J.R.R. Tolkien Epic Reads discussion


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message 1: by Eileen (new)

Eileen | 89 comments Okay discussion for chapters 4-7 is now up. I will be popping these up as I go along in the book, which will probably be a bit faster than we're really supposed to as I will be reading this to my nephew as well.

message 2: by Jowita (new)

Jowita Horbaczewska | 11 comments Could you maybe add the chapter titles?

A Short Cut to Mushrooms
A Conspiracy Unmasked
The Old Forest
In the House of Tom Bombadil

My copy of the LOTR has no chapter numbers, only the titles (after the first page of the chapter) and since I just read the whole book (I will be following the discussions anyway) I am sometimes at a loss which part we ar in now.

message 3: by Eileen (new)

Eileen | 89 comments Right now, we're only reading prologue and a long expected party for the month. Two chapters a month.

message 4: by Jowita (new)

Jowita Horbaczewska | 11 comments I know you made the tread in advance, but see I was mislead because of the numbers. I trough the next will be the ones I put in my post. Sorry :(

message 5: by Eileen (new)

Eileen | 89 comments As I said, I will be putting them up as I read the book aloud to my nephew. So I will be doing this weeks or months in advance.

message 6: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments How is everyone progressing? I find it hard to stop, and not read ahead. Eileen is working on an introduction to post after the holiday weekend, so we haven’t forgotten you.

I’ve just started September’s chapters and noticed how meeting the elves has changed the hobbits. It’s odd that Frodo and Pippen seem to be arguing a little. I hadn’t noticed anything like that yet, so it stands out. It just seems like friends talking, I guess.

Frodo seems to be perking up though, talking more, and being a more active leader. And Sam has become the Sam I’ve always loved, thoughtful and practical. It’s going to be hard not to keep reading...

message 7: by George (new)

George Noland II | 43 comments After Frodo, Sam, and Pippin meet with Gildor and the other Elves, Frodo notices and Sam describes how the experience has changed Sam. He’s not a simple Hobbit gardener anymore. He appears to have some kind of premonition of future events and his role in those events. Did the elves do something to Sam or is Sam just reaching his latent potential now that his simple world is being challenged? The way it’s written I want to believe the Elves somehow changed Sam.

message 8: by George (new)

George Noland II | 43 comments On a side note, most of you probably already know that the comedian and CBS Late Show host Stephen Colbert is a huge Tolkien fan. He even outdueled Peter Jackson’s Tolkien expert on the set of one of the Hobbit movies. If you want to be impressed, I’ve included a recent Rolling Stones interview video in which…well, watch it for yourself. His knowledge of Tolkien’s universe is just incredible. I’ve also included an older one from his show that is hilarious about Smeagol and Gollum. Hopefully, you can see these:



message 9: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments Love the Colbert videos. As for Sam, I’ve always felt that the change in Sam came from meeting the elves, rather than because of something they did to him. I feel like it’s a wisdom or maturity he gains that makes him look differently at the world. I feel like it’s a common theme in Tolkien with elven encounters.

I believe the poem Colbert quotes is based on an earlier poem, Errantry. It’s a wonderful example of Tolkien’s ability as a poet. The wordplay is wonderful. I never noticed the Gilbert & Sullivan connection before. And I’ve always been fascinated by his fixation on a line in an old English poem, and how that led to the Silmarillion.

“Eala earendel, engla beorhtast,
ofer middangeard monnum sended,”

I’m no expert in Anglo Saxon, but I’d guess that’s (roughly) “hail Earendel, brightest of angels, over Middle Earth, sent unto men” I believe it’s a reference to Venus as the morning star. The backstory Tolkien created is astounding to me. To take a simple line and make it into something so profound...

message 10: by Sydney (new)

Sydney Baker I finished this month's chapters this weekend. It was so hard not to keep reading! Next month's chapters are my two favorite chapters in Fellowship. I love the Old Forest and Tom Bombadil.

message 11: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments I know that feeling, Sydney. I just want to keep going, too! The story feels like it’s just about ready to really get going... it makes it hard to slow down. I’m really glad you’re so excited about the book. It’s like a ripple in the water affecting us all with excitement!

message 12: by Eileen (new)

Eileen | 89 comments Yep. I know I'm not supposed to read ahead, but I've already told you guys and gals I was reading this to my nephew. So we're already on chapter 8 (Fog on the Barrow-Downs) and he actually fell asleep while I was reading to him before I had to go to work on Saturday.

message 13: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments I hope he was tired, rather than losing interest, Eileen... lol. Either way, he’ll have excitement coming soon enough.

message 14: by Eileen (new)

Eileen | 89 comments He was tired. His dad had him working in the backyard with him. But with the way this boy keeps begging me to read to him, I doubt he will. He's seen the films (though obviously not when they first came out) but never read the books. And it just started as a bedtime story to get him to sleep the first night of the weekend he stayed over. So the fact that he still has interest, kind of surprises me.

message 15: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments What does everyone think of the Old Forest? I remember always thinking it dark and spooky, eerie and almost sinister, but it doesn’t quite feel that way to me now. Still, it retains that eerie menace. I think it is Tolkien’s ability to give life to the forest, in a sense.
I know it will be the influence of Old Man Willow, but the sense of a strong will manipulating the forest is overwhelming in the whole chapter. It is a subtle way to make the forest into an adversary that is all the more unsettling because it is everywhere around the hobbits.
I’m enjoying it more seeing it as less dark, but more dangerous and menacing.
What other thoughts does it stir as you read through?

message 16: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 61 comments Creepy, yes, but not at the same level as Mirkwood or Fangorn.

message 17: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments Very true, Mary. It reads like it’s a normal wood, outside your home, but directed by something unseen. Unlike the other two, mostly because of how ordinary it is described as being.

message 18: by Eileen (new)

Eileen | 89 comments I always thought of the old forest as a small extent of Fangorn. Not quite with all the living trees of Fangorn, but enough to make it odd.

message 19: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments I feel like that too, Eileen, like it got separated as men cleared the trees. It’s Fangorn lite...

message 20: by Eileen (new)

Eileen | 89 comments Maybe even some of the deeper trees migrated back to Fangorn while they were sleeping as to avoid being cut down like so many of the others.

message 21: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments I’ve always wondered about the dreams the hobbits have in Tom Bombadil’s house. Frodo dreams of Gandalf being rescued from Orthanc, images that can’t mean anything to him until the end of the book. Then he dreams of black riders. Pippin dreams of Old Man Willow, and understandable fear. Merry dreams of flooding and drowning.
I feel like dreams are important here, but it feels like these are isolated incidents, and the fears they stir are quickly calmed by Bombadil or his home.
I know in his other writings Tolkien uses dreams as a way for mortals to enter the world of faery. The dream of Gandalf seems particularly interesting, but we find out late it came after the real event, so it’s not prophetic. It makes me wonder why he put them in here?
Does anyone else have a theory about the dreams? And how did they make you feel when you read them?

message 22: by Eileen (new)

Eileen | 89 comments Maybe Frodo, with his mind's eye caught a glimpse of Gandalf's business. It's always a possibility and something I've already considered for even average things.

message 23: by George (new)

George Noland II | 43 comments The dreams are great foreshadowing for things to come (or things the reader will find out have already happened). Does Frodo mention the dreams to Gandalf at any point? I’m trying to remember if he mentions the one after Gandalf tells of his misadventures at Elrond’s council. Anyway, why does Frodo have such dreams? If it’s from the ring, where is the ring channeling the visions from? Is it a special connection between Frodo and Gandalf? Are the Valar attempting to help him in some way? Maybe, it’s simply a plot device by Tolkien to create a mystery and excite the reader with no other overarching purpose. If so, it works for me!

Are Pippin’s, Merry’s, and Sam’s (lack of) normal dreams another way of showing Frodo’s importance and connection to the big picture? It seems like that to me.

message 24: by Eileen (new)

Eileen | 89 comments Huh, never thought of it that way... well maybe Frodo having a deep connection with Gandalf yes. But the rest no. Though if it is a connection between Frodo and the ring, it might be due to Sauron knowing thanks to Sarmon showing him via Palantíri.

message 25: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments Interesting thoughts! I wondered if it was the Valar influence, but feel like that makes more sense if it’s a premonition or a real-time glimpse. I’ve never thought of a connection with Saruman though. That makes sense, like the ring is intercepting a message about Gandalf’s escape. Like Harry Potter being able to read Voldemort’s mind. It’s a very interesting thought.

message 26: by Eileen (new)

Eileen | 89 comments Well I guess I just remembered that and thought it made the best sense to me.

message 27: by George (new)

George Noland II | 43 comments I believe the dreams are definitely Tolkien’s way of showing his readers that Frodo is special and his role is not random. That’s a theme alluded to on many occasions, I believe (I’ll watch out for more of them). I like the idea the Valar are essentially manipulating pieces like on a chessboard in an effort to thwart Sauron’s moves. The Istari are prominent pieces and Bilbo, Frodo, Sam and the others are important pieces (calling them pawns makes them seem less significant). Of course, these pieces all have free will (see Saruman) and the final outcome is in doubt. The Valar are positioning their strongest assets for the battle ahead.

message 28: by George (new)

George Noland II | 43 comments Honestly, I’m not sure my feelings for Tom Bombadil and Goldberry. That storyline seems, to me, to be a digression from the LOTR’s narrative. I’m not saying I don’t like them. They just seem out of place. Does that makes sense? I don’t know anything about them outside the three chapters. I don’t believe either are mentioned in the Silmarillion or The Hobbit. Did Tolkien include them in the LOTR just as a fun connection for the readers to his earlier work? Based on the descriptions, I’m assuming they are maybe Maiar who entered Ea from the beginning of its creation.

message 29: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments Excellent insights, George. I think the idea of the Valar influencing events seems to fit with Tolkien’s style. Not that they’d interfere directly, but that they would try to guide events in a favorable direction. It feels like something he would do.

I agree that Bombadil and Goldberry don’t fit in with anything else. I wonder if that is their purpose. To show another element of Middle Earth that is a more natural element, outside of the fates entwining everyone else. They are odd. I never felt like they really fit, either.

I like the old forest and the barrow downs in the next chapter, but Bombadil feels off. He’s supposed to be, that is why leaving the ring with him is such a bad idea. He is outside it’s influence and wouldn’t properly guard it. What I’m not sure about is whether he’s an odd part of the story, or if Tolkien accentuated that oddness intentionally. I sometimes wonder if he’s meant to be Tolkien himself, stepping into his own creation. That would be an interesting angle.

message 30: by George (new)

George Noland II | 43 comments I found these quotes:

In response to a letter from one of his readers, Tolkien described Tom's role in The Lord of the Rings:

"Tom Bombadil is not an important person—to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a 'comment.' I mean, I do not really write like that: he is just an invention (who first appeared in The Oxford Magazine about 1933), and he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyse the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function."

Tolkien did go on to analyse the character's role further:

"I might put it this way. The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. But if you have, as it were, taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the questions of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless...

It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war ... the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends. Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron."

Tolkien commented further:

"And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)."

message 31: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments Thanks for the references, George. I think I see his meaning. That’s helpful.

message 32: by Tara (new)

Tara  | 27 comments Coming a little late to the party, but analyzing Tolkien never grows old in my book! I just read through 'A Shortcut to Mushrooms', and there were 2 sections that really stood out to me: (1) Sam's change after meeting with the elves, and (2) Farmer's Maggot bravery in the face of the menacing Ringwraiths.

Long before heading out on his journey with Frodo, Sam had been fascinated by tales of elves and dragons from Bilbo. He wanted nothing more in life (besides Rosie Cotton perhaps), than to see the elves. I don't think that was ever the end all and be all of his expectations of the journey, but that was surely one of his major goals. I think his response to Frodo's questions as to whether he liked the elves ("They seem a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak") shows his keen understanding of them, given in Samspeak of course. I do think that the elves changed him, but not in any way that was outside his character or what he would have done regardless. I believe they knew that Frodo would need him, and helped to crystalize those thoughts in his mind. Despite his homespun nature, Sam is often the most perceptive and forward thinking one in the bunch (cue their encounter with Old Man Willow for example). It is often the moments in the book when Sam is quiet that I want to know more than ever what he is thinking.

One of my favorite exchanges of this chapter: "'Baggins has left,' he answered in a whisper. 'He is coming. He is not far away. I wish to find him. If he passes will you tell me? I will come back with gold.' 'No you won't,' I said. 'You'll go back where you belong, double quick. I give you one minute before I call all my dogs.'" Righteous Farmer Maggot! You don't get the sense that he is either slow or stupid, and there is something about the black rider that frightens him. But he still has the gumption to tell him off, and neither the carrot or the stick that could entice him to turn on the hobbit will work. Bravery is not the absence of fear, but going forward in spite of your fear. Farmer Maggot is a brave hobbit, and far from the only one in this story.

message 33: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments Great comments, Tara. Sam has always been my favorite character. I think your thoughts on the effect of meeting the elves are spot on. Sam doesn’t change dramatically, he just becomes more focused and thoughtful.

It’s a good pickup about Farmer Maggot too. It’s a thought that gets echoed at Tom Bombadil’s house later on.

message 34: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 61 comments One notes that compared to their later effect, (view spoiler)

message 35: by Tara (new)

Tara  | 27 comments Mary wrote: "One notes that compared to their later effect, [spoilers removed]"

My personal take is that (1) their power is amplified the more of them there are in the same location, hence one of them would be relatively innocuous, and (2) their strength grows the stronger The Ring/Sauron grows (view spoiler) I also think that at this stage, they neither need nor want to use force to gain their ends. In this instance, they are using bribery as their main weapon.

But of course none of the above negates the fact that meeting a tall black-clad stranger on horseback in the dark would make anyone afraid, even if they had no clue what evil they really represented.

message 36: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 61 comments I think it's possible that the shelter of the Shire might cause him to underestimate the potential for harm.

message 37: by James (new)

James Mullen | 103 comments I think those are some good points Tara and Mary. The riders certainly seem to act more boldly when together, and appear stronger. I also would agree that the Shire has that reputation of being separate from the troubles of the outside world, and gives all the hobbits that sense of security that lets them stand up to intimidation. Remember the Gaffer holding his ground against a rider early on, as well as Farmer Maggot.

message 38: by Tara (new)

Tara  | 27 comments James wrote: "I think those are some good points Tara and Mary. The riders certainly seem to act more boldly when together, and appear stronger. I also would agree that the Shire has that reputation of being sep..."

Indeed James. I think its a combination of stoutheartedness, and little time or patience for outsiders. But I did get the sense from the reading that both were uneasy about the riders, yet took a stand nonetheless.

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