Open Thread: LOTRO and LoTR

Today I needed to rest, so I pulled up LOTRO and started playing. I've been listening to audiobooks when my mind isn't otherwise occupied, and I decided to plug in my new Audible copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. Because, you know, topical.

I do a lot of critical deconstruction on this site, with a heavy emphasis on critical, and I do have issues with LoTR for a lot of reasons -- I wish there were more women characters, I regret that there are no people of color as characters, I have doubts about Always Chaotic Evil (And Usually Very Tribal and Othered) races in literature, and all-in-all, Tolkien's writings are far from perfect.

But! It's been lovely to hear Rob Inglis' smooth narration of LoTR while being immersed in the computerized world of same, and it's a nice break from Lewis -- as someone said aptly in the comments recently: if there's a statue in LoTR, Tolkien knew who put it there and why, and I do respect that level of care that he sunk into his craft. (Speaking of, I've been re-reading Fred Clark's Left Behind deconstructions, and I do so like how he talks about crafting with care.)

And since this wouldn't be an open thread without something utterly rambly:

1. I have been so consumed with blog issues that I've done no NaNo writing thus far, though I genuinely meant to. Also, I have to read a book about horses that are made of water and eat people (or something) for book club. Plus, Thanksgiving for four people, three of whom are vocally picky. (Well, all four, really, but I'm the fourth so I don't count.) WHY NOVEMBER WHY.

2. Tonight is my first attempt at Yorkshire Puddings.


Timothy (TRiG) said...

Forged by Maeglin? Now that is a thought. He did get rather a raw deal, didn't he.

Actually, I rather liked Maeglin's father too, in a weird way, right up to the whole forced marriage bit. Before then, he was just presented as a rather weird loner, not as actually evil.


Scribblegoat said...

A weird loner with some very good points to support his preference for being weird and alone -- his dialogue with Turgon is one of the few callings-out of the Noldor and their imperialism, which, even knowing what's coming, makes me grin fiercely every time.

Scribblegoat said...

We should be friends. I really liked the implication that a whoooole lot of the important Third Age weapons, including Sting, were ... um ... Gondolinese? ... of Gondolin, so Maeglin of all people would very likely have forged some of the game-changers in the War of the Ring.

But then, I like Maeglin a lot. I think there's something interesting to be done with a couple of the parallels drawn between him and Eowyn, too (the go-off-to-war-when-the-king-says-no and the living-in-my-uncle's-house-because-my-parents-kicked-it-but-I-wander-off-sometimes and the tired-of-my-role-in-this-closed-culture and the inappropriate-love-interest).

TW: incest -- Especially if you ascribe to the interpretation that nobody ever told him that his cousins were off limits until after he was crushin' on Idril.

rikalous said...

Zombies need not lose speech so much as switch to a kind that the uninfected can't understand. All that moaning has to have be for a reason, right?

chris the cynic said...

This is a good point.

Timothy (TRiG) said...

I have read the first two volumes of HoME (a good few years ago), and have been thinking recently of rereading them and carrying on to finish the series. I'll stick Letters on my list too.

Incidentally, rereading The Hobbit so soon after rereading The Silmarillion has an interesting effect. When Elrond reveals that Orcrist, the sword Thorin has found in the troll horde, was forged in Gondolin, my reaction was almost an audible wow.


Loquat said...

You may be interested in Hugh Howey's I, Zombie. It's highly disturbing, since it relies on the And-I-Must-Scream-esque premise that the zombifying infection locks its victims inside their own heads to watch helplessly as their bodies shamble around eating people, but if one had to live in that world, a book on how best to psychologically prepare oneself for such an existence would certainly be useful.

Steve Morrison said...

The HoME book which grapples with the Orc problem is #10, Morgoth’s Ring. Tolkien tries on for size several explanations for Orkish origins: they’re descended from brainwashed Elves! No, they’re descended from brainwashed humans! No, they’re descended from evil Maiar! No, they’re merely animals, and their powers of speech and apparent sapience are the product of something like recordings implanted in them by Morgoth! That last one is where Tolkien briefly mentions “rebelliousness” of Orcs; here is the passage:
The Orcs were beasts of humanized shape (to mock Men and Elves) deliberately perverted/converted into a more close resemblance to Men. Their ‘talking’ was really reeling off ‘records’ set in them by Melkor. Even their rebellious critical words – he knew about them. Melkor taught them speech and as they bred they inherited this; and they had just as much independence as have, say, dogs or horses of their human masters. This talking was largely echoic (cf. parrots). In The Lord of the Rings Sauron is said to have devised a language for them.TV Tropes exaggerates the rebellion. If you’re interested in the Problem of Orcs, you should also read Tolkien’s Letters; there was at least one where an early reader challenged him on it.

Isator Levi said...

You know, one thing I considered about the issue of more characters being people of colour was the matter of a story that might be set in a place wherein the protagonists are from a place where people would generally be lighter skinned (even making considerations for the implications of such a story design), but...

Then I considered that, even if the protagonists and antagonists aredemarcated partially along skin colour lines, that doesn't exactly preclude such antagonists from being given specific points with names and voices.

It made me consider Kingdom of Heaven; the Muslims are (one of) the antagonists of the film, clearly put on the other side of a certain line to the protagonists, but that doesn't mean they don't have Saladin and a few of his subordinates as actual characters, does it?

And Tolkien, all fairness to him, did present his story in terms of the Eastern peoples fighting for Sauron not because they were evil, but because they were deceived and manipulated and coerced and had a bit of a grudge against the imperialism of Numenor and its descendents (which, as an added point of fairness, are shown to have been equally vulnerable to deception and manipulation by Sauron, and engaged in that brutal imperialism long before he had anything to do with them).

But having the story convey the more sympathetic qualities of the people of colour through actual distinct characters rather than through the prose and the speculations of protagonists...

Yeah, that could have been done.

chris the cynic said...

None of which goes toward addressing how such a zombie would go about writing or reading a book.

MaryKaye said...

I am toying with writing something like the Zombie Survival Guide but from the zombie point of view. Problem is, I need a conceit that allows zombies to *have* a point of view: I can't find a way to do anything interesting with mindless zombies. Any suggestions?

Ana Mardoll said...

I hesitate to mention this because I think I would hate the book now, but I once read a good-at-the-time book called "Deadlands" that had a single intriguing chapter from the POV of a newly turned zombie. He was, iirc, confused and frightened by his condition, and was drawn to humans for their warmth. I *think* the biting was a combination of being hungry and being cold, and thinking that warm blood would fix things, at least for awhile. That part was good.

The rest of the book was not good, and dealt with a host of triggery topics very badly, but I was younger then and hadn't reached my saturation with that sort of nonsense yet. So I don't recommend the book, but maybe that tidbit above will be helpful? I don't know.

depizan said...

I like the Lord of the Rings, despite it's many problems, but I've never had any interest in gaming in that universe. I think it's because the stories - at least in my opinion - so clearly come down on the side of war is a terrible, terrible thing. It makes the typical MMORPG quests seem all kinds of wrong to me.* (For that matter, pen and paper RPGing in it would seem a bit odd unless one ran a very unusual campaign.) Now, maybe the game actually takes this into consideration and the quests are different from the usual, or are done such that it doesn't feel off.

And, then, of course, having played SW:TOR, I've kind of killed MMOs as a viable source of entertainment for myself. At least until such time as all MMOs have moral choices, storylines, and voice acting.

Regarding ACE - I think it makes perfect in-universe sense as propaganda (for any and all universes involving wars, or conflicts that could result in war), but barring threats that aren't sapient exactly (the aforementioned computers, zombies, horrors from beyond, etc) I'm not buying it as anything but propaganda. Nor am I buying Tolkiens "Actually, they're parrots" explanation there. I'm afraid its not compatible with what he wrote. (Not that I blame him for trying to solve the problem he'd created, but I think he'd probably have been better off deciding they were all messed with slave soldiers and there's a nice normal Orc land somewhere else. Or something along those lines.)

It's kind of a problem for finding things to read and watch, but I've really come to love grey vs grey conflicts - as long as the over all tone is still optimistic.

*Which does not, of course, mean that they should feel this way to anyone else!

MaryKaye said...

Orcs as Noble Savages has been quite in vogue in roleplaying materials lately, and I've seen it in novels as well (Morgan Howell's _Queen of the Orcs_ trilogy). I guess two overly-restrictive roles are better than one. Howell explicitly makes the orcs/Native Americans connection in an essay about the books.

I'm frustrated that Paizo (my main supplier of roleplaying material at the moment) recognizes that orcs are people, but not goblins. Their goblins are very extreme types and not suitable as player-characters for most games. I am really fond of goblins and this makes me grit my teeth.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yeah, I can see Lovecraft/demons/zombies/computers because they tend to be pretty single-minded from an other-worldly perspective. (Computers behave how you program them to behave; zombies are driven by a virus and have no free-will to speak of; demons are supernatural; ditto on Lovecraft.)

I think Tolkien-esque Orcs, Goblins, etc. are different for me because they're usually portrayed as Us But Different Looking. Which can have racial implications. (See a number of the aliens in the Star Wars Prequels, for instance, who map a little too nicely onto some pre-existing racial stereotypes.)

And then we have Narnian ACE where they seem to be created TO be evil. We can't really "fault", say, a Ghoul for eating Humans if that's the only thing they can digest for whatever reason, can we? At that point they're more like a dangerous force of nature, like a hurricane or something, rather than a moral theology lesson, in my mind.

Really, that would possibly have made Twilight more interesting: if "vegetarian" vampirism wasn't an option. Then what? A number of authors have grappled with the question, and the results are usually interesting, imo.

Timothy (TRiG) said...

Yorkshire puddings are all kinds of awesome. I've not had them in yonks.

You have problems with always chaotic evil races? So did Tolkien. He wasn't entirely happy with the orcs, and was working on some ideas about orcs rebelling against their fate. Or so I learned recently from TV Tropes. I really must get around to finishing the History of Middle-earth series. (I have recently reread The Silmarillion. I'll get back to HoME one of these days.)


Will Wildman said...

I'm not totally clear on the extent to which he did use it, so to speak. We only ever meet hostile orcs, but we also only ever meet hostile southrons, yet Sam (in the movie, Faramir) makes a point of acknowledging that a dead southron isn't necessarily a slain monster, but just some kid who thought that going off to war was the right thing to do. Tolkien didn't give us points of view from the enemy side, but he was never really on board with the idea that being the enemy made them inherently pure evil.

But then in the decades since then we've had all these writers derived heavily from Tolkien who do most definitely write such that orcs are always inherently pure evil, and when we've got that pattern stretching back decades, I wonder if that doesn't affect the way we see Tolkien, even if it's not what he was writing. Do we distinguish between 'definitely Always Chaotic Evil' and 'does not contradict Always Chaotic Evil if that's what you're expecting to see'?

[segue] Yay Yorkshire puddings! [/segue]

I'm keeping pace with NaNo and have yet to not finish a day with the full amount written (better than June camp-), but last night was a slog, because I've hit the first stretch of the story that has never really been clear in my head. Fortunately, I made the first 10K so dense with random worldbuilding that I have plenty of raw material to call back. I'm pretty sure today's investigation sequence is going to make use of a random bystander whom I tossed in back on page 3 just to be mildly foreboding.

Marcus said...

The best example of ACE-with-personality working is, for my money, Buffyverse vampires. But then, they're complicated, especially since the mythology evolves a lot. At first, they're supposed to be monsters with no connection to their former humanity; but gradually the link between human and vampire personality is revealed to be much stronger than originally indicated. And when (on Angel) we finally see the Van-Tal demon that is a vampire's pure form, it makes explicit what's been growing increasingly clear for some time: that the Van-Tal have NO personality at all.

A Buffyverse vampire basically has its human personality, minus conscience, plus the Van-Tal's bloodlust: except that that isn't a simple equation, because when the Van-Tal's simple desire to kill meets human intellect and emotions, they warp each other. The vampires' capacity for calculated cruelty is utterly beyond the animalistic Van-Tal's conception, but it's not altogether fair to say that it "comes from" the human side, because most humans would never _realise_ that capacity even in imagination.

By the end of Angel, of course, the grey areas have grown so much it's possible to question whether vampires can still be called ALWAYS Chaotic Evil.

One wonders how Orc personality maps back to their Elven origins. Though of course, while each individual vampire has been human, Orcs are probably some generations removed from being Elves.

Will Wildman said...

It varies - the movie Daybreakers took it to an extreme, with vampires as the dominant species and the scarce humans being carefully farmed, but it can also be as simple as 'Carlisle has an under-the-table deal with the blood bank'.

I've actually seen it go backwards: I adore the UK version of Being Human, in which vampires can absolutely sustain themselves on perfectly ordinary food forever if they want to, but are, uh, haemoholic, and must struggle with a permanent blood addiction for which they are constantly in danger of falling off the wagon. The Americanised version of the series does have its vampires required to ingest only blood, but the main vamp character just gets some supplies from the blood bank, and his dangerous side just seems to be 'sometimes I really want to murder people', which is rather less relatable or interesting than the original take, to my mind. (Both versions of the show have touched on the morality/possible-skeeviness of using volunteers who don't mind being fed upon in exchange for whatever other thing.)

Will Wildman said...

Same, I tend to have some bulk of the hostile presence (if the story requires one) be ACE, but they can be such because they're not people - last year's NaNo involved a sort of mind-control such that the villain's minions were uniformly as single-minded and extremist as the villain, and this year there's just one big sothothic horror to contend with, although it will stay hidden for some time and just make things look like envy and wrath among mortals.

All of my orc stories involve civil rights and social debate.

chris the cynic said...

The duct tape was actually the last thing I did. I had to use a drill bit by hand to make two and a half holes* go all the way through the computer's monitor case area thing.

Then everything was fixed except... why is this part hanging open? The casing is held closed by a combination of screws and snaps and every snap on the right side had broken, so it was either add even more screws, this time not just longer and heavier duty ones than intended, but ones in places where there were never supposed to be screws in the first place, or duct tape. The duct tape seems to be working just fine.


*One only had to go half way through. Actually, it's possible that two only had to go half way through, but some problems on the right side made it seem a better idea to have the other one go all the way. The third already had a hole on one side, but I needed a hole the rest of the way through to replace the screw.

Amaryllis said...

* hums "The Duct Tape Blues* very loudly at you *

I'm glad you were able to repair it, duct tape and all.

Isabel C. said...

I like ACE as a trope myself, but have a hard time buying it once you give them personalities. It works, for me, when dealing with Lovecraftian horrors/demons/zombies/Terminators (yes I know there was a good one it was one and I had Election Night vodka shut up) and similar; orcs are harder, because they're not quite any of the above and so on and so forth.

I also kinda love the food descriptions, but I pretty much always love food descriptions. And clothing descriptions. Scenery I'm a little less enthused about.

redsixwing said...

I don't like ACE either, because it always seems oversimplified. Take something like Zahn's Conquerors trilogy, now, where we get to see the perspective of multiple sides, each designating at least one other side ACE, and we've got something fun.

I need to do some NaNo catch-up. Was going to work on it last night, but my nerves were just way too up to allow it - I'd have done something awful and then regretted it, and that's not what NaNo is about.

Maybe I shouldn't NaNo at all on election years, but I'm going to catch up tonight and keep on plugging.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yeah, I was aware he had problems with it, but ... you know, he still used it. Intent isn't magic, and neither are regrets.

But points for recognizing some of the inherent issues, I guess. Though, again, this wasn't intended as a way of stealthily criticizing Tolkien.

Amaranth said...

The Scorpio Races ate an entire day when I read it, because I didn't want to put it down. So...there's that.

Marcus said...

Although Tolkien never managed to solve the Orc problem, he did create the Lonely Troll, so there's that. Yes, it's humorous, but in a whimsical way, not in an "a good troll, what a laughable idea" way. If a Tolkien-verse troll can be a vegetarian with a passion for baking, victimised by bigoted Hobbits (!), that makes it that much easier to accept that there must be some good Orcs around that we just never see.

Asha said...

Chris, that horrifically sucks, but I am very impressed with your ingenuity. I would have burst into to tears before trying anything, then given up and cried some more and begged to borrow some other person's computer.

Popovers... mmmm... My used to try making them. I doubt she would try now, but I've considered it because goooooooood. Ana, luck to you and I hope you don't burn your fingers (the major reason I'm scared stiff to make them. Burns and cuts are issues I constantly worry about).

As for Tolkien, the last time I tried to read his stuff was back in my last year of college. I read the Hobbit as a teen, and when I was in fourth grade I had to do a biographical book report and he was my topic. Not much stuck with me beyond "Dude like tobacco, food and music. And was kinda afraid of women." Which explains a lot.

I loved his well planned out world building. There were problems with it, but he created his worlds with an attention to detail that was amazing. That was half the reason I did anthropology as my undergrad degree, so I could learn how to craft a culture for any future writing I did, and he was part of my inspiration. (Susan Cooper was the other half.) That Tolkien invented languages for his writing fills me with awe.

Then I get to along section about the wondrous food they had in Fellowship... and get so bored I have to stop. Dammit.

depizan said...

Rotten luck!

But you get the honorary MacGyver award for fixing it. Brilliant! :D

chris the cynic said...

Rearranged one of the new screws, added some duct tape, computer is looking good.

Asha said...

*hums MacGuyver theme song very loudly at you*

Anyone else want to share my virtual booze for tonight while trying to stay calm about the election? I'm making actual truffles, too, which has my actual booze in it. But I can't share that over the internet.

Snoof said...

If you're interested in some analyses of Tolkien, I strongly recommend Corey Olsen's stuff, especially his Hobbit podcast lecture series, available here:

chris the cynic said...

Going from class in the upper room of a building to the water in the lower portion (to take medication) was such a short trip I didn't think I needed to zip up my bag. I was wrong. My no longer under warranty computer came crashing down to the floor. Looks like the computery parts still work, but the screws holding in a hinge, and part of the hinge itself, broke. So with a screwdriver, some machine screws, three nuts from second prototype of component of thing that was to be done years ago, a drill bit (but no drill) and a hack saw I appear to have fixed the not-under-warranty computer.

Ana Mardoll said...

Oh, Chris, I'm so sorry! :(

Patrick Ingram said...

It's fairly well-known that Tolkien had some problems with the Orcs. He felt that under the Catholic doctrine of universal salvation, the idea of an entirely evil race made no sense. Throughout his writings, he tried to come up with a solution. Being a Catholic, he didn't think anyone but God (Eru) would be capable of creating life, so that was a no-go. In the end, he never thought of an answer that pleased him.

With all the other faults, Tolkien noticed when something (Always Chaotic Evil) made no sense. It's not much, but it makes me respect Tolkien a lot more than other writers of the time (and even today), who use it withut thinking.

Frenchroast said...

I have no idea how you do your Thanksgiving or how flexible it is, but in my very picky family, what we do is one person hosts and does the meat/bread/dessert, and everyone else brings side dishes that they like; they just check with the host to make sure no one brings the same thing. It makes it a lot less work for everyone.

Yorkshire pudding looks tasty!

Nina said...

My mom always says when she finds something that was in plain sight, "Lucky it wasn't a snake or it would have bit me!"

Edited for tense.

Amaryllis said...

I have to read a book about horses that are made of water and eat people (or something) .

I just read that!

My husband makes Yorkshire puddings, and sometimes even Toad-in-the-hole. I'll eat them, but I won't try to make them.

I can't find the puppy's collar/vest, and he's going to have to be walked very soon. WHY AM I SUCH A FEATHER-BRAIN.

(Hearing my mother's voice in my head: "Well, it didn't just grow legs and walk away." Or, "It's right where you left it." And when I find it (please may I find it, it didn't grow legs and walk away), "if it had teeth it would have bit you.")

Thomas Keyton said...

Yorkshire puddings are the best*.

And on the LotR theme: one of my favourite things about it is the existence of Nienna and her status as one of the Aratar. More pantheons could do with someone like her.

*Best may vary wildly from conversation to conversation, terms and conditions apply.

Mary Kaye said...

I think the idea has to be that you read the book while you're still human, and thereby prepare for the inevitable zombie transformation. There needs to be a definite dark-humor streak or it won't work.

This fall at my university the humans lost the quarterly Humans Vs. Zombies because they *didn't* have each others' backs. The final scenario involved a bomb-proof shelter at point A and an immovable bomb at point B. The bomb had to be detonated by hand. Fifty or so remaining humans, scattered across campus, were faced with the choice: shelter vs. suicide mission?

The zombies ran the game-theory calculation and defended the bomb, ignoring the shelter. The humans seemed to split about 2/3 shelter, 1/3 bomb. We wiped them out. Post-game analysis suggested that the humans failed because many of the small groups were out of communication with each other, so no one really knew what the split was, and individuals tended to hope someone else was dealing with the bomb. The bomb group was brave and clever but way too small. I'm pretty sure the humans could have won but they would have had to sacrifice almost everyone to do it, and without central leadership they couldn't pull that off.

(Zombie leadership wasn't much, either. I spent most of the final battle yelling "Come back!" at my fellow-zombies when the humans would try a feint to pull us away from the bomb. Zombies, they're excitable creatures, they really like to chase people. It's hard to get them to hold a line. But we did it.)

MaryKaye said...

Heh. I am the slowest zombie ever and I caught seven people (a personal best!) this fall HvZ and two people during the Dawn of the Dead Dash.

I learned a new technique at the race. I had been friendly with two young folks early on, while we were all humans. After I got caught (by a big guy who reminded me pointedly that you can be big and fit) I was walking toward the race HQ when the two young people turned the corner ahead of me. They looked at me. I was wearing my race tag, and no longer had the glowstick around the neck indicating that I was a human. They *knew* something was wrong. I fixed my eyes a thousand yards away and walked very slowly toward them. They stared at me in dismay. It was as if they couldn't run until I ran. I got to 15 feet and saw that they might break, so I screamed and leaped--and ran them down. It was uncanny. I'd heard about this sort of thing but never made it work before.

I envision a large part of the book being about "zombie training events" such as HvZ and zombie runs, since that's something I have practical experience in, and would also be potentially useful to a real-life reader. Unfortunately my HvZ strategy doesn't transfer to real zombies very well. I rely on lurking inside buildings (where tagging is not allowed and headbands need not be worn) and trailing people out the doors, because no one thinks the gray-haired professor lady is a zombie. (At Physics/Astronomy I tried this a few times too many, and we got to the point where the humans would pass me in the halls and say, "Hi, Professor Zombie.")

chris the cynic said...

I'm now envisioning a story told from the perspective of a philosophical zombie who remains a sympathetic character throughout because he's hunting and killing a select group of extremely evil individuals. Everyone else can live to perpetuate the food source, unless they try to kill him in which case: self defense.

Musings on how zombification is a correction of the human beings inherent weakness harkening back to Greek myth which states that the reason Prometheus needed to steal fire from the gods (fire being the basis of all human innovation) was because his brother had used up all of the not-helpless-making-traits on the animals. Zombies no longer require fire because they're tougher (unless you shoot them in the head), problem solved.

But mostly I envision the scene in so many movies where younger person chases badguy in epic chase while older person is forgotten, epic chase ends when older slower person takes out badguy by appearing in front of badguy, having worked out a route that didn't involve running but led to the same place, only faster. Except I'm envisioning it from the perspective you never see, the person who is able to leisurely take out badguy.

How do you catch a human when they can outrun you? Map their path in your head and find a way where your slow walk allows you to cut off their fast run. Then eat human.

chris the cynic said...

And I keep on forgetting what I came to this open thread to ask:
Is there not going to be a recommends thread this week? For I thrive on shameless self promotion. Though, that said, I might not have written anything worth promoting since last time.

Ana Mardoll said...

You're welcome to recommend here; there's a Recommends tag coming up Friday. Sorry for the schedule switch-a-roo; I'm trying to find some kind of weekly sweet-spot that works well and still struggling.

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