Tag Archives: Peter Jackson

I Love Dwarves: a recap

PublicDomain-Pictures.com

PublicDomain-Pictures.com

In anticipation of Peter Jackson’s second “Hobbit” film, I thought I would pull together some quotes from my series on the Khazâd for those who don’t want to suffer through reading the whole thing. High-Fantasy Dwarves have, and probably always will have, a bad rap that I do not think they deserve. The equation seems to go something like this:

Ugly = unimportant

What a great message for us. Instead of delving into the complexity  that Tolkien eventually created for his Dwarves, the film industry settles for the stereotype that everyone expects, believing that almost no one cares. The unspoken consensus seems to be that, regardless of who we are and what we contribute to the world,  it is our appearance that matters most.

What is it, in human nature, that makes us reluctant to be interested in someone who is, on the surface, unlovely? We preach against judging people by appearances, and yet we do it, often without realizing what we are doing.

Anyway, enough internal examination for one day. If you are curious about my full reasons for loving Tolkien’s Dwarves, scroll to the bottom and take on the full series. Otherwise, I hope you find these excepts interesting.

In some ways, the Khazâd are very like the caves in which they dwell. I find that both are often misunderstood and dismissed as unlovely… The Dwarves, like their underground homes, seem one thing from an outside perspective, but have quite a different character when one delves deeper. They remind me of geodes. On the surface they are hard, rough and unlovely. Within at least some of them (or more likely most of them) there is astounding beauty. If you do not believe me, take a closer look at Gimli in The Lord of the Rings (the books, not the films. Gimli’s character in the films just represents the stereotype most people expect from fantasy Dwarves).

Many readers of Tolkien’s scribblings see the hard surface of the Dwarves and look no deeper. They do not realize the world of imagination they are missing. They cast a geode aside, assuming that something so plain and rough could not possibly harbor anything extraordinary within. The other races of Arda often do the same.

Tolkien’s words suggest a people who, while rugged and shielded in other regards, are hyper-sensitive when it comes to the properties and beauties of the inanimate part of Arda.

From the outside, fascination with the material can look a lot like materialism. Now, some Dwarves from Tolkien’s writing are avaricious and materialistic. There is no denying that. After all, love of matter can become materialism if taken too far. But I believe there is a pure and healthy love of the physical that is not possessive, or hedonistic, or materialistic, and I believe that love is an underlying theme in the character of the Khazâd… It is a short step from loving creation, to wishing to create.

In my recent delving into Tolkien’s work, I kept a record of the objects and places shaped by the Dwarves. I have chosen a few to mention. Some you may know. Some might surprise you.

Angrist: the knife Beren used to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown

Narsil: Sword of the Númenórean kings, broken in cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s hand,  later to become Andúril

Menegroth:  a cooperative effort of Dwarves and Elves

“The pillars of Meneroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers.” – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Nauglamír:

“It was a carcanet of gold, and set therin were gems uncounted from Valinor; but it had a power within it so that it rested lightly on its wearer as a strand of flax, and whatsoever neck it clasped it sat always with grace and loveliness.”  – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

This is a people who hang “flowering stars” on silver necklaces, create “metal wrought like fishes’ mail,” carve stone halls like beech forests, and treasure natural beauty deeply. The pop-culture ideas of elf-craft are probably closer to Tolkien’s idea of Dwarven works than the chunky and rigid images we always see. Not that there isn’t a place for stereotypical Dwarf-architecture. I like that too.

In many “fantasy” books, films, and games, Dwarves are either comic relief; gruff, warlike side-characters; or else the “Big Guy” of the story.  Because the clichés have roots in Tolkien, some assume that Tolkien wrote according to these pop-culture images. His Khazâd are not pretty or dashing enough to garner much attention, and so their subtle complexity is overlooked. In contrast, his equally-complex Elves have gotten so much attention that many people are sick of them, which is also sad.

The Khazâd are secretive. They do not teach their language to others and their true names are never written or told to outsiders. That’s right, we only have nicknames for the Dwarves! It may not help their relationships outside their own people, but I find the secretive aspect of Dwarven society mysterious. I like a little mystery.

The Khazâd are passionate beneath the surface. Cliché Dwarves seem to have three settings: wrathful, dour or rollicking. Tolkien’s writing gives a more balanced picture. His Dwarves show a full emotional range expressed in subtle, sometimes elegant, ways.

Far from the stereotypical “angry Dwarf shout of grief and rage!” that we get in the films, this is Gimli’s reaction on finding Balin’s tomb in Moria:

“Gimli cast his hood over his face.”

And when time came to escape:

“Gimli had to be dragged away by Legolas: in spite of the peril he lingered by Balin’s tomb with his head bowed.”

He breaks my heart, then gives it back to me whole and makes me smile:

“Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram… and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon.” – The Fellowship of the Ring

Music and song are mentioned repeatedly in relation to the Khazâd. And this from a people in exile whose story, like that of Arda itself, is one of devastating loss and victories that come at great cost. But the Dwarves are resilient, using their outward toughness to protect the gems beneath. Gimli makes me cry and laugh, and his whole race makes me smile.

Original series of Khazâd posts:

Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


Rewriting Tolkien

There are allowances to be made for adaptations. One cannot translate a story from one medium to another with absolute fidelity, and sometimes changes are necessary. Some changes even improve how the story is expressed in the new form. I easily accepted most of the changes made for Peter Jackson’s original “Lord of the Rings” films because the tone and overall theme matched well with the books, and for the most part the plot, characters and places seemed like themselves. There were, of course, a few things that bothered me, but they did not overpower what I felt was right about the films.

Then came the first Hobbit movie. The beginning thrilled me. It seemed to have its own flavor, and one that meshed well with the book on which it was based. As the movie progressed, however, it moved farther and farther away from the source material, not only in plot, but in feel. Some changes I could forgive as easily as I did with LotR, but the gestalt was disappointing.

Today, I watched the trailer for The Desolation of Smaug. Before I say more, take the time to watch it yourself.

It is beautiful, and it resembles Tolkien’s The Hobbit as much as I resemble a pumpkin. I know I take Tolkien too seriously, but his writing is one of my greatest literary pleasures, and I was hoping to have the joy of a good adaptation of Bilbo’s story on top of what I feel was a good adaptation of Lord of the Rings.

It is time, now, to lay that hope to rest. “Lay her i’ the earth: And from her fair and unpolluted flesh May violets spring!” -Hamlet, Act V scene 1


Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On

This post is the end of a series. Find the earlier installments here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation

I’ve tried to wrangle this post down to something (possibly) reasonable. I hope you have enjoyed the series and that the Khazâd, if they haven’t before, now spark your curiosity and imagination.

Stereotypes, pernicious over-simplifications based on seeds of truth covered with lies, are as pervasive in our literary worlds as they are in the world we inhabit. I will spare you a full rant, but one of my objects in life is to smash the boxes we form around each-other that prevent us from truly seeing our fellows. If I could do it with an axe, I would. Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!

The more time J. R. R. Tolkien spends with a character or a race, the more stereotypes fade. It is ironic that numerous clichés have arisen from the reading and subsequent glossing-over of his work.  It makes me wonder how many people actually read him. My intent is to highlight often-overlooked aspects of Tolkien’s Dwarves and break down some of the popular clichés. However, there is always a danger of creating new ones, and that is just as bad. I dislike even “positive” stereotypes because they insulate us from seeing.

Therefore, assume Tolkien wrote exceptions to everything I say about the Khazâd. They are not all alike.

In many “fantasy” books, films, and games, Dwarves are either comic relief; gruff, warlike side-characters; or else the “Big Guy” of the story.  Because the clichés have roots in Tolkien, some assume that Tolkien wrote according to these pop-culture images. His Khazâd are not pretty or dashing enough to garner much attention, and so their subtle complexity is overlooked. In contrast, his equally-complex Elves have gotten so much attention that many people are sick of them, which is also sad.

The seeds at the heart of “Tolkienesque”  Dwarves can be found in Tolkien’s work. He, however, does not take the acorn for the oak, and neither should we.

The Khazâd, like all of Tolkien’s races, have their cultural weaknesses. I share many of these, which adds sympathy to my other reasons for loving them. Excessive pride is probably the cause of their worst moments (Thorin, anyone?). This is not surprising for a people whom the elves call “Naugrim,” meaning “Stunted People,” and who face attitudes such as this:

…Caranthir was haughty and scarce concealed his scorn for the unloveliness of the Naugrim, and his people followed their lord. Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

While the scorn of others doesn’t excuse pride, it helps explain the defensiveness of many Dwarves. They are also stubborn. The Silmarillion states that Aulë made them stubborn in defiance of the Enemy. It stands them in good stead, but it also gets between them and those who would be their friends were they more yielding.

…they were made…  to resist most steadfastly any domination. Though they could be slain or broken, they could not be reduced to shadows enslaved to another will… All the more did Sauron hate… and desire to dispossess them.” -Appendix A

Though it was sometimes destructive in other ways, I love that the stubborn nature of the Dwarves kept them from coming under the dominion of Sauron.

The greedy Dwarf is a stereotype all it’s own, isn’t it? Perhaps Tolkien understood that fierce love of the beauty of the world, though good in its way, leaves the heart vulnerable. I certainly find it so in myself.  It is a difficult balance to love without coveting; to be in the world and not of it. Like the Dwarves, sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. But I am very fond of this quote of Galadriel’s from The Fellowship of the Ring:

Let none say again that Dwarves are grasping and ungracious!

There is evidence throughout Tolkien’s scribbles that Dwarves are not as greedy as they are painted by the other races. For the sake of length, I will have to let you find it on your own.

The Khazâd are secretive. They do not teach their language to others and their true names are never written or told to outsiders. That’s right, we only have nicknames for the Dwarves! It may not help their relationships outside their own people, but I find the secretive aspect of Dwarven society mysterious. I like a little mystery.

Like their weaknesses, the strengths of the Dwarves are usually blown out of proportion or, if they do not fit cleanly into the clichés, forgotten. Loyalty is common in stock-fantasy Dwarves, but it is also very present in Tolkien’s representation. This resonates deeply with me. I believe friendship should be fast (in the archaic sense) and enduring. Love and promises should bind. The Khazâd, in general, seem to agree with me. This, however, ties in with an aspect of Dwarves often completely ignored: romantic love.

Because they are not beautiful, Dwarves in love seems off-putting to many. Even Tolkien says little on the subject. According to the Appendix A, only about a third of Dwarves are women (how are they not extinct?). Not all Dwarf women desire marriage, and neither do all Dwarf men (which is good, given the discrepancy in numbers!). But when they do marry, they take only one wife or husband in a lifetime. It is said that often a Dwarf woman, on failing to win the heart she desires, “will have no other.” I expect the same is true for Dwarf men. This suggests that when they do love it is with a passion similar to their craftsmanship: a powerful, single-minded, and loyal love.

The Khazâd are passionate beneath the surface. Cliché Dwarves seem to have three settings: wrathful, dour or rollicking. Tolkien’s writing gives a more balanced picture. His Dwarves show a full emotional range expressed in subtle, sometimes elegant, ways. Elegant Dwarves!

Far from the stereotypical “angry Dwarf shout of grief and rage!” that we get in the films, this is Gimli’s reaction on finding Balin’s tomb in Moria:

Gimli cast his hood over his face.

And when time came to escape:

Gimli had to be dragged away by Legolas: in spite of the peril he lingered by Balin’s tomb with his head bowed.

He breaks my heart, then gives it back to me whole and makes me smile:

“Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram… and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon.” – The Fellowship of the Ring 

I will not quote his interactions with Galadriel, but any who have read the books will know them.

As I have said in earlier posts, the Dwarves have a passion for beauty and for craftsmanship. They are creative as well as industrious. This is a people who hang “flowering stars” on silver necklaces, create “metal wrought like fishes’ mail,” carve stone halls like beech forests, and treasure natural beauty deeply. The pop-culture ideas of elf-craft are probably closer to Tolkien’s idea of Dwarven works than the chunky and rigid images we always see. Not that there isn’t a place for stereotypical Dwarf-architecture. I like that too.

Tolkien and the clichés seem to agree that the Dwarves are strong. Tolkien’s Dwarves, at their best, have not only physical power and toughness, but deep roots to weather storms.

Last of all the eastern force to stand firm were the Dwarves of Belegost… And but for them Glaurung and his brood would have withered all that was left of the Noldor. But the Naugrim made a circle about him when he assailed them, and even his mighty armour was not full proof against the blows of their great axes; and when in his rage Glaurung turned and struck down Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost, and crawled over him, with his last stroke Azaghâl drove a knife into his belly, and so wounded him that he fled the field, and the beasts of Angband in dismay followed after him. Then the Dwarves raised up the body of Azaghâl and bore it away; and with slow steps they walked behind singing a dirge in deep voices, as it were a funeral pomp in their country, and gave no heed more to their foes; and none dared to stay them. ” Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 20

Wisdom is more associated with the Elves in Tolkien’s tales, but I think the Dwarves have their share. Here is what the surviving Dwarves have to say to Thráin when, after the battle against the orcs of Moria, he claims victory and wishes to reclaim Khazâd-dûm.

Durin’s Heir you may be, but even with one eye you should see clearer. We fought this war for vengeance, and vengeance we have taken. But it is not sweet. If this is victory, then our hands are too small to hold it. -Appendix A

That does not sound like the impulsive behavior so often portrayed in Dwarf stereotypes. I am tired of Dwarves being fools. Gimli, in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, shows less than half the intelligence and wisdom of the same character from the books. But the Khazâd are an intelligent race:

…the Dwarves were swift to learn, and indeed were more willing to learn the Elven-tongue than to teach their own to those of alien race. – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Apart from some of the silliness in The Hobbit, I do not recall Dwarves doing stupid things, or having sub-par intelligence.

Thankfully, (for I dearly love to laugh) the Dwarves have their humor and joy as well. Thorin is probably the most “serious” Dwarf we meet (unless one counts Mîm), and the rest like to joke and laugh when they can. The plate-breaking song in the beginning of The Hobbit is an excellent example. There is a difference, though, between having a gift for humor and being comic relief.

Music and song are mentioned repeatedly in relation to the Khazâd. And this from a people in exile whose story, like that of Arda itself, is one of devastating loss and victories that come at great cost. But the Dwarves are resilient, using their outward toughness to protect the gems beneath. Gimli makes me cry and laugh, and his whole race makes me smile.

And finally, I give you an amateur reading of Gimli’s chant within Moria: My favorite of the verses in The Lord of the Rings.


Khazâd Part III: Creation

Photo by Jubilare

Photo by Jubilare

Ever since I was a child the three dimensions, our perception of them, and our ability to change things within them have fascinated me. Texture, shape, matter, color, shadow, highlight, space, distance! And that is only where the realm of the physical touches two of our five senses.

Stop. Right now.

Wipe your mind of all that you take for granted and try to understand how bizarre and wondrous the material world really is. Consider the possibility that nothing has to be, yet here it is. Think about the space between you and the nearest object and try to feel how strange your perception of that space, and that object would be if your senses had only been awakened this moment.

If you haven’t tried this before, it may be hard at first. We’ve been swimming in the physical from our earliest memories. We are so used to this that anything else would seem strange and exciting to us, but we are capable of realizing how awe-inspiring this world is.

Think about the things you see every day. Your bed, a blanket, a cup of water, a tree with texture so meticulously detailed that it stretches from a forest to the atoms of its inmost ring. Your own body, even with its flaws, so knit together that you live and move, with cells constantly dying and being reborn. How shadows change a surface, and light can make things glow.

Photo by Jubilare. Often it is the simple things that awe.

Photo by Jubilare. Often it is the simple things that awe.

If you think about this too long and too deeply, it can overwhelm you.

It’s best to find a balance where you neither take the physical for granted, nor allow yourself to be overcome by the incomprehensible vastness and detail of it all. I think it is good for us to pause and run our hand over a desk, or breathe in winter air, taking time to feel, taste, smell. So many gifts are wasted on us when we don’t pay attention.

You may be wondering what this has to do with J. R. R. Tolkien’s Dwarves.

I think (and yes, I may be projecting) that the Dwarves, in general, share my instinctual wonder of the world. Tolkien’s words suggest a people who, while rugged and shielded in other regards, are hyper-sensitive when it comes to the properties and beauties of the inanimate part of Arda. Even though they lack my passion for trees and plants, they appreciate them enough to use them as common themes in their works.

From the outside, fascination with the material can look a lot like materialism. Now, some Dwarves from Tolkien’s writing are avaricious and materialistic. There is no denying that. After all, love of matter can become materialism if taken too far. But I believe there is a pure and healthy love of the physical that is not possessive, or hedonistic, or materialistic, and I believe that love is an underlying theme in the character of the Khazâd.

My theory is supported by one of the Dwarves’ most well-known traits.  It is a short step from loving creation, to wishing to create. I find myself compelled, through my awe of matter, to shape small pieces of my world. This is why I identify so strongly with the Dwarven love of craftsmanship.

In the Silmarillion it is clear Aulë and Melkor have a great measure of Eru’s creative spirit.  In Melkor’s case, that spirit becomes grasping and possessive, but Aulë remains free and generous. Even in his clandestine making of the Dwarves his actions stem from a desire to share the wonders of Arda, his knowledge, and joy in existence.

Whether the creative nature of the Dwarves comes from Aulë or from the spirits bestowed on them by Eru, there is no doubt that they posses it. Throughout Tolkien’s work we see the intense and sensitive appreciation for beauty in the Dwarves. None of the other industrial or quasi-industrial races have this eye for beauty or the smoldering desire to carefully enhance it.

Ultimately, the Dwarves are lovers of nature and that love manifests in their works. Many of their number even abandon all other pursuits, devoting themselves to their craft with monk-like singleness of mind.  They are industrious, both from a practical standpoint and from a creative one. It boggles my mind that this focused creativity is sometimes perceived as prosaic and even dull. But then I suppose the makers of illuminated manuscripts of ages past are sometimes seen in a similar light by modern society. Have we lost some of our ability to appreciate that kind of focus?

In my recent delving into Tolkien’s work, I kept a record of the objects and places shaped by the Dwarves. I have chosen a few to mention. Some you may know. Some might surprise you.

Angrist: the knife Beren used to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown

Narsil: Sword of the Númenórean kings, broken in cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s hand,  later to become Andúril

Menegroth:  a cooperative effort of Dwarves and Elves

The pillars of Meneroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers. – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Nauglamír:

It was a carcanet of gold, and set therin were gems uncounted from Valinor; but it had a power within it so that it rested lightly on its wearer as a strand of flax, and whatsoever neck it clasped it sat always with grace and loveliness.  – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

Dale:

You should see  the waterways of Dale, Frodo, and the fountains, and the pools! You should see the stone-paved roads of many colours! And the halls and cavernous streets under the earth with arches carved like trees; and the terraces and towers upon the Mountain’s sides!  -Many Meetings, The Fellowship of the Ring

And that is just a smattering. Pay attention as you read and you will find more. I would love to step into these stories, if only briefly, to see and perhaps touch some of the marvels Tolkien imagined.

Last, and perhaps most telling of the hearts and minds of the Khazâd, I mention their own idea of what lies in store for them.  According to the Silmarillion, they believe that when Arda is remade they will work side by side with Aulë in the reshaping of the world. Imagine the beauty and wonder, care, imagination, focus, and labor involved in such a feat. I am glad Tolkien included such a beautiful legend in his tales of Middle Earth.

We are near the end of my ramblings on this subject. I will have worn it, and myself out, I think, but hopefully I will have achieved my goal. One post left.

For the rest of the series, look here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On

Photo by Jubilare. Water showing how to carve a rock.

Photo by Jubilare. Water showing how to carve a rock.


Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World

If you are claustrophobic, remind yourself that you are free in the open air where you may appreciate, from afar, beauty that you never need see in person.

PublicDomain-Pictures.com

PublicDomain-Pictures.com

The Dwarves of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Arda are closely associated with the caves of their world. If you delve into the Silmarillion, you will find that they (the caverns as well as the Dwarves) were originally shaped from stone by Aulë of the Valar.

In some ways, the Khazâd are very like the caves in which they dwell. I find that both are often misunderstood and dismissed as unlovely. Now, I am a lover of nature; of forests, flora and fauna. I can understand that, from a cursory look, caves seem dark, cold, dull, and confining to people who share my love of sunlight and living things. However, one only has to take a closer look and the subterranean world becomes a place of overwhelming wonder and beautiful fascination.

If you do not already know what I mean, follow these links to the National Geographic website and browse the photographs of caves.

The Dwarves, like their underground homes, seem one thing from an outside perspective, but have quite a different character when one delves deeper. They remind me of geodes. On the surface they are hard, rough and unlovely. Within at least some of them (or more likely most of them) there is astounding beauty. If you do not believe me, take a closer look at Gimli in The Lord of the Rings (the books, not the films. Gimli’s character in the films just represents the stereotype most people expect from fantasy Dwarves). He is, after all, the Dwarf we come to know best and we witness more of what is precious in him than in any of his kin.

It is said, in the Silmarillion, that “since they were to come in the days of the power of Melkor, Aulë made the Dwarves strong to endure. Therefore they are stone-hard, stubborn, fast in friendship and in enmity, and they suffer toil and hunger and hurt of body more hardily than all other speaking peoples; and they live long, far beyond the span of men, yet not forever.”

This is the rough, tough crust of the Dwarven geode and gives us insight into why all their strength and hardness is apparent, while their beauty is hidden. This is what we see most often as we read Tolkien’s writings. Dwarves in battle, hewing their enemies with axes, Dwarves being insular and secretive, or pragmatic or greedy and most of all, stubborn.

There is good rock here. This country has tough bones… Give me a year and a hundred of my kin and I would make this a place that armies would break upon like water. -Helm’s Deep, The Two Towers

The above is Gimli, and an example of the kind of talk most people seem to expect from Dwarves. But see, this too is Gimli:

…when the torches are kindled and men walk on the sandy floors under the echoing domes… gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls; and the light glows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel. There are columns of white and saffron and dawn-rose… fluted and twisted into dreamlike forms; they spring up from many-coloured floors to meet the glistening pendants of the roof: wings, ropes, curtains fine as frozen clouds; spears, banners, pinnacles of suspended palaces! Still lakes mirror them: a glimmering world looks up from dark pools covered with clear glass; cities such as the mind of Durin could scarce have imagined in his sleep, stretch on through avenues and pillared courts, on into the dark recesses where no light can come. And plink! A silver drop falls, and the round wrinkles in the glass make all the towers bend and waver like weeds and corals in a grotto of the sea. Then evening comes: they fade and twinkle out; the torches pass on into another chamber, and another dream. There is chamber after chamber, Legolas; hall opening out of hall, dome after dome, stair beyond stair; and still the winding paths lead on into the mountains’ heart. … Happy was the chance that drove me there! It makes me weep to leave them.

Strange to see such different speeches from the same character… or is it? When characters, and with them fictional races, are people rather than stereotypes, then it becomes possible for them to be this complex. And if you think that Gimli, being a Dwarf, is too biased towards subterranean beauty to be a reliable witness, here is the reaction of Legolas, the Wood Elf, after seeing Aglarond in The Return of the King:

…he was silent, and would say only that Gimli alone could find fit words to speak of them. ‘And never before has a Dwarf claimed a victory over and Elf in a contest of words,’…

Tolkien gives us only pieces of the subterranean glories of Middle Earth, with the above being, as far as I am aware, his longest description. But if Arda’s caves are anything like the world we live in then the Dwarves are in love with cathedral halls stone forests, underwater chambersliving ghosts, minerals waiting to flash or glow, skies with living stars, natural murals, tunnels, rivers, artistic colors, stone lace, smooth “pearls” and infinitely more.

Now, the underground of Arda is not a safe or gentle place. It harbors ugliness, fear and death as well as great beauty. As Gandalf says in The Two Towers, “The world is gnawed by nameless things… but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.” Just as the woods of Arda hold beauty, ugliness and terror, so do the Deeps. The Dwarves have need of their rough exterior to survive in such places. Yet they are often well-rewarded for their endurance, and I do not simply mean by wealth. Too often are the Dwarves charged with valuing only gold, jewels and mithril. Gimli speaks of how he expects his people to react to Aglarond in The Two Towers:

None of Durin’s race would mine those caves for stone or ore, not if diamonds and gold could be got there. Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the spring-time for firewood? We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them. With cautious skill, tap by tap-a small chip of rock and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day-so we could work, and as the years went by, we should open up new ways, and display far chambers that are still dark, glimpsed only as a void beyond fissures in the rock. … We should make lights, such lamps as once shone in Khazad-dûm; and when we wished we would drive away the night that has lain there since the hills were made; and when we desired rest, we would let the night return.

Could a people with such feelings possibly be prosaic or ultimately materialistic? I think not. No.

Yet, how often are they represented as such? Many readers of Tolkien’s scribblings see the hard surface of the Dwarves and look no deeper. They do not realize the world of imagination they are missing. They cast a geode aside, assuming that something so plain and rough could not possibly harbor anything extraordinary within. The other races of Arda often do the same.

And yes, I am well aware that I have dived into the deep end of the nerd pool. Onwards! Next on the list is my take on the Dwarven drive to create.

For the rest of the series, look here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


All About the Tuning

How does this make you feel? :)

Time for rambling on an extended metaphor.

George MacDonald once wrote: “If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it.”

He has certainly stirred my soul to music many times, yet I know there are those in which he only strikes a discord. Does this mean they have no music in them?

I think not. It is all about the tuning.

I came to this metaphor while driving one night and I have been turning it over in my mind ever since. The existence of the phrase “strike a chord” tells me that I am only now catching on to an idea that has existed for centuries, if not millennia. I wonder if the thought occurred to the first human ever to play an instrument.

Literature, music, art and people are often associated with this kind of melody and discord in the soul, but it is every experience that plays on us. Places, smells, colors, and even noises in nature and the world around us create “sound” in this way. Unlike instruments, however, humans are not passive in this process. It is here that the metaphor breaks down, though not completely.

It would be senseless to argue that I can only react a certain way to something because of my predisposition. I do not speak of simply changing my mind, as that can be a subconscious process or be based on a change in circumstances which changes my tuning (an my tuning changes ceaselessly).  I am speaking of awareness of my reactions. The music or discord retains its instinctual nature, but it does not rule me.

Why does the scent of reindeer lichen stir my soul to depths of joy? Why does the sight of corrugated steel make me a little ill? The reasons, or even understanding that there are reasons, give me power to explore my own feelings and avoid being hurt or judgmental when the feelings of others contradict my own. This also allows me to hold an opinion that is not based on my feelings. This kind of understanding seems often to be missing from many current political arenas and social conversations. I am not a relativist, but I do believe that attempting to understand the “other” point of view is vital for civilized discourse.

How this ties into storytelling:

What resonates with people in a story has a marked instinctual quality. The persistence of cliches, archetypes and tropes is a symptom of this. Tropes would not exist if they did not play certain chords on a segment of people and this makes them handy tools in storytelling, but tools that require careful use. But that is a post for another time. :)

Details, description and theme are also powerful influences on a reader. My personal philosophy of writing, at present, demands that I balance effect on the audience with my own preferences, while the integrity of the story itself trumps both. I have very little control over  what chords I strike in an individual, as authors I read have little control over my reactions to their work. That is something that every writer should accept for the sake of sanity. No matter how good a job we do in writing, some people are not going to like what we create.

In speaking with the inspiring blogger BeKindRewrite, I realized that the musical metaphor has some bearing on my reaction to beloved books turned into films. I have discovered that the key, for me, is tone. One cannot expect a film and a book to strike exactly the same chords in a person. However, differing details between the works may be acceptable if the tone of the film is similar to that of the book.

Examples:

“Lord of the Rings” trilogy: Peter Jackson’s film interpretation of the story differs from the books in many respects. He changes characters, plot devices, and lines, sometimes to good effect and sometime to bad. So why do I like the films as an interpretation of the novels? I resonate in much the same way when I read one of Tolkien’s sweeping scenes and when Jackson pans in on Meadowseld with the strings-heavy Rohan theme playing. The same is true of the new “Tintin” movie, the “Princess Bride,” and the 1995 film “Persuasion.”

Then there are the films that strike a very different chord in me from the books on which they are based. It does not follow that they are bad films or that I dislike them (though some I dislike very much). Examples of this include the new “Sherlock Holmes” films, the 2005 “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the 2005 “Pride and Prejudice,” and horror of horrors, the 1978 “Watership Down.”

I have rambled all over the place with this idea, and could ramble still farther, but I think I should draw to a close. I have come to a two-fold conclusion in this exploration:

1. An awareness of the music and discord within us all can make me more tolerant of the opinions of others. I may still have views regarding the quality of an artistic work, but I can easily accept and respect the fact that what makes music in one person, may make dissonance in another without the need to devalue the opinion of one.

2. To anyone who transfers a work from one art form into another: Heed the tone. If you can get that right, you are more than halfway to your goal.


Tintin

I plan to ramble here. You have fair warning.

I seem to be one of relatively few U.S. citizens who grew up on Tintin. Not the tv series, but the books. For some reason, Tintin didn’t sweep this country as he did many others.

I never have been sure what it is about the stories that draws me in. Hergé somehow created adventures that were, on the surface, dead simple, unapologetically ridiculous, and addictive. He had a gift, and he worked very hard to share it. His gift comforted and inspired people during some of the darkest times in recent history, and continues to do so decades later. But if I wax too serious about Hergé’s work I will do it an injustice. It mocks my seriousness.

Papoose Snowy mocks my seriousness

Papoose Snowy mocks my seriousness

My brother and I used to joke that Tintin has a force-field just beneath his skin because bullets only ever graze him. My friend D, looking over my shoulder on occasion as I have been re-reading some of the books, commented on the fact that he gets hit over the head several times per story and yet he is not brain-dead. Though a pipsqueak, he has a killer punch and knows his way around firearms. He can operate any car, plane, boat, helicopter, tank, motorcycle or moon-rocket and seems to possess unlimited wealth. He sticks to his ethics, is often clever, always wins in the end, and his only vices are an intermittent lack of foresight, and being a nosy-parker.

In short, he is a Mary Sue.  I look at this list and I am amazed that I don’t hate Tintin.

But the fact is, I like him. Haddock and Snowy are my favorites, but the Great Ginger Detective is, without challenge, my favorite bland character of all time. I enjoy seeing him dash through his adventures and I am acutely aware that without him, the other characters would be whirling balls of plotless chaos. I can just see the tragic Adventure of Haddock and Snowy in the Distillery of Doom, and Calculus leading Thompson and Thomson off a cliff like a pair of lemmings.

Serious Captain is serious

Serious Captain is serious

Many stories have a bland central character, an eye of the storm that carries the plot forward, binds the more interesting characters together and acts as a blank screen onto which readers can project their own imaginations. Usually these characters annoy me or I am indifferent to them. So what is different about Tintin? Perhaps it is that Hergé refuses to take his main protagonist too seriously. Tintin is daring one moment, noble the next, and falls flat on his face a panel or two later.

But what I think is most disarming about Tintin is the honesty of his existence. He is a vehicle for the child-like desire for adventure and Hergé knew that and embraced it. Without that, Tintin would set my teeth on edge. With it, I laugh in delight when he takes control of a helicopter, or snaps an enemy’s rifle barrel with a single shot. Apparently, for me, honesty and humor are keys to making a Mary Sue acceptable.

There have been recent developments in the Tintin universe.

DUN Dun dun...

DUN Dun dun…

When I heard that Spielberg and Jackson were collaborating on a Tintin movie, I was worried. I had much the same fears when I heard of the making of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films. I wondered, once, how film could do justice to Tolkien and I found myself wondering the same of Hergé’s work. There was a different challenge to creating a Tintin film, too. With LotR, Jackson was up against the imagination of Tolkien’s readers. For the most part, I feel that he met that challenge. With Tintin, he and Spielberg were up against deceptively simplistic and dynamic art that has been iconic for decades.

When I saw the trailers to the new Tintin film, I was even more worried. The animation style looked weird, and the humor just off enough that it might grate on me.

I am happy to say, though, that I thoroughly enjoyed “the Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn”. The credits at the beginning showed me that the directors and animators had paid attention. They translated the energetic poses of the comics into motion with panache. The mannerisms of the cast were right, their voices did not irritate me and the mix of fast-paced adventure, silly humor and coshing people on the head were right out of the books.

Purists will complain, but oh well. I complained about details from Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings,” but I love the films anyway and own the extended versions. I have a suspicion that there will be an extended version of  “the Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn” (they need to explain that tank…) and if so, that will one day grace my shelf of films as well.

There are a few things that were not quite right, in my opinion. Something was off about the twins, or maybe I should say that something was more off than usual about them. The captain’s eyes were a bit too piggy. The tank… And I have to wonder what they are going to do in the sequel as they’ve already used the plot twist from the third book. These are all very minor, though, and as with Lord of the Rings, the changes made to the plot all seemed reasonable if not necessary.

I hope that Jackson and Spielberg will do as fine a job on the next one

Iconoclast!… troglodyte!… fresh-water pirate!… slubberdegullion!… mountebank!… nyctalope!… steam-roller!… sea-gherkin!… cannibal! (Seriously, we could learn so much about “swearing” from the good captain and vastly improve our vocabularies all the while.)


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