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Old 04-19-2009, 07:15 PM   #1
Aelfwine
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Question Why Tolkien?

At the turn of the millenium, many lists appeared ranking the best books of the past century. Many critics disputed LoTR's worthiness to appear anywhere near the top of such lists. Many would not term LoTR a "classic" and many would decline to include the books within the amorphous category of "literature". We who post here might disagree with some or all of the foregoing criticisms. Yet we would all likely agree that there are many great authors besides Tolkien and many compelling works other than LoTR. Any list of such authors or works would vary based upon personal taste and I decline to provide such a catalog because I do not want this thread to wander off on that tangent. My question is simple... or not.

Why Tolkien?

There are a number of large Tolkien bulletin boards on the net. There are more smaller boards. There are newsgroups, mailing lists, etc. This site has thousands of members (most of whom are concededly no longer active but ehy were here once and at least appear to visit now and again), thousands of threads and uncounted posts. Interactive writing based upon Tolkien's world has flourished here in the form of rpgs. Imitation is, of course, the highest form of praise.

But why Tolkien? Why not Faulkner, or O'Brian, or Vonnegut, or Homer, or Tolstoy or... you get the picture.

There has previously been discussion here about subjects like applicability or morality. Some might raise quality or escapism. Clearly Tolkien strikes a chord of some sort. The type of chord might differ in each and every one of us. While I'd be glad to hear about everyone's chords, my question is more why does Tolkien strike a chord rather than what kind. Because, of course, I have some ideas of my own...
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Old 04-19-2009, 09:05 PM   #2
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Why not Tolkien?
You say you are mainly interested in the "why", and not the "what", but I see the questions as too closely intertwined to seperate.
I am, and have been a voracious reader as long as I can remember, for thirty-odd years. I recall knowing of The Hobbit from the time I was around five or thereabouts, read the book by my father. I'm told I went to see the Bakshi animated LOTR movie when it was in theatres, though I was too young to remember it. In summary, Tolkien has been a part of my life as far back as memory goes. There are several reasons for the "Tokien Chord" in my case. I suppose one reason is the fact that I am something of a traditionalist, and identify with many of his common motifs in the books: honour, determination, courage, and devotion to duty, among others.
Another reason is that I am a devoted 'Anglophile', from music, to literature, to history. The English 'feel' of the works appeals to me, and I greatly doubt I would find a fundamentally identical LOTR written by a Swede or an American to be nearly as inviting.
Thirdly, Tolkien's linguistic skills are probably what really sets his works apart for me. I've often thought that it may be the sheer delight I find in the florid and archaic prose that keeps me reading the books again and again rather than the stories alone. I simply have not found words in fiction to match the likes of Tolkien, and I doubt I shall.
For those reasons ( and I could probably come up with more), Tolkien is the sole 'fantasy' author in my bookcase.
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Old 04-20-2009, 12:02 PM   #3
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Well, somebody had to be first!

This is not of course to disparage Joyce or Faulkner or Vonnegut or Orwell, any of whose works would have made a worthy first place. I think the value of that survey is to demonstrate that a great book can be popular as well as profound, engage the emotions as well as the intellect, satisfy high, low and middle brows all at once. And it's a stunning rebuke to the Toynbee/Greer/Booker Prize circlejerk of Literary Correctness who hold that a book, to be valid, must be sneering and/or unreadable.
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Old 04-20-2009, 01:04 PM   #4
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I think there has been a change in the years since I was at University reading Literature when and where Tolkien was very much a "love that dare not speak its name" - he only got a mention with regard to invented languages in linguistics so I am pleased but slightly amazed that so many of the younger downer seem to be getting the chance to write essays on him. And although there are some excellent works of criticism youdotn' need them to access the work (though I found Forster invaluable when I first read the Silmarillion!).

I think the literati hate that he doesn't fit into their categories and it is a particular thorn in their side because the academic credentials of the author mean they cannot easily dismiss it. And Tolkien did not so much write a novel as create a world. It is not hard to fault Tolkien as a novelist (though it was evident that many who reviewed TCOH hadn't actually read it), but the world he created is so marvellous and intriguing... I know it isn't real, I don't pretend it's real but I love the plausibility of the creation. This is what brings us back - that and the wealth of information made available us through the editorship of Christopher Tolkien. We can get so involved in it because there is so much to be involved in and that may link in to other interests we have. For I read Tolkien as the history of a created world rather than as stories - I seldom read through the books straight but use them as resources for whatever aspect I am currently interested. Tolkien in some ways is at his best with what with other writers would be trivia but with him are simply the incursion of the wider creation in to the plot.

I found Middle Earth a refuge first time round from the troubles of adolescence and second time from the pain of bereavement but it is so much more than escapism. I have over "comfort reads" (eg the Forsyte/Barchester Chronicles) but I don't spend my life discussing them online as I do Tolkien. I am a fairly omnivorous reader (though actually not much else that is "fantasy") and read both supermarket chicklit and Booker listed stuff and lots in between. I am not claiming that Tolkien is the best writer if it meant placing him above Austen or Orwell or that LOTR is the best English novel - technically Middlemarch may well be but I have never been able to face reading it a second time myself), but perhaps he is the most beloved writer and I would point out that LOTR was voted "Book of the Century" before the films came out so it can not be claimed that its popularity is distorted by people who may have seen the films rather than read the books. The only reason that Tolkien might not be my "Desert Island Discs" book choice would be the difficulty of choosing a single volume! Currently in my bag I have LOTR, Silmarillion,UT, letters and the Journeys of Frodo which I regard as a bare minimum!!!

I am ashamed to say that I stopped reading Tolkien at University (though he was the reason I was so keen on the linguistics component!) - I had exhausted the canon and found the early volumes of HoME tough going and with a lengthy reading list making demands on time and pocket and it was the publicity surrounding the films that reignited my interest - I got full marks in a quiz without having glanced at the books for the best part of a decade! And there was the internet to allow me to get in contact with like minded souls (noone in my RL is really interested). It has swallowed up more of my time than I want to think about but I don't think it wasted.

So to give a short answer after a long one, Tolkien has breadth and depth and the more you look the more you find.
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Old 04-20-2009, 11:43 PM   #5
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I think the love of language that Tolkien brought to his work infused it with the depth Mithalwen refers to. I hate to say that I think that level of personal involvement and love for a subcreation on the part of an author is rare, but in some ways I believe it is. This is not to say that author's don't love their creation...but I don't think many do quite to the extent that Tolkien did. It was in many respects his life's work and I think that makes a lot of difference.

I believe that is a critical part of why Tolkien's work stands out and will continue to stand out as time goes by.
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Old 04-21-2009, 09:16 AM   #6
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Sting

I like your signature, Kuruharan. It strikes a "chord" with me.

As I expected, and this is not a criticism, I see much discussion about "what" everyone's chord is rather than "why" Tolkien strikes a chord with so many people. This leads me to believe that I was unclear. I will clarify after I briefly discuss my chord.

To me, the Middle Earth mythos feels complete; it is comprehensive and consistent (and I know, just as anyone who has perused HoME, that there are inconsistencies and frayed threads). Middle Earth simply works. It manages to feel right and real, complete with an ancient history merely glimpsed in LoTR and later published in the posthumous works. This is why Tolkien has always been compelling to me.

As I said, everyone has personal reasons for loving Middle Earth. My question is why are so many people driven to discuss it on boards? I am one of the old school. I first read LoTR before the Silmarillion was much more than a rumor, long before there was an internet. Before the movies, there were a handful of decent boards where Tolkien was discussed. When the movies came out we witnessed an explosion of boards, literally hundreds. Everyone wanted to talk about Middle Earth. Now, years later, we are back to perhaps a dozen or less decent boards, but the discussion continues. As Kuruharan's signature hints, people want to talk about Tolkien. People want to be part of a Tolkien community, whatever their personal reasons for liking his work may be. Why are we so driven to discuss this author and his works? Why do we want and need a community?

I have not researched what boards may be out there for other authors. I'm sure some exist. I'm sure there are plenty of Harry Potter boards though I doubt that 50 years after publication there will be interest comparable to the present and continuing interest in Tolkien. I think that there are broad and perhaps nearly universal reasons for this beyond our personal reasons for appreciating LoTR. What do you all think they are?
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Old 04-21-2009, 04:27 PM   #7
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As I expected, and this is not a criticism, I see much discussion about "what" everyone's chord is rather than "why" Tolkien strikes a chord with so many people. This leads me to believe that I was unclear. I will clarify after I briefly discuss my chord...

...I think that there are broad and perhaps nearly universal reasons for this beyond our personal reasons for appreciating LoTR. What do you all think they are?
*Morth goes questing for the lost chord*


Why, as opposed to what? Well, there are several reasons why, but let's look at what it is not, compared to other great novels of the last century:

1) It is not indecipherable like Joyce's 'Ulysses' or 'Finnegan's Wake'.

2) It is not perceived as having objectionable material like Henry Miller's 'Tropic of Cancer' or some of the works of D.H. Lawrence or William Faulkner.

3) It is not dated like F. Scott Fitzgerald or topical like Steinbeck's work.

4) It is not brutal in its depiction of violence or warfare like 'A Clockwork Orange' or 'Lord of the Flies'.

5) It is not so damn depressing as the works of John Irving, Saul Bellow or Nabokov.

6) It is not as bleeding dull as Cheever, Waugh, Henry James or Virginia Wolfe.



Having described what it is not, Tolkien's work is:

1) Suitable for an extraordinarily wide age demographic.

2) Has a depth both linguistically and chronologically that endears itself to the research-minded.

3) Uplifting, humorous and sad all at once.

4) Epic, but there are heroes that are not so tall as to require a ladder to see their lofty brows.

5) Escapist literature that allows us to leave the mundane and menial for a trip to a hauntingly beautiful and extraordinarily well-defined world that mirrors ours, yet is decidely different. To paraphase Treebeard, 'it is but it aint.'

6) It is a story of many different facets, and means different things to different readers: it is a coming of age tale, it is a war epic, it is a fantasy steeped in traditional folklore, it is a morality play, and it is an allegory even when the author flat-out says it definitely is not.
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Old 04-22-2009, 03:29 PM   #8
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To name the chord is important to some.

I'm just a reader in a fantasy land, which I think is what accounts for the particular differences in the experience of reading Tolkien when compared to those authors Aelfwine has named.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aelfwine
Why not Faulkner, or O'Brian, or Vonnegut, or Homer, or Tolstoy or... you get the picture.
Unlike Aelfwine, though, I would not include Homer in this list of contrasting authors, and I note that Morth did not include Homer in his list of Those Who Tolkien Resembles Not.

There are books which we read for "the facts"--just the facts, ma'am--even literary fiction, as well as histories and expository prose. This is especially true of novels in the realistic tradition and, possibly, those in the ironic tradition. But not all books are best read as proof-texts for literalness--witness the desperate measures of those who read the Bible literally (which it never was until the last two centuries). Some books invite a different kind of reading experience.

Homer's two epics are such books, which originally were oral, and which often were sung. They are performative, possibly even interactive. Witness the oft-told complaint that Tolkien's style is archaic--it often assumes the rhythmic beat of Old English rather than contemporary English. Homer's and Tolkien's creations are activities to be experienced rather than texts to be decoded. Perhaps this is the nature of mythologies. Both Homer and Tolkien wrote, after all, mythologies. And both authors have inspired re-tellers of their tales. There is something about mythologies that inspires readers and listeners to invest the writings with more than simple decoding, something akin to ekstasis or a 'stepping outside' of normal experience. Not every kid had Athena for a Mentor but holey-molely look what happened to one who did!

This might be what Morth is getting at when he claims that Tolkien was using allegory even when he claimed he wasn't. There are, after all, various kinds of allegoria, not all of which "point back" to events in a one to one correlation with contemporary history.

Anyhow, I think it was Mircea Eliade who used the term coincidentia oppositorum, a special sense unlike the ordinary, daily, mundane experience, to describe the experience of myth, which possibly can also be ascribed to fantasy. I think many readers invest Tolkien's works with this sense.

(As an aside, let me suggest that davem would not be such a reader, given his recent thread where he insisted that historical veracity had to be the ultimate means of assessing Tolkien.)
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Old 04-22-2009, 09:58 PM   #9
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Unlike Aelfwine, though, I would not include Homer in this list of contrasting authors, and I note that Morth did not include Homer in his list of Those Who Tolkien Resembles Not.
I did not include Homer in the list because he was not a writer of the 20th century. The only Homer I know of in the 20th century is on The Simpsons.

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This might be what Morth is getting at when he claims that Tolkien was using allegory even when he claimed he wasn't. There are, after all, various kinds of allegoria, not all of which "point back" to events in a one to one correlation with contemporary history.
I mentioned allegory because so many readers insist Lord of the Rings is allegorical, even though Tolkien went out of his way in the foreward of the book to say it was not. No matter what arguments are provided to the contrary, threads continue to pop up with new (and old) allegorical conspiracy theories.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bęthberry View Post
(As an aside, let me suggest that davem would not be such a reader, given his recent thread where he insisted that historical veracity had to be the ultimate means of assessing Tolkien.)
For some reason, the old adage 'let sleeping dogs lie' occurs to me at this juncture.
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Old 04-23-2009, 03:36 PM   #10
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Morthoron has headed in the right direction. Tolkien is not indecipherable, dull, depressing, dated, brutal or objectionable. And it is suitable and accessible to a wide age demographic.

But let me take this point further. I will hazard a guess that the overwhelming majority of posters here first read the Hobbit and LoTR at a relatively young age. Further, because it is not considered by most schools to be a "classic" or "literature" generally it is not assigned reading and as a result we devoured it for pure enjoyment. Because it is not any of the things that Morthoron lists, young readers enjoy it for a variety of reasons. But being young readers, we miss or misunderstand details and nuances. And being young readers we do what most adults do not do with most books; we read them again, and again. We continue to do so even as we become adults. Perhaps LoTR provides comfort and a reminder of innocence; a return to childhood. Whatever the reason, re-reading Tolkien is a joyful thing to us. We want to understand it, analyse it and be expert in the lore. This is an echo of the childlike desire for learning.

Of course not everyone is bitten by the "bug". Some do the read and drop and never touch it again. Others can't get through it. While millions of copies have been sold not everyone becomes fascinated. This is where the "what" chord comes in. For some of its readers Middle Earth resonates. Coupled with our desire to understand, analyse and become expert in the lore is a desire to discuss it with others. This can be a difficult thing. Before the advent of the internet I knew no one who was gripped by Tolkien like I was. In fact, enjoying Tolkien was probably not high on the list of things that were good for a youngster's social life. It was a solitary vice, to use someone else's words. But now, it doesn't have to be.

Because of discussion boards like this one, we can now indulge ourselves and analyse and demonstrate our expertise, expound on our theories, work out answers to questions that may be unanswerable, to our heart's content. This, I think, is why we are members here. This is why we waste innumerable hours referencing and cross-referencing snippets from HoME and the primary works. This is why we come back again and again to see if anyone has posted on the threads we participate in. This is why we want, no, NEED a community, and thankfully we have one.
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Old 04-23-2009, 04:26 PM   #11
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(As an aside, let me suggest that davem would not be such a reader, given his recent thread where he insisted that historical veracity had to be the ultimate means of assessing Tolkien.)
Not at all - though this is not the place to pick up that particular gauntlet - I was merely asking whether historical veracity (or its absence) is important in a fantasy world, & how much leeway an author of a fantasy novel has.

Of course, it may well be that it is the absence of the gritty nastiness of the real/Primary world that makes Tolkien's creation so attractive - that the 'moral'/ethical (let alone the 'religious') dimension doesn't play any part in what really attracts us to Middle-earth. Its Faery, & Faery exerts a strange pull on many of us. Why that should be I don't know, but it has nothing to do with moral codes & everything to do with a sense of wonder awakened.

"Still round the corner..." & all that
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Old 04-24-2009, 03:13 PM   #12
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Both Homer and Tolkien wrote, after all, mythologies. And both authors have inspired re-tellers of their tales. There is something about mythologies that inspires readers and listeners to invest the writings with more than simple decoding, something akin to ekstasis or a 'stepping outside' of normal experience. Not every kid had Athena for a Mentor but holey-molely look what happened to one who did!
I agree that Homer and Tolkien wrote within the same general genre; both wrote mythologies, though Homer's work apparently romanticized real life events (or at least some historiams believe). They differ drastically in that Tolkien delineates, more or less clearly, between good and evil while there is no such clear cut distinction in the Iliad. Rather in Homer's works, men were effectively pawns of the whims of the gods who generally were mightily amused and entertained. Comparing LoTR and the Iliad would probably be a great thread. I'm sure we would get at least 3 posts.

I mentioned Homer not to draw any comparisons or contrasts with Middle Earth but rather because he is recognized as the author of a classic (if he in fact existed which is another can of worms). The point being that there are not dozens of discussion boards and hundreds of websites dedicated to dissecting the details of Homer's works while such ether attention does exist for Tolkien. Again this may be in part because most modern readers devour Tolkien for pleasure but read Homer because they are required to in school.

Quote:
Of course, it may well be that it is the absence of the gritty nastiness of the real/Primary world that makes Tolkien's creation so attractive
I disagree here. Middle Earth is certainly idealised and, perhaps because it is set in a simpler time, is more innocent than the real world (in some ways anyway; the most hardened hood in New York City would not want to run afoul of a Balrog). But many of the current problems found in today's society are found in Middle Earth as well. Thievery and hooliganism (Bill Ferny, the ruffians in the Scouring of the Shire), greed (Smaug, the Dwarves - sorry Kuruharan), cronyism (Saruman, the Shirriffs), unbridled lust for power (Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman), runaway egos (Feanor), depression (Denethor), prejudice (Elves and Dwarves are guilty here), excess (the over-indulgers following Bilbo's Birthday Party), jealosy (Saeros), corruption (Wormtongue), etc. Middle Earth is idealized but it is not idyllic. Otherwise it would be boring (with a tip of the hat to Morthoron) and would not appeal to young readers.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. The simplified version of the question is what drives you to post here? Why do you seek out a community of Middle Earth afficianados?
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Old 04-25-2009, 12:05 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aelfwine
Perhaps LoTR provides comfort and a reminder of innocence; a return to childhood. Whatever the reason, re-reading Tolkien is a joyful thing to us. We want to understand it, analyse it and be expert in the lore. This is an echo of the childlike desire for learning.
I seem to recall an old saying, that unless you become like children, you will never find heaven.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aelfwine
People want to be part of a Tolkien community, whatever their personal reasons for liking his work may be. Why are we so driven to discuss this author and his works? Why do we want and need a community?
I also seem to recall another saying about what happens when two or three are gathered together.



On the other hand, play and the Internets seem ideally suited. Just look at how cats are so popular on the Nets.
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Old 04-25-2009, 12:56 PM   #14
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Middle Earth is certainly idealised and, perhaps because it is set in a simpler time, is more innocent than the real world (in some ways anyway; the most hardened hood in New York City would not want to run afoul of a Balrog). But many of the current problems found in today's society are found in Middle Earth as well. Thievery and hooliganism (Bill Ferny, the ruffians in the Scouring of the Shire), greed (Smaug, the Dwarves - sorry Kuruharan), cronyism (Saruman, the Shirriffs), unbridled lust for power (Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman), runaway egos (Feanor), depression (Denethor), prejudice (Elves and Dwarves are guilty here), excess (the over-indulgers following Bilbo's Birthday Party), jealosy (Saeros), corruption (Wormtongue), etc. Middle Earth is idealized but it is not idyllic. Otherwise it would be boring (with a tip of the hat to Morthoron) and would not appeal to young readers.
Yes - but that's not why we go there - or at least that's not what attracts us in the first place. We go to escape into another world - that world may contain both the virtues & the vice we find in this world, but if that was all we sought we would read contemporary novels, tales about our own world. We go to Middle-earth rather for Elves & Dragons, for mountains & ultimately for a glimpse of the Sea "on the margin of the world"

Actually, as I've pointed up elsewhere (on another forum), that phrase recurs in Tolkien's writings

Quote:
Voronwë sighed, and spoke then softly as if to himself. "But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside. Of Tuor & his Coming to Gondolin
&

Quote:
Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him; and the firelit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Many Meetings
& even in the soon to be published Sigurd & Gudrun (I've transcribed this from the Harper Collins promo which TORn linked to a while back

Quote:
In forges fire
Of flaming wrath
Was heaviest hammer
Hewn & wielded
Thunder & lightening
Thor the mighty
Flung among them
Felled & sundered
In fear then fled they
Foes immortal
From the walls beaten
Watched unceasing
Ringed earth around
With roaring Sea
And mountains of Ice
On the margin of the world Sigurd & Gudrun
And for me that phrase captures the essence of Tolkien's creation - Starlight seen through the branches of trees, the Sea-shore at evening, far off mountains & vast forests. The virtues & vices of the everyday world may impinge, but they are not what attract us to Middle-earth. And I suppose that what draws us here, & to seek out other fans is that we're looking for kindred spirits, for others who desire what we desire. There's a line in the film Shadowlands, something about 'We read to know we're not alone.' - maybe that sums it up.
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Old 04-25-2009, 08:14 PM   #15
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Tolkien was at home in all three primary elements that make up western culture: Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Northern European. The literati idealize the Greek at the expense of the other two. Tolkien subtly weaves in the Middle Eastern and the Greek but his story is primarily about the Northern. He confirms our desire for and respect for our northern heritage, which the literati disrespect.

Interestingly, LotR strikes a chord in Japan too. So it would seem that Tolkien confirms the desire for the primitive heritage of ANY people in which the virtues of courage and so forth are glorified.
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Old 04-26-2009, 01:58 AM   #16
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The success of The Lord Of The Rings movies and the Harry Potter franchise – and, to a lesser extent, The Golden Compass with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig – suggests there is a large public appetite for pure escapism. Pullman makes no overt criticism of the JK Rowling books ("When people read Harry Potter presumably they like to escape into the fantasy of an English boarding school with magic things happening," he says. "I don't want to disparage Harry Potter"), but he has little time for Tolkien. "When they read Tolkien, they want to take refuge in Little Englandism, the sense that the hobbits – which are us – are menaced by the nasty people who are somewhere else, but we're jolly brave and we'll fight through. It's a Churchillian vision of fighting on the beaches."
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But doesn't His Dark Materials play to the same desire for escapism? "Well, it would be escapist if you just go there to have a lovely time," he says. "If you go there and find it's bloody horrible, you've got a terrible deed to do and it's dangerous and frightening, then maybe the real escapism is in the realistic novel that talks about being a publisher in London and having an adulterous affair."
I'd venture to suggest that Pullman is contradicting himeself here - within the space of two paragraphs & that finding "it's bloody horrible, you've got a terrible deed to do and it's dangerous and frightening" is a fair despription of Frodo & Sam in LotR. Hence, the Literati's dislike of Tolkien has nothing to do with 'Northernness' (look at the praise heaped on Heaney's tranlation of Beowulf), or a hatred of courage & sacrifice, or of 'Religion'. Its not even down to a hatred of fantasy (Peake garnered praise for Gormenghast at the same time as Tolkien was being attacked & in many cases it was the same people handing out the brickbats to Tolkien & the Kudos to Peake. Plus, let's not indulge in the fantasy that all the critics hated LotR - many praised it to the skies from its first appearance.

Some people hate it - for many reasons, & many of those who hate it love Northern epics, & tales of courage & sacrifice - they just don't like Tolkien. Of course, some hate it because they can't get past the Hobbits & Elves - but then I've attempted to read plenty of fantasy novels filled with Elves & Dwarves, with courageous, self-sacrifycing heroes & ended up hating them with a passion.

As an aside - out of all those who looked forward to the LotR movies (whether they were please with what they saw or not) how many book lovers wanted to see a movie about "Thievery and hooliganism" , "greed" "cronyism", "unbridled lust for power" ," runaway egos" ,"depression" ,"prejudice" ," excess", "jealousy" "corruption" etc (let alone the supposed 'underlying christianity' of Tolkien's story), & how many went to see the Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Black Riders, the Shire, Minas Tirith, Orthanc & the epic battles at Helm's Deep & the Pelennor?

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Old 04-26-2009, 02:13 PM   #17
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Tolkien

I feel a long post coming on...

It is always interesting and amusing to watch how discussions twist and turn and how a subject morphs into another. Aelfwine's original topic querying why we need or seek out a Tolkien community has changed into something else that is equally worthy of discussion.

To begin with Aelfwine's original topic, while Tolkien might not have imagined such a thing as an internet (and might not approve, at least in some respects), what we do on these boards would have been familiar to him. Our discussions are akin to Socratic method debate and the study groups that were common to schools of his time, with the added joy that the topic is not required learning -- as Aelfwine noted. While I cannot vouch for his approval of the medium, I suspect JRRT would approve of the method (though he might prefer we discuss northern mythology or Beowulf rather than LoTR). I'll return to Aelfwine's topic soon.

The other direction this thread has taken is a variant of "why do you like Middle Earth" with, perhaps, an emphasis upon common or universal reasons for such appreciation. While this has been discussed many times before, this debate has taken some interesting twists. Inzildun says LoTR appeals to him/her as a "traditonalist", as an anglophile and touches his appreciation of Tolkien's linguistic skills. Mithalwen likes the breadth, depth and comfort of his writing. Aelfwine points to believability and consistency. Davem goes textbook on us and parrots Tolkien himself and his discussion of escapism in On Fairy-Stories. There, Tolkien complains of "The rawness and ugliness of modern European life" and suggests many want to fly from "hunger, thirst, poverty, pain, sorrow, injustice, death." Yet Tolkien does not claim that Faerie lacks these things, but rather that they are present in a different form, like "the ogre who possesses a castle hideous as a nightmare." He concedes that fantasies are not all "beautiful or even wholesome, not at any rate the fantasies of fallen Man. And he has stained the elves... with his own stain."

"Faerie is a perilous land" partly because of this Mannish stain. Yet, in the complete absence of the modern shortcomings of Man, "stories that are actually concerned primarily with 'Fairies' [elves]... are ... as a rule not very interesting." Good fantasy provides escape and the consolation of the happy ending, which Tolkien terms "eucatastrophe" without excluding the possibility of sorrow and failure ('dycatastrophe"). The litany of modern evils are not absent in Middle Earth, they are present, made appropriate for the time and setting, and attributed appropriately whether to Man, Orc, Dwarf, Elf or otherwise. We do not read Tolkien for these evils, but rather for the escape, recovery and consolation Tolkien refers to in On Fairy-Stories. However, without these evils, Middle Earth would not be interesting.

Returning to Aelfwine's original question, On Fairy-Stories has something to say about that as well. Tolkien dedicates an entire section of that essay to children. Tolkien seems to agree that age is relevant to one's interest in fantasy, though he suggests that the target audience is or should be adults, not children. This being said, Tolkien notes that children have no particular liking or understanding of fairy-stories more so than adults would. Indeed he emphasizes that fantasy should not be "cut off from full adult art." But he concedes that children are "young and growing, and normally have keen appetites so that fairy-stories as a rule go down well enough" but "only some children, and some adults, have any special taste for them." For fantasies to be "worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults. They will, of course, put more in and get more out than children can."

LoTR was written for adults but appeals to younger readers as well. Kids can't get as much out of it as adults, which leads to re-reading at least for those who have a "special taste" for it. This is why we obsess and this is why we seek out a community. Particularly where Tolkien is otherwise a private vice as Aelfwine comments.
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Old 04-29-2009, 03:24 PM   #18
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Starting with why we need a Tolkien community...
When I first read LotR, I needed someone to talk about Middle-earth to, someone to discuss Sam's loyalty, or the oddities of Tom Bombadil. No one else I knew had read these books, so I needed people that had common interests as me. People with similar interests flock together essentially.


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Originally Posted by Mithalwen View Post
So to give a short answer after a long one, Tolkien has breadth and depth and the more you look the more you find.
I've found that I have liked Tolkien the more I read. I loved the Lord of the Rings, but I loved the Silmarillion more so. The Children of Hurin was even better.

I love LotR because it is so descriptive. It feels real, like the characters could've really existed, they are relatible. I feel as if I am in Middle-earth when I read. Such as, when reading Lothlorien, I can actually see it, I'm there. Not many other authors, to me can make me picture things so vividly. I am aware that there are other authors, and I like to read other books, such as those by Agatha Christie, but I always wander back to Tolkien after a while.

Tolkien is enjoyable to all ages, I can read FotR to my eight year old brother, and he thinks Frodo and Sam amusing. He likes it. Some people although, are not interested at all. My father for instance, is in the mind set that reading Tolkien is a waste of time, he just doesn't get into it, but I do. Why? Some people don't like depth, I suppose. I guess that Tolkien has a ring that other authors don't have. There is always more depth, always another agreeable and relatible character.

Tolkien as an author writes poems and songs. He writes funny characters, and solemn characters, and just normal characters just trying to get through life, isn't that what Frodo is? But the most important, to me is that Middle-earth is believable. Something that other fantasy isn't. Also, Tolkien is a lovely thing to discuss to get your mind off of a normal day, and a stressful life.
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Old 04-29-2009, 09:18 PM   #19
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To make an honest statement, I did not first read LOTR to escape from reality. I first read it, because I loved the movies. It may be escapism that led to many people (before the movies) reading LOTR, but that was not my situation and I think to answer why we first read LOTR, escapism does not apply to everyone.

The other reason, is simply because I like reading, I like books and a variety of books. There has been a plentiful of biographies popping out everywhere, some are really interesting, others ehh not so much. Works of non-fiction like Soul by Soul which describe the brutal details of the slave trade, and those involved, some comedy from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, plus some fantasy - like LOTR and Harry Potter. It is not a matter of escape, it's the basic matter that I like to read. Seeing the connections between literature and history, and what do books tell us about social and intellectual history is something I can not get enough of...

The good thing about writing fantasy is you can push the boundaries, and in some ways have the potential to get people to think about real social issues. Afterall talking about Elves prejudices against Dwarves, vice versa, and their bloody, violent past is easier than discussing the relatively "new" past or current acts of genocide. Making it Elves slaying Orcs slaing in the 1,000s diffuses the brutal reality that we, as humans, are all capable of unspeakable acts of bloodshed and violence. But it is difficult to confront the fact that 40 years ago many student protesters, in the U.S and on several campuses were shot, because that "grief is still too near." Even if it is Men committing brutality, it still si not as difficult, because we are reading "fantasy Men."

However, the drawback to this is it makes fantasy difficult to believe or make a connection. The Centaurs are forced to live on this plot of land? So what? Here Non-fiction has a leg up, because it is hard to question the reality, and even though reality can get skewed by myth, it is easier for us to believe these types of books. The problem is the topic might be too painful for people to want to confront.

Like what many have said, LOTR is believable. It is believable for a lot of reasons, which I will not repeat, but I will add another reason I find it believable:

Quote:
To me, the Middle Earth mythos feels complete; it is comprehensive and consistent (and I know, just as anyone who has perused HoME, that there are inconsistencies and frayed threads).
-Aelfwine
The inconsistancies and the incomplete stories we want to read more about, makes the story all the more believable. I think it is a mistake to think history is a bunch 'unquestionable facts.' There are countless events, wars, battles, movements and etc...that are unquestionable, but how it really was to live through an event can only be known by those who live through it. Or the details of what really took place, can only be told by those who witnessed it. And even with real primary sources, and 'eyewitness' accounts, it is very difficult for anyone (in the present) to definitively say "this is what happened, how it happened, and why.' Because, as humans, when we write something down we make conscious decisions to leave certain details out, maybe fudge the reality a bit, or it most likely is a matter of simply misremembering. As many "facts" about history we have, there are more unanswered questions, more contradictions, and more unknowns and there is a curiosity in trying to find out more.

That is part of the believability of LOTR. I want to read more, I want to find out more, but like history there is only so much. And the unanswered questions...does the Balrog have wings? Who knows? Let's ask Gandalf. However, the true power of LOTR is as Mithalwen pointed out the depth, because as you read more, you find out more. And as members of a forum, you can consider opinions and ideas that never crossed your mind. To sum up this entire post in one sentence (maybe it would have been more convenient for me to just say...): It is an unbreakable constructing cycle: reading, finding out more, but that presents even more questions and wanting to find out even more that makes you want to go back and read again.
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Old 04-29-2009, 10:33 PM   #20
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'Why do we discuss Tolkien?'

I wonder whether, and to what extent, this question is different from: 'Why do we enjoy Tolkien?' For me, at least, any work (of fiction, cinema, music, etc.) that I enjoy is one that I have a strong impulse to analyze, to ponder. And one of the very best ways to analyze something is to discuss it with others. So to me it seems quite natural that a group of people who enjoy Tolkien's work, and therefore wish to analyze it, should come together in a forum to discuss it.

Of course, this probably isn't the whole story. First of all, a lot more topics are covered in Tolkien discussions than simply literary analysis. And second, there are many other popular authors who nevertheless don't have so many discussion groups dedicated to their work.

Perhaps one thing that distinguishes Tolkien from others in this regard is simply that there is more to discuss when it comes to Tolkien's work. I don't mean, of course, that he wrote more than other authors - on the contrary, a good many were far more prolific than he. But, while the works of other authors can be (and are) analyzed at length from a purely literary perspective, Tolkien's works offer, in addition, other avenues of approach. One can discuss the history of Middle-earth, discuss things that lie outside or on the borders of the actual narrative texts. This is a far more sensible exercise when it comes to Tolkien that it would be for many other writers. It would be neither very interesting nor fruitful to discuss, for example, the ancestry of Nick Carraway or the history of West Egg and East Egg in The Great Gatsby. In a work like Gatsby, those things are simply beside the point; of course, there's a great deal of interesting things that can be said about the book on a literary level, but the facts and history about the fictional world in which the narrative takes place have no interest in themselves.

In Tolkien, on the other hand, the sub-created world, with its history and geography, languages and peoples, is as much an integral part of the work as are the features of the narrative itself. This may be related to Tolkien's own practice of treating Middle-earth as 'real', feigning to be translator and chronicler rather than author. For, of course, the interest of a chronicler is in the thing he or she chronicles, not in the chronicle itself. One reads a history book, generally, out of interest in the historical characters and events, not out of interest in the historian or the particular words the historian has used. Similarly, Tolkien gives the impression of having been interested in the personalities and histories of Middle-earth in themselves, and this inevitably comes through to the reader.

It is perhaps to be noted that, where other works do generate fan communities of comparable magnitude, they often exhibit a similar emphasis on the fictional world and its history. One that comes readily to mind is the Star Wars saga, which in a way comes across as a historical chronicle, a documentary on a galactic civil war, more than as a self-conscious piece of cinema.

Of course, none of that would matter if we didn't enjoy Tolkien's work on a literary level as well. So for a full answer to Aelfwine's question, one still must also answer the ancillary question: 'Why do we enjoy Tolkien?'
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Old 04-30-2009, 10:01 AM   #21
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Clearly Tolkien strikes a chord of some sort. The type of chord might differ in each and every one of us. While I'd be glad to hear about everyone's chords, my question is more why does Tolkien strike a chord rather than what kind. Because, of course, I have some ideas of my own...
If I understand him correctly, Tom Shippey argues that fantasy is the definitive genre of the 20th century and that Tolkien's preeminence is due to his being the master of that genre; hence, "Author of the Century."
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Old 04-30-2009, 03:06 PM   #22
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From the mouth of a fan who posts more Tolkien related 'stuff' on the internet than we Downers do! (Yes, that is possible! )

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Originally Posted by Chris Bouchard, director, The Hunt for Gollum
And if you're a fan of a particular genre it's nice to be able to return to that world briefly - even if it is another fan's interpretation.
from the link Rumil posted about the online fan film.
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Old 05-09-2009, 03:07 AM   #23
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I find myself nodding in especial agreement with Aiwendil’s post. I think the reasons fans discuss Tolkien with such tirelessness have a lot to do with the world he built.

Tolkien makes demands on readers that most of the authors Aelfwine mentions do not.

For one thing, there’s the simple matter of all this made-up stuff to cope with. Even casual fans are more or less compelled to become conversant in basic Middle-earth geography, sociology, and linguistics if they’re to make it all the way through to the end of LotR. For more dedicated fans, of course, there’s a wealth of trivia to master. Any specialized interest that involves a large body of trivia is going to spawn groups of people who share that interest. In some ways, Tolkien boards share a close kinship with WWII boards, or roleplaying game boards, or certain kinds of filmmaking boards. Come to think of it, discussion of Tolkien in a roleplaying context is a sort of super-specialized interest.

But it’s not just the sheer volume of trivia. There’s a richness and a coherence to Tolkien’s construction which also invites discussion. A lot of the threads here on the Downs are dedicated to testing the integrity of Middle-earth. We ask questions like whether or not the purported one lone eastern gate and defensive bridge of Khazad-dűm could really have supported its needs at the height of its power. Besides just sheer knowledge, fans want and need to analyze and interpret that knowledge, and see if it can stand up under scrutiny.

Moreover, I think Tolkien’s creation is exceptional enough to pass some sort of threshold of coherence, beyond which fans will do their own work to make even awkward or ill-fitting elements of the invented world “fit”. Hence the many theories as to the nature of good ol’ Tom Bombadillo and RPGs dedicated to solving the question of how hobbits in the Shire are able to stock their pantries with coffee.

And of course you can also discuss Tolkien in more literary modes: influences, themes, structure, characterizations, and so on. Once again, the canvas is so broad and so rich that there’s plenty of grist for the mill. The explosion of this sort of analysis in books about Tolkien in the post-movie era has really made its influence felt on the Downs in recent years, I think.

And I don’t think you can discount the pure aesthetic appeal of Middle-earth. It’s been said that great works of art make you want to linger in the world they create. I think that’s ultimately a major reason why LotR and stuff like Star Wars endure. When people build costumes from and make fan films in the world you’ve created, you know you’re on to something special.

I think the upshot is that the answer to the question “Why Tolkien?” is not one thing -- it’s all these things and more.

But as I’ve been writing this, and the more I think about it, I realize that these are some of the things that keep people discussing Tolkien even after the bloom is long off the rose.

Maybe the thing that makes us seek out Tolkien boards in the first place is that impulse you have when something really great happens to you -- you want to talk about it with other people, especially other people who get it. Maybe what draws us to Tolkien discussion is a desire to recapture that experience we had when Middle-earth first pierced our hearts.
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Old 05-09-2009, 06:31 AM   #24
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Mister Underhill brings up several of the reasons we're here; I've often thought there must be a common denominator shared by Tolkien readers, at least those of the dedicated, enthusiastic kind. I think that a love of language is involved, a feeling for the aesthetic beauty of words that this particular author uses. And if we are linguistic connoisseurs, we also feel the need to express our thoughts in language. Hence the inclination to read and write about Tolkien's works.

This is in no way limited to the internet, though this medium has added to our possibilities for sharing. There are numerous literary societies all over the world whose members meet in real life to discuss serious subjects involving themes of JRRT's works, and also to immerse themselves in the world of Middle-earth by wearing costumes and enjoying fun activities. Middle-earth has room for everyone from Hobbits to Elves, so its fans have all kinds of possibilities to express their enthusiasm. The depth and breadth of Tolkien's fantasy world encourages us to explore it in depth and breadth.
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Old 05-09-2009, 07:32 PM   #25
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