20 April 2008

The Foster Children of Whósits

The recent publication in France of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Children of Húrin leads me to consider the possibility that this beloved author is more productive in death than he was in life.

When I was a boy, I dawdled over the first several pages of The Hobbit until — I’m not sure what chapter marked the turning point — I began to read like a child possessed. Hobbits, wizards, dwarves, dragons: suddenly, I had an entirely new cosmology, a framework for my dreams, vivid and exciting. I couldn’t wait to read more. I blasted through The Lord of the Rings, pausing only to cry over the fight with the Balrog. I devoured the minor works that were then available, Farmer Giles of Ham and Smith of Wootton Major, and just as I was finishing up, Tolkien died, in 1973. I was disconsolate, because that meant there would be no more stories.

Oh, me of little faith! For Tolkien’s son Christopher leapt into the fray, gathering up unpublished writings, editing them, and publishing them. Most appear to be exceedingly dull, I must say, every bit as much as any “real world” lexicon and many a pre-medieval history would be, and none sparked my interest. I realize that this is seditious talk in many places on the Internet, and punishable by death — but my intellectual admiration for Tolkien père’s posthumously released linguistic scholarship and imaginative synthesis of mythologies does not require me to profess enjoyment of his prose style (or somebody’s) or even of his borrowed plots. Put the blame on me, if you like, but the magic was gone, the bond between author and reader broken, and I moved on.

Christopher Tolkien, bless him, did not. Every few years, he binds together some more scraps of his father’s writing, and out comes a new book. Did J.R.R. Tolkien actually intend for other people to see this stuff? The question is moot, since we’re seeing it now, wherever we look. We can find more material on Middle Earth at the bookstore than on most African nations, and just when we think Christopher has published every single word his father ever committed to paper, and the stories all are ended, we find that we were wrong.

That’s why I’m proud to announce that, after great effort, and by means I cannot possibly divulge, I have obtained the manuscript of a forthcoming Tolkien book, The Foster Children of Whósits, and I provide a truly tantalizing excerpt here.




In the days of Benadril the Grey-Coloured did the mighty hero Dristan Postnasal, son of Whósits, ride forth in search of Clåritín the Fair. Long did he ride his bright-maned steed Excedrin, out westwards from the east, never turning northwards, never turning southwards, towards the Bridge at Runnynose, over the Gorge of Sinús-on-Fection, where Daquil, called Nyquilsbane, did vanquish the giants Süfedrin and Südafed in arméd combat lasting forty years and three nights and ten minutes, as the poets do tell to those with time to listen.

Having crossed that bridge, did Dristan smite it in twain, then burn it, vowing never to return until he come back with Clåritín. Many nights then did Dristan wander in the Forest of Mucus Clogging, which the Hobbits do call Snotgurgle, and the Dwarves do call Kleenek’s Katárr. [1]

At last came he to the Mountains of Zxwëriuófvsfsdh, in the Kingdom of Gfsdijøïér, where Lord Gibberic ruled in his Court at Ufgiufodsf, or, as the Old Ones called it, Ydfuiosefouiog, or possibly Yssdfdfiuiuofdfgg, as in some variant editions, though some scholars did debate this muchly, on long, dark nights in the Third Age, when there was nothing better to do. [2] And since Dristan could not pronounce the freaking names to begin with, he suffered much to ask his way of strangers, who lived in that land.

In time did Dristan come to Gibberic’s Helm (or Heim). [3] And long did he stop there. For each morn did Gibberic the King clasp him to his arms, whilst he did scrape him from his boot, and flick him from his fingernail, and seek out the favour of his boon jollity muchly and greatly. And each night by the great fire in the Great Hall, next to the other hall, by the Great Kitchen, but far from the Great Stables, Great Gibberic served up a bounteous feast of victuals and of viands, and the mead did flow like wine, whilst he did speak in the tongue of the North People, who dwelt in the Lands to the East, for they were much confused. [4]

‘My son,’ quoth Gibberic, ‘thou art not my son, but the son of Whósits, son of Whåtsits, slayer of Thingamajim, that was no stranger and yet no friend to this realm, and that was a cousin on my mother’s side, as well. But back to you, for still thou art like unto a son unto me. Son and no son art thou, yet more son than some sons, whom I could name, who are less son than thou art son to me, and who never write.


‘Many moons hast thou ridden through this land, riding and riding in search of Clåritín the Fair, for far is Fair Clåritín, full far. Yea, likewise, oft have I heard that Clåritín be full and furry, and yet be she far fairer than those who are not fair at all, and yet still somewhat fairer than those who are a little bit fair, or far fuller, or very furry. That be not so great a thing as to be truly pretty, but better far than to be unfair, or even outright homely, or heimly, as the case may be.’ [5]

And now the quothing of King Gibberic did rend the rafters and flood the flooring of the Great Hall of this, his Court at Ufgiufodsf (or possibly Yssdfdfiuiuofdfgg); and a mysterious shade did seem to fall across his aged eyes as he did shout: ‘Therefore, heedest thou this my warning, my son who art not my son!’

And Dristan, who had been dozing all the whilst, now did look up into the aged and mysteriously shaded eyes of Lord Gibberic; and the old man’s words did seem to rise towards the sky as in runes of purest flame yet obscurest dialect and rather poor handwriting.

Quoth Gibberic: ‘Take two at bedtime, get rest, and drink plenty of fluids!’ Then did Gibberic clutch at Dristan’s kirtle, and jerk at his jerkin, and beat at his boot, whilst he did fall downwardsly, and speak did he these fatal words, also, as well. ‘Mark thee this! If thou dost drink solids, sorry wilt thou be.’ [6]


And then did Gibberic fall still, until there was no life left in him, and the bucket did he kick, whilst it seemed to some who saw him that a ghost did he give upwards, and the tale is told in many lands and throughout many ages that the farm bought he, and there Lord Gibberic to this very day doth push the daisies, in a verily upwards direction.

And so Dristan rode he on. [7] The road went ever on and on and on, [8] yet light was Dristan’s heart as he rode and rode, and he sang and sang.

O, these are the things to do today!
Pick up at cleaner’s, High Street,
One grey suit, one blue suit,
Five shirts bravely folded,
And Mummy’s bluest gown!
Hey, nonny-nonny! Ho!

Then on to market!
Two dozen eggs and one pound butter,
Sacks of sugar, five pounds flour,
And twenty-score men at arms and ten-score Elvish archers,
With catapults and flame-throwers and gigantic elephants!
Heigh-ho, nonny!

For I am the Son of Whósits,
Son of Whåtsits,
Slayer of Thingamajim, or -jame,
And all do know my fame!
Ho! Derry-nonny!
Do not forget the Cleaning!



[1] This tale is recounted in The Season of Colden Floo, very similar to the account of The Sons of Kontak Kapsul of Tyme Release, recounted in The Elder Edda, based on a tale in The Much Elder Edda, based in turn on an idea by Richard Wagner, whoever he was.

[2] The Elvenfolk spoke too of another realm, called in Quenya Yddfasillillil, or in Sindarin Ydssillig, but it is probably not where Gibberic dwelt. I mention it just to be on the safe side. Which is near Cheapside, past Bayside and to the west side of Woodside, beyond the Golden Land of the — oh, never mind.

[3] Or possibly Herm, or maybe even Haym. “Home” is right out.

[4] See The Rigamarolion.

[5] Those critics who fault my father for the paucity of female characters in his work must surely be blushing for shame right about now, even if Clåritín never makes an appearance in the present narrative.

[6] He’s right, you know. See Beadle Bakshi of Rankinbass.

[7] On a horse, I mean, for the bicycle invented was not until the Fifth Age, at least. See Part LXVIX of Farmer Ham of Rye, and its sequel, The Battle for Mustered’s Hold.

[8] And on and on and on and on, according to Cartrey Humpington’s A Concise Concordance to The Chronicle of the Road That Went Ever On and On and On (and On), available for £32.50 in a plain brown wrapper at reputable bookmongers.

[9] The handwriting isn’t terribly clear at this point, but I was sure there was a battle in here, somewhere. An additional verse, to be published next year in a separate volume, speaks of the Chemist’s Shop, and the need for Ointment. This is typical of manuscripts of the Second Age.

[10] The Lay of Sir Dristan ends here. No one knows why, nor know they wherefore, nor for what cause or reason do they know. I promise, I looked all through my father’s desk, and there’s really nothing left but a postcard I sent him once from Brighton on holiday.


The following, very similar tale, though manifestly much shorter, was greatly revered by the Children of Qwertyuiop, in the Third-and-Three-Quarters Age. It is appended here in its original, untranslated Qwertyuiopish dialect (similar in certain respects to that spoken by Gibberic), for its intrinsic scholarly value, although possibly my father was simply trying to replace his typewriter ribbon.

Ffksjdfi ousdf dsfsdfoi. Dfgks dafoi sdg dfsd fiousddf werio uer qwerty. This is a sample of the work of this machine. Frfwfgdfjk weror twuerk jljfd ewiow er iogjklkl gdas fdouifio uwt wereiow! Euewtu dfkdf ewro riue w ruio. Dffdkjl weriuoe wruio wer wer iro er tytyew rtuio lkjljlkj cmsvm vcxn. Thd qauick borwn fox jmps over the lazy orcs. Fjk jdsfjk xcvm, jdsfiof! Oe rwu oierw io! Ggkgk jfgdjkl %%%## diofsdi! Z!