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The Marquis de Leech

Tolkien 2.0

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On 2/6/2017 at 6:04 AM, SeanF said:

Wormtongue is so obviously creepy and depraved in the films that you wonder why he'd be trusted with a farthing, let alone the government of Rohan.

Treebeard was made as thick as nine planks (no pun intended).  Denethor was simply horrible. The Soap Bubbles of Death meant there was never any need for men to actually fight to defend Minas Tirith.  The last hour of ROTK was a hideous cut and paste job.

And yet.....I really enjoyed the Mines of Moria, Gollum and the passage of the Dead Marshes, the Battle of Helm's Deep (apart from Eomer's cavalry charging over a cliff) the flight to Rivendell, Chirstopher Lee as Saruman, the really nightmarish portrayal of Minas Morgul, and overall, I found the series enjoyable.

 

On 2/6/2017 at 6:11 AM, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Sean,

I hated the "stair surfing" in Moria.

For me what ruined the Battle of Helms Deep in the movies was the disappearing elves.

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On 10.2.2017 at 9:23 AM, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

In light of another thread positing that old chestnut about lack of female characters:

https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/tolkien-and-female-characters-part-i/

Rereading that again right now I find it funny that you would count Shelob (and Ungoliant I imagine?) as female characters. Do you also count the Balrog or Smaug, Glaurung, or Ancalagon as 'male'? And would you stress or point out that fact?

And what does it mean that those monstrous spiders are female? Who not some dragons or the Balrog? Why those hideous beasts lurking in dark caves?

Tolkien has some female characters, and three of them are actually memorable even to the casual reader (Galadriel, Éowyn, and Lúthien) but the gender roles are hopelessly conventional. But I think we already discussed that not so long ago, didn't we?

As to the movie discussion:

They are surprisingly good in Tolkien purist fan edits. You can reassemble the good material rather easily in a way to make it as true to the story as they possible can. Should even be more easier with the Hobbit movies.

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36 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

Rereading that again right now I find it funny that you would count Shelob (and Ungoliant I imagine?) as female characters. Do you also count the Balrog or Smaug, Glaurung, or Ancalagon as 'male'? And would you stress or point out that fact?

And what does it mean that those monstrous spiders are female? Who not some dragons or the Balrog? Why those hideous beasts lurking in dark caves?

Tolkien has some female characters, and three of them are actually memorable even to the casual reader (Galadriel, Éowyn, and Lúthien) but the gender roles are hopelessly conventional. But I think we already discussed that not so long ago, didn't we?

As to the movie discussion:

They are surprisingly good in Tolkien purist fan edits. You can reassemble the good material rather easily in a way to make it as true to the story as they possible can. Should even be more easier with the Hobbit movies.

Why not have female 'monsters'? I enjoy a good female villain as much as anyone. That these two are monsters makes perfect sense in the wider Tolkien universe. Not sure why a dragon or balrog makes the matter any different

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4 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Rereading that again right now I find it funny that you would count Shelob (and Ungoliant I imagine?) as female characters. Do you also count the Balrog or Smaug, Glaurung, or Ancalagon as 'male'? And would you stress or point out that fact?

I'm actually still in the process of writing about The Silmarillion's female characters - I'm rapidly concluding that that work is much harder to pigeonhole. But yes, I will be counting Ungoliant (Thuringwethil too, if only for the mystery factor).

As for Shelob - I am counting her as female because, well, she is ("Her Ladyship"). I wasn't writing about male characters in Tolkien - had I done so, I'd certainly have included Sauron, Saruman, and Gandalf. In fact, Shelob, in contrast to those three, has had her sex determined organically; she isn't simply an angel or demon wearing a gendered bodily form. 

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11 hours ago, HelenaExMachina said:

Why not have female 'monsters'? I enjoy a good female villain as much as anyone. That these two are monsters makes perfect sense in the wider Tolkien universe. Not sure why a dragon or balrog makes the matter any different

Well, because it looks like desperation to count any of those as genuinely female. And while Ungoliant and Shelob are sort of good monsters neither of them is a good villain because both only show up for a short time before they slip out of the story again. Morgoth could easily enough have destroyed the Trees all by himself, just as only some Orcs or other servants of Sauron's could have played Shelob's role up in the mountains.

7 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

I'm actually still in the process of writing about The Silmarillion's female characters - I'm rapidly concluding that that work is much harder to pigeonhole. But yes, I will be counting Ungoliant (Thuringwethil too, if only for the mystery factor).

As for Shelob - I am counting her as female because, well, she is ("Her Ladyship"). I wasn't writing about male characters in Tolkien - had I done so, I'd certainly have included Sauron, Saruman, and Gandalf. In fact, Shelob, in contrast to those three, has had her sex determined organically; she isn't simply an angel or demon wearing a gendered bodily form. 

Well, I must say I'm not sure how spirits/souls can have genders. If you really want to discuss stuff like that in-depth you have to also discuss the metaphysics behind the whole thing, and that is today hopelessly outdated. The gender of your spirit determines your biological sex. The Istari all had to be male because their spirits were 'male', just as Sauron and Melkor were male, and the Valar are all male (and the Valier female). Melian also had no choice but to wear a female body.

In that sense I'd limit myself to the clearly incarnated characters. Shelob and Lúthien would sit on the fence (and Melian and the Istari even more) since they seem to be both children of spirits who merely took bodily form (in Lúthien's case at least on her mother's side).

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15 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Rereading that again right now I find it funny that you would count Shelob (and Ungoliant I imagine?) as female characters. Do you also count the Balrog or Smaug, Glaurung, or Ancalagon as 'male'? And would you stress or point out that fact?

And what does it mean that those monstrous spiders are female? Who not some dragons or the Balrog? Why those hideous beasts lurking in dark caves?

Tolkien has some female characters, and three of them are actually memorable even to the casual reader (Galadriel, Éowyn, and Lúthien) but the gender roles are hopelessly conventional. But I think we already discussed that not so long ago, didn't we?

As to the movie discussion:

They are surprisingly good in Tolkien purist fan edits. You can reassemble the good material rather easily in a way to make it as true to the story as they possible can. Should even be more easier with the Hobbit movies.

The books were written in the 1940s then published in the 1950s.  Given that they were conceived and published more than 3/4's of a century ago is it really shocking or concening that the "gender roles" in LOTR and the Silmarillion were not the same as modern day?

Edited by Ser Scot A Ellison

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1 minute ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

The books were written in the 1940s then published in the 1950s.  Given than they were conceived and published more than 3/4's of a century ago is it really shcoking or concening that the "gender roles" in LOTR and the Silmarillion were not the same as modern day?

It is not totally surprising but it could have been somewhat better. It is not that I run around telling everybody who doesn't want to hear it that Tolkien was a misogynist. I actually enjoy his writing. I just don't think you can salvage the gender role/women thing in his writing by pointing out that there are some (allegedly important) women in the story.

Tolkien was writing stories about men, for men. Just like many of his peers were. Just look at the members of the Inklings. But there were female authors in his time, too, and in the 19th century, too. Especially in English literature. Was Tolkien as worse in his backwards in his views as, say, M.R. James? Probably not. But he could have been better.

I like H.P. Lovecraft, too, both the works and the man as he speaks to us in his letters. But he was still a bigoted racist, relishing in the delusions of Aryan superiority. And since he could have known that makes the whole thing much worse.

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What does "better" mean in this context? For you it seems to mean "more in alignment with 2017 attitudes", "less backwards". Without even going into the naive progressivism in play here, I think this is not what we usually mean with "better" when we talk about characters, plots, style, settings etc. of books.

Despite RBPL arguments wrt female character's in LotR I agree that even Eowyn and Galadriel are secondary (although Eowyn and the Nazgul is one of my favorite scenes) and Arwen is window dressing. But this has to do with the main themes and the plot of the narrative and makes perfect sense in the context of the whole. And to miss female characters in "The Hobbit" is like missing them in "Treasure Island"; for me to complain about this is an unreasonable and uninteresting criticism that fails to start from the book/story and "engage it on its own terms" but uses external criteria that are largely pointless. E.g., lack of romance (e.g. no sweetheart for Bilbo to return to) is only a problem if one expects this in every book, but it is not something that is felt to be missing when reading "The Hobbit" if the story is taken on its own terms.

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15 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Rereading that again right now I find it funny that you would count Shelob (and Ungoliant I imagine?) as female characters. Do you also count the Balrog or Smaug, Glaurung, or Ancalagon as 'male'? And would you stress or point out that fact?

It's been a while since I last read LotR and Silmarillion, but I seem to remember Tolkien using "she" and "her" for both Shelob and Ungoliant. I'm not so certain about it in the English version (I've read that one too, but as I said, long ago) but am close to 100% certain that's the case with Serbian translation I've read.

Also, I'm pretty certain Smaug and Balrog are referred to as male, and a bit less sure about Glaurung and Ancalagon.

Edited by baxus

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33 minutes ago, Jo498 said:

What does "better" mean in this context? For you it seems to mean "more in alignment with 2017 attitudes", "less backwards". Without even going into the naive progressivism in play here, I think this is not what we usually mean with "better" when we talk about characters, plots, style, settings etc. of books.

Sure, plot, writing style, etc is important, too. But then, aren't women people, too, and shouldn't they be as important as men? I mean, they are not exactly a minority.

Quote

Despite RBPL arguments wrt female character's in LotR I agree that even Eowyn and Galadriel are secondary (although Eowyn and the Nazgul is one of my favorite scenes) and Arwen is window dressing.

I'd say Arwen is even less than window dressing. People can overlook/forget that she, Elanor, Rose, or Lobelia even existed. There are a lot of people in that book, and people tend to remember those who are relevant for the plot. Arwen is not.

Quote

But this has to do with the main themes and the plot of the narrative and makes perfect sense in the context of the whole. And to miss female characters in "The Hobbit" is like missing them in "Treasure Island"; for me to complain about this is an unreasonable and uninteresting criticism that fails to start from the book/story and "engage it on its own terms" but uses external criteria that are largely pointless. E.g., lack of romance (e.g. no sweetheart for Bilbo to return to) is only a problem if one expects this in every book, but it is not something that is felt to be missing when reading "The Hobbit" if the story is taken on its own terms.

There could have been women in 'Treasure Island' without there being a romance. Women who only exist so that the male hero can kiss/fuck somebody isn't exactly to be desired, either. That reduces women to being nothing but a plot device or Women are people, and thus should have agendas and goals of their own in literature. Just as they do in real life. There is a way to find out whether a woman is actually a real character in a movie (it should also work in fiction). Just check whether she is talking about and/or doing stuff that has nothing to do with male lead of the movie. Then she is a real character.

How far do you think we can go with taking stuff on 'it's own terms', by the way? Do you think we can take 'Jud Süß' on it's own terms as a very successful book/movie in a time when racism and antisemitism was prevalent in society? Should we go along and say one can still enjoy this kind of stuff by mentally immersing oneself in the spirit of the day and/or simply ignore that stuff in favor of other merits the work might have? 

We are much more sensible in that field, the gender thing is much easily overlooked. One can say that this is a hint that it is less important but I'm not sure that's the case. 

21 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Lord Varys,

Tolkien is not Lovecraft and the comparison ia unworthy.

You certainly can compare these two. They both wrote fantastic literature and lived during the same era. Lovecraft suffers from the problem that people actually read his letters today (and that he was rather outspoken about his political views there) whereas Tolkien was rather close-mouthed about any of those. I do not doubt that Tolkien wasn't as bigoted a WASP as Lovecraft (after all, England wasn't exactly as 'overrun' by foreigners as Lovecraft's precious New England was) but I'd be very surprised if he had favorable views of the Jewish religion (as a devout Catholic that would be very surprising; I've family who are, by and large,) nor do I think he was in favor of inviting a lot of immigrants to the UK.

And there strange ideas of his, like that thing about everybody (and especially he himself) having a natural English dialect (sort of racially/biologically inherited) which would set him apart from other English-speaking people being raised in his corner of the island.

And his descriptions of the Orcs as 'degenerate Mongols' which you can find in the letters is blatantly racist. Northwestern Middle-earth was either consciously or unconsciously modeled on the West. The Easterlings and Southrons are evil. Yeah, they might be victims of Sauron's malice, are deceived and used by him, etc. but they are still too stupid to realize this. The people living in the Númenórean world are not.

I could have cited Stoker, Chandler, Kipling, and others. And in regards to women - well, I'm reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation series right now, and that man's female characters are utter clichés. In comparison to that I prefer Tolkien (and Lovecraft) not using women at all instead of such travesties. It seems to be getting in the novels but the women in the Robot short stories and Baley's wife in the first Robot novel were unbearable.

11 minutes ago, baxus said:

It's been a while since I last read LotR and Silmarillion, but I seem to remember Tolkien using "she" and "her" for both Shelob and Ungoliant? I'm not so certain about it in the English version (I've read that one too, but as I said, long ago) but am close to 100% certain that's the case with Serbian translation I've read.

Also, I'm pretty certain Smaug and Balrog are referred to as male, and a bit less sure about Glaurung and Ancalagon.

I know that, my point was more with stressing the fact that they should count as proper female characters. I'm not sure what the female (or human) qualities of Shelob and Ungoliant are, nor do I see any male qualities in the dragons or the Balrog (aside from, perhaps, him using a sword).

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34 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

I do not doubt that Tolkien wasn't as bigoted a WASP as Lovecraft (after all, England wasn't exactly as 'overrun' by foreigners as Lovecraft's precious New England was) but I'd be very surprised if he had favorable views of the Jewish religion (as a devout Catholic that would be very surprising; I've family who are, by and large,) nor do I think he was in favor of inviting a lot of immigrants to the UK.

Seeing as Tolkien was Catholic from 8 onwards (and saw his mother on the receiving end of religious prejudice), calling him a WASP is pretty misleading, since the term implies religious privilege. His views on Judaism are well-recorded - see the following Letter extracts. They are diametrically opposed to Lovecraft's stances:

Personally I should be inclined to refuse to give any Bestätigung [confirmation] (although it happens that I can), and let a German translation go hang. In any case I should object strongly to any such declaration appearing in print. I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as necessarily honourable; and I have many Jewish friends, and should regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine.

--

I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Flindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people….

I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

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28 minutes ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Seeing as Tolkien was Catholic from 8 onwards (and saw his mother on the receiving end of religious prejudice), calling him a WASP is pretty misleading, since the term implies religious privilege. His views on Judaism are well-recorded - see the following Letter extracts.

I know that, and I did not say that Tolkien was a WASP. I thought that kind of label is usually restricted to Americans, in any case, and intended to refer it only to Lovecraft.

I also know the letter you cited, but Anti-Judaism is deeply ingrained in conservative Catholicism, especially before the Second Vatican Council. You don't have to buy into pseudo-scientific racist ideology from the 19th and 20th century or approve of the Nazi politics against the Jews to pray the Good Friday prayer for the Jews each year. And you can also have Jewish friends while doing that (although I would not have such Catholic friends if I were a Jew if I could pick my friends).

And Lovecraft actually married Sonia Greene, a woman of Jewish descent who had immigrated from eastern Europe. The man had his biases but when push came to shove he apparently was able to ignore them. That's no excuse, of course (I'm just reading the letters exchanged between Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard and that's really a racist festival if there ever was one), but one wonders whether Tolkien would have married a woman from a similar background.

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1 hour ago, Lord Varys said:

Sure, plot, writing style, etc is important, too. But then, aren't women people, too, and shouldn't they be as important as men? I mean, they are not exactly a minority.

There could have been women in 'Treasure Island' without there being a romance. Women who only exist so that the male hero can kiss/fuck somebody isn't exactly to be desired, either. That reduces women to being nothing but a plot device or Women are people, and thus should have agendas and goals of their own in literature. Just as they do in real life. There is a way to find out whether a woman is actually a real character in a movie (it should also work in fiction). Just check whether she is talking about and/or doing stuff that has nothing to do with male lead of the movie. Then she is a real character.

How far do you think we can go with taking stuff on 'it's own terms', by the way? Do you think we can take 'Jud Süß' on it's own terms as a very successful book/movie in a time when racism and antisemitism was prevalent in society? Should we go along and say one can still enjoy this kind of stuff by mentally immersing oneself in the spirit of the day and/or simply ignore that stuff in favor of other merits the work might have?

There is actually a woman in Treasure Island: Jim Hawkins' mother who is capable (she runs the Inn with Jim after becoming a widow) and indirectly responsible for the discovery of the treasure map because she is so stubborn in not wanting to take more money from the deceased Billy Bones's sea chest than he owed that she and Jim leave the Inn only at the last moment before the pirates in search of Bones' stuff enter and Jim grabs the bundle that contains the map as additional compensation.

But to have almost no women in war or expedition settings like Treasure Island or most of LotR is not denying them personhood (how should this follow?) or ignore that they exist but only to acknowledge that there are very few of them in such settings. I am not sure which great books there are about women only settings but in such a case a lack of male characters would also be not problematic at all.

Guilt by association with openly racist material is not a helpful move but of course there cannot be hard and fast rules how far the principle of charity to engage a book on its on terms should be extended. I could only go by examples where I have the impression that external demands informed by modern sensibilities seem to impede people's appreciation and understanding of certain books. A blatant example is "Huckleberry Finn". Of course this contains some racism, how could it be different in a book set in the mid-19th century American South and written only a few decades later? But overall and especially for its time it is anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment and abolitionist, so the occurence of the N-word and the sympathetic but sometimes condescending depiction of the adult Jim who nevertheless is not as smart as the young teenager Huck would blind people for the qualities and the deeper message of that book.

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7 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Lord Varys,

Tolkien is not Lovecraft and the comparison ia unworthy.

Yeah, holy shit. Plus you can find Tolkien's views on Jews in one of his letters, the one where he pretty much tells the nazi party to fuck off.

 

Edit: Ah, RBPL beat me to it.

Edited by Darth Richard II

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5 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

I know that, and I did not say that Tolkien was a WASP. I thought that kind of label is usually restricted to Americans, in any case, and intended to refer it only to Lovecraft.

I also know the letter you cited, but Anti-Judaism is deeply ingrained in conservative Catholicism, especially before the Second Vatican Council. You don't have to buy into pseudo-scientific racist ideology from the 19th and 20th century or approve of the Nazi politics against the Jews to pray the Good Friday prayer for the Jews each year. And you can also have Jewish friends while doing that (although I would not have such Catholic friends if I were a Jew if I could pick my friends).

And Lovecraft actually married Sonia Greene, a woman of Jewish descent who had immigrated from eastern Europe. The man had his biases but when push came to shove he apparently was able to ignore them. That's no excuse, of course (I'm just reading the letters exchanged between Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard and that's really a racist festival if there ever was one), but one wonders whether Tolkien would have married a woman from a similar background.

So basically, you don't like Catholics.

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13 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

I know that, and I did not say that Tolkien was a WASP. I thought that kind of label is usually restricted to Americans, in any case, and intended to refer it only to Lovecraft.

I also know the letter you cited, but Anti-Judaism is deeply ingrained in conservative Catholicism, especially before the Second Vatican Council. You don't have to buy into pseudo-scientific racist ideology from the 19th and 20th century or approve of the Nazi politics against the Jews to pray the Good Friday prayer for the Jews each year. And you can also have Jewish friends while doing that (although I would not have such Catholic friends if I were a Jew if I could pick my friends).

And Lovecraft actually married Sonia Greene, a woman of Jewish descent who had immigrated from eastern Europe. The man had his biases but when push came to shove he apparently was able to ignore them. That's no excuse, of course (I'm just reading the letters exchanged between Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard and that's really a racist festival if there ever was one), but one wonders whether Tolkien would have married a woman from a similar background.

How about judging Tolkien by what he himself actually says, and not about his religious beliefs? There is not a shred of evidence that Tolkien was anti-semitic (rather the reverse), at a time when no-one would have batted an eyelid if he had been.

As for what would have happened had Edith been Jewish - he was clearly head over heels in love with her, despite her being an older Protestant woman. He loved her for who she was as a person, not because of religious criteria.

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