The Barrow-Downs Discussion Forum


Visit The *EVEN NEWER* Barrow-Downs Photo Page

Go Back   The Barrow-Downs Discussion Forum > Middle-Earth Discussions > The Books
User Name
Password
Register FAQ Members List Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read


Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 07-23-2013, 05:10 AM   #1
Zigūr
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
Zigūr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 785
Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Ronald and Sprague

Has anyone here read the sections on Professor Tolkien in L. Sprague de Camp's Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers? I've been looking into it recently (mostly with reference to William Morris rather than Professor Tolkien). It's an interesting, if not altogether academically formal or rigorous, piece, scrutinising some detractors and mentioning the author and Professor Tolkien's meeting for pipes, beer and conversation in 1967 - an experience I could altogether envy, apart perhaps from the smoking.

Oddly, however, there are some bizarrely poorly-researched etymological assertions in the piece which seem dubious even considering the article's 1976 publication. I thought to someone who had met Tolkien and written about him it would be possible to distinguish the pure invention of Elvish with coincidentally similar words in real languages. Here are some of the more egregious instances:
"'Sauron' comes from the Greek sauros, 'lizard'." (pure coincidence)
"'Orcs' (from Latin orcus, "Hades," "death," "Pluto," cognate with "ogre")." (etymologically more substantiated, but Professor Tolkien derived it from 'orcnéas' in Beowulf when current knowledge was not aware of the conflation with Latin-derived terms)
"Arnor Thordson is a Norse skald in Snorri's Heimskringla, while Gondor is a province of Ethiopia." (so what?)

Yet there are also, strangely, partially correct ones:
e.g. "'Frodo' comes from the Old Norse names, "Froši" and "Froša," related to the adjective froše, "wise."" (isn't it more true to say that the adjective itself assisted in the formulation of the name?)
"Orthanc (Anglo-Saxon for "gadget")" (I see the connection, but a little bit of a disingenuous translation to use such a relatively modern word with purely modern associations)
"'wargs' (Anglo-Saxon wearg, 'criminal')." (in actual fact the Old Norse version, the word vargr, still meant 'wolf')

As well as some which are utterly pointless:
"'Valar' sounds suspiciously like the Old Norse Valir, 'Frenchmen.'" (pure irrelevant synophony)

It's probably unfair to criticise a book published nearly thirty years ago but it's frustrating to see someone who actually had the opportunity to spend time with Professor Tolkien present as fact some very iffy notions about the languages which were so important to him, as if he was just in the habit of picking an existing word which sounded basically right and changing a couple of letters, like they do in video games. "All the names in the book, and the languages, are of course constructed, and not at random." (Letter 165)

Peculiarly, Letter 297 is from 1967, the same year "Ronald and Sprague" (as they called each other, according to de Camp) met, and in it Professor Tolkien expresses his frustration at "many of the guess at the 'sources' of the nomenclature... If published, I do object to them, when... they appear to be unauthentic embroideries on my work... Many of them seem to show ignorance or disregard of the clues and information which are provided in notes, renderings and in the Appendices."

Further still, he explicitly remarks "To take a frequent case: there is no linguistic connexion, and therefore no connexion in significance, between Sauron... and the Greek <for> 'a lizard'." (I've abridged slightly there to limit the need to use Greek alphabetic characters with which I'm not familiar).

It seems incredibly strange that someone who met Professor Tolkien and conversed with him would also be one of the very people to publish these misleading linguistic coincidences as fact. Has anyone else read about de Camp's meeting with Professor Tolkien? I apologise for the length of this post, but I thought it was an interesting topic worth at least discussing.
__________________
"Since the evening of that day we have journeyed from the shadow of Tol Brandir."
"On foot?" cried Éomer.
Zigūr is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-25-2013, 01:41 PM   #2
jallanite
Shade of Carn Dūm
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Toronto
Posts: 479
jallanite is a guest of Tom Bombadil.
I don’t unfortunately find Sprague de Camp’s ideas at all unusual. Crank ideas about Tolkien’s languages and relations to things in the real world are unfortunately very common. It is so easy for a reader to assume that because he or she sees a connection, that there is a connection.

One of my first memories of a Tolkien commentary was in a fanzine where the letter-writer was explaining that Tolkien had many hidden references to his own friends in The Lord of the Rings, notably that Elessar referred to friend of Tolkien’s whose initials were L.S.R. However no-one has ever identified such a friend. It is obvious that someone has noticed that Elessar could stand for the initials L.S.R. and has just assumed that they did.

Similarly a relationship between Sauron and the Greek word saur ‘lizard’, while later denied by Tolkien, goes back at least as far as Edmund Wilson’s horrible review “Oo, Those Awful Orcs” ( http://www.jrrvf.com/sda/critiques/The_Nation.html ), originally published in 1956:
… possessed of a Ring that Sauron, the King of the Enemy, wants (that learned reptilian suggestion—doesn’t it give you a goosefleshy feeling?).
Wilson uses a bogus connection between Sauron and saur unrelated to anything in the book as an excuse of sneer at the Tolkien reader. Wilson also explains on the name Hobbit that: “(The name seems a telescoping of rabbit and Hobbs.)” Maybe, but this suggestion is not more likely than many other inventions that Wilson might have come up with. Tolkien himself seems not to know what Hobbit meant. In letter 319. He writes:
Also that the only E. word that influenced the invention was ‘hole’; that granted the description of hobbits, the trolls’ use of rabbit was merely an obvious insult, of no more etymological significance than Thorin’s insult to Bilbo ‘descendant of rats!’
As to a possible relation between Old English orcnēas and Latin Orcus, that goes back at least as far as Frederick Klaeber’s Beowulf and The fight at Finnsburg, originally published in 1922. See under orc-nēas at http://archive.org/stream/beowulfand...e/358/mode/1up . The information appeared in many subsequent Old English dictionaries. Tolkien would almost certainly have known it by 1967.
jallanite is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-26-2013, 07:16 AM   #3
Zigūr
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
Zigūr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 785
Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Zigūr is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Quote:
Originally Posted by jallanite View Post
[/INDENT]As to a possible relation between Old English orcnēas and Latin Orcus, that goes back at least as far as Frederick Klaeber’s Beowulf and The fight at Finnsburg, originally published in 1922. See under orc-nēas at http://archive.org/stream/beowulfand...e/358/mode/1up . The information appeared in many subsequent Old English dictionaries. Tolkien would almost certainly have known it by 1967.
Evidently my sources were inadequate. Do you think, though, that de Camp draws too long a blow by implying that Professor Tolkien intended an overt association with Classical depictions of the Underworld and associated concepts?

The Sauron-sauros idea I continue to find strange. Despite being entirely familiar with the word via 'dinosaur' 'tyrannosaurus' and the like I never supposed that 'Sauron' was meant to be a play on the Greek word. Strange.

I suppose I shouldn't begrudge Wilson his opinion, but having dealt with him before (in my Honours thesis, for instance) I can't help but feel like a) he entirely missed the point of The Lord of the Rings (treating it purely as bed-time reading for his daughter can't have helped), and b) he had already decided he disliked the book before he even started reading it.
__________________
"Since the evening of that day we have journeyed from the shadow of Tol Brandir."
"On foot?" cried Éomer.
Zigūr is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-26-2013, 10:54 AM   #4
jallanite
Shade of Carn Dūm
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Toronto
Posts: 479
jallanite is a guest of Tom Bombadil.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zigūr View Post
Evidently my sources were inadequate. Do you think, though, that de Camp draws too long a blow by implying that Professor Tolkien intended an overt association with Classical depictions of the Underworld and associated concepts?
That many (or possibly most) Old English dictionaries and articles of the time state that orcnēas was taken from Latin Orcus indicates that Tolkien was probably at least familiar with that idea. That does not mean he accepted it, but I see no reason to think he did not. It was the normal explanation and I believe it still is. That Tolkien intended that readers see a relation between orcs and Orcus I doubt, any more than he intended readers to see a relation between his tree-like Ents and Old English Ents, which simply means giants. In both cases Tolkien simply felt comfortable with the words, whatever their etymology.

Similarly Tolkien’s use of the name Vįna for one of his Valar is possibly related to the class of Norse deities known as Vanir, and that name is thought by Norse scholars to be related to the name of the Latin goddess Venus.

Tolkien in none of these cases, except possibly with Ent, was at all concerned with the probable etymology of their real-world cognates.

Quote:
The Sauron-sauros idea I continue to find strange. Despite being entirely familiar with the word via 'dinosaur' 'tyrannosaurus' and the like I never supposed that 'Sauron' was meant to be a play on the Greek word.
That seems to me to be a case of Wilson and De Camp accepting (or inventing) an etymology that made sense to them, without considering that Tolkien perhaps intended no such etymology. That Sauron is never connected in any way with dinosaurs or lizards is true. But then one would never imagine that -dor was connected with Labrador. The difference is that Tolkien never thought that his connection between -dor and Labrador was to be perceived by readers.

Consider Jane Chance’s continual insistence that Mordor means ‘murder’ because of a similarity between the words, while apparently never noticing that Tolkien continually tells the reader that mor- means ‘black’ and -dor means ‘land’, which she seemingly doesn’t notice.

Quote:
I suppose I shouldn't begrudge Wilson his opinion, but having dealt with him before (in my Honours thesis, for instance) I can't help but feel like a) he entirely missed the point of The Lord of the Rings (treating it purely as bed-time reading for his daughter can't have helped), and b) he had already decided he disliked the book before he even started reading it.
Wilson continually notes that many people, including many respected by him, very much liked The Lord of the Rings. But then he refers to his own dislike of the work as a result of reading by a supposedly objective ‘reader’. In fact this ‘reader’ is only a stand-in for himself and no more objective than anyone else.

If Wilson had tried to explain why he did not fall under the spell of this obviously popular book, he might have written a good article. Instead he only provides ignorant and inaccurate hate-mongering. Almost all of us has encountered differences in literary tastes between our tastes and those of others. Wilson presumably has also. But in this case he tries to prove that his taste is superior by slandering the book and so doesn’t prove anything, except his own dislike for the book.

His idea that Orcs are driven away by heroes merely saying “Boo!” to them is just nonsense. Had Wilson not read Tolkien’s account of the destruction of Moria, the attacks of the Orcs on Rohan with many deaths of Rohan warriors, or their attacks on Minas Tirith with likewise many deaths. Nowhere in The Lord of the Rings is any evil creature driven off by anyone merely saying “Boo!” to it. The closest cases are the flight of the Nazgūl at Weathertop and Frodo and Sam’s getting past the images of the Watchers. But Gandalf explains that the Nazgūl had thought that the wound they had given Frodo would spell his doom and the spell of the images of the Watchers is overcome by the phial of Galadriel.

Wilson likes James Branch Cabell’s fantasies, and I agree with him there, but the perils in those books are mostly as easily overcome as Wilson imagines the perils are in Tolkien.

That Wilson’s seven-year old daughter loved the book proves nothing more than her liking The Hobbit and reading it again and again by herself shows that she was reading far above her age-level. That she understood everything in The Lord of the Rings I doubt. I recall as a young child being read stories which I enjoyed very much but did not understand except in places.
jallanite is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -6. The time now is 10:53 PM.



Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.9 Beta 4
Copyright ©2000 - 2022, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.