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Roverandom!

I do not usually spray Lysol on library books, but when I do, I do it thoroughly. (Yes, I feel you cringing.) Rest assured—under normal conditions, I do not spray books. I do not write in books. I do not highlight books. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Like the semester my dorm room was infested with bedbugs. Apparently rubbing alcohol kills the nasty things, so I sprayed the covers of my books with it before taking them home. Just in case. (The books survived quite nicely.)

In this case, the library book smelled rank, and not from mildew, either. I’m not entirely sure why, and I don’t want to speculate. Anyway, it was either Lysol the book or send it back. I didn’t want to send it back. The book was Roverandom, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I figured that Tolkien is worth a little Lysol.

The story was occasioned by a trip the Tolkiens took to the seaside. Michael Tolkien, who was three at the time, broughtRoverandom along a little black-and-white toy dog, which he carried everywhere. One day he took it on a walk along the shore, and it was lost. J.R.R. Tolkien searched the rocks where it had fallen, but he was unable to find the toy. Michael was terribly upset, so Tolkien made up a story about the dog’s adventures to comfort him. Incidentally, John ended up more interested in the story than did Michael, who was apparently satisfied by the explanation in the first chapter—that the toy dog once was a real dog, but had been enchanted by a wizard, put into a toy shop, sold and given to Michael, and then had run away while they were at the seaside.

Tolkien sent the story to his publisher when the publisher wanted a sequel to The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings was slow in coming. But Roverandom is clearly a pre-Hobbit story. While Roverandom includes some elements of Tolkien’s later mythology—giant spiders, and an Elvenhome in the far West, for example—the story reads more like E. Nesbit’s Psammead stories. Clearly Tolkien was still working out some of his ideas about fantasy. The few times Elves are mentioned, they are more Tinkerbell than Elrond.

Roverandom is not a life-changing story—Tolkien hadn’t readied it for publication, after all—but it is an entertaining look into the development of Tolkien’s style and subject matter. The three wizards in the book are each, in their own way, prototypes of Gandalf. Fortunately, Gandalf was not prone to exclamations like “Idiot! Be a toy!”

Otherwise, The Hobbit might have had a very different ending.

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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Fantasy

 

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The Hobbit (or, Saruman the Unwise)

I barely watch movies at all, but I made an exception for The Hobbit. There were a number of changes, but Peter Jackson (unlike the directors of the Chronicles of Narnia movies) really seems to understand what was important to Tolkien. Yes, I know at least one person who probably will think that the The Hobbit movie posteradditions to the story have produced the cinematic version of Saruman’s Isengard. (That means pollution. Lots of it.)

There were a few changes I could have done without, of course. But I do understand why they were made. And, in general, they were in tune with the spirit, if not the specifics, of the books. Such as the characterization of Saruman.

I was curious about how Saruman would be portrayed from the time I first knew that the White Council would be included in the movie. When all your viewers know that one of your main characters is a wizard in the process of going bad, you have to play it right. And Saruman is certainly played right. Actually his increasingly bad moral fiber is probably a moviemaker’s delight—there can now be a “bad guy” among the Wise without ruining Elrond or Galadriel.

In this first installment of The Hobbit, Saruman still supports the “good” side. But he has begun to believe that great deeds are the only way to hold back the forces of evil. And that, although I don’t recall Tolkien using it as an explanation of Saruman’s later betrayal, fits very well with the explanation Tolkien did offer—that Saruman, in studying Sauron’s devices in order to defeat him, became susceptible to them. In Elrond’s words: “It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the Enemy, for good or for ill.”

In the movie, Saruman is portrayed as someone too interested in “bigness.” Only great evils need be fought, and only great force is sufficient to oppose them. In having those attitudes he is not unlike Sauron. Sauron, of course, would also use small things to advance his cause, but his cause was the cause of bigness itself—of uniting everything under his own power. Gandalf loves little hobbits. Radagast loves small animals. Elrond and Galadriel love the nuances of their own culture. But Saruman—like Sauron—is mainly concerned about what is great and important.

In the end, it is the small decisions that destroy a culture. Tyrants do not walk into a vacuum. Somewhere somebody made a wrong choice. Their neighbors made the same choice. It takes many pieces of gravel to pave a road.

Saruman, according to The Lord of the Rings, eventually took the problems in Mirkwood seriously and successfully planned a way to drive out the Necromancer. But his fascination with “bigness”—and evil itself—worsened. It was not long before he turned himself into “Saruman of Many Colors” in order to increase his power. By doing so, he destroyed himself.

Meanwhile, a very small hobbit in a very dark cave had compassion on a very dangerous creature. And in doing so, he saved the world.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Fantasy

 

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The Hobbit Movie (and Other Psychological Disturbances)

The Hobbit Film: 13 Dwarves

DSM 5, the American Psychological Association’s new manual, is coming out in the near future, and a surprising last-minute change has been reported. Psychologists have added a new category, broadly labeled “literary disorders.” And apparently the first and largest subcategory has been titled “Severe Tolkien Inundation Syndrome (STIS).”

STIS is associated with the following symptoms:

  • Repeatedly reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, particularly The Lord of the Rings
  • Reading any of Tolkien’s works but The Lord of the Rings and/or The Hobbit
  • Memorizing Tolkien’s poetry
  • Repeatedly watching The Lord of the Rings movies
  • Attending the midnight showing of The Hobbit
  • Hating The Lord of the Rings and/or The Hobbit movies for being too “inaccurate”
  • Ranting about “what Peter Jackson did to Faramir”

In teenage females, STIS can be accompanied by temporary Orlando Bloom obsession, which may eventually be followed by permanent hatred of Orlando Bloom. STIS is also associated with depression, largely initiated by the departure of the Elves.

Well—that isn’t quite accurate. Psychologists haven’t actually labeled STIS as a disorder (yet), although I expect at least some of them find it disturbing. Personally, I love Tolkien. And I show some of the signs of STIS. But my ability to quote “The Fall of Gil-galad” from memory doesn’t quite match up to a real Tolkien obsession. Enter my teenage brothers.

The younger of the two has what amounts to a level 10 Tolkien obsession. As in, that’s what he wants to talk about at least 50% of the time. Unfortunately he has a very unique way of interpreting The Lord of the Rings. He says that the Balrog is his favorite character and wishes that Frodo had turned into a wraith so he could destroy Rivendell. He is also the one who managed to get the Twin Towers confused with The Two Towers. He’s reading The Silmarillion right now, and that seems to have cooled him down. But I’m taking him to see The Hobbit when it comes out, and my mom fears that she’ll hear about nothing but Tolkien until long after Christmas.

The older one doesn’t have quite the obsession with all things Tolkien that his younger brother does, but he remembers more from the movies and has a tendency to quote them at inopportune times. I can’t even safely threaten to kill him any more. His latest retort: “You would die before your stroke fell.” (For those who haven’t memorized the movie, that’s a quote from Legolas in The Two Towers.) He also makes regular use of Gandalf’s opening statements: “A sister is always late. She arrives precisely when she intends to…. A brother is never late. He arrives precisely when he intends to.”

That’s when I redirect my attention to the younger brother, who starts talking about how he likes the orcs from Moria best. I suppose I should feel some guilt for his situation, since I was the one who started it all by reading him The Hobbit. So far I don’t feel a lot of guilt, although sometimes I do feel like fleeing to another room and shutting the door.

And then, afterwards, putting a warning sign on his door. Something like “One does not simply walk into Mordor.”

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Fantasy, Humor

 

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