Tuesday 5 August 2014

Lord of the Rings - significance of the first and last words

Although JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (LotR) is classified as a fiction, it not meant to be read as such - and this is clear from its first and last words.


The first words - from the Prologue: Concerning Hobbits  - are:

This book is largely concerned with Hobbits, and from its pages a reader may discover much of their character and a little of their history.  Further information will also be found in the selection from the Red Book of Westmarch that has already been published, under the title of The Hobbit.  That story was derived from the earlier chapters of the Red Book, composed by Bilbo himself, the first Hobbit to become famous in the world at large, and called by him There and Back Again, since they told of his journey into the East and his return:  an adventure which later involved all the Hobbits in the great events of that Age that are here related. 


The last words, from Appendix F: The languages and peoples of the Third Age, are:

It must be observed, however, that when the Oldbucks (Zaragamba) changed their name to Brandybuck (Brandagamba), the first element meant 'borderland, and Marchbuck would have been nearer. Only a very bod hobbit would have ventured to call the Master of Buckland Braldagamba in his hearing.  


What are we to make of this?

1. LotR is principally about hobbits - hobbits begin it, and hobbits end it.

2. LotR is presented as a factual history - it opens with background information concerning the the textual origin of LotR. It closes with a description of the historical languages from which the Lord of the Rings has been translated. 

3. LotR is a profoundly philological work. 

The first paragraph is concerned with textual sources. The last paragraph is a philological joke -the previous paragraph explains that the translation of the word Brandywine in Brandywine River refers to an habitual hobbit jest that changed its original name of 'Branda-nin' meaning border water, to 'Bralda-him' meaning 'heady ale' - so that to call the Master of Buckland 'Braldagamba' would be to suggest that he was drunk. 


In sum, we may conclude from just its opening and closing paragraphs that The Lord of the Rings is a philologically-inspired feigned-history focused on hobbits - which is, of course is exactly what Tolkien said it was!


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