The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

Aesthetic names

Why is Metatron, particularly as used in Philip Pullman’s The amber spyglass, a terrible name? In that book it’s at least in roughly the right context, if adapted to fit the fictional universe presented and Pullman’s slant on religion. Is it that it too closely resembles words thrown together in bad sci-fi creations (Good omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, has a scene where Metatron is mistaken for Megatron from Transformers)? Whatever the reason, information about the real Metatron is readily available on the net. Two pieces I looked at are Who is Metatron? and an excerpt from a book on Kabbalah.

I pick on this judgment of the name because I am rereading Tom Shippey’s The road to Middle-Earth, wherein he talks extensively about Tolkien’s use of language and names, and the care he took in choosing them to suit his purposes. Tolkien had a theory of an aesthetics of sounds, so that some sense and a definite style could be made of a song presented to readers only in a language unknown to them. Perhaps it is lucky for him (and for his readers today, particularly!) that he used tongues which haven’t since been plundered for choice words, and invented also his own.

Posted by jamie on October 29, 2002 11:08+13:00


Metatron may well be completely authentic (a possibility I didn't even contemplate), but it still sounds naff. I think it's been contaminated by modern day usage (viz., your Megatron example).

There's a related example of this phenomenon mentioned here where the author of the website has substituted sublimate" for "defecate" because the meaning of "defecate" has changed so radically. Sure, names don't have meanings per se, but they do have connotations, and that is my problem with Metatron, for all its authenticity.

Pullman is perhaps just unlucky that this Hebrew name is also so Greek sounding, because Greek roots are always going to give you grief in the modern world where so much technology builds on Greek and Latin compounds. Tolkien future-proofed his names by using restricting his influences to Northern Europe.

Posted by: Michael on October 29, 2002 23:00+13:00

You all have erred, by examining the science of the science of the science; only remember that which is, and understanding shall be far more prevalent; Metatron t'is I, Enoch, metamorphosed after meeing the required objectives of Uriel . . .Truth resides within simplicity gentlemen, fallacious ideals are those which adorn the most extravagent garments-to more easily seduce the onlooking eye.

Posted by: J. Doe on June 8, 2003 07:40+12:00