Back Next

With all the J.R.R. Tolkien and "Lord of the Rings" interest of late ("Rings" was written by Tolkien in 1955), I might mention my favorite Tolkien story, which might or might not enhance your movie-going.

First, I must admit that I'm not personally that enthralled with Tolkien's writing. I don't have a reason, I simply find it boring. However, as I've had an interest in the Old English language for many years, Tolkien is impossible to avoid.

For those that might never have been exposed to this topic, Old English was the language current in England from the 5th to the beginning of the 12th century. It has a general relationship to Modern English but is a totally foreign language to most people. Tolkien was among the greatest authorities on Old English and the English language generally, and even though he's been dead since 1973 many an Old English academic discussion, reduced to its essentials, amounts to,

"And then Professor Tolkien said ..."

It's fairly easy to imagine that at least part of the inspiration for his writings came from the dreary mythological tales of which our long-past ancestors were so fond.

In any event, Tolkien's book, "The Hobbit" was published in 1937. It pioneered the fantasy literature not only of his own later years but also countless science fiction/fantasy writers ever since. In his book, Tolkien, who was part of that school of thought addicted to the absolute correctness of language, used "dwarves" as the plural of "dwarf," which is not technically correct even though it has crept into accepted usage over the years (the "correct" form is "dwarfs)."

Tolkien was criticized for using a plural that was not in the Oxford English Dictionary, which then (as now) is usually considered the final authority on such matters, particularly among those who count "correctness" as a virtue.

Much injured at this criticism, Professor Tolkien's response, in true professorial manner, was essentially,

"I wrote the dictionary."

He was, in fact, one of the editors.

----------------A Final Thought ...

"Poetry is either something that lives like fire inside you--like music to the musician or Marxism to the Communist--or else it is nothing, an empty formalized bore around which pedants can endlessly drone their notes and explanations."

- F. Scott Fitzgerald (18961940), U.S. author