Monday, April 28, 2014

Fragments from Wednesday's Discussion

There were a few threads left from Wednesday’s discussion which I was interested in and into which we did not delve.  I’ve tried to touch upon them:

Creative Power of Language

            Tolkien knew of the power languages needed to have.  He knew that he needed to imbue his languages with their own historical narratives.  In his letter to Mister Rang, Tolkien is quite impatient with those who seem to lack the understanding that the words of the languages of his works have the same qualities as the words of any natural, that is not constructed, language.  These qualities are two-fold: words must be created for a purpose and the purpose of words is to create.
            Though, just because the languages of Tolkien’s works are invented, those languages are not living.  In the end of Tolkien’s letter to Richard Jeffery, he insists that the Elvish languages are indeed living and, as such, will contain words whose origins are just as murky as those we see today in English.  They need only have been created for the purpose of creation.
            Beyond the creation of ideas and praise and a whole host of other abstract concepts, language has the power to create the physical.  Even beyond the music of the Valar, there is power in the sounds of language.  As Frodo listens to the folk of Rivendell sing of Earendil, a very curious series of events happens.  The sounds of the language and the song hold him in a “spell”.  When the song finally becomes enchantment, Frodo’s senses become detached from what he would recognize as his primary reality.  As far as Frodo was concerned, the elves did create the gold and the silver that flowed over him like a river, for that is what he felt.  His primary reality became separated from the others might have seen as Frodo’s primary reality.  The beginning of a song created something new, even though its words were unintelligible to him.
            One simple line of reasoning might be that the creative power of the elven language is derived from the music of the Valar.  We know that Valar create music and world together.  And, as we discussed in class, sounds are the basic unit through which language is transported.  Thus, the language of the Valar contains the music of the Valar and its constructive powers.  We know that elves learned their first language from the Valar, and while the current elven languages may not resemble what is spoken by the Valar, the sounds may still be the same sounds.  The music of elven languages may be music of Valar, albeit weakened.
            I imagine we will delve more deeply into the creative power of language and music in Monday’s discussion.

The Source of Languages and Creation

            I had wished we had covered what was said during night 67 of the Notion Club Papers.  After the story of the Fall of Númenor was said aloud there was a great storm with powerful winds and unyielding rain.  The members of the Notion Club were holed up for three hours while the greatest storm of the past 100 years raged outside.  At the end of the record of the night, Ramer says to Nick a curious thing:

            ‘Well, I have an odd feeling, Nick, or suspicion, that we may all have been helping to stir something up. If not out of history at any rate out of a very powerful world of imagination and memory.  Jeremy would say “perhaps out of both”. I wonder if we may not find ourselves in other and worse dangers.’

            We find ourselves wondering again about power of languages.  The story was told only after Jeremy woke from what seemed to be a trance.  He was still and silent before he spoke.  While the most likely explanation was that he was simply trying to recall the story, there is allusion to another possibility.  The manner in which Jeremy began to speak, suddenly and with great passion, implies that he was not struggling to recall some minor details, but that the story came to him in full, as if the story had just been unlocked in his brain by someone or something.  This is not an altogether ridiculous idea.  During Lowdham’s dreams, he is gifted with a great number of artifacts whose origin is not known to him.  These things just come to him.  And if such things could come to Lowdham, then why not to Jeremy?  And if they can come during a dream, then why not during still silence?
            Could Jeremy’s story have had the power to fuel the storm?  Even if this was the case, there are only more questions to be asked about the powers of language.  If Jeremy were given the story out of memory or imagination in English as he said it, then this would seem to imply that there is power in the ideas conveyed through language.  However, if he were given the story by someone or something else, the originator of the story might be the source of such power.  (There are interesting theological questions wrapped up in this one.  Does the prophet have power because he speaks the word of a god or because he speaks the ideas given by a god?  Or perhaps because people simply believe?)
            On the other hand, if Jeremy did not receive the story in English, there seems to be more evidence that the language itself has the power.  If the story were received in what is a “true language”, or perhaps a divine language, then the expression of the thoughts conveyed in that language might be what is powerful.  If the story is ever repeated by those who heard it, there will not be the same power because the story was not conveyed in the language of power to those who heard it.

The Ents

            We are given the sources nearly every language spoke.  However, there is no reference to the origin of old Entish.  We are told in the Two Towers that elves “cured [the ends] of dumbness”, but they did not teach the Ents their language.  This is consistent with what is said in Appendix F.  In fact, the Eldar could not master Old Entish, and so it seems as if their language is completely foreign to the Elves.  So little is written of the Ents that we might have to take the Tom Bombadil route: wild speculation because we are never going to get any answers.



  1. DCT,

    I'm glad that you brought up the Ents! I think they add a very interesting dynamic to Wednesday's discussion. While the mystery of the Ents' etymological history is perplexing, I think the far more interesting aspect of their language in this regard is its defining characteristics. It is very easy to recall that the Ents have a very longwinded dialect. It is never too "hasty". But also in book III chapter IV of the Lord of the Rings, treebeard is describing his language and says, "Real names tell you he story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish you might say." He goes on to explain that this is the reason that it takes so long to speak in Entish, because all names are simply a history. I find this passage astounding considering our discussion on Wednesday. As we concluded, names can serve the place of adjectives and carry stories with them. Our exemplars of this were Aragorn with his many facets and Gandalf. But I think this look at Entish brings another aspect to the discussion. Ents believe that names bear the responsibility of telling the entire history of a thing. Any thoughts on what this means?

    Steven Vincent

  2. Hi DCT~
    I found the idea of "relative primary reality in the secondary reality" very interesting. Our secondary reality is the characters' primary reality, but if the characters share so many similar traits with us, they should also have the same need of sub-creation, which we have seen in their languages, poetry, crafts and so many more. But do they have the same need of Fantasy as well? Specifically, do Elves, who are especially good at creation, ever write fantasies? Do they need fantasies? Or in general, will characters in a Fantasy need a Fantasy just like we do? What would be a Fantasy to them? If exist, how will an Elvish Fantasy look/sound like? In your example, the Elves seem to create a Fantasy for Frodo, one that is powerful enough to "intrude" into Frodo's primary reality. Is it also Fantasy to the Elvish singers? Or is it just a part of their primary reality? These were actually questions for one of my ideas for the final project, but I could not find an answer to them...Perhaps "perception" questions as such cannot have a definite answer and hence are not very useful...
    I also like the idea that Elvish inherits some power from the Valarian, which I think corresponds well to the "Splintered Light" theory. I found myself wondering about the nature of this world going on this train of thought: does the idea that "the sounds may still be the same sounds" implies a matching between a "true name" and the object described? That the object will come into being of some sort when the true name is vocalized? In Frodo's case, we can say that he confuses the primary reality with the song because the rivers do no actually spring into existence (as it might be if it is the Higher Beings who are singing...?) But what is the primary reality to someone? Should it be defined as sensations? Or is there a relatively objective standard for all beings co-existing? Would there be a distinction between primary and secondary reality to the Higher Beings.....? ...Um I think I am going on the dangerous track of skepticism and probably should brake it from here....

  3. While I do believe that the Elvish languages are alive now considering that they have a considerable number of speakers, I do take issue with Tolkien’s assertion that they were alive as much as any other language when he was writing that letter. Yes, the languages did change, and yes, Mr. Tolkien was an excellent linguist who understood how languages evolved. But the fact of the matter is, Tolkien was the only person altering the language. Yes, he was trying to do it as organically as possible, but oftentimes languages evolve due to children. When children do not understand an aspect of a language, that is usually when the language begins to morph and become truly alive. The Elvish languages only had one man pulling at the strings and though they were changing as Tolkien intended them to, it could never be quite as organic as a truly natural language. Sure, it may have bizarre unexplained peculiarities, but when those peculiarities are carefully calculated by a single man crafting a language, I really question how alive that language is.

    -N. Lurquin