Archive for Middle Earth

JRR Tolkien Essays

Posted in Book Reports, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 15, 2016 by Drogo

Reports on Tolkien

St. John’s at Prospect Hall – Catholic High School 1990-94

Taken from old reports by Walton Stowell, Robert Trainor, & Chris Chromey

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Middle-Earth: Our History? – based on Rob Trainor’s highschool paper 1993

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontien, South Africa; on January 3, 1892. His father worked there as a banker, although both of his parents were from England. When John was only 4 years old, his father died. His mother Mabel then took young John and his younger brother, back to her native home in Birmingham, England. John was raised there and attended the King Edward School.

In 1904 when John was 12, his mother passed away. From then on he and his brother were raised by a Roman Catholic priest. Tolkien went from King Edward’s school, to Exeter College at Oxford. Before he got his degree, World War I broke out. In 1915 at the age of 23, John Tolkien entered the army, with the Lancashire Fusiliers regiment. The next year he married Miss Edith Bratt, who later became the mother of his children. Tolkien served with the Fusiliers from 1915 until 1918. At the end of WW1, he returned home and went back to college. John got his Masters Degree in 1919.

John studied many languages and knew a number of languages including Latin, German, Gothic, French, Greek, and Middle English. He developed his own hybrid languages, which would be the basis for his novels. John worked for a short time on the famous Oxford English Dictionary. He also became a ‘reader’ professor in English at Leeds University from 1924-25. His first publication was A Middle-English Vocabulary. Then he and E.V. Gordon published a critical text on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, analyzing the infamous old 14th-Century anonymous poem; John later translated it into modern English verse.

In 1925 John Tolkien left Leeds, and went to Pembroke College at Oxford; where he remained for the next 20 years, as Rawlison and Bosforth ‘Professor of Anglo-Saxon’. John’s imaginary languages led to him forming lands and stories around them. He sorted out places where his languages would be spoken, and what their attitudes might be culturally. John became an Oxford ‘fellow’ and ‘don’. He published Chaucer as a Philologist in 1934. Next came Beowulf: Monster and Critics. Tolkien himself had become a respected philologist. Philology is the study of written words, their origins, and meanings.

He wrote stories for his children, as ‘letters from’ Father Christmas. While grading college papers, John Tolkien began day-dreaming and sketching notes about a ‘hobbit’. In 1937, when Tolkien was 45 he was urged by his colleagues and children to publish his book called The Hobbit. It took him 12 more years to write the Lord of the Rings. It took John his life-time to write the Silmarillion, which was post-humously finished for him by his son, Christopher Tolkien.

‘Middle-Earth’ is the setting for The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Tolkien describes Middle-Earth using familiar objects and concepts, that make it seem like it could have existed in the distant past of England. This is how Tolkien conceived many of the ideas, and to many fans there are many charming and philosophical allegories and parallels. According to Tolkien, Middle-Earth (Arda) is ultimately its’ own world set in a fictional past of Earth, and not just mere metaphor.

Tolkien wanted to create a fictional mythology for the English, as they didn’t really have one before (besides the Mabinogion, Book of Kells, Beowulf, and the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood). He certainly achieved his goal of creation. Middle-Earth should perhaps best be considered a fantasy time period, set in the distant pre-historic past of Europe. The anachronisms and races are very much fantasy, and the themes are mythical.

References where Tolkien compared the reality of modern Europe and the fiction of ancient Middle-Earth include: the landscape and habits of Hobbiton (like Welsh), Hobbiton’s position north-west, general geography, astronomy changes, language roots, and flora and fauna (including insects). “It is plain indeed, that in spite of later estrangement, Hobbits are relatives of ours: far nearer to us than elves, or even than dwarves.” (LOTR I, 20) The land is similar to Europe, but much has changed by years of ‘wind and wave’. The significance of the comparison, is that it gives us familiarity with the setting. These descriptions also add believable gravitas; that the lands have been there for a long time, and slowly changed over time. Things like tobacco, clothing, and chimneys are clearly taken out of time and place and dropped in for amusement.

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JRR Tolkien – based on Chris Chromey’s research paper, English 11, 1992

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell; nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.” – 1st paragraph of The Hobbit

In 1938 the world was introduced to its first hobbit. Somehow we fell in love with this short round creature who lives in a hole with a life of comfort and a friendly manner. Throw in an adventure of dwarves, magic treasure, and evil monsters; and you come up with a tale so enchanting that its popularity breaks new ground in literature and pioneers the way of fantasy writing.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was the brilliant inventor of the hobbit race (and Middle-Earth). The Hobbit, his first book concerning this magical world, started out as a story Tolkien told to his children in the form of letters he would give them every Christmas (via ‘Father Christmas’ mail), which contained a chapter of hobbit Bilbo Baggin’s adventures and illustrations. Later on in life Tolkien read the hobbit tales to his literary chums, in a jolly writing group called the Inklings. The Inklings were a group of scholars who met with C.S. Lewis in his Magdalen college apartments, and later in old local English taverns. They would talk, read excerpts, and drink with an air of romanticism. Tolkien enjoyed these meetings, perhaps like Bilbo gathering with friends in the Shire of Middle-Earth.

Tolkien’s academic credentials help to explain why he was able to create such wonderful literature. Tolkien studied mythology and languages, with a focus on Celtic and Germanic lore. Tolkien loved English legends, and wanted England to have more of its own mythological literature. He began creating his own languages also, and used characters (like dwarves, valkyries, and elves) from Teutonic folk-lore. Dwarves were like vikings with their Norse beards, weapons, and armor. Elves were like elegant thin human-sized medieval English style faeries. The tree-ents were like dryads, and the wild ‘wose’ men were like Gaels; both of Celtic origins.

His re-imaginings of old ideas became the basis for the modern ‘medieval-fantasy’ genre. Tolkien published the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings few books during his life-time, but he was not able to finish the Silmarillion which was his large bible of Middle-Earth mythology. Pieces of the Silmarillion were edited and published after JRR Tolkien died, by his son Christopher Tolkien. It shows his father’s genius for synthesizing imagination, literature, language, and mythology in extraordinary detail.

Although Tolkien did not use the term ‘fairy’ in his Middle-Earth books, he did create a “fairy world”, or to be more specific an old world of faeries, that humans had begun to colonize and spread into by more rapidly populating. Humans had shorter lives than the other races, so they clearly were procreating faster, and elves were leaving into the West (much as they did in Celtic myths and legends).

About JRR Tolkien’s youth, we know he had a playmate besides his brother when he lived in Africa; named Hillary. They would play fantasy adventures based on stories. When JRR was about 7 years old, he began to compose his own story about a dragon. He recalled a ‘philological fact’ that his mother was more interested in his grammar, than the story or the characters. She pointed out that he should not say “a green great dragon”, but rather “a great green dragon”. This incident ‘put him off’ from writing for many years, and he became ‘taken up’ with language.

JRR Tolkien wrote an essay (similar to Frank Baum’s intro to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) called ‘On Fairy Stories’, to explaining the relationship between reality, fiction, and folk-lore. Tolkien’s essay also addressed Andrew Lang’s ‘fairy-tales’, and what constitutes stories about the land of ‘Faerie’ and what does not (in the mind of Tolkien). Here is an excerpt:

On Fairy-Stories

Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker; or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar qualities of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from reality, or are flowing into it. If he indeed achieves a quality that can fairly be described by the dictionary definition: “inner consistency of reality”, it is difficult to conceive how this can be, if the work does not in some way partake in reality. The peculiar quality of the ‘joy’ in successful fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a ‘consolation’ for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, ‘is it true?’. My answer to this question (that all children ask) was at first (quite rightly): “If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.” …

To summarize Tolkien’s point here, the art of literature acts as an enchantment upon our minds. A well constructed world of words that tells a story, invites us to believe that the lore is ‘real’. Every writer making a secondary ‘fantasy’ world, wants the reader to desire to believe it is real. This ‘believable’ quality is achieved by using real ‘primary world’ references or characters that can view the fiction through our perspective (and vice-versa). The joy of reading realistic fantasy, is not just escapism, but the thrill of believable travel to that world; by defining its’ own reality. If fiction is well created, it has its’ own consistent truth; which reflects our own reality, each version of every story a magic mirror. The world consistency can change, but it should be reflected on in some way, as in ‘Alice and Wonderland’ stories, the consistency is to be inconsistent with the ‘rules’; with self-exposed unpredictability, as commented on by characters or narration.

By providing linguistic and historic backgrounds, Tolkien gave us the essence of his characters. We can find out more about them, just as we look into non-fiction books for facts about our historical figures. Tolkien thrived on the fact that language is the basis to all communication, and therefore knowledge. Fantasy novels after Tolkien, often imitate his settings and plots, without the depth.

Tolkien’s work feels timeless, like by reading his words we can escape Time. Yet his words also remind us of the power of Time; as with the riddle from the Hobbit:

This thing all things devours;

Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;

Gnaws iron, bites steel;

Grinds hard stones to meal;

Slays kinds, ruins town,

And beats high mountain down.

Tolkien’s narration language seems ancient, and yet timeless because we can still understand it. One critic* accused his ‘boring’ writing of being a ‘syncretic antiquarian collage’. The critic goes on to say that Tolkien’s “ignorance of all he so conscientiously is trying to transmit” … “definitely leaves his writing lacking”. Clearly, the critic was wrong. To me this is a perfect example of how critics that go beyond factual summary, often show their own ignorance and childishness.

* Essays In Memorium; Catherine Stimpson; Salu & Ferrell (editors); Cornell University, 1979

Tolkien loved children, spent time with them, and made sure to be home at night to tuck in his own children. It was his love for children that drove him to write books for them, built upon college graduate level (adult) education and his child-like imagination (which apparently he never lost). He was not content with the children’s fairy tales he had, when he was a child. Tolkien wanted to give children books that he felt they deserved, that even their adult minds’ could grow into with maturity. The age orientation of his books seems to be progressive. The Hobbit is child-like, the Lord of the Rings is for teens, and the Silmarillion is for adults; but because Tolkien was a scholar, the books are really more advanced, always seeming to be one step ahead of the reader, transcending age at every turn.

END

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Utopias

Posted in Book Reports, Cooperatives / Communities / Networks / Travels, Critical Commentary of Civilization with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2013 by Drogo

Utopias are communities or places possessing highly desirable or perfect qualities. The word was coined in Greek by Sir Thomas More for his book Utopia, describing a fictional island society in the Atlantic Ocean. The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempt to create an ideal society, and fictional paradises. It has spawned other concepts, most prominently dystopia. There are different types of utopias: ecological, political, economic, etc… and combinations of those.

The first recorded utopian proposal is Plato’s Republic. Plato’s Utopia is part conversation, part fictional depiction, and part policy proposal, it proposes a categorization of citizens into a rigid class structure of “golden,” “silver,” “bronze” and “iron” socioeconomic classes. The golden citizens are trained in a rigorous 50-year long educational program to be benign oligarchs, the “philosopher-kings.” The wisdom of these rulers will supposedly eliminate poverty and deprivation through fairly distributed resources, though the details on how to do this are unclear. The educational program for the rulers is the central notion of the proposal. There is a general pacifism or pacifist attitude. However, the people of the Republic are all ready to defend themselves or to compete militarily for resources (such as land) if necessary. Plato’s Utopia has few laws, no lawyers and rarely sends its citizens to war, but hires mercenaries from among its war-prone neighbors (these mercenaries were deliberately sent into dangerous situations in the hope that the more warlike populations of all surrounding countries will be weeded out, leaving peaceful peoples).

– from Wikipedia

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Utopia

by Sir Thomas More written between 1515-1516

the definition of the word implies that the perfectly “good place” is really “no place.”

the island is located off the coast of Brazil, founded by King Utopos

Raphael Hythloday spends five years observing the customs of the natives.

Characters:

More = the author (beheaded 1535)

Giles = Humanist thinker Peter Giles

Morton = former Chancellor of England Cardinal John Morton

Jerome de Busleydan = Counselor of Charles V

Raphael Hythloday = a sailor and voyager

More travels to Antwerp as an ambassador for England and King Henry VIII.

Hythloday has been on many voyages with the noted explorer Amerigo Vespucci, traveling to the New World, south of the Equator, through Asia, and eventually landing on the island of Utopia.

Hythloday describes a dinner he once shared in England with Cardinal Morton and a number of others. During this dinner, Hythloday proposed alternatives to the many evil civil practices of England, such as the policy of capital punishment for the crime of theft. His proposals meet with derision, until they are given legitimate thought by the Cardinal, at which point they meet with great general approval. Hythloday uses this story to show how pointless it is to counsel a king when the king can always expect his other counselors to agree with his own beliefs or policies. Hythloday then goes on to make his point through a number of other examples, finally noting that no matter how good a proposed policy is, it will always look insane to a person used to a different way of seeing the world. Hythloday points out that the policies of the Utopians are clearly superior to those of Europeans, yet adds that Europeans would see as ludicrous the all-important Utopian policy of common property.

General Utopus, conquered the isthmus on which Utopia now stands and through a great public works effort cut away the land to make an island. Next, Hythloday moves to a discussion of Utopian society, portraying a nation based on rational thought, with communal property, great productivity, no rapacious love of gold, no real class distinctions, no poverty, little crime or immoral behavior, religious tolerance, and little inclination to war.

The island of Utopia is 200 hundred miles across in the middle part, where it is widest, and nowhere much narrower than this except towards the two ends, where it gradually tapers. These ends, curved round as if completing a circle five hundred miles in circumference, make the island crescent-shaped, like a new moon.

The island was originally a peninsula but a 15-mile wide channel was dug by the community’s founder King Utopos to separate it from the mainland.

The island contains 54 cities.

Each city is divided into four equal parts.

Each city has 6000 households, consisting of between 10 to 16 adults.

The capital city, Amaurot, is located directly in the middle of the crescent island.

Thirty households are grouped together and elect an archon.

200 archons of a city elect a Prince in a secret ballot.

The Prince stays for life unless he is deposed or removed for suspicion of tyranny.

People are re-distributed around the households and towns to keep numbers even. If the island suffers from overpopulation, colonies are set up on the mainland. Alternatively, the natives of the mainland are invited to be part of these Utopian colonies, but if they dislike it and no longer wish to stay they may return. In the case of under-population the colonists are re-called.

Utopia is a common-wealth collective, where almost everything is open to the public. There is no private ownership on Utopia. Public Goods in storage are accessed by people as needed. No locks on house doors. All are taught agriculture. In addition to farming, all must pick a second vocation: weaving, masonry, carpentry, or metal-smithing. All that are able work 6 hours daily on average. Those who love to learn become scholars, and scholars can be ruling officials and priests. No sexism, men and women are equal, although there are gender stereotypes. Clothing is simple. Utopia is also a welfare state. Free hospitals allow euthanasia.

There is a class system. Archons and old get best food. Middle Class rotates turns of households feeding the community in dining halls. Slave class made of immigrants and criminals. Slave chains and chamber-pots are made of gold, which attaches shameful psychological associations to gold; producing a dislike of gold. Gold and Jewels have no economic value within Utopia.

Several Religions: Moon, Sun, Planet, Ancestor, and Monotheists. All are tolerant of eachother, only Atheists are distrusted because they may lack morality.

Priests marry and divorce. Premarital sex is punished by celibacy. Adultery punished by enslavement.

Travel on the island is restricted by internal passport, with penalty of enslavement.

No lawyers because the laws are simple.

Utopians do not like to engage in war because war is uncivilized. If they feel countries friendly to them have been wronged, they will send military aid. However they try to capture, rather than kill, enemies. They are upset if they achieve victory through bloodshed.

Privacy is not regarded as freedom in Utopia. Even private gatherings and pubs are not allowed to keep all people together in full view, when not sleeping at home, for good behavior. Much like later visions of socialist communism.

Isola_di_Utopia_Moro

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Other Utopian Concepts in Literature:

The City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella, Description of the Republic of Christianopolis by Johannes Valentinus Andreae, New Atlantis by Francis Bacon and Candide by Voltaire.

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‘Common Sense’ was a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine. It was first published anonymously on January 10, 1776, at the beginning of the American Revolution. Common Sense was signed “Written by an Englishman”, and it became an immediate success. It contrasted a dystopian vision of England, with a future Utopian vision of America, as propaganda for the purpose of rebellion.

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Tolkien’s Middle Earth Utopias & Dystopias – Lothlorien, West, Shire, Rivendell, Bombadil’s House, Ranger Collective / Mordor, Misty Mountain Goblin Caves

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HG WELLS, HUXLEY, & ORWELL

One similarity between ‘Brave New World’ and ‘1984‘ is that both futures believe that ‘History is bunk’, and the controllers constantly erase even yesterday’s news while using confusing hypocritical propaganda. Trump seems to have a regime that believes in this idea of Double-speak, according to the changes going on in all departments.

Huxley wrote critical satire of HG Wells’ utopian books

HG Wells wrote a few Utopian ‘science fantasy’ novels – based in ‘Parallel Worlds’ using concepts of democratic socialism (Fabian Society): Anticipations (1901 non-fiction); Mankind in the Making (1903 New Republic non-fiction); ‘A Modern Utopia’ (1905 fiction), ‘Men Like Gods’ (1923 fiction)

‘A Modern Utopia’ (1905) – Parallel World named Utopia. – a voluntary order of nobility known as the Samurai could effectively rule a “kinetic and not static” world state so as to solve “the problem of combining progress with political stability.” , vegetarian ascetic Rule ; mandatory annual one-week solitary ramble in the wilderness ; social theory of Utopia, four “main classes of mind”: The Poietic, the Kinetic, the Dull, and the Base ; Economics – The world shares the same language, coinage, customs, and laws, and freedom of movement is general. Some personal property is allowed, but “all natural sources of force, and indeed all strictly natural products” are “inalienably vested in the local authorities” occupying “areas as large sometimes as half England.” The World State is “the sole landowner of the earth.” Units of currency are based on units of energy, so that “employment would constantly shift into the areas where energy was cheap.” Humanity has been almost entirely liberated from the need for physical labor: “There appears to be no limit to the invasion of life by the machine.”

‘Men Like Gods’ (1923) – Parallel World named Utopia. “Our education is our government,” a Utopian named Lion says (men like gods 1923), set apx. 3,000 years in our technological future on a parallel world ; Several characters in the novel are directly taken from the politics of the 1920s. Rupert Catskill probably represents Winston Churchill, as he was seen at that time: a reckless adventurer. Catskill is depicted as a reactionary ideologue, criticises Utopia for its apparent decadence, and leads the attempted conquest of Utopia. ; Earthlings are quarantined on a rocky crag after infections they have brought cause a brief epidemic in Utopia. There they begin to plot the conquest of Utopia, despite Mr. Barnstaple’s protests. He betrays them when his fellows try to take two Utopians hostage, forcing Mr. Barnstaple to escape execution for treason by fleeing perilously. ; Life in Utopia is governed by “the Five Principles of Liberty,” which are privacy, free movement, unlimited knowledge, truthfulness and free discussion (allowing criticism).

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Island  –  Novel by Aldous Huxley

Island is the final book in a series of utopian science-fiction commentaries by polymath Aldous Huxley, published in 1962. It advocates peaceful harmonious living with Nature in a blending satire of Eastern and Western ideologies and traditional ways of life. The plot is an exploration of the Island of Pala by an outsider named Will Farnaby, a cynical journalist who is shipwrecked on the utopian island of Pala. The main conflict is internal corruption by foreign greed, as Pala is confronted by modern commercial Capitalism.

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Dwarven Noble Ranger

Posted in Fictional Characters, Roleplaying / Reenacting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2012 by Drogo

Lord Drogo Fyrvolken of the Old Forest Dwarven Rangers

Middle Earth Fantasy Roleplay

 

 

 

JRR Tolkien and War

Posted in Book Reports, Medieval Tavern, Memorials / Obituaries / Epitaphs, SCOD Fallout Projects, Spiritual with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2009 by eposognatus

While war and glory often go hand-in-hand in fantasy, the reality is – as Tolkien knew far too well himself – vastly different. We have the great fortune to be able to pursue our recreation in peace and without fear of true harm, but let us not forget that the weapons we may carry and their manner of use were devised not for fun, but for brutal and efficient killing. Few who walk upon the field of glory find it, and many do not walk back off at all.

“Wars are always lost, and War always goes on…” -J.R.R. Tolkien

“[Sam] was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil at heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace.” -Ibid