I have vague memories of my father reading The Hobbit to us at bedtime, and of my mother doing the same; and it was partly because of my requests to hear that book again and again, I think, that she finally broke down and taught me to read when I was four. Tolkien has been near me ever since, in a growing collection (latest addition being Beowulf, his translation, which I may talk about another day, if you’d like my thoughts on it). I’ve read The Lord of the Rings regularly. A few years ago, however, I decided to wait a while and come back to it with older, if not exactly fresh, eyes.
The book (it’s a book, not a series) doesn’t need a review from me, but this time through I pulled out some quotes that I noticed more this time than I have at others, with occasional remarks.
“Already she seemed to him, as by men of later days Elves still at times are seen: present and yet remote, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time.” (Yet you’d never call Lorien sentimental, in the sense of the word that means dwelling in the past excessively. And I think re-enactment, or living history, can be the same way: in the past, but not sentimental.)
“Halflings!” laughed the rider that stood beside Eomer. “Halflings! But they are only a little people in old songs and children’s tales out of the North. Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?”
“A man may do both,” said Aragorn. “For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!”
[Eomer] “It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”
“As he ever has judged,” said Aragorn. “Good and evil have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.” (And fantasy is either evil magical stuff or mindless escapism with no application to the ‘real world’!)
“But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.” (There’s a reason Faramir’s been a favourite character of mine all these years. And I first met him long before I knew about situational ethics or the idea that truth and goodness change over time.)
[Bilbo] “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone must give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”
From the Appendices:
“It is often difficult to discover from old tales and traditions precise information about things which people knew well and took for granted in their own day (such as the names of letters, or of the days of the week, or the names and lengths of months).” AMEN. I might add any number of other difficult things, but for the sake of time I shall refrain.
After a decently long paragraph on deficits in calendars and how they were made up, and the Gondorian method of adding one day at the end of every millenium, there’s a parenthetical note: “In T. A. 3000 with the threat of imminent war such matters were neglected.” As if in most countries the calendar is the first concern of any Steward, war or no.
In a footnote to a section on how, in the Shire calendar, the date in a month was always on the same day of the week: “It will be noted if one glances at a Shire calendar, that the only weekday on which no month began was Friday. It thus became a jesting idiom in the Shire to speak of ‘On Friday the first’ when referring to a day that did not exist, or to a day on which very unlikely events such as the flying of pigs or (in the Shire) the walking of trees might occur. In full the expression was ‘on Friday the first of Summer-filth’.” ‘Filth’ may not actually mean mud in this context. I noticed this time through that a great many of the Shire names for months come from Anglo-Saxon ones, as Blotmath (pronounced, the Appendix says, as Blodmath or Blommath) from Blodmonath. (In Bree it was called Blooting.) Similarly Winterfilth from Winterfilleth. Tolkien knew what he was doing with language.