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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
That's the odd thing.

FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 25 2012, 10:52am


Views: 152
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That's the odd thing. [In reply to] Can't Post


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But I thought that a "Necromancer" meant specifically a sorcerer who held some unholy communion with the dead (or undead). Is it not so?

That's what I thought too, until I checked the dictionaries. It seems to be used that way in modern fantasy contexts, that's for sure. But I'm wondering if Tolkien may have influenced the development of the word along those lines. After I posted my comments last night I happened to read a long post on the Hobbit Movie board
in which there's much speculation about Sauron's "necromancy" being developed in relation to the Nazgul. In fact, that's exactly what I'd been wondering about myself before I checked the dictionary - did Tolkien already have the Nazgul in mind when he wrote The Hobbit, and is this why he chose the name Necromancer? Obviously he couldn't have known about them under that name, since he didn't know about the Ring yet, but did he mean to imply that the Necromancer of The Hobbit had dead (or more precisely 'undead') servants? There's nothing in the story to suggest this, is there? (Other than the name, of course, if that's what it does suggest.)

But then when I checked what the word Necromancer really does mean, it struck me that the official dictionary meaning doesn't really bear out this interpretation anyway, since it's mostly about communicating with the dead to reveal the future.

Here's the OED definition of 'necromancer':
One who practises necromancy; one who claims to carry on communication with the dead; more generally, a wizard, magician, wonder-worker, conjurer.
And of 'necromancy':
The pretended art of revealing future events, etc., by means of communication with the dead; more generally, magic, enchantment, conjuration.
Revealing the future seems to be central to the primary meaning, and that doesn't seem particularly appropriate for the Necromancer of The Hobbit - there's plenty of prophecy in The Hobbit, as you show in your lead post in this thread, but it doesn't seem to be associated with the Necromancer.

So that led me to wonder why Tolkien did choose this name, and that's when I was struck by the combination of 'dead' and 'black' - a common enough pair of concepts to put together, I suppose, and very appropriate for Mirkwood itself. Here's the etymology as given in the OED (with some of the technical stuff left out, partly because I can't get the Greek characters to work):
Old French nygromancie = Spanish nigromancia, Italian nigro-, negromanzia, medieval Latin nigromantia, an alteration, by association with Latin niger, nigr-, black (cf. black art)... From c 1550 the form necro- has been restored after Greek, as in French nécromancie.
[Italics in the above are where I have expanded abbreviations]
Anyway, make of it what you will. I just thought it was kind of interesting!


They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings


Subject User Time
The Last Stage, part V - Prophecies and Providence sador Send a private message to sador Nov 20 2012, 7:33pm
    The Necromancer Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Nov 20 2012, 11:26pm
        In The Hobbit alone, you are right. sador Send a private message to sador Nov 22 2012, 3:53pm
            The name of the Necromancer FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 24 2012, 5:43pm
                But I thought sador Send a private message to sador Nov 25 2012, 9:11am
                    That's the odd thing. FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 25 2012, 10:52am
    prophecy, providence and pforesight telain Send a private message to telain Nov 22 2012, 6:22pm
        True or false viviosns? sador Send a private message to sador Nov 23 2012, 10:48am
    Both no and yes... FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 24 2012, 5:13pm
        Thank you! sador Send a private message to sador Nov 25 2012, 9:52am
            Thank you for the excellent summary FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 25 2012, 3:53pm
    Gandalf had a lotta splainin' to do! squire Send a private message to squire Dec 1 2012, 8:11pm
        The Hobbit a train wreck as a prequel to Lotr????????????? Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Dec 4 2012, 12:21am
    Thanks for a wonderful post! Ardamírë Send a private message to Ardamírë Dec 3 2012, 9:15pm

 
 
 

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