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Minas Tirith Forums » The Hobbit » John Rateliff's THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT
Author Topic: John Rateliff's THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT
Michael Martinez
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Hey, folks.

A lot of you must have bought a few Tolkien-related books over the past ten years. How many of you have read THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT? Talk with me. I'm curious to know what people think of it.

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From: Seattle | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor Athene
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It was on my Amazon Wishlist for a very long time without purchase, but I recently took it off. I am still plowing my way through HoMe (and currently the Sil) and I'm not sure I am any longer interested in the background to JRRT's writing.

I have come to the conclusion that the good Professor was an obsessive who wrote for his own pleasure; I am frankly surprised he managed to get anything published at all, give his habit of revising and revising. I'm very glad he did, of course. []

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Michael Martinez
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[]

I think you're right. He was definitely obsessive and felt a powerful need to write stories he believed no one else would ever read.

But if you have not yet reached Morgoth's Ring in the HOME series then you have some neat surprises awaiting you in the last three books. I think they are well worth the wait.

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Author of Visualizing Middle-earth, Parma Endorion: Essays on Middle-earth, 3rd edition, and Understanding Middle-earth.

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Atmospherium
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I have The History Of The Hobbit. I found most of it to be pretty dry going. John Rateliff is, if possible, even more exhaustive in dissecting every single textual variation than Christopher Tolkien is in HoME. He also seems to be pretty pleased with himself as a Tolkien scholar, dumping a lot of unwarranted criticism on Humphrey Carpenter's non-scholarly Biography and even wagging a correcting finger at Christopher on occasion.

I found myself getting tired of seeing the Rateliff-coined terms "The Pryftan Fragment" and "The Bladorthin Typescript" popping up again and again. Giving descriptive titles to early manuscripts and versions is probably better than Christopher's confusing method, but Rateliff is clearly proud of the titles he thought up, from the sheer number of times he refers to them. I found myself thinking, "If I see the words 'The Pryftan Fragment' just ONE more time...!"

Rateliff also spends a great deal of time attempting to write The Silmarillion into The Hobbit. What I mean is, he tries to assume a much closer relationship between the two works during the writing of The Hobbit than is apparent in the finished book. Well, maybe, but I very much doubt that the Elvenking was ever intended to be King Thingol reincarnated.

I'm being a bit hard on Rateliff, I guess. I think I just found him to be a bit smug on too many occasions. On the positive side, he does unearth a great deal of fascinating info I've never seen before. The section devoted to Tolkien's 1960 attempt to rewrite The Hobbit was amazing; I'm eternally grateful to the unknown person who persuaded Tolkien to abandon such a destructive rewrite.

I forgive Rateliff many of his (to me) flaws for a few chapters near the end of the work where he explains the different storytelling traditions in which The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were written, and defends The Hobbit as more than just a charming prelude to the Lord, but indeed a work deserving to stand on its own merits. He is clearly a fan of The Hobbit, and I believe The History of The Hobbit was a labor of love, which covers a multitude of sins.

In the end, I suppose I'm just not all that interested in studying in-depth the making of The Hobbit as I am in simply reading and enjoying The Hobbit. I don't need to see all the bones that went into the making of this soup; it's flavorful enough on its own.

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Michael Martinez
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Well, I won't begrudge you your opinion of the man or the work. I've said much worse about David Day and a few other folks myself.

But having met John I must say I never found him to be pretentious or arrogant. I admit to my own arrogance, which I suppose is a product of the life I have lived.

I liked the way John differentiated between the various manuscripts because, having had to discuss the LoTR and Silmarillion sources in detail on many occasions. Christophers "D2 versus E1" nomenclature is enough to drive even a peaceful man into a warlike frenzy on some days. []

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Galin
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I don't mind the naming of the texts myself, but I could have used an index in book 1 as well (which JDR would likely agree with, I'm guessing).

I'll add that I wish JRRT had completed the 1960 Hobbit before he was given, and apparently took, advice to abandon it. Aside from other considerations I find it very interesting for revealing how Tolkien himself might have dealt with (what he considered) problematic material.

This next aside can be used as a sleep aid if you like.


____________

OK granted it's a minor statement in a book full of information, but I had some free time. In 'In The Halls Of The Elvenking' (Mr. Baggins part one), P. 407 John Rateliff writes:

quote:
'... and there is some evidence that he originally conceived of the Second Kindred or Noldor (the Deep-elves) as golden-haired: in the genealogies meant to accompany the ('Earliest) Annals of Beleriand' [early 1930s] they are referred to as Kuluqendi or 'Golden-elves' (HME V. [403]); the 1937 Quenta Silmarillion includes 'the Golden' as one of their many descriptors (HME V. 215) and Christopher Tolkien notes (BLT I. 43-4, HME XII. 77) that the passage in Appendix F of the first edition of The Lord of the Rings describing the Eldar (the Three Kindreds of the High Elves) as dark haired, 'save in the golden house of Finrod' (i. e., the character known as Finarfin in the published Silmarillion and more recent editions of The Lord of the Rings [cf. LotR. II71]: Galadriel's father not her brother, some of whose children were golden haired because of his Vanyar wife), was written as a description of the Noldor (the Second Kindred) before being applied to the Eldar as a whole'.
The last example confuses me a bit: how does the revision to the passage in Appendix F help argue that the Noldor might have been originally golden haired? The draft text reveals that the dark hair originally referred to the Noldor 'save in the golden house of Finrod' -- thus only this house among the dark-haired Noldor. Tolkien then revised this to describe the Eldar, which is admittedly a wider reference, but in any case the Noldor in general were not considered golden-haired in the draft nor the published version.

Or am I missing the meaning here?


The 1937 Silmarillion does refer to the Noldor as the Golden, but looking at the other references (extremely edited here to do so), starting with the Vanyar: '...they are the fair folk and the White. The Noldor are the Wise, and the Golden (...) The Teleri (...) the gatherers of Pearl, the Blue Elves (...) The Nandor (...) the Axe-elves, the Green-Elves and the Brown (...) The Sindar (...) the Silvern.

Mr. Rateliff surely knows the context here, and it's still possible that golden hair is meant, but I think no more possible than other things, like gold itself.

In HME IV. p 212 we find the terms: 'Eadwine: goldelfe, eorðelfe, déopelfe, Rædend. Finningas'. Christopher Tolkien notes that Ead- in the context of the Noldoli is no doubt to be interpreted 'riches', and that, although he isn't sure of Rædend, it refers to the knowledge and desire for knowledge of the Noldoli in some aspect. I suggest 'goldelfe' might refer to a love of gold or its general association with the Noldor.


In HME I The Tale Of The Sun And Moon: 'Now golden light not even the Gods could tame much to their uses, and had suffered it to gather in the great vat Kulullin to the great increase of its fountains (...) 'Tis said indeed that those first makers of jewels, of whom Feanor has the greatest fame, alone of the Eldar knew the secret of subtly taming golden light to their uses, and they dared use their knowledge but very sparingly, and now is that perished with them out of the Earth.'

From very early on (externally) the Noldoli (the first makers of jewels are the Noldoli: '-- and therefrom did the Noldoli with great labour invent and fashion the first gems' The Coming Of The Elves) have a special relationship with golden light, and Mr. Rateliff's first reference Kuluqendi 'Golden-elves' could be furthering a general association of gold with the Noldor [I won't go into earlier versions, but in Etymologies at least: KUL- 'gold (metal), Q. kulu, N côl; Q kuluinn of gold. KUL- gold (substance). Q. kulo.' But this was struck out and replaced by: KUL- golden-red. Q. (poetic) kullo red gold; kulda, kulina flame-coloured, golden-red; kuluina orange; kuluma an orange; N coll red (*kuldá).']

In Quendi And Eldar (1959-60), referring to the colour of the hair of the Vanyar, it was noted: 'This was regarded as a beautiful feature by the Noldor (who loved gold), though they were themselves mostly dark-haired.'

____________

I have certainly not proven that Mr. Rateliff was in error here -- nor did he present this little detail as certain in any case -- but anyway, there's that.

[ 10-09-2011, 05:55 PM: Message edited by: Galin ]

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Michael Martinez
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What I think he is getting at is that the problem of golden-haired elves occurs throughout Tolkien's writing; John suggests that the decision to restrict golden hair to the Vanyar (except for the House of Finrod/Finarfin among the Noldor) appears to post-date the composition of the main text of The Lord of the Rings.

Besides Galadriel there are two golden-haired elves in The Lord of the Rings: Glorfindel and an unnamed elf of Lothlorien. In fact, John even points out that Luthien Tinuviel herself was described with golden hair in a very early text.

This is an unresolvable inconsistency within the texts. There are so many assertions that the Vanyar are the golden-haired elves, and yet there so many exceptions held over from earlier conceptions that the Vanyar are clearly not the only golden-haired elves in the tales.

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Numenorean Sword Trainer
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I'm assuming you all know the following from Appendix F of LotR:

quote:
Elves has been used to translate both Quendi, ‘the speakers’, the High-elven name of all their kind, and Eldar, the name of the Three Kindreds that sought for the Undying Realm and came there at the beginning of Days (save the Sindar only). This old word was indeed the only one available, and was once fitted to apply to such memories of this people as Men preserved, or to the making of Men’s minds not wholly dissimilar. But it has been diminished, and to many it may now suggest fancies either pretty or silly, as unlike to the Quendi of old as are butterflies to the swift falcon – not that any of the Quendi ever possessed wings of the body, as unnatural to them as to Men. They were a race high and beautiful the older Children of the world, and among them the Eldar were as kings, who now are gone: the People of the Great Journey, the People of the Stars. They were tall, fair of skin and grey-eyed, though their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finrod; and their voices had more melodies than any mortal voice that now is heard.


[ 03-25-2012, 12:37 AM: Message edited by: Numenorean Sword Trainer ]

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Galin
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Well I can't speak for everyone here, but this quote, and its earlier draft version (one of them anyway), is part of my question. First the quote:

quote:
'... and there is some evidence that he originally conceived of the Second Kindred or Noldor (the Deep-elves) as golden-haired: (...) and Christopher Tolkien notes (BLT I. 43-4, HME XII. 77) that the passage in Appendix F of the first edition of The Lord of the Rings describing the Eldar (the Three Kindreds of the High Elves) as dark haired, 'save in the golden house of Finrod' (...), was written as a description of the Noldor (the Second Kindred) before being applied to the Eldar as a whole'.
As I say this last example confuses me a bit: how does the revision to the passage in Appendix F help argue that the Noldor might have been originally golden haired?

In the draft version it was the Noldor who were dark-haired (not necessarily all the Eldar as in the published version), except for the house of Finrod/Finarfin... in other words the draft version doesn't seem to speak to the Noldor as a Kindred being originally conceived as golden-haired.

I looked at JDR's other references too; but this one from the Appendices I find a bit different in that it confuses me as an example.

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