LotRFI Pt.48 The Grey Company

The Grey Company was one of the most unexpected occurrences in all LotR to me. They show up in Rohan completely unheralded and change the course of the narrative entirely. As I said before, I did not read any contextual material in my first reading, so my entire experience with the sons of Elrond up to this point was their small roles in Rivendell. Therefore, it was completely unexpected that this troop of brave men that were not really introduced earlier should come into the story and completely alter Aragorn’s plans.

inger-edelfelt
Image copyright Inger Eledfelt

While this may seem like a coincidental intrusion by the writer, it is explained well enough by the characters that it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story. It made sense to me that Galadriel would send what aid she could to Aragorn, and that the sons of Elrond would be the ones entrusted with such an important message (RK, V, ii, 775).

I will be honest and admit that I did not understand who ‘the Lady of Rivendell’ was or what she could have made for Aragorn (RK, V, ii, 775). I assumed that this was a reference to Elrond’s previously unmentioned wife and she was sending some gift to Aragorn as a source of comfort like the way that Mrs. Maggot send mushrooms with Farmer Maggot.

I followed Aragorn’s decision to use the Palantir and to ride on through the Paths of the Dead. I loved the description of the Paths and the other-worldly feel of these passages.

‘Signs and figures were carved above its wide arch too dim to read, and fear flowed from it like a grey vapor…Aragorn led the way, and such was the strength of his will in that hour that all the Dúnedain and their horses followed him’ (RK, V, ii, 786).

The Paths were different from the rest of the places that the company visits, except perhaps the elvish cities. These passages convey a sense of ineffability even as they try to describe most of the mundane actions throughout the sequence. In other words, I enjoyed how the narration mainly focuses on tangible facts, but still hints at something more. This reinforces both the ethereal feel of the pass, but also Aragorn’s strength of character.

The way that the Grey Company delivers the eucatastrophe at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields gives me chills every time I read it. Their unexpected arrival is foreshadowed well by their abrupt entrance to the narrative in Rohan. This kind of surprise meeting is now expected from the Dúnedain. The first time I read it, however, I was flabbergasted. I felt like Sam when he wonders if

‘everything sad [is] going to come untrue’ (RK, VI, iv, 951).

Their arrival just in time to ensure victory for the Gondorians was completely unexpected and drained me emotionally.

On a side note: Jackson gets the Ride of the Grey Company completely wrong. He establishes a king of the dead that Aragorn talks to and negotiates with, which is not accurate. I knew on my first reading that Aragorn was the king of the dead. This is why they follow him, they owe their allegiance to him.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Houses of Healing, then to examine the last stand

What Do You Think?

How did you first interpret the ride of the Grey Company?

Did you see Aragorn as the King of the Dead?

Did I miss something? Let me know!

Marcel Aubron-Bülles’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (45)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Marcel and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Marcel Aubron-Bülles’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

A really bad sunburn on the first day of our family’s holidays beside the Adriatic Sea in then Yugoslavia confined me to our quarters – and there was that horribly green German three volume edition of The Lord of the Rings.

For the next two days and nights I barely slept and only rarely left the room I was reading the books in. Returning home to Cologne I became one of the youngest members ever of a British Council library and found The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, Pictures, Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey and The Book of Lost Tales I + II and The Lays of Beleriand.

When I had finished those I started reading historical fiction, introductions into Welsh and Old English, and asked the local English bookshop whether they had “something like Tolkien.”

They gave me The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett.

The rest is, as they say, history.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I have to say that in the course of years with different interests shaping and/ or changing my imagination (including the study of British and American History as well as English Literature and Linguistics) I have come to appreciate different things at different times. The Lord of the Rings is, of course, to this day the single most important book in my life; however, I have come to adore and appreciate and respect other titles not generally considered ‘Middle-earth’, that is, his scholarly or Non-Middle-earth works.

Finn and Hengest, for example, I have reasons to assume to be a manuscript for a modern ‘CSI: Linguistics’ TV series; On Fairy-Stories is to me – even if the wording or the argument itself may not sound as polished as one might wish – on the same level as E.M. Forster expounding qualities of the novel as such; Letters from Father Christmas is such a whimsical, lovingly illustrated quasi-autobiography of the writer and father that you can either simply read them out to a rapt audience or mine them for background information on the development of the ‘Legendarium’; and the list continues …

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

The fact I had the privilege and honour to found a literary society promoting interest in the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien which in its twenty year existence has grown to an incredible source of community activities, scholarly publications and events, and the fellowship such societies offer around the world.

Plus: I met my wife Sauronita thanks to the Professor.
Nota bene: The nickname was given by Melkor. No pun intended.

Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

Yes, certainly – in the sense of a wider range of approaches to Tolkien’s life and works. It is obvious that theology, medievalist studies and any linguistic efforts are at the forefront of scholarly work in terms of JRRT. However, there are many other fields of interest which can shed light on many still undiscovered aspects of Tolkien’s imagination.

I am particularly interested in the reception of Tolkien’s works in the public eye and the fandom they have spawned, its past, present and future. As I have been a Tolkien activist and volunteer for 25+ years now (and a ‘fan’ myself for more than thirty) I am very much looking forward to be part of this outstanding group of people everywhere in the world, whatever the individual focus may be.

Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

Yes, I would.

As the long-time chairman to a Tolkien society it was, of course, my job to convince people to become members of our society and I am very proud to this day that at one fantasy festival of about 150 people which took place in an old medieval castle I managed to convince five people to join us in one evening – the last one demanding I would offer my back so he could sign the application form on it – as it happened in Schwarzenegger’s rendition of “Running Man.” And no, I was spared the pain … he simply signed 😉

But aside from such anecdotes of which there are many I would always ask the person in question first what they do like – is it drama, is it tragedy, is it light-hearted comedy, is it high epic fantasy? – and then I would chose from the wide range of options available a title that person will probably never have heard of as many do not know about Tolkien’s ‘minor works.’ They offer such different approaches there’s always something out there to suggest.

If I needed to supply catch words they would possibly be: heroic romance, epic fantasy, fellowship, literary classics, fandom (always depending on the individual sales pitch!) But again, I would work from what I was being offered by the person asking me for suggestions and then decide what needed to be said or suggested.

I incidentally coined the slogan “Literature. Fantasy. Fandom” for the German Tolkien Society to quickly explain at fairs and conventions what we do as a society – and it has helped people to better understand how we see ourselves and what we do provide as a community of Arda Activists [another term I coined just now. It’s a term-in-development but I think there is potential in this.]

And that is how I would recommend Tolkien to anyone appreciative of (fantasy) literature – there is so much to explore on so many different levels you’ll have quite a few books to read.

There is nobody like him. You might as well read books.

Why not?


For more Tolkien- related material from Marcel Aubron-Bülles, you can find him on Twitter or Instagram, or follow his blog: The Tolkienist.

Luke-shelton.com Shortlisted for Tolkien Society Awards 2019!

The Tolkien Society has released their shortlist for their 2019 awards, and I am truly humbled that this website has made the shortlist for the Best Website category!

I have tried to make the website a space for honest and open discussion, a place where people can share their experiences with Tolkien. It is only because people have responded to that idea with warmth, generosity, and insight that the Tolkien Experience Project and the larger website are still here at all!

So I wanted to sincerely thank all of the, now almost sixty, contributors to the project and also thank the readers who follow the project and the First Impressions series!

If you want to see the complete shortlists, they are available here: Tolkien Society Awards 2019

I am honored just to be nominated, and every nominee, in every category, has indeed made the Tolkien community a better place this year!

Thank you,

-Luke

LotRFI Pt.47–Concerning Denethor

Denethor was another character that was very difficult for me to understand when I was a child. He seemed very one-dimensional like his son Boromir, and I had a hard time understanding why anyone would want this person to be the Steward of Gondor. I did not like him at all and I considered him cruel to everyone he interacted with.

My main argument in favor of this interpretation is the way he treats his own son, Faramir. I could not believe that a father could tell his son that he should have died in the pace of his brother:

‘’Do you wish then,’ said Faramir, ‘that our places had been exchanged?’

‘Yes, I wish that indeed,’ said Denethor. ‘For Boromir was loyal to me and no wizard’s pupil. He would have remembered his father’s need, and would not have squandered what fortune gave. He would have brought me a mighty gift’’ (RK, I, iv, 813).

Denethor clearly hungered for the power of the Ring, just as Boromir did. This was a clear sign of his corruption to me. I thought Denethor was selfish and unrealistic in his ambition. A small-minded man who could not cope with adversity in the stalwart manner that so many other characters in the book achieve. The only aspect of Denethor that I could identify with was his desire to restore his life to the way it used to be. He protests to Gandalf that he

‘would have things as they were in all the days of [his] life…and in the days of [his] longfathers before [him]: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave [his] chair to a son’ (RK, V, vii, 854).

denis-gordeev
Image copyright Denis Gordeev

Even though I was very young, I still appreciated this tendency to idolize the past and to want to revert back to a time perceived as happier for some reason or another. The remainder of his character, was ominous and mysterious to me. I did not understand his desire to build a pyre for his son and to burn himself upon it until Gandalf explained it to me (and Pippin). My reading has changed a lot over the years and my understanding of Denethor has grown much deeper.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Let’s talk about the Grey Company, then the Houses of Healing.

What Do You Think?

What was your impression of Denethor?
Has your reading of Denethor changed over the years?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Artnoose’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (44)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Artnoose and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Artnoose’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

As a child (maybe around age 7), I watched the Rankin Bass animated movie of The Hobbit. Either I saw it several times, or else the Gollum scene really made an impression on me, but I remember playing Gollum tag with my sister and cousin, where were would take turns chasing each other while saying, “Precioussss… my precioussss…” I never ended up reading any of the books until adulthood, when the LotR movies started coming out. I had just gone through a difficult break-up and wanted to immerse myself in escapist fantasy fiction. I figured that four books full of hobbits and elves would do the trick, and I was right! At the time, my housemate Jenn was in the terminal stage of cancer, and I would talk to her about what I was reading. I remember complaining about how much singing people did and that I just kind of breezed through the poetry. Jenn would chide me, “Artnoose! Don’t skip the poems!!” Even today, my copy of The Silmarillion is the one I got from her when she died.

2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I was asked this question recently by a nine-year-old, and I had to think about it for a minute because I had never really thought about what specifically I liked. I decided that for me the biggest draw is the extensive world-building Tolkien did. The thing about Tolkien is that you can delve as deeply or shallowly as you like. There are people who can read just The Hobbit and LotR trilogy and leave it at that, maybe even reading those works many times over their lifetime. While that’s completely fine, other people can dive into The Silmarillion and learn the many back stories that inform the major works. What I found is that once I got that far in, I learned (primarily through the Tolkien Professor podcasts by this point) that if I wanted, I could explore even further because of all the work Tolkien did on the languages and histories of the people of Middle-earth. The wealth of information that Tolkien left behind (and that Christopher Tolkien has sifted through) can enrich the readings of the main texts, and yet even still, there are mysteries (such as the fate of the Entwives) that invite further wondering.

3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

One fond experience I can think of is listening to the LotR audiobook during my pregnancy. I was determined to finish before the baby came, and I was doing pretty well until I decided to be a full completist and listen to the appendices, too. I hit a “nesting” point where my due date was approaching and my sister was getting ready to fly into town. I was cleaning my living room while listening to the long family trees of Dwarves and Hobbits. My kid was late, wouldn’t you know, and I did manage to finish the audiobook.

4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

My reading of Tolkien’s works outside of the canonical novels has greatly enriched my experience. When I think back of my preliminary reading of the trilogy, my main takeaways were the bonds of the Fellowship and the intensity of Frodo’s suffering. After having read The Silmarillion several times and shuffling through the History of Middle Earth series, I am more aware of greater themes present in the works, such as sacrifice, hope, and chance. It is completely valid to be the kind of Tolkien fan who reads the main books frequently without bothering with any of the auxiliary texts, but I have found that even reading things like Leaf By Niggle or The Father Christmas Letters have yielded small bits of understanding that only make my subsequent readings of The Hobbit and LotR even more profound. What began as a literary escape from difficult times transitioned into a lens with which I view my passage through this life.

5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

I understand that Tolkien isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I have learned to not take it personally if someone hates or is disinterested in his work. I tend to recommend it only if someone is vaguely interested in a Medievalist form of fantasy fiction to begin with. I struggle sometimes with wanting to recommend Tolkien to my son, who currently is six years old. I think he knows by now that Tolkien is kind of my thing, so he resists it somewhat. He also thinks that it’s going to be scary. I showed him the Rankin Bass animated Hobbit, and while he liked it and didn’t think it was too scary, he also doesn’t really talk about it or ask to watch it again. Sometimes he says he would be okay with me reading him The Hobbit, and other times he says he’s not interested. I did read him Roverandom, and again, he liked it but did not talk about it afterward or refer to it like he does with books he really enjoys. I got him a bunch of Medievalist fantasy children’s books at the library, and he has already torn through a few different series. I suspect that we will read The Hobbit at some point, and if he ever wants to read the trilogy, he knows where to find it.


Artnoose published Ker-bloom! a great letterpress zine!

PhD Research Update, March 2019

Hello everyone!

I thought I would just take a minute to give everyone an update about my PhD work. As many of you know, I have been working on my dissertation since the fall of 2017. It has been an exciting and educational process, and there is much to tell!

While I was at Cardiff Metropolitan University, I completed an extensive literature review and a Rationale and Methodology chapter. Then, I filed for and received ethics approval to interview young readers about their interpretation of The Lord of the Rings. The initial goal was to compare/contrast the views of young readers with the consensus of Tolkien scholarship on various topics.

(If you would like, you can see the Project’s homepage on my website.)

Over the past summer, I completed many interviews with young readers! These were the highlight of the project so far! I heard so many wonderful, insightful comments from young readers, and I cannot wait to share these insights through my dissertation!

In the fall of 2018, I transferred the project to University of Glasgow! (This was an exciting opportunity made possible when my supervisor, Dimitra Fimi, was hired by the university!) You can see their shiny new profile of me as a student on the School of Critical Studies website!

Now that I am at Glasgow, I have drafted three chapters which analyze the way that young readers approach the genre, characters, and setting on The Lord of the Rings. I do not want to put an end date on the project just yet, as there is still a lot to be done, but I have made a lot of progress over the last year, and I wanted to share that great news with you!

I will keep posting updates on the project’s Facebook page as I can!

Until then, I thank you for supporting an aspiring researchers, Tolkien scholarship generally, and myself personally!

Sincerely,

Luke

The Best (and Worst) Books for Tolkien Biography

I have seen several news stories along the lines of “books to read before seeing Tolkien” around the internet recently. While I applaud news outlets for encouraging reading tied to movies, several of these posts, though certainly not all, recommend reading Tolkien’s fantasy works instead of reading works about Tolkien. In my experience, biographical material is far more interesting to read before a biopic, so I have compiled a list of recommended (and not recommended) readings that appeal more to that aspect. Enjoy!

(I have provided links to the Amazon page for each book, for those looking for more information. I receive no benefit from anyone purchasing a book.)

Recommended

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter’s6620ba6873fcdee5ada499acad108c81

Put simply, this book is regarded as the essential Tolkien biography by many scholars and fans.

 

 

 

 

The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends by 51VSTHQHAHL._AC_UL320_SR212,320_Humphrey Carpenter

This book focuses more specifically on the group that came together to share readings and community in Oxford that included Tolkien and Lewis.

Winner of the 1982 Mythopoeic Award for Inklings Studies!

 

 

Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings by 51XLJrQfYcL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Diana Pavlac Glyer

This is another well-respected and informative book looking at the creative group in Oxford!

I believe this is somehow related to her other text The Company They Keep, but as I have not read it I can provide no commentary. (Winner of the 2008 Mythopoeic Award for Inklings Studies.)

 

Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth51NJu5ExghL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_

This excellent book looks at Tolkien’s war experience during World War I and how his friendships and experience could have shaped his life and literature.

Winner of the 2004 Mythopoeic Award for Inklings Studies!

 

 

 

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The gift of Friendship by Colin Duriez51T7tUWTY7L._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_

This is an even closer portrait of the friendship between Lewis and Tolkien, as the title implies.

 

 

 

 

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter41TiVVKBDAL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_

This is an invaluable resource for readers who want a little insight into Tolkien’s exchanges with friends, family, publishers, and fans.

 

 

 

Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie Donovan61egNLjnENL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Even though this is a collection of essays rather than a book-length investigation, it is absolutely worth mentioning because it is perhaps the best resource available discussing the way that Tolkien worked with and supported women in his life.

 

Tolkien, Race and Cultural History by Dimitra Fimi61XZyS5NDmL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

While not a biography, per se, this volume contains an insightful cultural history of Tolkien which is helpful when trying to understand how Tolkien’s views and opinions compared to the culture in which he lived.

Winner of the 2010 Mythopoeic Award for Inklings Studies!

 

The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Boxed Set41TgOTKaxIL._SR600,315_PIWhiteStrip,BottomLeft,0,35_PIAmznPrime,BottomLeft,0,-5_SCLZZZZZZZ_

 

I added this after Jason Fisher and others pointed out that the Chronology is a fantastic insight into Tolkien’s biography.

 

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth by Catherine McIlwaine612XGkKCptL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Released in conjunction with the recent (2018) Tolkien exhibition in Oxford, this serves as both the catalogue for that exhibition and a remarkable text full of insight into the life of Tolkien.

 

 

Have Not Read

For each of these, I welcome comments from other readers!

Tolkien at Exeter College by John Garthtolkien_at_exeter_college_john_garth

 

 

 

 

 

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, 518JS4WivPL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_and Charles Williams

Winner of the 2017 Mythopoeic Award for Inklings Studies!

 

 

 

 

Tolkien by Raymond Edwards41u7ULtDi5L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

 

 

 

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte41gU5PPU97L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

 

Not Recommended

The Biography of J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle-earth by Daniel Grotta614nyRtDv3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Grotta has been exposed for, shall we say, taking liberties?

 

 

 

J.R.R. Tolkien (Just the Facts Biographies) by David R. Collins51Y9Zv-0NaL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_

Not well circulated, this book is intended as an introduction to the author for children. Unfortunately it suffers from two faults: it contextualizes the author using the movies, and at times it seems to take facts from Grotta.

 

 

 

Honorable Mentions

I have not included these in the list because I did not think them either bibliographic enough, or far-ranging enough in their bibliographic content. However, I wanted to mention some other works of great scholarship that touch on bibliography:

The several volumes produced by Hammond and Scull about Tolkien’s artistic output!

Shippey’s first and second books on Tolkien have less biography, but demonstrate overlap between biography and his creative output (credit to commenters for convincing me to add this).

Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver et al.

Tolkien in East Yorkshire 1917-1918: An Illustrated Tour by Phil Mathison

Tolkien and Wales: Language, Literature and Identity by Carl Phelpstead

There are several works by authors like Richard Purtill, Joseph Pearce, or Bradley Birzer which focus specifically on the religious aspects of Tolkien’s life and elevate it above all others. I have not included such works in this list, but a couple are worth hunting down if these are of interest to you.

What other books would you recommend for biographical information? Do you agree or disagree with anything on this list? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.46–​Éomer

I mentioned Éomer’s first encounter with the protagonists in Pt. 22. Like many other characters, I mistrusted him at first, but then came to respect his demeanor and his bravery. The reader is reintroduced to Éomer at Edoras. Here he is reinstated as one of Théoden’s top commanders. From this point on, Éomer plays the part of a stout warrior, and steadfast advisor on military matters. He is impressive in this role, and takes after his uncle with his tenacious spirit.

wotr-eomer-port
Image copyright John Howe

As I read through LotR for the first time, I really liked Éomer. He struck me as a kind of balance between Strider as he appears in the beginning of the book and Aragorn as he is revealed as king in the end. He was unapologetically of high birth in his society, but was unpolished and even plain in his manner. This allowed him to be very likable, but to command respect, similar to what I saw in Théoden.

A large distinction that I made between Éomer and Théoden is that Théoden becomes close to the Fellowship through being an equal in stature to Gandalf and a fatherly figure to the hobbits. Éomer, on the other hand, seemed to establish a brotherly relationship with Aragorn and a playful rivalry with Gimli. While both of these relationships elevated the characters above the hobbits, and therefore above the reader, they were different in that Théoden seemed much more interested in the hobbits than did Éomer.

Shifting focus, this elevated stature of Éomer allowed him to be a heroic figure to me. His cares and worries seemed to be larger than those of the hobbits. Where the halflings are often concerned with a sense of belonging, Éomer knows his place, and is concerned more with how to lead his people correctly.

His position of authority makes his valiant stand on the battlefield even more impactful. While I am presenting my current thoughts on Éomer’s alliterative exclamations at a conference in 2018, I do want to cover my initial reaction to his heroic feats during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Just as Théoden’s call to charge gave rise to some mad fire inside my little eleven-year-old frame, so too did Éomer’s despair at seeing his uncle and sister dead on the battlefield. At the time of my first reading, I was fortunate enough to have never lost someone close to me. Even still, I could find a sense of pain and loss something similar to what Éomer must have felt. His heartrending cry chilled me to the bones:

“‘Éowyn, Éowyn!’ he cried at last. ‘Éowyn, how come you here? What madness or devilry is this? Death, death, death! Death take us all’” (RK, V, vi, 844).

It was through these passages that I learned what it meant to be fey. Éomer’s complete abandonment of strategy in favor of making his death meaningful was utterly beyond my experience. His laughter in the face of battle was terrible and terrific. He was awe-inspiring in two ways: one of the most courageous and stupid things I had ever read. I was so grateful when Aragorn swooped in and saved Éomer, because I had given up hope that this courageous man would ever see another day.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To take a look at Denethor and see what his problem is.

What Do You Think?

How did you react to Eomer’s reckless abandon in battle?
What did you think of his relationship to the fellowship?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Becky Dillon’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (43)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Becky and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Becky Dillon’s responses:


1. How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

“Read this,” she said as we brushed shoulder-to-shoulder in the exchange of classes back in 1965, and she pushed a strangely covered book under my nose.
“What? More unicorns and dragons and fairies? Please, Kathy, no!”
“This is different. Trust me!” I was sceptical, but I took the book from her anyway as she turned on her heel and sped away to her next class.
“Hmmm. The Two Towers. It doesn’t sound promising; more like Rapunzel…”

Of course, I was wrong.

It seemed that Kathy’s boyfriend had stumbled on this series of three books that he thought were cool and insisted that Kathy read them so they could discuss them. Kathy, in her need for support, was sharing the set with others, including me, and I got the second book because the first one was already lent out to a mutual friend who was keen to read this ‘new’ view of fantasy. Kathy, herself, was finishing the third.

Yes, I eventually got to read them in the correct order, and have been doing so every couple of years since then – albeit in one volume!

2. What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

 My favourite part of Tolkien’s work is the imaginative children’s works; specifically Smith of Wootton Major, with Roverandom a close second. Tolkien’s love of story for the sake of story shows in his attention to detail and great sense of humour. Who else but Tolkien would invest so much time in the creation of the ‘Father Christmas Letters’ or the Girabbit in Mr Bliss’ garden? And, all of it is tied together with his own artwork. Although much of the published titles use the work of others (ie.:Pauline Baynes), Tolkien still had his own sense of art communicating the story as much as the words, and for a children’s book, pictures were a necessity.

3. What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

As existential as it may sound, the first time I got off the train in Oxford and walked up the street to the Magdalen Martyr’s Memorial and onto St. Giles and the Eagle and Child. I knew then that I would never have a better experience with Tolkien as my reference; almost as if I was ‘reading’ Oxford for the first time.

4. Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

Absolutely. Even after some 20+ reads of ‘Lord of the Rings,’ I have found that the more I read and discuss the more depth I find.
I am a member of an on-line reader’s group called the Grey Havens Palantír, and we are again reading LotR; being on Chapter VII, ‘In the House of Tom Bombadil.’ The previous chapter has opened up new insights, as re-reads always do, and I am always excited about new finds and new perceptions. The Story, for sake of the Story, will always intrigue me, but finding new details and new direction in the well-read text is always exciting.

5. Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

It would depend on the person involved. There are some who would not enjoy/appreciate Tolkien, and I would like to think that I should be able to discern those characters. I have found that it takes a special character to enjoy the work and the ideals put forth, and it is that which I would need to consider before any recommendation.


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LotRFI Pt.45–Éowyn

A Bit of Background

I must admit that Éowyn was a very difficult character for me to understand the first time I read LotR, and I am still not sure that I understand her entire character arc. I am sure that there are scholars and critics better able, and in a more appropriate place, to comment on her portrayal as a woman and to her motivations and resolution. Let me clarify, then, that what I am trying to convey here is the understanding that I had of Éowyn as an eleven-year-old boy, whose life experiences did not include putting myself in other people’s shoes very often except through literature.

eowynandnazgul-donatob
Image copyright Donato Giancola

Since I was still an immature reader, though I was probably advanced in ability for my age, I would say that I lacked the kind of empathy that comes through life experience. I tried to understand everything I read through my own frame of reference. I literally thought about each character’s actions and tried to understand how I would have to feel in order to act the way they did. As we grow up, this kind of reading, I believe, becomes less necessary, as we can relate characters’ actions to other people’s actions and feelings easier because we have experienced more. Regardless, this means that I was attempting to understand how an eleven-year-old boy from the southern US would have to feel to act the way that Éowyn does…I am sure you can see how this was a flawless interpretation technique.

My Reading

From this vantage point, I was able to understand many of Éowyn’s early actions. She was proud, and she wanted to help her king and people through action. This was not difficult for me to understand. Pride is something I relate to very easily, having had an abundant share of it myself. I understood entirely why Éowyn wants to, and ultimately does, ride into battle with her kin. The difficulty for me came about when I tried to understand Éowyn’s very complex interpersonal relationships.

I should perhaps remind everyone that in my first reading I did not read any introductory material or any of the appendices. This means that I was completely unaware of the relationship between Aragorn and Arwen until much later. This influenced my interpretation of Éowyn because it means that I was completely unaware that Aragorn’s comment about Rivendell was a romantic refusal.

‘“Were I to go where my heart dwells, far to the North I would now be wandering in the fair valley of Rivendell”

For a while she was silent, as if pondering what this might mean’ (RK, V, ii, 784).

To me, this was simply a statement that people do not always get what they desire. Aragorn would rather be at peace in a place that he loved than leading men into battle.

The most resonant statement for me was that Éowyn feared ‘a cage’ more than anything else (RK, V, ii, 784). This statement resonated with me on the same level as Merry’s experience during his time in Rohan. They both wanted to be helpful, but were being stereotyped as lesser and ignored.

Finally, I want to talk about Éowyn’s epic stand (I will talk about her relationship with Faramir and the Houses of Healing in a later post). While Éowyn was a complicated character to me, I had no difficulty appreciating her courage and valor in standing up to the leader of the Nazgûl. She becomes enraged after her uncle is mortally wounded and, in her bravery, she challenges and defeats the fearsome foe. She delivers one of the most marvelous lines of prose I have ever read:

‘But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Eómund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him’ (RK, V, vi, 841).

The dramatic tension leading up to this moment was so powerful, and I remember cheering out loud when she stands up to him and reveals herself. This was truly a remarkable passage to me as a first-time reader.

As a side note: perhaps the strong impact of this moment, the strength in Éowyn’s identification as a woman in the midst of the largest battle in the text, is what blinded me for so long to the valid claims that Tolkien does not include enough women in his narrative. I held on to this one climactic instant and made it a pinnacle of the story, which it is, but I allowed it to obfuscate shortcomings which were related to it.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Let’s talk about her brother Eomer, then talk about Denethor.

What Do You Think?

How did you approach Eowyn’s character in your first reading?
How did you react to her stand against the Nazgul?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!