Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…


"...[Tolkien] was reading a number of Old English works that he had not previously encountered.

Among these was the Crist of Cynewulf, a group of Anglo-Saxon religious poems. Two lines from it struck him forcibly:

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast
ofer middangeard monnum sended.

'Hail Earendel, brightest of angels/above the middle earth sent unto men.' Earendel is glossed by the Anglo-Saxon dictionary as 'a shining light, ray', but here it clearly has some special meaning. Tolkien himself interpreted it as referring to John the Baptist, but he believed that 'Earendel' had originally been the name for the star presaging the dawn, that is, Venus. He was strangely moved by its appearance in the Cynewulf lines. 'I felt a curious thrill,' he wrote long afterwards, 'as if something had stirred in me, half wakened from sleep. There was something very remote and strange and beautiful behind those words, if I could grasp it, far beyond ancient English.'"
-from Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter


Erica said…
I love this sort of thing. I have a name book that has Anglo Saxon and Old Norse names. Found out that Durin means "dwarf" in Old Norse. Go figure.
Rick said…
You should read the Elder Edda some time. It is a collection of Norse mythological and heroic poems. One of the poems, called the Voluspo, contains a list of dwarves by their families. Every single dwarf name from the hobbit is in the list as well as Gandalf, which meand "wand elf". I read one time that Tolkien was curious as to why an elf was listed as a companion to theses dwarves, and he concluded that it must be a relic of some long-forgotten story. The Hobbit, in a way, supplied this imagined backstory for him which provided him with much amusement even if everyone else just thought it was an ordinary kids book.