par Gelydrihan


1.1. J.R.R Tolkien.

John Reuel Ronald Tolkien need not nowadays be introduced to the public, either general or academic. As the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings he is known to more than fifty million readers world-wide, and can be said to have profoundly marked the literary field known as ’Heroic Fantasy’, despite his own reluctance at being so classified. Still, in some way, this staggering yet unexpected success hides a measure of failure. Tolkien was no professional author ; he lived in Oxford because he taught there, after having studied there. Yet Professor Tolkien remains unknown to the vast majority of those who were not among his friends or students.

Failure of a sort, then, for recognition came because of what Tolkien thought at first to be a pastime, not for his achievement in what may have been his main interest : Philology, and especially the language and literature of medieval England. His contribution to this field is, as we shall see, far from insignificant, but it was not the source of his fame. In fact, after having been awarded a Second Class in Honour Moderations at Oxford in 1913, and First Class Honours in 1915, the only recognition of his scholarly talent he received (apart from his elections to various professor posts) was an honorary Doctorate of Letters conferred in… 1972, the year before he died ; and as Humphrey Carpenter remarks in his Biography :

« Nevertheless at the degree ceremony the speech in his honour by the Public Orator (his old friend Colin Hardie) contained more than one reference to the chronicles of Middle-Earth, and it concluded with the hope « that in such green leaf, as the Road goes ever on, he will produce from his store Silmarillion and scholarship ». » [1]

Failure of a sort… but not complete failure, for Middle-Earth would not be the same if its creator had not been a philologist and a student of Old and Middle English. In fact, as Professor Shippey, an enlightened Tolkien critic, makes clear in his Road to Middle-Earth, one can wonder if it would have been at all. The famous name itself, Middle-Earth, comes directly from the old Germanic legends, from Midgard, and the Old English middan-geard : the world of men, holding the middle between Hell and Asgard, the land of the Gods ; but also in the middle of the great ocean. Hell and Asgard have no exact parallel in Middle-Earth ; but it is in the middle of a great ocean, first of water, then beyond the ’Walls of the World’ (or ’Of the Night’) of some kind of ether. One of the greatest heroes in Middle-Earth’s history is Eärendil who, bearing one of the mystical Silmaril gems, was turned into a star to bring eternal hope to Humankind. Eärendil was conceived by Tolkien after he read lines from Cynewulf’s Crist :

Eala Earendel engla beorhtastofer middangeard monnum sended.

Hail, Earendel, brightest of angels,

above the middle-earth sent unto men.

’Earendel’ has never been satisfactorily explained by philologists in this context ; but whatever interpretations and references can be given, the important thing is the re-creation Tolkien made of it. Struck by image and mystery alike, he wrote a poem on ’The Voyage of Eärendil’. When his old friend Geoffrey Bache Smith asked him what it was about, he answered : « I don’t know. I’ll try to find out. » This was in 1914 ; The Book of Lost Tales, the first version of what would become The Silmarillion, was begun in 1917 [2].

Similarly, it does not seem unlikely that a line from Beowulf (line 112) was an inspiration for three of Tolkien’s most memorable fantasy races :

eotenas ond ylfe ond orcneas

« Ents and Elves and Orcs »


To find out : this is the keyword of Tolkien’s creative process. It may be professional ’deformation’ from a sworn philologist ; I’d rather be inclined to think that profession and artistic creation derived from the same impulse to ’find out’ what lies behind words, sounds, images, or mysteries. Most critics know, and have analysed the fact, that Middle-Earth was originally a world designed to support languages. Tolkien started creating languages when he was a child ; when these creations reached some complexity, the need for a world and a history to explain their changes and relationships made itself felt. In the beginning was the Word : Tolkien invented Elvish before he invented Elves ; he created Middle-Earth to shelter them [3]. To paraphrase Cædmon :

Hé ærist scop ylfa barnum

Ælviscan tungan, orðanc scepen,

thá Middungeard

He first shaped for the children of the Elves

The Elvish language, crafty shaper,

Then the Middle-Earth…

The deep sense of reality behind Middle-Earth’s chronicles, the ease with which Tolkien commands a ’Willing Suspension of Disbelief’, all stem from the method with which he ’reconstructed’ Middle-Earth, as a philologist reconstructs archaic word-forms from modern ones. The mystery around Earendel for instance, an unusual word-form in Old English, prompted him to reconstruct what lay behind it. From a word, or rather a chain of sounds that suited his ear, he reconstructed a language. Another famous example is that of the word ’Hobbit’, now so famous as to figure in the Oxford English Dictionary. According to Tolkien’s own testimony, when he scribbled the first line of The Hobbit, « In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit, » on a student paper, he had no idea where the name came from. Hob ? Rabbit ? Babbitt ? We shall never know ; but the word pleased him. A character emerged from it, then an entire people, and years later, in one of the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien gave a perfectly believable etymology for the word : ’Hobbit’ could be derived from an archaic *hol-bytla, hole-dweller or hole-builder [4].

Middle-Earth was reconstructed, but is not realistic, with its occurrences of magic, supernatural powers and mythical beings : it remains ’fantasy’. Yet Tolkien chose to link it even closer with our world, or at least its legends, by trying at first to tell its history through the mouth of an English sailor from the Saxon times, Ælfwine, who as the work developed and evolved, was drawn into (or from ?) the legends and poems we inherited from the middle-ages, for which Tolkien also reconstructed situations and antecedents. Thus he worked on the legend of King Sheave, of Finn and Hengest, sometimes linking them directly to Middle-Earth (we shall see a ’Wade of the Helsings’ linked to the Silmarillion legend of Gondolin, and the Notion Club Papers, an abandoned novel recently published by Christopher Tolkien in Sauron Defeated, links characters of the Saxon times with Celtic legends, Atlantis, and Tolkien’s own Atlantis myth of Nùmenor).

Middle-Earth, even as depicted in the small part of its chronicles that was published while Tolkien lived, owes much to his knowledge of philology and Medieval English. This is not the place to list all references, or every bit of information that has or could have a source in Germanic legends or medieval literature. Professor Shippey surveys such matter in The Road to Middle-Earth, and it is too vast a field to remain within the scope of this essay, but I think it necessary to stress that such knowledge was essential in creating Middle-Earth ; and that it is a tremendous instrument to understand and enjoy this formidable work.

In this essay we will be concerned with a single point, namely Tolkien’s use of alliterative poetry. According to my experience, few readers, and nearly none of those who have only read translations of The Lord of the Rings, realise that some poems in it follow the ancient rules of Old English poetry, even though many critics have recognised the use of Old English for the language of one of the peoples of Middle-Earth, the horse-riding Rohirrim [5]. In the same order of ideas, when Tolkien’s short play in alliterative verse, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm’s Son, was broadcast by the BBC Third Programme in 1954, his biographer Humphrey Carpenter remarks :

« Tolkien was deeply irritated by this radio production, which ignored the alliterative metre and delivered the verse as if it were iambic pentameters. » [6]

In fact we had to wait until Christopher Tolkien published material from the drafts and unpublished works of his father to discover the extent to which Tolkien had used this kind of verse. Certainly one author cannot create a revival, but the extent of the alliterative corpus in Tolkien’s works is nonetheless very impressive, as we shall see. More striking still is that Tolkien actually wrote some of his alliterative poetry in Old English, just as he wrote Chronicles for The Silmarillion in West Saxon and in Mercian. Nothing could be more natural, since a Saxon sailor was supposed to have brought them from a lost island, but it is certainly worth mentioning.

The result is that, during the first three quarters of the twentieth century, a work that claims direct inheritance from Eighth to Eleventh century (and possibly much earlier) literature was created – most of it in virtual secrecy and obscurity, for the sole pleasure of its creator. For Tolkien enthusiasts and students of Medieval literature alike, however, such work offers much interest. The goal of this essay is to be an introduction to the study of this production, to determine how it is linked to its models. A logical follow-up would be to determine what changes from the original have been made, and try to solve some problems caused by such a try at resurrecting a supposedly dead poetry. After all, many scholars attributed the disappearance of the Old English metre to changes in the language itself, so that it became unsuitable to the requirements of alliterative poetry [7]. Paul Zimmer expresses the problem thus :

« (…) Tolkien (…) has found new ways to deal with the extra syllables imposed by the grammatical particles that have replaced the old genitive, dative, etc. For this is the chief difficulty in writing alliterative poetry in Modern English. Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon and even Middle English have a wonderful compression, due to inflection, which is very hard to achieve in Modern English, with all its « of the »s and other complicating extra syllables. » [8]

If Tolkien was successful in bringing alliterative poetry back to life, should not such judgements be revised ? The reaction of R.W. Chambers to one of Tolkien’s poems, The Fall of Arthur (see below, section seems to confirm this.

1.1.1. Tolkien, Old English and Philology.

According to Tolkien’s biographer Humphrey Carpenter, young Tolkien had always been fascinated by languages, especially by the sound of them. He developed a personal sense of ’beauty’ in languages, which led him to study Latin, Greek and Spanish, while developing a strong love for Welsh. ’A love of words’ is the exact translation of Philology, and it seems therefore natural that Tolkien should have followed this course. He discovered Old English after his sixteenth birthday in a primer lent him by his master George Brewerton. From the primer he went rapidly on to Beowulf, then to Middle-English, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl  [9]. The sounds must have pleased him, as well as the sense of discovering the roots of his own language : « I am a West-midlander by blood, and took to early West-midland Middle English as to a known tongue as soon as I set eyes on it, » he once said to W.H. Auden [10]. He was always very sensitive to his ancestry, and very concerned by the relationships that might exist between himself, his language, and the country he lived in (contrarily to what has too often been said by misinformed detractors, though born in South Africa, he scarcely retained any memories of it and considered himself perfectly English) ; later in life, he expressed his desire to create a truly English mythology.

Still looking for roots, he turned to Old Norse, Gothic, then Finnish in which he was soon fluent, and attended classes and lectures by Joseph Wright for his special subject : Comparative Philology. About the same time he began creating a language influenced by Finnish, that would eventually become the High-elven ’Quenya’. At the beginning of the summer term of 1913 he abandoned Classics and began to read English at the Honour School of English Language and Literature, under the tutorship of Kenneth Sisam. Among the essays he worked on are : ’Problems of the dissemination of phonetic change’, ’The lengthening of vowels in Old and Middle-English times’, and ’The Anglo-Norman element in English’. Among his readings he encountered the Crist of Cynewulf, which as we have seen influenced him strongly. He was awarded First Class Honours in his final examination in the Summer of 1915, then went to the army.

In 1918, he joined the staff of the New English Dictionary at Oxford ; the following year he began working as a freelance tutor. In the summer of 1920 he was appointed Reader in English Language at Leeds University ; joined there in 1922 by E.V. Gordon, he began to compile with him a new edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, published in 1925, and widely acclaimed as a major contribution to the field. He also printed with Gordon a collection of « rude verses about the students, translated nursery rhymes in Anglo-Saxon, and drinking songs in Old Norse, » under the title Songs for the Philologists [11]. In 1924, he became Professor of English Language, and in the summer of 1925 he was elected Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. This was also the time when he began his longest alliterative poem, based upon the Silmarillion story of Tùrin Turambar.

Important works of this period include an article in 1929 on the Ancrene Wisse (Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiohad) in which he studied the language of the Cambridge and Oxford manuscripts and the links with pre-Conquest literary tradition ; a paper on the dialects in Chaucer’s Reeve’s Tale (’Chaucer as a Philologist : The Reeve’s Tale’, 1934) and the famous Beowulf : the Monsters and the Critics, a defence of the text as a valuable poem. Other projects included working on editions of the Ancrene WisseExodusPearlThe Wanderer and The Seafarer. The nineteen-twenties and thirties were also the time for translations of PearlSir Gawain and Sir Orfeo (the later published in 1944), some of which were not to be completed until long afterwards. One may think it no coincidence that many alliterative poems of his own making were composed during this period. Tùrin was still in progress (it was never finished) ; Aotrou and Itroun is dated September 1930 ; The Fall of Arthur was abandoned in the mid nineteen-thirties.

Nineteen thirty-six and Nineteen thirty-seven were two crucial years : during these, The Hobbit was written and published. Its unexpected success was to change forever the kind of quiet routine that was Tolkien’s life, which from then on would be divided between his academic work and the task of keeping publishers and readers alike appeased. Yet as I mentioned, the hiatus between the two occupations may not have been as wide as it may seem : even in The Hobbit, the influence of Tolkien’s knowledge of Germanic legends is clearly visible. Names like Beorn for a bear shape-changer (a literal berserker), or the dragon Smaug (from the Germanic verb *smugan, to squeeze through a hole), or the episode of the theft of a cup from the dragon’s hoard, straight out of Beowulf, constantly remind the alert reader that this work is not only a delight for children. The Lord of the Rings was begun in 1937, starting twelve years of hard work and delayed academic duties ; the only important paper of the period, On Fairy-Stories, is only remotely connected with Old English. In 1945 Tolkien was, nonetheless, elected Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford ; at about the same time he wrote his only attempt at theatre : the very short Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, a sequel to the medieval poem The Battle of Maldon, written in alliterative verse. The Lord of The Rings was completed in 1949, but not published until 1954. In 1953, the BBC Third Programme broadcast Tolkien’s translation of Sir Gawain, and The Homecoming was published ; it was broadcast in its turn the following year.

With the publication of The Lord of The Rings came world-wide success, and a kind of withdrawal ; after all, Tolkien was by then more than sixty. He retired from professorship in 1959. His edition of Ancrene Wisse (Ancrene Wisse : The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle, edited from MS. Corpus Christi College Cambridge 402) was published in 1962, English and Welsh in 1963, but he seems to have been by then reluctant to set aside his work on The Silmarillion for these, and they were to constitute his farewells to Philology. He received an honorary Doctorate of Letters in 1972 for his academic work ; and died in the early hours of Sunday September 2nd 1973, aged eighty-one.

Fragments of his works and translations have been published posthumously : The Old English Exodus (text, translation, commentary, 1981), Finn and Hengest : The Fragment and the Episode (1982), and some previously unpublished essays in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (1983). As a scholar, he is still recognised as having written articles that stand as landmarks in the history of Medieval English Literature criticism (even if most of them, The Monsters… in particular, are nowadays much criticised in their turn).

1.1.2. Tolkien and alliterative poetry. As a student and a linguist.

It seems natural that in dealing with England’s medieval literature, Tolkien should have encountered alliterative poetry. After all, a sizeable part of the surviving corpus is composed of poetry, which was nearly exclusively alliterative before the Conquest, not to mention the later Alliterative Revival of the fourteenth Century. Yet even a brief summing up of Tolkien’s career, both as a student and a scholar, suggests that he had a special taste for that poetic form. His first real contact with Anglo-Saxon was with Beowulf, and he discovered Middle-English in Sir Gawain. His mythology derived in part from his reading Crist, and most of his work as an editor, a translator, a critic or a commentator was concerned with BeowulfSir Gawain and Pearl. There is little doubt that what interested him in this archaic poetry was in fact the reason he took to liking medieval English in the first place : the feeling that there lay the roots of his own (and his contemporaries’) identity. In a letter to the Houghton Mifflin Co., dated of June 30th 1955, he remarked :

« My name is TOLKIEN. It is a German name (…) But (…) I am in fact far more of a Suffield (a family deriving from Evesham in Worcestershire), and it is to my mother who taught me (…) that I owe my tastes for philology, especially in Germanic languages, and for romance. I am indeed in English terms a West-midlander at home only in the counties upon the Welsh Marches ; and it is, I believe, as much due to descent as to opportunity that Anglo-Saxon and Western Middle English and alliterative verse have been both a childhood attraction and my main professional sphere. (…) I write alliterative verse with pleasure, though I have published little… «  [12]

He seems to have always been enthusiastic about such poetry, and to have shared this passion with his students. Despite a somewhat indistinct articulation, he would bring the poems to life. Writer J.I.M. Stewart, a former pupil, once said :

« He could turn a lecture room into a mead hall in which he was the bard and we were the feasting, listening guests. » [13]

Tolkien led an unrelenting fight during his academic life for the re-evaluation of Medieval English poetry, both as part of the knowledge required from students of English, but also in itself. His vibrant defence of Beowulf, exemplified in his famous essay, The Monsters and the Critics, is only one example among many others. Against ’Lit.’ dons who thought that English literature only began with Chaucer, and shared with the poet a disdain for rum ram ruf, he tried to rehabilitate both the West-midland dialects and the alliterative productions of the Revival : the conclusion to his study of the Ancrene Wisse, although it does not deal directly with alliterative poetry, could very well characterise his views :

« It is not a language long relegated to the ’uplands’ struggling once more for expression in apologetic emulation of its betters or out of compassion for the lewd, but rather one that has never fallen back into ’lewdness’, and has contrived in troublous times to maintain the air of a gentleman, if a country gentleman. It has traditions and some acquaintance with books and the pen, but it is also in close touch with a good living speech – a soil somewhere in England. » [14]

Much of Tolkien’s work consisted in editing, translating and commenting texts, because he wanted to give them the widest possible audience. Edition and commentary are commonplace, translation less so, especially when it seeks to be as exact a representation of the original texts as possible – specifically, when it seeks to reproduce the original metrics and alliterative devices, as well as meaning. As a translator.

Tolkien’s translations do not include many poems, but those he chose were especially long and difficult : they were Sir Gawain and the Green KnightPearl, and Sir Orfeo. Small fragments of other poems appear scattered among his drafts and essays ; passages from Beowulf appear in his essay On Translating Beowulf, originally Prefatory Remarks on Prose Translation of « Beowulf » for a 1940 edition by Professor Wrenn of J.R. Clark Hall’s 1911 Beowulf and the Finnesburg Fragment, A Translation into Modern English Prose. Tolkien’s reasons for endeavouring such work are explained in his Introduction to Sir Gawain :

« (…) (translation) is necessary if these poems are not to remain the literary pleasure only of mediaeval specialists. And they are difficult to translate. The main object of the present translations is to preserve the metres, which are essential to the poems as wholes ; and to present the language and style, nonetheless, not as they appear at a superficial glance, archaic, queer, crabbed and rustic, but as they were for the people to whom they were addressed : if English and conservative, yet courtly, wise, and well-bred – educated, indeed learned. » [15]

In fact, translation of a poem into prose did not appeal to him. In On Translating Beowulf, he wrote :

« Beowulf is not merely in verse, it is a great poem ; and the plain fact that no attempt can be made to represent its metre, while little of its other specially poetic qualities can be caught in such a medium, should be enough to show that ’Clark Hall’, revised or unrevised, is not offered as a means of judging the original, or as a substitute for reading the poem itself. » [16]

Later in the same work, Tolkien explains the workings of the Old English metre with examples in modern English :

« (…) a novel but defensible procedure ; for it brings out the ancestral kinship of the two languages, as well as the differences between them, and illustrates the old unfamiliar forms by words of whose tones and accents the student has living knowledge. » [17]

The chosen example, reproduced below, corresponds to lines 210-228 of Beowulf :

Here we touch one of the most important points in Tolkien’s creative process, one that will heavily influence, for example, the conception of The Lord of the Rings and, fortunately for us, provide us with some alliterative poetry where one would not expect to find it ; that is the notion of illustration by similarity. In the example above, the use of alliteration with known accentual patterns arguably gives the neophyte a better appreciation of Anglo-Saxon alliterative poetry than the mere giving of examples in the original language. Similarly in the previous introduction to the translation of Sir Gawain, language and style are said to have been chosen to give a modern audience a feeling akin to that felt by the medieval audience. That may seem very logic and simple, but in fact raises problems that are not easily solved. Considering The Lord of the Rings, for example.

One of the peoples appearing in the trilogy are the Rohirrim, a horse-riding warrior society. Many traits of their culture (apart from their privileged relationship with horses) are inspired by the historical Mercians : mead-halls, freemen aristocracy, heroic spirit, language and poetry. The Rohirrim speak Old Mercian and sing alliterative poetry. Tolkien explains these choices thus : since his work is supposed to be the translation of a forgotten book, English was chosen to represent the ’common tongue’ then used ; the Rohirrim (and to a lesser extent the Hobbits) spoke an archaic form of that language, and therefore are represented as speaking Old English.

« The language of Rohan I have accordingly made to resemble ancient English, since it was (…) in comparison with the Westron archaic. » [18]

In a note, he also explains that :

« This linguistic procedure does not imply that the Rohirrim closely resembled the ancient English otherwise, in culture or art, in weapons or modes of warfare, except in a general way due to their circumstances : a simpler and more primitive people living in contact with a higher and more venerable culture (…) »

In fact, the resemblance is very strong, as we shall see later through poetic examples. Incidentally, this prompted a negative reaction from the author when his own work had to be translated : English place-names and surnames should not be translated into, for example, French equivalents (as was done : Hobbitebourg for Hobbiton, La Grenouillère for Frogmorton, etc.) as these names had been designed to convey specific impressions to English minds that would be lost in a translation, or would denature the essence of the story, for example the local colour of the Hobbit’s Shire, a « parody of rural England. » [19] The argumentation is sometimes a bit strained and tail-biting, but since translation does not concern us here, let us only rejoice that Tolkien’s own ’translational’ approach to literary creation has provided us with the opportunity to read more of his alliterative poetry. As an author.

That Tolkien should have wanted to translate medieval poetry in as close a metre to the original as possible seems perfectly understandable, but nothing apart from pure aesthetic pleasure, not even professional interest, can possibly explain why a twentieth century author should have written, entirely created, a corpus of more than two thousand lines of alliterative poetry according to a mode more than a thousand year old.

Of course, one could argue that writing alliterative translations was not possible without some kind of practice. That may be, though, as far as I know, other translators have tried, sometimes with success, without producing apart from their work a similar body of poetry. Tolkien himself referred to the pleasure he had in writing alliterative poetry, for which his feeling that it represented ’roots’ may account in part. But again, I think that these two manifestations, academic translations and leisurely composition, are but different facets of a single, deep love for language and words. One would be the analytic facet, the rigorous inquiry leading to understanding, the other the undisciplined urge to play and invent (which is another way of finding out). Both processes influenced the other and may account for Tolkien’s effectiveness in both fields, creative and academic. The Times obituary written by his friend Clive Staples Lewis mentioned the « unique insight at once into the language of poetry and into the poetry of language » :

« Strange as it may seem, it was undoubtedly the source of that unparalleled richness and concreteness which later distinguished him from all other philologists. He had been inside language. » [20]

W.H. Auden, a friend and pupil, wrote to Tolkien :

« I don’t think I have ever told you what an unforgettable experience it was for me as an undergraduate, hearing you recite Beowulf. The voice was the voice of Gandalf. » [21]

There is cause for such statements : when Tolkien, in The Monsters…, wrote, for example, « A dragon is no idle fancy. Even today (despite the critics) you may find men not ignorant of tragic legend and history, who have heard of heroes and indeed seen them, who have yet been caught by the fascination of the worm, » he was speaking as the author of the (then unpublished) Silmarillion and the (published) Hobbit. His biographer Humphrey Carpenter remarks : « He had been into the dragon’s lair. » [22]

Tolkien in a sense bridged the gap between the usually antagonistic occupations of critic and artist. He could talk about language and poetry because he was himself a language-creator and a poet ; and his literary creation is all the more interesting and credible because it is coherent, because it rests in the end on a firm analytic, scientific basis. Tolkien once described The Lord of the Rings as « largely an essay in ’linguistic aesthetic’. » [23] Linguistic aesthetic : science and art reconciled.

The link between study and creation may be so strong that in fact many critics agree that Tolkien’s alliterative poetry is sensibly better than his rhyming poetry. Not that Tolkien ever seriously expressed a rejection of what he may have humorously considered as a Latin importation, (and not that his rhyming poetry is that bad either) ; he simply knew, and loved, the alliterative metre more.

One must also remark that alliterative poetry is only a part of Tolkien’s poetic production, which is quite considerable, and indissolubly linked with his prose works. Poetry is the supreme way of playing with words and sounds, and alliteration was not Tolkien’s only field of experimentation. The Hobbit (285 pages in Unwin Hyman’s 1981 paperback edition) contains about seventeen poems or songs (counting the riddle-contest as a single occurrence), The Lord of the Rings (1069 pages without the appendices in the Grafton 1992 paperback edition) contains about sixty-four (some being variants of others) ; this shows clearly enough the importance of poetry in Tolkien’s prose. The poems are of variable length, but more significantly, written in many different metres : some rhyming, some alliterative, some based on assonance, some in free verse… An exhaustive listing of every poetic device used by Tolkien would require an entire essay in itself.


[1] Bio, p. 255. For sources and abbreviations, see Bibliography at the end of the essay.

[2] Bio, p. 72.

[3] Letters, p. 219.

[4] LOTR Appendix F ’Of Hobbits’ p. 1164.

[5] For instance, John Tinkler, Old English in Rohan, in Critics, pp. 164-169.

[6] Bio, p. 218.

[7] For example, Choice, pp. 19-20.

[8] Opinion, p. 20.

[9] Bio, pp. 41-43.

[10] Bio, p. 137.

[11] Bio, p. 112

[12] Letters, p. 217.

[13] Bio, p. 138.

[14] Bio, p. 139.

[15] Gawain, p. 2.

[16] Monsters, p. 49.

[17] Monsters, p. 61.

[18] LOTR Appendix F, p. 1170.

[19] Letters, pp. 249-251 ; see also Companion.

[20] Bio, p. 138.

[21] Bio, p. 138.

[22] Bio, p. 144.

[23] Letters, p. 220.

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