LotRFI Pt.57–Bilbo

Bilbo served as a vital link between H and LotR for me in my first reading. I loved Bilbo’s character in H and was curious to see what would happen to him in this new tale. I was surprised, then, when he quickly exited the stage and was replaced by Frodo. Nevertheless, Bilbo served a pivotal role. He was no longer the protagonist of the story; instead he was a patriarch, the figurehead at the beginning of a tradition. He preserved the Ring and passed it to Frodo. Now Frodo, and the reader by extension, must see the quest through to the end, if only for the sake of Bilbo. This was very clear to me in my first reading.

The idea of the quest of the Ring as an inheritance from Bilbo is emphasized in the Council of Elrond. Bilbo volunteers for the quest:

‘Very well, very well, Master Elrond…It is plain enough what you are pointing at. Bilbo the silly hobbit started this affair, and Bilbo had better finish it, or himself’ (FR, II, ii, 269).

He is turned down and the quest falls, instead, to his heir, Frodo.

bilbo
Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Bilbo functions to keep the reader motivated throughout LotR. I would argue that this is especially true of younger readers who were particularly invested in him in H. I know it was certainly true for me. I wanted to see what happened to this ring that Bilbo collected and that brought doom to the world. It was important to me that Bilbo was not implicated in anything so heinous.

Perhaps this post is a bit unexpected, especially here in the midst of the story’s conclusion. I have good reason for putting it here, though. Bilbo continues to serve as this important motivator for younger readers even through the end of the tale. When the hobbits revisit Rivendell, he is there to catch up on the adventure and to demonstrate how much the world has changed. Not only has the age of Men begun, but the age of children’s tales is fading, much like Bilbo himself.

Finally, this theme is enacted as Bilbo travels to the ships to sail west. Frodo finally comes to an even footing with his mentor after completing the quest which the one bequeaths the other. They part the world at the same moment, and this serves to bookend both LotR and H.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Shire, and then to the Grey Havens.

What Do You Think?

Did you see Bilbo as a structural element in your first reading?
Did you expect to see Bilbo as much in LotR? Did you expect to see him more?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

John Hancock’s Experience–Tolkien Experience (54)

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 John 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 John Hancock’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

When I was at Adelaide University in the 70s there was a strong JRRT following. It appeared to have a significant cultural influence on many of my fellow students, even in the science faculty of which I was a part.

I bought a paperback copy of LOTR and once I started to read could not put it down. I was transported in a way that I never experienced previously and have not since.

I also bought another paperback The Adventures of Tom Bombadil which contains some short stories such as Leaf By Niggle and various poems. When my children were young I would often read the poems to them which they still remember.

After that I read LOTR every year until I was about forty. After that I have read it on average about every two to three years.

The original LOTR and TAOTB have long since fallen to pieces due to their constant use and have been replaced.

Once the movies were released I instantly became a fan and have watched them many times, and the commentaries and extras numerous times as well.

I also purchased The Silmarillion and have read that a number of times as well.

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

That is like having to choose between your children. If I had to choose I think it would be his poetry. More specifically, “Poems and Songs of Middle Earth.” Although not strictly adhering to the “Middle-earth” mythology it seems to me to encapsulate JRRT’s creative ability.

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

Back in Uni a friend loaned me a record of “The Poems and Songs of Middle Earth” and I subsequently bought the four record set.

It has a song cycle of songs sung by William Elvin and music by Donald Swan (of Flanders and Swan fame), and readings of poems and extracts from the book by Tolkien himself.

I spent many hours listening to these records.

I subsequently bought the hard cover book “Poems and Songs of Middle Earth” which contained the piano score of the Swan song cycle. I am sure I drove my family mad trying to play and sing the songs.

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

I cannot say that it has really. Well, that is not strictly true.

When I first read his work I was captivated and amazed at the complexity and sheer imagination. As I discovered more about the world that Tolkien created I become more and more engrossed in his legendarium.

Having discovered so much scholarly work, particularly The Tolkien Professor, it has given me a greater appreciation of the literary merits of JTTR’s work.

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

Short answer yes. Long answer maybe. I have found that many people have no desire for or appreciation of fantasy. That is not to say that they would not appreciate JRRT’s writings but I have found that it just leaves many people cold.

To be blunt he is not for everyone. However it has not stopped me recommending his work and never will but I rarely recommend others of his works such as The Silmarillian.


For more from John Hancock, check out his Twitter or his Facebook!

LotRFI Pt.56–Many Departures

Since I can remember, I have been prone to melancholy when significant events or phases of my life conclude. I do not know if this was caused by LotR or if I already had this tendency. What I know for certain, though, is that the protracted series of departures in Book VI were cruel and unusual punishment to me as a child.

peter-caras_orig
Image copyright Peter Caras

Each character that broke away and said goodbye would sting a little bit more. This started as early as the departure of the Fellowship from Gondor. I knew that everyone would have to return home, but I did not like saying goodbye to the likes of Faramir and Éowyn. As the Rohirrim leave for their land, another wave of sadness struck as the brave Eorlingas left. As Gimli and Legolas bade farewell to the Fellowship and turned toward their various ends, I was greatly saddened. Oddly enough, Treebeard saying goodbye to Merry and Pippin was one of the hardest farewells for me to read. This emotion finally reached its pinnacle with the departure of Aragorn. I remember sobbing as he vanished in the glimmer of the Elfstone, thankfully I was at home.

This extended leave-taking is still hard for me to read without welling up with emotion. I do not know what inspired Tolkien to write the departures in such a prolonged manner, but it certainly struck home in this reader in the first reading.

A couple of side-notes:

The way that the three bearers of the Elven Rings talked back and forth was interesting to me, though I did not wholly understand that they were actually conversing with one another. I just assumed this was some long exchange of meaningful glances.

I thought that the interaction with Saruman on the side of the road was the last I would see of him. I thought it served to show his declined state and how he was prone to making idle threats. I did not know that it foreshadowed his part in the Scouring of the Shire, but more on that later.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A special mystery post about an undisclosed character, then on to the Shire!

What Do You Think?

Do you like how Tolkien organized the departures?
Did they change your estimation of the book?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Cristina Montes’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (53)

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 Cristina 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 Cristina Montes’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

A philosophy professor in college (sometime between 1993-1997) recommended that I read Tolkien. It was only many years later, however, that I actually got around to doing so. That was when the LOTR movies were about to come out. I wanted to read the books before watching the movies.

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

I love the LOTR trilogy. It’s an annual ritual for me to re-read it. I simply love the story, the themes, the world Tolkien created, his characters, and the word-craft.

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

When I went to Spain to study for a year, I discovered that my Spanish landlady also has a passion for Tolkien. From that instant, the two of us became very good friends. She even lent me the Spanish edition of LOTR when she found out I read the trilogy once a year.

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

Yes. Every time I read the LOTR trilogy, different parts of it resonate depending on the personal issues I’m dealing with at the moment I’m reading the trilogy. Also, through time, I have read Tolkien biographies and commentaries and studies on his works; these have enriched my understanding and appreciation of Tolkien’s works and have given me new ways of viewing his works. Because of this, each re-reading of the LOTR trilogy is a unique experience.

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

Of course! Tolkien’s work has enriched my world and has made me a better person in more ways than one.

LotRFI Pt.55–Aragorn King, Aragorn King

When Aragorn finally acknowledges his title, beginning with the ride out to the Black Gate, he changes dramatically. He becomes an archetype of the ‘good king.’ This is a motif that I was familiar with from reading Arthurian fiction, and Aragorn fits the role pretty well. Like my response to Frodo, I appreciated how Aragorn took on the responsibility of kingship but I did not like him as a person in this role as much.

returnking3
Cover art copyright Michael Herring

I cannot overstate how much I loved Strider in my first reading. He was cool but responsible, mysterious but stately. He was like the gruff uncle or something. He was very likable and I felt this likability diminish as he ascended to his throne. In short: I liked Strider better than Aragorn, and I think I still do. As a character, Aragorn becomes more distant and aloof to the hobbits. This is only natural because he has so much more responsibility, but it felt like a ‘growing apart’ in a way. Aragorn was moving on with his life, and the hobbits and I were still the same.

We were changed by the quest, of course, but not by status or class. For the hobbits and the reader, the change is internal, a maturing or growing up, but for Aragorn it is largely external. I felt this keenly in my first reading. While I still loved Aragorn, because he was still partly Strider, I lamented his change in status. Since I did not read the appendices, I did not know that the hobbits ever saw Aragorn again. I thought that he basically forgot them once he went back to Gondor: a melancholy ending to the relationship.

As a side-note: since I did not read the appendices or pick up on the hints throughout the text, Arwen was a mystery to me when she showed up to be his queen. I did not know who she was, or why she should have such an immediate claim on Aragorn. I essentially had to judge her based on her actions once she is Aragorn’s queen. I decided that I liked her enough, because she gave Frodo a present, but that I still did not know her very well. Keep in mind that I did not realize what she actually gave Frodo. I thought that she basically gave him a token, and that she was simply describing how he is destined to go West (something that I promptly forgot before the end of the book).

Where Do We Go From Here?

To talk about the many departures, then a special mystery post!

What Do You Think?

How did you feel when Aragorn became king and started taking on those responsibilities?
Did you feel a shift in his relationships to other characters?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Michael Flowers–Tolkien Experience Project (52)

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 Michael 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 Michael Flowers’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

At Junior High School an English teacher retired, and we were given a science teacher for one hour a week. He obviously didn’t know how to conduct an English class. His solution was to get us to read in turn out loud The Hobbit to the rest of the class. I can remember personally reciting the bit about the dwarves approaching the fires of the Elvenking. I even had time to look up and see the whole class was spellbound. At the end of the academic year we hadn’t even finished the book, so I got it that Christmas, and read it all through myself.

A few years later on a school prize-giving day someone in another class got this strange thick green paperback book with a yellow spine – myself and others were receiving chunky hardback history books, or atlases. On investigation this green book was Pauline Baynes’ cover of The Lord of the Rings. I got it the following Christmas and read it through several times. I remember the first time I wondered who Arwen was at the end (I missed her earlier entrance in Rivendell, or forgot all about her). I was also surprised that Strider became the King.

A couple of years later I remember going into W.H. Smiths and coming across a desk absolutely covered with piles of a strange book with a floral design on the cover – this was the launch of The Silmarillion. I got the paperback for Christmas once it became available, but it took at least 3 attempts before I could get past the first two “chapters”.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

Without question The Lord of the Rings. I prefer his mature style with a detailed attention to landscape and nature. I also like his building of suspense, and contrast between safe havens and places of danger. My favourite chapters of all are “The Shadow of the Past” and “The Council of Elrond.”

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I didn’t enjoy my senior school very much, but I remember once reading The Lord of the Ringswalking between classes, waiting outside classes in every spare moment. Then reading it at home once I got back from school. I think I managed to read it using every spare moment in 11 days. I remember finding the 3 volumes in Hull’s central library in the reference section for the first time, and being amazed by the appendices. My paperback copy only had the Aragorn and Arwen appendix. I was still at school, but spend lots of 2p pieces photocopying the appendices I wanted to read at home. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to buy the third volume in hardback, but pocket money was tight then – only 20p a week. I loved the 1981 BBC radio adaptation, and that helped with the pronunciation of words like Celeborn and Isengard – the pronunciation appendices meant nothing to me at the time!

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

Yes, when I first read it as a teenager my favourite chapters were “The Uruk-Hai” and “Shelob’s Lair”, but as an adult I definitely prefer “The King of the Golden Hall” and “Treebeard”. After I studied English literature at university were Tolkien wasn’t even mentioned, and I got the impression he was despised, I feared I would find the books childish. However, I found that the narrative had added depth, especially the sections dealing with the Riders of Rohan – after studying Old English. The first teenage readings were made at breakneck speed as the excitement mounted. Now, I like to take my time and savour all the words. However, I do find the Frodo, Sam & Gollum less interesting once one knows what happens next.

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

When I first read it, it was a secret vice. You weren’t supposed to mention liking it, a bit like you couldn’t mention if you enjoyed Abba. The films have made Tolkien more acceptable and mainstream. However, I probably wouldn’t recommend Tolkien to a stranger. You need to know a person’s taste before recommending Tolkien. There are still some diehard realists who don’t like fiction in which there is an element of fantasy. I’ve heard several people gave up on the TV series “Game of Thrones” as soon as the dragons appeared!


If you want more of Michael’s thoughts on Tolkien and other topics, visit his blog at http://www.eybirdwatching.blogspot.com/

LotRFI Pt.54–Sauron and Evil

Disclaimer: the nature of evil and the way we interpret it is inherently combined with the worldview of the reader. That means that I cannot effectively discuss the depiction of evil in LotR without addressing how my religious upbringing interacted with my ideas of evil in the world. I try to avoid such religious criticism when I can, but it is essential in this post. Feel free to skip to the next post if you are uninterested in this type of commentary.

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Image copyright Ted Nasmith

Since I read LotR as a kid, Sauron was a very effective depiction of evil to me. He was a disembodied, vague figurehead who inspired malice in his followers and crushed or corrupted his enemies. He was able to achieve all of this without ever being seen.

This type of pervasiveness made Sauron seem very complex to me as a child. I had a hard time understanding critiques of evil in LotR as being simplistic or naive. How could it be simplistic if it is able to be so pervasive and influential? To me, raised as a Sothern Baptist, Sauron was an accurate depiction of Satan (not the figure, but the figurehead). I did not understand that what people took issue with was the monolithic appearance of evil. As I think back, my lack of understanding is not very surprising to me.

Now we get to things hard to express in writing, especially plain writing without metaphor: As a child, evil was simple to me. Satan was simple to me. It was anything or anyone who caused pain or disagreed with someone I loved. This included those little thoughts of rebellion inside my own mind. Those things which were labeled as evil were to be avoided instantly. As a child, I did not wait to make distinctions or to problematize the character of evil, I fled it. Therefore, Sauron appeared as complex to me as any other evil, because all evil was monolithic.

To contradict myself, channeling my inner Walt Whitman, just because evil seemed simple does not mean that it was easy to defeat or avoid. The way that Tolkien portrays the Ring made sense to me as a Christian. I saw it as an embodiment of temptation. This is how Boromir was corrupted by it, and why each new character was to be mistrusted. Anyone at any time could feel the pull of the Ring and become ‘evil.’

To try to sum up what I have meant to express here: as a child evil was easy to identify, but impossible to avoid entirely. Sauron was a perfect embodiment of this kind of evil, which overlapped with my understanding of Satan from the Christian tradition. This meant that Sauron was, to me, the most effective antagonist I had ever encountered.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To examine Aragorn as a king, and then to start the homeward journey!

What Do You Think?

How did Tolkien’s depiction of Sauron interact with your view of evil?
How did you understand the Ring’s pull on other characters?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Maria do Rosario Monteiro’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (51)

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 Maria do Rosario Monteiro 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 Maria do Rosario Monteiro’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

By a side comment made by Professor Sansonetti while giving a lecture on alchemy during my Master in Comparative Literature at Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, 30 years ago.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I do not have one! There are several: The LOR, The Cosmogonic myth in Silmarillion, “The fall of Númenor”, Unfinished Tales, etc.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

The discovery of multiple layers of intertwined myths

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

It changes every time I re-read it because in 30 years I have changed also.

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

Yes. There is a bunch of reasons I cannot outline in a single answer. Usually, it takes me a whole semester teaching it, and I never get to the bottom. There is no way anyone who reads Tolkien will not become a “re-reader.” And the movies are a different creation, using a different art, that does not substitute the books. My advice is always the same: first, read the book, create your inner image of each character and of the space, get the feeling of traveling WITH the hobbits. Then, see the movies. If one does not follow this order will lose forever the ability to became a sub-creator of Middle-earth, that is what readers are or should be. Do not lose the possibility of imagining your own Galadriel, your own Gandalf, etc.


For more thoughts on Tolkien and other topics from Maria do Rosario Monteiro, you can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

LotRFI Pt.53–Mount Doom

The consistent theme surrounding Mount Doom is whether Frodo fails in his quest. I must admit that this was not an issue to me in my first reading. “Failure” was not really a concept I questioned at all. The quest, in the end, was successful, and Frodo played the largest part in it. Therefore, I saw Frodo as a successful hero. Granted, this interpretation has been problematized over the years, but it is an accurate account of my initial response.

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Image copyright Alan Lee

I observed all the instances foreshadowing Frodo’s decision in my subsequent reading. In that first experience, though, Frodo’s refusal to destroy the Ring was an utter shock. Then I read as one dumbfounded as Gollum’s greed brought about the destruction of the Ring. This was certainly a plot twist unlike almost anything else I had read up to that point in my life. Again, I knew that there was no such thing as coincidence in Middle-earth, therefore this seemed like a providential moment. I remembered Frodo’s recollection of Gandalf’s words just prior to entering the heart of the mountain, and the idea of mercy rang through for me, even as a child.

A quick side note, I should mention that, for all the faux grief aimed at Tolkien for calling this most important place Mount Doom, I always rather liked the name. It reminded me of the simple names of the Shire, and made the end seem not so distant or so harsh as it ultimately was.

As a final note, the escape from Mount Doom on the wings of the Eagles was certainly an unlooked-for joy to me. The deterministic coincidences leading up to this occurrence prepared me to accept it as a significant aspect of Middle-earth, not as some form of Deus ex Machina from Tolkien himself. Of course the Eagles came: they were part of the fate that governed the quest from the beginning! This made sense to me in my first reading.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To think about Sauron and Evil, then Aragorn as King.

What Do You Think?

How did you react to the events on Mount Doom?
Which surprised you the most?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Alex B’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (50)

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 Alex 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 Alex B’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

My Dad read The Hobbit to me, and then, despite having some reservations, the Lord of the Rings. I can’t say exactly how young I was then, but I do remember that I certainly couldn’t manage to read the books myself yet.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

To be as succinct as possible: The truth of it.

To expand a bit more: The fully-realized secondary world, with palpable ancientry, geography, culture, language, and complexity. I think it’s dangerous to suggest fiction is only worthwhile–or even is most worthwhile–when it says things about our own selves, and our own world; and yet it must be said that Tolkien, in his fantasy, managed to depict our reality in a way that *feels* more true than almost any so-called realistic depiction. In that way he shows to be false the dichotomy between myth and our present lived experience, making our world all the more wondrous.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I remember vividly my “fall in love” moments, the successive eu/catastrophes in both The Hobbit and LOTR. But, if I can be a little cliché, the only possible answer is that every experience is my favorite, and none of them are. Having the books read to me and skipping school to see the first film with my Dad (I’m 30) will always be treasured bonding experiences; Tolkien’s Boethian (or at least Boethi-esque) depiction of fate and acting in the face of it, grieving yet grimly optimistic, have informed my general ethic and shaped how I’ve responded to hardship and tragedy in my adult life. (There was no doubt which author I would read while working on the one eulogy I’ve given; and there’s a reason that one eulogy had three lines that got laughs, and celebrated life in the face of promised death.) However, there is still a lot to be said for those quiet nights alone with an old paperback, stripped of any outside context.

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

Yes; and so has the way it approaches me, which is perhaps nearer to how I experience it. At first, I delighted in the adventure, the danger, and the great expansive travel. But now, having read everything I know to have been published with Tolkien’s name on the cover and consumed a massive amount of the related literature, podcasts, and lectures… well, I still delight in the adventure, the danger, and the great expansive travel. But I also appreciate the depth of scholarship baked into the fiction, as well as the ephemeral wisdom. There is beauty in the world–indeed, there always has been–and the fact that it will pass, as did that which came before, is no reason not to behold it all with wonder and gratitude.

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

I would, but I tend not to do so explicitly. My enthusiasm, I think, speaks loudly enough; and there’s some danger in insisting on a kind of genre canon. So long as the people I care about are reading things they care about, I’m happy.