Impendix II: The Isles of Light and the Keepers

I had intended to put up a new Impendix every week; but I have been otherwise occupied. Quite suddenly, without much premeditation, the Beloved Other and I have found a new flat that is larger and more congenial to us than the place where I have been living these last seven years. Nearly all of my books and papers are packed in boxes now, some in the new place, some waiting for the movers’ van. Today is the first day that I have had much leisure to give to the promised project, and accordingly I spent some time jotting these notes from memory.


In Färinor, as mentioned previously, apart from starlight, the only important source of light was in the Isles of Light in the midst of the central ocean. It was there that the Maker installed his bright children, the Díoni (the word actually means ‘bright children’ or ‘bright scions’ in the Fair Tongue), to tend his creation, to keep the Light, and to complete the world to its finest details – as the architect of a cathedral will employ carvers of stone and workers in stained glass.

The habitations of the Díoni were scattered widely among the Isles, but they settled most thickly on the islands nearest to Alenna, the midmost, where grew Ynd Urenn, the Tree of the World. It was said that the roots of Ynd Urenn grew all through the deep places of the earth, keeping the lands in their hold, protecting the rock that sustained them. It was also said, though more doubtfully, that the Tree sent unseen tendrils into the upper airs, where they touched the dome of the sky and mingled their life with the light of the turning stars. The especial task of tending Ynd Urenn was given to one of the Díoni, Lysana, who was called the White Queen. None of the Díoni made any lasting dwelling upon Alenna, but the house of the Queen was on the isle nearest to its shores, and she came there more often than any of her people. [Read more…]

Éala Éarendel: A study in names

A meditation on words, slightly late, but suited for Eastertide. Any howling errors herein are wholly my own; though I reserve the right to be an intellectual coward, and blame them on my recent concussion.


 

There is no such thing as an expert on language. There are experts on individual languages, and experts on different aspects of language as a phenomenon; but the field of language as a whole is, and always has been, far too large for anyone to adequately survey in a human lifetime. Tolkien came as near it as almost anyone: he was intimately familiar with the whole 1,500-year history of English, plus Old Norse, Latin, and classical Greek, and had a firm working knowledge of German, French, Spanish, Welsh, Irish, Hebrew, and several other languages, including the latest reconstructions of Proto-Indo-European. Yet he wrote, with perfect sincerity, to Fr. Robert Murray: ‘I am in no ordinary sense a “linguist”’. He understood better than most professional linguists the internal workings of language, but he also had a sound knowledge of his own limitations.

It may be unfair to compare Tolkien with Noam Chomsky, who does unabashedly call himself a linguist, and is often regarded by his younger colleagues in the field as the linguist. Unfair, but for my present purpose, necessary. Chomsky does not show any signs of great familiarity with any language but English. He attempts to lay down ‘universal’ rules of grammar, but his universals, when closely examined, tend to be disturbingly parochial. [Read more…]