William Morris

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William Morris

Postby Parmamaite » Thu Jul 27, 2006 4:57 am

I've just finished reading William Morris' "House of the Wolfings" and "Land of the Glittering Plain", and I was astounded by the likeness to Tolkien. The language is very archaic, though occasionally a more modern word slips in as Morris is not as perfectionistic as Tolkien, it is also quite often broken by verse, the whole style of writing reminds me of Tolkien, albeit not quite as good. I should think that Morris was a great influence on JRRT, perhaps the greatest apart from medieval and earlier sources.

There's also quite a few more superficial likenesses: the Wolfings live in Mid-Mark in Mirkwood forest, their prophetess/demigod is called a Vala (perhaps derived from the icelandic vølve though I haven't seen it in that form before), and a main element of the tale is the hapless love between a mortal man and a godess.

The "Land of the Glittering Plain" reminds me of the tale of Ælfwine, not that story is the same, but certain elements are there, and there's also a semblance in the style, which is more fairytale-like than in "House of the Wolfings".

Has anyone else read Morris? any thoughts as to his influence on Tolkien?


I read some George MacDonald last year, and he has certainly also influenced Tolkien, but mostly in details and single elements, the goblins of the Hobbit seems to be molded on MacDonalds goblins for example. But the influence of Morris seems to me to go much deeper than that.
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Postby GlassHouse » Thu Jul 27, 2006 11:48 am

My favorite (or the one I remember most) is The Sundering Flood
and yes , he was apparently a big influnce on both Tolkien and on C.s. Lewis.

haven't read the ones you listed though. That's not surprising, the guy was extremely prolific. look at the left hand column of the page I linked to to see all the other titles by Morris.
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Postby Parmamaite » Fri Jul 28, 2006 4:41 am

Yes, I know he wrote a lot, both fiction and non-fiction. The reason I chose "House of the Wolfings", is that it's mentioned in Carpenter's biography as being one of the first modern novels that the young Tolkien read and appreciated, and that got me curious.

"The Land of the Glittering Plain" is in the same volume of his collected works as "House of the Wolfings", so I read that too.

I have a mind to read some more of this guy, so why not start with "The Sundering Flood"?
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Postby GlassHouse » Fri Jul 28, 2006 8:41 am

Ok, you try out The Sundering Flood and I'll look through the library and the local used book stores for The Wolflings...cause i know none of the local retail book stores are going to have it
My daughter is jumping up and down right next to me so I can't go into more detail but i recall i really liked TSF because i thought he had a good handle on the way he represented the pagan other-world of northern Europe. Much less Christianized than in Tolkien and therefore more authentic. Don't know if it was more authentic but it felt that way. I especially remember the first meeting between the hero, (whose name escapes me) and the Dwarf, not at all a Tolkien-esque dwarf. hope you like it.

:)
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Postby Mungo » Fri Jul 28, 2006 12:16 pm

Ahh, William Morris. I took a "Precursors to Tolkien" class last year and William Morris was one of the writers we focused on.

From what I learned in the class, Tolkien definitely read some of Morris' stories. I have a whole list

Some stories I read in the class by William Morris:

The Wood Beyond the World (Really dreamy and picturesque)
Well at the World's End (Same as above)
News from Nowhere (bleh. Didn't like it that much)
The Haystack in the Floods (a grim and dreary short poem)
and
Apology for the Earthly Paradise (Bleh again; not much to like in this poem)

I'll write a more detailed description of each when I get some time later tonight.

I also have copies of:
House of the Wolfings
Land of the Glittering Plain
The Water of the Wondrous Isles
The Story of Grettir The Strong
but we never got around to reading them in class. They're in my "To Read" list though. :)

If anyone is interested, there are copies of the books I have mentioned above on Project Gutenberg.
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Postby Parmamaite » Sat Jul 29, 2006 3:27 am

The Story of Grettir the Strong is also one of the Icelandic sagas, my favourite when I read them as a youngster. Being more mature now, I prefer the Saga of Njal.

Wonder why Morris wanted to write that story again? It could be fun to compare the two, but I have enough on my hands right now as it is.
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Golden Wings

Postby Overman » Fri Aug 18, 2006 6:23 pm

I walked through my local used bookstore today and saw a copy of Golden Wings and other short stories. Yoink!
Being short stories, it will be hard not to succumb to the temptation to slip into that from the book I'm currently reading.
I've read the Glittering Plain and Water of the Wondrous Isles, both glorious books. I've false started the Well at the World's End a few times, but sometimes it's hard to get started on a thing like that. Water took me a few cracks, and for that matter, so did the Silmarillion.
You've mentioned one or two here I hadn't even heard of before. The hunt is on.
As far as influence, I think Tolkien is well documented, and Lewis is quoted on the back of one of my Morris books, as is H.P.Lovecraft.
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Postby Dunthule » Sat Aug 19, 2006 8:26 pm

I've read "The Well at the End of the World" and really liked it. 8)

I've also read the Morris was definitely an influence on JRRT.
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Postby solosimpe » Mon Aug 21, 2006 10:21 am

I've read "The Well at the World's End" as well, but it was the only one I've read by him. I did enjoy it, though I must admit it took me a little while to get used to his style of writing. Once I did though, I liked it quite a lot.

Strangely, I've only ever seen that one book, and I got it at a Library sale. It's not like I've gone searching for any of his other work, but I've never come across it just looking through classics, etc.

I did notice a similarity to Tolkien, and also a little to George MacDonald, though the latter I think might have something to do with them writing around the same time period. I also find it interesting that he wrote a book called, "The Wood Beyond the World," which reminds me of the Wood Between the Worlds that Lewis wrote of.
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Postby Parmamaite » Tue Aug 22, 2006 7:40 am

I don't think he's considered a 'classic'. I looked for "House of the Wolfings" at the library, they only had one copy of it (that's in all of the danish public libraries!) and that was in a 'collected works of William Morris'
It took almost a month for them to find it for me :roll: And three months for me to read it :oops: - he does have a difficult style.

He was a very prolific writer though, he wrote a dozen novels or more and a lot of essays and pamphlets, he was AFAIR both a member of the arts and crafts movement and a socialist.

House of the Wolfings doesn't remind me of MacDonald at all, neither in style nor in story, but I can see some resemblance in the more fantastic The Glittering Plain. One major difference is MacDonald's christianity that permeates his stories. At least what I've read by him; The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie.
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Postby jadeval » Sat Oct 21, 2006 12:36 am

I've only read The Well at World's End and The Wood Beyond the World. I found them both to be similar, somewhat like the relationship between LoTR and the Hobbit respectively. In my opinion, Morris is, in many ways, a better technical storyteller than Tolkien (so I was surprised to say you thought the opposite... perhaps you should try Well at World's end?). Tolkien is probably better at shear world-building, but Morris is by far the better poet and stylist. That's really where his strength shows, in his unique medievalist style.

I found, in particular with Wood Beyond the World (which is basically a small tour d'force), that I could easily be completely absorbed into the storyline despite its being somewhat dryly and/or archaicly told. Morris has a knack for extremely level, consistent prose which is somehow nevertheless dreamlike in quality.

The Well at World's End is supposedly his fantasy magnum opus and has many elements which Tolkien obviously borrowed.
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Postby Parmamaite » Sun Oct 22, 2006 10:35 am

I'll have to check out The Well at the World's End sometime.

In House of the Wolfings Morris obviously tries to use a pre-medieval style, but he doesn't succeed bevause he occasionally uses 'new' words, that is norman rather than anglosaxon. Tolkien is much more consistent for example when he uses oldfashioned speech for the rohirrim.
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Postby jadeval » Sun Oct 22, 2006 1:44 pm

Ah... yes, Tolkien may very well have had the greater talent with languages, especially when it came to inventing them. I'm not sure. Morris was just so steeped in traditional European crafts and design, and it really shows in his novels. Sometimes I get the strange feeling when I read him that the words are like a fine veneer, or like an intricately woven cloth. The style can really take you in, and sometimes I wonder whether or if there is anything deeper than style in Morris, or if it’s all just veneer. With Tolkien, there are obviously universal philosophical and/or moral themes in the story, whereas Morris sticks more to traditional romance. You begin to wonder whether the substance of the story is vacuous or not, but then you realize that the prose is so enticing that you don’t really care whether there is substance there. At least that was my experience. His style of storytelling (especially in Well at World’s End) strikes me as somehow removed and deterministic. The characters almost merge with the scenery at times, and when I think back on those books what I remember most is the landscapes, not the characters. When I got done with them though, there was definitely a feeling that those images would stick in my mind for a long time and have an impact on my own imagination. Someone—perhaps it was CS Lewis—once used the phrase “the water-colored world of William Morris,” and I think that’s certainly an apt description of the tone of his books. Morris is certainly unique in any case.

I want to get around to The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountain sometime, though I’ve heard those are not so much fantasy as historical-fiction types.
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Postby Parmamaite » Mon Oct 23, 2006 6:17 pm

Oh yes, he's certainly good at writing, what bothered me was that he used words that you'd expect in a medieval romance in a story that takes place a thousand years before that.

Now, if he had written in a normal mode (for his time) I would probably not mind, but he writes in an archaic way, and so the 'mistakes' sticks out. Calling him a worse writer than Tolkien wasn't phrased very well, I should have said that he was a poorer lingvist than Tolkien (as who isn't ;) )

Anyway, in spite of this I did enjoy House of the Wolfings, you're right it's historical fiction rather than fantasy, or perhaps it would be more correct to say that it's a mixture of both. He's certainly not trying to make the novel historically accurate.
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Postby jadeval » Sun Feb 11, 2007 2:29 pm

I've just started "The Water of the Wondrous Isles" and it has inspired me to revive this thread. Every time I come back to Morris I'm pleasantly surprised. I read a few pages every night, just enough to get a taste so as to prolong the experience of the book. It has a certain relaxing effect. He is unlike any author I've read before.

This particular story figures several prominent female lead characters... I'm wondering if this was unusual for Morris' time.
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Postby Mungo » Thu Feb 22, 2007 2:20 pm

Well, its been almost a year and I still haven't written further on more detailed description of the books I read, shame on me.

I've been looking for something new to read lately and I think I might pick up House of the Wolfings and The Story of Grettir The Strong. The only thing is that I only have digital copies of these stories, just like the others. It gets so tiring to read books off a computer screen, so much different from having the actual book in your hand.
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Postby vison » Mon Feb 26, 2007 3:43 pm

I read "The Well at World's End" a LONG time ago. I scarcely remember it, only that I read it. Will have to give it another go.

This brings to mind another long-half-forgotten novel about how man evolved to have wings? A Danish writer? :?
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Postby Dunthule » Mon Mar 19, 2007 4:30 pm

Doesn't ring a bell.
Was the bok publish pre or post JRRT?
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Postby Canamarth » Mon Nov 12, 2007 7:59 am

Well, I wrote my diploma paper about the similarities between Tolkien's works (esp. Lord of the Rings) and William Morris' late prose romances. What can I say? There are many. :) It's a comparison on the textual level (due to time and length restrictions I did not go much into common sources) and I put the similarities in categories such as names, geography, topics, style etc.

If I get around to add The House of the Wolflings and The Roots of the Mountains to the analysis, I might even get it published some day. But I have to say I have difficulties in reading the latter work. It's the first of Morris' that I don't like, which might be due to the fact that the hero doesn't really set out for his adventure but keeps coming back home.

jadeval, the strong female characters are of course not too common in Morris' time. He was ahead of his time in many respects.
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Postby Canamarth » Thu Jul 28, 2011 3:24 am

And I got parts of it published as an article - another on Morris as the father of fantasy and Tolkien's role in that will follow soon. :D

"Disenchanted with their Age: Keats’s, Morris’s, and Tolkien’s Great Escape" in Hither Shore 7: http://www.scriptorium-oxoniae.de/hs_7.htm
The articles in the book are in English and German (with a summary translation given at the end). Here is a peek into the index and the preface:
http://www.scriptorium-oxoniae.de/pdf/HS7.pdf
[/shameless self-promotion]
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Postby davidchatman » Sat Aug 27, 2011 12:25 am

I have read his The Hollow Land. It is a nice book.
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Postby Canamarth » Wed Aug 31, 2011 5:01 am

Hm, haven't had my sights on that one yet. Thanks for the pointer, davidchatman.
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Postby Morwenna » Sun Sep 11, 2011 1:26 pm

Back when Ballantine was publishing its Adult Fantasy series (1970s) some of Morris's books were part of that series. I bought one back then but never got properly into it, being ravenous for something like Tolkien (pre-Sil) and finding the style too different. I'm much older now, and in recent years have bought another Morris book, but I've yet to read either one. :( (to-read list is FAR too long...)
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Postby Canamarth » Tue Sep 13, 2011 6:19 am

I know what you're talking about. Morris is certainly not totally easy to get into. For me, The Well at the World's End was the most accessible and entertaining, so I usually recommend it as a first try.
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Postby GlassHouse » Fri Sep 16, 2011 10:04 am

OOOh look, a bunch of Morris on line!

http://morrisedition.lib.uiowa.edu/sunderingflood.html

This is a beautiful site. it ain't just a boring plain text site. It a java site that looks like actual scans of a very nice book with fancy fonts and illustrations and to turn the page you click and drag the page from right to left and it actually looks like a page turning! Complete with the sound of paper!

Sorry, I'm just very impressed with the trouble someone went to to get all these details right and make this experience as much like reading a real book as possible.
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Postby RoseMorninStar » Fri Sep 16, 2011 10:08 am

oooooooooooooooh! I need to bookmark that! The only William Morris I can get from our library is 'Wood Beyond the World' .. and I've read that twice (paperback, nothing fancy). Thanks for posting the link GH!!
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Postby GlassHouse » Fri Sep 16, 2011 10:20 am

I could never read a plain text book online, just the thought gives me a headache. But I think I could read these books.
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Postby Canamarth » Mon Sep 19, 2011 7:29 am

I think I've actually seen that one before. Thanks for the link, GlassHouse! The Kelmscott edition is sooo pretty.
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Postby Morwenna » Tue Sep 20, 2011 9:54 am

I just gave it a brief look. I'll have to get back to that--soon!
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Postby Canamarth » Mon Mar 26, 2012 11:42 am

And now my second article on Morris influence on Tolkien has been published, this time in academic journal Fastitocalon. :)

http://www.tolkiengesellschaft.de/en/6949/fastitocalon-2-erschienen/
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