When Gandalf arrives in Gondor, he is admitted to see both books and scrolls. Scrolls, mind you. Beyond the inescapable Eastern flair that the word “scroll” invokes (one thinks of Egyptian papyri or the texts from Nag Hammadi), there is also the dust of ancientness. Scrolls are much older than codices, codices being something of a medieval innovation. So when Gandalf finds “a scroll that Isildur made himself,” we feel as though we have slid backwards from the medieval to the antique.
Tolkien gives us further indications that this scroll of Isildur is aged beyond other texts. For one thing, it seems to be written in a script and tongue “dark to later men.” He notes that both the script and the tongue are dark: the language and the alphabet, together with the mode of constructing the letters. Students of paleography will appreciate the compounded level of difficulty.
But the most obvious indication of the scroll’s age is Tolkien’s translation of it. Unlike his translations of Elvish or other tongues in the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien deliberately puts the content of Isildur’s scroll into Elizabethan English. Not only do the archaisms run rampant—“hot as a glede,” “lest a time come,” “I deem it to be”—but Tolkien also resurrects the original verb inflections for the third person singular. “It seemeth to shrink, though it loseth neither its beauty nor its shape.” The word order and general flow of the sentences is often archaic as well:
“The Ring misseth, maybe, the heat of Sauron’s hand… and maybe were the gold made hot again, the writing would be refreshed.”
(It is a great blot upon modern English usage that, as I type these words, the accusatory red squiggles of the Spell-Checker are proliferating.)
So what, I wondered, was a glede? Several online dictionaries unhelpfully mentioned European kites and buzzards, and Google tried to change my search from “glede” to “glade.” My Old English and Old Norse dictionaries only gave the meaning “bright, cheerful” for such terms as glaed and glaeð. But Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary from 1913 came through. The entry for “glede” is “a live coal,” though the European kites and buzzards are listed as well. Presumably Isildur meant the former.