Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Request to the Reader, or, The Ghost of Humphrey Bogart

#18 in the series, "J.R.R. Tolkien--Smut Peddler!"


As of this writing I've completed 17 blogs on the subject of sex in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I've had a blast writing them, and from what I'm hearing on the cyber-street at least a few people have been having fun reading them. But now I'm stuck. Try as I might, I can't get a handle on what to write next about everyone's fun couple, Galadriel and Gimli. And I don't think it's writer's block. It's something more . . . sinister.

Part of the joy of writing is that you're constantly discovering things. Your readers, your material, your own subconscious: they're all a strange far country seen in the distance, and you really want to get there. And to get there you have to stretch yourself, poke at the boundaries hemming your life in, crawl under the fence and run around in MacGregor's garden chomping carrots. To write today, you have to be someone slightly different from who you were yesterday--someone more. The "more" is hard to categorize, but it's there. Maybe it's more intelligent, more obser- vant, more creative . . . it doesn't matter. What matters is the far country. But it's hard to get to.

Which is why it's come to this. Simply stated, I'm out of my league. I suppose I know as much about sex as most mammals, and I also know (approximately) how to write about it in ways that respect its power without letting that power overwhelm reason and turn W2WW into just another porn-site. No, the naughty bits don't trouble me, and I hope they don't trouble you. What troubles me is the stuff that H. sapiens does that no other species can even imagine. Stuff I'm not sure I can imagine myself. Stuff I don't think I can write about. Stuff I don't think I want to. It's . .. ugh . . . dare I say it? . . . It's . . . romance.

I HATE ROMANCE! I can't stand the Valentine's Day bilge, the hearts and flowers, the soulful gazes and sundry symbolic gropings, the bridal registries and soft- focus photos and crappy poetry. And don't get me started on kissing! Whenever Aragorn and Arwen start pitching woo in Jackson's movies I just close my eyes, turn my head, and concentrate on parsing the Elvish. (David Salo's got 'em using too many datives for my taste. Liv Tyler does a fine job on the fricatives, though. But I digress.) Just thinking about the mushy stuff sets off a powerful knee-jerk reaction in my brain, a distaste bordering on revulsion.

I'm not quite sure why this is. I've got a long-standing debate about it going with an old buddy of mine. I say I have some kind of autism, some form of brain damage that prevents me from comprehending the subtleties of romantic expression. He says I just have an extremely low tolerance for bullshit. Maybe it's both. At any rate I have never married, never will, and don't understand why anyone bothers.

And how DARE anyone call all that romantic balderdash "love"?! I spent 33 years of my life watching my mother patiently slaughter herself taking care of my pro- foundly handicapped little sister. I saw her sacrifice friends, career, marriage, and finally her life for the sake of someone who couldn't so much as speak her name or say thank you. And mom though herself the luckiest human being on the planet for having such a person in her life. And she was. And so am I. THAT is what I dare to call "love." My little sis taught me everything I need to know or ever will on the subject. Lesser mortals have nothing to tell me.

Remember Wood Allen's Play It Again, Sam ? Lovelorn Woody-the-nebbish says to the ghost of Humphrey Bogart, "But all I want is a meaningful relationship!" To which Bogie replies--in words that should be carved on a mountain somewhere-- "Relationship?! What kinda woid is that? Sounds like something from one of your Madison Avenue shrinks." My sentiment exactly.

Hanta i Valar Galadriel and Gimli don't ever have a "relationship"! Yet they do have something. So what is it? What do I call it? How do I explain what I think Tolkien is trying to do? What IS the Master of Middle-earth spending so much time and effort trying to tell us? For it seems to me something is peeking out from behind the thicket of stately diction and sly innuendo, something that is more than sex, more than romance, but isn't "love" in either the hearts-and-flowers sense or the sense I'm used to. To me, love is a kind of work. Joyous work, yes, but still work. Yet to Tolkien it's almost as if "love" was a kind of poetry--an artform. Love as an artform? I'm truly out of my league here.

And so, as I sit in my office pouring over scripts from old Bogart and Bacall movies, I'm asking for your help. I'm not asking for clever ideas or brilliant insights--creativity is my responsibility here, one I took on when I first decided to enter the blogo- sphere. I guess I'm just looking for support. Maybe one of you have encountered a similar difficulty in navigating this aspect of reality and can let me know how you fared--and if it gets any better.

Because just seeking the far country is scary business, neighbors. I feel like a not-too-bright little kid walking down a dark alley and it's way past my bedtime. Any flashlights tossed my way will be more than welcome. And in the meantime I'll be trying to make sense of maps like this one:

Vivian (Lauren Bacall): Well, speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first, see if they're front-runners or come from behind, find out what their hole card is. What makes them run.

Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart): Find out mine?

to be continued


  1. Let me begin by being profoundly unhelpful by posting one of my favorite Galadriel-Gimli quotes:

    'It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues,' she said; 'yet that is not true of Gimli.'

  2. I've been contemplating this: it turns out that I'm not finding it easy to directly relate the romantic feelings that I feel between me and my wife or anyone else to the romance (of whatever sort) between Gimli and Galadriel.

    Part of the problem is that "romance" is used to mean so many different things! It can refer to schmaltzy Valentine's Day cards and skin-deep expressions of claimed devotion, or to the burning passion of new love as it sweeps two people off their feet, or to the deep desire to build an entire shared life with another person through good times and bad. The romance that seems to define Gimli and Galadriel's relationship is, I think, yet another variety: the chivalrous love of a knight for a noble lady, in which he essentially worships her virtues but expects no consummation or reward. It's a classic theme, repeated throughout literature... and I don't know if I've ever quite believed in it. When I've seen relationships like that play out in real life, it's always felt a little creepy (and that discomfort often winds up becoming the defining feature of the relationship shortly before it goes up in flames).

    I kinda wonder what Gimli may have been hoping for when he sailed West with Legolas, particularly with Celeborn still hanging out in Rivendell. And I wonder if it blew up in everyone's face as badly as I've seen happen to some of my friends.

  3. hey stu! thanks for the feedback. i have also tried looking at the G-G relationship in "chivalrous terms," but without success. if i recall correctly, "courtly love" began as a religious phenomenon, a kind of glorification / veneration / worship of the Virgin Mary. the earliest "love" songs in the European tradition are addressed to her, and I find them just a little creepy in their barely-sublimated lust.
    Tolkien would have been extremely familiar with this theme, which is why i think he does NOT intend the G-G relation to been interpreted as a courtly romance. to interpret it this way would require us to see Galadriel as a stand-in for Mary, and the only character in Middle-earth who can fill those shoes is (obviously) Varda. And like you (and perhaps, like Tolkien), I don't really believe such a "worship from afar" relationship can happen in real life. not for us horny humans, at any rate.
    i'll be dealing with Gimli's departure for the West in a future blog. for now i'll say that i think i know what Gimli was hoping for, and what he hoped to encounter there beyond the circles of the world. and I suspect you'll know too--as soon as your child is born.

  4. Well, whether it's "courtly love" or something else, it's all too easy for someone with my modern sensibilities to project it into a "creepy stalker" vibe. Gimli hardly knows this woman, but hey, she was unexpectedly nice to him once! So now his greatest desire is to have some bits of her person as a souvenir. Moreover, he actually plans to encase those bits in crystal so that not only will he be able to gaze at them at will for the rest of his life, but his kids will be able to, too.

    After the lady in question gets cornered into actually humoring this unsettling request, Gimli becomes even more devoted to her. He's driven almost to despair when he thinks she sent messages to his friends but not to him, and is then delighted to receive some generic and/or outdated advice. He repeatedly threatens others with death for even suggesting (sight unseen) that she might not be the most perfect and beautiful woman in the world. And in the end, he breaks ancient taboos and sails across the sea at the end of his life, presumably in the hope of seeing her just one more time. If I were Galadriel, that level of attention and devotion might make me a little uncomfortable.

    Two more serious questions. First, are there any hints anywhere that Gimli might have spent more time with Galadriel in Lorien than appears "on screen"? (Are there clear reasons to think he didn't?) And second, what *did* Gimli want out of that relationship, if it wasn't mere "worship from afar"? (And sneaking in a third question: What was *Galadriel's* view of the relationship, and what did *she* want out of it?)