Thursday, September 04, 2003

From The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
An excerpt from a letter , dated September, 1995, in reply to a reader who took exception to the archaism of some of the language in The Two Towers....

"Take an example from the chapter that you specially singled out (and called terrible) : Book iii, 'The King of the Golden Hall'. ' "Nay, Gandalf !" said the King. "You do not know your own skill in healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle, if it must be. Thus shall I sleep better. " '

That is a fair sample- moderated or watered archaism. Using only words that are still used or known to the educated, the King would really have said: ' Nay, thou (n)wost not thine own skill in healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall...' etc. I know well enough what a modern would say. ' Not at all, my dear G. You don't know your own skill as a doctor. Things aren't going to be like that. I shall go to the war, in person, even if I have to be one of the first casualities. ' and then what ? Théoden would certainly think, and probably say, 'thus shall I sleep better !' But people who think like that just do not talk a modern idiom. You can have 'I shall lie easier in my grave' or 'I should sleep sounder in my grave like that rather than if I stayed at home' - if you like. But there would be an insincerity of thought, a disunion of word and meaning. For a King who spoke a modern idiom would not really think in such terms at all, and any reference to sleeping quietly in the grave would be a deliberate archaism on his part (however worded) far more bogus than the actual 'archaic' English that I have used. "

And from the same letter....
"I am sorry to find you affected by the extraordinary 20th C. delusion its usages per se and simply as 'contemporary'- irrespective of whether they are terser, more vivid ( or even nobler !)- have some peculiar validity above those of all other times, so that not to use them (even when quite unsuitable in tone) is a solecism, a gaffe, a thing at which one's friends shudder or feel hot in the collar. Shake yourself out of this parochialism of time ! Also (not to be too donnish about it) learn to distinguish between the bogus and the genuine antique- as you would if you hoped not to be cheated by a dealer ! "


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