“I BPOLL sa talamh a bhí cónaí ar hobad.” So begins the first chapter of An Hobad, 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 Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There.
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.”
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.”
For much more on Tolkien and his complex relationship with the Irish people and language read my article “J.R.R. Tolkien And Ireland“.
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