Wednesday, April 28, 2010

To The Dung Pit

I have one reader who asked to see the type of writing I'm doing for my Tolkien class. Therefore, here is a post I added to The Prancing Pony, the online forum. The topic this week is "Orcs & The Black Speech".
I was intrigued by the background information that Tolkien gives the readers regarding the Orcs of Middle-earth. As always with Tolkien, there is a subtext to what he says and how he says it. Therefore, I found what Tolkien had to say about the Orcs to be quite telling. Simply put, he doesn't like them at all. The proof of this is in the fact that Tolkien denied them the power of a unique language for their own use.
In Appendix F, Tolkien noted that Orcs "had no language of their own, but took what they could of other tongues and perverted it to their own liking" (Tolkien 1131). Furthermore, Tolkien tells us that the Orcs quickly developed many different dialects among their kind which made the language virtually useless between their different tribes. Simply put, they had no language of their own. Unlike the Dwarves whose language was given to them by their god, the Orcs are linguistic orphans and their language is the bastard-child of Westron, Black Speech and their own garbled, foul tongue.
The longest Orc phrase is nothing but curses and filth: "Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob - búbhosh skai!" (translated as "Uglúk to the dung-pit with stinking Saruman-filth - pig-guts, gah!") whereas Tolkien provided Aragorn, Gandalf and even Frodo the opportunity to display their linguistic talents throughout the text. This weeks readings tell us that the Black Speech was created by Sauron in the Dark Years, who devised it for all those who served him, yet this plan ultimately failed. However, Orcs took bits and pieces of the Black Speech and sprinkled it throughout their own tongues. We also know that their are bits of Westron thrown into the Orcs linguistic soup as well. Simply put, the Orcs literally stole scraps of conversation from the table of the other races of Middle-earth. Orcs are the ultimate scavengers and their language is the perverted fruit of their lazy, linguistic attitudes.
For Tolkien the philologist this attitude would be an anathema to him. I do not believe that Tolkien could better display his utter disgust for the vile creatures that he created then by not giving them a means of linguistic expression that was unique to their culture. They couldn't even talk amongst themselves if they were from different tribes. By making the Orcs the bottom-feeders of the language pond he would naturally, inherently despise them simply because they do not measure up to his own exacting, linguistic standards and those that he bestowed upon the Dwarves, Elves and men of Middle-earth.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Road to Osgiliath

I have had the joy of re-reading The Lord of the Rings for my class "Tolkien as Translator", taught by Dr. Marc Zender, Lecturer on Anthropology.
Weekly we delve into the linguistic origins of several of Tolkien's invented languages (and their real-world inspirations), and two of his invented alphabets. In this, I have found that I am a novice compared to a handful of my classmates who enjoy an intimate knowledge of Professor Tolkien's masterpiece. Many weeks into this course and I am still amazed that it is possible to take a class that studies The Lord of the Rings.
Within the online forum The Prancing Pony, we also have the opportunity to discuss the literary as well as the technical aspects of the text. During my re-reading and every once in awhile I am awestruck by the poetry and poignancy of particular passages. Here is one I recently shared with my classmates on the forum:

"Standing there for a moment filled with dread Frodo became aware that a light was shining; he saw it glowing on Sam's face beside him. Turning towards it, he saw, beyond an arch of boughs, the road to Osgiliath running almost as straight, as a stretched ribbon down, down, into the West. There, far away beyond sad Gondor now overwhelmed in shade, the Sun was sinking, finding at last the hem of the great slow-rolling pall of cloud, and falling in an ominous fire towards the yet unsullied sea. The brief glow fell upon a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings at Argonath. The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. Its head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round, rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used.
Suddenly, caught by the level beams, Frodo saw the old king's head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. 'Look, Sam!' he cried, startled into speech. 'Look! The king has got a crown again!'
The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed.
'They cannot conquer forever!' said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone. The sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the shuttering of a lamp, black night fell" (Tolkien, 702).

Dannielle Cagliuso, a classmate whom I only know online, had this to say about the passage:
"It is not only beautifully worded, but full of beautiful sentiment and hope, as well. Frodo's misery had become so deep and impenetrable that his exclamation - and sudden burst of optimism - is shocking and profound."
With this, Dannielle summed up my unspoken thoughts beautifully.
God, I love this class.