Some thoughts/observations inspired by (or in some cases made in) the Reader's Companion
First, sticking with the discussion about the first appearance of Strider, I really like what Wayne and Christina have to say about it:
Tolkien introduced the character without knowing who he was; he wrote to W.H. Auden on 7 June 1955 that 'Strider sitting in the corner at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo' (Letters, p. 216). This may be one reason why this scene works so well. Frodo, Tolkien, and the reader see Strider from the same point of view.
Going back to the beginning of the chapter, W and C point out that the names of the other villages of the Breeland -- Staddle, Combe, and Archet -- are all described in the Nomeclature of the Lord of the Rings
as having their origins in real languages. Staddle and Combe both have Old English roots, whereas, Archet "is actually an English place-name of Celtic origin." Curiously, they don't say anything about the name Bree itself, but in the Nomenclature
, Tolkien states "Retain, since it was an old name, of obsolete meaning in an older language." The "Retain" is a direction to translators (which was the purpose of the Nomenclature
). I presume that he is referring to an unidentified "older language" of Middle-earth, not a "real" older language. Anyone else have any thoughts about this?
One interesting element of the "introductory" portion of the chapter is the several references to the "old Kings" ("when the Kings returned again over the Great Sea ... "when the memory of the old Kings had faded into the grass"). This is the type of thing that gives LOTR such great depth, because the references are to something that actually exists in the fictional universe, not just some vague, meaningless throwaway line.
Something that has often leapt out at me is how Butterbur talks in familiar platitudes when we are introduced to him. Just in the first page, he says "I'm run off my feet," "It never rains but it pours" and "One thing drives out another." This helps to give a sense of familiarity to Middle-earth. I'm sure that we all have encountered people who tend to speak in cliches.
W and C point out a more important consequence of this devise, quoting Katharyn Crabbe's comments about this in her book J.R.R. Tolkien
Barliman's string of platitudes ... is perfect as a representation of the conversation of a man who is too busy to concentrate on what is before him. This sort of nearly meaningless utterance is only probable in a kind of semiconscious conversation that prepares us for a shock of recognition instead of a simple shock when Barliman reveals that he has forgotten to send Gandalf's warning letter to Frodo. [rev. and expanded edn. (1988), p. 100]
This is a very good example of how Tolkien is constantly setting up later events.
Another thing that has often leapt out at me is how the Breelanders refer to the Shire-folk as "outsiders," just as the Shire-folk refer to the Breelanders as "outsiders". As we have talked about before, Tolkien had a fine sense of the arrogance of provincialism, and this bit of irony really shows that.
One thing which I had never realized before reading the Companion
is that the term "squint-eyed" (as in the squinted-eyed southerner) has different meanings in English English and American English. Wayne and Christina quote a reply to a letter that Christopher Tolkien made on this subject to Nancy Martsch. Speaking about his father's intention in using this term, he said:
... the likeliest meaning, I think, is that the man didn't look straight, but obliquely, watchfully, sideways, suggesting craftiness and crookedness. [quoted in Nancy Martsch, 'The "Squint-eyed Southerner"', Beyond Bree, May 1990, p. 9]
Works for me.
Skipping the observation about Strider's introduction (since I already mentioned it at the beginning of this post, as it followed from the conversation that was already ongoing in this thread), we turn to the main point that I wanted to make in this post (assuming anyone is actually still reading
). Regarding the "ridiculous song" that Frodo sings, W and C state:
The Man in the Moon in this poem must be assumed to represent stories and legends among Men and Hobbits who had little idea of the 'real' state of affairs in Arda. In Tolkien's mythology, after the Two Trees of Valinor were wounded and poisoned by Melkor and Ungoliant [VtF note: actually in Tolkien's final conception it was only Ungoliant], before dying Telperion bore one last silver flower and Laurelin a last golden fruit. The Moon was created from that silver flower, and it was guided by Tilion, a Maia, one of the lesser Ainur. The phases of the Moon were ascribed to his uncertain pace, and evidently gave rise to stories such as the one told in this poem.
However, they later remind us that two pages later, in a footnote, Tolkien states that "Elves (and Hobbits) always refer to the Sun as She" and that Tolkien represents the Sun and Moon as female and male (the reverse of Greek and Roman mythology). Doesn't this seem like it is a contradiction? If the Hobbits follow the Elves lead in referring to the Sun as She (and the Moon as he), doesn't that imply that they have learned something from the Elves of the "real state of affairs in Arda"?
Finally, they make an interesting observation about at change that they made to the text in 2004, at Christopher Tolkien's direction. Towards the end of the chapter, after the sentence that states that Bill Ferny left the room, followed by the squint-eyed southerner, there used to be another sentence stating “Harry the gatekeeper also went out just behind them.” There were originally three references to Harry at the inn, all of which Tolkien deleted. He also wrote in a note “Cut out Harry – he is unnecessary.” However, the final reference (the sentence quoted above) “somehow entered the typescript, and so the published text.” According W and C, when they discussed this with Christopher, he
argued that it is not credible that if his father wanted to restore the motive of Harry at the inn he would have reinstated only the third reference, and not the two earlier references (in which Harry calls for relief at the gate, and Frodo sees him among the crowd) in order to explain his presence. As such the surviving sentence presented an anomaly best removed, according to the author’s clear intent
I have very mixed feelings about this, at best. On the one hand, I understand the logic of their argument. On the other hand, I have never considered it at all an anomaly that Harry was seen following Ferny and the southerner out of the room without having explained his presence previously; on the contrary, I’ve always considered it a nice touch, after our introduction to Harry’s unpleasant nature at the gate, and I miss having the reference there. Most importantly, Tolkien himself had several opportunities to correct this if he really didn’t want it there: when he reviewed the typescript; when he reviewed the galley proofs; when small corrections were made during the early printings of the first edition (as well as later on) ; and most of all when he made significant revisions for the second edition. I am not convinced that there is sufficient evidence of the “author’s intent” to justify a fairly significant removal from the text as it was published by the author, and as it stood throughout his life.
What say you?
"Among the tales of sorrow there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures."