Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Ring of Words

The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the English Dictionary

By Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall and Edmund Weiner

Bright is the ring of words
When the right man rings them,
Fair the fall of songs
When the singer sings them.
Robert Louis Stevenson, British novelist, poet, and essayist, Songs of Travel, 1896

This book interested me for two reasons: first, because I am a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, and secondly, because I’m fascinated by etymology, and my dream dictionary is the Oxford English Dictionary. (OED)

Divided into three sections, the Ring of Words covers Tolkien’s short stint as a lexicographer for the OED, examines his use of words as an author, and finally covers in depth the history of many of the more unusual words contained in his writings.

Tolkien was unique in his approach to storytelling. As a philologist, Tolkien was very much word-driven. An example of this is the word “Ent”. In a letter, he explained: “As usually with me they grew rather out of their name than the other way about. I always felt that something ought to be done about the peculiar A[nglo] Saxon word ent for a ‘giant’ or mighty person of long ago-to whom all old works were ascribed.” (p.119) From this small seed of a word grew the odd tree-herders of the Lord of the Rings. Examples of other words discussed in this book include farthing (did you know this originally meant something divided in four?), malefit, mithril, smial, unlight and wose.

In The Hobbit, the main character taunts a bit of what I always thought was poetical nonsense:

"Attercop! Attercop!

Won’t you stop,

Stop your spinning and look for me?"

I now know that Attercop is an ancient word for spider, coming from the Old English“attor” (poison) and “coppa” (spider). Ever seen a cobweb? “Cob” is simply a variant, as is “lob”. (As in Shelob, the monstrous female spider in the LotR)

I recommend The Ring of Words as a treat for anyone interested in Tolkien’s ability as a wordsmith, as well as for anyone interested in words in general.

Two by Agatha Christie

Thirteen at Dinner

This story was a little disappointing. I’d already guessed the identity of the criminal even before the murder was committed. I kept hoping I was wrong, but no. It’s an interesting story with many twists in plot…but not exactly subtle.

The ABC Murders

Most of the Hercule Poirot mysteries are written in the first person, narrated by the sleuth’s friend Hastings. This is no exception; however, there’s a twist: interspersed throughout the narrative are short sections written in the third person. I did not care for this at first—I, like Poirot, enjoy consistency of style. It was not until the end of the story that I glimpsed a possible reason for Christie’s decision. I cannot reveal my guess, however, without giving away the solution to the mystery. Suffice it to say that I was led down the proverbial path. It’s a good thing I don’t read mysteries in order to feel smart!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wodehouse Quotes

Need something to brighten your day? Check out this page. Every time you refresh it, you get another random quote from my favorite humorous author. (HT: Carmon)

I discovered Wodehouse's works a few years back and have been laughing ever since. Well, not exactly non-stop. There are other books to read as well. ;)

My favorite quote? From The Butler Did It: "Poverty is the banana skin on the doorstep of romance."

Currently reading: Bertie Wooster Sees it Through

Monday, September 03, 2007

Joy in trials

I often think on joy. Perhaps that's because it's my middle name. So when I was looking at my recent feeds in Bloglines, my eyes were immediately drawn to this post from Nancy Wilson's blog, Femina.

Here's an excerpt:

So what is joy to the chronically ill and suffering or those who are
under the burden of a heavy load? It is remembering and taking comfort
in the fact that God is good to all His children, that He is faithful,
kind, and loving. It is knowing that this earth is not our home, and
that He showers down blessings even in the midst of storms. It is
embracing the fact that He truly cares for us in these hard
circumstances, and it is believing beyond a doubt that all that happens
to us is for our good. When we remember who He is, we are reassured that
He will somehow make all things right in the end. In this is joy.

No situation is so dismal that we cannot look up through a dark sky and
still know that there is a sun coming. We believe anyhow, even when we
see no hope. We hope anyhow just because we are His children. Like the
psalmist says, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I
would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).

I have often said that it is seeing life through the rose-coloured glasses of God's sovereinty that keeps me going in the midst of struggle. Truly, the joy of the Lord is my strength.