Wanted: Guest Posts for Tolkien Reading Event (March 2019)

Tolkien Reading Event 2019

During March 2019, Pages Unbound will be running our sixth Tolkien Reading Event.  Every year on March 25, the Tolkien Society celebrates Tolkien Reading Day, and we like to expand on the event by hosting several days’ worth of Tolkien-related content.  We have had some wonderful guest posts in the past and would like to invite you to submit a guest post this year.

Theme: Tolkien and the Mysterious

Post Options

The Tolkien Reading Event is open to a wide variety of posts.  In previous events, we have featured everything from book reviews to quizzes to serious literary criticism.   Pitch us an idea for any type of post you would like!  You can also review books and movies that have been featured before; we love new perspectives! See a full list of past posts here.

If you need ideas, we are particularly open to posts about:

  • the official theme
  • any aspect of The Silmarillion
  • the art of Middle-Earth
  • a tour of your Tolkien collection (books or merchandise)
  • Tolkien’s villains
  • reviews of books about (not by) Tolkien
  • reflections on Tolkien’s “minor” works (Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wooton Major, Roverandom)

Details

If you are interested in participating, please fill out the Google form below.  We will begin the event on Sunday, March 25, and so would like to receive guest posts by March 17.  We will contact everyone with final details around that time (such as what day your guest post will be scheduled).  Please feel free to spread the word to fellow Tolkien fans!

Title: Please tell us what you would like the title of the post to be when you send us the draft! Otherwise you will be subject to our whims. 😉

Post Length: There is no required post length; however long you feel you need to address the topic is fine.

Photos/Graphics: Feel free to include photos or graphics if you would like, but only include images you own the rights to post.  (Basically, no copyright infringement, please!)

Poems: Excerpts of poems are fine, but please do not include entire poems still under copyright.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN GUEST POSTING, PLEASE FILL OUT THE GOOGLE FORM BELOW.

*LOTR clip art by Nesca at CuteGraphicSupply.

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How I Would Make The Hobbit Films

Make a Whimsical Children’s Film

The Hobbit is a children’s book.  It’s a little silly.  Not everything that happens seems to make sense with what we know of Middle-earth from The Lord of the Rings.  And that’s okay!  The Hobbit has its own magical charm.  Forcing it into a genre it does not belong to will never make a compelling story.

Add More Singing

Tolkien’s world is full of singing and having a medium with sound is the perfect way to showcase that.  I am not a fan of the book’s Rivendell song, but I would add some singing to the Rivendell scenes, and maybe some more song as the Dwarves travel to the Lonely Mountain.

Keep the Focus on the Titular Hobbit

I am not fully opposed to Jackson’s decision to add in the scenes at Dol Guldur.  It could have actually been really interesting to see what Gandalf was doing when he left the group.  However, The Hobbit is really Bilbo’s story.  He’s not meant to know what Gandalf is doing because it’s outside the scope of his adventure, which is about as much as he can handle.  I would keep the focus on our titular Hobbit and his character growth, because Bilbo is the true heart of the story, not the great and the powerful.  The point of The Hobbit is that Bilbo, a homely “nobody” is important.  His desire for good food, good friends, and a comfortable home, is what makes the world beautiful.  And it’s worth celebrating.

Cut the Battle Scene

In keeping with the above point, I would follow the book and have the battle fade away when Bilbo loses consciousness.  Bilbo is not a warrior and The Hobbit is not a war book.  Glamorizing battles goes against the entire point of the book, which celebrates Bilbo’s unselfishness and his desire for peace–in contrast with Thorin’s destructive greed and pride.  Cutting off the battle scene might be startling and upsetting to audiences accustomed to big budget fantasy films with plenty of swordplay–but a really good story often subverts audience expectations to make them think.

Split It into Two Films

There was never enough content for three films, even with Jackson’s additions.  I would split the films in Mirkwood, when Bilbo confronts the spiders and suddenly finds his courage.  It makes for a natural break in the story and could provide a good cliffhanger as audiences wait to see him enter the halls of Mirkwood.

How would you film The Hobbit?

Why J. R. R. Tolkien’s Worldbuilding Remains Unmatched

“What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful ‘sub-creator.’  He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter.  Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world.  You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside.  The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed.  You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World.” (“On Fairy Stores”)

The publication of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in 1954 introduced a new understanding of fantasy and inspired countless authors to strive for believable secondary worlds, many of them strikingly similar to Tolkien’s.  However, few authors, if any, have come close to achieving what Tolkien did.  A lifetime of work enabled Tolkien to create a world so internally consistent and so detailed, it seems real; one senses intuitively that Tolkien knows the answer to nearly any question that could be asked about Middle-earth, even if the information never made it into his books. Tolkien himself found his world so real that he frequently described himself as its chronicler, the one who discovers it, rather than as its creator.  Below are some of the reasons that Tolkien’s worldbuilding remains unmatched.

The Languages

Tolkien scholarship seemingly always starts off with a reminder that Tolkien’s stories grew from his languages, rather than the other way around.  His Elven tongues came first and became the basis for Middle-earth as Tolkien pondered what kinds of people would use those tongues.  As a philologist, or someone who studies languages and how they develop over time, Tolkien was uniquely positioned to develop detailed, realistic fantasy languages.  His Elven tongues are carefully crafted as if they stem from a common ancestor, then grew apart over time, taking on specific changes, just as real-world languages do. It is probably safe to say that few other authors have possessed the same level of expertise in crafting their own fantasy tongues.  Indeed, many are content with creating only a few words to add flavor to a story.

In addition to creating languages (a task so dear to him that he reportedly spent more time on it later in life than on revising The Silmarillion), Tolkien also took care that each of his cultures had consistent names.  Tom Shippey explains in J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century that Tolkien believed people could intuitively recognize languages and would notice if he were to, say, mix  Scottish-sounding names and Germanic-sounding names in the same culture.  So he not only makes cultural nomenclature consistent, but will also use language to do things like distinguish between Bree and the Shire through their place names.  Not many other authors are likely to worry about mixing names, nor are they likely to worry their readers will notice.

The History

Tolkien is also famous for the way in which the ancient history of Middle-earth peeks through at times to give his story a sense of depth and of time.  He expresses how this strategy can evoke a feeling of longing in the reader in a letter to his son Christopher: “I think you are moved by Celebrimbor because it conveys a sudden sense of endless untold stories: mountains seen far away, never to be climbed, distant trees (like Niggle’s) never to be approached – or if so only to become ‘near trees.’”  Something is always just out of reach in Middle-earth, hinting that it contains a vast history, just like the real world.

The Timelines

To help give his world a sense of history, Tolkien spent a good deal of effort making detailed timelines that cover thousands of years.  Interested readers can learn snippets of history stretching far back to the early days of Gondor and beyond.  Such details add to the realism of the work as Tolkien always seems to know what is happening in any given time or place in his world, making it, again, internally consistent.

The Details

Finally, Tolkien creates a realistic world by paying attention to the details, even the ones few people are likely to notice.  He spent time devising possible heraldic devices for various Elven characters.  He drew some plant life that can be found in Middle-earth.  He created calendars for the Hobbits and the Elves.  He created a system of distance measurement for the Hobbits and painstakingly ensured that no one in The Lord of the Rings ever traveled a greater distance than would be actually possible.  He even spent a significant amount of time revising parts of The Lord of the Rings when he discovered that the moon phases described in certain scenes meant the timelines of various characters were not aligning properly.  Most readers are unlikely to check how far Frodo walked each day or catch a moon phase discrepancy.  These things mattered to Tolkien, however, and his obsession with fixing them probably contributed to the twelve years it took him to write The Lord of the Rings.  Few other authors are likely to spend so much time focusing on the details that they practically forget to publish.  Yet Tolkien’s concern ultimately paid off by creating a richly developed world.

Tuor in The Fall of Gondolin and JRR Tolkien’s Heroes (Discussion)

Tolkien's Heroes

Introduction

As I was reading The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien recently (read my review here), I was struck by a passage in the final version of the story where the protagonist Tuor walks into an abandoned city/throne room, finds a dazzling set of arms left behind, and promptly claims them as his own.  For the briefest of moments, I was confused.  Who finds expensive armor and just puts it on? But then I realized that Tuor’s sense that this was right, that the armor was meant for him (…turns out it was, actually) is something I love about Tolkien’s work.  Tuor is a hero with confidence, someone who knows he can achieve and is determined to set out to do it.  In this moment, the readers see Tuor as he is meant to be seen, a stern and mighty hero, destined to change the fate of Middle-Earth.

This isn’t something I see a lot of in other fantasy, which tends to emphasize the uncertainty of the hero/heroine as a way to help readers “relate” to a protagonist who is objectively doing extraordinary things.  Tolkien’s work, in contrast, often does not shy away from emphasizing the heroic nature of its characters (think, for instance, of Aragorn).  That isn’t to say that these characters don’t work hard or face challenges or have doubt.  They do.  But the world building of Middle-Earth and the existence of a higher power invests the characters with a steadiness of spirit I don’t always see in other protagonists.

Before I explain more, here’s the passage from The Fall of Gondolin I’m thinking of:

As he stood before the great chair in the gloom, and saw that it was hewn of a single stone and written with strange signs, the sinking sun drew level with a high window under the westward gable, and a shaft of light smote the wall before him, and glittered as it were upon burnished metal.  Then Tuor marvelling saw that on the wall behind the throne there hung a shield and a great hauberk, and a helm and a long sword in a sheath.  The hauberk hone as it were wrought of silver untarnished, and the sunbeam gilded it with sparks of gold.  But the shield was of a shape strange to Tuor’s eyes, for it was long and tapering; and its field was blue, in the midst of which was wrought an emblem of a white swan’s wing.  Then Tuor spoke, and his voice rang as a challenge in the roof: ‘By this token I will take these arms unto myself, and upon myself whatsoever doom they bear.’   And he lifted down the shield and found it light and wieldy beyond his guess; for it was wrought, it seemed, of wood, but overlaid by the craft of elven-smiths with plates of metal, strong y et thing as foil, whereby it has been preserved from worm and weather.

Then Tuor arrayed himself in the hauberk, and set the helm upon his head, and he girt himself with the sword; black were sheath and belt with clasps of silver.  Thus armed he went forth from Turgon’s hall, and stood upon the high terraces of Taras in the red light of the sun.  None were there to see him, as he gazed westward, gleaming in silver and gold, and he knew not that in that hour he appeared as one of the Mighty of the West, and fit to be the father of the kings of the Kings of Men beyond the Sea, as it was indeed his doom to be; but in the taking of those arms a change came upon Tuor song of Huor, and his heart grew great within him.

The Qualifications of a Hero

I read a lot of YA fantasy, so it makes sense that the protagonists, who are young people  finding their way in the world, often tend toward being uncertain about their roles as heroes.  Many of them don’t want the tasks that have been pressed upon them.  Many of them are “ordinary” people without particular skills that would “qualify” them to save the the world, the kingdom, their friends, etc.  Authors often think this helps make them “relatable” to readers, who generally also do not have badass archery skills or training in martial arts or a family with a history of greatness.  These are the stories of the Everyman rising up to do what needs to be done.  (Also, a lot of readers just hate the perceived arrogance of Chosen Ones.)

However, the difference between Tolkien’s heroes and these other fantasy heroes isn’t just their age or uncertainty or “unsuitableness” to be heroes because Tolkien has his Everyman heroes, too, most notably the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings.  The difference is how confident even the Everyman can be when there is a sense of a guiding force in the universe.  Gandalf mentions this explicitly in The Lord of the Rings:

Frodo:
I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf:
So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work, Frodo, than the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case you also were meant to have it, and that is an encouraging thought.

Although the characters of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (the two of Tolkien’s works that are most familiar to readers) don’t have religious rituals, the world of Middle-Earth is a deeply religious one, ruled over by Iluvatar and shaped by the Valar .  Iluvatar’s existence and the sense that he actively intervenes in the fate of Middle-Earth (not a trait shared by all deities) allow the characters to believe that, even if the journey is difficult, they will find the strength and resources to do what needs to be done.

It is this belief, I think, that allows Tuor to don that armor with such confidence.

A Higher Power

I’ve talked briefly before about how I don’t see a lot of religion in fantasy, not in the sense that the characters’ believes or actions are actively shaped by their faith.  (Sure, a character might stop by a temple or take the name of a god in vain, but I rarely see characters who say, for instance, “I am going to do x” or “I am not going to do y because of my faith.”)  And in a world where no higher beings exist, or the characters don’t think those deities care about humans or intercede on their behalf, then heroes must rely on their own skills, their own determination, and the help of their friends or allies to succeed at their missions.

Tolkien’s heroes, however, believe that Iluvatar and the Valar will intercede on their behalf, maybe not directly, but enough that they can always have hope, even in the darkest of places.  After Tuor takes his armor, he goes out to the sea and receives a mission from that Vala Ulmo to journey to the hidden city of Gondolin and warn King Turgon that he must march against Morgoth, if there is to be a chance of defeating the Dark Lord.

Tuor is willing but a bit skeptical, and Ulmo tells him:

“If I choose to send thee, Tuor son of Huor, then believe not that they one sword is not worth the sending.”

Even when things go wrong, Tuor, like Frodo, can find solace in the fact that he was meant to undertake the journey.

Conclusion

So, while I initially began reading Tuor as oddly presumptive and arrogant, I quickly came around to the idea that his confidence is warranted; he has the guidance and love of higher powers who will help him on his journey.  That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard.  It doesn’t even mean the the journey will succeed.  It simply allows him to have faith in his own mission and his ability to do what must be done.

Briana

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth ed. by Catherine McIIwaine

Information

Goodreads: Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: July 2018

Summary

This collection features six essays on different aspects of Tolkien’s work (including his art, his invented languages, and his conception of Faerie) as well photographs of archival materials from the Bodleian Libraries and Marquette University.

Review

Published to coincide with a Tolkien exhibition at the Bodleian, this volume features six essays on different aspects of Tolkien’s work, ranging from his art to his language invention, as well as photographs of letters and archival material, each paired with a lengthy description expanding on the themes of the essays.  The essays may be primarily of interest to fans who have not yet read much on Tolkien’s life and work.  It is the photographs that truly make the book special.  Even well-read fans may know much of the material presented, but it is altogether a different experience to see the photographs, letters, drafts, and objects that have so often been referenced in other texts.

The book begins with six essays by various authors, most of whom will be recognizable as major Tolkien scholars. These essays range from Catherine McIlwaine’s biographical sketch to John Garth on the Inklings to Tom Shippey on Tolkien’s Northern influences.  In addition, Carl F. Hostetter writes on Tolkien’s Elvish languages, Veryln Flieger writes on Faerie, and Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull discuss Tolkien’s drawings and paintings.  The readability of each varies by author.  Personally, I found Garth’s and Shippey’s essays to be of the most interest, while I found Flieger’s prose style excruciating.  Readers could conceivably use these essays to determine whether they would like to read any of the authors’ longer works.  (I have made a mental note to avoid Flieger for the present.  Feel free to try to convince me otherwise.)

However, since I have read a good deal on Tolkien, most of the information contained in the essays was not new to me.  I thus enjoyed the book primarily for the pictures, which are organized thematically, so there are sections on Tolkien’s student days, his artwork, his maps, etc.  I did learn some new things in this part of the book, such as the fact that Tolkien experimented with Eastern-style art, that he did a series of abstract art pieces conveying feelings, and that he designed heraldic devices for some of his Elven characters.  In addition, I enjoyed being able to see such artifacts as Tolkien’s handwritten timeline showing where each of his characters were on any given day and the map he worked from while writing LotR.  The photographs are a Tolkien fan’s dream!

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth is an indispensable book for the Tolkien fan.  It comes in a large format that allows readers to see the details in the artwork and the handwriting in each artifact.  And it showcases an unusual amount of Tolkien’s paintings and drawings, as well as personal treasures such as family photographs, designs submitted by Tolkien for his book covers, and illustrations he wanted but was not able to get approved by his publishers.  It is a fine addition to any Tolkien collection.

5 stars

Master List of Tolkien Resources at Pages Unbound

To celebrate Hobbit Day, we are featuring some of past posts on all things J. R. R. Tolkien!  Below you will find book reviews, discussion posts, quizzes, and more!

Book Reviews

Books About Tolkien

Discussion Posts

Fun Features

Activity Posts

The Inklings

Authors Tolkien Read

Re-Examining the Women of The Lord of the Rings

I will not argue that Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings contains a wealth of women.  Goldberry, Galadriel, Rosie Cotton, Ioreth, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Arwen, Eowyn, and Shelob make up a total of eight female characters who appear in the work.  (I do not count named characters such as Elbereth or Lúthien who function more as references than as characters.) However, I do contest the well-worn arguments that Tolkien’s women are not valuable or interesting or that they do not count as meaningful characters “because they are only there to help the men” on their way. 

These claims ignore the rich history Tolkien gives his women and implicitly suggest that women can only be considered strong or worth talking about if they take on certain (traditionally masculine) roles.  That is, these claims suggest that Eowyn is Tolkien’s only significant female character in LotR because she is the only woman who takes up a sword to fight in battle.  But this standard of “strength” is never applied to Tolkien’s male characters. Tolkien’s men get to run the spectrum, to be warriors or not, intelligent or not, brave or not, good or not.  But, for some reason, Tolkien’s women cannot do the same and still receive respect from critics.   The call for “strong female characters” in Tolkien is often actually a demand that women conform to a one-size-fits all model.  And this demand is damaging because it denies women the opportunity to be simply human.

Furthermore, the argument that Tolkien’s women “don’t do anything” is absurdly reductionist.  If we are to make the argument that Goldberry is not significant to the plot, then we must admit that Tom Bombadil is not, either.  He is merely a side adventure on the Hobbit’s journey to Rivendell.  If we want to argue that Galadriel is present merely to bestow gifts and help the Fellowship on their way, then we must also argue that Elrond exists merely to dispense advice and send the Fellowship off.  If we criticize Rosie Cotton for being a boring Hobbit who does not do anything, well, we can probably make the same criticism of half the Shire.  But Tolkien’s male characters do not tend to receive these same types of criticisms.

To be clear, I am not arguing that women of LotR typically receive the same type of characterization as the bulk of the men.  I do not pretend that Arwen receives any significant page time in the story proper or that Ioreth has any sort of character arc.  I understand that Rosie Cotton has about one line and that Shelob is a spider and not necessarily a proper female character.  I readily admit that Eowyn receives the most significant page time and has one of the most fleshed out arcs of the women (though Galadriel’s redemption and Lobelia’s umbrella shaking both merit mention).  I am simply arguing that these women deserve a second look.

If we cannot imagine any meaning for Tolkien’s women or any reasons for their presence in the story other than to support the men, the fault is with our literary analysis, not with the work.  Consider a few examples.  Arwen’s connection with Lúthien, her decision to give up immortality, and her separation from her father and brothers all are worth consideration.  What does it mean for a third Elf and Man couple to appear in the Third Age?  How can we reconsider Arwen in light of her sacrifice and her later realization that death is more bitter than she imagined?  And Galadriel!  Various versions of her story exist.  Sometimes she rebelled against the Valar.  Sometimes she wants to rule a land of her own.  Sometimes she takes up arms against her own kin.  All before the events of the LotR.  But her previous history gives even more meaning to her final rejection of the One Ring and the power it represents.

And what about Goldberry?  If people can write papers about Tom Bombadil, about whom we know essentially nothing, why not a paper on his wife?  Surely scholars can find something to say about the presence of a river spirit in Tolkien’s work, possible influences and inspirations, and the significance of her presence when Tolkien did not have to give Bombadil a wife at all.  Why should we overlook her when people are so fond of her husband?  Even Ioreth, who plays a tiny comical role as a gossip, might have something said of her, her function in keeping lore and healing alive in Gondor, and her characterization.  Scholars have written papers on less.

The Lord of the Rings does have women (and The Silmarillion many, many more), though critics tend to write as if half of them do not exist.  And those women are interesting, though critics apparently can see nothing to admire about any of them except for Eowyn (and sometimes Galadriel).  Let us not pretend that The Lord of the Rings is less than it is.  Rather, let us use our imaginations and apply the same type of inquiry and interest so many people have evidently deemed only the male characters worthy to receive.  Because, if we do not, we are only revealing our own attitudes towards gender and about which types of women matter–and which do not.