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incidents and accidents, hints and allegations

Lord of the Rings, LotR (The One Ring)
Kate kate_nepveu
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LotR re-read: introduction

I've been meaning to re-read The Lord of the Rings for a while, after enough time had passed after the movies. I was thinking about listening to the audiobooks as a fresh way of coming to the text, but that didn't work so well with The Hobbit, so I'm taking a different route: my plan, at present, is to post thoughts on each chapter, to give myself incentive to really read closely. I don't know whether I'll actually stick with this, or if I'll be able to see the text fresh after all this time—for several years, I read this annually (literally; we'd go on vacation to a timeshare and I'd check the trilogy out of the school library), and quite frequently thereafter, and I have a very good memory for text. But, we'll see how it goes.

I'm reading paperbacks I bought in the UK on a term abroad, because I wanted something to read on the plane back, my fancy one-volume edition isn't very user-friendly (a mistaken purchase, really), and I really liked the covers by John Howe (the editions: one, two, three). Alas, I didn't get a matching Silmarillion.

Some notes on the prefatory material behind the cut, and a list of things I'm going to be looking for. Additions to the list are welcome.

Foreword [*]

The Foreword has the notes on the history of the book's writing, and the famous comments on allegory. The WWI comments have been noted frequently, of course, but it's the WWII comments that have always caught my attention. Granted, I was about seven the first time I read them, but even now, reading them makes me think I don't know nearly enough about the history of WWII:

The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.

[*] Every edition I've read has this, though of course it wasn't in the original.


This is in a historian's voice, which is very like the voice of the Foreword to my ear. The framing device is of a historical story, of our world.

I hadn't noticed until now that the discussion of textual sources gives away that all four hobbits live through the War of the Ring.

"It is said that Celeborn went to dwell there after the departure of Galadriel; but there is no record of the day when at last he sought the Grey Havens, and with him went the last living memory of the Elder Days in Middle-earth." I don't recall whether we know why Celeborn stayed when Galadriel left.

Things I'll Be Looking For

A preliminary list of themes that I want to keep an eye out for. Again, suggestions welcomed.

  • history, telling of tales
  • genetics, heredity, dwindling, race & species
  • fate, significant personal actions
  • class
  • gender
  • machinery, environment, land
  • ETA: religion in Middle-earth

Also I want to look at technique: POV, tone, distance, pacing, structure, foreshadowing.

Not at all a large project, hmm? My intent is to start with a close reading and then come back to this as a checklist if I need.

I have notes on chapter one, but I also have an amazing headache, so they will have to wait.

[ more LotR re-read posts ]

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This is silly: we have the Internet, and therefore this question should be answerable.

This site http://www.tolkien.co.uk/fifty/default.asp , referencing _J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography_ by Wayne G. Hammond, with the assistance of Douglas A. Anderson, says it was to the second edition.

This site http://www.tolkiensociety.org/tolkien/tale.html gives a lot more detail and also indicates that the 1966 editions had a new foreword.

Yes, that's correct. In fact, it was the foreword to the first Swedish translation (published in 1959, thus based on the first edition, and translated by Åke Ohlmarks) that made the connection between LOTR and WWII that Tolkien denies here. He wrote a first reaction to it in 1961.

Ohlmarks's translation and interpretation of LOTR was a very sore point for Tolkien until his death, and for the family after that as well.

Wooo, that is a pissed-off response. Justifiably so, if the translations are accurate.

They are.

Tolkien had several other reasons to be pissed off as well, with the translation an sich. Ohlmarks was a master stylist and tremendously learned, no doubt about it, but he also was very careless (to take one example, his idea of copy-editing was to check if every word was spelt correctly with no regard to context), had a very hard time keeping deadlines (which was aggravated with him being under constant financial strain), had a tendency to stick to his fix ideas and own interpretations no matter what, and subscribed to the theory that a translator's job was as much to adapt the original to the target language/culture as it was to make a faithful translation (a view that was common in the start of his career, though he took it to new lengths). He also added long expositions, while simultaneously cutting out large amounts of text in order to remain at roughly the same length as the original.

I think Ohlmark's translation should be viewed primarily as an independent retelling of LOTR, at which point it becomes a very impressive stylistic work, though marred by literally over a thousand errors (yes, people I know have checked). But it can hardly be viewed as a translation.

I think you just gave every author reading this nightmares. =>

How long was Ohlmarks's the only Swedish-language version available?

Hold on to your hat: from 1959 to 2004 (with a minor revision in 1978 removing several of the most eggregious mistakes).

There was talk in the mid/late-1990s of making a thorough revision, not doing a new translation but forcing Ohlmarks's version to conform to Tolkien's original. My friend who was contacted about doing the work believed it could be done, and I have no reason to doubt her (she's one of the best translators currently active in Sweden).


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