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Old 04-03-2020, 10:10 AM   #1
The Squatter of Amon Rdh
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Pipe Whence dwimmerlaik?

I was recently reminded via an odd source of a long-obsolete Guardian article that did the usual Guardian things (moral relativism, historical revisionism, intellectual onanism and so forth), but this time in reference to The Lord of the Rings (chiefly the films, because Manchester Guardian columnists don't have time to read). The author suggested that the Red Book of Westmarch is a hatchet job, history is written by the winners, unreliable narrative, cultural relativism, racism, ect, ect, chiz, mone, drone. Clickbait. Like Seamus Heaney's girl from Derrygarve, that article is now out of the saga, because it made me think about something rather more interesting.

While considering the contention that evil is not really evil, just misrepresented by its enemies, I was reminded of the Witch-king's threat to owyn:
Quote:
Come not between the Nazgl and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye
At this point, if I were working out a response, I would go to Thoden berating Saruman on the injustice of his war on Rohan; but instead I just read the entire passage up to Thoden's death for the same reason that any of us would. As always, I was struck by owyn's "Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!"

So what is a dwimmerlaik? The first discovery is that Tolkien did not use the word as found, but a variant form. Hence the OED has no entry for dwimmerlaik, but it does record dweomerlayk, which refers the reader to demerlayk. This is indeed from Old English gedwimer ('illusion', 'phantasm') and gedwimere ('juggler', 'sorceror') with the Middle English suffix -laik from Old Norse laikr. Tolkien has used - perfectly acceptably for Middle English, in which spelling had not been standardised - his own spelling that emphasises the Scandinavian influence on the word. A Dwimmerlaik is, then, a phantasm, an illusion, a juggler's trick. A product of sorcery or, as Tolkien puts it in his index to LR, necromancy.

But where did Tolkien find such a word and why did he resurrect it after so many years, casting it before an audience who could never be expected to have encountered it? Its first recorded use since the thirteenth century was in The Return of the King and the OED, gathering its dignity about it, calmly passes that one over. I think that the clue lies in the fact that two of the citations for dweomer derived words are in Layamon's Brut, which is a Tolkien text for several reasons.

Firstly, and most obviously, it was on the Oxford English syllabus so Tolkien was obliged to teach it. Its only complete manuscript is bound in the same volume as The Owl and The Nightingale, which was also required reading. It is written in an early Middle English dialect from around the year 1200 that still preserves much Old English grammar and vocabulary, and its early lines reveal its author to have been based at Ernley (Areley Kings on the Severn in Worcestershire). Moreover, it is the first work in English to make use of the Matter of Britain and the story of King Arthur. It makes reference to Bede (the first English historian) and Wace as sources, and therefore falls into an area that encompassed Tolkien's personal and professional interests. Furthermore, the author was a West Midlander, working in a consciously archaic style as part of a movement that sought to revive old verse forms. Tolkien was almost guaranteed to be a fan.

Which brings us to the reason why I think Tolkien was drawn to dwimmerlaik. The first occurrence in Brut cited by the OED is at line 137, near the beginning, but crucially in its genitive rather than its nominative form. Here the story concerns the generations between Aeneas and Brutus, the mythical first king of Britain. In Brut, the sons of Aeneas are the half-brothers Asscanius and Silvius. Asscanius has a son, also named Silvius. In secret, the younger Silvius has fathered a child (Brutus) on a young woman, a relative of Asscanius' stepmother, and Asscanius wants to know more about the child before it is born. To this end he consults occult practitioners. The full passage is as follows.
Quote:
a sende Asscanius; e wes lauerd & dux.
after heom ȝend at lond; e cuen dweomerlakes song. 137
witen he wolde; urh a wier-craftes. 138
wat ing hit were; at eo wimon hefde on wombe.

Then sent Asscanius, who was lord and duke
After those in that land, who knew dwimmerlaik's song.
He wanted to know, through that savage craft
What thing it might be that the woman bore in [her] womb.
So the illusory and phantasmal dwimmerlaik, the product of sorcery, is related to a song that somehow enables the singer to harness occult powers. Perhaps the song forces a dwimmerlaik to do one's bidding. Maybe the song comes from the dwimmerlaik and has power in and of itself. There must be a story behind this. Layamon may even have known what it was, but like so much old folklore and legend, like Wade and his boat and Childe Roland's arrival at the Dark Tower, it is gone past recapture. I think that to some extent Tolkien was trying to imagine what a dwimmerlaik might be, and came to see the Witch-king of Angmar as a potential example. Of course, his use of it here also serves perfectly to create the same sense of a larger culture beyond the words on the page that the reader gets from dweomerlaces song and there may be no more to it than that. I feel, though, that it falls into a wider pattern of Tolkien working through problems to which no answer could be found by academic means by fictionalising and reimagining them.
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Old 04-03-2020, 10:24 AM   #2
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Very impressive. Add some footnotes to sources and you can submit it for publication.
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Old 04-03-2020, 10:34 AM   #3
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As always when writing things like that, the question haunts me: "Has Tom Shippey been here already?"
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Old 04-03-2020, 11:28 AM   #4
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Evidently the Rohirrim are a superstitious lot, and anything beyond their ken would be looked at suspiciously as "sorcery" (whether good, bad or indifferent), hence dwimmerlaik (dweomerlayk) as a nethworldly/shadowy presence capable of spell-casting accords with that distrust.

One has only to review omer's wariness upon meeting Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas on the open plain and hearing of Lothlrien:

Quote:
The Rider looked at them with renewed wonder, but his eyes hardened. ‘Then there is a Lady in the Golden Wood, as old tales tell!’ he said. ‘Few escape her nets, they say. These are strange days! But if you have her favour, then you also are net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe.’
"Net-weavers", "sorcerors" -- one could have easily wedged in dwimmerlaik as an additional synonym to that list of ill-omen.
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Old 04-03-2020, 11:58 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Morthoron View Post
"Net-weavers", "sorcerors" -- one could have easily wedged in dwimmerlaik as an additional synonym to that list of ill-omen.
And probably did!

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Two Towers
'Then it is true, as omer reported, that you are in league with the Sorceress of the Golden Wood?' said Wormtongue. 'It is not to be wondered at: webs of deceit were ever woven in Dwimordene.'
Somewhere in my head I have the idea that -dene means 'wood', which means Wormtongue calls Lorien 'the forest of illusions'. It makes you wonder exactly what went on along the borders that kept mortal travellers out of the forest...

It also says something positive about Eowyn that she was able to take a word that in her country was sometimes (often? mostly?) applied to elves, and recognise that it more truly applied to the servants of the Enemy. Given that the people who had come to Rohan out of Lorien later vanished into a haunted mountain, she could be forgiven for sticking to the use she was raised with...

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Old 04-03-2020, 12:22 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Morthoron
Evidently the Rohirrim are a superstitious lot, and anything beyond their ken would be looked at suspiciously as "sorcery" (whether good, bad or indifferent), hence dwimmerlaik (dweomerlayk) as a nethworldly/shadowy presence capable of spell-casting accords with that distrust.
Very true, and they are right to be afraid of Galadriel, who is indeed perilous. As Gandalf says of Fangorn in The White Rider: "Dangerous! And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord. And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli son of Glin; for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion".

However, unlike Saruman, who is described as "dwimmer-crafty", Galadriel doesn't receive a dwimmer- adjective. In any case, Tolkien doesn't invent the Rohirric dwimmer- vocabulary: all of it comes directly from Old English, so it would be the Anglo-Saxons who were superstitious and suspicious of the unknown. Since so much of the world was unknown to them, and much of the unknown in their day was lethally destructive, this should come as no great surprise.

Old English can be surprisingly technical (such as in the number of words it has for types of hill), so what would be the difference between, for example, searucraeft as in the HME IV OE Annals and dweomer-craeft? Is one more scientific and the other occult or closer to conjuring? I'm drawn to the idea of the dwimmerlaik as something phantasmal, insubstantial, even illusory and yet wielding a power in its voice. A good description for a Ringwraith, but it also raises an interesting parallel with Saruman.
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Old 04-03-2020, 01:01 PM   #7
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Quote:
Somewhere in my head I have the idea that -dene means 'wood', which means Wormtongue calls Lorien 'the forest of illusions'. It makes you wonder exactly what went on along the borders that kept mortal travellers out of the forest...
A dene is a wooded valley, so 'vale of sorcery'' or something like it would also be apt. I'm at a loss to see how else someone not familiar with the place could understand it. Its people are ageless and deathless, time passes there at an unpredictable and seemingly arbitrary rate and it contains species of flora not found anywhere else in the known world.

The word that causes Galadriel some difficulty is 'magic'. She says this to Sam:
Quote:
For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy.

The Mirror of Galadriel
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Old 04-03-2020, 08:04 PM   #8
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"Magic," to the Elves was not something exceptional. Rather, it was something inherent in their nature; the way they manifest their power and skills. While not clear, it seems that Elven "magic" was neither good or bad, but rather part of their nature. Of course, the manner that the "magic" is used may determine whether it is evil or good in effect.

Dwimmer, as a prefix, seems to carry with it negative connotations. Not unlike the distinction between a sorcerer and a wizard. I am no philologist, but dwimmer, as used by Tolkien, is a modifier, almost like an adjective, that may best translate to "sorcerous."
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Old 04-04-2020, 09:49 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Mithadan View Post
"Magic," to the Elves was not something exceptional. Rather, it was something inherent in their nature; the way they manifest their power and skills. While not clear, it seems that Elven "magic" was neither good or bad, but rather part of their nature. Of course, the manner that the "magic" is used may determine whether it is evil or good in effect.

Dwimmer, as a prefix, seems to carry with it negative connotations. Not unlike the distinction between a sorcerer and a wizard. I am no philologist, but dwimmer, as used by Tolkien, is a modifier, almost like an adjective, that may best translate to "sorcerous."
Yes, I've been pondering the adjective angle too, since Squatter so rudely made me come out of my quarantine-induced coma and actually start thinking rather than looking at cute puppy memes on Facebook.

And I think we can all agree the prefix "dwimmer" refers to sorcery, hence "dwimmer-crafty" and "dwimmerdene" as a sorcerous vale/forested valley (more on dwimmerdene in a later post); but the suffix "laik" is where I started considering optional definers. And I couldn't help but consider the OE term "lich" (ie., corpse, body) had some sort of interrelationship in Tolkien's mind with "laik" as a variation.

I wonder if it is one of Tolkien's hidden philological puns. I mean, if one looks up etymological info on "laik", one gets at least one derivation from Proto-Germanic *laiką (game, dance, hymn, sport, fight) -- and the "dance" aspect is what intrigued me. Not so much the dancing aspect as the actual movement/exercise/action of dance.

Then there is "Lich": also litch, lych, "body, corpse," a southern England dialectal survival of Old English lic "body, dead body, corpse," from Proto-Germanic *likow (source also of Old Frisian lik, Dutch lijk, Old High German lih, German Leiche "corpse, dead body," Old Norse lik, Danish lig, Swedish lik, Gothic leik), probably originally "form, shape," and identical with like (adj.).

Perhaps I am just riffing off other ideas and spouting nonsense (which, in my case, is highly likely), but when Eowyn refers to the WitchKing as a "Dwimmerlaik", is this Tolkien saying the WiKi is a sorcerous animated (ie., dancing) corpse?
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Old 04-04-2020, 10:46 AM   #10
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I don't know if Tolkien is, but owyn might be. The context marks this as a term of scorn.

I should probably have put in a translation of the laik component as well. In Middle English it can take the form -layk or -laik (the latter being the closer to its origins), and it does indeed mean 'play'. In a sense, though, the Witch-king is a plaything of the Necromancer; you could call him a puppet of the Black Hand.

Going back to Galadriel's words about magic, I think it could be significant that all the way back to Old English there seems to be little or no distinction between actual sorcery and conjuring tricks, even juggling. Is this just Galadriel to Sam or also Tolkien to all English speakers?
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Old 04-04-2020, 12:58 PM   #11
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Quote:
Going back to Galadriel's words about magic, I think it could be significant that all the way back to Old English there seems to be little or no distinction between actual sorcery and conjuring tricks, even juggling. Is this just Galadriel to Sam or also Tolkien to all English speakers?
Interesting question. It is certainly a fitting statement by Galadriel to Sam, and by extension by Tolkien to the readers of his subcreation. But is he making this statement in a broad sense; magic is not evil, it depends upon what you do with it? Maybe, but I am not certain that this fits within his Catholic sensibilities.

Within his subcreation, Eru created Elves and Men (and indirectly Ents, Dwarves, etc.) as they were intended to be. Thus Elves, as part of their nature, have powers that mere, superstitious Men would call "magic." Elves do not think that "magic" is evil, it just is. Men, at least those not educated in the ways of Elves, naturally fear that which is different or strange and might shun the supernatural. This fits and works in Middle Earth.

But did Tolkien intend some broader applicability (word choice intentional)? Somehow, I doubt it. But then again I have not read On Fairy Stories in some time...
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Old 04-04-2020, 01:33 PM   #12
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As luck would have it, I was skimming through Letters earlier (looking for something else that wasn't there), and found this.

Quote:
I am afraid I have been far too casual about 'magic', and especially the use of the word... I do not intend to involve myself in any debate whether 'magic' in any sense is real or really possible in the world. But I suppose that, for the purposes of the tale, some would say that there is a latent distinction between magia and goeteia. Galadriel speaks of the 'deceits of the Enemy'. Well enough, but magia could be, was held good (per se), and goeteia bad. Neither is, in this tale, good or bad (per se), but only by motive or purpose or use. Both sides use both, but with different motives. The supremely bad motive is (for this tale, since it is specifically about it) domination of other 'free' wills.

Letters #155 (draft)
A footnote goes on to explain that goeteia is Greek for 'sorcery' and that English goety (a loan from Greek) is witchcraft by incantation, the use of spirits or necromancy (emphasis mine).
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Old 04-04-2020, 02:31 PM   #13
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To call the W-K a dwimmerlaik was also an insult, since it implies that he was nothing more than a phantasm, an illusion, a false creation of Sauron's (like the mock-Eilenel that ensnared Gorlim) rather than a Man, and once a great one, despite being reduced to invisibility. I'm also struck by the possible connotation of "puppet:" also, if intended, an insult.
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Old 04-05-2020, 08:34 PM   #14
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I had mentioned I would get back to this. And so I have.

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Originally Posted by Huinesoron View Post
Somewhere in my head I have the idea that -dene means 'wood', which means Wormtongue calls Lorien 'the forest of illusions'. It makes you wonder exactly what went on along the borders that kept mortal travellers out of the forest...
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Squatter of Amon Rdh
A dene is a wooded valley, so 'vale of sorcery'' or something like it would also be apt. I'm at a loss to see how else someone not familiar with the place could understand it. Its people are ageless and deathless, time passes there at an unpredictable and seemingly arbitrary rate and it contains species of flora not found anywhere else in the known world.
Taken in context with Eomer's earlier inference: ‘Then there is a Lady in the Golden Wood, as old tales tell!’ he said. ‘Few escape her nets, they say. These are strange days! But if you have her favour, then you also are net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe....’ Tolkien is using a folklore motif that goes back to the Epic of Gilgamesh, that of the "perilous wood" (or "enchanted forest" if you prefer a more Disneyish turn of a phrase).

Although it is only implied in the words of Eomer and Wormtongue, there could well have been a "girdle" encircling Lothlorien, as was employed by Galadriel's mentor Melian in Doriath. It is possible, given that the Elvish Rings of Galadriel and Elrond have a power that preserves, and may well protect their enclosures (Elrond could even control the flood of the Bruinen). Something in the collective consciousness of the Rohirrim, reflected in their ancient legends, harkens back to something particularly nasty happening to travelers caught in the clutches of the "Golden Wood".

That at least seems to be the implication Tolkien wishes to infer on behalf of the Rohirrim, and he used just such magical nets and net-weaving in Mirkwood in The Hobbit (the disappearing Elven feast), and more pointedly in the story of El:

Quote:
And it came to pass that he saw Aredhel Ar-Feiniel as she strayed among the tall trees near the borders of Nan-Elmoth, a gleam of white in a dim land. Very fair she seemed to him, and he desired her; and he set his enchantments about her so that she could not find the ways out, but drew ever nearer to his dwelling in the depths of the woods. --"Of Maeglin", The Silmarillion
Francis Gentry commented that "in the Norse tradition 'crossing the Black Forest' came to signify penetrating the barriers between one world and another," and although Tolkien took that idea and instilled it in his 'Mirkwood':

Quote:
I speak now from memory: its ancientness seems indicated by its appearance in very early German (11th c.?) as mirkiwidu although the *merkw- stem 'dark' is not otherwise found in German at all (only in O[ld] E[nglish], O[ld] S[axon], and O[ld] N[orse]), and the stem *widu- > witu was in German (I think) limited to the sense of 'timber,' not very common, and did not survive into mod[ern] G[erman]. In O[ld] E[nglish] mirce only survives in poetry, and in the sense 'dark', or rather 'gloomy', only in Beowulf [line] 1405 ofer myrcan mor: elsewhere only with the sense 'murky' > wicked, hellish. It was never, I think, a mere 'colour' word: 'black', and was from the beginning weighted with the sense of 'gloom'. -- Letter 289 to Michael George Tolkien
we can see that Galadriel's domain is not a "mirkiwidu"; however, the distinct timelessness in Lothlorien and its unchanging flora, at variance with the Brownlands and resistant even to the change of seasons (and noted by the Hobbits that they lost all sense of time), could be considered a crossing from the daylight world of the waking Rohirrim to the twilight realm of Faery.

It is not quite a leap to consider that mortals traveling at unawares into the Golden Wood become ensnared and do not come back alive (although it is more likely a case of Elvish archers hidden in their telain than snares of deception); however there are any number of legends, from Rip Van Winkle (borrowed from Greek story of Epimenides), wherein a man is enchanted and wakes again as an old man, or any number of English and Irish legends of men and maidens running afoul of faery circles and never returning, or returning as old men (the Irish legend of Niahm and Oisin, or St. Patrick and Oisin, for instance).

I suppose one would have to consider what penalty would be levied by Galadriel if a mortal came unbidden into Lothlorien. Certainly not a by your leave situation.
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Old 04-06-2020, 10:17 AM   #15
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Add to this that both in old sources (e.g. the Heidrikssaga) and in Morris' House of the Wolfings "Mirkwood" represented the doubtful and treacherous border region between the Goths and the orc-like Huns.
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