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Questions About Tolkien's Archaic English Usage


New Member
Jul 9, 2011
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I just finished Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, and I was amazed at Tolkien's artful use of English archaicisms, some of which he was using deftly even at an early age!

I tried to do some research on the Internet regarding a few of his usages, but I couldn't find much.

Specifically, I was interested in what looks like an archaic reflexive on p. 142, "Now Melko gets him gone to Mandos . . .". It is similar to Shakepeare's "Get thee gone" in Midsummer Night's Dream" except here it is in 3rd person. I just haven't been able to find any early modern English forums or guides that explain this usage. Most forums only deal with pronouns and meanings of obsolete words, not with syntax.

Also, it is notable how many of the tales are in present tense, also seen in the example above. This is a feature in ancient Greek I have seen, and I never whether it was common in English as well.

Prince of Cats

Among the Trees
Nov 27, 2007
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Forests of the Great Lakes
What a wonderful observation and topic, Razanoth. Thanks for bringing it forward

From what I've seen, Shakespeare would be younger than Tolkien's usual interests. It seems his greatest area of interest was Old English (and its relatives). I would think that Shakespeare and Tolkien are both drawing from an older source of style


Registered User
Jan 9, 2003
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Toronto, Canada
Works by William Morris were more popular than they are now, and many translations of medieval works were rendered into a more archaic English than that commonly used. For example, you may find some translations by Jessie L. Weston on the web which are in archaic English. You may also find old translation of classical Greek and Roman texts and other old texts translated into archaic English.

For William Morris’ fiction and some translations see the Gutenberg Press website and search for the author “William Morris”.

Another author who used archaic English was E. R. Eddison, who was wrote The Woman Ouroboros , Mistress of Mistresses, A Fish Dinner in Memison, and The Mezentian Gate, written between 1922 and 1958. Eddison’s work was much appreciated by Tolkien. Personally, I don’t like them. And the date of their writing follows Tolkien’s writing of The Book of Lost Tales, but Eddison, like Tolkien, is influenced by earlier writers and translators who chose to write in an archaic style.

I much prefer the archaic horror romances of William Hope Hodgson. The one with the most archaic language is The Night Lands, set on a future Earth after the Sun has burned out. This is also available from the Gutenberg website.

Then, of course, there is Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur which is available on many websites. The English of Malory is the main inspiration for Morris’ English. Malory also inspired the prose writer Howard Pyle to rewrite the stories of King Arthur in four volumes beginning in 1903 using an imitation of Malory’s prose.

And the common English Bible among Roman Catholics before 1941 was Bishop Challoner’s 1750 update of the Rheims-Douay English translation of 1582, 1609, 1610.

With these and other works in his background, and a tradition that pseudo-medieval works ought to be written in archaic English, it is no surprise that Tolkien originally used archaic English. But it seems to me that in style Tolkien in The Lost Tales obviously and even blatantly copies William Morris. Tolkien wrote to professor L. W. Forster in 1960, “[The Lord of the Rings] owe more to William Morris and his Huns and Romans, as in The House of the Wolfings or The Roots of the Mountains” (Letters, no 226). This is even more true of The Book of Lost Tales, but that unfinished work was not published in Tolkien’s lifetime.
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