o dedicated reader of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien may ignore the essential part of the linguistic element in the shaping of his fictional world, and the influence on his writing of his profession as a philologist. Philology can be defined etymologically as the love of words, and in this way Tolkien was the utmost philologist. The sound shape of languages was evidently to him a chief source of aesthetic delight; it is meaningful that he sometimes spoke of it in words arousing the idea of relishing a fine dish. So in the essay English and Welsh
(published in the collection The Monsters and the Critics
), when telling of the satisfaction he found in the study of certain languages just for themselves, he incidentally notes that a more appropriate word would have been to “taste” them. In an important letter to the poet W. H. Auden, he describes his encounter with Finnish like an œnologist:
It was like discovering a complete wine-cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a kind and flavour never tasted before. It quite intoxicated me.
Letter n° 163 (Humphrey Carpenter’s edition).
However, while all his readers will have met names, phrases, short texts in some of his invented languages, getting the gist of their style and most of all their sound may prove uneasy. We have therefore set up since 2006 our little linguistic cellar in Glǽmscrafu – The Glittering Caves –
to allow you to taste them too. Each language is illustrated by a sample of published texts, transcribed in the scripts devised by Tolkien and voiced by audio records. In the case of some poorly represented languages we sometime had to resort to mere wordlists. The given translations are not necessarily literal but were chosen or composed primarily to shed light upon the texts. We also wish to give a glimpse of certain languages of this world that left a deep mark on Tolkien and provided inspirations: Old English, Middle English, Gothic, Old Norse, Finnish, Welsh and Latin. For those we give a selection of prayers together with literary texts significant to him, and when relevant some of his own compositions in these languages. Their transcriptions emulate styles in which they were historically written.
The newcomers to the field can also refer to our short introduction
to J. R. R. Tolkien’s languages and scripts.
Over the years we have expanded Glǽmscrafu
with new texts and new languages, developed the transcriber Glǽmscribe
to make the use of Tolkien’s invented scripts easier, and added to the website’s original two languages, French and English, a version in German.
We wish to express our thanks:
- to J. Mach Wust, author of Tengwar Info and co-founder of the Free Tengwar Font Project, and to Roman Rausch, author of Sindanórië, for their proofreading and advice on translating the website into German ;
- to Måns Björkman, author of the outstanding website Amanyë Tenceli and its typefaces, a precious resource for our transcriptions;
- to Petri Tikka who helped us to build the pages about Finnish and recorded the sound files attached to them;
- to Didier Willis who encouraged and supported us during the making of the website;
- to Cédric Fockeu who hosts it as a wing of his own French-language Tolkien website JRRVF.
Enjoy the visit!
Bertrand Bellet and Benjamin Babut