RIP Christopher Tolkien

Christopher Tolkien has died at the age of 95. This is sad news but not entirely unexpected. He himself in the preface to “Beren and Luthien” questioned at the age of 93 whether it would be the last volume of his father’s works that he edited, and he certainly drew the line in the preface to “The Fall of Gondolin”. It was fitting in a way that the last work that he edited was his father’s first tale of his mythology, written whilst he was invalided out of the trenches in World War One.

Christopher John Reuel Tolkien was the third son of the author J. R. R. Tolkien and was born in Leeds on 21 November 1924. Christopher had long been part of the critical audience for his father’s fiction, first as a child listening to tales of Bilbo Baggins(later published as “The Hobbit”), and then as a teenager and young adult offering much feedback on The Lord of the Rings during its 15-year gestation.

He had the task of interpreting his father’s sometimes self-contradictory maps of Middle-earth in order to produce the versions used in the books, and he re-drew the main map in the late 1970s to clarify the lettering and correct some errors and omissions. J. R. R. Tolkien invited Christopher to join the Inklings when he was twenty-one years old, making him the youngest member of the informal literary discussion society .

Following the death of J.R.R Tolkien in 1973, Christopher became his literary executor and was responsible for editing and seeing to publication “The Silmarillion”. This was followed by “Unfinished Tales” and the massive 12 volume collection of his father’s Middle-earth writings entitled “The History of Middle-earth.” In addition he edited as collections tales under the title “The Children of Hurin”, “Beren and Luthien” and in 2018 “The Fall of Gondolin”

In addition Christopher edited and saw to publication many of his father’s more academically inclined works such as “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo”, “The Monsters and the Critics and othe essays”, “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun”, “The Fall of Arthur” and “Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary”.

Christopher’s son Simon described the enormity of the task after his grandfather died with so much material still unpublished.

Simon said: “He had produced this huge output that covered everything from the history of the gods to the history of the people he called the Silmarils – that was his great work but it had never seen the light of day despite his best efforts to get it published.”

Christopher was critical of the comercialisation of his father’s work and was critical of Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning film adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings.

In a 2012 interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, he criticised the adaptations, saying: “They gutted the book, making an action film for 15 to 25-year-olds.”

He also said: “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of our time,” and that “the commercialisation has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing”.

Tolkien served as the director of the Tolkien Estate until 2017, when it was believed he stepped down due to Amazon Studios acquiring the Lord of the Rings TV rights.

His opposition to the movie adaptations is understandable, given that he wished to protect the integrity of the original creation. But in many respects, J R R Tolkien and latterly Christopher themselves were involved in an adaptative process. Given that Tolkien wanted to create a mythology for England it is in the nature of myth that the tales are told and retold, varied, edited, truncated and adapted. This is the nature of story-telling. It is doubtful that the Greek versions of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” are as they were originally narrated by the poet or poets we name as Homer, and one has only to look at the various translations that are available to understand the differences that can occur in telling the same story.

Furthermore it must be remembered that the movie version of “The Lord of the Rings” was an adaptation in a different medium from a book in the same way that the BBC radio adaptation by Brian Sibley starring Michael Hordern as Gandalf and Ian Holm as Frodo is just that. Some material was left out. Like the movie, for example, there was no Tom Bombadil nor Fog on Barrowdowns. I must say that I thought a liberty was taken substituting Arwen for Glorfindel on the Flight to the Ford in the movie. But the essential elements of the story, the basic themes remained the same. There are moments in Jackson’s adaptation of the Lord of the Rings where he gets it just right. The passing of the Elves to the West, Rivendell and the Bridge at Khazad Dum are well done.

It is to be hoped that the Amazon adaptations will maintain the integrity of the parent work and as I have suggested elsewhere, hopefully we will see some of the tales of the First and Second Ages. Beren and Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin would make for amazing viewing. Move over Game of Thrones.

Tolkien scholar Dr Dimitra Fimi reflected on Christopher’s academic contribution:

Tolkien studies would never be what it is today without Christopher Tolkien’s contribution. From editing The Silmarillion to the mammoth task of giving us the History of Middle-earth series, he revealed his father’s grand vision of a rich and complex mythology. He gave us a window into Tolkien’s creative process, and he provided scholarly commentary that enriched our understanding of Middle-earth. He was Middle-earth’s cartographer and first scholar.

Christopher Tolkien passed to the West on 16 January 2020.

What’s In a Name – A Ring by Any Other

Is it correct that Amazon’s series on Tolkien’s works should be entitled “The Lord of the Rings”.  A recent article in the Herald with an accompanying video perpetuates what I consider to be a misnomer. True, the video does include the title page from The Lord of the Rings but there are other snippets of information that would suggest that the material for the Amazon production will not focus on the tale of the destruction of the One Ring. That ship has already sailed, courtesy of Peter Jackson. I also imagine that there would be significant intellectual property issues is redoing The Lord of the Rings for television. As it is, Amazon paid close to $250 million to acquire the global TV rights – but to what. “The Lord of the Rings”? Or to all of Tolkien’s canon including “The Silmarillion”, “Unfinished Tales” and the various story lines appearing in Christopher Tolkien’s monumental “History of Middle-earth” and the publication of the storylines behind “The Children of Hurin”, “The Tale of Beren and Luthien” and the most recent “The Fall of Gondolin.” I would hope that the Amazon production will delve into some of those storylines.

Those in charge of publicity seem to have overlooked the fact that the new series is set in Middle-earth and will explore new storylines preceding “The Fellowship of the Ring” – the first book in Tolkien trilogy. Does that mean that the series will explore the story behind the making of the Rings of Power, the Last Alliance between Elves and Men and the fall of Isildur?

Necessarily, in my view, preceding that must be told the tale of Numenor and Sauron’s corruption of Ar-Pharazon which led to the drowning of Numenor and the removal of the Seven Stars and Seven Stones and One White Tree to Gondor. I should note that Numenor appears in some of the maps published by Amazon although it did not appear as such in any of the Tolkien maps. Yet one cannot tell the tale of Numenor in isolation, for Numenor was a form of reward for Men. And that reward requires a retelling of the struggle against Morgoth which is inextricably intertwined with the making of the Silmarils by Feanor and his subsequent downfall.

I suppose it all boils down top what is in a name. “Lord of the Rings” is a popular, populist and collective identifier for Tolkien’s work and I can understand why the publicists have chosen to use it. But unless they are going to retell, in more detail, the tale that has been told by Jackson, the use of the title is a misnomer and is misleading. Rather, I would prefer to see the series described, for the moment at least and until the story lines are clearly developed, as Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

Thinking About Mastermind

About thirty-five years ago I had a bit of success in the TV quiz show Mastermind. It was an interesting journey.

The show continued here in New Zealand and then went off the screen towards the end of the 1980’s or early 1990’s. It has now been revived. And it is different, as one would imagine it would be. Times change and so do entertainment styles. And some things remain the same.

When I did Mastermind the format was two minutes on a specialist subject of one’s choice followed by two minutes of general knowledge questions. The winners of the eight preliminary rounds went to the semi-final. We were required to change specialist subject. Otherwise the format remained the same. The winner and runner-up made it through to the final. The current format reverses that process. The winners and eight other top scorers go through to the four semi-final rounds. Only the winners of the semi-final rounds make it to the final. And for the semi-final the specialist subject must change.

The trick with Mastermind was to answer as many questions correctly as possible within the two minutes. This meant maximising the number of questions asked. There were ways to do this. The first involved knowing what you don’t know and passing as quickly as possible – even if it mean interrupting the question. The other way was to get the answer out as quickly as possible if you did know it – and if you could get the correct answer out before the question finished so much the better – even if it is a bit rude to interrupt.

The current series of Mastermind screening on TV1 is far more polite. Contestants have to wait until the questioner has finished. Some of them have interrupted, but the questioner proceeds to finish the question. A bit strange and pedestrian in my opinion and certainly inhibits a fast paced round. And definitely inhibits building up a decent score.

On the subject of questions and pace I must say that the questions seem to be incredibly long and contain too much information. Surely it is better to ask for a simple fact than to preface the question with information that is not directly relevant to the answer. An example (and I have concocted this) would be “What were Gandalf’s last words to the Fellowship on the Bridge at Khazad-Dum” Brief, punchy and to the point. And there is only one answer. But question construction in the TV1 series means that the question would probably be phrased in this way, “As the Fellowship were fleeing from the Balrog in the Mines of Moria on their way to Lothlorien, what were Gandalf’s last words on the Bridge at Khazad-Dum” And the answer is the same. “Fly you fools!” But that answer doesn’t need all the prefatory stuff. And the problem is that this slows down the pace, prevents the accumulation of points and means more time is spent asking individual questions than really testing the contestant’s knowledge.

The format of the current show allows 90 seconds on the specialist subject, 90 seconds on general knowledge and 90 seconds on a New Zealand general knowledge topic. I don’t understand the addition of the New Zealand section unless it is to make the show “relevant” but general knowledge is general knowledge irrespective of location and when I did the show there were New Zealand general knowledge questions included – no need for a special round. Once again, 90 seconds is not really long enough to build up a decent score. If anyone has watched other quiz shows, especially The Chase, it will be obvious that once a contestant gets into rhythm of answering, more questions get answered and the tension – and the points – build up. An extra 30 seconds makes all the difference.

I understand that “commercial necessity” means that there have to be advertisements but I can’t understand why the placement of those announcements must be in the middle of each round. Murder on the contestants and once again slows down the pace of the show.

But it is still a great format. The filming location under the clock tower at Auckland University is different and appropriate. The show is entertaining and good on the contestants for giving it a shot – sitting in an exposed position under a bright light and having questions come out of the dark is quite tense. The show was inspired by the experiences of the originator being interrogated by the Gestapo in World War II. Whilst the tension is, shall we say, different, it is still there. Maybe a return to the original formula might increase the drama and the thrill and the tension, at least for the audience. And good luck to all concerned.

The Hobbit – Thorin’s Tragedy

The long awaited final instalment of “The Hobbit” trilogy has hit the screens along with the expected fanfare, marketing tie-ins and the like. So what is the movie like. In two words, very good. But in fact there are realms that are explored in the movie that, although alluded to in the book, are further developed by Jackson and his creative team.

The first point that should be made is that the hobbit of the title – Bilbo Baggins – is something of a bit player on a much wider and more dramatic canvas. In fact if we were to look at the main story line it is about the tragedy of Thorin Oakenshield and tragedy it is – of almost Euripidean proportions.

Tragedy is an examination of the doom of man and his shortcomings. The form was first developed by the Greeks and even today, from a distance of two and a half thousand years, the Greek realisation of the formula is still seen as the epitome of tragedy, a formula from which there has been little departure over the ages. But the tragic-form has not been the exclusive property of the ancient Greeks. The tragic awareness occurs in the literature of many peoples and is demonstrated in many of the heroic sagas, such as the Edda, the Icelandic sagas, the Kalevala, even to the soul-searching tragic realisation of Sir Gawain in his second encounter with the Green Knight. The tragic awareness in the heroic sagas is demonstrated by a conquering glorious hero, possessed of skill in
arms and special weaponry, engaging in great and important acts. Yet “he appears against the sombre background of inevitable death, a death which will tear him away from his joys and plunge him into nothingness; or, a fate no better, into a mouldering world of shadows”. (Albin Lesky, Greek Tragedy 1978) The tragic man (or tragic hero) carries within himself the seeds of his own downfall.
His humanity, at times a blessing and a virtue, can be a curse. His good acts are magnified, demonstrating him as the epitome of the potential goodness in man. His failings are enlarged, heightening the contrast and making his fall that much more poignant. And fall he must, for fall is the essence of tragedy. And the tragedy is that one so demonstrably noble and so potentially great must fall, not as a result of external influences, but as a result of the failings or shortcomings of the man within. It is, however, impossible to devise a short formula or definition for tragedy. This has been recognised by all who attempt so formidable a task. The best that one can do is point out the essential ingredients of tragedy.

As a result of certain actions by one of the protagonists of the tragedy, who may even be the tragic hero, the balance of the various conflicting forces of nature has been upset. The forces of nature represent order and harmony. The upsetting of the natural order results in chaos. The resolution of the conflict must be the restoration of order. Consequently in tragic drama, the murder of a King, or an incestuous relationship, or usurpation, or an abandonment of filial duty are all seen as actions contrary to an established order of things. The tragic hero may be responsible for upsetting the order or he may be the character through whom order must be re-established, but who, at the same time, may have to be sacrificed that the balance may be restored.

Tragedy is often presented to us in the tales of the heroes. The protagonists are frequently kings, statesmen, princes or warriors of great renown which makes more poignant the depth of their fall. Macbeth, formerly a doughty warrior and faithful subject, recognises the depth of his own fall with the words:

I am in blood
Stepped in so far, that should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er

But the tragedy must mean something to us, the audience or readers. The fall of the tragic hero must affect us, come close to us, have meaning for us, become something that we recognise and which must have relevance. The tragedy must be something to which we can react and which affects us emotionally. This is what is known as catharsis. To make the tragedy even more meaningful, the tragic hero must be fully aware of his situation. He must suffer, know that he is suffering and know why he is suffering. He cannot complain by asking, ‘Why must all these things happen to me?’ He is master of himself and of his fortunes and misfortunes. He may berate himself for committing a certain act which led to a certain consequence, but he cannot question why the consequence has befallen him. Of course, in tragedy there can be only one end for the character who has captured our imagination by his nobility and has heightened our dismay by his fall, and that is death. By his death, the tragic hero returns the balance to nature, whether he was responsible for the upset or not. His death is the final action in a number of actions that he must undertake to dispel disorder.

A further element of tragedy is that it deals with an essential ingredient of the human condition in that it inevitably raises questions of a moral nature. It need not be a purely moral failure which causes the tragic fall. The tragic hero must fall into moral error which contributes to his fall. As a consequence of this the tragic hero, like Oedipus, must carry with him a moral guilt. The tragic hero suffers both the external consequences of his fall and an awareness of his downfall and of the events which led to it.

Thorin’s objective is to restore the balance that was upset when his grandfather Thror fell under the spell of the Arkenstone and when Smaug expelled the Dwarves from the Lonely Mountain. As is the case in so many “hero quests” Thorin undergoes a period of wandering until the “chance meeting” (see “Unfinished Tales”) sets him on the Quest of Erebor. “Unfinished Tales” informs us of Gandalf’s hidden agenda – eliminate the dragon as a potential ally of the Evil One – but Thorin takes the opportunity to re-establish the Dwarvish kingdom under the Mountain.

In the book and in the movie Thorin is portrayed as a mercurial character, stubborn and one who does not tolerate being crossed. Once he has made his mind up, he will rarely shift, and these shortcomings become manifest once the Dwarves resume occupation of the Lonely Mountain. Thorin’s obsession with regaining his kingdom becomes an obsession to recover the Arkenstone and to gather together and protect the great horde of treasure that lies within the halls of the Mountain. Thorin’s obsession becomes destructive. The assumption of the crown of the Dwarves becomes symbolic of his fall, for he becomes an autocrat. His intolerance of any opinion other than his own, his gathering obsessions and his single-minded stubborness to acquire the Akenstone at any cost leaves Bilbo in a quandry, for, as we know, Bilbo has the great jewel. Bilbo sees Thorin’s fall and is unwilling to give him the Arkenstone. Perhaps he sees that possession of the gem will only magnify the nature of the decline. And so it is for, once he is aware of Bilbo’s treachery – so it is in Thorin’s eyes – he ignores the fact that it was through Bilbo’s efforts that they got into the Mountain – and he declares him anathema. He will tolerate no difference even from his loyal Dwarvish followers. Their consternation becomes clear. And so it is, as the armies gather and the negotiations and parleys fail, that Thorin isolates himself behind walls of stone.

Yet it is this final isolation that Thorin obtains insight. In a wonderful scene in the Dwarvish hall where Smaug was drowned in gold, Thorin realises what he has become. The scene is beautifully realised and could well become a classic of the tragic hero’s understanding of the nature of fall.

Thorin has a chance to redeem himself and does so. The crown which he assumed and which symbolised his fall is cast aside. He is a Dwarvish prince, now coming to the aid of his fellows, leading his followers in a last desperate sally forth to confront the age-old enemy. It is in the chapter “The Clouds Burst” that “The Hobbit” becomes a saga in the grand style. Tolkien’s language and style becomes that of the saga signers and chroniclers of old.

Part of the wall, moved by levers, fell outward with a crash into the pool. Out leapt the King under the Mountain, and his companions followed him. Hood and cloak were gone; they were in shining armour, and red light leapt from their eyes. In the gloom, the great dwarf gleamed like gold in a dying fire…..”To me! To me! Elves and Men! To me! O my kinsfolk” he cried and his voice shook like a horn in the valley”

Stirring stuff and wonderfully realised as Thorin returns to expunge the stain of his fall. But die he must and he does at the hands of the Orc Azog in a to and fro duel on a frozen mountain river. But, as is the case in the book, Thorin does one last act before he passes. He reconciles with Bilbo. The circle is complete. The tragic hero has rebalanced the ledger.

And that was it. And that was disappointing because Jackson could have done one last thing to redeem the tragic hero, Thorin. It is in the book and it may be in an extended DVD version when that is finally released. The scene is this:

“They buried Thorin deep beneath the Mountain, and Bard laid the Arkenstone upon his breast.

“There let it lie till the Mountain falls!” he said. “May it bring good fortune to all his folk that dwell here after!”

Upon his tomb the Elvenking then laid Orcrist, the elvish sword that had been taken from Thorin in captivity. It is said in songs that it gleamed ever in the dark if foes approached, and the fortress of the dwarves could not be taken by surprise.”

Another aspect of the movie which Jackson deals with, which is not a part of the book and references to which are made in “The Silmarillion”, “Unfinished Tales” and other collected works is the conflict between the White Council and the Necromancer at Dol Guldur. Although there are only hints in the various texts, Jackson develops the conflict and in doing so develops the character of Galadriel as one of the few beings able to confront the pure evil that is Sauron. The members of the White Council – Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman arrive at Dol Guldur to liberate Gandalf and confront the Nine Ringwraiths – the mortal men doomed to die of the Ring verse. It is not clear – at least from a first viewing – whether the confrontation escalates through the Ringwraiths, who are dispersed, to Lord of the Nine or to Sauron himself. I believe that it was the Dark Lord himself – not at the full measure of his power – who was challenged by Galadriel. In this challenge Jackson draws upon Tolkien’s writings to present a true High Elven Queen. In the Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, Many Meetings), Gandalf refers to the High Elves – “the Elven-wise, lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas. They do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against the Seen and Unseen they have great power.”

Frodo then says that he saw a white figure that shone and did not grow dim like the others, asking whether or not that was Glorfindel. Galdalf replies:

“Yes you saw him for a moment as he is on the other side: One of the mighty of the First-born. He is an Elf-lord of a house of princes.”

And thus is Galadriel portrayed, in her full power as a Noldorian princess. Yet there is another element, for it must be remembered that Galadriel is the holder of one of the three Rings for the Elevn Kings under the sky, Nenya, the Ring of Adamant. In the conflict with Sauron, it is Galadriel who confronts the Dark Lord and Jackson visualises this in that eathereal half-world into  which Frodo and Bilbo venture when they don the Ring. Which leads one to wonder whether or not Jackson envisaged Galadriel as using the power of one of the Elven Rings in the battle at Dol Guldur. We know, from what she says in Lord of the Rings, that she contests with Sauron – “I say to you, Frodo, that even as I speak to you, I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves. And he gropes ever to see me and my thought. But the door is closed.”

As a whole, the film works. There has been criticism of the 40 plus minute battle scene but that is an ill-informed and inaccurate criticism, for the conflict varies between armies and individuals – between Thranduil and the orcs in Erebor, Thorin and Azog on the frozen river, Legolas and Bolg in the mountains in the midst of mouldering masonry, and then the vast sweep of the main battle before the gates of the Mountian. There were times when I thought I was seeing a re-run of the Siege of Gondor and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the sally forth of Thorin from the Mountain was rather similar to the ride of the tragic hero Theoden – but without the rousing:

Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden

Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter

spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered

a sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises!

Ride now; ride now! Ride to Gondor!

And at the end, the circle, like a Ring, is closed, for the film closes with the opening of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

It is well done.

The Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities

Smaug is what we of Othello’s trade call an area weapon: precise location of the target is not required, nor is fastidious marksmanship necessary for good terminal effect.

 “The Individuated Hobbit – Jung, Tolkien, and the Archetypes of Middle-Earth” by Timothy O’Neill (Houghton Mifflin 1979)

I wrote a year ago in anticipation of the release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and in that piece addressed the nature of Smaug the Dragon. I took the opportunity on Friday 13 December to have a look at “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” It was a wonderful rendering of a collection of various elements that appear primarily in “The Hobbit” but also in the Appendices to “The Lord of the Rings” and in “Unfinished Tales”.

I have to hand it to Peter Jackson that he and his team seemed to have dreamed the same dream as I have when it comes to rendering the dwelling of the Elves and the musical liet-motifs that accompany them. Thranduil’s realm was beautifully created and the King himself was as mercurial and unpredictable as he appeared in the book – perhaps even more so. He seems to lack some of the ethereal beauty of the Eldar but after all – he is Sindar and a Wood Elf at that. But it is not of Mirkwood or the Elves or the Spiders that I write. Nor is it of Laketown ruled by the Master, marvellously overacted by Stephen Fry in much the same way as Barry Humphries went over the top with the Goblin King in “The Unexpected Journey”. In both cases they work splendidly.

The real centerpiece is the conversation with Smaug and the calamitous aftermath. But first things first. Smaug is pronounced “Smowg” as in “ow” and not “or”. I must confess to having thought in the past the pronunciation was Smorg   but then I was inconsistent because Sauron was always Sowron and never Soron. It is all made clear in the 5th Appendix to “The Lord of the Rings” and all disputes can be resolved with a quick reference to that part of the text. It brooks no argument and Jackson has it right.

Smaug

As to the dragon himself. In many respects the movie Smaug represents the archetype of the evil, malevolent, devious and malicious dragon. My own impression of dragons was shaped at an early age from a reading of Kenneth Graham’s “The Reluctant Dragon” and from Tolkien’s “Chrysophylax Dives” in “Farmer Giles of Ham”. Then along came “The Hobbit” and Smaug was one of the first big nasty dragons but within the context of a book for a younger audience not the sort of beast that would scare your socks off.

Then came the novella “Dragonrider” by Anne McCaffrey which won a Hugo and was later transformed into a novel which was the first of the wonderful and evocative “Dragonriders of Pern” series. A different sort of dragon altogether. Then came the dragons that were mentioned in Tolkien’s other writings – Ancalagon the Black and Scatha who appear by mention only and the frightful Glaurung from the various tellings of the tale of Turin Turambar. By the time we reach Glaurung we know that Tolkien understands his monsters and dragons in particular. Although Grendel and Grendel’s mother are not dragons they are monsters and Tolkien’s analysis of the monster motif in “Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics” makes it clear that the nature of the beast villain is well known to the writer.

But Jackson’s rendering of Smaug takes the evil dragon to a whole new level. I had the impression that there was a lot of Fafnir – the giant turned dragon and hoarder of the Rhinegold in Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” – in Smaug but there were other features as well. We never saw Smaug in “An Unexpected Journey” but he is gradually, tantalisingly revealed throughout his interview with Bilbo in the vast expanse of the treasure cave where he dwells, concealed by mountains of his gold with which he will part not one piece. And Bilbo seeks the most unique piece of the dwarven treasure of all – the Arkenstone. Smaug understands this in short order strips Bilbo’s prevarications away. The Hobbit is a threat to the treasure and is an ally of the hated dwarves. Only by using the ring does Bilbo escape the jaws of the beast and even then Smaug with a dragon’s sense for anything golden knows that there is magic in the air. It is at this stage that Smaug is revealed in all his horrifying might – a creature not only of intelligence, Machiavellian cunning and subtlety but of terrifying and destructive power.

The voice of Smaug is Benedict Cumberbatch who does a magnificent job bringing light and shade to the creature, creating a nuanced character full of menace until he is fully revealed in the white heat of his wrath. We last see Smaug heading for Laketown and the movie ends.

Peter Jackson has redefined the dragon in art. Smaug takes many elements of dragons in myth, legend, literature and performance art and moulds them all together into an instantly recognisable and yet unique recasting of the evil monster.

As Bilbo is conducting his conversation with Smaug, the dwarves wait outside the back gate. The rumbling from deep within the mountain can be heard and the younger dwarves question what it may be. Balin son of Fundin, he who was later to go to Moria and meet his own nemesis in the form of the Balrog replies – “that, laddie, was a dragon”.

He was so right. Jackson’s rendering is unmistakably, magnificently, awfully a dragon – the chiefest and greatest of calamities.

Smaug 2

Note

For some general bakgorund information on Smaug see the Tolkien Gateway

For a piece on the history of dragons from the Satanic lizards of the Bible to the Jungian monsters in us all see this piece from The Guardian

The Hobbit – A Commentary on the Movie

Introduction

I suppose it was inevitable that I should make some sort of commentary upon “The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey”. I don’t know if this is properly a review. I am not enough of a movie aficiando to qualify as a reviewer so I am coming at this task as one with a modicum of knowledge about Tolkien and his works. This post is a departure from the general theme of this blog – Law and IT – so I trust that readers will bear with me for this departure.

So far  I have seen the movie in two if its incarnations – 3D IMAX and 2D. I have not yet seen the 3D HFR version although I understand it takes about 10 minutes to get used to the new format. I have chosen to familiarise myself thoroughly with the opening sequences before allowing myself to become distracted in this way and lose focus upon the “whole picture”. From this it may be concluded that I am prepared to see the movie more than once, and that it justified multiple viewings. That is a correct conclusion. Not only is the movie very good, but it contains layers of detail that require multiple viewings to achieve a full appreciation of the depth of the adaptation – much in the same way that Tolkien’s Middle-earth works have layers and a phenomenal depth.

What’s In A Name

This may seem to be a minor quibble, and one that arises as a result of movie labelling more than anything else. The title of the book is “The Hobbit or There and Back Again”. The movie series, if I can call it that, takes the primary title – “The Hobbit” and then adds on “An Unexpected Journey”. Subsequent sub-titles are “The Desolation of Smaug” and “There and Back Again”. Now this is not so much of a problem if it is used as an alternative to Part 2 or Part 3, although in some ways that would be preferable, but it is when the reviewers and the media get into the act, using the title entire when identifying the movie. I assume that at the Academy Awards or Golden Globes we will have to endure the articulation of the lead title and sub-title whereas the lead title is quite sufficient, at least while only one of the trilogy has been released. After all, you don’t hear or read reviewers of the book indulging themselves with the full title of Tolkien’s work. “The Hobbit” is quite sufficient. It should be so for those who are reviewing or identifying the movie for publicity purposes.

On the other hand, Part 2 and Part 3 sound a little unimaginative – that same level of unimaginativeness that accompanies the title of Lethal Weapon 2 from its predecessor, although having said that there is little to differentiate one of those movies from the other. Perhaps lack of imagination is a characteristic of more than just the title.

The Lord of the Rings movies were named after the titles of the books. Of course whenever there was an announcement or a review it HAD to be “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”. Why not just the subtitle. And for those who would say that Jackson was justified in the main title subtitle approach let me beg to differ for two reasons. The first is that the books were not so titled. The Fellowship of the Ring is so titled with a subtitle – being the first part of “The Lord of the Rings” and so on with the other two volumes. The second reason, perhaps more potent than the first, is that “The Lord of the Rings” was never intended as a trilogy but as a single volume divided into a number of books. The numbering of those books appears faithfully in the three volumes as originally released. The reason that they came out as three volumes arose from post-war shortages of paper and economic imperatives. It was only later that Tolkien’s vision was realised when “The Lord of the Rings” was published in a single volume – and you don’t see the separate volume titles on the spine.

I find reviewers on radio and television a little tedious when they feel that they have to announce in full “The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey”. At least when I confront the words in print they register and I skip on, but I wonder WHY there is this insistence of the full verbiage – unless it is just to demonstrate some deep and arcane wisdom that lurks beneath those words. For me it is just a waste of time. I’ll stick with “The Hobbit”.

Telling the Story

Jackson has been very clever in his story telling and he links the opening of “The Hobbit” with “The Lord of the Rings” (hereafter LOTR) by having the initial action start at the time of the “Long Expected Party”. There are references to the event and a nice linking sequence where Frodo takes his books and heads off to the wood where, in LOTR, he meets up with Gandalf. From there the story is told by way of a prolonged flashback, the events of “The Hobbit” taking place some 60 years before Bilbo’s 111th party. From there the main story line sticks closely to the book with the occasional back story excursion. Perhaps the most significant departures from the book, at least in this first of the trilogy, is the presence of LOTR type Orcs and the journey of Radagast from Mirkwood to the lands west of the Misty Mountains to warn Gandalf of the new threat from Dol Guldur. There is an unusual chase sequence that follows involving Radagast and his Rhosgobel Rabbits that culminates in the seeing-off of a band of Orcs by a High Elvish cavalry unit.

The sojourn at Rivendell is punctuated by a meeting of the White Council – hinted at but never seen in the book – which adds a depth to the story. There are layers of Middle-earth history and culture that are only hinted at in the books that are more strongly realised in the movie, along with a somewhat sarcastic and empirically minded Saruman – setting the scene for his fall in LOTR. As an interesting side-line there is a suggestion by Saruman as he dismisses the concerns of Radagast that the brown wizard has something of a penchant for mushrooms. Of course, mushrooms play a part as the hobbits leave the Shire in LOTR in the encounter with Farmer Maggot in a chapter entitled “A Shortcut to Mushrooms”. But there is more of a play on mushrooms when one is aware that Tolkien’s son Christopher lives in an area in the south of France renowned for its mushrooms and to which Christopher is quite partial. That said, it should also be observed that Christopher has been quite dismayed at the treatment of his father’s works by the movie and associated industries.

The entrapment of the dwarves by the goblins is true to text, as is Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum. The script needed little work. The dialogue in “Riddles in the Dark” comes straight from the text. The visual realisation is superb as is Andy Serkis’ revitalisation of  Smeagol/Gollum. The duality of the nature of Gollum comes out with startling clarity. It is clear that Bilbo is dealing with a seriously disturbed character.

So how did Gollum lose the Ring? This is not made clear in the book, nor in the retelling that occurs in several places in Tolkien’s other work. All that we know is that Bilbo found it – he was meant to find it as Gandalf later said. Jackson offers the explanation that Gollum lost the Ring while he struggled with a semi-conscious goblin, and that is not beyond the realms of possibility. Bilbo was unaware of the presence of the Ring until he saw it glimmering and was unaware of Gollum’s loss. So if it was theft, it was theft by finding.

Barry Humphries plays a highly articulate Goblin King and when I saw this I thought he was a bit well spoken for such a grossly obscene character. However, a re-reading of the text makes it clear that the Goblin King was very articulate albeit rather uncultured. Well realised by Humphries, although the Goblin King bears no resemblance to him or any of his alter-egos save perhaps Sir Les Patterson.

The escape from the Goblins and the descent from the Misty Mountains is true to form, although the introduction of the Orcs gives an additional menace to “Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire”. The rescue by the Eagles is as dramatic as one could wish, and not without its breathtaking moments. How did they get ther?. Did the little moth to whom Gandalf whispered a message alert Gwaihir and his comrades to the peril of the Dwarves? Or was the message conveyed to Galadriel? The background musical liet-motif would suggest the latter but one needs to reflect upon an earlier summoning of the Eagles portrayed in LOTR. Gandalf has been taken prisoner by Saruman and is at the pinnacle of Orthanc. He whispers a message to a passing moth and in time is rescued by Gwaihir. From this it can be safely concluded that the message went direct to the Eagles without the intervention of Galadriel.

The first part ends with the delivery of the travellers to the eagles’ eyrie and the peak of Erebor far off in the distance. But Smaug is there, disturbed and awakened by the tapping of the thrush at the Back Door.

The Characters

Many of the characters in “The Hobbit” appear in LOTR, so there are a few reprises. Ian McKellen as Gandalf is a little more mysterious in this movie than in the other. He seems to have more secrets and is not entirely forthcoming with all that he knows, even to the White Council. There were times in the book when one could not be sure that he was altogether committed to the quest. That air of mystery percolates through into the movie. Having said that, he certainly does help out when needed, using his powers, albeit sparingly.

Hugo Weaving seems to be a younger Elrond and he is, by 60 years, although whether that would show in a being that had walked the earth for thousands of years is debatable. Christopher Lee does an excellent cameo as Saruman as does Iam Holm as an older Bilbo.

Richard Armitage as Thorin is wonderful. His scepticism for Bilbo is constant and blunt. Thorin may be a Prince but as far as Bilbo is concerned he is no diplomat. When reading the book I always thought Thorin was a bit of a bully towards Bilbo. The movie presents a different side to that dislike. Thorin is concerned with the mission and how it will succeed. He is focussed but at the same time he allows his prejudices and grudges get in the way. His contempt for the Elves goes back to the fall of Eerebor when Thranduil turned away and would offer no aid. Thus, when a rest at Imladris would seem essential for a number of reasons, not the least the interpretation of the Moon Writing, Thorin becomes truculent and it is only by subterfuge that Gandalf gets the Company to the safety of Imladris. Even then, Thorin is a grumpy and graceless guest. It is only when Thorin reconciles with Bilbo at the very end that we see that he will admit mistakes. Which brings us to Bilbo.

I wondered about Martin Freeman. He gave Dr Watson a different take in “Sherlock” and I enjoyed that. He does Bilbo very well and he manifests the “journey” of the character wonderfully. I have always been of the view that Tolkien places his hobbits on a journey of self-discovery and self-realisation (see “The Fanfare for the Common Hobbit” in D.J. Harvey “The Song of Middle-earth: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Themes, Symbols and Myths” (Allen & Unwin, London, 1985)  and this is especially displayed in the movie as Bilbo transitions from a total dislike of adventures to an impulsive particpant in the quest although he is frequently homesick and at times a bit pathetic. Who can blame Thorin. But Bilbo grows. He uses his wits to delay the trolls until the sun rises and we can see when he is at Imladris that he realises that his world-view has been narrowly focussed and that there are greater and deeper things in Middle-earth than just the bounds of the Shire and a pint at the Green Dragon.  It is when Bilbo says that he wishes to help Thorin and the Company regain their home – their turangawaewae – that we realise that Bilbo has passed from reluctant adventurer to active participant. He has grown and I have no doubt that growth will continue.

The Dwarves are excellent and rather more nuanced than the dour Gimli of LOTR. They are at times comedy and at others, deadly serious. At times they resemble caricatures of fantasy dwarves, at others, unique creations. The actors have been specially made up and “digitally managed” to look smaller than “normal sized folk” and their accents suggest that they hail from different parts of Britain – even those played by New Zealand actors, and there are a few of those throughout the film in a number of roles, and, given the controversy that accompanied the various tax breaks given to Warner Brothers to allow the filming to take place in New Zealand, it is proper that there should be roles for locals. Indeed, some of them, Mark Hadlow for example, have more than one role.

One New Zealand actor who features and who is unrecognisable under the make up and prosthetics is Manu Bennett who plays the Pale Orc, Azog. He plays the role with power and with menace, a truly excellent and totally unlikeable villain, and one whom I look forward to seeing again. Interesting that Jackson should cast a New Zealand actor as such a villain. He did the same with the character Lurtz, another totally reprehensible Orc leader who was played by Lawrence Makoare who also took the role of Gothmog in “The Return of the King”.

Visual Realisation

Most of the visualisation is, as was the case in LOTR, remarkable. The special effects are extraordinary and the technology seems to have reached the point where disbelief does not require suspending. In the sense that Tolkien expressed in “On Fairy Stories”, Jackson’s “secondary world” is complete and total from the first scene, although for this commentator, it was as return to a much loved and faithfully realised world.

Jackson has recreated Hobbiton from the green hills of Matamata to present a wonderfully bucolic atmosphere of peace and harmony. It is from this haven in which adventures do NOT happen, that the journeys to adventures commence. But things are different once we move to the wild lands – the atmosphere is far more threatening. The landscape is harsh and at times forbidding. Here trolls do dwell and orcs hunt, riding fearsome wargs. This is a journey that it not without risk, as Gandalf warns at the beginning. The chase in the wild lands, with Radagast providing a diversion – how DID he get across the Misty Mountains – is especially well realised.

But it is in the Misty Mountains, the battle of the Stone Giants and the capture by the goblins, that the true nature of the risks to be faced becomes apparent. Not only are the goblins the sworn enemies of the Dwarves, but Thorin bears the blade Orcrist, forged in Gondolin of old and well known to the goblins – something that additionally seals his fate – until Gandalf stages a release. But the suspense if not over as there is a frantic chase through the goblin tunnels and over wooden bridges that are – well, lets just say fragile is too strong a word.

At the same time as the Dwarves are confronting the Goblin King, Bilbo is trading riddles with Gollum – as I have said, wonderfully realised and perhaps one of the best scenes in the whole film.

The escape from the goblins and the final scenes among the burning forest before the arrival of the Eagles goes from climax to climax until one wonders what Jackson has next – and then there is the confrontation between Thorin and the Pale Orc, Azog

Some Additional Bits – How They Work

One of the questions asked was how it was that Jackson could manage three long movies from a 284 page book. The answer lies in the one word – backstories.

Although Tolkien tells us the backstory of Erebor and the Coming of Smaug, this wonderfully portrayed segment with the views of the magnificence of the Dwarvish realm under the Mountain, with its angles and planes and hard carved artistry (in contrast to the flowing Elvish style) and the magnificence of the dress of the Dwarvish aristocracy and the “steam powered” technology of dwarvish miners and smiths is truly wonderful.

The other main backstory introduces the Pale Orc, Azog whom we meet at the Battle of Azanulbizar when the Dwarves tried to retake Moria. This is not part of the Hobbit, but is derived from the Appendices to LOTR with one big difference, and it is dramatic licence that allows for that to happen. Thorin confronts Azog, defending himself with an oak branch – hence his name Oakenshield – lopping off the arm of the giant Orc. Thorin is convinces that Azog is dead, but he is only maimed, his lost forearm replaced with a rather brutal prosthetic that looks mighty uncomfortable.

The “truth” of the matter is that Azog was slain at Azanulbizar and his head was placed upon a spike. But Azog’s revenge provides a dramatic sub-plot to the movie. The savage Orc rides a giant Warg and is menace and hatred personified. The helpless Thorin is snatched from certain death by the arrival of the Eagles, setting up an opportunity for a future confrontation – the Battle of the Five Armies perhaps?

The third backstory is the realisation of the meeting of the White Council at Imladris. This follows the revelations of Radagast and his explorations of Dol Guldur (which do not appear in the book). I haven’t separated the Radagast scenes as a backstory because it provides the context and reason for the White Council meeting. We know that there was such a meeting to deal with the threat of Dol Guldur. This first meeting is, if I understand it aright, a preliminary meeting. Here we are told of the realm of the Witch-King of Angmar in the North and of the presence of a Morgul blade. The back story of Middle-earth itself begins to be revealed. But no meeting of the White Council is portrayed in The Hobbit. It is hinted at but never realised. It is here that the nature of the Elves and those who bear the Three Elven Rings is revealed in part, and indirectly. We don’t know that Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond wield Nenya, Narya and Vilya but that they are Guardians is made clear. And Galadriel is clearly a High Elf of extraordinary power. We begin to see the depth of Tolkien’s creation and the layers that lie beneath the fairly straight forward primary story line of “The Hobbit”.

Magic Moments

Jackson has given us a number of what I call “magic moments” in LOTR. Gandalf;s confrontation with the Balrog, Helm’s Deep, The Mirror of Galadriel are some although my favourite – where I felt that someone had dreamed my dream – was with the arrival of the Rohirrim at Pelennor Fields. It may be seen here.

There is a similar scene in “The Hobbit” and it is the arrival of the Company at Imladris – I prefer the Elvish name to Rivendell. The visual realisation along with the Elvish liet-motif music is one of the most beautiful parts of the movie. One can only imagine how arriving at such a place, even for a Dwarf, must have been a relief. And the difference in architectural styles could not be more obvious as we see the flowing lines and liquid style of Elvish creations that abound in Imladris.

The other magic moment – or perhaps magic realisation – is Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Galadriel, aided by the use of archetypal lighting and photography. The Blanchett\Jackson collaboration, in “The Hobbit” more so than in LOTR reveals the true ethereal majesty of one of the greatest of the High Elves. These are beings that dwell “between” the physical world and the spiritual realm of Valinor and the Undying Lands and we see hints of this remarkable nature in the portrayal of Galadriel. Much has to do with positioning and stance. At the last meeting of Galadriel and Gandalf, he stance is posed, almost for a pre-Raphaelite painting. The lighting isdramatic, enhancing Galdriel;s majesty. Her voice is quietly regal and she reveals her omnipotence more than once in her brief appearances. For me, the realisation of Galadriel is perhaps the most magical part of the movie.

Conclusion

The filming of Tolkien’s works has always been fraught with risk. The misgivings expressed by Christopher in his Le Monde interview (see above) may well have some justification especially to the literary purist and within the context of Tolkien’s “Mythology for England”. But art involves creation, synthesis, adaptation and development. Perhaps the movies would not have come to pass had the Tolkien Estate retained control of the movie rights, and I think it is safe to assume that we are unlikely to see a movie rendering of any of the tales of “The Silmarillion” or that appear in the “History of Middle-earth” for I do not think those rights passed with those of LOTR or “The Hobbit”. But what must be remembered is that Jackson;s works are “adaptations” of Tolkien’s stories. Tolkien was a writer. Jackson makes movies. The two art forms are different. One derives and adapts from the other. In the case of Tolkien’s work it from the literary to the cinema. Sometimes books will emerge from a movie script.

Is the adaptation faithful to the written creation? Yes it is although I must qualify that by observing the use of backstories to give the story the depth that it really needs. Is it worth seeing – I should say so. The second viewing was a rewarding one, and I look forward to the HFR 3D version.

I don’t think a host of Academy awards will measure the success of “The Hobbit” nor will box office returns. I think both have a certain inevitability. What will measure the success of the movies is the increased readership that will flow to “The Hobbit”, LOTR and “The Silmarillion” and a deeper appreciation of the depth and wonder of Tolkien’s creation.

Revisiting “The Hobbit”

In a moment or two I shall depart to my High Street bookseller – yes, I have a real world hard copy bookseller and yes Unity Books is located on High Street in Auckland. They have a special anniversary edition of  The Hobbit  available which I ordered some time ago. I’m told that they also have a copy of “Hobbitus Ille” – “THE Hobbit” in Latin which can sit alongside my copies of “Winnie Ille Pu” and “Alicia in Terra Mirabili.” It will be interesting to see how the translator deals with Gollum’s curse – “Thief, thief thief! Baggins – we hates it forever” Tentatively I have reach “Fur, fur, fur! Baggins!  Id in aeternam odimus!” (Although some would suggest “nos odit eam in aeternum”)

I have had cause to reflect a little upon “The Hobbit” and the resonances that it brings. I am currently reading “There and Back Again” by Mark Atherton, a piece of work that I am enjoying immensely. Although one reviewer finds the publisher’s blurb “shameful” (the rest of the review is more positive) it has been well-received in Tolkien quarters.

What started the resonances particularly were the references by Atherton to the idyllic and atavistic location of  the beginning of “The Hobbit” in the pre-idustrial English country-side. Reference was made especially to the colour painting of “The Hill” that Tolkien executed in 1937-38. I remember that painting as the first encounter that I had with Tolkien’s world when I was 10 and opened “The Hobbit” for the first time. That, and the opening passages, I found imparted a warmth and a safety within my own mind that recognised that there were greater things in the wide world, but that certain places – home in particular – should be untouched by the tribulations of the outside world. For me that picture is so representative of tranquility and peace that every time I see it I recollect the feelings that I had when I first saw it.

Atherton puts it this way

“Hobbits live in a world that resembles an idyllic version of England in about 1890; a ahistorical English countryside – one that never underwent the notorious enclosures of the early 1800’s that so taxed rural workers and was captured in, say, the writings of the poet John Clare. It is an ordered ‘respectable society’ with a municipal organisation (signposts) and some basic industrial production (baked tiles) but otherwise basically a pre-industrial modern world. In brief it is anachronistic, a vestige of rural England.”

The extraordinary thing that happens whenever I read “The Hobbit” is that I am not only entering Tolkien’s world but returning to another world that I inhabited in 1957. The resonances and remembrances from that time are startlingly clear and the feelings and sensations that I had when reading it then return now. There are occasions when the same thing happens when I read “The Lord of the Rings”. The first appearance of the Black Rider in “The Fellowship” was a sleep-depriving experience and I still feel the dread when I re-read the passage. My reading the “The Lord of the Rings” was a somewhat complex process, for I borrowed each volume separately from the library. After I finished “The Fellowship” the second volume “The Two Towers” was not on the shelf. However, Volume 3 was and I borrowed it, so hungry was I to return to Middle-earth and thinking that I could pick up the threads later. But the problem is that the final images of “The Fellowship” and the sundering of the Fellowship at Amon Hen and the funeral of Boromir lead straight to the image of Pippin bouncing along with Gandalf to Minas Tirith after the episode with the Palantir following the fall of Isengard. “The Two Towers” came later and it all made sense, but first impressions, it seems, endure.

I suppose part of the explanation for these apparent “flashbacks” lies in the fact that I came to “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” at a very impressionable age. But why the enduring memories and the continued fascination. Is there an aspect of avatism at work that keeps certain archetypal resonances alive. Certainly some of the themes in Tolkien’s Middle-earth writings are constants throughout the tales of all cultures. This is not surprising, given that his objective was to create a “mythology for England”. I have written on Tolkien’s themes, symbols and myths in my “The Song of Middle-earth – J.R.R Tolkien’s Themes, Symbols and Myths”. For example the quest of the hero and the stages of development of the heroic figure, so graphically identified by Joseph Campbell, are apparent in Aragorn. The tragedy of Turin Turambar, recounted in “The Silmarillion” and “The Children of Hurin” as well as in “Unfinished Tales” reflects themes of incest that occur in Northern mythologies as well as in those of the Greeks. The Creation myth appears in “Ainulindale” in “The Silmarillion” and a clearly worked eschatology is present throughout, reaching a partial demonstration in the fall of Numenor.

It was a certain curiosity and dissatisfaction that caused me to write “The Song of Middle-earth” in 1984-5. I said then that I thought that there was something greater, more significant, more meaningful than was on the printed page. Part of that derived from the depth that Tolkien himself had created. Gondolin, the origin of the eleven blades that appear in “The Hobbit” is mentioned by Elrond, and there are hints of an earlier time throughout, exemplified by the telling of tales from days gone by when Bilbo returns to Rivendell after the completion of the dwarves quest.

Part of my enquiry in “The Song” involved a consideration of “what had gone before”. AT the time of writing, the monumental twelve volume collection – “The History of Middle-earth” – had not been published. Indeed, “The Book of Lost Tales” was published as I was readying “The Song” for publication.

The dissatisfaction that I felt was with much of the (then) published literature about Middle-earth. With the exception of Carpenter’s “Biography” and “The Inklings” and Shippey’s “Road to Middle-earth” most of the writers and commentators had missed a vital point. I did not think that Tolkien’s work was ,erely derivative – that he had examined other mythologies and extracted tales, elements and themes and had plopped them into his creation. That to me was a simplistic approach and unflattering to the creator. Nor did I think that critical comparisons with the earlier greats of English and Europens liertature wholly productive. There was soemthing deeper and more meaningful to Middle-earth than that.

I decided to eschew the derivative approach and avoid, as much as I could, comparisons with other works and examine and analyse the Middle-earth works as they stood – alone. And the obvious starting point, and one which has received scant examination in the earlier literature, was myth. Tolkien had left for me, and for others, an abundance of clues- that he was creating a Mythology for England- and I began my examination from the point of view of myth and mythology.

Rather than examine the works as derivative from other mythologies, it became clear that the approach should be thematic – study the themes that are common to most, if not all, mythologies and ascertain what elements are present in Tolkien’s work. As the book showed, the elements are satisfied.

The starting point must be The Silmarillion, a difficult book to read and with which to come to terms. But it is essential to an understanding of the creation and development of the Tolkien cosmos, as well as being a history of the Elves in Middle-earth, and it establishes the framework within which is set the Third Age as portrayed in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Yet The Silmarillion gives hints of other writings and accounts that deal with the Matter of Middle-earth. Some of these accounts are collected in Unfinished Tales, and in this volume we find more detail of the acts of Tuor and of Turin, a background to the realm of Numenor, the Tale of Aldarion and Erendis, and much information about the Istari, the palantiri and the early history of the Third Age. For one interested in the stories, Unfinished Tales is essential. For the aficionado it provides a penetrating insight into the manner in which Tolkien worked.

As I have said, when “The Song” was being prepared for publication, Lost Tales I was published. I made the following observations at that time which, with the bebenfit of hindsight, still are valid.

The Book of Lost Tales I comprises a part of what may be called a ‘protoSilmarillion’. Most of the ingredients of the tales of The Silmarillion are present, although it is obvious, both from the Tales themselves, and the notes by Christopher Tolkien, the editor, that the Tales underwent many fundamental changes before they became The Silmarillion. But Lost Tales I is, in my opinion, almost as significant as The Silmarillion in that it indicates that it was always Tolkien’s desire to create a Mythology for England. To give even greater credence to his intention (as if we needed more than the confessed desire of the writer), the manner of the telling of the Tales is significant. Eriol, a traveller from Middle-earth (or The Great Lands), comes to the Isle of Tol Eressea and in his travels in that land comes to a dwelling which is, in some respects, a forerunner of Imladris in Middle-earth. During his sojourn he requests and is told tales of early Arda. Most of the tales are told in a common-room before a Tale-fire which is ‘a magic fire, and greatly aids the teller in his tale’.  The tales are told by Lindo, Rumil and Gilfanon, Elvish inhabitants of Tol Eressea. Now the significance of the setting is that the Tales are recounted orally, and indeed are so written that they have a lyric and rhythmic quality when read aloud.

Thus, in introducing his myth, Tolkien resorts to the oral or bardic tradition of story-telling, a feature of mythological tale-telling that predates Homer. Apart from the themes of the cosmological myths that comprise Lost Tales I, the whole cycle is distinctively myth oriented and is a clear indication of Tolkien’s desire and intention. Christopher Tolkien gives us tantalising hints of things to come in later publications, but perhaps most interesting is the reference to Aelfwine of England. Aelfwine is another realisation of the character Eriol.

 Later, his name changed toAelfwine (Elffriend), the mariner became an Englishman of the ‘Anglo-Saxon period’ of English history, who sailed west over the sea to Tol Eressea – he sailed from England out into the Atlantic Ocean; and from this later conception comes the very remarkable story of Aelfwine of England, which will be given at the end of Lost Tales. But in the earliest conception he was not an Englishman of England: England in the sense of the land of the English did not exist; for the cardinal fact (made quite explicit in extant notes) of this conception is that the Elvish Isle to which Enol came was England that is to say, Tol Eressea would become England, the land of the English, at the end of the story.

 Apart from the very method of tale-telling, the major themes that I have examined in The Silmarillion are present, as one would expect, in Lost Tales. Certainly some major changes in plot as well as changes in matters of detail have occurred. But this too is consistent with the development of myth. The tales of myth are never constant, and there is no one ‘authorised version’ (even the Bible has its Apocrypha). Rather, as I note later, the tale-tellers vary, refine and embellish. But the constant ingredient is the basic theme, and certainly the themes that Tolkien propounds and illustrates do not change.

The Silmarillion, Lost Tales and, to a degree, Unfinished Tales set the stage for the drama at the end of the Third Age recounted in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The mythology is complete and the questions that have been bedevilling readers for the last forty or fifty years may could finally be answered. But I believe that the main inspiration for the questions and the curiosity that readers have for Middle-earth lies deep in the realms of myth. Because the Middle-earth saga was conceived as a mythology the reader, perhaps only subconsciously, recognises myth as the sound of a far-distant trumpet echoing through the mind. Can the reader, perhaps, recognise within his own experience the desire for a subcreated realm of faerie that is as meaningful to him or her as were the great tales that rang through the rafters of the mead halls of early England and the Viking lands, or which were majestically and sonorously intoned by Homer sitting by the tale-fire on an evening in ancient Greece.

Perhaps that ‘desire for dragons’ that we all have is now realised in Tolkien’s created mythology for England.

But is there more than mythological depth that allows us to recognise many of Tolkien’s characters and description, albeit vaguely? What is it that transports us back to that first reading so vividly and completely. The archetype may provide an answer – the wise old man, the Lady in the Wood, the dark stranger are all recognisable.

Without heading too deeply into the area of psychoanalysis, some of these issues are dealt with in an excellent and amusing work entitled “The Individuated Hobbit – Jung, Tolkien, and the Archetypes of Middle-Earth” by Timothy O’Neill (Houghton Mifflin 1979) The book provides a provocative and highly original explanation for the phenomenon of Tolkien’s works on the modern imagination. Correlates between Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious and Tolkien’s mythology for Middle-Earth. O’Neill points out case after case of how the themes and characters of The Lord of the Rings closely parallel’s Jung’s archetypes, and how the entire narrative can be read in Jungian terms as the central human struggle for what Jung called individuation – the healthy realization of the self. 

O’Neill was in the military when he first came to Tolkien and then was a professor of Engineering Psychology at West Point – hence his reference in a passage that follows to “Othello’s trade”. He sets out his purpose as follows:

The real power of Tolkien’s world is as much in form as in content. The difference between myth and a story is just that: a story becomes myth (or, in diminutive form, “fairy tale”) when a certain form is imposed on it. What that form should be is the subject of this book. The most immediate hallmark of that form is the degree to which it evokes images in the reader – images that are in harmony with the common psychological heritage of all Man.

 What I am really suggesting in these pages is that there are two kinds of reality: the objective reality of personal experience and perception, which we call consciousness, and the subjective reality which is outwardly directed. The first is practical, demonstrative, and concerned with outward-looking energy and social reality. The second is inward-looking, symbolic, and profoundly affected not only by Man’s day-today encounters with the world, but also by the collective experience of Man through the ages. The power of enchantment in Middle-earth is not to be found in this outward-looking consciousness, but is rooted in a deeper, far more ancient part of Man: a seldom-glimpsed realm “where the shadows lie”

 Just how this happens has, I think, escaped the critics and cultists. There have been detailed explorations of odd place names, exhaustive searches for obscure source and mythological parallel – for the “meaning” that Professor Tolkien assured us repeatedly was not there. To the extent that there is no allegorical meaning or hidden satire, I am in agreement with the author. But meaning comes in various disguises, and if plot and content are to be taken at face value and simply enjoyed, then the reasons for the attractions must be found in form. The meaning, if meaning is the correct word, of this source of attraction is unique for each reader; each man’s psyche is his own, despite strains of commonality, and will make of the charms and joys of Middle-earth what it will without the slyness of satire or the blunt instrument of allegory.

 My purpose is to demonstrate that the framework of Tolkien’s world is truly in harmony with “real” myth and fairy tale, that they are woven of the same strand of human psychology. The common denominator of all such expression is to be found in the theoretical framework of analytical psychology – in the concepts of the collective unconscious and in the search for Self-realization. This is the vast complex perspective of Carl G. Jung and his inheritors, a set of theories only dimly grasped by most psychologists and frequently (if unfairly) dismissed as nonempirical, mystical, and nearly incomprehensible. Although the impact of Jungian theory is considerable- more in art and literature than in psychology – its delicate mechanics (what we will call its “constructs”) are hardly even addressed in introductory psychology texts. It is this obscurity which has, I think,caused its applicability to Tolkien’s work to elude readers. I hope to correct this oversight.

O’Neill’s book is thorough but is not without amusement and a certain whimsy. The following passage discusses the archetype of the dragon and the encounter between Smaug and Bilbo:

But Bilbo is not through spelunking – ahead lie the Lonely Mountain and a far more formidable foe than wretched Gollum. Bilbo must now earn his title of burglar – or “expert treasure-hunter,” as he would doubtless prefer to be called – by dickering with Smaug the Mighty, “greatest and chiefest of catastrophes.”

 The dragon is a common symbol in the mythologies of a variety of times and cultures. In form, it is a fusion of serpent, bird, and other animals, and I cannot resist digressing for a few paragraphs in honor of this fantastic beast and its importance in understanding the imagery of the psyche.

 The winged snake is encountered in odd places. The medical profession in this country has embraced the caduceus as its symbol. This is actually an error- the proper symbol, and that which is used elsewhere, is the staff of Asklepios, a stick about which is entwined the single serpent. I shall not bother with the mythological basis for this emblem, since it does not influence our present concerns; but the caduceus, whether it is appropriate for the medical profession or not, gives us a hint about winged snakes in general. The caduceus is the winged staff of Hermes, the Greek god who served as messenger and patron of travelers. He is also the intermediary between gods and the underworld; unifier of light and darkness, his common symbol being the phallic berm placed at crossroads. He is also the guide of dead souls, which is not encouraging for patients whose doctors embrace his staff. The symbolic nature of the caduceus is fairly straightforward: the serpents are chthonic, earthy, close to the underworld, suggestive of Man’s lowly phylogenetic origins. The wings reflect the soaring soul of Man, the consciousness that sets him apart from his scaly and furry forefathers. The central staff binds the two together- mating snakes, the instinctual substrate, flying bird, the sunlit potential of consciousness.

 The union of opposites is thus an essential part of such figures, among which we must place the dragon. Those familiar with mythology will point out that the Serpent of Midgard, who gnawed for ages at the roots of the Norse world tree Yggdrasil, was a “worm”: creeping and wingless. Remember, however, that he was compensated (as was the rest of the complex Norse world) by the eagle that perched in the top branches of the tree. The two symbols are not yet fused, and carry on no more than a spirited dialogue through the good offices of a squirrel whose fate it is to scamper up and down Yggdrasil’s loftiness from one to the other until the day of Ragnarokk.

 But Smaug the Mighty is a full-fledged (should one say “fledged”? His wings are batlike and featherless) fire-drake, long of tooth, broad of wing, bad of breath, and shudderingly articulate. Tolkien, for some reason which will remain unguessed, was very nonevaluative in his general treatment of dragons. The worms of The Silmarillion are a pretty grim lot, true; but then there is little frivolity about that work, composed of the tear-soaked chronicles of the Eldar’s trials in Middle-earth. I have already made clear to the reader that I am not impressed by the Elves’ studious garment-rending and handwringing Had they bothered to stop and talk for a few moments with any of the dragons set against them, they might have found entertainment enough to offset the confounded eternal weariness of the world. When Tolkien removes his Elvish persona and confronts dragons as the plucky hobbit or the sturdy yeoman-farmer, worms fare better. Chrysophylax Dives is merely living up to his miserly name, and doing so with wit, gusto, and a pinch of pathos. Smaug is certainly not to be trifled with, and admittedly dealt rather summarily with the Dwarves in the time of Thrain; but he is older now and perceptibly more mellow, at least willing to chat for a while before belching napalm and ending meaningful dialogue. And if he is greedy, well, that is what dragons are supposed to be; we cannot blame him for that, nor expect altruism of a fire-drake any more than empathy from a weeping crocodile. I really find Smaug altogether more worthy of sympathy than some hobbits – Lobelia Sackville-Baggins would have smitten the pesky lizard with a furled umbrella and sent him off whimpering. But perhaps after all pestiferous and acquisitive relatives are more likely to interrupt our serenity in contemporary times than thundering dragons.

 Bilbo is terrified. Sting and Ring are hardly more than lucky charms in the great treasure cave, not proof against the fearful flamethrower. Smaug is what we of Othello’s trade call an area weapon: precise location of the target is not required, nor is fastidious marksmanship necessary for good terminal effect. But Bilbo has guts that belie his species’ reputation. None of the Dwarves, not even the venerable, muchdecorated Thorin Oakenshield, who proved his mettle in the Goblin Wars, has volunteered to help him burgle treasure with the dragon so near. As he treads the tunnel coming ever nearer to the uninviting red glow the “least Tookish part of him” wavers, wishing yet again for the comfy hole at Bag End.

This is the persona (the “good decent hobbit”) railing impotently at the anima (the Tookish part, personified as the great Belladonna, from whom he has surely inherited the propensity for disturbing sleeping dragons); but the objections are too little·and much too late. He is committed to the path of Self-realization, like it or not. In fact, the controlled social mask is already slipping away, no longer supported by the need to maintain a reputation for the neighbors. The nature of Bilbo’s journey across the landscape of the psyche is revealed by his reply to Smaug’s inquiry: “Who are you and where do you come from, if I may ask?”

 “You may indeed! I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air. I am he that walks unseen.”

 Over hill and under hill, indeed; Bilbo is too modest (if that is possible). “I am the friend of bears [a reference to Beorn, the theriomorphic figure we will discuss in more detail later] and the guest of eagles. I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer….”

This is a complex and pregnant sort of name. It traces his path through conscious and unconscious (over hill and under hill) that has led him this far; establishes his foundation in both worlds (“friend of bears”- i.e., chthonic, earthy, bound to the animal shadow, the instinctive foundation of the psyche; and “guest of eagles”- one who may also soar at will in the light of consciousness). He glories in his new position as pivotal figure in the drama, the link between worlds (Ringwinner) and the key to fortune (Luckwearer) by possession of the magical transcending treasure.

 But Bilbo succumbs to a near fatal weakness at this critical point. He has in the euphoria of the moment reveled too thoughtlessly in Belladonna’s triumph, ignored the conscious part of him, which would have been more cautious and circumspect in talking to dragons. Smaug is sure-footed in the dark world, he has dwelt there long; Bilbo is a stranger in the perilous realm, and he has barely stepped into it before the incautious foot is thrust in his mouth, tipping off the wormto dangerous details of the plan. “Thief in the Shadows!” snarls the beast, “my armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt,my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!”

 This uncouth outburst is one that reveals the volume and fury of the long-repressed libido, the surging, powerful energy that has for so long been denied conscious symbolization.Smaug has for the moment ceased to be a transcendental, transforming symbol and become pure animal power, untamed psychic drive. But transforming symbol is his major role still, the winged serpent, and like St. George, Bilbo must slay or outwit the beast to pave the way for the Self’s advent. He has already done this, though he has no way of knowing it, with his careless clues – Smaug is soon up and around for the first time in years, and Bilbo has provided the clue through the help of the magic thrush that allows Bard the Bowman to finish the monster and quench his flames. The black arrow pierces the gap in Smaug’s armor, and the treasure is now lying unguarded in the darkness under the mountain.

What O’Neill does is that he takes the themes of myth and weaves them into consciousness in a way that allows the reader to exclaim “of course!” But the starting point must always – always – be myth. For this is what Tolkien wrote and this was the object of his creation and he weaves his mythic creation into his narrative tales of the Third Age of Middle-earth.

Peter Jackson has assisted in the creation of a sub-myth. Part of that is to describe New Zealand (or parts of it) as Middle-earth and we immediately recognise Jackson’s re-creations of Tolkien’s creation. In some respects, Jackson has added extra layers to the myth and has re-visualised it, for reading Tolkien activates the mind’s eye. For that reason, making a movie adaptation is difficult and fraught with risk, because it may challenge an internal visualisation by the reader. For me, Jackson’s  movies work. There is a part in “The Return of the King” when the Rohirrim arrive with the dawn at Minas Tirith. Tolkien is probably at his best, and it is one of my favourite passages. It is a long way from “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” to the Homeric majesty of the Ride of the Rohirrim.

“But at that same moment there was a flash, as if lightning had sprung from the earth beneath the City.  For a searing second it stood dazzling far off in black and white, its topmost tower like a glittering needle; and then as the darkness closed there came rolling over the fields a great boom.

At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect.  Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before,

Arise,arise, Riders of Theoden! 
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! 
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, 
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! 
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder.  And straightway all horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.

Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away.  Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it.  After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them.  Eomer roder there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first eored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Theoden could not be outpaced.  Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young.  HIs golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed.  For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.  And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and the sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.”

Jackson’s rendering was brilliant and he added stuff that wasn’t in the text, but could have been. The scene where Theoden rides up the line of the assembles Rohirrim, touching their spear tips with his sword is sheer genius. My young companion at the premiere leaned over to me and said “someone has dreamed the same dream”

The apparent hopelessness of the task ahead – the phrase “ride now to ruin and the world’s ending” carrying echoes of Ragnarok and the eschatological myth also summon up the ntaure of sacrifice for a cause epitomised by Macaulay

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?”

There can be no doubt either that along with stereotyping, advertising uses its own archetypes and develops its own mythic backstories.  Although it is a blatant piece of commercialism a very clever “pre-flight briefing” as been developed by Peter Jackson and Air New Zealand. It is entitled “An Unexpected Briefing.” Enjoy.

Along with the book I reckon I might just grab some tickets for “The Hobbit”. They are on sale now and the movie opens on 12 December.