How Reading The Lord of the Rings Changed My Life (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

WHAT IS A CLASSIC THAT HAS CHANGED YOUR LIFE?

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How Reading The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien Changed My Life

I’m sure I’ve talked about this on the blog before, so this story may be familiar to some readers, but when I think about a classic, or simply any book, that changed my life there is only one that immediately comes to mind: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. There are other books I’ve liked and have read over and over, ones that have made me think about myself and the world in new ways, but in terms of actual, concrete changes to my life, The Lord the Rings is the only book that makes the cut.

I first read The Lord of the Rings in sixth grade, devouring the entire story in four days. From there, I dove into Tolkien scholarship (I was a weird kid, ok?) and started learning more about Tolkien’s academic background and his literary influences. Soon I was reading medieval literature like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and I loved that, too.

When I went to college, I took far more pre-1800 literature classes than the department intended (but it was allowed by the rules), and afterwards I entered an English literature PhD program, intending to specialize in medieval literature and become a professor (like Tolkien!). I eventually decided to leave the PhD program with my master’s degree, due to reasons largely related to academia as an institution and not due to any lack of love of the subject, so unfortunately I’m not going to live the dream of teaching the next generation of college students to think medieval romances are cool and Chaucer is actually readable if you try. However, my point is that my entire academic career (and other facets of my life that spun off from that, like whom I have been able to network with and what non-academic jobs I’ve gotten because of those networks) was influenced by the fact that I read The Lord of the Rings in sixth grade.

Briana

My Favorite Character in The Lord of the Rings (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS?

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I want to preface this by saying I’m not certain I have a favorite character from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There are a number of characters I like, including Eowyn, Faramir, and Legolas, and a number of characters I think are fascinating even if they might not be “my favorite.” (For example, see Krysta’s post on reconsidering Boromir.) However, for the sake of this post, I want to talk about why Aragorn has always been one of my favorite characters.

A lot of Tolkien scholarship extols the presence of hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, comparing them to the Everyman and suggesting that Frodo and company are what make the story really “relatable.” Hobbits are the small people with no particular power or previous role in great world events, yet their decisions, their perseverance, and their commitment to doing what is right are what drive the novel and help free all of Middle Earth from the evil of Sauron and the Ring. As Elrond states:

“This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?”

All this love for the importance of ordinary people means, however, that Aragorn often gets tossed to the side. Scholars–and general readers–sometimes think that Aragorn simply is not interesting: he’s a king, a skilled warrior, a leader, etc. Liking the “traditional hero” is just too obvious for them.

Well, I like traditional heroes.

I enjoy a good epic adventure, whether it’s an old story like Beowulf or a new fantasy like Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, and I love that Aragorn is a strong, admirable character who brings a sense of gravity to the novel. Sure, he’s not “relatable” because I will never be a monarch or a leader of an elite group of fighters or even a mysterious and forbidding character in a tavern, but the feeling that he’s a bit larger than life is what’s beautiful about him–and the book as a whole. He’s also something I think most of us would aspire to be: brave, confident, and wise. He’s willing to sacrifice everything to keep others safe, going so far as to lead what most think is a suicide mission to distract Sauron at the Black Gate so Frodo and Sam have a final chance to destroy the One Ring.

Dismissing Aragorn as some sort of run-of-the-mill hero type also does a disservice to the sadness that surrounds him. First, he has some personal sorrows. He is in exile from his own kingdom; though he does serve Gondor under a pseudonym, he spends years in the wild with the Rangers, protecting Middle Earth for little thanks. He’s also separated from the woman he loves, as Elrond will not give his blessing for Arwen and Aragorn to marry until Aragorn is king and “worthy.”

Second, he brings a sense of sorrow and things passing to the story as a whole. After Aragorn is crowned king (only after he is assured the people of Gondor desire his coronation), readers know he is essentially the last of his kind–the last truly great king of royal Númenórean descent. Although he has children, one gets the sense that Middle Earth has lost something awe-inspiring and beautiful when Aragorn dies. In another parallel with Beowulf, one can feel the passing of an age with the passing of a final great king.

Aragorn is a hero, yes, but labeling him one as if that explains everything about him and he is uninteresting as an individual character overlooks the complexity Tolkien weaves around him. Also, basically everyone in The Lord of the Rings ends up being a hero, and isn’t the exploration of heroism in many forms one of the things fans like about it?

Briana

10 Things I Wish the LotR Movies Had Not Changed (Extended Editions)

Tolkien Event 2020 banner

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts.


Over the years, I have enjoyed Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films many times. There is much to admire to them! However, there are a few changes the films made with which I do not agree. Here are a few.

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Faramir’s Characterization

Of all the changes Peter Jackson’s films make, Faramir’s characterization is my least favorite. In Tolkien’s story, Faramir serves as an image of what Bormomir might have been: a man who loves wisdom and goodness more than personal glory. Jackson, however, apparently to amp up the drama, makes Faramir into another Boromir, or perhaps something less. Because Faramir has daddy issues, he initially tries to send the Ring to Gondor to prove himself to his father, instead of doing what he knows in his heart is right–saving Gondor from itself by sending the Ring to its destruction. Faramir comes off as far more dishonorable and far less admirable in the films. But people need characters they can look up to, not only characters who show them their own weaknesses. And Boromir already did that, anyway.

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Treebeard’s Characterization

Like Faramir, Treebeard is portrayed as less admirable in the films. In the book, Treebeard knows Saruman is trouble and that he must be dealt with. In the films, Treebear initially decides the Ents must leave Middle-earth to its fate, until he is tricked by Merry and Pippin into discovering that Saruman has been chopping down his forest. The film makes Treebeard look both foolish (he does not know what is happening in his own forest) and selfish.

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Aragorn’s Characterization

Once again, Peter Jackson takes a character Tolkien portrays as noble and makes him conflicted in order to add more drama to the film. In Tolkien’s story, Aragorn knows he is a king and accepts his birthright. In the films, Aragorn is hesitant to take up his role and rejects the Sword That Was Broken. I do not see that this conflict adds much to the story since Aragorn accepts his kingship without much fuss in the end.

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Arwen and Aragorn’s Romance

I understand Jackson probably wanted to add some romance to his story since most of this occurs in the Appendices in Tolkien’s book. But, again, he adds superfluous drama in having Aragorn break up with Arwen. She keeps appearing to him in weird dream sequences, though, which is confusing–are they still a couple or not? Then Arwen just decides to up and leave Aragorn forever by going to the Grey Havens until she has a vision, which really just makes me thing less of her.

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Glorfindel’s Removal

I know many people wish Tolkien had written in more women, but Glorfindel is one of my favorite characters, so I am sad he was replaced by Arwen. Besides, the Arwen switch makes little sense when you consider how over-protective movie Elrond is. I seriously doubt he would let her leave Rivendell with Black Riders about.

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Theoden Looks Incompetent

In Tolkien’s story, Theoden is a respected king who leads his people well in the end. However, in the movie, he is portrayed as incompetent and foolish. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli apparently know better than he does how to rule his people and organize his military resistance, and they are not shy about telling him to his face that going to Helm’s Deep is a stupid idea. Why they think Edoras is more defensible, however, I do not know. It certainly does not look to me like Edoras could withstand an attack by 10,000 orcs. The movie does not address this contradiction, however. It really just wants to play up the drama by having people repeatedly stress that Theoden is leading his people to doom.

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The Rohirrim Can’t Tame Their Own Horses

In one random scene, the Rohirrim are shown unable to tame one of their own horses, even though they are known as Horse-masters. Aragorn, however, is perfect and therefore able to calm the horse for the Rohirrim. This makes no sense. It just feels like the film is invested by this point in making the Rohirrim look stupid so Aragorn can look awesome in contrast.

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The Gondorians (and Faramir) Beat Smeagol

I find it difficult to believe that Faramir would beat up Smeagol to get information from him, or that he would allow his men to do so. They are supposed to be wise, descended from the Numenoreans. Yet, in the movie, they are shown to be comfortable with beating up defenseless, starved prisoners. It really seems like Jackson does not want audiences to like Faramir.

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Sam Leaves Frodo

Sam would never leave Frodo, even if Frodo commanded it. This is just a fact.

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No Scouring of the Shire

I know the movies were already pretty long and putting an ending on the ending, as it were, might have confused movie goers. But the Scouring of the Shire just feels thematically important. You can’t go home and find it all unchanged.

J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter (Guest Post by Jackie)

Tolkien Event 2020 banner

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts


Information

Goodreads:J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter 
Pages: 288 
Original Publication Date: 1977 
Source: Library; Paperback 

Review

While this is only my second year participating in the Tolkien Reading Event at Pages Unbound, it has become a great point of joy each year. My relationship with the life and work of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is sophomoric at best. Being able to participate in this event challenges me to learn more and deepen my understanding of, what I have come to learn, is a complex man with a brilliant mind.  To better understand the origins of Tolkien’s works, I picked up his authorized biography upon the recommendation of Kim @ Traveling in Books. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography was not a disappointment. 

Carpenter’s biography is written in eight parts with four appendices. When I first saw this, I admit, I was a bit intimidated! Once I slipped into the pages, I found J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography to be welcoming and engaging. Carpenter’s prose is clear and, at times, even conversational. I found myself easily getting lost in the details of Tolkien’s life. Carpenter offers a depth of detail into Tolkien’s life I found refreshing. Never once is Tolkien elevated beyond the status of merely a scholastic man. Carpenter doesn’t shy away from displaying the faults and flaws of Tolkien’s life, but never does he lay judgment either. I found that the picture of J.R.R. Tolkien I developed demonstrated a fully-realized man. Exactly how a good biographer should present a subject who looms so large in fantasy literature. 

I found the format quite to my liking. The parts flow chronologically, but within each part, Carpenter isn’t afraid to jump around a bit in time to provide a holistic view of defining moments in Tolkien’s life. For example, Parts 4 and 5 both cover the years 1925-1949, years where Tolkien was a professor at Oxford and crafted both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Part 4 explores the people Tolkien was close to at this time, including C.S. Lewis, and how his lifestyle routine established Tolkien as a scholar, father, and friend. But Part 5 digs deeper in those years and pulls out the moments where Bilbo Baggins came to life. Tolkien’s life is so much more than the mythos he developed in his most well-known novels. 

My favorite part of reading J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography was learning to understand Tolkien the man, the scholar, the father, the friend, and the author. Carpenter presents a man who is all these at once; no facet can be separated from the others without diminishing Tolkien. While reading, I felt like I was watching a tapestry being crafted. Moments from Tolkien’s childhood, such as his time living in Sarehole, and moments from the war, such as walking past dead and bloated corpses in the trenches, came back clearly as Bag End and the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Carpenter masterfully connected moments of Tolkien’s life together to help the reader understand how engrained this mythos Tolkien created was to him. The development of languages, the myths of the First and Second age, all these percolated in Tolkien’s mind for years before Bilbo’s and Frodo’s stories came out. 

I cannot believe how Tolkien brought all his passions and his scholarship together in such a magical way. Having read this biography, I will now read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with new eyes. Eyes which will see further, read deeper, and perhaps finally begin to truly understand what this mythos means both in context and to the literary world as a whole. Highly recommended. 

What do you think? 

  • Have you read J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography? What do you think of this book? 
  • What other Tolkien or Tolkien-adjacent non-fiction do you recommend people read to gain a deeper understanding of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
  • Tolkien held a strong opinion “that the investigation of an author’s life reveals very little of the workings of his mind” (pg. 127). Do you agree with this? Why or why not?
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About the Author

Jackie B. writes about books, book clubs, and other bookish things on Death by Tsundoku (www.deathbytsundoku.com). A passionate bibliophile, Jackie B. is an extroverted interpersonal learner who can’t stop talking about books. Unable to find enough outlets for her literary passion, she turned to blogging. By day, Jackie B. works as a corporate adult educator, continuous improvement consultant, and community musician. By night, she can be found with her “blanket and juice” [i.e. heated blanket and a bottle of wine] curled up in some corner of the house with a good book… or eight.

History Repeats Itself: Tolkien’s Primary Villains (Guest Post by Mary Drover)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


We all know and fear the story of Sauron, master of the One Ring.  He’s often depicted as a physically massive, all-powerful being that takes many forms, as well as shrouded in shadow and made to look like the monster under our beds.  He is a terrifyingly well-done villain because of that—we fear him because he represents all of our darkest nightmares.  And while Tolkien does an excellent job of assuaging those fears by giving the ability to defeat this horror to the smallest of his characters, he’s also already told this story before we ever meet Sauron.  For Sauron was not just born evil—he was carefully curated.

Taking it back all the way to the First Age, before Frodo and the Ring, before Elves and Men hated each other, before war was even a thought, there was Melkor.  Perhaps Tolkien’s most powerful villain, Melkor was also not born evil, though everything that followed—including Sauron’s ascent to power—could have been avoided if he’d maybe talked to someone about the issues he was facing instead of declaring war against all of Arda.

For a time, Melkor was nothing more than one of many.  He toiled away at his work like his brethren, enjoyed being among his family, and generally led a quiet life.  However, in a very Biblical way, Melkor had questions.  Thoughts of his own.  Desires and dreams that he wished to fulfill.  And when he began seeking answers, those he had considered friends and family began to turn against him.  Melkor, enraged at the impossibility of individuality, lashed out.  He decided that he would strike out on his own and seek revenge against those who had tried to silence him.

From there, his story is that of most villain origin stories.  After he took the land that would become Angband, his terrible and evil dominion, Melkor sought his revenge.  After destroying all light in the world, stealing the most precious jewels ever made, and killing the high king of elves, Tolkien gifts Melkor with a name change:

“Then Fëanor rose, and lifting up his hand before Manwë he cursed Melkor, named him Morgoth, the Black Foe of the World; and by that name only was he known to the Eldar ever after.”

–       The Silmarillion, QS Ch 9, Of the Flight of the Noldor

Morgoth then goes on to seek his revenge via war, and the whole world is in turmoil.  Morgoth is, arguably, Tolkien’s most powerful villain.  Even when he is eventually defeated, the most they can do to him is banish him from the world.  He is so powerful that killing him is impossible; so powerful, even, that his legend continues to live on.

However, in this villain origin story, Melkor’s name can easily be replaced with Mairon’s, the man Sauron was before.  Mairon, though considerably less powerful than Morgoth, was still respected for his prowess as a smith, and he drew attention to himself via that skill.  Attention that even Morgoth could not ignore, for he started to slip back into his old home to see what all the fuss was about.

Melkor made decisions that directed him straight on his path toward becoming Morgoth.  Mairon, arguably, did the same thing on his path toward becoming Sauron.  Mairon led a life very similar to Melkor’s—it was quiet, surrounded by friends and family, and centered on his work as a smith.  He had questions and doubts, but he kept them mostly to himself until Morgoth stepped into his life.  Morgoth had come to his answers on his own, and he readily shared them with Mairon, who was still malleable.  Mairon saw not the Black Foe of the World, but someone he had grown up revering.  This was Melkor, someone so powerful that all of Arda feared him, and Mairon willingly gave his service to him:

“Among those of his servants that have names the greatest was that spirit whom the Eldar called Sauron, or Gorthaur the Cruel.”

–       The SilmarillionValaquenta

From the beginning, Mairon and Melkor’s stories are very similar, and as they progress, so do the similarities.  As they become, respectively, Sauron and Morgoth, their paths continually intertwine and echo one another.  They are two individual characters, yes, but they represent much of the same.

Though Sauron became Morgoth’s commander in his war against all of Arda, the arc of their characters continued to reflect one another.  Morgoth stole the Silmarils, the most exquisite jewels ever created, and fastened them to his crown so that he might always be with them.  Sauron, hungry for power, created the Nine Rings, but secretly created one for himself, as well, that he might wear on his finger and keep with him always.  Morgoth stole into Mairon’s heart using the breadth of his power and legend, and Sauron deceived the elves with his beauty and wonder to help him forge the rings.

Even their physical places of power are similar to one another.  Angband, Morgoth’s central base, is deeply entrenched in mountains and difficult to enter.  Mordor, Sauron’s eventual lair, is pitted inside a crater of mountains and massive stone walls.  They each hide themselves behind formidable soldiers like balrogs and orcs, dragons and Ringwraiths.  They seek out servants in the hearts of men, humans they know are susceptible to their wicked ways, and slowly eke out their power throughout the world.

They say history repeats itself, and in Tolkien’s legendarium, there is nothing truer.  The world of Arda might have learned from its mistakes in the great war against Morgoth, but instead, it allowed Sauron to seek power, to gain a throne, to prove himself worthy of his mentor.  Perhaps the only difference between Morgoth and Sauron, then, is that Sauron is defeated.  Eventually, he is killed, and peace comes to Arda.  And while Sauron’s legend lies in ruin, Morgoth is still waiting on the fringes of existence, banished, but not gone.

The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings have widely different fan bases and received vastly different responses when they were published.  For decades, it seemed The Silmarillion might never see the light of day, and even when it did, it was still The Lord of the Rings that struck people to the core.  The defeat of Sauron from a small, unlikely hero is something that will always stand out in Tolkien’s legendarium.  It is, perhaps, because Morgoth was never defeated by a single small, unlikely hero, but many, that he is forgotten and ignored.  But the defeat of Sauron might never have been possible without the rise of Morgoth, and the two are inextricably linked.

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About the Author

Mary Drover finds adventure along the New England coastline, deep in the White Mountains, and always on a yoga mat. She spends her days in an office, her nights drinking tea, and all the in-between moments snuggling her sister cats or writing about magic, pirates, witches, faeries, planets, and romance. She has a BFA in Creative Writing & a BA in English from the University of Maine at Farmington, practices Tibetan Buddhism, has too many candles, and cannot stop buying crystals or plants. She is a registered yoga teacher, a sorted Gryffindor, and a part-time witch. Visit her at marydrover.com.

Tolkien's Lost Chaucer by John M. Bowers

Information

Goodreads: Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: December 3, 2019

Official Summary

Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer uncovers the story of an unpublished and previously unknown book by the author of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien worked between 1922 and 1928 on his Clarendon edition Selections from Chaucer’s Poetry and Prose, and though never completed, its 160 pages of commentary reveals much of his thinking about language and storytelling when he was still at the threshold of his career as an epoch-making writer of fantasy literature. Drawing upon other new materials such as his edition of the Reeve’s Tale and his Oxford lectures on the Pardoner’s Tale, this book reveals Chaucer as a major influence upon Tolkien’s literary imagination.

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Review

Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer is a fascinating look at a book most people–even during Tolkien’s lifetime–had no idea he was working on, a student edition with selections from Geoffrey Chaucer’s works which Tolkien was to gloss and provide notes for. A co-editor would provide the introduction. Bowers work helps position Tolkien as a scholar who was not only interested in Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic literature but also a Chaucerian who was deeply familiar with Chaucer’s work and could even recite some of The Canterbury Tales from memory. This sheds new light on Tolkien as a reader and an academic and on Tolkien’s own fiction and ways it might have been influenced by Chaucer.

The beginning of the book provides a detailed look at the history of the student edition of Chaucer–how it came about, how Tolkien was chosen to work on it, what work he did (or did not) complete for it, what happened to the manuscripts and notes, etc. This is interesting if one wants to know how Tolkien could have done significant work on Chaucer that basically no one knew about or discussed, and it gives a decent portrayal of Tolkien as a scholar–someone who was incredibly thorough, often at the expense of actually finishing things. (There’s probably a whole conversation to be had about academia in general here, to be honest, as Tolkien is compared to scholars who were more well-known and prolific but admitted to just kind of moving on if they weren’t certain about something in what they were working on, instead of trying to figure it out.)

Personally, I was more interested in the next section of the book, which gives an overview of what Tolkien had drafted for his glosses and notes. This section does require the reader have a working knowledge of Chaucer’s “minor” poems, as no summaries are provided, but if you are familiar with the texts Tolkien was commenting on, it’s fascinating to see his thoughts. Bowers also notes where Tolkien’s opinions or commentary is different from other Chaucer scholars’ views–and how much over his page limit for the manuscript his notes extended, as he delved deep into the history of certain words. (The book also emphasizes that Tolkien as a scholar and lecturer was very much a philologist commenting on individual words in individual lines, rather than making general arguments about literature–interesting, as he clearly had a profound understanding of literature and would have been able to analyze it in a lecture.)

Finally, Bowers explores how Tolkien’s familiarity with Chaucer might have influenced his own writing, including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. “Tolkien’s sources” is, of course, a favorite topic for Tolkien scholars, who have compared Gandalf to Odin, noted that a cup is stolen from a dragon hoard in both Beowulf and The Hobbit, etc., so it’s no surprise people would want to know what Tolkien might have “taken” from Chaucer. In many places, Bowers’s arguments are convincing, and one can definitely imagine Tolkien reading a scene or seeing a theme in Chaucer and having it in the back of his mind somewhere. At times, however, Bowers seems to be stretching. For instance, there are cases where I wonder if Tolkien was influenced by Chaucer…or just medieval literature in general, which of course is notorious for reworking and recycling various themes, characters, plots, and so forth. There are also times where I would argue Tolkien was probably not “influenced” by much of anything. Can one really argue that the fact Dwarves arrive at Bilbo’s house in discrete groups in The Hobbit is somehow related to the fact that the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales show up in different-sized groups? I think not.

Overall, however, Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer is an excellent, clearly well-researched book that will help Tolkien scholars and fans see the author and his work in a new light and remind them that, as a medievalist, he was actually familiar with works written after the Anglo-Saxon period.

Briana
5 stars

Tolkien at Exeter College by John Garth

Tolkien Event 2020 banner

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


Tolkien at Exeter College

Information

Goodreads: Tolkien at Exeter College
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Summary

John Garth provides in-depth biographical detail about J. R. R. Tolkien’s undergrad years at Exeter College.

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Review

At 64 pages and bound more like a brochure than a book, Tolkien at Exeter College is a concise overview of J. R. R. Tolkien’s undergrad years, perfect for those readers who always long to know more about one of their literary heroes. It works as a supplement to John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War, which focuses on how WWI shaped Tolkien’s literary works, and so does not dwell at length on Tolkien’s time in school. The stories of Tolkien’s undergrad social life are amusing, but the wealth of images, including sketches by Tolkien, will be the key attraction for many Tolkien fans.

Because Tolkien at Exeter College focuses on only a few year’s in the author’s life, the book admittedly may not be for casual Tolkien fans. They may want to start with a book like Humphrey Carpenter’s biography, which attempts to cover Tolkien’s entire life, or with Garth’s own Tolkien and the Great War, which combines biography with astute literary analysis. However, for those who already know a good deal about Tolkien’s life, but always wondered more about his early days, Tolkien at Exeter College is a treasure indeed.

The focus here is not really on Tolkien’s authorial development, although some of his sketches, as well as some of his writings for his school’s clubs are included. Notable is his account of a meeting that he recounts in a satirical manner, as if it were an epic battle. But readers should not hope to find much about Middle-earth or Hobbits here. That is largely in the future. Rather, they can enjoy learning more about Tolkien’s personality–he really more sociable, and more wild, than the famous photo of him smoking a pipe in his older years might suggest.

Tolkien at Exeter College will be welcomed by any reader who can never get enough of Tolkien. It deals with a small interlude in Tolkien’s life, but the detail it uncovers is precisely the kind treasured by avid fans. John Garth does an excellent job of drawing attention to a period in Tolkien’s life that not all biographers are interested in addressing, more concerned as they are with Tolkien’s work on Midlde-earth.

4 stars

The Most Impactful Scenes from Tolkien

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Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! See the full schedule of posts here.

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The Most Impactful Scenes from the Works of JRR Tolkien

We asked our followers:

What do you think one of the most impactful or moving scenes from Tolkien’s work is? Why?


Sammie @ The Writerly Way

I read Tolkien when I was around 11, but “The Ent and the Entwife” always just hit home for me. So much so that I memorized it right after reading it. I was really big into poetry at that point, so I loved the structure and flow of the poem in itself, but if you sit back and really think about the content? And the fact that it’s been so long since the Ents have seen any Entwives? It’s absolutely heartbreaking. I could totally relate to wanting someone to come back and having them be completely lost to you. The overall story in Lord of the Rings felt like one that brought you to the brink of despair and tested your hope, but never truly extinguished it. But for the Ents and Entwives? It never felt like there was any hope. Just regret and longing. Somewhere along the way, they had lost the compromise the poem promised, by being unyielding and stubborn. And that was why it stood out so much against the rest of the story: because it seemed like there was never any chance for a happy ending.

Krysta @ Pages Unbound

Sam’s discovery of Frodo’s paralyzed body in Cirith Ungol moves me every time. Sam sees himself primarily as a servant, one whose role is to help his master succeed. When he sees Frodo lying seemingly dead, Sam believes that he has failed. So accustomed to seeing himself as a helper rather than a hero, Sam does not even know what he should do. Surely he is not good enough, not brave enough, not strong enough to take up the Ring and destroy it himself. But, finally, he decides to do so, reasoning that there is no one left to finish the Quest. Sam possesses such humility, he needs to give himself permission to take up Frodo’s burden. There is, for him, never a question of whether he should turn back because he is scared–only whether he would be “putting himself forward” taking on great matters all alone. But he knows the right thing and he is willing to do it, no matter the cost.

Notably, once Sam realizes that Frodo is not dead, but only paralyzed, he immediately knows his new path: he has to save Frodo. His love for Mr. Frodo is so great that Sam becomes, after Bilbo, the only person to wear the Ring and then willingly give it up. Sam understands that he does not need world domination. To be happy, he only needs a bit of garden to call his own and his own two hands. Sam’s great humility and great love always stand to me in these scenes. They are the two qualities that make him the true hero of the story.

Anonymous

(based on the movie) I usually find the end of The Return of the King the most moving, especially after watching all three films in a row. I haven’t finished reading the book, yet, but expect the feeling would be the same. You kind of feel like you’ve made the whole journey along with the Fellowship, and the sense of reaching the journey’s end seems like something you share with the characters. I also like the scene where Aragorn tells the Hobbits, “My friends, you bow to no one.” He is one of the most powerful and respected people in the land, and he is acknowledging their service. And that is a moving thing to witness.

Why The Fellowship of the Ring is Worth Reading (Guest Post by Elli @ NeedtoRead)

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Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

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Why The Fellowship of the Ring Is Worth Reading

A beautifully-written book about wizards, elves, hobbits, and a treacherous journey to save the world.

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure, Fiction

Summary

The One Ring holds a power that could destroy their entire civilization, if it gets back to its master. The only way to stop it is to destroy it. But doing so isn’t as easy as it sounds. The adventure starts with two hobbits, Frodo and Sam, who set off on an journey to bring the One Ring to Mount Doom in Mordor, the only place where it can be destroyed.


When I first decided to read The Fellowship of the Ring, I was intimidated.

I’d tried reading the book before, but it always took so long to get through the beginning. I also had other books that I wanted/needed to read, and I thought that The Fellowship of the Ring wasn’t worth my time.

But a few weeks ago I decided that I was going to commit to reading it. I wasn’t going to read anything else until I finished it, and I was going to push through the boredom no matter how much I wanted to stop.

Now I realize that I was wrong: reading The Fellowship of the Ring was definitely worth it.

From the beginning of the book, the reader’s attention is grabbed. You right away become interested in Bilbo and Frodo, the most mysterious hobbits in the Shire. Frodo was an orphan when he was taken in by Bilbo, and they both share a love for adventure that most hobbits don’t have.

But something fishy is going on; it seems that Bilbo’s Eleventy-First (One Hundred and Eleventh) birthday party is going to be different from the usual. At the end, Bilbo disappears into thin air while giving a speech.

Frodo is left with Bilbo’s Ring,and doesn’t know how much power it holds until years later, when the wizard Gandalf tells him of its magic and what danger Frodo is in while he has it.

You are introduced to many different characters, many of whom have a bigger part in the story within the next two books, in addition to their roles in the first one. The Fellowship is comprised of Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry the hobbits, Gimli the dwarf, Legolas the elf, Boromir and Aragorn the men, and Gandalf the wizard.

Sam Gamgee is the most lovable character, in my opinion. He vows to follow Frodo wherever he may go and is always by Frodo’s side as a loyal friend and companion.

The hobbits are underestimated because of their size, but they show true signs of bravery when the Fellowship is in peril. All four of them, especially Frodo, grow and mature as time goes on.

I know that I said this book is overly-descriptive, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You are able to imagine settings in immense detail, as if you were there yourself. You can almost feel the grass under your feet and hear the trees swaying in the wind.

There’s something beautiful about the way it’s written, a sense of adventure that keeps readers turning the pages. After reading it, I decided to watch the movie again, as well, which is also definitely worth watching (if you haven’t already).

There is a lot of plain walking around and background information given in this book, since the journey to Mount Doom is just beginning. But you have to get through it to be able to experience more action in the next two books.

Though it is slow-moving, The Fellowship of the Ring is a great start to The Lord of the Rings. If you are a Tolkien fan and haven’t read it yet, then I highly recommend starting it today.

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About the Author

Elli is a Canadian blogger who wants to share her love of writing and literature by posting about books on her blog, NeedtoRead. She enjoys reading through Pages Unbound reviews, and wants to contribute to their Tolkien event by writing one herself.

Defending Middle-Earth by Patrick Curry

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


Information

Goodreads: Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1997

Official Summary

What are millions of readers all over the world getting out of reading The Lord of the Rings? Newly reissued with a new afterword, Patrick Curry’s Defending Middle-earth argues, in part, that Tolkien has found a way to provide something close to spirit in a secular age. His focus is on three main aspects of Tolkien’s fiction: the social and political structure of Middle-earth and how the varying cultures within it find common cause in the face of a shared threat; the nature and ecology of Middle-earth and how what we think of as the natural world joins the battle against mindless, mechanized destruction; and the spirituality and ethics of Middle-earth, for which Curry provides a particularly insightful and resonant examination that will deepen the understanding of the millions of fans who have taken The Lord of the Rings to heart. 

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Review

Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity by Patrick Curry is a classic in the world of Tolkien scholarship, so I find it somewhat surprising I haven’t read it before now.  Perhaps on some level I don’t feel that Middle-earth needs defending; I love The Lord of the Rings and have ideas about why I do and why other people do.  However, finally reading Defending Middle-Earth has sparked some more reflection in me about why other people love Tolkien’s work and why it continues to resonate with readers year after year.

To be fair, the book was published in 1997 and revised in 2004, so it can feel a bit dated at times (I think some of the disgruntled Goodreads reviews are a reaction to this).  This is both in regards to the real-world examples Curry gives about how Tolkien’s work can be applicable to our own lives and to the positioning of the scholarship.  For instance, although there certainly are still academics today who disdain genre fiction, fantasy, and Tolkien’s work in particular, I think the tide has generally changed and the idea that “scholars don’t take fantasy seriously” is today a bit overblown.  University students can take classes on everything from zombie books to children’s literature.  PhD students can specialize in science fiction.  An incredible amount of serious work has been published on Tolkien alone.  So while Middle-earth might need defending to certain people, I think some of the contempt that Curry was responding to at the time of original publication is much less of an issue today.

Nonetheless, the general scope of Curry’s analysis of what makes Tolkien’s work popular and beloved feels timeless.  He focuses on three main categories: the social, the natural, and the spiritual.  One might reductively say this is about the sense of community in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s obvious love of nature, and the clear sense that there is some spiritual meaning in the world of Middle-earth, even as Tolkien’s books rarely overtly mention anything resembling religion.  Curry, of course, goes much more in-depth on these topics, drawing on scholarship and literary theory and even touching on broad topics like why fantasy or myth might resonate with readers in general.  The result is thought-provoking, even if a reader does not agree with all of Curry’s points.

If you’re a Tolkien fan who wants to think more about The Lord of the Rings and the general question of “why people like this stuff,” Defending Middle-Earth is worth a read.

Briana