unlike in real life, no one you care about is ever killed.
The language, however, lends these tales a grandeur they would not otherwise possess.J R R Tolkein and C S Lewis knew a thing or two about myth-making; they knew that the high rhetoric of courtly, medieval speech would lend weight to their stories.
They also knew that it’s a risky strategy; such dialogue can easily tip over into the portentous, or even the plain annoying.
“I have fought many wars, Master Dwarf,” I mentioned to my wife the other day, “and I know how to defend my keep.”
She sighed, which turned into the hacking cough which is a hallmark of our flu.
“Perhaps it’s time for you to go to the halls of your fathers,” she said.