Today's Date in the Shire
Fun and Games
Walk to Rivendell
Malbeth the Seer
J. R. R. Tolkienīs "The Lord of The rings" - Mythology, Philosophy, Allegory
"Facharbeit" - Essay by Manuel Steiner, written ī00 p.r.i.
IV. The importance of philology
Underlying all of Tolkienīs works is his philology, both professional and out of pure love for language and words. Sound and tone of certain languages and works took Tolkienīs heart literally by storm. Such was the case with Gothic; such was it with Finnish, to which his invented elven language Quenya bears resemblance, and such was it with Welsh, which inspired his language of Sindarin.
Languages, and not seldom single words alone inspired him greatly for his fiction; indeed, "he thought that ideas were sent to him [...] through the hidden resonances of names and languages" (Shippey, 263; my italics). This is where philology comes into play. Tolkien was greatly interested in words and their history -i.e. their etymology - and expressed this in his fiction. This way, he tried to bring the world of words he appreciated so much both into a mythological context and into a historical background he presented as fact. To quote the man himself: "I like history, and am moved by it, but its finest moments for me are those in which it throws a light on words and names" (Shippey, 62). As this was not so often the case, he tried to correct this, giving names and words to history which of course he had to invent first, as anything else would be against his own principles if he assumed a language to have existed before our time which actually never has. To these invented languages, the history of his fiction is second, less in importance than in the process of creation where the languages were first; his fiction was developed as a method to present them. As he admitted himself, "The īstoriesī were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse!" (Shippey, 22; quoted from Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter, 219).
Along with that goes Tolkienīs belief of an "inner value" of languages; he was convinced that "people could feel history in words, could recognise language styles, could extract sense from sound alone" (Shippey, 104). Here Tolkien might be concluding from himself onto what others think, but to him there probably even existed a language in which each thing had its own respective and true name, fitting it perfectly and understandable to everyone. Such assumptions are expressed in the character of Tom Bombadil, who was, Adam-like, the first to give all things their suiting names, isomorphic with reality.
All this together explains Tolkienīs own opinion that his work was "largely an essay in linguistic aesthetic. " (Shippey, 104; quoted from Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter, 220). Tolkien also seemingly really liked to use "talking names". Be it, that all predecessors of Éomer were named with some Anglo-Saxon word for "king", or be it that Gandalfīs name in "the South" is Incanus, Latin for white-haired. Another example, overlooked in the various works of serious authors and critics, is the name of the Old Took, the oldest hobbit ever: Gerontius means nothing but "after the manner of a very old man". In any case, the meaning describes the named one, and "to name is to know" (Moseley, 54).
Depth, as it was the quality Tolkien valued most in any work, is, apart from his invented languages, mainly achieved by the names he contributes to persons and things. To form a contrast to literature - which Tolkien saw as the opposite of the ancient spirit contained in Old English literature, not least his much adored Beowulf epic poem - ,his aim was to use philology - what he called "the special burden of the Northern tongues, [...] the special advantage they possess as a discipline" (Shippey, 8) - in order reawaken this spirit. So, not surprisingly, his whole fiction is built on words, on etymology, philology. He derived a high amount of his cosmos solely from traditions, old tales of Elves, Dwarves, Ents and Dragons which he wanted to present; and as they were philological facts, it is understandable that, through his mingling of poetry with philology, the fictional outcome bears a certain degree of fact, too. Other names, for example place names in the Shire, have existing counterparts, mainly in the region after which the Shire was more or less exactly modelled, i.e. Middle England around Worcestershire. In this point, there are two diverging types of names in Middle-earth: names after which a story, character or place was invented ("Names always generate a story in my mind" (Shippey,60), said Tolkien) ; and those which bear a name given after their invention; although in the latter case it is possible that the author had this idea, this name, in mind from the beginning on.
The Lord of the Rings works exactly according to Tolkienīs principle that "the word tells the story" (Shippey,15), he admitted in one of his letters (comp. Shippey, 15); the principle that a label tells much to the knowing one. A philologist - such as Tolkien himself - would recognise the hidden meaning of persons and places revealed in their names, and the importance of this name-meaning is not to be underestimated. If name, "label", and perception diverge, both should be taken into account. It is probable that Tolkien would have given the first the priority; as it is with Aragorn, really Elessar, the "Elven-star", who appears dark and probably malicious at first meet. But here the lines of the poem providenced for him strike: "All that is gold does not glitter / Not all those who wander are lost.". Here it is as T. A. Shippey pointed out: "Tolkienīs belief was that īthe word authenticates the thingī" (Shippey,51; my italics).
Conclusively, as it is that actually the whole Lord of the Rings was built on the basis of philology, and the inspiration Tolkien got from words, it is only logical that one cannot follow Tolkienīs way of thinking without taking this into account as one of the most shaping factors for him and his works. Virtually, "there is no division between Tolkienīs philology and his fiction." (Moseley, 1).