2

I was reading The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and I came across a sentence in which I don't fully understand its grammar.

..., and when they rose taller they seemed than mortal men.

I think I understand the meaning, but written in the grammar that I'm used to the sentence would be something like:

..., and when they rose, they seemed taller than mortal men.

I checked here to see if I could find some kind of exception or explanation to this, but I couldn't find anything similar.

Maybe this is not common but...

  • is it allowed?
  • my copy of the book got this wrong?
  • is it an old way of writing?
  • did the author take a poetic license?
2

Consider just the main clause:

Taller they seemed than mortal men.

The standard English way to write that would be "They seemed taller than mortal men."

English has a stricter word order than some other languages, but even it allows a little latitude for poetic effect, and moving a word to the end or the beginning is hand-waved when it highlights that word. For example:

Boldly they rode and well

(Tennyson)

We were soldiers once and young.

(A.E. Housman)

Tolkien wanted a more archaic sound, without making the sentence unintelligible.

Edit: This question leads to this useful article. This structure is apparently called "fronting".

-1

This is an example of how important punctuation can be - put in a significant pause after the word rose (or insert a comma) and the whole sentance becomes far more poetic and lilting.

Still not common usage, but far more understandable.

  • Tolkien doesn't use a comma. – James K Apr 10 at 22:01
  • I know he doesn't. In his own head it was probably perfectly understandable, but on paper it isn't. No one is perfect - many authors think that they can break the rules of English with impunity, which is an entirely seperate argument. – Mike Brockington Apr 11 at 9:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.