Jeffrey Hawboldt’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (15)

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 Jeffrey 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 Jeffrey Hawboldt’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

Via the film trilogy by Peter Jackson that went from 2001 – 2003.

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

The extremely detailed world-building and mythos.

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

Reading the books for the first time during the winter months.

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

Not really. Always been a fan, so my views of Tolkien’s works hasn’t changed over time, but rather, my view of the world and myself.

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

Absolutely. They are not for everyone though.


To read more of Jeffrey Hawboldt’s thoughts on Tolkien, see his blog: insurrbution.blogspot.com

LotRFI Pt.16–Gandalf Falls

Gandalf was my favorite character from the beginning of LotR. As I noted in a previous post, I always found him mysterious and funny. Unlike H, Gandalf was present throughout LotR, so the reader has the chance to know him well. His character was so well developed that I could often laugh at the little word-games he played on the hobbits, while always taking his warnings seriously. This is probably why his death at the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm was so heart-wrenching for me.

My reaction was not immediate. I thought that it was surely some kind of trick, Gandalf would levitate out of the chasm somehow. It was not until the other characters reacted and the chapter ended that it finally sunk in. This death was sudden and unexpected. There was no dramatic pause in his fall, as the movie depicts, rather this famous line comes out of the pit while he is falling. Aragorn’s seizing of control and his determination to get the Fellowship out of Moria drives the reader on and does not leave time for reflection until the chapter concludes.

moria
Image copyright David Wyatt

I must admit that I cried profusely before I began reading the next chapter. . I ruminated a while on how nonchalant the passage about Gandalf’s death seemed. It was not built-up and magnanimous as Thorin’s in H.  Perhaps it was Tolkien’s war experience that taught him how death is a sudden separation. Unfortunately, when I read LotR, I was too young to know about literary tropes. I knew of the quest archetype, of course, but I had no indication whatsoever that Gandalf, as the mentor figure, had to leave in order for the rest of the fellowship to mature.

As much as the heights of Caradhras shaped my understanding of Tolkien’s world, the depths underneath the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm defined the terms of the quest. Suddenly, I became aware that the true hazard of the quest was death; abduction or discovery were no longer the worst possible outcomes, but sudden and permanent death. As someone who had read mostly “children’s literature” up to this point, death was not the consequence of failure in most of my reading. Perhaps this is the point when I realized that the world I entered weeks before was more than just a fantasy land, but there were dire consequences here, worse than in the real world (I was, and still am, fortunate in how few times I have had to experience the death of a loved one).

I will take a moment to clarify that, on my initial reading, I did not fall victim to either of two popular fan interpretations of this passage. I never believed that Gandalf meant anything other than “run” when he shouts the word fly. Also, I never had any notion that the Balrog had literal wings. I always read the passage which sparked this fan theory as a metaphor, and I suppose I never questioned it because the Balrog falls down the expanse. I probably just justified that he could not have fallen if he had wings. (Perhaps this is a bit easier with the naiveté and certainty of youth, as I never considered alternatives such as “the Balrog had wings, but their span was too large to be efficacious in the depths.)

Wayne A’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (14)

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 Wayne 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 Wayne A’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was first introduced to Tolkien in grade 10 by an English teacher who was using the Return of the King as a novel study. I was hooked immediately!

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

Not sure if you mean a particular piece or a central theme to his works, but I think the idea of good vs. evil against all odds has fascinated me, as it manifests in so many of his literary works.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Ironically, my fondest experience is that it was the last major work that my now much older children let me read to them as a bedtime story. As early teenagers they sat with me every night while I read to them the adventures of Bilbo Baggins.

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

I find myself reading one or more of his works each winter…. Something about this author’s writing whilst the snow flies appeals to my innermost Tolkien admiration.

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

I would highly recommend any of Tolkien’s work….. And have many times over my 22 years as a high school teacher. I continue to use The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring as mainstays for novel studies…. And students still enjoy them!

Baymoot Approaches

As many of you already know, I have been responsible for organizing Baymoot for Signum University this year.

The event takes place at Mills College in Oakland, California on Saturday, August 18, 2018. The theme is “breaking boundaries and crossing borders.” It is a one-day literature symposium. It is $40 to attend, and a light breakfast and lunch are provided.

I am very excited about the schedule we have been able to pull together, including our plenary speaker: Corey Olsen, a.k.a The Tolkien Professor!

The Baymoot organizational team has already been an invaluable help in making sure the event runs smoothly!

I just wanted to post here that there is only one week left to register for the event, where you can meet me and the other excellent speakers and share your ideas with other Tolkien and speculative fiction fans!

For more information about the event, and to register, see the Signum page for the event!

LotRFI Pt.15–Caradhras Changes Everything

I have always had inordinately strong opinions about the passage about Caradhras. In fact, it was changes made to this episode that made me shout “no!” when I went to see Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Rings in theaters.

I was familiar with other literature that gave a sense of autonomy to nature before I read LotR, and I was excited to see that Tolkien does the same throughout the text, even before getting to the fully autonomous Treebeard. As a child, I loved the idea that trees could have volition and emotions. Tolkien takes this wondrous idea and pushes it one step further in the Caradhras episode. As the snows on Caradhras foil the attempt of the Fellowship to pass over the mountain, this exchange occurs:

‘We cannot go further tonight,’ said Boromir. ‘Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are aimed at us.’

‘I do call it the wind,’ said Aragorn. ‘But that does not make what you say untrue. There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own. Some have been in this world longer than he.’

‘Caradhras was called the Cruel, and had an ill name,’ said Gimli, ‘long years ago, when the rumor of Sauron had not been heard in these lands.’ (FOTR, II, iii, 289)

Here Boromir tries to attribute the malevolent weather to Sauron or one of his agent; however, but Aragorn and Gimli are quick to halt this impulse and clarify that there are other forces at play in the world. Gimli goes so far as to specify that the will is probably that of Caradhras himself.

tn-company-attempts-the-pass-of-caradhras
Image copyright Ted Nasmith

I cannot emphasize this enough: this passage changed my worldview the first time I read it. To ascribe volition to not just plants, but to all of nature, to the very earth itself! This was a truly awe-inspiring thought for me. I remember walking around for days thinking about the ramifications of this idea. What does it mean to till an earth that could feel the cuts? What does it mean to dynamite a mountain that can fight back? To this day, I occasionally ponder this “what if” question when I consider my lifestyle.

Let me be clear, I did not instantly change and become an eco-warrior or any of the other clichés, but this passage made me think about how I affected the soil, the rock, and the foundations of our planet for the very first time. I had already learned about trees and had Arbor Day plantings and such, but this was so much more inclusive than those lessons. If you can impact the ground, then make an influence on the world in every second of every day.

Imagine watching Peter Jackson’s movie after that. Jackson ascribes the wind to Saruman! Doing so completely changes Tolkien’s entire conception. It flattens all of nature, except Ents/Huorns, to mere things with no will or agency. This was by far the biggest disappointment for me leaving the theater.

J.S. Klingman’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (13)

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 J.S. 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 J.S. Klingman’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

My older brothers were gigantic Tolkien fans; they infected me with Tolkienism at a young age, although I became more of a fanatic in 2018.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

Well, I really love the motion pictures’ depiction of the books. But, that’s more Peter Jackson’s work… I really enjoyed The Silmarillion and The Hobbit – the former was an amazing epic account of the times preceding The Lord of the Rings, while the latter was the lighthearted story of a hobbit’s quest. Both struck me as intriguing tales despite the fact that they are written somewhat differently. I found them boring at first, but now I love them. I just need to get used to some things, I suppose…

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Probably reading The Hobbit all the way through for the first time?

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

Yes. I love it now more than ever, and someday want to make a huge personal library of Tolkien’s work. Before, I thought that it was great and all, just not something to get fanaticized over.

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

Definitely, one hundred percent!! Tolkien’s work has been the most inspiring fiction I have ever read/watched!! Middle-Earth is so complex, the characters were all likeable (except for those evil ones), and the motion pictures were AMAZING!! Plus, Tolkien’s and Peter Jackson’s works have a wonderful, hopeful, and truthful worldview that makes them compelling and interesting to read/watch.


To see more of J.S. Klingman’s thoughts on Tolkien, head over to his blog: https://mylittleholeintheground.site123.me/

Tolkien CFPs for Kalamazoo 2019

The CFP for the 54th International Congress of Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo has been published, so it is high time that I post about all eight (yes, you read that right, eight!) of the Tolkien sessions planned for the upcoming event!

I will start with the panels from the Tales After Tolkien Society (they get premier billing here because I am the VP!)

Tales After Tolkien Society Panels

The first session, a paper session titled The Legacy of Tolkien’s Medievalism in Contemporary Works, will examine the continuing italestitnfluence of J.R.R. Tolkien on conceptions of the Middle Ages and medieval prevalent in academic and popular cultures. As has been amply attested, Tolkien’s medievalist work in his Middle-earth corpus has exerted an outsized influence on subsequent fantasy and medievalist popular culture, and, following Paul B. Sturtevant’s assertions in The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination, it is largely or chiefly through popular cultural engagement with the materials that people—both the general public and those who become the students and scholars of the medieval—develop their early understandings of the Middle Ages. Decades on, Tolkien’s influence on popular culture—books, yes, but also movies, tabletop games, video games, television series, music, and other elements of popular understanding—continues to be felt, and continued examination of that influence is therefore warranted.

The second session, a paper session titled Afterlives of Medieval Religion in Contemporary Works, will look at how the post-Tolkien works that are the Society’s focus appropriate and misappropriate medieval religious constructions. That formal religion was a central element of the European medieval, broadly conceived, is a conventional wisdom that is reflected both in the typical programming of the Congress and in the pages of Speculum, among others—yet many medievalist works, particularly those in mainstream popular culture, neglect or shy away from overt religiosity, or else they invoke it partially and only to specific effects, and in ways that do not appear to align well to the functions of the medieval church. Untangling the uses, misues, and avoidances of a key element of medieval culture in works that purport to be medieval or medievalist in their intent bears examination, and papers in the proposed session would be directed to those ends.

(The panel descriptions I am posting here were previously posted on the society blog)

To submit to either of these panels, contact the President of the society, Geoffrey B. Elliott here.

The Tolkien at Kalamazoo group is sponsoring three panels.

  1. Tolkien and medieval constructions of race. Paper session.
  2. Tolkien and temporality: medieval constructions of time. Paper session.
  3. Misappropriation of Tolkien’s medievalism. Roundtable.

To submit to any of these panels, contact either Chris Vaccaro here or Yvette Kisor here

There are also a few individually sponsored Tolkien sessions planned:

The Medieval Roots of Tolkien’s The Fall of Gondolin, organized by Bill Fliss.

The upcoming publication of Tolkien’s The Fall of Gondolin (August 2018) makes available what Tolkien called “the first real story of this imagined world” (Letter 163), the story of the fall of a great hidden Elven kingdom that occupied Tolkien throughout his life. It forms the basis for much of his early legendarium of Middle-earth and incorporates many aspects of medieval themes and topics. This paper session invites considerations of the medieval roots of Tolkien’s tale.

(The preceding description was originally shared by Bill Fliss)

You can contact him about the session here.

Tolkien’s Legendarium and Medieval Cosmology, organized by Judy Ann Ford

You can contact her about the session here.

Medieval Song, Verse and Versification in Tolkien’s Works, organized by Annie Brust

You can contact her about the session here.

LotRFI Pt.14–Wargs

The beginning of the next episode which features wild animals is remarkably contrary to the crebain incident. Without warning, Aragorn names the enemy: “Aragorn leapt to his feet. ‘How the wind howls! He cried. ‘It is howling with wolf-voices. The Wargs have come west of the Mountains!’” (FR, II, iv, 297) The story then becomes a rapid exchange of dialogue as the Fellowship makes decisions and outlines plans for their journey. Then there is a lull in the activity as the Fellowship makes camp and sets a watch against the wolves. Then, the fight begins as Wargs encircle the camp and the Fellowship is forced to fend them off.

dances-with-wolves
Image copyright Katarzyna Chmiel-Gugulska

This encounter always reminded me of the fight where Strider, Frodo, and the other hobbits struggled against the Ringwraiths near Weathertop. In each case the protagonists are encircled by enemies near a campfire and must use fire itself to drive away the enemy. It is probably this desired parallel that makes Gandalf’s role so significant to me. Unlike the somewhat successful attack by the Ringwraiths earlier, Gandalf, with some assistance from Legolas, drives away the Wargs before they can hurt anyone. Gandalf puts forth some of his power, seeming to grow in stature and power, as he grabs a branch and with it causes “fire to leap from tree-top to tree-top” until “the whole hill was crowned with dazzling light” (FR, II, iv, 299). At this sight, and the death of their leader, the Wargs flee. Gandalf’s might and skill saves the group and keeps the wolves at bay until they can reach Moria. While the crebain serve to deepen the ominous atmosphere in Hollin, the Fellowship confronts the wolves and staves them off. While there is still fear of their return, there is every indication that this is a manageable threat.


As a note of full disclosure: I read The Call of the Wild by Jack London a few years before LotR. It quickly became one of my favorite books when I was around ten years old. I enjoyed the escapism I found in the Alaskan wild and the grittiness of the writing; however, I mostly enjoyed the book because I loved Buck, the canine protagonist who relates the story. I undoubtedly channeled some of the horrific images from that book into the threat presented by the Wargs here.


Where do We Go From Here?

I want to take a step back, chronologically, and take some time to ruminate on Caradhras. This was a particularly important insight for me, and I hope I can do it justice!

What Do You Think?

I have depicted my first interpretation of the Crebain the Warg encounters as very different in nature. Do you agree with this perspective? Do I miss some important similarities?

Jeremiah B’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (12)

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 Jeremiah 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 Jeremiah B’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

My dad introduced me to Tolkien by sitting me down at about the age of 4 to watch the Rankin-Bass animated version of The Hobbit, and I’ve gone ever-deeper into the legendarium from there. But I often return to that animated classic, and I’ll always defend it as being brilliantly executed from those who like to call it silly or weird. While it is never flawless, it manages to capture in 1hr18m what the big-budget Hollywood adaptation managed to miss almost entirely in the course of nine hours.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

This depends on what you mean by ‘part’. My favourite book remains The Lord of the Rings. But my favourite “quality” or “thing” about Tolkien and his work is how rich, deep, and real it feels. When I read it, it “feels” like it could all really have happened. Tolkien achieves this quality through many mechanisms which aren’t appropriate for this short-reply format. But I’ve not felt that quality with my (admittedly limited) experiences with other fantasy novels.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I often wish I could ‘forget’ Tolkien and ‘re-discover’ him for the first time. The closest I can get is reading to my daughter (who is 10 as of writing this) and watching her reactions. It is wonderful. I’m letting her dictate the speed of her introduction because I hope it will make her more naturally take to the material. I don’t want it forced. But so far we’ve managed to go through The Hobbit (twice), Smith of Wootton Major, Farmer Giles of Ham, and Roverandom, and we’ve recently begun The Fellowship of the Ring.

However, equally important to me is my wife, who I met through an online book forum discussing Tolkien. This was back in 2004 when meeting people from the Internet was much more taboo than it even is now. It’s safe to say that without Tolkien, my life would be completely different: I wouldn’t be married to this woman, I wouldn’t have my daughter, and I wouldn’t have moved 3500 miles from my hometown across the Atlantic.

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

Yes! Like many, I used to skip the poetry. And I didn’t really start to go in for “Tolkien studies” until I was in my 20s. Instead, I merely read cover-to-cover (skipping the appendices), and moved on. Now I read more carefully and I often read for different reasons (studying a particular concept, and of course, for pleasure). I’ve broadened my Tolkien bookshelf and “to be read” pile significantly, which now includes essays, papers, and books by many other authors who have, in turn, offered a unique perspective on Tolkien.

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

I would (and have several times) recommend Tolkien to anyone who likes mythology/ high fantasy/ romance novels and isn’t afraid of large sections of the narrative being devoted to the description of a landscape or local flora. But I accept that Tolkien is not for everyone!


To see more of Jeremiah B’s thoughts on Tolkien, head over to his fantastic blog: https://mathomhouse.wordpress.com/

LotRFI Pt.13–Crebain

After leaving Rivendell, the narrative makes many asides into the description of geography and scenery, and there is much interaction among the Fellowship which helps to establish each character as well as their roles within the group; however, there are two major encounters with groups of wild animals that I want to look at in a bit more detail: the crebain and the wolves.

daniel-govar-crebain
Image copyright Daniel Govar

The Fellowship encounters the crebain in the land of Hollin, little more than a fortnight out from Rivendell. Unlike the movie interpretation of these events, the significance of the crebain is not in their appearance, but in the silence which their approach instills in the land. Aragorn observes how “No folk dwell here now, but many other creatures live here at times…Yet now all things are silent. I can feel it” (FotR, II, iii, 284). This passage is so ominous that I underlined it several times. As a reader, I was very afraid of anything that could cause an entire region to change its character! I imagined some sort of invisible blight that had somehow scared all of the animals of the area, but left the land untouched. What kind of monstrosity would be capable of such a thing?

It is because of this anticipatory passage that the appearance of the crebain is so impactful: What starts as a shadow in the distance takes on an ominous import as the source of such devastation and fear. This led to an interesting fluctuation of emotions for me. At first the cloud terrified me. Then, as I discovered, along with Sam, that it was simply a large flock of birds, I felt a sense of relief. Aragorn’s reaction to the birds, and his subsequent explanation of their significance renewed my sense of looming fear. The trick that Tolkien pulls here he does several times (including earlier with the black riders), and I do not know that I had ever before experienced this unique skill by any other author. He started with a kind of anxiety about the unknown cause of the stillness in Hollin, and somehow Tolkien identifies the immediate cause of the anxiety for the reader, but still leaves an ominous foreboding and completely unanswered questions. In my previous readings, whenever the source of the anxiousness was identified, there was something to be done. The enemy could be faced, fled, or reasoned with. The enemy became a known quantity. In this instance, the reader understands that the crebain are simply an implement. Whether they spotted the Fellowship or not is left uncertain, as is their ultimate master, although there are some pointed speculations. Furthermore, simply because they are under a malevolent influence does not entirely answer the question of why all of Hollin has gone quiet. What do the beasts and other birds have to fear from the master of the crebain?

While it was such a small occurrence when compared to the quest of the Ring, this episode really had an effect on my reading as a child. Largely because a part of the natural world is here used as an implement of evil, the event underscored my cautiousness and unwillingness to trust in characters with an unknown past (including Boromir).