Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Bagshot in Tolkien and Rowling
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 . 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” . 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” . 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.
 Spender, J.A., ed. The Comments of Bagshot. London: Archibald Constable & Co., Ltd., 1908.
 “Mr. Alfred Spender in a New Light.” The Review of Reviews. Ed. William Thomas Stead. Vol. XXXVII (January–June, 1908), p. 105.
 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.