Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Slavic echoes in Tolkien — A response

This may be old news, depending on how many of you read the Ukrainian literary journal, Літературознавчі студії (“Literary Studies”), published under the auspices of the Institute of Philology at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev. Doesn’t everyone? Hahae, I know, neither do I. Not speaking Ukrainian is a bit of an obstacle, but hey, that’s why we invented machine translation. Thus armed, I have tackled an essay in the latest issue. Why? Well, because the author cites me, of course! Why else would I bother? Did I mention it’s in Ukrainian?! ;)

All kidding aside, the essay in question is “Слов’янські відлуння у творчості Дж.Р.Р. Толкіна” (“Slavic echoes in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien”), by Дмитро Кузьменко (henceforward, Dmitry Kuzmenko). For those who’d like to read it (with or without the help of robots), Kuzmenko has put a copy of the paper up on his website, here. It’s fairly short, a little under 2,000 words, but for those who’d like it even shorter, let me boil down the author’s argument.

Kuzmenko begins with the acknowledgement that Tolkien’s fictive world is one apparently “devoid of any influence of the Slavic culture and especially its literature”, but then asserts that “more detailed analysis shows otherwise” [1]. What does such analysis reveal? Kuzmenko spotlights several pieces of evidence:

  • Tolkien’s invented language, Quenya, “has a few Russian words and suffixes”, which probably came about when Tolkien attempted to learn some Russian in 1918 [2].
  • Kuzmenko asserts that “many [of Tolkien’s] toponyms […] were also words of Slavic origin”, such as Rhovanion; or if not necessary given Slavic names, they correspond to Slavic features, as he says the Anduin River springs from the Danube, “which flows mainly among the Slavic peoples and played an important role in their folklore”.
  • The example of the wizard Radagast and his home at Rhosgobel, both usually taken to have Slavic sources, although “the exact etymology of the word ‘Radagast’ remains controversial”; it is here that Kuzmenko cites me, specifically this post written for Lingwë.
  • The Variags of Khand, who (it can scarcely be argued) take their name from the Varangians, Norsemen who settled in the regions we now call Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine.
  • The original name for the character who would become Beorn in The Hobbit: Medwed, a Slavic name with the meaning “bear, honey-eater” (and which I also discuss at some length in the post on Radagast).
  • Kuzmenko suggests that “several images [...] at first glance have a Germanic origin, but on closer examination reveal Slavic parallels”, and discusses three: Mirkwood, Wargs, and the dragon Smaug.
In the end, Kuzmenko’s conclusion, that Tolkien “consciously or unconsciously achieved a literary effect in terms of Slavic culture through the prism of the Germanic”, goes too far on too little evidence. Tolkien’s intentions are essentially set aside as irrelevant and the researcher’s own argument put forward in their place (“consciously or unconsciously”, he says; but doesn’t it matter which?). Better would be to say that Tolkien did indeed incorporate a few Slavic elements into the multifaceted and multi-sourced structure and background of Middle-earth, but that he did so quite sparingly and, in almost every case, only at its furthest margins. Kuzmenko also offers little in the way of original research. The examples he gives may nearly all be found in the works he cites, most significantly in Robert Orr’s 1994 essay, “Some Slavic Echoes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth” [3].

Kuzmenko’s essay therefore doesn’t break new ground, which unfortunately tends to undermine its mission of convincing us that Slavic elements in Tolkien’s writings deserve greater attention and investigation. Tolkien himself would seem to discourage the mission, having said that “Slavonic languages are for me almost in the same category [i.e., no aptitude]. I have had a go at many tongues in my time, but [...] the time I once spent on trying to learn Serbian and Russian have left me with no practical results, only a strong impression of the structure and word-aesthetic” [4].

There is a problem inherent in arguments like those of Orr and Kuzmenko; actually a couple of problems. For one, the mere existence of Slavic cognates to Germanic words we know were of interest to Tolkien says nothing about whether Tolkien was or was not aware of them, let alone whether he intended them to be detectable by readers (with one exception: “Variag”). For another, we often don’t know which cognates were the older ones, the Germanic of Slavic, though in some cases — as of, say, Gothic versus Old Church Slavonic — it’s pretty clearly apparent which is older. Third, even if a Slavic form is older and was borrowed into Germanic, we have no reason to assume either that Tolkien knew this, or that he cared if he did know. And if we are only interested in cognates, why not trot out a whole wealth of Sanskrit words? Why not? Because there is absolutely no evidence that Tolkien had Sanskrit in mind at any stage of the development of Middle-earth. One can make almost as definitive a rejection of the Balto-Slavic branch — but instead of absolutely no evidence, it’s rather simply very little. Certainly much less even than the Goidelic branch of the Celtic family, which Tolkien himself largely rejected.

For one example of something that has been made too much of, take Medwed, the original name for Beorn. Yes, this name is incontrovertibly Slavic. But why should this be cause for Slavists to rejoice? Tolkien rejected the name before publication of The Hobbit, replacing the Slavic name with a Germanic one. The fact of that rejection says something about Tolkien’s attitude toward the suitability of Slavic elements in Middle-earth, and should probably discourage the overenthusiastic search for others.

Note that I don’t mean to discourage all research in this area — far from it; I’m thinking only of the really overzealous, “no stone unturned” searches. As I indicated above, there is one very clear exception case, in Variag. This form, retained in the final published Lord of the Rings, is undeniably Slavic, from the Russian варяг, in turn from Old East Slavic (i.e., Old Russian, sometimes called Old Ukrainian) varęgŭ. The word is still in use today, actually. In Belarussian, as I understand it, вараг means both Varangian, but also (colloquially) any “tall, burly man”, and in the Arkhangelsk dialect of Russian, варяза is used to mean “a man from beyond the sea, a foreigner” (this is almost exactly, but coincidentally, analogous to the Semitic ferengi, which I have discussed before).

But aha! Despite the clearly Slavic word-shape Tolkien chose, its source is ultimately Germanic. Cognates include Old English wǽrgenga, Lombardic waregang, Old Frankish wargengus, cf. medieval Greek βαράγγως — all ultimately sourced to Old Norse væringi, váringi, from Proto- Norse *váringr, believed to derive from vár “vow, oath, pledge” + ganga “to go”, in the sense of foreigners pledged to service. [5] The word isn’t attested in Gothic, but if the Goths used the word, it would most likely have taken the form *wadjagagga, from wadi “pledge” + gagga “to go” (cf. the genuine faúragagga “a steward, lit. fore-goer”). The point is that although Tolkien chose a Slavic form for its presentation in the Middle-earth of the Third Age, the word, the very idea, of the Variags has its roots in Scandinavia, much as Beowulf has roots in Scandinavia but is seen through a distinctly English lens. And whatever (few) other Slavic echoes one might detect in Tolkien’s legendarium should, I expect, be regarded in the same way.

[1] Kuzmenko, Dmitry. “Slavic Echoes in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien.” Literary Studies (National University of Kiev) 24 (2009): 217–221. All quotations are in English, machine-translated, then edited for sense by me. If you speak Ukrainian, please feel free to suggest corrections.

[2] Kuzmenko gives no source for the claim that Russian left an imprint on Quenya; however, he must have gotten this from Ivan Derzhanski’s entry, “Russian Language”, in Michael Drout’s Tolkien Encyclopedia (pp. 581–2). Kuzmenko includes Drout as an entirely generic entry in his bibliography, but does not explicitly cite it in the essay.

[3] Orr, Robert. “Some Slavic Echoes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.” Germano-Slavica 8 (1994): 23–34. This is a solid essay, worth reading, but I think Kuzmenko may have relied rather too heavily on it. Kuzmenko’s assertion that “several images [...] at first glance have a Germanic origin, but on closer examination reveal Slavic parallels” is uncomfortably similar to Robert Orr’s “elements which at first appear to be simply taken from Germanic, but which on closer inspection appear to have various sorts of Slavic associations” (p. 23). Moreover, the three examples Kuzmenko gives — Mirkwood, Warg, and Smaug — are the same three Orr discusses, in the same order.

[4] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981, p. 173 (#142).

[5] Blöndal, Sigfús. The Varangians of Byzantium. Trans, rev., and rewritten (!) by Benedikt S. Benedikz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Reprinted 1981, 2007. pp. 4–6.


  1. I find the article to be quite interesting, but I disagree with many of Kuzmenko's points; it seems a bit tendentious to me.

    And perhaps I should mention that I'm a native speaker of a Slavic language. :)

  2. I guess people speaking Slavic languages tend to get too excited about the possibility of having any kind of connection - no matter how small or unlikely - to Tolkien's world. It seems to me that we just need to feel part of this world the same way a person speaking a Roman/Germanic language does through Tolkien's use of toponyms and languages which make the reader feel as if the whole thing had happened in their own country long time ago. We don't have that - the words Shire or farthing, for instance, speak nothing to the Slavic reader and the whole cultural background and meaning are completely lost.

    I agree with you and I too deem those overzealous 'findings' a bit too much. I have heard all kinds of things, e.g. that the Rohirrim were Proto-Bulgarians; that the word Arda comes from the Bulgarian river Arda, etc. For anyone who has read a little bit about Tolkien and some research, these statements are ridiculous, of course, but I get why people believe them to be true. It's easy to say: "Well, Tolkien was a linguist who knew a lot of languages so it's possible he had borrowed it from ours."

    However, I do believe that there needs to be further research on the topic, but it needs to come from scholars that are better versed in the subject. Anyone? ;)

  3. Mr. Ivanov, I agree with you, as usual. But we have already discussed this topic, haven't we? :)

    These are wild assumptions and pure guesses, half-guesses at best, that are unprovable and based on lack of evidence. And, quite frankly, I do not think there is anything to be researched further.
    Or am I too sceptical these days? :)

  4. @Eva: “I find the article to be quite interesting, but I disagree with many of Kuzmenko’s points; it seems a bit tendentious to me.”

    And have you read Robert Orr’s essay from 1994? It covers almost all the same ground, more thoroughly, but with a bit better hedging on any attribution of intent on Tolkien’s part.

    “And perhaps I should mention that I’m a native speaker of a Slavic language. :)”

    Oh, which one, may I ask? And please allow me to compliment you on your English (same goes for you, Kaloyan, and I know your cradle-tongue is Bulgarian).

  5. @Kaloyan: Very well said. I too appreciate the desire to “claim” some part of Tolkien’s deep and brilliant creation, even to be able to inhabit it to some extent. There is a lot of the same kind of thing going on in America, too — though not so much a linguistic issue as a cultural phenomenon. Though Tolkien was British, the vast majority of the fandom and even scholarly research seems to be centered here. That is, we all wish to claim him in some way. It’s natural, especially given the breadth of his borrowing, to want to see something of oneself among his many inspirations. But in this case, it just isn’t there. At least, not on anything approaching the level of even his minor borrowings (e.g., the Gothic). It would be like West Africans suggesting their culture somehow influenced the Japanese poet, Matsuo Bashō, simply because Basho is a dialect of the Denya language of Cameroon. It just doesn’t fly.

    Having said that, I agree with you that there may yet be a few small things left to discover. It is worth knowing, and pondering, that Tolkien originally gave his skin-changer a Slavic name, even if he did reject it later. Couold there be other such motes of Slavic inspiration here and there? Maybe.

  6. "Oh, which one, may I ask? And please allow me to compliment you on your English (same goes for you, Kaloyan, and I know your cradle-tongue is Bulgarian)."

    Thank you. :)

    I'm Bulgarian. Actually, Kaloyan and I are friends. :)

    "And have you read Robert Orr’s essay from 1994?"

    Yes, sir, I have.
    "This brief study has argued that there are several Slavic associations in the forms used by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings."

    As a matter of fact, Ryszard Derdzinski has suggested that the name Brodda may be Slavic in origin, although he did indicate that this was pure speculation.

  7. Eva, if you are on Facebook, feel free to send me a friend request (Kaloyan and I are already friends there). :)

    Regarding Ryszard’s idea, interesting! I seem to recall that I have some notes of my own on Brodda, somewhere in my files; I will have to track those down. Pure speculation has its place and can be great fun — I do it myself — so long as we acknowledge that it is only speculation right up front!

  8. Gladly. :)

    "Of the speech of Men of the East and allies of Sauron all that appears is múmak, a name of the great elephant of the Harad."
    Christopher Tolkien wrote: "A carbon copy of F 4 is extant, and here my father in a similar addition named beside múmak also Variag and Khand"

    -ak is a common Slavic suffix
    Suffixed nominals not arising from verbs include deadjectivals of bearers of properties, by means of suffixes like -ak: Blg., Rus., Ukr., Pol. prost-ak 'simpleton' (< prost- 'simple')

    We have already discussed the word Variag at lenght. :)

    We could speculate that perhaps Slavic languages represented the speech of Men of the East.

    Well, Brodda is an Easterling. :)

    However, this is mere speculation.

  9. Eva, yes, the –ak suffix as possibly relevant to mûmak has interesting potential. PE17 doesn’t have anything to add, but this is worth deeper investigation. In fact, thinking of Slovak, Hunyak, etc., would it be fair to say that the -ag suffix in Russian варяг is analogous to –ak (or perhaps not; I don’t know whether the я is “divisible” in that way).

  10. Hi, Jason, Eva, Kaloyan and the other readers of this splendid blog! Wow, the matter of the Slavic elements in Tolkien's legendarium is extremely interesting for me (of course, I'm a Slav too :-)

    About Brodda: it's mere speculation. The trace of the Easterling-Slavic connections can be the Ingvaeonic name *Winiþari (in the LotR in the Latinized form of Vinitharya) which is cognate to the Goth. *Winiþareis or *Winiþa-harjis, 'one who battles the Wends', the Wends being simply the Slavs. As Arden R. Smith wrote in his Tolkienian Gothic: "Vinitharya is another modified form of a historically attested name. It is clear that within the fictitious translation scheme the original name that Tolkien "translated" as Vinitharya would have referred to Easterlings rather than Wends; Tolkien in fact notes that the name "bore much the same meaning as Rómendakil", which is Quenya for 'East-victor'. The historical bearer of this name, called Venetharius by Jordanes, was a fourth-century king of the Ostrogoths and great-grandfather of Theodoric the Great."

    In my opinion it's one of a very few Slavic inspirations in Tolkien's legendarium. The other are connected with it, and the other are, as this one, always the elements coming from the Slavic-Germanic borderland (like Radagast and Variags of Khand).

    I've found something very interesting in Tolkien's The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún which is another clue of Tolkien's interest in this Slavic-Germanic (or rather Germanic-Slavic) borderland. It's the name Wistlawudu 'the Vistula forest' (from the Old English Widsith) which is in Tolkien's papers the Old English translation of the Old Icelandic Myrkviðr 'Mirkwood' in his "Fragments of a Heroic Poem of Attila in Old English" (LoSG, p. 369, note 11, p. 372).

    Look, Mirkwood is in Tolkien's mind connected with Wistlawudu, Mirkwood (like Wistlawudu and the river Wistla, Lat. Vistula, Pol. Wisła) are always in the ancient sources a border between the real "Northmen" and the real "Easterlings". I don't want to say that Anduin was called in the Easterling languages *Visla, but we have here another clue of the Germanic-Slavic contacts and inspirations.

  11. @Jason, you wrote:

    "In fact, thinking of Slovak, Hunyak, etc., would it be fair to say that the -ag suffix in Russian варяг is analogous to –ak (or perhaps not; I don’t know whether the я is “divisible” in that way)."

    In my opinion these -ag and -ak have different etymology, the first being Russian simplification of the original -ęga (Russian варяг is waręga in Old Polish - the Germanic suffix -ing was adapted in Old Slavic as -ęgь, -ędzь; cf. Germanic *kuningaz > Old Slavic *kъnędzь 'lord, sir, prince' (Polish ksiądz 'Catholic priest' is its today meaning).

  12. Thanks for the valuable comments, Reikhardus (Richard :). Very useful information! I would say more, but alas, I suddenly find myself in the position of looking for a new job. That must take priority over leisure philology for a little while. Not too long, I hope!

  13. Keeping my fingers crossed, Jason. You've got my prayer.

    I hope you'll find some time later.

    Reikhardus = Galadhorn :-) Greetings from Poland.

  14. Perhaps, you'll become interested in my Live Journal posts about Mark Hooker's book "Tolkien Trough Russian Eyes" - it's rather my essay, peculiar response to the American monograph...

    A few months ago I have read Hooker's book and an idea to write the response on it fired my imagination. If Mr. Hooker examined the numerous Russian translations of "Hobbit" and "LOTR" on Western eye, why can I not to exam the Mark Hooker's text on Russian one? Finally, Russian Culture consciousness/context is peculiar text - and it's importantly to read it a true way.

    My essay is a little sketchy, may say, a draft to more detailed work (I hope), so here can be some inexactitudes, so I would be glad any replies, questions and notes...

    I'm not a linguaist, but just a reader (may say, a fan) of Tolkien's stories. My essay is in a few parts now (and to be continued).

    I have to say that the text is in Russian (seems, you said about using a authomatic translation in some cases), but there are parts that I translated into English. I can translate these fragments that a reader/blogger ask me...

    Here are links:

    "Hobbit in valenki felt boots"

    1. - Откуда ноги растут (вместо предисловия) The Legs of a hobbit
    2. - Перетолковать толкование Толкиена / Talking about the talk of Tolkien .

    3. - Советская правда и китайская грамота / Soviet Truth and Doubl-Dutch
    4 - Казус буй / Casus Buoy

    5 - Убить дракона, или Пропущенное звено / Kill the Dragon, or Lost Link
    6 - Время Боромиров / A Time of Boromir
    7 - Сошлись Запад и Восток / The West and the East meet

    8 - Затерянный между букв / A Lost between the Letters

    9 - Две адаптации - две твердыни / Two adaptations, Two Towers

    10 - Толкиен против Толкиена / Tolkien versus Tolkien
    11 - "Властелин колец" на языках Средиземья / "LOTR" in the languages of the Middle-Earth
    12 - На слух / On hearning...

  15. Thanks for the links, Alek. I am certain that Mark (especially) will be very interested in these, and I will make sure he sees them.

  16. Dear Jason,

    Thanks a lot for bringing this very interesting topic up. I found your blog after googling Slavic "influences on Tolkien."

    I have one concrete question. Any ideas about the origins of name "Boromir."

    I mean it sounds complitely Slavic and, in fact, there is a Slavic name Boromir, a combination of two words "borba" - struggle and "mir"-world.

    Is it just a coincedence or Tolkien, had the Slavic inspiration for this name?

  17. Hi, Anonymous. Thanks for writing!

    I think this is no more than coincidence. Tolkien himself said that the name Boromir was composed of mixed elements of Quenya and Sindarin (The Lord of the Rings, App. F.I, footnote 2). Tolkien indicated that the name meant something like “enduring jewel” and was “an old N[oldorin] name of ancient origin also borne by Gnomes [i.e., Noldorin Elves]” (The Lost Road, “Etymologies”, entry for BOR, p. 353; see also the entry for MIR).

    There is a danger in hunting through dictionaries looking for possible roots to Tolkien’s names based on some preconceived idea as to their appropriateness. For example, the meaning “world + struggle” sounds like it might fit Boromir, but this alone gives us no reason to adduce a Slavic source.

    I’ve seen the same kind of thing done with Germanic sources, with (in many cases) as little or even less justification. For several examples, see the appendix to David Lyle Jeffrey’s “Tolkien as Philologist”, in Tolkien and the Invention of Myth (ed. Jane Chance, University Press of Kentucky, 2004), pp. 77–8. Jeffrey suggests that Boromir contains Old Norse boro “ruler” ... but why? One might just as well suggest Old English bora “ruler” + mierra “deceiver”. After all, that sounds like it fits the character of Boromir well enough, doesn’t it? Ah, but then why not make it OE bora + mirg “pleasing, agreeable”, or OE bora + mere “sea, lake”?

    You can see that there is a temptation to cherry-pick an etymology that seems to fit after the fact. This is a faulty approach, even though it occasionally reveals the right answer — but then, only when there is additional evidence (e.g., that the choice of source language is also backed up by other things we know about Tolkien, a preponderance of other related names fitting the same source pattern, etc.).

    This is about as much as I can say in a single, fairly short comment. Perhaps this would make a good subject for a post of its own ...?

  18. Thanks for reply, Jason. I think your comment makes sense. In fact, I didn't, specifically, searched for Slavic roots of Tolkien's names. But, I remember that Boromir sounded very "familiar" for me, as a native speaker of a Slavic language, the very first time I read the LoR.
    Now, I see that it's most likely just a mere coincidence.

    Best regards!

  19. That makes sense. It would certainly catch your eye if you saw a whole name like Boromir in some piece of historical literature or mythology! It could always be possible Tolkien had seen it too, and remembered it (consciously or not), but most likely he didn’t. I’m glad to learn of the name from you, though. If you would care to tell me (and my readers) more about where you’ve seen this name, I think we would all be interested. :)

  20. Many thanks for criticism :)

    I was very (and agreeably) surprised by this response.

    At first I should say that main purpose of my little article was not to make deep "original research" but just to generalize and summarize previous researches in that field and put it into Ukrainian literary studies. And make some conclusions. Last maybe really "goes too far".

    My main interest on Tolkien is in "literary reconstruction" as a method of his creative writing. Exploring it I separate and observe different "cultural levels" in his multicultural world, even peripheral as Slavic.

    Anyway, I'll make corrections in next researches on that field, trying to be more careful with statements that based on slight arguments.

    Sorry for my English :)

  21. Hello, Dmytro, it’s wonderful to hear from you! You need not apologize for your English; it’s certainly much better than my Ukrainian! :)

    I appreciated your feedback and clarification as to the goals of the piece you published in Literary Studies. I hope my criticisms did not strike you as too harsh; it sounds to me like you accepted them in the spirit they were given (i.e., meant to suggest ways to improve your research methodology and to guard against making untenable assumptions).

    I hope to see further research from you in the future. Thank you again for dropping in and leaving your feedback.

  22. hi!

    Robert Orr here. delighted to see that my piece has perked up some interest. I've developed the "mirk" issue in a more serious article:

    “Murk - a Neglected Slavic Loanword in Germanic?”, Canadian Contributions to the XIII International Congress of Slavists, Ljubljana 2003, Canadian Slavonic Papers XLV: 1-2: 47-60, 2003.

    meanwhile, I've got some more material in the pipeline, including comments on LOTR in Lithuanian...

  23. Hi, Robert. Very nice to hear from you! I hope you’ve subscribed to this thread or are checking back. I’d be very interested in seeing a copy of the essay on “mirk, murk” to which you refer above. I may even have cause to cite it in some of my own recent work. I don’t have ready access to the journal/proceedings you mentioned, so a PDF (or other electronic copy) would be most welcome! If you can oblige, my email address is visualweasel [at] yahoo [dot] com.

  24. A little addition from me about Russia. Mordor scary name I think was taken directly from the Ural province of Mordovia. This country certainly has awakened interest in Tolkien and gave some guidance in the languages of Middle-earth. In Mordovia people use two languages, very different from each other, one official, other popular. Why are implemented and how these languages have arisen no one can say today.

  25. Hi,

    "Boromir" indeed sounds Slavic (as explained above) and, indeed, a Slavic name "Borimir" really exists (although it's not very frequent). I don't think it is just a coincidence (Tolkien of course provides internal etymology but that's a completely different point). "Faramir", however, besides the suffix, does not sound Slavic ("f" is not a Slavic sound originally).

    The name "Radagast" sounds pretty Slavic as well (Proto-Slavic *radU means "glad" and *gostI is "guest"). Like "Boromir", it would be really strange for this to be just pure coincidence, since again both the root and the suffix is Slavic. And this is also a real name, cf. e.g.

    "Mirk(wood)" definitely sounds Slavic (Proto-Slavic *mIrkU "dark") but it could be Germanic just as well (and the latter is definitely more convincing).

  26. Hi, I just wanted to show you this:
    Recent research has discovered evidence of the co-existence of the Slavs and the Celtic tribes in the region of Liptov in northern Slovakia, near the area of Liptovská Mara. Investigators discovered six Celto-Slav colonies and the site of a castle with a sanctuary in its centre, used for Celtic and Slav rites. Slav tribes also coexisted with the Germanic Quadi, according to the latest findings of the Czech archeologist J. Poulík.

    The two competing theories are not necessarily mutually exclusive.Contemporary scholarship in general has moved away from the idea of monolithic nations and the Urheimat debates of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and its focus of interest is that of a process of ethnogenesis, regarding competing Urheimat scenarios as false dichotomies.In prehistoric times, the Neolithic Starčevo and Vinča cultures existed in or near Belgrade and dominated the Balkans (as well as parts of Central Europe and Asia Minor) in 6200–4500 BC. The Paleo-Balkan tribes evolved in the 2nd and 1st millennia BC. The northernmost Ancient Macedonian city was in south Serbia (Kale-Krševica). The Celtic Scordisci tribe conquered most of Serbia in 279 BC, building many forts throughout the region. The Roman Empire conquered the region in the span of 2nd century BC-1st century AD. The Romans continued the expansion of Singidunum (modern capital Belgrade), Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica) and Naissus (Niš), among other centres, and a few notable remnants of monuments survive, such as Via Militaris, Trajan's Bridge, Diana, Felix Romuliana (UNESCO), etc.
    This means that two languages were mixed and that it's not possible to determine which word came first- Slavic or German.

  27. Thanks very much for your comments, Irena. This is very interesting indeed. Even without linguistic mixing, the Slavic, Germanic, and Celtic branches are all Indo-European, so they all have a common ancestry anyway. But certainly, it might be difficult to know whether certain etymons were borrowed, by which groups, and in which directions; however, this doesn't alter the fact that Tolkien's expertise was in the Germanic branch and, to a lesser degree, the Celtic, but not very much at all in the Slavic. While, again, the recent discoveries you mention are indeed interesting, I must stand by the conclusions I drew in the seventh paragraph of my original post (counting the bulleted list as a single paragraph). In a nutshell, these theories and discoveries do not shed very much light on our understanding and appreciation of what Tolkien was doing in his fiction — at least, not unless further evidence should come to light in Tolkien's private papers.

    1. Yes, I agree with you that all those languages are Indo-European and that the discoveries don't shed much light on understanding of Tolkien's fiction. My point of view is more linguistic than mythological, since my field of interest is linguistics.
      Some new info on Indo-European languages:
      "symbols mostly considered as constituting an instance of "proto-writing"."
      " Anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant."
      —Antoine Meillet
      "a Lithuanian-American archeologist known for her research into the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of "Old Europe"."

      Once again, I'm not trying to shine light on mythology but the origins of words and languages and how hard it is to determine how they were created. However, I'm about to enroll in an online Coursera course which main interest is world mythology, so, hopefully, I'll know more on the subject soon. :)
      I also want to explain that I became interested in the subject because of the possible Slavic origins of some of the names and other words Tolkien used, as they seemed familiar to me, e.g. Boromir ("Bor" either a "pine tree" in Serbian or "bori" meaning "to fight", "mir" - a word for "peace" in Serbian; I'm mentioning Serbian only, because I don't speak any other Slavic language and therefore I can't connect other Slavic words with the words Tolkien used), Radagast (a Slavic god of household whom some historians connect with, "medved"- "bear". Many, many pagan customs are still present in rural Serbia and I keep discovering them either by talking with elder people or just by observing the customs i.e. rituals they still practice. There were other people who either tried to or learned Serbian "Goethe and Jacob Grimm learned Serbian in order to read Serbian epic poetry in the original". As I already mentioned, I'm about to start studying mythology and there's a whole chapter on Jacob Grimm (the author of Deutsche Mythologie) who was German, so I hope I figure out why he was so interested on our epic poetry.
      Also, White city, although the name was not mentioned in the book stroke a resemblance to which literally means White city and was previously called Singidun meaning "round fortress" in Celtic and when I saw drawings of Minas Anor it reminded me of the Belgrade fortress.
      The tribes Goti and Avari are also connected to the region of the Danube river as well as Celtic and German tribes. Once upon a time there was a sea in that region before there were rivers which made me wonder as well. So, generally, because Tolkien himself said that what he wrote had already happened I became interested in what he was hiding behind the names of the cities and mythological creatures and so far I just have nothing but guesses. :)) When I read that Tolkien himself never called Minas Anor the White City, I figured out I probably connected the two erroneously, lol.
      I hope I'm not spamming since what I've posted here has little to do with Tolkien and more with origins and interconnectedness of languages.
      Cheers and I apologize for the possible grammar mistakes. :)

  28. I don't consider this spam at all. As far as I'm concerned, this is all very relevant, even if not (yet) convincing. :)

  29. Hello all. Intriguing topic. As a native speaker of Serbian with a bit of a background in Slavic mythology (and probably more than a bit in Tolkien, lol), I must say that to me the only thing here that makes any sense (ie has some actual validity) is the use of the name Radagast. Tolkien's extensive knowlegde in various fields of mythology does open up a strong possibilty that he had come across the name of this deity. The problem with Slavic mythology is the fact that very few actual records have been perserved (half of which have in the course of time proven to be false), very much along the lines of a "missing mythology" Tolkien himself complained about. There is no actual certainty with which we could claim that this deity was connected with the sun or harvest (actually it is highly unlikely). The one thing that does seem plausible, mainly due to the etimology, is that in fact it was a deity associatd with hospitality. There are various transcriptions of the name, the most common one being Rad-gost, "gladly seen guest". As for everything else - well :) in my mind it just doesn't hold up. Tolkien was much more prone to inventing than to incorporating historical (mythical) records, albeit there are some exceptions on the grounds of achieving specific "historical validity".

    My best to all of you Tolkien myth-defenders!:)

  30. Hi, Maria. Good points, and well said. I basically agree with you! Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation, one that I must say has continued to interest people far longer than I expected! :)

    1. Well met Jason :)
      I must say that I was shocked to see the last entry not so long ago, and it was a very pleasant surprise. It goes to show how hungry we all are of (rather than for?) :) the Story - which is proving to be more and more endless...
      It was good to see Richard Orr's input as well, and many other people's interesting contributions.
      Of course my main thanks goes to you for bringing the entire matter to attention, an issue I have quite frequently raised in my mind, and for REACTING: so much has been written on the Man, so many unjust words have been spoken, and even when the criticism isn't turned against him (actually, even more so then!) it is important to point out the misconceptions...
      Now I'm pretty sure if we were in Wonderland, the Queen would be screaming: off with her topic, but I hope I'll be forgiven on account of praise being well within the spirit of Fellowship - and in this case so well deserved.
      Or, as I will allow myself some more liberty to quote the great Storyteller: I perceive with gladness that the duguð (noble company in a king’s hall) had not yet fallen by the wall, and the dréam (sound of their voices and music of their feasts) is not yet silenced.

      My best :)

      P.S. (Seeing how I'm on an off-topic roll here): Musings of a Fish is a killer of a title ;)

  31. Mae govannen, Maria! Glad to hear you like “Musings of a Fish” too. I wrote a post at the very dawn of the blog explaining it. :)

  32. Hi everyone!

    Interesting topic, no question about that. But l would like to go back, to the vety question why Old Good Writer DID fail to learn Russian or Serbian, while having learned Finnish, which is, all of us know, not Indo-European at all? Was his mythology, despite his denials, primarly Nordic and hence less universal then we are ready to admitt?

    Is there a inherent classification of cultures and languages suitable (or not) to be a part of the LOR saga?

    Just some heresies :)

    All the best,



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