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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
The Mormegil and the Talking Purse...

No One in Particular
Rivendell


Jan 31 2017, 12:28am

Post #1 of 13 (1441 views)
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The Mormegil and the Talking Purse... Can't Post

Firstly, we are all aware that the Silmarillion and the Hobbit are vastly different in style and tone. However, with that said...

I was listening to a podcast today; and the opinion of the host was that the talking purse belonging to Bill was not necessarily the way things actually happened; that Bilbo, as the narrative voice who wrote the story in the Red Book, might have been attempting to lighten the mood, or soften the tone for younger Hobbit ears. Not the first time I've heard that suggested, mind.

But, I've never heard any suggestion that the time Anglachel spoke with human (or Elvish) voice to Túrin was an hallucination or a story exaggeration, even though Túrin was crazed with grief and exhaustion at the time.

So, I guess the question is, did either or both of those things have the ability to speak with voice, or are we to take that as something either Bilbo or the Professor put in the story as a way to lighten the tone or to make some ind of point or other? When I read the book growing up, and as recently as my 20's and 30's, it never occurred to me to question whether a thing happened in the story; if the narrator said "x and y happened" then x and y happened, unless there is an overriding reason to believe otherwise. I didn't really come across the concept of the unreliable narrator till I was old and jaded and had an internet connection.

While you live, shine
Have no grief at all
Life exists only for a short while
And time demands an end.
Seikilos Epitaph


CuriousG
Half-elven


Jan 31 2017, 12:43am

Post #2 of 13 (1386 views)
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I usually take narrators at their word. [In reply to] Can't Post

The purse talked. The sword spoke to Turin. It is fantasy, after all, so anything can happen.


No One in Particular
Rivendell


Jan 31 2017, 1:50am

Post #3 of 13 (1375 views)
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As do I. [In reply to] Can't Post

I was just curious as to other folks' opinion. An unreliable narrator to me is equivalent to cheating. If you can't trust the narration, what can you trust?

While you live, shine
Have no grief at all
Life exists only for a short while
And time demands an end.
Seikilos Epitaph


squire
Half-elven


Jan 31 2017, 2:07am

Post #4 of 13 (1383 views)
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Tolkien the narrator doesn't do "unreliable" [In reply to] Can't Post

Some of his characters are unreliable, and he usually telegraphs that by tone and voice: the black emissary to Dain, as reported at the Council of Elrond, is clearly unreliable, as are many of the other evil characters in the stories. But the hobbits telling tales at their pubs are unreliable, as well, being either ignorant, in their cups, or both.

But since it's the narrators who tell us that the sword, and the purse, talked, and there is no hint of irony (only humor, in the Hobbit) at those points, the only reason to introduce doubt about it is to try to dissolve the fantasy in favor of some more sober idea of 'mock history'.

Yes, Tolkien builds and is fond of the frame-narrative gag that his books are 'recovered memoirs' or 'legendary compilations', but that's all it is, a gag. We have no reason to doubt these moments of drama -- any more than we can doubt that the sea-god Ulmo appeared, gigantic and dripping with seawater, before Tuor; or that the ring that Bilbo found actually turned him invisible without blinding him due to having invisible and thus transparent corneas!



squire online:
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Bracegirdle
Valinor


Jan 31 2017, 2:28am

Post #5 of 13 (1372 views)
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Suspension of disbelief makes for a great ride… [In reply to] Can't Post

If you’ve got it . . . bully! You’re on the bus. Smile
If you don’t you probably aren’t reading this Evil


The purse talked.
The sword spoke to Turin.

Other things that shouldn’t talk….
Of course these are live things…

Trees
Spiders
A talking dog
Eagles
Dragons
Ravens

(MORE?)

‘. . . the rule of no realm is mine . . .
But all worthy things that are in peril . . . those are my care.
For I also am a steward. Did you not know?'

Gandalf to Denethor




noWizardme
Valinor


Jan 31 2017, 5:03pm

Post #6 of 13 (1346 views)
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Fantasy, Comedy, Tragedy [In reply to] Can't Post

Firstly, I'll agree with everyone else - Middle-earth is a fantastical place, and talking swords and purses could literally exist there. I too don't see any necessity to turn them into something that could credibly happen in the real world (like a hallucination, say). Of course, people can do that if they please, but I'm with Bracegirdle in wondering whether they've 'got' a key idea of Fantasy: it's incredible.

I was also thinking....

They are two very contrasting talking gadgets, aren't they? The Talking Purse turns up in a chapter that seems to me to be mostly comedy. I read the purse as a funny setback for Bilbo to have when he's become overconfident about this burgling business. The adventure with the trolls reminds me of Jack and the Beanstalk (I think I've read versions where the Giant's stolen property calls out as Jack steals it). But I doubt that Tolkien was being all that serious or thoughtful here - the purse is an entertaining gimmick and that's all, I think.

Turin's sword is tragedy rather than comedy. There's a sense that Turin was always going to face and kill the dragon, but that in some way that triumph was going to be turned to a sort of defeat. There's something fitting about Turin's sword being Turin's executioner, rather that being just a regular tool by which he ends his own life.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


InTheChair
Lorien

Jan 31 2017, 11:24pm

Post #7 of 13 (1323 views)
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Only real diffrenece seems to be that Bilbo embelished his own tale, while others did it for Turin. [In reply to] Can't Post


But, I've never heard any suggestion that the time Anglachel spoke with human (or Elvish) voice to Túrin was an hallucination or a story exaggeration, even though Túrin was crazed with grief and exhaustion at the time.

Even so considering Turin died, and he was the only one supposedly present when the sword spoke, one has to kind of wonder about the origin of that part of the legend? No doubt whoever wrote it so had a purpose with it, but if that is the same thing as to prove that the sword actually spoke? Well.. who knows.


(This post was edited by InTheChair on Jan 31 2017, 11:25pm)


FarFromHome
Valinor


Feb 1 2017, 3:12pm

Post #8 of 13 (1287 views)
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Well it depends [In reply to] Can't Post

what you mean by "actually happened", I suppose. I imagine we all agree that neither of these things actually happened, and that Tolkien made them up! The question, really, is whether Tolkien wants you to accept what the narrator wrote as being what "actually happened" in the story, and for me the answer to that has to be "yes, he does". The narrator is telling the story in the way that he believes it to be, and we as readers are meant to understand the story in that same way.

The only confounding factor, to me, is that I think Tolkien was writing his stories based on an older (pre-Enlightenment, pre-Scientific Revolution) way of thinking, in which making a distinction between what is perceived and what "really happened" wasn't the way people looked at things. Tolkien explains some of this thinking in his essay On Fairy Stories, where he talks about early people perceiving the thunder god as just as real as (in fact identical to and completely bound up with) the sound of the thunder they heard. Yet for us there are two things there: a scientific "fact" of thunder, and a metaphor or imaginary idea of the thunder god. This means that, if you apply modern analytical "post-Enlightenment" thinking you get a binary result ("real" versus "believed") that wasn't there in earlier ways of thinking. I'm not saying Tolkien wanted us to go back to that simpler (you might say simplistic) way of thinking, since analytical thought has given us so much - but I am saying that he felt that we had lost something* when we lost the ability to think in this non-binary way, and that he tries to recreate this view of the world in his narrators' ways of telling their stories. They write what they believe, and within that world, what they believe is all there is - there is no other, objective "reality".

Which means that the answer to your question, for me, would be that there is no answer because there is no question: belief makes things real in Middle-earth, and you can't separate it out into "what the story says" and "what really happened". (That's within the stories, at least - Tolkien is tricksy enough to add lots of little get-out phrases to allow those of us trapped in our post-Enlightenment worldview to make sense of things in our own way if we prefer...including lots of second-guessing about how The Hobbit came to be written the way it was, since after all, as the modern "editor" of the tales, he was as prone to analytical thinking as the rest of us!)

* what we lost is hard to put into words (not surprisingly, since we've lost it!) but I guess it's to do with the sense of wonder at a natural world full of sentience and magic just beyond our sight - and not just as imagined or fantasy images but as real as everything else.

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
Grey Havens

Feb 1 2017, 10:06pm

Post #9 of 13 (1264 views)
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You are very trusting, Squire! [In reply to] Can't Post

And surprisingly so, perhaps Smile I must say that my opinions of the narrator in these matters have changed as I grow older. When I was a child and read or had read to me, the Hobbit for the first time, of course I trusted the narrator. Absolutely. He could probably have told me to cut my own b**s of and I would have done it! However, nowadays as an adult I am not so sure. I have learnt that everyone looks at almsot everything from their own viewpoint, some more so than others. Whilst the narrator of the Hobbit seems all right, I am not convinced. He seems to have a world view or at least he does not tell us everything that we later find out, does he?
Actually one narrator I certainly don't like is the Narnia one. He sounds like a pest to me! Quite why Aslan choose him to tell the Narnia tales is something of a mystery.


(This post was edited by Hamfast Gamgee on Feb 1 2017, 10:10pm)


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Feb 1 2017, 10:17pm

Post #10 of 13 (1261 views)
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I am convinced that somewhere in the appendixes [In reply to] Can't Post

There is a statement that the tales as told contain are not always fact and that some errors do remain. I'm sure that I did read that once, but at the last read-through I had a good look for it but could not find the quote I was looking for. Mind, I must confess that my appendixes are a bit beaten up now, or maybe it wasn't in the appendixes at all, but in the Silm or Home. I don't know if anyone else is aware of a quote like this and could point it out to me. I'm convinced that I did see onel


squire
Half-elven


Feb 1 2017, 11:37pm

Post #11 of 13 (1258 views)
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And why not? [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree that the narrator in The Hobbit is a character in his own right, which some people (including Tolkien, in retrospect) hate and some people (including me) love. He does have a world view, as you say, and of course it's true that he withholds some information (he has to: he knows the ending, as he telegraphs from the very beginning). Every kid knows that the parent reading the bedtime story already knows the ending, and the essence of traditional storytelling is using selective information to build suspense.

But to me this cranky and ironic old dad is not 'unreliable' in the sense of leaving us in doubt about anything that he does tell us. If you could, perhaps note some of the instances in the book where you feel differently.

Then I don't think the narrator in the Turin stories has much of a personality at all. It's tone that separates him from the characters: high, legendary, and definitely authoritative, even more so than in The Lord of the Rings. In LotR there is some sense of distance from pure fact in the frequent use of "seeming" in its descriptions, and the narrator occasionally interjects about the unknowable future that faces some of the characters as they leave 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'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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


sevilodorf
Grey Havens


Feb 2 2017, 5:16am

Post #12 of 13 (1243 views)
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Perhaps the Foreword?? [In reply to] Can't Post

While not word for word a statement that the tales are not always fact it does mention that a number of errors and inconsistencies that still remained in the text have been corrected... and that some may have been passed over....

Or maybe it was in Tolkien's letters?

Fourth Age Adventures at the Inn of the Burping Troll http://burpingtroll.com
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Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Feb 9 2017, 9:24am

Post #13 of 13 (1069 views)
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Yes, it could be that, thank you [In reply to] Can't Post

 

 
 

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