Behind the Name: Erebor

Erebor, also known as the Lonely Mountain, is a lost kingdom of the Dwarves in Tolkien’s Hobbit, reclaimed from the dragon Smaug by Thorin Oakenshield and his companions, including Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit, at the end of the story. Since Professor Tolkien was a linguist, and his Middle Earth was first inspired by his desire to create a world and history around his invented languages, it makes sense to ask what inspired him to name this important place Erebor.

The Hobbit itself does not make much use of Tolkien’s linguistic experiments. Most of the places named in the novel have descriptions more than names—the Misty Mountains, the Long Lake, Lake Town. Even the few places with proper names are fairly transparent in their meaning: the town that sits in a dale by the Lonely Mountain is called Dale, and Mirkwood is not too hard to understand as a murky wood. The term Erebor did not appear until The Lord of the Rings. By that point, Tolkien’s constructed languages were well developed and he provided a suitable internal etymology for Erebor as an Elvish translation of Lonely Mountain. Nevertheless, there are some clear real-world referents that we cannot ignore.

The obvious place to start is Erebos, a name from Greek Mythology for both a region of the underworld and a primordial god representing darkness. (Erebos is the original Greek spelling; it is often seen Latinized as Erebus.) To name an underground city cut out of the rock of a mountain, this makes sense as a starting point, but Erebos has an interesting etymology of its own.

Erebos derives from a Proto-Indo-European root *hregwos. (In linguistics, the asterisk indicates words that are not recorded anywhere but have been reconstructed based on related words or other forms.) The Proto-Indo-European language had several different consonants corresponding to the letter h, and the exact pronunciation of them all is a matter of debate, but before an r at the beginning of a word, this h regularly became an e in Greek. The gw sound became a b in Greek (for example, the Greek word basileus, meaning “king” comes from an earlier form gwasireu). Thus *hregwos became the ancient Greek Erebos.

In other branches of the Indo-European family, the same root took different paths. In Sanskrit, it became rájas, which means “dark sky.” In Armenian, it became erek, meaning “evening.” In Gothic, it became rikwis, “darkness.” And in Old Norse, it produced the verb røkkva, which means “to become dark.” Clearly, while Ancient Greek adapted the word to a new meaning, the original meaning had to do with darkness in the sky, not under the earth. The name of Erebor captures a suggestion not just of a place under the earth but also its fate to be assailed by the sky-darkening dragon Smaug.

There is one step further we can go, although it is a tentative one. It involves the Norse myth of Ragnarök, the doom of the gods and the destruction of the world. The word Ragnarök is a compound whose first part, ragna, means the power of the gods (congate with the English word reign). The second element is less certain. Linguists today prefer rök, meaning “fate,” but the early twentieth century when Tolkien was studying, some argued for røkkr, the noun for “twilight” derived from the verb røkkva and ultimately going back to the Proto-Indo-European *hregwos. Tolkien may well have been amused to hint at the chaotic, destructive final battle between the Norse gods in naming the site of the chaotic Battle of the Five Armies which brings Bilbo’s adventure to an end.

Image: Erebor as visualized in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films, via IMDb

On, of, and about languages.

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Blue and White Transmogs for 120

I’m slowly getting all my alts up to 120 and often celebrating with brand new transmogs. My holy priest and outlaw rogue recently made it and, without any particular plan, I ended up giving both of them blue and white transmogs. Here they are for your enjoyment.

My holy priest in his Stargazer’s Perfection outfit.

My outlaw rogue decked out in her Storm-Angel’s Descent look.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Most Famousest of The Hobbit Soundtrack Covers

Recently we rewatched The Hobbit trilogy, which made me—again—root around looking for Dwarf-ish music. This time, though, I went wider and also included cover versions of melodies from all of the six Peter Jackson movie soundtracks.

Taylor Davis is one of the fabulous violinists out there doing YouTube covers. Here is her “Misty Mountains”:

The Hobbit – Misty Mountains (Dwarven Song) Violins Cover – Taylor Davis on YouTube

Nathan Mills aka Beyond the Guitar’s version of “Misty Mountains” by classical guitar is so lovely:

THE HOBBIT: Misty Mountains – Classical Guitar Cover by BeyondTheGuitar on YouTube

Guitar at its best, hands down.

This orchestral cover medley/remix by Parademics has an impressive range of instruments—I think we spotted an electric guitar in the background in the Ring Wraiths melody towards the end:

The Hobbit | Epic Orchestral Cover by Parademics on YouTube

Albert Chang’s arrangement of “Misty Mountains” incorporates 6 violins, 6 cellos, and a cajon, and shows why underappreciating cellos is a bad idea:

The Hobbit – Misty Mountains Orchestral Cover by sleightlymusical on YouTube

So much depth comes from the deeper-voiced string instruments!

Scott Sutherland’s tuba version is really solemn and somber:

Misty Mountains Cold – The Hobbit (Euphonium and Tuba Cover) by Scott Sutherland Music on YouTube

I have an impression that the tuba family is typically considered a bit silly, at least in the mainstream culture, but it shouldn’t.

The following Lord of the Rings medley also has an incredible cello part:

Lord of The Rings – The Hobbit (Piano/Cello Cover) – ThePianoGuys on YouTube

By ThePianoGuys aka Jon Schmidt, Steven Sharp Nelson, and Al van der Beek, with van der Beek’s arrangement.

Jasmine Thompson’s cover of “I See Fire” from The Desolation of Smaug is as good if not better than the original:

“I See Fire” Ed Sheeran The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – cover by Jasmine Thompson on YouTube

Guitar for Thompson’s cover is by Seye Adelekan.

This gender-flipped version of “Into the West” from The Return of the King is awesome:

Into the West (Cover) – Josh Sahunta & Nicholas Yee on YouTube

Josh Sahunta singing and playing the piano, with Nicholas Yee on the cello.

Finally, being a Finn, I would be remiss not to include this instrumental metal version of the Lord of the Rings theme by Doug Anderson:

Lord of the Rings Theme – Epic Metal Rendition by Doug Anderson on YouTube

Do you have a favorite cover from either The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings? Please share!

An occasional feature on music and sound-related notions.

An Improved Kenobi-Vader Fight for Star Wars A New Hope

Under the moniker FXitinPost, visual effects artist Christopher Clements made an unofficial, improved scene for Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and seamlessly inserted it into the movie. The resulting six-minute clip is all about the final confrontation between Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader, and definitely worth a watch:

Star Wars SC 38 Reimagined by FXitinPost on YouTube

I don’t know whether they had any skill or not, but if Alec Guinness and David Prowse were not competent sword fighers, it’s understandable the scene looks like it does. I have to confess, though, that the clunkiness of the fight has been long bugging me; it also stands out since Lucas retroactively changed so many other scenes. Clements’ version is much more in line with Jedi abilities and includes many intriguing creative choices on how to use the space on the Death Star. Kudos!

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Guest-Friendship

Small-scale societies have ways of dealing with problems that arise within the community, but dealing with the outside world is often a more serious challenge. Small, subsistence-level communities are rarely entirely self-sufficient. Some level of contact with the outside world is useful for trade and joint self-defense, but leaving your home community is risky when you cannot be sure of being safe elsewhere. Within your own village, you may be surrounded by family, neighbors, and people bound to you by mutual bonds of obligation whom you can count on to stand up for your safety and your rights, but once you head out into the wider world, you are alone. If someone attacks you, steals from you, or tries to cheat you in a bargain, who can you look to for help? Different societies have different ways of dealing with this problem, but one useful strategy is known as guest-friendship.

Aspects of guest-friendship are documented in practice in ancient Greece, where the custom was known as xenia, based on the word xenos, which could mean foreigner, stranger, or friend. In the early archaic society described in the Homeric epics, wealthy warrior-nobles—the sort of people represented in the epics by heroes like Odysseus and Menelaus—had faithful retainers to protect them while at home, but traveling with a large retinue was difficult. Since the two major reasons for leaving home were to trade with neighboring communities or to raid them for supplies and slaves, it is understandable that travelers did not always find a warm welcome, even when they came in peace.

To keep themselves safe when away from home, aristocratic families from different communities made agreements of guest-friendship among themselves. These families would provide lodging and food to visiting guest-friends and expect the same when they went traveling themselves, but more importantly guest-friends protected one another. In essence, a guest-friendship was a promise to treat your visitors as if they were members of your own family. That could mean more than just hosting them for a few days. It could also mean standing up for them if they were mistreated or cheated while doing business in your town, even fighting in their defense if they were attacked. In a world without police, courts, or enforceable contracts, where your rights ended at the borders of your home town, these relationships were essential to keeping trade routes and lines of communication open.

In ancient Greece, as in many other places, these relationships were personal, but also hereditary. They could be passed down from generation to generation, sometimes even being revived after lying dormant for many years. Between individuals, guest-friendship could even take precedence over inter-communal hostilities. The Iliad records a battlefield encounter between two heroes, Diomedes and Glaucus, one fighting on the Greek side, the other on the Trojan side. Approaching each other on the field, they shout out challenges and boast about their ancestry and accomplishments, but in doing so, they discover that their grandfathers were guest-friends. Once they realize their connection, Diomedes and Glaucus agree that it would be wrong for them to fight one another. Instead, they exchange armor as a token of friendship and agree to go find other people to fight. (Homer, Iliad 6.119-191)

As a means of ensuring safety for travelers, guest-friendship was unreliable. It depended on mutual personal obligations which could not be enforced on the unwilling. There was no way to prevent the abuse or neglect of the relationship, other than the threat of ending it. As much as Homer’s epics celebrate the uses of guest-friendship among honorable people of good will, they also reflect how precarious such codes of behavior could be when there wasn’t force behind them. While the fairy-tale wanderings of Odysseus are a fantasy version of the dangers of traveling without the protection of familiar customs and norms, the greedy Ithacan suitors eating up Odysseus’ wealth in his absence bring the problems closer to home. Indeed, in Greek myth, the institution of guest-friendship fails at least as often as it succeeds.

Nevertheless, even in later periods of ancient Greek history when legal and diplomatic institutions were better developed, the idea of guest-friendship still had a place. Some aspects of guest-friendship, in a less personal and more formalized way, continued in the role of proxenoi (singular proxenos), who acted as representatives and advocates for outside communities. The Athenian aristocrat and politician Cimon, for example, acted as Sparta’s proxenos in Athens. He hosted Spartan emissaries when they came to Athens and used his influence in Athenian politics to try to make peace between the two cities in the early years of the Peloponnesian War. Like guest-friendship, this role was also often hereditary, passed down through aristocratic family lines from father to son. Guest-friendship itself was even revived as a way of forging relationships across political lines between Greek aristocrats and representatives of the Persian Empire.

The details of ancient Greek guest-friendship are particular to one culture and one time period, but similar relationships—with all their attendant possibilities and problems—existed in many other places and times among small societies lacking strong institutions to keep order. We can find similar patterns of mutual obligation among historical peoples from places as diverse as the Scottish highlands, the Arabian peninsula, and the Pacific islands. Many customs still surviving in the modern industrialized world, such as exchanges of gifts between guests and hosts or the maintaining of multi-generational family friendships, preserve vestiges of practices that were once vital to making it safe tor travel beyond the boundaries of our own homelands.

Image: detail from “Helen Recognizing Telemachus, Son of Odysseus” via Wikimedia (Hermitage Museum; 1795; oil on panel; Jean-Jacques Largenée)

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

Striking Iron: A New Exhibition at the National Museum of African Art

One of the current exhibits at the National Museum of African Art is “Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths”. It focuses on blacksmithing in sub-Saharan Africa and features works dating from the 17th century to recent times: not just weapons, but other tools and implements such as musical instruments.

The range and design of shapes is truly impressive. Below are just some of the examples.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Ceremonial Knives

I wasn’t familiar with the concept of rain wands (image below) before. They were planted in the earth with the intention of drawing the life force of the Earth up toward the heavens in order to bring down rain.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Rain Wands

Various kinds of sound instruments are also displayed, including lamellophones.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Lamellophone

And, since it’s ironworking, there are weapons.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Double-bladed Dagger

I’m especially struck by the multiple elaborate curls of the ceremonial knives and the rain wand in the shape of a three-headed snake. Simply stunning.

The exhibition runs until October 20, 2019.

Found via NPR—make sure to visit the article for more photos!

Images: Ceremonial knives by Olivia Sun for NPR (Democratic Republic of the Congo; 19th century; iron). Rain wands by Olivia Sun for NPR (Nigeria; iron). Lamellophone (chisanji) via Smithsonian (Chokwe artist, Angola; late 19th century; wood and iron). Double-bladed dagger by Olivia Sun for NPR (late 19th-century Sudan; iron, bone, and crocodile skin).

Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 8

Our favorite soft-spoken Toronto detective / inventor returns for another season of mysteries. Here’s what we thought of season 8.

  1. “On the Waterfront, Part 1” – 4.5
  2. “On the Waterfront, Part 2” – 6
  3. “Glory Days” – 2.5
  4. “Holy Matrimony, Murdoch!” – 8
  5. “Murdoch Takes Manhattan” – 7
  6. “The Murdoch Appreciation Society” – 9
  7. “What Lies Buried” – 8
  8. “High Voltage” – 4
  9. “The Keystone Constables” – 4
  10. “Murdoch and the Temple of Death” – 7
  11. “All that Glitters” – 6
  12. “The Devil Wears Whalebone” – 8
  13. “The Incurables” – 5.5
  14. “Toronto’s Girl Problem” – 4
  15. “Shipwreck” – 2
  16. “Crabtreemania” – 6
  17. “Election Day” – 7
  18. “Artful Detective” – 5.5

This season’s average rating is a 5.8, which is not the best Murdoch Mysteries has done, but is a very strong showing for a series in its eighth year and with no signs of faltering.

This season has the distinction of seeing Detective Murdoch and Dr. Ogden finally tie the knot. Of course, neither their wedding nor their honeymoon can go off without a murder to brilliantly solve together, giving us a delightful pair of episodes in “Holy Matrimony, Murdoch!” and “Murdoch Takes Manhattan.” The latter episode also features a spirited B-story back in Toronto which allows Dr. Grace to take the wheel for a high(-ish)-speed car chase.

The lowest episode of this season is “Shipwreck,” at 2, in which Murdoch finds his beloved childhood priest fallen from his pedestal. There are good parts to the episode, but it is dragged down by slow pacing and uninspired acting. “Glory Days,” a 2.5 in which a legendary lawman of the US old west thinks he’s hunting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Toronto is not much better, as it wallows in the unappealing tropes of male resentment.

But these low points are more than outweighed by a number of fine episodes. The best of the season is “The Murdoch Appreciation Society,” at 9, in which Murdoch’s in-universe fans stage a fake mystery for the chance to watch him work, which becomes tangled up with a real murder plot. Also notable are “The Devil Wears Whalebone,” an 8, which features one of the series’ more inventive murder weapons, and “What Lies Buried,” also an 8, a tense and claustrophobic drama in which Murdoch seeks a killer within the police force itself. Along the way, we get the usual Murdoch hijinks with vaudeville theatre, staged wrestling matches, the early days of the women’s suffrage movement, and an Indiana Jones pastiche.

All told, it’s another fun go around with Detective Murdoch and company.

Image: Dr. Grace at the wheel, from Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb

Post edited to correct grammatical errors

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Disney Princess Cosplayers Wearing Mandalorian Armor

Ooh—I knew cosplayers were an ingenious group, but this is awesome: cosplayers portray Disney princesses in Boba Fett -like armor:

Tumblr Queens-of-Cosplay Boba Fett Pocahontas

Oh my goodness, the leaf detailing on the Pocahontas / Fett helmet! And the detailing in general—love it!

Tumblr Queens-of-Cosplay Boba Fett Elsa Tinkerbell

The photography is credited to Jonathan York who posts his photos as York In A Box. I haven’t been to confirm it, since Facebook has been glitching for me for some reason. It would’ve been great to read more about the setup and the individual cosplayers’ thoughts.

(I did some searching elsewhere, too, but my google fu fails me for the moment. If you can find a different link, please share!)

Found via Queens-of-Cosplay on Tumblr.

Images by Jonathan York / York In A Box via Tumblr.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: The Occultation of Saturn

One of the best things about social media—like the Internet, too—is how many different phenomena you can witness if not first hand then at least in a secondary capacity; way more than would be possible in a regular human lifetime.

Case in point: the occultation of Saturn (i.e., hiding behind another object, in this case the moon) a few days ago.

Twitter Ian Griffin Saturn behind Moon
Ian Griffin on Twitter

This view and others on Griffin’s Twitter account were taken from Portobello in New Zealand.

Holy moly! The space nerd in me is impressed.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Quotes: Cribbage Boards Are as Common as Wooden Spoons

Cribbage boards are as common as wooden spoons in the kitchens of this island. Children raised in this part of Maine often learn to play cribbage before the can tie their own shoes.

Linda Greenlaw writes about Isle Au Haut, Maine, not far from where one part of my family has its roots in the rocky coastal soil. This was one of many parts of the book that had me nodding in recognition. I can’t honestly say whether I learned to play cribbage (a curious card game for which you keep score on a wooden board) or tie my shoes first, but I can say that I don’t clearly remember a time in my life when I couldn’t do both.

Greenlaw, Linda. The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island. New York: Hyperion, 2002, p. 111.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.