Hobbit Place-names: A Linguistic Excursion through the Shire. Rainer Nagel. Walking Tree Publishers, 2012. 302 pp., $24.30.
Reviewed by Mark T. Hooker
[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 49:3 (#356) in March 2012.]
This is another excellent book from Walking Tree Publishers, the press of Eredain, the Swiss Tolkien Society. It is primarily linguistic in nature. It explores “the toponymy of The Shire,” which Tolkien calls “a parody” of the place-names “of rural England” (3).
Nagel notes that while there has been considerable interest in Tolkien’s nomenclature, “the focus has been on singling out particular names of important individuals and places. Thorough analyses of names (place-names or personal ones) are usually reserved for Elvish names only” (1). Nagel’s book, however, takes a more systematic approach. It catalogues all the place-names in The Shire and in Breeland, including those that appear on the map, but not in the text, as well as four names from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.
Nagel puts all these place-names in the context of Tolkien’s working aid for translators (“Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings”), and then explores their “possible ‘etymologies’ against the theoretical backdrop of real-world English place-name research” (4). He provides a good overview of the most current thinking on this subject that will certainly be useful to those just beginning to explore this branch of Tolkienian Linguistics. Even those who are well versed in this area will find something new to spur them on to further investigations.
Nagel, for example, notes that the appearance of my books necessitated some changes in his manuscript (xiii). He has returned the favor with Hobbit Place-names, which has necessitated some changes in the manuscript of my forthcoming book, Tolkien and Welsh, and suggested a new approach for further research, for which my thanks.
Each name in Nagel’s book is also examined from the perspective of Comparative Translation. Since Nagel is based at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, his focus is on the competing German translations. This discussion will be of interest to students of Tolkien’s aforementioned “Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings”, because Tolkien made specific suggestions for the translation of his names into German. Nagel offers a native-German-speaking linguist’s opinion of Tolkien’s suggestions.
In conclusion, Hobbit Place-names is an informative, easy read that is heartily recommended for all students of Tolkien’s Common-Speech nomenclature.
About the Author
Rainer Nagel is a professor of English and Linguistics at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. His area of interest is Tolkiennymy, a branch of Tolkienian Linguistics that focuses on place and personal names in Tolkien’s Legendarium which are intended to be perceived as names in first-world languages.
About the Cover Art
The cover illustration of three Hobbits having a picnic under an oak at the side of the road is by Anke Eißmann. You can view the image at:
It seems a perfect fit for a book about an excursion in The Shire.
Eißmann also did the cover art for Walking Tree’s Inside Language by Ross Smith, which uses her painting of “Oromë espies the first Elves.” Walking Tree also used her art for the covers of the re-issues of Tolkien in Translation and Translating Tolkien: Text and Film.
Eißmann was a contributor to the Northeast Tolkien Society Calendar. ou can visit her website at:
From my perspective, hers is a name to look out for in the future.