Monday, February 28, 2011

Why is Shelob a she?

Why does Tolkien choose to make Shelob, his most fully described image of evil, female? All of his other evil characters are male, why is it important to him that Shelob be female?

Tiny Scenes

Throughout The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien inserts small moments in scenes that seem inconsequential and never lead to much of anything important in his narrative.

For example, when the Fellowship is leaving Bree, Sam tosses an apple he was chewing at Bill Ferny. Look at this passage and try to figure out why Tolkien bothered to insert this tiny scene. What is its purpose in the
overall story? What does Tolkien gain from adding it to the tale? What does it say about Sam? Why is it an apple and not a biscuit or a potato?

Can you think of any other tiny scenes that seem unnecessary to the plot, but which you could argue are important to Tolkien's work for other reasons?

Servant or Peer?

Frodo and Sam develop a close friendship as The Lord of the Rings progresses, but  their relationship begins as a master/servant one (Sam is Frodo's gardener). How does the text play off this relationship? How does Tolkien remind us of this relationship throughout the narrative? Would the story be any different if Sam and Frodo were peers, or are they peers by the time the Fellowship breaks or by the end of the last book?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tolkien Criticism

One criticism I actually agreed with from Grant's, Lorin's, and Aly's presentation was that for as evil as Sauron is supposed to be, he's really not very awe-inspiring. He's just this huge eye for basically the entire book (except for prologue parts, etc.). We can see his power through his servants like the Wringwraiths and the Orcs and through his coercion of several respected characters (i.e. Saruman, Denethor, Boromir, etc.). But Sauron in himself is not too scary. I even laughed out loud at one point in the movies when Sauron's Eye is basically a spotlight! There's a lot of buildup throughout the books for this great villain, but in the end his lack of embodied appearance is kind of a letdown.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Frodo's sympathy

What does everyone think about Frodo's sympathy for Gollum? It is strange to me that he is the only character that wants to keep him alive and be somewhat kind to him, except Gandalf. He always seems to recall Gandalf's advice that Gollum could have a contribution that is unforeseen. I wonder if part of the sympathy comes from knowing Gollum was once a hobbit and became corrupt from the ring, since Frodo could have ended up like Gollum.
This also ties into something we said in class: the fact that Frodo does not have any flaws- except temptation toward the ring, but that is inevitable. But to come to think of it, Sam does not seem to have any flaws either, except for perhaps hatred/mistrust toward Gollum, but that is... understandable. Bilbo did not have a flaw either, besides wanting the ring. He had a little greed when he stole the Arkenstone, but after that he did not want any part of the treasure.
Sorry for the scattered ideas.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tolkien: Natural vs. Artificial Beauty

Today as I listened to the presentations being given, I noticed that it was several times mentioned that Tolkien appreciated nature and natural beauty nearly above all else. These types of statements led me to recall Tolkien's somewhat strange attitude towards the Dwarven races. It appears to me that Tolkien ties in his love of nature in its purity to the Dwarves' misfortunes, especially regarding Smaug and the Balrog. Is Tolkien stating that because the Dwarves marred the natural beauty of the mountains and caves that they are punished? Or simply conveying a warning against greed? He seems to portray the Dwarves as a wholesome race, yet with the fatal flaw of greed, and I couldn't help but wonder if this was tied into what he sees as an intrusion (although materially and aesthetically beautiful) upon nature?

Respectful or Condescending, Protective or Using

Is Theoden's refusal to let Merry and Eowyn participate in battle with the other warriors indicative of lack of respect for their abilities, condescension about their value to others, chivalric protectiveness for those who need protection, or something else?

In contrast, does Denethor's willingness to allow Pippin to serve equally with other warriors of Gondor suggest his respect/lack of respect for the hobbit, the low value he places on Pippin's life, his willingness to use people for his own gains, or something else?

Contradictions and Gandalf

If Gandalf has somehow grown even greater and more knowledgeable through his transformation into the White Wizard, then why does he go first to Lothlorien before meeting up with the Company? By doing so, does he allow Boromir to be sacrificed needlessly and the hobbits to be captured and subjected to physical torture? If he is so knowledgeable, why did he not know Sam had gone with Frodo? How are we as readers expected to resolve such apparaent contradictions?

Vagueness in Descriptions of Evil

Often in Tolkien's work, some of the most frightening moments or characters are described only vaguely. The Ringwraiths, for example, are masked in black cloaks, but they are mostly a black void, the same can be basically true of Balrogs and other horrors. Sauron and Melkor, though they once had fair appearance, those seem to fade as quickly as they are mentioned. Even orcs are seen primarily as fragemented pieces of bodies (arms, necks, legs, etc.) Why did Tolkien make these descriptions as unspecific as he did? What impression do such vague desicriptions leave on the reader? Why or why not?

Battles in Middle Earth

Now, it's entirely possible that I'm jumping the gun (I keep forgetting where we're supposed to stop reading and then suddenly I've finished the book again @.@), but I wanted to talk about some of the battles that Tolkien writes about, namely the Battle of Helm's Deep and Pellenor Fields. Mostly because I like them. :) But since he was actually in a war, I was wondering what you thought about how he writes them. Battles are notoriously difficult to write well, and I know some have criticized Lewis for being too brief with his battles, particularly in the one in Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. If I'm not getting too far ahead of myself, I was wondering if you thought Tolkien's experience with war is reflected on how he writes war. For my part, I think he writes the resolutions and after effects better than the actual physical battles, and in a way, that makes sense.

Identity, Duality

I was glad there was some discussion between the duality between Smeagol and Gollum because I think it is one of the most tragic character arcs I have ever read. For me, Gollum was created to be the part of Smeagol that could handle the power of the Ring. That is to say, Smeagol was the weaker, yet more virtuous, of the two sides of this individual, and the Ring--along with the circumstances leading up to and following the discovery of it--created Gollum not only as a testiment to its corrupting power, but also as a sort of defense mechanism on the part of Smeagol. That is, Smeagol created Gollum because he couldn't handle the power of the Ring, and he needed a way to protect himself. It's akin to the transformation of Rorschach in the graphic novel Watchmen. Rorschach abandoned his civilian identity, Walter, so that he could cope with his situations and surroundings. Needless to say, it didn't turn out well for either characters. Your thoughts?

Gollum's Swear- The Duality of Smeagol

Our "sacrilegious" class freewrite exercise was, I think, one of the most interesting in terms of speculating on Tolkien's character decisions. I didn't write about the Gollum scenario (what if Gollum had sworn on something different), but listening to other people talk about it gave me an interesting idea that would be neat to get some feedback about: Gollum swearing on the name of Smeagol.

For me, the duality between Gollum and Smeagol, as well as Gollum eventually winning the inner battle between the two, is the most subtle and volatile internal dialogue that Tolkien creates. The emergence of Smeagol gives Frodo-- and the reader --hope for Gollum's redemption. However, the destruction of the Ring hinges on Gollum's corruption. So what if Gollum had been keenly aware of Smeagol earlier on in the narrative? Wha
t if he had bound himself to Smeagol's desires in that moment? I imagine that Smeagol would have been given more of a voice, more power, and that he could have triumphed over Gollum's need for the Ring.

Without Gollum, where would Frodo be at the end of Return of the King? Smeagol's redemption would equal Frodo's downfall, just as Gollum's greed saves him in the end.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Trust Gollum?

Although, Gollum is a bad guy Frodo and Sam did not have any other choice. There was no one else to guide them through Mordor and they would have wandered for a very long time but Sam was wise in keeping a close eye on Gollum. Gollum wasn't on anybody's side and would quickly betray them to get the ring. As the saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Merry and Pippin

Merry and Pippin's decision to march to Isingard was one of the most important decisions in the mode.It was hard blow to Saraumon and definitely gave frodo ans Sam an advantage. Also, Gondor and Rohan may have not been able to hold off any more Orcs ,which would not have enabled Frodo and Sam to get past Mordor's doors.

Prejudice, classism, etc.

So I've been wanting to bring this up for a while. I noticed this much more in CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, but I see it here too. I'm not sure that Tolkien ever mentions the color of skin of the men allied with Sauron, but I'm pretty sure they are from the south of Middle Earth. CS Lewis creates a similar enemy in a culture that appears to me a parallel to the Middle East. If I remember right Lewis explicitly mentions that they have darker skin. I sense the same type of undertones in The Lord of the Rings but I might be wrong.

What I noticed more was that individuals in The Lord of the Rings are greatly characterized by race. Where characters come from tells a lot about them. I get the feeling that people of certain races and countries (though not the central ones of the plot, Orcs don't count because they are a mutilated race created for evil) are more likely to be evil than others. Do these undertones exist or am I crazy? Is there anything wrong with it if they do?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gandalf: Grey vs. White

Today in class, a slight comparison/contrast was brought up concerning Gandalf the White and Gandalf the Grey. For instance, when those who wrote a different scenario for the scene when Gandalf leaves the host of Rohirrim to fight the battle at Helm's Deep for themselves, some proposed that had Gandalf stayed with them, he would have still been, in a way, "Gandalf the Grey" - the one who sticks around and saves the day. (that rhymed! :) He does return at the last minute during the battle to block the escape of the remaining orcs, but I think there's something to explore there between the "old" and "new" Gandalf.

With the addition of Shadowfax (a.k.a. the best horse in Middle-earth) and possibly even the symbolism surrounding his new, shiny WHITE robes, I think that Gandalf the White is a much more powerful force for those on the "good side," but also - possibly - more sparing in his supernatural aid. What do you all think?

Tolkien Parodies

Although the stories about Middle-earth are a (fairly) young body of literature, they have produced a great many parodies or amusing alternate versions. From the Very Secret Diaries to Bored of the Rings and even a video from VeggieTales (I own the full version should anyone wish to borrow this!), hilarious spoofs on Tolkien's work have been making us laugh since the 1960's.

But what might these parodies offer us Tolkien Scholars--if anything? What does their satire imply? Can these texts be reverent and appreciative of Tolkien's literature while still being funny?

Please post links to any other Tolkien parodies you know and love, but especially please tell us why this parody adds to (or takes away from) not only the vast corpus of excellent literature J.R.R. Tolkien produced, but the very world he has created.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2 Sides to Aragorn?

Today in class, we were talking a little bit about the two contrasting sides of Aragorn: that of Strider and that of the rightful King of Gondor. However, I think that even the "Strider side" of Aragorn shows how he would make a good king. He cares for and thinks of others first. He seeks to help those who are under his care, such as when he burries Boromir before following the orcs. It's also shown how he cares for even the smallest and will do whatever he can for them when he decides to go after Merry and Pippin. At one point he even says that if all they can do is show their friendship by starving to death in the forest with the hobbits, he will do it still. He cares more for these people who trust and follow him than for himself. He could have just left them and gone on to claim his throne in Gondor, but he chose to care for his charges. I think this shows a side of him that is like a ranger, but it is also a good quality for a king: to care even for the smallest of his subjects.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Free Will vs. Fate

In Christian theology, evil (Satan/Lucifer's fall, etc.) is the price of free will. Humankind (and the angels, too) must have the ability to choose between the two poles of evil and good in order to achieve grace. Free will itself is dependent upon the choice between good and evil. In such a schema, fate is an operation of free will, not a predestined fact. By allowing free will, God must not only allow evil to exist as a choice, but He/She must also be removed from the choices free will must make in order to operate. How does Tolkien weave these theological concepts into his work? Does this notion explain why there is no "God" in Tolkien's trilogy? Why or why not? Or, contrary to the assumptions of many, does "God" appear in Tolkien's works?

Dunedain withholding info

At the council of Elrond, Aragorn makes the statement,

" 'Strider' I am to one fat man who lives within a day's march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly. Yet we would not have it otherwise. If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so."

Who or what gave the Dunedain the right to withhold the "care and fear" of full knowledge from the Breelanders and the Shire folk? Were they justified in doing so? Is "simple" innocence better than informed consent?

Argue either position, using evidence from the texts.

Frodo and Isildur

Compare and contrast the stories of Frodo and Isildur. It's probably obvious how they are different, but consider also how are they alike.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gifts

So talking about the insignificant being significant is a something that keeps coming up in class discussions, and I think the giving of gifts sort of goes along with this. Tolkien goes so in depth about who gives what to whom and why. This is something I've found a little confusing. It was mentioned a few weeks ago in class that giving gifts is a way to further describe a character, as is the case with Bilbo, but I still don't see the whole point of it. Anyone wanna explain?

Transformation

We see the transformation of Bilbo in The Hobbit, but the theme of transformation becomes more wide-scale in the Lord of the Rings. Strider, a weather-beaten ranger, transforms into Aragorn, son of Arathorn and the king of of Gondor. Tolkien hints at this transformation many times throughout the Fellowship to constantly build up the suspense. Gandalf transforms from the grey wizard to the white wizard. We even see the transformation of Legolas and Gimli (Elves and Dwarves) as they become best friends. Theoden is transformed back to normal from his corrupted form. And all four of the hobbits in the Fellowship, (especially Pippin) show substantial transformation. You can also go on the opposite side of the spectrum: Smeagol to Gollum, Borimir’s transformation (desire of the ring), and Saruman’s corruption - thirst for power and the ring.

Wizards, men, elves, dwarves, and hobbits all show signs of transformation in the Lord of the Rings.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sacrifice

Although almost all of the races sacrifice something to fight, the hero usually makes the most sacrifice. Many did lose their lives, but Frodo was also willing to risk his. He gave up his home,family, friends, and one of his fingers to save the world.The key part, mainly what makes him a hero, is his voluntary self-sacrificing attitude.

The hero saves the world, but who saves the hero?

Even though Frodo is strong willed and brave hearted Sam proves to be probably the most important character in the book because he saves Frodo's life numerous lives.From Gollum, Boromir's brother, giant spiders, and orcs. Let's be honest, the hero of the story, Frodo , would have died a lot sooner if it wasn't for Sam's die hard loyalty.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Strength of Men

Throughout Lord of the Rings, men seem to get a bad reputation as weak and easily corrupted (think Boromir, Isildur, Denethor, etc.). There are several characters like Aragorn and Faramir that somewhat redeem men, but still there is an overall theme of their dwindling strength. However, who stands with Gandalf on the Bridge as the Balrog approaches? It's not the Elf or the Dwarf, but instead it's the two men, Aragorn and Boromir, who are brave enough to get Gandalf's back and stand against the Balrog. And Boromir has a point at the Council of Elrond - the men of Gondor have been fighting on the front lines constantly against the Shadow of the Enemy, holding him at bay for many years. I just thought I'd try and give men some credit since they do redeem themselves and show tons of bravery throughout the story!

Powerful "Objects" in LotR

A topic that was constantly touched on in discussion is the idea of certain powerful objects exerting holds over even the most powerful of people. The Ring casts its shadow over Frodo, its carrier, and goes as far as to tempt even Gandalf, Saruman, and Galadriel, among the wisest of beings in Middle-Earth. All the different factions want something different from The Ring and this leads to constant friction between the characters. The Mirror in the forest of Lothlorien (spelling?) is also a powerful magical object. Both Frodo and Sam are reluctant to try using its power and yet they do so anyways. Gollum dedicates his life to searching for The Ring and keeping it for himself, regardless of the dangers that come with it. Throughout the novel I've noticed that Tolkien gives each character certain temptations that come with harsh consequences if the character in question succumbs to temptation.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Alliances and the Council of Elrond

Our class exercise made me realize exactly how critical of a turning point the Council of Elrond is within the narrative of The Lord of the Rings. The Council had many options in regards to the Ring; so why choose the most risky and unlikely? Why did some of the most revered, regal, and wise minds in Middle-Earth decide to put power in Frodo's hands instead of their own?

I view the Council as neutral ground for the races of Middle-Earth, in which representatives of different races have to put aside their cultural quarrels and even their individual desires to actively fight against one source of evil. In this sense, "alliances" are loosely formed, or at least tolerated. The Fellowship that is assembled consists of hobbits, men, an elf, a dwarf, and a wizard-- representatives of each race, forced to work together towards one goal. For me, this draws an interesting parallel to the Last Alliance, which can be seen as the first defeat of Sauron. For the War of the Ring, then, Middle-Earth has to come together again, with each character bringing something necessary to the journey, in order to accomplish the final defeat of Sauron.


Dwarves and Elves

This is something that's been fascinating me for a while. I wonder if anyone would like to discuss the relationship between Dwarves and Elves. The animosity and vague class snobbery present is a little fascinating, particularly on the part of the Elves. I mean, a race that's supposed to be wise and immortal and ever-sage or whatever should have grown out of such prejudices by now. Yet they haven't. Now, I already know the reasons behind their initial distrust, but I wonder what Tolkien meant to do with that point. It probably ties into the sociopolitical issues that we discussed in the Council of Elrond exercise last class, but I would be interested in hearing what everyone else thought

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

C.S. Lewis & Tolkien

As I was reading the Fellowship this week, I noticed off hand in Chapter XI that Tolkien mentions the insects that stung the travelers mercilessly as they trekked towards Rivendell. They are portrayed as quite annoying and hostile, and Sam names them "Neekerbreekers." He wonders what they eat when Hobbits aren't on the menu. As I read this, I immediately thought back to C.S. Lewis's Narnia, specifically Prince Caspian. In Prince Caspian, one of the dwarves is named Nikabrik. He is portrayed as annoying, bad tempered, and treacherous. Later in the book, Nikabrik betrays Prince Caspian and allies himself with the evil races. I know that Tolkien and Lewis were peers, and if this similarity of name and character is purposeful, or simply a coincidence? Thoughts?

DIfferent Points of View

I think today's Council of Elrond exercise was very instrumental in helping solidify the characters of the books. There are many different characters throughout the books with their own unique points of view, and it may be hard to keep them all straight. Going through each character's motivations really helps to better understand their actions later in the story as well as better appreciate Tolkien's works of art. He really took the time to craft each character with their own personality, motivation, and quirks. I think it is really cool that there are little to no stock characters in the books.

Elladan

Hello all, I finally got around to figuring out my pseudonym. I am Elladan, son of Elrond, brother of Arwen and Elrohir. Throughout the Fellowship, I am often off on extensive scouting journeys, bringing back information to Imladris. Unfortunately, I don't play any major role throughout the trilogy, although some speculate that my brother Elrohir and I, like our sister Arwen, chose to stay in Middle Earth after the fall of Sauron and live out our days as Mortal Men.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Throughout the lord of the rings despite their differences different races come together to fight for their lives. This truly exemplifies the ability of different races , perhaps representing humankind, to come together for a common cause. Perhaps Tolkien also was trying to say that petty human differences are of almost no importance when it comes to all living things.

Can't judge a book by its cover

Even though I am new to this author, nothing in this book is what it seems. Everything seems to have a underlying background beneath the surface. Some examples of this is Aragorn, Gandolf, Bilbo, and the ring itself. The only part that is clear cut evil is Mordor.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lust for power, or evil nature?

In the Lord of the Rings, great and mostly benevolent people are either warned against using the ring or refuse to wield it based on their own wisdom. Gandalf is a notable example. I was considering the following question: does Tolkien believe that too great of power inevitably corrupts even the best intentions or is the ring simply an evil power that hijacks the will of the good? Strong evidence exists for the for the former. When Boromir suggests using the ring for good, Elrond replies "Alas, no... It belongs to Sauron... and is altogether evil." However, later in the passage he suggests that Saruman was corrupted by mere lust for the ring. This seems more ambiguous. Either the ring acts over any distance if only thought it bent on it or Saruman turned evil just by lust of power. I feel that it may be a combination of those too explanations and more. If anyone wants to share opinions the passage I looked at that has a lot of dialogue pertaining to this is about 30 paragraphs from the end of "The Council of Elrond."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Forests

We started to talk about this a little bit in class today, but I find it interesting that all of the forests in both The Hobbit and the LOTR, seem to be personified as evil. In the Hobbit, Mirkwood is very sinister and full of dark creatures. Already in FotR, we see that the Old Forest attacks the hobbits. And later on, Fangorn is always portrayed as evil and dark, and people want to avoid it. I wonder why this is. The trees are like a whole other people group in the story (in the same way that Tolkien personified animals). This might just be in the movie, but I know that Treebeard said something to the effect of: "We aren't on any side, because no one is on our side. No one cares for the trees anymore." So, maybe it is an environmental sort of message that we need to care for the trees, but it's an interesting topic to think about.

More than just luck?

Destiny is prevalent throughout the Fellowship of the Ring. In Chapter II of Book I, Gandalf reasons, “Bilbo was meant to find the ring, and not by its maker. In which case, you were also meant to have it.” When the Black Riders first approached Frodo, the narrator conveyed that “a sudden desire to hide from view of the rider came over him.” “When the Hobbits set out from the shire, they met Elves: “Our paths cross theirs seldom, by chance or purpose.” When Frodo asked if Bombadil heard him calling he replied, “Just chance brought me then, if chance you call it.” In Chapter XII of Book I, Aragon expresses, “There my heart is; but it is not my fate to sit in peace, even in the fair house of Elrond.” Destiny is also used in foreshadowing; Gandalf exclaims (in the Council of Elrond), “But he (Gollum) may play a part that neither he nor Sauron have forseen.” In some cases, Tolkien even uses this theme of destiny to foreshadow things to come. Tolkien really seems to emphasize that everything (good or bad) happens for a reason (not by mere luck alone).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

In honor of the snow...




Here are depictions of the snowy, dangerous Pass of Caradhras, painted by Alan Lee and John Howe. In The Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship passes through the Mines of Moria to avoid Caradhras, which doesn't turn out well at all...