Friday, April 27, 2012

In Which I am Very Excited to Announce...

Today, my friends, is a lovely sort of day.

Because yesterday, I finished The Lord of The Rings.

And today, I get to write about Tolkien.

Granted, I am probably not as qualified as I should be, because I don't know much about Tolkien himself other than that he was a Roman Catholic and a philologist. But I can give you the impression of a common reader, and some good links to those who know more than I might. For all Lewis fans, you will enjoy journeying into the realm of Middle Earth, and meeting one of Lewis's author friends. Lewis and Tolkien were friends in fact, until Lewis made a slightly disparaging comment regarding the Roman Catholic church, after which there was a cooling of the relationship.

But welcome, welcome, into the world of Tolkien. Today's review is on a book that Tolkien wrote as a prelude to LOTR, called The Hobbit.

A Few Prefatory Remarks About This Series
I have thought long about how to do this series in the thorough way that I would like, without including too many spoilers for those that have never read the books. Concluding that this is impossible to do when addressing those who have read it, and those who haven't, I have included a special section in each article for those who have already read the story. In every article the title "Special Edition for Those Who Have Read The Books" will signal the end of the regular review for those who haven't yet. As for those who have seen the movies, but not read the books, I can't say whether or not this section would contain too many spoilers for you, as I have never seen the movie and can't share my opinion on it. But if someday you would like to experience Tolkien's works with all the suspense that is nice to have, you might want to save the section for future reading.
Due to some other things I would like to cover, I am going to do this series for the next few Fridays, and reserve Tuesdays for other articles. So Friday, until further notice, is Tolkien day.

A Few Prefatory Remarks About Middle Earth
These stories takes place in a land called "Middle Earth", a fantasy land that Tolkien spent decades creating and perfecting--maps, legends, history,  people groups, different cultures and languages, he made them all. His creation is really stunning in its detail, and gives further opportunity for rereading the books and gleaning even more detail. Any of Tolkien's books that I have had the pleasure of reading should be re-read and re-read again, so that in time I can catch his full meanings. It's impossible to catch in just one read. But I'll discuss re-reading stories in another article.  And yes, I am keeping track of all the articles I've promised my readers. :)

The Plot
The Hobbit

I had the exceeding privilege of ordering an annotated edition of The Hobbit for my first exposure to Tolkien. It added much to my pleasure, because it contained many of his philological notes in the margins. I remember the first night I looked at The Hobbit: I had just finished an Australian book, the Magic Pudding (finished it with a flashlight under the covers. I couldn't sleep.) So, still wide-awake, I pawed around my book stack. I knew what I wanted: this strange book that was supposed the be the first in the legendary Lord of the Rings series. One by one, I quietly rustled through the pages of chapter one "The Unexpected Party". I didn't really have an expectation for the story, but from what I had heard of the Lord of the Rings, but I remember expecting it to be a bit more...epic. So far, it was just about a bunch of dwarfs eating dinner with a fanciful creature called a hobbit, and planning an expedition to kill a dragon. Nice. I didn't have anything against dragons, mind you, or dwarfs for that matter, but I thought that The Hobbit seemed a bit simpler than Narnia, and I wondered what the uproar had been about. But, I determined to enjoy it, even if it was a children's book. The poetry was quite good, at least, and the British humor popped up continuously, which is a definite plus.

And then... But wait. I get ahead of myself. You really wanted to know what the plot was.

Simply put, it's about a cozy little hobbit, a creature a bit like a dwarf, with furry toes and colorful waistcoats, and a love of numerous meals all on time. The hobbit we're referring to is named Bilbo Baggins is very comfortable with the way his life is going, until one day the wizard Gandalf shows up, and his life is forever changed. The wizard Gandalf is looking for someone to go on an adventure--a burglar, in fact. And he has chosen Bilbo Baggins to fill the role. Thirteen dwarfs and a few songs later, Bilbo finds himself leaving the Shire to travel to dark and distant lands to kill a dragon and get back a huge pile of treasure that rightfully belong to the dwarfs. From giant spiders, to goblins, to fierce wolves, he has to lead the dwarfs to their ultimate destiny, and they seem to think that poor, ordinary Mr. Baggins has all the solutions to whatever problems they will face.

Now we can get to 'And then'. Innocent as this story sounds, darker strands soon begin to appear that are not usually found in children's stories. The dwarfs are greedy creatures, and the lust for gold grows stronger and stronger the closer they get to their destination. Greed is oftentimes treated as a joke in literature, but Tolkien foreshadows dark problems in the plot because of this vice. Also, among his journeys, Bilbo finds a ring. A ring that has a special power to do something (which I wont give away) and that causes him to tell a lie for the first time in his life. This small incident is what ties it into LOTR, and the whisperings of future trouble appear when Bilbo sees the strange effect it has had on its former possessors.

We'll talk about fantasy later. But for now, I would reassure you on two points in looking at reading this book: first, it's much like Narnia--not necessarily in plot, but in type of fantasy. Both Lewis and Tolkien has a Judeo-Christian background, though Tolkien was Catholic, and if you take the time to look and evaluate, you'll clearly see the biblical morality in both works.
And as for the question of Bilbo being hired for a burglar--or as Gloin the dwarf says "You can say Expert Treasure-Hunter if you prefer"--well, if he steals anything, it shall be resolved. I promise. And the dragon is the thief of the treasure. Bilbo isn't going to steal it from the dragon, but to restore to the dwarfs what is rightly theirs. No situational ethics, I promise you. :)

Score one for Tolkien. I should have trusted all those who had gone before. By chapter two, I was hooked.

The Movie

You might enjoy seeing the trailer for the upcoming movie release of The Hobbit. Peter Jackson, the same man that produced LOTR is doing this adaptation. With Andy Serkis as Gollum (Blandois in Dicken's Little Dorrit, Screwtape in the radio dramatization of The Screwtape Letters), and Benedict Cumberbatch (William Pitt in Amazing Grace) as Smaug, it looks like an excellent cast. But can anyone please tell me who the blond-haired woman is with Gandalf? Is it Galadrial from LOTR? And why Baggins is looking at the sword that was broken--in a house? And where Gandalf is in that grey stone steps scene? After all, his meeting with the Necromancer wasn't even part of the story, as Tolkien himself said. I see issues. But we shall have to wait and see. :)

And here, my friends, I leave some of you who have not yet read the books. I hope you enjoy The Hobbit, and I hope you also come back to read the rest of the article once you are finished. :) Thanks for stopping by.




Special Edition for Those Who Have Read the Books
I have to say, I would only criticize Tolkien for giving away so much before he gets to the end. He gives away the final battle. He gives away the fact that Bilbo makes it to the end. He gives away quite a few events by saying, "but they were wrong, as you shall see". I didn't even notice this until I read the book aloud to my family, but they kept laughing when he killed all the suspense. I was happy to find that he didn't do this in LOTR nearly as much.
The humor was so funny, and I loved Bilbo's lines. They in themselves made the book, much like A.A. Milne's humor turns Pooh Bear from a cute Disney creation to an intelligent fairy tale.
There were quite a few talking animals. I was glad LOTR didn't rely so heavily on those for the climax rescue points as The Hobbit did. Not that I mind talking animals so much, but personally, I think it's more epic when the characters have to work themselves out of the ditch. It's the point that you are taught at writer's conferences, the point that says when the character reaches the darkest moment, the helper comes not to solve the problem for them, but to point them in the right direction. At first, all the climaxes were solved for Bilbo, but later on he had to work to find solutions for them. But in saying that, I'm not criticizing the element of providence that Tolkien includes. Bilbo finding the ring in the dark is Providential. Bilbo thinking of the key to open the door in the mountain is providential. I think the providence theme shines thorough not when Bilbo is picked up out of his problems without a bit of effort on his part, but when he is given a piece of knowledge or help that he could not have gotten on his own, and helps him to make the final leap to success. It's a bit like overcoming temptation--God gives us a way of escape, but we have to choose whether we will follow it or not. We're given everything we need for life and godliness, but we still have to practice it. So my favorite parts were when Bilbo had to put forth a little effort in the critical moment--like putting the dwarfs in barrels, or the riddle competition with Gollum.
By far, my favorite theme in The Hobbit is the fact that is so clearly expressed: God uses the weak things to shame the strong. There is no allegorical representation of God in Tolkien's works, but you still see the Christian influence shine through. When we first meet Bilbo, he doesn't think he can do it. But by the end, he's looking beyond what he thinks he can do to what needs to be done. And in the end, when he's a bit proud of his success, Gandalf reminds him fittingly that all his 'good luck' wasn't really his at all: "You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

I am exceedingly glad to have met this little fellow. Because he's an essential prelude to the events yet to come. And without humble Bilbo Baggins, we could never have enjoyed the Lord of the Rings. :)

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

12 comments:

  1. Dear Lady B,
    The trailer looks so cooollllll!! Blond haired lady?! Hhhhmmmm....
    This was a fun book for you to read aloud.
    Love,Sister

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  2. The blond haired lady is Galadriel from the movie and the broken sword is Narsil which was later forged into Anduril, Aragorn's sword. It was kept in Rivendell where Thorin and Co. stopped on the way to the Lonely Mountain. They are probably trying to do things that will attract the attention of all their LOTR movie fans.
    -E.H ; )

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    1. Many thanks :) I had my suspicions it was Galadrial, but as I have never seen the moves. I am a bit of a purist regarding movie adaptations, but I shall give it a fair chance. :) I thought they cast Bilbo well, and the musical score is fantastic.

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    2. P.S. Oh, my! I wrote that comment as if to a total stranger. And then I realized.... ;)

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    3. Yay, you've read LOTR and The Hobbit! I've read The Hobbit and almost done with The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (I'm unto The Return of the King right now...). Oh and I've also watched the movies which are really great... you really ought to watch them. Jackson's adaption of LOTR is so much closer to Tolkien's books than the Narnia movie adaptions are and the best part of it is the spirit of the books are carried into the films as well.

      Yes, that golden haired lady is Galadrial and the shards of the sword in that house is the shards of Narsil in Elrond's House. I am not 100% sure what that scene with Gandalf fighting might be in the trailer, but I guess it has something to do with Necromancer. I personally wouldn't mind if they added a bit to the movie that helped link The Hobbit more to LOTR as long as they don't change to much. I really can't wait for The Hobbit to come out!

      Great review by the way :).

      ~Joy @ joy-live4jesus.blogspot.com

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  3. Really enjoyed this!

    Just two quick comments--I believe that Lewis's ardent Protestantism was certainly a factor in the cooling of his relationship with Tolkien, but a few other factors can also be cited. Tolkien disliked Narnia (I know, that shocked me when I found out, too--but he actually felt Narnia was hastily and shoddily slapped together from a world-building perspective); also, CS Lewis's friendship with the admittedly rather strange, if brilliant, Charles Williams took Lewis in a direction that concerned and discomfited Tolkien. In addition, when Lewis married a divorced woman, Tolkien was further concerned. So I don't think you could narrow it down to just one comment.

    Although they did drift gradually apart toward the ends of their lives, there's the rather heartwarming fact that eventually their wives actually met during a stay in hospital!-made friends, and conspired, with some success, to mend their husbands' friendship! I love that. :)

    Second, I too thought that there was no representation of God in Tolkien's works. Until I read The Silmarillion. ;)

    The blonde woman in the Hobbit trailer is certainly Galadriel. It seems more or less certain that the Hobbit movie will be mining the book's backstory for more epic battles and a bigger tie to The Lord of the Rings. There are a number of things we know from clues in supporting texts about Gandalf's doings with the White Council (consisting of Cirdan, Elrond, Galadriel, Celeborn, Saruman, and himself at least), his trip to Dol Guldur to find Thrain, Thorin's father and the attack made by the White Council on that tower near the end of The Hobbit. Looks like all that will come into the movie.

    I am so glad that you have enjoyed, and can recommend these books!

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    1. Ah, many thanks for the extended bits about Tolkien and Lewis. :) I must do more study on Tolkien himself once I recover from his books. I shall also look up Charles Williams, as I confess I don't know who he is. I heard an interesting tidbit about the threesome today: they would meet with other men in a club, to critique each others' work, and Lewis didn't mind changing a sentence or paragraph upon someone's suggestion. But when they critiqued Tolkien, he wanted to start back at the beginning and write the entire story over. A perfectionist, to say the least. :)
      I see I must read a great deal more of his works on Middle Earth. At first I toyed with the idea of saving the review until I read the books a few times, but decided that I might as well cover the basics the first time and perhaps do a more extensive one in future.
      I can't believe Tolkien didn't like Narnia. :) If I were put to it, I don't know which I would pick. I enjoy the fact that Tolkien is more complicated than Lewis in his world as far as languages, history, people groups, etc. Lewis is more complex in his animals and magic systems, I think, than in the actual human characters.
      I love it when a series gives infinite opportunity for further study--and when the author as well as his books is complex. :)

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    2. I have a review of a Charles Williams book here. Other information can be found in various places. He was in many ways a strange, in many ways a brilliant and insightful man, addicted to making incredibly arcane and esoteric references--to the point where CS Lewis, one of his best friends, sometimes didn't have a clue what he was talking about. Fascinating man, worth reading, take a grain of salt.

      Now that you've read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion is the logical next step...whenever you're ready!

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  4. you know, after watching/reading Tolkiens' Lord of the Rings, I started comparing it with Narnia.... for a while I thought I liked Narnia more, then I thought I liked Lord of the Rings more, and in the end I realized that they are just two great literary stars, different but both uniquely wonderful... and you really can't compare them very much. I did find though that The Hobbit and Narnia had very much the same literary style and humour... :)

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  5. Hi Lady B,
    I'm so pleased that you have discovered and enjoyed the beginning of your Tolkinien journey (I say beginning because if you are anything like me, you will have read many more things by and about him and continue to do so...). The trailer is quite tantalizing is it not..l:). I am a bit of a total fan (of the books first, then the movies), so if I sound over the top, don't mind me:). I love the LOTR movies and wait in excited anticipation for the release of The Hobbit later this year:)!!!!

    If you would like to read a good biography about Tolkien or about The Inklings (C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams etc.) I would highly recommend Humphrey Carpenter. His J.R.R. Tolkien biography and his biography "The Inklings" are both informative, interesting, and excellent reads:). The Inklings was the name of their little literary club in Oxford. You could probably find them at your local library unless you live somewhere tiny or without a library... If you become interested in reading about Tolkien's real-world sources, I would recommend Tom Shippey's "The Road to Middle-earth", Jason Fisher's "Tolkien and the Study of His Sources" and a large stack of medieval literature including "Beowulf", "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" (Tolkien's own version in great, as it also includes "Pearl" and "Sir Orfeo"). Believe me, there are endless possibilities:). I look forward to your coming posts:)

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  6. The film of The Hobbit seems to have some foreign elements in it, but Bilbo seeing the shards of the sword Narsil is no mistake -- we know from LotR that they had been sitting there in Rivendell for ages.

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  7. Wow! Thank-you all for your further enlightenment and feedback! It's great to see how many fellow fans of Tolkien there are I can discuss this with. :)

    @ Suzannah: I'm definitely putting The Silmarillion on my list. :) And thanks for the link to Charles Williams. He sounds very thought-provoking, though if Lewis couldn't make sense of him at times, then I wonder what I would do...

    @Joy: I agree; Tolkien and Narnia stand equal in their own right. And I hope you enjoy the upcoming reviews. :)You'll love Return of the King, and it won't take you long.

    @Liliput90: Many thanks for the titles, I shall have to look those books up. We have a very tiny local library, but fortunately we have a library system that lets us order books from across the state--so I should be able to find them. :) And yes, my Tolkien journey is just beginning too. The more I find out, the more I realize how much I have yet to learn about him and Middle Earth.

    @ Radagast: It took me so long to get through the first two LOTR books that I forgot the fact that Narsil was stored at Rivendell. So hypothetically, Bilbo might have seen it, even though Tolkien didn't say so. Good point. :)

    And all Tolkien fans rejoice. Peter Jackson is going to include the giant spiders. I knew he wouldn't leave that out. :) But kidding aside, it looks like he will have some 'back story' elements that may be enhancing. I am looking forward to finding out.

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