Today in Talking Tolkien, it’s a long-term project I work on every so often. The story of the Nauglamir (The Necklace of the Dwarves) may well be my favorite story in all of The Legendarium. It was the subject of my very first Tolkien essay.
Last year, I read The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun. I really liked that book. I also read part of The Story of Kullervo, though the layout and non-Tolkien commentary didn’t work nearly as well for me (it was not a Christopher Tolkien effort). Tolkien was an expert in this area. The names of the dwarves in The Hobbit came from the old Noridc legends.
If your knowledge of Norse mythology comes from Bulfinch’s – or Marvel comic books – you’re going to find these are VERY different. But I liked reading the old sagas (and no wonder The Silmarillion is so depressing – those old Nordic sagas make Platoon look like a light-hearted romp).
And the Sigurd book got me a bit inspired.
I sketched out the entire history of the Silmaril which was fashioned into Nauglamir, and began creating an epic poem about it (NOT an ‘Epithon,’ for you Nero Wolfe fans out there…). I’m not into metering, so it doesn’t qualify for some definition of verse or form. But it still reads like a poem to me.
It’s 90 lines so far, with a lot more to go. The scope of the Nauglamir Silmaril is truly amazing, and fraught with tragedy. I’ll add more the next time I go into Tolkien mode. It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this (except for a Solar Pons poem I wrote, summarizing “The Unique Dickensians”).
I can put together a haiku on the fly:
Source of joy and woe
Light of Yavanna shining
Pride of the Noldor
This, however, is well outside of my writing zone. But it’s fun.
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It’s another of my Black Gate cohorts this week for Talking Tolkien. Rich is one of the science fiction cornerstones at the Black Gate World Headquarters, but he’s been a Tolkien fan since the seventies. He’s gonna talk about a book I never added to my shelves. Before the explosion of books like The History of Middle Earth Series, and Children of Hurin, and his Beowulf, there weren’t a lot of ‘other’ Tolkien books out there besides the main five.
But even before The Silmarillion finally saw print, there was The Tolkien Reader.
The Tolkien Reader was first published in 1966 by Ballantine Books in the US; in response to the greatly expanding popularity of The Lord of the Rings, driven by the paperback editions from Ballantine (and the pirated edition from Ace.) This was an attempt to bring a varied sampling of his work to readers hungry for more. I read it myself in the early ’70s, after I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. As an introduction it reprints a piece Peter Beagle did for Holiday (perhaps at the instigation of Alfred Bester?) called “Tolkien’s Magic Ring”, which primarily discusses the Middle-Earth books.
It’s a good and varied collection throughout, and really does the job of showing a different side to Tolkien (though not THAT different!) from that seen in The Lord of the Rings. I’ll be looking at each of the sections separately, and slightly out of order, in that I think the best part by far is Tree and Leaf, which comes second in the book.
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Up this week is another of my fellow Black Gaters. James most recently took us through those classic The Year’s Best Horror Stories anthologies. Back in May, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote about Tolkien’s Beowulf. While Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings are Tolkien’s most famous works, Beowulf is a classic of English literature. So, as we start July, James also talks about that epic saga. And if you’ve never actually read Beowulf (or only seen The Thirteenth Warrior), maybe you’ll want to after reading James’ and Fletcher’s essays.
In 1936 J. R. R. Tolkien gave the annual Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture to the British Academy. This talk was later published as the essay “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” in the book The Monsters and Critics. The primary point of this lecture was to offer a defense for studying the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf as, primarily, a poetic work. That proposition may sound obvious; but Tolkien was convinced that it needed to be re-emphasized because the way Beowulf had been largely studied in his day seemed to forget or obscure the point. Tolkien memorably characterizes the situation in what he called the “whole industry” of Beowulf criticism with the following allegory:
A man inherited a field in which was an accumulation of old stone, part of an older hall. Of the old stone some had already been used in building the house in which he actually lived, not far from the old house of his fathers. Of the rest he took some and built a tower. But his friends perceived at once (without troubling to climb the steps) that these stones had formerly belonged to a more ancient building. So they pushed the tower over, with no little labour, in order to look for hidden carvings and inscriptions, or to discover whence the man’s distant forefathers had obtained their building material. Some suspecting a deposit of coal under the soil began to dig for it, and forgot even the stones. They all said: ‘This tower is most interesting.’ And even the man’s own descendants, who might have been expected to consider what he had been about, were heard to murmur: ‘He is such an odd fellow! Imagine his using these old stones just to build a nonsensical tower! Why did not he restore the old house? He had no sense of proportion.’ But from the top of that tower the man had been able to look out upon the sea. (pgs. 7–8, The Monsters and the Critics).
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Talking Tolkien took a break last week so my annual Summer Pulp series, A (Black) Gat in the Hand, could pop in. But we’re back to the Professor this week. Gabe Dybing and I talk about RPGing on the side – we even started a short-lived Conan campaign. So I was thrilled when I conned him into…I mean, he agreed to contributed a post on MERP. If you don’t know what MERP is, read-on. Those were some terrific RPG books.
I have decided to take “Discovering Tolkien,” the title of this series, as my means of entry into the subject. By doing so, I can only hope that I happen to make (if not “new”) interesting or sideways observations about Tolkien’s awe-inspiring achievement. And this approach moreover gives me the opportunity to address a subject that this series’s editor has wanted me to handle, which is the nature of Iron Crown Enterprises’s (I.C.E.’s) Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP), specifically the 1987 edition that I purchased at Waldenbooks in the Eden Prairie Center in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a game that, incidentally, also introduced me to roleplaying in general.
Some may feel that I add too much detail, by citing precisely where I bought MERP, but I expect that I may find some sympathy with others who are perhaps about my own age – this year I am approaching age 48. These details, the milieu in which I discovered Tolkien, are inextricably bound together with the experiences of reading and re-reading this masterwork of English Language and Literature. They also inform the ways in which I continued and continue to explore this achievement through other media.
Let me pause for a moment on “incomparable.” I don’t want to be misunderstood: of course I can compare all manner of worlds and works to Tolkien’s Middle-earth, but, in my view, none will “measure up.” In many ways, my discovery of Tolkien in the fifth grade began a lifelong and – to this day – never ending quest to discover it again, and I don’t think I ever shall.
That’s not to say that some works haven’t come close. I don’t intend to be “critical” in this essay, so please let me deal glancingly with the productions that most obviously were meant to imitate Tolkien.
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Talking Tolkien is back for another installment, and I’m bringing back one of my essays.
Today’s essay is about a magic sword named Anglachel. It is really a minor element of the book, but the story of it weaves in and out of many other parts. That’s one of the true wonders of The Silmarillion. It’s a vibrant, interconnected history of Tolkien’s world. There are just SO many characters and stories throughout it.
I’m in that weird, small group which cites The Silmarillion as their favorite Middle Earth book. It is essentially a mythology and history of Tolkien’s world. While I love Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria, for me, Tolkien set the fantasy standard for world building. The Silmarillion is really several long stories combined into one book.
John Ronald Ruel Tolkien, creator of Middle Earth, was a master storyteller. The Hobbit, with its tale of plucky hobbits and dwarves, a wizard, a magic ring, and a dragon, made what has been termed high fantasy appealing to a large audience. And The Lord of the Rings is an epic saga of good versus evil and of never giving up on what is right, no matter how daunting the odds.
Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings included bits of Middle Earth history. Gimli sang ‘The Song of Durin’ as the fellowship traveled through Moria and Aragorn sang a song of Beren and Luthien early in his travels with the hobbits. It was the history of Middle Earth and events of the First Age that were always dear to Tolkien’s heart. He tried for decades to get The Silmarillion published and he constantly revised and added to his creation.
Of course, magic swords are one of the most popular tropes in fantasy (and role playing games). The appeal can probably trace its roots back to King Arthur’s legendary blade, Excalibur. Bilbo was given the elven dagger named Sting in The Hobbit. Aragorn’s Anduril (the sword formerly known as Narsil) is an important symbol in The Lord of the Rings, while Gandalf bore Glamdring (Hey Gary Gygax, who says wizards can’t use swords?), a sword that traced its lineage back to Turgon of Gondolin. As does its ‘mate,’ Orcrist, which found its way to Thorin as he sought to reclaim Erebor for Durin’s folk.
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Talking Tolkien is back for another installment and Black Gate’s own Fletcher Vredenburgh looks into the Professor’s delve into one of the classics of English literature: Beowulf. Read on! For all those who wander are not lost.
Of Such a Sort Should a Man Be: Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is a book that shouldn’t exist. Prof. Tolkien began his translation of the Old English poem in 1920 and worked on it until 1926. It’s posited his move from the University of Leeds to Oxford and his commencement of The Hobbit prevented him from devoting more time to the translation. Ultimately, he undertook the effort for himself and was never satisfied enough with it to have it published. As with nearly everything else he left unfinished or unpolished, his son Christopher published it. In 2014 it appeared, collected with commentary on the poem Tolkien had prepared for and several Beowulf-inspired works.
For those unfamiliar with Beowulf, it is an epic poem in the West Saxon dialect of Old English. It is believed to have been composed between 975 AD and 1025 AD. It concerns events taking place in Scandinavia during the 6th century. The first half describes the ravaging of the King Hrothgar of Denmark’s great hall Heorot by the monster Grendel, and Beowulf’s effort to kill him (and the monster’s mother). The second half tells of Beowulf’s ill-fated battle in his old age against a dragon. Interspersed throughout the poem are tales of the fates of various kings and warrior during a period of constant raiding and war among the kingdoms around the Baltic Sea. Debate exists over whether it was originally composed during pagan time or Christian times.
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Talking Tolkien is back and it’s Black Gater Joe Bonadonna, musing on religious themes in Lord of the Rings. Since Tolkien set out to compose a mythology for England, and was himself a devout Catholic, it’s no surprise that the topic of religion is certainly relevant to his work. Take it away, Joe…
First, I want to say that I am most definitely not an expert on Tolkien’s writings and his history of Middle-earth. Certainly, the myriad fans of Tolkien’s work will be familiar with the ideas and concepts that are laid out in this article. Most of what I set down here will be obvious to Tolkien fans and aficionados. I’m not really adding anything new here; this is just an exploration of themes I’ve always found interesting, and whenever I find myself in a discussion with other fans of Lord of the Rings, I always find myself bringing up the topic of religious ideas in the books, and the fact that there are no churches or other holy places. (It can be argued that all Middle-earth — every forest, every river, every mountain, every pasture is sacred, I suppose.)
Why aren’t there any priests, nuns or priestesses in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings? Do Hobbits go to church? Do Elves worship at a temple? Do dwarves belong to a mosque or synagogue? Do they all pray to Eru/Ilúvatar? And where do they go to pray? A special house of worship or is anywhere they pray become a sacred place?
Those are some of the questions I inevitably ask.
Since first reading The Hobbit in 1968, I’ve read it only one other time; I’ve read Lord of the Rings three times, but have only read The Silmarillion once. When The Children of Hurin was first published, I read that. I am pretty unfamiliar with the professor’s other works, however. My sources used in research for this article are: Ruth S. Noel’s The Mythology of Middle-Earth, Robert Foster’s The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, Paul H. Kocher’s Master of Middle-Earth, William Ready’s Understanding Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter’s Tolkien: The Complete Biography, as well as The Hobbit, The Return of the King, and The Silmarillion.
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Possibly because Black Gate leans more towards sword and sorcery than to high fantasy, the varied works of Robert E. Howard are a lot more discussed here than those of J.R.R. Tolkien. But there are quite a few devotees of both, and the writings of the two fathers of fantasy are favorites.
Back in the summer of 2015, writers from all over waxed eloquently on various aspects of REH’s life and works in a series we called Discovering Robert E. Howard. Some fascinating stuff was covered, and the final essay was posted in March of the following year!
Because I never know when to leave a good thing alone, we took things a step further in 2019. From January through June, a different writer looked at every original Conan story (randomly assigned to them) written by REH, for Hither Came Conan. It was, quite simply, a spectacular series with some amazing essays. It was so good, that it was incorporated along with a blog series by Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward, into a new book from Rogue Blades, into THE definitive guide to the Conan Canon. With some new essays added, Hither Came Conan belongs on every REH shelf – right alongside the terrific Del Rey Conan trilogy, on mine.
Well, since the Black Gate firewall still hasn’t figured out how to block me, I decided why not expand the Tolkien footprint here at BG?
Joe Bonadonna, Gabe Dybing, Rich Horton, David Ian, Ruth de Jauregui, James McGlothlin, Thomas Parker, Fletcher Vredenburgh, and myself (the only way I get included in these types of All Star things is to put it together myself…) are going to spend the next couple months talking about different aspects of Tolkien’s life and works. And it’s not just Middle Earth (though of course, much of it is).
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So, I’ve got over 1,500 words about season one of The Rings of Power, but it wasn’t gonna be wrestled into shape for this morning. So, I’ll work on tidying that up by next Monday. And I’m working on a basic Reader’s Guide to The Silmarillion: which, while my favorite Tolkien book, is, admittedly, not an easy read. But that’s not ready. So, I decided to write about a few Tolkien-related topics today. And awaaaay we go:
Lord of the Rings Online
I mentioned in last week’s article that Elder Scrolls Online replaced Age of Conan as my favorite MMO. Over the last year, I made my first dive into Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO). I’m not a fan of the Turbine engine, which LotRO uses. As does the original Dungeons and Dragons Online game, and Asheron’s Call. I find the Neverwinter Nights MMO engine much better for my D&D fix.
I played a dwarf up to halfway through the Mines of Moria expansion. ESO and Age of Conan – and even Neverwinter Nights – are better MMOs. That Turbine engine is dated, and clunky. The graphics are okay, but definitely inferior to Age of Conan and Elder Scrolls Online. It’s not even remotely close.
But for a Tolkien fan, the lore in LotRO is simply fantastic! From The Shire, to Moria, to the North Downs: it is literally a chance to live in Middle Earth. The game is worth playing alone for the depth of setting, and the capturing of the lore. If I weren’t enjoying ESO so much, I would be continuing on in LotRO. It’s very easy to solo, which is how I play MMOs. If you’re a gamer, and you want to experience Tolkien, this is the game for you. How much you actually like the Turbine engine will probably determine if you stick with it or not.
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Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves, a watercolor Tolkien
painted for the first edition of The Hobbit, published in 1937.
Bilbo is seen sitting astride a barrel floating down the forest river,
having helped the dwarves (who are hidden inside the wine barrels) to
escape from the dungeons of the Elvenking. This was Tolkien’s favorite
watercolor and he was disappointed to find that it had been omitted from
the first American edition. Credit: © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937.
The University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library has launched the largest exhibition on J.R.R. Tolkien in a generation.
Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth showcases the library’s extensive collection of Tolkien’s papers, manuscripts, letters, and artwork, the largest of its kind in the world. The exhibition, which includes some 200 items, also brings together items from private collections and Marquette University’s Tolkien Collection.
J.R.R. Tolkien (1892–1973) spent most of his adult life in Oxford. He came to Oxford University in 1911, aged nineteen, to study Classics at Exeter College, but later switched to English. After serving in France during World War One, he returned to Oxford to work on the New English Dictionary (later the Oxford English Dictionary), while tutoring in English. After five years at Leeds University as Reader and then Professor of English Language, he returned to Oxford in 1925 and remained there for the rest of his working life, first as Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1925 to 1945, and later as Professor of English Language and Literature from 1945 to 1959. He is buried with his wife, Edith, in Wolvercote Cemetery in Oxford.
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