Saturday, 29 January 2011

Langon - The Mouth of Melko - Some Etymological Detective Work

In a recent post to the Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza, Jason Fisher did an excellent piece on hapax legomenon in The Lord of the Rings, words that only appear once. I've been thinking about a similar exploration for names that only appear once in The History of Middle Earth and have found my first candidate.

In the Book of Lost Tales I, in Meril-i-Turnqui's tale to Eriol of "Melko's Chains" we hear of the great assault on Melko in his fortress by the
Valar lead by Manwe, Orome and Tulkas. When Melko hears Manwe's command to come forth he does not but...

"he would not come, but sent Langon his servant and said by him that...." (Lost Tales 1, p 102)

The name leapt out at me as he is one of the first named servants of Melko we hear about (long before Sauron) I wondered where this name and character came from. A check of the main HOME index indicates this is the only time in the entire legendarium that this servant of Melko is mentioned - so a true hapax legomenon.

The key to his name is the "said by him that...." Langon is essentially the voice of Melko.

But whence the name???

In the i Lam na Ngoldathon (The Gnomish Grammar and Lexicon 1917) developed by Tolkien in concert with The Book of Lost Tales (and published as Parma Eldalamberon XI) there are two revealing entries:

-LANG- to blare, clang, ring
-LANGON- great bell

(P.E. XI, p. 52)

So perhaps the name has something to do with Langon "blaring forth" Melko's message of "behold he was rejoiced and in wonder...." (Lost Tales I, p. 102)

But a more compelling case, and indeed perhaps in this case it was nature of the character which influenced the etymological development of the word, comes later in The Etymologies with this passage -

LANK - Quenya lamba throat, N lhame [The Stem was first written LANG, with derivatives, Q langa (*langwi), N lhang,, see LAK" (Lost Road, p. 367)

LAK - swallow, Q lambo throat (Lost Road, p. 367)

And in the Quenya corpus this word and meaning is found in the Quenya poem Earendel which was published by Christopher Tolkien in the essay A Secret Vice in Monsters and Critics

" San ninqeruvisse lútier
kiryasse Earendil or vea,
ar laiqali linqi falmari
langon veakiryo kírier;

Then upon a white horse sailed Earendel, upon a ship upon the sea, and the green wet waves the throat of the sea-ship clove. (MC, p. 216)

So Langon indeed is the mouth/voice/throat of Melko and while this early servant of Melko is not mentioned again in the legendarium - his actual role in this case may have influenced the development of this word and its place in the Quenya lexicon and corpus

Langon also reminds us of a later Mouth - namely the Mouth of Sauron

"At its head there rode a tall and evil shape, mounted upon a black horse… The rider was robed all in black, and black was his lofty helm; yet this was no Ringwraith, but a living man. The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr he was, and his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: 'I am the Mouth of Sauron" (Return of the King, The Black Gate Opens)

It is interesting in both the cases of Langon and the later unnamed "Mouth of Sauron" we know very little about them. in The War of the Ring we learn a few details about who the Mouth of Sauron might have been (War, p. 431) but no full biography and no name.

So perhaps when Tolkien was developing this Emissary of pure evil in The Lord of the Rings he thought back to this earlier servant Langon - the long forgotten voice of the first Dark Lord?


John Garth said...

There may be a literary link, too, between the two senses of the Elvish words. Bells were often described as "deep-throated", as you will find from Google, by authors including Rider Haggard, one of Tolkien's early favourites. I suppose the underlying image is of the bell as a mouth/throat with the clapper as a tongue. Perhaps Tolkien had that image in mind when he was developing the later sense of the Elvish words.

Andrew Higgins said...


Thanks for your comments. Very interesting and I am currenty digging into authors like Rider Haggard who had an early influence on Tolkien.

Best, Andy

Jason Fisher said...

Andy, it sounds to me like you’ve put your finger right on it. I was also going to suggest the same connection between the two senses that John did — though in a more general way; I had not searched out this use in any specific authors.

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