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Old 11-03-2003, 05:51 AM   #41
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Eurytus,

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Would a hobbit write such text? I doubt it, especially when there was no hint of such language being used in FOTR. And it is no use saying that the hobbits have grown and hence use this language by ROTK. They were not writing the book as a diary as it happened. They were writing it years later, hence there is no conceivable reason why Frodo would change his style so greatly within the same book.
Here’s my 2 cents on the basis of the red book of westmarch being written by characters from the book itself.

I would say the book was mainly written by 3 authors:

Bilbo
Frodo
Sam

They would all have different types of writing styles.

I would vouch for Bilbo in that his style could be appropriated to the quote you mention above. ie "Great was the clash of their meeting" (which is perfectly good English by the way). Bilbo spent a lot of his time translating from elvish into the common tounge, so may have been influenced from there.

Frodo could at least speak a smattering of Elvish, and again could have been influenced to a lesser extent by this.

Sam could have written the first couple of chapters which I concede do have a different style than the rest of the book. (ie mentioning the fox, for example…)

The book was then handed down by Sam to his daughter before he went across the Sundering Sea. Further updates to the book took place over at least the next 60 years by the Fairbairns.

Different authors have different styles. Why can’t a particular hobbit write in the stylized language of ROTK?
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Old 11-03-2003, 06:29 AM   #42
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I think that this topic can truly be termed the Beast that would not Die!


OK, I do not have my copy of LOTR with me at the moment so I will have to write this response from memory and it is a little while since I read the books so here goes….

If my memory serves the handover of the Red Book of Westmarch goes something like this.

Bilbo initiates it and hands it over to Frodo when the latter returns to Rivendell after the events of the War of the Ring.
Now up to that point, Bilbo would have written the Hobbit for definite (in a somewhat childish style).
At that point the only further bits Bilbo could have written were the events leading up to the Ford of Bruinen. And even that only had Frodo filled him in on ALL the details prior to setting out with the Fellowship after the council of Elrond. But given the detail of description present it is far more likely that someone who had been there had written it, ie Frodo after he returned to BagEnd.

Frodo later hands over the Red Book of Westmarch to Sam before he departs for the Grey Havens. At that point Sam states, “Oh, you’ve finished it” to which Frodo replies that the last chapters are for Sam to complete. That dialogue and the time which Frodo has had available to him at BagEnd would seem to indicate that Frodo has completed it up until the scouring of the Shire and that Sam would complete the re-ordering of the Shire and the story of the last trip to the Grey Havens.

All the evidence points to the most likely scenario being that Frodo is the one who has written 95% at least of what we know as LOTR. It makes no sense at all for Sam to have written the LOTR and had Bilbo written the first book of FOTR then his Elvish expertise obviously didn’t change things much.
But in all likelihood you have the same author being responsible for the insight into the Fox’s state of mind and the description of Theoden. It just does not stack up. I am sorry but given that Tolkien wanted the book to be as if written by the Hobbits, the change of styles (which is extreme, there’s no two ways about it) does not work.
Unfortunately the book does clearly illustrate that Tolkien started off with a sequel to the Hobbit and changed mid-way through to a sequel to the Silmarillion. The fault is that he did not then go back and fix this flaw. He could have changed the tone of the first book or could have removed the theory that the Hobbits wrote the book. What he actually did was leave in a very visible flaw.

p.s. I am going to have to disagree with you on “Great was the clash of their meeting” being good English. Indeed I think that most people would find it to be pretentious has it been in any book other than LOTR. Had it been written by Terry Goodkind for example. It is an example of someone deliberately aiming for an old style of writing to attempt to give an increased antiquity and epic scope to a story.
If the writing is good enough then it is not needed. Did William Shakespeare write Anthony and Cleopatra is a style aping the writings of Cicero?
No, he did not, he wrote it in the style of his day.
Did it make the play any less great?
No, not in my view.
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Old 11-03-2003, 12:30 PM   #43
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As I'm sure someone has said before, Tolkien wrote LOTR to create a 'legend' for England, as he believed it did not have any great old stories that were truly English. (Even the Legend of Arthur was not truly English)

This is why he wrote it in the style we see.

PS In my view, who says Sam, Frodo and all did not help Bilbo write the fellowship (up to the council) while they were at rivendell. And in my view who says Sam or his descendants did not update the book?
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Old 11-03-2003, 01:35 PM   #44
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I am going to have to disagree with you on “Great was the clash of their meeting” being good English."
On what basis? Your objection seems to be to style, not technical compitancy. Most buisnesses prefer writing with short sentences, little adjectives, and extreme brevity. On that basis, I can argue that most modern fiction writing is "not good English."

Technically:

Great = predicate adjective
was = trans. verb
the = article
clash = subject
of = preposition
their = pronoun
meeting = object of preposition.

Great modifies clash. The preposition describes clash. The punctuation's correct. It's just an inverted sentence akin to me saying, "A malfunction in the new package is the problem."
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Old 11-03-2003, 02:19 PM   #45
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I have been following this discussion from afar but perhaps it is now time for me to make some observations.

I have, to start, some sympathy with the general position of Eurytus, although I would not make all the claims he does, nor couch my position as he does his.

There is, I feel, a great reluctance here at the Downs to 'deconstruct' Tolkien, to consider where the fault lines lie in the geopgraphy he molded, and to consider why the tectonic plates grate against each other, or where.

For me, they do, and this is one of the fascinating points about Tolkien. Nor do I share in the elf-like nostalgia for days of eld. I do share in the profound regret and horror over the brutal mechnanization of life and for the stubborn insistence that forms of power, domination, and bullying denigrate the human spirit and warp human potential. (For me, the error lies within human species and not merely in the modern age.) And I think that, brooding over his work is a contemplation of change, mutability and death which marks the best of modern literature, even as he is, quixotically, a conservative author who does not share some of the traits of other modern authors.

What amazes me about Tolkien is the breadth of his imagination, his respect for the importance of fairie, and his remarkable efforts throughout his life to bring this seething, teeming mass of idea and material under some kind of coherent artistic vision.

It is this constant revision and effort to bring everything together which marks Tolkien as a modern writer, bequeathing us with so many forms of stories and revisions.

The multiplicity of the forms is what, I would suggest, compels us as readers. We want to find that grand unifying theory which Tolkien himself strove for. We want to say definitively if balrogs have wings or not even if Tolkien himself was not consistent. We want to know definitely who Tom is, even if Tolkien himself gave us the dodge that he is an enigma. Instead of viewing Tolkien's ideas as a progression from the comedic children's tale of The Hobbit to the dark vision of LOTR, with The Silmarillion wavering in the background as some kind of palimpsest (a parchment from which writing has been erased or partially erased to make room for another text), we want to continue his efforts to create an ultimate form.

This is our joy as readers of Tolkien, I think.

It is also our bane, for if the author who gave life and meaning to the story failed, how can we hope to rewrite him correctly?

How does this relate to questions of his style?

Tolkien's materials were many, various, widespread and contradictory. His mind was not of an authoritarian, dogmatic bent, rigidly restricting his ideas to the rule of the One Ring. Instead, he sought to bring his ideas and materials together into symbiosis and synthesis.

For example, the influence of Beowulf and the Norse and Germanic mythologies and Celtic legend and philology is clear and irrefutable, but like the Old English poem itself, the fault lines run up against each other. It is (or was, in the past) a major point of critical discussion how Beowulf combines the old warrior ethos with Christian ethic, so it is no wonder that precisely pinpointing with the accuracy of Cruise missiles (hah!) the same feature in LOTR is going to be one of our favourite endeavours--or not, depending upon whether this feature of faith is crucial in your reading of Tolkien. Both texts hold the features in potential.

My point, however, is to argue that Tolkien's vision is amorphous and syncretic. And it does not always work flawlessly. But such works rarely do. And if they did, they would likely be the less for it.

Tolkien was able, through the strength of his imagination, to envision hobbits who were creatures of the past who could nonetheless speak with a contemporary dialect. What he could not do was imagine a noble, heroic dialect for his own age. This is why Aragorn's lines ring so ludicrously archaic, and Legolas' too and sometimes Gandalf.

(For reference, look at Legolas' description of Edoras in TTT, chap vi, The King of the Golden Hall, and Gandalf's response, especially the archaic "are come".)

Inversion of grammar is a part of the structure of the English language. As is oversubordination. (There are even formal names for these elements of style in classical rhetoric, which Tolkien knew.) However, the constant reliance upon these structures alone represents a point where Tolkien's desire to represent a noble spirit fails. Perhaps this was because, for him, history is 'a long defeat' and because he could see nothing noble or heroic in his own age. I cannot say or argue here.

I can only say that the tremendous range of Tolkien's reach covered many styles, features, archetypes of characters, and psychologies of characters. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't. That is one reason why he revised and revised and revised so fervently throughout his life.

I would think we could, with truth, admit that the plates shift. It does not mean that the centre does not hold.

[ November 03, 2003: Message edited by: Bêthberry ]
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Old 11-04-2003, 02:35 AM   #46
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I would think we could, with truth, admit that the plates shift. It does not mean that the centre does not hold.
This I agree with, my position from the start has always been against the totally uncritical viewpoint held by people I see on Tolkien boards from time to time.
An uncritical viewpoint which is in itself, damaging in my view. If you are uncritical then you are effectively just a sponge absorbing all the information a book throws at you. If you do not view it with a critical eye how can you explore its intricacies?
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Old 11-04-2003, 02:39 AM   #47
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It's just an inverted sentence akin to me saying, "A malfunction in the new package is the problem."
That’s your view and that’s fine for you. But to me that sentence is

1. Not the way people spoke when Tolkien wrote the book
2. And therefore is a conscious attempt to sound archaic
3. And so is an example of writing with a false voice, solely to give your work a mythic tone that the quality of the story and writing should give it.
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Old 11-04-2003, 02:45 AM   #48
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As I'm sure someone has said before, Tolkien wrote LOTR to create a 'legend' for England, as he believed it did not have any great old stories that were truly English. (Even the Legend of Arthur was not truly English)
This is why he wrote it in the style we see.

PS In my view, who says Sam, Frodo and all did not help Bilbo write the fellowship (up to the council) while they were at rivendell. And in my view who says Sam or his descendants did not update the book?
As to your fist point, seriously unless you can find a quotation to support this then you cannot make that point. Tolkien wrote the Book of Lost Tales as a mythology for England and had somewhat abandoned the idea by the time he was tidying up the Silmarillion, hence the vanishing of concepts like Tol Erressa being the British Isles.
The LOTR was simply NOT written as a mythology for the UK. Sorry but it simply is not true. It was written, at the request of his publisher as a sequel to the Hobbit. The fact he started to ape the style of the Silmarillion by the half way point does not change this.

As to the latter point. Sorry but you are simply making suppositions to support your defence of the style change. The book makes it pretty clear that when Frodo hands the book to Sam it is nearly complete. Can you see Sam editing his beloved master’s words? No, not easy is it.
However it is attempted to be justified, Tolkien wanted the book to appear as written by the Hobbits. The greater proportion of this was by Frodo. The style changes GREATLY and inexplicably.
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Old 11-04-2003, 11:13 AM   #49
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But a real archaic English is far more terse than modern; also many of things said could not be said in our slack and often frivolous idiom. Of course, not being specially well read in modern English, and far more familiar with works in the ancient and 'middle' idioms, my own ear is to some extent affected; so that though I could easily recollect how a modern would put this or that, what comes easiest to mind or pen is not quite that. But take an example from the chapter that you specially singled out (and called terrible): Book iii, 'The King of the Golden Hall'. 'Nay, Gandalf!' said the King. 'You do not know your own skill in healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of battle, if it must be. Thus shall I sleep better.'

This is a fair example - moderated or watered archaism. Using only words that still are used or known to the educated, the King would really have said 'Nay, thou (n')wost not thine own skill in healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall...' etc. I know well enough what a modern would say. 'Not at all, my dear G. You don't know your own skill as a doctor. Things aren't going to be like that. I shall go to the war in person, even if I have to be one of the first casualties' - and then what? Theoden would certainly think, and probably say 'thus shall I sleep better'! But people who think like that just do not talk a modern idiom. You can have 'I shall lie easier in my grave', or 'I should sleep sounder in my grave like that rather than if I stayed at home' - if you like. But there would be an insincerity of thought, a disunion of word and meaning. For a King who spoke in a modern style would not really think in such terms at all, and any reference to sleeping quietly in the grave would be a deliberate archaism of expression on his part (however worded) far more bogus than the actual 'archaic' English that I have used. Like some non-Christian making a reference to some Christian belief which did not in fact move him at all.
Letter #171

The archaisms are deliberate and have a purpose. Tolkien wasn't trying to sound important: he genuinely believed that modern English is too slack and frivolous properly to convey the thoughts and feelings that he wanted his characters to express. In an essay on Beowulf, Tolkien once wrote "Personally you may not like an archaic vocabulary, and word order artificially maintained as an elevated and literary language. You may prefer the brand new, the lively and the snappy. But whatever may be the case with other poets of past ages (with Homer, for instance) the author of Beowulf did not share this preference."

I might say the same for Tolkien. He was choosing a voice that he thought best suited what he was trying to say, and although we may not agree with him, we must at least acknowledge what it was that he was trying to achieve. This was not a case of trying to sound like Homer (note that Tolkien, who had read Homer in Greek, regards his style as quite snappy and crisp), or even of aping the Bible. He was using every trick he could think of to give his work a voice that suited the feelings and situations that he was attempting to portray. In concluding the above letter, he wrote:
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I am sorry to find you so affected by the extraordinary 20th C. delusion that its usages per se and simply as 'contemporary' - irrespective of whether they are terser, more vivid (or even nobler!) - have some peculiar validity, above those of other times, so that not to use them (even when quite unsuitable in tone) is a solecism, a gaffe, a thing at which one's friends shudder or feel hot under the collar. Shake yourself out of this parochialism of time!
I find it difficult to disagree with his reasoning.
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Old 11-04-2003, 01:32 PM   #50
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Yes! I loved reading that Theoden bit. Whatever Tolkien did with the language sounds wonderful. Analyze, schmanalyze! I could tell you some things that might not suit me about LoTR, but an artist's choice of tools to create his work doesn't seem "correct or incorrect". (of course, you may like it or not) The bits in the movie where more contemporary language is used jump out at me. (and bug me) I love the older style, it sounds more eloquent. That is probably why it was said that the best lines were the direct quotes from the books. It's that snazzy language man! [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]
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Old 11-04-2003, 03:28 PM   #51
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Shake yourself out of this parochialism of time!
I find Tolkien's quote here greatly amusing. He seems not to realise the hypocrisy of that statement. That someone who greatly disliked the modern world and consciously sort to antiquate his book should accuse someone else of parochialism of time is slightly bizarre.

As to the antigue text being necessary and helpful to the tone, I have to disagree. War and Peace is an Epic, does its style of writing try to ape the old epics? No.

Besides which, whatever tone Tolkien is saying he tried to achieve and whether it suited the work does not square with the fact that it was meant to be written by Hobbits. The same hobbits who wrote book one. Why the change? It simply does not add up.
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Old 11-04-2003, 05:35 PM   #52
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Besides which, whatever tone Tolkien is saying he tried to achieve and whether it suited the work does not square with the fact that it was meant to be written by Hobbits. The same hobbits who wrote book one.
Well, I think that the Letter quoted by Squatter shows that Tolkien certainly intended to highlight the difference in the styles of speech adopted by the rustic and down-to-earth Hobbits on the one hand and by the Kings of Men on the other. Whether it works or not is clearly a matter of opinion.

I was poking around the BBC's Big Read forum earlier today, and there are numerous examples of clearly well-read and erudite individuals who find that Tolkien's style is not to their taste. And part of this arises from the archaic tone adopted in parts of the Book, I am sure. For example, I saw a number of comments made by people to the effect that they loved the Hobbit but could not get on with LotR. And the one thread that I saw discussing the Silmarillion clearly indicated that this is very much an acquired taste (which I can appreciate having given up on it myself first time round).

But there are also a significant number of people for whom Tolkien's style works, and who see no problem in reconciling the different styles. And, this being the case, I don't see how this can be described, from an objective standpoint, as a flaw. As I said, it is a matter of opinion. For my own part, I had never previously noticed the difference in styles (on a conscious level at least), so it clearly didn't jar with me. And reflecting on it now, I can appreciate the way in which this serves to assist the reader in the journey from the cosy world of the Shire to the wider world and the great events that are unfolding there.

As for the Hobbits' authorship, is it stretching the imagination too much to suppose that Hobbits who had mixed with the nobility of Rohan and Gondor might adopt their tone when describing their part in the War of the Ring? Certainly, it makes sense that those seeking to create an accurate record of the events (as the Red Book of Westmarch is intended to be) would use the style of speech employed by them when recording their words.
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Old 11-04-2003, 09:34 PM   #53
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Well, I've dug out Letters and tracked down the relevant passage, only to find that The Squatter of Amon Rudh has beaten me to it.

I've never been much impressed with (or perhaps have never understood) criticisms of this sort - criticisms about "pretention" or lack of modern style. Such arguments come with a host of meta-artistic assumptions. They seem to be criticisms not of the work of art itself, but rather of the author. For surely a text alone cannot be "pretentious"; it can only be so in a certain context, and given certain preconceptions about what pretention is. Hence a charge of "pretention" only has force if one accepts the view that the quality of art depends on the artist rather than the art itself.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I have always been interested in the art, and interested in the artist only as a related matter not concerned with my primary enjoyment of the work. I like the Iliad not because it is old, but because it is good. I would like it just the same whether it was written three thousand years ago or last year. But I suppose there has been a great trend in academia toward the opposite view: that ancient literature is only interesting for its antiquity, not as literature in itself. (This, by the way, is a view that Tolkien certainly disagreed with).

An accompanying view is that modern literature must be modern in style. But again, unless it is not the works of art themselves in which we take an interest, there can be no reason for this. Unless, I suppose, it is the belief that the modern style is simply innately superior to all others - and if this isn't an example of temporal parochialism, I don't know what is.

It is quite a different matter when one encounters a poor attempt to write in an archaic style, as Tolkien points out in letter 171:

Quote:
The proper use of 'tushery' is to apply it to the kind of bogus 'medieval' stuff which attempts (without knowledge) to give a supposed temporal colour with expletives, such as tush, pish, zounds, marry, and the like.
But such writing is bad simply because it is bad, not because it is outdated.

Tolkien points out quite rightly that there are simply some things that are better expressed with archaic language. Archaic English really does have a terser, nobler quality to it than modern English, quite in keeping with the heroic spirit of heroes from northern mythology. Tolkien was, more than most authors, keenly aware of the close relation between language and content. If you are going to write a mythic story about heroism in an ancient world surely it makes some sense to write in a mythic, heroic, and ancient style. Writing about these things in a modern style would result in a subtle disjunction between form and content. The Shire is, in quite a few ways, more modern than other regions of Middle-earth, and it makes sense that those portions of the book which it concerns employ a more modern style.

It is hardly parochialism to suggest that the style of a book should match its content. It certainly is parochialism to insist that one's own native style is the only style that ought to be used.

Certainly there are examples of modern epics, like War and Peace that do not use an antiquated style. Why should they? They are about the modern world. Even were they not, no one is insisting that an archaic style is the only way to write about archaic things. It is simply the way that best preserves unity of prose and content.

I do think that there may be a problem with supposing that the hobbits wrote all of this in its high style. But this is quite a different criticism. And I am not altogether convinced that Frodo was incapable of grasping the higher style - he was rather a learned hobbit. But there are other problems with the framing device as well: there are two passages (one in book I about a fox that observes the hobbits and one in book IV about Gollum's near-repentance) describing things that none of the hobbits could possibly have known about.

I should perhaps defend myself against the charge (made against the forum in general) that I refuse to criticize The Lord of the Rings in any way. It's my favorite book, and so I find very few things to criticize. But there are flaws. The book would benefit from an improved characterization of Aragorn, for example, whose personality is somewhat ill-defined, considering his central importance. The entrance of Sam and Frodo into Mordor relies a bit too heavily on coincidence and luck. There is a certain insensitivity with regard to the portrayal of race. These and others, though, are very minor flaws in my estimation.

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Old 11-05-2003, 03:46 AM   #54
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As for the Hobbits' authorship, is it stretching the imagination too much to suppose that Hobbits who had mixed with the nobility of Rohan and Gondor might adopt their tone when describing their part in the War of the Ring? Certainly, it makes sense that those seeking to create an accurate record of the events (as the Red Book of Westmarch is intended to be) would use the style of speech employed by them when recording their words.
But it’s not just when describing their words is it? Suddenly they are describing events and even landscapes in a very different way and it simply does not ring true.
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Old 11-05-2003, 03:47 AM   #55
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Tolkien points out quite rightly that there are simply some things that are better expressed with archaic language. Archaic English really does have a terser, nobler quality to it than modern English, quite in keeping with the heroic spirit of heroes from northern mythology.
I utterly disagree with the opinion that archaic English can somehow express things of a nobler quality than modern English. Modern English can express anything its author puts their mind to, if the author is good enough. There is no inherent superiority in archaic English for this purpose.
For example Atticus Finch is one of the noblest characters in fiction. Was he required to say things like “Thus” and “Nay” and other Faux-Old English terminology?

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no one is insisting that an archaic style is the only way to write about archaic things. It is simply the way that best preserves unity of prose and content.
A unity of prose that was shot to bits by the divergence between books 1 and 3 of course. I say again, Aragorn did not seem to find the need for endless “Lo’s” before he got the ROTK and Tolkien decided that it needed to be more epic and to convert the book into a sequel to the Silmarillion.

The reason I will always like LOTR and especially the Silmarillion is because of the one talent that I think Tolkien had spades of. The wealth of invention he displays, particularly in the Silmarillion which is my favourite book of his. But without that invention would I read Tolkien? Very doubtful.

His books set outside Middle Earth show no particular merit and even his attempt at a sequel to LOTR shows that once the inspiration of invention wears off, his writing talent is not enough on its own. The remnant we have of A New Shadow is of a quality that would fall below pretty much any book in the fantasy shelves of your local book store.
With Tolkien, the invention, the construct is all.
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Old 11-05-2003, 05:49 AM   #56
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Eutytus, your quote
Quote:
But it’s not just when describing their words is it? Suddenly they are describing events and even landscapes in a very different way and it simply does not ring true.
One of the main themes of the story is the CHANGE to the hobbits, what they have gone through and how they have grown. They were little more than adolescents when the book starts. Through the events of the War of the Ring we see them develop into adults. We can clearly see this in the Scouring of the Shire when they take control of the situation and defeat Saruman. They have been totally affected by the situations that unfolded in the book. How can you categorically state that their style of writing and language did not change? They spent 2 months in Rivendell, 1 month in Lorien, they spent time with the people of Gondor and Rohan, rubbed shoulders with the Great of these lands - how could they NOT be affected by this?

As Mr Saucepan puts

Quote:
For my own part, I had never previously noticed the difference in styles (on a conscious level at least), so it clearly didn't jar with me. And reflecting on it now, I can appreciate the way in which this serves to assist the reader in the journey from the cosy world of the Shire to the wider world and the great events that are unfolding there.
I agree totally. Though (mainly as the film is coming out but partly because of this thread) I am re-reading the book again (for the umpteenth time and still enjoying it) and am taking your (Eurytus) main points here into consideration. I think the BBC Radio adaptation hits the nail on the head when you can hear Strider’s disguised West Country accent when speaking in Bree, and he slowly changes it as events unfold at the Prancing Pony and we leave towards Weathertop. We have the language of the Shire and the lands west of the Misty Mountains and move onto a different style as we approach the lands of Gondor and Rohan.

Quote:
The book makes it pretty clear that when Frodo hands the book to Sam it is nearly complete. Can you see Sam editing his beloved master’s words? No, not easy is it.
No, but I can see his descendants doing this. Written history is always being updated as we move forward in time, is it not? I have a set of Britannica on a shelf next to me here. It explains many of the same situations it did 100 years ago, but is very different to the original.

Quote:
If you do not view it with a critical eye how can you explore its intricacies?
I can accept all your other points as valid opinions, but cannot except your point that people cannot explore the intricacies of the book because they can see very little wrong with it! I get a different view every time I read the book and study it’s plot, language, history etc. It has the ability show something new every time I read them. This time I’m noticing the many weaknesses of the Nazgul as I read. I must have read lotr 10 times before I read the Silmarillion and some of the Histories of Middle-earth, and on re-reading lotr it had another level to explore. So please, don’t say that people who (to you) have a non critical view of the great qualities of Tolkien’s work cannot grasp the intricacies of Tolkien's work.

[ November 05, 2003: Message edited by: Essex ]

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Old 11-05-2003, 06:56 AM   #57
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Eurytus,
Your point:
Quote:
As to your fist point, seriously unless you can find a quotation to support this then you cannot make that point. Tolkien wrote the Book of Lost Tales as a mythology for England and had somewhat abandoned the idea by the time he was tidying up the Silmarillion, hence the vanishing of concepts like Tol Erressa being the British Isles.
The LOTR was simply NOT written as a mythology for the UK. Sorry but it simply is not true. It was written, at the request of his publisher as a sequel to the Hobbit. The fact he started to ape the style of the Silmarillion by the half way point does not change this.

Ok, so I’ve picked up ‘Letters’, haad a very quick scan, and what do I find?

Quote:
Letter 124 To Sir Stanley Unwin
[Allen & Unwin had passed on a reader's enquiry as to whether Tolkien had written an 'Authentic History of Faery'.]
In parts it states:

Quote:
…it (lotr) is not really a sequel to The Hobbit, but to The Silmarillion….. I feel that it is tied to the Silmarillion. It (the Silmarillion) has captured The Lord of the Rings, so that that has become simply its continuation and completion
Therefore the Lord of the Rings has completed the work that was started on the Silmarillion i.e. a Legend for England.

To continue:
Quote:
131 To Milton Waldman[After Allen & Unwin, under pressure from Tolkien to make up their minds, had reluctantly declined to publish The Lord of the Rings together with The Silmarillion, Tolkien was confident that Milton Waldman of Collins would shortly issue both books under his firm's imprint…. with the intention of demonstrating that The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion were interdependent and indivisible.]
In parts it states:

Quote:
But an equally basic passion of mine ab initio was for myth (not allegory!) and for fairy-story, and above all for heroic legend on the brink of fairy-tale and history, of which there is far too little in the world (accessible to me) for my appetite…….

Also – and here I hope I shall not sound absurd – I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality that I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands. There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish (which greatly affected me); but nothing English, save impoverished chap-book stuff. Of course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be missing………..

The Hobbit, which has much more essential life in it, was quite independently conceived: I did not know as I began it that it belonged. But it proved to be the discovery of the completion of the whole, its mode of descent to earth, and merging into 'history'. As the high Legends of the beginning are supposed to look at things through Elvish minds, so the middle tale of the Hobbit takes a virtually human point of view – and the last tale blends them…….

The sequel, The Lord of the Rings, much the largest, and I hope also in proportion the best, of the entire cycle, concludes the whole business – an attempt is made to include in it, and wind up, all the elements and motives of what has preceded: elves, dwarves, the Kings of Men, heroic 'Homeric' horsemen, ores and demons, the terrors of the Ring-servants and Necromancy, and the vast horror of the Dark Throne, even in style it is to include the colloquialism and vulgarity of Hobbits, poetry and the highest style of prose.
Is this proof enough for you that lotr, as part of the whole, was Tolkien’s version of a mythology for England?
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Old 11-05-2003, 07:48 AM   #58
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One of the main themes of the story is the CHANGE to the hobbits, what they have gone through and how they have grown. They were little more than adolescents when the book starts. Through the events of the War of the Ring we see them develop into adults. We can clearly see this in the Scouring of the Shire when they take control of the situation and defeat Saruman. They have been totally affected by the situations that unfolded in the book. How can you categorically state that their style of writing and language did not change? They spent 2 months in Rivendell, 1 month in Lorien, they spent time with the people of Gondor and Rohan, rubbed shoulders with the Great of these lands - how could they NOT be affected by this?
No, but I can see his descendants doing this. Written history is always being updated as we move forward in time, is it not? I have a set of Britannica on a shelf next to me here. It explains many of the same situations it did 100 years ago, but is very different to the original.
I cannot believe I am still having to retread the same ground again and again. As to these two contradictory points.

1. You used the latter point to justify the change in tone in an earlier post.
2. you now state in the first point that the tone changes because the Hobbits themselves changed.

How do these two posts tie together. Sam’s descendants haven’t changed have they?

Besides which the fact the Hobbits change is totally and utterly irrelevant. I repeat, they are not writing this book as a travelogue. It is not being ‘written on the road’.
Evidence and plain logic indicates that Frodo wrote the whole thing when he returned and therefore there is NO reason for the change in tone at all.

And if you find this “If you do not view it with a critical eye how can you explore its intricacies?” insulting then I have to conclude that you are too thin-skinned for your own good. Indeed since I have kept this discussion on the level from day one and have kept emotion out of it I find being accused of insulting people in itself insulting.
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Old 11-05-2003, 08:24 AM   #59
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Please focus on the points of the discussion, not the negative feelings you get from the points. If you find something insulting, simply ask more about it or present your own take on the matter without taking offense. Additionally, negative comments on the character of a forum member are far from on-topic and not allowed. That goes for everyone. No one is required to post on a thread they find insulting or repetitive.

[ November 05, 2003: Message edited by: Legolas ]
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Old 11-05-2003, 09:17 AM   #60
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Hello Squatter, Eurytus, Sauce, Essex, Aiwendel, and All others interested here,

Squatter, your quotation from Tolkien's letter actually demonstrates my point rather than refutes it. I had said Tolkien was unable to imagine a modern idiom that could be heroic and his letter suggests that. And I would agree with Eyrutus that is it preposterous to say that only archaic language can be heroic. Language can be anything a good writer makes it.

After all, I am trained as a scholar of English literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; I studied five languages, including Old English; I taught classical rhetoric and oratory as well as public speaking and modern literature as well as medieval. I say this not to set myself up as an authority, but to dismiss the ludicrous notion that my argument disparages antiquity in favour of modernity.

My point is that it is possible to write in a heroic modern style, but that Tolkien did not.

He did not, I suggest, because he could not conceive of heroism in the modern age--it was not only that his ear was attuned to his beloved texts of old.

However, rather than simply say yea or nay in the burgeoning ranks of a controversy, I would like to do two things here. First, I would like to offer examples of modern heroic language, to demonstrate its terseness and its power. Second, I would like to offer a plausible reason why Tolkien was unable to imagine this kind of style.

An address on the battlefield of a monumental slaughter from a war which really was a prelude to modern warfare, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:

Quote:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
From an earlier to a subsequent war: some of Winston Churchill's oratory:

Quote:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, What is our policy? I will say; "It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy." You ask, What is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory - victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival."

to the House of Commons on May 13, 1940 in his first
address as the newly appointed Prime Minister.

"...We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old."
And, finally, something a bit more contemporary, John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address:

Quote:
Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
All of these examples are terse, all are completely within a modern idiom (all verb forms are modern, all word inflections are modern, only "four score" has an old flavour, since 'score' has fallen into disuse, and all employ stylistic traits of classical Greek rhetoric for their sentence structures, such as inversion. And, all were in their day and remain today examples of heroic calls to action which do not sound archaic, false, or deliberately old fashioned.

Why, then, was Tolkien not able to conceive of a style like this, but felt the need to employ a style of deliberate archaisms? I would point out that he has something in common with the war poets of his generation, men who saw action in WW I and who were devastated by it so that all thoughts of heroic sacrifice were horrible, brutal deceptions. Tolkien's love of the old warrior epics inspired in him a deep respect for the heroic ideal, but his personal experience of war left him mute in the face of contemporary expression.

I am going to post this now and return to edit with some examples of those poets who were Tolkien's contemporaries.

Here is Siegfried Sassoons's poem "Survivors:

Quote:
No doubt they'll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they're 'longing to go out again,' ?
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They'll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,?
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they'll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter'd all their pride...
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.

Craiglockhart. October, 1917.
And this, Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum est", which probably expresses most succinctly the emotional effect WWI had on people:

Quote:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!-An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
For me, Essex and Sauce and Aiwendel, this kind of critical analysis is not a ripping apart or to shreds but a movement towards a fuller understanding of what the text means. For me, to think of Tolkien in the context of the English war poets and as affected by war as they were makes LOTR a richer text. Plenitude rather than destruction.

[ November 05, 2003: Message edited by: Bêthberry ]
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Old 11-05-2003, 10:09 AM   #61
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Eurytus,
re
Quote:
And if you find this “If you do not view it with a critical eye how can you explore its intricacies?” insulting then I have to conclude that you are too thin-skinned for your own good. Indeed since I have kept this discussion on the level from day one and have kept emotion out of it I find being accused of insulting people in itself insulting.
Legolas,

Quote:
Please focus on the points of the discussion, not the negative feelings you get from the points. If you find something insulting, simply ask more about it or present your own take on the matter without taking offense. Additionally, negative comments on the character of a forum member are far from on-topic and not allowed. That goes for everyone. No one is required to post on a thread they find insulting or repetitive.
I apologise for my negative response and have edited it out. Maybe I am too thin skinned when someone tells me I can’t explore LOTR’s intricacies……
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Old 11-05-2003, 10:11 AM   #62
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2 points Eurytus: what about my post above regarding examples of lotr being part of a Legend for England, as you asked me to prove?

And:

Quote:
1. You used the latter point to justify the change in tone in an earlier post.
2. you now state in the first point that the tone changes because the Hobbits themselves changed.
I’m stating two examples of how the style could have changed taken from the view that the book was written by Hobbits. They are not contradictory, and can go hand in hand.
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Old 11-05-2003, 10:12 AM   #63
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Bethberry, my reply to your post will be succinct.

Great post.
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Old 11-05-2003, 10:14 AM   #64
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I apologise for my negative response and have edited it out. Maybe I am too thin skinned when someone tells me I can’t explore LOTR’s intricacies……
My point about looking at it with a critical eye was not meant as an insult to those who like or love Tolkien.
But I do believe it to be true. A critical eye is necessary to analyse any work of art successfully.
After all someone who reviews art is called a critic.....
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Old 11-05-2003, 10:35 AM   #65
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OK, but does a critic need to find fault when analysing art? No, they do not.

I could find no major faults with the work when I FIRST read it, (when you can say I had a critical eye), not just on subsequent readings.

There are some minor faults in the book, but to me the style of language is not one of them.

I find the real faults in The Silmarillion rather that lotr, but that is another post.
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Old 11-05-2003, 12:02 PM   #66
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Perhaps, Essex, the point of confusion here is that you view the word 'fault' with such negative connotations.

I used the word fault, for example, in conjunction with a metaphor from geography, to suggest that there are places where the differences intrude upon each other.

It seems to me, if I can say this without being thought abrasive, that to fail to see differences in the text would be to not attend closely enough to the reading, to see that Tolkien was attempting to do something with the style.

For me, seeing this difference allows me not to be dismissive of Tolkien but to understand something more or better about Tolkien the writer. I can now see how much he shared the elves's nostalgia and well as the hobbits rootedness in land.
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Old 11-05-2003, 12:09 PM   #67
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I don't think the argument is about whether you can

Quote:
fail to see differences in the text
but why they are there. Eurytus says it is jarring, and I am trying to give reasons why it changes and why I feel it is not jarring.

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Old 11-05-2003, 12:23 PM   #68
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1420!

Quote:
I utterly disagree with the opinion that archaic English can somehow express things of a nobler quality than modern English. Modern English can express anything its author puts their mind to, if the author is good enough.
That means nothing, nor is it what I have been trying to say. If an author is good enough he can write his entire story in the manner of Robert Burns and still get his point across. However, couching an entire 100,000 word book in Highland dialect might not give the work quite the voice that this hypothetical author intended. Nothing can be better expressed in archaic English, but it can be expressed differently, and in a manner that is both more appealing to the writer and more expressive of his thoughts and intentions. In the case of The Lord of the Rings these were complicated and multifarious, as one might expect: Tolkien wanted to portray a wide range of characters of massively variant ages, races and what we might loosely term nationalities, but who use a common tongue. At the same time he wanted his work to appear to have been written by some of its protagonists after the fact and then translated by the actual author at a much later date. Although this technique falls down in places, it retains the great advantage that it explains dichotomies of style even better than the idea of the final work having different authors. Basically by presenting himself as the translator of an existing work, Tolkien makes himself a minor and peripheral character within his own story; and his own linguistic preferences find their way into the text because a translator will naturally use whichever English words he thinks best express the sense of those that he is trying to translate. This is all covered in the notes on translation at the end of The Lord of the Rings, but consider the fact that Westron follows the Romance convention of having formal and informal versions of the second person of the personal pronoun. Translating this into English, what would you do? English has no equivalent of a formal 'you', but since most people are familiar with the archaic 'thee', 'thou', 'thy' and so forth from the Bible (hardly the most informal work to be printed in English), it does not seem to me such a great leap of the imagination to use those to translate the idea, however imperfectly. How else could one contrast Pippin's mode of speech with that of Denethor in a manner that is instantly apparent to English-speaking readers? In German, or in the Romance languages it would be simple, but modern English simply does not have the same concept, just as it lacks the Old-Norse and Old-English duals of the personal pronoun that allow 'we two' to become a single word.

Is this a cop-out? Possibly, but Tolkien does mention in his letters that the point of writing his original stories was to provide a narrative framework for his languages, and that The Lord of the Rings was written to provide a context in which elen sila lumenn' omentielvo would be a recognisable greeting. If this is the case, and I see no reason to assume that it is not, then it does not seem so unrealistic to consider that Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings as a translation from the Westron from the very beginning, and that at least some of the oddities of style were included deliberately. This could just as easily be an elaborate explanation dreamed up during the composition of the appendices, but since Tolkien was very pressed for space when compiling these it seems odd that he would have chosen to waste so many words on a rebuttal for pedants.

Of course there are variations in style between the opening chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring and the conclusion of the book, and although this can be put down to literary technique I don't think that we can discount the fact that the former were written in the late 1930s and the latter were written in the mid to late 1940s. So many years are a long time to spend writing a large and detailed story, but if that time includes the most hectic and violent years of the century, with increased pressure of work and an uncertain future, it is not at all conducive to narrative consistency. However, it seems to me that the voice of the earlier chapters, light-hearted and bantering as it is, perfectly matches the spirit in which those chapters are presented, just as the more distant, less familiar and more difficult archaism in later chapters supports themes of inadequacy, of suddenly being a very small part of something inexpressibly huge and strange. Along with the Hobbits, the reader is learning that there are creatures alive who learned their language before the Shire even existed. How would a man born in 1550 speak if he were alive today? Would he adapt to suit modern parlance or would he revert to the mode of speech of his youth, much as someone might revert to their native language in moments of stress? What of someone who is more than a thousand years old? How would they speak? From the structure of some conversations it is clear that Tolkien had considered all of this, and used different flavours of archaism to suggest differing modes of Westron that would otherwise become invisible in the great all-enveloping cloak of modern English.

That isn't to say that Tolkien was perfect. far from it, he was pedantic and a niggler, who seemed either to write pieces in one sitting or to revise them endlessly; but I do not believe that his use of the language that he taught merits such vehement criticism. Nor do I believe that he deserves veiled implications that he was not a good enough writer to use a modern idiom, as though a modern idiom were the only voice that English can afford. I doubt that anyone would get very far these days suggesting that dialect and patois are not valid forms of communication, and yet it is considered that an academic or an archaic style, both of which can be almost painful in their adherence to the rules of English grammar, is no longer acceptable. Personally, I am rather fond of dialect, slang, archaism and other permutations of English. I find that they provide a refreshing break from the dreadful tedium that is the everyday vocabulary, so for me the very points of language for which some criticise Tolkien are points in his favour. Clearly that is a personal and not an academic opinion, but so is the opinion that Tolkien's use of archaism is annoying and misplaced. If it were I would have been the first to turn the full force of my pedantry upon it.

Just as with his voice, so with Tolkien's works. I consider those works of his that do not concern Middle-earth to be very readable. The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth is a moving yet ironic look at the aftermath of a battle, told in the style of an epic poem. The contrast of young Torhthelm's poetic idealism, which finds expression in his use of the high-flown language of the court poets, with the hard-headed practicality of the aged Tídwald makes for some amusing moments that nonetheless make very valid points about the portrayal and reality of warfare. Leaf by Niggle is a poignant little allegory that explores themes of personal fulfillment versus social duty, of the uncertainty of earthly posterity and of the way in which we view one another. I could go on, but although Tolkien wrote few books he left quite enough material that an attempt to pot all of his works here would be longer than the Midgard Serpent and about as friendly. Suffice it to say that Tolkien adopted a style that not everybody likes for some of his works, but it is neither a bad style nor the wrong style, just as it is not wrong for Iain Banks suddenly to begin narrating in Glaswegian dialect in The Bridge. If the author is no longer allowed to choose his own voice, what future is there for writing? More importantly, what is the future of a language that insists on forgetting half of its vocabulary every five-hundred years? George Orwell's little foray into linguistic invention can provide an answer, although it is hardly a satisfactory one.

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Old 11-05-2003, 12:54 PM   #69
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If the author is no longer allowed to choose his own voice, what future is there for writing? More importantly, what is the future of a language that insists on forgetting half of its vocabulary every five-hundred years? George Orwell's little foray into linguistic invention can provide an answer, although it is hardly a satisfactory one.
Hmm. I thought it was clear, Squatter, that the point was not dissing archaic language and demanding that we ditch old styles in favour of today's flavour. And it is more than a little repugnant to insinuate an Orwellian form of doublespeak here.

No one is saying an author cannot pick his own style. What I at least am saying is that we have a right to discuss that style and consider how well it conveys what the author purportedly wanted it to convey.

Really, the issue is whether we think Tolkien's use of archaism is successful as writing or not.

Some of us think he dipped too deeply into purple ink and, instead of helping to convey heroic characters or elevated thought and feeling, rather wrote embarassingly overwrought passages which detract from the story and the characters. There, I've said it. It is bad archaic language. Horrors. Tolkien is not untouchable.

Some people prefer the style of the King James Bible for its rhythm, its metaphors, its cadences. Some people want God to sound old fashioned, but this old fashionedness was not a feature of the style of the orginal texts. And other people prefer the modern translation because the content is no longer lost through words which have changed meaning over time.

Frankly, I would need alot more evidence to convince me that Tolkien was extensively using his role as translator when he varied the style. There needs to be internal references to the translation, not simply a few points made in letters and appendices.

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but I do not believe that his use of the language that he taught merits such vehement criticism. Nor do I believe that he deserves veiled implications that he was not a good enough writer to use a modern idiom, as though a modern idiom were the only voice that English can afford. I doubt that anyone would get very far these days suggesting that dialect and patois are not valid forms of communication, and yet it is considered that an academic or an archaic style, both of which can be almost painful in their adherence to the rules of English grammar, is no longer acceptable.
And, again, I don't see why a sincere and honest attempt to articulate a reading of Tolkien's texts has to run up against this idea that we are throwing mud. There is no vehemence in my comments about him. No author is beyond criticism or analysis or discussion or debate. I didn't say he was not a good enough writer to use a modern idiom; he clearly did with the hobbits. I said that his imagination could not conceive of a modern heroic idiom. There is a difference.

But then, you didn't quote me in your post but someone else so perhaps I should not have replied.

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Old 11-05-2003, 03:11 PM   #70
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More importantly, what is the future of a language that insists on forgetting half of its vocabulary every five-hundred years?
Actually it is false to sugges that modern English is somehow less worthy than Old English as you seem to be suggesting above. Nor is it true to say that it somehow has 'fewer words' than the older English. In fact English is probably more diverse a language now than at any time in the past. The fact that many of today's youth choose to ignore much of it is somewhat their own personal choice.
But modern English is as rich (or richer) than that which went before and is fully capable of expressing everything and anything that the author so chooses.
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Old 11-05-2003, 03:13 PM   #71
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Eurytus says it is jarring, and I am trying to give reasons why it changes and why I feel it is not jarring.
And I think we have probably gone as far as we can in that aspect of the discussion. I think we ca nsee each other's viewpoints now, though we may not agree with them. Perhaps there is something else we can now discuss or perhaps we will talk again in another thread.
But I have enjoyed the discussion.
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Old 11-05-2003, 03:59 PM   #72
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Nothing can be better expressed in archaic English, but it can be expressed differently, and in a manner that is both more appealing to the writer and more expressive of his thoughts and intentions.
Well said.

I expressed myself somewhat poorly when I said that archaic English has a "terser, nobler" quality. I did not mean that noble actions or noble ideas cannot be conveyed by a more modern idiom. I was not referring at all to the content of the language. I was trying to express what I find to be the peculiar flavor, as it were, of archaic English. "Noble" fails, I suppose, to convey it. "Terse" certainly does get part of it, but not the whole. But it doesn't really matter. The point is that different styles of writing do, undeniably, have different flavors. And, as Squatter points out, this flavor is part of the experience of one reading the book; and thus different styles may be used to achieve different effects. I find the style of The Lord of the Rings to be one of its great attractions.

Bethberry wrote:
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Really, the issue is whether we think Tolkien's use of archaism is successful as writing or not.

Some of us think he dipped too strongly into purple ink and, instead of helping to convey heroic characters or elevated thought and feeling, rather wrote embarassingly overwrought passages which detract from the story and the characters. There, I've said it. It is bad archaic language. Horrors. Tolkien is not untouchable.
Ah! This is something different. You are simply saying that Tolkien wrote poorly. This kind of criticism is perfectly valid (though it is certainly possible to disagree with it - and yet not be an uncritical, unthinking fan).

It is only when the charge becomes "his writing is poor because it is archaic" rather than "his archaic writing happens to be poor" that the criticism begins to suffer, a priori, from all the faults which I and others have attributed to it. Perhaps you are not making this charge. But others have done so, often enough, and unless I am mistaken (and please correct me if I am), Eurytus has made it.
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Old 11-05-2003, 07:30 PM   #73
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Amazing! [img]smilies/rolleyes.gif[/img] [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] So many long posts, all saying pretty much the same thing. Clickety, clickety, click.

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Old 11-06-2003, 02:26 AM   #74
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But others have done so, often enough, and unless I am mistaken (and please correct me if I am), Eurytus has made it.
No, that is not quite correct. My position is that much of Tolkien's archaic language is overdone but the true fault is that his use of it creates a disconnect between the 1st and 3rd books.
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Old 11-06-2003, 10:12 AM   #75
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But then, you didn't quote me in your post but someone else so perhaps I should not have replied.
The perils of cross-posting. I would have addressed the more recent posts, particlarly your exploration of the use of language, but they were put up while I was still writing mine (a process that took several hours).

Obviously had I spotted the later post that mentions me by name I should have responded to it. As it happened, though, I was making no attempt to reply to any of your posts (mainly because I agree, particularly on the point that fan fora are too reluctant to criticise Tolkien), so if I've actually managed it, then it's more by luck than judgement.

The examples quoted above demonstrate that modern English is effective in conveying heroism and nobility, but I was never questioning that. What I do find hard to accept without examples is the idea that Tolkien did not believe this, or that his archaism is bad. My point was that archaic English is just another form that an author is entitled to use to create the atmosphere that he wants. It's quite possible that he did so badly, and "If it were so, it was a grievous fault", but it would help those of us with a less than perfect grasp of critical theory if some passages could be quoted, together with explanations of what makes them bad. Hopefully my admission that I find some of the more purple passages in The Lord of the Rings rather appealing will not be too great a cause for lamentation.

I would not agree that there ought to be internal references to the work as a translation. Aside from annotating the whole of The Lord of the Rings with the sort of spurious academic commentary that C.S. Lewis wrote on the Lay of Leithian I fail to see how the presentation of the work as a translated text could be referred to within it without bringing the entire device crashing down. As with a genuine translation, Tolkien offers a translator's note, which is separate from the body of the text. He points out difficulties in the languages with which he was working, and devices that he has used in an attempt to preserve the original feel of the piece. If we bear in mind that he used the same 'translation' plot device in The Hobbit, and that Allen and Unwin had commissioned the larger work as a sequel, it seems perfectly clear to me that The Lord of the Rings is presented as a translation by J.R.R. Tolkien of an earlier text. In my opinion, however unsuccessful was this device, it worked far better than it had when applied to The Hobbit, which reads exactly like a children's book.

As for Tolkien's ability or otherwise to depict heroism in a modern style, I think that too often the exchanges in Mordor during The Two Towers and The Return of the King are overlooked as examples of simple speech elevated to the level of heroic nobility. Frodo and Sam do not suddenly start exchanging 'thee's and 'thou's with one another when they decide to throw away their food and water (a scene in which they relinquish all hope of return), and it becomes clear that it was not a matter simply of showing us when heroic or noble events are afoot by throwing in some medieval or early-modern English. The two Hobbits in Mordor are more important than any of the mythic heroes on the great battlefields, who speak in the manner of saga heroes. The Hobbits are characters from a modern war, doing their best amid forces that are too great for them to influence directly; but Aragorn and other heroes are larger-than-life people, heroes from legend and saga, whose antiquated speech is written precisely to convey to the reader from just how far beyond the normal experience of the smaller protagonists these characters hail.

Returning to the two war poems that you quoted (from sometime collaborative writers Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen), I only see poetic language that reflects their respective literary education. Owen was a great believer that poetry should be beautiful, which for some time prevented him from writing about his war experience at all. He was heavily influenced by Keats, and I think that this shows in his phrasing, although since the Romantics were held as exemplars of poetic style by many at that time, it seems hardly surprising that a poet of the era should adopt that tone. Sassoon tended to adopt a much more personal, familiar style, falling more often into army slang or Edwardian idiom and drawing his reader towards his own anger at the war.

To my mind it is Owen, yoking the traditional style to new scenes and ideas that its originators would have been unable to imagine, who consistently manages to evoke the horrors of his subject. In the example above, he even makes explicit the dreadful gulf between peace experience and war experience that is already implicit in his sometimes violent variance between form and content.

My point is, of course, that this style, effective though it may be, was the result of the writer's education and inclination. This was not a retreat into archaism in an attempt to describe what he saw, but an attempt to describe the things that were happening around him using the literary tools at his disposal. How closely we can compare him with Tolkien is questionable. They came from different families, attended different schools and fought in different regiments. Tolkien was never the soldier that either Sassoon or Owen came to be, and his short time in the lines can in no way be compared with the long stints of his two contemporaries.

Now, this is not to say that the war was no influence on Tolkien at all, but that much of his high-flown poetic writing may simply be a product of his education rather than a deliberate retreat. If he were incapable of facing the grim realities of warfare he could have chosen something else to write about, and if he really did hide behind eccentric modes of expression why is it that possibly the most heroic part of his entire story is written mainly in standard 1940s English? I do think that his war experience had a deep effect on Tolkien: we can see it in the recurrence of themes such as the brevity of victory, the perversion of good intentions and the variance between the reality and depiction of the act of war itself. What I do not believe is that it forever soured Tolkien on the modern idiom's ability to portray universal concepts. It seems to me that he felt that the 'northern heroic spirit' of which he was so fond, which finds its voice mainly in saga and epic, was best expressed in the language of those forms. If anything, Tolkien was far too concerned with the close ties between language, people, myth, land and time, as Seamus Heaney puts it "...bedding the locale in the utterance" so that modern speech becomes for him discordant when it describes ideas or situations in the present tense that are absent from the world in which modern English is spoken.

For me the only valid criticism of Tolkien's style is either that it does not work as he intended or that it is inconsistent enough to introduce a disjointed quality to the narrative. I may be somewhat obtuse, but I have always found Tolkien's style to be most evocative, and any differences between The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King to be entirely supported by the difference in their respective content. In fact for me it is often the use of modern English in a way that completely jars against the atmosphere of the overall work (as in Eddings' Belgariad) that meets with my irritation. Perhaps my ear is also affected, although I have less of an excuse than did Tolkien. Naturally I shall capitulate in shame if a passage can be dredged up from somewhere in the published writings that makes me cringe.

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Old 11-06-2003, 11:46 AM   #76
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Eurytus wrote:
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No, that is not quite correct. My position is that much of Tolkien's archaic language is overdone but the true fault is that his use of it creates a disconnect between the 1st and 3rd books.
Ah. I apologize. I thought that (earlier) you were arguing that since The Lord of the Rings was written at the time it was, it should not have used archaic language.

But it is quite different (and altogether more reasonable, I think) to claim that the writing is simply poor or that there is an internal clash of styles. I still disagree with these claims, but I can accept them as well formulated criticisms.

Liriodendron wrote:
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Amazing! So many long posts, all saying pretty much the same thing. Clickety, clickety, click.
I'm afraid my posts are particularly vulnerable to this charge. Maybe I should be confined to the New Silmarillion project . . .
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Old 11-06-2003, 12:27 PM   #77
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Oh no! [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img] You all just make me feel lazy! [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]
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Old 11-06-2003, 03:14 PM   #78
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OK since someone has asked to provide examples of bad writing, here are a couple that I think to be pretty poor;

"Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!
Ring a dong! hope along! fal lal the willow!
Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!"

A lost mythology for England?? Suddenly I'm in Alice in Wonderland.
Never have I been so glad for a change from book to film. Not to mention the over-abundance of exclamation marks.

"Then Merry stooped and lifted his hand to kiss it, and lo! Theoden opened his eyes, and they were clear, and he spoke in a quiet voice though laboured."

Quite apart from sounding like a list (and, and, and, and) was the lo! really justified by Theoden opening his eyes? Although of course by now lo! is as ubiquitous as the word Excellent is in a Bill & Ted movie.

"And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness."

Sounding like another list (another 4 ands in one sentence!) this pearler contains the cracking phrase "their joy was like swords".

But the fact that we are supposed to believe that this was written by the same author as the one who wrote about a fox thinking to himself "There's something mighty queer behind this" He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.

Now that is what I am talking about when I mention a disconnect between books 1 and 3. Reading the HOME series you can clearly see that the FOTR starts as a straight sequel to the Hobbit. The ROTK attempts to be a sequel to the Silmarillion. When Tolkien did that he should have gone back and fixed things. Elements like the language change and the Fox shows pretty clearly that he did not.
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Old 11-06-2003, 05:16 PM   #79
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I thought you had acknowledged that we had come to an impasse.

What response can there be to your examples save "I disagree"? I don't think any of those are among Tolkien's greatest passages, but I don't find any of them disgusting either.

If there is going to be a debate over whether particular passages sound good or not, it will be interminable.

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Old 11-06-2003, 07:05 PM   #80
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I agree. I think the Bombadil stuff is great! Crazy, wacky, simple joy for joy's sake. No rules, just right! [img]smilies/rolleyes.gif[/img] [img]smilies/biggrin.gif[/img]
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