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Old 09-06-2016, 10:19 AM   #1
Inziladun
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Smaug Is Not a Bookworm

I'm currently reading an interesting book about 'nerdy' topics like the title. It has a chapter devoted to Tolkien (at which I have yet to arrive), but there's another mention too.

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In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf's reading comes in the form of scrolls and prophesies to figure out what the hell is going on. He's blowing a lot of dust off this ****, too, because it always seems like no one has taken up this kind of thing for a long, long time. Even here in Middle-Earth, a world born from the very literate linguist J.R.R Tolkien, a place where books do exist, they're treated like something other people used to handle. And then--either in the novels or the films--Gandalf's reading of old legends and myths is more like a training montage from a Rocky movie than anything else.
Offhand, I can't think of any reading for pleasure that's done in the books. There are certainly no works of prose perused by the idle ME denizen.
The author, Ryan Britt, goes on:

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Plus, the suggestion that The Hobbit or There and Back Again exists as some sort of real book (Bilbo's life story?) is borderline insulting to a real memoirist. Because no one ever seems to read anyway, Bilbo writing his life story comes across like a delusional hobbyist deciding he can write a memoir, even though he's never read one.
What about that? Why would Bilbo make a written record of his adventures? Not for his heir, apparently, as he was already working on it when Gandalf and Balin came to call long before Frodo was born. Is there any merit to the author's claim?
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Old 09-06-2016, 10:55 AM   #2
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What about that? Why would Bilbo make a written record of his adventures? Not for his heir, apparently, as he was already working on it when Gandalf and Balin came to call long before Frodo was born. Is there any merit to the author's claim?
I'm not sure I can answer this, but what immediately came to mind was this early exchange between Bilbo and Gandalf:

'[...] I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.'
Gandalf laughed. I hope he will. But nobody will read the book, however it ends.'
'Oh, they may, in years to come. Frodo has read some already, as far as it has gone. [...]'

This also comes to mind from the final chapter:

'[...]you will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone. so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more.'
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Old 09-06-2016, 10:56 AM   #3
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Maybe as an extension of the hobbitish obsession with genealogies? I think Merry wrote at least a couple of books as well. Many people write without great hope,] or expectation that others will read them. Many diary keepers (including perhaps Tolkien himself who used code at times if I remember rightly) go to great lengths to ensure their diaries are kept private. Some go as far as to want them destroyed after their own deaths.
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Old 09-06-2016, 06:12 PM   #4
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Bilbo is emulating the Elves of Imladris. He considers himself quite the writer, and even has the impertinence of reading The Song of Eärendil in the Hall of Fire.
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Old 09-08-2016, 09:41 AM   #5
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Offhand, I can't think of any reading for pleasure that's done in the books. There are certainly no works of prose perused by the idle ME denizen.
I cannot recall an instance either, but the times in the stories that are described in the greatest detail are usually periods of crisis where people didn't have leisure time for pleasure reading.
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Old 09-09-2016, 05:31 AM   #6
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'They are proud and wilful, but they are true-hearted, generous in thought and deed; bold but not cruel; wise but unlearned, writing no books but singing many songs, after the manner of the children of Men before the Dark Years' , Aragorn's comments on the Rohirrim seems to suggest that writing books (if not reading once written!) was a feature of other cultures otherwise it wouldn't be noteworthy here.

However even in the cultures that in some ways are technologically advanced they don't seem to have developed a printing press - books seem to be copied as needed and the preserve of specialists. The book culture doesn't seem to be further on than the libraries of great or monastic houses in our own world. Gondor and Rivendell have archives, the main dwellings of the big hobbit families would have genealogies and perhaps other records but I guess the reading would more be reference than pleasure.
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Old 09-09-2016, 06:12 AM   #7
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the main dwellings of the big hobbit families would have genealogies and perhaps other records but I guess the reading would more be reference than pleasure.
Another quote that comes to mind is the one saying that Hobbits "liked to have books filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions." This would suggest that Hobbits' writing culture was indeed largely focused on reference, and probably not generally interested in material that was entertaining or challenging to their established beliefs.

We know that Hugo Bracegirdle was "a great borrower of books, and worse than usual at returning them." I wonder what kinds of books he liked to borrow?
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Old 09-09-2016, 06:20 AM   #8
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Wasn't Lobelia S-B born a Bracegirdle? Maybe a tactic to obscure scandal or claim inheritances if the book were genealogies/family histories. Goodness knows family history is not to be delved in unless you are prepared to discover your family is not as respectable or renowned as you had been led to believe ... or that has been my experience anyway!!
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Old 09-09-2016, 07:59 AM   #9
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Boots A Sampling of Potential Topics

Engaging in some mild extrapolation here, but Gondor has some parallels with Greco-Roman civilization and some distinct parallels with Byzantine (or later Roman) culture, a comparison of literary culture might be drawn.

The Greeks and Romans both developed rich literary traditions (indeed ours descends from theirs). There were, of course, variations in interest down through the centuries but from Herodotus and Thucydides on there was a keen interest in history. They both spawned generations of imitators or detractors down through the centuries. Then there were the lively philosophical debates (which in many instances were entwined with discussions of the physical sciences) to be replaced in later Roman times with theological debates. Up until approximately the Crisis of the Third Century and the changes to Roman society that wrough, poetry was very important, and it was still important even then. Additionally there were more specialized works on medicine, military tactics, rhetoric, travelogues (of a sort), even biographies.

While this literary culture was, of physical necessity, the largely the preserve of those with leisure, it very much existed and was thriving. In the eastern Roman Empire it never stopped thriving although in many respects it became increasingly impoverished as things in the East...went south. I think the Gondorians and perhaps the elves to some extent (although I imagine the elves to have more of an oral tradition) could be imagined to have a similar literary culture.

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Originally Posted by Mithalwen
the main dwellings of the big hobbit families would have genealogies and perhaps other records but I guess the reading would more be reference than pleasure
There might also have been something akin to the Farmers' Almanac, as I can imagine something of that nature would have some value to a brusque, down-to-earth farming society.

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Old 09-09-2016, 11:40 AM   #10
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I don't know that tome. But I was thinking that literate hobbit families might well have the sort of books that some people get handed down from their foremothers - like practical commonplace books with herblore and recipes for dishes and simples. The sort of thing that would be passed down and maybe copied for a daughter getting married and gradually added to and amended.
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Old 09-09-2016, 01:27 PM   #11
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The Farmers' Almanac.

Although what I was thinking of would not be updated, obviously.
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Old 09-09-2016, 04:14 PM   #12
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There certainly is a lack of pleasure reading in any of the ME cultures. There are people who take pleasure in reading - bookish hobbits and Gondor scholars among others - but no recreational literature as such. Any story for story's sake is passed down as oral tradition. Most cultures we meet have an abundance of tales, songs, ballads, lays, prose and poetry by whatever name it goes. These are sometimes based on historical events, but sometimes are made up or too muddled to trace directly to real history (especially hobbit stuff). It's interesting that Men and Elves (at least those that we see) tend to tell stories of legends of historical figures, and hobbits, while they can still tell some good hobbit history, seem to prefer the stuff of myth for their bedtime stories. Take two simple instances from LOTR - an Elf of Lorien climbing up a tree and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gilmi chasing after the hobbits - absurdly simple for any real story, but taken to make an example. A Man seems more likely to make a ballad of the three hunters and say a couple sentences about the magic ways of the Fair Folk. A hobbit would summarize the chase in a couple sentences and shrug it off, but pay much greater attention to any detail one can think of to stick onto the bare description of an Elf climbing a tree. Difference in attitude? Heroic versus mundane? Just skewed perspective and inaccurate representation of their respective lore? Is there really a difference, or am I just imagining it?

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Originally Posted by Inziladun View Post
What about that? Why would Bilbo make a written record of his adventures? Not for his heir, apparently, as he was already working on it when Gandalf and Balin came to call long before Frodo was born. Is there any merit to the author's claim?
But that's the cool part: Bilbo did not write a recreational story. There is nothing out of character for either Bilbo or the general ideas of ME writers. All great heroes of Middle-earth eventually have songs sung and legends told of them, and many end up in written records. History is recorded by Elves, hobbits, and some Men. Bilbo, true to his larger than life persona, simply became his own historian. Unprecedented? Sure, but then Bilbo is quite an unusual fellow. Embellished? He did enjoy a boast or two, and what's the point of being your own historian if you can't claim that "the fish was this big"? I feel like he was amusing himself by living in his own story again, but this time making it much more glorious and amusing than perhaps he really felt at the time. He knew the difference during the Council of Elrond, but I can't say for sure about Grey Havens. In any case, I suppose Bilbo was too impatient to become the stuff of legends generations past - he wanted to become the stuff of legend now, so he wrote the legend. Except he's also a hobbit, so his legend turned out to be less of an Elven or Man epic, and more of a hobbit fireplace tale (that is, if we take The Hobbit to be a representation of Bilbo's part of the book).

It's also interesting that Frodo, when writing his part, almost completely loses touch with that part of his hobbit identity (again, assuming that LOTR is an accurate parallel). It's a good reflection of both of these hobbits' inner states at the end of their respective journeys. But then the question comes up: did the journey shape the authors, or did the authors shape the journey?



EDIT: As a less romanticized and more real-world answer, is it just possible that books were kind of hard to make, sometimes hard to keep safe, and for many folks hard to come by? Why would you waste the time and paper (parchment?) on some made-up gibberish? Or on a story that everyone knows by heart anyways? What's the point? It only makes sense to write down what you think is important to remember, what you otherwise would not remember.
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Old 09-16-2016, 08:07 AM   #13
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Nice topic Inziladun.

There is a clear difference between Boromir and Faramir. While I don't know of an instance where it's noted that Faramir is reading a book, it's clearly implied that he is a book reader. Afterall, Denethor calls him the "wizard's pupil."

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'So time drew on to the War of the Ring, and the sons of Denethor grew to manhood, Boromir, five years the elder, beloved by his father, was like him in face and pride, but in little else. Rather he was a man after the sort of King Earnur of old, taking no wife and delighting chiefly in arms; fearless and strong, but caring little for lore, save the tales of old battles. Faramir the younger was like him in looks but otherwise in mind. He read the hearts of men as shrewdly as his father, but what he read moved him sooner to pity than to scorn. He was gentle in bearing, and a lover of lore and of music, and therefore by many in those days his courage was judged less than his brother's.'~ Appendix A: Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion ; The Stewards
The implication here is in Gondor's culture at this time, a lover of lore and music is not as courageous as a warrior/war general like Boromir. In these days of war, a reader of books like Faramir, or Gandalf isn't not as useful as strength of arms. The trouble is, strength of arms could no longer save Gondor from Sauron's destruction...and it was people like Gandalf and the book-nerds like Faramir that Middle-earth needed.

I would also classify Denethor and Saruman as readers. Denethor delved into Gondor's archives to learn about the palantir. Saruman arguably knows more about Ring-lore than anyone else during this period in Middle-earth, save Sauron himself. However their studies and reading lead them down the wrong path. To Denethor and Saruman their studies into the palantir and ring-lore were to master and have power over such objects. Not to try to learn, understand, or respect the power and dangers of these objects they wanted to control.
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Old 09-17-2016, 04:31 PM   #14
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Hobbits loved boasting about their ancestors, and I suppose that's as close to reading for pleasure as you can get.
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Old 09-18-2016, 07:30 AM   #15
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Interesting topic!

There's a short passage in the Note on the Shire records that touches this subject:

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At the end of the Third Age the part played by the Hobbits in the great events that led to the inclusion of the Shire in the Reunited Kingdom awakened among them a more widespread interest in their own history; and many of their traditions, up to that time still mainly oral, were collected and written down. The greater families were also concerned with events in the Kingdom at large, and many of their members studied its ancient histories and legends. By the end of the first century of the Fourth Age there were already to be found in the Shire several libraries that contained many historical books and records.
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