LotRFI Pt.43–The Battle of The Pelennor Fields

That I can recall, the massive battles that take place at Helm’s Deep and on the fields in front of Gondor were the second and third large scale incursion I ever read in fiction. The first was from H, and was an incomplete telling at best. I believe my next exposure to battlefield narratives would have been Esther Forbes’s Johnny Tremain. My whole family listened to that story on audiobook in the car while on vacation one summer because it was a required text for school. I would not read Homer, C.S. Lewis, or any other such battle for several years after this experience. Of course, I had read the brief descriptions of amassing forces and battle strategies presented in the history books for school, but those very rarely gave an account of fighting, they were distant overviews.

alan-lee-battle-of-the-pelennor-fields
Image copyright Alan Lee

This is not to say that I was naive of brutality: once again, The Call of the Wild was one of my favorite books starting around the age of eight or nine. The scale of the violence was a significant change from my prior reading experience. This means that two elements were very different for me to adjust to. The first is how the story told of the battles, especially Pelennor Fields, from multiple perspectives. This is a trick that Tolkien uses to show more of the battle, and it was a new approach to me. Also, the ebb and flow of the battle was also unique. Of course, I was used to plots where the protagonist came up against an obstacle, or experienced a setback, only to overcome the difficulty in the end. This was one of my first experiences with this kind of story arc encapsulated in a single struggle that didn’t extend for the entire length of the narrative.

This type of battle broke the mold of my previous experience with courtly tales. These were mostly centered on popular culture and not literature (I would not read White’s Once and Future King until two or three years later), and so massive battles were not very bloody nor very lengthy, I was only watching things deemed appropriate for a child, after all. It brought a grim kind of realism into these stories, but it preserved the epic moments of climax and eucatastrophe that I will talk about in my following posts.

Where do We Go From Here?

I want to address the horns of the Rohirrim, then take a moment to think about Eomer and Eowyn in some more depth.

What Do You Think?

How did the Pelennor Fields fit into your previous reading experience?
Did it change your view of Minas Tirith?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Onthetrail’s Experience –Tolkien Experience Project (40)

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 Onthetrail 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 Onthetrail’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

Tolkien books were on our shelves from as early as I can remember and when I was 7 my father and I read The Hobbit together over the Christmas holidays. I then read The Lord of the Rings shortly after. I quickly picked up The Silmarillion which was somewhat of a blur during the first read and like The Lord of the Rings took months to finish but I was already hooked.

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

As a child I would have said reading anything set in or around the Shire but now I am far more interested in Tolkien’s early forming of his imagined world, I am especially fond of The Book of Lost Tales. The Cottage of Lost Play is my favorite Tolkien work.

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

Probably reading The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and volume one of The Book of Lost Tales during a hike around North Wales.

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

I have two modes of approaching Tolkien now, so I would say yes. I read for enjoyment and also for study (which of course I enjoy but I try to focus differently). I study at the desk and I curl up on the sofa when I just sit and read for the joy of it.

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

Absolutely. If I meet people who show an interest but don’t own a copy then they always go home with a copy. Mostly a copy I picked up second hand for that purpose.

LotRFI Pt.42–Merry

While I saw Pippin’s lightheartedness as a very relatable trait, I was also able to identify with Merry during certain points of the epic. Unlike my adulation of Pippin’s jovial nature and individual growth, my identification with Merry was from a negative perspective.

 

Merry’s time alone in Rohan was perhaps the most affective part of his story for me. His time with Théoden begins in happiness. He is honored and sits next to the king and regales him with stories (RK, V, iii, 796). When word comes that the Rohirrim must go aid Gondor, Théoden telld Merry that he cannot go with them.

‘You shall abide here, and if you will, you shall serve the Lady Éowyn, who will govern the folk in my stead’ (RK, V, iii, 803).

Merry becomes indignant because he does not wish to be left out:

‘But, but, lord,’ Merry stammered, ‘I offered you my sword. I do not want to be parted from you like this, Théoden King. And as all of my friends have gone to battle, I should be ashamed to stay behind…tie me to the back of [a horse], or let me hang on a stirrup, or something.’

250px-john-howe-merry
Image copyright John Howe

This kind of useless bargaining and pleading between someone lower in position and a figure in authority reminded me very much of interactions I had had with my parent not many years before reading LotR (and perhaps some interactions even at the time of reading, if I am honest with myself). In a sense, Merry’s subordinate role in Rohan as a figure of entertainment one moment and as a burden the next mirrors a lot of the childhood experience.

The next chapter set in Rohan (RK, V, v) opens with Merry reflecting on his isolation. To make matters worse, the first interaction Merry has is with Elfhelm the Marshal who trips over him and curses him as a tree root. Merry stands up for himself, saying:

‘I am not a tree-root Sir…nor a bag, but a bruised hobbit’ (RK, V, v, 831).

Although his daring is not rewarded very kindly, as Elfhelm still calls him ‘Master Bag’ at the close of their conversation (RK, V, v, 831). Then Merry is overlooked as he ‘crept’ close enough to the conversation between Théoden and Ghân-buri-Ghân to narrate the scene for the reader (RK, V, v, 832).

The Rohirrim constantly ignore and/or disregard Merry. Perhaps this is a kind of othering. While it can, of course, be interpreted in many ways, this othering always reminded me of those times when adults would tell me to settle down, be quiet, and stop getting in the way. This really resonated with me as a child. Though I had what I would consider a happy childhood, I certainly experienced this kind of reprimand on occasion. The kind of loneliness and isolation that can accompany such an encounter feels on-par with what Merry experiences in Rohan. I could easily relate to the feeling of dejection that Merry feels.

My reflection on Merry’s part at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the Scouring of the Shire will come later.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Onward, to battle!

What Do You Think?

How did you read Merry’s experience in these chapters?
Do you think this reading is feasible or insane?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Xenia M’s–Tolkien Experience Project (40)

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 Xenia 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 Xenia M’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was a wannabe hippie at a very small high school in rural Ohio in the late 1960’s. There was a girl named Joyce who was further advanced in hippie-dom than I was so I looked to her for guidance. She was reading a book with a very psychedelic cover so naturally I had to get a copy. It was The Fellowship of the Ring. I don’t think Joyce ever finished the book; she mostly carried it around for effect. But I devoured it and saved my allowance money (some hippie!) for the next two volumes. I read them over and over.

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

I liked the travel sections the best when the Fellowship is traveling through woods, mountains, and Moria.

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

I used to hike a lot as a young person and imagine I was part of a Fellowship traveling through Middle-earth.

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

Yes, I have been affected by two things:

1. The Tolkien Professor’s podcasts, which led to participating live in the Tuesday and Wednesday night Mythgard classes, which led to enrolling in Signum University as a graduate student. The course work has caused me to take a more scholarly look at Tolkien’s writing. Happily, this has not been dry but actually has enhanced my enjoyment. I notice subtleties that I had previously overlooked.

2. The Peter Jackson movies, for better or for worse. Previously, I didn’t pay much attention to the battle scenes and JRRT didn’t elaborate on them too much either but the movies made the battles extremely, possibly overly, exciting. Also the monsters, such as the cave troll and the oliphants were very exciting in the movies. Also, when I read the books now I have an actor’s face for every character which I suppose is OK but not something I would have wished for.

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

Yes! Especially to people who are overly involved with politics, accounting, databases, etc. I suggest they start with The Lord of the Rings, then The Hobbit, and then The Silmarillion, in that order.

LotRFI Pt.41–Pippin

Pippin has always been my favorite hobbit. I was first interested in him because of how funny he is in the first book, especially in “Three is company” and “Shortcut to Mushrooms.” He remained my favorite because I appreciated his process of maturation as the story progresses.

welling
Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

His cheerful spirit serves as a comedic relief during many of the less active passages in the text. From his snarky comment in Rivendell,

‘”Gandalf has been saying many cheerful things like that”’ (FR, II, i, 226)

to his curiosity in Moria, which lands the Fellowship in some trouble, Pippin remains fairly charming and lighthearted. It is not until Gandalf grows angry and berates Pippin

‘”Fool of a Took…This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking party. Throw yourself in next time, and you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!”’ (FR, II, iv, 313)

that he starts to transform into a more serious and responsible character. This interaction in Moria, reminded me of a parent scolding a child. Pippin did something which was outside the normal expectations and it could have, and ultimately has, dire consequences. Gandalf chides him in the way that a concerned mother or father might express exasperation at a child who touches a stove or runs into the street. This confrontation seemed to me to be the starting point for Pippin’s transformation.

The two places where Pippin’s character shows real growth are in his actions to escape the Uruk-Hai in Rohan, and in his time spent in Gondor. When he is with the Uruk-Hai, Pippin is not a passive observer of events. Instead, he keeps his wits and not only manages to escape, but also leaves a clue for the Three Hunters to follow.

Pippin’s largest step toward becoming a responsible adult is his time spent in Gondor. Here he volunteers his service to the steward of Gondor to repay his debt to Boromir:

‘”Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it, in payment of my debt.”’ (RK, V, I, 754/5).

He feels accountable for Boromir’s death and seeks to make amends. Not only does this act show Pippin becoming more mature, but it puts him in a role of responsibility. A role which he performs very well. His next show of responsibility is that he chaperones Bergil, Beregond’s son, around Minas Tirith. Pippin no longer interacts with Bergil as his equal, though he cannot resist an occasional joke, but he sets restrictions on Bergil and enforces them. Finally, Pippin’s decision to disobey Denethor’s wishes and save Faramir shows the kind of complex reasoning and questioning of authority that is typically associated with maturity. He is not simply rebelling against authority because it is authoritative, nor is he blindly following it. He weighs consequences and decides to act in the way he think is best. Though I could not have expressed ,many of these concepts in this way when I was a kid, I certainly respected Pippin’s growth as an individual, and understood that he had earned responsibility and was using his judgement wisely.

Pippin’s story is a bildungsroman. This greatly impacted me in my first several readings of LotR. I will talk about the Scouring of the Shire in a later post, but I think the arc of Pippin’s character is clear already. He stays jovial throughout the text, I love his interaction with the Three Hunters in “Flotsam and Jetsam,” but he matures over the course of his journey. This is why Pippin was, and still is, my favorite hobbit from LotR.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We will look at Merry next, then explore the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

What Do You Think?

What did you think of Pippin in the early parts of the text?

Did your impression of him change as he developed over the course of the story?

Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Patricia Minger’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (39)

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 Patricia 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 Patricia Minger’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I found The Hobbit in the school library when I was about ten years old. I immediately loved it, although I don’t remember that first reading very clearly. I was one of those kids who stayed up late reading by the light of the 15-watt bulb in the hall outside my room. (Which may explain why I needed glasses by the time I was twelve.) I devoured the whole thing in about two nights running.

I did not start reading The Lord of the Rings until I was about thirteen. I dimly recall my mother saying the book was ‘too old’ for me. She never read it, so I don’t know why she thought that. Once I did start, I read it continuously about three times. The descriptions of the places enthralled me, and the adventure of it all. The maps fascinated me. I would have followed Aragorn into battle. I took Sam to my heart. I wept when Frodo left the Grey Havens.  I loved fantasy of any kind, but without knowing it, I grokked that this was the ‘deep magic’ version of the genre. To this day when I start to re-read it, I eagerly anticipate it like a new experience.

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

My favorite part of Tolkien’s work shifts with time and experience, but I have always had a great appreciation for the landscapes he paints, particularly certain breathless, stunning moments. Certainly, the environment functions as a character, one that occasionally comes to life and speaks. It was no surprise to learn that Tolkien saw with the eye of an artist. Some of his paintings express elemental visions, and are as striking as his prose.

I think the strengths of the PJ films were the visuals, and Howard Shore’s exquisite score. There are those who take exception to some of the adaptation, but those two features outweighed any possible flaws of the script. Surprisingly, my imagination limited the magnitude of scenes like the Ride of the Rohirrim, or the Mines of Moria, and the movies fully fleshed these out for me without dislodging my own impressions. And the music: the music of the Ainur! A worthy sub-creation.

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

My fondest experience of Tolkien’s work has to be the bond it has created between my sister and me. When we were growing up, it was our job to wash the dishes after dinner. For many years we took turns reading aloud, one of us working while the other read. We went through many books in those years, but my favorite was The Lord of the Rings. It has led us on many adventures together, from Mythgard and Signum University, to the A Long Expected Party (ALEP) community based in Kentucky, to midnight premieres of the movies, to Oxford and the recent Bodleian Library exhibit.

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

Naturally my approach to Tolkien has changed over the years. In my original readings, where all I had was the story in front of me, I took it at face value. In more recent times I have absorbed the scholarship of people like Verlyn Flieger, Michael Drout, Tom Shippey, Corey Olsen, and so many more, and I have experienced more depth to my readings, more questions, more attention to details. His essays, his shorter works, and Christopher Tolkien’s extensive exploration found in The History of Middle Earth of course inform my understanding and curiosity. Getting my BA in English also gave me a better idea of context.

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

Would I recommend Tolkien’s work? Yes. With the caveat that his work is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. The Lord of the Rings is magnificent. It rises above genre in the way that all truly great works of fiction do. But I will also admit that if someone asks me ‘Would I like it?’ I do not give a quick answer. I sort of feel a protectiveness about it. I don’t want someone to read it who will not like it, or who might even hate it. I usually qualify a recommendation with the caveat that while I found it a revelation of what literature could be, I do not expect that will be everyone’s experience.


For more thoughts from Patricia Minger, see her Facebook page!

LotRFI Pt.40–Minas Tirith

Minas Tirith was an altogether novel experience in my first read of LotR. It holds an interesting place in my memory because it is so different from the rest of LotR, but is more like other fantasy stories that I read before LotR.

ted-nasmith-the-complete-guide-to-middle-earth-minas-tirith-at-dawn_orig
Image copyright Ted Nasmith

Here is what I mean: Most of LotR felt original and new to me in the settings and many of the interactions, but Minas Tirith was like an allusion to stories with which I was familiar. Minas Tirith was the first ‘castle’ in the book, which automatically brought up associations with knights, damsels, jousting and quests for adventure. Most notable among these tales, I was aware of Camelot and Arthurian legends (which ones particularly, I cannot recall). For better or worse, I started to think about knights errant and chivalric tales.

This made the setting seem more remote and ancient to me than the rest of the text. I do not mean that it felt like it had a long history, several parts of the text feel like that. I mean that it felt like part of an older story to me. While most of LotR was a novel experience, I thought Minas Tirith was going to revisit fantasy of the medieval court variety. This was probably because, unlike with most of the other characters, events, and settings in the story, my only reference frame for Minas Tirith was other fantasy books. I had not living thing to equate Minas Tirith to. These other fantasy text were always set in distant lands or in earlier times (or ‘long ago’ and ‘far away’ if that were not banished as a cliché at this point).

In a sense, Minas Tirith was more storied for me as a location, but also more remote. I have often wondered how Europeans and Brits might feel about this point, since they grew up in places where they could have visited castles as a kid. To me, a castle was an element of make-believe, I wonder if it was just an element of history to them.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I would like to take a breath and talk about Merry and Pippin before we move on to the larger picture.

What Do You Think?

Did you think of Minas Tirith as a castle?
How did this influence the way you perceive(d) the events in Minas Tirith?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Miles S’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (38)

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 Miles 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 Miles S‘s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was first introduced to The Lord of the Rings when I was nine years old. I had been reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and had enjoyed it immensely. My father had a Brilliantine paperback edition of The Fellowship of the Ring (with the wonderful Barbara Remington cover art) and gave it to me, telling me, “there is a very scary part where they make a journey underground and encounter a dreadful spirit of the underworld!” I was so intrigued that I began to read it almost immediately and was soon completely engrossed in the story. Of course, The Bridge of Khazad-dum had me enthralled and I was devastated when Gandalf the Grey fell into darkness.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

It really is difficult for me to define what I feel is my favorite part of Tolkien’s work. I was absolutely enthralled with Middle-earth after my first (of many) readings of The Lord of the Rings, and that was not diminished by subsequent, multiple readings of The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. If anything I would have to say that perhaps those three works are my favorites of the Tolkien catalogue. I have not been quite as big a fan of most of his posthumously published material (with the exception of The Silmarillion of course which he was working on prior to his death) because I am not sure whether Professor Tolkien would have wanted this material published.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

One of my fondest experiences associated with Tolkien’s work is perhaps my first reading of The Silmarillion when I was 16 years of age. I had pre-ordered my copy from the local bookstore and taken the bus to pick it up the day it arrived. At first I found the narrative odd and disjointed, but being a lover of Tolkien and possessing the dogged determination that comes with young adulthood, I soldiered on and very quickly fell under the spell of the incredibly vast and complex universe that Professor Tolkien wove around me.  I found the history of the Elves to be incredibly noble and tragic, and the story of Feanor, the Silmarils and the flight of the Noldor to Middle Earth reminded me of the legends and myths I had read in books on ancient Greek/Roman and Norse mythology. I keenly remember reading of the Dagor Bragollach and the madness of Fingolfin; of his riding forth alone to Angband to challenge Morgoth to single combat. When I read the line “and Morgoth came” the hairs rose on the back of my neck and a shock of fearful anticipation coursed through me like an electric current. There have been very few times, before or since when the written word has been able to elicit that kind of a response in me.

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

Of course my approach to Tolkien’s work has changed over time. After multiple readings of his work, and vastly more experience gained through reading the works of other authors, my appreciation of Tolkien has been modified and placed in the context of a greater appreciation of literature in general.

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

As for recommending Tolkien, I have been doing so ever since I first experienced his work. I think part of the genius of Tolkien’s work is that it is approachable by readers of any calibre. One only has to look at the popularity of the very simplistic, commercial movie versions of his work to see how it can appeal across a large demographic.


 

LotRFI Pt.39–Sam’s “Meta” Moments

One of the inspirational aspects of Tolkien’s work which really stuck with me in my first reading was Sam’s perceptive moments where he talks about how the adventure he is in is like the adventure he learned as a child. A great example of this tendency occurs of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol Chapter. Sam recounts part of the tale of Beren and Luthien and then falls into reflection, saying:

‘But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it…and why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve goy – you ‘ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’ (TT, IV, viii, 712)

leaving-hobbiton-by-ullakko-d55jdvr
Image copyright Ulla Thynell

Then Frodo and Sam talk about the nature of stories and the part that characters play in them. This was important to me because it gave me a connection to the characters I was reading about. I wanted to believe that these stories were real, that they mattered. This vision of how a story could impact the life of the listener/reader was very inspiring to me. I think that, had it not been for the several moments like this in TT and RK, perhaps LotR would not have been as impactful on me. Not only did these passages make this story more meaningful, they made reading as an activity more important. I really internalized these observations a lot in my first reading.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I believe we will start RK with a visit to Minas Tirith. That seems fitting!

What Do You Think?

What is your impression of these moments with Sam?
Have these episodes ever impacted your reading outside of Tolkien?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Wesley Schantz’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (37)

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 Wesley 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 Wesley Schantz’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

As a kid, I read an illustrated Hobbit with pictures from the Rankin-Bass movie. I think it was my dad’s. I would read and look at the pictures about equally. Then in middle school I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in plain paperback editions at least a couple of times through, before the Peter Jackson movies came out.

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

The sense of an individual crafting something which also aspires to be universal, a mythic whole, and that we’re being invited to imaginatively participate in the endeavor.

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

Reading The Hobbit for the first time at summer camp, when Bilbo comes to Gollum’s lake, to the spiders in Mirkwood, to Smaug, and finally makes it back home again.

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

Listening to The Tolkien Professor courses on The Silmarillion, Leaf by Niggle, Smith, etc. and studying Tolkien’s scholarly work, starting with the two big essays and his translations, I’ve become interested in his cultural impact, beyond just his stories.

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

I highly recommend it. A great way for new readers to encounter him is in the company of Narnia, Harry Potter, and A Wrinkle in Time, through Signum Academy’s summer camps!


For more from Wesley Schantz, check out his blog!