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Mithrandir and Tolkien's multilingual puns

The Shire

Jun 27, 2:48am

Post #1 of 2 (204 views)
Mithrandir and Tolkien's multilingual puns Can't Post

I'm re-reading tLotR, and halfway through I was struck with the thought that Gandalf's elvish name Mithrandir looks suspiciously like an Orthanc-style pun, consisting of "Mithra" and "andir". Mithra is the (resurrected) god of light in Mithraism, and andir is a much-mutilated form of aner, man, in classical Greek, which he knew reasonably well. Incanus appears to be botanical, being applied as Cistus Incanus to a small purple flower, derived from Latin, its meaning "grey, hoary ", which fits The Grey wanderer quite well.
What do people think?


Jun 27, 10:41am

Post #2 of 2 (163 views)
Wordplay [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien was familiar with Latin as well as botany, so I think he just took Incánus straight from Latin. Afterwards he tried to retcon it as a name from the language of the Haradrim, and then as a Quenya name. Orthanc may have originally been a deliberate pun, or it may also be a retcon. On the other hand, there are other names that appear to have been originally intended to be bilingual puns, such as Atalantë and Avallónë. Tolkien called Atalantë a "happy accident". I suspect what he meant by that was that he already had words in his Quenya lexicon that he could put together to form a word similar to "Atlantis", and that would have a suitable meaning, not that he didn't see the similarity between Atalantë and Atlantis until after he had come up with former. Of course, I could be wrong about that.

One thing I've paid more attention to over the past year or so is the number of recurring meanings, what might be considered the opposite of a bilingual pun. (That is, instead of one form with several meanings, one meaning with several forms.) Perhaps the most well-known is the "bliss-friend" and "elf-friend" father-son pairs: Amandil and Elendil, Éadwine and Ælfwine (Eriol), Audoin and Alboin, and Edwin and Alwin Lowdham. Actually, there's often also a grandfather with a name meaning "god-friend", such as Ælfwine's grandfather Óswine. This corresponds to Valandil, who was Elendil's grandson. However, his grandfather was named Númendil, which means "west-friend", which could be a reference to Valinor, where the Valar dwelt. We see "elf-friend" again in the name of Elfwine, son of Éomer and Lothíriel. Historically, there was a father-son pair named Audoin and Alboin who were kings of the Lombards (or Langobards, whose name is identical in meaning to that of the Dwarves of Durin's tribe) in the 6th century.

Another such name is that of Sam's grandson, Elfstan Fairbairn, whose name means "Elfstone", and was presumably named after King Elessar Telcontar (whose other name means "Strider", of course). By the way, it just occurred to me that "Fairbairn" is similar in meaning to "Goodchild". Tolkien wrote to his son Christopher that he was thinking of changing Samwise's surname from "Gamgee" to "Goodchild", but Christopher vetoed the idea. It looks like he may have reused the idea for a descendant of Samwise.

Hêlâ Auriwandil, angilô berhtost,
oƀar Middangard mannum gisandid!


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