After a horrible night’s rest, our hobbits almost get used to tramping through marshes while being bitten by those nasty Neekerbreekers.
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p183 50th Anniv. Ed.)
If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll no doubt remember the crickets. Well, actually, the “evil relatives of the cricket,” as Tolkien described.
All through the night, they could hear “neek-breek, breek-neek,” and hardly slept a wink. Come morning, which was their fourth day out from Bree, the neeking and breeking stopped.
“Though the Neekerbreekers (as Sam called them) had been left behind, the midges still pursued them.”
Pippin, the previous day complained that there were “more midges than water” in Midgewater. And so here in this short little passage, we’re introduced to two species of annoying insects: Midges and Neekerbreekers.
A midge isn’t really a specific breed of biting insect, but rather a catchall word for a whole slew of such beasts, and even some that don’t bite at all (like gnats). Tolkien did not make up the word. It descended from the Old English “mygg” and maybe even Latin’s “musca,” for mosquito.
Neekerbreaker, however, is a different story, and one that lets me introduce one of the hidden gems of studying Tolkien: Nomenclature of Lord of the Rings. As the story goes, when Lord of the Rings was being translated into other languages, Tolkien was distressed over how the translators were altering names. He told them to “leave the maps and nomenclature alone as far as possible.” He got incredibly cranky when they changed words that he invented (or invented new definitions for), such as “Hobbit,” which had been translated to “Hompen” in the Sweedish editions.
Rather than continuing to complain, Tolkien wrote a glossary of sorts – Nomenclature of Lord of the Rings, which defined certain words. These, he divided into three sections: “Persons, Peoples, Creatures,” “Places,” and “Things.” This wasn’t simply a list of untouchable words, but rather a list of questionable words.
In some cases, like “Big People,” he was okay with the translator plying his trade. With others, like “Dunlendings,” however, the translator was to “leave unchanged.” With “Isengard,” he was fine with the “-gard” being translated, but not the “Isen-.” And with “Pukel-men,” he decided to leave it up to the translator to decide.
But Nomenclature isn’t just that, either. In it, he describes how he came up with many of the words. Sometimes, he seems to get so tied up in the telling that he “forgets” to explain whether or not the word can or should be translated. This happens for words like “Shire,” “Woses,” and “Bounder.”
As for “Midgewater Marshes,” Tolkien wished for it to be “translated by sense,” which was an instruction given for many words. Basically, the translators were supposed to figure it out and translate it literally. He also noted that “the name was suggested by Myvatn in Iceland of the same meaning.”
And even though “Neekerbreekers” was his own, he was willing to let it go. “Invented insect-name. Represent by some literal translation invention of similar sound (supposed to be like that of a cricket).”
I would absolutely love to know how “Neekerbreekers” is translated into other languages. The only one I could find was Polish’s “Skręcikarki,” which I don’t think is actually an onomatopoeia. Does anyone out there have translations that could help out here?
Do I win some sort of award or pat on the back for combining etymology and entomology? OH! and Nomenclature of Lord of the Rings can be found in the absolutely essential book The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. Seriously. You need this.
About the Photo
I don’t find myself photographing a lot of bugs. But reading that “the Midges still pursued them,” I could help but think of this photo. It’s actually the Fin Project, which you can read more about here. (flickr)
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 185
- 29 miles to Weathertop
- 275 miles to Rivendell
- 1,594 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Marshes! Marshes! Marshes! (map)