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The Last Ringbearer
February 15, 2011 4:42 PM   Subscribe

... history is written by the winners. That's the philosophy behind "The Last Ringbearer," a novel set during and after the end of the War of the Ring... and told from the point of view of the losers. ... In Yeskov's retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science "destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!"
posted by Joe Beese (90 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm looking forward to reading this, especially since I've worked on similar stories, although not set in Tolkien's world for sure.

Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals -- which I would otherwise have passed up, not being a sports fan of any kind -- contains, outside of its broad slapstick, a psychological portrait of the Uruk-hai as a Young Man.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:46 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


This Middle Earth Revisionism makes me sick.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 4:49 PM on February 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'e had this in the back of my mind for years - a technologically driven nation (Mordor) which seeks to sunder the anicent rites of land and birth and uses science are the VILLAINS to a bunch of well-bred nobles who would prefer if everything stays exactly the same?
posted by The Whelk at 4:50 PM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


...and Wicked (the novel) cast Elphaba as an equal rights advocate and free thinker who was rebelling against the tyranny of the Wizard.

I love this kind of stuff. I wonder whether some of it springs out of our continuing evolution as we come to terms with the true cost of a lot of our actions as stories and histories emerge which don't match the official historical narrative.

Very cool. I look forward to reading. Thanks for posting.
posted by hippybear at 4:50 PM on February 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Reminds me of the Battle of Little Bighorn from the Indian's point of view.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:52 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's a direct link to the Sendspace file hosting of the actual text discussed in the article.
posted by sciurus at 4:53 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Gandalf never would have had the backing to go into Mordor without going to the fellowship with obviously fabricated stories about the Orcs and their mobile war machine. Now we're learning that most of the stories fed to Gandalf by an informant, codenamed Curveball, were completely untrue and really just a means to get the elves to back the invasion.

Now that the truth is out there, will we finally see justice?
posted by eyeballkid at 4:56 PM on February 15, 2011 [21 favorites]


Hey, I've written some things in this this vein - mostly about the newly conquered orcs in Mordor doing their best to live under their new king. Now I feel shockingly unoriginal. I probably should have all along - I imagine people have been doing this sort of thing for years.

None the less, I'd love to give this a read. Its sort of right up my fantasy alley.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:58 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gandalf never would have had the backing to go into Mordor without going to the fellowship with obviously fabricated stories about the Orcs and their mobile war machine. Now we're learning that most of the stories fed to Gandalf by an informant, codenamed Curveball, were completely untrue and really just a means to get the elves to back the invasion.

Surely this...
posted by Stunt at 4:59 PM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


mostly about the newly conquered orcs in Mordor doing their best to live under their new king.

I'd be interested in reading this!
posted by Greg Nog at 5:01 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also revealed: one does simply walk into Mordor.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:02 PM on February 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


There is also Gaiman's Snow. Glass. Apples. Which recasts the story of Snow White as political propaganda against her steo-mother (among other things).
posted by The Whelk at 5:06 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some Tolkien fans have dismissed "The Last Ringbearer" as nothing more than fan fiction, although it certainly doesn't conform to the stereotype of fan fiction as fantasies of unlikely romantic pairings among "canonical" characters as imagined by teenage girls.

Likewise, some fans have dismissed "2001" as nothing more than sci-fi, although it certainly doesn't conform to the stereotype of sci-fi as PEW PEW LASERS fantasies of unlikely space battles among "canonical" characters as imagined by teenage boys. /hamburger

You'd think someone who writes for Salon would grok the fact that genres aren't actually defined by wafer-thin stereotypes, but I guess she's "not sure she's in a position to pronounce on that".

Personally, I'll bet that this idea has been done, and done better, as fanfiction... probably a number of times. Mary Gentle's Grunts is the same idea with all the Tolkien-specific stuff cut-n-pasted out, also, as is The Doom Brigade.
posted by grey_sw at 5:09 PM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Other links of interest:

This is very similar to an essay that David Brin wrote back in 2002. Similarly, Moorcock wrote a piece called "Epic Pooh" back in 1989. Also, Mieville (who has credited Moorcock's essay with influencing his views on literature) said "Tolkien's worldview was resolutely rural, petty bourgeois, conservative, anti-modernist, misanthropically Christian and anti-intellectual" in a 2000 interview with International Socialism

On preview:
Continuing The Welk's mention, there's the "Parallel Novel" (Wikipedia article). This includes things from The Wide Saragossa Sea to The Wind Done Gone. It's nice to see fantasy getting another hit.

(Hats off to grouse for finding the Brin essay for me, when I posted a question to AskMe)
posted by Hactar at 5:12 PM on February 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Shades of Unused Audio Commentary by Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky Recorded Summer 2002 for the Fellowship of the Ring

posted by khaibit at 5:13 PM on February 15, 2011 [16 favorites]


Also Snow. Glass. Apples is realty good at filling int the holes in the Snow White tale, and reversing the villains >/small>
posted by The Whelk at 5:15 PM on February 15, 2011


This just in: protests by Orcs on the Pelennor Fields. All palantir communication has been shut off.
posted by panboi at 5:15 PM on February 15, 2011 [22 favorites]


Aweome, Miller is a well-qualified interlocutor. Glad to hear the book is as promising as it seemed.
posted by mwhybark at 5:37 PM on February 15, 2011


Tom Bombadil and Barliman Buterbur have a hydro farm.
posted by clavdivs at 5:41 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hactar: "Also, Mieville (who has credited Moorcock's essay with influencing his views on literature) said "Tolkien's worldview was resolutely rural, petty bourgeois, conservative, anti-modernist, misanthropically Christian and anti-intellectual" in a 2000 interview with International Socialism"

Ah, the anti-intellectual Oxford professor.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:43 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gandalf and his coalition of the willing?
posted by zippy at 5:52 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've had this in the back of my mind for years - a technologically driven nation (Mordor) which seeks to sunder the ancient rites of land and birth and uses science are the VILLAINS to a bunch of well-bred nobles who would prefer if everything stays exactly the same?

This is a really common theme in fantasy, and I've often wondered if there's a connection between that and the fact that the bad guys are often seen as more interesting or easier to identify with. It's not just the nifty black robes. James Bond-style spy stories have the same thing going on. The bad guy is the creative, progressive force— sure, he wants to grind humanity under his heel, but that mostly happens offscreen— and the good guy is the stultifying, destructive force. The bad guy exemplifies the Enlightenment notion that reason and effort can alter the world in a desirable (to him) way; the good guy represents entrenched power interests fearing change.

Sure, this doesn't apply to all Good-vs-Evil fantasy stories (eg, it doesn't describe stories about the Ancient Evil threatening to come back and having to be put to rest for another thousand years or whatever) but it does apply to a lot of them.

(In Tolkien's case, I assume there's a connection between the technological destructiveness of Mordor and the massive technologically aided slaughter of WWI)
posted by hattifattener at 5:53 PM on February 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Reminds me of the Battle of Little Bighorn from the Indian's point of view.

Except in that situation, the so-called "Indians" really were the good guys with historical consensus more or less on their side, taking on an essentially genocidal army and removing it from the face of the earth.
posted by philip-random at 5:53 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't read Wild Wood, but I hear that it's a spin on The Wind in the Willows.
posted by ovvl at 5:55 PM on February 15, 2011


Interesting concept but Gandalf a war-monger? If that were the case wouldn't he have used the Ring against Mordor?

And fan fiction is certainly more than slash. Jebus, if you're going to discuss genre fiction you better have a little more knowledge than just stereotypes.
posted by Ber at 5:55 PM on February 15, 2011


You know what would have been cool? A version of LotR where Gandalf did all kinds of crazy magic shit instead of just talking a lot and having a bunch of weird friends.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:57 PM on February 15, 2011 [19 favorites]


(I always wondered why, in the Star Wars universe, it was the Empire that was cast as the bad guys - - they were the ones trying to hold civilization together.)

But yeah, I was never sure why I was reading a trilogy in which the restoration of monarchy was something that I was supposed to be rooting for.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:59 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Published fanfiction is still fanfiction, and based on Laura Miller's article, this seems like it's only a gay hobbit away from fanfiction.net.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:05 PM on February 15, 2011


Interesting concept but Gandalf a war-monger? If that were the case wouldn't he have used the Ring against Mordor?

Nicely put, Ber. I knew there was fundamental flaw in all of this. All good fun to turn Tolkien on his head, but the One Ring concept really is a fascinating piece of fictional invention, which, for me, still stands as the single strongest (certainly most influential) exploration of the essentially corrupting force of Power that I've ever come across. The more you've got, the more completely it destroys you.
posted by philip-random at 6:12 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Last Ringbearer link to html all on one page as an alternative to pdf.
posted by bleary at 6:15 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


This reminds me of The Fellowship of the Ring of Free Trade.
posted by entropone at 6:51 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


In 1971, John Gardner did it for Beowulf.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:03 PM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


You know what would have been cool? A version of LotR where Gandalf did all kinds of crazy magic shit instead of just talking a lot and having a bunch of weird friends.

Yeah, just have a wizard blast everything. Maybe a lot of wizards. You could shorten the book significantly and sell it to kids.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:03 PM on February 15, 2011


Metafilter: It's only a gay hobbit away from fanfiction.net.
posted by 445supermag at 7:09 PM on February 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


I've thought for years that those Ringwraiths were obviously slaves to Gandalf's master plan of Middle Earth domination. The Nazgul attack at Weathertop was clearly a FALSE FLAG OPERATION.
posted by secondhand pho at 7:17 PM on February 15, 2011


You know what would have been cool? A version of LotR where Gandalf did all kinds of crazy magic shit instead of just talking a lot and having a bunch of weird friends.

I can't tell if this is supposed to be code for Harry Potter or Twilight.
posted by jmd82 at 7:19 PM on February 15, 2011


Didn't Norman Spinrad do this with The Iron Dream, where he posits a Hitler who wrote fantasy novels?
I liked Tolkien a bit but I hate the anti-technology slant of so much sci-fi and fantasy. Even Wall-E does it
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:29 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Spinard's Iron Dream was so fantastic at being really awful science fiction, and so textually close to the worst of amazing stories and the best of mein kampf, that i thot it should be in the canon, but i couldnt read it more than one.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:38 PM on February 15, 2011


Ah, the anti-intellectual Oxford professor.

I didn't see "anti-intellectual" anywhere in Hactar's quotation, and plenty of intellectuals have held all those views, individually or jointly.
posted by kenko at 7:51 PM on February 15, 2011


Related - Batman: Plutocrat

It argues that Batman, scion of the bluest of bluebloods in his realm, is a defender of the entrenched Old Money aristocracy to which he belongs against anyone who would try to upset that order, and against the nouveau riche or those who aspire to rise in class status.

It's interesting in light of hattifattener's comment regarding fantasy heroes as defenders of the establishment and villains as agents of change.

It also brings to mind the view of Superman as upholder of the status quo (such as Frank Miller's portrayal of him in The Dark Knight Returns). Though there's an interesting contrast in that while Batman is himself a member of the ruling elite that he fights to preserve, Superman is just an agent of that class.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:57 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


kenko: "I didn't see "anti-intellectual" anywhere in Hactar's quotation, and plenty of intellectuals have held all those views, individually or jointly."

I'm not sure I follow you. Hactar quotes Mieville as saying, "Tolkien's worldview was resolutely rural, petty bourgeois, conservative, anti-modernist, misanthropically Christian and anti-intellectual." It's right there as the quote in my comment. And Mieville DID say that in the linked article.

My point was that Tolkien may have been a number of those things, but "anti-intellectual" doesn't map very well to his lifelong career in academia.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:09 PM on February 15, 2011


Interesting concept but Gandalf a war-monger? If that were the case wouldn't he have used the Ring against Mordor?
The ring corrupted its bearers to be its slaves. Gandalf knew this, and claimed to be afraid of it. Him assumedly being a warmonger doesn't, to me, imply that that claim was false.

Sure, he couched it in terms of being afraid of what the ring would cause him to do to the (supposed) good people of the world, but that could have been just a convenient excuse; he was afraid that it would make him a pawn of Sauron, as the other non-Elven rings did to their bearers. Being a pawn of Sauron wouldn't help his goal of warmongering against Sauron.
posted by Flunkie at 8:10 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, I loves you nerds!
posted by mwhybark at 8:17 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


My point was that Tolkien may have been a number of those things, but "anti-intellectual" doesn't map very well to his lifelong career in academia.

Why not? Once you have tenure, you can criticize anything and everything, including the system and mechanisms which brought you to that position. And while it is true that only someone with a keen intellectual interest in linguistics and mythology could have written LotR, the heroes of the book are a people who practice a rigorously agrarian lifestyle, barely producing more food and tobacco than is necessary to satisfy their own prodigious appetites. The closest thing that they have to a resident intellectual, Bilbo Baggins, is considered to be a freak.

That impossibly sunny existence of the hobbits is contrasted to the world of the humans, dwarves, and elves, who despite their vastly superior technological and artistic accomplishments are presiding over faltering dynasties, have dug too deep, or are leaving Middle-Earth entirely, respectively, and even with all the weight put on Aragorn fulfilling his quasi-messianic destiny, even that wouldn't have been worth a fart in an F5 if that simple little halfling hadn't tossed the ring into the volcano. None of that adds up to "Burn Oxford to the ground", if that's your idea of anti-intellectualism, but the lesson there is pretty obvious.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:47 PM on February 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Traditional Tolkien-derived fantasy is really shockingly racist to orcs (and goblins, trolls, ogres, etc), going so far as to typically give them minuses to intelligence and shackling them to brute force classes. Are there no orcish priests or mages? Knights? Rangers? Druids? It seems not, and I dare not ask about non-class professions like an orcish poet or farmer. They're all too busy covering themselves in skulls and waving axes around to feed themselves, apparently.

This imbalance, of course, is papered over by slapping them all with the label Evil and moving on. Well, every D&D campaign I've ever played left behind dozens if not hundreds of orc corpses, each presumably mourned by an orcish mother, buried by an orcish father, and orphaning who knows how many orcish children, all of which makes it a little harder to figure out which side is supposed to be the evil one. In fairness, the suffering of orcish society could indeed be limited by the decisions made by the PCs, for example to burn down the entire settlement, or just to loot every single useful or valuable item. Meanwhile, members of the "Good" races die at a stately pace if at all. Mostly they retire to their castles of blood-drenched lucre and feel pleased with themselves for ridding the world of the threat of orcs and their horrible Evil, nonspecific but still generalized to the entire population.

Modern humans who treat minorities even a fraction this poorly are rightly reviled for it, and so it should be with those who stereotype orcs as ugly green thugs who kill for sport and drink the blood of elves.
posted by Copronymus at 9:13 PM on February 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


Halloween Jack, I had similar thoughts while re-re-re-watching *Fellowship* last weekend. Gandalf suddenly struck me as a kind of Tolkien stand-in during those opening Shire scenes: a worldly super-knowledgable scholarly guy who gets to slum with his romanticized simple rural people in their sunny green towns whenever he feels like it, who's accepted by their community instead of being treated like a scary outsider, and who doesn't have to actually farm anything and can still jet off to interesting cities on a whim.

I haven't reread the book in a while. Maybe that version was a little different.
posted by cadge at 9:23 PM on February 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


I was doing my periodic playthrough of the Baldur's Gate series the other day, and I came across one of the optional side areas in the early part of the first game: the Xvart Village. Basically, it's a little village filled with dozens and dozens of little blue humanoids, each with a little red circle that means "hostile." Now, once you slaughter a few of these little dudes (they're extremely easy to kill), one of them says "You monster! You kill us, when we did nothing to you!" And of course, since they're all evil by definition and hostile in the game, there's no scripted option to make amends or pay reparations or whatever. As a paladin-hero type, it's practically your obligation to wade in and keep killing them. Since I'm an XP completionist, I cleaned out the village completely. There was no treasure, and the XP was ultimately pretty minimal. I just committed genocide for no good reason.

I also remember a similar moment in the Diablo clone Torchlight: one of the enemy types is a "pygmy" (a ripoff of a similar Diablo monster). Now, they're not "evil pygmies" or "undead pygmies" or "pygmies who have gone too far in seeking forbidden knowledge." They're just pygmies--which is, of course, a term applied to a concrete group of people in the real world who happened to be victims of European colonialism. The game offers no justification for killing them. It's all very disturbing if you take this kind of thing seriously on its own terms.
posted by nasreddin at 9:25 PM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


stereotype orcs as ugly green thugs who kill for sport and drink the blood of elves.
Maybe orcs are ugly green thugs who kill for sport and drink the blood of elves, though.
posted by planet at 9:58 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


That impossibly sunny existence of the hobbits is contrasted to the world of the humans

JRRT addresses this explicitly in the novel. That existence is only possible because of the Rangers, who have, without thanks, protected the Shire from the rest of the world. The Scouring of the Shire only occurs because this protection was removed by the Grey Company moving south.

In defense of D&D: the original 3-booklet box allowed orcs as neutrals, and this is the way I've always played them. Moreover, if you read the books, they clearly are neutral:

From The Two Towers: 'Very well,' said Ugluk. 'Leave them to me then! No killing, as I've told you before; but if you want to throw away what we've come all the way for, throw it away! I'll look after it. Let the fighting Uruk-hai do the work, as usual.'

Isn't Ugluk every aggrieved sergeant that ever served in any army?

And, later: [Gorbag] 'What d'you say? ---if we get a chance, you and me'll slip off and set up somewhere on our own with a few trusty lads, somewhere there's good loot nice and handy, and no big bosses.'

The orcs aren't out there "doing evil because they're evil" They're "evil" because they're scared and selfish and altogether human.

I missed these scenes in the movies. The orcs are not so different from the "evil men of the East" or Bill Ferny. They are so much like us, they make us uncomfortable.
posted by SPrintF at 10:16 PM on February 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


In a similar vein, there is also John J. Reilly's "The Gray Havens" (2006), which though it has a few off-pitch notes offers a lovely little reversal of ROTK's ending and some maybe interesting allusions to the invasion of Iraq or other 'fall of the old regime' events.
posted by waterunderground at 10:25 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Tom Bombadil and Barliman Buterbur have a hydro farm.

This explains Bombadil's flower-child demeanor and Butterbur's memory problems.
posted by Marla Singer at 11:08 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Copronymus, read John Tynes' Power Kill. It transplants D&D tropes into the modern world and reveals how horrible they can be
As for Tolkien, many of my fellow humanities students are anti-technology, anti-progress nature worshippers. Sometimes literally
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:17 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a degree in classical studies and another in Roman history, so I've always found reading Tolkien's war-epic episodes pastiche -- probably medieval pastiche, not classical, but for me about as much fun as wading through Livy (Rome's epic historian of the Roman Republic, back when the Romans were virtuous). Or the Old Testament. All that smiting.

Perhaps Tolkien should be considered a better horror writer than an epic fantasist. Where he's good, the scale is intimate: fear, dread, paranoia (the effect that the One Ring has on people).
posted by bad grammar at 11:34 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was doing my periodic playthrough of the Baldur's Gate series the other day, and I came across one of the optional side areas in the early part of the first game: the Xvart Village.

Yeah, that's a pretty WTF moment in the game - maybe it was intentional or they just forgot to complete the scripting, or there is some negative effect on the NPC system but it's too slight to have any effect in the world-saving goodly goodness that is Baldur's Gate.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:56 AM on February 16, 2011


Fans of this sort of thing should definitely check out Banewreaker and Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey. It's not a character-for-character riff on Tolkien told from the point of view of the losing side, but the parallels are obvious and deliberate. And they're very good books.
posted by kyrademon at 2:39 AM on February 16, 2011


If it weren't for that gangster, Gandalf, we'd have a peaceful and orderly middle-earth. Saruman has secured Peace in Our Time by appeasing Sauron with just and logical concessions of territory. The huge army is just an economic measure to ensure full orc employment, and if you ask me, we could use a strong leader like Saruman or Sauron here! Even a backwater like Rohan is on the up-and-coming thanks to the efforts of proud reformers like Grima! The non-aggression pact between Moria and Mordor should allay your fears, and allow us to focus on the real enemy - elfin agitators!
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:11 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


My point was that Tolkien may have been a number of those things, but "anti-intellectual" doesn't map very well to his lifelong career in academia.

Loads of Oxford academics in Tolkien's day were supremely anti-intellectual in a beer-swilling, T.S. Eliot-bashing, Sir-John-Squire-and-the-London-Mercury type way. My favourite story - told here - concerns E.A. Barber, rector of Exeter College and editor of Propertius, who when asked what thought of Propertius as literature replied: 'I have no idea. I didn’t bother with the guff side of it.'
posted by Mocata at 5:30 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


The orcs aren't out there "doing evil because they're evil" They're "evil" because they're scared and selfish and altogether human.

Tolkein supposedly wrote that "we were all Orcs in the Great War".

I get the impression that he never quite finished figuring out what he wanted Orcs to be - convenient sub-human victims for epic violence, or a culture perverted by propaganda ("regular elvish trick") and omnipresent fear.
posted by lucien_reeve at 5:30 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Interesting concept but Gandalf a war-monger? If that were the case wouldn't he have used the Ring against Mordor?

Faux-Chomsky argues that the ring is powerless, of course. Gandalf constructed a convenient fiction whereby the ring was so powerful that he could not bear it for fear of contamination - this sets up the idea that Mordor is an overwhelming evil, and also allows Gandalf to avoid any talk of him weilding a powerless ring against Mordor.

And note that when Boromir spoke, naturally and quite sanely, of weilding the ring, he was conveniently abandoned and subsequently killed. Coincidence or cover-up?
posted by muddgirl at 5:43 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]



Tolkein supposedly wrote that "we were all Orcs in the Great War".

I get the impression that he never quite finished figuring out what he wanted Orcs to be - convenient sub-human victims for epic violence, or a culture perverted by propaganda ("regular elvish trick") and omnipresent fear.


Perhaps, in the socially acceptable vernacular of the time, Negros?
posted by mikelieman at 5:58 AM on February 16, 2011


mikelieman:
Tolkein supposedly wrote that "we were all Orcs in the Great War".

I get the impression that he never quite finished figuring out what he wanted Orcs to be - convenient sub-human victims for epic violence, or a culture perverted by propaganda ("regular elvish trick") and omnipresent fear.


Perhaps, in the socially acceptable vernacular of the time, Negros


That was the term normally used in 1930s and 1940s upper class southern England? And black folks were a thought-of and disliked or distrusted social group there?

Or are you applying prejudices that you worry about now to someone who had no real reason to have them?
posted by paisley henosis at 6:08 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]



This just in: protests by Orcs on the Pelennor Fields. All palantir communication has been shut off.


No, the palantir is still working, they are just using it to study Dwarvish trade unions.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:11 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]



"Or are you applying prejudices that you worry about now to someone who had no real reason to have them?"

Sort of. I was just shooting for the least disruptive way of just putting it out there.
posted by mikelieman at 6:14 AM on February 16, 2011


You know, to amend my remarks, the real thing which drew my attention was this:

Tolkein supposedly wrote that "we were all Orcs in the Great War".

In part, because I always thought that a quite similar phrase summed up our roles in the never-ending class war. And that the opponent's biggest victory was the expurgation of that meme.

I hope that's clarified everything sufficiently.
posted by mikelieman at 6:19 AM on February 16, 2011


mikelieman: In part, because I always thought that a quite similar phrase summed up our roles in the never-ending class war. And that the opponent's biggest victory was the expurgation of that meme.

Class struggle and class based injustice are definitely things that would have existed in the world in front of Tolkien's eyes, even if he chose to ignore them, he couldn't be said to be ignorant of them. Black-white race relations, especially divorced from a colonial setting, were probably not on his radar at all, and certainly not a part of his day-to-day. Just FYI.

Also, as much as Tolkien tried to avoid symbolism, The Shire as Wales is just too strong to ignore: the small, secluded area that many think of as backwards of even forget about entirely in which people live lives full of the simple honest joys, while literally everyplace else in the entire world, including the immortal realm of the neigh-divine elves is going straight to hell. All the cities and nations of men are dirty and unpleasant, the halls of the dwarfs are clearly post-bubble and now no one can even be bothered to do upkeep on many of them, let alone keep them full, the elves have lived long in their splendor but in doing so have lost touch with what it means to live and also have fallen into a stupor of blind obedience to the preservation of the status quo even at the expense of serving their own interests. The orcs aren't bad in and of themselves, but they are timid and afraid and are, therefore, pushed into doing bad things and supporting bad causes. Clearly the aristocrats and the industrial age barons and the modern men and the proles are all on the wrong path, but the simple country Welshman with his cellar door and his pipe and his beer, that guy really gets it, he is the true hero for us all.

Unbiased it ain't, but I do find it charming.
posted by paisley henosis at 6:44 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Piers Anthony does this to his own "Incarnations of Immortality" series with For Love of Evil [spoilers]. It's basically the story of the Devil who's been "tormenting" our heroes (the other gods) for the rest of the series, explaining the perfectly sound justification behind his actions. Not just evil for evil's sake!

Yes, it's Piers Anthony, but the whole series is built around an interesting concept and the execution was satisfying.
posted by Eideteker at 6:45 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Though there's an interesting contrast in that while Batman is himself a member of the ruling elite that he fights to preserve, Superman is just an agent of that class.

This is also very well explored in Minister Faust's thoroughly enjoyable From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:37 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


2bucksplus: "You know what would have been cool? A version of LotR where Gandalf did all kinds of crazy magic shit instead of just talking a lot and having a bunch of weird friends"
Oh great, now I want a LotR book based on The Dresden Files universe.
posted by Memo at 9:09 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


paisley henosis: The Shire as Wales is just too strong to ignore
Close, but I'm pretty sure that The Shire is the Worcestershire countryside of Tolkien's childhood, which he saw engulfed by the sprawling industrial conurbation of Birmingham and the West Midlands. Although he denied accusations of allegory, Saruman's ravaging of The Shire is a clear parallel to the industrialisation of the small towns and villages Tolkien knew as a boy. The Welsh countryside is, by contrast, a little more rugged than the gentle Shire.

Anecdote: I was driving from somewhere in Wales to Birmingham with a visiting friend from the US. As we left Wales and headed into England, she started commenting "wow this looks just like the Shire" and I was able to tell her we weren't all that far from where Tolkien grew up.
posted by nowonmai at 11:09 AM on February 16, 2011


lucien_reeve: I get the impression that he never quite finished figuring out what he wanted Orcs to be - convenient sub-human victims for epic violence, or a culture perverted by propaganda ("regular elvish trick") and omnipresent fear.
They end up wavering between the Svartálfar of Norse legend and the oppressed working class everyman. Much as Peter Jackson's orcs wavered between bestial creatures communicating in snarls, and cultural sophisticates who know what a menu is.

Perhaps, in the socially acceptable vernacular of the time, Negros?
No, dark-skinned people from hotter climates in the South are referred to as Southrons or Haradrim. Orcs are definitely not that.
posted by nowonmai at 11:19 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some Tolkien fans have dismissed "The Last Ringbearer" as nothing more than fan fiction...

Aeneid is unquestionably Iliad fanfiction, therefore trash.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:33 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some Tolkien fans have dismissed "The Last Ringbearer" as nothing more than fan fiction

By this logic, the Nymph's Reply is nothing more than fan fiction.
posted by muddgirl at 11:43 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The game offers no justification for killing them. It's all very disturbing if you take this kind of thing seriously on its own terms."

I quit WoW after being expected to kill kobolds for no reason. They weren't doing anything wrong just mining, with their little candles in their hats, supporting their kobold families...it was sad and it made me feel like shit. Game over.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:15 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm now about 1/3 of the way through it, and am finding it an immensely fascinating and intelligent work. It took me a few chapters to being to trust the author in what he was doing-- there are so many subtle and not-so-subtle differences in key facts as reported in the Return of the King, and it took that long to realize that they were all deliberate and explainable in context. It's got a fascinating storyline thus far and is overall shaded with a somewhat offbeat Russian flavor of dark but humorous resignation. I am toying with the idea of doing a Twitter project akin to the @ShireReckoning effort; the first events in the book that I've seen are at Pelennor Fields, so March 15*.


*Incidentally, this is the same day Ice Cube is performing in Minneapolis; I'm trying to get "Beware the St. Ides Of March" to snowball as a catchphrase.
posted by norm at 3:12 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I quit WoW after being expected to kill kobolds for no reason. They weren't doing anything wrong just mining, with their little candles in their hats, supporting their kobold families...it was sad and it made me feel like shit. Game over.

One of the things I liked about The Magicians (aside from that ...ugh, ending) was when they travel to the magical fantasy world and everyone is all "Hey what are you doing! This isn't a game! We live here! Who the fuck are you?!"
posted by The Whelk at 5:00 PM on February 17, 2011


So I just started reading this in Russian, and a phrase from very early on jumped out at me:
сержант Цэрлэг, командир разведвзвода в Кирит-Унгольском егерском полку

It's rendered in translation as "Sergeant Tzerlag, leader of a scouting platoon of the Cirith Ungol Rangers." Now, this is a completely accurate translation. But in order to convey the feeling of the original, I would have to translate it as something like "Sergeant Tzerlag, CO of a recon squad from the 101st Kirit-Ungol Ranger Battalion." In other words, the idiom is very much that of modern warfare, specifically post-1940, and it's definitely alien to any kind of traditional fantasy setting. ("Razvedvzvod" is a type of abbreviation which functions analogously to the acronyms used by the American military.) I haven't read past this point yet, but from just this description it's clear to me, as a Russian reader, that I'm expected to situate this in the context of World War II war movies and/or the Cold War. I'll try to point stuff out if anything blatant comes up.
posted by nasreddin at 5:58 PM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


(So the "егерский полк" which is rendered as "Rangers" is actually not the same word as one would use for, say, Aragorn--it's an 18th-century borrowing from the German "Jäger," and in Russian it's invariably associated either with a specific type of light infantry unit or with organized hunting. A "егерь" would definitely not have an animal companion or be able to cast druid spells at high levels.)
posted by nasreddin at 6:05 PM on February 17, 2011


nasreddin: "it's clear to me, as a Russian reader, that I'm expected to situate this in the context of World War II war movies and/or the Cold War. I'll try to point stuff out if anything blatant comes up."

oh. Please, PRETTY PLEASE, post any damn thing that crosses your mind for context.

FWIW, I think it's been pretty well established that the LOTR/Hobbit cycle is explicitly JRRT's reaction to the trenches, at least, and debatably WW2. So the Russian re-inscriber seeking to resituate the tale in the context of WWII is not by any means untrue to JRRT's impetus. In fact, give the explicit situating of the re-inscription as within a technological society, it would engage my critical sympathies.
posted by mwhybark at 10:29 PM on February 17, 2011


Seconding the translation notes request. I find that sort of discussion extremely edifying. And helpful, too.
posted by norm at 8:27 AM on February 18, 2011


I am very much enjoying reading this. Thanks for finding it!
posted by pombe at 6:12 PM on February 22, 2011


And anyone still reading this thread may be interested in this recently translated essay by Yeskov about his motivations for writing the Last Ringbearer.
posted by pombe at 6:24 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's a fantastic essay, and as effective a fan-fiction manifesto as I've ever read.
posted by nasreddin at 6:39 PM on February 22, 2011


This is turning out to be better than I expected.
posted by Mitheral at 6:40 AM on February 23, 2011


The JRR Tolkien Estate Can Go Fuck Itself
posted by homunculus at 11:58 AM on February 25, 2011


OMG that link homunculus posted is RIDICULOUS. The estate has NO RIGHT to do that shit! Ahh I am tearing out my hair.
posted by prefpara at 2:24 PM on February 25, 2011


prefpara: OMG that link homunculus posted is RIDICULOUS. The estate has NO RIGHT to do that shit! Ahh I am tearing out my hair

Yeah, that's pretty damned weird.

It's a bit odd: I enjoyed every single page of Tolkien more than any single scene of Evangelion. So, while I recognize that Tolkien's estate are being dicks (because they totally are wtf), I have a hard time joining the anger, since I actually disagree with the position which is espousing that anger.
posted by paisley henosis at 5:07 PM on February 25, 2011


Here's another reason the Tolkien estate can go… well, I don't like to be crude, but you know.
posted by nowonmai at 3:10 PM on February 26, 2011


pombe: "And anyone still reading this thread may be interested in this recently translated essay by Yeskov about his motivations for writing the Last Ringbearer"

SO AWESOME. I mean, seriously, it's hilarious and right on all at once. The translation carries a little of the density of certain styles of Russian prose, but that just adds to the flavor. Cites include Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, and Dune en passant, plus references to a shedload of Russian SF/F scholars and critics I am the poorer for knowing nothing of.
posted by mwhybark at 12:26 AM on February 27, 2011


Doesn't the author's premise that Elves were attempting to exert influence over Middle Earth off since the elves literally were leaving and everything was giving over to the Age of Man? Is it explained (I've downloaded the translation) as to how Gandalf and Elves gain "victory" in that unlike many conquerors, they up and depart forever after winning?

Also, orcs weren't sub-human, they're sub-elven!
posted by Atreides at 6:40 AM on February 27, 2011


Hi, there. I'm the guy in homunculus's link. Turns out the whole thing is a lot murkier and stupider than before. Zazzle restored the button, saying the whole thing was a "miscommunication" between them and the Tolkien Estate. I took the damn thing down, 'cause I'm not doing business with Zazzle again. And, just to add to the fun, a lawyer from the Tolkien Estate wrote Cory Doctorow and said they had nothing to do with this, despite Zazzle's saying they did.

I've posted the whole email exchange I had with Zazzle on my site (just follow homunculus's link, go to the bottom of the comments, and you'll see the link to the new post). Someone isn't telling the whole story, but since Zazzle won't show me any of the correspondence between Zazzle and the Tolkien Estate (because it's confidential, of course), this will have to the be conclusion.

By the way, I'd like to add that my wife took out last night and got me good and drunk to celebrate the end to this whole addle-headed affair. So, at least I got that. Yay for Wine Expo, and yay for awesome wives.
posted by RakDaddy at 11:03 AM on March 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


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