Cheshire, class, dialect, Drill Sergeant, gentlehobbits, John Howe, Mayor of Michel Delving, Michael Palin, Monty Python, Mummershire, Rustic, Samwise Gamgee, Shire, speech, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien
Welcome, as ever, dear readers.
In our last posting, we began with JRRT stipulating, when selling the rights to The Lord of the Rings, that Merry and Pippin were not to be “rustics”. The word “rustics” caught our attention and, from its origin—an adjective from Latin rus, ruris, n., “country” (as in “countryside”)—we began some exploration of how, in The Lord of the Rings, it was possible to distinguish between “gentlehobbits” and “rustics” by their grammar, word choices, and speech patterns. We also talked about the speech of Saruman (don’t listen too long!) in contrast to his Uruk-hai.
In this posting, we want to do a little more exploring to see what else we might find, first in the speech of the principal representative of “the rustics” in The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee. Then we’ll add a bit more on the speech of the orcs.
We begin this time with the home of Sam, the Shire.
Tolkien says of it that it “had hardly any ‘government’, but that “Families for the most part managed their own affairs.” Thus, although there was an actual Shire official “the Mayor of Michel Delving (or of the Shire), who was elected every seven years…As mayor almost his only duty was to preside at banquets given on the Shire-holidays…”(The Lord of the Rings, Prologue, 3, “Of the Ordering of the Shire”), at the same time, this was not a democracy (JRRT doesn’t appear very comfortable with them—see Letters, 64, among several other references), but, rather, an oligarchy, in which certain families appear to have held all the power—“The Shire was divided into four quarters…and these again into a number of folklands, which still bore the names of some of the old leading families…It is true that the Took family had long been pre-eminent; for the office of Thain had passed to them (from the Oldbucks) some centuries before, and the chief Took had borne that title ever since…The Took family was still, indeed, accorded a special respect, for it remained both numerous and exceedingly wealthy…”
In contrast to the Tooks, it would appear that the Gamgees were not accorded such respect and, from Sam’s speech, it’s clear that he is well aware of the fact. The first time we meet Sam, he immediately shows both his “rusticity” and his social status. Gandalf has caught him eavesdropping outside Frodo’s window and demands to know what he’s doing. Sam replies:
“ Lor bless you, Mr. Gandalf, sir!…Nothing! Leastways I was just trimming the grass-border under the window, if you follow me.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”)
Here we see pronunciation—“Lor” for “Lord” in “Lor bless you” (which is a Christian exclamation and makes us wonder what it was doing in Sam’s speech to begin with), word choice—“leastways”—and method of expression—“if you follow me”, all of which suggest the nature of Sam’s social class (certainly neither Frodo nor Merry nor Pippin speaks in such a way). A second marker of class is that both Gandalf and then Frodo are called “sir” along with “Mr.”—“Mr. Gandalf, sir”, and, soon after, “Mr. Frodo, sir”. Such honorifics are never used when anyone addresses Sam. He’s always just “Sam”. And this social distinction is even more marked when Sam believes that Frodo has been killed by Shelob and he addresses Frodo as “Master, dear master” (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 10, “The Choices of Master Samwise”—and we note here the irony of calling Sam “Master Samwise”—Sam may, briefly, be the master of the Ring, but it’s not a choice he really wants or relishes. Sam is most comfortable “knowing his place”, even as he shows that he has a sticktoittiveness without which both he and Frodo would not only have not reached Mount Doom, but would have died in its wilderness long before.)
When you hear Sam in the P Jackson movies, the actor, Sean Astin, uses the standard “rural British accent” sometimes referred to as “Mummershire”. This is based to a large extent on the distinctive accents of Southwest England. We imagine that JRRT, who was himself from the Midlands however, would have heard Sam sound rather more like people from Cheshire. Here’s Cheshire on a map of England’s shires.
And here’s a brief YouTube LINK to an elderly native speaker (to provide something a little more like that which Tolkien would have heard—the accent, like all accents under the influence of radio, television, and the internet, seems to be changing pretty rapidly). Notice those Rs—“shap” for “sharp”, for example.
When we think of accents and orcs (a John Howe illustration),
we always imagine their leaders as sounding like classic British drill sergeants—here’s an early nineteenth century example, but we believe that the breed hasn’t changed. Here’s a LINK to a modern example—with a SILLY WARNING because it’s Michael Palin of Monty Python as the drill sergeant.
Put together the sound of that sergeant—who is speaking in a London-area accent—with this quotation and perhaps you’ll see—hear—what we mean:
“ ‘Put up your weapons!’ shouted Ugluk. ‘And let’s have no more nonsense! We go straight west from here, and down the stair. From there straight to the downs, along the river to the forest. And we march day and night. That clear?’ “ (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)
Add that to the whips used by such folk in Mordor and our view, both of Merry and Pippin’s captivity, as well as Frodo and Sam’s being swept up in an orc column, becomes all that much grimmer!
Thanks, as ever, for reading (AT EASE!).