Friday, December 31, 2010

A thought this New Year's Eve

“This empty year is fading into a dull grey mournful darkness: so slow-footed and yet so swift and evanescent. What of the new year and the spring? I wonder.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien,
from a letter to his son, Christopher,
28 October 1944

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Word of the Day: Fart

I recently received a birthday wish that included the following charming observation: “Thou art an old fart […] but the most awesomest anglo saxon speaking one that I know.” I replied that fart was a word known to the Anglo-Saxons. In fact, like the words for many bodily parts and functions, it goes much further back than this. It turns out there are quite a few interesting things to say about this word and some of its relatives, so I decided — even at the risk of lowering our collective brows — to write a post on it. Rest assured: I’ll find ways to elevate the conversation again. (“Mr. Shakespeare, your cue in five minutes.”)

The Old English word for a fart is attested in only one form and only one place (that I know). That form is feorting — a bit surprisingly, this is a feminine noun. Yes, women fart too, though they usually won’t admit it. But if you want to look it up in any of the major Anglo-Saxon dictionaries, don’t expect to see the Modern English fart. Most bodily terminology has been glossed with euphemism, often in Latin. In the great Bosworth/Toller dictionary, feorting is glossed as crĕpĭtus ventris, which is Latin for a “chattering of the belly” — cute, eh? The Latin crĕpĭtus is an imitative word, from which we also derive the Modern English words crepitation, i.e., “a crackling (e.g., of the joints)”; and decrepit, i.e., “creaking with old age”. I did just turn forty, after all.

In John R. Clark Hall’s dictionary (even the revised edition of 1960, ed. Herbert Meritt), it’s defined with Latin pēdātio. This is actually the direct Latin cognate given in Ælfric’s glossary, but unless you’re familiar with this word, it’s not much help. It doesn’t appear in the average student dictionary of Latin, but it comes from the pēdĕre “to break wind”, a verb which can be traced back to the Indo-European root √perd “to fart”, again probably imitative of the sound. This root also gave us the Sanskrit पर्दते and Ancient Greek πέρδομαι, with the same meaning. The word also passed far and wide, as farts tend to do, into Avestan, Lithuanian, Latvian, Albanian, Russian, Welsh, etc.

Among the Germanic languages, the word was also rather widely attested too — and anyone who has experienced a particularly noxious chattering of the belly will not be surprised at its reach. Though we can only extrapolate the unattested Old English verb *feortan, we have evidence of Old High German ferzan, Old Saxon fertan, Old Norse freta, and various forms in the later medieval languages as well, e.g., Middle High German, Middle Dutch, and of course Middle English. Chaucer, it must be said, leet fle a fart rather often in his verses. (But Norman Davis omits the word from A Chaucer Glossary, tsk tsk tsk.)

There are two surprising offspring of the humble fart. The first, thanks to our friend William Shakespeare, has become an old saw, though not many realize it ever had anything to do with breaking wind. Recall the ominous lines from the close of Act III of Hamlet: “For ’tis the sport to have the engineer / Hoist with his own petard” (III.4:207–8). Poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!

A petard was a small bomb used to breach castle walls or gates. The word comes to us from the French pétard, literally a “farter”, in turn from Middle French péter “to fart”. The bomb had a long fuse — think of this image and you’re on the right track — which made a sputtering, “farting” sound as it burned down. The French word comes down from the Latin pēditum, in turn derived from the verb whose acquaintance we’ve already made above. Cognates include Italian petardo and obsolete Spanish petar.

The second surprising relative is the partridge — ironic, since one of my favorite etymologists (Eric Partridge) bears that surname. From Middle English partrich, in turn from Old French pertris, perdriz, from Latin perdix, from Green πέρδιξ, the partridge was so named because of the whirring sound of his wings. What a proud bird for such a lowly etymology! Cognates include Scottish partrick, Old Italian perdice, Spanish perdiz, Catalan perdiu, etc.

All of this from the sound of breaking wind. And since it’s Christmastime, if you’ll permit me: “And a partridge in a pear treeeeeeee … pffffftht!!” Excuse me! Okay, that was a new low for Lingwë.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

An interview with Simon Tolkien

Earlier this year, I conducted an interview with Simon Tolkien for Mythprint (it appeared in the June 2010 issue, Vol. 47, No. 6, on pp. 3–4). Simon Tolkien is the author of Final Witness, The Inheritance, and The King of Diamonds (coming in April, 2011). Of equal importance — to this audience, at least — he is the son of Christopher Tolkien and grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien.

As part of the new blog of the Mythopoeic Society, dubbed The Horn of Rohan, my interview has been made available online. In the interview, we talk about Simon’s memories of his grandparents, his feelings about The Lord of the Rings, recollections of the barn in which his father assembled The Silmarillion, his tastes in literature, and of course, his own legal and mystery fiction. You can read it by following this link.

And by the way, I should add that I really enjoyed The Inheritance. I don’t read a lot in that particular genre — I could probably enumerate my experience using no more than my ten fingers: a little Agatha Christie, the occasional Arthur Conan Doyle, but nary a Grisham, Turow, or Grafton — but this is a book I can recommend. I was particularly impressed with its sense of time and place, as well as the carefully rendered characters. Why don’t you give it a try?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Onomastics and The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Slight as it is, J.K. Rowling’s Tales of Beedle the Bard has not been the subject of very much study since its 2008 publication. Little surprise there. As a quick benchmark, Google Scholar returns a mere 50 hits for “Beedle the Bard” + Rowling, as compared to nearly 9,000 for “Harry Potter” + Rowling. (Why add Rowling to the search query? To filter out unrelated articles written by real Harry Potters!)

But I’ve just read this charming little book again, and I thought I would share some thoughts on a handful of its proper names. There are not many of these (about twenty), and several of them may also be found in the Harry Potter novels, but a few of them are really interesting. As with all Rowling’s proper names, they show a lot of imagination and a real dexterity with words and puns.

The most obvious place to begin is with the “author” of the collection, Beedle himself. In an intriguing little work called Exploring Beedle the Bard: Unauthorized, Pithy, Tale-by-Tale Perspectives, Graeme Davis posits that the name “may perhaps echo the name Bede, the great Northumbrian writer and historian who preserved many stories relating to the earliest history of the English people”; or, he says, perhaps it is the genuine Yorkshire surname, Beedle [1]. Rowling tells readers that Beedle the Bard was indeed from that part of England.

These are plausible, but I think there’s another possibility as well. A beadle is a minor parish official — perhaps the most famous example of which is Mr. Bumble, the parish beadle in Dickens’s Oliver Twist. Many of Rowling’s names remind readers of Dickens. Mr. Bumble is also in charge of the orphanage in that novel. Rowling has an orphanage in the Harry Potter series as well — though I’m not trying to compare Oliver Twist with Tom Riddle!

The word beadle really just means a “proclaimer”, and comes to us from the Middle English bedel, from Old French bedel “a herald”, in turn from Vulgar Latin bedellus, and still earlier, borrowed from a Germanic root (cp. Old High German biotan “to proclaim”). A bard is a kind of proclaimer as well. The word is Celtic but probably akin to Sanskrit bhásh “to speak” (cp. OE bannan “to proclaim, summon”). The word fame is also a descendent of the same root. And Beedle is a justifiably famous bard, isn’t he?

A few of the new names are very straightforward. For example, we learn about Brutus Malfoy. This is Latin brutus “stupid”, now connoting brutality + French mal foi “bad faith”. There are also Lisette de Lapin, an animagus capable of transforming into a rabbit, and the great wizarding philosopher, Bertrand de Pensées-Profondes — whose apt surnames are French for “rabbit” and “profound thoughts”, respectively. Lisette and Bertrand are not particularly apt in their etymologies, but they are apt in terms of their sound. Lisette alliterates with lapin, and Bertrand rhymes, more or less, with profondes. In addition, there is a famous Muggle philosopher with the same given name, Bertrand Russell.

In “The Fountain of Fair Fortune”, we meet three witches named Asha, Altheda, and Amata. These three are respectively sick, destitute, and lovelorn, and seek to have their wishes granted by the titular Fountain. Asha is a genuine Sanskrit name meaning “wish, desire, hope” — apt indeed. Altheda is a genuine name as well, from Greek. It’s sometimes said to be a variant on the name Althea, but giving Rowling the benefit of a definite intention, I think the etymology might be αλήτης “a wanderer, vagrant, vagabond, beggar”. The third, Amata, is the clearest of the three, from the Latin amata “beloved”. All three seem quite apt and resonate nicely with one another. Assuming it was all fully intentional, it’s also wonderful to see Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin — the three pillars of the dead languages — equally represented.

Other names appearing in The Tales of Beedle the Bard: Beatrix Bloxam, Herbert Beery, Silvanus Kettleburn, Hector Dagworth-Granger, Adalbert Waffling, Emeric the Evil, Egbert, Godelot, Barnabas Deverill, Loxias — and a few others already familiar from the seven-volume series. Some of these have pretty clear meanings. I could take a closer look at some of these if there is sufficient interest; or tackle them yourselves and post your thoughts in the comments.

[1] Davis, Graeme. Exploring Beedle the Bard: Unauthorized, Pithy, Tale-by-Tale Perspectives. Nimble Books: 2009, p. 5.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Another review of Truths Breathed Through Silver

Quite by accident, I learned of another review of the collection, Truths Breathed Through Silver: The Inklings’ Moral and Mythopoeic Legacy, ed. Jonathan Himes (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008). For a refresher on this book, refer back to this post; for highlights from other reviews, this post.

This latest review appeared in The C.S. Lewis Chronicle, the journal of The Oxford C.S. Lewis Society. It’s a very short review (not more than 300 words), and it wastes roughly half of these in quibbling over the aptness of the book’s subtitle. But lest I seem ungrateful, I must point out that the review is actually quite positive, once it gets around to dealing with the actual contents of the collection. Sadly, by this time, the reviewer has only a few sentences left, but here’s an excerpt:
[Two paragraphs summarizing the mythopoeic predilections of the Inklings …]
.....That is what I thought this book would be about. But it isn’t. It is fascinating and welcome, but it is not about the Inklings’ moral and mythopoeic legacy. It is an exhilarating, learned ragbag of essays on all sorts of things: Lewis on verbicide, Tolkien’s treatment of the Fall [*], a history of libraries in Tolkien’s Middle Earth [sic], mathematics in the spirituality of George MacDonald, and more. Swashbuckling stuff, all of it, and some of it […] timely and important. But it is an opportunity missed. There is a significant book to be written on the myth-making of the Inklings, qua Inklings. [Charles Foster. The C.S. Lewis Chronicle, Vol. 6, No. 2 (April 2009): 40.]
I would differ with the plain assertion that the collection “is not about the Inklings’ moral and mythopoeic legacy”; still more, that it is “an opportunity missed”. It’s perfectly fair for a reviewer to point out oversights or errors in a collection, or to single out weaker contributions thereto, but to spend the bulk of a very short review voicing chagrin that this book is not the book the reviewer thought it would be … Why not spend those words saying something about what that book actually is? Such ruminations as these, and the call for “a significant book [yet] to be written”, might be okay in a review of a couple thousand words — they are probably not appropriate in a review of only a couple hundred.

At least I was included in the short capsule summary [marked above with an asterisk], and I certainly can’t complain about being called “swashbuckling” and “exhilarating”, even if indirectly — “learned ragbag” is a bit more left-handed, but I’ll take that too. :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A new essay

Some time ago, The Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza asked me to contribute an essay to their Scholars Forum, which has previously featured new papers by Tom Shippey, Michael Drout, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, and other notable names in Tolkien studies. It’s a great honor to have been offered a place in such a fellowship. My essay was published earlier this month, so I thought it was high time I mentioned it here!

You can read my paper, “Some Contributions to Middle-earth Lexicography: Hapax Legomena in The Lord of the Rings”, by following this link. (Forgive the odd formatting; that wasn’t my doing.) The title offers a hint at my approach, playing as it does on Tolkien’s own paper, “Some Contributions to Middle-English Lexicography” (1925). If you are a regular reader of Lingwë, then you should find plenty of interesting things in the essay. I do hope you enjoy it.

Note that if you would like to comment on it — and I hope some of you will — they ask that you do so in a separate thread, located here. Of course, I also invite comments on the essay here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Google linguam latīnam addit

Google’s machine translation services have taken another step forward, adding an “alpha” version of Latin. I tested it out with a variety of English-to-Latin challenges (and vice versa), and the results look promising. As an example, here’s something that might look familiar to the Classicists among you.

This brings them up to 58 languages — quite impressive! They are also experimenting with audio now. The results for the most common languages — English, French, Spanish, et al. — are pretty decent. The results for their newer offerings are, well, rather comically bad.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all of you, Happy Thanksgiving! Forgive me if this is really nerdy, but I feel I have a duty to fellow word-nerds, and a debt to the etymologists who did all the heavy lifting, to try to capture the thought in a more creative way. What can I say — words are my provender. What do you think? :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two calls for papers

I have two CFPs to share with Inklings scholars and admirers. The first is for the C.S. Lewis and Inklings Society’s 14th annual conference, being held at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, April 1–2, 2011, with plenary speakers Andrew Lazo and Kurt Bruner. The second is for Mythcon 42, being held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, July 15–18, 2011, with guests of honor Michael D.C. Drout (scholar) and Catherynne M. Valente (author).



Call for Papers
14th Annual C.S. Lewis and Inklings Conference
Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, OK
April 1–2, 2011

The Face of Myth in a World of Reason
Papers on the above theme related to the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and other Inklings, as well as George MacDonald and Dorothy Sayers are invited. However, papers on other subjects related to the above authors will also be accepted.

There will be a competition for the best undergraduate, graduate, and faculty/scholar paper given at this conference. The winners will be determined by a committee of three jurors from the Executive Board members of the C.S. Lewis and Inklings Society (CSLIS) and will receive monetary awards. To be eligible, the contestant must be a member of the CSLIS and present the paper at the conference. The awards will be presented during the evening banquet on April 1. If you would like your paper to be considered for the competition, please send the full paper by February 8, 2011.

If you do not want your paper considered for the competition but still want to present at the conference, you will need to submit a one-page abstract or a full paper by February 8, 2011. Papers should be 8–10 pages (double-spaced, 12 point font). They need to be original works and not read at previous conferences. Participants will be held to a twenty minute presentation limit. All participants must be members of the CSLIS in order to present at the conference. Participants can download a society membership form from http://www.oru.edu/academics/resources/cs_lewis/.

E-mail all abstracts/papers to the following individual:
Dr. Mark R. Hall, Conference Director
Phone: 918-495-6111
Fax: 918-495-6166

To insure prompt notification, please include your e-mail and/or fax number on your submission. If you are willing to chair a section, please note this at the top of your abstract/paper.



Call for Papers
Mythopoeic Society Conference 42
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
July 15–18, 2011

Monsters, Marvels, and Minstrels: The Rise of Modern Medievalism

The year 2011 marks the 75th anniversary of both C.S. Lewis’ publication of The Allegory of Love and J.R.R. Tolkien’s lecture “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” Spanning the early Anglo-Saxon/Scandinavian heroic legacies and late Continental French-inspired romance traditions, these authoritative works of scholarship dramatically changed academic discussion on their medieval subjects. In addition, their literary reinterpretations laid the groundwork for the modern medievalism that now informs so much modern fantasy literature, Inkling or otherwise. To commemorate these important anniversaries, Mythcon 42 will invite reflection on the impact of these critical works and how they offer new ways to view the fantastic in earlier texts as well as how they initiated many of the approaches modern fantasy applies to its reading of the medieval. While legacies inherited from Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Scandinavian, Biblical, and Classical cultures will be obvious subjects, papers and panels that explore mythological and fantastic works from other early traditions (such as Native American, Asian, and Middle-eastern) are also welcome, as are studies and discussions that focus on the work and interests of the Inklings (especially J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams), of our Guests of Honor, and of other fantasy authors and themes. Papers from a variety of critical perspectives and disciplines are welcome.

Guests of Honor:
Michael D.C. Drout, Scholar
Catherynne M. Valente, Author

Paper abstracts (250 word maximum), along with contact information, should be sent to the Papers Coordinator at the e-mail address below by 15 April, 2011. Please include your AV requests and the projected time needed for your presentation. Time slots for individual papers are one hour (45 minute paper plus discussion) or 1/2 hour (20 minute paper plus discussion). Panels consisting of related short papers may be proposed for a 90 minute time slot. Undergraduate and graduate presenters are encouraged to apply for the Alexei Kondratiev Award for Best Student Paper.

Send abstracts to:
Janet Brennan Croft, Paper Coordinator

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bagshot in Tolkien and Rowling

The name, Bagshot, should ring familiar to readers of both J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. Tolkien used it as a geographical name in the Shire. According to the “Nomenclature” Tolkien prepared for translators of The Lord of the Rings, it was a “[r]ow of small ‘holes’ in the lane below Bag End. (Said to have been so named because the earth removed in excavating ‘Bag End’ was shot over the edge of the sudden fall in the hillside on the ground which later became the gardens and earthwalls of the humbler dwelling.)”. Rowling, on the other hand, used it as a surname for a minor character — Bathilda Bagshot, longtime resident of Godric’s Hollow and celebrated author of A History of Magic. As it turns out, there is a precedent in the real world for both uses.

Bagshot is a genuine, well-attested place name in England — Notably, Bagshot, Surrey. The map shown above depicts the area around Bagshot, in southeastern England. To my eye, this map resembles rather closely Tolkien’s map of the Shire. I’m not suggesting the Shire map was made with this map in mind; rather, just that the names and arrangement of the English country-side are inherently Shire-like (or vice versa, to be more accurate). Even so, I trust you will note a few distinctly Tolkienian place names on the map — of which the Windle Brook is especially striking!

Like many other geographical names, Bagshot has been adopted as a personal name as well, picked up over time by residents of one Bagshot or another. Many of the early dictionaries of English surnames list it, and it came to some further prominence in The Comments of Bagshot, by J.A. Spender, collected from pieces published in the Westminster Gazette [1]. As a contemporary reviewer put it, “Bagshot is an imaginary person whom [Spender] brings into existence for the purpose of providing a circulating medium for […] aphorisms of wit and wisdom” [2]. This sounds not so unlike Sam’s Gaffer, a hobbit who lives in Bagshot Row and shares his sharp tongue and, well, perhaps not wisdom, but certainly home-spun advice with everyone in the neighborhood. Probably a coincidence, but who knows?

The etymology of the real-world name is somewhat elusive. Many etymologists suggest it is a modern form of “badger’s holt” [3]. But even if –shot(t) is a corruption of holt “a grove, wood”, as they say, it’s not quite clear to me how the old element for badger, brock, would have become bag–. Both elements would have required considerable massaging. But even so, “badger’s holt” was a common enough gloss at the time that one can see Tolkien playing on it — he did, after all, incorporate another “badgery” element in the Hobbit name, Brockhouse, and related toponyms. He also used “Badger-brock” in his poem, “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil”. Both elements — brock and holt — were certainly quite familiar to Tolkien.

Rowling’s use of the name may not be quite so calculated as Tolkien’s — though there is no denying that many of her characters sport aptronyms falling somewhere between Dickens and Tolkien. Bathilda Bagshot is no exception. Bathilda, too, is a genuine name, Germanic in form, and containing the same element hild “battle” one sees in the name of the valkyrie, Brynhildr. Rowling probably doesn’t intend readers to pick up on this; more likely, it’s a set-up for Rita Skeeter to shorten the name to “Batty”, playing on Bathilda’s senility late in the Harry Potter series. That, and the alliteration so common in Rowling’s names (cp. Dedalus Diggle; not to mention, the four founders of Hogwarts).

Whether Rowling picked up Bagshot from Tolkien, or direct from the toponymy of England, is an open question. She may even have simply invented it, independent of any source in the real world.

[1] Spender, J.A., ed. The Comments of Bagshot. London: Archibald Constable & Co., Ltd., 1908.

[2] “Mr. Alfred Spender in a New Light.” The Review of Reviews. Ed. William Thomas Stead. Vol. XXXVII (January–June, 1908), p. 105.

[3] See for example: Palmer, A. Smythe. Folk-etymology. London: George Bell & Sons, 1882, p. 519. And: Charnock, Richard Stephen. Local Etymology: A Derivative Dictionary of Geographical Names. London: Houlston & Wright, 1859, p. 246.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mythlore 111/112

My copy of the new Mythlore arrived a couple of days ago, and while I haven’t had time to read it all yet, I do have a few initial comments — beginning with the fact that the Mythopoeic Society is using a new printer (Sheridan; previously, the University of Oklahoma Press). I’m not sure how many readers will notice the differences, but I certainly did. For one thing, the type looks better. For another, Sheridan doesn’t trim the pages as much, so the margins are what they were always meant to be.

This issue contains my first essay for Mythlore, “Dwarves, Spiders, and Murky Woods: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Wonderful Web of Words.” I’m delighted to have an essay in Mythlore at long last; it’s been on my to-do list for ages. Here’s how editor Janet Brennan Croft introduced my paper: “We begin this issue of Mythlore with frequent reviewer Jason Fisher’s first article for us, a surprisingly engaging linguistic study of the Mirkwood episode in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which he uses as a typical example of the depth and interwoven complexity of the author’s linguistic invention.” (p. 3)

While on the subject, I must apologize for a spelling error in my essay. I was really dismayed to see that I had written Petri Tikki instead of the correct spelling, Petri Tikka (on p. 10). My sincere apologies, Petri. It was just a slip, and I wish I’d been more careful. I certainly don’t like it when people misspell my name.

Next, this issue contains my review of Dimitra Fimi’s book, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits (running on pp. 167–72). Petri, I cited your paper, “The Finnicization of Quenya”, and I spelled your name correctly here! Phew, thank heavens! :)

Speaking of dwarves, fairies, and hobbits, there’s an interesting letter in this issue: “The Origins of Dwarves”, sent in by Pierre H. Berube (pp. 163–4). He raises some very intriguing research questions which I, for one, will probably try to take a look at. Also right up my alley, from a quick skim, is Richard J. Whitt’s “Germanic Fate and Doom in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion.” Anyone who quotes from Old English, Old Norse, and Old Saxon works, in the original languages, all in the same essay, is my idea of a drinking buddy! Richard, if ever we meet, I hope it’s to share a medu-benc. :)

And finally, a book to which I contributed is reviewed in this issue of Mythlore: Bradford Lee Eden’s Middle-earth Minstrel: Essays on Music in Tolkien (running on pp. 183–6). Here’s what reviewer Emily A. Moniz, a Ph.D. student at CUA, has to say about my essay:
The book is strong right out of the gate. Jason Fisher’s analysis of Rohirric verse, “Horns of Dawn: The Tradition of Alliterative Verse in Rohan” is quite fine and sets a clear tone for the kind of work contained therein. Fisher carefully examines Tolkien’s influences for Rohan, various traditions of Old English and Germanic alliterative poetry, and the connections between languages both real and fictional. What is even more delightful than his scholarship itself is that he somehow manages to do it all without losing a reader who admittedly knew nothing about Germanic alliterative verse or the Saxon kingdom of Mercia until she had finished the essay. While there are many outstanding pieces in Middle-earth Minstrel, Fisher’s piece stood out and one could not ask for a stronger opening than “Horns of Dawn.” (p. 184)
Needless to say, I was humbled and delighted to read this. I am especially pleased that my essay comes across well to readers — or at least, to one reader — without a strong background in the subject matter. It is always my goal to take abstruse topics like medieval philology and make them accessible and interesting to anyone — ideally, to everyone. A bit later, Moniz adds that “[t]he two essays by Fisher and Wilkins [sic] alone are worth the price of admission” (p. 185) — a compliment I hope I deserve; and Peter Wilkin definitely does. Other readers are invited to add their tuppence.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The jaws of Carcharoth

As we know, Tolkien had carefully devised etymologies in mind for virtually every proper name in his legendarium. Many of these etymologies, alongside various cognates in the Elvish and other languages of Arda, are set out in Tolkien’s writings. What is less often said or seen: we can adduce etymologies for many of these names using primary world languages too, particularly the very early names. This can be a tricky game — it’s difficult to know where to draw the line, and it’s easy to go too far — but I have one I’d like to put forward today, for Carcharoth.

For anyone who needs a refresher:
Then Morgoth […] chose one from among the whelps of the race of Draugluin; and he fed him with his own hand upon living flesh, and put his power upon him. Swiftly the wolf grew, until he could creep into no den, but lay huge and hungry before the feet of Morgoth. There the fire and anguish of hell entered into him, and he became filled with a devouring spirit, tormented, terrible, and strong. Carcharoth, the Red Maw, he is named in the tales of those days, and Anfauglir, the Jaws of Thirst. And Morgoth set him to lie unsleeping before the doors of Angband […] [1]
For the Sindarin name, Carcharoth, the putative etymology of “red maw” serves well enough, though it is problematic at one or two points. The raw material is plain enough. Sindarin car(a)n is “red”, from the Eldarin root √KARÁN; and car(a)ch is “tooth, fang”, from the root √KARAK. The final element, roth, is probably “hollow, cave” (hence, “maw”), from the root √ROD, but this is not certain. Also uncertain is where caran has gone in the final form of the name. If it was ever really there to begin with, then it seems to have left no trace. Perhaps “red” is mere folk etymology. There’s really no sign of it in the word-form itself.

The name is attested in several earlier forms, including Carchaloth, Carchamoth, and the Qenya Karkaras. These forms are given in the very early Gnomish Lexicon, contemporary with Tolkien’s first conception of the great wolf. Also in the Lexicon is an entry carna, meaning “gore, blood, especially fresh blood”, perhaps influenced by connotations of the English carnage (a word from Latin, through French, carrying the sense of the butchery of flesh). [2] For the Qenya name, Karkaras, used in The Book of Lost Tales, we can turn to the Qenya Lexicon, where we find karkaras(s) glossed as a “row of spikes or teeth”. [3]

So much for the fictive etymology — now what about an external one? I am struck by the similarity of Tolkien’s Carcharoth to the Latin carcharus “a kind of dog-fish”, itself from Greek καρχάριας “a shark”, so called because of its sharp, jagged teeth (or κάρχαρος). The scientific name of the dreaded Great White Shark is instructive here as well: Carcharodon carcharias. “Jaws of Thirst”, indeed! Now, why do I have a mental image of Beren Camlost and Matt Hooper comparing scars? :)

These forms are so close, I think we can rule out coincidence; moreover, with Tolkien’s extensive knowledge of Latin and Greek, I cannot imagine it was an accidental borrowing. Can you? In addition, κάρχαρος is thought to show reduplication of an Indo-European root √KAR, meaning “hard”, which sounds right for Tolkien’s Carcharoth. Compare to Gorgoroth, where the reduplicative form is explicitly acknowledged (and note the coincidence of the final element, roth).

Perhaps coincidental, but offering tempting overtones, is the Greek κάρκαρον “prison”. As you may recall, the literal meaning of the Sindarin Angband (where Carcharoth was bred) is “iron prison”. The Greek word, κάρκαρον — whence Latin carcer “prison”, whence Modern English incarcerate — is said to be “of uncertain origin” by Skeat, but might it not be related to the same IE root √KAR? (Other possibilities are advanced in other etymological dictionaries, but the ones I’ve checked so far aren’t any more convincing.)


[1] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion. “Of Beren and Lúthien.”

[2] Tolkien, J.R.R. “The Gnomish Lexicon.” Parma Eldalamberon 11 (1997), p. 25. See also Chris Gilson’s discussion of Carcharoth in “Essence of Elvish: The Basic Vocabulary of Quenya.” Tolkien Studies 6 (2009): 213–39, p. 218.

[3] Tolkien, J.R.R. “The Qenya Lexicon.” Parma Eldalamberon 12 (1998), p. 49.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Parma Eldalamberon 19

Welcome news from Chris Gilson last night: the latest issue of Parma Eldalamberon (“The Book of Elven-tongues”) has gone to the printer! Interested parties can order their copies now by following this link.

Issue #19 is 108 pages, comprising “Comparative Tables”, representing the phonological relationships between Valarin, Quenya, Lindarin, Telerin, Noldorin, Ilkorin, Danian, and Lemberin, plus the Mannish language, Taliskan; an “Outline of Phonetic Development”, written in the late 1930s or 1940s, which relates the sounds of Quenya to those of Primitive Eldarin, inter alia; and an “Outline of Phonology”, a 1950s revision of the preceding.

This material promises to be quite juicy! I find that many fans of Tolkien’s languages seem to be interested in little more than vocabulary — “what can I learn to say in Elvish?” — but I find theoretical essays and tables like these to be just as fascinating as the lexis. Sometimes more. They really bring home, more than a mere catalog of words could do, the magnitude of Tolkien’s accomplishments in recreating an entire historical linguistics, ranging across a full spectrum of interrelated languages.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I’ve made it into the Encyclopedia Britannica … sort of

Just a quick notice today. A friend brought this to my attention on Monday: content from Mythlore, the peer-reviewed journal of the Mythopoeic Society, is available in the online Encyclopedia Britannica (in a section of their website captioned “Additional Content”). Follow this link to see everything they have; follow this link to see what they've got by yours truly (so far). You can’t read entire articles or book reviews unless you have a subscription to the EB, but if you do, this is a convenient way to read Mythlore.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

J.K. Rowling’s time scheme

I’ve got Harry Potter on my mind these days. From my recent thoughts on unplot-table buildings to the very stuff of the plot itself.

Via Text Patterns, the excellent blog of Alan Jacobs — who got it from Slash Film (and where did they get it? Rowling’s website?) — comes a great treasure for Harry Potter fans and scholars: a page of detailed plot notes for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. On a purely serendipitous note, this page happens to represent exactly the part of the book I am (re)reading at this very moment, so it is all very fresh in my mind. Since this is already available online in at least two places, I will reproduce it for your convenience here as well. (A note to Ms. Rowling or her representatives: I will be happy to take the image down upon request. Since I am unsure of the original source or the image, I don’t know whether it’s meant to be shared or simply “got out”.)

This page of notes reveals many interesting things. First and foremost, it demonstrates the meticulous care Rowling took with her plots. The page is arranged by date along the vertical access and by character, group, or concept (e.g., the Prophecy) along the horizontal. The notes also give some hints about the intermediate stages in Rowling’s imaginative process. For instance, the “title” column shows preliminary chapter titles; these often differ from those in the final published book. The page also shows other differences, of which perhaps the most notable is Professor Umbridge’s original first name: Elvira (in the published books, Dolores). I can see why Rowling considered Elvira (it contains the word “evil”), but perhaps she abandoned it because of the unwanted association with Cassandra Peterson’s comic horror hostess, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark? Or maybe it was too similar to the name, Minerva. In the end, Dolores is also very apt: the name means “sorrows”. It’s almost more schoolmarmish to my ear than Elvira.

For stories as complex and interwoven as Rowling’s, such plot notes would not only be useful, but probably essential, for keeping track of all the various loose ends. They are almost as meticulous as Tolkien’s tables for The Lord of the Rings [1]. In fact, Rowling’s notes resemble Tolkien’s synoptic time-schemes very closely. Tolkien also plots time on the vertical access and arranges his plot notes by character or group along the horizontal. (I’m not suggesting Rowling got the idea from Tolkien, just that they kept their parallel storylines straight in similar ways.) I will not reproduce any of Tolkien’s manuscript here, but you will find a reproduction of one of his synoptic time-schemes on p. 37 of the gallery catalogue, “The Invented Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: Drawings and Original Manuscripts from the Marquette University Collection” (available for free in PDF format here). I was fortunate enough to be able to examine this document for myself, up close and personal, back in 2004 — and you need to be three inches away from it in order to puzzle through Tolkien’s handwriting!

I would like to hope we will see more of Rowling’s notes in the future. I have to imagine that university libraries the world over are already engaged in a furious (and private) bidding war over her manuscripts. Perhaps one day, scholars will be able to consult them, and fans will be able to view them on exhibit. Such plot notes and other paratextual material can reveal a great deal about how authors work.

[1] Scholars can examine these plot notes and time schemes — some 74 pages of them if my math isn’t off — at Marquette University. See MS. Tolkien, Mss Series 1, Box 2, Folder 31; and Mss Series 4, Box 2, Folders 17–18, 36.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The contents of Middle-earth and Beyond

Last month, I announced that one of my conference papers was being published in a new collection, Middle-earth and Beyond: Essays on the World of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Kathleen Dubs and Janka Kaščáková, forthcoming from Cambridge Scholars Publishers. Today, I’m happy to be able to share the full table of contents. There looks to be some really interesting stuff here, even if there isn’t any overarching theme or method to organize the collection. Moreover, the bulk of the contributors are European, and many of them Slavic, so the collection should offer some valuable new perspectives.
  • Introduction, by Kathleen Dubs
  • Sourcing Tolkien’s “Circles of the World”: Speculations on the Heimskringla, the Latin Vulgate Bible, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi, by Jason Fisher
  • Staying Home and Travelling: Stasis Versus Movement in Tolkien’s Mythos, by Sue Bridgwater
  • The Enigmatic Mr. Bombadil: Tom Bombadil’s Role as a Representation of Nature in The Lord of the Rings, by Liam Campbell
  • Tom Bombadil — Man of Mystery, by Kinga Jenike
  • Grotesque Characters in Tolkien’s Novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by Silvia Pokrivčáková and Anton Pokrivčák
  • “It Snowed Food and Rained Drink” in The Lord of the Rings, by Janka Kaščáková
  • “No Laughing Matter”, by Kathleen Dubs
  • “Lit.”, “Lang.”, “Ling.”, and the Company They Keep: The Case of The Lay of the Children of Húrin Seen from a Gricean Perspective, by Roberto Di Scala
Like the last CSP collection to which I contributed, this will be rather a slim volume: eight essays, plus an introduction and front and back matter. Judging from the table of contents Janka sent me, the book will be about 150 pages, of which my essays occupies 1–18. And this is the second consecutive book in which the editors sent my contribution up to bat first; I must be doing something right. :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

J.K. Rowling among the Inklings

The title of this post invokes a rather well-known work of Inklings scholarship, Women among the Inklings (Candice Fredrick and Sam McBride; Greenwood, 2001). The book discusses, among other things, women on the fringe of the Inklings’ coterie: the members’ wives, friends, and fellow authors. A notable example is Dorothy L. Sayers, often mistaken for an Inklings or nominated by fans as an “honorary member”. J.K. Rowling is not discussed in this book — after all, her Harry Potter novels were still very new at the time Fredrick and McBride were writing it. And of course, Rowling was not a contemporary of the Inklings, so any (hypothetical) mention of her would have been off the main subject of their book.

But Rowling, like Sayers, is frequently described as an “honorary Inkling”, or said to be following in the tradition of the Inklings. The latter is certainly true. The Internet is awash in such conversation (a simple Google search will do the trick), and essays and even books have been published which argue the case. A couple examples: (1) “A Tale as Old as Time, Freshly Told Anew: Love and Sacrifice in Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling”, by Margarita Carretero-González (in Myth and Magic: Art according to the Inklings, eds. Eduardo Segura and Thomas Honegger; Walking Tree, 2007), and (2) The Hidden Key to Harry Potter: Understanding the Meaning, Genius, and Popularity of Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter Novels, by John Granger. For a taste of Granger’s thesis, check out his online essay, “Harry Potter and the Inklings: The Christian Meaning of The Chamber of Secrets”.

It is not surprising, I suppose, that Rowling is compared most to C.S. Lewis, and after that, to Tolkien. I have done likewise myself, here. But I’m writing today with another inkling: has J.K. Rowling read Charles Williams?

A highly specific motif caught my eye while reading Williams’s 1930 novel, War in Heaven, one that will look very familiar to Potterphiles:
.....“I’m — I’m in rather a hole, sir. I — we — can’t find the house. […] It doesn’t seem to be there.” [After ruling out a mistaken address and the thick fog, the conversation continues.]
.....“Stop a minute,” the Commissioner interrupted. He rang his bell and sent for a Directory […]. “Now go ahead. Where do you begin?”
.....“George Giddings, grocer.”
.....“Right.”
.....“Samuel Murchison, confectioner.”
.....“Right.”
.....“Mrs. Thurogood, apartments.”
.....“Damn it, man,” the Commissioner exploded, “you’ve just gone straight over it. Dmitri Lavrodopoulos, chemist.”
.....“But it isn’t, sir,” Pewitt said unhappily. “The fog’s very thick, but we couldn’t have missed a whole shop.”
.....[The Commissioner accuses Pewitt of being drunk and drives over to Lord Mayor’s Street to see for himself. They feel along the wall in single file, peering in each window, but cannot find the chemist’s shop.]
.....“I suppose you think the devil has carried it off,” the Assistant Commissioner said […]. “Damn it, the shop must be there,” he said. But the shop was not there.
.....Suddenly, as they stood there in a close group, the grounds beneath them seemed to shift and quiver. […] Again the earth throbbed below him; then from nowhere a great blast of cool wind struck his face. […] A strange man was standing in front of him; behind him the windows of a chemist’s shop came abruptly into being. [1]
And then, a little further on, from the other perspective:
”Why then should we delay?” the Greek said. “I have hidden this house [i.e., the chemist’s shop] in a cloud and drawn it in to our hearts so that it shall not be entered from without till the work is done.” [2]
To put it into the nomenclature of Harry Potter, it certainly sounds like the house has been made “unplottable”. Recall this descriptive passage from The Sorcerer’s Stone: “It was a tiny, grubby-looking pub. If Hagrid hadn’t pointed it out, Harry wouldn’t have noticed it was there. The people hurrying by didn’t glance at it. Their eyes slid from the big book shop on one side to the record shop on the other as if they couldn’t see the Leaky Cauldron at all. In fact, Harry had the most peculiar feeling that only he and Hagrid could see it” [3].

But hiding a building from Muggles is one thing. Hiding it from other wizards is quite another. The best parallel in Rowling is number twelve, Grimmauld Place. Like Williams’s chemist’s shop, this was the abode of Dark Wizards. But the Order of the Phoenix took it as their headquarters after Voldemort returned to his body at the end of The Goblet of Fire. Consider this passage, which to my ear recalls the motif in Williams very clearly:
.....“Think about what you’ve just memorized,” said Lupin quietly.
.....Harry thought, and no sooner had he reached the part about number twelve, Grimmauld Place, than a battered door emerged out of nowhere between numbers eleven and thirteen, followed swiftly by dirty walls and grimy windows. It was as though an extra house had inflated, pushing those on either side out of its way. Harry gaped at it. [4]
Of course, independent invention is entirely possible. I have never heard that Rowling was a fan of Williams (though she has admitted a liking for Tolkien and especially Lewis). But the resemblance is striking, isn’t it? It could just be possible that Rowling has read Williams and picked up this clever little motif from him. It is remarkably specific, and I can’t recall anything like it anywhere else in my reading history — which is admittedly finite; does anyone else know of a similar motif in literature?

(By the way — and this almost escaped my notice — this is my 300th post for Lingwë – Musings of a Fish. My, how time flutters by.)


[1] Williams, Charles. War in Heaven. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1930, pp. 229–33.

[2] Ibid., p. 239.

[3] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: A.A. Levine Books, 1998, p. 68.

[4] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: A.A. Levine Books, 2003, p. 59.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The new issue of Mythlore

Editor Janet Brennan Croft informs us that the new issue of Mythlore (Fall/Winter 2010) went to the printer yesterday and should be going out to subscribers in about a week’s time. This issue, as some of you know, includes two contributions by yours truly, the lead-off essay and a review of Dimitra Fimi’s book (two-word capsule review: “read it!”). There’s also a review of a book to which I contributed (Middle-earth Minstrel). You’ll find these, and all the other goodies, in the table of contents below. I can’t help but observe that this issue, like the majority of them, is disproportionately weighted toward Tolkien. Not that I’m complaining about essays on the Professor, but all you scholars of Lewis, Williams, Barfield, and other mythopoeic writers — get cracking!

As always, I look forward to feedback on my work, good or bad. Some of the material from my essay has appeared here on Lingwë, where I often try out my research and solicit feedback, but that’s no excuse not to read the essay in print. There’s a fair amount of new material in it, including some really tantalizing bits about Tolkien’s Hungarian-like language, Mágol. So far as I know, these comments are the most detailed yet published on Mágol, and I am very grateful to Pat Wynne for consulting the manuscripts and providing valuable information. (Tolkien’s sketch of Mágol has not yet been published, but Pat is editing it for a future issue of Vinyar Tengwar. I know we all look forward to that!)

Here’s the full table of contents for the new Mythlore:
  • Dwarves, Spiders, and Murky Woods: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Wonderful Web of Words, by Jason Fisher
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Orcs: Simple Humanity in Tolkien’s Inhuman Creatures, by Robert T. Tally, Jr.
  • Myth-Remaking in the Shadow of Vergil: The Captive(-ated) Voice of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, by T.S. Miller
  • Corrupting Beauty: Rape Narrative in The Silmarillion, by Lynn Whitaker
  • The Company They Didn’t Keep: Collaborative Women in the Letters of C.S. Lewis, by Sam McBride
  • Master of Doom by Doom Mastered: Heroism, Fate, and Death in The Children of Húrin, by Jesse Mitchell
  • Germanic Fate and Doom in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, by Richard J. Whitt
  • The Thread on Which Doom Hangs: Free Will, Disobedience, and Eucatastrophe in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, by Janet Brennan Croft
  • Simbelmynë: Mortality and Memory in Middle-earth, by William H. Stoddard
And reviews of:
  • Tolkien, Race and Cultural History, by Dimitra Fimi;
  • Charles Williams and His Contemporaries, by Suzanne Bray and Richard Sturch;
  • In the Land of Invented Languages, by Arika Okrent;
  • Millennial Mythmaking: Essays on the Power of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, edited by John Perlich and David Whitt;
  • Middle-earth Minstrel: Essays on Music in Tolkien, edited by Bradford Lee Eden;
  • Harry Potter and Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds, by Travis Prinzi;
  • Fastitocalon 1.1; and
  • Theodor SEUSS Geisel, by Donald E. Pease.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reading The Lord of the Rings aloud

“Since I had three children, I’ve read Tolkien’s trilogy aloud three times. It’s a wonderful book to read aloud or (consensus by the children) listen to. Even when the sentences are long, their flow is perfectly clear, and follows the breath; punctuation comes just where you need to pause; the cadences are graceful and inevitable. Like Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf, Tolkien must have heard what he wrote. The narrative prose of such novelists is like poetry in that it wants the living voice to speak it, to find its full beauty and power, its subtle music, its rhythmic vitality.” [1]

So wrote Ursula K. Le Guin, and I have heard the opinion echoed many times. I share it myself. And if you live in Michigan (or near enough; N.E. Brigand, I’m talking to you), you might think about swinging by a public reading at Hope College this weekend. From a local news story promoting the “marathon reading”:
The department of English at Hope College will sponsor a marathon reading of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring in the college’s Pine Grove on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 24 and 25. The reading will extend from noon to 11 p.m. on Friday and from 10 a.m. to approximately 2 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. All are welcome to sign up for 10-minute reading slots, either in advance at the department of English, located on the third floor of Lubbers Hall, or at the event itself if slots are still available.
Fifteen hours for approximately 175,000 words (not counting the Foreword or Prologue) — it’s going to be tight. This would be a reading pace of just under 200 words per minute, which really seems like wishful thinking. In all likelihood, the reading will either have to run over its allotted time, or else leave the Fellowship before the breaking at Amon Hen. In any case, it sounds like a wonderful event.

[1] Le Guin, Ursula K. “Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings.” Meditations on Middle-earth. Ed. Karen Haber. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001. 101–16, p. 101–2.

Friday, September 17, 2010

More loose leaves on Tolkien’s Pearl

I concluded my recent post on Tolkien’s unpublished translation of the Middle English Pearl with the hope that “[p]erhaps someone can unearth a little more information.” I am delighted to say that someone has. My Frisian friend Jan Veltman is a great admirer of this poem, and as it happens, he wrote a series of letters inquiring about Tolkien’s translation and related matters to some of those best situated to know something. Jan recently sent me copies of the responses he received, and with his permission, I’m going to share some of the highlights. They didn’t know a great deal, but they did know a little, and so I now know a little more as well. Some may find this much ado about nothing, but I find it a fascinating addendum to the story.

As a preamble to this epistolary stroll, the first of the letters Jan sent me was a reply from Christopher Tolkien, dated 13 September 1979 — thirty-one years ago this past Monday! Jan had complimented him on the translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, then only recently published. To this Christopher replied, “It gave me great pleasure to know that you approved of my edition of my father’s translations, which are indeed, as I think, of the highest order.” He had also asked for advice on finding second-hand copies of editions of the poems and asked about St. Erkenwald, which has sometimes been attributed to the Pearl poet.

A year later, Jan wrote to the British Broadcasting Corporation, asking whether a recording of Tolkien’s Sir Gawain radio broadcast was available. Parts of his translation were broadcast on the BBC in December 1953, along with a short introduction written and read by Tolkien. The BBC Secretariat responded to Jan on 24 September 1980 with regrets that “we do not have this recording in our Sound Archives. Even so, we would not have been able to release a copy, for copyright and contractual reasons.”

The following year, Jan wrote to Norman Davis at Merton College, Oxford (by then, retired), asking for advice on building up a comprehensive reading list on Middle English literature. Even though the request was “too tall an order”, Professor Davis replied with some suggestions. At about the same time, Jan made a similar inquiry of John Jones, who held the position of Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1978–83 (immediately following John Wain, one of the Inklings). Professor Jones replied on 20 March 1981, “I fear Merton College has no recording, and I don’t think it is true that Tolkien was a man of great international fame as early as 1953 — though among Germanic philologists he was recognised as a scholar of genius.” He indicated he would pass Jan’s inquiry along to Norman Davis (“Norman knows more about this matter than anybody else in the world”), unaware that Jan had just written to Professor Davis on a different line of inquiry. Jan followed this up, bringing in Tolkien translation of Pearl this time, to which Professor Jones replied (12 April 1981), “Again, Norman Davis is the right man; he will know more than anybody else in the world about Ronald Tolkien’s translation of Pearl.”

Professor Davis wrote back to Jan on 24 April 1981. Here we draw closer to the subject of my earlier post, so I will quote a little bit more:
I do not believe that a Pearl translation was in any general way ‘being used in the colleges’, as you put it. Tolkien took a long time to satisfy himself about his translation, and no doubt lent copies to friends asking for comments — he gave me one to take abroad for holiday reading, for example. (I didn’t like it much, incidentally.) But these would be only drafts in the process of making the final version, and I do not think it is realistic to speak of ‘this early translation’ at all. There was no single ‘early translation’, and the published text will embody what he wished to preserve.
Professor Davis suggested Jan contact George Allen & Unwin “to make absolutely sure (though I think it would be a waste of time)”, and this is what Jan did next. Rayner Unwin replied to the inquiry on 22 May 1981, “it is true that there was a version of Pearl circulating but not published in the middle 1940’s. In fact, this was little changed from the version eventually published after Professor J.R.R. Tolkien’s death. To the best of my knowledge there are no copies of this early version of Pearl or of Gawain in writing or on tape available. If there were, they would be with the Tolkien executors […].”

And so we come to the final letter in the series, in which Jan made a last inquiry with “the Tolkien executors”. Christopher Tolkien replied on 25 September 1987 — twenty-three years ago next week! —
As with so many of my father’s works, his translation of Pearl was a long-continued process of refinement over many years. The printed text you refer to was not an edition, but was an experimental type-setting carried out by B.H. Blackwell (Oxford). It never went beyond the stage of a first proof in galleys, and was a mass of printing errors. It thus has, in itself, no interest. […] I hope have [sic] made myself clear. The point is, that the printed proof made in the 1940s (which I no longer possess, in any case) is, so to speak, a merely casual incident in the process of refinement of the translation, and did not in itself in any way affect that process.
So, to sum up. Copies of Tolkien’s Pearl translation were indeed “circulating” in the 1940’s (Rayner Unwin, Norman Davis), most likely among Tolkien’s friends, of whom some didn’t like it (Norman Davis, again). We can’t really be sure how closely the early version resembled the final one, as we have two opposing opinions: Rayner Unwin says it was “little changed”, but Norman Davis and Christopher Tolkien imply otherwise. But we are now in a slightly better position to judge the claim in the contributor blurb from Essays and Studies (1953), that Tolkien was “[w]ell known […] for his verse translation of The Pearl”. It was not a total exaggeration, though there should probably be an implied addition: he was well-known for it among his friends and colleagues in the colleges. This is more or less the conclusion we had drawn already — but at least now we have a real basis for it, and knowledge of at least one more contemporaneous reader of the translation.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My next Tolkien publication

At my first Mythcon (in 2006), I delivered a paper on “Sourcing Tolkien’s ‘Circles of the World’: Speculations on the Heimskringla, the Latin Vulgate Bible, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi.” The abstract for that paper ran as follows:
“The Circles of the World,” among Tolkien’s most evocative tropes, appears to have escaped attention in the otherwise exhaustive history of Tolkien source-hunting. Still, I feel it may be possible to unravel some of its origins. Tolkien’s metaphorical “leaf-mould of the mind” was that place where sources, inklings, and mythological images mingled and coalesced into new ideas, and I’ll attempt to show how Tolkien’s figurative “Circles of the World” may have emerged from three such disparate sources: the Ynglinga Saga of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla; the Latin Vulgate Bible, with particular emphasis on the Book of Wisdom; and perhaps even the Hereford Mappa Mundi, a medieval map of the world on display in the West Midlands of Tolkien’s youth. In the end, at this late stage in Tolkien source-hunting, it can be difficult to uncover substantially new (and sufficiently verifiable) source-traces; however, in this case, I believe I have something new to offer to Tolkien Studies.
The paper was well-received, and it even led to my being invited to give a half-day presentation at a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on J.R.R. Tolkien (in 2009). I’ve been asked more than once in intervening the years whether this paper would ever appear in print. I’m happy to say the answer is yes, the essay will be part of a new collection called Middle-earth and Beyond: Essays on the World of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Kathleen Dubs and Janka Kaščáková. The editors are in the final stages of preparing the manuscript now, and Cambridge Scholars Publishers has accepted the project for publication, perhaps as soon as the end of this year.

I can’t give you the table of contents for the collection just yet; but suffice to say that it’s heavily weighted to the other side of the Atlantic. In fact, I might be the only American in the book (or at least, the only scholar living in America)! I’ll share more detailed information as I get it, but in the meantime, Kathleen Dubs describes the collection this way: “the essays include stylistic analyses, sources and analogues — including the grotesque (a current trend in literary studies), motifs and symbols, and a linguistic analysis, as well two very different interpretations of Tom Bombadil (one rather short but provocative).” More details to come!

Friday, August 27, 2010

They “saw loose the leaves of the book” — but who?

The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son has been reprinted several times, so it is now seldom read in its original setting: Essays and Studies, the periodical of the English Association. This publication can be rather hard to come by too, so it’s no wonder. But as a work moves from its original setting into subsequent ones, it’s not uncommon to lose something along the way. Texts frequently pick up one variance or another, but I’m thinking of something else: the original paratext. In this case, what I have in mind in the author blurb about Tolkien in the “Notes on Contributors”. Here it is:
J.R.R. Tolkien, born in 1892, is Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford. Well known for his edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (with the late E.V. Gordon), for his work on Beowulf, and for his verse trans-lation of The Pearl. Professor Tolkien’s fairy-story, The Hobbit, is a great favourite. [1]
Something caught my eye here: that Tolkien was “well known […] for his verse translation of The Pearl”. Was he really? This is surprising, considering that it wasn’t published until two years after his death!

According to Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull’s précis, Tolkien made his translation of the poem during 1925–6 while he was supposed to be working on an edition of it with his Gawain collaborator, E.V. Gordon. In 1936, he submitted the translation to J.M. Dent for publication, but although they rejected it, it caught the attention of Guy Pocock, who arranged for part of it to be read on the radio in August of that year. Shortly thereafter, George Allen & Unwin considered publishing it, but all thought of that was swiftly swept aside in the wake of The Hobbit the following year. [2]  A few years later in 1942, the renowned publisher and bookseller Basil Blackwell prepared to publish the translation at last. Galley proofs were even printed in March 1943 (Christopher Tolkien owns a set). All Tolkien had to do was write an introduction. Alas, the ever dilatory (and at this point, very distracted) Tolkien could not get the job done, and — to make a long story a little shorter — the translation never reached the public during his lifetime. [3]

He certainly intended to publish it, discussed it repeatedly, and was forever on the verge of actually doing it, but this simply never happened. So how did he become so “well known” for it? That is a riddle worthy of Gollum (or better, Bilbo, since it’s not actually a proper riddle :).

I suppose private copies may have been circulating among Tolkien’s friends and colleagues, rather like Songs for the Philologists and Tolkien’s edition of Sir Orfeo. But if so, I have not read of any surviving. Perhaps he passed around his own (only?) copy. But that would have been risky, wouldn’t it, my precious, yesss. The radio broadcast probably helped, but how large a portion of the translation was read? It’s a long poem, well over a thousand lines! Was the unknown author of the contributor blub in Essays and Studies exaggerating? Was this one of Tolkien’s friends, someone who had indeed read and passed around the translation?

All these questions prompted by an all but forgotten note on a contributor! Perhaps someone can unearth a little more infor-mation. In the meantime, I suppose it’s true after all that “lesser work can earn more pay; / And the longer you reckon, the less hath more” [4].


[1] Essays and Studies, Vol. 6 (1953), [n.p.].

[2] Gordon died unexpectedly in 1938, and plans for the edition of The Pearl went on hold. The edition was eventually completed by Gordon’s widow Ida (with assistance from Tolkien) in 1953, the same year Beorhtnoth was published!

[3] Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond. The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader’s Guide. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006, pp. 748–9, et seq.

[4] This, like the title of the post, is from Tolkien’s translation of The Pearl, finally published in 1975. The title comes from 70.9, the closing quotation from 50.11–2.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

They say Brazil is a tough nut to crack ...

Who the heck is this?!
At the beginning of June, I came across a Brazilian website devoted to J.R.R. Tolkien called Dúvendor. It came to my attention through nothing more than idle ego-surfing. As it happens, my essay in Tolkien Studies 5 — “Three Rings for whom exactly? And why? Justifying the disposition of the Three Elven Rings” — has been translated into Portuguese and posted there without permission (one of seven articles from Tolkien Studies). It comes out as “Três Anéis para … quem exatamente? E por quê?” The subtitle evidently got lost in translation. ;)

This doesn’t bother me personally, especially since I have learned that the site administrator, Daniel De Boni, posts fans’ translations of certain articles because many readers in Brazil can’t read them otherwise. I should say that I haven’t yet studied the translation closely to assess its quality. Reading through the first few paragraphs (without the original in front of me), it seems pretty accurate. Anyway, the question of permissions is something for others to sort out. But I was quite amused when I saw my essay there. Why? Have a look for yourself by following this link. Anything look odd to you here?

Okay, I suppose you have to actually know me personally to see the problem. But here it is. The picture? That’s not me! It’s just some random dude! How I laughed when I saw this!

Some of the photos on the site are of the right people (e.g., Anne Petty, Tom Shippey), but others are not (e.g., Verlyn Flieger and me). Mark Hooker’s photo was also a purely random one, but when I told him about the site, he got in touch when them and had this corrected. I’ll probably do the same … eventually. In the meantime, I found this too funny not to share. (At the same time, it’s flattering that somebody out there felt my essay was one of the few — so far — worth translating for a Portuguese-speaking audience. Muito obrigado!)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A new Tolkien reference — well, almost new

A couple of years ago, Tom Shippey wrote a guest editorial for Mallorn, the journal of the Tolkien Society, in which he identified several areas of Tolkien studies as yet un- or under-explored. I had reason to read this editorial again recently, in prep-aration for a panel discussion at the Mythopoeic Society’s annual conference (Mythcon) last month. (And I read it again just a few weeks ago and cited it in a book review, forthcoming in the next issue of Mythlore.) Well, when Tom suggests something ought to be looked into, then it really ought to be looked into. He even encourages others to take the lead, generously sharing his ideas:

Reverting to images from World War I, much of the above must sound like “château generalship”, with the old guy well to the rear urging the young enthusiasts forward to do something he does not care to try in person. If all these are such good ideas, why not use them myself? The answer is, and I will say it in Latin to elevate the tone of this piece, non possumus omnia omnes, and in English to make sure everyone gets it — “we can’t all do everything”. There just isn’t time. I look forward to pursuing some of these thoughts, I hope for quite a long way, but I would be very pleased as well if someone else would get there first. There is, after all, a great deal of juice in Tolkien, more than enough to go round. [1]
One of the items Tom singled out in his editorial was this:
[R.G.] Collingwood and Tolkien were both Fellows of Pembroke College for nearly a decade till 1934, when Collingwood took up a Chair at C.S. Lewis’s college, Magdalen. Did the three of them ever talk about, agree about, disagree about the subject of folktales, on which Collingwood was working and publicly lecturing in the 1930s? […] Tolkien was furthermore surely aware of W.G. Collingwood, R.G.’s father, who not only helped to found the Viking Society and wrote influential works on Icelandic sagas, early English inscribed stones, and the “historical” King Arthur, but also published several historical novels set in Dark Age England of a kind which (I think) Tolkien would have liked. [2]
About a year later, Tom mentioned Collingwood again in an online chat celebrating the release of The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, in which I also participated. There, he said, “I suspect [Tolkien’s] Oxford milieu has not been much investigated. Did he ever talk to R. Collingwood? They must have known each other, and Collingwood was taking a deep interest in folktale at that time. Tolkien also, I think, had a high opinion of his father. There may have been other social/intellectual connections, which could be researched” [3].

I begin to wonder about this too. Over the past week or so, sparked by having just read the editorial again, I started to poke around. There were extremely few references to R.G. Collingwood in the usual places. Nothing in Tolkien’s biography or published letters, for example. I found a reference to Collingwood in the bibliography for Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond’s wonderful Reader’s Guide, but nothing specific about him in the book. The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia makes one reference to W.G. Collingwood, the father — totally incidental, as far as Tolkien is concerned — and none to R.G.

The most specific references to R.G. Collingwood I have found come from J.S. Ryan, who mentions him in two of the essays recently collected in Tolkien’s View: Windows into His World. But the references are anecdotal and short on specifics. “Tolkien had had so many significant conversations with R.G. Collingwood […] in his own earlier years in Pembroke College”, and things of that sort [4]. Ryan is a little more specific in another essay, offering a few more details and even citing the book we’ll be coming to shortly [5].

But on my own, I had come across a nice, rather juicy reference to Tolkien in one of Collingwood’s books. Even better, it seemed as if no one had yet printed it! The references (two, actually) occur in Collingwood’s Roman Britain and the English Settlements, where he noted that “special debts must be mentioned. My colleague Professor J.R.R. Tolkien has helped me untiringly with problems of Celtic philology. […]” [6] Of which there is one example of this assistance:
Let us look at the evidence. Sulis,¹ the goddess of the hot springs at Bath, came into her own at a very early date; her temple, with its classical architecture and very unclassical sculpture, was probably built in the Flavian period. But less than thirty miles away across the Severn, Nodens, the hunter-god of the Forest of Dean, who survived in later mythology as Nuada of the Silver Hand, king of the Tuatha dé Danann, and later still as King Lear, […]

1. She is traditionally called Sul; but Professor Tolkien points out to me that the Celtic nominative can only be Sulis, and our authority for believing that even the Romans made a nominative Sul on the analogy of their own word sol — perhaps meaning the same — is not good. The Celtic sulis may mean ‘the eye’, and this again may mean the sun. [7]
Clearly , Tolkien was still thinking about Nodens, a subject he had explored four or five years earlier, in 1932. Tolkien does not mention Collingwood’s work in that essay [8], but it’s probable that he knew it and that they discussed the subject at Pembroke. Collingwood had published previous versions of his research, Roman Britain (1932) and The Archaeology of Roman Britain (1930), either of which might have made references to Tolkien, but I found nothing there. But the two references quoted above are interesting because they give additional weight to the argument that Tolkien was well-versed in Celtic philology (however, at least one contemporary reviewer criticized Tolkien on that score [9]).

But in any case, so far as I knew, no one had ever reprinted this quotation. Ah, but I said the reference was “almost new”, didn’t I? I often forget (and should never) that it’s not enough to consult Wayne and Christina’s printed books — one must also never forget to check their online addenda and corrigenda! As it happens, sometime after their Chronology appeared at the end of 2006, they wrote an addendum online:

p. 181, insert before entry for 14 January 1936:

By 14 January 1936 Tolkien assists R.G. Collingwood, the Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford and a colleague at Pembroke College, ‘untiringly with problems of Celtic philology’, as Collingwood will write in the preface (dated 14 January 1936) to Books I–IV of Roman Britain and the English Settlements by Collingwood and J.N.L. Myres (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936; 2nd edn. 1937), p. vii. On p. 264, Collingwood mentions in a footnote regarding Sulis, the goddess of the hot springs at Bath, that ‘she is traditionally called Sul; but Professor Tolkien points out to me that the Celtic nominative can only be Sulis, and our authority for believing that even the Romans made a nominative Sul on the analogy of their own word sol – perhaps meaning the same – is not good. The Celtic sulis may mean ‘the eye”, and this again may mean the sun.’ [10]
Alas, I have to confess my disappointment at having been beaten to the punch. But how can I even pretend surprise? Wayne and Christina are two of the best researchers the discipline of Tolkien studies has ever seen. I must try to keep in mind Tom Shippey’s pleasure “if someone else would get there first”. The important thing is to excavate these references and to bring these little gems into the light of scholarly study. If I’m not the first to mine the same vein, at least it’s being mined. Much ado about nothing? Probably. Well ... back to the dig.

[1] Shippey, Tom. “Guest Editorial: An Encyclopedia of Ignorance.” Mallorn 45 (Spring 2008): 3–5, p. 5.

[2] Ibid., p. 4.

[3] “Transcript of chat session with Pr. Tom Shippey during The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun Online Release Party (09.05.09)”, http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/press/885-Tom_Shippey_chat_session.php

[4] Ryan, J.S. “Tolkien’s Concept of Philology as Mythology.” Tolkien’s View: Windows into His World. Zurich and Jena: Walking Tree Publishers, 2009. 103–20, p. 120. Interestingly, this reference comes in the last footnote to the essay, but it’s missing from the original essay, published in Seven in 1986. There, there is no mention of Collingwood. Ryan evidently added this reference for the reprint!

[5] Ibid., “Mid-Century Perceptions of the Ancient Celtic Peoples of ‘England’.” 189–98, pp. 194, 195, 198. I don’t have a copy of the original essay from Seven, 1988, to compare, but I expect the references to Collingwood are there in this case.

[6] R.G. Collingwood and J.N.L. Myres. Roman Britain and the English Settlements. The Oxford History of England, ed. G.N. Clark. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936 [2nd ed. 1937], p. vii.

[7] Ibid., p. 264 and note 1.

[8] Reprinted in Tolkien Studies 4 (2007): 177–83.

[9] T.F. O’Rahilly, who wrote: “Stokes, followed by Rhys and Thurneysen, would refer Nuadu to the IE. root neud–, ‘acquire possession of ‘, seen in Germ. geniessen and nutzen. The same etymology is adopted by J.R.R. Tolkien in his discussion of the name Nodons […]. A serious objection to this etymology is that this root neud–, so far as is known, is peculiar to the Germanic and Baltic languages ; there is no trace of it in Celtic.” In Early Irish History and Mythology. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1946, pp. 495–6.

[10] “Addenda and Corrigenda to The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (2006), Vol. 1: Chronology”, http://mysite.verizon.net/wghammond/addenda/chronology.html

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

German — warum störrisch?!

I’ve been wondering about this for some time. I haven’t researched the question, in part because I’m not quite sure where to begin, and I’m hoping some of you can help me. In a nutshell, why has declension survived into Modern German, almost unchanged after more than a thousand years? Three genders and four (sometimes five) cases make learning the language more difficult for those unaccustomed to case systems. It’s a complaint I hear a lot about such languages (not only German, but Russian, Polish, Irish, Finnish, Greek, to name a few). It’s a little easier to learn the paradigms for “dead” languages (e.g., Ancient Greek, Latin, Sanskrit), because one generally tends only to read fixed texts, not to attempt to converse in these languages. One must only recognize inflected forms; one is not normally called on to summon them up during ad hoc conversations. It’s a question of passive versus active mastery.

I know there have been a few changes to German declensional paradigms over the centuries, sure, but the rest of the Germanic family has pretty much given up on them entirely, or nearly so. In Modern English, the only really conspicuous survival of the system is in the personal pronouns. Everywhere else — articles, numbers, adjectives, and of course, nouns — they’ve been swept almost completely into the dustbin of history. This is pretty universally true of the Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Frisian, Dutch (though Dutch held on perhaps longest of all of them). Of the Germanic family*, it’s really only Modern (High) German that has stubbornly retained its original declensional system, and the system in use today is almost the same system in Middle High German, and it’s easily recognized even in Old High German texts more than a thousand years old. Why?

Just to give you an idea of the similarities, take a look at the following table representing the definite article in Old High German, Modern German, Old English, and Modern English. As you’ll see, the ancient forms are readily recognized, and it’s very clear that the Old English forms are close cognates to those in Old High German and even Modern German. This gives German speakers some advantage over English speakers when each attempts to learn Old English. Why have these distinctions survived in German, when they have been mostly abandoned by the rest of the family? (Note: I omitted the plural forms from the OHG paradigm because these have, in fact, changed a good deal, with distinct forms for each gender collapsing into a single plural form for each case in the modern language.)

 OHG masc.neut.fem.
nom.dërdazdiu
acc.dëndazdie
dat.dëmudëmudëru
gen.dësdësdëra
...
 German masc.neut.fem.pl.
nom.derdasdiedie
acc.dendasdiedie
dat.demdemderden
gen.desdesderder
...
 OE masc.neut.fem.pl.
nom.seþætseoþa
acc.þoneþætþaþa
dat.þæmþæmþæreþæm
gen.þæsþæsþæreþæra
...
 English sing.pl.
all casesthethe

* Modern Icelandic is the other notable exception. It’s still a highly inflected language, but in this case (no pun intended ;), an insular history explains how the grammar has been preserved, virtually unchanged, since the days of Snorri Sturluson. But German is its antithesis: spoken in the middle of a busy continent, by more than one hundred million (compared to less than half a million for Icelandic). German has also been widely used as a language of science, philology, literature, and even music. One should have expected substantial erosion. Why hasn’t this occurred? Any theories?

Monday, August 16, 2010

A treasure trove for George MacDonald scholars

A few years ago, I wrote an essay for a relatively obscure journal called North Wind: A Journal of George MacDonald Studies. I accepted with some resignation that the essay would probably fade into oblivion (not that it deserves to be trumpeted as groundbreaking research; it’s really little more than a collation of notes), but I was pleased to see that David Bratman covered it in “The Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies 2006”, where he wrote:
Jason Fisher’s “Reluctantly Inspired: George MacDonald and the Genesis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major” (North Wind 25: 113–20) is less concerned with that particular story than with tracing the history of Tolkien’s attitude towards his predecessor. Fisher lists a few distinct echoes of MacDonald in Tolkien’s pre-1940s children’s fiction, and attributes Tolkien’s later dislike of MacDonald to his increasing distaste for allegory and whimsicality. [1]
Even so, the essay would probably have been quickly forgotten by everyone but me, were it not for this: St. Norbert College, which houses North Wind, has now digitized the entire run of the journal and put all twenty-eight years of its George MacDonald studies online, free for anyone to read! Consequently, anyone who would like to can read my essay, here. You might notice that they misspelled Tolkien’s name in the title of the PDF (and here, in the table of contents for this volume). Regrettable.

Anyway, I wanted to bring this to the attention of MacDonald fans and scholars; this is quite a hoard being opened up to the public. I haven’t done more than merely skim the contents so far, but you can browse the volumes by following the link above, or you can browse essays by contributor, genre/topic, or MacDonald work, here. There’s also a complete index of articles, arranged by title. (Note that the index contains lots of duplicates; I’m not sure why. Probably poor web design.)


[1] Bratman, David. “The Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies 2006.” Tolkien Studies 6 (2009): 315–44, p. 334.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tookish musings

Took is one of the few names Tolkien claims not to have “Englished” — that is, adapted into the translation conceit by which he explained so many other names. These “one or two older names of forgotten meaning [which Tolkien was] content to anglicize in spelling” in-cluded “Took for Tûk and Boffin for Bophîn”. [1] In the “Nomenclature”, Tolkien echoes this: “Took. Hobbit-name of unknown origin representing actual Hobbit Tūk […]. It should thus be kept and spelt phonetically according to the LT [i.e., the Language of Translation].” [2]

From a story-internal point of view, this is perfectly plausible, but from the story-external vantage, why wouldn’t Tolkien just “come up with something”? A possible answer is that he was stuck with Took from The Hobbit, long before Middle-earth had come into focus and the translation conceit entered Tolkien’s mind, and he simply couldn’t think of anything. Or perhaps there was a source, but it simply wasn’t appropriate for or adaptable to The Lord of the Rings.

I’m not aware of any real source criticism on this name, not even by my friend, Mark Hooker, who has worked his way pretty systematically through the “Nomenclature”. Perhaps the claim of invention on Tolkien’s part has discouraged scholars and dictionary divers. But let’s not be discouraged!

It turns out that Took, like Boffin, Grubb, Bolger, so many others of the Shire and Bree, is a real British surname. Ernest Weekley points out that the genuine name, Tooke, derives from the Anglo-Saxon Toca. [3] The Anglo-Saxon name, in turn, apparently derived from an Old Norse name Tóki, but had become naturalized in the southern part of England by the 11th century. [4] Tom Shippey has noted the survival of the name: “As for ‘Took’, that too appears a faintly comic name in modern English (people prefer to respell it ‘Tooke’), but it is only the ordinary Northern pronunciation of the very common ‘Tuck’” [5].

Another possibility: it occurs to me that Tolkien might even have chosen Took as the name for his most adventurous hobbit-family in facetious reference to his own name, Tolkien, which glosses (more or less) as “foolhardy”. If so, then this would seem a perfectly appropriate choice.

So, it’s pretty clear to me that Tolkien might have resurrected the genuine English Took(e), just as he did Gamgee, Brandybuck, Bracegirdle, Hornblower, and all the rest. And/or he may have been thinking of the etymology of his own name. Is there any more to be said? Yes, just a little, and here’s where things get more interesting — but more wildly speculative. It just so happens, there was a rather well-known philologist by the name of Tooke!

John Horne Tooke (1736–1812) was a Cambridge-educated etymologist and politician. His best-known work, Επεα Πτεροεντα, or the Diversions of Purley (1786), is a collection of philological dialogues on subjects such as: “Of the Division or Distribution of Language”, “Etymology of the English Conjunctions”, “Of the Article and Interjection”, “Of Participles”, and so on. The kind of thing that was right up Tolkien’s street.

In 1805, a reviewer assessed Horne Tooke’s impact on lexicography, thus: “to him the English language owes the pristine introduction of just principles, and a most extensive, learned, and detailed application of them to the etymology of its terms. He has laid the groundwork for a good Dictionary” [6]. But this was an early opinion. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was more critical, writing in 1830 that, although “Horne Tooke was pre-eminently a ready-witted man[, h]e had that clearness which is founded on shallow-ness. He doubted nothing; and, therefore, gave you all that he himself knew, or meant, with great completeness. […] All that is worth any thing (and that is but little) in the Diversions of Purley is contained in a short pamphlet-letter […]” [7].

Indeed, philology has come a long way since Horne Tooke’s days. Most of his ideas have been superseded or proven patently wrong (e.g., his etymology for “Shire” [8] is clearly incorrect [9]). He is viewed nowadays as somewhat of a crackpot. [10] But there can be no doubt that Diversions of Purley made quite a splash, one whose ripples were felt throughout the 19th century, inspiring both argument and imitation. It was clearly a part of the zeitgeist of the century, the lexicographical culmination of which was the launching of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (now known as the Oxford English Dictionary). Tolkien himself was employed by the OED in 1919–20. I do not know of any evidence that Tolkien was aware of Horne Tooke or his philological work more than a century before, but James Murray, one of the original editors of the OED, certainly was [11]. Murray died shortly before Tolkien’s appointment to the Dictionary, but it is tantalizing to think that Tolkien might have learned of Horne Tooke during his tenure in the Old Ashmolean. I know of no reason to assume he didn’t know of him.

Assuming Tolkien learned of Horne Tooke, perhaps even read his work, is it possible the name stuck in his mind, only to reappear a decade or so later as an “Englishy” surname in his children’s book, The Hobbit? A notorious philologist named Horne Tooke is tempting quarry. Even Horne, suggesting a musical instrument, faintly recalls the hobbit names Hornblower and Bullroarer. It’s probably just coincidence, but it’s certainly not impossible that the name influenced Tolkien. After all, Tolkien made reference to lexicography elsewhere in his fiction, as in the “four wise clerks of Oxenford” in Farmer Giles of Ham.


[1] Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, III.

[2] Tolkien, “Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings”, in Hammond, Wayne G., and Christina Scull. The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005. 750–782, p. 764.

[3] Weekley, Ernest. The Romance of Names. 3rd rev. ed. London: John Murray, 1922, p. 75.

[4] Smart, Veronica J. , 280. “Moneyers of the Late Anglo-Saxon Coinage: the Danish Dynasty, 1017–42.” Anglo-Saxon England 16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987. 233–308, p. 280

[5] Shippey, Tom. The Road to Middle-earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology. Rev. and exp. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003, p. 103. I’m not sure Tom is correct that Tooke and Tuck are the same name; I’ve read contrary views. Tuck and Tucker seem to be vocational names, but I’ve seen no such theory advanced for Tooke. But I’ll keep looking.

[6] Quoted in Tooke, John Horne. Επεα Πτεροεντα, or, The Diversions of Purley. New ed., rev. and corrected, with notes, by Richard Taylor. London: Thomas Tegg, 1840, p. xiv.

[7] Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Specimens of the Table Talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ed. Henry Nelson Coleridge. 2nd ed. London: John Murray, 1836, p. 62 (see also passim).

[8] Tooke, p. 424.

[9] See for example, Skeat, Walter W. An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. 3rd. ed. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1898, p. 548.

[10] See Lynch, Jack. The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of ‘Proper’ English, from Shakespeare to South Park. New York : Walker & Co., 2009.

[11] See Mugglestone, Lynda. Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the Oxford English Dictionary. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.