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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Tolkien's redshirts?
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noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Nov 13 2013, 7:21pm

Post #1 of 27 (569 views)
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Tolkien's redshirts? Can't Post

Originating from another discussion here, but sufficiently a tangent that it ought to have its own thread. Do we think there are any redshirt characters in Tolkien?

"Redshirt", a definition:

Quote
A "redshirt" is a stock character in fiction who dies soon after being introduced. The term originates with fans of the Star Trek television series (1966–69), from the red shirts worn by Starfleet security personnel who frequently die during episodes.[1] Redshirt deaths are often used to dramatize the potential peril that the main characters face.
Wikipedia http://en.m.wikipedia.org/...Redshirt_(character)


Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


Darkstone
Immortal


Nov 13 2013, 8:15pm

Post #2 of 27 (373 views)
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Forlong, Hirluin, Duilin, Derufin, and perhaps Grimbold? [In reply to] Can't Post

"Good old" Forlong the Fat, Lord of Lossarnach, Hirluin the Fair of Pinnath Gelin, and brothers Duilin and Derufin of Morthond were introduced in the first chapter of ROTK, “Minas Tirith”, then not mentioned again until they’re killed in the Battle of the Pelennor. Grimbold was mentioned once in TTT’s “The Road to Isengard” (Some men I sent with Grimbold of Westfold to join Erkenbrand.) and he gets a few mentions during the Pelennor, but is dead by the end. Harding, Guthláf, Dúnhere, Déorwine, Herefara, Herubrand, Horn, and Fastred are just mentioned once. Of course we’re not introduced to those guys until after they’re already dead, so the Red Shirt term may not exactly apply to them, but since they're mentioned being dead it does serve to show how serious the situation was.

******************************************
“Indeed if fish had fish-lore and Wise-fish it is probable that the business of anglers would be very little hindered.”
-JRR Tolkien


(This post was edited by Darkstone on Nov 13 2013, 8:19pm)


squire
Valinor


Nov 13 2013, 8:22pm

Post #3 of 27 (392 views)
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That doesn't seem like Tolkien's style ("My God, they killed Merry!") [In reply to] Can't Post

As critics have noted, he is reluctant to kill off anybody at all. I think it's because he's more interested in moral danger than mortal danger.

I'd never heard the term before, but it certainly rings true, within a limited orbit of criticism. The article you cited says without attribution that "Redshirt deaths are often used to dramatize the potential peril that the main characters face" and it says the term applies to "stock character(s) in fiction." But the examples it gives are all from very modern screenplays and many are self-referential - that is, they are cited to show that the term has meaning, not that the practice of killing off an unimportant character early in the plot is a stock device in any fictional context other than those cited.

Tolkien aside, I wonder if the term really applies to literary fiction, as opposed to short-format dramatizations like TV and film?



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


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noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Nov 13 2013, 9:18pm

Post #4 of 27 (339 views)
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Interesting thought- I wonder who the earliest literary redshirt would be? // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


Darkstone
Immortal


Nov 13 2013, 9:36pm

Post #5 of 27 (353 views)
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Odysseus' crew? [In reply to] Can't Post

Ineffectual and zero survival rate.

******************************************
“Indeed if fish had fish-lore and Wise-fish it is probable that the business of anglers would be very little hindered.”
-JRR Tolkien


Lissuin
Tol Eressea


Nov 13 2013, 11:53pm

Post #6 of 27 (325 views)
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Beowulf. Not the earliest, but an early literary reference. [In reply to] Can't Post

Beowulf and his warriors deliberately go into and bed down in the hall of Hrothgar to wait for the dreaded Grendel to make a nighttime appearance, and he comes.
From John R. Clark Hall's 1911 translation cited in "The Tolkien Fan's Medieval Reader", p 26:


Quote
Then the brave-in-battle (Beowulf) laid him down, the pillow received the impress of the noble's face, and around him many a keen sea-warrior sank upon his chamber-couch. Not one of them supposed that thence he would ever revisit his sweet home...

So this creature (Grendel), deprived of joys, came journeying to the hall. The door, fastened by forged bands, opened straightway, when he touched it with his hands. Thus, bent on destruction, for he was swollen with rage, he tore away the entrance of the building.

Quickly, after that, the fiend stepped on to the fair-paved floor, - advanced in angry mood; out of his eyes there started a weird light, most like a flame. He saw many men in the hall, a troop of kinsmen, a band of warriors, sleeping all together. Then his spirit exulted; he, the cruel monster, resolved that he would sever the soul of every one of them from his body before day came; for the hope of feasting full had come to him......The monster was not minded to put it off, but quickly seized a sleeping warrior as a first start, rent him undisturbed, bit his sinews, drank the blood from his veins, swallowed bite after bite, and soon he had eaten up all the dead man, (even) his feet and hands.

Forward and nearer he advanced, and then seized with his hands the doughty warrior (Beowulf) on his bed - the fiend reached out towards him with his claw.


And then after Grendel's wounding, there is his vengeful mother, who returns to Hrothgar's hall:
pp 34-35

Quote
And so they fell asleep. One paid a heavy price for his night's rest, as had befallen them full oft since Grendel had inhabited the gold-hall,...

And his mother, ravenous and gloomy, resolved in spite of it to go a sorry journey and avenge the death of her son. So she came to Heorot, where the Ring-Danes slept about the hall....

She was in haste, - wished to be off from hence to save her life, when she had been discovered. Quickly she grasped one of the nobles tight, and then she went towards the fen. Of champions between the seas, he was to Hrothgar most beloved in point of fellowship, a mighty shield warrior, a well-known hero, whom she killed in his resting place....(here we read in gory detail of AEschere's death.)

Hrothgar, the Scyldings' shield, replied: "Ask thou not after joy! Sorrow has reappeared for Danish folk! AEschere's dead, Yrmenlaf's elder brother, my trusted counsellor, my monitor and right-hand man...


And then Beowulf has to go out and kill her and Grendel. All very gruesome reading.

Star Trek redshirts met various forms of death, from clean phaser shots to much more gruesome means, though OS violence wasn't nearly as graphic as is seen today - or in Viking sagas.


(This post was edited by Lissuin on Nov 13 2013, 11:55pm)


Lightfoot
Rivendell


Nov 14 2013, 2:02am

Post #7 of 27 (315 views)
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In The Hobbit [In reply to] Can't Post

the ponies would fit nicely into the redshirt category. The trolls, goblins, dragon, ect did a nice job of thinning the ranks. How many of them actually made it to old age I wonder? Yes I know they were not exactly human/elf/dwarf so they are often disregarded - but they still showed the perils of the journey to the Lonely Mountain.

On a separate note I always found it a little odd that more major characters did not die ~ I mean how probable is it that 13 dwarves & 1 hobbit survived up to a certain point. It might have seemed more dangerous if Bombur or Gloin were left in Goblintown or Mirkwood.

Faithful servant yet master's bane,
Lightfoot's foal, swift Snowmane



DwellerInDale
Rohan


Nov 14 2013, 4:24am

Post #8 of 27 (307 views)
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Redshirts in Tolkien-inspired fantasy [In reply to] Can't Post

When Tolkien's work was rediscovered in the late 70s early 80s and imitators appeared, many authors included redshirts in their "Company" (group of travelers on an epic quest). The best example I know is "Lord Valentine's Castle" by Robert Silverberg. Besides the hero from the title and other main characters, the "Company" included a group of four-armed furry creatures called "Skandars", and after every dangerous adventure one of these unnamed members of the company would get killed. It was such an obvious device that it ruined the book for me.

Don't mess with my favorite female elf.









noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Nov 14 2013, 12:14pm

Post #9 of 27 (286 views)
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A good example! [In reply to] Can't Post

Beowulf's unnamed companion gets chowed down upon largely to make us realize the danger Beowulf is in - and it happens in front of us, as opposed to how Tolkien usually seems to do this kind of thing - post battle casualty lists mentioning that Forlung or Hama or Halbarad died.
Halbarad was actually one of Sador's initial suggestions in the thread off which I spun this http://newboards.theonering.net/...i?post=665401#665401
Poor Halbarad - rides all the way south carrying a heavy banner; through the Paths of the Dead, then casually mentioned in the casualty lists.

Deagol is an interesting case - written into the story to demonstrate moral as well as mortal danger (as Squire so nicely puts it). Deagol's introduction and immediate murder seems to be there to show that the Ring has unwholesome power that sets to work on its finder at once.

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


sador
Half-elven


Nov 14 2013, 6:09pm

Post #10 of 27 (254 views)
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As a matter of fact, Hunthor (my second suggestion) is a better example [In reply to] Can't Post

Clearly, Turin needs to be alone when he slays Glaurung; and someone needs to shame up Dorlas. So in hops a brave relative of Brandir, stands up for his cousin, preseveres when Dorlas turns coward and shivers in the woods behind, follows Turin down to the river, and gets promptly killed by a dislodged stone falling from above (which again, emphasizes the perils Turin passed through).

That's it. But who was he? Why wasn't he mentioned before that? Why did he allow Dorlas to sidestep Brandir so effectively? Why wasn't he one of the Brethil hunters which met Turin and/or Nienor? In The Wanderings of Hurin (see HoME vol. XI), the issue becomes even more complicted, as we learn of two other masterful kinsmen of Brandir's - Manthor Huntjor's brother, and Haradang his cousin (who was the last chief of the Haladin). So how could Dorlas be the effective leader?

Regardless of the answer to the above question, Hunthor is clearly what you call a redshirt, with no role except for being killed and proving several things on the way.


sador
Half-elven


Nov 14 2013, 6:17pm

Post #11 of 27 (253 views)
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But do we know anything of them? [In reply to] Can't Post

If I understand correctly, a redshirt is someone whose only function in the story is to get killed. In that case, I would rate Patroclus as a redshirt (although killing Sarpedon was quite an achievement indeed).


Elizabeth
Valinor


Nov 14 2013, 6:40pm

Post #12 of 27 (247 views)
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Hirgon and his companion; Halbarad [In reply to] Can't Post

Hirgon and his companion were the errand riders from Gondor who brought the "red arrow" to King Théoden and were slain on their way back to Minas Tirith.

Halbarad, leader of the "Grey Company" of Rangers, gave away his red shirt status: "‘This is an evil door,’ said Halbarad, ‘and my death lies beyond it. I will dare to pass it nonetheless; but no horse will enter.’"








squire
Valinor


Nov 14 2013, 7:18pm

Post #13 of 27 (249 views)
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I'm not sure, I think it depends how pedantic one is. [In reply to] Can't Post

As I read the article provided at the beginning of this, the redshirt character is supposed to be part of the 'company' on the adventure that is led by the hero. That eliminates the couriers of the Red Arrow. And the redshirt's death is supposed to come at an early point in the shared adventure, to warn the reader/viewer that the mission is indeed perilous for the hero. That eliminates Halbarad - he would be a redshirt if he was killed off in the Paths of the Dead, rather than being reported as a casualty at the end of the major military adventure of his company and its leader.

Not that these characters' deaths aren't effective in the ways Tolkien meant them to be. But if we stick to redshirt as given, rather than flattening the definition to "lesser characters who die in the story", it seems hard to find Tolkien killing people off just to establish a level of threat. I find Sador's suggestion of Hunthor more intriguing on this level; but again, we have the problem of his being Turin's sole companion rather than a semi-anonymous soldier/functionary as in the Star Trek examples we started with.

There are quite a few places where Tolkien could have employed the redshirt device and clearly chose not to. For instance, when Aragorn leads his little army to Mordor, it is threatened with ambush in Ithilien:
But the Captains of the West were well warned by their scouts, skilled men from Henneth Annûn led by Mablung; and so the ambush was itself trapped. For horsemen went wide about westward and came up on the flank of the enemy and from behind, and they were destroyed or driven east into the hills. - LotR V.10

That would be a good place to knock off Mablung, no? Or Beregond, or... well, gee, it would be a shame to lose such lovable and well-established characters by this point in the story. Maybe we could just interject "they were destroyed or driven east into the hills having slain but few of the Rangers." But as it is, Aragorn doesn't lose a single man between Minas Tirith and the Black Gate, except to the attrition of duty or overwhelming fear (dangers that are moral, not mortal, as I said before).

As I remember, Tolkien doesn't really do 'minor' characters with no name but a memorable presence, who can be disposed of so simply. I guess that's one of the advantages of the film/video format like 'Star Trek': you can kill off an extra whom the audience remembers seeing on screen (with a helpfully red shirt), without ever elevating him to the status of character who's too valuable to remove from the story.



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.


sador
Half-elven


Nov 14 2013, 9:25pm

Post #14 of 27 (235 views)
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Not earliest, but an example Tolkien and his readers would know well. [In reply to] Can't Post

In Stevenson's Treasure Island, no less than three of the loyal party get killed by the Pirates.
But who are these? Not Jim, of course - he is the narrator. But Dr. Livsey remains unscathed, as does Captain Smollett. And Squire Trelawney is injured (IIRC), but not seriously.
However, the squire did take three men of his household - and all three find their graves on the island. Not one returns.
I wonder what color was their livery?


elaen32
Gondor


Nov 14 2013, 9:32pm

Post #15 of 27 (232 views)
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Two different groups of ponies die too! [In reply to] Can't Post

I wonder if that is why Tolkien was at such pains in LOTR to explain that Merry's ponies returned to Fatty Lumpkin and also Bill the Pony's fate and good fortune were made very clear. I seem to remember reading something about this in one of the Letters, but can't remember which off hand.


Is there a Tolkien topic that you have wanted to look into more deeply and write about your thoughts on it? If so, we'd like to hear from you for the next TORn Amateur Symposium- coming in November. Happy writing!



noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Nov 14 2013, 9:58pm

Post #16 of 27 (229 views)
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These red shirts don't fit all that well… [In reply to] Can't Post

Very true: the redshirt thing becomes a joke because the Star Trek writers over-used it to the point of predictability. Dweller in Dales skandars are another example where the plot device become obtrusive and predictable. When the idea of a "redshirt" exists, it's perhaps a little unfair to apply it where one wouldn't have noticed it otherwise, in the work of a writer who doesn't over-use it.

Still, I am finding this interesting: so I'm not too ashamed of starting it up Smile

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 14 2013, 10:16pm

Post #17 of 27 (240 views)
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I've always thought Boromir [In reply to] Can't Post

comes pretty close to red-shirt status. He only joins the company in Rivendell, and then is given mostly minor things to do, including some oddly negative ones, like throwing the stone into the pool before the gates of Moria, and doing a lot of grumbling. And then he's the one who's killed off to demonstrate the power of the Ring.

Of course, Tolkien being Tolkien, Boromir turns out retrospectively to be much more interesting in death than he had been in life, and his apparent red-shirt behaviour turns out to be more complex than it seemed at the time.

In the movie, on the other hand, we get to know Boromir much better before he dies, so he hardly qualifies as a red shirt in this version - although I can't help noticing that he's literally the one with the red shirt!

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Elizabeth
Valinor


Nov 14 2013, 10:38pm

Post #18 of 27 (232 views)
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Ok, then, what about Theodred? Hama? [In reply to] Can't Post

We didn't exactly meet him before hearing about his death, but his memory was an active indicator of the lethality of Saruman's army.

We did get to know Hama, but he was killed in battle not before it. Would he count?








Na Vedui
Rohan


Nov 15 2013, 12:37am

Post #19 of 27 (242 views)
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Theodred [In reply to] Can't Post

Theodred may nearly qualify, but his death also sets up the situation where Eomer becomes Théoden's right-hand man and heir, and Eowyn is faced with being left behind alone to look after Rohan, and so it does have some ramifications beyond simply showing how dangerous Saruman's army has become


sador
Half-elven


Nov 15 2013, 9:25am

Post #20 of 27 (220 views)
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I never thought so myself [In reply to] Can't Post

But two important authors seem to share your reading:



Quote


As they drifted down the river, Frito was filled with a vague
fear that time was running out. He remembered Bromosel's ill-omened dream and noticed for the first time that there was a large blotch of lamb's blood on the warrior's forehead, a large chalk X on his back, and a black spot the size of a doubloon on his cheek. A huge and rather menacing vulture was sitting on his left shoulder, picking its teeth and singing an inane song about a grackle.




And welcome back! I hope it will be a longer visit than your previous ones.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 15 2013, 12:23pm

Post #21 of 27 (216 views)
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Well I'm glad somebody thinks so! [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm not usually much of a BotR fan, but in this case I'll take what I can get.

Cool

I should stress the point I made earlier, that Boromir doesn't qualify as a redshirt when you look at his entire contribution to the story. But I do think he's presented in rather that way right up until his death, after which we start to see him in a new light.

It reminds me of the way Sam is presented at first as semi-comic local colour, taking over from his father as the source of pub gossip and story exposition. Like Boromir, his early scenes have to be reassessed in light of later knowlege - a very interesting way of telling the story I find. Tolkien has a clever way of taking commonplace narrative techniques and then turning them upside down as the story progresses.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Hamfast Gamgee
Gondor

Nov 16 2013, 12:52am

Post #22 of 27 (195 views)
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Anyone who disagreed with Gandalf [In reply to] Can't Post

Seem to have come to a sticky end at some stage!


noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Nov 17 2013, 11:46am

Post #23 of 27 (162 views)
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How about the brief appearance of this red-cloaked unfortunate? [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Quote
“...Then suddenly straight over the rim of their sheltering bank, a man fell, crashing through the slender trees, nearly on top of them. He came to rest in the fern a few feet away, face downward, green arrow-feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar. His scarlet robes were tattered, his corslet of overlapping brazen plates was rent and hewn, his black plaits of hair braided with gold were drenched in blood. His brown hand still clutched the hilt of a broken sword.
It was Sam's first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would really rather have stayed there in peace - all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind. For just as Mablung stepped towards the fallen body, there was a new noise. Great crying and shouting. Amidst it Sam heard a shrill bellowing or trumpeting. And then a great thudding and bumping, like huge rams dinning on the ground.
‘Ware! ware!’ cried Damrod to his companion. ‘May the Valar turn him aside! Mumak! Mumak!’ "
The Two Towers - Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit


So the poor guy in question has been created just so that he can be shot up and flung, dead or dying at Sam's feet.

Is he a Redshirt? Interestingly, I'd now say "no". Despite the "written in to be written out" aspect, I think he's written in to add something important and worthwhile - to give Sam a sudden realisation that you and your enemy are in many ways interchangeable. As opposed to being given a grim end merely to provide a pre-advertisement-break or end-of-chapter cliffhanger for a writer too hasty or too poor in the craft to get an honest one.

It's interesting (well, interesting to me, anyway) to probe at author's writing by imagining alternatives. Tolkien could certainly have answered Sam's questions for us (a passage of writing from the this chap's point of view as he and his comrades march into the Gondorian ambush and we get a chance to see him as a decent guy...before he takes several arrows, and ends up in Sam's fern brake.

Would that be better? I don't think so.

Amusing co-incidence that he does, however, have a red shirt - well, robe, anyway.

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


Meneldor
Tol Eressea


Nov 17 2013, 11:14pm

Post #24 of 27 (145 views)
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That scene is written so vividly [In reply to] Can't Post

that I would bet most of my belongings it was based directly on JRRT's WW1 experience. I have no doubt that he saw something like that and thought Sam's thoughts, and the incident made such an impression that it was still clear in his mind's eye decades later.


They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.


noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Nov 18 2013, 4:20pm

Post #25 of 27 (137 views)
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The dead Southron: [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
that I would bet most of my belongings it was based directly on JRRT's WW1 experience. I have no doubt that he saw something like that and thought Sam's thoughts, and the incident made such an impression that it was still clear in his mind's eye decades later.


Yes, I think so too. It's also one of the passages I discuss in my TAS piece (which appears this Thursday, 21 November). I will be explaining why I think that particular passage has some clever writerly stuff.

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"

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