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*reads the old Tolkien threads with his nose pressed up against the glass* I wanna play too.

So new thread! Tolkien's like Freud, he was a pioneer and he built this huge mother and he's outdated. But first to get past him you have to go through him, his influence can't be ignored.

LotR was the second book I ever read in my then-short life, started reading it when I was like 6, took me ages to finish. And maybe that's the right age for Tolkien. I read it now, and it's different.

I can handle the sexism. There's Eowyn, she rocks. What really bugs me is the Eurocentric myopia. What about Rhun?! What about Harad?! I think it would've been really cool if in the movie they had Jackie Chan and Djimon Honsou as the leaders of Rhun and Harad.

"Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature."
-China Mieville

Ah, link
http://www.panmacmillan.com/Features/China/debate.htm
 
Posts: 2627 | Location: Manila | Registered: October 15, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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What really bugs me is the Eurocentric myopia. What about Rhun?! What about Harad?! I think it would've been really cool if in the movie they had Jackie Chan and Djimon Honsou as the leaders of Rhun and Harad.


You know, I've heard this critism of LotR many a time, and it has to be the single most brain dead and pointless criticism in history.

Examples:

You know, what really ticks me off about Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is the how Asiacentric it is. Where are the black people?!! Where's the Native Americans? What happened to the latinos? What kind of racist crap is this?!!

They should have made up whole new roles in it with Cheech Marin as an ass kicking latino leader and Chris Tucker as a wise sage!

Or:

Rashoman is terrible. There's no diversity at all! What is the author, some kind or racist? And the attitude towards women . . .

If anyone tried to make that argument with any other ethnic story or movie, they would be shot down in a second, but for some reason it's ok with LotR.



James

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I heartily agree, Ronin. Despite its epic scope, Lord of the Rings is really a story about a rather small area in a much larger world. That the other areas of the world don't get much play is what makes the book a trilogy rather than a Robert Jordanesque ramble of ripped-off empires.


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*applauds Ronin*
I just LOVE that we don't get to know much about the other places in LotR -just as I love that we don't know exactly what or who Tom Bombadil is or why he has so much power, what happened to the Ent-wives and so on.

As for sexism, I said it before, I don't see it. And not just because there's Eowyn (a lot of people think, if you have but ONE interesting female character, there's no sexism, and that is wrong). Women in LotR do have power and are strong and interesting characters. The fact that they are not warriors just fits into the story. I don't think it would have been beleivable if suddenly women were all over the place fighting and being Xena. (Which is why I didn't like Arwen's character in the first LotR movie, and why I was so terrified at what could have been when I saw in the extras of The Two Towers that they'd planned to have her fight at Helm's Deep).


 
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Crouching Tiger is about a small group of characters and a sword. LotR is an epic about good vs evil. If Sauron won, then Rhun and Harad would be in the soup too. They should care enough to show up.

Tolkien could have written a story about a local warlord, but he didn't do that, his intention was to create a world and a mythology, that takes you out of the bush leagues and puts you in the majors. It's been said that Tolkien seemed to be more in love with creating his world than telling his story, so the lack is curious.

There aren't any Asian-equivalents in Perdido Street Station, but it's adequately conveyed that there's a bigger world out there, this book is just set in one city. And there's no rule that says a secondary world *has to* reflect East-West or any of the patterns of our world. Maybe Mieville's world doesn't have an Asia.

Pratchett made up an Asia-equivalent, the Counterweight continent. Afaik he used it once and then left it alone. It doesn't matter, I don't care.

In effect, Tolkien said "Here is a version of our world, as a microcosm of good vs evil." If something as intricate as Middle-Earth can be called a microcosm. And it is *our* world, set some time in the past. But this world is incomplete.

I vaguely remember a Shakespeare quote that goes something like "He is a barbarian who thinks the customs of his tribe are the laws of the universe." That sums it up.

quote:
I just LOVE that we don't get to know much about the other places in LotR -just as I love that we don't know exactly what or who Tom Bombadil is or why he has so much power, what happened to the Ent-wives and so on.

As for sexism, I said it before, I don't see it. And not just because there's Eowyn (a lot of people think, if you have but ONE interesting female character, there's no sexism, and that is wrong). Women in LotR do have power and are strong and interesting characters. The fact that they are not warriors just fits into the story.


I don't get this mystery thing. There's something on Neil's blog today about something similar. Writing something tantalizing and intriguing isn't that hard. Be vague, hint at vast powers of light and darkness pulling the strings behind the scenes. A real writer *shows* you these things, he pulls the curtain back. That's where the skill comes in, ostensibly that's why he makes the big bucks, he has clearer visions and is more articulate than us.

It's reasonable to assume that Bombadil is a Maiar gone native. THIS is an example of good world-building. It's not expressly stated, but if you read the appendixes and footnotes, they lead you to an answer that is satisfying and makes sense.

Mysteriousness is an abdication of the storyteller's responsibilities. If you can't or won't tell what happened, then what business do you have pretending to tell a story?

As for the women, where are they? Offhand, I can recall Lobelia Baggins, Goldberry, Galadriel, Arwen, Eowyn. Shelob? And of these, Goldberry, Galadriel and Arwen are on pedestals, idealized.
 
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More on the Race card

I remember a letter in Spawn, some guy asked, "Why are there so few black superheroes?" Letters like that are part of the reason. If you have a black character, the presumption is that you have to talk about the race thing, and many writers just aren't interested.

But! Sometimes the lack is just too much to ignore. Why aren't there any black people on Friends?

In "On Fairy Stories," Tolkien talks about how simplistic HG Wells' "Time Machine" is, good Eloi, bad Morlocks. Uh, so why did you make Middle-Earth just as simplistic, Prof?
 
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People have mentioned the Dark Lord, the Black Tower, etc. That's not about the race thing (I think). That's about the primal fear of darkness and the night and places underground. In our secret hearts we're afraid some shrieking mad shadow will come howling out of the pit and eat our faces off. Black kids can be scared of the dark, neh?
 
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Originally posted by ZoneSeek:
Tolkien could have written a story about a local warlord, but he didn't do that, his intention was to create a world and a mythology (...)


Exactly. He wanted to create the Iliead, the Beowulf, the viking sagas, the Aeneid and the Odissey...
Tolkien wanted to create an epic story, that could have been true, and for that he mixed pre-existing mythologies and his own imagination... to create an epic about/that included Britain and possibly all Europe. I like to think of the whole Middle Earth thing like a plausible past of Europe.
It is not the task of an epic to be inclusive. An epic is a story about a heroe or a group of heroes, who face terrible things and ultimately save their people (or die in the trying). Why does it have to include this or that? Why Beowulf doesn't speak about, say, the Egiptians? Coz its audience didn't give a damn, they wanted to hear about THEIR hero. And if an epic is told about an African or Asian warrior, I bet they won't speak about Europeans or Americans either.
Tolkien created a world, true, but where does it say HOW he should have create dit? He created a whole world, and then chose to tell one story about it, from one point of view, about certain set of characters. that's the storyteller's choice.

(As for good vs. evil thing, I think that is too simplistic. Star Wars is good vs. evil; LotR is about power and corruption, and progress and the horrors of war, and oyu don't have to include the whole world in that.)

Female thing:
It's true there are few female characters, I acknowledge that. But that isn't a bad (nor good) thing per se. Again, in the "historical epic" perspective, it's natural that in a story about war you'll get mostly male characters -Tolkien describes an Iron Age-like society, so naturally it's men who go to war and women don't. That's not sexist, it's common sense. Galadriel may be idealized, but she's very powerful (for a start, she's a member of the Wise, which Celeborn is not, and she is a ring-bearer and has resisted Sauron for hundreds of years). Galadriel and Arwen are high elves anyway, they are supposed to be apart from the "normal" life of the main characters.

Being sexist is not about not putting women into your story, it's putting women in solely as moms or lovers or temptresses; it's putting them as flat characters with no insight into them; it's despising their characters and not paying the attention. I don't think Tolkien does that.


 
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Originally posted by ZoneSeek:
But! Sometimes the lack is just too much to ignore. Why aren't there any black people on Friends?


I see that point to a certain extent, but in this case it's ridiculous. Why are there no whit epeople in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"? Becaus eit's a show for black people, simple as that.
Some stuff is made with a specific target audience in mind -Friends is for young, white people, for example (and LotR is made for Europeans, like it or not. That it has by far trascended Tolkien's original audience is not his fault), "Fresh Prince" was made for young, black people, that abomination with Steve Urkel in it was made for black families... (incidentally, these last two sitcoms were hugely succesful here in Spain, where the black population was virtually non-existant. People just liked the sitcom without wondering why there were no white characters in them).


 
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My two bits in here.

Racism first: Remember the context in which Tolkien was writing LOTR--World War II. He even went back and rewrote the Gollum scene from The Hobbit once WWII started, so he could make LOTR a more political work. (Gollum was originally supposed to be a more comical character.) One of the comments that Tolkien is making through LOTR is the need for the world to unite together against a common threat (Germans/Japanese) with no confident assurance of being able to win. Winning was not the point--fighting anyways was. The Allied forces in WWII consisted mostly of AngloSaxon countries (not individuals mind you). However, I would add that Tolkien was a citizen of the then up-til-recently British Empire and would have been impacted by its history as a colonizing force. Which also was almost certainly a factor in his exclusive focus on the anglo-saxon race.

For sexism: Tolkien never really did learn how to get along with women, if you study his life. He was part of the boy's own club. He was close to his mother and following his mother's death, married an older, maternal woman. I don't mean that he did not love her etc. Rather that he related more to other men and LOTR is definitely a book about companionship. Makes sense that he would write about what he knows: male companionship.


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I. Stereotypes
A. National and racial
B. Women
II.

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Tolkien created a world, true, but where does it say HOW he should have create dit? He created a whole world, and then chose to tell one story about it, from one point of view, about certain set of characters. that's the storyteller's choice.


Yes, there ARE rules on world-building and storytelling. Not rules as such, not laws. But there's a narrative contract, if you will. Certain things are not allowed, and if you break these rules, you weaken the story and possibly piss off the reader.

The examples you mentioned, their shortsightedness makes them weak art. Art doesn't have to be universal, but that IS a requirement for great art.

Is Pratchett writing just for the UK? Hell no, he sells all over the world, even though his stories *seem* rather British.

Suppose I had a tv series where all the people were... redheads, as a random example. NOT just the main cast, but the extras in the street scenes, the big crowds, waiters in shops, all redheads. And the plot isn't fantastic, this show pretends to be about normal life in the real world. It would feel fake, our souls would cry out, NO, this is not the world as I know it.

I'm not the PC Police fighting for equal representation of minorities. I'm saying you have to have diversity to fill in the background and make it believable. If Friends had some black people in crowd scenes, if LotR had more women just as incidental detail, then the illusion is complete and we can move on.

LotR IS about good vs evil. The other stuff too, but good vs evil is central. Obviously Sauron is the Satan-figure. And THAT nails down Tolkien's provincial Eurocentric myopia. Gods are supposed to see the world as round, to see beyond the petty local squabbles. It's funny when some weenie tribe explains that the all-powerful creator of the unverse is only concerned with their little corner of the world. (Doesn't this god have anything better to do?) And that's what's going on in LotR.

Tolkien is NOT a great writer, just a good one who was very diligent, and because he was one of the first great world-builders his influence over fantasy is massive.

Pratchett is a great writer. He writes great female characters, he has variety and diversity. And, this is important, it doesn't come from a need to be PC. He doesn't start out thinking, "Oh we have to represent women, and dwarfs, and..." He just tries to tell a good story, and it comes out as fair and complete, because a story is supposed to be fair and complete.

Goldberry is the Hippie Chick. Magrat Garlick CANNOT be reduced to Hippie Chick, or Young Mother, or any pigeonhole, she's a unique and unrepeatable individual, with quirks and faults and thoughts and desires, imperfect and loveable.
 
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New business: Tolkien was a Luddite

Yes he was. No one can wriggle around that. Asimov loved LotR endlessly, but even he saw that. He said, the One Ring represents modern technology. Then Tolkien himself denied this. Asimov replied, "Nevertheless, the One Ring represents modern technology."
 
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With LotR you can say it represents a lot fo things -evil vs good, technology, WWII... None of us will ever know what Tol,kien had in mind REALLY when he wrote it.
For me, the good vs. evil is too simplistic an explanation -LotR is more complex. As I said, for me it's about power and the Ring means power, and for me, again, Tolkien is saying "Power is in itself corrupt, and even though you might want to use power for good, you won't be able to". This works for me. And the technology, war or good/evil readings work too, for many people, and THAT is what makes it a damn good book. It's got many levels, many allegories (intended or not). THAT is what makes it more universal than having black guys or Asian women randomly tossed around.

(You mentioned my examples were shortsighted and thus weak -I assume you were talking about my sit-com examples, and not about Troy, the Odissey, Beowulf... I can add the Arthurian myths, the sagas, the American Indian myths... Do you think those are weak too?)

And about the Terry Pratchett thing: Pratchett writes to be universal, and he is a genius in that. Tolkien DIDN'T write to be universal, he wrote with the British audience in mind! And 80 years afterwards, his work is considered universal, and he is critised for not doing it correctly.


 
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Originally posted by ZoneSeek:
If Friends had some black people in crowd scenes, if LotR had more women just as incidental detail, then the illusion is complete and we can move on.



THAT is worthless PC to me. "Let's toss a black guy here and a chick there" IS silly (like in those sitcoms in which you get a crowd, and there's always two black, one Asian and two hispanic. that is ridiculous). If women don't have a big part in the story you want to tell, don't just toss them around to give the impression of anything.
And the red-head example (apart from the though that I found that idea to be very cool Big Grin) doesn't apply, cause Tolkien wa snot attempting to represent the real world, let alone the WHOLE real world.


 
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Originally posted by mishka:
He even went back and rewrote the Gollum scene from The Hobbit once WWII started, so he could make LOTR a more political work. (Gollum was originally supposed to be a more comical character.)

No, he didn't. I've read his journals, and he rewrote the character of Gollum because he intended the entireity of The Hobbit to be more comical than it turned out to be. He didn't anticipate just how nasty Smaug was going to be, or the dwarves getting imprisoned or any of that. Gollum wasn't originally comical, but rather sympathetic, a creature solely to be pitied that ate the scraps left over from others. Tolkein made him into a carnivore and made overtures that Gollum would eat Bilbo given the chance in an effort to make him scarier.

More importantly, Tolkein didn't give a tinker's cuss about politics. He was a linguist, and a fairly boring one at that, who scribbled his novel as a way of exploring the languages he invented as a child and developed as an adult. He created Middle Earth as a way of bringing these meticulously created languages to life in an equally meticulous setting.

That, ultimately, is why LOTR is such a microcosm. It's not because of any innate insularness on Tolkein's part, but rather on the part of the material he felt he had to work with. He could not have incorporated those other kingdoms without inventing whole new languages based on whole new sets of phonemes. He would've been forced to develop new rules of grammar, syntax, dialects, the whole lot, and all using language bases that didn't particularly interest him.

Around the time, Indo-European was the new thing, and Tolkein's particular interest was exploring Finnish and its relationships with other languages. There was no room for that with the other empires, but, as you say, he had to at least draw them on the map or Middle Earth would be about the size of the state of Maine.


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Posts: 48708 | Location: Concord, NH, USA | Registered: July 20, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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i think these race and sexism issues have only cropped up because the books became so big and people just love to rip the thing to shreds by overanalyzing it.

i can't say for certain but i'm pretty sure that tolkien wasn't thinking to himself "gee, i'm writing for a global audience, so i should put some asian-like characters and women, or else people will accuse me of being racist and sexist". that stuff only came afterward. he was just writing out this story in a world he created, in the only way he knew how. i don't believe there are any rules on world-building or storytelling, but if there were, tolkein probably didn't know about them. he wasn't a writer to begin with anyway.

it's a great story, a great mythology. and sure it's flawed. some people find it boring and long-winded. but discrediting it because of sexism, racism or eurocentrism is totally missing the point.


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Posts: 1489 | Registered: April 07, 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Originally posted by ZoneSeek:
Yes, there ARE rules on world-building and storytelling. Not rules as such, not laws. But there's a narrative contract, if you will. Certain things are not allowed, and if you break these rules, you weaken the story and possibly piss off the reader.

And the majority of these rules were codified by critics at or around the time of Tolkein's death. Really, he'd be the first to tell you he wasn't a very good author, and a barely adequate writer, but generally only towards the end of his life. At the time he actually wrote the books, a lot of people were writing, mostly for the own amusement, and the rich ones were publishing it.

The idea that novels have to be "art" to be readable, or acceptable, is a new phenomenon, and one that I'm not overly fond of. I'd must rather read a good story well-told, like Tolkein's, than an innovative but inscrutable narrative, like Joyce's, and that's it. I don't care which is art or which isn't, and I'm surely not signing the reader's section of that narrative contact, because I just want a good story, not a bunch of rules.


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Posts: 48708 | Location: Concord, NH, USA | Registered: July 20, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Originally posted by Dweller in Darkness:
I don't care which is art or which isn't, and I'm surely not signing the reader's section of that narrative contact, because I just want a good story, not a bunch of rules.


amen to that. i'm really no good at deconstructing literature or anything. my judgement of a books usually comes down to if i found the story good or not, if i cared of about the characters and if it made me forget where i was for a couple of hours and made me not want to put it down.

i also wanted to comment about the "mystery" thing mentioned by clover - not always knowing everything about characters is an element that builds fanbases. if the story/mythology is well-built enough, we care and believe enough about characters that we want to know more about them, beyond what the authors/creators have presented. it's what drives fanfiction writing, geeks learning to speak in klingon, books on han solo's smuggler years, and all that.


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Originally posted by Dweller in Darkness:
The idea that novels have to be "art" to be readable, or acceptable, is a new phenomenon, and one that I'm not overly fond of. I'd must rather read a good story well-told, like Tolkein's, than an innovative but inscrutable narrative, like Joyce's, and that's it. I don't care which is art or which isn't, and I'm surely not signing the reader's section of that narrative contact, because I just want a good story, not a bunch of rules.


Gah, this is MY side. Screw Joyce. I want a good, intelligible yarn. Come on, I cited Pratchett as a good writer. So, what makes a story good? Experimental writers like Joyce, Pirandello, they break the rules and that's why I don't like them.
 
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my two cents : I don't think the plot is always important. I think words can be utilized without making much logical sense, but can be used to evoke an emotion or an impression of a memory, and that builds an atmosphere for the reader to understand what the author is trying to communicate outside of a plot line. Sometimes it's not just a story being related, but a means of direct communication.


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