"I wouldn't be young again even if it were possible."

- Ruth Rendell
In which I play philologist. Badly.


Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

I’m generally a few months behind in my reading of the Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society, so I only got to the Sept./Oct. 2012 issue yesterday. The front page story is “The Riddle of Gollum: A Speculative Meditation on Tolkien’s Sources,” by Woodrow and Susan Wendling. As the authors examined the origins of both the character and his name, they mentioned a poem Tolkien wrote around 1928. It’s called “Glip,” and comes from a collection called Tales and Songs of Bimble Bay. Here’s Glip’s description:

Glip is his name, as blind as a mole
In his two round eyes
While daylight lasts; but when night falls
With a pale gleam they shine
Like green jelly, and out he crawls
All long and wet with slime….
Glip is a scavenger. He lives near a mermaid who lures sailors onto the rocks with her songs, and scavenges their bones for his meals.

The name “Glip” intrigued me. Tolkien, of course, was a master linguist concentrating on northern European languages. I know that there’s a Norwegian word, “glipp,” which means to blink. However, there’s also a verb phrase, “å gå glipp av,” which means to lose or mislay something. I’m not qualified to say, but that form may be related to the Old Norse word “glepja,” which means to confuse or beguile. (I don’t read Old Norse, but I have access to an online dictionary here. And now so do you. Thanks to Kelsey Patton for the link.)

If Glip was an early version of Gollum, could the original name have suggested to Tolkien the idea of a creature who mislays something important to him? The conjecture’s a little weak, as Tolkien rejected the name Glip and moved on to Gollum. But I thought I’d mention the possible connection. The tangle of associations in an author’s mind can be extremely complex.

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Comments on "In which I play philologist. Badly.":
1. Grim - 01/11/2013 6:01 pm EST

That sounds like a reasonable conjecture to me.

2. Sr - 01/15/2013 7:36 pm EST

I agree.

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