Examples from Tolkien’s Legendarium
For my own demonstrative examples, I’ve chosen just one “great writer”, so that some measure of frequency of this phenomenon within a single writer’s works can be taken.
Across The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien began sentences with these seven (potential) conjunctions the indicated number of times each, sorted in descending order of frequency:
Because those just count sentence-starts, not running the text through a syntactic analyser to determine actual parts of speech, the numbers of at least some are inflated due to false positives.
Although but and so also have some false positives as well,
this is perhaps more true of for than of the others. This is because for is much more often used as a preposition than as a conjunction. About conjunctive uses of for, the OED has this to say:
The use of for as a conj. has not been found earlier than the 12th c. The older lang. supplied the place of the conj. by locutions in which for prep. governed a neuter demonstrative pronoun followed by a relative particle: for ðon ðe, for ðý ðe, etc. (see for-thon, for-thy). The conjunctional use of for = for ðon ðe may be explained either as an extension of the functions of the prep. to govern a noun-sentence, or as an ellipsis.
In OE. for and fore seem to have been used indiscriminately as preps.; in ME. they were gradually differentiated.
- † 1. Introducing the cause of a fact, the statement of which precedes or follows: Because. Cf. A. 21 b. Obs. exc. arch.
- 2 a. Introducing the ground or reason for something previously said: Seeing that, since. Cf. Gr. γάρ, L. nam or enim, Fr. car, Ger. denn.
- 2 b. Introducing a detailed proof.
For while using for as a conjunction may sound literary or at times even archaic, it surely does occur in the register that Tolkien was writing in.
Below I provide three random samples from each set for each of the seven coordinating conjunctions which I tested for, generally one apiece from each of the three words named above:
- But above this gate, and behind it even to the mountains, he piled the thunderous towers of Thangorodrim, that were made of the ash and slag of his subterranean furnaces, and the vast refuse of his tunnellings.
- But after ages alone in the dark Gollum’s heart was black, and treachery was in it.
- But against this Gandalf had spoken urgently, because of the evil that dwelt in the valley, where the minds of living men would turn to madness and horror, and because also of the news that Faramir had brought.
- And all the coasts and seaward regions of the western world suffered great change and ruin in that time; for the seas invaded the lands, and shores foundered, and ancient isles were drowned, and new isles were uplifted; and hills crumbled and rivers were turned into strange courses.
- And after all he never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning; but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.
- And all those rings that he governed he perverted, the more easily since he had a part in their making, and they were accursed, and they betrayed in the end all those that used them.
- For as has been told and as is known to all, being written in lore and sung in many songs, Melkor slew the Trees of the Valar with the aid of Ungoliant, and escaped, and came back to Middle-earth.
- For he saw spiders swarming up all the neighboring trees, and crawling along the boughs above the heads of the dwarves.
- For there shall walk a power in the forests whose wrath they will arouse at their peril.
- So after a brief rest they set out again and were soon lost in a shadowy silent world, cut off from all view of the lands about, either the hills that they had left or the mountains that they sought.
- So following the hobbit, down into the lowest cellars they crept.
- So between them our enemies have contrived only to bring Merry and Pippin with marvellous speed, and in the nick of time, to Fangorn, where otherwise they would never have come at all!
- Yet after the fall of Sauron their power was ever at work, and where they abode there mirth also dwelt and all things were unstained by the griefs of time.
- Yet as Gimli after learned it was still two hours ere sunset of the day on which they had set out from Dunharrow; though for all that he could then tell it might have been twilight in some later year, or in some other world.
- Yet for a while I stand in the place of the Steward of Gondor, and it is mine to think first of its people.
- Or because I do not go, and you desire still to be near me.
- Or why should I sit here in my tower and think, and watch, and wait, spending even my sons?
- Or would be, if Lugbúrz would let him alone.
- Nor could the stronghold of Morgoth be ever wholly encircled: for the Iron Mountains, from whose great curving wall the towers of Thangorodrim were thrust forward, defended it upon either side, and were impassable to the Noldor, because of their snow and ice.
- Nor did they hear or feel him trotting along well behind their torch-light as they led off their prisoners into the forest.
- Nor in all my realm shall it be openly spoken, while my power endures.
There is nothing especially unusual, let alone remarkable, about beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.
At times, though, this is done for purposeful effect. The most intense such effect in all of Tolkien’s writings occurs in the following passage from the end of The Lord of the Rings when Faramir and Éowyn await news of the Captains of the West, who had gone off to the Black Gate while those two lay in the Houses of the Healing.
After the Ring is destroyed, a great eagle appears, truly a messenger of the “gods” (the Valar) sent to bring good tidings of great joy to a beleaguered people. A new day is dawning in the city of the Tower of the Guard (Minas Tirith), for the eagle gives the city its old name back, the Tower of the Sun (Minas Anor). The entire scene explodes with light.
Here the repetitive lines starting over and over again with either and or for are deliberately meant to evoke the Hebrew psalms as translated into the King James Version of the Bible.
To anyone familiar with the Psalms — as would all readers have been when Tolkien wrote it — the effect is a sublimely powerful one. The Sing and rejoice is clearly from the Psalms, as is the repetition of the conjunctions. And lest there be any doubt remaining that this were done with full intent aforethought, he reverts to the Early Modern English of the KJV: note all the instances of ye and hath.
The following excerpt occurs in the chapter “The Stewart and the King” from Book VI of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (bold emphasis mine, to show the parts meant to evoke the Psalms):
And so they stood on the walls of the City of Gondor, and a great wind rose and blew, and their hair, raven and golden, streamed out mingling in the air. And the Shadow departed, and the Sun was unveiled, and light leaped forth; and the waters of Anduin shone like silver, and in all the houses of the City men sang for the joy that welled up in their hearts from what source they could not tell.
And before the Sun had fallen far from the noon out of the East there came a great Eagle flying, and he bore tidings beyond hope from the Lords of the West, crying:
Sing now, ye people of the Tower of Anor,
for the Realm of Sauron is ended for ever,
and the Dark Tower is thrown down.
Sing and rejoice, ye people of the Tower of Guard,
for your watch hath not been in vain,
and the Black Gate is broken,
and your King hath passed through,
and he is victorious.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.
And the Tree that was withered shall be renewed,
and he shall plant it in the high places,
and the City shall be blessed.
Sing all ye people!
And the people sang in all the ways of the City.
Now go back and try rewriting that passage without any instances of and and for at the beginning of the sentences and independent clauses within. It is an interesting experiment: you will see this scintillating passage deflate like a beach ball all of whose air has escaped it.
We should all be grateful that Tolkien was a Professor of English, not someone cowed into insipid writing by obsequious obedience to fake “rules” which are themselves nothing but figments of prescriptivists’ cruel unimaginations, for we should not otherwise have such stirring words of joy to inspire us.