Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall and Edmund Weiner
As Merry has said, these three speakers all work full time revising the Oxford English Dictionary and have recently produced a new book The Ring of Words (OUP 2006) about Tolkien’s time on the OED. All three speakers took it in turns to talk about different aspects of this, and all included a lot of new research not contained in their book.
Peter Gilliver (L), Jeremy Marshall (C) and Patrick Curry (R)
On Craigie’s recommendation Tolkien joined a team of lexicographers to work on ‘W’ after the war. But working briefly on the Dictionary wasn’t the end of Tolkien’s involvement with Oxford University Press (OUP). From these OUP connections Tolkien found himself working with Kenneth Sisam on OUP Middle-English texts, Sisam doing the translations (I think…) and Tolkien the glosseries. The second glossary Tolkien worked on was for a new annotated translation of Chaucer, which he started in 1923. Tolkien had so many troubles to deal with during this year that he kept putting the glossery off and making excuses until he had to promise, in 1924 to ‘Cram Chaucer into any cracks of time that are left’. It was finally finished in 1924 but was so long he was asked to compress it and produce explanatory notes. He ‘Cram(med) Chaucer into any cracks of time that are left’ so unsuccessfully that it was temporarily shelved until 1930. In 1951 he was still working on it (Gilliver told this whole story to hilarious effect). The OED was in despair but didn’t want to drop Tolkien because he was a respected Professor. Sisam later called Tolkien ‘A rogue. He has held up Middle-english studies for 20 years…his time is given to fairy stories.’ Eventually the OED gave up and the Chaucer translation was never published. Tolkien eventually asked for the manuscript as it contained ‘notes useful to him alone’. One can only wonder what the OED thought of that!
Edmund Weiner (R)
The final part of the talk was given by Jeremy Marshall. He concentrated on Tolkien and the word ‘dwarves’. Tolkien himself confessed that it should have correctly been dwarfs but that once he had written ‘dwarves’ he had to go on with it, although he said (I think?) ‘dwarrow’ was the most correct language usage and he wished he’d used that. Marshall argued that the plural ‘dwarves’ could really be more correct than ‘dwarfs’. He said he was going to argue for ‘Tolkien the Writer’ against ‘Tolkien the Philologist’. He presented us with many literary references to dwarves (Bulwer-Lytton and others) showing that this had started to become, even before Tolkien, the more common literary use. He also pointed out that Tolkien felt that ‘dwarves’ as a plural went better with ‘elves’ and they were analogous. He also mentioned that the use of ‘dwarven’ is restricted just to Tolkien (my 1920’s Chambers Dictionary only gives dwarfish). He finally left us with the thought that Tolkien may have permanently changed the usage and that ‘dwarves’ was appearing increasingly as the more usual plural in newer dictionaries whereas before it was always given the epithet ‘rare’. I wonder what Tolkien would have thought of that?
The Inklings Corner (and our guide), The Eagel and Child