Monday, September 2, 2013

Influential Worlds ~Middle-earth~

Kendra of Knitted by God’s Plan, in anticipation of publishing her newest book, The Ankulen (an-KOO-len), is writing about “Memorable Worlds” she has read about, which have helped shape her own writing. Kendra is also hosting a giveaway, and the prize is a free copy of The Ankulen!

This inspired me to feature the literary “worlds” that have influenced my own worldbuilding—thrilling word!

Originally, I was going to feature all the “worlds” I had “visited” in roughly chronological order. However, while I’ve been to places like Oz and Neverland, I find that they’ve actually had very little influence on my own writing. I honestly can’t think of anything “Ozzy” about the Young World, and as for Neverland…OK, to be fair, what is now Book Two in my Tales of the Young World originally began as a Peter Pan-type story. Only with Centaurs mixed in—but I’ll save the backstory for my Young World post.

I really wanted to share my experience with Middle-earth before Kendra’s deadline (September 3rd, I think), since it’s been the biggest influence on the Young World in particular.

My Experience with this World:
It seems to be my fate to see movies based on books, then find out years later that they were books to begin with. My first visit to Middle-earth began in a theater on New Year’s Eve of 2000, when my dad took us to see Peter Jackson’s epic portrayal of Fellowship of the Ring. As a kid I’d heard of The Hobbit and seen ads on TV for the cartoon of Return of the King, but by the time the movie came out, I’d all but forgotten them. Mom and Dad both had almost two full sets of the books, but we didn’t know where they were, so I had to look up an online synopsis of Book One of Fellowship, to give me an idea of what to expect. I must admit to being skeptical at first, partly because some people we knew had a bad opinion of the books (though they were the sort who seemed to think anything imaginary—Unicorns, for example—was bad). In a nutshell, we saw the movie, and while that chase scene in the woods startled the stuffin’s out of me, and the movie was the most intense I’d seen in my life at that point, I ended up loving it and eagerly awaiting the next two movies. (In fact, FOTR is the only movie to date that my family have ever seen twice in the theater.) We eventually found the books in the attic, and we read through The Hobbit to get a bit of history behind the Finding of the Ring and all. But I didn’t allow myself to read any of the other books (save Fellowship) until we’d seen the movie version. I didn’t even finish The Two Towers because Peter told me they’d put the ending of it in the beginning of ROTK. Yes, I’m weird. No autographs, please. :-P
Anyway, while there are certain things I don’t agree with in the movies, and Tolkien’s long-winded sentence structure is a bit hard to plough through, Middle-earth—and The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in particular—will always have a special place in my heart. (And methinks I’ve picked up Professor Tolkien’s long-sentence habit. :-P) Seeing FOTR was the catalyst that took Harold Hale’s story from a Peter Pan knock-off to becoming part of the larger and more intricate—and in some ways, still tangled—tapestry that is now the Young World. Reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings inspired me to write my own “battle of good and evil” and branch out into fantasy, where I’ve found a comfortable place that has—as a certain redheaded heroine once put it—lots of “scope for the imagination.”

As far as the actual writing goes, I heard somewhere that Tolkien wanted to write a mythology for England, since any sort of folklore they might have had was lost after the Normans showed up. Or something.
As for Middle-earth itself…well, it’s been a loooong time since I read The Silmarilion, so I don’t remember exactly how Tolkien tells his creation story. As I recall, Eru/Ilúvatar (God) created the world, with the dry land between two oceans or between Valinor and the Sea…or something like that…hence Middle-earth. There were angel-like beings called Ainur who sang at the beginning, and lesser “angels” called Maiar, and certain Ainur had dominion over certain parts of the world Eru made…but I didn’t really understand it all because I was so used to the allegory in Narnia. But apart from Eru being the God-character, and Melkor being a sort of Satan, there really wasn’t any, so it was a bit confusing.

Like our own world, Middle-earth has a little bit of everything—farmland and mountains, rivers and sweeping plains, deep forests and barren wastelands, grand cities and snug little hamlets. There’s also sea shores and deserts, but they’re not featured in the story much, if at all in the case of the deserts.

Peoples and Culture:
Most of Tolkien’s writings deal mainly with Elves and Men, with a few Dwarves thrown in for good measure. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings of course introduce us to Hobbits, as well as featuring people from all different races (including the nasties).
I must admit, when my family first saw FOTR, the Elves were a complete surprise. Up till then, the only Elves I knew of were Santa’s helpers, or else merry little folk in green stockings who lived in the woods. Mind you, I knew Fairies could come in all sizes (consider the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio), but Tolkien’s Elves forever changed the way I imagined Faerie-folk. The High Elves of the Young World are based on the Elves of Middle-earth, although of course I’ll be putting my own spin on them, to keep them original.
Another interesting culture is that of the Dwarves. Whereas Lewis’ Dwarfs were only three feet tall and good archers, Tolkien’s Dwarves were a little taller and seem to prefer axes. Lewis doesn’t say much about the Dwarfs as a race, but Tolkien gives his Dwarves a rich culture of building, mining and great knowledge of stones and metalwork.
There is also a race of beings referred to as “wizards”…which was a bit odd for my family, not being into wizards and such (unless you count Oz :-P). I think they are actually Maiar who act as sort of guardians of Middle-earth. There are said to be five Wizards, but only three of them are named. I sometimes wonder who those other two are….
And of course, who could forget the lovable, peace-loving Hobbits? Right from the first, I fell in love with their simple, rustic lifestyle, their love of food and parties, their merry, carefree outlook, their hardiness in times of need…and their cute costumes. :-P

What I like about this world:
Tolkien obviously cared a great deal about his world—one might say, even more than the characters in it. He took great pains to mold and shape Middle-earth—giving it history, languages, cultures—making it seem like a real place. Once you get used to his long sentence-structure, you find yourself immersed in the story, and the scenery of Tolkien’s world comes alive before your eyes. The plot is intricate, with all sorts of things going on at once, but all interconnected somehow and brought together in the end. His character development sometimes suffers because of it, but on the whole, Middle-earth is a richly-developed place where—if you’ll pardon the cliché—anything can happen.
I think my favorite elements of Middle-earth, though, are its people. The valiant Rohirrim with their love of horses (and their language that is pretty much straight Anglo-Saxon!), the Elves with their wisdom and beauty, the Dwarves with their stout hearts and skillful hands, and the Hobbits with their old-world simplicity that many of us wish our own world was still like (at least I do).
And I’ve always had a weakness for magical objects—especially Magic Rings. ;-)

What I don’t like:
Tolkien is credited as saying he “despised” allegory, so don’t expect to find any Christ-figure àla Aslan in Middle-earth. In fact, there’s very little to suggest that there’s even a God-character in his works, which is unfortunate. As I’ve said before, I believe as a Christian writer, it’s imperative to put a bit of Truth even in fantasy. I think Gandalf says somewhere in Fellowship that “there are other powers at work besides the will of evil,” but he never says what those powers are or from Whom they come. It would have been nice if Tolkien had been a bit less vague about it.
There’s also quite a bit of violence, which of course is brought into grim focus in the movies (to their credit, most of it goes by so fast, you don’t really see much in the way of gore). As I mentioned above, Tolkien seems to care more about Middle-earth itself than the people who live in it, so at times his characters seem a bit flat (especially the female characters).

What I learned from this world:
Spend time developing your world; it will be richer, deeper, and more real—not only to you, but to your readers.
Your villain doesn’t have to be an actual character to be threatening!

Of course there’s a lot more to it than what I’ve written here, but these were the main things I came away with from my visit to Middle-earth. It’s hard to write down everything I want to say in one post. I didn’t even describe the Shire, Rivendell, Lothlórien, or the Riddermark—my favorite places in Middle-earth. But I daresay anyone reading this who has read the books knows about them, and those who haven’t—go read the books and visit them for yourself! :-)

Don’t forget to check out Kendra’s blog and read her Memorable Worlds posts—and maybe write your own!

Until next time, Gentle Readers,
God bless,

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