03 January 2018

Etymology is Destiny, Saruman, Saruman





As many are aware, Tolkien derived the name 'Saruman' from Old English. The entry in Bosworth- Toller for searu starts with ambiguity (I.) and moves straight to the 'bad sense' (II.). The good sense (III.) comes in a distant and by comparison feeble third, all the examples of which are adverbial uses of the instrumental case. searwum, 'skillfully, ingeniously, with art'. Amid the wealth of marvelous, damning examples under sense II. we find right near the end of the section a quote from the Blickling Homilies (173.8) in which St. Peter tells St. Paul of Simon Magus and recounts

'Hwylce searwa se drý árefnde what artifices the sorcerer practised'




So while it is true to say that searu can be either negative or positive, the surviving evidence indicates that negative is the far more common meaning. When we also consider that the word is so frequently ambiguous that this uncertainty merits the first place in the dictionary entry, it seems a fitting source for the name of a wizard who, even as his 'wickedness' was 'laid bare' (TT 3.ix.567), had proclaimed himself no longer Saruman the White, but 'Saruman of Many Colours' (FR 2.ii.259):
'I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.'
Since Tolkien named him Saruman from his first appearance in his plot outlines (Treason 70, 72-73), his character and his fate were coeval with his name.

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3 comments:

  1. I've just noticed that the equivalent Quenya noun curwë (or kurwë) meaning "craft", "skill of the hand" or "technical skill and invention", also only seems to appear in the names of characters who turn out bad. It appears in Saruman's original Maia name Curumo and his Sindarin name Curunír, as well as the name Curufinwë, which was the father-name of both Fëanor and his son Curufin. The entry for that root in the Etymologies also includes a Noldorin word meaning "wile" or "guile", which I see above.

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  2. It seems that in the early Quenya Lexicon, kuru had an association with 'magic', something we can also see in the quote from the Blicking Homilies, since 'searwa' are 'devices' a wizard might use. Even the use of 'devices' there makes me think of Galadriel saying to Sam that he uses the same term for what the elves do and the 'devices of the enemy.' But kuru in the QL doesn't seem to have had that negative connotation since there is a note indicating that it is used 'of the good magic'. It would be interesting to see when it starts to shade negatively. When is Feanor first called Curufinwe?

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  3. It looks like Fëanor didn't get the name until 1950-1, and the composition of the version of the Annals of Aman published in Morgoth's Ring. But Curufin was called that all the way back to the Book of Lost Tales. And I just noticed that in Old English Quenta fragment from Shaping of M-e (which I think predates The Hobbit), Curufin is called "Cyrefinn Fácensearo" from: "fácen 'deceit, guile, wickedness' (a word of wholly bad meaning); searu 'skill, cunning' (also with bad meaning, 'plot, snare, treachery'); fácensearu 'treachery'".

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