Gollum - Ethymology

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Padmé Amidala 29/Oct/2006 at 06:57 AM
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My mother recently started reading The Lord of the Rings after numerous years of nagging on my part, and she noted a little detail about Gollum’s name that at least I found quite interesting.

In Wikipedia it is said that it has been suggested that Tolkien’s inspiration for the name Gollum comes from the Hebrew word golem, and the golem from Yiddish folklore. Apparently, in Hebrew, golem means "fool", "stupid", "clue-less" and so on. I don’t know if Tolkien really was inspired by this, however...

...my mother noted that the Persian word (from Arabic) "golam" means slave, and if pronounced correctly it sounds very much like "Gollum". Again, I’ve got no clue if this was intentional on Tolkien’s part (but why not?), but I still think it’s a rather fun fact and very fitting, as Gollum was in many ways a slave to the Ring.

(By the way, I wasn’t sure if this thread is appropriate for the language forum, as Persian isn’t exactly a Middle-earthian language - but it is a language nevertheless. If this isn’t where it should be, feel free to move it to Basic Lore, or delete this and let me open a new one up in the appropriate forum.)
geordie 29/Oct/2006 at 08:29 AM
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Tolkien did’nt have the name ’golem’ in mind when he created Gollum - at least, not as far as I know. He says [in The Hobbit] that Gollum was called that because of the noise he made in his throat; a horrible ’glomping’ sound. He made it up because it amused his boys, I suspect. The story was told to the three boys orally at first; he began to write it down only because little Christopher would pull him up on any mistakes [see TH 50th ann ed and co; and also The Tolkien Family Album].

There is a cd available of Tolkien reading extracts from some of his books; the sound he makes when he says ’gollum’ are exactly what one would expect of someone merely clearing their throat. I think the ’gollum = golem connection’ is just a coincidence.

My mother recently started reading The Lord of the Rings after numerous years of nagging on my part,

Good for your mom! And good for you, too! Well done, both

Padmé Amidala 29/Oct/2006 at 09:10 AM
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Ah well, a lucky coincidence then. I’m still amused. But thanks, geordie.

And yes, I’m glad that my mother finally came to her senses, and even more so because she really enjoys it too. Luckily, she’s un-biased by the movies (epic action movies aren’t really her cup of tea), so she gets to create her own images, her own Frodo, Aragorn, Rivendell, Gondor, and yes - Gollum (etc.). And I guess that can’t be said by many who start reading the trilogy in the post-PJ-LotR "era"!
Magradhaid 29/Oct/2006 at 10:37 AM
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To me, the Gollum - Golem link is merely coincidental, though there is one other that I see as less spurious. In The Annotated Hobbit, Douglas A. Anderson suggests that though "Gollum" was conceived as a horrible swallowing noise in its throat, it may have been influenced by Old Norse gull, goll "gold", of which one form is gollum, "gold, treasure, something precious".
Padmé Amidala 29/Oct/2006 at 11:01 AM
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Ah, actually the Old Norse gull isn’t only old norse - gull still means gold in Norwegian. But anyway, I didn’t find the link between Gollum and the Hebrew golem nearly as interesting as Gollum and the Persian golam, but that’s perhaps because I speak Persian. And if he was influenced, as Anderson suggests, by Old Norse - then why not Persian? Or maybe, as geordie says, it only was conceives as a swallowing noise, and there ends this discussion!

But not my mother’s speculations... see, she also suggested that Tolkien maybe got the names "Nimrod" and "Amrod" from the persian poem The King’s Letters (from AD 600)(that’s my free translation from the Persian title, so you might know it by another name or not know it at all), because apparently in that tale there are people with the exact same names. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence, I don’t even know if Tolkien was that into Persian literary history - but these small connections are precious(sss) to me anyway.
Magradhaid 29/Oct/2006 at 11:26 AM
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"Nimrod" also appears in the Bible, though I suspect that, like "Moria"/Morîah/Soria Moria, those names were created because of their meaning in Elvish.

Padmé Amidala 29/Oct/2006 at 11:33 AM
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But the Elvish words can have been influenced by other languages/mythologies/etc... But I’m pushing it too far, so I’ll stop now.
Magradhaid 29/Oct/2006 at 04:04 PM
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That is true that they could have been influenced. For example, though Moria and Rohan were names chosen because of their etymology in Elvish, they were influenced by Tolkien’s like of the name "Soria Moria Castle" from Scandinavian tales and Rohan from the Brittanic family, though he had created the name "Rohan" before that. Tolkien does give two examples of words that he was not aware of borrowing, though he said it was very probable. That sort of unconscious borrowing is known as cryptomnesia. The two words are Erech, clearly influenced by the Mesopotamian city (a.k.a. Uruk), and Black Speech nazg from Gaelic nasc "ring, a bond, obligation". There were incidents in which Tolkien knowingly was influenced by other names, like Eärendil from Anglo-Saxon éarendel [>éarendil], and Quenya Aiya Eärendil elenion ancalima (Behold Eärendil brightest of stars), ultimately derived from AS éala! éarendel engla beorhtast ... (Behold Éarendel brightest of angels)... So you are right that "the Elvish words can have been influenced by other languages/mythologies", as it has happened before in Tolkien’s mythos.
Padmé Amidala 30/Oct/2006 at 08:50 AM
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Thanks, that was a great explanation!