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"There are very real differences between Tolkien and his emulators"
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Penthe
Gondor


May 24 2007, 1:09am

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"There are very real differences between Tolkien and his emulators" Can't Post

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There are very real differences between Tolkien and his emulators. The most significant is that the heroes of the Tolkienistas are almost always in search of power. All the heroes of The Lord of the Rings were anxious to divest themselves of power.

`
This is a note to chapter seven of Farah Mendlesohn's Diana Wynne Jones: Children's Literature and the Fantastic Tradition. I found it rather interesting, but I think I don't agree with it entirely. I would argue that Aragorn, Theoden and Eomer at the very least are partly in a quest for 'power', and you could argue that Faramir is too (a Queen among Queens is not an image of powerlessness after all).

I suppose you could argue that these are not the 'heroes' of LOTR, though. Frodo certainly is trying to divest himself of the Ring, which symbolises the power to dominate others, but I'm not sure that he's trying to divest himself of 'power' entirely. And Sam ends up quite powerful in a way, through learning to harness his own energies and authority. As Gandalf says to Gimli in the forest, all of them are dangerous in their own ways, and I don't think you can be considered dangerous if powerless.

Also, I just really love how she calls the high fantasy imitators 'Tolkienistas'.

What do you all think?


Curious
Half-elven

May 24 2007, 2:15am

Post #2 of 75 (354 views)
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Naw. [In reply to] Can't Post

Modern heroes, even fantasy heroes, rarely seek power. They have power thrust upon them, and like Peter Parker they learn that with great power comes great responsibility.

The difference is that Frodo is never, ever, a powerful individual. That, indeed, is the secret of his relative immunity to the Ring. He is chosen not because of his secret powers, but precisely because of his lack of power. What ever power is then given to him comes from the Higher Powers, and comes to him because of his humility and faith and willingness to act as Their instrument. Whatever wisdom he learns in the process comes from the suffering he endures as an instrument of Providence. He becomes hallowed because he allows himself to be used by Providence or the Higher Powers, but he himself is never a Power.

Imagine, if you will, a superhero who has no powers whatsoever except for humility and faith. We're talking about a saint, really, except that most of the Tolkienistas shy away from Tolkien's veiled Catholicism.

One reason I like Elizabeth Moon's Deed of Paksenarrion is that Moon does not shy away from the spiritual element in LotR, and gives us another type of saint. But even Paksenarrion at some point channels her powers into combat and miracles, whereas Frodo never achieves that kind of sainthood, unless of course it comes long after he has left the Shire forever. The only extraordinary power Frodo has is his power to put one foot in front of the other despite his suffering. It is the power of a very ordinary Christian martyr, not a superhero or even a paladin.

Gandalf and Aragorn are more traditionally powerful, and gain further power during the tale, although they do not seek power for its own sake. Sam is a more conventional hero than Frodo, but he is still a very ordinary person at heart, which is a large part of his appeal. Unlike Frodo, he is still rather ordinary at the end of the adventure, and gets the reward most ordinary people seek; a nice home and family.

One of the major themes of LotR, really, is to see whether hobbits based on contemporary Englishmen are capable of romantic heroism, or alternatively whether there is a place for heroism in the modern world. Tolkien's answer seems to be that modern heroism is different from mythic heroism, quieter and more humble, less likely to be recognized, but no less important. We may not be able to follow the footsteps of Aragorn or Gandalf, but any of us can follow the footsteps of Bilbo, Frodo, or Sam, if we can find the courage.


(This post was edited by Curious on May 24 2007, 2:24am)


Saelind
Lorien


May 24 2007, 2:34am

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Deed of Paksarrion [In reply to] Can't Post

I love those books and they are very powerful.


Beren IV
Gondor


May 24 2007, 2:34am

Post #4 of 75 (301 views)
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I don't think that is universally true [In reply to] Can't Post

Some of Tolkien's heroes - B&L for one example - are extremely powerful figures, although B&L are still absolutely dwarfed by what they are up against. One thing that does characterize Tolkien is the implicit assumtion that power corrupts, which is absent in a lot of Tolkien-derived fantasy, as is also the fact that most Tolkien-derived fantasy leads to the world being restored in the direction that it once was. Aragorn is not a First Age hero; he's a throwback to the Second, not the First: the everpresent sense of loss is still there even in the face of the climactic victory in LotR. There have been heroes in fantasy that I have read outside of Tolkien, however, who are powerless, but have some other quality, usually courage and devotion and/or purity, that allows them to succeed where those greater than they have failed.

I think that the real difference between Tolkien himself and the "Tolkienistas" is that many of the latter seem to operate on a less sophistocated moral system than Tolkien. There are some aspects of Tolkien's moral system that I like, and some that I dislike - but a lot of the fantasy that I have encountered has the main characters using the power they obtain to defeat the bad guys and don't use it afterwards, but in getting that power they engage in just as much killing and looting as the bad guys themselves, only that the things that they kill are "evil" creatures. The point of Tolkien is that good and evil really are different, not just opposite sides of the same coin, and while I think he makes them a little too different (there certainly are evil people who do understand the motives of good people and take advantage of them), the fact remains that there is more to it than just preferring light or darkness.

I think that the "Tolkienistas" are very heavily influenced by D&D, and most D&D games I understand are quite filled with killing and looting through ruins and fortresses filled with undeniably evil creatures.

Once a paleontologist, now a botanist, will be a paleobotanist


Curious
Half-elven

May 24 2007, 3:08am

Post #5 of 75 (327 views)
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Beren and Luthien did not inspire the genre. [In reply to] Can't Post

LotR inspired the genre. And LotR is all about hobbits -- as Tolkien himself acknowledged, even Aragorn is merely a sidenote to the story of the hobbits. But in most of the stories inspired by LotR the seemingly ordinary hero turns out to be anything but ordinary, for one reason or another.

There's a bit of that in LotR as well, but even if Bilbo and Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin are not ordinary hobbits, they are quite ordinary in comparison to the Warriors and Heroes of Middle-earth -- except, that is, for their luck, which I submit is another name for Providence or the Higher Powers. Add a little wit and courage to a great deal of luck, and the hobbits -- yes, the very ordinary hobbits -- can save the world.

I'm not sure what other stories you have in mind in which the main characters are powerless and remain powerless throughout the tale. I would be interested in some specific examples.


Beren IV
Gondor


May 24 2007, 5:32am

Post #6 of 75 (288 views)
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Very true, [In reply to] Can't Post

Actually, when I was little, the most memorable part of the book for me was the chase of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli across the plains of Rohan to rescue Merry and Pippin, only to meet Gandalf and get swept up in the war. That, I think, may have been what inspired the genre.

Once a paleontologist, now a botanist, will be a paleobotanist


weaver
Half-elven

May 24 2007, 5:38am

Post #7 of 75 (347 views)
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Brian Attebery would have a thing or two to say in response... [In reply to] Can't Post

Have you or anyone else read Strategies of Fantasy by Brian Attebery? Diana Wynne Jones is one of the critics/scholars referred to in this book, along with several of those NEB focused on in his Awful Critics thematic discussion. Lots of interesting insights based off of W.J's insights...(and others)

I don't have time to share any of them now, unfortunately! It will be late, but I will look through it and add something to this thread at some point, if I can...

I guess I'm just curious about whether or not you or anyone else knows of the Strategies of Fantasy book, which was published in 1992, as much as anything and have partially hijacked your post to ask that question! Tolkien is the "standard" that Attebery uses throughout the text, and I found it very interesting to read.

I now return you to Penthe's post...

Weaver



Curious
Half-elven

May 24 2007, 6:14am

Post #8 of 75 (301 views)
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Well, the genre was there before Tolkien. [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien used it for his purposes, but few others have been seriously interested in writing something more than a "mere thriller." Most writers are quite happy to write a successful thriller, thank you very much.

And so most writers who wish to emulate the success of LotR, including, I suggest, Peter Jackson, focus very heavily on the fighting and adventure and elves and monsters and mines and castles, and little or not at all on the spiritual and moral subtext. To be fair, Tolkien did his best to bury that subtext, and so it is not surprising that many people don't focus on it. But I suggest that they miss it when it is not there in the knock-offs.

Tolkien's buried subtext lends weight and substance to what would otherwise be a mere thriller. And that is one reason why people keep coming back to LotR, and wondering why other fantasies do not measure up.


Beren IV
Gondor


May 24 2007, 1:18pm

Post #9 of 75 (282 views)
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Yes, I agree [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Once a paleontologist, now a botanist, will be a paleobotanist


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


May 24 2007, 2:55pm

Post #10 of 75 (285 views)
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"Raffel is convincing". [In reply to] Can't Post

How funny that you should mention this now. Just last week I came across some praise for Attebury's book by David Bratman on the Mythopoeic Society mailing list, but hadn't gotten to the library to read it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Detail from earliest version of Thror's MapTolkien Illustrated! Thanks to everyone who participated in our sixteen-week discussion of Tolkien-inspired artwork! New posts on this subject are welcome at any time.


Curious
Half-elven

May 24 2007, 3:51pm

Post #11 of 75 (343 views)
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Moon also outdoes Tolkien [In reply to] Can't Post

on the military training and strategy, the economics, the political and legal structure, and the established religion of her Secondary World. However sometimes she is too eager to explain her Secondary World to the reader. It must be hard to resist doing so.

Tolkien falls into the same trap in The Silmarillion, and would have published The Sil with LotR if he had been allowed, but perhaps it is fortunate that he was not able to do so. (I say perhaps because who knows what final form The Sil would have taken if Tolkien had been given the green light to publish it before LotR?) As a result LotR rests on the firm foundation of The Sil, but has few of the flaws of The Sil.

This is an advantage Tolkien holds over nearly every other fantasy or science fiction author. Because of his private hobby or obsession he had this huge amount of unpublished work upon which to draw, but he could not possibly explain it all in a sequel to The Hobbit. So we just get peeks and glimpses of the history of Middle-earth, which makes LotR feel much more real than almost any other fantasy.

And the problem for authors who want to follow in Tolkien's footsteps is that it literally took him a lifetime to build up to LotR, and even he could not recapture that magic. No professional author could make a living using Tolkien's creative process. And few amateur authors are qualified or inclined to do so.


weaver
Half-elven

May 25 2007, 1:17am

Post #12 of 75 (263 views)
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Do get the book... [In reply to] Can't Post

I thought of you when I was going through it, as Attebery deals with many of the critics you focused on in your thematic discussion.

I would certainly like to hear your opinion of this book, which I'd agree should get some high praise. He also did one on American Fantasy which references Tolkien as well.

Weaver



SilentLion
Rivendell

May 25 2007, 2:32am

Post #13 of 75 (296 views)
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I think you hit on something both ironic and important for the success of Tolkien's subcreation [In reply to] Can't Post

The idea that LOTR was a success pricisely because it was grounded in world Tolkien had spent his whole adult creating, so it had a richness of detail and level of consistency that few other fantasy stories could equal. However, because LOTR was actually a novel based on his private world, and not a description of that private world, it was approachable by a wide audience.

Something else has occured to me about Tolkien's mythology. Had he ever published 'The Silmarillion' in a definitive completed form, it would just be another story and not really a mythology. The fact that there are many versions of the 1st and 2nd age stories, some longer and some shorter, some lighter and some more grim, some existing only as fragments makes the mythology much richer, and more like an actual mythology. Actual mythology is a similar collection of tales, not a single chronological narrative all told in a single voice.

Had Tolkien managed to creat a single definitive Silmarillion, no matter how good, it would simply have been another novel. We might have admired certain aspects of theme or style, but we not be engaged in vigorous discussions of his world 35 years after his death. So in a sense, the only way that Tolkien could have succeeded in creating a 'mythology' with a depth and richness comparable to real mythologies, is by failing to finish his major life's work. He succeeded far more spectularly, by failing.


(This post was edited by SilentLion on May 25 2007, 2:39am)


Curious
Half-elven

May 25 2007, 10:24am

Post #14 of 75 (255 views)
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Maybe. [In reply to] Can't Post

But I discuss Tolkien because of LotR, not The Sil.


FarFromHome
Valinor


May 25 2007, 11:20am

Post #15 of 75 (254 views)
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I have to disagree about one point [In reply to] Can't Post

  
And so most writers who wish to emulate the success of LotR, including, I suggest, Peter Jackson, focus very heavily on the fighting and adventure and elves and monsters and mines and castles, and little or not at all on the spiritual and moral subtext.


Considering the constraints that making a mainstream movie trilogy imposes, I think Peter Jackson included an admirable amount of spiritual and moral subtext. It's not as immediately striking or in-your-face as the fighting and adventure etc. (neither is it in the book, and how could it be, really?) But it's there, I find, transposed into a slightly different and more dramatically-accessible form, and so perhaps not immediately recognizable as Tolkien in the way that the iconic imagery of mines and castles is. But in its own way, the subtext is there - in the music, in the imagery and in many of the smaller scenes, if you look for it. That's what makes these movies so much richer than the many "mere thriller" action/adventure/fantasy movies that have copied the look but not the feel of Jackson's LotR.

That's my opinion anyway, and as I've defended it many times on the Movie board, I'll refrain from using up any more RR boardspace to make my point! Wink

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.

(This post was edited by FarFromHome on May 25 2007, 11:22am)


Curious
Half-elven

May 25 2007, 12:33pm

Post #16 of 75 (241 views)
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Maybe. [In reply to] Can't Post

Opinions differ, obviously.


weaver
Half-elven

May 25 2007, 6:19pm

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...but actually, he doesn't! [In reply to] Can't Post

I just skimmed through the book I mentioned, and Attebery mostly focuses on Wynne Jone's comments on Tolkien's narrative structure. So nothing from him to add here.

My own thoughts are that it's the motivation behind any action or choice in Tolkien that matters most, and that how characters deal with power is only one manifestation of this theme. Like the wielding of power, seeking guidance, giving a gift, keeping a rule or breaking it, making a persuasive argument, staying or going, are neither good nor bad all the time in LOTR -- what makes them one that way are the intentions of the person doing those things, more often than not.

In the case of the Ring, I agree with Curious that Frodo's total lack of a desire for power is the thing that made him able to carry it for so long. Tolkien does such a good job at playing him that way that is quite a shock to see him claim it at the end like that. Though I love the way that Tolkien has Frodo still speaking in words of "not" doing something -- I will not do this deed -- when he finally succombs to it. The Ring will take your desire for anything -- but most particularly power -- and turn it to a bad end. In Frodo's case, it takes his desire to resist it and manages to use that to get him.

Weaver



orcbane
Gondor


May 26 2007, 1:23am

Post #18 of 75 (222 views)
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Mined out perhaps [In reply to] Can't Post

Hope no one minds new person jumping into the middle. Interesting subject, I've wondered about before

I also see a difference, actually a wide gulf, between Tolkien and everyone that came after. I might compare it to popular music styles. There is an originator of a particular type of sound, and then other musicians who adopt the style & it runs until most possibilities are explored.

Of course Tolkien didn't invent the genre, but he certainly put it all together in a pretty novel way. I am now on very thin ice, but am tempted to say he was the first modern (20th Cent.) medievalist ? And as has been mentioned, he put decades of work into it, and it shows. Also the more I read his work the more convinced I become that he was one of the great thinkers of our time.

To me, the other writers seem to be emulating Tolkien, because they follow the same path with the same landscape. Maybe too, since Tolkien explored it so thoroughly (knowing it so well), he did not leave a lot of ore in this particular mine. He and his friends correctly recognized other great direction as well, science fiction, but I guess by it's nature Sci-Fi left much more potential for development.


Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


May 26 2007, 3:58pm

Post #19 of 75 (223 views)
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Excellent point about the Sil. I also think [In reply to] Can't Post

that one of the reasons LotR is so much better than many of its imitators is that it is so grounded in our real world. The phases of the moon are checked exactly, the familiar constellations shine in the sky, though they have new names, there's a richness of flora. It's all so real because it *is* real in many ways. When I'm out hiking, there's a rock face that always reminds me of the place where Treebeard met Merry and Pippin, for example, and a valley that looks just like Rivendell to me. He made the places so real because they're so much like places in our own world. I know other readers react to other things, but my favorite thing about LotR is the rich scenery, and I don't find that in much other fantasy, though Narnia comes close.


In Reply To
The idea that LOTR was a success pricisely because it was grounded in world Tolkien had spent his whole adult creating, so it had a richness of detail and level of consistency that few other fantasy stories could equal. However, because LOTR was actually a novel based on his private world, and not a description of that private world, it was approachable by a wide audience.

Something else has occured to me about Tolkien's mythology. Had he ever published 'The Silmarillion' in a definitive completed form, it would just be another story and not really a mythology. The fact that there are many versions of the 1st and 2nd age stories, some longer and some shorter, some lighter and some more grim, some existing only as fragments makes the mythology much richer, and more like an actual mythology. Actual mythology is a similar collection of tales, not a single chronological narrative all told in a single voice.

Had Tolkien managed to creat a single definitive Silmarillion, no matter how good, it would simply have been another novel. We might have admired certain aspects of theme or style, but we not be engaged in vigorous discussions of his world 35 years after his death. So in a sense, the only way that Tolkien could have succeeded in creating a 'mythology' with a depth and richness comparable to real mythologies, is by failing to finish his major life's work. He succeeded far more spectularly, by failing.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"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."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chance Meeting at Rivendell: a Tolkien Fanfic
and some other stuff I wrote...
leleni at hotmail dot com

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


orcbane
Gondor


May 26 2007, 8:22pm

Post #20 of 75 (202 views)
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2nd hand memories [In reply to] Can't Post

The reality of the stories has to be one of its greatest hidden strengths. While taking walks & such, I have constantly saw things that remind me of scenes out of Middle-Earth. Funny, because its actually the other way around.

I sometimes think he uses our collective and historic dreams and nightmares. The brooding atmosphere of the woods, wolves in the night, rumors of enemies massing on the border. We recognize these things though we ourselves may never have experienced them. I sometimes wonder if they have been retained in some way in our memory, from our ancestors.

He uses real places too, like the alps (misty mountains), old italian cities (Gondor), and of course rural england. To that I would add the desolate and sickening landscapes around any battlefield in WW1 (Mordor), the watch on the Rhine (Anduin).


(This post was edited by orcbane on May 26 2007, 8:22pm)


Elizabeth
Valinor


May 27 2007, 5:22pm

Post #21 of 75 (201 views)
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Not sure I entirely believe you. [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
But I discuss Tolkien because of LotR, not The Sil.

You are very good at seeing things like the hand of the Valar in various events in LotR, spotting the echoes of ancient (ME) history, etc. I suspect a great deal of the depth you (and I and others) find in LotR is contributed by this knowledge of the 'backstory'.

I suspect that folks who read and enjoy LotR alone take pleasure a good book and move on. Those who have the patience or whatever to dip into the rest of the Legendarium are the ones who get hooked for life.




Son of Elizabeth in Frodo's tree
March, 2007


Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


Curious
Half-elven

May 27 2007, 6:24pm

Post #22 of 75 (191 views)
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Oh absolutely, the Sil is a key to LotR. But [In reply to] Can't Post

if LotR did not exist, I doubt that I would read The Sil (and of course I would not have had an opportunity to do so, since I doubt that it would have been published). The Sil, to me, is much like one of the appendices to LotR -- totally fascinating to the extent it sheds light on the text of LotR, but only mildly interesting for its own sake. Children of Hurin comes the closest to standing alone as its own story, but still is far too short in many places.


squire
Valinor


May 27 2007, 8:03pm

Post #23 of 75 (203 views)
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"by it's nature Sci-Fi left much more potential for development" ? [In reply to] Can't Post

That's an interesting thought: that the genre of science fiction is inherently richer in themes and situations than the genre of fantasy.

Is it so? I've read more science fiction than fantasy, but both only when I was younger. Aside from Tolkien, fantasy never grabbed me unless it was ironic like Zelazny. I remember sucking down a lot of science fiction, all from the "classic" era of 1940s-1950s (so much of it was still in print or in anthologies) to whatever was coming down the pike in the late 60s and early 70s. I thought there was a lot of variation in the themes, which seemed to depend on whatever scientific breakthroughs or social trends were current.

Would that be it: that science fiction tends to comment on contemporary society with its future-oriented technological ideology and so changes rapidly with the times; while fantasy, offering a past-oriented alternative world of escape from society, changes less because the past changes less?



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
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


Elizabeth
Valinor


May 28 2007, 1:31am

Post #24 of 75 (198 views)
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The great resurgence of interest in the Middle Ages [In reply to] Can't Post

started with the Pre-Raphaelites in the late 19th C, I think. Previously there was a time when folks were interested in the ancient Greeks and Romans and then vaulted forward to the Renaissance, asserting that nothing much happened in between (give or take the odd crusade).

Tolkien seems to have been academically positioned during a time when explorations of the Middle Ages were flourishing. I note that one of the translations of Beowulf under discussion in Off Topic is from 1892, the year Tolkien was born. During our discussions of Tolkien's Letters a while back we focussed on the rivalry between professors of 'Literature' (Chaucer and later) and 'Language' (history, culture, and literature of the Middle Ages), not to mention Classes (Greeks, Romans, and other ancient cultures).




Son of Elizabeth in Frodo's tree
March, 2007


Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


orcbane
Gondor


May 28 2007, 2:59am

Post #25 of 75 (187 views)
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Looking Back, Looking Forward [In reply to] Can't Post

Squire, I too read Sci-Fi, but left it quite a while ago. There were two writers with very similiar names: was it Zelany and Zelazny ? I liked Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber. I think only that & FOTR kept me up all night. I still enjoy some film's in the genre.

When you mention little new to be expected from the middle-ages it got me wondering. Tolkien mastered the Middle-Ages in terms of what was known then. Perhaps in time, if studies bring out many new details, a new work ,

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