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:

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
-- a letter from Tolkien to a fan or friend
-- 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

            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?
-- 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


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.


 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.
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?