I·Lam Na·Ngoldathon: The Grammar and Lexicon of the Gnomish Tongue - Carl Hostetter

Comments by squire, June 24, 2007

As inherently interesting and accurate as this is, it falls awkwardly between two stools. The subject of the article is ostensibly the manuscript document with this imposing title. Tolkien worked on it for several years in the late 1910s at the same time that he was writing down the Lost Tales. It defines and so creates one of his two original "Elvish" languages. Hostetter deftly reviews its history, organization and even its physical appearance. But then nevitably, Hostetter gets into the language itself, Goldogrin - and why not, since it is pretty much recorded only in this one document. But...

But then we ask: since Hostetter reviews Goldogrin in his comprehensive "Languages Invented by Tolkien", why have another article performing the same task? Should all of Tolkien's language manuscripts have gotten a separate article, as this one and the Qenyaqetsa did? I don't know the answer to that; the editors' commitment to the language side of Tolkien studies seems somewhat variable.

The best that can be said is that a specialized article on something always allows more detail. Here Hostetter clarifies a point left quite obscure in his survey article: Goldogrin may be the ancestor language in Tolkien's imagination to the later Noldorin and eventually Sindarin, but unlike those languages this one did not emulate Welsh phonology nearly as strongly. Its plurals were not formed, for instance, by vowel affection, and its past tenses are strongly influenced by the model of how vowel sounds changed when Middle English became Modern English. This is great stuff, and I could only wish that Hostetter had spent less time on a detailed description of the manuscript and more time on how it demonstrates how Tolkien's early language invention differed from his later, more familiar, exercises.

For instance, the article concludes with an unhelpful description of Tolkien's multi-layered script notations on the actual manuscript. I think we should have been given, in place of that section, a few concrete examples of Hostetter's assertions about Goldogrin. He says this lexicon contains a vocabulary "far richer" than the later conceptual phases of this language family: how so? Or (as in the Qenyaqetsa article) tell us just a little about how the language definitions in this document add to our understanding of Middle-earth as it existed at its beginning, in the Lost Tales stage.

The 'Further Reading' looks excellent. As with his "Languages Invented..." article, there is no See also list to help people connect this article with the discussions of Goldogrin and Noldorin/Sindarin in that one, and with the various articles on "Elves", and other related ones like "The Book of Lost Tales" (I & II), "Secret Vice, A", "Unpublished Manuscripts", etc.

 

Immortality - Christopher Garbowski

Comments by squire, March 19, 2007

Garbowski dives into this subject's deep end with his first sentence, and doesn't come up for air until his last sentence. He races along, assuming his reader has at least some acquaintance with most of Tolkien's work including the HoME ephemera. If you can keep up, you will get a first-class briefing on the meaning and implications of immortality and mortality as Tolkien worked them out across his entire legendarium.

From the beginning of The Silmarillion to Aragorn's death in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings and even beyond in the philosophical no-man's-land of Morgoth's Ring, Garbowski shows how Tolkien plays with the paradoxes he defined in "On Fairy-stories", that mortals long for deathlessness while immortals long for death. Most importantly, he highlights what is central but deeply hidden in Tolkien's philosophy of Middle-earth: that mortal men may die and depart from the world but are nevertheless destined to live forever in God's heart, while the "immortal" Elves are merely extremely long-lived and will expire forever when the world itself wears out: appropriate metaphors respectively for Adam's children redeemed by Christ, and for fantastical beings whom no one "believes in" any longer.

Unfortunately, as is all too usual with brilliant tours de force like this, Garbowski does not cite any other critical work on this key Tolkienian subject. His "See Also" list seems scanty; certainly references to "Men, Middle-earth", "On Fairy-stories", "Morgoth's Ring" (to name a few) and a vast selection of the entries listed in the Thematic category "Theological/Philosophical Concepts and Philosophers" would not be out of place here.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 1, 2008

The opening paragraphs of Garbowski’s articles on “Death” and “Immortality” both refer to the same letter by Tolkien, in which he identifies those subjects as key themes in The Lord of the Rings (however, Garbowski’s parenthetical citation in both cases should be “Letters, 246” not “Letters, 186”).

Otherwise Garbowski’s twin articles, which possibly should have been combined, largely don’t overlap.  One exception is his treatment of marriage between Elves and Men.  In “Death”, he writes of Tolkien’s “conceit” that such a union is “possible if the former sacrifices his or her mortality”, while in “Immortality”, he writes of Elves that the “alternative” to the weariness of immortality “is to marry a mortal”.  Both remarks imply that the cases of Beren and Lúthien, and Aragorn and Arwen, are standard practice, not rare exceptions.  And what about Idril and Tuor?

 

Incarnation - Joseph Pearce

Comments by squire, May 31, 2007

Pearce identifies two points in Tolkien's writings that plainly refer to Christ's incarnation, and blows them up out of all proportion to their importance.

It's very hard to accept his simultaneous premise and conclusion that the incarnation, whose instance in The Lord of the Rings is only inferrable from appendicial material ("tucked away" and hidden, as Pearce puts it) is "axiomatic to Tolkien's legendarium in general" and "at the very heart of " LotR. It is one thing to claim that because Christ's incarnation and crucifixion traditionally took place on March 25, the One Ring that is destroyed in Mount Doom on that day may be read as an allegorical symbol for the Original Sin that Christ's life and death redeemed; but it is another thing altogether to claim that such an allegorical reading is the key to understanding all of The Lord of the Rings.

Likewise, Pearce knows of the famous "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" ("Debate of Finrod and Andreth"). This late work, never published by Tolkien, argues from within the story-world about the possibility and necessity of Eru (God) "enter[ing] into Arda" to defeat Morgoth and heal all evil, as has been prophesyed among Men since their early fall from grace. Clearly this is Tolkien's speculation about how the incarnation of Christ might be fitted into his legendarium. Equally clearly, it is very late in the literary history of Middle-earth, and has no precedent elsewhere in the legendarium, which has a long history of coming to an end with a Nordic-style Last Battle; the "Debate" was written at a time (1950s) when Tolkien was re-thinking the cosmological, mythological and theological roots of his decades-old world. Pearce implies by omission that this dialog is an "underpinning" of Middle-earth, but that is far too strong a claim.

Pearce runs out the clock by padding his commentary on this latter document. This leaves him no room for other more important examples of incarnation that Tolkien included in his stories, such as the incarnation of the Valar (Gods/Angels), and the incarnation of the Isari (Wizards).

Given the books in the 'Further Reading' list, the article "Christian Readings of Tolkien" should certainly be on the See also list.

 

Industrialization - Patrick Curry

Comments by squire, January 14, 2007

This is a very interesting and intelligent article that asks more questions than it answers. I mean that in a good way, though the lack of a decent critical bibliography to allow further inquiry by the interested reader is all the more dismaying. Curry himself, alone on the Further Reading list, can hardly be the only scholar with something to say on so fundamental a Tolkien issue as this.

Curry makes some interesting points: that industrialism as a quest for power belongs both to communism and capitalism, so that Mordor is not just a critique of totalitarian dictatorships, as some suppose; that the Shire, with its implicit labor system, is "half-way" between the Elven paradises and the Isengard/Mordor wastelands; that Magic, as opposed to Enchantment, is just an earlier expression of the will to power -- though Curry does not follow through and equate Fëanor with Sauron.

It's a very rich subject indeed, and could there have been room for more consideration of the role of Craft (not Enchantment) in Tolkien's opposition to Industrialism? for a review of Tolkien's own love-affair with his car, as comically expressed in Mr Bliss? for the intersection between Tolkien's ideology and other 20th century critics and authors (Max Weber does make a last-minute unattributed cameo)?

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 1, 2008

Curry notes how Tolkien’s fond memories of his childhood at bucolic Sarehole Mill inform his love for nature over industry.  Curiously, in a 2005 presentation in Birmingham, Dimitra Fimi explained how that mill was itself a notable relic of the Industrial Revolution. This isn’t to say that Tolkien was unaware of such contradictions and elisions in his fiction.  In Letter #154, for instance, he writes that “Gondor … clearly has many industries though these are hardly alluded to”.

As for the subject of “craft”, there are some good comments by Tolkien on that topic in his recently published essay on Smith of Wootton Major.

 

Inklings - Colin Duriez

Comments by squire, March 25, 2007

Duriez is an expert on this topic, and his essay is clear, informative and straightforward. The comments on the Inklings' interest in the problems of narrative, myth, and Christianity are very good, and the portraits of the members and their literary contributions are concise and interesting. However, although Tolkien hardly missed an Inklings meeting, this article misses Tolkien. That is, there is no focus specifically on J. R. R. Tolkien and the impact of the Inklings on his life and work.

I don't think that is too much to expect in this Tolkien Encyclopedia. I don't insist on the inclusion of the apocryphal tale of the mysterious voice from the back saying, as Tolkien began to read another chapter, "not more ***** elves!" But Duriez's take on the club's atmospherics is unfailingly upbeat and objective, more so for instance than in Carpenter's Biography. It might have been worth while to have compressed the other members' biographies in favor of more attention to their varying interpersonal dynamics with Tolkien.

Likewise in the matter of influence, there are no specific examples using Tolkien's words or texts to explain Lewis's comment that Tolkien "owe[s] a good deal to the hard-hitting criticism of the circle" or for Duriez's statement that Tolkien's letters credit the "valuable and much-needed encouragement" he received from his friends. Yet both the Letters and The History of the Lord of the Rings subseries of HoME provide several illuminating episodes on this crucial subject, I think.

Although Duriez's thorough 'Further Reading' list has many books on the Inklings which doubtless give Tolkien his due, it is telling that there is only one scholarly source there that explicitly treats the question of literary influence on Tolkien, and that is an unpublished thesis.

As well, there are some annoying infelicities of style that show a missing editorial hand. The See also restricts itself almost entirely to the Inklings' biographical articles, plus an unfortunate reference to a "Notion Club Papers" article, which does not exist, the subject being covered in "Sauron Defeated".

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 1, 2008

Diana Pavlac Glyer’s  “unpublished thesis” from 1993 has been expanded and recently published as The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, which also includes a biographical and bibliographical appendix by David Bratman, “The Inklings: Their Lives and Works”.

Duriez lists only The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings among the works-in-progress that Tolkien read to the Inklings, but there were others: for instance, Warren Lewis mentions enjoying a version of the Númenórean catastrophe.

The See also list should be expanded to include at least “T.C.B.S.” and “Kolbítar”, both mentioned by Duriez in his text.

 

Ireland – Don N. Anger

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 24, 2007

For an entry on all of Ireland's relation to Tolkien except its mythology, Anger does a nice job with a limited word count. He finds a place for all the relevant facts, and offers some valuable and interesting satellite points (e.g., Tolkien’s painting “Summer in Kerry”, and Ireland as the Isle of Íverin in the “Lost Tales” are particularly notable), and some mention of the elves in the Celtic tradition. He also doffs his chapeau to Tom Shippey and Verlyn Flieger (though he missed Marjorie Burns), the scholars who have made the most study of Celtic influences in Tolkien’s writing. And he doesn’t forget to mention the poem “Imram” and The Notion Club Papers, in which that poem found a second home. He might have added the detail that some of the characters in NCP actually voyage to Ireland. But there’s not a lot more I could think to ask for in this solid entry.

The 'Further Reading' section is generally very good, though I question the value of including Lin Carter, and I might have added Carpenter’s The Inklings to it. In the See also list, “Report on the Excavation …” omits “Gloucestershire” from the full name of the entry and "Celtic Mythology" should be "Mythology, Celtic". Also, “Joyce, James (1882 – 1941)” should have been included, and probably “Lewis, C.S. (1898 – 1963)” , though his Irish heritage was arguably of much less significance than Joyce’s.

 

Italian Language - Roberto Arduini

Comments by squire, January 28, 2007

This article should be "Italy and the Italian Language", as far as I can tell. Arduini seems to have discovered all the connections Tolkien had to Italian; the result is so scanty that he has added a lot of (interesting) anecdotes about Tolkien's relation to Italy and Italian literature.

Anecdotes they remain. I guess I expected, from the inclusion of the article in the first place, some kind of linguistic or philological analysis that could relate the Italian language to Tolkien's professional work as a professor of early English. I'm not sure I expected anything about Italian's influence on his invented languages, though I wouldn't put that past Tolkien.

Italy: Reception of Tolkien - Roberto Arduini

Comments by squire, January 28, 2007

This is another example of a "twin" article, by the same author, on two topics so intertwined that they could have been one. This one is more frustrating than the "Italian Language" entry, because it introduces so many fascinating facts without following through. Arudini assumes his readers will understand what he means by saying the 1970 Italian translation of The Lord of the Rings was hijacked by "right wing" publishers, but I don't! His final comments that this right-wing influence is still predominant among Tolkien fandom in Italy is adequately sourced for Italian speakers but maddeningly unclear for the Encyclopedia's English-speaking readers.

Likewise, he skips over the Italian "reception" of Tolkien between the time of the first translation and the forming of the first Tolkien society twenty years later. Was it because Italian readers were put off by the insertion of unpopular politics by the translator?

Finally, Arduini is a valuable contributor to this Encyclopedia, but his occasionally shaky English prose could easily have been polished by the editors.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, May 20, 2007

I agree with squire: this article leaves much tantalizingly undeveloped.  Why does Arduini specify that the first translator of LotR, Vicky Alliata di Villafranca, was aristocratic?  How are the early translations by Alliata and Quirino Principe more or less faithful to Tolkien’s intentions?  And is Arduini’s quote from Francesco Saba Sardi’s translator’s note the to Il Silmarillion, that he “trusted to his hears”, a mistake by Sardi, by Arduini, or an intentional pun?

Comments by squire, October 9, 2007

I just noticed, thanks to Jason Fisher's recent review, that David D. Oberhelman's article on "Marxist Readings of Tolkien" refers to a 1985 article by Roger Griffin (in English!), which seems to be about the Italian neofascist movement's ideological attraction to Tolkien. What a shame that Arduini (or the editors) missed referring to it in this article.

 

‘Iþþlen’ in Sawles Warde – Scott Kleinman

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 27, 2007

In contrast to the related essay “MS Bodley 34: A Re-collation of a Collation” by Anders Stenström, I think Kleinman gets too bogged down in the minutiae of his subject. He spends essentially his entire two columns recapitulating nearly all of the material in d’Ardenne and Tolkien’s short (three-page) note. I’m not so sure Kleinman could have done otherwise, though; the topic is so abstruse that to do much less might have left readers even more confused about the point of the note than they may be with this amount of detail. Still, perhaps just a bit less summarizing of the minutest points of the argument and more assessment of its overall significance in the scholarly debates of its time would have been in order.

What I find really interesting is this detail: d’Ardenne and Tolkien first posit rþ?len as the correct reading of the mysterious key word in MS. Bodley 34, and this is the spelling Kleinman reports. But then they immediately change their reading – without explanation – to rw?len (p. 169), with w replacing þ! Kleinman fails to note this. They repeat the second reading two more times (p. 170), and this is also the reading they give in “MS Bodley 34: A Re-collation of a Collation” published the next year, as Stenström reports in his article in the Encyclopedia – so I take it to be their correct, intended reading. I really don’t know enough about paleography myself to do more than suggest this might all be due to the similarity of þ and w in manuscript, but I’m certainly curious about Tolkien and d'Ardenne's two divergent readings of the traditional “‘Iþþlen’ in Sawles Warde”!

The 'Further Reading' is very good, including some of the sources d’Ardenne and Tolkien themselves cited in their note as well as two or three others. In the See also, “MS Bodley 34: A Re-collation of a Collation” should certainly have been included. Also, “d’Ardenne, S.R.T.O.” should be “d’Ardenne, S.R.T.O. (1899 – 1986)”, “Middle English Vocabulary” should be “Middle English Vocabulary, A (1922)” – and once again, we have a reference to the nonexistent “Middle English" article.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, July 9, 2007

For this non-linguist reader, Kleinman’s entry is pretty confusing.  Unfortunately, explaining why requires me to summarize the article that S.R.T.O. d’Ardenne and Tolkien published in 1947:

There are three surviving manuscripts of a Middle English text called Sawles Warde.  In just one of these copies, there appears a word of unknown meaning, which modern editors rendered as iþþlen until d’Ardenne and Tolkien came along.  The mystery word was actually written by some later Middle English reader above the main text at the place where the copyist omitted another word.  Tolkien and d’Ardenne identify the missing word as felen / fele (“feel”) because that’s how the text reads in the other two manuscripts.  They also point out that the substitution doesn’t read iþþlen anyway, but is probably a misprint for riwlen (“rule”).  Because that word doesn’t quite make sense, d’Ardenne and Tolkien identify another error in this manuscript: hit (“it”) where the other two copies of Sawles Warde have wit (“wit”).  The copyist of this manuscript was careless, but Tolkien and d’Ardenne feel that the author must share some of the blame, because he wrote a confusing allegory.

So, having read d’Ardenne and Tolkien’s article, I now can see why Kleinman claims that it shows "how philological techniques for reconstructing word meanings and manuscript relationships led Tolkien to speculate about the literary qualities of medieval texts and the way readers might have responded to them."  However, three difficulties make it difficult to follow the explanation that supports this claim.

  • The first problem is that Kleinman, after providing the Middle English passage, errs in his transcription of d’Ardenne and Tolkien’s translation, because he omits an important character (a caret mark: ^) that they use as a placeholder to indicate the location of the missing word iþþlen in the text.  The character is missing again when Kleinman writes, as a key to the translated passage, “(indicates the untranslatable iþþlen)”.  So encyclopedia readers don’t know what indicates the missing word or where it falls in the modern English translation, unless they know Middle English well enough to guess what the words mahen and hare mean (“can” and “their”).

  • The second problem is that Kleinman sets up the meaning of iþþlen as the study’s key question, then never resolves it. After claiming that d’Ardenne and Tolkien’s reject riwlen as a possibility for being “inappropriate to the context”, Kleinman turns to other matters.  Actually the 1947 article does allow that the corrector probably intended riwlen, but goes on to say that that word however doesn’t fit the original author’s meaning.

  • The third problem is that there is no context for the quality of d’Ardenne and Tolkien’s work.  As presented by Kleinman, it seems that they resolved cruces in the disputed manuscript simply by relying on two other manuscripts of the same text (where they find felen/fele for iþþlen and wit for hit).  I would like Kleinman to have indicated why no one previously arrived at what looks now like an obvious solution.