Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reading Tolkien

Some wonderful articles celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit have appeared here and there. To quote from The Wall Street Journal:
One of the most consistently underappreciated elements of "The Hobbit" is Tolkien's use of poetry and song throughout the book. Most readers skim over the poems or even skip them outright, but those who do miss out on some of Tolkien's most compelling literary moments. The songs in "The Hobbit" aren't merely verses embedded in the story; they are carefully designed to capture the voices and illustrate the attitudes of their singers.

The simple chant of the goblins when they first capture Bilbo and the dwarves, for instance, gives readers stark insight into their outlook on life in the first few short lines: "Clap! Snap! the black crack! / Grip, grab! Pinch, nab!" The harsh, explosive consonants and the action-focused, verb-heavy monosyllables instantly immerse us in the hard, violent world of the goblins, who take pleasure in acts of cruelty. The dwarves' song in Bilbo's kitchen—in which they cheerfully threaten to "Chip the glasses and crack the plates!"—sounds similar, but the relative complexity of the dwarves' phrasing and poetic lines demonstrate their comparative mildness. Readers easily grasp the domesticity of their (merely humorous) threats. The wood-elves also sing a monosyllabic song as they watch their barrels roll into the river, but their soft liquid consonants ("roll-roll-rolling down the hole!") and their enjoyment of amusing sounds ("Heave ho! Splash plump!") show that their simple pleasures are as innocent as the goblins' are cruel. Tolkien's poetry enriches and complements not only the plot of the story but the development of his fictional world.

"The Hobbit" is a brilliantly constructed story, unfolding themes that remain all too relevant to the modern world: the nature of evil, the significance of human choice, the corrupting power of greed and the ease with which good people can be drawn into destructive conflict. There is plenty there to entertain children—and even more to draw in adults. (Read entire article.)
For further reading:

The Influence of J.R.R. Tolkien on Popular Culture

Running Widdershins Round Middle Earth: Why Teaching Tolkien Matters



No comments: