Tue
Dec 2 2008 3:02pm

LotR re-read: Foreword and Prologue

cover of The Fellowship of the RingSince I always start my Lord of the Rings re-reads with the Foreword and the Prologue, I’ll start the discussion with these sections as well. (For more about this project, see the introductory post.)

Foreword

This is the Foreword to the second edition (1966)*, which has the notes on the history of the book’s writing, and the famous comments on allegory. It’s only on this re-read that the WWI comments have snagged my attention, as I thought about history and loss with regard to the story and the author: “By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.” Perhaps it’s because that sentence is buried in the middle of a long paragraph, or because of my extreme youth when I first read it, but only now does that sentence haunt me.

Perhaps, also, I was distracted by the WWII comments, which always made me think I didn’t know nearly enough about the history of that war:

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.

Having thought about it since, it’s hard for me not to read this as referring to the atomic bomb at least in part, and at least a few other people concurred when I initially posted about this section. Jo Walton, in comments also posted at her journal, also referred to social changes in the UK and the feared behavior of the UK’s allies.

Finally, I don’t think I noticed until recently that Tolkien gets a little cranky, not only about allegory, but at critics:

Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.

I’m inclined to think that even Tolkien shouldn’t respond to reviews, though if I’m only noticing this now perhaps it’s not so bad.

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, with Tolkien as translator.

This now looks very odd to me in light of Tom Shippey’s Road to Middle-earth, which discusses Tolkien’s goal of calquing (translating) England into Middle-earth: so much of the information here seems to be aimed at that goal but is completely unnecessary to the new reader, who I think at most needs the brief summary of The Hobbit—at most, since I suspect the discussion in “The Shadow of the Past” would be sufficient, or could have been made to be. Everything else could go in the Appendices.

More, I think it should: if I were reading this for the first time today, the Prologue would not be an incentive to keep reading. It’s a lengthy infodump, much of which has no obvious immediate relevance to the story ahead and as a result hardly grabs my attention. Yes, it has some foreshadowing of danger to come, with its comments about how hobbits are sheltered but don’t know it any more, but it’s a novel, there ought to be peril and conflict. And when an omniscient narrator tells me twice in one sentence that it’s “astonishing” that hobbits smoked—and then devotes an entire section to the fact!—I would probably start wondering if our priorities and worldviews were sufficiently similar to get along for a long book.

(Also, the discussion of textual sources gives away that all four hobbits live through the War of the Ring. I might not recognize the significance of this on a first read, but is it really a good idea to spoil your own work?)

As a general matter, I don’t particularly mind a faux-historian framing device. But the conceit that Middle-earth is an earlier stage of our world has never really grabbed me, and I’m not sure why. (I know other people feel differently; some of them weighed in over on a prior LJ post.) Today, I also find the implication that the translator has spoken to hobbits a little twee.

The last things I want to note about the Prologue is that it is already establishing several things that will prove significant in the story proper: the image of towers on a hill overlooking the Sea; calling Bilbo’s finding of the Ring an “accident” in scare quotes; and the theme of magic and the non-human dwindling and fading into the past.

Next up, chapter one.


* The first edition had an entirely different Foreword, which I have not read but which is reprinted in The Peoples of Middle-earth; apparently it continues the framing device of Tolkien-as-translator that is retained in the Prologue and Appendices. (Thanks to David Bratman for sharing his paper “The Artistry of Omissions and Revisions in The Lord of the Rings” with me.)


« Introduction | Index | Fellowship I.1 »

38 comments
Rachel Roslin
1. rachelroslin
On the Prologue's revelation that the hobbits live: I remember noticing this when I first read LotR at age eleven, and being comforted by it when I was huddled under my blankets reading the most harrowing bits by flashlight. (I always did get too attached to the characters in the books I read.)
JS Bangs
2. jaspax
I always read the Prologue in the same spirit that I read the Appendices: casually, if I was in the mood for spelunking the history, or not at all if I were going for the story. OTOH, I completely agree with you on the Tolkien-as-translator conceit, as well as the idea that Middle Earth is an earlier version of this world. Neither of them actually makes much sense in the larger context, and I mostly retcon those ideas out of my concept of Middle Earth.
Kate Nepveu
3. katenepveu
rachelroslin, you were a lot more alert than I; I didn't notice that consciously until starting this project.

What are the most harrowing bits for you?

jaspax, it's like the side of a cereal box: it's there, I can't help it. =>

In Tom Shippey's account in _The Road to Middle-earth_, the Tolkien-as-translator conceit was an inevitable consequence of Tolkien's linguistic knowledge when it came to extrapolating the world of _The Hobbit_: the Baggineses are shown speaking modern English, but if it's our world in the past it can't really be English, but an analogue of it (likewise the Old Norse dwarf names), and then down we go into "translation."

I wonder if this is related to the tendency of older works of fiction to have an explicit framing device, like a story told by a traveler or a manuscript found in a cupboard, rather than just telling the story?
Jon Sutton
4. diaverde
Kate,

The bit about Tolkien's friends having died by 1918 stood out to me, too. When I reached that sentence I paused and spent a good minute thinking about mortality and life-expectancy rates and so on. I don't recall doing that the last time I read the Forward.

My thoughts about the Prologue are that it felt a little long for a prologue and that I enjoyed it a lot anyway. The quote "they liked to have books filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions" gave me a chuckle, which is good. I had worried that the movies had spoiled any hobbit-humor I might find again in the books.

I liked the movies quite a bit, but still I do not want them to influence my reading. That's probably my number-one fear as I get ready to start The Fellowship. I don't want Elijah Wood's face popping into my head whenever Frodo is mentioned.
SteveC
5. SteveC
Dear Ms. Nepveu,

Surely we all have the freedom to speak our minds, and if you dislike elements of Professor Tolkien's writing you have every right to say so. That being said, I have to wonder why you would willingly re-read a work about which you have so much to criticize and so many nits to pick. Do you enjoy this sort of thing?

(Admittedly, everyone's style of enjoyment of a work differs. I myself annoy my friends profoundly by making running commentary about real or imagined subtexts I find in whatever popular film might be on the TV. Yhey don't enjoy such things and surely must find it odd that I do).

To take merely one element that pops to mind from your discussion - you criticize Professor Tolkien for "spoiling his own work" by revealing that the Hobbits live through the War of the Rings. But bear in mind that obsession with "spoilers" is a concern peculiar to the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Prpfessor Tolkien writes in the early Twentieth Century, and in many ways might be considered a man of the Nineteenth. I think it is quite unfair to hold him hostage to the sensibilities of our present-day entertainment-oriented culture.

I guess it just sticks im my craw that you choose to pick apart an arguably classic work by such an accomplished writer who has brought joy to so many. At the risk of becoming a bit nasty, I will refer to the oft-mentioned tendency of "literary critics" to tear down the work of others, when they themselves are not capable of creating anything of comparable worth.

Perhaps you might want to consider adopting a more positive tone. Surely for Professor Tolkien's work to have been as well regarded as it is, for so long, there must be things he has done right. Point out his faults, if you feel you must, but perhaps show some balance toward the positive side.

Just a thought,
-Steve
Mark Ensley
6. mensley
Wow, I'm so excited, as I think there's a LOT to chat about in Tolkien's Forwards and Prologue. You bring up some of the points I wanted to talk about, cool!

In regard to your first blockquote, you mention that it seems to you to allude to the atomic bomb. I'll respond to that by responding to your second blockquote.

Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.


I see this as profoundly interesting, not "cranky" as you say.

I see Tolkien as a very typical author who was profoundly influenced by WWI and the Industrial Revolution. That is to say in litcritter terms, a Modernist.

I see his comments that you reference about the war to reflect the viewpoints he gained by being a soldier in WWI, not those of a man who had witnessed WWII.

Look at that first quote in light of a man who had fought in WWI and then saw the unintelligent responses to the war by those in power. There is a grand cynicism in them.

Many literary theorists have dismissed Tolkien, but I think he needs to be read with careful regard to the works and criticism being written at the time. That is to say, the time he came to develop the main ideas and themes, not just the physical writing, of the LOTR. That quote illustrates that he was quite aware of the critical currents of the time, as if his being a Professor of Literature and Languages at Oxford wouldn't make that extremely obvious.

I see the LOTR as a grand Response to many of the tenets of modernism, and so a participant in the greater conversation that is literary modernism.

Tolkien is a Modernist author because the LOTR was a part of the conversation that was Modernism.

Just because Tolkien seems at first glance to be profoundly different from many of the other literary works of the time doesn't mean that he wasn't addressing the same grand questions that those authors were exploring.

I see the LOTR as being quite involved with the discussion that was Modernism

Traditional forms are becoming outdated
The individual is becoming more powerful than the hierarchical
The individual overcomes the mythical
Experience is more important than tradition

I see these as grand themes in LOTR. And I'll be happy to discuss them as we go along.

As far as the Prologue goes, I adore the part "Concerning Pipe-weed" as it connects with the scene in "The Road to Isengard" which is one of the funniest in the whole work. I love the fact that "How Old Toby came by the plant..." is the same in both places.

And SteveC, I think you need to re-read the original post. We're not doing this to destroy, but to appreciate and savor.
Mark Ensley
7. mensley
Also, I need to point out that Tolkien is in his introduction introducing a non-existant literary work. "The Red Book of Westmarch" is a work which doesn't exist, and is a fundamental point of the literary work which is the LOTR.

There is a term for such a thing, as it's been done in many classic works from Cervantes onward...
Mark Ensley
8. mensley
From the Foreward:

"Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability ot the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the puposed domination of the author."

Just to be silly, I think here he's anticipating the New Critics who state that the author's intent is meaningless and that the reader's experience is paramount.
Mark Ensley
9. mensley
Finally, I'll note that Tolkien in his Foreward says:
The country in which I lived in chidhood was being shabbily destroyed before I was ten, in days when motor-cars were rare objects (I had never seen one) and men were still building suburban railways. Recently I saw in a paper a picture of the last decrepitude of the onece thicing corn-mill beside its pool that long ago seemed to me so important.


I see in Tolkien an acceptance of the fact that change is a force paramount. Middle Earth is not a paean to romanticsm, but more a profound statement which elicits a bittersweet acceptance of the force of change in any worldview.
Mark Ensley
10. mensley
Not trying to dominate the discussion. I'll shut up now.
SteveC
11. Phil Eckert
As the hobbits are introduced in the Prologue, they strike me as less "translated England" than "translated children"--little people who like laughing and eating and drinking and parties, and live in their own world quite apart from the mysterious "Big Folk" who are all involved in various kingdoms and battles and such. Is Tolkien flagging the identification figures for his original expected audience? Revealing that the four hobbits survive may have been intended to reassure the same audience (as indeed rachelroslin found above). I don't know if this holds up with when the Prologue was written relative to the rest of the work though.

What jumped out at me from the Prologue was the phrase "in the Shire was chiefly remembered for his Herblore of the Shire, and for his Reckoning of Years...." The sentence may only be in the context of the books and records of the Shire, but I wonder if it is also intended to frame the whole story from the hobbit point of view as an odd heroic interlude in an otherwise pastoral history--even for those like Merry who were part of the story.
Jo Walton
12. bluejo
I think Tolkien found hobbits a way in to the heroic world he had made. I think it's quite clear from The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales that Tolkien had this great mythology and world and found it difficult to actually write it.

The stories exist in multiple versions in multiple styles. He couldn't finish The Silmarillion himself in his lifetime, and I think this is because he didn't have a place to stand to tell the story. He wrote The Hobbit as a bit of fun, and then it got into his world because he already had it, as he says himself, Elrond and Gondolin and so on, and then having hobbits there he could use them to tell the story of the Ring.

There's a lot about the Prologue and the beginning few chapters of LOTR that's like a children's book -- but think how few models for fantasy existed before Tolkien. There were children's stories, and there were ancient heroic epics, there was Dunsany -- but Dunsany (and Mirlees) didn't try complete subcreation but places in our world that bordered on Faerie. Tolkien tried that too in "Smith of Wooton Major" but it wasn't the level of reality that works for history. When he says, in the Prologue, that he prefers history, true or feigned, I think he means that's what he wants to do, an imagined complex history. And when he writes those little playful notes about pipeweed and Tooks and so on he's easing you in to that, to the idea it is a history, with a source that sounds like a medieval source, as he was easing himself in to it with eleventy-first and fireworks. He wouldn't do that if he were writing it now, but we only have fantasy as it is now because he did that then.
Kate Nepveu
13. katenepveu
SteveC asks, "Do you enjoy this sort of thing?"

The short answer is yes, I do.

I love this book. I wouldn't have re-read it every year for years if I didn't.

But love, for me, is not an uncritical thing. As a reader, I view it as my part of the bargain with an author to give them as full and honest an engagement with the text as possible. And the point of this re-read is to actively think about a text that has started to become so familiar that I've stopped really experiencing it. Inevitably I'm going to find things that I like--gaining a new appreciation of the merits of the book as a result--and that I dislike. As it happens, there's a lot of the latter in the Prologue and the Foreword.

Not everyone likes considering fiction in this manner. It sounds like you don't. And if as a result reading these posts is going to put you at "risk of becoming a bit nasty," I suggest you refrain.

Kate Nepveu
14. katenepveu
diaverde, that's a good point about the humor. I'd noted it in the first chapter on my first round of re-reading, which I'd forgotten until then. I'll be interested to see whether it does tail off as the story gets more intense or if it's just my memory.

mensley, I'm really looking forward to all your comments, as I have forgotten much of what I knew about the Modernists. It seems to me, looking at your summary, that _LotR_'s relationship is going to be very complex. For instance, I agree with you about the theme of accepting change (see Michael Swanwick's essay), but I suspect the question of hierarchy may be a little more ambivalent.

And yeah, I know the framing device is a classic thing, but I think fiction was better off when authors stopped *having* to put in a framing device. (I love a really good framing device, especially when it gives me a narrator with characterization, but sometimes my suspension of disbelief is actually easier when I don't have to swallow a framing device on top of everything else, odd as that may sound.) But see bluejo's comments @ #12.

Phil Eckert, if I'm reading Bratman's paper properly, the "Note on the Shire Records" (which is the bit that gives away all four hobbits live) was added in the second edition. As far as the hobbits as children, like bluejo I think it's fair to see the opening of _LotR_ as transitioning away from the more children's story of _The Hobbit_, and to see the hobbits as an entry point for readers generally--Shippey, I think, also points out that their speech patterns are distinctly modern and different from other characters', as the people of Gondor mention late in the book.

bluejo, thanks for reminding me about the lack of models for fantasy prior to _LotR_. The world has changed so much *because* of this book that it's hard for me, at my age, to really grasp its effect sometimes.
SteveC
15. Another Andrew
The idea that this is part of the past history of our own world is not, I would agree, important to LOTR itself - though I guess it does chime in with the 'fading of magic' theme. I think it is more important to other parts of Tolkien's work. The earliest version of what became the Silmarillion, if I remember rightly, featured a traveller from Saxon England visiting the realm of the Elves; and the first version of the Numenor legend, which was originally independent of the Silmarillion cycle (and was inspired by a real dream which Tolkien had) was very firmly placed in the past of our world (which is why a version of it turns up, much to everyone's confusion, in Lewis's That Hideous Strength.)
SteveC
16. Another Andrew
mensley: I don't think it's at all silly to suggest that Tolkien was anticipating the New Critics. C.S. Lewis, who was a friend of Tolkien, is certainly very critical of excessive emphasis on authorial intention, which, strikingly, he thought of as a recent feature of criticism. Perhaps the New Critics were not as new as they supposed.
SteveC
17. DG Lewis
Bluejo's comment about how few models there were for fantasy before Tolkein reminded me of what someone said about an early SF author -- I believe it was Doc Smith: basically, that his stories now read like trite sci-fi cliches, but that's because they've become cliches; at the time, they were archetypes.
Kate Nepveu
18. katenepveu
Another Andrew: a traveller from Saxon England visiting the realm of the Elves

Have you read this? If so, what's it like? It sounds deeply peculiar to me, probably because I associate that kind of story with a much different style and approach than _LotR_.

DG Lewis: yes, or even original.

Noodling off on models . . .

Jo, I know you've talked before about genre conventions, particularly with regard to pacing of revelations. Can part of the popularity of _LotR_ be attributed to Tolkien's not *having* genre conventions to rely on, so that a wider audience of readers can approach the text?

And yet, there's all that history that gets hinted at, much of which probably requires a more SFF-nal approach to piecing together exposition. On the third hand, Earendil etc. isn't necessary to the plot, so maybe non-genre readers ignore it.

Is anyone out there not a science fiction or fantasy reader generally, but loves _LotR_? Or, more likely in this venue, does anyone know someone who fits that bill?
Andrew Mason
19. AnotherAndrew
Have you read this?

I'm afraid not. When the History of Middle Earth started appearing, I decided that if I began to read it this would occupy the rest of my life, so I thought it better not to. But from what I have heard, it is indeed very different, both from LOTR and from the Silmarillion as we know it.
Jo Walton
20. bluejo
Kate: The thing is, if you write something that is totally utterly different from anything in the world, you might write something that everybody loves or you might write something that just puzzles people, and you're likely to reinvent square wheels -- which is often my problem with non-SF writers writing in genre, it's clunky. Tolkien in many ways wrote a template for fantasy, but he didn't know he was doing that. He really was writing it for himself, and making up how to do it as he went along. He didn't know whether to write it as history or tragedy or a historical novel or an epic or a kids book or what, and it has elements of all those -- if you look at The Silmarillion you can really see that. But if you're doing that you're much more likely to come up with a mess like Islandia or something deeply appealing to a tiny number of people like Eddison, but instead it was this phenomenon.

I don't think it was because he did weird ungenre things. I think he was inventing the fantasy genre. I think it was that he was incredibly brilliant, and also that the world was completely parched for what he had. He was really lucky that a publisher would take a risk on it. But he changed the world. As much as Orwell did, he changed the world. We have different ideas about what good and evil are and about the way stories can be. We have an escape -- and goodness knows in post-war Britain we needed that more than anything.

I did a post on my LJ once a long long time ago about how what I love about fantasy is the passionate epic conviction. It really matters. When what you have is "angry young men" and realism and Tennessee Williams and are a citizen of the twentieth century, "You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead I will smite you if you touch him" rings through all that like a clear summoning bell in a tower by the sea.
Kate Nepveu
21. katenepveu
Rass-a-fricking-fracking-lost comment when forgot to hit "post" after previewing. (Maybe BIG RED LETTERS saying "your comment is not yet posted?" Because where it jumps to in my browser, is scrolled down just *below* the "Preview Comment" and so it looks like it's posted . . . Or is it just me who does this?)

Ahem. Reconstructing:

AnotherAndrew, yeah, I thought briefly about reading _History of Middle-earth_ when starting this project for the first time, and like you, realized that I'd never move forward with the actual reading if I did . . .

Jo, what you say about the need Tolkien met at the time, and continues to meet now, makes perfect sense to me. And yet, to *get* to those moments requires making it through quite a lot of pages first. So what I'm wondering is if something about the pacing and exposition of _LotR_ manages to keep people who would be lost by a contemporary fantasy novel.

I'm not sure how easy it'll be for me to look at this on the re-read, but I'll try.
David Lev
22. davidlev
Probably no one will read this comment because it's so far down but, two things:
1. About someone's comment that Merry and Pippin had relatively uneventful lives except for the part of them that is featured in LOTR: I seem to remember something about how one or both of them got called back into service for Rohan and Gondor after the events of the book

2. this is a nitpick from an English major, but New Criticism or Formalism is not about the authorial intent vs. reader experience, it's about viewing the text separate from anything outside of it. A New Critic reading LOTR would ignore Tolkien's experiences in WWI as they relate to the book, for example, anf probably also his Christianity, his Mediavalist perspective, LOTR as a response to Beowulf and other pre-Norman epics and his fascination with old languages, instead focusing entirely on what he says in the book and how he says it
Kate Nepveu
23. katenepveu
davidlev, the Appendices say that Eomer rode with King Elessar until he grew old, and that Merry and Pippin went to Rohan & Gondor in their old age after passing their offices to their sons; so you might be conflating those? Merry & Pippin seem to have made lives in the Shire as Master of Buckland and Thain.

Thanks for the information about New Criticism, I wasn't familiar with the term.
SteveC
24. mensley
I didn't mean to do a drive-by. I do want to contribute, but my internet's been down at home and I can't take much time at work. I'll try to get back on the wagon tonight and answer.
eric orchard
25. orchard
Thanks for doing this Kate! I needed an excuse to curl up with this wonderful book. I read the introduction and prologue on the bus today and it immediate transformed the world outside, the colours seemed richer and people seemed more full of humour and depth. What a magical book. I now wonder if my former point was valid and that if perhaps LOTR transformed the way I saw the world outside my backdoor.

What struck on this read through was the theme of long forgotten things returning from the shadows. He is describing a huge, inclusive, mysterious world and this colours the following story. Especially the mundane bits.

And I love that narrative voice, so full of life and compassion. Strangely reminds me of Neil Gaiman.

I think Mr. Tolkien has left himself pretty safe from criticism as he was pretty ware of the shortcomings in his work. I find his introduction is full of humility and humour and grace.
Kate Nepveu
26. katenepveu
orchard, what a lovely image.

A lot of what you say I found to be the case in chapter one (coming next week to a blog near you!).

(And mensley, I at least will be here whenever you have time.)
SteveC
27. Evan Berkowitz
Something more tech-related than content-related:

I'd like to follow this discussion carefully--and I'd like to not miss a post by using RSS. However, I can't seem to subscribe to just the LoTR re-read: I wind up subscribed to all of TOR, which is not the most convenient.

Am I missing something easy, or is it not possible to subscribe just to this?
Kate Nepveu
28. katenepveu
Evan Berkowitz, I'm not sure, but as a kludge, you can subscribe to this category of my delicious bookmarks--I'll manually add each post there.
Jo Walton
29. bluejo
A further thought on the analogy of WWII.

I was re-watching The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp on Saturday night, and it occurred to me that the passionate argument made in that film that you have to use Nazi methods to defeat the Nazis gives you two Minas Morguls grinning at each other across the wasteland, and that of course Powell and Pressburger understood that as much as Tolkien did as the angle of sympathy they set up throughout the film demonstrates... but in 1942 a lot of people were saying that.

Go Tolkien on being right.
SteveC
30. MerryArwen
I have come quite late to the party, I think, and someone linked me your recap of chapter one first, so I commented there before seeking this out. I don't know if you're still reading these, but hey. :3

I always ignored Tolkien's framing-as-manuscript device until I actually took manuscript studies. Now, I keep having more and more joy at just how *far* he took it, at how much he really did treat the entire history of Middle Earth as if he were treating the history of the Anglo-Saxons or of Charlemagne's empire. Having done an edition and translation of a mediaeval manuscript myself, I take great, profound joy in following where he does it with his work, and how he never breaks that frame - the prologue is a textual history and provenance, and the appendices are, well, appendices, including notes on translation and detailing how he decided to shift "Kalimac" to "Meriadoc".

But I also take profound joy in full, complete secondary creations, so there's that as well.
Soon Lee
31. SoonLee
The first time I read LoTR was following The Hobbit.

By then, so hungry I was for more hobbit stories that it didn't matter how they came, so long as there was more hobbit stories to savour. My first time ever through the Foreword & Prologue was very much a skim read. It wasn't until subsequent re-reads that I began to appreciate the framing device.

The thing that strikes me about it, is the way it clearly notifies the reader that the LoTR is a very different animal to The Hobbit; LoTR is a more 'grown-up' work.
SteveC
32. guntharr
I have really enjoyed those volumes of The History of Middle Earth that I have read (some of the ones concerned with LotR), in great contrast to the attempts I have made at reading The Silmarillion (never managing to make it past the first couple of chapters). I have heard that the unabridged audiobook of The Silmarillion is a great way to make it through this ponderous work.
SteveC
33. mnwillems
"I think he was inventing the fantasy genre." - #20 bluejo

While this may have been the effect of what Tolkien did, his intent (and the premise for the whole trilogy) was that of a scholar introducing a long lost epic story in the tradition of the Nibelungenlied and the saga of Beowulf.

What comes between the prologue and appendicies is nothing more or less than Tolkien's attempt to create a believable mythology. In works of academic translation it is quite commonplace, and indeed expected, for the translator to explain his rationale and clear up some difficulties the reader might have in understanding the translation.

Having written all that, I must admit that, for the most part, I tend to ignore such things as prologues and afterwords and just read the story.
SteveC
34. MiaShinbrot
I have read LotR many times, so many that I lost count (perhaps 17?). I used to read it throughout my childhood and teens and into my young adulthood, and I had the pleasure of having it read to me twice by my father.

Anyway, I read this and the first couple of chapters worth of your reread comments with interest; I recall the books well enough that I was able to place most (but not all) of the references. And there was something that was nagging at me until I finally tracked it down: a quote I read recently in Etymonline:

"The closest I have ever gotten to the secret and inner Tolkien," Davenport writes, "was in a casual conversation on a snowy day in Shelbyville, Kentucky."

I forget how in the world we came to talk of Tolkien at all, but I began plying questions as soon as I knew that I was talking to a man who had been at Oxford as a classmate of Ronald Tolkien's. He was a history teacher, Allen Barnett. He had never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, he was astonished and pleased to know that his friend of so many years ago had made a name for himself as a writer.

"Imagine that! You know, he used to have the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky. He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins and good country names like that."

And out the window I could see tobacco barns. The charming anachronism of the hobbits' pipes suddenly made sense in a new way. The Shire and its settled manners and shy hobbits have many antecedents in folklore and in reality .... Kentucky, it seems, contributed its share.

Practically all the names of Tolkien's hobbits are listed in my Lexington phone book, and those that aren't can be found over in Shelbyville. Like as not, they grow and cure pipe-weed for a living. Talk with them, and their turns of phrase are pure hobbit: "I hear tell," "right agin," "so Mr. Frodo is his first and second cousin, once removed either way," "this very month as is." These are English locutions, of course, but ones that are heard oftener now in Kentucky than in England.

I despaired of trying to tell Barnett what his talk of Kentucky folk became in Tolkien's imagination. I urged him to read The Lord of the Rings but as our paths have never crossed again, I don't know that he did. Nor if he knew that he created by an Oxford fire and in walks along the Cherwell and Isis the Bagginses, Boffins, Tooks, Brandybucks, Grubbs, Burrowses, Goodbodies, and Proudfoots (or Proudfeet, as a branch of the family will have it) who were, we are told, the special study of Gandalf the Grey, the only wizard who was interested in their bashful and countrified ways.
Kate Nepveu
35. katenepveu
MiaShinbrot, I have indeed heard that many language-related things from the British Isles lingered in parts of America. I wouldn't have thought Tolkien would have *needed* to draw from Kentucky for that heritage, but it's a charming story, and who knows where inspiration will catch?
Kurt Lorey
36. Shimrod
Somebody was getting their leg pulled (a regional tradition, I'm thinking).

Hobbit names derive from the same kind of descriptive naming popular as names changed from their medieval form to more of what we recognize today.

While plenty of Kentuckians can trace their ancestry back to Mother England, I imagine that Tolkein didn't have to reach out that far to come up with his naming conventions for Hobbit folk.
Darrell Cale
37. revtoken
The first time I read The Fellowship, I remember being bored out of my mind during the prologue. I was afraid the entire book was going to be written as the prologue was. Luckly, a good friend of mine told me to struggle through, and I would be reward. Probably the best advice I have received regarding a book.

The thing that really sticks out to me now, is that no matter how many book I have read, and can tell were inspired by LotR, I can not think of another book I have read that starts by giving you information that really seems unimportant. The other thing I think about, esp. when reading the Foreward, is that I bet Tolkein liked to talk alot.
Kate Nepveu
38. katenepveu
I do wonder if new readers wouldn't be better served by just skipping the Prologue completely.

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