aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

A suggestive linguistic trifle

In The Lord of the Rings, there is a land called Khand, southeast of Mordor, whose people are tributary to Sauron. They take part in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. They are called Variags. One presumes they are Men, not Orcs or Trolls or whatnot. The name is never explained by Tolkien, and no information on their culture or history is ever given.

That said, Tom Shippey points out in Laughing Shall I Die that the Swedish vikings who went east and south to Constantinople and became the Rus originally called themselves vær-gengi, which means those who travel together in a business enterprise (piracy or trade). In Constantinople, this became the name of the emperor's Varangian Guard. It survived into modern Russian, though, as varyag = "trader, pedlar."

Not saying that Tolkien imagined the Variags of Khand to be piratical, mercantile, or mercenary. But as a people of the distant East, living at the southernmost extremity of the plains of Rhun, perhaps he pulled the name out of the recesses of his mind as one that just "sounded right."

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