Thaur govannen Twitterverse, it is I, Eugene Pendergrass, here with the unfortunate news that I must direct one of my inimitably inimical broadsides in your direction. Beware the splashback, this one could get messy, because, like a dad joke upon the Doors of Durin, you shall not pass until I have had my full say. It has been brought to my attention that legions of tweeters have been impugning Gandalf’s ability to read. I am specifically referring to this recent post by Kurt “you are now on my list” Schiller:
I was 20 pages into an intricate, fully cited rebuttal to Kurt’s libelous character assassination on my third-favorite wizard in Arda before realizing that there were deeper issues at play here. Still, before addressing those issues, I can not let such baseless claims go unanswered, so, quickly, let me tear into this “Gandalf the Illiterate” nonsense like a wayward Jedi in a room full of younglings.
- It is quite clear that Gandalf is unable to make out the runes due to the implied dark, ill-favored-to-reading conditions of the Troll cave along with the implied disrepair to the swords themselves.
- The runes are most certainly NOT Sindarin. While Elrond gives them the common Sindarin names of the swords (subject of a PREVIOUS open letter), as the swords of high Gondolin nobles and royalty, they would have been inscribed with Quenyan runes EXCLUSIVELY.
- I roll my eyes at any references to the first edition of The Hobbit, which any sane person would regard with the same level of canonical contempt as Lucas’ laughable revisions to The Trilogy. At that point in Tolkien’s career, the first edition translation of the Red Book was basically just a bunch of hastily jotted down ramblings from the under-developed mind of a teenager [in hobbit years – ed.], and, as such, should NEVER be referenced in any serious discussion of the legendarium. Even so, his one word change for the second edition (from “if we can read the runes” to “when we can read the runes”) says nothing about blood and dirt…let’s not make up further lies based on implied meaning (which has no place in serious Tolkien research) here.
- Gandalf does not merely “look” at the Doors of Durin, he, you so conveniently omit, specifically READS them out loud to Frodo. If anything you could point to the discrepancy in how Gandalf describes the “elven-tongue of the West of Middle-earth in the Eldar Days” to the Sindarin versed Frodo, but Gandalf was merely referring to the “full writing” mode of presentation with which Frodo was unfamiliar.
- Why couldn’t he figure it out? Because Gandalf IS immensely clever and never suspected that the words he just READ and translated for the Fellowship would hide such a stupidly obvious riddle.
- The book plainly states that Gandalf was annoyed Elrond found the hidden runes, but “REALLY THERE HAD NOT BEEN ANOTHER CHANCE BEFORE” (my emphasis), since they were only visible on a “MIDSUMMER’S EVE IN A CRESENT MOON” (also my emphasis).
- MORE LIES! Gandalf explicitly gives the map back to Thorin, the rightful owner. Bilbo DOES borrow the map (much later!), but does NOT discover any further clues based on the map’s writing.
- Gandalf does NOT ask Frodo if he can read the writing, he merely asks if Frodo can see the newly visible runes, and then provides a translation (of the Tengwar representation of the Black Speech).
- Yes, Gandalf DID already know, because he had just READ about the inscription from the Scroll of Isildur in the vaults of Minas Tirith!
- “Facts.” You misspelled “systematically and thoroughly refuted lies and fabrications.”
- Tolkien covered it up? The professor was translating the Red Book of Westmarch VERBATIM, I will brook no insinuations to the contrary.
- Ok, yes, Tom Bombadil being Frodo’s father is obviously true, but Tom’s dalliances in Buckland (and Goldberry’s revenge killing of Primula in the river) has nothing to do with these aspersions cast upon Gandalf’s literacy.
Bottom line, had this “Kurt Schiller” even read the original text, he would have quickly seen his pet “theory” had more holes than an eleventy-first birthday cake.
However, Kurt’s “alternate Middle-earth facts” are not the real black pill here. Nay, it is his intent to mock and ridicule the illiterate that is the real howdah that broke the Mûmakil’s back for me. He might “claim” that there was no shame meant, but, let’s be honest here, OBVIOUSLY this post was meant to mock and ridicule. Just look at the pages and pages of responses, all heaping derision on the maligned maia. Almost no comments point to the many flaws in Kurt’s argument, and, more importantly, no comments point out that illiteracy is NOT a shameful condition. Illiteracy is a common occurrence and says nothing as a person’s intelligence, or their devotion to the legendarium.
Doth I protest too much? Mayhaps. If I may be frank, like Kurt’s Bizzaro Gandalf, I too suffer from the affliction of illiteracy. More than anything, today’s post is meant to set the record straight as to my own inadequacies with the written word. Despite years of study, I admit today, for the first time, that I am unable to fully read Elvish. Some might blame the almighty professor for creating an incomplete language, but I say best to not blame the valar for the failings of the fírimar–this one is all my own fault.
I remember all too well the derision my incomplete grasp of basic Middle Quenyan aroused within the Vinyar Tengwar forums. To this day my screen name Gwaihir_69 is the object of scorn and ridicule due to the infamous “diacritic-gate” of 2011 when I insisted for a month (with an increasing series of personal attacks and petty insults) that the correct noun from the stem “yer” was yérê, not yérë. Helge Fauskanger’s “Team Diaeresis” might have beaten “Team Circumflex” (and the remains of my dignity) when the dust settled, but the accusations of illiteracy that were thrown my way that day were wounds that cannot be wholly cured.
Thus, Kurt Schiller and the derisive comments of Twitter users everywhere have prompted me to both grow as a person and to finally accept my tattered reputation as an elvish linguist of dubious ability. We might all do better to embrace our failings–each of us can let our own personal “diacritic-gate” debacles push us to accept hard truths about ourselves that might otherwise be a pill too bitter to swallow. So, let me give you some advice fellow illiterates. Never forget what you are. The rest of the cryptolinguistic community will not. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.
And, if I must grow as a person while accepting hard truths, I suppooooose Gandalf could have taken another look at those fancy swords they just found once they got out of the troll cave.
I’m crying here.