The Return of the Shadow: 6. Sindarin

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6. Sindarin

A/N: This is a work of fiction and the characters portrayed in this story are the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. Real institutions that are mentioned are used absolutely fictitiously (e.g.: there is a Tolkien Society in Germany, but they don't have an office in Berlin and they don't employ any Tolkien scholars).

6. Sindarin

Mina sat at her desk in the small office of the German Tolkien Society and was busy writing replies to various fan mails. Although the third movie of "The Lord of the Rings" had been out for almost a year now, the Tolkien frenzy had been barely reduced in intensity.

She sighed. It was not that she was not grateful. She loved her job at the Tolkien Society, even though the pay was something of a joke. But she was growing tired of answering the same questions over and over again. The ever growing list of FAQs on the homepage not withstanding she was still flooded with questions every day.

She took a look at her watch and frowned. She would have to hurry with her work this evening, or stay in longer on the following day. It was Thursday, and tonight she had to hold her first class of her new course of Sindarin at the Institute for Adult Education. She was really looking forward to the class. She had taken special care to prepare the first lesson, preparing a leaf-let with exercises and a quiz that she thought was pretty funny. She wondered if there would be any students from the previous class she had held at the institute.

A knock on the door interrupted her musings. A thin old man with steel grey hair, a thin, arrogant nose and a bristly moustache entered the office. Mr. Karstens was a rich elderly gentleman and one of the chairmen of the German Tolkien Society. He was deeply involved in the academic study of Tolkien's writings. Now he positioned himself in front of her desk, standing absolutely straight-backed and looked down at her with a stern expression on his face.

"I really don't think you should take on this new job at that institute," Mr. Karstens said. Mr. Karstens was a purist in everything he did, and especially where Tolkien was concerned. He knew Tolkien's youngest son, Christopher Tolkien, the author of the "History of Middle Earth" very well and shared with him the dislike of any departure from Tolkien's original visions. Or Tolkien's original visions as perceived by him. He loathed the movies, the fans, fan art and fan fiction in general.

Mina suppressed a sigh. Who had told Mr. Karstens about her new job at the Institute for Adult Education "Bildung unter den Linden e.V."?

Mr. Karstens disliked that she had the nerve to actually teach Sindarin, Quenya and elvish runes in an evening class. He had actually tried to find a way to stop her from doing so legally. He had not been successful. It is legal to teach anything that is related to academic study, or there would not be any college courses like "How to read and understand XYZ". As a working knowledge of Sindarin, Quenya and elvish runes is useful for the study of Tolkien's writings, it is legal to teach those things and Mina took care to use only books and other resources in her classes that were legally published, not infringing on any copyright. Moreover, Mina had an express permission to teach Sindarin and Quenya (and the runes as well) issued by Tolkien Estate. She had approached a representative of Tolkien Estate on a conference with the issue of teaching the elvish languages. Subsequently she had been granted an audience with Christopher Tolkien. She had discovered that although Christopher Tolkien was very touchy about the way his father's work was treated, he was not in any way narrow-minded. He had told Mina that he thought it impossible to develop a "living language" from the rudiments of elvish grammar and vocabulary, but he wanted to encourage a proper academic study of them. Her résumé as an acclaimed linguist had convinced him that she would not mutilate his father's inventions, and so, in the end Christopher Tolkien had given her his blessing.

Mr. Karstens had had to accept grudgingly that she explained the basics of Sindarin, Quenya and elvish runes to Tolkien fans. Up until now she had done "Elvish for beginners" as an evening class for adult students. She had divided the lessons into two evenings of Sindarin, two evenings of Quenya and one evening about elvish runes. This class had been fun to teach, and apparently her students had enjoyed it, too. She had been asked to teach an additional course in Sindarin as a real language course by the head of the institute. Mina had been amazed and gratified. And of course she had agreed. Tonight she would hold her first class.

She looked at Mr. Karstens and forced herself to smile at him. "I am sorry that you feel that way. But I have to admit that I have taken up the offer. Tonight I will teach the first class. I understand that you want to ensure that Tolkien's work is treated respectfully. But I can promise you that this is the case. My students love and admire Tolkien. That's the reason why they want to learn Sindarin."

She knew better than to try and make Mr. Karstens understand how deeply creative some of her students were, engaging in role plays of "The Lord of the Rings" or "The Silmarillion", writing poems and stories in Sindarin and Quenya, or at least trying to do so, writing music with Sindarin lyrics, and most of all, wanting to be able to really talk in Sindarin.

Mr. Karstens narrowed his eyes. "But it's impossible to really learn Sindarin. There are only the barest rudiments of grammar and vocabulary. It is beautiful, but it is not a real language. It is a linguistic experiment. It should be studied and admired, not mutilated."

Mina knew that her smile looked more like a grimace by now. "I can promise you that I won't mutilate Sindarin in any way."

"But you do develop new words, don't you?" he asked querulously.

Mina sighed. "I explain the way Tolkien developed Sindarin words. I teach how words can be reconstructed."

"Do you make up new words or don't you?" he insisted, not willing to concede a point so easily.

Mina took a deep breath and forced herself to remain calm and composed. "If someone asks me what a German word might be in Sindarin that is not included in the traditional vocabulary but that can be constructed from existing word-stems by using accepted linguistic procedures, then I will indeed explain the procedure and give the word or phrase that can be developed that way."

"Then you do mutilate Tolkien." Mr. Karstens repeated accusingly. For some reason he was in an especially bad mood today.

"I am sorry that you think so, Mr. Karstens," Mina said politely. "But I do need that job and I can only promise you again that I don't do anything that cannot be supported by scientific arguments."

Mr. Karstens was rich. Mina knew that he did not know quite how to react to someone who really needed a third job to get by. She saw her chance to end this conversation and quickly acted on it.

She smiled sweetly at the old man. "If you will excuse me now, I have still a lot to do answering letters about the up-coming conference in Cologne. But I would be really glad if you came with me this or any other evening. Then you could see for yourself that I am not in fact mutilating Tolkien, but that I really try to do my best conveying the beauty Tolkien created and helping other people to appreciate this beauty."

The conference in Cologne was a festival for Tolkien-purists. Mr. Karstens would hold the opening speech and was already nervous about it, although it was still three months till then. It was not a lie, either. There were a large number of letters and e-mails asking about the conference she had to sort yet and reply to individually.

"Oh… well… if that is the case… I'd better not keep you any longer… And – eh – tonight – I'm afraid – I am otherwise – er – engaged. But – eh – perhaps some other time…" Mr. Karstens blushed, then he turned around and marched out of the office.

Mina decided that she was really glad Mr. Karstens was too busy with his many societies and studies to drop into the small office of the German Tolkien Society every day. If he did, she would have given up her beloved job a long time ago.

When he was gone, she sighed again, deeply, and put her face into her hands. She was so sick of this particular argument. She clearly remembered the Tolkien conference she had attended some weeks ago in America. There had been a whole day during the conference that had been spent with nothing but arguing about whether or not it was permissible to develop new words.

Purism. Mina rubbed at her forehead. It was not that she did not think that Tolkien's work should be treated with respect. She most certainly did think that his work should be treated respectfully. And as a linguist she did not like the proliferation of self-styled experts on the elvish languages that swept the internet since Peter Jackson's movies at all. But she failed to understand why it should be such a crime if linguists, trained professionals – for heaven's sake –, expanded on the Sindarin grammar and vocabulary invented by Tolkien. After all, each new creation would have to be backed up by a linguistic explanation and asterisked in any dictionary as a new word.

She also failed to understand how so many Tolkien fanatics could be so sure that they knew exactly what Tolkien's intentions and wishes had been, most of them people who had never known Tolkien at all.

She herself believed that Tolkien would have been fascinated with the "life" his languages had acquired. After all, he had spent most of his life developing the elvish languages, their words, their etymologies, down to inventing the small changes in spelling or sound-shifts that normally occur in languages over the course of centuries and millennia.

Tolkien might have started inventing the elvish languages for his private enjoyment as he wrote in one of his letters. But sometime he had obviously decided that he wanted to share his linguistic creativity. Or he would not have published "The Lord of the Rings", nor answered any letter asking about the elvish languages! Tolkien had been fascinated with the "life" of a language.

Therefore Mina simply could not believe that he would be opposed to the way his languages were coming alive today. Sure, he might be put off by some new words or changes in grammar or pronunciation. But if you take a look at modern languages and their changes, Mina thought, you see that all the time in real life: French or German people throwing fits because of English words "invading" their languages, or internet/TV "corrupting" grammar.

And there were precedents, after all. Esperanto, Klingon. Latin! No one would ever say that you might not learn Latin because there was no native Latin speaker around to teach you the correct pronunciation. There were people at work in the Vatican doing nothing but making up new Latin words for the technical innovations of this day and age. So why should it be impossible to develop Sindarin into a living language or at least into a reasonably well working language?

Why did some people act as if an endeavour to learn how to read, write or speak Sindarin was some kind of sacrilege?

Mina sighed again. Why was it that there always had to be people to come up with rules about everything? Rules, they thought other people ought to obey!

Although she personally did not read or write fan fiction, why should people not get creative that way? And why should they adhere to any 'rules' in their writing? What about the freedom of writing? After all, no one was forced to read any of those stories!

Why should no one try to learn and speak Sindarin?


It was such a beautiful language. It fitted so well into the myths of the elves Tolkien had created. And these myths were such wonderful stories, transporting so many ageless virtues.

Virtues, Mina thought, that were hard to come by in this harsh modern world. And all the more necessary.

Thinking about speaking Sindarin reminded her of the young tramp she had seen on the train a few weeks ago. She still was not sure if she had imagined it that he had sung a Sindarin song. Probably. How should he have learned Sindarin? He had never been in any of her classes. And there were only very few Tolkien scholars either in Europe or in the USA that did any real teaching of Sindarin and Quenya.

It was simply impossible.

And why was she still thinking about this young vagabond anyway?

She shook her head, annoyed with herself and the wild ways her thoughts were going today and resolutely turned back to her work.


It was dark and cold, when she was finally on her way back home that night.

But she was content, if not happy. It was ten o'clock in the evening. She had held her first class of her Sindarin course. It had gone very well. She had known most of the students. Seventeen students all in all. Ten women and seven men. A group of seven were role players who had attended her first course. Two girls were avid fan fiction writers. Three, a young man and two women, had surprised her: they were students of her university course and attended because they liked her Old English class. Will wonders never cease?

The others she did not know. But she would come to know them, working and learning with them for the next twelve weeks. Twelve weeks of fun reading, writing and speaking Sindarin. And getting paid for it as well.

Sometimes, life was good.

She had started the class with the well-known Sindarin hymn to Elbereth.

As she had read it to the students, she had realized that she used an unusual rhythm, a rhythm she did not really know. When she suddenly remembered that it was the very same rhythm she recalled from that tramp she had listened to weeks ago, she almost stopped reading.

If she automatically used the rhythm of his song to read that hymn, had it actually been Sindarin that he had spoken? Had she, after all, not imagined the incident?

No. That would be simply too weird.

After reading the hymn she had explained the basics of Sindarin. She would go into more detail only in the next lesson. This first night she wanted mainly to find out how much her students already knew. She had devised a funny quiz for that purpose and it had worked really well, too. Everyone had participated actively and there had been a good many laughs at failed attempts to pronounce something or coming up with the correct lenient.

Now she was really tired. Weary to her bones. She was glad that tomorrow she would only have to spend three hours at the office. Then the day was hers, to catch up on sleep and her dearest project, the translation of "The Lord of the Rings"..

Mina shuddered. It was another dreary, weary day in November. At the end of November, to be exact. But according to the weather-forecast there was little hope for the cold, grey, rainy weather to dissipate. A real winter with snow and ice was not in sight.

Mina drew her black coat closer around her. She was so cold. Perhaps because she was so very tired. She hurried on through the darkness. Because of some road works she could not take her usual, direct route home from the station but had to go through a pedestrian underpass, reaching the apartment building where she lived from the backside.

Her steps slowed down. It was so gloomy tonight. And there did not seem to be any other person around. Even most windows around were already dark and asleep.

She disliked underpasses. She had read too many stories in the newspapers about attacks on lonely women in such locations. But it was the shortest way. The alternative would have been to get off the train at the next station and walk back. A much longer way to go home after a very long day. She had decided to risk the underpass. After all, this was a fairly safe and quiet neighbourhood. For Berlin, anyway.

She sighed and quickened her pace.

So she drew her coat closer around her and tugged her hands deeply into her pockets, clutching her pepper-spray into her hand.

Nothing would happen. She would be home in a blink. Nothing at all would happen to her.

She walked around the corner and into the underpass.

She stopped dead in her tracks.

On a worn wooden bench at the centre of the underpass the young tramp with the silver-grey eyes and the tangled black dread-locks was sitting. A large black dog with a muzzle white with age was lying at his side. The young man was strumming his guitar in a melody Mina did not recognize. He was singing softly.

And this time there was no doubt in her mind at all.

He was singing in Sindarin.

She stood at the entrance of the underpass and stared at the tramp in amazement.

The young man stopped singing and raised his head. He looked straight at her, his face expressionless. His face was very pale, his hair tangled and dirty. Although he was young, probably no older than twenty-five, the hard life out in the streets had left its mark in his eyes. They were weary and haunted.

"Suílad," Mina said. "Greetings."

The man stared at her with unbelieving eyes. Then he cleared his throat painfully.

"Suílad." he replied in a soft, trembling voice.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: JunoMagic

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: Multi-Age

Genre: General

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 08/08/07

Original Post: 03/05/06

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