Thursday 24 June 2021

How was Rivendell defended?

Rivendell was located in a hidden valley; and, while it is obvious that being hidden was a helpful defence - I find it very difficult to imagine how a valley was defended when the enemy had succeeded in locating and attacking Rivendell.

Rivendell was twice besieged by Sauron - once in the second and again (by the Witch King of Angmar) in the third age (there is a description in the History of Middle Earth of the near starvation during one of these sieges). 

But I cannot understand how - at least in a material military sense - a valley could be defended; since castles are always placed upon raised ground. To be located in a valley allows the enemy to approach unmolested, and gives height advantage in hand to hand fighting - while allowing the enemy to rain down projectiles from the valley sides. Furthermore, it seems that the house of Elrond itself was not fortified - at least, this is never mentioned nor depicted by Tolkien in his drawings. 

However, since Rivendell did indeed withstand two sieges, despite being in a very disadvantageous location; I think we must look elsewhere for an explanation.  

My best guess is that it was defended by High Elf magic, in some way analogous to the Girdle of Melian - which was an encircling, magical barrier cast by Melian, wife of Thingol Greycloak - around the Sindarin elf kingdom of Doriath. This (usually) caused the unauthorized to become bewildered and lost - to die of starvation.  

It may be that this was how Rivendell was 'hidden' from hostile eyes - because otherwise Saurons winged servants (such as crows) could surely spot any large valley - no matter how flat the surrounding landscape. 

Perhaps during the sieges of Rivendell, the forces of Sauron could not find the valley; or (at least, not without the physical presence of Sauron himself) could not get through it and into Rivendell. Perhaps their plan involved starving the elves towards a point where the barrier would weaken or break? 

Friday 18 June 2021

The strange difference of the elves in The Lord of the Rings movies

The subject of elves and their differences from Men is one of the deep and structural aspects of Tolkien's legendarium - although it plays little part in the Lord of the Rings. 

Nonetheless in the Peter Jackson movies,  there are some very effective 'moments' where the differentness of the elves is subtly yet effectively highlighted.  

Perhaps the first is in Legolas's reaction to the first appearance of the balrog. 

Legolas never shows fear at any other point in the movies; but is a character who clearly enjoys fighting, and is brilliant at it. But when the balrog first appears, actor Orlando Bloom (presumably under Jackson's direction) gradually lets drop his bow, then stands with his face frozen in a mask of terror, panting for breath.  From 1:20 in this except.

This visually demonstrates that Legolas has suddenly realized with horror that he has met one of the worst of elf banes. Orcs and trolls, tentacle monsters and giant elephants, none of these hold any fear for the elf - but a balrog is something else - and for once he is paralyzed; while the Men, and even the Hobbits, are still able to function. 
Another moment. After the death of Gandalf, and the escape from Moria; the fellowship collapse and are overcome with grief and weeping.  

But Legolas stands apart with a strange perplexed expression on his face, shaking his head. He seems to be thinking "So: this is death for mortals". The contrast with the rest of the fellowship is very marked - and suddenly we realize the strangeness of the elves. From 2:20. 

A further episode is harder to miss; and occurs when Haldir is killed at Helm's Deep (something which is not in the books). The expressions on actor Craig Parker's face as he dies, and the beautiful choral turn in the musical score, emphasize that when an elf dies it is not the same as when mortals die.

The audience do not know what happens that is different - but again the strange differenness of the race is made evident. 

Despite their flaws; The Lord of the Rings movies stand near to the pinnacle of cinematic art - and such moments are indicative of the astonishing care and knowledge that went into their making. 

Saturday 12 June 2021

What was the effect of the War of the Ring on The Shire? - from Note on the Shire Records (from the Lord of the Rings: Prologue, concerning Hobbits)

I have often wondered how many people read the Prologue: concerning Hobbits, which comes before Chapter 1 of The Lord of the Rings. 

This gives-away a good deal of the coming story, by implication at least - and it is surely a very strange way to approach a fiction via some 20 pages of descriptive context; before the reader has read a word of narrative! 

Yet, apparently it 'works' - for millions of people - as do so many of the strange and counter-intuitive aspects of Tolkien's narrative method.  

Anyway; there are many treasures in the Prologue, which continues to surprise me. For instance, its last section - entitled Note on the Shire Records - primarily has the function of providing a feigned historical 'frame' for the narrative. 

It states that The Lord of the Rings was edited (implicitly by Tolkien himself) from an ancient manuscript copy of the Red Book of Westmarch; which began with Bilbo's account of his adventures (The Hobbit), and was then added to by Frodo and Sam's accounts of their adventures (The Lord of the Rings). 

The Red Book proper is also stated to have contained some of the information included in the Appendices - such as the family trees; and it is said that it was boxed with Bilbo's translations from the Elvish - which we are meant to infer is the basis of what was later published (in excerpted form) as The Silmarillion. 

Indeed, Merry is also implied to have been the part-author of some parts of The Lord of the Rings as we know it - for example Appendix B, The Tale of Years, and Appendix D, which is about calendars.

But another aspect of Notes on the Shire Records, which I hadn't properly noticed, concerns the effect of the War of the Ring on subsequent life in the Shire. 

I think many people have the idea that - after the Scouring of the Shire - everything returned to normal; and life in the Shire was re-set to how it had been before the arrival of the Black Riders. But this is not the case. 

Tolkien tells us that there was an awakened interest among Shire Hobbits in their own history and traditions; and these were collected from oral sources and written for the first time. In the first century of the Fourth Age, several libraries were established in The Shire; by the Took family, the Brandybucks; and at Undertowers in the new Westmarch, where Sam's eldest child Elanor lived with her husband Fastred. 

The Buckleberry library was begun by Merry, who himself wrote books on several subjects; including Shire Herblore, Calendars, and the philology of Shire words and names compared with Rohan. So, the Brandybuck library specialized in Shire matters specifically; with a further concern with matters of Rohan. 

The library in Tuckborough was of more general scope. Pippin did not write anything himself; but collected works from Gondor concerned with Numenor, Sauron and the history of Middle Earth in general. 

This library was thus the (probable!) basis for Appendix B - The Tale of Years - with Merry's assistance. We are told that Merry returned more than once to Rivendell, to consult with the remaining High Elves, including the sons of Elrond; and (probably) Celeborn - who dwelt there for some time after the departure of Galadriel, and was a living link with the Elder Days.  

In other words; the result of the War of the Rings was to make The Shire less parochial, more outward-looking. It is implied that the hobbits were somewhat 'ennobled' and raised by their (indirect) contact with 'higher things'. 

When Pippin says to Merry (in the Houses of Healing) "We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can't live long on the heights.' Merry responds: "Not yet, at any rate. But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honour them... There are things deeper and higher... I am glad that I know about them, a little." 

It seems that the two hobbits took this insight back to The Shire, and put it into action. There was a raising of the intellectual level, and an increase in literacy; stemming directly from the links established by Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin with elves and men in Rivendell, Gondor and Rohan.

When Frodo conversed with Gildor in the Woody End at the start of the adventure; the elf said about the Shire Hobbits: 

"It is not your own Shire... The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out."

The Notes on the Shire Records inform us, that following the War of the Ring, and the invasion by Saruman and his ruffians; the Shire hobbits increased in wisdom, ceased to fence themselves in, and began to take notice of the wide world all about them. 

Saturday 5 June 2021

Was accent did Merry and Pippin have? Who gets it right?

I am going to compare the the best known audio-depictions of Merry and Pippin: the three movies directed by Peter Jackson (on the assumption that it is the director who chooses the accent which actors adopt); the audiobook of Lord of the Rings read by Rob Inglis; and the BBC Radio drama-adaptation by Brian Sibley - directed by Jane Morgan and Penny Leicester.  

In the movie, Merry is given a mild 'Mummerset' accent - which is what actors call the generic West Country rural accent, characterized mainly by an exaggerated 'r' sound. This same West Country accent is adopted in a more extreme 'Ooh Arr*' version by Sam Gamgee, in all the versions here studied. 

Probably to provide a distinguishing contrast, the movie Pippin's accent is mildly Scottish (the actor comes from Glasgow). 

In the audiobook; Rob Inglis gives both Merry and Pippin a Mummerset accent; the two hobbits being distinguished mainly by the timbre and pitch of their voices. 

But in the BBC drama version, Merry and Pippin are given an English upper class accent (with Pippin having a lighter and younger-sounding voice) - and they are depicted as a couple of young 'toffs', rather like PG Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster and Bingo Little of the Drones Club. 

(BTW, the BBC radio actors were Richard O'Callaghan as Merry and John McAndrew as Pippin.)  

And this is the most accurate in terms of Merry and Pippin's very elevated position in the Shire Class system. Pippin is the heir to the Thain, which is the King's representative in the Shire; and therefore the nearest Hobbit equivalent to a young prince. Merry is heir to the Master of Buckland - which is the Shire's semi-autonomous outpost; and therefore something like the heir to a Dukedom. 

At any rate, Merry and Pippin are the two poshest young Hobbits in the whole Shire! 

So, full marks to the BBC Drama for getting it right, and commiserations to the other contestants. 

Note: I was myself raised in the West Country - Devon and Somerset - and can confirm that the rustics in that corner of England really do say Ooh Arr - with remarkably frequency.