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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 5:16 pm 
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Well, Voronwë, I take your point, but I stick by mine - for me. I know you feel very differently, and when I think of how much work and scholarship you have invested in your love of Tolkien I am gobsmacked with admiration and respect. To do all that on top of all the other things you do!!!

Yet, for me, the depth and history were there without me ever reading anything else by Tolkien. His layering of the story seemed to bring the Past before the reader - not concrete or bright, but dimly, far off, like the sound of the horns of the Dead. Do you know what I mean? Just out of sight, so that if you turn your head, they're gone. Lovely.

The Foreword and Prologue begin the work, letting us in on the fact that this is a Very Old History indeed. It's amazing that we, this little group, can still talk about it, after all this time and all those readings. Amazing.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 5:33 pm 
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I agree with both vison and Voronwë.

I'm glad that there is more to read than LotR; a lot of those tales have really enriched Middle-earth for me.

That said, I think the sense of taking place in a larger world, with a long history, is one of the factors that make LotR so rich and deep; and for that purpose, it doesn't matter whether the details "outside the map" really exist or are only hints laid in by the author.

Lesser writers don't do that, so their stories seem to be happening on a shallow stage, with people who just wandered into the action.

And of course for novels set in the present-day world, none of that is necessary. We all know something of our world's history and geography and peoples. So it would be natural enough for a writer not to bother when his story is set in another world. But Tolkien understood that the depth of Middle-earth wouldn't be there unless he put it there; we can't, it's too much to imagine.

Or perhaps that rich feeling was unintentional; perhaps it was a by-product of the fact that Tolkien, in his mind, did inhabit that world as thoroughly as we inhabit our own.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 6:48 pm 
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Primula Baggins wrote:
Or perhaps that rich feeling was unintentional; perhaps it was a by-product of the fact that Tolkien, in his mind, did inhabit that world as thoroughly as we inhabit our own.


I think it was in fact a byproduct of that fact, but I don't think it's unintentional. The way he sets things up indicates a very writerly concern with setting up the fact of the artifice with one hand while undermining the idea that it's artifice with the other--thus my remark about Tolkien the postmodernist. But he's in good company as a prepostmodernist: Chaucer did it too a little while back. ;)

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 8:45 pm 
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vison wrote:
Well, Voronwë, I take your point, but I stick by mine - for me. I know you feel very differently, and when I think of how much work and scholarship you have invested in your love of Tolkien I am gobsmacked with admiration and respect. To do all that on top of all the other things you do!!!

Yet, for me, the depth and history were there without me ever reading anything else by Tolkien. His layering of the story seemed to bring the Past before the reader - not concrete or bright, but dimly, far off, like the sound of the horns of the Dead. Do you know what I mean? Just out of sight, so that if you turn your head, they're gone. Lovely.


My dear vison, I was not clear in the point that I was making. I was not saying that it was necessary to read those other works in order to appreciate LOTR; not at all. Rather, what I meant to say (but was not clear about) was that it was necessary for Tolkien to have written those other works (and otherwise thought about them so intensely) in order to make LOTR as compelling as it is.

Sorry to have been unclear.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 9:10 pm 
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One could view all of JRRT's Sil work before LOTR as an extremely elaborate version of what writers sometimes call "writing up to the beginning," that is, working on, writing down, and otherwise finding one's way to the beginning of where the story at hand actually needs to start. He certainly wouldn't, given his own larger goals, but it pretty much ended up that way de facto.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 9:15 pm 
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Pretty extensive plot notes, eh?

It's such an amazing feat, when you stop to think about it.

Yeah, I see more clearly what you meant, Voronwë. And I have to repeat, that your undertaking the work you have is something that I can only stare at in awed admiration.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 9:50 pm 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
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.


I strongly agree with this summation. I think that this is precisely why it is difficult (many would contend impossible) to find any work that truly compares to the Lord of the Rings. There are many wonderful storytellers out there; there are many wonderful tales that juxtapose a macro, "epic" history with a captivating "micro" tale and characters. However, in my view, they fail to satisfy in the same way precisely because the authors have usually only sketched in the pieces of the "epic" history that they actually needed to write their tale. In a sense, the authors try to deceive you into believing that a larger history actually exists, when it was never actually created. LOTR possesses a certain authenticity because the "glimpses of a yet more ancient history" are both visible and REAL. The histories, languages, cultures, and people were created - at least sketched in great detail. Their sketching by Tolkien was absolutely necessary; I suppose their review is only necessary by readers who wish to appreciate the full context within which LOTR (and the Hobbit) developed.

Al - I actually skipped the introductory materials the first time I read LOTR, in middle school, and read them the second time (when I was in college.) I think that's actually a fairly good approach; it feels as though Tolkien is speaking to readers who have already traversed Middle Earth and will not be spoiled.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 11:26 pm 
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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.


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.

Years ago I would have agreed with you. I do not agree now. It is undoubtedly true that there is a great deal of narrative and linguistic history behind The Lord of the Rings. It fills volumes! It is also true, in my opinion, that the "glimpses of a yet more ancient history" in The Lord of the Rings do give the story a wonderful depth, and help create part of the special feeling of Middle-Earth. But I do not believe that this history is the one essential ingredient. At most it is one of many essential ingredients, but not the most important, the one that sets The Lord of the Rings apart from so much else.

Consider the plot of The Lord of the Rings. How much of the plot really has anything to do with the history Tolkien had written down? I argue that the chief importance of the previous mythology is that it showed him new directions in which to take his hobbit characters. The directions he took them were wholly invented as he was writing. The true nature of the ring was an entirely new thing. The moral choices he created in the paths of his characters were wholly invented as he was writing.

Consider the physical and philosophical paths Tolkien's characters are set upon in the narrative of The Lord of the Rings. The deep history behind the narrative does not dictate these paths. Now, it is true that these paths could not weave together as they do without a deep sense of history. But how much of the immediate history preceding the War of the Ring was in fact created as Tolkien was creating the paths of his characters? Almost all of it, I believe. The ancient history, frankly, means far less to the verisimilitude and reality of the story than does the immediate history that was almost all created at the same time the story was written. It seems to me that often the paths of the characters and the sense of who they were created the history, and not the other way around.

It is true that many of the settings were descendants of the ancient history, the mythology: Lórien, Moria, Gondor, Rivendell, for example. But I do not believe a pre-existing mythology was required for Tolkien to make these places real, for them to possess their flavors and textures. The poetry of his descriptions has nothing to do with the history. Now it is true that Moria, for example, is not the same without the glimpses of the history behind it that Tolkien gives us. That this history was written down beforehand does not mean that it had to have been written down for these glimpses to be given.

Can it really be history and depth that makes The Lord of the Rings incomparable? It is not the history that pulls me back into the story. I think the sense of history is a foundation to the story, necessary, but not providing any of the true character of the story. There are plenty of novels set in reality, set in our real history, which is far more detailed and deep than anything Tolkien or any person could create. There are many novels that are aware of our real history, draw upon it to give texture and flavor to the setting and events and characters contained therein. Do any of these novels compare with The Lord of the Rings? There is something more to the magic of Tolkien, something deeper than just history and mythology and linguistics, something more than just depth and detail and a feeling of realness. What is being made real?

I suppose I could begin to answer the question of the specialness of The Lord of the Rings with its deep sense of history. But I sure can't end there.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 11:35 pm 
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LOTR stands on its own. And yet it is also the last chapter in the war of the Silmarils.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 11:38 pm 
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Faramond wrote:
I suppose I could begin to answer the question of the specialness of The Lord of the Rings with its deep sense of history. But I sure can't end there.


Since I anticipate that this discussion is likely to last some time, maybe years, I think you should have plenty of time to expound on it. :)

(I do intend to respond to your post in more depth when I have the time to do so, but I wanted to get that in while I was thinking of it.)

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 11:45 pm 
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Excellent post, Faramond. I agree that the deep sense of history is part but not all of what makes this work unique.

For me, what makes it unique is the way it resonates in my own depths and seems to hint of something greater -- not just a world with its own history and language but a world that intersects with this world at a level of reality beyond history.

I'm not sure that makes sense, but it did when I thought it... ;)


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 08, 2008 6:06 am 
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Wonderful post, Jn.

I'm mustering what remains of my intelligence.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 08, 2008 6:48 am 
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[Note: This is one of several threads from which Jnyusa removed some or all of her posts. We regret that the integrity of these discussions has been disrupted in this way. While we support the right of our members to edit their posts if they have second thoughts about them, we believe this type of wholesale removal of posts goes beyond that, and is damaging to the community.

Voronwë_the_Faithful, Primula Baggins, Whistler, nerdanel]


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 08, 2008 1:01 pm 
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As readers we don't need the Sil. LOTR stands alone. But I do think that Tolkien needed the Sil to write LOTR as he did.


There's the conundrum. If he didn't write it as he did, how could we read it as we do? Indeed, how could it have come to be in the first place? Even The Hobbit, which had a far different genesis, quickly entwined itself with the Sil. If it hadn't, it would have been like The Father Christmas Letters or Roverandom--charming but without any real sense of that special kind of verisimilitude JRRT called subcreation.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 08, 2008 1:51 pm 
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I tend to agree with Faramond.

I'm not sure that its the Sil, or the existence of the legends that give LOTR its depth, rather that existence of the other legends is symptomatic of Tolkien's desire to create a detailed, convincing world. As Faramond pointed out, much of the 'depth' as regards more recent history was invented to support LOTR. It is true that he borrowed from his other legends, becasue they were there, but I suggest that had they not been there he would have invented something else to give that depth, with the same attention to detail.

It's that aspect that's important, the meticulousness, oemtihng we see in later writing when he considers whether the flat earth cosmology is sustainable. That's the mindset of someone who wants everythin to be 'right'. It contrast with say CSL who seems that he would borrow anything from mythology and throw it in in order to tell his story.

(That may explain why CSL wrote and published more, to JRRT's apparent chagrin).

I think the lack of meticulousness is what personally I find wanting in a lot of fantasy. There is just a bolted on history. It's probably why I prefer retellings of the Arthurian legends as fantasy rather than some swords and sorcery stuff. At least the world, its geography and history are there, whether the authors take is magic free, like Bernard Cornwell, or magical, like Marion Zimmer Bradley.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 08, 2008 2:46 pm 
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The density and (usual) consistency of detail is necessary but not sufficient for me. I would say that the difference between a MZB and JRRT is not in the level of detail so much as in the underlying concept of the body of work that generates the need for it. There is teleological element in JRRT's work that is not present in most modern fantasy fiction. As jny pointed out, it has a definite end point: the departure of the Elves, and the beginning of the age of Men. It also obviously has a beginning, that is, creation. But there is a purposefulness to everything in between that other authors didn't need, or perhaps even want, since it is ultimately theological.

In this way it is somewhat less organic in its growth than the Arthurian cycle or any other mythos/legendarium that was the product of many hands and many centuries. It flowed through one mind in one lifetime--though even that was enough to permit some internal drift in conception, cf. the history of Galadriel. In a way, such minor inconsistencies give it an even more historical feel, but still there is a sense of canonicity that is harder to extract from something actually developed in history. For example, one could reasonably (if not profitably) argue over which rendition of Gawain is the "real" or "best" one, or even over the "true" nature of Loki, but not over whether Isildur is really the same person as seen in retrospect in LOTR and in the Akallabeth-related material.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 10, 2008 1:50 am 
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Turning back to discussing the Prologue, a look at the history of that short text provides a good glimpse at the remarkable nature of Tolkien's way of writing.

Part of the text of the Prologue goes back to a very early part of the whole long adventure in writing this remarkable work. The first version goes back as far 1938 or 1939, under the title "Foreword: Concerning Hobbits" (this original version is printed in Return of the Shadow, pp. 310-314. Various pieces then got added over the years, often moved from the main text. For instance, the section on pipeweed was originally part of a lecture delivered by Merry to Théoden at the ruined gates of Isengard, which after much development Tolkien marked "Put in Foreword". (See The War of the Ring, pp. 36-39.) Over the course of time, he added more and more about the history of the hobbits, and the "outside world" as well as the section on ordering of the Shire.

The section on the finding of the ring, of course, developed in conjunction with the ultimate change was made to "Riddles in the Dark" in The Hobbit. At one point, there were two alternative version, one in which the original story (now become Bilbo's "false" story) does not get mentioned at all, and then another one that "explains" the two different versions in the different editions of The Hobbit. In conjunction with this, there was a note indicating that he considered making the only reference to the different versions of the story of how Bilbo got the Ring be in The Shadow of the Past, where Frodo expresses great surprise at learning for the first time that Bilbo had lied about this. (See Peoples of Middle-earth, pp. 12-13.)

Finally, the Note on the Shire Records, was actually added in for the second edition. It was originally written for the first edition, but Tolkien noted that he had decided against it, and that it "belongs to the preface of The Silmarillion." I don't understand that at all, since The Silmarillion doesn't deal with hobbits at all, and I guess Tolkien figured that out as well, since he added it back in for the second edition version.

The description of the history of the writing of the Prologue in [/i]The Peoples of Middle-earth (with references to three other HoMe volumes) is well worth reading.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 10, 2008 2:26 pm 
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Hey, I was still talking about the Prologue and Forward. :D That's because I think tracking how they changed in the text over time is a very good indicator for how he saw the project in relationship to his other work, both TH and the Sil. Feigned historicity in framing material is an important authorial gesture towards setting the story at hand in a different context than simply telling the story as story. But so is discussing the publishing history of the Sil, and it pulls in the opposite direction!

What he's doing is crafty in both senses of the word.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 11, 2008 1:34 am 
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Yes, you were talking about the Prologue, Ax. Sorry to imply otherwise. And I certainly didn't mean to suggest that the discussion that has been going on has not been interesting and valuable, because it certainly has.

I'm going to wait a day or two to see if anyone has anything further to add about the Prologue, Foreword or other front material, and then move on to the First Chapter. I am going to start a new thread for that, and I am leaning towards the separate thread option, for no better reason than that is what my heart tells me is the right thing to do. I rarely go wrong when I listen to my heart.

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