Appendix Pain

The Lord of the RingsI just finished The Lord of the Rings, which I started way back in March as part of the Mythology Folklore Fairy Tale Fantasy Reading Challenge. This was my second reading of it and I enjoyed it as much as the first time, which is to say I enjoyed it a great deal. I did have some quibbles towards the end, though. I got a bit tired of the perfect nobility and capability of the main characters once they had defeated Sauron, and the emphasis on race, rank, and class, which seems at odds with the book’s general theme of greatness coming from obscure and imperfect places. Yes, a mere hobbit saved the world but once that’s done, and the royal favours have been handed out, everyone can go back to their stations, thank-you-very-much. I know it’s a fairy tale but the concluding vision of feudal harmony seemed a bit simplistic compared to the rest of the book. I also thought the final chapters wrapped things up a bit too hurredly and conveniently, but I wouldn’t blame Tolkien for wanting to end his monumental labour sooner rather than later.

Once the story is over, though, the reader’s labour has not ended. There is the appendix, or rather appendices, six of them, 105 pages worth in my volume. Does anyone read them? I’ve made a start and have gleaned one or two tidbits to fill in some gaps the story, but I’m not sure I can make it through the “Chronology of the Westlands” or “The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age.” I suppose I should read them once so I can feel that I’ve read the whole book, but it’s a bit painful. Has anyone else out there read them?


24 comments on “Appendix Pain

  1. Your friend A says:

    I have read the appendices, and found them worth it to round out the whole LoTR experience. But then I'm a total nerd about such things, so don't go by me.
    You thought this magnum opus ended to hurriedly? I thought it threatened to go on forever!
    I've never before heard anyone quibble with “feudalism” or class in the LoTR. Hmmmm….

  2. Nick says:

    Great question, Sylvia! I wrote a long answer to it at my other blog, Teen Literacy Tips.

  3. wil says:

    I assumed you'd write this blog entry using the Tengwar or Cirth letters/runes. No?
    Parts of the appendix read more or less like a narrative, but others are quite technical. I've only read bits myself.

  4. Sylvia says:

    A, I guess it's a bit unfair to judge a fairy tale by any standards of reality, but on the other hand, Tolkein did set out to create a believable world (as Nick points out in his post). If that's the case, then I'd say the least believable part was the ending because of how perfect everyone was and how perfectly everything was set right. Or am I being cynical?
    Wil, I'll get back to you on that after I finish Appendix E.II. 😉

  5. Your friend A says:

    You're being cynical. And that's coming from Mr. Cynicism himself. But I still like you and think you're generally brilliant.

  6. Sylvia says:

    I forgot to mention that one thing I would have liked to see at the end was some involvement of the new King in the North. I also thought Arwen was given short shrift in the story in general. All of a sudden she's there getting married and that's it. It would have been nice to see her come up to the Shire with her hubby and get involved in the clean-up.

  7. Stefanie says:

    I've read the appendices. Parts are dull, parts are good. But I think they are mainly a let down after the epic story they follow.

  8. Sylvia says:

    You're right, it is a letdown after such a dramatic story. Perhaps it would have been better to work the material into the book, perhaps as a “book within a book,” or some sidestory about Bilbo's and/or Gandalf's research.

  9. A again says:

    We can sit here and second guess Professor Tolkien, “He should have done this or that or the other differently.” Yeah, maybe so. But lets remember what a remarkable feat this work is. He sustained an entire world and its mythologies and several races and languages over several volumes. How many writers have done what he did? Few. And the ones that have have not done it a fraction as well as Tolkien did. Whatever minor bones we might pick with the professor, they are indeed minor over against the enormity of his achievement.
    Let's also remember that when Tolkien started the work, he did not have a clear idea of where he was going. And so yeah, it kinda rambles on at points and off in directions that seem to have little to do with the rest of the story (for example the whole part about Bombadil and the barrow downs–you'll notice that Jackson left that out of the films–and wisely so too, I would say, though I am a hardcore Tolkien fan). He had so much more of this world and its stories and its lore and mythologies rolling about in his head that didn't make it into LoTR (though we get hints of it) but gets developed in the Silmarillion and elsewhere in his writings.
    So yeah, he should have tightened the narrative up at points and put more of Arwen in (as the films do), etc., etc., etc. You know he would probably agree that there are parts that could be better. Is any writer completely happy with what they write? I know I never am.
    And Tolkien broke all kinds of “rules” that they'll teach you if you get a creative writing MFA. But I am reminded of what the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley said (whose birthday it happens to be today, coincidentally): “Do it now — write nothing but what your conviction of its truth inspires you to write…. Contemporary criticism only represents the amount of ignorance genius has to contend with.”
    I think that could apply. Tolkien was a genius.
    And I'll end my long rant.

  10. Sylvia says:

    “I am a hardcore Tolkien fan”
    I never would have guessed… 😉
    Hey, there's no question that Tolkien was a pioneer and master of his medium. Any little weaknesses stand out because the rest is so good.

  11. Imani says:

    I read the Appendices but I was a huge Tolkien nerd then (only a bit less now). The story of Aragorn and Arwen is expanded there so that should give you some incentive.
    And yes, in the end, Tolkien's world was pretty darn feudal.

  12. A again says:

    Also, remember that Tolkien was a professor of Medieval English Literature by trade. So it should be no surprise at all that he creates a world that is “feudal.” After all, he was steeped in knowledge of feudalism. I really think we nit-pick if we object to his world being feudal. Honestly, do we want it to look more like 21st Century North America or Europe? I think none of us would pay much attention to these books at all if their world wasn't substantially different from our own. That's part of the attraction of the whole deal, as I see it.
    But that's just curmudgeonly me defending the professor, I suppose.

  13. Sylvia says:

    It's not feudalism per se, but the perfect, idealized feudalism (“feudal harmony,” as I wrote in my post) at the end of the book that seems too simplistic, compared to the rest of the story. When the elves talk of leaving Middle Earth there are hints that it will be a rougher ride for the “Age of Men,” but the seeds of that future turmoil are nowhere to be seen (once the Shire is cleaned up). In fact everything promises to be better than it was during the time of the elves with all the leading bad guys gone and everyone else being so good and noble (even Lobelia). I suppose there are still the southern and eastern peoples to worry about, but there is no mention of them after the battle at the Black Gate.
    I am going to read Tolkien's essay “On Fairy Stories” (thanks for the tip, Nick) to find out more about his philosophy on these things. Apparently he says something about the importance of happy endings, so that should give me a clue as to why he ended LOTR so harmoniously.

  14. Chuck says:

    I've never read more than a few pages of the Appendices. I will someday. Maybe I should read them before reading the rest of the book next time. After reading a thousand pages of narrative plunging into, well, footnotes seems kind of a letdown.

  15. A says:

    I think Chuck may just be on to something with that appendices first idea.

  16. Paul M. Cray says:

    Toklien spend a huge amount of time and effort on his subcreation, but there are some (to me) rather glaring gaps. Tolkien was interested in geneological history, thus the long lists of kings of Númenor (which doesn't even appear directly in LotR) and other places in the appendices. He wasn't very interested in socio-economic history. There is certainly money in LotR – Bilbo is fabulously wealthy after his return from the Lonely Mountain – but Tolkien is very interested in describing how the economic system of his world works. I don't suppose he considered the dismal science to be very important.
    Like Evelyn Waugh (Chesterton, Belloc – the list is long), Tolkien was a Edwardian Catholic medievalist. He not only lived in a society obsessed by class consciousness, he saw the rigid, hierachical nature of medieval feudalism as a proper reflection of the divine order in human society. Almost all of the main characters in LotR are upper class (even Frodo who is heir to Bilbo's vast fortune) with the notable expectation of Sam, who on his return to the Shire is elevated to Mayor of Michel Delving and in true Vicwardian style changes his surname (admittedly to Gardner!) to conceal, at least partly, his lower class origins. Tolkien presents the Shire as a close to a rural utopia, but I suspect that the true story of life in the Shire is much more interesting and much more complex. Where, for instance, are the landless hobbit vagabonds? What happens when the harvests fail? Some hobbits at least seem remarkably fecund. How does Hobbit society cope with the population pressures? As for the orcs, Tolkien distain for the proleterian masses of Birmingham and Oxford (the orcs have Brummie accents) is clear. There are many stories of Middle-earth that Tolkien chose not to tell.

  17. Sylvia says:

    Very interesting. I totally agree that more reality in the Shire would have made it more interesting and compelling.
    I did suspect that class consciousness in Tolkien's society had something to do with the social order in the book, but I didn't want to make assumptions. I suppose that the episode where foreign (and low) men start taxing the Shire and hoarding the produce reflects misgivings about the state redistributing wealth.
    It's a good thing more people don't read the appendices because the stuff about the downfall of the Dunedain due to “mingling” with lower classes might turn them off. I suppose that sort of thing was taken for granted in Tolkien's time, but today it is unsavoury.

  18. Paul M. Cray says:

    It is said that the Scouring of the Shire reflects Tolkien's unhappiness with the policies of the 1945-51 Atlee Labour government.
    Tolkien hated the modern world (the hobbits “did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a handloom”) and wasn't very much interested in anything written after about 1500. The novel can be seen as a product of Eighteenth Century Protestant, individualist modernity. It is not surprising then that LotR is an anti-novel, one of the defining documents of post-modernity. And yet Tolkien was a true Edwardian. For instance, he worked out the physical movements of the characters in LotR with the rigidity of a pre-1914 railway timetable. Time in Middle-earth lacks the fluidity that we typically expect of time in myth and fantasy (in what senses do Odysseus's sojourns last 18 years?); it lacks the fluidity of Einsteinian time. It is Newtonian time. I suppose Tolkien might have preferred to think of it as divine time.
    I had forgotten that the downfall of the Dunedain is caused by “mingling” with lower classes. Tolkien's class consciousness was typical of his era (and might have been acerbated by anxieties associated with his marriage and ascent in social status ), but there were many people from similar backgrounds who arrived at rather different positions (Joyce, for instance, or Wells).

  19. Sylvia says:

    Is it possible to be a post-modern medievalist? I'm not sure I can wrap my head around that one. I find this all fascinating, though. I just got “Tree and Leaf” from the library so I'll be delving into his views a bit more. I fear I am in over my head, though, trying to second-guess an Oxford don. I appreciate your contributions, Paul.

  20. wil says:

    Is it possible to be a post-modern medievalist?
    Definitely. Post-modern medievalists are a dime a dozen — English-lit-medievalists especially, but historian-medievalists as well.

  21. Paul M. Cray says:

    I suspect that Tolkien would have disliked post-modernity even more heartily than he disliked modernity, but I think that LotR is as much a key text of postmodernism as “Tristram Shandy”, even though producing such a text was far from Tolkien's intention.

  22. Panurge says:

    Just a few late comments:
    It is said that the Scouring of the Shire reflects Tolkien's unhappiness with the policies of the 1945-51 Atlee Labour government.
    Yes, but in the foreword to the 1965 edition, JRRT explicitly denies this. OTOH, maybe something did inadvertently get in. At least it's a worthwhile cautionary tale.
    I had forgotten that the downfall of the Dunedain is caused by “mingling” with lower classes.
    I suppose (which one? I thought it was just their becoming less, uh, fecund), but don't forget the monarchical succession crisis story in Appendix A where the “racial purity” faction are the bad guys.

  23. Sylvia says:

    Good points, Panurge. The appendix does say,
    “This mingling did not at first hasten the waning of the Dúnedain, as had been feared; but the waning still proceeded, little by little, as it had before. For no doubt it was due above all to Middle-Earth itself, and to the slow withdrawing of the gifts of the Númenóreans after the downfall of the Land of the Star.”
    So I guess it really wasn't the “mingling” with “lesser Men” that was the main culprit. Still, for the modern reader that sort of talk is disturbing.

  24. […] I finished my last reading of The Lord of the Rings, I expressed some disappointment at how briefly and tidily Tolkien resolved such an epic tale. Thanks to Nick I learned of […]

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