‘Elf’ language used to express beauty
Calvary Zender attends classes, spends time with his friends and plays Half-Life 2 on the weekends. But unlike most students, he spends every other Monday discussing J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Zender, a junior linguistics major, is the president of the UNM Hobbit Society, a discussion group for all things Tolkienian, but especially of the fictional language Quenya.
The language of Tolkien’s elves is the most fully developed of several languages created for his fantasy world, said Leslie Donovan, the group’s adviser.
“It’s also very beautiful, if you hear it spoken,” she said.
Quenya takes inspiration from Welsh, Finnish and other world languages and blends them into what Tolkien considered a beautiful language, said Zender, who has been teaching Quenya workshops on campus this semester.
“Tolkien formed Quenya on the basis that he believed Great Britain didn’t have a proper mythology, and he wanted to make a creation story of their own,” Zender said.
Zender said he has been leading workshops on campus to teach interested students in the fictional language.
“Quenya is a direct reflection of how Tolkien believed language, in its pure form, began. He believed language had a pure form and that it was born out of a desire to express beauty in one’s surroundings. As he wrote it, the elves created Quenya to express what they felt about the world around them — it was primarily created to express love for your spouse, and for the trees, and for what you see around you,” Zender said.
Donovan said many of the students who attended the workshop did so out of love for Tolkien’s world.
“People get involved because they love the books. They love the characters, they love the ideas of fellowship, the idea that the littlest people can make a big difference,” she said. “The themes of friendship, those themes of battling against impossible odds, of doing the right thing even if you think you’re gonna die doing it — those things matter to people.”
Zender said that “Lord of the Rings” in general, and Quenya in particular, is important and relevant to modern popular culture.
“Lord of the Rings is relevant today, regardless of the fact that it reflects World War II and Tolkien’s opinions on industrialization, even though it’s difficult to read, because it’s relatable. It resonates with the human struggle,” he said. “It laid the groundwork for high fantasy as we know it. It’s the reason video games like The Elder Scrolls exist.”