Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkein

I suspect that I wouldn't have anything more to say about the plot and themes, for you, because if you're reading this, you've read the books or seen the movies already.  I could go into a few changes from one to the other, but I won't put such disclaimers here.  Instead, I was interested in Tolkien's writing choices, as I was in the review for the FOTR.  Here, Tolkien basically splits the book in half: the first half to Aragorn and Gandalf; the second half to Frodo and Sam and Gollum.  I know that Tolkien wrote the "trilogy" all at once, not intending for breaks, and that his publishers took that volume of about 1,000 pages and split it into threes.  This leads to what sometimes look to be odd writing choices, but considering the big 1,000 book, really isn't.  In other words, it looks like Tolkien wasn't going back and forth with his narration between the two groups of heroes--most other authors would have.  It looks like he split the second book between the two groups and did not go back and forth between them.  But it only looks that way, since it's 398 pages.  But if you think of the three books all as one, he does, in fact, go back and forth--just for several hundred pages at a time between the groups.  So, as in Elf-land and Middle Earth in general, that which seems to be is not.

Also of note was a comment from Sam on page 325.  Boromir's brother has been chastising Frodo and questioning him hard; Sam gets slowly angry at this and finally responds--but mentions they have the ring.  He realizes his verbal goof and says to Faramir that he has spoken and behaved handsomely so far, and he should continue to do so after Sam's gaffe.  Part of that retort was, "But handsome is as handsome does, we say."  Substitute "handsome" for "stupid," and you've got Forrest Gump.  Tolkien's work stretches far.

The last thing I'll note is the very obvious bearing Beowulf had on Tolkein.  The swords and such, the fighting, the horns on everything, the righteous in battle stuff, the putting of the dead on water, and so much more there isn't room to mention.  But if anyone knows LOTR: TTT and Beowulf, you can't miss the fact that Shelob is a direct descendent of the She-hag in Beowulf (and maybe a tiny bit of Grendel, too).

One work, one deed, leads to another.  Such as it is in Middle-Earth; such as it is here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Fellowship of the Ring--J.R.R.Tolkein

Tried to read this book a few years ago, and then many years before that, and always got frozen at the Tom Bombadil part.  Never could get past it, don't know why.  This time, I flew by it and read the whole thing in a few days.  I truly believe that I wasn't ready for it until now.  Doesn't hurt that my better half and I saw all three Peter Jackson films in the past week or so...

I don't have too much to add about its awesomeness; if you've come this far, you already think it's great.  I guess I'm interested in why I think so.  Let's face it, the writing isn't great.  Yet, it is, in its own way.  Open a page at random, and read a sentence with Isengard, and many other names; I dare any other writer to write like that and get away with it.  Tolkein did.  Why?  I think it's the way it's so solid in his head.  And it's so consistent.  He writes it all like the names are so common.  It's like you don't have to flip back to the map in the beginning a few thousand times--but I did.  The descriptions would be weary but for those who weren't sold on it all as I was.  That stayed me the second time.  All that fauna, that grass, those woods and mountains.

Or maybe it's the simplicity.  Hobbits, grass, round homes, sticks, bread, sleep, warm and cold.  Walking.  Horses and swords.  The basics.  Life is basic, in a way.  The Ring is evil, pure and simple.  But people struggle against using it anyway.  Evil is so obvious, but it pulls.  The writing is simple.  Very simple.  And Tolkein simply relished the simple life and railed against technology, and lack of manners.  The art is not in the writing style or ability, per se, as much as it is in its completeness.

Or maybe it's the duality.  It's obviously Ireland, or northern England, especially the Shire--but it's not.  The swords, shields, emphasis on kings, and breast-beating is so Beowulf (as Tolkein famously translated)--but it's not.  The castles and such are so medieval Europe--but it's not.  (And Aragorn=Aragon, but not.)  Mordor and the Orcs are obviously WW1's Germany, and maybe a bit of WW2's Germany (despite Tolkein's protests)--but it's not.

I think it's the emphasis on friendship, more than anything else.  The movies got this.  Frodo and Sam; Aragorn, the Elf and the Dwarf; Pippin and Merry; Frodo and Gandalf; in the book, Aragorn and Gandalf.  Notice that Boromir's big sin wasn't struggling with the Ring--as they all did--but was instead his mistreatment of Frodo.  (Boromir and Aragorn are friendlier in the movie than in the book.)  True friendship can overcome powerful evil.

You get swallowed into the world--the grasses, the different beings, the simple attitude of the hobbits (shared by Tolkein himself) and the simple lessons of life:  Eat hearty, be merry, be a good friend, stand against evil.  I don't believe it's the fantastic elements that keep us.  First, they're too inconsistent.  Gandalf can battle Saramon with his staff--but he can't melt snow with it?  He can light up the mines in the mountains with it, but he can't clear a path ON the mountain with it?  And it's all too Ireland/England, Norse/medieval anyway, not complete fantasy.  And where are they, anyway?  On another world--or are we led to take for granted that it's Earth--but not?

Ingenious in its own way.  Like the writings of Chandler and select others, easy to emulate, hard to surpass.  But that hasn't stopped millions from trying...