The Lord of the Rings • The Fellowship of the Ring | Book One

Nothing elaborate or fancy, just some storytelling thoughts on my re-read:

The plot proper — explicit conflict and character makes a choice that changes their situation — doesn’t begin until “Three Is Company” when Frodo, knowing about the Ring (“The Shadow of the Past”), chooses to travel to Rivendell. This is when the Black Riders first appear. 

On that note, the Black Riders serve as the connecting conflict or anatagonism of this part. They exist as a constant source of fear and anxiety which builds into Frodo’s wounding near Weathertop and eventual onslaught at the Ford of Bruinen.

I found it interesting how much set up there was: Bilbo leaving, Frodo inheriting Bag End, even the time between Frodo officially setting out and his decision to leave with Sam. There’s a seventeen years between “A Long-Expected Party” and “The Shadow of the Past” and that fascinates me. It fits the reader into the doings of Hobbiton and, to a lesser extent the Shire, through their gossip and interactions through the lens of Bilbo and his party. 

Additionally, there’s throughline of the Ring, which Bilbo had and passed to Frodo and which serves as the cause of the plot: Frodo’s leaving the Shire seventeen years later. Even more fascinating, is how the rumors about Bilbo are linked to the Ring — he gained both after he returned from his adventures (There and Back Again, if you will.)

While I can still see how Tom Bombadil is something of a detour, I like what his presence (and later mention) show. Namely, that the hobbits are NOT capable of dealing with malevolent forces which bear no influence of Sauron. If not for Tom, the hobbits would not have escaped the Old Forest or the Barrowdowns. It shows how safe(ly guarded) the Shire is. This is emphasized in Bree; the hobbits seem to attract trouble. 

Additionally, at the very end of this part, Frodo tells the Black Riders to go back to Mordor and leave him alone. But “Frodo had not the power of Bombadil” (209). What strikes me here is the contrast. Tom has the ability to command with his words; Frodo does not, but the parallel to Tom reminds of just that, the ability to use words to dismantle and dispel danger. Even though he’s wounded, Frodo resists in a way that he’s seen used before. It isn’t enough. But I thought it was an interesting detail that wouldn’t have been so striking if Tom had been cut from the story. Heck, even Strider and Glorfindel use words to ease Frodo’s wound. (Well, Strider uses words and athelas, but the point still stands, I think.) 

There was a diversity of poem formats, lots of songs and such. A few have struck with me, but it was enlightening to pay attention to them stylistically.

There were a lot of good quotes. I’d also like to (maybe) type up out when each character is introduced and the first time they speak. Just because I found the order and who and when interesting.

On that note, I’m struck with how direct and precise Tolkien’s language is. I like it. 

More to the point, the way that, while characters have reactions to situations and each other, there’s not a lot of character immersion. I know Sam doesn’t trust Strider because of how Sam talks and what the text tells me: “Sam frowned” (162) and “Sam was not daunted, and he still eyed Strider dubiously” (168). What I mean is, the reader doesn’t experience the story from any particular POV (though the feelings of the hobbits are definitely the viewpoint) and especially not from an immersed-in-said-characters’ experience of the story. That’s not to say the text doesn’t give the reader a sense of what the hobbits feel, because it does. Only it’s not, as I learned on a writing cruise, written in a way for the character to serve as an avatar for the reader in the world. But what’s really fascinating to me about this, is how it reminds me of fairy tales and epics and the Arabian Nights — characters are afraid, delighted, terrified, sorrowful, but it’s conveyed strongest in speech and action. 

On the note of speech, that ties back into Tom Bombadil—words and language are powerful business in Tolkien’s writing. Which, with him being a linguist, makes sense.

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    Writerly Notions: Worldbuilding & Copying

    I’ve realized why my writing often lacks a “spark”. Most of the writing sources I follow or consume (and how my mind interprets them) indicate that fantasy — culture, customs, history — are just copies of this world. And copies are just reflections. More to the point, it’s hard to believe a copy-world is real on its own terms. Which makes it hard, I’d wager, for others to believe in fantasy world that doesn’t feel real, that is only a copy.

    On one hand, I want to create real imagined fantasy, advice and convention tell me I have to copy. But if that’s all I have to do, why would I write at all? (If I wanted to do historical fantasy, that would be great, but I think I lean more toward imaginary fantasy. That is, fantasy that isn’t heavily historical.)

    Once I started trying to “get serious” about writing a lot of the spontaneous imagination dropped out. While research is necessity for good writing, if the initial groundwork is just trying to copy the exact replica that is (or might be) the inspiration for a fantasy culture, will that seem real?

    For me, a lot of rooted worldbuilding comes from percolating off nature and creating myth (the moon is a dragon’s eye, four bats created the world). Or if not nature, than fairy tales. And if not fairy tales, than just…ideas? (flurma birds that roost on the tips of crystal trees where fluff grows, whose plumage turns blue before they migrate)

    The trouble is figuring out  what this-world culture I’m inspired by and taking conscientious actions. Often with humans, I do know, but that’s in a copy-&-paste way, rather than deep roots. (Other than one or two fantasy human cultures.)

    Writerly Notions: Experts and Imagination

    So I was re-reading Histoire d’Aladdin ou la Lampe merveilleuse (as one does), and I was forcibly reminded that writers need to know what they’re writing about. If say, I write about a character baking a cake, I have to know what kind of cake they’re baking and, more importantly, I need to know how that cake would be baked. And that’s where experts and connections and all that is important. Knowing who to ask and getting input from people who know what they’re talking about. Experts.

    But what I think is interesting is that I couldn’t write:

    She baked a werthor from a bowl of leftover isluuma blossoms, dried up after last winter’s molt and stored by her grandmother. After all adding a dollop of yurna berry juice, with just the right thickness to keep the center stiff, she popped the feathery dough into the fire-orb, watching as it expanded into a firm round werthor.

    Because it’s not based on an actually recipe or method of baking.

    Worldbuilding

    Day 18: Feb 18

    History unfurls in knots of speciation and categorization, inspired by the myths of those who speak of each knot. It is their history, their ontology, their way of knowing and living in the world. But to one who lives outside the knots, how does one know what is the literal division of life, of species, of creatures? Or is the mysterious nexus, the uncertainty, where it is strongest in a story?

    [71]

    I have renewed these in lieu of the Refugee Ban in the USA. Inspired by the-cassandra-project and their Every Day Challenge, I am writing every day to raise money for the Urban Justice Center. You can donate here or please spread the word. Thank you.

    Ocean Ancestors

    Day 13: Feb 13

    Tales of the past — sometimes the recent past, if she’s honest — curl across the floor, dainty, almost fanciful words, so wondrous and unbelievable that they seem capable of cracking under the slightest inspection. But they are true; she knows so. She has lived part of this recent, unbelievable story herself. Though it is the older stories, the ones interwoven like flashes of silver on the sea among the recent one, that keeps her attentive: astounding voyagers across the vast ocean, colony and kingdom founders, dropping words and letters on their journey. They were the first to understand the sea and what lay beneath. A tiny silver glimmer flashes inside her; she is glad they play a part, however miniscule, in her story, too.

    [123]

    I have renewed these in lieu of the Refugee Ban in the USA. Inspired by the-cassandra-project and their Every Day Challenge, I am writing every day to raise money for the Urban Justice Center. You can donate here or please spread the word. Thank you.

    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

    by Lewis Carroll

    “‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
    ‘Oh, you ca’n’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
    ‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
    ‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here'” (74).

    This was a very odd book. But that might be expected. Although what stood out to me the most was its mix of absurdity and order. Or to be more precise, how distinct (and tyrannical) Wonderland politics were.

    For one, the cards are designated by role:

    “First came soldiers carrying clubs…next the ten courtiers: these were ornamented all over with diamonds… After these came the royal children: there were ten of them, and the little dears came jumping merrily along, hand in hand, in couples: they were ornamented with hearts” (92).

    The impression I get from this is that there’s a hierarchy in the card suits: spades are gardens (if the picture is anything to go on), clubs are warriors and soldiers, diamonds are courtiers or nobility, and hearts are royalty. That indicates that there is actual structure to Wonderland. Even if its laws, justice, and punishment are illogical.

    I think that’s what makes it so interesting from a worldbuilding point of view (which may not have been an aspect that was on Carroll’s mind when he wrote it.)

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    The Horse and His Boy | Customs

    from The Chronicles of Narnia

    by C. S. Lewis

    “‘When this news was brought to me the sun appeared dark in my eyes, and I laid on my bed and wept for a day. But on the second day I rose up and washed my face and caused my mare Hwin to be saddled'” (Lewis, 36).

    I happened to find this on my bookshelf while organizing my piles of writing into binders and read it over the weekend. Of the seven books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia, this has always been my favorite. Which is probably why it’s the only one I have with full color illustrations (and which was the specific edition that I read).

    The story takes place during “the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and two sisters were King and Queens under him” (3). How this happened and who they are is explained in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and their reign (the Golden Age) mentioned.

    My main question while reading it was: why did I like it so much, or what made it likable to me? What, if anything, made it stand out against the other Narnian books?

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