About the author Mark T. Hooker
Mark T. Hooker is a specialist in Comparative Translation at Indiana University's Russian and East European Institute (REEI). Retired, he conducts research for publication. His articles on J.R.R. Tolkien have been published in English in Beyond Bree, Parma Nölé, Translating Tolkien and Tolkien Studies, in Dutch in Lembas (the journal of the Dutch Tolkien Society), in Polish in Ancalima, in Brazilian-Portuguese by the Brazilian Tolkien Society (Dúvendor), and in Russian in Palantir (the journal of the St. Petersburg Tolkien Society). He has presented papers at a number of MythCons and at the fourth Lustrum of the Dutch Tolkien Society. He is the author of Tolkien Through Russian Eyes (Walking Tree, 2003), The Hobbitonian Anthology (Llyfrawr, 2009), Implied, But Not Stated: Condensation in Colloquial Russian and The History of Holland (Greenwood, 1999).
One of his essays is included in the J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” volume of Dr. Harold Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations series, billed as “the most comprehensive collection of literary reference in the world.” Dr. Bloom is currently the Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English at Yale University.
The review of A Tolkienian Mathomium in Tolkien Studies says, because Hooker’s “breadth of expertise is somewhat unusual for Tolkienian linguists, most of whom come from the Old English/Old Norse quadrant, Hooker has a wide variety of things to say that have not been heard before.”
He contributed the article "Reading John Buchan in Search of Tolkien" in the excellent Tolkien and the Study of his Sources, Jason Fisher (ed.).
Read an interview with the author.
From the preface
Tolkien explained that Sindarin was intentionally “devised to give it a linguistic character very like (though not identical with) British-Welsh: because that character is one that I find, in some linguistic moods, very attractive; and because it seems to fit the rather 'Celtic' type of legends and stories told of its speakers.” (L.176)
In “English and Welsh” (MC, 197n. 33), Tolkien commented that the names and places in The Lord of the Ringswere primarily developed “on patterns deliberately modeled” on Welsh sources, but not identical with them. The Welsh components of his tale, concludes Tolkien, are what has “given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it.”
While there are those who might not agree with Tolkien’s assertion, I am not one of them. In his book on Welsh folklore,[i] Sikes remarks that although Keightley[ii] took Shakespeare to task in his Fairy Mythology for the inaccuracy of his use of “English fairy superstitions,” no such thing could be said of the Bard’s use of Welsh folklore. Shakespeare’s knowledge and use of Welsh fairy motifs and lore, notes Sikes, were “extensive and peculiarly faithful.” The same can be said of Tolkien.
Tolkien was himself well aware of Shakespeare’s use of Welsh, and commented on it in a letter. (L.320)
In another letter, he commented that his Legendarium was “fundamentally linguistic in inspiration.” In Tolkien’s creative process, a name came first and the story of the name followed. His literary world was created to provide a place where his names could be at home. (L.219) Tolkien also noted that he liked history and was moved by it, especially such history as “throws light on words and names.” (L.264)
Tolkien further explained that the process behind the creation of Middle-earth was an idiosyncratic enterprise undertaken to satisfy his own private linguistic taste. He was, therefore, not surprised that most analyses of his work went awry because “linguistic invention” is a “comparatively rare” art form, and most analysts have little understanding “of how a philologist would go about it.” Their analyses “appear to be unauthentic embroideries on my work,” said Tolkien, “throwing light only on the state of mind of [their] contrivers, not on me or on my actual intention and procedure.” (L.380)
What makes this book different from other books about Tolkien is that its author is a linguist who shares Tolkien’s appreciation of the histories of words and names, and who plays at the same kind of linguistic invention himself. It is a linguistic perspective that begins with a name or a word, and looks for its story in the real world with which Tolkien was familiar.
A particularly important source of material for the study of Tolkien’s use of Welsh are the books by Sir John Rhys, the Professor of Celtic Languages at Oxford when Tolkien was a student there. Companion and Guide: Chronologydetails the days of the week and times of day that Tolkien probably took classes on Welsh (The Mabinogion) from Rhys in 1914-1915. (pp. 50, 52, 55, 59) As any assiduous student should know, when you take a course from someone who has written a book on the topic of the course, if the book is not on the required reading list, it is a good idea to read it anyway. The probability, therefore, that Tolkien was aware of the material in Rhys’ books is very high. The parallels between the material in Rhys’ books and that in Tolkien’s Legendarium make it almost a certainty that Tolkien read Rhys.
While Tolkien remarked on his failure to grasp Old Irish or its modern descendant (L.134), he was not unfamiliar with it. In a letter, he states that he knows many Celtic things in their original languages of Irish and Welsh. (L.26) Tolkien also preserved the ‘P-Celtic’ and ‘Q-Celtic’ distinction from Celtic linguistics in the Elvish languages. The distinction is based on the way that the Proto-Celtic *kw evolved in each of them. Sindarin and Welsh are ‘P’ languages, and Irish and Quenya are ‘Q’ languages. An Irish tint to Tolkien’s Celtic linguistic creations, therefore, should come as no surprise.
Though Tolkien said that his nomenclature was modeled on Welsh sources, but not identical to them, there are occasionally words and names that are in fact identical. Most often, they are found in the early drafts of his manuscripts published as The History of Middle-earth (HoMe). When they are, the degree of certainty of the story told about the word is high. When they are not, we find ourselves in the realm of most linguistic studies of names. Reaney highlights this fact in The Origin of English Place Names, lamenting the fact that “we are often concerned with possibilities or probabilities rather than with definite etymologies.”[iii] That is part and parcel of this particular branch of study.
Language is full of ambiguities, which is what makes it such an interesting topic. The number of linguistic jests, puns, and bilingual diplosemes in Tolkien’s work suggest that he never met an ambiguity that he didn’t like. The ambiguities, therefore, are a part of this study, and are often the key to understanding the story behind the name.
This volume applies a semantic analysis to Tolkien’s invented nomenclature, comparing it with the Celtic languages, but in particular with Welsh, to determine the likely first-world history and context of the Celtic roots that Tolkien used. The focus is on sources that were current at the time in which Tolkien lived and wrote. Modern theories may have supplanted the theories of Tolkien’s time, but that is irrelevant. This volume explores the question of what Tolkien thought, not what we think we know now.
Linguistic invention is a product of the mind, and is, therefore, not governed by the fixed and immutable rules of the sciences. As Albert Einstein once said, imagination is greater than knowledge. Tolkien and the present author have it in abundance.
This book combines both previously published and unpublished essays to bring together all the author’s work on this topic in one convenient volume. Many of the previously published essays have been especially revised and expanded.
[i] Wirt Sikes, British Goblins: Welsh Folk Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions, Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1881, p. 14.
[ii] The reference is to: Thomas Keightley, The Fairy Mythology: Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries, London: H. G. Bohn, 1850.
[iii] P.H. Reaney, The Origin of English Place Names, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960, p, 72.
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