The Art of Jay Johnstone, Part Three
What happens when our eyes meet Tolkien's from across Middle-earth?
“My house is full of paintings,” the Tolkien artist Jay Johnstone tells me as he rummages for one of his many illustrated manuscripts. When I interviewed him last year in April, the innovation of his work kept bubbling up in my mind, how Jay often paints several works in sets and triptychs and varying mediums, whether it be oil or acrylic or gouache or gold foil or charcoal. “I have so many paintings in here, it gets a bit scary,” he says, noting that his original manuscript paintings sell the fastest. “It’s called ‘The Dwarves,’ and it’s tiny, tiny.”
As we explored in our second consideration of Johnstone’s extensive and varied art, his manuscript paintings are delightful almost cluttered meanderings through Middle-earth. Studying them reveals secrets and riches as if going through Bilbo’s pantry in Bag End. Yet just as the words of J.R.R. Tolkien begin to fall away as we read the early chapters of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion — each of his words falling away like leaves in a dense forest — Johnstone’s paintings reveal ever deeper interfaces with the truth of our own lives.
Yes, the imagination comes out to play as Tolkien’s forest of words gives way to the eternal quest — for the dance is not truly wondrous unless we ourselves paint with the great master of fantasy, a man who to this day remains an enigma, as all human beings must be. As I peered through five thousand miles of invisible cable and internet servers and binary code streams, the face of Jay Johnstone constantly met me with smiles, humility and passion for the humanity in Tolkien’s tales. And that is the common ground, the canvas by which we exchanged words and laughs and quiet recognitions, to conjure the spirit of fellowship in this Middle-earth.
Time and again, Johnstone pulls up a painting, a sketch, even a tapestry, to the screen to show me new windows into his memory and imagination. “The Dwarves Initial”: it comes up once he finds it in a stack of his works behind a canvas. It’s in a black frame and it is tiny, about the size of a C.D. case. He explains how he has sold almost all of his manuscript paintings but that this particular one, with its meticulous Bag End imagery wrapped around the initial “D,” he has kept.
He shows it to me as he explains that he had agreed to sell it but then had to apologize to the buyer as he called off the deal. He flips around the frame. On the back of the painting is a message in black ink: To Jay, Best Wishes, Alan Lee. He had forgotten that perhaps the most celebrated Tolkien artist of all time, Lee, had autographed his own painting, a gesture of friendship and camaraderie they struck at Tolkien Society panels and over a shared love of Middle-earth.
Fellowship. That is a word so many of us have lost or struggle to grasp in a world that seems to crack in our fingers with its sands spilling throw our hands. In our age defined by televisual communications and connections — and fragmentations — the Internet has moved quickly from textual to imagistic bombardments of global confrontations about the past, present and future. And yet without the company of others, it is easy to forget that this is a time and place that is best shared through mythology, not propaganda, or conspiracy.
In a hole in the ground, one can hardly forgive Hobbits for hiding and on one level blissfully ignoring the rest of Middle-earth. Tolkien has compassion for all people who are overwhelmed by the torrents of global change. A survivor of imperialism (his father’s death in South Africa), industrialism (his mother’s death amid the pitiless grind of Birmingham), and militarism (World War I and II), Tolkien questioned the machine world that we live in.
The caricature of Tolkien was that he was a Luddite and a medievalist who clung to his tweed coats and smoking pipes, who bellyached about the abominations of the modern age, and who retreated into juvenile fantasy, spewing an infantilizing sickness on the reading public and damning young would-be literates to a snow globe of fairy sentimentalism. These were the cries raised in high brow corners when The Lord of the Rings first challenged the status quo in the 1950s and 1960s, and once again when Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring film was near its initial release in 2001 until the film’s acclaim and resounding success.
So with the increased popularity of his works, decade over decade, so the mystery of the man himself has come more and more into the light. Tolkien discouraged too much biographical reading into his texts. He pushed against simplistic one-to-one allegorical interpretations of the One Ring or the heroic quest to destroy it; and yet he also pointed readers and critics to the most important facts of his extraordinary life: the Battle of the Somme in particular; and he also left many obvious clues to others — the orphaning of Frodo, the elfin mother of Bilbo, Gandalf’s erudition, including derision of his ways by the closed-minded.
When I look at Johnstone’s many portraits, the underlying life-blood of Tolkien’s legendarium seems to run richer and stronger. The impressionistic touches, so light and subtle, vibrate so that my eyes can meet Frodo’s in an unbroken gaze. Beloved characters that have delighted and comforted, stare back at me. The Middle-earth haze recedes, and there they are in front of me: a medieval or Renaissance painter’s days-long conjuring of a person lost to time.
It’s a magic trick that removes time and fantasy from the equation; at least temporarily because at the same time, the mind knows that these imaginative images are also fictions, the truth arriving with the understanding that what you are seeing is also a person who was once there, and is no longer living. Or as Sir Ian McKellen once said, except for a place in our hearts. That’s the power of art, the power of the painter, and the writer, to bring the dead back to the living.
Across the River Styx, or the Bruinen, or mighty Anduin, he looks back at us — the un-sundering gaze of the writer who went before us into the great unknown. If you are reading this, you know or will soon know, that death is always in the future, not just the past. We all must one day cross the threshold. Death was Tolkien’s muse, if we want to be entirely honest. His stories explore many important matters and facets of the human condition, but death was the paramount concern of his thought and writing.
How could it not? He lost his father when he was three and then his beloved mother when he was twelve. As he struggled to form a new family, a fellowship of four friends at Birmingham’s King Edward’s School, and fell in love with a fellow orphan, Edith Bratt, he achieved some kind of normalcy, the fire of youth filling his heart with dreams of poetry. And then he lost two of his three best friends in the fields of France in World War I to artillery and machine guns. Think about it. Before he was twenty-five, he had already lost four loved ones who were family or gave him a sense of family.
Humphrey Carpenter’s admirable and judicious biography of Tolkien is a great read. However, I think it also misleads the reader somewhat. Carpenter portrays Tolkien’s post-WWI life as somewhat boring and uneventful. For one, this isn’t true given he had a spirited intellectual career at Oxford and then ferried his family through the travails of the Second World War, though often from afar. Second, the first third of Tolkien’s life was a lifetime or two, for one can also appreciate that anyone would spend decades processing such traumas.
It’s to Tolkien’s credit but also a mark of his privateness, abetted by Carpenter’s biography, that we think more often of the fun and carefree persona of Bilbo when we think of the Oxford don, haunting pubs and minding his lectures and letters; Johnstone’s “Bilbo at the Library of Rivendell” is a perfect comment on his long retirement in the halls of learning, as if Tolkien himself had checked out of the fray to write poetry and history with Elves and Rangers.
All Tolkien fans have “seen” pages from the manuscript for The Lord of the Rings: Tolkien could easily relate to Bilbo because he actually wrote the “Red Book of Westmarch.” And so in Rivendell, that’s not just Bilbo scribing lore in a room filled with mementos from his journeys, but Tolkien. Once again, one of the remarkable contributions to Tolkien scholarship is Johnstone’s reframing of Middle-earth writers in repeating and revealing contexts, our contemplation propagating back and forth through time like mirrors within mirrors...
We have Bilbo in retirement at Rivendell, laboring over the meta-history of Tolkien’s own mythology; we have Círdan drawing ship schemas for fabled Elven voyages, perhaps at the Grey Havens, or even at the Havens of Sirion, dreaming up Vingilot; and we have Gandalf in the Library of Minas Tirith combing scrolls for clues to the secret history of the One Ring. Here is the writer as hero, the writer as an archetype; here is the shipwright as architect, the sea-sage as dreamer; here is the wiseman as steward, the wizard as professor.
What is an archetype, truly? In Jungian psychology, it is defined as a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image or vision that is universally present in individual psyches. In literature or art, it is a recurring symbol, motif or character in painting, literature, language or mythology. In our first consideration of Johnstone’s Tolkien paintings, we took his Christian-inspired iconographic paintings and looked at them through the lens of Carl Jung’s theories on the collective unconscious framed within Johnstone’s own dream narrative.
Like Tolkien, Jung wrote his own Red Book or Liber Novus. It too was a private obsession. He started it after the severing of a close friendship with Sigmund Freud, which threw Jung into a great depression. It is believed now to be a kind of diary of madness, a creative nova from one of the most storied minds in the study of psychiatry — and it was mostly embarked during World War I when he was an officer in the Swiss Army. In fact, Jung saw his “visions” as intertwined with the cultural rupture of the Great War.
In Johnstone’s “The Fall of Númenor and the Flight of the Faithful,” we can see motifs from medieval theology about the eternal struggle between Heaven and Hell, people being beaten and beheaded, what looks like Satan but is Sauron, a winged devil with a pitchfork and a bowl of sacrificial blood, and the Faithful fleeing as a great wave approaches to wash it all away in a baptism of fire and water, the Christian meeting the Classical, Atlantis meeting the Inferno, the Exodus across the sea, as an armada of brazen fools sails to make war in fair Valinor, home of the Gods. It is a Jungian paroxysm.
When I think about the world inside Tolkien’s texts and how Johnstone captures their religious and archetypal undercurrents, I realize that so-called “visions” are the perception and rediscovery of the ancient in the present, the recognition of the universal on the horizon, the return of history to the future. As Faramir saw the Great Wave. As Denethor saw the Corsairs of Umbar. As Frodo saw the far green country under a swift sunrise. So we all sometimes see visions of an unknown past or future — a mythology that echoes the truth once again.
Tolkien started his mythology as war neared. Like Jung, he was searching for answers to questions as old as time. His Fall of Gondolin and The Book of Lost Tales are mythopoeic works of a man who could clearly perceive his mortal end; both of his attempts at writing legends, sketched and written in the run up and aftermath of the Battle of the Somme, are preoccupied with death, either in the destruction of a beautiful civilization or in a sojourn to what is essentially Avalon and what Tolkien calls the Undying Lands — mythopoeic visions of something lost.
The word mythopoeia — Ancient Greek for “myth-making” — is often associated with Tolkien because of the poem Mythopoeia, which he wrote in 1931 between the two world wars. He did not invent the word however. It was first used in the 1800s some decades before he was born. In fact, one scholar who used it avidly was the august philologist Friedrich Max Müller, Oxford's first Professor of Comparative Philology, Tolkien’s predecessor of sorts, though Müller was an expert in Vedic Sanskrit and Indian studies whereas Tolkien’s specialty was Anglo-Saxon.*
“Every word, whether noun or verb, had still its full original power during the mythopoeic ages,” Müller writes in his book, Comparative Mythology. “Words were heavy and unwieldy. They said more than they ought to say, and hence, much of the strangeness of the mythological language, which we can only understand by watching the natural growth of speech. Where we speak of the sun following the dawn, the ancient poets could only speak and think of the sun loving and embracing the dawn.”
Crucially, we know Müller influenced Tolkien. We do not know exactly how much or the circumstances of Tolkien’s encounter with Müller’s work. That is, we don’t know if Tolkien took lectures that expounded Müller’s theories. However, we do know he was at least conversant in Müller’s theories and scholarship, and that he was in particular engaged with Müller’s Comparative Mythology, published in 1856. The Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger has highlighted the influence of Owen Barfield on Tolkien as well, especially his masterwork of philosophy and language, Poetic Diction, which engages directly and vigorously with Müller’s mythopoeic ideas.
Why does this triangle matter? Outside the historical proximity of their academic concerns — Müller and Tolkien on philology, Barfield on philosophy — there was also their more personal emphases — Müller with Sanskrit, Barfield with poetry, and Tolkien with myth. One of Flieger’s critical insights in her book, Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World, was that both Barfield and Tolkien reworked Müller’s theories about the links between words and myths and the evolution of human consciousness; Flieger argues convincingly that Barfield’s Poetic Diction was second only to Beowulf in its influence on Tolkien’s mythological and poetic thinking.
Perceiving these great waves in consciousness is where Johnstone’s artwork can bridge us to the meeting of such extraordinary minds. While Jay has not painted any images pertaining to Barfield and Müller directly or consciously, his vitally important work exploring Tolkien and the collective unconscious — from iconographic paintings to illustrated manuscripts — brings the archetypal resonance in Tolkien’s inner-world closer to the surface of Middle-earth.
Let’s imagine where Tolkien melded minds with Müller. Again, while we can imagine Tolkien reading Müller during his early years at Oxford, possibly even earlier at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, we do not have any evidence. He could have also learned a lot about Müller and his investigations into Sanskrits’ relationship to Latin and English in lecture halls, in that he might very well have heard about Müller’s theories on early human language — using Sanskrit as his model — and how Müller believed all languages came out of a “metaphorical period” in human history, and hence a mythopoeic one.
Here Müller uses both the metaphors of light and breath to illustrate how natural phenomena — whether it be the sun shining or the wind in the trees — mingled with animal and human phenomena (also natural but biological and hence more “personal” and personified). In writing, anthropomorphism and zoomorphism are both commonly recommended as highly effective techniques in metaphorical communication. Müller was mapping such features in Sanskrit and ancient religious texts like the Rigveda — which contains the foundational Indian mythologies of Hinduism and the seeds of Buddhism and Jainism.
What we do know for a fact is that Tolkien was greatly influenced by Barfield’s Poetic Diction, which wrestles with, criticizes and yet elevates the key insights of Müller, especially his “metaphorical period” (or mythopoeic consideration of how language relates to legend): Müller is the foil and the fount of Barfield’s thinking in Poetic Diction. And central to his own intellectual investigations of metaphor, myth and poetry is Müller’s comparative philology of Sanskrit, including the Vedas. So imagine Tolkien in he and C.S. Lewis’s literary group, the Inklings, sitting around a room discussing Müller and Poetic Diction, or more probably, Tolkien carefully reading it alone by a desk light.
As C.S. Lewis later reported to Barfield: “You might like to know that when Tolkien dined with me the other night he said, apropos of something quite different, that your conception of the ancient semantic unity had modified his whole outlook, and he was always just going to say something in a lecture when your concept stopped him in time. ‘It is one of those things,’ he said, ‘that when you have once seen it there are all sorts of things you never say again.’”
(Even though Barfield, and later Tolkien, were refuting or modifying some of the core tenants of Müller’s philosophy about language — they primarily challenged the idea that “primitive man” was in some way grasping for ways to describe natural phenomena from a subjective biological perspective, versus a deeper timeless and shared consciousness that perceives the poetic mysteries in the universe from a unified whole then and forever — does not mean that they disregarded Müller’s scholarship. In fact, they were both reshaping it to something truer or more artistic, putting sub-creation at the heart of comprehension and communication in human affairs.)
In Müller’s Lectures on the Science of Language, published in 1866, the German-born Oxford don, who supervised the 50 volume translation series, Sacred Books of the East (where he translated many of the ancient Sanskrit texts, including the Rigveda and the Upanishads, as well as the Zoroastrian Avesta), argued that mythology was “a disease of language.” Which brings us to an apocryphal communion not unlike the Last Supper or the Council of Elrond. Without Müller’s provocation, without his perception of language’s intertwined co-creation of myth as evident in Sanskrit, there may be no Silmarillion.
What I will attempt to demonstrate in the following path through the forest of time and myth and words, is how Tolkien bridged us back to our deepest spiritual past through both his conscious and unconscious communion with language. Central to this trinity of thought is Müller, whose encounter with the ancient mythology of India and Vedic Sanskrit unveiled a truth about the origins and beginnings of our shared global heritage, and how Barfield’s poetic response (Poetic Diction was published in 1928) helped embolden Tolkien to push on. Mythologically speaking, this interplay enlightened the road that led to the deepest middle-earth, from The Silmarillion to the Red Book of Westmarch.
That is to say, to derive meaning from history always requires some degree of faith, a reliance on people who are gone, so that what comes to us is but records and myths. As Phillipa Boyens penned in the film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring, “Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth.” Painting in the mythopoeic with his luminous charcoals in “The Council of Elrond,” Johnstone helps us reimagine reflections from the past of not just legend and myth, but faith and history.
For here we see Frodo holding up the One Ring before Gandalf and Aragorn, Boromir and Elrond, Legolas and Gimli, Merry, Pippin and Sam. In this holiest of moments in the strange mythology of Tolkien’s imagining, are apostles who will help bring what Tolkien called “evangelium” to the world. Johnstone’s religious mythic interpretation of this key event in the War of the Ring clearly but artfully echoes the Last Supper of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem before his crucifixion, the basis of the Eucharist, the Christian rite that Tolkien held so dear; and in this splintered light and council of spirits — language finds a new voice.
The riddling marks of Tengwar echo Sanskrit, that is what comes to mind when I look at Johnstone’s illustrated manuscripts and consider this holy communion of scholar-poets; or Devanagari, more specifically, the writing system of ancient and modern India and much of southeast Asia. It’s the horizontal lines that run along the top of each Devanagari letter and some of the slashes and dashes that cut across its more squished calligraphy that evoke Tengwar (though reminiscent would be more accurate because Tolkien’s design feels original). One recalls Tolkien’s adaptation possibly of Chinese character forms as well. His clever monogram for J.R.R.T. has long evoked the East (something Johnstone has followed for his own signature.)
So what does Tolkien have to do with Sanskrit? In the past, the answer would have been “little,” save for the incontrovertible fact that Sanskrit would also have been familiar to Tolkien as part of his basic philological training. Any study of Anglo-Saxon or English would have brought him to the intellectual borders of India. Indeed, we know he sifted the linguistic sands of Sanskrit in his work for the Oxford English Dictionary, tracing its etymological splinters in English words starting with the letter “w”.
But there are more intriguing connections. As we’ve already stated, the book Comparative Mythology is steeped in Sanskrit analyses. It and other Müller tomes were familiar to Tolkien and more explicitly picked apart by Owen Barfield. That does not mean Tolkien was steeped in Sanskrit. In fact, while he too engages with Müller’s ideas in his famous and seminal 1939 lecture On Fairy-Stories — where he states that “Max Müller’s view of mythology as a ‘disease of language’ can be abandoned without regret” — he may have also simply tipped a hat for the academic purposes of intellectual debate, using Müller as a straw man.
But my gut and research points me back to Tolkien’s deep engagement with Poetic Diction and philology in general. I believe Tolkien maintained a European focused perspective because Anglo-Saxon language and literature was his métier. England was the natural center of gravity for his mythology. However, he was intellectually engaged with the South and East far more than he is given credit for. We know, based on his letters that he enjoyed reading books about explorations of Africa.** His first draft of The Hobbit includes reference to the Gobi Desert in China. He admired and collected Japanese woodblock prints, likely by Hokusai.
And when it comes to India and Southeast Asia, there is a strong argument to be made that as an Englishman of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, that he would have at least absorbed some of the ambience of the British Empire — though he disapproved of its political imperialism — which held India and its “British Raj” (or reign) as the “Jewel in the Crown.” This is one of the core conceits of Mark T. Hooker’s fascinating book — Tolkien and Sanskrit: The Silmarillion in the Cradle of Proto-Indo-European — which delves deep into speculative evidence that Tolkien may have been inspired by the linguistic shapes and sounds of Sanskrit, through its connection to European languages and hence Elvish words and names.
I suggested the idea that there may have been no Silmarillion if there had been no Max Müller, or none of the concepts and theories he proposed. What I meant by that statement is true of philology in general, that without the factual history, science and evocation of the evolution of language, Tolkien would not have discovered a way to grow the tree of his mythology through language and specifically his invention of Elvish.
It has almost become a legend that is repeated to the point of meaninglessness that Tolkien started his mythology with his Elvish languages. That first came his Elvish words and names, and then the stories and meanings behind them. I believe that most lay readers and critics, however, incorrectly take this as a pure fluke or idiosyncrasy. That Tolkien was an aberration. And while that may be true in part in terms of his overall genius, what the compelling background of Comparative Mythology and Poetic Diction gives us, is a strong natural argument from the original path. That is, Tolkien’s highly creative process followed the natural progression of our collective consciousness, from experience to language to mythology to poetics.
Hooker’s work, while partly flawed according to Nelson Goering’s expert review of Tolkien and Sanskrit, is nonetheless, even in Goering’s mind, highly intriguing. In this, it is an important contribution to Tolkien scholarship because it pushes exciting new ideas into the study of Middle-earth’s origins. Let us start with a common breakdown of Sanskrit’s relationship to other languages that Müller demonstrates in Comparative Mythology, that Hooker utilizes, and that even a recent Great Courses program, instructed by Columbia University’s John McWhorter, uses — the etymological branches of “father” and “mother”:
English | Old English | Latin | Greek | Sanskrit |
mother | mōdor | māter | mētēr | mātár |
father | fæder | pater | patēr | pitár |
From these linguistic relationships — first fully elucidated in 1786 by the Anglo-Welsh philologist William Jones, who was stationed in Bengal as a puisne judge and noticed unmistakable similarities between words he observed in Vedic texts in Sanskrit and what he knew of Greek and Latin — we know that the West and the East were deeply bonded; from this, he purported at the Asiatic Society that there must be a common ancestry for Sanskrit and many European languages, a theory that caused a sensation with repercussions across several disciplines of history, anthropology and linguistics. In time, a prototype language was constructed by philologists, today called Proto-Indo-European.
This was the intellectual storm that Müller was born into, entering an exciting world of cultural possibilities, a generation after Jones. Mythopoeic in its own right, this revolution in linguistics is in many ways the historical wave that Hooker catches and illuminates in his book. While Goering disputes some techniques and Hooker’s application of them, the deep resonance between Tolkien’s “art languages” of the Elves and Vedic Sanskrit is often striking.
The central specimen that Hooker offers is “Ossiriand” which means “Land of Seven Rivers” in Tolkien’s Elvish language, Sindarin. The name itself is not so much tied to Sanskrit, but its definition, for the “Seven Rivers,” is a key phrase, component and geographical locale in the Rigveda. Hooker’s hypothesis is that Tolkien took this formulation and repurposed it for The Silmarillion as a clever homage or reference to Indian antiquity. Hooker then draws several Sanskrit connections to the names of the seven rivers in east Beleriand, i.e. Ossiriand:
Sindarin Hydronyms | Sanskrit | English Approximations
Gelion / Thargelion | Sindhu | “Running water,” “River,” “Indus”
Ascar / Rathlóriel*** | Vitastā | “ Riven,” “Tear,” “Spear Wound”
Thalos | Satadru | “Steep,” “Hundreds of Streams,” “Countless”
Legolin | Vipāśā | “Free-running,” “Unfettered [from his bonds]”
Brilthor | Chandrabhaga | “Bright gem swoop,” “Moon God’s gift”
Duilwen | Iravati | “River of youthful green,” “River of Refreshment”
Adurant | doab / Jamunā / Ganges | “Double Stream,” “Two Rivers”
Admittedly, Hooker makes some fairly big leaps along twists and turns of linguistic association in order to connect Sindarin with Sanskrit. This is where Goering takes issue, arguing that too often Hooker pulls the incorrect word-roots from Tolkien’s glossaries in his Sanskrit re-associations in order to make his case. In this Goering seems to be right — I am not trained in linguistics so I can’t make a confident judgement either way — given his counter-arguments. However, this is where both scholars may be missing the bigger point. Both presume Tolkien was thinking linguistically and scientifically at all times during his creative process. Here Hooker seems to have a slight advantage in that his linguistic instincts also allow for a looser more free-associative inquiry.
That is to say, Tolkien was not just assessing ancient texts from a logical point-of-view. As Barfield’s Poetic Diction illuminated for Tolkien himself, or for his more academic self, language also functions in a more unconscious fashion — wisdom, meaning, metaphors, Barfield argued, come from something deeper inside us — un-splintered light shining through the fragmenting rays of history and language — and hence a place more dreamlike — fantasy — what Tolkien called Faerie. Aesthetically then, Tolkien was intuitively absorbing and reflecting deeper unconscious resonances and overtones in his “art languages,” as he himself described in detail in terms of his reactions to Greek, Welsh and Finnish. Fantastically, in the art mode of Faerie, he then “discovered” new forms.
Let’s consider two ancient models of Faerie that command respect because of their historical importance. One of them we have already discussed some: the Rigveda (and hence the Vedas), wherein hymns to the deities establish a cosmic order not too different in its essence from Tolkien’s cosmogonic Ainulindalë and Valaquenta, with aspects of monotheism, pantheism and what Müller identified as henotheism, all rolled into One — with Indra as the supreme god, and descendant deities like Mitra and Varuna who are both fragmentations of Indra as well as their own sentient forms. We see a similar mandalic radiance in Iran’s Zoroastrianism and in Ancient Greek religion.
The second is the Homeric, the world of the Iliad and Odyssey, which take the Greek gods and the natural and supernatural forces they embody as reality. So much emphasis is placed on Tolkien’s adaptation of Norse and Anglo-Saxon thought and religion, that Tolkien Studies in general overlooks the immense influence of Homer, Ovid and Dante on Tolkien. Like so much in Tolkien’s biography, the legend has often overshadowed the history, and in this case, Tolkien famously chose Anglo-Saxon studies over Classical studies, though Ancient Greek and Roman mythology still had a profound effect on his mythopoeic mind in his teens and twenties.
Let us not forgot that Númenor is a clear echo of Atlantis, which was relayed to posterity by Plato, who also told the story of the Ring of Gyges, which could turn its wearers invisible. Nor should one assume that the stories of Odysseus and Achilles did not greatly shape Tolkien’s own conceptions of “there and back again,” as well the tumults and tragedies of great wars, from Troy’s fall to Gondolin. We know that he pursued Classics first at Oxford. And he gave performances at King Edward’s School in two plays by Aristophanes.
Again, Müller, and hence Jones, helped bring the Vedas and Homer closer together in the minds of linguists and poets, whether they interacted with their truths or not. “It would be more near the truth to say that languages,” Tolkien countered in On Fairy-Stories, “especially modern European languages, are a disease of mythology. But Language cannot, all the same, be dismissed. The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval.”
For so long it has been the bent of the literati to dismiss Tolkien’s world that I feel even within Tolkien scholarship, academics, writers and readers are still mostly playing their impossible game — one that tried for so long to banish “Faerie” to the dustbin of history. Of course, they cannot, no more than a psychiatrist can banish dreams or delusions from the mind or humanity.
Perhaps, when taking stock of Hooker’s bigger leaps, for a moment, we can take Tolkien at his word: the incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are coeval. Not just in the art of creating fairy tales and mythic stories, but in our world, the real world. To ignore that deeper pulse inside our brains — light and dark, sun and moon — would be to also ignore its dangers, as well as its wonders. So that returning to Tolkien and Sanskrit, one can indeed see and find connections.
Near the end of Hooker’s book, he makes a few that are in fact more clear and it seems too close to be mere coincidences: Yavanna (“Fruit-giver”) which in the Sanskrit word yavānna means “barley-food,” as in food of the grass; Valinor and Valar also seem dead-ringers for the Sanskrit bala, which means “power,” cognate with the Elvish root bal-, as in Balrog (“demon of might”); and Maiar, which is less directly related to Sanskrit māyā (“delusion” or “illusion”) in common meaning but more so in secondary (“magic”) and very much so alphabetically (though “y” and “i” vary so it is not quite homographic).
Hooker makes another inspired connection I want to highlight here. It is much more speculative than Yavanna, Valar or Maiar, but it doesn’t seem implausible. Hooker makes the case that Sindhu, the Hindu linguistic version of Indus, i.e. India, is the inspiration for “Sindar,” as part of his grander “Seven Rivers” and Ossiriand argument. Even if this is not the case, I think there is something to Sanskrit being in the earth when Tolkien was developing many of his more foundational names in The Silmarillion. When we think of the Valar, or his inventions of Arda, Aman, Eru, and so forth, they echo at the root.
So it’s the same with the Rigveda, which lays out a vision of many gods and their realms in the sky, sea and land. And like Tolkien’s own archaic names, whether it be Súlimo or Curufinwë, these names have a common natural or biological root or metaphor.**** Barfield quotes Müller when he makes the case that the concepts of gods and a spiritual world came from within, then the language, flipping Müller’s formulation of mythology as a “disease of language”:
We read in the Veda, ii. 3, 4: “Who saw the first-born when he who had no form (lit. bones) bore him that had form? Where was the breath (asuh), the blood (asrik), the self (atma) of the earth?…”
I think what this tells us, putting the science of language aside, is that purely aesthetically, Tolkien may have come across Sanskrit in his philological work. He may have read the Rigveda, or thought more deeply about Iran and India after he read Middle English poems like Kyng Alisaunder — which charts Alexander the Great’s odyssey through Africa, Persia and India, in a mythic mode — and then like Gothic, like Finnish, like Welsh, applied some of the shapes, sounds, and sometimes meanings, to his grand mythopoeic world-building.***(see “Poros”)
So that asuh, Sanskrit for “breath,” evokes Manwë Súlimo — Súlimo being Quenya for “breather” or “Lord of the Breath of Arda” — and kuru, Sanskrit for “perform,” and Kurukshetra, region of the Kurukshetra War in the Kuru Kingdom between two families of cousins, the central event of the Mahabharata, evokes Curufinwë — the birth name of Fëanor, meaning “skilled Finwë” — and the Kinslayings and feuds between the Houses of Fëanor and Fingolfin.
“Not all who wander are lost” — so writes Gandalf to Frodo of Strider so that the young Hobbit could recognize the true Aragorn. When I consider dismissing the Sanskrit associations due to the lack of incontrovertible evidence that Tolkien was some closet Indologist, I have to remind myself, that while Goering pokes holes in Hooker’s methodology, he also commends the overall instinct.
This begs the question as to why my admiration and engagement with Johnstone’s artwork led me to dig deeper into the idea of Sanskrit in Middle-earth. For one, I was very curious. But more than that, Johnstone’s own courage in pursuing both a Jungian and art history appreciation of Tolkien’s characters and stories convinced me that there was something there if even it was simply something of purely artistic, speculative and personal value.
After reading Hooker’s Tolkien and Sanskrit, and then Goering’s skepticism, I went back to Johnstone’s paintings (the power of his illustrated manuscripts with their Devanagari-esque Tengwar inscriptions) and took the name William Jones on a search for a clearer connection. His name turned up “Max Müller,” which then surfaced in several entries of Oronzo Cilli’s annotated bibliography, Tolkien’s Library. Müller’s seminal essay, Comparative Mythology, which Tolkien read, inverted, and extended with his lecture On Fairy-Stories; all four volumes of Müller’s Chips from a German Workshop, which Tolkien also cited; and then Müller’s The Science of Language, both volumes, the source of “disease.”
I also discovered a Grammar of Sanskrit that Tolkien had checked out in 1913. But then in many ways the trail runs cold. My only other thought is that in the 1910s, perhaps Tolkien did in fact take Müller’s advice in Comparative Mythology, where he mentions the “Seven Rivers” of the Rigveda — the Sapta Sindhavah — and urges philologists like Tolkien to read the Vedas with serious purpose:
“If we want to know whither the human mind, though endowed with the natural consciousness of a divine power, is driven necessarily and inevitably by the irresistible force of language as applied to supernatural and abstract ideas, we must read the Veda: and if we want to tell the Hindus what they are worshipping —mere names of natural phenomena, gradually obscured, personified, and deified—we must make them read the Veda.”
And later in Comparative Mythology, as Müller compares various folklores around the world, teasing out his theories about metaphors and myths, he writes, “We shall begin with some of these myths, and then proceed to the more difficult, which must receive light from more distant regions, whether from the snowy rocks of Iceland and the songs of the Edda, or from the borders of the ‘Seven Rivers,’ and the hymns of the Veda.”
In that, one can almost sense the whole breathtaking span of Tolkien’s legendarium, as if he took up Müller’s challenge right there in his own fashion, approaching the idea of a world mythology, not just for England, with the ink and intellect of a steadfast poet. Lore-masters both, one stayed with language and the other went back to the beginning through myth. And yet to complete this loop, we must now walk the earth, just as Alexander did, just as the characters of Tolkien’s stories did — from Fingolfin to Frodo, from the Edda to the Veda.
Bear with me, because now we’re going to move another important dimension of Tolkien’s eastern gaze into the light. Much has been written about his Christian faith, but in the same way that Tolkien’s Christianity has been treated more as a cultural aesthetic aspect of Tolkien’s world by Johnstone, one can continue that line of inquiry to the birthplace of the Abrahamic religions and the Classical Mediterranean ferment, where Africa, Asia and Europe meet. That is, the theological underpinnings of Tolkien’s Middle-earth come from the East. Obviously, “northern” paganism, Roman Christians like Boethius, and philosophers like Plato, influenced the orientation of Tolkien’s mind. Nevertheless, this is a mythology about crossroads, and synthesis.
We may take it for granted, but Tolkien’s Roman Catholicism derives a rich history of art, aesthetics and mythic religious thought from the Mideast. Which is why Johnstone’s oil painting, “Gandalf — the first light of the 5th day,” works so powerfully, evoking Michelangelo’s Renaissance sculptures, with their blank eyes, calling to mind saints, popes or even Moses. The Roman Catholic Church derived much of its cultural material from Byzantium before the Middle Ages. Still, it was the aftermath of the Moorish invasions and the Crusades that later ushered in a European rebirth of art, math and science.
That is not to say that Tolkien drew explicit inspirations from all of these cultural waves between worlds, but it is to say that he lived in a larger world with deeper currents that he sometimes acknowledged but just as often left open to mystery and interpretation. Many scholars like to point to his “distaste of allegory,” and yet he believed all life was a kind of spiritual allegory. This is why he avoided explicit or obvious Christianity in his fictional worlds, something he found disappointing in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. To me, Tolkien wanted to advance the Gospel by example, not by dogma. This is why people like me, Johnstone and so many other secularists, can receive his words, if not the all the trappings.
I’m not the only one who sees something deeper in Tolkien’s encounter with the South and the East, with Africa and Asia. Of Africa, too little is known about his thought and roots in that great continent. We know he was born there. We know he visited a South African kraal as a baby boy under the wing of a young servant named Isaak who wanted to show him off to his family village — Tolkien’s first “there and back again” — returning safely with the dawn. We know that a big baboon tarantula chased and bit him in the Tolkien family garden. He also remembered Africa’s sunny days. But he barely could recall his father. Old photographs are all that he really had.
Bilbo titled his odyssey “There and Back Again,” his loop from Bag End to the Lonely Mountain to Bag End, comprising a part of the Red Book of Westmarch. One assumes during The Lord of the Rings, while he stayed in Rivendell, that he also began to capture and transcribe the deeper history of the Elves and Men, going back to Eru Illúvatar, the One, listening to stories from Elrond and Glorfindel, walking the libraries and halls of the Last Homely House.
While Bilbo’s mind may have often wandered West, it still must have wandered East, even to the memory of Cuiviénen, Tolkien’s Eden. In our own world, what Tolkien said was in truth this Middle-earth, traveling east out of Africa, is the Arabian Peninsula and Persia. Paleontologists now believe that early humans, 100,000 to 50,000 years ago, migrated through the Mideast along the coast to India, where then successive migrations spanned throughout Asia, Europe, Australia, the Pacific, and the Americas.
Ever since William Jones’ linguistic breakthrough, connecting Sanskrit to other languages in Europe and Asia, the imaginations of Western philologists have grasped for the mythopoeic truth that ties these far-flung worlds together. Intellectuals like Jones and Müller did not presume superiority, but their hypotheses and findings sadly sparked an unfortunate racialist narrative. Mythologies, history tells us, can be warped and corrupted.
In the 1800s and 1900s, a rash of eugenics theorizing started to catch fire in Europe. The word “Aryan” is Sanskrit-derived and was used by some ancient Indo-Iranians as a self-designation. It is a term used by the speakers and subjects of the Vedas that means “noble.” Over time, the Aryans of the Vedas have come to be seen by many anthropologists as neighbors who invaded parts of India from the northern Hindu Kush region of the Himalayas and perhaps the steppes of Central Asia. This tantalizing era of history, still little understood, led to an idiotic misappropriation of linguistic and archeological insights that seeded the genocidal derangement of the Nazis.
It is hence fraught to even use the word Aryan (not unlike saying the name Sauron). But in the days of William Jones and Max Müller, it was simply an academic and cultural touchstone for the peoples of Iran and India. In fact, the rise of racialist jockeying around the scholarship of the Vedas deeply saddened Müller, who lived long enough to see its fires flamed. For scholars of integrity like Müller, his research found that the Aryans were not an ethnic group so much as a linguistic and religious preference among the proud peoples of Persia and India. Müller countered that “the blackest Hindus represent an earlier stage of Aryan speech and thought than the fairest Scandinavians.”
As much as I take Tolkien at his word that The Lord of the Rings was not a strict allegory for World War II, he nonetheless left some markers to make sure his mythology would not become a fascist weapon against the marginalized. The “Nazgul” I believe are in fact a sly allusion to the Nazis. He would have never admitted this adroit linguistic volley, but we know, despite his dodging, that Tolkien made other similar connections, such as Avallonë for the Lonely Isle (Avalon), Atalantë for Númenor (Atlantis), Rómenna for one of its port cities (Rome), and Ar-Pharazôn for Pharaoh. He was a linguistic magician after all.
In fact, if Tolkien was influenced by Vedic Sanskrit and Müller more than he ever let on, perhaps he avoided making any such explicit connections to the Vedas and “Aryans” in his mythology for the very reason that the Nazis commandeered and more or less destroyed — and made in many ways verboten — the rich lode of mythopoeic history suggested by Europe’s linguistic ancestry and origins in Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, and Africa.*****
“I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch,” Tolkien wrote in 1938, in response to a German publisher who wanted proof of his Aryan i.e. white racial purity, before The Hobbit could be sanctioned for the German public. The Nazi “race-doctrine” and its “lunatic laws,” as Tolkien adamantly argued, were “wholly pernicious and unscientific” in his view. “I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”
The second point — though Tolkien could not have known at that time that all Europeans descended from earlier Indians — is that he is schooling the German publisher in the science and art of philology. He is pointing out that “Aryan” has nothing to do with race but comes from Persian and Hindustani dialects, which are derived from Sanskrit. That is, Aryan as a concept or people, has nothing to do with what Nazis thought it did — and hence they are ignorant and therefore bigoted dupes, and ultimately unoriginal ripoff artists (“artist” in the most negative sense in this case, even orcish we might say).
Which brings us then near the end of our road to Tolkien’s very beginnings. While his father belonged to a near mythic past, his mother taught him botany, literature and art, and shaped his being and intellect until he was 12 years old. From her, he got his profound love of language and nature. She was perhaps a singular light in his moral and artistic life. With the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, the character of Galadriel will move to the center stage — she’s the main character of this new saga — and while others have also pointed to Tolkien’s mother Mabel as a source of her persona, with time that thought grows only stronger in my own mind.
For while her sensitivity — even her spidery handwriting her son inherited — is not documented in any clear form, Tolkien’s reverence for his mother and love for the bucolic childhood she provided him, seems to distill not only a great hurt that never fully healed after her death, but set him on a path to recover what was lost in the form of language and myth. So that when Galadriel keeps Frodo going in Lothlórien and Cirith Ungol, it is not just Frodo she uplifts, but I believe also Tolkien himself — unconsciously, a vision of his mother’s eternal love.
Tolkien’s wife Edith, who he met in a Birmingham residence for orphans, was memorialized as the elf-maiden Lúthien in The Silmarillion. Beren, a mortal man, bereft of his home and his parents and friends, stumbles into a wooden glade under starlight where he sees and hears Lúthien singing and dancing. It’s a beautiful tale about resurrection that reminds us that the greatest power in Tolkien’s Middle-earth is kindness. And strangely enough, one of the oldest meanings of arya — of aryan — besides “true” and “noble,” is kind.
Tolkien does not confine his women or their archetypes to just wise and kind. There is of course Éowyn, but also Galadriel in her youth, Idril and Elwing who help lead their peoples on great escapes, as well as the goddesses or Vala, who wield great power in Middle-earth. But Galadriel and Lúthien are his two most powerful women, and in many ways, the most powerful characters in all of his legendarium. Galadriel as much as anyone, steers and saves the quest to destroy the One Ring. Lúthien’s bravery, sorcery and devotion were instrumental in the retrieval of one of the Silmarils, ultimately leading to the final overthrow of Melkor — Morgoth — Tolkien’s Lucifer.
Which brings us back to Johnstone. His painting, “Lúthien — Daughter of Twilight,” reminds one of the singular power of Tolkien’s vision of light and his belief in language as a splintered light from a common ancestral beacon. The gold sparks of stars crowning Lúthien speaks to a light in “dark places, when all other lights go out.” For the word light comes from a common Proto-Indo-European source, that philologists have identified as leuk-, which connects to illuminate, illumine, leht in Old English, licht in German, and rócate in Sankrit.
The interconnectedness of light and leht and rócate does not matter as much whether it was conscious in Tolkien. That is in fact the power and in many ways the point of language, from a poetic and metaphorical standpoint. The myth of light and how it moves through us, how we must search for it in the greatest darkness, is timeless, to move from cruelty and ignorance to kindness and enlightenment. That is the quest that faces us until the end of time.
“Tolkien has given me so much,” says Johnstone. “The Tolkien Society every year visits Tolkien’s gravesite in Oxford to lay a wreath. They go on the last day, on a Sunday in August, and I will not go down there. I cannot go down there. It would break me if I did. So it’s not that I'm being disrespectful. It's not at all. I just, it would just shatter me if I went down there.”
To face our heroes. To face death. It’s not easy to go and visit where Tolkien is buried, for one fears that the spell may be broken, to realize this great storyteller was just a man, and yet so much more than one could ever imagine. He doesn’t get the same fanfare as other greats. I’ve been there. I paid my respects in 2001, just a couple weeks or so after 9/11. My best friend and I made a day trip from London to Oxford to leave some flowers. We had flown from Los Angeles. We were surprised a little at how small the gravesite is. Fittingly, it is humble with a cute little garden inside it, bearing the names of Tolkien and Edith, and Beren and Lúthien, bonded forever in life and death and myth. My love for them only grew as I faced my own.
So I can understand what Jay means. Was it real? Is the story in our hearts real? The story so many of us grew up reading, turning the pages alone, our eyes moving over the letters and words, the strange musical names, the poetry, wandering the forests of the soul. When we look up through tree branches and see their leaves gleam in the night, the clouds moving high overhead, this dream, this beautiful collective dream lifts us into the light. Moonlight. Starlight. Daylight.
For there go the brushstrokes of Johnstone’s portrait of Tolkien — “Tolkien — The Road.” It’s an oil painting that evokes the impressionistic works of Vincent Van Gogh, the dabs and flecks of light on his white hair and brow, his eyes meeting ours from across the years and the division of minds — returned. Weaving light through the canvas, it as if Jay is digging through time, and unearthing the countless mysteries of Tolkien’s life. Face to face with the dreaming wizard, in the glint of time, hidden inside — tiny, tiny — is the recognition of our deep common ancestry.
What lies in those pupils? What passage lies between lives? The play of sun on Tolkien’s face and his almost questioning look seem to ask us, “What will you do with the time that is given to you?” Tucked over his shoulder are the silhouettes of Gandalf and Frodo, or Bilbo, making their way through arches in the woods. Where are they going these characters that have long lived in our hearts?
Three. Always hidden in Tolkien is the Trinity. My friend Clifford “Quickbeam” Broadway recently wrote a beautiful and personal tribute to the Professor — and the faithful — who have heard his call and have met his gaze across the wilds of Middle-earth. In it, he rightly elevates Tolkien’s compassion, reminding us that Tolkien elevated grace, that he put fellowship before selfish histrionics.
For there are demons inside us all, are there not? When I look at YouTube I see the altruism of many Tolkien fans. But I also see the distorted and twisted gaze of terribly lost and confused fan culture influencers, who make grist and money out of cruelty, decrying any new Tolkien myth that celebrates a more diverse humanity. And yet, one hopes they will come to see the light.
Love. “Karunā” in Sanskrit. “Faelas” in Sindarin. Samwise loves Frodo and Frodo gives mercy to Gollum. Are not the three all the same person in a sense, the same Hobbit, the same Tolkien? Gandalf looks over Bilbo as Bilbo looks over Frodo. Are not all three different aspects of the same man: the scholar, the poet, the orphan?
In a letter Tolkien wrote to his son Christopher Tolkien in May, 1944, when Christopher was stationed in South Africa as a pilot for the Royal Air Force during World War II, Tolkien comforted his son and waxed philosophical about the nature of “orcs” and evil, noting how myth is simply our mirror within. It was during these months, when Tolkien was also doing rounds keeping watch in Oxford for bomb raids from Nazi Germany, that he was toiling over two key chapters of The Lord of the Rings, the dark trials of “Shelob’s Lair” and “The Choices of Master Samwise.”
He acknowledged his son’s description of the lesser servants of Mordor, fighting an enemy far and wide, sharing in the cause but reminded that the true enemy is within us all and that monsters know no boundaries. “For ‘romance’ has grown out of ‘allegory,’ and its wars are still derived from the ‘inner war’ of allegory in which good is on one side and various modes of badness on the other,” wrote Tolkien. “In real (exterior) life men are on both sides: which means a motley alliance of orcs, beasts, demons, plain naturally honest men, and angels.”
Angels. Sadoc Burrows, a Trailfinder who is guided by stars, is an elder Hobbit in the new Rings of Power, in what seems to me a bold mythopoeic vision of wisdom for a more interconnected yet unsettled world. He is played by Sir Lenny Henry, a British actor of Black Jamaican descent. His character has the Tolkien Estate’s authoritative and poignant blessing. Where in the hills will he roam?
I can imagine Sadoc is in search for a safe place after many trials and perhaps tragedies. He’s got the Shire in his eyes, I would wager. In this, I think this new Middle-earth myth will help us peer far into the past and the future. Buried deep in us still is the angel and the dawn. In that same letter, Tolkien looked on…
“I was disposed, at last,” he shared, “to envy you a little; or rather to wish I could be with you ‘in the hills.’ There is something in nativity, and though I have few pictorial memories, there is always a curious sense of reminiscence about any stories of Africa, which always move me deeply.”
Here, during the uncertain time of world war, his son half a world away in the land of his birthplace, calls to mind Isaak carrying the baby back to safety, the kraal village, the return — a picture that could live in Johnstone’s paintings.
“Strange that you, my dearest,” he wrote, in the same month he worked and reworked the chapters of Cirith Ungol, “should have gone back there.”
*Friedrich Max Müller is a less well known influence on Tolkien for the simple fact that in Tolkien’s day, “Max Müller” was a looming forefather of philology. Tolkien’s familiarity with his work would have been taken as a given.
**Tolkien states in Letter 25 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien in a response to a reader who asked him about his influences in reference to an inquiry about pygmies and their possible relation to his conception of Hobbits, that he “read several books on African exploration.”
In Oronzo Cilli’s Tolkien’s Library: An Annotated Checklist, there is at least one entry I could find that connects to Tolkien’s letter: David Livingstone’s Missionary Travels And Researches In South Africa, 1857. Livingstone is a legendary figure in British and African history. An abolitionist, he is perhaps best well-known for his impassioned search for the source of the Nile, where he believed he could then end the African slave trade.
One wonders if Livingstone’s quest possibly influenced Tolkien’s conception of Frodo’s anti-quest to destroy the One Ring — the enslavement of the Machine.
***Rathlóriel (“River-bed of Gold” in Sindarin), according to Hooker, is an approximation of the Greek name Hydaspes, which was given the Latin epithet of Aurifer (“Goldbearer”) — Hooker draws a further connection to Tolkien’s use of Flammifer (Flame Bearer) in the “Song of Eärendil.”
The Hydaspes is the River Vitastā and was also the scene of a famous battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and an Indian Rájá, a king that the Ancient Greeks recorded as King Porus, a battle that entailed two hundred mounted elephants.
Hooker is actually onto something here that seems to be previously missed by Hooker and other Tolkien scholars. The river Poros is the southern border of Gondor and the northern border of Harad in the Third Age. “Poros” is the Ancient Greek variation of King Porus.
****To say that Tolkien was not aware of these potent forces is to ignore the fact that he chose his words very carefully and made clear in his letters that he did not favor “Nordic” or even “Norse” ethnography any more than he admired things outside his native home, whether it be Spanish, Rome, Egypt, Japanese art, Abrahamic religions, or books about the land of his birth. To a German publishing house that wanted proof of his “Aryan” heritage, he wrote:
“I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”
While Tolkien says he does not know of a direct ancestral lineage to Iran and India, what I think is rather fascinating in this quote, aside from his spirited rejection of antisemitism and the Nazi ideology, is that he qualifies his own heritage with “as far as I am aware,” meaning he always left open the possibility of a greater, wider linguistic inheritance, reconnecting “Aryan” to its proper Sanskrit origins and purpose.