Suite101: Does Barliman have a Beard? and Other Important Fannish Issues – And who will turn up that long-desired recipe for lembas?

by Nov 27, 2000Lord of the Rings (Movies)

“Speaking of beards (as in the title of this essay), every now and then someone asks if Aragorn had a beard. Inevitably someone drags out their copy of Unfinished Tales and cites the brief note near the end of “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn” that Christopher describes. This note, written probably in the last year of JRRT’s life about Prince Imrahil, says that his Elvish ancestry was denoted by the fact that he didn’t have a beard. Um, the Elvenking had a beard in The Hobbit. So did Cirdan the Shipwright. Maybe this time the author really was wrong.”

In this week’s Suite101 article, Michael Martinez examines some of Middle-earth’s greatest conflicts: those fought among the fans and critics of J.R.R. Tolkien. Who is right? Who is wrong? And what will be the next great debate?

Here is a brief excerpt:

Sometimes I think, “All the great questions have been asked and debated.” And then someone comes along and asks something new. Or, if it’s not new, they ask an old question in a fresh way. One of the latest examples I’ve run across is “Who slashed the bolsters?” That is, in the chapter “A Knife in the Dark”, someone breaks into the Prancing Pony and slashes the bolsters that have been made up look like Frodo’s party of Hobbits.

Naturally, more than one answer has been provided to the question.

There is an old story circulating in fandom about how Isaac Asimov attended a panel where someone discussed one of his books (okay, this story has probably been told about a dozen authors — I heard the Asimov version). The speaker started analyzing the author’s motivations and Asimov spoke up and politely told the speaker his analysis was wrong. The speaker allegedly told Asimov he was incorrect. “But I’m the author,” Asimov replied. “I know what I was writing about.” The speaker then bluntly informed the author that his opinion didn’t matter.

Tolkien tells the reader, through Aragorn, that the bolsters were most likely slashed by Bill Ferny, Harry Goatleaf (the gatekeeper), and maybe the sallow-faced Southerner who was standing with Ferny in the common room of the Prancing Pony. Is that sufficient for everyone? Absolutely not. Ask a group of people who slashed the bolsters, get out a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, cite the Aragorn passage, and then count noses as people start suggesting that it could have been the Nazgul (in fact, some people may insist it could only have been the Nazgul). The author’s opinions don’t really matter in these debates.

Was it the Nazgul? I don’t see any reason to believe so, but this is only one of hundreds if not thousands of questions where you can pull out the book, read a very straightforward passage, and then be told it means something completely off the wall.

For example, when Gollum attacks Frodo on Mount Doom, Sam sees the confrontation between Frodo and Gollum with “other vision” and during the brief interaction a voice speaks to Gollum: “Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall yourself be cast into the Fire of Doom.”

Whose voice is that? Frodo’s? The Ring’s? Would you believe that I have seriously been told that it could or should have been Gandalf rather than the Ring?

Click on the link below to read the entire article.


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