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Old 05-03-2012, 10:59 AM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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My Theory About LOTR (long)

Disclaimer: I'll just get this out of the way first. I'm not meaning to insult JRR Tolkien as an author, or say that The Lord Of the Rings is bad, or that LOTR fans are idiots, or anything like that. I definitely don't want to get into that argument. I just think it's sometimes interesting to pick a book apart and wonder how else it could have been written. And by Tolkien's own admission, LOTR wasn't the book he set out to write -- it was supposed to be a simple sequel to The Hobbit.

Another thing I read somewhere is that Tolkien was not a fan of revising his work, and that once he'd written something down, that's the way it had to be. (I'm citing that from memory, so don't hold me to it). Rather than going back and changing something already set down, he would try and reconcile any problems that cropped up. I'm rather relying on this here.

So I was following the LOTR reread over at the Tor website (http://www.tor.com/blogs/2009/02/lor...-re-read-index) and reading about all the continuity and other weaknesses I hadn't picked up on before, when this occurred to me. At the outset, Tolkien intended to write the whole of the Lord Of the Rings from the viewpoint of the hobbits. And all of the obvious weaknesses in the work arise because he was obliged to abandon that scheme (but did not wish to rewrite LOTR from scratch). That's my theory.

No doubt Tolkien was aware of the fantasy convention that if you are going to write about fantastical places and events, your protagonist should be a plain, ordinary sort of person. In a story full of unconventional things, the reader needs a point of view they can relate to. Tolkien did this successfully in The Hobbit, when he made Bilbo Baggins its hero. Bilbo was a small, unambitious person in a big wide world, who was as clueless about that world as the reader. There was even tension in that, because Bilbo often didn't know what he was doing and sometimes didn't think he had it in him.

In planning a bigger book, Tolkien introduced not one, but a whole bunch of hobbits to be his viewpoint characters. There was Frodo, who would be the ring-bearer. But since Frodo was under the influence of the ring, he would eventually become corrupted and Gollum-like. So he needed Sam to tag along, to become the viewpoint character after Frodo grows too alien for the reader to sympathize with. But this was not just a story about an evil ring but also about an epic war, where a long-lost king returns to lead his people against a terrible foe. So Tolkien also included Merry to be a point of view character in Gondor, and Pippin to be a point of view character in Rohan. Then, for good measure, he included Fatty Bolger for a point of view character on the home-front.

This, I speculate, is how LOTR was originally supposed to run. The hobbits would leave the shire. Frodo and Sam would do their bit with the ring, and Merry and Pippin would tag along and witness all the great people and deeds. Then, having learned and grown, they would all return to for the climactic scene where they fight their own battle and kick the agents of evil out of the Shire. It sounds simple enough.

But I think it started to go wrong for Tolkien almost immediately. In the first half of Fellowship Of the Ring, he was determined to follow his hobbits on every step of the journey from Hobbiton to Rivendel. So he leads us on a pointless diversion through the dark forest. From there they go onto Bree where they meet Strider, which is about the only important thing that happens on the journey. They also meet Bill Ferny, in a scene I believe was meant to introduce a sub-plot about what happens in the Shire, but which Tolkien never returned to because he got so caught up in other parts of the story. Tolkien manages to turn the journey into something dramatic -- a race to the ford of Bruinen, with the dark riders on their tail.

The trouble is, getting the ring to Rivendel is the only important plot-point resolved by first book of The Fellowship Of the Ring. Everything else important is happening off-camera. Aragorn captures and interrogates Gollum, and learns that Sauron now knows the name Baggins. Gandalf goes to Isengard, but Saruman betrays and imprisons him. We don't see any of this happen. We have to be told about it after the fact in a long and tedious chapter of exposition.

I suspect, at this point, Tolkien knew he was in trouble. Until then he had been following the hobbits, but the hobbits were not well-positioned to witness the actual story that was playing out. Following a hobbit every step along the road had been a good choice for The Hobbit, but it wasn't working for LOTR. Still, after Rivendel, he had all his important characters together, so he pressed on, through the mines of Moria and Lothlorien.

After they leave Lothlorien and get onto the river, a curious thing starts to happen. The hobbits start complaining that they feel like useless baggage. And it's true, they are. I think it's quite possible that this is the author's opinion too, which is intruding into the story. Bilbo had plenty to do on his journey. He had to convince a bunch of dwarves he was good thief, he had to rescue them all from Mirkwood, and then had to negotiate with a dragon. But in LOTR, the hobbits apart from Frodo have nothing to do, and even Frodo is little more than a porter at this point. The real actors in the story are the big folk -- Gandalf leads the way through Moria and defeats the Balrog, Boromir is tempted by the ring, Aragorn comes to terms with his fate… The hobbits? They've got nothing.

The most significant chapter for my theory is the first chapter of The Two Towers. This, I believe is where Tolkien finally threw up his hands and said, "Sod it! This is not a story about hobbits, it's a story about all these other characters." It's the first chapter in LOTR where there are no hobbits present, and the first viewpoint presented is that of Aragorn. Under the circumstances, it was probably the best decision to make, because now Tolkien is free to write the actual story that's emerging, instead of just following hobbits around. But this decision has a couple of fatal flaws.

The first problem is that all these people weren't actually designed to be fully-rounded viewpoint characters. Tolkien conceived them as heroic archetypes, and that's the way they were written from the beginning. The biggest complaint the critics of LOTR have is about the flat and lifeless characters in it. Aragorn doesn't particularly come across as a sympathetic or psychologically convincing character, even though he is the big hero of the story. I think it's because we were only ever meant to see him at a distance, through the eyes of hobbits -- some glorious shiny vagabond-turned-king that inspires hobbits to greatness.

It's not that Tolkien is incapable of creating fully-formed characters. Gollum is a great character. Treebeard is a great character. The hobbits themselves are all fairly well-drawn. And yet, look at poor old Celeborn, who utterly fails to have any sort of personality whatsoever. Even someone like Galadriel, who has plenty of personality in Tolkien's other writings, is reduced to a magical gift-giver in LOTR. Out of Tolkien's cast, the ones that were always meant to be well-rounded, sympathetic viewpoint characters work perfectly well as such, but the ones who were meant to be the heroic archetypes all fall flat. And I believe it's because the story was originally meant to be about the hobbits, not about all the humans and elves who get pushed to centre stage almost by accident.

The second problem with abandoning the hobbits as the central focus of the story is that the ending now misfires. The bit where the hobbits were meant to bring home all the lessons they learned abroad and defeat evil in the shire becomes a silly anticlimax. The whole "war on the homefront" subplot with Bill Ferny and Fatty Bulger gets dropped altogether. And by the time the hobbits finally do get home, there's no credible evil left in the world that could realistically challenge them. After defeating the witch king of Angmar, Shelob, and Sauron himself, Bill Ferny is hardly going to give them any trouble. And nor is Saruman, who they've already seen defeated once. The whole sequence is now completely unnecessary.

So anyway, that's what I think. Of course, I have no way of backing up my little theory, so you can take it or leave it as you please. But I do wonder what LOTR would look like if it had panned out the way I believe it was conceived.
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  #2  
Old 05-03-2012, 11:14 AM
Mahaloth Mahaloth is offline
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OK. Thanks.
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Old 05-03-2012, 11:44 AM
Alka Seltzer Alka Seltzer is offline
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Originally Posted by Kim o the Concrete Jungle View Post
And by Tolkien's own admission, LOTR wasn't the book he set out to write -- it was supposed to be a simple sequel to The Hobbit.
In his own words, the story "grew in the telling".

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Originally Posted by Kim o the Concrete Jungle View Post
Another thing I read somewhere is that Tolkien was not a fan of revising his work, and that once he'd written something down, that's the way it had to be. (I'm citing that from memory, so don't hold me to it). Rather than going back and changing something already set down, he would try and reconcile any problems that cropped up. I'm rather relying on this here.
This is completely untrue, he revised the hell out of LOTR while writing it, and even rewrote a chapter of the Hobbit which was necessary to fit the plot of LOTR. A new edition of The Hobbit was issued in 1937 as a result.

I only skimmed the rest, but that's enough to show your theory is based on a fundamental misunderstanding.

Last edited by Alka Seltzer; 05-03-2012 at 11:44 AM..
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Old 05-03-2012, 12:25 PM
well he's back well he's back is offline
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As AlkaSeltzer pointed out, Tolkien revised and revised and revised. If he weren't such a perfectionist we might have more Middle Earth stories on our bookshelf right now.

I do agree that the hobbits & their point of view are vital to the success of the work. I disagree with you that this fails, at all. Also disagree that the Scouring fails - it is vital and successful, to this reader.

I will also agree with you that some of JRRT's characters are more well-rounded than others, but in a work this long and with dozens of characters, not a major problem.

Lastly, you say "No doubt Tolkien was aware of the fantasy convention that if you are going to write about fantastical places and events, your protagonist should be a plain, ordinary sort of person. In a story full of unconventional things, the reader needs a point of view they can relate to." - well JRRT created many of these fantasy conventions! or at the very least, popularized them. Having his plain ordinary hobbits be the heroes and POV characters was pretty original of him, not something he borrowed from the Dark Lord's Guide to Fantasy (apologies to Diana Wynne Jones).

But, any excuse for a LOTR thread.
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Old 05-03-2012, 12:25 PM
Mtgman Mtgman is offline
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Tolkien constantly revised his stories. In fact an entire Twelve Volume Series, the Histories of Middle Earth(HOMEs) has been published. These are not small books and they're almost all JRRT's words from drafts and re-writes. Some of the alternative versions of LotR were very fully developed before being scrapped and re-written.

Whatever flaws you may find in the Professor's storytelling, they weren't due to unwillingness to re-write or modify his story.

Enjoy,
Steven
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Old 05-03-2012, 12:30 PM
Andy L Andy L is offline
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Originally Posted by Alka Seltzer View Post
In his own words, the story "grew in the telling".



This is completely untrue, he revised the hell out of LOTR while writing it, and even rewrote a chapter of the Hobbit which was necessary to fit the plot of LOTR. A new edition of The Hobbit was issued in 1937 as a result.

I only skimmed the rest, but that's enough to show your theory is based on a fundamental misunderstanding.
In fact, the first written material about Middle Earth was material that would eventually turn up in the Silmarillion - a work that was only published after Tolkein died, because he would not stop revising it.
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Old 05-03-2012, 12:33 PM
Mtgman Mtgman is offline
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In my previous post I meant to link directly to this image of the HOMEs books(UK Edition) to show how much material JRRT had written and re-written during his time writing stories of Middle Earth.

Enjoy,
Steven
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Old 05-03-2012, 12:42 PM
Baal Houtham Baal Houtham is offline
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As how been mentioned JRRT did extensive reworking. (But still, IMO, the opening Shire chapters are more stylistically different from the rest of the book than is necessary.)

I'm no Tolkien scholar and can't say if he originally intended to maintain a Hobbit viewpoint throughout the book. Failing to do so, doesn't seem to hurt things. Aragorn may be heroic cardboard, but his dialog when meeting the hobbits at the inn is well done. He does tend to go overboard when he whips out the blade.

This I can't agree with: "by the time the hobbits finally do get home, there's no credible evil left in the world that could realistically challenge them." It's a complex situation. They are still tiny people menaced by giants, and the band of four needs to rouse the populace. A larger force of men could have retained control of the Shire. The point is that the reclamation is extremely possible and that the right frame of mind (by the now experienced heroes) is the key -- but it is still dangerous, complicated, and takes an act of firm will.

It's could be compared to the US winning WWII and then facing challenges that really don't require 1/1000 of the effort, but are still serious and tough.
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Old 05-03-2012, 12:45 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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I like the OP and its ideas, but in his intro to The Lord of the Rings Tolkien himself said that he had to extensively re-write it after he had finished the first draft. Apparently there were plenty of inconsistrencies to iron out. Certainly this would have been the time to fiox all those pesky problems. I suspect that the OP may have Tolkien's writing process down, and the evolution of the book, but Tolkien apparently didn't see those deficiencies as fatal flaws. I don't think it was unwilingness to rewrite.
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Old 05-03-2012, 12:47 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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I'd have to go back and dig out the reference to be sure. But it wasn't about revising the stories, as such, but about the facts that he established (sequences of events, and that sort of thing). For example, I've seen different versions of the Tale Of Tinuviel written in different ways, but they're all essentially the same story told over and over again.

I'm not claiming he didn't revise his writing at all.
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Old 05-03-2012, 12:53 PM
well he's back well he's back is offline
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The Scouring was successful in part because our heroes are now facing real world problems of greed & cruelty, rather than unusual monsters. After the horrors of WWI, many soldiers still had to come back and find corruption and cruelty at home. or as Baal said, different kinds of problems.

re Tolkien's writing - not only did he spend a lot of time revising, but he was also holding down his day job as a Professor at the same time.

I agree that his writing style varies in different parts of the book - but this works for me. The informal style fits for the Shire; the more antiquated style for Rohan, Gondor scenes.
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Old 05-03-2012, 01:13 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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well JRRT created many of these fantasy conventions! or at the very least, popularized them. Having his plain ordinary hobbits be the heroes and POV characters was pretty original of him, not something he borrowed from the Dark Lord's Guide to Fantasy (apologies to Diana Wynne Jones).
No, I meant what I said there. The ordinary, down-to-earth person as the point of view in a fantastical story was an established convention well before Tolkien. Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver's Travels are both good examples of the form.

Tolkien seems to have invented hobbits to that same purpose, and even allows them a bit of anachronistic pipe-smoking to strengthen that aspect to them. They're exactly the kind of rustic, rural characters that a Victorian romantic poet would get sentimental about.
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Old 05-03-2012, 01:21 PM
well he's back well he's back is offline
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Kim - you may have a point there. I rush to defend Tolkien sometimes when I don't need to.
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Old 05-03-2012, 01:31 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Wait, you talk about his "original intent" to have the ordinary-folk hobbits as the point of view characters, as if that's not what ended up happening. But it is-- Everything we see is from the point of view of one or more of the hobbits. What they don't see, we don't, either.
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Old 05-03-2012, 01:33 PM
muldoonthief muldoonthief is offline
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Wait, you talk about his "original intent" to have the ordinary-folk hobbits as the point of view characters, as if that's not what ended up happening. But it is-- Everything we see is from the point of view of one or more of the hobbits. What they don't see, we don't, either.
What about Aragorn, Gimli & Legolas through most of Two Towers? Or is just height based?
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Old 05-03-2012, 01:39 PM
Great Antibob Great Antibob is offline
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No, I meant what I said there. The ordinary, down-to-earth person as the point of view in a fantastical story was an established convention well before Tolkien. Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver's Travels are both good examples of the form.
Actually, this serves as a good counter-example.

Both "Alice in Wonderland" and "Gulliver's Travels" involve a more or less ordinary person going from a "normal" life to an extraordinary land. That's certainly a genre convention but not one that really applies to LoTR.

I suppose the original archetype is something like "Pilgrim's Progress" but even there, Christian is a paragon of virtue, rather than a down-to-earth type.

LoTR involves characters already in a fanciful setting exploring that fanciful setting.

It's pretty well known Tolkien was greatly influenced by the Eddas, which related great heroic tales. While he had maybe Sam as a stand-in for normal people, the idea was always that there was something noble and heroic (to varying extents) about all the characters, even Sam. You can't really say that about either Alice or Gulliver to whom strange things just kind of kept happening. At least the hobbits took on the challenge of their own free will.

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Old 05-03-2012, 01:51 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Kim - you may have a point there. I rush to defend Tolkien sometimes when I don't need to.
Yes. I do hope we can have this discussion without getting bent out of shape, or digging ourselves into the usual trenches. I'm not a big fan of adversarial debate.

I don't hate Lord Of the Rings. I've read it several times like some aspects of it. And I am enthusiastic about the idea of what the boffins call "secondary world creation", which is Tolkien's real legacy.

But at the same time, I don't believe any work of art is flawless. And it's not a bad thing to explore that too. Creating something like LOTR is often about looking at all the possibilities and making decisions about how it's going to be. When you make one choice, it necessarily excludes others. That's what interest's me about it -- how would I have done it differently, if I were Tolkien?
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Old 05-03-2012, 01:57 PM
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Kim - I love a good Tolkien discussion.
so, getting back to it - as muldoonthief points out, we definitely have exceptions to having the hobbits POV being the central one. But somehow this inconsistency didn't bother me. can't explain why; will have to think it over.
But at no time did any of them seem like "baggage" in the plot compared to the heroic style characters, though the characters themselves felt that way. They all served vital, well thought-out functions in the plot, I feel .
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Old 05-03-2012, 02:09 PM
The Second Stone The Second Stone is online now
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Yes. I do hope we can have this discussion without getting bent out of shape, or digging ourselves into the usual trenches. I'm not a big fan of adversarial debate.

I don't hate Lord Of the Rings. I've read it several times like some aspects of it. And I am enthusiastic about the idea of what the boffins call "secondary world creation", which is Tolkien's real legacy.

But at the same time, I don't believe any work of art is flawless. And it's not a bad thing to explore that too. Creating something like LOTR is often about looking at all the possibilities and making decisions about how it's going to be. When you make one choice, it necessarily excludes others. That's what interest's me about it -- how would I have done it differently, if I were Tolkien?
There is a great essay on Faerie Stories that makes these same points. Written by some professor named Tolkein.
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Old 05-03-2012, 02:14 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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OK. Thanks.
Good thing my keyboard is waterproof!
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Old 05-03-2012, 02:15 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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One major issue was that Tolkein passed around his manuscripts to his friends for their input. They would often make suggestions and Tolkein would make some revisions. The problem was that he was doing this with several people so his friends were reading and Tolkein was revising different versions of a book (and he often sent out manuscripts in sections). This process led to some narrative inconsistencies and not all of them got reconciled in the final text.
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Old 05-03-2012, 02:20 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Actually, this serves as a good counter-example.

Both "Alice in Wonderland" and "Gulliver's Travels" involve a more or less ordinary person going from a "normal" life to an extraordinary land. That's certainly a genre convention but not one that really applies to LoTR.

LoTR involves characters already in a fanciful setting exploring that fanciful setting.
I disagree. While the Shire was part of Middle Earth it was pretty much isolated from the rest of world. The Shire was essentially Tolkein's idealized England which was relocated into a epic fantasy setting. So the Hobbits were essentially ordinary people visiting extraordinary lands.

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Old 05-03-2012, 02:27 PM
Gagundathar Gagundathar is offline
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In my previous post I meant to link directly to this image of the HOMEs books(UK Edition) to show how much material JRRT had written and re-written during his time writing stories of Middle Earth.

Enjoy,
Steven
I must admit I sort of made a childish noise of delight when I saw this.
I must have these books!
Must.

Thanks for the link, fellow Tolkienian enthusiast!
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Old 05-03-2012, 02:33 PM
Great Antibob Great Antibob is offline
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I disagree. While the Shire was part of Middle Earth it was pretty much isolated from the rest of world. The Shire was essentially Tolkein's idealized England which was relocated into a epic fantasy setting. So the Hobbits were essentially ordinary people visiting extraordinary lands.
I can see how that POV is appealing, but it doesn't jive with the Scouring.

The Scouring was explicitly a way of pointing out that you don't get to have your adventures elsewhere in some far off land, come back, and simply pretend it's all happening to unrelated people in some world that's not really connected to your own, as in the case of Alice or Gulliver (or even your namesake).

Even if it's a little pocket hick province, the Shire is supposed to be part of the rest of that world. Now, that little pocket province may have been basically Tolkien's idealized England, but it was always supposed to be part and parcel of the rest of the fantasy world he created.

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Old 05-03-2012, 02:37 PM
Voyager Voyager is online now
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Actually, this serves as a good counter-example.

Both "Alice in Wonderland" and "Gulliver's Travels" involve a more or less ordinary person going from a "normal" life to an extraordinary land. That's certainly a genre convention but not one that really applies to LoTR.

I suppose the original archetype is something like "Pilgrim's Progress" but even there, Christian is a paragon of virtue, rather than a down-to-earth type.

LoTR involves characters already in a fanciful setting exploring that fanciful setting.
Fanciful setting from our perspective, not from their perspective. The Shire is good old comfortable England, disrupted by visitors from outside. Any fairy tale journey starts off from a fantastic place from our current view, but that isn't what is important. Luke Skywalker sets off from a boring place from his perspective also.
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Old 05-03-2012, 02:46 PM
Great Antibob Great Antibob is offline
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Fanciful setting from our perspective, not from their perspective. The Shire is good old comfortable England, disrupted by visitors from outside. Any fairy tale journey starts off from a fantastic place from our current view, but that isn't what is important. Luke Skywalker sets off from a boring place from his perspective also.
Sure, but Luke understands there's this big fantastic world outside. He just happens to inhabit a relatively boring part of it. Likewise, the hobbits know there's this big scary world outside the Shire, even if they choose never to explore it and stay in their boring little piece of that world.

That's not true for either Alice or Gulliver, who didn't know about fantasy worlds and couldn't have been expected to know about them, either.
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Old 05-03-2012, 03:40 PM
Alka Seltzer Alka Seltzer is offline
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I'd have to go back and dig out the reference to be sure. But it wasn't about revising the stories, as such, but about the facts that he established (sequences of events, and that sort of thing).
I don't think that's the case especially. For example, towards the end of his life he wanted to throw away the creation stories in The Silmarillion and start again. Tolkien proved he was willing to go to extraordinary lengths to revise his work, greater than any other author I can think of. His work is characterised by obsessiveness and meticulousness.

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For example, I've seen different versions of the Tale Of Tinuviel written in different ways, but they're all essentially the same story told over and over again.
Why would he fundamentally change a tale if he was happy with the structure of it? The Lay of Luthien had special importance to Tolkien, as it relates to himself and his wife. He was forbidden from courting her by his guardian, for the duration of his undergraduate studies. Tolkien grew up in a very different world from us.

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At the outset, Tolkien intended to write the whole of the Lord Of the Rings from the viewpoint of the hobbits. And all of the obvious weaknesses in the work arise because he was obliged to abandon that scheme (but did not wish to rewrite LOTR from scratch).
I think you've created a false dilemma for the author here. Writing the story from the perspective of the Hobbits was a good artistic decision, but there is no reason an author should feel bound to follow this slavishly. Why would Tolkien see this as a problem? At one point in the 3rd chapter, the story jumps to the POV of a fox.

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The hobbits start complaining that they feel like useless baggage. And it's true, they are. I think it's quite possible that this is the author's opinion too, which is intruding into the story.
I don't see it like this, and given Tolkien's views on what he would call "grace", he almost certainly didn't either. Through their persistence Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin are rewarded, and given the opportunity to influence events. I imagine he drew on his own feelings of responsibility, impotence and guilt from the two world wars he lived through, and used this to give the characters a bit more depth.

You are of course entitled to your opinion on what you feel are failings in the story, but I don't think your explanation of them carries any weight, as your assumptions are contrary to known facts about Tolkien's writing process.

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And I am enthusiastic about the idea of what the boffins call "secondary world creation", which is Tolkien's real legacy.
I agree that the world building adds a great deal of richness to LOTR, but I also think he was a master storyteller. Unlike you, I find the overall arc of the story very satisfying.

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Originally Posted by Kim o the Concrete Jungle View Post
But at the same time, I don't believe any work of art is flawless.
Nor do I. However, I take a different view from you on LOTR flaws. For example, I agree Celeborn "The Wise" is a poorly drawn character, but I see this as more of a compromise than bad writing. His purpose in the text is to serve as foil for Galadriel, giving her an excuse to demonstrate her larger sense of perspective, and develop her rapport with Gimli. Expanding on Celeborn's character would detract from Galadriel (an important character to Tolkien, he drew on the virgin Mary for inspiration), and could be fruitless, as the fellowship are destined to leave Lothlorien. Fleshing out every minor character excessively would just bloat the book.

Other flaws of the book are more fundamental, but are perhaps bound up with it's strengths. LOTR is not strong on social realism, but that wasn't Tolkien's goal, he was trying to write an English mythology. It's an expression of his idealised values. I've always felt his conception of evil as an external force was wildly unrealistic, but I don't think it would improve the story to change this.

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Old 05-03-2012, 03:50 PM
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just pressed my imaginary "like" button for your post, Alka-Seltzer.
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Old 05-03-2012, 05:18 PM
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I still think that Celeborn being "the wise" is just a polite fiction. Galadriel is really one of the wisest beings in the world, but she's willing to pretend that it's her husband is the wise one, and they're both OK with that setup. Sounds like a good arrangement for a marriage that lasts for twenty millennia.
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Old 05-03-2012, 06:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Great Antibob View Post
Sure, but Luke understands there's this big fantastic world outside. He just happens to inhabit a relatively boring part of it. Likewise, the hobbits know there's this big scary world outside the Shire, even if they choose never to explore it and stay in their boring little piece of that world.

That's not true for either Alice or Gulliver, who didn't know about fantasy worlds and couldn't have been expected to know about them, either.
In that context, maybe. But Gulliver was a sailor, not someone staying at home, and while he may not have been aware of the specific fantastic places he found, he certainly saw many nearly as fantastic from his perspective.
It is not clear to me how much the hobbits knew, or wanted to know, about the outside.
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Old 05-03-2012, 07:04 PM
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I can see how that POV is appealing, but it doesn't jive with the Scouring.

The Scouring was explicitly a way of pointing out that you don't get to have your adventures elsewhere in some far off land, come back, and simply pretend it's all happening to unrelated people in some world that's not really connected to your own, as in the case of Alice or Gulliver (or even your namesake).

Even if it's a little pocket hick province, the Shire is supposed to be part of the rest of that world. Now, that little pocket province may have been basically Tolkien's idealized England, but it was always supposed to be part and parcel of the rest of the fantasy world he created.
For all practical purposes, the Scouring wasn't part of the story. It wasn't a historical event within the context of the story and it didn't occur during the main storyline. It was the second-to-last chapter in the trilogy and was essentially an epilogue. Its purpose was to show that the events of the book had been so significant that its effects reached even into isolated areas like the Shire, which had never before been touched by outside events. But that just reinforces the point that up until the very end of the story, the Shire had been an isolated area untouched by outside events.
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Old 05-03-2012, 08:32 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Writing the story from the perspective of the Hobbits was a good artistic decision, but there is no reason an author should feel bound to follow this slavishly. Why would Tolkien see this as a problem? At one point in the 3rd chapter, the story jumps to the POV of a fox.
He wasn't bound to follow slavishly, and indeed he didn't, because starting with the Two Towers he let his non-hobbit characters have chapters to themselves without a hobbit intermediary.

Writing from the perspective of Hobbits was probably a deliberate artistic decision in the beginning. It's what he did in The Hobbit, to good effect. But in LOTR it just didn't work out so well, which leads to the pacing problems that are evident in Fellowship Of the Ring. While we're visiting Tom Bombadil and slogging through the Midgemarsh with the Hobbits, the real story is what Gandalf's doing off in Isengard.

Halfway through, the story comes to a screeching halt while we go back and recap all of that. If Tolkien's manuscript had gone to a more hands-on editor (someone like John W Campbell for instance), I imagine it might have come back with the direction to rewrite Fellowship from the point of view of Gandalf.

And yet, we know that Tolkien was not a careless or unskilled writer. Something else has to account for the oddities we find in LOTR -- chiefly the pacing issues in Fellowship, the sometimes flat characterizations, and the inconsistencies in the tone. Hence, my theory...

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Old 05-03-2012, 08:42 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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LOTR is not strong on social realism, but that wasn't Tolkien's goal, he was trying to write an English mythology.
No argument there. An attempt at social realism would have been absolutely wrong for LOTR, and probably for Tolkien as well. Other writers, like Michael Moorcock and Mervyn Peake were much better placed to tackle that sort of thing.
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Old 05-03-2012, 08:53 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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For all practical purposes, the Scouring wasn't part of the story. It wasn't a historical event within the context of the story and it didn't occur during the main storyline. It was the second-to-last chapter in the trilogy and was essentially an epilogue. Its purpose was to show that the events of the book had been so significant that its effects reached even into isolated areas like the Shire, which had never before been touched by outside events.
My feeling is that Tolkien could have left it out altogether and gone straight onto the The Grey Havens and nobody would have known the difference (which is what Peter Jackson did). But I do wonder whether it was meant to be more integral to the story than it is. It seems odd to me that Tolkien goes to all the trouble of establishing Bill Ferny and Fatty Bolger as characters, and then doesn't do anything with them. I've speculated that perhaps they were meant to be part of some subplot that didn't make it into to the book.
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Old 05-03-2012, 09:29 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Re: Comparisons with Gulliver...

Gulliver's Travels is Jonathan Swift's take on the traditional quest plot. LOTR is Tolkien's take on it. I think the differences are trivial, because the main difference is that Tolkien's Middle Earth is a self-contained secondary world, and so the Shire is necessarily placed within it. But in that first chapter, Tolkien goes out of his way to establish the shire as familiar and mundane -- to the extent he refers to it as "the shire" instead of by it's proper name (Arthedain, I think), and gives everyone folksy sounding nicknames like Merry and Pippin and Fatty.

Even so, what's central to the quest plot is the idea of the journey. The journey itself drives the action of the story, and it's motivations are pretty-much secondary to that. (It's not significant that Alice and Gulliver don't appear to have any particular motivation.) Compare this to tragedy, where the hero's fatal flaw drives the action, or the traditional comedy where a misunderstanding between the principle characters drives the story. You can see the quest plot at work in LOTR and in Gulliver's Travels. It's also somewhat in the Pilgrim's Progress, though I'd classify that more as an allegory. It's parodied in Don Quixote. It goes at least as far back as The Odyssey.
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Old 05-03-2012, 09:36 PM
well he's back well he's back is offline
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just gotta keep disagreeing with you, Kim, about the Scouring. don't see it as an epilogue. With the hobbits THE main characters, their return home to find that no where is untouched by evil and that they have to fight it there is indispensable.
and I like the structure of Fellowship. We're following the Ring. Pretty darn important, I'd say.
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Old 05-03-2012, 10:23 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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While I'm at it I have to say, I think a lot of people misunderstand genre writing. The point of writing to a genre is not to perfectly and slavishly reproduce the conventions of that genre, but to use the genre to set up the expectations of the reader. And having set that baseline, the author can then play against those expectations, twisting them to his own end to create an original work of fiction.

Tolkien did exactly this. He invokes the traditional quest plot, but instead of setting it in Fairyland or an exotic foreign country (the traditional venues for such stories) he invented an entire world. He was after all a twentieth century writer, an no doubt instinctively understood that the old Fairyland or foreign parts thing wasn't going to cut it with modern readers. He followed Robert E Howard's lead by invoking a distant and long forgotten past, but in the end elected not to emphasize that aspect of it and simply presented Middle Earth as its own thing without explanation.

Also as a twentieth century writer who survived two world wars, he would have understood that the home-front could not endure a war unscathed, or remain in complete ignorance of significant world events. So in the Grey Havens he makes it clear that the elves were leaving and that the old ways were passing, and that henceforth Middle Earth would be the land of men. That's a theme that fits very well with popular sentiment after the first world war (the same period where we see the rise of modern and abstract art, and modern literature).

Genre writing stagnates and dies when its conventions become absolute rules that cannot be broken -- where the reader's expectations are considered sacrosanct and cannot be challenged.
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Old 05-04-2012, 12:56 AM
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Originally Posted by well he's back View Post
just gotta keep disagreeing with you, Kim, about the Scouring. don't see it as an epilogue. With the hobbits THE main characters, their return home to find that no where is untouched by evil and that they have to fight it there is indispensable.
and I like the structure of Fellowship. We're following the Ring. Pretty darn important, I'd say.
How could it not be? The main climax has already happened. How can there be another rise of conflict during the falling action? How can it be presented as anything other than an epilogue?
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Old 05-04-2012, 03:22 AM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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I think the scouring of the shire was probably meant to be their moment of glory. But in the end, the hobbits acquitted themselves quite well in the main part of the story, so there was no need of it. And you can sort of see that in their reactions, when they learn what's been going on. They more or less say, "What's all this nonsense? We're heroes, we're not putting up with this!" Then it all sort of goes away. It's all over and done with in a single chapter.

But for me personally, the scouring of the shire does one thing I can't forgive. It turns Saruman into a Snidely Whiplash style cartoon villain. Saruman is supposed to be a powerful wizard -- one of the Maiar -- not a moustache twirler.
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Old 05-04-2012, 07:04 AM
Alka Seltzer Alka Seltzer is offline
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He wasn't bound to follow slavishly, and indeed he didn't, because starting with the Two Towers he let his non-hobbit characters have chapters to themselves without a hobbit intermediary.
I know, and there is no reason to assume he wouldn't have done so sooner in the tale if he'd felt the need.

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But in LOTR it just didn't work out so well, which leads to the pacing problems that are evident in Fellowship Of the Ring. While we're visiting Tom Bombadil and slogging through the Midgemarsh with the Hobbits, the real story is what Gandalf's doing off in Isengard.
I don't know if a chapter or two written from Gandalf's POV would improve the story, as no such version exists, but I tend to disagree. Again, it's about compromise. Gandalf is already a well established and vivid character, so it's probably better to concentrate on the Hobbits and Aragorn. Having Gandalf absent for reasons unknown greatly adds to the tension of the story.

The midgewater marsh is a single page, you really think that's a pacing problem? I'm neutral on Tom Bombadil myself, but I can see why a lot of readers don't like him, and I agree he is unnecessary.

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Halfway through, the story comes to a screeching halt while we go back and recap all of that.
Trying to be objective, I really can't see how Gandalf's tale can be described in that manner. We hear of Gollum's capture and escape, and Saruman's treachery, while learning more about the history of Middle Earth. It also hints at events in Rohan and Gondor. Above you've talked about the importance of Tolkien's world building, and the council is a perfect opportunity to explore this.

I personally like the fact that quite a bit of the action happens off stage. It also has the effect of shortening the book considerably. A character presenting a summary is a lot more concise than following each event as it happens. For example, Gollum's escape would be a chapter by itself.

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If Tolkien's manuscript had gone to a more hands-on editor (someone like John W Campbell for instance), I imagine it might have come back with the direction to rewrite Fellowship from the point of view of Gandalf.
That's actually quite funny. Tolkien's initial refusal to split LOTR into three books and his insistence that The Silmarillion must also be published held up LOTR's publication for five years. He would grudgingly accept the advice of some friends, such as C. S. Lewis, but he'd never have submitted to the control of an editor. He could have taken the easy route of a straightforward sequel to The Hobbit, which is what his publisher asked for and was well within his ability. Greatly to his credit, he chose to follow his creative muse, despite how painful the process was for him, and the financial pressure he was under.

In it's final form, both Tolkien and his publisher thought the book had no commercial potential. Raynor Unwin estimated their firm might lose £1,000 (a considerable sum at the time), but that the book should be published anyway, due to it's importance. Under Tolkien's contract, he received no advance, and would receive no royalties until the book had broken even. As compensation, he was given a much larger share of the profits once that point was reached.

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Something else has to account for the oddities we find in LOTR -- chiefly the pacing issues in Fellowship, the sometimes flat characterizations, and the inconsistencies in the tone. Hence, my theory...
To be blunt, your theory is bunk, as you've made the mistake of making some unfounded assumptions and running with them. It's a trap I've fallen into before. Your criticisms of the book itself may or may not be valid, is inconsistent tone really a problem? I find it quite effective, as the hobbits enter a larger, more dangerous world. The hobbits start out as very naive, and the author's voice reflects that.

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I think the scouring of the shire was probably meant to be their moment of glory. But in the end, the hobbits acquitted themselves quite well in the main part of the story, so there was no need of it.
I think you misunderstand the main point of the scouring. Yes, it does show the character growth of the hobbits, but it's overall tone is of sadness. It certainly isn't the climax of the story, that's clearly the destruction of the ring, which happened several chapters earlier. The final chapters are about the passing away of the old world and the establishment of the world of men.

Tolkien was explicit that The Shire was an idealised version of England. However, you might be surprised to hear what he thought about it's inhabitants. Hobbits are basically decent, but they are also for the most part very small minded. We see this in their total lack of curiosity in what the travellers have been up to.

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just pressed my imaginary "like" button for your post, Alka-Seltzer.
Thanks. I spent quite a bit of time composing it and checking things, so sometimes it's nice to hear it hasn't been completely swallowed by the black hole which is the internet.
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Old 05-04-2012, 07:54 AM
Baal Houtham Baal Houtham is offline
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Originally Posted by Kim o the Concrete Jungle View Post
I think the scouring of the shire was probably meant to be their moment of glory. But in the end, the hobbits acquitted themselves quite well in the main part of the story, so there was no need of it. (...)

But for me personally, the scouring of the shire does one thing I can't forgive. It turns Saruman into a Snidely Whiplash style cartoon villain.
Thanks for the thoughtful thread, Kim.

I'll agree that the Scouring of the Shire could have been left out, and readers would not have missed it. However, I like it, and often see it mentioned with fondness in discussions -- it's a good inclusion. Probably many episodes could have been left out with just a few narrative patches needed to cover their omission. You're right in that it was not needed to show the hobbits' heroism, but that was not its purpose. Instead it translated the need for extraordinary heroism into the need for everyday heroism. A battle with 100,000 casualties is going to be an intellectual abstraction, but a story where 15 of your neighbors are killed is something that can be grasped by almost anyone.

Saruman's degradation was also an interesting tale. After his staff has broken, he was just a smart, bitter guy with an attitude. No great powers. But Tolkien's point was that he did not have to be shattered by his downfall. It is not better to rule in hell than to be a decent member of society. Saruman made his choice and it ended up with him being stabbed by a grubby underling.
-----------------
I'm not sure Middle Earth is substantively different than the Hyborean Age -- just exquisitely filled out. They're both prehistoric Earths with gods, demons, warring nations. Howard ties his to the Earth's timeline more than JRRT, but not with any passion or precision.

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Old 05-04-2012, 08:36 AM
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yes, thanks for the thoughtful thread, although I disagree with many of your points Kim. As already stated, I think the Scouring is vital. (we can quibble about the definition of epilogue. If Tolkien had retained the horrible bit he wrote where Sam is talking years later with his daughter Elanor, that would have been a true epilog.) I think the evil Saruman shows is frightening and true. The inconsistencies you see in the book that bother you never bothered me, and i just finished a slow reread of it, so I'm pretty aware of the pacing and tone. I especially disagree with your need to restructure 'Fellowship'. Telling the story from the hobbits' point of view increases the tension. Including 'non-essential' story bits allows for time to flesh out the characters a bit and make us care about them more.
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Old 05-04-2012, 08:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Kim o the Concrete Jungle View Post
I think the scouring of the shire was probably meant to be their moment of glory. But in the end, the hobbits acquitted themselves quite well in the main part of the story, so there was no need of it. And you can sort of see that in their reactions, when they learn what's been going on. They more or less say, "What's all this nonsense? We're heroes, we're not putting up with this!" Then it all sort of goes away. It's all over and done with in a single chapter.

But for me personally, the scouring of the shire does one thing I can't forgive. It turns Saruman into a Snidely Whiplash style cartoon villain. Saruman is supposed to be a powerful wizard -- one of the Maiar -- not a moustache twirler.
Regarding your last point, I thought it was rather brilliant of the Professor to demonstrate the banality of evil: Saruman the White, stripped of power and position, resurfacing as Sharkey, showing his malice and pettiness and dying from a knife wound in the back from his own minion.

Regarding your first, I felt the Scouring of the Shire was to show not only that there were no corners of Middle Earth left untouched by the shadow of evil but also so that we could see how the hobbits had grown over the course of their journey.
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Old 05-04-2012, 10:01 AM
Baal Houtham Baal Houtham is offline
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I thought it was rather brilliant of the Professor to demonstrate the banality of evil: Saruman the White, stripped of power and position, resurfacing as Sharkey, showing his malice and pettiness (...)
Numerous parts of LOTR evoke (in me) images of Nazis, Hitler, Napoleon or Mussolini. I'm sure Tolkien strove to avoid obvious political symbolism, still when you're writing about dictatorial warlords in the middle of the 20th century there are going to be some relationship to actual events.

In the Scouring, Saruman was a petty bully with good oratorical skills. Most dictators start out as petty bullies, and if they're nipped in the bud they don't end up plunging the world into chaos. I don't know that Tolkien was advocating democracies being more aggressive about quashing local bullies before they became powerful, but if you lived through the World Wars it would be hard not to feel that way. The hobbits came back from Gondor ready to meet the challenge, but its a situation that will arise again and again over the centuries and the battle is never completely won.
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Old 05-04-2012, 10:03 AM
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I think the fundamental flaw in this entire theory is that it is approaching the entire situation as if Tolkein were a modern author, who was sitting down and plotting all this stuff out in advance, and honestly, that runs contrary to everything I've ever read about the man's creative process.

There's a reason the Professor decided to represent this as a story he "discovered" rather than a story he "wrote" and it has to do with his fundamental mindset when creating this stuff.

I find the very idea that he had everything parcelled out neatly in an "Okay, Frodo will be the PoV character for a while, with Sam tagging in later when Frodo is too corrupted, and we'll need a hobbit for Rohan and a Hobbit for Gondor..." fashion to be completely groundless based on all indications, and without that degree of preplanning, the entire theory comes crashing down.
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Old 05-04-2012, 11:32 AM
Alka Seltzer Alka Seltzer is offline
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I meant to add, sorry if my post comes across as a little harsh Kim, but it seems you haven't checked your facts before putting your theory together. You've obviously spent some time thinking about it, but I think you've started from the wrong place. There is a lot of published material covering the development of his works, and his letters shed a lot of light on what he thought about various aspects of Middle Earth. I've found it an interesting thread, as it's encouraged me to think about some aspects of the story I hadn't given much thought before.

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Old 05-04-2012, 06:48 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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I think the fundamental flaw in this entire theory is that it is approaching the entire situation as if Tolkein were a modern author, who was sitting down and plotting all this stuff out in advance...
Nothing that I've spoken about here would suggest conscious pre-planning on Tolkien's part. In fact, the pacing problems I've noted in Fellowship would suggest a lack of it.

To me, Tolkien comes across as a very organic writer. He's not interested in the typical writerly sort of stuff like plot-arcs, tone, pacing, foreshadowing, and the dramatic curve. He's interested in the details -- the language, the history, the incidental poetry, the landscape. When you compare LOTR to something written in a much more systematic way (say, Michael Moorcock's Hawkmoon series), the difference is obvious.
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Old 05-05-2012, 09:27 PM
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In that context, maybe. But Gulliver was a sailor, not someone staying at home, and while he may not have been aware of the specific fantastic places he found, he certainly saw many nearly as fantastic from his perspective.
It is not clear to me how much the hobbits knew, or wanted to know, about the outside.
Actually Gulliver was an educated man and a surgeon who took employment aboard ship. The point of Gulliver's Travels and the "fantastic" places he finds himself in is to parody a) travel genre writing and b) to satirize contemporary politics in Europe. The fantastic is not all that important other than to place the satire in an unfamiliar place in order to highlight the satire.
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Old 05-05-2012, 09:30 PM
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For all practical purposes, the Scouring wasn't part of the story. It wasn't a historical event within the context of the story and it didn't occur during the main storyline. It was the second-to-last chapter in the trilogy and was essentially an epilogue. Its purpose was to show that the events of the book had been so significant that its effects reached even into isolated areas like the Shire, which had never before been touched by outside events. But that just reinforces the point that up until the very end of the story, the Shire had been an isolated area untouched by outside events.
No. The Scouring is as vital to the novel as the first chapter, they in fact form a "ring composition" in the novel. Others have expressed the theme in those chapters better than the above, but I refer you up thread rather than merely repeat.
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Old 05-05-2012, 09:37 PM
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He wasn't bound to follow slavishly, and indeed he didn't, because starting with the Two Towers he let his non-hobbit characters have chapters to themselves without a hobbit intermediary.

Writing from the perspective of Hobbits was probably a deliberate artistic decision in the beginning. It's what he did in The Hobbit, to good effect. But in LOTR it just didn't work out so well, which leads to the pacing problems that are evident in Fellowship Of the Ring. While we're visiting Tom Bombadil and slogging through the Midgemarsh with the Hobbits, the real story is what Gandalf's doing off in Isengard.

Halfway through, the story comes to a screeching halt while we go back and recap all of that. If Tolkien's manuscript had gone to a more hands-on editor (someone like John W Campbell for instance), I imagine it might have come back with the direction to rewrite Fellowship from the point of view of Gandalf.

And yet, we know that Tolkien was not a careless or unskilled writer. Something else has to account for the oddities we find in LOTR -- chiefly the pacing issues in Fellowship, the sometimes flat characterizations, and the inconsistencies in the tone. Hence, my theory...
I confess that I think you need to read and think more about this. The techniques of pacing and interlace that Tolkien used are well-known, well-accepted, and evident to those, like his original European, educated audience, who read more than modern fantasy novels. There are no "pacing issues": Chapters of high intensity and adventure are followed by chapters of rest and those are followed by a chapter of preparation for the next adventure. That's good construction and pacing. The use of conversations and dialogue to fill in what other characters have been up to is also a good technique and leaves the reader desiring more. And your theory doesn't work, founded as it is on a belief that is simply contrary to fact.
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