Allegory, whether you like it or not

From quotefancy

I’m sorry, Tolkien – I love your work and all, but this is happening.

Per the quote above, and the message in the foreword, it’s not incredibly hard to figure that Tolkien was not fond of allegory and especially its application to his work. While the times might indicate that the War of the Ring has some pretty strong parallels to some of the recent events of the time (namely World War II), Tolkien and his followers have strongly protested this idea, and said they had nothing to do with each other. And others have connected his work to religious texts, namely the Bible (Frodo as Jesus, Melkor as Lucifer, etc.), which would (and likely has been refuted by his fans).

Unfortunately for Tolkien and many of his fans, that’s not really the way literary criticism and allegory works. The intent of the author is not necessarily considered when reviewing texts and parallels with other texts. Even if Dante Alighieri had not planned on making his own epic journey through Hell laden with images of his political rivals, the parallels between his depictions of members of society and his expulsion and dissatisfaction with how Florence was conducting itself were not invisible, and connections can be made.

So it is with Tolkien. Allegory doesn’t require the author to have written the text with allegory in mind. And as it is, many writers write things with parallels that are discovered after the fact and that were completely unintentional. Unfortunately for Tolkien, his Catholic upbringing and fellowship with writers like C.S. Lewis allow there to be a solid injection of hidden meanings and ideals thrown into the mix.

While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of religious allegory, the makings are there. As previously mentioned, there are characters who bear resemblances to Biblical figures – Frodo carries the ring (sins of the world) and he alone is capable of making the sacrifice necessary to destroy it; Melkor was an Ainur (essentially angel) and corrupted many Maiar (lesser angels) to follow him, including Sauron and the balrogs; other examples that elude me.

There are plenty of unintentional allegories that exist in the world. You don’t have to look much further than this year: “Warcraft,” the fantasy movie based on the strategy game series, has been linked by some Redditors to the Syrian refugee crisis despite preceding the crisis by decades. And even if Tolkien is sincere in saying no allegory is meant to exist within The Lord of the Rings, it exists.

And even if it can be vehemently ripped apart and destroyed, the story is good enough stand alone; in fact, if the reason Tolkien was and Tolkienites are so vehemently against the trilogy as being described as allegory was/is to establish it as a root text for future allegories, I’ll gladly support it.


Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Is it really an allegory?

To be honest, the first time I read The Lord of the Rings, I didn’t think that it could be allegorical of anything at all. It was a highly fictional world with Elves and Dwarves and Magical Rings that are just too imaginative to be part of the real world. To me, Lord of the Rings was nothing more than the product of Tolkien’s fantastic imagination and dedication towards creating such a detailed world. All I saw was a writers’ great enthusiasm towards the concept of this imaginary world in which all the creatures from the fairy tales we all have read live together.

To be fair, I was 15 at the time so I’m not surprised to see how my recent readings of this series has completely changed its meaning – not going to lie, I enjoyed my first reading far more than my recent ones, just because I was able to immerse myself into this fantastical world and almost become a part of the story. In recent readings, however, I have been much more aware of what is actually happening in the story and have often connected aspects of it to the real world. By doing so, I did cut out on some of the fun of reading it, but my recent readings of the series have been far more memorable, just because they now feel a little more realistic.

In the foreword, Tolkien bluntly states that “The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.” In short, THIS BOOK IS NOT ALLEGORICAL OF ANYTHING – And my first reading of this book is representative of exactly this. As the story progressed, I went along with Frodo and Sam on their quest and felt the same things as they would have felt – the book most definitely held the attention of its readers. What really strengthens this idea that Lord of the Rings is purely fictional is that Tolkien just didn’t stop at this book, but wrote almost 12 more books on the history and lore of Middle Earth. He was just trying his best to make a complete fictional world.

However, at this point it’s just difficult for me to think that this book (and all the books preceding or following it) does not pull from the events around Tolkien in his time. The overlaying themes of good versus evil is something that was (and is) highly prominent at the time given that this book was written shortly after the first World War and was followed by the second World War. The number of parallels that can be drawn between the book and the state of the world at that time make it very difficult to agree with the fact that this book was written as pure fiction. Sure, the book is not a direct allegory of real events such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which it is clear that each character represents a person in the real world, but it is most definitely not pure fiction.

Looking at the allegorical aspects of Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s comments about how the book was not intended to be allegorical of the war, one question that came to my mind was that can anything be pure fiction? Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings during a time of great social and political turmoil and it is hard to think that those ideas were not part of his subconscious while writing the book. It is extremely difficult not to include aspects of the real world in writing and almost impossible to not be influenced by what is going on around you. In my public speaking course, we have been talking about informative speeches and how it is necessary to be unbiased in such speeches. During our discussions, I realized that it is really difficult not to include any of your own opinions to be part of your speech in one way or another. In the same way, I’m certain that Tolkien definitely had some opinions on the state of the world at that time, and at some point some of these ideas were bound to bleed into his writing. Perhaps, this is why he states that the book was not intended to be an allegory, but the ideas presented in the book are highly applicable to the real world and this is just a result of some of his own opinions being reflected in his writing. Taking a look at another ‘fictional’ series, Harry Potter once again deals with highly imaginative topics such as wizards and fantastic beasts. However, it is quite often debated that this series too has some allegorical aspects with respect to religion. Similarly, in The Lord of the Rings, themes that are shared with christianity are seen throughout the book, and I think it’s very possible that his interactions with C.S. Lewis could have been a contributing factor to that. After all, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is full of references to the Bible.

In the end, I agree with Tolkien on the statement that The Lord of the Rings was not written as an Allegory to the second World War, Christianity, or any of the many other ideas and themes that this book parallels. It was written as an attempt to entertain and excite readers and it does exactly that. However it is nearly impossible to write any work without being influenced by the culture and society around you and The Lord of the Rings is a result of the events happening around the time it was written, blending into it. However, this actually doesn’t take away from the book but in fact, adds to it. By adding aspects to it that are representative of the real world, readers are able to connect with the book at a deeper level as they are familiar with the concepts being dealt with. It allows the readers to relate to the events taking place in the book and in some ways enhances their experience as the delve deeper into the world that the author has created for them.

Silumni, Easily Lost

A lot of my fellow posters have been talking about Braid, which is a fantastic puzzle-platformer that absolutely deserves to be talked about.  However, I thought that I should change it up a bit and instead talk about the other game that we’ve played in this class so far: LOTRO, or Lord of the Rings Online.

LOTRO is an MMORPG, or a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.  As such, many (but not all) see role-playing as an important component of playing these types of games.  While I don’t necessarily get into the social aspect of role-playing (as can be seen most commonly on the role-playing required servers of LOTRO), I do think that creating a character who is an interesting, complete individual in and of themselves is an integral part of enjoying RPGs.  Therefore, as a thought exercise, I would like to introduce all of you to my Elven Loremaster, Silumni.

The Lord of the Rings Online™ 9_1_2016 9_19_43 PM

Here she is.  Isn’t she great?

In all seriousness, creating a complete character in LOTRO is a bit harder to do than in other RPGs that I have played, such as Bioware’s Dragon Age series or even Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, simply because those games gave me dialogue choices that help me cement my character’s personality traits and even parts of their backstories without me having to really devote time outside of the game to thinking about my character, something that LOTRO does not do.  This doesn’t necessarily make LOTRO bad for role-playing; it just means that creating a whole character is a bit more front-heavy.  I can’t just figure it out as I go.

Because of this, a lot of the character choices I made for Silumni were made in the character starting screen.  For example, her name is not actually related to Tolkien’s works at all (mostly because any interesting Tolkien-related names have already been used by the thousands of players who have come before me).  Instead, “Silumni” is the Sylvan word for animal-according to one site on the internet, at least.  Since I knew I wanted Silumni to be a pet-based Loremaster, this seemed fitting for her character. I also chose to have her be from Rivendell, which is surrounded by nature.  This helped me create a character who loved nature and the animals found within it more than even Radagast the Brown, if such a thing were even possible.

I from this point on, I tried to make my in-game choices show Silumni’s love of nature.  For example, the Elven hair choices in this game are surprisingly varied, given how long this game has been out.  I purposely avoided the more “cultivated” hair options-the ones that included hair decorations or intricate braiding.  Instead, I gave her the roughest-looking hair I could find, since she would be almost exclusively hanging around animals who wouldn’t really care about the state of her hair.  I also made her an “Explorer,” a crafting vocation focused on going out into nature to find natural resources.  This also allowed me to craft the absolutely beautiful armor you can see on her in the picture.

Honestly, that’s about all I have when it comes to Silumni’s character.  I still need to give her an interesting personality, even if I won’t necessarily use it when questing.  I know that her character isn’t totally loyal to Tolkien’s works, but I really wanted to give her a unique personality, and I didn’t want to be limited to the fairly strict limitations Tolkien puts on his elves.  What do you guys think? Do you have any helpful comments on where I should take her personality, or is there any constructive commentary you could offer me?  Thanks for reading!

Echoes, Quests, and Neekerbreeker Nests

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” Among those quotes that send shivers trailing down my spine, few have had as lasting an impact as these words, spoken by the wizard Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. The same lines, barely altered, appear in the wildly successful film adaptation of the novel. The raw power and beauty of Gandalf’s speech seem an inseparable part of the Lord of the Rings experience, yet not all storytelling mediums are equal where emotional attachment is concerned.

In the gaming world of Lord of the Rings Online, though the creators gave a valiant attempt at staying faithful to the book, an observant player realizes quickly that some things simply cannot transfer from page to computer screen. This fact is seen clearly in the Midgewater Marshes, a key stop in both Frodo’s quest and the player’s. While the consistent presence of physical action in the game’s rendition of the marshes engages the player’s thirst for adventure, both the novel and the film provide the audience with an enduring emotional connection, stemming from a persistent atmosphere of loneliness, a setting which highlights the plight of travelers in the marshes, and the use of central characters filled with a haunting fear of the unknown. While the memories of virtual victories eventually grow faint, the passions excited by novels and films grab hold of the audience and refuse to let go, ensuring that the magic of the stories, as well as the lessons they teach, will never fade with the passage of time.

In the game, the first item that the player notices is the convenient map residing in the top right-hand corner of the computer screen. Whenever the player doubts his sense of direction in an area akin to the Midgewater Marshes, he can simply look to the map and follow an unambiguous little arrow towards his quest’s goal. If moused over, it will even reveal how far away the goal lies. The dense fog becomes all but irrelevant, for the player’s eyes watch the arrow, not the ground before his feet.

In contrast, the novel depicts Frodo and his companions slogging through the marshy waters alone and arrowless, forever wondering where and when their dangerous travels will come to an end.  How can a gamer develop a sense of Frodo’s terror when the player can never be lost? One is never truly alone, for one can always turn to the handy arrow and make off swiftly towards home. This lack of fear and loneliness prevents the player from truly appreciating how it feels to wander the spider-infested marshes alone, despite the fact that his avatar traverses those same bogs. The action is the same, yet the feeling is vastly different. The game is forever leading you gently by the hand, while the novel and its cinematic counterpart drag you blindfolded into the gloom of the unknown.

If it is clear that the game’s helpful features bar it from evoking raw emotion, how then does the novel differ? The secret lies within Tolkien’s ability to not only relay the action, as the game does, but to relay the setting, the atmosphere, and the characters’ endless interpretations of the two. As the hobbits struggle to follow Aragorn through the bug-infested marshes, Tolkien provides the reader with a glimpse of their agony by commenting that “the hobbits [are] nearly frantic” as they hear the eerie cries of the swamp beasts, the Neekerbreekers. He describes their exceedingly unpleasant night, a sleepless one thanks to these unseen, yet not unheard monsters. This fear of the unknown permeates the Midgewater section of the novel, giving the reader a taste of how it feels to be alone and hunted in such a dismal place.

Here one discovers the true difference between the player’s avatar and the hobbits of the book. In the game, you play the part of a hero, a hunter. You blaze a trail through the marshes, destroying hordes of Neekerbreekers and taking trophies from the fallen beasts. You fear nothing, and why would you? Forever helpful, the game supplies a detailed analysis of your opponents’ strengths, even color coding them based on the probable victor of a theoretical battle.

In the novel, the likelihood of success versus defeat is not so clear. There, Frodo and his companions are not the hunters, but the cornered prey. They struggle to travel through the shadows, desperate to avoid the eyes of the Black Riders and their power-hungry master. No helpful floating names identify the whereabouts of their enemies; no color coded rings attempt to gauge their power. Thus, the reader experiences the terror of the hunted in a way that the player cannot hope to comprehend, for one medium provides an intricate world of fear and uncertainty, while the other merely depicts the action, like a rough pencil sketch devoid of color.

Like its written companion, the film is also able to draw out emotions in its audience that are beyond the scope of the online universe. While briefly touching on the fear of the hobbits, the cinematic version of the marsh scene elects to focus on the guide, Aragorn, and the pain he feels for a love left behind.  As the hobbits attempt to sleep amidst the cries of nighttime animals, the ranger softly sings the tale of an elf maiden who fell in love with a mortal, letting his voice carry through the lonely darkness of the swamp. Though his young charges do not know it, the haunting song, which ends in the maiden’s death, reflects Aragorn’s own love for the elf Arwen, as well as his fear that their love will destroy her.

Enhanced by the gloom of the surrounding marshes, the mixture of heartbreak and longing exuded by Aragorn grows to fill the audience, as well, and thus the pain of a single man becomes the pain of an entire crowd. This miracle of empathy simply cannot exist in the game world, where both written and visible emotions are brushed aside by the importance of the central adventure. Amidst the endless stream of quests to be fulfilled, the player cannot waste precious time on a woeful tale of lost love, nor a quiet song in the nighttime of the marsh. Though the powerful scene fits perfectly into the fabric of the movie, filling its viewers with both love and despair, it has no place in the realm of gaming, where emotions are a frivolity distracting from a player’s ultimate goal.

Though computer games currently lack the potential for emotional investment, this by no means suggests that the Lord of the Rings game is irrelevant to Tolkien’s fantasy world. Rather, the game was simply not engineered for the same purposes as its written and filmed counterparts. Whereas these forms of storytelling reach one’s imagination by means of the heart, the game is meant to feed on a player’s desire for adventure, entrancing one’s mind with events that are visually rather than emotionally stimulating. The online universe calls to those who desire battles and balrogs, not subtlety and suspense. The very reason the game cannot compare to the novel or film is the reason why it succeeds brilliantly in fulfilling its own purpose: to entertain, engage, and challenge its players.

While one may lament for marshes drained of their mystery or beautifully written characters depicted as static NPCs, you cannot deny that the game achieves the goal for which it was created. It brings the player into Tolkien’s world and weaves him into the story, filling him with excitement, anticipation, and a thirst for what lies ahead. Where the game falls short, where plot becomes side note and battle becomes routine, the novel and film are there to pick up the slack, adding life and color to supplement the game’s limited storytelling abilities. If the game were an outline, written in dull greys and blacks, the others would be vibrant dyes; whereas the game alone would be a poor excuse for the real story, the mixture of all three creates a tale that is beautiful to behold.

In the end, though, why does any of it matter? Whether boxed, leather-bound, or projected on a screen, are they all not just different forms of entertainment? Not quite. Though games, books, and movies all have a component of pleasure, the latter two occasionally provide a more permanent benefit. Of course, the flash of swords and the cry of an angry cave troll, whether heard or imagined, will always bring excitement. Without the thrills, who would pay for the ticket or purchase the book? Yet every once in a while, a novel or film comes along, and it does not just amuse—it teaches.

Like the words of Gandalf resonating in the reader’s mind, or Aragorn’s soft voice echoing in the darkness of the theater, the story begins to take on a life of its own, entrancing the audience with joy and fear, love and hatred. Aragorn’s pain becomes the pain of all who have ever loved; Frodo’s fear belongs to any who have ever felt afraid. When Frodo laments over his bad fortune, wishing that evil had never touched his doorstep, Gandalf’s famous next words are spoken not only to him, but to us: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Suddenly, the story is real, and the battle is our own. We feel Gandalf’s words in our very bones, and they return to us, lovingly, whenever we feel despair looming near. While the crashing excitement of adventure must always fade into silence, the softer passions of the novel remain attached to the heart like a living organism, a symbiotic being that retains life while we do the same. And long after the last pages have been turned, Tolkien’s words remain, echoing like a song in the night, growing soft, but never quite fading away.


–The Humblebug

Faerie Land

I realize there’s no blog due today, but I just got done with a bunch of homework and I decided I needed a break. So I drew out the map of Faerie Land. Or rather, how I perceived Faerie Land when reading Spenser’s The Faerie Queene.


I realize its kind of empty, but that’s because that’s all of Faerie Land that I have read…so far. This was physically and emotionally exhausting. I have a whole new respect for Tolkien.

Bigger image here:

7 Gold and 9 Sapphire Shards

by Theo Dentchev

Usually when or if one boasts in an academic setting (school) it has to do with how much they’ve done and/or how well they’ve done it. If you’re going to seek praise from your professors, it’s usually by saying something insightful, or turning in some impressive, hard wrought work, or displaying your breadth of knowledge on a subject by incorporating things learned from outside of class.

Today after class I made a point of going up to my professor and informing him that I had earned 7 gold and 9 Sapphire Shards. In Lord of the Rings Online. And I was damn proud of it.

Things weren’t always like this. There was a time when I didn’t even know what Sapphire Shards were, or why they mattered. Let me take you on a journey back in time…

It’s August 27th, and I’m attending my first Worlds of Wordcraft class. I find out that we’ll be playing Lord of the Rings Online. I’m pretty excited, since I’m a Tolkien fan. Despite that it still takes me a week or two before I get around to buying and installing the game.

Fast forward. I’ve installed the game, and I’ve started playing. I’ll spend an hour or two, maybe once or twice a week. Once I get past the intro area I start playing a little more, but still at staggered intervals. I might play for a a good chunk of a Saturday, go up a few levels, and then not play again for a week or even two.

And this goes on for a good month and a half. Then comes fall break, and everything changes. 4 days, 3 gold, 5 levels, and countless boars slain. Late nights spilling over into early mornings, sleeping through the afternoon. I played LOTRO pretty much every day. I didn’t mean to. At first I just intended to do as I always had, play a lot in one day, then not a play again for a while, and spend the rest of my break studying for a midterm I had on Tuesday, and writing most of an essay I had due on Wednesday. Then, I don’t know what happened, but somehow I found myself drawn to the game, unable to stop playing for hours on end. I fit the mmo gamer stereotype: no (or very limited) social contact, only taking breaks for food, sleep, and going to the bathroom. Well, maybe I didn’t go that far; I watched tv, hung out some with people in my dorm, etc. But I never did get around to my studying or essay writing. So I found myself not sleeping, late Monday night/early Monday morning, feverishly studying for the exam I was about to have in a few hours, crashing after class, and waking up in time to write a relatively poor essay in time to hand in on Wednesday.

Then later that same night I was back on LOTRO, questing, selling, neck cramping. And today I was boasting to my professor about how much gold I made and how I had hoarded some valuable crafting items (Sapphire Shards).

So, what can we learn from all this? Clearly the only logical conclusion is this: LOTRO is a highly addictive substance that ruins lives, tanks GPAs, and should be made illegal in the United States.

Or just that it can be highly engaging, simulating many aspects of real life in a fantastic world, and it provides its players a very real sense of fulfillment for completing certain tasks or reaching certain milestones. And that I need to work on my self control, or I’m going to fail my classes.

While I’m certain that I’ll be able to better regulate my LOTRO intake in the future, this experience has given me a new appreciation for the depth of the game and how engrossing it can be. I also have a new understanding of how some people can get sucked into it and, without proper self control, let it impact their lives in a negative way. I do believe however, in the correct quantity, playing LOTRO or other games can be a really enjoyable and enriching experience, and can open up a whole new world to explore with real people to meet and and interact with.

– TD

Prologue Quests = Boring

My first experiences with Lord of the Rings Online have been rather boring. I have not yet gotten to the Epic Book 1 quests but I did complete the Prologue Quests.  Just like any other game, LOTRO uses the prologue quests to get the player acclimated to the game. For some people this is certainly helpful but for others it is just boring and tedious. I have very little experience with MMO’s, but even I found myself paying very little attention to what I was doing during the Prologue Quests. The quests themselves did not provide all that much action or excitement. I found myself leading my character around to various people and talking to them about things I didn’t care about. I was bored most of the time with the tedious and repetitive tasks I was presented with. Even when I strayed from the quests to go kill some wolves, the game could only keep me entertained for so long. I want instant gratification and excitement from a game and the Prologue Quests did not provide this for me.

                The quests were clearly designed to introduce the story behind the game as well as the controls and various aspects to the game. As a player, I had read the LOTR book and watched the movie. I had a pretty good idea of where I was and what was going on. Also, my experience with gaming made it very easy to figure out how to play the game with very minimal help from the game itself. I found myself being forced to do various activities with my character that I didn’t want to do. I understood the concepts of learning skills, using skills, attacking enemies, talking to characters and so on and so forth. Undoubtedly the prologue serves a role of great importance to new and inexperienced games, but for me it just proved to be tedious. I wanted to complete the prologue quests and get them out of the way. Granted they did not take any more than an hour, but still they left me with a bad first impression of the game.

                As for the quests and their relation to Tolkien’s world, I think there are many similarities. The most obvious of these similarities are the races, the characters, and the landscape in which you play. All these are taken directly from Tolkien because after all the game is based on Tolkien’s work.  A further similarity can be drawn to the Hobbit Prologue Quests.  Here the player begins in the shire just as Tolkien’s story begins with Bilbo Baggins in the shire. The game play itself begins to shift away from Tolkien’s world as the action begins. Tolkien must begin his writing by describing all the various aspects of the new world he is depicting.  In the game however, the character is instantly immersed into the landscape and everything can be seen through the gamers’ eyes. There is no need for words or descriptions as a constant visual is provided. The player is instantly in control and can do as he or she chooses. The player is not being influenced and directed by Tolkien’s words, but now rather the player is in control and making a story for himself.

                Another interesting comparison between Tolkien’s world and LOTRO is the way in which both initially develop. Tolkien describes the world he has created with his words. Any reader would be totally unfamiliar with Middle Earth and its inhabitants, so Tolkien must devote many words to describing these things. In a similar way, the designers of LOTRO assume that a new gamer has no idea what he or she is doing. So the designers put the Prologue Quests in to familiarize a new player with what the game has in store for them.  Both “introductions”, although very different, are also similar in that they both try to create comfort and familiarity with something that may be new or unusual.

                Perhaps it is because I just don’t like MMO’s in general, but I did not enjoy my first experiences with LOTRO. While doing the Prologue Quests I just wanted to be fully immersed in the game. I wanted instant satisfaction and a chance to win but with LOTRO this is not possible. It is a long, winding road to the top and I do not think this is a road I want to travel. I enjoy games that I can become good  at and win at quickly. I do not like having to put extensive time and effort into games to become good at them. I especially do not like this when it comes to games like LOTRO where time and effort are more important than skill. Judging by the Prologue Quests and my prior knowledge of  what MMO’s are I know it will take a lot of time and game play to improve my character.  This is not my type of game and it is not something I can see myself playing much beyond  what is needed for class.

-Matt Almeida