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 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:

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?