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…)
One of the most amusing fan debates (for me) has been the legend of the Ent-wives, launched by an anonymous forum member using the name Teleporno. Teleporno’s thread, “I found the Ent-wives!”, became infuriatingly long and devoid of helpful information for many fans, although it certainly drew a lot of interesting comments and facts. (more…)
One of the most frequent requests I receive from fans of Tolkien and Middle-earth is to speculate on what The Silmarillion might have looked like, “had Tolkien finished it”. This is a really popular topic. I have stumbled across more than one attempt to produce a (pseudo)-canonical Silmarillion text through the years. Canonical contrivances always lead into the Valley of Canonical Collisions. There is no canon, and everyone has their own idea of what should be canon. The problem is of such universal proportions that the Vulcans have a saying: “Only J.R.R. Tolkien can write a canonical Silmarillion; everything else is fan fiction.”
John Garth’s revelation that “The Notion Club Papers” contains a secret message from J.R.R. Tolkien (so I see it) is an interesting find. I could not help but be a failed Thief of Baghdad by leaving the path to the True Treasure to turn aside and reach for glistening little gems. In other words, once I read the Tolkien Society article and John’s blog about the connections Tolkien drew to the “Earendel” poem I could not help myself. I had to start thinking about related and distracting things.
Somewhere in-between the fact that Tolkien mentions Gollum eating a baby Orc in one draft of The Hobbit and the fact that Arundel is a village name of debatable etymology (one fabulous story suggests its name may originate from that of a horse) I have managed to stumble toward an oft-cited quote from The Lord of the Rings: “He that breaks a thing to learn what it is has left the path of wisdom”.
Did J.R.R. Tolkien model the geography of Lindon on Wales? This question has only been asked a couple of times on the Internet, as best I can determine, and no one has really devised a convincing argument in favor of the idea. So it’s not a burning issue but it piqued my interest after I noticed a question on the Tolkien Society’s Facebook page about whether the Lonely Mountain might have been inspired by the Wrekin (a large hill northeast of Birmingham, west of Telford and east of Shropshire).
It has been just over two years since I published my last interview with a Tolkien scholar. I have always wanted to do more but the amount of time I had to put into each interview was considerable and my workload these past two years has been my largest obstacle to creating the kind of in-depth content I want to publish. I do my best with the questions that Tolkien fans ask but some days there just isn’t time to do any research, even for the briefest of questions.
Having had some time to read through Tolkien’s Beowulf in the wake of the Tolkien Society’s launch party, I can see where in my unfamiliarity with the book I confused some points. It didn’t help me that Christopher’s comments were sometimes mixed in with his father’s footnotes but I take full responsibility for mixing up names and attributions liberally in the excitement of discussing the book.
You never really know when J.R.R. Tolkien was joking in some subtle, philological way or if serendipity guided his choice of words. We have found so many interesting stories and associations behind his words that whole generations of future scholarship may have yet to unveil many of the secret references that influenced Tolkien’s writing.
As someone with only minimal training in etymological research I strive to avoid the more complicated discussions about which words arose when, but I cannot help but fall off the cliff into the seas of speculation from time to time when I come across something interesting.