The Lengths Authors Will Go To

Authors can go to extraordinary lengths to build their fictional worlds.  They have travelled the world, and spent decades in research.

James Cameron has gone where few men have gone before–in ocean depths that few have ever seen.  Based on his research he wrote The Abyss (one of my favourite movies ever) and Titanic.

J.R.R. Tolkien invented entire languages for the fictional species of Middle Earth.

Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon and Germanic languages and classic literature, so inventing a whole language doesn’t sound quite as stupefying, given that sort of facility with already dead languages.

I have been aware of Tolkien’s expertise for a long time, although in one respect I was wrong.  I thought that Tolkien had played on the Norse Mythology name for Earth–Midgard–and from there arrived at “Middle Earth”.  I think I even read that somewhere–there has been a ton of speculation about Tolkien’s sources over the years.

Turns out I was wrong (and so were a lot of other people).

The Book of Exeter, shown above, is one of the very few complete Anglo-Saxon texts that have survived until this day.  It was re-discovered in the 19th century, and it’s a sure bet that Tolkien would have studied it as a professional linguist.  Heck, he could probably read the script like we read modern type.

The book is a bit of a mystery.  The contents are a scattered collection of miscellaneous tales and writing including, apparently, a lot of penis jokes.  (Seriously.)

In fact, I know Tolkien studied the book, because in a poem called Christ I, there is a line that goes: “Hail Earendel brightest of angels, / over Middle Earth sent to men.”

Perhaps, as I mentioned yesterday, this is one of the snippets that came back to haunt Tolkien years later, popping into his mind when he was inventing his world, just as he needed it.


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Tracy Cooper-Posey
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