The Wisdom Of Samwise Gamgee


HobbitonOne of the things that I love about Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien is the truth that the characters live out. One of the hobbits, Meriadoc Brandybuck, known as Merry, feels useless but slays the King of the Black Riders. Boromir, a valiant warrior of Gondor and eldest son of the current ruler, feels powerful but falls to the temptation of the Ring.

How true to life they are. Those feeling weak and insignificant are often the ones who do great things simply because of their faithfulness, and those who see themselves as great often stumble over their own reach for greater glory.

Of all the characters that offer up truth in Tolkien’s epic fantasy, Samwise Gamgee, companion to the Ringbearer, might be the best. First, he is faithful. He is devoted to his master and willing to go where otherwise he would not dare to set foot.

Second, he recognizes his own propensity to get things wrong. Such awareness of his own weaknesses keeps him from stubbornly continuing in the wrong direction. He’s quick and willing to make corrections.

Third, he refuses to let the darkness squelch his love for light, and consequently, even when he doesn’t feel hopeful, he acts as if there is hope. When he cannot see his way, he remembers the Shire, his garden, the elves, the lady of Lorien, grass and growing things, stars, and light. His mind dwells on the pure, lovely, honorable, and right even when all around is evil, cruelty, hatred, violence, and death.

There’s more Sam Gamgee wisdom, but those are three pretty good traits to learn from and hang onto in the new year.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in January, 2013.

Published in: on January 15, 2020 at 4:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Wisdom Of Samwise Gamgee


HobbitonOne of the things that I love about Lord of the Rings is the truth that the characters live out. Merry feels useless but slays the King of the Black Riders. Boromir feels powerful but falls to the temptation of the Ring.

How true to life they are. Those feeling weak and insignificant are often the ones who do great things simply because of their faithfulness, and those who see themselves as great often stumble over their own reach for greater glory.

Of all the characters that offer up truth in Tolkien’s epic fantasy, Samwise Gamgee, companion to the Ringbearer, might be the best. First, he is faithful. He is devoted to his master and willing to go where otherwise he would not dare to set foot.

Second, he recognizes his own propensity to get things wrong. Such awareness of his own weaknesses keeps him from stubbornly continuing in the wrong direction. He’s quick and willing to make corrections.

Third, he refuses to let the darkness squelch his love for light, and consequently, even when he doesn’t feel hopeful, he acts as if there is hope. When he cannot see his way, he remembers the Shire, his garden, the elves, the lady of Lorien, grass and growing things, stars, and light. His mind dwells on the pure, lovely, honorable, and right even when all around is evil, cruelty, hatred, violence, and death.

There’s more Sam Gamgee wisdom, but those are three pretty good traits to learn from and hang onto in 2013.

Published in: on January 1, 2013 at 6:50 pm  Comments Off on The Wisdom Of Samwise Gamgee  
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What Constitutes “Derivative”? Part 2


Reminder: Today is the last day to vote in the Clive Staples Award – Readers Choice for the best Christian speculative novel published in 2008 by a royalty-paying publisher.

Also, you have until December 2 to vote for the November CSFF Top Tour Blogger.

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I find this “what constitutes derivative” topic interesting because the accusation that a work is derivative seems to be leveled at fantasy more than at stories in other genres. When was the last time, for instance, that you heard someone criticize a romance for being derivative? Never mind that category romances, for years, followed a strict structure that was taught as necessary for the success of a novel.

I suppose, rather than “derivative” these works are considered formulaic, but didn’t they derive from one original work that contained the elements that have since become requisite to romance?

Still, I find it odd that fantasy similarly can’t fall into an easy formula and be acceptable, despite Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Rather, fantasy that cuts too close to an established work is labeled derivative, and this accusation is the kiss of death. It’s a wonder that Lord of the Rings became so successful once the derivative accusation began to swirl around Tolkien.

What exactly was it that brought the criticism, since it wasn’t setting, imaginative creatures, plot points, people groups, poetry, names, prose or style?

I suggest, in the case of Lord of the Rings, critics saw similarities with the central premise in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen:

The plot revolves around a magic ring that grants the power to rule the world
Wikipedia

Add to this that the ring was cursed, enslaving whoever would possess it, and you have strikingly similar central plot points. Discussion swirls around the idea that the similarities exist because Tolkien and Wagner drew from the same influences. Yet some scholars cling to the belief that Tolkien knowingly “borrowed” Wagner’s core concept.

Interestingly, some fantasy is intentionally derivative. I think of Bryan Davis’s Raising Dragons and Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy. Both derive intentionally from the legend of King Arthur. However, both, in unique ways, twist the familiar story in such a way that it becomes unique.

The accusation of “derivative” is not used in such instances. Instead, it seems to be reserved for works that either model themselves after another work (which is what Christopher Paolini seems to be accused of) or those that utilize someone else’s unique development (science fiction that employs Star Trek technology and lingo, for instance).

In some cases, it seems as if critics are simply weary of stories with tropes such as good versus evil, at least ones that represent good as good and evil as evil. Normally bad vampires, as good seem to be all the rage, but then the Twilight books are hardly high fantasy.

I guess my point is this: the accusation of “derivative” has been around since Tolkien first made fantasy literature a thing of its own. Does the mere suggestion that a story is similar to some other source mean it does not have merit? I think millions of Lord of the Ring readers would say otherwise.

Good Fiction vs. Popular Fiction


Are good fiction and popular fiction mutually exclusive? It seems those in the movie business are coming to that conclusion when it comes to nominating films for the Oscars. Though I didn’t see the movie, I’ve heard the Dark Knight succeeded on many levels, not the least being artistic achievement, yet it was clearly a popular film. So how did the movie industry treat it when they put together the Oscar nominations? One mention. One.

Understand, I am not advocating for the Dark Knight. Rather, I am making an observation which may or may not be true. It seems to me that fewer and fewer Big Box Office successes earn awards. Years ago, this was not the case. My Fair Lady was a financial success while at the same time receiving recognition from the movie industry as one of the best. So too, The Sound of Music, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and a host of other earlier-era films.

Interestingly, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King also fell into that both-and category, but that seems more like the exception that proves the point, because the trend appears to be toward creating vapid blockbusters that come out in the summer and artsy (and ofter R-rated) movies that come out in December and win Oscar nominations.

Why?

Some might argue that the public wants it so. The common man is too devoid of artistic sensitivity to appreciate quality.

But what about Lord of the Rings?

Personally I think the public is much more astute than film makers give us credit for. Unfortunately I think publishers might think the film makers have it right.

Sure, sometimes it’s nice to enjoy an easy read, but do the serious books always have to be inaccessible to the person who wants an entertaining story? The best books, to me, are the ones I came to for entertainment and found something thought-provoking as well.

But of late, it appears the Serious Book must be about angst or despair or doubt, which seems to automatically chase away the reader who wants to sit down on a Sunday afternoon with an enjoyable story—except, of course, those who like to wade through angst, despair, and doubt! 😮

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 5:20 pm  Comments (8)  
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