Sarehole Mill and Tolkien

Sarehole Mill, one of the last two working watermills in Birmngham, well known for its own sake and for its associations with Tolkien whose early years were spent in what was then Birmingham’s surrounding countryside.

Walking through the Dingles to the Mill, then seeing the Finnish director Dome Karukoski’s new Tolkien film at the nearby cultural centre felt a natural follow-up. It met with mixed reviews and my own feelings were also mixed. It has its poignant and beautiful moments but was far too sweet for my taste and some of the magic of Tolkien got lost among the character stereotypes that passed review, Tolkien, the orphan, Tolkien, the sensitive public schoolboy among his band of brothers, Tolkien, the lover faithful to his romantic dream, Tolkien, the student of genius overcoming barriers to find his path through academia and Tolkien the soldier on the bloody Somme and his loss of the dear.

Tolkien’s name caught my attention, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. “Reuel”, friend of God or one who is intimate with God in Hebrew, a family or middle name in the Tolkien family, was given by the Tolkiens to all their children. Reuel is another name for Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, a priest of Midian and father of Hobab (sources: Exodus and the Book of Numbers).

And the name Tolkien itself, of Germanic origin, the family coming from Kreuzberg near the then Königsberg, some of its members later moving to Danzig (Gdansk) and then England.

A Polish Tolkien scholar, Ryszard Derdzinski has written about the origin of the name, related to the village of Tolkeiny, later in Eastern Prussia, its name a combination of personal name and suffix, perhaps “son of”. And “tolk” itself means (in Russian, German and Swedish at least) interpreter or negotiator, making son of “the interpreter”.

Derdzinski’s article looks well referenced and scholarly but his enthusiasm for his subject makes me wary, although his hypothesis seems not unreasonable (but sufficiently pleasing to encourage attempts to disprove it).

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