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.