Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A New Shadow in Middle-earth

Tolkien spent a great deal of time building the world of Middle-earth, developing languages, cultures, calendars, myths, legends, histories and stories. But, as Tolkien noted, and as apparent in 'Leaf by Niggle' this creation within his mortal life time was incomplete. He could work tirelessly on the one 'leaf' that was stories, but the tree and the lands were lost to him. He began many parts, but only a few were ever truly completed.

Before Tolkien died, he began work on something which is known as 'The New Shadow', a story which supposedly starts one hundred years after the end of the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien only penned 13 pages before abandoning the project, describing it as "sinister and depressing". He eventually states that it was "not worth doing."

Do you think the Lord of the Rings could have a sequel? If so, what do you think it would necessarily be about? If not, why not? Tolkien at least attempted it, even if he eventually abandoned it. Would you have wanted to read another story set in the same universe?

Holidays in Middle-earth

Seeing as we've just come off of a Thanksgiving Break, and soon to be in a Winter Break, during which Christmas and New Years will occur, alongside other Holidays such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. I feel that it is a pertinent topic to discuss some of the Holidays within Middle-earth.

Through the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit we hear of only a few. Durin's Day is one, celebrating the Dwarvish New Year, Yule 1 and Yule 2, and Mid-Year's Day are others that we hear of being celebrated in the Shire.

My questions unto you is three fold. First, what do you think Holiday traditions are like within the Shire, Rohan, Gondor, Imladris, etc.? Secondly, since we hear so little of other Holidays and many days pass without mention within the stories, do you think there are traditional holidays within the many cultures that we never hear about? If so, what might they be like?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Who really had the journey?

I talked with one of our classmates about who Lord of the Rings is really about. I advocated it is about Frodo, his journey, his success/failure (insert class argument here) while he insisted the story was about Sam. He made some decent points:

  • Sam is the only non-main character who is present from beginning to end
  • Without Sam, Frodo would not have made it to Mt. Doom
  • Sam sees people more realistically
  • Sam's carefulness makes the journey successful
I personally don't think there is quite enough evidence to support this, but apparently it is a huge debate! Maybe not huge, but there are dedicated websites, notably theonering.net supports Samwise Gamgee is the Lord of the Rings' main character.

What do you think? Frodo or Sam? Someone else?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tolkien: An Acquired Taste?

I had a conversation with a woman over break who stated that she owned all of the Lord of the Rings books and could just not get into them. Additionally, one of my professors spotted me reading The Silmarillion and told me he had read it, but could never read all the way through LOTR. This got me thinking about my own experience with Tolkien.
I am a life long Harry Potter fanatic and an avid reader of all things fantasy. I learned to read young and had a Harry Potter book in my hands in the first grade. Inevitably, this led me to Lord of the Rings. I read it for the first time when I was ten and I remember being underwhelmed. Therefore, I stuck with Harry Potter and if asked which I liked better it would be HP, no contest. But then, I read LOTR again my freshman year of college. I read The Hobbit for the first time, and then I read it again. Now I'm not so sure which is my favorite.
I have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings three times now and I like it better every time. I feel like these books resonate with me more as I get older. I'm not sure if this is due to a greater appreciation for the finer things or the fact that I simply understand more of the words now. This leads me to ask: Is Tolkien an acquired taste? Is it like fine liquor and gets better with age? How do you feel Tolkien has changed for you over the years? Or if this is your first time reading it, do you think you will get more out of it after a second read? Are some of Tolkien's texts better or easier reads than others?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Hope and Despair

A few weeks ago, we talked about the conflict between hope and despair in LOTR. Understandably, this dichotomy appears most often when the characters are facing intense trials. During these times, it would be easy to tip over the edge into utter despair (as we see Denethor do). However, Tolkien's heroes always* seem to draw up on some last bit of courage and overcome their battles. Instead of surrendering to despair, the heroes choose to live in hope. I think this happens a lot in LOTR, but two specific instances that come to mind are the battle of Helm's Deep and Sam and Frodo's battle up Mount Doom. At Helm's deep, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli fight on despite the dark turns the battle takes. At Mount Doom, Frodo and Sam must constantly resist the urge to abandon hope and give up. They are exhausted and worn, and yet Sam carries Frodo partway up the mountain, and then fights off Gollum while Frodo continues on. In both these situations, there is still a faint glimmer of hope that the darkness can be defeated.

The theme of hope and despair appears in many of Tolkien's works. What are some other times when we see this theme at work in his writing (other than LOTR)? Which particular stories or scenes in The Silmarillion exemplify this conflict? What about his poem "Mythopoeia?" Do we see this in his short stories?

*Feel free to disagree with me for the sake of discussion!

Readings from the Semester

What thoughts do you have about our readings for class this semester? Are there any you think we could have omitted? What did you think about Snyder's book, The Making of Middle-earth? Was it worth including to provide background info or not?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Tolkien's Legacy

Think about our class discussions over this semester and choose one theme that you think is important to Tolkien's legacy today. What aspects of this legacy or theme contribute to the staying power of Tolkien's writing? How is this theme relevant to you personally or to society in the twenty-first century? Why does Tolkien choose to include this theme, and how does he build his own legacy (or build on previous legacies) with it?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mythology of your own life

All semester, we have been talking about the ways Tolkien uses visual art, music, bits of mythology from other world cultures, events and characters from his fiction's "history" to build his own subcreated, mythological world. Although Tolkien was a master at this, I would like to posit that all of us regular human beings also engage in mythological subcreation within our own lives, even if we do not write fiction. Remember that, in Tolkien's frame of reference, this type of mythmaking or mythopoeia is not false or dissembling; it is a way of embodying the truest kind of truth in one's heart and soul (I know it's corny, but humor me for a bit ;-)  )

For instance, in my own life, I have memories of a fall with golden trees, re-reading The Lord of the Rings, and being deeply in love for really the first time in my life. An old special song by Enya (whose title escapes me right now) and one from Elton John (Your Song) are interwoven with that time. Although that love didn't last much beyond that one fall, my memories of it are sharp and clear and ring truer in my heart than many others. I theorize that this may be because I have created a mythopoeia of that time in my memories-- perhaps partly fictional in the wonder and joy of it, but no less true and real in my heart.

So, in what ways have you engaged in your own life in mythopoeia? In other words, what works of art, books you've read, music you've hear, sights, sounds, smells, feeling have you put together in a way that represents something meaningful in your own life? Does this subcreation of a small bit of mythology connected to your own life and its events matter differently to you than other kinds of memories or events? In what ways does combining such elements into a mythology make it feel or seem more true? Or does it?

If you choose to respond to this post (and I sincerely hope you do!), please feel free to disclose as much or as little personal information as you wish. Also, feel free to breach your pseudonym, because after all we are at the end of all things now...

Monday, November 23, 2015

Leaf by Niggle

I was told recently that "Leaf by Niggle" is a good story to read during times of grief, and, since I have been having a tough week, I thought it the perfect time for the story to be on the schedule.

At first, as I read it, I was confused about why it was good to read during difficult times.  It felt like the type of story that just makes everything feel worse and more tragic.  Niggle tries so hard, and yet, he can never attain what he desires.  He is taken away and abused, and I want to think it's unfair, but it feels somehow like justice, which makes it all the more upsetting.  I didn't feel like it was a good story for grieving at all.

Then, I got to Niggle's Parrish, and the mountains beyond, and I cannot describe the effect of those pages.  They offer a hope and a purpose, and we suddenly see so much of Tolkien's own hope.  It is easy to feel like Niggle sometimes--unable to improve and unable to give up--and it is easy to feel like Parrish at the end--unable to go forward and unwilling to let go--but this story reminds us that those moments of hopelessness and helplessness are passing things.  Personally, it reminded me of the hope of the Gospel as well.

In the end, after reading through the story, what do you think?  Is it a story of healing?  Does it help?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Frodo's Motivation

We spent a lot of time in class discussing the reasoning behind the fact that Frodo had Smeagol swear his loyalty to him on the Ring. Although I think that often throughout the story Frodo doesn't get enough credit for his actions, this may be an instance where he didn't fully recognize the consequences. Frodo obviously understands (to an extent) the power of the Ring, but what he really focuses on here is that it is an important object to Smeagol. He is cautious of the power, warning Smeagol too that it could twist his words, but it seems unlikely that he is fully contemplating the power of the Ring in the situation of an oath. Tolkien and his belief in the importance of oaths plays into this too, as both Frodo and Smeagol place their trust in simply a statement upon an object.

What are anyone's opinions on why Tolkien placed so much importance into oaths in his myth? Also, has anyone's opinion changed about Frodo's motivation for using the Ring as an object to swear on?