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What did the “The Master” tell Mr. Cox? Possible remnants from a discussion with Tolkien

Tolkien (misc.)Posted by Morgan Thomsen Sat, June 10, 2017 01:47:29

Mistakes can sometimes be lucky accidents. This was the case when I placed an order for a 1969 issue of the now defunct pop-linguistic magazine Quinto Lingo.[1] I had noticed a copy of Quinto Lingo (Vol. 7, Nos. 8-9, August/September), containing the article “Tolkien, the Man Who Created Nine Languages” by Jeff Cox, in the collection of Italian Tolkien collector Oronzo Cilli. But in my haste to acquire a copy I accidentally placed an order for the wrong issue (Nr. 10, November 1969). Quickly realizing my error, but unable to cancel the order, I glanced through the pages once it arrived, though not expecting to find anything related to Tolkien (after all, it was a magazine devoted to real-world languages). Among the letters to the editor, however, I spotted a couple of letters concerning Cox’s article, and one caught my attention in particular: a reader asked where Cox had “obtained the information he uses for his deductions” and if he “has access to Professor Tolkien’s notes, to which he makes reference”. The editor replied: “Mr. Cox has discussed the trilogy[sic] with The Master — was told some things and deduced others”. I found the editor’s reply quite interesting: would the article contain any references to the discussion between Cox and Tolkien?

When the August/September issue of Quinto Lingo finally arrived, I was therefore curious to see if there were any references to the discussion with “The Master”. Sadly, though, Cox gives us no clues to what he apparently was told by Tolkien. Nor is it mentioned through which means they discussed The Lord of the Rings. Did they correspond (as would perhaps have been most likely), meet in person, or speak over the phone? And there is only one reference to “Tolkien’s notes”:

The author [Tolkien] uses the incredibly complicated process of laying out the actual Westron in his notes, then translating it into Old English, then forming modern English equivalents from his knowledge of philology.” (p. 9)

Is it possible then to approach Cox’s article in order to derive any pieces of information that could have been communicated by Tolkien? Since Cox does not use any explicit references, and without access to any primary material (such as letters from Tolkien to Cox), it is of course almost impossible to come to any conclusions. Adding to the untrustworthiness of the article are some obvious errors: for example, Middle-earth is throughout the article rendered “middle earth”, and the two main groups of the Elves are called Quenyi and Sindarin (the correct forms being Quendi and Sindar, and Quendi rather refers to all kinds of Elves; these and "middle earth" might be transcription errors on part of the magazine’s editor, though).

However, if we assume a sympathetic reading of the article — assuming that Cox would not invent stuff on purpose or present his own deductions without warning the reader— there are at least two passages that I found worthy of note. (And now I’m stepping into the complex linguistic territory with some trepidation, since this is an area where I have no claims to much knowledge!) The first clue to what Tolkien might have been communicating is perhaps found in the following paragraph:

Some of the languages, such as Elvish and Westron (the latter being the common speech of hobbits and men), are remarkably complete, listing nearly a thousand words each. And they are true to their inner rules, following the grammar and inflection that Tolkien devised for them.” (pp. 8—9)

This is quite remarkable, written in 1969, since I would assume that the existence of the substantial Elvish wordlists and grammars would come to public knowledge first with the appearance of The History of Middle-earth in general and the Etymologies in particular. Interesting about this passage is also the mention of Westron equivalents: is this a misinterpretation of something Tolkien told Cox (e.g., a failure to note that the distinction would perhaps rather be between Q(u)enya and Gnomish/Noldorin/Sindarin wordlists and grammars, by now having been published in various volumes of Parma Eldalamberon), or is Cox making a reference to the still unpublished Taliska dictionary and grammar (mentioned by Patrick Wynne in Vinyar Tengwar 27, pp. 5—6), which, although not Westron per se, at least fall under the umbrella “Mannish”?[2] Not having access to any more information, though, we do not know and can only guess.

The second clue concerns Cox’s analysis of the Sindarin poem A Elbereth Gilthoniel, first published in The Lord of the Rings. Writing about the word galadhremmin, Cox says that it is a:

compound word — ‘galadh’ being tree and ‘remmin’ being woven (from the Quenya root ‘rem’ meaning net or weave of strands).” (p. 9)

Now, from what I can find, the detailed translation of the root rem appears to be especially interesting. A similar verbal base REB/REM, glossed as “entangle, snare, trap (as hunters or fishers) with lines or nets”, was first published in Vinyar Tengwar 42 (p. 12) in 2001. For example, there is no mention of such a root in the Etymologies, and Tolkien does not discuss the element -remmin in The Road Goes Ever On.[3] Again, though, I want to stress my very basic acquaintance with Elvish linguistics, and there might be other (and obvious) sources which I have missed.[4] If so, please let me know in the comments and I will be happy to amend this blog post!


[1] The magazine appears to have been published from 1964 (“Quinto Lingo” was registered as a trademark on 11 September 1964) or 1965 until the 1980s; the earliest issue I have seen dates from 1965 and the latest from 1983.

[2] Another wild guess is that Cox had seen the (apparently disputed) material referred to by Lisa Star as “Sóval Pháre, a substantial amount of information (some 15 pages) related to the ‘true language’ of men and hobbits, especially the grammar and phonology, privately circulated”, and elaborated by Star in Tyalië Tyelelliéva No. 17. I have never been able to read any copy of the Tyalië Tyelelliéva magazine.

[3] Appendix E of The Lord of the Rings (p. 1115, note 1, 50th anniversary edition) has “rem ‘mesh’”.

[4] For example, in 1966 the poem A Elbereth Gilthoniel with an English translation by Tolkien was published in the Tolkien Journal (Vol.2, No.1). I have not read this issue, and cannot say if there is anything there that Cox could have picked up.

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