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.

Tricksters and Tolkien


In my research, I was most curious about the nature of the Trickster and how it might have been represented in other characters through history—especially Tolkien’s characters.

Through my research I found out that the fundamental traits of a trickster are that they are morally ambiguous (untethered to either "good" or "evil”), deceptive, fond of tricks, and either quite sly or very naïve.  In addition, they tend to be shape-shifters (like Loki) and shallow.  Their primary goals are self-preservation and general chaos, so they are both cowardly and solitary.  Thus, in order to avoid punishment, they are often both the cause and the resolution of problems.

Once I found all of this information, it was easy to find examples in literature and culture: the Joker, Pan the Satyr, Woland the devil, Rumpelstiltskin, and the “Seven With One Blow” tailor.  These examples demonstrate how wide this category can be; the Joker and Woland are certainly more on the evil side, but the tailor is the protagonist of his story.

Before my research, I had thought that Grima and Saruman were probably the best examples of a Trickster in Tolkien’s works, but after looking at the definition of the Trickster, I realized that Smeagol is a great example of a Trickster. 

Smeagol is solitary, shallow, selfish, and (while malicious) he is not evil or good.  He is not on anyone’s side but his own, as is demonstrated by his betrayal of Frodo as soon as he feels threatened.  As to shape-changing, he has the One Ring to make him invisible, and he is very sly.  In fact, he uses the word “tricksy” more than once, and his antics drive the plot forward in many points.

I find Smeagol to be the most convincing Trickster in Tolkien’s works; what do you think?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Dragons!

The topic I was curious about and chose to focus on researching during Thursday's class was dragons. The Making of Middle-earth chapter had a specific section about dragons that sparked my curiosity.
Dragons play an important role in many of Tolkien's works, specifically The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and The Children of Hurín. I've always been particularly interested in dragons, especially after an Animal Planet documentary had me convinced for an hour that they had found a real dragon. Therefore, some of the questions I had heading into my research were as follows:
Why are dragons often the enemy?
Why doesn't anyone ride a dragon in Tolkien's world?
Why are there talking dragons in Tolkien's world but none of them are nice?

What I found during my research:
Dragons were initially though of as akin to any exotic beast i.e. a lion, tiger, etc. But then Christianity came about as a forceful worldview, particularly in Europe. Once Christianity took hold dragons became synonymous with the idea of evil and were viewed as sinister beings. Thereafter the depictions of dragons began to conform to the expectations of the era. Dragons were then largely placed in stories and mythology as a foil to a righteous hero. Fire breathing dragons are thought to have originated with the idea of a "hell mouth". Many depictions of hell and demons include being consumed by fire via a hell mouth. Thus, a fire breathing dragon is akin to the fire from the pit of hell. Another interesting fact is the etymology of "dragon". It comes from the Greek word "draconta" (which is also connected with the Latin word Draco) which means "to watch". Therefore, it is thought that this etymology is connected to the idea of dragons "watching (guarding) valuables".

How I connected this to my initial questions:
I think Tolkien's dragons may be uniformly sinister because they follow the line of dragons viewed through the Christian worldview. The dragons in Tolkien's world are created by Morgoth and therefore are unlikely to have any redeemable qualities. They were created and raised up in evil and exist to antagonize the heroes in Tolkien's tales. Tolkien's dragons are also different from each other. For example, Glaurung is wingless while Smaug has wings. Apparently dragon fire is also capable of destroying the rings of power, except for the One ring. Interesting right? I could not find much about why Tolkien refers to dragons as "the great worm". Any one else have any thoughts on why dragons are evil worms? Or why there are no dragon riders in Tolkien works? Any thoughts on why dragon fire cannot destroy the One ring?

Tolkien and Allegories

We have all heard Tolkien being quoted as saying, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”  Tolkien was not interested so much in representing our world in his subcreation; rather he sought to create a world which borrows from ours, but is on the whole a new creation.   He says that in order for something to be an allegory, the author must intend it to be so.  We see this same argument from C.S. Lewis who argues that The Chronicles of Narnia are not allegories but suppositions.
As an English major it is difficult not to look at a piece an analyze it for overarching metaphors and allegories which create theme.  This is especially true under the theory of deconstruction, which always places the reader and the reader's interpretation over the actual text itself.  While I agree that Tolkien's work on Middle-earth as a whole is not allegorical, I cannot help but look for smaller allegories within it.
In high school we are taught that authors never make decisions arbitrarily.  Numbers, locations, names all carry meaning, whether explicit or implicit.  When something seems random, we are to assume that it is intentional.  
One thing that seems random within Tolkien's subcreation is how the rings of power were distributed among the different races of Middle-earth. 
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,One for the Dark Lord on his dark throneIn the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind themIn the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie."
These numbers seem totally arbitrary, which means we ought to take a closer look.  I have never been able to find any connection within Middle-earth, and as such I have turned to the real world to look for meaning.  If we look at these numbers through the lens of Tolkien's Catholic faith, they start to look familiar.  Sauron is obvious.  He's evil, and there's only one ring in his category.  He is therefore equated to Satan.  The number three has several significant connections to Christianity.  Christ rose from the grave three days after his crucifixion.  There is also the Trinity, made of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  When considering the Elves, I am inclined to go with the second connection.  The Elves are thought to be superior beings, akin to gods.  The number seven is the number of perfection and completion, and it is also the number of days that God took to create the earth.  The dwarves are of the earth, so this connection makes sense.  Lastly, the number nine has no biblical tie to Christianity.  However, church history tells us about the Catholic crusades, of which there were nine.  The crusades, just like men, were corrupt and power hungry.
So what do you think? Obviously Tolkien borrowed some things from our world (there are undeniable connections such as certain names and the Melkor/Lucifer parallel), but the distribution of the rings seems decidedly un-Tolkien.  It goes a little further than we would expect him to go with an allegory.  Is it possible that he arbitrarily picked these numbers (we know that he did sometimes do this, as evidenced by the changing color of the dwarves' cloaks)? Or is there some reason behind the numbers that exists within the realm of Middle-earth?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Freyja's Cats

I was very intrigued by the idea of Freyja's chariot being drawn by cats. Initially I imagined common house cats like my own that must be freakishly strong in order to draw her chariot. However, after doing a little research, it occurred to me that this couldn't be true!
Freyja's cats are only mentioned briefly in the Prose Edda. There is some argument about whether her chariot was actually drawn by cats, or whether the translation actually meant bears. In a fantasy novel titled Brisingamen, author Diana Paxson named the cats Treyjgul and Bygul, meaning "tree-gold" and "bee gold," or Amber and Honey.
Further research revealed to me that many think Freyja's cats were probably based on a breed of cat called the Norwegian Forest Cat. These cats are MASSIVE. It is supposed that her cats may have been a more lynx-like ancestor of the Forest Cat.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Green Men

     For today's research exercise, I looked into more about Green Men, featured in one of the "extra" green boxes. I had heard of Green Men briefly while learning about Sheela-na-gigs in Dr. Donovan's legacy class, and thought it was interesting to find them again here.
     From what I found, Green Men are foliate or vegatative head carvings that have been found as architectural decorations dating back to ancient Rome. It is believed that Green Men were some sort of depiction of Dionysus or Bacchus, and were reinterpreted by the peoples of the British Isles once the Romans landed there. The Celtic peoples believed that the head was the sacred repository of the soul (there was even a "cult of the head"), and held sacred trees in high value; adopting a Roman symbol into their own idea of the Green Man as a nature spirit would not have been far of a leap.
     In the High/Late Middle Ages, Green Men became a part of the use of grotesques in churches to frighten parishioners and warn them of the dangers of sin. Many Green Man images from this period are depicted as spewing out or being gorged on vines, and the use of ensnaring vines and vegetation was a popular image to represent promiscuity and the dangers of illicit sex.
     As Green Men transitioned into the early modern era, they became less symbolic and more decorative in nature, showing up as motifs in building design or drawn in books.

http://www.greenmanenigma.com/history.html

Franks Casket - Northumbria AD 700

One of the topics I have chosen to examine from the "There and Back Again" chapter of The Making of Middle Earth is the picture of the Franks Casket toward the beginning of the chapter. Though Snyder notes the important inscriptions on the "casket," which is essentially a fancy box, I was curious about its origins, name, and uses. Through conducting research on the website of the British Museum as well as Wikipedia, I found the answers to my questions. First of all, the casket originates from AD 700 in Northumbria, a medieval kingdom in what is now northern England and Southeastern Scotland. It showed up in France and was eventually given to the British Museum, where it was named "Franks Casket" after one the prominent benefactors of the museum. I was fairly disappointed by the origin of the name, as I was expecting something significantly more relevant to the actual artifact. While I won't go into the various types of inscriptions on the box because Snyder summarized those rather nicely, I will say that the front of the box has nothing to do with the other inscriptions. Upon examination, the box was shown to depict a riddle on the front face. According to the British Museum, the riddle reads, "The fish beat up the seas on to the mountainous cliff; the King of terror became sad when he swam onto the shingle." Essentially, this riddle is supposed to lead to the conclusion that the box is made of the bone from a beached whale, and researchers have indeed determined the box is made from whalebone, with certain silver features. While it was most likely created in a monastery and then given to someone there, researchers are unsure when exactly the box arrived in France or what the use was originally supposed to be. I found this piece to be simple and yet beautiful. Somebody obviously put a lot of thought and effort into the creation of this box, and it would be wonderful to know exactly why it was created, why certain inscriptions were included, why it was made of whalebone, why it came to France, etc.. Some of this information is known to an extent, such as the influence of Roman, Jewish, Christian, and Germanic cultures, but there is still a significant amount of mystery surrounding the history of this box. I have included the link to the British Museum below! http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_mla/t/the_franks_casket.aspx

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Loki the Trickster in Tolkien's Works

After our class on Tuesday I was reading a book on the Mythologies that inspired Tolkien’s work and it suggested that there is, in fact, a very prominent Loki character in his books: Gandalf! At first I was skeptical but she makes a good case. 
The book is called “Myth and Middle-earth” by Leslie Ellen Jones. She outlines several similarities between the two characters: Gandalf’s love of fireworks and Loki’s association with fire and magic, both characters propensity to set events in motion and then remove himself from the situation to let it take its course, often showing up at the last minute to fix things (or meddle them up more). Certain races are skeptical of Gandalf, seeing him as a figure who consistently starts trouble. Jones argues that he is a more good guy version of Loki, but inspired by Loki nonetheless. 

Thoughts on this? 
(She also connects Gandalf to Odin and most of all the wizard Merlin.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tolkien and Loki

Today in class, we talked about how, despite all the elements of Norse mythos that Tolkien pulled from The Prose Edda, he didn't write any characters that are clear parallels to Loki. But what if he had? I would like to challenge everyone to think of a character that Tolkien could have written as a Loki figure in his mythology, and consider how that would have affected the story of Arda.

The first character I thought of was Feanor. He already has some basic makings of a Loki figure: he is selfish, defies the gods, doesn't seem to have any qualms about killing or betraying his kinsmen, and kids go on to cause a lot of continued trouble for Middle-earth. Tolkien incorporates these things into a higher Doom that has been wrought on Feanor, but I would imagine that as a more cavalier Loki figure, Feanor would have wrought even more chaos. Perhaps he would have been the one to help Ungoliant into Valinor, or hidden his children away and taught them to hate the Valar, corrupting them even more. It is also possible that he would have given one of the Silmarils away or put it in a place where it could be found, simply to see what chaos came out of it.

What do you think? Did a different character come to mind for you first? Who, and why?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Narrative Authority

Several weeks ago while discussing The Simarillion, we came to the topic of authority within mythology.  Unfortunately we were at the very end of class, and never picked it up again.  In our world there are many different mythologies and religions which fight with one another about who is right and who is wrong.  Every culture has their own version of a creation story.  When Tolkien wrote The Silmarillion, he did it in such a way as to emulate known mythologies and religions.  In general, we accept the creation story in The Silmarillion as the "true" creation of Middle-earth.  But then in class we realized that this story is just the one told by the Elves.  It is entirely possible, and likely, that other races could have their own versions just like different cultures in our own world have different versions.  The question of whether Tolkien intended this to be the "truth" or if it was just one version then arose.
Last semester I had the privilege of taking a course in Native American literature and rhetoric with Dr. N. Scott Momaday.  During one lecture he told a story about a man and his wife sitting in their tepee.  While she was cooking and he was making arrows, he noticed a small hole in the side of their tepee.  Through this hole he was able to see an enemy peering in.  The man immediately strung an arrow and shot the man through the hole.  Dr. Momaday then told us that after telling this story on one occasion, someone asked, "Well how do we know the man outside the tepee was an enemy?  What if he just killed an innocent person?"  To this Dr. Momaday replied, "We know because the author said so, and what the author says goes."
So, returning to Tolkien, what do we do with The Silmarillion? I'm inclined to agree with Dr. Momaday.  Tolkien never told us anything else, despite writing quite extensively after finishing The Silmarillion.  But that's certainly not the only possibilty, and I'd be interested in hearing what everyone else thinks.  Is The Silmarillion Middle-earth's true creation story, or is it just the Elves' version?

N.P.B. Karhu

For our art analysis in class on Thursday I chose Tolkien's piece 1931-32 N.P.B. Karhu. This drawing, done in pencil, black, red, and green ink, was part of one of Tolkien's annual letters from Father Christmas to his children.  I chose this particular piece for its contrasting whimsy and formality.
The three elements of art that I believe to be most important of those at work here are line, color, and space.  Tolkien relies primarily on lines, whether solid, dotted, straight, or squiggly, to creates forms in this drawing.  The polar bear, mountains, clouds, and sunlight are all simple lines.  Tolkien then uses color to help differentiate between lines and what they represent.  Shadows tend to be green and black, while light is indicated by red.  Lastly, space is another way in which Tolkien creates forms.  The spaces between lines grows wider as the mountains get steeper, and come together where the slope lessens.
The three principles of art that I saw in this drawing are balance, pattern, and emphasis.  The piece is almost symmetrical, with minor differences on either side.  The objects and color oppose each other fairly equally.  Tolkien's use of pattern is highly evident in the multitude of lines present in the drawing.  The lines, as well as color, lead the eye directly to several focal points on which he puts emphasis.  The picture is split into two sections.  The focus of the top section is Karhu the polar bear.  There are very few objects in this section, and Karhu stands at the center.  He is also the only vertical object there.  In the lower section, the lines of the mountains and sun rays all lead the eye to the sun.  The red color of the sun also attracts attention.  This was one of Tolkien's favorite things to do.  When he designed the cover of The Hobbit, he made Smaug and the moon the same shade of red.  This helped them to stand out among all of the cool colors.  The publishers, however, did not include these elements and left them both white.
Overall, the drawing has a sense of whimsy and formality.  The contrasting colors and cartoonish polar bear help to create a fun image appropriate for children.  However, the lines and balance make the image seem much for formal.  This seems to strike a balance between the two that is proper its purpose.  While it is for children, it is also meant to be included in an official letter from Father Christmas.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tolkien's Artwork

One of the works of Tolkien's art I didn't look at in class today is A Merry Christmas 1940, A Happy New Year 1941 in pencil, colored pencil, and black ink on page 76 of our book. I found an online picture of the piece on the website of the Tolkien estate, at http://www.tolkienestate.com/en/painting/pictures-from-father-christmas/pictures-from-father-christmas.html. The image depicts a polar bear dancing with four penguins in the arctic, and while the piece appears to be rather simplistic, I enjoy the detail Tolkien does choose to include. The polar bear stands central to the image, creating a sense of balance which is only thrown off by the presence of what I assume is the sun off-set in the background in yellow pencil. Conveniently, though most of the image is white, or at least as white as the paper, Tolkien draws water behind the bit of ice the animals stand on and places the bear in the center so that his white fur can provide a contrast to the water while also remaining prominent. Tolkien uses black ink on the penguins, which allows their outline to stand out. By using sharp lines and a few lines of shadow to illustrate the difference between the ice and the sky, Tolkien captures the white of the arctic without leaving his portrayal dull or overly pale. Overall, I like this artwork. It provides a contrast between much of Tolkien's more colorful, detailed work, and also shows his skill at drawing animals in contrast to the numerous examples of landscapes and buildings present in this book. I enjoy the presence of dancing in the arctic, a famously quiet and peaceful place.

Tolkien's Art

     For today's exercise, one of the pieces I chose was Cove Near the Lizard (p. 25); it stood out to me as different from many of the other pieces in the first chapter because rather than a peaceful nature scene or sketch of a quaint building, this piece depicted a choppy sea and imposing cliffs.

     The three elements that I saw in this piece were Texture, Value, and Shapes. The shapes in the piece are all organic, but their textures put them in contrast with one another. The rocks and cliffs are given more hard, defined edges or faults, whereas the water is denoted by the curved, softer shapes of waves and spray. But even these opposing textures mesh, because it is clear that the water is stormy rather than peaceful, and both the rocks and the water could harm the unwary up close. Value is also important in this black and white piece; white or light grey is used throughout as an indicator of light and where light it falling across the scene from and also gives better shape and movement to the water. With that said, the main principle I identified here was Movement, mostly of the waves but also of sky where it is more subtle.

     Did this piece stand out to anyone else? What piece(s) of art from the reading spoke to you the most, and why?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tolkien and the metaphysical

"What is the meaning of objects which have no existence but have meaning? Do these matter more than objects which have existence but no meaning? Is meaning more important than reality? What does Tolkien think is the answer to this more metaphysical question?" 
This is the questions posed by one of our fellow classmates on Tuesday which captured my attention. First and foremost I feel fairly confident in stating that the questions above could easily fill a few volumes. Having said that I'm going to now attempt to concisely give some form of an answer. For much of what is referred to as the Modern Period of Western Philosophy, starting circa 1600, Ontology has been a point of contention. On this subject of Ontology it seems to be a fairly common theme among the more Christian oriented philosophers that there needs to be a metaphysical realm of existence. Philosophers like Berkeley appear to have been inspired to argue for this metaphysical largely due to the Judeo-Christian belief system centered around God existing separate from our physical realm of understanding. Although it would be easy to lump Tolkien, considering his devout Catholic ways, in with these Christian philosophers, I find Tolkien to be far too complex to find a solution in that. I do believe Tolkien placed extra importance on the metaphysical when it came to art. For Tolkien true art is sourced in the metaphysical not in the physical world. Any thoughts? Counter examples?

Primary and Secondary Worlds

Fantasy, of course, starts out with an advantage: arresting strangeness. But that advantage has been turned against it, and has contributed to its disrepute. Many people dislike being 'arrested.' They dislike any meddling with the Primary World, or such small glimpses of it as are familiar to them. They, therefore, stupidly and even maliciously confound Fantasy with Dreaming, in which there is no Art; and with mental disorders, in which there is not even control: with delusion and hallucination. (p. 69)
I found this quote interesting because it brings to mind a question not presented in class: what exactly is the difference between the Primary and Secondary world as referenced by Tolkien? Why do we become uncomfortable when they interact? As a person who enjoys writing, myself, I find truth in the idea that meddling with the comfort zone provided by the Primary World (reality) is a task reluctantly and cautiously pursued; however, without this discomfort, the task would not be worthwhile. As human beings, we have the capability to create wonderful stories, ideas, and art, either as representations of our Primary World or as creations of a Secondary World (the world of Fantasy). We can truly invent almost anything we wish, and perhaps this concept induces fear. To provide some modern pop culture examples, modern novels and films/television provide an outlet for us to escape our everyday world. The show American Horror Story, for instance, collects classic examples of people, events, and concepts which make people the most uncomfortable and somehow manages to captivate a massive audience, regardless of discomfort. We enjoy roller coasters and skydiving and horror and Fantasy because, while we dislike meddling with the limits of our existence, we also crave it. Perhaps we compare Fantasy to Dreams, but we also analyze our dreams as though they somehow mean something about ourselves and our lives. We all look at our favorite story characters with envy and immense admiration, and possibly even as though we see ourselves in some way. Tolkien offers the comparison between Fantasy and mental disorder, which I can only attribute to the idea that perhaps people are terrified of their capability to create things they've never experienced, or maybe they don't like what they see when they free their mind to create, unbridled and unrestricted by reality. Perhaps there is a different implication of this comparison, and that would be something to discuss further. I think, in this modern time as it relates to Fantasy and fairy-stories, Tolkien would be impressed with how extensive the realm of accepted strangeness has become amongst audiences of fiction writing.

Drama

We talked a little bit in class about Tolkien's ideas on Drama. In "On Fairy-stories," Tolkien says that "Drama is naturally hostile to Fantasy." He talks about how elements of Fantasy can only be mimicked, and never entirely successfully. He humorously describes his experience at a children's pantomime based on Puss-in-Boots. He says that there was a ridiculous attempt to show a transformation of an ogre into a mouse. He says, "Disbelief had not so much to be suspended as hanged, drawn, and quartered." I definitely see what he's saying here. I've seen quite a few plays that had unrealistic and silly effects, but that's just one of the limitations of theatre.

There are some things that theatre simply can't achieve. Despite this limitation, however, I think that theatre is an incredible art form. While there are some things that can't be represented 100% accurately on stage, there are other things that theatre does better than other art forms. Like film, theatre brings stories to life.

Another thing I think we talked about is how far theatrical effects have come. With today's technology, we can do so much more on stage than we could in Tolkien's day. Many of today's popular plays (I'm thinking of Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera, and Les Misérables) have incorporated new technology and are probably much more elaborate than what Tolkien was familiar with. Considering today's technology, what do you think Tolkien would have thought about modern theatre? Do you think he would be less skeptical of its shortcomings?

Joy in Tolkien's Works

It seems to me that the embodiment of joy in Tolkien's works lies in the Shire with the Hobbits. This is the precious, almost hidden world that he and his characters strive to protect throughout his stories. A place dear to Gandalf's heart. A place the Elves hoped would remain uncorrupted. A place the Hobbits called home and treasured above all else. A place and people that Aragorn and other men grew to love tenderly. These feelings towards the Shire that are portrayed in Tolkien's works are a reflection of Tolkien's own love and the joy he derived from his home - England.
Even when the rest of Middle Earth grew dark with hatred and war, the Shire remained a place of light - green, merry, and safe. Often it was the thought of the Shire that kept the heroes plodding on their quest. I believe this directly related to Tolkien's own feelings toward England during his time in the Great War.
Ultimately, I believe Tolkien saw true joy in a place to call home; in light, trees, and greenness; and in tales, songs, and merrymaking.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Is It True?

The quote that struck me in reading “On Fairy Stories” appears on page 88. In response to the question “Is it true?” Tolkien writes primarily that “If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.” He goes on to write on a deeper, more meaningful answer to this question, bringing up his argument about Christianity that we discussed toward the end of class today. He writes that the “Birth of Jesus Christ is the euchatastrophe of Man’s history,” describing the fairy-story elements in the Christian story (88). Tolkien’s defense of sub-creation within his devout commitment to Catholicism is truly moving and makes me wonder what his perspective was on other religions. He writes of the Secondary world of sub-creation commingling with the Primary world within the Christian story, that the mythical and magical elements of Catholic theology have merged with history and reality and states that the resulting story “is supreme; and it is true” (89). 

I suppose my question is, what are the implications of this for other religious beliefs? 
If Tolkien could defend his own faith as myth of the truest form, what did he have to say about the beliefs of others from different traditions? 
Do the Primary and Secondary worlds merge in any other religious (or other) tradition or moment in history?

(Does this train of thought make sense?)

Eucatastrophe

One characteristic of a modern fairy-story is the notion of the "happy ending." Near the end of "On Fairy-stories," Tolkien discusses this in relation to his idea of the eucatastrophe. Write about your thoughts on this idea, and how this idea relates to the concept of the happy ending. Are "eucatastrophe" and "happy ending" synonymous? Do modern fairy-stories and fantasy works of any medium tend to contain this idea of eucatastrophe, or of happy ending, or both? Or neither?

Fusion Theatre Company Presents, Disgraced

Hello all, I forgot to post this a while back. The show I mentioned being in has opened, and here is the information (see comments). Pay what you wish tickets are available the 22nd through the 24th, enjoy!


Fate vs. Doom

Throughout our various class discussions, the topics of fate and doom have constantly arisen. We seem to have to a general consensus that Tolkien uses doom to imply a kind of weight that is simply not associated with fate. I would like to challenge this definition, although I do not wish to entirely dismiss it. I see the main difference between Tolkien's fate and doom as inevitability. I would argue that this is the primary distinguishing characteristic between the two. Doom implies inevitability and fate does not. One of the main reasons I say this, is because I think our definition of weight applies a negative connotation to the word doom. While the most modern use of doom is inexorably negative, I doubt Tolkien meant this to come across in his writing. Merriam Websters, which I believe to be the most modern and culturally relevant dictionary today, defines doom primarily as:

: very bad events or situations that cannot be avoided
: death or ruin

Tolkien on the other hand would have followed the Oxford English Dictionary or more than likely his own definition entirely. 

I would point to the way The Silmarillion describes the meeting and love of Beren and Luthien to be their doom. This, in no way has a negative connotation, but their is distinct evidence in the Lay of Beren and Luthien that Tolkien viewed these things as inevitable. Not even the most impossible task in Arda, stealing a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown is able to deter this destiny. The circumstances of the deaths of Beren and Luthien, on the other hand, were notably marked as their fate. Indeed death itself or rather what lies beyond is the described as the fate of the Children of Illuvatar. While death is normally seen as inevitable, it is not so in the world of Tolkien. The Elves are not graced with any such inevitability nor are many of the creatures of darkness. Additionally for the Men, what lies beyond the veil of death remains a mystery. In fact is so to all but Illuvatar, this possibility of multiple outcomes is distinguished fate from doom. A doom is a single inevitable end and fate simply is not so.

Turning to Lord of the Rings, it is said that Frodo's doom is to bear the ring to Mordor. Galadriel knows this all along because it is inevitable. Gandalf too is aware of this which is why he can sense that Frodo is alive until inevitably he passes into Mordor. The issue of what will happen to the ring is a matter of fate. Galadriel tells Frodo in a very straight up manner that the quest is fated to failed, but not to despair. The idea that hope is gone but not lost is repeated multiple times throughout the work. Also repeated is the concept that despair will only serve to make the outcome inevitable. In other words, hope in the face of overwhelming odds is what allows a fate to remain flexible. I guess what i'm mainly trying to say is that fate vs. doom lies on an intensely complicated continuum in Tolkien's writings and I think it is worth our reconsideration.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Alternate Silmarillion


This is a post about the alternate endings and additions we made to our sections from The Silmarillion on Tuesday. I feel like we adequately discussed our thoughts and the reasons Tolkien chose not to go with these particular routes. However, I really want to focus on the part of the prompt that mentioned writing in Tolkien's style. This is my attempt at emulating Tolkien's style in the Silmarillion. I would welcome feedback both on the content and the nearness to Tolkien's writing style.

As a background, this is a rewrite of the portion of the story that involves Maedhros and Maglor's attack on the remnants of Gondolin and the kin of Earendil. Also, it will touch on the subsequent fall of Morgoth and the recapturing of the Silmarils. I've tried to focus on the ideas of the oath and of fate and doom. I will make a separate post on my thoughts on fate and doom in Tolkien's writing. Feel free to disagree with my opinions regarding these subjects, but the other post may serve as a better thread for discussing ideas mostly pertaining to that issue. Thematically, I attempted to narrow in on the ideas of Selfishness and Greed. I'd love to hear where you guys think I was successful and where you think there is room for improvement,

When word came unto the ears of Maedhros and Maglor that Elwing was in posession of the Silmaril of Beren, a great jealousy surged in their hearts. It was their right from birth to be the sole beholders of the Silmarils. Their father had labored his entire life to forge the gems and the blood of their brothers had been spilled in pursuit of the right to gaze upon them. They desired to wreak vegeance on the ones who unjustly claimed their birthright. With Faenor's flames raging inside of him, Maedhros prepared to make war upon the traitors. It was these moments that the thoughts of Maglor turned to their dark oath. Thought his spirit was engorged by that very same fire, the long sorrow of the oath had begun to quell it. The misery of the house of Faenor had only grown since the darkening of the Valinor. Even the knowledge that a Silmaril had been wrenched from the crown of the accursed Morgoth was of little consolation. Maglor bade his brother to reconsider his actions, for doomed as they were by the oath, perhaps it could be fulfilled another way. If the brother's sought vegeance on the kin of Earendil, they would be destroying the remnants of the house of Thingol. This final act of Elf killing Elf would certainly seal their fate and condemn them the crushing blackness of the cursed oath.

After much consideration, the weight of the oath began to cool the fires of Faenor. Even the heart of Maedhros began to calm, for he too felt the pain they had wrought unto their people. They laid down the arms of their father and released their minds from the grip of the Silmarils. Thus the brothers came upon Earendil and Elwing and sought peace. Elwing, fearing some manner of deception offered a trade. If peace was truly the intentions of the brothers, then the Silmaril must be destroyed. Earendil agreed, that the temptation of the gems was to much to resist. Maedhros and Maglor bade them cast the Silmaril into the farthest realm of Arda, but also begged them that they would not look upon the Silmaril. For the brothers the loss was far too near and their fear of the oath mighty. Manwe witnessed this act of the brothers and saw the calm in their hearts. He did not have the power to remove their oath but he took the Silmaril from Elwing and placed in the sky among the furthest stars. He then struck Maedhros and Maglor blind to its light, so they would never have to suffer their gazes upon it. For the brothers their ancient oath had finally been fulfilled and the evil of their family undone.

Maedhros and Maglor were among the first to witness the iron crown fall from the head of the enemy. No sooner had the satisfaction of victory washed over them, did their eyes fall upon the remaining Silmarils. A long forgotten corruption crept back into the souls of Maglor and Maedhros. Their oath had returned and their doom as of yet unsatisfied. Their hands extended greedily to the Silmarils and they were consumed. The light of the Silmarils seared and scarred the hands of the brothers. The pain was second only to the weight of their oath. The knowledge of the doom, they had placed upon themselves and their people combined with the burning of the Silmarils proved inescapable. Maedhros cast himself and his Silmaril in the deepest pit of fire in all of Arda. For nothing but the darkness could ever quell the fires of Faenor. Maglor sought refuge by the sea, where he had always felt nearer to home. However, the burning light eventually engulfed him as well. He dove into the darkness of the sea and within the realm of Ulmo, the light of the final Silmaril was forever lost. The doom of Faenor had fallen upon the last of the house of Finwe.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Roverandom

One of my favorite memories from being a kid is my mom reading Roverandom to me and my brothers. While reading the Artist and Illustrator book, I felt nostalgic because of the drawings and paintings from the story of Rover. Tolkien wrote the story for his son after a toy dog was lost. The story is about Rover, a little dog who is turned into a toy by a wizard and must embark on a journey to find the wizard and go back to being a real dog. During his journey, Rover rides on the back of seagull, even adventuring all the way to the moon! Tolkien illustrated the story and it was finally published in 1998.

What are some of Tolkien's works that we are not covering in class that you've read and enjoyed? 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Mooreeffoc

In the section "Recovery, Escape, Consolation" from "On Fairy Stories," Tolkien uses the word "Mooreeffoc" as a means of achieving "Recovery." the word Recovery is used for Tolkien's purposes to explain process of regaining a clear view of the world.  "Mooreeffoc" is a word that was first invented by Charles Dickens and later defined by G K Chesterson to mean "the queerness of things when they have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle."

I just loved this idea when I read it.  "Mooreeffoc" is a sensation that certainly all people experience at some point or another, when something familiar becomes something entirely new.  It is like when you say a word over and over again, until it no longer feels right in your mouth.  It occurs when the world you know is suddenly the world you don't.

This idea, in Tolkien's essay, is used to describe the purpose of reading fantasy.  He argues that fantasy allows the reader to recover a proper understanding of the world by helping them to rediscover it from a new angle.  What Tolkien only barely touches on though, is the use of "Mooreeffoc" in creating fantasy.  Tolkien himself states that fantasy is only effective if it feels realistic, yet how can a story filled with elves and dragons be created in such a way that it seems familiar to readers?  This is accomplished by presenting readers with the familiar through unusual means.  While a reader such as myself may not be familiar with dragons, he is familiar with the courage it would take to face one.  In this sense, the use of "Mooreeffoc" in creating fantasy works in two directions: both creation and reception.

What do you think of the word "Mooreeffoc," and how do you think Tolkien, in his own works, invites readers to seek the familiar in unfamiliar places?

Love and Fate

Throughout our discussion thus far the topic of "fate" and "doom" has surfaced multiple times. While reading The Silmarillion I found the idea of fate cropped up many times. One striking instance of fate in the book was the tale of Beren and Luthien. I found their love and Luthien's ultimate doom being intimately tied to Beren's to be very thought provoking. Upon further reading, the contrast between the fate of Elwing and Eärendil and that of Beren and Luthien stood out to me. Each couple represents a fantastic love story but each ends in a different way. Elwing and Eärendil choose a life in Valinor whereas Beren and Luthien choose to die like mortal men. Was this contrast striking to you? What does the choice of each couple say about their love? How does Tolkien's use of fate add to the dramatic effect of these love stories?  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Women in Tolkien

In class, the topic of the roles of women in Tolkien's writing has come up briefly. However, we haven't really had time to discuss it in-depth. I'm assuming it'll come up again, but I wanted to bring it up here as well.

We all know there aren't many female characters in The Hobbit and LOTR. They're still pretty much my favorite books, but I've always wondered why Tolkien chose to include so few. The female characters who are in the books (Éowyn, Galadriel, Arwen) are absolutely fantastic. They're all strong women who play critical parts in the story. (I'm disregarding Shelob and pretending I never had to read about and imagine a gigantic creepy spider.)

Compared to LOTR and The Hobbit, I thought there were a lot more female characters in The Silmarillion. Many of the Valar and Maiar are female, as are some of the Children of Ilúvatar. I had never read The Silmarillion before this class, so the fact that there were so many more female characters surprised me. It also made me wonder why there aren't as many females in LOTR. However, while many readers think this lack of female characters makes Tolkien a sexist, I disagree. Though Tolkien doesn't write many female characters in LOTR, the ones he does are exceptionally strong and have big impacts on the fate of Middle-earth.

Feel free to disagree with me; I like reading other ideas! Who's your favorite female Tolkien character? Do you think the fact that Tolkien doesn't include many females in LOTR makes him sexist? Why do you think he included so few female characters in LOTR than he did in The Silmarillion?

 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tolkien’s Choices in The Silmarillion

In class yesterday, your exercise asked you to select an action or event from specific chapters you were assigned. Now, choose any event or action from any chapter in The Silmarillion and construct an alternative narrative for it here. Post your alternative narrative or idea for an alternative as well as discuss what it suggests about the differences between the choices Tolkien made.

What if Luthien Lived?

One aspect of The Silmarillion I would have liked to see explored in class is the concept of Luthien living and dying as a mortal alongside Beren. The story of Beren and Luthien provides a moment of romance in the legendarium of Middle-earth, but it also provides an aspect of the story for future generations of Middle-earth to immortalize and idolize in a nonfiction fairy-tale. In a way, their deaths are equally as important as their lives and their journey to retrieve the Silmaril and claim their right to love. On Tuesday, I pondered the idea of rewriting the story of Beren and Luthien in such a way that, while Beren passes away as a mortal man, Luthien remains living and immortal. If the romanticism of her death was removed, her continued life would only remain significant should she make her way into the stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I thought about whether she would present herself as a central character, or whether she would be discovered living alone and isolated, grieving for Beren and cursing her immortality. Would she allow herself and her story to remain in the past, or would she live in Rivendell, in the House of Elrond, and contribute to the quest to destroy the Ring of Power? What sort of relationship would she have with the other characters? What are your thoughts? What significance does Luthien's mortal death contribute to Tolkien's Middle-earth? What effects would an alternative ending to the story of Beren and Luthien present to the overall legendarium?

Alternative to Rivalry Between the Elves and the Dwarves

When we discussed alternative endings in class, I thought that it was interesting when people had ideas about the the elves and the dwarves getting along earlier in the story, and how that would affect their infamous rivalry. Before reading The Silmarillion, the backstory between this rivalry was unclear to me, but Tolkien's myth behind it gives it more logic and makes it more believable. Being rudely awakened that your species is not the only on the planet seems like a good reason to dislike the other species. If they had ended up getting along, though, perhaps in the Lord of the Rings, during the many battles with opportunities to ally between them, the largest fights would have ended faster. However, this takes away form the adventure of the story, and it seems like Tolkien really enjoyed writing that part of his myth. On the other hand, this may have led to a separate journey with both the elves and the dwarves, and this could have added more detail or adventure to the story, so I'm curious to see if other people had thought about that.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Eärendil's Story

Eärendil's story is one Tolkien worked on in several formats and over a long time in his life. What aspects of this story seem to you to be most similar to aspects of Tolkien's other works? Are any aspects vastly different from themes in Tolkien's other works? What parts of this story seem most appealing to you? How about most puzzling?

Elwing and the Silmaril

 “For Ulmo bore up Elwing out of the waves, and he gave her the likeness of a great white bird, and upon her breast there shone as a star the Silmaril, as she flew over the water to seek Eärendil her beloved” (About 2 pages from the beginning of Chapter 24).

As we finish our work with The Silmarillion, it is important to think about why certain stories come at the end of the text. Why is it important that the story represented in the quote above come toward the end of the whole legendarium? Remember that Tolkien could have chosen to write it so that it could be placed somewhere else. Why is it important that this story, with this image of Elwing as a white bird, come near the end of the whole?


End of The Silmarillion

“If it has passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin, that was of old the fate of Arda Marred; and if any change shall come and the Marring be amended, Manwë and Varda may know; but they have not revealed it, and it is not declared in the dooms of Mandos (Last page of Chapter 24).

What do you make of this quote at the end of The Silmarillion? What does it add to the legendarium that would have been absent without it? How does it relate to the very beginning of the text, if at all? Does it seem a fitting end to you? Why or why not?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Similarities in Creation




One thought that was prevalent throughout our discussion in class the past week was the importance of creation myths and what purpose they serve as well as the elements that composes them. One thought that I found interesting was the similarities between myths from vastly different regions. The resemblance of some of Tolkien’s mythmaking to those of Native Americans was particularly interesting- especially considering that Tolkien would probably not have known anything about them or their culture. One thing that I always found intriguing was the idea that all cultures have some sort of creation myth and yet unprecedented amounts feature a large amount of similarities. In modern science the idea of the Big Bang is generally agreed upon, while cultures like the Egyptians and Chinese have awfully similar ideals- the Egyptians believed that the universe was created when a lotus emerges from an explosion and their deity comes out. The Chinese thought that a giant egg came out of nothing and a deity is hatched. The Christian equivalent of this would be of course Genesis.

Basically, all across the world eerily similar versions of the same tale are being told. I find this amazing, it’s odd how cultures from vastly different areas can have so much thought in common with others.

Tolkien Racist?


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5We4fg5JUOo
I recently came upon this video (which is obviously satirical)- though exaggerated and humorous, some of the points made are interesting observations. Basically the video illustrates all the ways that Tolkien may have used real world racial and religious groups as the basis for his characters. We have often talked in class about the obvious religious connotations in The Silmarillion and I think some of the points in the video could also be of interest. Some of the comparisons are as follows-
Hobbits- Pagans
Dwarfs- Jews
Easterlings- Muslims or Hindu
Humans- Atheists or Agnostics
Elves- Christians
Gandalf- Angel
Some of these claims can certainly be believable- the part about humans and Gandalf in particular. In The Silmarillion humans even go so far as to doubt the existence of the Valar, while Gandalf is one of the Maiar come down to earth.
Thoughts?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Influence on Illustration

I was very interested in a question brought up at the very end of one of this week's classes. In the Valaquenta is a very short section dedicated entirely to the "bad guys" of The Silmarillion - Melkor, Sauron, balrogs, and deviant Maiar. It was pointed out that everybody seems to have a solid idea of what these characters/creatures look like, despite the fact that Tolkien includes little to no description of them.

I'm curious what it is people imagine when they read about these characters, and why they think those images come naturally to them.

On Light vs. Darkness

One of the most interesting aspects of The Silmarillion to me is the contrast between factors that are inherently light and factors that we see as representations of darkness. In class on Tuesday, we presented questions to the class based on the introductory material of the book, and we briefly discussed the question presented by the last group, which related to the reasons why we can interpret characters without extensive physical descriptions. On Thursday, we split the first nine chapters of the novel amongst ourselves and analyzed particular themes and motifs. During both exercises this week, I mostly thought of the presence of certain motifs throughout the novel which, according to common archetypes and interpretations of Tokien's works, represent light and darkness. As mentioned in class on Thursday, we see Feanor presented through his dark hair and the "fire" in his busy mind. In addition, we see Melkor presented as "evil," not because we are specifically told he is evil, but instead because we are presented with his rebellions against the Valar, his hidden fortress of Utumno, the creation of the Balrogs, Melkor's manipulation of a variety of beings, and several archetypal images of darkness. The Valar, and many of the other beings living in Middle-earth at this time, present contrast to darkness through images of lights, trees and other aspects of nature, wisdom, and a certain kinship as Anuir created by Illuvatar, which Melkor rebels against. To me, the story so far seems to possess two themes as a whole: creation, and the battle of good against evil as presented through familiar archetypes and images. I suppose what I'm curious about it what the overall theme of the novel is when compared with the individual sections.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Thoughts on "Kinship"

     Today in class the theme of "Kinship" was mentioned; this stuck out to me because it seemed very different from other people's thoughts on the themes so far in the Silmarillion, but it is a huge part of Tolkien's mythology. Disagreements between kin often lead to more ferocious and devastating conflict than a fight between unrelated forces: Melkor is able to wreak such havoc and cause such personal sorrow to the Valar because he was one of them; Feanor and the Noldor come to great sorrow and loss because of in-fighting, sibling rivalry, and the like.
     All of Tolkien's Middle-earth works emphasize the importance of kin and more specifically of lineage (which we touched on briefly). The Appendices at the end of The Lord of the Rings and the Tables of the Silmarillion contain several family trees; these don't simply serve to allow the reader to remember names (although they can help with that), they show the significance of family ties and allow readers a deeper understanding of the repercussions of certain characters' actions and the reasons why those actions affect other characters in particular. Lineage is also a source and element of myth within the texts: for example the Dwarves' belief that the Seven Fathers are reincarnated through children who bear their names and thus continue to be great leaders and heroes of their people.
     Are there other examples of kin and/or lineage ties that stick out to you as important in Tolkien's works? Where may have this emphasis on blood relationships and family history come from, for Tolkien?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Melkor and Subcreation?

Discussion Topic from Tuesday's Group Exercise from Nathan

One thing I noticed evident in the conflict between Illuvatar and Melkor (not sure how to add proper accents in email) was that it hinged on Melkor's ultimate desire to create his own world and dominate it. For me, this immediately brought to mind Tolkien's concept of "Sub-creation" and the way he claims he is a merely a part of the changing, growing mythology discussed in "Mythopoeia". I found it interesting that the reason Melkor fell from the grace of the Valar, was that he was trying to do the work of God. He was entirely unsatisfied as a "Sub-creator" and obviously needed to have more control. However, in pursuing this goal Melkor even lost his ability to "sub-create", in the sense that he was no long able to synthesis ideas on his own. Instead he could only mock the work of the other Valar, in anger and jealously. My question, I suppose, is whether or no you and the rest of the class see this parallel as valid and if so what are your thoughts? It seems to me almost like a hidden warning to other "Sub-creators" to remain as such, and not to try to take over the primary creation of God.

Silmarillion Question on Good and Evil

Question from Tuesday's Group Exercise from Kerii

What is the purpose of creating a good v. evil dichotomy? Why not, like many other myths, create light/dark good/evil conflict from the previous existence of darkness? What is the point? Is there one?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Resources on Public website

Go to our course website and click on any resource on any of the pages under Links. Write a comment here about what link you explored, what you found there, what you learned that you did not know, and what might be helpful for your classmates. The website can be accessed through the link on the right side of this blog.

If you find any dead or broken links, please send me an email message.

Also, feel free to contribute any links in the comments that you know about and that might be interesting to your classmates.

Features of Mythologies

While definitions vary, most real world myths typically:
1) are regarded as accounts of a remote past;
2) explain origins of life, the universe, and the natural world by means of logic and design;
3) evolve from the actions of supernatural or superhuman figures;
4) establish authority for social and cultural institutions, such as governing structures, racial divisions among people, and religious practices;
5) reflect basic behavioral structures related to values, morals, or attitudes, such as good vs. evil, light vs. dark, and rich vs. poor; and
6) evoke the contemplation of the sacred through mystery, ritual, or transcendent experience.

In what ways do the mythological elements of Tolkien's world as described in The Silmarillion or Tolkien's other Middle-earth fiction reflect any of these features?