Thursday 9 September 2010

Hogwarts, Hobbits and Priority

I was leafing through Finnegans Wake on the lavatory (the price of Andrex being what it is) and I came across this little passage:

Are you right there, Michael, are you right? do you think you can hold on by sitting tight? Well, of course, it's awful angelous. Still I don't feel it's so dangelous. Ay, I'm right here, Nickel and I'll write. Singing the top line why it suits me mikey fine. But, yaghags hogwarts and arrahquinonthiance, it's the muddest think that was ever heard dump since Eggsmather got smothered in the plap of the pfan.

J.K. Rowling, j'accuse! This proves what most literate readers have always suspected: that Harry Potter is nothing more than a thinly-veiled reworking of James Joyce's masterpiece.

The word Hogwarts also pops up in the Molesworth books where it is the title of a play that Nigel writes in Latin, the script of which consists pretty much of the word Eheu, meaning alas.

Of course, it's the second simplest thing in the world to look at the phacochoerus africanus, or warthog, and flip the name around in your head until it fits with hogwash. This has been done thrice: by Joyce in 1939, by Geoffrey Willans in 1953, and by J.K. Rowling in 1997.

Just so you know: warthogs have funny, wartish protruberances on their faces, and hogwash is the kitchen leftovers that are fed to pigs.

A much more peculiar question of priority comes from John Aislabie Denham, who was a folklorist in the first half of the nineteenth century. He wrote a list of mythical creatures that ran thus:

...ghosts, boggles, bloody-bones, spirits, demons, ignis fatui, brownies, bugbears, blackdogs, spectres, shellycoats, scarecrows, witches, wizards, barguests, Robin-Goodfellows, hags, night-bats, scrags, breaknecks, fantasms, hobgoblins, hobhoulards, boggy-boes, dobbies, hob-thrusts, fetches, kelpies, warlocks, mock-beggars, mum-pokers, Jemmy-burties, urchins, satyrs, pans, fauns, sirens, tritons, centaurs, calcars, nymphs, imps, incubuses, spoorns, men-in-the-oak, hell-wains, fire-drakes, kit-a-can-sticks, Tom-a-Tuesdays, Elf-fires, Gyl-burnt-tales, knockers, elves, rawheads, Meg-with-the-Wads, old-shocks, ouphs, pad-foots, pixies, pictrees, giants, dwarfs, Tom-pokers, tutgots, snapdragons, sprets, spunks, conjurers, thurses, spurns, tantarrabobs, swaithes, tints, tod-lowries, Jack-in-the-Wads, mormos, changelings, redcaps, yeth-hounds, colt-pixies, Tom Thumbs, black-bugs, boggarts, scar-bugs, shag-foals, hodge-pochers, hob thrushes, bugs, bull-beggars, bygorns, bolls, caddies, bomen, brags, wraiths, waffs, flay-boggarts, fiends, gallytrots, imps, gytrashes, patches, hob-and-lanthorns, gringes, boguests, bonelesses, Peg-powlers, pucks, fays, kidnappers, gallybeggars, hudskins, nickers, madcaps, trolls, robinets, friars' lanthorns, silkies, cauld-lads, death-hearses, goblins, hob-headlesses, bugaboos, kows, or cowes, nickies, nacks necks, waiths, miffies, buckies, ghouls, sylphs, guests, swarths, freiths, freits, gy-carlins, Gyre-carling, pigmies, chittifaces, nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits, hobgoblins, brown-men, cowies, dunnies, wirrikows, alholdes, mannikins, follets, korreds, lubberkins, cluricauns, kobolds, leprechauns, kors, mares, korreds, puckles, korigans, sylvans, succubuses, blackmen, shadows, banshees, lian-hanshees, clabbernappers, Gabriel-hounds, mawkins, doubles, corpse lights or candles, scrats, mahounds, trows, gnomes, sprites, fates, fiends, sibyls, nicknevins, whitewomen, fairies, thrummy-caps, cutties, and nisses, and apparitions of every shape, make, form, fashion, kind and description...

The odd thing is that that was published in 1859 and there is no evidence at all that Tolkien ever saw it. Hobbits don't appear anywhere else until John Ronald Reuel published The Hobbit, or There and Back Again in 1937.

It's impossible to know what the hobbit that Denham recorded might have been. Presumably the hob is just a shortening for Robin, as in hobgoblin (which appears twice in the list). Robin and therefore Hob was a popular name with demons like Robin Goodfellow. However, the bit is lost to history. Perhaps it just meant small, in which case a hobbit would be a small demon, the infernal answer to a godling.

Incidentally, if that list made you curious (and I recommend reading it through) Wikipedia has it up with lots of links here.

Fiat justitia, ruat copyright!


  1. "Hogwarts" is apparently the name of a flower.

  2. Aha! The flower hogwort, with an o. I had missed that.

  3. From Denham's list, I noticed that dobbies and pad-foots show up in Harry Potter as character names. Dobbie is a house-elf and Padfoot is the nickname for animagus Sirius Black.

    Of course, many of the other creatures also show up in Harry Potter, but as just that: creatures. I don't know enough about mythical beings, however, to know whether Rowling used kelpies, boggarts, redcaps, and others in their traditional capacities.

    One of the things I've always enjoyed about Harry Potter is the fun J.K. Rowling has with the names of spells, characters, and creatures.

  4. The Antipodean, humming "Hakuna Matata" for some reason,9 September 2010 at 17:22

    Dogberry, you have indirectly saved me from looking up 'Molesworthian' as used by Alan Tyers, The Great, here.

    A glorious list, which I suspect will bear a few re-readings.

    I am a fan of Puck, converted by Messrs Kipling and Shakespeare, and I am interested to note that according to Wikipedia (goodness, he'd have fun with that!) he makes girls "fall out of bed on the cold floor". A myoclonic jerk, perhaps?

  5. The Antipodean, suspecting a trap but fatally curious,9 September 2010 at 17:33

    So what is the simplest thing in the world?

  6. Oh... I was going to put in an asterisk and a joke, but forgot. It's therefore me.

  7. That Denham list of Halloween things is sooo going straight into an upcoming roleplaying-game of my devising! As the bestiary chapter, of course. Quoted verbatim, of course. Obscure XIX Century quotes are sooo indie. ^__^

    Thank you, Inky Fool!

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  9. Yeah, but can you put me up the week after next?