Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Flirtations with minor celebrity

For those who haven’t seen it yet, I was recently interviewed for PBS NewsHour. Not the television program, but their website. You can read the parts of the interview they published by following this link. The interview has been picked up and shared on a number of different PBS affiliate websites, and PBS shared it on their Facebook page as well. The Facebook post has been shared by more than 200 people. Nice!

But the biggest surprise came today. This morning, Andrew Sullivan, perhaps the world’s best and most-read blogger, mentioned me by name, quoted something I said in the PBS interview, and told his more than a million loyal readers about my book! You can read his blog post on The Dish (part of The Daily Beast). Please feel free to share the interview and the Andrew Sullivan blog post!

Funnily enough, this isn’t the first time political bloggers and pundits have picked up stuff I’ve said. Some time ago, I was consulted on the whole “tea party hobbits” kerfuffle. You can read the original piece in the Christian Science Monitor online. That interview also made the rounds of various political websites. Then-Senator Jim DeMint even quoted me (that was pretty surreal!), but catching the attention of Andrew Sullivan is much more gratifying!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Deep discount on my book!

The Kindle edition of my book is now available at a fantastic discount as part of a limited-time promotion by McFarland and Amazon. The softcover normally retails for $40, and the Kindle edition for $24.99, but for a short time, you can get it on Kindle for only $3.99! That's a savings of 90% off the softcover list price! Follow this link to buy it.

There’s no better time than now to get a copy if you don’t already have one. Or if you have a print copy but not the Kindle, this price makes it easy to get both formats. And please note that you don’t even have to have a Kindle to get the Kindle edition. Amazon provides a PC version of the Kindle reader as a free download. So if you’d benefit from having a digital, searchable copy of the book, now’s your chance. Even if you already have the Kindle edition, please share the link on any Tolkien websites or forums you frequent, and tell your friends about it.

In the old days, deep discounts usually meant that printed books were being remaindered, the first stop on their way into oblivion. But that’s not what this is about. This is part of deliberate, short-term marketing promotion designed to get my book (and some others McFarland has selected) into more people’s hands by Christmas. McFarland also hopes that the increased traffic and sales will catch the attention of Amazon’s cross-promotional algorithms, resulting in a boost in softcover sales as well. Let’s hope so!

Sorry for the blatantly commercial post, but the more people reading my book, the better. I’m sure you understand. :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mystery Tolkien passage, solved!

A passage caught my eye in Alliterative Poetry in Middle English (Volume 1), by James Parker Oakden and Elizabeth Ruth (Manchester University Press, 1930). Discussing matters of Middle English dialectal orthography, the authors quote Tolkien thus: “The local names originally beginning with hw, written down at Cockersand in Furness are spelt qu, whereas such local names south of the Ribble are spelt wh, w.” (p. 29)

Does anyone recognize this? It’s not ringing a bell, and the authors don’t footnote their source.

Though the book was published in 1930, the manuscript would have been completed in 1928 or 1929. In an addendum (p. 273), the authors make reference to a new edition of Alexander A and B by F.P. Magoun, published in 1929, “too late to be considered in the present volume”. This suggests that any work by Tolkien  to which they could have had access must have been published, at the latest, by early 1929. That leaves a relatively short list.

  • A Middle English Vocabulary (1922)
  • “Philology: General Works.” The Year’s Work in English Studies 4 (1923) [1924]
  • “The Devil’s Coach-Horses.” The Review of English Studies 1.3 (July 1925)
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon (1925)
  • “Some Contributions to Middle-English Lexicography.” The Review of English Studies 1.2 (April 1925)
  • “Philology: General Works.” The Year’s Work in English Studies 5 (1924) [1926]
  • “Philology: General Works.” The Year’s Work in English Studies 6 (1925) [1927]
  • “Foreword.” In Walter E. Haigh’s A New Glossary of the Dialect of the Huddersfield District (1928)
  • “Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad.” Essays and Studies by Members of the English Association 14 (January 1929)

The passage in question could be from Tolkien and Gordon’s edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, because the authors do cite that edition, but they normally refer to Tolkien and Gordon together (e.g., pp. 73, 257, 266, 267). There is one instance where they refer to this text by Tolkien’s name alone (p. 17), so the passage quoted above could be from Sir Gawain. But I don’t remember it and didn’t spot it at a glance. There are sections of Tolkien’s review essays for YWES discussing place-names, but at a quick glance, I didn’t see the quoted passage their either. Likewise, I scanned through his other works of the period and didn’t come across it. Some of these works I know pretty well, and I don’t recall this passage. It’s certainly possible I missed it in hasty skimming.

Anyone? And if we can’t track it down, what does that mean? That the authors err in attributing the remarks to Tolkien? Or could they be quoting a statement Tolkien made privately? Or what? If any of you reading this can track down the passage, please do tell.

Update: Utúvienyes and eureka! I’ve found it! See the comments. :)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sméagol — what’s in a name?

On Facebook today, Marcel Aubron-Bülles sent out an appeal to linguistically minded Tolkien scholars, tapping me on the shoulder along with Michael Drout, Thomas Honegger, Rainer Nagel, and others. His question: “Sméagol is derived from ‘smygel’, in itself an OE noun (see Bosworth/Toller). Is ‘Sméagol’ therefore a modernised adaption, i.e. a noun?”

Michael Drout was the first to weigh in, suggesting Sméagol derives not from smygel “burrow, cave” but from sméagan “to inquire, investigate, be curious about”, on the grounds that Sméagol was “the most inquisitive member of his community, and he got his name before the murder of Déagol (which means ‘secret’).”

Then, Marcel quoted from the guide to the people, places, and things that Tolkien prepared for translators in the mid-1960’s: “Smials. A word peculiar to Hobbits (not Common Speech), meaning ‘burrow’ […]. It is a form that the Old English word smygel ‘burrow’ might have had, if it had survived. The same element appears in Gollum’s real name, Sméagol.”

To this, I would add that Tolkien had already addressed this point in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, where he wrote:
This assimilation [i.e., the same as in “the forms and spellings of place-names in Rohan”] also provided a convenient way of representing the peculiar local hobbit-words that were of northern origin. They have been given the forms that lost English words might well have had, if they had come down to our day. Thus mathom is meant to recall ancient English máthm, and so to represent the relationship of the actual Hobbit kast to R. kastu. Similarly smial (or smile) ‘burrow’ is a likely form for a descendant of smygel, and represents well the relationship of Hobbit trân to R. trahan. Sméagol and Déagol are equivalents made up in the same way for the names Trahald ‘burrowing, worming in’, and Nahald ‘secret’ in the Northern tongues. [App. F, II]
And there is a relevant passage from Tolkien’s letters also, in a 1967 draft letter to “Mr. Rang”, who had written Tolkien to inquire about his nomenclature. Here, he notes that Old English is the source for:
a few […] survivals in Hobbit-dialect derived from the region (The Vale of Anduin to the immediate north of Lórien) where that dialect of the Northmen developed its particular character. To which may be added Déagol and Sméagol; and the local names Gladden River, and the Gladden Fields, which contains A.S. glædene ‘iris’, in my book supposed to refer to the ‘yellow flag’ growing in streams and marshes. [Letters, #297]
Sméagol is not attested in the Old English corpus, though there are many words built from the same roots. In addition to sméagan (as Mike Drout has already noted), there are sméah “creeping in, penetrating”, sméalic “searching, penetrating”, smúgan “to creep, crawl”, sméa(g)ung “search, inquiry, investigation”, etc. But since *sméagol isn’t attested, how do we know whether it would have derived from a noun or a verb. Indeed, how do we know what part of speech *sméagol itself would have been? These questions are at the heart of what Marcel was trying to figure out.

The key lies in its mate, déagol, which is a genuine Old English word. As Mike and others have pointed out, it means “secret, dark, obscure, hidden”, quite suitable for any friend of Sméagol’s. Appropriately enough for an associate of Gollum, déagol also appears in a riddles in the Exeter Book (“Hyrre ic eom heofone, || hateþ mec heahcyning / his deagol þing || dyre bihealdan”). So, if anything can, déagol ought to shed light on *sméagol.

Déagol (also dégol, díegol, dígol, etc.) is an adjective deriving from Primitive Germanic *dauȜilaz. There are cognates in Old High German tougal(i) “hidden”, Old Norse dul “concealment” and dylja “to hide, conceal” (which exhibits palatalization and would probably have been *dylga at some earlier point), and even Modern Swedish dold. The Old English word also survived into Middle English as diȜel. Adjectives ending in –ol normally derive from verbs, and the suffix is indicative of tendency, inclination, ability, etc. Besides déagol (from díegian “to hide” + –ol), there are plenty of other examples: béogol “agreeable”, fretol “greedy”, hetol “hateful”, meagol “earnest, mighty”, numol “capable, nimble”, sprecol “talkative”, sweotol “plain”, þancol “thoughtful”.

This suggests very strongly that *sméagol could well have been a genuine adjective (derived from Primitive Germanic *smauȜilaz), even though it is nowhere recorded. It would apparently have been formed from sméagan “to consider, meditate, examine” + –ol. It probably would not have come from smúgan. That verb could have given rise to an adjective *smugol “creeping, crawling, gliding”, and indeed the Middle English smuhel “lithe, gliding, stealthy, slippery”, a hapax legomenon occurring only in the Ancrene Wisse, is its likely descendant (and cp. Old Irish smugall). This is a word that probably attracted Tolkien’s eye at some point, considering his work on the Ancrene Wisse. But indirectly, the verb sméagan probably did arise metaphorically from smúgan “to creep, crawl”, with its more appropriate sense of Gollumishness. And cp. Old Norse smjúga and of course, Tolkien’s Smaug. Although *sméagol is not recorded, the element sméa– is attested in the adjective sméa-þancol “contemplative, sharp-witted”. And although an adjective *sméagol hasn’t survived in English, at least the noun smygel has. I’ve wondered whether this may be the source of the Germanic/Slavic/Jewish surname Smigel, Smiegel, Schmiegel, etc. Does anyone know?

So, to bottom line this meandering meditation on our slippery friend. The name Sméagol has not been modernized. It retains the form of an unattested but straightforward Old English adjective, precisely analogous to Déagol. And I agree that Mike Drout is probably right that Sméagol derives directly from sméagan (with the addition of a suffix of tendency), and not from smúgan or smygel directly. Moreover, we must conclude that Tolkien was a little bit, well, wrong, when he suggested that Sméagol had to do with burrowing, creeping, worming, etc. Or rather, that sense is there, but it’s buried deeper (appropriately enough), underneath the more immediate sense of inquiring, investigating, being curious about things.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Reconstructed lexis in Tolkien and Gordon’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

I recently posted a list of reconstructed word-forms compiled from Tolkien’s Middle English Vocabulary, which met with some enthusiasm. Thus encouraged, and as a further public service, I have now compiled a similar list from the glossary to Tolkien and E.V. Gordon’s 1925 edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for which Tolkien was responsible for the text and glossary, Gordon the notes. There are several entries common to both glossaries, but there are a lot more French forms in Sir Gawain. In addition, the Old English forms are predominantly Mercian. This list adds to the raw material available to researchers into Tolkien’s philological work.

My copy of the book is a 1946 reprint with the corrections of the 1930 impression, and it happens to be somebody’s Examination Prize from Pembroke College, Cambridge. I wonder whose? The impression is important, because in 1967, the edition was revised by Tolkien’s student Norman Davis; therefore, the glossary may not be an entirely reliable guide to Tolkien’s work from that point on.

As before, please let me know if you spot oversights or errors. The only deliberate change I’ve made is not to mark vowels that were long but in the process of shortening with both the macron and breve. Since most fonts do not contain those glyphs, I’ve simply marked them long.


*ǣniges cynnes; at any
*be līfe; at biliue
*bitācnung; at bytoknyng
*boþm; at boþe
*byldan; at bylde
*byrde; at burde
*clædde, pret. of rare clǣþan; at clad
*cyllan; at kylled
*dræht; at draȜt
*drūhþ–, drūgoþ; at droȜt
*dylle, rel. to dol; at dille
*féldan; at felde
*fician, cf. befician; at fyked
*forþ, ford; at forþe
*gēgan, rel. to ON geyja; at ȜeȜe
*gelping; at Ȝelpyng
*georran; at Ȝar(r)ande
*glimerian; at glemered
*halian, or OFr haler; at hale
*hecg; at hegge
*hyppan; at hypped
*lēofman; at lemman
*mān, rel. to mǣnan; at mone
*mysig; at misy
*piccan, cf. late pīcan; at piched
*pīn; at pine
*pīpian; at pipe
*rāmian; at rome
*rīfe; at ryue
*rittan; at rytte
*ryccan, cf. ON rykkja; at ruch(ch)e
*(ge)sǣte; at sete
*scaterian; at schaterande
*slīet, *slēt, cf. MLG slōte; at slete
*slittan; at slyt
*slūmerian; at slomeryng
*stecan; at stoken
*stertan; at start(e)
*stihtlian; at stiȜtel
*stiorne; at sturn(e)
*strāc; at strok(e)
*talcian; at talk(ke)
*toht; at toȜt
*trȳstan; at tryst
*unto; at vnto
*wæ(c)st; at wast
*smīlan, cf. OHG smīlan; at smyle
*wíld; at wylde


*a(u)mail; at aumayl
*blanc de mer; at blaunmer
*cel(e)ure, cf. L cēlātura; at selure
*cout(i)ere; at cowters
*daliance; at dalyaunce
*malgred; at mawgref
*molein; at molaynes
*reuerenc(i)er; at reuerenced
*sa(u)ve-nape; at sanap
*teme; at teme


*kenil; at kenel
*lekerous; at lykkerwys


*avanter; at avanters
*entrelude, Anglo-Latin interludium; at enterludeȜ


*banke, later bakki; at bonk(e)
*beiðna, later beina; at bayþe(n)
*blenkja, later blekkya; at blenk(e)
*drahtr, later dráttr; at draȜt
*fjaska; at fyskeȜ
*glenta, cf. Norw glenta; at glent
*hrunka; at ronkled
*ke(a)rr–, later kjarr; at ker(re)
*renk, later rekkr; at renk
*skiuj–, later ský; at skweȜ
*slenta, later sletta; at slentyng
*sprenta, later spretta; at sprent
*þoh, later þó; at þof
*trýsta; at tryst
*dréug–, later drjúgr; at dreȜ


*cauelaciounȜ; at kauelacion
*inurned; at enn(o)urned
*quoþ; at coþe


*crag, cf. Middle Breton cragg; at cragge