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Talking Tolkien

by the Barrow-Wight

Middle English lege, from Old French liue, leguee, from Latin leuga, a measure of distance, of Gaulish origin.

1: An association of states, organizations, or individuals for common action; an alliance.
2: a: A unit of distance equal to 3.0 statute miles b: A square league

Interstingly, lieu, seen in lieutenant, is also of French origin and means 'place, stead'. That 'league' and 'lieutenant' have very simlar roots is quite fitting because most leagues, particularly in Middle-earth, were military in nature and usually were formed to protect or attack a place, and leagues of distance measure the space between places :)

Modern usages of the 'league' are commonly seen as variations of the first definition. We have the League of Nations, sports leagues of all sorts, and (in the 80's) we even had The Human League). But this meaning of the word was also common in Tolkien's writing.

Throughout the their long histories, the peoples of Middle-earth formed many alliances, both good and evil. At the Council in Rivendell, Elrond spoke of the cooperation between Elves and Men, saying "Never again shall there be any such league of Elves and Men; for Men multiply and the Firstborn decrease, and the two kindreds are estranged."

Frodo wondered in fear if these people all in league against him?

Aragorn spoke on Caradhras, "There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own."

Another interesting use of the word is the adverbial 'in league'. Gimli's father, Glóin, said at the Council of Elrond, "Still it might be well for all if all these strengths were joined, and the powers of each were used in league."

* * * * * *

The second meaning of league is more common in the United Kingdom than in other English-speaking lands. It is used extensively throughout the book when referring to long distances but not used as a replacement for the mile. It simply provided a larger unit of measurement to describe the expansive distances of Middle-earth.

Tolkien described The Shire as Forty leagues it stretched from the Far Downs to the Brandywine Bridge, and fifty from the northern moors to the marshes in the south. and said that In those days no other Men had settled dwellings so far west, or within a hundred leagues of the Shire..

(Etymology and definitions taken from www.dictionary.com)

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