Friday, February 11, 2011

The Importance Of Names In Fantasy Literature

The Riders of Rohan have always been a surprise to me — not in the sense that they come bursting out of my bathroom cabinet at random every few hours á la Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition (though they did try it on last Tuesday night when I was picking a flake of sweetcorn skin from between my teeth) — but rather because their name lends itself so easily to practically all forms of mockery.

On the whole, Tolkien was a dab hand with names (and a lecturer friend assures me this is because he was so terribly embarrassed about his own — Gollum’s now infamous postural shenanigans owe their origin to Tolkien’s frequent pacing around his Oxford study room cursing his ancestors for not being Smiths or O Donovonovons), but with the “Riders of Rohan” he clearly lost it.

Boromir, yes. Saruman, yes. Even Treebeard is passable. 

But Rohan? With its riders? 

To be honest, Tolkien would have been better off calling the place Cock.

You desire reasoning?

Okay then, here goes.

Realistically, if you were a barbarian horde consisting of thousands upon thousands of pit-forged Uruk-Hai led by an ultra powerful wizard (himself in thrall to your mutual ultimate overlord, the uberdark Sauron), mention of “the Riders of Rohan” (in conjunction with their “coming”) simply wouldn’t have you quaking in your hobbitflesh boots in my opinion. 

More likely, a Mexican Wave of sniggers and guffaws would ripple across your Urukness like a kaleidoscope of colour along a randy cephalopod’s back — only it would be a Mordor Wave, with weirder hats than sombreros tossed into the air, and frequent interruptions to the pulse thanks to spontaneous gratuitous acts of mindless violence.

Uruk-Hai 1: Oi! Pack pushing, you ugly git!

Uruk-Hai 2: It wasn’t me, it’s a Mordor Wave, pug-face.

Uruk-Hai 1: Who are you calling pug-face?

[Over the sniggers and guffaws comes the rumble of knobbly clubs being prised from their sheaths...]

Uruk-Hai #s 3-17, 19-45, 49-72: Fight! Fight! Fight!

Uruk-Hai #s 19-22, 46-47 (as they lie, trampled half to death on the Tolkienesque sod): "Riders of Rohan"! Ha ha! That’s so so so soooooooo funny!

I should point out that once the rout had started, this air of mockery would most certainly NOT be apparent if you were sitting at the top of the hill on your proud stallion — if you were, in short

No. I’ll have to start that sentence again. Fit of the giggles. It’s just got to me. Sorry.

OK. Cool it, Whirl. One. Two. Three...

I should point out that once the rout had started, this air of mockery would most certainly NOT be apparent if you were sitting at the top of the hill on your proud stallion — if you were, in short, a "Rider" of "Rohan".

Rider 1 (of Rohan): Look how they quake and quiver in their boots!

Rider 2 (of Rohan): Hobbitskin boots, I’ll be bound: the footwear of choice for craven cowards!

Rider 3 (of Rohan): ‘Tis our name they fear! Rohan!

Rider 1 (of Rohan): And our riding prowess, our saddle skills!

Rider 2 (of Rohan): Though our capes are pretty good too!

Rider 4 (of Rohan): Yes, let’s not forget our capes! We’re known for them almost as much as our riding prowess and our saddle skills!

Rider 3 (of Rohan): Capes crocheted by our womenfolk! Womenfolk almost as revered for their clothing as we menfolk are for our riding!

Rider 2 (of Rohan): In Rohan!

Rider 1 (of Rohan): In Rohan, aye — and beyond!

Rider 4 (of Rohan): But hark, fellow riders—

Rider 2 (of Rohan): Of Rohan!

Rider 4 (of Rohan): Of Rohan, yes. Riders!  Methinks those barbarian grunts are actually the belly laughs of unrestrained mockery!

Rider 2 (of Rohan): Then let us make ready our charge while they are wrong-footed, helpless, prone!

Rider Leader (of Rohan) (who’s been sitting at the back looking a total ponce for the past five minutes) (of Rohan): Instruct the womenfolk to remove the crocheted nosebags from the horses! And iron the capes!



What the hell was Tolkien thinking when he came up with that duffer?

With thanks to the barbarians of DragonCon 03 (and their seamstress girlfriends).


Mother (Re)produces. said...

Ok. Look; how about we forget the handknit nosebags and send them all into battle clutching one of these:

Would scare the hell out of anyone, don't you think? Then the hallowed name of Rowa- sorry, Rohan will be respected again, perhaps?

Old Kitty said...

Could be worse - they could easily have been called Roland. No offence to Rolands everywhere!
:-) Take care

Whirlochre said...

These would go well with a pair of rafia sandals. Perfect for the "riders" "of Rohan"...

Old Kitty
No — offend them. Both the Rolands I ever knew were tossers.

jjdebenedictis said...

I have a friend who named her child Rohan.

It's pronounced Ro-HAAAAN and means "garden" in, um, a language from India whose name I've gone and forgotten again.

I will not, I think, mention this post to the poor boy.

stacy said...

Riders of the Garden, then. Yes, Tolkien got it wrong.

Yet, strangely, he was redeemed (at least for me) by that hot lead rider in the movie. ; )

jjdebenedictis said...

Stacy: Yes! Karl Urban was amazingly dishy, wasn't he?

Whirlochre said...


We're here to diss, not to praise, OK?

jjdebenedictis said...

*whiny voice* But Whiiiiirl...he was hot...

Whirlochre said...


So's my cocoa — but that's no reason for hysteeeeeeria...

stacy said...

Oh yes, JJ. : )

Sorry, Whirl - I just don't have any complaints about him.

Simon Kewin said...

Oh, but I quite like it. "Rohan" sounds flighty and gallopy and horsey and cavalryey to me. Perhaps it's the association with "roan".

Probably best not to mention Shagrat at this point is it?