In the early fall of 1999, Dr. Tripp lost his first wife, Susan, to cancer. During those sad days, he approached me about taking over the editing of In Geardagum, the journal he founded (along with the Society for New Language Study) in the 1970s in Denver, Colorado. Over the past 30 years, some of the most important scholars in Old and Middle English contributed articles to the journal, including Helen Damico, Alexandra H. Olsen, Paul Beekman Taylor, Kevin Kiernan, William C. Johnson, Jr., N. F. Blake, Tadao Kubouchi, Thomas Shippey, Ruth Waterhouse, Zacharias P. Thundy, Jay Ruud, E. L. Risden, Ian Robinson, Joerg O. Fichte, Loren Gruber, Dean Loganbill, Gregory K. Jember, Masahiko Kanno, Donald Fry, Shunichi Noguchi, Akiyuki Jimura, Naoko Shirai, Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, and Richard Trask, among others. Even as I cite these names, I know I’m leaving out many illustrious scholars and they have my apology.
Unfortunately, Dr. Tripp could not persuade any of these renowned figures to take on the thankless job of editor, even though some of them had done so for one or two issues in the seventies or eighties. Inevitably, the nineties found Dr. Tripp doing the editorial chores, and with his wife’s illness, he no longer had time. As it turns out, I happened to be in the living room of one of the more illustrious past editors and scholars of IG, who, after he reluctantly turned Dr. Tripp down, handed the phone receiver to me. At wit’s end, Dr. Tripp asked if I would be editor. As a recent student of his at the University of Denver, I was not in the habit of saying "no" to him.
Personally, I was delighted and honored to be of use to Dr. Tripp, a mentor who had been so long-suffering with me during my doctoral studies. Dr. Tripp was well-known for his generosity to so many people. Countless students owed their careers to him, including many international students. Dr. Tripp, for instance, spoke fluent Japanese and worked with Japanese students and scholars both in Japan and in Colorado. But his linguistic skills never told half the story. Dr. Tripp was the most approachable professor his graduate students ever encountered. He was exceptionally kind and generous with his time and encouragement—as well as with dynamic ideas for a thesis or article. He was a catalyst for so many graduate students who had bogged down with other Ph.D. directors who turned out to be too busy to keep up with the (admittedly) long and winding road of a given student’s dissertation.
However, his days as a professor had darkened over. Shortly after I agreed to take on the editorship, he set about finishing his life in Denver. Not long after Susan’s death, I discovered that Dr. Tripp had retired from teaching and had sold the brick bungalow he had shared with Susan for some thirty years. In expeditious fashion, Dr. Tripp had closed the book on one phase of his life. I wondered if he would find joy in anything again, or if I would have further occasion to see him. To my surprise, I was able to meet and talk with him in October, 2001, in Vancouver, at the annual convention of the Rocky Mountain MLA.
Dr. Tripp was a different person. He bounded toward me, happy, and enthusiastic about language and literature. At his side was Miyoko Tanahashi, a Japanese woman who had retired from a business career and was living in New York City. The two of them had just married and were traveling together. She had known both Dr. Tripp and his first wife for many years (the Society published a volume of Ms. Tanahashi’s poetry in 1985, Back to Bones and Air). Miyoko was strikingly vivacious and active, and it was evident that she had restored Dr. Tripp to emotional and mental vitality. It was not the old Dr. Tripp—but a new man. He had bought, and remodeled, a cabin in Shadow Lake, near Concord, Vermont. Once upon a time during the late 1960s, he had briefly taught in that state. But he wasn’t able to make a go of it. Nevertheless, he would reminisce about Vermont. It was the road less-traveled. Now he went back and took that path and became active in local issues. He also fulfilled a longstanding promise to himself: that he would someday write a folksy little book comparing fellow inklings C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield. He went through several drafts of it in record time.
In terms of medieval scholarship, Dr. Tripp set about writing a series of essays in which he returned to a subject he had first explored some two decades earlier, about the time that Kevin Kiernan brought out his ground-breaking manuscript study of Beowulf. In those days, Dr. Tripp had just returned from England himself, having also examined the manuscript with the aid of television magnification and other modern techniques. He was pleasantly surprised that Kiernan had noticed some of the same things he had, and that he and Kiernan had come away with the same conviction: that the Beowulf poem was probably contemporary with its manuscript. In other words, Beowulf was probably an 11th century post-Viking poem. On the heels of Kiernan, Dr. Tripp brought out his own study, More About the Fight with the Dragon, but the consensus at the time wasn’t as yet ready to follow up on the new manuscript studies.
More specifically, Dr. Tripp noticed that no one was ready as yet to question the central "fable," as it were, of the story in Beowulf. Dr. Tripp’s Vermont scholarship was in support of what he called a "homiletic" approach to Beowulf. Chief among his convictions was that the dragon was really a man, or king, who entered the treasure hoard and became a dragon. Dr. Tripp was prolific on the subject, quickly turning out an impressive hoard of new essays. I published some of them in IG and last year I asked him if he would want to summarize his basic argument for the Dragon King of Beowulf. I told him that it would help people if, aside from close reading and paleographic discussions of the manuscript, he would simply tell the story of who the Dragon King was. Until that time, he had always considered a narrative-approach to be unnecessary and even non-scholarly.
In 2003, the Kalamazoo Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University asked Dr. Tripp to sponsor a special session at the annual congress under the auspices of the Society for New Language Study. There were not many people left who were still associated with the Society, but he asked me to present on Beowulf. While in Kalamazoo, he and I talked and hiked. It was difficult keeping up with Dr. Tripp. He was a vigorous walker and could easily leave teen-agers in his dust. However, a few months later, he was diagnosed with an advanced lesion on his brain. The doctors gave him six to eight months. He would prove them wrong. Such was his vitality that he would last a year and a half. Miyoko would later tell me that his relative longevity following the diagnosis was considered nothing less than "incredible." During this time, he raced to finish the piece on the Dragon King, which by now he had embraced as a way of connecting the unpublished essays. He was beginning to project a whole book.
As for his little book on Lewis and Barfield, there had been talk of going to one of the standard academic presses. But Miyoko was worried about the time factor. She wanted to bring it out immediately, so Dr. Tripp could see the final result and personally make any last minute adjustments. This book—In Search of Salt: A Perennial Comparison of C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield—is available at the editorial address of IG as a publication of the Society for New Language Study.
In regards to the Dragon King narrative, Dr. Tripp provided several personal chapters on the etiology of the idea, what would constitute chapters one through four. The narrative would now become chapter five, and the unpublished essays would be molded into subsequent chapters. However, as he attempted to rework parts of the accumulating manuscript, he began repeating that he would have to leave the serious editing to me. He felt bad about leaving this chore undone, but I was delighted, once again, to be of some modest use to him. I have made some progress in this vein. Chapter Five—the narrative summary of the Dragon-King—has begun to assume its final shape and appears in this issue.
I visited Dr. Tripp for the last time in May of 2004. He could get around with a walker and still delighted in talking. We chatted about Beowulf and the "Klaeber consensus" for several hours. Among his files, I found a manuscript on wordplay in Beowulf that he had left off some years ago (at approximately the thousandth line of the poem). I should mention that Miyoko was taking scrupulous, tender-loving care of Dr. Tripp. Even as we talked, she brought sandwiches, beverages, and desserts. All around us the sun cascaded in through the big windows. It was obvious that Dr. Tripp took deep down pleasure in Miyoko’s plants and flowers. Indeed, I would use the word "joy" to describe his basic mood, something constantly informed by his relationship with Miyoko. I noticed that the two of them would have brief asides. Sometimes one of them began in English and the other finished the sentence in Japanese—or vice versa. I should mention that both Miyoko and Dr. Tripp were adamant that I pick out books from his library and take them with me. As I did, I made a special point of collecting up the wordplay manuscript. I am working with a co-editor to bring this book out in the near future. The working title is Tripp’s Thousand Lines of Wordplay in Beowulf. The complete Dragon King manuscript (again, with the same co-editor’s help) may take a little longer.
That May at Shadow Lake, I was struck by how lucid Dr. Tripp was. He never lost that renewed spirit or cogency of mind. However, during the early morning hours of February 1, 2005, Dr. Tripp had what Miyoko later described as labored breathing and cold sweats. "Well, this could be it," he said. At the hospital, the two of them reaffirmed to the medical personnel that he not be resuscitated. Miyoko would later describe that confirmation as a "very solemn moment." The doctors made Dr. Tripp as comfortable as possible. He communicated as best he could. "Be brave," he told her. He said that he loved her. He said he was grateful that she had become his wife. He continued to register life signs until almost mid-afternoon. Then she noticed that his pulse seemed to have stopped. She sent for the nurses. At ten minutes until three, she was told "he is gone." In Miyoko’s words, he had slipped away in "quiet simplicity."