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:
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 Þar ('there', pronounced 'thar'), allra ('all'), manlíkon ('man-like'), Norðri (ð pronounced like th in 'northern'), Suðri, 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, Böfurr, Bömburr, Nóri... and lastly Eikinskjaldi, whose name is familiar from that of Thorin (or Þórinn) 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 Alþjófr ('All-Thief') joining the party, and an oddly inappropriate name for a dvergr, Gandálfr ('Magic-Elf'). Gandálfr's presence in Völuspá 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 Völuspá, 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 Aulë, but could
only be given mind and speech by
Ilúvatar, the all-father. Accordingly, Tolkien concluded in Appendix Fi
of The Lord of the Rings that
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