Sunday, March 17, 2013

The New Arrival (VT.50)

So, the same day we returned home from the trip, the newest Tolkien-related publication arrived: issue number fifty of Vinyar Tengwar. This now-venerable Tolkien linguistic journal (the first issue having been printed back in the eighties*) some time back morphed into being a venue for printing minor (i.e., relatively brief) primary texts by Tolkien, in conjunction with Parma Eldalamberon, which similarly prints major (longer) pieces. As such they are specialty publications, often opaque to those of us without formal linguistic training (e.g., in this piece's use of technical terminology like "enclitic conjunction", "spirantized", "deictic construction", "passivizing element", "postvocalic lenition", and the like).** I mainly pick these up to have them for reference, as I often find out elsewhere after the fact that they contain valuable material for the non-specialist.

This particular issue is devoted entirely to "The Turin Wrapper" (not to be confused with the Shroud of Turin***): a page of Elvish written in the (early) 1950s, reproduced both in facsimile and in letter-by-letter transcription, along with over twenty pages of detailed analysis deciphering what Tolkien had written and what it meant. Most of it turns out to be relatively straightforward -- names for Ireland (in Old Irish, Primative Celtic, Modern Irish, Latin), and variant titles for the Turin story. The most interesting part of all, from the point of view of what it tells us about the mythology, is a brief passage in which Rian (Huor's young widow) speaks to her infant son Tuor, something about "What have we done" and now being estranged from the dwarves and the elves (perhaps in a geographical sense, i.e. separated by vast stretches now occupied by hostile forces). With all the work I've been doing recently on changing depictions of the dwarves in the legendarium, this latter was of particular interest to me. Unfortunately, as often proves to be the case w. Tolkien manuscripts, the most interesting parts tend to be the most difficult to read and interpret.

Hostetter has done an amazing piece of work here, carefully distinguishing between the known and the unknown, extrapolation and speculation, with phrases like "inferred by reference" and "recourse to . . . surmise", "unattested" and (my favorite) "of uncertain meaning and opaque derivation".  Despite which he builds a persuasive case for almost the whole of the translations proffered, which is pretty impressive in itself.

That said, it's a tough read for any non-linguist.  Though not without its rewards: the take-away that interested me most was the passing observation that Huorn meant "talking tree" ("orn" = tree, as in Fangorn and Onodrim) and wondering whether making "din" the Elvish word for silence (Amon Din, the Hill of Silence) was a deliberate joke on Tolkien's part or just worked out like that. And, now that I know the speaker's introduction survives from the event in which Tolkien was granted his honorary doctorate in 1954 (VT.50.11), I find myself curious what the man said on that occasion. cx

--John R.
current reading: AN EXPERIMENT IN CRITICISM (CSL), AVILION (Verlyn Flieger)

*September 1988, to be precise. To my astonishment, having just checked my files I find I actually have an almost-complete set, lacking only #49

**i.e., not for the Bertie Woosters of the world

***speaking of which, in other news: habemus papam (or, in the vernacular, We Haz Got Pope)

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