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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
The Reading Room gets its 15 minutes of fame!

Altaira
Superuser / Moderator


Mar 25 2010, 2:08pm

Post #1 of 22 (720 views)
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The Reading Room gets its 15 minutes of fame! Can't Post

http://scitech.blogs.cnn.com/

CoolHeart


Koru: Maori symbol representing a fern frond as it opens. The koru reaches towards the light, striving for perfection, encouraging new, positive beginnings.



"Life can't be all work and no TORn" -- jflower

"I take a moment to fervently hope that the camaradarie and just plain old fun I found at TORn will never end" -- LOTR_nutcase



TORn Calendar

(This post was edited by Altaira on Mar 25 2010, 2:09pm)


Rosie-with-the-ribbons
Forum Admin / Moderator


Mar 25 2010, 2:28pm

Post #2 of 22 (264 views)
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Wooohoooo!!!!! // [In reply to] Can't Post

 



Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Mar 25 2010, 2:29pm

Post #3 of 22 (267 views)
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Very cool! // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

www.arda-reconstructed.com


GAndyalf
Valinor

Mar 25 2010, 3:05pm

Post #4 of 22 (281 views)
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One of the better writeups... [In reply to] Can't Post

Just wish a few more names had been dropped. Cool Lots of cool stuff here and has been for years.

"Even the very wise cannot see all ends."



acheron
Gondor


Mar 25 2010, 4:39pm

Post #5 of 22 (264 views)
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nice! // [In reply to] Can't Post

 



For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man, for precisely the same reasons. -- Douglas Adams


RosieLass
Valinor


Mar 25 2010, 6:42pm

Post #6 of 22 (281 views)
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I just came in here to post that same link! [In reply to] Can't Post

We're famous! Sly

"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brains."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brains."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything."


- A. A. Milne

(This post was edited by Altaira on Mar 25 2010, 7:58pm)


Aunt Dora Baggins
Immortal


Mar 25 2010, 8:13pm

Post #7 of 22 (267 views)
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Excellent! [In reply to] Can't Post

Not just the RR, but someone near and dear to us all :-)


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo; on a large wastebasket. Dora was Drogo's sister, and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"A Chance Meeting at Rivendell" and other stories

leleni at hotmail dot com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Mar 26 2010, 4:59pm

Post #8 of 22 (281 views)
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Here's a link to the specific post. [In reply to] Can't Post

http://scitech.blogs.cnn.com/...tolkien-reading-day/



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Discuss Tolkien’s life and works in the Reading Room!
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N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Mar 26 2010, 5:15pm

Post #9 of 22 (323 views)
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"loaded with poor phrasing and not very strong storytelling" [In reply to] Can't Post

Noting a few of the negative comments at the blog:


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I loved these books as a child, but now I cannot help but think that they are racist, misogynistic, and glorify war. Sorry, I guess I grew up.




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Sorry, but you really need to get out and read more stuff. While I love Tolkien and his novels (and try to read them at least once every other year), they are, quite frankly, loaded with poor phrasing and not very strong storytelling (five pages to describe a tree, anyone?).




Quote
I'm as big a fan of the Professor's works as the next, but one would have to concede that his books did not have exactly the social relevance of say, Ulyssses. Tolkien is simply not nearly as important a writer as Joyce when it comes to social impact.
I also occasionally have a problem with his categorisation of pretty fair races as good, and dark "ugly"-skinned races, i.e., "orcs", as always evil. It seems very much an echo of standard white English prejudice.



The Reading Room has certainly considered complainst such as these before, and some posters here have found them to have a little merit, in certain situations.



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


GAndyalf
Valinor

Mar 26 2010, 5:40pm

Post #10 of 22 (299 views)
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"It is perhaps not possible... [In reply to] Can't Post

in a long tale to please all people at all points." I'm at work and can't access the Foreword at the moment (brief wiki and Google attempts didn't bring it up) But the rest is to the effect of "While some passages are a blemish to some, all are by others specially approved."
Like the professor I don't think we have any cause to complain as we probably have similar views of their work - or the sort of work that they evidently prefer. Cool

"Even the very wise cannot see all ends."



Darkstone
Immortal


Mar 26 2010, 9:40pm

Post #11 of 22 (267 views)
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You bet!!! [In reply to] Can't Post

I loved these books as a child, but now I cannot help but think that they are racist, misogynistic, and glorify war. Sorry, I guess I grew up.

Dang straight! Like having the most humble race save the world, or have a couple of literature’s strongest women, or showing that in the end it is not violence, but providence that saves the day, and.... Er, wait….


Sorry, but you really need to get out and read more stuff. While I love Tolkien and his novels (and try to read them at least once every other year), they are, quite frankly, loaded with poor phrasing and not very strong storytelling (five pages to describe a tree, anyone?).

Joyce Kilmer is even worse! There's a lousy writer for you!!!


I'm as big a fan of the Professor's works as the next, but one would have to concede that his books did not have exactly the social relevance of say, Ulyssses. Tolkien is simply not nearly as important a writer as Joyce when it comes to social impact.

Yeah! James Joyce was one of the *many* fathers of modernist literature.

JRR Tolkien was *the* father of modern fantasy literature.

Things invented by committees are always better!

I also occasionally have a problem with his categorisation of pretty fair races as good, and dark "ugly"-skinned races, i.e., "orcs", as always evil. It seems very much an echo of standard white English prejudice.

Definitely! “Kalos kai Agathos", my Aunt Bernice!! Dang Greeks!!! I mean, look at Elves like Eöl and Fëanor, not to mention Annatar the Fair, as opposed to Strider whose “looks were against him”, and….. Er, wait…


Um, you think maybe these guys are talking about some *other* JRR Tolkien?

******************************************
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Sometime hours and hours hence:
In The Green Dragon two ales could buy
And drank the one less filling I
And that has made all the difference.
- The Ale Less Filling, by Robert Frostymug

(This post was edited by Darkstone on Mar 26 2010, 9:43pm)


Lothlorian
Lorien

Mar 26 2010, 10:46pm

Post #12 of 22 (260 views)
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I read the trilogy annually [In reply to] Can't Post

because there is so much junk out there - I like to indulge in something I know will be worth my time. It may be Victorian of me to think I should be using my reading time reading something that will lift me up; but there you have it.


GAndyalf
Valinor

Mar 27 2010, 1:01am

Post #13 of 22 (247 views)
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After careful consideration... [In reply to] Can't Post

And reading your wonderful responses... YES! I DO think they must have some other JRRT in mind... Waitaminnut! Mind? THAT'S what's missing from their posts!

"Even the very wise cannot see all ends."



Modtheow
Lorien


Mar 28 2010, 3:51pm

Post #14 of 22 (268 views)
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clichés abound [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm intrigued by the quote from "John" who says that he is a PhD in literature. He says he loves the novels and reads them at least every other year, and yet he finds them "loaded with poor phrasing and not very strong storytelling." I have to wonder: if the books are so poor in phrasing and storytelling, why on earth is he constantly rereading them? What is it about the books that keeps him coming back? I also have to wonder whether "John" isn't simply repeating a cliché he's picked up in his studies -- if he is indeed a PhD in literature -- that Tolkien is a poor stylist, the verdict of literary critics since the days of Harold Bloom and Catharine Stimpson, those critics who value high modernist literature. John parrots the opinions of canonical literary critics without, apparently, consulting his own preferences and experiences. Of course, no 1000-plus page work will have perfect phrasing in every instance, and one can debate whether Tolkien's mode of storytelling -- such as dividing up plot lines into completely separate books -- is the best course to take or not (though it doesn't seem to bother millions of readers), but to say that Tolkien takes five pages to describe a tree is another one of those clichés about Tolkien's style that I don't think can be backed up by evidence.

The idea that Tolkien's work doesn't have the same social impact as James Joyce's is just ridiculous, of course, but this opinion is another extension of the literary modernist critical stance -- yes, James Joyce had an immense impact on modernist literature (usually enjoyed by a literary elite only), but Tolkien has had a worldwide influence on modern and contemporary medievalism and fantasy, not to mention contemporary cultural phenomena of all kinds. It's the people who think Joyce had a larger social impact than Tolkien who need to get out more and look around them a little more widely beyond the canonical literature classrooms to which they seem to confine themselves.

Another cliché: Tolkien is misogynist and racist. What has become a cliché of literary study today is the sacred trilogy of "gender, race, and class." Don't get me wrong: I find these topics extremely interesting to study. But "gender, race, and class" is often "done" very badly: in some literary circles, all you need to do is find a statement that offends against gender/race/class and you can righteously dismiss the writer. I think this is what happens to Tolkien all too often, with statements that don't represent a close reading of the full details of his work. I'm not saying that Tolkien's views on gender, race, and class do not deserve some examination and critique; however, what those who accuse him of misogynist and racist attitudes have not done, it seems to me, is to look at the complexity of his views, which present an interesting mix of attitudes, some traditional and conservative and inherited from previous generations, others quite non-traditional and surprising for a conservative Catholic writer.

In other responses, other clichés, like the books are for children or maybe older youth, and that one has to grow up and move on from reading things like LotR. Unlike other modernist works, like those by James Joyce for example, Tolkien's work can be read by younger people, though he certainly considered LotR as a book for adults. The beauty of Tolkien's work is that it can be read by a wide range of ages; the problem with his work is the same -- those who read the books and understood them from a, say, 14-year-old perspective, then retain memory of the work from that point of view and level of understanding. I think that LotR grows as the reader grows.

And one more extremely popular cliché: the one about nerds living in their parents' basements, a cliche dragged out even by people who say they like Tolkien's books. Logic?

Clichés are prefabricated thoughts that can be trotted out without having to think too hard. But then I have to wonder: do we use our own clichés to defend Tolkien's work? I like to think that our responses are based on close study of his books. Are there any clichéd defenses of Tolkien that need more examination? Have I used any clichés without realizing it?



squire
Half-elven


Mar 28 2010, 4:41pm

Post #15 of 22 (249 views)
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Bounding through the critical underbrush [In reply to] Can't Post

Although you offer a very well-balanced and nuanced defense of Tolkien, I think you are a little hard on "John".

He starts from the premise that he loves the novels and re-reads them regularly. Then he offers some literary criticism that you acknowledge might have some validity, unless it doesn't. When we "have to wonder" why he reads the books if they are "so poor in phrasing and storytelling", all we are really doing is complaining that he didn't explain his "love" with even the same minimal detail that he offered for his criticism. But are the two really inconsistent? Why should we doubt that he loves the books? I love the books too, but I could offer plenty of reasons why I don't think they are the best books ever written. So - I suspect - could you. In a room where everyone is praising Tolkien to the skies, wouldn't we demur with some balancing words of doubt? But in a room of vociferous critics, wouldn't we take his side in defense?

I think John is actually on the side of Tolkien fans here, not the "high modernist" critics who supposedly influenced his Ph. D. studies. He seems to take for granted that he and most people love Tolkien's books, but then offers from a professional standpoint a some words of doubt about the excellence of Tolkien's style, and the importance of being widely read. (I agree that "five pages to describe a tree" is thoughtlessly exaggerated - but don't we know what he means? Tolkien clearly has other items on his agenda that are missing from most other works of fantasy adventure and moral conflict. John, it seems, loves most of it, but not all of it.)

Thank you for noticing that the defense of Tolkien against the cliches of "modernist" critics incurs a comparable risk of cliche. Your point about many critics having read The Lord of the Rings in adolescence, but never since, and so retaining only an adolescent appreciation of the book, is good. But fans too may retain an adolescent appreciation into their adult years, and then become defensive when accused of childish tastes. It is not surprising that many might lack the critical ability to explain their continuing love of the work in "adult" (i.e. academic or critical) terms, and so rely on better-expressed defenses that they have heard from others, or even resort to a general dissing of academic expertise.

This ongoing debate is one of the reasons I like reading Shippey, Drout, and especially Rosebury, so much. As Rosebury notes, in one of my favorite passages in all the Tolkien criticism I have read,
...if [Tolkien] is to be praised effectively, the praise must be justified in terms which bear an intelligible relation to the work of other writers. Many of his admirers have preferred to wrestling with this problem the easier option of isolating his work from the rest of literature. Analysis and evaluation are always comparative: it is no use declaring an anathema on modern literature and then worshiping Tolkien in a temple in which he is the solitary idol. (Rosebury, B. (2003). Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 4-5.)




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


(This post was edited by squire on Mar 28 2010, 4:48pm)


GAndyalf
Valinor

Mar 28 2010, 4:42pm

Post #16 of 22 (249 views)
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A few brief additions... [In reply to] Can't Post

"...and I have no cause to complain as I have similar views of their writing, or the kind of writing they evidently prefer." --JRR Tolkien from the Foreword to the Ballentine paperback edition 1965.
What makes 'poor phrasing and not very strong storytelling.'? Phrasing is a direct function of the time period a) that something is written in and/or b) the time period the piece tries to emulate. Storytelling is about as subjective a judgment as human beings engage in. It is wholly dependent upon what the audience's tastes are and what sort of information they desire of their tale. Phrasing is what distinguished George Lucas' character Yoda and part of what made the "little green muppet" to paraphrase Weird Al Yankovic so memorable to millions. Is that "James Joyce proper"? Of course not. But does that make it "not very strong storytelling"? I'd hazard a guess that no, it does not. It is my opinion that Tolkien had a strong gift for changing the phrasing depending upon which race he was depicting at any given moment. Hobbits are phrased ostensibly in West Midlands England. The Rohirrim are phrased largely after the fashion of the old Norse. I think that for some that change of phrasing is viewed as a blemish whereas others it is "'specially approved." again quoting the professor's foreword. I also note in passing that someone here quoted that the purpose of the Oxford English Language department's primary purpose was to fight the English Literature department and I do not believe that such a fight exists solely on the University campus but can be a real fight when one considers the very different goals of language from literature.
I also note that I am bored to tears by James Joyce. No criticism of his impact or many fans, only noting that I don't care a whit about any of his novels. Is that "not very strong storytelling."? No, it just doesn't appeal to me. Perhaps critics are too defensive of their own tastes and preferences and not forgiving enough that the voice of literature speaks to each in a unique way? In any case, when critiqueing anything I find that the best critics, instead of making definitive statements, simply use the Socratian method and ask questions. This avoids the "purported domination of the (critic) author" and allows "applicability" to the audience of the critique.
Anyone who believes Tolkien to be misogynist has not read Beren and Luthien nor the Narn i Hin Hurin, or barring even those posthumous works, the stand of Eowyn against the Witch King. Context of a culture is what made Tolkien famous in his translation of Beowulf and yet some critics still hold him to a standard of their own view as opposed to what he was trying to create linguistically. Tolkien states many, many times that his tale was linguistically inspired and as such he drew from many linguistic traditions. I think it can be safely said that many practices of ancient races were not to the same tastes as our modern world likes to believe of itself?
I think that those that find Tolkien's books to be "for children" and nothing more may well be missing some wonderful insights that are good for human beings and not simply dismissing an author out-of-hand because they perhaps do not find what they expect on first reading?
And what of the 'nerds' that are life-long college students (or at least well into their thirties)? What differences (if any) are there to be compared here? Why single out one sort of 'nerd' from another? What of the person who locks themselves away in any sort of lifestyle for the simple reason of familiarity and comfort?

"Even the very wise cannot see all ends."



Modtheow
Lorien


Mar 28 2010, 5:51pm

Post #17 of 22 (230 views)
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ok, I'll lighten up -- a bit [In reply to] Can't Post

Even as I was pressing "post reply," it occurred to me that maybe Dr. John reads Tolkien regularly because he is engaged in a long-term study of his work and is trying to approach it with some critical distance, and that I wasn't giving him enough credit for that possibility. You've hit the nail on the head about one of the reasons why I disliked his post: "all we are really doing is complaining that he didn't explain his 'love' with even the same minimal detail that he offered for his criticism." Yes, I think that's it, partly. Also, trying to be fair to John, I have to ask myself, how much can you explain in a couple of lines? But the reason his reply annoyed me was that in acknowledging that there is a critique to be made of Tolkien's work, he used what I consider to be sloppy cliches like "Tolkien takes five pages to describe a tree." You've only got a few lines in a blog reply, so why not say something more substantial, something that could be backed up with evidence from the text? But then again, who hasn't dashed off a breezy reply to something or other that was never meant to stand up to close scrutiny.

I agree with you wholeheartedly about Rosebury. I think Shippey is extremely informative and insightful, but he gets over-defensive about Tolkien's reputation. Rosebury has a more balanced view, it seems to me, and has the credentials too to expertly evaluate Tolkien in the context of other modern writers.

I don't think that explaining your love of Tolkien in "adult" terms necessarily involves using academic or critical terminology. For example, the book Lembas for the Soul, edited by Catharine Kohman, contains many personal accounts of what Tolkien's work means to fans -- some young, some old, some having read the books in youth, others still reading them as adults -- and although formal critical terminology isn't used, the fans can still explain what the works mean to them as adults, in adult terms, even if in some cases they're saying that they retain their adolescent love of the books. Here on TORn the same thing happens constantly.

People resort to cliches when they attack Tolkien, but I'm still interested in the question of whether we also resort to cliches when we defend Tolkien. That's what I'd like to root out in my own thinking, or at least recognize it better. Shouldn't we all try to do that? What are the cliches used to defend Tolkien that should be examined more carefully? Are "Tolkien is not a misogynist because Eowyn kills the Witch-King" or "Tolkien is not racist because different races make up the fellowship" some of those cliches? I know I've trotted out these statements plenty of times in discussions about Tolkien's work. Maybe they work as a quick shorthand kind of communication for ideas that are far more complex and varied and that have been examined carefully. (But, darn it! then you could say that John's "five pages of tree description" is the same kind of thing).

Now that I've circled back on myself, I'd better stop.








Modtheow
Lorien


Mar 28 2010, 6:18pm

Post #18 of 22 (238 views)
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lifelong nerds [In reply to] Can't Post

Some of us are lucky enough to make a lifelong career out of being a nerd. Smile

I agree with you about a number of things. On the issue of "phrasing," I think critics too often take a short passage out of context without considering how different peoples in Tolkien's world speak in different styles. Tolkien creates a remarkable variety of styles. And yes, not every writer is to everyone's taste. I have to accept that some people simply will not like reading LotR, just as I might not like reading books that are to their taste. And I think it's important to recognize that just because someone likesTolkien doesn't mean that their literary tastes begin and end there. You can like Tolkien but not other kinds of fantasy books, or you can like non-fantasy too -- maybe even James Joyce! I'm not particularly a Joyce fan, but I do like the novels of Virginia Woolf, Joyce's contemporary. In fact, Virginia Woolf and Tolkien were only ten years apart in age, but vast distances apart in everything else: political views, literary preferences, social background.... I think you're right that "critics are too defensive of their own tastes and preferences" -- but as Tolkien fans, we are too sometimes! Well, maybe I should just speak for myself....



Huan71
Lorien

Mar 29 2010, 9:48am

Post #19 of 22 (441 views)
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Being Objective about the Subjective.. [In reply to] Can't Post

Something i've never been able to grasp, and struggled with at school, is critiquing the creative...
What is a "poor" book, a "good" book or a "better" book? Or painting, or poem....or dance?
Isn't it all just subjective opinion?
I thought Joyce was boring as hell! I struggled to get past 2 pages!
I just lost the will...Unimpressed
Isn't the number one objective of a book to be a "page turner"?
Any other analysis is either a hobby to pass the time, or a means of some extra job creation...


Darkstone
Immortal


Mar 29 2010, 4:13pm

Post #20 of 22 (395 views)
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I outgrew Joyce. [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't have a PhD in literature, but wasn't Flapper/Depression era Modernist literature (James Joyce) supplanted by post-war nuclear era Post-Modern literature (Tolkien)? Plus Tolkien seemed to have explored concepts regarding history, myths, language, meaning, etc. that predated today's Poststructuralists such as Jean Baudrillard and Michel Foucault by decades.

In that regard Tolkien seems to be more meaningful and instructive than ever, whereas most have outgrown the self-absorbed navel-gazing angst of Modernists like Joyce.

At least IMHO. Mileage may vary.

******************************************
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Sometime hours and hours hence:
In The Green Dragon two ales could buy
And drank the one less filling I
And that has made all the difference.
- The Ale Less Filling, by Robert Frostymug

(This post was edited by Darkstone on Mar 29 2010, 4:19pm)


FarFromHome
Valinor


Mar 30 2010, 12:37am

Post #21 of 22 (204 views)
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Tolkien the postmodernist? [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, that's something I've been thinking for a while now. Although he'd have hated the title, I'm sure!

Cool

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



Kangi Ska
Half-elven


Mar 30 2010, 12:47am

Post #22 of 22 (312 views)
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More like Tolkien the Post-pre-modernist :) // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Kangi Ska

The Hobbit Deserves More Respect!

At night one cannot tell if crows are black or white.

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