Tuesday, February 22, 2011

this is blowing my mind

I have "lurked" on this list for a while and finally have a comment to offer, albeit a very insignificant one.
I wonder if the fact that Prof. JRR Tolkien apparently had an interest in (or at least knowledge of) the Voynich Ms has been discussed or indeed is of any interest at all?
The thing is, a nagging feeling that I had once seen the VMs many years ago - long before my recent interest was sparked by that piece in The New Scientist - is resolved. I now recall it - and though the persons concerned having died long since makes my little anecdote mere hearsay and in no way veridical, I thought I'd forward it. An old friend, a retired military man with an amateur interest in codes and cyphers, once showed me a couple of not entirely distinct b&w copies of pages from a curious coded manuscript, which I now realise were a couple of folios of the VMs. I was not especially interested in them at the time, I think, but the reason that the incident made an impression was that he said that they had been given to him by Prof JRR Tolkien. At that time I had just discovered and was very much 'into' Tolkien so I was most envious of my friend's knowing him and pressed for details of the great man, though in the end I never achieved my longed-for personal introduction. So I now wonder if there might be any reference anywhere in the mass of Tolkien papers to our VMs, and is this of any possible slight significance? After all, JRRT knew a great deal about languages and artificial scripts of course and if he was interested enough to make and pass on copies to a friend, he might have devoted some time to the VMs himself. And the Voynichese script does have a Tolkien-ish look to it or vice versa: could it have influenced him?

In any event it is of some relief to me to have scratched this mental itch at last. I only put two and two together last night when I was browsing and found all those nice images of the VMs at the Beinecke site (I hadn't realised that so many good reproductions could be seen on-line) - folio 86v it was that rang the bell, with those strange pictures of what to me looked like giant jellyfish eating some poor sea-gulls (and a couple of people for good measure.)
I would also like to use this opportunity to thank all the many excellent contributors to this list. Quite apart from the actual VMs itself, the multitude of curious and often obscure by-ways you entice us to wander down are endlessly fascinating and following them is a valuable education in itself. Many thanks to all.


The above is quoted from the Voynich Manuscript mailing list.  If you are not in the loop, the Voynich Manuscript is an untranslated codex from (maybe) the 15th century, in an unknown tongue and a weird script, accompanied by baffling illustrations.  Wikipedia has a pretty reasonable page on it.  Or check out pics of the whole dang thing yourself here.  The ultra cool online comic xkcd provides this nutshell version.

To me, the Voynich Manuscript represents one of the great secrets of history, in the league of Jack the Ripper's identity, combined with the mystique of the grimoires that inspired H.P. Lovecraft's creation of the Necronomicon.  But there's also the hint of the sweet aroma of a possible hoax on the scale of the Priory of Sion.

The suggestion that Professor Tolkien had a piece of that action just makes the universe seven shades more awesome than I had previously expected.  Somebody needs to get cracking on a two-fisted alt-history novel or comic covering this strange conjunction.

EDIT TO ADD:  The more I look at the first panel of that xkcd comic, the more I wonder whether Randall Monroe has a message hidden there!