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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Reading Group meeting 9/7/05

On this day....

'When the days of rejoicing were over at last the Companions thought of returning to thier own homes...'

The Return of the King, Many Partings

1 Comments:

Blogger Rymenhild said...

9.7.05
Having been so late putting up the report from the last meeting, this one is a bit more timely. The topic of NAMES called up some interesting insights and information. The well-known importance of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) for the creation of Middle-earth is always going to mean that a trawl through an Anglo-Saxon dictionary will show up not only Tolkien’s profound knowledge, but his etymologically clever use of what he knew. We observed with pleasure the aptness of his use of Anglo-Saxon words to create names which are also descriptions of characters. The list is long and I can recommend the pleasure and interest to be had with LotR in one hand and an A/S dictionary in the other. However, we discovered too that Welsh and Irish dictionaries also reveal how Tolkien drew on these languages. The Welsh word for Ring suggests its use as a source for ‘Mordor’ – apt because it is ringed by mountains as well as being the location of the making of the One Ring, while the A/S word ‘morðor’ = ‘murder’. The /ð/ (eth) mutated eventually into a /d/ as the use of runes died out.

The Celtic word ‘dol’ means a trap or snare – most apt for the Necromancer’s stronghold of Dol Guldur in Mirkwood, although this doesn’t seem to work for Dol Amroth, but this raises the difficult matter of the way Tolkien not only uses the form and the meaning of some ‘real’ words, but may use a real form but give it a different meaning in his own ‘synthetic’ etymologies.

There is a long list of names and some information about them on the Tolkien Society website, but we discovered that this list was somewhat lacking in depth and our researches could add considerably to the information provided on the website, which is primarily who the named characters are, and what they do. Our desire has been to investigate sources, meanings, and other resonances. It was remarked particularly that under ‘Gollum’ there was no mention of the ‘golem’, the creature of Hebrew cabbalistic mystery.

A feature of Tolkien’s naming practice is that characters often have many names and in discussion members of the group isolated and described HOW characters accumulate names. Some are simply names given according to the language of the speaker – so the Elves call Gandalf ‘Mithrandir’, but in Rohan he is Gandalf Greyhame (‘hame from A/S ‘hama’ – a covering, garment).

Some are related to a the life-changes that characters undergo. Beren and Turin were cited as examples: Beren is named both Erchamion – One-hand, and Camlost - the Empty-handed, both names referring to experiences. On the other hand, Aragorn has names which express his qualities, foretell his future, name his destiny, and define him according to the perception of the character talking to him or about him. So he is Strider to Butterbur, Dunedan – the Man of the West - to Bilbo, Estel to his mother because he is the hope of his kindred, ‘this Ranger of the north’ to Denethor, and so the list goes on.

The names of the Shire folk and the Bree folk are, as we noted, particularly apt to their ways of life, and neatly distinguish the difference between the two communities. The Shire folk have names associated with digging, burrowing, locations (Underhill), and feet. The Bree folk are more plant-based, including Butterbur – the name of a plant with enormous leaves once used to wrap butter.

There are some names, especially in the Shire that seem to be anachronistic or inappropriate. Sancho, Esmeralda, and Maggot are all worthy of further investigation. The OED suggests ‘Maggot’ can mean a foolish person, something whimsical – neither seems suited to Farmer Maggot, so the search must continue.

In the continuing quest for things that aren’t there in LotR, the lost identities and unknown names of the Ringwraiths came to our attention. There are, of course, fascinating theories about names creating identities, about the absence of names denying characters identities, and the concept of ‘interpolation’, where a society creates an individual’s identity by the way it ‘names’. All these theories are relevant in LotR, but the nameless wraiths are both subsumed into the will of Sauron, and made more threatening by their lack of a name to call each by individually. They are thus defined by the group and its power, except for the Witch-king of Angmar, and his second-in-command, who does have a name Khamul, the Lord of Morgul, also called the Shadow of the East, the Black Easterling. He thus has a bit of a biography. The Witch-king, we know, lived in Minas Morgul with six of the wraiths while Khamul held Dol Guldur and had one wraith to act as his messenger. (Unfinished Tales, 338).

The Mouth of Sauron posed another problem – I suggested he was one of the Nazgul employed temporarily as Sauron’s herald, but textual evidence was cited to prove that he was separate from them, a Black Numenorian, and a very bad herald because he was so arrogant and insulting, but then he was only a mouthpiece.

A query arose concerning Tolkien’s specific choice of plural for Dwarf/ Dwarves and the adjective from Elf – elven rather than elfin and elvish rather than elfish. We observed that MnE (modern English) is inconsistent in plural spellings of words ending in /f/. We may say many roofs, but four or more hooves. This seems to derive from A/S where /f/ was voiced as /v/ between vowels or other voiced sounds but at the start and end of words it was unvoiced as a modern /f/. According the Mitchell and Robinson ‘This accounts for the different sounds [and hence spellings] in MnE such as ‘loaf’ but ‘loaves’. M. and R. add that /f/ and /v/ were merely variants in Old English and note distinctly different sounds as they are in MnE. While we pronounce ‘fat’ and ‘vat’ differently, in OE ‘fæt’ could mean either ‘fat’ or ‘vat’ depending on how it was pronounced (/f/ or /v/) and that depended on the speaker’s dialect.

There is much more to be said about naming in LotR, and we did not even address the problem of the Finnish Kalevala. This is probably outside our scope, but even so, there is more depth to Tolkien’s naming practices than we had time to investigate fully.

For the next meeting the group is continuing to read on from the chapter ‘Many Meetings’. I’m going to miss that one, so any blog report will be very late – apologies for that. I am in the process of booking the next lot of meetings.

1:48 PM  

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