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Treebeard — 2. ‘Elves made all the old words’

visualweasel
Rohan


Apr 29 2008, 2:21pm


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Treebeard — 2. ‘Elves made all the old words’ Can't Post

Tolkien once wrote,


Quote
I would always rather try to wring the juice out of a single sentence, or explore the implications of one word than try to sum up a period in a lecture, or pot a poet in a paragraph [..] But I am, as I say, an amateur. And if that means that I have neglected parts of my large field, devoting myself mainly to those things that I personally like, it does also mean that I have tried to awake liking, to communicate delight in those things that I find enjoyable. (“Valedictory Address”).



I find myself in complete agreement with this attitude, almost always more interested in – or at least, more captivated by – individual words or turns of phrase than in larger patterns. And to that end, I have a series of words and phrases in mind, and I’d like us to try to collectively wring some of the juice out of them in this installment. Likewise, I am definitely an amateur (in both the literal and etymological sense), and if I too seem to neglect parts of a large chapter or overlook your own individual favorite words and phrases, please don’t hesitate to bring them up!

1. Ent.

Many of you may have read a bit about Tolkien’s own explanation for the emergence of this word from The Wanderer: “They owe their name to the eald enta geweorc of Anglo-Saxon, and their connexion with stone” (Letters #163). There is also the Old English word eoten, referring to a giant, troll, or other monster (e.g., Grendel). Tolkien incorporated this word into his Ettenmoors/Ettendales, which in draft he referred to as “Entish Lands.” In another letter (#157), Tolkien wrote: “I always felt that something ought to be done about the peculiar A[nglo] Saxon word ent for a ‘giant’ or mighty person of long ago — to whom all old works were ascribed.”

This brings us back to the Troll/Ent connection, where Trolls are essentially a mockery of Ents, and both are basically subtypes of giant. The Black Speech word for Troll even appears to be a mockery of the Sindarin word for Ent – olog, from onod. Interestingly, both are pretty close to the Sindarin word for mountain – orod. Is that accidental? In The Treason of Isengard, Tolkien says in a note that trolls are “stone inhabited by goblin-spirit.” Is this true to his conception, and if so, what does it say about the relationship to Ents? Are Ents, perhaps in their conception, trees inhabited by Elf-spirits? Squire alluded in the previous topic to Tolkien’s idea (and the problems that come along with it) that Ents could be trees inhabited by Ainur. What do you think Ents really are?

How close do you feel these species are? What do you make of the apparent substitution of mountains for trees as the domains of each? Looking at the quotation from Tolkien’s second letter above, has he in indeed “done something about” the word? What about the “old works ascribed to” those *ents of the Anglo-Saxon tradition? The Ents of Middle-earth don’t seem to be doers of “old works” in the same way. What do you think of Tolkien’s taking the idea for them both out of Old English language and literature? Darkstone asked yesterday, “is the word as same as the reality to Tolkien?” Is it?

And by the way, there is also the Latin entia “beings” (related to the mother of all verbs: “to be”) – so far as I know, no one has put this forth as a possible external etymology for Ent. What do you think of this idea? Does it work or not?

2. Derndingle.

A dingle is a small, wooded dell or valley. It’s one of those many decrepit words Tolkien kept alive long after its time. The element dern means “secret(ive), hidden” (cf. Déagol), yet the Derndingle (“Secret Dell”) was apparently well enough known by Treebeard’s neighbors as to have a Mannish name. What do you make of that apparent contradiction? Given its meaning, is there a hint of a connection to Rivendell?

There also seems to be a hint of the name Dernhelm (basically “Secret Mask”) that Éowyn will adopt later. Is there any possible relationship between Fangorn and/or what it represents in the novel and Éowyn?

Finally, the original drafts have Dernslade as a possible name for the dingle. The word slade has basically the same meaning as dingle (cf. Tolkien’s “Nomenclature”), but is even more dead than dingle. What do you think of Tolkien’s change? There is one surviving reference to a ‘slade’ that I can recall. In “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”, as stock is taken of the fallen, we read of a certain Grimbold of Grimslade. Where is Grimslade? Why did Tolkien retain the more archaic element in a younger land, but ditch it as a name for a much older place?

3. Treegarth.

Yes, I know this word comes from “Many Partings” and I’m sort of cheating, but I think I can hazard a guess that the word wouldn’t get quite the same treatment there (too much else to talk about!), and the discussion works well here, so I’m stealing it. ;)

In the invocation to Elbereth, we find the Sindarin phrase galadhremmin ennorath, which Tolkien himself glosses as “tree-woven lands of Middle-earth.” This has always struck me as highly significant. Of all the ways to describe Middle-earth, the Elves choose “tree-woven,” hrum, hooom. Middle-earth itself comes from the Old English middan-geard (literally, “middle-yard, middle-garth”, related to middan-eard, which is more literally “middle-earth”). The Old Norse equivalent is miðgarðr, modernized as Midgard – anyone here ever play MUDs, representing one of Tolkien’s early impacts on gaming (after Dungeons & Dragons)? The element geard/garðr is also the second element of Isengard, which literally means “iron-yard.” Is this appropriate for Saruman’s abode?

A garth is a yard or garden (both words are etymologically related). It’s also a well-known Tolkien scholar, subtype John, but I digress. ;) So, considering the Treegarth of Orthanc to which Treebeard later refers – does this image of the trees overcoming a more artificial environment (an “iron-yard” becomes a “tree-yard”) have significance? Are the “tree-woven lands of Middle-earth” really the center of the world? Looking at a map of Middle-earth of the Third Age, Fangorn is pretty close to dead-center (not quite, but nearly). (What’s dead-center in the map of Beleriand?) Is Treebeard’s choice of the archaic word garth meant to echo the second element of Middle-earth? At least, for those willing to dig into the leaf-mould? Is Tolkien saying that the single most important thing about Middle-earth – on some level, what defines it – is “the forest primeval”?

4. Besom.

A besom is a witch’s broomstick. When Treebeard got all worked up by the hobbits’ tale, he “raised himself from his bed with a jerk, stood up, and thumped his hand on the table. The vessels of light trembled and sent up two jets of flame. There was a flicker like green fire in his eyes, and his beard stood out stiff as a great besom.”

This is a striking word! What do you make of it here? Its folkloric connection to witches, druids, and their covens? (And nowadays, an afterimage of the Harry Potter variety is inevitable.)

Darkstone told us yesterday: “Three is the number of the Norns, the number of Wyrd, or Fate. Birches are magical. Bfarkan (or twigs of birch) are used to make divining runes. (‘Having bound up the threatening twigs of birch’: Measure For Measure, Act I, Scene 3) Witches make their broomsticks from birch. The birch was associated with the Norse gods Thor and Freya.”

We’ll dig into sources a bit more tomorrow, but for now, comments on the connection implied by Tolkien’s use of besom?

5. Moot.

This is now one of the most widely adopted of Tolkien’s words, along with ent, hobbit, orc, and a few others. In his Etymological Dictionary, Skeat has moot (a real word) = “to discuss or argue a case”, “little used,” except in “a moot point.” That is, the attested form is a verb (in “moot point,” the form is participial). Tolkien brought the word into widespread use as a noun, basically as a variant of meet(ing). Any thoughts on that? Is Tolkien making the Ent-moot a thing more than an action? Do any of you use this word regularly? Why do you think it’s been so much more successfully resurrected than other words Tolkien rescued from oblivion?

Even more interesting, we’ve actually seen the word moot before. Long before entering Fangorn. Anyone recall where? Opinions on the significance of that connection?

6. Rowan.

Bregalad waxes nostalgic over the loss of his most beloved of trees, the Rowans, whom he calls “the People of the Rose.” Do you know whether this implied etymology is correct? (Hint: I wouldn’t be asking if it were that simple, now would I?) What is Tolkien up to here? Folk etymology? Linguistic jest? A “serious” attempt to bury some kind of folkloric history in a single, seemingly unimportant phrase? Bregalad tells us they were planted “to try and please the Entwives.” Could there be any connection to Sam’s ‘Entwife’ Rose, waiting patiently back in the Shire? What about a Rowan connection to Mr. Bean? – Orson or Sean, of course! (Just kidding!)

7. And one to grow on ...

The chapter contains some of Tolkien’s cleverest writing, I think. We find a surprising wealth of “growing” words and phrases, echoing the idea of the growth of trees and forests, but used in novel ways (again, pardon the pun). Some are more obvious similes; others are quite subtle – e.g., “roots of the mountains” (cf. William Morris), “or even Pip” (the only occurrence of “Pip” in the novel), “rose steadily through every limb”, “up sprout a little folk”, “songs like trees bear fruit only in their own time and their own way”, “the shade of a whisper as of many drifting leaves” ...

What do you think of Tolkien’s metaphorical expressions in the chapter? How successful are they? Certainly, we can imagine they were all deliberate (or perhaps just beneath conscious, but “intentional” nonetheless). Has he overdone it, littering them untidily throughout his prose (like Fangorn itself)? Are there other chapters where Tolkien does something similar – as in the other “forest” chapters – or perhaps elsewhere, pursuing a different metaphor?


Jason Fisher
Lingwë - Musings of a Fish

The Lord of the Rings discussion 2007-2008 – The Two Towers – III.4 “Treebeard” – Part 1

Subject User Time
Treebeard — 2. ‘Elves made all the old words’ visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 29 2008, 2:21pm
    Number 6. Eowyn of Penns Woods Send a private message to Eowyn of Penns Woods Apr 29 2008, 5:59pm
        As I'm sure you're aware Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Apr 29 2008, 8:40pm
    OMG Tolkien Forever Send a private message to Tolkien Forever Apr 29 2008, 7:30pm
        What about this chapter disappoints you? // N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Apr 29 2008, 7:40pm
            Boring? Tolkien Forever Send a private message to Tolkien Forever Apr 29 2008, 8:12pm
                You reaction is interesting, because Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Apr 29 2008, 8:36pm
                    Of Course.... Tolkien Forever Send a private message to Tolkien Forever Apr 29 2008, 10:16pm
                        I have to admit Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Apr 30 2008, 4:18am
        There can be only one response to that ... visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 29 2008, 7:42pm
            Heh, heh :-D // Starling Send a private message to Starling Apr 30 2008, 5:06am
        An interesting response... Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 29 2008, 9:04pm
        How do you feel about Bombadil? Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 30 2008, 6:05pm
            Don't See It Tolkien Forever Send a private message to Tolkien Forever Apr 30 2008, 7:02pm
    Regarding ents: Kimi Send a private message to Kimi Apr 29 2008, 8:35pm
        Brilliant! I love it! :) visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 29 2008, 8:37pm
            Yes, the one and only. Kimi Send a private message to Kimi Apr 29 2008, 8:38pm
        And, interestingly---to me, anyway Eowyn of Penns Woods Send a private message to Eowyn of Penns Woods Apr 29 2008, 9:37pm
            Now we're starting to think like philologists! visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 29 2008, 11:36pm
            I love "things that look like Ents but 'ent'". N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Apr 29 2008, 11:49pm
                He didn't spell it that way, but he was surely thinking it! // visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 30 2008, 1:31pm
        so, "Ent" really means, er..."Enting"? cool!! // a.s. Send a private message to a.s. Apr 29 2008, 11:26pm
    Nothing moot about that word, said Bernard to Miss Bianca squire Send a private message to squire Apr 29 2008, 9:02pm
        Yes indeed – d’oh! visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 29 2008, 9:16pm
        It's a mute point, as they say around here Finding Frodo Send a private message to Finding Frodo Apr 30 2008, 3:49am
            you don't say! a.s. Send a private message to a.s. Apr 30 2008, 12:06pm
                I like your example Canto Send a private message to Canto Apr 30 2008, 12:55pm
                As Joey would say ... visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 30 2008, 1:29pm
                I love how he goes into an explanation of 'mute', Ataahua Send a private message to Ataahua May 1 2008, 1:07am
    rowan=rose=romance? a.s. Send a private message to a.s. Apr 29 2008, 11:25pm
        My hint about the rowans ... visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 30 2008, 3:17pm
            But what about "wrdho"? // Canto Send a private message to Canto Apr 30 2008, 4:36pm
                *scratches head* visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 30 2008, 5:06pm
                    Yes, I did begin with the Online Etymology Dictionary Canto Send a private message to Canto Apr 30 2008, 8:05pm
                        I think we're on the same page visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 30 2008, 9:51pm
                a hint about "//" in Torn subject lines, and a comment, too a.s. Send a private message to a.s. Apr 30 2008, 6:52pm
    Regarding the rowans Kimi Send a private message to Kimi Apr 29 2008, 11:44pm
        Excellent find, Kimi! visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 30 2008, 2:41pm
            Tolkien definitely knew Quicken = Quickbeam = Rowan! visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 30 2008, 3:46pm
        Something else. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand May 2 2008, 5:36am
    The Ruin Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow May 2 2008, 7:29pm
        "The Ruin" as a six-minute film. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand May 2 2008, 7:40pm
            yes! I've seen it Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow May 3 2008, 12:08am
        Excellent thoughts, Modtheow visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel May 2 2008, 8:03pm
            "Trolling around in the scholarship" Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow May 3 2008, 3:09am
                Glad to see you picked up on the deliberate choice of words! visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel May 5 2008, 4:12pm
        Brilliant!/ / Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer May 2 2008, 8:48pm
        Shippey, "Road to ME" a.s. Send a private message to a.s. May 2 2008, 11:28pm
            Yes, from "Maxims II". N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand May 2 2008, 11:37pm
                well, if I had YOUR database a.s. Send a private message to a.s. May 2 2008, 11:49pm
                hmm, hoom.... Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow May 3 2008, 2:40am
            ACK ACK ACK. mistake. This is from "Author of the Century" a.s. Send a private message to a.s. May 2 2008, 11:46pm
                Hmm. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand May 2 2008, 11:52pm
                tsk! tsk! and YOU from Tol Eressea after all! Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow May 3 2008, 12:04am
            The Tolkien connection Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow May 3 2008, 2:36pm
        Astounding. dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn May 3 2008, 3:33am
            more on the Roman connection Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow May 4 2008, 1:54pm
                The stones lament them. dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn May 6 2008, 10:07pm
        "Enta" as Romans Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth May 3 2008, 6:50am
            Roman roads too Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow May 4 2008, 2:21pm
        During my summer in England, I discovered Curious Send a private message to Curious May 3 2008, 9:57am
            other ruins Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow May 4 2008, 2:51pm
        Late, late, late reply ... visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Jul 11 2008, 10:11pm
            such is our fate Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Jul 12 2008, 1:11am

 
 
 

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