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.

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!