Fantastic analysis of how Tolkien constructed the language, world, and characters of Lord of the Rings, with particular attention to word origins and connotations. Easy to read and fascinating.


Tolkien also thought - and this takes us back to the roots of his invention - that philology could take you back even beyond the ancient texts it studied. He believed that it was possible sometimes to feel one's way back from words as they survived in later periods to concepts which had long since vanished, but which had surely existed, or else the word would not exist. This process was made much more plausible if it was done comparatively (philology only became a science when it became comparative philology). The word 'dwarf' exists in modern English, for instance, but it was originally the same word as modern German Zwerg, and philology can explain exactly how they came to differ, and how they relate to Old Norse dvergr. But if the three different languages have the same word, and if in all of them some fragments survive of belief in a similar race of creatures, is it not legitimate first to 'reconstruct' the word from which all the later ones must derive - it would have been something like *dvairgs - and then the concept that had fitted it? [The asterisk before *dvairgs is the conventional way of indicating that a word has never been recorded, but must (surely) have existed, and there is of course enormous room for error in creating *-words, and *-things.] Still, that is the way Tolkien's mind worked, and many more detailed examples are given later on in this book. But the main point is this. However fanciful Tolkien s creation of Middle-earth was, he did not think that he was entirely making it up. He was 'reconstructing', he was harmonizing contradictions in his source-texts, sometimes he was supplying entirely new concepts (like hobbits), but he was also reaching back to an imaginative world which he believed had once really existed, at least in a collective imagination: and for this he had a very great deal of admittedly scattered evidence.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

Would anyone like to suggest further reading on the subject? I'd especially like to read something that delves into Tolkien and Lewis's war service and how that might have influenced their fiction.
gwyneira: This is a picture of my great-grandmother Margaret. (Default)

From: [personal profile] gwyneira

I know someone who took classes from Shippey when he was at Leeds and am deeply envious of her.

There's a book by John Garth called Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-Earth, but alas, although I own it, I haven't gotten around to reading it yet and can't personally comment on it. It does have good reviews on Goodreads, though.
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)

From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard

I came here to rec (but only lightly, since I haven't read it in many years) the same book everyone else is reccing.

Instead, I'll offer up a quote relevant to "Only if you think Heaven is a fairy-tale, which is unfair given that Tolkien believed in it."

From Tolkien's Letter 89, "[T]he Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy-Story...Of course I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the greatest."

My own perspective is that the operative phrase is "flight from reality", and the fairness or unfairness of that that depends on whether or not you're evaluating it from within Tolkien's head. He did not intend the departure from the Grey Havens as a flight from reality, if he perceived it as analogous to Heaven which he believed was real; however, the motives that led to the concept of Heaven are the same as the motives behind his sub-creation of the lands beyond the Grey Havens: real reality is often not as we would want it to be, and people feel this urge to rewrite it so that it's "fair". In real life, some people don't ever find healing, and so this wish-fulfillment mindset is responsible for imagining that they do, somewhere outside the reality that we can perceive, whether that's Heaven or Valinor.
recessional: a red poppy among white flowers (personal; larks still bravely singing)

From: [personal profile] recessional

"I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me." To Sam, seconds after Sam has clued into the fact that Frodo is leaving and he (Sam) can't follow yet.

(I know the end of this book intimately, and if that's the take Garth has on it, I'll skip that book and save my wall the dent in it.)

It's also worth noting that even Valmar and Valinor aren't guarantees of healing: things have died even in the Undying Lands, and Estë and Lorien failed to heal Féanor's mother of bringing him into the world. It's just a better chance than Middle Earth.
Edited Date: 2013-03-06 01:44 am (UTC)
princessofgeeks: (Default)

From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks

I loved this book.

I can recommend some more stuff but I'm not at the office where all my Tolkien academic stuff is shelved!
marycontrary: (Default)

From: [personal profile] marycontrary

Related musing: while I am sure there are linguists who are terrible fiction writers, if a fiction writer is advertised as linguist or mentions in their blurb, it greatly increases the odds I will like their work. C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner series remains one of my very favorites ever, for example.
kore: (lumina book - Bram Stoker's Dracula)

From: [personal profile] kore

This article doesn't look great (didn't read it), but it has some interesting cites in the bibliography:

Brogan, Hugh, "Tolkien's Great War", Children and Their Books: A Celebration of the Work of Iona and Peter Opie, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), pp. 351-367.

Ellison, John A., "'The Legendary War and the Real One' The Lord of the Rings and the Climate of its Times", Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, (Mallorn: High Wycombe, Bucks, England, 1989), pp. 17-20.

Friedman, Barton, "Tolkien and David Jones: The Great War and the War of the Ring", CLIO: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History, (CLIO: Fort Wayne, IN, Winter 1982), pp. 115-136.

Green, William H., The Hobbit: A Journey into Maturity, (Twayne Publishers: New York, 1995).

Isaacs, Neil D., and Rose A. Zimbardo, ed., Tolkien: New Critical Perspectives, (The University Press of Kentucky: 1981).

Shippey, Tom, "Tolkien as a Post-War Writer", Mythlore: A Journal of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and the Genres of Myth and Fantasy Studies, (Mythloew: Altadena, CA, Winter 1996), pp. 84-93.

Also, check out his army app from the Archives:

From: [identity profile]

I thought John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle Earth was fairly interesting, but it's also a pretty obvious rec.

From: [identity profile]

Thanks! Obvious recs are fine - I've read very little in the area.

From: [identity profile]

A Question of Time-- I haven't read the whole thing, but I've liked what I've seen. Tolkien didn't like the Elves quite as much as a reader of LOTR might think. From his point of view, they weren't preserving Middle Earth, they were mummifying it. (This is from memory.)

From: [identity profile]

He also wrote The Road to Middle Earth . There is some overlap, but not much IIRC.

From: [identity profile]

Shippey's The Road to Middle Earth

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the Gift of Friendship, by Colin Duriez.

Tolkien: Man and Myth by Joseph Pearce

From: [identity profile]

In addition to Garth, there's Janet Brennan Croft, War and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (2004). In addition, if you're interested I recently wrote an essay on "Tolkien and Worldbuilding" for a forthcoming collection, which has some relevance - not so much to the war service, but to what Tolkien thought he was doing in inventing Middle-earth. I'd be happy to send you it.

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