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  • Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in "The Lord of the Rings"
  • John Garth
Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in "The Lord of the Rings", by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Gilson. Mountain View, CA: Parma Eldalamberon, 2007. 220 pp. $35.00(oversize paperback) [no ISBN]. Parma Edalamberon XVII.

Any reader of The Lord of the Rings who has jotted down lists of Elvish vocabulary and puzzled endlessly over the significance of unglossed words and names such as Rhudaur, edraith and Tol Brandir will have dreamed of a book in which all the words are laid out, all the riddles are answered and—this being Tolkien—new vistas are opened up to delight the imagination. As a child of ten or twelve, I literally dreamed of stumbling across such a volume in a bookshop, of opening its pages, and of glimpsing those new vistas. Of course, as is the way with elfinesse, when I woke up all the details were forgotten. But here at last, reassuringly solid, is that book—a linguistic companion to The Lord of the Rings that should satisfy for quite some time those who love Sindarin and Quenya.

Yet the book is certainly not as I dreamed: Tolkien envisaged it but never finished it, and his shifting ideas on almost every detail produce a palimpsest, a tangle of variants and downright contradictions. There is not one text but many, yet they involve multiple passes through the same material: the instances of invented language in The Lord of the Rings. There is the impression of a mind swooping down to circle repeatedly around particular points of grammar or meaning that troubled their creator, from the meaning of Galadriel to the various forms of the Quenya first person plural. Other points get the briefest flicker of attention, though to many readers these, including a wealth of previously unpublished names, will be of the greatest immediate interest.

In contrast with earlier issues of Parma Eldalamberon which have presented Tolkien's work in Elvish from c. 1915 to the early 1930s, the texts included here cover that most familiar phase of Tolkien's creative career, The Lord of the Rings as it was when complete. Thus, perhaps, most readers will find these texts more immediately satisfying than the Qenya Lexicon [End Page 248] which Tolkien compiled as an undergraduate and soldier in the First World War, or the grammars of Noldorin he wrote in the 1920s, or even "The Etymologies" published in The Lost Road. The territory surveyed is engagingly familiar. The dusty excavation seen in editions of these earlier linguistic papers has given way to the study of forms that are given vivid life in Tolkien's greatest literary work.

Perusing those notes is like meeting old friends again, and getting to know them more closely than ever. Those who love only the sense of mystery produced by an untranslated phrase in The Lord of the Rings such as "naur an edraith ammen" should steer well clear; yet even for the keenest lambendil there will be new mysteries open up here: for example, Arvernien is translated as "the land beside the Verna," but nowhere are we told what the Verna is.

It is fascinating to see Lúthien translated here as "daughter of flower," suggesting that the proposal in 1977's An Introduction to Elvish that Luthien Tinuviel was intended to evoke "Florence Nightingale" may have been near the mark. We are also told the Quenya name for Barad-dûr and the Dwarvish original for Nargothrond; the river-name Narog, too, is derived from the Dwarven language Khuzdul. Among many others, As-faloth, Nûrnen, lebethron and Orodreth are explained at last, as is the final element in the place-names Eregion and Sirion. The explanation of Dol Baran proves that even the most apparently transparent Sindarin name may have more than meets the eye: it does not, after all, contain the element baran "golden-brown" seen in Baranduin. It is a surprise to learn that the first elements in Druadan and Rhovanion are etymologically related. The regional name Rhudaur has long proved opaque; yet now it is revealed as none...