22 August 2009

why Bag End was named Bag End

Am continuing my reading of Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle-earth at home right now, after a tiring day at work. I love reading about how J.R.R. Tolkien comes up with names of people and places in Middle-earth--names that are rich in meaning and in history and are monumentally significant to Tolkien the philologist.

Here's an interesting factoid on the creative origin of the name 'Bag End' (the name given to the place where the hobbit Bilbo Baggins lives):

His name, thus, is Baggins, and he lives in Bag End. This latter name had personal and homely associations for Tolkien (see Biography, p.180). But it is also a literal translation of the phrase one sees often yet stuck up at the end of the little English roads: cul-de-sac. Cul-de-sacs are at once funny and infuriating. They belong to no language, since the French call such a thing an impasse and the English a 'dead-end.' The word (cul-de-sac) has its origins in snobbery, the faint residual feeling that English words, ever since the Norman Conquest, have been 'low' and that French ones, or even Frenchified ones, would be better. Cul-de-sac is accordingly a peculiarly ridiculous piece of English class-feeling--and Bag End a defiantly English reaction to it.

- Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth, p. 71.

Shippey explains, in a chronological order, how Tolkien created his Middle-earth and his mythology as a whole. I'm still in the part where Tolkien begins thinking up names for people, things and places in The Hobbit--and it's already exciting to begin with. What more when Shippey starts telling the stories behind the names in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion?? I mean, there's a considerable amount of background stuff (on the origins of these names 'made up' by Tolkien) mentioned in Shippey's book that I've read about in other books, like Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle-earth series, for example. But Shippey also has a lot of arcane, geeky information to impart on the philology of Middle-earth. Honestly, it's like I'm discovering Middle-earth all over again.

I'm predicting many pee-in-my-pants moments while reading this book!


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