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"...[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.