Tag Archives: J.R.R. Tolkien

Stories and Stuff’s Top Posts in 2013

Three years in and this blog is still going strong! And that’s all thanks to all of you, my dear readers, who keep coming back and reading, commenting and sharing. Virtual confetti, balloons and champagne to all of you! Here’s a summary of the top five most popular posts Stories and Stuff had this year:

 1.) Creativity is the Residue of Time Wasted

Creativity – we all want it, we’d all like to know how to have more of it. This was clearly a pithy little quote that explained creativity in a way a lot of people liked.

 2.) Ranking Jane Austen – Is It Possible?

Jane Austen – an ever-fresh topic, no matter what the year. My Jane Austen vignettes were popular this year as well, even though I didn’t get around to publishing a new one in 2013.

 3.) Abusing Punctuation: The Ellipses…

I guess everyone loves rule-breakers, and here’s my post about my addiction to this piece of punctuation.

 4.) Tolkien’s “Take That!” to Shakespeare

We all remember being forced to read Shakespeare in school, and hating it. So clearly this post about one of our favourite authors, J. R. R. Tolkien, taking a stab at bettering Shakespeare struck a chord with readers.

 5.) “You Too?” What Friendship Is, and Why It’s So Hard to Find

That “moment of connection” that’s so necessary to friendship, as C. S. Lewis explains it, and my own take on how I fail sometimes when it comes to this area of friendship. And anyway, we all wish we understood this whole friendship thing better.

So this list features Jane Austen, J. R. R. Tolkien, AND C. S. Lewis… regular readers of my blog will not be surprised! (And, oh look, I abused another ellipsis in that last sentence!) The rest of the list covers aspects of good writing: how to be creative, how to write on friendship, and what a good long sentence without an ellipsis might look like.

In conclusion – thank you so much for supporting this blog in 2013 (and buying my ebooks too – I know some of you did!), and I wish you all the very best in 2014! Happy New Year!

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Concerning Hobbits – Why We Love Them

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“You do not know your danger, Theoden,” interrupted Gandalf. “These hobbits will sit on the edge of ruin and discuss the pleasures of the table, or the small doings of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and remote cousins to the ninth degree, if you encourage them with undue patience. Some other time would be more fitting for the history of smoking!”

The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I just really love how clearly hobbits’ character comes through here.

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Why The Hobbit Shouldn’t Work as a Children’s Book (But Does)

Hobbit Hole, by Jeff Hitchcock. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Generic

Hobbit Hole, by Jeff Hitchcock. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Generic

Something must be wrong with my brain this holidays. I didn’t realize it was Friday till Friday was over, so… this will be a Saturday post instead.

I watched The Hobbit last night, and decided Peter Jackson has my permission to split The Hobbit into five hundred movies if he wants to, and I won’t let the words ‘cash grab’ ever cross my lips. Because it was so much better than I ever thought it would be, and I’d expected it to be good. But watching it got me thinking about The Hobbit in a way I hadn’t before. And I realized it’s really a very weird sort of children’s book. It really shouldn’t work as a children’s book at all, much less be known as ‘great literature.’ Why, do you ask? Well, consider:

1.) The main character is a middle-aged man – er, hobbit

Would you pitch a novel to a publisher featuring a man who suffers a mid-life crisis and ditches his comfortable life for a madcap adventure, as a book for children? Honestly, which of the books on the shelf of the children’s section feature adults much at all, much less as the main character? Accepted wisdom is that books for children should star children. Children shouldn’t be able to relate to the tribulations of a character their parents’ age. And making him a hobbit doesn’t help too much – you have to go into the whole business of explaining what a hobbit is first.

Or maybe it does help. There’s a reason “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…” is such a famous line, after all…

2.) The other main characters are thirteen dwarves with very few distinguishing features or character development.

I read a review for the movie version of The Hobbit the other day, complaining that none of the characters of the dwarves are developed much at all. Then I went to see the movie myself, and I was amazed at how well they managed to differentiate a good handful of the dwarves. Because in the book, there’s hardly any way to keep them apart at all. It’s not recommended to have a billion protagonists in a novel, and this really is one reason why. Thorin Oakenshield gets the most development, and thus the most of my memory’s section on “dwarves in The Hobbit” is devoted to him. Then there’s Bombur, who I mostly remember at the fat one. And Fili and Kili, because they’re the youngest and are brothers. And Dori, Nori and Ori because they come in three for some reason. But characterization-wise? The dwarves from Snow White went through more character development than them.

It should be a death-knell for any book to feature thirteen characters that don’t develop much over the course of the story. Somehow, with The Hobbit, this doesn’t matter.

3.) There are no female characters.

None. No females at all in the book, and one shoe-horned into the movie so far (Galadriel). I presume there are female townspeople in Dale, and female hobbits in the Shire, and female dwarves and elves somewhere in the world of The Hobbit, but none of them are really mentioned. Yet I, as a female, love it. Why is this? Shouldn’t I decry it as a fusty bastion of sexism as the modern young female I am? I have absolutely no urge to, and if the movie had made one of the dwarves a female or something I would’ve been quite mad.

4.) The plot is – somewhat wandering.

I forgot how much time the characters spend in Beorn’s house, without much happening. And how much time they sit outside the door into the Mountain before they figure out how to open it. And how often Bilbo tiptoes down into Smaug’s lair before anything major plot-wise happens. Several of the series of adventures lead nicely into each other (clearly indicated by the chapter title, “Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire” – literal fire, in that case), but some bits lag upon re-reading. And the ending comes out of left field. After a whole book about defeating the dragon, the dragon is defeated and the gold it leaves behind sets into motion an epic battle involving almost all the groups in Middle Earth. It was like Tolkien was revving up for Lord of the Rings a little early, and had to remember he was just writing a children’s adventure story. So he conks Bilbo on the head and has him conveniently wake up when the eagles rescue everyone – a bit of a downer for all readers eager for Tolkien to describe another one of his epic battles. But maybe a little more suitable for the childish and tender ears which presumably this tale was written for? I don’t know, I just know the ending didn’t ruin the book for me. Tolkien never was one for making sure everything ended neatly and happily. The Hobbit has less hints of sadness than Lord of the Rings, but it certainly makes the point that just because you defeated a dragon, doesn’t mean you life is roses from then on. And that’s why it’s a great book.

Yes, it’s a great book. Despite all its flaws – no, forget about the flaws, it does more than rise about them. It breezes past its own flaws without even the acknowledgement that they are there, and before you know it you are swept right along with the characters into a world almost as real as the one you live in. I seriously think Tolkien has spoiled me for any other fantasy, because I can never take any of the world in books I’ve read after as seriously as I can take his. So yes, I felt the least I could do was devote one blog post to The Hobbit.

What do you think of The Hobbit? And have you seen the movie yet?

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Real-life Romance: The Scholarly Professor and Edith

The young J.R.R. Tolkien. Doesn’t he just ooze romance?

Real life is better than fiction sometimes. More unbelievable than fiction too, but that’s another topic. This post is the second of four to mesh two of my favourite blog topics: romance and history. Because I realized, when I thought about it, that I knew at few stories from history that were eventful enough to be a romance novel on their own. May I present the second Person Whose Life Could’ve Been the Plot of a Romance Novel… J.R.R. Tolkien!

(The first post, “Elizabeth Barrett Browning: From Recluse to Romance,” can be found here)

You might not be surprised to see Tolkien on this list, because I wrote about his thoughts on true love before. Clearly, the man had thought about love at least once in his life–a departure from his usual ruminations on rune-making and language inventing, I’m sure. And he does mention love once or twice in his epic Lord of the Rings, even if he does banish Arwen and Aragorn’s romance to the appendix. But the actual story of his falling in love with Edith–well, it might be more like a romance novel than you’d expect from a scholarly-looking professor who smoked pipes.

Tolkien starts off telling his love story to his son by saying, “My own history is so exceptional, so wrong and imprudent in nearly every point that it makes it difficult to counsel prudence.” Clearly, the reason he wrote it down for Christopher was to teach him something, but feels, like many parents, that his own life was not a particularly good example for his children to follow. He’s talking about how to have a good marriage, and be happy in love, but he’s afraid his way is not really the best way to go about that, even if it did turn out very well in the end.

First of all, Tolkien falls in love at eighteen with a Protestant. Tolkien was a Catholic. Now, some people might be confused at what the problem is here, but at the time everyone knew there was an ocean of difference between Protestants and Catholics, even if they both called themselves Christians (the Reformation, and some of the wars and violence that came out of that, might have something to do with that). Even today, Catholics and Protestants might hesitate to get involved with each other. But anyway, Tolkien and Edith Mary Bratt fell in love over their shared interest of visiting tea shops with balconies, and using the sugar lumps on the tables to toss into the hats of people walking below. Picture the serious college professor doing that! And, once in love, ran straight into the disapproval of Tolkien’s mentor, who viewed Edith as not only a dreadful Protestant, but also a distraction to Tolkien’s studies. Straight off, this mentor forbade Tolkien to see her. (See? Romantic plot elements 1 & 2.) Except Tolkien, instead of doing the Romeo and Juliet thing, listened to his mentor and stayed away from Edith.

So there is Tolkien, miserably working his way through school and whiling away the time till he is twenty-one and able to talk to Edith again (you know, once he’s graduated school and everything). And Edith–well, she meets someone else and gets engaged. (Romantic plot element 3).  Tolkien doesn’t blame her, as he says, “She was perfectly free and under no vow to me, and I should have had no just complaint (except according to the unreal romantic code) if she had got married to someone else.” But the minute he turns twenty-one he wastes no time writing her and telling her how he feels, to her absolute astonishment. She thought, since she hadn’t heard a peep from him for years, that he had forgotten all about her.

The two of them had a romantic reunion under a railway viaduct, apparently, and Edith returned her engagement ring to the other guy. Tolkien clearly feels inadequate upon his marriage, telling his son, Christopher, “Think of your mother! … I was a young fellow, with a moderate degree, and apt to write verse, a few dwindling pounds, and no prospects, a Second Lieut. on 7/6 a day in the infantry where the chances of survival were against you heavily.” I don’t know what the other guy’s qualifications were, but Edith obviously preferred Tolkien despite all of this. And, according to biographer Humphrey Carpenter, it was a happy marriage despite the rocky start: “Those friends who knew Ronald and Edith Tolkien over the years never doubted that there was deep affection between them. It was visible in the small things, the almost absurd degree in which each worried about the other’s health, and the care in which they chose and wrapped each other’s birthday presents’; and in the large matters, the way in which Ronald willingly abandoned such a large part of his life in retirement to give Edith the last years in Bournemouth that he felt she deserved, and the degree in which she showed pride in his fame as an author.” (p. 158)

As Tolkien tells his son, “the greatest of these [romantic] tales do not tell of the happy marriage of such great lovers, but of their tragic separation.” Fortunately for him, that part of the romantic story did not come true. He and Edith were married for fifty-five years, and died within twenty-one months of each other. And as I mentioned before, Edith was Tolkien’s inspiration for the beautiful Lúthien Tinúviel in The Silmarillion.

And that’s the story. The whole story, in Tolkien’s words, can be found in Letter #43 of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Other sources are Wikipedia and Humphrey Carpenter’s autobiography.

Does this story change your opinion of Tolkien? Any other real-life characters you know of, whose life was absurdly similar to romantic novel clichés?

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Diana Wynne Jones, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien – What a Combination!

“When I was a student at Oxford, both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were lecturing there, Lewis magnificently and Tolkien badly and inaudibly, and the climate of opinion was such that people explained Lewis’s children’s books by saying ‘It’s his Christianity, you know,’ as if the books were the symptom of some disease, while of Tolkien they said he was wasting his time on hobbits when he should have been writing learned articles…

“I imagine I caused Tolkien much grief by turning up to hear him lecture week after week, while he was trying to wrap his lectures up after a fortnight and get on with The Lord of the Rings (you could do that in those days, if you lacked an audience, and still get paid). I sat there obdurately despite all his mumbling and talking with his face pressed up to the blackboard, forcing him to go on expounding every week how you could start with a simple quest-narrative and, by gradually twitching elements as it went along, arrive at the complex and entirely different story of Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale – a story that still contains the excitement of the quest-narrative that seeded it. What little I heard of all this was wholly fascinating.”

Diana Wynne Jones

I love this quote, because I can just imagine Tolkien being that rambling, mumbling university lecturer that makes you want to pull your hair out. I love his books, but they are long in spots. This quote also made me realize how many of the fantasy authors that I enjoy lived through the Second World War, around the same time period. Strange, that.

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