19 April 2012

A Development on Tolkien’s Monogram

Here at Thoughts From The Antipodes I am rather keen to get comments, and hear what people think about my posts, or the subjects they deal with. However up until a while ago comments could only be entered if you had certain compatible accounts. So once a few people highlighted this restriction to me I figured out how to enable anonymous and guest comments here on my blog, and it is already paying off.
During a recent post on a Tolkien themed monogram I created for myself, I lamented the fact that my research turned up little in the way of a background for Tolkien’s own symbol. Apparently I am not the only one interested in such things, as I got the following anonymous comment earlier in the week:
“I was also doing a little research on that monogram and I couldn´t ignore the resemblance between that monogram and a chinese character (i´m studying mandarin) it looks almost the same in my opinion, and since I heard that Tolkein was fluent in many languages maybe he knew a little chinese as well and was inspired by this character, this is the one i´m talking about "" it means to bind, to restrain to control, makes you think about the quote: "one ring to rule them all".
This is why I love the internet: there is always someone out there with similar interests, and generally more capabilities (or at least a different enough approach to your own).
Upon looking into it, there is quite a curious resemblance between the two symbols; check it out for yourselves:
The Chinese character shù - 
Tolkien's monogram - 

Then there is the possible connection between the proposed meanings, and Tolkien's work. Shù can mean to bind or control. And as the anonymous commenter pointed out, one of the more famous quotes associated with Tolkiens masterworks reads:
"One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."
But then again, what random verb probably couldn't be tenuously linked to something significant in Tolkien's legendarium?
I just wanted an excuse to get this picture in here, so a connection to Gandalf will have to do......
Again though, I find the internet is great at peaking my curiosity, but not so good at sating it. Even with this new possible clue as to the inspiration, if not origins, of Tolkien’s monogram; I am unable to find any more definite answers. In fact as far as the resemblance goes, the only other mention I can find is on a forum discussing the Japanese translation of Tolkien’s works, found here.
Though this is just a quick mention of the similarities between the two characters, it is also slightly interesting to look over the rest of the forum page, and to see just how translating a written work from one language to the next can be so fascinating.
The posters in the forum are correct in that Tolkien was a prodigious learner of languages, and apparently spoke around 12 fluently, and was competent in another 13.
Plus he rocked an awesome pipe.
However if you look at his background in languages, it does not look as self evident that this would lend credence to him borrowing his monogram from the Chinese character as it initially appears. Tolkien was twice elected to the post of professor of English Language at Oxford; but as the title suggests, this is specifically relevant to our mother tongue, not languages in general. In university after he shifted his major from classical studies to the English language, it was a specialty in Norse languages that defined his time there. This, along with a general Euro-centric mythological vibe in his fantasy books, seems to highlight his limited scope regarding the languages of the world.
But at the end of the day there is no way to know for certain. After all, history may record our major drives, accomplishments and influences; but it can’t always be privy to our day to day whims, happenstance or coincidence. So who is to know if perhaps upon a trip to the university library, Tolkien happened upon a book of Chinese characters, and noted the inherent possabilities imbued upon shù, and how its composition managed to draw a rough outline of his initials?
Anyhow, I just thought this little find was a bit interesting, even if it were ultimately not true.
What do you all think? Is this symbol similar enough to Tolkien's to make you think twice about its origins?
Let me know in the comments.

Since writing this I also noticed this forum, where the same resemblance with Chinese characters was noticed, however this time there is a different theory offered. However I have been unable to find an example of the character they refer to here:
"The reason for me to post about this subject is related to... chinese characters.
In fact, Tolkien's logo is very similar to a specific chinese character named Haikka.
The meaning of Haikka is "center", "land in the center", "Land in the middle of...".
In resume: it is the chinese symbol to... Middle-Earth.
Well, Tolkien knew it, I think.
So maybe the logo creation is linked to this chinese character."


  1. I certainly enjoyed reading and re-reading Tolkien growing up. It is good light reading for adults and very descriptive with epic battles between good and evil. I read the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit in high school. I enjoyed the maps and the stories and the heroic and stalwart characters including the Hobbits who are good folk. Mike M. www.murraycavanaugh.com

  2. what is the meaning of the four points, or four flower petals (two sets) in Tolkien's monogram?

  3. I would not say that Tolkien`s initials bear similarities with Chinese (or Japanese) 中 (center, middle), because you cannot add strokes to 中 and keep the same meaning. There are many characters that (from a point of view of a person who has no knowledge in Chinese or Japanese language) bear resemblance to the 中(middle), but they all have completely different meaning.
    束(bind, rule, etc.) however, has exactly the same strokes.

  4. You won't believe me, but I was planning to write a blog very similar to the one you have posted here. Great work!

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