Charlotte’s Ungol

Amusing from xkcd:

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. acardnal says:

    If you say so, Father Z.

  2. Choirmaster says:

    Well, actually if you translate the…

    …on second thought, any comment I make will make me sound like a bombastic Tolkien fanboy. Not to mention the fact that this is the post I felt compelled to comment on, even with The First Gay President, Nuns on a Bus, the mandate, and Muller’s appointment to the CDF competing for mental real-estate.

    Thank you, Fr. Z, for your consistently edifying blog!

    Where’s the Savage Chickens been?

  3. Choirmaster: Where’s the Savage Chickens been?

    They are still around.

  4. Choirmaster says:

    Fr. Z, I know they’re still around, but how will I know which ones are funny if you don’t post them?

    And, since there were no other Tolkien-fanboy-takers, I’ll submit my correction to the headline of this post, and expose my petty inclinations: “Cirith Charlotte” would be more correct, as it would signify “Charlotte’s Pass”.

  5. acardnal says:

    thanks to Google I discovered this much . . . . .
    In Tolkien’s manufactured language of Middle Earth, Cirith Ungol translates out as “pass of the spider”. Cirith Ungol is the bleak place where Frodo and Samwise fight the giant spider Shelob in Tolkien’s second installment in the trilogy, The Two Towers.

  6. Choirmaster says:

    That’s right, acardnal!

    Indeed, “ungol” is the term for spider, and Ungoliant is the name of the original evil black spider in Tolkien’s earlier writings who, with the aid of Melkor the first dark lord, destroyed the Two Trees from who’s fruit and blossom the Sun and Moon were later made.

    In the books, Shelob (and English construction of “she” and “lob”, the Old English word for “spider”) is referred to as “the last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world”. The assumption being that Ungoliant, after having fled to Middle Earth with Melkor, was the mother of the race of giant spiders. All of whom “drank” light (light being conceived originally as a somewhat fluid substance) and spun it into a palpable darkness, “an un-light that had power to pierce the eye”.

    The white tree in Gondor, being a symbol always in Tolkien’s work of the power and rule of the Gods, and thus the symbol of the divine right of the Kings of Numenor, was descended from the tree Telperion, called “eldest of trees”. Telperion was the tree whose last blossom, after having been mortally wounded by Ungoliant, was fashioned into the moon.

  7. Choirmaster says:

    Here’s a cool excerpt (emphasis mine):

    “But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness. Far and wide her lesser broods, bastards of her miserable mates, her own offspring, that she slew, spread from glen to glen, from the Ephel Dúath to the eastern hills, to Dol Guldur and the fastnesses of Mirkwood. But none could rival her, Shelob the Great, last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world.”

    This is packed! Especially chilling to me is the description of who her mates were, and what she did to her offspring. Yikes!

    Tolkien was a great moralist, and I highly recommend studying his fantasy works with an eye towards judging the characters based upon Catholic moral precepts. I think you’ll be surprised and edified!

  8. acardnal says:

    Thanks Choirmaster. Unfortunately, I am still working on the “amusing” part.

    Does the notation “Some Pig” refer to the hungry ungol?

  9. Choirmaster says:

    Oh, man, it’s been so many years since I overheard my dad reading Charlotte’s Web to my sister!

    The reference is (I believe) to Charlotte the spider, who in an effort to save the pig from being slaughtered, wove “Some Pig” into her web. This was the phrase that was chosen over “Crunchy” for obvious reasons.

    This is actually the only quote from that book that I remember because right after the farmer and his wife saw the writing on the web, the wife remarked something to the effect of “I think what we have here is really ‘some spider'”.

  10. acardnal says:

    I have been duly edified. thank you. ;-)

  11. acardnal says:

    I’ve never read Charlotte’s Web. Guess I will now.

  12. HyacinthClare says:

    acardnal, find a six or seven year old to read it with you. You’ll see more of it that way.

  13. acardnal says:

    It all makes sense now, Fr Z. I have been amused and edified and discovered to be badly deprived of the literary classics as a child. Another amazing post. ;-)

  14. AnAmericanMother says:

    *** RADIANT ***

  15. silicasandra says:

    Choirmaster – are you my husband?! You certainly sound a lot like him… ;)

    To be fair, I am something of a Tolkien fangirl myself.

  16. paulbailes says:

    Re “The white tree in Gondor, being a symbol always in Tolkien’s work of the power and rule of the Gods …”

    Not “the Gods” but “God”! Middle Earth was not in a parallel universe, but our Earth in pre-diluvian times. As C.S. Lewis might have put it, the men and women depicted in LoTR were sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. I suppose the Hobbits have got to be some kind of humanity (a bit like the Neanderthals, but without their bad press?)

  17. Choirmaster says:


    I hear you; Tolkien did recommend imagining Middle Earth to be IRL Earth, but in a fictional historical epoch. However, the work is not intended to be a parody of Christianity nor an allegory for evolution or anthropology. It is intended to be entertaining fiction, but not without moral or literary quality. From what I’ve read of C.S. Lewis, he seems to be quite comfortable with allegory, and integrates his fantasies with Christian theology and anthropology, a wholly different approach.

    Moreover, the White Tree is indeed the symbol of the power and rule of the Gods, as it was they whom Eru (i.e. God) commissioned to design the world, shape it, and enter into it as it’s rulers. They created the Two Trees to light their realm (the most perfect light, next to which the Sun and Moon are a derivative second-best), and they gave an image of those trees, Nimloth the Fair, to the Elves.

    It was the Gods (and not Eru) who established the Numenorean dynasty from those Men that aided them in their war with Melkor, and the Elves gave the Numenoreans a scion of Nimloth, and this tree and its scions became the pride and symbol of that dynasty. The “divine right” of the Numenoreans (and, later, of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings) comes directly from the permission and devolution from the “Elder King”, the chief of the Gods.

    So, in my analysis, the White Tree is strictly a symbol of the Powers/Gods and by extension the symbol of the right and rule of the Numenoreans, and I do not equate the fictional epochs in which Middle Earth exists with any IRL prehistorical times.

  18. Scarltherr says:

    Let’s not get off track with the tree, which has died and will not be replaced until Aragorn finds the new sapling after defeating Sauron. Shelob is the literary opposite of Charlotte. Shelob is working in secretive darkness to destroy and consume. Charlotte is working in the open to proclaim and to save the life of her friend. The cartoon is actually pretty dark humor. But funny…

  19. I think in this cartoon, the web should have said “some ring”. :) Love it, Father!

    Choirmaster: By “the Gods”, I assume you mean the Ainur/Valar? In the Silmarrilion, although the Valar are comparable to the ancient Greek and Roman gods, their participation in the Creation story is more along the lines of angels, rather than ‘minor gods’ as compared to Iluvatar. Melkor = Satan, etc. I may be wrong, though.

    Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

  20. *Silmarillion

    Can’t believe I misspelled that!

  21. Choirmaster says:

    @LiteratureAddict: Yes, the Ainur… calling them the “Gods” is not uncommon in Tolkien’s writing, though they are more comparable to angels than to the pagan gods of the Greeks or Romans. I say “Gods” here because I think it describes them in a way immediately recognizable to the imagination of someone who never read Tolkien’s older works. However, their role in the creation story is not at all like the angels of Judeo-Christian cosmology; the Ainur were created first, and they were tasked with the composition of the universe in music, and to this music God gave life and reality with his word “Ea! Let it Be”. Melkor is somewhat of a Lucifer figure, but again I think it’s inappropriate to draw comparisons too freely between Tolkien’s mythos and IRL mythos.

    Cf. “…the Valar, the Powers of the World, whom Men called Gods.”
    and about Theoden at the Battle of the Pellenor “…he was borne up like a God of old, even as Orome…”

  22. Choirmaster: True enough. I’d forgotten Tolkien himself called them gods. Does he use the capitalization?

    That’s the thing with Tolkien – his allegory is not by any means an exact parallel, as Lewis’ practically is. Rather, because of the ability for one thing to have many significances, there is almost more to be drawn out of Tolkien than from Lewis, whose allegory is more restrictive in its exactitude. In that way, I would say that comparisons CAN be drawn between Tolkien’s mythos and IRL. They can be drawn more freely precisely because of the breadth of Tolkien’s allegory. Clearly, you can’t link an entire sequence of events in Tolkien to an entire sequence of events in reality. But the ideas, the concepts, the beliefs of Christianity do cross over to Tolkien almost unsullied by the fact that one person or event can be interpreted in many ways. Tolkien’s different take on the concepts opens them up for better understanding, much like you can look at the sun from a reflection onto paper, though not with the naked eye.

    Does this make any sort of sense or am I just rambling incoherently? :)

  23. Choirmaster says:

    @LiteratureAddict: Yes, he uses the capitalization, I guess, since he’s being so specific, indeed only speaking of 8 persons, when he calls them “Gods”.

    Also, I think you hit the nail on the head with your comparison of Tolkien and Lewis, but I would caution your use of the word “allegory”, as the master himself had strong words in this regard:

    “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)


  24. I suppose the better way would be to use the four methods of interpretation that Dante used and that literature professors stress.

    Littera gesta docet,
    Quod credas allegoria.
    Moralia quod agas,
    Quo tendas anagogia.

    The literal sense teaches what happened,
    The allegorical what you believe.
    The moral what you should do,
    The anagogical where you are going.

    So literal = the obvious, surface story; allegorical = the literal actions as symbolic of certain other principles; moral = ethical principles drawn from the literal action; anagogical = applying the principle to eternal ends.

    I was (as you point out, incorrectly) using ‘allegory’ to refer to all four of these levels, which I think can all be used in reading Tolkien, just as in Dante.

  25. acardnal says:

    LiteratureAddict, I see that excellent Christendom College education coming through! My donations will continue. :-)

  26. *bows* Many thanks! And thank you for your support of the college – it is a worthy institution. As well as a massive Tolkien fanclub. :)

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