I have next to no idea what I meant when I jotted down the idea for this post literally just as just how deep does the lore go, like what? What does that mean, past Mary? What were you aiming to do with this post? Was this literally just supposed to be several paragraphs of screaming about the etymology of Lothlórien’s name? Yes??
LET’S DO IT
Here’s your disclaimer right away: Tolkien is a straight up psycho. This post is definitely for anyone who has only read/watched the trilogy and is wondering how much more insane it gets, but y’all ain’t even ready for this. He’s NUTS. And there’s so much damn lore packed into the trilogy that sometimes I sit back and just stare off into the distance in amazement over the fact that there’s even more beyond all that. And though present!Mary has no clue what past!Mary was hoping to do with this post (note to self: take better notes of your weird ass brain thoughts), I think Lothlórien is a good place to start.
I know I’ve quoted this passage from Letters several times, particularly in recent memory, but I’m actually going to break it down this time:
In a note to the text it is explained that Lórinand was the Nadorin name of this region (afterwards called Lórien and Lothlórien), and contained the Elvish word meaning “golden light”: “valley of gold.” The Quenya form would be Laurenandë, the Sindarin Glornan or Nan Laur. Both here and elsewhere the meaning of the name is explained by reference to the golden mallorn-trees of Lothlórien; but they were brought here by Galadriel, and in another, later, discussion the name Lórinand is said to have been itself a transformation, after the introduction of the mallorns, of a yet older name Lindórinand, “Vale of the Land of the Singers.” Since the Elves of this land were in origin Teleri, there is here no doubt present the name by which the Teleri call themselves, Lindar, “The Singers.” From many variance among themselves, it emerges that all the later names were probably due to Galadriel herself, combining different elements: laurë “gold,” nan(d) “valley,” ndor “land,” lin- “sing”; and in Laurelindórinan “Valley of Singing Gold” (which Treebeard told the Hobbits was the earlier name) deliberately echoing the name of the Golden Tree that grew in Valinor, “for which, as is plain, Galadriel’s longing increased year by year to, at last, an overwhelming regret.
Tolkien was really like, “Okay. It’s called Lothlórien right now, but that doesn’t make sense for the entire history of the city. At some point, it was definitely called something more difficult because it was just the Eldar creating it, and they were trying to be all fancy & pretty, so it started as Laurelindórinan due to a lot of highly specific reasons based on the elves naming it & all their history. But, history is a fickle thing, and, eventually, it’s going to change according to the different types of elves that are coming into place, so based on several different variables, it’ll go through an etymology of Lindórinand to eventually be shortened to Lórinand until we’re in a more modern time, when people like Men will want to shorten things because they’re rude, and the elves of this age will be a bit more hasty than the Eldar, so they’ll maybe want to be a bit more efficient, so I’m going to call it Lothlórien. This is easier to say, but also still beautiful and echoes the glory of forgotten times. And, even still, sometimes they’ll just straight up chop it in half to Lórien so that there’s eight million names for eight million different reasons.”
Like, he went so far with his lore that he created an entire convoluted history for Lothlórien’s name. And it all makes sense, too! He does that a lot with names, changing them based on who might be saying them or events that might have happened in those specific areas, and it follows how names work in our history, so though it’s crazy, it makes sense in a really wild and interesting way.
Let’s bring it back up to a more coherent level, moving away from the etymology of names and instead to a well-known and beloved character. Because no matter who you are, you love Gandalf, but there’s so much more to him than is actually evident.
Like most things, Gandalf’s character begins in The Silmarillion era, and we only get to the Gandalf version of him in the Third Age. Way back when, he was just Olórin, and he wasn’t on the physical plane of Middle-earth. Instead, he was something of an angel, nurtured and loved by Lady Nienna, the highest of their order. She taught him everything that she knew, and he had a family before he came to Middle-earth, friends and loved one and all the good things. However, like his four Istari brethren, Gandalf was chosen to descend into the mortal realm. Danger was coming to the world, and Nienna, with the other Valar, had foreseen that the Istari would be a vital part in saving the world. Thus, though he was grief-stricken and wanted nothing more than to stay with Nienna until the end of his days, Olórin dutifully joined the other Istari and went to Middle-earth.
And even then, when Olórin was now a physical, living being on Middle-earth, he wasn’t the Gandalf we know and love yet. Because the Gandalf we know is ancient, and he spent hundreds and hundreds of years on Middle-earth, waging war against Sauron several times, terrifying and glorious all at once. And though we don’t get all this knowledge in the trilogy, it’s all packed in there in other works, slowly expanded in mind-boggling ways, sometimes hidden under layers of other things, and almost like piecing together a puzzle with painstaking precision.
But, much like the history of Lothlórien’s name, Gandalf has a whole mountain of lore behind him.
Tudo bem, last one, and then I’ll leave your head to spin on its own. You had to know this last one was coming, too, because if I’m going to talk about philology and First Age lore, I’m definitely going to hit you with a Rohan fangirl moment. Because Forth Eorlingas? That packs a punch, too.
This one doesn’t go quite as far back because Men haven’t been around for nearly as long as elves, not even by half, but there’s still so much packed into that rallying phrase that we get so excited about. Because Eorl is an actual dude, and back when Men were still figuring things out, the Steward of Gondor at that time, Cirion, was in a bit of a pickle, and the Lord of Rohan, Eorl, decided he’d lend a hand. Together, obviously, they were stronger, and Cirion was so in awe of Eorl’s friendship that he decides he wants to honor his new friend, and the new allegiance between Gondor and Rohan, in the most dramatic way possible.
So they part ways for a bit while Cirion does his planning, and then, three months later–probably when the moon was exactly right and the weather was just so and the stars had aligned because Tolkien’s characters are nothing if not utterly & absurdly over the top–Cirion asks Eorl to join him in this super secret spot. Little does Eorl know that literally no one outside of Cirion and his ancestors have ever even known of this spot’s existence, so Eorl gladly accepts, meets Cirion on the appointed date at the appointed spot–with the wildflowers blowing in an easterly wind and the sun setting at a specific angle probably–and they literally swear an oath of friendship with each other and promise to always come to each other’s aid.
This is literally the beginning of the alliance between Gondor and Rohan, and it’s beautiful. And, in later years, when the riders of Rohan were mustering their horses, preparing for anything grievous, they would shout, “Forth Eorlingas!” Or, with a bit more lore, “Ride now, people of Eorl!” And it’s just even more fitting that one of the first times we hear that phrase in the trilogy is when Rohan is riding to Gondor’s aid.