From "The Siege of Gondor" in Middle English

Some of Tolkien's scholarly works have been published for a popular audience, and fans of his fiction may be familiar with such books as The Monsters & the Critics and Other Essays, Finn & Hengest, and Tolkien's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (also including "Pearl" and "Sir Orfeo"). However, a number of Tolkien's academic projects have remained rather less visible to the public eye. One such work was Tolkien's edition of Ancrene Wisse for the Early English Text Society (Ancrene Wisse: MS. Corpus Christi College Cambridge 402, Early English Text Society 249, London/New York/Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1962). Ancrene Wisse ("Anchoresses' Guide") was written in the early 1200s, and is a guide for women who sought to live a life of solitary, ascetic devotion as anchoresses (a particular kind of female hermit). It is considered a classic of medieval English Christian devotional literature.

Tolkien, while well-known as a practicing Roman Catholic Christian, had an interest in the Ancrene Wisse which went beyond the purely religious. Though born in South Africa, Tolkien spent most of his childhood in England's West Midlands and maintained a strong affection for this region throughout his life. Ancrene Wisse is written in a dialect of Middle English which had been spoken (and written) in this very region seven centuries before Tolkien himself became a writer of Modern English there. The language of Ancrene Wisse shows remarkable continuity from the Old English of Mercia (which Tolkien used to represent the speech of the Rohirrim in The Lord of the Rings; there are fewer borrowing from Anglo-Norman French in Ancrene Wisse than in many other Middle English works of the same period, and and even smaller number of borrowings from Old Norse (which had been brought to England by Scandinavian settlers during the Viking Age). In short, Ancrene Wisse is written in a remarkably "English" form of English.

Writing of the Ancrene Wisse dialect, Tolkien said: "It is not a language long relegated to the 'uplands' struggling once more for expression in apolgetic emulation of its betters or out of compassion for the lewd, but rather one that has never fallen back into 'lewdness', and has contrived in troublous times to maintain the air of a gentleman, if a country gentleman. It has traditions and some acquaintance with the pen, but it is also in close touch with a good living speech -- a soil somewhere in England." [from J.R.R. Tolkien, "Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad", Essays and Studies, 14 (1929), 104-26 (p. 106).]

I kind of wondered what Tolkien's prose would look like when translated into this dialect, so I picked a favorite passage (the final two paragraphs from from The Lord of the Rings, Book 5, Chapter 4, "The Siege of Gondor") to try a translation.

Not surprisingly, that the vocabulary of Ancrene Wisse is not very well suited to represent the variety of concepts expressed in Tolkien's fiction! But, as it happens, there are several related manuscripts written in the same dialect as Ancrene Wisse: Hali Meiðhad, Seinte Juliene, Seinte Marherete, Seinte Katherine, and Sawles Warde. I have mined these for extra vocabulary, but in a few cases I have had to either take words only recorded in other dialects and "adapt" them to the Ancrene Wisse dialect or "reconstruct" words from Old English into the form they might have had in the Ancrene Wisse dialect had they been recorded in it.

Below, Tolkien's original Modern English text is on the left, and my attempt at a translation into the Middle English of Ancrene Wisse is on the right. Should anyone be able to offer any corrections or improvements, please !

Gandalf did not move. And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.

And as if in answer, there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin's sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.

Gandalf ne stureð. Ant i þet ilke time, awei bihinden i sum curt burhene, coc creow. Schille ant schire he creow, ne haldende na tale of wichecreft ne weorre, bute gretende ane þen marhen þet i þe heouene feor ouer þe schadewes deaðes wes cuminde wið þe dahunge.

Ant as þah ondswerende, an oðer song com from feor awei. Hornes, hornes, hornes. I dorc Mindolluines siden ha dimliche sweide. Great hornes of þe Norð wildeliche blawende. Rohan wes ed te leaste icumen.