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Tolkien Notes: Intro, Language, and flaws in The Hobbit
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Laerasëa
Tol Eressea


Feb 11 2013, 1:03am

Post #1 of 41 (693 views)
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Tolkien Notes: Intro, Language, and flaws in The Hobbit Can't Post

For those of you who missed it last week, I posted about taking a Tolkien seminar, and offered to share some notes each week from the class. I do want to make a couple of disclaimers before I begin:

1. I am, of course, not the expert here-- I am going to try and avoid giving basic objective information because I don't have sources other than my professor to cite, and while many of the facts/quotes I have here are from texts that we will be reading in the course, there are several we haven't read yet, and I don't want to post things that I haven't read (or read in a while) myself. So, instead, I am going to focus more on big ideas, themes in the course, and discussion topics. I haven't done something like this before, so bear with me until I figure out how to better organize this kind of thing! Smile (and feel free to give advice or ask questions or make requests about topics-- I'm cutting a lot of notes out in doing this, so the content of these posts is very much subjective, on my part)

2. I am not reliable. Anybody who even remotely knows me knows this. I plan on having this be kind of weekly, but stuff comes up sometimes, I'm incredibly busy with classes and grad school/job applications, and it may happen that I miss a week here or there, and that'll just be me being me. I will try and let you know if I'll be gone for a week.

Basic Intro, Language

So, to start, we have reading the works of Tolkien through the lens of four threads of his life that shaped his works:

1. Tolkien's own personal experience
2. His obsession with language
3. "Asterisk Worlds"
4. His theory of fantasy

By "asterisk worlds," what our professor described had to do with word origins being associated with world origins. In the dictionary, next to most words, there is a word with an asterisk next to it, which is the root or whichever word you're looking up-- she called that the "asterisk" word. Logically, there had to be a culture in which that asterisk word existed. For example, she took the word "lunatic"-- and pointed out that the origin of that word, luna is Latin for "moon." In our culture, there is no association between the moon and being crazy, but that must have been the case at some point, based on that word. She called that the "asterisk world"-- a hypothetical world, based on languages and "philology."

It's also what Tolkien calls the "secondary world," in On Fairy Stories.

I knew that language was important to Tolkien, but I hadn't looked at it in this way before. I guess if I want to make this a discussion, I would interject here with a question-- where in Tolkien's fiction work do you see worlds created by language? Do you have any thoughts on the role/usage of philology in TH, The Sil, or LOTR?


Flaws in The Hobbit

The first work we read in the course was The Hobbit, mainly because our professor saw it was Tolkien teaching himself how to create a mythology. She called TH a "deeply flawed" work, partly because it is practically negated at points by On Fairy Stories, but also because it doesn't end in the same way it begins. Some specific problems that we addressed:

1. Lapses in narration-- there are several things that don't seem to quite "fit" in Middle Earth that are mentioned in The Hobbit. One of the dwarves mentions, during the scene with the stone giants, that he doesn't want to be punted over the mountains "like a football." There is another mention of Bilbo carrying out an activity in with the same amount of ease that "you or I would go to the post-office."

2. The Rivendell elves are cute/silly, and absolutely not something that we come across at any other point in the Middle Earth mythos. Our professor described them as "Oscar Wilde characters." Elrond is depicted as more serious, but it doesn't even sound like he is actually an elf at all; the text describes him as an "elf-friend."

3. The Mirkwood elves-- they're more serious than the Rivendell elves, but the problem our professor pointed out is that they basically seem like humans. They're greedy, they play tricks, they get drunk, they hunt, etc-- In some ways, they seem just like the people of Lake Town.

4. Animals that talk (in Beorn's house)-- this is Disney, which Tolkien detested. Tolkien never has another talking animal like this again.

So, what do you think of these "lapses"? Do you prefer LOTR to TH because of this, or the other way around? Did you see these as lapses when you read them-- were they jarring to you? (On that note, did you read TH before or after reading LOTR?)
Personally, I always preferred the language of LOTR-- not because it was more serious, because it was more removed from this world, which is one of the reasons I've always loved fantasy.

Next week, I think I'm going to talk more about TH as it relates to Tolkien's theory of fantasy.

‎"When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world
external to our minds awakes."
--J. R. R. Tolkien


Mozart and Chocolate

(This post was edited by Laerasëa on Feb 11 2013, 1:07am)


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Feb 11 2013, 1:41am

Post #2 of 41 (384 views)
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Flaws in The Hobbit [In reply to] Can't Post

You're getting a good, deep study of Tolkien! But, gracious, I would not consider The Hobbit to be "deeply flawed"...Shocked

1. It does intersect with our reality in some places, but then, so does LotR, and these can be "explained" by assuming that both narrations are from the Red Book, and the "translator" has used current terms for descriptions we may not comprehend.

2. Tolkien did not realize when he was writing The Hobbit who Elrond would turn out to be. He is both Elf, and Elf-friend, being Halfelven, so Tolkien is actually correct! As to the silly elves - well, there are those of us who assume that Bilbo and the dwarves met up with a group of younger and more "immature" elves, and who knows what punishment was meted upon them by their elders for their disrespect of their guests! Wink The more mature elves were there, just not in the narration.

3. The Mirkwood elves are "dark elves", who do indeed bear some "mannish" characteristics.

4. No animals talk in Beorn's house! They do various chores, but Beorn speaks to them "in a queer language like animal noises turned into talk". They do not speak in human languages. The avian characters, on the other hand, the eagles and ravens, do speak, and indeed Gwaihir speaks to Gandalf in LotR. I contend that theirs is not "Disneyfied" speech, rather it is a matter of: the Eagles being, in the legendarium, messengers of Manwe; and the ravens having learned the speech of the dwarves, which some birds in our own world also have the ability to do; perhaps not as intelligently, but studies have shown amazing intelligence in certain bird species.

Well! It appears that I would be a challenging student for your professor! Will you be able to share our responses with her? Smile


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

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"






Elizabeth
Valinor


Feb 11 2013, 2:19am

Post #3 of 41 (360 views)
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The Hobbit was written for Tolkien's children. [In reply to] Can't Post

It was not a book by a person who took himself seriously as an author of fiction. The 10-yr-old son of an Stanley Unwin, a major publisher and friend of Tolkien, read it and liked it so much his father wanted to publish it. To make it more salable, Tolkien was asked to "finish" it, which he did. However, the last (added) bits have a much darker and more adult tone than the original parts.

As dernwyn points out, Beorn's animals do not actually talk, although they are designed to appeal to young kids. And, although Tolkien had privately written a lot about the Elves of Middle Earth at that time, The Hobbit wasn't really intended to fit seamlessly into that universe, and doesn't.

Tolkien's "obsession" with words was actually his profession: he was a philologist, which is a discipline concerned with the history of language, including derivations of words from other "ancestor" languages. He was particularly interested in the Nordic languages and their impact on early English. Here's an interesting article (the author posts here often as visualweasel) on Tolkien's ideosyncratic word for more than one dwarf.

You may be interested in John Rateliff's History of The Hobbit.








Laerasëa
Tol Eressea


Feb 11 2013, 3:15am

Post #4 of 41 (347 views)
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I don't think I explained it properly [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't use the word "obsession" with a negative connotation; I suppose it comes across as inherently negative, but that, then, is a mistake on my part. I do understand Tolkien's background with languages, as his profession as a professor and philologist. My professor used the word "obsession"-- I can't speak for her, but I think what she meant by that is that he made it both his salary-earning job as well as his personal hobby. As you pointed out, he wrote TH as a book for his son, while bringing in Norse philological elements like "Gandalf" and "Beorn." Writing literature wasn't something that he saw as a legitimate paying profession, but it is something that he loved to do, outside of his job. I think what my professor meant was along the lines of, "this is what he is very much concerned with while writing these books/essays we're reading, so be sure to keep that in mind. This is where he is coming from."

(and btw, my professor's husband is also a college professor and a medieval/Old English linguist, so she clearly doesn't see an obsession with language as a bad thing, either)

As far as the children's book aspect of TH goes, I think he did, in part, want to include it in the same universe as LOTR; otherwise, he wouldn't have changed Riddles in the Dark. I agree that it doesn't fit seamlessly, and maybe it wasn't meant to, but I also think that there is certainly a tension there that isn't ideal. Even if The Hobbit is a children's book, one of the reasons he disliked Disney so much is that it made traditional fairy stories "silly"-- even though Disney movies *are* for children-- which seems to be exactly what TH does. Yes, it's a children's book, but I think it's significant that the part that Tolkien writes later to actually be published is darker, because it's what he wrote after becoming more aware of the kind of story he was creating for the public.

Btw, thank you for the article and the book recommendation!! I enjoyed the article, and I'm adding that book to my reading list!

‎"When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world
external to our minds awakes."
--J. R. R. Tolkien


Mozart and Chocolate

(This post was edited by Laerasëa on Feb 11 2013, 3:17am)


Al Carondas
The Shire

Feb 11 2013, 3:21am

Post #5 of 41 (339 views)
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Long live The Hobbit [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, I do agree that there are a few anachronisms in TH. Gandalf, for instance, chides Bilbo for having opened the door "like a pop-gun". And I always wondered if Bilbo's clock was out of place in the Shire. So there are some seemingly out of place story elements. But as for such elements in the narration, I'm not sure it would be fair to call these flaws, as the narration ostensibly comes from a modern speaker. (witness, for example, that the narrator tells us that "hobbits need some description, nowadays") Also, I'm not sure that the LotR is completely free from similar "flaws", although my impression is that the narration there has a more consistently antiqued tone.

I also don't think that the character of the Elves is a defect in TH. No doubt they are treated with more gravity in LotR, in general, but Tolkien does show us a more serious side to elves through Elrond in TH. And they are not without some frivolity in LotR - recall Legolas, for example, flitting about on the snow and teasing Aragorn and Boromir as they labor to clear a path (there are other examples also). Elves are a strange bunch. They are immortal, powerful, full of hope, and let's face it: it's nice to have an option to sail to Valinor when the mood takes you. So why shouldn't they be merry? Theirs is a different world-view than that of Men or Hobbits or Dwarves. I think it is a credit to Tolkien that he differentiates them from ourselves in both works.

And as for the speech between animals and people, it is present in both books to some degree, although moreso in TH. Gandalf speaks to Shadowfax and Gwaihir in LotR. I think the mechanism by which this happens is not that important. I think it generally serves to give each story an ancient feel, recalling an art lost to the ages.

Of course, I did read TH first. I think that could make a big difference in a reader's perception. But if LotR is a grander and much more complex tale, does that make it better? It may be that TH doesn't quite touch the ground in the same way that the sequel does, but is this necessarily a bad thing? I often find myself thinking that Tolkien's true masterpiece - the book he was truly born to write - is the flightier, and simply enchanting adventure of The Hobbit.

"Good Morning!"


Laerasëa
Tol Eressea


Feb 11 2013, 3:28am

Post #6 of 41 (360 views)
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Oh dear... [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm going to have to grow a thicker skin before posting again next week.

As far as the Elrond thing goes, I think she meant that the fact that his identity is a little more ambiguous in TH is accented even more by the fact that he seems to be the most serious character in Rivendell. Similarly, the talking animals who are also setting the table and doing chores around the house do seem to be a bit cartoon-ish, even if they aren't speaking in any human language. (I see the Eagles as being slightly different, simply because they aren't actually "animals") Whether or not it's a "good" thing, or a "successful" thing depends on how you're reading it, and how much you think Tolkien changed his own views between writing TH and writing LOTR (and how much he meant TH to coexist with LOTR).

We talked about the origin of "Mirkwood" a bit, but more in terms of the actual location than the Elves themselves ("dark wood").


I think she meant "flawed" in that it didn't really fit in with his theory of fantasy, as he wrote it later on. After all, it was his first published fantasy book, written before he wrote on his theories of fantasy, and something he may still have been getting used to at this point. While he had bits and pieces of the Sil in mind, he hadn't really drawn the connection between that and TH. But, of course, it's all a matter of perspective.


We're talking about Beowulf right now, but these issues will come up again when we read LOTR in the future, and I can bring your comments up then! We also have an essay due next week (topic of our choice), so I'm also sneakily coming through these comments for ideas. Laugh

‎"When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world
external to our minds awakes."
--J. R. R. Tolkien


Mozart and Chocolate

(This post was edited by Laerasëa on Feb 11 2013, 3:32am)


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Feb 11 2013, 4:02am

Post #7 of 41 (345 views)
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Further to dernwyn's comments [In reply to] Can't Post

On the differences between Hobbit Middle-earth and LOTR Middle-earth -

It pays to keep in mind that separate histories of the same people and places often vary in detail and tone depending on the purpose for telling the story.

Seems like an interesting class. Hopefully the prof is open to original ideas, properly substantiated of course. You'll do great, I'm sure. Smile


(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Feb 11 2013, 4:08am)


Elizabeth
Valinor


Feb 11 2013, 4:04am

Post #8 of 41 (332 views)
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It *had* to be the same universe as LotR [In reply to] Can't Post

...because the assignment was to write a sequel. The problem is, over the time it took to write that universe evolved significantly. There was some question as to how much of a retrofit TH should get... it turned out to be relatively minor.

What I was referring to was the Middle Earth of his history of the Elves in Beleriand, that was eventually published by Christopher as The Silmarillion. LotR grew closer and closer to that universe, and after it was done Tolkien tried to retrofit Beleriand's history, but that was never completed to his satisfaction.








Al Carondas
The Shire

Feb 11 2013, 4:06am

Post #9 of 41 (340 views)
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Hmm? [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, of course, Tolkien never really wanted TH to coexist with LotR, per se. He wrote the first book without thought to a sequel (and later resisted his publisher's plea to begin a sequel). And the tone of the two books is quite different. But I wonder why it is that readers find it easier to accept a talking tree in LotR than a walking dog in TH, for instance. Or why does a rope that unties itself not seem overly fanciful to readers of LotR? I don't really know.

"Good Morning!"


Magpie
Immortal


Feb 11 2013, 5:10am

Post #10 of 41 (346 views)
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in regards to replies in this thread... [In reply to] Can't Post

I guess I'm unsure what we were hoping Laerasea would do when we encouraged her to share the notes from her class?

Are we asking her to defend her professor? Why would she? She has a class load to attend to and she has work for this class so we shouldn't be making her do more work.

And I surely hope that no one reading this things that these are Laerasea's beliefs. That would be a misunderstanding about what she offered to do.

I think, if we want her to share, perhaps we can just let the points or questions posed prompt us to think about the subject matter... in the same way the professor is hoping the students will.

But I don't think it expands our thinking any - nor does it put Laerasea in a good position - if we take this as an some kind of assault on Tolkien so that we rally to his defense.

To be honest, I'm not sure I can attend properly to the points made because I can't really make myself read The Hobbit. I've tried and failed at least 4 different times. And I think some of the reasons I can't seem to bond with the story are covered in the points the professor is making. And, for me.. for my personal experience... I can't help but think that 'flaws' are perhaps a good way to describe them. The writing... the story... for me, seems flawed.

That said, perhaps we can brainstorm - for those of us who called up Laerasea to take time from her life to share her class notes - what we'd like her to post and how we'd like to discuss it in a way that seems enlightening and/or pleasurable for us and worth her time.


LOTR soundtrack website ~ magpie avatar gallery
TORn History Mathom-house ~ Torn Image Posting Guide


silneldor
Half-elven


Feb 11 2013, 5:38am

Post #11 of 41 (325 views)
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I believe also, if i am not mistaken, [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien felt, with hindsight, that TH had the flaw of being written 'down' to accommodate children. He regretted that he did not come to challenge the young set more and write it with more of an adult centered theme and language.

I feel it is hard to categorize flaws due to the fact that what he wrote back then did not fit into any other category and was written in a completely different style. What was so special, or unique in the end, he opened up a whole different element to writing, that of faerie or fantasy. And as was said already, he was asked to change course mid-stream.

Perhaps flaws could be entertained if he intended to stay within the confines of classic writing styles. In another frame of comparison, if the mode of the day was just centered on quality of apple-ness, how would one judge a new element of orange-ness, in term of apple-ness. But that was what happened with the bulk of the critics of the day. They could not think in terms of outside of the apple box, partially when they thought orange-ness was just not worthy of consideration.















demnation
Rohan


Feb 11 2013, 6:46am

Post #12 of 41 (312 views)
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I feel safe in saying [In reply to] Can't Post

that Tolkien himself would probably agree that TH was deeply flawed. In fact, after reading his letters, I came to the conclusion that he really didn't care for it all that much. I find it to be a charming little book, though not as good as LOTR or The Sil or even some of his short stories.

Use Well the Days


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Feb 11 2013, 1:43pm

Post #13 of 41 (310 views)
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No, no, not you! [In reply to] Can't Post

I hope you understand that it's your professor we're responding to, not you - that's why I referred to myself as a "challenging student"! Laugh

Magpie has a point: we should make it clear that we're taking your notes from the class and discussing those, as if we were a study group meeting after class. (And I think many of us wish we were with you, so we could bring up our points during the class!)

In the meantime, I like Al's comment: why would dogs which set tables in The Hobbit be a flaw, and yet a walking tree (huorn) or rope which unknots itself not be considered as such in LotR? Or - perhaps your professor does consider that they are!

Yes, I think we'd all love to be in your class with you! Laugh

In the meantime, I'm hoping that someone here with a better knowledge of On Fairy-stories can come by, and use it to support your professor's positions.

And I'll add to the mix a quote which refutes me, from Letter #131 to Milton Waldman - that very long letter which was written sometime in 1951: "The generally different tone and style of The Hobbit is due, in point of genesis, to it being taken by me as a matter from the great cycle susceptible of treatment as a 'fairy-story', for children. Some of the details of tone and treatment are, I now think, even on that basis, mistaken. But I should not wish to change much."


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

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"






sador
Half-elven


Feb 11 2013, 2:50pm

Post #14 of 41 (320 views)
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A few comments [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm cutting a lot of notes out in doing this, so the content of these posts is very much subjective, on my part
Of course! That's the only way to do it - and thank you for making the effort!

Logically, there had to be a culture in which that asterisk word existed.
Have you ever read either of Shippey's books? He really loves this kind of speculation.

In our culture, there is no association between the moon and being crazy, but that must have been the case at some point, based on that word.
???
In less than three weeks, it will be fourty years since Pink Floyd's classic was released. There might not have been one when I was boirn, but there sure is now!

where in Tolkien's fiction work do you see worlds created by language?
Well, Tolkien claimed he wrote his stories for his languages. Perhaps this statement needs to be qualified, but it is.
And of course, "In the beginning there was the Word".

Do you have any thoughts on the role/usage of philology in TH, The Sil, or LOTR?
Not at the moment.

1. Lapses in narration-- there are several things that don't seem to quite "fit" in Middle Earth that are mentioned in The Hobbit.
Yes. Did your professor present them as authorial lapses, or does she think Tolkien made them on purpose?

One of the dwarves mentions, during the scene with the stone giants, that he doesn't want to be punted over the mountains "like a football." There is another mention of Bilbo carrying out an activity in with the same amount of ease that "you or I would go to the post-office."
Neither of these is critical: one might suppose that many cultures have some kind of football-game (after all, Tolkien meant what Americans call "soccer"); and the second one is an authorial interjection. But yes, anachronisms abound, many of which cannot be explained away like these two.

2. Our professor described them as "Oscar Wilde characters."

Ha!

Elrond is depicted as more serious, but it doesn't even sound like he is actually an elf at all; the text describes him as an "elf-friend."
Of mixed ancestry; but you're right.

3. The Mirkwood elves-- they're more serious than the Rivendell elves, but the problem our professor pointed out is that they basically seem like humans.

And not like the best of that spieces.

They're greedy, they play tricks, they get drunk, they hunt, etc-- In some ways, they seem just like the people of Lake Town.
Yes; but they improve later.

4. Animals that talk (in Beorn's house)-- this is Disney, which Tolkien detested. Tolkien never has another talking animal like this again.

I disagree. We never hear the animals speak - as we do Huan in the Sil; and even the fox in LotR thinks very humanly! To say nothing of Garm in Farmer Giles...
But it is true that the concept of "serving animals" does not appear again.

Do you prefer LOTR to TH because of this, or the other way around?

I like both books; in general I prefer LotR - but I don't consider this the dominant reason.

Did you see these as lapses when you read them-- were they jarring to you?
Yes. No.

On that note, did you read TH before or after reading LOTR?
Began before, discarded it, finally did after.

Personally, I always preferred the language of LOTR-- not because it was more serious, because it was more removed from this world, which is one of the reasons I've always loved fantasy.
Well, but I'm not a fantasy fan.


Thank you, Laera!


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Feb 11 2013, 4:51pm

Post #15 of 41 (297 views)
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And there is more... [In reply to] Can't Post

1. The football reference doesn't bother me any more than the one made earlier in the book to golf. Indeed, it is not hard at all to imagine Middle-earth children playing a game very much like soccer. The narrator is also presumed to be a modern translator of the Red Book; there is nothing inherently faulty about his including modern references in his narrative asides.

2. I can partially write-off the more casual and playful attitudes displayed by the Rivendell Elves as being reflective of a more peaceful period in Middle-earth's history when they are more friendly and relaxed. But, yes, it is a marked difference.

3. I don't have any particular problem with the portrayal of the Mirkwood Elves. They are primarily Avari and lack the learning and wisdom of those who answered the call of the Valar.

4. As others have remarked, Beorn's animal-friends do not speak as Men do. They do act in a disturbingly anthropomorphic fashion--mostly when they set the board for dinner. Now that could have almost come straight out of Disney's Snow White! The only animals (I'm not counting Smaug or the trolls) that speak the common tongue (Westron) are the Great Eagles, the ravens of Erebor and the giant spiders of Mirkwood. Of those, I only find the spiders to be Disneyfied to any great extent.

Other flaws occur where Tolkien had not fully developed elements of Middle-earth yet.

5. There are dates that don't match up with with the hobbits' Shire Reckoning: "And Thrain your father went away on the twenty-first of April, a hundred years ago last Thursday." Likewise, the author is very specific that the Unexpected Party takes place on Wednesday, April 27 with the company setting off from the Green Dragon Inn at 11 a.m. on the following day, April 28. According to the Shire Calendar, these dates should fall on Thursday and Friday respectively.

6. Later in The Hobbit, Tokien forgets that the pary set out from Bag End at the end of April and refers to them starting out in May instead.

7. The geography of the Wilderland doesn't always match up between TH and LotR, especially between the bridge crossing the River Hoarwell and where the trolls are camped. The trolls seem to be fairly near the bridge; however, when Aragorn guides Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin from there, it takes them almost six days to reach the petrified trolls.

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


IdrilofGondolin
Rohan

Feb 11 2013, 7:50pm

Post #16 of 41 (272 views)
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This Great Fun [In reply to] Can't Post

so I hope you can keep up with the notes. I am excited to be part of your study group for this class. A couple of things:
1. Asterisk Words -- Is this a term of art or did your professor invent it? Of course all words come from some culture. Our word lunatic comes from a time when people did indeed think the moon made you crazy. These worlds are not hypothetical as your professor seems to imply. Ask any police office about what it's like patrolling during a full moon.

2. Is the class reading secondary sources? Tom Shippey's books, as some have pointed out, are a wealth of information on Tolkien's interest in creating a secondary world for his languages.

3. As a college professor myself I am curious -- can you tell by how the material is presented whether your professor has a positive or negative attitude toward Tolkien's works?

4. I am not sure I agree with your professor's assessment that TH was Tolkien trying to work out how to write a mythology. He'd been working on Middle Earth for a long time before TH was written. You all here on the board -- what do you think?


Menelwyn
Rohan


Feb 11 2013, 9:27pm

Post #17 of 41 (273 views)
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Excited to follow your class! [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm really excited to hear what is going on in your class. I know a lot of us here would love to be taking this class with you!

Before replying to the specific content, I want to reiterate Magpie's points--what Laerasea is posting is her NOTES from a class, and should be understood as expressing her professor's presentations in the class, and not Laerasea's own views. So let's not try to force Laerasea to defend her professor, let's use this as a springboard for our own discussions about some of these points. I want to hear everything about the course--let's not discourage Laerasea from posting!

We have often found ourselves trying to defend Tolkien's works to academics who don't see Tolkien's books as "real" literature, but here we have a college professor who is taking them seriously as literature because she enjoys and values them. So it's definitely worth our time to consider what a sympathetic academic has to say about them.

As for the "flaws" in TH, I'm rather inclined to agree with much of what Laerasea's professor had to say here. What's more, I've seen a lot of these same thoughts expressed here, whether in this context or in others. What strikes me in the "flaws" is that some of this seems to be coming from Tolkien's own perspective, as expressed elsewhere, either in On Fairy Stories or in his Letters.

So, the use of modern expressions like "post-office" or "football"--we've also talked about the infamous train reference in LOTR, not to mention Lobelia's umbrella (however much some of us love the latter!). To me, these DO take me a bit out of the world of Middle-earth and back to the real world. I have the same issue with similar things in the LOTR movies. Neither is a serious issue to me, although I notice it. But the point is that Tolkien himself elsewhere expresses opposition to something like this. Without actually tracking it down, I do remember a place in the Letters where he talks about the style of language he uses, for example, with the Rohirrim, and gives a rather humorous version of one of Theoden's speeches to Gandalf in more modern language. It obviously doesn't work! Tolkien is right about this! If it applies to the Rohirrim, it applies elsewhere as well. The fact that TH is more for children is not an excuse; surely a writer who saw himself as a poet could find a metaphor that was more appropriate to the context. I wouldn't consider this a HUGE flaw, in either LOTR or TH, but it's worth noting.

I love the description of the Rivendell Elves as being out of Oscar Wilde! That is perhaps the best way to describe them that I've ever read! And I have to say, the Rivendell Elves in TH do irritate me a bit. (And for the record, of course Tolkien didn't know where he was going yet with Elrond, and Laerasea and her professor know that--and that's exactly the point! If Elrond comes off as different from the Elves here, well, he's not one! So we can't use him as a counter-example to the silliness of the Rivendell Elves.) Tolkien could have gone with silly Elves, it's his story, and he can make Elves be however he wants them. But in On Fairy Stories he goes to a lot of trouble to say that the popular conception of Elves and fairies as these small, insignificant beings is NOT what he agrees with. Yet in portraying the Rivendell Elves as he does in TH tends to make me think of them more in the "popular" perspective. I can't take them seriously. And Tolkien DOES want us to take his Elves seriously.

And on the animals--let's not focus on the talking, as such, but on whether the animals do seem too anthropomorphized. Tolkien understands the desire for talking animals--in On Fairy Stories he puts it in the category of intelligent, communicating beings wanting to communicate with lesser beings (as both the Valar and the Elves do in their own turns in The Sil!). He just doesn't want the animals to seem silly, he wants us to take them seriously. If the animals seem silly, Disnified, then we have a flaw, from Tolkien's own point of view.

One other note--let's not forget Tolkien's criticisms of the Narnia books. Those were obviously intended for children, and if Tolkien can complain about issues like silly animals or intrusions of real-world elements in an inconsistent way, then we are justified in complaining about similar things in Tolkien's own children's book.

For the record, I read LOTR first, and it took me many years to make it through TH, although I absolutely loved LOTR. And some of these sorts of reasons where why I had so much trouble with TH for a long time.

Thanks for posting, Laerasea! I hope you'll have the time to share more of your notes as you go through the semester!


silneldor
Half-elven


Feb 12 2013, 3:18am

Post #18 of 41 (264 views)
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Laerasea my dear, [In reply to] Can't Post

I just wanted to stop in for a moment, and there is not need to respond back, to tell you i support you in any way i can. I believe you know that already.

I feel poorly that this posting started a bit bumpy for you. For my part i was just trying to bring to light, or support the truth as i see it, as best that i am able. It was not for or against anyone at all.

I think we all are trying to get into the right mode here. I love Magpie for jumping in to call a time out, although i still do not quite have a handle on everything.

My best wishes:),
john/sil















Laerasëa
Tol Eressea


Feb 13 2013, 3:24am

Post #19 of 41 (216 views)
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Thank you! [In reply to] Can't Post

1. This is a term my professor is using, I believe-- I haven't heard it outside her class, and I've even tried to look it up. I believe she is referring, in part, to Tolkien's "secondary creation" idea, but in using the "asterisk" term, she is implying that the world is derived from some "primary" creation. As far as the lunatic thing goes, most English majors at our school have taken basic linguistics, so we do know the origin of the term-- the point is, instead, what about those words that we *can't* explain? If we had no clue about the Latin origins of the word or Roman history-- no background on witch culture in ancient Rome-- but we knew that "luna" used to mean "moon" at one point, then what kind of world might have existed, where witches were associated with the moon? Perhaps a better example would be words from the Indo-European language, which are mainly hypothetical.

2. The only sources we are reading that aren't written by Tolkien himself are Beowulf and the Poetic Eddas, which he drew extensively from. Most of the biographical info that we're getting in the course is coming from our professor, which I'm not including in these threads because I would rather have them be discussion-based, instead of just facts that I'm sure most people on these boards already know (or could easily look up).

3. She loves Tolkien, no question. That doesn't mean she isn't a discerning reader and critic-- I think she would say that her love of an author shouldn't keep a course from being academic and relatively objective, but she has said that Tolkien is what got her to ever study English in the first place, and she explicitly referred to LOTR as her "Bible."

4. I can't speak for her, but in my opinion, there is a difference between Tolkien's own creation of Middle Earth-- the pieces of the Sil he worked on his whole life, the languages, etc-- and his theory on fantasy, and I think it's safe to say that it was a while before the world of Arda that he was working on was fully realized. Up until then, it was really only a personal hobby, but not something he saw as being really academic, or serious literary theory. His theory is something that he eventually applied to his works, when he realized the connection between the two. And I do think it *was* a realization that took place-- at least in part-- after he had completed TH.

‎"When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world
external to our minds awakes."
--J. R. R. Tolkien


Mozart and Chocolate


Laerasëa
Tol Eressea


Feb 13 2013, 3:32am

Post #20 of 41 (209 views)
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Wow! [In reply to] Can't Post

I had no idea about the dates-- thank you for pointing that out!

And yes, I agree about the animals-- after reading these responses, I realize that I phrased my original post poorly. It's not the talking of the animals, but the sort of silliness of the animals that gets to me. (and no, by talking, I don't mean human speech, but their sort of anthropomorphic, Aesop-esque nature) The Eagles, of course, talk, but they do not resemble the animals at Beorn's in any way.

Thank you for your response! Smile

‎"When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world
external to our minds awakes."
--J. R. R. Tolkien


Mozart and Chocolate


Laerasëa
Tol Eressea


Feb 13 2013, 3:53am

Post #21 of 41 (212 views)
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I love Tom Shippey! [In reply to] Can't Post

I read The Road to Middle-Earth a while back, and loved it, but I've definitely been wanting to read more for a while! :)

I think my professor meant that while they weren't authorial lapses-- Tolkien intended to write them at the time he wrote TH, so they're not *mistakes,* in that sense-- they were lapses in what Tolkien later wrote in On Fairy-Stories should be a closed world. Here is a bit from On Fairy-Stories that I remember reading on the subject:


Quote
I propose, therefore, to arrogate to myself the powers of Humpty-Dumpty, and to use Fantasy for this purpose: in a sense, that is, which combines with its older and higher use as an equivalent of Imagination the derived notions of “unreality” (that is, of unlikeness to the Primary World), of freedom from the domination of observed “fact,” in short of the fantastic. I am thus not only aware but glad of the etymological and semantic connections of fantasy with fantastic: with images of things that are not only “not actually present,” but which are indeed not to be found in our primary world at all, or are generally believed not to be found there.


This isn't explicitly stating that football should not be in the secondary world, but that the "fantasy" of a secondary world comes from it's "unlikeness to the Primary World." I agree with you that it's not really a major point of criticism for me either, but that's, I believe, what's meant by lapses.

(and btw, my dad is 100% Scottish, only receiving his American citizenship a few years ago, so believe me when I say that I am so well-aware of the "real" meaning of "football" that I could tell you who's won the World Cup or the EuroCup in any given year for the past ten years) Tongue Smile

‎"When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world
external to our minds awakes."
--J. R. R. Tolkien


Mozart and Chocolate


Laerasëa
Tol Eressea


Feb 13 2013, 4:03am

Post #22 of 41 (205 views)
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She is absolutely open to new ideas [In reply to] Can't Post

One reason I'm majoring in the humanities (English/religion) is that I can write papers on any topic I want-- I can disagree with any professor-- as long as I back my essay with thorough arguments sources. Conversely, I can't get away with writing an essay which is easier because I just agreed with the professor. I *love* having that kind of freedom, especially in my favorite subjects. Smile

‎"When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world
external to our minds awakes."
--J. R. R. Tolkien


Mozart and Chocolate


Laerasëa
Tol Eressea


Feb 13 2013, 4:05am

Post #23 of 41 (206 views)
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I was actually under that impression, as well [In reply to] Can't Post

I'd have to reread his letters, and it was only an impression, but, like you, I see his greatness as being in the world he created, which isn't so much in TH. That being said, I do love TH for it's own charm, as you put it. Smile

Thank you for contributing!

‎"When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world
external to our minds awakes."
--J. R. R. Tolkien


Mozart and Chocolate


Laerasëa
Tol Eressea


Feb 13 2013, 4:24am

Post #24 of 41 (209 views)
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I think [In reply to] Can't Post

The difference in the two (Ents/rope and animals) is in their nature, which is subjective. But, I think most people would agree that the Ents, the Eagles, the rope, and so on, all comes from something much more....dignified? Older? More serious? These are only my words. But there is something less cartoonish in rope that acts as a kind of Platonic ideal rope because it's crafted by beings that are thousands of years old than in dogs that set the table. But, as I said, that is subjective.

I would also like to say this: my professor began her lecture on The Hobbit by saying that it was "deeply flawed." But I have also had the benefit of having class with her four hours a week in which we talk about nothing but Tolkien, because she loves Tolkien, so I know that this doesn't mean that she dislikes him. As Menelwyn put it, I do want to make it clear that she is a serious academic who does absolutely appreciate and love Tolkien, and is not teaching a course in which she criticizes him all day. However, I can say that my favorite musical composer of all time is Antonin Dvorak, and I can also say that the man had no clue how to write for piano, particularly when he first started composing-- he became better with practice and lessons from Brahms. Maybe I shouldn't have used that quote ("deeply flawed") in a post that took a half hour to write when it's supposed to represent over ten hours of class time, because that's not representative of everything we're learning, and yet it seems to be the phrase that almost every response in this thread focused on. I don't think my professor thinks TH should have been written differently, but instead, that it was simply a work in progress on the road to the world of LOTR and The Sil. It's "deeply flawed" because it represents an idea that was- at that point- not yet fully formed, despite the fact that the book functions just fine on its own. In that sense, of course it's going to be flawed, but that doesn't make it *bad.*

‎"When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world
external to our minds awakes."
--J. R. R. Tolkien


Mozart and Chocolate


Laerasëa
Tol Eressea


Feb 13 2013, 4:35am

Post #25 of 41 (210 views)
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Nope [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
But if LotR is a grander and much more complex tale, does that make it better?


Not necessarily! But I think 'better' and 'worse' are dangerous terms to use when discussing something as subjective as literature-- particularly two works of the same author (it's not like we're comparing Shakespeare and Stephanie Meyer). Here's how I think of it: the value of TH comes in its originality, but the value of LOTR comes from its literary architecture. Tolkien desired dragons, so he wrote Smaug, who wasn't just a Beowulf mindless demon, but a cunning and clever mind-bending monster. But, LOTR does represent a more fully-formed and thought-out idea. Does that make it "better"? It depends on what you're looking for. On days where I want to read about a hobbit going on an adventure, then yes, it's better for me at that time. But the value of LOTR is in its being a result of a deliberately constructed "subcreation," as Tolkien put it, which was just as original. Since Tolkien put more time into it, I put more time into it (not to mention, it's a heck of a lot longer-- more to analyze and think about!). I think it is certainly safe to say that LOTR is the result of more thought, planning, construction, and linguistic and literary theory than TH. Whether that makes it better, or worse, that is not for me to say.

‎"When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world
external to our minds awakes."
--J. R. R. Tolkien


Mozart and Chocolate

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