Want to learn a language? Ask J. R. R. Tolkien how.

J. R. R. Tolkien was a gifted philologist. His philological interests, according to the Professor himself, were largely scientific, and that shows clearly in his own literary work. Just a read through The History of Middle-earth with its linguistic bits, in-depth philological essays, carefully crafted and restored etymologies for his own invented languages demonstrates as much. These languages were first and foremost, the starting point of Tolkien’s tales.

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Driven by the oath.

When it comes to stories by J. R. R. Tolkien, you can always rely on him in providing his readers with the most many-dimensional characters. There are rather few who are either absolutely good or absolutely evil: most individuals in the tales of Arda are rather complex and have their own — not always easy — fates. Maedhros, the eldest son of Fëanor, is definitely one of such characters.

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Years the countless.

Whenever we meet Elves in Tolkien’s tales, their age is often very hard to discern. To mortal eyes they may appear as middle-aged individuals in full vigour, but in reality they can be thousands years old. Having a different life-span to that of Men, Elves grow older much more slowly, but grow older they do. Even though their ageing may not always be visible to mortal eyes, Elves feel it most acutely.

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Are you friend or foe?

It was often the case that in his writings J. R. R. Tolkien used unusual words either in their older meanings changed today, or the ones no longer in active use. It is such words that create a very special old-fashioned atmosphere of most of the Professor’s tales, tone them down to the stories of the past and give lovers of words a chance to dig out a new lexical treasure. One of such interesting choices was the noun unfriend that does not appear in Tolkien’s works very often.

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Shadowy people.

In the works of J. R. R. Tolkien readers meet various kinds of ghostly characters. While they are all different, have various origins, backgrounds and specific traits, one aspect unites them: these wights instil great fear and are downright spooky. It is hard not to have one’s blood chilled by the Ringwraiths, not to be scared by the Barrow-wights or haunted by the Dead Men of Dunharrow.

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Samwise the Hopeful.

The concepts of hope and courage permeate the tales written by J. R. R. Tolkien through and through. They are vital and, I do not think it will be an exaggeration to say, central to his narratives. There are many examples of how hope and courage make a big difference, help characters achieve almost the impossible and thus influence the course of events dramatically. In this special reflection for Tolkien Reading Day 2021, whose main theme is Hope and Courage, I would like to look at how hope helped Sam Gamgee lead Frodo and himself through the perils of Mordor to the final destination of their deadly quest.

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Dots and curls: on the diacritics in Quenya and Sindarin.

Pronunciation of words in real and invented languages can be of various kinds: in some tongues words are pronounced in the same way they are spelt, but in others there are entire systems with reading rules of different degrees of complexity.  In some cases the way a word is spelt versus the way it is pronounced can be divided by a yawning gap. Some languages have special marks above or below letters to indicate certain peculiarities in their pronunciation. J. R. R. Tolkien’s invented languages Quenya and Sindarin are no exceptions. Read more

In starlit memory.

In many ways Elvish immortality in Tolkien’s Legendarium is more like a doom for its bearers, rather than a blessing: being not permanent living per se, it is rather the state of an immensely long life until the end of Arda without any knowledge of what comes afterwards. Thus, alongside moments of joy, Elves carry great burdens of battles lost, dear ones dead and sorrows experienced over the courses of their really long lives, and the burden becomes only heavier with years. As Men are growing stronger and more powerful, Elves are waning and fading gradually. In Tolkien’s own words, they “are concerned rather with the griefs and burdens of deathlessness in time and change, than with death” (Letters, № 131).

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