Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Medvedev the Beorning

So, yesterday's post about bumblebees reminded me of one point I forgot to mention, that the genus name for bumblebees is BOMBUS. I've always wondered if this might have been an element in Bombadil's name, but never followed up on it because I can't see the application.

However, thinking about Tolkienesque names reminded me of the amusement and sympathy I felt when watching the last debate as the two exhausted candidates struggling to both remember and then pronounce the name of the new Russian president who's replacing Putin. When I saw his name in print a few days later I at once realized we now, for the first time so far as I am aware, have a world leader who shares a surname with one of Tolkien's characters.* For 'Medvedev' is simply 'Medved' + the nominclative suffix '-ev', and 'Medved' is just a slightly different spelling of MEDWED. And Medwed is, of course, the original name of the character now more familiar as BEORN. Medwed's appearance in the draft of THE HOBBIT marked one of the very rare usages of a Slavic name by Tolkien, and Medved+ev is a pretty good parallel to Beorn+ing, the name applied in latter days for 'the people of Beorn'.


*I know one of the Sackvilles was pretty prominent in English politics back in Elizabeth's days, being in what we wd call her cabinet, but he never rose to head of state.


Jason Fisher said...

[...] the genus name for bumblebees is BOMBUS. I've always wondered if this might have been an element in Bombadil's name, but never followed up on it because I can't see the application.

It could be! Rather like Rowling's Professor Dumbledore, whose name means the same thing.

I have wondered whether Bombadil's name, like Bombur's, might contain ON bumba "drum". And he was originally a Dutch doll, wasn't he? Dutch bomme is "drum" also. He's very musical, of course. And when Bombadil rescues the Hobbits from the barrow, "the dark chamber echoed as if to drum and trumpet" (emphasis added). It could be mere coincidence, I know, and the name predates this passage by many years.

Some might question a Norse- or Germanic-style name for him, considering his location in the west of Middle-earth, but on the other hand, we have to remember that the comical character of Tom Bombadil predates most of its creation, springing instead out of some earlier paracosm of childhood. I haven't taken the time to look for clues in the original poems, though I've meant to.

Mark Hooker also has an interesting — and entirely different — theory about his name.

Unknown said...

I always wondered if the Sackville-Bagginses had something of a relation in Vita Sackville-West of the Bloomsbury Group (and alleged inspiration for V. Woolf's ORLANDO). Know anything on that, John (or others)?

John D. Rateliff said...

Jason, yes, dumbledores appear in "Errantry" [circa 1932?]:

"He battled with the Dumbledors,
the Hummerhorns, and Honeybees,
and won the Golden Honeycomb;
and running home on sunny seas..."

--an appropriately silly analogue to Jason's Golden Fleece--

and they may also lie behind the "golden honey-flies" of "Goblin Feet" [1915]

what was Mark Hooker's theory? I'd be glad to know it.

it's possible that Tolkien took the name from Sackville-West (supposed to be the inspiration for Virginia Woolf's ORLANDO), though Tolkien's lack of interest in Modernism complicates that theory. Or it may have come from Sir Thomas Sackville, Queen Elizabeth's Lord High Treasurer and co-author of one of the earliest Elizabethan plays, GORBODUC [1562] (which I must confess I've never read) and of The Induction to THE MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES [1563], which is an amazing piece of work. At any rate, the basis point is to get the SACK vs. BAG joke in there.
Oddly enough, the original form of the name in the HOBBIT manuscript was ALLIBONE-BAGGINS, so the characters were not inspired by some historical Sackville(s), wherever the final name came from.

--John R.

Jason Fisher said...

John, Mark’s thoughts are not yet published, so I’ll send you an email privately rather than enumerate them here.