Friday, March 20, 2015

Tolkien quotes

While I was recovering from an illness recently, I was laying in bed with a fever. I didn't really feel all that bad, and have been much sicker in my life with a flu or even a cold.  But I had in my head that if my temperature went up above a certain number, my doctor had instructed me to call them and head to the emergency room. That was the real problem. While I was laying there, I thought about Sam and Frodo climbing Mount Doom. I do that purposefully when I am facing any kind of challenge because I find the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) immensely pleasurable to think about, but also because, though it is fiction, I find it very inspiring. I thought I'd go over some of the great quotes from my favorite novel(s) of the last century, probably of all time. The beautiful ring depicted above and the words of the quotes were taken from Wikiquote. Of course, it is not Tolkien's words, but my own comments in bold that will be so important to the world in the future, second only to the songs and music of Bill and Ted. 


"We cannot use the Ruling Ring. That we now know too well. It belongs to Sauron and was made by him alone, and is altogether evil."

The ring is magical. There are varying interpretations of what a ring means symbolically, including in Fraser, but, for me, more than anything rings represent possession and/or allegiance. The history of magical rings is quite old. I trace it back to Ancient Greece, Plato in fact, who tells of an ancient King of Persia who had a magic ring that made the wearer invisible, but perhaps there are older examples. The Persian king, Gyges, is in fact almost certainly an historical character, and Herodotus, who came before Plato, has no such story about him, though Gyges also figured right near the beginning of his Histories; nor is there anything about Gyges and a ring in historical documents. LOTR is also about technology and its destruction of culture. This makes sense.  Sometimes there is more than one oral tradition or documents lost to history that we know nothing about and it surfaces as if from nowhere. Maybe that's what happened. Or maybe, perhaps like Atlantis, Plato made it up.

Much of LOTR was about the destruction of the world he knew and loved by modern technology. In any era, technology makes things easier and when things are easier, there are definitely cultural ramifications. Of course, we live in a hyper technological age, with new discoveries literally every day, and we know that it can both be a harbinger of war or peace (like atomic energy). In the end of the day, our characters will determine the effect of technology upon us, just as the character of the ring bearer determined its effect upon them.


"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."

Frodo spoke these words in his going away speech near the beginning of the tale just before he put on the ring and disappeared. It puzzled the other hobbits, and it puzzled me for a while too. But, it wasn't as tough as all that once I thought about it. It means he wishes he knew many of them better and he liked some of them better than they deserved.


The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began,
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say

A pretty good Tolkien poem. But, it is just a little reminiscent of Frost's Road Not Taken?  I have no idea if there is any real connection, but it's food for thought.


"'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo.
'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'"

These are the wisest words in the LOTR. So, often people rue their fate when things out of their control happen, but, we have choice of our attitude and how we handle it. If we do it well, we do it well. If not, not. But it's our to make. Gandalf's words reminds me a little bit of those of Viktor Frankl in his wonderful Man's Search for Meaning - "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way."


"What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!'
'Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.'"

That would seem like wisdom but for the warning in my heart. Actually, I pawned that line from Frodo in his first meeting with Aragorn. Gandalf's words also seem wise. But, too much pity, too much empathy can backfire on us if we aren't careful about it. Sometimes it can even destroy those we empathize with.  Wisdom isn't just about knowing wise things, but in being able to apply them in the gazillions of possible situations.


"Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not least."

There's a lot there, of course. I just commented on having too much pity? The "it" he deserves under discussion is death. Obviously, Gollum did have a role to play, mostly for ill, but arguably for good as his last minute bite and fall into the pit stopped Frodo from succumbing? As to dealing out death, I have to admit I am a waffler.  For a long time I could not make up my mind about the death penalty and finally decided against it because of the inability of even the best jury to determine guilt or innocence with certainty under such emotional circumstances. However, in the last few years, I've reconsidered that in some cases, where there's a high degree of certainty (e.g., many independent witnesses, admissions, etc.) it's just fine, even preferable. The LIRR killer, Colin Ferguson and that Norwegian Nazi, Breivik come to mind.


"He often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. 'It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,' he used to say. 'You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.'"

And that's what makes life so much fun, knucklehead.


"But it is not your own Shire. Others dwelt here before Hobbits were; and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more. The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out."


Still the question today. How much should we intervene in the world? We are not isolationists anymore, for the most part - Rand Paul and friends excepted. I think most people now agree in retrospect that we should have intervened in WWI and WWII sooner. But, even with such a universal loathed group as ISIS, we can't decide how much is it our business.


"Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger."

That's true, but, fortunately, some people do. Often, they get crushed, but sometimes, given time and good luck, they make it better for all of us.


"Seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill."

I give unsolicited advice all the time, if I think I can help someone. Usually (it seems) appreciated, especially when I am telling them what everyone else knows or it is something they are looking for permission to feel a certain way about or to have someone else say it first. Almost always I find, like Dorothy, they knew it all the time themselves, but did not want to face it for one reason or another.  Sometimes the advice is rejected politiely only to come back to me as their own idea a day, a month or a year later. I try not to say "But, I said that and you told me I was crazy," although there are times I do, usually tearing at my hair while saying it.  And sometimes giving unsolicited advice pisses people off. I've had it happen a few times. One time when a friend just couldn't bear what I had to say, she screamed at me. Like any brave man facing an enraged woman, I gave up.  I thought that's the way it would go down, but I thought the consequences of not saying it made it worthwhile. I literally can't stand it when people agree with their friends just to make them happy, even when the consequences are serious.  For better or worse, I'm not going to stop anyway. It's my nature. But "unguarded?" I qualify almost everything I say, because life is complicated and it is hard to predict anything accurately. Maybe that's even more annoying, yet, it's closer to the truth.


"'Eldest, that's what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the Little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless—before the Dark Lord came from Outside.'"

One of my favorite of my own posts is Will the real Tom Bombadil please stand up (7/17/07).  


"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."

Great poem-song. Very derivative of others, but, what did Tolkien love more than English literature.


"He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."

Unless of course, he was insured, insurance being one of the greatest inventions ever. When teenagers went down my street smashing windows on cars, it wasn't the government or religion that helped us, but insurance.


"Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not."

Susan Walker: "You mean it's like, 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.'" Doris Walker: "Yes."

Susan Walker: "I thought so."

(Miracle on 34th Street)

"Never tell me the odds."

(Star Wars)


"Let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy! For he is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning."

So, they are gambling that though Sauron knows they have the ring, he will never suspect they mean to destroy it, because only thinking of power, he will think that is so of them too. That's a little too pat. I found practicing law that I could never count on what the other side thought. And that it was best not to underestimate them. But, sometimes it was true.


"I will take the Ring," he said, "though I do not know the way."

Welcome to our world, Frodo.


"It's the job that's never started as takes longest to finish."

This runs contrary to my own motto: "Never put off anything til tomorrow that you can put off indefinitely." Hmm. Yeah, I like mine better.

“Whoa, Sam Gamgee!” he said aloud. “Your legs are too short, so use your head!”

As I recently wrote in a post (8/28/14), Sam was the real hero of LOTR, however comic he was. You wouldn't expect that from Frodo, who was always making the wrong choice.

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .