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By Singing Light

Pretty much everything here originally appeared at my actual blog: By Singing Light. I particularly focus on upper middle-grade and young adult books. I also enjoy adult genre books, especially speculative fiction.

Currently reading

The Lost Tools of Learning and the Mind of the Maker
Dorothy L. Sayers
The Seventh Bride
T. Kingfisher
Hope in the Dark
Rebecca Solnit
Outrun the Moon
Stacey Lee
Midnight Thief
Livia Blackburne
The White Hart
Nancy Springer
The Great Wall Of Lucy Wu
Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Jim C. Hines
Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics
Sarah Gristwood
The Two Towers - J.R.R. Tolkien [Reading notes? A possible new feature I’m trying. Less formal than an actual review and more specific. We’ll see if it lasts. Since it’s more me blathering on than anything else, don’t necessarily expect anything sensible.:]

"The red rim of the sun rose over the shoulders of the dark land. Before them in the West the world lay still, formless and grey; but even as they looked, the shadows of night melted, the colours of the waking earth returned; green flowed over the wide meads of Rohan; the white mists shimmered in the water-vales; and far off to the left, thirty leagues or more, blue and purple stood the White Mountains, rising into peaks of jet, tipped with glimmering snows, flushed with the rose of morning." p. 15

Look, I know people make fun of Tolkien's prose style all the time, but you have admit that passage is pretty dang awesome. The word-picture it paints is so amazingly vivid and gorgeous.

"'How shall a man judge what to do in such times?'
'As he ever has judged,' said Aragorn. 'Good and evil have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.'" p. 33

Last time I talked a bit about how Tolkien feels oddly modern in places, but here is one the places which seems to very definitely reject any kind of relativist morality.

"As they [Merry and Pippin:] walked they compared notes, talking lightly in hobbit-fashion of the things that had happened since their capture. No listener would have guessed from their words that they had suffered cruelly, and had been in dire peril, going without hope towards torment and death; or that even now, as they knew well, they had little chance of ever finding friend or safety again." p. 59

This was interesting for the insight it gave me into hobbits and their tendencies. I get impatient with hobbits sometimes because they just seem so entirely oblivious. Maybe that oblivion is a kind of cultural choice not to dwell on darkness (obviously compounded by the fact that Nothing Bad Ever Happens in the Shire). I don't know.

"'Who calls you hobbits, though? That does not sound elvish to me. Elves made all the old words: they began it.'
'Nobody else calls us hobbits; we call ourselves that,' said Pippin." p. 66

And then there's this little bit of dialogue between Treebeard and Pippin, which a) once again shows the hobbits as a people outside of the great songs and stories (sort of) and b) seems to me to catch at something of the gap between old and new kinds of thinking.

"For one thing, it would take a long while: my name [Treebeard's:] is growing all the time, and I've lived a very long, long time, so my name is like a story. Real names tel you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say." p. 66

This passage is partly noteworthy simply for the fact that Tolkien didn't put in a comma when he could have (after Entish). But really, I just love the idea that names tell stories.

"Do not risk getting entangled in the woods of Laurelindorenan! That is what the Elves used to call it, but now they make the name shorter: Lothlorien they call it. Perhaps they are right: maybe it is fading, not growing. Land of the Valley of Singing Gold, that was it, once upon a time. Now it is the Dreamflower." p. 68

There's this very strong theme of things being lost or diminishing, especially in regards to the Elves. It came up several times when we were in Lothlorien and Rivendell and here we have it again--the recognition of the passing of an Age. And the tragedy of it is that the passing will come inevitably--whether the war against Sauron is won or lost.

"But Trolls are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves." p. 91

The idea that Sauron and the other baddies cannot create is an important one which occurs in different places. It fits in quite nicely with Tolkien's idea of mythopoeia.

"'Of course, it is likely enough, my friends,' he [Treebeard:] said slowly, 'likely enough that we are going to our doom: the last march of the Ents. But if we stayed at home and did nothing, doom would find us anyway, sooner or later. That thought has long been growing in our hearts: and that is why we are marching now. It was not a hasty resolve. Now at least the last march of the Ents may be worth a song." p. 92

This is one of the places where I was struck by the huge difference in pacing between the book and the movie. Here we have the Ents marching on Isengard on page 92. In the movie, it's the climax of that plotline and comes at the end of the movie. Of course, as I remember, TTT the book goes much further into the story that the movie does. It's also a function of the fact that, unlike Peter Jackson, Tolkien recognized that sometimes some people will just choose to do the right thing without all of this "will they or won't they" stuff. (When we get to Faramir there will be rants. I'm just warning everyone in advance.)

"'Dangerous!' cried Gandalf. 'And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord. And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli son of Gloin; for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion." p. 108

This is an interesting point: that the dangerousness of a place or being is not necessarily related to their goodness or badness. It also helps to underscore the fact that Sauron and Gandalf (and Saruman) are actually of the same group (Maiar) and have a lot more in common than we tend to think.

"The trumpets sounded. The horses reared and neighed. Spear clashed on shield. Then the king raised his hand, and with a rush like the sudden onset of a great wind the last host of Rohan rode thundering into the West.
Far over the plain Eowyn saw the glitter of their spears, as she stood still, alone before the doors of the silent house." p. 139

Look, I know Tolkien takes a lot of flak these days for his female characters (or lack thereof) and I'm not entirely disagreeing. However, there are moments where I think he shows more awareness than people sometimes give him credit for. This is one of them--after this long scene building to the climax of the riding of the host, we have Eowyn alone. The picture is, in my opinion, very keenly sensitive to the sorrow of those left behind.

Gimli's long speech about the caves under Helm's Deep, which is way too long to transcribe here. I love that in a few moments--when he's talking about Galadriel, for instance--we get this incredibly poetic side to Gimli. (PETER JACKSON! Gimli is NOT the comic relief! *shakes fist*)

"But Saruman had slowly shaped it [Isengard:] to his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived--for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom, and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor; so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child's model or a slave's flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dur, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival, and laughed at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength." p. 175

Okay, first let me say how amazing long sentences like that can be if used properly and sparingly (as here). They create this sense of rising tension, building and building until the end. Second, this goes back to the idea of what is actually created and what is simply an echo or a mockery. Evil, for Tolkien, cannot create--it can only echo and echo again.

You can read part two here.