Monday, June 06, 2005

Character names

Okay, I'm slogging my way through "Shadowmancer." And there are some things to like in it. The plot races along, G.P. Taylor creates an atmospheric 17th century English coastal town, and the evil is sufficiently evil.

The writing leaves something to be desired and frankly Ian McEwan has me distracted at the moment.

Before I give up on this bestseller, though, I have to write about Taylor's choice of charcter names. He uses Biblical names (Raphah, Obidiah), Englishy names (Beadle, Crane), made-up names (Demurral, Varrigal). They all--with, I suppose, the exception of the Englishy ones--ring false to a (young) reader.

In contrast, Rowling's brilliance in this area is clear. Her names show that she understands how language works. Her names are all English or Indo-European accidental gaps--words that could occur in English phonologically (or at least as a foreign word in English just like any other word of Indo-European origin, like deja vu or Bach).

Dumbledore rolls off the tongue. Snape hisses and is vaguely Germanic in its origin. Hagrid makes one think of both haggis and something rugged at the same time. Even her Slavic names (Victor Krum, for example) are spot on. Umbridge is my favorite.

Her language training served her well in creating character names children will remember through a lengthy book and the series.