IU visiting scholar’s new book examines Tolkien through Welsh ‘lens’

As a linguist, Mark T. Hooker thrills at the wordplay found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s much-loved books, including “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” series.

“Tolkien said the linguistic invention that became Middle-earth was an idiosyncratic enterprise he undertook to satisfy his own linguistic taste,” said Hooker, a visiting scholar in IU’s Russian and East European Institute. “As a linguist, I’m able to bring additional insight to his work. I laugh at his ‘low philological jests’ and play the same kind of word games myself.”

IU visiting scholar Mark T. Hooker, second from left, participates on a panel with, from left, Anne Tjerk Popkema, the Frisian translator of “The Hobbit”; Liuwe Westra, the Frisian translator of “The Fellowship of the Ring”; and Tom Shippey, considered one of the best-known authorities on Tolkien and a former chair of English Language and Medieval English Literature at the University of Leeds, a position formerly held by Tolkien.

Hooker’s latest book, “Tolkien and Welsh” (Llyfrawr, 2012), was sparked some years ago, when he first read the author’s assertion that names and places in “The Lord of the Rings” were primarily modeled on Welsh sources.

“That remark told me I’d been missing something important in Tolkien’s work because, at the time, I couldn’t read Welsh,” he said. “I put learning Welsh on my jam-packed ‘to do’ list so that I would one day be able to understand what he was talking about. Twelve years ago, I finally found the time to get around to Welsh.”

“Tolkien and Welsh” examines Tolkien’s linguistic creations specifically through a Welsh “lens,” something Hooker said isn’t often seen in Tolkien studies. He hopes his book will help enlarge the “northern European box” around the study of the author’s works.

The book provides an overview of Tolkien’s use of Welsh in his legendarium — ranging from the obvious (Gwynfa, the Welsh word for paradise), to the apparent (Took, a Welsh surname), to the veiled (Gerontius, the Latinization of a royal Welsh surname), to the hidden (Goldberry, the literal English translation of the name of a Welsh deity). It also presents an overview of how Welsh influenced Tolkien’s story line, as well as his synthetic languages Quenya and Sindarin; and has a glossary for non-linguists.

“Tolkien and Welsh” has been invited to enter the competition for Wales Book of the Year for 2013. Presented to the best Welsh- and English-language works in poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction categories, entry is by invitation only.

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