Archives For Elves

Iceland’s Real Elves

January 21, 2014 — 21 Comments

warrior elvesI’ve always wanted to visit Iceland.

Not simply because it’s the most sparsely populated country in Europe . . . even though I’m not big on crowds.

Not simply because of its spectacular glaciers and volcanic activity . . . even though these natural wonders inspire genuine awe.

Not simply because it is home to the world’s most ancient parliamentary democracy . . . even though I believe representative democracy is the best sort of government available.

Not simply because they colonized Greenland, from which the Norse were the first Europeans to discover the Americas . . . even though Leif Erikson deserves the accolades rendered to others.

Not simply because 40,000 of my fellow citizens are of Icelandic descent . . . even though I’m pleased they have contributed to our national “melting pot.”

Not simply because Iceland’s tenth largest city is called Fjarðabyggð . . . even though that vivid name is sure to capture the imagination of any writer.

Not simply because the Icelandic alphabet actually includes a runic letter (Þ, þ) named thorn . . . even though this too makes the nation of Iceland unique.

And, not simply because J.R.R. Tolkien and his friend C.S. Lewis established a group called Kolbitar which was devoted to reading Icelandic and Norse sagas. The word itself means “coal biter” and refers to those in a harsh environment drawing so close to the fire’s warmth they can almost bite the coals.

When the Lord of the Rings (as a work in progress) was being in read at meetings of the Inklings, one of the groups members at some point blurted out, “Oh no, not another –– elf!” [I only mention this here because that impetuous comment is often incorrectly attributed to Lewis—a genuine fan of Tolkien’s masterpiece. It was actually voiced by Hugo Dyson, another WWI veteran who taught English at Merton College.]

In the past, all of these reasons have contributed to my curiosity about the Land of Ice, but now I have added one more reason to someday visit.

It turns out that some Icelanders believe that elves, called by them Huldufólk (hidden folk), are real!

The elves have a large enough human constituency, that they are able to block highway construction due to the impact on the local Huldufólk!

Technically, the preservation of the elvish solitude is only the secondary concern in the lawsuits, the first being protection of one of Iceland’s numerous lava fields. Iceland’s Supreme Court has vacillated on the case, which can only raise the ire of any elves that may reside there.

elf houseIf the proponents of the reality of the Huldufólk are right, there remains one shortcoming to the Icelandic elves. Apparently, if the elf homes that dot the countryside are any indication, the northern island breed are a diminutive race. As in tiny, what Americans would think of more as a gnome or perhaps even a fairy.

My problem is that I’ve been spoiled by J.R.R. Tolkien’s version of the elvish races. I see them a tall, noble, and wise. The kind of folk you’d want for a friend, if you could get past the aloofness that is apparently characteristic of beings who live centuries rather than decades.

I fear that these Icelandic elves are (pardon me, any Huldufólk who may be reading this) a rather inferior lot. More like leprechauns than warriors. If you live in Iceland and can correct my errors about the hidden folk there, please contact me. Even better if you happen to know some elves personally.

Most readers of Mere Inkling are either fans of C.S. Lewis and his fellow Inklings, or writers interested in similar topics such as adventure, virtue, imagination, and spirituality. In light of that, and the fact that the finale of the trilogy won Oscar for Best Film, I assume the vast majority have seen “The Lord of the Rings.”

When you watched the films, with whom did you most identify? Ladies had options from warriors, to counselors, to royalty. Likewise for the men. Then there were the different races of Middle Earth . . . did you cast yourself as human, elf or dwarf? Or perhaps, as a modest, earthy hobbit? (I hope there weren’t too many who identified with the orcs, and if you did, I’d suggest an appointment with your local therapist.)

If the notion of living a long, peaceful life, studying the arts and enjoying God’s creation inspires you, then it may be you possess a kinship with the Elvish soul. And if you do (or even if you’re merely curious) there is a wonderful website where you can learn not only how to speak your name in the Elf tongue, but also to write it in the Elf script.

J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis’ treasured friend, was at heart a philologist. Few people have ever lived who shared the intensity of his love for language. Not everyone knows though, that the matchless realm of Middle Earth with its timeless sagas grew neither from a vision for the heroic story nor out of the visualization of any of its vibrant inhabitants. No, the seeds of the most renowned fantasy realm ever envisioned, were planted and watered by Tolkien’s love of language.

It was primarily linguistic in inspiration and was begun in order to provide the necessary background of ‘history’ for Elvish tongues. (J.R.R. Tolkien, Forward to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings).

Tolkien’s passion for the languages of Middle Earth is legend. Today, other linguists continue to study, document and teach the sophisticated system. Tolkien’s creation was so complex that it resulted in the creation (and evolution) of several languages—distinguished by both history and geography. In the same way, Tolkien was not content to settle for a single version of text with which to pen these musical dialects. He created no fewer than three styles, with Tengwar being most familiar. (You can download these and related fonts here.)

So, how exactly do you discover your Elvish name?

There have long been “random generators” for Middle Earth-sounding names. The generator at one site renders my Elvish name as Eöl Séregon, which does sound fairly distinguished. (Who knows whether or not it means anything?) These programs may satisfy the curiosity of the passing surfer seeking random oddities. However, for those who respect the love Tolkien invested in his linguistic progeny, this will never suffice.

Fortunately, there is an amazing website, overseen by a bona fide lover of languages. Moreover, his site is devoted to maintaining the integrity of Tolkien’s Elvish tongues. (And many of us who are writers are similarly enamored with language itself, making this a worthwhile domain to visit.)

The host of Quenya101 embraced the tongue so completely that in college he even took lecture notes in the language! Today he teaches Quenya through his website and other means. Although there’s a long waiting list (that can be circumvented, I believe, by donating to the site) he will actually translate names into Quenya. Note that I said “translate.” This is no mere transposing of letters.

He does not waste his time with transliterations. He actually applies the etymology of your given name to rendering the very same meaning in the Elvish language. For good measure, he provides a Tengwar rendition of your Elvish name. (It may be that he has already translated your name and has it posted at the site.)

Here’s how it works, as illustrated by my own name. Fortunately, my father’s name has also been translated, so I am seeking the Quenya for “Robert (son of) Charles.”

Robert

From: Germanic name Hrodebert.

Meaning: Bright fame, derived from the Germanic elements

     hrod ”fame” and beraht “bright”.

Quenya: Calialcaro

     (calima+alcar+[o] = bright+splendour, glory+[masculine names suffix])

Charles

From: Germanic name Karl, which was derived from the same Germanic word. However, an alternative theory states that it is derived from the common Germanic element hari

Meaning: Karl means “man” & hari means “army, warrior”

Quenya: Nér (nér = man) or Ohtatyaro (ohtatyaro = warrior)

So, henceforth you may address me as Calialcaro Ohtatyaro!

It is encouraging to see people keeping alive the vision and wonder of Middle Earth. The same is true for Narnia, of course, though you cannot really compare the purpose. These magical realms were both created by geniuses. It is a divine coincidence that these men, with major differences in their temperaments and imaginations, were lifelong friends.

Discovering your unique Elvish name can establish a dramatic connection with an imaginary, but at the same time gloriously real, realm.