How the Hobbits Miraculously Survived The Fellowship of the Ring and other Musings
Quick Links from the Episode:
- Links to the books Jennifer read in February: The Writer’s Journey, Unmentionable, and Educated.
- Here are the books Jennifer is hoping to read in March, although we will see: Sapiens, and Brain Wash.
- Here’s the link to the indiewire article on Amazon’s Lord of the Rings tv show. The main update since we recorded is that filming has been suspended in New Zealand due to COVID-19. If you want all the latest, make sure to follow the show’s Twitter page.
- Yet another LOTR wiki has a list of all songs found in the main canon of books and films. Some of Jennifer’s favorites from The Fellowship of the Ring specifically are “A walking song”, “Verse of the Rings” (which is iconic, idc), “The Fall of Gil-Galad”, and “Song of Beren and Luthien”.
- There are several great options for timelines with all the events in Middle Earth, here are a couple: Tolkien Gateway’s Wiki, and an interactive map w/ timeline on the Tolkien Project website.
- Both the above sites also have great maps of Middle Earth (for the Tolkien Project, they have a larger map separate from a timeline as well), but if you are into collecting books on Tolkien, Jennifer recommends Karen Wynn Fonstad’s The Atlas of Middle Earth and David Day’s An Atlas of Tolkien, if you don’t have them already!
Paige and Jennifer continue their quest through Tolkien in the latest BBE Bonus Episode on The Fellowship of the Ring. This was a journey of rediscovery for both hosts: Paige had completely wiped the events of LOTR from her memory after reading them years ago (forgiveness pending on her rave reviews) and Jennifer had, for one reason or another, somehow not touched the trilogy in about eight years (le sigh). Long story short, it did not disappoint.
The story of how The Lord of the Rings came to be published is a convoluted one. After the publication of The Hobbit, fans were clamoring for more from Middle Earth, but they would have wait more than fifteen years. Tolkien had originally wanted the entirety of LOTR published as one book, which did not go over well with his publisher, Raynon Unwin of the George Allen and Unwin publishing firm. After years of wrangling with Tolkien, who was temperamental at the best of times, The Lord of the Rings was published in three parts from 1954 to 1955. What came next was unexpected by everyone close to the project: LOTR was incredibly popular, garnered a rabid fan base, and combined with the efforts of Tolkien’s son, Christopher, would become one of the richest fantasy worlds in history. For more on Tolkien’s story, the Tolkien Society has an extensive biography, from which much of the information in this post was drawn.
Were WWI & WWII an Inspiration for Tolkien?
For this episode, we planned on incorporating how Tolkien’s personal history influenced and inspired his work. Of course, those plans were quite grand and, in the end, neither Paige or Jennifer managed to do any outside reading. However, Tolkien’s preface to The Lord of the Rings presents an interesting counterpoint to information commonly in circulation about this point. While many sources, including the Tolkien Society, point to WWI as being a formative experience that shaped Tolkien’s understanding of Middle Earth, its people, and its great wars, he seems to contradict this argument. While most of his statements are directed towards the idea that WWII was an inspiration for his work (which he also rejects), one passage in particular seems more ambiguous about his experiences as a young man. While he again denies that his work was not a reflection of post-WWII life, he does point to the impact his experience with war had on him as a young man. See the quote below and listen to the episode to hear BBE’s full thoughts!
One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead. Or to take a less grievous matter: it has been supposed by some that ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ reflects the situation in England at the time when I was finishing my tale. It does not.J.R.R. Tolkien, preface to The Lord of the Rings
The real question is, how can you not like Lord of the Rings? The common refrain is that Tolkien’s style is dry, dense, or boring, but really it’s like any mid-century publication, plus the benefit of beautiful scenery. For Jennifer, reading Fellowship again was like stepping into a warm and familiar place, and though she had kind of internalized that Tolkien-is-boring narrative, she was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to read. Paige, after stepping away from LOTR for years, also dismissed the difficult-prose hype. If that is your only hold up on reading Lord of the Rings, you should probably give it another try, especially if you tried reading it when you were younger.
Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.SHADE Master Tolkien, in his preface to The Lord of the Rings
The Fellowship of the Ring starts out benignly enough, with plenty of talk concerning hobbits, and Bilbo’s 111th birthday party. However, the story shifts away from this light-hearted children’s tale very quickly after this, when Gandalf confronts Bilbo about leaving the ring to Frodo, it is revealed that something much more sinister has surfaced.
Here are some of the themes we discussed in the episode:
- Movie swaps: good or bad? Perhaps surprisingly, Jennifer has some positive things to saw about some of the changes Jackson and company made to the original story. While we lose the awesome character of Glorfindel, we gain an awesome vignette of an active female character in Arwen, who rescues Frodo from the Black Riders. What happens with Arwen later….well that’s something else.
- Boromir vs. Aragorn: the redemption of mankind. Each man was faced with the temptation of the ring, but while Boromir failed, Aragorn succeeded. What is Tolkien trying to say about human nature?
- Frodo and Sam’s relationship. While in modern times, this relationship has often been cast as homoerotic, it was written by a man of another time, who was most likely against homosexuality. In addition, the cringe-worthy servility displayed by Sam towards Frodo at various points rubs our American sensibilities the wrong way. How do we reconcile these dynamics of Frodo and Sam’s relationship with what we know about the author?
- Finally, strength is found in unexpected places. While we may joke about the hobbits being the worst adventurers of all time, by the end of the first part of LOTR, they are starting to reveal their hidden strength. Tolkien seems especially fond of this theme
With just the first part of the series under our belt, this is only the beginning to a long and exciting journey. The Fellowship of the Ring sets the stage for many of the themes that Tolkien will pursue throughout his trilogy. As anyone who values reading literature probably already knows, these themes provide valuable lessons that can be applied to our own lives outside of stories. Check back in monthly as BBE continues to explore Middle Earth!