Éarendel sprang up from the Ocean’s cup In the gloom of the mid-world’s rim …
These are the first words of the poem long seen as the first glimpse of the authentic Tolkien, creator of Middle-earth—written 100 years ago. As has been accepted since Humphrey Carpenter said so, they show Tolkien in September 1914 turning an opaque reference to éarendel in the Anglo-Saxon poem Crist into something “entirely original” (Bio 71), the beginnings of his epic of Eärendil. Though we do not see Tolkien here using his invented languages to reappropriate the name Éarendel or to coin new names (something he seems not to have done within his legendarium until “The Shores of Faëry” in July 1915), this 1914 poem has some claim to stand as the earliest “Middle-earth” text. Anticipating C. S. Lewis’s famous review of The Lord of the Rings as “like lightning from a clear sky,” Tolkien’s friend Christopher Wiseman told him in April 1915 that this poem and others “burst upon me like a bolt from the blue … I can’t think where you get all your amazing words from” (Garth, Great War, 70). In the established and accepted version of events, developed (for example) in my Tolkien and the Great War and by Andrew H. Morton in Tolkien’s Gedling 1914, Tolkien’s poem is a juvenile yet fresh piece, launched solely from a medieval source and instilled with a vigor and form which are entirely Tolkien’s own making.
It now looks as if this version of events is fundamentally incomplete. Although the link to Crist is solid, the poem actually appears to have been modelled on an existing piece by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Arethusa,” borrowing Shelley’s rhyme scheme and much of the rhythm, as well as his mythological approach to natural phenomena and even some of his phrasing. “Arethusa” begins:
Arethusa arose From her couch of snows In the Acroceraunian mountains …
The metre is close, the rhyme scheme identical (though Tolkien relocates the line endings). The phrasing is even nearer in Tolkien’s final version:
Éarendel arose where the shadow flows At Ocean’s silent brim …
Tolkien’s debt to Shelley’s poem, which has been pointed out to me by Hugh Brogan, seems quite transparent. Might this be one reason he did not revise and publish it alongside other early poems in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil: because he felt its source was irremediably obvious?
First, some will ask, why does it matter? After all, Tolkien famously criticized the hunt for sources as a misdirection of energies, quoting George Dasent: “We must be satisfied with the soup that is set before us, and not desire to see the bones of the ox out of which it has been boiled” (OFS 39). To Milton Waldman in 1951, he described his Túrin Turambar as “a figure that might be said (by people who like that sort of thing, though it is not very useful) to be derived from elements in Sigurd the Volsung, Oedipus, and the Finnish Kullervo” (Letters 150).
The question of the relevance of source criticism in its general application to Tolkien’s works has been answered elsewhere (see especially Fisher). A special case can also be made for source criticism of Tolkien’s earliest writings, including (despite his claim that “it is not very useful”) the pivotal adaptation that gave rise to his Túrin saga. The goal is not to dismantle Tolkien’s legendarium, but to examine how it was built and, just as interesting, how he learned to build it. His achievement as a writer is unique, but at one time he was not a writer. How did he pass from one state to the other? A further point is to see how he disposed his vital materials, including his source materials. The exploration of intertextual relations with the works of predecessors or contemporaries follows naturally and logically from his own statements about his influences (e.g., S. R. Crockett’s The Black Douglas; Letters 391), as it follows from The History of Middle-earth, Christopher Tolkien’s exposition of intertextual relations within the body of his...
Tolkien’s legendarium is one hundred years old this year and, as far as we can tell, so is the invention that launched it into life: the language he came to call Qenya (and later spelt Quenya). This and other invented languages continued to feed his overall creativity, and they deserve closer scrutiny from Tolkien scholars for the light they shed on his inspirations, methods, and ideas. Four principles govern his linguistic creation. First, sound should fit both sense and speaker. Second, languages develop through time according to regular “laws”; and third, different languages may interrelate. Fourth, as he realized in 1914, artificial languages need a mythology, a story, in which to live. The story is his legendarium; and the fitness of sound is superbly demonstrated by the invented names and words within it. However, his second and third governing principles generated an archive of linguistic papers so huge and complex that his son Christopher felt obliged to leave it almost completely out of The History of Middle-earth.
This deep bedrock of work, laid down by steady accretion or in laval bursts across nearly six decades, is steadily being uncovered in the journals Parma Eldalamberon and Vinyar Tengwar. Just as The History of Middle-earth reveals how Tolkien revised, refined, deepened, and broadened his great story throughout his life, these two journals reveal how he did the same with his Elvish languages. So two timescales need to be borne in mind: the fictional, along which Primitive Quendian evolves and bifurcates into Quenya and its sibling tongues; and the factual, along which Tolkien as creator continually tinkered with this fiction.
For Quenya, Parma Eldalamberon’s editors have attacked the bedrock in different ways, depending on the nature of the strata. When Tolkien’s work on the language was in its earlier stages, we could see all his papers from a given period within a single issue. But the sheer complexity and scale of his later treatises has called for entire issues devoted to particular aspects of the language as developed by Tolkien in major iterations at long intervals. One issue covered Eldarin morphology or word building, another dealt with Quenya phonology or sound-change laws; now in Parma Eldalamberon 21 it is the turn of noun structure.
Although these papers date from the 1930s onwards, they contain a couple of backward glances at Tolkien’s earliest efforts in Qenya, so it is appropriate also to review here Qenyaqetsa, the phonology and lexicon in which Tolkien first codified this language and gave it to the “High Elves” of Eldamar. This, rather than any story or poem, is the first writing we can unquestionably regard as part of the matter of Middle-earth. Qenyaqetsa was published in 1998, before the inception of Tolkien Studies, but under review here is the 2011 revision of the text. If any item of Tolkienian linguistics belongs in the library of the serious student of Tolkien, it is this. As a solid, diverse example of scholarship on Tolkien’s languages, the proceedings of the Omentielva Nelya conference provide a tailpiece to this review.
Like its inspiration, Finnish, Quenya comes with a magnificent array of noun cases. They show how the noun functions within the sentence, a job that English nouns (uninflected except when showing possession) depute to other parts of speech. This is one reason why Galadriel’s lament takes half as many words as the translation: súrinen “in the wind” (instrumental case), aldaron “of trees” (genitive), falmalinnar “on many waves” (allative), sindanóriello “out of a grey country” (ablative) all convey more than just the simple nouns or noun stems súre-, alda, falma and sindanórië-. The texts in which Tolkien developed and altered the Quenya noun declensions over many years are now presented in Parma Eldalamberon 21 in chronological order of composition. These texts show how he developed the declensions for a huge variety of noun shapes and progressively changed the declension suffixes into those more familiar forms (e.g., altering the nominative singular from -n to no ending at all and the allative from -nta to -nna). We can also observe that from the 1940s Tolkien’s focus shifted...
Tolkien in East Yorkshire 1917–1918: An Illustrated Tour by Phil Mathison (Newport, Yorkshire: Dead Good, 2012) supplements the work of John Garth and Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond with a little more information about places Tolkien stayed during his military and convalescent posting there. The illustrations mentioned in the title, filling some 37 pages, are mainly modern and period photographs of locations in what Mathison refers to as the Tolkien Triangle, plus photographs of Tolkien’s army medical reports, and some sketched maps. Mathison’s maps are not to scale, and he only occasionally mentions distances. Besides the War Office records, from which Mathison quotes, his sources include area directories, election registries, regimental yearbooks, and the wartime diary of a local resident, plus the dates and addresses only—not the content—of correspondence between Tolkien and his wife held in the Bodleian Library. He also conducted a few interviews. Mathison is cautious about local Tolkien legends, notes occasional discrepancies in the records, keeps his speculation about possible influences to a minimum, and acknowledges questions still outstanding (e.g., he has been unable to determine where Edith Tolkien was living in June and July 1917, which would have been approximately when she famously danced for her husband in a grove near Roos). The whole book, with one chapter for each location, might have been better organized, so that Mathison would not need to refer “back” in an early chapter to something covered later and the reader would not need to hold the book open to two places, jumping between the text and the chronology that closes the book (or three places if the map is needed). As a whole, Mathison’s work, resting somewhere between guidebook and history, helps by providing some new data, but no more.
Raymond Edwards’s booklet, J.R.R. Tolkien: His Life, Work and Faith (London: Catholic Truth Society, 2012) is a fine short biography with a modest Catholic bent. Although a secondary work without original research, Edwards’s text shows him to be well versed in Tolkien’s writings and the major Tolkien biographies, and he tells the story of Tolkien’s life in a fresh way, brimming with insight and flavorful writing. The narrative incorporates discussion of works published posthumously (like The Lays of Beleriand and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún) in their appropriate chronological positions, and attends to works often unmentioned in Tolkien biographies, like “The Wanderings of Húrin.” Notable are Edwards’s comments on the TCBS and “their collective sense of themselves” (14); the first Earendel poem, well paraphrased to show how it led to later Silmarillion conceptions; the “werelit horrors of the Dead Marshes” (31) and other motifs that derive from World War I (Edwards is very careful not to overstate influence); and a contrast between the “classic” Kenneth Sisam and the “romantic” Tolkien (37). A general summary of Tolkien’s “profound and often heartbreaking meditation” on good and evil is first-rate (32). Acknowledging, with a nod to Tom Shippey, the decline of philology, in which Tolkien not having published a “big and important book” on the subject played some part, Edwards argues that through The Lord of the Rings, philology “has won a stupendous victory” in popular imagination, although readers may not realize it directly (66). When describing efforts to get Tolkien’s works published posthumously, Edwards thoughtfully notes that Christopher Tolkien might have edited The Silmarillion differently given more time and experience, and he remembers to include the linguistic journals Vinyar Tengwar and Parma Eldalamberon. The book closes with “Tolkien the Catholic,” a commentary in which Edwards’s light touch continues, as he advises against overstating superficial Catholic motifs in The Lord of the Rings, noting that “any well-told tale will convey some elements of God’s truth” (86). Here he brings in the discussion of “On Fairy-stories” and “Leaf by Niggle” that he had been saving since merely mentioning those texts earlier, to illuminate Tolkien’s intentions. A very few typographical errors seem to derive from the text being so condensed, the chapter on The Hobbit and Beowulf jumps a bit awkwardly, and...
This book is not only about riddles, it is a bit of a riddle itself—though probably not in the playful sense that the author, Adam Roberts, would have liked. Roberts is probably best known to Tolkien readers from his 2003 parody The Soddit. He is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy novels and also a professor at Royal Holloway, London, where he teaches courses on nineteenth-century literature and creative writing. I am stressing his literary and academic background because it may explain some of the sometimes rather baffling characteristics of The Riddles of The Hobbit.
First, there is no clear (linear) structure to the book. The chapter-headings may suggest so, but once Roberts gets started, he takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of associative arguments ranging from entertaining and insightful to free and wildly unlikely. He opens with a lengthy introductory chapter where he discusses instances of riddling communication and argues in favor of a rather loose definition of the riddle concept—which he applies to entire books, so that for him “The Hobbit is a deeply riddling book” (5). The main argument on this level is that The Hobbit (and science fiction and fantasy in general) is ironic (or “metaphorical,” cf. 153) rather than mimetic, i.e., it does not aim at a realistic depiction of the primary world but provides a commentary on our reality in a nonrealistic mode. Riddles work in the same way and, as Roberts rightly points out, they reveal “the great wonder of a commonplace thing” (16—which is, as Roberts indicates, a quote from Patrick Murphy’s study Unriddling the Exeter Riddles, 7). A pity that this important point has not been elaborated and linked to Tolkien’s concept of “Re-enchantment” by means of the mooreeffoc-effect, as proposed in his On Fairy-stories. This sin of omission is, however, indicative of Roberts’s noninclusion of several relevant studies that seem to me central to his argument. My own article “My Most Precious Riddle: Eggs and Rings Revisited” in Tolkien Studies 10 (2013): 89–103 was published too late for inclusion, but Verlyn Flieger’s essay “Bilbo’s Neck Riddle” from her recent volume Green Suns and Faërie (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2012), as well as Nigel Barley’s “Structural Aspects of the Anglo-Saxon Riddle” in Semiotica 10.2 (1974): 143–75 and Tom Shippey’s Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1976) were widely accessible and would have offered vital information on the topic.
According to Roberts, The Hobbit has not only ten riddles in the narrow sense of the word as its core, but it is itself a “textual riddle” and the reading of the book, as any reading, “is inevitably an unriddling” (6). The problem with such a definition is that the term loses its usefulness—everything becomes a riddle. Furthermore, we lack the necessary exact terminology for discussing the actual workings of the text-type riddle—often with devastating consequences for the logic of the argument. The closest we get to such a discussion is Roberts’s hilarious dialogue between Oedipus and the Sphinx (53f). Here Oedipus defeats the Sphinx not so much by providing a straightforward answer to her riddle “What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs in the evening?” but by questioning her actual phrasing. Oedipus, not unlike an obnoxious student in a poetry-seminar, points out that the actual words in the riddle were “morning, noon and evening; not infancy, youth and dotage” (53) and proves immune to the Sphinx’s attempt to make him understand the concept of metaphor and metaphorical usage. He takes it even further and argues that the Sphinx’s riddle “mixes metaphor and literal application in an inconsistent manner” (54) and finally, like an unsatisfied customer, lodges a complaint with the Over-Sphinx. This is, however, as good a theoretical discussion of the structure and workings of riddles as we get. I find this a great pity since Roberts obviously possesses a talent for rendering complex theoretical and often obscure arguments (Nigel Barley’s...
When the young scholars J.R.R. Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and C. S. Lewis “walked round and round the mile-long circuit of Addison’s Walk beneath the avenues of beeches” on September 19, 1931, they talked of everything from “metaphor and myth,” to “Christianity,” to “love and friendship,” and “back to poetry and books”(Wilson 126; Lewis, Letters, 421). As such topics might be addressed in any conversation between bookish men, this does not seem particularly noteworthy. However, nine days later, Lewis suddenly moved “from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ—in Christianity,” and he claimed that “my long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it” (Lewis, Letters, 425). Since Lewis went on to become what Tolkien called “Everyman’s Theologian,” to those who reverence the Inklings, this particular walk has become an iconic moment of Christian literary history in the twentieth century (Bio, 151).
Although Lewis repeatedly mentions talking about story, the conversation on Addison’s Walk is mostly read as the seminal moment when Lewis’s tenuous theism was buried under the landslide of Tolkien’s Christian worldview. If anyone remembers Dyson, who unfortunately left no written record of the evening, it is assumed he acted as a sort of backup to Tolkien. In any event, the importance of the walk seems mainly theological, and accordingly literary scholars have never been much interested in the ideas that were in play that evening. Insofar as there has been any interest, Humphrey Carpenter’s 1977 biography of Tolkien appears to demystify the issue by providing a virtual transcript based on Tolkien’s poetic response to the evening, Mythopoeia. It is well known that the conversation turned around myth or fantasy, and as this field receives only “a kind of embarrassed half-attention in literary criticism,” the conversation has seemed doubly uninteresting to scholars (Pask 11–12). Knowing that “Lewis and Tolkien had found agreement and shared the same philosophy” seems information enough (Pearce 60).
The problem is that assuming that Tolkien and Lewis “shared the same outlook on fundamental matters, whether literary or religious” is a radical misreading (Wood 315). Scholars who tend to assume that the two men were essentially the same have trouble deciding what to make of the fact that Tolkien and Lewis had a kind of falling out later in life, and that, by the time of Lewis’s death, Tolkien regretted that he was no longer “one of [Lewis’s] intimates” (Letters 341). Tolkien scholars generally point out that, in the same letter to his son Michael just cited, Tolkien attributed the split to both “the sudden apparition of Charles Williams” and Lewis’s unannounced marriage to Joy Davidman (Letters 341). This usually leads to a discussion of Tolkien’s possessiveness over Lewis’s affections, and then to an intimation of how his Catholicism might cause him to look unfavorably on Lewis’s marriage to an American divorcée. Lewis scholars dealing with the same cooling of relations generally remark on the fact that, while Lewis continued to praise Tolkien’s work, and apparently to side with a number of the ideas Tolkien advanced in “On Fairy Stories,” Tolkien “hated” Lewis’s allegorical land of Narnia, and found it “scrappily put together” (Wilson 222). It is argued that Tolkien “also felt an element of resentment at Lewis’s fluency, his ability to get a thing done, and his increasing attractiveness to publishers” (Wilson 222).
The end result of such reflections is that Tolkien appears to be either a possessive friend, a small-minded religious bigot, or simply a jealous man. While not discounting the potential truth of all of these assertions, I would like to suggest that they are, at best, only partial. If Tolkien is to be vindicated of charges that cast him in a negative light, the entire discussion of the difference between him and Lewis must be moved out of the realm of biography and into the world of literary ideas. It is well understood that the personal friendship between Tolkien and Lewis was important to the work of both men, but it is too-little remembered that both men were also...
When Tolkien’s beloved maternal aunt, Jane Neave, asked him in October, 1961 if he “wouldn’t get out a small book with Tom Bombadil at the heart of it, the sort of size of book that we old ‘uns can afford to buy for Christmas presents” (as she is quoted in Bio 244), his correspondence with her and with his publishers (quoted or summarized in this new volume) shows that he at first envisioned a modest booklet in the manner of Beatrix Potter’s illustrated books for children. He had already published a poem about “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” in the Oxford Magazine for 16 February 1934, and he thought this might fill the bill if Pauline Baynes, with whom he had developed a good working relationship, provided illustrations for the verses. His publishers, Allen & Unwin, were interested, but asked to have a more substantial volume with a number of poems.
Consequently, Tolkien looked for other of his poems that might fit with the one about Tom. He hit on the unifying idea for the collection that the disparate items might be of poetic types enjoyed by Hobbits, and revised some that had modern allusions to refer instead to Middle-earth. He added a second poem about Tom, “Bombadil Goes Boating,” partly worked up from earlier material but using settings from The Lord of the Rings. Some poems he considered but rejected for this collection, eventually deciding that sixteen were suitable. The verses are mostly playful but can be macabre (as in “The Mewlips”) or haunting (like “The Last Ship”), traditional as to metrics, and show Tolkien’s love of archaic and unusual words. “The final arrangement,” observe editors Scull and Hammond, “groups like with like as far as possible. The two ‘Bombadil’ poems are followed by two ‘fairy’ poems, two with the Man in the Moon, and two with trolls; then The Mewlips, an odd man out, placed near the centre; and, finally, three ‘bestiary’ poems and four with ‘atmosphere’ and emotion” (18). This was the collection published in 1962.
In the first printing “Cat” was number 11 and “Fastitocalon” 12, but by the vagaries of printing this resulted in their illustrations being awkwardly placed. With Tolkien’s permission the order was reversed in the second printing (also in 1962), and this order has been retained ever since. But apparently nobody thought to revise the “Preface,” with the result that when this avers that poem 12 was drawn from the marginalia in the Red Book of Westmarch, “Fastitocalon” was originally meant, while the comment that Sam Gamgee might have touched up some comic bestiary lore to produce poem 11 referred to “Cat.” Or perhaps the numbers were not corrected in the preface because it was not worth the bother as (the editors speculate) the comments could apply equally well to either poem.
ATB has been reprinted many times since its first appearance, often along with other of Tolkien’s shorter works, as in The Tolkien Reader (1966) or Tales from the Perilous Realm (2002). One remembers that the publishers wished from the start not to have too short a book. For this volume Scull and Hammond wanted to present a dedicated volume afresh, but they, too, fill it out. And it may be the extra material that will be of keenest interest to Tolkien’s audience, who already know ATB. That is the case for me.
This new volume begins with an “Introduction” by the editors. Then the 1962 ATB is reprinted from Tolkien’s mock-scholarly preface through all sixteen poems (with 11 and 12 in their final order) accompanied by the original illustrations. This is a new printing, not a facsimile edition or a direct reproduction of the first edition, with the text laid out with great care. Following this are the extras: a “Commentary” with a separate section devoted to each individual poem in turn. If the poem had been published earlier in a different form (all but three were), that original version is reprinted. There is occasional mention of variant readings, but this is not meant to be comprehensive. The date of composition is given as well as can be determined. Tolkien’s...
Last year marked a significant milestone for J.R.R. Tolkien’s first published novel. It has now been seventy-five years since The Hobbit first captivated readers, never once out of print in all that time. Tolkien’s beloved tale of a hobbit who went on an adventure, faced a dragon, and lived to write about it in his memoirs has itself now reached the age of a full human life, and we should have reason to hope that studies of the novel have reached a corresponding stage of greater maturity and sophistication. In just a few more years, The Hobbit will have lived longer than its own author. Such an auspicious, even liminal, anniversary has been heralded by more than the usual number of new books about Tolkien in general and The Hobbit in particular, not to mention the arrival of the first installment in Peter Jackson’s three-part film adaptation. Among the books published in 2012 are two full-length explorations of The Hobbit, one from either side of the Atlantic. Both have merits as well as flaws (though not in equal proportion), and considering them together will afford us the opportunity of making some profitable contrasts.
Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is the product of Corey Olsen’s experience teaching Tolkien at Washington College. Olsen has been a great popularizer of Tolkien, both in and outside the classroom, for which he deserves the Tolkien community’s gratitude and congratulations. The community has therefore looked forward to his first book with great anticipation. Its dust-jacket describes it as “a fun, thoughtful, and insightful companion volume designed to bring a thorough and original new reading of this great work to a general audience.” It is written in informal, approachable language, free of jargon and academic apparatus, suiting it well to a general audience. And it is certainly thorough, almost relentlessly so. It is occasionally insightful, but I regret to say the promise of an original new reading is too generous for what the book actually delivers.
Olsen’s book is one whose value depends very much on who is reading it. For scholars and advanced readers already immersed in Tolkien and his fictional world (for example, anyone likely to be reading reviews in Tolkien Studies), its value is unfortunately minimal. But for those not yet serious about Tolkien—the general audience to which the dust-jacket refers—its value may be much greater. For some readers, undergraduate or high school students studying The Hobbit, and perhaps for their teachers, it may well be indispensable—as a ready-made study guide or lesson plan, respectively.
This is, for me, the fundamental defect of Olsen’s book. The majority of it comes across like a crib for The Hobbit, rehearsing the plot points of each chapter in tedious detail and unjustifiable length. Olsen’s chapters even correspond to Tolkien’s, one for one, something you normally see in study guides. Subtracting the plot summary alone would reduce the book’s bulk substantially. There are no great revelations, no substantial scholarly discoveries. Like a series of undergraduate lectures in an elective seminar on Tolkien, Olsen’s chapters are heavy on exposition, light on insight, seldom telling you something you didn’t already know.
When he is not summarizing the plot, the interpretations the author offers are usually obvious or superficial, often simply restating what has already been said quite explicitly in the novel itself (for example, Gandalf’s appraisal near the end of the novel that Bilbo has changed, on which more below). In addition, Olsen frequently talks down to his readers, or so it seems to this reader. He often wastes paragraphs summarizing where the plot left off in the last chapter (perhaps a relic of the book’s previous form as a series of separate lectures). He also slips in jarring colloquialisms—Bilbo’s “street cred” with the Dwarves (113), for example, or noting that “the eagles are not . . . the Anti-Goblin S.W.A.T. Team” (124). And perhaps the dullest conclusion of all: “[Gandalf] recognizes that Bilbo has indeed changed, noting, ‘You are not the hobbit that you were’. . . . He certainly is...
The year J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit turned seventy-five, translations of the children’s classic were published in two additional languages. The Hobbit in Irish—An Hobad, nó Anonn agus Ar Ais Arís, translated by Nicholas Williams—appeared in March, a historic event in modern Irish-language literature, which, though by no means lucrative, maintains a strong tradition of publishing original works for children. The Hobbit therefore joins an exclusive circle of classic and bestselling children’s books, including Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Artemis Fowl, and Guess How Much I Love You, to have been translated into Irish. Then, on September 19, nearly to the day that The Hobbit was first published in 1937, came the much anticipated Hobbitus Ille, aut Illuc atque Rursus Retrorsum—the Latin translation by Mark Walker which makes The Hobbit one of perhaps a dozen modern novels to have been adapted to the language—or the words, at least—of ancient Rome. Together, Irish and Latin join nearly seven dozen other languages into which The Hobbit has already been translated, several of which (including Danish, Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese, and Russian) have seen multiple renderings.
Little more than their shared year of publication bids the two translations be reviewed together. A cursory glance will reveal that the Irish Hobad and Latin Hobbitus are different products for different markets, and will likely find themselves side by side only on the shelves of collectors. Despite their obvious differences, many of which will become clear in the following review, similarities in style and in circumstance can nevertheless be found to compare the two translations. Both, for example, are almost certainly for audiences who also speak and read English—readers who either have read The Hobbit in the original already, or would have little difficulty doing so. The translators of An Hobad and Hobbitus Ille are both native English speakers, and while Irish is, unlike Latin, the native language of an existing nation (I will avoid the problematic “living” and “dead” to distinguish the languages), it is fair to estimate that there are about as many young, monolingual readers for each. This sets these translations apart from those into more robustly Japanese, Albanian, and other languages whose readers are likely to be monolingual, and it is also an important consideration when assessing some of the decisions of the two translators. This is especially the case with Hobbitus Ille, for which the original English-language text is occasionally required for clarification.
Ideally, anything as ambitious and as laborious as a translation of a three-hundred-page classic deserves a full critical review, with choices in nomenclature, idiom, and other criteria weighed against the original text by a critic fluent in both the original and the target languages, and knowledgeable of both cultures. This is, of course, unfeasible here, but it is also, with the Irish Hobad and Latin Hobbitus, largely unnecessary. Recognizing that pedantry and pragmatism will clash anywhere translations are concerned, one can observe, though in quite different ways, that both An Hobad and Hobbitus Ille are thoroughly and systematically faithful to the original English-language text. For most readers, I suspect, this demonstrates professional responsibility on the part of the translators, as well as due deference to Tolkien’s exacting preferences regarding translations of his work. For those with the interests of the target language and their cultures fully at heart, this fidelity may be seen as a flaw, or at least a lost opportunity. The degree to which this can be said of each translation differs greatly, with Hobbitus Ille forgoing classical models by essentially transposing the English original with Latin words. The Irish Hobad, on the other hand, balances its concessions to the original text with fidelity to the idiom of its living vernacular. As discussed below, the results vary, but both editions deserve highest praise for doing precisely what their translators and designers set out to do. (Unless otherwise indicated, all back-translations are my own. Their lack of polish is not intended to reflect the quality of the commercial translations, but rather my own emphasis on certain grammatical and syntactical distinctions between English and the...
It is well known and often mentioned that while writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, himself a professor of medieval English language and literature, drew inspiration from the rich corpus of Old English literature: parallels with the Beowulf epic, on which he delivered one of his most memorable academic papers, and with the Old English Exodus, which he edited and translated into Modern English, have been emphasized. Many characters in The Lord of the Rings have been brought together with real or fictional Anglo-Saxons by whom Tolkien may have been inspired. For example, Tolkien’s character of Aragorn has been recently compared to a king of early Anglo-Saxon history, St. Oswald of Northumbria (634–42): in his biography of Oswald, Max Adams claims that the king “was the model for Tolkien’s Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings” (4), but unfortunately he does not substantiate that claim. Maybe the title of his eighth chapter, “The Return of the King” (141), gives us a clue: Oswald was indeed an exile who came back to his ancestors’ country and reconquered his throne—but here, apparently, would the comparison end.
There is in fact an Anglo-Saxon king who may have more in common with Tolkien’s Aragorn, and that is none other than Alfred the Great (871–99). I do not think that any serious enquiry into the resemblances between those two characters has ever been published. There is no mention of Alfred in Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien. The thorough J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, compiled by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, has no index entry for Alfred, and neither has it for the two late ninth-century works, which set out to describe his life and achievements, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Asser’s Life of King Alfred; Alfred is also absent from the index of the same authors’ Reader’s Companion to The Lord of the Rings. There is an “Alfred the Great” entry in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia edited by Michael Drout, but it does not mention Aragorn (Holmes 320–21). Several commentators have referred to Alfred’s translation (or maybe more exactly adaptation) of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, but only while addressing the question of a possible “Boethian” dimension of Tolkien’s conception of providence, chance, and fate.
Similarities between Alfred the Great and Aragorn have occasionally been observed, but they have not been pursued consistently. The earliest suggestion I know of was made in 1974 in relation to the portrayal of Alfred in The Ballad of White Horse, written in 1911 by G. K. Chesterton, himself also a major English Catholic writer of the early 20th century: Christopher Clausen remarked that in Chesterton’s epic poem, “Alfred himself, like Tolkien’s Aragorn, is an idealized heroic figure who roams around in humble disguise” (11). Without disclaiming that possible influence on Tolkien’s work, it seems to me that the connection actually goes back to the Old English and Latin texts that were in fine the inspiration for Chesterton’s poem. More recently, Christopher Snyder wrote in his The Making of Middle-earth, “an unexpected monarch (he had four elder brothers) and inspirational leader who united disparate peoples, Alfred is perhaps one of the inspirations for Tolkien’s Aragorn/Strider” (55). Since this article was largely written before the publication of Snyder’s book, and since it proposes a much more focused parallel between Alfred and Aragorn, I believe it is still worth proposing the following reflections to readers of Tolkien Studies. Indeed, I will try to show that the connection between Alfred and Aragorn is not a consistent one, and that it does not allow us to say that Alfred was a model for Tolkien’s Aragorn: rather, the parallel is mainly confined to one episode, inspiring the way the story was told rather than Aragorn’s character in general.
There can be no doubt that Tolkien knew about Alfred: no Anglo-Saxonist could ever have ignored him, especially in the early 20th century, when Tolkien first came to discover Anglo-Saxon culture and literature. Ever since the Reformation...
The latest volume of Parma is devoted to what the Editor calls the “Qenya Alphabet” (he explains why he chose not to use the term tengwar). It contains forty “documents” (Q1–Q40) including both texts and commentaries. I have been and still am (occasionally) an artist and calligrapher, and it is from this perspective that the current review is written. Since Tolkien was not only a calligrapher of no mean skill, but it was a skill learned literally at his beloved mother’s knee, calligraphy was clearly important to him (Hammond & Scull),1 so a calligraphic view seems an appropriate way to view the present volume. After all, adherence to linguistic principles is not the only thing that makes Tolkien’s languages seem real. One must also consider his alphabets in terms of their suitability for expressing visually a writer’s thoughts and needs in a variety of circumstances. A real language is both spoken and written, with the latter form represented not just by formal usage in proclamations or poetry but in less formal usage by all sorts of people for many different purposes.
The particular value of The Qenya Alphabet from a visual perspective is the presence of a treasure-hoard of reproduced texts. Of the forty documents, thirty-five consist of reproductions (in whole or in part) of Tolkien’s actual uses of this alphabet scanned from photocopies of the originals. According to the Editor, these are examples of “tengwar-style Elvish script” dating primarily from the early 1930s (pre-”Fëanorian Alphabet”). Most are transliterations into the Qenya scripts of texts in English or Latin, although two are from Old English and one from Old High German. Many of these texts are Tolkien’s own compositions, including previously unpublished letters and drafts of the poems “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” and “Errantry.” Also among the texts are prayers and literary excerpts, including Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (which Tolkien misquoted from memory). Keeping to his consistent custom when using his phonetically-based alphabets, Tolkien renders his modern English texts phonetically rather than treating his alphabets as ciphers reproducing English spellings.
In my analysis, the styles of the scripts presented here fall into several visual categories. What Tolkien called “formal style” I think of as “uncial,” although it wouldn’t necessarily match the actual definition of uncial in all respects. However, this style has the disciplined fluidity of the work of many a medieval scribe, with rounded letters and relatively short ascenders and descenders. The uses reproduced here are largely religious—multiple examples of “Te Deum” (Q18–20) and “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (Q21–22). Tolkien calls the latter two styles “large rounded” and “formal book-hand rounded,” but they seem to be fairly subtle variations on the formal style. Other examples include a ninth-century excerpt from Evangelienbuch, in a dialect of Old High German. Since the work is based on the Gospel, it connects with the religious theme of the others. An interesting outlier is “God Save the King” (Q14–16), although one could argue that for a devoted monarchist this verges on religion. In addition, Q16 includes “Our Father,” which might suggest an interesting, if not necessarily conscious, connection in Tolkien’s mind.
“God Save the King” (Q16) is actually written in two different scripts, with three of ten lines written in what Tolkien calls the “pointed angular” hand. That’s an accurate description of its main features, although I can’t help thinking of it as the “black-letter” version. Tolkien uses it in additional examples of “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (Q23–24) and excerpts from “Tom Bombadil” (Q34) and “Errantry” (Q37). This script appears more contrived, less natural. Tolkien’s own terms for two of the alphabet versions discussed in the beginning of this review contain the term “rounded.” Indeed, the body of each letter is very round, and this roundness is enhanced by even shorter ascenders and descenders than the formal hand (best illustrated by Q21–22).
The word “ductus” is a calligraphic term referring to the number, direction and sequence of the strokes a calligrapher uses to create a letter. Although, like the formal style and its...
What a tale we have been in, Mr. Frodo, haven’t we?” [Sam] said. “I wish I could hear it told! Do you think they’ll say: Now comes the story of Nine-fingered Frodo and the Ring of Doom? And then everyone will hush, like we did, when in Rivendell they told us the tale of Beren One-hand and the Great Jewel. I wish I could hear it! And I wonder how it will go on after our part.”
Sam’s narrative, which he imagines amidst danger and despair, indicates the vital place of stories and creative collaboration in Middle-earth. For Tolkien, the act of narration becomes a metaphor for living in the world. Listening to other voices and expressing one’s own are major considerations of his fiction. But despite many insightful treatments of fate and freedom in his mythology,1 critics have rarely focused on Tolkien’s presentation of literary freedom or, more broadly, how his theory of sub-creation can be situated among contemporary views of authorship.2 This essay is principally concerned with the role of creative relationships in Middle-earth: the way in which authors (including Tolkien himself) enable or restrict the agency of their characters or their fellow narrators. Artistic creativity, when shared, becomes a liberating and life-enriching partnership; when denied, it becomes a harsh, suffocating kind of discourse.
I read Tolkien alongside the Russian thinker Mikhail Bakhtin, whose provocative discussion of author-hero relations can illuminate Tolkien’s own exploration of authorship and alterity. I begin by discussing how they both conceive of the author as a figure who shares narrative responsibilities with his characters. Next, I briefly discuss the ways in which this collaborative approach to authorship departs from contemporary critical views that call for the removal (or “death”) of the author. Finally, I consider how Bakhtin’s understanding of alterity appears in the character-character (or self-other) relationships in The Lord of the Rings. A second purpose of this essay, then, is to show that the similarities between Tolkien and Bakhtin are more extensive than has been previously recognized.3 While their views are certainly not identical—indeed, I will suggest that there are important differences between them—both writers emphasize what might be called an ethics of creativity: choosing to talk with others or to shut them out, deciding to craft shared stories or domineering monologues.
Bakhtin’s account of author-hero relations is intimately tied to his broader theory of dialogics. For Bakhtin, an individual is never a single, isolated person in full possession of his or her speech, but rather a person among persons whose voice gains meaning only with others: “Life by its very nature is dialogic. To live means to participate in dialogue: to ask questions, to heed, to respond, to agree” (Problems 293). Each spoken utterance, as a result, “is accompanied by a sideways glance at another person” (Problems 32). A single word—“precious” comes to mind—gains its meaning in the space between speakers as diverse as Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo, Pippin, Isildur, Gandalf, the narrator, and Tolkien himself.
Even if life is irreducibly dialogic, this does not prevent us from defining each other and the world monologically—that is, as the condition in which “another person remains wholly and merely an object of consciousness, and not another consciousness” (Problems 293). Monologic discourse shuts out the voice of the other, turning him or her into a lifeless object rather than a living subject. With very few exceptions, Bakhtin argues, this condition has characterized the history of the Western novel. Just as we are tempted to close out voices prematurely in order to exert a measure of control over the world, so too have authors imposed artificial unities in their work. The monologic author, standing outside the novel as an omnipotent judge, knows everything about his characters and can evaluate, contrast, and juxtapose them as he pleases. “An internal connection, a connection between consciousnesses,” as a result, is completely absent (Problems 69). “The characters,” Bakhtin writes, “are self-enclosed and deaf; they do not hear and do not answer one...
In an article that appeared in Mythlore in 2010 and subsequently in a revised version on the Internet, Rebecca Brackmann claimed that (possibly unconscious) anti-Semitic stereotyping went into Tolkien’s depiction of Dwarves in the early stages of his legendarium and in The Hobbit. The Nazi treatment of Jews before and during the Second World War made Tolkien realize that such stereotyping could have horrifying consequences, causing him to drastically alter the image of Dwarves in the works he wrote after The Hobbit, notably The Lord of the Rings. But, according to Brackmann, this change merely served to turn negative into positive stereotyping without solving the underlying problem that thinking in stereotypes is wrong to begin with. In this essay I hope to show that a closer look at the evidence in both Tolkien’s Middle-earth writings and his letters suggests a different story, undermining Brackmann’s thesis and exonerating Tolkien from being a (closet) anti-Semite.
In a BBC radio interview with Dennis Gueroult, recorded in 1964 and broadcast the next year, Tolkien connected his Dwarves with the Jewish people, stating: “The Dwarves of course are quite obviously—wouldn’t you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic.” Also in 1964, Tolkien wrote to W.R. Matthews: “The language of the Dwarves . . . is Semitic in cast, leaning phonetically to Hebrew (as suits the Dwarvish character).” Indeed the dwarven tongue Khuzdul has a phonology and a triconsonantal root system that resemble Hebrew (and modern Ivrit for that matter)1 . From these triconsonantal roots words are formed by inserting vowels, doubling consonants or adding suffixes. Compare, for instance, Hebrew words and names such as melek, David, shalom and baruch with Dwarvish words and names like Gabilgathol, baruk and khazad,2 which are obviously similar in phonetic structure (the meanings of similar looking words in Dwarvish and Hebrew, however, are completely different; Baruk means “axes”, while baruch means “blessed”).
In the original BBC-interview, the text of which is given by Zak Cramer in Mallorn 44 (2006), Tolkien’s statement is longer. It turns out that Tolkien had added a remark about “a tremendous love of the artefact, and of course the immense warlike capacity of the Jews, which we tend to forget nowadays.” This was cut from the interview.
Given the work he put into creating this Semitic-like language, Tolkien’s comparison of Dwarves and Jews was obviously not made on the spur of the moment. In fact, he had made it years before, the first time in an unpublished letter of September 1947, quoted in The History of The Hobbit: “Now Dwarves have their secret language, but like Jews and Gypsies use the language of the country” (Rateliff 757). Eight years later, on December 8, 1955, he wrote to Naomi Mitchison: “I do think of the ‘Dwarves’ like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their native tongue” (Letters 229).
In his commentary to the first phase of the history of The Hobbit, John Rateliff elaborates on this, remarking that a motif “already present by the time this first chapter of The Hobbit was completed would be the partial identification of the Dwarves, in Tolkien’s mind, with the Jewish people” (79). He points to the existence of a diaspora, in which the dwarves settled “in scattered enclaves amongst other folk, yet still preserving their own culture.” The warlike nature of Tolkien’s Dwarves is associated with his reading of certain books of the Bible.3 Their craftsmanship resembles that of the medieval Jewish artisans of the Iberian peninsula, while their interest in gold is associated with banking—for centuries, moneylending was one of the few occupations open to Jews. But, Rateliff notes, “to his credit, Tolkien has been selective in his borrowings, omitting the pervasive anti-Semitism of the real Middle Ages” (80).
That some scholars, and Tolkien himself, have concluded that Dwarves resemble Jews may come as a surprise, as popular belief has it that Tolkien’s...
The relationship of Tolkien’s invented Elvish languages, most prominently Quenya and Sindarin, to various primary world tongues was a subject Tolkien himself brought up in various letters, notes, and at least one public lecture. This essay is an examination of one particular type of equation that Tolkien described in an oft-quoted passage from a letter to the Houghton Mifflin Co. in 1955:
The “Sindarin,” a Grey-elven language, is in fact constructed deliberately to resemble Welsh phonologically and to have a relation to High-elven [=Quenya] similar to that existing between British (properly so-called, sc. the Celtic languages spoken in this island at the time of the Roman Invasion) and Latin. …
This statement is quite revealing about how Tolkien conceived of Sindarin and Quenya, at least during one important period of his life, and sheds some interesting light on the specific ways Tolkien’s professional philological background was closely bound up to his creative linguistics.
Tolkien’s assertion that the relationship between Latin and British somehow closely resembles that of Quenya and Sindarin catches the interest in part because it does not seem particularly true at first glance. To a philologist or linguist, the first assumption would be that Tolkien was implying that the historical-linguistic relationship between Quenya and Sindarin had some sort of special similarity to that between Latin and British. This reading works in some ways, but fails in certain important respects. There is a very general similarity, in that each set of languages represents two daughter tongues descended from an unrecorded parent language (Common Eldarin in the fictional case, Proto-Indo-European in the historical one), and some of the linguistic changes that Sindarin underwent do in fact resemble those of Welsh. But the other half of the equation works less well under this assumption, since Quenya and Latin are not especially similar in the details of the sound and grammar changes that they underwent while developing from their respective linguistic ancestors. In fact, in a set of Comparative Tables, probably dating from the mid–1930s, Tolkien identified Telerin, rather than Quenya, as his language “of an approximately Latin type” (Quenya Phonology 6–7, 22).
Before turning to the main question of what precisely Tolkien did mean with these comparisons, Tolkien’s use of the term “British” in Letter #165 calls for a brief comment. Sindarin, as is well known, has a number of similarities to Welsh in its medieval and modern forms, most famously in the initial consonant mutations, but also in its general phonological structure, and in the use of “i-mutation” (or i-umlaut) in forming the plurals of nouns (see Phelpstead 46–50; but also Doughan 6–8). However, while these linguistic features are characteristic of later Welsh, they are emphatically not characteristics of “the Celtic languages spoken in this island at the time of the Roman Invasion [i.e., the early British spoken in the period following AD 43].” These striking phonological and grammatical properties of Welsh probably did not develop until sometime after the departure of the Romans in 410 AD (Watkins 11). So why did Tolkien insist on comparing Sindarin to this early “British,” if he in fact meant later Welsh? It seems we should understand Tolkien’s reference to the Roman invasion as a clarification of his use of “British” to refer the Brythonic Celtic languages descended from those spoken under Roman rule, as opposed to the Goidelic Celtic languages (which in Roman times were spoken only in Ireland). This use of “British” would include not only Welsh but also Cornish and Breton, which not only sprang from the same source, but underwent some of the same phonological and grammatical changes as Welsh—and Sindarin (see Phelpstead xv and Hooker 1–2).
In the remainder of this essay, we will consider three different cultural or philological considerations that Tolkien may have had in mind by using the relationship of Latin and British as an analogy for Quenya and Sindarin. First, on a cultural level, the social roles of Latin and Welsh in the Middle Ages bear a close resemblance to how Quenya and Sindarin were each employed in Middle-earth. Turning from culture...
This long-overdue single-topic examination of death and immortality in the works of Tolkien is not simply a collection of thematically linked papers gathered by an editor. Ideas were thrashed out in a string of preparatory meetings among the contributors. It is therefore something of an organic whole, with a complementary set of approaches, philosophical, exegetical, and encyclopaedic. It was, as the editors explain, created to fulfil the need for a scholarly all-Italian book on Tolkien, and although it is too diverse to represent any single ‘school of thought,’ it certainly has a flavour quite distinct from most Tolkien scholarship from Britain and America.
The contributors also come from overlapping circles: several are on the committee behind the Italian publisher Marietti’s Tolkien e dintorni series of publications, which first published this collection under the title La Falce spezatta: Morte e immortalità in J.R.R. Tolkien (2009). Some are involved in the Tolkien journal Endòre [sic]. Several are professional translators, and have turned the book into English (at which point I must declare an interest, because one of them, aided by a further three, translated my book Tolkien and the Great War for Marietti). There are experts in philosophy, history, and religion, whose expertise and background in mainland European academe give the collection its distinct character. However, while the topic is well defined and overlapping materials are discussed, the approaches taken in the different papers are so distinct that it is best to take them one at a time.
To deal first with the quasi-encyclopedic elements, the book provides two papers which are almost pure information rather than argument. In “Tolkien’s Legendarium as a meditatio mortis,” Claudio A. Testi provides a thorough chronological taxonomy of the concepts of death and immortality as developed by Tolkien in his Elves and Men, from the “Lost Tales” to the end of his work on “The Silmarillion.” This is exceptionally useful, because the matter is complex and details are scattered across many separate books. Testi gives due weight to Tolkien’s late, extended explorations of the topic, published in Morgoth’s Ring, while showing clearly which of the later ideas were innovative and which conservative. His summary is above all a useful antidote to simplistic assumptions that (a) Elves live forever and are brilliant and happy, and (b) mortals just wink out of existence. The relationship which Tolkien refined is both elegant in its simplicity and complex in its ramifications: Elvish existence lasts from their birth until the end of the world, but is bound within it; but human death is an exit from the world and probably from time itself. Among the easily overlooked points is that for mortals, death of the body is not necessarily the same as leaving the Circles of the World (49). Testi also examines some of the salient moral and philosophical ramifications of this world-picture, such as that it is Man’s mortality which dictates that faith must underpin human existence.
Lorenzo Gammarelli performs another useful task by providing brief descriptions of how Tolkien’s relevant shorter works treat death and immortality, ranging from the well-known “Leaf by Niggle” to the almost unobtainable Lay of Aotrou and Itroun. Terse discussions of bereavement and of the relationship between Faërie and dream suggest he might have much more of interest to say. On the other hand, he dismisses possible significances in “The Mewlips” too easily, by taking at face value the title of the original version: “Knocking at the Door: Lines induced by sensations when waiting for an answer at the door of an exalted academic person.” I suspect Tolkien’s title was a wry afterthought, a joke he knew would be appreciated by readers of the Oxford Magazine where it was published (apparently ten years after its composition). Maybe the imagery is “merely the product of playing with sounds and associations,” as Gammarelli says unprovably; but I’d bet there’s more to it—including memories of the Somme in 1916. As the surrealists knew, nonsense is a stage upon which deep anxieties are often acted out.
A paper midway between encyclopedic and exegetical, “The Wrong Path of the Sub...