So that’s where Tolkien got “Orc”

Tolkien was a master of words with sounds that connote meaning. But I often find that a lot of his work was not produced from thin air. Case in point: I was looking today at the word “ogre.” Check out this etymology from the OED.

French ogre (late 12th cent. in Old French in sense ‘fierce pagan’, c1300 in sense ‘man-eating giant’, attested again from 1613; also hogre (1704 in the passage translated in quot. 1713 at main sense)), further etymology uncertain and disputed.

French ogre is perh. < classical Latin Orcus, the name of the god of the infernal regions, Hades, Pluto (further etymology uncertain), with metathesis of r (perh. influenced by words such as bougre BOUGRE n.), or perh. < post-classical Latin Ugri, Ungri, Ongri, applied by early writers to the Hungarians or Magyars (see UGRIAN n.). Cf. (< classical Latin Orcus) Middle French orque hell (16th cent.; prob. a later reborrowing), and also Italian orco demon, monster (13th cent.), Spanish huerco devil, personification of death or hell (1330-1900), Sardinian orcu demon, and early modern Dutch orck unruly person (Dutch regional ork). Spanish ogro (1787-1900) is a borrowing from French ogre.

In folklore and mythology: a man-eating monster, usually represented as a hideous giant. In extended use: a person resembling or suggestive of an ogre; a cruel, irascible, or fearsome-looking person.

But Tolkien’s not the only one using his brains. Here’s one from Robert Jordan.

sangrayle, -grayll(e, seynt graal, 7-9 sangreal, 9 sangreall. [a. OF. Saint Graal ‘Holy Grail’: see SAINT a. and GRAIL.
  The pseudo-etymological form sang roial (confusing the word with SANG-ROYAL 2) appears in AF. of the 15th c.: see Godefr. Compl. s.v. SANC. Another spurious etymology formerly common appears in the following quot.:
  1685 STILLINGFL. Orig. Brit. i. 13 Others think that the word was Sangreal, being some of Christ’s real blood..said to be somewhere found by King Arthur.]

1. = GRAIL.

a1450 Le Morte Arth. 10 The knights of the table Round, The sangrayle when they had sought. c1450 Merlin ii. 32 Thi boke shalbe cleped the boke of the seynt Graal. 1470-85 MALORY Arthur II. xi. 88 Soone after the aduentures of the Sangrayll shalle come among yow and be encheued. 1808 SCOTT Marm. I. Introd. Epist. 268 He took the Sangreal’s holy quest. 1871 G. MEREDITH H. Richmond II. 145 They bear the veiled sun like a sangreal aloft to the wavy marble flooring of stainless cloud.


Tales From Earthsea

Tales from Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 5) 

When I was in 7th grade I read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Of course, I wasn’t the sharpest literary tack back then, and so great sections of The Two Towers and The Return of the King went over my head and, therefore, bored me. But, with the help of the Hildenbrant calendars, enough came through to thrill. I wept at the events in the mines of Moria with Gandalf, geeked out over the elves, orcs, and Nazgul, was fascinated with the Ents and wizards, and generally wanted to stay in that world forever.

When I finished the trilogy, I mourned–the dream was over. I read Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham. Both were delightful, but neither was the same as LOTR. Then I saw The Silmarillion. It had a cool cover, a map.

Oh, joy! I bought it and took it home.

Alas, that book was about as much fun as reading a ten-pounder on the history of baroque cornices. I tried mightily to push through, but I don’t think I was able to finish more than 15 pages total from all the sections. So I mourned again, and then, still feeling the loss, went looking for something else that might whisk me away.

One of those whisking stories was Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. Of course, the fact that there was a wizard in it was important, but as equally delightful to my then puny literary prowess, was that the story was a slim thing. As were its two companions The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore.

Here’s the cover the drew me in so long ago.

I relished all three and moved on to other stories.

Time passed and I forgot about LeGuin. Almost 10 years later I was newly married. My wonderful new wife started reading to me as we’d drive. And on one of the three-hour drives to her parents, she pulled out this little book and began to read.

It was A Wizard of Earthsea! And it was just as marvelous the second time with a bigger brain as it was the first time with a smaller one. In fact, Nellie’s reading to me was so enjoyable I slowed down to 40 mph so I could extend the 3-hour drive. Of course, she quickly caught on to my scheme, shut the book, and told me she wouldn’t read another word unless I drove 65 mph, at the very least.

What can a guy do? I kept it at 65 (well, 60) and joyed in the wonderfulness of a new wife who would read aloud to me (you mean this model reads, too?!), the night and the stars spread above those lonely Utah and Wyoming roads, and the amazing story unfolding before me.

And this is the cover of the one my wife read to me.

We read all three to each other and moved onto other stories.

More than 15 years passed and I’d mostly forgotten LeGuin (I really never could get into her Hainish stuff). I was in the library looking for some good audio. And there on the shelf stood Tales from Earthsea by Ursual LeGuin.

Just a little slim container of cassettes. Why not? I thought.

Holy heroes, Batman—it was gold. LeGuin’s a master of building that feel: the wonder of fantasy, the mystery of things long forgotten or rumored to exist, the pull of learning arcane powers. I loved every minute of it (well, except for the slogging first four pages of backstory, but get through that, which isn’t too bad with Karr’s reading, and you’re into the kingdom). The first story, “The Finder,” read by Amanda Karr was incredible. It takes us back to how Roke became was it was in the first trilogy. But the delights do not end there. Four more stories follow.

I liked them all so much, I just checked the audiobook out again so I could listen a second time. And, it appears, LeGuin was busy in my absence because she has more Earthsea than this.

• A Wizard of Earthsea, 1968
• The Tombs of Atuan, 1971
• The Farthest Shore, 1972 (Winner of the National Book Award)
• Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea, 1990 (Winner of the Nebula Award)
• Tales From Eathersea, 2001 (a collection of short stories)
• The Other Wind, 2001

I just got the last two from Amazon. I can’t wait to enter into LeGuin’s magic spell yet again.

More cool Earthsea stuff.

American Idol Story Elements

I don’t have time to watch, but I found myself getting sucked in this week. And here’s something I realized as I watched Simon, Paula, Randy, Ryan, & the contenstants–the show is using story principles.


Duh, I know: of course, it is. But it does it so well. It reminds me of a research article I read about sportscasters and audience enjoyment of sports competitions. They found that if they could inject story elements–suspense, rivalry, etc.–people enjoyed the games more. Next time you watch a college football game, notice what the color commentators say to make it a contest. It’s not just about reporting what #45 did out in the flat.

Anyway, back to Idol. Look at these elements.

What draws us to characters?

Beauty, threats, quirkiness, larger-than-life situation or skills, source of viewer wish-fulfillment.

Humm, let’s look at the cast of performers. Don’t we see all of that? How many of us wouldn’t love to be able to sing like they do? Have a shot at becoming a recording artist? Or just goggle at someone getting this chance?

What factors generate suspense?

Threats to characters we like or marvelous opportunities for them, turns in the situation, a prolonged resolution.

Humm. Our sympathy is engaged because these folks are normal folks, many of them underdogs. Many viewers identify strongly with one or two because of the contestant’s various social groups and because, heck, the auditions are for people like you and me. It could be us up there in front of the world! You’ve got the threat of peformance fright, but also the overriding opportunity to make a dream real. You’ve got a wonderful career, if not millions of dollars, on the line. You’ve got Simon who is honest, but also plays his part. Isn’t that the moment of most suspense with each performance? You’ve even got a little subplot going on between Simon and Seacrest. There’s no villain here. But there are plenty of obstacles. Weekly threats.

What does Idol give us that Survivor never could?

It’s all REAL, even if the producers let their selection of performers be influenced by things other than vocal talent. And because it’s real, we believe it. Which means we can more easily feel sympathy and root for the various performers.

It’s a simple but brilliant concept. And I just wasted 4 hours watching it. And I’m likely to do it again.

Zing, Baby. Zing!

Free Stories from Pros

From Edmund Schubert, editor of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalatic Medicine Show:

“During the month of February we are going to make one story from each of our first four issues available at no charge. Two stories will be set free on February 1st, and two more on February 15th. Just visit and explore the table of contents; the free stories will be clearly marked.”

Of course, having been published in the first issue and slated to be the cover story for the Spring 2008 issue, I can vouch for the magazine’s impeccable taste and the gigawatt entertainment buzz you’ll get from the stories they select.