Friday, January 15, 2016

Archaism

Alright, more scenes from frustrating lunch conversations with my friends.

(Hi, friends if you're reading this, you're the best :)

My friend Anna was reading the post I dedicated to her called "Magic in Tolkien" (I had to force her to actually read it since she didn't the first time.  Actually she didn't even finish this second time...) and she stumbled upon this quote from the post: "He says that magic is an art. I want to make it perfectly clear that it is not an art that you can study and learn, like the wizards in Harry Potter. You are born with it, and you practice and perfect it for the greater glory of the world around you and put it to use according to Eru's will."

"Harry Potter is way better than The Lord of the Rings!" she said suddenly.  At first I was confused because I had no idea what she was talking about.  When I realized she thought I was saying that the Lord of the Rings was better than Harry Potter, I understood why she was freaking out.  Now I've never read Harry Potter and she's never read The Lord of the Rings, so the whole argument was kind of moot.

Later on, my other friend suggested to Anna that she should start a blog about Harry Potter like I have for The Lord of the Rings.  I simply said: "I think you would run out of things to talk about."  I mean, I have never read Harry Potter, but I just can't imagine anything that is as detailed as The Lord of the Rings.  I just thought there might not be enough detail to actually keep a blog running.  Anna said that there was a lot of information in Harry Potter and that it was very realistic...more so than The Lord of the Rings.

"But does Harry Potter have whole family trees for each character which extend generations back?" I said.  I stated that I thought The Lord of the Rings has more details (there are twelve volumes of details in The History of Middle-earth anyway).  Both my friends then said that they thought the family trees were irrelevant to the story and that nobody cared about them.

"It gives them a sense of depth and realism...you can never know all there is to know just like in real life!"  I said.  Both of my friends said that they felt that, one, Harry Potter had better depth and two, it was better because it was easier to read.

"Since when does being easier to read make it a better book?"  I asked.  "Just why are The Lord of the Rings books written in such a weird way?  Just to be annoying?"  They contested.  Of course not!  This is the answer to their question: why are the books written in an archaic style?

There are three main reasons for this style choice.  The first is preference.  I think that Tolkien just liked this kind of style.  It's very medieval and it has a sort of regal quality to it.  Compare "Get thee gone and take thy due place!" to "Go away and remember your place!"  I think the first one definitively wins in terms of quality and drama.

Secondly, one of Tolkien's goals was to make his stories be so believable that they could very well have been myths passed down through the generations.  Myths and legends would often be told using older words and so it brings the believability that this all occurred long ago up a few notches.

Thirdly, Tolkien was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon.  I think that his rearranging of sentences reflects what a more literal translation of an Anglo-Saxon sentence would sound like.  Because Anglo-Saxon (also called Old English) is an inflected language, it doesn't matter where the nouns are in relation to the verbs.  What dictates where a noun or verb is in a sentence depends on the ending of the word.  So there is more freedom to move around words in a sentence to get the right kind of flow.  Take for instance "Many are the strange chances of the world," and compare it to "There are many strange chances of the world."  These two sentences have clear differences on emphasis.  The first emphasizes the fact there are "many" and the second doesn't have very much emphasis at all.

So the answer to my friends' question about the reason that the books are written in the sometimes confusing style that they are is because it's the way Tolkien liked to write, it makes the stories sound more like myths and legends, and it reflects language practices in olden days (which also helps with the second point).

I don't think that anyone should stop reading Tolkien just because the style is kind of tough like my friends have (hint hint friends, start reading it again!).  The style can be genuinely beautiful when the time is taken to understand it and it has become one of my favorite parts of the book and my favorite style of writing ever.

9 comments:

  1. Well said! I think that the archaic writing style is art, and I actually quite enjoy it. It takes a bit to get into if you're not used to it, but once you get a grip on the style, it's beautiful. One has to be understanding in order to truly enjoy literature.

    As for the Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings debate- I personally believe that LOTR beats HP, simply because it is so intricately detailed and classic, basically forging its own genre. But Harry Potter has its value too; I very much appreciate it for what it is. There is great detail in this series too, much more than you would expect in a children's book series. Of course, it is not on the same plane as LOTR, but it will go down in history as classic children's literature.

    As a side note- I think your friend could successfully run a blog on Harry Potter if she's willing to really study the text and read between the lines. She'd have to be willing to explore the minute details that supposedly "nobody cares about". If she could put that much effort into investigating the depth of the story, she's got a good chance at running a good blog on it. :)

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    1. Thank you! I agree with you--the word choice is one of my favorite features. Not only does it make the story sound more beautiful, but it also differentiates it from other works.

      I can't make a decision on the second point since I've never read Harry Potter, but because of my huge love for Lord of the Rings, I can't imagine anything beating it :)

      I will pass on your confidence to my friend--she is a really good writer and I also think she would do well if she put time into a blog.

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  2. Nice post! I definitely agree about the writing style. I love how LOTR is written. It's beautiful and epic. Anyways, when it comes to Harry Potter vs. LOTR I think it's kind of a different plane as LOTR is high fantasy whereas Harry Potter is not. I enjoy them both but they're different.

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    1. Exactly- a different plane is about as clearly as you can put it. They're so very different it's rather useless to compare them. :)

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    2. I agree--that's a good way to put it!

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  3. I've read both and I like LOTR better. My little sister and I are the only Tolkienites/Jedis out of our immediate family. Our three older sisters grew up counting the days for the HP movies to come out and have all kinds of HP stuff like posters and wands. So they disagree that LOTR is better.

    We hardly have discussions like this but when it comes up, they have the upper hand because I'm still learning. They can say word for word from the books and say all of these fancy spells(that don't work :P ) but I can speak some Sindarin. They despise LOTR movies because they are too long and they say there are too many barren walking scenes when HP is pretty much the same length in time.

    Win or lose, my heart is in Middle-earth :)

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    1. *Gasp* I didn't know it was possible for people to dislike the movies! ;) Stay strong! Keep learning Sindarin--that is super impressive!

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    2. I know right! I definitely will!

      I agree with Emmarayn. If she's willing to put time into her HP blog, it could work. Besides, I can use the stuff I learned from your friend's blog against my sisters lol :D

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    3. By the way, here's a little something I thought you would enjoy. Even if you already saw it :)

      http://images6.fanpop.com/image/photos/36300000/The-Hobbit-image-the-hobbit-36362148-400-380.jpg

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