Richard Blackwelder, Tolkien scholar and entomologist (insect-scientist, not etymologist) and relation of my wife, gave us a copy of his book The Tolkien Thesaurus and some adjunct materials as a wedding gift with wishes for a happy life of book-loving together. In the introduction to that work, he himself describes it as “a concordance” of The Lord of the Rings (the title Thesaurus baffles me), and he wrote thousands and thousands of lemmatized concordance-style entries with book and page number and enough of a phrase that a reader with just a word or two of a quotation that is tickling their memory can find the full passage easily.
Now we have Kindle and other electronic formats; we can solve in seconds the problem which Blackwelder put so many years into solving in the 1980s. How can I carry on Blackwelder’s inspiring work? In his companion work Tolkien Phraseology, he writes:
Among the 40,000 or so passages quoted in the Thesaurus itself there are ones of great beauty and ones that speak only of filth and darkness, ones that bring us victorious action or ones taken from folk-songs, ones representing a wide variety of poetic forms or ones conveying only some slangy command.
We may assume that a reader is following the story and the characters and may sometimes fail to notice the unusual words, phrases, or even passages. Some appear on re-reading, but the compiler has found that many slip by repeatedly and appear only when the sentences are analyzed and the individual words singled out.
His short list of “unusual words, phrases, and passages” from The Lord of the Rings is only a list, without analysis. This project was born: we will find the unusual words of The Hobbit and, by learning more about these words and how Tolkien uses them, become better readers of the work.
Blackwelder, Richard E. A Tolkien Thesaurus Garland Publishing, New York, 1990.
Blackwelder, Richard E. Tolkien Phraseology: A Companion to A Tolkien Thesaurus Tolkien Archives Fund, Marquette University, 1990.