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.

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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!

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.

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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!

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.

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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!

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)

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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!

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?

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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!

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!

LotRFI Pt. 33–Of The Dead Marshes

I like to credit Tolkien as the first author I ever read whose use of structure or style to elicit emotion I became aware of. I always knew that writers used plot to guide the reader, but this was something different. It started in the Shire. I became anxious that the hobbits should be off and that the story was taking so long. Then I realized that this was probably the same kind of emotion which Frodo must have: an anxiety of leaving, but an anxiousness to start.

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Image copyright Katrin Eissmann

This realization opened literature to me. I may very well have been projecting this back into the story, but it was a significant factor in my enjoyment of the story. I realized, for the first time, that the writer was trying to take my mood into account in his style or method of telling the story, not just with the plot itself.

This feeling redoubled for me as I went through the Marshes. The Dead Marshes were such a dreary place. I do not know if it took me longer to read the Frodo and Sam half of TT, but it certainly felt like it did. I felt like I plodded along through these sections at a miserably slow pace. I think the consistently dark landscape and the unrelenting sense of foreboding were tiring to me. Additionally, reading Gollum’s lines was difficult. There are a lot of linguistic complexities which made me slow down.

In all, my reading experience of book IV was very different form my experience of book III. I must admit that I enjoyed the story surrounding Rohan much more than I enjoyed the darker tale of the approach to Mordor. It is not until much later that I began to appreciate each book, and the latter grew in my estimation.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk a little bit about Sam and his emphasis of creature comforts.

What Do You Think?

Was your reading experience of the second half of TT different from that of the first?
How did you feel while reading these passages?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.20–Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Unlike the death of Gandalf, I saw the fissures forming in the Fellowship long before Frodo set out on his own. The decision seemed like the appropriate one to me, and I loved how Sam is the only member of the Fellowship that understands how Frodo is thinking; this understanding put Sam and me in a very small club together. This was one of the first scenes where I started to understand Sam’s depth. His ability to parse out his master’s actions and understand the animating emotions is more than I expected of Sam up to this point. We will have more on my interpretation of Sam later, when he really comes into his own.

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Image copyright Cor Blok

For now, I also wanted to focus on the importance of the “breaking” of the Fellowship. Many fans cheered Jackson’s decision to include the death of Boromir in the first film. I have to admit that I did not appreciate the change for several reasons. First, is the fact that Tolkien’s text is formatted in such a way to emphasize that the end of the Fellowship is not death, but the physical, and perhaps mental, splitting of the group. If death were the cause for the ending of the Fellowship, then the Fellowship was already broken in Moria. The end of the Fellowship, however, is when Boromir falls to temptation and tries to take the ring. This sparks an abiding mistrust in Frodo. This infighting and conflict is the brokenness indicated by the chapter title.

This idea is underscored in the first chapter of the second volume. Here, Boromir mends the rent he caused by dying for Pippin and Merry; furthermore, Aragorn indicates that, if the Fellowship remains true to one another, then it will not have been in vain, regardless of the outcome.

‘My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left’ (TT, I, i, 419).

Therefore the “breaking” of the Fellowship is a temporary condition that exists in the gap between books two and three. It is rectified by Boromir’s death, not caused by it.

This sentiment is one that I felt when I was younger, but I could not really express it well. It has taken considerable time and reflection to be able to make it seem as clean and neat as it does here.

Where do wee go from here?

I want to focus on Boromir’s death a bit more, then head into Rohan!

​What do you think?

Did you like Jackson’s change?
What do you think is the true “breaking of the Fellowship?”
​Have I missed something? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt. 5–Farmer Maggot

I feel like my first impression of Farmer Maggot was typical. At first, I did not like Maggot because I took Frodo’s account as accurate. I believed that he and Maggot had a history of clashing and were at odds with one another. This made Frodo’s reaction to being on his land seem logical.

“One trouble after another!” said Frodo, looking nearly as much alarmed as if Pippin had declared the lane was the slot leading to a dragon’s den. (FR, I, iv, 91)

It was not until Maggot offered food and shelter to the young hobbits that I began to trust him. So far, I think that most readers would agree with this impression, though some of them may have tempered their opinion of Maggot earlier, when Pippin began to push back against Frodo’s characterization.

Interestingly, I was recently listening to a podcast (Corey Olsen’s Exploring The Lord of the Rings, episode seventeen) which highlighted a disagreement that my perspective may have with others. In this podcast, Corey Olsen presents his belief that Maggot’s account of his interaction with the Black Rider is a rather objective recounting. Here is the passage in question:

“Good-day to you!” I says, going out to him. “This lane don’t lead anywhere, and wherever you may be going, your quickest way will be back to the road.” I didn’t like the looks of him; and when Grip came out, he took one sniff and let out a yelp as if he had been stung: he put down his tail and bolted off howling. The black fellow sat quite still.

‘“I come from yonder,” he said, slow and stiff-like, pointing back west, over my fields, if you please. “Have you seen Baggins?” he asked in a queer voice, and bent down towards me. I could not see any face, for his hood fell down so low; and I felt a sort of shiver down my back. But I did not see why he should come writing over my land so bold.” (FR, I, iv, 94)

Olson contends that, because Maggot’s account is objective, the Rider’s use of “yonder” is an attempt for him to blend in to the local dialect to collect information. My interpretation, however, has always been to treat this passage as reported speech. That is, Maggot is conveying the general sense of the interaction using his own idiomatic way of speaking. I never considered, then, that the Rider actually uses “yonder.” Instead, I always thought, and still believe, that Maggot is putting that word into the Rider’s mouth instead of trying to recount the interaction verbatim. This approach to the dialogue seems probable to me because it is a way of retaining the established characterization of both the Black Rider and Maggot. In that the Black Rider is not going to demean himself to try and fit into the dialect of the hobbits, and Maggot has no qualms about paraphrasing other people in his own dialect when it suits him. Also, I think that had Tolkien meant for readers to treat this scene has objective dialogue then he would have embedded the interaction into the text in a different way. As it stands in the published text, however, the entire episode is intended to be reported speech from Maggot’s perspective.

A second manner in which my approach to Maggot was very different from the norm is that he served as a proto-Bombadil encounter to me. My experience of Bombadil was very similar to the pattern that most people adopt with Maggot. It began with distrust but gradually evolved into respect and amiability. I know that this is very different from the opinion of others (as I recounted in my first post), but the pattern established by the Maggot encounter served as a template for many of the meetings that followed it in LOTR.

Where do we Go From Here?

Next we will visit the Barrow Downs, and then on to Bree!

What Do You Think?

How do you approach this passage which recounts dialogue between Maggot and the Black Rider?
Did the Maggot episode serve as a template of encounter for you as a reader?

 

LotRFI Pt. 3–Shire Trees and Old Man Willow

Landscape

Since I read the books as a child, I had no real concept of what different kinds of trees looked like. Growing up in Southern United States, the most common trees around me were birch, maple, oak, and ash. Tolkien only uses two of these species in his descriptions (oak and ash), but I undoubtedly pictured The Shire with the same trees that I encountered every day.

Tolkien included:
Oak
Ash
I added:
Maple
Birch

At first, this may seem like a trivial matter, but it can have a very large impact on the visual landscape in the reader’s mind. For example, in Chapter three, the travelers (Frodo, Sam, and Pippin) stop in a “fir-wood” and make camp for the night:

“Just over the top of the hill they cam on the patch of fir-wood. Leaving the road they went into the deep resin-scented darkness of the trees, and gathered dead sticks and cones to make a fire” (FR, I, iii, 72).

Tolkien describes the hobbits setting up camp under a group of trees similar to this:

Picture

However, I had never seen fir trees. Using the context clues, I assumed that it had to be a kind of tree that had “cones.” Well, I was certainly familiar with one of those, we had dozens of pine trees in my back yard! So I pictured the three hobbits sitting in a group of trees that looked something like this:

Picture

Now I know that many readers are saying, “They are all evergreen conifer trees, this really isn’t a big deal!” But I would ask you to look closer. Here is a close comparison of branches from each (images from http://www.finegardening.com/fir-vs-spruce-vs-pine-how-tell-them-apart):

This view shows you the very different appearance of each tree. Also, if you grew up with pine trees (or used one for your Christmas/Yule celebration) then you know that they have two very unique characteristics: they shed their needles and their sap is very sticky and odoriferous. This means that in order to start a fire under the pine trees, the hobbits would likely have had to clear a space among the fallen, dead needles of a pine so as not to start a larger fire than they intended! So while this distinction of trees is very small, it makes a very large difference in the impression it leaves on the reader.

In the end, The Shire that I pictured as a child had a few more birch and maple trees than Tolkien probably envisioned, and all of the fir trees were replaced with pine. This leads to a very different mental image and also changes the associations that the reader has with the trees. These differences of experience lead to different individual interpretations and responses to the text.

Old Man Willow

I was fortunate in that I had a lot of experience with a Willow tree as a child, so I was prepared to visualize the character of Old Man Willow. The type of willow that I was familiar with, however, was the Black Willow, commonly refereed to as a “Weeping Willow” by the people in the southern US. What this meant is that my mental picture of Old Man Willow was probably leaner and more ‘weeping’ than most of the Brits who read the book. From some cursory research, it looks like England has several native Willow species and only one or two have branches that droop as much as the Black Willow.   Picture

This actually explains why many of the artists who have portrayed Old Man Willow have made the dangling limbs shorter than I always imagined them. I had always thought that it was largely artistic license, since a curtain of dangling limbs is less appealing than a clear view of the action,. Perhaps this latter consideration still plays a role, but the fact that the types of willow in England ​and that many of them have characteristically shorter limbs than a Black Willow certainly reaffirms their decision.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I intend to have the first reflection on the character of a hobbit soon. I also want to look at the events with Farmer Maggot and the Barrow Downs before we head on to Bree.

What Do You Think?

What trees have you always pictured in the Shire?
Do you think that the kind of trees you imagine change the way you think about the setting?
How have you always pictured Old Man Willow?