Friday, March 31, 2017

5 Podcasts I Love

Do you ever encounter a situation where you don't have the attention span to watch TV, but you don't really want to listen to music?  Do you ever want to find a happy medium between these two forms of entertainment?

Than podcasts may be for you!

But searching through iTunes can be intimidating, and you may not even know where to start.  But don't worry, I will lead you!

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Lore is a podcast run by Aaron Mahnke that goes through spooky parts of history with unexplained phenomenon including famous criminals like H.H. Holmes, and even fantastical creatures like body-snatchers and doppelgangers.

This podcast is very well written and produced, and one of my friends' favorite parts of this podcast is the subtle soundtrack in the background, which is custom written for each episode.

I personally have listened to most episodes of Lore, and I have purchased one of Aaron Mahnke's mystery novels off his website which is very intriguing.

Highly recommend!

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Myths and Legends

Myths and Legends is a great podcast for Tolkien fans and anyone who is remotely into medieval literature or legends.  This podcast tells the stories of King Arthur's knights as well as other ancient tales like the Volsunga saga and Beowulf.

The host is very funny at times and points out how comical some of the stories are.  The end of each episode has a creature of the week featured which is pretty enlightening and I for one love to learn about this kind of thing.

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Three Dogs North

Three Dogs North is a podcast run by a priest and two seminarians from Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.  The three hosts, known as Juice, C-Bisc, and Metz.  They are really funny and seem like great people that have a lot to say about being young people alive with love for what they do!

I've actually contacted the hosts before with a question about their website, and they were really helpful with getting me an answer.  They seem like nice people and I want to support their hilarious and insightful podcast as best I can.  "Get down with this soul butter."

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The Word on Fire Show

If you're a Roman Catholic or if you enjoy logical discussion of both current day topics and Biblical ideas from the ever-insightful and astute Bishop Barron, then you must subscribe to The Word on Fire Show.

Brandon Vogt is the host of this podcast and each week Bishop Barron comes on to be interviewed, and I always find what they have to say very informative.  It's a nice half-hour length which is long enough to get everything said, but short enough to allow time to absorb what you're hearing.

You can even submit your question to the Word on Fire Show and get it answered by Bishop Barron himself!  I will tell you that I once had a question answered by Bishop Barron on the podcast and it was amazing!

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The Ben Shapiro Show

If you're a conservative voter, you may enjoy Ben Shapiro's show.  He is very intelligent and speaks clearly about his ideas, and has some pretty funny moments as well.

He plays this little theme song that is so catchy called the "Good Trump, Bad Trump" theme song that he plays just before looking over what the U.S. president has been doing in the past day.  You and I may not agree with everything Ben says (and I don't like to get into politics on this blog, so I won't comment on my opinion), but it is a pretty fun podcast to listen to if you like fast paced facts and some funny moments.

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What podcasts do you listen to?  Do you prefer informative podcasts like the Word on Fire Show and The Ben Shapiro Show, or do you like story time podcasts like Lore and Myths and Legends?

What I find interesting is that the radio is getting to be a really out of date media distribution method, and yet podcasts are basically just the radio, aren't they?  I mean, The Ben Shapiro Show could just as well be on AM radio on your morning commute, and Lore reminds me really heavily of The Shadow from years ago.

The wheel turns over and over...

Happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

5 Tips for Melodic Minor Scales

I've been stressing out about a big audition I have coming up that will determine what orchestra I make it into and where my seat in the orchestra will be.  We are required to play a prepared piece (in my case, Concerto Grosso in D Minor by Vivaldi), and two three octave scales (in my case, B minor and C melodic minor).

Melodic minors are very popular among string pieces.  If you don't know, a melodic minor scale is different going up from going down, which is rather unusual.  The sixth and seventh notes are raised a half step while ascending the scale, and then lowered again on the way down the scale.

Sleepers Wake by Bach includes examples of a melodic minor (in D, if I'm not mistaken).

The trouble with melodic minors is that it sounds very different going up from going down.  Here's an example played on the piano.

Add the three octave element, and you have a pretty challenging scale for a string player to manage.

Here are some tips for mastering melodic minor scales and scales in general when practicing for an audition.  These can help with intonation, confidence, and precision in your playing.

#1: The One Octave Approach

If you have to play a certain scale for multiple octaves, master it in the easiest octave you have first.  Play it seven times over and over again slowly, and really hone in on the sound.  When you feel more comfortable with the one octave scale, add in the second octave.  

Do one octave, listen carefully, and do the second, trying to match the pitches.  If certain pitches are not sounding exactly right, play them down an octave, lock in the sound, and then try and find the pitch the octave up.

Once the second octave is sounding relatively in tune, try playing both octaves together.  This part can be really tricky for melodic minor scales since going up is different from going down.  But if you've heard yourself play the first octave over and over again, you should be able to trust your ear and know what it should sound like in two octave form.

Add in the rest of the octaves incrementally one by one until you've got it all down.

Smiling Standing Man Playing Violin by Gray Stone Wall

#2: Listen to Your Scale

This kind of plays off the benefits of the last tip, where you played your scale comfortably over and over again.  If you really are having a hard time getting that part even down, it can help to listen to someone who knows more what they're doing play the scale themselves so your ear can get used to this.

Melodic scales sound a little bit unnatural, so this step is especially important when working with those.

Try playing the scale for yourself on the piano if you know how, because not only will you hear the pitches with clear intonation, but seeing the keys can help you visualize where your half steps are.

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#3: Duh, Duh-Duh, Duh

I really cannot think of a better way to describe this method, so that's the title we're going with...

This technique involves playing the first pitch of your scale, lifting your bow (or resetting or whatever your instrument requires), playing the first note plus the second note, resetting, playing the first note, second note, and third note, resetting, etc. all the way up the scale.

This one really helps with relative pitch because you hear how the notes should sound one after another and it can help with fingering because of the intense repetition.

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#4: Playing with a Tuner

If you have an app like InsTuner or another similar tuner that can sense vibration and tell you if you are flat or sharp, this can really be a helpful tool for locking in intonation. 

Set up your tuner and play your notes with very long bows (for string instruments) and pay attention to if you are sharp or flat.  Adjust your fingerings accordingly and if the problem persists, mark in the troublesome pitches in your music.  

Sometimes a scale can sound in tune because the notes are relatively in tune, but if your starting point isn't right, the whole scale may be a little sharp or flat.

Woman in Gray Cardigan Playing a Violin during Daytime

#5: Overachieve 

A popular saying when I was in elementary school was "shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you will land among the stars".  

This is very true with scales and auditions in general.  You want to leave a margin of error because there is always the chance you won't do your best, and if you're nervous, the fact is that you are almost guaranteed to under perform.

So learn your scale really well, and then learn it really fast.  Learn it with lots of slurs.  Learn it an octave higher than you need to.  That way, when you don't do your best, you will still be doing awesome because your best is just really extra.

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Whatever audition you are working on or scale you are trying to master, remember that patience is key.  Be kind to yourself, and remember that learning something like an instrument is a difficult thing to do and requires lots of time and commitment. 

You can do it!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Interstellar Soundtrack Analyzed

Guess who has been minorly obsessed with Hans Zimmer's soundtrack from Interstellar?  That's right, me!

The plot of the actual movie itself left me confused and a little empty, but the soundtrack and visuals are two things that redeemed the movie and made it worth watching.

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Whenever I become obsessed with a specific track, musical, or score I always learn to play a piece or two from said track.

Here are links to some of the soundtrack/score related songs I love to play...I don't have them all here (because sometimes I can't remember them all) and these are only ones that are available digitally.  Others are physical copies that I can't post.  Also, a couple of them I couldn't find links for.  But they do exist somewhere on the net...

The Legend of Zelda Violin duet
Les Miserables Medley for Piano and SATB
The Last Goodbye from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

So naturally when I heard the awesomeness that is the Interstellar soundtrack, I picked up a couple of pieces to learn.

The Interstellar soundtrack is very dramatic with many moments that are simply powerful chords, and other times that are full of intense trills (and yes, even the dreaded 32nd note).

Most of the pieces and arrangements for this particular score are very difficult, and the piano piece I am currently working on from the soundtrack is this incredible arrangement by Kyle Landry on Musescore.  Generally Musescore arrangements are not very professional, but holy cannoli this really close to the original.

Take a listen!

First Step - Interstellar [Kyle Landry][Cover] by Airik Daily

So, what do you think?

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Everyone knows that when you start playing a piece, you automatically start picking up on things you didn't notice before.

Couple the fact that I've been working really hard on this piece with the fact that I've been listening to the soundtrack itself a lot, and there is probably no point in denying the fact that I am currently arranging a medley for string orchestra, and you end up with a lot of time spent around the track and a lot of interesting things cropping up.

I want to try and dissect why I love this soundtrack so much using as much of the music theory knowledge I have--I love music theory, but I've never been formally trained.

Do you like arranging music?  Do you wish you could hear your piece played back instantly so you don't have to wonder if your chord will actually sound good?  Do you like your sheet music to look professional and clean?

Then Flat may be for you!  I used Flat years and years ago when it was just a start up, and it really was not a very good program.  In fact, I used Flat to arrange my very first LOTR medley in fifth grade which is not the best and you can see that the sheet music itself doesn't look very nice.

But I recently went back to work on a hyped up arrangement of my orchestra's favorite song (Dragonhunter, a piece from fifth grade which we are all nostalgic about), and some arrangements for my string quartet, and I noticed that Flat has really gotten a lot better!

It's a free service if you don't get the premium deal, and you can have an unlimited number of scores (though only one can be kept completely private, otherwise there is a fee).

It glitches every once in a while, but that could be from all the intense cello tremolos I throw in...

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Anyway, if you're looking for a good arranging program, I recommend Flat!

Do you want to get started arranging pieces, but you're not sure how?  I think you should spend time around music, obviously.  Seriously though, listening to the different sections of the orchestra playing their harmonies individually can really tune your ear to naturally knowing what will sound good.  Even playing one finger of a piano piece at a time can demonstrate chord progression with little formal teaching.

Yesterday I was attempting to sing some songs in three part harmony with my friends and we were having a...erm...rough time.  They are percussionists in their band, and they claim that they are focused on hearing the beat and don't really pay attention to the harmonies.  This just shows that if you want an ear for arrangements and harmonies, you need to pay attention to each note of the chord in the harmony.

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If you're looking for a more professional and academic format, I recommend Michael New's videos on YouTube.  He goes through music theory in a very interesting and easy-to-understand way, even if you aren't familiar with many instruments.

Some combination of learning formal theory and participating in making music yourself is sure to give you a huge boost when it comes to arranging music.

The story of how the actual soundtrack came into being is interesting in itself.  Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan worked together on films before, like the Dark Knight and Inception.  Christopher Nolan apparently contacted Hans Zimmer very early on in the process of brainstorming for Interstellar and asked him to write a piece that conveyed the emotion one might feel between a child and their parent.

Hans Zimmer spent one night composing a piece for piano and organ, and Christopher Nolan decided to keep it as the central theme for Interstellar.  He then conveyed to Hans Zimmer what he had in mind for the plot and the two worked more on the score details.

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Usually a composer will work on a film long after it is done being made, but Han Zimmer was actually brought onto the project almost two years before filming began.

The soundtrack has a unique aesthetic because the organ plays such a critical role in its sound, and the pipe organ is not heard very often in film scores.

Personally, the organ is one of my favorite instruments.  It's physically beautiful, it is challenging to play, and I love the idea of having the air piped through and making such an authentic sound, that--unlike regular woodwind instruments--is nearly perfect most of the time because of the design.  Have you ever heard an organ actually squeak?  It gets the windy sound without the squeaks.

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There are two times I hear the organ on a regular basis.  The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, and church.  The Phantom of the Opera's organ is very rock-y in my opinion, and with the rest of the orchestration it's not very similar to Interstellar's use of the organ.

The use of the organ gives the scenes of space a somewhat reverent quality, because the organ is so closely related with religion.  When the organ plays whole notes with that gorgeous deep bass pedal, there is a sense of peacefulness and silence even in the music.

The organ is an instrument that is often played when churches are completely silent.  All the people are silent which is rare, and yet the space is still filled with music.  In space it's completely silent just like it would be in an area where people are praying, and so the organ was a good choice to emphasize the general silence of the area.

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With that said, one of my favorite uses of the soundtrack was actually the un-use.  I loved when the score would cut out suddenly for the outside shots of the rockets or shuttles just to point out how silent it really is in space and how alone the characters must have felt.

Nothing but them, and their thoughts.

One thing the organ is well-known for and excels at is playing fugues.  A very famous example of this is Bach's Toccata and Fugue.

The organ in Interstellar also utilizes this technique.  There is a very simple phrase used over and over again, which starts on an F and goes up to an E the octave up.  Then G to E, A to E, B to E, G to E, and F to E again.  This simple phrase is very repetitive, but it is picked up at various different times and other themes are layered on top of it.

Cooper and Murph have a very simple relationship just like the beginning notes of the fugue.  As the movie progresses, their relationship gets intertwined in all this important plot that transcends space and time and the theme of their relationship also changes and morphs.

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This soundtrack actually kind of reminds me of a heart monitor.  Every time there is a beat of your heart, the line jumps up and makes a little sound.  Similarly, this theme continually reverts back to that E about once every three beats (on beat two of the measure).

This consistent repetition is calming to me, but at the same time there is something in the back of my mind just a little on edge because it reminds me of a heart monitor, and generally those are found in hospitals, and if you're in a hospital connected to a heart monitor you're probably not in good shape.

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Sticking with physical things this score reminds me of, you can almost audibly hear the breath of the organ and the people that were used as the characters got deeper and deeper into space.  I read that Han Zimmer actually had the choir he assembled face away from the microphones and toward the four pianos used to record the score so their voice would reverberate off the strings of the piano and hit the microphones.

The Interstellar soundtrack is unique in terms of music scores and uses innovative musician techniques and instruments not often used in film scores.  It conjures memories of the emptiness of space and the realness and fragility of human life.

The soundtrack of Interstellar is truly the best part of the film in my opinion, and it's fascinating to examine.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Resisting Happiness

Image result for resisting happinessResisting Happiness is an inspirational book by Matthew Kelly all about how we sometimes sabotage ourselves in our quest for happiness and how we can mindfully work towards being happy.

I liked this book because it reminds the reader to take a close look at their life rather than letting it sort of pass them by.

At the end of each chapter there is also a call to action, or a small thing you can do in order to take active steps in living a productive life.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the list of things that dying people regret.

  • I wish I'd had the courage to just be myself
  • I wish I had spent more time with the people I love
  • I wish I had made spirituality more of a priority
  • I wish I hadn't spent so much time working
  • I wish I had discovered my purpose earlier
  • I wish I had learned to express my feelings more
  • I wish I hadn't sent so much time worrying about things that never happened
  • I wish I had taken more risks
  • I wish I had cared less about what other people thought
  • I wish I had realized earlier that happiness is a choice
  • I wish I had loved more
  • I wish I had taken better care of myself
  • I wish I had been a better spouse
  • I wish I had paid less attention to other people's expectations
  • I wish I had quit my job and found something I really enjoyed doing
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with old friends
  • I wish I had spoken my mind more
  • I wish I hadn't spent so much time chasing the wrong things
  • I wish I'd had more children
  • I wish I had touched more lives
  • I wish I had thought about life's big questions earlier
  • I wish I had traveled more
  • I wish I had lived more in the moment
  • I wish I had pursued more of my dreams
This book kind of helps you think about these things and prevent yourself from regretting them when you finally come to your final moments.

I will admit that with most self-examining type books like this, there are always some sappy moments that don't really seem that authentic.  But there are lots of good messages in here, and it's a really short book that's worth the time.

This book is 186 pages and can be purchased for large groups.  You can get a book for only $2 each when you order 500 copies for a parish or other organization.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

25 Days of LOTR - Day 25

It's finally here!

Today is the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron in the Shire Reckoning.

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Today marks the day the Ring was destroyed, the troops outside the Black Gate were saved from certain death, and Middle-earth was freed for a time from the present evil.

Though Sauron is defeated and the story ends on a happy note that way, it isn't all sugar and roses in the end.

Frodo for one, must leave Middle-earth to go heal from the great pain he had experienced during his trial.  He gave up everything: his friends, his physical well-being, his home, his possessions.  He let the dead bury the dead so to speak and did what he had to do without regard to the petty problems of life.

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In the end he had to seek the help of some higher beings--in the Elves and Valar--in order to recuperate.  He surrendered his fate to their hands and put faith in them that they would help him out.

Things aren't perfect for those left in Middle-earth of course.  Though Sauron has been vanquished, there will always be Evil in Middle-earth since it was added as discord in the Music of the Ainur.  There is no way to escape it, but the brave and righteous will fight against in nonetheless, simply because it is the right thing to do.

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Today in Middle-earth was a special day but it is not the only day of it's kind.  Morgoth was defeated before Sauron, and more evil will need to be defeated after Sauron.

Evil must be, but fight on anyway!

Thank you so much to everyone who got involved during this fun 25 Days of LOTR.  Feel free to leave a suggestion for next year, and let me know if you think we should do this again.  I for one had a great time writing this past month and it got me back on a regular blogging schedule that I hope to maintain for the future.

You guys are awesome!

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Friday, March 24, 2017

25 Days of LOTR - Day 24

It is finally time to announce the winner of the LOTR Bracket!

Thank you so much to everyone who offered their input and voted this year.  I hope y'all had fun going back and thinking about the characters and maybe even were persuaded to see a certain character from a different perspective.

Both Aragorn and Sam fought a valiant battle in this last trial, and one of them came out on top clearly.

Aragorn is a very strong character who encapsulates the rich and layered history of Middle-earth, themes of sacrifice, duty, and honor.  He goes through many trials throughout the story and overcomes so many obstacles and hardships.  Obviously he was indispensable to the mission and without him, the Quest of the Ring may never have gotten off the ground.  In addition to that, he and his Rangers protected the innocent Shire and surrounding lands without so much as a "thank you".  He is humble yet powerful, complex yet focused, and courageous without being foolhardy.

Samwise is a character who sacrificed everything for his best friend.  He left his home behind to serve his master with little to no knowledge of what was ahead.  He was a simple fellow who followed a simple code in life: to be loyal and persistent, as well as humble.  He knew his place and did his best even though he wasn't someone most would consider a great hero of the past.  He proves that little people can do great things.  Samwise was a faithful friend, an honorable husband and father, and a respected mayor, not to mention an outstanding servant.

This decision was very difficult to make for some, and the votes have finally be tallied and counted.

It is my pleasure to announce the following character as the winner...

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Congratulations to Mr. Samwise Gamgee who pulled out the 2017 win!

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Thank you again to everyone for participating, and don't forget to check back tomorrow for the final day of 25 Days of LOTR!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

25 Days of LOTR - Day 23

How the Lord of the Rings has Affected Me Over the Years

I've shared before how I came to be involved in Lord of the Rings, and anyone who reads this blog will be able to tell that I have a deep passion for studying it, a love of it's complexity and dimension, and that I adore spending my time thinking about it and analyzing the work.

This post is a very short summary of how The Lord of the Rings affects me today.  I'm sure there are many more ways, some of which I don't want to explain because they're a bit too complex, and others that I probably don't even notice.  But here are some clear ways that I can see a little bit of Middle-earth seeping into my life years after I first encountered it.

animal, cozy, cup

As you may know, I've been around the Lord of the Rings my whole life, but it wasn't until around a few years ago when I first started middle school that I seriously got into it.  That's when I first read the Silmarillion and was swept away by it.

I know there are a lot of people who are obsessive at the middle school age, and that definitely was a great definition of me.  The truth is that I still get very obsessed with things, usually for short spurts of excitement.  Recent examples of this may be The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, The Office, etc.

Woman in Sunglasses on Grey Scale Photo

While I still love all those things, I am not completely obsessed with them anymore.

But the thing is, it has been years and years since I first got into Lord of the Rings, and while my compulsive devotion to it has worn off, it took much much longer, and it left a much deeper impact on me than most things I get obsessed with normally do.

The Lord of the Rings is not only a series that I loved to read (and still do) and movies I loved to watch.

The Lord of the Rings brought me a little closer to my family, particularly my older siblings who don't live with me anymore.  I felt like I was involved in "big kid stuff" when I would talk to them about it when I was younger, and we still like to watch them together and discuss them.

My sister and I love to play our Lord of the Rings medley on piano and violin, and my brother and I discuss the books and their medieval influence all the time.  My sister-in-law and I both love to analyze texts and so we are constantly sending each other links written about the Lord of the Rings.  My other sister and I like to play the Lord of the Rings video games and my brother-in-law loves the movies too.

Group of People Sitting on Green Grass Field during Daytime

The Lord of the Rings community introduced me to a whole area of literature discussion I hadn't run into before.  When I first became really engrossed in the world of Middle-earth, I loved to read, but I wasn't a lit-fanatic.  I would look up Lord of the Rings podcasts or videos, and find all sorts of materials--The Tolkien Professor Podcast in particular--that completely blew my mind and brought it to a whole new level.  Suddenly, there were themes and ideas I could find in The Lord of the Rings and then find in other books and more classics and more and more....

beach hat, beautiful, book

The Lord of the Rings introduced me to a love of language.  When I looked deeper into the Lord of the Rings, I found all sorts of linguistic influences, since Professor Tolkien was a philologist.  As I looked more and more into language, I could find different patterns and rhythms, and it really intrigued me.  I love to learn languages and I love that you can get words in certain languages that you really cannot translate and can't understand unless you understand the language.  It makes preserving these words and their meanings important and something I would like to look into.

Bible Verse Text

The Lord of the Rings introduced me to medieval lit and other classics.  Without looking into Tolkien's inspirations, I probably never would have picked up Beowulf or Le Mort d'Arthur, or any of the other medieval works that Tolkien sort of brought back into the spot light, at least for me.  Today, medieval literature is one of my favorite categories of lit if not my absolute favorite.

Brown Stone Castle Under Blue Sky

So even if my complete obsession with memorizing Elvish and the topography of Middle-earth has worn off a little bit, I think that it left a lasting impression and a very deep sense of gratitude.  Without finding The Lord of the Rings, I never would have been introduced to this whole vast place with literature and writers, philologists, and classics.  Who knows where I would be now without all that influence!

I love The Lord of the Rings, and I always will.  I may not be reading it every day anymore, but it still influences my every day life in sometimes indirect ways.  Thank you to my siblings for introducing me to the stuff, and thank you to Professor Tolkien for writing such a masterpiece!  It's truly changed my life and affected who I have become since I read it.

How has The Lord of the Rings influenced your life?  Where do you think you'd be if you'd never encountered it?

25 Days of LOTR - Day 22

It is now time to announce the winner of the meme contest!

We actually have a three way tie between the following memes:

That means the winner is...Kalends!

Congratulations Kalends, you are the 2017 champion!

Thank you for your submissions and participation!  I had an awesome time reading through them and they are pretty hilarious.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

25 Days of LOTR - Day 21

Priest, Prophet, King

It's time for me to drag out the two quotes I basically have memorized because I always bring them up whenever I write anything Tolkien related!  Yay!

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”  -Forward to the Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision." -J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth by Bradley Birzer

Person Wearing Orange Holding Pen and Book 

Do these quotes seem contradictory to you?  How can Lord of the Rings have Catholic themes if it's not an allegory?  How can Tolkien not have written an allegory?

There are two misconceptions readers get about Tolkien and allegory.  Either a) his stories really have no meaning and are just long tales, or b) it is completely an allegory.

It is my position that both of these ideas are wrong.

First of all, it is possible for a story to have themes and morals and not be an allegory.

I think Tolkien's point is that for a story to be an allegory, there is going to be one way to interpret it.  Once you figure out the key or crack the code, you completely understand the story.

It's like the author buried the meaning underneath some dirt and once you dig through enough dirt, you will hit the moral.

Green Leafy Plant Starting to Grow on Beige Racks

The problem with this is that you cast all the dirt aside as you dig.  Once you are all the way down to the moral, the story itself has been tossed by the wayside and really is not important anymore.

I think what Professor Tolkien attempted to do, was, rather than bury something a reader must dig up, he planted a seed deep within his story that would entwine its roots all around the soil.

You can no longer tear up the soil, or story, and cast it away, because it would mean throwing away the plant--or the themes--with it.

Similarly, you cannot extract the theme from the story and set it apart because taking it from the soil would kill it.

 Both the story and the message, as the soil and the plant, are inextricable from each other and must exist together.

hands, macro, plant

The Lord of the Rings is also different from many allegories because there is not a one to one substitution.  It used to be very popular to just think of The Lord of the Rings as a thinly veiled reference to WWII.  When people read with this strict idea, the actual story sort of got tossed out.  Suddenly, the One Ring of Power = Nuclear energy and Hitler = Sauron, or whatever comparisons people made.

This is a great misfortune, because once you assume that this is the only intended meaning, you will miss out on so many more levels buried in the story.  You effectively are pulling out the plant and leaving the soil of the story behind.

Not only that, but this theory chooses to ignore whatever parts of the story do not work with the original idea.  It's like ripping out parts of the plant and leaving bits and pieces behind.  No bueno!

So what do I believe is the correct way to read Tolkien?

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I will use the particular examples from what Tolkien said about it being a fundamentally Catholic work to elaborate on my theory.

The first step is to acknowledge that there are themes to be had.  Tolkien has many layered and rich themes in his stories that we should pay attention.

The second step is to realize that there is no one to one substitution.  Some elements of the story might point one way, others may show something else.  Be careful not to over simplify!  For this specific example, that means that we are probably not going to look for a one to one representation of Christ or anything like that, but we can look for Christ-like themes and ideas.

The three main characters that show Christ-like aspects are Aragorn, Frodo, and Gandalf.

This is a fairly common observation that has been commented on many times, so I will just briefly summarize it here.

Brown Jesus Artwork

Frodo shows Christ's priest like attributes.  The priest is someone who offers up a sacrifice, just as Frodo offers up the Ring as a great sacrifice at Mt. Doom.

Gandalf highlights Christ's prophet like attributes.  He comes to Middle-earth with the good news that if they choose to do good, they can save Middle-earth from it's impending doom.  Like the prophets, he is not met with hospitality all the times, and is always on the road going from one place to another.  He must rely on his counterparts in the West to take care of him, just as Christ calls on us to do when he speaks of the birds of the air whose heavenly Father takes care of.

Aragorn shows Christ's role of king.  He finally reclaims his throne and brings peace to his realm as a loving and respected man.

So none of these characters provide a one to one substitution for Christ, but each of them have Christ like elements we can learn about.

The fact is that since there is no direct comparison, we cannot throw out the story because it is all important.  But there are still themes and messages to be found within the soil.

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