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When Faramir is describing the archives of Gondor he states:

We in the house of Denethor know much ancient lore by long tradition, and there are moreover in our treasuries many things preserved: books and tablets writ on withered parchments, yea, and on stone, and on leaves of silver and of gold, in divers characters.

My son asked what "divers characters" are and I have no idea. Google doesn't seem much help at the moment.

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    This is really a question for one of the English Language Stack Exchange sites. "Divers" is an archaic spelling of "diverse" - ie, the writings are in multiple different scripts or alphabets/writing systems. See Merriam-Webster: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/divers May 19, 2021 at 3:09
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    @MattGutting - More likely English Language & Usage rather than English Language Learners, but I suspect that both would close it with "Did you do your homework [research] before coming here?" May 19, 2021 at 10:50
  • 7
    Characters who explore the ocean, of course!
    – Obsidia
    May 19, 2021 at 20:16
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    The more you read Lord of the Rings, di verse it gets 🥁 May 19, 2021 at 23:31
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    Terry Pratchett wrote about "divers alarums and excursions" in Wyrd Sisters. Of course, this being Pratchett, his characters muse that the excursions are probably on the seaside, where "the divers can recover from all them alarums"...
    – Vorbis
    May 20, 2021 at 7:48

3 Answers 3

90

books and tablets writ on withered parchments, yea, and on stone, and on leaves of silver and of gold, in divers characters.

Let me de-archaic this for you:

The books and [plaques written] on [old paper1], [yes], and [also] on stone, and [written on sheets] of silver and of gold, [written] in [diverse2] characters [from many languages and writing systems].

Tolkien is being florid in having Faramir say "Gosh! There were so many different documents in so many languages!"


1 "Parchment" is made from animal skin.

2 "Divers" is from Old French for "different, odd, wicked, cruel," and in 18th century English is recorded as meaning "different, or not alike in character; not of the same kind" "now expressed by diverse."—Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Ed.

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    Parchment isn't paper. It's animal skin.
    – PM 2Ring
    May 19, 2021 at 3:13
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    @PM2Ring It sure is! (Except no: it is actually made from processed animal skin.) And we totally don't use that widely for writing in the time in which this question was asked and in which I wrote my answer. ;)
    – Lexible
    May 19, 2021 at 3:14
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    Ah, it makes perfect sense once I see it.
    – Pace
    May 19, 2021 at 3:22
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    @FlorianCastelain That means when the word entered English it was borrowed from old French, which gives us an approximate time for when it entered English. May 19, 2021 at 14:16
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    Faramir is a learned man for his time and speaks as a scholar about scholarly things. In Appendix F, in the section "Of Men," Tolkien says, "... in Gondor whence it came the Westron [the Common Speech] kept still a more gracious and antique style." The speech of the hobbits is less fancy, and this is clearly intentional.
    – Wastrel
    May 19, 2021 at 14:46
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different writing systems

In Hammond and Scull's The Lord of the Rings, A Reader's Companion (pg 471), this line is explained as meaning "in many different (diverse) writing systems".

670 (II: 278). in divers characters - In many different (diverse) writing systems.

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  • +1 for referencing the Reader's Companion, which can be helpful in many other instances. May 21, 2021 at 11:59
  • @MatthieuM. - Generally any "what does this part of LotR mean?" questions can be answered with the reader's companion.
    – ibid
    May 21, 2021 at 14:57
1

Various scripts and languages

"Divers" is an old spelling/synonym of "Diverse." As such, a more modern form of that passage would be:

We in the house of Denethor have a lot of ancient knowledge, and we have a lot of rare books in our treasuries: books and tablets written on ancient parchment, on stone, and on tablets made from silver and gold, in a bunch of different languages.

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