Sunday, December 6, 2015

Ancillary Concerns

We learned this semester that Tolkien's works were all supported by a great many ingredients. I am referring, of course, to the stew metaphor that came up quite often in class. I wonder what sources all of you drew from to understand the works of Tolkien? What lenses you viewed his work through? In personal terms, I definitely looked at Tolkien's works from a small background in philosophy and a definite background in creative literature. I also understood Tolkien's works visually, through the lens of theatre (a realm of cause and effect, stakes, power, and hyper-acute representations of life). For example, the split in Gollum's nature is defined by which side is defying the other. Whichever is doing the defying has less at stake, and more power in the situation. That is a classic setup for theatric tension. What do you think? How did you understand the works of Tolkien?

Enunciation... etc. Et. All

Has anyone learned any elvish this semester :) ?  I never caught that sort of time, but the reason I ask is out of an interest in the elvish song that we read in The Road Goes Ever On. Songwriting for other languages and cultures fascinates me. It's a real trip to imagine what sort of sociological factors would influence their music. Tell me: what do you think the music of the elves was like, and, beyond that, what about the music of creation?

Book Titles!

Our connections to Tolkien come in many forms, and many from the works of other authors influenced by his works. With that in mind, I have to ask: are there any books I should read? Movies I should see? Anything that reminded you of Tolkien that you appreciate. I'll contribute my entry here: The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. Thanks all!

Teaching Tolkien

Hi all, this is Vairë, or, as many of you know me, Sam. After this semester of work and readings and discussion, it is clear to me that there are quite a few takeaways to be had from this class. Tolkien is definitely a teachable work, and one with lasting value in a number of fields and areas of life. After coming to that realization, I wanted to ask you all a few questions: 1.) Do you agree with my assessment, or do you find difficulty applying the works of Tolkien to our molecular universe or legitimizing them without it 2.) Would you like to see Tolkien studies more frequently in school systems 3.) Does the lasting value of Tolkien's works, it's "legacy," warrant an entire field of studies 4.) would you follow such a course of study? I ask these things out of a lifelong curiosity over the teaching of creative thinking and humanities courses. I believe their teaching is integral to society as a whole, and I like to do a fact check and to analyze the ways that their teaching can be shown applicable and necessary. I hope you might contribute your opinions to my questions, whether you agree or disagree. I feel like there is a fight to legitimize everything from fantasy to philosophy, and if there is indeed a need for such, I would like to know how to defend the necessity of the work that is separate from the molecular.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The End of All Things

Hey guys!  I can't really believe that this class is over already, and I will definitely miss it and all of you a ton!  I know there was a lot of cheese going on Thursday, but really though--it's been a great class.

Anyway, this week my German professor asked us to write a few pages about how we are going to use what we had learned in our careers and our futures, and I thought it was ridiculous at first.  I'm an English/Theatre major; German is never going to help me with anything!  But as I wrote, I realized more and more how much that class will help me in real life career settings.  It expanded my English grammar comprehension, expanded my vocabulary, and taught me some really good tongue-twisters for warm ups!

So, now I ask you all: how will you use what you've learned in this class in the real world?  We all come from diverse majors, but I think we could all pull something from this that would help us in our careers.  I know personally this class has made me see patterns in my own poetry that echo the exact things that I dislike in certain poems of Tolkien's.  This allows me to look more critically at my poetry and make changes I might not have known to make before.  How about you?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Humor in Tolkien

One thing we didn't discuss in depth is Tolkien's writing style. In his essays, he has (in my opinion) a very scholarly and often difficult to read writing style. I think his fiction is much more readable. Occasionally he will go off on long descriptive paragraphs, but I don't mind them so much. I think that The Hobbit seems like a simpler style than The Lord of the Rings, probably because it is a children's book.


One of my favorite parts of Tolkien's writing style and voice is his humor. Much like C.S. Lewis, every once in a while, there will be a witty little comment or joke that creates a lighter tone. Mainly, I'm thinking of the opening chapter of The Hobbit. The first paragraph isn't laugh-out-loud funny, but it's still humorous (I'm trying to think of synonyms for "funny" so I don't say it 88 times). The entire opening chapter is full of little comments that create a light and amusing tone. My favorite part of the chapter is the part when Tolkien tells how Golf was invented:

"He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfimbul's head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment."

LOTR is more serious overall, but there's still some comic relief (mostly from Merry and Pippin).

Why do you think it's important that Tolkien interjects humor every once in a while? What would the effect be on LOTR if it was written like The Hobbit? Are there any funny lines from his other stories that you liked (LOTR, I think"Leaf by Niggle" might have some, etc.)?

Sam's Visions?

Recently I was looking through ROTK for one of my projects. I came across the scene on Mount Doom where Frodo and Sam encounter Gollum again. Gollum tries to take the ring from Frodo, and after Frodo fights Gollum off, Sam has a vision (sort of?):

Then suddenly, as before under the eaves of the Emyn Muil, Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than the shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the fire there spoke a commanding voice. 

'Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.'

The crouching shape backed away, terror in its blinking eyes, and yet at the same time insatiable desire. (ROTK 237)

The scene interested me because of our discussion on the Ring's binding power and how Gollum falls into the fires of Mount Doom. (I think Tulkas/Elijah posted about this a couple of weeks ago.) Gollum indeed does try to take the Ring from Frodo again, and he is cast into the Fire of Doom. I looked back to the scene at the Emyn Muil because I couldn't remember exactly what Sam saw here. This is the scene where Frodo is making Gollum swear by the Ring:

For a moment it appeared to Sam that his master had grown and Gollum had shrunk: a tall stern shadow, a mighty lord who hid his brightness in grey cloud, and at his feet a little whining dog. Yet the two were in some way akin and not alien: they could reach one another's minds. (TT 249-250)

I'm not really sure what to think about these visions. Why does Sam see them? Is it because he's the only other person there, or is there another reason? What is the significance? Are they visions from the past or are they showing a deeper, almost supernatural level of reality?
 

Did we miss anything?

We've covered so much this semester and all of it has been extremely valuable to Tolkien. However, I was wondering if anybody had any previous works by him that they liked that we never got to. Before this class, I had no idea that he had produced so many works and I'm wondering if there are still more that are worth exploring. Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Pseudonyms!

I know most of us discussed this today in class, but in case you missed it or wanted to see them all laid out: What is your pseudonym? Out in the Primary World, I, Aule, am Jess.

Also, on a more serious note of discussion, what do you think of using the pseudonyms and/or the class blog? I've done this before in another of Dr. Donovan's classes, and I think the pseudonyms are fun and mysterious, but I'm not sure if this class needed them since we all got along so well. The blogging adds a unique dimension to the class, but to be honest I struggled this semester with keeping up with my blog quota. (I think most of us did!)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Gollum's classification as good or evil could send a man to prison!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/12/02/a-turkish-court-appointed-five-lord-of-the-rings-experts-to-figure-out-whether-this-gollum-meme-is-offensive/?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_turkishcourt-930am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

Alright, everyone. This links to a story questioning whether Gollum is a good character or a bad character. We have discussed this in class before, briefly, but what do you think about all this? Did this doctor insult the Turkish head of state by associating him with Gollum (please note the doctor mentions not to include appearance in this evaluation).

Is Gollum more good? Is he more evil?
Is he the real hero?

Now Argue.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A New Shadow in Middle-earth

Tolkien spent a great deal of time building the world of Middle-earth, developing languages, cultures, calendars, myths, legends, histories and stories. But, as Tolkien noted, and as apparent in 'Leaf by Niggle' this creation within his mortal life time was incomplete. He could work tirelessly on the one 'leaf' that was stories, but the tree and the lands were lost to him. He began many parts, but only a few were ever truly completed.

Before Tolkien died, he began work on something which is known as 'The New Shadow', a story which supposedly starts one hundred years after the end of the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien only penned 13 pages before abandoning the project, describing it as "sinister and depressing". He eventually states that it was "not worth doing."

Do you think the Lord of the Rings could have a sequel? If so, what do you think it would necessarily be about? If not, why not? Tolkien at least attempted it, even if he eventually abandoned it. Would you have wanted to read another story set in the same universe?

Holidays in Middle-earth

Seeing as we've just come off of a Thanksgiving Break, and soon to be in a Winter Break, during which Christmas and New Years will occur, alongside other Holidays such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. I feel that it is a pertinent topic to discuss some of the Holidays within Middle-earth.

Through the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit we hear of only a few. Durin's Day is one, celebrating the Dwarvish New Year, Yule 1 and Yule 2, and Mid-Year's Day are others that we hear of being celebrated in the Shire.

My questions unto you is three fold. First, what do you think Holiday traditions are like within the Shire, Rohan, Gondor, Imladris, etc.? Secondly, since we hear so little of other Holidays and many days pass without mention within the stories, do you think there are traditional holidays within the many cultures that we never hear about? If so, what might they be like?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Who really had the journey?

I talked with one of our classmates about who Lord of the Rings is really about. I advocated it is about Frodo, his journey, his success/failure (insert class argument here) while he insisted the story was about Sam. He made some decent points:

  • Sam is the only non-main character who is present from beginning to end
  • Without Sam, Frodo would not have made it to Mt. Doom
  • Sam sees people more realistically
  • Sam's carefulness makes the journey successful
I personally don't think there is quite enough evidence to support this, but apparently it is a huge debate! Maybe not huge, but there are dedicated websites, notably theonering.net supports Samwise Gamgee is the Lord of the Rings' main character.

What do you think? Frodo or Sam? Someone else?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tolkien: An Acquired Taste?

I had a conversation with a woman over break who stated that she owned all of the Lord of the Rings books and could just not get into them. Additionally, one of my professors spotted me reading The Silmarillion and told me he had read it, but could never read all the way through LOTR. This got me thinking about my own experience with Tolkien.
I am a life long Harry Potter fanatic and an avid reader of all things fantasy. I learned to read young and had a Harry Potter book in my hands in the first grade. Inevitably, this led me to Lord of the Rings. I read it for the first time when I was ten and I remember being underwhelmed. Therefore, I stuck with Harry Potter and if asked which I liked better it would be HP, no contest. But then, I read LOTR again my freshman year of college. I read The Hobbit for the first time, and then I read it again. Now I'm not so sure which is my favorite.
I have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings three times now and I like it better every time. I feel like these books resonate with me more as I get older. I'm not sure if this is due to a greater appreciation for the finer things or the fact that I simply understand more of the words now. This leads me to ask: Is Tolkien an acquired taste? Is it like fine liquor and gets better with age? How do you feel Tolkien has changed for you over the years? Or if this is your first time reading it, do you think you will get more out of it after a second read? Are some of Tolkien's texts better or easier reads than others?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Hope and Despair

A few weeks ago, we talked about the conflict between hope and despair in LOTR. Understandably, this dichotomy appears most often when the characters are facing intense trials. During these times, it would be easy to tip over the edge into utter despair (as we see Denethor do). However, Tolkien's heroes always* seem to draw up on some last bit of courage and overcome their battles. Instead of surrendering to despair, the heroes choose to live in hope. I think this happens a lot in LOTR, but two specific instances that come to mind are the battle of Helm's Deep and Sam and Frodo's battle up Mount Doom. At Helm's deep, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli fight on despite the dark turns the battle takes. At Mount Doom, Frodo and Sam must constantly resist the urge to abandon hope and give up. They are exhausted and worn, and yet Sam carries Frodo partway up the mountain, and then fights off Gollum while Frodo continues on. In both these situations, there is still a faint glimmer of hope that the darkness can be defeated.

The theme of hope and despair appears in many of Tolkien's works. What are some other times when we see this theme at work in his writing (other than LOTR)? Which particular stories or scenes in The Silmarillion exemplify this conflict? What about his poem "Mythopoeia?" Do we see this in his short stories?

*Feel free to disagree with me for the sake of discussion!


Readings from the Semester

What thoughts do you have about our readings for class this semester? Are there any you think we could have omitted? What did you think about Snyder's book, The Making of Middle-earth? Was it worth including to provide background info or not?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Tolkien's Legacy

Think about our class discussions over this semester and choose one theme that you think is important to Tolkien's legacy today. What aspects of this legacy or theme contribute to the staying power of Tolkien's writing? How is this theme relevant to you personally or to society in the twenty-first century? Why does Tolkien choose to include this theme, and how does he build his own legacy (or build on previous legacies) with it?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mythology of your own life

All semester, we have been talking about the ways Tolkien uses visual art, music, bits of mythology from other world cultures, events and characters from his fiction's "history" to build his own subcreated, mythological world. Although Tolkien was a master at this, I would like to posit that all of us regular human beings also engage in mythological subcreation within our own lives, even if we do not write fiction. Remember that, in Tolkien's frame of reference, this type of mythmaking or mythopoeia is not false or dissembling; it is a way of embodying the truest kind of truth in one's heart and soul (I know it's corny, but humor me for a bit ;-)  )

For instance, in my own life, I have memories of a fall with golden trees, re-reading The Lord of the Rings, and being deeply in love for really the first time in my life. An old special song by Enya (whose title escapes me right now) and one from Elton John (Your Song) are interwoven with that time. Although that love didn't last much beyond that one fall, my memories of it are sharp and clear and ring truer in my heart than many others. I theorize that this may be because I have created a mythopoeia of that time in my memories-- perhaps partly fictional in the wonder and joy of it, but no less true and real in my heart.

So, in what ways have you engaged in your own life in mythopoeia? In other words, what works of art, books you've read, music you've hear, sights, sounds, smells, feeling have you put together in a way that represents something meaningful in your own life? Does this subcreation of a small bit of mythology connected to your own life and its events matter differently to you than other kinds of memories or events? In what ways does combining such elements into a mythology make it feel or seem more true? Or does it?

If you choose to respond to this post (and I sincerely hope you do!), please feel free to disclose as much or as little personal information as you wish. Also, feel free to breach your pseudonym, because after all we are at the end of all things now...

Monday, November 23, 2015

Leaf by Niggle

I was told recently that "Leaf by Niggle" is a good story to read during times of grief, and, since I have been having a tough week, I thought it the perfect time for the story to be on the schedule.

At first, as I read it, I was confused about why it was good to read during difficult times.  It felt like the type of story that just makes everything feel worse and more tragic.  Niggle tries so hard, and yet, he can never attain what he desires.  He is taken away and abused, and I want to think it's unfair, but it feels somehow like justice, which makes it all the more upsetting.  I didn't feel like it was a good story for grieving at all.

Then, I got to Niggle's Parrish, and the mountains beyond, and I cannot describe the effect of those pages.  They offer a hope and a purpose, and we suddenly see so much of Tolkien's own hope.  It is easy to feel like Niggle sometimes--unable to improve and unable to give up--and it is easy to feel like Parrish at the end--unable to go forward and unwilling to let go--but this story reminds us that those moments of hopelessness and helplessness are passing things.  Personally, it reminded me of the hope of the Gospel as well.

In the end, after reading through the story, what do you think?  Is it a story of healing?  Does it help?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Frodo's Motivation

We spent a lot of time in class discussing the reasoning behind the fact that Frodo had Smeagol swear his loyalty to him on the Ring. Although I think that often throughout the story Frodo doesn't get enough credit for his actions, this may be an instance where he didn't fully recognize the consequences. Frodo obviously understands (to an extent) the power of the Ring, but what he really focuses on here is that it is an important object to Smeagol. He is cautious of the power, warning Smeagol too that it could twist his words, but it seems unlikely that he is fully contemplating the power of the Ring in the situation of an oath. Tolkien and his belief in the importance of oaths plays into this too, as both Frodo and Smeagol place their trust in simply a statement upon an object.

What are anyone's opinions on why Tolkien placed so much importance into oaths in his myth? Also, has anyone's opinion changed about Frodo's motivation for using the Ring as an object to swear on?

Gollum's Oath

On Thursday while discussing Frodo's success or failure, the topic of Gollum's oath on the Ring and his ultimate demise in Sammath Naur came up at the end of class.  The subject of the oath never explicitly arises again after it is made.  Tolkien was never one to include a scene that did not have some signifcance.  As such, it is safe to assume that the oath is working behind the scenes somehow.  Many believe that the oath, and therefore the Ring, are the cause of Gollum's attack on Frodo.  I can see two possible explanations:

1. Smeagol says, "Smeagol will swear never, never, to let Him have it."  This is fairly clear, and more difficult for the Ring to twist.  It would make sense that when Frodo puts on the Ring, Gollum sees that he will take it to Sauron or that it will eventually makes its way Him of its own accord.  The Ring then compels him to attack Frodo and prevent this from happening.

2. Another possibility (one that I think is more likely), is that the Ring is tempting Gollum to break his oath.  This has more to do with the ambiguity of Smeagol's promise to serve the master of the Ring.  We know that Gollum has already broken his oath to Frodo when he lead them into Shelob's lair, and yet the Ring did nothing about it.  It seems likely to me that the Ring is looking for an excuse to kill Gollum.  It wants him to break his oath so that it can exact some sort of punishment on him.  Once they are in the Cracks of Doom, the Ring tempts Gollum to betray his master once more, only this time it forces him over the edge.

The second possibility is a little more complex and devious on the Ring's part, and it seems more plausible.  Either way, it is my opinion that the Ring is the driving force behind its own destruction.  What do you think?  Is the Ring an active force in this scene? How so? Could there be another reason it is compelling Gollum to attack Frodo?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Terrorism in Tolkien's Works

Yesterday in class, I mentioned briefly that for some readers Tolkien's text resonate differently today after 9/11 and other terrorist occurrences in this century. But, no terrorists as we think of them appear in Tolkien's works. So, what then is the relationship between terrorism and Tolkien's works? Do Tolkien's works suggest anything that connects with terrorism as we know it today? Why or why not?

At the End of All

Why Tolkien chose to produce such a long denouement for the end of The Lord of the Rings in Book VI. Why the long wrap-up?

Carefully scrutinize the reasons Tolkien chooses to spend so many pages wrapping up his story after the narrative climax. Reflect on the details Tolkien chooses to include as well as on his overarching themes. Go deeper than surface-level examinations of plot or character motivation; instead push to imagine what Tolkien expected his readers to get out of his extended ending.

What is it, at the end of this text, “here at the end of all things,” that Tolkien means us to think about and carry with us always?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Why the Enduring Popularity?

Why is Tolkien's work still so popular? What is it about The Lord of the Rings that still speaks to so many different types of people? Is that popularity really warranted? Or not?

Heroism one last time

How do you think Tolkien means us to define heroism within his created world of Middle-earth?  Are his definitions of heroism multiple? Who is the MOST heroic of the characters in Tolkien's works?

Chance and Coincidence or Providence and Fate

Make a list of examples for chance/coincidence and another list of examples for providence/fate from any part of The Return of the King. Think about the examples on your lists in terms of the following:

Are the events in The Lord of the Rings, particularly those that unfold in these three chapters and in the preceding books, more directly a result of Providence or the happenings of Chance?

Or do they weave together, affecting one another in some kind of interplay?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Frodo and Gollum

In class on Tuesday, my group discussed the strange relationship between Frodo and Gollum.  Frodo clearly pities Gollum, and Gollum clearly respects Frodo to a certain extent.  Both want to trust each other but can never fully bring themselves to do so.  The dynamics of this relationship obviously demonstrate the hold of the ring on its bearers, but in what way does the power of the ring manifest itself?

I have always seen Frodo's ability to pity Gollum as an example of Frodo's resistance to the ring.  Gollum, who bore the ring for decades, has no pity left inside him and thinks only of himself.  Frodo, on the other hand, has not yet allowed the ring to consume his desires.  He may feel its effects, but he doesn't lose the ability to care about others.

One of the other members in my group though saw this pity a different way: as an example of how the ring has begun to take control of Frodo.  Because Frodo is succumbing to the ring's influence, he feels a connection between himself and Gollum, thus allowing him to feel pity for this creature who lost the ring.  The ring ties them together and allows Frodo to relate to Gollum's suffering.

What do you all think?  Is Frodo's pity for Gollum evidence of his resistance to the ring or his succumbing to the ring?  Or is there some way for both to influence Frodo's actions?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Morgoth Returns?

What if somehow Morgoth escaped from the Void and returned to Middle-earth? Is this even a remote possibility? There is the implication at the end of the LOTR that evil has been eradicated from ME forever. Of course my mind starts conceiving of its return.. like how Voldemort cleverly preserves himself in Harry Potter. Could Morgoth ever come back?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Void

Let's talk about "the void". In The Silmarillion we learned all about the original bad guy, Morgoth. At the end of the tale we learn that Morgoth is defeated despite his prowess. Upon defeat he is "thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void." This is an interesting statement. He is beyond the walls of the world. I take this to mean the physical plane of Arda and Valinor. In The Silmarillion we read that Iluvatar and the remaining Ainur remain on a different plane from Arda. Is this where "the void" is located? Does the void have a physical location? Or is it perhaps simply separate and exists in another dimension?

Group 4's Thesis on Gollum

Gollum is reflective of both the internal and external conflict that exist between Frodo and Sam and that are associated with the ring. Although Gollum is a significant character in his own right, he is also important as a device to reveal the true natures of Sam and Frodo.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Friendship of Sam and Frodo

One of the topics we discussed (and one I'm sure everyone is going to be posting about at some point) is the nature of Frodo and Sam's friendship. Tolkien (initially) portrays their friendship more like a master and servant relationship, while Jackson makes seem like a "normal" friendship throughout the story. I remember Dr. Donovan said that many scholars think that in the stories, their relationship changes and becomes less of a master-servant relationship and more of a true friendship. Do you all agree with this, or do you think their relationship remains the same throughout the books?

Personally, I agree with this viewpoint. I think that the quest Frodo and Sam undertake and the adventures they have serve as kind of an equalizing force. (Not that Frodo ever acted like he was superior to Sam.) The dangers they encounter and the obstacles they conquer make Frodo and Sam rely on each other equally.

Do you think that Jackson was right to change their friendship dynamic for the movies? How do you think we would have received the movies if Frodo and Sam's relationship changed gradually as (I think) it did in the books?

"What If?" - Scenarios

The more we explore the smaller aspects of Tolkien's works, the more clear it is to me that each small aspect is incredibly significant in the end. On Tuesday, we spent most of class focusing on two groups' findings, and we entered debates over the significance of Gollum and Sam's roles in relation to Frodo and his quest for the ring. I thought it would be interesting to ask you all to embrace your creative side and think about how the story would have been different if Frodo and Sam had never received Gollum's assistance? For that matter, what would have been different if Sam had not followed Frodo when the Fellowship parted ways, and how would Gollum's role have changed then?

Tolkien and Sam

In the fourth book of The Lord of the Rings everything becomes incredibly dark and somewhat hopeless. It's in these times that Sam talks about hope or dreams of oliphaunts, always sticking loyally to Frodo. When I first read through the novels, Sam was the only reason I kept reading through this book. It was difficult to push through this darkest part without his part of the narrative. Having read many of Tolkien's letters, I am led to believe that Tolkien himself probably felt the same way. The darkness of the plot is necessary to emphasize what's at stake, the power of the Ring, and the way it has touched all of Middle Earth. However, I believe Sam embodies Tolkien's love of the Shire and its peoples - a certain innocence and hardiness that is influenced by his experiences of England and war. Though touched by darkness or hopelessness, Sam acts as a walking talking reminder that home, light, and happiness still exists. For that reason, I'd be willing to make the argument that Tolkien included Sam's character and narrative because he needed that hope to exist in his created world, just as he needed it in reality.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Tolkien and Contradiction

“Nobody believes me when I say that my long book is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real. But it is true.” 

In his letters, Tolkien often writes about The Lord of the Rings as his attempt at creating a world for his languages to live and seem believable, having a people and culture that make it real. However, in my research for the analytic paper I came across a couple letters in which Tolkien contradicts himself, claiming to have written The Lord of the Rings for England. He lamented the fact that England did not have its own mythology and wanted to gift his world to her. 

What do you guys think? It's possibly, really, that both of the reasons are equally true. Given what you know of Tolkien, however, would you say that one existed before the other?  Or that one stemmed from the other?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Council of Elrond with Sauron

I really enjoyed the reenactment (if you can call it that) of the Council of Elrond the other day during class. It seemed like each of the characters were voiced accurately even with some extras added in. Something that bothered me, though, was the presence of Sauron and even Saruman.

Since these characters are evil, they dissolve a lot of energy among the characters fighting for good, and it seemed to slow the conversation down at times in the discussion setting. The whole role of these characters is to foil plans and that made it difficult to both portray and include those characters in the Council. Maybe if they had their own "council" it would be easier to discuss since the bad characters have similar motivation for the ring.

Was there anything that bothered anybody else about our portrayal of the Council, and did anybody else notice this about the portrayal of Tolkien's less savory characters?

Lord of the Rings Voted Best Soundtrack of All Time

So I saw this come up today: http://www.digitalspy.com/movies/news/a773253/lord-of-the-rings-voted-best-movie-soundtrack-of-all-time/

The article describes how the Jackson Lord of the Rings movies were voted as being the best movie soundtracks of all time, beating out top contenders such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Titanic, Schindler's List, Harry Potter and Jurassic Park.

We talked about the music of the movies in class not too long ago, and I thought it'd be interesting to hear your thoughts on the article, and whether or not Howard Shore's score is indeed one of the best of all time. I personally would rate it very highly.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Favorite of the Valar

I know it’s been quite a while since we read the Silmarillion, but I recently had an idea for a post (mostly to meet my quota)- Who is your favorite of the Valar? Try not to pick yourself but if you are just that awesome it’s okay.

My favorite is Mandos- Judge of the Dead and Master of Doom. I picked him because among the rest of the Valar he seems to be one of the more impartial and sage characters. When comparing the Valar to other mythologies, like Roman or Greek, he would be the common choice for the ‘villain,’ yet he shows that his nature is not cruel or inherently bad- just fair. Also, he totally initiates the sequence of events that allow Beren and Lúthien to be together- which, to be honest, everyone was hoping that would happen.

One scene that really speaks out in my mind was the instance where the Valar decide to summon the Elves to Aman and when they ask Mandos’ opinion he just says, “So it is doomed”- that’s pretty badass.

Movie Discussion

We’ve definitely mentioned this in class more than once but I thought I would ask outright on the blog (judgment free zone) if you guys have seen/prefer the extended editions? I know that several people saw the regular edition movies before reading the books- do some of the differences/additional scenes surprise you? We discussed some of the differences in character, like Aragorn, and how the movie portrayals were rather different than those in the book- are there any more notable differences?

As for myself I prefer the extended editions- when showing them to a friend of mine she pointed out that many of the plot points make much more sense in the extended editions when compared to the regular movies. As for differences in portrayal I thought that the movie Éowyn was somewhat more annoying about her massive crush on Aragorn. Thoughts?

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Branched Plot

When I think about the storyline of The Lord of the Rings, I usually separate it mentally into two plots (profound, I know). These plots are Sam and Frodo's journey to Mordor, and the adventures of all the other characters (Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, and the rest). In The Fellowship of the Ring, the characters are together for the most part, and there's a single storyline. However, after the breaking of the Fellowship, the characters are split into two groups. Sam and Frodo simply walk into Mordor, while the others are running around fighting battles and rallying forces to fight against Sauron. The structure of the volumes into books helps make this structure clear, and it's very easy to keep the two storylines straight.

I like how Tolkien separates the characters and then unites them again after the Ring is destroyed in The Return of the King. It's common for authors to tell their stories from different perspectives, but I like how Tolkien did it for this story in particular. It really emphasizes how together, the two character groups and their actions bring about Sauron's downfall.

Personally, my favorite chapters are the ones about Aragorn and the others (though I also enjoyed reading about Sam and Frodo; just maybe a little less). I loved reading about all the different places they adventured to and all the characters they met there.

How do you think the story would have unfolded if the Fellowship had stayed together? Which of these plots was your favorite to read? Do you like the organization of the story into books (with each book telling one of the two perspectives), or do you wish Tolkien had alternated these perspectives on a chapter-by-chapter basis?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Favorite "Books" of LOTR

Before this class, I was not aware that Tolkien had originally wanted The Lord of the Rings to be published as a single volume, rather than as a trilogy.  I had noticed that the "books" within each volume continued one through six, but I suppose it never clicked in my brain that this is because The Lord of the Rings is, truly, one continuous story.

In discussion with my friends (many of whom I must admit have only seen the movies), I am often called crazy when I say that The Fellowship of The Ring is my favorite installment of the series.  Perhaps others do not enjoy The Fellowship as much because it does not contain as many battles as the other two volumes, but it is my favorite nonetheless.  I especially enjoy Book II, when the story follows the Fellowship's formation and initial adventures.  I love the captivating descriptions of Rivendell and Lothlorien, which engage my imagination and sensibility.  Perhaps even more so though, I enjoy the sense of wholeness that exists when the Fellowship travels as a single, unified group.  It is sad to me when the group is forced to split up and go their separate ways, although it is, of course, necessary to expand the weight of the story.

What is your favorite volume/book of The Lord of the Rings and why?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween all!

This weekend, when watching Halloween movies with friends, we got into a debate over whether or not The Lord of the Rings should be included in the discussion of which movies to watch.  The boys argued that The Lord of the Rings movies should be on the list of Halloween movies because of the inclusion of Orcs/Goblins.  They then added that people dress up as Elves and Wizards for Halloween all the time, which makes movies with Wizards and Elves Halloween-appropriate.

First of all, I was curious what you all think: is this a good enough argument for calling The Lord of the Rings series "Halloween-appropriate?"

Secondly, do you think children dress up as Wizards and Elves because of The Lord of the Rings or video games or Arthurian legend?  How has Tolkien changed our perspective on what Wizards/Elves look like and are?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Council Prep

In anticipation of Tuesday's Council of Elrond, what will you do to prepare for class? Will you go beyond the Lord of the Rings texts for inspiration for your character? I believe it will be an interesting exercise in understanding a character's point of view and conveying it accordingly. Will anybody dress up or role play? I am looking forward to the exercise and seeing what everyone comes up with!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tom Bombadil

We talked a little about Tom Bombadil today and how he's such an interesting character. While nobody seems to know who exactly he is or how and why he's in Middle-earth, it's fun to speculate about the possibilities. I found this essay, and it brings up a lot of interesting points: https://www.cas.unt.edu/~hargrove/bombadil.html


One interesting point the author of this essay brings up comes from a book by T. A. Shippey. Apparently, Shippey says that if Treebeard is truly the oldest living thing, then Tom Bombadil may not even be technically alive. This seems slightly ridiculous, but it's an interesting thought nonetheless.

What do you think about Tom Bombadil? Do you think he's one of the Valar or Maiar? Do you think Tolkien himself knew who Bombadil is? (I'm assuming he did, but maybe not?) Also, why do you think Peter Jackson and the gang chose not to include him in the movies?

Research Projects

On Tuesday, I heard so many awesome ideas being thrown out from people's research topics that I wanted to open our projects up for more discussion here. 

Did you have a favorite topic that someone else chose, or was there one that really stood out to you or made you think? What were your reactions to the projects in general, yours or others'? In my opinion, there were too many great ideas happening to properly discuss them in one class!

For example: I really enjoyed hearing about the Ringwraith project and how the Nine were a representation of a moral vacuum. Though I hadn't thought about that before, it made a lot of sense to me and made me consider how even physically, the Wraiths are a "vacuum": they don't have forms or bodies of their own and they exist in what seems to be a twilit dimension or state muddied between the light and the dark. Neither living nor dead, the only thing they know is the Ring and its Master. 


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Character Progression

When looking up videos for the multimedia project I came across a documentary called "A Study of the Maker of Middle-earth," in this there was an interview with Verlyn Flieger and she stated that her favorite character was Frodo because she felt that he was the true hero and most notable character- this reminded me of our discussion in class about whether Tolkien's works showed character progression. I personally feel that Sam was a 'better' character than Frodo and that Frodo actually showed very little change- someone mentioned that he couldn't even stay in The Shire because the impact of the ring was so great- I'm not too sure I agree with this idea, I almost get the vibe that leaving with the elves was a reward whereas Sam's reward was family. Maybe I'm just hating on him too hard- Thoughts? Who was your favorite?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Sam instead of Frodo

I have a fairly simple question to pose for everyone, but one that may require a complicated answer. When Frodo is poisoned by Shelob's stinger and taken captive by Orcs, Samwise Gamgee carries the ring for fairly long period of time. Obviously, Frodo has to take the ring back because he is the Ringbearer and that is the way Tolkien wrote the story. However, in an alternate timeline where Frodo does not exist do you think Samwise possesses the necessary strength of will to resist the evil of the Ring and do you think the quest could have been fulfilled if Sam and Frodo's places had been exchanged?

Weep No More

Today we spoke briefly on the topic of escapism and whether, in the end, Faerie is a form of escapism.  There is a song I love, which I sang for choir a few times called “Weep No More.”  The link below leads to a beautiful rendition of this song on youtube.
 
 
This song was originally based on a Keats poem called “Fairy Song,” and the song talks about the idea of the enchantment of Faerie relieving sorrow.  I had not listened to this song for a long time, but when I heard it again today, I suddenly felt like it helped me to, in some part, understand this abstract idea of Faerie just a little bit more.
 
Tolkien talks about enchantment in his essay "On Fairy-stories," and to me, this song tries to encompass that enchantment a little bit.  With the original title of the poem in mind, I picture the enchantment of a fairy inviting a sorrowful stranger into the arms of paradise.
 
Question time: Do you think this is what Faerie provided for Tolkien?  Is the paradise provided in Faerie any less beautiful because it is imagined?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Tolkien Map Rediscovered

Click on the link below, read the article, and think about what you would do if you found...

Link to Tolkien Map

-- a Tolkien map that had been lost
OR
-- a letter from Tolkien to a fan or friend
OR
-- a postcard to a fan (there are lots of these around; I know someone in town who has one!)


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Donald Swann's Lyrics

Most of class on Thursday was spent bashing Donald Swann and his disappointing musical representation of Tolkien's works in 'The Road Goes Ever On'. I participated fully and I think we were right in saying that today's music for the Lord of the Rings movies far surpasses Donald Swann's composition, but I wanted to look more closely at the lyrics. I found that his writing without the music behind it is extremely poetic and moving. My favorite stanza is:

Though here at journey's end I lie
In darkness buried deep,
Beyond all towers strong and high,
Beyond all mountains steep,
Above all shadows rides the Sun
And Stars for ever dwell.
I will not say the Day is done,
Nor bid the Stars farewell.
I will not say the Day is done,

Nor bid the Stars farewell.

This is from 'In Western Lands' and is sung by Sam. My favorite lyric is "in darkness buried deep" where Swann makes darkness like a material, possibly smothering Sam. 'Buried deep' sounds a lot like being buried alive, so it's as if Sam feels buried alive in the darkness. However, he is holding on to hope later on in the stanza saying "I will not say the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell." Swann's range here is wide and meaningful and I wish that the music had enhanced the poetic writing. Does else anyone have a favorite lyric from any of Swann's compositions?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tolkien in Faery

In class on Tuesday we discussed the possibility of “Smith of Wootton Major” being autobiographical.  After recovering from the mind-blowing revelation that Tolkien may have believed he travelled to Faery,  I began to contemplate the autobiographical nature of the story.  I read “Leaf by Niggle” in conjunction with “Smith of Wootton Major” before coming to class.  It was interesting to compare the two, as “Leaf by Niggle” is almost certainly autobiographical.  When you look at the two together, it is much easier to see Smith as being autobiographical.  In Leaf, Niggle struggles with balancing his creative life with his social life.  He ends up taking a long journey and ending up in a place that it is essentially purgatory.  Obviously, Tolkien hadn’t died and gone to purgatory when he wrote Leaf.  Nevertheless, it is still autobiographical in the sense that he is communicating his fears and struggles.  Smith does the same thing.  He is expressing his desire to maintain the childishness that allows him to experience Faery.  

Millennials in a Post-Jackson World

Most young people today do not have the privilege of reading The Lord of the Rings before watching Peter Jackson’s film adaptations.  While I don’t want to bash the films (they’re pretty good for what they are), they certainly seem to be the cause of a lot of issues.  Jackson’s films were my first encounter with Tolkien in any form.  As such, they have given me certain visions and expectations of his novels.  I would even argue that it made it more difficult for me to read the books than if I hadn’t seen them.  I had a lot of questions.  Who the heck is Tom Bombadil? Why is Tolkien spending so much time just talking about Sam and Frodo? Shouldn’t we be seeing more of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli by now? Why did the Ents let Saruman go? Shouldn’t he have fallen off of Orthanc? At times I got bogged down by the differences that it made reading more difficult than it would have been otherwise. 

Even now after I have read them, I still feel that my understanding of the novels is somewhat tainted by the movies.  This seemed very evident to me and some others in class yesterday during our discussion of Swann’s music versus Shore’s score. I can see this also in my concept of Frodo and Sam’s relationship.  For me it has always been one of friendship, not master-servant.  I don’t feel that I am fully able to appreciate to changing nature of their relationship.  What other areas do think your perception of Tolkien’s work is affected by Jackson’s films?

Tolkien's Inspiration/Fan Movie


            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTCc6Z3dAZI
            This is a link to a fan video I found on YouTube. It is the story of Tolkien’s life and his inspirations for writing. It is actually really good and well made!
            For Discussion: What do you think was the most important inspiration for Tolkien’s works? When researching my multimedia project I thought that WWI and his experiences of that time were actually somewhat of a catalyst for his writing. What did you focus on in your research?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Evolving Understanding of Tolkien's Mythmaking

Now that we are more than halfway through the semester, you all should have a more and more evolving grasp of the concepts behind Tolkien's mythmaking-- that concept of mythopoeia that he used in his fiction and for which his work was a pioneer and has become so well-know.

So, what methods does Tolkien use to build his fiction through the concept of mythmaking?
What are the basic components of mythmaking in fiction?
What does it add to his works that is missing in others?
How has your understanding of mythmaking changed or evolved so far?

Feel free to answer any or all of the above!

Swann's music favorite?

Even though in class today we all seemed to be mostly in agreement that Swann's music did not match our vision of what Tolkien's world warranted, which of the songs did you..

-- Enjoy the most?
OR
-- Considered the most successful in adding to Tolkien's world?

Tolkien's Approval on Music: Is it worth it?

We associate Norse, Viking, and Anglo cultures with the realm of Middle-earth. We all have our own opinions on the "rigid" music composed by Swan. Christine said perhaps we mis-associate cultures regarding the music, and perhaps that is true.

But what is harder, still, to accept is that Tolkien's works center a lot on Norse Myth. We look at Snorri, Beowulf, Old-English poetry, and we can find so much relation, and that is what Tolkien studied, loved, and used to write a majority of his stories. To be honest, this makes me question what sort of authority Tolkien has in terms of music. Does he have any? Because the compositions we listened to in class would suggest he doesn't. The music he chose is not as great as his stories or his images/paintings. Nor the words that make up the songs.

I think the biggest questions I have are these: Does Swan's work fit with your expectations of Middle-earth, even without movie-score bias? Do we really care that Tolkien approved it? What other ways could this have been executed?

Creating a World

Tolkien once said that he wanted to create a world around a language he made up  in an effort to make the language seem more believable. So he set about creating lands and peoples with names, cultures,  and history. In order to make the world seem believable and the languages seem realistic, Tolkien had to include things like food and art. For this reason, he expounds on the food in the Shire or the songs of the Elves and Dwarves. I think it's interesting that one can create an image in their mind of a country or people in reality, for instance Italy, based on what we know of their food and art and language. In the same way, Tolkien has made us able to imagine his created peoples and places with his descriptions of those things. He has made his world so real!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Realms

It is interesting to note that in most of Tolkien's works regarding Middle-Earth, every story is kept to a single realm. All the magic and adventures, all the characters and fantastical creatures are in Middle-Earth. However, in Smith, Faery is treated almost as another dimension. It is vague and unclear how Feary is reached and where it is. Why do you think Tolkien is inconsistent in this manner? What is his purpose in making Faery some removed land rather than keeping the story all in one realm.

Criticism

 I think it is a fair assessment to state that we are all fans of the Hobbit, and the Lord of the Rings and place it highly amongst our literary favorites. Yet, I feel as though there are legitimate criticisms that we can place against Tolkien, and his works. We've already discussed our qualms with his treatment of women and people of color, but what literary problems do you think J.R.R. Tolkien has in his works?

Many think that there can be a legitimate discussion about Tolkien's politics seeping into his works, and a dismissal of other points of view. While Tolkien himself stated that he disliked allegory, it seems prevalent through out his texts. The Lord of the Rings have been criticized by some who state that they show a portrait of a social conservative, with an unhealthy fascination of glory, honor, and the false dichotomy of moral superiority that fails to capture reality. One critic even said it is a "political fantasy" that serves as a "middle-class escapism in a capitalist society".

On a more literary note, some have placed criticism against The Hobbit by stating that it suffers from serious flaws of character, jumps of reason and deus ex machina that detract from the story. They state that the common response, "it's just a children's story" is pedantic at best, and that this serves only to further detract from the work.

What do you think? Do you have problems with the Tolkien's writings? Why?


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fate/Destiny and Free Will

A theme prominent in each of Tolkien's works has been fate/destiny. With it, though, Tolkien has included the importance of choices - free will. We haven't discussed free will very often in class but I have found it to be a vital part of Tolkien's myths. Although most of his characters know that they are fated to do or be something in the big scheme of things, it is completely up to them whether or not they decide to accept that fate. Neither Bilbo nor Frodo Baggins were forced to leave their comfortable hobbit hole, they chose it of their own free will. There were outside factors influencing them of course, but they could have stopped and turned back at any point in their journey and revoked their responsibilities.
On the other hand, when characters are deprived of their free will, it is due to an evil force. The most obvious example of this is The One Ring. Sauron's goal is to deprive everyone of their free will, and the ring is the catalyst through which this can occur, and why it's so important in The Hobbit and LOTR. Another example is Orcs. They also have been deprived of their free will because though they are inherently evil, they can make their own decisions up until the point that affects their destiny. Sauron has ultimate control over their fate. Are there any other examples supporting or otherwise that you all can come up with relating to free will in Tolkien's myths?

The Hobbit: A Children's Story

We have discussed now several times the fact that The Hobbit was aimed primarily at children. After discussing the themes in detail over the past week, it is apparent that he included lessons for kids among the adventure. However, I remember first reading it my freshman year of high school, and it didn't strike me as a children's book. The songs did seem odd during the first read, but I figured that it was simply Tolkien's style. I know that I didn't fully appreciate his artistry the first time around, but it didn't seem similar to the children's stories that I've grown up with. I'm curious to know if anyone caught that it was aimed at children during their first read if they didn't already know, and if so, why? Secondly, do you think that your opinion of the book was affected after knowing that it's aimed at kids?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Two Worlds in One?

As we were reading The Hobbit last week, I was thinking about how it is the first of Tolkien's published Middle-earth works. The Lord of the Rings didn't happen until decades later, and as we've discussed in class Tolkien went back to The Hobbit afterwards and changed a few things to make it fit.
My question to you all, then, is what things did you notice that seem to put The Hobbit in a different world from The Lord of the Rings or even the Silmarillion? For me, the elves were very different in The Hobbit. They sing jolly, even mocking songs, party into the late hours of the night, and the Wood Elves get so drunk that they pass out! For me, this seems a far cry from the somber elven songs of The Lord of the Rings and the sad, angry Elves of the Silmarillion.
What are your thoughts? Was there something else in The Hobbit that struck you as different from in the rest of the mythology?

Thorin and Heroism

In the process of doing research for my multimedia project, I have stumbled upon a lot of information on whether or not Thorin is a heroic character in The Hobbit.  Thorin seems like a hero out of legend, who is willing to face insurmountable odds to reclaim his rightful glory.  He courageously faces danger whenever it arises and leads the company through all kinds of perilous situations (even if he doesn't always do it particularly well).  However, Thorin is not always a particularly likable character, and his final failing as a hero occurs within the triumph of his quest.  Thorin does not actually do anything to defeat Smaug, yet he selfishly claims the rewards of Smaug's demise.  Not only does he fail as a warrior hero, but he fails as a ruler, for his greed and desire keep him from sharing the inheritance he did not reclaim himself.

This brought to my mind the character of Frodo.  Although Frodo does not possess the same greatness as Thorin, he becomes the most crucial figure in a dangerous quest, yet ultimately allows greed to get the best of him.  Tolkien obviously enjoys writing characters who try to become heroes, but possess fatal flaws that thwart their efforts.

What do you guys think?  Is Thorin a hero?  Or do his failings nullify his greatness?

Inherent and Circumstantial Destiny

In class on Thursday we discussed different elements of fate and destiny in The Hobbit.  One thing that came up is how Tolkien presents destiny as being simultaneously inherent and circumstantial.  Bilbo was destined to go on this journey with the Dwarves.  His destiny was due in part to his Tookishness.  The Took part of him compelled him to go.  This part was his inherent destiny.  The circumstantial part is that fact that Gandalf named him the group's burglar.  He placed that on Bilbo, and Bilbo had to live up to it.  In this, Bilbo's destiny is both in and out of his control.  He was destined to go an adventure like this (the Tookish part of him would never let him stay in the Shire his entire life), and yet it was up to him how it would play out.  We see this also with Thorin.  According to his lineage, he was destined to be king under the mountain.  But because of his circumstances and choices, his reign was very short lived.

This is easy to see in Tolkien's other works as well.  Aragorn was destined to be the king of Gondor, but the War of the Ring temporarily prevented him inheriting the kingdom.  Had he decided to take the throne anyway, he may have been faced with another war between himself and Denethor.  His circumstances caused him to wait longer, and as a result he was able to reign longer and more successfully.  Can you think of other examples in Tolkien's sub-creation in which a character's destiny is both inherent and circumstantial?   If their circumstances had been different, do you think they still would have fulfilled their destiny?  How would the fulfillment of their destiny look different?

Tolkien's Art for The Hobbit - Group 1

I forgot to post our cover sketch over fall break.  My group was assigned to analyze Tolkien's pieces depicting Mirkwood and the trolls.  We chose to focus on the trolls. His work here was fairly limited, but we felt he displayed many elements and principles of art in these pieces.  We found three primary elements, line (mainly implied line), shape, and form.  For principles we observed contrast, movement, emphasis, and pattern.  We took each of these into consideration when sketching a draft of our cover.  We also chose to include smaller images of things in the novel in the picture's border, as well as Dwarvish runes, as a nod to the style Tolkien uses in many of his other pieces.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Linguistics and Community

One of the topics that came up in discussion last class was community and the ways Middle-Earth would suffer for the loss of any community that makes it up. Somebody mentioned that this was similar to linguistics in that the greatest loss when a language dies is the knowledge of it. Therefore linguists work hard to learn and preserve languages that are close to extinction so that they may never be lost.

I find this interesting because Tolkien was so interested in linguistics and philology, and it shows in his works. He created his own languages. He drew off of existing languages. He understood the importance of language to a people, their culture, and their history. How do you think his understanding of language in relation to a community lent to the way he created his communities and their importance?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tolkien and Philosophy

While looking for sources for our multimedia research project I found a book called The Hobbit and Philosophy: For When You've Lost Your Dwarves, Your Wizard, and Your Way. I haven't actually read it but I know that several people in class are actually philosophy majors or are very interested in the topic. So if you if you want to connect Tolkien to philosophy this looks like a good source. Also, just googling Tolkien and philosophy comes up with a whole bunch of different books if you need more sources or references.
For Discussion: what are some of the ways you would connect Tolkien to philosophy? or what are the subjects you are interested in for the research project?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fiction Becoming Fact

I wish we could have spent more time in class today discussing our closing topic regarding fictional creatures and aliens. As many mentioned, few of us would truly be astounded if we discovered the existence of aliens due to the popular representations of aliens and the frequent artistic representation of potential human responses to their presence. We love fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories, and we find it increasingly difficult to surprise ourselves with such stories just as the characters in our stories find themselves less surprised by what they discover in their worlds. Harry Potter was only briefly surprised to learn he was a wizard, perhaps because anything would have been better than living his life with the Dursleys, but perhaps also because the idea was not completely unbelievable. Bella Swan took a surprisingly long time to figure out that Edward Cullen was a vampire, but once she did she could not have cared less. I know that, after such a massive streak of vampire literature and entertainment productions, I would neither be surprised by vampires nor would I know which "vampire" characteristics would actually apply at this point. The hobbits meet new creatures frequently throughout their journeys, whether in the storyline of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, and regardless of how strange a creature may be, they are swiftly accepted though perhaps observed with caution. The question, to me, becomes whether we create stories about fantastical beings we would not ourselves be surprised to find, or whether the artistic representation of these things is the reason we can so easily create stories involving them. Has modern science convinced us these things don't exist and therefore can't be taken seriously, or has their popularity simply diluted our responses? Many of the more historically present creatures have roots in our human cultural history, and were talked about to present explanations like witches causing bizarre things to happen. This certainly is not true for all of our fictional beings. Thoughts?

Magical Realism and Fantasy

In class today as we were discussing the natural and supernatural events in The Hobbit I was reminded of the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his famous book “100 Years of Solitude.” I was curious if any of you have read it. It is a deeply beautiful work, intricately layered and complex. Marquez sort of created this genre of magical realism in the same way that Tolkien did fantasy- sort of by accident, it would seem. Basically the idea is that the story flawlessly incorporates magical events and elements, things that would seem absurd in our realm of normal reality but the characters and storyline are not overly affected by them. Magic is just part of the narrative and is treated the same as any other element in the work.

I was wondering then what Tolkien would think of this method of subcreation- it is not the creation of an internally consistent reality but rather the embellishment of this reality with magic. I suppose that this is exactly what happens in stories like “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Is this the creation of a new reality, entirely? I was just curious about the connection between these two genres and what you all thought of it. Have you read any of Marquez’s work? If not, I sincerely recommend it. Very different from Tolkien in style and content but incredibly moving and gorgeously made.

Societal Perspectives on Fantasy

In class today we spoke of about how the natural and unnatural are presented in the Hobbit. One point that was raised was how the unnatural, or supernatural elements of the narrative serve to create a more open, fantastic view of the world. However, I thought of the problem of how our perspective may stem from societies' different views on fantasy compared to how fantasy was thought of during Tolkien's time.

I think an argument could be made about how the Hobbits' views of adventure reflect the societal expectations and ideas of fantasy. It is unneeded, fruitless, and absurd. Yet, when Bilbo travels out and engages in these fantastical elements, he is persuaded to believe that these things are actually great, and important in their own way.

Yet, our society today does not have such a negative view of Fantasy and Fantastical Elements. Elves, Dwarves and Dragons are not thought of being childish things, but instead great things full of adventure and wonder which our imaginations can explore. Multitudes of games, movies, books, and art focus on these ideas which seem to only appear in mythological contexts during Tolkien's time.

What do you think? Do you think that our societal expectations and views regarding fantasy have changed how this work is viewed? Do you disagree?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Orcs and Goblins

I just noticed in the Author’s Note in The Hobbit the distinction between orc and goblin is discussed:

“orc is not an English word. It occurs in one or two places but is usually translated goblin (or hobgoblin for the larger kinds). Orc is the hobbits’ form of the name given at that time to these creatures, and it is not at all connected at all with our orc, or ork, applied to sea-animals of the dolphin kind.”

This made me think of the discussion we had in class about them and whether they were separate races or not. I have no idea what the sea creature reference is about but it is interesting how the distinction is made between goblin and orc. It seems to be saying that the name goblin was used in the time of The Hobbit more than in, say, LOTR. This is the latest edition of the Hobbit which has been edited slightly to fit better to the LOTR (there in an editor’s note that says so). I think that probably Tolkien had not developed his concept of orcs until after writing The Hobbit, so he went back and made this edit to make the entire story flow better.

A little late but I figured out how to post these!

Pullman, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien - Stylistic and Philosophical Similarities

I was doing some reading over the weekend. I picked up a copy of "The Children of Hurin" which I've wanted to read in more detail since the group presentations. I was also reading Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" over the weekend and I kept getting the same feelings from those texts that I was getting from "The Children of Hurin". It was a nagging feeling that the texts were related on a much deeper level than I was perceiving, so I did a little research into it.

For those that do not know, Philip Pullman is a modern British author who is best known for his novels, "The Northern Lights" (The Golden Compass in North America), "The Subtle Knife", and the "Amber Spyglass". Together the make up the series know as "His Dark Materials". He is also well known as an outspoken critic of Christianity and particularly of the Catholic Church. Interestingly enough, Pullman was also educated at Oxford and had a childhood rather similar to Tolkien's. His texts establish a kind  of dialogue with "The Chronicles of Narnia" in the sense that as much as C.S. Lewis's novels explore Christian values and attempt to come to terms his the contradictions inherent in Religion, Pullman's writings does this with Atheism and Secular values. Pullman always has claimed to feel a close kinship to C.S. Lewis both is subject matter and writing style. He feels as thought they are both philosophers approaching the same questions from different angles. C.S. Lewis spent many years as an Atheist following the first World War and much of his writing was a way for him to explore the questions he had about Christianity as a Leader in the Christian Apologists movement and as a former Atheist.

Returning to the subject of Tolkien, Pullman has maintained that he feels he writing is fundamentally different from Tolkien in that the is always a clear dichotomy between light and darkness, good and evil. This is undoubtedly a compelling argument to be made. In class we have mentioned the strong separation of good and evil multiple times. None the less, I couldn't help but disagree with Pullman. Especially after reading "The Children of Hurin", I am not so sure that light and darkness, good and evil, moral and immoral are as clean cut as it might seem in Tolkien's works. For starters, there is Turin. He is a glowing example of the classic tragic hero.  A flawed person that brings about their own downfall through their primary weakness. Tragic heroes almost always end up doing things of questionable morality and usually hurt many other people on their path to ruin. Turin is no exception he kills all of his closest friends, he indirectly causes his own sister's death which also leads to the death of his father and mother. Turin is responsible to the fall of the Elves of Nargothrond as well as the deaths of many in Doriath. Despite all of this, Turin remains a hero. He makes poor choices throughout, but he always believe he is making the right ones. He joins up with the outlaws only to place limits on them for what he considers wrong. He ultimately serves Morgoth's purposes but spends his entire life fighting against him. Ultimately it is said that Turin has a special fate that no other will hold and that he will be instrumental in the process the will eventually lead to Arda unmarred. It seems to me that Turin is a very  complex character when it comes to morality. 

Just to add one more example, I also see Gandalf in this light. He is no doubt a hero and a "good guy" but he does not always make the best or the most moral choices. He allows Frodo to take the ring to Mordor completely aware that Frodo does not fully understand the extent of what he is getting himself into. Throughout the books, Gandalf is kind of tortured by this fact, he cannot decide whether sacrificing Frodo is worth the opportunity to protect all of Middle-earth. His faith in Frodo wavers constantly and he is prone to despair especially when comes to Sauron's attack on Minas Tirith. Gandalf was about ready to give up and the battle is won because of the courage of Aragorn. Maybe not as morally ambiguous as Turin but definitely still an interesting character.

Another thing I noticed about Pullman's works is that they are very much in line with the philosophies of Rousseau. Rousseau takes the stance that the provincial, tribal peoples of the world are in fact the most advanced human beings. He claims that the strike a balance between the brutality of animals and the extreme decadence of civilization. This idea I think is rather evident in Tolkien's works as well. Tolkien highly valued rural, countryside life and despised modernity and the rise of technology. Technology is definitely a prominent theme in Tolkien's works. The noblest, most peaceful, and most admirable races are the Elves and the Hobbits. Both of these peoples live fairly simple lives and have a deep connection to nature. In contrast to them there is Mordor and Isengard. They are industrial powers that run off the processing of nature, the burning of trees, and the mechanization of every aspect of life, from warfare to societal structure and even thought and philosophy. It just got me thinking, maybe Pullman has more in common with Tolkien than he thinks he does. I also wonder if Pullman disregarded much of what Tolkien had to say because he is so well known as a supporter of Christian values and a devout Catholic.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tolkien's Style

Based on what I've seen in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, it seems like Tolkien experimented with many different artistic styles. Some of his pictures are more realistic, and depict landscapes, places, and scenes. For example, on pages 122 and 123 there are some images of Beorn's hall done in ink and pencil. The pictures are drawn with careful attention to proportion and detail, and they are in black and white. A few of my favorite pictures that appear to be more realistic are The Forest of Lothlorien in Spring (pg 162), The Hall at Bag-End (pg 139), and Bilbo Woke Up with the Early Sun in His Eyes (see below and pg 121). That last image depicts one of the Eagles standing on the precipice on which Bilbo finds himself. Unlike the images of Beorn's Hall, Tolkien did this picture in watercolor, and the colors are really beautiful. This is probably one of my favorite pictures in the entire book.
http://www.lowdham.notts.sch.uk/mrcullenfiles/hobbitweb/The%20Hobbit%20Chapter%207_files/image002.jpg
In addition to his more realistic pictures, Tolkien also has some more abstract pieces. There are many of these in the "Visions,  Myths, and Legends" chapter of the book. I think we discussed The Shores of Faery and The Man in the Moon on pages 48-49. Here, we see Tolkien adopt a much more abstract style for these pictures. Instead of depicting things and places, the pictures seem to suggest and hint at them.

One chapter we haven't covered in class is the "Patterns and Devices" section. Like the chapter title says, this section shows some patterns, embellishments, and designs that Tolkien created. These are interesting because they're extremely intricate and pleasant to look at. They remind me of the designs on an illuminated manuscript.

So why do you think  Tolkien tried out so many different styles? Do you think his style depends on the subject matter being depicted, or do you think he just enjoyed practicing different techniques? Do you have a favorite style or favorite image?


Tolkien and Art

The exercise in class on Tuesday got me thinking about Tolkien as an illustrator. It seems apparent throughout the Hammond and Scull book that Tolkien did not consider himself an artist but illustrated anyway. It seems as if he was often frustrated with his own artistic ability not matching his writing and the images present in his head. Do you think Tolkien could have gotten around this difficulty by describing his artwork to a more talented artist and letting them illustrate? Or do you think we get a more original version and image because Tolkien created it himself?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

More Hobbit Cover Art

Art by Ryann, Emily, Christine, and Pablo from class yesterday! The Hobbiton, Hill and Bag End group, I think.



Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Hobbit Cover Art

This is our cover art from class today, we were given the images of Rivendell and the Elvenking's Gate. I apologize for the poor quality of the photo.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Women in Tolkien's Works

To what extent did Tolkien fully realize his female characters?  Do Galadriel and Eowyn have realistic strengths and vices?

In class, some have claimed that Tolkien does not make his female characters as realistic as his male characters.  In the presentation of The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, his failure to give women convincing vices was contrasted with Norse tendencies to portray women as utter evil. 

Do you think this was a fair comparison to make?  I am interested to see how other people perceive women in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.  Are they merely passive bystanders, or do they have some efficacy?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Story of Kullervo Presentation

What was the most surprising or interesting fact, idea, comment you learned from Group 6's presentation on Tolkien's The Story of Kullervo?

Children of Húrin Presentation

What was the most surprising or interesting fact, idea, comment you learned from Group 5's presentation on Tolkien's The Children of Húrin?

Fall of Arthur Presentation

What was the most surprising or interesting fact, idea, comment you learned from Group 4's presentation on Tolkien's The Fall of Arthur?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun Presentation

What was the most surprising or interesting fact, idea, comment you learned from Group 3's presentation on Tolkien's Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun?

Sir Gawain Presentation

What was the most surprising or interesting fact, idea, comment you learned from Group 2's presentation on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?

Beowulf Presentation

What was the most surprising or interesting fact, idea, comment you learned from Group 1's presentation on Tolkien's translation of Beowulf?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Gollum: How does the Ring work its evil?

The following is one of the topics from my research from last Thursday. The question came to me while I was reading "The Making of Middle Earth" section on Gollum. It struck me that there is never in clear explanation to why Smeagol was affected by the ring so strongly and so rapidly. Based on what we know about the Ring of Power it seems that Hobbits have a certain level of resistances to its evil influence. The rough explanation of why this is the case is that Hobbits are on the whole innocent creatures of simple taste. They find their greatest happiness among family, friends, nature, and peace and quiet. What then makes Smeagol different?

My nearest conclusion was Smeagol had a kind worldly desire for physical treasures that the other Hobbits do do share. The closest the other Hobbits come to this is that sense of Tookishness. Tolkien paints this as a positive desire for adventure, to experience the world for its own value and not for the treasures they might uncover along the way. Bilbo is fundamentally different from Smeagol, because his desires are those that lead to purity of the heart and soul. Smeagol's desires are center around the concept of self-gratification and thus lead to a tainted heart and soul. Thus when faced by the incredibly manipulative influence of the ring Smeagol was easily seduced by what the ring offered. Bilbo, on the other hand, was effected in a more indirect way. He saw the ring as a memento of his past adventures and a means to create new ones, therefore it required many decades to even begin to corrupt Bilbo.

This leads me to my next question. Smeagol may not have very much in common with the other Hobbits who come into contact with the ring, but he certainly is similar to the other characters who are seduced its power. Just few that come to mind immediately are Isildur, Boromir, Faramir, and Galadriel. These characters are all affected in different ways, and definitely to varying degrees. The first thing I did was to set about setting up these characters on a continuum of how much they were affected by the Ring as well as how quickly this occurred. I came to this order, first being most affected and last being least: Smeagol, Isildur, Boromir, Faramir, Galadriel.

My next goal was to determine what character trait, attributable to each of these character lead to the ring influencing them. Galadriel was influenced by the desire for the power to protect her people for evil. However, she recognized that this was not something that could be granted by the treacherous ring. It would only serve to weave further evil through her. She acknowledged that Frodo was the solo individual who could bear the ring into Mordor and thus he was the rightful bearer. Faramir was possessed by his own ego. He was so eager to earn gratification from his people and recognition from his father that he almost made the mistake of claiming the ring for his own. Only through watching the effect the ring was having on Frodo and seeing the end results in Gollum, was he able to break its grip. Boromir was similar to Faramir expect his desire came more out of personal pride to uphold the reputation he already had to solidify his place among the greatest men in history. He went further than his brother and actually attempted to take the ring from Frodo. Isildur was almost instantaneously possessed by the power of the ring. He was motivated primarily by greed. It was so pervasive that he refused to destroy it even when give the option and understanding, at least to some degree the potential consequences.

Smeagol possessed almost all of these traits, however he had one that was unique to him. Smeagol was envious. He was not only greedy but he was covetous of the possessions of others. Tolkien places this at the top of his list of great sins that the ring can feed off of. If the ring can make you feel like you are deprived and it is the entire world against you, then it is easy for control you. It is mightiest when you are isolated from the rest of the world. This was Smeagol's unfortunate fate.

From this I was able to derive a kind of order of these character's sins: Envy, Greed, Pride, Ego, Power. Additionally I would like to propose that each of the three major races outside of Hobbits has a special weakness to the ring. The Elves have their vanity, Sauron plays to this with the original plan of the rings. If it weren't for the deception of Celebrimbor, the Children of Iluvatar would have fallen into darkness. The Dwarves have their greed, their desire for gold and wealth is their downfall on multiple occasions. This is the case with the coming of the dragon Smaug, as well as the releasing of the Balrog in Moria. The Men are most affected by their desire for power. This desire is so strong and consuming that it ends up transfiguring 9 of the great kings of men into the Nazgul, the darkest, most twisted of the servants of Sauron. It is certainly a lot of information to sift through but this is my best conclusion. Thoughts?

Bill Sticker




      For my research topic on Thursdays class I chose to investigate a rather off handed remark the author made about Bill Stickers. In my research I found out that ‘Bill Stickers’ was the villain of a long-running Tolkien family epic- these never recorded tales were only oral in transmission and featured the hero Major Road Ahead and his everlasting struggle to persecute Bill Stickers. Bill
Stickers was actually a reference to a joke in 1960s England that came about when the government tried to stop people from putting up posters (these people being bill stickers)- someone put up a poster that added the phrase “Bill Stickers is innocent”- therefore turning a phrase into a name. It is presumed that Tolkien saw this at some point and made up his own stories featuring such ‘characters.’

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Goblins!

In popular culture, goblins are now associated with suicidal tendencies and war. However, the original goblins of the european continent were much more mischievous, frightening, and potent. I would also posit that they were more competent! Goblins evolved out of various and sundry stories, but they have these common features: they are always a small daemon, ugly in physique, and said to range in size from no bigger than a shoe to a man's hip. They were also once associated with the elves, and the Erlking, a leading figure in goblin lore, was once said to be the king of faerie. He would ride out with his wife and steal small children, eating them alive.

I have heard many goblin stories in random moments and ways. I am curious, what is your favorite type of goblin? Who is your favorite single goblin character? How do they compare to Tolkien's goblins?

Blood Moon

     Tonight, a red mood greeted the earth. It did not linger, lasting only a mere hour, but it left its mark. Thinking of the blood moon, and of Tolkien's concept art of the surface of the moon, I beheld this spectacle with a question in mind: What makes Tolkien's concept of enchantment inherent to things? A fog appears and Frodo is lost in the barrows, Tom Bombadil sings away old trees. Why do these things have power? What is "enchantment," and how is it natural. Perhaps the blood moon will prompt your answers to these questions, or simply enchant you for its hour on earth.

Valkyries

The subject of the Valkyries came up in class on Tuesday, and I chose this as my topic for research on Thursday.  They are only mentioned very briefly in The Prose Edda.  It tells us that "they are sent by Odin to every battle, where they choose which men are to die and they determine who has the victory.  Gunn and Rota and the youngest norn, named Skuld, always ride to choose the slain and to decide the outcome of the battle."  This is all we really know about them from The Prose Edda.

I was interested to learn that there is dispute over what their name actually means.  The name is translated "chooser of the slain."  Some translations hold that they actually go into battle to choose who dies and who lives.  Others say that they look over those who are slain and decide who gets to return with them to Valhalla.  The name can mean either.  Some sources that I looked up said one or the other, but some said that they perform both tasks.  The only other thing we know for sure about them is that when the slain are not preparing for Ragnarok, the Valkyries serve them mead.  Overall, the controversy over the name is was what really piqued my interest.  It reminds me of how someone misinterpreted a part of the Old Testament and thought that Moses had two horns coming out of his head.  As a result, Moses has often been depicted this way.

I've tried to think of other figures in mythology that resemble the Valkyries in hopes that we can get a clue at what they were intended to be.  However, I cannot seem the think of any.  In most cultures, someone who brings death is depicted as dark and scary, like the Grim Reaper.  But the Valkyries seem less ominous and more like caregivers.  After all, they spend their downtime serving alcohol to dead guys.  Perhaps this is a clue in itself.  Since they are more like caregivers, maybe it is more likely that they do not decide who dies but only choose among the slain.