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How does Tolkien maintain suspense throughout three novels?
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squire
Valinor


Mar 12 2007, 12:06pm

Post #51 of 55 (77 views)
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Faramir literally "threatens them with death"? [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that's a misstatement of the dynamic between Faramir and Frodo in Ithilien. He warns them that "Were I as hasty as you, I might have slain you long ago". That's not a threat, it's an assertion of right and power, and a warning; but it's also a reassurance to the hobbits that no one is going to be slain any time soon.

A threat would be more along the lines of "Do you think I can't search you to the bones? Search you! I'll cut you both to quivering shreds." As Crocodile Dundee might say, now that's a threat. And of course it comes from none of the noble Men in Tolkien's tale, but from an orc.

More generally, I think Tolkien undercuts his entire "feel foul, look fair" and "feel fair, look foul" distinction because he does not write using objective descriptions of character and action that would give the reader a chance to be misled. His character writing, like his landscape writing, emphasizes how someone feels to look at, if you take my meaning. The hobbits, who are the primary vehicle of the reader's experience of the story, have tremendous emotional empathy, invariably judge people correctly, and ensure the reader is never deceived for a moment as to who is good or bad. Frodo never looks at people, he always feels people. His paradoxical dialog with Strider actually highlights this for the reader, since one would never actually discuss a "rogue's" reassuringly decent appearance with the rogue himself.

One exception to that (since hobbits are absent) is our first meeting with Eomer, who surrounds the three hunters with a hundred spears and does literally threaten them with death, at least more so than Faramir in the parallel situation. But even this scene, with its mincing hint of menace, is completely undermined by Aragorn's assurance moments before that the Men of Rohan are rough around the edges, but very, very good at heart.

As for Denethor, clearly he is suspect both in Pippin's eyes and Gandalf's the moment we meet him, and so for the reader. As I've commented elsewhere, Denethor as a character is slighted by Tolkien due to his late arrival in the narrative, and the earlier clues we get to his originally noble character are pretty deeply buried. We do hear from Bergil the sentiment "They will never overcome our Lord" that indicates the faith that the common people of Minas Tirith have in Denethor's character - a sentiment that is undercut for the reader because it is parroted by a boy.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Footeramas: The 3rd TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


Curious
Half-elven

Mar 12 2007, 1:20pm

Post #52 of 55 (68 views)
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Faramir says more than that. [In reply to] Can't Post

He says that the law requires him to kill them, and that he is sitting in judgment over them.


Curious
Half-elven

Mar 12 2007, 3:20pm

Post #53 of 55 (77 views)
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Physical descriptions are cursory in LotR. [In reply to] Can't Post

But plenty of other characters besides Aragorn and Denethor get cursory physical descriptions too, such as Bombadil, Goldberry, Boromir, Galadriel, Celeborn, etc.

I don't see physical descriptions as inherently misleading. Perhaps there is a small gap between the physical description of Aragorn and Frodo's feeling that he is trustworthy, a gap which might allow us to temporarily form the wrong conclusion, but that is not the case when Denethor is introduced and Pippin immediately compares him to Gandalf.

I'm just not convinced that there is something in common about the introductions of Aragorn and Denethor that distinguishes them from all other introductions in the book. In general I find that the hobbits' immediate impressions of a character are pretty accurate, although in many cases they just have a vague feeling which they do not express or act upon immediately. Even when their impressions differ, as with Sam and Frodo's impressions of Gollum, in a way they are both right -- Sam is right that Gollum is planning to betray them, and Frodo, in the long run, is right to pity Gollum and give him a shot at redemption.

Boromir and Denethor, like Gollum, evoke ambiguous feelings. Boromir and Denethor have many admirable qualities, and many less admirable qualities as well that make the hobbits uneasy. The hobbits are right to both admire and fear them, at the same time.

Aragorn is different from Boromir and Denethor. He is not really an ambiguous character at all, although he is viewed that way by people who are less perceptive than Frodo. Although Sam temporarily has his doubts, Aragorn quickly dispells them, and the hobbits quickly learn to trust him, long before they understand who he really is. In that respect I would say Aragorn is most similar to Faramir, about whom Sam also has doubts, doubts which are quickly dispelled.


Curious
Half-elven

Mar 12 2007, 3:24pm

Post #54 of 55 (83 views)
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I agree with your last three paragraphs, [In reply to] Can't Post

though. And I also admit that Faramir's threat is veiled, and is undermined by Frodo's feeling that he can trust Faramir, which should be a tip-off to the reader. But the threat is there, nonetheless.


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Mar 14 2007, 4:29pm

Post #55 of 55 (108 views)
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That's what gives the story [In reply to] Can't Post

such a feeling of being "real": those moments when you realize that millenia have already passed, with told and untold conflicts and personal stories. And we stand upon the far edge of the timeline, at the boundary of a new age, feeling bereft for having "missed out" on all that came before!

That's why we so anxiously awaited the Silmarillion back in the '70s...


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!"

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