Thursday, October 10, 2013

Elvish in Old English

In the annals of creating manuscript facsimiles with a false (but playful) sense of age, this document has a curious history. In the early stages of his subcreation, J.R.R. Tolkien composed a number of new texts in Old English, in which he described the creation of the world in the Elder Days; his original plan was to have all of the "Lost Tales" -- an early source of the legends later gathered in the Silmarillion -- recounted by a father to his son in Old English.

This is my own calligraphic interpretation of one of these texts, which I made in 1988 as a diversion when I was enrolled in Professor Geoffrey Russom's Old English class at Brown University.  Following Tolkien's own practice with his "Book of Mazarbul," I aged and discolored the document with an ink wash and a spell in the oven. Those with an acquaintance with the West Saxon dialect will have no trouble deciphering the text, which begins with "After that, the All-father, who in Elvish is called Iluuvatar created the world." The page is also preserved as part of Oxford University's excellent Woruldhord site, which collects all manner of resources for the study and teaching of Old English. And as for Professor Russom, he was not fooled. He took one glance at the fruit of my labors and muttered, "Tolkien, eh?" And then it was back to translating the Battle of Maldon.

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