We use trivia to prove our depth of knowledge in a given topic but also to introduce people to new ideas or to revive interest in old things. How many people do trivia contests motivate to read books or perform Internet searches? But what we choose to include in our trivia lists suggests our priorities or interests are biased, either toward the simplistic or the popular. “Hard trivia” is almost a non sequitur. Why is it “hard trivia”? Is not all trivia hard for the untutored audience?
Why do people focus on the more well-known details of Tolkien’s stories rather than dredge up the hard-to-find facts? Perhaps it is simply because we don’t want to humiliate ourselves, but maybe it’s a reflection of where reader interests lie. The people who make up trivia contests are no different from the people who participate in them. We all love the story and immerse ourselves in the details. And yet we paint those details with expectations and assumptions. (more…)
I don’t remember where or when I first heard that I was banned from participating in Tolkien trivia contests at conventions. This has been a running joke for decades, now, but it was going strong when I handed the Tolkien fan programming track at Dragon*Con over to Jincey from TheOneRing.net. She sent me an email one evening with an odd request. “I need expert-level trivia questions that even you cannot answer,” she pleaded.
For my part I have always felt there were questions I cannot answer. I just cannot think of them when people ask me for examples, but it’s hard to perform under pressure when you’re supposed to sift through millions (thousands?) of questions. (more…)
Some years ago I was presented with the opportunity to participate in a special project in which someone wanted me to translate a number of texts into Elvish, a task for which I am singularly unqualified. Visions of con artists streamed through my head as I thought what it would take to do the work required. I had known people in my youth whose philosophy was, “How much does it pay?” These were the kinds of people who, if you asked them, “Does your software do [X]?” they would reply with, “It CAN.”
Instead I passed on the opportunity and submitted to my erstwhile benefactors and business partners a list of four names of people I felt were singularly qualified to do the deed. I cautioned them I did not get on very well with candidate number four but he had the chops and belonged on the list more than I did. (more…)
I am still amazed at the ill logic people resort to when throwing down the gauntlet at Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy. I am on record as trashing the second movie and barely acknowledging the third, so I feel like I have earned my spurs in this charade of film criticism that has dominated many fannish and armchair critic discussions. But I will summarize my feelings again just so we’re clear on where I stand: I LOVED the first movie, HATED the second one, and prefer the third to the second. (more…)
I can’t possibly read all the defenses of Tolkien’s works against racism. Too many people have been drawn into this neverending story of racist bias in The Lord of the Rings. The accusations of racism resonate strongly with all of us, and I have even read a scholarly paper that attempts to break down the pro and con views into categories or types. So I apologize to those of you who have raised the anti-Nordicist defense but I blame Google for making it impossible to find such arguments.
Nordicism is one of those words I only rarely stumble across. I have no sympathies with people who think in terms of “race” and “purity” and other primitive rules of distinction. I will have to teach myself to use words like Nordic, Nordicism, and Nordicist because these are terms that you can easily find in accusations made against Tolkien, or discussions of the accusations made against him. (more…)
Years ago when the first attempt to launch a licensed massively multiplayer game based on Middle-earth was still in process there was much debate among waiting players about whether they should be permitted to play Noldorin warriors. Some people wanted the ability to swashbuckle their way across the landscape of Middle-earth and others feared the Player-versus-Player advantages that a “real” Noldo would have against, say, a Silvan Elf or a Dwarf.
The idea that you could play a Noldorin warrior capable of matching the great warriors of the First Age was both a tempting and fearful prospect, and yet now many games have come and gone and people routinely play god-like characters (or even gods in Smite!) without worrying about whether one character is too powerful for the game. The engineering of the game is supposed to ensure there is balance. (more…)
I have always been fascinated with Cerin Amroth, the tree-capped hill in Lothlorien where Haldir removed the blind-folds from the Fellowship. He led Frodo up to the high flet that (presumably) marked where Amroth had once lived. Tolkien’s description of the hill, topped with two circles of trees, always struck me as being modeled on a real place but I have never come across any attempts to identify such a place.
Maybe it is because there are (or were) several likely places in England that could have served as models for Cerin Amroth. Just spending a little bit of time searching the Web for circles of trees in England I found several references, of which Chanctonbury Ring near Worthing and Brighton seems to me very similar to Cerin Amroth. (more…)
There are no hieroglyphs or bas-reliefs in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. That’s a curious omission from a pseudo-historical narrative of the ancient world, don’t you think? And when it comes to statues the Elves do trees and the Gondorians do kings, but how many real examples of statues can you find in The Lord of the Rings? Nonetheless, there is little to no evidence of actual writing carved in stone. I can think of Balin’s tombstone, but everything else is just an ambiguously “carven pillar”. (more…)
Every now and then I stumble across a Web discussion about some fictional world where someone, attempting to explain the inexplicable points of the fiction, sums up their argument with a variation of, “And as always, in a fictional world the author’s logic always works.”
That’s an important lesson for people who want to hold their fiction to a rigid scientificist realism: the author may not have the science down right, but (s)he sees the story unfolding and makes a best effort to write it all down before the facts slip away. We the readers must accept and infer from the author’s efforts what seems like a reasonable supposition: in a fictional world, if the author says eggs bake themselves, then eggs bake themselves. (more…)
If you should ever wish to confuse and confound your friends (or enemies), challenge them to identify and explain the five main sub-plots in “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”. It’s a very complex movie that was widely criticized for being too simple. Such is the way of fiction.
In order to be successful and popular every story, no matter how short, must include some complexity. Complexity is a good word to describe what we cannot describe succinctly. It is also a smokescreen word we use to hide our distaste for things. A story is too complex if we don’t like it and it is not complex enough if we don’t like it. (more…)