Throwback Thursday: My Endless Tolkien Series, part 14

Originally published at Part Time Monster as “The Remarkable Mr. Invisible Baggins.”

I’m focusing on the relationships between the One Ring and the other characters, with reference to The Hobbit and The Silmarillion as needed. Because the construction of Tolkien’s narrators is so complex, I’m reading the books as historical documents first, and as a fictional narrative second. I have two goals.

image by lucasmt

image by lucasmt

  • To establish that it is valid to read the Ring is an independent character rather than merely an appendage of Sauron; and
  • To examine how various characters interact with the Ring and the consequences of those interactions with an eye to developing a better understanding of the nature of good and evil in Middle Earth.

Isildur connects the narrative of LOTR to the events of the First Age chronicled in The Silmarillion. Gollum makes the story work. Without Gollum to drive the personal conflicts that are actually depicted on the page, LOTR would be a brilliant piece of constructed history, but it would not be a well-developed novel.

Meet Bilbo

Bilbo is not central to the plot of LOTR, but he is as significant a historical figure as Isildur and Gollum. He brings the Ring back into the light of day after two-and-a-half millenia of darkness and is profoundly changed by its influence. Isildur and Gollum tell us much about the nature of evil in Middle Earth, but Bilbo is the touchstone for Tolkien’s concept of good.

Bilbo is born in the Shire in TA2890. His adventure to the Lonely Mountain with Thorin and Company takes place over the course of about a year in 2941-42, and he returns to the Shire with the Ring in the same year Sauron returns secretly to Mordor. He leaves the Ring to Frodo and departs the Shire for Rivendell in 3001, where he lives for the next two decades before sailing into the West with Frodo and the three keepers of the elven rings in September, 3021, at the age of 131. (1)

Here is a timeline of important events of the late Third Age to help you place Bilbo’s life in the larger historical context. By the time Bilbo is born, Osgiliath has been left to decay and Mordor unguarded for twelve centuries. The Nazgul have held Minas Morgul for almost 1000 years, and Sauron has been in Mirkwood for nearly 2000.

Of the characters who possess the Ring for an appreciable amount of time, Bilbo is corrupted the least, and he is the only one who gives it up willingly. I think there are three reasons for this.

  1. He he has a good heart to begin with. There is no question about this. It’s clear from he very beginning of the Hobbit, and it begins with the hospitality he shows the Dwarves in “An Unexpected Party.” (2)
  2. He doesn’t use the Ring often, given the length of time he possesses it. This is interesting, because it suggests that he’s just less susceptible to its temptations than the other ringbearers.
  3. Once he returns from his journey with the dwarves, he uses it only for innocuous reasons – mostly to hide from unpleasant relatives. He does not use it even once to gain peoples’ secrets on purpose, or to make himself more powerful. It’s a last resort for getting out of jams.

As a stand-alone text, The Hobbit reads as a simple, episodic adventure story with both comic and tragic elements. But when you look at it in the context of the Tolkien’s larger work and start to ask questions about how the Ring changes Bilbo’s life, there’s quite a lot to talk about. I almost revisited “Riddles in the Dark” for the next post, but I think I’ve said everything I have to say about that one.  (3)

Since I am trying to understand Bilbo now, rather than Gollum, I am looking at the journey through Mirkwood. Do stay tuned! (4)

Notes

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Sourcerer’s Eleven: Questions for Author Joshua Robertson

Welcome to round three of Sourcerer’s Eleven. An interview series where contributors within the site get a shot in the big chair. The Instigator-In-Chief, Gene’o interviewed Luther Siler, who then put me through my paces, so now it’s my turn *rubs hands together*. In the hot seat today is Joshua Robertson, author of Melkorka (Book 1: Thrice Nine Legends), and A Midwinter Sellsword (Book 1: Hawkhurst Saga).

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  1. You recently released Gladiators and Thieves, book two of the Hawkhurst Saga. Can you tell us a little about that series and how it came about?

You will have to forgive me if I momentarily nerd rage. The story of Hawkhurst was never intended to be in my collection of stories. Hawkhurst first began as a politically-themed RPG MUD (Roleplaying Game Multi-User Dimension) played through text on a web-based platform. I spent an entire weekend creating a complex city from the ground up – detailed with theological and political underpinnings – vibrant with unique shops, guilds, and NPCs. Unfortunately, the group of players only were able to engage in the game for a few weeks. I could not let the creation go to waste, so I started restructuring the themes of the plot into an engaging tale.

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The series is about Argus, the bastard child of House Madrin, who ran away from Hawkhurst years ago after being enslaved as a gladiator. Argus is tricked into returning to the underground city. He soon finds himself trapped and subjugated to the political games between the noble houses. In desperation, he is forced to trust old friends with hopes to escape again before anyone discovers his true identity.

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That’s a great origin story, and an extremely rewarding outlet for the nerd rage! For the plotters among us, it’s a dream come true – a whole platform with which to expand on. Those who know you, will be aware that you began crafting the world for your dark fantasy series Thrice Nice Legends in 1999. I really like the fact there’s a fan site for the series, and a TnL tabletop game. I’m going to leave the gaming element there for now. There are several contributors at Sourcerer who will be chomping at the bit to ask you questions so we’ll leave it for the thread!

  1. I had a great deal of fun on my visit into the world; Melkorka is a wonderful introduction to the series. I know the sequel Dyndaer will be released in January 2016. You’re also co-writing a standalone within the Thrice Nine Legends. How did that particular collaboration come about?    

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Ooo…there is a good question. You weren’t kidding about the hot seat! The TnL Game originated from a collaborative plan back in 2013, where my world was used as the primary setting. The game continues to be tweaked and play tested, but to answer your question – JC Boyd, the co-author to Anaerfell (the standalone novel) is also my partner in the TnL game. He and I developed an idea for a book in 2004 and Anaerfell is the final result of that original idea. Thrice Nine Legends will soon be better described as a shared universe (much like Dragonlance) with a series of stories taking place in the same world. Melkorka, Dyndaer, and the final book, Maharia (set to be released in 2017), will be a trilogy within The Kaelandur Series.

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  1. That is incredibly cool, it has to be said. I can see it now; novels, game accessories, films, audiobooks – a hugely exciting project in more ways than one! You recently set up your own company, a small press (Crimson Edge Publishing), specializing in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction, and Horror. That in itself takes considerable planning, not to mention the shared universe. What’s your secret when juggling all these projects (we can’t all have J.A.R.V.I.S) – is there a programme you use, a specific system, a container full of notes, an army of minions, how exactly do you keep everything straight?

That would be incredible. When I sell just one book, I’m like an 80s child discovering Q-Bert for the first time. If my stories ever made it to film, my mind would be blown! [And, I’d beg to be an actor in the movie.] As for keeping it straight, I wish I had something cool like JARVIS, but my budget only goes as far as sticky notes (the computer-widget kind). In all seriousness, I stick to a structured schedule for gym, writing, editing, publishing, marketing, family, and so on. I only deviate to fill the coffee pot.

  1. I have planners envy! I couldn’t stick to a schedule if it followed me around all day 🙂 I can totally appreciate the Q-Bert reference, and that feeling of excitement (though I was a Donkey Kong fan myself). But in all seriousness, when we writers dream, we tend to dream big…so I’m sure, if you don’t already have the full cast in your head, you have an idea of what your characters would look like on the screen. Do you have detailed character profiles, concept art, that kind of thing?

There have been several illustrators who have created rough concept art for Thrice Nine Legends, but there are no pictures of the characters found in the stories. I would be thrilled to have some fully framed, canvas images of the characters to hang up around my house. But, yes, I have files upon files of detailed character profiles. I have a short biography on each character that outlines their homeland, family and upbringing, major childhood events, adolescence and training, religion, romances, and motivations for the plot. The motivations are the most important! My kingdoms, cities, and other settlements are far more detailed than the characters, mirroring the same complexity as Hawkhurst. I have folders embedded in folders embedded in more folders that have been created over 15 years. However, despite all the information known about the world, a writer has to be clever in how the world is discovered with their characters. I once did a short interview on Building World and Story.

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  1. Thanks for providing a link to the interview. I enjoyed your views on the art of world building in fantasy, especially the section on inference. I also agree that a reader enjoys to learn with a character. We’ve established your admirable organisational skills (read the article, folks!) and it’s clear the worlds you create are as rich and diverse as our own. If you could bring one of your characters into this reality and teach them the ways of our particular universe, which one would you choose and why? Tell us about them – what job would they have and how would they adapt to their new surroundings?

I have to consider my main character, Branimir. He could not only use a little acculturation into the world of humans, but he would be the most appreciative of the experience. Branimir has a free spirit, rarely bound by any personal ambitions. He is extraordinarily blameless and kind, but he is also quite inquisitive. This would make him ideal in venturing through our world. I think his long life span and natural curiosity would set him up to be an archaeologist, a historian, or a world traveler.

  1. I loved spending time with Branimir, and as Melkorka was the first book of yours I read – I’ll probably always have a soft spot for him! We tend to be loyal to our firsts 🙂 And now I’m curious. Which fantasy character/s have stayed with you?

I would give most credit to Matrim Cauthon, who is a character in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Mat is a roguish guy who is all about women, gambling, and drinking! Today, I meet several folks that grew up with Harry Potter. Well, I grew up with this brazen kid from Emond’s Field and lived vicariously through him.

Other characters that have stuck are between fantasy and science fiction genres: Gandalf, Han Solo and Chewbacca, He-Man, Ender, and Spock. I know – some all-time favorites for many geeks in that line up. Beyond that, there are a handful of characters that I have played in Dungeons and Dragons for almost twenty years that are close to heart.

  1. I’d love to discuss some of those fine characters with you, but perhaps we’d better save it for the thread! Let’s bring it back to you. In terms of writing, what is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

That is an easy one, Melissa. Keep writing! There are many tidbits out there to help a writer hone his or her craft, but the number one thing that any author can do is to keep writing.

  1. I actually have that printed on a t-shirt (I kid you not!) Keep writing. It’s important – as is reading. It should be in the induction pack – well, if there were such a thing. Okay, so we’ve discovered a lot about you in terms of your work, your tastes, and how you approach certain projects. Now tell us something you’ve never revealed before – one thing you enjoy. I’m not talking deep, dark secrets here, just something we don’t yet know.

The only thing that comes to mind are random facts, like I always order a 5-layer bean burrito when I go Taco Bell or I’m one of the two members of my family tasked to be the ancestral historian (very enjoyable!).

  1. We don’t have Taco Bell in the UK so I’m not going to lie, I googled the 5-layer bean burrito because my curiosity got the better of me. It looks delicious! And I love researching my ancestors – those nice little surprises that always seem to end up in a story (very enjoyable indeed!). Are there any writers in your family tree? Artists? Gold miners?

I have yet to find any writers in the long history of my “family tree”; we have oodles of farmers. However, we make up for it in my immediate family. My older sister wrote stories when she was younger. My younger sister is currently working on her first novel. And, JC Boyd is not only my best friend and co-author, but he is also…[drum roll]…my younger brother.

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  1. That is beyond cool! It’s so great that you get to share the journey together. The following two questions are unique to Sourcerer’s Eleven, so – first up: Give us your best pitch elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your books?

Is there a restriction on the sentence length? Wait! Did that count as one?

There was a time when gods were gods and men were men. Before legends divided truth from untruth, love from hatred, or the righteous from the wicked, the world was nothing but a veil of myth and misconception. It is heroes who defied what it meant to be a man or a god, seeking a purpose for themselves and humanity. My stories are about those heroes and their legendary adventures.

  1. Sold! Though I didn’t need the pitch – I’ve already spent time in your fantasy world. Final question – If you could own one (and only one) piece out-of-this world technology or magical artefact, large or small – anything from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star — what would it be?

Besides the infamous Horn of Bubbles from DnD? 🙂 I choose the Ring of Gyges introduced to the world by Plato. The story explains that this ring gives the power of invisibility to its wearer. In addition, the owner may forever have whatever they touch as though it were their own. There is some speculation the tale of the Ring of Gyges was the inspiration behind Tolkien’s LOTR.

Thank you so much, Joshua. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you, and I look forward to the conversation in the thread – I know people will have plenty of follow up questions from this engaging interview.

Throwback Thursday: My Endless Tolkien Series, Part 13

– Originally posted at Part Time Monster as “Gollum Dies.”

This is the 13th in a long series about J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and the final post on Gollum. You can find previous installments of the series on my Tolkien page at Just Gene’O.

After his confrontation with Samwise outside Shelob’s Lair, Gollum is absent from the story for awhile. The hobbits survive several ordeals without his assistance and arrive at Mount Doom on March 25. By the time they reach the final leg of their journey, Frodo is so exhausted and the Ring is so heavy Sam is forced to carry him. As Sam is struggling up the steep path toward the Crack of Doom with Frodo in his arms, we learn that Gollum has managed to follow the hobbits across Mordor and has found an opportune vantage from which to ambush them. Gollum drops on them from above and attacks. (1)

By the time Sam recovers his feet, Gollum and Frodo are so entangled, Sam can do nothing but watch. Frodo finds the strength to fight, and Gollum has been weakened by the journey:

He [Frodo] fought back with a sudden fury that amazed Sam, and Gollum also. Even so things might have gone far otherwise, if Gollum himself had remained unchanged; but whatever dreadful paths, lonely and hungry and waterless, he had trodden, drive by a devouring desire and a terrible fear, they had left grievous marks on him. He was a lean, starved, haggard thing, all bones and tight-drawn sallow skin. A wild light flamed in his eyes, but his malice was no longer matched by his old griping strength. Frodo flung him off and rose up quivering. (2)

Frodo looms over Gollum, clasping the Ring, and we see its power manifested one last time:

” . . . Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than a shadow of a living thing . . . a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire . . .

‘Begone, and trouble me no more! if you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.’ (3)

Considering the way things play out in the next few pages, that last line has the ring of prophecy. I find it interesting that Frodo tells Gollum exactly what’s going to happen. I wonder if Frodo’s warning is an unwitting curse enabled by the power of the Ring.  After this confrontation, Frodo leaves Sam to deal with Gollum and continues toward the Crack of Doom.

Gollum does what he is wont do when he’s forced to deal with sword-brandishing Hobbits: He grovels and begs Sam to spare his life.

‘Don’t kill us,’ he wept . . . ‘ Let us live, yes, live just a little longer. Lost lost! We’re lost. And when Precious goes we’ll die, yes, die into dust.’ (4)

I wonder if this is true. It’s plausible to me that Gollum might actually be so transformed by the Ring at this point that he could literally crumble to dust were the Ring to be destroyed. We’ll never know, and have no way of judging whether Gollum actually believes it or not, but it’s an interesting idea. It makes the recovery of the Ring a matter of survival for him. Sam’s empathy overcomes his anger and his survival instinct here, and he allows Gollum to live. After Sam turns to go after Frodo, Gollum predictably follows.

Samwise catches up with his master at the Crack of Doom just as Frodo is overcome by the Ring, claims it as his own, and puts it on his finger. Before Sam can so much as utter a word, Gollum hits him from behind and he blacks out after the fall. I love that Sam goes unconscious here because this final confrontation between Frodo and Gollum is seen from Sam’s point of view and we have no idea how long he is unconscious. It could be a minute or 15, and we have no idea what’s done or said while Sam is out. It can’t be an extremely long time, though, because we learn in the next couple of paragraphs that Sauron is aware of the location of the Ring and the Nazgul are racing toward Mount Doom. (5)

Sam comes to his senses after a space break and sees Gollum struggling with the invisible Frodo right at the edge of the precipice above the fires of doom. Finally, Gollum bites off Frodo’s Ring finger and is so gleeful at recovering the Ring, he forgets where he’s standing.

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Throwback Thursday: My Endless Tolkien Series, part 12

Originally published at Part Time Monster as “Shelob’s Lair.”

This is the 12th in a series on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. You can find links to previous installments here.

The action of Book Four, the section of The Two Towers that covers the Hobbits’ journey toward Mordor, culminates in an encounter with the ancient spider-creature Shelob high in the Mountains of Shadow on the approach to the pass of Cirith Ungol. Shelob is not a creature of Sauron. She is more ancient than the realm of Mordor. She has supernatural abilities and is driven entirely by insatiable hunger. Shelob is oblivious to the Ring and the war. It is Gollum who precipitates this encounter, and the plot builds toward it practically from the moment Frodo and Sam capture him. (1)

After Gollum swears his oath to Frodo, he leads the hobbits through the Dead Marshes. This episode makes it clear that Gollum is still quite intelligent despite his corrupted state, and that he’s been this way before. He warns the hobbits not to look at the corpse-lights below the surface of the water, lest they be drawn in and become corpses themselves. (2)

On the fourth day of their travels together, just after the crossing of the marshes, Samwise awakes to find Gollum arguing with himself. This episode is an important turning point in the story. It shows us clearly for the first time that Smeagol and Gollum have diverged into two entirely separate personalities. Smeagol wishes to keep his promise and help Frodo. Gollum twists the words of Smeagol’s promise and urges him to find a way to take the Ring for himself, but both respect the fact that they are outnumbered by armed hobbits. This passage also contains the first reference to Shelob:

‘We wants it But’ — and here there was a long pause, as if a new thought had wakened. ‘Not yet, eh? She might help. She might, yes.’

‘No, no! Not that way,’ wailed Smeagol.

‘Yes! We wants it! We wants it!’

Each time that the second thought spoke, Gollum’s long hand cret out slowly, pawing towards Frodo, and then was drawn back with a jerk as Smeagol spoke again. (3)

Though we  don’t realize yet who “she” refers to, it’s clear that Gollum is hatching a plot. Smeagol is going to be hard-pressed to keep his promise. And if you look closely at this passage you will see that when Gollum is speaking, GollumFinalGollum has control of the body. Smeagol is barely containing Gollum.

The second hint we get comes in “The Forbidden Pool.” After the hobbits find the Black Gate too well-guarded to attempt, they turn south into Ithilien, a wild, unpopulated region of Gondor which has not yet fallen under the shadow of Mordor. There they encounter Faramir, brother of Boromir, leading a party of soliders from Gondor to ambush a regiment of Harad who are marching up from the south to join Sauron. Gollum eludes these men, but they make Frodo and Sam their “guests” for the night so Faramir can interrogate them and decide what to do with them. (4)

During the night, Gollum trespasses too closely to the men’s secret hideout. Frodo helps Faramir capture him to prevent the men from killing him outright. Gollum naturally reads this as betrayal on Frodo’s part, which only strains their already tenuous relationship. (5)

Faramir turns out to be a very discerning man. He eventually allows the three to continue their journey, but  warns Frodo to be wary of Gollum and counsels him against attempting the pass of Cirith Ungol:

But I do not think you are beholden to go to Cirith Ungol, of which he tells you less than he knows. That much I perceived clearly in his mind. Do not go to Cirith Ungol! . . . But there is some dark terror that dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul. If Cirith Ungol is named, old men and masters of lore will blanch and fall silent. (6)

This gives us more details and heightens the suspense. It raises the possibility that the “she” Gollum refers to in his argument with Smeagol is this unnamed horror even the wise will not speak of.

Despite Faramir’s warning, Frodo presses on because he sees no other way to enter the dark land without being captured. The pass of Cirith Ungol is the least-guarded way into Mordor, but it’s still quite treacherous. Reaching it requires four dangerous trials.

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