Sunday 27 March 2011

-Turambar and the Foaloke - Etymological Archaeology

In honour of Tolkien Reading Day (which for me has become a Tolkien Reading Weekend), this posting is based on my current re-read I am doing with a group called The Tolk-Lings whose objective is to read the entire 12 volume History of Middle Earth - one chapter a week (anyone can join along!). We are now in the heart of the great epic tales that make up the second book of Lost Tales around Beren, Turin and the Fall of Gondolin.

In the course of this re-read I am paying very close attention to what I am calling "etymological archaeology" that is a structured examination of the very earliest strata of Tolkien's linguistic development of the languages that form the great languages (Quenya, Sindarin, etc) of the legendarium. Along with the re-read I am also casting a foresnic eye on the two accompanying works - The Qenyaqetsa and The Gnomish Lexicon both published through the excellent linguistic journals Parma Eldalamberon by the Elvish Lingustic Fellowship.

This week what struck me in the re-read of Lost Tales 2 -Turambar and the Foaloke - the earliest version of the Turin story that would later become the great epic works of Turin Turambar - was in a passage given by Christopher Tolkien in the notes to the chapter. Christopher writes that in the notes for the original story, he was able to decipher a pencil outline for a very early version of the Turin story that was NOT erased (one of the few cases when Tolkien did not erase the pencil layer!) -

"Tiranne and Vainoni fall in with the evil magician Kuruki who gives them a baneful drink. They forget their names and wander distraught in the woods. Vainoni is lost. She meets Turambar who saves her from Orcs and aids in search for her mother." (History of Middle Earth, Lost Tales 2, p.138)

Christopher calls this unerased pencil version "a layer in the Turin saga older even than the erased text underlying the extant version." We know that Tolkien began work on Turambar and the Foaloke in 1917.

In this pencil passage we have three names that do not survive into the finalized version of Turambar or any of the later works and thus are of interest from an archaeological etymology point of view. In the notes, Christopher makes parallels from the penciled names to the final ones in Turambar and the Foaloke:

Tiranne - Mavwin (Mother of Turin later Morwen)

Vainoni - Nienori (sister of Turin)

Kuruki - possibly the dragon Glorund/Glauring

(Lost Tales 2, p.139)

The sources of two of these names - Vainoni and Kuruki - do appear in another very early work of Tolkien based on his study and love of the Finnish National Epic The Kalevala. Thanks to the excellent work of Tolkien Scholar Verlyn Flieger we now have Tolkien's original story of Kullervo from 1914 and his essay on the Kalevala (found in Tolkien Studies 7). Flieger writes in her introduction how it was Tolkien's very focus on turning one of the stories from the Kalevala (Runos 31-36 Kullervo) into "a short story somewhat on the lines of Morris romances which chunks of poetry in between" (Flieger, p.211). Tolkien considered this work the very germ of the Silmarillion and it later became the basis for the story of Turin Turambar.

Through a combination of encountering the Kalevala (in Kirby's English translation of 1911) and finding a copy of C.N. Elliot's Finnish Grammar Tolkien became absorbed by study of the Finnish language and myth - indeed the very notebook that Tolkien started to use to sketch a Germanic/Gothic based language became the same note book that he sketched the more Finnish based "Qenya" language - one of the two key languages in the early parts of the legendarium (Parma 12, ix-x)

But before working on an original story based on Kullervo (which became Turin)- Tolkien rewrote the legend of Kullervo from the Kalevala - developing his own story with new characters (including a pre-Huan dog companion called Musta (A good Finnish name for a dog Blacky) and inventing new names for the characters. Flieger makes a note that some of these names echo or prefigure Tolkien's earliest efforts at his invented language - Qenya (Flieger, p.213).

So back to those three names from the early penciled version of Turin and the Foaloke


It is in Tolkien's retelling/reconstruction of Kullervo that we first find the name KURUKI (the evil magician). There is a list of names that accompanies the work that includes the names - KURUWANYO, KURU - The great black river of death. The notes for this indicate that Tolkien may have formed this name from the Finnish word for death - KUOLEMA (Flieger, p.244) Interestingly, there is a Finnish play called Kuolema written in 1903 by Arvid Jamefelt which has incidental music by the writers brother in law Jean Sibelius which is about death visiting a home. The word comes into the Qenya Lexicon where we find Tolkien has transformed the root of this word KURU to mean magic or wizardry with the name KURUVAR meaning wizard (PE 11, p.28). It also has associations with sin, wickedness and evil (CURDHU). Later in The Etymologies, this root KUR becomes "craft Q. KURWE craft, N CURW, CURU; CURUNIR wizard; cf Curufin, CF N CRUM, wile guile, CORW cunning, wily (Lost Road, p. 366) Interestingly there is an added entry "N CRUM was rejected; see KURUM" Lost Road, p. 366). KURUM is glossed as "N. CRUM the left hand, CRUM left, CRUMI left-handed Could there be an association one can draw between crafty, cunning and left-handiness - the idea of the left having a slightly sinister side (as in the very Latin word for left SINISTER and those nuns who used to whack left handed writers till they changed to their right hand?). So in its possible Finnish origin and its later early Qenya association we see Tolkien combining the idea of death (which indeed is what the "baneful drink" ultimately does for Turambar and Vainoni) and the idea of wizardry and cunning. Later of course the Istari Curunir (Saruman) is bound up very much with both evil and death.


The early pencilled version of Turin Turambar's sister Nienor/Niniel whose name means "mourning" or "tear maiden" Vainoni is close to the name Tolkien's uses in his original tale of Kullervo - WANONA (once mentioned as WANORA) which is a name of Tolkien's own creation - in the original Kalevala the sister in not named. Another suggestion of "water" might be in the Elvish stem of the name VAI - which is the name of the outer ocean - but that might be a bit of a stretch. In the Gnomish Lexicon, there are several words with the root GWAN meaning beautiful, fair and there is GWANN who is glossed as a Valsi of dancing, joy, spring, life and beauty (PE 11, p.44) - quite an ironic potential source for a character who meets such a tragic end.


An elusive name that does not appear in any of the early Finnish works. Tiranne is the name for the mother who would later become Mavwin in Turambar and the Foaloke and in later versions Morwen (dark hair and tall - with the MOR the root for dark). This is a tricky one to source. In both the Qenya and Gnomish Lexicons the root TIRI is associated with watching, looking for, looking out for (PE 12, p.71) and one can certainly argue that Tiranne/Mavwin/Morwen spends a lot of her time waiting and watching for her husband, Urin/Hurin, who was captured in battle by Melkor as well as waiting for her son Turin. I have yet to find a link with this in Finnish. Tirana is the capital of Albania and I have yet to find any connections here!

So here we have three examples of names Tolkien constructed based on his very early work with the Kalevala and his love of Finnish - not just translating the Kalevala but using the phonology of Finnish and his "elvish craft" to construct new names - names that later found there way into the early versions of his legendarium. Luckily due to Tolkien not putting the eraser to this very early strata of the Turin story we are able to see some of his earliest thoughts and influences on the development of the legendarium - and I will be keeping a "Gwahir" eye on other ones throughout this study of The History of Middle Earth.

Sources Used:

Tolkien, J.R.R. The History of Middle Earth (volume 1) HarperCollins: 2002

Parma Eldalamberon XI - Tolkien J.R.R - The Grammer and Lexicon of the Gnomish Tongue The Tolkien Trust:1995

Parma Eldalamberon XII - Tolkien, J.R.R - Quenyaqetsa - The Qenya Phonology and Lexicon - The Tolkien Trust: 1998

The Story of Kullervo and Essays on the Kalevala by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Verlyn Flieger) in Tolkien Studies Volume 7, West Virgina University: 2010

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