Discover more from Writing from Ithilien
Sam said it, but . . . . .
At some point before Covid (2019 maybe?), I attended a Tolkien Society event and heard a great presentation by Marcel Aubron-Bülles based on a project that he calls “Things J.R.R. Tolkien has never said, done, written or had anything to do with (TThnsdwohatdw)” where he debunks, through research, internet quotes that are not by Tolkien, or are corrupted versions of what Tolkien wrote (I might charitably call some of those paraphrases but they are attributed as direct quotes to Tolkien), or are quotes from Jackson’s films (though they also might be incorrectly quoted). It was fascinating and turns out that wrong/fake quotes on the internet are legion.
I’m quite sure there will eventually be quotes from Rings of Power attributed to Tolkien!
I am happy in this post to be able to add another example to Marcel’s list (I have skimmed the fifteen blog entries and do not see it!).
I was reading an article that came up on my news feed, “The Claremont Institute: The Anti-Democracy Think Tank,” by Katherine Stewart, in The New Republic (Aug 10, 2023). Because of my work on the far-right extremist/fascist attacks on Tolkien and diversity (whether in academic settings of adaptations or anywhere else), I am reading more about the movement in Anglophone settings (I’m not sure it’s depressing or useful that there is so. much. more. being published on the topic).1
I had not heard of the Claremont Institute before, but it’s clear that it’s a major force driving fascism in this country.
Most of us are familiar with the theocrats of the religious right and the anti-government extremists, groups that overlap a bit but remain distinct. The Claremont Institute folks aren’t quite either of those things, and yet they’re both and more. In embodying a kind of nihilistic yearning to destroy modernity, they have become an indispensable part of right-wing America’s evolution toward authoritarianism.
Extremism of the right-wing variety has always figured on the sidelines of American culture, and it has enjoyed a renaissance with the rise of social media. But Claremont represents something new in modern American politics: a group of people, not internet conspiracy freaks but credentialed and influential leaders, who are openly contemptuous of democracy. And they stand a reasonable chance of being seated at the highest levels of government — at the right hand of a President Trump or a President DeSantis, for example.
My first response was to wonder if any of the Claremont Institute publication had written about Tolkien.2 Turns out there are several articles in Claremont Institute publications that were fairly generic reviews (one about the Beren and Luthien story, one about the Tolkien display at the Bodleian in Oxford). There is also an article that is analyzing another essay’s use of Tolkien in an extended analogy about the tactics being used by far right extremists in the U.S.3 that I’m still thinking about. But the specific publication that caught my eye, and is the reason for this post, included a misattributed quote.
The Institute brings in “fellows” for short-term projects, and then features some of them in a “spotlight” series of interviews. In one of the interviews with a fellow, she was asked about a favorite quote! She quoted Tolkien . . . . . except not really!
She really quoted Sam’s speech of encouragement to Frodo after the encounter with the Black Rider in Osgiliath: the interviewer’s question is bolded, and the fellow’s answer follows, including the attribution (which, as I imagine is typical in this sort of misattribution, is only the author’s name, not the actual bibliographic information a reader not familiar with the source would need to track it down to check on it). (Retired English Professor cannot turn off EP brain or habits.)
Do you have a favorite quote? Why does it resonate with you?
"It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for."
― J.R.R. Tolkien
In fraught times, J.R.R. Tolkien reminds us that we must defend the good and defeat evil, even though it may be daunting and challenging.
I read it, blinked, and went, um, waitaminute! That’s not correct! (I could almost hear Sean Astin saying it!).4
I’m pretty sure that the fellow, like a number of the sources of incorrect quotes that Marcel debunks, went looking on the internet (and probably found this Goodreads misattribution instead of the Tolkien Gateway wiki that gives the correct attribution for the quote (plus a whole lot of context about the scene!).
Since I am pretty familiar with Tolkien’s work, it took only a few minutes to find the quote that Jackson adapted for his film (now that I think about it, I wonder if anybody’s done a study on how the film drew specific language from Tolkien’s text and either moved it, gave it to another character, and, of course adapted it — and how effective it is, or is not — if not I may have to do that myself which would give me a great reason for watching the film again!).
In the book, Sam and Frodo are sitting on the stairs, Gollum having left them, talking.
Sourcee: The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter VIII, "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol"
"I don't like anything here at all," said Frodo, "step or stone, breath or bone. Earth, air and water all seem accursed. But so our path is laid."
"Yes, that's so," said Sam. "And we shouldn't be here at all, if we'd known more about it before we started. But I suppose it's often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on — and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same — like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren't always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into?"
"I wonder," said Frodo. "But I don't know. And that's the way of a real tale. Take any one that you're fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don't know. And you don't want them to."
"No, sir, of course not. Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that's a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it — and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We've got —you've got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great tales never end?"
"No, they never end as tales, " said Frodo. "But the people in them come, and go when their part's ended. Our part will end later — or sooner."
I would interpret this passage differently (and the Jackson passage) than the Fellow did, but the point is that this sort of appeal to authority kind of falls apart when this kind of fundamental error undermines the authority of the one making the appeal. Oh, and relying on the internet to fact-check one’s quotes is probably not a good idea!
What is absolutely fascinating is how much of the academic work is being done by ex-evangelicals who grew up in that culture but for multiple reasons left it and are able to analyze it from both an insider (memories of growing up) and an outsider (from their current) perspectives!
Stewart makes it clear the Institute is not affiliated with Claremont, California, the town, or with the five universities in that town, but Google tends to lump anything with Claremont together even when I used quotes around “Claremont Institute.”
Links to any of the Claremont publications are to an archived copy, not to the original site, to avoid giving extremist sites more clicks/money.
Some background: I adore Jackson’s Lord of the Rings; I saw Fellowship 45 times before it went out of the theatres! I found my way back to Tolkien’s legendarium, and into online fandom, and have written about that adaptations. So I would have exactly zero problem with somebody quoting Jackson’s films! But attributing it to Tolkien!