Baldwin Street Dethroned

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It’s one of those things only a very few people care about. In particular, it’s a Dunedin thing: this small, strange little city, genteelly decaying from its past glories, has lost yet another claim to significance: Baldwin Street is no longer the World’s Steepest Street.

As a background, Dunedin’s initial Scottish settlers were very keen on reinventing Edinburgh in the South Pacific, so they not only borrowed the names of Edinburgh streets (George Street, et al), but they actually borrowed the layout. This latter point ignored one small problem… the geography. Due to the hilly sides of North East Valley, Baldwin Street ended up as one of the steepest streets on the planet.

Back when I lived in that part of town, I used to walk to the top and back in the evenings as a decent exercise. And it is a decent exercise – the lower part is flat enough, but further along the street basically turns into a ski ramp. There’s a park bench and a drinking fountain at the top too, which is much appreciated (I wouldn’t take a car up there, ever). It’s much busier during the daytime, of course… tourists taking pictures, and everything. I can understand why the residents are a bit grumpy.

Ah well. The people who run these things can always reclaim it as the steepest street in the Southern Hemisphere.

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The World Cup Final

I have never before commented on sports on this blog, and am unlikely to again any time soon, but today I feel I rather have to.

The overnight World Cup cricket final between New Zealand and England resulted in one of the most heart-breaking finales ever seen in the one-day game. Or in any sport, to be honest.

For those unversed in cricket, a one-day match is about which team can score the most runs in fifty overs (i.e. three hundred deliveries). The two teams in the final were New Zealand (who had never won the Cup before, and who had beaten the red-hot favourites India in the semi-final), and England (who had also never won the Cup either). The match was played at Lord’s, the “home” of cricket in London, and England were the favourites, having beaten Australia in their semi-final.

Anyway, New Zealand managed 241 runs in their turn at bat (with eight wickets down). At the end of the batting, I went to bed, figuring that England would beat that easily – 241 is not a great score in modern one-day cricket, and England has a formidable batting line-up. Besides, I had things to do in the morning.

Then I got up this morning, heard the news, and realised what I’d missed. England, it turned out, had also managed 241 runs (with all ten wickets down) – a tie. That’s rare in one-day cricket, and has never happened in a World Cup final. So they wheeled out a crass little tie-break – a Super Over, where the team that scores the most runs in six deliveries wins. England got 15 runs in the Super Over… and then so did New Zealand. So they wheeled out a second, arbitrary tie-breaker… which team had scored the most boundaries in the match. Which was England (if the tie-break had been fewest wickets, it would be New Zealand).

Honestly, the only fair result would have been for the two teams to share the trophy (an Australian bookie has refunded bets on New Zealand). That said, I am honestly pleased that the other side here was England. They had never won the Cup before, genuinely appreciate it when they do win, and come across as very decent people. So congrats, England. 🙂

Edit: The game is now being cited as the greatest cricket match ever played. Certainly in one-day matches – whether it outdoes the famous test matches is up for debate. It is still painful as hell for someone in this part of the world.

On the Depiction of Women in Beowulf

Well, well – quite the blast from the past. Fiddling around with an old computer has yielded quite the treasure trove of old documents and university essays of mine, most of which I had thought lost forever. Today, I thought I would share one of them, an essay on Beowulf that was pretty well-received at the time (2008, or thereabouts I believe), and which potentially acts as a companion post to my series on female characters in Tolkien.

Alas, I have been unable to save the footnotes. Apologies in advance for that – the essay as submitted was not lacking in them, and the Bibliography was more detailed. The salvageable version reproduced here seems to have been a late draft, before the references were put in – there was certainly no plagiarism. And, no, notwithstanding the cited sections below, I can’t actually read Old English. My method with this essay was to read the text in modern translation, note the appropriate line(s), and then find the equivalent in the original Beowulf text.

**

Discuss the depiction of women in Beowulf (not forgetting Grendel’s mother!).

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The depiction of women in Beowulf has been the focus of serious scholarship only in the last few decades, a situation that is hardly surprising given the overtly masculine focus of the poem’s central action, and the comparatively few women who actually appear. It is no accident that J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous 1936 article ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,’ arguably one of the most important single pieces of Beowulf literary criticism ever written, does not mention a single female character until the appendices; Wealhtheow and company, as side characters of the human world, are pushed to one side by the monster-centric nature of the article, and, as for Grendel’s Mother, Tolkien treats her female status as being subsumed by her status as a monster: Tolkien already has Grendel and the unnamed dragon to reference – why mention the other monster when thematically she serves much the same cosmic purpose as her son? This scholarly neglect of women in Beowulf has been somewhat rectified since around 1970, even if it is only to note, like G.R. Overing does, that Beowulf’s female contingent are somewhat background figures.

Background figures or not, the depictions of the named women in Beowulf: Wealhtheow, Hygd, Hildeburh, Thryth, and Freawaru, as well as that of Grendel’s Mother, and various unnamed and alluded-to side characters, nevertheless make for an interesting series of literary snapshots, with D.C. Porter’s enthusiastic, if flawed, attempt at enhancing the social importance of women in the poem providing a useful starting point. Put simply, in Porter’s view, they each fulfil one of three broad literary functions: that of generous hostess, that of political ‘peace-weaver,’ or that of social saboteur. To these categorisations of Porter’s might be added a number of other roles played by females throughout the poem, such as funeral mourning, being active political players in their own right, being an object of male affection, being part of the Queen’s retinue, or merely being a household servant. Beowulf’s women thus fulfil a role other than being mere decorative wallflowers to the masculine action: they have their own designated spheres of occasionally not inconsiderable influence, with arguably much of the social saboteur issues arising from females who simply cross the line over into the male domain (Thryth being the classic example, but Grendel’s Mother being also being a possibility, depending on how one views her).

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In looking at the depiction of the woman as hostess, and indeed the depiction of socially acceptable human women in general, by far the most important character is Wealhtheow. While debate has long raged about the implications of her apparently peculiar name (it does seem odd that an highly respected Queen should have a name whose standard translation is ‘foreign slave’), Wealhtheow provides us with a portrait of a female character following her social duties to the letter, and in doing so providing a feminine ‘gold standard’ for her counterparts. We first encounter Wealhtheow when she is passing the mead-cup around the hall, letting each warrior drink in turn (612-630):

… Eode Wealhþeow forð,
cwen Hroðgares, cynna gemyndig,
grette goldhroden guman on healle,
ond þa freolic wif ful gesealde
ærest Eastdena eþelwearde,
bæd hine bliðne æt þære beorþege,
leodum leofne. He on lust geþeah
symbel ond seleful, sigerof kyning.
Ymbeode þa ides Helminga
duguþe ond geogoþe dæl æghwylcne,
sincfato sealde, oþþæt sæl alamp
þæt hio Beowulfe, beaghroden cwen
mode geþungen, medoful ætbær;
grette Geata leod, gode þancode
wisfæst wordum þæs ðe hire se willa gelamp
þæt heo on ænigne eorl gelyfde
fyrena frofre. He þæt ful geþeah,
wælreow wiga, æt Wealhþeon,
ond þa gyddode guþe gefysed

There is a very ceremonial flavour to Wealhtheow’s actions here, which is made explicit by the poet when he tells us that she is cynna gemyndig: mindful of ceremony. As various commentators, such as M. Enright, point out, Wealhtheow’s order of movement is also very deliberate: she starts off giving the cup to her husband, Hrothgar the King, then moves among the various other Danes on the mead benches, before finally going over to the foreign visitor, Beowulf. Clearly Wealhtheow is more than a simple cheerleader who walks around handing out drink: as Queen she has clearly delineated duties as a hostess, and is very well aware of customary practice and procedure. For his part, Beowulf also knows how the game is played; his reply greatly pleases the Queen, who, having completed her circuit with the cup, goes back to sit with her husband (639-641):

ðam wife þa word wel licodon,
gilpcwide Geates; eode goldhroden
freolicu folccwen to hire frean sittan.

Wealhtheow also plays the gracious hostess role to Beowulf a second time – after Beowulf defeats Grendel. Here the first thing she does after giving the cup to Hrothgar is to take it over to Beowulf, where in the best traditions of the popular Dark Age Germanic aristocrat, she proceeds to lavish him with generous gifts (1192-1196):

Beowulf Geata, be þæm gebroðrum twæm.
Him wæs ful boren ond freondlaþu
wordum bewægned, ond wunden gold
estum geeawed, earmreade twa,
hrægl ond hringas, healsbeaga mæst
þara þe ic on foldan gefrægen hæbbe.

Gift-giving (and gift-displaying: Wealhtheow is adorned with rings, as compared with the poor hapless Queen of the Swedes, who has all her jewellery taken from her) was a critical social customs among these people, since it reinforced social bonding. Once again the depiction of Wealhtheow is as a Queen who does what is expected of her, in terms of being a generous hostess, and in rewarding the heroism of her visitor, who has certainly been bumped up the list of mead-cup recipients after his exploits.

Apart from Wealhtheow, we also encounter two other females playing an active role as hostess: Hygelac’s Queen, Hygd, and Hrothgar’s daughter, Freawaru. We first encounter Hygd when Beowulf arrives back at Hygelac’s hall after his Danish adventures (1926-1931):

… Hygd swiðe geong,
wis, welþungen,         þeah ðe wintra lyt
under burhlocan         gebiden hæbbe,
Hæreþes dohtor;         næs hio hnah swa þeah,
ne to gneað gifa         Geata leodum,
maþmgestreona.

This summation of the Geat Queen makes her sound like a Wealhtheow in training; despite her young age and comparative inexperience, Hygd is depicted as discerning, versed in courtly customs, and generous. Later it will also be seen that the similarities do not end there: Hygd, like Wealhtheow, is quite capable of playing the politics game. At the moment, however, the reader is presented with Hygd the courteous courtly hostess, who naturally does the obligatory mead-cup circuit (1980-1983):

… Meoduscencum hwearf
geond þæt healreced         Hæreðes dohtor,
lufode ða leode,         liðwæge bær
hæleðum to handa. …

Carrying mead-cups around the hall, speaking kindly to the warriors, and handing out wine: all very familiar. It is a similar case of déjà vu all over again when Beowulf recounts to Hygelac the behaviour of Freawaru (2020-2024):

Hwilum for duguðe         dohtor Hroðgares
eorlum on ende         ealuwæge bær;
þa ic Freaware         fletsittende
nemnan hyrde,         þær hio nægled sinc
hæleðum sealde.

Freawaru’s major interest to the reader is, however, not so much as yet another depiction of the female hostess wandering around with the ale-horn and providing drink for thirsty warriors, but rather as one of the poem’s two major examples of the female as inter-tribal ‘peace-weaver’. The idea behind the concept of the peace-weaver is that marrying a high-ranking woman of one tribe to a high-ranking man of another is a good way of burying the hatchet between those two tribes. In his speech to Hygelac, Beowulf starts off giving a description of Hrothgar’s plan to marry Freawaru off to Ingeld, in order to settle strife between the Danes and the Heathobards (2025-2029):

Sio gehaten is,
geong, goldhroden,         gladum suna Frodan;
hafað þæs geworden         wine Scyldinga,
rices hyrde,         ond þæt ræd talað,
þæt he mid ðy wife         wælfæhða dæl,
sæcca gesette.

However, Beowulf then expresses his lack of confidence in peace-weaving as a concept; he believes, not without reason, that tribal feuds are very hard to overcome (2029-2031):

Oft seldan hwær
æfter leodhryre         lytle hwile
bongar bugeð,         þeah seo bryd duge!

Beowulf then goes on to present us with a hypothetical scenario where Heathobard/Dane conflict would completely ruin Freawaru’s future marriage. All this, of course, only adds to our admiration for Wealhtheow, whom in passing is referred to as a famed, successful, peace-weaver (2016-2019):

… Hwilum mæru cwen,
friðusibb folca,         flet eall geondhwearf,
bædde byre geonge;         oft hio beahwriðan
secge sealde,         ær hie to setle geong.

We might, of course, just be dealing with peace-weaver here as a generic kenning for women (Thryth, before marriage, is referred to as a peace-weaver), but given Wealhtheow’s ‘foreign’ name, it is certainly possible that she is the real deal. In any case, Freawaru is not alone in the poem in being depicted as a (probably) ‘failed’ peace-weaver. There is also Hildeburh, the poor unfortunate creature whose tale is sung by Hrothgar’s poet after Beowulf defeats Grendel, and who is subject to a struggle between the Frisians and the Danes. Hildeburh’s depiction as peace-weaver is particularly interesting from a sociological angle, since it seems implied that such women, given a conflict, are still expected to side with their blood relatives over their new in-laws:

Ne huru Hildeburh herian þorfte
Eotena treowe; unsynnum wearð
beloren leofum æt þam lindplegan,
bearnum ond broðrum; hie on gebyrd hruron,
gare wunde. þæt wæs geomuru ides!
Nalles holinga Hoces dohtor
meotodsceaft bemearn, syþðan morgen com,
ða heo under swegle geseon meahte
morþorbealo maga, þær heo ær mæste heold
worolde wynne. (1071-1080)

Het ða Hildeburh æt Hnæfes ade
hire selfre sunu sweoloðe befæstan,
banfatu bærnan ond on bæl don
eame on eaxle. Ides gnornode,
geomrode giddum. (1114-1118)

The people Hildeburh is mourning are her son and brother, and the shared funeral pyre is all about shared kinship. The fact that her brother fell fighting the people of which she is now ostensibly Queen does not influence her feelings. There is also no corresponding mention of Hildeburh mourning the death of her new husband, the Frisian King, Finn, with whom she has had her son. Indeed all we get is a brief reference to Hildeburh being taken back to her own people by the triumphant Danes (1157-1159):

… Hie on sælade
drihtlice wif to Denum feredon,
læddon to leodum.

No wonder Beowulf is so negative about Freawaru’s chances with the Heathobards: this is a world where ties of marriage are fragile things compared with the bonds and obligations of actual blood relationships. It takes a rare individual indeed (possibly Wealhtheow) to transcend those sorts of obstacles and become a true weaver of peace between two conflicting peoples. It is also noteworthy that these descriptions of Hildeburh depict her wailing at her brother and son’s funeral pyre: a probably deliberate parallel with the unnamed woman who wails at Beowulf’s funeral.

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Having discussed two of Porter’s categorisations of Beowulfian women, there is also the third, darker, category to consider: the two non-conformist, social saboteur females of the poem, Thryth and Grendel’s Mother. We encounter Thryth in a digression that is clearly aimed at contrasting her with the admirable figure of Hygd, and providing an historical lesson on not what to do as Queen (in much the same way as Heremod serves as an historical example of not what to do as King)(1931-1943):

Mod þryðo wæg,
fremu folces cwen,         firen ondrysne.
Nænig þæt dorste         deor geneþan
swæsra gesiða,         nefne sinfrea,

þæt hire an dæges         eagum starede,
ac him wælbende         weotode tealde
handgewriþene;         hraþe seoþðan wæs
æfter mundgripe         mece geþinged,
þæt hit sceadenmæl         scyran moste,
cwealmbealu cyðan.         Ne bið swylc cwenlic þeaw
idese to efnanne,         þeah ðe hio ænlicu sy,
þætte freoðuwebbe         feores onsæce
æfter ligetorne         leofne mannan.

Whereas Hygd is taking the Wealhtheowian route of achieving social respectability through generosity and courtesy, Thryth goes down the path of tyranny. Proud, perverse, and pernicious, to quote Crossley-Holland’s translation, Thryth turns peace-weaving into trouble-stirring with her high-handed cruelty towards men; as the poet explicitly notes, such behaviour is simply not acceptable from females in this society. Fortunately, from the point of view of social normality, Thryth then subsequently mends her ways after being shipped off to marry Offa (1944-1957):

Huru þæt onhohsnode         Hemminges mæg;
ealodrincende         oðer sædan,
þæt hio leodbealewa         læs gefremede,
inwitniða,         syððan ærest wearð
gyfen goldhroden         geongum cempan,
æðelum diore,         syððan hio Offan flet
ofer fealone flod         be fæder lare
siðe gesohte;         ðær hio syððan well
in gumstole,         gode, mære,
lifgesceafta         lifigende breac,
hiold heahlufan         wið hæleþa brego,
ealles moncynnes         mine gefræge
þone selestan         bi sæm tweonum,
eormencynnes.

While there is an element of the female being put in her place, it should also be pointed out that the newly virtuous Thryth is said to have ruled with vision. Or, in other words, being socially acceptable does not necessarily imply sacrificing all one’s brains or ability on the altar of conformity.

And then, of course, there is Grendel’s Mother. She, like her monstrous cannibal son, is very much outside society in any conventional sense, living at the bottom of a lake. But, on the other hand, she is arguably not completely alien: her desire for vengeance is all-too understandable in the context of a Germanic society, so much so that it has been seriously suggested that one major reason she puts up such a fight (in spite of being demonstrably weaker than her son) is because the poet semi-sympathises with her predicament. Counter-balancing this, however, is the notion that, monstrousness aside, vengeance is very much a man’s game in this society. Grendel’s Mother, as a female effecting vengeance, and also one who has ruled her own little domain for many a yearis intruding on the twin masculine domains of violence and leadership. Thryth was unacceptably violent, yet the murders she committed were not done with her own hand, nor did she ever aspire to pseudo-kingship. Grendel’s Mother thus goes even further than Thryth in terms of perverting acceptable gender roles. And, as with Thryth, this situation cannot endure: Thryth is tamed by marriage, whereas Grendel’s Mother is tamed by death. 

If there is indeed a gender-role ‘line’ that female characters are not permitted to cross, where does this leave Wealhtheow, Hygd, and company? Are they merely coat hangers for pretty jewellery, political pawns for their husbands and fathers, and polite hostesses fulfilling niceties while their male counterparts go about ruling and fighting? The answer appears to be no. Even ignoring the previously mentioned reference to a redeemed Thryth ruling with vision, both Wealhtheow and Hygd appear to wield some hefty political influence, influence that seems largely directed at working in the best interests of their sons. Consider Wealhtheow’s speech to Beowulf after the latter’s defeat of Grendel (1215-1232):

Wealhðeo maþelode, heo fore þæm werede spræc:
“Bruc ðisses beages, Beowulf leofa,
hyse, mid hæle, ond þisses hrægles neot,
þeodgestreona, ond geþeoh tela,
cen þec mid cræfte ond þyssum cnyhtum wes
lara liðe; ic þe þæs lean geman.
Hafast þu gefered þæt ðe feor ond neah
ealne wideferhþ weras ehtigað,
efne swa side swa sæ bebugeð,
windgeard, weallas. Wes þenden þu lifige,
æþeling, eadig. Ic þe an tela
sincgestreona. Beo þu suna minum
dædum gedefe, dreamhealdende.
Her is æghwylc eorl oþrum getrywe,
modes milde, mandrihtne hold;
þegnas syndon geþwære, þeod ealgearo,
druncne dryhtguman doð swa ic bidde.”
Eode þa to setle.

Wealhtheow has noted that Beowulf is sitting next to her two sons, and has noticed that Hrothgar’s nephew, Hrothulf, the greatest political threat to their future, is sitting next to Hrothgar. She correspondingly attempts to enlist Beowulf in support of her endangered sons, while at the same time making it very clear (doð swa ic bidde) that her ‘side’ of the succession battle is not without support – Wealhtheow is someone Hrothgar’s thanes listen to, trust, and (apparently) obey. Hrothgar’s Queen has thus gone from being a mere dispenser of ceremonies, gifts, and alcohol to an active participant in Danish politics; while she herself may not personally lead the Kingdom, she can exert a fair amount of influence over the ascension of those who will.

Similarly, in the Geatish crisis following the death of Hygelac in the ill-fated Frisian raid, Hygd starts playing kingmaker, offering the throne to Beowulf. Unlike Wealhtheow, Hygd is actively trying to avoid her son’s ascension to the throne, but she is doing so for the best possible reasons: fearing that her young son will be unable to hold it in response to outside pressures, she is simultaneously trying to avoid trouble for her son, while at the same time trying to ensure that the Geats have a strong and effective leader on the throne. The most interesting aspect of all this, however, is not so much why Hygd might offer the throne to Beowulf, but the fact that she is in a position to play kingmaker at all. Since, as Porter points out, there is no reason to suspect that Hygd is suffering from delusions of grandeur, once again we are confronted with an example of a female playing power politics without slipping into Thryth (or Grendel’s Mother!) territory. Were the poem more social-focused and less monster-focused, these individuals might have had a better chance of avoiding their long marginalisation at the hands of literary critics (albeit that a Beowulf without the monster-focus would be entirely lacking a raison d’etre!).

In conclusion, the depiction of women in Beowulf is limited – we are really only dealing with four Queens, a Queen-to-be, and a monster – and something of a thematic backwater. Beowulf is, first and foremost, and despite the reinterpretive efforts of the likes of Porter, a man’s world. That said, it would be altogether wrongheaded to dismiss the female characters who do appear as utter irrelevancies; this overlooks the social context of characters such as Wealhtheow, Queen and ceremonial hostess extraordinaire, Hildeburh, ill-fated peace-weaver, or Thryth and Grendel’s Mother, socially unacceptable females on the inside and outside of society respectively. Moreover, it ignores the fact that individuals such as Wealhtheow and Hygd have fairly shrewd political brains in their own right (arguably shrewder than their respective husbands), and are in a position to use that intelligence to further the cause of their own bloodline. Beowulf’s female characters may be facing rigidly delineated social spheres, but within these spheres (and outside them, if we consider Grendel’s Mother), they wield a degree of power and social purpose that is not to be ignored.

Bibliography

Overing G.R., “The Women of Beowulf: A Context for Interpretation,” in Beowulf: Basic Readings, Peter S. Baker, ed., 1995, pp.219-260.

Porter, D.C., “The Social Centrality of Women in Beowulf: A New Context,” in The Heroic Age, Issue 5, Summer/Autumn 2001.

Puhvel, M., “The Might of Grendel’s Mother,” in Folklore, Vol. 80, Issue 2, 1969, pp.81-88.

Not Leaving Well Enough Alone: The Return of Blackadder?

If you heard a loud “Noooooo!!!” off in the distance recently, chances are that was me, reacting to the news of a fifth Blackadder series.

To be fair, my immediate reaction on seeing the article was to check the date. Nope, not 1st April. 1st July, depressingly enough. Apparently the original source is The Sun, which renders it of still questionable veracity, but to see the New Zealand Herald pick up the story gives it some credence (on the other hand, the Penguin cheerfully cites the Daily Mail without irony. Maybe some New Zealanders just don’t understand how the British newspaper system works?).

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Having had some time to digest the news, I have decided that I am not against a fifth series in principle. There is, after all, plenty of scope for exploring Blackadder’s trademark black comedy in a post-1917 setting, whether it be in the context of Second World War, the Cold War, or during the dying days of British colonialism. The problem is, the closer it gets to the modern day, the less the Blackadder formula works – at its heart, it is a piss-take of Britain’s historical narratives, with part of the fun being the allusions to events and characters from another age, and seeing shadowy resonances with our own. There’s a safety in history too – events outside living memory can be mined for bad-taste comedy without stirring up half your audience, or (ironically) making them feel dated. Jokes about Elizabeth I are, in a sense, timeless, precisely because none of us can remember her. Jokes about Margaret Thatcher less so.

The danger is that a fifth series, apparently focused on the modern day, with Blackadder as a university lecturer, goes against what made the original four series so great and so special. No history to explore, or deconstruct? What’s the point – snarky contemporary sitcoms are a dime a dozen. Plus, there’s less sense of “secondary world” immersion to be found here. One of the big weaknesses of Back and Forth (1999) is that it did not give the historical episodes time to breathe – we never got a chance to truly meet the character incarnations before rushing off to a different time. Sure, a full fifth series will give us immersion… but it will be immersion in “our” world, and “our” time, rather than the alien-yet-familiar weirdness of Medieval, Tudor, Regency, and early twentieth century Blackadder.

There’s another problem too. The ending to Blackadder Goes Forth (1989) remains a monumentally powerful bit of television. Following on after that is a tough ask, which is another reason Back and Forth didn’t work (and why I like to pretend it never happened). Why on earth should a fifth Blackadder series, shorn of what made its predecessors so unique, come across as anything other than a weak little epilogue to twenty-four episodes of solid gold? At some point, one ought to leave well enough alone, and while I will still watch the fifth series if or when it comes out, I do not have my hopes up.

2019 Reading More: June

Completed reads for June:

  • The Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare
  • Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare
  • The Republic, by Plato
  • The Symposium, by Plato
  • Utopia, by Sir Thomas More
  • The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare
  • R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), by Karel Čapek
  • Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
  • The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
  • The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton
  • The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde
  • The Story of Burnt Njal (Njál’s Saga), by Anonymous
  • The Song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde
  • The Tao Teh Ching, by Lao Tzu

Plato’s Republic is the Ferrari/Griffith edition, while Symposium is Gill’s. More’s Utopia is Turner’s translation. R.U.R. is the Selver/Playfair edition. Njál’s Saga is Dasent’s translation. The Tao is Legge’s translation.

Yay for reading more – fourteen completed reads in a calendar month is my best effort since I started this blog, surpassing the twelve in March 2016. That said, four of the reads were plays, so I suppose there’s an asterisk here.

Review: Tolkien [Film] (2019)

So… I went to see the Tolkien biopic yesterday evening. Yes, it’s belated, but then the film only came out in New Zealand on 6th June (a month behind everyone else), and the screening times were decidedly inconvenient. Would it have killed Dunedin cinemas to show it at night or on Sundays? As it was, I ended up going by myself – inconvenient time for friends – and the theatre was choc-full of old people. Make of that what you will.

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The Tolkien biopic seems to have been dividing opinions. The actual critics have been, well, critical, with accusations of it being unimaginative, and suggestions that the fantasy elements are a bit on-the-nose. The audiences themselves, however, genuinely seem to like it. This was borne out anecdotally: as I was leaving the theatre, I heard several of my fellow audience members expressing sentiments that “they’d really enjoyed that,” and that it was “definitely worthwhile.” One of the few non-elderly people – he had a hat and a beard – was remarking that it would only have made sense to someone familiar with The Lord of the Rings. Well, yes. Why else would someone watch a Tolkien biopic? For the Beowulf scholarship?

Myself… I’ll confess. I did enjoy it. It’s far from perfect – we’ll get to that – and I kept comparing events to what I remembered of Tolkien’s early life from Carpenter’s biography, and from the man’s own letters. But here’s the thing – is the primary job of a biopic to be a biography or a film? A portrait of the artist (as a young man!) or a dramatised fiction inspired by the author’s life? In a strange way, I found myself reliving the Purist vs Revisionist  argument all over again. While, again, I am at heart a Revisionist – what matters is the quality of the movie – it occurred to me that there is even a ‘B-52 over Mordor’ red-line to be drawn here. Would I have accepted a movie (even a very good movie) that had Tolkien as, say, Jack the Ripper? Well, no. I wouldn’t have. Details and accuracy still matter, at least to some degree, and it is the absence of those details here that left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a very fun movie, with some lovely Edwardian sets (the film focuses entirely on Tolkien’s early life, up until the mid-1930s). The acting is good too, with Tolkien portrayed very much as a Norse-loving introvert. We get his invented languages, and his personal relationships – his mother, Father Francis, the T.C.B.S., Joseph Wright, and, of course, Edith. We get his theory that languages ought to have meaning and resonance via the power of story. This was a moment that made me smile, even if they play a little bit fast and loose with the source of that idea. And the film includes some amusing anecdotes that actually did happen – the throwing of sugar cubes at hats, and the commandeering of the bus – together with Tolkien’s rugby experiences. The best moment of all though was the playful stab at Peter Jackson – “it shouldn’t take six hours to tell a story about a magic ring.”

The centrepiece of the film is the Battle of the Somme, however. Which is portrayed appropriately gruesomely, with corpses, mud, madness, and Tolkien’s own personal loss of his friends. This is where the film introduces fantasy elements, via the hallucinations of trench fever, and, well, there has been some criticism of that in the wider media. As though Tolkien’s later work can be explained allegorically by his earlier experiences – a tick-box of influences, with little room for imagination. While I can see that argument, I would point out that Tolkien’s very first Middle-earth story, The Fall of Gondolin, envisaged mechanical dragons attacking a city, and, however heavy-handed the film may be, the desolation of No Man’s Land clearly affected him. Plus, as far as influences go, it is more cinematic than a geeky introvert stumbling across Kirby’s translation of Kalevala and trying to teach himself Finnish.

As I have suggested, there are some liberties taken. They have intellectualised-up Edith (she is now the source of the idea about words and resonance of meaning), and given her a passion for Wagner (I don’t recall her having one in real-life, though I might be wrong). The Wagner thing – which obviously plays up the magic ring – is a bit curious, since we know that Tolkien in later years hated the comparison, though I do recall it coming out that Tolkien had written an essay on Wagner in his younger years. Artistic licence, maybe? And were Ronald and Edith really intending to sit through all fourteen hours of the four Ring Cycle Operas? Furthermore, Tolkien is portrayed as an enthusiastic maker of myths well before the War, and, yes, he was writing his William Morris-inspired retelling of Kullervo… but the original prose (rather than retellings or poetry) came later than the movie suggests. But that’s a quibble: they were jumbling up the timeline for drama.

The biggest and most questionable liberty is the handling of religion. Tolkien’s Catholicism was an integral part of his life, and his discussions with C.S. Lewis were famous, but one would not know it from the biopic, not least because we never get to the point where he meets Lewis. Sure, there are bits and pieces – notably Ronald’s chats with Father Francis, and the comment that Edith is “not even a Catholic,” and it is undoubtedly more difficult to portray Tolkien’s personal faith than to show him in a War, but… Tolkien without his Catholicism isn’t really Tolkien. Apparently they filmed (and cut) a Communion scene, but a later line of Ronald talking to Father Francis about Edith’s conversion would have been nice. To be fair though, Tolkien apparently went through a less religious period of his life, so while it might have been misleading in portraying Tolkien’s life as a whole, that particular slice can potentially be regarded as unrepresentative. If you squint.

For myself, I would have also preferred some references to Lord Dunsany and William Morris, and, yes, Kalevala. It would not have needed to be lengthy either – just a scene of Tolkien gushing about it, and noting that England has lost its own mythology (there is no reference at all to Tolkien’s youthful dream of a Mythology for England). Same with Beowulf, whose influence on Tolkien the writer – never mind Tolkien the scholar – was profound, but which is not referenced in the biopic. I’d have loved a scene where some academics are discussing the various approaches to analysing Beowulf, whereupon Tolkien stands up and delivers his famous allegory about the stone tower. Oh, and I kept waiting for Joseph Wright to tell Tolkien “go in for the Celtic, lad. There’s money in it.” But it never happened. Oh well.

**

Thinking about the movie as a whole, I would say it is certainly worth watching – the good definitely outweighs the bad, and my sympathies are certainly more with the run-of-the-mill audiences than with the critics. The biopic also occupies a curious half-way house in terms of its intended audience. On one hand, someone not familiar with at least the Peter Jackson movies would have no time for this one, but on the other hand, one suspects its intended audience isn’t supposed to know more about J.R.R. Tolkien than that he wrote fantasy and loved language. There are holes (both religious and literary shaped), and there are curious add-ons (Wagner), but as far as trying to adapt this source material goes, it’s not a bad effort.

Of Cab Ranks and Terrorists

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The legal system of New Zealand operates according to what is known as the Cab Rank Rule. Barristers – the lawyers who represent you in court – are tasked with representing anyone who comes to them and is willing to pay their (normal) fee. It doesn’t matter if you think the client is a terrible waste of space who is guilty as Hell – you have to represent them to the best of your abilities, with the strongest possible defence (or at least strongest possible defence that is consistent with your additional role as Officer of the Court. No lying).

Public misunderstanding of the Cab Rank Rule has led to prominent defence lawyers being the target of (misplaced) abuse. They get pelted with outrage and cries of “how could you possibly represent that monster?!” In reality, of course, they are simply performing an important social role – that of ensuring that everyone gets a fair trial. The job of a defence lawyer isn’t actually to get people off, but rather to make sure that the System and the Prosecution have done their job correctly, and that any defence is pursued with the utmost vigour. If this results in guilty people walking free, then so be it – the failure rests with the Prosecution to make the case, not the Defence.

The Cab Rank Rule is, understandably, drilled into law students… which is why my local University of Otago decided to ask a question on it in a recent examination.

The question asked about the ethics of a lawyer (via the Cab Rank Rule) having to represent a terrorist who attacked their place of worship.

Oh dear.

Now, I can understand both sides of the issue here. On one hand, the Cab Rank Rule is a cruel mistress – if it means you have to represent the Christchurch shooter, then so be it. Law is law, and all that, and the very worst scum are entitled to the same legal rights as any other accused – it is for the jury to decide guilt, not the lawyer. On the other hand, I don’t think testing the Cab Rank Rule in an examination necessarily requires such a close conformity to March’s events. One could concoct a question that draws on older (and thus less sensitive) events, or maybe something out of fiction. Asking such a topical question plays into the very real trauma of those with close family connections to the March attack (one student apparently lost their cousin) – and, quite apart from the morality of putting someone through that, it would also impact their ability to answer the rest of the examination. Which is an added level of unfairness.

One may then raise a couple of counter-arguments. A prospective defence lawyer won’t be dealing with old or fictional events in the real world – they will be dealing with current events, no matter how raw they may be. Moreover, if one seeks to avoid student trauma in examining the Cab Rank Rule, where does one stop? For all the examiner knows, their hypothetical might match someone’s reality.

In answering these points, I would point out that the chance of one of these students ever having to represent someone like the Christchurch shooter is minimal – in that sense, such a question does less to prepare a law student for the real world than (the far more likely) case of having to defend a repeat drunk driver. Sure, one (or more) students may have lost family members to a drunk driver – but they would be aware (via lectures and tutorial examples) that drink driving is a common go-to question. It is within the bounds of the normal, and can be prepared for – a student distressed at the subject will have raised their issue with teaching staff long before the final examination. Asking terror victims about defending a terrorist in a country where such an event is profoundly abnormal… that is a nasty shock to find in your examination paper, where you are encountering it for the first time.

(I should also note that, in practice, there are a couple of work-arounds for the Cab Rank Rule: one can excuse oneself from the case on the basis that you are busy, or lack the appropriate expertise. In a real-world situation, if emotions are simply too much, one or other of these excuses can get trotted out).

**

On balance, while I understand what the examiner was trying to do – they certainly weren’t trying to be malicious – I think it was a mistake to ask this sort of question in an examination, and the formal apology was probably warranted. Contrary to what some may think, this is not a matter of “snowflakes” having their feelings hurt, but a very complicated issue that could have been avoided with a more tactful choice of question. The Cab Rank Rule does apply to the Christchurch shooter too, of course, but an examination is about testing knowledge in a formal setting, not about screwing with students’ emotions.

2019: Dunedin Midwinter Carnival

This evening, I attended the annual Dunedin midwinter carnival: one of those lovely little local traditions, where people gather around the city centre, buy themselves some hot food and/or mulled wine, and watch the lantern parade. Yay for the Winter Solstice! Since my photos last year weren’t that great, I decided to try and capture the parade with a video clip from my phone, as the lanterns and marchers passed down Lower Stuart Street into the Octagon (I had a good viewing location). Unfortunately, as I now realise, any clip longer than a few seconds is too big for my phone to send. Bugger.

On the other hand, a friend of mine took a much better photo from George Street/Moray Place, looking down to the Octagon:

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The weather was pretty warm for mid-June, but then we have had a series of mild winters in this part of the world (the last nasty one being 2015). Climate change strikes again.

Oh, and since it’s the Winter Solstice, here is an old poem of mine, published in 2016 at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.

Elven Hair Colour: The Data

On one old internet forum I used to frequent, I once made an attempt at compiling available information about that most important of subjects – the hair colours of Tolkien’s Elves. It’s a surprisingly contentious issue – in fact, one of the great unanswered questions of the Tolkien fandom concerns the colour of Legolas’ hair, which is never specified in the books.

In the interests of posterity, this is that grand compilation of Elven hair colour information. In case you ever need it.

Abbreviations used:

  • HoME = History of Middle-earth series (the number refers to the relevant volume)
  • Sil = The Silmarillion (1977)
  • UT = Unfinished Tales (1980)
  • LOTR = Lord of the Rings (1954-1955)
  • Pic = Pictures by JRR Tolkien (1979)

Section I: Individual Elves:

  • This is a list of those individual Elves for whom I think we have sufficiently ‘specific’ information. Where I feel the evidence is not completely definitive (Amroth, Daeron, and Turgon), I have put a question mark next to the proposed colour.
  • There is an the issue of canon here – Tolkien describes Celegorm as having golden hair in his earlier work, but later seems to imply that he had dark hair. There are also problems with the relevance of obsolete references (Rumil).
  • In categorising by People, I have put Elves under their father’s grouping (so Maeglin goes under Teleri/Sindar, rather than Noldor). I have put Elrond’s family under the “Peredhil” category.
  • In categorising parentage and children, I have used Tolkien’s later ideas about Orodreth’s and Gil-galad’s parentage (i.e. that Gil-galad was the son of Orodreth, son of Angrod), rather than the published Silmarillion, where Gil-galad is the son of Fingon.

Name: Aegnor
People: Noldor
Hair: Golden
Parents: Finarfin/Earwen
Children: None
Reference: HoME XII p.347.
Notes: Aegnor’s hair was “‘strong and stiff’, rising above his head like flames”” (XII p.347.)

Name: Amras
People: Noldor
Hair: Red-Brown
Parents: Feanor/Nerdanel
Children: None
Reference: HoME XII p.353.

Name: Amrod
People: Noldor
Hair: Red-Brown
Parents: Feanor/Nerdanel
Children: None
Reference: HoME XII p.353.
Notes: Amrod’s hair grew darker with age (XII p.355.)

Name: Amroth
People: Sindar
Hair: Golden?
Parents: Amdir/Unknown
Children: None
Reference: U.T., p.313.
Notes: “… the rising sun… lit his bright hair like a spark of gold.” (UT, p.313.). Amroth is a Sindarin Elf (UT p.540.).

Name: Angrod
People: Noldor
Hair: Golden
Parents: Finarfin/Earwen
Children: Orodreth
Reference: HoME XII p.347.

Name: Aredhel
People: Noldor
Hair: Dark
Parents: Fingolfin/Anaire
Children: Maeglin
Reference: Sil p.71.

Name: Arwen
People: Peredhil
Hair: Dark
Parents: Elrond/Celebrian
Children: Eldarion
Reference: LOTR p.243.

Name: Beleg
People: Teleri/Sindar
Hair: Dark
Parents: Unknown
Children: None
Reference: Pic no.37

Name: Caranthir
People: Noldor
Hair: Dark
Parents: Feanor/Nerdanel
Children: None
Reference: HoME XII p.353.
Notes: Black-haired as his grandfather (XII p.353.). Dark (brown) hair (XII p.353.)

Name: Celeborn
People: Teleri/Sindar
Hair: Silver
Parents: Galadhon/Unknown
Children: Celebrian
Reference: LOTR p.373.
Notes: Great-nephew of Elwe (UT p.301.)

Name: Celegorm
People: Noldor
Hair: Dark or Golden (a matter of canon)
Parents: Feanor/Nerdanel
Children: None
Reference: HoME XII p.353.
Notes: His hair was golden in the 1937 Silmarillion (hence Celegorm the Fair). Edited from the published Silmarillion (see V pp.299-300.)

Name: Cirdan
People: Teleri/Sindar
Hair: Silver/grey
Parents: Unknown
Children: None
Reference: HoME XI p.384.
Notes: Related to Elwe (XI p.384.)

Name: Curufin
People: Noldor
Hair: Dark
Parents: Feanor/Nerdanel
Children: Celebrimbor
Reference: HoME XII p.353.

Name: Daeron
People: Teleri/Sindar
Hair: Dark?
Parents: Unknown
Children: None
Reference: HoME III p.174.
Notes: This is a reference to “Dairon the dark”. However, given the context – the poem then refers to his “ferny crown” – I suspect this refers to his hair colour.

Name: Earwen
People: Teleri
Hair: Silver
Parents: Olwe/Unknown
Children: Aegnor, Angrod, Finrod, Galadriel
Reference: HoME XII p.337.

Name: Elenwe
People: Vanyar
Hair: Golden
Parents: Unknown
Children: Idril
Reference: Sil p.164.

Name: Elladan
People: Peredhil
Hair: Dark
Parents: Elrond/Celebrian
Children: None
Reference: LOTR p.809.

Name: Elrohir
People: Peredhil
Hair: Dark
Parents: Elrond/Celebrian
Children: None
Reference: LOTR p.809.

Name: Elrond
People: Peredhil
Hair: Dark
Parents: Earendil/Elwing
Children: Arwen, Elladan, Elrohir
Reference: LOTR p.243.

Name: Elwe (Thingol)
People: Teleri/Sindar
Hair: Silver
Parents: Unknown
Children: Luthien
Reference: HoME XI p.384.
Notes: Olwe’s brother (X p.257.)

Name: Eol
People: Teleri/Sindar
Hair: Dark
Parents: Unknown
Children: Maeglin
Reference: Sil p.164.

Name: Feanor
People: Noldor
Hair: Dark
Parents: Finwe/Miriel
Children: Maedhros, Maglor, Celegorm, Curufin, Caranthir, Amrod, Amras
Reference: Sil p.74.
Notes: Hair “raven dark” (Sil p.74.)

Name: Finarfin
People: Noldor
Hair: Golden
Parents: Finwe/Indis
Children: Aegnor, Angrod, Finrod, Galadriel
Reference: HoME XII p.336.

Name: Finduilas
People: Noldor
Hair: Golden
Parents: Orodreth/Unknown
Children: None
Reference: UT p.202.
Notes: Her mother was Sindarin (XII p.350.)

Name: Fingolfin
People: Noldor
Hair: Dark
Parents: Finwe/Indis
Children: Fingon, Turgon, Aredhel, Arakano
Reference: HoME XII p.336.

Name: Fingon
People: Noldor
Hair: Dark
Parents: Fingolfin/Anarie
Children: None
Reference: HoME XII p.345.
Notes: He wore his long dark hair in great plaits braided with gold (XII p.345.)

Name: Finrod
People: Noldor
Hair: Golden
Parents: Finarfin/Earwen
Children: None
Reference: HoME XII p.337.

Name: Finwe
People: Noldor
Hair: Dark
Parents: Unknown
Children: Feanor, Fingolfin, Finarfin, Findis, Lalwen
Reference: HoME XII p.357.
Notes: Tolkien writes “there is no reference to Finwe having hair of exceptional length or abundance” (XII pp.340-341.)

Name: Galadriel
People: Noldor
Hair: Golden
Parents: Finarfin/Earwen
Children: Celebrian
Reference: HoME XII p.337.
Notes: Her hair had traces of silver (XII p.337.)

Name: Glorfindel
People: Noldor
Hair: Golden
Parents: Unknown
Children: None
Reference: HoME XII p.243.
Notes: A Noldo (XII p.379.). Of the House of the Golden Flower (Sil p.293.)

Name: Gwindor
People: Noldor
Hair: Dark
Parents: Guilin/Unknown
Children: None
Reference: Pic no.37

Name: Idril
People: Noldor
Hair: Golden
Parents: Turgon/Elenwe
Children: Earendil
Reference: Sil p.151.

Name: Indis
People: Vanyar
Hair: Golden
Parents: Unknown
Children: Fingolfin, Finarfin, Findis, Lalwen
Reference: Sil p.75.
Notes: She was Ingwe’s niece (XII p.343.)

Name: Luthien
People: Teleri/Sindar
Hair: Dark
Parents: Elwe/Melian
Children: Dior
Reference: Sil p.198.

Name: Maedhros
People: Noldor
Hair: Red-Brown
Parents: Feanor/Nerdanel
Children: None
Reference: HoME XII p.353.
Notes: He was nicknamed Russandol, ‘copper top’ (XII p.353.)

Name: Maeglin
People: Teleri/Sindar
Hair: Dark
Parents: Eol/Aredhel
Children: None
Reference: Sil p.160.

Name: Maglor
People: Noldor
Hair: Dark
Parents: Feanor/Nerdanel
Children: None
Reference: HoME XII p.353.

Name: Mahtan
People: Noldor
Hair: Red-Brown
Parents: Unknown
Children: Nerdanel
Reference: HoME XII p.366.
Notes: His hair was brown with coppery glints. (XII p.366.). Maedhros, Amrod, amd Amras “had hair of this kind” (XII p.366.)

Name: Miriel
People: Noldor
Hair: Silver
Parents: Unknown
Children: Feanor
Reference: HoME X p.163.

Name: Nerdanel
People: Noldor
Hair: Brown
Parents: Mahtan/Unknown
Children: Maedhros, Maglor, Celegorm, Curufin, Caranthir, Amrod, Amras
Reference: Vinyar Tengwar. Edited by Carl F. Hostetter. Volume 41.
Notes: See here for further discussion. Nerdanel’s hair is not explicitly red like her father’s or her sons’.

Name: Olwe
People: Teleri
Hair: White
Parents: Unknown
Children: Earwen
Reference: HoME X p.257.
Notes: Elwe’s brother (X p.257.)

Name: Rumil
People: Noldor
Hair: Grey
Parents: Unknown
Children: None
Reference: HoME I p.47.
Notes: Rumil’s hair was grey with age (I p.46.). However, this represents Tolkien’s very early ideas.

Name: Thranduil
People: Teleri/Sindar
Hair: Golden
Parents: Oropher/Unknown
Children: Legolas
Reference: The Hobbit p.134.

Name: Turgon
People: Noldor
Hair: Dark?
Parents: Fingolfin/Anaire
Children: Idril
Reference: Sil p.164.
Note: Idril inherited her golden hair from her mother, which arguably implies that Turgon (her father) is dark haired. A debatable point, however.

Section II: Generalisations

Vanyar:

  • ‘Nearly all’ had yellow or deep golden hair. (XI, p.382.)

Noldor:

  • “Mostly dark haired” (XI, p.382.) . This is before the Finwe/Indis marriage.
  • At least 36 of the original 56 Tata companions (i.e. the future Noldor) were dark haired (XI, p.422.). This, however, depends on taking a particular reference literally.
  • Red-brown hair was rare (XII p.353.)

Sindar:

  • “In general the Sindar appear to have very closely resembled the Exiles, being dark haired…” (XI, p.384.)
  • Silver hair was not common among the Sindar, but was occasionally found among Elwe’s relatives (XI, p.384.)

From LOTR, Appendix F:

“they were a race high and beautiful, and among them the Eldar were as kings, who are now gone: the People of the Great Journey, the People of the Stars. They were tall, fair of skin, and grey-eyed, though their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finrod…”

However Christopher Tolkien notes:

In the last paragraph of Appendix F as published the reference to ‘Gnomes’ [Noldor] was removed, and replaced by a passage explaining the use of the word Elves to translate Quendi and Eldar despite the diminishing of the English word. This passage – referring to the Quendi as a whole – continues however with the same words as in the draft: “they were a race high and beautiful, and among them the Eldar were as kings, who are now gone: the People of the Great Journey, the People of the Stars. They were tall, fair of skin, and grey-eyed, though their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finrod…” Thus these words describing characters of face and hair were actually written of the Noldor only, and not of all the Eldar…
(Book of Lost Tales Volume I, p.44.)

Section III: Miscellaneous Notes

  • An anonymous Elf in Lothlorien has golden hair (LOTR p.365.)
  • Thranduil’s people have ‘gleaming hair’ (The Hobbit, p.134.). However, this description is used of both dark-haired and golden-haired Elves.
  • Tolkien says that “Humans and Elves are evidently one people biologically” (Letter 153). This is a reference to the fact that humans and Elves can intermarry.
  • There is a reference to Legolas’ “dark head” (LOTR p.407.), but the scene was at night and Legolas may have been wearing a hood.

Party Like It’s 1894: Reforming the Hobbit Law [New Zealand Politics]

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So our Labour Government has backtracked on its promise to repeal the vile Hobbit Law (which, you may remember, was Peter Jackson and John Key ending the rights of film-workers to collectively bargain). Instead, it’s given us something else… something that may be very good, or very horrid, depending on the details.

Film-workers will now be contractors with the right to collectively bargain.

On the surface, this is confusing as hell. How can independent contractors – by definition, not employees – negotiate a collective contract? There are two possible answers:

(1) That collective contract here really means “standard contract” – that is, these film-workers will all be subject to the same conditions, on a take it or leave it basis. This is the interpretation being put forward by the Penguin, who is positively squawking with delight at the defeat of those evil, evil unions. Because let’s face it, David Farrar and the National Party have never met an employer whose abuses they didn’t want to defend (the New Zealand National Party – the country’s most determined and sincere class warriors. If only one could say the same about Labour).

(2) That this is a strange, modern, revival of New Zealand’s grand old Industrial Arbitration system from 1894. The one that outlawed union strikes, and replaced it with a system whereby the unions and employers both put their cases before an Arbitrator, and were then bound by the decision. This new system for film-workers (which explicitly prohibits strikes) may be something similar, given that there is this little paragraph from the Stuff article:

The policy will also prohibit industrial action, removing strikes from the collective bargaining toolbox. An arbitration system and a requirement that parties act in “good faith” appears to be the replacement.

So these “contractors” – who certainly, certainly, aren’t employees – may be subject to what amounts to a de facto return to the old National Awards system. Sure, they don’t have the right to strike, but then neither did the unions under the 1894 system, and that was (correctly) considered a gigantic step forward for worker rights. Other employee-level protections (which are statutory in employee cases) can be negotiated and expanded upon through the process. Yes, David Farrar is celebrating… but if you read the article, so are the unions.

It’s an odd question: “independent contractors” negotiating “collective contracts” requires one of two things. Either these are contractors in name only (i.e. this is a film industry version of 1894, and the unions have achieved something they probably could not have managed even with the right to strike), or these are collective contracts in name only (i.e. Farrar is right, and these are just standard contracts by another name). It’s one or the other.

We will see when the legislation is introduced.