Features Of Residual or "Secondary" Orality Preserved Essay

Length: 8 pages Sources: 3 Subject: Mythology Type: Essay Paper: #64310578 Related Topics: Beowulf, Beowulf Grendel, Fairy Tales, Spartan
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … features of residual (or "secondary") orality preserved in Voluspa, according to the criteria Ong (1982) advances?

Ong (1982) talks about how cultures in the past were only able to preserve their heritage through stories that meticulously passed down through the years (41). He says that since type was invented, importance has moved from the wise old man or woman to someone who can "discover new things" (Ong, 1982, 41). However, societies still deem some things as too important to completely lose their oral tradition. He talks about the residual orality of having to memorize certain things through mnemonic devices (Ong, 1982, 41).

However, he also talks of residual or secondary orality in another way also. He says that secondary orality is "an orality not antecedent to writing and print, as primary orality is, but consequent on and dependent upon writing and print" (Ong, 1982, 167). His analysis of the practice here means that there is a type of spoken language that is dependent on what was written. This can be seen in the practices of people with other ancient texts. The Bible is a good example. People take the passage from Psalm 119:11, "Thy Word I have hid in mine heart that I might not sin against You," to mean that they must rehearse and memorize the words of the Bible so that they do not "sin against" God. This could be exactly what Ong is talking about.

The song was written so that the people who came after would remember it exactly the way that the story teller who wrote it down wanted it remembered. But, once it was written down, it lost some of its power. That is until subsequent people had memorized it. The power of secondary orality is not in the written word as much as it is in the memorization of that word. To the Norse who would read this legend, it was could be as powerful as the writing in any religion.

Features of secondary orality are that the speech depends on the written word. Just like when a news anchor talks, they are not speaking from memory, but from the words that someone has written and placed in a teleprompter. "Voluspa" is written in a singsong way so that it is easier for those who want to memorize it, to do so. Another feature of the "Voluspa" that could add to its value in the spoken form, is that it is a historical sketch of what people were like in centuries past. It presents the language of the people as it could not be presented today because, as with Old English, people do not talk that way anymore. People memorize the King James version of the Bible, but they do not then continue to speak that way in normal conversations. It is the way these documents are written that dictates the way they are spoken and memorized.

2. Identify a central incident that happens in at least four of the above texts, and discuss how it is both similar and different in each example (remember to site from the original texts).

Each of the books talks about a time when disaster will either come (as in the future tense) or did come upon the people of the Earth. The "Voluspa," talks about it in epic words, as if it is the doom of mankind. "Beowulf" talks about the dragon's scorched earth policy after he discovers that someone has come to steal his treasure. In "The Story of the Volsungs," Sigurd takes on a vicious worm whose job is to cause as much havoc as possible to the world around him. The final of the four books, "The Hobbit," talks about how a dragon that was plaguing the land was killed.

The "Voluspa" says "Far famed Thor…goes forth to fight the snake / Midgard's defender dies triumphant." The same sort of story is related in "Beowulf" and it is relates that the hero said "Now I am old, but as the king of the people I shall pursue this fight for the glory of winning, if the evil one will only abandon his earth-fort and face me in the open." The hero shows himself again in the guise of Sigurd. The text says that "Sigurd neither trembled nor was adrad at the roaring of him." Finally is the action of the hero against the dragon in "The Hobbit." In this account the hero releases and arrow at the dragon. It says...


The beast is always seen as something that is selfish regarding its own passions (such as the dragon in "Beowulf" or the worm in "The Story of the Volgsungs"), and it needs to be dealt with harshly because it is killing innocent people. The similarity is that a hero always steps up to defend those who, seemingly, cannot defend themselves, and that it is always some despicable creature (snake, worm, dragon). The stories are similar in their quest for a hero who will save mankind, or at least that part of it for which they are responsible.

3. How did Tolkien draw on the Old Norse and Old English texts in his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fantasy novels? Provide some concrete examples.

JR.R. Tolkien wrote his tales based on some of the old stories that had been told in Celtic and Norse legends. It is easy to see the influence of these tales in his discussion of elves and dwarves which were a constant in Germanic and Norse mythology. A common tale in the German describes seven dwarves.

In "The Hobbit" there is a scene where a dwarf says about a light seen in the mountains in front of them "Perhaps the king under the mountain is forging gold." This is a direct reference to Norse tales which talked about the dwarves as forgers of metal and especially gold. The "Voluspa" and "The Songs of the Volsunga" each have pieces that are borrowed in the writing of the Tolkien. Many of the names that he uses, especially Middle Earth, are borrowed directly from Voluspa, and he also borrowed the idea for his entire work ("the one ring to bind them all, the one ring to rule them") from "The Songs of the Volsunga."

Because he was a professor of Mythology at Oxford, this should come as no surprise. He borrowed certain aspects of the story, but the writing was original as was the story. He even borrowed some from the ancient Celtic myths that were closer to home for him, but he also used Anglo-Saxon tales. The humans in the story who are excellent horsemen are supposedly from Rohan. This is probably borrowed from the Anglo-Saxon because these people have names that are historically Anglo-Saxon in origin, and can easily be placed in that period. Again, the author is simply borrowing the names and some of the characteristics from the ancient myths without completely retelling them.

4. Discuss how Tolkien's use of "tradition" (e.g. older literary sources) differs from the techniques and agendas of modernism (see Week 7 in your Reader).

The debate between traditionalist and modernists is that of which it is better to ascribe to. The traditionalist would probably say that the old masters in whatever artistic medium one wishes to describe are better than any new method that can be devised. Why change something that is not broken. The modernists would counter with the fact that times do change, so art should change with it. Tolkien was a traditionalist because he was a student of the mythology of old, and the writers of this same genre. He did not want to use new methods to describe scenes that could better be seen through ancient eyes.

Modern writers, and other artists, say that they are trying to get at the very essence of the medium. Writers like Faulkner and Joyce pared the language down. Faulkner was one of the first experimental writers to use a character who was mentally challenged to tell a story in "The Sound and the Fury," and Joyce told a story, that some consider the greatest novel ever written, by starting in the middle and ending at the beginning ("Ulysses"). These techniques were meant to tell a story from the very bones of the tale and let the reader experience life from the depths. It was also meant to get at the meaning of words and phrases in such a way that they could be viscerally understood.

Traditionalists like Tolkien believed that the beauty of the language was to story. There was no need for techniques or means of telling a story from the very bones of it, the story was the thing, not how it, or the words that it…

Sources Used in Documents:


Mountfort, P.S. (2006). Language, literature and desire: Critical reader. Auckland: Lyceum Press.

Ong, W.J. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.

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