Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon


Tolkien's compositions are so wonderful simply because he is very successful in integrating widely known stories into his own creation. He applies from older stories with mastery and renders then with linguistic and storytelling acumen, then retells a story to the world that becomes entirely new. From Tolkien's preface to the poem, or song one can see the genius of invention. Frodo pays a visit to an inn called the Prancing Pony in Bree where he is asked to sing a song the guests haven't heard before:

    "For a moment Frodo stood gaping. Then in desperation he began a ridiculous song that Bilbo had been rather fond of (and indeed rather proud of, for he had made up the words himself). It was about an inn; and that is probably why it came into Frodo's mind just then. Here it is in full. Only a few words of it are now, as a rule, remembered."

The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon

There is an inn, a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill,

And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
one night to drink his fill.

The ostler has a tipsy cat

that plays a five-stringed fiddle;

And up and down he saws his bow
Now squeaking high, now purring low,
now sawing in the middle.

The landlord keeps a little dog

that is mighty fond of jokes;

When there's good cheer among the guests,
He cocks an ear at all the jests
and laughs until he chokes.

They also keep a hornéd cow

as proud as any queen;

But music turns her head like ale,
And makes her wave her tufted tail
and dance upon the green.

And O! the rows of silver dishes

and the store of silver spoons!

For Sunday there's a special pair,
And these they polish up with care
on Saturday afternoons.

The Man in the Moon was drinking deep,

and the cat began to wail;

A dish and a spoon on the table danced,
The cow in the garden madly pranced
and the little dog chased his tail.

The Man in the Moon took another mug,

and then rolled beneath his chair;

And there he dozed and dreamed of ale,
Till in the sky the stars were pale,
and dawn was in the air.

Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat:

'The white horses of the Moon,

They neigh and champ their silver bits;
But their master's been and drowned his wits,
and the Sun'll be rising soon!'

So the cat on the fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,

a jig that would wake the dead:

He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,
While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon:
'It's after three!' he said.

They rolled the Man slowly up the hill

and bundled him into the Moon,

While his horses galloped up in rear,
And the cow came capering like a deer,
and a dish ran up with the spoon.

Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle;

the dog began to roar,

The cow and the horses stood on their heads;
The guests all bounded from their beds
and danced upon the floor.

With a ping and a pang the fiddle-strings broke!

the cow jumped over the Moon,

And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
with the silver Sunday spoon.

The round Moon rolled behind the hill,

as the Sun raised up her head.

She* hardly believed her fiery eyes;
For though it was day, to her surprise
they all went back to bed!

-- J.R.R. Tolkien

* Elves (and Hobbits) always refer to the Sun as She. {Tolkien's footnote}


J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) was a British university professor. Born in South Africa he became a fantasy writer. Anglo-Saxon and medieval literature comprised the majority of his scholar work at the University of Oxford where he shared a sometimes turbulent friendship with another imaginative fiction writer, C.S. Lewis. Many of his works display this fund of knowledge and is evident in the epics he created about Middle-Earth, a fantasy world he wrote about in a children's book titled The Hobbit. Full of heart, soul, and imagination the adventure takes the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and his nephew into a world of dwarfs, elves, dragons, and wizards to save Middle Earth from the evil of the Dark Lord. Followed by a sequel trilogy entitled The Lord of he Rings (1954-55-- The Fellowship of the Ring: The Two Towers; The Return of the King), is a deeply imaginative story of the conflict between good and evil. The Silmarillion (1977), which presents the onset of the mythology of Middle Earth, and Unfinished Tales (1980), which have unincorporated stories, were edited and finished by Tolkien's son Christopher Tolkien.

Tolkien uses Bilbo's song as a way to explain why this peculiar nonsense rhyme exists today. It's a little more nonsense about the nonsensical Mother Goose rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle which just about everyone knows:

    Hey diddle diddle
    The cat and the fiddle
    The cow jumped more over the moon
    And the dish ran away with the spoon.
Hey diddle diddle and the man in the moon become two-dimensional and takes on a history. All of the characters have taken on an existence. Maybe, one can imagine, The Man in the Moon, has become bored with his majesty and lonely in his luminescent kingdom and decides to visit the world below. He gets less than he bargained for when he discovers the world below strange. The Man in the Moon is rather kindly but perhaps a little absent-mindedly drinks too much and soon falls asleep.

By modeling Tolkien uses the ancient styles of heavy alliteration and adds a discriminate smattering of Old English romance words. As a result of the construction the feeling becomes richer, more valuable in the readers eyes. Short nonsense rhymes that once were part of longer, more sensible poems and songs, frequently mnemonics were employed as a way to study the history of language and Tolkien realized the deep interweaving of meanings between language and legend and crafted this into artful storytelling.

Who exactly is the Man on the Moon? Lunar geography has long held its fanciful spell upon human fancy. Plutarch wrote a treatise on them, but there were myth makers before him. As the story from ancient times reaches us, the moon is inhabited by a man with a bundle of sticks on his back, who has been exiled there for hundreds of years, he is so far off that he is beyond the reach of death. Once visiting the earth, according to the nursery rhyme recalled by Catchpole below, and asked his way to Norwich. Dante names him Cain; Chaucer puts him up on the moon as a punishment for theft, adding a thorn-bush to carry; Shakespeare also loads him with the thorns and for compensation gives him a dog for a companion. In most cases his crime is said to have been, not larceny, but breaking the Sabbath, an idea derived from the Book of Numbers. Like the man mentioned in the Old Testament, he is discovered gathering sticks on the Sabbath; and, as an example to mankind, he is sentenced to stand for all time in the moon, with his bundle on his back.

After Tolkien's innovative technique of finding and applying legend and language in this manner, it became a tool for others to use new and different senses of the old stories and legends by creating histories, prehistories and mythologies. The composition date is unknown, however, The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon was originally published in 1923 in The Cat and the Fiddle: A Nursery Rhyme Undone and its Scandalous Secret Unlocked(Yorkshire Poetry, Leeds, vol. 2, no. 19, October-November 1923). Later, reprinted in The Return of the Shadow, a revised version was subsequently printed in The Lord of the Rings, Book One, Chapter 9 and then as The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and has even been set to music.

Tolkien started out in 1923 borrowing this idea from the well-known nursery rhyme then later used it as a way to explain to his what happened to his son Michale's favorite toy; a little metal dog lost on a beach in 1925. Michael and the toy had been inseparable. The family searched for a couple of days but never found it.

Tolkien comforted Michael by telling the story of how Roverandom was a real dog turned into a toy by a wizard, and then carried to the moon by a seagull. These stories eventually evolved into The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book made up of sixteen poems, three of which are about Tom Bombadil, one about a hobbit and a troll, two about the Man in the Moon, six called simply "adventures." Along the similar lines of endurance and escaping the disappearance of a beloved toy. Tom Bombadil was another toy belonging to Michael Tolkien. John, his brother, put the Dutch doll down a toilet. Tolkien rescues Bombadil for Michael through his Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Originally published in Oxford Magazine in 1934, Tolkien would later offer the idea that Bombadil's story could be expanded into a sequel to The Hobbit, but the editors didn't bite. Undeterred, Tolkien would have Tom makes his debut anyway in The Lord of the Rings.

Sources

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Tolkien, J. R. R.," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Friske, John. Myths and Myth Makers, 1900.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book (Houghton Mifflin, 1963)

Picture Source

Public domain text taken from The Wondering Minstrels

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