Skip to main content

Photobucket

Tolkien is hobbit forming

                                       -Anonymous American Graffito

    One of the hallmarks of a professor is never knowing when to stop talking. Or writing. I had thought I had said all I wanted to about John Ronald Reuel Tolkien in my previous diary; and indeed I had thought I had my fill of middle-earth for the time being. But the comments raised a number of issues, and at least in my mind, reminded me of things that could have been said that would maybe have illuminated a bit of how LoTR (as I will continue to abbreviate it) came to be. So I thought for this installment I might say a few more things about the man who wrote the one book in the twentieth century which I feel the most confident will still be read 400 years later, assuming that there are people, and they are reading.

   Middle-earth, is, after all, timeless earth. The three ages of middle-earth seem to last thousands of years each, but it seems very similar no matter how much time has passed. Just like a woods probably looks the same as it did five thousand years ago.

Let's walk a little further

It was one of Professor Tolkien's strongly held opinions that a biography was just about the worst place for someone to look to find meaning in a work. Certainly an initial glance at the details of Tolkien's life itself would leave us in the dark about where his magnificent trilogy came from: Specifically The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, and The Silmarillion. Yes, I do consider that last magnificent, even if it reads much harder than the other two so very accessible works. But I'll get to that. For now, consider that Tolkien when he was crafting his works was living a very ordinary life of a Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University, with a hardly spectacular income, a wife and four children, pressing academic duties (I can relate) and hardly any preconceived plan to start an entire subgenre of literature and do it better than anyone ever has.

     And yet, as we go into his major works, certain aspects of his life are, I think illuminating and also have some relevance to what we have today in terms of the society we live in.

I should say at the outset that much of this diary derives from Humprey Carpenter's first rate biography of Tolkien, called "J.R.R. Tolkien: A biography". Short, precise and to the point, that.  

The first point is that Tolkien lost his father at the age of four, and his mother at 12. His father was a minor banker who had emigrated to South Africa where there was more of an opportunity for him to find work; Consequently Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein South Africa, but was sent back to England after a few years and in fact never saw his father again, as he contracted Rheumatic fever and died before he too could go back to England. His mother tried to raise him the best she could - even at a young age his talent and fluency for languages was becoming clear - but she contracted diabetes and died within two years (this was of course before insulin became available). I and others have pointed out the obvious theme of loss in Tolkien's work; it is strongly apparent in both LoTR and Silmarillion. Was this an explicit reaction? Very doubtful, and yet it is quite striking, I think, how often family tragedy is to be found among great writers. As I read somewhere, writers are people who get kicked in the crotch - hard - by life, and it shows.

The second and in a way astonishing fact for a professor of Philology and English Language was that Tolkien was a combat veteran, for world war one broke out shortly after he gained admission to Oxford on scholarship. As he was a collegian, he was commissioned in the army and eventually became a battalion signal officer (appropriate for someone with a love of words). His battalion was sent to France and participated in the Battle of the Somme; he saw men killed in front of him, and was lucky to get out of the battle alive. In fact, he got sent back to England before the war ended with a persistent fever, likely typhus and was thus out of action when the remnants of his battalion were all captured or killed in the closing year of the war.

Lets just pause a bit. Here we have someone from a distinctly lower class background (and Great Britain before and after the first world war was a society very strongly divided by class; see the Downton Abbey series, for example.) who works his way into Oxford essentially by hard work and brilliance and motivation. And he gets in, and is not crippled by loads of student debt. Further, with just a little less luck, Tolkien could very well have been one of the casualties of the battle of the Somme; a futile campaign that would ultimately cost the British Army more than 350,000 soldiers. In either case, I don't think we would have ever seen LoTR. Can there be a better argument for the need for higher Education reform, and the gross stupidity of getting into wars for little conceivable purpose?

Anyhow, after the war Tolkien than went back to academia, first as a lexicographer for the New English Dictionary, then as a tutor, then as a reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and then as a professor of Anglo-saxon at Oxford where he remained for the rest of his professional life, producing several impressive pieces of scholarship on Beowulf and the language of The Canterbury Tales Living as an Oxford 'Don' seemed to suit Tolkien well. I have come to know a little bit of academic life myself. There are a lot of smart people interacting in a relatively small space and like most smart people, they have very strong opinions, both professionally and politically. This has good and bad points; it does succor a bit of asperity in one's personality; I can imagine some of the comments that Tolkien's fellow professors uttered when he tried to - and was ultimately successful in - reformulating the curriculum of the English literature and language course of study at Oxford. But the ability to talk and bounce ideas of and just be exposed to others equally or perhaps more brilliant than oneself is a priceless spur to creativity and original thought. Oxford was where Tolkien got together with some of his fellow professors, notably C.S Lewis and joined the 'Inklings'; an informal group that congregated around Lewis and would read old Norse poetry and English myths and pass around the whiskey. I have very little doubt that Tolkien benefited quite a lot from having his fellow inksters around; reading sagas to C.S Lewis and Hugh Dyson, refining his tales in his mind, and maybe being able to show off a bit that he could create such as masterpiece.

                     *                       *                       *                     *

Of the three, the oldest work is clearly The Silmarillion. It was a natural outgrowth of Tolkien's interest in old languages and old sagas, such as the Icelandic Elder Edda. Indeed there are antecedents of it when he was a schoolboy, and he started writing it when he was convalescing in a military hospital while the war raged. Although it is not a polished as LoTR, the work has a much merit, although I would not recommend it to anyone who has not read and familiarized themselves with LoTR.
    For one, it is a more explicitly religious work. I have made the point already that Tolkien was a practicing, indeed pious Roman Catholic who never saw the slightest contradiction between his mythological work and his theologic beliefs; and indeed there are many religious themes in LoTR; it is merely the outward trappings of monotheistic religion which are absent. However, The Silmarillion starts out with a creation myth, sort of a combination of Genesis and Old Norse Gods that is explicitly monotheistic and indeed to me reads almost like John Milton, with Melkor playing the role of Lucifer; and just as Lucifer become Satan, so Melkor becomes Morgoth, and wars with the blessed realm and is ultimately defeated by it.
    For another, this time more like LoTR, it deals with clear good and evil and how evil is that which corrupts the good ('For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.' says Elrond in LoTR). It is arrogance and lust for power and placing the love of that which one creates over love for the creator that causes the downfall. Which brings us to the Elves, which, as Tolkien conceived them are the most original things to me in his mythology and seem to me almost wholly without antecedents.
   Tolkien's elves are not little sprightly creatures wearing green pointy slippers, making cookies or toys. They are us, in perfect form. They were explicitly created perfect and over and over Tolkien emphasizes their perfection: They are beautiful, immortal, possessed of great power and yet never evil unless deliberately ruined, skilled in craft, creative and filled with a love of literature and poetry. Who really are they? They are us before the fall, but more like angels than mortals.
   And so, when they fall, their fall is long and dramatic, and their self-imposed exile from the blessed realm is just as epic as Lucifer's fall from grace. The curse that is placed on them when they leave, having defied the Gods and murdered some fellow elves who stood in their way, and sworn a blasphemous oath to recover stolen jewels and the response from Feanor, the greatest elf of them all (but also the one who falls the most) is one of the most ringing in all literature:

   

"Ye have spilled the blood of your kindred unrighteously and have stained the land of Aman. For blood ye shall render blood, and beyond Aman ye shall dwell in death's shadow. For though Eru appointed you to die not. . . and no sickness may assail you, yet slain ye may be and slain ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief; and your houseless spirits shall come then to Mandos. There long shall ye abide and earn for your bodies, and find little pity though all ye have slain should entreat for you. And those that endure in middle-earth and come not to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that cometh after. The Valar have spoken.
   Then many quailed, but Feanor hardened his heart and said: We have sworn and not lightly. This oath we will keep. We are threatened with many evils, and treason not least; but one thing is not said, that we shall suffer from cowardice, from cravens, or the fear of cravens. Therefore I say that we shall go on, and this doom I add: the deeds that we shall do shall be the matter of song until the last days of Arda"
I think even Milton would have been impressed.

When one takes the trilogy as a whole - for it encompasses its own complete world that was always meant to be Earth in another magical time, not another planet or another galaxy or any of that nonsense - certain other themes emerge. Rejection of the twentieth century for one; there is an anti-technology and pro-ecology slant that runs though and gives additional resonance to the works; it is the evil ones, particularly Saruman who meddle with machines and breeding half-orcs, and it gives us the characters of the Ents, the Shepherds of the Trees who are in their own way the most tragic characters of the book. There is no 'democracy' here; men, dwarves and elves are ruled by high kings and no one questions that; one of the subtexts of the book is how Aragorn regains his kingship and there are hints of disputed succession (a very Shakespearean theme by the way, the only specific one I can think of). And yes, there is some racist thinking as well that very few of the nineteenth century can escape; the fundamental equality of the races is a twentieth century notion, not a nineteenth one.

And yet for all its grandeur and grandiosity, both LoTR and The Hobbit are also, when they most resemble children's literature very droll as well, as if Tolkien wrote about hobbits and the Shire to satirize aspects of West Midlands English Society. When looked at as a group the hobbits bear a striking resemblance to the chattering classes, concerned with issues of social status and gossip. In that sense the party scene that starts of LoTR is classic, and the initial portrait of Bilbo as the comfortable satisfied burgher, who tried to initially brush off Gandalf with a pointed 'Good Morning' as in 'it won't be a good morning until you go away' is brilliant; Monty Python couldn't have done it better.

I will thus conclude with the ending of Carpenter's biography. It ends with the death of Tolkien and once again makes the interesting point of the antithesis between the ordinary life he led - he was buried in a plain cemetery with an unostentatious headstone - and the fabulous imagination, erudition, and craft that created his entire mythology. It is not, nor ever will be clear where it comes from; a mystery that I am just as comfortable living with as a Catholic is contemplating the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Or maybe can be found by reading the works themselves.
   And so this epitaph

     

His requiem mass was held in Oxford four days after his death, in the plain modern church in Headington which he had attended so often. The prayers and readings were specially chosen by his son John, who said the mass with the assistance of Tolkien's old friend Fr. Robert Murray and his parish priest Mgr Doran. There was no sermon or quotation from his writings. However, when a few weeks later a memorial service was held in California by some of his American admirers, his short story Leaf by Niggle was read to the congregation. He would have perhaps considered it not inappropriate:
     Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt and guessed, and had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly his lifted his arms and opened them wide.
    'It's a gift!' he said.
And we are so much the richer for that.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 08:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter, DKOMA, and Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  I'll post more later. I'll add here that 1) I (18+ / 0-)

    especially also like Unfinished Tales. It has lots of goodies about aspects of Middle earth, including how foolish Peter Jackson was in having Gandalf physically assault a very poor written Denethor (not the fault of the actor). The 5 wizards (maiar) were explicitly forbidden to impose themselves on the free peoples of Middle Earth.
    2) The area of Laketown did have a form of Democratic government, at least until The Master of laketown went a little funny in the head and died in the wilderness with gold.
    3) There's also, as Humphrey Carpenter noted, the ambiguous in fluence of Charles Williams on the Inklings, personally liked by Tolkien but resented for his perceived intruding on his friendship with C.S. Lewis. Btw, I highly recommend the "supernatural thrillers" Charles Williams wrote (not so much his poetry or theological writings).

    •  Great diary. Clearly, Tolkien's life (18+ / 0-)

      informed his work, but I appreciate Dr. Corey Olsen's take on this - thinking too much about how Tolkien's life is reflected in the books gets in the way of understanding Tolkien's world-building and story telling.   Tolkien was writing a story, and wanted it to be read and appreciated as a story.  He started thinking of it as a 'myth' and epic history for England, but ended up dropping that idea and worked to make the books internally consistent and true to the logic of the world he had created.

      The other thing that should be remembered is that he was a philologist who studied Old English and Germanic languages.  The languages in the books came first, and played a big role in shaping the stories.

      He fully understood the structure and tropes of the old epic tales, and used this knowledge in his fiction.  Some people complain that his characters are not complex, that Aragorn and Faramir are too perfect, for instance, and not fully rounded characters.  They weren't meant to be; that wasn't their role in the story.  They are plenty complex, but in a different way than in modern novels.  (These are the changes that most ruined the movies for me, particularly what was done to Faramir.)

      Anyway, thanks for these diaries, MichiganChet.  These are amazing books that fully reward deep reading.

      •  Ditto on the movie Faramir (15+ / 0-)

        The whole point of the character was how noble he was, and how Denethor missed it. By making him succumb to lust for the Ring but change his mind at the last minute (a movie cliche if there ever was one), Jackson utterly messes up who he was.

        At the time TT came out I was posting in a lot of places on the Web how much I hated how Faramir was changed. I could understand why Bombadil wasn't in Fellowship, and why most of the early going in Fellowship was jettisoned (Tolkien wrote the Council of Elrond as a 50 page faculty meeting), but, by Towers Tolkien had found himself as a storyteller. There were so many times in the two later movies it would have been better for Jackson to just film what was written and not impose his auteur's vision on the tale.

        Radarlady, stopping now...

        •  Absolutely. Changing fundamental (9+ / 0-)

          character traits of major characters ruined the movies for me.  I hated having elves instead of huorns and rangers showing up at Helms Deep because it made absolutely no sense within the story, but I could live with that.  The character changes completely changed the point of the story, and greatly diminished its power.  (Faramir was the worst for me, but that wimpy, too-young and helpless Frodo wasn't far behind!)

          •  Character assassination (10+ / 0-)

            is the term I think of when thinking of Jackson's Faramir, Theoden, and even Denethor. Denethor in the book was the quintessential tragic figure, but in the movie he was little more than an educated and powerful lout.

            It's one thing to cut out wide swaths of the book (you couldn't make a movie without doing that) or to tell the story in chronological order rather than the switching back and forth Tolkien did in the last two volumes.

            It's another thing to turn a character into a caricature, for whatever reasons Jackson did this.

            I haven't decided whether I will see his Hobbit movie.

            A definition is the enclosing of a wilderness of ideas within a wall of words -- Samuel Butler

            by A Mad Mad World on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 05:04:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  In the same vein Aragorn became an ambivalent (5+ / 0-)

              leader in the movie whereas in the book he is a compelling leader. For example,he held his company together by strength of will going through the Path of the Dead at Dunharrow. When he first encountered Eomer on the plains of Rohan in pursuit of the young hobbits, he is revealed as a strong leader, and wise, diffusing a precarious situation.
              In the movie, he seems uncertain he wants to be king and the exchange he has with Elrond implies he only does it to get the girl, Arwen. NOT.  

      •  Most of the changes to characters (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TofG, wasatch

        though annoying can be overlooked as artistic license.

        The marring misunderstanding for me was the Eye of Sauron...in the book a spiritual, incorporeal, and metaphorical eye, in the movie a literal giant flaming eyeball.

        Robot Chicken parodied it best, having the Flaming Eye get some dust in it and not being able to get it out, lacking arms.

        We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

        by bmcphail on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 11:35:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Interesting, because Tolkien hated them (7+ / 0-)

      As Carpenter pointed out. I have never read them. Feel free to do a diary on Williams for the 'Favorite Author' series; it would be quite complementary to what we have been doing her

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 09:17:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  highly nitpicky (7+ / 0-)

      1. Having read the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Silmarillion and the Children of Hurin several times each, I do not recall ever reading specifically that "The 5 wizards (maiar) were explicitly forbidden to impose themselves on the free peoples of Middle Earth."

      2. You mention that you got this info out of Unfinished Tales. As such, I don't think it's right to blast Peter Jackson for not adhering to what's contained therein because it's not really canon.

      3. Given the woeful movie adaptations of so many other books, I think Mr. Jackson deserves some credit for being both faithful and entertaining.

      "You try to vote or participate in the government/ and the muh'fuckin' Democrats is actin' like Republicans" ~ Kweli -8.00, -6.56

      by joey c on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 11:52:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  About PJ credit: As Frodo observed: "Go not to the (9+ / 0-)

        elves for advice, for they will say both yes and no."

        About the movies: cinematography and mostly casting of characters---brilliant. I thought Boromir actually improved on the book, but almost always when PJ changed things up, invented bits, it fell flat (if even that). Just a few stupid changes 1) Gimli as anobject of ridicule se: dwarf tossing 2-gross misrepresenting the characters of Denethor and (my favorite character) Faramir 3) The silly improv of Merry and Pippin duping an apparently semile Treebeard into attcking Orthanc, etc. The only one of the 3 films I can really rewatch is FotR, which I would have put second for Oscar to Chicago, as Uan McKellan should have gotten an oscar for the FIRST film, the slew of Oscars for RotK was largely undeserved.

        As for the wizards being explicitly forbidden to use force, to what extent Unfinished Tales is canon is a gray area. It was edited by christopher Tolkien, who was of course in the full confidence of his father and I think in matters like the Istari one has to yield to his interpretation, esp. since he is quick to give varying interpretations of people/events when they seem doubtful.
             In the chapter on the Istari:

        For with the consent of Eru they sent members of their own high order, but clad in the bodies of Men, real and not feigned, but subject to the fears and pains and weariness of earth, able to hunger and thirst and be slain; though because of their noble spirits they did not die, and aged only by the cares and labours of many long years. And this the Valar did, desiring to amend the errors of old, especially that they had attempted to guard and seclude the Eldar by their own might and glory fully revealed; wheareas now their emissaries were forbidden to reveal themselves in forms of majesty, or to seek to rule the wills of Men or Elves by open display of power, but coming in shapes weak and humble were bidden to advise  and persuade Men and Elves to good, and to seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavour to dominate and corrupt.
        And in Letters # 156:
        ...Why they should take such a form is bound up with the 'mythology' of the 'angelic' Powers of the world of this fable. At this point in the fabulous history the purpose was precisely to limit and hinder their exhibition of 'power' on the physical plane, and so that they should do what they were primarily sent for: train, advise, instruct, arouse the hearts and minds of those threatened by Sauron to a resistance with their own strengths; and not to just do the job for them.
        And when Gandalf returns, enhanced, since the original wizard plan to help the peoples of Middle Earth was insufficient (partyly due to the defection of Saruman):
        So Gandalf sacrificed himself [in Moria], was accepted, and enhanced, and returned. 'Yes, that was the name, I was Gandalf.'...He is still under the obligation of concealing his power and of teaching rather than forcing or dominating wills
        Well I should break off here. As Tolkien observed in deciding not to send a detailed reply to a different letter "Not sent. It seemed to be taking itself far too seriously."
        •  Nicely said (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TofG, beka, Aunt Pat

          I'll just add that the portrayal of Samwise in the movie, and of Faramir, who doesn't seem to be able to resist the temptation of the ring, a opposed to the book, where the entire point of the character was representing what wisdom there was in men I found grossly wrong.
             Clearly you 'get' LoTR and The Silmarillion

          An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

          by MichiganChet on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 01:52:55 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks for sticking up for the dwarves (6+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TofG, beka, Aunt Pat, Debby, Iron Spider, ferg

          Agree that the character of Boromir in the film was more complex.  We saw more of the war within the character to figure out and do the right thing.  Boromir's loyalty to Minas Tirith and to his father, and his strong sense of responsibility to his people were also well developed, so I, at least, had more sympathy for him than for the Boromir of the books.

          Agree also that valiant Gimli and the entire race of dwarves and all their accomplishments were reduced to comic relief.  A terrible disappointment and a great insult to the acting talents of John Rhys-Davies.  

          Jackson missed a golden opportunity to compare and contrast the characters of Theoden and Denethor.  

          I hated the way that Theoden was given so many quasi-Shakespearean lines to pad The Two Towers at the expense of developing other characters.

          I have no help to send. Therefore I must go myself. Aragorn

          by Old Gardener on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 02:34:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Look in LoTR Appendix B (8+ / 0-)

        In the section titled "The Third Age," Tolkien wrote,

        When maybe a thousand years had passed, and the first shadow had fallen on Greenwood the Great, the Istari or Wizards appeared in Middle Earth. It was afterwards said that they came out of the Far West and were messengers sent to contest the power of Sauron, and to unite all those who had the will to resist him; but they were forbidden to match his power with power, or to seek to dominate Elves or Men by force and fear.
        Given that Jackson pulled the tale of Aragorn and Arwen out of the appendices, I would argue that the Wizards - including their motivations and constraints - are part of the canon.

        MichiganChet's previous diary inspired me to reread LoTR (including the appendices, which is why the above section was fresh in my memory), and further fanned the flames of my appreciation.

        While I did - and do - enjoy Jackson's tale, I've come to see them as separate, though related. That's the only way I can reconcile myself to Jackson's shameful reinterpretation of Aragorn as haunted by doubts and fear of succumbing to temptation, because he's a weak Man.

        West Virginia's new motto: Ex Os, Ex Mens (go look it up)

        by blonde moment on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 02:14:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  My favorite "Inklings" story (and more) (18+ / 0-)

    Is one in which Tolkien begins reading one of his (many) stories to the group, only to hear someone mutter under his breath, "Oh God, another fucking Elf."  

    On a more serious note, I don't think Tolkien's racist and Nietzschean flaws can be so easily passed over.  He was, for all his erudition, a product of late nineteenth century South Africa (he retained the accent to old age, as the video clip you attached to your first piece on this topic indicates) and England, and of the genteel racist and anti-semitic opinions that characterized early twentieth century Western culture.  

    This is, to be sure, a product of his times (Eliot and, most foully, Pound, were hardly better - and don't even try to read the original Mary Poppins books without something to punch in the vicinity), but it's hard to stomach the LotR description of Southrons (men allied with the evil Sauron) as dark skinned with bulging eyes and lolling tongues.  This was in many circles at the time a "progressive" opinion, just as some of the vilest anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant sentiments were held by self regarded progressive reformists arrayed against the machinations of Boss Tweed in New York (if you doubt this, check out some of Thomas Nast's policial cartoons on the subject - they're stunning in their ugliness).  

    The Elves - particularly the Noldor - and the division of men between Numenoreans and "lesser' men, is also discomfiting, to say the least.  It obviously fits the author's carefully constructed hierarchical and semi-feudal world, but its not so unspoken notions of the ubermensch (mortal and immortal alike) is reflective of an erudite and (supposedly)  learned society that could spawn Naziism as a perferctly (to them) intellctual extension of accepted dogma.  

    The lesson is I think vital to us today.  We think of ourselves as progressive, enlightened, and free of judgmentalism and prejudice.  Our descendants are waiting to laugh at our presumption, just as we shake our heads at Tolkien at al.   The temptation to define, and deride, The Other Among Us is part of human nature.  It's been part of political doscourse since time immemorial, and it continues today.  That's always been a disadvantage that  self-described progressive people have had - their (relative) unwillingness to define and attack an opposing Other makes their arguments more diffuse and less visceral.  It's why the Right can command the sound bites better than we can.  That's not a call to start defining Others, but an acknowledgement that we, for all our supposed superiuority to our forebears, have a lot of latent (and not so latent) prejudice bouncing around inside us as well.

     We shouldn't be so arrogant as to hold Tolkien (or any of the others) to our contemporary standards of racial justice and legitimacy (that's the sort of logic that leads to dismissing the Founding Fathers as a bunch of racist privileged galoots who only acted to protect their own social status.  With respect, I think they did somewhat better, whether they fully understood what they had wrought or not). We do need, however, to be honest about confronting that disturbing aspect of their work.  It's not only a window into their individual psyches, or that of their times.  It's a revelatory look into the souls of all people, and the darkness that can there reside (something Tolkien was very eloquent on).  

    Our devotion to writers like Tolkien (and God knows I love his work) shouldn't blind us to their own blind spots.  Nor should those shortcomings too deeply undermine our appreciation for their genius.  

    •  The Southron slain in Ithilien ... (12+ / 0-)

      ... during the battle of the "Oliphant," led to an anti-war reverie by common-man Sam as he gazed at the splendor of his armor and trappings, wondering what lies had drawn him into battle and death so far from home.

      The Southrons WERE treated as strangers, with an element of fear, and your quoted description above is accurate, but I'd say that they were far from "inferiors."

      The economy didn't just crash under a Republican president, it crashed under Republican policies. It crashed with low taxes.

      by MT Spaces on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 09:59:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Agree thanks for the thoughtful comment (9+ / 0-)

      That is why I put in those few lines. It is also how I feel about Kipling, which is a diary I still have in my brain

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 08:36:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Issues like these are complex (8+ / 0-)

        We do ourselves a disservice by immediately dismissing authors or works for reflecting either the prejudices of their times or the particular character flaws of the authors...or even for failing to reflect those flaws (for which we can sometimes condemn an entire body of work to the flames).

        This is of course not to say that any writer should be given a free pass on any issue even if it is apparently extraneous to the body of their work. In general it seems to me that we don't like to do nuance, or to read around obvious shortcomings that get in the way of more important insights so we're stuck instead with either ignoring the glaringly obvious or disposing of something potentially very worthwhile.

    •  An occasional (certainly to late 20th Century and (26+ / 0-)

      21st Century view) element that could be read as racist is in LotR (the lolling tongue is about the worst, and I remember one critical essay that actually counted the number of "dark" and "black" comments that could be found [mostly about the nazgul] to try to make that point. But given his time and place I'd say he was more "severely conservative" (and monarchist) and not in a flip flopping Mitt Romney sort of way. For comparison, just think of the depictions of women in American 1950s tv shows, movies, and novels (hint, Madmen).

      To give a corrective, there's his reply in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien Letter #30, dated July 25, 1938, replying to a request by Rutten & Loening Verlag relating to his furnishing proof of his Aryan background in order to publish The Hobbit in Germany.
      This quote is from one of two drafts Tolkien sent to Allen and Unwin, they probably sent the other one, which also refused to make any declaration of arisch origin. (It's a bit cheeky).

          Dear Sirs,
           Thank you for your letter.....I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-iranian: as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hisdustani, persian, Gypsy or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefor purely English, and I am an English subject-which should be sufficient. I have been accutomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forebear to comment that if impertinent  and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.
           Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even ifit had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its suitability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung [German: 'descent, geneology']
      .
           I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and
                   remain yours faithfully
                     J. R. R. Tolkien
    •  TLOTR is not a political (10+ / 0-)

      book and jamming it into that frame does the author wrong.  It is allegorical about spiritual/religious/psychological development.  The Song of Songs is not about agricultural practices or wildlife, Robert Frost's 'Silken Tent' is not about how to construct a shelter from sun and rain.  And TLOTR is not about European politics.

      The way I read Tolkien's descriptions of Southrons, Eastrons, orcs, etc is as elaboration on how strange and 'other' they are to the hobbits.  Every creature in Middle Earth is strange to hobbits other than hobbits.

      My mother can remember as a child seeing a black man for the first time.  No black person had ever stepped foot where she lived; black people were only known from the newspapers and pictures in school textbooks.  She and other people from her village in central Europe stood along the main village street the spring of 1945 and watched black American GIs drive up to them in a Jeep, say something, and then drive on.  She says she and some others stood there with their mouths open, amazed and not knowing what to say.  Beings so familiar and so strange at once, and unexpected, and both beautiful and scary.

      My mother has now been a teacher in a Bible study group in a state prison here in Mass. for about twenty years.  Her students are almost all young black men.   She loves being with them and helping them talk out some things and read.  
      And they love her too.   When she's absent, her 'boys' always ask the other Bible study people why she's gone and when she'll be back.  She's their blond and blue eyed and somewhat pigment deficient aunt.  Sometimes even a bit of momma.

    •  Anti-Semitism? (7+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MT Spaces, beka, Aunt Pat, Panurge, Debby, Jay C, IM

      The guy who was disappointed he wasn't Jewish so he could troll the Nazis more?

      •  And Nietzsche? (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wasatch, Debby, quarkstomper, Jay C, mythatsme

        1.  Why would a devout Catholic like Tolkien have anything to do with the atheist Nietzsche?  

        2.  Yes, Tolkien speaks of "lesser Men", but I think the idea is that compared to the Numenoreans we're all "lesser Men".  We might stop to think of what "lesser" means here as well; it might just mean "belonging to a less-developed civilization".

        3.  There's a story in Appendix A about a disputed royal succession in his kingdom of Gondor; the very point of it is that the "good guy" is the one who's not "racially pure".

        4.  And who can forget the image of Men and Hobbits living together in peace in the town of Bree?  ;-)

        The '60s were simply an attempt to get the 21st Century started early....Well, what are we waiting for? There's no deadline on a dream!

        by Panurge on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 10:11:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  And, in fact, the "Lesser Men" were considered (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TofG

          good enough at the time of the War of the Ring to marry and bear noble heirs (the Rohirrim are considered "lesser" than the pureblood Numenoreans (the folk of Gondor), but Faramir took Eowyn to wife with no objections).

          The GOP: Fighting to make government small enough to stuff up a woman's vagina for 40 years.

          by jayjaybear on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 06:30:44 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Nietzsche was not as original as you might think (0+ / 0-)

          Nietzsche's uniqueness lies mainly in his style and his belief that 19th Century Germany (or England) was not the apex of human achievement nor even moving in that general direction.  But otherwise his beliefs were hardly radical for his time and place; most educated people subscribed to them in some form.

          Never attribute to stupidity what can be adequately explained by malice; stupid people couldn't hurt us so effectively.

          by Visceral on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 01:09:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  William Morris (11+ / 0-)


    From The Sundering Flood by William Morris

    The stylistic similarities between Lord of the Rings and the best of Morris' heroic fantasies is staggering. Tolkien may have personally owed more to Andrew Lang, but the influence of the grand Socialist polymath and medievalist was profound in the late 1900's.

    Wood Beyond the World

    The Sundering Flood

    The economy didn't just crash under a Republican president, it crashed under Republican policies. It crashed with low taxes.

    by MT Spaces on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 10:14:46 PM PDT

    •  Quite agree. I was also going to put in (5+ / 0-)

      Something about Lord Dunsany (http://en.wikipedia.org/...) but I gotta stop somewhere!

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 08:38:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Lord Dunsany could be pretty good ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        confitesprit, Aunt Pat

        ... but I'm not sure how much Tolkien read him, or what his opinion might have been.

        J.R.R. Tolkien championed Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay among his circle -- a very weird, sexually-charged book.

        One day it would be nice to know his reading list concerning Fantasy and Science Fiction -- I'm sure he had his opinions.

        C.S. Lewis was an avuncular advocate of the S-F genre in his final years, and I'm glad I became "acquainted" with him when he was humorous, humble, but unafraid of being wrong in his role as a fellow-fanboy, as he sometimes was.

        I've always wondered if Don Wollheim (Ace Books) tried his end-run around copyright law with Lord of the Rings partly because of Lewis' charm offensive in the USA. I first heard about Tolkien's book via fandom that way, along with Lindsay and Hope Mirilees.

        The economy didn't just crash under a Republican president, it crashed under Republican policies. It crashed with low taxes.

        by MT Spaces on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 09:17:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  thanks, chet, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, Lorinda Pike, confitesprit

    i am not yet aware what day it is... by next week, i'll be back on human schedule.  

    i'm still between the worlds right now.  catching up with the "empty"...

  •  Not a Catholic here. I call myself a bacon-eating (15+ / 0-)

    Jewess. I have to say, however, that the Lord of the Rings captivated my imagination as few other works of fiction have. I read it at age 17, and it has stayed with me ever since. My Ballentine books paperback edition of it (with cover art that Tolkien despised) fell apart and was thrown away long ago, but the work stays with me, as fresh in my memory as if I'd read it yesterday.

    LOTR is the reason I write fantasy. If it hadn't been published, I might write sci-fi (which I do also, BTW) or horror fiction, but probably not fantasy. Tolkien invented the modern fantasy genre. We modern fantasy writers all stand very much in his debt.

    "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here: http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-900-8

    by Kimball Cross on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 04:31:53 AM PDT

  •  Great diary....life without fantasy would be dull (8+ / 0-)

    Thanks for another great diary..without works that bring us fantasy, imagination and a chance to escape to places like Middle Earth, life would be mundane and perhaps even lack experience and the desire to explore one's ability to imagine and reach our potential.  Tolkien's works remind us how the most ordinary folks can provide us treasures that can live on beyond one's life....

    A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble. Mohandas Gandhi

    by SingaporeSpunk on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 06:04:46 AM PDT

  •  Tolkien at the top of one guy's list: (9+ / 0-)

    Tom Shippey: J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of the Century (New York Houghton Mifflin, 2000).

    Fun read, for a long-time Tolkienist, like myself. My fourth-grade teacher read the Hobbit to us in the afternoons, in the early 60s. I went to the librarian and said, "I want more books like that!" She loaned me her personal copies of the the trilogy. I've read them, the Silmarillion, Christopher's versions of the unpublished works, everything, over and over.

    Shippey convinces me that I wasn't completely wasting my time.

    Courage is contagious. - Daniel Ellsberg

    by semiot on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 06:07:10 AM PDT

    •  A somewhat hagiographic work (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TofG, Aunt Pat, bmcphail, semiot

      (clear from the title alone) but full of fascinating information.

      A definition is the enclosing of a wilderness of ideas within a wall of words -- Samuel Butler

      by A Mad Mad World on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 05:12:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I hope it's clear that the title is not (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        semiot, wasatch

        "THE Author of the Century"  but
        "Author of the Century"

        Not splitting hairs at all: the title is intended to imply, and Shippey writes explicitly,  that Tolkien, in spite of his singular viewpoint, is in many ways absolutely emblematic of the 20th century.

        We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

        by bmcphail on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 11:32:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for this and the previous diary (10+ / 0-)

    I have read the trilogy many times. I am now finally reading The Silmarillion. My grown children recall that I read part of the trilogy to them. Tolkien remains one of my favorite writers. Your discussion touches on so many things that gave me pause for reflection. Love your writing!!

    Keeping a firm grip on my gratitude list

    by Up to here on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 06:11:02 AM PDT

  •  Wonderful Diary (7+ / 0-)

    I just wanted to say that I'm loving reading your Tolkien diaries.  They are bringing back wonderful memories of the books and I realize they need to be on my kindle.  I'm also enjoying reading the comments.  It makes me realize I'm hungry for a good literary discussion.

  •  It is part of the reason why Edrie and I do this (9+ / 0-)

    Because we like literary discussions, and to me the highest complement is sparking a discussion that is filled with tasteful and perceptive comments by our fellow literary Kossacks.
        We are going for a bit of a cultural revolution, you see.

    An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

    by MichiganChet on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 08:43:13 AM PDT

  •  My Tolkein moment (8+ / 0-)

    Never having read any of his work, I was unaware that some folks in a chat room years ago took me less than seriously because of something I wrote.

    In chat having nothing to do with any kind of literature, I wrote, with a flourish, if memory serves, that I had been born on the banks of the Brandywine.  (There is a Brandywine River which runs from Southeastern Pennsylvania to Wilmington, Delaware.  There is, of course, also a battle of Brandywine in the Revolutionary War, fought near current-day Chadds Ford, Pa.

    The folks with whom I was chatting were British, all of whom lived in London.  Apparently, they all had read Tolkein and there is some reference in one of the books about a Brandywine River.  It took forever to set them straight.  (This was before Wikipedia and they had to do some serious searching.)

    I realize this contributes nothing to the post, but we remain two nations separated by a common language.

    (I do have a several greats aunt who got her Ph.D. in philology, a subject I remain unable to grasp.)

    •  That's amusing (8+ / 0-)

      It would have been difficult for me to restrain myself from enquiring whether you were a Brandybuck or not.

      I also cannot resist adding: try reading the book sometime, you might like it. And please do not judge the work from the spectacle placed on the screen

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 02:01:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Tom Shippey (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TofG, MichiganChet, Aunt Pat

    If you enjoyed Carpenter's biography, you'll love Tom Shippey's books, especially J. R. R. Tolkien:  Author of the Century.  

  •  Thank you, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TofG, US Blues, Aunt Pat

    The Silmarillion has always had a special place in my heart.  

    not all those who wander are lost - J.R.R. Tolkien

    by Lilith on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 12:18:22 PM PDT

    •  For me, too. I almost enjoy the "background" (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lilith, Fiona West, Dvalkure

      works more than the history of the War of the Ring. I once tried to translate the Ainulindale back into Quenya (and, in the process, back into the tengwar) from the available explicitly Tolkienian glossaries.

      I didn't get very FAR, but that was the ambition.

      The GOP: Fighting to make government small enough to stuff up a woman's vagina for 40 years.

      by jayjaybear on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 07:14:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Long time and avid Tolkein reader (8+ / 0-)

    Despite the observation from my mother, who was a student of languages and very familiar with the Edda, sagas et al., in their original languages, that his work was so derivative that she couldn't stand to read it.

    I was fortunately far too captivated to pay any attention, and only regretted that she did not appreciate what quickly became my favored imaginary world.

    I rather like John Garth's Book Tolkein and the Great War which rather strongly supports that with out the war LOTR would not have been written or would have been very different.  Derivative or not, Tolkein's work is also clearly informed by his experiences, and his loathing of war and the technology of war is clear.

    I thought perhaps some of what seems to be Tolkein's racist perspective came about through the long association of the dark and darkness itself with evil, and the convenience as it were as painting the supporters of evil as black.  Not all of them were either, not the Ringwraiths or barrow wights among others.  And as noted above many of the Southron warriers were portrayed as brave and heroic, though misled.  And the ring could corrupt folk of many races and species--clearly an equal opportunity evil.

    Enjoying the discussion regarding Tolkein and his work very much.  

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 12:42:01 PM PDT

    •  Much of literature (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TofG, Aunt Pat

      is derivative in some ways. And Tolkien was continuing a literary tradition whose most prominent proponent had been Wagner, whom himself drew his libretto from previous sources.

      A definition is the enclosing of a wilderness of ideas within a wall of words -- Samuel Butler

      by A Mad Mad World on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 05:16:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  For that matter, Shakespeare (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        zinger99, TofG, Aunt Pat, A Mad Mad World

        based many of his plays on existing stories, and I'm not talking about the history plays. I think Lear was based on older stories, which certainly doesn't diminish it.

        48forEastAfrica - Donate to Oxfam If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one. - Mother Teresa

        by wasatch on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 05:39:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Continuing tradition, but with very original (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TofG, wasatch, Aunt Pat, IM, A Mad Mad World

        elements.  The back story (Silmarillion) is very different from the older works, for instance.  Many of the grand themes are similar, but that will be true of any story (all have human authors and readers).  Tolkien deliberately echoed those old works - LoTR was supposed to be stories told by hobbits, roughly from an early medieval-equivalent society.  Within that framing, he created really novel beings and situations.

        Every culture and every age gets its sagas, retellings of fundamental tales that speaks to their audiences' imaginations in a special way.  This is one of those.  Not the only one for the late 20th century, but the one that spoke to me.

      •  Even though Tolkien said Wagner (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wasatch, Aunt Pat, Dvalkure

        got it all wrong.

        The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

        by raboof on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 07:26:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  some cross-thoughts (13+ / 0-)

    There is a wealth of added info in JRR Tolkien's additional writings as published by his son. Let me note a few things that appear not to accord completely with what you've said:

    1.  According to the report of Tolkien's conversion of Lewis, Tolkien's Catholicism was very much a unique viewpoint.  As he put it, he saw Catholicism as "a myth that happened to be true."  A myth, he thought, speaks more profoundly than anything else to the core of our selves. What made this even more important than the Greek or Roman myths was that this was actual history. So, as it were, the story of Jesus was a key to our understanding ourselves, and was better than the others because it was rooted in our real history, rather than made up by humans.

    2. Although Tolkien's view on Morgoth and evil evolved throughout his life, it appears to have run as follows: God created the world as three episodes of music.  In the first, Morgoth and those persuaded by him turned God's theme into chaos.  In the second, an even better music is likewise countered, creating basically great strife. In the third, Morgoth's music achieves a little coherence but is lousy, and God's theme, instead of contrasting from it, takes its lousiness and turns it into sad and profound parts of God's own theme. Morgoth's flaw is to (a) think it's all about me, and (b) try to control everyone who won't do as he says. To do so, Morgoth takes little pieces of himself and puts them in everyone, so that everyone is always arguing with a little mini-Morgoth.

    The first theme is life pre-Elves, when God's children are fighting to create life as God intended and as Morgoth intended. The second theme is the age of the Elves.  While arrogance is a flaw of everyone, the Elves' flaw is that they live so long that they become attached to the past, to the point where they try to freeze it forever.  That is how Morgoth suckered the Elves into capturing the light of the Great Tree in the Silmarillions, and Sauron, his disciple, suckered them into creating the Great Rings.  In order to win against Morgoth, the Elves have to give up trying to preserve the past and leave Middle Earth.

    The third theme is the age of Man. The gift God gave Man was uncertainty. When the Elves die, their body gets tired, and their spirit (fea) leaves it and goes to the Undying Lands and stays there forever, in a kind of semi-sad, passive trance. When Man dies, after a much shorter period, he or she doesn't know what happens.  Maybe the human just vanishes; maybe the human lives on, just as the faithful children of God who are watching from the Undying Lands will do once God folds up the tent. Man's flaw is impatience, which Morgoth easily turns into me now, me now, me now. Aragorn is the first human to succeed in rejecting his mini-Morgoth throughout his life, to the very end.

    Tolkien was by no means anything so simple as a racist or sexist, and in fact he was close to a pacifist.  A fascinating if tough-to-read story called Aldarion and Eldaris shows the evolution of his thinking about women from the days when (I suspect) he was trying to adore his sweetheart and then wife too much instead of understanding her. If there was any stereotyped thinking, it lay in the fact that Tolkien probably tended to see women as wanting order more than men. People tend to misunderstand the sudden conversion of Eowyn when she agrees to marry Faramir.  There is no sense that she will not be autonomous and in full control of what she does, and a King equal to Faramir; but what she wants to do, now that she has the choice, is to grow a garden in Ithilien -- to, like an Entwife, grow the trees in rows rather than let them wander and herd them, like an Ent.

    As for racism, reading Tolkien's letters about the Germans and seeing the way he recommended that his hobbits (the folk nearest to the way he thought) always approach others by pity through understanding, suggests that any racism was far, far below the conscious, and not simple.

    Btw, along the same lines, has anyone aside from Mary Gentle noted that his Orcs are WW I British Army drill sergeants? How do you make that racist?  

    •  Thanks for the thoughtful comment. May I respond (8+ / 0-)

      'Quite so'. It is clear that Tolkien never saw the slightest conflict between his invented mythology and the mythology of his church - a mythology that he strongly believed to be true - and thus middle earth represents common ground - I will go further and say it is the firmest area of common ground I know - wherein the religious and the nonbelievers can find magic and meaning in, well, everything. Quite agree as well that Tolkien was by no means so simple as racist or sexist; he was a very complex and far-thinking man, but the fact remains that he was a part of the Edwardian era of Britain, and there is a bit of an unconscious equation of enlightenment and culture with those of us of fairer skin, that is all.
          In one part of the novel yes, the orc that drives Frodo and Sam in disguise is like a British (or American) Drill instructor, but of course he would be as he thinks he is speaking to other orcs. At other times, when they speak they sound like mercenaries or soldiers of fortune. I would say that Tolkien was such a good writer he always added nuance to his characters, even the orcs, who had thoughts and motivations of their own. And who are very much aware of their 'grunt' status.

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 02:13:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  what a delight (8+ / 0-)

    to see another Tolkien diary! I spent a lot of time in Middle Earth last week because of the first one.

    Though I've read The Hobbit and The LOTR trilogy many times, I still haven't tackled The Silmarillion. I tried once in high school, quickly gave up, and haven't attempted it since. I've always appreciated the echoes of a longer history in LOTR without feeling compelled to pursue it in detail. But I still have my copy and may dive in eventually.

    I also wonder how the stories would read to me if I had more familiarity with the old European myths with which Tolkien was so familiar, yet another instance of my sense of a larger background when I read the books.

    Appreciate reading the comments.

    48forEastAfrica - Donate to Oxfam If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one. - Mother Teresa

    by wasatch on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 03:01:31 PM PDT

    •  The way to approach the Sil is to think of it as (5+ / 0-)

      being like the Bible...not something to be read straight through from beginning to end, but a collection of stories that are self-contained but still connected.

      The Silmarillion is NOT a novel, and it never was intended to be. What it is is the most advanced versions of background histories and sagas about Middle-Earth that Tolkien had been working on since WWI, edited to what coherence Christopher Tolkien was able to coax out of them. If you try to read it through, you'll bog down before you hit the middle, just like the vast majority of people who try to read the Bible that way do.

      The GOP: Fighting to make government small enough to stuff up a woman's vagina for 40 years.

      by jayjaybear on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 07:24:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  interesting way to look at it (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TofG, jayjaybear

        Thanks.

        Any thoughts on the readability of all the additional material that Christopher Tolkien has published?

        48forEastAfrica - Donate to Oxfam If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one. - Mother Teresa

        by wasatch on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 04:37:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  As for the Silmarillion, I find it quite readable (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          jayjaybear, wasatch

          as a novel/story (except for the Turin bits- too overall depressing- although parts are quite good. And there's a curious ambiguity in Turin of Free Will-does it exist or not? Can Morgoth force all Turin's choices to fail because Turin's daddy ticked him off?). And I would like Tolkien to have finished the Tuor part after he gets to Gondolin, although Unfinished Tales does pretty well for his life up to then- including the irony of his cousin Turin's paths literally all but crossing.

          But I do find the other CT edited collections quite hard slogging and have never really gone much in them.

          Btw, while there has been a note in this diary of Morgoth injecting a bit of himself into the structures of Middle Earth, there's also a bit of the maiar in elves (and through Arwen and Aragorn in Men) via Melian.

          •  I have to admit that I skip Narn i Hin Hurin, (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            TofG, Jay C

            as well, mostly because Turin makes my teeth itch. He's an emo kid with a big sword. Five minutes with him escalating every single mistake he ever makes into an even WORSE mistake because he's convinced that everyone in the whole damn world is out to get him so he might as well live down to his reputation and I want to run him through myself. The first time I read it through, I was cheering on Glaurung.

            The GOP: Fighting to make government small enough to stuff up a woman's vagina for 40 years.

            by jayjaybear on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 08:16:55 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  It really depends on your level of interest. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TofG, wasatch

          If you're a total Tolkien geek, they're fascinating as a record of the path that the Professor took to his final product. Mostly, though, they have the problem of being exactly that...a lot of what's in them are various drafts of the LOTR and supporting material for what went into the published Silmarillion. So if you would enjoy knowing that Aragorn was originally a hobbit named Trotter who had wooden feet, go for it. Otherwise, don't buy them. Borrow them from your local library (if they have them) and check them out first.

          The GOP: Fighting to make government small enough to stuff up a woman's vagina for 40 years.

          by jayjaybear on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 08:14:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  My favorite Tolkien is the Hobbit (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TofG, wasatch, Aunt Pat, Debby, ferg, Avila

    I can't wait for the first of the movies this winter.  

    I have the new theme playing in my head while driving around the country side here in Bellingham (the place in the US where the Shire could have been filmed).

    i think my cat is possessed by dick cheney

    by Anton Bursch on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 03:07:37 PM PDT

  •  No March tomatoes/grapes in Middle-earth (13+ / 0-)

    While there are many things that I admire about Peter Jackson's work, I do feel that ROTK was a rush job - that many involved in the production were just eager to get the epic finished.

    However, did no continuity person catch the fact that while Faramir and his company rode to doom, that Denethor was slavering over tomatoes and grapes in the month of March?  Did Minas Tirith have an elaborate greenhouse system of which we are not aware?  Did they import these foods from, um, California, or somewhere near the home of the Southrons?  Did they cultivate tomatoes in middle-earth?

    This inattention really did bother me, but certainly not as much as the way Jackson degraded the character of Denethor.  Why take a character conceived and developed so well in the books, a character in fascinating counterpoint to King Theoden, a character who embodied aspects and potential aspects of Boromir, Faramir and even Aragorn - if one wants to get into deep literary deconstructions, a character who played a major part in our understanding of the whole concept of Minas Tirith and the Men of the West, and make him a foolish, ludicrous caricature who needed a bib?

    Truly, our film concept of the still-surviving descendants of the West rested on so few characters: Aragorn, Boromir, Faramir and Denethor, that Jackson could not afford to make one a caricature, especially since Boromir died at the end of the first film.  (Although he does appear in a brief flashback in ROTK.)  What is it that is so noble about these people?  What great traditions are they upholding?  Why should we care about them?  Jackson could only tell us that through three living characters, and he made one of them a buffoon.  So the film really shows us zilch about Minas Tirith and the ancient traditions from Oversea upon which it was founded.

    By contrast, we know so much about the culture and nobility - a more rustic nobility, but a nobility nonetheless - of the people of Rohan and we respect them and their courage.  The time in the film could have been so much better apportioned.

    How many times did we need to see Frodo and Sam quarrel over Gollum?  Once was enough for me.

    About all we saw of the folk of Minas Tirith were tiny men in dumb-looking armor being tossed in the air by overly-gigantic, cartoon-sized elephants.  Sticking with the book here would have been such a better choice.  And not messing with the literary perfection of Eowyn and Merry challenging the Nazgul.  

    I'm not sure that anyone LIKED the character of Denethor in the books, but there was much to respect about him and the seriousness with which he lived his life as a steward, trying to hold evil back from the rest of his world.  The interplay between him, Gandalf and Pippin was so deft in the books.  

    No doubt those around me were disturbed by the number of times I slapped myself on the head and moaned the first time I saw each film.    

    I have no help to send. Therefore I must go myself. Aragorn

    by Old Gardener on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 03:36:40 PM PDT

  •  Great Diary Once Again (8+ / 0-)

    I'm liking these quite a bit, thanks very much for writing them. A big second from me on The Silmarillion, and thanks very much for putting that curse in there. I'd like to add for posterity, if I may, the Oath sworn by Feanor and his sons; which in it's own way cursed the Noldor more harshly even than Mandos:

    Then Feanor swore a terrible oath. His seven sons leapt straightaway to his side and took the selfsame vow together, and red as blood shone their drawn swords in the glare of the torches.

    They swore an oath which none shall break, and none should take, by even the name of Iluvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not; and Manwe they named in witness, and Varda, and the hallowed mountain of Taniquetil, vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn, or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth unto the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.

    Thus spoke Maedhros and Maglor and Celegorm, Curufin and Caranthir, Amrod and Amras, princes of the Noldor; and many quailed to hear the dread words. For so sworn, good or evil, an oath may not be broken, and it shall pursue oathkeeper and oathbreaker to the world's end.

    Chilling, and a profound message on the treacherous and xenophobic nature of such Oaths.

    I thought I'd drop in some Ted Nasmith too

    Photobucket

    The Eagles of Manwe
    From Akallabeth, the downfall of Numenor

    "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." - Isaac Asimov

    by Hammerhand on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 04:09:13 PM PDT

    •  Seeing that Naismith picture reminds me of the (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Hammerhand, AndyT, Aunt Pat

      movie The Vikings (Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Kirk Douglas). The cinematography of that was one of few before Peter Jackson's to seem to imagine elements of ME. In the clip below perhaps going into the Gray Havens.

    •  Very Nice, thanks for setting the table for me (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jay C, Iron Spider, TofG, IM, Hammerhand

      Because I only put in the second part of the curse of Mandos (Mandos being essentially the equivalent of the Greek God of Death, Hades). But the first part is also very telling, and now that you have described the oath, I think I'll quote it:

      "Tears unnumbered shall ye shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even an echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the house of Feanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures which they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The dispossessed shall they be for ever"
      And of course. like all curses from mythologic Gods, thus becomes tragically accurate as the story progresses. The entire saga is one of defeat.

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 06:43:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Doom of Mandos (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TofG, Hammerhand

        My favorite bit relating to that actually comes a little later:

        And it was told by the Vanyar who held vigil with the Valar that when the messengers declared to Manwe the answers of Feanor to his heralds, Manwe wept and bowed his head. But at that last word of Feanor: that at the least the Noldor should do deeds to live in song for ever, he raised his head, as one that hears a voice far off, and he said: 'So shall it be! Dear-bought those songs shall be accounted, and yet shall be well-bought.  For the price could be no other. Thus even as Eru spoke to us shall beauty not before conceived be brought into Ea, and evil yet be good to have been.'
        But Mandos said: 'And yet remain evil. To me shall Feanor come soon.'

        The Empire never ended.

        by thejeff on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 06:02:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Of course. And that is exactly what happens (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TofG

          There is not a single inaccurate prophecy on the work.

          Very Miltonian (as in John).

          An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

          by MichiganChet on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 03:02:54 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Two thoghts... (11+ / 0-)

    It is interesting to consider that an entire subgenre of popular literature would not exist today were it not for J. R. R. Tolkein.  Almost certainly, the Inklings would still have existed, and I can identify in their writings some of the same spirit that is found all over the LoTR.  But none of them wrote a story so capable of sweeping you away into a universe so detailed, so complete, so magical, so noble, so familar, and yet so alien, as LoTR.  It's a singular work.

    This reminds me of debates regarding the relative greatness of artists and writers versus scientists.  If Newton had never been born, somebody else would have figured out what we call Newtonian mechanics.  it just would have taken longer.  The same can be said of Einstein and relativity.

    But if there had been no Shakespeare?  If there had been no Dante?  And, yes, if there had been no Tolkein?  Who would have produced the ground-breaking works they produced?  It's difficult to fathom.

    The other point has to do with Tolkein and racism.  I realize alll the "lesser" men under teh influence of Sauron and Saruman in his works are portrayed as being "swart" (i. e. black, or having darker colored skin).  So all the baddies are black.  However, there is one passage in The Two Towers that gives one pause for thought, giving voice to the thoughts of Sam Gamgee as he surveys the dead body of an enemy warrior:

    He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace – all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind.
    It seems to me that Tolkein was saying the enemy warriors were not necessarily evil, but had fallen under the influence of evil leaders.  Under other circumstances, outside of war, the ferocious enemy might be an innocuous homebody.  And this didn't have anything to do with skin color.

    -5.13,-5.64; If you gave [Jerry Falwell] an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox. -- Christopher Hitchens

    by gizmo59 on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 05:49:54 PM PDT

  •  Thank you for both excellent diaries. N/T (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, TofG, bluedust, roadbear

    If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when? Rabbi Hillel

    by AndyT on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 07:04:50 PM PDT

  •  A Couple More Thoughts on Racism (7+ / 0-)

    Late to the party, as usual.  I think that any racism in Tolkien is unconcious, and that he is more guilty of "classism" (if that's a word) than racism.  

    Now granted, he does seem to wax nostalgic about the "pure Numenorean line" occasionally, but the characters who seem most concerned about purity of lineage tend to be jerks.

    In one of the appendicies, in which Tolkien gives a brief overview of the History of Gondor, he describes a period called "The Kin-Strife," which mostly came to pass because some Gondoreans got bent out of shape when one of their kings married a furriner and they felt his son wasn't pure enough.  The son's cousin, who then usurped the throne, was indeed a Pure Numenorean, but he was also power-hungry and viscious.  The resulting civil war did more to damage Gondor than the "dillution" of the royal bloodline did.

    I have a collection of Tolkien essays by a writer named Paul H. Kocher, titled Master of Middle-Earth, and in one of them he makes this observation:

    The coexistence of the free peoples of Middle-earth with one another is founded on mutual respect and appreciation.  Radically incompatible with these is the kind of contempt Boromir expresses for all halflings, elves and wizards, not to mention Aragorn, in the scend when he tries to take the Ring from Frodo at Parth Galen.  In this context his saying, "Each to his own kind," is in effect a proclamation of the superiority of men over othe species, of Gondoreans over other men, and eventually of Boromir over other Gondoreans.  In some degree some members of all the other species are smirched by this sense of the alienness of other peoples and the peculiar excellence of their own.  Summed up in Boromir's words, which might have come straight from the brain of Sauron, the principle is at the root of all division on Middle-earth:  "Each to his own kind."  The business of The Lord of the Rings is to eradicate it inside the civilization of the West.  Aragorn the statesman makes a beginning by reaching out to the men of the South and the East through treaty and alliance.  But for the most part the bringing of  Southrons and Easterlings into full reconciliation with the West is left as unfinished business.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Tue Apr 17, 2012 at 07:26:46 PM PDT

  •  I've often thought that (14+ / 0-)

    Tolkien's depiction of Frodo at the end of the story was perhaps a reflection of all those damaged young men who came back from the trenches of WWI. I've always been  moved by the way Tolkien handled Frodo's pain and inability to fit back into Hobbit society. It seems so very familiar.

    •  There is an element of that (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jay C, bluedust, wasatch, Dvalkure, roadbear

      As Tolkien certainly saw that during his prolonged convalescence in various military hospitals. It would be another example of him using storytelling elements undergirded by personal experience to make his grand point about how sometimes one must sacrifice for the good of a whole people or a whole Shire

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 06:49:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Timeless Truth (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wasatch, TofG

        And the damaged returning from our current wars make Frodo and Sam freshly poignant.  
        I was in high school when the first US edition was published.  I have reread often.  In college, I worked at a coffeehouse called Bag End, then named my oldest daughter Lorien, and my blue merle Aussie Sindar.  

        Although the films could have been worse, I heartily agree with the criticisms here.  Gimli as buffoon made me so angry.  Also felt Liv Tyler was miscast.  Granted Tolkien does not give female characters a lot of time on stage, and PJ's (and Fran's) changes were probably a nod to modern women, the added business with Aragorn over the cliff had me grinding my teeth.  

        Thank you for your discussions.  Lots to consider.  

    •  Oh, I'm sure that was part of it (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluedust, wasatch, Jay C, TofG

      PTSD (known then as shellshock) was very, very common after the Great War, and I'm sure that Tolkien knew many sufferers.  

    •  There's no "perhaps" about it ... (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      quarkstomper, IM, wasatch, Dvalkure, Jay C

      Both Prof. Tolkien and son Christopher have been awfully clear and explicit that LOTR is "about" the Great War , Tolkien's  experiences in it.   So, for example, the Dead Marshes are Tolkien's memory of the battlefield of the Somme.

      His simple statement: "by 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead." pretty much sums it up.

      Arguably, Oxford and The Church were Tolkien's Valenor

      (The other side of the argument, of course would be that his wife and children were his Shire.)

      •  That's interesting (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TofG

        Thank you.

        However, if Tolkien was so clear and explicit about using his experiences in WWI for LOTR,  then why, as MichiganChet said,  was it "... one of Professor Tolkien's strongly held opinions that a biography was just about the worst place for someone to look to find meaning in a work?"

        Was MichiganChet wrong about that?

        •  What I think is: (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pundette

          I would agree, that taking author's "biography" as the be-all and end-all of understanding his/her work is as silly as it is reductionist.  And I imagine, due to a growing  influence of popularized Freudian psychoanalysis  quite a lot of that sort of nonsense was finding its way into undergraduate literary criticism.  And I can imagine a dozen reasons that would fail to please or impress Prof. Tolkien.

          I never gained a good understanding of "Deconstruction" as applied to literary criticism.  What I little I have picked up suggests that in the late 20th Century some very clever scholars came to believe that understanding an author's work WITHOUT regard to their class, culture and personal history would be at best naive and superficial.  

          I can agree with the Deconstructionists at least this  far -- choosing to totally ignore an author's class, context and personal history when trying to understand their work would be as silly as a determinist p.o.v. claiming that an author's work must be entirely defined and circumscribed by their personal history.

          (Example?  I think it matters a great deal to evaluating "Horatio Alger Stories" to know whether or not Horatio Alger was calculating pedophile predator ... or whether George Orwell had an independent source of income, or had read Jack London's Children of the Abyss  while gathering material for Down and Out in Paris and London)

          But, do I think that JRRK "never would have written" LOTR had he not been in the Battle of the Somme and had he not lost "every close friend but one" in the Great War?  Or that if Hilary Tolkien had become a London banker the character of Sam could not have been created?  No, of course not.  
          But do I think reading "Wheelbarrows at Dawn " might add something to my understanding and appreciation of  Frodo, Sam and the Shire?  Almost certainly.

          I accept that given Prof. Tolkien's "time and place", he might have wanted very much to discount the role of Modernist and Freudian notions like The Subconscious in the literary process of a gentleman scholar.  And given the amount of that sort of thing that was starting to show up in undergraduate essays, he would have had ample provocation.

          I just do not think he would have been entirely correct to do so -- though there is something for an author not letting his left hand brain know what his right hand brain is up to.  

          •  Always the Last to Know (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            TofG, pundette

            Isaac Asimov told a story about once sitting next to a guy on a plane who happened to be reading his story "Nightfall."  Curious, when the guy set down the book, Asimov asked him what he thought of it.  The guy said it was a good story, and proceeded to explain it's symbolism and layers of meaning.

            "That's all very interesting," Asimov told the guy, "but the author didn't intend any of that."

            "And how would you know?" the guy replied.

            "Because I am the author."

            The guy thought a moment and then said, "That doesn't mean anything."

            "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

            by quarkstomper on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 06:20:17 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  That's the kind of story Dr. A liked to tell. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              quarkstomper

              I had the pleasure of Dr. Asimov's   acquaintance through the Gilbert and Sullivan ensemble The Village Light Opera Company.  

              I was  only a scene shifter, Dr. A was (only)  a Member of the Board -- but he was invariably treated like reigning royalty by "everyone."   That is: nobody was to approach or and speak to him without a visible invitation to do so, the only permitted topics being music in general and G&S in particular.  And heaven help the fool who called him Dr. Ass ee MUV instead of Dr. Ah zee MUFF.

              Of course, the idea of there BEING "layers" or "symbolism"  in an  Isaac Asimov novel strains credulity a bit.  But if someone were able to detect some, they would almost certainly have slipped onto the page from Dr. A's subconscious, unedited and unnoticed.  And since Dr. A was always right and never wrong about EVERYTHING ... especially if the contrary view was being held by someone much younger than himself, or  occupying a lower position in the academic hierarchy than  the Doctor.

              And then there's the Robert Heinlein classic Stranger in a Strange Land ...

              About midway through  the book there's an orgy scene.

              Heinlein writes rather explicitly that Ben leaves the party in a blind panic  when Mike reclining behind him suddenly makes his own clothes dematerialize.  Ben discusses he incident with RAH's alter ego,  Jubal  -- who identifies the motivation of Ben's decidedly Non-Group behavior as sexual jealousy focused on Jillian.

              OK ... any number of first time readers understood that in context of the scene, (and the whole "behind" thing) that Ben's motive was what we now call "homophobia" and which at the time Heinlein would have called "what any normal man would feel.

              Until his death, Heinlein refuted that,  maintain that it was Jealousy that sent Ben gibbering into the night.

              Were  RAH and  the Doctor the best judges  of their  own literary intentions  ?    

              Sure ... if we assume that the subconscious has no role whatever in the literary process, that "denial" is only for drunks, and that the author is always 100% aware and 100% in control of what he writes.

              (So why are the "matrimonial" and very very mildly homoerotic images in Moby Dick the usual undergraduate first inkling that Herman Melville may not have been 100% simon pure heterosexual ?  Ask a graduate student, -- who has read some of Melville's personal correspondence -- however, and find that the depression Melville describes so clearly in the first chapter WAS a facet of the real life Melville's character, that it WAS,as stated in Moby Dick , a reason for his sea voyages,  and that it WAS in large part triggered by Melville's struggles with the homoaffinitive  element of his personality -- which he was at great pains to conceal and suppress.)  

              In such cases ... you are absolutely right -- the author may very well be the last to know.   And consulting "the biography" could add insight that the author might very much prefer his/her authors not have.

               

  •  Excellent diary, MichiganChet (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bluedust, TofG, MichiganChet, IM

    and a quality comment thread, besides....

    One (minor) cavil, though: I think it is somewhat inaccurate to describe JRR Tolkien as "someone from a distinctly lower class background". As you point out, late-Victorian/Edwardian Britain was a very class-stratified society, but as the "son of a minor banker", young Ronald would have most definitely been considered (and, most likely, considered himself) as part of the "middle class", if of its lower strata due to his family's financial woes. "Lower class" had a specific and universally understood application in  pre-WWI England, and it would have  most certainly excluded the Tolkiens, regardless of their circumstances.

    However, class consciousness doesn't always have to lead to class prejudice: in Tolkien's Middle-Earth, virtually all the "speaking-peoples" live in one form or another of a stratified and hierarchical society - even in The Shire, yet everyone manages to get along pretty well. Class structure without class conflicts: it IS a work of fiction, after all...

    •  Classy Language (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jay C, TofG, wasatch

      Tolkien also takes a mild jab at class-consciousness which only a philologist (or George Bernard Shaw) would think of.  When Pippin comes to Minas Tirith, people start calling him the "Prince of the Halflings", in part because the mode of speech they use in the Shire, where everyone is pretty much on a similiar social plane, is one they associate with the aristocracy in Gondor; so the people of Gondor assume he must be a halfling of noble blood.  In a way, he sort of is, since Pippin's grandfather is the Thain, the closest thing the Hobbits have to a hereditary aristocracy; but his family isn't socially more respected than the Brandybucks, who are wealthy landowners, or the Bagginses, who are solidly middle-class.

      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

      by quarkstomper on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 09:04:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Pippin says that his father is a farmer. (6+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TofG, IM, quarkstomper, Jay C, wasatch, Dvalkure

        Then we find out later he's the head of the Took family, Thain of the Shire, of Great Smials (one of the two biggest estates in the Shire), etc.

        Probably to reconcile any possible contradiction, in the genealogies Tolkien makes Pippin's father a second or third cousin of the previous head, who inherited the titles when said previous head died without issue.

        < / tolkien geek >

        The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

        by raboof on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 02:25:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  The real issue is complex of course (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      IM, TofG, Jay C, wasatch, Dvalkure, roadbear

      And once again I have to say that I have simplified a complex matter for the sake of making a larger point. Yes, you are correct that the badge of 'lower class' would have more properly applied to people like servants or tradespeople  - the 'Downton Abbey' thing comes to mind again - but both Tolkiens' mother and father had parents who were bankrupt and thus had to take what work they could find, and Tolkien was a ward of a priest which is why he needed the scholarship. I just really wanted to hammer home the larger point that allowing bright young poor people to attend higher education - if they are cut out for it - can yield incalculable dividends for society and sometimes the world. In fact. I am, to some extent, a beneficiary of this thinking, and realization of this point goes a long way towards why I have become steadily more progressive as time goes by.

      I mean, we are after all writing on DK, aren't we?

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 02:12:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Well, almost everyone. (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      IM, TofG, Jay C, wasatch, Dvalkure, roadbear

      There are the Tea Party hobbits like Ted Sandyman.

      The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

      by raboof on Wed Apr 18, 2012 at 02:20:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  thank you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MichiganChet

    very touching and illuminating.

    Please feel free to write if you have any more thoughts on these themes.  very important ones!

    •  You are welcome (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TofG

      I get these thoughts all the time. Finally I just have to write them down.

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 03:00:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site