Language plays a role of enormous importance to Tolkien’s mythology. Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon and was proficient in multiple languages. He also constructed several languages for his legendarium and for a time kept his diary in elvish.
His knowledge of words and their origins and its importance to him can be demonstrated by looking at a few words.
The first word is wraith, in relation to Tolkien’s infamous creations the ring wraiths. Wraith is mostly taken, in modern times, to mean ghost a misty type of thing, that looks vaguely like a person and is transparent. Wraith is related to wroth which is anger. It is also related to wreathe which is a twisted thing, and also to writhe or twist. This suggests that wraith is about shape not substance. A wraith is something twisted and perverted.

In The Hobbit there is a famous incident, in which Bilbo steals a single golden cup from Smaug’s vast hoard. The dragon awakes and realizes that the cup is gone. One cup. One cup out of a vast hoard. For a visual think of The Desolation of Smaug portrayal of Smaug’s hoard. This demonstrates the nature of dragons in Tolkien.

Smaug doesn’t just sleep on his enormous pile of gold and jewels. He dwells on them in his mind, think Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, he counts his gold coins and jewels. Smaug, at least in the film adaption, wallows in his gold. When one, rather insignificant, cup disappears, Smaug takes the trouble of getting up, emerging from the mountain and causing a landslide to block the secret door, but he doesn’t stop there, he then goes and burns down an entire city for the sake of a single gold cup.

Of course, in the end, one could say that greed, not Bilbo and the Thrush and Bard, is the downfall of Smaug. Because of a single gold cup he goes out and ends up at the bottom of the lake, an arrow through his heart. Smaug’s greed doesn’t end there though. The dragon’s greed affects the dwarves. Thorin especially is affected by this, he’s willing, quite like Smaug, to embroil himself and those that follow him, in a war with no less than three different nations, if you count the goblins. Fortunately it is the very arrival of the goblins and the counsel of Gandalf that averts this. All this for a single jewel, though a fairly significant jewel.

Dragons in Tolkien are not the noble creatures of eastern mythology. Dragons in Tolkien are quit like the serpent in Genesis: they can be dazzling, flattering and charming, but it is merely an act. Their greed is their driving principle.

Tolkien’s work is sometimes is criticized for being “unrealistic” or overly “optimistic.” For example, of the main characters, all but one survive. There is a nobility in Tolkien’s world that some authors complain about. They say the the medieval world was not really like that. Interestingly enough the works of these authors, though it goes under the name of fantasy, is pessimistic, dark and graphic in the extreme.

The pessimism in these author’s works is something that one rarely finds in Tolkien’s works. Indeed, one never finds it. One finds pessimism and despair in a few of Tolkien’s characters, in The Lord of the Rings it is Denethor, who basically commits suicide, but this is not something that one finds in the main characters, nor is it an overriding tone in The Lord of the Rings, or any of Tolkien’s work.

As for Tolkien’s work being dark, one does not find much of this either. There is death, there is battle, there are times, in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit when things look bleak. But it never is detracts from the nobility of the characters, nor from their own dogged optimism. Indeed, Sauron, the antagonist of The Lord of the Rings, attempts to, through his captain, weigh his opponents down with gloom, he attempts to lead the to despair. This doesn’t happen, despite the lies Sauron weaves, they continue to resist.

Tolkien’s work is a very optimistic work, which is not surprising due to his Christian faith. Christianity is a very optimistic religion. From the Christian view-point, God has already won, when Christ died on the cross death was beaten. This is what informs Tolkien’s work.

This post could be considered a follow up to the post What You Make I Mar. In that post I discussed the nature of evil in that it cannot create, but only corrupt. I also alluded to the idea that all evil was once good, which I will now go into in greater detail.

Consider, again Morgoth, and his biblical counterpart Satan. Before discussing the aforementioned dark lord’s origins, let us consider what he does primarily in Tolkien’s stories of the first age. First of all, in what seems to be considered the greatest of his many crimes, he corrupts a group of elves, which are then known as orcs. He, Morgoth, is responsible for the deaths of thousands, including, but not limited to: prominent elven and human kings, (which in turn includes suicide) the death of at least one queen and the systematic and sadistic toying and ultimate eradication of an entire family, in reference to Hurin. Also, he is responsible for the corruption of various Maiar, which could be considered the equivalent of angels, including Sauron.

Now, that we have listed Morgoth’s credentials as dark lord, let us consider what he was originally. Originally, he was one of the Valar, the chief of them, (think Lucifer) and was granted the most power. His fall starts when he wishes to create his own things and control them, but also control everything else, like Satan, in another interesting biblical parallel, he says, essentially, “Not thine will, but mine will be done.”

Morgoth is a prime example of the tragic nature of evil in Tolkien’s world. Like evil in this world, it has not always been evil, evil arises from good people that have been corrupted, often from desires originally good. Evil in Tolkien’s world always arises from something good.

Through out Tolkien’s work, particularly those centered around his imaginary world of Middle-Earth, there is an interesting insight gleaned into the nature of evil in his works. This insight comes especially from the fact that Morgoth the dark lord of the first age cannot create. As a side note to those perhaps not familiar with The Silmarillion, Morgoth is the equivalent of Satan, a fallen angel.

In the first drafts Tolkien wrote, this central character of evil was able to create, but as Tolkien rewrote and rewrote again, we find that he has taken away this ability. I should clarify that when I say create I mean “to make something completely new.”

This is a theme seen through out the Bible and Christian doctrine, Satan cannot create new things, he can corrupt and twist things to his purpose, but he cannot make something that has always been evil. Since Tolkien was a Christian, this is an interesting idea to observe in his fiction. Morgoth cannot create. Morgoth can twist, he can bend, corrupt and pervert, but he cannot create.

Tolkien’s works provide an interesting insight into the nature of evil. Evil always takes good and twists and perverts it. Not always because this is what it would like to do, but simply because it cannot do anything else. Even the said evil was not always evil. This is another theme seen through out Tolkien’s works. Evil in Tolkien always comes from something previously good.

In the new Hobbit movie there is a rather interesting scene, the framework of which, at least, is in the book. This scene shows Gandalf exploring Dol-Guldor, stronghold of the Necromancer, who is later revealed to be Sauron. However, in the movie they diverge from the book by having Sauron discover Gandalf.

This, in itself, would not be so bad, however there then, in the movie, ensues a sort of duel between Sauron and Gandalf, and Gandalf is seen managing to hold off Sauron for a good minute and a half. It seems to me, at least if one goes by what is said in the books, sometimes by Gandalf himself, that such a contest would not take place. It would not even be a contest. For Gandalf to try and match Sauron in brute strength and power would be suicide. To go about Dol-Guldor shouting various spells in elvish is even more absurd. Apart from the book, could it possibly have escaped his notice that Sauron would have perceived a wizard coming into his stronghold and shouting?

And then of course, there is the nature of the duel between Gandalf and Sauron, it is, well, of the lightning bolts and fireballs variety. This very manifest, physical display is something I very much doubt Tolkien would have approved of. Magic, in Tolkien’s world, even when it concerns an antagonist like Sauron, takes a much more subtle, inconspicuous approach, not to mention that under the rules, so to speak, that Tolkien laid down for his imaginary world, Gandalf simply wouldn’t have used such a direct, brunt and brutal attack against Sauron. An attack doomed to failure. That is not like the Gandalf of “The Lord of the Rings” movies, nor like the Gandalf of the books.

It is not conceivable that Gandalf could have won a battle against Sauron. And certainly not conceivable that he would’ve managed to escape upon his capture. For the movie shows him imprisoned in Dol-Guldor, and presumably, in the third one, unless very strange and terrible liberties are taken, he will escape.

Despite some of its flaws, there are a few good things in the new hobbit movie.

First and foremost the dragon. Benedict Cumberbatch does an excellent job portraying the dragon. Smaug is sarcastic, ironic and cunning, which is how the book portrayed him. It shows a bit of Smaug’s enormous influence over Bilbo, for example, though this was not in the book, the fact that Smaug seems to manage to convince Bilbo to take off the Ring, revealing himself.

The house of Beorn and Beorn himself I thought were also very well done. The house looking much like the house described in the book, and Beorn, in human form very much evoking the image of a bear.

Another strong point was the spider scene. Except for one or two very minor changes, it was almost exactly as in the book. Surprisingly, the spiders spoke in the movie, something I didn’t expect the filmmakers to do, seeing as the eagles remained quiet, in both An Unexpected Journey, and The Lord of the Rings.

 

Poetry plays an important role in The Hobbit. It serves as a way of telling stories, it serves as a form of amusement, and, it serves as a form of prophecy.

Let’s look at the first form, the story form. Consider the poem of the dwarves, the poem about the fall of the Lonely Mountain. This poem is sung before the dwarves tell Bilbo, in prose of the Mountain’s fall. When he asks something to the effect of “what is your quest?” The dwarves respond with almost indignation. “Didn’t you hear our song?” The song of the dwarves tells the story if one reads it carefully. It tells the setting, “far over the Misty Mountains cold,” it tells that the dwarves must go to that place, “we must away ere break of day, to find our long forgotten gold.” And that is just in the first stanza. The second stanza begins to tell what the Mountain kingdom is like, “the dwarves of yore made mighty spells, while hammers fell like ringing bells,” from this we can say they are probably a mining people. Moving ahead it tells of the dragon sacking the mountain, though it is interesting it never tells directly of the dragon, only of his effects, “the pines were roaring on the height, the wind was moaning in the night, the fire was red, it flaming spread, the trees like torches blazed with light.” Or in the last stanza, “fled their halls, to dying fall, beneath his feet, beneath the moon.” This is the only reference that comes even close to directly identifying the dragon.

Other examples of the “story poetry” include the goblins’ song in the Misty Mountains, they retell, in their own crude way, their capture of the dwarves.

Now, let us look at the second form, poetry for amusement. A good example is the dwarves song in Bag-End, “chip the glasses, crack the plates, that’s what Bilbo Baggins hates.” They do not do any of the things they describe, among other things smashing the crockery, they sing it, purely, it seems, for amusement at Bilbo’s expense. Another example would, again, be from the goblins, their song when they have the dwarves up a tree, “fifteen birds, in five fir trees, their feathers were fanned, in a fiery breeze.” This seems to combine both the “story poetry,” and “amusement poetry.” The goblins both relate what happened and what they are doing, and get their own perverse amusement out of it.

Last of all, let us look at the “prophecy poetry.” A good example would be the dwarves’ “wind song” in the house of Beorn. What is interesting is that they describe the wind moving from west to east, the direction they have been moving, they describe it moving over mountains and heath and wood, all things they have or eventually will have to pass over or through. They describe it coming to the mountain and blowing away smoke, symbolic perhaps of the slaying of the dragon, but then eventually they describe it moving on, seeming to denote that they recognize that their story is not, “the center of the universe” so to speak, or that the wind is not necessarily a personification of them, but a metaphor for the thing that moves them.

Poetry plays an important role in all of Tolkien’s works. These same forms can be seen in The Lord of the Rings, if one looks…

 

I would like to announce the start of another blog of mine, this one more general, concerning literature and theology, mainly. Here is a link:http://criticalmusingsamusingcritiques.wordpress.com/

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