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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
The Gathering of the Clouds I - Introduction

Beren IV
Gondor


Jun 28 2009, 6:52pm

Post #1 of 20 (253 views)
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The Gathering of the Clouds I - Introduction Can't Post

Like The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is a tale that grew in the telling, beginning as a children's fairy tale and evolving into the epic of fairy tales. This trend is hinted at in Fire and Water, where the history of peoples other than the characters we've met suddenly becomes important as a new character enters and slays the dragon using an artifact from the past.

The Gathering of the Clouds completes this transition. Unlike a typical children's story, the sides of good and evil are no longer clear-cut: the good peoples that we have been introduced to earlier are preparing to fight a war, and if that war happens, good people will die no matter who wins. Moreover, everyone, the good guys included, have character flaws that bring this situation about: Thorin's avarice, the Elvenking's pride, and the envy of the Men of Lake Town. All of this centers around Smaug's treasure, and it is hinted that although the Dragon's body may be dead, his evil will remains to corrupt those who defeated him.

Bilbo must now manipulate the various factions using the good sides of everybody involved. He will need his thieving ability to do so, but he will also need diplomacy, and above all, he will need to rise above temptation.

1. How do you react to the change in tone of the book from children's story to novel?

2. Do you think that the more adolescent flavor of the latter part of the book was intended for Tolkien's children as they became more mature and could understand it, or was the Author getting carried away (or both)?

3. What is Tolkien saying about the nature of good, evil, and of what it means to be a hero, from here until the end of the book? What does The Lord of the Rings add to this that the remaineder of The Hobbit does not?


The paleobotanist is back!


squire
Valinor


Jun 28 2009, 9:04pm

Post #2 of 20 (131 views)
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Into the Deep, dear friends. Kids, go to sleep now. [In reply to] Can't Post

1. How do you react to the change in tone of the book from children's story to novel?
I don't like it particularly. I think the book could well have had a happily-ever-after ending from the point of Smaug's death. I tend to block this part out of my memories of the book. But I do find that my dislike of the ending chapters weakens my arguments in favor of keeping The Hobbit separate from The Lord of the Rings in the minds of modern readers who read TH after LotR!

2. Do you think that the more adolescent flavor of the latter part of the book was intended for Tolkien's children as they became more mature and could understand it, or was the Author getting carried away (or both)?
I'm not sure, but I believe Tolkien actually finished this last section of The Hobbit long after he had composed the first sections, because he had been asked to by the publishers. At that point it wasn't about his kids - or any kids - any more. Thus he could indulge his taste for more adult themes and situations unrestrained by a childish audience.

When I read The Hobbit to my kids, this was the section where they often lost interest and I had to skip ahead through long passages of boring stuff.

3. What is Tolkien saying about the nature of good, evil, and of what it means to be a hero, from here until the end of the book? What does The Lord of the Rings add to this that the remaineder of The Hobbit does not?
I don't think there's much here about evil; certainly not in the way that The Lord of the Rings is interested in it. Evil as a corruption of good is averted before it takes shape in this story, thanks to Bilbo, Gandalf, and the arrival of anonymous evil from outside.

There is certainly the theme that anyone can be a hero, even a hobbit, simply by doing right in the face of danger when doing nothing was a safe option. Bilbo becoming a hero - in a different way than he already has by overcoming Smaug, by betraying his boss for the greater good of all - is the final stage in his growth from fatuous boob to Elf-friend.

Again, in The Lord of the Rings it is different: doing nothing is not a safe option, and the heroes have no choice if they are to remain morally whole. The LotR also suggests that whether or not individual heroes succeed in their quest, their sincere effort is what makes it possible for fate (God) to complete their goal whether they can or not. I don't think The Hobbit gets anywhere near this deep, morally or philosophically.




squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 29 2009, 6:49am

Post #3 of 20 (109 views)
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Thoughts. [In reply to] Can't Post

1. How do you react to the change in tone of the book from children's story to novel?

To novel, or to heroic romance? I think Tolkien might say the latter.

I do see this noticeable shift in tone and style as a weakness of The Hobbit; however, I don't think it could be changed without essentially rewriting the story. And I like where Tolkien is going with this shift in emphasis from child readers to adult readers in The Hobbit, because it leads to a strong emphasis on adult readers in LotR. I also like the fact that LotR has its roots in a story for children, because the hobbits humanize the heroic romance. LotR also shifts in tone over the course of the story, but I think Tolkien did a better job of rewriting the early sections to fit with the rest.

2. Do you think that the more adolescent flavor of the latter part of the book was intended for Tolkien's children as they became more mature and could understand it, or was the Author getting carried away (or both)?

I don't know. It is my understanding that the later chapters were tacked on for publication, and not part of the original tale for Tolkien's children, but if that is the case I wonder how the original tale ended. And I'm not really sure that was the case.

3. What is Tolkien saying about the nature of good, evil, and of what it means to be a hero, from here until the end of the book?

Actually, I think here Tolkien is consistent throughout the book. There's more moral ambiguity in The Hobbit than in LotR, and the good guys are always on the verge of disaster in part because they tend to fight amongst themselves. What unites them is a common enemy. In LotR that common enemy is part of the story from the beginning, and therefore the different free peoples are quicker to unite in opposition to the Enemy.

Tolkien also repeatedly implies that obeying the rules is not as important as using good judgment. That's implicit from the time we learn that Bilbo is a Burglar in training, and Gandalf is his mentor. Bilbo is an apprentice Trickster, and he gradually learns how to deceive, but he does so in a good cause. It's not that the ends justify the means; it's that social rules and laws are not the same as moral rules and laws.

What does The Lord of the Rings add to this that the remaineder of The Hobbit does not?


LotR starts where The Hobbit leaves off. It starts with a common Enemy, and with a view to the adult reader. It also evolves, but Tolkien takes plenty of time to let it evolve, rather than squeezing the evolution into the last few chapters. And in LotR Tolkien went back to rewrite most of the tale to make it an integrated whole, although some discrepancies in tone remain.

In LotR Tolkien figures out how to do what he couldn't quite manage in The Hobbit -- he figures out how ordinary hobbits -- and implicitly how his ordinary readers -- can be Heroes. In The Hobbit, in the last few chapters, Bilbo steps aside for Bard and Beorn and even for Thorin's heroic death. In LotR, Frodo and Sam carry out the primary mission essentially alone -- all the conventional heroics are a side show meant to deliberately draw attention from Frodo and Sam. And even in the conventional war, Merry manages to be an unconventional Hero.


batik
Tol Eressea


Jun 30 2009, 1:18am

Post #4 of 20 (98 views)
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just one... [In reply to] Can't Post

1. How do you react to the change in tone of the book from children's story to novel?
Alrighty--I'll just spit it out. I'm not seeing it--this change that results in TH being identified/labelled, now, as a novel as opposed to a children's story! There. It's typed.
Let me back up a bit and add that I've not been a TH for years and years. This is my 2nd or 3rd time through it. And I was in my 30's when I first read any Tolkien. (In a minority on that OT poll! Wink)
Anyhoo...the change in tone. Sure, we are down to some serious business now. But didn't we know from the beginning there was some serious stuff going on here? The dwarves' song in Ch. 1, provided some clue--red fire, flames spreading, trees torched, houses and towers laid low--the dragon's ire! And even though there's been lots of comedy along the way, there've been plently of dire moments, too. I suppose Tolkien used a more gentle hand (childlike???) in getting his audience this far along in the story. He has (almost off-handedly)introduced the key players and underlying circumstances--kind of set the board--for the next few chapters. Now, it's time to gather all that information together and make use of it in order to get on through to the finale. As a teaching tool --it's no so unusual. Make up games to learn, have fun, but do pay attention to the details and gain some knowledge in the process.


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Jun 30 2009, 2:12am

Post #5 of 20 (91 views)
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Change in tone? [In reply to] Can't Post

I mentioned in an earlier post that these last chapters were always part of the complete story: 'As for the difference in tone, these "great differences between these final chapters and the early parts of the book are the result of internal development within the story", that is, his working out any inconsistencies, and then re-considering his notes and discerning what he felt was the most effective way for the story to proceed to its end.'

It was always Tolkien's intention to have a conflict between the Dwarves and the Elves and Men, although at first there was no battle (instead, Gandalf resolved the crisis, and the Goblin attack happened on his and Bilbo's way home).

And he still considered this a children's story, as did others. Remember eleven-year-old Rayner Unwin's review: he felt the book should "appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9"! Author Richard Hughes enjoyed the story, but cautioned that "The only snag I can see is that many parents...may be afraid that certain parts of it would be too terrifying for bedside reading."

This is post-World War I: many good people have indeed died in conflict. It's a fact of life which is not held back from the children of that time. And as Tolkien's children would have learned from their catechism, no one is a perfect person, "all have sinned".

What does it take to be a hero? Doing what is the right thing to do, at the right time, regardless of what could happen to you. All the "good guys" were heroes, in the end.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I desired dragons with a profound desire"

"It struck me last night that you might write a fearfully good romantic drama, with as much of the 'supernatural' as you cared to introduce. Have you ever thought of it?"
-Geoffrey B. Smith, letter to JRR Tolkien, 1915



sador
Half-elven

Jun 30 2009, 5:27am

Post #6 of 20 (88 views)
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A few answers [In reply to] Can't Post

1. How do you react to the change in tone of the book from children's story to novel?
It's been gradual, starting at the latest in 'A Warm Welcome', which opened with Bilbo disliking the sight of the Mountain and ends with his being miserable at the thought of reaching his destination; with all the realpolitik of the Master.

Another important thing is the quelling of poetry - strating with 'Not at Home' until 'The Last Stage' there is only one song - the aggressive, warlike song of the dwarves in this chapter.

2. Do you think that the more adolescent flavor of the latter part of the book was intended for Tolkien's children as they became more mature and could understand it, or was the Author getting carried away (or both)?
No; it doesn't take that long to read!

3. What is Tolkien saying about the nature of good, evil, and of what it means to be a hero, from here until the end of the book? What does The Lord of the Rings add to this that the remaineder of The Hobbit does not?

That with all your good efforts, some things are just too big for you.
Bilbo tries, but he cannot avert war (not even between the dwarves and other folk), and in the War of Five Armies (which later became his favourite adventure to tell), he does nothing.
So in 'The Return Journey' he learns of the futility of his deeds (but is put back in perspective by Thorin), and in 'The Last Stage' he finally learns he was merely the part of a larger Plan - and is thankful for that!

I think The Lord of the Rings reinforces these messages.

"We may not understand him, but that old bird understands us, I am sure." - Balin.


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 30 2009, 6:11am

Post #7 of 20 (85 views)
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For me the key is that Bilbo is no longer the center of attention. [In reply to] Can't Post

This started, as sador noted, when the Elvenking interrogates Thorin, and Thorin refuses to disclose his mission. At that point, though, Bilbo was still responsible for freeing the dwarves from prison, and when he got to the Mountain Bilbo dealt with Smaug. But after Smaug leaves the Mountain, Bilbo's role in the story diminishes significantly.

The story becomes an ensemble piece in the last few chapters, with Bilbo playing a supportive role. Bilbo's only role is giving Bard the Arkenstone, but Bard conducts the negotiations, and in the end it is the attack of the orcs that unifies the elves, humans, and dwarves. Bilbo becomes an observer in the final battle. So for me the change is marked by Bilbo's diminished role in the last few chapters.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jun 30 2009, 9:48am

Post #8 of 20 (86 views)
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I see an underlying unity to the tone. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Like The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is a tale that grew in the telling, beginning as a children's fairy tale and evolving into the epic of fairy tales.



The key here is "evolving" - the seeds of this transition, I think, have been hidden within the story all along. Like Bilbo himself, there's more to the "children's fairy tale" than meets the eye, if you care to look for it.


Quote
This trend is hinted at in Fire and Water, where the history of peoples other than the characters we've met suddenly becomes important as a new character enters and slays the dragon using an artifact from the past.



We have been meeting new characters chapter by chapter right from the start - Dwaves, trolls, Elves, Goblins, Eagles, Shape-shifters, Spiders, Wood-Elves, Men... and a dragon. And we've also had plenty of "artifacts from the past", starting with Orcrist and Glamdring, and the as-yet unnamed Sting. Not to mention the ring.


Quote
Unlike a typical children's story, the sides of good and evil are no longer clear-cut...



Again, I don't think this is a new development. Both Bilbo and the Dwarves have been shown right from the start to have flaws of greed and self-delusion. The Elven-king too is a very ambiguous character. So is Beorn, at least at first. Even Gollum has evoked Bilbo's (and our) sympathy, despite his creepiness.


Quote
Bilbo must now manipulate the various factions using the good sides of everybody involved. He will need his thieving ability to do so, but he will also need diplomacy, and above all, he will need to rise above temptation.



This is a very important observation, I think. Although it's true that little Bilbo is no longer able to play the action-hero role in the great events that he has unleashed, he's still at the very centre of the action because he's the one who has seen the weaknesses of everyone (starting, most literally, with the dragon) and has seen a way to force a compromise. I'm not sure he does it by "using the good sides of everybody involved", though. I'd almost say that the Arkenstone appeals to the baser emotions of everyone involved. Only Bilbo rises above those baser emotions when he manages to give the Arkenstone away.


Quote
1. How do you react to the change in tone of the book from children's story to novel?


At the most, I'd call it a change from fairy-tale to heroic romance - and those two genres exist on the same trajectory. The story gains in intensity and concentration as it draws to a close, which is something I find very satisfactory about The Hobbit. All the threads that seemed to be no more than separate incidents in an episodic tale are drawn together in a way that shows the interconnectedness of everything after all.


Quote
2. Do you think that the more adolescent flavor of the latter part of the book was intended for Tolkien's children as they became more mature and could understand it, or was the Author getting carried away (or both)?



I'd have to say neither. It doesn't even strike me as especially "adolescent". There are adult concerns behind the story, but I think that is quite usual in the best fairytales and children's stories, which allow children to get glimpse of the potentially-frightening adult world through a comforting medium in which they know that everything will be all right in the end.


Quote
3. What is Tolkien saying about the nature of good, evil, and of what it means to be a hero, from here until the end of the book? What does The Lord of the Rings add to this that the remaineder of The Hobbit does not?



That's a pretty big question! One thing you see here, and see underlined in LotR, is the hidden nature of true heroism. Bilbo plays a crucial part in these great events, and yet no-one except himself (and of course Gandalf) really knows how crucial that role was.

I like the ambiguous nature of all three races, Men, Elves and Dwarves - which has its echoes in the ambiguous characters of these creatures in European legends. Good and evil are blended in everyone - except the goblins, who, as in LotR, provide an unambigous enemy about whom everyone can agree.


They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled, the sigh and murmur of the Sea
upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Curious
Half-elven


Jun 30 2009, 11:57am

Post #9 of 20 (80 views)
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Do you think you would react the same as a child? [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
At the most, I'd call it a change from fairy-tale to heroic romance - and those two genres exist on the same trajectory. The story gains in intensity and concentration as it draws to a close, which is something I find very satisfactory about The Hobbit.


I think there is something about The Hobbit which is satisfying to adults, something Tolkien enlarged upon in LotR. It begins as a tale for children, and ends as a tale for adults -- although Tolkien might say as a tale for everyone. Then LotR picks up where The Hobbit leaves off. But I think perhaps the children might prefer the tale before it evolves into a heroic romance, and before Bilbo evolves into a diplomat. Have you ever read the story to children, as squire has? I have not, yet.


Twit
Lorien

Jun 30 2009, 12:21pm

Post #10 of 20 (80 views)
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maybe [In reply to] Can't Post

when we are with Bilbo, we are like children, seeing things and hearing things deemed appropriate. Then we hear the rumblings of war approaching, and suddenly, despite our (Bilbo's) efforts at helping, trying to stop it before it's too late (a child trying to stop its father from leaving for the front perhaps) it is here.
This is when we stop seeing things through Bilbo's eyes, and the mood intensifies and becomes more serious and I guess more grown up.
I remember it being pointed out that a child might identify with Bilbo more readily than any other character, this would be a continuance of that.


Curious
Half-elven


Jun 30 2009, 1:37pm

Post #11 of 20 (74 views)
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I like that! [In reply to] Can't Post

And I still think that in LotR Tolkien found a more profound way to make the hobbits the Heroes.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jun 30 2009, 4:39pm

Post #12 of 20 (68 views)
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No, I've never read it to a child [In reply to] Can't Post

My own children were very fond of it, but they read it for themselves. Our copies were always disappearing as they lent them to their friends...

I didn't read it myself until I was an adult, and after LotR. So I have no first-hand experience of how the ending might work for children, or even how it would work as a book read out loud rather than read privately.

I don't recall how old squire's children were when he first read it to them, but I suppose that would make a difference. I can imagine that younger children might enjoy the dwarves, the Eagles, and Beorn with his animal servants, say, because you don't need to pick up on the complexities of the relationships to relate to those characters - especially as all kids nowadays are so familiar with cartoon dwarves and talking animals. Those younger kids would probably start to find the story hard going before the end, though, I would have thought. Mirkwood, the Elven-King's Hall and Esgaroth would all demand a higher level of maturity than the beginning part does.

I would have thought that children of maybe eight or above would relate quite well to Bilbo's "diplomacy", which is presented very strikingly via Bilbo's sudden revelation of the Arkenstone - and the Arkenstone is described in such entrancing terms that I can imagine it really catching the imagination of children.

A lot depends on the reader of course - an enthusiastic reader will likely be able to bring his audience along with him even through some difficult patches, but if he (or she) is less convinced by the later chapters, it's a fair bet that the audience will find them less interesting too.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled, the sigh and murmur of the Sea
upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



GaladrielTX
Tol Eressea


Jun 30 2009, 5:35pm

Post #13 of 20 (65 views)
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Character and Consequences [In reply to] Can't Post

1. How do you react to the change in tone of the book from children's story to novel?

Unfortunately, this was the point in the story where I used to lose interest. I still do somewhat, although itís easier for me to slog through to the end now than when I was younger and a slower reader. This is where Tolkien's wonderful inventions stop, and he focuses more on character and consequences of actions and reflecting on what's right and wrong.

3. What is Tolkien saying about the nature of good, evil, and of what it means to be a hero, from here until the end of the book? What does The Lord of the Rings add to this that the remaineder of The Hobbit does not?

My answering this may be premature, as we havenít reached the end. I have to rely on memory. Nevertheless, Iíll try.

I understand Tolkien to say if a situation is complicated but one is in a position to help people the good and heroic thing is not to focus on the complications but to go ahead and do what you can to help people in need.*

Evil is valuing things for what they mean to you instead of for what they can do for other people.*

The situation and message in LOTR are far clearer and simpler, without the complications of The Hobbit. The good and heroic thing in the later story is to fight on against threat and destruction, to the sacrifice of self, regardless of any reasonable expectations. The evil thing is to exercise power and destruction over others.*

I'm still trying to figure him out, though.

_________

*(The above viewpoints appear to be those of Tolkien and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the poster, TORN, or the Internet in general. Taxes, title, and license not included. Void where prohibited. YMMV.)

~~~~~~~~

The TORNsib formerly known as Galadriel.



Curious
Half-elven


Jun 30 2009, 6:46pm

Post #14 of 20 (70 views)
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A common enemy simplifies matters. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
This is where Tolkien's wonderful inventions stop, and he focuses more on character and consequences of actions and reflecting on what's right and wrong.


Good point. At this point Tolkien becomes more didactic, and less inventive.


Quote

The situation and message in LOTR are far clearer and simpler, without the complications of The Hobbit.


That's an interesting point, since The Hobbit is considered the children's book and LotR the book for adults. But I agree, in a sense The Hobbit is more complicated, especially when there is no common enemy to fight.



Dreamdeer
Valinor


Jun 30 2009, 8:58pm

Post #15 of 20 (58 views)
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It thrilled me. [In reply to] Can't Post

I liked the transition, when I read this as a child. No, more than liked--I loved it. I felt the book stretching me, starting out within my measure, and challenging me, little by little to keep growing...growing...till by the end I felt stunned, someone drawn through an amazing initiaton, who could never, ever be the same person again. I felt Tolkien pull me through a magical transformation. I walked around in a daze. I couldn't explain to anyone what had just happened. I remember standing in the schoolyard, watching the other children play, thinking, "They don't know!" And unable to put into words what I knew that they didn't. It went beyond words, although words conveyed it on the printed page.

I am serious. This is something I will never forget, no matter how old I get.

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!


Dreamdeer
Valinor


Jun 30 2009, 9:06pm

Post #16 of 20 (56 views)
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I just now read the other responses. [In reply to] Can't Post

Somebody please tell me I'm not the only one who experienced this. Some lurker, perhaps? Anyone?

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!


Dreamdeer
Valinor


Jun 30 2009, 9:09pm

Post #17 of 20 (56 views)
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The moral question [In reply to] Can't Post

The moral question of "The Hobbit" is the great moral question facing the generation for which Tolkien wrote it, in a weirdly prescient way. "When is it a virtue to follow orders, and when is it a vice? When will the rules keep your soul safe, and when is it better to deviate?" Being someone sharply attuned to the Collective Unconscious, Tolkien felt moved to teach something that could have prevented a whole lot of horror had it spread to children everywhere at the time that it was written.

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jun 30 2009, 10:03pm

Post #18 of 20 (54 views)
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I wish I had. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Somebody please tell me I'm not the only one who experienced this.



I'm thrilled to hear you had this experience. Although I didn't read The Hobbit as a child, it strikes me that it gradually leads the young reader through greater and greater challenges in terms of the material, so that the real payoff is at the end if the reader is ready and able to rise to it. I guess you were ready!


They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled, the sigh and murmur of the Sea
upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



grammaboodawg
Immortal


Jul 4 2009, 1:45pm

Post #19 of 20 (41 views)
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The tone changes [In reply to] Can't Post

2. Do you think that the more adolescent flavor of the latter part of the book was intended for Tolkien's children as they became more mature and could understand it, or was the Author getting carried away (or both)?

I think the story started out as an adventure tale for Tolkien's children, but it took on a life (and direction) of its own as the story evolved. Tolkien's sense of fairness, responsibility, courage, and leadership really becomes apparent after the Company reaches the mountain and the dynamics change. Bilbo's brought to the forefront when he takes on Smaug, just as Bard is brought to the forefront when he (also) takes on Smaug. They are both thrown into the roles of resolving situations they neither caused or wanted. That's the truth about leaders. They do what needs to be done for the good of all.

sample

sample

"There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West."
~Hug like a hobbit!~ "In my heaven..."

I really need these new films to take me back to, and not re-introduce me to, that magical world.



TORn's Observations Lists


Dreamdeer
Valinor


Jul 4 2009, 10:43pm

Post #20 of 20 (38 views)
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Good answer! // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Life is beautiful and dangerous! Beware! Enjoy!

 
 

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