Early Morning Open Thread: Tolkien Fellowship

I am charmed to discover that W.H. Auden was a Tolkien fan — in fact, according to Erin Overbey at the New Yorker, one of the earliest and most influential Tolkien fans:

In 1926, a young W. H. Auden attended a lecture at Oxford, where he heard J. R. R. Tolkien recite a passage from “ Beowulf” so beautifully that he decided, right then and there, that Anglo-Saxon was a worthwhile academic pursuit. Auden became a close friend of Tolkien’s and an ardent champion of his work, defending him in public and in print against a host of early skeptics; he was one of the first serious writers (along with C. S. Lewis) to ask whether Tolkien’s narratives of heroic quests and imaginary worlds could be considered something more than simply escapist reading….

In 1966, Plotz invited Auden, who was spending his winters in New York, to come speak at one of the Tolkien Society’s gatherings, and the New Yorker writer Gerald Jones covered the meeting for the magazine. The fifty-person meeting was held at Plotz’s family home, in Brooklyn, and it included a true cross section of Tolkien fandom; high-school kids, college professors, Plotz’s two younger brothers, and the author of “September 1, 1939.” Auden and the other guests were served non-alcoholic eggnog and cider, and a snack of fresh mushrooms, a favorite Hobbit dish. The discussion spanned a variety of Tolkien-related topics: the correct method of writing in Elvish, the best way to assemble an accurate cosmological model of Middle-Earth. A contentious debate broke out between a high-school student, who argued that Middle-Earth was “essentially spherical,” and a professor at Queens College, who countered that Middle-Earth was “undoubtedly saucer-shaped.”

Then it was Auden’s turn. He began by talking about his personal relationship with Tolkien and the major influence his former professor had had on his life. Tolkien, he said, had originally fallen in love with the Finnish language, which has affinities with Elvish, because it has “fifteen or sixteen cases.” (“Fifteen!” one of the young attendees exclaimed.) Auden went on to tell the group how Tolkien had often admitted that he really had no idea where “The Lord of the Rings” was going when he first started the trilogy. In fact, Auden said, he wasn’t even sure how the pivotal character of Strider would develop as the narrative grew. Auden also let his rapt audience in on Tolkien’s fascination with “the whole Northern thing.” For Tolkien, Auden said, north is “a sacred direction.” (That’s north as in Scandinavia, not Riverdale.) After his talk, Auden stayed and chatted with his fellow-fans. He looked, Jonas wrote, remarkably like “a Tolkienish wizard surrounded by a crowd of young and eager Hobbits.”…

What’s on the agenda for today’s Monday-falls-on-a-Wednesday interim between two holidays?

98 replies
  1. 1
    NotMax says:

    Contemplating what to cook and bring for our group’s usual New Year’s Eve get-together.

  2. 2

    Back to work. Should be a ghost town though.

  3. 3

    Dropping off my nearly antique car at the body shop in preparation for the antique car show season down here in Florida. It’s getting a few nips and tucks and retouches so when it turns 25 next week it will look new from a reasonable distance.

  4. 4
    Schlemizel says:

    I am hoping to be able to stay awake at work today. I know half my office is gone & assume a lot of the rest of the outfit is either on vacation or taking advantage of the emptiness to do less than usual.

    It was made very clear to me on Monday that there is no way I can perform my job in the manner required to actually be of value to this outfit. The most senior levels (VP & C level)of management are aware of this are are totally OK with it. This is quite the change from what I was promised 4 months ago when I was hired.

    At this moment I am not sure how I feel about this. I am tired of working and tired of caring about doing a good job for people who don’t actually care about their IT security. I can sit at my desk and pretend, I can make charts for the correct placement of deck chairs and I can pretend I just don’t understand the incredible risks my employer is taking until I retire. But I am not sure it would be healthy for me.

  5. 5
    Raven says:

    We’re in the process of a refi to put an addition on our house. It’s a bit premature but I may start doing what I can to prepare the area for the work. And football.

  6. 6
    Debbie(Aussie) says:

    Just spent another wonderful day with family(in-laws). Tomorrow, Off to the movies, a yearly tradition for my brothers birthday, to see the Hobbit. Then lunch.

  7. 7
    Ben Cisco says:

    @Schlemizel: Tough spot, given that minds can change (and often do) once fertilizer contacts oscillator. May I invoke the old boxer’s maxim – protect yourself at all times?

  8. 8
    Raven says:

    @Debbie(Aussie): I’m looking at Xmas pictures of my friends who moved to Safety Bay last month.

  9. 9
    Raven says:

    @Schlemizel: Fuck it “it all pays the same”.

  10. 10
    MikeJ says:

    @Schlemizel: Write lots of memos detailing what needs to be done and documenting how those plans got shot down. When disaster strikes, at least you may have C’edYA.

  11. 11
    Debbie(Aussie) says:

    @Raven: I hope they are happy here in Aus, must be hard for the one so far from family.

  12. 12
    Raven says:

    @Debbie(Aussie): If we didn’t have such insane marriage laws they’d still be here. They were legally married in New York but the Aussie can’t get a green card.

  13. 13
    Debbie(Aussie) says:

    We are only better in that we recognise their marriage, but still won’t allow same sex marriage. Too stupid!

  14. 14
    Debbie(Aussie) says:

    I’m off to sleep. Was wonderful to read all the support for only mike in the cat bleg thread. ( from a fellow depression sufferer) Balloon Juicers are super woderful persons :)

  15. 15
    arguingwithsignposts says:

    Waiting for snow to arrive and chillin’ with some DVDs and leftovers.

  16. 16
    Karmus says:

    There’s a red jalopy full of teenagers outside who want to discuss with you the slam on Riverdale.

  17. 17
    Linda Featheringill says:

    @Schlemizel: #4

    I’m so sorry. [hug] How old are you, Honey? Any chance of an early out?

  18. 18
    geg6 says:

    Sitting and waiting for snowmageddon to come (or ice-and-snowmageddon, to be more accurate). I have a terrible cold and don’t want to be out at all, so I won’t.

    I have a terrible secret I must share. I am a huge Survivor fan. To the extent that I buy the dvds so I can watch them with the commentary. My sister got me Survivor: Thailand and Survivor: Amazon for Christmas. This is how I plan to spend my day.

  19. 19
    Elizabelle says:

    It’s snowing — and sticking — in Northern Virginia.

    Wheeee! Beautiful white sparkling dusting on the deck, the roofs, the lawns, the cars.

    Maybe an eighth of an inch, but I’ll take it.

    Early light. Sun not up yet. It was dark 15 minutes ago.

  20. 20
    Elizabelle says:


    But! Quarterly results! And bonuses.

    Can you sneak them a story about Nikki Haley’s travails in the computer age in South Carolina?

  21. 21
    Elizabelle says:

    Have been wanting to share this story about Bronco the police dog from Loudoun County (DC exurb) with you.

    He went on the lam at the groomer’s, but was found safe a few days ago.

    Love the picture of Bronco with his police badge. And those ears. Makes me smile.

    Plus: a dog that went on the lam at Dulles Airport has been found safe too. That dog had flown in from Egypt (I know, tired paws) and escaped after being startled by jet noise. He was humanely trapped and is safe in his home now.

  22. 22
    MattF says:

    @Schlemizel: I had several years of working at jobs that really didn’t make use of my abilities, and it was no fun. Fortunately I’m employed at a rather large organization and found some tasks managed by people who were familiar with good stuff I’d done earlier. With some care and feeding, the good stuff has gradually increased, and the bad stuff has gradually decreased, to the point where I now have very little to do with the jobs in the group that I’m assigned to. Fortunately, my de jure supervisors don’t mind; I’ve solved a problem for them.

  23. 23
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Raven, did you get the big thunderstorms overnight? Just after midnight, I was slammed awake by a HUGE thunderclap and lightning flash. I think the rain has finally stopped or at least petered down — it’s still so dark I can’t tell by looking out the window — but I guess we’ll have showers all day on and off. Heard on NPR there were several tornados throughout the south, but they didn’t specify where, or extent of damage.

  24. 24
    Phylllis says:

    Looks like the rain will move on out of here around lunchtime, so I’m going to go putter around in some of the local shops as a pre-emptive cabin fever strike.

    Can you sneak them a story about Nikki Haley’s travails in the computer age in South Carolina?

    In Nikki’s defense (the first time I’ve said that), agencies and the legislature have ignored technology infrastructure for a long time. Of course, Nikki didn’t miss an opportunity to handle it in the most ham-fisted wasy possible.

  25. 25
    IowaOldLady says:

    Rivendell, people. Not Riverdale.

  26. 26
    Elizabelle says:


    Good point, and I’ve not been following story closely. (Just headlines.)

    But a cautionary tale, to be sure.

  27. 27
    Raven says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: I don’t think we must have. I was wasted from the drive and crashed on the couch. I’ll ask the princess when I get home.

  28. 28
    Raven says:

    Mobile Al got nailed by a tornado.

  29. 29
    Cermet says:

    Just added a group of very young discus fresh water fish to my discus tank (lost most from a filter that turned deadly – that issue is now fixed and I added a prevent measure so such future failures are not likely to occur; live and learn … but damn that f’ing stupid company that makes that filter.) Need to feed the little buggers five times a day and clean the tank every f’ing day, too while they grow. But they do grow into huge (and very round), beautiful fish and these critters really do get to know you. After a while, they will come to you and can even be fed out of your hand.

    Thank god for algae scrubbers – the greatest invention for aquarium keeping since the invention of biological cleaning filters (and by the way, these scrubbers are far better, than those old standard bio-based filters. Just saying for any fish keepers out there.)

  30. 30
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Nothing Nikki does would surprise me, but I’ve missed all the stuff y’all are referring to. Could one of you kindly summarize, or provide a link for details? Thx!

  31. 31
    Raven says:

    @Cermet: I got home from a long drive yesterday and promptly dropped my started colony of dermisted beetles on the floor. I had a hand vac right there so I think I got them all!

  32. 32
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Cermet: Discus fish are so pretty! I love the variety of colours and patterns they come in.

  33. 33
  34. 34
    geg6 says:

    Holy shit. Has anyone else read the WaPo story that TPM has up about Dick Armey’s attempted armed takeover of Freedom Works?

    Jeebus. I didn’t think these people could any crazier. But I was wrong.

  35. 35
    Elizabelle says:


    Apologies there.

    Massive security breach of South Carolina state computers. From a mid-November roundup in “The State” newspaper of Columbia, SC.

    SC hacking: What’s known, what’s not known

    Hackers duped an employee into opening a file with a program that allowed them to get log-in credentials to the department computers. The hackers probed the computers, starting in late August, before swiping the information in mid-September. The Secret Service told the state about the theft on Oct. 10.

    Do we know what the thieves took?

    Haley said to be safe anyone who filed S.C. taxes since 1998 should assume anything on their tax return is in the hands of hackers. That encompasses 3.8 million consumers and 657,000 businesses. The hackers also snagged nearly 400,000 credit cards numbers.

    What could the thieves do with the tax information?

    Practically anything.

    They could get credit cards and loans, receive medical care and empty bank accounts. They have information to identify the most lucrative targets, experts said. Hackers could net $360 million if they empty bank accounts belonging to only 1 percent of affected consumers and businesses, a former FBI agent said last week.

    Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2012/1.....rylink=cpy

    The State does not have a firewall, and has a good search program for anyone who’d like to research more. It’s a McClatchy paper, and a good one (in the Republic of Crazy, yet).

  36. 36
  37. 37
    danielx says:

    Every one of the local news outlets is fully engaged in touting “Snopocalypse: MCXII”. It doesn’t look all that bad outside, though my yardstick for bad is based upon a DC-area blizzard in 1996 which trapped Mrs. X and I in the Marriott in Reston, VA for two days. (Note: there are worse places to be stranded, especially when you’re eating and drinking on the company’s dime – even when engaged in a corporate relocation horror story.) When you look out the fifth story window and all you see is white, it’s bad. That ended up dropping 22 inches and we’re not expecting anything like that here in beautiful central Indiana, but it’s going to get a little sporty when the wind builds up to the promised 40 mph. Power outages are building up, so I am happy that I spent time hauling wood on the back porch yesterday – we may yet end up camping out around the fireplace.

    In the meantime, just waiting for enough snow to make it worthwhile to fire up the snowblower for what promises to be a long day of clearing my driveway and the neighbors’ sidewalks, interspersed with ham sandwiches, Irish coffee and naps.

    The nineteen year old daughter got some pajamas with feet for Christmas; I am SO jealous. I want some with a hood so I can look like one of the Lost Boys from Peter Pan.

  38. 38
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    I’ve never been a big Tolkien fan. It seems like all fantasy since him takes place in a generic Northwestern Europey setting, with an idealized version of Medieval/Renaissance Europe with magic and fucking dragons and shit. I get the same vibes from Renaissance Faires.

  39. 39
    MattF says:

    @geg6: Saw that– and, fwiw, previously I’d thought that Armey was (relatively) sane, or, at least, that he had an interesting set of enemies… Looks now like Armey’s ‘sanity’ was a big act.

  40. 40
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Raven: Beautiful! Did you see those up close and personal on your visit last year?

  41. 41
    Schlemizel says:

    @Linda Featheringill:

    I’ll be 61 in two weeks but there is no early retirement. A large part of my retirement was stolen by corporate raiders. I’ll work till I’m 67 to maximize my SS if it is at all possible. The last decade has not been that kind to my 401k.

    Funny thing is the place I work for has no bonus system & pays no dividends.

    I don’t know how many of you have ever read “The Cuckoo’s Egg” by CLiff Stole. Its a true story of discovering military espionage by accident. I can tell you for a fact that the exact same things are going on today at a much more sophisticated level by our friends to the East. I know of two places this is happening right now & understand the work being done. I’ll give you one example of how good these guys are
    One of the best guys I know discovered them in defense related systems. He worked to discover the route they took and worked with his anti-virus vendor to build a solution. The solution eradicated the discovered bot but he discovered shortly there after that it had already rebuilt itself in a new place even better hidden than the original. It has done this more than once.

  42. 42
    Schlemizel says:


    I see that they are flesh eating critters . . . could they be hazardous to humans or pets?

  43. 43
    sherparick says:

    Auden had rejoined the Anglican/Christian faith during WWII (despite, irregardles, whatever his continuing homosexuality), and practiced what is called “High Church” or Anglo-Catholicism, which of course gave him a lot in common with both Tolkein and C.S. Lewis during the 1950s and 60s. Given their linkage in this post, I note that coincidentally Tolkein and Auden both died in the same month and year, September 1973 (Auden was suppose to travel to Notre Dame for a literary festival early 1974, and with his passing (heart attack), the English Department replaced him with Isaac Bashevis Singer (who I liked a bit more than Auden anyway).

    Fussell’s “Great War and Modern Memory” actually caused me to reread Tolkein in my late middle age. Where the teenager gets caught up in the fantasy, it was realism of Tolkein, in telling the horrors of WWI, in particular in Sam’s and Frodo’s journey (or long patrol) through a devastated “no man’s land” landscape, toward Mordor.

  44. 44
    Schlemizel says:


    Interesting that they don’t even have a firewall. But I have one even worse.

    I did a gig for a State agency that wanted to replace their single point of failure firewall with a redundant pair. The contractor they hired to select the replacement had them buy the most expensive option on the market. Its an excellent product but very expensive.

    They hired me to help tune the rules since they had no idea what was going through this stuff. As background a firewall is basically a set of rules that say ‘this can talk to this’ and ‘this can’t talk to that’.

    Their 6 figure Cadillac of firewalls had 16 rules in place. The first two prevented anyone outside from connecting to the firewall, the next 13 allowed specif addresses to connect to specific internal computers and the final rule was “allow any IP address to connect to any IP address for anything they want to do”.

    As weak a level of protection as a firewall provides this $100k+ speed bump didn’t even slow things down. *sigh*

  45. 45
    Emma says:

    @Schlemizel: Go into protective mode. Basically? Screw them. You do your best as you’re allowed, you thoroughly document the screwups in case they try to blame you after you’ve left, and you start seriously looking for a job.

  46. 46
    MaxxLange says:

    @Schlemizel: It sounds like your position has symbolic value only – “we hired a security guy, check” – or maybe your actual function is to be the fall guy when there is eventually an incident.

  47. 47
    Schlemizel says:


    I have started a file

    I left NASA when I realized my real job was to be the sacrificial lamb in the event of a public disclosure. Here I do not have the title nor the position to be responsible but I don’t think that would save me if smelly hits whirly.

    In a sad sort of way I’m OK with them not looking. The guys we are up against are so good they won’t trip up and expose themselves. They will take every bit of information out of us they want & we will never even know they have been here. That part is ‘secure’

  48. 48
    Chyron HR says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    It seems like all fantasy since him takes place in a generic Northwestern Europey setting, with an idealized version of Medieval/Renaissance Europe with

    I suppose, but it’s not like fantasy literature was a very big field prior to everyone Tolkein up.

    and fucking dragons

    Oh, well, that’s mostly just fanfiction.

    and shit

    That’s just the really disreputable fanfiction.

  49. 49
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Thanks, and holy shit! Don’t know how I managed to miss a story of this magnitude in a neighbouring state involving a Governor I enjoy pointing and laughing at, but miss it I did.

    (Not laughing at all the South Carolinians whose identities may have been stolen or compromised.)

    BTW, I agree with your views on The State — a paper orders of magnitude better than the AJC.

  50. 50
    Maude says:

    I knew making this movie about them beetles would pay off. This is perfect. Beetles march to Atlanta. This will make Gone With the Wind look like child’s play.
    If that vac moves, run for your life.

    Oh, sigh. So much of that in corporate.
    The Pentagon is supposed to start concentrating on cyber security. I hope so.

  51. 51
    Phylllis says:

    @Elizabelle: Letters are supposed to go out this week to those whose information was stolen. Approximately four weeks after they indicated those affected would be notified ‘in about two weeks’.

  52. 52
    Elizabelle says:


    For whatever reason, I am fascinated with traveling in and visiting South Carolina.

    But I’d be fine with having to do it with a passport too.

  53. 53
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Elizabelle: LOL! the day is still young, but I think you’ve locked up the internets today!

  54. 54
    Steeplejack says:


    From the New Yorker quote above:

    For Tolkien, Auden said, north is “a sacred direction.” (That’s north as in Scandinavia, not Riverdale.)

    New York geography joke, not Middle-Earth erratum.

  55. 55
    SectionH says:

    Pre-dawn Geek warning.

    Auden was an early admirer of Tolkien, but any influence he had as a fan was minor, and on LitCrit types, because he was a big name in Lit. He did go so far as to pick Gimli as his TSA (ha, that’s Tolkien Society of America) name and sign some LoCs that way. Tolkien himself wasn’t too thrilled with the custom of people grabbing specific names of his characters to use in the group, and even suggested that “the Member from [place in Middle Earth]” was a better alternative.

    If Auden in fact said North was “a sacred direction” for Tolkien, he was wrong. Tolkien himself debunked that notion in one of his published letters by pointing out that Thangorodrim, the fortress of the Great Enemy, of whom Sauron was but a servant, was located in the far North of Middle Earth. It doesn’t even work as a metaphor.

    I took Riverdale to be a place in greater New York.

  56. 56
    Phylllis says:

    @Elizabelle: I recommend Charleston, Greenville’s downtown, and Beaufort. Oh, and Aiken is pretty cool. As soon as the husband and I are at retirement age (about 8 years from now), we are putting this state in our rearview.

  57. 57
    Steeplejack says:


    She means The State (the newspaper) doesn’t have a paywall, so you can freely read the stories. Although the evidence is that if the state (the state) actually has a firewall it didn’t do any good.

  58. 58
    Schlemizel says:


    If I might quote the late, great, Emily Litella:
    Never mind

    the whole thing makes more sense that way – thanks

  59. 59
    Amir Khalid says:

    I am considering a long-overdue upgrade of my consumer electronics. Namely, new TV set and Blu-ray player. Should I get
    (a) 50″ LED non-3D set and non-3D player (about 3,300 ringgit [$1,100]total)?
    (b) 50″ plasma 3D set and 3D player) (about 3,000 ringgit[$1,000])?

  60. 60
    Amir Khalid says:

    Isn’t Riverdale the town where Archie and his friends live?

  61. 61
    MikeJ says:

    @Amir Khalid: The plasma screen 1) uses more energy and 2) looks much, much better with fast action like sports.

  62. 62
    Steeplejack says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    Yes, that was the point of the “jalopy” joke from Karmus.

  63. 63
    Paul in KY says:

    @Steeplejack: For Prof. Tolkein (at least in his books) West seems to be a more sacred direction than North (which was where Morgoth had his fortresses in the Elder Days).

  64. 64
    Steeplejack says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    I would go non-3D. I don’t see the point. Yes, I’m old.

  65. 65
    Paul in KY says:

    @Amir Khalid: I prefer the non-plasma models.

  66. 66
    MattF says:

    @SectionH: In fact, Riverdale is in the Bronx, it’s one of those ‘inner suburbs’ that are inside the city limits. Hobbits are hard to spot, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find them on Riverdale Ave.

  67. 67
    Cassidy says:

    @Schlemizel: When I was in Iraq, I was having a pissing match with people who wanted to tell me how to do my job as Senior Medic. They outranked me and I was going to lose, but I was really arguing over principle: that I should be making those decisions and not them. So I went to tell my Platoon Sergeant about it and get some guidance from him. After hearing me bitch [and possibly some whining] for about 30 mins, he asked me if i had gotten paid a few days prior. I had and told him so. HIs response was, well if they’re wanting to do your job and make your’s easier and you still got paid, what’s the problem?

    That lesson has stuck with me since.

  68. 68
    Schlemizel says:


    I was in Riverdale, at a park near the river years ago & we ran into what may have been a Hobbit. The creature was small and hairy. He surprised us by opening his coat and displaying his “precious”.

    Its magic power stunned me to silence as I had never before witnessed such a display. The sorceress that was accompanying me on this journey cast a spell that cause him to disappear. Without missing a beat she incanted the magical phrase “If mine were that tiny I’d keep it hidden!”

    Truly she was not one to be trifled with.

  69. 69
    Yoüf says:

    Sadly, The Hobbit movie was over run with filmmaking choices made by not-too-long-ago-pre-pubescent-devotees-of-first-person-shooter-fantasy-games. Sigh…

    The scene with Gollum, however, was BRILLIANT! The digital effects while “wearing the ring” were magically apt.

  70. 70
    SectionH says:

    @MattF: Thanks. Had a vague recollection of a friend’s mailing address having been there.

    @Schlemizel: Lol!

  71. 71
    Schlemizel says:


    Believe me I am trying to get that attitude. One problem for me is I am not built that way. I feel some responsibility to do the job I was promised I could do.

    This next part is going to sound overly dramatic and maybe even a little paranoid please bear with me.
    I think there is something very important being missed. Its not just the place I currently work either. There actually is a real cyber war already going on every day in the world around us. I am aware of some things that I know are happening that by themselves don’t seem important but taken as a whole are pretty scary. Some group inside some foreign country is very busy insinuating itself inside thousands of computer systems and gathering millions of bits of information about very specific projects and spending a great deal of time finding pathways into more systems. This is happening in ways so sophisticated that some of the brightest people I know working on some of the most advanced malware systems are unable to find it all or clean it up when it is found.

    While we spend trillions of dollars building a military behemoth to protect us from a couple of insignificant gnats we are in the process of losing the real war because people don’t want to spend a pittance to prevent it.

    Rereading that it sounds silly to me but it is true – I am not willing or able to prove a single thing I put up there so I see no need for anyone to take it seriously. So there it will remain.

  72. 72
    Schlemizel says:


    If you have not read “The Cuckoo’s Egg” take a look at this brief explination:

    Particularly this sentence. Then think about all the systems controlled by Internet accessible systems (say the national power grid or the entire banking system).

    Stoll recorded the hacker’s actions as he sought, and sometimes gained, unauthorized access to military bases around the United States, looking for files that contained words such as “nuclear” or “SDI”. The hacker also copied password files (in order to make dictionary attacks) and set up Trojan horses to find passwords.

    This exact same process is going on right now. I have seen it. The information being collected is astounding.

    And, yes, I know I am near if not into tinfoil hat territory.

  73. 73
    Cassidy says:

    @Schlemizel: Understandable. I’m a “doer” as well and sometimes a “do before think-er” which hasn’t always been my best quality. I get it, though. There comes a point where even the most assertive people reach a point of “fuck it”. In the Army, that was a pretty clear line: the highest ranking guy was gonna win even if I was right and went down swinging. It still took me about 10 years to learn to pick my battles.

    I know nothing about computers. I know how to turn mine on, surf the net and set my security settings to keep me from clicking on something stupid. I use freeware as my virus and malware protections. I have no idea if I’m doing anything even remotely effective, but I’m not paying money for not knowing.

  74. 74
    MattF says:

    @Schlemizel: I think most ‘civilians’ have no idea what’s going on out there. I also have a suspicion that there’s governmental and non-governmental establishments on both sides implementing both defense and offense. It’s what I’d be working on, if I were in their shoes.

  75. 75
    McJulie says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    I’ve never been a big Tolkien fan. It seems like all fantasy since him takes place in a generic …

    As a teenager I certainly read my share of generic vaguely Tolkienesque fantasy. (Sword of Shannara comes instantly to mind. Peter S. Beagle told a story at a convention about being asked to write a cover blurb for it — he quoted, I think, Judy Lynn del Rey as saying “it’s for people who’ve read Tolkien twenty times and can’t quite get it up for the twenty-first.” )

    But I bristle mightily at the suggestion that his many imitators make Tolkien himself any worse. Do we blame Jane Austen or Shakespeare for inventing the tropes used in many inferior romantic comedies?

    Lord of the Rings is to modern fantasy what Dracula is to modern vampire fiction. It essentially spawned a genre, and its huge and enduring popularity, plus the vast feel of its mythology, means that everything in that genre ends up being perceived in dialog with it, even if the attempt (as in China Mieville’s work) is to ignore it entirely.

    Fussell’s “Great War and Modern Memory” actually caused me to reread Tolkein in my late middle age. Where the teenager gets caught up in the fantasy, it was realism of Tolkein, in telling the horrors of WWI, in particular in Sam’s and Frodo’s journey (or long patrol) through a devastated “no man’s land” landscape, toward Mordor.

    As a teenager I was already a passionate environmentalist, so the anti-industrial metaphors there were what jumped out at me.

    I never paid as much attention to the chapters that were mostly fighting, so it took me a ridiculous number of re-reads before I noticed that bit in the Siege of Gondor when the Orcs are catapulting the heads of the slain into Minas Tirith.

  76. 76
    Cassidy says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay: That sounds a lot like a “I liked them when they were underground, underground” statement. lol

  77. 77
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @Cassidy: im not sure I get what you are saying? It just seems like modern fantasy is white people’s idealized version of NW Europe in the Midfle Ages, except s/Christianity/magic. Do not other biomes and races exist?

  78. 78
    Cassidy says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay: I was making a hipster joke at your expense.

    Personally, I’m not looking for an ideal mix of races, genders, and species in my fantasy and sci-fi. My first requirement is halfway decent story, followed by violence, and then, hopefully, graphic sex that isn’t too creepy. Anything after that is just details.

  79. 79
    Rorgg says:


    So I originally thought, but NOTHING in that sentence makes sense. In Middle-Earth, the WEST is sacred, not the North. The North was, for a couple ages, the domain of The Enemy, and then after that, a mix of remnant evil and frozen death.

    I’ll just ascribe it to an Archie Comics joke I didn’t get.

  80. 80
    Suzanne says:

    The husband and I are going to Trader Joe’s and then, God help,us, IKEA. Then we’re going to a great local bar for a friend’s birthday celebration tonight.

  81. 81
    Paul in KY says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay: They do, but they are generally hundreds of miles away & when all you have is your feet, they might as well be on another planet.

    Edit: If there was a book set in middle ages sub-saharan Africa, I wouldn’t expect there to be too many white characters.

  82. 82
    MaxxLange says:

    @Cassidy: I am deeply grateful that Tolkien did not try to write sex scenes.

  83. 83
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    I’ve never been a big Tolkien fan. It seems like all fantasy since him takes place in a generic Northwestern Europey setting, with an idealized version of Medieval/Renaissance Europe with magic and fucking dragons and shit.

    Well, there’s also the influence of the Swords-and-Sorcery genre from R.E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, L. Sprague deCamp, Lin Carter, Fritz Lieber, and Jack Vance.

    Reading Dunsany or William Morris is very interesting because their work predates when the conventions of fantasy got locked into place.

    China Mieville has a cool steampunk/fantasy setting, and has a sharp eye for the sociology of a fantasy world. Stephen Brust and Mike Swanwick have a good take on the underbelly of fantasy settings, as both give a view from the perspective of lower socioeconomic status castes or races or classes. Joe Abercrombie’s second novel in his “First Law” trilogy essentially takes the piss out of at least 5 standard fantasy conventions, including the Journey to find the Awesome Plot Coupon. GRR Martin isn’t adverse to ripping standard fantasy plot tropes a new one either, or for showing the human costs of whatever schemes are occurring in the ruling elite. Glen Cook, while not as good a writer as the above authors, gives a grunt’s eye view of a war in a fantasy setting. if you want total fluff, Jim Hines “Goblin” trilogy mocks standard D&D influenced fantasy tropes mercilessly.

    So yeah, other fantasy authors have noted what you’ve noted about the dominant influence of Tolkien, and have responded.

    Sword of Shannara comes instantly to mind.

    I think Sword of Shannara was essentially fanfic written went (for some copyright reason) LoTR wasn’t published in the U.S., and it and its sequels were maybe the first example of Extruded Fantasy Product.

  84. 84
    Cassidy says:

    @MaxxLange: But where the hell did Frodo and Samwise get those fuck me eyes from?

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger: I second Jim Hines, but for his Princess series. Stan Nicholls Orcs: First Blood is really good. I haven’t read beyond that first trilogy. And I’m thinking of picking up Orcs: Bad Blood. And I love Joe Abercrombie, but didn’t care for the last book I read, The Heroes. I mmight try it again, as I think I just wasn’t in the mood for it.

  85. 85
    Cassidy says:

    Help, I’m in moderation.

  86. 86
    Paul in KY says:

    @MaxxLange: He is really good at waxing rhapsodically about scenery. I bet he could tear it up when writing about the female form.

  87. 87
    MathInPA says:

    @Yoüf: I’ve been a fan of the Hobbit and LotR since my mom gave me the trilogy when I was out with strep in Kindergarten, and I actually am quite at peace with the changes made (except for Radagast; that makes about as much sense as the character assasination on Faramir and Eowyn). They fit into the larger Battle for Erebor narrative Tolkien wrote in as a part of his longer term project to try and back-integrate the Hobbit into the same worldspace as the Lord of the Rings; fitting in the Elves & Dwarves long term suspicion and hostility, the White Council and the rise of the Necromancer and deeper importance are all there.

    The problem lies in this: Tolkien himself gave up at the task. He eventually concluded that the Hobbit, as written, simply could not fit as a factual narrative in the world of Middle Earth, and so his final decision was that the Hobbit was a child’s tale about an actual historical event, and had been both cleaned up and silliness added for the purpose.

    This is a trick that works in books, especially with the Literary Agent conceit. It doesn’t work in a theoretically observed-as-happening live action movie. With the baffling exception of accepting Saruman’s version of Radagast rather than Gandalf’s, it looks like Jackson mostly tried to emphasize the version of the Hobbit that fit into the world and narrative space of the Lord of the Rings.

    Notice that all of the fights were running ones, with the band attempting to escape (with the exception of one SPOILER berserker moment) or rescue rather than stand and slaughter. I also appreciated that, if we were going for the LotR feel, that Bilbo’s contributions to the group happened earlier and more often, and are still contingent on assisting and defending rather than a lust for blood.

  88. 88
    Jay C says:

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger:

    I doubt whether Terry Brooks’ Shannara books (“Extruded Fantasy Product”? Heh!) had much to do with Tolkien’s copyright issues: Brooks started his series in 1977, well after JRRT (his estate, by then) had protected their CR rights to the max. Maybe you’re thinking of the 1965 “pirated” Ace Books edition of LOTR? Cheap and gaudy: but supposedly collectors items, now.

    Anyway, agree about the Shannara stories, after reading the first one, I felt like I was wearing a watch I’d bought on the street that said “ROLEKS” on it: it may have kept good time, but you just knew something wasn’t right…

    Oh, and Auden being a big fan of Tolkien’s isn’t really new news; IIRC, the first (legit) US edition of LOTR had a blurb from him on the back cover.

  89. 89
    Linkmeister says:

    @Jay C: Yeah. Those early (1966-1967) Ballantine editions all had a paragraph from Auden on the back. I think they also had a foreword or intro from Peter S. Beagle.

    Here are the Ballantine covers I remember from reading them back in those years. They were drawn by a professional illustrator named Barbara Remington, the Internet tells me.

  90. 90
    Schlemizel says:


    For that you really need the National Lampoon’s “Bored Of the Rings”

    Not only a sex scene but Goodgulf Grayteeth has a magical tie with a naught drawing of an elf that lights up “Would thee kiss me in the dark?”

  91. 91
    Jay C says:


    Not Peter Beagle’s intro, though: his blurb is dated 14 July 1973 (just six weeks or so before Tolkien died); it wasn’t included in the (30+ ?) printings of LOTR following the 1965 revised edition AFAIK. But (unfortunately, IMO, since I think it’s fairly dumb) it has been a staple of every edition since.


    The Harvard Lampoon: Henry Beard and Doug Kenney cranked out Bored of the Rings
    some year before they started NL. Still a classic though….

  92. 92
    Origuy says:

    @Paul in KY:

    I bet he could tear it up when writing about the female form.

    Tolkein was thoroughly a man of his times. His father died when he was very young, and his mother died when he was 12. He worshiped her and married the first woman he ever got to know well. I don’t think he could have written a sex scene.

  93. 93
    Narya says:

    I was told to read LOTR by the guy who sat behind me in Algebra 3/Trig class in 1975. Since then, I have read the whole thing at least 25 times, possibly more. The thing that stands out to me (and the thing that made me annoyed at times with the Jackson version of the thing) is how much JRRT didn’t like warfare. Each of the major Good characters says, at least once, that war is never desirable or good–necessary occasionally, but not something good, and definitely something to be avoided if at all possible. Not surprising, of course.

    Meanwhile, I’m at work and actually reasonably happy to be here: no one else in my department is around, which gives me the opportunity to get a few things done that require concentration (with occasional surfing . . . ).

  94. 94
    West of the Rockies (formerly Frank W.) says:

    Of course, that should be Rivendale (not Riverdale — that’s where Archie and the gang live!).

  95. 95
    West of the Rockies (formerly Frank W.) says:

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger: My daughter and I read China Mievelle’s Unlondon. I liked aspects of the book but thought it got too crowded with too many under-developed, whacky characters (a mute but ever-present empty milk carton named Curdle, for instance). I don’t know, maybe I just picked one of his less-than-stellar titles. I’ve liked Cherie Priest’s steampunk books thus far (Bonshaker, Dreadnought, Ganymede).

  96. 96
    AHH onna Droid says:

    @Cassidy: Ugh, I do like diversity. Ursula LeGuin, O. Butler and Tales of Neveryon for me.

    Tolkein and Lewis’ depictions of the peoples victimized by British colonialism was just embarrassing. (Lewis’ apologetics are pretty bad too.) Too bad, because I miss the feeling reading those books used to give me.

  97. 97
    Tehanu says:

    Terry Brooks started out as a very mediocre imitator of Tolkien but actually became a better writer and his later stuff isn’t bad at all. After a lifetime of reading and re-reading Tolkien and literally thousands of other fantasy novels, I’ve come to the conclusion that either you get it right away or you don’t get it at all — or you start analyzing it as if you were Herbert Marcuse, at which point you’ve completely gone off the rails. And there’s nothing wrong with not getting it at all, but it does kind of, er, harsh the mellow of those of us who do like it when you start ranting about how you don’t.

  98. 98
    Paul in KY says:

    @Origuy: I just said writing about a woman’s body. Doesn’t necessarily have to be a ‘sex’ scene.

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