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The Last Stage, part V - Prophecies and Providence

sador
Half-elven


Nov 20 2012, 7:33pm

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The Last Stage, part V - Prophecies and Providence Can't Post


Quote
Mind your Ps and your Qs


- Merry Brandybuck, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony.

Well, I think that for this discussion our Ps are quite enough. For this last thread, we have two more.
As this is the last thread of this discussion, I want to thank all who have responded, or just lurked; the discussion began slowly, but it has grown and is real fun! Thank you!

* * *



Quote
But we were too late, as Elrond foresaw. Sauron had also watched us, and had long prepared against our stroke...

- Gandalf, The Council of Elrond.


This is the first instant we hear of Elrond's gift of foresight – or of his political caution? However, it seems that in the sequel, Gandalf is admitting that the dampening words of Elrond in this chapter were truer than his own prediction:

Quote
"Ere long now," Gandalf was saying, "The Forest will grow somewhat more wholesome. The North will be freed from that horror for many long years, I hope. Yet I wish he were banished from the world!"
"It would be well indeed," said Elrond; "but I fear that will not come about in this age of the world, or for many after."

This exchange rather puzzles me. Are they disagreeing? And considering what we know from The Lord of the Rings, isn't Elrond ultimately wrong?
Anyway, once The Lord of the Rings was written, wasn't Gandalf shown wrong, as well? According to The Tale of Years, it took Sauron just a decade to re-conquer Dol Guldur!
Or was Gandalf referring to a different conversation altogether – perhaps some meeting of the White Council, during which Elrond expressed his doubts of the projected attack on Dol Guldur? Did Gandalf encounter more opposition than just Saruman's delaying tactics?


I must admit that I haven't understood this – not until I read in Anderson (note 3) that Gandalf's words before the 1966 edition were actually "The North will be freed from that horror for many long ages," without the qualifier "I hope". This was revised by Tolkien, so as not to make him look too mistaken. In that context, Elrond's contradiction has some meaning.
Was it worth making this whole exchange meaningless? Or do you feel it didn't really change the meaning?

However in Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age (at the end of the published Silmarillion), an altogether different fortelling was mentioned, this time an actual prophecy:

Quote
Therefore naught was done at that time, though Elrond's heart misgave him, and he said to Mithrandir:
'Nonetheless I forbode that the One will yet be found, and then war will arise again, and in that war this Age will be ended. Indeed in a second darkness it will end, unless some strange chance deliver us that my eyes cannot see.'

Now this is better! Not only it makes Elrond a true seer, it also makes him a close ally of Gandalf against Saruman! Right?
On the other hand, does it fit with the conversation in The Hobbit? And why didn't it prompt Gandalf to realize that Bilbo had found the One before sixty years have passed? Would Gandalf blindly prefer Saruman's word to Elrond's?

* * *



There is only one other prophecy referred to in The Hobbit: the prophecy regarding the return of the King under the Mountain.

Err, two minor occasions might be added: Beorn's growling to himself "The day will come when they will perish and I will go back!" which Gandalf reports in Queer Lodgings; and Gandalf's ominous words when dividing the trolls' gold: "But share and share alike! You may find you have more needs than you expect".
Should these count as prophecies?


Anyway, back to the main prophecy of the book. Oddly enough, it is never mentioned before Lake-town:

Quote
Some sang too that Thror and Thrain would come back one day and gold would flow in rivers, through the mountain-gates, and all that land would be filled with new song and new laughter. But this pleasant legend did not much affect their daily business.

I note that this legend is mentioned for the first time in passing, while Bilbo and the dwarves are off-stage. What effect does this achieve? What does it say of the Lake-men? Of Thorin's homecoming – was he expecting a warm welcome?
Why did Thorin never mention that his return was prophecied about?


One answer to my last question might be, that this prophecy was specific to the North-East, and folk in the Blue Mountains haven't heard it. But Thorin seems to be well aware of it, and makes prompt use of it:

Quote
But lock nor bar may hinder the homecoming spoken of old.

Spoken by whom?
Ah, and if the homecoming was expected in the vicinity – why didn't the Elvenking guess who Thorin was? Or did he? How would this knowledge affect his reactions?


We are treated to one of the songs about the homecoming: "The King Under the Mountain". Several others are mentioned –

Quote
...but some of them were quite new and spoke confidently of the sudden death of the dragon and of cargoes of rich presents coming down the river to Lake-town.

The competing songs inspired by the Master! But why should Thorin care, if the prophecies about him are well-known?
Do the Master- inspired songs contradict the other ones? Might they not complement each other?


I suggest that they might actually do so – after all, the "river flowing with gold" might be a metaphor for the cargoes of rich presents, rather than molten bits and golden dust coming from the forges. This is also implied by Balin's and Bilbo's words near the end of the book:

Quote
"The new Master is of wiser kind," said Balin, "and very popular, for, of course, he gets most of the credit for the present prosperity. They are making songs which say that in his day the rivers run with gold."
"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.


Just as a side-note: is there a hint of resentment in Balin's words?


And here comes the real question:
What is the relationship between old songs and prophecies? Might the songs be considered as divinely inspired? Or do they inspire us, thus leading to their own fulfillment?

I used the word "us" on purpose, because this might work in this world as well. who knows? Is The Hobbit a commentary on our world, or a mere fantasy in a parallel universe?

But in that case, we might also fail to live to the promise, and the prophecies might go awry. This seems to be true in The Hobbit as well.
In On the Doorstep, the Men who rowed the dwarves up the River Running, refused to stay near them, saying "Not at any rate until the songs have come true!". In the unnerving desolation of Smaug, they flee down the river and back home, leaving the dwarves to their own devices.
Had they acted upon the songs, might events have taken a different course?


Any answer to the question above would be pure speculation; but it is noteworthy that the next time the prophecies are mentioned is when Smaug attacks Esgaroth:

Quote
...and not the most foolish doubted that the prophecies have gone rather wrong.

At the very least, if people disbelieved in Thorin – why didn't they take precautionary measures against Smaug's attack? Did they hope to help the dwarves with impunity? Or did they just half-believe in the old songs, forgetting them as soon as the first excitement has passed?
What is worse – categorical denial of the prophecies, or half-belief?


Last but not least – consider Bard's words when we first meet him, as a member of the guard:

Quote
Which king?" said another with a grim voice. "As like as not it is the marauding fire of the Dragon, the only king under the Mountain we have ever known.

Is Bard a disbeliever? Or just a pessimist – "always foreboding gloomy things!" as his comrades retort?
By the way, why were there no prophecies about the line of Girion? How was this fact connected with Bard's grimness?
Any more comments about this prophecy, or prophecies in general in The Hobbit?

* * *


On the other hand, if we believe in prophecies, it is reasonable to believe in some kind of providence, a "guiding hand" which carries the prophecies to fruition. And this is exactly what Tolkien says in the penultimate paragraph:

Quote
"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"


So that is the answer to all Bilbo's hair-raising escapes, which defied plausibility!
Were you bothered about the improbability of this before? Was Bilbo?
Before, the dwarves
(in Flies and Spiders) and Thorin (Inside Information) considered Bilbo to possess good luck. Is Gandalf contradicting them? Did Bilbo think the same, when he named himself 'Luck-bearer' to Smaug?
Is this what Bilbo learned at the end of the book?


Bonus, unrelated question:
Do you believe in luck? Do you have any lucky, or unlucky, places, people, numbers or objects you care to tell about?


However, this concept of a Higher Power is not always comforting:

Quote
Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no more plainly than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were also meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.
'It is not,' said Frodo.

- The Shadow of the Past


Why isn't Frodo comforted, or even encouraged?

The talk of Frodo and Gandalf was continued in Minas Tirith – at least according to version B of The Quest of Erebor (published in full by Anderson, p. 369 – the quoted paragraph appears also in a note in UT):

Quote
Then I said: I think I understand you a little better now, Gandalf... Though I suppose that, whether meant or no, Bilbo might have refused to leave home, and so might I....

What is the relation between our own endeavors and the work of providence? What does Gandalf think of this? I note that he did acknowledge Bilbo's "hand" in bringing the prophecies about.


But perhaps this is the lesson Bilbo had to learn all along, and it is a twofold one:
  1. In the first twelve chapters, he has found his own courage, and learned to trust it – as well as his other skills, wit and judgment.
  2. But once he enters the Mountain, he needs to learn something else: he watches the unfolding drama of Thorin and Bard, terrified of the possible results, and unable to change the course of events; his one attempt to change the tide leads to nothing – neither reconciliation, nor avoidance of a fearful bloodshed (as he ruefully remarks to himself in The Clouds Burst). After becoming important, Bilbo needs to re-learn humility.

With the hindsight of The Lord of the Rings we discover that his decision to give Bard the Arkenstone, while attaining no direct object, had profound ramifications on Bilbo himself, and through that on Middle-earth:
  • Once he becomes the Ring-bearer, both his ability to renounce the Arkenstone, and his taking responsibility for his actions in returning to Bombur are absolutely critical.

But this lies in the future, and not even the author has an inkling of it. At the moment, all we know is that being in the Elvenking's camp possibly saved his life. Who knows?
So the present lesson is that Bilbo has far more in him than he ever thought or expected – but also that he must be humble, and realize that with all his being a very fine fellow, he is still a tool in the hands of providence.
Do you agree? Or do you have another take on this?


Do you find this lesson satisfying?
Because Bilbo himself apparently did:

Quote
"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.



"As all things come to an end, even this story..."

Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for The Return Journey!

(This post was edited by sador on Nov 20 2012, 7:34pm)


Hamfast Gamgee
Gondor

Nov 20 2012, 11:26pm

Post #2 of 14 (306 views)
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The Necromancer [In reply to] Can't Post

He does always, at least in the Hobbit, seem to be a slight afterthought of a character. Initially, he serves only as a device to get Gandalf out of the tale for a while. And it seems to me hat his defeat was only mentioned as a afterthought as well. Defeated, but not destroyed. It would have been just as easy, in the context of the Hobbit to have said that the Necromancer was killed. In which case, how would Tolkien have written his sequel? Said something like, 'Did I say the Necromancer was killed? I was wrong, I'm afraid he came back!' Or maybe have a new enemy entirely, an Orc-lord, or maybe a bad Elf even! Or possibly Tolkien had a possible sequel in mind all along when he wrote the tale so he kept his options option!


sador
Half-elven


Nov 22 2012, 3:53pm

Post #3 of 14 (234 views)
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In The Hobbit alone, you are right. [In reply to] Can't Post

However Tolkien from the outset conceived of the Necromancer as the archvillain who will later be called Sauron. And there are a couple of hints in the Silmarillion drafts that Sauron will trouble the world for a long time yet.
So as long as The Hobbit was conceived as being set soon after the Elder Days, the Necromancer had a long career in front of him. Only when Tolkien decided that he had returned, he also decided to move the events of The Hobbit to the end of the Third Age.

"As all things come to an end, even this story..."

Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for The Return Journey!


telain
Rohan

Nov 22 2012, 6:22pm

Post #4 of 14 (595 views)
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prophecy, providence and pforesight [In reply to] Can't Post

First of all, thank you, sador, for all of your work and wonderful insights! They are always a pleasure to read and ponder.

Now, for a few thoughts...


Quote
"Ere long now," Gandalf was saying, "The Forest will grow somewhat more wholesome. The North will be freed from that horror for many long years, I hope. Yet I wish he were banished from the world!"
"It would be well indeed," said Elrond; "but I fear that will not come about in this age of the world, or for many after."


Foresight is tricky -- in LOTR, Galadriel tells Frodo that the Mirror:

Quote
"shows many things, not all have yet come to pass. Some never come to be, unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path to prevent them."


The ability to see into the future is described not as something that most definitely will happen; we must interpret the vision. Galadriel continues:

Quote

"The Mirror is a dangerous guide of deeds. ... Seeing is both good and perilous."


In fact, I wonder if the gift of foresight is sometimes the gift of the "worst case scenario," i.e., "this is what will probably happen if we sit back and do nothing." Other times it is a positive, a goal to which we must strive. Figuring out which one that is and how to do it is the curse of free will. It's like knowing the answer to a math problem, but still being asked to show how we arrived at it.

Perhaps visions of the future emphasize change, and those of us who witness the vision are charged with interpretation and then action. Especially if that view of the future is unsavoury does it prompt certain knowledgable characters to action. Here I cite your other example of prophecy: all the visions of the King returning to the Mountains are positive: the dragon is defeated, rivers of gold flow to Lake-town, yet no one is out actively looking for Thorin et al.

So, in The Hobbit, Elrond's "foresight" sounds more like "concern"; the Necromancer will remain in Middle-earth causing trouble for many years to come. Comparing that to the second quote and I believe, sador, that you are right -- the discussion in Of the Rings of Power... sounds more like true prophesying.

Fulfilling a prophecy seems to always follow a certain pattern: the subject is made aware of the prophecy and then the following dilemma ensues -- what to do? Free will v. providence/fate is paramount. When has a prophecy ever not been fulfilled? When in a story has a character either done something or done nothing and yet the prophecy comes to pass? I admit to asking questions off the top of my head; perhaps if I think a bit more, I will come up with one or two.


sador
Half-elven


Nov 23 2012, 10:48am

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True or false viviosns? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Perhaps visions of the future emphasize change, and those of us who witness the vision are charged with interpretation and then action. Especially if that view of the future is unsavoury does it prompt certain knowledgable characters to action. Here I cite your other example of prophecy: all the visions of the King returning to the Mountains are positive: the dragon is defeated, rivers of gold flow to Lake-town, yet no one is out actively looking for Thorin et al.


I see. But the first question is whether it is a true vision, or just a dream. How can one know that Boromir's vision of victory was just a deceit, but Legolas vision of Aragorn crowned (in The Riders of Rohan) was true? Well, the readers know - because they are guided by Tolkien; but how should the characters inside the story know? This is the sqame question Sam asks Frodo at Cirith Ungol.
And note that while Boromir's vision called for action, Legolas' did not.

In a way, I think the visions in The Lord of the Rings are more open to question than those in The Silmarillion, for instance - which I see as an advantage. It is so much more meaningful to us bewildered mortals, who do not receive any immediate divine guidance!


In Reply To

When has a prophecy ever not been fulfilled?

In that case, is it a prophecy?

Howver, this s a question the bible already was concerned with - see Jer. ch. 28.


In Reply To
When in a story has a character either done something or done nothing and yet the prophecy comes to pass?


Most character have no influence on the fulfilling of prophecies. I'm not sure I've understood your question correctly.

"As all things come to an end, even this story..."

Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for The Return Journey!


FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 24 2012, 5:13pm

Post #6 of 14 (194 views)
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Both no and yes... [In reply to] Can't Post


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This is the first instant we hear of Elrond's gift of foresight – or of his political caution?

Typical Tolkienian ambiguity! It could be either - or even both...


This exchange rather puzzles me. Are they disagreeing? And considering what we know from The Lord of the Rings, isn't Elrond ultimately wrong?

I think Gandalf is taking the glass-half-full view, and Elrond sees the glass half empty. The Necromancer has at least been forced to leave Mirkwood for a while, but he has not been defeated - and in fact, as we learn at the Council of Elrond, he hadn't even been much inconvenienced, since he had been planning that tactical withdrawal anyway.

Anyway, once The Lord of the Rings was written, wasn't Gandalf shown wrong, as well? According to The Tale of Years, it took Sauron just a decade to re-conquer Dol Guldur!

It seems like Gandalf was much too optimistic, for sure. "Many long years" should surely be more than ten! Of course, Sauron himself didn't return to Dol Guldur after the 10 years, he just sent a few Nazgul to occupy it, which perhaps wasn't quite as bad, from the perspective of the denizens of Mirkwood?


Quote
I must admit that I haven't understood this – not until I read in Anderson (note 3) that Gandalf's words before the 1966 edition were actually "The North will be freed from that horror for many long ages," without the qualifier "I hope". This was revised by Tolkien, so as not to make him look too mistaken. In that context, Elrond's contradiction has some meaning.
Was it worth making this whole exchange meaningless? Or do you feel it didn't really change the meaning?

Perhaps what that "I hope", plus Elrond's scepticism, really achieves is a sense of just how little rational thinking even the Wise were capable of when it came to the One Ring. They were always hoping for the best, or fearing the worst, but somehow unable to think clearly about it.


In Reply To
However in Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age (at the end of the published Silmarillion), an altogether different fortelling was mentioned, this time an actual prophecy:

Therefore naught was done at that time, though Elrond's heart misgave him, and he said to Mithrandir:
'Nonetheless I forbode that the One will yet be found, and then war will arise again, and in that war this Age will be ended. Indeed in a second darkness it will end, unless some strange chance deliver us that my eyes cannot see.'
Now this is better! Not only it makes Elrond a true seer, it also makes him a close ally of Gandalf against Saruman! Right?
On the other hand, does it fit with the conversation in The Hobbit? And why didn't it prompt Gandalf to realize that Bilbo had found the One before sixty years have passed? Would Gandalf blindly prefer Saruman's word to Elrond's?

To me, this part of the Silmarillion always feels like it's being told from a different perspective - the "historical" perspective of later Gondorians who emphasised the parts of the story that were most important for them. The war to end the Age, and the "strange chance" that saved the world, are the focus of this history, so the words of as great a seer as the Queen's father in this context are given great weight. But are they a literal report of what he actually said, or a historical recreation of his later thinking? In other words, is this "historical revisionism"? That's what this part of the Silmarillion always feels like to me - and a very interesting take on Tolkien's idea of the different ways in which the same tale can be told.


In Reply To
Anyway, back to the main prophecy of the book. Oddly enough, it is never mentioned before Lake-town:

Some sang too that Thror and Thrain would come back one day and gold would flow in rivers, through the mountain-gates, and all that land would be filled with new song and new laughter. But this pleasant legend did not much affect their daily business.

I note that this legend is mentioned for the first time in passing, while Bilbo and the dwarves are off-stage. What effect does this achieve? What does it say of the Lake-men? Of Thorin's homecoming – was he expecting a warm welcome?
Why did Thorin never mention that his return was prophecied about?

Perhaps the point of introducing the legend in this way is to show just how little it affects people's thinking in the "real world". The people haven't connected the legends with their everyday reality. After all, if King Arthur did return to Britain, would anybody believe it was really him? And Christians like Tolkien were very familiar with the gospel stories of the Messiah who was not recognised by his own people. Legendary figures are hard to relate to ordinary life, I suppose. Look at Barliman Butterbur and his incredulity at finding out that the rascally Strider had turned out to be the long-awaited King!


In Reply To
And here comes the real question:
What is the relationship between old songs and prophecies? Might the songs be considered as divinely inspired? Or do they inspire us, thus leading to their own fulfillment?

As ever, Tolkien doesn't provide an answer to that question. Inspiration is an incredibly powerful force, but where the inspiration comes from is left for the reader to decide for themselves. The dwarves clearly believe in some kind of destiny working on their behalf, while the Master believes in no such thing, not being inclined to "think much of old songs, giving his mind to trade and tolls, to cargoes and gold." It's inspiration versus pragmatism, and in Middle-earth there's not much doubt which one will prevail! In the real world the outcome isn't so certain, but the idea that believing strongly in something will make it happen is one that inspires many great deeds in the world.


In Reply To
I used the word "us" on purpose, because this might work in this world as well. who knows? Is The Hobbit a commentary on our world, or a mere fantasy in a parallel universe?

Maybe it's both, in that it certainly reflects our own world back to us, but does it in a more focused, less messy way than "real life". To me, Tolkien's fantasy works as a kind of "thought experiment" of the real world which, by subtracting a lot of the distractions of "reality", allows us to see the bigger picture more clearly.


What is worse – categorical denial of the prophecies, or half-belief?

It's just human nature, isn't it? People believe what they want to believe, and twist their thinking to suit what they want to do. If there's a chance of getting rich, you'll believe in the stories that tell you you will - that's what internet spammers count on, anyway! Cool


Is Bard a disbeliever? Or just a pessimist – "always foreboding gloomy things!" as his comrades retort?

He clearly isn't a simplistic believer, at least. He knows that prophecies never come true in the way that people expect them to - although in hindsight they often turn out to have been true in some unexpected way. He knows that the dragon is the real threat here, and that people are in denial about it (very much as the Wise have been in denial about the threat that the Ring will be found, you might say). This too is human nature. People have always lived in the shadow of volcanoes, somehow pushing away the thought that one day they may regret it. (I like to think of Smaug as the mythic embodiment of a volcano, as most of Tolkien's description of how he attacks seems to be inspired by descriptions of erupting volcanoes - including the "poisoned fish" that Bard is accused of predicting right after your quote.)


In Reply To
On the other hand, if we believe in prophecies, it is reasonable to believe in some kind of providence, a "guiding hand" which carries the prophecies to fruition. And this is exactly what Tolkien says in the penultimate paragraph:

"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?

It gets a bit too philosophical for me right about here, but in fact if Gandalf is indeed saying that a "guiding hand" makes the prophecies come true, he's also implying that one such guiding hand is Bilbo himself! In other words, if prophecies come true, they come true because people make them do so. Gandalf is telling Bilbo that his actions have much greater repercussions than just on his own little life - and that by working alongside others he can play a part in making much bigger things happen than he was aware of. You can put that down to faith, and perhaps in his own life Tolkien did, although I think he always deliberately leaves the ambiguity in the story.

Before, the dwarves (in Flies and Spiders) and Thorin (Inside Information) considered Bilbo to possess good luck. Is Gandalf contradicting them? Did Bilbo think the same, when he named himself 'Luck-bearer' to Smaug?
Is this what Bilbo learned at the end of the book?

Luck is, as Google puts it, about "feeling lucky", you might say - if you think you can do it, you can. Or indeed, in hindsight, if you did do it, you "were lucky". Bilbo's luck held out - if it hadn't, he wouldn't have had the chance to write his memoirs, would he? Tongue

I think what Bilbo learned was the responsibility each person has for things that go well beyond what they can see with their own eyes.


In Reply To
So the present lesson is that Bilbo has far more in him than he ever thought or expected – but also that he must be humble, and realize that with all his being a very fine fellow, he is still a tool in the hands of providence.
Do you agree? Or do you have another take on this?

No, I don't agree about "tool". He learns he's a "small fellow in a wide world" - that although he has responsibilities in the world, and has played a part in a very big event, it was after all just a small part. The events didn't really centre on him,
weren't really "for [his] sole benefit", even if it seemed like it to him at the time.


In Reply To
Do you find this lesson satisfying?
Because Bilbo himself apparently did

Yes, it's a nice way to end a children's tale - children having a natural tendency towards seeing themselves as the centre of the universe (as we all do more than we would like to admit, I think!).

This is also the lesson that Frodo was unable to learn, and that made it necessary to go over Sea where he could learn his own place "in littleness and greatness" (not sure I got that quote, from somewhere in the Letters, quite right). He was haunted by his failure to make everything come right, by his personal inability to overcome the temptation of the Ring. Frodo needs to learn the wisdom that Bilbo accepts here at the end of The Hobbit - that he's not responsible for more than what he himself is able to do. And that, at least, is an encouraging thought!

Thanks for a fun week of discussions, sador. I haven't been around as much as I'd have liked for the Hobbit discussion, but I'm glad I turned up in time for the end!


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



FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 24 2012, 5:43pm

Post #7 of 14 (228 views)
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The name of the Necromancer [In reply to] Can't Post

is interesting, I find. Tolkien the philologist would have been very much aware that this quite well-known word for "sorcerer" is based on the Greek and Latin root words, respectively, for "dead" and "black" (necro/nigro, which according to the OED both contributed to the meaning of the word). This combination of meanings occurs again in the word element "mor" (as in "Mordor" and so on) - "black" in Sindarin, "dead" in Latin. Which may just be a coincidence, but also feels like the kind of thing Tolkien's love of language might have led him to.

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



sador
Half-elven


Nov 25 2012, 9:11am

Post #8 of 14 (190 views)
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But I thought [In reply to] Can't Post

That a "Necromancer" meant specifically a sorcerer who held some unholy communion with the dead (or undead). Is it not so?

"As all things come to an end, even this story..."

Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand



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sador
Half-elven


Nov 25 2012, 9:52am

Post #9 of 14 (183 views)
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Thank you! [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Sauron himself didn't return to Dol Guldur after the 10 years, he just sent a few Nazgul to occupy it, which perhaps wasn't quite as bad, from the perspective of the denizens of Mirkwood?


Perhaps; but Legolas didn't give this impression in his report to the Council of Elrond. Neither did Haldir on Cerin Amroth.



In Reply To
To me, this part of the Silmarillion always feels like it's being told from a different perspective - the "historical" perspective of later Gondorians who emphasised the parts of the story that were most important for them. The war to end the Age, and the "strange chance" that saved the world, are the focus of this history, so the words of as great a seer as the Queen's father in this context are given great weight. But are they a literal report of what he actually said, or a historical recreation of his later thinking? In other words, is this "historical revisionism"?


I'm pretty sure that is not what Tolkien was aiming at.
He rewrote the stories again and again, each time with a different view of the characters and events he was writing about, leading to several contradicting accounts.

Now these contradictions leaves the reader three options:
The one of "proper" scholarship. what NEB once called "Tolkien studies", is to analyse how Tolkien's attitudes developed, and try to figure out what that says about him as a thinker and an artist.
The path you seem to adopt, is that of "Middle-earth studies" - trying to map the varying attitudes as reflecting different sources, each with its own traditions, lacunae and even prejudices.
A third one is to try and evaluate the different versions critically, as to which works better.
Obviously, the three do not contradict each other; personally, I like all three, which results in my asking questions in all three approaches.

While the "Middle-earth studies" approach is great fun, I really don't think we can attribute it to any deliberate attempt of Tolkien's side to reconstruct a web of different historical accounts and traitions. My impression is that he did try to achieve a single coherent vision of what "really" happened, and simply never attained it.
Except for the Riddles in the Dark episode, I know of only once when he played with this idea - when he came to the conclusion that the story of the world being made round at the Fall of Numenor made no astronomical sense, and the elves would never have made such a stupid mistake - therefore the whole Silmarillion must have been a garbled Mannish tradition. I'm glad that Christopher decided to drop this development.

As I've said before, I like the "Middle-earth studies" approach - which is why I can live in peace with Jackson's attempt at a different re-telling, even if it involves a new, unauthorised version. If we look at The Lord of the Rings as one historical account - well, "revisionist" scholars do much worse to real sources, don't they? So this vast attempt at fan-fic needs be judged by its success as such, and I personally find it pretty good.



In Reply To

Inspiration is an incredibly powerful force, but where the inspiration comes from is left for the reader to decide for themselves... It's inspiration versus pragmatism, and in Middle-earth there's not much doubt which one will prevail! In the real world the outcome isn't so certain, but the idea that believing strongly in something will make it happen is one that inspires many great deeds in the world.

I agree.



In Reply To
if Gandalf is indeed saying that a "guiding hand" makes the prophecies come true, he's also implying that one such guiding hand is Bilbo himself


As far as the sentence you've quoted goes, you might be correct; but I think the following sentence means more:

Quote
You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?


Had I wanted to superimose skepticism on The Hobbit, I might have managed to; but I think this is a clear indicator of Tolkien's own belief.



In Reply To
I haven't been around as much as I'd have liked for the Hobbit discussion, but I'm glad I turned up in time for the end!


So am I!



"As all things come to an end, even this story..."

Here we read of Bilbo, who is “quiet and drowsy”, that “every now and again he would open one eye” and listen to Gandalf’s tale. Is Tolkien deliberately echoing this passage in LOTR when he writes, “At that Bilbo opened an eye, almost as if he had heard … ‘You see, I am getting so sleepy’, he said.”?
- N.E. Brigand



The weekly discussion of The Hobbit is back. Join us in the Reading Room for The Return Journey!


FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 25 2012, 10:52am

Post #10 of 14 (227 views)
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That's the odd thing. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
But I thought that a "Necromancer" meant specifically a sorcerer who held some unholy communion with the dead (or undead). Is it not so?

That's what I thought too, until I checked the dictionaries. It seems to be used that way in modern fantasy contexts, that's for sure. But I'm wondering if Tolkien may have influenced the development of the word along those lines. After I posted my comments last night I happened to read a long post on the Hobbit Movie board
in which there's much speculation about Sauron's "necromancy" being developed in relation to the Nazgul. In fact, that's exactly what I'd been wondering about myself before I checked the dictionary - did Tolkien already have the Nazgul in mind when he wrote The Hobbit, and is this why he chose the name Necromancer? Obviously he couldn't have known about them under that name, since he didn't know about the Ring yet, but did he mean to imply that the Necromancer of The Hobbit had dead (or more precisely 'undead') servants? There's nothing in the story to suggest this, is there? (Other than the name, of course, if that's what it does suggest.)

But then when I checked what the word Necromancer really does mean, it struck me that the official dictionary meaning doesn't really bear out this interpretation anyway, since it's mostly about communicating with the dead to reveal the future.

Here's the OED definition of 'necromancer':
One who practises necromancy; one who claims to carry on communication with the dead; more generally, a wizard, magician, wonder-worker, conjurer.
And of 'necromancy':
The pretended art of revealing future events, etc., by means of communication with the dead; more generally, magic, enchantment, conjuration.
Revealing the future seems to be central to the primary meaning, and that doesn't seem particularly appropriate for the Necromancer of The Hobbit - there's plenty of prophecy in The Hobbit, as you show in your lead post in this thread, but it doesn't seem to be associated with the Necromancer.

So that led me to wonder why Tolkien did choose this name, and that's when I was struck by the combination of 'dead' and 'black' - a common enough pair of concepts to put together, I suppose, and very appropriate for Mirkwood itself. Here's the etymology as given in the OED (with some of the technical stuff left out, partly because I can't get the Greek characters to work):
Old French nygromancie = Spanish nigromancia, Italian nigro-, negromanzia, medieval Latin nigromantia, an alteration, by association with Latin niger, nigr-, black (cf. black art)... From c 1550 the form necro- has been restored after Greek, as in French nécromancie.
[Italics in the above are where I have expanded abbreviations]
Anyway, make of it what you will. I just thought it was kind of interesting!


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



FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 25 2012, 3:53pm

Post #11 of 14 (184 views)
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Thank you for the excellent summary [In reply to] Can't Post

of the three different ways of approaching Tolkien's work:


Quote
The one of "proper" scholarship. what NEB once called "Tolkien studies", is to analyse how Tolkien's attitudes developed, and try to figure out what that says about him as a thinker and an artist.

Yes, that's the kind of in-depth work you'd expect Tolkien scholars to perform, depending as it does on close study of the chronology of Tolkien's writing, rather than just looking at the finished work. However, unlike the "modern" writers who were his contemporaries (Joyce, Proust and so on), Tolkien seems to be more interested in telling a story than in examining and expressing his own interior life. In that respect, he really is more a kind of "craft" writer, aiming to make a finished work that exists independent of its author, rather than a writer of "literary" fiction, at least as it was usually practised in the 20th century. For that reason, I think focusing on the author rather than his creation may be less appropriate for Tolkien than for other modern writers. (Although, like every good craftsman, he does put a lot of himself into his work, no disputing that!)


Quote
The path you seem to adopt, is that of "Middle-earth studies" - trying to map the varying attitudes as reflecting different sources, each with its own traditions, lacunae and even prejudices.

Yes, you're right, it's the way I prefer to look at the body of Tolkien's Middle-earth tales. I've noticed a number of references in his Letters and so on to his own thinking in this direction, so I feel that it's a valid way to approach his published work. As with all writers, his drafts belong in a different category, interesting for scholars who want to examine a writer's creative processes and so on, but not to be considered as part of the finished work that the author set out to create. The complicating factor with Tolkien, of course, is that he had work that he intended to publish but that wasn't in publishable form when he died, so it's impossible now to know exactly what he would have chosen to publish. What we do know is that Tolkien did have "framing devices" for the tales that became the Silmarillion, which his son omitted. Perhaps they wouldn't have worked, but I think they are an indication that Tolkien himself intended his tales to be viewed through such a prism, rather than taken as ordinary fiction in the modern sense.


Quote
A third one is to try and evaluate the different versions critically, as to which works better.

Well, providing you're talking about the published work, I mostly agree. It's just that your phraseology makes it sound as if it's necessary to choose between the versions, as if one is bound to be "better" than the others, rather than each having its own value. Tolkien wrote in his Letters about his early ambition to create stories in many different modes, from myth to fairy-tale, and I don't think he felt that any one way of telling a story was better than another. If you're talking about evaluating the different versions to see which appears most likely to be "true", then I agree completely!


Quote
While the "Middle-earth studies" approach is great fun, I really don't think we can attribute it to any deliberate attempt of Tolkien's side to reconstruct a web of different historical accounts and traitions. My impression is that he did try to achieve a single coherent vision of what "really" happened, and simply never attained it.

There I guess we differ. I do feel (based on what I've read particularly in his Letters) that Tolkien did have in mind, at least in the early days, the idea of creating a web of different accounts, telling of the same events in different styles and from different perspectives. Although I agree that he tried to achieve in his own mind "a single coherent vision of what 'really' happened", as you put it, I don't think he ever intended to tell that story "straight" - that is, directly from the omniscient authorial perspective - I always get the impression with Tolkien that his stories are filtered through the perspective of the inhabitants of the world he created. This, surely, is what "feigned history" is - an attempt to recreate the experience of reading various accounts of events and synthesising the views of different witnesses to gain a complex understanding of what "really" happened. The trouble with this approach, I guess, is that without any concrete events that did "really happen" to anchor the stories, it must be difficult to keep the storytelling disciplined. It reminds me a bit of the writing style in works such as The Children of Hurin, where we have a "feigned translation" with no underlying "original text" to impose discipline on the language. If the legendarium got away from him, perhaps that's one of the reasons it did - whereas if he had wanted to write straight "fiction", rather than a "feigned history", things would have been much simpler. Straight fiction is more or less what Christopher made of it, I think, and certainly what many readers prefer. But not me...Crazy


Quote
Except for the Riddles in the Dark episode, I know of only once when he played with this idea - when he came to the conclusion that the story of the world being made round at the Fall of Numenor made no astronomical sense, and the elves would never have made such a stupid mistake - therefore the whole Silmarillion must have been a garbled Mannish tradition. I'm glad that Christopher decided to drop this development.

The very fact that Tolkien considered it shows that it wasn't alien to his thinking, though, doesn't it? And Christopher deciding to drop it is also an indication of how Christopher's own taste was (necessarily) imposed on his father's work, giving it a different cast than it might have had otherwise.

There's also the example of the part of the Silmarillion that inspired our debate here - On the Rings of Power and the Third Age. This was written after LotR, yet it misrepresents Frodo's role in the War of the Ring in a way that must be deliberate on Tolkien's part. Gollum is omitted, and Frodo is turned into a straightforward hero, throwing the Ring of his own accord into the Fire. If that's not meant to be an example of how a legend grows up around "real" events, what exactly is the point of it?


In Reply To
As far as the sentence you've quoted goes, you might be correct; but I think the following sentence means more:

Quote
You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?
Had I wanted to superimpose skepticism on The Hobbit, I might have managed to; but I think this is a clear indicator of Tolkien's own belief.

Yes, fair enough. The word "managed" does seem to give away the idea that there's someone pulling the strings, doesn't it?... Although since Gandalf is denying that things were "managed by mere luck", does he mean they were managed but not by luck, or that they weren't actually managed at all? Gandalf is pretty good at keeping things ambiguous! (And I do agree really that Tolkien is hinting at his own belief in a Higher Power here, but I wanted to make the point that even as he does so, he keeps things ambiguous enough that you can't be completely sure. It's not about "skepticism" though, IMO, but rather about faith. The lack of certainty, while making skepticism possible, also makes room for faith.)

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



squire
Valinor


Dec 1 2012, 8:11pm

Post #12 of 14 (707 views)
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Gandalf had a lotta splainin' to do! [In reply to] Can't Post

“But we were too late, as Elrond foresaw. Sauron had also watched us, and had long prepared against our stroke...” (Gandalf, in LotR, Council of Elrond)
"Ere long now," Gandalf was saying, "The Forest will grow somewhat more wholesome. The North will be freed from that horror for many long years, I hope. Yet I wish he were banished from the world!"
"It would be well indeed," said Elrond; "but I fear that will not come about in this age of the world, or for many after." (End of The Hobbit)

This exchange rather puzzles me.
A. Are they disagreeing?
Clearly, they are disagreeing about the likelihood of some future event. Anyone knows what that feels like: you cannot tell who is right, until the future comes about.

B. And considering what we know from The Lord of the Rings, isn't Elrond ultimately wrong?
Well, ultimately, yes – in that, in The Lord of the Rings, as you note, Sauron is completely destroyed through the fantastic set of coincidences that constitute Frodo’s quest. But so what? Why should we judge Elrond erroneous for fears that, frankly, were eminently reasonable and logical according to everything he knew at the time?

According to The Tale of Years, it took Sauron just a decade to re-conquer Dol Guldur!
C. [So], once The Lord of the Rings was written, wasn't Gandalf shown wrong, as well?
Absolutely. I have always held Gandalf frickin' responsible for the entire sorry mess that is the Hobbit-LotR timeline regarding the One Ring and the rise of Sauron. Call me critical – that’s just the way I am.


D. Or was Gandalf referring to a different conversation altogether – perhaps some meeting of the White Council, during which Elrond expressed his doubts of the projected attack on Dol Guldur?
That’s certainly one way of fudging the difference between the two books on this episode. In The Hobbit conversation given above, Elrond doubts that the Necromancer can be destroyed, not that he can be evicted from the North. At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf implies that Elrond foresaw that the Necromancer had voluntarily abandoned his tower in Mirkwood, not been driven from it by the Council.

E. Did Gandalf encounter more opposition than just Saruman's delaying tactics?
We never hear enough details about the so-called Council to be sure what the internal politics were. Gandalf implies in the very late text Quest of Erebor that the Council’s debates were dominated by him and Saruman; he says that if he was not at the meeting that year, things would go Saruman’s way, and that he “had to convince the Council” to attack the Necromancer. It seems to me that the Elves were undecided about the need to take action. Saruman encouraged this passivity and Gandalf opposed it.

The only other clue we have here is Galadriel’s cryptic remark that she had been in favor of Gandalf “leading” the Council in its beginnings. This always struck me as odd, because it puts Elrond down as being against Gandalf. In my opinion, some of Tolkien’s weakest writing is when he tries to explain stupid actions by folk whom he describes as Wise.

Gandalf's words before the 1966 edition were actually "The North will be freed from that horror for many long ages," without the qualifier "I hope". This was revised by Tolkien, so as not to make him look too mistaken. In that context, Elrond's contradiction has some meaning.
F. Was it worth making this whole exchange meaningless?

(The original quote is actually “The North is freed from that horror for many an age.”)

It’s a can of worms, to be sure. The thing to remember is that in The Hobbit, they disagreed about whether the Necromancer would ever actually be destroyed, no matter where he settles after leaving Mirkwood and the North for good (“many an age”). In LotR (and after its writing), the pertinent question became how long he would be out of their hair after leaving Mirkwood, with his ultimate fate much more distant and hence less interesting. Thus the revision: the effectiveness of the eviction becomes a matter of years, not ages, in Gandalf's eyes. Maybe it makes him look less obtuse to LotR readers, although frankly the more Gandalf knows about this subject the less wise he becomes. But Hobbit readers never notice - why should they? The Necromancer is a boogieman, not Sauron the Great.

G. Or do you feel it didn't really change the meaning?
It did change the meaning – as per above.
Therefore naught was done at that time, though Elrond's heart misgave him, and he said to Mithrandir:
'Nonetheless I forbode that the One will yet be found, and then war will arise again, and in that war this Age will be ended. Indeed in a second darkness it will end, unless some strange chance deliver us that my eyes cannot see.' from Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

Now this is better! Not only it makes Elrond a true seer, it also makes him a close ally of Gandalf against Saruman!
H. Right?
Right. But it sucks as drama. Elrond is as much as saying that a “strange chance” is exactly what to be on the lookout for. And what stranger chance is there for Gandalf to contemplate than a hobbit finding one of the Great Rings in a cavern of the Misty Mountains, within a few weeks of Elrond’s comment?

I. On the other hand, does it fit with the conversation in The Hobbit?
Not at all.

J. And why didn't it prompt Gandalf to realize that Bilbo had found the One before sixty years have passed?
That’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question that Tolkien could never bear to ask, much less answer. When you read Shadow of the Past and The Council of Elrond in LotR, you can see him carefully steer around the entire problem.

K. Would Gandalf blindly prefer Saruman's word to Elrond's?
According to Gandalf, Saruman was the Ring expert in the Council, and Elrond knew little more than he did. What we never ever hear is when Gandalf told Elrond about Bilbo’s ring. Surely it was part of the story of Bilbo’s adventures, which were told in full at Rivendell during their return passage to Hobbiton? Quite frankly, one cannot tell of the destruction of Smaug without including the fact that the hobbit was invisible while chatting with the dragon and finding his weak spot. What did Elrond know, and when did he know it, him with his oh-so-wise foreboding of the One “yet being found” and of “strange chances” being needed to defeat Sauron. Hmmm.

Of course, since Elrond evidently opposed the attack on the Necromancer (by the reasoning in E. above, not to mention that in The Hobbit Elrond knew nothing about it until Gandalf passed through the following spring), it's possible that Gandalf mistrusted Elrond in this matter almost as much as he did Saruman. We know that, after Bilbo's party, Gandalf said he awoke to the possibility that the ring was the One. "But I spoke of my dread to none, knowing the peril of an untimely whisper, if it went astray." Surely this means he did not even tell Elrond; in fact, the first person he seems to tell is Aragorn: "I opened my heart to Aragorn, the heir of Isildur."

So, assuming Elrond knew of Bilbo's ring by the end of The Hobbit adventure, he no more thought that it might be the One than Gandalf did, despite the fact that both of their minds had just been considering Sauron and the nature of his threat. And when many years later Gandalf did start thinking along the right lines, he did not trust Elrond enough to tell him, any more than he did Saruman. I wonder when Elrond first learned the truth. Could it have been seventeen years after telling Aragorn? Could it have been only when Frodo was on the Road? Glorfindel when he finds Frodo says that Gandalf has not been to Rivendell, but that only nine days ago, "Elrond received news that troubled him. Some of my kindred ... sent messages as swiftly as they could. They said that ... you were astray bearing a great burden without guidance."

Sounds like Gandalf, when he escaped from Saruman and the Nine and got to Rivendell just before Frodo himself did, had a lotta splainin' to do!

All good stuff to talk about when considering the train wreck that is The Hobbit when read closely as a prequel to LotR. More later, if I can find time.



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Ardamírë
Valinor


Dec 3 2012, 9:15pm

Post #13 of 14 (198 views)
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Thanks for a wonderful post! [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm particularly intrigued by the conversation between Elrond and Gandalf. Thanks for taking the time to discover that they initially did disagree. It makes much more sense in that version, but of course, it was changed to make Gandalf not look completely wrong. The quote from The Silmarillion is even better, though. It's downright perfection. It's the kind of foresight that better fits the later character of Elrond.

It's slightly off-topic, but I would love to hear Hugo say that line in the new films. Obviously it's not possible, but I'd still love it.

"...and his first memory of Middle-earth was the green stone above her breast as she sang above his cradle while Gondolin was still in flower." -Unfinished Tales


Hamfast Gamgee
Gondor

Dec 4 2012, 12:21am

Post #14 of 14 (1281 views)
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The Hobbit a train wreck as a prequel to Lotr????????????? [In reply to] Can't Post

Maybe that should be Lotr is a train wreck as looked closely as a sequel to the Hobbit? Smile Actually, I can see an argument whereby the Hobbit might be as far as the basic facts are concerned, at least with the matters of the Ring, correct but some of the more flights of fancy, such as Trolls having names, talking troll purses, talking animals, Elves singing Tral, la, la, lally, are just fairy tales for impressionable Gondor children and not to be taken too seriously. Tolkien did try try to re-write the Hobbit more in the style of Lotr, but was told it just wasn't the Hobbit. In fact if he was to do that he might have to re-write the first chapter of Lotr as well. Though this isn't my own point of view. I think that most of the Hobbit anachronism can be explained away by simply saying that this the wild north a bit different to the more civilised countries of Middle-Earth.

 
 

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