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The Hobbit: Riddles in the Dark – The Lost Version (2001) (ringgame.net)
152 points by sohkamyung on Dec 23, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 94 comments

It's rather a surreal artifact of Tolkien's writing process. He began his book as a direct sequel to The Hobbit, and chose Gollum's ring as the macguffin to drive the plot. As the story evolved, the ring became The Ring, at which point some of the original story didn't actually work any more.

He could simply have chosen a different macguffin, but Tolkien had a weird way of fixating on things that he'd already written. It's almost scientific: you explore the space of stories, and whatever hangs together consistently must be "true".

He solved that not by deprecating the original book, but by rewriting it, and then including a preface in The Lord of the Rings about how the original book was Bilbo's self-promoting propaganda.

This is emblematic of his work. He kept re-writing and re-writing to find something that felt "true". Which is partly why he never really settled on anything. He kept assigning characters different names, and then assigning some names to other characters until they fit. In the early Hobbit, Thorin was called "Gandalf", which makes it a hell of a thing to read. (And the wizard was named "Bladorthin". Which is almost as bad as "Bingo Bolger-Baggins", the original name of Frodo. Or "Trotter", the original Strider, a Hobbit with wooden feet...)

Given that The Hobbit was not actually intended to be connected directly to his Middle-earth works except retroactively, and that The Silmarillion was not published until after his death (with significant editing, because he kept re-writing it until it was no longer compatible with The Lord of the Rings), in a sense there is only one truly "canonical" Middle-earth book: The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien was not only an extraordinary genius, but we have an incredible collection of his draft works to see how his genius worked. I can't think of any other author whose process is simultaneously so remarkable and so well-documented.

The Hobbit edits here make a lot of sense in the bigger picture, though. Given what we later learn about the Ring, there's NO WAY Gollum would wager it as a 'present' in a riddle game... And if he somehow did, he would cheat like hell to keep it, despite all the 'ancient tradition' around the Riddle Game.

The edit is great; it solves the continuity problem in a really creative way. Making the old version into Bilbo's self-serving rationalization is an excellent bit of meta-fiction, further reinforcing the seductive power of the Ring.

> He could simply have chosen a different macguffin, but Tolkien had a weird way of fixating on things that he'd already written.

Tolkien pulled much from older myths, of which Tolkien was a leading scholar. The Ring as a driving force (and its power and the consequences of that power) was not an invention of Tolkien's; Tolkien didn't get the idea from the Hobbit. Wagner famously used it in the 19th century, and likely myths, on which Wagner also relied, preceded Wagner.

I think your description is a common process of many (most? almost all?) artists and creative workers. Creation is not making things in a first draft out of whole cloth. You don't know where you are going or what will work. It's not unlike a startup in that respect (please let's not get carried away with our frame of reference): you have some great ideas and talent; you develop it, often in unanticipate directions; and eventually you find an application for them - sometimes completely unanticipated, even from a side project.

> He began his book as a direct sequel to The Hobbit

Where does Tolkien describe that?

> Where does Tolkien describe that?

It's discussed extensively in History of the Lord of the Rings. The sequel was originally intended to have a tone as light as The Hobbit (which somewhat excuses his original "Bingo" Baggins). Tolkien had no idea where he was going when he started writing; he just knew he wanted to start with a party and somewhere include an off-hand story involving Tom Bombadil. He eventually decides that the protagonist (Bilbo/Frodo/Bingo/whoever) will go to Rivendell.

He wrote a few chapters with all this in mind, still in a light tone. He went back to rewrite some things and he decides to add a passage where Frodo hides to surprise/scare Gandalf, who is coming down the road on his horse. Tolkien writes the part where Gandalf stops and starts sniffing, probably intending for Gandalf to ruin the surprise.

But then, with no known explanation, he scratches out Gandalf and writes "black rider" (or something close to that). In the margin he writes "who is the black rider?". He then pauses his rewrite so he can ponder who this new character is. This starts him down the new, darker, path that leads to the Ring and Sauron. The sniffing rider eventually becomes a Nazgul. Fascinating stuff!

That's an important point: Tom Bombadil was another character that Tolkien had already created, independent of both the Middle-earth stuff and The Hobbit.

His inclusion in the book is awkward and people have tons of questions about it because it doesn't really fit. Tom Bombadil is more of a nursery-rhyme character, and would have fit better into a Hobbit sequel than what became The Lord of the Rings.

His continued inclusion reflects the way Tolkien was loath to give up an idea once he'd written it, leading to a chapter that is at once incredibly evocative and maddeningly uninformative.

Wow. I always was flummoxed by the first part of the story, especially by the fox thinking about hobbits sleeping under a tree. It just feels to be out of place in the book. An echo of The Hobbit. But if the real story of LOTR started later it becomes clearer.

Interesting —- personally, I love the shift in tone as the story develops, and thought it fit perfectly. A very strong recurring theme in the story is the distinction between happy, carefree hobbits; comfortable in the Shire and ignorant and oblivious to the world around them; and the vastness of that world and the dangers it poses to their way of life. The tone of the story follows the hobbits’ perspective on its events, and shifts dramatically as their mindsets change: as the hobbits travel further from the Shire and get better acquainted with the world at large, we get to experience the change in perspective alongside them.

We start with the cheerful birthday party in the Shire, and Frodo’s departure — written in a similar tone to The Hobbit as Frodo considers himself to be retracing Bilbo’s steps and beginning an adventure of his own. It starts to get darker and more dangerous (but still with Tom Bombadil around to save the day, at least at first); and once the hobbits leave the Shire they suddenly no longer feel safe or in control. By the time we get to Rivendell it’s clear that the hobbits are way out of their league, and that the plot is way bigger than just Frodo and his friends. And as the story develops, and the hobbits split up and become involved in the war from different areas of Middle-earth, this change in perspective continues and the tone continually gets grander and darker. It’s like a “zoom-out” effect that starts at the birthday party as a carefree fairy-tale and culminates at the destruction of the Ring as a massive, high-stakes epic fantasy.

It’s interesting (and totally makes sense to me) that the story developed this way in Tolkien’s mind too; and I think it’s clever that he decided to make it a part of the story rather than rewriting everything to have a “consistent” tone. I think it makes it a lot easier to follow the story and a lot easier to get to know the characters than if it had started like RoTK from page one.

You can see the change clearly when the hobbits come back at the end of the book.

They left as comfortable town people, scared of the world and in need of help; they return as veteran adventurers capable of dispatching the local evil on their own.

His biographer says that Allen & Unwin (his publishers) asked for "a new Hobbit book". The earliest drafts are about a second adventure for Bilbo -- he had run out of money and needed a new treasure fetch-quest.

You can read the early drafts in book 6 of the History of Middle-earth, and watch as "the tale grew in the telling". They start with Bilbo, then the protagonist changes name and identity as the concept fills out. He made it as far as Bree in a very Hobbit-esque style before scrapping it all and rewriting it in the more adult LotR style.

(He later tried to re-write The Hobbit in that LotR style, but it was dreadfully boring and he gave up after a few chapters.)

> His biographer says that Allen & Unwin (his publishers) asked for "a new Hobbit book".

I wonder what the publisher's thoughts were about Tolkien's response: 'How about a six book, three volume epic, not suitable for much of the same audience (children), in essentially a new genre, with almost all new characters?'

Much like movies today, if the sequel comes out long enough after the original, and you want to target the SAME people, you go from children/YA to adult.

For example there was a 17-year gap between The Hobbit and LOTR's first two books.

Great point. Interestingly, JK Rowling didn't do that.

She did try. She just didn't handle it very well.

Indeed, I always saw it as a direct descendant of the Ring of Gyges.

> Given that The Hobbit was not actually intended to be connected directly to his Middle-earth works except retroactively

In the first version of the book I read, there was an offhand mention that a Took ancestor had married a "Fairy" (or Fae). It was never discussed in the book again and I found that later versions had it charged to "Elf".

I always supposed that this was another bit left over from the time where the Hobbit was its own universe - at least I never heard any mention of Fairies living in Middle-Earth.

Edit: Of course maybe a wiser choice might have been to leave it in - and present it as a sign that there are still a lot of unexplored corners in Middle-Earth and even after reading all the books, we don't know all about it.

I think the modern pressure to have a "canon" which explains absolutely everything that goes on in the world can lead to sterile and unbelievable worlds as well if a worldbuilder gives in too much.

Tolkien originally used the term Fairy (as in Fae) to mean elf - but he changed the name without changing the concept; he felt the term elf was closer and fairy had too much “baggage” from Shakespeare and friends.

I wonder how he’d feel known Ing that his concepts of orc and elf and dwarves now dominate fantasy

Tolkien also kept using the word "Gnome" to refer to a particularly high-class subset of the Elves. That, too, reads very strangely, because it puts me in mind of garden gnomes. I have no frame to think of the most beautiful Elves -- including Elrond and Galadriel -- as "gnomes".

He eventually gave up on that and used "Noldor", a term he'd been kicking around for a while in various contexts. That's much more comfortable, but he kept using "gnome" way longer than seemed reasonable.

> Tolkien also kept using the word "Gnome" to refer to a particularly high-class subset of the Elves.

What do you mean by "high-class" here? Do you mean they're Calaquendi, or are you saying they were esteemed greater than the other houses?

The Gnomes were Calaquendi, who answered the call of the Valar (angels/gods) to come see the Light of the Two Trees in the West.

The Vanyar (also Calaquendi) were probably "higher" than the Gnomes, but they were never seen in Middle-earth again. We learn very little about them, and I don't think they're even passingly alluded to in The Lord of the Rings. Some of the Gnomes returned to Middle-earth, so they outrank everybody who never left.

He renamed the Gnomes "Noldor", and most of The Silmarillion is about them (and the Men who hung out with them). They came back to Middle-earth to retrieve the Silmarils, which had been stolen by Morgoth (the Big Bad of the First Age, and Sauron's boss).

Galadriel is one of the very few we meet who were part of that go-and-return trip. It was a nasty business, and that's why her turning down the Ring and returning to the West was such a big deal. (Though she wasn't part of the story at the time they were called Gnomes, and she had to be retroactively inserted into it. He never did finalize that story, and we're left with a conflicting mess of unpublished stories.)

IIRC Galadriel is the noblest Noldor[1] left in Middle Earth at the time of the war of the rings.

All children of Feanor (the main contingent of the Noldor) are dead by the end if the first age).

The few Noldor that outranked Galadriel left by the end if the second era after the last alliance of men and elves and the war with Sauron.

[1] which I think is also half Teleri.

> All children of Feanor (the main contingent of the Noldor)

This makes it sound like most Noldor were children of Feanor or that most of them followed Feanor and his sons, but that's not the case. The sons of Feanor and their followers were first to Middle-Earth - is that what you mean by 'main'? It's stated a few times that there weren't as many of them. The Noldor were an entire people, and most were neither Feanor's children nor followers of his children. (They were technically all under Feanor as high king of the Noldor for a time, though.) This is from the Silmarillion, describing their travel through Valinor on the way to Middle-Earth:

> Fëanor and his following were in the van, but the greater host came behind under Fingolfin; and he marched against his wisdom, because Fingon his son so urged him

and then after those who didn't follow Feanor cross to Middle-Earth in the north, many die, but there are still more of them:

> for the agony of those that endured the crossing of the Ice had been great, and Fingolfin held the sons the accomplices of their father. Then there was peril of strife between the hosts; but grievous as were their losses upon the road, the people of Fingolfin and of Finrod son of Finarfin were still more numerous than the followers of Fëanor,

I did remember that the sons of Feanor and their people were the most numerous, but you are of course right.

> which I think is also half Teleri

Yes, Galadriel's father, Finarfin, was of the Noldor, and he married Earwen of Alqualonde, the daughter of Olwe, who was one of the two leaders of the Teleri.

I should have said "or are you saying they were esteemed greater than the other houses of the Amanyar?", as there were also Teleri and (as you said) Vanyar who came across the sundering sea.

Yes, as opposed to the Moriquendi.

So his gnomes were not of the, aehm, garden variety.

Before Tolkien, elves were much closer to gnomes than immortal, super-human creatures. They were mischievious, etc.

In the Magic the Gathering lore, the elves on the plane of Lorwyn could be an example of a reflection of this. They are obsessed with beauty and perfection and absolutely xenophobic. https://gamelore.fandom.com/wiki/Lorwyn_Elf

Pratchet’s elves are like that, too - and actually is part of the reason tolkien originally tried to avoid the world elves - not because of pratchet but because that was what elves were in England.

Tolkien didn't like how Shakespeare portrayed faeries in A Midsummer Nights Dream. But Shakespeare's faeries are much closer to the original folklore - they are mischievous and dangerous and wantonly play with humans leading to madness and disaster (for the humans).

Tolkiens Elves are more like superhumans - better, more beautiful, more heroic than ordinary men. They are more like how people in antiquity and premodern times thought of the ancient heroes and kings of the heroic age.

While much have been made of Tokiens fascination of Northern European folklore, his outlook is still pretty classicist and Return of the King is basically a fantasy about the re-establishment of the Roman Empire.

That's interesting. I think to a degree you can even see that shift inside Tolkien's works. In the Hobbit, the elves are actually portrayed as playful, mischievous and a bit fairy-like (in particular in the Rivendell chapter) whereas in LOTR they changed into graceful, deeply serious superhumans.

...of course it might also be that the elves in the "Silmarillion universe" i.e. today's Middle Earth were always like the latter, and the playful elves from the Hobbit where another glimpse from the hypothetical "standalone Hobbit universe" before the Hobbit got moved to Middle Earth.

His version of orc, elf, and dwarves are close enough to earlier versions it’s hard to say how much he changed vs these versions simply fitting a modern aesthetic.

Earlier dwarves vs Tolkien dwarves vs more modern examples don’t seem that different. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwarf_(folklore)#Norse_mytholo...

Elves are easier to argue but Santa workshop elves, Harry Potter elves, D&D elves, etc are all quite different.

One thing Tolkien never had was pointy ear elves - that crept in somehow and now it’s everywhere.

Large and sometimes pointy elf ears where a thing before he was born, but I don’t know where pointy thing really took off. I suspect it was mostly a way to draw larger ears without it being as comical.

1870: https://freevintageillustrations.com/enter-an-elf-in-search-...

He did say in a letter that Hobbits had pointy ears seemingly a nod to existing tradition, while elves had leaf shaped ears whatever that meant.

He also said Gandalf’s eyebrows stuck out past his broad rimmed hat so sometimes his descriptions are a bit poetical.


IIRC, "orc" is just the hobbit word for "goblin", so in the books there's no real difference between a goblin and an orc. Orcs as depicted in the LOTR movies and other modern fantasy works would be called "hobgoblins" by Tolkien, as they were goblin but the larger kind.

Also, while reading The Hobbit, I've always felt like goblins aren't the little pitiful creatures we imagine today, but are a bit taller and muscular, like smaller modern orcs with more human proportions. It's not based on any description Tolkien, it's just how I imagine those creatures through the way they are told.

Last but not least, in the Hobbit his dwarfs (as it's how it should be written, according to the author) were a bit more "cartoonish" than the idea we have of them today: they wore colored hoods (much like garden gnomes), one had a blue beard, it's not said that they wear armor (and it's logical to think they didn't)...

All in all, even though he greatly and directly influenced today's fantasy, it's not exactly his concepts of orcs and dwarfs, at least, that dominate fantasy, but rather the interpretation that some later artists had of his concepts.

I'm not a Tolkien expert, though, so if anyone knows better, I'd love to be corrected.

Dwarfs is the correct “english” but Tolkien felt the plural should be dwarves - he’d have preferred dwarrows but felt he couldn’t get away with it. https://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Dwarves

He did slip it in with Dwarrowdelf as the name for Moria.

The goblins in the Hobbit are clearly the smaller orcs “in a kids story” where the evil isn’t clearly described. The Lord of the Rings makes this pretty clear that they are “Mirkwood/Moria orcs”.

One thing that’s common is dwarves now apparently are all Scottish in movies and that didn’t come from Tolkien (if anything his dwarves would be Norse).

Perhaps because of this?


Oh, I wasn't aware of that. That's interesting to know!

> I think the modern pressure to have a "canon" which explains absolutely everything that goes on in the world can lead to sterile and unbelievable worlds as well if a worldbuilder gives in too much.

I agree with that. Leaving room for expansion, and mystery, feels like a more "real" world than one where everything has already been explored and done.

Fandoms sometimes put themselves into a corner, too, when they start making assumptions that all that can be said and done already has been. The Star Wars sequel series (episodes 7, 8, 9) come to mind. I think the majority of complaints came about because they dared to do something new to Star Wars. (Some of it was already hinted in the original films, too; as an example: Leia being force-sensitive)

> The Star Wars sequel series (episodes 7, 8, 9) come to mind. I think the majority of complaints came about because they dared to do something new to Star Wars.

(Warning, Star Wars rant follows)

Interesting to hear this direction of criticism.

My personal impression from watching The Force Awakens was the opposite: It felt like the movies where at the same time obligated to continue the story of the original trilogy (due to them being sequels) but at the same time not allowed to introduce any substantial new ideas.

That led to a very strange kind of "rhyming" history which really strained my suspension of disbelief:

Even though the Empire had been defeated and the Death Star blown up (twice), 20 years later somehow nothing noteworthy has happened except that a new Empire has sprung up - which looks and behaves exactly like the old one, has its own copies of Darth Vader and Darth Sidious and somehow can't think of anything better than building a third Death Star - which is promptly blown up again!

Same on the side of the good guys as well: Last time we saw them they were celebrating victory with flying colours, having freed the galaxy from the grip of evil, ready to usher in an exciting era of a nascent new galactic republic.

But sure, let's skip all that and fast-forward to a point where the good guys somehow ended up again as the scrappy underdogs, fighting against an overwhelming enemy. Nevermind even explaining what went wrong.

If the heroes do everything right, archive full victory - and still end up in the exact same place as they had started, I can't help but feel dreadful.

I'm sure the restrictions here didn't really have to do with canon: They were sequels, so strictly speaking there was no canon to respect, and the Extended Universe canon that did exist actually was a lot more daring and interesting than what the movie attempted. So my guess here is that the restrictive approach came from the producers who didn't want to risk their investment by trying out anything new.

> My personal impression from watching The Force Awakens was the opposite

Totally fair, it really is a remake of A New Hope. I think the same could be said of The Phantom Menace, for better and worse, but there is precedent in how to start a trilogy ;)

Episodes 8 and 9 do a lot more to stuff new ideas. Episode 8 still felt obliged to repeat the major plot points of 5 and 6 (I'll ding it for that), but once those were out of the way, the plot could really do its own thing.

> But sure, let's skip all that and fast-forward to a point where the good guys somehow ended up again as the scrappy underdogs, fighting against an overwhelming enemy. Nevermind even explaining what went wrong.

It's not the reading I came away with. The good guys won, set up the New Republic, became a bit too complacent. Despite Leia and others warning about the First Order faction springing up out of the ashes of the Empire, they weren't taken seriously. These are the resistance the films focus on.

The First Order showed that it was serious business by blowing up Coruscant, capital of the New Republic (as well as the Old Republic and the Galactic Empire).

> The First Order showed that it was serious business by blowing up Coruscant, capital of the New Republic (as well as the Old Republic and the Galactic Empire).

No, it's just comically bad writing. A city-planet that has existed for thousands of years is blown up by the remnants of the "evil empire" which was anihillated 20 years before?

Star Wars in general is pretty poorly written and always has been. It made sense for the first film to be so successful, it was pretty nice for 1977. But I don't get how people can become immersed in this as an extended universe; the worldbuilding is atrocious.

> The Star Wars sequel series (episodes 7, 8, 9) come to mind. I think the majority of complaints came about because they dared to do something new to Star Wars.

My takes:

VII — Lame soft-reboot story, typical so-lazy-that-it's-bad JJ plotting. Bad, but not so bad it's not salvageable if the next two are good.

VIII — Oh thank god, easily the best Star Wars movie since the original trilogy, might even be better than Jedi—oh, wait, everyone hates it? WTF?

IX — One of the biggest train wrecks of a movie I've ever seen with a budget anywhere near this large. Fascinatingly bad. I was quite entertained, but not because it was good. It was like a 7-year-old who loooooved the original trilogy wrote their own sequel, complete with messed-up pacing, nonsense plot beats, confusing geography, a bunch of stuff that goes nowhere, and bizarre mash-up action. It was a fun watch in a "laughing at it, not with it" sort of way, but a really bad movie.

"Doing new stuff" wasn't the problem. Biggest problem overall was probably that JJ shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a plot, ever. He can punch up dialog (if we must do the modern "quips, quips as far as you can see in every direction" writing, anyway, which apparently we do), direct, and definitely do casting. No touching the plot.

On the plus side, only one of them's bad enough that it should be ranked down with the prequel trilogy. But another's not very good, and the other's the middle entry, so hard to recommend when the other two aren't good.


What did you like about it? I honestly can’t think of anything that landed.

Story, narrative structure, and themes were a lot more interesting than maybe any other Star Wars film. The remixed Empire elements were much better- and more-thoughtfully-used (and more-subtly-) than VII's retelling of IV's plot. Despite including those elements, it took a lot more inspiration from the kinds of sources that went into the original Star Wars movie than the other two in its trilogy do, rather than leaning mostly on other Star Wars films and mainly including a kind of filtered-through-previous-Star-Wars version of those influences.

IMO its biggest flaw is that the climax goes so entirely counter to what been foreshadowed hard the entire film, and cuts off any of several directions that alternative-version of it might have gone that would have been much better as far as storytelling possibilities in IX. I mean the part where Kylo offers to partner with Rey and she flatly rejects it. Almost any other way for that to have gone would have been more interesting and fit better with the way the film had been heading—Rey makes the offer to Kylo but he rejects it in favor of a face-turn; Rey accepts it; Rey rejects it, but because she doesn't trust him and wants to take over herself (to "do it right", of course)—anything like that would have been better. It's either a weird miss for the writer, or studio meddling, I reckon—and I'd bet on the latter, because damn does the rest of the script feel like it's going that way, to the point that I was kinda dumbfounded when it did the most boring possible thing instead.


>Even if you are leftwing and watch the “movies” for their propagandistic value

In all seriousness, you should consider spending less time on the internet. Life is short.

Also IIRC Valinor is called "Faerie" at one point in The Hobbit.

as a matter of interest, where?

In the chapter "Flies and Spiders" it says the elves of Milkwood were amongst those that never went to "Faerie in the West"

So LOTR was written in iterations, and the Hobbit was patched after first released?

Sounds like a good framework for productivity.

It was released only because he was forced to by management.

Given Tolkien's druthers, he'd have kept it all in a private repository, working on branch after branch, cherry-picking changes strung like a Christmas tree.

What he really wanted to release was The Silmarillion, but they passed. It included a long but incomplete verse version of Beren and Luthien, which utterly baffled the readers. The publisher demanded a Hobbit sequel -- which already included a bunch of random stuff from The Silmarillion, but mostly just a few inconsistent fragments.

So he wrote The Lord of the Rings, and despite himself, managed to actually get it released. All the while he kept tinkering with his masterpiece, never releasing it at all. Some other developer (his son) finally cobbled something together after he died -- mostly by reverting to branches that were decades behind the HEAD.

He was very, very, very unproductive. But he sure made a lot of commits -- and then reverted them.

I think it's unfair to say he was unproductive.

Tolkien was an academic and didn't approach this in the same way a professional writer would today.

Agree, is almost as he was using TeX to write it.

But his product still sells, and has feed his family for a couple of generations. There is a lesson to learn about productivity here.

It's almost as if ... Tolkien were a painter painting a tree, but he kept painting and repainting his first leaf.

It is sort of funny. Historical myths and legends of were not controlled in the same sense that modern fiction is, so you had various sets of stories — King Arthur, Greek pantheon, etc, where the canon is really more of a suggestion. Events can be jumbled around to ignored, new characters can be introduced, the Lancelots of the whole thing stick around but some of their aspects are pulled forward or pushed back.

And then of course modern stories are generally single-source and totally controlled (other than comic books and that sort of thing).

And one of the major authors who sort of bridges the gap… his method seems to have been “well I’ll just run that whole historical process in my head, with the various characters and groups recording their legends and myths!”

> Historical myths and legends of were not controlled in the same sense that modern fiction is.

I think this point misses a bit of context - notably the contrast between oral and written literature. Many historical legends and folklore originated in some kind of oral context, which gives rise to a huge set of interconnected stories (and it's only later that we get some kind of "canonical" version of these stories, when someone writes down one of those oral performances). The oral performances of such stories necessitated some of the attributes you allude to. The characters and plotting are formulaic and interchangeable because that makes them easier to memorize; the details are sparse and interchangeable because that allows the bard to fill in details to fit the meter and appeal to the preferences of their audience.

> And then of course modern stories are generally single-source and totally controlled.

Tolkien was incredibly aware of this written/oral distinction, and this whole post is great evidence! Tolkien uses the way that oral storytelling functions as an in-world device to explain away a discrepancy between conflicting written versions of the same story. This ends up feeling incredibly satisfying because people intuitively understand the nature of oral folklore, as opposed to, say, George Lucas's endless revisions to Star Wars (which conflicts with the audience's desire for a single "canonical" version.)

That is the truly epic thing about his, uh, epics. He basically used his own evolution of thoughts as a parallel for the history of a culture -- all by a single person. The languages themselves evolved in his head, and he documented all of the versions as if they belonged to thousands of years of linguistic divergence.

Star Wars and Marvel still evoke debates about canonicity, but at least that's a bunch of authors taking things in their own directions. Tolkien achieved that kind of argument about canon all by himself.

It's actually ripe for fanfic, and why people really shouldn't get so up in arms about whether modern expansions of Middle-earth are in conflict with "canon". He explicitly called for "other hands and minds" to expand on his work. But what he achieved all by himself is so masterful that it's understandable that some want to think of it as a pristine canon unto itself.

I hadn't thought of it before, but cannon seems mostly to be a consequence of copyright. Places like SCP, which only vaguely use copyright, have a cannon that more closely resemble traditional mythmaking.

I have a pet theory that copyright is one of the reasons for toxic fandom. If you prefer earlier versions of Robin Hood where he's less overtly Catholic, then you are free to write your own version. On the other hand, if you are invested in Star Wars and don't like the way that Disney is taking it, then your only option is to do something like review bombing.

> “well I’ll just run that whole historical process in my head, with the various characters and groups recording their legends and myths!”

If only Tolkien had lived contemporaneously with Tarn Adams, they could have collaborated and done this algorithmically.

On the other hand, Tarn was clearly inspired by Tolkien. It is just the nature of humans, we can’t be contemporaries of all of those who inspire us. At some point our work must end, and our works become part of the foundation for the next generation.

Actually that could be a fun thing to play with. Imagine elves that live hundreds or thousands of years, but generally experience the world at the same rate as humans. They might have the same appetite for novelty and new ideas that we do; their culture might sort of “run” just as fast as ours. But when the next generation of artist comes up, their idols are still there, fully in their prime as competition.

Isn’t most fiction writing like this though? You just don’t get to see it because it’s not so interesting and you don’t generally have a person (tolkiens son) making editing leftovers their life’s work.

People edit, make major changes, names change, a minor detail in an early draft becomes a central plot point.

Neil Gaiman definitely talks about development of his work like this.

Tolkien seems to be particularly interested in having a body of his life’s work writing being consistent, but it’s not so out of line with how any fiction is written.

It’s wonderful, right? Being able to directly observe creativity and iteration in the story.

In the United States, the copyright on The Hobbit will last until 2033, 95 years after publication—but only the first edition. The second edition with the revised Gollum story was published in 1951, so it will remain copyrighted until 2047. Interestingly, this is still earlier than the first editions of The Lord of the Rings (which will expire in 2050 and 2051).

Tolkien died in 1973, so in life+50 countries, all of his works will expire in the same year, 2024—that is, unless the country chooses to extend by twenty years to life+70, as both Canada and New Zealand are doing next year.

Extending copyright seems antithetical to the whole purpose. If copyright is supposed to incentivize creative works, how does extending it after the fact do that? Doesn’t it have the opposite effect?

At this point, "incentivize creative works" is 99% ideological gloss. The long-running payments from copyrighted works are golden Rings of Power from the POV of the financial and legal industries - and those guys are far less neglectful and benevolent than Gollum was, to ever let go if they can possibly avoid it.

Disgraceful, what's even the point of putting pen to page when you're only gonna get a measly 95 years of ownership.

Life + 50 just doesn’t make any sense. A creative work doesn’t need to provide for your grandchildren in retirement quibbling in an estate trust about how to squeeze every last drop of blood from the stone.

If it was really so successful then save up some profits from when it was reasonably in your control and make a trust fund with that.

Can't wait to see multiple new media adaptions of LOTR when this happens. Though, I doubt it will. New Zealand's tourism industry, film industry, Amazon, etc will lobby pretty hard for an indefinite copyright.

This actually raises an interesting dilema, where the original books copyright ends earlier than the copyright of a film. Does this mean that new LOTR films are still in breach of New Line Cineams copyright over the films, despite them only buying the rights from the Tolkien estate? I wonder if there are any precedents here for movies derived from creative book fiction.

Just in time for Rings of Power Season 3

It's a beautiful example of the story (the "true account") bending to the gravity of desire.

(The ring is a desire singularity with 1000 gravities.)

That's a big deal. I mean, the story is basically everything to us. Our whole reality.

That the story is just a squishy thing that gets smashed around by desire is a very big important point. A shocking revelation.

In the context of LOTR, all the narrators are now untrustworthy.

Maybe things weren't so black and white.

I think that's the point that's getting underlined and belabored here.

Beware desire and its effects upon reality.

Also, LOTR is a history. History isn't what happened. It's a story about what happened. And it's a story written by the winners.

I think JRR Tolkien saw a lot of this in the war.

Glen Cook has an absolutely fantastic series called The Black Company where the entire series is framed as being the recorded annals of a mercenary company, with who is writing them switching occasionally between books to different characters, which let's you see the narrating character who usually writes them from a different, and sometimes less flattering, perspective.

In any case, unreliable narration is obviously a big of the series, and the concept that just because something is written down doesn't mean it happened that way is pretty central, and I think it's outright brought up by the narrator at least a few times, and reading between the lines/making inferences that don't line up exactly with what is recorded is pretty much necessary to understanding the plot of the series sometimes.

Cook also served for 10 years, not sure if he ever saw active combat but the series is constantly praised by veterans for it's accurate portrayal of what life in the military actually feels like.

.. and Roger Zelazany (Lord Of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness, Isle Of The Dead).. - have such distance feel of time, myths and world creation that I won't look for other worlds and tales, thanks them.

I don't see the Black Company brought up often, but it sure is a good read. I rank it akin to Malazan, though markedly different.

> In the context of LOTR, all the narrators are now untrustworthy.

I think that's a common misunderstanding of the 'untrustworthy narrator' concept. All narrators are untrustworthy, the question is not a binary one: 100% or not. The question is how trustworthy, and where and when can we trust this narrator?

Like real people, nobody is perfect - everyone tells >0 lies and >0 truth - but putting them all in the same basket is meaningless and aburd. Some are far more trustworthy than others.

Tolkien was very clear that knowledge had great power (Gandalf, for example) and that deception and untrustworthiness were works of the enemy, of evil. Bilbo's lie was driven by the Ring, the ultimate corrupting evil. The protagonists, including the hobbits, Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legalos, etc., were exceptionally trustworthy and took it very seriously; look at Sam's faithfulness to Frodo, for example. Boromir was depected as flawed, and ultimately broke trust and was corrupted by the Ring.

There is an alt history version of The Lord of the Rings written by a Russian author named Kirill Eskov called “The Last Ringbearer” and it is fantastic.

In it, Mordor and the Orcs are a science advanced nation and the southern countries are the aggressors. It’s a great “history is written by the victor” take on the mythos. I highly recommend checking it out.

While we're talking alternative LoTRs, it's worth having a look at The DM Of The Rings https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=612 which manages to use all stills from the LoTRs films and tell a completely different story, in the same vein as Darths and Droids https://www.darthsanddroids.net/episodes/0001.html .

Well I hate it.

Is history written by the victor? Maybe. But the lord of the rings is not intended to be read that way. I find it tiresome to have someone come out and say this nice fantasy story, that is not a hard deep dive on morality or political reality, is actually something entirely wrong; and to then have it implicitly suggested that if I don’t buy it that I don’t get “the point”.

Our post modern society has truth written by whichever side validates your beliefs at this point. I’m not convinced that “written by the Victor” is even an accurate take.

Good point. I totally appreciate it as excellent epic fantasy too.

BUT the whole "reality is distorted by desire" thing is dead seriously real, and it is a big deal (The Buddha himself ranted about it). And the ring IS a total solid desire macguffin. People go crazy over it. And Bilbo DID change his story. So... it makes an interesting line of thought, you gotta agree.

Also : You ever read Lord Dunsany, CS Lewis or Lovecraft? They were all sorta on the same page as Tolkien.

Sure, reality is distorted by many things. It happens every day. But these days we see it happen evermore by bad actors, who are not necessarily the victors and in fact often are not.

Is this book promoting critical thought? Or is it promoting the idea that conspiracy is correct? I won’t care to guess about the author’s intentions although I have my opinions.

But assuming a best faith Interpretation, I feel strongly that the Lord of the Rings is not the setting where this ought to be explored. The more time we spend debating conspiracy and political theory within the lord of the rings, the less we focus on what Tolkien intended to embed within the story.

One of the newer Star Wars did this. In a world where one faction identified as the dark side, fueled by hatred, the director thought to ask who was the bad guy? Maybe it was the rebels, purchasing weapons from arms dealers that had slaves?!? Contrived and polluting an otherwise clear narrative world. Imo it is artistically lazy to thrive in controversy where it doesn’t belong. We should be more willing to criticize artistic themes.

It’s a fanfic that’s an alternate take on the story. It’s great. If you don’t like that sort of thing then ignore it?

I do ignore it, thank you. I’m merely sharing my opinion and reasoning that it is, conceptually, bad.


I sort of recommend Khraniteli, the Soviet Lord of the Rings Soviet TV movie from 1991. Delightfully bizarre in small doses but a little hard to sit through the whole thing.


I just downloaded it. Thanks :)

Curious to know what you think. :D

I read the original version first, some ancient copy checked out of the library. When I re-read it a couple of years later, the book was different than I remembered. It was only years later that I discovered why.

Interestingly, in Tolkien's letter to his publisher (142, in "The Letters of J.R.R. Tollkien", selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter), "I did not mean the suggested revision [which he had sent them earlier] to be printed off; but it seems of have come out pretty well in the wash".

Yeah, originally he had written the LoTR expecting not being able to “fix” the previous. He even mentions it in the text (said by bilbo at the council of Elrond)

oh thank god there are diffs.

He really was such a great writer. The revised version is much better, too.

i love all the (movie) sequels of hobbit, LOR etc. but I have a hard time to put the stories together in my mind. maybe reading all the books would help me with the timeline and overall understanding?

Yes, but in all honesty just "reading the books" is probably not enough. To really understand the full "lore" you should definitely read the appendices and the chronology; also reading The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales is most recommended.

Heh, the web dev geek in me made it so that the first thing I noticed about the page was the old school web page layout using tables.

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