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JRR Tolkien trained as British spy
Telegraph ^ | September 16, 2009

Posted on 09/19/2009 2:10:47 PM PDT by NYer

Tolkien, one of his generation's most respected linguists, was ''earmarked'' to crack Nazi codes in the event that Germany declared war.

Intelligence chiefs singled him and a 'cadre' of other intellectuals to work at Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre in Buckinghamshire.

Its staff - which included Alan Turing, the gay codebreaker - would later decipher the 'impenetrable' Enigma machines.

This saved Britain from German conquest by allowing the Navy to intercept and destroy Hitler's U-Boats.

According to previously unseen records, Tolkien trained with the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS).

He spent three days at their London HQ in March 1939 - six months before the outbreak of the Second World War and just 18 months after the publication of his first book, The Hobbit.

But although he was ''keen'', Tolkien - a professor of English literature at Oxford University - declined a £500-a-year offer to become a full-time recruit.

The reasons behind his decision are not known.

But he went on to write the Lord of the Rings trilogy, one of the most popular and influential works in 20th-Century literature.

Tolkien's involvement with the war effort was revealed for the first time this week in a new exhibition at GCHQ, the new name for GCCS, the Government's spy base in Cheltenham, Glos.

The display includes a number of previously unseen exhibits relating to Bletchley Park's war preparations.

A GCHQ historian, who would not give his name for security reasons, said: ''JRR Tolkien is known the world over for his novels, but his involvement with the war effort may take a few people by surprise.

''While he didn't sign up as was probably intended, he did complete three days' training and was 'keen' to do more.

(Excerpt) Read more at telegraph.co.uk ...


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Government; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: espionage; jrrtolkien; tokien; tolkien; uk; wwii

1 posted on 09/19/2009 2:10:47 PM PDT by NYer
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To: NYer

Tolkien: Intelligence chiefs singled him and a 'cadre' of other intellectuals to work at Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre in Buckinghamshire.
2 posted on 09/19/2009 2:11:25 PM PDT by NYer ( "One Who Prays Is Not Afraid; One Who Prays Is Never Alone"- Benedict XVI)
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To: NYer

Yes, the Nazis were big on Old Norse. Don’t code-crackers have to be good at math?


3 posted on 09/19/2009 2:12:19 PM PDT by Mamzelle (Who is Kenneth Gladney? (Don't forget to bring your cameras))
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To: Old Sarge

PING!


4 posted on 09/19/2009 2:12:42 PM PDT by MS.BEHAVIN (Women who behave rarely make history)
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To: NYer

I read that one of the recruiting methods used was to find people who could solve one of those difficult English cryptic puzzles and interview them for work at Bletchley.


5 posted on 09/19/2009 2:13:16 PM PDT by Pearls Before Swine (Is /sarc really necessary?)
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To: NYer
Alan Turing, the gay codebreaker

His sexuality had to do what with his work? The newsrag couldn't help itself to add this.

6 posted on 09/19/2009 2:13:17 PM PDT by SolidWood (Sarah Palin: "Only dead fish go with the flow!")
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To: SolidWood
"Alan Turing, the gay codebreaker"

His sexuality had to do what with his work? The newsrag couldn't help itself to add this.

Ironic that he turned out to be a cunning linguist...

7 posted on 09/19/2009 2:15:57 PM PDT by jessduntno ("Integrity is the lifeblood of democracy. Deceit is a poison in it." - Ted Kennedy (D-HELL)
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To: NYer

As an academic, Tolkien was primarily a linguist, with a good working knowledge of Old English, Old High German, Old Norse, and the rest of it. In those days, there was also considerable interest in the relations among the various Indo-European languages and the ways that they changed over time. So it was a kind of science.

I imagine Tolkien turned it down because he thought he was not needed and that he had better things to do, such as endlessly working on the Silmarilion and its various component stories.


8 posted on 09/19/2009 2:23:52 PM PDT by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: NYer
If you have not read The Book of Lost Tales and The Silmarillion you really haven't read Tolkien.

The man was a genius.

9 posted on 09/19/2009 2:24:52 PM PDT by freedumb2003 (Communism comes to America: 1/20/2009. Keep your powder dry, folks. Sic semper tyrannis)
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To: NYer
Nah, by that time Gollum had escaped and they went with him instead to find a way through the swamps.

Besides, Tolkein had been to Bree too many times and was known at the Prancing Pony. He used to summer in Frogmorton.
There was a concern in early ‘36 that Saruman had infiltrated into the shire and also had paid informants among the Bucklanders. (This proved false after the fall of the third Reich, although several extended members of the Cotton family that worked at the Green Dragon with Rosie ended up disappearing behind the Iron Curtain in the post war era.)

10 posted on 09/19/2009 2:28:39 PM PDT by IrishCatholic (No local Communist or Socialist Party Chapter? Join the Democrats, it's the same thing!)
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To: NYer
which included Alan Turing, the gay codebreaker

And?

11 posted on 09/19/2009 2:38:22 PM PDT by cardinal4 (Dont Tread on Me)
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To: cardinal4

I believe Turing was eventual expelled from intelliegence work because of his blackmailability.


12 posted on 09/19/2009 2:48:19 PM PDT by AceMineral (Offically unapproved of since 1973)
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To: Mamzelle
Don’t code-crackers have to be good at math?
Cryptanalysis, prior to the 30's, was largely linguistic. Through WWII, there was still a significant linguistic component.
13 posted on 09/19/2009 3:04:32 PM PDT by jdege
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To: NYer

JRR Tolkien was also a veteran of WWI and saw action in France.


14 posted on 09/19/2009 3:35:42 PM PDT by Maine Mariner
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To: Maine Mariner

As I recall what really helped the Brits break the Enigma code is that the Polish intelligence stole an Enigma machine from the Germans and gave it to the Brits. The Brits then reverse engineered it. Supposedly the British commanders then received German orders before the German commanders did.


15 posted on 09/19/2009 3:47:42 PM PDT by Citizen Tom Paine
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To: jdege; Mamzelle
Cryptanalysis, prior to the 30's, was largely linguistic. Through WWII, there was still a significant linguistic component.

Turing was a mathematician and computer scientist. He headed the code-breaking team at Bentchley Park in WWII. He used mathematical analysis to break the German codes. Tolkien was wise to refuse the job. He was not a mathematician, and had a somewhat negative opinion of science in general. At any rate Tolkien would have been totally useless in building a machine of electric circuits to break the German codes.

16 posted on 09/19/2009 4:04:56 PM PDT by stripes1776 ("That if gold rust, what shall iron do?" --Chaucer)
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To: Citizen Tom Paine
“As I recall what really helped the Brits break the Enigma code is that the Polish intelligence stole an Enigma machine from the Germans and gave it to the Brits. The Brits then reverse engineered it. Supposedly the British commanders then received German orders before the German commanders did.”

From what I have read the Pole in question was some sort of engineer who assembled Enigma machines for the Germans. He managed to get himself over to the Brits and pretty much assembled a working design from memory. The Brits needed a working Enigma device to confirm the info and got it in 1940 when one of Rommels signal units got ahead of the advance and the Brits snagged them. It supposedly was the basis for the 1942 propaganda movie “The Foreman Went To France”. From that point on the decodes in some cases were ahead of the info reaching the German operational units.

17 posted on 09/19/2009 5:42:09 PM PDT by Polynikes (Viene una tormenta)
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To: NYer
The wartime Brits were quite resourceful and amazing. One of their operatives was Aleister Crowley the occultist. He was in contact with German occult groups such as the Thule Society and assorted German astrologers through his Golden Dawn Society, during the war. The strange flight of Rudolph Hess (a member of the Thule Society) to England was supposedly provoked by disinformation fed to German astrologers by Crowley. That explained Hitlers rage and consequent arrest of every astrologer in Germany after Hess flew to England. Crowleys handler in British intelligence, Ian Fleming the future author of James Bond.
18 posted on 09/19/2009 6:07:31 PM PDT by Polynikes (Viene una tormenta)
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To: NYer
Tolkien was one of the greatest experts in the origin of germanic, norse, and anglo-saxon words. However, Tolkien lacked the patience for the rote work of codebreaking. By the mid 30's Tolkien was consumed by the travails of Middle Earth, saw it as his life's work.

Likely, he cared little for war having lost all of his close friends in WW1.

19 posted on 09/19/2009 6:30:46 PM PDT by gandalftb (An appeaser feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last......)
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To: stripes1776
At any rate Tolkien would have been totally useless in building a machine of electric circuits to break the German codes.

The Axis used a great many codes and ciphers, besides the Enigma and Lorenz. Admittedly, Tolkien's background would have been little help with those two, but he could have been a great deal of help with the others.

20 posted on 09/19/2009 7:25:25 PM PDT by jdege
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To: jdege
The Axis used a great many codes and ciphers, besides the Enigma and Lorenz. Admittedly, Tolkien's background would have been little help with those two,

Tolkien would have been of absolutely no help in breaking codes of the Enigma machine. That goes for Lorenz as well. As for any other ciphers, they would have been of a lower priority. Even then the possible permutations would have been in the millions. I seems unlikely that he could have been of help in cracking these other ciphers.

Tolkien made the right decision to remain at Oxford. He was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon and Germanic languages, not a cryptographer, not a mathematician, not a scientist. He also turned out be a great story teller. I would say he created the greatest work of the imagination written the 20th century.

A man can't be brilliant in all fields of learning. Tolkien was most brilliant when it came to writing mythology. His works will be read as long as there are people on earth who know how to read.

21 posted on 09/19/2009 9:25:42 PM PDT by stripes1776 ("That if gold rust, what shall iron do?" --Chaucer)
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To: NYer

Training as a technician/cryptographer is not training as a spy. Sensationalized headline trying to pump up interest in the story, and the story doesn’t really need it.


22 posted on 09/20/2009 12:24:18 AM PDT by tlb
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To: stripes1776
As for any other ciphers, they would have been of a lower priority.
That's far too broad a generalization. A great deal of good intelligence was extracted from the simpler codes.
Even then the possible permutations would have been in the millions. I seems unlikely that he could have been of help in cracking these other ciphers
That's a remark that could be made only by someone who has no actual experience in cracking ciphers.
A man can't be brilliant in all fields of learning. Tolkien was most brilliant when it came to writing mythology.

Tolkien was a philologist - a student of languages. And he was brilliant in his field. He was fluent in English, French, German, Greek, Welsh, Finnish, Spanish, and Italian, and had a working knowledge of Serbian, Russian, Swedish, Danish, and Dutch.

Remember, the intercepted messages weren't convenently translated into English before encryption, and there were very few people in England who were familiar with as many of the languages involved.

I won't say that Tolkien had the trick of mind that made for a successful cryptanalyst in pre-machine and computer ciphers. His lifelong penchant for playing around with languages suggests that he did, but there's no way of knowing for sure.

But his lack of mathematical skills only precluded him from certain tasks in developing the breaks for machine ciphers. There were thousands working at Bletchley, and only a handful involved the mathematical analysis that resulted in the breaks in Enigma and Lorenz.

Tolkien clearly had skills that could have been put to use.

23 posted on 09/20/2009 8:55:22 AM PDT by jdege
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To: jdege
Tolkien was a philologist - a student of languages. And he was brilliant in his field. He was fluent in English, French, German, Greek, Welsh, Finnish, Spanish, and Italian, and had a working knowledge of Serbian, Russian, Swedish, Danish, and Dutch.

Not to mention the ancient tongues, primitive English and many other dialects. He was a very impressive man.

24 posted on 09/20/2009 8:57:13 AM PDT by paulycy (Screw the RACErs.)
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To: NYer
Tolkein predicted our presidential election and current geopolitical landscape with the Lord of the Rings trilogy...





































25 posted on 09/20/2009 9:30:50 AM PDT by Sir Francis Dashwood (Arjuna, why have you have dropped your bow???)
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To: jdege
Remember, the intercepted messages weren't convenently translated into English before encryption, and there were very few people in England who were familiar with as many of the languages involved.

Those are the skills of a translator, not a code-breaker. That is a completely different kettle of fish. Language translation has nothing to do with cryptology.

That's a remark that could be made only by someone who has no actual experience in cracking ciphers.

Then please name one of these other ciphers, and then we can do the research and see how many possible permutations there were. The code book I have said there would have been 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible permutations for the cryptanalyst to check in order to crack a message encrypted with the Enigama machine. That is, before Turing set set mind to work and found a simpler way.

26 posted on 09/20/2009 1:08:32 PM PDT by stripes1776 ("That if gold rust, what shall iron do?" --Chaucer)
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To: stripes1776
Language translation has nothing to do with cryptology.
Which was why, of course, that the best cryptanalysts prior to the development of machine ciphers were linguists, not mathematicians.
The code book I have said there would have been 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible permutations for the cryptanalyst to check in order to crack a message encrypted with the Enigama machine.

The security of a cipher has more to do with how much statistical information about the plaintext leaks through to the ciphertext than it does about how many possible keys there are. A simple substitution cipher on a 26-letter alphabet has 403,291,461,126,605,635,584,000,000 possible keys, but it's trivial to crack.

Have you read any of the personal accounts by the folks at Bletchley? Any of William Friedman's declassified histories of cryptography? Or have you just read the popularizations?

For that matter, have you ever cracked a cipher other than a newspaper cryptoquip? Have you ever, for example, cracked a Playfair?

I don't want to sound arrogant, because it's certainly true that there's a lot I don't know. But I do know that what you are expounding is incorrect.

27 posted on 09/20/2009 4:30:30 PM PDT by jdege
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To: NYer

So Tolkien was “Lord of the Decoder Rings”?


28 posted on 09/20/2009 4:37:34 PM PDT by BikerJoe
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To: NYer

So Tolkien was “Lord of the Decoder Ring”?


29 posted on 09/20/2009 4:38:07 PM PDT by BikerJoe
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To: jdege
The security of a cipher has more to do with how much statistical information about the plaintext leaks through to the ciphertext than it does about how many possible keys there are. A simple substitution cipher on a 26-letter alphabet has 403,291,461,126,605,635,584,000,000 possible keys, but it's trivial to crack.

The Germans were not using substitution ciphers. A transposition cipher is a different matter entirely. To crack a substitution cipher, you use a statistical method. Start looking for the most frequent letter. But a transposition cipher adds a tremendous amount of complexity to the encryption algorithm.

The German government was using the Enigma machine by the 1920s to encrypt critical communications. They had the best encryption in the world going into WWII. It took a mathematician like Turning to crack the system, thanks to some careless encoders on the German side.

We disagree about how useful Tolkien would have been. He would have been useless for any transposition cipher. He made the correct decision to stay at Oxford.

30 posted on 09/20/2009 7:02:08 PM PDT by stripes1776 ("That if gold rust, what shall iron do?" --Chaucer)
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To: stripes1776
There are certainly aspects of cryptanalysis where a mathematical approach can be very effective. More so as ciphers were mechanized and became more complicated. But in the early days of WWII, the majority of cryptanalysts were linguists, not mathematicians.

The man who did more to break the Enigma than any other (including Alan Turing) was Alfred Dillwyn 'Dilly' Knox - was a classics scholar, not a mathematician.

As for your remarks concerning transposition vs. substitution - particularly your assumption that breaking them takes substantially different skills - again, these only show your lack of experience. Have you ever tried to break even a simple columnar transposition?

31 posted on 09/21/2009 5:57:10 AM PDT by jdege
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To: jdege
There are certainly aspects of cryptanalysis where a mathematical approach can be very effective. More so as ciphers were mechanized and became more complicated. But in the early days of WWII, the majority of cryptanalysts were linguists, not mathematicians. The man who did more to break the Enigma than any other (including Alan Turing) was Alfred Dillwyn 'Dilly' Knox - was a classics scholar, not a mathematician.

For a simple cipher like a substitution cipher, a cryptanalyst uses a statistical analysis to look for linguistic patterns: most frequently used letter in the alphabet, most frequently used letter to begin a word, most frequently doubled vowels, etc. Linguist analysis does not work on more sophisticated cryptographic methods.

As for your remarks concerning transposition vs. substitution - particularly your assumption that breaking them takes substantially different skills - again, these only show your lack of experience. Have you ever tried to break even a simple columnar transposition?

The Germans were not using transposition ciphers of a single column because they know they were not teen-age boys playing secret agent in their parents' back yard. Nobody in the German government would have been so naive to use a transposition cipher of one column. They would have used several transpositions along with substitutions in the same encryption. That sort of combination does not lend itself to linguistic analysis.

As for modern linguistics, it has become a science, and like all sciences, uses mathematical models, in this case to describe the grammar of languages. Tolkien was from the old school of philology. He would have been of no use to the British in cracking ciphertext. He didn't have the mathematics background that some of his linguist colleagues had. I think we can applaud his good sense to stay in Oxford. His skills lay in a different direction.

32 posted on 09/21/2009 12:55:08 PM PDT by stripes1776 ("That if gold rust, what shall iron do?" --Chaucer)
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To: TR Jeffersonian

ping


33 posted on 09/21/2009 12:55:51 PM PDT by kalee (01/20/13 The end of an error.... Obama even worse than Carter.)
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To: Cicero
On Tolkien and Old Norse.

Tolkien obviously read the Icelandic historian/fabalist Snorri Sturlasson.

Snorri Sturalasson listed the names of the great Dwarves of Norse legend, and Tolkien copied them verbatim, even the order “Biffer, Boffer, and Bomber” etc.

Not that the guy was not A) original and B) a genius; but he borrowed extensively from other sources.

34 posted on 09/21/2009 1:01:32 PM PDT by allmendream (Wealth is EARNED not distributed, so how could it be RE-distributed?)
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To: stripes1776
For a simple cipher like a substitution cipher, a cryptanalyst uses a statistical analysis to look for linguistic patterns: most frequently used letter in the alphabet, most frequently used letter to begin a word, most frequently doubled vowels, etc. Linguist analysis does not work on more sophisticated cryptographic methods.
You can assert that as many times as you like, it will not become true.
The Germans were not using transposition ciphers of a single column because they know they were not teen-age boys playing secret agent in their parents' back yard. Nobody in the German government would have been so naive to use a transposition cipher of one column. They would have used several transpositions along with substitutions in the same encryption. That sort of combination does not lend itself to linguistic analysis.

Actually, yes, the Germans were using single column transposition in WWII. Their South American spies used single column transposition as their standard cipher. Though yes, the American cryptanalysts were laughing at them all the way. The standard method for cracking single-column transposition had been published in Ohaver's cryptography column in "Flynn's Detective Weekly" back in the 20's, and that a supposedly "professional" intelligence service would use it would be impossible to believe, if it didn't happen to be true. (David Kahn's "The Reader of Gentlemen's Mail", p.206)

But the point behind my reference to the single transposition was to ask if you'd ever actually attacked it, or any other cipher type. Because you keep making statements about how these can be attacked without displaying any sign that you have any actual experience with doing so.

Tolkien was from the old school of philology. He would have been of no use to the British in cracking ciphertext. He didn't have the mathematics background that some of his linguist colleagues had. I think we can applaud his good sense to stay in Oxford. His skills lay in a different direction.
Given that Dilly Knox was of great use to the cracking of Enigma, and that Tolkien had pretty much the same academic background as Knox, only very much more so, your assumption that Tolkien would have been of no use lacks foundation.

If you are unaware of Dilly Knox, you can read of him on Wikipedia

35 posted on 09/21/2009 2:16:19 PM PDT by jdege
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To: jdege
Actually, yes, the Germans were using single column transposition in WWII. Their South American spies used single column transposition as their standard cipher. Though yes, the American cryptanalysts were laughing at them all the way. The standard method for cracking single-column transposition had been published in Ohaver's cryptography column in "Flynn's Detective Weekly" back in the 20's, and that a supposedly "professional" intelligence service would use it would be impossible to believe, if it didn't happen to be true. (David Kahn's "The Reader of Gentlemen's Mail", p.206)

If there were using single column transposition, then they didn't consider this information of great importance. The Germans would have assumed that this would be decrypted, only an inconvenience of time.

But the point behind my reference to the single transposition was to ask if you'd ever actually attacked it, or any other cipher type. Because you keep making statements about how these can be attacked without displaying any sign that you have any actual experience with doing so.

Single transposition are not difficult to decipher. Newspaper used to have these puzzles. Kids books have them. You look for repeated patterns. But using multiple transpositions is very difficult to decipher.

Given that Dilly Knox was of great use to the cracking of Enigma, and that Tolkien had pretty much the same academic background as Knox, only very much more so, your assumption that Tolkien would have been of no use lacks foundation.

Assumptions do not lack foundation. A person can agree or disagree with an assumption. Assumptions are the foundation of any argument.

You haven't stated why you think Tolkien turned down the job. Why do you think he turned down the job?

36 posted on 09/21/2009 2:35:19 PM PDT by stripes1776 ("That if gold rust, what shall iron do?" --Chaucer)
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To: allmendream

Oh, sure. Even I have read Snorri Sturlasson. My Old Norse is not good, but I have done Anglo-Saxon and read most of the poetry in the original, which is fairly close to it. The further you go back, the more they converge.

Much of Tolkien’s work is borrowed from, or makes use of, Germanic and Norse myth. Which is not to say that it isn’t highly original. He uses the old names and languages to give a sense of depth and realism to his creation.


37 posted on 09/21/2009 2:51:39 PM PDT by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: stripes1776
If there were using single column transposition, then they didn't consider this information of great importance.
Or they thought that the people they were hiring as spies weren't competent to use anything more complicated.
Single transposition are not difficult to decipher. Newspaper used to have these puzzles. Kids books have them. You look for repeated patterns. But using multiple transpositions is very difficult to decipher.
Double transposition is quite difficult, but only when traffic volumes are low. It's actually pretty easy, when you have depth (two or more messages of the same length). And the skills involved are linguistic, not mathematic.
Assumptions do not lack foundation. A person can agree or disagree with an assumption. Assumptions are the foundation of any argument.
You've said that Tolkien would have been of little use, because he lacked a mathematical background. Knox lacked a mathematical background, but was arguably the single most important figure in the breaking of the Enigma. It only takes one black cat to prove that all cats aren't gray.
Why do you think he turned down the job?
Perhaps he was more interested in the idea of working in crypto than the actual fact? Maybe it was the money, the separation from family? It could have been lots of things. Are you suggesting that Tolkien's decision not to take the job indicates that he wouldn't have been any good at it? Seems to me the contrary. That he was offered the job indicates that someone who understood the job at hand thought he would have been of use.
38 posted on 09/21/2009 3:28:53 PM PDT by jdege
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To: Cicero
He uses the old names and languages to give a sense of depth and realism to his creation.
He understood that the old names would trigger unconscious associations with half-remembered people and places.

The language of Rohan was translated into Anglo-Saxon. To the hobbits, the language and names of the Rohirrim triggered half-forgotten memories - the Hobbits and the Riders had originated in the same place, speaking the same language, thousands of years ago. Using Anglo-Saxon generates the same sort of half-forgotten memories among speakers of English.

Tolkien's careful use of language and myth is a large part of why his worlds have such a sense of reality and depth.

39 posted on 09/21/2009 3:40:57 PM PDT by jdege
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To: jdege
Double transposition is quite difficult, but only when traffic volumes are low. It's actually pretty easy, when you have depth (two or more messages of the same length). And the skills involved are linguistic, not mathematic.

And what happens when you get to 5 transpositions? And 16 transpostions. You get to the point where linguist skills are useless. At that point you need to try each possible key. You need a computation machine to form a task like that.

Are you suggesting that Tolkien's decision not to take the job indicates that he wouldn't have been any good at it?

No, I didn't suggest that. I stated that explicitly.

Seems to me the contrary. That he was offered the job indicates that someone who understood the job at hand thought he would have been of use.

As I understand it, here is your argument.

  1. All linguists are good cryptanalysts.
  2. Tolkien was a linguist.
  3. Therefore Tolkien was a good cryptanalyst.
As a syllogism, it is formally correct. But as an argument, I don't think it has any merit. And that is because of the beginning assumption: All linguists are good cryptanalysts. For me that assumption is false.
40 posted on 09/21/2009 3:58:58 PM PDT by stripes1776 ("That if gold rust, what shall iron do?" --Chaucer)
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To: stripes1776
And what happens when you get to 5 transpositions? And 16 transpostions. You get to the point where linguist skills are useless.
Can you name even one instance of a military or diplomatic organization using a manual cipher more complicated than double encryption? No. Added complexity meant increased time encrypting and decrypting, and an increased probability of making a mistake that would render the output unreadable. Cipher clerks had enough on their plate with the systems they were using.
At that point you need to try each possible key. You need a computation machine to form a task like that.
I find it hard to express just how absurd a statement that is. Nobody, but nobody, ever attacked these ciphers through exhaustive search.
As I understand it, here is your argument.

1. All linguists are good cryptanalysts.
2. Tolkien was a linguist.
3. Therefore Tolkien was a good cryptanalyst.

As a syllogism, it is formally correct. But as an argument, I don't think it has any merit. And that is because of the beginning assumption: All linguists are good cryptanalysts. For me that assumption is false.

No, my argument is that
1: Linguistics was a large part of the cryptanalytic toolset in 1939,
2: Many of the best cryptanalysts of the period had linguistic backgrounds, and
3: Tolkien was an accomplished linguist, therefore
4: Tolkien may well have been an effective cryptanalyst.

1, 2, and 3 are demonstrably true. The conclusion is provisional, but well supported. (That Tolkien was also an avid crossword-puzzleist argues for this, as well, but I'd not mentioned it before, so it wasn't part of my argument.

Your assertion, on the other hand, seems to be that Tolkien was not a mathematician, and therefore he could have been no use as a cryptanalyst. The fact that many of the most effective and important cryptanalysts of the period were not mathematicians, but rather had linguistic backgrounds similar to, if less extensive, than Tolkien's, clearly refutes that position.

I've never claimed that Tolkien would have been a great cryptanalyst. That's a hypothetical not subject to proof. There are plenty of indications that he might well have been, but they aren't proof.

My objection is to your claim that Tolkien would not have been a success as a cryptanalyst because he wasn't a mathematician. There were far more cryptanalysts who were not mathematicians, at that time, than there were who were.

41 posted on 09/21/2009 6:23:52 PM PDT by jdege
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To: jdege
I find it hard to express just how absurd a statement that is. Nobody, but nobody, ever attacked these ciphers through exhaustive search.

You are talking about encrypting by hand. That doesn't apply to the Enigma machine. The British were only able to crack that because of the bombe machine Turing designed. These were equivalent to 12 Enigama machines wired together. The first prototype took a week to crack a key. Not satisfactory because the keys changed daily. So the next version of Turing's bombe could often crack a key in about an hour on a good day. They had about 50 of these Turning bombe machines at the end of the war.

Now they did need cryptanalysts to feed the daily settings into the bombes. But the team had mathematicians, linguists, expert bridge players, and experts at solving cross-word puzzles. They also had a man who was an expert on porcelain. That's a little puzzling, but the critical skill here is the ability to recognize patterns of letters. And have the ability to perform mind-numbing work for hours on end, year after year.

Tolkien may well have been an effective cryptanalyst.

We will never know because he turned down the job. Tolkien might also have been a great brain surgeon, but he didn't go to medical school, so we will never know.

42 posted on 09/21/2009 7:10:14 PM PDT by stripes1776 ("That if gold rust, what shall iron do?" --Chaucer)
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