Posts by Christine Kelley:
Names: Lake-town, Esgaroth (“Sindarized” word; untranslated)
Description: A quay market town on the Long Lake, south of Erebor, built on the ruins of an earlier settlement, possibly Esgaroth. It is founded by descendants of Dale, who use the lakeside spot to make a modest living trading with Dorwinion and the Woodland Realm. The town is governed by an elected Master. After the Lake-men assist Thorin Oakenshield in his quest to Erebor, Smaug destroys Lake-town and is killed by Bard, a local bowman and descendant of Dale’s former lord Girion. Bard leads the Lake-men in a hard-won alliance with the Dwarves of Erebor and Wood-elves of Mirkwood, after which he rebuilds Dale and Lake-town as King of Dale. By the time Elrond convenes his own personal Yalta Conference to deal with Sauron, Lake-town is just a slice of Dale’s thriving kingdom.
Shooting location in Wingnut Films’ adaptations: Stone Street Studios, Miramar, Wellington
In its lone ‘onstage’ appearance in The Hobbit, Lake-town perches on the Long Lake, built on “rotting piles of a greater town [which] could still be seen along the shores when the waters sank in a drought” (The Hobbit, “A Warm Welcome”). Some of its younger denizens, who’ve never experienced Dale’s prosperity or seen Erebor in its heyday, “openly doubted the existence of any dragon in the mountain”. Under an ineffective and avaricious Master, Lake-town profits off the Lake’s trade while lacking the wealth or power of its neighbors, Erebor and Mirkwood. When Smaug destroys Lake-town, he plunges its people into true poverty and dispossession. His killer, Bard, saves the Lake-people by reviving their ancestral power.
Prior to its sacking, Lake-town is reasonably lucrative; it “still throve on the trade that came up the great river from the South and was carted past the falls to their town” (‘A Warm Welcome’). It plays liaison for Dorwinion, the wine-makers’ land, and Mirkwood’s Woodland Realm, its customer; Dorwinion floats its wine in barrels up the Running River to Lake-town, whose people transport the barrels up the stream, deliver them to Mirkwood, and then retrieve them when the Wood-elves send them downstream. Tolkien does not indicate whether the Lake-men drink any Dorwinion wine themselves.
In Smaug’s time, Lake-town has neighbors but lacks allies. Whereas Dale’s prosperity was inextricable from its friendship with the Erebor dwarves, Lake-town’s trade is buffeted by “the bickering of the Lake-men and the Wood-elves about the upkeep of the Forest River and the care of the banks” (‘A Warm Welcome’). The Master’s initial skepticism of Thorin and company partially stems from that fact that “the Elvenking [Thranduil] was very powerful in those parts and the Master wished for no enmity with him” (‘A Warm Welcome’). Lake-town rests precariously on the lake of Wilderland class society; it’s not at war with anyone, but its deference to external power cuts against Tolkien’s utopian monarchism.
Lake-town also has an internal class society, illustrated by its socially stratified architecture (a rare piece of social realism from Tolkien).…
Pausing Nowhere and Back Again this week for some words on this Amazon thing. We’ll be back with Lake-town next week.
Well, that was inevitable, even if knowing what to call a show is apparently a spoiler these days. It’s a less Tolkienesque title than Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, but it scans, even if the existence of a series title with a subtitle is a moral atrocity.
As The Rings of Power is a prequel show, the title indicates a focus on the Three, Seven, and Nine rings. Showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay (let’s hope they won’t be the next Benioff and Weiss) give the impression The Rings of Power will cover the Second Age, from “the forging of the rings, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the epic tale of Númenor, and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.” Akallabêth stans rejoice, I suppose.
The period Payne and McKay describes lasts anywhere from 1941 to 2231 to 3409 years, depending on where The Rings of Power starts. That could be the founding of Númenor, Sauron’s time in Eregion, or the Rings of Power’s creation. It seems unlikely that the series would depict any events that happen after the siege of Barad-dûr or Isildur’s death.
The Rings of Power apparently sticks to Tolkien’s overarching story and filling in the blanks, per the Tolkien Estate’s guidelines. It has unprecedented licensing to adapt portions of The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, so the Tolkien Estate is clearly pleased with the series. This raises some concerns, as it may mean The Rings of Power is more traditionalist than its predecessors, Peter Jackson’s double-trilogy. At the same time, adapting Tolkien’s conservative mythology in the tedious Marvel Cinematic Universe era should be an interestingly strange sight.
I’m almost wholly unfamiliar with the show’s creative team, so I can’t predict their approach to Middle-earth. The job they’ve inherited, however, is fascinating. They have to work with Tolkien’s plots (outlines, really), which span millennia and contain scarce details. This will give the team ample room to concoct new stories within Tolkien’s framework. I wonder if each season will cover a particular era. Certainly there will have to be an almost anthology-like approach to it: characters will inevitably die between seasons. Maybe we’ll get The Lord of the Rings as True Detective. There are worse ideas than “Nic Pizzolatto writes elves.”
If the tone of this piece can accurately be called “cold,” there are a couple reasons for that. The rampant spoilerphobia of contemporary pop culture is a killer on enthusiasm. Before I watch a series or a movie, I like to know something of its story. As of now, we know basically nothing about The Rings of Power‘s creative approach. I’m not going to go ga-ga over this stuff unless Amazon lets its creators show they have an interesting story to tell.
There’s also Amazon’s involvement. If you’re reading Eruditorum Press, or if you’ve paid any attention to the world these past few years, you know Amazon is one of the most evil and destructive organizations in the world.…
Erebor’s isolation makes it a magical symbol. It hunches over Northern Wilderland like a god of its terrain. Its six spurs reach across its territory like a maimed skulltopus, reaching in every direction, clutching the ground underneath it. Its southern spurs hold Dale like a trinket while Mirkwood watches from an apprehensive distance. Erebor’s power is individualism. What causes more catastrophe in Middle-earth than standing alone?
Tolkien’s identity politics are intrinsically geographic. Tolkien assigns territories to individual peoples: the Shire is for Hobbits, Lothlórien is Elvish, Gondor belongs to Númenórean Men. Threatened homelands invariably drive Tolkien’s plots, which often involve the survival efforts of their inhabitants. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings’s casts are ensembles from numerous peoples and lands who collaborate against a common enemy. Both novels’ denouements involve the improvement of peoples’ and territories’ social and political relationships before everyone goes home to their own peoples. A few characters gain special status among other peoples, like Gimli, the only Dwarf to sail to the Undying Lands, but as ‘exceptions’ they’re nonetheless strictly racially categorized. Otherwise, the Dwarves, who Tolkien considered Middle-earth’s Jews, live outside of the Elves’ resting place.
A quintessential racial home, The Kingdom Under the Mountain is the Dwarves’ greatest city, except for possibly Moria, whose sacking is one of their most catastrophic tragedies. A coil of “halls, and lanes, and tunnels, alleys, cellars, mansions and passages” (The Hobbit, “An Unexpected Party”), the kingdom is seen both through Thorin’s nostalgic recaps and as a ruin, a juxtaposition that underlines its effects. But even then, most of it is unseen. The Hobbit’s third act depicts events in only a few halls and cellars. It’s an underground city with some visible edges, not unlike how some of Pompeii’s ruins are still buried. Erebor’s culture is a secret. Its kingdom is every conspiracy theorist’s wet dream: disorientingly grand, ambivalent, intrinisically racial halls of power and commerce.
Past the Front Gate’s “old carven” arch, “a stone-paved road” runs alongside a small channel, which initiates the River Running (The Hobbit, “Not at Home”). At the opposite end, a number of doorways lead to Thrór’s great chamber, which Thorin calls “the hall of feasting and of council”. Its proximity to the Front Gate indicates its stature: visitors will see it before anything else, even if they venture downstairs. It’s where the Dwarves decide and observe significant events. Its designation as Thrór’s chamber points to ancestral pride; the Dwarves commemorate Thorin’s grandfather with this hall.
Thrór is one of Erebor’s pivotal kings, shepherding Erebor’s resurgence after a Dwarvish sojourn from the mountain, driving his people’s return to their kingdom after warring with dragons, and then seeing his kingdom destroyed by a dragon. Over 300 years before Thrór’s birth, his ancestor Thorin I leaves Erebor to mine the “rich and little explored” Grey Mountains, “where most of Durin’s folk were now gathering” (The Return of the King, Appendix A: “Durin’s Folk”).…
Names: Erebor (Sindarin: “ereb”: lonely, isolated, “-or”: rise, mount), glossed as “the Lonely Mountain”
Description: A solitary mountain in northern Wilderland. Karen Wynn Fonstad estimates Erebor’s summit as 3500 ft (1066.8 m.) while at its broadest spurs its furthest reaches are about 9 mi. apart (approx. 14 km). The Lonely Mountain has six spurs, between the southern and southeastern of which originates the River Running, which flows through Dale, a city of Men. Home to the Longbeard Dwarves’ Kingdom under the Mountain, Erebor encompasses formidable mines, cellars, and throne rooms.
In T.A. 1999, Thráin I, a dwarf refugee from Khazad-dûm, arrives at Erebor and establishes the Kingdom under the Mountain. Dwarves begin mining Erebor, and collect gems and gold, including the Arkenstone (the Heart of the Mountain). The Kingdom under the Mountain prospers King Thrór, as the dwarves of Erebor arm the Iron Hill Dwarves and Wilderland’s Men against Easterlings.
In 2770, the dragon Smaug sacks Erebor, killing and dispersing the dwarves. He occupies the Mountain until 2941, when Erebor’s exiled king Thorin Oakenshield arrives at the Mountain with a small party. In retaliation, Smaug destroys Lake-town, a local settlement of Men, where Bard the bowman kills him. In the wake of Smaug’s demise, the Maia Sauron sends orc forces to conquer Erebor. The dwarves and their Iron Hills cousins fight in the Battle of the Five Armies. They triumph, though Oakenshield is killed. His successor as King is his cousin Dáin II Ironfoot.
In 3019’s Battle of Dale, Easterlings besiege Erebor and kill Dáin. They retreat when Barad-dûr falls. Thorin III Stonehelm is crowned King under the Mountain, and establishes a relationship with Gondor’s King Aragorn II Elessar, after which Erebor comes under Gondor’s protection.
Location in Peter Jackson’s films: Wanaka, Otago, South Island.
“I see the mountain/That is all I see.”Carter, “The Mountain.”
This adventure began on a mountain. Now it arrives at another one, also solitary, hospitable yet apocalyptic when it chooses to be. The Lonely Mountain changes hands and talons many times, and yet its six spurs, summit, and cavernous interiors belong to no person. The Kingdom under the Mountain is not the Lonely Mountain itself; it’s an occupying force that the Mountain permits to dwell in its guts. Smaug scorches the earth around Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, strengthening its mighty power over Wilderland. Guy Debord says that psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographic environment, whether consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviors of individuals” (“Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography”). Some of Tolkien’s most memorable characters are seismically changed and affected by Erebor. The shaking of windows or rattling of walls has little sway on the Mountain’s power; people may only submit to it.
Erebor is one of the most haunting places in Tolkien’s mythology and a corridor to many of its crucial themes. It’s an anti-realist landmark; Tolkien’s geography has little quarter for geologic reality, a recurring aspect of his mythology that Alex Acks has analyzed in depth.…
Originally posted to Patreon on August 22 2020. The original text has been preserved with minimal corrections and changes added for clarity. A spooky All Hallow’s Eve to all.
Content warnings apply.
Stephen King’s The Shining is vexingly sympathetic to axe-murdering alcoholic Jack Torrance. King’s Jack is a guilt-wracked, weakened man who is ultimately broken and consumed by his alcoholism, violent pugnacity, and the Overlook Hotel. The novel frames Jack’s story as the tragedy of a weak man who loses a battle with his fatal vices. Have a read of this passage where Jack lashes out at Wendy for asking about his well-being:
“Jack, are you alright? You look pale—” He snapped his head away from her fingers. “I am fine!” She recoiled from his hot eyes and tried on a smile that was a size too small. “Well… if you are… I’ll just go and wait in the park with Danny…” She was starting away now, her smile dissolving into a bewildered expression of hurt.
He called to her: “Wendy?” She looked back from the foot of the stairs. “What, Jack?” He got up and went over to her. “I’m sorry, babe. I guess I’m really not all right. That machine… the lens is distorted. I’ve got a really bad headache…”
It’s a logical step from Jack belittling and berating his wife to swinging a croquet mallet at her. King writes Jack as feeling guilty for his failings, as if this somehow redeems him or makes him sympathetic (King has that ever-popular style of writing two-dimensional characters downpat — give them a fatal flaw and a virtue and voila, your book has Dramatic Nuance!). This gets into troubling territory, as King attempts to render Jack a sympathetic villain through his own guilt. And, sure, real abusers can sometimes show remorse. It does not inherently endear them to onlookers nor does it reduce the grossness of a spectacle that consists of “woe is me, a poor abuser struggling with my abusiveness!” It’s hard not to read King’s desperation to treat Jack sympathetically as a craven alibi for toxic masculinity, which pays lip service to the harm caused by abusive men but still manages it to center around their pain.
This gets especially messy when King writes Jack as a misanthrope with a loathing for every person he meets. The opening passage of the book explicitly states that he’s a wholly unpleasant bastard:
Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick. Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you.
So much for reading Jack sympathetically. Equally troubling are the lengths to which King has gone emphasizing that Jack is a thinly-veiled cipher for his own alcoholism, as if “but he’s sad that he dislocated his kid’s shoulder!”…
Hello all! James Bond has indeed returned, this time in Human Bondage‘s discussion of The Man With the Golden Gun, where Roger Moore, armed only with a Walther PPK, spurs with Christopher Lee’s third nipple. Elliot Chapman is our guest this month, and as always he’s dazzling and charming and enchanting, and bafflingly willing to put up with our nonsense. We’ve got a great show for you, as always, and as always HUMAN BONDAGE WILL RETURN.…
As I said on Twitter, that was more or less the shambolic hoot I had hoped for. A rollicking, incoherent, dumb, infuriating, joyful, and exhilarating mess. Fukunaga, Craig, et al identify and transmit the pleasures of Bond films while gesturing at bolder things, and sometimes even clutching them, while grounding their work in the mindless but alluring celebration of British imperialist surveillance and sabotage that Bond and Fleming embody. In short, it’s a James Bond movie, with all the delights and vices that epitomizes.
The heart of that agony and ecstasy is the departure of Daniel Craig, whose meaning and impact on future movies any review of No Time to Die worth its salt has to decrypt. Craig has crafted self-evidently cinema’s finest James Bond portrayal, constantly asking “what if this character were actually a human being?” and being personally responsible for much of the character’s story (Craig has co-producer credits on Spectre and No Time to Die, and apparently had greater creative control of his last Bond film). The films that have resulted have been a strange and often poorly fused mess of differing filmmaking styles and aesthetic values, but with a brilliant lead actor at their center crafting a compellingly fucked up character out of one of the most oversignified characters in cinema.
Naturally Craig’s departure is celebratory, buying that James Bond is a good thing for the world, so that his departure is sad yet triumphant. His imperialist project is accordingly celebrated, with some repudiation of Bond’s earlier rape culture tendencies in the form of neoliberal feminism (James Bond enforces manufactured consent. Shocking. Positively shocking). Ideological coherence is largely irrelevant to this; after five movies, Craig’s departure is deeply moving.
And the movie sells Craig’s departure shockingly well. There are appropriate callbacks to previous movies, particularly Casino Royale and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Fukunaga seems to have taken inspiration from the “grounded/down-to-earth” Bonds (the ones where Bond gets a few scratches from explosions rather than none at all). In tying itself to Casino Royale and OHMSS (still the unruliest title ever) through callbacks to Vesper and several OHMSS soundtrack cues, No Time to Die plugs itself into the tradition of movies that traumatize Bond. Some early scenes made me think the movie was headed towards a Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace-esque characterization of Bond as a fucked up, neurotic mass of flesh, booze, and thanatos. That tendency dissipates as the movie progresses, with mixed results; depending on the scene, Bond is either a tender man seeking redemption or a stone-cold assassin. The two aren’t irreconcilable (I say this as someone who has in the past experienced personal kindness from high-profile members of the fucking Iraq Survey Group), and Craig sells both, but the rewrites, delays, and sheer number of writers who contributed to this script are felt heavily.
And yet the discordance does the movie some favors. For one thing, it deemphasizes Bond in his own movie; the opening scene (at least after the gunbarrel shot, Craig’s only gunbarrel to kickstart a movie) and the ending both center Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, who the movie salvages into an actual character with interiority and commonalities with Bond after her role in Spectre as “Bond girl whose dad Bond shot and kidnapped 2-3 movies ago”.…
Hi, y’all! It’s me. Sorry for my absence. Returning to college has been wild. Taking a year off to focus on my mental health and healing from a glut of trauma means a slightly longer adjustment period as I’m starting my Bachelor’s degree. I’ve also been on the ground monitoring Turning Point USA and local fascist groups, which you may have seen on my Twitter. The Erebor posts are taking longer than I expected too (that place takes a while to write about), but I’ll try to release those back-to-back soon.
In James Bond-related news, this month Human Bondage is back in a tragically James-free edition (Mr. Slater-Murphy was out of action that night). Kit and I are joined by our friend Miranda, previously an Eruditorum Presscast guest, to talk about Live and Let Die, Roger Moore’s bizarre blaxploitation debut as James Bond 007. We’re so happy to be done with Sean Connery, but we’re even happier to have Miranda on. She’s brilliant and hilarious and has never seen a James Bond movie before, which leads to some of the most insightful commentary this show has ever had and also some hilarious dunking on our gringo asses. Miranda and I also make Kit feel extremely old, and the results are hysterical. This is a really great show, and we all loved recording it.
Check out Miranda’s DeviantArt if you like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, by the way. There’s some talk about that in the show, much to Kit’s confusion as he audibly ages out of existence.…
Name: Dale (as in the English word meaning “valley”)
Description: A merchant city nestled in a valley between the Lonely Mountain’s (Erebor) southeast and southwest ridges, settling on the shores of the River Running. Shortly after the T.A. 2590 revival of the Kingdom under the Mountain, Northmen emigrate to the valley and build Dale. Through a prosperous relationship with the Dwarves of Erebor, Dale becomes a prosperous city known for its toys and bells. In T.A. 2770, the dragon Smaug destroys Dale while sacking Erebor. Dale’s Lord Girion fails to slay Smaug and dies with many of his people. The charred lands around Dale and Erebor’s ruins cease to sire fauna, and become known as the Desolation of Smaug.
Dale’s survivors establish Lake-town and remain there until the latter’s destruction by Smaug in T.A. 2941. In the inferno, Girion’s descendant Bard kills Smaug and becomes the leader of his people, later called Bardings, as they participate in the ensuing Battle of the Five Armies, a conflict fought partially in Dale. After the Lake-men win the battle, with their allies the Mirkwood-elves and Erebor-dwarves, Bard leads an effort to restore Dale. in T.A. 2944, Dale is rebuilt and Bard becomes its King. Its prosperity returns, alongside a rebuilt Lake-town in conjunction with the repopulated Erebor.
In T.A. 3019 during the War of the Ring, Easterlings attack the city in the Battle of Dale. After driving the Bardings into Erebor, and slaying their King Brand, Bard’s grandson, the Easterlings occupy Dale for just over a week until the fall of Barad-dûr. The Easterlings flee Dale when they receive news of Sauron’s fall, and Brand’s son Bard II becomes King of Dale. When Aragorn is crowned King of Gondor, Dale sends ambassadors, and the city becomes a protectorate of Gondor.
Locations in Peter Jackson’s films: Speargrass Fields and Rock and Pillar Range, Maniototo, Otago, South Island
Maps of Wilderland go no further northeast than the Iron Hills and Rhûn, so let’s retrace our trajectory. Returning south, the confluence from the Sea of Rhûn breaks into the River Carnen, which culminates at the Iron Hills, and the River Running, which flows to Esgaroth (Lake-town) and Erebor. Having Thrór’s map in The Hobbit indicates that Erebor is west of the Iron Hills; as that map is the most intimate cartographic view of northern Rhovanion, we’ll use that as a source (Karen Wynn Fonstad positions Erebor and Iron Hills in a similar direction). Erebor’s six ridges span miles across; Karen Wynn Fonstad estimates parts of them span 9 miles from end to end. As a result the valleys between ridges are vast, and allow for settlements of their own.
The River Running flows into the Long Lake just south of Erebor, where Lake-town rests. A more straightforward geographic survey would look at Lake-town next, but this is not our approach. We’re going to save Lake-town for later while we have a look at Dale, a city which is Lake-town’s ancestor, its progeny, and then its ally.…