Sunday, March 25, 2012

Talkin' about Tolkien

Tolkien employs richly rambunctious turns of phrase. When I first entered Middle-earth as a young pup through the portal of ‘The Hobbit’ it all felt too dense and unattainable. I sensed action occurring yet failed to pick up the nuances of character. Many years have passed since then and this year I thought I would try again – how glad am I have years under my belt! I feel like I would have squandered the journey through Middle Earth with Frodo and Sam, if I had attempted this at a younger age. So far I’ve read the ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and ‘The Two Towers’, I’ve utterly enjoyed both books, much to the annoyance of friends and family as I gabber on about them.

Granted a lot of the language is still out of my depth (Tolkien constructed at least 20 languages including vocabulary and grammar!) the books have reinstated my curiosity for words. My current vocabulary feels stagnant. Even when writing about walking (for the main gist of the story is a rather long walk) Tolkien uses a breath of descriptive words to describe distances – furlongs, fathoms, 'over the sundering leagues of land', 'passing like shadows in the folds of the land' etc.

I’ve become an uber geek about LOTR and started researching the Tolkien’s lexicography. Tolkien didn’t just invent words; many have origins in old English

- Frodo, from fród, meaning wise

- The evil wizard Saruman, searu (cunning) + man

- The hungry monster sized spider, Shelob, takes her name from she + the Old English lobbe (spider).

- Ents, the old speaking, giant tree-creatures get their name from Eoten, an Old English word for giant

I admire Tolkien immensely as a writer, even if I feel utterly intimidated by his board scoop of skill and creativity. I feel like French kissing the words out of the page and liberally sprinkle them into everyday life. I truly appreciate this tidbit of advice he offers on the justification of writing in a ‘high style’:

"We are being at once wisely aware of our own frivolity if we avoid hitting and whacking and prefer 'striking' and 'smiting'; talk and chat and prefer 'speech' and 'discourse'; well-bred, brilliant, or polite noblemen (visions of snobbery columns in the Press, and fat men on the Riviera) and prefer the 'worthy, brave and courteous men' of long ago."

Besides giving me an appetite for words, the books are simply thrilling to read. Tolkien builds tension and propels the story forth. Occasionally the poems/songs feel longwinded, but that’s only a by-product of creating such a fascinating premise of ‘One ring’ of ultimate power that needs to be destroyed. Even though I know the ending thanks to the films, I am peachy keen to experience the final chapter of the trilogy in the written form.

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