By Jeremy Edmonds|
A Tolkienian Mathomium
I only recently had time to read this book, though it has been available since 2006. Though this book is billed as "a kind of linguistic compendium for language nuts who love Tolkien" in the Foreword, I think it should have a wider audience than that. I am not a linguist, I don't delve into Elvish (though I'd like to), I had enough trouble in school having to learn bits of different languages (three of them, including living abroad for a year), all promptly forgotten. I do wish I were good with languages, I just don't have the memory for it.
Tolkien built all of Middle-earth as a framework for his invented languages. His love of many languages, his love of language and the written word are embedded in every page of his works. Every word on every page was considered and thoughtfully placed, and careful study is well and richly rewarded. Mark Hooker is very well placed to contribute to Tolkien linguistic scholarship. His book is written in an approachable, easy style that is accessible to the neophyte such as me and rigorously well researched so as to be useful to more serious readers.
A Tolkienian Mathomium takes a unique approach for studying the word-crafting skills of J. R. R. Tolkien. While the casual reader may never notice the slender threads of word-craft and word history that are woven seamlessly together (it seems that every family name, every minor location on the map, every "invented" word has firm foundation in our own history), M. Hooker does a fabulous job of showing just how important these threads are by showing how the text is affected in translation. Some translators get it flat wrong, and the resulting text is mundane and derivative, while talented others manage to capture the spirit of the original and produce new works of art that flatter the original.
The book itself is well referenced (footnotes abound) and has been thoroughly indexed, so I expect this to be a useful source for further research. Perhaps since I am coming from a less scholarly background than the expected audience, there were some minor points left unreferenced that I would have preferred called out, but a little homework never hurts those who truly want to learn. There were some tangential points that I would have loved to read more about, for example, I really want to know how the Dutch word rakker went from historically meaning an assistant bailiff, sheriff or reeve (all authority figures) to meaning a cad, scallywag, or rogue (p. 206). There must be a story worth reading in there...
For the non-academic reader, be prepared to have your vocabulary (or dictionary thumbs) given a good workout. To understand the subtleties of Tolkien's sharp wit some serious study is called for, and this book did an excellent job opening this reader's eyes to a whole new layer of meaning in The Lord of the Rings.
I received the hard-cover edition of the book, which is printed by Lulu.com on demand. It is very well constructed, and should hold up excellently to many readings (as should the contents.)