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  1. - Top - End - #241
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by -D- View Post
    This is pretty much old as dirt trope. Greek myths rely on fact that old days were better! In old days men were ten feet tall bronze skinned muscle bound demigods that burned stuff with their fiery gaze! Now they don't do that.
    That is very true, though to be fair, I think it's one of the advantages of having a few millennia of storytelling know-how that Tolkien doesn't completely undercut that theme, whereas Homer often did. It's been a while since I took a stab at reading The Iliad, but if I recall it correctly, Homer more or less followed up a discussion about how all we have these days is Achilles, and Achilles is no Heracles or Theseus with Diomedes punking out both Aphrodite and Ares on the field of battle and beating Aeneas half to death with a boulder, followed immediately by a discussion about how Diomedes is no Achilles. It . . . somewhat undercut the theme Homer was trying for.

    By contrast, Tolkien had a few moments like that. I imagine that upon reaching Valinor, Sam could walk into the Halls of Mandos, talk about the time he soloed Shelob, and have Feanor or Fingolfin themselves pull him a chair and pour him a drink. But he was much better at maintaining the theme that creatures who in the Third Age are civilization-ending Elder Evils were basically elite mooks to the heroes of the First Age.

  2. - Top - End - #242
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    Scarlet Knight's Avatar

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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ibrinar View Post
    There isn't one.
    There is no objective measure for something being the best book. Everyone values different things in a book and considers something else the best.
    I understand it's objective, but the premise of the tread is that one exists.

    Please, lack of objective logic never stopped a good ( lengthy) argument between sports fans...
    “A long surcote of pers upon he hade, / And by his syde he baar a rusty blade.” - Chaucer

  3. - Top - End - #243
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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by Masterkerfuffle View Post
    Although it is not a sentiment I share many people complain that the books are way too long.
    That is a complaint many people shared. In a previous generation. Once upon a time Tolkien's magnum opus was considered so long as to unprintable, which was why it was crudely chopped into three pieces.

    That was before Ice and Fire, the length of even onebook is longer than all three of the LOTR books put together.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.
    "Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid."

    -Valery Legasov in Chernobyl

  4. - Top - End - #244
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by pendell View Post
    That is a complaint many people shared. In a previous generation. Once upon a time Tolkien's magnum opus was considered so long as to unprintable, which was why it was crudely chopped into three pieces.
    I believe I heard that a printing of an omnibus edition is what sparked the resurgence of LotR in the 60s, but I'm not immediately finding a reference to such a thing.

  5. - Top - End - #245
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    Kobold

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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by pendell View Post
    That was before Ice and Fire, the length of even onebook is longer than all three of the LOTR books put together.
    Amen, brother. I feel positively disenfranchised from modern fantasy, because I just plain don't have time any more to commit to reading something like that. Re-reading LotR is a major commitment; picking up a 1000-page book that I don't even know if I'll like? And it's only the first in a massive series? Not gonna happen.

    I wish authors and publishers would get over this whole epic thing.
    "None of us likes to be hated, none of us likes to be shunned. A natural result of these conditions is, that we consciously or unconsciously pay more attention to tuning our opinions to our neighbor’s pitch and preserving his approval than we do to examining the opinions searchingly and seeing to it that they are right and sound." - Mark Twain

  6. - Top - End - #246
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    SaintRidley's Avatar

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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    Amen, brother. I feel positively disenfranchised from modern fantasy, because I just plain don't have time any more to commit to reading something like that. Re-reading LotR is a major commitment; picking up a 1000-page book that I don't even know if I'll like? And it's only the first in a massive series? Not gonna happen.

    I wish authors and publishers would get over this whole epic thing.

    Do your part and help the epic return to its poetic roots.


    I find that my pleasure reading in modern literature tends to gravitate toward those works which operate in a modern interpretation of the epic/saga. Lord of the Rings, Dune, A Song of Ice and Fire, even Harry Potter and Foundation take some cues from the form. All among my favorites. Of course, I tend to study the medieval form of the epic/saga, so it makes some sense that what I like to study bears resemblance to what I read for pleasure.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    Fantasy literature is ONLY worthwhile for what it can tell us about the real world; everything else is petty escapism.
    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    No author should have to take the time to say, "This little girl ISN'T evil, folks!" in order for the reader to understand that. It should be assumed that no first graders are irredeemably Evil unless the text tells you they are.

  7. - Top - End - #247
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    MonkGuy

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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    I don't think LotR is the best fantasy book ever. (For one thing, I'm not sure its really possible to define "the best fantasy book ever"). Also, I think the pacing is off in places. The start takes too long to kick off (in my opinion), and the ending is drawn out (although not as badly as in the film). Also, the beginning (Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday, etc) seems to be stuck in "children's story" mode, like the Hobbit, and stylistically at odds with the rest of the book.

    Although, as someone else mentioned, maybe that's necessary to demonstrate how insulated the Shire is, and the sort of life under threat. (And to show how bad things have become leading up to the Scouring of the Shire).


    But (along with a lot of other people here) I think a lot of the common criticisms of Tolkien/LotR just don't make sense.

    A lot of them seem to amount to nothing more than "it doesn't follow the genre conventions of modern storytelling". Or "it doesn't address every single social issue that people in the 21st Century think are important".

    It's fine to not like or not be interested in the story for those reasons, but it seems absurd to condemn it as a "bad story" for that. It would be like criticising Oliver Twist for not reading like a Hollywood action movie, or Pride and Prejudice for not discussing the threat of global warming. Or condemning the Illiad for implying that our thoughts and actions are in part determined by the will gods (and for not unequivocally condemning the idea of sacking a city because your wife ran off with one of their royals).


    I'd been reading myths and folktales and fairytales long before I read Tolkien (or other modern fantasy), so I was used to the sort of tropes and storytelling conventions Tolkien was deliberately using to create the same stylistic themes. Criticising it for not following modern conventions, or the conventions of a different genre doesn't really make sense. Especially when modern storytelling conventions aren't necessarily that good in the first place, and/or are not necessarily realistic.

    To address some specific tropes and conventions:
    1) Chekov's Gun

    Spoiler: undefined
    Show
    Rockphed said it well.

    Also ,Tolkien spends a lot of time describing the scenery, or detailing (or just hinting at) all sorts of other events going on in the background, or in the distant past, many of which have no effect on the actual plot. Some (e.g. Chekov) might think that's unneccesary detail - I'd say it's about showing that the world is bigger than the story, and certainly bigger than the protagonists.


    Villain motivation
    Spoiler: undefined
    Show
    Likewise, criticism of the lack of motivation/character development of the villains. I'd say: 1) greed, power, pride, hubris, and contempt or dismissal of people you don't think are important cover what most of the villains do, and are hardly unrealistic. And 2), the story is told from the perspective of the Fellowship (primarily the Hobbits); it doesn't need to go into great detail about why the orcs do what they do, because the protagonists don't know and don't need to know that - all they know is what the results are.

    (A few months ago, I was assaulted in the street by a complete stranger for no reason. He punched me in the face without warning, knocked me down, threatened to break my jaw if I gave him any more trouble, and then left. Whatever reasons or motivations or backstory he might have had to explain his behaviour is a mystery to me, and given that he wasn't caught, will remain so. From my perspective, it had no more logic to it than a D&D random encounter - and yet it was an actual event in real life. People doing bad stuff to people for unknown and unknowable reasons is a thing - so I don't see why it is necessarily bad to have it happen in a story).


    Faramir not being corrupted by the Ring
    Spoiler: undefined
    Show
    There are two common criticisms of Faramir and his actions.

    The first is essentially "The Ring is massively corrupting and tempts everyone, except for Faramir the incorruptible Mary Sue". Except, the Ring doesn't tempt instantly make (or even tempt) everyone into taking it the moment they see it. The only person I can remember that that happened to was Sméagol. Everyone else who was tempted by the Ring was either exposed to it long term, or, in the case of Elendil (and Sauruman), knew about it and its importance for a long time before they had a chance to get their hands on it, while having the sort of personality that would make them think "its only right that I should have it". Boromir spent weeks in the company of the Ring, and then was faced with the (apparent) loss of Gandalf before he was tempted to take it. And none of the rest of the Fellowship did.

    The second criticism I've seen for time to time is that not being tempted is or less "noble" or "morally worthy" than being tempted and resisting it. But a) I'm sure we could all think of various particularly heinous acts that most people would never seriously consider (or consider doing at all), and I don't see how you can say they are less of a person for not wanting to do them but refusing. And b) LotR isn't Faramir's story. The fact that he doesn't suffer doubt and temptation and character development is irrelevant, for the same reason that the orcs' motivations aren't - it doesn't affect the story as told from the perspective of the protagonists, and unlike the Middle-Earth history and geography lessons, doesn't do anything to ground the story in a wider world.

  8. - Top - End - #248
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    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    As someone that loves fantasy and sci-fi novels, I could never get into LOTR because there is just way too much background information. I enjoyed the movies, even though they also were a little long, but I just can't get into the books - and I've tried a few times.

    For me the best fantasy book series on earth is, and will prob always be Shannara by Terry Brooks. Feel free to flame away now ha.
    LFGdating
    Currently playing: D3, SC2, and wait for it ... Red Alert 3. (And possibly some Goldeneye here or there.)

  9. - Top - End - #249
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by pendell View Post
    That is a complaint many people shared. In a previous generation. Once upon a time Tolkien's magnum opus was considered so long as to unprintable, which was why it was crudely chopped into three pieces.

    That was before Ice and Fire, the length of even onebook is longer than all three of the LOTR books put together.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

    That had more to do with the book being published not long after WWII, when paper shortages were a thing of recent memory, and most people were still thinking in terms of little paperbacks with tissue-paper pages as the "gold standard" for book size, because wartime conservation had made those the best way to make use of the available paper. Prior to the World Wars, long books were not considered to be a problem (far from it, length was a mark of quality), and the austere writing championed by Hemingway and treated by many people as the holy grail of good writing was considered to be the refuge of the nearly illiterate.
    Last edited by Gnoman; 2015-01-18 at 08:20 PM.

  10. - Top - End - #250
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gnoman View Post
    That had more to do with the book being published not long after WWII, when paper shortages were a thing of recent memory, and most people were still thinking in terms of little paperbacks with tissue-paper pages as the "gold standard" for book size, because wartime conservation had made those the best way to make use of the available paper. Prior to the World Wars, long books were not considered to be a problem (far from it, length was a mark of quality), and the austere writing championed by Hemingway and treated by many people as the holy grail of good writing was considered to be the refuge of the nearly illiterate.
    There's long books by Victorian standards, and then there's modern fantasy epics. 'Bleak House' is a long book,but it's not in the same league as Ice and Fire. And it's a standalone work, not part one of anything up to 30-for-all-I-know.
    "None of us likes to be hated, none of us likes to be shunned. A natural result of these conditions is, that we consciously or unconsciously pay more attention to tuning our opinions to our neighbor’s pitch and preserving his approval than we do to examining the opinions searchingly and seeing to it that they are right and sound." - Mark Twain

  11. - Top - End - #251
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    I was referring more to the "Lord of the Rings was so long that it was considered unpublishable" part of that. LOTR isn't that long by pre-WWI standards.

  12. - Top - End - #252
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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by McStabbington View Post
    By contrast, Tolkien had a few moments like that. I imagine that upon reaching Valinor, Sam could walk into the Halls of Mandos, talk about the time he soloed Shelob, and have Feanor or Fingolfin themselves pull him a chair and pour him a drink. But he was much better at maintaining the theme that creatures who in the Third Age are civilization-ending Elder Evils were basically elite mooks to the heroes of the First Age.
    Not Feanor - he's still in the Halls of Mandos and won't leave them until the Last Battle.

    Fingolfin maybe.

    However, going by the Silmarillion, mortals in Valinor actually would get their lives shortened if the Valar did let them in - this is what the Elves tell the Numenoreans, at least.

    So, while Sam might get to experience Valinor for a while - he'd "wear out" fast.
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  13. - Top - End - #253
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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by Wardog View Post
    snip
    Lots of excellent points, and my sympathies for what happened.

    Quote Originally Posted by SaintRidley View Post
    Do your part and help the epic return to its poetic roots.
    While I support this, you do realize we're going to be subjected to a horrifying deluge of 2 bit fantasy writers' 'idea' of poetry...*shudder*

    Quote Originally Posted by 007_ctrl_room View Post
    For me the best fantasy book series on earth is, and will prob always be Shannara by Terry Brooks.
    Care to share why? The reasons why people favor something is part and parcel to OP's original question.

    Is it the brisk pacing and heavy action emphasis? The generations spanning story? The...I'm not really sure what else Shannara has to offer, so yeah, please elaborate.

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    Kobold

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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by hamishspence View Post
    However, going by the Silmarillion, mortals in Valinor actually would get their lives shortened if the Valar did let them in - this is what the Elves tell the Numenoreans, at least.

    So, while Sam might get to experience Valinor for a while - he'd "wear out" fast.
    Sam was a ringbearer, if only for a short time (as Galadriel points out, and she seems to set quite a lot of store by it). As such, it's questionable whether he's still 'mortal' at all.

    All the ringbearers are characterised by abnormally long life - or to put it more plainly, nobody who so much as touches the thing ever dies of old age. While it might seem as if the destruction of the ring should cancel that effect, it still seems to apply to Sam, as far as we can see. He becomes the longest-serving mayor in the history of the Shire.
    Last edited by veti; 2015-01-20 at 02:41 PM.
    "None of us likes to be hated, none of us likes to be shunned. A natural result of these conditions is, that we consciously or unconsciously pay more attention to tuning our opinions to our neighbor’s pitch and preserving his approval than we do to examining the opinions searchingly and seeing to it that they are right and sound." - Mark Twain

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    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    Sam was a ringbearer, if only for a short time (as Galadriel points out, and she seems to set quite a lot of store by it). As such, it's questionable whether he's still 'mortal' at all.

    All the ringbearers are characterised by abnormally long life - or to put it more plainly, nobody who so much as touches the thing ever dies of old age. While it might seem as if the destruction of the ring should cancel that effect, it still seems to apply to Sam, as far as we can see. He becomes the longest-serving mayor in the history of the Shire.
    Sam was 102 when he departed for the Havens. Which is old for a hobbit, but not particularly unusually so.
    Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
    When they shot him down on the highway,
    Down like a dog on the highway,
    And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.


    Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman, 1906.

  16. - Top - End - #256
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    SaintRidley's Avatar

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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by Legato Endless View Post

    While I support this, you do realize we're going to be subjected to a horrifying deluge of 2 bit fantasy writers' 'idea' of poetry...*shudder*
    That's why it was a tongue in cheek response. I very much like modern prose epics. They're good at doing the epic thing. I do wish more poets would try to recapture the form in verse, though.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    Fantasy literature is ONLY worthwhile for what it can tell us about the real world; everything else is petty escapism.
    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    No author should have to take the time to say, "This little girl ISN'T evil, folks!" in order for the reader to understand that. It should be assumed that no first graders are irredeemably Evil unless the text tells you they are.

  17. - Top - End - #257
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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by Wardog View Post
    Rockphed said it well.
    Can I sig this?

    Quote Originally Posted by SaintRidley View Post
    That's why it was a tongue in cheek response. I very much like modern prose epics. They're good at doing the epic thing. I do wish more poets would try to recapture the form in verse, though.
    I already wrote a 10 page epic. It was pretty bad. I can post it in this thread or link to a version I post elsewhere if you want, but, again, it was pretty bad.

    I have this strange feeling that somebody is going to want to see it now. And further protestations of how bad it is will only result in more people wanting to see it.
    Quote Originally Posted by Wardog View Post
    Rockphed said it well.
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    We should change the collective noun for crocodiles to "an abundance of crocodiles".
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  18. - Top - End - #258
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    BlackDragon

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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rockphed View Post
    I have this strange feeling that somebody is going to want to see it now. And further protestations of how bad it is will only result in more people wanting to see it.
    In a world where people will read "The Eye of Argon", the worse it is, the more likely they are to want to see it!

  19. - Top - End - #259
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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    Sam was a ringbearer, if only for a short time (as Galadriel points out, and she seems to set quite a lot of store by it). As such, it's questionable whether he's still 'mortal' at all.

    All the ringbearers are characterised by abnormally long life - or to put it more plainly, nobody who so much as touches the thing ever dies of old age. While it might seem as if the destruction of the ring should cancel that effect, it still seems to apply to Sam, as far as we can see. He becomes the longest-serving mayor in the history of the Shire.
    Bilbo, when Frodo goes to Rivendell, looks significantly frailer than he did a few years before when he had the Ring. Possibly a hint that the "life extension effect" stops working once a Ring is given up.
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    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by hamishspence View Post
    Bilbo, when Frodo goes to Rivendell, looks significantly frailer than he did a few years before when he had the Ring. Possibly a hint that the "life extension effect" stops working once a Ring is given up.
    Think of it like smoking. The longer you've carried it, the more permanent damage it does and the earlier you give it up, the fewer lingering effects remain.

  21. - Top - End - #261
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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by hamishspence View Post
    Bilbo, when Frodo goes to Rivendell, looks significantly frailer than he did a few years before when he had the Ring. Possibly a hint that the "life extension effect" stops working once a Ring is given up.
    No, the life extension effect remained until the Ring was destroyed. Arwen notes Bilbo's frailty after the war, stating he could only make one more journey because the power that sustains him has been destroyed.

    Gollum was far older, but yet remained (arduously) active 70 years after losing the Ring. On the slopes of Mount Doom, he weeps that he will turn to dust once the Ring is destroyed.

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    Default Re: Why might The Lord of the Rings not the best fantasy book ever?

    Quote Originally Posted by Legato Endless View Post
    Lots of excellent points, and my sympathies for what happened.
    Thanks. (Fortunately, the effects weren't too serious - just a black eye for a few days, a sore neck for a week or so, and for a couple of weeks a tendency to feel a bit on edge whenever I saw anyone who looked vaguely like the guy responsible).


    Quote Originally Posted by Rockphed View Post
    Can I sig this?
    Sure :)


    Back on topic (ish), this might be interesting: I just found a PhD thesis examining the role of monsters and monstrosity in Tolkien, and the origin of the tropes in medieval and other sources.

    http://theses.gla.ac.uk/4993/1/2013Fawcett%20PhD.pdf

    Spoiler: Abstract
    Show
    This thesis asserts that J.R.R. Tolkien recreates Beowulf for the twentieth century.
    His 1936 lecture, ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’ sets the tone not only for
    twentieth century criticism of the text, but also Tolkien’s own fictional project: creating an
    imagined world in which ‘new Scripture and old tradition touched and ignited’ (‘B: M&C’
    26). At the core of his analysis of Beowulf, and at the core of his own Middle-earth, are the
    monsters. He creates creatures that are an ignition of past and present, forming characters
    that defy allegory and simple moral categorization. To demonstrate the necessity of
    reading Tolkien’s Middle-earth through the lens of his 1936 lecture, I begin by examining
    the broad literary source material that Tolkien draws into his creative process. I assert that
    an understanding of the formation of monstrosity, from classical, Augustinian, late
    medieval, Renaissance, Restoration and Gothic sources, is fundamental to seeing the
    complexity, and thus the didactic element, of Tolkien’s monsters.
    As a medieval scholar and professor, Tolkien’s focus on the educational potential
    of a text appears in his critical work and is enacted in his fiction. Tolkien takes on a mode
    of writing categorized as Wisdom Literature: he writes a series of texts that demonstrate
    the imperative lesson that ‘swa sceal man don’ (so shall man do) found in Beowulf.
    Tolkien’s fiction takes up this challenge, demonstrating for the reader what a hero must do
    when faced with the moral and physical challenge of the monster.
    Monsters are a primarily didactic tool, demonstrating vice and providing challenges
    for the hero to overcome. Monsters are at the core of Tolkien’s critical reading; it must be
    at the core of ours.

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