LotRFI Pt.38–Gollum

I have already indicated two things which greatly impact the way that I viewed Sméagol in my initial reading. First, I was very concrete in my thinking of good and bad at the time (hence my largely negative opinion of Boromir). Second, I was very mistrustful in general. These two attributes conspired to make me dislike Gollum from the moment I knew he would be in this story. He had, after all, betrayed sweet Bilbo in H and was as treacherous as any other character.

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Image copyright Alan Lee

This utter dislike for Gollum continued pretty much undaunted until the trio reaches Ithilien. In this phase of the adventure, I started to think of Gollum more as a pet than an enemy. This may not make me seem like the most gracious child, but his overly-expressive gesticulations and extreme attitude shifts reminded me of a dog. Gollum became a character who could amuse me, but he still had to be watched very carefully because he might try to get away with something at any moment.

I did not really understand that Gollum was pitiable until the Stairs. At one point the narrator makes more explicit here what Gandalf hinted at earlier in FR. The narrator describes Gollum coming back to find the hobbits sleeping and

‘slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee – but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old staved pitiable thing’ (TT, IV, viii, 714).

I need to clarify here that I did not see Gollum as regretful here. For all I knew, Gollum was reaching to see if Frodo was asleep enough for him to steal the Ring. What I did understand, though, was that others could pity him even if his motivations or intentions were bad. This passage did not show regret in Gollum, but the magnanimity that thee hobbits were capable of. I did not arrive at an understanding of Gollum’s motivations until a few years later in my reading experience.

Gollum to me was complicated in the way that he could be viewed by others, but not complicated in his own character. While I understood some of his internal tension, Tolkien was too overt with Gollum for me to ignore it, it registered as uncertainty to me and not real conflict.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Sam gets meta, then onward to RK​!

What Do You Think?

What was your first interpretation of Gollum?
Did you ever take true pity on him?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Abner de Souza’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (36)

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 Abner 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 Abner de Souza’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

Though familiar with Tolkien’s name, being a C.S Lewis’s reader, it was all because of the LOTR movies. Which I just came to watch in the year of the second part of The Hobbit trilogy , for, until then I only had seen the scene of the Hobbits in Fangorn, which in my memories were totally different. Well, though it was a bad quality, illegal copy, it was enough to take me out of my world and so I became, or, more accurately, I found out I was thirsty for that fantastic beauty I found in Middle-earth. So, by the time of the third part of The Hobbit, I’d already read the four books and considered myself his biggest fan, and abandoned, because I had no idea by the time, that The Silmarilion existed.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

If you asked a book, I would say with no doubt The Silmarilion. Because of it’s majestic beauty, incomparable. But, the “part” of his work I can’t say. Maybe the linguistic, that, like the gift of the elves, it was his magic of writing, of making men have dreams of that intangible fairness. Like only the words he created could give you the description of what it means without spoil.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

That is something I discovered suddenly. Walking to school, back in those days I was reading The Lord of The Rings, I caught myself gazing upon the trees. In a moment I just knew that I was changed forever by a book I was reading. I can still see the tree, the street I was in, like I’m right in front of it. This moment is in my mind and heart. Unremovable.

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

Never. Since I read The Lord of The Rings, to read a new work, to watch or to listen to an interview or record he made, or anything related to him, it’s like a ceremony for me. I have the highest respect for all of his legacy and so I care about not giving it the recognition of it’s worth. By now, I’ve read or listened to a lot by Tolkien and about Tolkien, though I have this way that might seem strange. I do not consume the work of someone I like and that has already passed in the same way I do for the work of the living. So I go slow, as slow as I can. It’s reasonable actually. For I fear the day I will know all that there is to be known. But for Tolkien, being who he is, it’s different. I always make sure to have something new to pass Christmas day or my birthday.

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

If I would? What can a man do in the name of love if not share all that is good?


If you want more of Abner’s thoughts on Tolkien and other topics, you can find him on Twitter!

The Tolkien Birthday Toast–A Reflection on Reflection

For a few years now, I have followed the tradition of the Tolkien Birthday Toast that I was first introduced to through the Tolkien Society.

You can visit the Tolkien Society’s page explaining the toast for more information or for the basic procedures.

Today I wanted to take a moment to laud the simple traditions that fandom inspires. It is easy to look at something like the Tolkien Birthday Toast from the outside and assume it is nothing more than an exercise performed by a group of over-enthusiastic nerds.

I think there is something a bit more, though.

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At this point, the toast is a shared, communal tradition that lends itself to something that our everyday lives increasingly push out: reflection.

I call it a communal experience because, whether one celebrates it alone or in the company of others, there is an understanding that this act is something shared. Different fans and groups of fans across the world will do this same act, and participating in something that large gives a sense of unity and belonging.

It is more than that, though. This sense of community is nice, but what is the community about? Why does it matter?

Having the toast focus on the author rather than a specific text or event makes this activity a very special kind of reflection. It is a moment to pause and appreciate the achievements of an author and the life he lived. Tolkien was not a writer by trade, he was an academic. While many people were drawn to him because of his creative endeavors, those are only part of Tolkien’s influence. The toast allows people with varying degrees and experiences with Tolkien and his work to participate, and this is important!

This is the point that intersects the most with my interests as a researcher into the reception of Tolkien’s writings: The Toast invariably calls participants to reflect on the ways that Tolkien’s writings have produced meaning in their lives.

Often, participants will share stories of how they first read Tolkien or how Tolkien changed the way they saw the world. These stories are the kind of reflection that are increasingly pushed aside in a fast-paced culture.

A tradition that practices taking a moment and recalling these stories of connection and inspiration is well worth participating in! So tonight, at 9pm, consider raising a glass to The Professor!

LotRFI Pt.37–Of Shelob

I am, and have been since I can remember, afraid of spiders. Therefore, Tolkien’s giant monster guarding the back entrance to Mordor was the worst of all possibilities. This horrid creature still makes my hair stand on end when I think about it. I remember that my first read of the passage was very difficult because I kept feeling a strong desire to put the book down to get a reprieve from the creepy thing.

6813-j-r-r-tolkien-the-lord-of-the-rings-shelob-samwise-gamgee_orig
Image copyright John Howe

This giant spider felt to me like something taken straight from my nightmares and placed as an obstacle for Frodo and Sam. I could not imagine a worse foe to come across. Since it had not been too long since I read H, I anticipated that the creature was a spider early. I knew for certain by the time Frodo held up Galadriel’s gift and revealed ‘two great clusters of many-windowed eyes’ (TT, IV, ix, 720), but I believe I suspected as early as the ‘venomous hiss’ (TT, IV, ix, 719). As I read the struggle between this ancient beastie and the protagonists, I frequently experienced shivers down my spine.

When Shelob stabs Frodo with her stinger, I did not, could not, believe that he was dead. Sam’s courage in this moment was infections, and I remember vividly cheering him on to vanquish the awful creature. I was disappointed when the despicable thing was able to retreat. Again, I did not really believe that Frodo was dead. I remembered Frodo’s tendency to receive a stab wound in battle and fall, as if he were dead, only to revive a minute or two later: look no further than Weathertop and the Chamber of Mazarbul. It was Sam’s lamentation that started to make me consider that this time was different.

Ultimately, when Sam took the Ring from Frodo and claimed the quest as his own, I truly believed that Frodo was dead. I was elated, then, at the reveal of the poison that mocks death and the realization that Frodo was not dead! I also remember my response to the final line of TT.

‘Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy’ (TT, IV, x, 742).

I exclaimed aloud: ‘Wait…What?’ and immediately picked up the next volume.

Where Do We Go From Here?​

Gollum then Sam’s ruminations.

What Do You Think?

Was Shelob the worst creature battle for you as well?
What did you make of Sam’s courage and Frodo’s death?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Don Standing’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (35)

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 Don 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 Don Standing’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

Around the time I was starting high school, I was reading a fair bit of Conan and Sword and Sorcery stuff. I remember seeing on the cover of many books variations of “Not since Lord of the Rings…”. And so, like water circling a drain, I bought my first copy of Fellowship of the Ring. That was about 50 years ago.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

Favourite part? If that means favourite work, then The Silmarillion then Smith of Wootton Major. If that means favourite part of Lord of the Rings, then Book I. If that means favourite aspect of the writing, then tone. If that means favourite character, then Middle-earth

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

I just listened to an interview with author Julian Barnes who said, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” This resonates with me and I think that may be my answer. The Silmarillion, as the blurb on my edition says, “approaches the mythic”. I don’t know what that is supposed to mean, but for me there is a holiness to it, an exaltation. It is a paean to wonder and awe – things I miss in this world.

On another level, introducing my son to Tolkien: I have an illustrated copy of The Hobbit and I would retell the story using the illustrations when he could barely talk. He called Thorin and Company “dorfs” and, in the double page spread illustration of the Battle of Five Armies would name the orcs: always the last one named was “Jibby”. Fond memories.

On another level, rediscovering and re-experiencing the works through Signum University, the Tolkien Professor, and The Prancing Pony podcast.

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

I wouldn’t say “approach” particularly. I used to read Lord of the Rings yearly, but haven’t in many years now. I find that I have become rather Smeagol-ish in that I am very interested in the beginnings of things: word origins, pre-history, etc. As I write this, I see that that is probably very Tolkien too. Ironic that the character that, in some ways, was like the author, becomes Gollum.

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

Probably not, although I certainly have. Most people who would be interested already have read it.

As mentioned above, I am interested in beginnings. I have oftentimes seen a comedy routine on tv that is the ancestor of some original bit from the 50s (for example). When I see the original, I am often disappointed by how bland it is. I wonder if that would be the same for Tolkien. Because he has virtually taken over the world and is everywhere, new readers (those used to Game of Thrones for example, or Harry Potter) may not be as appreciative as we who read it when the world was young.

LotRFI Pt.36–Concerning Faramir

Most people that I have talked to see Faramir as an unblemished ray of hope in his interactions with Frodo and Sam. I, however was not very optimistic when the hobbits met Faramir. He and his men sneak up on the hobbits, ambush them, and abduct them, taking them to a secret cave. To me, these were not the actions of an ally, they were the actions of an enemy. The interview between Faramir and Frodo in the cave heightened my suspicions of Faramir before it alleviated them.

 

The way that Faramir talks to Frodo in their first discussion conveyed mistrust and ultimately foreshadowed conflict to me. It was frequently confrontational and on the verge of being rude. I applauded Sam when he interjected, claiming that

‘He has no right to talk to you so’ (TT, IV, V, 665).

 

faramir
Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Sam’s perspective closely mirrored my own here. The fact that Faramir checks his bravery and then reveals that he is Boromir’s brother seemed ominous to me. I thought that certainly the corruption which drove Boromir to desire the Ring (remember, I though Boromir a ‘fallen’ man until his death redeemed him) would certainly also claim someone so closely related. This news was foreboding.

In their second, more private conversation, Faramir began to win me over with his fair words. He seemed to have a good sense of the struggles in the world, he lamented the loss of Gandalf, and he showed true compassion for his brother, even though he admitted his brother’s pride and arrogance. Once again, Sam encapsulates my perspective on Faramir:

‘He may be all right…and then me may not. Fair speech may hide a foul heart’ (TT, IV, v, 675).

I have to say that, throughout their encounter with Faramir, I held with Sam’s opinions very much Indeed, I would say that I identified with Sam the most in this encounter with one exception: when he lets slip the fact that the Ring is with them and is Isildur’s bane.

Faramir’s monologue which follows this revelation felt the same as Galadriel’s to me in my first reading. He says:

‘So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way — to me! And here in the wild I have you; two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality! Ha!’ (TT, IV, v, 680-1)

Just like with Galadriel’s monologue, I thought that this speech was the Ring influencing Faramir. He was tempted to take the Ring and use it for his own, to complete the quest of his fallen Brother. When he holds true to his earlier promise to leave the Ring with Frodo, I thought he had managed to overcome his temptation, just as Galadriel had. In all, this interaction was quite an emotional journey for me!

Where Do We Go From Here?

In the remainder of TT​, I want to talk about Shelob, Smeagol, and Sam’s Meta Moments.

What Do You Think?

How did you react to Faramir when you first met him?
When did you first trust Faramir?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

WelCZa’s Experience– Tolkien Experience Project (34)

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 WelCZa 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 WelCZa‘s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

Back at 1995(ish) I was playing local version of DnD and I loved it. And one of my friends/schoolmates I was playing it with told me, that I should read Hobbit and that DnD is based on it. So first I read borrowed Hobbit and next I bought it as well as the LotR and Silmarilion (I was around 15 so it wasn’t all at once).

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

Definitely The Two Towers and its battle of Helms deep, where Gimli and Legolas start counting killed enemies and compete in it. IMO it’s one of the most hilarious and touchy part of the story if not “The most…” (even besides destroying of The Ring).

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Definitely Lord of the Rings online. An MMORPG based on, well, LotR. There is nothing more to say.

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

When I was young, Tolkien’s work was bible to me. Now it is just awesome saga, besides others.

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

Definitely. Why? Short answer: Why not? Longer answer: Tolkien was a genius storyteller who even invented at least two alphabets (elvish and dwarven) and at least basics of two languages.

 

LotRFI Pt.35–The Black Gate

In subsequent reads, the chapter around the Black Gate only keeps my attention in the description of the troop movements around the Gate. I must admit that this portion of the adventure has the lowest re-readability score from me. In my first read, however, this was a very tense scene. The stakes were so high: would Frodo dare to try to enter Mordor through such a crowded passage, and how could he possibly succeed?

morannon-black-gate_orig
Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Sam accurately sums up my belief in their ability to pass the Gate when he succinctly posits:

‘Well, here we are…Here’s the Gate, and it looks to me as if that’s about as far as we are ever going to get’ (TT, IV, III, 637).

The two hobbits begin to despair of completing their quest, but also show determination to try. At this moment the hobbits portray what I have already mentioned as ‘northern courage.’ Although I could pick up on this kind of boldness in the face of death, and it resonated with me, I did not have the terminology or intellectual appreciation of what it was. I did have a visceral reaction to such moments in my gut, and I admired the courage in the sentiments.

Gollum’s revelation of a second way into Mordor was very complex. Instinctively, I wanted to jump at the opportunity, like someone who tries to take advantage of a flash of light in a dark room to gain a comprehensive look around. This impulse was checked by the wariness that the hobbits have of Gollum’s treachery. I must admit, though, that I was far more inclined to follow the one evil creature instead of trying to face the kind of army they had just seen. In the end, I was relieved at their decision to Follow Gollum.

Where Do We Go From Here?

One word: Faramir!

What Do You Think?

What was your first impression of the Black Gate?
How have your subsequent readings of this passage changed?
​Have I missed anything? Let me know!

Jane Patricia’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (33)

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 Jane 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 Jane Patricia’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was looking for fantasy books to read and stumbled upon the trilogy. Since I’ve heard about the movie, I decided to give it a read. Best decision ever

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

The way he managed to create new language and a world that is familiar but also wonderful. You can feel his passion towards it. His imagination is beautiful and a great place to be when you’re getting tired of real life. For the books I like Silmarillion the best, especially the way he told about the creation of the world.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

During The Hobbit movie trilogy, my longtime friends and I would make time to reunite in our hometown, get together and go to the cinema on those 3 years. It was before we all got busy with our work and family, so the movies were dear to me.

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

I simply read it when I was younger but now when I re-read it, I began to look at it from a different side, he influences how I imagine things. Sometimes I’d discuss the books/movies with my other Tolkien loving friends. Well we might not get that deep, but it’s something ��

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

Yes! Absolutely! I’ve been recommending it to my friends since the first time I found LOTR. His imagination and penmanship is a work of art. Something that is not to be missed in one’s lifetime.


You see more from Jane Patricia on Twitter!

LotRFI Pt.34–Sam and His Creature Comforts

I was always a very curious, some would say nosy, child. I was always trying to understand why things happened or why people made the choices they made. I was a big fan of “reading into” things ever since I discovered it as an activity. While this tendency led me into hot water many times, I had not yet learned to dull this passion by the time I read LotR. One of the activities I “read into” the most was Sam’s constant attention to Frodo’s needs and comfort—don’t get ahead of me here, or maybe you will end up in hot water.

Perhaps the most notable example where I uncovered Sam’s motivation is when Sam attempts to cook a nice stew for Frodo in Ithilien. The reader hears Sam’s thoughts in this passage, which make some clear indications about the emotions that inspire him to make the meal:

‘I love him. He’s like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no’ (TT, IV, iv, 652).

‘Too thin and drawn he is…Not right for a hobbit’ (TT, IV, iv, 653).

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Image copyrights Sergei Yukhimov

Sam’s compassionate nature in general, and his affection for Frodo especially, are not disguised in the tale. What is interesting is how those feelings manifest themselves in, essentially, attempting to care for Frodo as if he were Frodo’s parent—more specifically his mother, as foreshadowed by David Craig, but I would not have made this more specific observation as a child. Sam is attempting to preserve Frodo’s sense of security and his sense of comfort: trying to remind Frodo of home and the good things which life has to offer. This was an interesting observation for me when I first realized it. It was probably easier for me to notice than some others because I grew up in the American south—where the stereotype is that a mother expresses love through food. In any case, I always had a soft-spot for affection expressed through quiet moments of understanding and small gestures of love (I did mention that Call of the Wild was one of my favorite books, remember).

This deep friendship between Frodo and Sam was something which I cherished as a young reader. While I frequently compared my relationships to the ones in the book, I do not know if I ever considered if I had a relationship quite like the one between Frodo and Sam, I do not think so. While I did not have a relationship like this, it did not seem odd to me that they should be so close. Many fans have questioned the feelings between Frodo and Sam, and many scholars have pointed out that the overtones that readers notice to make such assertions are indicative of a type of friendship between men that existed in a different time. As a young reader, none of this occurred to me. I thought their fondness a perfectly natural thing. I realized that I did not have a friendship like theirs, but it was not until I started growing up that I realized that men in my culture do not tend to have such close bonds or at least express affection as openly and deeply.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to journey to the Black Gate, then visit with Faramir!

What Do You Think?

What did you make of Sam’s tendency to, essentially, nurture Frodo?
How has your reading of their relationship changed over time?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!