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Old 08-29-2007, 10:28 AM   #1
Spirit of Mist
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Tolkien Evolution of a Reader

The publication of the seventh Harry Potter book has left a number of that series' readers in tears. Not because of the sadness of the ending, but rather because there will, apparently, be no more such books. I have heard laments from younger readers to the effect of "I grew up with Harry..."

I have read most of the Potter books more than once and have enjoyed them. But they have not "gripped" me like Tolkien has. No doubt I will read them again someday, but I know that I will never be fascinated by them as Middle Earth has fascinated me. Nonetheless, I have a great deal of sympathy for the grieving Potter readers and would like to explain why.

I first read The Hobbit in 1971. I was in 5th grade at the time and it was required reading in the other 5th grade class, but not in mine. I had heard of the book and borrowed it from the other class. I read it twice during that school year. However, I was unaware at the time that there was a "sequel". I think I discovered LoTR in 1972. Again, I read it twice that year and once more in 1973. Later that year, my father showed me Tolkien's obituary. From the obituary, I learned that he died at age 81. I knew that The Hobbit had been published in the 1930s and that LoTR had come out in the 1950s. I assumed that Tolkien, like other writers I enjoyed, had been relatively prolific and that there were more Middle Earth books out there.

Several trips to local bookstores were unsuccessful. There was the Tolkien Reader which had the Bombadil poems. The was Farmer Giles and the Smith of Wooten Major. Otherwise, there was just analysis, the guide and not much more. I read LoTR again and wrote down the "works" that were referred to in the books, such as the Tale of Beren and Luthien, the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen and something called the Silmarillion. Then I returned to the bookstores and sat with a clerk and a copy of Books in Print and discovered... nothing. None of these tales or books existed. Other than what I had already found and read, Tolkien had published only Sir Gawain, the Road Goes Ever On (out of print at the time if I recall) and some scholarly works. The sadness of the Potter fans is an echo of my own at that time.

Later, I read Carpenter's biography of Tolkien and learned that in fact most of the works described in LoTR had been begun by Tolkien and never finished. This was a bitter pill. I had to be satisfied with The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings. At least for a few years when it was announced that Christopher was preparing The Silmarillion for publication. I bought it the day it came out. Initially, it was disappointing. The style was very different and it read more like a history book than a novel. It was only later that I more fully appreciated it. And there was the tantalizing reference in the introduction to "a wealth of unpublished material..."

The Silmarillion was followed a few years later by Unfinished Tales. While appreciative of the expanded treatment of the tales presented (and the new material), it was nonetheless frustrating to, for example, journey with Tuor through the gates of Gondolin only to glimpse the fabled city and go no farther.

There was little by way of a Tolkien fan's grapevine at that time. So the publication of Lost Tales caught me by surprise. I bought it and began reading it greedily only to be (at that time) sorely disappointed. The material was primitive in style compared to LoTR and included much that had been rejected. I had hoped for fuller treatment of other stories from the Silmarillion as had been presented in Unfinished Tales and instead got Middle Earth's prehistory. It seemed to be over. There would be no more. At that time I put down Tolkien's works in the hope of finding some other author, preferably living and more prolific, that could inspire me. I did not return for many years. I ignored the other History of Middle Earth books that followed.

In the mid-1990s I picked up a paperback copy of the Lays of Beleriand at an airport. Much older at that time, I quickly began to appreciate the effort and determination that Tolkien had in preparing his tales. I began to develop a more scholarly appreciation of his writings. I purchased other HoME volumes and mixed reading them with rereadings of the "primary works". The internet come about and I discovered Tolkien sites. There were others like me out there! Then, Morgoth's Ring and The Peoples of Middle Earth came out. This was more like it! But then that was all. Finally, there would be no more. I felt the old familiar disappointment again. This may, in fact, have contributed to my "sabbatical" from this site.

I took 2 years off from reading Tolien. I'm back now, and am reading LoTR again, with a pen in my hand taking notes on interesting little bits that I don't recall coming across before. There is still material to discuss and the stories are still there. I will always love them. And maybe there will be more. The Children of Hurin was a reasonably good read. I had no expectations in approaching it so I was not disappointed. Maybe there will be a Silmarillion "trilogy" someday of the great mannish stories from the First Age, Beren, Turin and Tuor. Or maybe not. That's a matter to discuss another day.

So all you Potter fans, I feel your grief. I have experienced it. The stories remain and can be read again.
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Old 08-29-2007, 02:32 PM   #2
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Very interesting post, Mithadan. I've actually felt both griefs--the Harry one and the Tolkien one. The former has far more to do with nostalgia for a childhood suddenly past (I'm 19--I read the first Potter at 11) than a true sorrow over the end of the series (which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the books, because I did).

However, the Tolkien grief is just as vivid, if not more so, at least for me. I remember the day I finished LOTR for the first time--seeing the final page through a haze of tears, then drying my eyes and going back to the beginning. I read it five more times, because I couldn't accept that it was over, before reverting to the once-a-year structure that most Tolkien fans follow. I still, to this day, have not read the final chapter of the Silmarillion because when I arrived at that point, just a few pages from the end two years or more ago, it was the last "new" Tolkien of its kind on earth (I'd been reading nearly confusingly out of order--by then I'd finished Lost Tales, a fair chunk of HOME, and the UT, but all were far less complete). I didn't want to let go of the magic. I'm just waiting for a free Saturday to finish Sil and begin CoH...which I think I might just finish ()

It is true that the stories are still there, and true that they can be read again, and that wonderful new things can be discovered upon every least as far as Middle-earth is concerned. I'm not so sure about Harry Potter, since when I return to those books, I usually just pick out favorite moments and re-read those instead...a re-read of Lord of the Rings is much more time-consuming, because I re-read every word. I will always love Lord of the Rings...the one thing that I am still sad about is that it's never quite the same after you read it once.

I'm not sure what all this adds, so I guess I'll just stop now.
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Old 08-29-2007, 10:57 PM   #3
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For a kid who grew up loving both Harry and Frodo, this may seem, uhm... (the word I'm looking for is in my language and I've no idea how foreigners may get this: may katapusan. Though its literal translation is "has an end" I don't think that that is the way it should be told).

For my tenth birthday (that was an October) my dad bought me my first ever book--HP and the Sorcerer's Stone. (The first I read is Jonathan Livingston Seagull, back in his library). See, I was this weird kid with no playmates and had children's versions of Brothers Grimm for barbie dolls. I used to read and reread my Reading textbooks, and those had pretty much a lot of Greek myths and soem of Philippine legends, much to my cousins' dislike because I never played with them.

Then came a time, and Dad got me Smith and Giles. I did not appreciate Smith until much much later, but Giles I thought ridiculous but in an amusing and not negative fashion. This was around the time the movie version of HP1 is out, and I saw in the book portion of the Sunday paper a comparison of Harry and Frodo. I saw 'Tolkien' and 'Lord of the Rings,' two names I've seen in my Smith and Giles. I read the article, and the eleven-year-old in me got dead curious and pestered my dad until I wormed out a promise that he'd give me LotR for Christmas.

For my birthday that year he got me The Hobbit, which I admit I thought did not exist. He told me it's the sequel, and that it's a nice book in itself, suitable for my age--the language and the plot. But I did not read that soon, because my Grandma got me Harry Potter and teh Goblet of Fire that very day. Three weeks later my mom awoke me in the dead of night and gave me FotR--under the idea that I was done with Hobbit.

I loved every word of the intro about Hobbits, and so before I reached chapter 2 (shadows of the past) I chucked FotR away and looked for Hobbit. My dad was right, I loved the book. And then there was this incident that got me almost expelled from Dominican College: after I had my project checked I took Hobbir out and read. Then my teacher confiscated the book. Eleven-year-old kid that I was, I cried, and when we were dismissed, I called my mom. She told me to calm down. After our talk I went to the faculty room and screamed in flawless English, "B****, come out, give me my book back!" And began a saga... until the matter was brought to the Department of Education in our municipality. Dominican College, after my elementary graduation, released my Good Moral Certificate that I needed for a science high school scholarship (in our land a science hs is very much desired by pretty much every kid, but "many are called and few are chosen.")

High School... four years enduring and growing to love the natural sciences, hand in hand with Tolkien and Rowling' s fantasies. The teachers in science thought I shouldn't be there, thinking the government gave me the wrong scholarship. But I survived, graduated. En route I finished The Silmarillion, which I love above all, and the rest of the LotR trilogy, not to mention until HP6. From those two authors sprung my love for literature in general: I discovered the South American writers and good writers from my own land, on the top of the list. There was Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, and then there was Amy Tan, and then there are the immortal Romantics. Before I graduated I became an editor in our paper and grabbed some high-school journ awards.

My teachers and the school admin were very disappointed in me, who did not take a science college degree yet passed the entrance exams in the top three schools. Nonetheless, as the best journalist of their school they let me go, thinking I would get a BA Journ in one of the universities and wouldn't be such an awful waste of the tax-payer's money... until they found out that I'm taking comparative literature instead. My former adviser wanted to skin me alive for this, but they can't complain, I've had no contract anyway. So they had to accept that... and when she asked what made such a promising journalist or scientist choose lit, I answered in all my honesty: Harry Potter and Kurufinwe Feanaro.
The heart does things for reasons Reason itself cannot comprehend. - Blaise Pascal

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Old 02-03-2008, 07:52 AM   #4
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I'd like to bring this deserving but neglected thread up out of the shadows in which it dwelt - perhaps more members have something to add to it?!
'Mercy!' cried Gandalf. 'If the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What more do you want to know?' 'The whole history of Middle-earth...'
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Old 02-03-2008, 03:13 PM   #5
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The end of an era is always a hard thing to face. For me, it came when Tolkien died in 1973. It had been more than 12 years since I'd fallen in love with LotR, and what I felt then was the same thing I felt when I heard, many years later, that Jim Henson had died: a sense of profound loss, because the person whose wonderful imagination had given us so much would no longer be able to do so. I had that feeling again when one of my writing mentors, Gordon R. Dickson, passed away a few years ago. So long as the author is alive, there is always the possibility that they may have new ideas, and new reasons to return to that beloved world they created for us, or -- perhaps even better -- they might create new worlds and characters for us to love. And yet, even once they are gone, they all leave behind such a tremendous legacy, to visit again and again -- and beyond, in our own imaginations -- that I cannot help but feel grateful for all they have given us. The bitter with the sweet.
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Old 02-04-2008, 08:55 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Estelyn Telcontar View Post
I'd like to bring this deserving but neglected thread up out of the shadows in which it dwelt - perhaps more members have something to add to it?!
For shame, Esty! Bumping up a thread without posting to it!

What I find interesting about this thread is Mith's title: The Evolution of a Reader, for it suggests that Tolkien has created a new kind of reader. What do I mean?

Well, in the early years of the novel (read, centuries ), writers weren't expected to produce serial novels. It's true that Henry Fielding wrote Shamela and Joseph Andrews as parodies of Richardson's Pamela, but he never wrote a sequel to Tom Jones. Surely there would have been amble opportunity to develope ideas of the nature of Tom's and the lovely Sophia's marriage! After all, we know Tom's eye for lovely things and those don't stop at the church door. But Fielding didn't.

Readers expected and were expected to reread existing novels or turn to completely new ones.

Close to a serialisation was probably Dickens' method of serial publication of chapters (or books?) in magazines. Yet still Dickens never gave us sequels to actual novels. Lots and lots of Victorian situations and cultural bric a brac, but not more of Pip or Davey. We don't have a volume two to titilate readers about Jane's and Rochester's marriage: Jane's 'autobiography' ends with a paen to the rejected suitor and that's it. George Eliot's novels are entirely self-consistent, with no leakage into each other (well, not that I can think of, simply in terms of Middlemarch, Mill on the Floss and Daniel Deronda).

Trollope comes close I think to producing the kind of serialisation that Tolkien readers seem to want, especially with his series The Chronicles of Barsetshire and then the Palliser series. So I suppose the ground was already worked for Tolkien to come along and produce an immensely interesting world and characters and history of eons which whetted readers' appetites not necessarily to reread but to read more.

I'm not saying Tolkien fans don't reread. Obviously there's a strong tradition of rereading LotR as a ritual event which is amply reported here on the Downs. But this desire which Mithadan so lucidly describes and which Azaelia and Lindale and Ibrin attest to is something which possibly Tolkien himself created: an unsatiated desire for more and more of Middle-earth. This readerly desire is what Rowlings expanded upon with Harry Potter. Except that Rowlings seems to have given her readers the last little experience of readerly petit mort whereas Tolkien didn't do that. No act of reading ever actually consumes Tolkien fans, but sends them out to search for more of the same.

Originally Posted by some ancient poet
If ever any beauty I did see and desire and got,
'twas but a dream of thee
Is this a new kind of reader which Mithadan implies with his title?
I’ll sing his roots off. I’ll sing a wind up and blow leaf and branch away.
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Old 10-15-2019, 07:55 AM   #7
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Reviving this old thread for further comment. Since I opened this thread, Christopher Tolkien has published The Children of Hurin, Beren and Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin. Of the three, only The Children of Hurin was an attempt to "complete" Tolkien's writing as a coherent narrative, rather than as a purely scholarly and heavily annotated work.

Personally, I feel that these three later publications, with the exception of portions of the Children of Hurin which add detail and flavor, add little to Tolkien's body of Middle Earth work. I am wondering if there are any differing opinions?
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Old 10-15-2019, 08:37 AM   #8
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I seem to have overlooked this thread all these years.

I own CoH and Gondolin, but confess I haven't even read Luthien.

CoH struck me as really nothing but an amalgam of the Unfinished Tales Narn and the chapter in The Silmarillion. As you said, it does have its moments, but I honestly could have done without it.

I'm not very keen on Gondolin. I have always loved the UT section on Tuor and his journey to Turgon, so a look at earlier conceptions left me a bit nonplussed.
The appearance of Ulmo to Tuor at Vinyamar is epic. The image of a more easygoing, more kindly Lord of Waters sitting in a bunch of reeds playing with shells in order to persuade Tuor reminds me somehow of Bombadil skulking along the Withywindle. Hey! You don't suppose....
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