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Week X+7

I dare say you already know this, in which case feel free to skip down to a different paragraph (there’s some good stuff about arm seams later on), but did you know where JRR Tolkien got the name of Gandalf the wizard from?

I’ve been reading Tom Shippey’s fascinating “Master of Middle Earth”, about Tolkien and language and, given that Professor Shippey is also an expert philologist, he knows that of which he speaks. In it he quotes part of an Old Norse saga called the Dvergatal, or “tally of the dwarves”, with which Tolkien must have been very familiar. Part of this consists of a list of dwarf-names, and readers of The Hobbit will recognise many of them: Dainn, Bifur, Bafur, Nori, Oinn, Throinn, etc. Even the nickname “Oakenshield” (Eikinskjaldi) appears.

In the middle of the list is the name, “Gandalfr”. This seems to mean “wand” (gand) “elf” (alfr). Professor Shippey speculates that Tolkien must have looked at that name and wondered just what a “wand-elf” was, and what one was doing in the middle of a list of dwarves. A “wand-elf” could be another word for a wizard; and maybe he was with the dwarves because they were on a quest… And so The Hobbit was born.

I find this fascinating, because it reinforces the authenticity that underpins so much of Tolkien’s universe, and which no other fantasy writer can ever hope to emulate, but also because it offers an insight into the creative process. You can easily imagine Tolkien puzzling over what a wizard and a bunch of dwarves might have been up to, and ending up at the Lonely Mountain and the dragon asleep on his hoard. (Beowulf is another influence – a thief steals a cup from the dragon in that, too.)

Speaking of dwarves, Prof. Shippey also explains Tolkien’s spelling of that word. Modern English spells it “dwarfs”. But in English, ancient words ending in f (e.g., loaf, half) take the plural with a v (e.g., loaves, halves); therefore Tolkien reasoned that dwarf, being an equally ancient word, must have done so too originally. Hence his ceaseless battle with printers who kept “correcting” his spelling and changing it back to “dwarfs”!

Anyway, those of you asleep at the back can wake up now. I’ve finished the pattern panel on the other sleeve, and now it’s just the downhill freewheel to the cuff. I must admit, it’s quite a relief knowing that “knit two, purl two” won’t be any part of my life for the next little while.

One thing I forgot to mention last week was the border to the seam stitches. (The seam, as you know, is really just a purl stitch acting as a marker, or row divider, running down the middle of the sleeve.) I’ve been making a conscious effort to knit this gansey “properly” (whatever that means). So I’ve maintained the outer stitches of the gusset intact until the end, and decreased on the stitches immediately inside them to create a nice diamond-shaped border all round the edge. In the same way, I’ve left the stitches either side of the seam stitch intact, and have decreased on the stitches next to them. This also creates a nice border effect next to the seam, running down the arm.

Finally, this week’s bread is another French country bread with 15% wholemeal and rye flour, as a sandwich loaf. (Bake 10 minutes at high heat in the tin, then turn the heat down and take the loaf out of the tin for the rest of the baking time.) Makes good toast, too.

4 comments to Week X+7

  • Lynne

    The sweater is wonderful and I love the ‘birds-eye’ effect of the double moss stitch, but I can understand why you must be getting weary of it after so much variety on your last gansey.
    It must be close to time for your “Lord Of The Rings” re-runs. The weather here is hinting of that DVD marathon!

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    It’s surprised me how fiddly the pattern has proved to be: I thought k2/p2 would be a no-brainer, but it requires ceaseless vigilance! Take your eye off the ball and you find you’ve knit k2/p2/k2/p2/k4/p2/k2/p2… Oddly enough, a more complicated pattern with cables and panels is easier to keep track of because you have to concentrate more.

    Christmas is a good time for LOTR movies (not to mention The Muppet Christmas Carol!), so not long now. Am trying not to get my hopes up too high for The Hobbit movie (casting looks good so far) since that’s my favourite childhood book…


  • =Tamar

    I remain convinced that it was Snow White and the Seven
    Dwarves, despite my family’s attempts to claim otherwise.
    “Dwarfs” just sounds wrong.

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar,

    Yes, absolutely. I grew up reading The Hobbit before I could spell, so it came as a surprise to me that “dwarves” was (technically) incorrect – it sounds right, as you say, like “elves” (“elfs” on the other hand…). So Tolkien would have told us that we were just acknowledging the ancient origins of the word! (That Walt Disney – what did he know?)