Christopher Tolkien, son and literary executor of J.R.R. Tolkien, died today at age 95. He was the very first “Middle-earth scholar,” having organized, edited and published many of his father’s works after his father’s death in 1973.
The Fellowship of the Readers
Regular readers of this blog know that reading aloud is a big thing in the Renaud Empire.
We have gone through many children’s books over the past couple years, including “The Hobbit” twice.
For quite some time I have harbored a secret desire to read aloud the Lord of the Rings. In my head, I figured it would still be a few years before I could try.
Occasionally the girls have asked me about the story, either because they have seen me reading the books, or something else prompted them. I knew they were curious. Jadzia especially likes to ask questions, and I always refused to answer her. “You’ll just have to wait until you/we read the story someday.”
Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I just had to read it. I figured I would start with the first chapter and see how it went. After all, the first chapter is close in tone to The Hobbit, and the girls loved The Hobbit.
And so began our LOTR odyssey. The audience is primarily Jadzia and Yoli. Ludi would stick around sometimes, but I think this is just too far above her right now, and she has no interest (although she loves the Hobbit and has been asking me to watch the old animated movie).
The hardest parts have been the travel scenes where there is no action. Jadzia can’t quite grasp all the environmental description. But when action or good dialogue comes, she is very interested. I think I had the hardest time keeping her concentration until we reached “At the Sign of the Prancing Pony.” From that point forward, she has been fairly engrossed.
Reading the scene where Frodo is attacked at Weathertop was really cool. I was really into it, and Jadzia was clearly gripped.
But I worried I might lose her in the “Council of Elrond.” It is a complex chapter with so many characters telling all sorts of stories. Some of the stories are current, some are tales of ages past. It’s actually one of my personal favorite chapters, but I knew it would be difficult for a kindergartner.
In fact, she made it through quite well. We took it slow, and I explained as best I could. Ultimately it was okay if she didn’t grasp it all. Her favorite bits were when characters from the Hobbit came back in — the dwarf Gloin, Bilbo, and the mention of Balin going to Moria.
I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised how much she remembered. I didn’t have to say, “Hey, do you remember Gloin?” I simply read the bit where Frodo talks with him at dinner, and Jadzia realized it herself. “Oh, it’s Gloin from The Hobbit!”
The past week we have been reading about the fellowship going south, trying and failing to go over the Redhorn Gate, and turning to Moria. Today we read much farther than I had expected. We finished up “A Journey in the Dark” and read all the way through “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum” in one sitting. Jadzia had been intent to find out what happened to Balin. Why had his messages to Dain stopped? (At least she remembered that from “Council”)
Of course she found out his fate (her own guess had been right) — and after a while she got a bigger shock: the fall of Gandalf.
Confession time: Two days ago I practiced reading the scene of Gandalf and the Balrog on the bridge. I guess it’s kind of like when I do public speaking. I wanted to be prepared.
And I think it did me good, because it was a really exciting session and Jadzia was pacing all over. Yoli had to call her to sit close by. She had no idea what would happen.
My concern was that Jadzia would be really sad or upset. She is very tender-hearted and cries easily when she’s watching movies with sad parts. But she didn’t break down. She understood Gandalf had fallen, but her first question was: “How will they get Gandalf back?” She is very good at predicting things in stories.
We’re 300+ pages in, but many more to go. I don’t have any big concerns until we reach Return of the King. The tone gets higher there and the Gondorian speech is really old-fashioned English. But we’re a long way from that point. I’m most excited to get to the end of The Two Towers, which has a great sort of cliffhanger that gripped me the first time I read it (only about 10-12 years ago).
Anyway, I suppose we’ll see how it goes from here on out.
My little hobbits
For Father’s Day, my daughters got me “The History of the Hobbit,” though neither of them probably knew that until after I opened the gift.
A memory slipping away
How is it that the war once known as “The Great War” has become the forgotten war?
Many disparate interests have gradually gotten me to think about World War I over the past few years. For example:
- Two of my favorite authors both fought in WWI: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
- John Becker, my triple-great-uncle, would have served in the Navy during the war, if he hadn’t been murdered.
- The city of Ferguson has a monument in January-Wabash Park to honor its citizens who seved in WWI.
Everything I’ve ever read indicates just how horrible a conflict it was. Tolkien fought in the Battle of the Somme and later caught trench fever. He admitted that some scenes in the “Lord of the Rings,” like the Dead Marshes, were drawn from his experince in northern France. The imagery of these scenes is vivid and repugnant. I can’t imagine how awful the real war must have been.
There is just one living American WWI verteran left: 107-year-old Frank Buckles. I learned this from a recent article in Newsweek, The War We Forgot.
When Buckles dies, another pivotal moment in American history will slip into the ether. Most folks probably wouldn’t realize it. We have no national monument to the veterans of WWI.
I don’t know what, if anything, can be done about it. But it’s something that weighs on my mind.