Thursday, August 9, 2012

An Icelandic au pair?

So, not long ago Nancy Marie Brown had an interesting piece on her blog ("Bilbo's Ride through Iceland"*) about Tolkien, Morris, and Iceland. In the comments that followed, one reader included a link to a newspaper clipping from Feb. 28th 1999 that, as summarized in NMB's follow-up post, is a profile of a very old lady (89) named Arndis THorjarnardottir who said that she'd once been an au pair girl in the Tolkien household. What's more, she claimed to have told the Tolkien children stories drawn from Icelandic folklore about trolls turning to stone in daylight which thus, by implication, provided Tolkien's source for that distinctive motif in THE HOBBIT. As I said, I can't read Icelandic, but looking at dates in the piece her stay with the Tolkiens seems to be dated to 1930. Here's the link to the clipping:

and here's Nancy Marie Brown's follow-up post about it:

Two observations:

(1) I'd be very interested in learning more about this story. Best of all would be a translation of the whole thing into English; if anyone knows of one, I'd appreciate being pointed in its direction.

(2) Tolkien had already had the chance to learn all about Icelandic folktales of trolls turning to stone at the first touch of sunlight from Helen Buckhurst's 1926 lecture; see THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT p. 80-82 and H.o.H. rev. ed. p. 110. The stories Buckhurst relates are very much of a piece with the ones NMB retells, confirming that such tales were v. likely Tolkien's source, however he first learned of them.

Finally, a nice bit of collaboration comes in the two photos reprinted in the 1999 newspaper article. One is identical with that published on p. 55 of THE TOLKIEN FAMILY ALBUM (Tolkien and toddler Priscilla), while the other was obviously taken at the same time as the picture on the facing page of the FAMILY ALBUM, except that the Icelandic newpaper's picture has Edith, all four children, and another woman (presumably Arndis), while the FAMILY ALBUM version has Edith, the children, and JRRT. The two photos, though not identical, were obviously taken at the same occasion (check the white tea-pot as a confirming detail). I conclude it's v. likely JRRT took the version appearing in the newpaper and Arndis the FAMILY ALBUM one. The FAMILY ALBUM photo of JRRT and Priscilla is dated there "Summer 1930", while the group shot is captioned "Family party, 20 Northmoor Road, March 1930" -- that is, mere months before the likely start date of JRRT's work on THE HOBBIT.

All in all, an interesting discovery.

--John R.

--check the seventh comment for the link to the 1999 piece.


Morgan Thomsen said...

Perhaps you have already found this through google, but here is a detailed summary (although not a translation) in English of the article:

The interview is also mentioned in this thread a couple of times (which contains posts by Hammond and Scull, among others):

JL said...

The summary is in fact almost a translation, if you compare it to what Google Translate has to offer (I must say I'm impressed ... Icelandic, wow! But you need the summary to make sense of certain parts):

Foster child from Iceland and the Tolkien family

For nearly 70 years, stepped Arndís Thorbjarnardottir, a doctor's daughter from the town of, for skipsfjöl in Edinburgh and was one of the train south to Oxford. This station received its author and scholar may, JRR Tolkien and greeted her in Icelandic. Arndís was already saved in a Tolkien-wife to take care of their four children, while Tolkien flirted with a practice in speaking Icelandic by the Icelandic nanny in the home. In an interview with Linda Ásdís Arndís daughter describes his service with Tolkien-married couples.

MOST, we read "The Hobbit" and even "Lord of the Rings" and all we have heard something about lining adventure, world-famous author JRR Tolkien. But we are able to know that his former foster children living in Selfoss. When I heard this I could hardly wait to get to meet her and hear her story. Arndís a gentle woman and not one to boast of herself, but she had tilleiðast to meet me when she heard my enthusiasm. So one gray drizzly I sit in a warm kitchen and get her to ask her questions. She is the daughter of a doctor from the town of, born in 1910. in those days was not possible to drive from there to Reykjavik and educated people were the only doctor, priest and teacher of children. When Arndís called Adda, went to the capital with one of the "waterfalls"; then 15 years old, she was a week on the road with all concerned. She graduated from the Women's College of Reykjavik 17 years old and teaches in the town in two years. Then lay the way out in the big world. It was the beginning of 1930 to Adda came from skipsfjöl in Edinburgh and was one of the train to Oxford, where four children Tolkien-wife awaits her. Tolkien managed to tip the railway stations and greeted her in Icelandic. Now Arndís is already high níræðisaldur. She and Martin, her husband, have two children and one grandchild. With pleasure she recalls their stay at home Tolkien and refined attitude reminded her of the dignity that has characterized England's aldir.

Hvernig came to you started to fit children Tolkien? "Before I was created to be two girls; Áslaug and Rúna from Flensburg. Áslaug was my classmate in the young woman and she was one and a half years with them. This approaching what is called "au -pair," but not. We had no vacation, we were just one of the family as a kid. I was with kids all the time. There were four guys and the youngest in the second year. The professor was very easy one, beloved, he loved nature, trees and vegetation. As an example, there was a concrete tennis court on the field at the house where they had just bought, and he started to rip it and put the grass instead. The couple were fashioned for innovation. For example, they found it quite ridiculous that the people who bought their old house began to put the center of it. They were both agreed on this. Lady was very nice of flowers and had a big BEd house the middle of the courtyard with all possible plants. She was still in the spring to go over the old house that they had sold the winter ahead, to take entire plants. I thought it was terribly funny. "Fan lingers with me."

JL said...

(Part 2 for excessive length):

This case report is thus a better profession for the love flowers and plants and to write letters. They wrote that lifandis very ... "Arndís had to pull up their old album with pictures from Oxford and the pages are small Homemade Christmas cards from the sons of Tolkien. It shows a picture of the snazzy house the family was just moved into. The old house was next to the house. "The oldest boy, Johnny, who became 14 years old, had to get a private room. There was "nurseríið" which was playing living kids and kind of living room where you went to just. So the dining room where everyone sat at the table at once. There was good húshald and order in everything but the lady had a hard-tempered, it lynti not people and thought ill of it. " And there heavier rómurinn the tip slightly, but it continues. "Maid came in the morning and did the cleaning. I was always there in the morning and never came near the kitchen, lady has ever seen it, but she was bathing the little girl in the morning and dressed and then I took. "But why would they necessarily Icelandic girls?" Tolkien was Nordic expert Icelandic and talked a bit and intention was to use these Icelandic girls to talk to transit if they were to learn English. But I soon found that there was very little of it that we spoke Icelandic together. Frúin became jealous if we made something She did not. It was not bad to me or something but never became my friend. It took me always as a teenager that had to fit. She taught me many things. maid pússaði always copper barrier and caught well Frontdoor, but that ran out of supplies and the girl was struck a month and it was beginning to become dirty. I saw this and began to wash threshold. Then the lady, Edith, and said, fan, that you must not do. Do not let people see you, that have us, are the work of the work wife does. " It was very stéttaskipting and especially in Oxford, but in those years was so Haad. Professors were like a nation of their own.

There were very few visitors JTolkien-married people. Once was a couple who had been vinafólk and then moved to India and were now moving back. They drank only with us in the living room. This couple they had not seen for many years and it was only one cake and rye bread sandwiches! "It can be heard on the point that it felt a little objectionable as five cookie blackness of coffee with her. Was Tolkien will not be given for social life?" Yes, I think he was there, but old baby fosters her mrs. Tolkien, mrs. Gro, very lovely person, told me that it had been terribly strong opposition to respect the couple and tried to split up the pieces but failed. They really structures to get married and start creating. Edith was not suitable for him, she had no substance and he had no substance. He was poor but the Catholics helped him in school. Mrs. Tolkien was not college life, but had grown up in Birmingham as him. They were so young ... But they have always done, although they should not all common. Miss Gro told me that Edith would ever migraine attack when háskólahátíð was supposed to be, this has been something ... nervous system and thus thought it on. It may well be that she has not found within the college crowd. She was terribly high up in the air during the day, I do not know what she did, whether it was for. She studied the piano and felt very good about the time that she married. She was organist at the church. There was little stasis living in the house that never was gone and there was a piano, but Edith never touched it. None of the kids learn how to play. If Tolkien returned tips lay not in the master bedroom.

Troels said...

I think that, with respect to Tolkien's narrator's comment in The Hobbit that the audience probably knows that trolls turns to stone when out in sunlight, the important bit is not so much if and from where Tolkien himself knew about Icelandic trolls, but rather whether and whence his original audience, his own children, knew about this.

Here Arndís tale may tell us that Tolkien was indeed very reasonable in expecting his audience to know this detail; at least with respect to the original audience.

Troels said...

Oh, and something more: if indeed the comment in The Hobbit presupposes knowledge imparted by the Icelandic au pairs to the Tolkien home, then this would be an additional indication for putting a lower bound on the date of composition of this part of the story.