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It's Tolkien Reading Day! Post your ABCs of Tolkien here.
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N.E. Brigand

Mar 25 2010, 3:48am

Post #1 of 149 (7830 views)
It's Tolkien Reading Day! Post your ABCs of Tolkien here. Can't Post

I can't wait to see the responses.

If you didn't sign up in advance, but still want to contribute a lettered-passage, by all means feel free!

Discuss Tolkien’s life and works in the Reading Room!
How to find old Reading Room discussions.


Mar 25 2010, 3:57am

Post #2 of 149 (6431 views)
C is for Cerin Amroth... [In reply to] Can't Post

C is for Cerin Amroth:

“At the hill’s foot Frodo found Aragorn, standing still and silent as a tree; but in his hand was a small golden bloom of elanor, and a light was in his eyes. He was wrapped in some fair memory: and as Frodo looked at him he knew that he beheld things as they once had been in this same place. For the grim years were removed from the face of Aragorn, and he seemed clothed in white, a young lord tall and fair; and he spoke words in the Elvish tongue to one whom Frodo could not see. Arwen vanimelda, namárië! he said, and then he drew a breath, and returning out of his thought he looked at Frodo and smiled.
‘Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth’ he said, ‘and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me!’ and taking Frodo’s hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as a living man.”
---The Fellowship of the Ring, pg 456, Ballentine paperback edition.

And though it’s adding additional text, I’m interested in the curious counter of its ‘history’ by the following:

“Amroth was King of Lórien, after his father Amdír was slain in the Battle of Dagorlad [in the year 3434 of the Second Age]. His land had peace for many years after the defeat of Sauron. Though Sindarin in descent he lived after the manner of the Silvan Elves and housed in the tall trees of a great green mound, ever after called Cerin Amroth. This he did because of his love for Nimrodel. For long years he had loved her, and taken no wife, since she would not wed with him. She loved him indeed, for he was beautiful even for one of the Eldar, and valiant and wise; but she was of the Silvan Elves, and regretted the incoming of the Elves from the West, who (as she said) brought wars and destroyed the peace of old…”
---Unfinished Tales, pgs 240-1, Houghton-Mifflin hardbound edition.

What does each text mean to you? Does the hill’s ‘history’ give any added meaning to the text in Fellowship? Both tell love stories, one of promise the other of tragedy, does it enrich or is it something that can remain “an unexplained vista” to quote many who prefer not to have additional materials? My example is direct quote of those that prefer not to read the Appendices and other “supplemental” writings. Since in the book there is very little mentioned of Arwen (a VERY late addition to the story at all), is it a good enticement to the curiousity about Aragorn, who himself is a bit of an enigma for quite some while in the story? What does Frodo’s vision of Aragorn there mean to you? Is this a bit of “Elvish magic”? To you, how is Cerin Amroth “the heart of Elvendom on earth”? What does it mean that Amroth so loved Nimrodel as to fashion his life as the Silvan Elves to try and woo Nimrodel? What, if anything, does it mean that she could love an elf, yet still hold a grudge of war and destruction of peace based solely on his being among those that came recently to her beloved Lorien? Do the two stories reflect the best and worst of lovers, blest or star-crossed?

"Even the very wise cannot see all ends."


Mar 25 2010, 4:10am

Post #3 of 149 (6362 views)
T is for Tolkien [In reply to] Can't Post

When I was preparing footers and realized the letter T wasn't taken, a small thought crept in. T is for Tolkien. I want to do T is for Tolkien. But I'm all about rules and the rules (guidelines?) seem to imply that the passage we quote should be from Tolkien's books. What passage could I quote from one of Tolkien's books which was about Tolkien? I figured I could make a case for Letters being one of Tolkien's books but it seemed a little like fudging the guidelines.

But it didn't matter because a favorite line of mine was there in one of Tolkien's books and it was about Tolkien. From the foreword of FOTR:

The Lord of the Rings has been read by many people since it finally appeared in print; and I should like to say something here with reference to the many opinions or guesses that I have received or have read concerning the motives and meaning of the tale. The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them. As a guide I had only my own feelings for what is appealing or moving, and for many the guide was inevitably often at fault. Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.

It's that line in black (my emphasis of course) that has always struck me. Like any good bit of material that resonates with me, it makes me think of many different things. I might wonder how much it chafed for Tolkien to be considered boring, absurd, or contemptible. It would chafe for me. Or, I might wonder, did he really shrug it off with the confidence of a soul who knows who he is, what he wants, and what he enjoys... or doesn't enjoy? Some people never seem to doubt themselves. Regardless of which of these describe Tolkien more, he got a bit frank with his detractors. I really enjoy and admire frankness. I have never known any other way to be and I admire people who are willing to speak their mind with respect and decorum but also with self assuredness.

But, in a more contemporary context, I contrast Tolkien's choice of words to how people today are more apt to react to criticism. Not to put a dark note on a day of celebration... but we could do with more Tolkien in this world. His simply put comment on his detractors works as well as any of the many unpleasant ways people might react today.

I think it works to finish off that paragraph from the Foreword. I won't comment further on it (except maybe to say that my mind really wandered to many of the current discussion on the upcoming Hobbit movies hereSmile) but I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of this paragraph (first and last halves). Where does you mind wander when you read the Foreword? Do you read the Foreword?
But even from the points of view of many who have enjoyed my story there is much that fails to please. It is perhaps not possible in a long tale to please everybody at all points, nor to displease everybody at the same points; for I find from the letters that I have received that the passages or chapters that are to some a blemish are all by others specially approved. The most critical reader of all, myself, now finds many defects, minor and major, but being fortunately under no obligation either to review the book or to write it again, he will pass over these in silence, except one that has been noted by others: the book is too short.

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Tol Eressea

Mar 25 2010, 4:12am

Post #4 of 149 (6496 views)
X is for X-Ray vision ... [In reply to] Can't Post

(I'm glad you posted this early [early for Eastern US time, at least) as I'll be in a business meeting all day long)

Trust me, there's some Tolkien after the science...

[Science mode on]

We've probably all seen the representation of X-ray vision in cartoons or comic books - some nasty-looking rays shoot out of someones eyes, revealing some trinket hidden behind a wall, under a box, in a safe, etc.

How exactly these X-ray beams work, I don't know. When I was a kid, I used to think that our eyes worked by ray-vision as well - somehow our eyes "looked out" and saw stuff that was lit by light. But in reality, vision works when little packets of energy (photons of light) bounce off things and then into our eyes. Once in our eyes, they hit specific molecules and excite them. These excited molecules send a signal to our brain that eventually get interpreted as our eyes having "seen" those somethings that the light bounced off of.

The important thing here is that vision results from external light ENTERING the eye, not leaving it.

[Science mode off]

As I was reading the Hobbit for the eleventy-eleventh time recently, I resolved to post a topic in the Reading Room about something that has long bothered me in Tolkien's writing: Tolkien seemed enamored, particularly in the Hobbit, with the X-ray vision method of seeing things - rays of light shining out of the eye somehow help in seeing things.

We've got Gollum with his "pale, lamplike eyes". Bilbo sees Gollum off on his island as "two small points of light peering at him", and soon "the light in Gollum's eyes had become a green fire" and "he turned and saw Gollum's eyes like small green lamps". And once Bilbo is behind him (removing any possibility that Gollum's eyes are merely ultra-reflective and shining Sting's light back at him), "Bilbo could see the light of his eyes shining palely even from behind", and Gollum was "turning his head from side to side, as Bilbo could see from the faint glimmer on the walls", and finally, Gollum was "only a black shadow in the gleam of his own eyes".

Clearly this is not a case of Tolkien's frequently used method of "seemed as though", or "as if", or similar language to make us wonder whether the observer saw magic or just something natural but wondrous - there is no doubt that Gollum's eyes emit light.

But Gollum isn't the only Hobbit creature with overly-bright eyes, as we see when good lo' Smaug the Magnificent gets into the act: "He [Bilbo] was just about to step out on to the floor when he caught a sudden thin and piercing ray of red from under the drooping lid of Smaug's left eye." Since we'd just been told that "only the faintest glow could be seen" in Smaug's lair, there's no way Smaug's eye is just reflecting ambient light in a "piercing" way.

Finally, even protagonists get into the act during the Battle of Five Armies: "Out leapt the King under the Mountain, and his companions followed him. Hood and cloak were gone; they were in shining armor, and red light leapt from their eyes".

Smaug and the Dwarves only get ray-vision momentarily for dramatic effect, but Gollum gets it for a specific reason - so let's look at Gollum a little more closely.

Clearly his bright eyes are meant to help him see in the darkness. But shouldn't they really do just the opposite? I'm sure the idea is that the light emitted by his eyes bounces off things and helps him see them. But that just doesn't work! Much of the light emitted by his eyes would be immediately reflected right back into them. Light tends to reflect off of air/liquid interfaces such as the surface of our eyes - that's why our eyes have those nice, attractive specular highlights in them and are often described as "bright" and "shining", because they reflect part of the light that hits them. Well, any light emitted from inside our eyes would do the same thing, only this time it would be reflected back INTO the eye rather than away from it, effectively blinding the eyes rather than helping. One could maybe speculate that the liquid on the surface of the eye was the emitting material, but that would be even worse, because (since molecules don't have a front and a back) as much light would get emitted into the eye as away from it.

I basically envision all this ray-vision as the equivalent of shining a flashlight in your eyes to see in the dark - it does way more harm than good.

Gollum's eyes have been discussed here before - I found some discussion here.

Some questions:

1) Who needs an invisibility ring when everything runs around blinding itself anyway?

2) We know why Tolkien gave Gollum ray-vision, but why does Smaug have it?

3) Do the dwarves eyes really glow, or is that poetic license?

4) Does Tolkien's ray-vision bother you?

5) In a world where Smaug is both large enough that he can ruin entire mountain sides, his fall splinters an entire town and causes the lake to come "roaring in", but yet small enough to traverse through Dwarven tunnels killing the dwarves and collecting all their treasure, and a world where Smaug is capable of living in a vast wasteland with no food, coming out so infrequently that entire generations doubt he exists and yet he's capable of generating large amounts of energy and flame at a moments notice, is it wrong that what bothers me is his glowing eyes?

6) Are there any other creatures in Tolkien's works that have glowing eyes or ray vision, or is this a Hobbit thing? (Other than the extension of Gollum into LOTR)

7) Do I now need to forgive P. Jackson his laser-beam Sauron, since not only did he not really invent the idea, but it's practically canon for Tolkien's major evil creatures to have ray-vision?

8) Are there other famous examples in literature of creatures with ray vision? Did Tolkien maybe draw on any of these for his ideas?

My ability to participate during the day is going to be limited, but I'll check in before and after work -



Mar 25 2010, 4:16am

Post #5 of 149 (6259 views)
LOL at #5 :-) // [In reply to] Can't Post


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Mar 25 2010, 4:46am

Post #6 of 149 (6567 views)
P is for Peregrin Took! [In reply to] Can't Post

"Quickly now he drew off the cloth, wrapped the stone in it and kneeling down, laid it back by the wizard's hand. Then at last he looked at the thing that he had uncovered. There it was: a smooth globe of crystal, now dark and dead, lying bare before his knees....He stole away, and sat down on a green hillock not far from his bed. The moon looked in over the edge of the dell. Pippin sat with his knees drawn up and the ball between them. He bent low over it, looking like a greedy child stooping over a bowl of food, in a corner away from others. He drew his cloak aside and gazed at it. The air seemed still and tense about him. At first the globe was dark, black as jet, with the moonlight gleaming on its surface. Then there came a faint glow and stir in the heart of it, and it held his eyes, so that now he could not look away. Soon all the inside seemed on fire; the ball was spinning, or the lights within were revolving. Suddenly the lights went out. He gave a gasp and struggled; but he remained bent, clasping the ball with both hands. Closer and closer he bent, and then became rigid; his lips moved soundlessly for a while. Then with a strangled cry he fell back and lay still. The cry was piercing. The guards leapt down from the banks. All the camp was soon astir."

As usual Pippin has got himself in trouble. Unfortunately for him, it isn't the dropping-the-stone-into-the-well variety of trouble. Have you ever let your curiosity get the best of you? Now in Pippin's defense, it wasn't just curiosity that caused him to seek out the stone. Like the Ring, the stone seems to attract/tempt people to it, especially those who have already touched it. Are there any other similarities between the Palantir and the Ring? Like Frodo in the past when he was tempted to put on the ring, Pippin was tempted to look at the Palantir. Now what I love about this scene is the internal dialogue Pippin goes through. He knows what he's doing is wrong but he can't help himself. Another good description is the description I quote above of Pippin looking into the stone. Is there any similarity between Pippin's experience of seeing something in the stone and, say, Frodo or Sam's experience with Galadriel's Mirror? Of course, unlike the mirror experience, this viewing has "bad idea" all over it and it comes with consequences. Yet what is interesting is that according to Gandalf, Pippin's looking in the Palantir possibly prevented a worse fate and may have actually helped the cause. You go, Fool of a Took! Your foolishness actually helped for once!
A few thoughts on Pippin himself before I close this up. Pippin is one of my favorite characters. One thing I like about him is his character growth. I love reading about his cleverness when he uses luck to help Merry and himself to escape the orcs. And his saving of Faramir in ROTK is awesome. What are some things you like about Pippin? Did his foolishness ever elicit a smile, or were you exasperated? What is your favorite moment with this foolish Took?

What happened when Legolas and Aragorn road with Eomer in the van.
Aragorn: Eomer, Legolas has his bow on my side of the seat!
Legolas: Well Aragorn keeps slapping me while practicing his "heroic" poses.
Eomer: Don't make me turn this van around.

(This post was edited by Altaira on Mar 25 2010, 1:45pm)


Mar 25 2010, 5:32am

Post #7 of 149 (6462 views)
K is for Kirith Ungol [In reply to] Can't Post

I picked the manuscript spelling of Kirith Ungol with a “K” because it’s the manuscripts that I want to look at. Tolkien spent a lot of time, it seems, trying to figure out where to put the pass into Mordor and how to get Frodo and Sam up the stairs, through Shelob’s lair, and over the pass. Volumes 8 and 9 of The History of Middle-earth have chapters describing Tolkien’s plans and drafts and sketches as he worked out this part of the story. What I found interesting was that Tolkien was not only writing his way into Mordor, he was also drawing his way over the pass of Kirith Ungol.

I thought it might be interesting to look at the way in which Tolkien draws his way forward. And if you’re interested, you can look at the last section of my post for more specific questions about the last image and the possible influence of the picture on the words of the story.

Here’s an early sketch, from HOME Vol. 8, chapter 2. At this point, it’s just a rough idea of where things might be.

Early sketch of Kirith Ungol

larger image

Here’s a more detailed drawing, trying to work out the location of the stairs and Shelob’s lair on the way up to the Tower:

Shelob's Lair

Larger image

Here is one of the diagrams that Tolkien drew of the layout of Shelob’s lair. You have to get through that to make it to the Tower!

Plan of Shelob's Lair

Larger image

In all of the sketches up to this point (and there are more in HOME), the Tower is only a tip that you can see just over the mountain top. You don’t know what it looks like below the topmost point. Once Sam gets over the pass, what does he see? I think that Tolkien had to stop writing and start drawing in order to figure out some of the details of what is on the other side of the mountain:

Tower of Kirith Ungol

Larger image

In case anyone is interested in looking at this last page more closely, here is the text on the manuscript page, exactly as recorded by Christopher Tolkien in The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 9, chapter II, pages 18-20. The only additions are my comments in blue.

The questions that I’ve been thinking about are which came first, words or image? How might the words influence the drawing of the image, or how might the image influence the words that we now read as part of the story?

[Above the image:]

And in that dreadful light Sam stood aghast; for now he could see the Tower of Kirith Ungol in all its strength. The horn that those could see who came up the pass from the West was but its topmost turret. Its eastern face stood up in four great tiers from a shelf in the mountain wall some 500 feet below. Its back was to the great cliff behind, and it was built in four pointed bastions of cunning masonry, with sides facing north-east and south-east, one above the other, diminishing* as they went up, while about the lowest tier was a battlemented wall enclosing a narrow courtyard.

[Somewhere around here the image starts to intrude on the margin and the words are no longer written up to the left margin but follow the contours of the picture]

Its gate open[ed] on the SE into a broad road. The wall at the [?outward] … was upon the brink of a precipice.
*[The bottom one was probably projected some 50 yards from the cliff, the next 40, the next 30, the top 20 – and on the top [or tip] of it was the turret-tower. Their heights were 50 ft., 40 ft., 30 ft., 20?]
With black blank eyes the windows stared over the plains of Gorgoroth and Lithlad; some [?form(ed)] a line of red-lit holes, climbing up. Maybe they marked some stair up to the turret.
With a sudden shock of perception Sam realized that this stronghold had been built not to keep people out of Mordor, but to keep them in! It was indeed in origin one of the works of Gondor long ago: the easternmost outpost of the defence of Ithilien and Minas Ithil, made when after the overthrow of Sauron, in the days of the last Alliance, the Men of the West kept watch upon the evil land where still his creatures lurked. But as with the Towers of the Teeth that watch[ed] over Kirith Gorgor, Nargos and ? [sic], so here too the watch and ward had failed and treachery had yielded up the Tower to the Ringwraiths. [?And] now for long it had been occupied by evil things. And since his return to Mordor Sauron had found it useful.

[penciled passage that follows the end of the overwriting in ink reads as follows:]

….keep watch upon the evil land where still his creatures lurked. But as with the Towers of the Teeth upon Kirith Gorgor, so here the watch and ward had failed and treachery had yielded up the Tower. But Sauron too had found it useful. For he had few servants and many slaves. Still its purpose was as of old to keep people in.
Sam looked and he saw how the tower commanded the main road form the pass behind; the road he was on was only a narrow way that went corkscrewing down into the darkness and seemed to join a broad way form the gate to the road.

From History of Middle-earth. Volume 9. The final version of this passage is in RotK, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol.”


I would love to hear ideas about the interplay of words and images in this or anywhere else in Tolkien’s work. Or you can just enjoy the progression of sketches – it’s almost as if you can actually watch Tolkien in the process of envisioning the geography and landscape step by step as he fills in the story.

Tol Eressea

Mar 25 2010, 5:54am

Post #8 of 149 (6486 views)
"Ha, hmm, my friends, let us go for a walk!"... [In reply to] Can't Post

...'I am Bregalad, that is Quickbeam in your language.'

All that day they walked about, in the woods with him, singing and laughing, for Quickbeam often laughed. He laughed if the sun came out from behind a cloud, he laughed if they came upon a stream or a spring; then he stopped and splashed his head and feet with water; he laughed sometimes at some sound or whisper in the trees.

Q1: Who are the "they" accompanying Quickbeam? (1pt.)

There were many rowan-trees in my home...that took root when I was an Enting, many many years ago in the quiet of the world. ...But the birds became unfriendly and greedy and tore at the trees, and threw the fruit down and did not eat it. The Orcs came with axes and cut down my trees.

Q2: What kind of fruit did these trees bear? (3 pts)
Q3: Name the Anui who is said to have planted the first seeds of all the plants in Arda. (3pts)

But the night had opened out, and there was a great light of stars, quite enough for Ents to see by, and suddenly Quickbeam gave a cry "The tree-killer, the tree-killer!"

Q4: Who is the tree-killer? (2 pts)



Mar 25 2010, 6:10am

Post #9 of 149 (6361 views)
T is for Thursday! [In reply to] Can't Post

Then the weather clouded over. That was on Wednsday the eve of the Party. Anxiety was intense. Then Thursday... actually dawned. The sun got up, the clouds vanished, flags were unfurled and the fun began.
Bilbo Baggins called it a party, but it really was a variety of entertainments rolled into one. Practically everyone living near was invited. A very few were overlooked by accident, but as they turned up all the same, that did not matter...

Such characterization of Hobbits in a couple of sentences! Nearly mad for fun (but not in the Gorbag way), eager for entertainment, wary of the weather (Englishmen anybody?), and good-natured to boot.

The very few who were "overlooked by accident" speak volumes of the people - instead of sulking and resenting, they actually come! And are received happily like anyone else. How many of us would be simply mortified - either as guests or hosts? But they simply turn up, so it really does not matter...

(and regarding turning up, I know I wrote somewhere that I probably won't be able to make it. But did you really believe this? Tongue)

"It will support thee and defend thee from weariness" - Cirdan.

Night Wolf

Mar 25 2010, 7:15am

Post #10 of 149 (6387 views)
E(ä) is for Eärendil [In reply to] Can't Post

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast / Ofer middangeard monnum sended
'Hail Earendel brightest of angels / above middle earth sent to men.'

Chronological development of J.R.R.Tolkien's principal model languages
Nevbosh (inspired by English, French and Latin)
Naffarin (inspired by Spanish)
Neo-Gothic (filling holes in Gothic's vocabulary)
"Unrecorded Germanic" (unnamed language related to Old English, Gothic and other Germanic tongues)
Quenya (inspired by Finnish, influenced by Latin and Greek)
Primitive Eldarin
Sindarin (inspired by Welsh)

Tolkien had devoted considerable efforts to fleshing out Quenya, when he had begun to realize that he could not continue to create the language without knowing something of the people who spoke it. He had written poems in this language, but now he found himself needing to creating a history for these people, whoever they might be.

It so happened, at the age of 21, that he had an epiphany. He read for the first time the Old English religious poem Crist of Cynewulf. In it, he encountered two lines that were to fire his imagination for years: Eala Earendel engla beorhtast ofer middengeard monnum sended. "Hail Earendel, brightest of angels, above middle earth sent unto men." The words seemed to hint at something beautiful and remote. While the Old English dictionary recorded Earendel as a ray of light, Tolkien interpreted it literally as the star that heralded the dawn's light (Venus) and figuratively as John the Baptist, presaging Christ.

In fact, Earendel heralded the light that would be diffused into the Two Trees, the Silmarils and the vial of Galadrial: all prominent works of light in his fiction.

Tolkien wanted to discover the truth behind these two Old English lines, and he began to conceive of a greater story, involving a mariner. From this simple line about Earendel, the line itself "a leaf caught in the wind", Tolkien began to discover the great tree of his mythology, which would pass through many seasons, growing from "The Lay of Earendel" to The Book of Lost Tales to The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

source: http://www.langmaker.com/ml0108.htm

further reference: http://www.tolkiensociety.com/ed/study_a_s_1.html

Eä - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E%C3%A4#E.C3.A4

Klaatu... Verata... Necktie. Nectar. Nickel, Noodle...Nikto!

(This post was edited by Night Wolf on Mar 25 2010, 7:20am)


Mar 25 2010, 7:21am

Post #11 of 149 (6353 views)
Interesting question! [In reply to] Can't Post

My inclination, when faced with these biological impossibilities, is to remember that these characters are inspired by folklore, and folklore cares nothing for biology or physics! I suspect that many of the creatures with glowing eyes in folk tales are actually a result of geology, not biology - people seeing flickers of flame in the mountains, perhaps, and imagining a dragon, or seeing luminescent rocks and imagining the eyes of some cave-dwelling creature (it's a psychological truism that we tend to see faces in all kinds of random patterns). Plus there's the fact that many wild animals have eyes that seem to glow at night (although of course we know that they're actually just reflecting the tiny bit of ambient light there is), and you have a nice matrix from which all these imaginary creatures can evolve.

Tolkien takes these folklore characters and makes them into something much more complex, but I have a feeling that, providing they obeyed the "rules" of folklore, he didn't worry too much about the rules of biology and physics as we understand them today.

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


Mar 25 2010, 9:35am

Post #12 of 149 (6434 views)
B is for Beowulf [In reply to] Can't Post

I first encountered Tolkien’s essay Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics in a severely shortened form in A Norton Critical Edition, Beowulf: The Donaldson Translation, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism. (Edited by Joseph F. Tuso. W. W. Norton & Company: New York. 1975.) However, by a strange twist of fate, I happened to find the full text of the essay in a book by the same name (well almost*) at my favourite used book store the very day I signed up for this topic. My observations here, as well as all quotes are from the full text.

The essay, really the text of a lecture to the British Academy, “was read on 25 November 1936,” that is, almost a year before the first publication of The Hobbit. While clearly a critique of the state of Beowulf criticism up to that day, it appeared to me Tolkien’s essay might also have functioned as a rationale for the story he was about to unleash on a generation of British readers seemingly starved of good myth (or at least starved of appreciation for the literary heritage they already possessed).

This may not be a startling observation to those familiar with Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien (which I claim only a cursory knowledge of) since he points to Beowulf as being Tolkien’s most profound influence when crafting The Hobbit. Regardless, one need only read “The Monster’s” part of the Beowulf lecture if they have ever asked themselves, “just what is a dragon doing in The Hobbit anyway?” (For that matter, the same can be gleaned of Beowulf’s Grendel and Bilbo’s Trolls.)

As for “The Critics” part of the paper? Well, again owing to Carpenter, the notion that Tolkien despised allegory is widely accepted. Despite a statement to this effect by Tolkien himself (something about “allegory smelling bad” or some such thing) this may have been a bit of an overstatement on Carpenter’s part. I think instead that Tolkien hated when some of his works were described as allegorical (for instance, The Lord of the Rings). Since he was willing to indulge in the form when it suited his purposes – namely at least twice when delivering his Beowulf lecture – it is unlikely that he despised allegory entirely.

The first allegorical illustration (so called by Tolkien in the text) describes how “The Beowulf” as a subject had been received and treated by scholars up to that point. By personifying the various fields of study with a stake in Beowulf, Tolkien makes the argument that its importance as a work of poetry had all but been ignored.

In the second (by far the more beautiful but also more scalding) allegory, the Professor likens Beowulf to a tower built of stones, where the stones are the material the poet drew upon from his own time and place and its history. Critics and academics come along and are so interested in the stones that they think the tower has no value… I’ll let Tolkien finish:

“‘Imagine him using these old stones just to build a nonsensical tower… he had no sense of proportion.’ But from the top of that tower, the man had been able to look out upon the sea.”

This, for me, is the essence of Tolkien -- how he can use relatively simple language to express such powerful ideas. The image perfectly captures his central thesis that “Beowulf has been used as a quarry of fact and fancy far more assiduously that it has been studied as a work of art.”

Actually, the above statement (found at the end of the second paragraph of the paper) really grabbed my attention and kept me reading. It reminded me too, of the sort of comment one might read here at TORn. Not that I am trying to bring Tolkien down to our level, or vice versa. Rather, it seems to me, that either: his way of thinking has rubbed off on many of us; or the things that mattered to him almost 75 years ago, are still important, relevant and current. In the context of studying his work, as well as works derived from them (and sometimes things tangential to the derivatives ;-)) it is striking how many of the things he said in Beowulf: The Monsters and The Critics can be applied to his work as well. This perhaps is the proof that he managed to create a mythology that, like Beowulf, “is worthy of study.”

In closing I offer the following quotes in the hope that you may unravel what I am trying to say:

“The illusion of historical truth and perspective, that has made Beowulf seem such an attractive quarry, is largely a product of art.”

“Slowly with the rolling of years the obvious (so often the last revelation of analytic study) has been discovered: that we have to deal with a poem by an Englishman using afresh ancient and largely traditional material.”

“The dwarf on the spot sometimes sees things missed by the travelling giant ranging many countries.”

“Yet this poetic talent, we are to understand, has all been squandered on an unprofitable theme: as if Milton had recounted the story of Jack and the Beanstalk in noble verse.”

“Where then resides the special virtue of Beowulf, if the common element (which belongs largely to the language, and to a literary tradition) is deducted? It resides, one might guess, in the theme, and the spirit this has infused into the whole. For, in fact, if there were a real discrepancy between theme and style, that style would not be felt as beautiful but as incongruous or false.” (emphasis added)

“The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned on paper by analytical reasoning.”

“A dragon is no idle fancy. Whatever may be his origins, in fact or invention, the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men’s imagination, richer in significance than his barrow is in gold.”

“[Beowulf] is a man, and that for him and many is sufficient tragedy.”

*Tolkien, J.R.R. The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. HaperCollins Publishers: London. 2006.

(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Mar 25 2010, 9:39am)


Mar 25 2010, 10:03am

Post #13 of 149 (6395 views)
F is for Fëanor [In reply to] Can't Post

But when they were landed, Maedhros the eldest of his sons, and on a time the friend of Fingon ere Morgoth'’s lies came between, spoke to Fëanor, saying: ‘Now what ships and rowers will you spare to return, and whom shall they bear hither first? Fingon the valiant?’

Then Fëanor laughed as one fey, and he cried: ‘None and none! What I have left behind I count now no loss; needless baggage on the road it has proved. Let those that cursed my name, curse me still, and whine their way back to the cages of the Valar! Let the ships burn!’

This was one of two passages that appeared in footers my first year in TORn (2003) that made me know I had to read The Sil. And, indeed, my only disappointment with Feanor was that he was gone too quickly, leaving too many sons bearing the worst of his character, and none of the best.

He was perhaps the most charismatic, certainly the most brilliant of the Elves. Gandalf expressed as one of his dearest wishes to "perceive the unimaginable hand and mind of Fëanor at their work."

When he was born, he took so much of the life-force from his mother Míriel that she soon died. "Curufinwë was his name, but by his mother he was called Fëanor, Spirit of Fire; and thus he is remembered in all the tales of the Noldor."

Fëanor grew swiftly, as if a secret fire were kindled within him. He was tall, and fair of face, and masterful, his eyes piercingly bright and his hair raven-dark; in the pursuit of all his purposes eager and steadfast. Few ever changed his courses by counsel, none by force. He became of all the Noldor, then or after, the most subtle in mind and the most skilled in hand. In his youth, bettering the work of Rúmil, he devised those letters which bear his name, and which the Eldar used ever after; and he it was who, first of the Noldor, discovered how gems greater and brighter than those of the earth might be made with skill. The first gems that Fëanor made were white and colourless, but being set under starlight they would blaze with blue and silver fires brighter than Helluin; and other crystals he made also, wherein things far away could be seen small but clear, as with the eyes of the eagles of Manwë. Seldom were the hands and mind of Fëanor at rest.

His crowning achievement was the making of the Silmarils, three jewels that captured the light of the Two Trees, which illuminated all of Aman in the early days:

As three great Jewels they were in form. But not until the End, when Fëanor shall return who perished ere the Sun was made, and sits now in the Halls of Awaiting and comes no more among his kin; not until the Sun passes and the Moon falls, shall it be known of what substance they were made.

After Morgoth and Ungoliant destroyed the Two Trees, the Valar and the Elves implored Fëanor to give them the jewels, that they might recover the Light, but he refused. Meanwhile, Morgoth stole the Silmarils and all Fëanor's treasure, even killing Fëanor's father. In his grief and rage, Fëanor took off in pursuit, having persuaded many of the Elves to join him, and they departed despite a heavy curse from Manwë. To reach Middle Earth from Aman, Fëanor (with his sons and immediate companions) stole the beautiful swan ships of the Teleri, or Sea Elves, after a fight in which many of the Teleri were killed, a shameful act known as the Kinslaying. The passage I quoted at the beginning occurs as Fëanor's company arrived in Middle Earth. It captures all the passion and rage of this most brilliant, passionate, and ultimately most destructive, of the Elves.

Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'

Forum Admin / Moderator

Mar 25 2010, 10:15am

Post #14 of 149 (6363 views)
I is for Ioreth [In reply to] Can't Post

Gondor's complement to Bree's Butterbur is, of course, that delightful "spokeswoman" for us over-age-50 gals: Ioreth!

Indeed, this spry old healer literally saves the day, by doing what may have never before been done by any man Wink: she jogs the memory of a Wizard - and puts in her two cents' worth as well.

And so the day passed, while the great battle outside went on with shifting hopes and strange tidings; and still Gandalf waited and watched and did not go forth; till at last the red sunset filled all the sky, and the light through the windows fell on the grey faces of the sick. Then it seemed to those who stood by that in the glow the faces flushed softly as with health returning, but it was only a mockery of hope.

Then an old wife, Ioreth, the eldest of the women who served in that house, looking on the fair face of Faramir, wept, for all the people loved him. And she said: "Alas! if he should die. Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known."

And Gandalf, who stood by, said: "Men may long remember your words, Ioreth! For there is hope in them. Maybe a king has indeed returned to Gondor; or have you not heard the strange tidings that have come to the City?"

"I have been too busy with this and that to heed all the crying and shouting," she answered. "All I hope is that those murdering devils do not come to this House and trouble the sick."

Can't you just see her, should any orc appear at that House, doing a movie-Sam and whacking it with a bed pan!

Of course, Gandalf does give her the credit, calling her a "wise-woman of Gondor". But just as this Wizard grows exasperated from the unending questions of a Hobbit, so is he also - and the future king, as well - worn to the edge of tolerance by Ioreth's tendency for chatter.

Then he called to Ioreth and he said: "You have store in this House of the herbs of healing?"

"Yes, lord," she answered; "but not enough, I reckon, for all that will need them. But I am sure I do not know where we shall find more; for all things are amiss in these dreadful days, what with fires and burnings, and the lads that run errands so few, and all the roads blocked. Why, it is days out of count since ever a carrier came in from Lossarnach to the market! But we do our best in this House with what we have, as I am sure your lordship will know."

"I will judge that when I see," said Aragorn. "One thing also is short, time for speech. Have you athelas?"

"I do not know, I am sure, lord," she answered, "at least not by that name. I will go and ask of the herb-master; he knows all the old names."

"It is also called kingsfoil," said Aragorn; "and maybe you know it by that name, for so the country-folk call it in these latter days."

"Oh that!" said Ioreth. "Well, if your lordship had named it at first I could have told you. No, we have none of it, I am sure. Why, I have never heard that it had any great virtue; and indeed I have often said to my sisters when we came upon it growing in the woods: 'kingsfoil' I said, ' 'tis a strange name, and I wonder why 'tis called so; for if I were a king, I would have plants more bright in my garden'. Still it smells sweet when bruised, does it not? If sweet is the right word: wholesome, maybe, is nearer."

"Wholesome verily," said Aragorn. "And now, dame, if you love the Lord Faramir, run as quick as your tongue and get me kingsfoil, if there is a leaf in the City."

"And if not,’"said Gandalf, "I will ride to Lossarnach with Ioreth behind me, and she shall take me to the woods, but not to her sisters. And Shadowfax shall show her the meaning of haste."

As quick as her tongue! I can imagine her bustling out of that room in a bit of a huff, realizing she's been both insulted and teased - but complimented, as well.

Then she expresses the virtue of athelas for us in layman's terms.

For the fragrance that came to each was like a memory of dewy mornings of unshadowed sun in some land of which the fair world in Spring is itself but a fleeting memory..."Well now! Who would have believed it?" said Ioreth to a woman that stood beside her. "The weed is better than I thought. It reminds me of the roses of Imloth Melui when I was a lass, and no king could ask for better."

And following Faramir's "the king has returned", she's the flame that lights the rumor-beacons.

As he followed Gandalf and shut the door Pippin heard Ioreth exclaim: "King! Did you hear that? What did I say? The hands of a healer, I said." And soon the word had gone out from the House that the king was indeed come among them, and after war he brought healing; and the news ran through the City.

Of course, her story does not end there, for it is from her that we learn what the "simple folk" perceive as the truth of the matter.

With [Aragorn] were Éomer of Rohan, and the Prince Imrahil, and Gandalf robed all in white, and four small figures that many men marvelled to see.

"Nay, cousin! they are not boys," said Ioreth to her kinswoman from Imloth Melui, who stood beside her. "Those are Periain, out of the far country of the Halflings, where they are princes of great fame, it is said. I should know, for I had one to tend in the Houses. They are small, but they are valiant. Why, cousin, one of them went with only his esquire into the Black Country and fought with the Dark Lord all by himself, and set fire to his Tower, if you can believe it. At least that is the tale in the City. That will be the one that walks with our Elfstone. They are dear friends, I hear. Now he is a marvel, the Lord Elfstone: not too soft in his speech, mind you, but he has a golden heart, as the saying is; and he has the healing hands. 'The hands of the king are the hands of a healer', I said; and that was how it was all discovered. And Mithrandir, he said to me: 'Ioreth, men will long remember your words', and——"

But Ioreth was not permitted to continue the instruction of her kinswoman from the country, for a single trumpet rang, and a dead silence followed.

And with that, a silence falls on Ioreth's story as well.


"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


Mar 25 2010, 10:19am

Post #15 of 149 (7712 views)
L is for Lothórien [In reply to] Can't Post

For my Lothlórien post, I wanted to give a very small taste, an amuse-bouche, of Elven magic… think of it as a crumb of lembas that leaves you wanting more.

First, a little quotation to tantalize the taste buds and give us a sense of the power of that Elven realm:

The others cast themselves down upon the fragrant grass, but Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever. He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lórien, there was no stain.

Now here are some links to artistic representations of this fantastic land:

J.R.R. Tolkien

The Brothers Hildebrant

Alan Lee

Lord of the Rings film concept art

Lord of the Rings Online

Jef Murray

Ted Nasmith

Here are a few questions for your consideration:

--What are the essential qualities of Lothórien that make it stand apart from the rest of the natural world in Tolkien’s Middle-earth?

--Which artist has captured the essence of Lothórien? How do they succeed or fail in depicting its most salient qualities?

Please feel free to add any other thoughts or observations about the nature of Lothórien or its significance to the Fellowship (especially the mortals coming out of Moria), or post other artistic representations of the Golden Wood that you find striking.


Mar 25 2010, 11:36am

Post #16 of 149 (6351 views)
J is for Josef Stalin [In reply to] Can't Post

The quote below is from letter 53 in "The Letters of JRR Tolkien". It was written to Christopher Tolkien, who was eighteen years old at the time, in December 1943. In November a summit conference of the Allied leaders had been held in Teheran. Christopher had just joined the RAF and was under training in Manchester. In January he would be posted to South Africa.

"…..I must admit that I smiled a kind of sickly smile……when I heard of that bloodthirsty old murderer Josef Stalin inviting all nations to join a happy family of folks devoted to the abolition of tyranny & intolerance! But I must admit that in the photograph our little cherub W.S.C. actually looked the biggest ruffian present. Humph, well! I wonder (if we survive this war) if there will be any niche, even of sufferance, left for reactionary back numbers like me (and you). The bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets. It is getting to be all one blasted little provincial suburb. When they have introduced American sanitation, morale-pep, feminism and mass production throughout the Near East, Middle East, Far East, U.S.S.R., the Pampas, el Gran Chaco, the Danubian Basin, Equatorial Africa, Hither Further and Inner Mumbo-land, Gondhwanaland, Lhasa and the villages of darkest Berkshire, how happy we shall be. At any rate it ought to cut down travel. There will be nowhere to go. So people will (I opine) go all the faster. Col. Knox says 1/8 of the world's population speaks 'English', and that is the biggest language group. If true, damn shame-say I. May the curse of Babel strike their tongues till they can only say 'baa baa'. It would mean much the same. I think I shall have to refuse to speak anything but Old Mercian."

Pryderi's note 1: W.S.C refers to Winston Spencer Churchill.
Pryderi's note 2: The next paragraph commences "But seriously…". I recommend the whole letter.
Pryderi's note 3: So much to say….. What do you think?


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Mar 25 2010, 11:38am

Post #17 of 149 (6430 views)
'D' is for Denethor [In reply to] Can't Post

They walked down a paved passage, long and empty, and as they went Gandalf spoke softly to Pippin. 'Be careful of your words, Master Peregrin! This is no time for hobbit pertness. Theoden is a kindly old man. Denethor is of another sort, proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power, though he is not called a king. But he wil speak most to you and question you much, since you can tell him of his son Boromir. He loved him greatly: too much perhaps; and the more so because they were unlike. 'But under cover of this love he will think it easier to learn what he wishes from you rather than me. Do not tell him more than you need, and leave quiet the matter of Frodo's errand. I will deal with that in due time. And say nothing about Aragorn either, unless you must.'

An introduction to Denethor. A much maligned character in certain quarters, this might be something to do with the movie. But he wasn't the gibbering idiot that some might think him. Denethor was a very powerful and masterful lord and he was the main opposition to Sauron. Been in charge of a country that was clearly in decline and facing such an enemy as the Dark Lord was no easy matter. Given how many other of his race have given to evil, Denethor could have been much worse. He finally fell at the end, but this might just make him seem human to some!

Tol Eressea

Mar 25 2010, 11:57am

Post #18 of 149 (6280 views)
Wow - nicely done! [In reply to] Can't Post

I'd never connected those two things before, and what a contrast they draw!

Very interesting, and the irony of it will bring a new twist to the story when I read that part of LOTR soon.

Thanks -


Tweezers of Thu

Mar 25 2010, 12:22pm

Post #19 of 149 (6307 views)
W is for Woses! [In reply to] Can't Post

'Nay, nay,' said Elfhelm, 'the enemy is on the road not in the hills. You hear the Woses, the Wild Men of the Woods: thus they talk together from afar. They still haunt Drúadan Forest, it is said. Remnants of an older time they be, living few and secretly, wild and wary as the beasts. They go not to war with Gondor or the Mark; but now they are troubled by the darkness and the coming of the orcs: they fear lest the Dark Years be returning, as seems likely enough. Let us be thankful that they are not hunting us: for they use poisoned arrows, it is said, and they are woodcrafty beyond compare. But they have offered their services to Théoden. Even now one of their headmen is being taken to the king. Yonder go the lights. So much I have heard but no more. And now I must busy myself with my lord's commands. Pack yourself up, Master Bag!' He vanished into the shadows.

-- from Chapter 5, “Ride of the Rohirrim”, The Return of the King

A Wose by any other name – Drughu, Drûg, Drúadan, Rú, Rúatan, Róg, or Púkel-man – fascinates me as much now as this race of humans did when I first read the cited passage in 1968. Here is yet another race of beings inhabiting Tolkien’s secondary world that call to mind humans of our primary one, and yet are given those fantastical flourishes that immerse the reader in “elvish drama”.

When I first encountered old Ghân-buri-Ghân through Master Brandybuck’s eyes, the Wose chieftain’s appearance – “a strange squat shape of a man, gnarled as an old stone, and the hairs of his scanty beard straggled on his lumpy chin like dry moss. He was short-legged and fat-armed, thick and stumpy, and clad only with grass about his waist” gave a strong impression of an atavistic race of Men who recall f Homo sapiens neanderthalensis as well as the ancient forest deities and Wild Man of the Woods myths (Bigfoot, orang sedapa) of our primary world. I’m certainly not the first to think so. Have a look at Morpheus' essay nestled here (and hopefully accessible) on the archives of TORn. Morpheus speculates that Tolkien’s interest in paleontology influenced the conception of the Drúedain. I’m inclined to agree with this interpretation. The Drûgs are given a more thorough treatment (anthropological, cultural and etymological) in “The Drúedain” of Unfinished Tales:

To the eyes of Elves and other Men they were unlovely in looks: they were stumpy (some four foot high) but very broad, with heavy buttocks and short thick legs; their wide faces had deep-set eyes with heavy brows, and flat noses, and grew no hair below their eyebrows, except in a few men (who were proud of the distinction) a small tail of black hair in the midst of the chin. Their features were usually impassive, the most mobile being their wide mouths; and the movement of their wary eyes could not be observed save from close at hand for they were so black that the pupils could not be distinguished, but in anger they glowed red. [emphasis mine]. Their voices were deep and guttural, but their laughter was a surprise: it was rich and rolling, and set all who heard it. Elves or Men, laughing too for its pure merriment untainted by scorn or malice.

Yet even if the Woses have a hint of the Neanderthal or other ancient humans of our world, they also possess mysterious and perhaps “magical” qualities that make them all Tolkien. They were “woodcrafty beyond compare” as Elfhelm says above. And look! There’s another example (see bold text) of “glowing eyes” per Nottasackville’s X-ray vision post! Their craftsmanship with wood and stone are noteworthy. From the short story The Faithful Stone in Unfinished Tales, we learn that the Woses can transfer power into the inanimate. As Aghan, the Drûg shaman who constructs a stone statue to guard his friend Barach of the Folk of Haleth while he is away, notes “Alas! If some power passes from you to a thing that you have made, then you must take a share in its hurts.” Tolkien himself remarked on this: "The tales, such as The Faithful Stone, that speak of their transferring part of their 'powers' to their artefacts, remind one in miniature of Sauron's transference of power to the foundations of the Barad-dûr and to the Ruling Ring." The sense of power and watchfulness of the Púkel-men statues are also seen in The Return of the King.

The Woses were also gifted with great foresight. As long-time friends and allies of the Haladin, some of the Drûgs were ferried over to Númenor along with the other houses of the Edain. However, their increasing sense of unease – “"The Great Isle no longer feels sure under our feet, and we wish to return to the lands whence we came” caused them all to depart the Land of the Gift. But even as we’re given to understand that the Drûgs were accepted and even cherished among the Edain, we also find through Ghân-buri-Ghân that other Men hunt them like wild beasts.

In addition to the essay in Unfinished Tales, the Drúedain received some press in The History of Middle-earth, vol XII The Peoples of Middle-earth. In this, Tolkien made clear that the Woses were not to be confused with Hobbits or Dwarves – that they were a distinct race, even to the extent that Tolkien decided to omit an otherwise fascinating passage about the liking of the Drûgs for mushrooms (from HoMe XII):

'Delete all this about funguses. Too like Hobbits' (a reference of course to Frodo and Farmer Maggot's mushrooms). This followed the account of the knowledge of the Drûgs concerning plants, and reads: To the astonishment of Elves and other Men they ate funguseswith pleasure, many of which looked to others ugly and dangerous; some kinds which they specially liked they caused to grow near their dwellings. The Eldar did not eat these things. The Folk of Haleth, taught by the Drúedain, made some use of them at need; and if they were guests they ate what was provided in courtesy, and without fear. The other Atani eschewed them, save in great hunger when astray in the wild, for few among them had the knowledge to distinguish the wholesome from the bad, and the less wise called them ork-plants and supposed them to have been cursed and blighted by Morgoth.

As an aside, my son, also a Tolkien fan, dislikes mushrooms and has cited the passage above to justify his opinion that they are “fruit of Morgoth” as he calls them. I’ll also opine that it beggars belief that the Silvan Elves, just as woodcrafty or more so than the Woses, would not eat mushrooms. Perhaps the Tawarwaith were a superstitious lot. Anyway…

The Woses intrigue me now just as much as they did back in 1968. As I have come to read more of their background over the years, and to learn more about the scientific interests of the creator of the world they inhabit – our own world and yet not quite – I appreciate these Wild Men of the Woods all the more.

So here’s to W for Woses!

Many thank to N.E. Brigand and Magpie, too!


Gothmog and Draugluin


Mar 25 2010, 12:33pm

Post #20 of 149 (6356 views)
corrected link [In reply to] Can't Post

I could have sworn that all my links were working late last night, but apparently my last link to the larger image of the Tower of Kirith Ungol isn't working this morning. I'll try it again:

larger image of The Tower of Kirith Ungol


Mar 25 2010, 1:24pm

Post #21 of 149 (6306 views)
<Bows low> [In reply to] Can't Post

At your service, my Lady!.. And thank you!

"Even the very wise cannot see all ends."


Mar 25 2010, 1:37pm

Post #22 of 149 (6315 views)
"L" is also for "Letters" [In reply to] Can't Post

"The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien" was one of the most informative and rewarding reading experience I've had. Finally, here was a glimpse of the man whose works had so affected me. It was hard to decide what to focus on. I therefore have share with you three excerpts, two short and amusing, and one longer, more serious discourse.

From Letter 210 to Forest J. Ackerman regarding the film 'treatment' of Lord of the Rings

.....20. The Balrog never speaks or makes any vocal sound at all. Above all he does not laugh or sneer....Z may think that he knows more about Balrogs than I do, but he cannot expect me to agree with him.

If only he had mentioned whether it should have had wings.....This entire letter is hilarious and exasperating at the same time. You feel the Professor's frustration with the filmmaker's need to "improve" upon his work, and yet some of the changes are so ridiculous, you can't help but laugh as he picks them each apart.

From Letter 219 to Allen and Unwin (A cat breeder had asked permission to register a litter of Siamese kittens using names from Lord of the Rings)

My only comment is that of Puck upon mortals. I fear that to me Siamese cats belong to the fauna of Mordor, but you need not tell the cat breeder that.

A man after my own heart.

And finally:

Letter 246, to Mrs. Eileen Elgar: Tolkien addresses Frodo’s “failure” at the Cracks of Doom. It is a long letter, of which I have only posted excerpts, but it is fascinating, as well as appropriate this March the 25th.

“Very few (indeed so far as letters go only you and one other) have observed or commented on Frodo’s ‘failure’. It is a very important point. …….

….Frodo indeed ‘failed’ as a hero, as conceived by simple minds: he did not endure to the end; he gave in, ratted. I do not say ‘simple minds’ with contempt: they often see with clarity the simple truth and the absolute ideal to which effort must be directed even if it is unattainable. ….

….I do not think that Frodo’s was a moral failure……
…..We are finite creatures with absolute limitations upon the powers of our soul-body structure in either action or endurance. Moral failure can only be asserted, I think, when a man's effort or endurance falls short of his limits, and the blame decreases as that limit is closer approached.

Nonetheless, I think it can be observed in history and experience that some individuals seem to be placed in 'sacrificial' positions: situations or tasks that for perfection of solution demand powers beyond their utmost limits, even beyond all possible limits for an incarnate creature in a physical world – in which a body may be destroyed, or so maimed that it affects the mind and will. Judgment upon any such case should then depend on the motives and disposition with which he started out, and should weigh his actions against the utmost possibility of his powers, all along the road to whatever proved the breaking-point.

Frodo undertook his quest out of love - to save the world he knew from disaster at his own expense, if he could; and also in complete humility, acknowledging that he was wholly inadequate to the task. His real contract was only to do what he could, to try to find a way, and to go as far on the road as his strength of mind and body allowed. …."

The letter continues for multiple pages. Thoughts? Comments? Are you one of those who thought Frodo failed? Did you enjoy the Letters? What were your favorite insights into the Professor?

My own thought is that we as mortals, would have no option but to fail. This is beyond the scope of what we are able to do. Frodo failed, yes, but he also succeeded, because his mercy for Gollum ultimately saved him, and Middle Earth.


Mar 25 2010, 1:57pm

Post #23 of 149 (6283 views)
sidestepping the quiz for a comment on the word Quickbeam [In reply to] Can't Post

I was doing some odd research at one point and found this page: The Dartmoor Mountain Ash

The opening paragraph wowed me:
If I had to chose one tree on Dartmoor as a symbol for the moor it would be the brave little Mountain Ash or as it is called by the moorfolk: 'Quickbeam'.

I had never questioned the source of Quickbeam's name and was delighted to find this connection. I went on to search for the source (in England) for the name, Quickbeam.
The tree is deep rooted in folklore and there is a tradition that the first rowan tree grew from a berry dropped by the 'Tuatha Dé Dannan' who were an early Irish Celtic tribe. The quickbeam became a sacred tree which was later adopted into Christian belief where it was supposed to stop the dead from 'walking' and to provide protection from evil. The old word quick used to mean alive as in the 'quick and the dead' and it is this connotation that survives in the word 'quickbeam'. There are several 'quickbeam' place-names on the moor such as Quickbeam Hill and Quickbeam Foot.

The botanical name (of the Rowan or Mountain Ash) is derived from Sorbus which ancient writers used to describe the Service Tree, later taken as the whole tree genus. Aucuparia comes from avis - bird and capere - to catch, this was because wildfowlers used the berries as bait in their traps. It was said that the berries intoxicated the birds and made them easier to catch, indeed another old name for the tree was 'Cock-drunks'.
I wonder if this influenced Quickbeam's jovial, happy nature. :-)

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Mar 25 2010, 2:07pm

Post #24 of 149 (6356 views)
I think it says a lot... [In reply to] Can't Post

...that I have great affection for characters of which we know a lot and of which we get merely a glimpse. And even then, for the high --- Prince Imrahil and his men arriving at Minas Tirith... such a short section but it thrills me every time --- and the low --- dear Ioreth. I do love those bits with Ioreth.

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Tol Eressea

Mar 25 2010, 2:33pm

Post #25 of 149 (6789 views)
O is for Olórë Mallë [In reply to] Can't Post

Then said Vairë: "Know then that aforetime, in the days of Inwë (and farther back it is hard to go in the history of the Eldar), there was a place of fair gardens in Valinor beside a silver sea. Now this place was near the confines of the realm but not far from Kôr, yet by reason of its distance from the sun-tree Lindelos there was a light there as of summer evening, save only when the silver lamps were kindled at dusk, and then little lights of white would dance and quiver on the paths, chasing black shadow-dapples under the trees. This was a time of joy to the children, for it was mostly at this hour that a new comrade would come down the lane called Olórë Mallë or the Path of Dreams. It has been said to me, though the truth I know not, that that laneran by devious routes to the homes of Men, but that way we never trod when fared thither ourselves. It was a lane of deep banks and great overhangins hedges, beyond which stood many tall trees wherein a perpetual whisper seemed to live; but not seldom great glow-worms crept about its grassy borders. --Book of Lost Tales 1, pg 7 (The Cottage of Lost Play)


Lórien wove a way of delicate magic, and it fared by winding roads most secret from the Eastern lands and all the great wildernesses of the world even to the walls of Kôr, and it ran past the Cottage of the Children of the Earth and thence down the "lane of whispering elms" until it reached the sea.
But the gloomy seas and all the straits it bridged with slender bridges resting on the air and greyly gleaming as it were of silken mists lit by a thin moon, or of pearly vapours; yet beside the Valar and the Elves have no Man's eyes beheld it save in sweet slumbers in their heart's youth. Longest of all ways is it and few are there ever reach its end, so many lands and marvellous places of allurement and of loveliness doth it pass ere it comes to Elfiness, yet smooth is it to the feet and none tire ever who fare that way. --Book of Lost Tales 1, pg 238 (The Hiding of Valinor)

What do you think of this early conception of Tolkien? Do you like the idea of men being able to go the ways of elves in their dreams? Why only in their "heart's youth"?

In Christopher Tolkien's commentary to The Hiding of Valinor he says:

Of the three 'roads' made by Lórien, Oromeë and Mandos there is no vestige in my father's later writing. The Rainbow is never mentioned, nor is there ever any hint of an explanation of how Men and Elves pass to the halls of Mandos. But it is difficult to interpret this conception of the 'roads' -- to know to what extent there was a purely figurative content to the idea

What do you think of the concept of 'roads'? how does it work in your mind?
Even though it wasn't mentioned in his later writing, do you think JRRT still thought about the idea? or do you think it was entirely dropped?
Other thoughts?

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