It’s time to wrap up Talking Tolkien. And I thought a Tolkien-themed version of Ten Things I Think I Think would be a fun way to do it. So away we go…
READ THE LEGEND OF SIGURD & GUDRUN
I read this last year, and I intend to write an essay on it, but just haven’t fit it in yet. This is a good book. And you can really see the influence it had on Tolkien. It’s as depressing as a Jim Thompson novel, but still well worth reading. I highly recommend it for fans of The Silmarillion.
After finishing this, I tried to read The Story of Kullervo, but it didn’t really work for me. It’s not by Christopher Tolkien, and the way it was laid out, and read, felt different from Sigurd, Gawain, etc. I plan on powering through it, as it was also influential on Tolkien. But I’m not recommending that one, yet. Definitely check out Sigurd.
I WANT A ‘TALES OF MIDDLE EARTH’
I’m not a fan of how the rights holder of Robert E. Howard’s works is handling new fiction. At all. Not just the barren output – but the whole approach (which has been mostly talk so far).
I’d love to see a collection of short stories based on Tolkien elements. Ideally done by people qualified to write in Tolkien’s style (folks who wrote like Dennis L. McKiernan, Andre Norton, Peter S. Beagle, Terry Brooks – not just big-names to put on the cover).
The story of Baldor (which has a Robert E. Howard feel to it)
Significant parts of The Angmar War (some terrific stuff in that story line)
Arvedui’s story – ending with his drowning
A story about the First, or Second, Fall of Minas Ithil
The Fall of Dol Goldur
The Battle of Dale
Erol the Dark Elf
I like leafing through portions of the Histories, more than I do actually reading The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings. It’s Tolkien’s world-building, and stories, that keep me invested: not his prose narrative. There are SOOO many stories to flesh out.
FEANOR WAS SUCH A VILLAIN
I’m a big Sherlock Holmes guy. His treatment of Watson annoys me, and I finally wrote an essay about his treating the good Doctor like a doormat. Likewise, somewhere in me is an essay in which I ‘get it all out’ on what a villain (and Grade A jerk) Feanor was. The elves would have been better off if he had never been born. He ranks a tier below Melkor, and Sauron, as one of the greatest villains of Middle Earth. Ungoilant, Gothmog, Glaurung: he’s right up here with them. And his ill brood are a part of that. I’ll probably get around to that one some day.
READ THE QUEST OF EREBOR
Unfinished Tales is just about my favorite Middle Earth Book. I even have it as an audiobook. I’ve written over 2,300 words of an essay on The Quest of Erebor. This is a fragment that tells the underlying story behind Gandalf convincing Thorin to retake The Lonely Mountain. I love it.
For a long time, before The Histories of Middle Earth (and the books that have followed), Unfinished Tales was the treasure chest for Silmarillion fans who wanted more. I still love it. Tolkien wrote “The Quest of Erebor” – along with “The Hunt for the Ring” – back in 1954-1955, for the “Appendices to the Lord of the Rings,” but there wasn’t enough space. A much-abridged version was included.
I think Unfinished Tales is almost worth getting just for this chapter. It’s excellent. My essay-in-progress is a couple different parts and I don’t know how I’m going to tie it all together. But it’s a neat topic and I’m still very interested in exploring it.
WRITING THE LAY OF FINGOLFIN
If you saw last week’s post, I’m working on a looong tale in verse, telling the story of the Naugalamir. And the silmaril it contained. I’ve also done some sketching out for Fingolfgin’s story in verse. As big a douche as I find Feanor, I admire and like Fingolfin. I’d like to tell his story, and delve into the despair that drove him to his death. Great story.
RINGS OF POWER IS EXPENSIVE FAN FICTION
The Sword of Shannara is my favorite fantasy novel. You can be all ‘Lin Carter Jr.’ and rant about it being a Tolkien rip-off all you want. My Tolkien credentials are solid. It’s still my favorite. The MTV Shannara Chronicles were underwhelming. Allanon was cool, and some of the story was good. But it was Shannara for the MTV crowd. I would much have preferred a two-hour animated movie. Season two was so bad I quit two episodes in, and I’m glad it died a barely noticed death. The old Shannara PC game was better.
I’ve read Wheel of Time, and season one of that show – while not without flaws – was definitely better than the same for Rings of Power. So, for me, Rings falls above Shannara, but below Wheel of Time.
The biggest flaw was that the creators/show runners didn’t want to adapt Tolkien’s Second Age into a streaming series. They wanted to make what THEY FELT Tolkien’s Second Age should have been, into a series. Story-wise, it really is fan fiction.
As a Bible scholar (of sorts), once of the basic principles I learned, is to ask “Where’s Jesus?” When I see teachings or discussions related to the New Testament, that try to make some point, I ask that question. It weeds out a lot of the chaff.
You can find Tolkien in Peter Jackson’s LotR films. You have to look a lot harder in his bloated Hobbit trilogy (which I think is a big reason it’s far less liked by fans). Rings of Power isn’t nearly enough actual Tolkien at its root. It’s Tolkien the way Patrick McKay and John Payne wanted to write it. And it ain’t the same.
You don’t agree – that’s fine. I thought Rings of Power was ‘meh.’ I tried to watch it again for my Talking the Rings of Power series, and I couldn’t force myself past episode three. It just wasn’t good enough. I’ll watch season two because it’s gorgeous, and some of it’s good. But it’s FAR less than it could have been. And I’d rather watch the Solomon Kane movie again, than two episodes of Rings of Power. Kane isn’t great Howard, but it’s a good sword and sorcery movie. i isn’t comparable to that, sadly.
Here are the posts I did for my Talking the Rings of Power series, last Fall. If you like Tolkien, it’s worth checking out for the approach I used.
WHAT ABOUT SARUMAN, AND ISULDUR’S BODY?
Another reason to have Unfinished Tales is for the essay, “Disaster of the Gladden Fields.” I’m not gonna go on about it here. You really should get Unfinished Tales. And if you have it, go re-read this essay. I think a speculative essay on Saruman, and what he did with Isildur’s body (if he did, indeed, find it) would be fun to write.
GET THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT
I am about 155 pages into this almost 1,000 page tome from John Ratliff (it also comes in two volumes). I’m in no hurry, and the read is gonna go over a few years. But the amount of information in this is staggering. You will learn SO MUCH about not just The Hobbit, but Middle Earth stuff, you won’t believe it. It’s like having a History of Middle Earth book just for The Hobbit. Fascinating stuff.
LORD OF THE RINGS ONLINE
I’m not crazy about the Turbine engine for MMOs. I gave LotRO a try a decade or more ago. Didn’t do anything for me. I played a lot of Conan Online, and then Conan Exiles. In 2021, I was in a serious Tolkien mood, and gave LotRO another try. And I played it a LOT over 8 months or so. I’m still not crazy about the engine, but I got used to it. And the lore is simply WONDERFUL for a Tolkien fan. If you like MMOs, and you like Tolkien, but haven’t played this one, you really should give it a try.
I switched over to Elder Scrolls Online, which is also a lore-deep game, and far better graphically, and less clunky. I’ll get back into LotRO again, I’m sure. But for the Tolkien-feel, it’s terrific. In fact, that game does Tolkien story better than Rings of Power does.
CHRISTOPER TOLKIEN – THANK YOU
I’m on record (more than once) as saying that Arthur Conan Doyle’s sons were lazy, arrogant, entitled, asses, who lived off of their father’s talent and hard work. They contributed next to nothing to the Doyle legacy. In fact, they were a pain in the butt about it. An unrelated literary executor would have done Doyle far better than his sons did. You can get a feel for them from my essay on The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes.
You can nitpick what Christoper did with his dad’s stuff. But I believe he did a wonderful job carrying on his father’s legacy. Tolkien fans should be grateful he wasn’t like Adrian or Denis Doyle. Things would be a LOT worse right now.
I wish he hadn’t been so controlling about licensing The Silmarillion, but it is what it is. The Histories of Middle Earth are terrific. And he completed The Silmarillion comd and got it published. The other books about Gawain, Arthur, Beowulf, etc.: I’m a Christopher Tolkien fan, and my Tolkien shelf is far better for his work.
CLOSING THINGS DOWN
It was fun shining a spotlight on the Ol’ Professor; and we definitely stepped outside of Middle Earth. I’ll still revisit Middle Earth here at Black Gate. I’ve got a shelf full of books to talk about!
Thanks to Joe Bonadonna, Ruth de Jauregui, Fletcher Vredenburgh, David Ian, Gabe Dybing, James McGlothlin, Thomas Parker, and Rich Horton, for contributing. I really enjoy getting folks to come play in the Black Gate Sandbox for a particular topic. That approach has yielded FAR better stuff than I could ever provide just writing my Monday morning column alone. I’m already working on 2024’s group project: Just One More Thing (Lt. Columbo).
Next week, A (Black) Gat in the Hand returns for its sixth summer run at Black Gate. I’ve already got a couple friends joining in the fun this year, as we roam all over the Pulp landscape. I just got back from Pittsburgh and Pulp Fest 2023 this morning as I type this, and I’m jazzed to get things going.
The Road goes ever on and on,
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet,
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.
Prior Talking Tolkien entries:
Talking Tolkien – A New series at Black Gate!
Joe Bonadonna – Religious Themes in The Lord of the Rings
Ruth de Jauregui – The Architects of Modern Fantasy, Tolkien and Norton
Fletcher Vredenburgh – Of Such a Sort Should a Man Be – Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary
Anglachel – Tolkien’s Evil Magic Sword
David Ian – A Magical Tolkien Celebration
Gabe Dybing – Tolkien and Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP)
James McGlothlin -A Tolkienian Defense of Monsters
Thomas Parker – The Rankin-Bass Hobbit
Rich Horton – The Tolkien Reader
Joe Bonadonna – Philosophical Themes in The Silmarillion
The Lay of the Nauglamir
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series. Which is now part of THE DEFINITIVE guide to Conan. He also organized 2023’s ‘Talking Tolkien.’
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI, XXI, and XXXIII.
He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.