The Language of Mythology

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“I wish life was not so short, he thought. Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about.”

J. R. R. Tolkien

Languages

I consider J.R.R. Tolkien to be one of my favourite fiction authors ever since I first read “The Fellowship of the Rings” when I was 15 years old.  I confess that last night I watched the movie “LOTR – The Fellowship of the Ring” until 2:00am, knowing full well that I would have an early morning start.  It was worth it! Tolkien’s love of words and languages was clearly evident even in his early adolescence when he constructed his first language, “Naffarin.”

Languages were to be his life’s work; up until his death in 1973, he continued working on the grammar and vocabulary of 15 Elvish languages.  He created a secret as well as a sign language for the Dwarves and went on to construct languages for Hobbits, Ents, Orcs and even Black Speech for Sauron.  I have often wondered whether he constructed the language for his mythology or whether it was the other way around. The answer comes in the “Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien,”

“The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows.”

What brought me back to Tolkien was a question that has been in the back of my mind ever since my first post on languages.  Will we create new languages in the future?  Perhaps they are now being formed even as we wrestle with the loss of so many of our languages.   The idea of a planned language, which is intentionally invented, as opposed to a natural genesis, is not out of the realm of possibility.  We live in interesting times. As J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote:

“Don’t adventures ever have an end?  I suppose not.  Someone else always has to carry on the story.”

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Professor – On Hobbits

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“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

“Hobbits really are amazing creatures. You can learn all that there is to know about them in a month, and yet after a hundred years, they can still surprise you.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

Water

In 1920, Tolkien was appointed Reader in English Language at Oxford University, marking the beginning of a distinguished academic career. One day, when he was marking examination papers, Tolkien found that a student left one blank page in his answer book.   On impulse, he penned these words on that page: “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit”.  And so began the journey.  J.R.R.Tolkien determined to find out what a Hobbit was, what sort of a hole it lived in and why it lived in a hole.

J.R.R. Tolkien pursued this idea with keen resolve, travelling the time and the world in which Hobbits lived.  He found that Hobbits loved to celebrate life, to seek comfort over adventure, preferring to share a generous meal with a friend, rather than embarking on a strange journey.  Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien’s greatest discovery is captured in his words: “I am in fact, a hobbit in all but size”

Every year, on January 3rd, J.R.R. Tolkien fans from around the world are invited to raise a glass and toast the birthday of this much loved author at 21:00 (9:00 pm) local time. The toast is simply, “The Professor.”

He would want us to continue the adventure…

“Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on on the story.” 
J.R.R. Tolkien

The Professor – On Endings & Beginnings

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“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.” 

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Beginnings always have eager expectancy that something significant will happen.  We revel in adventures that challenge us to leave our comforts behind and take the first tentative step on an unfamiliar pathway; we yearn to be explorers who sail uncharted waters or climb mountains that reach to the heavens.  Instinctively, we know that our lives will, in some way, be changed forever.  Excitement and anticipation become our companions.

Endings bring finality and a profound closure.  We have changed, but so has our world.

Endings bring farewells, the poignant leave-taking.

J.R.R. Tolkien viewed endings as another beginning, as a circle rather than a straight line.   “The Road goes ever on and on…”

 

The Scottish Highlands

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.” 

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

The Professor – On Good & Evil

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“I do not believe this darkness will endure.” 

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Goodness

J.R.R. Tolkien experienced the shadow of evil and the tragedy of death and destruction.  The struggle between good and evil is a recurring theme throughout all of his writings.  Darkness exists in our world.  It is relentless in its need to triumph over good.  J.R.R. Tolkien believed that the essence and nature of evil could not prevail against goodness and decency.  And yet, darkness takes a toll and there are some that will bear the scars forever.

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep…that have taken hold.” – Frodo 

J.R.R. Tolkien

The Professor – On Destiny

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“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
―J.R.R. Tolkien

We plan our lives and take comfort in our security. In the end, however, destiny has a way of choosing our path.  J.R.R. Tolkien recognized that there would be some who would be assigned more difficult and dangerous undertakings.    Destiny does not choose the bravest or the strongest, but the one who is ordained for the task at hand.

We are given a life.  What we must decide is how we will use the time that has been gifted to us.

Sheep Grazing

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” 

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Professor – On Hope

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“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” – Galadriel

“For thus it is spoken: Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”  -Legolas

 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Highlands 

J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings carried the message of hope.  Even when all seemed lost and evil appeared invincible, hope would prevail. Darkness cannot stand against light, even the flame of a small candle.  A spark of courage, a glimmer of valor was all that was needed to hold back the murky shadows.  Many times, bravery comes quietly during the times of great uncertainty, gaining strength when you remember what you love and those who you cherish.

“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?” 

J.R.R. Tolkien