Thursday, May 2, 2013

Silmarillion Reading Group

So I have plans for the summer to get a bunch of my friends to read The Silmarillion. It is, admittedly, a rough book to get through in some ways, at least in terms of it being wholly unlike The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

What strategies did you use as you read The Silmarillion (especially if this was your first time)? What might I recommend my friends do as we read? I've heard of keeping running character lists to refer back to, but of course this is supposed to be fun summer reading so I don't want it to see homeworky. 

Any tips, thoughts, or suggestions?

Also, I would like to at least start reading the History of Middle-earth series. I probably won't get through all 12 volumes over the summer, but I've been known to be hubristic, so. Does anyone want to join me in a Reading Group for this series? We might meet up occasionally and continue our awesome conversations (possibly with beer, the only thing I can think would make them better).  

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Posting Your Creative Works

As is painfully obvious with the stuff I talk about, I am a big supporter of fan activity and fan works, and I believe they are meant to be shared. We are special in that we are both junior scholars as well as fans of Tolkien's works, and therefore there is even more important that we share our creations with other Tolkien fans on the internet.

Before posting on any of the following sites, you will need to create an account, which is of course free. If you need help registering or posting to any of these forums, please let me know. Also, link it here when (NOT IF) you do post it, so I can reblog/favorite/kudo/bookmark/etc.

For art:
Tumblr
Deviantart

For written fanworks (fanfiction):
Fanfiction
Archive of Our Own
(again) Tumblr, where plenty of people post fanfic as well as fan art

It's practically a crime to keep these locked away, you guys. Keep in mind this quote from Tolkien:

"I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama." (Letter 131).

Also, any comments about Tolkien's statement here?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Reader Presentation

In reflecting back over the semester, I truly feel that I gained the most insight into Tolkien's character through the presentation I gave on his Welsh influences.  In this lecture/essay, I glimpsed, however briefly, Tolkien's great love for languages and the passion he brought to the study of languages.  In addition, I began to understand the incredible breadth of his knowledge in so many different subjects.  Tolkien was a genius:  I knew this fact before the semester started, but this course - and especially my reading presentation - reaffirmed Tolkien's brilliance in my mind.

What stood out to you most about your reading presentation?  What was your main takeaway from your assigned piece?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hope and Despair

All semester we have talked about the twinned themes of hope and despair in Tolkien's works. If pressed, I might even argue that Tolkien's construction of Middle-earth is founded primarily in these two themes. But, I might also argue that one of these themes is more important in his works than the other. Of course, I'm not really interested in what I think; I'm much more interested in what you think after this semester's study of Tolkien's less popular works.

Do you think the themes of hope and despair are central to Tolkien's works? Why or why not?

Does one of these themes seem more important than the other to Tolkien? What evidence do you find to support this?



"Leaf by Niggle" freewrites

Feel free to post your freewrites from class today here, whether you read them aloud in class or not.

Favorite Works from the Class

If you had to pick one work 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? In keeping with our discussion in class today how will you carry it 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?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Innocence vs. Wisdom

In class we talked a bit about how Smith of Wootton Major emphasized the importance of innocence and child-like belief rather than wisdom and maturity (portraying the oldest character, Nokes, as somewhat mean and foolish).

However, when Tolkien wrote this, he was much older and closer to the end of his writing career. Why do you think Tolkien valued youth and innocence more as he grew older? Does this seem backwards, or does it make sense to you?

Personally, I'm a bit surprised. I would have thought this learned older man would think himself superior to others who have had less life experience! It seems to be the opposite. Thoughts?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Favorite Tolkien Short Story

Now that we've gotten through so many of Tolkien's short stories, which one is your favorite and why? I'm mostly thinking of the stories in Tales of the Perilous Realm, but any others can count, too.  I really liked the "Smith of Wootton Major" we just read since it talked about Faery and I like seeing that connection to his other work. I'm also going to say I really liked "Roverandom," but that's mostly because I did my research paper on it and I feel attached. Anyway, feel free to gush about Tolkien's stories here. Is there something about them that connects to his other works that you like? What is it about his short stories that are appealing? Share your thoughts.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Favorite Tolkien Art

Now that we're done with the Hammond and Scull readings, what were your guys' favorite pieces?  And, of course, why do you like them?  I think my favorite would have to be Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves (p 131 in H&S).  I think it's one of the rare pieces that Tolkien used saturated, cool colors: blues and greens.  I think the trees are particularly interesting because they're stylized, which seems unusual for Tolkien.  
Like we mentioned in class, it has the motif of the path/river winding your eye beyond the bounds of the picture.  I also think it's a very iconic image for The Hobbit.  

Húrin and Morwen

This is a bit late in coming, but I finally finished writing a poem. It's a little different from the passage in Children of Húrin that I based it off of, but I thought I'd throw it up here on the blog anyways. I really loved the alliterative style that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is written in, so I tried for that sort of thing. The poem turned out more melodramatic than I wanted, but, as it turns out, even the remotest kind of alliterative style is hard to write, even when you're not making any of it rhyme! But, of course, Tolkien was able to translate Sir Gawain from Middle English, make it alliterative, and rhyme the last four lines (a-b-a-b) of every stanza.

Now Húrin, heavy from Morgoth's hardship
And torment, took the road to Túrin's last stand -
To where the black sword spoke and slaughtered him there.
There Morwen sat in mourning, a mother childless
Against the grave of son and daughter, grey hair
And stare of sorrow in a sunken face.
Húrin took her tenderly in his arms until
Night fell, and nodding there he knew
That with the morning, Morwen to Man's fate would go.
The sun rose and she slipped from world's circle,
But her face, now free of family's grief,
Rested, released in the rays of the East.
"In her death she was not defeated," Húrin declared,
And carefully caressed her face, closed her eyes.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A bit of Tolkien Humor

I saw some images on the internet I thought you guys would particularly appreciate!


Tolkien's humor, unlike these memes, was much more dry. Any examples of your favorite Tolkien humor in any of the works we have read for class? (I know I spoke a bit about this during my oral presentation on his Valedictory Address - Tolkien liked to subtly poke fun at his peers)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Writer's Paintings

In J.R.R. Tolkien Artist & Illustrator, Hammond and Scull comment that “no study of J.R.R. Tolkien's written work can be complete without also looking at his art.” What do you think of that? Is it always necessary for a reader to examine the other types of artwork that an author completed (i.e. paintings, musical scores, etc.) to appreciate that author’s literary pieces deeply? Have you learned anything surprising from seeing Tolkien’s illustrations?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Gil-galad

I'm still really intrigued by Gil-galad, but I haven't been able to find much more about him.  Apparently (I found this info on Tolkien Gateway, but it says it's referenced from The History of Middle Earth, vol. XII), Tolkien's final notes on Gil-galad's parentage reveal that he was actually the son of Orodreth, and Tolkien changed Orodreth from son of Finarfin to song of Angrod, and therefore grandson of Finarfin. Confusing, I know. It says Christopher Tolkien just kind of went with what made sense with the text of The Silmarillion which was Tolkien's previous idea of Gil-galad as the son of Fingon.

However, if Gil-galad was finalized as a child of Orodreth, then Finduilas would have been his sister.  What if Tolkien had included Gil-galad in The Children of Hurin??? Oh, the possibilities! I think I like Gil-galad as Fingon's son better, though. It makes him seem a little more connected rather than some obscure, great-grandson of Finarfin, an elf who didn't even leave Valinor.

Also, I looked up the part of The Fall of Gil-galad that Sam recites at Weathertop.  It's in The Fellowship of the Ring, "A Knife in the Dark."

Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea.

His sword was long, his lance was keen,
his shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven's field
were mirrored in his silver shield.

But long ago he rode away,
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are.

Later, Frodo reveals that Gil-galad means "Starlight" in Elvish (translated as "Star of Radiance" in The Silmarillion glossary).  I thought it was interesting that there's another Elvish star reference, in a way akin to Earendil.  What's up with all the stars?  Why are they so special? I think they're a beautiful analogy, but I want your thoughts!

Mandos = Valhalla?

In class, we discussed the idea of "the gift of death" which is granted to Men. I understand the problems which come with being immortal, but I find it problematic that the Elves are so unhappy with their everlasting life. Unless the halls of Mandos are similar to the realm of Hades in Greek mythology, it seems to be a decently happy place. On the other hand, if the halls of Mandos are similar to Valhalla in Norse myth, why don't we see more of a warrior culture, welcoming death in battle as a valiant end? This would release Elves from their "curse" of immortality since their bodies will never perish due to natural causes. Tolkien was obviously well versed in Norse myth, so I wonder if this was a conscious choice to move away from such a violent, death seeking culture. Thoughts?

Help

Guys, I need help. Ok, I'm convinced there's a part in The Silmarillion where one of the Elves battles either Morgoth or one of his servants through singing. But now I cannot find it ANYWHERE. I have literally been scouring every resource I can for the past hour. Help meeee. Am I making this up?  Am I just remembering Fingolfin's last stand wrong? I am so confused haha.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Ulmo bore up Elwing out of the waves,
he forbade her demise alone in sunken caves.
He gave her the likeness of a bird great and white,
and imparted on her the gift of flight.
Faith and longing stronger than ever,
in earnest hope that she may complete her endeavor.
And upon her breast there shone as a star the Simaril
As she flew over the water to seek Earendil.
Her beloved he had once been,
in his arms she hoped to be in again.
Alas over the horizon she saw,
his wonderful ship so far and so small.
Into his great arms she flew,
The sailors thought it a very strange view.
On her beak he laid a kiss,
A sight his men could not readily dismiss.
Thus the lovers were reunited, 
When he woke up Earendil was delighted.

The Arkenstone

We were talking last class about jewels, more specifically jewels that had a radiance to them.  That got me thinking what was the Arkenstone?  We know that it was unearthed by the dwarves under the Lonely Mountain during the third age, but was that where it began?  Due to the incredible radiance of the jem as well as the obvious corrupting effect that it had on Thorin I am almost inclined to believe that it is in fact a silmaril.  More specifically, this would be the one lost by Meadhros at the end of the first age when it was flung into a deep pit.  Would would be your thoughts on this matter?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Read Other's Research Papers

Remember those research papers you wrote? Well, do you also remember that they were to be posted on our PRV website? Check out any of the fine work by your classmates in those papers and come back here to post a comment in which you tell everyone what you learned!

Get Help on Long Projects

Most of you should be working on your Long Projects now. What parts of your work do you need help brainstorming about? What other help could your classmates give you now to help speed you along on this project? Now's the time and here is the place to ask!

Eärendil's Story

Eärendil's story is one Tolkien worked on in several formats and over a long time in his life. What aspects of this story seem to you to be most similar to aspects of Tolkien's other works? Are any aspects vastly different from themes in Tolkien's other works? What parts of this story seem most appealing to you? How about most puzzling?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Elvish Naming Customs

I found a handy-dandy explanation of the elves' multiple names thing that had us all (okay maybe just me) in a tizzy.

Basically, the (Noldor) elves have a "Sindarized" name which Tolkien mostly uses. Then they have father-names, mother-names, and a chosen name that happens when they're older.

So Maedhros is the Sindarized name, Nelyafinwe is his father-name, Maitmo is his mother-name, and Russandol is his chosen name.

Also, the twins (Amrod and Amras) have the same mother-name and just run around calling each other "Ambarussa." I think that's adorable.

Longing

"A swoon of longing smote me there." -Pearl, 167

I know we talked about this some in class on Thursday, but I wanted to return to the theme of longing. For me, the longing that Tolkien's stories make me feel is one of the most powerful things about reading his work. I'd love to hear which stories, descriptions, passages of Tolkien's make you feel this way, and why - and whether it's longing to go to Middle-earth, or something else.

For me, it's the song that Sam and Frodo sing near the very end of LOTR; it alludes to Frodo's desire for Valinor. This is one of my favorite things Tolkien has ever written. Simply put, it makes me want to go on a journey.

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jerusalem Bible

In today's class Richard mentioned that Tolkien contributed to the translation of a part of the "Jerusalem Bible." There was a little uncertainty on which book he translated so I decided to research the topic.
In 1943 Pope Pius XII wrote a letter encouraging Roman Catholics to translate scripture from the original Hebrew and Greek, rather than from Latin. This resulted in a group of Dominican and lay scholars meeting in Jerusalem and translating the scriptures into french. This french version was published in 1961 and prompted others to do make an English version. This new bible was translated directly from Greek and Hebrew, but in passages with more than one way of interpreting the French version was usually followed.
The translation used a literal approach of which Tolkien preferred. Tolkien contributed to multiple books, but his primary contributions were the translation of the Book of Jonah. This new bible was known as the Jerusalem Bible and was the first widely accepted Roman Catholic translation since the 17th century.
Tolkien got involved because Fr. Anthony Jones, was the lead man on the project, and was very impressed with the LOTR. Tolkien was chosen because of his skill in translating as well as his good English writing style. Fr. Jones wanted Tolkien to translate more of the older books of the bible, but Tolkien had to much other work to do.
I got my information from...

http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/press/888-Book_of_Jonah_Translated_by_Tolkien.php

Monday, April 1, 2013

Tolkien and the religious significance of water

We talked in class before about the special place of water in Tolkien's world. "And it is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance else that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen."

I was reminded of this during the Easter Vigil mass, in the prayer of blessing for the baptismal water: 

"O God, whose Spirit
in the first moments of the world's creation hovered over the waters,
so that the very substance of water
would even then take to itself the power to sanctify;

"O God, who by the outpouring of the flood
foreshadowed regeneration,
that from the mystery of one and the same element of water
would come an end to vice and a beginning of virtue..."

I was confused by the water stuff before, so this was helpful to me, especially the part about the flood, and flooding's connection with sanctification. We've got some flooding in Tolkien, after all. I thought of  Númenor, of course, and Isengard, and the river Bruinen with the Ringwraiths.

These are all washings away of evil. Are there others like them? Even more I'm interested in any places where water is not helpful for the good guys.The Watcher in the Water is maybe problematic. What is that thing about?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Know Too Much

Someone mentioned in class last week about how annoying the characters are who know too much and do too little. (I think it was Megan. Hi, Megan!)  I think we were talking about the elves at the time.  Why does Tolkien include these characters that know so much, but they do so little to help others in Middle-earth? Is there a reason for these characters, do any of you think? Is it just how they are? I'm curious to hear your answers, even if you don't know. And another thing I'm wondering is why did Tolkien include the Wizards, who he purposely made to not know too much?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Viva la Rohan!

I love Rohan.  And it's not just because I love horses. I like that Tolkien creates this people group that's a lot more normal, if you will.  The Rohirrim are typical men - it's not the norm for them to have Númenórean blood, and they're not all descended from kings (I know that's a generalization, but it's how I feel about Gondor and the Elves).  They're fallible - Tolkien reveals weaknesses even in their king (whatever Théoden's malady is - illness or magic).  But they are also intensely courageous, loyal, and good.  

Eorl rides from the middle of nowhere to help this guy that he doesn't even really know.  Théoden rides to the aid of Gondor without any hope of ever returning to his homeland.  And I think the description of Éomer in "The Battles of the Fords of Isen" is a great characterization.  It paints him as a man entirely worthy to be king.  It reveals his humility but also his battle prowess and strength.  Tolkien states that Théodred and Éomer were "the chief obstacles to an easy conquest of Rohan by Saruman" (p. 371) and that their loyalty to the king remained steadfast even in his sickness.  He also adds that "Éomer...was not an ambitious man, and his love and respect for Théodred was only second to his love of his foster-father" (p. 371).  Éomer possessed no designs for the throne.

The bravery of Elfhelm and Grimbold also stood out to me.  Grimbold is so dedicated to Théodred that he stands over his body once he has fallen, willing to fight to the death for his prince.  

Does this fallibility and less noble lineage make the Rohirrim's bravery and courage more poignant in Tolkien's work?  Does this concept apply to other people groups such as the Hobbits?

The Cats of Queen Berúthiel

One cool side-story that we didn't get a chance to talk about in class is "The Cats of Queen Berúthiel".  Christopher Tolkien put it in note 7 of the Istari chapter on page 419.  I don't know about you guys, but I was really excited to see this note.  Tolkien mentions the story somewhere (of course now I can't remember where) in The Lord of the Rings, but not a whole lot of information is given about it.  Anyway, I found it interesting because Tolkien hardly ever talks about cats.  There are a few dogs (Huan and Garm) and plenty of horses but no cats.  Queen Berúthiel is portrayed negatively in the story and her cats are basically spies for her.  I wonder if this suggests that Tolkien hated cats.  He probably wasn't a cat person (and neither am I).  What sort of attributes do cats have that make them unlikable in Tolkien's world?  The only thing I can think of is that dogs are very loyal (which is a good trait to have) whereas cats are more aloof.  What do you guys think?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Happy International Tolkien Reading Day!

Today is the official day dedicated to the reading aloud of Tolkien’s works. I really enjoyed all of the performances that I heard, and I had a lot of fun reading some of my favorite scenes from Tolkien’s stories (I find the blindfold scene from The Fellowship of the Ring highly amusing). For those of you who dropped by the duck pond earlier today, what did you think? What was your reaction to hearing people zealously read aloud passages from, say, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tolkien's Perfectionsim

In writing my research paper, I came to begin to understand what people meant when they talked about Tolkien's obsession with literary perfection. The Lord of the Rings is a common example of Tolkien delaying finishing a work until he was completely satisfied with it - which meant a lot of writing and re-writing.

In class, we have gotten the opportunity to read some of these unfinished works (Unfinished Tales being an obvious recent example), most of which were put together by Christopher Tolkien. Do you think that there is an obvious drop in quality when J.R.R. Tolkien didn't take the extra time to tweak his work? I have a hard time distinguishing between the "perfected" work and the somewhat unfinished work, but perhaps this is only because I'm not the most advanced Tolkien scholar (yet!).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tread Warily?

In the process of compiling research and writing my paper throughout the last few weeks, I have encountered an enormous amount of contradictory and alternate stories within Tolkien's mythology. While I appreciate the creative genius of Tolkien, I think encountering these instances damages the reality of his world within my own mind. I understand that this is not history, but I badly want it to be. I am torn between fully investigating all of Tolkien's unpublished work and leaving it alone because I don't want to expose myself to the realizations it brings. Thoughts?

Stephen Colbert schools James Franco on Silmarillion knowledge

Colbert must have taken Tolkien for advanced readers too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxqDoVaLqhc

Friday, March 22, 2013

Nature & Elements in Unfinished Tales

In the story of Aldarion and Erendis, one of the big causes of strife between the two seems to be their love of different elements of nature: for Aldarion, it's the sea, and for Erendis, trees. The elements themselves seem to be at odds in some way, too: trees must be felled in order to build ships for the sea, and, if I remember correctly, the island of Númenor is eventually swallowed by the sea. This whole thing is so interesting to me because in Tolkien's other works - especially LOTR - there's more of a conflict of fire vs. all the other elements. So what could this particular pitting of sea vs. trees/things that grow mean in the larger story of Númenor, Middle-earth, etc? I see some sort of reflection of the female Yavanna vs. the male Ulmo here, but I'm not completely sure.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

More about Númenor

The Men of Tolkien's Númenor are presented as noble and brave, but also flawed in some central ways. While we will get to more readings about Númenoreans soon, let's start discussion here. How are the Númenoreans different from Tolkien's other Middle-earth races or cultures? In what ways are they flawed? Why do you think Tolkien, a medievalist with interests in classical literature, insisted on creating a culture reminiscent of the fictional one of Atlantis?

Passing of Ages

In the various works that make up Tolkien's legendarium, we are told at various times when a new age ends or begins. Why are historical epochs separated by large scale events such an important facet of Tolkien's conceptions of Middle-earth?

Research Projects

Now that you have all finished your research projects, feel free to discuss any of the following:
-- What was the most difficult part of the research process for your project?
-- What was the most surprising or unexpected piece of info you learned from your project?
-- How has your view of Tolkien and/or his work changed as a result of your project?

I Really Don't Like Bad Boys (Except When Tolkien Writes Them)

On Tuesday we talked about the nature of heroes like Tuor--basically, your cookie-cutter Superman types. There are plenty of these heroes that I find compelling in other texts. In comic books (and comic book movies) I prefer Supermans over Batmans, Cyclopses over Wolverines, and Captain Americas over Iron Mans, etc. There is something about the square-jawed paragon archetype that I find attractive in a character.

Tolkien is, as he is in many ways, my exception in this, I think because he plays with the nature of heroism in specific and unique ways. Obviously hobbits, but the lines can be even finer. As we mentioned in class (and supplemented by additional thoughts):

  • There are the really nice-guy characters, who have battle prowess but are not quite as famous for it, and are so nice, in fact, that they don't even eat animals because they're too cute or something (Beren, Tuor, even Faramir with all the reading he does). 
  • There's Aragorn, whom I would posit is probably in a class on his own and is a hard-core good guy who is basically perfect and good at everything, a noble warrior, but also humble about it. Also, when Tolkien introduces him to the hobbits, he looks like a bad guy, and that's his angle, that's what makes him interesting. 
  • Our super-noble Elvish warriors like Fingolfin, Fingon, Glorfindel, Beleg, who are generally really good guys but, remember, basically everyone in Middle-earth is "fallen" to a greater or lesser extent, but still fallen. They still have pride that won't let them be housed by the Valar, and, like these three especially, tend to get themselves killed in hopeless battles (like being Turin's friend). 
  • And then we have our bad boys that are still heroes. But they are never 100% heroes nor 100% bad boys. 
...Or the reasons that they are "bad" are really compelling or even heroic, and this list is endless and perfect and I love them all: Maeglin (rape baby, broken home, raised with the guy who killed his father, can we say Issues?), Maedhros (cursed, daddy issues, has to protect/corral his idiot brothers, was the only one in a host of however many thousand who said "hey this shipburning, maybe let's not?"; was also tortured for 50 years, that's got to atone him for some guilt, right?), Boromir (classic case of wrong thing for the right reasons), heck, Turin of course (he admittedly tries hard, and poor darling, he's legitimately cursed), and let's throw Thorin in there (more bad things for right reasons yay), Aule for being edgy (way to train everyone who ultimate goes darkside, bro), even Feanor (without whom we wouldn't have most of this exciting story, remember).

Remember (sorry for using myself as a case study here, you are going to help me negotiate my feelings) I don't like bad guys or edgy heroes or anit-heroes normally. What is Tolkien's secret????

Sunday, March 17, 2013

20th Century Audiences

In the introduction to "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin", Christopher Tolkien mentions that it was probably written around 1920.  This normally wouldn't have stood out to me if it wasn't for the specific mention of the Oxford English Dictionary.  The specific story was rewritten "probably in 1919-20, when my father was in Oxford on the staff of the then still uncompleted Dictionary," (Unfinished Tales 5).  This really struck me because I can't imagine a world without the Oxford English Dictionary.  It is so iconic, even in American culture.  I think it is so amazing that Tolkien helped put it together.  I had to stop and think about how different life was back then when Tolkien was writing.  1919 is almost a hundred years ago.  Can you think of any reasons why audiences back then would have reacted or interpreted his works differently than audiences today?  Or are they so universal that they will never be "outdated"?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Alternate Storylines

In the introduction to Unfinished Tales, Christopher Tolkien explains that he often will preserve various versions of his father’s stories not because it is impossible to determine which ones have the “correct” plots, but because he appreciates that in Arda “ancient traditions [would be] handed down in diverse forms among different peoples through long ages” (10). What do you think about the existence of these equally correct alternate storylines? Do you find this variety distracting, or does it add more depth to the stories?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"My Father's 'Eviscerated' Work"

I found this article and thought you all might be interested in reading it.

Basically it's Christopher Tolkien speaking out against Peter Jackson's film versions of LOTR/The Hobbit and all the commercialization that that's brought to Tolkien's original stories.

While I can in no way understand how personal Tolkien's works are to Christopher, I feel like his harsh judgment of Jackson's movies and their success isn't giving enough credit to the people who consume those movies. Honestly, I don't know if I would have ever ended up reading Tolkien's works if I hadn't first been pulled in by the movies (I think maybe some of you would say the same). And while I do agree that to some degree "the commercialization [of the stories] has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation," I wouldn't say that it has reduced it "to nothing." I feel that, even if to a lesser degree, the movies do their best to present and uphold that aesthetic and philosophical impact, and increase people's curiosity to read the books and experience the real fullness of that impact. I don't think there's anything wrong with enjoying the movies for what they are - and with trying to convince everyone you know to go back to the source and enjoy the stories there (because it bothers me so much when people ONLY see the movies).

It's also interesting to me that to some degree Tolkien wanted people to take his stories - his mythology for England - and make it their own, but that there's also this huge protectiveness from the Tolkien family about preserving the parts of this mythology that have already been written down. And, then, I just read one of Tolkien's letters (no. 210) that is so critical towards a proposed movie script/idea for LOTR, that I am seriously confused as to why Tolkien ever sold the movie rights for LOTR/The Hobbit in the first place (I understand it was to cover costs, pay for taxes, allow funding for his children, I think, but...).

What do you all think?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tolkien's foreshadowing through allusion

Alright, so I know I freaked out about this in class, but I wanted to more formally discuss it on the blog.  I mentioned the parallel in language between Morwen and Nienor when they are arguing about Nienor following Morwen to look for Turin, and Naomi and Ruth when Naomi tells Ruth to go back to her homeland and Ruth refuses.  Here are the passages:

"Go back! Go back! I command you!" [Morwen] cried.
"Mourning you named me, but I will not mourn alone, for father, brother, and mother.  But of these you only have I known, and above all do I love.  And nothing that you fear not do I fear."
(...)
"What would you do?" said Morwen.
"Go where you go," said Nienor.  "This choice indeed I bring...Or to know that I shall go into peril, if you go."
                                                                    (The Children of Hurin, pgs. 202-203)

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's home..."
But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay...Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried."
                                                                   (Ruth 1:8,16-17)

In the Bible, Naomi is Ruth's mother-in-law.  This is some sneaky allusion and foreshadowing by Tolkien to the fact that Morwen technically does become Nienor's mother-in-law as well as mother because she marries Turin, her brother.  Complex family tree to say the least!  But what I'm wondering is if Tolkien does this in his other works?  Are there other instances where he uses Biblical or classical allusion/parallelism as foreshadowing?

Tragedy vs Eucatastrophe

Thinking back to "On Fairy Stories", Tolkien talks about the importance of the eucatastrope or sudden turn that leads to a happy ending.  We all know and love the more famous works like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings the do have eucatastrophes.  Happy endings are important to the genre of fantasy/fairy stories. However, The Children of Húrin has no eucatastrophe.  It's still a fairy story, but also a tragedy.  My question to you all is which do you prefer?  Did you find the tragedy cathartic in any way, or was it too much of a downer?  What are the advantages of tragedy over happy endings?  And since this is the longest of the "tales" of Beleriand, do you think Tolkien placed particular importance/emphasis on it because it was so tragic?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Turin's Accessories

While reading the "Children of Hurin" I noticed, once again, the significance of certain accessories throughout the story. This got me to wondering whether (and to what extent) Tolkien uses accessories to reveal things about a character.
In this story the most relevant (I think) accessory is Turin's sword "Anglachel." The sword was made by the dark elf Eol and it is implied that the sword has something ominous about it, but I wonder if the sword itself was actually evil. The most curious part of this comes up in Thursday's reading so I won't give it away, but feel free to start commenting on it if you know what I am referring to. (Hint: What to sword says to Turin)
Among Turin's other accessories were his chain mail and his dwarfish mask. What do you guys think these accessories say about Turin, if they say anything at all.
Can anyone come up with other accessories that Tolkien may use to reveal something about a person's character? Try to stay away from the obvious ones like rings on this one, I am more interested in the obscure, less clear ones.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"What Tolkien Officially Said About Elf Sex"

I feel like I promised* I'd link to this little gem, with info taken (as I understand it) from the 12-volume History of Middle-earth series. The article is rated PG.

Oh and there's also this one, "Warm Beds Are Good," which I've not read before, and seems to be more detailed?

*Or at least it sounds like something I'd do.

Capture of Hurin = DRAMA

In chapter two, "The Battle of Unnumbered Tears," Tolkien describes the last stand and capture of Hurin by Gothmog.  First of all, Tolkien sets the scene by specifically pointing out that Hurin stood alone. It's a heightening of the stakes:  Hurin's the last one left after Huor, his brother, and Fingon have been killed and Turgon retreated back to Gondolin in order to stay secret. I feel a sense of despair and desparation at the emphasis of Hurin's solitude, and I think we see this even more in the description of Hurin's reckless abandon as he fights wildly against Gothmog's guards.

Tolkien writes also that Huor and the other men fighting with Hurin are slain as the sun is setting. So Hurin's last stand takes place as darkness falls and shadows grow. Could this be a more perfect setting? And then Hurin cries that "Day shall come again!" each time he strikes down an enemy.  Once again, it's the contrasting of light (hope) and dark (despair) - a common theme in Tolkien's work. It reminds me somewhat of the Battle of Helm's Deep.

Tolkien's description of Hurin's weapons adds an interesting dynamic to this scene, as well. He says Hurin casts down his shield and seizes the axe of an orc-captain. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but when he throws his shield aside I see that as basically Hurin accepting his fate, thinking "I'm going to die here, but I'll go down fighting." And then he grabs an orc axe - BAM! Defiance. Maybe Hurin's thinking, "I'll kill you all with your own weapons." The withering and smoking of the axe gives a reader an idea of the powerful filth and stench of Morgoth pervading his vile servants.

Tolkien ends this scene saying, "Night fell in Hithlum, and there came a great storm of wind out of the West." Back to the light/dark binary. It's like the defeat of Hurin was the sunset into a period of darkness in the war against Morgoth.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Heightened Drama of Departure

One event that I wrote about on Thursday was Húrin’s departure. I noticed that light is emphasized in many of the descriptions (i.e. “bright morning” and “the sun glittered on fifty blades”), but beneath the apparent glory of Húrin’s departure lies a foreboding undercurrent. The chapter closes with him passing out of sight of his house, perhaps never to see it again.

Can you think of any other instances where Tolkien weaves a somber line into an otherwise glorious or joyful scene? Do these lines tend to stand out, or do they subtly add to foreshadowing/drama?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Heightened Drama in Chapter One: "The Childhood of Turin"

Still not over the triple-whammy of sibling feels. Killing off Lalaith, Gelmir (look I even cried about this on my Tumblr) and Huor in the span of two chapters was simply not cool.

But what I want to talk about was the moment of heightened drama in Chapter One which I did not get a chance to share, which was Hurin and Huor's escape/rescue and visit to Gondolin. First of all, they are quite young. Tolkien states that Hurin is 17, which makes Huor 14 (even though Tolkien states he is fully grown and taller than most of his people already). Huor shouldn't be in combat situations even by pseudo-medieval fantasy standards. And they are ambushed by orcs and "scattered" and "pursued" and they would have been "taken or slain" but for Ulmo pulling up this mist out of nowhere. 

But what struck me I think the most about this passage was that they "wandered in great hardship." This was really vivid in my mind, and I literally gave pause at this point and (as my fanficcing mind usually goes) I wanted more, and so I thought up more. What if one of them was wounded? Maybe Hurin had to carry his little brother part of the way. There's no time specified that they wander, "bewildered by the deceits of that land," but it might very well have been a long time. Maybe they had no food. Maybe it was cold, and the mist certainly made it wet. And they are pursued by orcs, so they can't stop and rest. And then the eagles find them and take them to Gondolin. Pretty quickly glossed over, but again I'm picturing more. Maybe Hurin is scared and fierce and protective of his brother? Maybe they both are? Are they even conscious when the eagle takes them to Gondolin? Do they try something desperate before Turgon talks them down and they realize they are finally, finally safe? 

So yes, I'll let you all know when I finally do write the fanfiction of this. Because it's apparently happening.

So I guess what struck me in terms of heightened drama was how The Silmarillion (and LOTR even) in general strikes me: because of it's brevity, it inspires more. One sentence or one phrase can become so much more in the mind of the reader. In essence, the reader heightens the drama for him/herself. You can "fill in" the gaps and it becomes yours, something close and personal--in fanfictionland and tumblrland we call this a "headcanon." Maybe that's why I have this irrational, pathological hatred of the films: because so much is given for you, there's less room to have your own intimately personal version. But I'm weird!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Prophecy heightening drama

So I had chapter two in class today, and the two moments I chose both had hints of future events which I felt heightened the dramatic impact quite a bit. The part where Turgon is being urged to flee is pretty dramatic just because of the moment itself, but I felt the added part where Maeglin heard the words and "did not forget them" heightened the drama of the moment. I haven't read further in the book but I'm guessing it's significant? Even if it isn't, that part portrays the intensity of the moment.

I also chose the moment at the end when Morgoth worries about Turgon escaping and seems to know that his ruin will come from him. This sounded prophetic to me, but again, I haven't read any further in the book yet so I don't know.

Were there any other moments where Tolkien hinted at the future that you guys felt added to the drama? I'm guessing this doesn't just happen in chapter two.

Heightened Drama from Chapter One of Children of Hurin

How Tolkien Creates a sense of heightened drama: Chapter 1 (The Childhood of Turin)

I didn't really get around to fully sharing my ideas on the event of Turin giving Sador his Elf-wrought knife. Turin and Sador, an old woodman who cut his foot, become good friends after the death of Turin's sister, Lalaith. For his birthday, Turin receives a very nice Elf-made knife from Hurin, which he promptly gives to Sador, which made Turin very happy ("[his] heart was a warmth like the warmth of the sun upon the cold earth that sets growth astir"). However, Hurin and Morowen find out about the gift and are not quite so pleased. There is an element of foreshadowing when Hurin tells Turin, "An honest hand and a true heart maw hew amiss; and the harm may be harder to bear than the work of a foe." Tolkien uses this passage and the descriptive language to help the reader fully understand Turin's character, and also gives the reader a sense of foreboding of what is to come.

I haven't read the past the assigned reading yet, but I am very anxious to find out what happens to Turin, and how his kindness and selflessness might be his downfall.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is the whole worth more than the sum of its parts?

I found the quote we were trying to think of in class today.  Gandalf comes to Orthanc, and Saruman says that he is Saruman of Many Colours instead of White because White can be broken.  Gandalf replies "In which case it is no longer white...And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom," (Fellowship p. 252).  What do you all think of this statement?  Does deconstructing a thing (a piece of literature for instance) ruin it?  I feel like that is what we do all the time when we write essays.  We pick out individual pieces of evidence to support our argument.  Perhaps Tolkien only meant that we can focus too intently and zoom in too far, making a comprehensive view impossible.  How can we then balance the two?

Monday, February 25, 2013

The easy win

I noticed that when reading the various alterations that people had written for their assigned sections of the Silmarilion that they most often included people who were not as evil as they should have been or were otherwise altered to give the story a better and quicker ending.  That made me think, why do we instinctively desire characters to be good, or go against their character to do "the right thing"? 
I forget where I read it, but I once read that the true brilliance of a story lies not in its heroes, but in its villains.  This is perchance on of the true greatness's of Tolken's works, in that he has true evil characters that are more that death and destruction, and have a appearance of being a person.  So, what do people think about evil being to true decider of a good story and plot?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Constructed Languages

After our class I thought I'd see whether I really could create a language. I found this really neat website with a "Language Construction Kit": http://www.zompist.com/kit.html I also discovered a message board for hobbyists who construct languages and cultures: http://aveneca.com/cbb/

The thought and effort that go into these projects really impress me. I also think it would be a novel way to learn about linguistics and anthropology in the first place.

Would any of us be interested in doing something like this? 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Learning Created Languages

For me, the most surprising part about Thursday’s class discussion was when I found out that some schools actually offer elvish language classes. Sure, I know that there are groups out there for learning Quenya, Klingon, Na’vi, etc. . . . but an elvish course? Why do you suppose that learning created languages is becoming more popular? Does being able to hear the language in a movie or TV show make it more appealing to learn than say, only being able to read it in a book?          
In case you’re curious, here is a link to some Quenya materials on the University of Bergen’s website: http://www.uib.no/en/search?q=Quenya&fromarea=&sort=text&x=0&y=0

The Wresting of the Silmaril(s)

This is my attempt at rewriting the story of Beren wresting the Silmaril from the Iron Crown of Morgoth. My apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien.

As Morgoth and his host lay in swoon throughout the depths of Angband, Beren drew forth Angrist and cut from the Iron Crown the starlit jewels. As the final Silmaril was severed from its bonds, the knife Angrist fulfilled its doom and the blade melted away, disintegrating into nothingness. With the Silmarils in their possession, Beren and Luthién fled the fortress of Anbgand. But Carcharoth had since awoken from the spell of Luthién and sprang upon them as they approached the dread gate of Morgoth's stronghold. Luthién's strength was fading and her powers were of no avail. The mighty fiend easily swept her aside and she collapsed, gravely wounded from the harrowing blow. Beren grasped the Silmarils in his hands and met the onslaught of the dire beast. The enemies clashed together with the force of a great tidal wave and battled each other relentlessly, neither giving any quarter. Weaponless, the pair clashed together time and time again. But the power of the Silmarils overcame the malice within Carcharoth and in his victory, Beren smote the ruin of his foe upon the cursed ground. He swept Luthién into his arms and bore her swiftly away from that evil place.

Initially, I had wanted to re-work the story to the point that Beren was able to unite the races of Arda and overthrow the evil of Morgoth. Because this victory was accomplished without the direct assistance of the Valar, Manwë would see fit to exert the full power of the Valar, banishing the spirit of Melkor from Middle-earth for eternity. However, there would be a grave mistake made in the process of Melkor's final punishment. History repeats itself and Sauron is treated mercifully as Melkor was after his first defeat. He bides his time, allowing his malice to smolder. As his master before him, Sauron betrays the trust of the Valar and Children of Ilúvatar, escaping and rising to power in Morgoth's stead. Unfortunately, this would have taken way too much time and space on the blog. Perhaps I'll get a chance to complete it in some type of creative project...

Friday, February 22, 2013

LOTR Guitar Covers

Ok, we might not all like the movies, but I think the music from the movies is incredible. I found this guy that covers a bunch of the songs on his acoustic guitar. It's so beautiful I had to share!

Rohan Theme:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlSm9jDdw6Y

"Misty Mountains" (from The Hobbit):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HecXZb0inLE

The Shire Theme:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwNS9CFHAWw

17 Again clip

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcjAH57Eoik

This is the elvish scene from 17 Again! I highly suggest you watch the whole movie ;)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Battle Under the Stars

So here is what I wrote in class. It is in reference to the Battle-Under-Stars in the beginning of chapter 13. In an effort to sound as Tolkien-like as possible I took some of his sentences out of context and used them for my own version. I also just left some sentences untouched if they were not parts that I changed...
       Now the flames of that burning were not only seen by Fingolfin, whom Feanor had deserted in Araman, but also by the Orcs and Watchers of Morgoth. The host of Morgoth, aroused by the tumult of Lammath and the light of the burning at Losgar, came through the Mountain of Shadow and assailed Feanor on a sudden. The assault came swiftly ere the Noldor's camp was full-wrought or put in defense. 
      Thus began the Second Great Battle in the Wars of Beleriand. Dagor-Nuin-Giliath is is named, The Battle Under the Stars. The Noldor, out numbered and taken unawares were swift to the defense. The Noldor's swords were long and terrible and deadly with anger. The Noldor fought valiantly for the Light of Aman was not fully dimmed in their eyes. 
      Ere the Noldor could claim victory, Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs entered upon the field of battle. Scores of elves Gothmog sent to the Halls of Mandos and many more were to follow. Feanor, a formidable warrior, was too busy leading his forces against the Orcish hoards to face the Balrog therefor, in his stead he sent his sons lead by Maedhros, to slay Gothmog. Feanor witnessed in terror as the beast devoured his sons with ease. Maedhros was the last to burn after wounding the Balrog with a thrust of his blade that barely missed the beast's molten black heart. Feanor, ripe with rage moved towards the beast quickly. The Balrog made not effort to flee and instead bathed in the pleasure that he felt from murdering Elvish royalty and the coming chance to destroy another, greater adversary. 
      Feanor wasted no time with customary banter and instead assaulted upon the monster with all the fury he could muster. Gothmog had been wounded by the prince kin slayer and was slow to react.
Feanor moved with the strength, speed and violence that could only come from one who wanted revenge more than his own life. The Balrog, in his arrogance found himself no longer fighting, but instead trying to survive his fight with this great elf. As Feanor slashed on, the Balrogs whip slowed and his flame began to dim. The deceitful Balrog knew he had no chance of besting Feanor so he took a knee and begged for mercy. After the murder of his sons Feanor had no mercy to give, but he paused in his fury so as to savor the execution of Gothmog. As Feanor paused the feigning Balrog raised his sword and smote the kin-slayer through his heart. Feanor stood pale for a moment, then fell limp to the cold ground ere he joined his sons in the Halls of Mandos. 
     Upon the extinguishing of the son's of Feanor, the Noldor despaired with anguish they not felt since the coming of Melkor and the great spider. In their sorrow  and due to their great vacancy of leadership the Noldor were defeated by the merciless hosts of Morgoth. The Orcish...




Creation vs making

So i know we talk a lot about this in class so i thoyght i would write blog post about it.  I wanna know what people think about why Tolkien uses creation, making, then subcreation, in most of his works. Why in that order and why call the various levels of things that appear one of those three specifically?  What is the purpose and the message thta he is tryng to get across?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

FEANOR RULES MIDDLE EARTH

I got really excited about the assignment in class today. Hence, the all caps title.  Here's what I wrote...I'll discuss afterwards.

"And though the Valar believed the oath would be Feanor's downfall, they underestimated him.  As he created the brightest jewels, he also possessed the brightest spirit of any of the elves - a spirit to rival the being of the Valar.  And stronger Feanor ever became because he also knew evil and hatred as the Valar of Valinor could not.  Rage and passion drove Feanor, and he defied Mandos and all of the Valar for he did not soon come to the Halls of Mandos.  Feanor thrived on his hatred of Morgoth, driven ever to avenge the loss of his father, Finwe, the only one that Feanor had ever truly loved.  And so arose the challenger of Morgoth:  Feanor at whom Morgoth directed all of his malice out of fear.

All around Feanor, his sons and kinsmen fell.  Each death only served to stoke the flame of Feanor's heart, until he was too great and terrible to behold.  And at last, he marched alone and unhindered to the very gates of Morgoth's fortress.  And before the vast Thangorodrim, Morgoth and Feanor battled, striving in mind and body.  But Feanor, possessing the light of the Valar, the flame of the Noldor, and the hatred of Morgoth, threw his foe beneath his feet."

Maybe somewhat dramatic.  But how crazy would it be if because of the range of Feanor's emotions and experiences, he combined them all to become greater.  Think Gestalt's "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." I don't know if Feanor would be a good ruler or if he would be overcome by Morgoth's evil - kind of like the Black Breath of the Nazgul.  Maybe his pride would consume him.

While writing this, the first choice I made was to let Feanor live.  I think he's an incredible character, but like many tragic heroes, his tragic flaw is pride and that leads to his downfall. (I like to entertain the idea that Tolkien also really liked Feanor because he calls him "the mightiest of the Noldor" and talks a lot about his burning spirit). Because of my appreciation of Feanor - and trying to stick with his character - I had Finwe's death be his motivating factor in overcoming Morgoth, not the Silmarils. Maybe part of Feanor's obsession with the Silmarils stemmed from a love of his father? Who knows. I'm going to pretend it did. Also, I chose to write Morgoth's defeat because I think Feanor's rule would bear interesting consequences for the rest of the history of Arda.
Full Alternative Story for the Silmarillion, Chapter 16, page 137:

... Eol took Turgon's hand. "I acknowledge your law, yet it pains me that I should not return to my own land. Yet, I wish not to be punished under your law, thus I must remain. I only wish to be with my wife and son, even if these, my enemies, did slay my kin and now hold me against my will."
   Then Turgon spoke in a mighty and stern voice from his throne. "Eol, you have, with the union with my sister, become my own kin and one with our people of this land. The quarrels past are no longer between you and I. My word  is law - it is very wise that you should choose life in abiding in this kingdom rather than death attempting to flee."
   Eol looked into the eyes of King Turgon, and reluctantly bowed his head while silence echoed off the walls of the massive hall. Eol's eyes blazed red with frustration, yet he made no aggressive movements.
   Aredhel looked upon Eol with wonder. She felt relieved at his unexpected compliance, yet quietly disappointed by his presence. She extended her hand to Maeglin, who also remained silent.
   Therefore Eol lived in Turgon's kingdom, and kept a close watch on Maeglin as he grew older. Yet so close was Eol's eye on Maeglin that seldom could Maeglin depart from his father's watch. Maeglin grew quietly into a keen, dark elf, much like his father. He kept in shadows and quiet and wished to leave Turgon's land.

This version doesn't fit very well with Eol's character, as Eol was very stubborn and proud. However, this would have changed Maeglin's trajectory very much.
It was also quite difficult to write like Tolkien, even using the outline of what he had already written. He has a very unique style that is nearly impossible to fake.

Did others encounter similar issues writing alternative stories?

Fëanor's Oath

In The Silmarillion, "Of the Flight of the Noldor" (Chapter 9 ), Tolkien writes:

The SilmarillionThen Fëanor swore a terrible oath. His seven sons leapt straightway to his side and took the selfsame vow together, and red as blood shone their drawn swords in the glare of the torches. They swore an oath which none shall break, and none should take, by the name even of Illúvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not; and Manwë they named in witness, and Varda, and the hallowed mountain of Taniquetil, vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn, or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth unto the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.


An earlier version of this oath from around 1925 appears in The History of Middle-earth, volume 3, which says:
Be he friend or foe  or foul offspring 
of Morgoth Bauglir,  be he mortal dark 
that in after days  on earth shall dwell, 
shall no law nor love  nor league of Gods, 
no might nor mercy,  not moveless fate, 
defend him for ever   from the fierce vengeance 
of the sons of Fëanor,  whoso seize or steal 
or finding keep   the fair enchanted 
globes of crystal  whoso glory dies not, 
the Silmarils.  We have sworn for ever!

How does Fëanor's Oath haunt the rest of The Silmarillion? Why is the concept of making and/or breaking an oath or vow so important in Tolkien's works?

Marriage, Remarriage, Love and Couples

In The Silmarillion, Tolkien insists on presenting a variety of love relationships between males and females. We have the love and then marriage between Thingol and Melian, Beren and Lúthien's protypical story of heroically romantic love, the Valar joined as male/female couples, Finwë's marriage first to Miriel and then Indis. What do you make of the variety and themes Tolkien includes in these love relationships? Why is the frequent joining of a "lesser" male to a somewhat superior female such an important theme in Tolkien's works?

Free Will, Fate, Choice

We touched on this in class, but I'd like to encourage you to discuss this more fully here.

In Christian theology, evil (Satan/Lucifer's fall, etc.) is the price of free will. In orthodox Catholic doctrine especially, 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. In addition to choice, chance is another means by which both the divine and humankind can connect, interact, and even counteract each other in such theological frameworks.

How does Tolkien weave these theological concepts into his works? How are these concepts expressed more directly in The Silmarillion than in The Lord of the Rings?

Tumblr

This is just because I want to share all the Silmarillion things I've been recently reblogging on Tumblr because I have all these feels. Also I am doing one of those "30 Days" memes for the Silmarillion, and I'd like to challenge any other tumblr users to do it to.

Here's all the things tagged "Silmarillion" from my blog. And most of it is wildly inappropriate, so fair warning. Also, I'd like to follow anyone else's Tumblr if you want to include a link to your blog. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Art Is . . . ?


In Tolkien’s lecture “On Fairy-Stories,” he defines art as the “operative link between Imagination and the final result, Sub-creation.” According to this definition, the making of art depends upon the artist’s urge to portray novel ideas, which are anchored in the artist’s mind. Do you suppose then that Tolkien would have considered photographs or portraits of real people to be true “art,” or do you think that a photographer’s or painter’s ability to see such subjects would prevent those works from bearing the name of true “art”?      

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Janet Croft and Chronicles of Narnia

Tonight's lecture by Janet Croft was enlightening and great clarification regarding several of the topics we touched on in class this week.  What I found most helpful was her discussion of the necessary elements for Faerian drama.  Here they are, paraphrased (and I may have missed one or two):

1)  The dramas don't take place in the realm of everyday life.
2)  The senses are satisfied, and the experience feels real (i.e. the happenings in Faerie are not "irrational" for that world)
3)  The participant in the drama joins a world already in progress.
4)  The participant must enter with the correct mindset, the right frame of mind.
5)  There is a clear before and after of the drama.

Another intriguing point made by Ms. Croft was her observation that often in Faerian drama, the protagonist/participant seems perfectly fitted to the trials and temptations throughout the stories which serve to mold him and grow him in his apparent weaknesses.

So following these given elements - and likely spurred by the Tolkien/Lewis friendship - I think the Chronicles of Narnia fits the Faerian drama bill almost perfectly.  Obviously, the stories take place in Narnia, this mysterious, alternate world.  The experience feels real (at least to me): nothing that happens seems out of the ordinary for the world of Narnia.  The children dropped into Narnia always enter in medias res - the action is already underway.  For example, Eustace, Edmund, and Lucy drop into the ocean next to the Dawn Treader as it embarks on its voyage.  Most of the children involved enter Narnia with a perceptive and understanding mindset.  For example, Lucy finds Aslan most often when she completely believes in his existence. And finally, there is definitely a clear before and after to these stories.  Kids change, lives are saved, evil is overthrown, the children return to our world.

Then, of course, C.S. Lewis seems to mold the trials and tribulations specifically to grow his characters in their weaknesses.  I see this most obviously in Eustace in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  He's a brat from the beginning of the story - entitled, snobby, refusing the help of others - but after his stint as a dragon, when he sees what a burden he is to the others and finds ways to help the group, Eustace is a changed boy at the end of the story.

Feel free to disagree with me, but I want to know what you all think. And what other stories/movies, etc. can you think of that fit these requirements of Faerian drama?

Our Imaginations

So today in class we talked about imagination in my group (group two). Julie mentioned how everyone has their own fantasy, that each fantasy is different. It got me to wondering, how do you guys see the characters in Tolkien's works? How do you imagine them? Are you stuck with images from the movies because you saw them first, or do you have your own ideas about how Frodo should look? How do you think Tolkien's characters that haven't been in any movies would look? I'm not really asking for a dream-cast, unless you really have based their appearance on actors. Is there any character in the movies who looks especially different compared to your own vision of them?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

With our discussion of "On Fairy-stories," I could not help being reminded of my favorite video game of all time, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. There is something about the world of Hyrule which seems to be deeply related to the theme of subcreation within Tolkien's own works. It is a place of magic, adventure and mystery, with a creation story very similar to that of Middle-earth as told in the Silmarillion. After finishing the remainder of the reading for tomorrow's class, I realized that Escape is probably one of the primary reasons Tolkien's stories and places like the Kingdom of Hyrule mean so much to me. They allow me to leave myself behind in the confines of the 'real world' and enter Faërie, even if it is just for a short while.

"The Pot of Soup, The Cauldron of Story"

(Hopefully this picture shows up well enough for you all to see it! Let me know if it doesn't.)

So, I've seen and read things like this throughout the years of being both a Tolkien and Harry Potter fan (in fact, someone from the last Tolkien class even wrote a paper on the similarities and differences between these two stories), and while they make me laugh, sometimes it really bugs me that people make out J.K. Rowling to be this complete idea thief. I think both her and Tolkien are brilliant in their own ways, plus, learning more about what influenced Tolkien is showing me how much he himself pulled from other stories and traditions to create his own world.

So, I have lots of thoughts and questions about this: what do you think Tolkien would say to something like this - is it theft of his ideas, or an example of the "cauldron of story" in which the most resonant themes or motifs survive in multiple forms and stories? What is it about some of these themes/archetypes that have such an impact on readers of both Harry Potter and Tolkien? And would Harry Potter be considered a fairy tale by Tolkien's standards? What do you think he would say about it?

3 faces

Today in class we did not get to talk about the face that Tolkein said that there are three faces of faery stories.. So i was wondering what peoples opinions about these three face were.  Also I want to know if these remind anyone of anything.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tolkien's Opinion of Shrek


Upon reading Tolkien's On Fairy-Stories, I have noticed that Tolkien is fairly critical of many stories that are  often referred to as "Fairy-Stories." Tolkien reasons that certain stories are not true "fairy-stories" because they do not meet certain criteria, like creatures are simply used as "masks upon a human face" or because all the adventure occurred within a dream. 
As I was reading a question kept coming into my mind, it seemed like a silly question so I decided  not to post it here, but then Tolkien mentioned "Puss-in-Boots" (324) and I knew it was a sign. So here is my question...
Do you guys think Tolkien would have counted "Shrek" as a fairy-story? Why or why not?

Personally I am conflicted because the multiple fairy-story characters in Shrek make it difficult to judge. Some of the individual characters may meet the standard and some may not. I am not sure if Tolkien would look as the stories as a whole or make his judgment based off of if Shrek himself meets the standard. What do you guys think?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Warrior Values

I've thought some more about the values expressed in Tolkien's fiction compared to those in medieval heroic literature, about the things Tolkien's heroes do that might be dishonorable for a medieval hero (sneaking the Ring into Mordor, cheating in the riddle game as I think Megan mentioned). But it's clear that the ends don't always justify the means for Tolkien, either. The Ring could never be used for good.

So when it comes to war, what makes a tactic acceptable or unacceptable for Tolkien? How are Tolkien's heroes different? And as for that part of the heroic spirit Tolkien does seem to admire ("Heart shall be bolder, harder be purpose, more proud the spirit as our power lessens"), where can we find that expressed?

Languages

After reading Tolkien's "English and Welsh" lecture and feeling entirely inferior because I only speak one language fluently, I am interested to hear about my classmates' language experiences. What languages are you fluent in? What languages do you dabble in? What's your favorite thing about studying a "foreign" language?

I regret to say that I only really speak English. I've a basic knowledge of French and Spanish after studying both in school for a time. I am, however, fluent in Ubbi Dubbi (anyone who watched PBS's show ZOOM as a kid knows what I'm talking about!). My favorite thing about studying languages is the beauty of the sound of "the ordinary words for ordinary things" as Tolkien calls them. For some reason, Spanish and French names for common objects sound so much better to my ears!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Importance of Names

Throughout Tolkien's works, characters adopt or are given different names as part of their stories. Aragorn is not only named Strider, but also Estel and Elessar and Thorongil. What importance does onomastics, the study of names, play in Tolkien's works? Why does he give characters multiple names? Is there a difference or not in the way names are used or change depending on race in Tolkien, i.e. Elves and Men? And what about Hobbits? Are names of Hobbits by nature different than those of other races?

Elves Magic as Art

We talked in our classes about The Silmarillion a bit about the creative activities of Tolkien's Elves. In one of his Letters (#131 to Milton Waldman), Tolkien explains that for the Elves "Their 'magic' is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effortless, more quick, more complete (product, and vision in unflawed correspondence). And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation."

What do you make of Tolkien's efforts in this passage to equate art with magic as well as to distance this kind of art from the kind of power that is dominating and corrupting? Why might such concepts have been important to Tolkien? What do his words in the quote above tell us about his intentions for his stories?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Literature and language

So today I think we had a very interesting conversation about Tolkien's ideas on language and literature. I think the most interesting part was when we discussed how Tolkien believed languages needed to have literature in order for people to learn them. Isn't that why he created the Silmarillion, to justify and to have a basis for his language? I don't think anyone said that. Anyway, let's discuss further: why is literature necessary to language? Why is Middle-earth necessary to Tolkien's language? Or is it not necessary? I enjoy Tolkien's world and I appreciate how he incorporates his language into it, but I don't know if it's necessary.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Aule/Sauron, Melkor/Saruman

In class on Tuesday, we didn't get around to "Of the Enemies" in the Valaquenta.  This was my section so I'm going to post my questions here.

1)  It says that Sauron began as a Maiar of Aule before he gave his allegiance to Melkor.  Aule is characterized earlier in the chapter as "a smith and a master of all crafts, and he delights in works of skill, however small, as much as in the mighty building of old" (p. 20).  In what ways do you see these skills of Aule mirrored in Sauron?  I think an obvious example would be the forging of the rings.  Sauron had to have been incredibly skilled to make the Ring as powerful as it was. What other example can you all think of?

It's also interesting because Tolkien also writes that Melkor was jealous of Aule because they had similar abilities and interests.  Could this have driven Melkor's desire to "steal" on of Aule's Maiar?  Do you think Melkor could have been jealous of Sauron's skills?  Just hypothesizing - I have no idea as to the answers of these questions!

2)   My other topic is about the parallels between Saruman and Melkor. This idea comes from this passage about Melkor at the end of the Valaquenta: "Understanding [Melkor] turned to subtlety in perverting to his own will all that he would use, until he became a liar without shame.  He began with the desire of Light, but when he could not possess it for himself alone, he descended through fire and wrath into a great burning, down into Darkness.  And darkness he used most in his evil works upon Arda, and filled it with fear for all living things" (p.25).

This entire description kept reminding me of Saruman's corruption especially the part of being "a liar without shame" and "when he could not possess it [the Light] for himself alone." What do you guys think?  Can Saruman be seen as a lesser reflection of Melkor due to his selfishness and perversion of creatures (I'm thinking the Uruks here...)?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Melkor = the Devil?

I had a couple questions concerning Melkor that I wrote down in class on Tuesday, so here's a little taste of them:

How is Melkor similar to or different from the Christian (or other religion's/worldview's) conception of the Devil? Does he really rebel against Ilúvatar? - or, what exactly is his "sin"?

It seemed to me at first that he's suuuper similar to the figure of Satan, but just to play devil's advocate (har har har), I found some things that go against that interpretation. For example, is it so bad that he had such a strong desire to create things of his own? Don't the rest of the Valar end up creating things of their own? I also found it interesting that after being put back in place by Ilúvatar, Melkor feels shame - the opposite of pride, Satan's downfall - then anger. Any other ideas?
Yesterday in class we talked a little bit about how Tolkien's religion showed through in his writing. Even though he was against the practice of "allegory" his Christianity does show through in many parts of his writing. Prof Donovan mentioned that some criticized the religious aspects of the Silmarillion and this got me to thinking about the question I am about to present. Do you guys think it's okay for a fantasy writer incorporate their religiousness into their writing? Does it hurt the legitimacy of the work because it may make their work not entirely original? Does anyone believe Tolkien's incorporation of religion into his writing could be viewed as "pushing" his views on others?
I for one believe it is okay, but because I happen to share the same religion as Tolkien (Roman Catholic), my impartiality may be compromised. So what do you guys think?

PS-I know religion can be a sensitive topic so be nice!


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Maps

While I did not find a gif'd map which shows how Arda was reshaped and came to be the Middle-earth we know from LOTR (I am still looking, though!), I did find quite a few links to quite a few maps, if anyone's interested in that sort of thing.

A really good book to look at/think about getting is Karen Wynn Fonstad's The Atlas of Middle-earth, from which a few of these maps are taken.

  • http://membres.multimania.fr/rickano/htm/me-map.html
  • http://7a6972656f5f74637568.killerhor.net/indexclient.php?noparent=1&category=120&age=3&page=1
  • http://www.nazgul.de/Karte/Mittelerde/Karten/Silmarillion/1stage/thumbs/imagepages/circles%20of%20the%20world.html
  • http://www.nazgul.de/Karte/Mittelerde/Karten/Silmarillion/2ndage/thumbs/imagepages/advent%20of%20the%20dark%20years.html

I guess I could ask a question here to generate discussion (aside from the obvious: if you find more Middle-earth maps, will you post them here?): how cool is it that Tolkien's world has generated as many maps (probably) as if it was a real place? I for one know way more about Middle-earth geography than I do about real-world geography. I mean, that's huge! In The Hobbit, a map is a central plot device in the actual narrative. And I am willing to bet Tolkien started the trend of including maps to fictional places in his books. Who else did that (I mean before; it's almost standard in fantasy now)?


Silmarillion Dreamcast

Okay, I know this isn't Tumblr, and I know this isn't exactly academic, but I was going through my old copy of The Silmarillion and found on a post-it note stuck inside from a time when I had lofty ambitions to see Silm. on film (probably pre-Two Towers dashing my hopes of every liking a film version of anything Tolkien) containing a list of popular actors at the time "cast" as Silm. characters.

Don't laugh. They are basically silly. I think I wanted Tom Welling as Beren and like Heath Ledger as Fingolfin (I made this list before he died), and James Franco as Feanor? Wow. Shane West as Maeglin? I don't even know who these people are anymore.

But I thought this might be a fun way to help remember who everyone is, since there are so many characters in The Silmarillion. Please tell me you all have better (at least more contemporary!) actor suggestions.

What Brought You To This?

How did you personally come to read any of Tolkien's works for the first time? Which work did you read first? Did you see the Peter Jackson films before you read The Lord of the Rings? If you have read any of the works multiple times, why do you keep reading those works? What do they give you you that other works lack?

Homecoming and Farmer Giles-- before LOTR

Both "Homecoming of Beortnoth, Beorthelm's Son' and "Farmer Giles of Ham" were written not long before Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings. We spoke in class a bit about what this might mean in terms of implications for Tolkien's purpose in writing "Farmer Giles of Ham," but let's now expand that to think about both of these texts and their relationship to the larger topic of Middle-earth. What are the connections between these two short texts and The Lord of the Rings or even The Silmarillion? What does their placement in the chronology of Tolkien's works imply about what he was thinking about at this point in his life?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Unexpected?

Anna made a comment in class on Tuesday during the freewrites that I thought was really insightful.  She sort of questioned whether Farmer Giles was an unexpected unexpected hero.  Do we ever expect an expected hero in Tolkien's work?  I think Tolkien includes unexpected elements in all of his works - I'm always surprised by something so I'm not saying he's entirely predictable.  For example, in Farmer Giles, I was surprised by the ending of the story when Giles makes himself the king and "befriends" the dragon. However, I'm not really surprised by Tolkien's unexpected heroes anymore.  It seems to be his trademark.  Even characters that at first glance seem that they should be the hero of the story, Tolkien exposes and reveals their faults and insecurities and ends up casting them as the unexpected hero, the underdog (I'm thinking Aragorn here).  Obviously, Tolkien is very successful in using this recurring theme, and I think it makes his works extremely powerful.

Sometimes I think Tolkien even subverts this theme by revealing the corruption of characters we might expect to be heroes like Saruman or Denethor.  Who are some of Tolkien's successful expected heroes, though?  I've thought of maybe Elrond, but I'm not sure he classifies as a "hero" (in The Lord of the Rings at least - maybe in The Silmarillion but I haven't read far enough to find out yet).  Thoughts?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Radio Play vs Actual Play

If The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth is ever performed, should it be a radio play or a real play?  I would vote for a radio play because there isn't much to see at all.  The stage directions could be read by a narrator.  The sounds of the shuffling and creaky wagon wheels could be made authentically.  I think this story would suit the medium of radio very well because it forces you to imagine what everything looks like.  Not being able to see clearly is a great way to instill fear in the audience.  Shadows and lights are easily represented in the imagination.  Anyway, I think a radio play would be very cool.  What do you all think?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Leave us alone please.

     A point was raised in class today that I found thought provoking.  Were Giles and the villagers justified in seceding from the King's governance, or was it an unjustified act of rebellion?  The folk of Ham had remained largely unhindered by the King.  He paid little attention to them, and in turn they paid little attention to him.  Tolkien characterizes them as plain country folk that want to be left in peace.  This seems analogous to the hobbits of the Shire.  The king of Gondor used to have power over that corner of the land, but no more, and the hobbits had quite forgotten that they ever used to be under the dominion of anyone.  They want to remain free, and at the end of The Return of the King their autonomy is secured.  Even though Aragorn is now king over the land, he leaves the Shirefolk to go on with their lives unhindered (at least I think he does if I remember correctly).  As for Ham, they openly rebel against the King for their independence.  Even though the hobbits and the people of Ham want the same thing, does the way they get that thing matter?  It seems clear that Tolkien would have valued his independence as well, but how would he have gone about it?  Are rebelling against an established monarch to gain independence and being left alone long enough to remember only independence the same thing, or are the means more important than the ends?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Jackson's Film version of The Hobbit

Let's go ahead and acknowledge the big elephant of current Tolkien news and get going with discussion of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Take this opportunity to rant or rave as you see most fit!

Tolkien's Mythology

Certainly, Tolkien's works are influenced by the mythologies of other cultures, places, and times. Mythological elements from Old Norse, Old English, Celtic, Finnish, and even classical Roman and Greek sources influenced his mythology as it is found in works such as The Silmarillion. But, most scholars agree that Tolkien's mythology is distinctively his own. In particular, Tolkien's officla biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, called it "a mythology for England."

So, what do you think Tolkien was trying to create with his own mythology? How is it similar to or different from other mythologies of earlier peoples? Why has the term "a mythology for England" seemed to resonate with so many scholars?

Another Favorite Character

On the Information Sheet you filled out on the first day of class, I asked you to write a bit about your favorite character from Tolkien's works. Since so many of you groaned about picking a single favorite, take the opportunity to write about one of your other favorite characters as a comment to this post.