Sunday, 1 March 2015

Well....I am Back!

Mae Govannen!  Roughly three and half years ago Wotan left Valhalla to go on an incredible journey - an exploration of the world of J.R.R. Tolkien's earliest mythology.   With the incredible support, guidance and mentorship of Dr. Dimitra Fimi (my 'Gandalf' who appealed to my Tookish side of academic exploration and got me on the road!) I have now completed this quest and returned to my new Valhalla (looks like Fafnir and Fasolt have built me a new office - hope I don't have to give them Charlie the Wonder Corgi as otter-ransom).  

This Thursday in Cardiff I successfully completed my PhD thesis 'The Genesis of J.R.R. Tolkien's Mythology' and am now Dr. Andrew Higgins - a title I accept with humility and an unswerving ambition of wanting to do as much work and scholarship in the areas of Tolkien, fantasy literature and secondary world building in the years ahead....

The Genesis of Tolkien's Mythology - My PhD Quest 

The researching and actual writing of a PhD thesis on the early creative thought and mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien (a quest I highly recommend to all - whatever area you choose) has to be one of the most incredibly fulfilling, rewarding and, at times, frustrating projects I will ever undertake on this side of the great sea.   It is amazing to focus almost 24/7 on an author's emerging creative process - my research chose to critically examine the earliest creative work of J.R.R. Tolkien (up to the 'Book of Lost Tales' materials), from which the first version of his mythology would emerge, as one coherent whole, rather than a series of individual creative acts.  The thesis argues that all aspects of Tolkien's creativity worked in a dialectic way to bring to life an invented secondary world the complexity of which fantasy literature had not seen before.  In the next year or so one of my key projects will be working on turning the thesis into a book.  Hopefully in the not too far future I will be able to share with you my take on how Tolkien achieved the development of this earliest version of his secondary world.

The PhD viva itself was quite an experience and one of the most exhilarating robust academic dialogues I have had about the research.  When you are doing a PhD you are pretty much in what I call 'the thesis bunker' researching, writing and discussing your work mostly with your PhD supervisor - and in my case I was very lucky and fortunate that this meant spending many hours in discussion with Dr. Fimi whose incredible thoughts, feedback, patience (with my 'nigglings') and insight into this material was so important and valuable to me - there is none better! 

Being able to actually discuss the research with other academics (after three and half years of developing it!) was really rewarding.  I had a mock viva in December with an internal team at Cardiff Metropolitan University which helped me focus on some wider issues of the research.  Like in any quest,  I also had some amazing helpers along the journey who read chapters of my thesis and gave me incredibly instructive comments.  I was very fortunate to have the help of Tolkien scholar Douglas A. Anderson (who read an early version of the thesis and steered me in the right direction in terms of some of Tolkien's early work and dates) and then my thesis chapter readers: Dr. Verlyn Flieger, John D. Rateliff, Gerard Hynes and Dr. Simon Eckstein (whose own thesis work was an inspiration!).

For the final viva at Cardiff Metropolitan University last Thursday I was very fortunate to be examined internally by Dr. Kate North and externally by Dr. Mark Atherton - Lecturer in English at Regent's Park College, Oxford and author of There and Back Again: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Origins of the Hobbit.   This was an amazing session with some really constructive dialogue, debate and helpful feedback and comments that will go into the final thesis, which I submit in the next week, and also will feed into my work into turning this research into a book.

The only bittersweet element to achieving the PhD (very fitting for anything having to do with Tolkien) was that my Dad - having taken the ship to the West last year - was not there to see it.  In the acknowledgements of the thesis I paid tribute to my Dad who had a passion for Tolkien and introduced me to the 'arresting strangeness' of the world Tolkien built which had so impacted my Dad's life and subsequently mine.  I hope one day in the West my Dad and I can both discuss this research (he would have much to say I am sure!) - Nai hiruvalme Valimar! 

Upcoming Projects and Papers

To somewhat para-phrase Gandalf the achieving of a PhD is 'not an end' it is only the beginning.  As I remember in one of the many books on 'doing a PhD' I read over the last three years someone once said the PhD is not your 'masterpiece' it is what you do with it (wise words).   Indeed I return to Valhalla from my academic wanderings with quite a comprehensive list of projects that I will be working on - several of which have come out of, or been inspired by, strands of the research I have done.  

Currently I am scheduled to give the following papers at three key conferences coming up in 2015: 

The Enchanted Edwardians Conference 
29-30 March 2015 

I will be giving a paper on 'O World Invisible We View Thee' - The Syncretic Nature of Francis Thompson's Visionary Poems.   

At this conference Dr. Fimi will be giving a paper on 'Kipling and Tolkien and their "mythology for England" 

More info here 

50th International Conference of Medieval Studies 
Kalamazoo 2015 
May 14-17 2015 

This will be my second time taking part in the 'Tolkien at Kalamazoo' sessions in the company of many brilliant Tolkien scholars and academics. 

I will be giving a paper as part of the 'Tolkien as Linguist and Medievalist' Panel on 'The First Red Book - A Exploration of Tolkien's Exeter College Essay Book' and will also taking part in the live reading of Tolkien's Beowulf 2014 (practicing now as I re-read this important text for the current excellent 'Beowulf through Tolkien and Vice-Versa' course with Professors Tom Shippey and Nelson Goering) 

International Medieval Congress Leeds 2015 
6-9 July 2015 

Dr. Fimi has organised a series of Tolkien related sessions at this year's IMC Leeds 2015 and I am very excited to be giving a paper as part of the session on 'Celtic Literature in Tolkien's Medievalism' which includes some other excellent speakers including my Mythgard Institute colleague Kris Swank.  
  • Tolkien, Brendan, and the Quest for The Lost Road (Aurélie Brémont, Centre d’Études Médiévales Anglaises (CEMA), Université Paris-Sorbonne – Paris IV)
  • Immram Roverandom (Kris Swank, Pima Community College, Tucson)
  • Welsh Princesses and Cats: Tolkien’s Tale of Tinuviel and The Gnomish Lexicon (Andrew Higgins, Cardiff Metropolitan University)
Other sessions will include papers by Dr. Fimi, Dr. Mark Atherton and Nick Groom whose work includes a brilliant chapter 'The English Literary Tradition: Shakespeare to the Gothic' in the 2014 Blackwell Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien.   

Dr. Fimi has more information on IMC Leeds 2015 on her blog posting here. 

In addition I have started to use for papers and book reviews and will continue to post there as papers are written and delivered.  There is an amazing treasure trove of academic resource to be found on this site.  

In January 2015 I launched a monthly Tolkien language column on The Signum University Newsletter 'The Signum Eagle' called 'In Dembith Pengoldh' through which I will explore elements of Tolkien's language invention. 

Wotan will use this blog to update on all activity and also explore some key areas of interest around Tolkien, fantasy literature and especially emerging scholarship in secondary world building and, for Wotan, the link to language invention.  

Glad to be back in Valhalla - and now to work - lots of papers to write!  

Dydd gwyl Dewi hapus! and Namárië for now! 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Philological Journey Down Lake Windermere

Lake Windermere - England's Largest Lake - What Secrets Does It Hold?
David and I just returned from a very restful week holiday up in the Lake District on the southern shores of Lake Windermere.   Lake Windermere is the largest natural lake in England in the county of Cumbria within The Lake District National Park.  On the days when the weather was fairly decent we boarded a boat and went down the lake passing by where Arthur Ransome's adventures of the Walker children in Swallows and Amazons took place (and according to the tour guide on the boat a new version of the adventure is to be filmed there this summer). 

But as we sailed down this majestic lake I could not but help thinking about the name 'Windermere' and what it means.  Perhaps this is one of the very beneficial (among many) effects that intense study of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien has done for me.  For Tolkien a story started with a name ('To me a name comes first and a story follows.' - Letters, p. 219) His imaginative language work has heightened my awareness of names and the inherent stories each proper name carries within it - a potential micro-narrative waiting for its story to be unearthed.  So on my first night back at the hotel I started thinking about what Windermere meant and to do some linguistic sleuthing Tolkien style - and along the way encountered several interesting connections to Tolkien himself! 

I found two key sources online to start my search.  First is a book  Walter John Sedgefield's 'The Place Names of Cumberland and Westmorland' from 1915 which is available on line.  In this work Sedgefield states -

The first element according to Wyld L. Pl. s. p. 266 appears to be a pers N. with the Old Norse genitive ending with -ar Wyld notes that though O.N. *Vigandr does not seem to be recorded, in exact OE Equivalent Wignoth occurs several times (Searle).  The second element is O.E. mere 'lake' 'pool' 'sheet of water'

H.C. Kennedy Wyld's Universal Dictionary of the English Language

The first reference Sedgefield is making is to the 1911 'The Place-Names of Lancashire' by Henry Cecil Kennedy Wyld (1870-1945).   From 1904 to 1920, Wyld was Baines Professor of English Language and Philology, Liverpool University. From 1920 to his death in 1945 he was Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford and seems to have been one of J.R.R. Tolkien's great allies in the bringing together of the literature and language curriculum at Oxford. According to Hammond and Scull's Chronology - Tolkien knew Wyld and on 20 May 1929 (while at Pembroke College)  Wyld, Tolkien and C.T. Onions signed a letter to the Secretary of Facilities asking the University to appoint a lecturer in 'English Language' (Chronology, p.149).  Tolkien also mentions him in a letter to Christopher when he learns that Wyld has died 'god rest his soul' and he needs to work on finding a replacement for him as Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford (Letters, p.108).   

The second reference is to W.G. Searle (1830-1913) who was a Professor at Queen's College.  The listing is in Onomasticon Anglo-Saxonicum: A List of Anglo-Saxon Proper Names from the Time of Beda to that of King John (Cambridge, 1897). 

These earlier works are referenced by the Swedish philologist Eilert Ekwall (1877-1964) who wrote many books on the history of language but is probably best known for his work on English Place names and personal names.  Tolkien definitely read and was inspired by Ekwall's works on place names (a topic that I am currently in the process of researching). When Tolkien was a Reader at Leeds University he reviewed several of Ekwall's key works in the journals - The Years Work in English Studies 1923-1925. 

In his 1922 'The Place Names of Lancashire' Ekwall gives a 2 page focus to the name Windermere and brings in the earlier works noted above.  This, so far, is the fullest philological treatment I can find on the meaning of the name 'Windermere.'

Ekwall first suggests that the name Windermere must be identical with that of the name of a place near Great Asby in Wilmington called Winderwath [near Penrith in Cumbria]. 

But Ekwall quickly dismisses this idea due to the fact that both place names are far apart and must have been named independently of each other.  'This shows' says Ekwall 'that Windermere can not have as its first element an old name of the lake as might be supposed

Then Ekwall suggests that Winder is a personal name as has been supported by Wyld and others (as above).  Ekwall supports this theory by saying that it is all the more probable as personal names are the first element of the names Thurston Water and Ullswater in Cumbria.  

The Germanic God Ullr

The two examples Ekwall gives are interesting because both of them are examples of the English countryside having imprinted on them the names of past lost gods of England. One of the best studies of this is Brian Branston's The Lost Gods of England (Thames and London, 1957) which shows how they key Germanic gods worshiped by pre-Christain Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of England can be found in the name of English places.  

After Lake Windermere, Ullswater is the second largest lake in The Lake District.  The first part of its name, according to website for the Lake, may come from the  Germanic God Ullr as their is also evidence of the remains of a viking settlement nearby cammed Hodgson Hill.  Ullr is very interesting - he seems to have been a great Germanic god who diminished and was replaced by Thor (becoming Thor's step-son in some of the Edda accounts).  His name may be connected to the concept of glory.  If indeed this is the meaning of Ullswater as the second lake it must go way back to the first arrival of the Anglo-Saxons from the North where the legend of Ullr may still have been dominant. 

Thurston's Water is the third largest lake and is better known now as Coniston Water - the name 'Thurston' is derived from the Norse god Thor. (Thunor)  As Branston indicates Thor (or Thunor) - along with Woden, Tiw and Frig - was one of the main gods that Anglo-Saxon used to name places in England with (Thanet, Thundridge, Thunderfield)

But then Ekwall takes exception with Sedgefield and suggests another linguistic route - the  name Vinandus which he suggests is a name from the Low German or Old Swedish.  Ekwall suggests that this name may stem from the Old Norse vondr 'staff'. The vondr connection is interesting given a page found at the back of Cleasby/Vigfusson's Old Norse dictionary called 'A List of British Rivers'
which list the roots for a series of rivers in Scotland and North England which are also found (and possibly have their origins) in Edda literature. 

About a hundred in number, contained in old Icelandic alliterative memorial verses (inscribed á-heiti, i. e. names of rivers) from MSS. of the Snorra-Edda (ii. 479, 480, of the 13th century; the verses themselves may well be of the 12th century). Most of these rivers seem to belong to the northern Scottish counties, Caithness, Ross, Moray, Sutherland, and to the north-east of England.

Included in this list is - 'Vind (Vönd, Gm.)' 

The ON word 'Vönd' is found as the name of a river in the Poetic Edda in The Grimnismal (The Says of Grimnir) which describes a series of rivers that issue from Hvergelmir - the bubbling boiling spring or well in Nifelheim from which all cold rivers sprang.  

28. Vino is one, | Vegsvin another,
And Thjothnuma a third;
Nyt and Not, | Non and Hron,
Slith and Hrith, | Sylg and Ylg,
Vith and Von, | Vond and Strond,
Gjol and Leipt, | that go among men,
And hence they fall to Hel.

According to a commentary on this passage in Grimnismal there is a suggestion 'that the name is most likely a nominalization of the feminine singular of the ON adjective vandr 'difficult.' Cf., for example, the Norwegian river Meina  probably derived from the ON verb meina 'to harm, hinder.' Another possibility is that it is related to ON vöndr m. 'wand, switch.' Cf., for example, the river names with the stem gand  the district name Gand and the lake called Gjende (Indrebe, 1924, p. 71), all related perhaps to Norwegian dialect gand m. 'thin stick,' as well as the river names with the stem stav-to ON stafr 'stick, stave' and probably referring to rivers which flow in a straight course for a considerable stretch. A similar meaning may be possible here  And certainly have gone down Lake Windermere several times in the last week I can assure you it follows a fairly straight course for ten miles

This commentary comes from a very interesting site that has many of the early versions of the Eddas and other materials from Norse mythology - quite a treasure trove. 

And this idea also suggests another link to Tolkien - if vondr is related to gandr in terms of  a wand or switch this possibly means that the WINDER- is related to the same world that forms the name of our good friend the Istari Gandalf - coming from the Old Norse (and right from the Dvergatal list in the Eddas -  Gand-alfr - wand or magic staff elf.  But there is more work to be done here as according to Cleasby/Vigfusson the exact meaning of Gandr and Vondr is quite vexed (ah a linguistic crux for further exploration!).  Towards this research there is an interesting passage in a book by John McKinnell Meeting the Other in Norse Myth and Legend
in which he explores the concepts of gandr and possible linguistic connection to vond (although I am still not entirely convinced by the linguistic movement from ge-vond/gand - more work to be done here). 

 Ekwall concludes his study of Windermere by stating that the Winander- part represents the genitive singular of an Old Scandinavian name Vinundr the genitive form Vinandar.  The Mere of Vinandar

So if Vin = vond could in some sense mean either stick (describing the straightness of the lake) or magic there is also a suggestion that the second element UNDR also has a fantastical sense.  Undr is the Norse world for 'wonder' and forms the verb 'undra' to wonder at, be amazed - an 'undra-sjonir' was a wonder to see a spectacle.

So clearly there is a sense that this lake the largest in the area would have been significant to the inhabitants of the area.  I find it interesting that the other two largest lakes, as we have seen above, are both names that have within them echoes of the Lost Gods of England (Ullr and Thor) and it seems odd that Windermere would not as well.  Perhaps the Undra part of the name is pointing to some element  of wonder or amazement that may have its origins in a lost god of the area.  

As I was doing this preliminary investigation into the meaning of Lake Windermere and the mysteries that the understanding of the name might disclose - I thought about what it must have been like on 24 September 1914 when the young J.R.R. Tolkien while staying at his Aunt Jane Neave's farm in Phoenix Farm in Gedling near Nottingham discovered the name Earendel and from his linguistic exploration - his 'finding out' what the name and the story behind it was - gave birth to an entire new mythology. 

As a great teacher (master in the Latin magister sense) who I very much respect and admire recently said to me 'Words can lead you into uncharted territory - both literally and figuratively Sleuth on!'  

A crux for exploration begins - all from England's largest river! 

Saturday, 15 December 2012

First Impressions of The Hobbit and Azog Musings!

Wotan returns to the halls of Valhalla from his long sojourn in the land of Tolkien Postgraduate Research and PhD work for a brief visit to give his first impressions of
Overall : 8.5 out of 10 

It's not the (original) book - but it is a helluva a movie!!! 

I really liked the "Tolkien fan/academic" touches they put in like Gandalf not remembering the name of the two blue wizards and a fleeting mention of Ungoliant (I squealed with delight at that mention - my partner hit me!). The speech Gandalf makes about why he choose Bilbo to Galadriel was very moving and Sir Ian Mckellen beautifully delivered the words that came right from Tolkien -  

Here we meet, among other things, the first example of the motive (to become dominant in Hobbits) that the great policies of world history, the wheels of the world', are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak - owing to the secret life in creation, and the part unknowable to all wisdom but One, that resides in the intrusions of the Children of God into the Drama  (Letters , p. 149)

I found it interesting that the finding of the Ring by Bilbo seemed to be inspired by the Rankin-Bass The Hobbit TV movie .  In the book, Bilbo finds the Ring in the dark and there is more of a sense of fate working,  In now both the Rankin-Bass and Jackson Hobbit films Bilbo finds the ring by the gleam of the sword Sting.  Also interesting that in both movies - the time riddle is echoed by a unseen voice - in Rankin Bass this is not known in Jackson it is Gollum but not seen.

Thought Martin Freeman captured the essence of Bilbo and the Baggins/Took conflict.  I feel PJ always needs a hero and Thorin Oakenshield is it for these films - there were times I felt I was seeing the Aragorn story arc told again but to be fair some of that is in the text. The dwarves were fine - although some of them (and the know who they are) are just too good looking (makes Gimli look rather bad in LOTR what happened to him).   The dwarf comedy is also a bit blunted by knowing what will happen to several of them in The Hobbit and LOTR, 

I have yet to find the textual authority for the whole Witch King of Angmar and Morgul blade reference.  In Appendix A after his defeat and pursuit by Glorfindel the Witch-King is said to have 'passed into the shadows.  For night came down on the battlefield and he was lost, and none saw whither he went.' (LOTR, p.1069). 
The White Council scene was good and liked the use of  Osanwe-kenta (telepathy* between Galadriel and Gandalf - Galadriel walked around with a sense that she knew or suspected more than she was saying,  Is it really 400 years of peace at this point.  Need to check chronologies on this the year that this event would have taken place is 2941 of The Third Age (so wonder when Elrond is reckoning the peace would have started). 

* noted Tolkien academic and linguist Carl Hostetter has very helpfully advised me that 'the title "Ósanwe-kenta" means "Enquiry [into] (_kenta_) [the] Communication of Thought (_ósanwe_)". So "communication of thought, telepathy" is just _ósanwe_. so the actual act that may be going on btw Galadriel and Gandalf would be called ósanwe- thank you Carl for catching this)

For me, having spent the last year steeped in Tolkien's early languages (and do so for the next three I imagine) the most fun was hearing Orkish being extensively used. 

Given his rather prominent (and recurring) role in the movie I also thought about the etymology of the name AZOG in The Hobbit According to John Rateliff's History of The Hobbit the name might have its origin in Tolkien's Mago/Magol constructed language which is said to have been inspired by Hungarian (and is yet to be published) (Rateliff, 2007, p.787).  

Rateliff also makes the point that there may be a relation between the -AZ- and the word NAZG (Finger Ring) in the Black Speech. I also wonder if there is a relationship between the AZ and the AS in the Black Speech word GHASH meaing 'fire.' Certainly nothing so far in the name to have inspired the color of Azog in the movie but I will continue to search the published language documents. 

Will want to get a transcript of this and analyze.  The Elvish all seemed to make sense from what was being said.  I was trying to figure what was on Elrond's desk in Rivendell, 

Typically Jackson scenes (long panning shots, mufti-player battles and falling rocks - man, he loves falling rocks). Did anyone else think of the 'Rock em sock em robots' when the stone giants came on? 

Love the juxtaposition of the eye that opened the film and the eye that ended it - shadows of the eye to come perhaps?  Must get a dragon kite

Will see many more times for more analysis - overall I really enjoyed.

Blog Archive