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Old 05-28-2007, 08:38 AM   #1
Flame of the Ainulindalë
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A Swedish king's ring it was then?

To celebrate the publishing of the Finnish translation of The Children of Hûrin the largest daily newspaper in Finland the Helsingin sanomat has re-published it's reviews on Tolkien's work from decades ago in it's website. You don't probably understand Finnish but the link is here anyway.

I found this one discussing the Fellowship of the Ring interesting enough to produce a quick translation of it. It sounds so seventies and the story about the king's ring is quite nice too. It is written by a Finnish academic Olli Alho in 1973.

Bedside-story for adults.

It’s generally known that king Gustav II Adolf (of Sweden) died in Lützen in 1632 just a few days after he had lost his ring. There were numerous stories about this ring among the people and especially among the soldiers. Some people maintain that the ring was made from copper and protected it’s owner from lead and iron as well as from fire and water. According to this version of the story it had been given to the king by a Finnish witch. Other stories tell us that the king had gotten the ring from his mistress. It was made of iron and had seven circles engraved on it forming the initials of the king. According to this story the ring was lost exactly seven days before the king’s death.

From the “Barber-surgeon’s tales” by Zacharias Topelius (a Finnish author from 19th century) we have learned that the true origins of that ring go back to the old peasant king Perttilä. He had acquired the ring from a dying man who in turn had found it from the church of Isokyrö, from the finger of the Virgin Mary statue. In the ring there was both the power of the saints and that of the witchcraft. It brought it’s bearer great dangers. The engraving on it “Rex regi rebellis” (king is the rebel against the king) points towards this double-edginess of it. A fortunate man should before all beware the danger he poses to himself.

While reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings one can’t forget Topelius’ story of the king’s ring. Even though the fictionality of the time and place of Tolkien’s story are highly stressed while Topelius’ story is underlinedly historical there is a similar feeling in them. The events and fates of men, the causes and the logic of them take place somewhere else outside the actors themselves. There are powers that are without form or personality that take small men under their control via a ring. Peace or discord between men is peace and discord in relation to the ring and the ownership of it. So the ring and the powers which it represents govern us in the end.

So is this the way we should start interpreting the Lord of the Rings? It has been done this way many times. So it is the symbolic or allegoric tale of the odd powers of capitalistic production or the warningstory of the threat of rising pan-European national-socialism of the thirties. No, we shouldn’t read it thus. The author isn’t a historian neither a social scientist but the teller of tales, a storyteller, professor of English literature who after reading the mythologies of the celts and the germans decided to tell the same tales himself.

If we wish to have a background to our reading to the now published first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy we must try to find it from Tolkien’s persona, not from the European history or moral philosophy. Tolkien’s work is an odd blend with the matter of fact -style genuine philology and ancient history merged with the vagueness of a story or a myth.

A reader to whom the bedsidestories told by their parents and the historybooks have been two different things finds himself now reading them both from between the same covers. He tries to count the years of the Hobitton reckoning and to place the important events of the hobbits’ history into the frame of the map provided in the book while tasting the difficult names of the most important hobbits, elves, dwarves and orcs in his mouth. When reason starts to call for more meaningful literature the reader is already under the spell of the ring: the events of the war of the ring have started to feel as important as the events of the 30-year war itself. Thus is the way a great story always works.

A student of folklore might be inclined to think about the mythological substance of Tolkien’s fairytale. It’s known that Tolkien was deeply learned in celtic and german mythologies and many of the names of the pivotal characters in the book seem to be lended from those stories. Tracing the motives of the story to these early mythologies might be fun for the devotee but otherwise probably not worthwhile.

The motifs Tolkien uses are in fact – like the themes of legends and folklore in general – quite well known around the world and not as such “owned” by certain cultures. The elves, the dwarves and the different heroes are familiar to Finnish folklore as well. The orcs have lived in our mountains by the name of devils or goblins and we also know of rings that heal or even make one invisible or just have any kind of miraculous powers.

But the merit of Tolkien’s storytelling isn’t in the quality of the ingredients but in his quite brilliant usage of them. Tolkien has reorganized them in a way that preserves the genuine feeling of a told myth or a story. Into this preservation of the original nature of the tradition is linked the “allegorism” that some writers on Tolkien have adhered to. It is perfectly possible to read The Lord of the Rings as a depiction of the battle between the Good and the Evil but that does not mean that the author had wished to write such an allegory. The author himself didn’t engage himself to this kind of dualistic worldview but to the tradition and the mythologies. It is only because the struggle of good vs. evil is one of the central themes in many mythologies it has been transferred to Tolkien’s book as well.

While Tolkien’s genuinity has been praised a lot around the world we should also remember that the Finnish translation has it’s merits as well. A special attention should be given to the consistency with which the speech of the different races has been translated. The translation brings us the noble tone of the Elves, the everyday chatting of the Hobbits and the rough roaring of the orcs as they track Bilbo and the ring with Gollum. “Thief! Thief! Baggins! We hates it forever!”

By Olli Alho, 1973

So a Swedish king it was then?
Upon the hearth the fire is red
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
But not yet weary are our feet...
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