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Subject: Tolkien: Frequently Asked Questions (1/2)

This article was archived around: 07 May 2006 04:18:06 GMT

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Archive-name: tolkien/faq/part1
Posting Frequency: 28 days Last Updated: 1994/03/28 The Tolkien Frequently Asked Questions List (FAQ), is the first of two informational files on J.R.R. Tolkien and his writings, the other being the Less Frequently Asked Questions List (LessFAQ). The division of questions follows several general criteria. The FAQ leans towards questions of interest to people who have read only _The Lord of the Rings_ and _The Hobbit_, together with most questions on Tolkien himself and on topics which seem fundamental to his worldview (his linguistic games in particular). The LessFAQ contains questions of a more obscure nature, most questions arising from posthumous works, and in general aspects of the nature and history of Middle-earth which are important but tangential to _The Lord of the Rings_. There is also an element of personal arbitrariness. All available sources have been used for both lists. Criticisms, corrections, and suggestions are of course welcome. William D.B. Loos loos@hudce.harvard.edu ======================================================================== ======================================================================== TOLKIEN FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS LIST Questions numbered thusly: 1) are in their final form. Questions numbered thusly: 1] remain unrevised. Sections/questions marked: * have been revised since the last release. ** are new since the last release. Table of Contents I. Changes Since the Last Release (*) II. Acknowledgements III. Note on References and Conversion Table IV. Commonly Used Abbreviations V. Frequently Asked Questions A) Tolkien And His Work 1) Who was J.R.R. Tolkien anyway? 2) Were the languages presented in _The Lord of the Rings_ real languages? 3) What does it mean when people (or Tolkien himself) speak of him as having been the "editor" of _The Lord of the Rings_ ? 4) How thoroughly realized was Tolkien's fiction that he was the "translator" of _The Lord of the Rings_ ? 5) Why is Tolkien's work, _The Lord of the Rings_ in particular, so difficult to translate (into other languages of our world)? 6) Did the events in _The Lord of the Rings_ take place on another planet or what? 7) Was the northwest of Middle-earth, where the story takes place, meant to actually be Europe? 8) Was the Shire meant to be England? 9) What were the changes made to _The Hobbit_ after _The Lord of the Rings_ was written, and what motivated them? B) Hobbits 1) Were Hobbits a sub-group of Humans? 2) Did Hobbits have pointed ears? 3) When was Bilbo and Frodo's Birthday? To what date on our own calendar does it correspond? 4) Was Gollum a hobbit? C) Elves 1) Did Elves have pointed ears? D) Dwarves 1) Did Dwarf women have beards? E) Istari (Wizards) 1] Who were the Istari (Wizards)? 2] Of the Five Wizards, only three came into the story. Was anything known about the other two? 3] What happened to Radagast? F) Enemies 1] What was the relationship between Orcs and Goblins? G) Miscellaneous 1] Who or what was Tom Bombadil? 2) What became of the Entwives? ======================================================================== ======================================================================== CHANGES SINCE THE LAST RELEASE There have been no changes since the release of 1996/07/08. ======================================================================== ======================================================================== ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The following individuals made suggestions and contributions to these FAQ lists: Wayne.G.Hammond@williams.edu (Wayne Hammond Jr) Aelfwine@erols.com (Carl F. Hostetter) paul@ERC.MsState.Edu (Paul Adams) wft@math.canterbury.ac.nz (Bill Taylor) cpresson@jido.b30.ingr.com (Craig Presson) simen.gaure@usit.uio.no (Simen Gaure) abalje47@uther.Calvin.EDU (Alan Baljeu) sahdra@ecf.toronto.edu (SAHDRA KULDIP) sherman@sol1.lrsm.upenn.edu (Bill Sherman) markg@mistral.rice.edu (Mark Gordon) hunt@oils.ozy.dec.com (Peter Hunt) rrosen@cesl.rutgers.edu (Robert Rosenbaum) ======================================================================== ======================================================================== NOTE ON REFERENCES There is a certain amount of cross-referencing among the questions on both the FAQ and the LessFAQ lists. Any questions so referred to are specified by the list, section, and question number. Thus, the first question in the Hobbit section of the FAQ, "Were Hobbits a sub-group of Humans?" would be referenced as (FAQ, Hobbits, 1). Note that the section "Tolkien And His Work" is referred to merely as "Tolkien" and the section "General History of Middle-earth" is referred to merely as "General". E.g. the question "Who was J.R.R. Tolkien anyway?" is (FAQ, Tolkien, 1) and the question "What exactly happened at the end of the First Age?" is (LessFAQ, General, 1). Sources for quotations have been provided in the form of volume and page numbers; the specific editions utilized are listed in the next paragraph. For those occasions when the proper edition is not available (and the conversion table below is not applicable) the page numbers have been roughly located according to chapter, sub-section, or appendix, whichever is appropriate. For example, RK, 57-59 (V, 2) refers to pages 57-59 of Return of the King and further locates the pages in chapter 2 of Book V. PLEASE NOTE the distinction in the case of _Lord of the Rings_ between *Volumes* and *Books*. LotR is comprised of three Volumes (FR, TT, and RK) and of six Books (I - VI), which are the more natural divisions of the story into six roughly equal parts. There are two Books in each of the Volumes. Other sample references are below. References to _The Hobbit_ are from the Ballantine paperback (the pagination has been the same since the 60's. All other references are to the HM hardcovers. Sample references follow: Hobbit, 83 (Ch V) == Hobbit, chapter V RK, 408 (App F, I, "Of Men", "Of Hobbits") == p 408 in Part I of Appendix F, the sections entitled "Of Men" and "Of Hobbits" Silm, 57 (Ch V) == Silmarillion, chapter V (BoLT and _The Annotated Hobbit_ treated similarly) UT, 351 (Three, IV, iii) == Unfinished Tales, Part Three, Chapter IV, sub-section iii (the Biography treated similarly) Letters, 230 (#178) == letter number 178. RtMe, 53-54 (3, "Creative anachronisms") == The Road to Middle-earth, in Chapter 3, sub-section "Creative anachronisms" CONVERSION TABLE In _The Atlas of Middle-earth_, Karen Wynn Fonstad provided a Houghton-Mifflin-to-Ballantine conversion table, which is reproduced below. The "table" is actually a set of formulae by which HM page numbers may be converted to Ballantine page numbers via arithmetic involving some empirically determined constants. Since these are discrete rather than continuous functions the results may be off by a page or so. [NOTE: in the Fall of 1993, Ballantine issued a new edition of the mass market paperback of LotR in which the text has been re-set, thereby changing the page on which any given quote is located. Thus, the following table will no longer work with the latest printings, which may be identified by the change in the color of the covers (the pictures are unaltered): in the previous set of printings all the covers were black; in the new set FR is green, TT is purple, and RK is red.] HM Page Subtract Divide By Add ------------- -------- --------- ------- FR 10 to 423 9 .818 18 TT 15 to 352 14 .778 16 RK 19 to 311 18 .797 18 RK 313 to 416 312 .781 386 H 9 to 317 8 1.140 14 Silm 15 to 365 14 .773 2 Reference: Atlas, p. 191 (first edtion), p. 192 (revised edtion) ======================================================================== ======================================================================== COMMONLY USED ABBREVIATIONS General: JRRT J.R.R. Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien CT, CJRT Christopher Tolkien (son; editor of most posthumous works) A&U, AU George Allen & Unwin (original British publisher) UH Unwin Hyman (new name for A&U c. 1987(?)) HC HarperCollins (purchased UH c. 1992; current British publisher) HM Houghton Mifflin (American publisher) M-e Middle-earth SA Second Age TA Third Age SR Shire Reckoning Middle-earth Works: H The Hobbit LR, LotR The Lord of the Rings FR, FotR The Fellowship of the Ring TT, TTT The Two Towers RK, RotK The Return of the King TB, ATB The Adventures of Tom Bombadil RGEO The Road Goes Ever On Silm The Silmarillion UT Unfinished Tales Letters The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien HoMe History of Middle-earth BLT,BoLT Book of Lost Tales Lays The Lays of Beleriand Treason The Treason of Isengard Guide The Guide to the Names in the Lord of the Rings (published in _A Tolkien Compass_) Other Works: FGH Farmer Giles of Ham TL Tree and Leaf OFS On Fairy-Stories LbN Leaf by Niggle HBBS The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm's Son SWM Smith of Wootton Major SGPO Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo FCL The Father Christmas Letters Reference Works: Biography J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography; by Humphrey Carpenter (published in the US as Tolkien: A Biography) Inklings The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends; by Humphrey Carpenter RtMe The Road to Middle-earth; by T.A. Shippey Scholar J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam; edited by Mary Salu and Robert T. Farrell Atlas The Atlas of Middle-earth; by Karen Wynn Fonstad ======================================================================== ======================================================================== TOLKIEN AND HIS WORK 1) Who was J.R.R. Tolkien anyway? John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Englishman, scholar, and storyteller was born of English parents at Bloemfontein, South Africa on Jan. 3, 1892 and died in England on Sept. 2, 1973. His entire childhood was spent in England, to which the family returned permenantly in 1896 upon the death of his father. He received his education at King Edward's School, St. Philip's Grammar School, and Oxford University. After graduating in 1915 he joined the British army and saw action in the Battle of the Somme. He was eventually discharged after spending most of 1917 in the hospital suffering from "trench fever". [It was during this time that he began The Book of Lost Tales.] Tolkien was a scholar by profession. His academic positions were: staff member of the New English Dictionary (1918-20); Reader, later Professor of English Language at Leeds, 1920-25; Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford (1925-45); and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature (1945-59). His principal professional focus was the study of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and its relation to linguistically similar languages (Old Norse, Old German, and Gothic), with special emphasis on the dialects of Mercia, that part of England in which he grew up and lived, but he was also interested in Middle English, especially the dialect used in the _Ancrene Wisse_ (a twelfth century manuscript probably composed in western England). Moreover, Tolkien was an expert in the surviving literature written in these languages. Indeed, his unusual ability to simultaneously read the texts as linguistic sources and as literature gave him perspective into both aspects; this was once described as "his unique insight at once into the language of poetry and the poetry of language" (from the Obituary; Scholar, p. 13). From an early age he had been fascinated by language, particularly the languages of Northern Europe, both ancient and modern. From this affinity for language came not only his profession but also his private hobby, the invention of languages. He was more generally drawn to the entire "Northern tradition", which inspired him to wide reading of its myths and epics and of those modern authors who were equally drawn to it, such as William Morris and George MacDonald. His broad knowledge inevitably led to the development of various opinions about Myth, its relation to language, and the importance of Stories, interests which were shared by his friend C.S. Lewis. All these various perspectives: language, the heroic tradition, and Myth and Story (and a very real and deeply-held belief in and devotion to Catholic Christianity) came together with stunning effect in his stories: first the legends of the Elder Days which served as background to his invented languages, and later his most famous works, _The Hobbit_ and _The Lord of the Rings_. References: Biography; Letters; RtMe (esp. ch 1, on philology); Inklings; Scholar. Contributors: WDBL, Wayne Hammond Jr ---------- 2) Were the languages presented in _The Lord of the Rings_ real languages? Most certainly they were, especially the Elven languages Sindarin and Quenya. "[These were] no arbitrary gibberish but really possible tongues with consistent roots, sound laws, and inflexions, into which he poured all his imaginative and philological powers..." (Obituary, in Scholar, p. 12). Furthermore, they were both derived from a "proto-Elvish" language, again in a linguistically realistic manner. [Sindarin was the "everyday" elvish language while Quenya was a kind of "elf-latin"; therefore, most Elvish words in LotR were Sindarin. Examples: most "non-English" (see FAQ, Tolkien, 4) place-names on the map (e.g. Minas Tirith, Emyn Beriad) were Sindarin, as was the song to Elbereth sung in Rivendell; Galadriel's lament was in Quenya.] The language of the Rohirrim *was* a real language: Anglo-Saxon (Old English), just as their culture (except for the horses) was that of the Anglo-Saxons. (It was, however, not the "standard" West Saxon Old English but rather the Mercian equivalent (RtMe, 94).) Most of the other languages in LotR were much less fully developed: Entish, Khudzul (Dwarvish) and the Black Speech (the language of Mordor, e.g. the Ring inscription). Adunaic, the language of Numenor, developed in 1946 while he was finishing up LotR, was said to be his fifteenth invented language. References: Biography, 35-37 (II,3), 93-95 (III,1), 195 (V,2); Letters, 175-176 (#144), 219 (footnote) (#165), 380 (#297); RtMe, 93 (4, "The horses of the Mark"); Scholar, 12 (Obituary). Contributor: WDBL ---------- 3) What does it mean when people (or Tolkien himself) speak of him as having been the "editor" of _The Lord of the Rings_ ? The fiction Tolkien sought to maintain was that _The Lord of the Rings_ (and _The Hobbit_ and the Silmarillion) were actually ancient manuscripts (written by Frodo and Bilbo, respectively) of which he was merely the editor and translator (a situation identical to much of his scholarly work). He never stated this directly but it is implicit in the way in which many sections of LoTR outside the story are written. Thus, the Prologue is plainly written as though by a modern editor describing an ancient time. Other examples are the introductory note to the revised edition of _The Hobbit_, the Preface to _The Adventures of Tom Bombadil_, and parts of the Appendices, especially the intro- ductory note to Appendix A, Appendix D, and Appendix F. Most inter- esting of all is the Note on the Shire Records, where Tolkien further simulates a real situation by inventing a manuscript tradition (the suggestion was that Frodo's original manuscript didn't survive but that a series of copies had been made, one of which had come into Tolkien's hands). This entire notion was by no means a new idea: many authors have pretended that their fantasies were "true" stories of some ancient time. Few, however, have done so as thoroughly and successfully as did Tolkien. The most effective component of his pretense was the linguistic aspects of Middle-earth, for he was uniquely qualified to pose as the "translator" of the manuscripts (see FAQ, Tolkien, 4). References: introductory note to _The Hobbit_ (precedes Ch I); FR, Prologue, Note on the Shire Records; RK, Appendix A, Appendix D, Appendix F; ATB, Preface. Contributor: WDBL ---------- 4) How thoroughly realized was Tolkien's fiction that he was the "translator" of _The Lord of the Rings_ ? Very thoroughly indeed. The scenario was that "of course" hobbits couldn't have spoken English (the story took place far in the past -- see FAQ, Tolkien, 6); rather, they spoke their own language, called Westron (but often referred to as the Common Speech). Tolkien "trans- lated" this language into English, which included "rendering" all the Common Speech place-names into the equivalent English place-names. The object of the exercise was to produce the following effect: names in the Common Speech (which were familiar to the hobbits) were "rendered" into English (in which form they would be familiar to us, the English-speaking readers); names in other languages (usually Sindarin) were "left alone", and thus were equally unfamiliar to the hobbits and to us. Since the story was told largely from the hobbits' point of view, that we should share their linguistic experience is a desirable result (especially for Tolkien, who was unusually sensitive to such matters). In portraying the linguistic landscape of Middle-earth he carried this procedure much further. The main example was his "substitution" of Anglo-Saxon for Rohirric. The "rationale" was that the hobbits' dialect of Westron was distantly related to Rohirric; therefore, when hobbits heard Rohirric they recognized many words but the language nevertheless remained just beyond understanding (RK, 65 (V,3)). Thus, Tolkien attempted to further "duplicate" hobbit linguistic perceptions by "substituting" that language of our world (Anglo-Saxon) which has (more-or-less) the same relation to English that Rohirric had to the hobbit version of Westron. There were many other nuances in the intricate and subtle linguis- tic web he devised (always, he carefully explained, in the interests of "reproducing" the linguistic map of Middle-earth in a way that could be easily assimilated by modern English-speaking readers). Thus: a) Archaic English roots were used in those Common Speech place- names which were given long before the time of the story (e.g. Tindrock, Derndingle; see Guide). b) Some of the Stoors (who later settled in Buckland and the Marish) dwelt in Dunland at one time (Tale of Years, entries for TA 1150 and 1630 (RK, App B)); the men of Bree also came from that region originally (RK, 408 (App F, I, "Of Men", "Of Hobbits")). "Since the survival of traces of the older language of the Stoors and the Bree-men resembled the survival of Celtic elements in England" (RK, 414 (App F, II)), the place-names in Bree were Celtic in origin (Bree, Archet, Chetwood) (see also Guide). Similarly, the names of the Buckland hobbits were Welsh (e.g. Madoc, Berilac). c) Among hobbits some of the older Fallohide families liked to give themselves high-sounding names from the legendary past (an example of hobbit humor). Tolkien "represented" such names by names of Frankish or Gothic origin (Isengrim, Rudigar, Fredegar, Peregrin). These matters and much else is explained in detail in Appendix F. References: RK, Appendix F; Guide; Letters, 174-176 (#144), 380-381 (#297); RtMe, 88-89 (4, "Stars, shadows, cellar-doors: patterns of language and of history"). Contributor: WDBL ---------- 5) Why is Tolkien's work, _The Lord of the Rings_ in particular, so difficult to translate (into other languages of our world)? Because his interest in, skill with, and love of language are man- ifest at every level and indeed in almost every word of LotR, thereby producing a result difficult if not impossible to duplicate. The previous question describes how Common Speech names were "rendered" into English. The Guide to the Names in _The Lord of the Rings_, Tolkien's instructions for translators, does attempt to address this. In it he goes down the list of names in the index and specifies which should be translated (being Common Speech) and which should be left alone. It would require skillful translation to get even this far, but that would only be the beginning. Reproducing the other linguistic intricacies described in the previous question would be well-nigh impossible; for example, Rohirric would have to be replaced with some ancient language whose relation to the language of translation was the same as that of Anglo-Saxon to modern English. On another level, there is the diction and style of everything said and told. The language used has a strong archaic flavor; it is not an exact recreation of how Anglo-Saxon or medieval people actually spoke but rather is as close an approximation as he could achieve and still remain intelligible to modern readers. This was not accidental but rather was deliberately and carefully devised. (See Letters, 225-226 (#171)). There were, moreover, variations in the style in which characters of different backgrounds spoke the Common Speech ("represented" as English) (e.g. at the Council of Elrond, FR, II, 2; see also RtMe 90-93). There were variations in the style of individual characters at different times (RK, 412 (App F, II)). There was even an attempt to indicate a distinction between familiar and deferential forms of pronouns (which doesn't exist in modern English) by use of the archaic words "thee" and "thou" (RK, 411 (App F, II); for an example, see the scene with Aragorn and Eowyn at Dunharrow, RK, 57-59 (V, 2)). Finally, there was Tolkien's poetry, which was often far more complicated than it appeared, and which in many cases is very probably untranslatable. (The extreme case is Bilbo's Song of Earendil, FR, 246-249 (II,1); T.A. Shippey has identified five separate metrical devices in this poem: RtMe, 145-146). References: RK, Appendix F, 57-59 (V, 2); FR, "The Council of Elrond" (II, 2), 246-249 (II,1); Guide; Letters, 225-226 (#171), 250-251 (#190) [on the Dutch translation], 263 (#204) [on the Swedish translation]; RtMe, 90-93 (4, "'The Council of Elrond'"), 145-146 (6, "the elvish tradition"). Contributor: WDBL ---------- 6) Did the events in _The Lord of the Rings_ take place on another planet or what? No. Tolkien's intention was that was that Middle-earth was our own world, though his way of stating this idea was somewhat unusual: he spoke of having created events which took place in an *imaginary time* of a real place. He made this fully explicit only in Letters, but there were two very strong indications in the published _Lord of the Rings_, though both were outside the narrative. The first was in the Prologue. It is there stated: "Those days, the Third Age of Middle-earth, are now long past, and the shape of all lands has been changed; but the regions in which Hobbits then lived were doubtless the same as those in which they still linger: the North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea." (FR, 11). Since no other reference is made to this matter either in the Prologue or in the main narrative, it makes little impression on most readers, but is clear enough once pointed out. The second was in Appendix D, which presents lore on calendars in Middle-earth. The discussion begins as follows: The Calendar in the Shire differed in several features from ours. The year no doubt was of the same length (*), for long ago as those times are now reckoned in years and lives of men, they were not very remote according to the memory of the Earth. (*) 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 seconds. (RK, 385 (App D)) The quote is clear enough in and of itself, but that the year length specified in the footnote is the precise length of our own year must surely remove all doubt. There follow excerpts from three letters wherein the matter is further discussed. 'Middle-earth', by the way, is not a name of a never-never land without relation to the world we live in .... And though I have not attempted to relate the shape of the mountains and land-masses to what geologists may say or surmise about the nearer past, imagina- tively this 'history' is supposed to take place in a period of the actual Old World of this planet. Letters, 220 (#165) I am historically minded. Middle-earth is not an imaginary world. ... The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary. The essentials of that abiding place are all there (at any rate for inhabitants of N.W. Europe), so naturally it feels familiar, even if a little glorified by the enchantment of distance in time. Letters, 239 (#183) ... I hope the, evidently long but undefined, gap(*) in time between the Fall of Barad-dur and our Days is sufficient for 'literary cred- ibility', even for readers acquainted with what is known or surmised of 'pre-history'. I have, I suppose, constructed an imaginary *time*, but kept my feet on my own mother-earth for *place*. I prefer that to the con- temporary mode of seeking remote globes in 'space'. However curious, they are alien, and not lovable with the love of blood-kin. Middle- earth is ... not my own invention. It is a modernization or alteration ... of an old word for the inhabited world of Men, the _oikoumene_ : middle because thought of vaguely as set amidst the encircling Seas and (in the northern-imagination) between ice of the North and the fire of the South. O. English _middan-geard_ , mediaeval E. _midden-erd_, _middle-erd_ . Many reviewers seem to assume that Middle-earth is another planet! Letters, 283 (#211) The footnote in the first sentence of the last-quoted excerpt offers a fascinating insight: (*) I imagine the gap to be about 6000 years: that is we are now at the end of the Fifth Age, if the Ages were of about the same length as S.A. and T.A. But they have, I think, quickened; and I imagine we are actually at the end of the Sixth Age, or in the Seventh. Letters, 283 (#211) A final note is that not only is the place our own world but also the people inhabiting it are ourselves, morally as well as physically: ... I have not made any of the peoples on the 'right' side, Hobbits, Rohirrim, Men of Dale or of Gondor, any better than men have been or are, or can be. Mine is not an 'imaginary' world, but an imaginary historical moment on 'Middle-earth' -- which is our habitaion. Letters, 244 (#183) References: FR, 11 (Prologue); RK, 385 (Appendix D); Letters, 220 (#165), 239, 244 (#183), 283 (#211). Contributors: WDBL, Carl F. Hostetter, Bill Taylor