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More metaphor &c

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — continuing the series, with a choice gobbet of Updike ]

from Meet the Press, 10/21/2018


I continue to find the close reading of metaphors an invaluable analytic tool, and one that is also of interest to me personally, for writerly, poetic purposes. I’ve expanded my search from its original focus on games — specifically including sports, theater, war games &c as metaphors for politics — to cover something I’ll characterize as fine writing — giving me the ability to note and quote across a wider range of topics and usages.

My last post in the series ran to 18 comments, each one containing a couple of dozen or so instances of metaphor or fine writing, and I don’t expect my expanded search criteria to expand my actual collection — if anything I hope to cut back in favor of writing other things. But when MSNBC’s Meet the Press splashes a great End Game banner on my screen, as it did today, see above, I still won’t be able to resist.


On the subject of fine writing, though, how’s this?

Dorothy Dotto, thirty-eight, happily married for nineteen years, the mother of three, a member of the Methodist Church, the Grange, and the Ladies’ Auxiliary. She lives, and has lived all her life, in the town of Elm Corners, somewhere in the Corn Belt; as a child, she won seven consecutive pins for perfect Sunday school attendance, and she graduated with good grades from a public school where the remarkable truthfulness of George Washington and the durable axioms of Benjamin Franklin were often invoked. Her father, Jesse, who is retired but still alive (bless him), for forty years kept above his desk at the feed mill a sign declaring, “Honesty Is the Best Policy.”

That’s John Updike, describing “the unimaginably tactful and delicate process whereby the housewife next door was transmogrified into a paid cheat” in what in retrospect looks like a major turning point in the American psyche — the loss of innocence that occurred when it was revealed that many hundreds of Dorothy Dottos had been suborned into a grand cheating system in what’s now known as the 1950s quiz show scandals:

The American quiz show scandals of the 1950s were a series of revelations that contestants of several popular television quiz shows were secretly given assistance by the show’s producers to arrange the outcome of an ostensibly fair competition. The quiz show scandals were driven by a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons included the drive for financial gain, the willingness of contestants to “play along” with the assistance, and the lack of then-current regulations prohibiting the rigging of game shows.

Back to Updike:

Now, as we remember the flavor and ethos of that innocent era, we realize that the contestants, aside from their freakish passion for Hittite history or skeet-shooting statistics, were meant to be us — you and me and the bright boy next door. This was America answering. This was the mental wealth behind the faces you saw in a walk around the block.


Okay, game shows, in addition to Updike’s undoubtedly fine writing, that’s a game reference. But a loss of American innocence? That’s not nothing. That’s something worth pondering..

In fact, a loss of innocence is fundamentally a loss of the default assumption of trust — and isn’t it precisely the loss of trust that leads to all those conspiracist theories of a mysterious “They” who run “our” world, Skull and Bones, the Bohemian Club, No Such Agency, whoever — and the ensuing distrust of and between political paetiues, leading us eventually to today’s:


And how’s that for a delicious paradox? The United States are now Divided as to whether they’re divided or united — with divided in the majority..

Okay, loss of innocence, let alone loss of virginity, may be strong language to describe the impact of those 1950s quiz show scandals on the American psyche — but something broke, a ratchet slipped, and perhaps we haven’t been quite the same since.

In any case, I’ll be collecting my usual snippets and gobbets of this and that — often sports, politics, war or strategy related, but also just plain curious or fine stuff — here in the comments section. And oh, btw, I’ve been misspelling gobbet as gobbit for years hereabout: forgive me, it’s spelt (spelled?) with an e, and means a chunk, primarily of meat or writing — no Gandalfian echo intended.

Ad now, as my friend David Ronfeldt would say, Onwards!

Oh, Music!

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — music as endangered yet transcendent species ]

The abuse:


The use:

or for that matter:


There’s no doubt but that Arvo Pärt‘s Miserere fully comprehends the dark, dismaying aspects of contemporary life, hence the inclusion of fragments of the Dies Irae, but it comprehends the darkness in a manner that in calling for mercy transcends it, recalling the Music of the Ainur in Tolkien‘s Silmarillion — and the Prologue to John’s Gospel, offering the natural obverse to John 1.5: “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

The Hobbit: Narrative Validation or Vandalism?

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a film by Peter Jackson

The Hobbit:Or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien 

Last night, I took the kids and my nephew to see The Hobbit. In essence, it was less the classic tale woven by J.R.R. Tolkien than a sequel to The Avengers with a cast of Dwarves.

Peter Jackson has made, as he did with The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, a visually stunning film with The Hobbit. Jackson once again excelled at translating many physical settings of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth into screen reality. Erebor looks the way you would expect an age-old Dwarven kingdom should. Dol Guldor (alluded to ever so briefly in the book) appears to be the place of dread that would attract a great malevolent spirit like Sauron, This extends to some of the characters; the Great Goblin’s semi-comic personage manages to capture some of the original charm of The Hobbit as a children’s story before it later became part of the narrative for Tolkien’s larger and darker romantic epic, The Lord of the Rings.

Unfortunately, the tendency that Jackson demonstrated as the films of The Lord of the Rings progressed,to take ever greater artistic liberties with Tolkien’s story, have, with his swollen ego, run riot in The Hobbit. The primary antagonist in the film, Azog the Orc chieftain is lifted from other Tolkien material, given mutant powers, a scary metal hand and an albino warg by Jackson and is brutally imposed on the story. The wizard Radagast the Brown, whose head for some reason is encrusted with bird crap, gets much screen time as he  zips around Middle-Earth like Mario Andretti on a sleigh pulled by magical bunnies when he is not getting high on ‘shrooms.

What began as a necessary fleshing out of narrative allusions and foreshadowing to effectively translate literature into a movie ended up as Jackson’s sheer invention and gratuitous abuse of the characters, all of whom sword fight more often than Conan the Barbarian and more bloodily than Leonidas. If Thorin had shouted in the midst of battle with the Goblins, “Dwarves! Tonight we dine in Mordor!” no one in the audience would have been the least bit surprised.  Zorro and the Three Musketeers had less skill with a blade in hand-to-hand combat than do these Dwarves, Gandalf or at times, Bilbo Baggins.

The only scenes where Jackson manages genuine fidelity to the story are the ones with Gollum, Bilbo and their Riddle-Game – perhaps out of fear of trivializing his previous movies, Tolkien’s actual dialogue and plot  enters the script before vanishing again into a Jacksonian cinematic homage to every American action movie ever made. No wonder Christopher Tolkien looks on with weary despair.

There’s a name for this kind of genre….

Fan fiction.

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007


I do not often link to the Asia Times anonymous essayist “Spengler” ( though I do read him on occasion) but who knew that the man ( assuming he is a man) was a fellow Tolkien fanatic ? He gets things mostly right in my view and I’m not inclined to nitpick tonight.

Tolkien’s Christianity and the pagan tragedy

“Tolkien’s popular Ring trilogy, I have attempted to show, sought to undermine and supplant Richard Wagner’s operatic Ring cycle, which had offered so much inspiration for Nazism. [1] With the reconstruction of the young Tolkien’s prehistory of Middle-earth, we discern a far broader purpose: to recast as tragedy the heroic myths of pre-Christian peoples, in which the tragic flaw is the pagan’s tribal identity. Tolkien saw his generation decimated, and his circle of friends exterminated, by the nationalist compulsions of World War I; he saw the cult of Siegfried replace the cult of Christ during World War II. His life’s work was to attack the pagan flaw at the foundation of the West.

It is too simple to consider Tolkien’s protagonist Turin as a conflation of Siegfried and Beowulf, but the defining moments in Turin’s bitter life refer clearly to the older myths, with a crucial difference: the same qualities that make Siegfried and Beowulf exemplars to the pagans instead make Turin a victim of dark forces, and a menace to all who love him. Tolkien was the anti-Wagner, and Turin is the anti-Siegfried, the anti-Beowulf. Tolkien reconstructed a mythology for the English not (as Wainwright and other suggest) because he thought it might make them proud of themselves, but rather because he believed that the actual pagan mythology was not good enough to be a predecessor to Christianity.

“Alone among 20th-century novelists, J R R Tolkien concerned himself with the mortality not of individuals but of peoples. The young soldier-scholar of World War I viewed the uncertain fate of European nations through the mirror of the Dark Ages, when the life of small peoples hung by a thread,” I wrote in an earlier essay. [2] Christianity demands of the Gentile that he reject his sinful flesh and be reborn into Israel; only through a new birth can the Gentile escape the death of his own body as well as the death of his hopes in the inevitable extinction of his people.”

Read the rest here.

(Hat tip to my friend Lexington Green)

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007


The last and by far the darkest of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epics, The Children of Hurin, is now available for sale almost ninety years after Tolkien first set pen to paper. For those unfamiliar with the ancient history of Middle-Earth narrated in The Silmarillion, the story is the tragedy of Hurin Thalion ( “Hurin the Steadfast”). Hurin Lord of Dor-Lomin, was an ally of the Elf- Lords and the greatest warrior among men, whose unbroken defiance of the great Dark lord Morgoth brings horror and doom upon his family in the form of a terrible curse as Morgoth’s cruel will twisted the lives of Hurin’s children.

The axe-wielding Hurin is captured by Morgoth’s armies after singlehandedly slaying seventy trolls and assaulting Morgoth’s captain, Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, Hurin’s men having sacrificed themselves to permit the retreat of Turgon, the King of Gondolin. Brought face to face with the godlike Morgoth, Hurin is undaunted and spurns Morgoth; the enraged Dark lord binds Hurin to a seat in the high mountains of his fortress of Angband and through his power, permits Hurin to watch the doom that unfolds over the long years on Hurin’s children Turin and Nienor. It is Hurin’s son Turin, wielding an accursed black sword, who inadvertantly sets in motion the ruin of Doriath* the last great Elf-Kingdom of Beleriand ( the Westernmost part of Middle-Earth that sank beneath the sea at the end of the First Age) as well as suffering griefs akin to those of Oedipus.

Tolkien, who had been a soldier on the Western Front, began writing the story of Hurin in the shadows of a war that consumed most of his classmates and childhood friends. He never finished the story to his satisfaction, nor did he quite manage the Silmarillion either, both of which have been edited along with Tolkien’s voluminous papers, by his youngest son, Christopher Tolkien. It is interesting to contemplate how WWI impacted Tolkien’s thought as the First Age and the Wars of the Jewels in Beleriend represented a scale of grandeur and power lost and only dimly remembered by the Third Age and time of the War of the Ring. Frodo’s Middle-Earth represented a much diminished and fading world in Tolkien’s mythology, which had it’s fate sealed by the destruction of the One Ring.

As terrible as Sauron appears in The Lord of the Rings, he was a shadow of the power and evil of his former master Morgoth. While Sauron had his One Ring, the whole world – which Morgoth defiled during the moment of creation – was as Christopher Tolkien has written, ” Morgoth’s ring”. This brings into the mix Tolkien’s religious convictions and Christian mythology regarding Satan’s rebellion in paradise and subsequent status as “the lord of the world”. And like Satan, Morgoth and Sauron are eventually “cast out” through ” the doors of night”.

My perception, being familiar with various versions of the story, is that The Children of Hurin will be purchased but not much enjoyed by, the casual Tolkien fan, particularly Americans who are fond of happy endings. There are no happy endings here; Hurin and Turin, much less Nienor, do not even have, properly speaking, the hubris of Greek heroes who bring destruction upon themselves.

Instead it is visited upon them by a foe far beyond their power to reach, only to defy to the end.

* Blame for which is shared by Thingol, King of Doriath who coveted a Silmaril, the disasterous results of which are told in a separate epic The Lay of Beren and Luthien. And prior to that, the malign oath of Feanor and the doom on the Elves for the Revolt of the Noldor.

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