Nodens and Maglor
So I want to start this thread by saying that the connection I'm outlining here is probably a coincidence, but I'm posting it anyway .
My fiancée is writing her thesis on mediaeval Brittany, and today she was doing a little research on a certain local St. Mélar. Apparently one of the legends that attached itself to this saint and was recorded in his Vita was an episode where his right hand and left foot were chopped off by a rival tyrant, on the principal that mutilation made one unfit for rule. His foot was later replaced with a prosthetic of brass or bronze - and his hand one of silver, and these were supposed to be functional and moving like organic appendages.
Anyone interested in Tolkien's academic writings will probably immediately think of Tolkien's essay on the name 'Nodens', reprinted in Tolkien Studies 4. For those who haven't read that essay, Tolkien was asked by archaeologists to comment on the etymology of a name 'Nodens' (and variations) found in inscriptions at an excavation at Lydney Park. Tolkien's conclusion (shared by most everyone else who's investigated this matter) was that Nodens was the early British Celtic form of a common Celtic mythological figure, preserved in Ireland as Nuada Argetlám and in later Welsh legend Lludd Llaw Eraint (with Lludd being from an earlier Nudd, the 'n' having been corrupted under the pressure to alliterate with the following Llaw). Both of these mean 'Nodens/Nuada/Nudd of the Silver Hand', and one of the defining mythological features of this character is the incredibly lifelike silver hand he possessed.
Carl Phelpstead gives some nice comments on Tolkien's 'Nodens' essay in the most recent Scholars Forum piece: http://www.lotrplaza.com/showthread....the-God-Nodens
There doesn't seem to be a direct Breton equivalent of this mythological figure, certainly not with the inherited Celtic name (except possibly very indirectly in the place name Ker-nuz, where *Nuz would be the normal Breton form of Nudd/Nodens). But there is this St. Mélar with his remarkably lifelike (and Nodens-like) silver hand, and the argument has certainly been made that this is a Breton reflex of the same Celtic myth, assimilated into a Christian context. Unfortunately the only scholarly source I've been able to turn up with a fairly quick search was a rather recent paper (specifically, an author in a 2010 article made a note promising to elaborate on this connection 'dans un prochain article' - perhaps this article, if it's been published yet, would have references to any older literature on the matter). So I have no idea if any of the folklore or comparative mythology studies of Tolkien's day ever popularized the connection (and if so, if Tolkien would have read the relevant works). Tolkien doesn't mention it in his 'Nodens' essay, but that's maybe not revealing since Tolkien was interested in the name more than silver hands generally speaking.
Anyway, what I found particularly interesting was trying to etymologize Mélar. This is apparently attested in a number of forms, probably developed from Celtic *Maglo-rīx, a name basically meaning 'chief-king'. I'm not sure about the original textual basis, but apparently one of the (very many) attested forms of this name in Breton is Maglor. Probably a complete coincidence, but kind of neat anyway, I thought
(It's vaguely interesting that the first part of that name, *maglo-, is also found in the name Maelan, one of the three sisters who escaped the drowning of Caer Arianrhod, in one Welsh analogue of the Atlantis myth. See Mark Hooker's Tolkien and Welsh, 'The Daughter of the River', page 79 for more details, though ignore a lot of his comments on etymology of the sound-sequence mael, which tend to have only a passing acquaintance with accuracy. Hooker notes that the version of the drowning of Caer Arianrhod mentioning Maelan is recorded only in Sir John Rhys's editions of Welsh folktales and legends. Maelan also gets some etymological comment in Rhys's Lectures on Welsh Philology, which Tolkien probably knew fairly well. The point being that the *maglo- element was etymologically connected to legends we know fascinated Tolkien, and the connections were made in works Tolkien very plausibly would have known. This is one of those cases, I think, where even if there is a connection, there's no real significance to it, but as I said, it seemed kind of neat to me anyway.)
Last edited by Lord of the Rings; 26/Mar/2013 at 08:37 PM.
It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.