- The Hobbitonian Anthology of Articles on J.R.R. Tolkien and His Legendarium
Those familiar with Mark Hooker's articles in Beyond Bree, and those who enjoyed his earlier book A Tolkienian Mathomium (2006),1 will find this collection of thirty-three essays picks up right where its predecessor left off; indeed, frequent reference is made here to pieces appearing in the earlier volume. Hooker's book is divided into three roughly equal parts: a dozen essays discussing names in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, a dozen more discussing specific translations of Tolkien's work (e.g., the Belorussian Hobbit), and between them a number of miscellaneous pieces looking at various problems translators face, given Tolkien's extensive and idiosyncratic vocabulary.
Not to put too fine a point on it, what we have here is nearly three hundred pages of Tolkien trivia, the majority of it in the form of analysis of translation errors and the rest source studies focused almost entirely on the names of people and places in The Lord of the Rings (a [End Page 330] branch of Tolkien studies which Hooker calls Tolkiennymy, practiced by "Tolkienologists"). I should think it impossible to read this book without finding out things you didn't know before, in the process becoming familiar with terms such as toponym (place-names), hydronym (river-names), bilingual tautology (e.g., Bree-hill), hypercorrection (Baranduin > Brandywine), BT (back-translation, or a literal re-translation of a passage back into the original language), and adjective condensate (which Hooker leaves undefined). But it's doubtful you'll know anything more about Tolkien or his works than you did when you started out.
Hooker's greatest virtue is that he is an indefatigable researcher; the lengths to which he pursues possible variant forms of names is truly impressive—for example, discovering that a river in Ireland and a village in Scotland both bore the name Bilbo (7–8),2 or that Bilbo is the Basque pronunciation for the Spanish town better know as Bilboa (4), or that a 1901 short story featured a heroic French drummer-boy named Bilboquet (17–18), while a painter of the same name appeared in an 1882 cartoon in Punch. The relevance of his discoveries, however, remains elusive. To find out that the hobbit-name Boffin may be an Anglicized analogue to the Welsh Vaughn (29), which he glosses as "smalley" (shorty would seem nearer the mark), tells us nothing about Tolkien's tale. Hooker is one of those scholars who does not believe in coincidence: if he can find a name with a similarity to the name he's researching, then he concludes the similarity must be significant and intended by Tolkien. Nor does he limit this just to names, as when in his essay on the phrase "a nine days' wonder" he asserts that the fact Glorfindel took nine days to find Frodo is meant to remind us that Demeter spent nine days searching for Persephone, or that this was the length of "Hermod's ride from Olympus to the Underworld" (144). I find this claim fantastical, not just because the number universally associated with the Persephone myth depends not on Demeter's journey but on the number of pomegranate seeds her daughter ate and hence the number of months she must remain with Hades each year, and thus the length of winter her grieving mother inflicts upon the world (the exact number varies according to who's retelling the myth, but I could find no example in which it was nine), but because Hooker gives no reason why the Demeter-Persephone or Hermod-Balder story should be relevant in any way to Glorfindel's action or Frodo's experience: the number nine has become for him a free-floating fact that can be given any application.3
Hooker asserts time and again that he shares a common...