Em oi! #413: It’s Only 43 Leagues

150 miles is 43 leagues or 211,000 ells.
As ever, if you’re having trouble reading, click to embiggen. I’ve had this comic sitting on my desk since before my trip to Long Island last week. I only just got around to scanning it. Oops. I was playing around with some different inks and Speedball pens. I have mixed feelings about how the art came out.

Recently, I was sitting around working while B was playing a game called Shadows of Mordor. It’s a surprisingly good game, and we found ourselves getting drawn back into the whole Tolkien thing. First, we watched The Hobbit (the Tolkien edit, not the full version–also, our copy was corrupted, so I missed the battle of the five armies).[1] Thereafter, I started re-reading The Lord of the Rings. At first I was only going to read FoTR . . . but I’m about to finish TT tonight. I’m surprised by how much my memory of the book has been overwritten by the film version, which I saw approximately 100 times (each section). I had forgotten, for example, that Faramir doesn’t try to drag Sam and Frodo back to Osgiliath(?) only to be attacked by a Nazgul. (Now I’m not even sure I’m recalling the film correctly.)

I’ve also become obsessed with the distances everyone is traveling in the book. In many sections it’s hard to tell, but in general I get the feeling that before the splintering of the fellowship, they are walking about twenty miles per day, more or less. That’s twenty miles in eight to twelve hours. At one point, when traveling with Glorfindel, this is referred to as a very long, difficult day’s march. The above comic was my immediate reaction. Of course, terrain counts for something, and they were frequently not on trails but just sort of out in the middle of the country, but still. (Maybe it was Bill the pony slowing them down?) Somewhat surprisingly, both groups (Legolas / Gimli / Aragorn and Sam / Frodo / Gollum) move much faster after the splintering than before it. But seriously, if I can run 31 miles in six hours, they should be able to go a little faster.

Another thing that interests me is that at least up to the point where Sam, Frodo, and Gollum enter Mordor, Sauron’s evil is very remote. The surroundings, even into Ithilien, are described as beautiful and the weather is quite fine. If one takes the tales of Sauron’s evil as provided by such luminaries as Gandalf, Elrond, etc. as tales (opinion rather than necessarily fact), it’s easy to begin to see Sauron as just a (hated) political leader. The orcs, for example, as seen during the scene of Merry / Pippin’s abduction, are quite like men in many ways with their conflicting loyalties and drive for glory. Sauron also employs regular men for his cause. In fact, when Faramir and his troops ambush a bunch of soldiers heading to Mordor, Tolkien offers us the following surprisingly sympathetic passage:

. . . Suddenly straight over the rim of their sheltering bank, a man fell, crashing through the slender trees, nearly on top of them. He came to rest in the fern a few feet away, face downward, green arrow-feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar. . . .

It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace… (646)

Tolkien was, of course, a veteran of the First World War. This paragraph speaks to me of perhaps a memory of his battlefield experiences and the trauma he may have experienced. But it also raises for me the question of Sauron–the ever-unseen Big Bad, who is noted to be fixing the roads outside Mordor, who is apparently able to convince a lot of people, including Sauramon, to join him–can he really be as bad as Gandalf et al tell us? But beyond that, even despite the themes of good and evil, Tolkien doesn’t necessarily view these battles as righteous or valiant, and he doesn’t necessarily lionize violence.

At this point, B looked over at me and said, “Are you arguing that Sauron is all right because he made the trains run on time?”

Well, maybe. Don’t look at me like that. My favorite characters from this rereading are Smeagol / Gollum[2] and Galadriel, so.

If you’re interested in this “LotR is a story told by the victors and Sauron was framed” idea, you may want to look into The Last Ringbearer, a Russian parallel novel exploring that side of things.

There is clearly a lot more to talk about in LotR (I mean, it’s over 900 pages long), including world building, the role of women, the peoples and the North / West versus South / East thing, the colonial(ish) myth of empty places for colonization, etc. But I’m not going to touch on those here–feel free to comment with your thoughts though. And tell me I’m not alone in liking Gollum and hating Sam.

We’ll file this comic under GV1065.17 T65 L86 2016, for Recreation. Leisure–Sports–Track and field athletics–Foot racing. Running–Distance running–Marathon running–Special topics, A-Z–Tolkien, works of.

Tolkien, JRR. The Lord of the Rings. New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.

[1] I still really want to see the Dol Guldor part. I love Galadriel and am a longtime fan of the actor who played Radagast.

[2] I actually feel like Gollum is rather hard done by. He certainly doesn’t deserve much of the shit he gets at the hands of Frodo and Sam. Sam is especially pretty cruel to him–there’s another paragraph where Gollum finds the two hobbits sleeping, and Tolkien writes that “could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, and old starved pitiable thing” (699). That passage very much made up my mind about him. And he is a much more interesting and complex character than a lot of them.