Thursday, January 12, 2017

Some early reading thoughts

I've already finished a fair number of books this year; The Fellowship of the Ring (on audio), The Wardog's Coin by Vox Day, and I'm about to finish Thomas DiLorenzo's The Real Lincoln and Loose Ends by D. D. VanDyke, and the sample Kindle (only the first seven chapters, I think) of The Emperor's Blades.  If I like the latter enough, it looks like it's available at my public library for me to complete.  I've of course said this many times before in the past, but re-reading Tolkien again after having not done so for a few years has reiterated to me how much I really, really like him.  He really was truly a genius.  I'm also struck by how much more the linguistic background sticks out at me this time.  By this I mean his deliberate use of really older, Germanic words from Anglo-Saxon while deliberately eschewing as much as he could words of Latin or Norman origin.  Or even Celtic origin for most.

In this I'm not entirely with Tolkien; I think the Latin and Norman French influences have enriched our language tremendously, and I consider a fair amount of my own personal ancestry to be as Celtic as it is Anglo-Saxon, so I have a fondness for it (particularly the Scottish portion) as well.  But, I also really see his point, because there is a certain richness to his language, and an echo of mightier, more heroic times that rings throughout.  Although I love The Lord of the Rings for what it is, I also believe that one should be very wary of hewing too closely to its precedents, lest one invite comparison to Tolkien that is not likely to be flattering.  This in part has led to my campaign seed MIDDLE-EARTH REVISITED which seeks to take the setting (more or less) and cast it out of mythic high fantasy and more in the vein of sword and sorcery.  I think, though, that not only must one make fairly significant changes to the setting, but maybe the development of events.  Struck by this paragraph in the Foreword yet again, I wonder if this setting might not be more to my liking.
The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. 
In my efforts to make Middle-earth more S&S and less HF, I've already talked about greatly minimizing the role of elves except as fae adversaries.  Rivendell is therefore a haven not to the elves, but to the Dunedain of the North. Lothlorian is actually much as Boromir fears it to be from the corrupted stories and tales that he's heard. Elrond is, in some fashion, the Mimir that advises Aragorn, not the ruler of it.  There's no kindly Gandalf, for Gandalf seized the One Ring from Bilbo years ago and set himself up in the Dark Tower, with Sauron as his enslaved and unruly adviser.  Saruman, probably thanks to treachery from Sauron against Gandalf, finished his own ring-lore and made his own Great Ring.  For now, there is a multi-point cold war between Barad-dur and Orthanc; what Orthanc lacked in power in the actual books is somewhat mitigated by Gandalf's inability to marshal Sauron's full power as effectively as Sauron himself did.  None of the three are inhuman Maiar; all three are post-human sorcerers or some other terrible creature, corrupted by their magic.

Gondor and Rohan are indeed besieged, but still free.  Or, free-ish, I should say.  Eriador and the north of Wilderland have their own problems, as Angmar has been re-founded (although still weak) and neither is as depopulate as the books have them—although no central government or kingship bigger than local warlords, mayors and whatnot rules any large area.  The Shire and Bree are therefore a little bit less singular; many such rustic communities exist throughout the north, and Gondor, it's own leadership in Minas Tirith occupied with trying to balance its precarious position in the Cold War between Barad-dur and Orthanc is slipping into the same state across much of its territory.  From Carn Dum, forces are gathering that threaten Rivendell, Evendim and Fornost as much as they threaten Dale, or the Beornings, or especially Framsburg, which remains a stronghold of valiant Northmen in this version of the setting.

Into this world come human heroes—not magical, mythical Dunedain, although the Dunedain can and should certainly be heroic, of the north—from the Balkanized lands of Eriador where once Arnor stood, from the north, from Gondor, from Rohan, etc. to pit their might against the challenges that rise all around them.

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