Stephanie from Chasm of Books, Krysta, and I will be hosting a three-month read-along of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings beginning next month, January 2014!
- January: Stephanie will be leading discussion on The Fellowship of the Ring at her blog, Chasm of Books.
- February: Krysta will be leading discussion on The Two Towers here at Pages Unbound.
- March: I will be leading discussion on The Return of the King here at Pages Unbound.
Each month will feature three discussion posts, a Twitter chat, and a mystery activity. We will post a more detailed schedule closer to the read-along. You are invited to read ANY of the books with us–one, two, or all three!
To join the read-along discussion on Twitter, use the hashtag #LOTR2014.
If you would like to sign up, you may do so by clicking the green Mr. Linky graphic below. The sign-up list will open in a new window. We hope you join us, and please invite your friends!
Goodreads: The Fall of Arthur
Published: May 2013
The world’s first publication of a previously unknown work by J.R.R. Tolkien, which tells the extraordinary story of the final days of England’s legendary hero, King Arthur.
The Fall of Arthur recounts in verse the last campaign of King Arthur who, even as he stands at the threshold of Mirkwood, is summoned back to Britain by news of the treachery of Mordred. Already weakened in spirit by Guinevere’s infidelity with the now-exiled Lancelot, Arthur must rouse his knights to battle one last time against Mordred’s rebels and foreign mercenaries.
Powerful, passionate and filled with vivid imagery, The Fall of Arthurreveals Tolkien’s gift for storytelling at its brilliant best. Originally composed by J.R.R. Tolkien in the 1930s, this work was set aside for The Hobbit and lay untouched for 80 years.
Now it has been edited for publication by Tolkien’s son, Christopher, who contributes three illuminating essays that explore the literary world of King Arthur, reveal the deeper meaning of the verses and the painstaking work that his father applied to bring it to a finished form, and the intriguing links between The Fall of Arthur and his greatest creation, Middle-earth.
Arthur eastward in arms purposed
in war to wage on the wild marches.
over seas sailing to Saxon lands,
from the Roman realm ruin defending. (1-4)
Tolkien’s retelling of the King Arthur legend is lyrical and imaginative. It draws on medieval sources and the Old English poetry form to create a version that is fresh yet a worthy addition to the tradition. The poem, of course, is unfinished, but the parts that do exist are interesting and well-written. A few lines might be better phrased, but readers can excuse them based on the fact this poem is still a draft, even if a later version of drafts that had already seen multiple revisions. The poem’s most intriguing facet may be Tolkien’s unique portrayal of the romance between Lancelot and Guinevere. The pair loved each other at some point, before the start of the poem, but are drifting farther apart, appearing “strange” to each other when they meet again. Unfortunately, their story, like Arthur’s, is incomplete, and readers must rely on the outlines of projected cantos that Christopher publishes later in the book in order to approach anything resembling a sense of closure.
The poem is certainly worth reading. A better combination than King Arthur and J.R.R. Tolkien can hardly be imagined. As a medievalist and an author interested in creating mythology for England, Tolkien doubtless must have known and loved the Arthurian legend and it is only right he incorporate it into his own writing. Readers who love Tolkien will love seeing him work with this classic tale, just as he worked with Norse legends, Anglo-Saxon poems, and other medieval romances.
The rest of the book, however, readers can probably take or leave based on their preferences. The first section Christopher contributes is called “The Poem in Arthurian Tradition” and is essentially lengthy summaries of his father’s major soucres: Historia Regum Britanniae, the alliterative Morte Arthure, the stanzaic Morte Arthure, and Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. I, having read most of these works in the original, did not find this section very interesting. Those who have not read the originals may find the section either enlightening or tedious, based on whether they enjoy reading such summaries. Christopher does helpfully point out what is different between these works and his father’s work, however, so readers need not bother to flip back and forth between the poem and this section to figure it out for themselves.
The second section is “The Unwritten Poem and its Relation to The Silmarillion.” Christopher publishes some of his father’s notes about The Fall of Arthur and highlights potential relationships between Lancelot and Earendil and Avalon and Tol Eressea. Unfortunately, Christopher does not always know what to make of potential parallels or relationships between The Fall of Arthur and The Silmarillion and often simply observes their existence without drawing any interpretations or conclusions. This section also contains detailed outlines J.R.R. Tolkien intended to follow when finishing th poem and some drafts of cantos not included in the officially published poem.
In the third section, “The Evolution of the Poem,” Christopher publishes various drafts of each canto and points out some changes his father made as he wrote and rewrote. This chapter will be interesting to those readers who enjoy exploring the evolution of texts but can be skipped by those who do not.
The appendix is a brief explanation of the alliterative Old English poetry form that Tolkien adopted for The Fall of Arthur, mostly in J.R.R. Tolkien’s own words, as Christopher tokien publishes parts of a talk his father gave on the subject. This section may not be the most accessible explanation to readers completely unfamiliar with the verse form, but it does nicely highlight the major features of Old English poetry. The appendix closes with an excerpt from The Fall of Arthur, with the “patterns of strong and weak elements in each half-line” listed, so readers have a clear example of how the patterns work.
Each section of the book can be read on its own, and it will behoove readers to determine beforehand which they may find useful. The book itself seems unclear on whether it is intended for an audience who loves Tolkien but knows nothing about Arthur or an audience of medievalists who love Arthur but may not particularly care about Tolkien. It tries to walk a middle ground, speaking to both a scholarly and a popular audience—and therefore will leave both types of readers a little unsatisfied. The poem itself is beautiful and worth a read by anyone. Christopher’s commentaries can be read or skipped with discretion.
Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. The goal is to promote the reading of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien! To celebrate, we have compiled some reasons that authors and bloggers have fallen in love with Tolkien’s work. Let us know why you love Tolkien, or what Tolkien book you’ll be reading today, in the comments!
“Tolkien is still dear to my heart after so much time because he brings a sense of wonder to the entire body of his work. While parts of his stories can be dark, there is a sense of awe inspiring faith in the good of humanity that seems lost outside of Middle Earth.” Alexis (Mad Geek Girl)
“In Middle Earth, Tolkien displays his intelligence, his thoughtfulness, and his imagination. In his children’s books, he shows his youthful spirit and his sense of humor. In his academic writing, he reveals his dedication and passion for learning. Tolkien’s works span genres. He is versatile, and always manages to speak some way to the human spirit.” Briana (Pages Unbound)
“A great man and a great author. He understood the real importance and art of storytelling.” DM Andrews (Author of The Serpent in the Glass)
“Tolkien’s books contain a rare beauty that encompasses both joy and sorrow. We seem to be in a time where the ugly and the gritty are considered more representative of the human condition than the good and the beautiful, but Tolkien reminds us that the world is never as dark as it appears. He encourages us to look beneath the surface of our reality to see the guiding hand of providence taking us all on an unexpected adventure.” Krysta (Pages Unbound)
“The reason I like Tolkien is because his stories, however epic and wondrous and brilliant they are, ultimately touch basic fundamental emotions and experiences that we can relate to: love, doing the right thing, desiring peace/the quiet life, temptation, feelings of doubt, friendship, etc. I also love how he conceived the world of Middle Earth complete with a full and detailed history, languages, cultures, lore, etc. (the historian in me delights in this). It really feels like this place exists somewhere and re-reading his works, whether it’s The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, really feels like coming home every single time.” Lianne (caffeinatedlife.net)
“I love Tolkien because he can easily make me believe that entire worlds are contained within the bound pages of his books. And once that book opens, your mind opens too.” Marie (Me, My Shelf, and I)
“I love the way J.R.R. Tolkien writes everything in such a lush and descriptive matter. Tolkien is a master storyteller!” Scott (Scott Reads It)
“Tolkien has a way of writing that is unlike any other I have ever seen.” Stephanie B (Chasm of Books)
“There’s definitely something special about Tolkien. His imagination, heart, and brilliance are all woven together in his writing, fiction and non-fiction alike. There’s something very sincere and inspiring about him that dares you to live better.” Zita (Pages Unbound)
Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien society celebrates Tolkien Reading Day in order to promote Tolkien’s works. Last year, Pages Unbound celebrated with a two-week Tolkien Reading Event. (You can see a list of all the posts here.) This year, we’re compiling a list of reasons you–readers, bloggers, or authors–like Tolkien. Briefly tell us anything you like about him, through email (email@example.com), Facebook, or Twitter (@pagesunbound), and we’ll include your quote in our post on March 25. And be sure to pick up one of Tolkien’s books! Happy reading!
Source: E-copy received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Summary: Grace has always been fascinated by the world around her, but her interest grows by bounds when she is visited by spirit guides who gift her with a wonder stone. Her mission is to explore the world and store her wonder in the gem as she journeys toward the Rainbow. The trip is not as straightforward as Grace expects, however, as she meets a number of people she can only help if she deviates from her path.
A verse retelling of The Other Side of the Rainbow (1910) by Florence Bone.
Review: Michael Tolkien brings new life to a charming and instructive children’s story about the nature of wonder, sending his heroine Grace on a number of missions on which she learns to help others and to always stay curious. Readers need not be familiar with Florence Bone’s The Other Side of the Rainbow to enjoy Tolkien’s re-imagination. A thoughtful and intelligent preface, however, (which will remind many of Michael’s grandfather’s J.R.R. Tolkien’s philosophy of literature, even in spite of a desire to appreciate Michael in his own right) presents readers with an overview of Bone’s version and interpretations of Tolkien’s changes, in addition to his musings on the meaning of art and the nature of Faerie. This does mean, of course, that readers who would prefer to interpret the story on their own might wish to read the preface last.
Tolkien makes Bone’s story his own, adding new scenes, lessons, interpretations, and his own voice. He even writes in verse, although since it is free verse the most evident reason for doing so is that children will be less intimidated by 200 pages of story if the lines are short. Nonetheless, Rainbow does have the feel of an older children’s book—something, like The Other Side of the Rainbow, that was published in the early twentieth century. The plot, the morals, and the sheer charm of it give it that tone. (So, yes, this is a good thing, and it fits the story perfectly.)
Tolkien uses a strong narrative voice that occasionally interjects into the story to address the reader. It often offers background information children will need to understand the story or explains the lessons being taught. If there is one thing Rainbow lacks, it is subtlety, although this is probably a good thing if very young readers are going to follow it for 200 pages. The plot, too, is undemanding, despite Grace’s many deviations from her original purpose into other adventures; she never faces danger for long before a solution appears and she is travelling once again. The constant action is likely to keep children interested. Adults will be drawn in by the imaginative world-building and the same type of wonder that Grace is trying to cultivate.
Rainbow is delightful, delicate, and imaginative, just like the illustrations by Maureen Ward. Its story, though featuring Grace and her many exciting adventures, is just as much about the readers, as it strives to teach them to also wonder about the world and to seek their own adventures. Those who have wonder, explains Rainbow, never grow old.
Published: 2012; print version March 2013
- Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo and remarkably expressive.
- Gollum is both cute and frightening.
- Richard Armitage is an imposing, heroic, and rather handsome Thorin.
- Most of the dwarves do successfully build their own personalities. A few may get more time in later films.
- Quotes from the novel are successfully incorporated.
- There are lots of great nods to The Lord of the Rings movies.
- There is enough background given for viewers who have not read the book.
- The film is gorgeous. (Though there were a few beginning scenes where I found it hard to find something in focus to look at.)
- The score is impressive.
- Minor changes made sense. A few major changes made less sense, but I can live with them.
- The movie is the perfect mix of comical and epic. It retains the spirit of the novel, while matching the tone of The Lord of the Rings movies.
- I am impressed.
The Hobbit read-along continues over at The Warden’s Walk and so do my rambling thoughts about the book!
Chapter 12 continues developing the philosophies underlying the actions of all the characters. The Dwarves think about treasure, Bilbo thinks about home, and Smaug thinks about himself. Their philosophies and not their physical prowess ultimately decide all their fates.
Tolkien does not portray the Dwarves in a very flattering manner at this point in time, stating outight that “There it is: Dwarves are not heroes but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money.” Though Bilbo has repeatedly proven his worth to the group, rescuing his companions from the spiders and the prisons of Mirkwood, he receives little credit from Thorin, who announces (rather pompously) that the time has come now for the Hobbit to earn his reward. Even so, the Dwarves hope to aid Bilbo as little as possible in his burglaring because they fear too much for their own lives; only Balin dares to venture into the tunnel with the Hobbit. A sense of duty does arise when their companions find themselves in direct danger, and Tolkien informs readers that they would save Bilbo if he got into trouble, but altogether their treatment of the Hobbit seems to rely on how much they think he is doing for them, and how well. They have focused all their thoughts and energy on the treasure so that their moral vision remains limited and they have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships that are not inherently useful to their goals.
Bilbo informs Smaug that the group has come to the Mountain not merely for treasure but also for revenge–but the evidence to support this seems limited. The Dwarves actually neglected to take a living dragon into account when forming their plans, so clearly they have no intent to take back their home. They want their wealth back–it’s as simple as them. Maybe you can argue that stealing treasure from a dragon will anger him and thus counts as revenge, but such action seems to be lacking in symbolic victory. Can you really imagine a tale like this going down into legend–a bunch of Dwarves loitering around a mountainside while they hire an unknown to tote out their former possessions like a common criminal? The story is interesting and maybe some people will find the cleverness and bravery of the Hobbit admirable, but it really doesn’t do anything for the reputation of the Dwarves.
The greed of the Dwarves would have proven their downfall if not for Bilbo. Thinking only of their glorious treasure, they are totally unprepared to face the reality of Smaug. Bilbo can help them precisely because he doesn’t care about the treasure. He cares about the right sorts of things–upholding his end of a bargain so he can return home to his comfortable hobbit-hole. Love of adventure and a desire to prove himself also play a role in his exploits, but at the root of all his thoughts is the idea of a simple life unburdened by old grudges and the desire for excessive wealth.
Bilbo also stands in opposition to Smaug, who lays the foundation for his own downfall through his pride. Even though he recognizes the flattery of Bilbo as lies, he cannot help feeling pleasure in even this fake admiration. Desirous of impressing the Hobbit even further, he boasts of his invincibility, thus revealing the flawed spot above his heart. (Note that Bilbo’s pride in his own cleverness also has unintended bad consequences as it focuses the wrath of Smaug on Lake-town.) Smaug’s greed, anger, and overriding desire for revenge will all further combine to bring him to the edge of ruin; if he could only have overlooked the loss of a single golden cup and stayed with his hoard, the world might have remained content to continue ignoring his existence.
But these are all weighty matters. This chapter is a prime example of a thrilling quest adventure story! I’m not entirely sure why it worked, but Tolkien’s liberal use of the exclamation point really drew me into the action: “The glow of Smaug!” It was like I was there! Not only that, but this chapter is funny. Tolls? Bilbo has travelled all this way to get a fourteenth part of a treasure only to realize he neglected to consider transport and tolls to get it all home? Did anyone bother to plan anything about this adventure? Why does Gandalf keep disappearing? Does he really believe this group is capable of accomplishing anything without him? And why does Smaug, of all the characters, think about tolls? I don’t believe that dragon ever paid a toll in his life.
So, what do you all think? Have I been too harsh on the Dwarves? Was Smaug a law-abiding dragon in his youth? Weigh in and continue the read-along next Tuesday with Taliesintaleweaver of Lights in the Library!
That’s right, everyone. ”The Hobbit” read-along is taking place over at The Warden’s Walk and I’m in charge of explicating/reviewing/pondering chapter 3! I know I’m late in posting this and I do apologize for those who have been eagerly refreshing their screens in hopes of getting the next installment of the read-along. If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you may have noticed that I’m not posting much of anything right now–and indeed won’t be for awhile (but that’s okay because Briana’s wonderful posts completely cover my absence). My life is currently busy and complicated and all manner of crazy. So, in the interest of fulfilling my obligations to the promotion of all things Tolkien, I’m not really going to explicate my chapter (sorry about that), but rather throw down some thoughts as they occur to me. Feel free to generate more discussion in the comments (thereby imparting to this post some manner of legitimacy).
I’ve read The Hobbit several times and each time chapter three sticks out to me due to one thing: those Elves singing “tra-la-la-lally”. I don’t think this is Tolkien’s crowning achievement in poetry, it is true, and I sometimes chuckle to myself over how a place known for its poetry and song could be introduced to readers with this particular song. Poetic merits aside, however, the song presents much bigger issues to me. After all, readers familiar with The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion know that Elves are these ethereal, other-worldly beings remarkable for their nobility and wisdom. Certainly no one envisions Hugo Weaving’s Elrond singing “tra-la-la-lally”!
I’m not convinced this moment can be explained away by saying that The Hobbit came before The Lord of the Rings since Tolkien did edit The Hobbit to make it fit more smoothly into his mythos. Furthermore, we receive hints of the noble Elves we will come to know in Tolkien’s description of Elrond: “He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.” So, maybe, if we try to fit Tolkien’s Hobbit Elves into our conception of his later Elves, we’re approaching his work from the wrong way. Maybe we don’t need to perform mental gymnastics to create consistency. Maybe Tolkien is being consistent, but our modern mindset hasn’t prepared us to recognize that.
Assuming the “tra-la-la-lally” Elves must be different from the Lord of the Rings Elves implies that silly and serious cannot exist together. But the Elves are remarkable for more than their high poetry or tragic history. They are remarkable for their connection to Eru and the Undying Lands. Many of the Elves have seen the light of Valinor. They have known joy. Can the joy they have be related to the light-hearted songs and jokes of the Rivendell Elves? And aren’t light-hearted song- and joke-making actually two of the most serious activities a person can engage in? Life can be hard and full of sorrow, as the Elves, who have lost Valinor, perhaps know better than anyone else in Middle-earth. However, they refuse to let sorrow have the last word; they engage in song-making, even silly song-making, because they know that no sorrow lasts forever.
*Note: I can’t recall from memory whether the Rivendell Elves actually were in Valinor (I’m inclining towards no), but I think the point about joy and seriousness still stands. Plus, I’m sure that the Elves who were not in Valinor know and are affected by the tragic loss their kinsmen suffered.
Continue the read-along this Thursday with Taliesintaleweaver of Lights in the Library!
David of The Warden’s Walk has begun posting for The Hobbit read-along taking place from now through November. If you’d like to read along or just follow the fun, you can read his first post here and check out the list of participants and the schedule here. Also be sure to look for my upcoming post on chapter three of The Hobbit!
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine where bloggers share books they are eagerly anticipating.
By J.R.R. Tolkien
Trans. by Mark Walker
Release Date: September 13, 2012
Summary: This Latin Translation of Tolkien’s classic fantasy book will be published in September to celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit‘s publication. The first line will read, “In foramine terrae habitabat hobbitus.” Read more about the project here. So far no cover image is available.
Why I Want to Read It: Tolkien is my favorite author, and Latin is a wonderful language! My skills in Latin are probably not yet developed enough to read this book with ease, but I will go through it slowly and with a big dictionary with joy just for the experience! Read my review of The Hobbit (in English).