Saturday 5 June 2021

Was accent did Merry and Pippin have? Who gets it right?

I am going to compare the the best known audio-depictions of Merry and Pippin: the three movies directed by Peter Jackson (on the assumption that it is the director who chooses the accent which actors adopt); the audiobook of Lord of the Rings read by Rob Inglis; and the BBC Radio drama-adaptation by Brian Sibley - directed by Jane Morgan and Penny Leicester.  

In the movie, Merry is given a mild 'Mummerset' accent - which is what actors call the generic West Country rural accent, characterized mainly by an exaggerated 'r' sound. This same West Country accent is adopted in a more extreme 'Ooh Arr*' version by Sam Gamgee, in all the versions here studied. 

Probably to provide a distinguishing contrast, the movie Pippin's accent is mildly Scottish (the actor comes from Glasgow). 

In the audiobook; Rob Inglis gives both Merry and Pippin a Mummerset accent; the two hobbits being distinguished mainly by the timbre and pitch of their voices. 

But in the BBC drama version, Merry and Pippin are given an English upper class accent (with Pippin having a lighter and younger-sounding voice) - and they are depicted as a couple of young 'toffs', rather like PG Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster and Bingo Little of the Drones Club. 

(BTW, the BBC radio actors were Richard O'Callaghan as Merry and John McAndrew as Pippin.)  

And this is the most accurate in terms of Merry and Pippin's very elevated position in the Shire Class system. Pippin is the heir to the Thain, which is the King's representative in the Shire; and therefore the nearest Hobbit equivalent to a young prince. Merry is heir to the Master of Buckland - which is the Shire's semi-autonomous outpost; and therefore something like the heir to a Dukedom. 

At any rate, Merry and Pippin are the two poshest young Hobbits in the whole Shire! 

So, full marks to the BBC Drama for getting it right, and commiserations to the other contestants. 

Note: I was myself raised in the West Country - Devon and Somerset - and can confirm that the rustics in that corner of England really do say Ooh Arr - with remarkably frequency.


Deogolwulf said...

Mind you, we might think of Merry and Pippin as landed gentry, old-rooted in the folk-community, no less noble (often more!) than those sycophantic upstarts gaining their titles from a king, and having speech and manners somewhat in common with their underlings. The Shire is in some respects as though the Normans never came . . .

Bruce Charlton said...

@D (Good to hear from you!)

- "The Shire is in some respects as though the Normans never came ..."

Indeed. The ruffians did invade and briefly imposed their alien rule; but (unlike with the Normans) were scoured from the Shire before they could murder and expel the native aristocracy and settle the yoke of tyranny onto the people.

Deogolwulf said...

(Glad to be here! Still plodding on.)

The world is yet to recover from the Norman Conquest, and it really is a world-wide problem, not just ours anymore.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting - thanks (also, to Deoguwulf)! Lots of food for thought, here - e.g., how much 'room' for regional dialect is there in the Shire, both in terms of area and local rootedness? (My parents-in-law came from different villages in Dutch Limburg, and joked about each other's differing 'local' accents...) And, indeed, how much 'class' difference is there, in language - and what does this have to do with 'education'? E.g., might Bilbo's and Frodo's - and to varying extents Merry's, Pippin's, and Sam's - have changed in the course of their lives as a result of (1) 'learning' and (2) travel? How much does Tolkien give written dialectical/speech-stylistic clues, himself? And, insofar as he does, how much of that is meant to show decisions in 'translating' the Red Book?

A comparison sprang to mind while reading - Dimble's discussion with Jane and Mrs. Dimble in That Hideous Strength, I.5, about late Roman Britain - "one section of society that was almost purely Roman", but "further up country, in the out-of-the-way places, [...] little courts ruled by real old British under-kings" - and the Atlantean/'Numinorian' connection Lewis introduces re. Merlin. What place might N├║menorean heritage and Elven - and Gandalfian - connections have on speech as well as cultural features of, and differences among, hobbits?

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Many readers notice the careful way in which Sam's speech - as Frodo's servant - is differentiated from Frodo's - the Sam (or Master Samwise) vs Mr Frodo/ Master distinction... which is dropped in extreme peril and then resumed when danger has passed.

But apparently, many readers miss the same thing between Sam and Merry & Pippin, which indicate M&P's greatly superior social stats.

Or that Frodo, Merry and Pippin are all on first name terms - as befits their status as gentry and being 'cousins' (and despite the age differences, or that Frodo is the leader).

As I commented in the linked paper - the family trees show us that Sam's family join the gentry in the next generation; when Elanor marries Fastred of Greenholm (an aristocratic 'of' name) and they become Wardens of the new Shire colony of Westmarch - equivalent to Masters of Buckland. Another daughter of Sam's - Goldilocks - marries Pippin's son and heir, to become wife of the Thain and chief Took.

Sam himself becomes Mayor several times, which seems to be more of a higher functionary ('middle class') administrative job, as it was in Medieval and early modern England (e.g. Shakespeare's father) - at any rate the previous mayor, Will Whitfoot, does not seem to be from one of the gentry hobbit families. Maybe his surname of 'white foot' indicates he was a miller (a skilled tradesman - lower middle class)?

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

Good thought about 'Whitfoot' - while your Wodehouse reference made me immediately think of 'Fatty' for Fredegar as a Wodehousean sort of nickname. Some quick browsing around via Tolkien Gateway makes me wonder about nicknames and nickname-y names: e.g., "The name Bolger is a reference to the 'bulged' size of the average Hobbit belly, referring to their fatness and tubbiness and presumably begun as a nickname. [...] It was a translation of Westron Bolgra of similar meaning." 'Fatty' would 'double down' on that, applying hereditary 'bulginess' personally while alliterating with 'Fredegar' (I wonder what that is in Westron? - I don't know if 'we' know...). A different sort of nickname in some ways from 'Bullroarer' Took, and yet... might we find something similar in Wodehouse, here, too?

But what of the first names 'Banazîr' and 'Ranugad'? - they seem very 'nickname-y' as first names - would they have been 'given' at birth? - or is there some sort of ancient Elven influence in multiple 'given' names through the course of life? Or are the personal 'birth' names of Sam and Hamfast unrecorded?(!)

Coincidentally discussing Sam and Tony Weller and their dialectical pronunciation at lunch, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder if there might be a playful Tolkienian wink in naming Sam Gamgee 'Sam' and giving him such a likeably distinctive father?

David Llewellyn Dodds