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2013 Abstracts

Languages and Legends: J.R.R. Tolkien as Philologer, Scholar, Author, and Escape-Artist?

Summer Mosgofian-Barry, Dixie State University

English-Secondary Education

Even avid readers of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work may not recognize how extensively his scholarly pursuits and deep knowledge of ancient languages and legends inform his fantasy writing. As a scholar who not only gave new insight into the art of Beowulf, but also as one who proved the existence of a remnant of Old and Middle English untouched by the Norman conquest, he used his mastery of Germanic languages “Old and Middle English, Old Norse, Old Finnish, Welsh” and even his familiarity of Proto-Indo-European vocabulary, to create linguistic and narrative elements in fictional works like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The connections between his scholarly pursuits and the characters and languages he invented, such as those between Anglo-Saxon syntax and mythology and Tolkien’s idealized Anglo-Saxons, the Rohirrim, as well as those connections between Snorri’s Edda and the Elvish language Quenya, clearly demonstrate his acumen as a philologist. In fact, some of Tolkien’s Middle Earth legends were clearly inspired by his extensive knowledge of, and are even modeled after, ancient writings and legends, including Beowulf, The Wanderer, “The Maid of the Moor” and Grendel, while he also utilized kennings like those seen in, again, Beowulf, “Caedmon’s Hymn”, and Snorri’s Edda. This paper looks at multiple, though certainly not all, of Tolkien’s use of early language forms and legends and in doing so, delivers the following conclusion: Tolkien’s extensive scholarly work and love of many languages, as well as his passion for the mythology of those languages, clearly plays an integral part in his fiction.