Sometimes you can't Make it on your Own

by Varda, with responses.

I swore I would not buy anything, far less a book, while I was saving for my holiday in March. But today, for an eye-watering thirty-seven euros I bought Gary Russell's book The Art of The Lord of The Rings.

To compound the crime, I have all three of his books on the art of the three separate films. But on leafing through this one I found so many of those beautiful pencil drawings by Alan Lee and John Howe, the ones used in the stills film backdrop to Howard Shore's concerts, that I just had to buy the thing.

It is almost worth it for the pencil drawing of Legolas in full Elven armour, standing on the Deeping Wall, looking so elegant and delicate, while Gimli, short and sturdy and loaded down with three axes, toils up the stairs to join him. (page 124 if you want to sneak a look without buying the book Cool )

I still can't find that pencil drawing of Boromir's last stand, the one that is nothing like the film but is more my idea of his final deadly combat, and where he is the epitome of a noble Numenorean warrior..

One thing rather startled me; the author, Gary Russel, admits to knowing the books only passing well. He admits his choice of favourites is not 'which is most true to the book' but 'which is the better art'

It sounds like blasphemy, but often the best art inspired by Tolkien is created by people who don't know him that well.
'Through a crack too wide comes in no wonder'
as Kavanagh said.

Like a myth, Tolkien gives a sort of feeling that you follow to make something, rather than slavishly trying to recreate what he did.

I first heard about The Lord of The Rings when I saw three pencil drawings reproduced in a magazine. They were of Gimli, Aragorn and Legolas. I was fascinated. Who were these people? An Elf, framed by leaves? a dwarf with an axe? a dark mysterious warrior? I made up the stories even before I got my hands on the book. In fact, by the time I got the book, it was nothing like my imaginings, and I had to start all over again.

One thing I noticed from the first; Tolkien did not write fantasy fiction. I was not sure how he drew in his readers, and held them fast, but it was not through pure fantasy. His worlds, made up as they were, seemed familiar...

When I was young I used to pass this house on my way to the pictures. It was a tall old house, one of a terrace but it had its garden walled round with a high wall, so you could not see in. But the gate, which was always locked, had a pierced and decorated iron grille in it, through which you could see a secluded garden planted with exotic shrubs and flowers, and a pond in the middle with a heron standing beside it watching for fish.

Now, the heron was a statue. I think. I used to stand for ages looking in through the grille, but it never moved. There are a lot of herons around here, but this was a statue. I think. The lace curtains in the high windows never moved either, nor did the great door with the lion's head knocker ever open. It was a mysterious, secret, vaguely romantic place with an exotic name, Mosaphir.

The town where I live was built in Victorian times and many officers of the Anglo-Indian army retired to live in these houses. Like in the Shire, their swords were placed over the fireplaces when they came home from war. The local graveyard has many of their graves, recording their now vanished regiments, cavalry of Delhi or the Punjab. Some of the graves record too the battles the men fought in, and many were massacres, which the officers must have had almost Aragorn-like military skills to survive. So I knew that behind the unmoving lace curtains of Mosaphir there might sit, watching the years slip away, someone who had as epic and valiant a tale to tell as Sam told to his children.

I was stuck in a traffic jam recently when I looked up at the house beside the road, and saw it was Mosaphir. The garden is still there but the pool and the heron are gone. The house is let out in flats. But looking at it, I felt again that sense of wonder at something exotic and mysterious and exciting, yet achingly familiar, that is what attracts us to the Lord of The Rings.

Tolkien creates a parallel universe,but so does Frank Herbert in Dune. Yet we never make Dune our private world like Tolkien makes Middle Earth.How Tolkien draws us into his world is that it is here, it is earth, yet dazzlingly exotic and magical. We recognise it yet recognise it is nothing like anything we know. The trees and streams of the Shire are so real, yet we know they never existed, in fact that no such perfect land ever could exist. Yet we feel towards it nostalgia as if we lived there for years. How does Tolkien create this magical feeling?

Peter Jackson put it crudely 'it is like our world, only slightly skewed'.

Not just that, Tolkien shows us things and we always feel we are only seeing a part of it. We sense layers of history, whole continents of untold tales, with sometimes a complete saga coming to life through a mere hint uttered by one character. You don't even have to read it all, or wade through the unfinished tales; Tolkien can suggest a whole universe with a few lines just like that garden with its stone heron could suggest a whole lost world to me as a child.

The problem is, this kind of secret world can be a bit, well, isolating. No-one else knows about it, unless they read The Lord of The Rings. You do go through life feeling a bit lonely, as if you had a secret passion like jelly babies or Abba. Joining societies or clubs is not really the answer, as you don't hear from them very often. Like a camel, you go long distances in the desert until you reach some waterhole of Tolkien activity.

That was why finding this website and the people on it was such an epiphany for me. I did not have to try to pretend I was not a Tolkien fanatic. There were other fanatics here too, and it was like group therapy in reverse, where the aim was to feed the obsession, not eradicate it. Seeing me engaged in one of my many handbag fights on this board one might easily think I did not value it, or the people who come here. Wrong, and wrong again. I know the truth of U2's song, sometimes you can't make it on your own.

This is my secret garden...

Thanks, fellow obsessives...

Varda

Response from Lothithil:

Something about this site is magical to me. I have wandered through other Tolkien fansites, other Lotr moviesites, and other fanficion sites, but none contain the raw enery, the hubris, the curious ettiquette, or the music that I have found here. Sometimes it is very thin on the ground, but I can always find it here.

Here is Middle-earth, and this is as close as I will ever come to being there. So here I will come again, and again.

Response from Peredhil:

You've hit on so many of the feelings that I as an avid Tolkien fan, have felt.

Not just that, Tolkien shows us things and we always feel we are only seeing a part of it. We sense layers of history, whole continents of untold tales, with sometimes a complete saga coming to life through a mere hint uttered by one character. You don't even have to read it all, or wade through the unfinished tales; Tolkien can suggest a whole universe with a few lines just like that garden with its stone heron could suggest a whole lost world to me as a child.

In this, you have struck the chord that brought me into the realm of obsessiveness with Tolkien. His work hints at more, at a history that the curious can seek out in the Sil and his letters, but for the casual reader is to some degree unnecessary.
My husband has seen all the LOTR movies and enjoyed them thoroughly...he can even quote them, yet his curiosity never extended to actually reading the books. And its OK. As a casual LOTR lover, my husband got what was essential to understand the story, feel the pain of the characters and celebrate when they triumphed.
For me, it was an insatiable need to understand more...what the elvish words meant, where the characters came from, why was there discord between the races, why were some so easily swayed while others stood fast....

The problem is, this kind of secret world can be a bit, well, isolating. No-one else knows about it, unless they read The Lord of The Rings. You do go through life feeling a bit lonely, as if you had a secret passion like jelly babies or Abba.

Your thoughts about this secret world hit home for me. I don't speak much about my LOTR obsession at work and my family is glazes over when I start up on it (in a loving but "oh-no-here-she-goes-again" kind of way Laughing ) Thank Eru for the existence of this type of forum. For me, it is an amazing thing to be able to speak in this forum about Tolkien's works in the level detail that many people do, to have thoughtful debates over meaning, and to read the works of inspired by LOTR.

Over the time I have visited this site, I have always enjoyed the posts you have contributed. I value your opinions and respect your views...whether I agree with them or not, I love the fact that your opinions, views, and musings are thought provoking--whether they be Tolkien related or non.

Hopefully, one day we may share them among a cup of coffee, mellon nin~ Thanks for the thread and the story! It was neat to hear your reminiscing.

Response from sarahstitcher:

(((Varda))) as usual, reading my own heart and saying it better than I ever could.
I love the art books, you just stare at the pictures and new stories begin to grow in your mind.

One thing rather startled me; the author, Gary Russel, admits to knowing the books only passing well. He admits his choice of favourites is not 'which is most true to the book' but 'which is the better art'... It sounds like blasphemy, but often the best art inspired by Tolkien is created by people who don't know him that well. 'Through a crack too wide comes in no wonder' as Kavanagh said.
Like a myth, Tolkien gives a sort of feeling that you follow to make something, rather than slavishly trying to recreate what he did.

Bingo, and it's what indicates that he has succeeded in opening up a mythology, that others delve into it as co-creators, in various media, extending the vision. I had said "creating" a mythology, but in a way LOTR is in that level of art that isn't so much created by the artist, as channeled by or revealed to him/her. I know Tolkien spoke of this himself in his letters... he was writing it *to find out* what happened next, not because he already knew and felt like telling others. So he opened a crack, and through it other art has come through other artists, and continues to, to all our wondering delight!

Tolkien creates a parallel universe,but so does Frank Herbert in Dune. Yet we never make Dune our private world like Tolkien makes Middle Earth.How Tolkien draws us into his world is that it is here, it is earth, yet dazzlingly exotic and magical. We recognise it yet recognise it is nothing like anything we know. ...
Not just that, Tolkien shows us things and we always feel we are only seeing a part of it. We sense layers of history, ...

Interesting comparison to Dune, which I read many years ago and plan to reread someday... and it also makes me think of the Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley, similarly like us and not like us, familiar and different, and the layers of history and struggle hinted at in the glimpses contained in the individual stories. The variety of cultures, too. And I believe there are Darkover fans who make elements of that part of their lifestyle as some of us incorporate elements of Middle Earth into ours.

Response from Lost-in-ME:

Well said Varda!! I felt I was in the only pocket in the world that NO ONE was even remotely interested in LOTR. Then I won a bid on ebay on one of the fanclub magazines and found a registration card inside. I just knew that I had to join. It was one of the best things I have ever done---being able to talk to other fans or just read what everyone has to say. And not having to explain yourself or pretend that LOTR hasn't changed your life.

Middle Earth does seem so real--like it's just around the corner, or over the next hill. I always feel like I'm just on the brink of getting there. It's very comforting to know that I am not the only one.

I only read the books after seeing the movies--although the movies don't exactly follow the books, they both deserve their place in history. Because of the movies, I discovered Tolkien and all of you!