Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings (Leatherette Collector's Edition)

J.R.R. Tolkien

Date: 01 November, 1974   —   $47.25   —   Book

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More notes on Lord of the Rings

The Council of the Wise

Under the Ainur were the Maiar, angels to the Ainur archangels. Please bear in mind that the classical vision of the angel was scary and powerful, not cute and fluffy like the modern conception often comes out. (Even cherub is a corrupted word; modern readers would not recognize the traditional description of cherubim as chubby little babies with wings.) The Maiar could be similarly incarnated to walk on Middle Earth, and were bound and limited by their forms.

The Istari, or wizards, were not humans but basically incarnated Maiar, not as powerful as the Valar but still pretty potent. They came to Middle Earth about a thousand years after the War against Sauron, which puts Gandalf at a neat two thousand at the time of LOTR. They "were never young, and aged only slowly." There was probably some reason for this.

I believe that there are a grand total of five Istari. Saruman the White was the head of the Council. As a Maiar (Maia?), his dominion was knowledge, and thus was put in charge. He brought along an assistant, a Brown wizard whose name and dominion I do not know. There was also a Yellow (I think), but there we're getting into stuff I know only vaguely. Gandalf's dominion, interestingly, was compassion, and he brought along Radagast the Brown as an assistant.

I have also heard it said that Gandalf got the job of going to Middle Earth by "being late to the meeting." I really need to get the Book of Lost Tales.

The Nature of Sauron

Sauron was, interestingly enough, also a Maiar, in service to Morgoth. His incarnation was a bit more flexible, and he helped bring about the fall of Númenor by sowing dissent. When that land was destroyed in the manner of Atlantic, he was severely damaged, and lost the ability to appear in a pleasing shape. (On the extra material for the Return of the King EE DVD, Peter Jackson mentioned that they had thought of bringing a beautiful Sauron to the screen. They decided against it for other reasons, for which Tolkien geeks are deeply grateful.)

The reason Saruman mistakenly thought he might supplant Sauron is that they were, at one point, roughly equivalent. Saruman, unfortunately, forgot to factor in the millenia of hatred and drawing on the strength of Morgoth that gave Sauron a decided advantage. He also did not reckon with the hobbits as a force. When Saruman dies in the Scouring of the Shire, a sort of ghost looks longingly toward the West and then is dispersed. By going to the wrong side, he gave up his chance to ever return to the Middle Earth equivalent of Heaven.

The Balrog

Yet another incarnate Maiar on the side of Morgoth. When Gandalf dies after the battle with the Balrog, he gave up his incarnation; the creator basically had a talk with him and reincarnated him. Gandalf the White is, in fact, qualitatively different from Gandalf the Grey; his confusion on meeting his old companions is genuine because, from his perspective, it has not been a few weeks but a literally timeless interval of infinity.

Cirith Ungol

Shelob's lair has a bad reputation; in fact, its bad reputation predates Shelob herself. Cirith Ungol is named for Ungoliant, also a giant spider, but nasty and from somewhere even the Valar don't know about. Ungoliant is basically hunger, and scares even Morgoth. Shelob is Ungoliant's last remaining daughter (or possibly granddaughter); the spiders of Mirkwood are Shelob's descendants.

Actually, the use of the light of Eärendil to scare off Shelob is rather interesting. Back before the sun and moon were created, the Valar created two trees. Basically, one was the sun tree and one was the moon tree, and they gave off light according to days and nights. The value of the Simarils is that they stored the light from the Trees. Morgoth had plotted with Ungoliant to destroy the trees and steal the Simarils. So basically, Shelob is cowering away from the light of the Trees, a light her ancestor tried to destroy. (Ungoliant did kill the Trees.)

The Eagles

The Eagles are, literally, the last hope, a deus ex machina of the purest type. In other words, they were created to interfere at the last minute. This is a partial answer to the question, "Why can't they just send Frodo on an Eagle to Mount Doom?" The other part is that they do not have the strength to stand up to Sauron, and such a gambit would give away their intentions immediately.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky...

Galadriel has Nenya, the Ring of Adamant (water), and because of this she is able to bind the light of Eärendil's star to the flask she gives Frodo. Since the "star" is the light of a Simaril, and the Simarils were filled with the light of the two Trees that predated the sun and moon in the West, Valinor, the flask that Frodo carries is only two steps removed from the equivalent of divine grace.

Elrond has Vilya, the strongest of the Three, with which he was able to protect Rivendell.

Gandalf has Narya, the Ring of Fire, given to him when he first arrived in Middle Earth— and not to Saruman. Possibly that is what enabled him to finally defeat the Balrog.

What happens to the Fellowship

Did Frodo die?
Despite what a lot of people say about allegory and all that, in the world of Middle Earth, the West is a tangible location that can only be reached by Elves or the grace of the Valar. As a Ring-bearer, Frodo gets to go see an earthly paradise. However, since death is still "The Gift of Man", he will still die of old age or injury. It is debateable about whether that death will be delayed.

What about Sam?
Sam's daughter, Elanor, relates that Sam left for the Grey Havens and that, as a Ring-bearer himself, had the right to pass to the West, taking the last boat. Perhaps he even got to see Frodo again.

Merry and Pippin?
These two discharged their duties as both warleaders in their own lands and vassals of Gondor and Edoras. They eventually died and were laid to rest in Gondor.

Legolas and Gimli
They fulfilled their promises to one another (Gimli touring Fangorn and Legolas touring the beautiful caves behind Helm's Deep.) Gimli eventually brought dwarves to the Caverns, where they worked to bring out the natural beauty of the place, and after the death of Aragorn, Legolas built a ship at the Grey Havens and went West, taking Gimli with him. (Tradition says that Galadriel asked for a special dispensation to allow a dwarf in Valinor.)

So What Were Their Names Again?

Tolkien was, first and foremost, a linguist. Middle Earth was developed entirely from his longing to create a language, and all of his backstory— the Simarillion, the Lost Tales, and all of his notes— was purely to explain how the languages of the leves branched and changed and were adopted by men, corrupted by orcs, and meandered through the ages. Naturally, his appendices dwell on such things. So he casually mentions that he's gone and Anglicized all of the hobbit names.

Come again?

It's not Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took; it is instead Froda (-a is a masculine ending) /a last name similar to Baggins/, Banazîr (Ban) Galspi, Kalimac Brandagamba, and /a word equivalent to peregrin*/ Tûk. "Meriadoc" was picked because "Kali" is the equivalent of "Merry". He also mentions that "Samwise" was picked because its old meaning of "halfwit" or "dullard" was the same as Banazîr. Poor Sam.

*Peregrin as in peregrine falcon.

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