“I BPOLL sa talamh a bhí cónaí ar hobad.” So begins the first chapter of An Hoba d, the latest incarnation of JRR Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel The Hobbit, which is due to be published in Irish later this month.
The adventures of Biolbó Baigín as he journeys to reclaim stolen treasure from Smóg an dragan have been translated by Nicholas Williams, who recently translated Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland , and T hrough the Looking-glass and What Alice Found Ther e.
An accomplished linguist, Tolkien learned over a dozen languages and invented several more, many of which feature in his tales of Middle-earth, the fictional setting of the majority of his fantasy books.
Despite his apparent love of languages, the English author and academic revealed a dislike of Irish in a selection of letters published posthumously in 1981 (he also admitted having a dislike for French and preferring Spanish to Italian).
In a letter to Deborah Webster, dated October 1958, he wrote: “I go frequently to Ireland (Éire: southern Ireland) being fond of it and of (most of) its people; but the Irish language I find wholly unattractive.”
Some years later, in “Drafts for a letter to Mrs Rang”, Tolkien considered the etymology of the word “nazg”, the Black Speech word for “ring”, which featured so prominently in The Lord of the Rings .
In his letter, Tolkien admitted a similarity to the Irish word “nasc”, but put this down to coincidence.
“I have no liking at all for Gaelic from Old Irish downwards, as a language, but it is of course of great historical and philological interest, and I have at various times studied it. (With alas! very little success.)
“It is thus probable that nazg is actually derived from it, and this short, hard and clear vocable, sticking out from what seems to me (an unloving alien) a mushy language, became lodged in some comer of my linguistic memory.”
In 1979, Prof George Sayer recounted a conversation he had with Tolkien, a devout Catholic, who described Ireland as “naturally evil”.
He could “feel”, Sayer said, “evil coming up from the earth, from the peat bogs, from the clumps of trees, even from the cliffs, and this evil was only held in check by the great devotion of the southern Irish to their religion.” An Hobad, nó Anonn agus Ar Ais Arís , is published by Evertype and will reach the bookshelves at the end of March.