4 Ways Tolkien Creates a New Reality

Among the 5 Reasons Tolkien Is My Co-Pilot, the first is that Tolkien created his own world. The way he seems to create an entirely new reality through his Middle-earth works is engrossing from a reader’s perspective and staggering from a fellow artist’s perspective. This verisimilitude – the artistic approximation of reality itself – was, for Tolkien, a primary quality of good storytelling.

map-of-middle-earth

The idea of creating a new universe for a story is one that has really caught on since Tolkien’s time, in large part due to his influence on the post-LOTR generation of storytellers (and filmmakers!). Examples of universe-creating stories include Star Wars, Star Trek and Harry Potter, just to name a few. The Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes certainly owe him a debt of gratitude as well.

Still, in my view, Tolkien’s ability is unparalleled. Here are 4 ways Tolkien is able to create a new reality in his storytelling:

Cartography and Chronology

Tolkien’s works rely on 2 internal maps: a geographical map and a chronological map. Everything that takes place in Middle-earth happens in a place and time that shares existence with other things. When Frodo and company are in Bree, we learn later that Gandalf is simultaneously in some other real place. At the same time, there are blurry edges on the maps. These imply dozens, hundreds, even thousands of stories going on all at the same time. Have you ever wondered what it was like in the lands surrounding the Sea of Rhûn? Ever desired more detail on the decline of the kingdom of Arnor? I could list hundreds of questions like these, all stemming from the maps in the back of The Lord of the Rings.

Visual Description

The maps of Middle-earth may give us a high level view of the look and feel of things, but the detailed verbal descriptions give us the impression of real landscapes that the maps can only hint at. Although it can be easy for a writer to “get on with it” by glossing over detailed descriptions of lands, Tolkien isn’t so hasty. His ”verbal visuals” of the Old Forest, the Barrow-Downs, Emyn Muil, Rohan, Fangorn, and other Middle-earth lands can, if we take the time to close our eyes and imagine them, leave us feeling like we’ve actually stepped foot inside them.

Internal Mythology

As familiar as I am with the story of Beren and Lúthien (ahem), it’s weird to think that once upon a time, all a Tolkien fan could know about that story was the little bit of poetry Aragorn recites in Fellowship of the Ring. That little bit, however, is enough to make us want to know more. And there are dozens of stories of a similar sort when it comes to Middle-earth. Just consider the stories of the Second Age alone! We know a bit about these from various sources, but when it all comes down to it, there are some 20 generations (3000+ years) of Númenor that we have to leave up to the imagination. There is a vastness implied there, a certain historicity. When you add in the stories of the Valar and of Valinor, there is a wonder and a depth that just doesn’t seem to end.

Leaving Well Enough Alone

I’ve seen many stories I otherwise enjoyed flop at the end because they “put a bow on it.” In other words, they try to wrap it up nice and tidy. For as much as Tolkien likes to “dive in” to back stories, he never exhausts the mystery by giving a complete or final word explanation. I was reminded of this when discussing “The White Rider” recently, where Gandalf, in describing his battle with Durin’s Bane, speaks of the places far below the surface of Middle-earth, where “the world is gnawed by nameless things.” Similarly, Tolkien never gives us a full and detailed explanation of Tom Bombadil’s identity, calling him only “Master.” Enigmas and mysteries like this abound in Middle-earth, and Tolkien wisely leaves them as such, knowing that to attempt a full explanation would only rob them of their narrative power.

These are only a few of the ways Tolkien works his literary magic. If you can think of other ways, please post them in the comments below.

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Thoughts on a Silmarillion Film Pt 6: A TV Show in 6 Seasons

In my last article in this series, I stated why I’d be more interested in seeing The Silmarillion done as a high-quality, multi-season TV production than in the form of a series of films (even a trilogy of trilogies). In this one, I’ll lay out (at a high level) how I’d see the TV show playing out.

In short, I see The Silmarillion being done in 6 seasons of 10 episodes each. Here’s a look at what each season would encompass. Over the next few posts in this series, I’ll elaborate with more specifics on each season.

silmarillion-cover-cr2

Season 1 – The Awakening of the Elves: Season 1 would be primarily concerned with the journey of the Elves to the Blessed Realm under peril from Melkor. Basically, Chapter 3 would be in focus here. Everything before (Ainulindalë, Chapters 1 & 2) is background and would be handled as flashbacks/intro/stage setting. It would end on something of a high note, with the Elves arriving safely in Valinor and Melkor defeated and imprisoned. However, there would be a note of dread about the awakening of Ungoliant, and the secret machinations of Melkor to corrupt and destroy the Elves no matter the cost.

Season 2 – The Darkening of Valinor: Chapters 5 thru 8. Season 2 would take place almost entirely in the Blessed Realm, and would focus on Melkor’s manipulations, ending with the destruction of the Two Trees, the theft of the Silmarils, the murder of Finwë, Valinor in darkness, and Melkor and Ungoliant on the run.

Season 3 – The Pursuit of Melkor: Chapters 9 thru 13. Season 3 focuses on the Oath of Fëanor, the kinslaying, the break with the Valar, and the bickering of Melkor and Ungoliant. It ends with the death of Fëanor.

Season 4 – The Wars of Beleriand: Chapter 16 thru 18. Season 4 picks up some time after the death of Fëanor, after the Noldor have established themselves in Beleriand, and with the arrival of Men. This season would focus on the battles against Angband leading up to the Battle of Sudden Flame and ending with the death of Fingolfin.

Season 5 – Beren, Lúthien, Túrin: Chapters 19 thru 21. Season 5 focuses on Beren and Lúthien for the first half, and then, from that high point, descends into even greater tragedy with the Battle of Unnumbered Tears and the story of Túrin and the fall of Nargothrond.

Season 6 – The Journey of Eärendil and the End of the First Age: Chapters 22 thru 24. Season 6 focuses on the fall of Gondolin and the ever-increasing desperation of the peoples of Beleriand. It ends with Eärendil’s journey and the War of Wrath.

Let me just close with this: I truly hope this happens one day. I think The Silmarillion contains material that could make for utterly compelling TV. If put in the right hands (a show runner that respects the source material and Tolkien’s vision), it could be one of the best shows ever.

Here are the previous posts in this series:

The Tolkien Road – Ep. 55 – The Silmarillion – Ch. 22 – Of the Ruin of Doriath

Concerning “Of the Ruin of Doriath”, Chapter 22 of The Silmarillion…

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien.  On this episode, we continue our discussion of The Silmarillion with Chapter 22, “Of the Ruin of Doriath”, wherein Húrin is released from his 28-year bondage and doom comes to Thingol’s kingdom. There’s a whole lot to discuss!  By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

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©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

  • Haiku – 5:00
  • Húrin, Gondolin, and the Eagles – 11:45
  • Húrin and Morwen – 22:00
  • Nargothrond, Mîm, and the Nauglamir – 36:00
  • Thingol’s Downfall – 43:00
  • Melian’s Exodus – 51:00
  • Beren, Lúthien, and Díor – 55:00
  • The Sons of Fëanor and the Sack of Doriath – 1:02:30

By the way, check out the summary of this chapter I did for the Beginner’s Guide.

Thanks for listening to The Tolkien Road! To see a list of our previous episodes, go here.

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The Tolkien Road – Ep. 52 – The Silmarillion – Ch. 20 – Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad

Concerning “Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad”, Chapter 20 of The Silmarillion…

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien.  On this episode, we continue our discussion of The Silmarillion with Chapter 20, “Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad”, wherein the Noldor make renewed attempt to assail Morgoth and it all goes horribly wrong. There’s a whole lot to discuss!  By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

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©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

  • Haiku time – 5:00
  • Beren and Lúthien epilogue – 14:00
  • The Union of Maedhros – 19:00
  • Turgon Arrives – 29:00
  • The Fifth Battle: Unnumbered Tears – 32:30
  • The Triumph of Morgoth – 50:00
  • Cirdan and the Seven Ships – 58:30
  • Húrin’s Torment – 1:03:00

By the way, here’s a link to the two-part summary of this chapter I did for Beginner’s Guide: (Part 1 | Part 2).

Thanks for listening to The Tolkien Road! To see a list of our previous episodes, go here.

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The Tolkien Road – Ep. 51 – The Silmarillion – Ch. 19 – Of Beren and Lúthien – Pt 2

Continuing with “Of Beren and Lúthien”, Chapter 19 of The Silmarillion…

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s our 50th episode! This week, we continue our discussion of The Silmarillion Chapter 19, the story of Beren and Lúthien. By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

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©2013-2016 rfcunha

Get Tolkien’s Requiem – Concerning Beren and Lúthien

Topics of discussion…

  • Beren and Finrod in the Dungeon – 4:30
  • Lúthien and Huan to the rescue – 7:00
  • Lúthien the Dreamweaver – 24:00
  • Celegorm & Curufin – 28:00
  • The invasion of Angband – 34:30
  • Carcharoth’s Rampage – 39:30
  • A Silmaril Obtained – 43:00
  • The Return to Doriath – 52:00
  • The Hunt – 1:00:00
  • Lúthien’s Plea – 1:05:00

By the way, here’s a link to the three-part summary of this chapter I did for Beginner’s Guide: (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3).

Thanks for listening to The Tolkien Road! To see a list of our previous episodes, go here.

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The Tolkien Road – Ep. 50 – The Silmarillion – Ch. 19 – Of Beren and Lúthien – Pt 1

Concerning “Of Beren and Lúthien”, Chapter 19 of The Silmarillion…

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s our 50th episode! And it also just so happens to be the episode where we discuss Chapter 19 of The Silmarillion, “Of Beren and Lúthien.” It’s an amazing chapter, an epic tale all by itself, so epic that we weren’t able to cram it all in to one episode. So this is part 1, with part 2 to follow next time. If you haven’t read the story before, we hope you’ll be inspired to do so by our conversation.  By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

the-tolkien-road
©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

    • Haiku – 6:30
    • Tolkien’s letters concerning Beren and Lúthien – “The Seed of Middle-earth” – 16:00
    • Barahir’s band – 25:00
    • Gorlim & Sauron – 26:30
    • Beren and Lúthien meet – 35:00
    • Thingol’s brideprice – 49:00
    • Finrod vs. Sauron: A Battle of Song – 1:04:00

By the way, here’s a link to the three-part summary of this chapter I did for Beginner’s Guide: (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3).

Thanks for listening to The Tolkien Road! To see a list of our previous episodes, go here.

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The Tolkien Road – Ep. 36 – The Lord of the Rings – Bk1Ch11 – A Knife in the Dark

Concerning “A Knife in the Dark,” Book 1, Chapter 11 of The Lord of the Rings, wherein the hobbits Strider set out on the long road to Rivendell…

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien.  On this episode, we continue our discussion of The Lord of the Rings with Book 1, Chapter 11 of Fellowship, A Knife in the Dark, wherein the hobbits depart Bree with Strider, rmake their way to Weathertop, and get attacked by the Black Riders. We also discuss Strider’s telling of the tale of Tinúviel as well as the legendary Gil-galad.  By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

the-tolkien-road
©2013-2015 rfcunha

Topics of discussion include:

  • Tolkien Haiku for Book 1, Chapter 11 of LOTR (6:20)
  • Departing Bree (20:00)
  • The Journey to Weathertop (23:30)
  • Gilgalad (37:10)
  • How the Black Riders sense things (42:30)
  • The Tale of Tinúviel (46:00)
  • The Attack of the Black Riders (55:30)
  • Favorite passages (1:05:30)

And much more!

By the way, to see the Tolkien haiku(s) that didn’t make it onto the podcast, scroll down.

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Here’s a bonus haiku from me:

Leaving Bree; headed
Into a wilderness. The
Road leads to Mordor.
And here’s Mary Grace’s longer poem that we shared on the podcast:
Listen, young folk, and you shall hear
Of four Hobbits, a Ring, and Ilsildur’s Heir
In the Third Age, in which Sauron rose to power again
There are some in Middle-Earth who are able to say
They can recall that dangerous event and year
 
Ringwraiths rode down the gate
Into Bree where they came
Passed silently into tavern where Hobbits had stayed
They stabbed the Hobbits, with their blades, in their beds
But a trick, this time by Strider, had been laid again.
 
Strider had Hobbits hidden,
Safely hidden in his room
It was a dark night with no stars and no moon
They all fled the next day, with only one baggage pony
And fleeing Riders had found those “dead Hobbits” were phony
 
The travelers left by the Road
But cut to the woods
“A shortcut” said Strider, “It’s for your own good.”
As the hills drew near, they camped down by the night,
And Sam sang of Gil-Galad under faint starlight
 
They came upon Weathertop
And fire did light
Which the Ringwraiths’ horses perceived in the night
They came to the hill and let loose their attack
A knife through the Ring-Bearer, in the night so black
 
Strider defended them bravely
Flaming branches in hand
That sent the Black Riders scattered out through the land
And as Frodo had fallen, crying, “Githoniel! Elbereth!”
And had struck at the enemy, before consciousness he left
 
The end of this tale
Is grim, that I know
But it shows to be brave one must have stout soul
And until the next time, when I write once again
May we remain safe, until the day ends.

The Tolkien Road – Ep. 34 – Tolkien’s Requiem – Concerning Beren and Lúthien – Chapter 2

Hey there fellow travelers! On this episode of The Tolkien Road, we once again take a break from our discussion of The Lord of the Rings so that I can continue the reading of my book, Tolkien’s Requiem. This time, I read Chapter 2, which is entitled “Fëanor, Melkor, and the Tragedy of the Two Trees.” I hope that by it you are brought to a greater appreciation of the story of Beren and Lúthien, as well as The Silmarillion as a whole.


The Tolkien Road – Episode 0034 – Tolkien’s Requiem – Concerning Beren and Lúthien – Chapter 2

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By the way, would you please leave us a rating and feedback on iTunes? That’s the best way to show your appreciation, as it will help spread the word about The Tolkien Road. As always, thanks for listening!!!

FYI, for those of you waiting anxiously for our next Lord of the Rings discussion, the next episode is coming on September 14th. Thanks for your patience!

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©2013-2015 rfcunha

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The Tolkien Road – Ep. 32 – Tolkien’s Requiem – Concerning Beren and Lúthien – Chapter 1

Hey there fellow travelers! On this episode of The Tolkien Road, we take a break from our discussion of The Lord of the Rings so that I can provide our faithful listeners with a token of my appreciation: a FREE audio version of the preface & first chapter of my book, Tolkien’s Requiem.

Over the next few months, I intend to release the whole book as a limited time audio recording. I hope that by it you are brought to a greater appreciation of the story of Beren and Lúthien, as well as The Silmarillion as a whole.


The Tolkien Road – Episode 0032 – Tolkien’s Requiem – Concerning Beren and Lúthien – Chapter 1

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By the way, would you please leave us a rating and feedback on iTunes? That’s the best way to show your appreciation, as it will help spread the word about The Tolkien Road. As always, thanks for listening!!!

©2013-2015 rfcunha

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