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Dec 26

2013: The Year in Conlanging

Posted on Thursday, December 26, 2013 in Books, Film, television

This past year had some great conlanging activity. Here’s a round-up of some of the highlights:

Have I missed one? (Undoubtedly.) Feel free to add a comment to this post!

Happy conlanging in 2014!

Dec 31

2012: The Year in Conlanging

Posted on Monday, December 31, 2012 in Books, Conlangers, Conlanging, Film

It seemed to me that there was a flurry of conlang-related activity during the latter part of 2012, so I decided to take a look back and see if any other significant events in conlangs and conlanging took place this past year. Turns out, there were quite a few. I’m sure I forgot any number. Feel free to add others as comments to this post.

Enjoy the list and happy conlanging in 2013!

Dec 16

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – A Review

Posted on Sunday, December 16, 2012 in Film, Rant, Review



YOU SHOULD NOT PASS… if you haven’t seen the movie and want to be surprised.

You have been warned…

Okay, the disclaimer is out of the way. Today, I went with the family to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the 3-D HFR version. Having now seen it, I’m surprised at the vitriol that’s been heaped on the movie by some (e.g., here and here just to name two). Maybe “vitriol” is too strong a word, but it seems some of the negative press is unwarranted. I’ve also seen Tolkien fans that have written reviews saying they’re not even going to see movies two and three in this trilogy. I’m planning on seeing the next two without question. To me, An Unexpected Journey seemed like a quick three hours. There were some parts that dragged on too long (more on that below) and some superfluous material, but, overall, it kept my attention, didn’t offend my sensitive Tolkien sensibilities (too much – again, see below), and was a fairly enjoyable and entertaining ride. I just have to remember that any shortcomings of the film in no detract from Tolkien’s work and world. The films aren’t canon. They’re based on an interpretation of Tolkien’s work and can stand or fall on their own.

Some of the best parts, in my opinion, in no particular order were:

  • The scenes inside Bilbo’s hobbit hole. These were, for the most part, true to the book (in spirit if not literally). I’ve read some reviews that talk negatively about the dishwashing sequence but found this to be very faithful to the book itself.
  • Elrond showing up in his armor. No, it wasn’t in the book, but it always bothered me that Rivendell was supposed to be this idyllic sanctuary in the mountains. How did it stay safe? Well, it makes sense that Elrond and his house would ride out once in a while to “take care of business” in the neighborhood. Plus we got some Sindarin in here 🙂
  • The opening prologue inside and around Erebor. Seeing Thrór, Thráin, and Thorin ensconced in their kingdom and getting a glimpse of Dwarven culture was very interesting. Plus this also gave us a peek at Smaug’s feet and fire. The scene with all the dwarves waiting inside Erebor as flames lick at the front door was very cool.
  • Radagast. Yes, Radagast. As a character design, I thought he worked very well. I have other misgivings about him in the movie, but overall his look and action seemed very in keeping with what I had always thought about the brown wizard.
  • Seeing the progression of Balin from Erebor, to Azanulbizar, to the “present”. The only issue here (literal book-wise) is that Thorin is actually older than Balin: Thorin was 24 when Smaug attacked Erebor; Balin was 7.
  • Gandalf’s look on his face when he finds that Saruman has shown up at Rivendell. I could almost hear a “Oh, man, it’s my boss.”
  • Gollum and riddle game. This was worth seeing the HFR version right here! Gollum is absolutely amazing looking, and Andy Serkis is in full command of bringing Gollum to life.

Before we go any further, let me address the conlanging aspect of the movie. There was some Sindarin in Rivendell. It’s always nice to be able to pick up a word here and there. I got Gandalf’s “Mellon nin!” even before I read the subtitle. Yay, me. I was very disappointed I didn’t hear any Khuzdul (except maybe a snippet from Bifur). However, as I was given a heads-up by Erunno Alcarinollo on Twitter, I expected a lack of Khuzdul and that the orcs seem to be speaking the Black Speech or at least some orcish dialect of it. Interesting turn of events when both the elves and the orcs get subtitles. But it’s not all the orcs. The goblins of the Misty Mountains still speak English with a British accent although they know the ones who speak only Black Speech. (We know this because the Goblin King is going to send a message to the leader of the Black Speech orcs.) And even the Black-Speech-speaking orcs seem to have some auto-tune reverb thing going on with their voices. I am looking forward to some notes online on the Black Speech in the film.

I’m going to assume that Black Speech and Khuzdul maybe sounded too much alike to do them both in the film. Plus, some movie-goers may have said, “Okay, the dwarves were speaking with subtitles before but now they’re speaking in English. What’s up with that? And why are those orcs speaking the dwarves’ language? I don’t get it!” So, I’m going to cut some slack to Peter Jackson and let the Khuzdul go. However, I still want to hear a “Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd aimênu” at the Battle of Five Armies, most likely from the armies of the Iron Hills.

Okay, so that brings us back to this band of Black-Speech-speaking orcs and their leader, Azog. Yes, that Azog. We see him, Thorin, and Balin in the Battle of Azanulbizar. I was really looking forward to this but found the movie adaptation somewhat disappointing. Azog, referred to subsequently in the film as the Pale Orc, becomes the primary antagonist of Thorin & Company because of an extreme hatred of Thorin himself. It seems… SPOILER! again… after Azog beheads Thrór in the battle (not as in the Appendices), Thorin battles the orc chieftain and cuts off the orc’s forearm. Inexplicably, the orcs carry their leader back into Moria, the dwarves claim victory, and Thorin assumes Azog dies. Bad move, Mr. Oakenshield. Azog sticks an iron claw on his forearm (with a nice spike sticking out of his elbow) and swears vengeance on the “Dwarf-scum” or whatever Black Speech phrase means that.

The creation of Azog’s revenge seems to be a superfluous sub-plot for the film. If Peter Jackson did want to have this storyline, it seems a better tactic might have been to have Azog fighting at Azanulbizar with his son Bolg. I don’t know how you show this, but having Azog kill Thrór, then have Thorin kill Azog (yes, I know he didn’t kill Azog but I’ll give them some leeway here), and have Bolg retreat (maybe with the look in his eyes as the orcs of Mordor when the Rohirrim rode down on them in Pelennor Fields in The Return of the King). But showing an orc swearing revenge on someone who slew his father might be ascribing too many emotions to orcs (who are really the expendable Star-Wars-stormtroopers or battle droids of The Lord of the Rings films).

And Azog really does look like a very good CG video game character, but a CG video game character nonetheless. If they were going with an orc antagonist, it would have been nice to see something like Lurtz. I do have to agree with those who have mentioned that aspect of the movie.

I mentioned above that I enjoyed the look and behavior of Radagast. I still stand by that. My only beef with Radagast in the film was the… SPOILER! again… rabbit-sled race to distract the orc band. “These are Rhosgobel rabbits!” I don’t even know what that means? He breeds super rabbits? And the sled just goes around and around, constantly bringing the orcs back to Thorin & Company who finally find a way to escape on their own. And Radagast just disappears then. It’s really Elrond and his elves who get rid of the orcs. So, the sled race went on way too long and, in my opinion, was superfluous in the first place.

Another part that went on a little too long was the Stone-giants scene in the Misty Mountains. I’m fine with them being in the film, but it seemed prolonged and didn’t really move the story forward. A few boulders crashing through the rain and knocking debris down on the company would have been plenty.

Just a brief note on the HFR: It didn’t really thrill me nor distract me. Maybe I’m just jaded from watching HDTV at home. Other than seeing the weave of Bilbo’s shirt and an absolutely stunning, crisp Gollum in all his slimy paleness, the HFR was just fine but nothing to get really worked up about (positively or negatively).

So, as you can see there were some disappointments but some absolutely enchanting moments, too. It could have been a great movie, but it wasn’t a failure as some seem to have suggested. Even with what I know of Peter Jackson’s additions and alterations, I’m still looking forward to seeing The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.

Dec 9

Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings Marathon

Posted on Sunday, December 9, 2012 in Film, Rant, Review

Yesterday, I attended The Lord of the Rings Marathon at my local movie theater. This was an all-day showing of each of Peter Jackson’s films based on Toikien’s magnum opus from 11:00 am to 11:30pm (with only a half hour break between each film). I also saw it with my children who never got the chance to see the films on the big screen when they were first released so that was fun, too. Viewing the film trilogy in one fell swoop was an eye-opening experience and really allowed me to see the work as a whole. I’d like to share some thoughts and favorite moments from the films. Some of these will be familiar from ten years of voluminous commentary in print and online, but this is meant to be my subjective reaction to Jackson’s opus.

There were probably around 20 to 25 people in the theater for our marathon, so it was somewhat of a shared experience. There were even a couple women who showed up in medieval gowns. Of course, no one talked to anyone else, but we all clapped when each film was over, and giggles went through the audience at several key points: Boromir’s “One does not simply walk into Mordor” line, Sam’s “PO-TA-TOES” line, Legolas’ “They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard“, and several others. My daughter and I enjoyed Elrond’s facepalm during the Council.

One of the things that struck me was the prevalence of clasped hands. Take a notice next time you happen to watch these films. I often saw one character reaching out for another’s hand and the other grasping the outstretched hand. The two biggies are Frodo rescuing Sam from the water when leaving the Fellowship, and Sam rescuing Frodo in the Sammath Naur. There are a number of others, and I wish I had kept track. One of the reasons it struck me was when it didn’t happen. When Aragorn stretches out his hand to Gríma after Théoden is ready to kill Wormtongue on the steps of Meduseld… and Gríma spits on Aragorn’s outstretched hand.

Not having viewed the trilogy for quite some time, another thing that struck me was the prevalence of tears. I knew there was crying, but, wow, that was a lot of tears over 12 hours of movies.

And the last plot device that struck me was people plunging off of cliffs. Gandalf in the first (okay, it’s a chasm but the effect’s the same); Aragorn in the second (not in the book); Denethor, Frodo and Gollum in the third (only one of those goes over in the book). Even Boromir plunged off the Falls of Rauros, but he was already dead. I may be reading too much into this, but it looked to me like Middle-earth needed a lot more signage to alert people of dangerous cliffs.

I do have some favorite moments from Jackson’s films:

  • Gandalf and the Bridge of Khazad-dûm
  • Gandalf driving out Saruman from Théoden
  • The ride of the Rohirrim into the forces of Mordor on the Pelennor
  • Any scene with Sindarin in it 🙂

There are more, but those really spring to mind. I do find it interesting that none of those first three occur in the movie exactly as they transpired in the canon. For example:

Fire came from [the Balrog’s] nostrils. But Gandalf stood firm
“You cannot pass,” he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”

“You cannot pass!”

Yes, a lot of the film dialogue in that scene is from the movie, but I think the change from “You cannot pass” to “You shall not pass” was a very good decision.

The episode between Gandalf and Théoden is also much more dramatic in the film than the book. The addition of Saruman’s possession of the king of Rohan appears to have helped that plot point along in the film. Kudos again to Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair and Peter Jackson. Finally, the ride of the Rohirrim. One scene I did want to see there was Théoden blowing on the horn until it “burst asunder” although I realize that might be a little difficult to pull off realistically.

I do believe that Jackson absolutely got the casting spot on with Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey and Christopher Lee as Saruman the White. In fact, McKellen’s Gandalf is one of the major reasons I can’t wait to see The Hobbit this coming week. In my opinion, Théoden, as portrayed by Bernard Hill, was also very regal and convincing. The design team also hit the nail on the head with the Black Riders, right down to the nails coming out of the bloody hooves of the horses. And Andy Serkis’ Gollum/Smeagol is always amazing (and disturbing… in a good way) to watch.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some scenes and plot points I don’t particularly like:

  • Elves at Helm’s Deep: If the Elves were going to show up anywhere, it would have been to come to the aid of Minas Tirith
  • Elrond himself bringing Narsil to Aragorn: This is like Capt. Kirk always having to lead the away team (Although I did go back to the book and see that Elrond’s son, Elrohir, was the one to remind Aragorn about taking the Paths of the Dead).
  • The avalanche of skulls in the Paths of the Dead: WTF?
  • Faramir taking Frodo, Sam, and Gollum to Osgiliath: Seemed a little needless
  • Aragorn’s angst: The “book Aragorn” seemed much more sure of himself and his duty to be king
  • Denethor’s death

That last one especially still bothers me. After watching it again yesterday, it seems to me that it would be easy to blame Gandalf for Denethor’s getting torched. In the film, Denethor even has a last moment of sanity looking at his son’s face before he bursts into flames and runs off the cliff. And it looked to me like Shadowfax either pushed him onto the pyre or, at the very least, Denethor was trying to get away from the rearing horse. In the book, it’s Denethor that takes the torch and leaps onto the pyre. He takes an active role in his self-immolation. In the film, it looks, in the end, to happen almost by accident.

I really enjoy the movies, but I have to remember that they’re based on Tolkien’s work. Masterfully adapted in many cases and even (gasp) improved-upon in some, but based nonetheless. I find that the films drive me back to the books and Middle-earth again, and maybe that is the most important thing. I’m fine with some people only experiencing Middle-earth through Jackson’s prism, but I would compare it to someone only knowing the Iliad through the Brad Pitt film. Yes, you can get a good idea of the characters and the plot, but there’s no substitute for returning to the source material.

Hannon le, Tolkien. Hannon le, Peter Jackson. Eglerio!

Dec 1

“Dotar Sojat” does not mean “My Right Hand”

Posted on Thursday, December 1, 2011 in Books, Film, Rant

Okay, the newest John Carter movie trailer is out. As I’ve stated before, I’m a big fan of the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burrough (ERB). When I heard there was finally going to be a movie, I was skeptical but cautiously optimistic. After all, I was very pleased with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and my Tolkien hurdle is much, much higher than my ERB one. That being said, when I heard that Andrew Stanton was directing, my heart sank. I love Pixar and who can argue with Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and all the rest. But John Carter? It just didn’t seem to fit.

Well, now that two trailers are out…I’m very cautiously optimistic that the movie won’t stink. How’s that for hedging my bets? The visuals look kind of cool although the tusks on the Green Men seem a little out of place. They’re described as coming from the lower jaw. And I’m a little unsure of Woola’s look. But, I’m willing to give it a shot even with those caveats and the superfluous wardrobe department on the set. If nothing else, maybe it’ll be a rollicking space adventure.

But, as always, this is a conlanging blog, and the bone I have to pick with the film is conlinguistical. First of all, take another look at Tars Tarkas. Take a look at the descriptive paragraph. It’s okay, I’ll wait….Oh, you’re back. Notice that it says, “Tars gives Carter the Thark name Dotar Sojat, which translates to ‘my right hand.'” Uh, no. Dotar and Sojat were the names of the two warriors slain by John Carter upon his arrival on Barsoom. Unless one was named “My Right” and other was named “Hand”, that “translation” doesn’t work. Plus, Dotar Sojat isn’t just a Thark name. All inhabitants of Barsoom speak the same language, so “Tars gives Carter the Barsoomian name” would have at least been more accurate.

But that’s not the worst on the official site. Take a look at these: A Martian “Decoder” and a Martian Translator. Uh, once again, that’s not “translating” that’s what’s called a “code” (or “cipher” if you want to get fancy), Disney. What’s worse, the “Decoder” has every letter of the Roman alphabet! Couldn’t they have even put the letters C and K together or something! This is like something you’d get on the back of a cereal box or inside a Cracker Jack prize. Disney obviously told their art department to come up with some nifty designs, and, oh hey!, there’s 26 of them, let’s call them the “Martian language.” Tah dah!

With the inventiveness of ERB’s Barsoomian naming language, I had hoped there was some effort to pay lip service to the language (no pun intended). I’m still hoping there’s something in the final film, some small scene where Carter has to learn the language of Barsoom and then use English as the stand-in for it (a la The 13th Warrior). If not, it just seems like a lost opportunity. Sigh…

Apr 14

Paul Frommer Interview

Posted on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 in Film

The LCS has posted an interview with Na’vi creator Paul Frommer conducted by David J. Peterson and Sylvia Sotomayor. Frommer provides some great stories about how he created Na’vi and what it’s like working on a major movie. Nice job, David and Sylvia!

Jan 26

Conlang…The Movie!

Posted on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 in Film

Still from Conlang The Movie
Conlang (The Movie) was just selected to have its film circuit premier in February at the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival.

The movie’s also got a new website, too:!

The sure-to-be-a-classic Herculean Tournament scene is posted online.

The movie was screened last year at the 3rd Language Creation Conference, and earned the enthusiastic support of the participants.

Now is the time for you to voice that support:

1. Join & post to the Facebook fan page! If you saw the film at LCC3, post a review!

2. If you want a copy of the film by DVD or online distribution, email
the producer/director, Marta Masferrer:

3. Email her information about any other film festivals, ‘cons, conferences, or other venues you think would be interested in screening the film.

4. Subscribe to the LCS Conlang Blog aggregator, which includes the Conlang movie announcements feed.

Please pass this on to anyone you think would be interested. (Twitterable link from LCS posting:

Fiat lingua!

Dec 31

Avatar: A Review

Posted on Thursday, December 31, 2009 in Film

This post isn’t entirely conlang-related, but I’ve finally seen Avatar and have a few thoughts I’d like to share.

First, of course, is the conlang. It was great to see Dr. Frommer listed right near the top of the closing credits as “Na’vi language creator”. The language itself was incorporated fairly well into the plot, although it would have been nice to see a little more of Jake’s learning curve. The only thing we see is Neytiri correcting Jake’s pronunciation of nari “eye”. At 162 minutes, I suppose something had to be cut. I did think it was appropriate that Jake hadn’t achieved enough fluency for his speeches, asking both Tsu’tey and Neytiri to translate for him. Well played there. Overall, the actors did an acceptable job with fluid pronunciations and making the language appear “natural.” Congrats to Dr. Frommer for bringing conlanging back into focus for the general public. Although the native language was incorporated well and sounded genuine, the Na’vi’s use of English was a little too fluent and widespread for my taste. Their rejection of what the Earthlings have to offer would lead me to believe that they would not bother to continue to practice their English skills so assiduously.

One final conlang comment: The Na’vi greeting of Oel ngati kameie “I see you” was a little troubling. I saw the movie with my college-freshman daughter, and afterward she said the only thing she could think of when they said that was “Peek-a-boo, I see you.” While I understand the spiritual implications, Na’vi-wise, of the greeting, maybe there could have been a better English translation used: “I hold you in my eyes”? “I see you with my heart”??

Now, for some more kudos. The look of the film was visually stunning, but I think the massive hype inflated my expectations just a bit. I will agree, however, that Pandora is quite the bioluminescent, floating-mountain, hexapod-filled wonderland. Cameron did a great job of incorporating the 3-D into the film. This was no Monster Chiller Horror Theatre or Jaws 3-D. The 3-D effects, in short order, simply became the look of the film – not an effect. Some of the coolest shots in retrospect were in the cockpit of the aircraft with their heads-up displays. There were some shots that were bows to 3-D, but overall it was not “in your face.”

As for acting, Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch easily deserves an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Lang absolutely nailed his role. As much as I abhorred his drive to eradicate the Na’vi, he’s the guy I’d want on my side in a fight. Lang provides a very interesting perspective on his role in a recent Los Angeles Times article.

Now for some constructive criticism, as if James Cameron needs constructive criticism from the Conlanging Librarian: Avatar has grossed (as of Dec. 31, 2009) $268,886,074. In any case, here goes…

Cameron is not a subtle screenwriter, and by “not a subtle screenwriter” I mean he writes foreshadowing and metaphor with a sledgehammer. Both my daughter and I could see the ending coming several miles (or clicks) away. Furthermore, I could almost hear James Cameron’s voice whispering in my ear: “PSST, DID I MENTION THE NA’VI REPRESENT NATIVE AMERICANS!!” From the paint on their faces, to their war cries, to their horse-like mounts, the metaphor was barely a metaphor. Egads! My daughter and I agreed that Cameron could have at least given them different mounts than horses (okay, horses with tendrils and six-legs but still “horses”). How about a big ostrich-like lizard-bird. Say, a flightless version of the banshees or great leonopteryx (ikran and toruk to use their Na’vi terms); maybe call it a atxkxe-ikran “land banshee”. I would also rather have seen the Na’vi patterned after a more “exotic” indigenous population (at least to mainstream North American audiences) such as those in Polynesia or Central/South America.

Overall, I’m definitely glad that I saw it, was impressed with the visuals, and was happy to see conlanging making a dent in the media. The story, as has been pointed out elsewhere, was basically “Indigo Pocahontas Dancing with Wolves in Space”. I wasn’t blown away, but I’d definitely suggest people go and see it. It’s an important film, both technically and conlang-wise.

I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing more about Pandora and the other moons of Polyphemus.

Dec 30


Posted on Wednesday, December 30, 2009 in Film

Okay, in an attempt to consolidate press coverage of Dr. Frommer’s new alien language, TCL now has a page devoted to video, audio, text, and fan-generated material on Na’vi. Everything from links to the ABC News interview to Learn Na’vi is now available in one place. Eywa ngahu!

Dec 21

Nang! Nì’ul sì nì’ul sì nì’ul Na’vi!

Posted on Monday, December 21, 2009 in Film

Two Na'vi

The information on Na’vi just keeps coming! Here is a story on NPR from Dec. 15. There are some very nice examples of Frommer speaking Na’vi (and even getting Renee Montagne to try her tongue at it).

The movie has only been out a few days and already a fan community has begun to coalesce around the language. Check out Learn Na’vi for some grammar, vocabulary, and phonetics that have been gleaned from publicly available sources. Nothing “official” from Frommer or Cameron…yet. Incidentally, this is where the title of this post was cobbled together from. It’s supposed to read “Wow! More and more and more Na’vi.” In addition to this site, there’s a Facebook group already in existence as well — Learn the Na’vi language — with the description “Kaltxì! Ngaru lu fpom srak? which, as far as I can tell, roughly means “Hello! How are you?”