Seeing Peter Jacksons’ new movie version of The Hobbit recently has led me to ponder afresh the devotion still inspired by Tolkien’s opus, The Lord of the Rings, its ‘prequel’ children’s book The Hobbit, and the deep mythos behind them, collected as The Silmarillion and later on, in the twelve volume set The History of Middle Earth. As you may have guessed from the above, I’ve been a Tolkien fan for years (decades). Reading The Lord of the Rings back to back seventeen times as a teenager was largely responsible for my taste for epic fantasy and invented languages. Tolkien always maintained – to the disbelief of many – that the basis for his writing was primarily linguistic ie; he invented his languages, and the world of Middle Earth and its histories unfolded to house them. The ‘realism’ and internal intergrity of his languages has certainly captivated many; his Quenya (High Elvish) is considered the second-most widely spoken invented language in the world after Esperanto…and considering that Quenya evolved as a purely private individual passion, unlike Esperanto, which was developed with a collective purpose, this is all the more astounding.
Middle Earth diehards were thrilled to see how much loving attention to detail was lavished on The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. In a way, The Hobbit is even more of a delight, because Jackson has melded into it a great deal of backstory that never appeared in the book, but which belongs to the vast ‘hidden’ story surrounding it. It’s easy to see the passion propelling this enterprise, one I know well from mid-teens when my best friend and I taught ourselves Quenya and wrote letters to each other in Elvish script. A passion that sparked ‘big vision’ in my early writings, layered world-building and a love of word-inventing. In the fantasy sequence I am currently working on, The Siaris Quartet, a taste of other languages remains in spell-casting, but the original material contained whole dialogues written in the languages of the different races – great fun for me, but not so user-friendly when it came to unleashing Siaris on other readers!
After Tolkien’s death, some three thousand pages of language notes were discovered (well, he did term inventing languages his ‘private vice’) and the degree to which he lived and breathed his created world became clear. Nowhere is this more obvious – and poignant – than in what I regard as one of the all-time greatest romances, the tale of Beren and Luthien. Their story appears as a chapter in The Silmarillion, but was initially written in verse (incomplete at 10 000 lines), not only in Elvish language, but in Tengwar (Elvish script). Apart from being a window into the fact that Tolkien imagined the story in Elvish, it is a stunning epic romance tale that could easily fill a novel, and in part a beautiful echo of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, with a gender reversal. Beren and Luthien’s tale really sits at the heart of Tolkien’s mythic world; Aragorn, Elrond, his daughter Arwen and two sons all have blood-links to Beren and Luthien, for instance. They were also at the heart of Tolkien himself. The names Beren and Luthien are carved on the gravestone of Tolkien and his wife. I would love to see the story of Beren and Luthien turned into a film, with the same dedication given to it as to The Hobbit and LOTR.
In the throes of finishing edits on the third book in The Siaris Quartet and starting on the fourth, it feels fitting to pause for an ‘Elvish moment’ and give humble thanks to Tolkien for showing me (and many others) the meaning of a lifelong sub-creative passion, and for the inspiration to build worlds, from love. It does seem appropriate that my second published short story, ‘Feather Fall’ (set in Siaris) appeared in an anthology titled Elf Love (Pink Narcissus Press). Now I have Musa to thank for publishing Daughter of Hope and Reunion, the first two books in The Siaris Quartet .
I shall leave you, gentle readers, with a bit of Elvish:
Elen sila lumen omentielvo ~ A star shines on the hour of our meeting.