Monday, November 9, 2020

Lessons from Tolkien

I've always been very interested in foreign languages and writing systems. My household had a giant Random House dictionary whose inside covers had charts depicting the evolution of the Latin alphabet from its Etruscan, Greek, and Phoenician alphabet. I pored over those charts for untold hours as a kid, copying them, learning the names of the letters, and, in time, using them as the basis for creating my own alphabets (which I originally used as "codes," since I was really into espionage, too, as a kid). When I discovered Tolkien, I was probably more entranced by appendices E and F, which discussed the languages of Middle-earth than by the story of The Lord of the Rings (The Silmarillion was, in this respect, even more impressive). Then came several articles in Dragon that offered advice on the creation of languages for one's campaign setting and I disappeared down a philological rabbit hole from which I never emerged (thanks, in no small part, to learning Latin, French, and Classical Greek in school).

In my mind, creating languages – and alphabets! – are forever intertwined with the creation of a fantasy setting. That probably explains my fondness for Tékumel, which, like Middle-earth, boasts several of its own. It's also why I found this comic so funny: I was reminded of my younger self, who would have agreed with the notion that the first thing a referee must do when beginning his setting is construct an entire language from scratch. Nowadays, I'm both too lazy and too wedded to a "just in time" style of setting design to consider attempting such a thing. I'm still very fond of constructed languages, though, and respect anyone who has the determination and enthusiasm to make them for RPG use. It's a time-tested way to lend depth and texture to a setting, going back at least as far as Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom novels. 

Burroughs and Tolkien; that's certainly a worthy pedigree!

1 comment:

  1. Too Wedded and way, way Too Lazy is my defining characteristic as well. I am extremely impressed by the people who pour creative and finishing effort into languages, runes, and even perilously intricate storylines: Curse of Xanathon comes to mind.

    I prefer the "Hummable". The best songs - sorry jazz guys - are usually the ones you can hum. Jazz is great; it relies on note selection and good ole'fashioned reading music with a dash of phrasing and an elitist "F-Minor" mentality.

    Which is why Bad to the Bone wins every time.

    Feel over Composition. Blues over Jazz. Not a question of "what is better". A question of where to put your creative energy. And who will appreciate it.

    (Exception: Stairway to Heaven)