With pictures

Norses for sources

We may begin--as so many adventures did--with The Hobbit. Bilbo sets out in Chapter 18 from the Lonely Mountain, the greatest of his own adventures nearly at an end:

Farewell, Balin! he said, and farewell, Dwalin; and farewell Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur! May your beards never grow thin! And turning towards the Mountain he added: Farewell Thorin Oakenshield! And Fili and Kili! May your memory never fade!
Garaunteed to start Old Norse students from their dozing is a first encounter with stanzas 10-13 of Vlusp, where the poem disgresses into a catalogue of dvergar ('dwarfs'--or, since Tolkien's spelling seems to have been adopted even by scholars now--'dwarves'):
ar var Mtsognir . . mtstr um orinn
There was Battle-Roarer . . the greatest in the speech
dverga allra, . . en Durinn annarr;
of all the dvergar, . . and Sleepy besides;
eir manlkon . . mrg um gro,
They made many . . a man-like one
dvergar r jro, . . sem Durinn sagi.
dvergar out of the earth, . . as Sleepy said.

Ni ok Nii, . . Norri ok Suri,
New and ?Fading Moon, . . North and South,
Austri ok Vestri, . . Aljfr, Dvalinn,
East and West, . . All-Thief, Dawdler,
Bifurr, Bfurr, . . Bmburr, Nri,
Trembler, ?Grumbler, . . Tubby, Scrap,
nn ok narr, . . i, Mjvitnir.
?Pal and ?Chum, . . ?Great-Grandfather, Mead-Seeker.

Veigr ok Gandlfr, . . Vindlfr, rinn,
Brew and Magic-Elf, . . Wind-Elf, Craver,
ekkr ok orinn, . . rr, Vitr ok Litr,
Clever and Daring, . . Burgeoning, Smart and Colour,
Nr ok Nrr-- . . n hefi ek dverga
Corpse and Cunning-- . . now have I the dvergar
--Reginn ok Rsvir-- . . rtt um tala.
--Mighty and Counsel-Wise-- . . correctly counted up.

Fli, Kli, . . Fundinn, Nli,
File, Wedge, . . Found, Bodkin (or Corpse)
Hepti, Vli, . . Hanarr, Svurr,
Grip, Drudge, . . Skilful, Waner,
Frr, Hornbori, . . Frgr ok Lni,
Swift, Horn-Bearer, . . Renowned and Dawdler (or Muddy)
Aurvangr, Jari, . . Eikinskjaldi.
Silt-Flats, Fighter, . . Oakenshield.

The first thing to note here are the words which English-speakers can immediately recognise, despite all the time and space between them, their own language in Old Norse--words like ar ('there', pronounced 'thar'), allra ('all'), manlkon ('man-like'), Norri ( pronounced like th in 'northern'), Suri, Austri, Vestri, and so the list goes on. Once the initial shock is over, the number of words which we recognise grows, and the language becomes, as I have said, recognisably one of the family. Note also that alliteration is essential to the poetry. Rather than rhyming, the lines come in pairs, and the first major word of the first half-line alliterates with the first major word of the next (vowels all alliterate with each other). We will be seeing this pattern again in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and some of the poetry in The Lord of the Rings.

Then, of course, are the names which readers of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings already know well--Dvalinn, Bifurr, Bfurr, Bmburr, Nri... and lastly Eikinskjaldi, whose name is familiar from that of Thorin (or rinn) Oakenshield. In their Norse form, these participate, as I have shown in the translation, in the rich Old Norse tradition of meaningful names--of which we will see more later. There are some surprises too--a mysterious Aljfr ('All-Thief') joining the party, and an oddly inappropriate name for a dvergr, Gandlfr ('Magic-Elf'). Gandlfr's presence in Vlusp has long puzzled scholars, as no doubt the presence of Gandalf, standing two feet taller than his companions, puzzled those who observed the dwarves proceeding from the Shire, the butt of one of Tolkien's many quiet in-jokes.

This little borrowing, though merely playful at the time, had interesting ramifications for The Lord of the Rings. Having given a group of dwarves Norse names in The Hobbit, and somewhat accidentally decided that the world of The Hobbit was in fact the same as that over which the sweeping mythologies of the Silmarillion were played out, Tolkien had to reconcile the dwarves' Norse names with the fact that they had a language unrelated to that of the hobbits. Their race had been formed through events, themselves evidently indebted to the the stanzas from Vlusp, told in chapter 2 of the Silmarillion: in what is almost a parable on the delights and dangers of sub-creation, they were made by the smith-god Aul, but could only be given mind and speech by Ilvatar, the all-father. Accordingly, Tolkien concluded in Appendix Fi of The Lord of the Rings that

it was according to the nature of the Dwarves that, travelling and labouring and trading about the lands, as they did after the destruction of their ancient mansions, they should use the languages of men among whom they dwelt. Yet in secret ... they used their own strange tongue, changed little by the years; for it had become a tongue of lore rather than cradle-speech...
Gimli's family took their names, then, from the Northern speech of the people of Laketown and the Dale. Thus from this chance beginning, Tolkien nurtured a little more of the richness, both literary and mythographic, of his subcreation.

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