Tue
Feb 24 2009 4:45pm

LotR re-read: Fellowship I.11, “A Knife in the Dark”

cover of The Fellowship of the Ring We’re getting near the end of book I of Fellowship; “A Knife in the Dark” is the penultimate chapter. Before delving into the usual spoilers and commentary, I wanted to mention something I’ve realized about my memory and re-reading.

All the comments where I say, “What am I forgetting?” and people tell me—very helpfully, thank you!—have demonstrated that I remember The Lord of the Rings the way I do most songs. Start a song playing and I can sing along without thinking about it, no problem; but ask me to sing the lyrics cold and, for most songs, I’ll have a much harder time. Similarly, there’s a lot of stuff in LotR that turns out to be much more dependent on context than I’d realized, which is a little humbling considering how well I thought I knew the text. Apparently, I know the text well when I’m reading it, but less so when trying to retrieve information cold.

Which is just one more reason to appreciate the community’s participation in the project. And with that, let’s dive into chapter 11.

What Happens

(This is where Kate resists the urge to say, “Lots!” and skip right to the commentary, intoxicated by action. Be grateful.)

Riders break into Crickhollow and then ride away when the Brandybucks, alerted by Fatty Bolger, blow the alarm. On the same night, the hobbits’ room at The Prancing Pony is broken into and the bolsters imitating their sleeping bodies are slashed. More, their ponies, and everyone else’s riding animals, are missing. They find a pack animal, Bill Ferny’s pony, but lose any hope of leaving town quietly.

Perhaps because of Strider’s caution after they leave Bree, they nevertheless encounter nothing more than wildlife until they reach Weathertop. There, they discover signs of fire on the hill-top and what may be a message from Gandalf that he was there three days prior, when they saw flashes of light from a distance. While they ponder the question, Frodo spots five Black Riders approaching the hill. For lack of anything better, the group shelters in a dell on the hillside. While they wait, Strider tells the story of Beren and Lúthien.

At moonrise, the Riders approach the dell. Frodo struggles but is unable to resist the urge to put on the Ring. When he does, he is able to see the Riders as white-faced, grey-robed, sword-carrying tall figures. The tallest, who wears a crown, also carries a knife. As he approaches, Frodo throws himself to the ground and stabs at the Rider’s feet, receiving a knife wound in the shoulder in return. As Frodo passes out, he sees Strider leaping forward with burning wood in his hands, and takes off the Ring.

Comments

The attack on Crickhollow. This is lovely evocative narrative, and maybe I should just leave it as such; but the logistics puzzle me.

Gandalf says, at the Council of Elrond, that four Riders invaded the Shire. That is indeed conveyed by the text, but I had to go and look for confirmation of the count regardless, because the fourth Rider is so inactive that I wasn’t sure he was actually present.

First, “a black shadow moved under the trees; the gate seemed to open of its own accord and close again without a sound.” Okay, apparently that’s supposed to be one. In response, Fatty Bolger shuts and locks the door. “The night deepen(s),” and three more figures approach. At this point, Fatty flees out the back—he left when he saw “the dark shapes creep from the garden.” What was the first Rider doing in the meantime, besides apparently not watching the back? He isn’t mentioned at all after he’s first seen; the other three take up position at the front door and the front corners without any indication that they displace someone already there. And then the three just stand there waiting, long enough for Fatty to run over a mile and babble incoherently for a while; minimum of an hour, say. What were they waiting for?

This section contains our first (I believe) Evil point-of-view, as the Riders leave: “Let the little people blow! Sauron would deal with them later. Meanwhile they had another errand . . . ” We also get Frodo’s dream-perspective on it, as he again dreams true, of wind, galloping hoofs, and a blowing horn.

Finally, a silly note: “FEAR! FIRE! FOES! AWAKE!” has made it into our household vocabulary as what the heck the dog is saying when she suddenly bays like the world is coming to an end.

* * *

The attack on the inn. Last time I quoted Strider saying that he didn’t think the Riders would attack the inn; instead, “(t)hey will drive these wretches to some evil work.” I’d always taken it for granted that the Riders were the ones to break in and slash up the room: the interactions with Bill Ferny afterward just don’t feel like any of the characters think that Ferny was an active participant in violence. Besides, what would the Riders have had them do, kidnap the hobbits? Kill them? Either way, they’d have to hope that their henchmen didn’t take the Ring, and it seems like a lot more trouble than just doing it themselves. Yet, no-one acts as though Strider was wrong, either. What do you all think?

Bill Ferny, by the way, was “swarthy” on first introduction, while his Southern friend was “squint-eyed.” Just to spread the skin-color goodness around, the Southerner now gets to have “a sallow face with sly, slanting eyes”; Frodo thinks he “looks more than half like a goblin.” Gee, me with my Asian ancestry feels so welcomed by the text now.

* * *

Strider gives the hobbits a big mythology dump as they wait for the Riders, telling them Beren and Lúthien’s story, which “is sad, as are all the tales of Middle-earth,” and touches for the first time on much of the First Age. Later it will become clear that this is his own backstory, too—and don’t think I didn’t notice that as he talked of the Kings of Númenor, “Suddenly a pale light appeared over the crown of Weathertop behind him.”

Of course, in a reversal, the moonlight is then used by the Riders to attack.

* * *

Characterization:

I was amused that Pippin “tr(ies) to show that he was tougher than he looked (or felt)” when Strider asks about their carrying capacities. Reacting to Strider’s comments last chapter, it seems.

Poor Strider. Not only are you forced to leave Bree with everyone staring at you, but you have to shepherd nitwits who talk casually of becoming wraiths (Frodo) and blithely cry out the name of Mordor (Pippin). Your patience with them, especially Sam with his “Hadn’t we better clear out quick, Mr. Strider?” is notable.

Merry remains common-sensical and sensitive to otherworldly stuff, worrying that the path to Weathertop has a barrow-wightish look.

Sam showcases his love of poetry and lore, reciting the opening of “Gil-galad was an Elven king.” Which seems kind of sing-songy to me, but then my lack of poetry sense is well-known.

And Frodo displays his resilience on Weathertop during the Riders’ attack, especially since it comes shortly after he “for the first time fully realized his homelessness and danger,” and despite his inability to keep from putting the Ring on.

(The attack on Weathertop is also lovely evocative narrative, but I really don’t have much to say about it.)

* * *

Miscellany:

  • Arrrgh biting insects arrrgh arrrgh. The Midgewater section is too evocative for me; I have to skim it quickly. Arrrgh.

  • The narrative is very careful about dates here, to the point of explicitly saying things like “It was the night of the fifth of October, and they were six days out from Bree.” I think it may be the care with which the calendar is worked out that makes me particularly dubious about other logistical things.

  • Another missed inn, the Forsaken Inn a day east of Bree. Not a very welcoming name, and the hobbits seem never to have heard of it, which may be why it passes with so little notice.

The end of book I, next week. Progress, it is being made . . .


« Fellowship I.10 | Index | Missing Scene? »

63 comments
Chris Johnstone
1. Chris Johnstone
"Gee, me with my Asian ancestry feels so welcomed by the text now."

This is one of the things that has always left me feeling a bit uncomfortable with tLotR, and it seems to Tolkien himself ended up uncomfortable on this note too.

When Tolkien was questioned 'what exactly does an orc look like?', he hummed and harred and admitted that in his head he thought of someone with an eastern appearance. He might have mentioned Mongols specifically (I can't recall), though (and I won't go into why I think this is the case... perhaps I will later when we reach the charge of the Rohan)... I suspect that he was probably influenced more by the shared histories of Rome (Gondor), the Goths (Rohan) and the Huns (orcs/easterlings).

It's important to be clear that Tolkien himself was never racist in his personal views. He was deeply anti-Nazi, partly no doubt due to WWII, but also (it seems) on the grounds that the Nazi's racist attitudes were in his opinion just plain crazy. Notice, for instance, that he scrupulously avoids ever using the word 'Nordic' because of it's supremest-fascist connections.

So why did he make westerners (and northern-westerners in particular) the only good guys in a land which more or less maps to the real world with it's actual, real people? Surely he knew that someone from outside Europe would read the story and say, 'hey, why am I the villain?' My answer to which is: I'm really not sure. Probably he ended up working so deeply within the folklore and literature of western/northern Europe (and remember that everyone is the hero of their own story), that sub-creation took over and the need to keep things, I dunno, realistic or true to the folklore crept in? Maybe. The same thing could be true of his description of far Harad folks as looking like half-trolls. Pretty good arguments can be made that Norse fire-giants in particular have an appearance that was based on rumours of Africans. I think that at least a couple Norse sources refer to Africa as something like 'the land of fire giants', or to Africans using a name that was otherwise used for fire-giants. Folklore itself is generally small-minded and xenophobic--and working too much within the realms of folklore can generate a story that looks... well... odd to modern eyes.

I suppose it's also worth mentioning that in the same way that traditional goblins and demons in western folklore are frequently portrayed with a vaguely eastern appearance, demons in eastern folklore frequently have big bulging eyes and huge noses - clearly western traits. I don't know if it's ever been done, but playing with stereotypes by writing a story based on eastern folklore, in which demons are hideously fair-skinned, bulgy-eyed and big-nosed would be a nice way to toy with stereotypes in a fantasy setting.

Anyway, I'm sort of rambling now and don't want to start a discussion about racial stereotyping in tLotR. I'd much rather read some of other people's insights into the chapter, the world, the plot, like we're supposed to be doing.

Chris
Kate Nepveu
2. katenepveu
Chris, I do intend to talk about race in _LotR_ when we get to the chapters that more directly present it, and am fine with saving that discussion until then because of my aforementioned memory issues.

I will say here, though, that I certainly do not think Tolkien _intended_ to express racist attitudes. However, because Western society is permeated with race-based beliefs that people absorb without realizing--and I include myself in this, I'm not just talking about white people--it's extremely possible to unintentionally and unconsciously perpetuate racist beliefs. And, just talking about this chapter alone, I think that using racially-associated facial features to signify bad character does have that effect. Yes, EVEN THOUGH Tolkien didn't intend to be racist.

(This has been an issue elsewhere lately, so I posted a couple of minor examples of unintentional racism on my LiveJournal, for the curious.)

So, thanks for the opportunity to clarify that when I talk about problematic race-related things in _LotR_, I'm not accusing Tolkien of active, conscious racism. I should probably repeat this disclaimer every time I mention it, too, because it's a very common way discussions of the issue get confused and then sidetracked.
Chris Johnstone
3. DavidT
Sam showcases his love of poetry and lore, reciting the opening of “Gil-galad was an Elven king.” Which seems kind of sing-songy to me, but then my lack of poetry sense is well-known.

No, you're pretty much spot-on here. But then, it's Bilbo's translation, and he tended toward the sing-song. "Earendil was a mariner..." isn't much better, feminine rhymes and all.
Soon Lee
4. SoonLee
But it totally fits with hobbit culture; songs no more sophisticated than nursery rhymes.
Chris Johnstone
5. Nicholas Waller
"Gil-galad was an Elven king" was handled evocatively and in a non-sing-songy, non-tumpty-tumpty way (to my mind, anyway) in the BBC Radio dramatisation, as you can hear here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOE0L98KCto . Presumably it was Bill "Sam" Nighy singing (and Ian "Frodo" Holm speaking too, though the misleading pic is from the films). I've probably listened to the 13-hr radio dramatisation 20+ times in the last 20 years or so.

As for the racism, I wouldn't want to deny that angle in LotR - after all, what are elves, men, dwarves, hobbits, orcs etc but people segregated into distinct and almost entirely rigid racial groups - but the specific term "squint-eyed" I don't see as referring to Asians. It's more likely a dig at runty lower-class types with strabismus; see http://www.thefreedictionary.com/squint-eyed .

Also, "swarthy" might be more likely to refer to Gypsies than Asians, especially in the context of an English-style village. It's not something left in the 19thC or 1940s, either - see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4337281.stm for some modern Gypsy press scare stories.
Kate Nepveu
6. katenepveu
Nicholas Waller, thanks for the BBC dramatization link, that was pretty good.

And I wasn't referring to "swarthy" or "squint-eyed," but "sallow" and "slanting eyes."
Chris Johnstone
7. Nicholas Waller
Ah yes, well I have no defence or alternative reading for "sallow" and "slanting eyes."
Chris Johnstone
8. dulac3
DavidT @3: I certainly see the sing-songy element to the Gil-Galad poem, but for me it still works, perhaps I feel that the word choice alone elevates it beyond it's rhyme scheme; also as has already been mentioned it does seem like the kind of schema a hobbit would use to compose a poem, even about the Elder Days.

As to the Earendil poem: I think it actually has quite a complex metrical construction. Have you ever tried to compose a poem according to it's restrictions? I have and it's not so easy. :) Moderns seem to have an innate aversion to rhyme and often think blank verse is the only really 'adult' poetry...I don't know if this is where you're coming from, but I humbly disagree with the general sentiment. To me the Earendil poem has an elegaic quality to it that the rhyme scheme only reinforces, but of course de gustibus non est disputandum.

Poetry is obviously an issue where mileage varies drastically.
Chris Johnstone
9. Egglie
Hi, first post and I am totally off topic with everyone elses comments for this chapter - hope thats ok.

My dad read tLoR to me as a bedtime story when I was about 5 years old. The scene on whether top with the black riders coming towards the hill and Frodo's view point as he puts on the ring remains for me one of the most scary, atmospheric, intense scenes in fantasy literature. I can totally see it, feel it and experience it in my head. I remembered it clearly for years even when I wasn't re-reading the book very often. This is what made me love fantasy so much.

I am only dipping in and out of this re-read but I had to comment here.
Agnes Kormendi
10. tapsi
The Gild-Galad poem made such an impression on me when I first read it that I learned it by heart... and as I was only 8 at that time, that means it was sing-songy enough in translation, too. I don't think it's a fault, I actually find sing-songy poems relaxing to read.

Hats off to the hobbits, though, for making it through Midgewater without going mad. I've only encountered midges once (we don't have them here, we don't even have a name for them, the Hungarian translation uses "mosquito" instead) and ended up with about 60 midge bites on my face alone, just after 10 minutes in the open. Since that time I find the thought of hiking through Midgewater even more discomforting than the Black Riders.

I can't help but wonder what the Ringwraiths' "forms" could be like... they have to be physical because they leave heavy footprints and need horses to carry them, but then in the scene with Éowyn it says "but between rim and robe, naught was there to see, save only a deadly gleam of eyes". I'm just curious...
Chris Johnstone
11. legionseagle
My personal theory (which is, I believe, borne out by comments in Appendix F. where he essentially equates "orcist" language to the profanity-laden ergot of the private soldier and reference in his letters to writing during the war in conditions "full of blasphemy and smut") is that WWI delivered a profound shock to Tolkien's system in that for the first time he encountered, en masse, both Other Ranks and other races. It is worth noting in regard to the latter that Tolkien's regiment, the Lancashire Fusiliers, has a principal recruiting ground in Liverpool, a port city which is home to Britain's oldest and (apart from London) largest Chinese community.

The result, transmuted into fiction, of Tolkien's experience of the Other in wartime is that you get the odd "good" working class character such as Sam (invariably white, and "good" only so long as he knows his subservient place) who is allowed quasi-human status (to clarify, I use "quasi" because of Sam's "capering like a dog" and other points where he is actually infantilised or dehumanised by the text, not merely where he is shown carrying out a servant's role) and then you get the morally and physically degenerate characters ranging from Sandyman and Ferny all the way down to Grizhnakh.

When it comes to conveying "morally and physically degenerate" Tolkien basically throws in the kitchen sink with regard to characteristics which he and his readers are going to associate with those qualities, which mean using every negative racial and class stereotype he can think of including
- stigmata associated with deficiency diseases such as rickets (eg the "bow legged" orcs)
- poor personal hygiene
- revolting food choices and table manners
- "bad" language (not merely profanity but also use - phonetically reproduced - of non-standard English diction; dialect and regionalisms, in short)
- racial markers such as skin colour, eye shape
-"foreign" names and language.

I think, therefore, he was playing to his audience and that, like all of us, he saw his audience as being people like himself not "the other".
Chris Johnstone
12. Ken D.
This chapter also highlights what seems a bit of a discrepency in how the Nazgul are portrayed throughout. Later in the work (Morgul Vale, the Battle of Pelennor Fields), the Ringwraiths are powerful, capable of sending fierce warrior fleeing in terror, Sauron's deadliest servants. The Witch-King (as discussed in previous posts) even knows that he CAN'T be killed by any mortal man. Yet in Crickhollow, four of them hesitate to assault a house that contains a single hobbit. In Bree, there's a lot of lurking going on. On Weathertop, they're driven off by a few burning sticks after they rush at Frodo when he puts on the One and that's WITH the Witch-King there, and four others with him.

Based on the text, there's some inference that the chief power of the Nazgul is in fear -- and a Nazgul marching before an army of Sauron's can therefor project more fear than a couple of them wandering around by themselves in the Shire.

That said, the phrase "the Nine are abroad" seems to send chills down the backs of some pretty powerful figures (Elrond, Gandalf, Sauruman, Aragorn), even before this point in the book.

Could it be that Sauron had ordered them to maintain some discretion so as to not reveal the opening moves of his plans, and to search for the One without drawing much attention?

Or did they maybe "grow in the telling" as the full tale came into focus for JRR?

Great series of posts, Kate!
Agnes Kormendi
13. tapsi
leginseagle@11

"- stigmata associated with deficiency diseases such as rickets (eg the "bow legged" orcs) "

I agree with most of the things you said, though I never associated "bow legged" with any sort of disease, but it's something we'd use here in conjunction with horse riding nomads (which the orcs weren't... but the Mongols and the Huns were).

Ken D. @12

"Could it be that Sauron had ordered them to maintain some discretion so as to not reveal the opening moves of his plans, and to search for the One without drawing much attention? "

But why the hesitation on Weathertop? Five Ringwraiths against a Ranger and four hobbits; they could just kill them all and who would know? Alright, they fear fire; but it still doesn't make an awful lot of sense to me.
Kate Nepveu
14. katenepveu
Mass comment response:

dulac3 @ 8, I look forward to hearing more about the meter of "Earendil was a mariner" when we get there, because I am almost entirely meter-deaf.

Egglie @ 9, welcome. It really is a good scene, isn't it?

tapsi @ 10, *shudder* about the midges. I've never been so unfortunate, but I swell up like a mad thing from mosquito bites, so the idea absolutely makes my skin crawl.

legionseagle @ 11, good to see you here and thanks for citing Appendix F, which I don't usually re-read, and UK history that I hadn't known. I do so wish that Tolkien hadn't chosen to equate moral and physical degeneracy, as you put it, which strikes me as just an open pit waiting for writers to fall into when it comes to displaying biases, conscious or un-.

Ken D. @ 12, the suggestion that's made the most sense to me about the Nazgul is that they're being deliberately stealthy so that if/when they _get_ the Ring, they can get it back to Sauron without all of Middle-earth hot on their heels. There's also a very interesting fear-vampire theory which is related to yours, and makes some sense to me, though I'll be looking for textual support of it later.

This still doesn't entirely explain Crickhollow, though, since it's out-of-the-way enough that I doubt they were hanging out throughout the night to make sure no-one noticed. Or, as tapsi @ 12 points out, Weathertop.

It may just be the dramatic problem of ramping up the degree of difficulty of adversaries too quickly, but yeah, it's a problem.
Soon Lee
15. SoonLee
Arrrgh biting insects arrrgh arrrgh.

Same. I've just been on a three day tramp on the Routeburn Track (New Zealand) where sandflies are common. Captain Cook's description: ‘The most mischievous animal here is the small black sandfly which are exceeding numerous … wherever they light they cause a swelling and such intolerable itching that it is not possible to refrain from scratching and at last ends in ulcers like the small Pox.’. Much DEET was used (yay for better living through chemistry) and I still got bitten - the welts still itch.

tapsi @10:
I too learned the Gil-Galad poem. It's got rhythm (if that's what meant by sing-songy), and is evocative of times past. I much prefer it over the "tra la la" elves in "The Hobbit".

With the racist descriptions, I register them & move on. Tolkien can't help but be a reflection of the attitudes of his time & though the "sallow" "slanting eyes" don't fill me with joy, I'd rather discuss the rest of the text rather than dwell on what I'm quite sure was unintentional racism.
Charles Dunkley
16. cedunkley
I think a few things that might play into the cautiousness of the Ringwraiths early on stem from the following:

-Their mission is a stealth one. Sauron has zero interest in anyone else knowing the One Ring has been found beyond those who already know.

-The Ringwraiths seem to grow stronger as Sauron grows stronger, and they seem to gain in strength and power the closer they are to Sauron.

-Also, this is the One Ring we're talking about here. The Ringwraith's very survival is bound up in this ring. There has to be the fear that even someone such as a small hobbit might be able to learn to wield the power of the One Ring. I know I'd be cautious in approaching someone who held the power of my very fate in his hands.

Just a few thoughts.
Chris Johnstone
17. sunjah
At Crickhollow the Ringwraiths were forcing the front door, then searching the house while Fatty ran for it. Apparently this took them a while (were they sniffing all the clothes for Frodo's scent?)

I like cedunkley@16's thoughts, too. And after the attack at Weathertop Aragorn explains that 1) they are waiting for Frodo to succumb to the Morgul-knife, thus need not risk themselves (?) in a further attack, and 2) "More deadly to him {than Frodo's sword} was the name of Elbereth." Apparently merely invoking Elbereth's name bothered the Nazgul in some way. I have always wondered whether Tolkien was evoking something in his life I have no referent for. And nobody seems to even try using any other Vala's name in this fashion.

Perhaps they were forbidden to lay hands on the Ring themselves or kill the bearer, but were commanded to capture/enslave the Ringbearer and take him to Mordor more or less intact. They are Sauron's most trusted servants, but it is plausible this does not extend to being permitted to touch the One Ring. Some of their reticence may be fear of muffing the mission by not following the exact plan.
Chris Johnstone
18. sunjah chu
Oh, and "slanty-eyed"--

Wait, I don't have slanty eyes, do I?
Nope, my eyes look normal! Although there are quite a few around here with rounder paler eyes than I have.

I don't know if it's naivete, or selective memory, or what, but I have grown up around mostly "Caucasian" people and read LotR at least eight times and always until now thought "slanty-eyed" meant slantier-eyed than *me.* Oh, cherished illusion destroyed.
Soon Lee
19. SoonLee
cedunkley @16:
There has to be the fear that even someone such as a small hobbit might be able to learn to wield the power of the One Ring.

I like it! It's not only Aragorn et al. who are working with incomplete data.
Chris Johnstone
20. legionseagle
Kate@14
I agree with you about how unhelpful Tolkien's categorisation is, especially since I think the concept of degeneracy across all fronts is central to his thinking about the nature of Evil. He flip-flops several times about the core question (which is at its heart a religious question) about whether Evil can create something new or whether it can only mar something which already exists: are orcs corrupted elves or imitation elves, essentially? But whichever side Tolkien comes down on at any given moment in the book, he is absolutely adamant that Evil cannot create anything good (which is how we know that Isildur is on a perilous path when he describes the Ring as "of all the works of the Enemy the only fair") and that contact with the works of the Enemy can only corrupt that which starts out good initially.

And that taps into a huge great number of 20th century fears and concerns, many of them exposed initially by the Boer War (in which one quarter of all volunteers were rejected on physical grounds because the appalling conditions of life in big cities had rendered them stunted, narrow-chested and suffering from a whole host of occupational and deficiency diseases: my great-grandfather, a cotton-weaver, was one of the rejected would-be recruits) and later by the First World War. If you look at this piece:

"These vast structures keep out both air and light from human habitations which they dominate. They envelop them in a perpetual fog; there is the slave, there the master; there is the wealth of some, here the poverty of most… A thick black smoke covers the city. The sun appears like a disc
without any rays. In this semi-daylight 300,000 people work ceaselessly. A thousand noises rise amidst this unending damp and dark labyrinth, but they are not the ordinary sounds that emanate through the walls of large cities"

you'd think that was Barad-dur or Isengard but actually it's 19th century Manchester, another of the Lancashire Fusiliers' recruiting grounds. It's the public revulsion against that kind of thing which the turmoil of WWI brought to general attention that Tolkien is tapping into, and the same revulsion also fuelled the Garden cities movement, the stirrings of the organic food movement, developments like the Boy Scout movement, "homes fit for heroes to live in", public health insurance and free school dinners for poorer children. But it also taps into the eugenics movement, as the sheer scale of the problems lead to despair among some people (quite often, disturbingly, the very ones who were also at the forefront of all the other movements for social change), and who started to decide that certain categories of people simply cannot be helped, they have to be eliminated. Just like orcs, really.
Now I do not for one second think that is anything other than a conclusion which Tolkien would have found anything other than horrifying, but it's an aspect of the books which I have long found troubling (and it's why I have real difficulty with many of the Tolkien imitators, because you can end up with the symbolism without the nuance or the overriding humanity).
Kate Nepveu
21. katenepveu
SoonLee @ 15, sandflies arrgh. At least my mosquito bites go away after a (good long) while.

Also, you give me another opportunity to clarify why I pointed out the upsetting description of the Southerner: unlike you, before now I _hadn't_ registered the problematic racial stuff, at least not while reading. So this is genuinely something I'm reacting to as part of this re-read, just like the characterizations and Narsil and all the rest that I talk about.

cedunkley @ 16, I don't know if I'd thought that the Nazgul might _fear_ Frodo before . . . interesting!

sunjah chu @ 17-18: I'd be okay with the Nazgul taking a while to search the house while Fatty ran for it, but the text is clear that Fatty ran when they first took up station outside the house, then they just stood there for a while, and then they broke in at the same time as the alarm sounded. I just don't get it.

On the other hand, taking Frodo alive and thus letting him keep the Ring until Sauron can claim it, that makes sense to me, thanks.

And, heck, _I_ don't have slanty eyes either--they're actually quite level--but the stereotype is ` - ´ rather than -_- , to go all pictorial.

legionseagle @ 20, I want to hold a response on the orcs until we get there, because I'm not sure my memory is up to the necessary detail. I'll just note, for my own reference later, the tension not only between Evil creating new things, yes/no? but also Evil containing the seeds of its own destruction, sometimes, maybe. It's a surprisingly non-explicit moral universe in a lot of ways, which may also be a virtue that unthinking imitators do not share. Must ponder some more.
Chris Johnstone
22. dulac3
kate@21: In regards to Fatty and the Nazgul, I don't recall the exact wording (or implication) from the text, but perhaps the Nazgul didn't notice he escaped and were waiting for full night before they attacked (I would imagine that their power would be at its greatest then and they may indeed have been leery of approaching any bearer of the One Ring, even a hobbit, without their full power available)?

It is definitely a fact in Tolkien's metaphysics of Middle Earth that Evil cannot create anything, only disfigure/change and this created endless problems for him later in life when he tried to rationalize the existence of Orcs, esp. when it ccame to questions of how they bred and what happened to them after they died...see _Morgoth's Ring_ for further details.

I think he would also say that evil does indeed contain the seeds of its own destruction (as well as possible seeds of unforeseen goodness: cp. Ulmo's wonder in the _Silmarillion_ at the beauty of snow which he would never have conceived as a form for water without Melkor's grinding cold). I don't think this necessarily means that evil *always* destroys itself, simply that it often does and that this is a common path Providence takes when addressing evil.
Kate Nepveu
23. katenepveu
dulac3, the text says that "a cock crowed far away. The cold hour before dawn was passing. The figure by the door moved. In the dark without moon or stars a drawn blade gleamed . . . ."
Chris Johnstone
24. dulac3
Hmmm, obviously not waiting for midnight then. :)

Not sure what's up with that aside from dramatic necessity.
Soon Lee
25. SoonLee
katenepveu @23:

Attacking just before dawn is a time honoured tactic. It's when (at least for humans) alertness & functioning is at its ebb.
Chris Johnstone
26. Tony Zbaraschuk
The obvious parallel in Tolkien's experience for Elves and Hobbits calling on Elbereth is: Catholics calling out to the Blessed Virgin.

Another episode where Frodo ends up dreaming of something someone else is doing, and the someone(s) are, or perhaps were, Ringbearers also. More evidence for my theory that Frodo _is_ subconsciously drawing on the power of the Ring to find out what the other Ringbearers, or at least the ones he's worried about, were doing. (This particular case is somewhat hampered by Tolkien mentioning somewhere that Sauron held the Nine Rings, which is why he sent the Nazgul after the One, because they were totally enslaved to their Rings, and since he held them they would obey him utterly, whereas anyone else might try to claim the One. But, hey, maybe Frodo is tapping into Sauron tapping into the Nine?)
As far as the Nazgul power level goes, Tolkien comments in the Letters that for the war against Gondor Sauron had supernaturally strengthened them. So they would be weaker before their return to Mordor. Consider also Bilbo's experience fighting while wearing the Ring: he could be hurt, could be wounded, could be knocked unconscious). The Riders can radiate fear, but nowhere is it said that they are supernaturally strong or enduring or quick. They've been pulled into the wraith-world, stretched out long beyond their proper time, but I don't think they're immune from pain. Light their cloak on fire, and they probably burn just like a human, though they might survive and heal wounds a human wouldn't. Look at things in that light, and their secrecy makes a great deal more sense. They're not much worried about hobbits, any more than an NFL quarterback would be worried about getting tackled by a five-year-old, but a lot of hobbits might be a different matter, and there are Elves abroad in the Shire, and a Ranger with a torch is a problem. They can't _die_, but they can probably _suffer_ or be trapped, and they probably don't like that any more than humans do.

The argument that the fire-giants of Norse legend should be thought of more as black char than as red glow (and perhaps based on some distant rumor of Africans, remembering that Surtur comes out of the south), in fact goes back to that wonderful clerk of Oxen Town (and mighty philologist of yore) John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. It's a great philological _tour de force_, though I wouldn't mind having a modern linguist look at it.

I've always loved the Earendil poem; it's a wonderfully complicated meter, I think invented by Tolkien for this poem. The Gil-galad one is simpler, but I love most of Tolkien's poetry. (I confess to skipping over the tra-la-la stuff in the Hobbit, though. Obviously the translator of the Red Book of Westmarch just totally fumbled the elves' linguistic glory in his first few attempts at verse...)
Chris Johnstone
27. Tony Zbaraschuk


As far as the race thing goes... umm, yeah. I think Tolkien does as much as lies within him, and within the confines of his tale (having set it in the NW of Middle-earth, on the shores of the Ocean, any people strange to the narrators of course would have to come from east and south, and look somewhat different), to subvert the tropes -- consider Sam's wondering, on sight of dead Haradrim soldier in Faramir's ambush, what might have driven the man so far from home, which is a wonderful moment of human connection in the midst of war.

Or consider that Adunaic, the native speech of Numenor, is based on a totally non-Indo-European sound system and "feels" much more like a Semitic language -- "the Numenoreans are Jews; take that you Aryans!" Tolkien knows and does Language way too well for this to be an accident.

But, I hope, I don't think he would have written it quite the same way today.

Most likely, it comes from the roots of his attempt to make a mythology for England (and secondarily for Christian Europe); he's steeped enough in history that what he does follows the historical model of various groups pressing eastwards into Europe, and so the Huns and the Turks and the Magyars and the Muslims attacking Spain and Sicily (and the Irish and English coasts) all sort of go into the stewpot from which the Lord of the Rings was drawn.

In one sense, you can think of LOTR as "the True King of England (Aragorn) leads the Anglo-Saxons (Rohan) and Irish Christians who are really British Israelites (the monotheist Numenoreans) to rescue Constantinople (Minas Tirith) from the Turks and Magyars and Africans (Easterlings, Orcs, and Haradrim) sent against it by the Antichrist (Sauron)."

Though of course that's far far too simplistic a view (just for one, it totally overlooks the fact that the clash of armies is nothing more than a distraction from what's _really_ going on, not to mention all the other elements that went into the tale or emerged from Tolkien's creative brain.)
Soon Lee
28. SoonLee
kate @21 said: ...unlike you, before now I _hadn't_ registered the problematic racial stuff, at least not while reading.

To be fair, it didn't register the first few times I read it. Like sunjah chu @18, I thought didn't apply to me, and the first time it dawned on me that it was inadvertently racist, I was slightly upset. I have had a few re-reads to get over it.
Andrew Mason
29. AnotherAndrew
Tony Zbaraschuk@26.

I've always loved the Earendil poem; it's a wonderfully complicated meter, I think invented by Tolkien for this poem.

Not quite: 'Errantry' in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is an earlier version of the same work. (Your general point stands, of course.)
Agnes Kormendi
30. tapsi
Tony Zbaraschuk@26

I can accept that they are afraid of suffering, though the more I try to find quotes on just what they're made of, if they have physical bodies or not, the more I'm puzzled. Just two chapters away, in "Many meetings", Gandalf talks about "their nothingness"... So probably they don't survive massive damage and heal, but take it and suffer. (My other question is just how exactly do the Wise know how much damage a Ringwraith can take, when to our knowledge, they haven't yet finished off any of them...?)


Tony Zbaraschuk@27

"he's steeped enough in history that what he does follows the historical model of various groups pressing eastwards into Europe, and so the Huns and the Turks and the Magyars and the Muslims attacking Spain and Sicily"

It's been a long standing joke that any Hungarian (magyar) rooting for Frodo et al. is wrong, because 1) our ancestors were quite the slanty eyed, bow legged nomads 2) who settled in the Eastern part of the continent 3) in a country bordered by mountain ranges on all sides 4) their riders terrorised the the "civilised" West 5) and they also took to making and exporting jewelry (rings, anyone?); so yes, we are the Enemy. But as a child I always identified very strongly with the Rohirrim, the horse-people (even though now I know they are thoroughly Anglo-Saxons), despite the different eye/hair colour. Horse-people. That's gotta be us.

I think Tolkien wasn't intentionally racist at any point, but he was a conservative and deeply Catholic professor buried in old texts written in times of great cultural clashes, so obviously he couldn't be politically as correct as we would expect it today.
Chris Johnstone
31. Tony Zbaraschuk
tapsi@30:

Well, the Ringwraiths were around and presumably active for half the Second Age, and they did various things in the Third Age as well (such as the Lord of the Nazgul running around in Angmar for centuries). The Elves have probably encountered them on multiple occasions; Glorfindel's intervention in the fall of Arnor can hardly have been the only Elven assistance to the northern Numenoreans. And Aragorn evidently has some knowledge of how to deal with the Nazgul, again probably from old stories of the Dunedain and their fights with Angmar, but who knows? He may have also run into them during his long years of travel; I doubt they all stayed hidden in Minas Morgul for a thousand years straight.

It looks like the Magyars are the survivors of the Orc cavalry :)
Chris Johnstone
32. Graydon
It's not so much racism as it is typological thinking.

The world we've actually got isn't created, and there aren't types; people (and everything else alive) are distributed over a population, and there are statistically valid things you can say about the population without saying anything much about individual members thereof.

Because JRRT was (effectively) an Edwardian gentleman, this is not how his view of the world worked; his used types. (Since pretty much everybody did before 1940 and it's peskily difficult to stop due to brain wiring issues.) He was, later in life, somewhat uncomfortably aware of this but I don't think he ever managed to get his sense of story to deal with it in a positive way, despite very much wanting it to be a story about the actual world in some essential way. (JRRT's views got darker over the course of his life, in many ways. There's less victory of courage in the later stuff than the earlier; LoTR is right in the middle.)

So, anyway, it's a created world; you know something about someone if you know they're an elf or a hobbit or a mortal man. This isn't how the actual world works, at all, and I think it's a good thing that noticing this aspect of the story makes modern readers uncomfortable.

Me, I always saw orcs as something like large anthropomorphic baboons; not hairy, but definite full muzzles and fangs, decidedly not-human limb proportions, and very strong. Much of the imagery around fighting orcs emphasizes their length of arm and terrible grasping strength; some of the imagery around their moving portrays at least some kinds of them as facultive bipeds. As all hominids are obligate bipeds, my mental images of orcs aren't hominid ones. (Similarly, my take on "slanting eyes" is "less binocular vision than hominids; eyes angled more to the sides of the skull", which also explains why the large, dominant types of orcs don't go in for archery; they don't have enough depth perception to be any good at it.)

legionseagle -- it would be a lovely theory if, somewhere in the letters, there was not "I was an orc in the Great War". (This is the same guy who thinks that while it might be bad for the squire for you to touch your cap, but it's good for you; his views on moral order are quite literally from another world, to anybody whose own ideas about the subject formed after about 1960 in the anglosphere. The normal notions of class hierarchy won't cover it.) The imagery, yes, destructive industrialization drives a lot of the imagery. But the notions of place and class and value are not themselves easily reduced to types.


Biting insects? See http://www.nfb.ca/film/blackfly/ for a definitive musical treatment.


Hesitation on Weathertop is easily explained, I think.

The Ringwraiths are not personally brave, and have no experience of hobbits.

Their job is to get the ring, but they need to do it in material form, and they need to get back with it in material form; this means they have to keep the horses and avoid material pursuit. (Sauron maybe got the Ring out of the Whelming of Numenor in immaterial form, but the Ringwraiths aren't Sauron.) They're severely limited in their perception of the material world; it's not (for most of them) much better, if as good, than Aragorn's perceptions of them, especially in daylight. So they have to be cautious; there's all those long leagues back to Mordor, and who knows what ambush waiting.

They can get Frodo to put the ring on; the Witch-King gets him with the morgul-knife, and -- based on what Gandalf says later -- they'd expect the wound to kill him quickly, days at most, not weeks. (Also note the way it kills would turn him into a wraith, and make him accessible to them.)

So the ringbearer is down, but Frodo's invocation of Elbereth isn't empty words; the "meant" comes into it, and that's a statement with power, from the being in legitimate possession of the One Ring. And Aragorn and four hobbits is a remarkably tough group to make panic; even Frodo, the focus of their attempt at conquest through fear, doesn't panic, he responds aggressively and fairly effectively. This is a very strange experience; they're used to engendering blind panic and headlong flight. So they -- who have no idea what they're dealing with, really, and suspect some nefarious elvish plot -- pull back, because at least the designated ringbearer is not going to last long, and their options are so much better once Frodo is a wraith.

The nazgul have no notion (not knowing who or what he is) that Aragorn will be able to take paths even their horses cannot use, or that Glorfindel is coming, or that Frodo will last so long; they're trying to play the good odds while they are far from home and as covert as they can manage to be. The later, invasion of Gondor, ringwraiths are being direct conduits for Sauron's will at a range that will can immediately reach, they're all together, and it's in concert with the artificial darkness and other things to increase the fear effect.

Crickhollow is I think explained by the nazgul not being able to tell if the ring is in there; these are fairly second-string nazgul, and it takes them a long time to be sure the ring _isn't_ in there. But they have to go check; Sauron deals very badly with "we don't think it was in there but we didn't look." And they have to be sure beforehand because they have to be sure it's not going to get away, so if it is there, they want to have it pinpointed before they move. Fatty Bolger just doesn't register on Nazgul radar; he can run out the back just fine, and they're still trying mightily to detect the ring via ESP.

And, again, a hobbit goes and functions very well under conditions that usually send the tall men of Gondor running for the hills and broke the guard-force of the Dunedain of Arnor. This starts to make the nazgul very concerned about what they're really dealing with, because their primary weapon isn't working well at all.

Oh, and the Rohirrim? Goths. The Mercians -- where the language gets lifted from -- never had the landscape or the real mountains.
Andrew Foss
33. alfoss1540
Tony Z @27 - Love the Grahl crusade notion with Constantinople. Was JRR a Mason?

Graydon @ 32 You seem more on the mark about the intentions and the physical form of the Nazgul - this far away from Mordor Now vs their increased strength during the battles to come. Remember that after losing the ring, Sauron had no form - until taking the form of Necromancer and even possibly up until the end. Sauron is only seen in visions - through the palantiri or the Mirror or in Dreams and Ring visions. We do not get 1st hand experience of him. And Gandalf basically indicates this as well.

So would be true of the Nazgul - Men, not Vala - not possessing power of thier own except as the receive through the 9 - wrought by Elves, with the power of Sauron.

Lets go back to the Doorstep at bag end, when the Nazgul asks the Gaffer about the whereabouts of Baggins. What would he have done if said Baggins had appeared???

It is hard to think, after we have all lampooned our Hobbit Friends for being so foolish between Hobbiton and Weathertop, that they are indeed a force to be reconned with - though still do not realize it.

On the Ring's influence on Frodo/Bilbo - being Hobbits, Magic does not much affect them, they are fast to heal and devoid of illness. But, there are the dreams, the ability to be terrifying - through they don't realize it. This comes up more and more later. I actually just reread The Hobbit - where there are many occasions of just that same formidibleness (with the Spiders, with Orcs, even with Smaug).

Now face to face with the Nazgul, they ARE scared. Graydon - it is not "meant" for him, but they know that if he realizes it, the 9 are under his command. As Gandalf will later say, Frodo would have the power if he declared it - but he would not be able to comprehend what that meant or have the will to control it.
Chris Johnstone
34. DavidT
dulac3 @ 8: No, I definitely don't have problems with metrical poetry per se -- I'm the weirdo who was writing sonnets and sestinas and villanelles in high school when everyone else wanted to write free verse. But there are standard tricks to avoid hypnotically sing-song rhythm: caesura, added unstressed feet, avoidance of feminine rhyme, mismatch of textual phrasing with metrical phrasing, rhyme schemes more complex than AABB or ABAB, etc.

(Sam's song about the troll uses another typical folk song trick: lines of different lengths. The short lines help break up the pattern. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I can hear that tune in my head as I read the poem...)

It's been a long time since I read the Earendel snippet. Perhaps we can discuss its metrical structure in more detail when we get there, and I'll find that my memory is playing tricks on me.
Linda Frear
35. tanguera
Interesting that Tolkien uses the horses to foreshadow the upcoming trip to Weathertop.

Kate, is it possible that the "squint-eyed" southerner is the one who attacked the hobbits' room? He disappeared during the night never to be seen again. If he let the horses go, it gives the Black Riders enough time to regroup before the attack on Weathertop.

Sam shows his protectiveness for the horse right at the beginning when he throws the apple at Ferny. This is really the first glimpse of how stout and fearless Sam will become as the book progresses.

Tolkien once again uses the weather to lull the reader into a false sense of security. As they approach Weathertop, the weather worsens.

As the moon rises, they see "something small and dark." Although it goes on to say it might be a rock, I can't help but wonder if Gollum is also on Weathertop. I don't think it is the black riders as they are described as tall.
Agnes Kormendi
36. tapsi
Once again I'm overwhelmed by the depth of perception and reasoning in your posts... I think I begin to understand understanding of the Nazgul and their motives. Thanks.
Chris Johnstone
37. legionseagle
Graydon@32 when you say "This is the same guy who thinks that while it might be bad for the squire for you to touch your cap, but it's good for you; his views on moral order are quite literally from another world, to anybody whose own ideas about the subject formed after about 1960 in the anglosphere. The normal notions of class hierarchy won't cover it" I find that view unrealistic. Tolkien was towards one end on a spectrum of conservative thinking, and of course things have moved on in the 30-odd years since he died but you don't have to scratch too far beneath the surface of contemporary British society to find the same thinking(try going onto the online editions of the Times, the Telegraph or the Daily Mail and putting in a search using the terms "values" "respect" and "discipline"). In fact, I'd argue that a good bit of the reason for the enduring popularity of LOTR among a certain strand of the readership is the nostalgia for a (imaginary) Golden Age in which the lower orders still knew their place and were better off for knowing iti I wrote an essay called "The Oeconomy of Middle-Earth" a couple of years ago and was mildly bothered by the degree to which people reacted to it by stating that people's hostility to domestic services was fuelled by false notions of individual self-hood which they'd be happier without.
Chris Johnstone
38. dulac3
tanguera@35: I don't think it's possible for the small dark shape to be Gollum. My understanding was that his attempt to track Bilbo west after being set free from Mordor led him to Moria where he was eventually trapped...only to luckily come across the Fellowship after they entered. I certainly don't see any way he could have tracked them from Weathertop to Rivendell and thence to the Gates of Moria and gotten in behind them before the doors were destroyed by the Watcher and without anyone in the party seeing him.

alfoss1540@33: but didn't Gandalf himself say that both Bilbo and, by extension, Frodo were "meant" to find the Ring...and not by it's Master? They may not have been the 'rightful owners' since only Sauron is that, but higher powers than he seem to have lent a hand in their finding it. Also, they never took the ring by force or stole it (regardless of Gollum's claims) and so gained possession of it in about as 'pure' a way as could happen...something that made it's influence on them much less baleful than it was for those who gained it though, for example, murder (I'm looking at you Smeagol).

Also, even if Frodo knew what the ring was capable of I really doubt that he would have had the power of will to command the Nazgul with it...even on the steps of Mount Doom I doubt he could have done this. I think that Frodo's ultimate fate, if his declaration of ownership of the ring had not been interrupted by Gollum, would have been to be enslaved and consumed by the ring, not to have gained control of it.

Graydon@32: those are some excellent points about the limitations of the Nazgul and I find them convincing. I guess we often forget that these aren't D&D-style wraiths with an excess of power that is both physical and magical. They were formidable beings, but also ones used primarily to generate fear...and usually at the front of an army as happened in Arnor and would soon happen in Gondor. By themselves, even in a group, there were still dangers to them in acting directly and the most effective way to get the ringbearer (and avoid those nasty Elves) would be to en-wraith him and get him that way. They tried it, but underestimated his strength and the resources that would come to his aid.
Chris Johnstone
39. clovis
I doubt if Tolkien was a racist by his or his peers' standards. His nostalgic thinking owes more to Chesterton than to Wells and his war years notwithstanding, he led a sheltered and, by the standards of day, privileged life. It may be possible to see LOTR as a reaction to the first war and industrialisation but it is also consciously an attempt to create a myth and heroic legend for England. As such, stereotypical motifs are used, heroes bucolic or heroically norse/anglo-saxon, villains dark and savage, swarthy and cunning. These last pervade English writing in the 1920's and '30's (see John Buchan, Edgar Wallace, Leslie Charteris and Sapper for examples). What I do find interesting is that there is a strict hierarchy in LOTR (Elves at the top, followed by the nobler men, dwarves and hobbits in the middle, orcs at the bottom with Gandalf, Bombadil and the Ents off to one side) and that hierarchy is immutable. There are no villainous elves or heroic orcs. Yet I do not see this in The Hobbit, especially in the portrayal of the elves who while good can also be stubborn and greedy (the wood-elf King's desire for jewels, eagles are proud and sometimes cruel etc). I think the reason might lie in the fact that The Hobbit was specifically written as a book for children whereas LOTR was not.
Chris Johnstone
40. dulac3
clovis@39: I'm not sure how much the qualification "by the standards of the day" makes your statement true, but I would not really call Tolkien's life privileged. As a child he lived on the edge of poverty and I believe he only received the education he did based on scholarships he achieved through his academic abilities and the charity of others. Also, even as a professor he was notoriously short of money and lived on the edge of his means, often finding it hard to meet expenses. Only at the end of his life, after the publication and wild success of LotR, did he start living at a comfortable economic standing.

Also, there is certainly a hierarchy with Elves at the top which more or less follows your description (though Valar and Maiar, of which Gandalf was a part, exist above them on the same chain, not off to the side), but I think this hierarchy was more one of the innate power of each level, not necessarily its goodness. The greatest perpetrators of evil are part of the highest level of the chain (Melkor and Sauron). It is also true that if we restrict oursleves to LotR only we don't find any evil Elves, but to assume that in Tolkien's cosmology this didn't exist would be incorrect.

_The Silmarillion_ is chock full of, if not strictly Evil with a capital 'E', then certainly morally ambiguous Elves, from Feanor consumed by pride who nearly damns his entire race, to Eol with his dark heart and greed, and Maeglin the betrayer of Gondolin, etc. Even great 'heroes' are in no way unambiguous 'white hats'. Look at Turin Turambar. However strong and courageous he might have been he was a class-A jerk, filled with a host of character flaws that led not only to his own destruction, but that of his family.

There are certainly no heroic orcs though and, as has been mentioned, their place in the metaphysics of his universe was something that bothered Tolkien until the end of his life and was something he never fully came to grips with.
Chris Johnstone
41. Tony Zbaraschuk
As far as heroic orcs go, it's possible to admire Ugluk's resolution and courage and ability to stick to the mission, even if he is an Uruk-hai racist, generally nasty, and serving a terrible cause. Note that Eomer, at the end, dismounts and fights him sword to sword, rather than shooting him down from a distance or just riding him down with the lance; arguably a gesture of respect. (Then again, Eomer is also the guy who thinks that Boromir is one of Gondor's great heroes. But such are the times.) To be sure, "He wasn't a pointless sadist" is not very high on the scale of praise, but it's still somewhere higher than ground zero.

And, yes, Tolkien is quite capable of writing morally ambiguous characters (like Boromir and Denethor, for instance), and if there are no evil elves at the end of the Third Age, it's partly because the evil ones are already dead and we're seeing the survivors. (And are the elves entirely good? Or are they just withdrawn, no longer doing evil but neither creating new good things? They sing songs of the old days, but where are the new ones?)
Chris Johnstone
42. clovis
dulac3@40: 'I'm not sure how much the qualification "by the standards of the day" makes your statement true, but I would not really call Tolkien's life privileged.'
Fair enough. Clumsily expressed on my part. I meant that he was in a position as a lecturer to live the life intellectual and at Oxford to have access to manuscripts etc and while he was not rich, he was not in the position of having to spend all his physical and intellectual energies merely to survive as some of his contemporaries had to.
Now, as to the elves in the Silmarillion, that had not been published and indeed would not be in his lifetime. As I understood it, Tolkien himself never published anything more about middle earth etc. After the LOTR's success in the '60s I suspect he could have published his shopping lists and so I presume that the additional material in The Silmarillion and the other Histories were not 'officially' part of the middle-earth mythos. I therefore approach the stories as they were published, leaving the appendices to last, and so the reader only has what's in The Hobbit and LOTR to go on.
I'm interested that the orcs bothered Tolkien. If I understand Roman Catholic theology (which I almost certainly don't) the doctrine of the possibility of redemption is very important and he did seem to inadvertently deprive the orcs of that.
Soon Lee
43. SoonLee
Something I really liked about this chapter was the quiet section where Sam recites the Gil-Galad poem and Strider tells them tales of olden days including chanting part of the tale of Luthien & Beren. It's infodumpy in the same way "The Shadow fo the Past" was and "The Council of Elrond" will be, but these are places where the hobbits, and we readers get educated on matters outside the Shire. It's providing more context but also tantalising nuggets of the Elder Days. These glimpses add to the depth of the tale.

Strider's description of Luthien and Beren are particularly evocative and I think, important given that they are his (Strider's) forebears. Let's not forget that Tolkein viewed himself as Beren to his wife's Luthien. We have to wait until "The Silmarillion" which was published posthumously to get more of that story.

To me, it also has parallels to soldiers passing time in the trenches.
Michael Ikeda
44. mikeda
Clovis@42

The core of what became the Silmarillion was written before Tolkien really started on LOTR. Tolkien had the mythological background that became the Silmarillion firmly in his mind (and down on paper) as he was writing LOTR. It's all part of the same mythology, LOTR was just the part that got published.
Agnes Kormendi
45. tapsi
dulac3@40
Yes, the elves in The Silmarillion were quite capable of horrible things, just think of the Kinslaying of Alqualonde. And even in LotR, Celeborn nearly throws Gimli out of Lothlorien in a fit of anger. For someone who lived through at least two and a half Ages, that seems to be a bit rash (though it's understandable he gets worked up over the news of a balrog on the loose).

Actually we don't see that many elves in LotR, and we know most of those we meet have been working against one Enemy or the other for Ages, literally. It's not surprising that these wise ancients outmatch anyone but the Wizards. Yes, it could probably have worked that one of them turned a traitor, like Saruman, except we never see an elf go over to Morgoth or Sauron. (With the exception of Maeglin (his father, Eol is quite detestable, but not a servant of the Enemy). Come to think of it, this is puzzling. Especially as the only reason I can see for this with regards to some of the more impulsive Noldor is pride (not even the Valar can stop us) and a personal hatred of Morgoth. And neither of these is a noble passion.) Well, back to LotR, we mostly see those elves who have opposed Sauron for countless years (and are noble and good) plus Legolas (but he's just one of the "sidekicks" and he's easily eclipsed by Aragorn) plus Gildor (who appears to be noble and knowledgeable, but most travelers would to a group of inexperienced hobbits) plus a few glimpses of the guards in Lorien (and they don't strike me as particularly noble). Elves are the top race because they don't die of natural causes and can grow very, very wise (though they don't always do), but most of the really heroic things in this book are done by men. And hobbits.




I also liked the poem and the tale, and I think that part was a welcome relief for readers and characters alike... and something that anyone who's ever spent an evening listening to tales and songs by a campfire could relate to. In one way it helps to build up courage to face the inevitable attack, but it also makes the coming of the Nazgul that much more terrifying.
Chris Johnstone
46. Graydon
alfos1540 @33 --

The "meant" is not "power over"; the "meant" is the Great Gods, the Nine Valar, taking a hand in the defeat of Sauron. How they can do this is very limited -- consider the limits they placed on the Istari! -- but what they can do, they are doing. One of those things is that when Frodo calls on Elbereth, something -- though something poorly specified -- happens, with direct effects on diverse feel creatures.

And no, Frodo is not in full possession, but legitimate possession; that matters. For one thing, all his offers to give it away are real that way. It is his to give.

legionseagle @37 --

Tolkien really can't be understood as a conservative. Devout Catholic, but a very odd flavour of Catholic; near pacifistic; certainly never entirely materially secure for the majority of his life. His views on the value of nature and the costs of industrialization aren't those of the squirearchy, either; this is someone who really did appear to regard trees as worth of respect for being trees, for example.

The domestic servant, Sam, winds up with the girl and the high office -- Counsellor of the North Kingdom, if you don't want to count Mayor -- and founding at least one line of landed gentry. The hobbit history is generally full of class mobility.

And, Hel's teeth -- the whole point of Frodo's quest is that they're not Elf Lords or the Kings of Men or the hero-children of the northern world. They're relatively normal (kinda pre-modern) people in a heroic context, and they do what the heros cannot do. That's important.

And, sure, various reactionary types may read what they want into the text, but that's not a preventable ill.

clovis @39 --

Even leaving aside the First Age and the Rebellion of the Noldor, the Oath of Feanor, and the Doom of Mandos, we've got in (mostly the appendixes) the Lord of the Rings the story of Celebrimbor and the jewel-smiths, whose lust for knowledge is how Sauron entrapped them. Gil-galad and Elrond saw through him, and they're (in elf hierarchy terms) certainly not up on Celebrimbor the grandson of Feanor in native power; one has to assume that Celebrimbor, however pure his motives or brave in the face of torture he was, got himself into this mess in the first place through something that could be called evil.

Certainly it has evil results; Celebrimbor, as much as Sauron, made all 16 of the rings of power that entrapped men and dwarves. (And the Three Rings of the Elves, that leave them vulnerable to the One Ring as a species...)

The elves we see directly in the third age are good, but they're also the survivors of a very long war in a world with a very active moral dimension.

They're also mightily distant; "mortals have not been our study", says Lindor.

Orcs breed, and have something like free will. So Morgoth could not have created them directly, because free will comes from Eru. So they were either elves or men in their beginnings, and Tolkien had trouble with both ideas.

My take on it is that they were elves in their beginnings, because Elves do not have immortal souls, and are bound to the substance of Arda, Morgoth could materially corrupt them. (The late writings in Morgoth's Ring talk about how there were 144 created elves, and how half the total eventually went bad, too; Elves are not inherently good in this cosmology.) Since the incarnation hasn't happened yet, the available paths to salvation for orcs are somewhat limited, and we can assume none of them made it through the flood, never mind to Jesus' day. If one of them had lasted that long, certainly they could then have been redeemed.
Chris Johnstone
47. clovis
By an odd coincidence (or maybe it was meant to happen but not by these posters) just after posting last night I read a short story which in its own odd way looks at racism in Middle Earth. It's called 'Senator Bilbo' by Andy Duncan and is set several generations after LOTR. It can be found in 'The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy' edited by Mike Ashley and published by Constable & Robinson 2008. It originally appeared in 'Starlight 3' edited by one Patrick Neilson Hayden. Also, Terry Pratchett (sorry Sir Terry) does a take on orcs in his short story 'Troll Bridge' which, if memory serves, was commissioned as part of a series of stories called 'After The War' which further explored Middle Earth.
Michael Ikeda
48. mikeda
Tapsi@45

Maeglin is the most prominent Elf to have gone over to serving Morgoth, but he isn't the only one.

A couple of pages from the end of Chapter 14 (Of The Return of the Noldor) of the Silmarillion, there is a passage that says that Morgoth commanded his Orcs to capture elves and bring them alive to Angband and that some of them were so "daunted by the terror of his eyes" that they "walked ever in fear of him, doing his will wherever they might be."

Graydon@46

Also, while we don't get many details about the First Age in LOTR, some of what we do get is suggestive. The first paragraph of the Section on Numenor (in Appendix A) refers to Feanor as "the proudest and most self-willed" of the Eldar and later says that "Against the will of the Valar Feanor forsook the Blessed Realm" to go to Middle-Earth "for in his pride he purposed to recover the Jewels from Morgoth by force."

(There's also the point that both Elrond and Galadriel know they are corruptible, else there would be no need for them to refuse the Ring.)
Chris Johnstone
49. jafco
"...Bill Ferny, by the way, was “swarthy” on first introduction, while his Southern friend was “squint-eyed.” Just to spread the skin-color goodness around, the Southerner now gets to have “a sallow face with sly, slanting eyes”; Frodo thinks he “looks more than half like a goblin.” Gee, me with my Asian ancestry feels so welcomed by the text now...."

Maybe you should recuse yourself from reading this anymore? There are several commentators above who could carry on the job, without remorse.
Soon Lee
50. SoonLee
jafco @49:

Kate is doing a sterling job with this re-read. She is candid and insightful with her thoughts on each chapter. Her posts have and continue to spark much fun and intelligent discussion.

It is undeniable that the text contains unintended racism. Credit her and the rest of us with the wit to be aware of it and adjust accordingly.

Your suggestion that she should recuse herself from reading further? I am offended.
Azara microphylla
51. Azara
I agree that Kate has been doing a great job. I find myself checking Tor.com on a regular basis for new Lord of the Rings posts and continuing discussion. The only disappointment so far has been jafco's meanspirited contribution @ 49 above.
Agnes Kormendi
52. tapsi
I agree with SoonLee and Azara; Kate's been doing a wonderful job. Writing a post that can start an intelligent discussion each week isn't that easy, and I really admire her for doing it.
Chris Johnstone
53. clovis
I'm also with SoonLee, Azara and Tapsi. I'm greatly enjoying this post and it's helping me rediscover a much loved book that I thought I'd read to death. Many things have been posted that I don't happen to agree with and I have posted thoughts and ideas that other people do not agree with. This is the fun of it all. My heartfelt thanks to Kate and everyone else who are making this work.
Chris Johnstone
54. Mike Molloy
tapsi: Kate's been doing a wonderful job. Writing a post that can start an intelligent discussion each week isn't that easy, and I really admire her for doing it.

Amen. Not to mention, helping keep the discussion moving along with thoughtful replies to most of the posted comments.
Chris Johnstone
55. jafco
@50. SoonLee and 51. Azara

So sorry you're "offended" or whatever. My own take is that you are being trendy or sloppy in your thinking.

Let's get something straight. JRRT didn't use words - especially words that descend from Old Norse, Old English, Middle English, or anything that impacts upon the English language - sloppily or casually. Also, he wrote using the language and understandings of his era - 1900-1950.

Those words swarthy and sallow (both words of those ancient derivations) can have a number of meanings. Slant-eyed essentially refers to one of Asiatic heritage having an epicanthic fold (do you want to fight about that term?), but I'll grant there is an old subtext of offensiveness (principally American English) to its usage.

The story line is that a notable ne'er-do-well, Bill Ferny, is seen in the company of people that are remarkably different from anyone that, at least, the hobbits have ever seen. I think the terms are used strictly to make those characters different and perhaps, sinister (any left-handed folk want to duel?). Sam, either from ignorance, or else perhaps relating to tales recounted by Bilbo and by others about The Great Took's experiences, thinks one of them resembles a goblin. Maybe he is? We - at least I - surmise that these folk attendant on Bill Ferny are agents of Sauron, and so they could be from anywhere. They could be Southrons, or "from the East, where the Shadow first began to regather" or from the mountains somewhat east from Bree, where Bilbo fought goblins.

My point is, I doubt a genius of JRRT's caliber and experience ever meant to disparage anyone (if he had, I imagine his goblins would have been "tall, blond with crew cuts, and uttering obscenities like "schiese!" - since that (very) loosely describes people he fought against once upon a time). His story is about the conflict between good and evil, and the danger the good (humans, hobbits, elves and dwarves writ large) are in when they lose their bearings. The bad guys are mainly Valar (Melkior), Maia, their attendants and creations, and peoples whom they have deceived.

Your finding that " ...It is undeniable that the text contains unintended racism. Credit her and the rest of us with the wit to be aware of it and adjust accordingly...." doesn't sit well with me. I think your analysis is shallow - even pettifogging - but you, of course, have a right to it.

And finally I never said Kate is doing poorly. She's doing fine, but this little episode makes ME dread reading further. I think we should all roll out older dictionaries and sensibilities to check the language in this book. Otherwise, we may end up with "LOTR" being banned, along with, for example, "Huckleberry Finn".

jafco
Chris Johnstone
56. legionseagle
jafco@55

I'm puzzled. You said, "My point is, I doubt a genius of JRRT's caliber and experience ever meant to disparage anyone (if he had, I imagine his goblins would have been "tall, blond with crew cuts, and uttering obscenities like "schiese!" - since that (very) loosely describes people he fought against once upon a time)".

That stereotype (apart from hair-length, of course) aptly describes the Rohirrim - a tall, blond, militaristic people speaking a heavily Germanic language (which includes words like "dwimmerlaik" and "Mundburg" and whose alliterative poetry has a distinctly Anglo-Saxon verse form structure). He isn't disparaging the Rohirrim, but he is certainly basing them upon a given racial type known to (and therefore capable of being visualised by) his readers.

When Kate and others (including myself) refer to his continued characterisation of the orcs and other enemy footsoldiers as "squint-eyed" "slant-eyed" "sallow" "Swerting" and so forth they are raising the point that just as Tolkien uses one racial stereotype for a particular set of good guys (by and large) he does just the same thing with a different set of racial characteristics for the bad guys, and this is problematic. Pointing out problematic issues in a well-loved text is hardly calling for that text to be banned, especially not in the context of a labour of love such as Kate's read-through.

Finally, if you are talking about "the language and understandings of his era - 1900-1950" it might be worth while taking a look at what those understandings were (as well as noting that Tolkien was born in 1892 and died in 1973, and that LOTR was not published until 1954/5). During most of the period selected by you the British Empire was both a major political force and - to someone of Tolkien's class (upper-middle) - constantly being put forward as a powerful philosophical ideal.

Even for someone who did not buy into the idea of a sacred Imperial mission to civilise the world, the idea of Empire and the racial ideas underpinning that idea were completely pervasive in art, literature, politics, music. While I have no doubt that in large measure LOTR is shaped as a response to the crudities, vulgarities, brutalities and injustices displayed by the Victorian and Edwardian Imperial ideal, and its inter-war decline, in its own way even more brutal and crude, any reaction is inevitably going to be shaped by the forces which provoke it. There will be plenty of time when discussing The Return of the King to look at whether LOTR represents an overthrow of the idea of Empire or a transfiguration of the Imperial idea into a newer and more glorious body (well, it isn't "The Return of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Collective", is it?) but I don't expect to be short of text-ev for the latter point of view.
Soon Lee
57. SoonLee
jafco @55:

legionseagle's response to your comment is far more polite than the one I wrote (or indeed your comment @55). Let it also be my reply.
Kate Nepveu
58. katenepveu
Okay, let's see if I can do a mass and very belated comment response, after so long away dealing with offline life . . .

* About the Nazgul and the attacks on the hobbits:

SoonLee @ 25, good point about waiting to attack Crickhollow until just before dawn when people are least alert. I still have no idea what the first Nazgul in was doing, but that does make sense of the waiting for me.

Graydon @ 33, it would not have occured to me that they would be trying for psychic Ring detection rather than just smelling the presence/absence of live critters in the house.

Tony Zbaraschuk @ 26, Tolkien comments in the Letters that for the war against Gondor Sauron had supernaturally strengthened them -- I did not know that, obviously, and while I wish that were more obvious in the text, I guess it's consistent with what we see. Or, maybe it is obvious in the text, and I just don't remember . . .

tanguera @ 35, yes, I suppose it is possible the Southerner attacked the inn, but Frodo sees him at Bill Ferny's and still doesn't react in the way I'd expect if he thought he'd slashed up fake-hobbits, you know?

* About race, and talking about race, in _LotR_ (with a side trip into class):

Tony Zbaraschuk @ 27, clovis @ 39, yes, I recognize that the "mythology for England" root for _LotR_ is a reason for the physical characteristics of the human opponents of the West. I'm not sure it's the same for the orcs, but we'll get there in due time. I'm also not sure that such physical characterizations were _necessary_, but I'll be brushing up on my Middle-earth history and thinking about this more as we go.

(Also, clovis @ 47, I will have to look up the "Senator Bilbo" story. I have a vague recollection of finding it awful back when I first read _Starlight 3_, but it's very, very vague. Pratchett's "Troll Bridge," OTOH, I remember liking.)

Graydon @ 33, typological thinking strikes me as a concise way of putting what I see, thanks.

legionseagle @ 37, I see what you mean, but I'm inclined to say at this point that the questions of class and hierarchy and status are a bit more complicated than that in _LotR_. I have some essays on the subject I was planning to dig out when we got to Rohan and Gondor; if you have a link to your essay or a copy I'd love to read it, knepveu at steelypips dot org.

jafco @ 49 & 55: You seem to be reacting to something I haven't written, since I have said @ 2 that I'm not talking about intentional racism on Tolkien's part. Moreover, whether intentionally or not, your comments are dismissive and condescending. So if you overcome your "dread" of reading further and continue to participate in the discussion, I would appreciate it if you address the other participants with courtesy and respect.

SoonLee, Azara, tapsi, clovis, Mike Molloy, legionseagle: thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it. And thank you all for contributing to the discussion.
Michael Ikeda
59. mikeda
Clovis@47, Kate@58

Terry Pratchett's story "Troll Bridge" appears in the anthology "After the King". The stories in the anthology are not set in Middle-Earth but are described as "stories in honor of J.R.R. Tolkien".

(The book was published in 1992 in honor of the 100th anniversary of Tolkien's birth. The mass-market edition was published in 1994.)

(Pratchett's "Troll Bridge" does not involve orcs. It's a Discworld story featuring Cohen the Barbarian.)
Chris Johnstone
60. UnderHill
To Graydon: I have been enjoying your literate and knowledgeable comments all along, but I have to say the link to the NFB "Blackflies" short film just blew me away! Too funny - thank you!
Chris Johnstone
61. Dr. Cox
@43 I've wondered if Aragorn's recitation of the story of Beren and Luthien was a way to talk about Arwen without really discussing "what this hour meant to him" (I don't have my copy of the book at hand . . . I'm trying to remember a sentence from "The Ring Goes South"--the Company is preparing to leave Rivendell and there's something to the effect of "Aragorn sat with his head bowed to his knees; only Elrond knew fully what this hour meant to him"). And when he's reciting this on Weathertop, isn't there something about his eyes glittering, or glitterng strangely? I got the idea from the context that his mind was something else, i.e. his time with Arwen.
Kate Nepveu
62. katenepveu
Dr. Cox @ #61, Sam asks for a tale of the Elves to counter the dark, in response to which Strider tells them this story. The text says, "As Strider was speaking they watched his strange eager face, dimly lit in the red glow of the wood-fire. His eyes shone, and his voice was rich and deep."

And as you say, it's not suprising that when asked for "a tale about the Elves before the fading time," this is the first to come to mind.
Chris Johnstone
63. Dr. Cox
@62. katenepveu

Thanks! Yes, that's what I was trying to remember. Gotta find my copy! I'm about ready to read all of LoTR again . . . I'm rereading Tolkien's letters right now.
The blog's really interesting and I'm looking forward to the Appendices entry.

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