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View Full Version : Why can't I love The Lord of the Rings?



Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 09:01 AM
When I was about 17 I was more or less bullied into reading The Lord of the Rings. When I was 23 I read it again to see if I'd get more out of it this time.

A few months ago, aged 49, I thought about rereading my copy of the book, then thought about getting it on the Kindle, and finally settled on getting an audio version, unabridged, read (and occasionally sung) by Rob Inglis. It's over two days long and I'm about 6 hours in - I'm currently in the house of Tom language Bombadil. The great thing is, I can be doing other things while listening to it - washing the dishes, Hoovering the house, doing laundry, walking to and from the train station and so on, so it's like extra reading time.

I'm well aware that many people love The Lord of the Rings and regard it as one of teh bestest books evar!!! I don't. I don't think it's the best fantasy work, I don't think it's the best Tolkien work, and I don't even think it's the best book to feature a Hobbit as a protagonist.

I love The Silmarillion: The language, the imagery, the tragedy, the sweeping sense of history. True, the narrative is a little too brisk in places; scenes that would occupy at least a chapter or several scenes of screen time are handled in a single sentence: "He went in and slew some Balrogs."

I love The Hobbit. I reread it recently and really enjoyed it. It's a simple, straightforward story that works. It's the right length for its story and its characters.

The story of The Lord of the Rings is stonkingly good and deserves telling and retelling. I love the Peter Jackson films, with some reservations. I love the magnificent BBC audio adaptation. I'm quite fond of the cartoon version. I love A Tolkien Bestiary, which features loads of different artistic styles illustrating all the books. I used to get a Tolkien calendar every year, which had wonderful artistic interpretations of various scenes.

But the actual book... Hmm. Maybe I'll feel better once I'm past the twee stuff, but the thing that annoys me is Tolkien's own statement that many have said the book is too short. I realise he's expecting to get a reaction here - "It's over 1000 pages and you call it short???" but frankly, it could do with being cut. There is a fair bit of telling instead of showing in the early part including the boring and extraneous material about Shire politics and, for the love of God, pipeweed. Pipeweed is tobacco - we get it! Do we really need to know that Dumpling Bolger (or whoever) was the first Hobbit to stuff it in a pipe and smoke it? If so, couldn't the rambling article have also mentioned the staff of The Prancing Pony who got lung cancer from passive smoking?

More seriously, I have a problem with the descriptions. Tolkien seemed to get it exactly right in both Hobbit and Sil, but in LotR he tended to ramble on using leaden prose, often interrupted by Sam sniffing a flower and pointing out that his Gaffer would love to grow flowers like that. Half the time I've forgotten what Tolkien is on about by the time he's got to the end. In the Old Forest scenes, I get what he's trying to describe, but if he'd used far fewer words, the right words, and not felt the need to describe everything, the result would have been much more vivid.

Oh well, just another couple of hours of Fatty Lumpkin and "amusing" songs about trolls and the other stuff that Jackson so wisely excised or else reduced from an entire chapter to a single line of dialogue ("A short cut - to mushrooms!") and hopefully it'll get good.

Durakken
2012-Nov-03, 10:00 AM
No there is nothing wrong with you. There is however something wrong with those other people. And I know what it is because I have the same problem with books you do, or very close to it. LotR was the last book I "read" before stopped reading books as something to do for entertainment and I only got half way through the first book because it is such garbage.

Here's what is wrong with the book... It's a mediocre story badly told.
Here's what is wrong with people who like it... They are saying the "detail" and the awesome world building and mistaking their liking that for the book actually being a well written novel.

The reason you probably like the Silmarilon is because it wasn't completely written by Tolkien and was meant to be a world building book.
The reason you probably like the Hobbit is because it is supposed to be a story and contains little world building because he was telling a story to tell a story.

When he got to LotR he was no longer doing it for the story aspect but was approaching it more as an academic thing thus you get this giant book of descriptions that are brain numbing that are interesting in the sense...well it's cool that you know that and can write it down, but I'm interested in the story...the reason I'm reading the book.

You can compared Tolkien and Pratchett because they both "world build" extensively in their books and both tell stories. I love Pratchett. Hate Tolkien. The reason being is that Pratchett is a word smith who understands that when you are writing a story you develop a character in only so much detail as to paint the picture where as in Tolkien's book he more or less tells us detail just to wow us with detail that serves no purpose at all other than this is here or that is there and this it's history...even though we will never talk about this again and it plays no part in the story nor does it really paint any real picture because the information we are being given is more factual things about things that are common place an non-special or original.

While I respect what Tolkien did in terms of world building in the background and such (i do it myself) that stuff will never make up for good writing and good stories...and in the end Tolkien's writing is nothing special. Anyone could do what he wrote in exhaustive detail in LotR off the top of their head at a moments notice... which to me seems kinda funny because the part that people are really impressed with are the parts that he never expounds on and are just there, like the Elvish language which is insanely well done and is many people try to replicate it in all fields because of how awesome it is.

It stands to reason that because of this Tolkien, and his editor, and publisher never really understood what made them have this feeling that the book is great. Because of that, we have a sub-par book that is unique and has elements of greatness in it, but a book that when measured fairly is nothing more than a series of unpolished ugly gems stuck in the roughest of rock. It's also this recognition of that greatness, but not understanding where it comes from that clouds many people's thinking that the book is good.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 10:40 AM
Thanks for your response, Durakken.

I think your argument has merit, but I only agree with parts of it.

World-building is a perfectly acceptable, nay, necessary, part of fantasy writing (at least that sort of fantasy, and much of SF, and, arguably, all of fiction including stories set in a world closely resembling the real world). The issue is how well integrated it is in the story. This is possibly what you meant.

Silmarillion not completely written by Tolkien... No, I don't buy that as an explanation. Christopher might have edited out the more tedious stuff (though frankly I doubt it) but the prose was JRR's.

And I believe the actual story in LotR is a good one because the moderately faithful adaptations bring it out brilliantly.

Durakken
2012-Nov-03, 10:55 AM
Thanks for your response, Durakken.

I think your argument has merit, but I only agree with parts of it.

World-building is a perfectly acceptable, nay, necessary, part of fantasy writing (at least that sort of fantasy, and much of SF, and, arguably, all of fiction including stories set in a world closely resembling the real world). The issue is how well integrated it is in the story. This is possibly what you meant.


yes



Silmarillion not completely written by Tolkien... No, I don't buy that as an explanation. Christopher might have edited out the more tedious stuff (though frankly I doubt it) but the prose was JRR's.


I'm not saying it's the only reason, but a contributing factor.
I should however point out that I have not read either of those two books, but I do know about their history and stuff and can put foth an argument based on what I know about those books as to why you or i or anyone else might find them good or bad in comparison to the LotR books themselves.



And I believe the actual story in LotR is a good one because the moderately faithful adaptations bring it out brilliantly.

I don't find it compelling at all. 4 guys must take a ring to a volcano to destroy. It's barely a story really. What you likely think is good are the side elements of what happens along the way which are in themselves interesting and would in fact be pretty good stories on their own. Which is sad because instead of getting those stories expounded on we get the rather drab one of 4 guys walking by interesting things which we don't get to really explore...but boy do we get to explore that plate set back in the shire v.v

jokergirl
2012-Nov-03, 11:00 AM
Some random thoughts:

While I do like the book (it's not my favourite; fantasy in general and anything inspired by JRRT has too many plotholes), I seriously can't stand any of the poetry he felt obliged to include. It grates my teeth. The language is fine and the storytelling passing good - I would suggest a few changes that, indeed, the movies put in, such as alternating between the two separate storylines in book 2 and 3 - but I have to skip over the poetry completely.

I also understand why they took out Tom Bombadil and the whole episode around it, and other things, from the movies - they do absolutely nothing to drive the story forward, and are most definitely author insert characters. While showing off your awesome world is a temptation for everyone, and local flavour is a good idea, Law of Conservation Of Detail should still be in effect.
Conversely, a lot of other things are hard to understand if you don't know the extremely long backstory that JRRT gave everyone.

I remember when I first read it I was expecting something in the style of the Hobbit, but was disappointed. I still found the story enjoyable enough in the end, though, although I would have preferred the Elves remaining how they were portrayed in the Hobbit - I still want to smack Legolas every time he opens his mouth.

But then, I also had the benefit of it being one of the first fantasy stories I ever read. I can see why it has inspired so many others to follow in his footsteps, and I can see how it would suffer unfavourable comparison if the reader has read all the clichés it created a hundred times before.

;)

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 11:26 AM
I don't find it compelling at all. 4 guys must take a ring to a volcano to destroy. It's barely a story really. What you likely think is good are the side elements of what happens along the way which are in themselves interesting and would in fact be pretty good stories on their own. Which is sad because instead of getting those stories expounded on we get the rather drab one of 4 guys walking by interesting things which we don't get to really explore...but boy do we get to explore that plate set back in the shire v.v

Whilst your observations are amusing (and that is surely justification enough for a conversation) I think it's possible to be too reductionist. Great (or at least pretty good) books can sound pretty lame if someone who doesn't like them sums them up: A bloke thinking he's better than other people murders two people and then feels bad about it. A bunch of lifeforms decide they need to investigate a large hoop that somebody put around a sun. A one-legged bloke bears a grudge against a whale. A silly woman wants to get her daughters married off. A butler is too up himself to realise he'd find happiness if he married the housekeeper. Some people want to know who left a slab on the moon. A murderer and rapist is given treatment to stop his violent urges but we're supposed to feel sorry for him because he gets a sore tummy as a result.

On a more serious note, Tolkien waxes lyrical on the idea that the paths not taken are the most interesting ones, but in fact this never happens in LotR.

Incidentally, it wasn't a plate set, it was a set of spoons!

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 11:44 AM
Posting again rather than editing... I appreciate that aspects of the overlong descriptions of the Shire serve a purpose. To the Hobbits, the Shire is the world, and anything outside it is irrelevant. During the course of their journey (physical and spiritual) they come to learn that this is not really true, and that their security is part illusory, and part dependent on the unappreciated diligence and sacrifices of others. In short, it was necessary to make the Shire a "real" place to set out from, but I do believe Tolkien could have achieved this with greater economy and vividness.

Durakken
2012-Nov-03, 11:45 AM
Whilst your observations are amusing (and that is surely justification enough for a conversation) I think it's possible to be too reductionist. Great (or at least pretty good) books can sound pretty lame if someone who doesn't like them sums them up: A bloke thinking he's better than other people murders two people and then feels bad about it. A bunch of lifeforms decide they need to investigate a large hoop that somebody put around a sun. A one-legged bloke bears a grudge against a whale. A silly woman wants to get her daughters married off. A butler is too up himself to realise he'd find happiness if he married the housekeeper. Some people want to know who left a slab on the moon. A murderer and rapist is given treatment to stop his violent urges but we're supposed to feel sorry for him because he gets a sore tummy as a result.

On a more serious note, Tolkien waxes lyrical on the idea that the paths not taken are the most interesting ones, but in fact this never happens in LotR.

Incidentally, it wasn't a plate set, it was a set of spoons!

See all of those sound more interesting to me. Either conceptually it is interesting or thinking about it you can see a good story there in and of themselves. Where as LotR is simply "4 short guys walk through the forest to a volcano to a destroy a ring at the behest of a wizard." I can see where there can be stories that happen on that journey but that specific journey is not all together interesting and not only is not specifically interesting that journey really doesn't add to or take away from those side stories which are more interesting. In other words, the LotR story isn't needed... and even though it is happening it really doesn't bare any fruit in those stories. The LotR story is in fact nothing more than an out of place page side story within those more interesting stories...

That's just how i see it though. I can see some arguments for it not that way, but nothing I can think of makes it better.


funny thing... I remember the "plate set" as a tea set... which apparently doesn't exist... oh well... I read it like 9 years ago.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 11:51 AM
But then, I also had the benefit of it being one of the first fantasy stories I ever read. I can see why it has inspired so many others to follow in his footsteps, and I can see how it would suffer unfavourable comparison if the reader has read all the clichés it created a hundred times before.

I'd encountered The Hobbit when I was 9 or 10 (our teacher read it to us) but then ditched fantasy in favour of science fiction. I wanted to read about things that might possibly happen one day. When I rediscovered fantasy a bit later, I read a lot of Michael Moorcock. After that I felt (or was made to feel) that I'd missed a lot of key works - not just Tolkien, but also C.S. Lewis.

Tolkien fared quite poorly in comparison with Moorcock, at least to the me of that age.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 12:01 PM
See all of those sound more interesting to me. Either conceptually it is interesting or thinking about it you can see a good story there in and of themselves. Where as LotR is simply "4 short guys walk through the forest to a volcano to a destroy a ring at the behest of a wizard." I can see where there can be stories that happen on that journey but that specific journey is not all together interesting and not only is not specifically interesting that journey really doesn't add to or take away from those side stories which are more interesting. In other words, the LotR story isn't needed... and even though it is happening it really doesn't bare any fruit in those stories. The LotR story is in fact nothing more than an out of place page side story within those more interesting stories...

That's just how i see it though. I can see some arguments for it not that way, but nothing I can think of makes it better.

I think the stakes have to be high, and in the case of LotR the fate of the world was in the balance. (Quite a commonplace idea now; less so then.) A collection of stories about encounters with elves and Gollum would not succeed to anything like the same extent.

I am also reminded of a gulet holiday a few years ago. (It's like a cruise on a boat that accommodates 16 people in 8 cabins - in effect a floating hotel.) We'd stopped near a small island off Turkey and we were taking it in turns to use the canoe (or whatever it was - it was a one-person boat you sat astride and propelled with a double paddle) to race to the little island, go around it once and come back. As there was only one canoe it was timed. When I went around the island, I remembered thinking that I'd like to stop and explore, but then realised the island was so much more intriguing exactly because the time I had to look at it was so limited.

This I think is the essence of a quest story.


funny thing... I remember the "plate set" as a tea set... which apparently doesn't exist... oh well... I read it like 9 years ago.

Oh, there might have been a plate set or a tea set. What I meant was, it was the set of spoons that had me shouting, "Enough already about those flipping spoons!"

Solfe
2012-Nov-03, 12:10 PM
I love the LotR, but one thing I hold Tolkien responsible for is book padding. It seems to me that if one wishes to add 10% to their book, they add in whole chapters about being thirsty in a desert.

I say that half in jest. When I first read the series, I almost stopped reading when the heroes make their way into Mordor. The only thing that got me through that was a much older friend told me that part might reference some of the privations soldiers must have suffered in WWI. Then I got it and pushed on. I have to say that is my least favourite part of the book.

Having said that, I see other authors use that trope to tack on a word count. At first, I thought Terry Brooks did it in The Sword of Shanara just pad the story. Then I read the book notes at the end and realised it was an homage to Tolkien. He should have put that note on page on.

Most authors don't fair so well with me when they do such things. I will put the book down since the trope usually isn't used for plot progress or character development. Currently, I am reading a book where the thirsty trope has popped up and the only thing that is getting me through it is I read the other 8 books in the series. I can't stop now.

Perikles
2012-Nov-03, 12:30 PM
Here's what is wrong with the book... It's a mediocre story badly told.I have always thought that, and assumed I must be missing something when others rave about it. At least the language flows, so that I was able to finish it, always expecting something interesting to happen, which never did. I found the material instantly forgettable.

Moose
2012-Nov-03, 12:47 PM
As I see it, there's wonderful world-building in LOTR. Only, too much of it. Amazing detail... only too much of it. Characterization, language, dialogue, backdrop, grandeur, climax; all of these good things it has in spades... only too much of it. It's like gorging on cheesecake. A little is fine - great even for those who like it - but rich food is rich, and it doesn't take all that much to make your tummy feel like you've been gorging on barbell weights.

And given what I remember of the pacing, it probably should have been set up as a five book series with the appendices spread around each book, not a two-and-a-half-plus-a-half-book-of-appendices crammed in sequentially thing.

Peter Jackson turned out to be an excellent editor. He took a diamond in the rough and trimmed off nearly all of the rough.

Nowhere Man
2012-Nov-03, 12:47 PM
Some people like Twilight and some people don't. Some people like 50 Shades of Gray and some don't. Some people like The Lord of the Rings and some people don't. These are not the same sets of people.

So what's the big deal?

Fred

Noclevername
2012-Nov-03, 12:55 PM
Why can't I love The Lord of the Rings?

It is not a requirement for passing this class.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 12:59 PM
So what's the big deal?

I thought I'd explained.

The fact that I love Tolkien's other books, and I love the adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, but not the book itself.

Buttercup
2012-Nov-03, 01:04 PM
Some people like Twilight and some people don't. Some people like 50 Shades of Gray and some don't. Some people like The Lord of the Rings and some people don't. These are not the same sets of people.

So what's the big deal?

Fred

Same with (movie) "Gone With the Wind." So many women rant and rave about that film. :rolleyes: I think their making a hero out of *Scarlett* is a mistake (or a reflection on their own characters).

Don't care if I never see it again.

Buttercup
2012-Nov-03, 01:06 PM
I thought I'd explained.

The fact that I love Tolkien's other books, and I love the adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, but not the book itself.

It's the same with me, as P.K. Dick is concerned. Adaptations (film) of his stories are very good. His actual stories? Hmmmm. :(

Noclevername
2012-Nov-03, 01:14 PM
With Robert Heinlein's stuff, I either really like it or really dislike it, there's no middle ground. I don't beat myself up about it.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 01:16 PM
With Robert Heinlein's stuff, I either really like it or really dislike it, there's no middle ground. I don't beat myself up about it.

Why are you implying that that is what I am doing?

Durakken
2012-Nov-03, 01:18 PM
Btw...I should point out that the reason I had such a description of what is wrong with the book is because I admire that type of stuff in LotR but absolutely hate the book. When I was in HS some of my friends were always like you should read it and I knew of it so I thought I should read it... and then when ever LotR was brought up for the last several years and I mentioned I didn't like the book people would be all aghast like not liking something was some sort of apostasy... which funny I now get to deal with for real and it's the same type of thing... so I'd always get into long discussions about why I don't like it and why I don't think it's good. The fact that I needed to do that for the type of book it is should bring concern, but whatever.

I've thought about it a lot and it has helped me start thinking about the difference between something that is actually good and something that is popular or liked. I contend that there is measurable attributes in creative works that independently denote them as good or bad and this is independent of whether I like it or not. Granted I've held this position for a long time but when I consider LotR and have to explain exactly why I don't like it, it goes a long way to help argue that position. And because of this I've always thought it was strange that people generally can't separate "good" from "I like"... i think it might have something to do with this inherent idea that if something was good one would definitely like it.

Moose
2012-Nov-03, 01:20 PM
Why are you implying that that is what I am doing?

I don't see that he is.

Noclevername
2012-Nov-03, 01:20 PM
Why are you implying that that is what I am doing?

Because it seems like that's what you're doing.

EDIT: Ooops, sorry Moose! Didn't mean to contradict you. ;)

Noclevername
2012-Nov-03, 01:23 PM
See? Everyone has different interpretations of writing.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 01:27 PM
Because it seems like that's what you're doing.

Being frustrated or disappointed with something does not equate to berating onesself about it. Trying to understand why a book doesn't work for one does not equate to berating onesself about it.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 01:29 PM
See? Everyone has different interpretations of writing.

I think Moose was giving you the benefit of the doubt by assuming you were not trying to make an interesting literary discussion into a personal criticism.

Moose
2012-Nov-03, 01:29 PM
EDIT: Ooops, sorry Moose! Didn't mean to contradict you. ;)

Heh, you don't owe me an apology. If that's what you intended to mean, then that's what you intended to mean.

Noclevername
2012-Nov-03, 01:33 PM
I think Moose was giving you the benefit of the doubt by assuming you were not trying to make an interesting literary discussion into a personal criticism.

I did not mean it as a criticism, and I apologize for being unclear. It's a figure of speech, common in the States. "Don't beat yourself up about it" is intended to mean "don't worry about it", and that is how I meant it.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 01:40 PM
I did not mean it as a criticism, and I apologize for being unclear. It's a figure of speech, common in the States. "Don't beat yourself up about it" is intended to mean "don't worry about it", and that is how I meant it.

Okay, thank you for that. That's not how I'd normally expect it to be interpreted but I accept that that's how you intended it.

But I'm "worrying" about it only in the sense that it interests me. It's a mystery I'd like to solve rather than a problem I'd like to solve.

Noclevername
2012-Nov-03, 01:47 PM
But I'm "worrying" about it only in the sense that it interests me. It's a mystery I'd like to solve rather than a problem I'd like to solve.

Some authors are inconsistent, Tolkien just went overboard in LOTR. I've thought the same thing about it myself.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 01:56 PM
Some authors are inconsistent, Tolkien just went overboard in LOTR. I've thought the same thing about it myself.

Agreed, but what puzzles me is the number of people who praise it as the best book, and, in particular, label it as more mature than The Hobbit. I mean, sure, The Hobbit is quite childish in places, but at least it doesn't have a fifty-something Hobbit singing about how great baths are.

It might be that there is political depth later in the book that went completely over my head when I was 23, though I doubt it'll compare with that of, say, Robin Hobb.

Durakken
2012-Nov-03, 02:01 PM
Agreed, but what puzzles me is the number of people who praise it as the best book, and, in particular, label it as more mature than The Hobbit. I mean, sure, The Hobbit is quite childish in places, but at least it doesn't have a fifty-something Hobbit singing about how great baths are.

It might be that there is political depth later in the book that went completely over my head when I was 23, though I doubt it'll compare with that of, say, Robin Hobb.

Shallow minds see oceans where deep minds oft see puddles.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 02:05 PM
Shallow minds see oceans where deep minds oft see puddles.

Yeah, but where politics is concerned, I really am shallow. And when I was 23 my understanding of politics was so underdeveloped that I lacked the faculties to see the water whether it was an ocean or a puddle.

Noclevername
2012-Nov-03, 02:15 PM
Agreed, but what puzzles me is the number of people who praise it as the best book, and, in particular, label it as more mature than The Hobbit.

There are those --especially young adults-- who mistake a difficult read for a mature one. LOTR is dense and wordy, and has politics in it, so it must be mature, right? And of those who label it mature, how many have actually read it since that impressionable age? For the most part, they are largely going on memories of how they responded to the books on their first read. (Yes, I'm generalizing, but it's been my experience that a lot of those who hold it in such high regard start their compliments with "I read it in college, and...")

Hlafordlaes
2012-Nov-03, 02:19 PM
I, for one, love the LOTR books, but recognize they aren't for everyone. The hidden treasure in LOTR is really for linguists, with lots to marvel at, from a high saxon-root word count (JRRT was prof of Old English), to well-conceived invented languages. His only rival in my little world of language masters was George Carlin, albeit in a different domain.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 02:27 PM
I, for one, love the LOTR books, but recognize they aren't for everyone. The hidden treasure in LOTR is really for linguists, with lots to marvel at, from a high saxon-root word count (JRRT was prof of Old English), to well-conceived invented languages. His only rival in my little world of language masters was George Carlin, albeit in a different domain.

I'm thinking of doing an MA in Linguistics, and for that reason I recently listened to a series of lectures by Michael Drout which I bought from Audible. I thoroughly enjoyed the course so I might be buying his lectures on fantasy, which will presumably be covering some of Tolkien's linguistics.

iquestor
2012-Nov-03, 03:03 PM
If you guys have read Tolkein and disliked LOTR, I'd suggest giving Stephen R Donaldson's The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant a try, especiall the first 3 books - Lord Foul's Bane, The Illearth War, and The Power That Preserves. Many people who dislike LOTR love this series. He uses a unique language style that isn't for everyone and the protagonist is an anti-hero who is just about the most unloveable, unsympatizeable protagonist I have encountered. Oh yeah, he also has Leprosy. I have read the entire series probably 5 or so times and think about its prose often. They are also available in audio books, which I also loved. Scott Brick does a good job although some of his voice characterizations are a little annoying.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 04:03 PM
I read the first and second of the Covenant trilogies, finishing White Gold Wielder when I was 20 in 1983. (I actually bought the hardback as I couldn't wait for the paperback.) I found it immensely satisfying at the time, much more so than Tolkien. Whether I would now, I don't know, and partly for that reason I have not attempted the third trilogy. (The other reason is, after nearly three decades, I probably can't remember enough to continue without a refresher.)

I'm not sure there was much politics in Covenant, but the emotional impact of a number of the scenes was quite stunning. I can remember many moments that made my heart clench* and (in a manly way) tears flow, most of them in The Illearth War, but in others too. These include: a Bloodguard killing his Lord because he was following the spirit of his Vow, not the letter; Lord Mhoram accepting and respecting Covenant's decision to prioritise the life of one girl in the "real" world over the whole of the Land; the moment in the third book when Covenant finally comes out and says, unambiguously, "Please believe me, I loved Elena and I love the land"; Covenant stopping himself from doing to Elena what he had done to Lena; the entire Elena tragedy - not least the end of part one of The Illearth War when Covenant turns up without her; Hile Troy coming across as a fairly brutal commander, only to sacrifice his own comfort to help the weakest of his soldiers... only to discover he's done more harm than good doing this; Hile Troy (apparently casually) ordering Mhoram to sing the song that will offend the Forestal, only to take full responsibility himself; Mhoram and Hile Troy having to talk calmly to the Forestal while their army is being massacred; the Forestal taking Hile Troy's life, which turns out to be much more benign than it sounds; little things, like Saltheart Foamfollower not understanding Covenant's reservations intellectually but fully understanding them emotionally (as demonstrated by him giving Covenant sticky stuff to hide the ring). There are probably loads more.

Speaking of emotional moments, in a completely unrelated book - The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers - the 18th century Gipsy henchman of a villain has to capture a 20th century time traveller, which he duly does. Having no personal issues with each other, the two go to a pub, and they get talking about their girlfriends, both of whom were killed in accidents. IIRC the gipsy's girlfriend was thrown from a horse and "mullered" as a result. The time traveller's girlfriend was killed in a motorcycle accident. What made the scene so moving was that, as the time traveller got drunk and maudlin, he freely dropped anachronisms (and also picked up on the gipsy's terminology) but despite the gipsy having no idea what a motorcycle was, he did understand the main points of the story. So instead of asking, "What does motorcycle mean?" he simply realised the time traveller's beloved had been mullered.

The other trilogy that I felt made a huge emotional impact was Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, though the quality dropped in the second half of the last book.

*On a slightly unrelated note, have you ever heard of the "clench" game? The idea is, you go into a bookshop with a friend, each open a Covenant book at a random page, and keep reading until you find the word "clench". The first person to do so wins. A round of this is never much more than a minute.

iquestor
2012-Nov-03, 05:07 PM
HA! I havent heard of that. I am a member over at Kevins Watch (http://kevinswatch.ihugny.com/phpBB2/index.php), Ill have to relate that over there. Have you been to that site??

I know and remember well the scenes you describe. the most memorable of these is when Triock tries to Kill Covenant, and Atarian stops him, despite what TC had done to her daughter. The other is the plight of the Giants at Coercri, and the sad fate of Korik, Sill, and Doar at the hands of Foul. There are many, many. Such a great book. You should consider a re-read, or try out Scott Brick's reading of the first three. I listened to LFB and TIW, he did a great job..

I loved the Anubis Gates, Tim Powers is awesome.

I have read the third Chrons, the final one (The Last Dark) comes out next year. They are different yet similar. The First one, Runes Of The Earth, is my least favorite. The Second and third are pretty good, Fatal Revenant and Against All Things Ending. These are all discussed at Kevins Watch.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 06:01 PM
HA! I havent heard of that. I am a member over at Kevins Watch (http://kevinswatch.ihugny.com/phpBB2/index.php), Ill have to relate that over there. Have you been to that site??

I hadn't before but it looks quite fun. Thanks for the link.

I'll probably get round to the third chronicles sometime soon but doubt I'll have time for a reread.

Hlafordlaes
2012-Nov-03, 06:20 PM
Picked up the first book of the Covenant series in a used English book shop while on holiday in a small beach town, must've been late 70's or early 80's. Loved it, especially the anti-hero angle. Took until the late 90's until I found the rest for sale in Spain and gobbled them up. Great series.

Hlafordlaes
2012-Nov-03, 06:43 PM
I'm thinking of doing an MA in Linguistics, and for that reason I recently listened to a series of lectures by Michael Drout which I bought from Audible. I thoroughly enjoyed the course so I might be buying his lectures on fantasy, which will presumably be covering some of Tolkien's linguistics.

The "eye-opener" for me was the course in the history of English, which apart from its intrinsic interest, holds the key to lots of what happens today in the language (e.g.; ongoing vowel shift). Psycholinguistics must be a lot more exciting today than in my day, now that we have MRIs and all kinds of new data. But it was cool in the 70's to study just about the only social discipline then that used objective data when studying the brain, eschewing much loose talk, and to track the stimulus-response vs cognitivism debate raging at the time.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-03, 09:54 PM
I've progressed past the stuff with the Barrow Wights.

Now to my mind, "Barrow Wights" is such an evocative phrase that the story should be writing itself at this point. Longbarrows, mist, undead spirits, ancient gold and weapons, unnatural light... This should be scary, memorable stuff, rich in imagery and a sense of the numinous. Quite frankly, it should be nigh-on impossible to get it wrong.

JRR gets it wrong. Once again, the prose is leaden and fails to adequately describe what is going on. What are these Barrow Wights? He doesn't have to spell it all out, but he does need to hint at scary things. We get "Blah blah blah sword across the three hobbits' neck, blah blah blah hand appears blah Frodo attacks it with a sword blah Frodo doesn't know what to do so he phones Tom censored Bombadil who sorts it all out.

It's telling that this sequence - which, as I might have mentioned, should have been one of the most memorably scary - is completely absent from the main adaptations and nobody seems to care. Imagine if Ramsey Campbell or Stephen King or Clive Barker had written it. Peter Jackson would have removed it simply to avoid getting an 18 certificate!

jokergirl
2012-Nov-03, 10:49 PM
I don't mind having unexplained phenomena in stories - that is what makes a good scary story or mystery to me.

However, Tolkien often did retcon things just so he could explain things that technically didn't fit into the world he had built. Which bothers me. Either have a world in which All Myths Are True and have Barrow-wights, or have a rigorously defined world and don't. Don't try to have both.

I am very interested in linguistics and etymology and I do enjoy all the language-geekery in the books. I really do and I think I get more out of it than most people who have no multi-language background.
But does that mean I can't criticise other things that I see as weaker points? No. The man can't stick to his own meter to save his life.

;)

Hlafordlaes
2012-Nov-03, 11:05 PM
I was scared by it all when I first read it when around 10 yrs old, but admittedly more could have been done. I think it gets better as he gets into the story. Bombadil and some other side tracks have been linked to JRRT's affinity for old druid lore, earth spirits and such, like Bombadil and his wife, the River Daughter. I got so into it when a kid I got and read his long Bombadil poem.

At any rate, though sometimes mistaken for a Christian allegory, LOTR is far more a reflection of JRRT's academic interests than anything religious. As time goes on, what strikes me most is his palpable nostalgia for turn of the century rural England and quite obvious and strong rejection of the Industrial Revolution.

ETA: I read all three books every summer for years. Still do every 5-6 years or so.

Solfe
2012-Nov-03, 11:45 PM
I've progressed past the stuff with the Barrow Wights.

JRR gets it wrong. Once again, the prose is leaden and fails to adequately describe what is going on. What are these Barrow Wights? He doesn't have to spell it all out, but he does need to hint at scary things. We get "Blah blah blah sword across the three hobbits' neck, blah blah blah hand appears blah Frodo attacks it with a sword blah Frodo doesn't know what to do so he phones Tom censored Bombadil who sorts it all out.

I remember that sequence completely differently. My memory must failing and I need to re-read it.

But I know exactly where you are coming from on that observation.

I objected to the opening scene of the first movie for the same reason. Isildur finds a broken sword and sort of, accidentally cuts the ring off of Sauron before tripping over his dad's dead body then stuff takes care of itself. The book strongly implied that Isildur was really angry when he found his father dead or dying and used the broken sword to thrash Sauron then mercilessly pursues his minions.

I hate it when people muddle through a serious encounter through no fault of their own.

Speaking of overly wordy, look at Sauron's wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sauron) entry. You would have to read and remember every mention of him in the complete body of works to understand the entry at all. The Ghost of Tolkien has struck Wikipedia! :)

Gillianren
2012-Nov-04, 12:42 AM
I read The Hobbit when I was a sophomore in high school. (Actually, as I recall, I was sick the day before school started and read it in one go then.) I enjoyed it vastly. My dad had all five of those books; my older sister owns four of his copies and I own The Hobbit. I can't get through LotR. A good friend, the most gifted storyteller I know (and a retired librarian!) asked me, after I'd given up three times, to make one more concerted effort to read it. I agreed. I was permitted to skip the beginning. I read until they were on a road and a fox--in a world where foxes can't speak--got a line. I asked James, "How many pages is a concerted effort?" He let me be done.

Another friend maintains that all of this is going to get our geek credentials taken away someday, of course.

pzkpfw
2012-Nov-04, 02:42 AM
I've progressed past the stuff with the Barrow Wights. ...

It's always seemed to me the LOTR started out as Hobbit part II, and developed into something more. The tone and style change a lot, and after the Barrow Wights settles into it's flow.

If it were written by an Author today (with easier editing tools available) I imagine the first parts perhaps getting re-written (or cut).

Solfe
2012-Nov-04, 02:42 AM
Another friend maintains that all of this is going to get our geek credentials taken away someday, of course.

You loose half the experience for your current level and take a -20% on all new experience. You do however gain four ranks of "Time Management."

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-04, 07:27 AM
The "eye-opener" for me was the course in the history of English, which apart from its intrinsic interest, holds the key to lots of what happens today in the language (e.g.; ongoing vowel shift). Psycholinguistics must be a lot more exciting today than in my day, now that we have MRIs and all kinds of new data. But it was cool in the 70's to study just about the only social discipline then that used objective data when studying the brain, eschewing much loose talk, and to track the stimulus-response vs cognitivism debate raging at the time.

I did get some way into the history of English course, but then my MP3 was stolen. I got as far as the bit about plosives and so on, where you have to make strange noises. I made some of the strange noises, but then decided it would be more effective if I could also see the technical terms written down together with drawings of the positions of tongue and lips.

But I will get back to it soon. I have a replacement MP3 player and I can download the course again.

It was Drout's Rhetorics course that I listened to all the way through. I'm pretty sure he mentioned Lord of the Rings at some point. He definitely mentioned William Gibson's Count Zero (and made comments that I thoroughly disagree with), but the highlight was when he quoted the witch trial from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to make a serious point.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-04, 07:28 AM
It's always seemed to me the LOTR started out as Hobbit part II, and developed into something more. The tone and style change a lot, and after the Barrow Wights settles into it's flow.

If it were written by an Author today (with easier editing tools available) I imagine the first parts perhaps getting re-written (or cut).

I wouldn't have minded if it had been Hobbit 2 if only it had been as well written as Hobbit 1.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-04, 07:33 AM
I read The Hobbit when I was a sophomore in high school. (Actually, as I recall, I was sick the day before school started and read it in one go then.) I enjoyed it vastly. My dad had all five of those books; my older sister owns four of his copies and I own The Hobbit. I can't get through LotR. A good friend, the most gifted storyteller I know (and a retired librarian!) asked me, after I'd given up three times, to make one more concerted effort to read it. I agreed. I was permitted to skip the beginning. I read until they were on a road and a fox--in a world where foxes can't speak--got a line. I asked James, "How many pages is a concerted effort?" He let me be done.

Another friend maintains that all of this is going to get our geek credentials taken away someday, of course.

All true, though funnily enough I found it acceptable when John Ajvide Lindqvist briefly allowed a fox to comment on the action in Let The Right One In.

Scratchy Dawg
2012-Nov-04, 08:34 AM
Can't love, or won't love?

FarmMarsNow
2012-Nov-04, 09:01 AM
When I read this series I found it hard to pay attention to the descriptions of scenery, so I skipped through a lot of it. This made it hard to understand what was going on in the story sometimes, such as the account of Boromir's death, but when the movies came out the scenery got filled in for me. I appreciated that very much! I thought that the film shouldn't have altered the story, but you know if I had invested 100s millions I might have done the same thing. I hadn't read every detail, but I could tell everything had been shortened, and many things were left out. For someone who had not read the books it probably was a movie on par with Conan or better. The imagery was beautiful, however and brought the story to life.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-04, 12:38 PM
With the appearance of Strider, the storytelling has improved immensely. I remembered the beginning being quite poor (apart from the history lesson about Isildur, which was good) and picking up later. What I had forgotten was just how long the storytelling remained poor. I'd say the first 200 pages of Fellowship (out of about 530) is pretty much an endurance exercise; as best I recall, it's probably plain sailing from now on.

Tobin Dax
2012-Nov-04, 07:07 PM
With the appearance of Strider, the storytelling has improved immensely. I remembered the beginning being quite poor (apart from the history lesson about Isildur, which was good) and picking up later. What I had forgotten was just how long the storytelling remained poor. I'd say the first 200 pages of Fellowship (out of about 530) is pretty much an endurance exercise; as best I recall, it's probably plain sailing from now on.

That's more or less how I remember it. When I started reading "Fellowship of the Ring" when I was a teenager, I stopped around the Tom Bombadil stuff. When I decided to read it again a while later, before the movies came out, I forced myself to get through the first third-or-so of the book, and IIRC things did start to pick up about the time they get to Bree. There is still the occasional slow spot, but nothing quite as bad as what you've made it past.

agingjb
2012-Nov-04, 09:12 PM
When I get stuck on long books (and LOTR isn't one of them, as it happens), I've tried the perhaps odd strategy of starting with the last section of the book - Middlemarch from the death of Casaubon, Daniel Deronda from the death of Grandcourt, etc, etc.

Anyway, just start with the synopsis of the first two books at the beginning of the Return of the King. It probably won't help, so try Lord Foul's Bane instead. Oh well...

starcanuck64
2012-Nov-04, 09:27 PM
I'd need to read it again to comment on it, it's been about a decade.

I read The Silmarillion first so I had a background of the history that LotR is built on and that made it easier to get into the story. It is slow getting into the story I find, but at about halfway through for me it goes by too fast and I'm left wanting more.

Tolkien first created the languages of Middle Earth and then the stories to bring them to life and that may affect how they read for some people.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-04, 10:04 PM
I got to the end of Book 1, AKA the first half of Fellowship. It will cost me another Audible credit to get Book 2, AKA the second half of Fellowship. I have plenty credits but I fancy a bit of a break.

So, (SPOILERS), Frodo has just crossed the ford and the Black Riders have been swept away by the river. And I'm left wondering, once again, how many other books (or films, plays or any other kind of story) could get away with something so completely unforeshadowed. This really is a case of "A wizard did it!" and I'm puzzled as to why I've never seen anyone complain about it. Sure, Russell T. Davies frequently produced solutions out of nowhere* when he was the Doctor Who showrunner, but he got a lot of hate for it - deservedly, IMO. Imagine if, partway through Alien, Ripley suddenly whipped out a xenomorph-killing spray.

I've read and enjoyed everybody else's posts, even if I haven't replied to them all. I would just add that I am psychologically incapable of reading the last section of a book without reading the previous stuff.

*I'd like to point out that at least some of the people who refer to this sort of thing as a "deus ex machine" are well aware that the term has a different meaning when applied to (for example) that bit in Sophocles' Philoctetes when Heracles turns up.

Moose
2012-Nov-04, 10:15 PM
So, (SPOILERS), Frodo has just crossed the ford and the Black Riders have been swept away by the river. And I'm left wondering, once again, how many other books (or films, plays or any other kind of story) could get away with something so completely unforeshadowed. This really is a case of "A wizard did it!" and I'm puzzled as to why I've never seen anyone complain about it.

It's not deus ex machina. Not really. The people around the hobbits are literally demi-gods and descendants of demi-gods. The hobbits are very much not the masters of their own adventures at this point. They're small, ordinary - pebbles in an avalanche - and they have to be shown to be small and nearly powerless in the face of the legendary peril with which they are faced.

The entire point of the story is how each of these unassuming but remarkable people among an unassuming but remarkable people each come into their own and themselves become giants among men.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-04, 10:33 PM
It's not deus ex machina. Not really. The people around the hobbits are literally demi-gods and descendants of demi-gods.

Of course, but in narrative terms it is not legitimate to resolve a suspenseful situation by using something not referred to before.

Imagine a small woman being pursued down a dark alleyway by two hulking brutes intent on doing her harm. The author might have decided that she is an expert in martial arts, and in fact the two hulking brutes are the ones in danger. But if no mention has been made of her ability, and indeed we are invited by the narrative to be worried about her, then we feel cheated rather than satisfied when she kung fus them into the emergency room.

pzkpfw
2012-Nov-04, 10:58 PM
Of course, but in narrative terms it is not legitimate to resolve a suspenseful situation by using something not referred to before.

Imagine a small woman being pursued down a dark alleyway by two hulking brutes intent on doing her harm. The author might have decided that she is an expert in martial arts, and in fact the two hulking brutes are the ones in danger. But if no mention has been made of her ability, and indeed we are invited by the narrative to be worried about her, then we feel cheated rather than satisfied when she kung fus them into the emergency room.

Your two analogies are wrong. Read book II. (I can't say more without spoilers).

(I do totally agree with your point in this post, however; that kind of thing REALLY bugs me * in a movie (or book).)

(Edit: * except a few times where it's about someone discovering latent abilities they didn't themselves know they had. Some books/movies have used that to good effect. It's a surprise to both us and the character. That's quite different to a character doing something they (and we) should have known all along they could do.)

starcanuck64
2012-Nov-04, 11:17 PM
I think you need some leeway in a story about a world where magic is allowed.

This is an issue I have with fantasy in general where the author can include almost any device he feels like, I forget who said it, but the "In a world where anything can happen, whatever does tends to be boring" can often fit. Tolkien does a better job than many by remaining consistent IMO, and creating a more interesting story that uses magic and the supernatural to good effect.

pzkpfw
2012-Nov-04, 11:23 PM
I think you need some leeway in a story about a world where magic is allowed.

This is an issue I have with fantasy in general where the author can include almost any device he feels like, I forget who said it, but the "In a world where anything can happen, whatever does tends to be boring" can often fit. Tolkien does a better job than many by remaining consistent IMO, and creating a more interesting story that uses magic and the supernatural to good effect.

It can happen in science fiction too. Larry Niven wrote that stories near the "end" of the timeline of his Known Space stuff were harder to write, and less interesting, because the technology could just do so much; pretty much the equivalent of magic in Fantasy.

starcanuck64
2012-Nov-04, 11:30 PM
It can happen in science fiction too. Larry Niven wrote that stories near the "end" of the timeline of his Known Space stuff were harder to write, and less interesting, because the technology could just do so much; pretty much the equivalent of magic in Fantasy.

It almost becomes an idea trap after a while I guess, I notice this with TV series that have run for a long time also.

Solfe
2012-Nov-05, 12:34 AM
This thread is killing me! I am stuck writing papers for school this week.

Paul's posts make me want to re-read LotR. Hlafordlaes's posts remind me that I am half way through Against All Things Ending (the 9th Thomas Covanant Novel).

Everyone else's observations is just adding to my desire to put off writing for a couple of days. :(

Moose
2012-Nov-05, 01:25 AM
Of course, but in narrative terms it is not legitimate to resolve a suspenseful situation by using something not referred to before.

It's not a resolution. It's an introduction. It's Frodo's first encounter with Elrond Half-Elven (or at least his substantial power and influence.) It also sets up his admission that, despite the power he's already demonstrated, he can't... well, you'll see if you haven't yet. Keep reading.

pzkpfw
2012-Nov-05, 01:27 AM
It's not a resolution. It's an introduction. It's Frodo's first encounter with Elrond Half-Elven (or at least his substantial power and influence.) It also sets up his admission that, despite the power he's already demonstrated, he can't... well, you'll see if you haven't yet. Keep reading.

See post #62 : I thought that information would count as spoilers!

Moose
2012-Nov-05, 01:27 AM
I am stuck writing paper's for school this week.

:) Remember that the apostrophe is never used to pluralize.

Moose
2012-Nov-05, 01:38 AM
See post #62 : I thought that information would count as spoilers!

Necessary, and minor, at best. It's been a (long, long) while, but I'm pretty sure Elrond is named by the river scene, or at least heavily implied. And that much of the explanation is necessary to explain the river scene as an example of Chekhov's Gun and not of deus ex machina.

Solfe
2012-Nov-05, 01:46 AM
:) Remember that the apostrophe is never used to pluralize.

I have been writing so much, my eyes are rattling in my head. I didn't even see the apostrophe until you mentioned it!

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-05, 03:42 AM
Re spoilers (for me at least), keep in mind I've read LotR twice before and seen the films and heard the radio adaptation.

If Glorfindel had said to Frodo, "You only have to get past the river, then you should be okay for now," that would have been sufficient to defuse the deus ex machina. He wouldn't have needed to say why getting past the river was key, and Frodo (and the reader) wouldn't have had to believe him. That way, we'd know the endgame conditions. We might still be surprised and impressed by the power of Elrond and Gandalf as expounded in the next book.

As it stands, Frodo is just fleeing. He doesn't think he'll get to the ford. When he does, and is across the river, he's still fleeing, as far as he and the reader are concerned. Heck, for all we know he's got no chance unless he can stay ahead of the riders all the way to Rivendell.

And then he's saved by something that wasn't even alluded to. Much as my hypothetical woman was saved by her unmentioned kung fu expertise; I really don't see any failure in my analogy.

It's not really any different from anvils suddenly falling on the riders' heads, and then book 2 explaining, "Yeah, Elrond is very powerful, he can make anvils appear in mid-air."

It doesn't actually bother me that much because I first encountered the scene when I was not a very critical reader, and now just accept it's going to happen every time I reread the book or sit through an adaptation.

Delvo
2012-Nov-05, 03:47 AM
in narrative terms it is not legitimate to resolve a suspenseful situation by using something not referred to before.This is simply not accurate. Showing a demonstration of something before explaining what it was instead of the other way around can, of course, be done badly, but then the problem is some aspect of how it was done, not just that it was done at all. In general, it's just one of the two standard routine orders in which to put those two events (the explanation and the actual direct application).

Van Rijn
2012-Nov-05, 04:26 AM
It can happen in science fiction too. Larry Niven wrote that stories near the "end" of the timeline of his Known Space stuff were harder to write, and less interesting, because the technology could just do so much; pretty much the equivalent of magic in Fantasy.

Wasn't that mostly about the luck issue? That is, luck was a psychic power in the stories, and due to population issues, only the very lucky humans on Earth could win the lottery, so they could legally have children. Then, lucky people become a large fraction of the population. Niven belatedly realized that he had written himself into a corner with that, as lucky people would have charmed lives. In later stories, he backed off on that idea, so that perhaps people weren't so lucky after all.

Van Rijn
2012-Nov-05, 04:54 AM
I think you need some leeway in a story about a world where magic is allowed.

This is an issue I have with fantasy in general where the author can include almost any device he feels like, I forget who said it, but the "In a world where anything can happen, whatever does tends to be boring" can often fit. Tolkien does a better job than many by remaining consistent IMO, and creating a more interesting story that uses magic and the supernatural to good effect.

It's boring if there are no rules. For instance, if a story introduces magic, it should include limits to what magic can do. There should be a cost, and cost should increase for more dramatic uses of magic. Also, stories shouldn't invoke magic as a solution for every problem. Generally, I find fantasy stories with solid rules to be more interesting than those without.

Sometimes Tolkien overdid it. For instance, I suspect he realized a little late that Tom Bombadil was too powerful, so invented some reasons for him not to get involved with the quest to get rid of the ring.

pzkpfw
2012-Nov-05, 05:38 AM
Re spoilers (for me at least), keep in mind I've read LotR twice before and seen the films and heard the radio adaptation.

If Glorfindel had said to Frodo, "You only have to get past the river, then you should be okay for now," that would have been sufficient to defuse the deus ex machina. He wouldn't have needed to say why getting past the river was key, and Frodo (and the reader) wouldn't have had to believe him. That way, we'd know the endgame conditions. We might still be surprised and impressed by the power of Elrond and Gandalf as expounded in the next book.

As it stands, Frodo is just fleeing. He doesn't think he'll get to the ford. When he does, and is across the river, he's still fleeing, as far as he and the reader are concerned. Heck, for all we know he's got no chance unless he can stay ahead of the riders all the way to Rivendell.

And then he's saved by something that wasn't even alluded to. Much as my hypothetical woman was saved by her unmentioned kung fu expertise; I really don't see any failure in my analogy.

It's not really any different from anvils suddenly falling on the riders' heads, and then book 2 explaining, "Yeah, Elrond is very powerful, he can make anvils appear in mid-air."

It doesn't actually bother me that much because I first encountered the scene when I was not a very critical reader, and now just accept it's going to happen every time I reread the book or sit through an adaptation.

Your first analogy had "Imagine if, partway through Alien, Ripley suddenly whipped out a xenomorph-killing spray", your second had "when she kung fus them into the emergency room".

That is, your main protagonists turned out to have the weapon/ability all along, we just didn't know 'till revealed by the writer.

I didn't (still don't) think those are good/accurate analogies, as it's not Frodo himself who brought on the flood.

As it is, that scene doesn't bother me at all. Frodo et al are fleeing, surprise - they've managed to reach the protection of the Elves. I (yes, subjective opinion) think your suggestion of "If Glorfindel had said to Frodo ..." would have made the passage worse. Not knowing why getting past the river was "good", wouldn't have helped. For me, the surprise "saving" was just fine, knowing "all they had to do" was get past the river would have decreased the tension.

I imagine something like (this is an outline, not intended to be a novelisation):

A: The G.I. has snuck into the German held area, to do some recon. He's on his way back when he's spotted. A chase ensues. He can't stop to fight as he'll be surrounded by the greater numbers. So he has to keep moving. He knows his lines are over there by that line of trees. He runs for them, ducking from foxhole to foxhole, from cover to cover, sometimes pausing to fire - to slow down the pursuers a little. He's beginning to tire, and is not sure how long his lungs or ammo will last, but he knows where his lines are and keeps on going for them. Finally he gets to those trees and is safe.

B: The G.I. has snuck into the German held area, to do some recon. He's on his way back when he's spotted. A chase ensues. He can't stop to fight as he'll be surrounded by the greater numbers. So he has to keep moving. He's not sure where his lines are; they are fluid and besides, he's ended up further down the line than where he began his recon. He's not sure how far he has to go. He runs, ducking from foxhole to foxhole, from cover to cover, sometimes pausing to fire - to slow down the pursuers a little. He's beginning to tire, and is not sure how long his lungs or ammo will last. Suddenly machine guns fire around him. He's stumbled on his own lines! The pursuers are beaten back. He's safe.

For me, option B (by a good writer, of course, not me) is fine - perhaps better (but either could be good (if written by the right person)).

FarmMarsNow
2012-Nov-05, 06:20 AM
Frodo has just crossed the ford and the Black Riders have been swept away by the river. And I'm left wondering, once again, how many other books (or films, plays or any other kind of story) could get away with something so completely unforeshadowed. This really is a case of "A wizard did it!" and I'm puzzled as to why I've never seen anyone complain about it. Good question! If not forshadowed, could this scene itself foreshadow of other scenes? Maybe when he started writing L. Tolkien wasn't sure where he was going to put that part. It was very cool, the combined power of Gandalf and Elrond. This is surely Tolkien being a nerd, Tolkien imagining the mysterious powers of the world joining forces whereas normally they would oppose and balance each other. The water takes the form of horses, where normally water stops horses. You've got a lot of old mythology flavoring the scene. There's the river Styx, the power of empires, the Biblical imagery of Euphrates overflowing its banks, the elves themselves, the purifying principle of the river washing away the black shadows with their horses at the last moment. Lots of stuff! Its like listening to a rock&roll band almost. He was trying to do some kind of symbolic thing but I don't know what.

novaderrik
2012-Nov-05, 08:26 AM
skimmed thru the first page, then decided to post this, so maybe it's already been mentioned...

i believe Randal covered this in a beautiful scene in the movie "Clerks 2"...

Solfe
2012-Nov-05, 12:15 PM
So, (SPOILERS), Frodo has just crossed the ford and the Black Riders have been swept away by the river. And I'm left wondering, once again, how many other books (or films, plays or any other kind of story) could get away with something so completely unforeshadowed. This really is a case of "A wizard did it!" and I'm puzzled as to why I've never seen anyone complain about it. Sure, Russell T. Davies frequently produced solutions out of nowhere* when he was the Doctor Who showrunner, but he got a lot of hate for it - deservedly, IMO. Imagine if, partway through Alien, Ripley suddenly whipped out a xenomorph-killing spray.

I haven't reread anything, but as I recall the hobbits were whining "Where is the Wizard?" at nearly every opportunity. Could it be this is the opposite of not foreshadowing? As in "let's foreshadow it so often the reader tunes it out"?

It still doesn't address you concern about skillful application of conventions, but it is a different point of view. :)

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-05, 03:35 PM
Your first analogy had "Imagine if, partway through Alien, Ripley suddenly whipped out a xenomorph-killing spray", your second had "when she kung fus them into the emergency room".

That is, your main protagonists turned out to have the weapon/ability all along, we just didn't know 'till revealed by the writer.

I didn't (still don't) think those are good/accurate analogies, as it's not Frodo himself who brought on the flood.

It makes no difference. To return to my analogy, it would have been no more and no less of a cheat if Ripley was suddenly saved by a hitherto unmentioned bloke in a cupboard who happened to have a handy xenomorph spray. It doesn't matter if it's the protagonist or someone else who whips a solution out of thin air, it's the fact that it happens at all.

Steve Moffat, whom I reservedly admire, put it something like this: You can't win a game by using a piece which was not already on the board.


As it is, that scene doesn't bother me at all. Frodo et al are fleeing, surprise - they've managed to reach the protection of the Elves. I (yes, subjective opinion) think your suggestion of "If Glorfindel had said to Frodo ..." would have made the passage worse. Not knowing why getting past the river was "good", wouldn't have helped. For me, the surprise "saving" was just fine, knowing "all they had to do" was get past the river would have decreased the tension.

But the thing is, once you've done a thin-air pull once, the reader doesn't know if or when you'll do another. (Arguably he does indeed do another with the airlift from Mount Doom, which brought in further problems.)


I imagine something like (this is an outline, not intended to be a novelisation):

A: The G.I. has snuck into the German held area, to do some recon. He's on his way back when he's spotted. A chase ensues. He can't stop to fight as he'll be surrounded by the greater numbers. So he has to keep moving. He knows his lines are over there by that line of trees. He runs for them, ducking from foxhole to foxhole, from cover to cover, sometimes pausing to fire - to slow down the pursuers a little. He's beginning to tire, and is not sure how long his lungs or ammo will last, but he knows where his lines are and keeps on going for them. Finally he gets to those trees and is safe.

B: The G.I. has snuck into the German held area, to do some recon. He's on his way back when he's spotted. A chase ensues. He can't stop to fight as he'll be surrounded by the greater numbers. So he has to keep moving. He's not sure where his lines are; they are fluid and besides, he's ended up further down the line than where he began his recon. He's not sure how far he has to go. He runs, ducking from foxhole to foxhole, from cover to cover, sometimes pausing to fire - to slow down the pursuers a little. He's beginning to tire, and is not sure how long his lungs or ammo will last. Suddenly machine guns fire around him. He's stumbled on his own lines! The pursuers are beaten back. He's safe.

For me, option B (by a good writer, of course, not me) is fine - perhaps better (but either could be good (if written by the right person)).

The existence of his own lines is not a surprise withheld from the reader.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-05, 03:38 PM
This is simply not accurate. Showing a demonstration of something before explaining what it was instead of the other way around can, of course, be done badly, but then the problem is some aspect of how it was done, not just that it was done at all. In general, it's just one of the two standard routine orders in which to put those two events (the explanation and the actual direct application).

It's okay to do this during the set-up phase but not during the resolution phase.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-05, 03:51 PM
Necessary, and minor, at best. It's been a (long, long) while, but I'm pretty sure Elrond is named by the river scene, or at least heavily implied. And that much of the explanation is necessary to explain the river scene as an example of Chekhov's Gun and not of deus ex machina.

Chekov's gun doesn't actually mean that. (See TV tropes.)

In this listen-through, I was specifically looking out for any kind of foreshadowing. There wasn't any.

I do wonder if JRRT was working on the basis of writing history, albeit fictional history. In historical accounts, you don't have to foreshadow; if a historical character's fortunes were changed by a ludicrous coincidence, then so be it.

Moose
2012-Nov-05, 04:02 PM
Chekov's gun doesn't actually mean that. (See TV tropes.)

I know what it means. You're seeing that as a resolution. It isn't. It's an introduction (http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/smc/journey/ref/summary.html). (Specifically, A3, A4, and A5.)


Heck, they haven't even met the fellowship or started the road of trials. Frodo hasn't even accepted 'the Call' yet. He's refused the call several times, fully intending to dump the the Ring on anybody responsible and return home. He accepts the Call to Adventure only when he chooses to leave the Fellowship behind.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-05, 04:21 PM
I know what it means.

So why...???


You're seeing that as a resolution. It isn't. It's an introduction (http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/smc/journey/ref/summary.html). (Specifically, A3, A4, and A5.)

I'm not suggesting it's a resolution to the entire Ring quest, but it clearly is a resolution to the early-chase-by-Black-Riders sequence:

Set-up: There are some bad people hot on the heels of Frodo.
Development: Frodo is in a seriously bad way and the baddies are closer than we realised.
Resolution: Frodo is saved by something not even hinted at prior to its appearance.
END OF BOOK ONE

Now you can argue that the whole of Book One was part of the set-up of the entire epic, but the sequence itself needs to work as a story told by a storyteller who plays fair with his readers. I've read many books that have had little stories within the larger framework (what I've described here as a "sequence") and I cannot, offhand, think of any that have cheated in this way.

Moose
2012-Nov-05, 04:44 PM
I'm not suggesting it's a resolution to the entire Ring quest, but it clearly is a resolution to the early-chase-by-Black-Riders sequence:

It's an introduction, both to the peril and to the 'supernatural aid' (Elrond, not Gandalf.) It also combines The Crossing of the First Threshold (Bree to Rivendell inclusive) and The Belly of the Whale (the wound.)

The problem, I think, is that you're thinking of it as a trilogy. It's not. It's one book. The trilogy divisions were an afterthought by the publisher. What you're thinking of as a climax isn't a climax. It's not a resolution at all. It's part of what Frodo experiences while rejecting the call to action.


I've read many books that have had little stories within the larger framework (what I've described here as a "sequence") and I cannot, offhand, think of any that have cheated in this way.

First. The Hero's Journey is a very common trope in Japanese storytelling. It's everywhere in Animé.
Second. "Cheated" nothing. They know that Frodo's only hope of survival is through intervention by the elves (and quite possibly Elrond by name, although it's been a while.) They also know that they have to enter elven lands to stand a chance. That's the river. Crossing the river _is_ the finish line. _That_ is the resolution to that scene. Everything that happens from that moment onward is introduction and exposition and preparing all four hobbits for their eventual individual acceptances of the Call to Action. But Elrond's intervention is _firmly_ in the Supernatural Aid slot.

Gillianren
2012-Nov-05, 05:10 PM
I care so little about the books that I can't even read this level of discussion about them. Sorry, guys; bowing out.

Moose
2012-Nov-05, 05:25 PM
I care so little about the books that I can't even read this level of discussion about them. Sorry, guys; bowing out.

It's okay, Gillan, I think I'm about done, too. I'm having a bad day/week/month, and this discussion isn't doing me much good at the moment.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-05, 05:34 PM
It's an introduction, both to the peril and to the 'supernatural aid' (Elrond, not Gandalf.) It also combines The Crossing of the First Threshold (Bree to Rivendell inclusive) and The Belly of the Whale (the wound.)

Yes I get it. And thanks for the link - it is interesting.


The problem, I think, is that you're thinking of it as a trilogy. It's not. It's one book. The trilogy divisions were an afterthought by the publisher.

It is a large book which was divided into six sub-books. For convenience it was packaged as a trilogy, each volume consisting of two sub-books. When I said "END OF BOOK ONE" I was referring to the first of these sub-books, not the end of the first book of the "trilogy".


What you're thinking of as a climax isn't a climax. It's not a resolution at all. It's part of what Frodo experiences while rejecting the call to action.

It is a resolution to that sequence.


First. The Hero's Journey is a very common trope in Japanese storytelling. It's everywhere in Animé.
Second. "Cheated" nothing. They know that Frodo's only hope of survival is through intervention by the elves (and quite possibly Elrond by name, although it's been a while.) They also know that they have to enter elven lands to stand a chance. That's the river. Crossing the river _is_ the finish line. _That_ is the resolution to that scene. Everything that happens from that moment onward is introduction and exposition and preparing all four hobbits for their eventual individual acceptances of the Call to Action. But Elrond's intervention is _firmly_ in the Supernatural Aid slot.

And there's nothing wrong with having Supernatural Aid in a fantasy novel. But it still has to conform to narrative fair-play, which it doesn't here.

You say that crossing the river is the finish line. Which is fine... except the author neglected to mention the fact until afterwards. From the reader's point of view it's like watching some people running a race and then being told, "Oh yeah, Frodo won it already."

You think I'm having problems with the artificial packaging of the trilogy, and that I don't understand the idea of a hero's journey. These things have nothing to do with my argument. You don't seem to understand that what I am saying is that you can do all these things, but there are still rules concerning what you can or cannot withhold from the reader.

Moose
2012-Nov-05, 05:42 PM
You say that crossing the river is the finish line. Which is fine... except the author neglected to mention the fact until afterwards. From the reader's point of view it's like watching some people running a race and then being told, "Oh yeah, Frodo won it already."


Grandpa (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093779/): She doesn't get eaten by the eels at this time
The Grandson: What?
Grandpa: The eel doesn't get her. I'm explaining to you because you look nervous.
The Grandson: I wasn't nervous. Maybe I was a little bit "concerned" but that's not the same thing.

Yeah, I'm done.

starcanuck64
2012-Nov-05, 07:04 PM
It's boring if there are no rules. For instance, if a story introduces magic, it should include limits to what magic can do. There should be a cost, and cost should increase for more dramatic uses of magic. Also, stories shouldn't invoke magic as a solution for every problem. Generally, I find fantasy stories with solid rules to be more interesting than those without.

Sometimes Tolkien overdid it. For instance, I suspect he realized a little late that Tom Bombadil was too powerful, so invented some reasons for him not to get involved with the quest to get rid of the ring.

Right, and Tolkien adapted a lot of his mythology from Norse and Old English, so it has some basis in reality.

I always found Bombadil a confusing character.

starcanuck64
2012-Nov-05, 07:09 PM
I care so little about the books that I can't even read this level of discussion about them. Sorry, guys; bowing out.

I suspect you're not alone for women readers, Tolkien and the Inklings weren't known for their inclusion of a lot of female main characters, although I think C.S. Lewis is probably better in this regard.

Perikles
2012-Nov-05, 07:18 PM
..Tolkien adapted a lot of his mythology from Norse and Old English, so it has some basis in reality. .Wow - on one level that is manifestively incorrect because by definition, mythology is not reality. On an esoteric level, mythology expresses some profound truth about the condition of our species. I guess I don't understand what you mean. Probably something completely different.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-05, 07:18 PM
I suspect you're not alone for women readers, Tolkien and the Inklings weren't known for their inclusion of a lot of female main characters, although I think C.S. Lewis is probably better in this regard.

They had to stay home knitting mithril suits of armour.

starcanuck64
2012-Nov-05, 08:33 PM
Wow - on one level that is manifestively incorrect because by definition, mythology is not reality. On an esoteric level, mythology expresses some profound truth about the condition of our species. I guess I don't understand what you mean. Probably something completely different.

That's what I was saying.

With his background in Norse and Old English mythology, Tolkien drew on the old legends that were created as part of an attempt to understand elements of reality that aren't readily apparent. They're not "fact", but they do grow out of human experience and have a grounding in fact. Mythology wasn't arbitrarily created.

starcanuck64
2012-Nov-05, 08:41 PM
They had to stay home knitting mithril suits of armour.

I hear mithril underwear can bunch something fierce.

Romanus
2012-Nov-06, 11:09 AM
There's one thing about Tolkien that's always bugged me: that he can describe landscapes in loving detail, yet describe his characters as little more than ciphers. In the Silmarillion this isn't an issue, since that's done with a broad brush to begin with, and even in The Hobbit he gives you something to work with, but once you get to LOTR it's just "grey-eyed", "fell", "swarthy", "fair", "tall", "big", "ugly". If you're lucky, that is.

Van Rijn
2012-Nov-06, 09:59 PM
Chekov's gun doesn't actually mean that. (See TV tropes.)


Right. Chekov's gun (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChekovsGun) (unlike Chekhov's Gun) usually refers to a type 2 phaser.

Solfe
2012-Nov-06, 10:15 PM
Right. Chekov's gun (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChekovsGun) (unlike Chekhov's Gun) usually refers to a type 2 phaser. Do you play Starfleet Battles?

Paul Beardsley
2012-Nov-06, 10:40 PM
Right. Chekov's gun (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChekovsGun) (unlike Chekhov's Gun) usually refers to a type 2 phaser.

Oh bother, what a time to drop an H!

Buttercup
2012-Nov-07, 02:11 AM
There's one thing about Tolkien that's always bugged me: that he can describe landscapes in loving detail, yet describe his characters as little more than ciphers. In the Silmarillion this isn't an issue, since that's done with a broad brush to begin with, and even in The Hobbit he gives you something to work with, but once you get to LOTR it's just "grey-eyed", "fell", "swarthy", "fair", "tall", "big", "ugly". If you're lucky, that is.

Maybe I'm very wrong on this (might have misread something years ago), but wasn't Tolkien a bit of a snob and the Hobbits represented peasants (whom he was poking fun at/disdained)? Or the lower working class at least.

If that's so, perhaps it's an explanation?

Maybe not.

Noclevername
2012-Nov-07, 03:44 AM
Maybe I'm very wrong on this (might have misread something years ago), but wasn't Tolkien a bit of a snob and the Hobbits represented peasants (whom he was poking fun at/disdained)? Or the lower working class at least.

If that's so, perhaps it's an explanation?

Maybe not.

Quite the opposite, they represented JRR's idealized view of the pastoral farming folk of his childhood. Keep in mind, the Hobbits always win, or any team with Hobbits on their side.

headrush
2012-Nov-10, 12:18 PM
When I was very young I had both The Hobbit and later LOTR read to me at bedtime. When I started reading, these two stories were the things I read, along with science fiction. I can't say that I find anything like the level of dissatisfaction that Paul feels. It's only a story, and while it's fine to discuss general literary methods and cliches, I've always taken the "take it or leave it" approach. I have read both those books more times than I can remember, but I don't expect to get the same out of them now, 40 years after the first hearing/reading. Something to do with my own interpretations of the mental images presented in the stories I guess. I actually thought that the film's Strider was amazingly close to my own imaginings.

I've also read all the Covenant books, and the first thing that jarred was the name "Kevin". Here was an opportunity to create a world from whole cloth and yet the guy who enacted the Ritual of Desecration which destroyed the Land was called Kevin. May as well have been John Smith.
All the other characters have suitable names for their roles, but Kevin :doh:
I still enjoyed the books though, and am still waiting for the next (final?) instalment.