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Lord of the Rings, LotR (The One Ring)
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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.

Prologue

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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od_mind

2006-06-03 03:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

The class stuff you talk about makes me profoundly uncomfortable too, but in another direction; I don't like to think of Tolkien as thinking that way.

I think it's a mistake to polarize reactions to the changes in class structure as "pro-" or "con-", with all regrets contemptible.

Here's an analogy: all married persons that I have met have moments when they regret the absence of the freedom of action and choice they once had. This is even more strongly true of parents. This does not mean that these people in any way regret choosing to marry and/or have children, nor that they are closet child-haters or misanthropes/misogynists.

As Peter Jackson well knew, the relationship between Frodo and Sam that exists in the books is impossible today -- just as impossible as that between (say) Peter Wimsey and Bunter. One can heartily approve the changes that have made those relationships impossible, and the elimination of the abuses such master-servant situations were prone to, while still mourning the eradication of those few shining examples of what the relationship could be at its best.

(And thanks, papersky, for that excellent insight.)

kalimac

2006-06-03 03:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

As Peter Jackson well knew, the relationship between Frodo and Sam that exists in the books is impossible today

All the more of a worthy challenge, then, to depict in your novel or film what once existed but no longer does. Jackson declared that he saw LOTR as more a historical novel than a fantasy, and that he wanted to film it that way.

Who was it who said, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there"? Or, as Tolkien himself once said, why travel if what you'll find is exactly what you left at home?

od_mind

2006-06-03 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

od_mind: As Peter Jackson well knew, the relationship between Frodo and Sam that exists in the books is impossible today

calimac: All the more of a worthy challenge, then, to depict in your novel or film what once existed but no longer does. Jackson declared that he saw LOTR as more a historical novel than a fantasy, and that he wanted to film it that way.


I wonder what stopped him.

Seriously, the relationship between Frodo and Sam is probably the thing Jackson changed the most from book to film. He bent way over backwards to make sure it was not the master-servant relationship of the books, but (short of the clearly not-intended-by-Tolkien homosexual interpretation that so many current viewers are led to) there simply isn't a modern way to interpret what he gave us instead: "my good friend whom I value but who gets to carry all the heavy gear, cook for me, and defer to my judgement at all times".

(Aside: anyone ever see the movie "Serial", with Martin Mull? There's a scene where the wealthy white homeowner asks her black housekeeper to stop wearing her white uniform. The housekeeper says "I see -- you want people to think I'm your black friend who just happened to stop by to clean the toilets." That's what Jackson gave us.)

It's easy to depict the historical class relationships of the 30's on film; every dramatization of Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers or P.G. Wodehouse does just fine. What is impossible is to bring those relationships forward to a modern setting (or a modernized sensibility) intact.

kalimac

2006-06-03 04:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

I must bite my tongue on any occasion when asked why Jackson did not replicate things in the book that he could have replicated. That needs a week's answer, or none at all.

Though the word "servant" is used of Sam a few times in the book, he's not Frodo's manservant in the sense of "black friend who just happens to clean the toilets." Frodo employs him as his gardener; he goes with him out of friendship and concern, and he takes over the tough jobs out of necessity and more importantly out of love.

I read an account of someone who went to visit a very sick friend at home to ask what she could do to help. What the friend needed was practical help, in fact housecleaning, to be precise cleaning the toilets. Which she did out of love, not because she "just happened to stop by to clean the toilets."

That's the spirit in which Tolkien wanted us to see Sam. He helps Frodo out of love, and concern for practicality, not because Frodo somehow finagles or manipulates him into doing it.

od_mind

2006-06-03 05:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

I must bite my tongue on any occasion when asked why Jackson did not replicate things in the book that he could have replicated.

This is not such an occasion. You said that Jackson himself had stated a desire to do X. I noted that he did not, in fact, do X, and wondered why not.

Again, if you want to pursue this, I have replied in more detail on my own LJ.

kate_nepveu

2006-06-07 04:48 pm (UTC) (Link)


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