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PostPosted: Fri Apr 11, 2008 4:56 pm 
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It occurs to me that I promised to respond to Faramond's post, and never did. I should remedy that. Particularly his direct question posed to me.

Faramond wrote:
Voronwë_the_Faithful:

... 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.


I deny it!

How does one apply The Lord of the Rings to a particular time? When I imagine the application of the story to history I see persons with agendas, those who wish to distort history to follow a particular desired narrative, leading to a constructed conclusion. That, I am nearly sure, is not what you imagine; I would like to read how you understand The Lord of the Rings to be applicable to a time in history.


The Lord of the Rings came out in time when the dominating reality was the increasingly real possibility of nuclear war. Of course, Tolkien was not at all thinking of nuclear weapons when he invented the concept of the One Ring and made it a main focus of his epic sequel to The Hobbit; it was certainly not meant allegorically. However, the theme of an overwhelmingly powerful weapon -- and the temptation to use it -- was (in my opinion) particularly applicable to the time when the book was published. Tolkien himself alludes to this in the Foreword to the Second Edition when he talks about how if the book had really been an allegory, than Saruman "would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ringlore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own." As Hammond and Scull write in their Reader's Guide, "the reference is surely to the development of the atomic bomb by the Allies, and to the subsequent proliferation of nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union. Of course the Ring was conceived by Tolkien long before such things came to public attention in 1945."

Of course, the temptation of power is a theme that becomes all the more timely as move into the 21st Century. Moreover, the "main theme" of the book - and exploration of death and mortality - is applicable to any time.

Another aspect of 'applicability' that Tolkien refers to in the Foreword is the aspect of the story regarding the destruction of the natural world in the name of "progress". He denies that the Scouring was meant to reflect the situation in England after the war, pointing out that it had been foreseen early in the writing of the book. He goes on to point out that the country that he lived in in childhood was being "stealthily destroyed" before he was ten. It certainly seems clear to me that this theme becomes all the more applicable as time passes (whereas it would not have been applicable to an earlier age).

A couple of little tidbits from Hammond and Scull's LOTR Reader's Companion that I wanted to add. First, apparently the Ring Verse first came to Tolkien when he was in a bath. I never knew that. Secondly, a cute little description of an interaction between Rayner Unwin and Christopher. Originally the statement in the Foreword to the Second Edition that stated the book has been read by many people since finally appeared in print had the words "ten years ago" after "appeared in print". In the next printing in 1969, they changed it "fifteen years ago". After Tolkien's death, Christopher wrote to Rayner on December 27 1976 and said 'I don't think one can go on dating it year by year, can one? -- or we shall end up making my father say "The Lord of the Rings has been read by many people since it finally appeared in print a century ago"!'

There are numerous interesting tidbits that Hammond and Scull point out about the Prologue; too many to point out here, and none that particularly jump out more than the others.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 12:13 pm 
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A very late entry, but I thought I'd chime in on the 'depth of history' line: althought the Elvish history, and Númenor, set the global stage for Frodo's journey, so to speak, let's not fall into the common misconception (one which JRRT himself was apparently happy not to disturb!) that Gondor and Rohan and so forth were also a pre-existing historical fabric. The Third Age, as it came to be called, only came into existence in the course of writing the LR; and virtually all of the detailed history in the Appendices was constructed after the narrative was written. Yet it's a tribute to Tolkien's craft that it doesn't seem so!


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 1:57 pm 
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A very good point, soli, my friend. I think we should be able to discuss the development of that history as we proceed through the story, and I definitely want to end the discussion with an extensive examination of the appendicies!

Another interesting topic to explore (although it may need to be outside the confines of this LOTR discussion), is how the development of the story of Númenor was advanced by Tolkien's two unfinished novels, The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 15, 2008 6:16 pm 
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Thanks for your answer, Voronwë. I might come back to this subject at some point, but right now I think my next post will come in the next thread.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 15, 2008 6:23 pm 
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I'm not expecting any further reply here, although I am always interested in what you have to say.

I do look forward to your comments in the next thread!

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 26, 2009 10:34 pm 
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I'm beginning my first complete read-through of LOTR since the Fellowship of the Ring movie came out (I've referenced it many times of course :) )... so I'll be commenting here if it's not too late to join in :).


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 12:08 am 
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That'd be wonderful, Hal! All the threads are left up just so people can join in any time at any point.

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


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 11:46 pm 
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Yes, please comment on a chapter that we have already discussed. That's the whole reason why separated the chapters into separate threads.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2009 6:59 pm 
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I was at the DMV Friday, and the wait time I had was just exactly enough to read the forward and prologue :).

In reading through this time I'm using copies of the books that I have made notes on, so I found myself drawn to those observations, but found them to be something I would have found important 10 years ago, but I find them less so now :).

In all the impression I have at the moment is that I dearly would have loved to sit and talk with Tolkien for about a month straight, although I expect we'd get tired of each other.

There is an art to conversation, and no doubt due to his love of language, Tolkien was a master at it. The matter-of-fact treatment of his discussion of total fantasy as if it were simply history is remarkable. This art is something that has diminished with the modernization of communication (or, more acurately, evolved into something completely different).

While the "slow" nature of society in middle earth is a hallmark of the world that Tolkien created, it is IMHO wholly different than comparing the relative speeds of culture and society of now vs that of mid-20th-century. While it is relatively simple to trace the modernization of our culture from Tolkien's day to the present, it is disingenuous to claim that any such modernization or evolution could be traced from that of Middle Earth in Frodo's day to the mid 20th century. This is because Middle Earth is an entirely separate creation.

This is highlighted by (and thus why it began filling my mind with things long forgotten) the juxtiposition of the forward and the prologue in LOTR, as we have to contend with the subtle differences between Tolkien the author of LOTR written during a time of great termoil in our world, and Tolkien the fantasy translator of the Red Book, who was most concerned with the origins of Pipe-weed.

Anyway, on to the party :).


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2009 7:17 pm 
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halplm wrote:
In reading through this time I'm using copies of the books that I have made notes on, so I found myself drawn to those observations, but found them to be something I would have found important 10 years ago, but I find them less so now :).


That's an interesting observation, particularly in that it shows that Tolkien's writing is able to mean different things not only to different people, but to the same people at different times in their lives. That's a pretty telling fact, IMO.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 5:33 pm 
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I just started rereading, also using the one-volume 50th anniversary hardback!

It's actually the first good-quality copy of LotR I've ever owned. I first read it through the library, and later my family got a pretty good set of film-cover trade paperbacks after the first movie came out. I was the main user, but since they didn't technically belong to me, I had to leave them behind after college. And then later I had a set of super-cheap 70s paperbacks that literally broke apart as you read them.

I knew I wanted to get a quality LotR edition with some Christmas gift cards. I was leaning towards the paperback set with Tolkien's own art on the covers at first, but I settled on this one because the typesetting isn't great with those. And if anything deserves to be owned in hardcover, it's LotR! I'm impressed with the maps, by the way. I've always found the paperback ones to be a bit of a pain.

I'm almost done with the prologue. I skipped the forewords, but will probably hit them before diving into Chapter 1. I like the prologue more than I remembered - I'm impressed by how much it ties into Arda as a whole. The Hobbits are somewhat separate from the rest of the mythology in many ways, yet Tolkien still took great care to make sure they were very much part of the world.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:29 pm 
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kzer_za wrote:
The Hobbits are somewhat separate from the rest of the mythology in many ways, yet Tolkien still took great care to make sure they were very much part of the world.


I've always thought of the Hobbits as pretty much the icing on the cake. Men and Elves, Maiar and Valar, they're the cake, the "filling" if you will. Hobbits were added last but make the whole concoction that much sweeter!

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:36 pm 
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The hobbits are basically modern Anglo-Saxons living in Middle Earth. The distant and diminutive descendants of the heroic Rohirrim. And for the non-English, they're familiar everymen (which is essential for the popular success of TH and LOTR). And, of course, they're icing on the cake!


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 7:21 pm 
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Without hobbits, many of us wouldn't care about the rest! :) They're the necessary viewpoint characters that allow us to discover Middle-earth in all its complexity. And that goes even for those who don't particularly like hobbits.

But for those of us who LOVE hobbits...! :love:


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 1:04 pm 
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I finished the prologue. Here's another thing that stood out to me: the Scouring is foreshadowed very early. The Hobbits live a peaceful and idyllic life, but they are able to because others shelter them, even though they don't realize it. This tension highlights Tolkien's ambiguous and conflicted attitude toward war, really.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 4:54 pm 
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I like the tone of the prologue, written as by a historian. It is very true to life, as it were: true to the academic format. And it does give the reader a little hope as to the fates of Merry and Pippin and Sam, at least! Not that the average first-time reader will remember those things as the story progresses...

There's a bit of amateur sociologist in me, which is one reason I so love the prologue and appendices.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2014 1:41 pm 
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I read all the forewords. Tolkien said his biggest problem with his own work is that it's too short. I wonder what people who find the books (or even the movies) tedious and long-winded would say to that, ha! Does he have in mind his initial hopes for LotR + Silmarillion combined, or were there major Third-age things he wanted to include in LotR but left out?

By the way, for all the grief Tolkien's poetry gets (some of it deserved), I do really like the "one ring" epigraph.


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