Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tolkien Open Thread

Houseguests, deadlines, Halloween costumes, unfathomable amounts of grading, and moving my wife's business have all led to me being unable to post much the last week. NEVERTHELESS, the Tolkien thread has been going strong in my absence.

So, I offer for your commenting pleasure a Tolkien open thread. You can say whatever you want here (within reason -- here's Da Rulz), just so long as it's about Tolkien. Don't say I never did nuttin' for da peoples.*

*Quoted from that famed philosopher, Strongbad.


  1. How about the issue of generational appeal?

    I'd guess that a lot of people who really like Tolkien read Tolkien first as teens. (Plenty of exceptions, of course.) People who didn't had some other fiction (maybe a movie) that took the emotional place where others put Tolkien and had no need for Tolkien. They are bored stiff by Tolkien, by and large.

    Me, I like the Harry Potter movies but the books have no real appeal for me. Millions of younger people would disagee vehemently.

  2. Anonymous3:22 PM

    I think that that's primarily a comment about reading in adolescence, and thus something that applies to lots of other writers who have devoted fans (Lovecraft, for example).

    What would be interesting to know is if there are authors who have devoted fans, the great majority of whom read their books first as adults?

    My guess is that there are many authors who are highly esteemed who are typically first read when the reader is adult or (college undergrad) nominally adult, such as Dante, but these are authors who are not loved quite the way authors are loved who are typically first read in adolescence.

    As for people who first read Tolkien as adults not being taken with his books, I'd say that The Lord of the Rings won a great many readers who were adults when the books first came out; however, those readers probably had favorites from adolescence about which they felt differently than they felt about Tolkien.

    In short, the fact that many of Tolkien's readers first read his books in adolescence doesn't mean that the books are "adolescent in their appeal" in some way that is to their discredit.

  3. Anonymous4:26 PM

    In response to Dan:

    I think that Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin books have a large, devoted, and mostly adult following. This may have something to do with adolescent memories of C. S. Forester's Hornblower novels. But O'Brian's books are also smart, funny, and terribly addictive.

    On Tolkien:
    I would like to bring up the issue of Tolkien and race. I recently posted the following on my blog to students who are taking my class on Tolkien and the Middle Ages:

    As we approach the end of our discussion on LOTR, we should address directly a matter that we have touched on already: how do we read race in Tolkien?

    From his letters, we know that he strongly objected to what he called “racialism,” but what sorts of racial assumptions are implicit in the world that he has built? Some critics have given him credit for creating a “multi-cultural” alliance, but what of those orcs (an irredeemable race), the “squint-eyed and sallow-faced” ruffians, the swarthy southerners and easterlings who serve Mordor, and the inherent virtue of the bloodlines of Westernesse?

    Yes, I know that he was working from medieval sources that do not treat questions of race as we do, but can we really let him off the hook for this when we are ready to accept the anachronistically bourgeois and English hobbits, the soldier-speech of the orcs, and the fascist undertones of Saruman’s discourse? Can he have it both ways? And can we really accept this world as an allegorization of good vs. evil when Tolkien himself so strenuously objected to allegory? And even if accept the presence of allegory, are we really so ready to accept a racial typology for good and evil?

    The point here is not to condemn or redeem Tolkien, but rather to contemplate seriously the racial paradigm that we accept if we read this book uncritically.
    (You can see the original at jvhalbrooks.wordpress.com)

  4. Another generational comment. Interesting how certain kinds of books written for adults end up being children's classics? (For instance, Carroll's Alice books.)

    Presumably because adult fans hand them to kids, saying, "you might really like this."

    This of course leads some people to dismiss the books later as "kids' books."

    How many who do so are secretly ashamed to admit how much those books once meant to them?

  5. Anonymous8:59 PM

    On Tolkien and the adolescent appeal issue: Unlike sentient teenage loves, Tolkien will never break your heart! (and, should you feel the need, you get to dump him....or let him down gently)

  6. For a look at how The Lord of the Rings might influence a post apocolyptic society, take a look at SM Stirling's Dies the Fire, The Protector's War, and A Meeting at Corvallis. One of the characters in the trilogy is a hard case Tolkien fan, and goes so far as to create her own version of the Dunedain.

    It is also good for Arthurania, with Michael Havel (Lord Bear) taking the role of Uther Pendragon, and his son by Juniper Mackenzie (Herself Herself), Rudi Mackenzie the role of Arthur Pendragon.

    For further fun a few Celtic Gods make brief appearances.

    BTW, Steve is working on a follow trilogy set in the Emberverse

  7. I wrote up a reply to John Halbrooks on Tolkien and racism, but it grew too large and quote-heavy to put in these comments, so I posted it here.

  8. There are many who say the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons owes a lot to The Lord of the Rings. At the site linked here we see what happens when The Lord of the Rings is run as a D&D game. (Yes, D&D players are often like that.)