The Roots Of The Mountains: Wherein It Is Told Somewhat OF The Lives Of The Men Of Burgdale Their Friends Their Neighbors Their Foemen And Their Fellows In Arms by William Morris
It is telling and altogether appropriate that this particular book I read was published by Eccentric Books. This is an eccentric book. It is deliberately and flamboyantly eccentric, and in reading this book I continually thought of other works with which this work is related. I pondered the connection between this sprawling 400 page story of the edge induced cohesion of the Wolfmen through the attacks of the dusky Huns and two particular works in particular, one of them the ring cycle by Wagner and the other writings of Tolkien. Indeed, this book (and its predecessor, which my library sadly does not have) was a particularly strong influence on Tolkien’s writing in several ways. It portrays the Anglo-Saxons as being peaceful inhabitants of various dales, divided into clans and engaging in marriage, until their peace is disturbed by a cosmic evil in the Huns. When one reads Tolkien, one sees numerous strands of influence here from the mix of prose and poetry, the heroic and often tragic sentiment of the epic story, the stilted dialogue and somewhat flat characterization, the embedding of the story within a large historical narrative of little particular excitement, and so on.
Let us understand that if this book is not as long as the Lord of the Rings, it is a prose epic nonetheless. The characters in this book have somewhat ridiculous names, including our hero Face-of-God, his estranged partner The Bride, the woman he falls in love with Sun-Beam, the man who marries The Bride Folk-Might, and so on and so forth. The conversation takes place in a ponderous fashion that is deliberately archaic, and even the placenames are provided in classic Anglo-Saxon style as Silverdale (or The Dale) or Shadowdale as the case may be. There are various meetings, called things, where men (and women) make various plans and decide what course of action to make. The Huns are a cosmic evil that destroys all of the proud German peoples before them until the people of the Wolf unite among themselves and send all their men to smash against the Huns and break them, but it takes quite a while for the action to get started. The author portrays the Huns as brave but defiled, and the battle is costly even if it is victorious, there being no promise that there will not be some other sort of war later on even if this one is successful. The dead are mourned, young men and women are given in marriage to each other, children are born to them, and life goes on.
It is unclear what the author was trying to do here unless this work is taken as part of the context of various epics of the history of the German people are taken together. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and the remaining works of his sprawling corpus of Middle Earth can be viewed as a similar effort at providing a prose epic fit for England as a Germanic people that is nonetheless free of domination by the wicked Huns. It will likely be impossible for anyone who is familiar with Tolkien (and it is unlikely that anyone not familiar with Tolkien will even look for this book) to not see the numerous parallels and similarities and influences that this work had on Tolkien’s writing of Middle Earth. If Tolkien did it better–and he did–then this work is evidence of Morris’ profound influence on Middle Earth that certainly makes that effort far less original. Yet it is all too common for later works to be remembered and their roots to be forgotten. And this book deserves to be remembered for the way it serves as some of the roots that tie the soaring achievements of the Middle Earth legendarium to the context of late 19th and early 20th century works of German and Anglo-Saxon nationalism, as well as for being an entertaining read in its own right.