Tuesday, May 27, 2014

This is getting silly

I stumbled across this - Lord of the Rings: How to read JRR Tolkein - the other day via a link in my Twitter feed. As is often the case with me, I've lost the original source but my best guess is that it was from the Brain Pickings people.


Its quite long, and the speaker Michael D. C. Drout is smartly dressed, looking more like a CEO than a Professor of English - I thought they had to be scruffy and drunk. Don't let my prejudice put you off though. It's really interesting.

I read Lord of the Rings in the summer when I was seventeen. I wouldn't describe my self as a total Lord of the Rings geek - I didn't get into the whole Dungeons and Dragon thing - but I did really enjoy the book. It definitely stayed with me. When my kids were little - about eight and six - I used to read it to them as their bedtime story. I'd do my best Gandalf and Gollum voices and try to make it as exciting as I could for them. I'm not sure they totally got it at that young age, but I was often asked for encores and repeat performances. The possibility that they were just trying to stay up later is something I considered but chose to ignore. I never actually finished reading the whole of the book to them. It is after all, very long (this Drout tells us was all that one critic had to say about it on its publication).

But I loved reading it to my kids - that'd be my first time machine trip. And I feel I did them a favour. By the time Peter Jackson's films came out they were a little older. And I like to think my early readings successfully manipulated them at a subconscious level to be able to fully appreciate and enjoy the movies. We now have a little ritual just before Christmas when they return from university and we go and see the Hobbit in the cinema. If I'm honest the Hobbit films aren't great. But I still love the whole experience of it.

After each of the films, I talk with them (well, at them) about the meaning of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. We return home from the cinema in the car and while I have them as a captive audience I give them a precis of my thesis that Tolkein's works are essentially about money*. I am without fail met with the rebuttal 'Dad, you think everything is about money'. It's a fair point.

There's only one more Hobbit film to go, now. I'm a bit sad about that. Still, there's always box sets.
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Drout mentions Tribology - the science of interacting surfaces in relative motion, or in other words, the study of ruin and decay. He mentions Alfred the Great's grave and this glass engraving that reconstructs a ghost like image of it on the site Hyde Abbey which was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries.


He does these things to illustrate a few ideas about Philology (the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary criticism, history, and linguistics). And he argues that it was Tolkien's understanding of Philology that helped him to write Lord of the Rings

This is a bit of blurb from the Carnegie Mellon site:
Drout believes that Tolkien’s immense and lasting popularity can be explained by a “perfect storm hypothesis.”  
“Tolkien took very powerful medieval legends that are inaccessible to people because of language, remixed them, and put them in the point of view of hobbits representing ordinary, middle class people in an otherwise heroic world,” Drout said. “Tolkien also dared to go where post-war literature had given up. Mainstream literature had given up on talking about power, evil and what to do about it. There was clearly a hunger in people to talk about cosmic problems, and Tolkien’s work allows readers to think and feel about these central issues, but slightly abstractly.” 
Drout continued, “Tolkien wrote a text that feels like an old text, back by a long tradition. And, finally, he writes from such a point of view that you experience what the characters are experiencing. Readers feel like they’ve had an experience – not read a book.”
Even though Drout doen't mention Gyges and his magic ring, all this is interesting to me. It makes me think about the process by which those modern translations of Herodotus and the other old Greek blokes have come into being. So, I thought, after watching Drout I best do a search on Gyges and philology. Chrome told me that I've previously searched 'Gyges philosophy', but not philology. 

Anyway if you do that search now, high up in the results and with multiple links is this paper The Tale of Gyges and the King of Lydia by Kirby Flower Smith from 1902. I guess its a very famous paper in Philology circles. It was published by the prestigious John Hopkins University Press who also happened to have published one of my favourite books on money The Economy of Literature by Marc Shell that contains what is probably my favourite opening sentence of any of my money books:

"Those discourses are ideological that argue or assume that matter is ontologically prior to thought."

It might be worth bearing Marc Shell's words in mind for what I'm about to tell you cos if you're a committed materialist this stuff could drive you nuts. The Tale of Gyges and the King of Lydia appeared in the academic journal The American Journal of Philology. The journal was founded in 1880. It's still going today and they are currently on volume number 135. 

You know what's coming.


That did make me smile.
__________ 

*Me

Look. 

Lord of the Rings is about a magic GOLD ring. Gold ring, marriage, monogomy, sexual jealousy, property, possession, obsession, power, MONEY. Rings as currency? Value? What makes something precious? It's all there you know. As is the destruction of the ring. Melting of gold. Burning of money.

Kids:

Dad, you think everything is about money.

Me:

It is. What about that Hobbit? The whole of that fucking thing is about Money. Well, Gold. You can't deny that. Plus that Sam & Frodo relationship in Lord of the Rings. What's that about? They're so gay [.... etc]

Kids: 

Thank God. We're home.

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