Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The mathom that keeps on giving

Today is JRR Tolkien's birthday! Here's a charming little 1968 BBC program about Tolkien for your viewing pleasure:

(That's a pretty free-form kind of show, isn't it? Oh the '60s.)

This is a good day for me to update you on my ongoing re-reading of The Lord of the Rings, especially since I've been thinking fondly about the ways in which Tolkien's own profession is noticeable in the text. I first started thinking about this when the hobbits reach Bree. The guests at the Prancing Pony are shocked to meet Shire hobbits so far from home and ask them what they're doing. Frodo, thinking fast, declares that he's researching a book about the hobbits who live outside the Shire, and suddenly all the patrons are eager to tell their own stories and anecdotes that they think are relevant. Ha! First of all, "I'm doing research" is a very academic sort of excuse, and secondly, I'm sure anyone who's ever been engaged in research has had the experience of people jumping in to give their own opinions and experiences with your subject. Bilbo is a quintessential researcher when they find him at Rivendell, too: pestering Frodo to contribute to his book and only concerned with the quest insofar as he might get material for a few more chapters!

This passage made me smile as well:
Terrified Pippin lay still, though the pain at his wrists and ankles was growing, and the stones beneath him were boring into his back. To take his mind off himself he listened intently to all that he could hear. There were many voices round about, and though orc-speech sounded at all times full of hate and anger, it seemed plain that something like a quarrel had begun, and was getting hotter. To Pippin's surprise he found that much of the talk was intelligible; many of the Orcs were using ordinary language. Apparently the members of two or three quite different tribes were present, and they could not understand one another's orc-speech. There was an angry debate concerning what they were to do now: which way they were to take and what should be done with the prisoners.
Obviously there's a lot that can be said about the fictional languages and the role of linguistics in Tolkien's fictional cultures, but this little vignette jumped out at me. Of course Pippin uses the unfamiliar languages as a way to distract himself from fear and pain... and look how Tolkien anticipates and solves the problem of Pippin being able to overhear a conversation among the orcs. So sweet.

I have just finished the Battle of Helms Deep, so I am just a hair over halfway done. I think... I think... I'm going to finish this by the 15th. Bold words, I know.


  1. Good luck. I just reviewed the LOTR, it's absolutely one of my favourites. The battle of helms deep is particularly impressive and tense. Hope you are enjoying it :-)

  2. You finished Helms Deep? And then you were all "MOVIIIIIE you screwed this up." Right? Yeah.