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The Prisoner and The Hobbit  by Dreamflower

 Author's Note: Because SoA does not allow the changes in font we are using at other archives, and in order to avoid long blocks of italics, the actual correspondence will be indicated by being enclosed in {brackets}.

  On Language

He lifted the pen after he wrote the salutation and stared at the table for a while, focusing his thoughts.

What to write? There's much I want to know about Master Bilbo Baggins. It is nothing short of remarkable that he relinquished my Ring as he claims. But that is a delicate subject for a first letter. Let me think...

So he did. He set the pen to paper again, and let the words flow:

{Dear Master Baggins,

First, I must thank you for your willingness to carry on our conversation by means of correspondence. I realize this cannot be easy for you, given the great affection you have for your cousin and how the whole affair of my Ring affected him. I would ask you to give him my regards, but I sincerely doubt that he would welcome such. So I am all the more honored that despite everything, you wish to communicate with me.

Where to begin? I know you must have many questions for me, as I do for you. I also acknowledge that when we first conversed, my answer of "Because I could!" to your question of "Why?" was rather tart. By the same token, you strike me as a worldly sort of fellow, more so than many of the provincials who inhabit Eriador, so you must realize how obvious it was that you proffered a grossly oversimplified question to which I gave a grossly oversimplified answer. But let us put that behind us. For now, I will only say that power and the need to control played into my motives, and that I was not the first nor will I be the last to exert such over many people. Perhaps we might discuss these great matters at a later time.

So in this first letter, please allow me to address a marginally less weighty subject and a common passion: language. I believe we only scratched the surface when we spoke, and I perceive you have a very keen interest in the subject as I do.

By way of background, I showed a talent for acquiring language in my youth (and yes, I experienced youth; a bit different than yours, I daresay, but likely with some overlap, as strange as that may seem). All told, I am fluent in fifteen major tongues and sixty-five dialects of those languages spoken in Middle-earth, including the various flavors of Sindarin, primitive Elvish (an earlier form of Qenya, which is an earlier form of Quenya), Westron, early Adunaic, and, well, if you care to name any of the tongues of the West, most likely I can read, write, speak and comprehend it. Quite a number of the Eastern languages, too. More recently, I have learned to read two tongues of the World As It Shall Be - English and French - and am currently adding German to the mix.

I love the study of language, so much so that I invented my own, as you probably know. Now your friend Olórin ('Gandalf' as you call him) and his Elvish allies deem my language harsh and foul. Sheer prejudice, I say! Of course, when the Black Speech is uttered by orcs, I concede that it does indeed sound unpleasant, but then the orcish vocal apparatus is not as evolved as that of contemporary Man or Elf...or Hobbit! (Must not overlook your folk! I did before, much to my peril.) I could carry on about orcs and Melkor's (and later, my own) scientific approach to their breeding, but one can only do so much with the orcish template. I would guess you have learned that the orcs are a debased race originating from primitive Elves. That would be wrong. But that is another subject entirely.

At any rate, when spoken by a True Speaker, such as myself, the Black Speech has its own beauty. It is to Quenya, for example, as the beauty of the desert is to the beauty of lush rolling hills and lakes. The beauty of language is a matter of perception. We all believe our mother tongue is the most lovely (I know I do), but others may not agree.

Take the principal tongue from Kitai, or Cathay as you name it, a great empire far to the East. It is a fascinating language, very foreign to those of us who speak the Western tongues. Vowels rise, vowels descend, intonation remains flat, and thus, the meaning of words changes. To a Westerner's ears, the tongue sounds uncouth, but when spoken by, say, an Elvish loremaster of the East, the language is beautiful as any you have heard.

The Black Speech is the same. If we should meet again (however unlikely that may be), I would demonstrate it for your enjoyment, but I think Lord Námo would cut my tongue out before I could complete one sentence. Ha! I jest. A dark joke, to be certain, but as you come to know me better, you'll find that I have a dark sense of humor.

I spent many years developing my language. It was a form of play, initially, and then became an obsession. I challenged myself by coming up with a tongue that would be distinctly different than any of the Elvish languages of the West. Quite a few of the words are derived from Valarin, which, of course, I also speak fluently. I would send you a complete corpus of my invented language if I could, but I expect that is forbidden. But I think a general explanation of the Black Speech's syntax and rules of grammar may be of interest to you, so I will provide that under separate cover so that you may peruse the document, which will hopefully be passed on to you unadulterated, at your leisure.

Gandalf will tell you that the Black Speech is a language of Power. That is true, but only when one with Power speaks it. Otherwise, it has just as much power as any language spoken, no more, no less, for words are power. A sage of Bharat once said: "Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or evil." Thus, when any of us speak, we wield power over others. Ultimately, it is the ability to speak that sets us apart as human, and yes, I count myself among your kind now.

Do feel free to ask me whatever you wish. I will, however, decline to answer a question, should I feel it is too personal, or if it treads on subjects that are forbidden, for there are some things that we - the Ainur - may not discuss with the Children of Ilúvatar. The Valar hoard information in the best interests of humankind, or so they claim. It may be they are partially right, as loath I am to admit it.

So let me ask you about your interest in languages. How did that begin for you? I am also interested in your fondness for poetry. I quite like that one you recited for me: "The Road Goes Ever On." I think of it when I am allowed to take my exercise. Have you written other verses?

Also, you remarked that the whisky we sampled was as good as that from Bree and that the cigars equaled the pipeweed of Southfarthing. If you do not mind, I would like to hear more of these places. After all, I can do no damage now. I am as harmless as an old toothless cat! By the way, did I tell you that I like cats?

I hope this finds you well, and that you are enjoying your afternoon naps in Elrond's gardens as well as those in his library.}

He sat back back in the rigid chair to read the letter over again and had to laugh at himself. The god-king of the Barad-dûr writes a chatty letter to a hobbit. How the mighty have fallen!However, he couldn't help but appreciate the irony, and he had to admit the very act of writing had been a pleasant diversion. He leaned over to sign the letter but hesitated, the pen poised above the paper.

How should I sign this? "Sincerely yours." Will he doubt I am sincere? No matter. It's standard courtesy. It will do. And my name. How to handle that?

He bit the end of the pen for a moment, then he grinned and set pen to paper again, signing with a flourish:

{Sincerely yours,

D.L. Sauron}


Bilbo looked at Gandalf, and then at the letter in his hand. "He really did mean it."

"Of course he did. And I believed that you meant it when you said you would do this, or else I should never have mentioned it to him."

"What could he have to say to me?"

Gandalf chuckled. "Open it, my friend, and find out. Come, sit out with me on the terrace, and we'll have a pipe while you read it."

"Dear Master Baggins,

First, I must thank you for your willingness to carry on our conversation by means of correspondence. I realize this cannot be easy for you, given the great affection you have for your cousin and how the whole affair of my Ring affected him. I would ask you to give him my regards, but I sincerely doubt that he would welcome such. So I am all the more honored that despite everything, you wish to communicate with me..."

Bilbo read all the way to the end, and gave a hoot of surprised laughter when he got to the signature. "D. L. Sauron", indeed.

"I have a feeling that this will not be as easy as I thought it would be," he said, looking up at Gandalf.

"Of course not, Bilbo. But I have no doubt that one who managed to come out relatively unscathed from a conversation with a Dragon can manage it."

It was after almost three days of mulling the letter over when he finally sat down to his desk and picked up a quill. He might have postponed it for another day or so, but hobbit manners were too ingrained in him for that. His cousin Dora would be surprised at how much he was still governed by the traditions he grew up with in the Shire, even after all this time among the Elves.

He dipped the pen. And then stopped dead. "Dear". Was Sauron "dear" to him at all? Yet it was the conventional greeting; it did not mean what it said. After all, how many missives had he penned to Lobelia and to Lotho that had begun with "Dear"?

He paused again. "Dear...who?" Well, if he was to be governed by his Shirish upbringing, he might as well go all the way. Doubtless if his correspondent was not offended, he might be amused.

{Dear Mr. Sauron,

I was somewhat surprised that you asked to correspond with me at all, and even more surprised that you wrote to me so swiftly when I acquiesced. Be assured that I discussed this with Frodo. I would not undertake this at all if he objected, nor would I do so behind his back.

While he says that he has not forgiven you, it is more because he does not believe that such forgiveness is his to offer, than because he still holds any grudge. My cousin has a very distinct sense of honour; he believes that your offenses were against a wider world and not directed at him in particular. Therefore, it is not his place to forgive you. In fact, he told me it would be akin to an ant offering forgiveness to the person who stepped on its ant mound-rather beside the point.

As for myself, I found upon our meeting that my own rather substantial animosity was eaten up by curiousity-my Tookish heritage at work, I am sure. You seemed quite different from what I had imagined in every way. Ah well, that is, perhaps also a topic for another time. For now, I shall be content to turn to the topic with which you chose to open our correspondence, Language.

Compared to you, or to any of the Ainur or of the Firstborn in general, I am no linguist. Westron is my native tongue, that Common Speech which unites the Western parts of Ennor. I've come to understand that it is a mongrel tongue at best, but it's what I grew up with and which still comes most naturally to my own tongue in times of excitement or stress.

The truth is, I never gave other languages a thought until I was well-grown. Until, in fact, my first Journey to the Outside, as we Shirelings often call the world outside our Bounds. As an educated gentlehobbit I was well aware that other tongues existed, but I had never had firsthand experience of one. The Dwarves never spoke a word of Khuzdul in my presence, and so it was not until I arrived in Rivendell and was confronted by a party of singing Elves that I had any notion of what another language would sound like.

My mind did its pitiful best to make sense of the seemingly incomprehensible gibberish I heard. Perhaps it would amuse you to know that later I wrote down what I thought I heard, a bit of doggerel that has become rather famous in its own right. I believe that the Elves of Imladris were rather embarrassed to discover that many thought it was what they were actually singing:

O! What are you doing,
And where are you going?
Your ponies need shoeing!
The River is flowing!
O! Tra-la-la-lally
Here down in the valley!

O! What are you seeking,
And where are you making?
The faggots are reeking!
The bannocks are baking!
O! Tril-lil-lil-lolly
The valley is jolly
Ha ha!

O! Where are you going,
With beards all a-wagging?
No knowing, no knowing
What brings Mister Baggins,
And Balin and Dwalin
Down into the valley
In June
Ha ha!

O! Will you be staying,
Or will you be flying?
Your ponies are straying!
The daylight is dying!
To fly would be folly,
To stay would be jolly!
And listen and hark
Till the end of the dark
To our tune.
Ha ha!

I've since been told that while the exact words are not right, I somehow seemed to capture the general sense of things: it was a rather mocking song of welcome to the Valley, at any rate!

I am afraid that for most of my Adventure that is how I coped with the other tongues I heard. I wrote a similarly ridiculous bit of verse to account for what the Orcs were chanting after they captured me and my companions beneath the Misty Mountains. This may have been the language called Black Speech, or perhaps it was not. It was very guttural and harsh and seemed to be filled with onomatopoeia, I must say.

It was not until I was trapped within the Halls of the Elvenking Thranduil that I had a chance to listen to an Elven language spoken on a regular basis. It was Sindarin, and it was beautiful, but it was incomprehensible. I managed, out of sheer dire necessity, to learn a pitiful few words such as "water", "bread", "privy" and "door". But my true fascination with tongues dates from that period.

On my return from the Lonely Mountain, Gandalf and I spent some weeks in the home of Master Elrond, and learning of my wish to know something of the languages of the Elves, he made available to me a small book which was used to teach Sindarin to some of the children of the Dúnadain who fostered in Rivendell from time to time. He was generous enough to gift me with not only that book, but a few others, simple primers used with young readers.

When I had taught myself as much as I could from them, he sent me other books that I could copy and return to him. However, I had no one with whom to speak, so my accent was atrocious (and to my mind, remains so to this day)! I also was able to dabble a bit with Quenyan (yes, yes, I know! Make an objection to me about my use of that term, and perhaps I will tell you why I use it in a letter written in Westron. Or perhaps you will guess why.) At any rate, most of what I did was learn to read and write, rather than speak. I still feel that what appeals to me most about the Elven language is the beauty of the Tengwar. My hand is not so lovely, as you can tell by these rather spidery ramblings. Frodo, on the other hand, has as fine a hand as many an Elf; but then, he is an artist.

It was not until I found my home among the Elves upon my retirement from the Shire that I found time to indulge my fascination with various languages. I was able to improve my speaking of Sindarin in particular, and learned what I could of such tongues of Men as Adûnaic. Now that I am here, I hope to be able to learn more about the roots of language, and to find the connexions between words in various tongues.

You asked about my writing. I am given to much versifying, most of it doggerel. I love more the sounds of words than the sense of them. I once had the temerity to write a song of Eärendil in the House of Elrond, merely because a phrase got stuck in my head, and the rhythm of it reminded me of a rather fanciful bit of nonsense I'd written years before as an experiment in rhyme:

There was a merry passenger,
a messenger. a mariner:
he built a gilded gondola
to wander in and had in her
a load of yellow oranges
and porridge for his provender;
he perfumed her with marjoram,
and cardamom and lavender.

and so forth...

I am afraid that you will find this terribly nonsensical.

I was surprised that you asked of the Shire and of Bree. For some reason, I suppose I thought you would know all about these places already. I passed through Bree briefly during my journeying, and did not spend much time there. I am sure that Gandalf could tell you more; he spent a good deal of time there, much of it in waiting on our friend Aragorn.

But as I could have much to say on the Shire, I may leave it for another letter-although I have not lived there for many years, I still carry it in my heart, and once I get started on it, it is hard to get me to stop.

As for what I would ask, I find myself wondering about that "Why?" again. Not really in the vague general way that I was thinking when first I asked, but more specifically: Why rings? What made you think that they were a good idea? But I do not know if you would care to answer that this early in our correspondence.

My other questions are many, and have to do with all the long history of Middle-earth, and the Over-heaven and the Sundering Seas -as I said, I am part Took, and our curiousity is legendary among our own people. Gandalf thinks me dreadfully presumptuous, and seldom answers more than half of what I ask.

I hope that you are not finding your confinement too onerous, and that you will find amusement in this long and rambling bit of nonsense.

Sincerely yours,

Bilbo Baggins, Esq.}

What cheek! Bilbo thought. His lips twitched in a smile; Pippin would be proud of him.

He carefully sanded the letter, and put it aside for the moment. He'd fold and seal it later, and give it to Gandalf for delivery. He hoped that his correspondent would at the very least find it interesting.


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