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Old 05-11-2003, 09:58 AM   #1
Aule
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Sting Tolkien Stereotypical

Would any of you consider Tolkien to be stereotypical fantasy. Many would just because his books contain, elves, Dwarves and the like. I suppose this could be said about Ruth Rendell and her stereotypical detective books.

I have friend that refuses to read it because he considers Tolkien to be to stereotypical for his tastes, yet he is quite able of playing 100's of hours in games like Baldurs Gate 2 which is the same thing.

He hates the whole idea of Elves and Hobbits, considering them to be silly child like things, and this is after reading 2/3 pages and then giving up.

What are your opinions on this whole idea
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Old 05-11-2003, 11:07 AM   #2
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Sting

Tolkien made a point to separate his elves from the Leprechaun-like fairy tale characters people envision. They stand as tall as men (or taller) and are much more attractive in appearance.

Tolkien's book was not "stereotypical" at the time. It has come to be thought of as stereotypical by some because it spawned a huge legion of imitators. It is actually an archetype -

Quote:
1. An original model or type after which other similar things are patterned; a prototype: “‘Frankenstein’... ‘Dracula’... ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’... the archetypes that have influenced all subsequent horror stories” (New York Times)
2. An ideal example of a type; quintessence: an archetype of the successful entrepreneur.
Hobbits are indeed from a children's tale (The Hobbit) that was attached to The Silmarillion and its world, and as such innocent, simple folk, they are obviously very out of place in the epic story of The Lord of the Rings, the story that ends Tolkien's history and brings the time into our own. They are there for a specific purpose though...they give the story another dimension.

If he thinks the stories of the Third Age are so boring, he should check out The Silmarillion - a much more serious work with less comic relief and warmth.
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Old 05-11-2003, 11:17 AM   #3
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Sting

I agree, Tolkien's work was 'seminal', or archetypal, not sterotypical.
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Old 05-11-2003, 11:24 AM   #4
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Tolkien

Although the some of the themes and ideals inherent in Tolkien's works lean a bit more to the stereotypical side of the war and post war times... most people today base their interpretations of what a dwarf or elf is off of Tolkien's views - very "archetypish".
PS- impressive vocab. Legolas.
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Old 05-11-2003, 11:27 AM   #5
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Stereotypical of other fantasy? Tolkien has been called the father of modern fantasy. That could be a compliment from one perspective, and an insult from another. Here are some similar threads that might be of use:

A, B, C.

That Tolkien differs radically from what I would call stock fantasy can be seen by looking up some basic themes on this forum:

Magic:
A, B, C, D.

Critters other than humans
A, B, C, D.

Religion, philosophy, cosmology
A, B.

Literary and social impact
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H.

This is a minute list of great threads that demonstrate how Tolkien differed from other modern fantasy authors. It is easier, of course, to list the similarities, but nearly impossible to list the differences - there’s simply so many. In my opinion, and I can be opinionated, the primary difference between Tolkien and the rest of the genre is threefold: education, intelligence, and an ability to write. [img]smilies/tongue.gif[/img]
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Old 05-11-2003, 12:00 PM   #6
The Squatter of Amon Rûdh
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Sting

Loath as I am to answer the arguments of someone who believes himself capable of judging all of an author's works on the basis of a few pages, I feel that Tolkien is at least owed some sort of defence. Sadly, I am ill-equipped provide it, since I am by no means clear what 'typical fantasy' is: if the phrase means run-of-the-mill sword-and-sorcery novels, with fur-clad, sword-wielding barbarian heroes fighting wicked sorcerors for the control of some mystical device, then I would say that these are rather a pale reflection of Tolkien's works, a clumsy attempt to recreate the atmosphere of his writing without any of his skill or depth of thought. However 'fantasy' is not composed of Dragonlance alone: there are fairy-tale creatures in the works of C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll as well. There are invented kingdoms and outlandish races in the writings of Jonathan Swift; John Bunyan uses a series of fantastic locations in his extended allegory The Pilgrim's Progress. I could include Lord Dunsany, Mervyn Peake, Mary Shelley, Homer, Ovid and Virgil, perhaps also Dante Alighieri in the list of authors who used fantastic races or settings to achieve their narrative ends. If these sweeping vistas of style and aim are fantasy then I find it difficult to see how J.R.R. Tolkien can be stereotypical of the concept: so heterogeneous a group would be ill represented by a single man's work.

The fact is that the modern fantasy genre, from books to films to computer games owes its entire existence to Tolkien. The reason for the superficial similarity between his work and that of later authors is that he virtually invented the genre. He is their influence just as the Beowulf poet, the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Geoffrey Chaucer, Elias Lönnrot and the Viking saga poets were his own. The difference is that he took elements of the legends he had read and wrote something that was greater than the sum of a few plundered fragments. He betters his successors in the depth of his world's conception; the internal consistency and sheer level of invention - not just a world, but its languages, alphabets, literature, history and calendars, together with entire races. Elves and Dwarves he lifted from European myth and folklore (the names of all the dwarves in The Hobbit were taken verbatim from a section of the Norse poem Völuspá entitled Dvergatal or 'the Tally of the Dwarves'), but Hobbits and Ents are his own invention. All too many of his emulators merely re-write Tolkien badly and turn out pulp.

This might lead us to a consideration that if Tolkien is childish for using invented races (as he might have admitted to being) then so is most of Dark Age Germanic and Northern mythology as it has been passed down to us. All those Vikings, the author of the Nibelungenlied, the Irish and Welsh bards were all equally puerile and nonsensical. The name Ælfwine is a real Anglo-Saxon name, and it really does mean 'Elf-friend': clearly those ancient Englishmen were also just rather immature and silly. The Hobbits themselves, for it is almost certainly here that the accusation of childishness arises, are essentially an idealised version of the rural English, and they did indeed first appear in a book for children. However, as you are no doubt aware the tone of The Lord of the Rings moves steadily away from the simple rustic world of the Shire quite rapidly, and into deeper currents of legend that owe more to the bleak epics of the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons than any collection of fairy-tales for children, and the Hobbits themselves grow as do the demands placed on them.

On the subject of Fairy-stories, for Tolkien did think a great deal on the subject, he has this to say:
Quote:
Actually the association of children and fairy-stories is an accident of our domestic history. Fairy-stories have in the modern lettered world been relegated to the 'nursery', as shabby or old-fashioned furniture is relegated to the playroom, primarily because the adults do not want it and do not mind if it is misused. It is not the choice of the children that decides this. Children as a class - except in a common lack of experience they are not one - neither like fairy-stories more, nor understand them better than adults do; and no more than they like many other things
He goes on to say
Quote:
It is true that in recent times fairy-stories have usually been written or 'adapted' for children. But so may music be, or verse, or novels, or history, or scientific manuals. It is a dangerous process even when it is necessary ... Any one of these things would, if left altogether in the nursery, become gravely impaired ... Fairy stories banished in this way, cut off from a full adult art, would in the end be ruined; indeed in so far as they have been so banished, they have been ruined.
The stories of folklore have been sent to the nursery because they have been deemed unworthy for adult consumption, and have as a result become so. Tolkien made a valiant effort to bring myth and legend back, to take them out of the nursery and the philologist's study and give some sort of new life to them. Perhaps this was childish, but as G.K. Chesterton once said 'The follies of mens' youth are in retrospect glorious when compared to the follies of their old age.' His was at least an heroic folly, and not merely a snide or petty one. I should rather read Tolkien, whose writing I enjoy than something more critically acclaimed that I do not. Perhaps this only serves to highlight my own uncultivated literary tastes, but uncultivated though they may be they are at least my own, based on what I have read rather than on what I have not, and on my own opinions rather than on what I have been told. Let others not share my tastes if they wish; but I'd rather that they didn't belittle them unless they have at least sampled what they profess not to like.

In conclusion I have to admit never to having played any of the modern string of fantasy-based computer games. I am currently surrounded by devotees of Everquest, but it really doesn't appeal to me: I would rather read about people fighting giant spiders than take part in a rather unconvincing computer simulation of it. Were I feeling uncharitable I might say that computer games are really too immature for me to play them, but that would just be silly; wouldn't it?
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Old 05-11-2003, 12:47 PM   #7
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*claps madly* Legolas and Squatter i applaud you. You have clearly and precisely put into writing what i have always felt but never been able to articulate not even in my own mind. I think next time me and my friend have any arguments on the subject i may have to lift a few ideas of yours to aid me in the defense of Tolkien.
Thank you very much.
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Old 05-11-2003, 02:08 PM   #8
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Silmaril

I guess if you took lots of the single threads of LOTR you could find things that seem stereotypical- love triangle, fall from grace, redemption through suffering, etc. It's the details and the way they all combined which make it unique and different.

What I want to know is, what's wrong with something stereotypical anyway? If a story is interesting, well written, has sympathetic characters...why would it matter that there had been similar things before?
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Old 05-12-2003, 06:47 AM   #9
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I think it's typical for most people who utter such undifferentiated critique about Tolkien, that they usually haven't read his works at all, or gave up after a few pages. What they know about LotR is just hearsay and prejudices!

It really pains me when my son tells me that his teacher (a Prof. of German, we live in Switzerland) has several times made contemptuous remarks about LotR to his students - without ever having read it!! He seems to think that no novel in the genre of fantasy can be of literary value.

I only wish I was able to put my words so well as Legolas and Squatter, I should like to talk to this teacher and try to correct his view!
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Old 05-12-2003, 12:43 PM   #10
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I think that Tolkien's works created a genre, or stereotype if that's what you call it, then many authors tried to imitate it, and Tolkien's works ended up being called as going under that sterotype.

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Old 05-12-2003, 01:24 PM   #11
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That's exactly what Legolas said above. Tolkien is archetypal but not stereotypical. You can't be stereotypical if you are the first.
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Old 05-12-2003, 03:22 PM   #12
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Sting

I can see how people have said that LotR is stereotypical of fantisy, but if your a reader you know its not, iv been reading the silm and HoME series and iv found that alot of his storied (without the comic relief (which someone stated before about silm) are very very much like the shakspearian tragedies like the story of Tinuviel in the book of lost tales 2, that is very much like a shakspearian tragedy
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Old 05-12-2003, 03:24 PM   #13
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Quote:
That's exactly what Legolas said above.
I don't know every word in the dictionary, so I couldn't figure out what 'archetypal' meant.

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Old 05-12-2003, 05:39 PM   #14
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Sting

Quote:
I don't know every word in the dictionary, so I couldn't figure out what 'archetypal' meant.
That's why a definition was provided.
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Old 05-12-2003, 10:51 PM   #15
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Quote:
What I want to know is, what's wrong with something stereotypical anyway? If a story is interesting, well written, has sympathetic characters...why would it matter that there had been similar things before?
In fact, Stephen King and Louis Lamour made a killing at it. [img]smilies/biggrin.gif[/img]

Whether or not Tolkien is archetypal or stereotypical is beside the point; if someone doesn’t like that sort of thing, they probably won’t pick it up and read it, but if they did, they would would be surprised. I can’t stand fantasy, but I was lucky enough to have read Tolkien. I do think that there is more to Tolkien than mere fantasy, I would even go so far as to say his work isn’t fantasy at all, but an artificial mythology. On the other hand, a person could (as inconceivable as it might sound) live a totally normal and fulfilling life without reading Lord of the Rings, as they could without reading Beowulf, Le Morte D’Arthur, One Hundred Years of Solitude, or anything else for that matter. For those of us who have read Tolkien… we are the lucky ones.
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Old 05-13-2003, 06:13 AM   #16
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Sting

Good is good, great is great! If someone is bored, that's his problem! [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] I sometimes feel that too much emphasis is placed on "being different" nowadays. As if this somehow means you are above the rest because you are different. [img]smilies/rolleyes.gif[/img] Not true! A beautiful melody will stay in your mind, and a well told story will be remembered for hundreds of years. Oh, and he's not stereotypical, just been copied alot! [img]smilies/biggrin.gif[/img] (IMO)

[ May 13, 2003: Message edited by: Liriodendron ]
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Old 05-18-2003, 08:52 PM   #17
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Sting

I finally found the quote I was looking for about people relating Tolkien's made-up races to their common fairy tale counterparts. He explains that they aren't exactly the dwarves and elves you've heard of before - those are just approixmations of the Old Elvish words for these races:

Letter No. 25:

Quote:
But are they? I have no waking recollection of furry pigmies (in book or moonlight); nor of any Hobbit bogey in print by 1904. I suspect that the two hobbits are accidental homophones, and am content that they are not (it would seem) synonyms. And I protest that my hobbit did not live in Africa, and was not furry, except about the feet. Nor indeed was he like a rabbit. He was a prosperous, well-fed young bachelor of independent means. Calling him a 'nassty little rabbit' was a piece of vulgar trollery, just as 'descendant of rats' was a piece of dwarfish malice — deliberate insults to his size and feet, which he deeply resented. His feet, if conveniently clad and shod by nature, were as elegant as his long, clever fingers.
As for the rest of the tale it is, as the Habit suggests, derived from (previously digested) epic, mythology, and fairy-story – not, however, Victorian in authorship, as a rule to which George Macdonald is the chief exception. Beowulf is among my most valued sources; though it was not consciously present to the mind in the process of writing, in which the episode of the theft arose naturally (and almost inevitably) from the circumstances. It is difficult to think of any other way of conducting the story at that point. I fancy the author of Beowulf would say much the same.
My tale is not consciously based on any other book — save one, and that is unpublished: the 'Silmarillion', a history of the Elves, to which frequent allusion is made. I had not thought of the future researchers; and as there is only one manuscript there seems at the moment small chance of this reference proving useful.
But these questions are mere preliminaries. Now that I have been made to see Mr. Baggins's adventures as the subject of future enquiry I realise that a lot of work will be needed. There is the question of nomenclature. The dwarf-names, and the wizard's, are from the Elder Edda. The hobbit-names from Obvious Sources proper to their kind. The full list of their wealthier families is: Baggins, Boffin, Bolger, Bracegirdle, Brandybuck, Burrowes, Chubb, Grubb, Hornblower, Proudfoot, Sackville, and Took. The dragon bears as name – a pseudonym – the past tense of the primitive Germanic verb Smugan, to squeeze through a hole: a low philological jest. The rest of the names are of the Ancient and Elvish World, and have not been modernised.
And why dwarves? Grammar prescribes dwarfs; philology suggests that dwarrows would be the historical form. The real answer is that I knew no better. But dwarves goes well with elves; and, in any case, elf, gnome, goblin, dwarf are only approximate translations of the Old Elvish names for beings of not quite the same kinds and functions.
These dwarves are not quite the dwarfs of better known lore. They have been given Scandinavian names, it is true; but that is an editorial concession. Too many names in the tongues proper to the period might have been alarming. Dwarvish was both complicated and cacophonous. Even early elvish philologists avoided it, and the dwarves were obliged to use other languages, except for entirely private conversations. The language of hobbits was remarkably like English, as one would expect: they only lived on the borders of The Wild, and were mostly unaware of it. Their family names remain for the most part as well known and justly respected in this island as they were in Hobbiton and Bywater.
There is the matter of the Runes. Those used by Thorin and Co., for special purposes, were comprised in an alphabet of thirty-two letters (full list on application), similar to, but not identical, with the runes of Anglo-Saxon inscriptions. There is doubtless an historical connection between the two. The Feanorian alphabet, generally used at that time, was of Elvish origin. It appears in the curse inscribed on the pot of gold in the picture of Smaug's lair, but had otherwise been transcribed (a facsimile of the original letter left on the mantelpiece can be supplied).
Letter No. 131:

Quote:
But to those creatures which in English I call misleadingly Elves
...as in they aren't the pointy-eared, 3' tall fellows you see running around the woods.

Letter No. 144:

Quote:
'Elves' is a translation, not perhaps now very suitable, but originally good enough, of Quendi. They are represented as a race similar in appearance (and more so the further back) to Men, and in former days of the same stature. I will not here go into their differences from Men ! But I suppose that the Quendi are in fact in these histories very little akin to the Elves and Fairies of Europe; and if I were pressed to rationalize, I should say that they represent really Men with greatly enhanced aesthetic and creative faculties, greater beauty and longer life, and nobility – the Elder Children, doomed to fade before the Followers (Men), and to live ultimately only by the thin line of their blood that was mingled with that of Men, among whom it was the only real claim to 'nobility'.
Quote:
Your preference of goblins to orcs involves a large question and a matter of taste, and perhaps historical pedantry on my pan. Personally I prefer Orcs (since these creatures are not 'goblins', not even the goblins of George MacDonald, which they do to some extent resemble). Also I now deeply regret having used Elves, though this is a word in ancestry and original meaning suitable enough.
(note the bold, highlighted by me)

[ May 18, 2003: Message edited by: Legolas ]
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Old 05-18-2003, 11:22 PM   #18
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Sting

Enough has been said about the difference between a stereotype and an archetype that there wouldn't be anything more for me to add on that subject, however, the distaste for something simply because it is familiar has barely been touched.

Liriodendron said:
Quote:
I sometimes feel that too much emphasis is placed on "being different" nowadays. As if this somehow means you are above the rest because you are different.
Absolutely! It is my feeling that if being different were (for a story) the key to being worthy of reading, then fewer of us would be around here wishing there was more fantasy/mythology on the scale of Tolkien's. Or perhaps it's just an indicator of our childish and unsophisticated taste. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

Rather, I think that this excuse for not taking Tolkien seriously stems from some kind of snobbery. As though reading something so appealing to the masses would corrupt the mind. It's my opinion that the "stereotypical" complaint is just another of this variety. This has been discussed to pieces on other threads, so I'll leave it there.

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