LotRFI Pt60–The Last Word

‘Well, I’m back’ (RK, VI, IX, 1031).

Seriously, that is the end?!?

I was incredulous and underwhelmed. After such a lengthy and grueling journey, in which I had left so many characters and experiences behind, I expected, nay deserved, more! I was flabbergasted that this was the end to such an epic quest. After the shock of this ending passed, my mind began creating a number of endings that I thought were more suitable for the story.

im-back_orig
Image copyright New Line Cinema

Perhaps the three remaining hobbits ride out together on more adventures. They revisit Bombadil and purge the evil from the Barrow Downs. Perhaps they go back to Bree and set the record straight about the Rangers. My mind was racing because I could not settle for the ending I was presented with.

This was probably a major contributing factor for why I didn’t read the appendices. I was so let down by this ending that I walked away and entered into my own imagination to change it. I have subsequently realized that I would have undoubtedly been upset by any ending to the story, and that all of my own ‘endings’ were really an attempt to extend the story, even into a sequel. Indeed, it is probably because I did not read the appendices that my own imagination took flight into different stories. Had I read them, I probably would have been re-grounded in Middle-earth and the background of LotR instead of trying to extend the story in my own direction.

What Do You Think?

How did you react to this final line?
Did you go on to read the appendices?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Airin’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (57)

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 Airin 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 Airin’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I come from a family of bookworms, and when I was around 10, my older sister recommended The Hobbit to me. I enjoyed it well enough, but it was only when I read The Lord of the Rings a few years later (again recommended by my sister) that I fell irrevocably in love with Tolkien.

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

I find the themes deeply moving: the joy like swords, wells of sorrow, tears of blessedness, pain and delight flowing together. The depth of his world-building is also absolutely fascinating. The languages, the cultures, the histories—everything is so detailed and real that you can immerse yourself completely in his world.

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

My first few years as a fan. Immediately after I read The Lord of the Rings, I borrowed every Tolkien book I could find at my local library. When I exhausted their meager selection, I went to a bigger one. I will never forget the thrill and heartache I experienced when I first read the tragic tales of the Elder Days. It was (and still is) the greatest literary adventure that I ever embarked upon.

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

Definitely. At first, I was mainly interested in the histories and back stories, but now that I’ve read most of his fiction, I feel more drawn to examining his elaborate world-building, complicated characters, and subtle themes. I’ve only been a fan for a dozen years, so there is still much to discover. But even if I spend my whole life studying Tolkien, I happily doubt I will ever hit bottom.

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

If someone shows interest or if I think they might be interested, I would give a restrained recommendation. I consider Tolkien the Bible of English literature, but I know the dangers of reading a book with high expectations so I try not to hype a book that may not be their cup of tea. Better to expect little and be pleasantly surprised!


You can follow Airin on Twitter!

LotRFI Pt.59–Grey Havens

The lengthy series of departures earlier in the text were very trying for me. This parting of ways, though, was much more difficult. Not only was it the end of Frodo’s journey, but of Bilbo’s and Gandalf’s as well.

alan-lee-grey-havens_orig
Image copyright Alan Lee

The blow of the previous departures was softened by my expectation that all books ended with characters back to where they began. On some level, then, I knew that the heroes could not all live the rest of their days in Gondor or the Shire together. I was not expecting these three major characters to leave now, so late in the text and with so little forewarning. Of course, reading it again, I saw just how many times the narration describes such a departure, but I was not looking for it the first time.

I was heart-broken when it became clear that all three of these characters were leaving. The only solace I had was the way in which Frodo hands down his story to Sam. The tradition is kept alive for another generation of hobbits, and the obligation that began with Bilbo continues.

Another one of the most memorable quotes from my first read comes from this scene. Gandalf tells the hobbits that he will not castigate them for crying:

‘I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil’ (RK, VI, IX, 1030).

This was a consolation to me, as a reader who was already crying before this line. As a young boy, this was not the kind of response I typically received to tears. Gandalf’s acceptance of grief made me that much more emotive for the remainder of the scene, and I remember tucking myself away for a good cry after finishing the text.

It is important to note, once again, that I was not a very observant reader in terms of foreshadowing, and I did not read the appendices. Because of these facts, I did not understand that Frodo and the others aboard the ship were headed to a land of healing. Instead, I read the entire passage as an extended metaphor for death. As Frodo gazes out into the mist and espies

‘white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise’ (RK, Vi, IX, 1030).

I took this as a reference to heaven. These characters were dying and passing into the next life, leaving the others to pass on their story. I do not know if this deepened my sadness. It was the departure, the absence, which truly made me sad. In any case, I read the remainder of the text dutifully, but without much enthusiasm.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Final words of the text, where else?

What Do You Think?

How did you react to the Grey Havens?
​Did you know where Frodo was headed?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Megan N. Fontenot’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (56)

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 Megan 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 Megan N. Fontenot’s responses:


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

My family read a lot growing up. Since we were homeschooled, my mom would read all sorts of classics to us during the day, and then my dad would read something each night after dinner. So, two of my brothers and I had heard both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings read aloud by my dad probably by the time I was 6 or 7. I was an imaginative child who adopted the persona of favorite characters in the books my parents read to us with startling dexterity in a child so young. I distinctly remember trekking about our house with a blanket thrown over my shoulders as a cloak: I was Frodo, and after a little coaxing I convinced my little brother to follow me around as my faithful Samwise. But although I enjoyed both of those books at that age, I didn’t really latch onto them until I re-read both as a young teen, ironically because my older brother told me they were “kind of Celtic” and I was obsessed with Celticism at the time.

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

Wow. This is always a difficult question for me because I’m so intensely involved in everything Tolkien I can get my hands on… Here are a few things I especially love, though: Éowyn’s triumph over the Witchking and her subsequent healing alongside Faramir; the coming of Tuor and Voronwë to Gondolin; the humor and pathos of Tolkien’s various shorter stories (including the ones “for children,” like Roverandom); Legolas’s fascinating relationship with ecology; Finrod’s contest with Sauron; Fingon’s rescue of Maedhros; and the singing-into-being of Arda.

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

I love the experience of sharing Tolkien with other people, honestly. I’m never more keenly aware of the power of his stories than when I connect with people over his work and we can share our excitement and curiosity. And I especially love hearing from people to whom I’ve recommended his work. It’s almost like getting to experience that first-time thrill all over again! Stories are made to be shared, and Tolkien’s have inspired entire communities of enthusiasts who are able to put aside differences and come together and share their love of a single thing… and that’s powerful. We desperately need stories that inspire friendship, community, and hope in our world, and Tolkien’s seem to do that particularly well.

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

Most definitely. A decade-ish ago, when I first took up The Lord of the Rings again as a young teen, I never expected to one day consider myself a Tolkien scholar. In the intervening years, I’ve learned so much about Tolkien himself, his way of creating, the world he lived in, the world he was creating… I would be concerned if my approach hadn’t changed! I can say for certain that I’ve been able to cultivate a critical attitude towards Tolkien’s work that allows me to write about it academically—which is in some respects really hard to do for someone who’s also a diehard fan. But I’ve found that my ability to approach Tolkien’s oeuvre critically has only deepened my appreciation and love for what he accomplished, even while I can also see its flaws.

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

Absolutely. I recommend it every chance I get. Tolkien’s work is special, having certain qualities that never fail to move me; and opening his world to others is a joyful experience, like sharing good news or a great gift. When I recommend it, I often tell people that it takes effort and patience on the part of the reader, but that they won’t fail to be rewarded. The length of The Lord of the Rings, for example, makes the excitement and relief of its eucatastrophe all the more potent. You feel as though you’ve made the journey alongside the characters. It’s just beautiful.


For more from Megan, you can go to her website, or follow her series on Tor.com!

LotRFI Pt.58–The Scouring of the Shire

I was utterly unprepared for the Scouring in my first read of LotR. Almost every book I had ever read had an ultimate climax, and then a denouement to return the main characters to normalcy. I was shocked that there could be trouble after the Ring is destroyed.

sergei-lukhimov_orig
Image copyright Sergei Yukhimov

This event was pivotal to my interpretation of the hobbits in my first reading, though. This is where the hobbits display their new-found maturity. The quest has changed each of them, and those changes are displayed throughout their confrontations in the Shire. Merry, Pippin, and Sam all gained courage, confidence, and the ability to lead others.

Nowhere were these traits more apparent to me than in the preparations leading up to the Battle of Bywater. The hobbits of the Fellowship gather together disparate groups of hobbits and rally their spirits to out their oppressors.

For Sam, courage manifests itself on a personal level as he finds the strength to talk to Rosey Cotton, and ultimately marry her. Frodo, though, shows a different type of development. He has learned pity and mercy after these characteristics saved his life and all of Middle-earth. He demonstrates this several times in his interaction with Saruman and Wormtongue outside of Bag End. He offers them freedom and forgiveness several times.

As a child, I detected the changes in Pippin and Merry much more readily than those in Frodo and Sam. Their actions and outward appearance changes drastically after the quest. Even Sam was easier to understand because he seeks out more responsibility and involvement in the community. While Frodo partakes in many of these same responsibilities, this is not as noticeable a change for him.

Unlike the other hobbits, though, Frodo carries wounds that never heal. While Frodo was my least favorite hobbit, I still pitied his pain and I wondered if he would ever find healing.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Grey Havens, then on to the final words of the story.

What Do You Think?

How did you react to the change in the hobbits?
What did you think of Frodo’s pain?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Ian L. Collier–Tolkien Experience Project (55)

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 Ian 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 Ian L. Collier’s responses:


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

Technically at school as my class of 12 year old kids had The Hobbit as a book to read as a class reading (each taking turns to read it) but as my father died around then I didn’t finish it with the class and forgot all about it – you can guess why. 4 years later though during the summer holiday from school I saw my sister reading a book with a strange design of a ring & strange red letters and asked what it was – she told me I could read it after I’d read The Hobbit. So I read The Hobbit and then sneaked reading of The Lord of the Rings (in 3 volumes) as my sister hadn’t finished it but had to go to work at her summer job – so I could read it when she wasn’t at home – and then went to get copy of from the library to read straight away after. I’d read Catch22 in a similar fashion earlier but have only re-read that once unlike TH & LotR etc 😉

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

Oh now that is something I would describe as very hard to pin down beyond ‘all of it’ In TH & LotR There’s the sheer depth of the world you experience around the characters and action. TH may be a bedtime story for kids but there are all these hints at older stranger things around the edges, in LotR there are even more and then at the end you get the appendices and “Tale of Years” with all these little snippets of ‘history’. After that you find The Silmarillion with its mythology and then the wars of the elves that are hinted at in TH. Unfinished Tales is a gem as it bridges Sil & TH/LotR with background information and also new stories.
After that you can discover Farmer Giles of Ham, or Niggle and his Tree, and the Father Christmas Letters are jewels of imagination and artistry, Tolkien’s output is a deep well of wonderful tales or scholarship wrapped up in fiction.
There is also the pleasure to be found in reading them aloud to other people (kids & adults).

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

Reading Farmer Giles of Ham with a group of students in Taruithorn (The Oxford Tolkien Society) who had never read it before – it was a delight.

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

Not really, I still just pick up a book from my shelves – they are quite tame so there’s no need to sneak up on them.

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

Of course I would, and have, before the films actually came out I was interviewed a few times for the Tolkien Society and I was asked what I would say to someone who had tried to read LotR and given up – my reply was to read it until the end of the Council of Elrond and if you weren’t hooked then not to worry about it – books are different to each readers’ taste and for some people the ebb and flow of familiarity and danger as FotR takes you from birthday parties, on to shadowy hunters etc works to draw you in but for others …

 

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.