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Niggled by rocks
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Al Carondas
The Shire

Jan 17 2013, 12:43am

Post #1 of 27 (718 views)
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Niggled by rocks Can't Post

Once again I am blissfully reading The Hobbit, and I just came across a phrase that Tolkien uses again and again in his writing - something I always have wondered about, but always just breezed past. Here is the passage from "Barrels Out of Bond":

"In a great hall with pillars hewn out of the living stone sat the Elvenking ..."

My question is: Can anyone tell me what is meant by the phrase 'living stone'?

"Good Morning!"


CuriousG
Valinor


Jan 17 2013, 2:04am

Post #2 of 27 (374 views)
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Not sure, but [In reply to] Can't Post

I take it to mean that it was carved out of the stone that was found there, vs stone that's brought from outside.


Gwenhwyfar
The Shire

Jan 17 2013, 2:19am

Post #3 of 27 (355 views)
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Perhaps [In reply to] Can't Post

I think it means that the stone of which the pillars were made was never quarried or cut at all; instead they dug out the open space in the room by removing all the extra stone from around the spot where they wanted a pillar, leaving the pillar seamlessly connected to the ceiling and the floor.


Al Carondas
The Shire

Jan 17 2013, 2:53am

Post #4 of 27 (348 views)
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Thanks [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks, CuriosG and Gwenwyhfar. That was my supposition as well - a sort of writer's shorthand for the longer description. I have seen it used by other authors too. Sometimes the phrase just strikes me as odd, and I start to wonder about it again: why Tolkien (who was so particularly particular with words) seemed to favor that description, and where the phrase might have originated.

"Good Morning!"


Mim
The Shire

Jan 17 2013, 11:41am

Post #5 of 27 (385 views)
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Sentient stone [In reply to] Can't Post

There are suggestions at times in Tolkien that mountains have a certain level of sentience. Perhaps it's an acknowledgement of that.


CuriousG
Valinor


Jan 17 2013, 12:53pm

Post #6 of 27 (345 views)
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Possible double meaning [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree that he's fussy about his word choice and rarely deviates from his surgical precision in how he uses them. When I read his descriptions about halls carved from living stone, I interpret it in two ways: 1) the carved-as-is sense that we already discussed, and 2) a more poetic meaning that these halls were full of life, or a living testimony to the king's greatness, or that even underground in apparently lifeless caverns there was the same life that abounded above (especially since pillars are carved like trees, etc.). Not sure if he intended all that, but he values nature so much, I suspect he did.


sador
Half-elven


Jan 17 2013, 1:18pm

Post #7 of 27 (376 views)
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One of Tolkien's most haunting sentences [In reply to] Can't Post

When Gandalf describes his return to life, lying atop Zirak-zigil:

Quote
Faint to my ears came the gathered rumor of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone.


- The White Rider.

It gives me the shivers.


Aragalen the Green
Gondor


Jan 17 2013, 3:20pm

Post #8 of 27 (459 views)
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The Land of Hollin [In reply to] Can't Post

When the Company travels through Hollin on their way to the pass of Caradhras, Gandalf comments:" 'There is a wholesome air about Hollin. Much evil must befall a country if it wholly forgets the Elves, if once they dwelt there.'

'That is true', said Legolas. 'But the Elves of this land were of a race strange to us of the silvan folk, and the trees and the grass do not now remember them. Only I hear the stones lament them: deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone. They are gone. They sought the Havens long ago.'". (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Ring Goes South).

I love the idea of the stones and rock being, if not entirely sentient, then aware of the passage of time and of the peoples that lived there and used them. Wonderful thread and discussion, thank you!

There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much.


Plurmo
Rohan

Jan 17 2013, 3:26pm

Post #9 of 27 (348 views)
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The trees of Aulë. The heart of the mountain.// [In reply to] Can't Post

 


squire
Valinor


Jan 17 2013, 7:53pm

Post #10 of 27 (312 views)
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I love that line, too [In reply to] Can't Post

It also reminds me of this one, from Merry's musings at the end of the Rohirrim's journey from Helm's Deep to Edoras by the mountain-paths:
It was a skyless world, in which his eye; through dim gulfs of shadowy air, saw only ever-mounting slopes, great walls of stone behind great walls, and frowning precipices wreathed with mist. He sat for a moment half dreaming, listening to the noise of water, the whisper of dark trees, the crack of stone, and the vast waiting silence that brooded behind all sound. He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. (LotR V.3)
It starts with visual images, but then as with Gandalf, Merry's impressions are conveyed through powerful descriptions of sounds. Admittedly the mountains are not given a voice here, as they are in the passage you quoted. But the image of the sheer weight of the earth is repeated, and I think that is not an idle coincidence but rather shows how important an idea this is to Tolkien.

Finally, the idea of "vast waiting silence" is equally moving in its own way: it's as if no "everlasting groaning" can be heard in these valleys by mortal man or hobbit... yet.



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 (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


CuriousG
Valinor


Jan 17 2013, 8:27pm

Post #11 of 27 (315 views)
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Caradhras in particular seems sentient. And possibly Mount Doom.// [In reply to] Can't Post

 


telain
Rohan

Jan 17 2013, 10:43pm

Post #12 of 27 (303 views)
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the Lonely Mountain as well [In reply to] Can't Post

from "A Warm Welcome" (The Hobbit)

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And far away, its dark head in a torn cloud, there loomed the Mountain! It's nearest neighbours to the North-East and the tumbled land that joined it to them could not be seen. All alone it rose and looked across the marshes to the forest. ...

[Bilbo] did not like the way the Mountain seemed to frown at him and threaten him as he drew ever nearer.


Even though most of the fear that is associated with Erebor can be attributed to Smaug, the way Tolkien writes the mountain smacks of sentience.


telain
Rohan

Jan 17 2013, 10:55pm

Post #13 of 27 (314 views)
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stone-giants? [In reply to] Can't Post

In " Over Hill and Under HIll" from The Hobbit Tolkien takes an extreme interpretation of "living stone", where stone-giants come out at night and hurl rocks at each other "for a game."

Regarding the comments about rocks and/or mountains have characteristics that we might see as "sentience", I like to think that Tolkien was doing his part to give natural things their own "voices", so to speak. It seems quite, er, "natural" to think that trees might move or talk, but that rocks or mountains "remember" -- that is a bit of stretch for some of us (but a lovely one at that.)

I would also agree with the interpretation from others in this thread that suggest living stone (i.e., "carved from living stone") is stone in situ. The unspoken part of this idea is that once one quarries stone, it is no longer alive -- that it has lost it's voice or essence. I wonder if that is especially true of stone that has been transported outside of its "natural habitat."


Al Carondas
The Shire

Jan 18 2013, 12:28am

Post #14 of 27 (309 views)
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Sweet! [In reply to] Can't Post

I love that quote from Legolas, Aragalen. Thanks also to everyone else. There does indeed seem to be a lot to that simple phrase. Great discussion.

"Good Morning!"


Entwife Wandlimb
Lorien


Jan 18 2013, 1:48am

Post #15 of 27 (269 views)
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"“the knees of Caradhras" and trees [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, the stone of Middle Earth seems to be a bit like the trees of Fangorn or the Old Forest, or maybe a little like Norse Hill Giants.

“Not even on the knees of Caradhras will we wait for another night-fall! ”

“And indeed with that last stroke the malice of the mountain seemed to be expended, as if Caradhras was satisfied that the invaders had been beaten off and would not dare to return.”
The Fellowship of the Ring

There's the sense that domesticated places like Rivendell and the Shire are natural for men and then the wilds are slightly hostile, whether it is a forest, a cave that's too deep, or a mountain.


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jan 18 2013, 4:07pm

Post #16 of 27 (267 views)
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That is reaching a bit... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
In " Over Hill and Under HIll" from The Hobbit Tolkien takes an extreme interpretation of "living stone", where stone-giants come out at night and hurl rocks at each other "for a game."



At no point does Prof. Tolkien indicate that the stone-giants are literally made of stone (living or otherwise). Their appellation, rather, seems to come from their habitat and/or their habit of making a game of catch with thrown rocks.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


telain
Rohan

Jan 18 2013, 4:51pm

Post #17 of 27 (261 views)
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...or reaching just far enough? [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, I did use a question mark to indicate that the idea of stone-giants as made of stone was certainly up for debate!

However, upon reflection, (and your response) I think I believe more strongly now that the stone-giants were made of stone. For that, I thank you Otaku-sempai, because it made look a bit further into why I think/feel so.

First of all, I will admit that it is too small a passage to say definitively one way or another:


Quote
...he saw that across the valley the stone-giants were out, and were hurling rocks at one another fora game, and catching them, and tossing them down into the darkness...


This point leads me to believe that the reader's interpretation might be allowed to be a bit more "free". When I read this (even well before seeing Jackson's visual interpretation) I most definitely envisioned them as being "of stone" in some way -- whether fully or partially made of rock.

Secondly, I did not think, nor do I now, that Tolkien calls them stone-giants simply because they liked to toss rocks about the mountain valleys. I think it is much more likely that he is encouraging a fantasy-minded, imaginative audience that the possibility of creatures made of stone exist in the hard-to-reach mountain environments. I especially think so since the passage I quoted above comes fast on the heals of the this passage:


Quote
More terrible still are thunder and lightning in the mountains at night, when storms comp up from the East and West and make war.


On the one hand, I would argue it is merely poetic language, on the other hand, my imagination sees a personification of the winds actually making war; Tolkien giving "voice" to yet another aspect of the natural world. In this thread we have already discussed the "living" characteristics of stone in Middle-earth, therefore I don't see stone-giants as being made of stone to be too far off the mark.

Thirdly, the fact that trolls can be turned into stone introduces to me the possibility of stone "stone-giants" even further. (Even more so the fact that stone-giants come out at night -- so is there some relationship between sunlight and stone and animation?)

Now, I ask a question: when/where does Tolkien talk about giants in other contexts? Nothing comes to my mind (a frequent occurrence unfortunately!) but perhaps that might shed some light on things...

Thanks again for making me consider this point further, Otaku-sempai!


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jan 18 2013, 5:11pm

Post #18 of 27 (267 views)
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To answer your question... [In reply to] Can't Post

After Bilbo rejoins the company, east of the Misty Mountains, Gandalf speaks of finding a more-or-less friendly giant to help block-up the goblin-tunnel in the pass.

In RotK, Tolkien writes of Samwise's cousin Hal spotting a giant "up away beyond the North Moors". He also calls it a Tree-man, later specifying that it "was as big as an elm tree" as opposed to being a walking tree such as an Ent or a Huorn.

Personally, I still don't think that Tolkien intended that the stone-giants were made of rock, but that is only my opinion and you are welcome to your own. I would guess that the trolls were originally made from stone, animated by corrupted spirits or Maiar.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


Aragalen the Green
Gondor


Jan 18 2013, 5:17pm

Post #19 of 27 (317 views)
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The Caverns of Helm's Deep [In reply to] Can't Post

'Caves! The Caverns of Helm's Deep! Happy was the chance that drove me there! It makes me weep to leave them.'
'But do not tell all your kindred...one family of busy Dwarves with hammer and chisel might mar more than they made.'
'No, you do not understand...no Dwarf could be unmoved by such loveliness...do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the springtime for firewood? We would tend these glades of living stone, not quarry them.'(The Two Towers, The Road to Isengard).

The conversation between Gimli and Legolas after the battle of Helm's Deep, to me, is a perfect description of the love of the Dwarves for the stone and earth they came from, as was given to them by Aule, their Creator. I also love the comparison Gimli makes between mining and gardening, tending both living stone and growing trees.

There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much.


telain
Rohan

Jan 20 2013, 1:37pm

Post #20 of 27 (226 views)
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Thank you!// [In reply to] Can't Post

 


telain
Rohan

Jan 20 2013, 1:40pm

Post #21 of 27 (276 views)
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brilliant reference! [In reply to] Can't Post

I may have to, er, "borrow" it for my chapter discussion "Of Aulë and Yavanna" (coming very, very soon!)


Aragalen the Green
Gondor


Jan 20 2013, 4:46pm

Post #22 of 27 (240 views)
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Please do! [In reply to] Can't Post

I love reading the Silmarillion chapter discussions, but usually don't have the time to read the chapters and join in the discussion. So yes, with my blessing Smile

Being a naturalist I have always enjoyed the references to plants, animals, and yes, stone. The two quotes I put into this thread are among my favorites. I look forward to reading your chapter discussion!

There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don't expect too much.


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jan 21 2013, 5:23am

Post #23 of 27 (268 views)
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Another viewpoint... [In reply to] Can't Post

Douglas A. Anderson, in The Annotated Hobbit, presents another possible explanation for the stone-giants. He suggests that they might be a type of extra-large troll or a variety of ogre and connected to the nearby Ettenmoors or Ettendales. He writes:


Quote

In his "Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings," Tolkien notes in the entry for Ettendales that it is "meant to be a Common Speech (not Elvish) name, though it contains an obsolete element eten 'troll, ogre'." Old English eoten, Middle English eten, is usually translated as "giant, monster."


'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


telain
Rohan

Jan 21 2013, 2:01pm

Post #24 of 27 (226 views)
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...which makes sense given what I was reading yesterday! [In reply to] Can't Post

As I was researching the Dwarves for the Silmarillion discussion, I ran across this passage:

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I am not sure about Trolls. I think they are 'counterfeits', and hence ... they return to mere stone images when not in the dark. But there are other sorts of Trolls beside these rather ridiculous, if brutal, Stone-trolls, for which other origins are suggested. (H. Carpenter. Letter 153: Tolkien to writing To Peter Hastings)


He was referring to the Trolls Bilbo and the Dwarves encounter in TH, but I am struck by two things: creatures that are "alive" at night, but turn to stone in daylight and his use of the term "Stone-trolls", which is morphologically the same as "stone-giants". Perhaps he is referring to giants that are essentially stone (part of the mountain) during the day, but "come out at night to play"?

whatever the case, it is interesting!


Atlas
Bree


Jan 26 2013, 4:38am

Post #25 of 27 (298 views)
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Gwenhwyfar has it right, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

This also puts me in mind of the Unfinished Tales story of the watchstones made by the Drúedain. There are hints that these statues, made in image of one of their race crouching upon a slain orc, could be communicative and were able to actively keep watch and not merely serve as ward and warning. If the story of The Faithful Stone can be taken at face value, then they were also capable of crafting statues that could do much more.

"I like the kind of literary criticism that tries very hard to understand what the author is saying. I despise the kind that cares only about how the reader responds to it. The first requires a great deal of hard scholarship, ultimately as much as had the writer. The second can be practiced by anyone with a navel into which to gaze."
~Reverend Brian Smith

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