This book is absolutely fascinating. I have reached Part III now, Word Studies, and I have reached ''nasturtian.'' This part gives a list of (mostly) Germanic words revived or some even coined by Tolkien and goes through the etymological significance of each in detail. It is greatly interesting - so absorbing even that while reading it this morning, my mother had to shake me after having called my name twice! It seems strange to me that many names Tolkien uses have far more philological significance than I had hitherto thought, but it doesn't surprise me, and I reproach myself for having underestimated the genius of the man so impertinently. Tolkien had an immense knowledge of languages and could ''invent'' them backwards, as he did with the tongues of Rohan (Anglo-Saxon) and Dale (Old Norse), or could even (non-Middle-earth fashion) invent words to fill gaps in old dictionaries, as he did to supplement the Gothic language. More on this (perhaps) later.
For now, I wish to comment on a rare Latinate word which appears in Bilbo's song of Eärendil in Rivendell. In this wonderful song, full of wonderful philological archaisms, Bilbo calls Eärendil (I am still undecided as to whether he means Eärendil the man, the Mariner, or the Morning Star, but perhaps this is besides the point - comments below would be welcome) the ''flammifer'' of Westernesse. I say it is a rare Latinate word because it is unusual for Tolkien to deliberately use a poetic word of Latin derivation in a Middle-earth setting - most others, such as Westernesse or Easterling, Oakenshield etc, are of Anglo-Saxon or Old Norse derivation. The word ''flammifer'' means ''flame-bearer'' and is, of course, related to the familiar words Conifer (Cone-bearer), Signifer (Standard-bearer), Aquifer (Water-bearer), Crucifer (Cross-bearer), Thurifer (Incense-bearer), and even Lucifer (Light-bearer) - although we seldom use the fair latter form because of its Satanic connotations.
While the word flammifer does not itself appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, the Dictionary lists a rare (very rare, I had never heard of it!) adjective form ''flammiferous'' - a word deriving from the 17th century. Interestingly, Eärendil was the first Middle-earth character to be invented. In 1913, when he was my age, Tolkien discovered the name Earendel in Crist, an Anglo-Saxon poem about Christ. The famous stanza goes:
éala éarendel engla beorhtast
ofer middangeard monnum sended
ofer middangeard monnum sended
[Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,
over Middle-earth sent unto Men]
Tolkien identified Earendel (the name means star or radiance) with St John the Baptist, the Prophet who heralded the coming of the Messias. While no such coming happens in Middle-earth (although Andreth alludes to a possible ''incarnation'' in the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth - see The History of Middle-earth, Volume X), a very moving moment occurs towards the end of The Silmarillion when Eärendil first ascends the heavens; the miserable people of Beleriand look up and behold! their despair is turned suddenly to hope, and they call the new Star Gil-Estel, the Star of High Hope - even the Sons of Fëanor rejoice that it is now forever beyond the grasp of evil hands - for each of them sees the new Star as a sign for the fall of Morgoth.
I have to go to work now! I have used the above image recently; it is John Howe's depiction of The Doors of Night. The ship is, of course, the Flammifer of Westernesse, Eärendil the Mariner.