After the end of “The Lord of the Rings” – probably for nerds only
I’ve finished rereading “The Lord of the Rings,” an activity I separated into four distinct chunks. It was as always a very pleasant experience. I was pleased to note that the blowing of the horns of Rohan outside Minas Tirith retains its power to thrill on the umpteenth read. I felt more sympathy this time for Denethor, whom I actually think is treated by Gandalf quite badly. If you remember that the line of the Stewards had ruled Gondor quite competently for a thousand years, his resentment of Aragorn (“this Ranger from the north”) becomes quite natural.
The fourth chunk of my reading was, as you may have discerned, the Appendices (most of them), from which I relearned about the thousand years and many other things.
Now I’m not an absolute Tolkien nerd. I cannot converse in Elvish (although I know that Namarie is Farewell), and I have no intention of ploughing through the seven or eight volumes of back-story-and-explanation put together by Christopher Tolkien under the general title “The History of Middle-earth.”
But I do love the Appendices. I believe all editions of LOTR have at least one: “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen” (which is part five of part one of Appendix A…) but one-volume editions understandably don’t have all of them.
Nobody has to read them.
But it’s from the six Appendices, which total about 150 pages in my edition, that you learn, if you want to, exactly what Aragorn’s claim was to the throne of Gondor; who prophesied that the Lord of the Nazgul wouldn’t be killed by a man; how Legolas’ father contributed to the War of the Ring; and how Gimli was related to Fili and Kili. And it’s from the Appendices that the makers of the films learned how to pronounce Cirith Ungol and Sauron.
This time with a determined effort I managed to restrain myself from rereading the whole lot.
Appendix A is Annals of Kings and Rulers. Here you get brief potted histories of the lost island kingdom of Numenor, of Gondor, of the northern land of Arnor, of Rohan (who was Helm of Helm’s Deep?) and of the Dwarves. On this reading I noticed for the first time the similarity of the fall of Numenor to Genesis chapter 3.
The makers of the “Hobbit” films used Appendix A (3) to provide dwarvish backstory, transferring Dain’s heroic actions to Thorin. Anyone who reads Appendix A and B surely feels with me that Dain Ironfoot is the most awesome dwarf king of them all, and on this reading it occurred to me to compare him to Isildur – Dain knows better than to re-colonise Moria after his victory, but Isildur does not know better than to keep the Ring after his.
Appendix A also tells you how Aragorn and Arwen are related. (Did you know that Galadriel is Elrond’s mother-in-law? This made me laugh when I first realised.)
To be fair, on this reading maybe there was a bit more than I needed about the complicated political history and wars of Gondor – but on the other hand it shows you Gondor as a real (real-ish) country with internal power struggles and imperial ambitions. You may feel sorry for the people of Umbar and Harad. And oh boy I got tired of the expression “lesser men.”
Appendix B is the Tale of Years. LOTR takes place in the Third Age of Middle-earth… What was happening in the Second Age? (Numenor and the forging of the Rings, mainly.)
Reading LOTR back in the Seventies, I was excited to learn that the North Kingdom collapsed in Third Age 1974. If I live long enough, I hope I’ll note the murder of the last King of Gondor pre-Aragorn in 2050. (After 2050 came the Ruling Stewards; Aragorn was crowned in 3019.)
But we also get day-by-day accounts of the main events of the book; for example:
2nd March 3019 : Frodo comes to the end of the Marshes. Gandalf comes to Edoras and heals Theoden. The Rohirrim ride west against Saruman. Second Battle of Fords of Isen. Erkenbrand defeated. Entmoot ends in afternoon. The Ents march on Isengard and reach it at night.
And Appendix B takes you on further – to Frodo’s return to Bag End (3rd November) and later events such as Meriadoc (“called the Magnificent”) becoming Master of Buckland, Sam’s daughter Goldilocks marrying Pippin’s son Faramir, and eventually the death of Aragorn in 120 Fourth Age, which was 1541 Shire Reckoning.
Appendix C is family trees of hobbits: how exactly were Bilbo, Frodo, Merry and Pippin related to each other, and how many children did Sam have? (Answer: 13. Rosie must have been pretty tough.)
Appendices D and E are the ones I skipped this time, but for some they will be of interest – D tells how the different races calculated dates and years (including the above Shire Reckoning), and what were the annual celebrations. E is lettering: scripts and runes (and who devised them) and pronunciation.
Appendix F is about languages and how Tolkien approached his supposed role as “translator” of the Red Book of Westmarch. If you didn’t know that the text of LOTR contains poetry in not one but two separate but related Elvish languages, Sindarin and Quenya, Appendix F will tell you.
As I say, I’m not a Tolkien nerd First Class, but maybe I qualify for Second Class?
The completeness of the vision never ceases to amaze.
The very existence of the Appendices, regardless of their content, helps create the illusion of reality. For example:
The story of “The Lord of the Rings” ends with the words “’Well, I’m back,’ he said.” (“He” is Sam.)
This is the end of a novel, and the film follows it exactly.
The last sentence of Appendix A (1) (v) (“Aragorn and Arwen”) is “Here ends this tale, as it has come to us from the South; and with the passing of Evenstar no more is said in this book of the days of old.”
This is the end of an ancient tale.
But if you look at the very end, the final notes of Appendix F, you find this gloriously obscure sentence: “Only a very bold hobbit would have ventured to call the Master of Buckland Braldagama in his hearing.”
That’s the end of the Notes to a work of reference…
Love from the PPI Blogger
PS Fili and Kili were Gimli’s fourth cousins. Does Matthew Perry remember stumping me with that Tolkien Trivia question about forty years ago?
Stephen Sheridan19th March 2021 at 11:51 am
Thanks for reminding us of the beauty and complexity of this magnificent work. I originally had the bulky one volume work which only had one of the Appendices, so I had to get the Volume 3 paperback just to get all of them.
I think the films actually taught me that the real hero of the story is Sam – although in hindsight it is obvious in the books.
The depth of the background comes through in such marvellously descriptive ways. The stories of the rise and fall of Numenor are fabulous. I would venture a few other observations that even the best of the good races are still very flawed.
1) The selfishness of the Elves – I remember on first reading an intense anger towards the Elves. They have all this power and insight and yet they are hardly busting a gut to help organise the humans or empathising with the Dwarves. Instead they are running away. A friend justified this by pointing out they have been doing their best for thousands of years and they are knackered. I still disagree – I think they take the easy way out to heaven (the Undying Lands).
2) The arrogance of the Wizards is not matched by their powers. You have pointed out how Gandalf is rude and lacking empathy with Denethor and Saruman’s arrogance is obvious. And yet their magical power is very limited – in a Dungeons and Dragons fantasy role playing bworld they would be laughed at. Their major powers seem to be to lead and influence others, but in terms of deploying actual spells, Tolkien hasn’t really worked out a magic system. Gandalf seems to be able to use fireworks but only at parties – could that not have been useful deployed in the siege of Minas Tirith.
3) The mystery of the fall of Arnor. So the kingdom in the North collapses, but what happened to all the people and towns – did all the people die out and if so how? Did they migrate somewhere and where? It is not well explained.
4) The Nazgul are staggeringly incompetent (although this is presumably a by-product of their master’s intellectual blindness caused by his evil) and a bit crap (I mean only managing to wound Frodo and getting swept away by the river – they all charge into the water, they don’t hold back some of them on the banks??), but they have a very forgiving employer: having lost horses and form and the ring, they return to Mordor and instead of being told their organisation doesn’t tolerate failure, they are given giant flying fell beasts! Also they were supposed to be great kings of men – where? Were they kings in the East? Did their rings help them build great empires or did they merely turn them into Sauron’s slaves immediately – was their attraction to the rings they were given more about immortality and if so what is so attractive about being a quasi-immortal dogsbody to an unimaginative tyrant.
5) How do the Orcs breed? Where are their women or are they grown in vats?
6) How does Sauron feed his massive armies and where are his logistical resources? Are the lands in the East supplying all his food? Do Orcs in the Misty Mountains have underground edible fungus or are they pastoral herders in the slopes? Mordor is clearly not agriculturally productive.
7) The Nazgul and the Orcs pontificate about how the World of Men will fall. But hang on, a significant proportion of the armies of Mordor are men from the East, so no the World of Men will not fall if they win. The men remaining will be evil men, but still men.
8) How awesome is Galadriel? Her speech when she is offered the ring is fantastic and an alternative universe where she takes the ring and leads an army of demented Elves to take out Sauron before becoming a brooding tyrant, would be interesting. She also comes up with the most useful gizmos to help the Fellowship on their journey, although the hair gift to Gimli (despite it being his request) was a bit narcissistic – she could have given him something more useful like a magic trowel that allowed him to quickly fix breached walls.
9) The poems and the songs – these may shed useful light on the depth of the world’s culture, but they are not great works of art. The late 60s Harvard Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings did a fun parody of “I sit beside the fire and think”:
‘I sit on the floor and pick my nose and think of dirty things…’
They also put in a great line in their intro parody of Bilbo sparing Gollum:
“He would have finished Goddam off then and there, but pity stayed his hand. ‘It’s a pity I’ve run out of bullets,’ he thought.”
In his hand he carried an ancient and trustworthy weapon, called by the elves a Browning semi-automatic.
Arrowroot: “Peoples of the West! The battle before the Black Gate of Sorhed will be one of few against many; but the few are of pure heart and the many are of the filthy. Nevertheless, those of you who wish to cringe and run from the fight may do so to quicken our pace. Those who still ride with the King of Twodor will live forever in song and legend! The rest may go.”
It is said that the dustcloud did not settle for many days after.
In the interests of diversity, a Russian author has also written a telling of the tale from a Mordor perspective – with Tolkien’s work being history written by the victors
Thanks again Penelope and I hope I have been able to raise a few grins with the above.
Much love Stephen
Stephen Hall19th March 2021 at 5:15 pm
Ha ha. I enjoyed both Penny’s blog and Stephen’s comment very much. Re-reading a much-loved boom can be such a pleasure. How many times is this now Penny? Five? I must be on three or four. Is this the novel you have read most often, or is it beaten by an Austen? How about a blogpost on the pleasures and pitfalls do rereads?
Stephen’s list of LotR absurdities is well-observed. I’d also pick holes in Tolkien’s landforming. The lands of Arnor have been abandoned by men for centuries, and yet still seem to be open and unwooded. Who or what is stopping the trees from recovering the land? Tolkien grasped that mountains tend to run in chains, but I’d like to know the geological process that formed the perfectly rectangular mountain walls of Mordor.
Matthew Perry19th March 2021 at 7:14 pm
I had forgotten that question and the answer Penny, but given my then nerdiness I’m not surprised that I knew it. I am probably still a nerd, but no longer a Tolkien nerd; I did not know there was a 7 or 8 volume of background and do not feel the desire to read it. I do not think that I have read the appendices since the 1970s and indeed it is a long time since I read the book itself – last when my elder daughter was reading it/having it read to her age about 11 nearly 20 years ago. There is a wonderful magic to the appendices and your blog post brings back many happy memories.
Stephen Sheridan19th March 2021 at 7:29 pm
While Christopher Tolkien’s voluminous commentaries are sometime interesting, you can’t help feeling he is going through his dad’s waste paper basket reading through his dry cleaning receipts and sundry notes like “Remember to put out bins and Gandalf – grey beard or white beard?”
Penelope Wallace19th March 2021 at 8:00 pm
Thank you for all your comments! My annoyance about the Elves (and Elendil and his sons) is always that they come out of the West in each case arguably as failures, yet feel they have a right to establish realms in Middle-earth. The original Men in the First Age had the unenviable choice of siding with Morgoth or with Elves who were already effectively under a curse. (But that’s the Silmarillion, not the Appendices.)
Even I have wondered about Mordor’s neat mountain walls, Stephen (H)!
In answer to Stephen S, the Lord of the Nazgul was the Witch-king of Angmar, a country in the far north that overthrew Arnor. Not sure about the other Ringwraiths. It’s only really the films that talk about ending the Age of Men. I believe Tolkien and others have wondered about the birth of Orcs. I think it’s unfair to complain that Tolkien’s wizards who are basically minor angels have fewer magical powers than say Dumbledore. They were sent to encourage and rally the troops.
It’s a very long time since I read the highly entertaining “Bored of the Rings”, in which the Boromir character looks up at the page number to see how long he’s got to endure before he’s mercifully killed off, and the hobbits got permission to colonise the Shire from the High King (“as records recall, this was either Argle-Bargle IV or someone else.”) Thank you for reminding me.
It’s certainly at least the fifth read. Hard to say about Austen, as her books are conveniently situated in the sitting-room for a little browse, rather than a straight read-through…
Malachi Malagowther19th March 2021 at 9:13 pm
I haven’t re-read the book since reading it to my children about 15 years ago. Unfortunately they lost interest at about the time Gandalf set off for Minas Tirith with Pippin. The thing they liked most about the books was the hobbits and they seemed to feel by that time that the hobbits were diminishing and about to be humiliated. The first time I re-read it was when I was living in Denmark and it seemed to evoke a way of life from ancient Britain.