What is a name according to the Inklings?
When Frodo stabs a Ringwraith at Weathertop with his sword and cries out in Elvish, “O Elbereth Gilthoniel!” he doesn’t know what he is doing. Later, Aragorn explains what happened at that moment,
More deadly to him [the Witch-king] was the name of Elbereth.
But why is the name of Elbereth (Varda) so deadly to the Witch-king? Isn’t it just a sound?
It turns out, it’s not. In our divided consciousness, we tend to separate the name from its bearer. We do so subconsciously because modern consciousness perceives everything in fragments. We think that the name is merely a sound, and the thing it denotes is a physical object that exists separately from its name. But that’s not what we find in the Inklings.
In Tolkien’s legendarium, the Elvish languages seem to represent the one proper language, or “language as it should be.” It is the primal proto-language not yet divided by the curse of Babel. It proceeds from the consciousness that perceives the world as a Whole, and in it, words are always one with what they name. In fact, words contain what they name as in a “house.”
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger spoke of words as “the house of being,” not labels or tags on things. He said,
For words and language are not wrappings in which things are packed for the commerce of those who write and speak. It is in words and language that things first come into being and are.
So, what is a name according to the Inklings? It is a portal that ushers the invocator into the invisible realm concealed behind the sound.
For the Inklings, the name and the named are one. The named one is IN the name. The Lord of the Rings was written from a different consciousness than ours as Tolkien himself seems to indicate – it was the consciousness of participation, not separation. Tolkien said,
I have long ceased to invent… I wait till I seem to know what really happened. Or till it writes itself.
For a participated consciousness, there is no difference between the name of a thing and the thing itself. The thing exists in its name. That’s why words always effect what they name. The name is not a denotation; it’s an invocation. That’s why Elbereth was really there at Frodo’s call. There is no other explanation for Frodo’s survival – if Varda wasn’t there, Frodo would have been consumed by the Darkness. But she was there fully present in her name.Continue reading “What is a Name According to the Inklings? A Label or a Portal into Being?”