The Three Towers
Posted by: delacuesta
Date: July 29, 2007 04:53PM
No, this is not a Tolkien thread. No. This is serious matter.
The lines I want to discuss are on page 55 of the hard-cover UK edition (chapter 6), about the other language towers than can be seen from the large window on the 26th floor of the Great Library:
"The nearest one is German, [Thursday said] and behind those are French and Spanish. Arabic is just beyond them - and that one over there is Welsh".
A similar section is in chapter 24 of The Well of Lost Plots (page 260 of the hard-cover UK edition):
"The nearest one to us is German, [said Miss Havisham] beyond that are French and Spanish. Arabic is just beyond them - and that one over there is Welsh".
Far from insinuating that mr. Fforde knows how to use the copy-and-paste function in his word-processor, let us rather conclude that Thursday has learnt her lessons from Miss Havisham extremely well.
Let me first ask a linguistical question (as my English is just too poor to decide for myself): Is "those" always plural? And if so: Shouldn't the FAS version have been "The nearest ones are German(-like)"?
The point I'd like to make is, of course, that if the Great Library would have been "real", the German tower would not-repeat-not have been the nearest one. There would have been at least three towers in between, the nearest one being Frisian, and the other two (about equidistant) Afrikaans and Dutch. And according to the Luxembourgish constitution, lėtzebuergesch is recently erected as the fourth one - a claim countered by many German linguists. And that's why I'm not going into the long standing ambiguities and misunderstandings regarding the terms Dutch and Deutsch; just let me say that when we Dutch used (we hardly do any more) the confusing term "Lower Dutch" (in our own language: Nederduits), we meant "netherlandish" (e.g. language, politics, religion), rather than Lower German. Even if the two formed, long ago, a "continuum".
Let me assume that Jasper knows all this. In that case, he must have had a good reason to call German nearest. This means that something relevant in Nextian universe must be quite different from the world as we know it.
My first theory was that global warming on the Nextian earth started much earlier, I guess during Leif Erikson's colonisation of Greenland, and persisted to our age. No skating people on Dutch 17th century paintings; in fact, no Dutch paintings at all! Sea levels being several meters higher, the Low Countries shrunk to a strip of land on an enlarged North Sea, too small to form an own culture, too marginal to gain economical importance, therefore too poor to buy independency; and eventually they took the official languages of the neighbouring states (France and Germany) that they remained a dependency of.
An important drawback of this model is that London would be under the North Sea as well. A solution to this dilemma would be to place Nextian London further upstream, e.g. where Reading is - which would also have to move. This is a bit dazzling, even to me, but someway I feel that the weird motorway scenes in earlier TN novels would be easier to understand in such a deformed topography.
A more moderate theory would leave the geography intact, but rather assume that all Western European rulers during the Nextian ages would decline any demand for priveleges from the Low Countries, and insist on homogenisation with the rest of their respective empires. This has roughly the same effects as above, but someway I find this less appealing.
I devised a third model, especially for the Brits. Let us assume that duke John of Normandy, King of England, instead of entirely losing his Normandian homeland (except the Anglo-Norman islands), would have been in the stronger Nextian position to trade off some compensation. And suppose the French king, with the help of the Holy Roman (i.e. German) Emperor, would have granted him the Low Countries. And suppose the English would have imposed, as they did elsewere, the English language. Exeunt the three/four towers.
Such a change of history would have to be carried out carefully, or else the English would remain deprived of their Magna Charta or, slightly more important, Robin Hood. The only sacrifice would be the name change of John "Lackland" to "Laagland" (i.e. Lowland). Not to mention the Dutch experience in water management that would have helped the English to keep their feet dry these days - oops that's off-topic.