Posts Tagged ‘Tolkien’

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

How did we communicate before email? Before SMS? Before faxes? While using a telephone was an expensive luxury? People wrote letters. Writing a personal letter is a great exercise for the mind, giving the opportunity to think and focus, and make visible the train of your thought. Those who loved their language probably wrote more than others. And for many it was customary to keep letters, for reference, or for cherishing. So while looking for clues about someone’s life over the first 70 years of the 20th century, one should look for their letters.

J.R.R. Tolkien had during his lifetime a massive correspondence. He constantly wrote to his family, employers, friends, and publishers. Some of them are collected in this book. Through his letters, we follow his life, as seen with Tolkien’s own eyes, from the small everyday events when writing to his friends and family, through the drafts of The Lord of the Rings while writing to his publishers, and even to religious musings or pure philosophy, when writing to his children in his elder days.

Many of the letters were found in draft form, or collected from their receivers. The collection is comprehensive, but of course not complete. Lots of letters are missing, and no one knows how many Tolkien ever wrote. From the known letters, this is of course also an edition, and the editors have focused on Tolkien’s life, and especially the occations that touched the legendarium, from which his most famous works arose.

For those interested in Tolkien’s life and the story of his books, this is pure silver, and specked with golden treasures, like these:

Got my head-harvest reaped: a big crop: still fertile soil, evidently (#63)

The vast sum om human courage is stupendous (#64)

Finnish nearly ruined my Hon. Mods, and was the original gem of the Silmarillion (#75)

I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argue is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce) (#89)

This university business of earning one’s living by teaching, delivering philological lectures, and daily attendance at ‘boards’ and other talk-meetings, interferes sadly with serious work. (#117)

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien is highly recommended reading. And if you get nothing else from this, at least I have learned, that taking time to write personal letters, is something I should do more often.

J.R.R Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings (BBC dramatization)

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Inspired by a tweet I’m unable to find at the moment, I listened to BBC’s excellent full-cast dramatization of The Lord of the Rings again, for the first time in 15 years or so. While there are some choices I find strange, like Aragorn’s voice and style for instance, this is still a mighty interpretation of Tolkien’s masterpiece. And it includes quite a bit of song and music too. The intro theme still fills me with anticipation for a new episode, and almost gives me goosebumps.

If you think the complete audiobook too massive, this variant of The Lord of the Rings is a highly recommended abridged variant.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

I read Unfinished Tales again. I should do so more often. It is a fantastic collection of writings, some in more finished form, some less, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s hand, collected, edited and commented by his son Christopher.

Here are the longest “raw” cuts of the story of Turin Túrambar, later fine edited and released as a separat work. Here is the touching story of Erendis, the unhappy wife of Aldarion, one of the mariner kings of Númenor, in almost Brontëan style. Here are essays on the wizards, the Istari, and of the seeing stones, the Palantíri. Here is the long version of the story that led Gandalf, Thorin Oakenshield and his 12 companions to Bilbo’s door, and the story of the hunt of the ring before Frodo set out from the Shire. In a footnote, we get the explanation of why it is said that Imrahil of Dol Amroth has some elven blood in his veins. In a moving part, we get the story of the oath of Eorl and Cirion. And we even get facts (though a bit confusing and partly contradicting) concerning Galadriel and Celeborn.

If you are a true fan of Tolkien’s works and legendarium, you probably have read Unfinished Tales already. If not, it’s high time.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

I read Tolkien’s “canon” every christmas, and while posting late, I managed to read through The Silmarillion this December too.

While reading The Silmarillion yearly, there are some passages that touches me more than others. Luthien’s rescue of Beren on Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Hurin’s last stand – Aure Entuluva! The killing of Beleg Cúthalion. Fingon finding Maedhros by song. But I am deepest moved by the Ainulindalë, the Song of the Ainur, that is, the creation of the World, simply because it is so beautiful.

God, Eru Ilúvatar, creates the The World, and not the Earth only, but the whole Universe. And how is this done? It is shaped by song. But he does not sing himself. He suggests a theme, and lets his Ainur sing in before him. He’s not even conducting. He sits back, and lets the Ainur sing, improvising in beautiful harmony, inspired by his thought. And when the song is finished, he says Ëa! – Let this be! And the World is created from the void, and the Ainur watches their song unfold in time and matter and space. This is probably the finest image of Tolkien’s idea of sub-creation, and of course, integrated in his own legendarium.

But wait, there is more. The mightiest and proudest of all the Ainur was Melkor, and he tries to turn his song to another theme, where his song stands out. The result is disharmony. But Illúvatar tells him that there is nothing Melkor can do, that has not its uttermost source from him. So when the World is created, there are valleys where there were sung mountains, cold winter where there were sung mild summer, and fires and heat where there were sung water and cool breezes. But thus, there were snowflakes and ice crystals, and there were clouds and rain. Ever more beauty is revealed from Melkor’s attempt to draw the song to himself.

Both Melkor and rest of the Ainur improvise with free will, and as real beauty comes from all the Ainur’s song, Evil also comes from Melkor’s fall from harmony. God did not want evil to be, but while it is often hard and cruel to the children of Ilúvatar – elves and men, afterwards it will have been good to have been, as God will make amends, and from it create more beauty in a better world.

While Tolkien seldom preaches the Christian gospel in his books, the problem of evil and the span between free will and God’s omnipotence, is seldom better discussed than in this text.

The heroes of The Lord of the Rings

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Every year around christmas, I read Tolkiens “canon”, that is The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. As earlier years, I’ve also this time tried to find a new angle or figure to watch closer. This year, let’s talk about heroes.

Who is the true hero of The Lord of the Rings. Frodo everybody yells at once, of course. Or Gandalf! Gandalf for president! – an american slogan from the sixties. Or even Aragorn, the high king returned.

I tend to disagree.

Of course, Frodo is the main character, the Ringbearer, our beloved protagonist, and the hero of the story, as he goes forward, constantly dodging dangers and all the time trying to avoid the lure of the Ring itself. But what does he do? (more…)

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit (or The Battle of Five Armies)

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

I read The Hobbit again, and this time aloud to the youngest of the kids. So now, I have to wait for grandchildren. The target for this reading was of course to complete it before watching final chapter of the Hobbit movie series, so they can proudly tell, when they grow older, of course I read the book before I saw the film.

So instead of adding a deeper analysis of this cozy children’s book, I’ll share some thoughts about the film.

First: I enjoyed the film. A lot. There are always many things that you would like to include, but I think on the whole, they kept as much of the real story as to keep at least some of the Tolkien purists content. Including myself. This is still quite a different story than The Hobbit, but the movie makers did what they had to do, I suspect.

The good:
I loved the dragon. Smaug, the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities, and his downfall was magnificent. The destruction of Lake Town and Bard’s shot was just great. Bard standing out as the real leader of the people of Esgaroth, and the heir of Dale, was heart-warming. I was again impressed by the immenseness of the halls of the Lonely Mountain. I actually enjoyed the fight of the White Council in Dol Guldur. I can even stomach the fight of Thorin and Azog. I of course loved the details of the costumes, the surroundings, the filming, all superb. I also enjoyed a lot of the action scenes, though Legolas doing a Mickey Mouse style run-up-falling-stones, was perhaps a bit too much. And the homecoming to Hobbiton, and building up the frame story was brilliant, though I missed the final visit from Gandalf and Balin.

The bad:
As in the previous movies, I hated the attempts to make comic relief based on plat jokes. The added figure Alfrid was on the whole unnecessary. There are enough comic points to fetch from the original story. Making up some coward dressing in drag to avoid battle, that’s not even funny.

Giant monster-worms eating rock? What? What?

Where was the good old thrush! As I lamented in the previous movie, it should be Bilbo that finds the weak point in Smaug’s armour, and the thrush retelling this to Bard, so he is able to slay the dragon. This makes Bilbo (again) the real hero of the original story. Why this point was neglected by the movie makers is hard to understand. It was used in The desolation of Smaug to build up the tension between Bard and the leaders of the city in Stephen Fry’s speech to the public, announcing a warm welcome to the dwarves, but still, this could easily be dealt with in other ways.

One of the most important parts of the battle in the original story was the eucatastrophe, when the Eagles and Beorn comes and turns the battle. That Beorn, this wild creature, and not overfond of dwarves, joins in on the dwarves’ side, wrecks havoc to the orc armies, and rescues Thorin from being hacked by the orcs of Bolg, is a major point. He goes from being a wild creature, at no one’s side, to being a chieftain of a woodland folk, joining in on the good side. Showing him for, what was it, 2.5 seconds, was a huge disappointment. Social media said it concisely, hashtag #blinkorbeorn.

Foul British language from a hog riding dwarf? Give me a break. Again, this is not funny (at least, not to my taste). Daín was a great leader of dwarves, and close kin to the kingship of Durin. Give him some credit, please.

The coldness of the king of the elves is strange to me. While it must be hard to him to watch the slaying of his folk by the orcs, suggesting to just give up and go away seems strange. The elves were valiant warriors, and should be in front of the battle, as their hatred for the orcs was cold and bitter. Also, the king’s attitude against Gandalf is strange. Gandalf was a long time friend of the wood-elves of Mirkwood, and surely, the king knew him well.

That thing about Legolas unable to go home after the battle did not give any meaning to me. Why was this so? One reason was of course his sorrow for Tauriel? But what more? For revenge? For lonely mourning? Please, we need more information here. And even much stranger was the comment from Thranduil, go check out this man called Strider. What?? Why? This may be just a silly attempt to bind the movie forward to the Lord of the Rings series but in the context it gave no meaning at all. I guess we will get the full meaning in the directors cut, when it hit the blue ray players in a year or three.

But all this are just details. What disappointed me most was the lack of character building. One of the really strong points in the original Hobbit, is Bilbo’s change. He starts out as a respectable Baggins, but listening to his Took genes, he joins in this wild adventure. In the end, it is his Baggins’ side, wanting to negotiate peace on simple financial Baggins style respectable terms. This joining his Took and Baggins personalities to a whole is almost completely missed. Similar, the only person that actually has a character change during the movie is Thorin, winning over the bewitchment of the treasure, and running to the help of his natural allies.

And finally, when Bilbo leaves the Mountain, what is there? No funerals. No consolidation of the peoples of wood, mountain, and town. No new king under the mountain. No coronation in Dale. Only a very, very few words from Balin, and then just a wave goodbye. I need more closure.

We saw The Battle of Five Armies in 2D. Sitting for several hours with 3D glasses gives me headache, and we also thought the impact would be lessened on the smaller of the kids (the Norwegian age limit was set to 11 years). So we missed all the fancy 3D stuff. When using 3D as much as they used in the previous films, the movie makers tend to loose, at least in my opinion, a lot of other story telling effects. Too close shots of faces because the 3D effect would disturb the dialog with wider shots. Dwelling on effects that turns the stomach of the viewers, instead of larger scenery. But perhaps I’m just old fashioned.

After six movies, I’m content that this was the final chapter of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adventures. If anyone should bring Tolkien to the big screen again, I hope it will be something completely different.

Tolkien Coffee mug project

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

kopper_på_rekke_3

A few months ago I set out to get a copy of one of the versions of The Hobbit that has Tolkien’s original illustations. After a bit of searching, I found an available copy of the 1962 swedish translation, Bilbo en hobbits äventyr. Some editions of that translation, at least the one I got, the 10th reprint from 1979, have the illustrations.

en_hobbits_äventyr

So now, I can enjoy my own private printed copy of these nice illustrations.

en_hobbits_äventyr_2

Another thought came to me. What about having these pictures on coffee mugs? I could have a complete set! (more…)

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Friday, April 18th, 2014

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J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Since it’s that time of the year again, I’m reading Tolkiens “canon”, that is The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. I always do around Christmas. I’m still moved by the creation of Ëa, the Earth, and of the many stories, I find The Tale of the Children of Húrin the most intriguing. The story variant in the Silmarillion is almost too short, and for those who want the longer version, I would recommend the standalone book The Children of Húrin.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Since it’s that time of the year again, I’m reading Tolkiens “canon”, that is The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. As earlier years, I’ve also this time tried to find a new angle or figure to scrutinize. This year, the turn has come to Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth.

Imrahil is a bit strange to me. His name would have another kind of etymology, I think. Imrahil sounds more Arabic-like (or Harad, if you like) than of Nùmenorean origin. And he’s too good to be true. Being but Denethor’s brother-in-law, he appears even more noble than Faramir!

When Imrahil first enters the story, he’s the bright hero warrier knight in his shining armour, on his white horse, and his soldiers are marching behind him singing. Wow! And through the story, he barely jumps from his high horse, and then either to save prince Faramir from certain death, or to find that Eowyn is still alive, (and thus saving her as well): ‘I deem she yet lives.’ And he held the bright-burnished vambrace that was upon his arm before her cold lips, and behold! a little mist was laid on it hardly to be seen. And when finally Aragorn is revealed as the heir of the throne of Gondor, Imrahil bows his head, and calls him his liege-lord.

What a man, what a hero, and he is even humble in all his glory. It’s almost too much. And he even has the looks; he is part elvish, according to Legolas: Legolas looked at him and bowed low; for he saw that here indeed was one who had elven-blood in his veins..

Stop. Brakes on. Part elvish? There’s something fishy here. Skipping forward to Appendix A, subchapter The Nùmenorean Kings, it is stated that there were only three unions of elves and men; Lúthien and Beren, Idril and Tuor, and Arwen and Aragorn. Of course, Imrahil could be of Nùmenorean race, but that doesn’t rhyme with the rest of Legolas encounter: It is long since the people of Nimrodel left the woodlands of Lórien, and yet still one may see that not all sailed from Amroth’s haven west over the water. And Imrahil answers: So is the lore of my land.

Now this is a little mystery. What’s the story about elves mingling with men in Dol Amroth? I thought I could remember having read something about that somewhere, but being unwilling to read my volumes of The History of Middle-Earth again, I humbled my pride, and searched the Internet. Wikipedia had the answer, of course. I’m obviously not the first to dig into this. The story is is found in a note in Unfinished Tales, in one of the variants of the founding of the line of Dol Amroth. It is shortly told that Mithrellas, a Silvan elf-lady of Nimrodel’s company became lost in the mountains, but was found and harboured by the Nùmenorean Imrazôr of Bel Falas, who wedded her. She bore him two children, a girl Gilmith and a boy Galador. Thus Nùmenorean blood was mingeled with Silvan elves, and the line of Dol Amroth was established. Shortly after, Mithrellas left, and was never heard of again. It is an, a bit sad story I think, and with Mithrellas leaving, not to say escaping, her wedding to Imrazôr is not mentioned by the “official” unions of elves and men – or it could just be one of the many discrepancies in Tolkien’s stories.