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simon cook Mar 18, 2016 (13:59)

LOTR, FR, Gandalf twice uses the same words to perform a fire spell. What language are his words? What do they mean?

'The Ring Goes South': Gandalf starts a fire on the mountain with the words: 'naur an edraith ammen!'

'A Journey in the Dark': Gandalf sets the trees on fire by tossing a burning brand into the air and saying: 'Naur an edraith ammen! Naur dan i ngaurhoth!’

This second is the bigger spell (used when the wolves are attacking). Not understanding the words I find it interesting that he repeats the same words as when he lit the faggot but now adds the additional: Naur dan i ngaurhoth

Richard Rohlin Mar 18, 2016 (14:15)

These are both in Sindarin. The first bit goes something like, "Fire be for the saving of us!" if I recall (though I am away from my notes), while the second one is "Fire against the host of werewolves." 

Since this is just Sindarin and since Gandalf is basically just saying out loud what he is doing, I do not think there is any power in the words themselves, in that if Frodo or Aragorn said them I don't think it would have had the same effect. They are not "spells" in that respect.

Tamas Ferencz Mar 18, 2016 (14:45)

+Richard Rohlin
what do you mean "this is just Sindarin"? What language should they be in to qualify as a spell?

Richard Rohlin Mar 18, 2016 (14:49)

+Tamas Ferencz I did not mean to imply something reductionist. What I meant is that these are not a "spell" in the same way that the book of spells in (just to take a for-instance) in the Magician's library in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader are (Lucy is not a magician, but the spells work when she reads them because the virtue is in the words themselves, not in the reader). I would not expect an ordinary person in Middle-earth to be able to say these words and produce the same effect as Gandalf. 

Jeremiah Burns Mar 18, 2016 (14:50)

+Tamas Ferencz I take it to mean that the words are not what's important so much as who is saying them in this instance (in contrast to the doors of Moria, where the words were everything).

Richard Rohlin Mar 18, 2016 (14:51)

That is not to say they do not qualify as a "spell" at all, but I have seen people on some Tolkien boards who have tried to compile a "Middle-earth spellbook" based on phrases like this, and I think that's a fundamental misunderstanding of what Gandalf does and how it works.

simon cook Mar 18, 2016 (15:16)

:) Thanks everyone (especially +RR). 

Is there a reason, do you (plural) think, for why Gandalf utters these words in Sindarin rather than, say Quenya, or any other tongue for that matter.

(Btw, what language did the Valar speak before the coming of the Elves?)

Richard Rohlin Mar 18, 2016 (15:23)

+simon cook Tolkien prevaracates on that question a number of times, but as of the Lhammas (composed shortly prior to The Lord of the Rings) it was Valarin (though I am unsure of the spelling as again, I am away from my library). At that point in Tolkien's language invention, the Eldarin tongues were conceived as being softening of the hard, unchanging speech of the Valar that was taught to the Elves by Orome.

Valarin, incidentally, is quite phonologically similar to Old Persian.

Jeremiah Burns Mar 18, 2016 (15:24)

Those are excellent questions, +simon cook. Wish I knew. Look forward to any ideas thrown out by others.

Quenya had been a 'dead language' in M-e for some time by this point, I believe. Perhaps Gandalf was using S. rather than Q. out of politeness for those in the company who would not know Q.? But this seems a weak argument and highly unlikely. If that were the case, he'd do just as well to use Common Speech.

Tamas Ferencz Mar 18, 2016 (15:29)

+simon cook
the Valar speak Valarin:

Sindarin is the widely spoken Eldarin tongue of Middle-Earth in the time of the LotR, probably this is why Tolkien chose Gandalf to say those words in Sindarin  - especially if, as you say, they not specifically "spells" but merely expressions of his inner will manifesting in "magic" (don't really like that word in the context of Middle-Earth). Of course one might ask why didn't he say them in Westron then.

Jeremiah Burns Mar 18, 2016 (15:31)

+Tamas Ferencz That's exactly where my mind went. Why not use the everyday speech he's been using up until this point?

Richard Rohlin Mar 18, 2016 (15:31)

+simon cook If I had to venture a guess as to your first question, I would say there are two possible reasons: the first is just that Sindarin is more common within the fictional world.

The second, though, is that we need to remember that up until almost the completion of LoTR (including when the passage in question was written), Sindarin was actually Noldorin, the language that the Noldor had made for themselves out of Proto-Eldarin, sundered from Quenya by their long exile. And of all the Eldar, the Noldor seem the most likely to compose a "spell."

That is just a guess and I admit it is a rather tenuous one, but it is important to remember that there is never a final or "fixed" version of Tolkien's languages. He was always tweaking with them and sometimes went as far as to change their whole history in respect to the group that they belonged to.

JRR Tolkien, master of retcon.

Richard Rohlin Mar 18, 2016 (15:35)

+Tamas Ferencz That is true of at least one point of Tolkien's conception. At other points he has them not speaking any language at all until the Eldar come along. I don't remember where this appears in HoME, though, but I'll try to dig it up when I get home.

Richard Rohlin Mar 18, 2016 (15:47)

Here is a little more about Tolkien's conception of the language of the Valar (at the time of the writing of the Lhammas ) and its influence on the languages of the elves. References are from The Lost Road. Please excuse my shoddy notes, as they were jottings to myself for the purposes of my paper on the elves as language inventors.

On the speech of the Valar:

‘The speech of the Valar changes little, for the Valar do not die; and before the Sun and the Moon it altered not from age to age in Valinor. But when the Elves learned it, they changed it from the first in the learning, and softened its sounds, and they added many words to it of their own liking and devices even from the beginning. For the Elves love the making of words, and this has ever been the chief cause of the change and variety in their tongues.’ (Lost Road, p. 168) 

On Quenya:

‘the Elves much altered the tongue of the Valar, and each of the kindreds after their own fashions. The most beautiful and the least changeful of these speeches was that of the Lindar, and especially the tongue of the house and folk of Ingwe [footnote written after main text- ‘….their grammar and vocabulary remained more ancient that those of any other Elvish folk’]….and for long this language was chiefly used in inscriptions or in writings of wisdom and poetry…..It was called by the Gods and Elves ‘the Elvish tongue’, that is Qenya and such it usually named….This is the Elf-Latin and it remains still.’ (Lost Road, p. 172) 

On Noldorin (which eventually grows/changes to become Sindarin):

‘Now as ages passed and the Noldor became more numerous and skilled and proud, they took also to the writing and using in books of their own speech beside the Qenya; and the form in which is earliest written and preserved in the ancient Noldorin or Kornoldorin, which goes back to the days of the gem-making of Feanor son of Finwe. But this Noldorin never became fixed, as was Qenya, and was used only by the Noldor, and its writing changed in the course of years with the changes of speech and with the varying devices of writing among the Gnomes…And the fruit of their spirit were many works of exceeding beauty and also much sorrow and grief.’ (Lost Road, p. 174)

And an interesting note on the languages of the Orcs:

‘Orquin, or Orquian, the language of the Orcs, the soldiers and creatures of Morgoth, was partly itself of Valian origin, for it was derived from the Vala Morgoth. But the speech which he taught he perverted wilfully to evil, as he did all things, and the language of the Orcs was hideous and foul and utterly unlike the languages of the Qendi.’ (Lost Road, p. 178) 

Tolkien eventually drops the idea of Quenya and the other Eldarin languages being derived from Valarin, and they become derived from a proto-Quendi instead.

Richard Rohlin Mar 18, 2016 (15:54)

And +simon cook, I believe the correct plural of "you" is "y'all." 


Jeremiah Burns Mar 18, 2016 (15:55)

Not to be confused with all y'all, +Richard Rohlin.

Richard Rohlin Mar 18, 2016 (15:57)

+Jeremiah Burns Of course not. That's a collective plural.

Tamas Ferencz Mar 18, 2016 (15:58)

+Richard Rohlin
that would be *yath

Richard Rohlin Mar 18, 2016 (16:00)

+Tamas Ferencz Let's bring it back.

Tamas Ferencz Mar 18, 2016 (17:01)

+Richard Rohlin
sorry, that was a - poor - joke, -ath being the collective plural marker in Sindarin, as in Argonath or elenath

Jeremiah Burns Mar 18, 2016 (18:45)

+Tamas Ferencz I love it. I may use it. Yath come back now, y'hear?

Fiona Jallings Mar 18, 2016 (19:27)

I think the reason that Tolkien uses Sindarin when Gandalf uses magic is a literary reason, not a world building one. It makes it more obvious that he's using magic, makes it feel more mysterious and magical, because the average reader won't be able to understand it.

Tamas Ferencz Mar 18, 2016 (21:53)

+Kevin B Walsh
I doubt that. The sheer difference between the attested Quenya and Sindarin vocabularies refute that, I think.

Tamas Ferencz Mar 18, 2016 (22:28)

+Kevin B Walsh
I do apologize. I somehow missed that you were talking about an 'in-world' explanation.

Chris Blackford Mar 19, 2016 (23:00)

+Richard Rohlin Funny thing is, "you" actually is the plural/formal (you may know this being studied in linguistics, in which case, I apologize if I sound patronizing) and "thou" is the singular/informal. It's become funny to me, to listen to people or read things that are meant to sound "fancy" and "respectful" use Thou (which would denote intimacy or disrespect).

Richard Rohlin Mar 19, 2016 (23:09)

+Chris Blackford Going even farther back to Anglo-Saxon, you have a singular form ('thu'), a dual form ('git') and and a plural form ('ge', pronounced 'ye'). It is the accusative form of the latter, 'eow,' which is the precursor of our modern 'you.'

My favorite example of anachronistic use of ungrammatical language is in the traditional Christmas Carol "God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen." Some modern hymnals render it as "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" which is of course completely incorrect as "Ye" is in the Nominative case. But at some point after "ye" had fallen out of regular use, someone replaced the "you" with it to make this (already rather old) carol sound more old-fashioned.

Chris Blackford Mar 19, 2016 (23:13)

I'm going to really nerd out in the following statement:

I just re-read the above mentioned paragraph, and it says:

"...and then with a word of command..."

Now, to me it sounds not like a spell in the traditional sense, i.e. something anyone can read/say and the magic will happen. It almost sounds like (and this is where the nerdy comes in) a feat ala D&D. That would mean that Gandalf is using his staff as a magic focus (an item used to concentrate magical energies, like a wand or a staff), then he uses the Sindarin phrase as his vocal component, activating the "feat". As to why Sindarin and not another language? My guess would be that it was the first language he spoke when he arrived on Arda? He is, after all, a native of Valinor, and may have been imbued with a magical understanding of the languages of Middle Earth, but being more closely related to Elves than to men...well, you see my point I hope.

Here's something fun I just started to piece together though: Gandalf carries Narya, which gives hope to the allies of it's wielder, and that's exactly what happens in that instance.

simon cook Mar 20, 2016 (04:34)

In support of the last post: when we get to Moria (which is very soon after the two fire incidents mentioned) Gandalf himself explicitly talks of spells, and even counter spells (the scene when he first encounters the Balrog, who is on the other side of a door they are both putting spells on).

Andre Polykanine Mar 20, 2016 (18:27)

A very interesting discussion. I think, however, everything is simpler: Olórin (Gandalf, if you like) is a maia sent to the Earth. Eldar are (or, at least, were) able to communicate with the Valar (I wouldn't call it "praying", since, first of all, it is not a pagan term, and secondly, they often got audible - or telepathical, if you prefer, - answers from the Gods). An act of Middle-Earth magic is nothing more (and nothing less) than a rite of calling the Valar. It is quite natural that it was done in an Eldarin language. Actually, Olórin perhaps didn't need such verbalization per se, but it could help him to concentrate.