SF & Fantasy

Welcome back to the Tolkien Re-read!


For those of you just joining in, near the end of last year I kicked off a re-read of Tolkien’s work beginning with The Hobbit (you can find those posts here) and with plans to move on to The Lord of the Rings and (yes) The Silmarillion. I’ve wanted to return to Middle-earth since I first read Lord of the Rings over ten years ago, and the release of the first Hobbit movie last year gave me the perfect excuse.

Speaking of, did everyone see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in theaters? What did you think? There were a few small things that irked me (like when Thorin was all “out of the frying pan,” and then Gandalf was all “and into the fire” as if that wasn’t a chapter title forced clumsily into dialogue). I also thought it sputtered a bit at the beginning when the movie was weaving in bits of back story from outside of The Hobbittimeline, but I’m pretty forgiving on that point since I think the details about the dwarves and Smaug’s destruction of Dale and Erebor was needed in order for anyone to care at all about Thorin & Co.’s quest. So, overall, I was quite pleased. Also, Richard Armitage was just majestic, wasn’t he? Also, also: thanks to the movie, this gif now exists, and the world is probably better for it.

Anyway, here we are! The much anticipated (for me, at least) second installment of the Tolkien Re-read, The Fellowship of the Ring. I first read Fellowship when I was in high school, just before the movie came out in theaters (the poster to the right is what originally caught my attention). My dad insisted that I could not see the movie unless I read the book. So, I read it. And, thus, he unintentionally hooked me on the world of fantasy, from which I have never returned.

Onward! Let’s start this re-read with one of my favorite things—useless trivia! I find that “useless,” when describing random facts, almost always has a direct affect on how interesting something is. The more useless a piece of trivia is, the more interesting it tends to be. Or maybe that’s just me?

Note on the Text & Foreword to the 2nd Edition – The Interesting Bits

Perhaps this is already widely known (since it does appear in the front matter of Fellowship), but I find it to be a fun fact anyway. The Lord of the Rings(henceforth LotR) was never intended to be a trilogy. Tolkien originally imagined it as a single novel divided into six parts (which he called “books”), but it was published in the three volumes we’re familiar with today because his publisher thought it would be more “convenient” in that form. They were probably right.

Along those same lines, Tolkien originally titled those six parts as follows:

- The First Journey (Book I, The Fellowship of the Ring)

- The Journey of the Nine Companions (Book II, The Fellowship of the Ring)

- The Treason of Isengard (Book III, The Two Towers)

- The Journey of the Ringbearers (Book IV, The Two Towers)

- The War of the Ring (Book V, The Return of the King)

- The End of the Third Age (Book VI, The Return of the King)

In fact, once it was determined that LotR would be a trilogy, Tolkien wanted the title of The Return of the King to be The War of the Ring, which he thought gave away less of the ending. (Return of the King is a better title, though, let’s be serious.)

The Fellowship of the Ring was first published in the UK in 1954 and, like The Hobbit before it, has undergone numerous revisions—most of them involving incorrect “corrections” of Tolkien’s usage and spelling. Dwarves was frequently changed to dwarfs, elvish to elfish, elven to elfin, etc. The latter spellings (the ones using “f”) are correct, strictly speaking, but Tolkien’s use of the “v” was intentional (the spelling of elven, for example, is derived from the Middle English word alvene or elvene, which originally meant a female elf but began to be applied to both sexes before it dropped out of usage and was later picked up by Tolkien). I prefer the “v” spellings, if anyone cares. They seem more elegant, but that might just be because I’ve had more exposure to them than to the “f” spellings.

Ever wonder what inspired Tolkien to write LotR? It was to create a world and history for the invented languages that had been a hobby of his since childhood. No really. He says so himself in the Foreword: “I desired to do this for my own satisfaction, and I had little hope that other people would be interested in this work, especially since it was primarily linguistic in inspiration and was begun in order to provide the necessary background of ‘history’ for the Elvish tongues.” In fact, Tolkien wanted to work on The Silmarillion after the publication of The Hobbit, but fans were so eager for a sequel that he put the histories on hold.

Ever wonder what Tolkien’s “message” was in writing LotR? The short answer is that there is no hidden meaning in the text, though events of his lifetime certainly influenced his writing. From the foreword: “As for any inner meaning or ‘message,’ [LotR] has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches; but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit.” Take that, hyper-reading-into-the-text-for-allegory people!

The Prologue – Concerning Hobbits and Other Things

The prologue, while not technically part of the narrative, does serve as a connecting piece between The Hobbitand LotR. We learn that Fellowship takes place 60 years after the events of The Hobbit and that the narrator has gotten the story from The Red Book of Westmarch. The Red Book is a narrative contrivance of Tolkien’s that is presented as the source of both The Hobbitand The Lord of the Rings, which were written by Bilbo and Frodo, respectively. In the movie adaptations, you may remember seeing this red leather book that Bilbo writes in.

The prologue also makes it quite clear that the journey we’re about to go on is much larger in scope than the one in The Hobbit. It sets the story in the Third Age of Middle-earth, which suggests previous ages and centuries of history, and provides a historical look at hobbits, including the birth of the Shire and the end of the North Kingdom of the Dúnedain (a race of Men descended from Númenor, which is said to have been the greatest realm of Men).

Anyway, the point is that there is a ton of interesting, but not necessarily essential, information to be found in the prologue. In order to prevent myself from turning this post into a nerd-tastic rambling on the historical depth Tolkien provided for Middle-earth (I’ll save that for The Silmarillion), here’s a list of tid-bits:

- Hobbits once lived on the Anduin, which lies between Greenwood (now called Mirkwood) and the Misty Mountains, and only moved west when “a shadow fell on the forest.” [Here's a handy map of Middle-earth.]

- Dates are different in the Shire than they are in other places. You must add 1600 years to a date given in Shire-reckoning in order to get the actual Third Age date. This is because the Shire was founded 1600 years into the Third Age and hobbits recognize the founding as year 1.

- The Shire is divided into Farthings (East Farthing, West Farthing, North Farthing, South Farthing) and Folklands (Tookland, Buckland, etc). [Here's a handy map of the Shire.]

- The Shire has a Mayor (called the Mayor of Michel Delving), but it is mostly a ceremonial title.

- The head of the Took family is known as the Thain of the Shire, though it has become mostly an honorary title since the fall of the last king at Fornost (this was a king of Men, not a hobbit-king)

There. Go forth and impress your friends with your random Tolkien knowledge! And stay tuned to Suvudu for more from the Tolkien Re-read. The next post will cover Chapter 1: A Long-Expected Party. Get excited!


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