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PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 3:37 pm 
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I first read LotR as a child, and the Old Forest sequence scared me badly. But I remember thinking even then that it would have been hard for them to travel secretly on or near the Road, that close to the Shire—or even to get to the Road from Crickhollow without being noticed, through farmland after harvest.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 5:28 pm 
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A few observations from Scull and Hammond, one of which I had already planned on posting.

I'll start with that one. One of the things that this chapter does is focus attention on the difference between Merry and Pippin. We have already gotten a sense of Pippin as a frivolous sort, which is further demonstrated by his bathwater exploits. Here we see Merry as a much more responsible kind of person, demonstrated particularly well by the manner in which he has prepared for a quick departure, getting everything ready in advance.

Another nice contrast that Hammond and Scull point to is between the dwarf's song upon setting out on the quest of Erebor and the hobbits song based on it. As Hammond and Scull point out, the hobbit's song is less grim and more hopeful, even though (or perhaps because) they don't know where there journey will bring them.

The other observations of Scull and Hammond that I wanted to share involve Frodo's dream at the end of the chapter. They make the fascinating point (which I had never thought of before) that the statement that in the dream he seemed to be looking out of a high window over a dark sea of tangled trees. Down below among the roots there was sound of creatures crawling and snuffling "seems to anticipate his first night in Lothlórien, when he hears orcs pass by the tree in which he is sleeping, and Gollum sniffing and scrabbling at its foot." Now that they have pointed that out, the reference seems obvious to me, but as they go on to say, the description of this dream "goes back to the earliest version of the chapter, long before any idea of Lothlórien arose in Tolkien's mind"! It is difficult to know what to make of this. Did Tolkien have the description of this dream in mind when he later wrote the Lothlórien chapter? Is this just a coincidence? Or is this an example of Tolkien hand by guided by "some other force"? Not a question likely to be answered, but a fun one to think about nonetheless.

The other observation about the dream is more concrete. Hammond and Scull remind us that the short description of the dream at the end of this paragraph is "all that remain[s] of a much longer dream which Tolkien introduced into the narrative in autumn of 1939 to explain Gandalf's absence." At this point, Gandalf was to have been pursued by Black Riders and have taken refuge in a tower. Tolkien was unsure where to place this dream. He had tried to place it in Bree, then added it to the already existing dream at Crickhollow, subsequently removing most of it when Gandalf's imprisonment at Orthanc by Saruman was invented (or, rather, when Tolkien realized that was what "really had happened" :P). Hammond and Scull quote Christopher, who notes in The Treason of Isengard "And so the tall white tower of Frodo's dream at Crickhollow in the final tale remains from what was the precursor of Orthanc; and the thunder that he heard goes back to the interruption of his dream by Trotter's trhusting back the shutters at The Prancing Pony." It is the latter observation that I find most fascinating. The thunder that Frodo hears in the dream is so evocative and mysterious, precisely because its meaning is so vague and unclear. The fact that it is a remnant of completely different -- and much more pedestrian -- context, is another indication of just how serendipitous the writing of LOTR was.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 5:36 pm 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
Or is this an example of Tolkien hand by guided by "some other force"?


I have enough problem with you suggesting that everything in LotR was "pre-ordained" by Eru, and everything in the Sil, "pre-ordained" by the Music.

Are you really trying to suggest that even Tolkien writing LotR was guided by a higher power?

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 5:51 pm 
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I always interpreted the "crawling and snuffling creatures" in Fodo's dream as Black Riders, whom we've observed do both.


H&S are right on, though, in observing that Merry is the Guy In Charge. He's really the brains of the 'conspiracy'; more to the point, it is he with the sense and organization to have the poines with equipment loaded etc. etc. And it's Merry of course who has knowledge of and a key to the Forest entrance, and familiarity with at least the eaves of the woods. Since he's the man with the plan*, it seems perfectly reasonable that Frodo would agree to his sensible-enough observation that they could hardly "sneak" out of the Shire by way of the North-Gate!

*Apparently "plobbit" isn't a word. Not even in my kids' Scrabble vocabulary.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 9:49 pm 
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Alatar, there've been some discussions of the writing process elsewhere on this board where people have discussed this turn of events: where something written with no clear plan, or with a plan that is later abandoned, works out to fit the eventual story perfectly or even to improve it.

This has happened to every fiction writer I know well (including me), and it may be the "other force" that Voronwë was talking about. My writer friends call it the "back-brain." It's a mysterious phenomenon, but quite real.

solicitr, I always thought those were Black Riders, too.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 11:15 pm 
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I've always wavered between the snuffling and crawling being Black Riders or Gollum.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 1:24 am 
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Alatar wrote:
Are you really trying to suggest that even Tolkien writing LotR was guided by a higher power?


Al, it is my belief that the creation of ANY worthwhile art is guided, in part, by a higher power. You are certainly more than welcome to disagree with that.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 2:35 am 
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I love that thought, Voronwë. One of my favorite quotes is by Harold Best (a well-known professor of music and worship arts): Biblically speaking, the making of art is not an option but a command.

In the same way, I think we are all created in the image of God, and one of God's primary essences is that of the Creator. When we create, we tap into that supernatural creative source, in either large or small ways.

I know that many will disagree.



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PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 4:26 am 
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Lali, Tolkien would have agreed with you absolutely: in fact you've just summarized his theory of 'subcreation.'


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 2:02 pm 
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I find it beyond incomprehensible that people would consider that God has nothing better to do than fiddle with plot lines in a book.

No offense intended, it simply is incomprehensible to me.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 2:24 pm 
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No offense taken, Al. But I hope you won't be offended if I say that I in turn find it incomprehensible that anyone could believe in a God that was so limited. To me, God is another word for Infinite, which of course by definition is unlimited. In any event, my view of subcreation is exactly what Lali posted.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 3:08 pm 
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I can agree with Lali's tapping into something "beyond" as the creative force. Thats no problem. Its the thought that this is somehow "guided" that is somewhat offensive to me. It means the artist is nothing but a tool, a puppet on strings. To counter your infinite God argument, the idea that God would interfere actively in art or the creative process, is in itself a limitation. Why use an imperfect tool such as a person to create art. Also, its not "sub-creation" if God's pulling the strings. It's only sub-creation if God creates, and then allows his creations to create. To have the hand of God inserted means its no longer sub-creation.

But perhaps this should be in Tol Eressëa.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 6:48 pm 
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Guided isn't really the right word for what I mean, in the sense of God (or some higher power) actively leading the author in some direction. Lali's description of tapping into a supernatural creative source is much more what I was talking about.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 08, 2008 2:14 am 
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Voronwë wrote:
Turning back to the chapter, one thing that I would like to take a closer look at is the decision to enter the Old Forest. It seems like a very bad decision on its face. I understand that Frodo wanted to take drastic steps to avoid the Black Riders, and he certainly achieved that for a time, but it seems like there could have been a happy medium between blindly continuing along the Road like sitting ducks, and blindly entered into the unknown of the Old Forest.

I thought the decision seemed a natural one under the circumstances. I was nervously aware of the vulnerability of the hobbits taking their baths and sheltering in this defenseless house while the Riders made their inexorable way toward them, and wished they would show more urgency. We don't know how many Riders there are at this point -- some might have burst in on them at any moment! In addition, a forest doesn't sound all that scary. We'd already been told that hobbits are afraid of water, that the Shire hobbits regarded the Bucklanders as strange and suspicious; why should the reader think that the Forest is really any more strange and dangerous than the Bucklanders or the River are? I think at this point, it would be likely for the reader to assume that the forest poses no real threat, and certainly no threat that would begin to compare to the those dreadful Black Riders. So I think it seems like a good and sensible decision at that point in the story.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 08, 2008 11:55 pm 
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That's interesting that you say that, Cerin, because to me the Black Riders really don't come across as very scary at this point. They actually seem pretty inconsequential, other than Gildor's warning about them, and one would think that if he really were that concerned about them, he would have done more to try to protect the Hobbits. Whereas, Fredegar Bolger makes it pretty clear that the Old Forest is definitely something that the Hobbits of the Shire greatly fear. Even Merry has only been inside during the day, and safely back before going too far. I continue to believe that it was a rash decision, and one reached not so much through logic but through - other means.

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 09, 2008 12:05 am 
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Vor, I agree with Cerin here. Gildor had made it pretty clear that they were Very Bad: "Is it not enough to know that they are servants of the enemy? Flee them! Speak no word to them!" Besides, I still to this day get creeped out by the description of that first wailing cry over the Woody End. If I were Frodo, I'd definitely prefer the forest.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 09, 2008 9:27 am 
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Once again, to me, the crucial thing here is making a choice that later turns out "right", although Tolkien perhaps didn't think about it at this point, at least not at first. Due to their decision, the hobbits do get in trouble - but, they meet Tom, who helps and protects them, and provides them with the ancient blades, one of which turns out very significant much later in the story. I believe that if they had taken the road, they would have been toast before they could reach Bree.

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 10, 2008 1:11 am 
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One thing about the Old Forest is that fact that for the first time Tolkien sets up nature against the intrusions of other people, something we come across later with Merry and Pippin with Treebeard in Fangorn. In that sense I think it is important that the hobbits go into the Old Forest so we see how wild nature can be (contrasting that with Hurons later) and contrast that with the Ents later.

I really enjoy the bath scene and Pippin singing of Biblo's favorite bath song. For any who enjoy a nice hot bath or even a nice hot shower!

In terms of the decision of the Old Forest I'm not sure that it was a rash and quick decision. Frodo in response to Pippin says that he "fears those Black Riders" and knows that he cannot stay in one place for very long. Finall Gildor's warning also bodes on Frodo, yet he desires to see Gandalf. Finally it comes down to the fact on how quickly the Black Riders could get to Crickhollow and how soon could the party get off. Once Merry reviews the answers to his questions, Frodo makes his decision. He won't go by the North Gate where his departure would be known by most people, while the Bridge and East Road had to be considered watched. Yes Fatty distrusts the Old Forest, but Merry seems to be okay with it.

In the end I do think Frodo acted out of what he felt was the best possible route with the best possible reason. Was this rash? I think sometimes decisions are rash when time is constrained, yet in the end I don't see other options for Frodo. The North Gate would have met capture, and to go south would have met the same. The only direction is east to the Old Forest.

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 10, 2008 1:34 am 
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It's also to be recalled, I think, that the Forest route was not a sudden decision by any means, but part of Merry's plan from the outset. The whole business of Fatty 'playing Frodo' would have been meaningless unless the plan was based on Frodo slipping out of Buckland unnoticed by anyone.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 10, 2008 2:15 am 
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True enough!

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