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 Post subject: Foreword, Prologue, etc.
PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2008 9:59 pm 
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Okay, here we go. :) Before we get to the text itself, I think it would be worthwhile to take a look at the front material, particularly the important Prologue.

I am excited about this reading because it will be the first time that I will be reading The Lord of the Rings as a single volume, rather than as three volumes of one book. As I think I mentioned before, I purchased the 50th anniversary one-volume edition in order to standardize citations to LOTR in my book. But this is the first time that I will actually be reading through that volume. In addition to the Prologue, and the well-known "Foreword to the Second Edition" this edition also has two additional briefs texts as part of its front matter. The first is a "Note on the Text" written in May of 2004 by Douglas Anderson, which details the complicated history of the text of the book after it was completed by Tolkien, and how so many errors ended up finding their way into the text. Anderson also makes a pitch for the value of studying the HoME volumes dealing with the history of LOTR, and I agree with Alatar that it would be interesting to comment on the drafts contained in those books where relevant. The second additional text is a "Note on the 50th Anniversary Edition" written also in May 2004 by Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond, detail their efforts to correct those errors and gain consistency for this 50th anniversary edition. They also reference their then-upcoming Reader's Guide to LOTR, another text that I think will be helpful to reference at times in this discussion. To my knowledge, Alatar is the only other person of those who have thus far expressed interest in participating in this discussion who has this reference book, and so I will try to make any references to it understandable to those who don't have it. But it certainly worth having. I am looking forward to using this read and discussion as an opportunity to take a closer look at it.

The "Foreword to the Second Edition" is probably the first thing that most of us read when we first read LOTR (I doubt that too many people go back to the original first edition). It has always moved me. The opening words really set the tone for the whole work remarkably well

This tale grew in the telling, until it became a history of the Great War of the Ring and included many glimpses of the yet more ancient history that preceded it.

This short statement says so much about the work. I love the "grew in the telling"; it says both that this is a big story, and it also says something about its creation: that it was so much invented by the author, as discovered by him. And it tells us that it is a story about war (really about death), which is critical information. Most importantly, this opening statement presages the depth that makes LOTR so compelling. Tolkien talks a little bit in the following paragraphs about how he wanted to return to his mythology after The Hobbit was published, but after being convinced that there was no chance of publishing that mythology, turned back to the sequel to The Hobbit, only to find the mythology creeping into the new story more and more, and shaping it. Those glimpses of the "yet more ancient history that preceded it is really one of the main keys to the success of The Lord of the Rings, as Tom Shippey describes so well.

Tolkien goes on to describe a bit of the history of the writing of the work, and includes his famous statement about his dislike of allegory and his preference for history, real or feigned. While I don't question the sincerity of this statement, and the fact that the basic tenor of the story was set before WWII even began, it can not be denied that The Lord of the Rings is a timely book; one which (to use Tolkien's word) is tremendously applicable to its time.

And to our time.

Moving on to the Prologue, I'm only going to make brief comments right now. The Prologue has four sections, Concerning Hobbits, Concerning Pipe-weed, Of the Ordering of the Shire, and Of the Finding of the Ring, plus a NOTE ON THE SHIRE RECORDS. To me the importance of the Prologue is mostly that it provides a door to enter into the world of Middle-earth, before stepping fully inside. It is not so much what it says (although it does contain some important information), but more how it is said that is important. I no many people skip this opening portion (and even the opening chapters) but to me it is critical for me to walk through this door before going inside.


Last edited by Voronwë the Faithful on Tue Jul 01, 2008 9:39 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2008 10:10 pm 
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V, you've inspired me to buy the 50th anniversary edition with your first post.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 05, 2008 10:11 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 4:11 am 
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For the record, at least one of us did read it first in the First Edition. :D Now I just have to decide which of my three sets I'll read this time.

For me, the Prologue served the important function of making Middle Earth seem more real. It had history. It had beings with their own traditions that seemed akin to ours yet strange. Like the maps, the Prologue gave a solidity to the tale before I even plunged into it.


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 5:43 am 
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I love the Forward because I love reading Tolkien's voice.

I think I knew that forty years ago, when I read it for the first time, even though I had no idea who this man was. I liked him, the stuffy old codger.

I had just turned sixteen, and during the same week that I began reading LOTR, I had watched the events of the Democratic Convention unfold, first with indignation, and then with revulsion. Those were the times, and that was my age, and I still liked the voice of this tweedy Oxford professor.

Tolkien wrote:
"The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them."


And I guess that's why there are so many of us gathered here, ready to discuss this wonder of a tale.

I'm very much looking forward to the conversation! :horse:

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 6:29 am 
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Voronwë wrote:
The opening words really set the tone for the whole work remarkably well

This tale grew in the telling, until it became a history of the Great War of the Ring and included many glimpses of the yet more ancient history that preceded it.

I couldn't agree more, Voronwë. I think the syntax of this sentence, and so many of Tolkien's sentences, is just marvelous.

I have to admit to a slight impatience as I read through the Foreword and Prologue, but I think that's because I'm so eager to get going with the story (knowing the delights that lie ahead).

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 12:17 pm 
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This is so funny, in a sepia-toned, nostalgic sort of way: I am picking up a virtual book (absolutely covered with virtual dust) in which I long ago wrote about another, not-virtual book, which was also, in the copy I had before me, very very very worn. Very loved.

The movies themselves are ancient history now -- it seems quaint to be referring to them (in my old virtual book). But they helped me read the words of the not-virtual book with new eyes, so they had their role to play.

Some other Teremia, long ago, wrote:
.....Ah, here we are. No cover on this old paperback, and the page with the author's foreword is gone, but decay has stopped there, thus far, leaving the Contents and the Maps intact. I turn to the

Prologue
The first thing that strikes me, now rereading "Concerning Hobbits," is how small they are! Between two and four feet tall, and rather shy of "big folk" (which has always made me think "like leprechauns," though fortunately the thought fades very fast). One post-movie effect I notice is that hobbits have grown taller in my mind. Notice how in ROTK there was much less effort put into maintaining the size differential between hobbit and man? Once that was (so skillfully) established in FOTR, we were rather left to our own imaginations in that regard (except for occasional shots with the stand-ins, who tended to hold themselves too still). But as I pick up the book again, the hobbits begin to shrink. By the way, "According to the Red Book, Bandobras Took (Bullroarer), son of Isengrim the Second, was four foot five and able to ride a horse." Speaking of dead horses, especially the well-beaten kind, here's where Mr. Jackson is more of a purist than Tolkien -- he knew it would look apocryphal to send Frodo off to the Fords on a horse!

The other odd thing about the Prologue is how much history even hobbits have. All those migrations and dynasties and Dark Plagues and Days of Dearth! Somehow, history seems to belong to big people in the films, and the book-hobbits themselves, I suppose, live in the hope of being "post-historical" -- a hope that is dashed by Bilbo's theft of that ring.

I was always a little discouraged by the Prologue and the "Note on the Shire Records," as a child. It seemed a cold thing to be hearing about the academic research of Meriadoc Brandybuck in later years, or about the final exit of the elves. But that very background of loss is something (as people have noted in various threads recently) which the movies play down. They don't want us always thinking: the magic is leaving -- the magic, no matter what happens, is going to leave! As a kid, I very much agreed that magic leaving is such a terrible thought that we'd better just not talk about it, if that was the way it had to be....

On to "A Long-Expected Party" next, though perhaps that is really where one should (in the spirit of childhood) have begun in the first place!


I am still moved by the thought that the magic, no matter what happens, is going to leave! Haven't lost my hope for magic to find a toehold in the world, a place it could curl up in and Stay.


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 6:21 pm 
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Before I pick up the book at all, I'll start with a first memory. I had just finished "The Hobbit" and was hungry for more. I picked up Fellowship and began to read, for once not skipping that boring thing authors always seemed to stick in at the beginning of their books. I'm not talking about the "Prologue", which is of course part of the book, but the "Foreword". I didn't get very far however. One page into the text Tolkien wrote "I plodded on, mostly by night, till I stood by Balin's tomb in Moria."

I was horrified. Those of you who know me from other discussions will remember how psychotic I can be about "spoilers". I sometimes wonder if my phobia dates back to the first reading of the "Foreword" of "Fellowship of the Ring". Of course, when I started to read the book proper, I knew that Balin was no longer a major protagonist, but the knowledge that his tomb lay in Moria certainly overshadowed the story for me. Later on when we hear of the Dwarves who left to retake Moria, I already knew what lay ahead.

Note to all the authors here. Try not to give away even minor plot points in the Foreword of a book. Mmmmkay?

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 7:07 pm 
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Alatar wrote:
I was horrified. Those of you who know me from other discussions will remember how psychotic I can be about "spoilers". I sometimes wonder if my phobia dates back to the first reading of the "Foreword" of "Fellowship of the Ring".


I can well understand that reaction if you had just finished The Hobbit, and had last seen good ol' Balin smoking a pipe in Bilbo's parlour. Poor kid. :hug:

Me? I first read The Hobbit to my daughter, about a dozen years ago, so any "spoilers" in LOTR's Foreward and Prologue that concerned its predecessor's events and characters just sailed over my head.

But then again.....not exactly.

I have to admit that I LOVE spoilers most of the time.....spoilers, hints, clues, glimpses into stories I don't know yet - I love them all! You better sit down, Alatar, because this might come as a shock to you:

I nearly always read the end of a book before I get to the end of a book. For me, it's not so much about "what happens", it's more about how and why it happens. Generally speaking, of course.

So for me, that glimpse of Balin's tomb (who's Balin? how did he die?) in Moria (what/where is Moria?) was just the kind of "peek through the window" that made me want to "open the door" and step inside the tale.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 7:50 pm 
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I no longer remember the first time I read LotR. I would have been somewhere around nine or ten. I'd never read The Hobbit (and didn't for many years). LotR was what I wanted to read. My mother had just finished treatment for her first bout with breast cancer, and she spent the whole time, months, sitting on the couch with a blanket over her legs, reading LotR over and over and over. She has said LotR kept her from falling completely into fear. It absorbed her completely into another time and place.

The one thing I suspect the prologue did for the child who was me was make it easy to begin the book. I think if the story had started in the Old Forest or with the barrow wight or the Black Riders I would have been afraid to continue, at that age.

The cozy description of hobbits helps establish exactly what is under threat, before we know how terrible the danger is.

I think it's too bad that literary fashion has turned so sharply against this kind of leisurely induction into a world. Instead we get the main character and the main conflict jammed into the first couple of paragraphs (because the reader must be jerked into the story as soon as she picks up the book in the store). Imagine if LotR opened with the end of the Council of Elrond. Because you have to have the hero's feet on the path before the reader even knows he's the hero!

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 9:13 pm 
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Last edited by Jnyusa on Sat Sep 06, 2008 3:39 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 9:36 pm 
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<Wipes hanky across eyes>

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 9:46 pm 
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I think you're on to something there, Jny. Tolkien's story hits at a deeper level, the level I associate with religion more than literature.

For me, it's tangled with family as well. One of my earliest memories is of seeing my father and older brother looking over a map in one of our already-worn blue volumes and seriously discussing matters of elves and dwarves and hobbits. I was intrigued, and always knew those books were special in a way that others were not.

(The books found their way to our home before I did. My father was reviewing books for the local newspaper and reviewed each part of LOTR as it arrived in America. His review of Return of the King was published the week I was born.)

LOTR was "our" book. I rarely found anyone else who had read it, and no one who had our passion for it. So I assumed my attachment was in some way tied to that family identification. But at a conference on Jungian concepts and dreamwork I attended some 20 years ago, writer Robert A. Johnson stated that Tolkien's works felt deep because they tapped into the collective unconscious in a way that all the great myths and religious stories do. It was, he said, the great myth of our time, expressing all our deepest fears of weapons of mass destruction and the loss of beauty as the world-that-was ended (whether or not Tolkien intended those things).


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 10:11 pm 
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What I think is interesting is that Tolkien seems to be a nucleus for friendship between people who have that in common but not, apparently, much else. And that people who have a value for Tolkien in common seem to find a great deal to talk about that has nothing to do with Tolkien.

I'm honestly not sure what the point of commonality is. It's not nationality, or religion, or political views, or degree of "spirituality," or level of education, or age, or other literary interests. And yet when I meet someone and discover that they value LotR, I immediately suspect that I have found a new friend, even if we disagree on many other essential points and even if our lives are nothing alike.

Editing to add that of course I also have friends who don't care for Tolkien or wouldn't be interested in trying the book. Liking Tolkien is a sufficient but not necessary condition for being a friend of mine. :P

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 11:21 pm 
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As I said before, it was at least 2 years after I read the Hobbit before I read LOTR. I was too disappointed that there was a new set of characters, namely no Bilbo.

I had a teacher that was astounded I had read the Hobbit but hadn't read LOTR. She essentially forced me to read LOTR. You see she required that we have a book to read with us at all times. A book apart from our required school reading. She owned a bookstore and had a stand in the classroom with lots of books to read. That is where I borrowed my first LOTR copy. Although my brother also had the copies, I used hers for some reason. Well at least for the first read.

After looking at the following page, I realize that I had at one time the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th and 8th Ballantine editions.

http://mysite.verizon.net/aznirb/mtr/oop-lotr.html

Somewhere here among the rabble is a 1st edition hardcover of the Silmarillion purchased within a week of release. The inserted map is long gone though. I had that hanging on my wall at home and lost track of it.

For whatever reason, my second attempt at LOTR was hugely successful. I was always drawn in by the "branches" that were laid down and was forever thirsting after LOTR history. Any mention of older things, like the Necromancer caught my eye and made me wonder. The Shadow of the past enthralled me as did any reference to the 1st age.

The prologue for LOTR naturally intrigued me, because of my eagerness to learn more of Middle-earth's history. And of course anything concerning hobbits interested me.

There is a strong sense of commonality with LOTR. The story covers a wide spread of humanity, and knowing someone is a Tolkien fan at least provides some insight into possible common ground between people. The escapism, the fantastic world, the underlying themes, the common man (hobbit) vs the supremely evil being, the determinations, and ultimate failure/success all seem to have some sort of mass appeal.

We can and have gone on and on and on dissecting and analyzing this story. We are all perhaps guilty of reading into the story here and there as well. Making it our own. In any case, the story does hold up to intense scrutiny and some aspects shine even brighter when viewd closely.
Though really that isn't the appeal for me. The appeal is the view from above or rather of the whole.

LOTR is a place to go to get away from here and now. LOTR is a vacation. LOTR strips away the everyday toils and distractions we are constantly bombarded with, and presents us with a place to see the essence of life at a slower more thoughtful pace, without all the mind numbingly distractions of today's world. LOTR is simplistically beautiful, and is indeed a fine place to hide away or reflect on things without all the clutter.

Three is Company is one of my favorite chapters in the book. It has a bit of everything I enjoy about getting lost in Tolkien's world.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 12:07 am 
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I have no intention to interrupt these wonderful memories of meeting Tolkien's world for the first time but when we get back to the Foreword and Prologue it interests me that before the narrative starts we get
Dwarves, Elves, the Dúnedain and Númenor, Gondor, the High Elves, Sauron, the Witch King, Elrond, Galadriel, Celeborn, the Grey Havens, Rivendell, Gollum, the Ring, Aragorn and Arwen and even the founders of the Shire, Marcho and Blanco.

Tolkien was an enormously subtle author. The Prologue is not narrative at all, the true narrative indeed starts in Hobbiton, but it fulfills several important narrative functions. Once we read it we know that the world of the story contains more than hobbits, that they are insignificant and welcome that role, that there is a long back history with many legendary protagonists, elves, dwarves, wizards and dark magic, other kingdoms and major actors. He uses it to summarise the story of Bilbo and Gollum. He uses it to play a literary and academic game that this is real history with source materials thus setting the scene for that pervading sense of reality in the story. He even plays dangerously with revealing important plot consequences that he trusts the reader will forget later.

Prim said that the quiet start in the Shire shielded her from the darker events until she was safely in the story but I think conversely the Prologue gives hope of deeper things for those who find the opening chapter too safe.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 1:09 am 
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Tosh, that is an excellent observation. Tolkien was such an unconventional author from the point of view of modern literature. Here we see an example of him providing more information than a normal modern writer would give. Later, we will see other examples where he provides less information than would be expected, to great effect.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 5:09 am 
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I first read LOTR in 1965 or 1966 and until 2001 I was almost the only person I knew who had read it. It meant so much to me that I despaired when I heard the movies were being made. My treasure was going to become common, spoiled, Hollywoodish.

Well, I won't go over all that again. Thank god for Peter Jackson, is what I say.

LOTR is as close to perfect as a story could be. If I could have one book forever, it would have to be the one. When I re-read it, which I still do 2 or 3 or 4 times a year, I don't always read the Foreword. And when I do read it, I am always surprised that there seems to be something I missed. After all those readings!

I have one set, a battered hard cover set that once had nice dust jackets. I am hard on books, I don't see them as objects of worth in and of themselves - the only part of a book that matters to me is the inside, the story. Once I took FOTR to a photo copy place and had them make me a copy of the Map, same with ROTK's map. They're pinned to my wall, and alongside is a map I made carrying on from Harad when I wrote a long fanfic about Legolas going South.

It is often hard for me to believe, or accept, that Tolkien wrote only one masterpiece. (I know that is not something everyone will agree with.) He had such enormous skill as a writer, as a storyteller, that I thought, there HAS to be more. But nothing else he wrote, IMHO, comes even close. The rest of it is just not necessary. Even though I always think, about the Appendices, "I wish there was more!" I don't really. Perfection should always leave us wanting more.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 2:41 pm 
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vison wrote:
It is often hard for me to believe, or accept, that Tolkien wrote only one masterpiece. (I know that is not something everyone will agree with.) He had such enormous skill as a writer, as a storyteller, that I thought, there HAS to be more. But nothing else he wrote, IMHO, comes even close. The rest of it is just not necessary. Even though I always think, about the Appendices, "I wish there was more!" I don't really. Perfection should always leave us wanting more.


I can accept the statement that LOTR is Tolkien's one masterpiece. The Hobbit is a much more limited story, and Tolkien himself found the tone to be overly juvenile in hindsight. As for the whole body of work that makes up 'the Silmarillion', Tolkien never brought any of that work to a conclusion, so despite its undoubted importance to him (and the brilliance of much of it), none of it could be considered a "masterpiece".

However the statement that "the rest of is just not necessary" is (with all due respect) demonstrably untrue. For LOTR could not even exist without what came before it. Much of what makes LOTR so special is the deep sense of depth that one gets from those "glimpses of a yet more ancient history" that preceded the War of the Ring. It was have been impossible for Tolkien to have created that sense of depth with such a high degree of verisimilitude if that history didn't actually exist to a large extent. On the other hand, it was with the writing of The Hobbit that the missing piece was added. Adding the element of the small, unassuming hobbits was the perfect counterpoint to the high, remote tone of his mythology. It was the combining of the two that created that masterpiece that is The Lord of the Rings.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 2:45 pm 
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He uses it to play a literary and academic game that this is real history with source materials thus setting the scene for that pervading sense of reality in the story.


*muses on the notion of Tolkien the post-modernist*

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