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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
LOTR Prologue - Hobbit present tense


Mar 25 2017, 11:56pm

Post #1 of 13 (1724 views)
LOTR Prologue - Hobbit present tense Can't Post

Looking back over the 2015 LOTR read through - the first section was Chapter One. Has the prologue been discussed?

I always found it amusing that JRR Tolkien wrote about Hobbits in the present tense. They ARE less numerous today, they DO not like machines, they ARE becoming hard to find, their elusiveness IS due to solely to professional skill, heredity and practice. For they ARE a little people. They seldom NOW reach three feet, but they have dwindled THEY SAY. He also goes on to discuss ME geography as being in our past etc.

Why was it important for him to set the stage by implying that Hobbits, and indeed some other elements found in his stories, persist today?
Was it just meant as a literary tool to grab the readers attention and help buy in to the story? To pique their interest?
Is there an element of wishful thinking? Some of his comments seem to hint that his story "came to him" rather than being simply a story teller. Though he would have probably denied such a claim due to probable ridicule, some statements are curious.
I think many readers picked up on this and it helps explain to a great deal some of the fan efforts.
He wrote a 14 page prologue in which to introduce his world. Was it a recognition that his tale, for the times especially, would need a great deal of stage setting for the reading public to warm to it?


Mar 26 2017, 2:42am

Post #2 of 13 (1677 views)
Certainly, it is part of his sub-creation world building [In reply to] Can't Post


6 Things Tolkien Meant by Subcreation – Pt 1
by John Carswell on September 25, 2014

"In other words, the work of subcreation is less like “making something from scratch” as it is like the gardener putting form to some plant or flower that has grown wild."

(This post was edited by Eruonen on Mar 26 2017, 2:48am)


Mar 27 2017, 3:08am

Post #3 of 13 (1636 views)
The Prologue was discussed at the end of the read-through [In reply to] Can't Post

noWizardme put out two posts (here and here, and they got a respectable response). But there's no reason not to pick up the subject again if you're interested!

You're right, of course, that the long prologue about the setting for The Lord of the Rings is meant to anchor a new or older returning readership in a strange storyland. One might say that it's a filter, too: if the reader is still there at the end, then he or she has shown an interest in Middle-earth and in particular in its portal, the Shire. That interest will hold them through the deliberately slow building of tension and grand theme that makes Book I so dicey even today for many.

But the present tense insistence that "Hobbits still exist", maintained in a Prologue that elsewhere declares that Middle-earth is a long-past era of our world, is to my mind a simple holdover from the opening pages of The Hobbit. There, we remember, the narrator pauses in the midst of his introduction of Bilbo, and answers the question "What is a hobbit?" with a short disquisition on hobbits that firmly plays the game that they still exist today.

This has always seemed to me to be part of the charm of the book as a children's story: children want to know what is "real" and what is "made-up", and Tolkien's approach here teases them into growing up a bit. The reader (Mom or Dad, perhaps) reads to them that hobbits still exist, even as their own maturing reason tells them that that is no more likely than that Father Christmas visits on Christmas Eve. By the end of the book they have realized what Bilbo realizes, that stories are as true as one makes them, and that the imagination never lies.

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.


Mar 27 2017, 4:02am

Post #4 of 13 (1625 views)
I am sure you have read or heard interviews where he speaks about [In reply to] Can't Post

the story creation in a way that suggests a pre-existing actuality that he did not create and that he essentially was the recorder of the story as it came to him. I wonder if he was so immersed - which is self evident by the depth - that the intersection between reality and fiction blurred. Almost like a religious reveal....think of Joseph Smith and The Book or Mormon, or Mohammed and the Koran or Moses and the 10 Commandments.
Maybe, this is common for authors - as with some mathematicians and scientist whose big idea came from some Platonic world or Dream.

Linguistics was the fuel that led to the story creation as he sought to uncover the circumstances that led to a word and how it was lost - the former real world that he sought to uncover.

(This post was edited by Eruonen on Mar 27 2017, 4:07am)

Grey Havens

Mar 27 2017, 4:45pm

Post #5 of 13 (1597 views)
moving Foreword [In reply to] Can't Post

There's also this, from the original Foreword published in 1954

"Much information, necessary and unnecessary, will be found in the Prologue. To complete it some maps are given, including one of the Shire that has been approved as reasonably correct by those Hobbits that still concern themselves with ancient history."

However you [anyone] interprets that Smile

But a Hobbit or two still concerned with ancient history might also go a few steps to help explain how Tolkien came to know Westron so well [I for one, and despite Tolkien's own statement about this, prefer the original Foreword over the revised, "external" version]?

In addition to the lingering Hobbits, there are also the Lingerers [described in Morgoth's Ring], Elves who remained so long in Middle-earth that they faded, but have the ability to reveal their invisible bodies to Men's minds...

... perhaps a mind like that of a certain professor out on a woodland walk in Oxford?



Mar 27 2017, 6:39pm

Post #6 of 13 (1579 views)
Indeed! [In reply to] Can't Post



Mar 27 2017, 8:23pm

Post #7 of 13 (1580 views)
Here you go, some living "hobbits" - though wild and uncivilized by ME standards [In reply to] Can't Post



Mar 28 2017, 10:58am

Post #8 of 13 (1554 views)
Discovery and creation in writing [In reply to] Can't Post

Hang on though - don't adherents of a religion claim (or indeed know with certainly) that their religions are a fundamental truth about real life? So wouldn't that be a very significant difference? As far as I know, Tolkien remained grounded in the idea that he was making up a story. I don't think Tolkien thought he'd somehow divined evidence of real-world creatures and events that might one day by corroborated by his colleagues in the Zoology, Anthropology, History or Archaeology Departments of the University.

But it is common enough to hear writers talking of their fictions containing an element of discovery, in which some of the very best ideas occur to the writer that he or she wasn't planning, expecting or intending. Just off the top of my head I can think of comments like this from Stephen King, Ursula K LeGuin, Alan Garner, Philip Pullman, Dr Seuss, and Bill Watterson (author of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons). I've also had the same thing happen to me in some of my (very much less exalted) writing. At the end of the LOTR read-through some of us had a discussion about mysteries in LOTR, and it went into some of this area (see http://newboards.theonering.net/...i?post=922678#922678 if interested)

Such ideas - wherever they have come from - then do require a lot of careful fashioning, sanding and polishing to make a good story. Which is why I suppose "where do you get your ideas from?" is such an eye-roller of a question for esteemed authors. The idea behind the question is presumably that you might somehow get the entire story delivered to you from some external agency in a finished form, if only you knew the right prayers/drugs/daily routine/mail-order address. Smile. I think it's more common for an author to make up something called 'a hobbit' and then wonder what on earth it is, what it is doing in hole, and whether it might be persuaded to do something that will amuse the writer's children. Many thousands of further ideas, and a lot of writing art and craft is required to finish the work.

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


Mar 28 2017, 2:38pm

Post #9 of 13 (1535 views)
Well, for JRR Tolkien the word(s) inspired the story. [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, you are absolutely correct that JRR Tolkien would consider his sub-creation as made up....however, there are some comments that he made that also suggest a deeper connection. I will have to find them in some texts but the following from his essay On Fairy Stories hints at the same theme:

"... But in Faërian drama you are in a dream that some
other mind is weaving, and the knowledge of that alarming fact may slip from your grasp. To experience directly a Secondary World: the potion is too strong, and you give to it Primary
Belief, however marvellous the events. You are deluded— whether that is the intention of the elves (always or at any time) is another question. They at any rate are not themselves deluded.
This is for them a form of Art, and distinct from Wizardry or Magic, properly so called. They do not live in it, though they can, perhaps, afford to spend more time at it than human artists can. "

"... in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the
last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know. "

(This post was edited by Eruonen on Mar 28 2017, 2:42pm)

Grey Havens

Apr 2 2017, 12:14pm

Post #10 of 13 (1443 views)
Perfect [In reply to] Can't Post

What a perfect example of Tolkien's description of big folk, "blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off." Love it. Smile


Gold is the strife of kinsmen,
and fire of the flood-tide,
and the path of the serpent.

Grey Havens

Apr 2 2017, 12:51pm

Post #11 of 13 (1444 views)
A literary device [In reply to] Can't Post

The literary device of prologues that say "this is a true story" was very popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. "I heard this story from someone who was there" or "this manuscript was given to me by Mr. So-and-so when he was dying" etc. so Tolkien's use of the present tense and the literary conceit that hobbits are still with us never seemed odd or out of place to me.

On top of that is that fact that he is essentially writing a story that includes that eternal "other place", The Land of Faerie where there is no time, and if you can find it, perhaps in your own backyard, maybe you will see a hobbit or two. I remember looking for fairies in our woods when I was little (my older brothers were constantly telling me that they had seen them so I kept looking Smile ) so for children this is a great device to grab their imagination. Looking for fairies and hobbits isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon. Wink


Gold is the strife of kinsmen,
and fire of the flood-tide,
and the path of the serpent.


Apr 3 2017, 8:23pm

Post #12 of 13 (1384 views)
Good point. You remind me of the opening of "The Turn of the Screw" [In reply to] Can't Post

Which had the narrator saying it was a true story recounted by his governess, even though of course it's a fictional tale about ghosts.

Grey Havens

Apr 3 2017, 9:27pm

Post #13 of 13 (1364 views)
The "true story" [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm not sure why, but I've always enjoyed that particular literary device of pretending it's a true story. Maybe it's just because so many of the classic adventure stories that I like start that way - Lost Horizon, Tarzan, the H. Rider Haggard stories, etc. For me, at least, it's a way of pulling the reader into the story, like listening to a friend who comes in and says, "Wow! You'll never believe what just happened!" A fun way to start a story. Smile


Gold is the strife of kinsmen,
and fire of the flood-tide,
and the path of the serpent.


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