Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “Tolkien”

A Tolkien bestiary

A Tolkien BestiaryA Tolkien Bestiary by David Day
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth introduces us to all kinds of creatures that are unfamiliar to us. Some we may have encountered in other stories — elves, dwarves and goblins are found in many different fairy stories and fantasy novels, but hobbits, ents and balrogs are not. But even the ones whose names we know play a different role in Tolkien’s stories. They have their own history, culture and languages.

This book is a kind of encyclopaedia of such creatures.

I’ve returned it to the library now, but I rather wish i had it for reference. Tolkien’s books are full of allusions to tales, myths and legends of his world, but paging through other stories to find them can be quite challenging. Here they are all packed between the same covers.

Do you want to know the history of elves, and which ones saw the light of the two trees and which ones didn’t? A quick lookup in this book will tell you.

Do you want to know about the relationship between Shelob and Ungoliant? It’s all here.

And I found that just reading through it as if each entry was a chapter in a book helped me to recall some of the stories. It’s a kind of mental map to the peoples and creatures of middle earth.

I just can’t remember whether it said balrogs have wings or not. That’s why I’d like my own copy.

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Neoinklings: Tolkien in South Africa

At 10:30 we went to Cafe 41 in Eastwood Road for our monthly Literary Coffee Klatsch of Neoinklings, and David Levey joined us to inkle, as he put it. It seemed a rather felicitous term.

He told us of a thesis someone had written, or was writing, on Tolkien’s South African connections, and we had a rather discursive discussion about that — Tolkien had left South Africa when he was 3 or 4, and as far as I know he never returned. Most of one’s memories of that age seem to be a series of still pictures. I recalled Leo Aylen, a poet who was the son of a former Anglican bishop of Zululand, who visited there about 35 years ago. He said the Australian aborigines had a concept of early childhood as one’s dream time, and he was revisiting the scenes of his dream time to give him something to write about.

Goanikontes, Namibia

Goanikontes, Namibia

We talked of the landscape — the Free State, where Tolkien was born, seems to be like the land of the Rohirrim in Lord of the Rings, and Val said that Goanikontes, in the Namib desert, was like Mordor though it seems unlikely that Tolkien would have visited it. Goanikontes had been where Val’s great great great grandparents, Frank and Frances Stewardson, had lived for a while, in the 1850s, and it may have been there that Frank Stewardson had been mauled by a lion.

We talked about the identity, or lack of it, of white English-speaking South Africans. It will be interesting to see if the thesis mentions whether Tolkien had such an identity, but generally speaking white English-speaking South Africans do not have a distinctive identity or a distinct culture. There is no consciousness of being a “volk”, like the Afrikaners. Though one could put them in a Venn diagram, it would be far less significant than a set of white Afrikaans -speaking South Africans, or Zulu or Tswana-speaking South Africans. I mentioned a friend who had recently written of “we”, referring to white South Africans, and that I find that to be one of the primary markers of racism, using “we” to refer to a group defined by race, and “they” or “these people” to refer to the outgroup. David said that John Lambert, one of the former history lecturers at Unisa, was writing about white English-speaking South Africans, and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with.

He also mentioned that the history department at Unisa has now been reduced to one lecturer, which is very sad, and does not augur well for the future of South Africa — all of history before 1994 will, in effect, become dream time, and labelled “Van Riebeeck”.

 

School suspends pupil for pretending he had hobbit ring of power

A few days ago there was a story being shared on Facebook about a school that had suspended a nine-year-old pupil for pretending that he had the hobbit “ring of power” School Suspends 9-Year-Old For Pretending He Had Hobbit ‘Ring of Power’:

Aiden Steward had just watched the third Hobbit movie with his family and he wanted to pretend that he had a ring that could make people disappear, just like Bilbo Baggins. But when he brought the toy ring to school, it ended up getting him suspended.

The ring he brought may not have been the true ring of power, but the Kermit, Texas, school where he attended said the pretend Tolkien “one ring” was used in a “threat” against a classmate.

I shared the story too, and commented that it seemed to be yet another example of zemblanity in education — zemblanity being the opposity of serendipity. Serendipity is the knack of making happy, fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident. Zemblanity is the facility for making unhappy, unfortunate and expected discoveries by design, and seems to characterise much education.

aidenA blogging friend, Yvonne Aburrow, commented “I think the kid kind of missed Tolkien’s point about the Ring, though, but to be fair, he is very young, and will probably get it when he reads LoTR.

Now I don’t know about the films, but in the book (The Hobbit) the history of the ring is unknown to Bilbo, and the only properties known to him are that it makes the wearer invisible, and the not fully appreciated one that it makes the holder possessive. So if the kid was pretending to have that ring it did not necessarily mean that he had ambitions to rule the entire world, and so the school was probably overreacting.

oneringAfter his adventure was over, Bilbo used the ring mainly to hide from unwanted and tiresome visitors, until he staged his spectacular disappearing trick on his eleventy-first birthday. And it was only then that Gandalf revealed to Bilbo and Frodo that there was a great deal more to the ring than invisibility.

And, in thinking about this, I think there is more to this story than just zemblanity in education suppressing the imagination of kids.

We are never told exactly what the ring can do, apart from conferring invisibility on the wearer and possessiveness on the holder. But we are told that what the Dark Lord fears is that some mighty one will get hold of it and come wielding the ring to destroy his power and rule in his place, and the last thing that he suspects are that those who have the ring will try to destroy it.

When Aiden told a student that he could make him disappear since the plastic ring was forged in fictional Middle Earth’s Mount Doom, the school accused him of “threats of violence” against classmates.

“It sounded unbelievable,” Aiden’s father, Jason Steward, said in an interview with the Daily News. But Jason said his son “didn’t mean anything by it.”

He explained that their family had just watched “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” that week, and the elementary school boy was just pretending he had a ring like in the movie.

And then I recalled that when I was 7 years old, I was given a policeman kit for my birthday. I forget what else it contained, but there was a truncheon and a pair of handcuffs. The handcuffs actually worked, after a fashion, and were obviously intended for use in games of cops and crooks.

Steve Hayes aged 7

Steve Hayes aged 7

I was staying with an 8-year-old cousin at the time, and it appeared to us a good idea to make use of the equipment in our games, and to that end we abducted a younger kid, handcuffed him, and told him we were arresting him and taking him to the police station, which was about a mile away down a rural gravel road, and we had got a good way down the road before we took him back home and released him. He told his parents what had happened, and they told our parents, who ticked us off for it. Perhaps if we had been at school we would have more than just a ticking off, we might have got a suspension, and it would have been deserved.

Gollum referred to the ring as his “birthday present”, and my birthday present was a policeman outfit, a symbol of authority. And once in possession of this symbol of authority, my cousin and I behaved in an authoritarian way. We used, or misused, this symbol of authority to terrorise a younger child.

The Greek word for authority is exousia (ἐξουσία), and it appears in the New Testament in several places. Pilate had ἐξουσία to release Jesus or crucify him. Jesus had ἐξουσία to cast out demons. In Ephesians 6:12 St Paul says our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against “principalities and powers” (ἀρχάς, πρὸς τὰς ἐξουσίας), which may also be translated as rulers and authorities.

Rulers and authorities, or, if you prefer, principalities and powers, are among the orders of the celestial hierarchy, the angelic ranks. But power, when misused, becomes demonic and evil. The power bearers, the flesh and blood, can become enslaved to the rule and authority that they bear, as my cousin and I became briefly enslaved to a symbol of power, even though it was merely a child’s toy, and used it as an instrument to enslave another.

Power can be used to enslave or set free, to liberate or to oppress, but the temptation is always to become addicted to power, to seek it for its own sake, and this is what Tolkien’s “ring of power” symbolises.

The action of Kermit Elementary School in suspending a pupil for pretending to have the ring of power may indeed have been an instance of zemblanity in education, but on the other hand, children’s games are not always innocent.

 

 

Calling Inklings bloggers

I’ve found quite a number of blogs written by fans of the Inklings, the mid-20th century informal literary group that included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and several others.

In spite of this, a search of Blogger profiles reveals only 14 who list the Inklings as one of their interests, and most of them don’t have blogs, or their blogs are dead. A similar search at BlogCatalog revealed a similar result.

I’ve started an Inklings group at BlogCatalog, in the hope that it may be possible to bring at least some Inklings bloggers together, and make it easier to find blogs that deal with the Inklings.

As is the way of such things, the first two people who applied to join had no discernible interest in the Inklings — that seems to be typical of the Internet nowadays, where people you’ve never heard of announce that they are listing you as their “friend” and thereafter you never hear from them again. All that does is clutter up the net with useless links.

I hope to make this group a little more selective. To join, you don’t need to blog about the Inklings in every single post, but a search of your blog should teveal at least some posts about the Inklings.

If you don’t have a blog and don’t want to have one, there is also an Inklings discussion forum on the net that you can join. There you can also, in the fashion of the Inklings, upload your own writing for others to read and discuss.

Here’s a list of the members of the Inklings:

  • Barfield, Owen 1898-1997
  • Bennett, Jack Arthur Walter 1911-1981
  • Coghill, Nevill Henry Kendal Aylmer 1899-1980
  • Dundas-Grant, James Harold 1896-1985
  • Dyson, Henry Victor Dyson 1896-1975
  • Fox, Adam 1883-1977
  • Hardie, Colin Graham 1906-1998
  • Havard, Robert Emlyn 1901-1985
  • Lewis, Clive Staples 1898-1963
  • Lewis, Warren Hamilton 1895-1973
  • Mathew, Anthony 1905-1976
  • McCallum, Ronald Buchanan 1898-1973
  • Stevens, Courtenay Edwards 1905-1976
  • Tolkien, Christopher 1924-
  • Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel 1892-1973
  • Wain, John Barrington 1925-1994
  • Williams, Charles Walter Stansby 1886-1945
  • Wrenn, Charles Lesley 1895-1969

They met in Oxford, usually at C.S. Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College, to read their writings to each other, and in some cases the comments and suggestions made at the meetings influenced the version that was eventually published.

So if you sometimes write blog posts about any of them, or about their writings, please consider joining the Inklings Group.

Here are a few blogs that post stuff about the Inklings, which I hope will join this group:

I’m sure there are more out there, so let’s try to link them.

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