Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Philological Journey Down Lake Windermere

Lake Windermere - England's Largest Lake - What Secrets Does It Hold?
David and I just returned from a very restful week holiday up in the Lake District on the southern shores of Lake Windermere.   Lake Windermere is the largest natural lake in England in the county of Cumbria within The Lake District National Park.  On the days when the weather was fairly decent we boarded a boat and went down the lake passing by where Arthur Ransome's adventures of the Walker children in Swallows and Amazons took place (and according to the tour guide on the boat a new version of the adventure is to be filmed there this summer). 

But as we sailed down this majestic lake I could not but help thinking about the name 'Windermere' and what it means.  Perhaps this is one of the very beneficial (among many) effects that intense study of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien has done for me.  For Tolkien a story started with a name ('To me a name comes first and a story follows.' - Letters, p. 219) His imaginative language work has heightened my awareness of names and the inherent stories each proper name carries within it - a potential micro-narrative waiting for its story to be unearthed.  So on my first night back at the hotel I started thinking about what Windermere meant and to do some linguistic sleuthing Tolkien style - and along the way encountered several interesting connections to Tolkien himself! 

I found two key sources online to start my search.  First is a book  Walter John Sedgefield's 'The Place Names of Cumberland and Westmorland' from 1915 which is available on line.  In this work Sedgefield states -

The first element according to Wyld L. Pl. s. p. 266 appears to be a pers N. with the Old Norse genitive ending with -ar Wyld notes that though O.N. *Vigandr does not seem to be recorded, in exact OE Equivalent Wignoth occurs several times (Searle).  The second element is O.E. mere 'lake' 'pool' 'sheet of water'

H.C. Kennedy Wyld's Universal Dictionary of the English Language

The first reference Sedgefield is making is to the 1911 'The Place-Names of Lancashire' by Henry Cecil Kennedy Wyld (1870-1945).   From 1904 to 1920, Wyld was Baines Professor of English Language and Philology, Liverpool University. From 1920 to his death in 1945 he was Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford and seems to have been one of J.R.R. Tolkien's great allies in the bringing together of the literature and language curriculum at Oxford. According to Hammond and Scull's Chronology - Tolkien knew Wyld and on 20 May 1929 (while at Pembroke College)  Wyld, Tolkien and C.T. Onions signed a letter to the Secretary of Facilities asking the University to appoint a lecturer in 'English Language' (Chronology, p.149).  Tolkien also mentions him in a letter to Christopher when he learns that Wyld has died 'god rest his soul' and he needs to work on finding a replacement for him as Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford (Letters, p.108).   

The second reference is to W.G. Searle (1830-1913) who was a Professor at Queen's College.  The listing is in Onomasticon Anglo-Saxonicum: A List of Anglo-Saxon Proper Names from the Time of Beda to that of King John (Cambridge, 1897). 

These earlier works are referenced by the Swedish philologist Eilert Ekwall (1877-1964) who wrote many books on the history of language but is probably best known for his work on English Place names and personal names.  Tolkien definitely read and was inspired by Ekwall's works on place names (a topic that I am currently in the process of researching). When Tolkien was a Reader at Leeds University he reviewed several of Ekwall's key works in the journals - The Years Work in English Studies 1923-1925. 

In his 1922 'The Place Names of Lancashire' Ekwall gives a 2 page focus to the name Windermere and brings in the earlier works noted above.  This, so far, is the fullest philological treatment I can find on the meaning of the name 'Windermere.'

Ekwall first suggests that the name Windermere must be identical with that of the name of a place near Great Asby in Wilmington called Winderwath [near Penrith in Cumbria]. 

But Ekwall quickly dismisses this idea due to the fact that both place names are far apart and must have been named independently of each other.  'This shows' says Ekwall 'that Windermere can not have as its first element an old name of the lake as might be supposed

Then Ekwall suggests that Winder is a personal name as has been supported by Wyld and others (as above).  Ekwall supports this theory by saying that it is all the more probable as personal names are the first element of the names Thurston Water and Ullswater in Cumbria.  

The Germanic God Ullr

The two examples Ekwall gives are interesting because both of them are examples of the English countryside having imprinted on them the names of past lost gods of England. One of the best studies of this is Brian Branston's The Lost Gods of England (Thames and London, 1957) which shows how they key Germanic gods worshiped by pre-Christain Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of England can be found in the name of English places.  

After Lake Windermere, Ullswater is the second largest lake in The Lake District.  The first part of its name, according to website for the Lake, may come from the  Germanic God Ullr as their is also evidence of the remains of a viking settlement nearby cammed Hodgson Hill.  Ullr is very interesting - he seems to have been a great Germanic god who diminished and was replaced by Thor (becoming Thor's step-son in some of the Edda accounts).  His name may be connected to the concept of glory.  If indeed this is the meaning of Ullswater as the second lake it must go way back to the first arrival of the Anglo-Saxons from the North where the legend of Ullr may still have been dominant. 

Thurston's Water is the third largest lake and is better known now as Coniston Water - the name 'Thurston' is derived from the Norse god Thor. (Thunor)  As Branston indicates Thor (or Thunor) - along with Woden, Tiw and Frig - was one of the main gods that Anglo-Saxon used to name places in England with (Thanet, Thundridge, Thunderfield)

But then Ekwall takes exception with Sedgefield and suggests another linguistic route - the  name Vinandus which he suggests is a name from the Low German or Old Swedish.  Ekwall suggests that this name may stem from the Old Norse vondr 'staff'. The vondr connection is interesting given a page found at the back of Cleasby/Vigfusson's Old Norse dictionary called 'A List of British Rivers'
which list the roots for a series of rivers in Scotland and North England which are also found (and possibly have their origins) in Edda literature. 

About a hundred in number, contained in old Icelandic alliterative memorial verses (inscribed á-heiti, i. e. names of rivers) from MSS. of the Snorra-Edda (ii. 479, 480, of the 13th century; the verses themselves may well be of the 12th century). Most of these rivers seem to belong to the northern Scottish counties, Caithness, Ross, Moray, Sutherland, and to the north-east of England.

Included in this list is - 'Vind (Vönd, Gm.)' 

The ON word 'Vönd' is found as the name of a river in the Poetic Edda in The Grimnismal (The Says of Grimnir) which describes a series of rivers that issue from Hvergelmir - the bubbling boiling spring or well in Nifelheim from which all cold rivers sprang.  

28. Vino is one, | Vegsvin another,
And Thjothnuma a third;
Nyt and Not, | Non and Hron,
Slith and Hrith, | Sylg and Ylg,
Vith and Von, | Vond and Strond,
Gjol and Leipt, | that go among men,
And hence they fall to Hel.

According to a commentary on this passage in Grimnismal there is a suggestion 'that the name is most likely a nominalization of the feminine singular of the ON adjective vandr 'difficult.' Cf., for example, the Norwegian river Meina  probably derived from the ON verb meina 'to harm, hinder.' Another possibility is that it is related to ON vöndr m. 'wand, switch.' Cf., for example, the river names with the stem gand  the district name Gand and the lake called Gjende (Indrebe, 1924, p. 71), all related perhaps to Norwegian dialect gand m. 'thin stick,' as well as the river names with the stem stav-to ON stafr 'stick, stave' and probably referring to rivers which flow in a straight course for a considerable stretch. A similar meaning may be possible here  And certainly have gone down Lake Windermere several times in the last week I can assure you it follows a fairly straight course for ten miles

This commentary comes from a very interesting site that has many of the early versions of the Eddas and other materials from Norse mythology - quite a treasure trove. 

And this idea also suggests another link to Tolkien - if vondr is related to gandr in terms of  a wand or switch this possibly means that the WINDER- is related to the same world that forms the name of our good friend the Istari Gandalf - coming from the Old Norse (and right from the Dvergatal list in the Eddas -  Gand-alfr - wand or magic staff elf.  But there is more work to be done here as according to Cleasby/Vigfusson the exact meaning of Gandr and Vondr is quite vexed (ah a linguistic crux for further exploration!).  Towards this research there is an interesting passage in a book by John McKinnell Meeting the Other in Norse Myth and Legend
in which he explores the concepts of gandr and possible linguistic connection to vond (although I am still not entirely convinced by the linguistic movement from ge-vond/gand - more work to be done here). 

 Ekwall concludes his study of Windermere by stating that the Winander- part represents the genitive singular of an Old Scandinavian name Vinundr the genitive form Vinandar.  The Mere of Vinandar

So if Vin = vond could in some sense mean either stick (describing the straightness of the lake) or magic there is also a suggestion that the second element UNDR also has a fantastical sense.  Undr is the Norse world for 'wonder' and forms the verb 'undra' to wonder at, be amazed - an 'undra-sjonir' was a wonder to see a spectacle.

So clearly there is a sense that this lake the largest in the area would have been significant to the inhabitants of the area.  I find it interesting that the other two largest lakes, as we have seen above, are both names that have within them echoes of the Lost Gods of England (Ullr and Thor) and it seems odd that Windermere would not as well.  Perhaps the Undra part of the name is pointing to some element  of wonder or amazement that may have its origins in a lost god of the area.  

As I was doing this preliminary investigation into the meaning of Lake Windermere and the mysteries that the understanding of the name might disclose - I thought about what it must have been like on 24 September 1914 when the young J.R.R. Tolkien while staying at his Aunt Jane Neave's farm in Phoenix Farm in Gedling near Nottingham discovered the name Earendel and from his linguistic exploration - his 'finding out' what the name and the story behind it was - gave birth to an entire new mythology. 

As a great teacher (master in the Latin magister sense) who I very much respect and admire recently said to me 'Words can lead you into uncharted territory - both literally and figuratively Sleuth on!'  

A crux for exploration begins - all from England's largest river! 

Saturday, 15 December 2012

First Impressions of The Hobbit and Azog Musings!

Wotan returns to the halls of Valhalla from his long sojourn in the land of Tolkien Postgraduate Research and PhD work for a brief visit to give his first impressions of
Overall : 8.5 out of 10 

It's not the (original) book - but it is a helluva a movie!!! 

I really liked the "Tolkien fan/academic" touches they put in like Gandalf not remembering the name of the two blue wizards and a fleeting mention of Ungoliant (I squealed with delight at that mention - my partner hit me!). The speech Gandalf makes about why he choose Bilbo to Galadriel was very moving and Sir Ian Mckellen beautifully delivered the words that came right from Tolkien -  

Here we meet, among other things, the first example of the motive (to become dominant in Hobbits) that the great policies of world history, the wheels of the world', are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak - owing to the secret life in creation, and the part unknowable to all wisdom but One, that resides in the intrusions of the Children of God into the Drama  (Letters , p. 149)

I found it interesting that the finding of the Ring by Bilbo seemed to be inspired by the Rankin-Bass The Hobbit TV movie .  In the book, Bilbo finds the Ring in the dark and there is more of a sense of fate working,  In now both the Rankin-Bass and Jackson Hobbit films Bilbo finds the ring by the gleam of the sword Sting.  Also interesting that in both movies - the time riddle is echoed by a unseen voice - in Rankin Bass this is not known in Jackson it is Gollum but not seen.

Thought Martin Freeman captured the essence of Bilbo and the Baggins/Took conflict.  I feel PJ always needs a hero and Thorin Oakenshield is it for these films - there were times I felt I was seeing the Aragorn story arc told again but to be fair some of that is in the text. The dwarves were fine - although some of them (and the know who they are) are just too good looking (makes Gimli look rather bad in LOTR what happened to him).   The dwarf comedy is also a bit blunted by knowing what will happen to several of them in The Hobbit and LOTR, 

I have yet to find the textual authority for the whole Witch King of Angmar and Morgul blade reference.  In Appendix A after his defeat and pursuit by Glorfindel the Witch-King is said to have 'passed into the shadows.  For night came down on the battlefield and he was lost, and none saw whither he went.' (LOTR, p.1069). 
The White Council scene was good and liked the use of  Osanwe-kenta (telepathy* between Galadriel and Gandalf - Galadriel walked around with a sense that she knew or suspected more than she was saying,  Is it really 400 years of peace at this point.  Need to check chronologies on this the year that this event would have taken place is 2941 of The Third Age (so wonder when Elrond is reckoning the peace would have started). 

* noted Tolkien academic and linguist Carl Hostetter has very helpfully advised me that 'the title "Ósanwe-kenta" means "Enquiry [into] (_kenta_) [the] Communication of Thought (_ósanwe_)". So "communication of thought, telepathy" is just _ósanwe_. so the actual act that may be going on btw Galadriel and Gandalf would be called ósanwe- thank you Carl for catching this)

For me, having spent the last year steeped in Tolkien's early languages (and do so for the next three I imagine) the most fun was hearing Orkish being extensively used. 

Given his rather prominent (and recurring) role in the movie I also thought about the etymology of the name AZOG in The Hobbit According to John Rateliff's History of The Hobbit the name might have its origin in Tolkien's Mago/Magol constructed language which is said to have been inspired by Hungarian (and is yet to be published) (Rateliff, 2007, p.787).  

Rateliff also makes the point that there may be a relation between the -AZ- and the word NAZG (Finger Ring) in the Black Speech. I also wonder if there is a relationship between the AZ and the AS in the Black Speech word GHASH meaing 'fire.' Certainly nothing so far in the name to have inspired the color of Azog in the movie but I will continue to search the published language documents. 

Will want to get a transcript of this and analyze.  The Elvish all seemed to make sense from what was being said.  I was trying to figure what was on Elrond's desk in Rivendell, 

Typically Jackson scenes (long panning shots, mufti-player battles and falling rocks - man, he loves falling rocks). Did anyone else think of the 'Rock em sock em robots' when the stone giants came on? 

Love the juxtaposition of the eye that opened the film and the eye that ended it - shadows of the eye to come perhaps?  Must get a dragon kite

Will see many more times for more analysis - overall I really enjoyed.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Tolkien and Dark Shadows Musings

Greetings from Wotan! Wotan has not sent Hugin and Muin out lately as he has been locked in his fortress of Valhalla researching and studying.

Wotan is very excited to have officially started a Phd research project around the Early Literary and Linguistic Works of J.R.R. Tolkien (1908-early 1920's) and is even triply excited to be working with one of the leading Tolkien visionaries and academics - Dr Dimitra Fimi - through Cardiff Metropolitan University. Wotan is working towards the final research proposal which is due in April and then a full 3-6 years of glorious Tolkienian research (and lots of talk and trying out at ideas at this summer's Return of the Ring Tolkien conference)

Wotan is also in the middle of an excellent online class through Signum University/Mythgard University on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis taught by the excellent Tolkien Professor himself, Professor Corey Olsen's (whose upcoming Exploring the Hobbit book is a must pre-order!). This is a brilliant class where we have compared and contrasted the works of Lewis and Tolkien and we have some exciting upcoming classes including a look at Leaf by Niggle,Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, Till We Have Faces, The Notion Club papers, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Smith of Wooten Major. There is great work afoot at Signum University/Mythgard Institute and the upcoming summer classes include one on beginners Latin and, be still my heart, Dr Verlyn Flieger teaching a course on Arthurian Literature (which yours truly will probably be virtually attending tuxedo-clad after many excellent evenings at Glyndebourne where Wotan toils.

Also on the Dr. Verlyn Flieger front - joy and exultation her new book Green Sun and Faerie is now available and I have been devouring every chapter which includes some excellent new writing by Dr. Flieger on Tolkien and the Kalevala based on the work she has done on Tolkien's early Kullervo story and Tolkien's 1914-15 talk on The Kalevala.

It is brilliant to have this volume on Tolkien by Dr. Flieger and it stands next to Tom Shippey's Roots and Branches - now one hopes Dr Michael Drout would write a similar volume. A must read

Switching gears - the other excitement for Wotan has been the coming of the new Dark Shadows film in May. But even before this and perhaps even more exciting for Wotan has been the publishing of a new book on Dark Shadows -

The Return to Collinwood by Kathryn Leigh Scott (who played Maggie Evans and Josette Du Pres (among others) in the original Dark Shadows TV show - appearing in over 600 of the 1,222 episodes) and Jim Pearson. I highly recommend this book to any lover of Dark Shadows. There are some great insights into the coming movies and the recollections of Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker (Angelique) are brilliant and add some interesting info to how this 1,225 episode fantasy/sci-fi/gothic soap opera was flamed as well as the two movies (and I eagerly awaiting the reedited cut of Night of Dark Shadows with the cut scenes put back). good chapters on the revival series as well and he current audio dramas through Big Finish Productions.

Having the book signed by Kathryn Leigh Scott herself makes it one of my treasured Dark Shadow possessions which will never leave me for all eternity and I decided to join the signed picture she sent me with another of my treasured Dark Shadows items which will be familiar to all fans of the show!

Finally there is the upcoming big budget blockbuster Dark Shadows movie starting Johnny Depp as Barnabas and Helena Bonham Carter as Dr. Julia Hoffman directed by Timothy Burton. Wotan is hopeful about this film - the trailer is exciting and yes I think there it is a bit of tongue in cheek treatment of the story (set in the hippie lava lamp strewn days of 1972), But Depp is a great fan of Dark Shadows so I am sure it has been done with care - and it will be fun to watch for the original Dark Shadows cast members (including the first and best Barnabas of all times Jonathan Frid) in the Dark Shadows town ball party scene). Trailer below!

So that is it from Wotan for now - Wotan returns to the Halls of Asgard to consult my friend Erda the green headed torso on the early lexicons of Tolkien - but he will stay in touch and send Hugin and Munin out for news of the many worlds!

Lebe wohl for now!

Blog Archive