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


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.


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


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.