Sunday was the first day of Tolkien Week - an annual observation that always occurs in September, during the week in which Hobbit Day falls. Hobbit Day, for those of you who are not card-carrying members of the Tolkien Society (as is Your's Truly) is September 22nd - Bilbo and Frodo's birthday.
Let us all take a moment to fill our Tengwar-etched glasses with Goodly Libations, and raise them in Toast to the Professor!
I had originally intended to do a post on each day of this week, but though I have worked on a Tolkien related post each day, circumstances have conspired to ensure that I have not actually managed to publish a thing. Perhaps the rest of the week will go better?
I first of all present to you a Playlist! Please observe the sidebar, where a Tolkien playlist has replaced the Christmas one that was up there throughout Christmas.... and Lent and Easter and Pentecost. I will be adding to this Tolkien list, so do check back. I also present a small list of Things You Probably Did Not Know About Tolkien. Yes, yes, many of you count me among your more intimate acquaintances, so some of you will have heard me blaithering about this stuff. I trust, however, that the majority of it will be new.
1.) Most Tolkien fans are aware of the fact that he was a Philologist by profession, and familiar with (if not fluent in) a great number of languages. Many of them will also be aware of the fact that he wrote a number of mythic poems that were partly translations out of their original languages, and partly his own re-tellings of those stories. What most might not be aware of, is that one of his earliest efforts in this line is a poem entitled The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, which was published in the Welsh Review in 1945. It was modeled after an old Breton style of poetry and, indeed, was taken from a Breton story. It has been notoriously difficult to find since than, and as a consequence, is not well known. It was finally republished in 2002, but only in a Serbian translation of Tolkien's original. That edition was reprinted again in August of 2015. This time, it was bilingual, published in Serbian and English, with several new illustrations commissioned for the occasion. I went crazy with excitement over that, and bought it. It is gorgeous and I love it... Now at last, after 80 years of obscurity, it is slated to be officially republished in November of this year.
2.) Most people, (even a goodly number of non-Tolkien-fans) know that Tolkien created a writing system for his elvish languages. It is not, strictly speaking, an alphabet in the same way that ours is. It is a very phonetic system, with allowances for sounds that most people don't think about - such as schwas. Furthermore, he adapted it for different languages. High Elves, who speak Quenya, had a different 'mode' for using the Tengwar, than did the Sindaran speaking Low Elves. Tolkien invented a 'mode' for English as well. (Since then, quite a number of real-life languages have had 'modes' created for them, Check out this website for some of them.) Most Tolkien fans will also be aware of the fact that he created a runic alphabet for his dwarves as well. They show up most notably on Thorin's map of the Lonely Mountain. What is less well known is that he invented yet another writing system for his Elves to use, He called it the Sarati. The Sarati differs from the other two in that it is written in columns, rather than lines. Like the Tengwar, the vowels are merely diacritic markings:
3.) Tolkien worked on the Old English Dictionary during the years immediately following his demoblisation at the end of WWI. He became quite obsessed with the etymologies of the words "walrus" and "whale".
4.) Tolkien worked on a translation of The Book of Jonas for the Jerusalem Bible, which was publish in 1966. A history of the project, and Tolkien's participation in it, may be found here. (Notice that Tolkien is once again dealing with a 'whale' :-) There is an interesting side note to this story for those of us who enjoy Lord of the Rings trivia. The character of Strider in The Fellowship of the Ring - and his introduction in the taproom of The Prancing Pony - was influenced in part by Tolkien's encounter with the Catholic poet, Roy Campbell, at The Eagle and Child pub, during a weekly meeting of the Inklings. Campbell was originally slated to work on the Jerusalem Bible as well - specifically, the Canticles. Given Campbell's strong, almost Elizabethan poetry, his work would have made for a very gorgeous translation. Unfortunately, Roy Campbell died in a car crash before he had a chance to complete anything. I can't help feeling that this is a great loss to the literary world, akin to Tolkien's uncompleted Fall of Arthur.
5.) There is a strong artistic streak in the family. Tolkien seems to have inherited his flair for handwritting from his mother's family: his grandfather was want to draw a circle around a little sixpence, and write out the entire Our Father in fine copperplate writing. Mable Tolkien herself wrote in a very fine hand, and taught her boys to do the same. Tolkien's grandson, Michael G. R. Tolkien, is a poet, who has also written a children's book. (The audio edition is read by Gerald Dickens, the great-great grandson of Charles Dickens!) Tim Tolkien - a great nephew of the Professor - is a sculptor of some note. He is best known for Sentinel, a modern steel sculpture of 3 Submarine Spitfires, peeling off in 3 different directions. Of more interest to Tolkien fans, he is assisting in the designing of a memorial to his great uncle, at Pembroke College. And then there is great granddaughter, Ruth Tolkien: singer, songwriter, and fencer. A blind fencer, who fights competitively.
And on that note, I shall bid you all a good evening. I am going to have a nice cup of tea, and read Looking for the King - a book about the Inklings, which thus far has allowed its protagonists to meet Lewis and Williams, but not Tolkien - and, let us be honest. When I read a book about the Inklings, I am doing it for Tolkien.