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Author Topic: Names in Tolkien
Roll of Honor The DarkQueen Iauraearien
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Apologies if there's already a thread on this topic somewhere or if this is in the wrong place. Now then... *blows dust off the desk (forum) and opens her book*

We all know Tolkien liked his mythology, especially Norse. And really, who doesn't? They're great fun. But he not only liked them and was inspired by them, but also used the slightly more obscure names.

I was idly flicking through my Norse myths the other day and came across a list of the dwarves. Among them are: Dvalin, Bifur, Bafur, Bombor, Nori, Oinn, Gandalf, Thorin, Fili, Kili, Thror, Thrain, Gloin, Dori and Ori. (To name just the really obvious.) Let us also not forget Gimli, the hall the gods inhabit after Ragnarok, and the use of 'fax' in the name of just about every horse. Feel free to add to the list.

The question is, why use Norse mythological names in a fantasy story? Was the use of already mythological names an attempt to emphasise his writing of a new mythology? Was Tolkien just lazy? [] (I'm not even going to start on the Welsh roots of Elvish, or we could be here for years.)

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Galin
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quote:
The question is, why use Norse mythological names in a fantasy story?
I'll have to check John Rateliff's History of the Hobbit, but generally speaking I think Tolkien basically borrowed the Dwarf-names for a story he was telling to his children, which ultimately became written down, ultimately published, and ultimately part of 'Middle-earth'.

Tolkien realized this really made no sense but he found a way to explain the use of the names (as translations) within the larger context of the conceit of translating the Red Book of Westmarch (see Appendix F On Translation). Thus these names were not really spoken in Middle-earth, just like Eowyn's name, or Sam's for example -- Sam was really named Ban (for short), or Norse 'Gandalf' really stood for some unknown name in Middle-earth, which name meant something similar to Gandalf 'Staff-elf, Elf with a magic staff'.

quote:
(I'm not even going to start on the Welsh roots of Elvish, or we could be here for years.)
Not that you don't already know, but more specifically Sindarin, but not Quenya, was intended to 'echo' the sounds of Welsh, because Tolkien liked the phonetic taste of this language (not the only Welsh influence, but a main one), but I would add that one must be careful when discussing borrowings or seeming borrowings, especially when we have this type of inspiration. Tolkien seems prickly about this issue in general, and there being many primary world languages there are arguably many accidental or seeming congruences.

Also, all of Tolkien's invented Elvish languages have internal history, so even if Tolkien adpots a word wholesale -- like he admitted with Moria for instance (which comes from the name of a storybook castle) -- it has to fit within the larger structure, a complicated structure that hails back (internally) to Primitive Elvish and theoretical Elvish bases (for instance note how many words or names in both Quenya and Sindarin begin with the sound sequence mor(n) and the related meanings within each of these words or names).

Sourcing Tolkien is a fairly subjective thing in my opinion, and making a given case compelling is not always easy.

[ 05-14-2011, 10:41 PM: Message edited by: Galin ]

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Roll of Honor The DarkQueen Iauraearien
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So he was too lazy to change them, realised it was a bad move and had to justify it afterwards? Oh dear... []

But seriously, I found your post most enlightening and interesting. []

[ 05-17-2011, 11:13 AM: Message edited by: The DarkQueen Iauraearien ]

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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quote:
like he admitted with Moria for instance (which comes from the name of a storybook castle)
Soria Moria castle

It's from a Norwegian fairytale.

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Roll of Honor The DarkQueen Iauraearien
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Oooh. I take it the fairytale one isn't ful of goblins? []
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Artaresto
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Full of politicians, so it might not be far off. [] []
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Roll of Honor The DarkQueen Iauraearien
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Good point. [] What are politicians doing in a fairytale?! []

[ 05-19-2011, 12:35 PM: Message edited by: The DarkQueen Iauraearien ]

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Michael Martinez
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I think it would have been natural for Tolkien to use the Norse names in a story for his children. He had a strong philological interest in Icelandic, Old Norse, and other Germanic languages. But he began composing The Hobbit around 1930, at a time when his (by then abandoned) mythology for England was still relatively fresh in his mind.

The English mythology was intended to draw many connections between the creatures named in English folk lore and legend and the Old English language. As Tolkien gradually moved on to developing coherent Elvish languages that were less dependent upon the Old Germanic and Proto-IndoEuropean roots he had adopted, his naming conventions changed. Drawing on names from the Edda most likely simplified the task for him, and they probably sounded more child-like anyway.

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White Gold Wielder
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quote:
and they probably sounded more child-like anyway
I'm sure you didn't mean the literal interpretation of this phrase, so I'll give you a chance to re-phrase it. []
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Roll of Honor The DarkQueen Iauraearien
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I'm not sure that's any excuse for being so lazy as to have the whole lot published like that. Fair enough telling your kids at bed-time but really - lazy, lazy! []

Besides, are you suggsting that Norse mythology is childish? I may have to get the muffin-launcher if you are...

[ 10-15-2011, 11:33 AM: Message edited by: The DarkQueen Iauraearien ]

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Galin
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By the way, Tolkien landed himself in some 'potential absurdities' after he had hit upon the idea of the Old Norse names being translations -- that is, in a few places they appear to be written on things that existed in Frodo's time -- which is a bit of a wonder, as no names in Old Norse existed in Frodo's time (as Old Norse itself did not yet exist as a language).

Based on a statement in Of Dwarves And Men, I prefer to think that the author (translator) has represented the Doors of Moria for example -- in the modern book -- not exactly as they really were, but close enough to give the reader a good idea of things. And that he has used names that the reader is more familiar with in any case.


I've seen plenty of threads where people wonder why the Doors of Moria actually read 'Moria' in writing, while it seems less noticed that the Doors actually include Old Norse names in writing, which again is basically impossible -- if the illustration is meant to be an accurate drawing of the actual doors, that is.

[ 10-15-2011, 01:29 PM: Message edited by: Galin ]

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Michael Martinez
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I mean the rhyming name-pairs (Oin and Gloin, Balin and Dwalin, Fili and Kili, and so on) probably struck Tolkien as being very appealing to children. And I wouldn't say that Tolkien was being lazy about not changing the Dwarf-names. He didn't actually submit the book for publication. He loaned the manuscript to a family friend who in turn showed it to another friend who worked for George Allen & Unwin. So Tolkien was kind of "trapped" into using the Dwarf-names as originally composed (except for all the convoluted changes with the head dwarf and the wizard).

Despite the changes he DID introduce into the story while preparing it for publication, he was still trying to give the publisher something like the story they had already seen.

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Roll of Honor The DarkQueen Iauraearien
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Yes and I'm sure every child on the planet thinks 'Gandalf' is a perfectly sensible and/or appealing name... Besides which, LotR isn't aimed at children as far as I know.

But all that aside, changing the names does not change the story. So, IMO, saying that he couldn't change them because the publisher had seen them is a load of rubbish. If I'd used a load of names from, say, George RR Martin's books out of laziness when writing drafts of my novel, I would not publish it like that. I would change them to something far more appropriate if anyone thought it was worth reading.

I like my mythology as much as the next lady, especially Norse, but I wouldn't be so lazy as to yoink every name from them and not change them...

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Atmospherium
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I don't care a fig for Norse mythology, but I like the Dwarves' names in The Hobbit very much. I think of him as the Beowulf poet of our day, selecting with great care and labour from the ruins of the past to build a new and beautiful tower from which we may look out upon the sea.
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Roll of Honor The DarkQueen Iauraearien
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None of his characters can hold a candle to the likes of Beowulf though really, much as I like Tolkien. Anyway, if you like the names, maybe you should read about their original owners, they're much finer than the revolting recreations of old JRRT. []

[ 10-17-2011, 10:34 AM: Message edited by: The DarkQueen Iauraearien ]

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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Someone said on a different board that she thought Tolkien was better as a linguist and a world-builder than as a writer and story-teller.

I think she may be right.

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Roll of Honor The DarkQueen Iauraearien
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You've got a point there Varna. []
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Roll of Honor Sauron's Secret Agent
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I should like to meet that person Varna. I've been saying similar things for years, and have been repeatedly shot down for them. Having lost count of the times I have read LOTR, I still think it's not well-written as a story. The plot is fine, the characters are mostly good (although they do lack development and 'life'), but the style is dire.

Tolkien was first and foremost a linguist, not a novelist; although I do find some of the shorter works (Leaf by Niggle; Farmer Giles of Ham) to be much more readable in style.

Sorry to stray off topic DQ, but I was so delighted by Varna's post.

As for stealing names, it's either careless or lazy, neither of which is very creditable []

edit: typo

[ 11-04-2011, 09:21 AM: Message edited by: Sauron's Secret Agent ]

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Roll of Honor The DarkQueen Iauraearien
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[] That's fine, SSA. To join the off-topic, his characters are awfully flat, you don't feel they have a (personal) history really. Or, I don't.
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