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littlemanpoet 09-22-2002 08:22 PM

It feels different near the Shire....
The Shire, the Old Forest, Old Man Willow and the House of Tom Bombadil have a certain Fae feel to them that is found hardly anywhere else in Middle Earth - at least in LotR.
The Fae nature of the Elves, whether Gildor in the Shire, or the Elves in Rivendell, or Lorien, does not have the same feel.
I don't know what to call that special thing, but I do recognize it in most of The Hobbit - it maintains all the way until Smaug is killed, after which it is lost, overshadowed by the political wrangling between the Dwarves and everybody else.
This feel is also shot through Smith of Wooton Major.
It seems to me that the Queen of Faerie in Smith is more like Goldberry than Galadriel, for example.

Does anybody else sense this? What is it? Why is it different from the Elves?

[ September 23, 2002: Message edited by: littlemanpoet ]

[ September 23, 2002: Message edited by: littlemanpoet ]

Tirned Tinnu 09-23-2002 03:47 PM

You've hit on a good point, Littlemanpoet.
Yes! The first half of FOTR is very different in style from the rest of it.
I have discussed this with people before, and we have come to the conclusion that Tolkien started out writing something much more light-hearted. When he got to Bree, things changed. He very nearly made it an all-hobbit tale, with the invention of "Trotter", but laid the book aside for a good while, trying to understand what kind of a corner he's written hinself into. He was frustrated until he changed Trotter into Strider, and continued therafter on a different vein.

mark12_30 09-23-2002 04:03 PM

I wonder whether has anything to do with the fact that in between the writing of The Hobbit and the LOTR, Tolkien had spent some more, significant, time on the Silmarillion. Perhaps that added the different flavor? He began reaching back into his written history, giving the story it's weighty background, rather than into mystery. The second time he stepped into Elrond's territory he knew that much more about the history he was stepping into. Even Amon Sul had that sort of history to it. But Bombadil nor the old forest show up in those histories; => mystery then.

littlemanpoet 09-24-2002 05:03 AM

I'm familiar with the facts you bring to light, Tirned Tinnu. In CT's History it's suddenly at Weathertop that Tolkien discovered and unleashed the depth of power we now know to be what LotR is all about.

But there's something different, even yet. The flavor changed, as well as the tone. I don't know what better words to use. I have no problem with the lightness of tone having changed, but I guess I feel that Tolkien lost something, call it the whimsy, the Fae feel, of Goldberry and Old Man Willow and Tom Bombadil; I guess a summation is that it stopped being a Faerie-tale and started being an epic. I don't suppose he could have managed to keep both aspects. It's probably why I like Smith of Wooton Major even more than LotR. Heresy, I know, but that story seems to have been dipped straight from the vat of Faerie with very little additive.

Mark, I almost wish JRRT had left the Sil alone. True, we might not have gotten LotR from him then, but he might actually have WRITTEN more wonderful stuff throughout his life. Ah, well, might have beens, might have beens.

Liriodendron 09-24-2002 05:52 AM

Oh man! I better rush out and buy Smith of Wooten immediately ! The fairy tale quality of the shire part of LoTR and The Hobbit is my favorite. This is good news! (that Smith of Wooten continues on in the lighter fantasy style)! Thanks for the hot tip! [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img] [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

[ September 24, 2002: Message edited by: Liriodendron ]

littlemanpoet 09-24-2002 02:48 PM

Yes, it's lighter, but it is elegiac rather than hobbity. Does that make sense?

Evenstar1 09-24-2002 05:08 PM

Quote: stopped being a Faerie-tale and started being an epic.
But littlemanpoet, if the tone hadn't changed, he (JRRT) wouldn't have been able to effectively create the unbelievably-magnificent eucatastrophic ending. (Something, I believe to have read somewhere, that he was specifically shooting-for with LOTR.) Doesn't that, in and of itself, make it the Ultimate Faerie Tale?

[ September 24, 2002: Message edited by: Evenstar1 ]

Liriodendron 09-24-2002 09:22 PM

Hi Littlemanpoet! Thanks for the reply. Well, I looked up elegiac in my dictionary (to try to make some sense), but the definition wasn't clear enough for my denseness! [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img] Elegiac was defined as mournful, or, "a distich having the first line in a dactylic hexameter and the second a pentameter". Sooooo, the first I get, if it's the second, HELP! [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img] Thanks!

littlemanpoet 09-25-2002 04:59 AM

Evenstar1: Well, yes. I would not trade away the Lord of the Rings for anything. On the other hand, I wish there was more in the published world that had the same feel as the Shire and Smith. It seems that writers who follow in Tolkien's tradition always go for the big clash and epic proportions. I would love to see more along the lines of The Hobbit and Smith.

Liriodendron: Sorry. "elegiac" is an adjective. The noun is "elegy". An elegy is a song in honor of someone who has died or is dying. In the case of Smith, Tolkien could be said to have written an elegy that both celebrated Faerie AND mourned his own loss of it. It's really a wonderful little story. It's where my "from: the edges of Faerie" in my signature comes from.

mark12_30 09-25-2002 05:11 AM

lmp, what do you think of George MacDonald?

And yes, I could wish that Tolkien had been cloned just after The Hobbit, with the Clone free to pursue Faery. [img]smilies/rolleyes.gif[/img]

Wasn't it Aslan who said: "What might have been, child? No. No one is ever told that."

lmp, you'll just have to write your own. [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img]

Bill Ferny 09-25-2002 07:41 AM

This is just a suggestion. I always thought that Tolkien's change in mood from the Hobbit to LotR (where I actually noticed the change) had to do with two factors. 1) The Hobbit was first intended as a children's story. 2) Tolkien gradually works in the world of man. I think, that under it all, Tolkien had an absolute loathing for his own kind, especially in light of post-industrial England and the encroachment of technology and big business on his rather pastoral childhood home. **I really think the change in mood was intentional.**

I like the Shire, because that's the way life is supposed to be. I hate Isengard because that is how our world has turned out.

Aside: I really liked the movie's depiction of Isengard as a degeneration of pristine beauty to scared sadism. This was where I think the movie hit the Tolkien nail squarely on the head.

Edit: I changed my mind about the state in **s. I'm a firm believer in not trying to read into Tolkien what he, himself, didn't intend. He has said that he was not allegorizing. However, I still think it was an unconscious sort of thing.

[ September 25, 2002: Message edited by: Bill Ferny ]

Nar 09-25-2002 10:25 AM

Good question, good answers. I would agree with all of these posts.

I don't have much to add, except that I think the first version of the story of Luthien and Beren, 'The Tale of Tinuviel' from HoME 2-- the one where the Noldor are still Gnomes and Sauron is Tevildo the evil Prince of Cats-- has that loose charm that you're talking about-- and the courtship between the leads, while less grand and tragic, is more charming and heartfelt in some ways. At least, it takes a bit more time than 'love at first hearing'.

I connect that charm to a warm and loving aspect of JRRT's storytelling linked closely to his children when they were still children. So while I would agree with the comments of Billy Ferny and others on the children's story aspect, it seems to me that this tone is rooted more deeply than the intended 'children's book' genre (which genre seems to have worried JRRT in its tradition of 'preciousness'), rooted in JRRT's feelings about his family. The Christmas Letters about Father Christmas and his friend the North Polar Bear have that charm also, that intimate voice also, and they were written to his children and published much later. That's love and bliss and family-joy you're sensing, LMP. Even Smith has an ending concerned with a passage to the new generation.

The only other aspect I can think of is that the mythic background of the Hobbit and Shire to Bree sequences feels very English (possibly so English only a returned colonies-exile could feel it, possibly not) whereas the Noldor in their fading and tragic glamour feel more northern, no further south than middle Scotland at the warmest. The Hobbit and Bombadil's section are Tales Told from a Hedgerow. The Silmarillion's got icebergs and Northern Lights in it.

Bill Ferny 09-25-2002 10:45 AM

Yeah, I would agree with that Nar. Children's book was poor wording. I should have said "a story for his children".

What would be helpful is a timeline of Tolkien's life, and what was happening around him, both on a wider social scale, and on a more personnal level. Anyway, I found this brief biography a bit helpful in placing his work into a time frame of the author's life.

littlemanpoet 09-25-2002 08:43 PM

Thank you all for some very thoughtful responses.

Mark: I love George MacDonald's fantasy. I have read Phantastes through twice, and especially love the tale within a tale of the young man who knows the art of fencing (with saber), who buys a mirror in which is trapped a young lady, and how he saves her.... (find the book for how it happens - I won't tell). I've read Lilith, a strange, strange book, and many short stories, including The Golden Key, which is quite amazing, but even more so is The Castle. And The Princesa and Curdie is great, too. JRRT and CSL both loved MacDonald. There are moments when GM really has the Faerie feel, but having written in the late 19th century, his books have a Romantic or Victorian flavor to them. Very fascinating writer.

As a matter of fact, I AM writing my own. It has more of the Faerie feel now than it ever has, I'm glad to say. I guess I finally reallly know what I want to read, so that's what I write. Now here's the irony: I'm fully aware that MY story, too, is going to lose that Faerie feel as it moves into a more epic tone, but I hope that my eucatastrophe succeeds in bringing the Fae back. Okay, spoiler there, but not too much, I hope.

Bill Ferny: I think you're close on Tolkien's loathing, but having just finished reading The Scouring of the Shire again, I think his especial loathing was, as you say, the industrial encroachment, but also (think of Ted Sandyman) the orcifying or ruffianizing of hobbits. That translates, in my mind, into a dehumanization that happens to us who are at the mercy of the machine age, which is caused by our lack of connection with the world of nature.

Speaking of which, Nar, I'm sure you do not mean "nothing but" family love, joy and bliss, as important as those are; because I also believe that there is a strong emphasis on connection to the natural world - think of Goldberry and Tom Bombadil - also think of Alf Prentice and the Queen of Faerie. The connection to nature is strong; this is an essential aspect of Faerie. Thus, trout, blue herons, oaks, deep springfed pools and cliffs and cliff swallows, and ferns and thickets and all the rest. Old Man Willow. The Old Forest. Hedgerows. Wild heaths.

Thanks, Nar, for the insight into the early writings of Tolkien in the Tale of Tinuviel, etc.

The Silmarillion is myth. The Lord of the Rings is an epic romance, so said J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit and Smith of Wooton Major are fairy tales.

hobbitlass 09-26-2002 04:22 PM

I like the points brought up so far. I think the difference lies in what is happening in the world around the characters and how much they know.
In "The Hobbit" and "Smith of Wootten Major", the world as a whole is fine and everything is running smoothly except what the major characters are experiencing. Therefore the elves and other people they encounter(to me) are more light hearted and gay.
For the beginning of FOTR, the hobbits didn't know the full extent of this "ring business" and the adventures they come across till Bree have nothing (major) to do with the "ring business" and therefore still maintain that light heartedness. Afterwards, everyone for good or ill is spent on the outcome of the end of the world (as they know it) so they are pre-occupied and lose that light-heartedness.
I hope I said my point without confusing the heck out of anyone.

mark12_30 09-26-2002 04:36 PM

Hobbitlass, I thought you made your point very well. And actually, that's a good quick outline of a different difference. :-)

We've been focusing on epic versus personal journey-- and I tend to confuse "epic" with "quest". They are not the same, are they? One can go on a personal quest-- and perhaps that fits in best with "faery"-- but one can not go on a personal Epic very well. Epics have sweep and grandeur and engulf nations as they progress.

Thanks for making that point. I need to look at my own stories again and think that over some more. But I think you've solved my own question. My stories remain very personal, and hence they stick to the "quest" category. They do not involve the destinies of nations; they're not epics. Thanks again.

Nar 09-26-2002 06:44 PM

Quite right, LMP, I did not mean 'nothing more than' family bliss --although children may also reconnect one to nature. I would agree that an intimacy with nature is a basis for that 'Fae' feeling, and I think of that as an English aspect of the stories which I summed up with the word 'Hedgerow'.
Which on-topic post allows me to add: Are your stories posted anywhere, Helen/Mark...? Because I'd like to read them! Are any of them going up here? Is it time for me to look in Fan Fiction once again?

mark12_30 09-26-2002 07:09 PM


Gee! Thanks for asking. They are slowly oozing onto the Downs, one chapter at a time, under pen name "Daffodil Furrow". But much more is written than is posted at the downs.

However, here the complete copy of "The Fairy Wife" is posted (see note below) and the developing "Bolco In Massachusetts" and "Bolco in the Shire" are also there. (I'm back to wrestling in Massachusetts; I hope I don't lose! Right now I'm pinned. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] )

Please forward reactions, criticism, suggestions...

The Fairy Wife was my take on the rumor mentioned in The Hobbit. Child of the 7th Age mentioned that some Fallohide must have married an elf. I ran with that at the time. Now I wonder what Tolkien really meant by "Fairy". I had always assumed that meant "elf". Would he have substituted the word "gnome"? As it stands it is more elvish than faery. (Sorry, lmp.)

Will I start hunting for Faery again? Maybe, like George MacDondald. But I really want to finish Bolco first.

[ September 26, 2002: Message edited by: mark12_30 ]

littlemanpoet 09-29-2002 02:17 PM

Thanks, Helen aka Mark, for a very useful distinction (I speak of that between 'personal' and 'epic'). I had not thought of it that way before. It definitely informs my appreciation of Tolkien, as well as my understanding of my own story.

Your work is your own, of course, Helen, but I have a feeling that the Fairy element in Fallohide/Tookish blood is probably more like Goldberry and less like Galadriel. IMHO. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

[ September 29, 2002: Message edited by: littlemanpoet ]

mark12_30 09-29-2002 04:42 PM

lmp, You write that one.



Child of the 7th Age 09-30-2002 07:18 AM

Here I am, on the very tale end of this discussion. All of the things you have said are very true and insightful, but I'd like to add one more possibility that's been overlooked.

The faery that exists in the Shire and Bombadil's house has a very special origin. For, unlike much else in Middle-earth, it is a faery that derives from the soul of England herself. And it is the England that Tolkien wanted to resurrect, that which preserved the ancient ways and threw off the influences that came from France and the remnents of the Roman Empire, and even the Celts. The same could be said of Wooten Major. This gives these pieces a flavor very different from the later parts of the story.

It's very interesting to me that this entire discussion could take place, and no one latch onto this point, particularly regarding the Shire. For it reinforces my personal opinion that one of the things we're in danger of losing in "recent" discussions of Tolkien is the sense of how he rooted it in the soil of England.

T.A. Shippey was probably the critic who was best at searching out these hidden roots, and explaining how Tolkien was consumed with the desire to recapture a past that had been lost.

I'd better stop myself here, as I hope to do a separate thread on this question-- the English roots of the Legendarium, since I feel it merits far more attention than it's recently been given, both on the Downs and elsewhere.

sharon, the 7th age hobbit

[ September 30, 2002: Message edited by: Child of the 7th Age ]

littlemanpoet 09-30-2002 07:42 AM

Hmmmm... even not Celtic, eh? My instincts lead me to agree with you. But it's not Nordic, either, it seems to my intuition (if I may make so bold). It seems to be particularly Saxon, and not even Anglo, if my historic understanding serves me correctly, and I guess a Saxon that has pulled up its roots from Germany and planted itself deep in England. Is that what you're trying to get at?

Bęthberry 09-30-2002 08:05 AM

I don't want to deny the main tenor of your point, Child, that The Shire is informed by a vision of England past. However, it seems to me that Goldberry is very much informed by Tolkien's vision of Demeter and Persephone, without the violence of abduction and assault. Goldberry represents Tolkien's rewriting of the classic myth just as the Akallabeth is his desire to incorporate Atlanta and the Flood.

lmp and others,

What Tom and Goldberry and the Old Forest represent to me is a primordial sense of the world where the desire to use knowledge of the world and of others to control and manipulate them are absent. This is not a sentimental or softened vision--harm and decay still occur--but it is, to me, substantially different from The Shire.


[ October 01, 2002: Message edited by: Bethberry ]

Nar 09-30-2002 08:48 AM

I'll be very interested to hear Child clarify this idea here or in a new topic, LMP, but meanwhile I'll share my own thoughts. I don't really know what you mean by 'Saxon', separate from 'Anglo' --I'd be interested to hear the sources from which you draw that idea. 'Uprooted from Germany and planted here' --interesting idea.

I tend to see something else in the idea of 'Englishness' --and I really don't know how much I'm projecting as a foreigner to such things! Probably a great deal! The model I would cite is the relations of the various conquerors of China, like the Mongols and so forth, to the Chinese-- wave of conquerors imposes new set of bosses, exhalts new tribe of people, but the culture and spirit and soul of the original residents seeps up around each new set of invaders, permeating the invaders and changing them in a way that is impossible to detect or separate out because it is seamlessly and smoothly spread throughout the newcomers. They have drunk it in and it is in them now. All we know of English history back to the dimmest of dim times is successive conquering tribes, including Normans, Danes, Angles and Saxons, Celts, so forth. Looking to any one tribe because they're very early and we know very little feels dangerous to me.

Of course, everything about this excercise is dangerous and highly subjective. Anyone engaging the question can't help but fall into projection-- there's so little to go on, it's not unlike using a spark of light in a crystal or prayer beads or breathing as a focus for contemplation-- whatever we do, we're in the end going to find out most about our innmost hopes, fears and intuitions about the world.

That said, my own take is that the rising, seeping quality of the land and living spirit that Tolkien was addressing or tapping into with Bombadil and Goldberry is not tribal in any way we could detect, is not based in any culture of conquest or sacrifice to something-or-other, is based on quite another way of forming an identity. If you name a people/tribe/ancestry, you've lost the sense I'm getting at, and are talking about a different thing. If the relation to nature is one of exhortation through ritual, again, this is a different thing. I'm speaking purely though a personal intuition that is vibrated by reading the Tom Bombadil and Goldberry sections, and also by certain places in the woods behind my house, and by certain aspects of people I've met. I'm not talking about superstition, but about funtioning systems on the nature-human cusp. This is why I used the word hedgerow-- but what do I know about that? Borderlands might be a better word.

Letting go of a sentimental idea of Englishness all too easy for an American like me to fall into, I could discuss the borders I maintain between the clearing around my house and the buses, heaped logs, compost and critters beyond, or the sense of awe I feel deeper into the forest, when I sense a pattern of activity in a clearing or across of brook without being able to articulate to myself what it is.

I can feel the dangerousness in some places, and part of that comes from seeing the fox scat with fur in it and knowing this is a good site for a den and there's probably one near, but part of it is distributed through half-guessed ideas about the lay of the land and the pattern of growth --whether a living thing here in this clearing could see something coming or would that something be hidden --wild brambles growing tight over a clear-cutting scar --what the sheared stumps mean --how those trees fell and what that suggests --it all adds up to more than the sum of its parts. When my thoughts as someone walking in the woods drift over into possibilities: chipmunk? fox that might stalk her? surveyor that passed through and left those oh so dangerous plastic ties on the treetrunks? developer? the trees that fell, and the bushes that grow so tightly and eagerly over them? the trees that stand? the sound of water nearby? the curve of the hill settling downward? I reach the point where it seems as if it's not entirely me thinking anymore, and that's the best way I can explain it.

Child of the 7th Age 09-30-2002 11:30 AM

Bethberry --

I totally agree that the Demeter/Persephone legend certainly has strong echoes in Goldberry and her charming husband. And that Tolkien took that ancient myth and translated it in his own terms. But I would also say that one of the terms he took into consideration in that translation was the soul of the English countryside.

Whatever else Tom may or may not have become, his origins were clearly as "the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside" as stated in a letter of 16 December 1937.

Now, let me run off and post that strange thread which I fear may not resonate with anyone else, but I truly feel compelled to get it off the top of my head.

sharon, the 7th age hobbit

[ September 30, 2002: Message edited by: Child of the 7th Age ]

littlemanpoet 09-30-2002 01:40 PM

Bethberry: Quite right on the primordial.

Nar: The Angles inhabited East Anglia, whereas the Saxons ingabied Sussex, Wessex, and such areas more in the surround of Oxford and Berkshire. So the Angles as such have little, as a separate culture group, to do with the Westmidland countryside Tolkien evoked. Having said that, I quite agree that it goes deeper than Saxon or Celt, back to primordial humanity/nature. You are saying things that ring true for me, I just didn't know how to get there.

So the "soul of the English countryside" is, we're saying, Child English only in name since they have resided there for the last 1500 years.

Bęthberry 10-01-2002 09:57 AM

My apologies, lmp, if this post goes too far astray of your original idea.

Child, I would like to look at the larger passage of that letter from 16 December 1937 (Letter 19, to Stanley Unwin).


But I am sure you will sympathize when I say that the construction of elaborate and consistent mythology (and two languages) rather occupies the mind, and the Silmarils are in my heart. So that goodness knows what will happen. Mr Baggins began as a comic tale among conventional and inconsistent Grimm's fairy-tale dwarves, and got drawn into the edge of it--so that even Sauron the terrible peeped over the edge. And what more can hobbits do? They can be comic, but their comedy is suburban unless it is set against things more elemental. But the real fun about orcs and dragons (to my mind) was before their time. Perhaps a new (if similar) line? Do you think Tom Bombadil, the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside, could be made into the hero of a story? Or is he, as I suspect, fully enshrined in the enclosed verses? Still I could enlarge the portrait.
Bolding is mine. I think the juxtaposition of these two statements is interesting for two reasons. First, they imply a difference between Bombadil and the hobbits. And second, they suggest something about how Tolkien constructed his narrative. Tom's presence changes the meaning of the hobbits. Thus, his function is not solely to represent the vanishing English countryside. This, to me, is fascinating, for it suggests how aesthetics (narrative structure) creates meaning. And vice versa.

However, I might be the only Downer who is interested in how themes are embodied and not just in the themes themselves.


littlemanpoet 10-01-2002 02:02 PM

NO APOLOGY REQUIRED! Wow, Bethberry, that's an eye opener. I read the Letters more than a decade ago and never purchased my own copy, so thanks for the post.

Yes, I am very deeply interested in narrative structure, for reasons of avocation (as writer) as well as for the aesthetics as a reader.

Whereas Hobbits are close to the land, they are not OF the land. They inhabit it, but as borrowers, though it would never occur to them that the Shire is not there's (except for Frodo and a few others). Tom B. is, of course, one of the things more elemental (but so is the Ring). And THERE is yet ANOTHER fascinating juxtaposition. What do you suppose Tolkien meant by showing that Tom Bombadil, the spirit of the vanishing Oxford and Berkshire countryside, was immune to the effects of the Ring? I realize that I have hereby sent this thread further off topic than you feared to do, Bethberry. At least potentially.

Child of the 7th Age 10-01-2002 02:53 PM

Bethberry --


However, I might be the only Downer who is interested in how themes are embodied and not just in the themes themselves.
Surely not the only one? LOL. Yes, this is a fascinating subject. And I know you speak with more authority in this vein than I.

My own approach is somewhat different. I sometimes think this is because I view things as an historian. I am extremely interested in the process by which Tolkien created these works: how he went from one layer of meaning to the next. This is why I found Littlemanpoet's earlier thread on the "religious" revisions so intriguing.

Take a look back at the England thread. I've done a lengty post which deals with my belief that at the 'core' of both the Silm and LotR stands Tolkien's desire to take the few scraps he had of Old English and transform them into the lore and poetry which were so sadly missing. How frustrating it must have been for him!! To see a character or poem mentioned in passing by Chaucer and yet have no access to the original. As I explained there, the English 'origins' were not just limited to the Shire. In fact, the purest statement of this "core of the onion", comes in the earliest writings of the Legendarium like BoLT 1 & 2.

If you want the detailed "proof" of this Anglo-Saxon core, take a look at the other thread as it's too long to duplicate here. Believe me! I went a little crazy.

It was only later that Tolkien continued on with multiple layers of meaning; he went beyond his original core to reach out towards other mythic traditions as well as to dig down inwardly to his own religious faith, and also to deal with questions such as narrative structure which you have identified. This layer-upon-layer approach to both meaning and structure is so typical of JRRT. You can almost see the points chronologically when one concern leads to another, although there is still considerable overlap. It was, for example, the religious/philosophical layer which he most explicitly addressed in the last 15 years of his life with the essays on Andreth, Adanel, and osanwe-kenta.

Given this view of a multi-layered onion (for lack of a better term!), your own thoughts on aesthetics do not, I think, contradict what I have said. They form yet another layer of meaning, although one which is imposed by a different means. I believe, howver, that my humble little core of Anglo-Saxon history and lore stands buried at the center. This was the original base and all else builds on it.

There's nothing like stretching your posts and ideas between two different threads to confuse people totally! But go take a look at the thread on "losing the basics" and let me know what you think.

Littlemanpoet-- This is regarding the statement below and the "soul of England".


You are saying things that ring true for me, I just didn't know how to get there.
Please have a look at the other thread and see if it helps at all. I have dealt with the issue as much in terms of process as meaning.

The interesting thing to me is that the Shire, whom so many point to as the focal point of Tolkien's English identity, was actually a latecomer. The true soul of the epic lies not in Victorian and Edwardian England, but in the Old English tradition which forms the "core of the onion" for the Legendarium.

sharon, the 7th age hobbit

[ October 01, 2002: Message edited by: Child of the 7th Age ]

Bęthberry 10-02-2002 08:24 AM

LOL, isn't this a postmodern web of intertextual meanings, running back and forth between threads!

Child, I fully intend to reply to you on your thread. Just give me time. I have the feeling that this will lead us into a discussion of the nature of texts, particularly Tolkien's texts. I also want to address your metaphor of 'onion.'

lmp, it is good to see someone else interested in narrative structures! Let me bring back your question:


What do you suppose Tolkien meant by showing that Tom Bombadil, the spirit of the vanishing Oxford and Berkshire countryside, was immune to the effects of the Ring
I'm not sure we can directly make this link between the English past and immunity to the Ring. Or maybe I would be more comfortable thinking that Tolkien would not make it, LOL.

That statement about Tom being the spirit of the countryside was made in a letter; it is therefore a commentary upon LOTR and tied in with the letter Tolkien is responding to. It is Tolkien's way of helping Stanley Unwin understand Tom; it is supplemental to the novel, since nowhere in LOTR is that association openly claimed.

It is a bit like the 19C novel, Jane Eyre. The overwhelming response of many readers is to say that the setting of the novel is Brontë's Yorkshire. Yet nowhere in the novel is that expressly stated. This is very different from Brontë's other novel, Shirley which is very definitely placed not just in Yorkshire, but in the West Riding, and during the Luddite uprising. Understanding the two novels involves recognizing this difference in setting. One is generalizable; the other is not, or at least not to the same kind and degree.

Thus, while we can try to see Tom as part of that vanishing countryside, to make any further claims about it would be dubious, I think. Certainly, I don't believe that Tolkien himself would have thought that the past held any moral superiority over the present. Arda was marred in the First Age, in the Second Age, in the Third, and will be until the Final Battle. Tom's immunity is a personal, moral strength. I don't think Tolkien, who so very much respected the moral choice of each individual, would make that kind of generalization to an entire culture or age.

I'm sure that others would want to say that Tolkien harkens back to an idyllic past which did not pursue manipulation, power politics, and destruction. I would't agree that Tolkien romanticizes the past quite that much. What would you say?


Nar 10-02-2002 10:00 AM

Bethberry, I would say that JRRT saw past ages as slightly different than modern ages, in that evil aspects were clearer to see-- more embodied and less distributed, if you know what I mean? And that in past ages, nearly-unmarred islands existed, one type in Elf-havens and the other in Bombadil and Treebeard (call them spirit/light and earth/water) whereas now, there are no more less-marred islands. Corruption is smoothly distributed throughout all-- now we suffer psychological darkness rather than epic darkness. I don't mean that there was no inner conflict then, but inner conflict connected to a dark lord then, now it's all distributed through us.

Interested in narrative structure? Of course! The principle one I see is the broad, green, human-scale valley of the hobbit's story, with a broad, friendly river in it, running on and on up into the mountains --epic-- purple mountains majesty-- Aragorn/Elves and the little green valley getts higher and thinner, the river becomes thin, fierce rapids it becomes more difficult for the small, humane heroes to breathe, but the perspective on Kings, Heroes, Enemies, purple mountains majesty is more amazing-- then, just at the pinnacle, the little green valley begins to wind downward, river widening and gentling and deepening, widening and widening until all reach the sea, which is another thing entirely --where the river that was alongside the whole time makes its nature and true depth known.

(geographic details may be a bit fuzzy there at the pinnacle-- don't work the analogy too hard!)

One sign I see that the story's in the peaks is that remote, poetic langage, and that the story's seen --as Theoden's charge is seen-- as if a vision burned through the pages of the book one is reading-- whereas a sign of the green valley/hobbit theme is that the narration's standing on the ground and there's a strong sense that one is in the landscape. I don't know where I'm standing on the fields of Pelannor-- mainly I'm seeing and hearing a battlesong and I seem to be floating, seeing and hearing from elsewhere. I know exactly where I'm standing reading Frodo and Sam in Mordor, how it physically feels-- or how it feels in the marsh between midges and neekerbreekers. The braiding of two different narrations and perspectives and genres is one of the most exciting parts of the book for me.

Child, I like your onion analogy very much. I'm trying to edit a post for your other thread, but I had to put it up last night as my poor head was aching! It's something to do with standing on the grass in the fields of Rohan-- the one point where I'm physically present in the narration and also seeing a remote vision. It seems those roots you mention are the parts of the story where it seems like a vision has burned through some unknown manuscript I'm holding in my hands. Anyway, my reaction to you saying 'is it specifically English?' is 'Yes!'

littlemanpoet 10-02-2002 02:20 PM

Child, Nar, & Bethberry, you all amaze me with your erudition and vision. I, too, doubt that Tolkien meant that the spirit of the vanishing Oxford countryside was somehow invulnerable to the effects of the Ring. It's just not in keeping with everything else Tolkien wrote. I guess I just saw those notions of TB as that spirit and his playing with the Ring as a fascinating juxtaposition.

Nar, I can appreciate your feeling of standing on the plain of Rohan while looking at things as from the eyes of an Eagle, if I may so conjecture. I just finished reading the section where Eomer meets Aragorn for the first time.

You think you're drowning in deep waters, Bethberry. blub blub blub

Child of the 7th Age 10-02-2002 02:55 PM


Child, I like your onion analogy very much. I'm trying to edit a post for your other thread, but I had to put it up last night as my poor head was aching! It's something to do with standing on the grass in the fields of Rohan-- the one point where I'm physically present in the narration and also seeing a remote vision. It seems those roots you mention are the parts of the story where it seems like a vision has burned through some unknown manuscript I'm holding in my hands. Anyway, my reaction to you saying 'is it specifically English?' is 'Yes!'
Nar -- What an amazing way to put this! And it's fun to have someone agree with me.

You think you're drowning in deep waters, Bethberry. blub blub blub

Agh, me too. Why does this always happen to my threads? I don't mean to do it intentionally, but they always have lots of headaches hidden inside! But it is kind of fun.


Bęthberry 10-03-2002 08:25 AM

Drowning? Us? Where's that Lonely Star when we need her? [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

lmp, don't mind me. As a citizen of a former colony of England, I take umbrage at the idea that the blessed isle (the Shire) shall redeem us all. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

Nar, *curtsies a pleasant greeting on a first meeting*


I would say that JRRT saw past ages as slightly different than modern ages, in that evil aspects were clearer to see-- more embodied and less distributed, if you know what I mean? And that in past ages, nearly-unmarred islands existed, one type in Elf-havens and the other in Bombadil and Treebeard (call them spirit/light and earth/water) whereas now, there are no more less-marred islands. Corruption is smoothly distributed throughout all-- now we suffer psychological darkness rather than epic darkness.
I had never really thought of "the long defeat" in quite this way, of the gradual elimination of unmarred sites as corruption spreads. This is a valuable point. And even the sites of renewal/ retreat are lost, with the abandonment of Rivendell and Lothlorien. *nods respectfully* What I am not so sure about, though, is the way you extrapolate the extension of evil to modern psychology. Are you generalizing about the modern condition or are you thinking of something specific in Tolkien which foretells this?


[ October 03, 2002: Message edited by: Bethberry ]

Nar 10-03-2002 11:33 AM

Greeting, Bethberry! *belated and rather unpracticed curtsy* You are most kind. Although I think I've never crossed posts with you before (barring our simultaneous posts above), I have often nodded in agreement while reading your posts.

I was not meaning to call modern psychology evil, but rather trying to distinguish between an internal evil of personal tempations (which I called psychological evil) and an external evil centered in a larger-than life mythological figure (which I called epic evil). I think there's something about this in the Letters.

... the Third Age began, a Twilight Age, a Medium Aevum, the first of the broken and changed world; the last of the lingering dominion of visible fully incarnate Elves, and the last also in which Evil assumes a single dominant incarnate shape.

... the Shadow will arise again ... but never again ... will an evil daemon be incarnate as a physical enemy; he will direct Men and all the complications of half-evils, and defective goods, and the twilights of doubt as to sides ... those will be and are our more difficult fate.

But if you imagine people in such a mythical state, in which Evil is largely incarnate, and in which physical resistance to it is a major act of loyalty to God ...
(Letters 131 & 156)

Child, your threads are always a joy to read and respond to. [img]smilies/cool.gif[/img] *Happily resumes drowning*

LMP-- Yes! What is it about the fields of Rohan? It's so epic and grand and tapped from Tolkien's deep knowledge of the old traditions, but when reading it, I'm so much there!

littlemanpoet 10-03-2002 02:23 PM

Nar: And yes! The Ride of the Rohirrim onto the Pelennor Fields is - grasping for words here without stealing Tolkien's - strong and bold, full of bright color and mythic power; I know exactly what you mean (this time, after a second reading on "that other thread" [img]smilies/biggrin.gif[/img] ) how it's like seeing a vision rather than being in the middle of it.

I tell ya, these threads are beginning to make me give thought to starting an RPG that actually captures that vanishing spirit of the English (call it primordial if you like) countryside. If that's even possible for us dullwitted-and-unlettered-in-Oxfordshireness-Americans) Come to think of it, Bethberry invited us to just such a treat, I'm thinking, and I, fool of a Tookish fellow that I am, failed to take her up on it. My loss.

mark12_30 10-04-2002 06:18 AM

Part of me is trying to grasp the Englishness of the Shire and Tom Bombadil. Since that's what the proffessor said, then there it is.

But having never been to England, nor Scotland (more Faery, it seems to me, but nevermind)-- I've got to say this. I grew up in a sleepy bedroom-suburban town in New England, where Woods cover everything, and farms are rare.

Outdoors wrenched at me, even just a fresh breeze, or the smell of melting snow in March. There was Something out there waiting to be found; there were tunes waiting to be played and songs waiting to be sung, and dances waiting to be danced, if only I knew what they were. And I used to stand outside in the spring air desperately wishing I could find them.

Once I had read the Hobbit, every bare and grassy knoll drew a gasp of wonder from me, and a stare of longing that persisted until the hill faded from view-- **because it reminded me of the Shire, of Middle-Earth.**

And so, pictures of England and Scotland look like the Shire to me, and as much as they do, I love them. No offense intended to anybody; but I do not love England for its own sake. I love it when (and if) it reminds me of hobbits, or Eriador, or Weathertop, or The Tower Hills.

So although I understand what you are driving at scholastically when you speak of England and Bombadil and the Shire, on a heart level, all this baffles me.

Somebody said that Tolkien didn't invent Middle-Earth, he discovered it and gave us a way to get there. I've always agreed with that. Even now that I'm reading HoME, I percieve it in levels of discovery.

I wonder what Tolkien would think of this perspective. Am I the only one who feels this way?


Bęthberry 10-04-2002 07:24 AM

'Morning All,

lmp, yes, thanks for recognizing and acknowledging the Picnic this way. *curtsies* That was indeed the hope, but fear not, there could well be future excursions planned.... Adventures are never quite finished, are they? *grins*

Nar, many thanks for elucidating your point. Perhaps on another thread we can discuss the nature of evil (trying to keep on topic here!).

Helen, it strikes me that this response of knowing the essence of Middle Earth without knowing the specific, literal references, is a particularly strong effect of Tolkien's style of storytelling.

I think it relates to his concept of "applicability". More and more I wonder if 'parable' isn't a good way to think of this applicability. Here is what I mean by parable; the explanation comes from Robert Murray's essay, "J.R.R. Tolkien and the Art of the Parable."

...a medium which could first attract and then fascinate and tease the mind, even for a long time, till the hearers might form their own response, ....a skilful use of the arts of speech so as not to impose or compel, but to invite a response in which the hearer is personally active.... the power of stories to act as parables depends not on whether they are fictitious or factually true, but on whether they possess that potential universality which makes others find them applicable, through an imaginative perception of analogy, to other situations.
This way of thinking about his storytelling art avoids the "domination of the author" (Foreward to LOTR) which Tolkien disliked so much in allegory. It grounds the story in delight, a prime purpose of art, while granting that "freedom of the reader" (again, Foreward, LOTR) which he so much respected.

You see, if you keep me at this long enough, I will expound a complete thesis on Bombadil as the luminescence of Tolkien's art. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]


Child of the 7th Age 10-04-2002 07:46 AM

Bethberry --

Where do you find this essay? Thanks. sharon

Bęthberry 10-04-2002 07:57 AM

Pearce, Joseph, ed. Tolkien: A Celebration, Collected writing on a literary legacy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999.

ISBN 0-89870-866-4

EDIT: I should say that Murray fits my own theory of Tolkien's art very well, for more and more I see Tolkien inhabiting a place of art which I had previously come to know through another writer. You might also want to look at Roland Barthes' contrast of 'readerly' with 'writerly' texts, although that is not the form my argument takes. See Barthes, S/Z (1970).

[ October 04, 2002: Message edited by: Bethberry ]

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