Etc.: Tolkien’s names, Pullman’s grimly good

Tolkien's monogram, and Tolkien Estate trademark
Tolkien’s monogram, and Tolkien Estate trademark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WHAT’S IN A NAME: Just some trivia for the end of the weekend about J.R.R. Tolkien’s interest in the late, great storyteller Snorri Sturluson.

Nancy Marie Brown’s new book on the Viking chronicler (featured in a previous post at Call of the Siren) who gave us stories of Odin, Thor & Company also recalled her shock as she flipped through the pages of Snorri’s Prose Edda.

Brown couldn’t believe her eyes: There, on the page, was a listing of the names of Gandalf as well as that courageous, merry band of dwarves that traveled far and wide in order to battle the dragon Smaug. The list was written more than seven centuries before Tolkien penned “The Hobbit.”

Here’s that passage from Snorri:

Then all the powerful gods went

to their thrones of fate,

the most sacred gods, and

decided among themselves

that a troop of dwarves

should be created…

Nyi, Nidi,

Nordri, Sudri,

Austri, Vestri,

Althjolf, Dvalin,

Nar, Nain,

Niping, Dain,

Bifur, Bafur,

Bombor, Nori,

Ori, Onar,

Oin, Modvitnir,

Vig and Gandalf,

Vindalf, Thorin,

Fili, Kili….

(taken from Penguin Classics’ edition of the Prose Edda, translated by Jesse Byock)

So, the great Tolkien wasn’t smart enough to invent names on his own?

If you’ve read any of the great Tolkien scholars, like Tom Shippey, you know the answer: The great inventor of Middle Earth (Midgard, in Snorri’s epic) wanted to root his saga in older Western traditions. It increased his cycle’s mythic reality. Instead of being an isolated, separate invention, his tales would belong to the great web of historical legend … and live forever. He wasn’t unoriginal — he was aiming for immortality.

GRIMLY GOOD: Philip Pullman, the epic storyteller behind “The Golden Compass” and the rest of the “His Dark Materials” stories, has retold the stories of the Brothers Grimm in a new edition. A friend, Mindy Farabee, has written a review of the book for the Los Angeles Times that’s definitely worth checking out.

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