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**CoH Discussion** I. The Childhood of Túrin: 1. Ancestry
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squire
Valinor


Jun 18 2007, 12:05pm

Post #1 of 135 (1016 views)
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**CoH Discussion** I. The Childhood of Túrin: 1. Ancestry Can't Post

The story opens with a detailed account of the ancestry and marriage of Húrin.

A. Many reviewers of The Children of Hurin have criticized this “genealogical” opening, as being both dull and confusing. Do you agree? How else, or where else, might the story have started, within the confines of Tolkien’s text? How important is “readability” to the Tolkiens, father and son?

B. How can Húrin be “fiery in mood” and yet have the “fire in him burn steadily”?

C. Isn’t it kind of comic to imagine Húrin as the shortest among his kin, while younger brother Huor is the tallest of all the Edain? Why does Tolkien create this visual image? Will you carry it with you as the brothers interact together later in the story? Should Alan Lee have drawn a picture of these two young men?

D. Ditto for Morwen. Isn’t she taller than her husband? Is the story telling us that she is “stern of mood and proud” because she is “saddened” by her family’s exile? Or was she always like that?

E. We learn that Urwen (Lalaith) will die young. Why give this away?

F. Although Rian’s (the wife of Huor) little story here is sort of touching (who does she remind you of? why?) in fact she will never be heard from again in this story. Is her inclusion in this introduction justifiable?



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


(This post was edited by Eledhwen on Jun 19 2007, 8:07pm)


a.s.
Valinor


Jun 18 2007, 12:21pm

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begats be boring [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
A. Many reviewers of The Children of Hurin have criticized this “genealogical” opening, as being both dull and confusing. Do you agree? How else, or where else, might the story have started, within the confines of Tolkien’s text? How important is “readability” to the Tolkiens, father and son?



It's thankfully short, anyway.

I don't find it necessarily dull or boring, and I don't find it confusing. I dislike the tone, though--that far remove and pseudo-archaic writing style is grating on my nerves a bit. But if this was a story told by another writer, it would open with something about the little boy we are going to learn about, the subject of the book, and go backward and/or forward from that incident. Something to make us interested in the sad little doomed child, something that would make us care to know his ancestry.

Face it: if we hadn't all read all the other Tolkien stuff we love so well--if this was a completely stand-alone novel introducing characters for the first time--this introductory passage would be off-putting. It's not an inspired beginning. The tale is full of sadness; maybe it should start with something to make us care about Turin and his fate.

a.s.

"an seileachan"

"Some say once you're gone, you're gone forever, and some say they're gonna come back.
Some say you rest in the arms of the Savior if sinful ways you lack.
Some say they're coming back in a garden, bunch of carrots and little sweet peas.
I think I'll just let the mystery be."

~~~~~Iris DeMent


Curious
Half-elven

Jun 18 2007, 4:27pm

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As usual, you Prepared! [In reply to] Can't Post

I'll save most of my comments for later, when I have more time, but a thought just occurred to me which I can't contain. Maybe Hurin is short and Huor tall because Hurin is more "dwarvish" in nature and Huor more "elvish." And maybe the same applies to their sons. I'll say more about this when I have time, but the more I think about the idea the more it excites me and seems to fit.


Menelwyn
Rohan


Jun 18 2007, 6:17pm

Post #4 of 135 (269 views)
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not a big fan of the opening [In reply to] Can't Post

Not so much for my own sake--although it does seem a bit dull--but imagining the perspective of a newcomer to the First Age. If I had only read LOTR I think I would feel hopelessly lost just from reading the first paragraph. For goodness' sake, there are 12 distinct proper names just in that first paragraph, and the number multiplies as you go through the next few paragraphs! I can just hear someone thinking, Is the rest of the book going to be like this? And do I need to remember all these names? I'm going to have to take copious notes on this--oh, forget it.

I suppose CT is kind of stuck with what his father wrote, but it's really unfortunate to have to start the book this way. It's all too easy to envision people who gave up after just one page. At least in the Sil if you've made it as far as the Turin chapter you're at least somewhat accustomed to all the names.

I'm also not a big fan of the inclusion of Rian. Again, I suppose CT wanted to interfere editorially as little as possible, so he decided to keep it, but it's really unnecessary and it just adds to the volume of proper names right up front. It's also a bit confusing here to refer to the Nirnaeth Arnoediad when that battle hasn't taken place yet. It works in the Sil where the battle is in the preceding chapter and where you're eventually going to get to Tuor, and in UT you have probably just read the Tuor story if you read the tales in order, but here it seems extraneous. That's even suggested by the start of the next paragraph which begins, "But now the tale returns to Hurin and Huor...." In other words, let's get back on track with the actual story. Even the UT version doesn't have a phrase like that: there is a blank line, followed by a summary of what was going on in the years after the Dagor Bragollach. I like that somewhat better--it sets off the first few paragraphs as more of an introduction, and not necessarily very important to remember. Still not the most exciting opening but it's an improvement.

I'm not really sure what I would do as a better opening--I'm no writer!--but how about something with the young Hurin and Huor landing in Gondolin? That's exciting at any rate. And you could convey the background information through a conversation with Turgon about how the young men ended up in his city in the first place. (I am, by the way, thinking a little bit of the openings of The Hobbit and LOTR as examples of how Tolkien, as opposed to other writers, might begin.) But that's not what Tolkien wrote, and CT is giving us what his father wrote, so that's what we're stuck with.


Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


Jun 18 2007, 7:35pm

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For me, a major flaw [In reply to] Can't Post

in this telling of the story was giving away all the secrets at the beginning. At the same time I was reading this, I was also reading HP6, and noticing how Rowling pulls us forward through volume after volume by giving hints and piling mystery on mystery. If she had started book 1, chapter 1 with all the previous history of Harry's family and Voldemort's family, the revelations in book 6 wouldn't be gripping at 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."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chance Meeting at Rivendell: a Tolkien Fanfic
and some other stuff I wrote...
leleni at hotmail dot com

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


Curious
Half-elven

Jun 18 2007, 7:38pm

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Or you could have the Gaffer [In reply to] Can't Post

at the local pub tell the locals about Turin's ancestry and Hurin's adventures on the occasion of Turin's birthday and Hurin's farewell party! Plus some introductory material from the narrator, and some more exposition by Sador talking with Turin, and save the rest of it for the appendices. Smile


Curious
Half-elven

Jun 18 2007, 7:48pm

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Seriously, I recently [In reply to] Can't Post

suggested that the story should put Hurin's story in the prologue, then jump straight to Nienor confronting Glaurung and losing her memory, then reveal everything else as Nienor/Niniel uncovers one dark secret after another, but always too late to do anything about it.


Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


Jun 18 2007, 7:52pm

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I saw that post and thought it was a great idea.// [In reply to] Can't Post

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"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

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


Curious
Half-elven

Jun 18 2007, 11:40pm

Post #9 of 135 (282 views)
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All these names and thumbnail sketches [In reply to] Can't Post

of the stories and personalities that went with the names do give the story a sense of depth, the kind of depth found in myths and legends about people whose ancestors appear in other myths and legends. However we know that when Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and LotR he used different ways to introduce such facts. He paired down the discussion of ancestry to mother and father (Bilbo's in The Hobbit and Frodo's in LotR), and put much more information in the appendices. In addition in LotR he had The Gaffer discuss Frodo's ancestry and upbringing, and incidentally reveal Sam's ancestry and upbringing as well (although there is no mention of Sam's mother). In Children of Hurin Tolkien much more consciously adopted the tone of an ancient text from the beginning. Whether he would have retained that beginning if he had actually published the tale is unknown and unknowable.

What I like about it is Tolkien's habit of giving us a glimpse of all these people who are briefly named. It reminds me of the role call when various subjects of Gondor entered Minas Tirith, and we learned a little about their various leaders. It also reminds me of Tolkien's style in the appendices to LotR. All these brief descriptions give some life to a dry family tree. The way Tolkien describes them, I can see all these people passing before my eyes, much as Aragorn's ancestors pass before the hobbits' eyes in the House of Bombadil.

Why then is Hurin short and Huor tall? Tolkien tended to use height as a metaphor. Hurin does not remind me of a short hobbit at all, but he does remind me of dwarves, and so does his son Turin, while Huor and Tuor remind me of tall elves.

Hurin is much shorter than his brother Huor, but Hurin is "strong in body and fiery of mood" with a "great endurance of will." Hurin was slower than Huor over a short course, but a better marathon runner. Tolkien's dwarves are generally strong of body and fiery of mood with great endurance of will, and, although they are not swift, dwarves like to brag of their endurance. Although he goes to war on a horse with a sword, Hurin will use a borrowed battle-axe in his last stand against Morgoth's army. And Turin, who has a stormy relationship with most elves, will develop a close friendship with Mim the petty dwarf. Tuor, on the other hand, is the tallest of the Edain, marries an elf, and may even have become an elf.

On the other hand, perhaps Tolkien is just giving Hurin and Huor distinctive personalities like he does for all the people in the family tree, including many who are not important to this tale. So Hurin is the short but strong one and Huor is the tall and swift one. There you are.

Morwen may have been taller than Hurin, but that is not unheard of. Furthermore although Hurin was short compared to Huor and his other close kin, that doesn't mean he was short compared to most men. On his father's side, Hurin came from a family of giants.

Okay, now to any questions I have not addressed:


Quote

A. Many reviewers of The Children of Hurin have criticized this “genealogical” opening, as being both dull and confusing. Do you agree? How else, or where else, might the story have started, within the confines of Tolkien’s text? How important is “readability” to the Tolkiens, father and son?



What reviewers do you have in mind? The opening is more typical of ancient tales than modern ones, but I don't find it dull. If we are expected to remember all these names I might get confused, but I think it quickly becomes apparent that we are not expected to remember anyone except Turin and his parents. However I would have started the story in the middle somewhere, and brought out the backstory later. The story takes a long time to get going, and maintaining suspense is a problem.


Quote
B. How can Húrin be “fiery in mood” and yet have the “fire in him burn steadily”?



He's manic at times, but never depressive. Like the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps going. The flame isn't always on high, but it is always present.

I must go. I'll get to the other questions later.



(This post was edited by Curious on Jun 18 2007, 11:41pm)


Curious
Half-elven

Jun 19 2007, 11:27am

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The rest of my reply. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
C. Isn’t it kind of comic to imagine Húrin as the shortest among his kin, while younger brother Huor is the tallest of all the Edain? Why does Tolkien create this visual image? Will you carry it with you as the brothers interact together later in the story? Should Alan Lee have drawn a picture of these two young men?


Hurin is not the shortest among the Edain, just the shortest among his kin, who happen to be the tallest among the Edain. He takes after his mother's people, and would not be short among them. So he might not be that short after all. But no, I won't carry forward the image, and no, Lee should not have drawn a picture emphasizing the difference. It's a throwaway line by Tolkien, and not an important plot point. As I said in my previous post, Tolkien might be making some analogy to the dwarves, or he might just be adding some depth to the story by distinguishing these cousins who have so much in common.

Quote
D. Ditto for Morwen. Isn’t she taller than her husband? Is the story telling us that she is “stern of mood and proud” because she is “saddened” by her family’s exile? Or was she always like that?


Again, Morwen may be no taller than her husband, and still would be tall among women and short compared to Huor. But even if she is taller than Hurin, that isn't unheard of.

I don't recall Beren being described as stern of mood and proud, or Tuor being that way after he lost everything. On the other hand, Beren and Tuor are exceptional people. Perhaps most people would react badly to such loss.

I think this line about Morwen hints at her character flaws, but also at reasons for those flaws. Tolkien wants to make her hard, but sympathetic. It's a tricky process which continues throughout the book. I could easily see Turin on a couch complaining to a therapist about his stern, proud, sad mother, but then Morwen can't really be blamed for everything bad that happens to Turin. Actually Morwen reminds me a bit of Eowyn, another stern, proud, sad woman. It also makes me think of Tolkien's descriptions of his own mother.


Quote
E. We learn that Urwen (Lalaith) will die young. Why give this away?


There are lots of spoilers in this story. I think we soon learn that everything will come to grief, and the constant foreshadowing of that fact just adds to the atmosphere of doom and gloom. It is the other side of the coin from The Hobbit or LotR, which give away the fact that the hobbits will succeed and survive, although it holds back a few surprises. The surprise in CoH may be that Turin does kill Glaurung. So something goes right. But otherwise the fascination of this story, if you are fascinated by it, is seeing everything Turin tries to accomplish go bad in the worst possible way. It's the fascination of watching a train wreck in slow motion. And part of the fascination is knowing ahead of time that the wreck is inevitable, and that people will die.


Quote
F. Although Rian’s (the wife of Huor) little story here is sort of touching (who does she remind you of? why?) in fact she will never be heard from again in this story. Is her inclusion in this introduction justifiable?

Rian doesn't remind me of anyone that comes to mind. I'm sure you have someone in mind, but I can't guess who. But her little thumbnail personality sketch isn't much different from the others, and serves to make her memorable even though we never meet her again. It also reminds us that not everyone is like Morwen and Turin. On the other hand it is fair to ask whether introducing all these characters really serves the story well, or whether Tolkien would have been better off paring down the cast of characters to about a tenth of the names that appear in the appendices.

The long list of characters makes Children of Hurin feels more like an ancient tale or history. The problem is that ancient tales and histories are unfamiliar to many, and remind others of school. Tolkien does his best to give each name some life and personality, but I feel like the tale should either be much, much longer, so that each of these characters can get some time upon the stage, or much shorter, so that all the extraneous characters are removed from the tale altogether. Only if we read this as a history or a feigned history does a long list of names make perfect sense, for that is how many histories read.


Wynnie
Rohan


Jun 19 2007, 12:44pm

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untimely deaths [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Although Rian’s (the wife of Huor) little story here is sort of touching (who does she remind you of? why?) ...


Hmmm -- other Tolkien women who died untimely of grief, let's see:

Gilraen: Rian in slow motion. She loses her spouse, leaves the Elves, dies because she has no hope left. But since this happens over the course of many years, she's not deserting a young son.

Finduilas (of Gondor): Her grief is of a different sort; her husband Denethor is still around, but she's deeply unhappy with city life. She does leave young sons behind.

Arwen: This is probably the closest match, since it's clearly the impact of her husband's death that causes her to give up on life.





None such shall return again.



N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jun 19 2007, 12:56pm

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Not quite a throwaway line. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Húrin is not the shortest among the Edain... But no, I won't carry forward the image, and no, Lee should not have drawn a picture emphasizing the difference. It's a throwaway line by Tolkien, and not an important plot point.



A few chapters later, Morgoth calls Húrin "little among Men". Still probably not important.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Discuss The Children of Húrin in the Reading Room, June 11-October 14.


Stanislaus B.
The Shire

Jun 19 2007, 5:17pm

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Childer of Hurin as a saga [In reply to] Can't Post

Does this quote remind you of something:

"There was a man named Mord whose surname was Fiddle; he was the son of Sigvat the Red, and he dwelt at the "Vale" in the Rangrivervales. He was a mighty chief, and a great taker up of suits, and so great a lawyer that no judgments were thought lawful unless he had a hand in them. He had an only daughter, named Unna. She was a fair, courteous, and gifted woman, and that was thought the best match in all the Rangrivervales.

Now the story turns westward to the Broadfirth dales, where, at Hauskuldstede, in Laxriverdale, dwelt a man named Hauskuld, who was Dalakoll's son, and his mother's name was Thorgerda. He had a brother named Hrut, who dwelt at Hrutstede; he was of the same mother as Hauskuld, but his father's name was Heriolf. Hrut was handsome, tall and strong, well skilled in arms, and mild of temper; he was one of the wisest of men -- stern towards his foes, but a good counsellor on great matters."

http://omacl.org/Njal/1part.html

This is the beginning of the Saga of Burnt Njal - usually thought of as one of the more interesting sagas.


Curious
Half-elven

Jun 19 2007, 7:03pm

Post #14 of 135 (181 views)
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Yes, Beowulf starts out in a similar vein.// [In reply to] Can't Post

 


Modtheow
Lorien

Jun 20 2007, 2:26am

Post #15 of 135 (289 views)
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Saga style, plus a question [In reply to] Can't Post

A. Many reviewers of The Children of Hurin have criticized this “genealogical” opening, as being both dull and confusing. Do you agree? How else, or where else, might the story have started, within the confines of Tolkien’s text? How important is “readability” to the Tolkiens, father and son?
E. We learn that Urwen (Lalaith) will die young. Why give this away?
F. Although Rian’s (the wife of Huor) little story here is sort of touching (who does she remind you of? why?) in fact she will never be heard from again in this story. Is her inclusion in this introduction justifiable?


As Stanislaus B. points out, the opening is written in the style of Old Icelandic sagas. My answers to the above three questions all follow from this fact. In the sagas, first you get a genealogy before you narrow in on the main characters of the story. The genealogy gives a sense of historical depth, as Curious says, and we start developing a sense of what kind of family we're dealing with or what kind of events they're involved in. In CoH, the details that are given are not irrelevant: Hador is well-beloved by the Eldar, so right from the start we have an Edain-Eldar relationship by which to measure what follows and to establish a theme. We get a sense of what Hurin might be like in the comparison to his brother. The details about Morwen, elven-fair but "stern of mood and proud," reveal a combination of light and dark, if you will, that will come into play in Turin's character as well. Morwen's and Rian's paragraphs emphasize how hard and sorrowful are the times this story deals with -- fate is harsh to many.

And sagas generally don't bother with modern notions of suspense; when recounting traditional stories, medieval storytellers could assume that their audiences knew the plot to the end. I think the suspense would lie in getting to see how the storyteller would get you to the ending that you already knew. (The same is true in Beowulf, where, for example, we are told near the beginning that Hrothgar's great hall is eventually going to be destroyed by the enmity of family members). In contrast, as Aunt Dora points out, J.K. Rowling is a master of suspense in the modern sense. So telling us that Lalaith had a short life is in keeping with saga style; it also emphasizes the sorrowful nature of the story as a whole, as the other paragraphs do.

The other suggestions that people have made for different openings sound to me much more like modern novels or even movie scripts -- nothing wrong with that, but that's not the style that Tolkien is opening with here. I think that Christopher Tolkien would like very much for this book to be thought readable by a wide audience, but clearly this style is not one that appeals to everyone.

Now here's my question about style. I'm very interested in trying to pinpoint what it is that people find archaic or long-winded about this style; a number of reviewers have complained about this. Is it the subject matter -- the fact that there are so many character sketches in a row with a lot of names -- that makes the style appear difficult or boring? Or is it something about the actual wording? When I look at the language of the first couple of pages, I find very simple words, on the whole, mostly basic Anglo-Saxon words, in fact. In two cases, I see expressions that could have been lifted straight out of medieval narratives: "He dwelt while his days lasted" and "But now the tale returns to" -- maybe these expressions make the style sound strange? Tolkien also says that X "wedded" Y instead of "married." Occasionally, Tolkien inverts usual sentence order: "Of all the Men of the North he knew most of the counsels of the Noldor" or "Two months only had she been wedded to Huor" -- but even in these sentences the words are quite plain and simple. This is all that I can find to try to explain this perception of Tolkien's style -- can anyone help me out with more specific examples that would explain these reactions?


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jun 20 2007, 7:01am

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An answer [In reply to] Can't Post

Since I'm one of those people that has trouble with Tolkien's archaic style, I'll try to analyse just what it is that I find so distracting about it.

You're right that the words themselves are often simple, and are likely to be Anglo-Saxon ("wedded") rather than of Latin origin ("married"). The odd word-order usually isn't misleading or difficult to read, and in fact it often seems to give a kind of rhythm to the text that might lend itself to being spoken aloud. When I read his archaic prose, I can sometimes hear in my head that slightly chanting way of reading that Tolkien uses himself.

And yet, there's something artificial about the style, for me. It seems like a superficial, self-conscious effect imposed on the narrative just for appearance's sake - it doesn't seem to add anything in itself to the story. It's not a question of difficulty - Joyce's prose can be much more difficult to read, as can Proust's, for example. But in these examples, there's a feeling that the difficult style is the result of an attempt to express something new and inexpressible in any other way. Tolkien's archaic style doesn't strike me that way - it seems more like an unnecessary ornament, added to give a bit of the flavour of the ancient world without saying anything new or different about it.

Of course, it may be argued that Tolkien isn't interested in saying anything "new", but is trying to get back to an older style of story-telling. Perhaps in fact with his archaic style he's trying to recapture the effect of Anglo-Saxon story-telling as he imagines it. Still, for me, it's annoyingly distracting, especially as he seems to have a tendency to repeat the same stilted phraseology over and over - such as putting temporal expressions before the verb ("two months only had she been wedded to Huor", in your example). Perhaps this is typical of Anglo-Saxon? It strikes me as something you might still find quite commonly in modern German, so perhaps that's the key. I wonder if this style is more meaningful to readers who have some familiarity with Anglo-Saxon? All I can say is that for me, it works against the story, pulling me out of it time and time again with its artificial, self-conscious-seeming awkwardness.

...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.


Curious
Half-elven

Jun 20 2007, 12:19pm

Post #17 of 135 (208 views)
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What I like about it in LotR [In reply to] Can't Post

is the way Tolkien uses his archaic style to distinguish between the language used by the hobbits, and by Gandalf and Aragorn when they speak with the hobbits, and the language used by the Rohirrim and Gondorians. He even makes distinctions between the Rohirrim and the Gondorians, with the Gondorians more likely to use Norman words like "puissant."

But of course in CoH and the rest of The Silmarillion stories there is no contrast of styles that I can detect. It is all archaic. As usual, I miss the hobbits and their friendly guides to the archaic world, Gandalf and Aragorn.

But then I have a hard time picking up Beowulf and reading it either. I can do it in school, or in the discussion I'm leading, but it feels more like study than pleasure reading. I like study, but somehow I don't find myself doing it on my own just for fun.

I believe Tolkien defended his archaic style in one of his letters, saying that it would be ridiculous for Theoden to speak in modern vernacular. We can see this dilemma in the movie, where the archaic "Forth the Three Hunters!" is changed to the too-modern "Let's hunt some orcs!" Perhaps there is a middle ground.

But I do know that when Ian McKellen declaimed in Tolkien's original language, it did not sound ridiculous at all. Somehow he could carry it off. It's that Shakespearean training, I suppose. I remember a story about McKellen trying to convince Jackson to use more dialogue from Tolkien by showing how he would say it -- and Jackson admitting that it of course sounded wonderful when McKellen said it.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jun 20 2007, 2:23pm

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I enjoy the archaisms in LotR too [In reply to] Can't Post

The varied language is part of the richness of the world, and there it does have an important role to play in the story. And as for having the Gondorians using words like "puissant", or the ancient and classical Ithilien having a "dryad loveliness", I find that not just bearable but wonderful.

It's the Silmarillion that gets to me. I can read it successfully enough if I imagine that it's a kind of Old Testament history within the world of LotR, but as a style per se, it drives me up the wall! I'm guessing that it's something like this that critics have complained about with CoH, so my post was intended to try to shed some light on Modtheow's question, based on my own reactions to Tolkien's unrelieved archaic style in the Sil. (I haven't read CoH so far, as I don't like illustrated books in general and I'm clearly not a fan of unrelieved Tolkienian archaism. And since I don't even own LotR in hardback, I find I can't justify owning CoH in that format - maybe I'll spring for the paperback when it comes out).

I take your point about McKellen's delivery of Tolkien's formal language, and it may well be that he could make the Sil (or CoH) sound good too. I have a recording of him reading a translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that is very enjoyable to listen to, so why not? I think Beowulf too could be read very successfully by a trained Shakespearean actor. I'd love to hear McKellen do Seamus Heaney's version, which really does roll beautifully off the tongue. Here's what Heaney says about his approach in the Introduction:

I came to the task of translating Beowulf with a prejudice in favour of forthright delivery. I remembered the voice of the poem as being attractively direct, even though the diction was ornate and the narrative method at times oblique. What I had always loved was a kind of foursquareness about the utterance, a feeling of living inside a constantly indicative mood, in the presence of an understanding that assumes you share an awareness of the perilous nature of life and are yet capable of seeing it steadily and, when necessary, sternly.

Now that's what I think of as a good, honest approach to style. I would highly recommend Heaney's translation of Beowulf, to you and anyone else who's following your very interesting discussion on the Off-Topic board, both for the Introduction and for the way the text comes across as a real, solid story. I consider my paperback copy of that a much better investment than CoH would be for me!

...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.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jun 20 2007, 3:17pm

Post #19 of 135 (212 views)
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CoH suffers for having multiple styles. [In reply to] Can't Post

While I competely understand the decision to reduce quotation of Tolkien's texts here, I think squire's tri-colored transcription of the first chapter showed something interesting (perhaps he will comment on this subject in lieu of risking the wrath of the Tolkien estate): CoH derives largely from two different traditions: the distanced "Quenta" material (as from The Silmarillion), and the immediate "Narn" material (as from Unfinished Tales). Both styles are more archaic than LotR, but the former in particular is meant for conveying a lot of history in a little space, and I suspect is usually the part that puts people off.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Discuss The Children of Húrin in the Reading Room, June 11-October 14.


Modtheow
Lorien

Jun 20 2007, 4:07pm

Post #20 of 135 (208 views)
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Still not satisfied [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for your replies describing what you like and don’t like about Tolkien’s style, but I’d still like to ask further questions – not because I'm trying to force people to say that they like Tolkien’s style but because I want to comprehend what it is that they’re hearing in his words, and there are some points that I still don’t understand. (N.E.B.: I see that you’ve replied but I haven’t had time to think about your response, so this message addresses FFHome and Curious’s posts.)

I agree that in LotR there’s a greater variety of styles that contributes to our sense of the richness of that world. I wonder if we’ll be able to detect any differences in style in CoH? Do the elves speak differently from humans? What about the dwarf and the dragon? I’m not going to attempt to answer that right now but it’s something I’ll be keeping in mind as we go through the book. Certainly, the narrative voice in CoH is not like that in LotR; the narrator seems very much like a saga storyteller to me in CoH. I’m also thinking about squire’s question in his post #4 about "Tolkienisms" in this first chapter and am waiting to see what others say there.

But here are my further questions: FarFromHome, you say that Tolkien’s archaic style sounds like a "superficial, self-conscious effect" to you. Aren’t all good writers, though, conscious of the style they deliberately choose to use? "Superficial" is another problem, of course. I can see FFHome’s point that Tolkien does not use language in a new way like James Joyce, for example. But how is giving us "the flavour of the ancient world" through this style a superficial move when Tolkien is trying to describe an ancient world? The style fits the subject, no? And doesn’t that make the style more than an ornamental addition? I agree that Tolkien is not using language in a new way; he is trying to get back to an older style of storytelling, but the fact that he’s using that style in the twentieth century to tell a fictional story of his own is a different use of the style – is it a new use of the style? I don’t know, though I'm guessing there must be some predecessors – I’ve read lots of late 19th and early 20th century adaptations and translations of medieval stories that attempt something like saga style, but does anyone know of a writer of original fiction who used this style before Tolkien? William Morris, maybe? I’ve only read Morris’s translation of Beowulf, which is so deliberately archaized that it’s practically unreadable; what about his prose?

When you say that Tolkien uses the "same stilted phraseology over and over again" I’m wondering what are the examples in the first few pages of CoH? I pointed out two examples of unusual sentence order in the first couple of pages, but do those sentences sound "stilted"? To me, the word order of a sentence like "Of all the Men of the North he knew most of the counsels of the Noldor" reads quite smoothly and beautifully emphasizes the point the narrator is trying to make.

I’ve also been thinking about that interesting quotation from Heaney that FarFromHome included in her last post. Although CoH doesn’t have, in my opinion, the ornate diction and as oblique a narrative method as Beowulf (and I disagree with Heaney’s assessment of Beowulf as being in a "constantly indicative mood"), I’m wondering nevertheless if Heaney’s description could be applied to CoH:

"What I had always loved was a kind of foursquareness about the utterance, a feeling of living inside a constantly indicative mood, in the presence of an understanding that assumes you share an awareness of the perilous nature of life and are yet capable of seeing it steadily and, when necessary, sternly."

By the way, I second FarFromHome’s recommendation that people read Heaney’s translation of Beowulf as a good modern version that is far more readable than some of the older ones available on the Internet. Heaney’s not a bad reader either. You can hear him reading bits of his translation here:

http://www2.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/noa/audio.htm


Stanislaus B.
The Shire

Jun 20 2007, 4:41pm

Post #21 of 135 (218 views)
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Tolkien's style [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that no-one here is opposed to Tolkien's style simply because it is different from the easy and comfortable style of modern bestsellers.

The question is whether it is "imposed... for appearance's sake", "unnecessary ornament, added to give a bit of the flavour of the ancient world without saying anything new or different about it" or "the result of an attempt to express something new and inexpressible in any other way."

I must first say that I don't agree with this Kantian enmity towards ornaments. The book is an unnecessary ornament by itself, and for saying something new about ancient world, a history book would be more appropriate. I personally think that in book it is the appearance that counts, and so adding something for appearance's sake is the only good motivation.

But we must still ask whether this appearance is good or bad, and what makes it so.

I would say that the style of speaking is the style of thinking. Turin is not a modern man. Were he one, he would be incomprehensible. He must therefore speak as he thinks, if he is to be understood at all.

As for the question whether this saga-like style add something to the tale, I would suggest an experiment. Some interesting fragment be written in a modern style and compared to the original. This way we would see whether the "archaic" style makes any difference.

I have found an interesting opinion on this topic in a blog:

http://superversive.livejournal.com/#entry_49730

A critic, Tom Deveson of the Times, writes:

"Tolkien endorses this equation of archaism with beauty, but doesn’t show why it is more desirable to write “dwelt” than “lived”, to describe a sword that “would cleave all earth-dolven iron” or to have people say, “Await me here until haply I return.”

The blogger comments:

"The sentence Mr. Deveson objects to is as dry as ship’s biscuit. If you take it apart, and put it back together in purely modern English, it means: ‘Wait for me here until I come back — if that ever happens.’ That takes twelve words to Tolkien’s seven. Morwen’s almost parenthetical use of haply expresses all the fatality of her decision and the fatalism of her outlook, and does it in a way that no other single English word can match. She is fey, desperate, and almost hopeless, and Tolkien shows us the extremity of her plight without a word of narrative."

As to why the style of Childern of Hurin is different from the style of the Lord of the Rings - the style should fit the story. The difference between plots is the same.

Incidentally, E. R. Eddison, one of the best stylist of English, responded to the criticism of his style as follows:

‘The style of the book is not a mannerism born of caprice or of
perverse affectation, but the scent & breath & life of the whole thing... I look
upon it as a discovery: a place of prospect, if you like, from which I can look
and see those things I most desire to see.... I feel just as if, after you & I had
admired, say, the English Lakes together, you were to say: “It’s all very pretty,
but how much better if you could simplify these hills: cut them down to an
average height of 200 ft or so and fit them out with the popular, such as tea
houses & bandstands on the top of each.... ” When restraint hardens into
repression you get not strength but vacuity.’

http://www.ereddison.com/criticism.html (Heroic Hereafters by Jonathan Preece)


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jun 20 2007, 5:02pm

Post #22 of 135 (187 views)
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But the first chapter... [In reply to] Can't Post

now that I take another look at the sourcing, doesn't bear out my guess. Most of it is from UT; the major exception is the visit to Gondolin.

Just looking at the first paragraph, I find seven people introduced who will get only a little further mention in the story (Fingolfin, Galdor, Glóredhel, Hador Goldenhead, Haldir, Halmir, Hareth -- quick: who's who?) and five further names of peoples and places that likewise will be new to many readers (Brethil, Dor-lómin, Edain, Eldar, Hithlum). There are several words not commonly seen in modern writing ("lord", "well-beloved", "dwelt", even "wedded"). And there are phrases unlikely to be found in most modern novels ("while his days lasted" and "that region...which was called"). All this, for starters, may present stylistic difficulties for modern readers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Discuss The Children of Húrin in the Reading Room, June 11-October 14.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jun 20 2007, 5:26pm

Post #23 of 135 (180 views)
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Some really good comments at that link! [In reply to] Can't Post

Sharp work, on the whole, and I agree with much of it. However, Simon never does show why "dwelt" is better than "lived". Also at the end he moves from description of what Tolkien has done to assertion about its quality, without adequate support. And to repeat a concern I have with Shippey's J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, I am not convinced that Modernist authors refused to confront human wickedness. Nor that many of Tolkien's supporters are unwilling to grant his seriousness, a remark which comes out of nowhere to close Simon's essay.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Discuss The Children of Húrin in the Reading Room, June 11-October 14.


Stanislaus B.
The Shire

Jun 20 2007, 5:27pm

Post #24 of 135 (182 views)
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Not so difficult words? [In reply to] Can't Post

Umberto Eco said that he had written the beginning of the "Name of the Rose" in order to frighten away the immature readers. It is, in fact, much more difficult than Hurin - a discussion about the topos of the ideal horse in medieval Latin literature, and then a symbology of numbers. There is also a lot of Latin.

Despite that, the book sold well - similarly like Tolkien's Hurin. Perhaps we should give the common reader a bit more credit? "Lord" is not so difficult a word, I would think. We could try to translate it into modernese, perhaps as a "chairman", but I am not sure that the exact shade of the meaning would be the same.

"Well-beloved" - I think any moderately competent speaker of English should understand this, similarly "wedded". A simple Google check suggest those words are not as rare as it would seem.

Carcanet, habergeon etc, from the Lord of the Rings seem somehow more obscure.


(This post was edited by Stanislaus B. on Jun 20 2007, 5:30pm)


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jun 20 2007, 5:50pm

Post #25 of 135 (172 views)
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I've just been reading through [In reply to] Can't Post

the Narn I Hin Húrin in the UT, since I don't have CoH, and from what you say it seems that should do to give me the right idea about what's being discussed.

I'm finding it very difficult to put my finger on exactly what it is that bothers me about this style. As both Modtheow and Stanislaus B point out, an archaic style suits the subject-matter, and I really have no argument with that. So why do I keep feeling that the style is mannered or affected, rather than an honest reflection of the story itself? I could understand Tolkien saying, as E.R. Eddison does about his own style, in the quotation given by Stanislaus B:

"The style of the book is not a mannerism born of caprice or of perverse affectation, but the scent & breath & life of the whole thing."

I'm sure Tolkien means his style to be the scent & breath & life of his story too, yet for me it doesn't come alive, although I've yet to figure out why.

Here's one possibility: Tolkien tries too hard. He uses a less-familiar word, like 'wedded' instead of 'married' or even 'wed', and that would be fine. But he does it twice in the same sentence in the first paragraph ("His daughter Glóredhel wedded Haldir...; and at the same feast his son Galdor the Tall wedded Hareth...") and then again at the start of the third paragraph ("Húrin wedded Morwen..."). The repetition sounds awkward, forced, just too insistent on using an archaism for archaism's sake, to my ear. One other 'Tolkienism' that bothers me is the pseudo-Biblical phraseology that begins sentences (and post-semicolon clauses) with And..., For..., or But... . A little of this would be fine, but too much again starts to seem like a deliberate attempt to imitate an ancient style, a piling-on of archaic decoration, that's trying a bit too hard to be convincing.

I suppose this is just me - I do seem to have a low tolerance for mannered or over-written prose, and there are some parts of LotR too that feel over-written to me if I'm being objective, although the story is powerful enough that I never am objective while I'm reading - once I'm in Faerie I buy everything!

I wonder if it would be fair to say that there's a kind of barrier that you have to get over with Tolkien? Once you're in Faerie, things look different than they do from the other side. Maybe when I'm reading the Sil, I stay in my left-brained, analytical world from where I can see Tolkien trying very hard - too hard - to conjure the magic. Maybe I just need to find my way into Faerie, and all will be well...

...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.

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