Friday, September 28, 2018

Lembas is tastier than you think


So, I have a teacherly friend who's doing a composition course focused on food, and one of her students picked Tolkien's lembas. Since they have to do brief e-mail interviews, Laura asked me if I'd be up for it, and of course it was. It was a fun exercise, who I decided to post the questions as well as my responses.

(1) Which theory [lembas as communion bread or military hardtack)] do you believe is more accurate, and what is your personal belief on this subject? Does it make a difference that one is a military food and the other religious?

  • You're spot-on about the two most common interpretations of the lembas. My answer about the accuracy of one interp over the other will be extremely unhelpful: my answer is "both and neither." The question is something of a false binary. On one hand, lembas are their own thing. Plotwise, it's a convenient way of explaining how Frodo and Sam feed themselves in Mordor. On the other hand, why can't lembas be both military hardtack and communion bread? Tolkien was a devout Catholic and a veteran, and he surely understood the parallels. In my view, in terms of criticism, I'd suggest that a writer be aware of the options ("both and neither") but maybe emphasize the interpretation that works best with their argument.

(2) What does the elves giving of the lembas bread signify about the relationship between the fellowship between the elves, dwarfs, hobbits, and humans?

  • Interesting question here. I suppose you could say that the lembas "sanctifies" the Fellowship. Galadriel has a clear parallel to the Mother Mary, and that whole episode is also the last truly peaceful interlude in LotR. Of course, that sanctifying really doesn't do much -- the Fellowship, which now lacks Gandalf, breaks up relatively quickly. It might suggest that the diversity of the Fellowship is authorially sanctioned even though, ultimately, the long-term viability of a group such as the Fellowship remains in doubt.

(3) Do you have any other theories regarding the significance of lembas bread?
  • Sadly, no. Food is one of those major literary topics that, alas, I've never been much interested in.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

One of the ironies of being a job-hunting Tolkienist.

The MLA Job Information List went up Monday, and there's some fun job ads out there. I saw the following from Grove City College, which is about 20 miles from my hometown -- they're hiring a 20th-century British literature scholar with a focus on the Inklings. Gold, right?

Alas, not so much. They're a committed Christian college, and apparently my materialist-atheist bend just doesn't qualify . . . especially as one of their four required letters of reference must be from one's pastor.

Back to the drawing board, I guess.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Fun Stephen R. Donaldson Quote of the Day

So, I'm re-reading a bunch of SRD interviews in prep for an encyclopedia entry I'm doing on him for The Literary Encyclopedia, and I came across the following gem. For context,  SRD is talking about the need to re-read his first 6 Covenant books before beginning The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant:
When I started back on Lord Foul's Bane, to re-read the Covenant books after twenty years, I was blown away. I thought if these books had been written by anybody else, I would call them masterpieces. These books were written by somebody whose a better writer than I am now. It was a very intimidating experience. I had expected the opposite. The truth is I can find some flaws in the first six books that I wish I could change, but that didn't have to do with how they're written. I love how they were written. I was blown away, and I thought, "I can't compete with this."
 Well, they are masterpieces! This quote tickles me because, if I ever wrote a masterpiece and re-read it again 20 years later, I imagine I'd have the same reaction.