Apr. 15th, 2017

sartorias: (JRRT)
A quick addendum to the Council of Elrond, before taking off to do family stuff—as usual, vastly spoilery

In Rivendell, the company is about to leave, and Elrond says, “Yet no oath or bond is laid on you to go further than you will.” When Gimli says that oaths can strengthen hearts, Elrond demurs, and that reflects earlier observations (again at the Council) that treason has caused most of the darkness hitherto.

This exchange underscores the developing argument about power and force. The Elves don’t make anyone do anything. They don’t require oaths or promises. Part of their atmosphere of melancholy might be their perception of the end of their time in this fair world, but also reflection on their own errors in this regard, in the last age. Treason happened among themselves, often by those who convinced themselves it was for the best of motives.

So anyway, this next chapter will see the Nine set out on their journey—or their quest.

Epic quests have become SOP in epic fantasy—some say a cliché, and make disparaging comments about characters roaming forests, fighting monsters and Orc-like nasties as they collect plot tokens. Okay, fair point.

In the letters, Tolkien has this to say: Men do go, and having history gone on journeys and quests, without any intention of acting out allegories of life. It is not true of the past or of the present to say that ‘ only the rich or those on vacation can take journeys’. Whether long or short, with an errand or simply to go ‘ there and back again’, is not of primary importance. As I tried to express it in Bilbo’s Walking Song, even an afternoon to evening walk may have important effects. When Sam had got no further than the Woody And he had already had an ‘ eye-opener.’

That’s such an important point, that eye-opener.

I don’t want to waste time disparaging Tolkien-inspired fantasies. I think every one of those, conscious homage or unconscious influence, is part of the long river of literature, which is always in conversation with itself.

There are some who took Tolkien’s tale, and retold it, consciously or unconsciously. People can and do borrow unconsciously; I don’t mean to blather on about my own stories, but I will say this: when mountain beings wandered into one of my ongoing tales, written when I was twenty-one, it took me two decades to realize that the influence behind them was Ents. Yeah, there’s me, as usual needing a whack from the cluestick by Captain Obvious. But they’d become their own thing, very different from Ents, even if the form they took was of tree-like beings that could walk when they wanted to.

And so I extrapolate my own experience to others: so many writers desired to prolong the profound effect LOTR had on them by telling their own tales, either in Tolkien’s world with fanfic, or in their own, wherein they couldn’t imagine any other world but one in which the good guys went West across the water, the bad guys lurked in the East, and there were elvish characters to cheer for and ugly orc-like monsters to vanquish.

Then there are those who wrote books to explore further, argue with, or counter various aspects of LOTR. I think this is still happening, that the trilogy has cast a very long shadow over literature, movies notwithstanding.

As for the plot token thing, it distresses me when people (usually who haven’t read LOTR, but some who have and were unimpressed) make the plot token claim.

I don’t see that. Plot token stories of any type, at least as I see it, are ones in which the characters toil their way through the story, traveling or not, but not changing through their experience They are the same after the monster fights as before, maybe having to wrap up some wounds.

That is not true of LOTR. I think the only one who doesn’t change through LOTR is Aragorn, but only because the Ring quest is a chapter in his very long life and goals.

Everybody else, yes. Frodo and Sam the most obvious. Legolas, who I’ve seen many claim has no personality, learns friendship with Gimli, but he will also be seduced by the sea. Gimli falls in love once and forever, knowing it’s hopeless. Gandalf takes on a power that undoes him, and he is sent back again, changed. Pippin and Merry grow in more ways than one, and Boromir gives in to the Ring’s lure—though he redeems himself before dying.

The quest isn’t the point, it’s what they do to get there: meanwhile, we don’t have forest juxtaposed with desert and then mountains, vaguely described by eager writers who might have grown up in cities and consider scenery as backdrop.

On this quest, the mountains, the forest, the rivers, the stones all have being, or self, and they matter.

May 2017

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