Tolkien Internet Nerd Pedantry

edited September 2010 in Story Games
Howdy Folks!

Over on the "wtf Scottish Dwarves?" thread, Dr. Tolkien came up (obviously), and considering Tolkien's lasting influence on what many gamers (and everybody else) considers fantasy these days, I thought a thread specifically for getting into the nitty gritty about Tolkien's works, influences, et cetera would be fun.

Tolkien led to my love of historical linguistics and directly contributed to my interest in and knowledge of Germanic folklore and myths. He also came up with one of my favorite ways of thinking about fantasy and other speculative literature, which is the notion of "applicability".

Basically, after Lord of the Rings came out, lots of folks were like "oh, okay, so Sauron = Nazis (/communists/whoever) and the Ring = Aerial Bombing (/nuclear weapons/whatever)". But Tolkien came out and said something like "I'm not really into one for one allegories, I much prefer for a story to have 'applicability'". What he meant here was that the nature of evil and the use of force and warfare and so forth as presented in LoTR provides some useful insight into those real world situations, and certainly the real world events influenced him when writing it, but that the story is way more interesting and useful because it's not just a real world story dressed up in fantasy clothes, rather the fantastic elements can just as easily affect our thinking these days about evil/force/warfare and so on.

So! If you have favorite pedantic Tolkien topics to get into, or if you want to talk some more about applicability, jump on in, the water's fine!

(as a note, let's play nice here. I know this is near and dear to a lot of people's hearts, and that a lot of folks also have equally negative feelings for Tolkien, but I love how easy it is to have reasonable discussions on SG even when disagreeing)
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Comments

  • Does this relate at all to play?
  • Hey, Jeff!
    Two things:
    1 - the "movie cover" edition of the LotR trilogy (any of the books, that is) has an interesting foreword talking about how Tolkien was pointing at the ills of industrialization through the series. I don't think that's the only thing going on, but it certainly applies.
    2 - the Balrog was man-sized, more a creature of shadow and darkness than fire; certainly it was not the megabeast it was portrayed to be in the films/everywhere. I think the megabeast is pretty cool, mind you, but a friend of mine insisted I read its intro passage, and sure enough, it does sound a bit... different from what I'd been accustomed to seeing.

    As far as applicability is concerned, I think there's an interesting theme running through LotR about the risks of, and attempt to eliminate, dominating power (as opposed to mere efficacy or excellence). Whenever anybody asks, "Why doesn't Gandalf just call the eagles and fly the ring to Mount Doom?", the standard "the eagles are busy, and Gandalf'd get corrupted" argument doesn't always satisfy. I think it's important to look at how, consistently, the message we can draw from the One Ring is that domination-style power is far too insidious to be trusted to any but the stoutest hearts, and even then it must ultimately be thrown away, done away with so it can't be used for that purpose any longer.

    Gandalf has a sort of Einstein quality to him, in that he knows a great deal about the Ring but dare not wield it himself - the hobbits he recruits are the "ideal soldier" type in that they are too wary of using the Ring to use it frivolously (most of the time).

    It's interesting how quickly most items of power become tainted by Sauron, as well - innocent curiosity on the part of Pippin with the Palantir is spurred on by its desire to be used (creepy!) and by Sauron's infiltration of it, such that he can see what it sees (also creepy). To tie together anti-industry and anti-power, Saruman turns away from nature and the Ents around the same time that he becomes Saruman the Multi-Colored, starts trying to appease Sauron, etc.

    I gotta say, though - did early readers of Tolkien guess in large numbers that Saruman was "Sauron's Man"?
    And has anyone else ever been told that "Samwise" means "semi-wise" or "half-wit"?
  • Posted By: Zac in Davis
    Saruman..."Sauron's Man"
    Whoa!
  • My favorite "Tolkien Pedantry" topic is definitely that of Secondary Worlds (from On Fairy Stories).

    You make your world coherent and consistent with itself, breathing and alive. You do not have to describe or create every single detail from it. Jeez, you do not even have to know every single thing yourself as an author! (For example, not even Tolkien knew what happened to the Entwives.)

    The point is that the world is credible, and works well within its own internal rules. You feel it real, whether said rules are "realistic" or not, regarding our own real (Primary) World. Compare to the Suspension of Disbelieve, where you are willingly "forgiving" the creator for doing "unrealistic" stuff. But then it is, by definition, impossible to believe that the created world could be real in some way.

    Tolkien world is not complex because he was a pedantic and overly creative scholar. It is complex because he spent (literally) years discovering and developing his sub-creation. Because he took a lot of pleasure in making a world that could evolve "by itself" causally and organically.

    In my opinion, good fictional worlds are those that are treated as Secondary Worlds from the beginning. Whatever the media you are in, if the world breaths and changes coherently and purposefully, the environment itself becomes a character on its own right. Books, movies and (specially) role-playing games usually benefit a lot from this approach, because knowing and exploring said Secondary World becomes a fun and deep exercise.
  • Ok, I can connect this to play, Ry:

    Has anyone ever attempted a LotR game design? For that matter, which existing games have you played, and what elements of the fiction do you think they did or didn't capture well?
    I haven't attempted such a design, myself, but I think the ccg Middle Earth (and its various expansions) captured the feel of the fiction quite well, indeed. The emphasis on preserving one's characters against corruption, and that corruption flying at them from many angles (sensuality, loss of hope, sorcery, even flight into wilderness!) was particularly fascinating, as it's rare that a fantasy epic spends so much time on staying true to the mission.
    The fact that one had an avatar, either a Wizard or a Ringwraith, was neat, but the balance of great power and preciousness (you lose your avatar, you lose the game) was even cooler. The limited movement of Ringwraiths, combined with a poor "fix" indeed (specific cards let the 'wraith enter different forms, like Black Rider, for temporary expanded movement abilities), wasn't too exciting, but that was one of few flaws in an otherwise really solid, colorful game.
    Not sure, exactly, what kind of RPG significance I might draw from it, but definitely getting the setting "right" (as opposed to the films, where the world is a thinly-populated series of forts and strongholds) would be excellent.

    One criticism I've had of past RPG versions of LotR is the insistence on having something-like-a-wizard be just another character class. It'd be pretty cool to have a larger-than-life, semi-GM figure in a Wizard, and the other players portray mortal heroes (and elves) or twisted servants of the Dark One. Come to think of it, I think the whole "second act = tragedy" motif in Fellowship would find decent representation in a design I'm working on for Game Chef - - the Doldrums.
  • Posted By: Zac in DavisHas anyone ever attempted a LotR game design?
    The game I'm working on, Final Hour of a Storied Age, is an attempt to achieve epic fantasy plot structures in a story game, and LOTR is a strong influence (a lot of the initial design was done by trying to reverse engineer LOTR).
  • The thing that calls out to me about LotR as a playable thing is the way to represent addiction. The official game got it exactly, perfectly wrong: it gave penalties for using the Ring. What the Ring does is grant your wish, right? Hobbitses want to have q home under the ground and eat wriggly fishes, right? You got it. You want to be High King? Easy peasy. You want your father's respect? No sweat. Cuz sooner or later, you'll stumble ( the Ring will make sure) and then it'll be that much closer to Sauron's finger. But the first thing it does is start to make your wishes come true. Sauron's not the bald-faced sort of liar. He's the plausible sort, instead. He can afford to be. He's patient.

    So I say make it so you want to put on the ring. Make it give you powers that you come to need. Make it he urban air conditioning of the Third Age: everything goes OK as long as you keep the ring around.

  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanThe thing that calls out to me about LotR as a playable thing is the way to represent addiction.
    I think you've got a good handle on the backstory of the Ring, but it doesn't strike me as a good take on the story of LotR.
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: imagehans chung-ottersonPosted By: Zac in Davis
    Saruman..."Sauron's Man"
    imageWhoa!

    Hey Zac, how bout a spoiler alert before you drop a bomb like that on Roast Beef?! Geez.
  • I started a thread about eucatastrophe and gaming that got almost zero interest. Its hard to talk about Tolkien and not talk about the eucatastrophe and what it means in fantasy. This is coming from someone more familiar with Tolkien's writings on fantasy and Beowulf than with LotR. Of course than we get into his views on the relationship between Christianity and fantasy...
  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanSo I say make it so youwantto put on the ring. Make it give you powers that you come to need.
    Sounds like Corruption in Burning Wheel. And BW hits all the LOTR racial tropes.

    I'd just burn up LOTR and make sure the Beliefs hit hard around the Ring, and its magic is--I'd have to check what type--with Corruption attached (i.e. the second you use it, you gain that Emotional Attribute (at 1; at whatever it would be based on its Questions?). Then you'd just have to tweak the Corruption scale so gaining it doesn't require being a TOTAL bastard freak (e.g. some of the "Summon X" advancement stuff would need LOTR-appropriate replacements or equivalents).

    Seems straight-forward enough to me. Thoughts?
  • Ry, the connection is tenuous, yes, but as I said in the OP, given Tolkien's pervasive influence on fantasy, and especially fantasy gaming, I think digging into the deeper stuff in the books can and should contribute to play beyond "you can be a hobb. . . err, halfling, which means you're good at being a thief and throwing rocks."

    Joshua, I agree that that's a really interesting thing to explore. I wonder if there would be a way to mechanize a sort of 'antagonization" where your character keeps getting what he wants from the ring, but he slips into being the sort of person the heroic types (presumably the other players) are opposing. With Samwise Gamgee being like a 1, Frodo right before Mt Doom like a 6 or 7, and Gollum being a 10 on the "your addiction to the ring has turned you against what you used to believe in" scale.

    Nolan, I read that thread, but I'm sorry for not responding! Eucatastrophe is an interesting concept, but one I didn't have anything useful and game-related to say about at the time. It's a concept that works great in fiction, but I dunno about in collaborative fiction without it coming off as either 'okay, the GM saved us. Whoo.' or else a random event with no guarantee of significance (like you draw cards in dramatic situations and maybe it's good, maybe it's bad, but there's not guarantee you get the awesome good event-changing upheaval at the most dramatically appropriate moment).
  • If you haven't heard him yet, you might enjoy the podcast lectures of The Tolkien Professor.

    Here's a (rough and skewed) take on The One Ring in D&D 4E terms. I'm not crazy about it, but maybe it's amusing.

    Cheers,
    Will
  • I made some blog posts earlier this year about Tolkien and gaming.

    Here they are.
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: RyDoes this relate at all to play?
    I'll relate Tolkien and allegory to game play...

    Tolkien uses allegory all the time in Middle Earth. But he does so by breaking up the allegorical events, assigning them to different characters, and changing the details.

    As the most obvious example, the scriptural story of Jesus is heavily woven into Middle Earth. (Spoilers ahead for this paragraph.) Jesus defeats demons, suffers by bearing others' evil, dies and is reborn with greater authority, visits the land of the dead to set captives free, and becomes ruler because he is the rightful king. Gandalf is given two of these events: fighting the balrog and dying then being reborn. Frodo bears another's evil. Aragorn visits the land of the dead and becomes the rightful king. By divvying out allegorical activities in this manner Tolkien keeps his story from being heavy-handed with its Christian influences.

    (Tangentially, for me the biggest flaw in the movies was making Denethor so dispicable. In the books he is not that bad a ruler: Aragorn gets to become king because he is the rightful king, not because the steward needs urgent replacing. But I suppose the concept of a rightful king is now too strange for general ears.)

    In our story games, we can construct strong and emotional stories with allegory. What we can learn from Tolkien is how to do so with careful brush strokes that are both definite and subtle.
  • I wonder if Tolkien can't serve as an example of the law of diminishing returns. You read The Hobbit as a child and your sense of wonder and love of language is sparked, and then you read The Lord of the Rings as an adolescent and YOUR MIND IS BLOWN with the detail and epic scope, and then you read The Silmarillion as an adult and you think, wow, this guy really put a lot of work into his imaginary world, and then you read Unfinished Tales and you think it's no wonder they're unfinished, even Tolkien was bored by then.... And then you figure that you might as well learn about Tolkien's sources as learning about Middle-Earth, and you find out that history and legend are, inevitably, better than 'one man become the creative equivalent of a people'.

    To me, Tolkien was like the ladder you climb up and then throw away.
  • Wow, Jeff, that exactly pegs my progression.
  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanThe thing that calls out to me about LotR as a playable thing is the way to represent addiction. The official game got it exactly, perfectly wrong: it gave penalties for using the Ring. What the Ring does is grant your wish, right? Hobbitses want to have q home under the ground and eat wriggly fishes, right? You got it. You want to be High King? Easy peasy. You want your father's respect? No sweat. Cuz sooner or later, you'll stumble ( the Ring will make sure) and then it'll be that much closer to Sauron's finger. But the first thing it does is start to make your wishes come true. Sauron's not the bald-faced sort of liar. He's the plausible sort, instead. He can afford to be. He's patient.So I say make it so youwantto put on the ring. Make it give you powers that you come to need. Make it he urban air conditioning of the Third Age: everything goes OK as long as you keep the ring around.
    This is a definite truth. The ring is a shortcut to power and wish fulfillment, but of course it all turns to dust on you after you start getting what you want. All the magic in Tolkien is tainted. Many people think of Middle Earth as a high magic setting, but it's not. Magic is very rare. There are a mere handful of true badass magic users in the game and they seem to struggle with street-level magic. Spells are mostly effective on a higher plane. Sauron can look across the miles with his evil eye, but he can't even mind control the orcs at the base of his tower. Gandalf can stand up to a Balrog, but sometimes he can't make a fire or open a magic door. Almost all magic items are extremely rare and of questionable use (powerful but treacherous or unpredictable). RE's Sorcerer and Sword might be the best way to emulate Tokien fantasy. Just make all magic items a sort of wish-fulfilling demon.
  • Troy said:
    Almost all magic items are extremely rare and of questionable use (powerful but treacherous or unpredictable).
    I think that's generally true, but it's interesting that magic swords are reliable, stable, and useful. Sting is a good example.
  • Posted By: Zac in Davis
    Has anyone ever attempted a LotR game design?
    Burning Wheel?
  • Posted By: DavidVSTolkien uses allegory all the time in Middle Earth. But he does so by breaking up the allegorical events, assigning them to different characters, and changing the details.
    Tolkien would vehemently disagree. He pretty much disliked allegory and most of his work avoided it like the plague.

    Allegory is when there is a lesson behind things. Once you "get" the lesson, the story looses most of its traction. You go all "a-ha! that's what it means" and therefore every time you see said character or someone mentions said event, you recall your "a-ha" moment and relate it to what you "discovered". And so you start missing all the little subtleties. "A-ha! Gandalf = Jesus" would make it difficult for you to think outside of the box. You start dissecting the story and loose the whole picture. (You start analyzing the sand grains and loose the whole beach experience.)

    Now, applicability, on the other hand... Re-read the first post in this thread. That's more like what you are going after.
    Posted By: droogI wonder if Tolkien can't serve as an example of the law of diminishing returns. You readThe Hobbitas a child and your sense of wonder and love of language is sparked, and then you readThe Lord of the Ringsas an adolescent and YOUR MIND IS BLOWN with the detail and epic scope, and then you readThe Silmarillionas an adult and you think, wow, this guy really put a lot of work into his imaginary world, and then you readUnfinished Talesand you think it's no wonder they're unfinished, even Tolkien was bored by then...
    I disagree. Tolkien was not bored. His world just became too complex and "alive", even for him. As a creator I can relate to that. It is not that he lost interest. He kept going back over and over again to his old unfinished stories because he kept perfecting them, relinking them to each other and had a clearer mind of the whole picture. His writings were a perpetual work in progress. It was lack of time, not lack of interest.

    About seeing him as a ladder to throw away... Well, that is subjective. Some people might want to throw it away. Some might keep appreciating him more and more.
  • I'm really getting my nerd pedantry on for this.

    @Zac

    In Middle-earth there is magic and then there is magic. What the Elves did when they made swords wasnt at all magical it was craft that they knew that no other beings did.
  • Posted By: jprussell"you can be a hobb. . . err, halfling, which means you're good at being a thief and throwing rocks."
    It's always cracked me up that halflings make good thieves in D&D just because Bilbo stole a cup once.
  • @Vernon: fair point! I did always like that about elves.

    @Marshall: well, they are really good at being quiet, but there's a difference between being sneaky and being an actual stealer of things, fair.
  • FWIW, the LOTR Onliine game doesn't have thieves or rogues, it has Burglars... which is what the dwarves were literally seeking in the Shire in The Hobbit--hobbits being famous as such, though I can't now recall how that was explicated in the text.
  • This thread seemed too sprawling and unfocused to possibly participate in ... but then there were a bunch of comments I wanted to argue with. Hurrah for internet pedantry!

    Tolkien vs Jesus
    I don't think Tolkien wove the stories of the New Testament into his writing (despite being a hardcore Christian). I think he was drawing inspiration from the same Western European myths that the authors of the Gospels were drawing on. Or, at least, the later authors. So Gandalf didn't fight demons, die and come back because Jesus did that stuff, he did it because that's something that happens in western myths.

    (Although, David, I totally agree that making Denethor a mean old crazy was a lame choice for the movies. Which is weird, because I thought Peter Jackson mostly gave the audience a LOT of credit for being smart enough to handle complexity of both plot and character, for the most part.)

    Tolkien as Starter Mythology to Be Abandoned
    For me, I don't think that holds true at all. I love the the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings more than I love simply reading the myths or folktales that those books were so heavily informed by. Mostly because Tolkien's books are novels, so they were meant to be read and enjoyed by modern readers.

    Halflings as D&D Thieves Just Because Bilbo Stole a Cup Once
    Ha ha. Yes.

    Tying Play Into This Thread Somehow
    Sorry, too late. Although, for what it's worth, I agree that Burning Wheel is the game that took Tolkien's influences and did them in a way that is most true to the source material.
  • Posted By: David ArtmanBurglars... which is what the dwarves were literally seeking in the Shire in The Hobbit--hobbits being famous as such, though I can't now recall how that was explicated in the text.
    Hobbits weren't famous for that, Gandalf just told the dwarves that he was a famous burglar to ensure he went on the quest.
  • Posted By: Todd L
    Hey Zac, how bout a spoiler alert before you drop a bomb like that on Roast Beef?! Geez.
    I'm fairly sure that over a half-century after publication (not to mention two different filmed versions, released 32 years and 9 years ago) is well past the Statute of Limitations on "spoilers."
  • it turns out the chick's got a penis

  • I think an important part of the mythology is that "craft" is magic. Knowing secret methods of creation is a big part of the magic. Much like the idea of iron vs bronze. They know something from their long years that matters. If it is Dwarfs or Elves vs humans, or the Istari vs the Elves and Dwarfs and humans. Their is knowledge in studying things for a long time period and that makes a difference in the world.

    I think most of the magic from my perspective is in the world itself. The sun and the moon, the Silmarils, in things. Sure there is knowledge to be had. Secret lores that seem more spell casting like, but even then it may very well be knowledge based, on knowing the name of the wind, or being a friend to the animals.
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: GMSkarka
    I'm fairly sure that over a half-century after publication is well past the Statute of Limitations on "spoilers."

    As I recall, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 prolonged international spoiler protection (17 U.S.C. § 1138)...

    ...depending on whether the work in question was deemed to be Feeble, Poor, Typical... Amazing, Monsterous, Unearthly, etc.
    on the following Universal Table:

    image



    EDIT:
    Roast Beef dreads Spoilers.
  • Joshua, I agree that that's a really interesting thing to explore. I wonder if there would be a way to mechanize a sort of 'antagonization" where your character keeps getting what he wants from the ring, but he slips into being the sort of person the heroic types (presumably the other players) are opposing. With Samwise Gamgee being like a 1, Frodo right before Mt Doom like a 6 or 7, and Gollum being a 10 on the "your addiction to the ring has turned you against what you used to believe in" scale.

    I'd do something like this: you're perpetually in situations that you have, say, an 80% chance of succeeding in. Most of the time, you fail and get up again and whatever; it changes the circumstances, but isn't a big deal. Maybe your character changes from the experience, gaining scars physical and psychic. But when things look really bad, you can use the Ring to give you as many mechanical resources as you want. Let's say they're dice. The only catch is, every 1 is a die the Enemy gets to use against you whenever they feel like it. Naturally, they want to save them up until they're going to make a difference.

    ... and that 80% odds is based on how well you did last time, not this time. Next time, the Enemy is better prepared — after all, you put on the Ring.

    I think this would be best for a multigenerational thing. In the short term, you character maybe really can unite the World of Men under a single, just King. But the Ring whispers in the ears of his children at night, telling them both that they'll get it when he dies...

    So, I think when the Ring is active, it gets to talk to everyone who's involved with it. It gets to give them little resources, like, "I'm the heir of the Ring", which is worth one more die every time the Ring whispers to them, and one more die every time they pursue it, or whenever some tertiary player believes they've done something that gets them closer to having it.

    Hey, what happened to my post about Elves crafts just being ideal craftsmanship, not magic?

    Hm.

    Anyway, the gist was, the idea rope is the right length, doesn't give you blisters, knots easily but doesn't get tangled, etc. The idea cloak keeps you warm and dry and hides your presence. The ideal brooch is recognized by those whose esteem you want to have, and so forth. The Elves are ideal people. Their crafts are ideal crafts.

  • Posted By: Brian MinterThis thread seemed too sprawling and unfocused to possibly participate in ... but then there were a bunch of comments I wanted to argue with. Hurrah for internet pedantry!
    Ask and ye shall receive ;)

    Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanSo, I think when the Ring is active, it gets to talk to everyone who's involved with it. It gets to give them little resources, like, "I'm the heir of the Ring", which is worth one more die every time the Ring whispers to them, and one more die every time they pursue it, or whenever some tertiary player believes they've done something that gets them closer to having it.
    Are you picturing Dogs type traits here? I think I'm following in a general way, but I want to make sure I get the implications you're going for.

  • I disagree. Tolkien was not bored. His world just became too complex and "alive", even for him. As a creator I can relate to that. It is not that he lost interest. He kept going back over and over again to his old unfinished stories because he kept perfecting them, relinking them to each other and had a clearer mind of the whole picture. His writings were a perpetual work in progress. It was lack of time, not lack of interest.
    According to Tolkien's official biographer, Tolkien the writer was similar to Stephen King in his craft. He would simply start writing and see where the story took him. For example, when Strider was introduced into LOTR, Tolkien had no idea that this fellow was Aragon, Son of Arathorn and the Rightful King. He was a disreptuble-looking Ranger sitting and smoking. The King stuff developed later. There was no outline he was following. No great plan.

    I tend to use this method of writing myself, and it can be damned slow as you follow your characters into dead ends, frequently writing and rewriting as you try to fix the story. It took Tolkien 17 years to finish LOTR. There is a small mountain of his story notes in a university library in Wisconsin. He even wrote a short story called "Leaf by Niggle" that illustrates his love and frustration with his own work because of his niggling over the small details.

    Writing without an outline can also lead to some very long stories, as you can tell from LOTR and just about any of King's Novels. Tolkien died while writing the Silmarillion and it was finished by his son. The Unfinished Tales were those stories that he couldn't finish simply because he was dead and the Tolkien family wanted to make some more money by having them published.
  • Are you picturing Dogs type traits here? I think I'm following in a general way, but I want to make sure I get the implications you're going for.

    Sure! I mean, Traits in Dogs are pretty integrated into CR, and I don't have a picture of how CR would work here, but very broadly, yes.

    The point is that whoever owns the Ring (or, I suppose, is owned by it) has stuff they want to accomplish that can be, in theory, accomplished through their normal means, but they have a very real chance of catastrophic failure with world-shaking consequences. So then they have this thing that can make them less likely to fail at what they're doing because, simply by its use, it moves closer to its own objectives.

    The Ring is a totally tangible, totally real way of getting you what you want. It exacts its toll, just not necessarily from you, and not necessarily now.

    So, let's say Eowyn gets the Ring. She's having a fuck of a time uniting the World of Men — having the Ring around makes them divisive, but it's not like they're not divisive on their own. So she starts to wear the ring when she goes on diplomatic missions, which makes her appear bold, wise, beautiful, magnanimous, and, you know, noble. It makes her diplomatic missions go more smoothly. Let's say it increases her rolls by 15% when she's wearing the Ring, but permanently increases the difficulty of uniting divided people by 5%. It's a net gain in the short term, and her player has to know that unless she gets the Easterlings on her side, they'll join The Mouth of Sauron, who's no doubt offering a great deal, too.

    So it focuses more and more stuff on the Ringbearer because everywhere she goes, everything's more difficult for everyone but her.

    ... and everyone else can see that. Whoever's playing the Ring's interests is giving others temptations, like that they're the heir of the Ring, and when they take concrete action toward that (saving Eowyn from its influence or needing to resolve something she can't, for instance) they get to not only use the dice that have been offered, but they also accrue.

    I'd suggest that Sauron needs to be outsmartable, too: using the Ring doesn't damn you. It's risk you run, but the whole world is risky now. What value, after all, is my life when the world hangs in the balance? I'll sacrifice myself and put on the Ring to save the world!

  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: Vernon RI'm really getting my nerd pedantry on for this.

    @Zac

    In Middle-earth there is magic and then there is magic. What the Elves did when they made swords wasnt at all magical it was craft that they knew that no other beings did.
    And even good magic items usually brought about bad things. The Silmarils, for instance, caused a lot of strife. Narsil didn't cause anything bad, but it has a sad history. I think the most important thing is this:

    Generally, magic items in Tolkien bring out the worst in people (humans in particular). Greed, violence, hatred, etc. That seems to be a core theme of his fiction.

    Sting (and the swords the hobbits got out of the barrow wight's lair) being notable exceptions. Hobbits seem to get some resolve from weilding magic swords (dirks?) made by elves. :-)
  • In LoTR magic is neither uncommon nor dangerous.

    It's just not whiz-bang D&D magic. It's the extraordinary woven into the ordinary. Some people can do a little bit of it; elves can do lots. Walking on the tops of snowdrifts etc. It's probably about having a deeper understanding of/affinity for the song of creation.

    I can't recall an item other than the ring that affects the user's personality. Greed for the wealth and power such things represent, maybe. Westernesse swords and cloaks of Lorien seem to be perfectly practical and obedient.
  • Posted By: Tim GrayIn LoTR magic is neither uncommon nor dangerous.

    It's just not whiz-bang D&D magic. It's the extraordinary woven into the ordinary. Some people can do a little bit of it; elves can do lots. Walking on the tops of snowdrifts etc. It's probably about having a deeper understanding of/affinity for the song of creation.

    I can't recall an item other than the ring that affects the user's personality. Greed for the wealth and power such things represent, maybe. Westernesse swords and cloaks of Lorien seem to be perfectly practical and obedient.
    Hmmm. Discounting the movies, my instinct is to disagree. Just because the main characters brush up against magic regularly doesn't make it common.

    In any case, we agree that it isn't as magic-laden as D&D where ever-burning torches and bags of holding can be picked up at the corner 7-eleven.

    Thinking about it more though, maybe you are right about the particular character of magic items. Maybe I am reading too much into them. At the very least though, they are the "guns on the street." Magic items seem to be at the center of any trouble in the world. One of the "ouch factors" of eliminating Sauron, you will note, is that the Elves and magic depart from Middle Earth at the end of the Third Age. Going forward it's the age of man and mundane things.
  • Posted By: Keith SearsIt took Tolkien 17 years to finish LOTR. There is a small mountain of his story notes in a university library in Wisconsin. He even wrote a short story called "Leaf by Niggle" that illustrates his love and frustration with his own work because of his niggling over the small details.
    Let it be noted that this story is pretty much the only allegory he ever intentionally wrote.
  • Right. If Tolkien's work is allegory, it is not by design or intention. I think it is more likely that it is allegory in the sense that any epic tale is. One can't help but put one's own view of the universe into an extended story. By design, a writer might use a world-view other than his own (e.g. what if "assassin" was a noble profession and cunning was a universally prized trait?). That isn't what Tolkien did. He didn't intentionally put a message into LotR, so the messages that are there are honest by-products of things Tolkien actually believed, thought, internalized. It's critical, though, to realize that the READER also projects things onto the story. So when one of us says LotR is "about" or contains allegory "about," that "about-ness" may say more about what we believe or don't believe than what Tolkien actually thought.

    Example (and a controversial one), think of all the things modern Christians project onto the Bible. If Christians really wanted to live like Christ they would pool their money into a communal purse and practice a sort of Socialism. But many sects of modern Christianity believe the Bible has a "Doctrine of Affluence" built into it that says it's okay to be rich. The argument goes that God made Christians stewards of lots of money so they could judiciously dole it out to others and so that non-Christians would see the benefits of being Christian. (Yeah, I have actually heard that one coming from multiple "leaders" within Christian communities. I grew up in a Fundamentalist world.) This belief selectively ignores contradictory elements in the Bible (It's harder for a rich man to get into heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle).

    So. Don't take Tolkien too literally. If he doesn't come out and say something directly, you have to be careful about what you assume he believes. Check practices in his own life. If he was a racist or sexist in his own life, then I think you can say that the LotR reflects what he believed and practices personally. Otherwise, I think you might be either seeing phantoms that aren't there, specters projected from your own mind, or some form of unintentional message that crept in from the skewed beliefs of an entire culture (1940's and 50's England). People aren't all that good at excising bits of themselves that were formed from growing up in a particular place and time.

    One place where I think Tolkien is overt. In the Hobbit (I think) he mentions that goblins are responsible for a lot of the implements of destruction that we have now ... explosives and guns are implied. I took this as a sort of general disgust with technology, especially as it is used in waging war.
  • Posted By: docholaday(It's harder for a rich man to get into heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle).
    True, although, I think almost anyone living in a developed country these days would qualify as a "rich man" in the eyes of this verse. The following verses illustrate what I see as the real point "And when the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, Who then can be saved? And looking upon them, Jesus said to them, With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." I have not heard of this "Doctrine of Affluence" before, it certainly explains a lot.

    One place where I think Tolkien is overt. In the Hobbit (I think) he mentions that goblins are responsible for a lot of the implements of destruction that we have now ... explosives and guns are implied. I took this as a sort of general disgust with technology, especially as it is used in waging war.
    From the Hobbit, on goblins (I had this handy from an IM status message, not like I looked it up):
    "It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them, and also not working with their hands more than they could help; but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far."
  • Yeah, that's the quote I was thinking of. Thanks for looking it up and posting it.
  • My beef with Tolkein is that all the women in his fiction are not particularly interesting characters - they're generally princess or big fuck-off spiders. You can relate all this to Freudian theory - the idealised woman versus the denigrated.

    Also he sets up Manichean dualities between good and evil. I don't see the books as allegory, rather a psychic regression to a Shire-like state.

    (Apologies - I've spent the day reading Freudian theory for my dissertation. However, Ursula le Guin's Earthsea books are so much better than Tolkein. There is a real evolution in her Earthsea writings)
  • Sure. If you want to say that le Guin is a more enlightened individual when it comes to women and the sexes in general, I ain't going to argue with you. It's true. Look at Left Hand of Darkness. Wow. Good book. I love Earthsea too. I don't take this as a criticism of Tolkien, though.

    Le Guin was a woman born in 1929 in Berkely California. Tolkien was a man born nearly 40 years earlier (1892) in South Africa and raised in England.

    That's like saying an African American born in Montreal in the 1980's is less racist than a "White" American born Alabama in the 1940's. It's not a fair comparison.
  • P.S. That was supposed to be hyperbole by way of bad humor. I'm not trying to start an argument or contradict what you are saying, Magus. I agree. Tolkien's female characters are cardboard scenery at best. (Galadriel being a possible exception.)
  • Posted By: The MagusMy beef with Tolkein is that all the women in his fiction are not particularly interesting characters - they're generally princess or big fuck-off spiders. You can relate all this to Freudian theory - the idealised woman versus the denigrated.

    Also he sets up Manichean dualities between good and evil. I don't see the books as allegory, rather a psychic regression to a Shire-like state.

    (Apologies - I've spent the day reading Freudian theory for my dissertation. However, Ursula le Guin's Earthsea books are so much better than Tolkein. There is a real evolution in her Earthsea writings)
    I beg to differ. To me, Galadriel, Eowyn and Luthien are three of the most interesting characters in his whole legendarium. Far from "cardboard" characters, if you take a careful look at their respective stories.

    There are a lot more male characters in his writtings, granted. Le Guin has a better grasp on his sex, for sure. And he could have worked more on them. But to say they are either idealized or denigrated is sort of a shallow take on them.
  • I dunno, I recently tried to introduce my fantasy-loving son to "A Wizard of Earthsea" and he didn't like it, so I re-read it and it was like, "here comes the good part... no... maybe it was a little further..."
    Also, there are no interesting females in the first book, although Le Guin more than makes up for it in the later volumes.

    Magus, do you see that much Freudian thematics in the Lord of the Rings? I read this book, "The Individuated Hobbit", a long time ago and ever since I've had it fixed in my mind as straight-up Jungian archetypes.
  • I appreciate that Tolkein and Le Guin are of different generations but their writings both came to the fore in the Sixties, perhaps capturing the zeitgeist. I'm not going to enter a debate about people being the product of their times but much more revolutionary work was written by people born well before Tolkein (Gulliver's Travels being a prime example).

    In terms of Freudian explication I could go on for hours:
    "The Ring" - could be seen as a feminine symbol (receptive) and is ultimately seductive. True, there is a vast canon of literature on the symbolism of Rings so you could have endless discussionover this. I admit my interpretation is rather pat.
    "Hobbits" - basically child-sized, representative of innocence. Frodo and Bilbo ultimately leave the Shire as a result of their "knowing"
    Gollum, Frodo, Sam - Id, Ego, Superego
    I always see Aragorn as Hal in Henry IV Pt I

    DannyK, I don't think archetypal symbology is amiss when looking at Tolkein either. It is another useful avenue. I loved Tolkein as a 12 year old. My last real contact with him was watching Return of the King a few years ago (in my thirties) and it bored me to tears. The highlight was getting up and going to the toilet
  • Posted By: TristanI beg to differ. To me, Galadriel, Eowyn and Luthien are three of the most interesting characters in his whole legendarium.
    I didn't think of Luthien. I wasn't considering the Silmarillion in my statements. Eowyn, maybe. She is a good character but a bit stereotypical. (The woman who wants to fight like a man, in love with someone she can't have.) Not bad, but not on the same par for me as Galadriel. G is both empowered and feminine. Dangerously seductive, she keeps her own council and, at one point, holds the outcome of events in the balance. She's a pretty strong character, even if she only really occupies a chapter or two.

    As for Freudian interpretation of Tolkien. It's too easy and it's an oversimplification. Not to mention the fact that it makes him even more sexist than he really is. Maybe I'm just burned out on Freudian interpretation of literature though. I got endless amounts of that in grad school.
  • edited November 2010
    Posted By: docholadayEowyn, maybe. She is a good character but a bit stereotypical. (The woman who wants to fight like a man, in love with someone she can't have.)
    At first, perhaps. But in the end her character is all about empowerment and acceptance. And no, there isn't anything sexist in there. (To understand why I say that, listen to this podcast episode. Really! The Tolkien Professor podcast is pure gold.)
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