Talkin’ Bout Tolkien – A Secret Vice and The Plants of Middle-Earth

The Plants of Middle-Earth

The Plants of Middle-Earth: Botany and Sub-Creation by Dina Hazell

★★★★ | GoodReads | IndieBound | Wordery

I purchased this book expecting a field guide of sorts to the plants found in Middle-earth*. The Plants of Middle-earth instead uses said greenery as a point from which to explore various themes and concepts in Tolkien’s work. Hazell argues that Tolkien’s careful selection and naming of plants both real and fantastic reflects the implications of the grander tale.

The Lord of the Rings is far too complex to be reduced to a simple tale of good versus evil, but one of the questions that must be asked is whether it is ultimately optimistic or pessimistic. Tolkien explores the issue in many places, not least in his botany, where he directs our gaze toward the ephemeral beauty of a single bloom and the enduring strength of nature. (43)

I particularly liked the chapter “Forest and Trees”, which discusses significance of trees (beyond the role of Ents) via a tour of the forests of Middle-Earth. I also came to appreciate a brief aside on modernization and Sarehole Mill, which I initially thought was somewhat removed from the topic (84 to 87).

Of course, The Lord of the Rings cannot become commonplace, regardless of how often we read it. But hopefully awareness of its plant life will offer a new perspective for future visits to Middle-earth. (95)

The Plants of Middle-earth is a pretty little book, an example of why one might prefer physical over digital. The deep green binding is soft to touch and the pages have a bit of weight to them. The lovely illustrations are one of this book’s feature attractions. However, the illustrations were not captioned. I could usually figure out which plant featured in the illustrations, but some pages described multiple plants and I wasn’t quite sure what was being depicted. For those wondering about the artists, that information is tucked in the back of the book (117).

I recommend this book for a fresh take on the world of Middle-earth, through the lens of its plentiful plant life.

*For anyone interested in such a field guide, a forthcoming release from Oxford UP (Flora of Middle-Earth) might be the book we’re looking for.

A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins

★★★★ | GoodReads | Chapters | Wordery

The title A Secret Vice refers to a talk that J.R.R. Tolkien originally gave in 1931. He discussed the joys of inventing language and the significant role language has to play in mythology creation.

I had previously read parts of Tolkien’s essay back 2013, when I fulfilled a years long dream of writing about Tolkien for my undergrad degree. The paper I wrote was titled “Retaining Meaning: Translating Tolkien’s Middle-Earth”, and it dealt very much with Tolkien’s passion for language creation. I was pleased to learn A Secret Vice” was being released in similar to fashion to “On Fairy-Stories”, which was released in an independent volume titled Tolkien On Fairy Stories. This book would have been handy to have around during my undergrad!

The talk itself spans 31 pages. A brief “Essay on Phonetic Symbolism” is also included in the book. (The editors theorize that Tolkien may have written the essay to expand on ideas not integral to “A Secret Vice” [63].) A 54 page introduction serves well in providing context for the actual essay. Not just padding, the introduction explores the social and cultural context in which Tolkien was writing as well characteristics of his invented languages. A 15 page coda after the essay and manuscripts titled “The Reception and Legacy of Tolkien’s Invented Languages” continues the style of the introduction in exploring Tolkien’s impact. Finally, manuscripts are also included. Sometimes these can reveal a lot about a writer’s development of thought, but I skipped them in this volume.

Originally a talk given to a literary society (xxxi), “A Secret Vice” has a relatively casual and at times self-deprecating tone. Having read so much of Tolkien’s fiction, I find it something of a novelty to read in his own ‘voice’. Fans of Tolkien or those interested in constructed languages will appreciate the sentiments expressed and ideas explored in A Secret Vice.

Do either of these books interest you? Is there a fantasy world for which you would like to read a plants field guide?
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Guest Post At Pages Unbound

Since March 19, Pages Unbound has been hosting two weeks of posts about Tolkien in celebration of Tolkien Reading Day. Today features my review of Tolkien in Translation edited by Thomas Honegger. Here is the first paragraph:

Tolkien in TranslationOnce upon a time, I wanted to write a paper about translating Tolkien for an undergraduate course. Numerous challenges accompany the task of translating literature. Tolkien crafted his stories on a foundation of language. His careful use of the English language and his creation of Middle-earth’s own languages further complicates the process of translating his works. As he wrote of The Lord of the Rings, “Hardly a word in its 600,000 or more has been unconsidered” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 160). Though my paper never materialized, the beginning of my research led me to Tolkien in Translation¸ a volume of works that “reflects on some of these challenges and how different translators overcame them” (back description). This book is the fourth volume in the Cormarë series from Walking Tree Publishers. The series currently consists of 35 books collecting scholarly papers and studies about Tolkien and his writing.

Head on over to Pages Unbound to read the rest of my review. Be sure to check out some of the other great posts from the Tolkien Reading Event as well.

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Tolkien Reading Day 2017

March 25 is Tolkien Reading Day. Organized by the Tolkien Society, the day was chosen to coincide with the defeat of Sauron. The day was established “to encourage fans to celebrate and promote the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien by reading favourite passages”. My posts covers my plans for today + 8 playlists to listen to while reading your favourite Tolkien tales.

Too much time has passed since  I read much by or about Tolkien. I recently completed Tolkien in Translation and that has renewed by hunger for Middle-earth. I read that book for a guest post I’m doing as part of Pages Unbound‘s two week long celebration of Tolkien Reading Day. They’ve been featuring a post a day about Tolkien (including many guest posts) since March 19, so be sure to check it out. My review of Tolkien in Translation will be posted there on 31 March.

I actually have some fun plans beyond reading Tolkien all day (see below for my book choices). Way back in October at Comic-con, I bought tickets to an event titled “All Who Wander” that will feature dramatic readings from the Middle-Earth canon and acapella renditions of songs from The Lord of the Rings. Sounds like a fun evening!

Today’s Reading

Tolkien Reading Day 2017 TBR

  • A Secret Vice by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins – I started this book way back in the summer. I only finished the introduction. Time to delve into the lecture proper.
  • The Botany of Middle-Earth by Dinah Hazell – A lovely hardcover that’s been sitting too long on my shelf.
  • The Hobbit facsimile first edition – I received this edition as a Christmas gift in 2016. This edition replicates both the original text (which Tolkien made some significant modifications to after publishing The Lord of the Rings) and the design of The Hobbit as first published in 1937.

Recommended Listening

One of my favourite websites for discovering thematic background music is 8tracks. 8tracks allows users to create and tag their own mixes. The website has an extensive tagging system so you can pinpoint just the kind of music you want to listen to. I would like to recommend 8 of my favourite Tolkien-themed playlists. Playlist themes include places, races, characters, and particular chapters. Below I’ve listed the title of the playlist and the description given by the playlist creator. Links to listen to the playlists on 8tracks. I’ve embedded my most listened playlist 🙂

Rohan from mindlessdesigns on 8tracks Radio.

  1. In Places Deep – Songs for Erebor (“An instrumental mix for the high, proud halls under the Lonely Mountain, for the clang of hammer-falls and the roar of the forge, gold-veined caverns and lost places deep in the earth.”)
  2. Alix’s Hobbit-Style Birthday Playlist (“Guess what! It’s my birthday today, and in true hobbit fashion I’m giving you all a gift! Here’s a playlist of some of my personal favorite Tolkien-inspired music.”)
  3. Rohan (“A mix for the men of Rohan.”)
  4. Songs of Forgotten Kings (“songs for the Dunedain, the songs of forgotten kings”)
  5. A Elbereth Gilthoniel (“a mostly instrumental mix for varda elentári, queen of the valar and renowned star-kindler”)
  6. The River Run (“Joined by a mysterious Ranger the party races to Rivendell. ‘It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all tales of Middle- earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts.’ – Strider.”)
  7. Songs for Middle-Earth IV (“The fourth addition to a never ending collection of fanmixes dedicated to the beauty of Middle-earth. {featuring the soundtracks of BCC Merlin, War in the North & Kingdom of Heaven}”)
  8. Tolkien Readalong‘s playlists – Featuring playlists that follow readalongs of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Additional playlists cover characters and appendices.

(All the Elvish playlists I saved seem to no longer be in existence :/ Guess I’ll have to find some new ones!) Do you have any plans for Tolkien Reading Day?

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Literary Pilgrimages: Hobbiton, Middle-Earth (Part 5)

Middle-Earth Literary Pilgrimage
Earlier this year, I spent three months travelling around New Zealand. My primary reason for doing so? Exploring locations in featured in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, of course! Come along as I revisit what will likely remain my most extensive ‘literary pilgrimage’.

Hobbiton

My final post in this literary pilgrimage series features Hobbiton, home to Bilbo and Frodo, protagonists of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Some might say I’ve saved the best for last. That was my intent when I planned out my trip. Of all the locations one can visit, Hobbiton is the only one preserved as seen in the movies (the set was dismantled after The Lord of the Rings and rebuilt permanently after The Hobbit). I booked the evening banquet tour. The tour is absolutely worth it. You explore Hobbiton by day and by night (as the tour runs from something like 4300PM-7:30PM), and enjoy an impressive hobbit feast in the Green Dragon. I have also read the evening tour only runs one tour at a time – you can see Hobbiton without the crowds of Big Folk, which I found essential to the experience.

Hobbiton is about a 15 minute drive from Matamata. As the bus approached the site, I felt like I was really leaving New Zealand for the Shire. The rolling green hills, trickling brooks, and bright sunbeams set the mood. I felt a bit odd as I walked the paths of Hobbiton. I kept wondering where all the hobbits had gone! It seemed to me that they’d been shuffled out by a real estate agent who wanted to show off their homes to likely buyers (those of us on the tour).  This was one of my most surreal experiences.

Hobbit hole in Hobbiton

View of Hobbiton from Bag End
Looking down over Hobbiton from Bag End. Can you spot the Green Dragon?
No admittance except on party business
An iconic notice…
Bag End, Hobbiton
Anybody home?
Bag End, Hobbiton
Bag End, home of Bilbo and Frodo
Sam's hole, Hobbiton
If I recall correctly, this is Sam’s hole (note the gardening supplies out front)
Hobbiton
By the time we wandered down to the Green Dragon, the sun had set and the lights of the village were coming on.
The Green Dragon, Hobbiton
Behind the counter at the Green Dragon
Green Dragon, Hobbiton
Enjoying my Sackville Cider. You can enjoy four brews exclusive to this inn.
Hobbit feast, Hobbiton
The meal was one of the most expansively and beautifully prepared I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. I only wish I had been able to eat more!
Inside the Green Dragon, Hobbiton
Choosing a dessert was a difficult task! I had one of the baked apples. I enjoyed reading the notices that were posted up around the inn. The cat looked especially cozy, curled up by the fire.

Walking through Hobbiton after dark was an entirely different sensation. (I don’t have any great photos as I was relying on an iPhone). As we wandered through the village with lanterns in hand, I imagined the hobbits were now home, snug and cozy in their holes. This was an easy thing to imagine as lights came on outside the holes and in the windows. We visited the field were the party tent was set up. We sang the tribute to the Green Dragon that Merry and Pippin sing in The Return of the King. I had a wonderful evening. This tour was the perfect event to round off three months of exploring Middle-Earth.

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Literary Pilgrimage: Visiting Middle-Earth (Part 4)

Middle-Earth Literary Pilgrimage
Earlier this year, I spent three months travelling around New Zealand. My primary reason for doing so? Exploring locations in featured in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, of course! Come along as I revisit what will likely remain my most extensive ‘literary pilgrimage’.

Wellington and Surrounding Area

Wellington, New Zealand’s capital and hub of the film industry, is home to a number of locations used in filming. Wellington differs from Queenstown in that it doesn’t have the most photogenic locations (many filming sites were dramatically altered for filming). The majority of these locations benefited from direct comparison to screen shots. Wellington’s big draw is that it is home to Weta Workshop – the company that created the special effects, digital effects, and props in the film. I did the ‘Ultimate Movie Tour Plus+’ from Adventure Safari. If you have a car, you probably wouldn’t need to do a tour. I wanted to get out to Rivendell and Weta, so the tour worked for my needs.

Lower Hutt Quarry
Quarry where Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith were built. Not a lot to see here! The set building and filming (especially the battle at Helm’s Deep) that was done in this location was very impressive – some of my favourite stuff from the film.
Harcourt Park
This public park was transformed into the Gardens of Isengard. The rough patches are remnants of the path on which Gandalf rode into Isengard.
Harcourt Park 2
Gandalf and Saruman walked through this area. The bench was covered up with a digital bush in post-production.

The following shots are from Mt. Victoria, in Wellington. The forests of this hill were the locations of the Old Forest, which the hobbits flee through while being pursued by Nazgul.

'Get off the road!' scene, filmed on Mt. Victoria
Where the hobbits fell off the slop and into the road. I have long dreamt about standing in the spot where Frodo shouted ‘Get off the road’…dreams do come true, haha.
Black Rider at the top of the path
Three guys from our group trekked up this path to recreate this shot. It was an amusing process, but it does look like the film!
Forest through which the hobbits dart while being chased by Black Riders
Rivendell gate
This gate was not used in filming. It was recently built so visitors to the Kaitoke Regional Park could get a better feel for Rivendell. I certainly appreciated it. Lovely area.
Map of Rivendell
Map of the locations built for the filming of Rivendell (structures are no longer there)
Post indicating height of LotR characters
This post indicates the heights of LotR characters (according to the books). I didn’t realize Gandalf was so short 😉

The closing piece of the tour is a trip to Weta Studios. The workshop tour was my favourite part of the day. I felt like I was in a museum, looking at all the objects that were used in filming! I had an emotional moment viewing Pippin’s Gondorian armour, haha. Unfortunately no photos allowed during the tour. I did get to take a photo of the armour (Theoden’s, worn by actor Bernard Hill) that I fangirled over in the shop, though. And of course a few shots of the trolls from The Hobbit outside. 🙂

Trolls outside Weta Cave

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