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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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.

Trailers for the Tolkien Biopic

It’s three weeks to the release of Tolkien, the new biopic directed by my fellow Finn, Dome Karukoski.

IMDB Tolkien Biopic

Two trailers are out at this point:

TOLKIEN | Official Trailer | FOX Searchlight on YouTube

TOLKIEN | Trailer 2 | FOX Searchlight on YouTube

Looking very shiny! At just under 2 hours and chock-full of great actors—Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Genevieve O’Reilly (Mon Mothma in Star Wars!), Colm Meaney, Pam Ferris and Derek Jacobi, among others—it sounds promising.

Image: Lily Collins as Edith Bratt and Nicholas Hoult as J.R.R. Tolkien, via IMDB.

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

Spring 2019: Tolkien Exhibition at The Morgan in NYC

The Morgan Library and Museum is going to have a Tolkien exhibition.

Morgan Library The Hobbit Tolkien Exhibition 2019

From the exhibit description:

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth celebrates the man and his creation. The exhibition will be the most extensive public display of original Tolkien material for several generations. Drawn from the collections of the Tolkien Archive at the Bodleian Library (Oxford), Marquette University Libraries (Milwaukee), the Morgan, and private lenders, the exhibition will include family photographs and memorabilia, Tolkien’s original illustrations, maps, draft manuscripts, and designs related to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.”

They’ve also made an introductory video:

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth by The Morgan Library & Museum on YouTube

Related program includes a lecture, gallery talks, workshops, and family programming, among others. The exihibit is open January 25 through May 12, 2019. More information at The Morgan website.

Found via Locus.

Image cropped from the cover illustration for The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, via The Morgan

In Defense of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy

There’s a lot wrong with Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, make no mistake. It is an overstuffed, poorly structured jumble of unnecessary action sequences, juvenile humor, and tedious subplots, all ending in an interminable final battle that makes neither narrative nor tactical sense. Still, not all the problems are of Jackson’s making, and there are some things it does right that deserve notice.

Many of the structural weaknesses in the plot come from Tolkien’s original. The Hobbit was a children’s book about Bilbo Baggins and a band of Dwarves having a series of random encounters on their way to a spectacularly poorly planned heist. The characters are for the most part so flat as to be interchangeable and the plot is little more than an excuse to trundle from one retold Nordic folktale to another. I loved the book as a child and I still have a great fondness for it, but it does not have the depth or cohesion of The Lord of the Rings. Jackson’s writing team put in heroic efforts to make thirteen distinct characters out of Tolkien’s lyrical list of Dwarf names and to fill in much of the background story that makes sense of Bilbo’s disjointed adventures. (On the other hand, this fleshing-out work is also the source of many of the movies’ problems. On one hand, developing the Dwarves’ characters too often just provided more opportunities for out-of-place slapstick. On the other hand, filling in the gaps in Tolkien’s plot led to inventing new characters, which Jackson’s team too often fell in love with and allowed to take over the story.)

Despite these problems, some of the best moments in the trilogy are iconic scenes from Tolkien’s original that were put on screen with very few changes. Scenes like Bilbo’s riddling contest with Gollum in the depths of the Misty Mountains, Gandalf’s wily approach to Beorn, and Bilbo’s conversation with Smaug are rendered with a fidelity that shows a real love and respect for Tolkien’s creation. They are a delight to watch, even if they can’t make up for the rest of the films around them.

Even the less authentic scenes are often elevated by the quality of the performances. Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Christopher Lee reprise their roles as Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman with intelligence and gravitas. Andy Serkis gets to present a less desperate, more playful version of Gollum while Orlando Bloom performs a younger Legolas who is, as Tolkien said of the Mirkwood Elves, “more dangerous and less wise” than the character we remember from The Lord of the Rings. The newcomers to the series give it their best, too. Martin Freeman shows us how Bilbo finds his courage and taste for adventure without ever losing his Hobbitish love of home and comfort. The Dwarf actors, for all that they mostly get used for broad comedy, give their characters an individuality and personality that Tolkien never did. Benedict Cumberbatch is smoothly menacing as the voice of Smaug. Sylvester McCoy’s Radagast does a bit too much slapstick, but he also gives us a wild fresh take on wizardry that sits at the other end of the spectrum from Saruman’s aloof grandeur.

The sets, props, costuming, and other art direction live up to the high standards set by Weta in the first trilogy. From the ancient depths of Erebor to the workaday fishing village of Lake Town, from the rugged traveling gear of the Dwarves to the cold glamour of the Elvish king Thranduil, there isn’t a place, character, or object on screen that doesn’t show the art department’s commitment to creating a world that feels real and lived-in. Over it all, Howard Shore’s music is as rich and operatic as ever.

But the best thing about the Hobbit trilogy, though, the thing that redeems the whole troubled production and its many missteps, is not the films themselves but the discs full of extras that come with the extended editions. Most studios are content to slap in a few deleted scenes, a handful of trailers for unrelated movies, and maybe a couple five-minute promo interviews with the big-name stars talking about how awesome the movie is (seriously, movie studios, you don’t need to market your movie to the people who have already bought the DVD), but not Jackson & Co. Each of the Hobbit films comes with hours upon hours of in-depth documentaries on every aspect of the production, from concept art to final edits. These documentaries do more than go behind the scenes in the usual self-promoting Hollywood way. They also show us the false starts, the mistakes, the ideas that went nowhere and the things that went seriously wrong. You get a fuller appreciation of the good things in the movies when you see how hard it was to get some of them on screen.

The extra features are also well designed for usability. Everything is subtitled, which is great for those of us who don’t always hear well. The menus are easy to use and it’s obvious which item you’re choosing, unlike some discs which make you do a lot of tedious scrolling back and forth and use only a slight difference in color to tell you what button you’re about to hit. Every section tells you how long it is, so you can plan your watching accordingly. The Hobbit extras are the gold standard of how to do bonus features and I wish that more studios and franchises would take as much care both in what they offer for extra material and the functionality of their products.

The Hobbit trilogy is not great cinema. The whole does not measure up to the sum of its parts, but some of those parts are in themselves fascinating and beautiful. They make it worth going there and back again.

Image: Promotional still from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey via IMDb

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

The Hobbit’s 80th Anniversary

On this day in September, many years ago, there finally was The Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty book, though, filled with beetle-holes and a musty smell, but a Hobbit book, and that means comfort…

Tolkien Gateway Bilbo Comes to Huts of Raft-elves

In other words: J.R.R. Tolkien’s most famousest of novels The Hobbit was first published September 21, 1937, by Allen & Unwin.

Happy 80th Birthday!

Alas, 80 years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable readers—we therefore wish you many more!

Image: Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves via Tolkien Gateway (1937; color drawing; J.R.R. Tolkien)

Lord of the Rings Fridge Poem

Years and years ago we got one of those poetry magnet sets in Finnish. Judging from the words included, it was a “love and romance”-themed set. We had fun playing with it for a while, but there’s only so many poems you can make about “forbidden lips” and “tender roses” before you get bored. So, what to do? How about scrounging through the words you’ve got and coming up with a Lord of the Rings poem instead?

A weak man understands trembling

The ring whispers

An eternal red eye flashes

Must walk towards it

Fiery pain

Night

Precious

The great white woman gives a candle

Noble hope

A brave friend

Close

A high clear moment

My good garden

 

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

Making A Proper 1420

Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s A Proper 1420.

The menu

  • Boiled chicken dinner
  • Poppy seed-cakes

erikchef1There’s few ways of cooking more traditional than boiling. You can put vegetables and meat all in one big pot and boil until cooked through. Everything comes out piping hot and full of flavor. It’s simple and satisfying.

Dinner12

Our dinner this month is based on an old staple of New England cookery, the boiled dinner of corned beef or ham and root vegetables. I’ve substituted chicken for the meat and used what seemed like suitably Hobbitish vegetables: onions, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage.

We can be certain that Hobbits have chickens, since there’s no end of eggs in Bilbo’s kitchen. (H1) Pippin also complains about Gandalf guarding the palantir “like a hen on an egg.” (3.11) Potatoes, carrots, and onions are all on Sam’s wish list for a good stew (4.4) and the Gaffer scolds his son for dreaming of elves and dragons instead of cabbages and potatoes. (1.1) These ingredients all seem pretty solidly attested.

“Seed-cake” can mean any of a variety of cakes flavored with seeds, but I picked an old poppy seed-cake recipe that sounded like something Bilbo would enjoy. (H1) Poppies have long been cultivated in western Europe and elsewhere for their seeds and oil; they seem like they would be at home in the Shire.

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Dining in Middle Earth: A Proper 1420

“Altogether 1420 in the Shire was a marvellous year. […] In the Southfarthing the vines were laden, and the yield of ‘leaf’ was astonishing; and everywhere there was so much corn that at Harvest every barn was stuffed. The Northfarthing barley was so fine that the beer of 1420 malt was long remembered and became a byword. Indeed a generation later one might hear an old gaffer at an inn, after a good pint of well-earned ale, put down his mug with a sigh: ‘Ah! That was a proper fourteen-twenty, that was!’”

LotR Dinner12

We come back, at last, to the Shire, to end our year of dining in Middle Earth with a humble Hobbit dinner such as Frodo and his friends might have enjoyed after returning home from their adventures. A boiled chicken dinner makes a warm, homey meal for cold winter nights, and of course there’s beer to go with it. For dessert we have seed-cakes, an old favorite of Bilbo’s.

LotR Dinner12 Main

The table setting is sunny and cheerful, decorated with the Hobbits’ favorite colors. An unbleached linen table runner with green and yellow stripes sits over a dark green tablecloth. Green also comes on the napkins and plant pot with an ivy motif. The dinner is served on one large, hefty platter. A cloth-lined bread basket holds the small dessert seed-cakes. Fancy water glasses add another pop of greenish hues to the table.

LotR Dinner12 Dessert

Check out what’s it about in the introduction, or read the how-to!

Images by Eppu Jensen

Geeks eat, too! Second Breakfast is an occasional feature in which we talk about food with geeky connections and maybe make some of our own. Yum!

Making The Return of the King

Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s The Return of the King.

Dinner11

The menu

  • Saffron seafood soup
  • Roasted pork with olives and dates
  • Sauteed spinach
  • Almond pastries

erikchef1Since we really only see Gondor in a time of war and Tolkien gives us very little detail about what daily life was like after the defeat of Sauron, it takes some imagination to come up with a proper meal for such an occasion. In creating this month’s menu, I had a specific idea in mind: a feast that would represent all the people of Gondor. Aragorn’s coronation meant a new beginning for a kingdom that had been in a long decline. It touched all of Gondor’s people and it made sense that they would all contribute something to the table.

From the fishing folk of Ethir Anduin, we get a seafood soup. This recipe uses a variety of different seafoods combined with carrots and onions. It is, at heart, food for a hardworking family making a living from the sea and small coastal gardens, but the addition of cream and saffron makes it richer, sweeter, and more luxuriant. (5.1)

From the small farmers and herders of the hill country, we have a haunch of roast pork. To reflect the southern climes of Gondor, the pork is stuffed with herbs, olives and dates. This, too, is simple food, but presented in royal style.

From the fields and gardens of Pelennor, we get sauteed spinach, flavored with garlic and ginger. This recipe is inspired by a medieval dish from the middle east which seems appropriate for the Mediterranean-ish setting of Gondor.

Finally, from the sophisticated city-dwellers of Minas Tirith itself, we end with an artful set of almond pastries representing the white tree and seven stars of Gondor.

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