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03/22/2015

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By the way, I picked this time to do this entry because it is close to March 25, the Annunciation, which is not coincidentally the day the Ring was destroyed.

This is a great post. Like many, I have just read Hobbit and LOTR. For some reason I own Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales too, but have only cracked them a few times. I guess I should also mention that I think between me, my wife, and kids, there must be at least 5 editions of The Hobbit in the house. I will also fess up that I own all the movies, the LOTR on extended dvds and The Hobbit ones on blu-ray. The last Hobbit movie comes out tomorrow on dvd & blu-ray. I know that Mac has exhaustively spoken about how he dislikes the movies compared to the books. They are indeed very very different, but I do think that in the quiet moments of the movies you find pieces of the books. Sorry, don't want to hijack your post and turn it into a movie vs. literature discussion - literature pretty much always wins! I suppose I need to branch out and read more Tolkien.

"in the quiet moments of the movies you find pieces of the books." Quite correct.

I agree.

Farmer Giles is one of our family's favorite books. It would be a favorite read-aloud except that whoever's reading has to keep stopping to laugh. Some of the other stories you mention are new to us, though--just in time for my husband's birthday!

I'm not sure I've ever read Farmer Giles. I must have, sometime long ago. But in general I haven't read much of Tolkien's work apart from LOTR and The Hobbit. I did read The Silmarillion when it came out, and didn't find it interesting enough to keep reading the other stuff that Christopher Tolkien continued to put out.

I really liked The Silmarillion. I think it's probably for the same reason that whenever I try to read something in history, I'm always trying to find out what came before and I go back and back until I end up at Genesis. The idea of their being a sort of Bible that underlies LotR fascinated me.

AMDG

Great piece, Robert.

It's been decades since I read The Silmarillion or any of the other "supplemental" stuff, but I remember liking both it and the Unfinished Tales. Don't know if I got much farther than that, although I may have read the first Book of Lost Tales. This would have been early to mid-80's, I'd say.

Tales From the Perilous Realm sounds like a good thing to pick up. It would be nice to have all those shorter pieces in one volume. I've got them all, I think, but they're scattered among several smaller books.

For those who like the sheer Englishness of Tolkien's work (The Shire and what-not), this publisher should prove appealing:

http://littletoller.co.uk/

Looks very appealing.

Re The Silmarillion and other works, I think it may have been W.H. Auden...or maybe not...somebody, anyway, who said that part of the appeal of The Lord of the Rings is in the sense of vistas that remain out of sight, only mentioned glancingly. That's definitely a factor for me, and although I do want to know what's there, it might be that any attempt to fill in all the missing lore was bound to disappoint me.

And of course the stories just aren't told in the same way--as I recall (it's been 30 year and more) everything is seen from a much greater height, with much less detail than in LOTR. It's interesting lore, but not a page-turning narrative.

Tolkien pretty much said what you said. It has been probably almost that long since I read The Silmarillion but I think I remember that he didn't think many people would want to read it. I got the feeling that he did it more for himself. He had to know this stuff to write the other stuff. I just like knowing the cosmology.

I haven't read any of the collections of stories that have come out in recent years. I remember being excited when CofH came out, but then forgetting to read it.

AMDG

I read Farmer Giles to one of my little brothers when I was a teenager, and enjoyed it immensely. I should probably try to find a copy and read it to my children.

Reading LotR to my kids and then a few years later having my 12 year old read it to me are among my favorite memories ever. I would love to read them to my grandchildren, but I think their mothers would rather do that themselves.

AMDG

We have three read-aloud staples in our family (besides picture-books): The Hobbit/LOTR, Narnia, and the Little House books. We've also read others, like The Secret Garden and Treasure Island.

My kids started reading the Harry Potter books out loud to me over dishes. I "ugh"ed out after the third one.

My favorite picture book, by the way, is probably Umbrella, by Taro Yashima.

Those are my three staples, too. I was fortunate enough to have a teacher who read us the Little House books when I was in second grade. And I read a ton of others too.

Maybe.my favorite picture book is Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey, but I'm not sure.

Robert, book 4 of Potter is when thy get good. My daughter read them all to me.

AMDG

I should know better than to comment from the Kindle Fire with the evil auto-correct.

AMDG

I checked my Tolkien shelf last night and found only The Hobbit and LoTR, the letters, and the Carpenter biog. The rest is in storage Lord only knows where. Of course you know what this means: I now have a reason to buy Tales from the Perilous Realm. =^)

I know what happens in the later HP books, so I don't need to read them for that. I just can't stomach the writing. With my huge backlog of reading (Great Expectations, for instance), I'm not likely ever to have the kind of leisure time that would make room for me to read them. And even if I had it, I probably wouldn't read them. They just aren't pleasant to read for me.

I'm somewhere in the middle re Harry Potter (I still have to stop for a second and figure out that when people say "HP" they don't mean Hewlett-Packard). I didn't dislike them, but I never could figure out why so many people found them so page-turningly enjoyable. The strong narrative pull just never was there for me.

Well, I was going to say to Robert that he probably shouldn't even bother reading my post next week. The reason I am attracted to Harry Potter is the same reason I am attracted to Dean Koontz, and I can put up with less than the best writing if I find the element I'm looking for.

AMDG

I'll read it. From his Wikipedia article he sounds interesting.

I'll have to read that after I finish writing.

AMDG

I finally had a few minutes to really read this instead of skimming through it.

I'm pretty much of the opinion that LotR is the best fiction that was ever written and I can't even talk about it in comparison to anything else.

The concepts of eucatastrophe and subcreation have so influenced the way that I perceive fiction and all of life really that it's hard for me imagine how I would view things if I had never read On Fairy-Stories.

Now I have conceived a great desire to re-read LotR while thinking about Sam being the protagonist.

AMDG

If you google "On Fairy-stories" (with the hyphen), you can find several pdfs of the whole thing, including one on academia.edu.

Check that. The one on academia.edu is not the original essay.

I read Harry Potter aloud. The writing is far from euphonious. I would have stopped after the first if I was reading for my own pleasure, and after the second if given the choice, but after three I did start to get into the narrative. There's one (perhaps the fifth?) that should have been edited down by about a third, as even the narrative was going nowhere. Having persevered, though, I don't regret the time spent on them.

I particularly liked the last two HP books, but was never impressed enough with the first three to read them through.

But...that's impossible. You can't have read the last ones without having read all the earlier ones.

That is making me feel rather queasy.

AMDG

HP in general makes me feel queasy, which is why I don't read them.

Now, back to Tolkien....:)

Oh Robert,

Nobody homeschools as long as you have without becoming familiar with rabbit trails.

AMDG

Did anyone ever read any fantasy of that sort that even came close to Tolkien? I read a lot of it in the late 70s and early 80s, but none that I've ever thought of revisiting.

No nothing. Nothing even comes close.


AMDG

"But...that's impossible. You can't have read the last ones without having read all the earlier ones."

It's ok, I watched the movies. :)

"That is making me feel rather queasy."

Sorry, Janet.

I haven't read much fantasy literature, but no of it I have read comes anywhere close to Tolkien. To get anything like the same flavour, you have to read sagas and eddas and Arthurian romances.

*none of it

But those are missing something else.

AMDG

Come to think of it, there were two that stood out from the others and have stayed with me somewhat: Shardik by Richard Adams (he of Watership Down fame) and Guy Gavriel Kay's "Fionavar" trilogy. Neither in JRRT's league, of course, but memorable enough at least to come to mind occasionally. No idea what I'd think now if I read them -- might be an interesting experiment, considering it's been 30 years or so.

Kay, by the way, had something to do with C. Tolkien getting The Silmarillion ready for publication -- helped him edit it or something along those lines.

I'm looking forward to Janet's Dean Koontz post too! I read the first two HP books before bowing out, many years ago. My wife loves them and she is one of many who have said "they start to get good at Book 4". Well, I don't want to read any more, just not too much into school-boy stories. :P

Oops, I should say "school-kid" stories. There are girls as well as boys in HP.

Well, Maclin has the Dean Koontz in hand, so it should definitely be showing up. I have never been so glad to send something off in my life.

AMDG

This is what I'm thinking about LotR and it's completely off the top of my head and might be really dumb. It really is a new thing. It has those medieval overtones--and undertones and everything else, but it's written in a 20th C. voice. It doesn't have the formality of eddas and sagas. The combination of the two happened at just the right moment and through just the right author. Everybody that wrote fantasy after that, no matter how hard they tried, couldn't get away from certain parameters that LotR set (although I couldn't tell you exactly what I mean), and within those limits.

Also, Tolkien spent almost his whole adult life creating (subcreating) this world. He had this monstrously huge back story. So unless somebody else does that, how could anything be that good.

AMDG

I saw the 12:49-12:59 exchange between Paul and Janet earlier, and thought "yes, those earlier works are definitely missing something in comparison to LOTR." I was busy and didn't want to take the time to respond, but planned to come back later and do so. It looks like Janet has said pretty much the same thing I was going to--"the 20th c. voice."

What I was going to say is that Tolkien, in spite of his disdain for modern literature, used a distinctly modern novelistic technique. In the old epics etc., there is nothing (at least to my knowledge) of the up-close-ness, the intimacy with the characters and the action, that you get in LOTR. That's kind of what I was getting at earlier about The Silmarillion--it has the distance of old literature.

I see I didn't finish the last sentence of the first paragraph up there. I wish I knew what I had been planning to say.

AMDG

Well Janet, I appreciated your analysis of Tolkien very much.

I haven't read either Adams or Kay (re Rob's 1:55 comment above). I had an instant and strong prejudice against Adams when Watership Down came out. I'm not sure why, but I was convinced I wouldn't like it and never picked it up. I may have been completely wrong.

For that matter, I can't offhand think of anything besides Tolkien in the fantasy genre that I've read. Oh wait: I did read the first book of Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials. There were actually some things in it that I quite liked, but when I saw where he was going I lost interest in reading any more of it.

Oh, and there was Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, which is more like That Hideous Strength than Tolkien. It started off well but declined.

Watership Down is great! Of course I did last read this in Junior High, so that makes it a recommendation from a young teen-ager circa late 70s.

I have been in a seminar that is based on Anthony Esolen's book, Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching, which is about the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII. Many of his encyclicals, including Rerum Novarum are mainly or at least partially concerned with the family--the family as the society which is the basis for all society.

So last night I was thinking about another aspect of LotR which is different from either the sagas and eddas or anything that came after and that is that it acknowledges this centrality of the family. And Robert touches on that in his quote from Faramir. The reason the enemy has to be defeated is so that Sam can go home and marry Rosie and raise his family in peace, and so men can live with their families in peace in the city of the Men of Númenor. I think it's in this correct recognition of priorities--of a recognition of the true nature of things--that Tolkein's work differs from the rest. So much of the fantasy that I remember reading pictures families as hopeless places. But then, it's been a while.

AMDG

I read Watership Down in the summer of 1984, when I was 23. I remember because I had just gotten back from visiting a friend in Chicago when I began it. I enjoyed it a lot, and it's probably due for a reread.

"I think it's in this correct recognition of priorities--of a recognition of the true nature of things--that Tolkein's work differs from the rest."

Right -- it always points to something bigger than itself. A lot of the other fantasy I read simply didn't do that.

Ha! I just remembered what else I read that same summer: The Wind in the Willows and E. Nesbit's 'Five Children' trilogy. I recall reading one of the latter books on the train back from Chicago.

Wind in the Willows has some of my favorite passages in any book ever.

The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated [by the river]. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.

AMDG

In the old epics etc., there is nothing (at least to my knowledge) of the up-close-ness, the intimacy with the characters and the action, that you get in LOTR.

I've not read Tolkien, but I did read Beowulf long, long ago while in college, and my faint memory of it is that it has some of that modern "up-close-ness" to it. So, as usual, this set me to searching for the text, and led me to an interesting piece in the New Yorker about Tolkien's translation of the poem, which he did in 1926 but never published; his son published it just last year.

In any case, it apparently had a huge influence on Tolkien -- in discussing why he never published the translation, the author of the article says this:

Another possible explanation for Tolkien’s putting “Beowulf” aside—a theory that has been advanced in the case of many unpublished manuscripts—is that the work was so important to him that if he finished it his life, or the life of his mind, would be over. I think this makes some sense. “Beowulf” was Tolkien’s lodestar. Everything he did led up to or away from it.

I've not read Tolkien

Gasp!

AMDG

I know, Janet, it's pretty astounding really. It's just that I can't read fantasy. A lack of imagination, or something.

Hope you don't hold it against me. :)

Ha. No, I have a few other friends who can't read it either.

AMDG

Grumpy also dislikes Tolkien, so you're not alone here, Marianne. We might have heard from here if she didn't go offline for Lent.

I don't recall Beowulf having that up-close quality especially. But I'll be re-reading it soon, in Tolkien's translation, which I got for Christmas.

I was wondering if it was the translation that gave it that up-close quality, because I didn't get that at all in the translations I have read.

AMDG

The last one I read was Seamus Heaney's, for what that's worth.

The translation of Beowulf I read was published by Burton Raffel in 1963. I think perhaps it is the modern feel of the language more than anything that feels up-close, but it does also have a fairly personal, emotionally stirring take on the proceedings, at least to me. I found a section in both Raffel’s version and Heaney’s version to show what I mean. It’s the part where Beowulf’s fighting the dragon to the death and one of his warriors, Wiglaf, is trying to rouse the rest of Beowulf’s men to come to Beowulf’s aid.

Raffel’s version:

And Wiglaf, his heart heavy, uttered
The kind of words his comrades deserved:
“I remember how we sat in the mead-hall, drinking
And boasting of how brave we’d be when Beowulf
Needed us, he who gave us these swords
And armor: All of us swore to repay him,
When the time came, kindness for kindness
—With our lives, if he needed them. He allowed us to join him,
Chose us from all his great army, thinking
Our boasting words had some weight, believing
Our promises, trusting our swords. He took us
For soldiers, for men. He meant to kill
This monster himself, our mighty king,
Fight this battle alone and unaided,
As in the days when his strength and daring dazzled
Men’s eyes. But those days are over and gone
And now our lord must lean on younger
Arms. And we must go to him, while angry
Flames burn at his flesh, help
Our glorious king! By almighty God,
I’d rather burn myself than see
Flames swirling around my lord.
And who are we to carry home
Our shields before we’ve slain his enemy
And ours, to run back to our homes with Beowulf
So hard-pressed here? I swear that nothing
He ever did deserved an end
Like this, dying miserably and alone,
Butchered by this savage beast: We swore
That these swords and armor were each for us all!”
Heaney’s version:
Wiglaf spoke wise and fluent words:
“I remember that time when the mead was flowing,
How we pledged loyalty to our lord in the hall,
Promised our ring-giver we would be worth our price,
Make good the gift of the war-gear,
Those swords and helmets, as and when
His need required it. He picked us out
From the army deliberately, honored us and judged us
Fit for this action, made me these lavish gifts
And all because he considered us the best
Of his arms-bearing thanes. And now, although
He wanted this challenge to be the one he’d face
By himself alone--the shepherd of our land,
A man unequalled in the quest for glory
And a name for daring--now the day has come
When this lord we serve needs sound men
To give him their support. Let us go to him,
Help our leader through the hot flame
And dread of the fire. As God is my witness,
I would rather my body were robbed in the same
Burning blaze as my gold-giver’s body
Than go back home bearing arms.
That is unthinkable, unless we have first
Slain the foe and defended the life
Of the prince of the Weather-Geats. I well know
That things he has done for us deserve better.
Should he alone be left exposed
To fall in battle? We must bond together,
Shield and helmet, mail-shirt and sword.”

Now I'm tempted to jump ahead (in my reading list) to the Tolkien translation. Regardless of the "up-closeness" of the poem, it's certainly true that it was very important to Tolkien. And the translation is 400+ pages, of which fewer than a hundred are the poem itself. Much of the rest is commentary by Tolkien assembled from various places by Christopher Tolkien. It doesn't include a well-known essay which has appeared in a number of other places, including the Heaney translation, "The Monster and the Critics."

Cross-posted. I have to admit that speech wouldn't be entirely out of place in LOTR.

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