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The Hobbitonian Anthology
of Articles on J.R.R. Tolkien and His Legendarium

Sitting down to pen this foreword, I’m reminded of an old saw:
byrdes of on kynde and color flok and flye allwayes together[1]


I first met Mark Hooker three years ago, at the annual conference cum fan-convention of the Mythopoeic Society in Norman, Oklahoma. Mark had been in the audience for my paper and hurried over to introduce himself afterwards. He explained that, based on the research I had presented, he guessed we shared common interests. Intrigued, I hustled over to hear his paper that same day, or perhaps it was the next, on the Russian “knock-offs” of The Hobbit – with some Tanya Grotter (a Russian parody of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series) thrown in for good measure.

Right away, we each recognized in the other a common interest in philology, etymology, onomastics – centered, of course, around Tolkien. Or to put it a bit more succinctly, using a term I’ve heard from Mark on several occasions, we’re both dictionary divers. In the years following that first meeting, though never again in the same place at the same time (yet), we have continued to correspond regularly, discussing matters linguistic and literary, sharing ideas and offering feedback on each other’s works in progress. I recall with special fondness one particular discussion between Mark, Tom Shippey, and myself on the possible etymology/ies of dwimmerlaik. Naturally, we each had a different theory. No surprise there. As Voltaire reputedly once said, etymology is “a science in which the consonants are of very little importance, and the vowels of none at all.[2]” But regardless of its conclusions (or lack thereof), the discussion and camaraderie were very rewarding — and great fun. For the record, I suspect Tom’s theory is probably the better one, though Mark’s is perhaps the cleverer.

Which brings me to the book you are holding in your hands. In his foreword to Mark’s last collection, A Tolkienian Mathomium, Jim Dunning posed the quite reasonable question, “Why would one wish, then, to read what Hooker has to say?” He elaborated three major reasons, each impressively introduced with Latin ordinals, so I hope I may refrain from further embroidery here in Mark’s second collection of essays on Tolkien. I certainly will resist the temptation to launch into a litany of new reasons, each impressively introduced with Old English! But were I to venture a terse answer, it need be no more than to point out that if you liked the last one, you’re going to like this one. So let us consider Jim’s original question sufficiently answered and move on.

Like myself, Mark has spent years studying many of the same languages that so captivated Tolkien – Old and Middle English, Old Norse, Gothic, Welsh, as well as the innumerable dialectal varieties of English (especially of the Midlands) – and he has the calluses to prove it. And more than merely knowledgeable, Mark is dogged. He’ll pursue a word or phrase – be it toponym, anthroponym, or something else besides – to the very bottom of any philological rabbit-hole, or hobbit-hole, as the case may be. “There’s nothing worse than shallow etymology.[3]

But unlike myself, Mark has gone further, developing a real expertise on Tolkien in translation. Where most of us have read Tolkien only in English, or perhaps in one other language (especially those of us whose cradle-tongue is not English), Mark has read Tolkien’s principal works in as many as ten different languages — and he’s working to acquire others even as I write this. This makes Mark, if not unique, then certainly close to it. Of the academic cultus that has grown up around Tolkien over the past half-century or so, I can really only think of one other scholar, Allan Turner[4], who has produced substantial research in the field to which Mark has made so many original contributions. Of this particular bailiwick, and allow me to paraphrase Gandalf — “Mark is the only one that goes in for translation-lore: an obscure branch of knowledge, but full of surprises.” Indeed, as far as Tolkien in translation is concerned, Mark has proven himself the primus inter pares; of Tolkien in Russian, the ne plus ultra. Quite an accomplishment for an American!

As some of you will know, Tolkien – annoyed by careless translations into Swedish and Dutch – eventually prepared a fairly comprehensive guide for translators to the complex nomenclature he had devised in The Lord of the Rings.[5] He hoped to preempt many of the same missteps by future translators, and the resulting document is an invaluable (self-)commentary on Tolkien’s linguistic inventiveness and word-play. At times, it seems that Mark has set himself the ambitious task of working his way through the entire “Nomenclature”, researching each name with great resourcefulness, then writing up readable, entertaining essays to document his findings. He has done so already for a great many persons, places, and things of Middle-earth, in both his Mathomium and now again in the present volume. Here, he takes on explications of Bilbo, Boffin, Puddifoot, Farmer Maggot, Stoor – just to mention a select few. Mark also has a knack for tracking down intriguing ephemera to bolster his arguments, such as the Boffin’s Restaurant ads – though I suppose it must be admitted that if Mark has been able to dig these up, they aren’t quite so ephemeral after all – if you know where to look (and Mark does). Here also, Mark publishes for the first time a lengthy examination of the Russian translations of “Leaf By Niggle”, originally written for his book, Tolkien Through Russian Eyes.

Mark’s essay on Tom Bombadil deserves special mention. Those of us who have read this piece already (look for another endorsement in the preface to this collection) recognize that Mark really seems to be on to something. For myself, there is a genuine ring of truth here (pun intended – read the essay!). Bombadil has always been enigmatic, but Mark’s tour de force exploration of the name turns up some exciting and persuasive evidence. Even in the absence of confirmation from Tolkien himself, I am content that the explanation for this etymology of “Tom Bombadil” is on solid footing.

To sum up, Mark is one of the few scholars thinking about Tolkien today whom I daresay thinks rather like Tolkien himself. Like Tolkien, he has Sprachgefühl, and if you don’t know what that is, by all means send Mark an email! Mark’s emphasis is often on finding (and explaining) the clever turns of phrase or humorous puns – the “low philological jests” as you will often hear him say – in the great onomasticon of Tolkien’s legendarium. He takes the time to dig into Tolkien’s words and names, “to wring the juice out of a single sentence, or explore the implications of one word”,[6] as Tolkien once put it. Tolkien deserves no less, though many of his translators have failed to live up to the challenge – something most of us would probably not know but for the efforts of Mark Hooker to shine a light on the challenges, the successes, the failures — and the humor.

* Jason Fisher

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[1] William Turner, The Rescuing of Romish Fox, 1545.

[2] Quoted in Eric Partridge. A Charm of Words: Essays and Papers on Language. New York: Macmillan, 1961, p. 176.

[3] Roy Blount, Jr. Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof, Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences, with Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, p. 296.

[4] See Allan Turner. Translating Tolkien: Philological Elements in The Lord of the Rings. Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 2005 — in turn an expansion of Turner’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. I might add that one of Turner’s doctoral examiners was Tom Shippey; file that under “Tolkien Criticism, (it’s a) Small World.”

[5] The “Nomenclature” was first published, slightly abridged, in Jared Lobdell’s collection, A Tolkien Compass, but more recently in Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

[6] J.R.R. Tolkien. “Valedictory Address to the University of Oxford.” The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

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