Month: October 2014

Autumn Acrostic: “Penny Lane”

P osh ladies in velvet smoke cloves and sulk.

E nter a saturnine gentleman who casts no reflection.

N odding clouds of giant gnats slurry forth in gusts to land in crusts on the wall.

N o one comes or goes, yet the room becomes full, then overflowing, with talking punks and the

Y ellow gaze of the stranger.

L ight clots in the stranger’s eyes; whispers issue from his skin,

A nd silence hangs heavy as iron on the neighboring table.  He smiles an inward secret, sips

N epenthine green liquid from his cupped, horny hand and offers some to the lady next to him.

E ven she, black as her eyeliner looks, is speechless.



Jack Collom

Jenn Zukowski

Corruption and Redemption

More in the defunct course lecturette series: this from erstwhile DU class Hobbits and Heroes. This lecturette was during our discussion of Return of the King, so by that week we had read the whole trilogy plus The Hobbit, as well as various and sundry essays and things.   ~Jenn


Corruption and Redemption


A Brief History of the Origin of Evil in Middle-Earth:[1]

Melkor (“he who arises in might”) was jealous of Eru [the One] already before Arda [the world] was created, and wanted to be king of other wills himself. When Eru revealed the results of their song to the Ainur [Vala and Maia], Melkor was one of the first to descend into it, mainly from this desire.

…when the Valar finally rested, he and his followers (downfallen Ainur, like Sauron and the later Balrogs) attacked their dwellings and destroyed their Two Lamps (precursors to the Two Trees and the sun and the moon).

…the Noldor first named him Morgoth, “dark destroyer of the world”. With the aid of Ungoliant [mother of the giant spiders, including Shelob] he also managed to destroy the Two Trees and bring darkness to Valinor, before he fled.

Because Morgoth dispersed his essence all over Arda, it is said that all of Arda outside of the Blessed Realm has some evil in it, this being the Morgoth-element.


The essence of evil in Middle-earth centers around selfishness, the desire to be “king of other wills,” the intense protection of ego to subordination of all else, and the “lack of imaginative sympathy”[2] which is usually the fatal flaw by which evil is vanquished.  We have to remember that Sauron is not the biggest baddie of Middle-earth: Morgoth (still in chains and diminished in the times LOTR takes place) really is the Root of all Evil, having had Sauron, the Balrogs, and Ungoliant as his best subordinate servants back in the day.  Even though Sauron is an extremely powerful, if non-corporeal, presence in LOTR, we must remember that he is but a Maia (like Gandalf and Saruman), whereas Morgoth is a Vala, a higher being and much more powerful.  Thank goodness Morgoth is out of commission in Middle-earth at the time of our story—if Sauron, his lieutenant, can wreak this much damage and fear, imagine what Morgoth himself must have done back when he ruled from Utumno.

“Nothing is evil in the beginning.  Even Sauron was not so.”

Well, Gandalf should know, he being of the same race as Sauron, and most likely knew Sauron before Morgoth convinced him to turn to evil.  The worst kind of evil, the kind which flatters and seduces, is examined over and over again in LOTR; each time a baddie is defeated, he is given a chance for redemption, and true colors will out when one looks at the choices each character makes.  Sauron is a terrifying Eye, a void with a dominating presence (oxymoron? maybe), but back before he died and came back (like Gandalf) he was handsome and well-spoken, enough so to fool the Elves into forging Rings for him.  His deception is much akin to Saruman’s voice: betrayal masked behind a fair facade.

Boromir’s Fall / Smeagol’s Fall

Both these characters are irrevocably seduced by the domination of the Ring: both fall into the trap of wanting to possess it (Smeagol actually does possess it, to his ruin), and both are ultimately redeemed in death.

When Boromir tries to seize the Ring from Frodo, he subsequently falls on his face, then weeps, realizing what he has done.  He understands, finally and too late, why Elrond and the wise ones in charge did not want to use the Ring, but destroy it.  He dies defending the hobbits Merry and Pippin, and confesses his sin to Aragorn before he dies, thus redeeming his honor.

Smeagol and the Ring are inseparable: he is addicted to it without hope of healing–the Ring cannot be destroyed while Smeagol is alive.  When Frodo, at the Crack of Doom, gives in to the Ring’s power and claims it for his own, only Smeagol’s self-sacrifice (in the guise of mad desire for the Ring) makes it possible for it to finally be destroyed.  Smeagol’s long life of sniveling addiction is redeemed in that last act, and though he does not consciously realize it as such, it is self-sacrifice.  He is the Ring, and for it to be destroyed means he too must be destroyed.denethor_demotional_by_sabervow999-d4ylmcv

Saruman’s Fall / Denethor’s Fall

Saruman and Denethor are more men of intelligence than men of action, like the above fallen figures.  They both, in their peak of good work, prize knowledge greatly, and in particular the knowledge of the darker arts.  Both have one of the palantir and both use it, but, foolishly (as in the seductive trap of the Ring) they both think they can wrest its power from Sauron and rule as a great power in his stead.  This is how both these wise characters come to their doom: they begin to think like Sauron: of domination, and so play right into his hands.

Saruman does not take the chance for redemption given him, not when Orthanc is first taken, nor later when he meets the leftover party on the road as a beggar.  His corruption is not easily erased, however, as the hobbits find out when they return to the Shire.  He has ruined the Shire on his way down, and even in death there is no redemption for him.

Denethor, being a proud man of the blood of Numenor, is easily tricked into believing he has control of his palantir, because Sauron is quite familiar with such pride, and can easily feed him the information he chooses until Denethor collapses into despair and suicide (and filicide. Is that a word? It is now).  The path Denethor follows is no doubt just like the fall of the Nine Kings of Men who are now the Ringwraiths: if Denethor had had the One Ring (or any of the Rings of Power), he’d become a Ringwraith as well. As it is, his life is over even before Gandalf and Pippin arrive.  He achieves no redemption in his death, as suicide is not an honorable way to go in Middle-earth.  Here, Gandalf admonishes Denethor, already in madness, against the sin of suicide (emphasis my own):

            “Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death…and only the heathen kings, under the dominion of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death.”

Pride and despair: the center of the self-fear that is evil manifest in Middle-earth.  How does one defeat such evil?  With humility, of course: humility, empathy, and hope.


[1] Go to the “Middle-Earth” wikipedia link, and enter “Morgoth” to read the detailed summary. Bracketed explanations and italicized emphasis are my own.

[2] From “Sauron and the Nature of Evil,” Master of Middle-Earth, Paul H. Kocher


Latest Book Review

As usual, excerpt here and the rest can be found at Nerds in babeland.

In this, the concluding issue of the three-part “episode,” Mrs. Peel comes to the rescue of Mr. Steed by encountering help of a surprising nature. Of course, just like the TV show, the bad guys get their comeuppance and the good guys prevail. Differently than the show, however, is the open-ended flavor of the ending, suggesting sequels to come.

Tolkien and Faerie

Yet another in the defunct course lecturette series–this is the final lecture from DU class Hobbits and Heroes. At this point in the class, they had read the entire series as well as various and sundry inspirations, fairy tale collections, and essays by Tolkien and others. Hey, it was a graduate level lit course. 🙂 Please to enjoy.   ~Jenn


Faerie-Speak and Fantasy Closure


…for fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about Fairy, that is Faërie, the realm or state in which fairies have their being.[1] Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.[2]


There are several scholars who claim Tolkien’s Middle-earth is an actual account of life during a certain time of Earth’s pre-history.  The very end of Return of the King in fact, has everything to do with the Elves leaving for their own Undying Lands, the Dwarves descending and disappearing underground, and Hobbits, well, becoming even more self-contained and quiet a community.  Remember Tolkien’s fatherly-narrator voice in The Hobbit?–describing a hobbit’s silence by gently admonishing the reader that they disappear when “big folk like you and me come blundering along,” intimating that they still exist in this world (perhaps that’s where humans have gotten their misconception of elves and fairies being tiny—we’re getting them mixed up with hobbits).  Some essayists even reference the Nazgûls’ winged steeds, remarking how close the description of such sounds like the pterodactyl.  They also notice the prevalence across cultures of legends of an older, taller, more powerful race as precursors to contemporary man, and remind us that the Age of Men began at the end of Tolkien’s epic.


A winged Nazgul. See the Black Rider riding it?

Such a reading of the work, though fun and interesting from an anthropology-dabbler or ancient astronomer’s point of view, is in my mind a mistake.  The very nature of Fantasy should be about enchantment, about losing oneself in the Perilous Realm[3] and bringing back new understanding of the real world through the potent lessons magic gives.  That, after all, is the center of Campbell’s “magic formula” of story, and of The Hero’s Journey—the journey of every human through life in this world.  To attempt to rationalize and historicize LOTR is much like taking certain parts of the Bible literally—it is not in every instance appropriate to come to a piece of literature with a literal mind.  Often, the TRUTH of a story is more important than the FACTS, and this is where poetry, mythology, and fairy tales come into play as an important educator.  Without the ability to read a work of enchantment with a mind for the many-layered symbols, one is likely to dismiss fairy-tales as kid’s stuff at best, dangerous escapism at worst.

Remember, there is a difference between a LIE and a METAPHOR.  Just because there was no such physical place as the Garden of Eden doesn’t mean the story isn’t true.  The truth of the story is the metaphor, the symbolic resonance in the heart.  Just because there are no such things as Elves does not diminish their truth, and we should not feel ashamed if, like Sam, we love them.


Fantasy is a natural human activity.  It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity.  On the contrary.  The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make.  If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured.  If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion.[4]

Resonance and Language

It’s amazing how each name in LOTR seems absolutely appropriate.  Even though we may not know OE, Finnish (or Elvish) by heart, the names in Middle-earth add to the truth-resonance of the epic by being based on languages from our own Earth.  So we know, intuitively, that Frodo will be a hero, because his name comes from the OE frod, meaning ‘wise,’ also freoda, ‘protector, defender,’ and freodo, ‘peace, security.’   These embedded meanings in his name gives us his character by intuitive osmosis, before we even see him do anything.

Here is a list, taken from The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth by Ruth S. Noel, of some major character names from LOTR, and their “real-world” translations.  See what you think of the appropriateness of the name constructions.

Samwise: OE ‘half wise’

Ent: OE ‘giant’

Eowyn: OE ‘one who delights in horses’

Saruman: OE ‘crafty man’ from searu, ‘craft,’ ‘device,’ ‘wile.’

Beorn: OE ‘man’, also Scandinavian bjorn, ‘bear.’

Gandalf: Old Norse Ganndalf, ‘sorcerer elf’

Smeagol: OE smeah, ‘penetrating,’ ‘creeping.’

Thorin: Old Norse ‘bold one’

Gimli: Old Norse ‘lee of flame,’ ‘highest heaven’

Elvish is a completely constructed language, so Legolas is purely an Elvish name, with las meaning ‘leaf.’  Is there a resonance with the lovely sounds of Elvish that makes us think of Latin and Finnish combined, the ancient with the Norse continuance?

[Thanks, everyone, for embarking on the journey to Middle-earth with me this quarter.  I hope you were enlightened and enchanted, and I look forward to our final discussions and your final papers.]


[1] Tolkien also says, however, that “Faerie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible.”

[2] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Story,” Tree and Leaf.

[3] Not to be mistaken for the dangerous habit of escapism, but of a healthful journey into the human psyche, or collective unconscious.

[4] “On Fairy Stories” again.  He also says, on a less depressing note, that “if men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.”


The More You Holmes

From: ep. 3.2
Event: Mr. Windibank and his stepdaughter are in Holmes’ sitting room, asking for help re: the daughter’s missing romantic pen pal. Sherlock’s lightning fast deduction: Stepfather impersonating boyfriend online in order to keep stepdaughter’s wages coming in to his household.
Reference: In “A Case of Identity,” Mr. Windibank impersonates a suitor in order that his stepdaughter doesn’t marry and take her inheritance with her. Holmes is quite the avenging angel in the story (though as he says, there’s nothing actionable and the girl wouldn’t believe him even if he told her): he threatens Mr. Windibank with a riding crop and sends him scampering.


Fate and Mercy

This, from the series of old lecturettes from DU courses now extinct. This is titled “Fate and Mercy” from the Hobbits and Heroes class, wherein we read all of the Hobbit and LOTR plus lots that influenced same. If prompted to join a discussion board, feel free to treat the comments here like one.   ~Jenn


Fate and Mercy in Fellowship 


Remember this version of Elrond?

“That is the purpose for which you are called hither.  Called, I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands.  You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem.  Yet it is not so.  Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others, must now find counsel for the peril of the world.”

So says Elrond, one of the oldest and highest-ranked Elf-lords of Middle-earth.  Clearly there is more to the outcome of events that even the wisest beings can comprehend.  Magic, in Fellowship, seems to come about as a coincidence, in the “very nick of time,” time and time again.  It was chance that made Bilbo place his groping hand on the Ring, alone in the dark, many years ago.  It was chance that caused Bombadil to walk just past where the hobbits were beset by Old Man Willow, and chance that brought them to Bree at the same time Strider watched and waited there.  It was even chance that the Ring, in ancient history, slipped off the finger of Isildur in the river, and mere coincidence that Smeagol’s best friend discovered it later.  Or is it?  What is the force that governs the movements of the Ring, and brings together the Fellowship which is to be its undoing?

Gandalf is characteristically close-mouthed about such matters, divinely-origined  though he is: “…’there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker.  I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not its maker.  In which case you also were meant to have it.  And that may be an encouraging thought.’”  Why encouraging?  Is there some benevolent energy, dictating all, that only the wisest of the wise can sense and use to their advantage?

Foreshadowing Gollum

“He deserves death.”

“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 judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

Pity, Gollum, and the Ring are intertwined throughout LOTR, and the beginnings of these threads are discussed at length in Fellowship, before any of the characters can fully comprehend his importance later.  His initial finding of the Ring is a ‘random’ event—it just happened to pop up on his birthday, and one wonders how much of that had to do with the desire and momentum of the Ring itself.

When Bilbo has a chance to kill Gollum, as he escapes the goblin cave in The Hobbit, he suddenly feels pity for the poor beast, even before he realizes how closely related in path they potentially are.  He opts not to kill Gollum, therefore opening up the later possibility of Gollum entering Mordor and telling Sauron all about the Ring, hobbits, and the Shire.  Bilbo’s mercy puts the hitherto unknown safety of the Shire at direst risk.

The Elves of Mirkwood also have a chance to dispatch Gollum, but out of “over-kindliness,” they only imprison him, and, worse, give him the chance (unwittingly, of course) to break free.  All of Elrond’s Council agree this is bad news, but also see that this possibly crippling blow is meant to be: Gandalf observes that “he may play a part yet that neither he nor Sauron have foreseen.”  This is what prompts Frodo, in later books, to spare and even in a way befriend Smeagol, when Sam would kill him outright out of mistrust.  Frodo, too, by the end, recognizes Smeagol and the Ring are by fate bound together.

Sam’s Role and the Elves’ Magic

“I don’t know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want—I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me.”

Sam’s role is wrapped up in the fate of the Ring-Bearer from the very beginning, even if he himself doesn’t realize it explicitly.  Friendship is a major force on the side of good in the story: it is what allows Gollum to become an ally, not a prisoner, it is what brings the Fellowship of the Ring together, it’s even the “magic word” at the gates of Moria.  The friendship of Sam and Frodo represents the ultimate devotion, mercy, and love athat is, truly, stronger than any evil, no matter how large.  This force of friendship is what drives and what breaks the Fellowship, and perhaps it is the cause of ultimate success.

Sam, listening in on Gandalf and Frodo’s conversation in Bag End, is literally yanked by his hair into the adventure.  When the hobbits meet up with Gildor and Company (a chance meeting that of course can’t be chance because they are Elves), Sam is cautioned not to leave Frodo.  This, from Elves that “do not lightly give advice.” After Sam’s desire to see Elves is satisfied, he has the above premonition, Gandalf-style: he knows, somehow, that he is essential to Frodo’s Quest, before he even knows what exactly it is.  Later, in Elrond’s Council, he is once again unwittingly sent into danger, just because he is so attached to Frodo that he’s there even when Frodo is summoned to a secret council and he is not.  Elrond’s vision of Destiny makes him send, not just two, but four smaller-than-life hobbits on this most important journey, all because of their unbreakable, stubborn friendship.

The Elves, like Gandalf himself, appear (by chance it would seem) exactly when they are needed. Gildor in the Shire fringes, then later Glorfindel and of course Elrond himself builds the Fellowship.  Lothlorien proves an important guide and haven in time of need, even though Boromir (the Man with a treacherous desire) and Gimli (the Dwarf) are not happy about entering there.  Galadriel is a Ring-Bearer, and the fate of her and the trees she loves are directly bound up in the success of Frodo’s Quest, while each member of the Fellowship gains important wisdom (and a helpful gift) before they leave.

Racism and Desire

The Elves, being immortals of the air and the trees, directly connected to Nature, have never gotten along well with the Dwarves, immortals of the ground, minerals and metalwork (also, incidentally, directly connected to Nature).  The above-and below-ground beings are at odds, and completely untrusting of each other.  Remember the animosity between the Mirkwood Elves and Thorin’s company in The Hobbit? To bring Gimli into Lorien takes a lot out of the Elves, and in fact, they insist Gimli be blindfolded.  Again, the magic of mercy is in play here: Aragorn then insists all the Fellowship be blindfolded, if Gimli is to be.  The experience in Lothlorien is so moving to Gimli that he alone asks for no gift (when pressed, he hesitantly mentions a lock of Galadriel’s hair, which prompts much surprise among the Elves).  Gimli acts against the stereotypes of his kind (“Hear, ye Elves!…Let none say again that Dwarves are grasping and ungracious!”), afterwards mourning that if he had known his main peril would be light and joy, he would have been too afraid to come.  This sentiment echoes Elrond’s earlier statement that the hobbits would not want to go on the Quest if they knew what it was they were really going to.  It is this unconscious following of Destiny that governs the cause-and effect that in turn perhaps insures the right folk go to the right places.

Boromir’s Fall has everything to do with power-desire and his absolute misunderstanding of others.  Elves he deems dangerous and wicked (to which Aragorn states prophetically that only those who bring evil with them find evil in Lorien), other Men he regards as inferior (the stronger Aragorn he views with distrust, as a possible usurper), Dwarves he underestimates (Gimli’s comeback about the hardiness of Dwarves compared to Men shuts him down), and he especially underestimates hobbits.  He thinks he can overcome Frodo with a pose of size and strength, but little does he know that size and strength don’t always win.  This is the problem with his desire to wield the Ring for good—an up-front battle with superior strength isn’t always the way to go.  He does, in fact, realize his folly, but too late:

“If any have claim to the Ring, it is the men of Numenor, and not Halflings. It is not yours save by unhappy chance. It might have been mine. It should be mine.”

Boromir is a man of action, and does not realize that the Ring should not be his, until too late.  That that “unhappy chance” which put the Ring into Bilbo’s and then Frodo’s hands is not mere coincidence, but meant to be.  That the fate of the Third Age has been put into the hands of a small, insignificant mortal and his small, insignificant friends, exactly as it should be.  Who or what governs this force of fate in Middle-earth?  Gandalf and Elrond won’t say—perhaps they don’t know.  What do you think?


Oh Boulder Fringe Fest, We Hardly Knew Ye

Having been in one of the most talked-about shows at the Boulder Fringe Fest, I didn’t get a whole lot of chances to see the other shows offered there. But I did end up with one night that I finagled to free up. That night, I saw three fantastic shows, and I meant to review them before the final weekend was concluded but eh. I had papers to grade.

So think of this three-way review as a memorial, lovely lurkers. And if these shows pop up anywhere around you in the future, don’t hesitate to go see them. Hey, two of the three I saw are locals, so, ya never know…

Jenn’s Fringe Sampling The First: “2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick”

What a fascinating frame for math/mentalist magic. Or, how fun to insert magic into storytelling. Also, what puns!

Tim Motley’s one-man show was highly entertaining: ostensibly a parody of the noir detective tale, he narrates a story of a heist in the best Mickey Spillane voice, all the while tossing the terrible puns out left and right. “Your groans make me stronger,” he says as he continues his tale of femme fatale Ruby Knockers and her crime spree. He’s a talented mind-reader-style magician, is Motley, and his interrogation scene turns into a display of this skill as he questions the audience, let alone a big finale of psychic ability once we finally see what’s in the envelope that’s been hanging in a small spotlight since before the show started. Narration of events that are reflected in randomly drawn cards, an easy way with switching between addressing the audience directly and narrating, made this show quietly dazzling, the way that close-up magic is.

Sampling the Second: “Lucid”Lucid1

Lucid was a lovely, ethereal, aerial dance piece centered around a woman and her dreams. It boasted a wide variety of circus skills, from loops and harness to acro-yoga type pas de deux, to a lovely closing number featuring a flying singer and accompanying (astonishing) Spanish web dancer.

I danced with an aerial group back in the day (Frequent Flyers is their name) and this piece made me want to run up on stage and join them more than once. In a joyful way, though, not a jealous one. It was a brilliant theme to go with in a piece like this, as the flying and levitating and feats of superhuman strength executed gracefully do lend an air of the dreamlike anyway. This group is called the Fractal Tribe, and is centered in the Boulder Circus Arts center, so those of us lucky enough to be local can hope we will see more from then soon.

Sampling the Third: “Tossed and Found”

I’ve been a huge fan of Peter Davison since I was a kid–since the Airjazz days. How can I possibly describe the sort of theatre this is? It’s sort of vaudeville, juggling…but the word juggling doesn’t really cut it. Object manipulation and sublime clowning is how I’d attempt to describe it.

Highlights of this virtuoso piece include: the whole war section. Lovely and poignant. The multiple hats, juggled and placed on the head one after another as the music changed for each, and a long elaborate balancing act including a table and two chairs.

One note I have: in the beginning especially, Davison channels Bill Irwin so much I’d actually call it ripping off Irwin’s work. Though, as a fellow castmate said when I mentioned it, “If you’re going to rip something off, rip off the best.”

Any iteration of Airjazz is a brilliant thing to see, and Davison still astonishes.