Tolkien Thoughts

“Do I still think, as I did then, that Tolkien was the greatest writer in the world? In the strict sense, no. You can think that at thirteen. If you still think it at fifty-three, something has gone wrong with your life.”   -Terry Pratchett

I’ve been thinking about this quote off and on all week.

As I started to go into in comments before, I think this really does get into the territory of infatuation versus love.


When someone is infatuated, the object of their infatuation is considered infallible, perfect, without flaws.  This is the sort of “love” (awkward word in English) that we commonly see in teens and those who haven’t grown out of their teen mentality (regardless of age).  It is also, I’m sure, a sort of feeling that we’re all familiar with.  In some ways, this is also the love of the medieval romances, the courtly love idea (the subject of the knights’ love was perfect and unattainable)

With that in mind, I would venture to say that there are a lot of people who are infatuated with Tolkien, particularly Lord of the Rings.  This is the group that vehemently defends Tolkien and his work against any naysayers or critique, because not doing so would be to admit that the subject of their infatuation is imperfect, flawed, fallible, not ideal, perhaps even not exceptional.

On the other hand, to truly love is to acknowledge the flaws present in the object of one’s love, to accept them (within reason – I make an exception for abusive relationships), and to love anyway.  This is a longer lasting, more honest, even in a sense truer love, I think.  A more mature love.  A more realistic love, not an ideal.

Assuming that definition, I think there are many, albeit a smaller group than above, who truly love Tolkien.  This group can see and acknowledge his flaws, but love him and his work nonetheless.  This group has no need to defend him or his work as “the best” or “perfect” because it knows he/the work is not and loves him/it anyway.  This group considers the man and his work exceptional, regardless of his/its flaws, or perhaps even because of those flaws.

Just some thoughts that have been going through my head.

Meditations on Middle-earth

A few quotes I found especially interesting or funny from authors about Middle-earth/Tolkien:

“Tolkien was the first to create a fully realized secondary universe, an entire world with its own geography and histories and legends, wholly unconnected to our own.”  -George R.R. Martin

“Frodo travels through Middle-earth like some kind of God-sent integrity test. The Wise, if they were truly so, upon seeing that he had come to visit, would shriek, ‘Oh, no! It’s that fucking hobbit! I’m not in!’ and slam the door in his face.”   -Michael Swanwick

“The Lord of the Rings [. . .] led me to realize that a good fantasy is one that springs from a fully realized world, and that constructing that world can be an awful lot of fun.”  -Esther Friesner

“Do I still think, as I did then, that Tolkien was the greatest writer in the world? In the strict sense, no. You can think that at thirteen. If you still think it at fifty-three, something has gone wrong with your life.”   -Terry Pratchett

“Tolkien described Gandalf as having ‘long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his hat.’ If you read that, it’s one thing; but try to paint it and it looks as goofy as hell.

 You wouldn’t even do that in a cartoon.”   -Greg & Tim Hildebrandt

New Story Line

Started my first non-worldbuilding fiction project in a few years, and I’m enjoying the experience.  I’m going back to some of my early days of quasi-serious fiction writing.

It’s been about fourteen, fifteen years since I last used the frame narrative structure, but I’m trying it out again.  In this case, a similar set up with a storytelling narrator linking a few stories together.

At the same time, I’m doing worldbuilding as I go elsewhere in the same notebook.  Sort of.

The frame narrative takes place in the LME (Living Magic Earth) urban fantasy setting that I started working on relatively recently.  But the stories themselves take place on one of the twenty Known Worlds attached to the AoP project I started a month or two back.  So, the Earth part is mostly built but the world and nation in which the stories take place is being built as I go.

I haven’t done things this way in a while, versus building the world (at least in broad strokes) then writing the story.  It’s kinda fun so far.

Metaphoric Glue: Team Building

“They just need time . . . You gave them something better, a common enemy.”
-Agent Coulson, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

In fiction, we like to work with disparate groups. We enjoy writing and reading about characters from a seemingly random array of backgrounds coming together. On one hand, this lets us explore human relations. On another, it creates drama and tension. It’s also fairly realistic. But no group can work as disunited, arguing, individuals forever. Eventually, they need to come together and use some teamwork. In short stories, novellas, and stand alone novels, we typically don’t have the space for long term team development, the time referred to by Coulson above, so we often use the trope of the common enemy (or common sacrifice) to speed up the process.

Some genres and media are better suited to the long term method of team building than others. For example, the Avengers and X-Men comics were very good at this. Ultimately, the team members learn to work together and even respect each other, even if they don’t agree or don’t like each other. And this comes with time. Leverage does this well too, since the team doesn’t get a significant common enemy until at least a season into the series. Star Trek: TNG and DS9 are also good examples. Both series took a couple seasons before the characters and cast hit their stride and really became a team. Babylon 5 is also a good example, since most of the fifth season “team” didn’t really start to come together until the third or fourth season.

The common enemy approach is also quite common. Obviously Agents noted above, which builds out of the Avengers movieverse, where the tactic is used via Coulson and Nick Fury. Farscape is another good example, the completely random assortment of species, backgrounds, social classes, and everything else is initially held together solely by the threat of Peacekeeper retaliation, in the form of Craise then Scorpius. The Fellowship of the Ring is another classic example in that it wouldn’t exist if the threat of Sauron wasn’t there. The Council of Elrond that created the Fellowship wouldn’t have been convened without Sauron.

In fiction, the common enemy can be a great method of forcing a team together. It creates unity quickly and most works of fiction don’t last long enough to cause problems. In reality, the common enemy is also used quite a bit, typically in the form of the Us versus Them language and mentality. We see this all over the place, throughout history – the view of Jews during the Middle Ages, the Nazis, Israel’s relation with Palestine, the Cold War. If a society, for example, relies on the common enemy to create unity in the long term, it starts to cause problems. We see McCarthyism, we see censorship (see Ray Bradbury), we see the U.S. in the last couple decades since the end of the Cold War (since then, a certain segment of the population has been seeking a new Other as enemy; it most recently tried terrorism, but that’s too nebulous, not concrete enough to be a good, unifying common enemy).

Four Quotes

A few quotes that aren’t about writing, but I think apply to writing and worldbuilding very well.

“Monsters serve both to mark the fault-lines but also, subversively, to signal the fragility of such boundaries.”  -Elaine Graham

“Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.” -Terry Pratchett

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” -Charles Darwin

“Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.” -Morihei Ueshiba, O-Sensei