I Apparently Approach Tolkien like History (Day 28)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100  Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100
Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

After passing the dike through a gap in the wall, they travel across open land, where their ponies can gallop them northward. With the sun setting, they make it to the top of a ridge and see the East Road winding its way toward Bree.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 8 (p147, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Another day, another five miles, and another paragraph down! Rather than write trying to wring words out of a somewhat vaguely descriptive few lines, I thought I’d take the time to tell you how I’m approaching Tolkien. This isn’t some policy that I have, or anything. It’s just something I’ve noticed.

Take yesterday’s post as an extreme example. While many people approach Tolkien as a mystery to solve through philosophical speculation, I generally don’t. Not that wildly speculating isn’t a barrel full of fun – it certainly is! But it’s hard for me to go in that direction, and I miss out on the fun.

This is probably because of my other daily blog, the Civil War Daily Gazette, in which I write about 1500ish words each day on what happened each specific day 150 years ago during the Civil War. Daily, I spend around two or three hours researching both primary and secondary sources to build upon writings that I started in 2010. The blog has taken off (more or less) and I get between 1,000 and 1,500 hits per day, on average. It’s got over 2,000 followers on Facebook. I’m not really sure how that happened.

But that’s my mood, so to speak. I’m approaching Lord of the Rings in the same way. I’ll read the passage for the miles that I exercised, think a bit about the larger story and the writing style, and then I’ll hit the books.

The History of Middle-earth series is a great resource for discovering the early drafts of the story. They’re edited by Christopher Tolkien and he provides a bit of commentary here and there. I also delve into Tolkien’s letters to see if he’s got something to say on the subject – this book came in handy for the Old Forest bits.

I also religiously employ the Reader’s Companion by Hammond and Scull. Seriously, you owe it to yourself to pick this up. It’s a wonderful resource. If you take anything away from this post, it’s that you need the Reader’s Companion. And if I’m looking for something a bit more scholarly, I’ll crack open the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia edited by Michael D.C. Drout – Routledge just released this in paperback! I also have at hand Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-earth. It’s been indispensable for keeping track of place names.

So while others might debate Sam’s motives or Gandalf’s origin or Tom Bombadil’s place in the cosmic order, I tend to lean toward the books and try to go to the source. This might be the “logical” thing to do, but I do miss out on the philosophical discussions.

And when I do take part in them, I’m afraid that I’m not very fun. For example, there was a little debate going on a few days ago in the comments section of The Leather Library blog about freewill in Tolkien’s legendarium. After a bit of fun and exciting back and forth, I went to the books, found what Tolkien said about it and sort of drew the whole thing to an utterly boring conclusion. (Sorry about that, by the way.) I try not to be “that guy,” but I’m afraid, I am that guy.

I came to Tolkien late, having picked up the Hobbit only two years ago. I was never able to join my friends in the wandering conversations about all things Middle-earth. Like so many things, I was reluctant. I never really got into the fantasy genre, always staying close to history and various non-fictions. Even when I owned a bookstore, I never really read novels.

But when I finally got to Tolkien, I discovered that I could treat it like I treat history! Not only history in the sense of the narrative itself, but history into how and when Tolkien wrote it. It’s all so wonderfully documented and right there for the picking. Understand, I live for this kind of stuff. It’s mind-numbingly dull for most, but it’s my bread and butter.

So I guess that’s it, really. I realize that it discourages discussion – something I wish I had more of. Right now, I’m trying to strike a balance, but I’m still finding my way. So my apologies if I post awkward comments on your blog or don’t know how to reply to your comments on mine. I’m still trying to figure this out.

Here’s the arsenal as it stands today:

About the Photo
As the hobbits continued northward, they could see the line of the East Road in the distance. It’s not really the same as this, but this photo came to mind.

Thoughts on the Exercising
Today my calves hurt, which is unexpected as mine are freakishly muscular for no reason. It was hot and kind of exhausting, but I got a break about halfway through because my cat, Juniper Pürrito, decided to take the large blanket draped across the couch into her tiny kitty mouth and drag it behind said couch. She’s been trying to do this for a couple of days now, and I really don’t get it. But, for Frith’s sake, it’s adorable. After rescuing the blanket, I got back to work and here I am. The break did nothing for me, I think, but it was the first break I’ve taken since the first day or so of this project. Huzzah.

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 130
    • 5 miles to Bree
    • 84 miles to Weathertop
    • 330 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,649 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Almost at the East Road (map)


8 thoughts on “I Apparently Approach Tolkien like History (Day 28)

  1. An interedting article. I am happy to see your enthusiasm for Tolkien, and although you came to him “late”, it is irrelevant. I have been with the works of Tolkien for 15 years and that doesnt make me any more or less a Tolkienest than you. All the is needed is passion!

    Secondly I mist argue that you are ABSULTLEY wrong with regards to our converstation. I havent had that much fun in a long time and I think we reached a nice soft conclusion, absolutly NOT boring.

    Hopefully we can engage in similar philosophical discussions in the future. Their fun is in asking the questions and looking for the answers, not the answers themselves

    Mae Govannen

    • Thanks! So much! I guess mostly I lament that I wasn’t able to have the typical Tolkien experience of growing up with the Hobbit and then jumping into Lord of the Rings as a lonely high schooler, only to find a slew of like-minded friends in college. I arrived late and I think I missed out on some pretty formative stuff.

      The conversation, I thought, was great. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how people react to the kind of approach I have towards these things. I know that on my Civil War blog, many of the readers have a passion for the Southern cause. When they’re presented with differing points of view based upon primary sources, they usually don’t take it well. Obviously, literature is different in this respect, but I’m still awkward. I’m used to the Civil War situation and generally have a difficult time caring what the Southern apologists have to say. When it comes to Tolkien, however, I want to hear it all, and love reading the speculations and wonderings. I just have a hard time joining in. But maybe that’ll come with experience.

      Also, I’m rambly.

  2. I noticed today that my library has a huge collection of Tolkien references. Like a dozen different books, including the encyclopedia and the readers companion. Fun!
    I only own several art of middle earth books and The Lord of the rings/ hobbit collection I’ve had since my childhood. I may need or peruse the references!

    Oddly I approach it almost from the opposite angle- which makes this blog fun for me. I’ve read very little of tolkiens letters or histories outside of appendices, but I have read myths and European histories by the ton. So I tend to approach it very obliquely.

  3. Since starting this, I’ve been reading a lot of different Tolkien blogs, and most approach it from the opposite way that I do (though usually without the background in other mythologies). They take the story for what it is and delve into it from there. That’s probably the best way to do it, but I’m really bad at that.

    But because of that, I never ever know what to say to these people. I’m awkward enough in real life, why must it spill over into this as well?

    The reader’s companion is absolutely essential no matter how you approach the book. It’s only like $25 or something. Definitely pick it up.

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