Re-reading The Lord of the Rings: chapter by chapter

Venusian Broon

Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
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#61
Well I didn't even know that there were extended versions. I've just ordered the LOTR extended set. Many thanks!
Also there are many,many hours (honestly I have no idea how many) of extra documentaries that take you through all elements of the all three films, from looking at Tolkien's life to how they put the screenplay together, props, set design...

Then I've forgotten how many commentaries, there is Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens - all the writers taking you through it all, and a big cast one, but there's also ones contributed from the design team. And I'm sure others.

It's a BIG time sink, trust me :p;)
 

The Big Peat

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#62
Also I couldn't, even as an 11 year old, understand why Faramir seemed immune to the ring but Boromir succumbed. I suppose he was with the fellowship much longer, so it had much more time to turn him? The film certainly turns this one around.
Ah - that's one easy to my mind. The Ring calls to people's need to be powerful, to be great, to dominate. A relatively humble and wise man like Faramir was far less susceptible to that than Boromir, the great warrior who'd rule the greatest realm of man. It's why the highly pastoral and down to earth hobbits were far less susceptible to it than the great and mighty of Middle Earth; its also why Frodo offering the right to Galadriel and her being able to turn it down was such a big deal for her.

My suspicion is that to really get the most out of LOTR, as with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you either have to read it at a certain age or at a certain time. I have no real grudge against either, but I don't dig them the way some people do.
Somewhat trite and incredibly pedantic, but what isn't that true of? They say fish and chips tastes best by the sea, because that's the place people think it best to eat it. I guess for things LotR and HHGttG, there's such a wide variance between what people get out of it that it's super true.
 

Extollager

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#65
My suspicion is that to really get the most out of LOTR, as with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you either have to read it at a certain age or at a certain time. I have no real grudge against either, but I don't dig them the way some people do.

That wouldn't hold up for a lot of readers. When LotR was first published and/or when it was released in paperback, it received quite a few appreciative reviews from mature readers such as W. H. Auden and Loren Eiseley, favorable reviews from the likes of the New York Times Book Review, Holiday, The New Republic, Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and so on. Edmund Wilson's review (I suppose for The New Yorker) is remembered for its condescending tone, but it seems to me it was, though not alone, probably in a minority. This is more an impression than a census of the reviews, though. My further impression is that it wasn't until it became a "campus craze" and associated with hippies, etc. that it came in for so much patronizing commentary.

Without doubt, LotR found many appreciative middle-aged readers. Today, though, especially with the movies and all, people who bother with the books at all are, I suppose, often youngsters, of whom some like it and some don't...
 

Extollager

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#66
My suspicion is that to really get the most out of LOTR, as with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you either have to read it at a certain age or at a certain time. I have no real grudge against either, but I don't dig them the way some people do.

You did say "at a certain age or at a certain time" -- as for the latter factor, I suppose the reviewers I mentioned "had to" read LotR at a time determined largely by their adult responsibilities and the deadline for their review.

But actually I don't entirely disagree with the comment.

It eventually reminded me of C. S. Lewis's remark about Spenser's Faerie Queene:

"Beyond all doubt it is best to have made one's first acquaintance with Spenser in a very large -- and, preferably, illustrated -- edition of The Faerie Queene, on a wet day, between the ages of twelve and sixteen, and if, even at that age, certain of the names aroused unidentified memories of some still earlier, some almost prehistoric, commerce with a selection of 'Stories from Spenser', heard before we could read, so much the better. [Those who have had this good fortune] will never have lost touch with the poet. His great book will have accompanied them year by year and grown up with them as books do; to the youthful appreciation of mere wonder-tale they will have added a critically sensuous enjoyment of the melodious stanza, to both these a historical understanding of its significance in English poetry as a whole, and an ever-increasing perception of its wisdom."

Those sentences fit my experience of LotR, to which also (with The Hobbit and The Little Grey Men) I'm indebted for some of my boyhood development of attentiveness to nature.

Here's something I posted a couple of years ago for a different thread:

I think Tolkien scholar John Rateliff gets closer than just about anyone to a key element in Tolkien's way of writing. I quote from an essay by him in TOLKIEN STUDIES #6.

Rateliff:

first I want to draw attention to Tolkien’s own description of how his prose works, of what he was trying to achieve. In one of the endnotes appended to “On Fairy-stories,” he includes the following revealing passage setting forth his narrative method, in which he makes clear his goal of writing in such a way as to draw in his readers, making them participate in the creation of the fictional world by encouraging them to draw on their own personal memories when reading one of his evocative passages:

[quoting Tolkien:]..... If a story says “he climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below,” the illustrator may catch, or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene; but every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and it will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but specially out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word. ....

Rateliff continues:

Tolkien’s contrast here of a single image presented to the passive viewer with the internal personalized visualization of a reader, who thus participates in the (sub)creation of the work, is of a piece with his championing, in the Foreword of the second edition to The Lord of the Rings, of what he calls applicability: his refusal to impose a single authorial or “allegorical” meaning on a work.8 I would argue that the style in which he chose to write, which he painstakingly developed over several decades until it reached its peak in The Hobbit and Farmer Giles of Ham and The Lord of the Rings and some of the late Silmarillion material, is deliberately crafted to spark reader participation. That many readers do get drawn in is witnessed by the intense investment so many people have in these books, the strong personal connection they form with the story, the almost visceral rejection of illustrations or dramatizations that do not fit their own inner vision of the characters, the returning to reread the books again and again to renew our acquaintance with the imaginary world.

[Rateliff quotes a Tolkien passage and a John Bellairs passage. He comments:]

note that in the passage from Tolkien, he does not describe every detail—what color were the rocks? who was on either side of Frodo as he sat huddled against the bitter cold? But Tolkien does tell us everything we need to know, in general terms with just enough specific detail to bring the scene home, to guide the reader’s imagination, to draw on our own memories of being cold and frozen, exhausted and miserable. We do not need to know what Frodo looked like, because we are looking through his eyes; too much detail would actually limit the applicability......

.....he often describes a scene not as you would experience it but as you would remember it afterwards. That is, his prose assumes the tone of things which have already happened, as they are stored in our memory. Thus the “walking bits,” which have so annoyed impatient readers who are only reading for the plot, do not in fact detail every day of Frodo’s year-long journey but instead are rendered down to a relatively few vivid images, such as would linger in the memory long after the event. After you have read these passages and think back on them, they very strongly resemble your actual memories of similar events (in fact, the very ones that provided the mental images that flashed through your mind when reading them) : a general recollection of where you were and what you were doing anchored by a few sharp, vivid, specific details that stand out. Thus the memory of reading the story gains the associations of events in the reader’s own life, because the one has already drawn upon the other.

See the discussion here:

Child-like fascination
 

Toby Frost

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#69
I think Lewis’ description is right. The fact that there is an ideal age for reading some books isn’t to suggest that those books are worse for it or that the reader has to be naïve or dim to really go for the book at that age. I first read Titus Groan when I was about 17 (having tried and failed to read it at 13) and I think I was ready for that sort of novel: its various factors all appealed. Their appeal hasn’t decreased, but now I’d be much more willing to accept that other people would legitimately not like it. I can enjoy Titus Groan and critically appreciate it, if you like, but I can’t quite enter its world as wholeheartedly as I would have done back then.

As to Tolkien’s merit as a writer of description, I can’t really comment except that I can think of better and worse writers. To be blunt, I don’t see him as a top-tier prose writer (for me, he’s an imaginer more than a novelist), but I also find it almost impossible to lay down “rules” of what constitutes great prose (my examples would not be much like other people’s, I suspect). The best I can come up with – for me – is that sense of agreeing with the author, of saying “Yes, that’s what it’s like” (or “would be like” in SFF), but authors vary in how they achieve this. One man’s “reader participation” may be another’s “not enough detail”, although I’m probably inclined towards the “participation” angle. I think it’s much easier to identify what’s downright bad than to decide whether something is “good” or “excellent”.

I am in the process of trying to write a book with a lot of walking and riding in it, and I agree with the approach in bold type: I’m not sure that another approach would work as well, provided that they genuinely are rendered down to a few vivid images.
 

Hugh

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#70
The Little Grey Men: Nice to see this mentioned. A wonderful book.
Re: The Little Grey Men

I read one of this series ("LGM go down the bright stream") a year or two ago for the first time. I was very struck by the descriptions of life at the water's edge.

As a child I loved a book by "BB" about a badger living on a barge, "The Wandering Wind", then a few years ago I tracked down a book that I had always wanted to finish (age eight) but had never got the chance, and could not remember the title, about three brothers who hide in a wood for a summer. I finally realised it was "Brendon Chase", and that it was also by BB. This made me curious about BB/Denys Watkins-Pitchford, hence my purchase of one of the Grey Men series.

Looking him up on Wikipedia, he seems to have been truly prolific, and must have influenced many. I see an excerpt from "The Little Grey Men" was read at Syd Barrett's funeral.
 

Hugh

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#74
Just to add - my childhood imagination was dominated by long summers on the Isle of Wight, walking the down at Compton and to the Long Stone by the barrow above Mottistone. Plenty of walks up the Kent Downs too. I doubt a deep resonance with hilly rural England is needed to appreciate the early part of the Fellowship of the Ring, but it certainly seems to help.
And I found that the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival was held just behind Compton Down. The site was instantly recognisable by both my wife and I, even though we were only there briefly (and separately).
 

RJM Corbet

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#75
Well, I've finished it - but I'm afraid there was no magic in the reading for me. I suspect this is something a younger reader might find - and return to with later readings - especially if they don't know too much of the story.

For my part, all too often the only sections that felt new were those cut from the films as unnecessary, and so never really satisfied.

Some further observations:

1. The section with Faramir meeting Frodo dragged - it seemed more like a 32-page recounting of the story to date, than an actual story development itself.

2. Imrahil - the most underrated character ever! He personally saves Faramir against a Ringwraith, he later does the same for Eowyn, and is not only given control of the army at the Battle of Pelennor Fields, but also of Gondor during that time! I'm surprised I've found so little information or discussion about him, as he seemed a pivotal character.

3. The Rohirrim hunt and kill men in the hills, and murder anyone looking at their sacred pools in the wilderness - yet these are the good guys?!

4. I'm really surprised Denethor didn't reveal Frodo's mission when using the Palantir. Before this, we were told Saruman used one to communicate with Sauron, and yet Denethor simply seemed to get automated images to his questions. It felt like inconsistent handwavium.

5. The Orcs killing each other over Frodo's mithril shirt seemed both convenient, and somehow Tarantino. :)

6. The Scouring of the Shire felt very out of place - somehow childish by comparison of what came before, yet also morally debatable: rounding up ruffians and then killing them?!

7. Before reading it, I might have suggested that LOTR was a book about language, but really that seemed to play only a minor part in the prose. Instead, it was more about walking places, describing - then naming them. Arguably it's as much a narrative about a map with further information provided.
Well, never mind. You can console yourself with having set a record by reading LotR in a week, lol ...
 

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