Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fellowship

Throughout The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and much of Tolkien's works, the theme of fellowship is pervasive. The quests which Tolkien's characters pursue are communal ones, undertaken with friends, without which friends they could not succeed.

The loneliest characters we meet come to bad ends; friendships are found in unlikely places; different ethnic and racial peoples are expected to band together in order to fight evil effectively; killing your best friend, even on accident, creates a grief that "never fades." Many of the medieval texts we dealt with also contribute to this idea (consider groups of knights and the comitatus).

And, of course, Tolkien himself had many close friends among the Inklings and TCBS who greatly influenced him.

Dr. Donovan and I strove to illustrate this important theme in our class through pub groups, in-class groupwork, blog discussion, and encouraging y'all to attend Hobbit Society functions. (Remember, even the teaching relationship between Dr. Donovan and myself is a communal one!)

What examples or anecdotes--either textual, or from your actual experience in the class--can you share to support (or contradict) (or complicate) this theme? Why is it so pervasive? Is it even important to focus on?

Revisiting The Lord of the Rings

Now that we have come to the end of our assigned readings, it may be helpful and even fun to revisit The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, where it all "started"! We certainly wouldn't be having a class devoted to Tolkien without these groundbreaking works--but then again, we wouldn't be having this class if this was the only thing Tolkien contributed, either!

What connections can you make from our readings--especially the more recent ones--to LOTR that we haven't made already (or might have forgotten)? Why do you think Dr. Donovan and I assigned the non-Tolkien readings that we did (and what did such readings contribute toward your understanding of Tolkien)?

Finally, do you think your perception of Tolkien's "primary texts" (Hobbit and LOTR) has changed at all through what we have read and studied together?

Niggle's Mountains and Aslan's Country

Something Sam brought up in class today really interested me - it was the similarity between Tolkien's (seeming) portrayal of heaven in "Leaf by Niggle" and C.S. Lewis' portrayal of heaven ("Aslan's Country") in the Chronicles of Narnia. Basically, both conceptions of heaven involve very large, distant mountains. This could be because both authors loved nature, or it perhaps might just be the result of them spending time together, reading each other's works, and together building this sort of mountain-heaven concept. I personally love mountains and can imagine how they would both be attracted to using them in their works. But, I was wondering if there are any other stories/myths that somehow connect mountains with an afterlife/heaven, and why you think Lewis or Tolkien used this idea. Maybe mountains = higher elevation, which = closer to God? Or mountains are just a beautiful, intriguing, mysterious, even spiritual part of nature? Or perhaps they took the idea from somewhere else?

Leaf by Niggle

Post your freewrites on "Leaf by Niggle" here or feel free to discuss anything related to this text that we mentioned in class today or that you have thought about since our discussion.

Pseudonymity and Blogging

Now that our semester is almost over, I'd like to ask what you thought of working on the Blog for our class. What did you like most about the Blog discussions? What did you like least? Would you have preferred a regular threaded discussion list forum or simply an email listserv instead of the Blog? What did you think about the use of pseudonyms on the Blog? Did you enjoy the pseudonymity or would you prefer to have used your real name?

Endings

As we start winding toward the ending of this class, let's reflect on endings. We've read many works this semester and all of them have interesting endings, whether these be a single closure or multiple ones. Which ending of which work do you like the most and why?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What is a hero!?

So, I think the hardest part about Tuesday's debate was clearly defining "the truest form of a hero." I think it is important for hero's to have flaws because it makes them easier to relate to for us as an audience, however do these flaws take away from their heroism? What is "the truest form of a hero"?

Frodo vs Gawain?

I thought that it wasn't really accurate to compare Gawain to Frodo during the debate. Their quests are completely different and so are their motivations. I feel like Frodo's flaws come from being corrupted by the Ring while Gawain makes conscious decisions when he messes up. In the end though I will agree with Group 1's argument and say that they are both heroes, just in different ways.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reading beyond Tolkien

As we finish our course and head into a summer that might contain some new reading, what authors (other than Tolkien) will you be reading or would you recommend to others who enjoy Tolkien's work?

One of my personal favorites is Guy Gavriel Kay, a fantasy writer, who got started by helping Christopher Tolkien compile The Silmarillion. If you are looking for high fantasy to read, consider The Fionavar Tapestry by Kay. It makes me laugh and weep in some similar ways to Tolkien's texts.

Favorite, Most Thought-Provoking, and Least Helpful Texts

If you had to pick one text from our syllabus this term as your favorite, what would it be and why did you pick that one? What does it mean to you? How will you carry that text with you beyond this course?

In a different vein, what text did you find the most thought-provoking and enlightening about our topic, whether or not it was your favorite? Why this text?

Conversely, which text did you find least helpful or interesting in thinking about Tolkien's work? What forms the basis for your reaction to this text? Personal analysis or bias, lack of time spent on it in class or in your own study, difficulty of text?

Understanding Influences

Does an understanding of Tolkien's medieval sources influence or change your understanding of Tolkien's fictional works? Is it important to study such influences in a class such as ours? Why or why not?

Comparing Tolkien's works with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

In the debate today, you discussed some similarities and differences between the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Tolkien's fictional works on Middle-earth. Can you think of other  parallels between the Middle English poem and Tolkien's 20th century fiction? What about other differences? Do you think Sir Gawain influenced Tolkien's works or thinking in any way?

Some additional thoughts on Gawain as a hero

So I was a part of Group 1 in our debate today, arguing that Gawain is indeed a true hero. I don't want to prolong this argument/debate (haha), but Group 2's closing statement and overall argument brought up some interesting counterpoints in my mind. Is hesitation really a sign of weakness and the destruction of someone's heroism? I don't think so. If this was true, then wouldn't Aragorn's heroism take a blow when he hesitates about what road to take after the fellowship leaves Lorien? When he hesitates in his decision to follow Frodo or the Uruk-Hai? Or to throw the Bible in here...If hesitation is a bad thing, Jesus' reputation might take a blow because He prays to the Father the night before His crucifixion, "Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will." Jesus isn't entirely gung-ho about dying - He asks God not to make him do it. I'd say that's a little bit of hesitation, but it in no way makes Jesus' final act any less heroic. I think hesitation is a natural human trait that doesn't make anyone any less of a hero, and Gawain's first flinch simply allows us a view of his humanity before he steals himself for death.

Group 2's argument about Gawain acting super noble in public situations and then being less moral in private was an interesting one, however. Feel free to expand here because I'd love to hear more thoughts on that subject!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tuesday Freewrite

King Arthur Freewrite


“A Sword Makes a King.”


When comparing Malory’s tales of King Arthur and his Knights with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, similarities abound. Because of my fascination with medieval weapons, I am immediately drawn to the tale of “The Sword in the Stone.” Here, Malory (Merlin) anoints Arthur as “...Rightwise King, born of all England...” because he was able to draw the sword from the stone. This theme is also present in The Lord of the Rings, as we see Aragorn decide to march to Mordor with the Fellowship. When he makes this decision, we see Narsil reforged into Anduril, thus marking Aragorn as returning to his rightful place on the throne of Gondor. Why were objects, weapons especially, used to symbolize kingship, royalty, or status in the medieval ages? Of course, there is the answer that war was prevalent in those days, and a man’s character could often (and was often) measured by his skill and prowess on the battlefield. So often, (especially in Fantasy literature) a great king or hero coming into their power is marked by the receipt or finding of a marvelous or mythic weapon.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Friendship

In King Arthur, many friendships end in wars between friends or with one friend killing another friend. Lancelot kills Sir Gareth (unknowingly) and Sir Gawain (indirectly). Lancelot and Arthur must fight. Round Table knights must fight Round Table knights. Most of these friendships are broken because of feelings of revenge (Gawain avenging Gareth), losing reputation (Arthur cannot let Lancelot get away with sleeping with his queen after a big scene has been made), or just plain stupidity (overreacting to situations because the characters have no common sense). I feel like friendship is much more meaningful in Tolkien’s works. Turin accidentally kills his best friend Beleg, but it is not like Beleg was provoking him as Sir Gawain was to Lancelot. True friendship examples: Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli (and Aragorn), Merry and Pippin, etc. Unlike in King Arthur, most friendships actually stick in Tolkien’s works. Revenge, a lack of reasonability, and reputation are not as important as friendship in Tolkien’s works. Take Legolas and Gimli for example: 1. Legolas doesn’t try to kill Gimli to avenge the Elves because dwarves (in general) woke up the Balrog. 2. They make reasonable decisions obviously 3. They don’t care what other elves or dwarves, trees, etc think about their friendship (reputation is irrelevant).

These three things that break friendships in King Arthur (can you think of more friendship breakers?) are viewed as irrelevant in Tolkien’s works. Tolkien is refuting what is important in King Arthur and suggesting importance in the exact opposite (friendship).

Morality Conflict

In King Arthur, moral conflicts are prevalent. Sir Lancelot, for example, must fight Sir Gawain, his friend. Lancelot also disguises himself as one of another nation just to fight the men of the Round Table.
King Arthur must wage war against Sir Lancelot after "finding out" (like he didn't know before) that Sir Lancelot was dishonorable with Arthur's wife. Sure Lancelot was dishonorable and even denied it at later times, but I still think there were moral issues involved. Arthur and Lancelot were, afterall, friends and very respectable to each other (or maybe more than friends?).

On the contrary, Tolkien tries his best to avoid these moral conflicts in his works. Even from the beginning, Tolkien drew the line of Good versus Evil (Manwe versus Melkor). Moreover, most battles are distinctly separated between the good (elves, men, dwarves, hobbits) and the evil (trolls, orcs, balrogs, etc). Even when men are evil, Tolkien makes it a point to confirm that they are corrupted in some way.

Tolkien includes even more epic battles in his works, yet he still is able to omit this morality conflict (something he, personally, did not like as a veteran). To Tolkien, is this morality omission yet another correction to King Arthur (King Arthur as it should have been)? Also, do you think such an omission makes LOTR (and Tolkien's other works or just works in general) better or worse?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tuesday's Freewrite

The element that I chose was fate vs. freewill in Malory, especially regarding Balin's story. In a way it reminded me a lot of Turin's story in the Simarillion, but in a way it didn't. It came across to me as Balin was being more led by fate... because he is cursed from the beginning by taking the sword. After the first death, as a reader I knew that the curse was true and strong and would stay with him until his death. Also the fact that Merlin was the one to predict the curse made it more believable. In Turin's story I feel like he as a character was more able to control his fate at times, thus making it hard to decipher whether it was fate or freewill guiding him in certain instances. Also as a character I feel like Turin was more developed, leading to a more interesting and complicated plot and character conflict.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

An Honorable Affair?

Lancelot has a continuing affair with the Queen but still remains the most honorable knight that ever lived. How is this possible? He's sleeping with the King's wife! You can't get much more dishonorable than that.

Also, when Arthur is told about the affair and Lancelot runs away to a different country, Arthur doesn't even mention Guinevere. He just laments that he lost his best knight. To me, this seems like the King didn't really appreciate the Queen or love her in the way she would like. Is this why she chooses to (or lets Lancelot woo her into) sleep with Lancelot? Does Arthur not valuing or honoring the Queen as she deserves make it acceptable for her to seek a "better" relationship with Lancelot?

LOTR Remix

Here's a LOTR song/video that I came across while perusing Youtube.

Have fun!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJfGnqKoXYY&feature=feedu

Friends

One thing that was brought up in class today I found really interesting. The fact that Aragorn seems to have better friends than Arthur, but that Aragorn's friends aren't human while Arthur's are. I wonder if that was some kind of statement by Tolkien about men, or maybe he was just bringing in more of the faerie element to his story. I don't know. Thoughts?
Some questions:

Why does rape result in the birth of a king? Why does the figure we so often compare to Gandalf concoct such a scheme?

How can Lancelot have an affair with the queen and claim loyalty to Arthur? Why doesn't somebody tell Arthur sooner? Why is it the "bad guy" who finally reports them? How can knights under King Arthur side with anyone besides the king in such a case?

Why is there so much sex?

These days the Catholic Church seems opposed to any sexual activity besides procreational intercourse between a husband and wife. Mallory was Catholic.

Were the tenants of the Catholic Church different in the fifteenth century? Did Mallory have a subtle message about such things that I missed? Was Mallory unconcerned with writing "morality?" That is, was the book simply amoral? Or was Mallory simply keeping with the spirit of the French book?

The moral and spiritual elements seem so opposed to Tolkien's work.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Negative Example

I really liked what Dr. Donovan said in class today about King Arthur being a negative example for Tolkien's works. As I read, I was finding it hard to draw many parallels between the two, although I was surprised in class today of how many there were that I missed. But I do see it more as a negative example, or Tolkien fixing and making better what Malory didn't quite do in King Arthur. I think that Tolkien takes some elements from King Arthur and developes them better. He makes them more subtle which I think makes it more realistic. For example, what was said in class today about Balin and Balan fighting being a parallel to the subtler fight between Faramir and Boromir for their father's approval. It ties it more the real world which I think is what Tolkien was going for, making it realistic.

Kings and Bloodlines

One of quite a few similarities between Aragorn and Arthur that wasn't really touched on in class today is how their lineage seems to be directly related to their kinghood. I thought it was cool how Tolkien seemed to be going against the mold of the Arthurian king when he created Aragorn, but at the same time, this idea of lineage making a king "great" is present in both texts and kinda confuses me. It seems to be Arthur's and Aragorn's royal blood that largely gives them the right to the throne and the ability to be "great" kings. I know Aragorn proved his worth as king in many other ways, but I guess I'm just curious about why his bloodline is so emphasized. Is it just another medieval element/idea that Tolkien was using?

Turin and Balin Comparison

I thought the characters of Turin from The Silmarillion and Balin from King Arthur definitely paralleled each other. I feel so bad for them both because it seems like literally everything that could go wrong in their lives, does go wrong! They both have super unfortunate lives, and I think a lot of that is due to the fact that both are placed under curses. Turin is plagued by the curse placed upon his father, Hurin, by Morgoth - Morgoth basically said, "Screw you, Hurin, and your wife and children." And Balin is afflicted with the curse of the damsel from whom he gets his first sword - because he won't return the sword to her, the lady dooms him to kill the man he loves most in the world, which ends up being his brother, Balan. Surprise! Another parallel! Both Turin and Balin kill their best friends. I'm sure there are more similarities that I'm just not thinking of right now...thoughts?
I find the fact that Merlin was so involved in the naming of Arthur as heir to the throne very interesting. Yes, the prophecy was fulfilled, but it was indeed Merlin that set the sword in the stone and promised that "...whosoever pulls the sword...etc." The barons and lords competing for the throne were upset with Arthur's success, but they did continue to trust Merlin's test, even if they delayed in accepting Arthur. Did Merlin's choice for king simply outweigh their own judgements, or is this simply a part of the tale?

Lancelot versus Turin

In today's freewrite, I ended up finding many similar scenarios in the lives of Sir Lancelot and Turin. On the board, someone wrote that Turin killed Beleg (his best friend), while Sir Lancelot kills Sir Gareth (his greatest admirer). Both characters did this against their will or intentions, and were regretful afterwards. There were not many consequences (save regret) for Turin's actions, but Sir Lancelot was forced to fight Sir Gawain and was constantly accuse of being a "false knight" as a consequence. Sir Lancelot is constantly put in positions where he must save the Queen, and he always succeeds. Turin is put in the situation where he must save Findulas, but he fails. When Sir Lancelot is decieved (into sleeping with Elaine, for example) he eventually earns back the respect of the queen and everthing's back to normal. When Turin is deceived by the dragon, the ending is not so good. To generalize this, it seems as if similar bad things happen to these characters; however, the ending is good for Sir Lancelot (Not positive overall since I didn't finish reading it), but horrible for Turin. Tolkien may have reversed the outcomes of these similar scenarios in King Arthur.

Monday, April 18, 2011

creative projects

I enjoyed doing my creative project, although I came across one difficulty. Sometimes it was hard for me to deviate from what Tolkien actually wrote. I think this was hard because he is the master behind this world... and I love what he wrote so much, that at times it was hard to be creative because I just wanted to tell the same story! And I am satisfied with my project because I do tell the same story, perhaps in a different way.
I was curious if you guess thought the same way, or differently.

Fate vs. Freewill

In Tolkien's world, I feel that you cannot make a distinction between fate and freewill. Rather, it seems that these two opposing themes actually form a unique relationship that leads an individual or character, like Turim, down a certain path. They're much like partners in a continual dance, playing off of each other. While Turin made distinct decisions, like to ignore the Elven King of Doriath's pardon, the results of those decisions are completely out of his control. Evidence of this shows up in our world as well; on a daily basis we make decisions, but once a decision is made we must submit to the consequences and reactions. Tolkien intertwines choices and destiny seamlessly, and remains true to the real-world characteristics and complexities of fate and freewill as well. Yet another reason why Tolkien's Middle-earth is so believable.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fate or Free Will?

In Thursday's debate I really think that the true winning argument would be combining the two sides: both destiny and free will play a part in Turin's story. Like Marilyn said in class, I think fate puts Turin on a path, but his choices decide which direction he sets off in. BUT I honestly think that Turin's life didn't have to end up being so terrible. Several times I think he is given a chance to "change his stars" (anyone who's seen A Knight's Tale should get this reference ;) ). Right before Gwindor dies, the elf basically tells Turin that if he doesn't go after Finduilas and rescue her, he's screwed. And Turin decides to be stubborn and not go after her. So it's choices like this one that make me think that there were opportunities (perhaps even divine chances from Iluvatar or something) for Turin to take control of his destiny and wrestle his way out of Morgoth's curse.

Rebbelion

Chaos seems to stem mainly front he rebellion or conflict among the gods. I suppose this is the reason for a hierarchy of gods, to eventually create chaos, then the rest of creation. Melkor would be an example of envy or rebellion.

Turim

I think fate and free will both affect Turin's story.Fate puts him where he is meant to be then his he uses his free will to drive the rest of the story.Such an example would be his suicide. Also , refusing the king's pardon.

Family

Family lineage is emphasized in LOTR but so is individuality. Although lineage is important part, the individual's choices that are not governed by lineage are also important. Aragorn would be such an example. A reason Tolkien played with that idea may have been because during medieval times kings claimed divine right to the throne by divine lineage.

Specilization

If the leader god is almightly then why have specilizaed lower gods and what benefit does that give to a hierarchy of gods? What do you think?

Mythological Commanalities

Tolkein's silmilerian exemplifies many of the myth motifs. Some common one is a hierarchy of gods, specialized areas for each god, rebellion, and creation of the earth from the bodies of fallen gods.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lineage

Lineage is important in Lord of the Rings, just from character’s introductions (I am…. son of....). In LOTR (as established in class), Tolkien plays with the idea of noble lineage determining who a character is and what he/she is capable of. This idea fits perfectly with Aragorn, but not so well with characters like Sam.What do these inconsistencies reveal about Tolkien’s view on lineage? Is Tolkien incorporating something like the phrase “it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from” as another theme to his works? And how does it relate to the time period? (Post-World War II?) I see this play on lineage as a well-timed encouragement towards equality. What do you guys think (just to take this a step further than we did in class)?

As a somewhat related addition: Doesn’t this play on lineage kind of happen with Balin in King Arthur, as well? King Authur is the only one who can pull the sword from the stone, yet Balin is the one who can pull a sword (different sword) from a sheath. I do not think Balin has noble lineage, yet he accomplishes great feats (although many misfortunes).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Hobbit Movie

Sorry this isn't directly related to class work, but I thought you all might be interested in this...

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150223186041807&oid=141884481557&comments

I know I was a little excited. I may or may not have been hyperventilating.

Creation Exercise Questions from Group 2

Below are the questions from class last Thursday that Group 2 came up with.

1) Why did Tolkien emphasize music in the creation of Middle-earth?

2) Who are the Eldar?  Are they related to the Valar?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tolkien and the Prose Edda

There were a few similarities between Prose Edda and Tolkien's works that I found that may seem obvious, but they weren't mentioned in class so I figured I'd mention them now. One thing I noticed is that there's another hierarchy of gods; in The Silmarillion there is "One" above all else: Eru ("The One") (AKA Iluvatar?) and in the Prose Edda the highest and oldest god is Alfather. Each god also has multiple names; Eru has at least two while Alfather has twelve(!). The story in the Prose Edda also talked about ages that had passed (the "golden age" if I'm remembering correctly), while the passing of ages is an important theme in Lord of the Rings (and consequently, The Hobbit as well). Also, did anyone else notice that both the story in the Prose Edda and Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit use lays or verses? I felt that they served to advance the respective stories in a way that normal text may not have been able to do. The ideas that Tolkien gained from studying other mythologies helped him to make a mythology that could qualify as a real mythology, in my opinion.

Realistic Mythology

In my freewrite today, I was talking about how Tolkien took a lot of ideas from The Prose Edda about how to write a really good mythology and make it seem real. I think all of the descriptions and back-stories and family trees definately add the depth to the characters that make them seem like real people. One thing I thought he might have gotten from here (or at least a similarity between the two) was how the author of the Prose Edda would say how some people had different names. I think that actually adds to the reality of the people (although it's very confusing!). Behind each of the different names that one person has is another story: another place he went that gave him a different name or some great deed he did that left him with a new name. Each of the names gives us a little more insight into their lives and it makes them seem real. I also thought that the verse that was in The Prose Edda might have influenced Tolkien adding verse to the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. I think these verses also add to the reality of the myth because the verses tell a history of the people from the perspective of people in the past. It is a glimpse into a history that we can then believe in. Each of these ideas or themes adds depth to Tolkiens' works and makes them more believable for the reader.

Odin, Thor, and Tolkien

We touched on this briefly in class today, but I wanted to follow it up on our blog. What is the relationship between Odin and Tolkien's texts? What about the relationship between Thor and any of Tolkien's Middle-earth texts? Some scholars consider Gandalf related to  Odin; while other scholars say they have little similarity. Some scholars say Thor is too human to be a "god" and, therefore, he is more similar to the heroic humans-- Argorn, Boromir, Isildur, etc-- in Tolkien's texts. What do you think? Are Thor and Odin presented in The Prose Edda as gods? Does Tolkien insert something of their characters into his own?

Magic as Good and Evil

When reading Gylfaginning, I was struck by the significant role that magic plays throughout the stories. I was particularly interested in the similarities between these roles in The Lord of the Rings. In Gylfaginning, there are many characters associated with magical properties and tools, foremost of these: Loki. Loki, however, often uses his powers for devious things, and creates conflict with the Gods. This reminds me most of Saruman, who also becomes associated with trickery and meddling, using his powers for his own interests.

Freewrite 4/12

Hey guys, here's my freewrite from earlier.

The Prose Edda Freewrite (4/12)


As I read the Introduction by Jesse Byock (xxv), I was very surprised by the direct usage of Tolkien with regard to the naming of his Dwarves in comparison to The Prose Edda. It seems that Tolkien simply “cut and pasted” this list of names straight into The Hobbit. The name “Gandalf” is also mentioned in the list of Dwarven names, but for some reason, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is a member of a much more powerful race. Also in The Prose Edda, unlike other mythologies, the home of the Gods can be reached by mortals. This is also somewhat true in The Lord of the Rings, as mortals such as Frodo are able to travel to the Undying Lands. This marks a significant difference from Greek and Roman mythology, as Mount Olympus was forbidden to mortals. In both The Prose Edda, and The Lord of the Rings, there is definitely a common theme of a “Final Battle.” However, there are very stark differences between the two variations of this theme. In The Prose Edda, the Final Battle of Ragnarok will take place, pitting the Gods against the Evil beings and monsters of the World, such as the Midgard Serpent and Fenriswolf. However, there is no hope of victory, as all will be destroyed. Then the world will become new again. In the Lord of the Rings, the battle against Sauron at the end of the Third Age is the “Final Battle,” but in this case there is a very minute hope for victory and the defeat of Evil.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Funniest Thing Ever

http://www.sauronsblog.com/

Yes, it is exactly as the URL describes: a blog of Sauron's. Call me easily amused but you guys, it is so funny

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tolkien's ladies

I think it's interesting how Tolkien in some ways uses women to directly contrast the greatest evil. In LOTR, Eowyn destroys the Witch-King who is basically the essence of evil. In The Silmarillion, Melkor fears and hates Varda/Elbereth above all others. Although a lot of people complain about Tolkien's lack of female characters, I think he more than makes up for it in the way he portrays these women. Oftentimes, they do what the men cannot.

Geographic separation between Gods and Creation

This was an interesting point brought up in class on Thursday. The dwelling places of divine beings are often set apart from their creation (i.e. humans, elves, etc.). In wondering why this was, I came to realize that maybe "dwelling places" don't truly matter because in essence, the divine are always with their creation. In Christianity the Holy Spirit - one part of the Trinity - is God's gift to his followers in order that He may always be near to them. I feel like Tolkien somewhat parallels this when he details how many of the Valar and Maiar walk amongst Men and Elves, although they are often veiled or disguised. It also reminded me of how Varda can hear all the cries from Middle-earth, and Ulmo, by his reach through rivers and waters, allows his spirit to run "in all the veins of the world." So maybe their true dwelling places are within and around their creation.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Thursday's class

I enjoyed Thursday's class, especially talking about religion and how it affected Tolkien. It just made me like Tolkien more, because of the fact that he isn't trying to preach his own religion but instead he draws on many different cultures and ideas. This is one of the reasons why I like Tolkien so much more than say, C.S. Lewis (and I'm sorry if I might offend someone), but hhe had his agenda for pushing his religious views on his readers.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Gandalf's Origins

It was mentioned in class that Gandalf is Olorin and the wisest of the Maiar. How does this work with him also being an Istari? Who is he a descendent of? Was he basically always "alive"? Can anyone explain how Gandalf became who he is?

Melkor's Fall from Grace

In my group today we came up with a question that I thought was really interesting: How was it that Melkor wanting to create something of his own was so bad/evil? How did that desire bring about evil in the world? Eventually he does start destroying the things that the other Valar create (which I'd say is pretty bad), but at first it seems like he just harmlessly wants to make something of his own.

Along with that, we thought that since Melkor/the Valar are offshoots or thoughts of Iluvatar - and Melkor "goes bad" - does this mean that Iluvatar has some kind of potential for evil within himself (as contrasted with the Judeo-Christian belief that God is totally good and perfect)? I would be more inclined to argue along the free will explanation side of things, but what do you all think?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stephen Colbert and Tolkien

So I am a big fan of the great satirist Stephen Colbert and I was watching his show last night when he got into a very interesting discussion with his guest, the actor James Franco. I thought some people in this class might find it very entertaining so here's the link:

http://www.colbertnation.com/full-episodes/tue-april-5-2011-james-franco?fbid=Dz-Y5QwBoKe

Skip to 19:45 on the video and enjoy. I love Stephen even more now.

Similarities between Maldon and LOTR

So I may not be very original but...I really liked the quote near the end of "The Battle of Maldon" where that man says, "'Thought must be the harder, heart be the keener, mind must be the greater, while our strength lessens.'" This applies not only to the hopelessness felt by many of the Englishmen fighting at Maldon, but also to Lord of the Rings in general. This makes me think especially of Frodo and Sam struggling across Gorgoroth near the end of their journey. They haven't eaten, they barely have water, and their strength is basically gone. But they still press on. Their minds are greater than their bodies, just as the warriors in the Battle of Maldon keep fighting despite the fall of their lord and assured defeat. Tolkien, just like the anonymous poet of "Maldon," seems to get a lot of inspiration from this theme of "mind over matter" and pressing on through hopelessness.
As I read the Silmarillion, I am in constant wonder of the depth Tolkien delves in his creation of Middle-earth and all of its history and mythology. I cannot imagine having all of these stories in my mind and only one lifetime to share them with the world.

Homecoming

As we discussed in class yesterday, Tolkien's modern text "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth" and the anonymous Old English text "The Battle of Maldon" exhibit values such as loyalty, honor, and good judgment. While we did not get around to discussing the values of devotion and protectiveness, I would suggest these are also present in both texts. What distinctions can be made between the ways the ways these texts present loyalty, honor, good judgment, devotion or protectiveness? What other values are promoted in either text and why?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pieces of Evil

One thing that I found really interesting today in class was what Dr. Donovan was saying about Tolkien just showing pieces of evil, but never a full picture. It is interesting how we have scattered descriptions of orcs faces or breath or feet and also Sauron's eye and Sauron's mouth. We saw the same sort of thing in "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth" when we only saw shadows of the enemy walking around. I think that Tolkien did this partly because of what we were talking about in class, to give more imaginative liscense to the readers/listeners. However, I think it could be more than that. I think these pieces make the enemy more misterious and more sinister. People in general like to have a full description, to know their enemy, and by not giving this to us, Tolkien makes us feel more vulnerable. We don't know exactly what we're up against which makes it even more evil and scary. So, I think Tolkien only gave us pieces to keep us guessing about what exactly our enemy is and what they are capable of. It really adds to the suspense and fear that Tolkien's little bits of descriptions give us.

Important Qualities in Maldon and Homecoming

One of the qualaties that seemed really emphasized to me in both "The Battle of Maldon" and "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son" was the love that the men had for Beorhtnoth. Even after he died, most of his men stayed fighting and died at his side. If the men didn't respect or love him, I think they would have just ran and saved themselves. No one wants to fight for a man they hate. In a similar event, Tor and Tid continue with their job of hauling their lord's body to the wagon to take it to the funeral even after the shadowy figures appear. Even though they agree that he was too prideful and it was his desicions that killed all the British soldiers, they still speak of him with loving and adoring words. Having your men love you is a continuing theme I find in both these works as well as "The Lord of the Rings". A quick way to judge the ability and worthiness of a leader is to see what his men think of him.

"Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" Freewrite

So the quote I decided to elaborate on from this article was a quote from another article.
"The fault of Beowulf is that there is nothing much in the story." -Ker

Finally, someone agrees with me. I don't doubt that Beowulf is a research-worthy text with lots of history and other cool things we can use to learn about this specific time period but as a story, for me, it's pretty boring. I have no sympathy for Beowulf because he's really just this arrogant person who goes around bragging all day how strong he is. Maybe this is because I am a modern reader and I don't exactly know all of the context that surrounds Beowulf, but compared to any fantasy or adventure tale of today, I still think Beowulf is pretty lacking.
I'd still argue that this is a worthy discussion because this text is studied in a lot of literature classes. But for now, I'll stop playing Devil's Advocate and just leave you all with my strong opinion on Beowulf.

Monday, April 4, 2011

More on "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics"

We talked about this in class, and some of you have discussed it on this blog as well, but much more could be said about this topic. How does Tolkien's article "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" relate to Tolkien's own work? How does what Tolkien says about the Old English poem find its way into the works on Middle-earth?

An interesting quote...

I came across this quote recently when reading some articles that drew parallels between The Lord of the Rings and Beowulf. I think it makes some really interesting claims, and I want to see how people interpret it:

"Because the Fellowship is burdened with the responsibility of bearing the Ring and because its presence attracts evil, the greatest threat to the Fellowship and its mission comes not from without but within. The hero must realize that he can become a monster. The two books of the Fellowship trace the process of this realization: the first book centers on the presentation of evil as external and physical, requiring physical heroism to combat it; and the second book centers on the presentation of evil as internal and spiritual, requiring a spiritual heroism to combat it. The hero matures by coming to understand the character of good and evil—specifically, by descending into an underworld and then ascending into an overworld, a natural one in the first book and a supernatural one in the second. These two levels correspond to the two levels—Germanic and Christian—of Beowulf and The Hobbit. For Frodo, as for Beowulf and Bilbo, the ultimate enemy is himself." -Jane Chance
I hadn't thought to draw the comparison between Beowulf and Frodo in the sense that they have to battle with their own potential. As we've discussed, the text of Beowulf doesn't offer much insight into the character's inner workings, but I often wonder-- why would he decide to battle the dragon on his own? Was he considering his reputation, looking for glory, or falling prey to greed? We can't know for sure. However, this quote does point out a delicate balance that Tolkien incorporated into the Fellowship several times, starting with Boromir's moment of failure and extending to Frodo's greed in Mount Doom: the greatest danger always comes from within, from people seeking their own gain or succumbing to their own failings.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

similarites

In Thursday's class I wrote about how the author of Beowulf uses the theme that Tolkien says "that men, each man and all men, and all their works shall die." It was interesting to compare this to LOTR, because Tolkien uses this theme a lot. Since he is writing a history of Middle-earth there is much change in the lives of the people, and it happens that cultures and races die. This is similar to Beowulf when the author describes all the past kings and how eventually they were wiped out.