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Notes and thoughts about J.R.R. Tolkien, the Tolkien Index, and related topics.

Quick update

Tolkien (misc.) Posted on Thu, May 28, 2020 00:52:23

Ever since this blog was (involuntary) migrated to WordPress by my web host some time ago, I started receiving an almost uncontrollable amount of spam comments, waiting for supervision (currently about 600 comments). It is hard to find time and energy to manually supervise each and every comment since the migration, and hence I advise proper readers who may have a comment to send me a notice by email (and I can then approve that particular comment).

The most recent addition to the blog is an update made today to the History of Middle-earth Corrigenda.

Thanks to any readers still having a peek at this blog!

What did the “The Master” tell Mr. Cox? Possible remnants from a discussion with Tolkien

Tolkien (misc.) Posted on Sat, June 10, 2017 01:47:29

Mistakes can sometimes be lucky accidents. This was the case when I placed an order for a 1969 issue of the now defunct pop-linguistic magazine Quinto Lingo.[1] I had noticed a copy of Quinto Lingo (Vol. 7, Nos. 8-9, August/September), containing the article “Tolkien, the Man Who Created Nine Languages” by Jeff Cox, in the collection of Italian Tolkien collector Oronzo Cilli. But in my haste to acquire a copy I accidentally placed an order for the wrong issue (Nr. 10, November 1969). Quickly realizing my error, but unable to cancel the order, I glanced through the pages once it arrived, though not expecting to find anything related to Tolkien (after all, it was a magazine devoted to real-world languages). Among the letters to the editor, however, I spotted a couple of letters concerning Cox’s article, and one caught my attention in particular: a reader asked where Cox had “obtained the information he uses for his deductions” and if he “has access to Professor Tolkien’s notes, to which he makes reference”. The editor replied: “Mr. Cox has discussed the trilogy[sic] with The Master — was told some things and deduced others”. I found the editor’s reply quite interesting: would the article contain any references to the discussion between Cox and Tolkien?

When the August/September issue of Quinto Lingo finally arrived, I was therefore curious to see if there were any references to the discussion with “The Master”. Sadly, though, Cox gives us no clues to what he apparently was told by Tolkien. Nor is it mentioned through which means they discussed The Lord of the Rings. Did they correspond (as would perhaps have been most likely), meet in person, or speak over the phone? And there is only one reference to “Tolkien’s notes”:

The author [Tolkien] uses the incredibly complicated process of laying out the actual Westron in his notes, then translating it into Old English, then forming modern English equivalents from his knowledge of philology.” (p. 9)

Is it possible then to approach Cox’s article in order to derive any pieces of information that could have been communicated by Tolkien? Since Cox does not use any explicit references, and without access to any primary material (such as letters from Tolkien to Cox), it is of course almost impossible to come to any conclusions. Adding to the untrustworthiness of the article are some obvious errors: for example, Middle-earth is throughout the article rendered “middle earth”, and the two main groups of the Elves are called Quenyi and Sindarin (the correct forms being Quendi and Sindar, and Quendi rather refers to all kinds of Elves; these and “middle earth” might be transcription errors on part of the magazine’s editor, though).

However, if we assume a sympathetic reading of the article — assuming that Cox would not invent stuff on purpose or present his own deductions without warning the reader— there are at least two passages that I found worthy of note. (And now I’m stepping into the complex linguistic territory with some trepidation, since this is an area where I have no claims to much knowledge!) The first clue to what Tolkien might have been communicating is perhaps found in the following paragraph:

Some of the languages, such as Elvish and Westron (the latter being the common speech of hobbits and men), are remarkably complete, listing nearly a thousand words each. And they are true to their inner rules, following the grammar and inflection that Tolkien devised for them.” (pp. 8—9)

This is quite remarkable, written in 1969, since I would assume that the existence of the substantial Elvish wordlists and grammars would come to public knowledge first with the appearance of The History of Middle-earth in general and the Etymologies in particular. Interesting about this passage is also the mention of Westron equivalents: is this a misinterpretation of something Tolkien told Cox (e.g., a failure to note that the distinction would perhaps rather be between Q(u)enya and Gnomish/Noldorin/Sindarin wordlists and grammars, by now having been published in various volumes of Parma Eldalamberon), or is Cox making a reference to the still unpublished Taliska dictionary and grammar (mentioned by Patrick Wynne in Vinyar Tengwar 27, pp. 5—6), which, although not Westron per se, at least fall under the umbrella “Mannish”?[2] Not having access to any more information, though, we do not know and can only guess.

The second clue concerns Cox’s analysis of the Sindarin poem A Elbereth Gilthoniel, first published in The Lord of the Rings. Writing about the word galadhremmin, Cox says that it is a:

compound word — ‘galadh’ being tree and ‘remmin’ being woven (from the Quenya root ‘rem’ meaning net or weave of strands).” (p. 9)

Now, from what I can find, the detailed translation of the root rem appears to be especially interesting. A similar verbal base REB/REM, glossed as “entangle, snare, trap (as hunters or fishers) with lines or nets”, was first published in Vinyar Tengwar 42 (p. 12) in 2001. For example, there is no mention of such a root in the Etymologies, and Tolkien does not discuss the element -remmin in The Road Goes Ever On.[3] Again, though, I want to stress my very basic acquaintance with Elvish linguistics, and there might be other (and obvious) sources which I have missed.[4] If so, please let me know in the comments and I will be happy to amend this blog post!


[1] The magazine appears to have been published from 1964 (“Quinto Lingo” was registered as a trademark on 11 September 1964) or 1965 until the 1980s; the earliest issue I have seen dates from 1965 and the latest from 1983.

[2] Another wild guess is that Cox had seen the (apparently disputed) material referred to by Lisa Star as “Sóval Pháre, a substantial amount of information (some 15 pages) related to the ‘true language’ of men and hobbits, especially the grammar and phonology, privately circulated”, and elaborated by Star in Tyalië Tyelelliéva No. 17. I have never been able to read any copy of the Tyalië Tyelelliéva magazine.

[3] Appendix E of The Lord of the Rings (p. 1115, note 1, 50th anniversary edition) has “rem ‘mesh’”.

[4] For example, in 1966 the poem A Elbereth Gilthoniel with an English translation by Tolkien was published in the Tolkien Journal (Vol.2, No.1). I have not read this issue, and cannot say if there is anything there that Cox could have picked up.

Tolkien’s “Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation”

Tolkien (misc.) Posted on Thu, December 11, 2014 04:14:30

When Christopher
Tolkien edited a vast amount of his father’s manuscripts for publication in The History of Middle-earth series, he omitted
certain texts due to constraints of space and editorial discretion. Generally
speaking, these texts are either theological/philosophical or linguistic in nature,
and were thus perceived to be of little or no interest to the general reader
(see, for example, The War of the Jewels,
XI:359). Much of this omitted material, however, have since appeared in specialised
publications (most notably in issues of Vinyar
and Parma Eldalamberon),
and the most recently published material appears in the French volume La Feullie de la Compagnie N° 3,* released
on 3 December 2014. This material consists of three sets of formerly
unpublished or partially published manuscripts by Tolkien, presented here under
the collective title Fragments on Elvish
. The manuscripts, appearing both in English and a French
translation, have been edited by Michaël Devaux, with the assistance of
Christopher Tolkien and Carl F. Hostetter.

My intention here is not to offer an analysis of the meaning
or importance of these texts; it is rather to present a brief description of Tolkien’s
writings, and its associated editorial matter, in La Feullie de la Compagnie 3. Information in English about this new material is still sparse, and hopefully
this summary could be of use when pondering whether or not to acquire a copy of the book.

Editorial introduction

Deveaux has composed
an ambitious introduction, covering some 70 pages, to the Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation. The introduction consists of: (1)
a general introduction to the material; (2) a detailed description of the
manuscripts; (3) an analysis of the literary styles found in these writings and
an “in-universe” analysis of the ideas found in the manuscripts; (4) a section
containing both a glossary of Elvish terms appearing in the manuscripts, supplied
by Carl Hostetter, and some notes specific to the French translation of certain
terms; (5) a discussion of the ideas found in the manuscripts, with references
to (real-world) philosophy, theology, geography, and general natural science.

In my opinion it is
quite a drawback that the editor has chosen not to include an English translation
of this introductory material (even Hostetter’s contribution, originally in
English, appears only in French). Firstly, acquiring a copy of La Feullie de la Compagnie 3 is, as of
now (and perhaps indefinitely?), the only way to access this new and quite
substantial primary material by Tolkien, and non-French readers are much at a
loss by not being able to consult the introduction. Secondly, with English
being the lingua franca of Tolkien
studies, it complicates the possibility of critical scholarship on these texts.
And thirdly, relying on my somewhat rusty French, it is evident that Deveaux is
a scrupulous Tolkien scholar and keen commentator, whose thoughts on the matter
deserve to reach a wider audience.

Tolkien’s manuscripts

After the editorial
introduction follow transcriptions of Tolkien’s manuscripts in a bilingual
edition (presented side-by-side on opposite pages).†

I. The Converse of Manwë with Eru (ca.

In his Appendix to Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth (published
in Morgoth’s Ring, volume X in The History of Middle-earth),
Christopher Tolkien noted the existence of “a text entitled The Converse of Manwë and Eru”,
consisting of three manuscripts: “This work was planned as two-fold … and a
second, more ample version of the ‘Converse’, was given up” (X:361). In Morgoth’s Ring, only the “original
shorter recension” (ibid.) of the
Converse appeared, reprinted here as manuscript A, The Converse of Manwë and Eru, together with two amendments (ca. 2
pages)‡. Manuscript B, The Converse of Manwë
with Eru concerning the death of the Elves and how it might be redressed; with
the comments of the Eldar added
(ca. 14 pages), is the second
part of the two-fold work, described by Christopher as “an elaborate philosophical
discussion” (ibid.). And finally,
manuscript C, Beginning of a revised & expanded version of ‘The Converse’ (ca.
4 pages), is the abandoned, “more ample” version of manuscript A.

II. Re-incarnation of Elves. The Númenórean
Catastrophe & End of ‘Physical’ Arda
(ca. 1959 – spring 1966)

The second set of texts,
also noted in the Appendix to Athrabeth,
is described by Christopher as a “hastily written manuscript on small slips of
paper, entitled ‘Reincarnation of Elves’ (X:363). The first section, Re-incarnation of Elves, amounts to ca.
6 pages, and The Númenórean Catastrophe
& End of ‘Physical’ Arda
covers ca. 2 pages.

III. Some notes on ‘rebirth’, reincarnation by
restoration among Elves. With a note on the Dwarves.

Among the “brief or
fragmentary writings closely associated with [the Glorfindel manuscripts]” (The
Peoples of Middle-arth
, volume XII: 377), Christopher notes “a discussion
of the question of Elvish reincarnation” (XII:382), existing in two versions. In
The Peoples of Middle-earth, only the
first version of the writing, and parts of second version of the final note
on Dwarves, is given, while here appears the second version in its entirety (ca.
3 pages).


* It should be noted that the volume is an anthology (it has 502 pages in total), also containing articles in French about Tolkien and his works, some illustrations, and a bibliography of French Tolkien-related publications.

† A facsimile version of two manuscripts pages is reproduced at the very end of the section on Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation.

‡ Here, and below, the page numbers refer to the extent of only the English material, as it appears in La Feullie de la Compagnie 3 (it has a somewhat larger typesetting than employed in The History of Middle-earth). The page numbers are included to give readers an idea of the length of the primary material.

The Riddles of The Hobbit by Adam Roberts

Tolkien (misc.) Posted on Tue, October 15, 2013 16:30:02

Nearly a month ago, Pieter Collier wrote a review at the Tolkien Library about the forthcoming The Riddles of The Hobbit by Professor Adam Roberts (Palgrave Macmillan; to be published in November 2013). Thanks to the publishers I also got a chance to read the book before its publication, and will here try to note a couple of points not already brought up by Mr Collier, that I hope could be of interest to potential readers.

To my knowledge, The Riddles of The Hobbit will be the first book-length, academic study about the theme of riddles in Tolkien’s works. The latter is important to point out: contrary to what one could be led to believe from its title, the book is not only and simply about the riddles in The Hobbit – Roberts start out (Chapter 1) by tracing the use of riddles in Anglo-Saxon culture and literature, and he devotes a whole chapter (2) to riddles contained in the Exeter Book. This historic contextualisation (which certainly is relevant when it comes to Tolkien) gives Roberts a valuable perspective when analysing (Chapter 3) the riddle-game found in the chapter “Riddles in the Dark” in The Hobbit. In Chapter 4, Roberts tentatively suggests an apparent “meta-riddle” (a sort of synthesis of all the riddles exchanged between Bilbo and Gollum), which he constructs out of a reading of a certain Celtic riddle, the Exeter Book, and the Elder Edda. A quite fascinating suggestion, which no doubt will be discussed further among Tolkien scholars and fans!

After a transitional chapter (5) presenting the different versions of The Hobbit, Roberts discusses (Chapter 6) the manual and hands-on quality of the Old English poem Beowulf in order to investigate Bilbo’s question “What have I got in my pocket?”. This discussion goes on (chapter 7) to an analysis of the enigma of the One Ring: here I believe Roberts makes an interesting (and apparently formerly unnoticed) connection between the Ring and a particular riddle found in the Exeter Book.

The remaining chapters are more diverse, and touch on subjects such as riddles of writing and characterisation in the works of Tolkien, and the “Enigma of Genre Fantasy”.

Initially, since this is Roberts’s first contribution to Tolkien studies, I was worried that the author would have failed to take account of what are often considered to be the preeminent analyses of the Tolkien’s riddles, namely the discussions found in Douglas A. Anderson’s The Annotated Hobbit, John D. Rateliff’s The History of The Hobbit, and the works of Tom Shippey. However, this turned out to be a false worry: Roberts not only includes references to all of these, but also expands upon and, at times, questions certain aspects of their work – all of which makes for a rewarding read.

[added 5 December 2013]: Over at Jason Fisher’s blog Lingwë I just discovered a long discussion (see the comments field) about how the topic of the riddles in The Hobbit is noteworthily brought up in several works (that I failed to take account of above). Such include The Tolkien Encyclopedia (entry for “Riddles”) , Marjorie Burns’s Perlious Realms, and Corey Olsen’s Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit .

Pauline Baynes’ ‘There and Back Again’: Some Notes

Tolkien (misc.) Posted on Sun, July 21, 2013 23:41:41

Recently I managed to acquire a copy of a poster-map I’ve been eager to take a closer look at: Pauline Baynes’ There and Back Again: Bilbos Journey through Eriador and Rhovanion (1971[1]). Long-time collectors and scholars will of course be familiar with this poster, but as a younger (well, mid-30s) enthusiast, it wasn’t readily available and I had my own reason to study the map.

Before finding a copy of the map, I namely posed a question at a well-known online Tolkien forum, asking if anyone knew if Baynes consulted with Tolkien for the creation of There and Back Again. My question derived from the knowledge that Baynes’ earlier poster, Map of Middle-earth (1970), was produced in collaboration with Tolkien, “who sent her a marked photocopy of the general map, as well as additional names to include and advice on a few points of topography and nomenclature”.[2] Could it therefore be that also the 1971 poster-map has some unique features that would be able to enrich our understanding of Middle-earth?

However, no one had a reply (or perhaps no one found the question interesting!) at the forum, and since none of my Tolkien-related reference works had anything to say on the subject, I decided to directly ask the foremost experts,[3] Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. They kindly replied (quoted with their permission):

“Tolkien seems not to have given Baynes any additions for the Hobbit map, or instructions except to concentrate on landscape rather than figures. He asked to approve the art before it went to press, and did so when Pauline and her husband visited Tolkien in Poole.”[4]

While being grateful for an authoritative and informative answer to my question, it was of course also somewhat disappointing that the small “research project” undertaken for this blog post mainly yielded negative knowledge: it would likely be fruitless to look for additional pieces of information concerning the legendarium using the 1971 poster-map as a basis. Nevertheless, though, the illuminated map is a beautiful piece of art, created by “Tolkien’s illustrator of choice for his own works”[5] – reasons enough for me to take delight in it!

Final Note 1: I find it interesting that Tolkien recommended Baynes to “concentrate on landscape rather than figures”. The statement sheds additional light on one of my older posts here (‘Tolkien and the Illustrations of Robert J. Lee’), where I argued (though likely not being the first to point out this aspect of Tolkien’s artistic preferences) that Tolkien’s own illustrations contains “very few actual portraits, and when people occasionally appear in a landscape, they are often very small and in the background” – perhaps one of the reasons why Tolkien disliked Lee’s pictures.

Final Note 2: At least two erros, concerning the spelling of place names, appear to occur on the 1971 map:

[for] River Gladuin [read] River Glanduin
[for] Dimril Dale [read] Dimrill Dale

Footnotes & References

[1] ‘In Memoriam: Pauline Diana Baynes’, in Tolkien Studies: Volume 6, p.vii.
[2] Hammond, Wayne G. & Scull, Christina, The Lord of the Rings: A Readers Companion (HarperCollins 2008), p. lxiv.
[3] Hammond and Scull are currently working on a biography about Pauline Baynes – a work in progress which they occasionally write about at their weblog: Too Many Books and Never Enough.
[4] Private correspondence (8 June 2013).
[5] Scull, Christina & Hammond, Wayne G., The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Readers Guide (HarperCollins 2006), p. 76.

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