A Wolfe by Any Other Name Might Be a Warg

I returned to reading The Annotated Hobbit after a two week hiatus, said hiatus caused by notes and illustration captions found in the Introduction and annotations in the first five chapters. As I noted last week in a Tolkien memorial post, I’ve since started reading and completed several nonfiction titles, some of which actually grew out of The Annotated Hobbit annotations.

The first footnote of Chapter 6 delved into a connection between Tolkien’s us of “Misty Mountains” to a poem from the Old Norse Elder Edda. A few pages later, in the seventh footnote, I learned the chapter name, “Out of the frying-pan into the fire,” is a traditional proverb which The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs has examples of going back to the sixteenth century. But turning to the next page, I discovered the best, and ninth, footnote of the chapter, containing a reference to correspondence, in 1966, between Gene Wolfe and Tolkien on the use of the word warg.

Tolkien described his use of warg in a letter to Gene Wolfe of November 7, 1966: “It is an old word for wolf, which also had the sense of an outlaw or hunted criminal. This is the usual sense in surviving texts. I adopted the word, which had a good sound for the meaning, as a name for this particular brand of demonic wolf in the story.” Tolkien derived the word from Old English wearg-, Old High German warg-, Old Norse varg-r (also = “wolf,” especially of a legendary kind).

Footnote 9, Chapter 6 Out of the Frying-pan Into the Fire, The Annotated Hobbit
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