The Flying Snowman

Over at Metafilter, they’re having a discussion on this Wired piece, which among other things details how the lava in The Return of the King is not quite right and how Gollum shouldn’t sink when he falls into it. I commented:

In a film with spiders of physically impossible size, talking trees, ugly warriors birthed out of mud and a disembodied malevolence causing a ring to corrupt the mind of anyone who wears it (and also turn them invisible), we’re going to complain that the lava is not viscous enough?

To which fellow MeFite “neuromodulator” responds, in part:

[A]re you serious with this whole line of thought, or are you being funny and/or playing devil’s advocate? because while I can appreciate the latter two, I have a hard time actually believing that you believe that as soon as any work has any fantastic element in it, it becomes immune to any critiques of realism.

To which I made the comment that I’m reposting here, because the question hits on an issue I think is something to think about when thinking about fantasy and science fiction. Because it’s fairly long, I’ll post it without coding it as a quote. Here it is:

“When my daughter was much younger, my wife was reading to her from a picture book about a snowman who came to life and befriended a young boy, and on each page they would do a particular activity: build a snow fort, slide down a hill, enjoy a bowl of soup and so on. The last three pages had the snowman walking, then running, and then flying. At which point my wife got an unhappy look on her face and said ‘A flying snowman? That’s just ridiculous!’

“To which I said: ‘So you can accept a snowman eating hot soup, but not flying?’ Because, you know, if you can accept the former (not to mention the entire initial premise of a snowman coming to life), I’m not sure how the snowman flying became qualitatively more ridiculous.

“These days, I call the thing in a fantasy or science fiction work which throws out your suspension of disbelief a ‘Flying Snowman.’ And when someone encounters a Flying Snowman, and tells me about it, I ask them why it’s this particular thing that causes them problems when so many other things of equal ridiculousness fly under their radar.

“In this particular case, clearly insufficiently viscous lava is a Flying Snowman. What I’m asking is, in a film where one has already accepted so many other things which are physically impossible, ranging from Spiders of Unusual Size to millennia-old disembodied evil entities, it’s this thing that stands out.

“This is not to say that, when encountering fantasy work, one has to abandon all criticism. But if you’re going to complain about one specific element as being unrealistic, you should consider the work in its totality and ask whether in the context of the work, this specific thing is inconsistent with the worldbuilding.

“So, yeah: In a film with impossibly large spiders, talking trees, rings freighted with corrupting evil, Uruks birthed from mud (not to mention legions of ghost warriors and battle elephants larger than tanks), are we really going to complain about insufficiently dense lava? Because if you’re going to demand that be accurate in a physical sense, I want to know why you’re giving the rest of that stuff a pass. If you’re going to complain that the snowman flies, you should also be able to explain why it’s okay to have it eat hot soup.”

So there: “Flying Snowmen.” Now you know what to call them when they happen. You’re welcome.

Update: Some further thoughts on the snowmen who fly, as they relate to science fiction film, at my FilmCritic.com column.

349 thoughts on “The Flying Snowman

  1. I suppose that works better than ‘Kool-Aid Pitcher’. Seriously, how does a glass Kool-Aid Pitcher slam through a brick wall without breaking?

    Flying Snowman certainly sounds more interesting.

  2. This drives me nuts, too, when people pick one thing in a fantastical medium and fixate on thing, ignoring all other things. “In Star Wars, the ships made sounds in space!”. So you are willing to accept an unseen powerful Force, planet destroying battle stations and talking Muppets but not sounds in space? Really?

  3. Excellent phrase, I’ll have to remember that. I run into this problem with superheroes all the time, and have had an analogue to the Flying Snowman conversation more than once. Or twice. Or lots.

  4. Because a magic ring is magic. Monsters born of mud, walking trees, impossibly large spiders, these are all magic things. But a body thrown into lava? Or, more horribly but more accurately, a living being thrown into lava? That’s not magic, that’s just gruesome, and gruesome has rules.

    Arguably, magic has rules, too, within any given story, but as long as the magic in that story doesn’t violate the rules in that story, we’re fine. If it was magical lava, with well-established rules and properties, that would be one thing, but a body sinking into lava is (to some, at least) as much of a violation as a stone floating in water.

  5. The flying snowman and the lava aren’t equivalent for me. If I have to explain, and I think this type of thing is a largely subconscious phenomenon, so it’s not easy, but I would say that with regards to LotR, the spider, Uruks, talking trees, disembodied entities all fall under a category one could designate “life”. So basically I’ve accepted the rules of life are different in the LotR universe, plus there’s magic. Lava however = geology. And up until that point in the movie there has been nothing to indicate I must accept an altered geology in my suspension of disbelief.

    Also it’s probably carrying some baggage due to the fact that Hollywood ALWAY screws up lava, and so, camel, I’d like you to meet straw….

  6. Levi Montgomery:

    The Fires of Mount Doom, in which the One Ring is forged, are not magic? Even when it’s specified that they are only place where the One Ring may be destroyed? Color me skeptical of your thesis.

    Daniel:

    Whereas I see it all as physics, basically.

  7. The reason it makes sense for the other things to be given a pass and not the lava is that the those other things are intended to be fantastical. The lava is supposed to merely be lava, or maybe especially hot lava.

  8. 1. My high school physics teacher would make a distinction between fantasy physics, and bad physics. Fantasy physics apply to Superman; they do not apply to Lois Lane, who should have gone splat when Superman caught her while flying upwards. (We watched clips of several movies with great hilarity.) In this case, giant spiders are fantasy biology, but lava is lava and should act like lava.

    2. If you know how lava is supposed to act, I can see where it would be really irritating to watch it be done wrong. By the same token, giant spiders should still move basically like arachnids, and if you’re a biologist who specializes in arachnids and they get the coordination of the limbs all wrong that would probably also be really irritating. For most of us, as long as it all looks cool and you can’t see the strings moving things around, meh.

    3. Personally it would have been the snowman eating soup that threw me over the edge.

  9. I suppose if it’s the EVERBURNING FIRES OF DOOM THAT CAN DESTROY THE ONE RING it’s reasonable that it’s fantasy lava and would Just Be Different.

    But I can still sympathize with the geologists who have seen Hollywood do lava wrong every single goddamned time.

  10. Or, as Daniel says, lava = geology. Same thesis, different words. Also, bear in mind that I am more known among those who know me for the “This is what you complain about?” question than for trying to explain it.

    :)

  11. Ben:

    “The lava is supposed to merely be lava”

    Is it? Remember, these are the Fires of Mount Doom. Presumably, no other lava would have melted the One Ring.

    Again, this is me being skeptical that this particular lava is meant not to be considered as part of the whole magical gestalt of the Lord of the Rings worldbuilding.

  12. My thought, which holds no water (or snow) in your wife’s case, is that often the flying snowman is something that gives the commentor a chance to demonstrate some particular piece of knowledge or understanding that they believe makes them look clever. To whit, it is not clever to point out that a vast spider, 100 foot tall elephant, or disembodied evil run riot over physics 101 _but_ noting the slightly more subtle conflict between reality and film world implicit in the lava issue is a demonstration of knowledge that makes the complainer seem, or at least feel, special.

    I am guilty of this myself. I don’t quibble that Superman is ridiculously strong, but I winge non-stop when he picks up an aircraft carrier in one hand. I point out he would just tear a small hole in it.

  13. Lava is lava….why? Why isn’t it just as fair to say “spiders are spiders…”??

    Unless Mt Doom was the only place in Middle Earth where there was lava, the wasn’t just lava. I f it was just lava, then they could have gone to another volcano and destroyed the Ring.

  14. “Man can believe the impossible, but man can never believe the improbable.” -Oscar Wilde

    Insufficiently viscous lava is improbable, I suppose.

  15. My friend did the same thing when talking about Aronofsky’s “The Fountain”.

    He was all, “Man, when he floats up at the end, it’s just so unrealistic. It really pulls me out the film.”

    I replied, “But it didn’t bother you that he was floating through space in a tree bubble?!? That he finally floats is what gets you? You, my friend, are a nit-picking idiot.”

    To this day he disagrees that he is wrong and I am right.

  16. “And when someone encounters a Flying Snowman, and tells me about it, I ask them why it’s this particular thing that causes them problems when so many other things of equal ridiculousness fly under their radar.”

    I think this is the most interesting bit and should be taken at face value. What is it about *that particular thing* that made the suspension of disbelief fail? I wonder if this example has something to do with the fact that first you have the snowman doing things that the boy can do, but then it does something that the boy *can’t* do. That takes it to a new level, and the audience has to be sufficiently engaged to take that extra step.

    I doubt the extra level of disbelief suspension is in play for the LoTR lava example, though. It’s not a thing that most people notice — I think it’s just an example of random geekery. I’m sure there are hundreds of examples out there of people having a bit of fun by taking a random bit of the story and showing why it wouldn’t work unless you ret-con it. This particular bit just got a little more attention.

  17. Again, I think it comes down to how each individual has subconsciously categorized things, and whether the author has sufficiently signaled in the setup stages that the rules for category X vary in his world. Naturally individuals will have different categories. Although, there’s also the fact that other than dramatic presentation, I see no reason for the viscosity of lava to be any different in LotR than in real life. I always took the “can only be destroyed by the fires that created it” thing to be an aspect of the magical nature of the ring, not a property of the fires.

  18. So you are willing to accept an unseen powerful Force, planet destroying battle stations and talking Muppets but not sounds in space? Really?

    Yeah, really. Because there’s no reason in the worldbuilding for us to accept that ships do something in the movies that is different than how they behave realistically. So I can be cool with the lava issue because, as Scalzi says, Mount Doom, duh, it’s not regular lava. There’s something in the premises I’ve already been asked to accept that makes this deviation OK. Nothing about the Force explains why ships make noise in space, though.

    The only thing more annoying than a fan going “That wouldn’t work that way in REAL life!” is a fan trying to paper over sloppy writing or careless filmmaking by saying “Yeah, but you accepted X, so you’re not allowed to notice anything wrong with this.”

    (Out here we refer to the Flying Snowman problem under the name “Dumbo the Power Glider,” in honor of a friend who had it pointed out to him that, having accepted Dumbo the Flying Elephant, it was a little odd to complaint that Dumbo was technically a glider and thus could not possibly go into a power dive.)

  19. On the one hand, I am a firm believer in the concept that any fantasy has to have a level of internal consistency. The metaphysics have to make sense – you can’t just say ‘this happens because it is magic’ because magic has to have rules and limits and some form of logic to it. Therefore, in many situations like this I will question any abberation on that basis – can you say this is the same magic as caused all the other stuff? If not, why is it happening?

    On the other hand, and in this particular case especially, there is an argument for style and directorial finesse in a film. The lava is that way not because it is actually this way in the reality of the Middle Earth that Jackson is portraying. In that it is perfectly normal lava and Gollum dies in it the same way as any normal punk would when dunked in molten rock. The reason we see that strange effect has nothing to do with the lava but everything to do with Jacksons interpretation of what Gollum is experiencing at that point. It’s that long drawn out few seconds that seem like an eternity before you die thing when the brain slows everything down and makes you hyper aware of your surroundings to give you a better chance to find a solution.

    In other words, it’s a perceptual thing not a reality thing…

  20. My own feeling is that this is just one of many minor flaws in the movie (I did really like all 3, honest!), due to Peter Jackson not following the book closely enough. If he had, we wouldn’t have seen Gollum land in the lava at all – because for Tolkein, that wasn’t important and he didn’t describe it, just Gollum falling over the edge. Gollum was the chance element that intervened after Frodo succumbed to the power of the Ring (which was desperate to avoid its fate).

  21. Unless somewhere in the story it was made clear that this particular lava had the same qualities as the “lava” on a theoretical world such as Earth, I’m not sure it’s good policy to be overly concerned about it exhibiting those qualities. It certainly is an interesting point and makes for discussion where there might otherwise be none, but it rings false in the realm of ‘valid criticism.’

    Or, maybe Gollum was made up of incredibly dense matter.

  22. I love to read about suspension of disbelief. I apply a theory to my own work. That is everyone will read your story differently. Some details stand out while others are ignored. I believe it’s more about what the reader has experienced in their life. For example I would expect someone who has studied lava or works in a technical field would have a harder time accepting something like this. In short as a writer I try to decide my target audience and try to determine what will be too much without a good explanation. I also understand that like most things in life not everyone will accept my take on things. This is an interesting conversation. I agree that people should examine the reason a certain event became a flying snowman. Perhaps they may see your point and realize that it would be very silly to criticize a story just because they had some inside info. Come on people just be happy that you caught it. Let the rest of us enjoy our ignorant bliss.

  23. If we’re talking lava… you know, the LotR lava never bothered me. The Star Wars lava, now that bothered me a lot.

  24. Daniel:

    “I see no reason for the viscosity of lava to be any different in LotR than in real life.”

    Even when it’s noted several times during the course of the series that The Fires of Mount Doom are the only place where the One Ring may be destroyed? Does that not signal that one’s expectations for the lava may be misplaced? If so, it does suggest that the unusual nature of the lava there is not a big but a feature.

    This is why I note that one has to consider the work in totality. In the totality of the series, I would argue this lava behaving differently should not be cause for suspension of disbelief because we already know there’s something different about The Fires of Mount Doom.

  25. @Warren Terra, your link is country-locked content. I think I found a much better one though:

    I don’t buy the non-lethal snowdrift myself, that’s where my disbelief suspension failed. The rest I was fine with.

  26. That reminds me of my favorite joke about X2: “Female fighter pilots?!? God… this movie is sooo fake!”

    Seriously though, I can understand this (but I don’t really agree or particualrly care) because–despite the fact that it’s a horrible movie–the whole Fire Planet sequence in Chronicles of Riddick s my Flying Snowman. It just goes so far beyond anything remotely resembling realistic, that… well, I’m not sure… I guess it made a crappy movie, so incrediblly crappy that it’s always in my mind, ready to bug the hell out of me at a moment’s notice.

  27. Boy, you step out of here to go googling and wikipeding for a few minutes of the nature of The Fires of Doom, and you miss a LOT! And now I’m knee-deep in open tabs from TV Tropes, so I withdraw from the field of battle.

    :)

  28. @Scalzi 6:18: As I noted, I took the specific requirements for the destruction of the ring to be an aspect of the power and magical nature of the ring not the fires that forged it. Admittedly that’s my own personal and arbitrary interpretation. I’m just trying to explain my personal thoughts on the matter, not argue that one way of reading the text is the “correct” way and all others are wrong.

    I do think in the matter of fantastical storytelling what we connect with is the familiar and the human, so it’s generally to be assumed that most things are as they are in the familiar world, rather than arbitrary. And I as an individual didn’t pick up any signal early in the series that said to me the nature of Mount Doom’s lava is altered from reality.

  29. Reminds me of some X-Men story I read when I was a kid, where one character blurts out something like “I can’t believe this!” towards something or other, maybe an alien spaceship. Another character sort of stops, looks over, dramatic pause, and then says something along the lines of “You can fly, that guy shoots lasers from his eyes, she reads minds, and the other guy is from the future… and THIS is the part you have a hard time believing?!?!”

    I always find it weird, the places where people will have their personal suspension of disbelief break down. I watched a video review of the Captain America movie, and the reviewers were complaining about the bad guys having sci-fi technology during WWII. My wife and I noticed it, but I’ve decided that the Marvel Universe operates under completely different laws of physics and different biology and chemistry. If you buy Norse god-aliens and radiation giving you superpowers rather than tumors, fancy tanks shouldn’t totally throw you out of the moment.

  30. I don’t have a problem with Gollum slowly melting in lava, not because of the whole “lava shouldn’t work like that” debate, type, thingie though. I’m fine with the lava being regular lava, but it doesn’t work because Gollum is super-saturated, to the point of magical preservation, in “one-ring” magic. The ring was obviously working some sort of “resist deathifying” magic on him that didn’t really let go until Mt Doom over-powered the ring itself.

    Now Sam and Frodo floating on the rock and the non-flammable rescue-eagles, that’s another story.

  31. John Scalzi:

    With respect to the fantasy gestalt, having lava behave like mud when someone falls into it,unlike the flying snowman, just seems kind of an odd thing to make fantastic. It would be like having as an element of fantasy that water freezes at 30 degrees fahrenheit instead of 32, with no other consequences.

    Also, there is the issue of authorial intent. I doubt Jackson or WETA thought about it much, and like the author of the Wired article, figured that one would sink into lava like it were mud.

  32. You know what else is my Flying Snowman… maybe not quite a Flying a Snow, but whatever, it bugs the hell out me.

    It’s the fact that in High Fidelity, they switch the conversation from: “I haven’t seen Reservoir Dogs yet” in the book to “I haven’t seen Evil Dead 2 yet” for the movie, and then go on, not changing the rest of the conversation that was all about Reservoir Dogs, so it doesn’t make any sense. And the only bits they do add to have the characters make some allusion to Evil Dead 2… are actually moments from Army of Darkness!

    Drives. Me. Nuts.

    Just FYI

  33. One suspension of disbelief killer I can recall from relatively recent reading: In a sort-of mystery novel, the f’d-up protagonist’s parents were famous poets. Seriously? Famous poets? In the US? If that’s not an oxymoron I don’t know what is.

  34. Ben:

    “With respect to the fantasy gestalt, having lava behave like mud when someone falls into it, unlike the flying snowman, just seems kind of an odd thing to make fantastic.”

    Why? Especially when it’s been emphasized over and over that The Fires of Mount Doom are sufficiently unusual that The One Ring would be forged there? One could easily argue it’s not that odd, in the context of the overall work.

    If you want to dip into the waters of Authorial Intent, you’d have to show that Tolkien believed that the lava was not in fact magically special in some way — there’s enough evidence to argue against that. Likewise, it may be that the WETA folks wished to signify the special nature of TFoMD in some way (or, alternately, possibly when it was pointed out to Jackson, et al that lava doesn’t act that way, they said, “But OUR LAVA IS DIFFERENT.”)

  35. Regarding your Flying Snowman conundrum:

    It sounds like your children’s book established that the snowman “came to life” meaning that it acted like a real person – walking, talking, and eating, all normal things that people do. But then at the end, the snowman flies. People cannot fly, and it was not established earlier that this snowman was superhuman, merely that it “came to life.” Therefore, the issue with the Flying Snowman is a fantasy element that violates its own rules and thus becomes “unrealistic” within its own fantasy paradigm.

    Discuss.

  36. Joe:

    Yeah, no. I don’t see a flying snowman as less fantastic as frozen water spontaneously gaining both life and intelligence, nor are the physics of a flying snowman less fantastic than the physics of a snowman eating hot soup without significant and disastrous entropic consequences.

    Indeed, I can make a snowman fly here in the real world. All I need is a catapult. Turning one alive, or having one eat soup without injury? Somewhat more difficult.

  37. Wait, a gold ring floated, but a CHON-based, water-solvent, oxygen-breathing biped sank? Whoa, dude, that is some magical lava.
    I never read the series all the way through and I only watched the first movie. I just couldn’t stomach Tolkein. I think xkcd should investigate this ficton. Or maybe ‘Mythbusters’. (There aren’t any cannons in the LotR canon are there? ‘Cause MB is a little squemish about those right now.)
    Regards,
    Jack Tingle

  38. I still say the lava of mount doom is regular lava, it behaves exactly like normal lava would when it meets a body that has been preserved by ancient magicks bound in a ring of power. If it hadn’t been Mt Doom then Gollum may have suffered horrible pain, but ultimately survived, because it was the existence of the ring that was the fantastic element. The lava heat and density is a red herring here.

  39. Man, I should have read the MeFi thread first, because you actually brought up my point – that the book doesn’t make this “mistake”. But I do agree with you that, in the context of the entire film trilogy, expecting the lava of Mount Doom to behave exactly as we know lava behaves on our non-fantasy planet is the real absurdity.

  40. “The Fires of Mount Doom are sufficiently unusual that The One Ring would be forged there?”

    Or… The Fires of Mount Doom are unusual BECAUSE The One Ring was forged there?

    BTW, I am always reluctant to try using html tags when the comment box instructions give no indication as to whether or not they’ll be accepted. Test

  41. But I do agree with you that, in the context of the entire film trilogy, expecting the lava of Mount Doom to behave exactly as we know lava behaves on our non-fantasy planet is the real absurdity.

    Perhaps, but what’s the payoff to altering the physical principles here? You can certainly earn your Marvel or Tolkein No-Prize by coming up with a rationalization for why this is Extra Special Lava but when we have an expectation for something they should be a point to challenging our disbelief by violating it. The animated snowman is necessary for the story. While we don’t expect a snowman to be able to encounter hot soup without melting we do expect people-types to do so, and being animated brings the snowman closer to being human than being snow.

    Flying seems to add a new component of fantastical above and beyond. I don’t know that I think it’s a magic power too far, but I can see the case being made that being animated is more likely to imply resistance to heat than it is to imply ability to fly.

    I similarly don’t see how being able to destroy the One Ring implies altered viscosity. The fact that it came from there meaning that it can be destroyed there seems to make some sort of intuitive sense; certainly I can see it as a metaphoric point. That doesn’t seem to me to be the case with viscosity.

  42. This brings to mind a comment by John Badheim right after Blue Thunder came out. The interviewer asked a question about plausibility and Badheim replied to the effect that a guy sees the movie, comes home, opens the fridge, takes out a carton of milk, pours a glass, starts to drink it and says “Wait a minute…” He said his job as director was to get the guy as deep as possible into the glass of milk before the question was asked.

  43. Bruce E. Durocher II:

    Indeed, I often described my Creative Consultant gig at Stargate: Universe in much the same terms — if we got you through all sixty minutes before you said “wait a minute –” then we won, and my job was to help them do it.

    Don:

    “Flying seems to add a new component of fantastical above and beyond.”

    More fantastical than coming to life? Agreed that coming to life is necessary to the story, but the level of fantasy required to achieve that already pretty damn high. I’m not entirely convinced that flying is a substantially higher level of fantasy.

  44. The thing, and there is always a thing, with the suspension of disbelief is that we are generally willing to accept what was intended to be fantastic, but when something is incongruous seemingly unintentionally or carelessly then we (I anyway) tend to object. There was never a given reason to believe that lava would behave differently in Tolkien’s Middle Earth than on our earth so, for those who gave it thought, the inaccurately applied lava effects ruined the fantasy. Accepting walking trees, triple-extra-large spiders, automatically untying ropes, etc., posed no difficulty because their existence in the story was sufficiently established. Sometimes these things are established through convention in the genre and don’t even need explanation. For instance, it is probably acceptable for any new fantasy novel to have elves and dwarves in it with next to no explanation (thanks largely to Tolkien having established them as intrinsic to the genre.)

    I suppose the establishment of some fantastical idea without sufficient explanation as to why it goes beyond the conventions of the genre could have the same effect for some people. Flying snowmen, for instance.

  45. Everyone is kicked out of suspension of disbelief at different points. Just because where I have trouble isn’t where you have trouble, doesn’t mean that I’m foolish for being kicked out.

    My mother was a computer engineer–started when they still worked with vacuum tubes–and loved (and continues to love) SF and SF movies. However any movie where a computer is portrayed as a metal cabinet with blinking lights drives her completely up the wall. It takes her out of the story. It never did me, but I never worked intimately with computers. That she was taken the story wasn’t wrong, just a fact about what triggers her disbelief and what doesn’t.

    Same with the lava. I know bupkis about lava. Someone sinks in it, well I roll with the idiocy. I don’t get thrown out of the story. A ship makes noise in space, however, and I get pissed off–I learned about that at my mother’s knee! It throws me out of the story every time. But if the story is good, I get over it, and continue to watch.

    The snowman? I bought that it could fly. I didn’t believe it could eat soup. (It’s not my favorite story.) Krissy wasn’t wrong however, just her trigger is different from mine.

  46. Jason Doege:

    “Accepting walking trees, triple-extra-large spiders, automatically untying ropes, etc., posed no difficulty because their existence in the story was sufficiently established.”

    And the exceptional nature of The Fires of Mount Doom was not? If they’re the only place the One Ring could be destroyed, then there’s something about them that sets them apart from all other depositories of lava on Middle Earth. Tolkien does in fact establish that Mount Doom has a magical component to it, so again my point of taking the story in totality when confronted with a Flying Snowman is important. This magical nature is less fully explained in the film, but is not difficult to infer given how it is discussed in the film.

  47. Mike Ford, in “Casting Fortune,” makes a comment that is very germane here.

    In “Casting Fortune,” theatrical special effects are done by sorcerers. The stage thaumaturges most celebrated by the general public are the ones who conjure up staggering spectacles: dragons, warlocks hurling spells at each other, worlds colliding, that sort of thing. BUT: the stage thaumaturges who are most respected by one another are the ones who conjure mundane spells, like candles flickering, edible food, sails filled with ocean wind, that sort of thing.

    Why?

    Because people generally have very little experience with dragons, warlocks, and world colliding; they don’t know what such things are “supposed” to look like since such things do not, properly speaking, exist.

    But most people do know what candlelight looks like, what food should look like and taste like, and what an ocean breeze feels and smells like.

    Therefore, it is harder to pull off a convincing fake of the latter than the former.

    IOW: The viscous and bouyant quality of lava is a known thing in the mundane world; it is therefore easy to spot when a film-maker gets the characteristics of lava wrong.

    Talking trees? Eyes of Sauron? Rings of magic? None of these are real; nobody has any direct experience with them; their essential characteristics are whatever the thaumaturge – excuse me: writer and director – say they are.

  48. I had not encountered the snowman picture book prior to reading this blog entry — but I can definitely tell you that the “snowman eating hot soup” would have kicked me out of the story.

    See, I know that what really happens to snowmen that eat hot soup is that they turn into little boys. And I’ve seen the Campbell’s soup commercial that proves it….

  49. I cannot recall the exact details, but I seem to recall a discussion on one of the many commentaries associated with the Extended Edition of this movie where this scene was discussed by directors/writers/special effects people (I cannot recall by who) who mentioned about some aspects of the lava here as being non-realistic do to magical impact of the ring.

  50. CaseyL:

    “Talking trees? Eyes of Sauron? Rings of magic? None of these are real…”

    However, spiders are, and the one in LoTR isn’t possible under realistic physics. If one is able to accept that physics in LoTR don’t apply to the spider, why not the lava?

    Bear in mind, by the way, that having a Flying Snowman moment doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you — if you’re thrown out of a story, you’re thrown out of a story. That is what it is. What I’m asking is whether what’s throwing you out of the story is because of your own personal biases about what is “realistic,” or whether it’s actually poor worldbuilding on the part of the creators of the work you’re engaged in.

  51. My problem with the lava was more that two hobbits could run out of the volcano as it erupted.

    But with any fantasy world, I have no problem with giving certain fantasy elements a pass, while complaining about others. If we have a world where the water is wet, fire is hot, and eagles can talk, that’s fine. If, halfway through the story, the fire is wet, then that will matter to me. I don’t care that eagles can talk – it’s been made clear to me in the rules of that world that there is avian communication – but I will care if in the rules of that world as established, fire gave no indication of being wet.

    The slow-sinking lava is something done for dramatic effect. I shrugged it off, along with the somehow fire-resistent hobbits, but I did consider it a tiny smudge on a great movie.

  52. My take on it is that someone hitting water at terminal velocity goes splat, then the water moves. So making the fluid both more dense and hotter is going to bring the splat closer to “hit hot rock” and further from “hit water”. But you know, in the movie I would have gone along with “lava reaches up and grabs muppet” or anything else, because what counted was that it was malevolent, not that it was lava. And there was so much “not real lava” going on that any geologist who was going to trip would have done so long before then. It was magical lava and it had a bad attitude.

    Now, about that underground house with nothing holding the roof up…

  53. It was not specifically addressed that the lava in Mt. Doom was any other way than magically different. It was certainly less than clear that the lava should be less viscous and less dense. Moreover there was no fantastical reason I can see for it to be so (other than to provide a certain dramatic effect.) I can see how this might be a problem for some. It wasn’t for me, as it turns out, and I buy that, your argument could be a sufficient explanation.

    Two of my favorite cringe-fests were Waterworld wherein the entire premise is just so very very wrong and The Day After Tomorrow where the thermal transfer properties of thin air become that of liquid helium. The problem for me with both of those stories is they start with a scientific premise and then totally blow the science.

  54. I don’t know much of anything about Lava, so I didn’t notice, but I can’t say the deviation makes any sense. Ents are giant talking trees because that’s inherent in what an Ent is; all of the non-realism in Ents comes straight from their nature. Same with Shelob, etc. Changing viscosity does not follow in any coherent fashion from the Fires of Mount Doom being the place the One Ring was forged. It’s like Gollum turning into a plant when he hits the lava. Sure, it’s “Magic” lava, but there’s nothing connecting the magic to viscosity (or plants), or the magic we’ve established in the world to changing viscosity.

  55. I don’t remember any mention in the film that this stuff was lava.

    Tolkein based Middleearth on Midgard from the Germanic traditions. Below Midgard was Muspelheim, the realm of fire.

    That would be why the “lava” in the film did not look like lava or behave like lava. Luckily, as it is really tricky to make realistic looking lava, no matter the budget. The Fires of the realm of Surtr, the fire jötun king leave room for interpretation and creativity.

    The other main problem? All sufficiently advanced civilisations have found that the planet-evolved brain finds it difficult to interpret relative movement in the tricky environment of space using only vision. The Whooshifier is such a ubiquitous device in bridge monitors that even a Klingon doesn’t feel the need to mention its presence. That would be like mentioning that your doors have hinges. Except, of course, if your doors have an auto-open slidey widget, always fitted with a Whooshifier to let you know it is functioning as expected.

  56. “What I’m asking is whether what’s throwing you out of the story is because of your own personal biases about what is “realistic,” or whether it’s actually poor worldbuilding on the part of the creators of the work you’re engaged in.”

    There you have it. As a film-maker, unless a story specifically calls for you to do something that is a) different than orthodox biases or b) different than what is “scientifically” defensible, then there is a good chance you will pull someone out of your story telling. I think, since the story calls for a giant, physics-defying spider, then there it is. There will, no doubt, be some for whom that wrecks the story but a viewer knows they are supposed to overlook it (much like the flying snowman.) I don’t think a viewer knows they are supposed to overlook the physical characteristics of The Fires of Mount Doom.

  57. Strech:

    “Ents are giant talking trees because that’s inherent in what an Ent is; all of the non-realism in Ents comes straight from their nature. Same with Shelob, etc.”

    I’m afraid I’m not following this explanation at all, actually. Shelob being a giant spider doesn’t come from what’s inherent in being a spider, otherwise she could neither breathe nor move.

    Jason Doege:

    “I don’t think a viewer knows they are supposed to overlook the physical characteristics of The Fires of Mount Doom.”

    Leaving aside that the audience of the films knows that FoMD is an exceptional place in the LoTR universe because they are told that fact numerous times and indeed the entire series is about getting the ring there, I rather strongly suspect most viewers weren’t thrown out of the film by Gollum sinking into lava, since I suspect most people have no idea that lava acts differently than hot, sludgy water. Conversely, I do suspect that those who do know about lava’s real-world qualities are also aware that the LoTR films are otherwise jam-packed with incidents of specious physics. So again we’re back to the question of why one would give the other examples of dodgy physics a pass, but get caught up on lava.

  58. Scalzi:

    You point out that Shelob-sized spiders are impossible with our laws of physics. I can’t disprove that, but one wonders what partial pressure of oxygen would let such large arachnids exist – Earth hosted larger insects in the distant past, when there was more oxygen in the air.

    Tolkien never spelt out the composition of Arda’s atmosphere.

  59. CrypticMirror:

    Why are you so confident it’s regular lava if it’s the only lava in the entire world that can destroy the ring? If that was the case, why not just throw it into some lava in a less-guarded area?

  60. I hope you don’t mind my throwing in my two cents’ worth, since what I’m about to say is related, but not about scifi/fantasy.

    I was a ten year old living in Chicago at the time of both the John Wayne Gacy killings, and the Tylenol poisonings. From the time I entered college (although it wasn’t my major, alas–another story for another time), I began to seriously study criminology and forensics, for fun, in my downtime. Never lost the habit, and I’ve been out of college fifteen years.

    So anyway…I tend to look at the various CSI/Law & Order shows as “fairy tales for grownups”. There’s so much they get wrong about how a crime lab is actually set up, how investigations are conducted, how a trial is conducted, how police/CSIs/lawyers etc behave, that at this point I just have to swallow my suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy those kinds of shows. As long as the story itself is entertaining, I can suspend my disbelief in the prodecural reality pretty well. But if the story is boring, poorly written (more so than usual, that is), poorly acted, whatever–then I find myself shouting at the television “No! No! That’s just wrong!” I’ve heard much the same from people I know who are actually in the law enforcement field–they try to watch CSI or another fictional crime program, and they’re so disgusted with the procedural wrongness that they can’t bring themselves to finish watching the show.

  61. Perhaps the reason that lava pulls them out of the story is that it is wrong in the same way that all movie lava is wrong. It isn’t the special magic lava of Mt. Doom, its Hollywood screwing up lava again. It didn’t throw me out of the story, but it’s a thought.

  62. The viscous and bouyant quality of lava is a known thing in the mundane world; it is therefore easy to spot when a film-maker gets the characteristics of lava wrong.

    I call shenanigans on this. How many people in this thread have actually seen something sink into lava?

  63. I had a “flying snowman” moment while watching Prince Caspian in the theatre when it came out.

    Magic works? OK.
    Talking animals? OK.
    Inter-universal travel? OK.
    Aslan = Jesus allegory? OK.
    Telmarine soldiers walking in step across a bridge? NOT OK!

    I was quickly able to rationalize away the problem though. The universe of Narnia is very different from ours . . . .

  64. I remember just thinking that I’d have filmed that sequence completely differently; I’d have made it fast enough that the audience, along with Frodo, wouldn’t have been able to process it until it was over. Gollum leaps in out of freaking nowhere, bites off Frodo’s finger and grabs the Ring in a few seconds of total confusion, starts dancing and laughing on the edge for about two seconds and then… oops.

    Jackson had already had several whirling-camera fight scenes like that in the trilogy, though, and I guess he decided that as the most crucial moment of the entire multi-film story, this one had to be taken in slo-mo with swelling music. And maybe he thought the slapstick-comedy element would seem undignified. And maybe he wanted to make it as different as possible from Rankin-Bass’s version of the same scene. Still, the tone bothered me, since the scene in the book is so startlingly abrupt, and it’s a remarkable moment.

  65. Matt McIrvin:

    I don’t know if I would have drawn it out as much as Jackson, but what you’re saying sounds suspiciously close to the “Michael Bay” style of action. He’s in love with the whole “make it so fast the audience can’t process it at the time” style.

  66. @Logan
    “Why are you so confident it’s regular lava if it’s the only lava in the entire world that can destroy the ring? If that was the case, why not just throw it into some lava in a less-guarded area?”

    Magic. No, seriously. The magic of the ring to be specific. This was the place the ring was created, the place it was linked to. The lava was the same as ordinary lava in any volcano, except this is the one that the ring knew it was forged in, its birthplace. It was also the fires that could consume, because it was part of the ring. That’s what it all comes down to. It’s not the lava that is special, it is that the One Ring is special, and it reacts in a special way to the things connected to it. Even poor Gollum, a creature kept alive long after his allotted mortal time simply by to the power of the ring. To me that is why he sank gently into the fires, because he wasn’t being burnt or anything like that, he was being consumed much in the same way the power, then the physical form, of the One Ring was, because the Ring was all that was keeping him alive.

    Also, and admittedly I don’t have the books to hand, it was implied that sufficient heat from other sources could destroy the Ring, but none were available (all the Dragons powerful enough were dead, etc and stuff like that). Without checking the various maps I’m not even sure there were any other volcanoes within reach, or at least none that wouldn’t have been just as risky. Gandalf was just covering his bases when he said it had to be Mt Doom (nearest Volcano, and also forge of the Ring). Plus the quest to do so handily united Middle-Earth and healed its nations divisions, which was another item on Gandalf the emissary of the Ainur’s checklist. Something which was perhaps even more important than destroying the ring itself. In guiding Frodo et al to Mt Doom Gandalf was playing more than one game.

  67. @silbey:I have a picture of a piece of chewing gum bursting into flames on the surface of red-hot lava, if that is in anyway germane to this discussion, so that is at least one, I suppose.

    @John: I accept your argument, about the specialness of the Fires of Mt. Doom as a possible explanation, though I don’t necessarily agree. Regardless, it was not so troublesome as to suspend my disbelief. I don’t buy your premise, though. Some things in movies seem to be purposeful portions of the story that we are supposed to accept and other things seem to be “poor worldbuilding,” as you put it. They will lie on a spectrum from definitely acceptable to heinously, nauseatingly wrong. Not everyone will agree precisely where on the spectrum they should lie, and even when they agree, not everyone will be troubled by the same things. But, as you travel towards the nauseating, more and more people will agree and more and more people will be troubled. At some point, enough people agree that it stops being simple personal bias. At this point, the film-maker (story-teller) has probably failed to sufficiently justify or illustrate their world.

    I mean, Peter Jackson *could* have had Pierce Brosnan drive up to the hobbits in a Humvee (a’la Dante’s Peak) and rescue them at the end of the movie and called it artistic license, but I think that would have been too much to accept. Would that have troubled you or would you have an argument for why it was OK? I mean, he changed other parts of the story for the purpose of making the film work (for his definition of “work”,) right?

    And now I vomit as I consider my silly strawman. Sorry for that. Maybe not enough people object to the sinking into lava thing for it to be bad world building. Frankly, I think that if we asked Mr. Jackson he would tell us that it was a cool special effect and nothing to do with the specialness of Mt. Doom, at all; that he didn’t really know or care to illustrate what actually happens when a being falls into lava.

  68. Do we really want to try to pry open the “authorial intent” casket? Because I do not remember that Tolkien ever demanded that the Ring be put into lava. Did Tolkien ever use the word “lava”? The Ring had to be “cast into the fires”. As we see in the movie, the “fires of Mt Doom” are really thick (and therefore magical). Who is to demand that thick (magical) fire should behave the same way that lava behaves?

  69. In my opinion the talking spiders, et al and the poorly realistic lava are 2 entirely different things. The former are intentional fantasy plot elements the later is poorly executed CGI.

  70. We definitely shouldn’t open the authorial intent box in this case, if for no other reason than Tolkien himself was never a fan of it. His intent to was generally to tell a story and let the reader find what they may within it.

  71. Thanks for your reasoning, CrypticMirror. It’s been a few years since I’ve pulled out the books, should do that again. I still find it an odd thing for people to get hung up on, though.

  72. I have a picture of a piece of chewing gum bursting into flames on the surface of red-hot lava, if that is in anyway germane to this discussion, so that is at least one, I suppose

    For the values of chewing gum that are similar to human beings, sure. Otherwise, not so much.

    The lava was the same as ordinary lava in any volcano, except this is the one that the ring knew it was forged in, its birthplace. It was also the fires that could consume, because it was part of the ring

    And you know this how? People are working much harder than John Scalzi to come up with elaborate backstories as to why it must be ordinary lava.

    I can’t disprove that, but one wonders what partial pressure of oxygen would let such large arachnids exist

    Wait, now the air pressure in Middle Earth is less? Well, gee, how about if we just stick with magic lava?

  73. “And you know this how? People are working much harder than John Scalzi to come up with elaborate backstories as to why it must be ordinary lava.”

    Well said, Silbey. Lots of speculation to prove points in this thread.

  74. I think this is the best description of this phenomenon I’ve ever seen. It’s also worth noting that everyone’s threshold is different. It leads to some truly fascinating – and often very heated – geek arguments about things that never happened on planets that never existed in stories that somebody made up. Which is kind of awesome, really.

  75. Does Flying Snowmen also include really stupid things that work out okay but there’s no way to No-Prize them?

    I’m getting annoyed by the otherwise highly enjoyable show Once Upon A Time for doing dumb things. People trapped in a collapsed mine, you’re not sure where they are, and digging is just making the place unstable. Solution? Explosives! That ranks right up there with hitting amnesiacs on the head to jog their memory.

    The general rule of fantasy is that it follows real-world physics/chem/bio unless we’re told otherwise, and then it must be internally consistent. The snowman book sounds like a Wonderland scenario, where the author throws all kinds of crazy stuff at you and you’re supposed to just accept it. No rules apply, suspend your inner critic and just go with it.

    In a world as carefully crafted as Middle Earth, there might naturally be lower thresholds of disbelief than “anything goes”; that these thresholds vary according to the knowledge of the reader/viewer makes perfect sense.

  76. Interesting thread! I have no problem with Gollum sinking slowly into the lava/fires, but I do have one question: what actually happens when someone in ‘real world’ falls into/on lava? Because I really don’t know, and this lack of a comparator is a slight difficulty.

  77. Why don’t lava lamps have actual lava in them? I think this is a far more important issue, and one richly deserving of over-analysis.

  78. I’m afraid I’m not following this explanation at all, actually. Shelob being a giant spider doesn’t come from what’s inherent in being a spider, otherwise she could neither breathe nor move.

    She’s an ancient evil that feeds off the life of others; the size follows naturally both from the ancient (Tolkein’s entire world spends much of it’s time tapping on the idea of a forgotten, greater past) and the feeding (growing huge, fat and bloated). Sure, Shelob’s a spider, but it’s being an ancient, greedy monstrosity that feeds on others that is core to her role in the story; being a spider servers this purpose rather than the other way around.

    All of the examples you give (Sauron and the ring, Ents, Shelob, the corrupted creation of the Urak-Hai) spring from the basic accepted premise (Tolkein writing a myth) and serve their role in that myth. Suspending disbelief seems largely a matter of accepting a book’s premise. Lava viscosity has nothing to do with any of this, so it’s out of place.

  79. Well, who said that it was lava in the first place? Wizards look like human beings, but they are not. Ents look like trees, but they are not. Shelob looks like a spider, but she is not. So, why does something that looks like lava have to be lava? It could just as easily be flaming water or liquid fire or something else entirely.

  80. “Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science-fiction.”
    “You live on a spaceship, dear.”
    “So? “

  81. stretch:

    How does it have nothing to do with this? It was listed anywhere whether the lava (fire, whatever it is) is magical or not. An argument that there is something magical about it is a legitimate as the argument that it is regular lava.

  82. In the Snowman story. There is a world building aspect of “came to life one day”. In a children’s story sense this could be reasonably read in a “like a human” way since all of the outward appearance aspects of the snowman gained human like qualities. The Snowman then proceeded to engage in quite a list of human activities, building a snow fort, sliding down a hill, walking and running. Eating soup adds to list of “things people do”. The reasonable expectation of the world building is that the snowman can now engage in all of the thing a bipedal human creature can.

    If the story went on to a snowman watching TV or showed his breath crystalizing in the air, the expectation can be fulfilled in “he came to life”. Yes it is magical but it is internally consistent to the world building set out. In the Venn diagram of magic, the snowman acquired the characteristics of human life. As the reader I can very easily see how a reader could consider the flying snowman a violation of the world building set forward.

    Another reader might not agree, but I can see how the suspension of disbelief might be lost at this point. That the snowman violates physics is actually immaterial to the magic. Is it a magic of “came to life one day”, or just the magic of the snowman can do what ever it wants. For me, Fantasy without any world building limitations is boring, there is then no real continuity because at that point anything could happen without any good reason besides the author just says, “and now this happens…It’s Magic” (throw Jazz hands here).

    I don’t think that one has to justify every fictional acceptance they make to have a valid argument on a different point. It could be that the reader did not find it wrong because they knew nothing about how lava really works so they did not notice, or that they found the other inconsistencies minor enough to not effect the general plot or character development like a sports penalty well away from the action. Or it just looked cool enough that they did not care (rule of cool trope).

    The Fires of Mount Doom are not Flying Snowmen for me, I am willing to accept that they don’t violate the Magical nature put forward for them. The Flying snowman though don’t come close to having that consistency, and although frozen, just ain’t cool enough.

  83. How does it have nothing to do with this? It was listed anywhere whether the lava (fire, whatever it is) is magical or not. An argument that there is something magical about it is a legitimate as the argument that it is regular lava.

    I mean that the Lava viscosity has nothing to do with where Tolkein’s premise breaks from realism (writing myth), or with the purpose of the Fires of Doom in the story. So you can suspend disbelief at Tolkein’s premise and then still wtf at the lava.

  84. Reposted from my blog, but appropriate:

    Like many of you, I’m something of a stickler for accuracy when it comes to Sci-Fi. I enjoy pointing out the odd foible as I exit the theater, and I confess to many an eye-roll while reading some poorly researched foray into the average Quantum Adventure Novel.

    But I recently had an epiphany, and I wanted to share it with you. You’re welcome, please send money.

    For our purposes here today, I’m going to assign each of you sophisticated, jaded readers two brains. One Modern Brain, which is full of coffee and code, and one Monkey Brain who’s job it is to keep you from getting eaten. Don’t underestimate the Monkey Brain, as its job is also to get you laid. At that point, the Modern Brain can kiss my ass. But I digress.

    I want you to recall, many misty moons ago, when you saw Star Wars for the first time. Remember in the very beginning, after the giant slab of InfoDump serenely moved off into the distance, how that Big Ass(tm) Star Destroyer passed overhead, rumbling like an avalanche? Do you remember the dopplered whine of the Tie Fighters zipping past the camera during the later space battles? I do, and I remember two things that happened to me at the same time.

    My Modern Brain leaned over to my companion and sneered, “Sound can’t propagate in a vacuum, what were they thinking?” But at the same time my Monkey Brain was screaming, “JESUS H CHRIST! THAT THING IS FUCKING HUGE! WHY ARE WE STILL HERE? GET UP OR WE MAY WET OURSELVES!” and “DUCK! DUCK! DUCK!”.

    Monkey Brains love spaceship rumbles. They don’t know about vacuums, but they know a crapload about judging the size and speed of something from the sound it makes. (The exception to this is the Cheetah, which sounds like a small kitten and is quite capable of producing monkey chiclets anyway.) And the best part is that they share this information with you whether you want them to or not. Without this bit of input, my Modern Brain, having no scaling information in the frame, would have no way to tell how huge the ship was. That majestic moment would have been lost on me completely.

    Of course I was too busy sneering at the time to thank the Monkey Brain.

    I went along like this for years, until the night that I was rescued by The Little Mermaid.

    Some friends and relatives were all gathered together for the holidays. Someone’s children had gotten a copy of Disney’s The Little Mermaid for Christmas. There’s a large musical number in the beginning that features Sebastian the Crab singing and dancing like crazy. After his performance he stalks off to do his master’s bidding, and someone, we’ll call him Sparky, bellows out the following information:

    Crabs don’t walk like that!

    Silence. Heads turn. Eyes roll. Now, strictly speaking, while this is true, they don’t SING AND DANCE either. And I opened my mouth and said, “You’re missing the point!”

    And as those words left my largest head orifice, I realized that I had been missing the point, and harpooning exactly this kind of thing for decades.

    Alas, I suck.

    The next time you find yourself about to pick that nit, just take a deep breath and let your Monkey Brain thrill to the rumble of huge spaceships as they tow that 50 zillion tons of gravel across a tin roof, or whatever the fuck it is they do that makes that noise.

    From here: http://michael-langlois.net/2008/07/28/monkey-brains-love-spaceship-rumbles/

    Your brain, and one very talented little crab, will thank you for it.

  85. While I accept your argument, John, and find it quite logical, I do also accept that people have their breaking point when it comes to specific films. When watching Forrest Gump, mine was the running across the country thing. I could accept all the unlikely things Forrest got up to before that, when he started running back and forth across the country, my reaction was, “No. Just no,” and after that I was not able to regain my suspension of disbelief for the film.

    More in the genre of science fiction/fantasy, I was fine with the idea of cloning dinosaurs, but when the line about Disneyland opening in 1956 came up, that was a breaking point for me. In fact, I may or may not have broken in-theater protocol and shouted at the screen, “It was 1955, stupid.” Not my proudest moment (it was the first day of the film’s release, and the theater was full), but jeeze, can we get our facts straight?

    At least I’m not as bad about that as my roommate, who is a history teacher. She won’t watch most historical dramas because they aren’t historically accurate, and my argument, “Well, it’s Hollywood. What do you expect?” has no effect on her.

  86. Oh, you magnificent nerd bastards, all of you…

    OK, first off, you have to consider whose suspension of disbelief is being broken. Because, like silbey, I’m here to tell you that the vast majority of the audience really doesn’t know how lava or volcanoes work. I like to mess with my chem students during lessons on phase change and talk about how lava “freezes” into rocks hot enough to light you on fire. To those people (i.e. most people), if Gollum smacks into the lava and floats away, or he and Frodo burst into flames from superheated air currents as they fall over the ledge, or all three of them collapse and die from heat exhaustion 100ft from the entrance to the cavern, that will do far more damage to suspension of disbelief. Either due to misapprehension of geophysics, or due to irrevocable breakage of the plot.

    Look, if you are versed in the geophysics of lava and volcanoes, then you should have realized that “realism” had been tossed out of the window as soon as two shoeless Little People, wearing wool trousers and smocks, along with a mostly naked frog-man, are able to walk into a perfectly horizontal side vent of an active volcano, and stand at a ledge overlooking the main vent. At that point you have to realize that were dealing with very, very lay values of “lava” and “volcano”. It’ll work like this: the mountain itself is a hollow cone, with a lake of boiling liquid lava at the base. It’s unpleasantly hot inside, about what you’d expect in a sauna cranked up a couple notches too high right after the steam has been replenished. The lava itself has about the consistency of wet mud, and is perfectly safe, as long as you don’t actually touch it. It does nothing to rocks, but wood submerged into it will ignite after a moment or two. Metal objects or body parts submerged in it will melt off, just like if you plunged them into acid. A person dropped into it, however, will sink.

    I’ve seen arguments that the filmmakers had a choice to make the lava so unrealistic. Well, yes and no. I mean, they didn’t have a choice about the superheated air, did they? Sam, Frodo, and Gollum have to get inside that volcano, physics be damned. At that point, the volcano works however the hell they need it to to make their movie. If you need a reason, consider this imagery:

    SLOW MOTION: GOLLUM falls into the CRACK OF DOOM…* He hugs the ONE RING to himself, a look of JOY and BLISS on his face. A moment later, he plunges into the CHURNING LAVA! GOLLUM’S expression changes to SHOCK as he begins to sink. Still, he extends his hand upward, the ONE RING in his palm, using his LAST ACT to protect the RING. But it’s no use… GOLLUM disappears into the LAVA. The ONE RING settles on the surface of the MOLTEN LIQUID, and beings to MELT!

    * everything after this point I made up. The script on imsdb.com simply state that Gollum is “INSTANTLY engulfed in the CHURNING LAVA!”

  87. “.. So again we’re back to the question of why one would give the other examples of dodgy physics a pass, but get caught up on lava.”

    I took some time to consider this question and have decided it is similar to the uncanny valley problem. The closer something is to our own reality the more we expect it to look and act like our own reality. Very slight departures from reality become more significant and disturbing than the large departures. This means we can accept Orcs and Ents because they are a VERY long way away from our reality. Lava, however, is real. We’ve all seen it, if not in person, on TV or in films in middle school science classes. When we see lava in a movie our brains connect it to reality first rather than to the magical concept intended.

    So Why doesn’t everyone have a problem with the lava? Two possibilities. 1. Our general science education in this country sucks! 2. Some people recognize the issue but are so used to seeing issues in that environment that they are able to shrug it off without dwelling on it.

    As for the snowman.. We’ve had magical creatures in our various mythologies that can fly when physics says they shouldn’t for thousands of years. To most people, the physics of flight are magic anyway. On the other hand.. EVERYONE knows that ice and snow melt when they warm up.

  88. I had a Flying Snowman moment with that Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo movie set in San Francisco. I could believe Reese’s “ghost” was talking to Mark Ruffalo but NOT that Mark Ruffalo could park his ginormous landscaping truck easily in front of Dolores Park. Yes, ghosts. No, easy parking in San Francisco.

  89. Laura:
    I think your number 1 is unfair to science teachers such as myself. The density and viscosity of lava is a fairly esoteric and arcane bit of trivia. It’s a difficult thing to build a lasting learning experience from. Obviously, you can let the kids play with it. You can try video, but frankly there isn’t a lot of video out the of people tossing stuff into molten lava to see what floats (mostly, you have long distance film of the stuff flowing by like a river of mud, lighting stuff on fire). You can model it with dish soap, but its a poor model at best. Besides that, you remember what you use, and you use what’s useful. In that context, all I can expect them to remember is my advice that, if you ever get the opportunity to drive out to watch the lave flow from an erupting volcano, DON’T. My hope would be that, if they stopped to think about it afterwards, my students would realize that the whole scene made very little physical sense.

  90. I think about lava rarely enough that I just didn’t notice. If I were more well versed in lava dynamics, my response wouldn’t be “ooh, look the Lava of Mt. Doom must be special”. It would be, “ooh, look, another Hollywood screw-up. Yes, I suppose that the magical lava of Mt. Doom could be less dense than regular lava, but that reminds me of the various retcon explanations of making the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. Ultimately it’s just not that critical to the enjoyment of the film.

    If I were running a D&D campaign and foreshadowed a snowman come to life, and then during the game it turned out it could also fly, I suspect I would elicit a smart comment or two. If it turned out that it was a malevolent snowman and the party had to do battle with it, and a bowl of hot soup was in reach, the players in my gaming group would expect to be able to use the soup as an improvised weapon against it, If for no other reason than because in the animated TV special, “Frosty the Snowman” it’s established that too much warmth melts talking snowmen.

  91. Edward B. put it better than I ever could:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/12/11/the-flying-snowman/#comment-289558

    I’m willing to let the lava slide (ha?) but the Flying Snowman … um, no. The concept of “Well, you accepted one crazy thing happening, so you should accept EVERY crazy thing happening, otherwise you’re not being consistent!” seems a bit too simple.

    In other words, with regard to Mr. Flying Snowman, the answer to the question generated by

    “ask whether in the context of the work, this specific thing is inconsistent with the worldbuilding.”

    is clearly: Of course it’s inconsistent!

    I’ll add that the above “ask…” question is exceedingly well put, and allows one to accept some fantastical things while non-hypocritically thinking that other (perhaps less) fantastical things are ridiculous and annoying. I would venture that to most, worldbuilding isn’t about simply setting a level of laws-of-physics-breaking, and anything above that level is bad, and anything below that level is acceptable. That’d be kind of scary, frankly.

    Imagine: The book Watership Down has thinking, cooperating rabbits that can talk to one another. One rabbit has precognitive abilities. I would argue that these are both less fantastical than rabbits that can fly. Thus, if the ending of said book had a fight between Bigwig and General Woundwort, except they were flying at each other like Snoopy and The Red Baron instead of fighting in a burrow, we’d be wrong to be judgmental?

    –TGB

    PS The soup thing would have bothered me too ;).

  92. Shortly after we both became lawyers, a law school friend and I found ourselves watching Miracle on 34th Street. At one point in that movie, there is a discussion between one of the lawyers and the judge, without the other lawyer being present. My friend threw up his hands in disgust and said “Oh, that’s ridiculous. This is why I can’t watch movies with courtroom scenes.” I asked what was bugging him. “That was totally an ex parte discussion. Automatic mistrial.”

    I pointed out that we were watching a movie in which a judge was ruling on whether or not Santa Clause actually existed. And that the United States Post Office stepped in as a pro-Santa witness.

    What I took from that exchange, and what I take from many of the comments above, is that different people have different subjective limits on how thick of a fantasy overlay they can stand. Consistency and a coherent fantasy world is good, yes, but it can be awfully hard to articulate why a particular point in that world becomes the bridge too far.

  93. I think the lava does what it does because it makes for an awesome moment, namely seeing Gollum’s expression as he continues to reach for the ring while sinking under. The scene could have had Gollum floating on top of the lava and burning/blackening to death before our eyes, sure. But sometimes you make the cinematic choice.

    I think another key distinction is whether the plot plays out the same if you correct the physics. Gollum’s still dead no matter how the lava behaves. That snowman isn’t flying, it’s falling with style!

  94. If you just have your snowman drinking frozen margaritas this whole problem goes away. A couple o’ good ones and I’m flying…

  95. Bruce E. Durocher II at 7:18 pm: Badheim replied to the effect that a guy sees the movie, comes home, opens the fridge, takes out a carton of milk, pours a glass, starts to drink it and says “Wait a minute…” He said his job as director was to get the guy as deep as possible into the glass of milk before the question was asked.

    I’ve read lots of criticism of the Peter Jackson trilogy, from the time Return of the King came out to the present day, including the Elven Archers at Helm’s Deep, the changed attitude of Faramir towards the Ring, etc., but this is the first time I’ve heard people nerdgassing about the nature of lava. Eight years after the movie was released. Maybe people were nerdgassing about this before, and I just missed it. But still, that’s a damn big glass of milk. If I were a film director, I would be very happy indeed if people were still arguing such points nearly a decade later.

    For me, a far greater mistake came at the beginning of The Two Towers, where Gandalf (and the Balrog) are falling into the abyss, and Gandalf falls at a rate that allows him to catch up with his sword, and then the Balrog). I always that Galileo settled the idea that all bodies, large or small, fall at the same rate. And there is nothing in the world-building to suggest that gravity works any different in Middle Earth than on our own Earth. (I should note that that scene only briefly took me “out of the story.” I noticed it, yes, chalked it up to “PJ thought it would look cooler this way,” and then moved on to the rest of the film, which I largely enjoyed, Elven Archers and a changed Faramir aside.)

  96. That’s funny, I don’t remember Tolkien going into depth on the lava. Now the movie, that’s seperate from the book and is more dependant on the special effects crew who created the lava effect.

    So perhaps we can just stop acting like Tolkien is responsible for the viscosity of the lava and limit his credit to all the actual fantasy elements.

  97. All of these arguments seem to make the assumption that Gollum is a normal carbon-based lifeform, physically similar to a human or hobbit. Given that he’s been kept alive for centuries by the ring, which was forged in this very lava, is it not plausible that Gollum himself has a different composition that would allow him to interact differently with the lava? (Not that everyone else’s points aren’t great.)

  98. Might I recommend reading Tolkien’s thoughts on the matter of suspension of disbelief and fantasy in his essay “On Fairy-Stories”. I read it in “Tree and Leaf”. Too long since I read it but no nerd could possibly comment further on this topic without having gone to the source, surely?

  99. The term “Insufficiently viscous lava” seems to have been unquestionably accepted in this thread. However, it actually makes no sense. The LESS viscous the liquid, the more rapidly something will sink into it.
    I know, we geologists are sooooo pedantic. (I have learned to live with it.)

  100. Look, I’m a military historian. If I can suspend my disbelief about the variety of military inaccuracies shown in the movie, could the geologist nerds please hold off on the lava?

  101. The one for me was the last Indiana Jones film with the lead shot from the shot gun cartridge that was magnetic!! Four films of silliness and one really, really, dumb plot point.

  102. I think there are just some people that MUST find something to complain about. I like being wrapped up in being entertained. No need for me to look for “glitches. Sometimes they jump out but I don’t let it spoil my fun:) Just have fun folks!

  103. I do vaguely recall Scalzi tweeting about LOTR and how he found it odd that he accepted the idea of a gigantic spider, but took exception to the notion of said gigantic spider having a *stinger*. So you do seem to have had the experience of suspension of disbelief dissolving in a fantastic world for mundane reasons.

    Indiana Jones, Search for a Sequel, takes place in a magical world with ancient alien technology buried in the jungle. the Arc of the Covenant allows the hand of god to reach through and melt Nazis. Men can perform voodoo and pull out your still beating heart. And yet, when Indy is saved from a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead lined refrigerator that tumbles through the air like a die being rolled down a mountain, that rather mundane event broke the suspension of disbelief for so many viewers that “nuking the fridge” has become the replacement for “jumping the shark”.

    I see no difference between people mocking the “nuking the fridge” scene and people mocking the low density lava. Both are mundane things that occur in a magical world. And those events caused the suspension of disbelief to collapse. Arguing with the audience about it is missing the point. It’s the writers job to get buy in from the audience, get them to suspend disbelief, and maintain that suspension through the story.

    The audience paid money to have their disbelief suspended, and they’re reporting where it failed.

    And in this kind of scenario, I’m a firm believer in the motto that the customer is always right.

    Arguing with the audience about it makes me think of the stories I always hear about someone ordering a steak well-done in Texas and the chef considers it an insult to serve a steak any way but rare so sends the steak to the paying customer as a charred brick. Not an exact metaphor, but for me it does capture the sense of telling the customer that their reason for disliking something is invalid.

  104. Isn’t this the point where some smartarse says to JS: So you accept warp drive, matter transportation, time travel through black holes, retrocausality, rookies being given command of a starship but it’s red matter that throws you out of the story? ;)

  105. Lava, eh. I thought the whole scene was way overdone, but was more worried about Frodo and Sam on their rock than Gollum melting into the lava.

    What I want to know is, what happened to the horses? The army of the West rode off to Mordor for the big battle. Aragorn, Gandalf and co rode up to the Black Gate. But in the battle scene, everyone’s on foot. So what happened to the horses?

  106. @hugh57:

    For me, a far greater mistake came at the beginning of The Two Towers, where Gandalf (and the Balrog) are falling into the abyss, and Gandalf falls at a rate that allows him to catch up with his sword, and then the Balrog). I always that Galileo settled the idea that all bodies, large or small, fall at the same rate. And there is nothing in the world-building to suggest that gravity works any different in Middle Earth than on our own Earth.

    This, at least is simple.

    Gravity works the same as expected, but Gandalf is magic (Olorin the Maia, dontchaknow), and used said magic to fall faster.

    It’s amazing how many of these “descrepancies” can be explained by “A wizard did it”.

  107. @Michael: YMMV. Some of our monkey brains think it’s way cooler to see giant ships cruising around in total silence. Whoa, space!

    I’m a bit bothered by the proposal that one’s choices are to either STFU and accept the entire movie as one giant gob of silly fun, or to be a smug, obnoxious, fun-hating nerdgasser.

  108. I like the ‘flying snowman’ argument, and it may now be one I’m likely to use in the future. Because I’ve had a few friends that have watched films where they’ve accepted many fantastic things, but then they feel one event ‘crosses the line.’ But I think, that sometimes it is just an example of a person not willing to use a little imagination to explain away the problem.

    A man made of snow who can enjoy hot liquid without it melting his stomach is clearly a very magical being, and magical beings have a tendency to be able to do things like fly.

    In a world of giant spiders and mud monsters, you can assume it is also really magical — actually, watching the film you can’t deny that very fact. So, if in this world life can come from mud, then clearly the mud is different then what I have in my backyard. So, then by that same logic, why can’t the lava also be magical and different than what is in my backyard. It really isn’t a stretch at all to believe this, actually.

    Wait. Lava is in my backyard? Run!

  109. This makes me think of the Stephen Colbert interview of Neil deGrasse Tyson in which he (Tyson) mentions complaining to James Cameron about the appearance of the stars. I do not have the exact quote in front of me but it boils down to something along the lines of how we know what the sky configuration was for the exact day, and not using the proper sky configuration in post was lazy and off-putting to those who knew what it should be. He’s not bothered by fancy fake magic-science, but the stars in Titanic threw him off.

    As I work in the technology industry, I do get a giggle about computer interfaces and such in modern television and cinema, while my wife sees nothing wrong with it. With technology playing a larger part in entertainment, it is popping up more and more, and I get thrown off quite often. It often causes me to miss the actual content of the scene as my brain in trying to rewrite the logistics of it. I’ve learned to no longer make comments about it, as it annoys the wife.

    Was I distracted by the lava scene? No. I am not at all a geologist, nor have I ever seen lava up close. It did not distract me when I watched it, thus I was able to process the actual (story) content of the scene. I suppose that is possibly what the post-production team and Peter were counting on, that the vast majority of watchers would be neither geologists, nor people who often think about lava. Or, maybe they are just as unfamiliar with it as I am. Maybe they just wanted the message to be what was conveyed by the characters and not what was behind them. *shrug*

    But seriously, TV/movie computer interfaces are ridiculous, right?

  110. My top 3 Flying snowman moments from the LotR films:

    1) Legolas shield-surfing in Helms Deep
    2) Aragorn guiding a giant stone staircase into crumbling in the right direction by having Frodo lean.
    3) Gimli using his axe to demonstrate his knowledge of the existence of an Orc’s “nervous system” (from the Two Towers extended cut).

  111. I hope I’m not derailing, but it’s the holidays, and I’m having to deal with my 3.5 year old’s questions about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and one that comes up again and again is, “Why does that snowman have an umbrella?”

    I’ve fallen back on the fact that rain is really, really bad for snowmen, so they always carry an umbrella, even if they’re at the North Pole where it very rarely rains.

  112. ” And when someone encounters a Flying Snowman,and tells me about it,I ask them why it’s this particular thing that causes them problems when so many other things of equal ridiculousness fly under their radar.”

    As much as I enjoy answering loaded questions, I have been stumped to come up with an answer that would be ‘invalid’. I mean if the person answered ‘because it did’, isnt that valid?

    creating stories is sort of like being a stage magician. everybody knows the scantily clad assistant didnt actually disappear from the cage and be replaced by a tiger.

    but you’ve got to do it well enough that people dont notice the mirrors, the hidden compartments, and so on. I happened to see a magician perform recently, and all the things that should be secret were clearly visible. it sucked. just because it said ‘ magic show’ doesnt mean he gets a free pass.

    if a story has a snowman come to life, its up to the author to hide the mirrors and make sure the wires arent noticable. if someone is reading a story, no matter how fantastical, and they suddenly stop suspending disbelief, whos fault is that other than the author as magician?

  113. I get annoyed at movies playing fast and loose with physics/geology/chemistry/etc. without a stated “this is magic” disclaimer because, damn it, these flawed movies are influencing my model of how the universe works. Because of them (and flawed books, comics, and so on), I struggle against certain unreasonable conventions. For example, I recently read Permanence by Karl Schroeder, and I had an incredibly difficult time visualizing the scenes in space that he was describing because every sci-fi show or movie I’ve watched shows all the objects in space as being perfectly and eternally lit, no matter how far they are from a source of light. I know intellectually that space is actually really dark, but I couldn’t see it in my mind’s eye. And no matter how much easier it is to film and watch a SF scene in space where all the characters can see objects on space with their naked eyes, I still can’t forgive them for sticking me with these inescapably flawed models.

  114. Greg. Your typing on the phone does not excuse you from capitalizing. This has been noted to you before. I didn’t finish reading your comment because it was formatted too poorly to bother.

  115. [Deleted due to aggravating formatting issues noted above. Greg, you can repost when you get to some place where you have the ability to capitalize and otherwise format your post in a matter that indicates that you understand that other people's ability to read what you have to say here is of equal importance to your need to say things -- JS]

  116. Reframe: Two years ago, a dear friend made me a Schadenfreude Pie for my birthday. I was talking about it with some friends later, and one person mistook the corn syrup in the recipe for high fructose corn syrup, which is apparently, Satan incarnate and made syrupy. The discussion shifted to the differences between CS and HFCS. After a few back-and-forths, I reminded folks, “So to be sure, ya’ll are debating the nutritional value OF PIE.”

    I’m with you, John. I’m against floating snowmen but generally in favor of Gollum’s cinematically appropriate demise.

  117. I have no problem with the vicosity/density of the lava. It was done for dramatic effect in the film, as has been pointed out by others. In the book Gollum fell over the edge, supposedly into the fires of Mr. Doom – Tolkien doesn’t say if it was lava or flames or some combination. The whole Mt. Doom scene in the film was sufficiently unbelievable from a scientifc standpoint that, to me at least, it seems silly to nitpick about the characteristics of the lava. The scene on film was fantastical (not meant to be real life in our world), and I took it as such. However, I agree with our host that if one accepts all that went before and after, but gets knocked out of the story by that one point about the lava – well I just don’t get it.
    Years ago I read a review of Star Trek IV, where they go back in time to bring whales to the future and save the Earth. The reviewer had a big issue with the concept of time travel and said that it didn’t make any sense for the Enterprise to travel back in time. I always thought that was a strange thing to nitpick about. The reviewer was able to accept faster-than-light travel and communication, and able to accept the transporter(!!), and much other dubious science, but couldn’t accept time travel. I felt like telling him that it was fiction, not reality.

  118. I get what you’re saying here.

    There’s a scene in Iain Banks’ most recent SF novel where the villain drops a gold coin into mercury and the gleaming gold disk bobs up again after a few seconds. Which is unfortunately unlikely because gold is (a) denser than mercury and (b) reacts with it to make dull grey gold/mercury amalgam – this happened to me once when I was wearing a gold watch in a lab. So after that scene I spent the rest of the book expecting to discover that the whole scene was set in a virtual world (which would have fit into the plot of the book quite well) or that the coin was actually a Culture droid protected by force fields, and was eventually going to take out the villain.

    But it didn’t happen, and when I asked him it turned out that Banks simply got it wrong. I enjoyed the book anyway, but those unfulfilled expectations were definitely a Snowman incident.

  119. Forgot to add in my previous comment that up to the mercury pool incident I had no trouble with belief in the story which included FTL, virtual worlds, AIs etc., but as soon as it hit something I knew from personal experience the whole thing came close to derailing for me.

  120. I recently watched Toy Story 1 for the first time, and I had no problems with the concept of toys being alive and all that, but then the physics was ridiculous in places. Sometimes they were like, I’m just a small toy so I’m trapped and can’t do blah-de-blah, but then other times they were doing some crazy thing totally impossible for their weight and size ratio.

  121. (SPOILERS AHOY) My pet peeve is with the ending of the film THE FURY (haven’t read the book)…not the part, ironically enough, where a character apparently suddenly *loses* the power of flight, but the part where his soul transfers at the point of his death into another character’s body. Is this a quibble, when the film has already established that characters possess powers of telepathy, telekinesis and levitation? Yes, exactly that, because nothing in the story up to that point has laid the groundwork for believing that they *also* have detachable souls that are capable of hopping from host to host. It’s been a story about people with extraordinary mental powers, not one about spiritualism.

  122. Suspension of disbelief is a private thing and everybody has different standards for when something becomes too wrong to believe.

    But you’re confusing two things.

    The original objection is one where somebody who has experience with a particular detail of the real world sees it used wrong in a piece of fiction for no apparant reason and gets thrown out of the story by it. Sound in space is a well known example, something that’s not needed but used in almost every sf show or movie because movie makers think that’s what we expect.

    The “Flying Snowman” objection is where you just can’t bring yourself to believe in — or just disagree with — a particular aspect of a fictional world; vampires that spark in sun light being one for me, the Force being a product of midichlorians (sic) being another.

    The latter objection you can’t do much about as a writer, other than writer more good. The former you can.

  123. I think that what happens is that when someone reads a book or comic or sees a movie or tv show, he or she builds a model of reality in his or her mind. This model of the fictional reality brings to bear everything that the person knows about the subject, including (say) the viscosity of lava. So giant spiders and talking trees get a pass because they’re included in the model, but for some people, the clue about “the One Ring was forged in the lava of Mt. Doom, so it’s special lava” doesn’t get incorporated into their model. Snowmen drinking hot soup get a pass because the model says something like, “he’s like a living man,” and not, “he’s a magical being.” If it’s the former–the flying is unacceptable. If it’s the latter, the flying is fine.

    Given that they bring whatever they know about the subject to bear, you can’t really tell as the author what will be a Flying Snowman moment: there’s a lot to know, and someone will know the right things to create a different model than the one the author had in mind. All the author can do is provide hints (because heavy-handed exposition is Verboten), and hope.

    Now, the fact that Hollywood always gets lava wrong, or that all hawks in movies sound like red-tailed hawks, well, some people have incorporated that into their models and some haven’t. (Hell, some people think that what Hollywood says is true, because they don’t have experience with those things: this has kept Mythbusters in business for several seasons.)

  124. What I want to know is, what happened to the horses? The army of the West rode off to Mordor for the big battle. Aragorn, Gandalf and co rode up to the Black Gate. But in the battle scene, everyone’s on foot. So what happened to the horses?

    Horse-holders. No, really. The ground at the Black Gate wasn’t suitable for cavalry, so the Western commanders decided they would fight as infantry – like the French foot knights at Agincourt. Off screen, there are a lot of bored-looking Rohirrim and men of Gondor, each holding three or four sets of reins.

  125. For some people, the thing that makes them stop reading is flying snowmen. For others, it is a lack of capital letters.

    I think both are valid. In fact, I remember someone not liking LOTR because it had elves in it. As far as I can tell, everytime someone says they don’t like this or they don’t like that, the important bit is they are reporting what doesn’t work *for them*. Trying to turn it into some objective form of truth or falseness strikes me as … weird. It is like someone from Texas trying to ‘prove’ that the only way steak is good is if it is rare. Well, no, it is how you like it, but I know someone who gags at bloody beef.

    I also didn’t see anything in the “lava” explanation that said “don’t see LOTR because the lava sucks”. I read it along the same lines as people cracking jokes about how the Deathstar is not OSHA approved. No railings near the death ray, etc. Or the lack of toilets on Star Trek. Or *stingers* on spiders in ROTK. I saw a comic somewhere making fun of vampire movies where the guy tells the vampire that moonlight is simply sunlight reflected off the moon and the vampire bursts into flames.

    Jay and Silent Bob spend entire scenes taking apart some piece from Star Wars. And yet I am pretty sure it is one of their favorite movies.

  126. I did scan the above, and don’t think I saw this explained in quite this way, but forgive me if I’m late to the party.

    I was not taken out of the movie by the lava in that scene. For one, because I didn’t take into consideration the way lava ought to behave, but also because the physics behind how Gollum dies is not relevant to the story. Ents, and giant spiders, and disembodied evil and all the rest are important to the story, and inherent to the telling of the tale. The physical reaction of a humanoid body hitting anything, be it TFoMD or regular old lava, wasn’t.

    That said, I agree with everyone who said that shield surfing elves and, for me, Gimli as almost exclusively comic relief, were far more Flying Snowmen than Gollum’s death scene ever could be.

  127. I had two Flying Snowman moments in another Peter Jackson film, King Kong. My first was when dinosaurs fight each other and King Kong for something like eighteen thousand hours for the privilege of eating Naomi Watts. It was completely ridiculous that these dinosaurs would be so focused on eating one random tasty morsel (how much of a meal could someone the size of Watts make for a T-rex?) that they would fight essentially to the death to get her. This bothered me much more than the presence of dinosaurs, which of course is much more improbable. My second one was when Naomi Watts spends hours outside in below-freezing temperatures in a thin sleeveless dress and never once shows any discomfort. The fact that most of this time outside is spent in the company of a 25′ gorilla didn’t bother me at all.

    I guess I want to know where the limits are. Once you’ve entered a fantasy movie, does that mean anything goes? Would I be obliged to accept King Kong taking flight, just because he’s already impossible? What if he could breathe fire, or turned out to be made of gold, or was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ? I realize that a Flying Snowman moment is going to be very individual, because each person’s own knowledge base is going to play into it (the behavior of the lava in LotR never once troubled me in the slightest because I know zip about lava) but I think writers/directors should think long and hard any time they deviate from a) reality or b) the well-established premises of the work, because that deviation is going to bother at least some of the readers/viewers, and the more of those there are, the less coherent the work will seem.

  128. Writers are anagolous to stage magicians. People don’t watch a stage magician because they really believe the magician can make a scantily clad assistant disappear from the cage and be replaced by a tiger. They watch a stage magician because they want to be entertained by the notion that such a thing is possible. And the success of a stage magician lies in making sure the mirrors and secret compartments and other such things are sufficiently hidden from the audience.

    I watched a lousy stage magician this year. The mirrors wobbled so their presence was obvious. the ‘secret’ compartments were obvious. The slight of hand that tried to palm the nail under the cup was slow and obvious.

    He failed to maintain the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Just because it said ‘magic show’ doesn’t give him a free pass from doing his job.

    Authors have a similar job. I don’t believe in sentient toys or dragons or elves or vampires. But if you can tell me a story about them well enough that the wires aren’t visible, then I will watch your show. If you throw too much at me and I stop believing then you didn’t do your job.

    If the disappearing tiger trick makes me stop suspension of disbelief, having the magician say to me “you believed the tiger appeared in the cage but not the disappearing part?” seems to miss the point of which one of us wasn’t doing our job versus wwhich one of us was paying to have the job done.

  129. The lava does in fact bother me, and this is why: my understanding is that Mount Doom is capable of destroying the Ring not because Mount Doom is inherently magical, but because Mount Doom is where the Ring was forged. It’s a causal link between an object and its place of creation; this is how magic works here, as a kind of narrative connection, not as alternate physics.

    So presumably the lava qua lava works the same as usual, on anything that didn’t happen to be forged there. I guess you could suppose that Gollum’s long exposure to the ring gave him also a special link to Mount Doom; but surely that would make him more susceptible to the fire, like the ring itself, and not less.

    But really, my actual problem with Gollum’s slowly-vanishing hand is this: It’s cheesy. If you’re going to violate the laws of both physics and magic, and also shake my suspension of disbelief, you should have a better reason than that.

  130. Marcus Rowland’s comment about the mistake being seen as a clue to cause the reader to expect the gold coin to have unrevealed property reminds me of the TV show “Penn & Teller Tell a Lie”. In this show, the viewer is asked to watch several stories and spot the one that is fake. To make it more interesting, the producers plant ‘clues’ in the fake story to help you spot it.

    Unfortunately, there have been episodes where I spotted “clues” in stories that were not the fake. In one episode one of the clues in the fake story is the use of a measurement reported in dimensionally inconsistent units. So later when they do another story, and there is Penn, nattering on and on in units that are dimensionally inconsistent, I decide that that this is a “clue” and change my vote to the story with the bogus units, even though I thought that the claim they were testing was fairly reasonable. It turned out that another story was the fake and it appears that the “clue” was a mistake. Or maybe the meta-story here is that Penn & Teller will later reveal that we shouldn’t believe that all of the stories but one in each episode is real just because they say so.

  131. my understanding is that Mount Doom is capable of destroying the Ring not because Mount Doom is inherently magical, but because Mount Doom is where the Ring was forged.

    But where is the evidence that this is the way it works?

  132. Elizabeth: been a while since I saw Kong. I thought Kong had ‘love at first sight’ for the damsel?

    ssellis: I too didn’t think Mount Doom had magic lava, but rather that it was more of the “bloodline” approach to things: the thing that forged it was the only thing that could destroy it. Sauron could have forged the ring from a fire in the shire but that would have made for a very short story. Also very bad security. So Sauron forged the ring in a volcano inside Mordor and made it very hard to get to that volcano.

    Rocks from the planet Krypton have no innate magic effect. But they do effect people from planet Krypton.

  133. I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that if you believe a, b, and c about a story that you have to believe d just because d is no more unreasonable than a, b, and c. A difference in kind can be more unsettling than a difference in magnitude. All kinds of physically impossible things happen in the Indiana Jones film series, but it’s the magnetic gunpowder in the 4th film that annoys me. it might have been different if they were looking for a cannon forged by Vulcan and lost in the desert sands, but it was just gunpowder (or whatever they actually use to fill grenades).

    That said, the flying fridge did unsettle me as well, even though it wasn’t really much different in nature than other impossible stunts in the series. The magnitude was just a bit much. I also felt the same way about a falling stunt in the second film that the Mythbusters have addressed. It wasn’t so qualitatively different from the other stunts, but it was just a bit much.

  134. Greg:
    “Sauron could have forged the ring from a fire in the shire but that would have made for a very short story. Also very bad security.”

    This is straight out of the evil overlord’s list. If he had forged the thing at some random smith’s forge at the end of nowhere, the fellowship would still be wandering around Middle-Earth, throwing the ring into forges.

  135. The stars in Titanic aren’t just not the actual arrangement of stars, it was the perfectly circular constellation in the sky which throws me out every time. If there was such a constellation, it would be Well Known In The Northern Hemisphere. And this from a man who insisted on using the right kind of wood in his staircases so it’d splinter the right way when he destroyed it… (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  136. Greg: My problem isn’t that Kong wants her so much that he’ll fight dinosaurs for her, my problem is that dinosaurs want her so much they’ll fight each other and Kong for her. She’s barely even a mouthful (looking at a clip of the film, it appears that Watts is about the size of one ‘Vastaosaurus Rex’ tooth). Would a crocodile fight two other crocodiles and a gorilla for twenty minutes for a single sardine? Why would they expend so much energy to catch such insignificant prey?

  137. silbey @1:52pm — IIRC it’s in the book of Fellowship of the Ring, in the long introductory exposition Gandalf delivers to Frodo. I can’t remember whether it’s in the movie. Of course the book and the movie are not the same thing, but they’re so closely tied that in the absence of any really contradictory explanation–movie-Gandalf saying the Mount Doom is in fact magical–I think it’s reasonable to go with the book’s explanation.

  138. @Scalzi: Not sure I buy that the lava of Mt. Doom was special lava. Seem at least as possible if not more likely that Oroduin was the only volcano in Middle Earth? That’d explain why no one suggested just dumping the ring into a volcano that was safer to approach. And I seem to remember that Oroduin means something like “Fiery Mountain” which implies that being fiery was a unique quality.

    Find me something in the text (or movie) about how the Oroduin’s fires were ever so light and fluffy, and maybe we can talk…

  139. My take is this: there’s a difference between “different/special” and “different/stupid.” And the line is different for everyone, and specific to what they know.

    One of my favorite examples is Stargate SG-1. OK, I can accept that an ancient device can completely violate time and causality with instantaneous travel. OK, I can overlook that the supposedly-super-smart alien Ancients designed their information space in such a boneheaded way. OK, I can (with some difficulty) overlook the fact that with the systems as described, they would only have been able to go to 38 planets (if you don’t think so, consider the Point Of Origin symbol and the fact that all the DHDs are alike…but let’s not have that discussion again here). It’s annoying, but not story-breaking, that they blaspheme against gods I worship, and at least one goddess of a living religion followed by a billion people worldwide.

    The thing that made ME shout at the television was when Ancient, the language spoken by these people who left Earth 30 thousand years ago, is being discussed, Daniel says “Earth’s Latin is a derivative.” AAAAAAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!! If Earth’s Latin is a derivative, so is every Indo-European language, and possible all the languages of Earth! I’m the only one I know who was jerked out of the story by that bit, and in reality it was just their excuse for using simplified Latin with a few letters changed as their Ancient language.

    As for LOTR, the things that jerked me out of the story were the stupid jokes and film references. Legolas snow-boarding on the orcs made me grit my teeth, and the fucking stupid Dwarf-tossing joke made me want to punch Peter Jackson in the nose. It really took me a few minutes to get back into the movie after those, and after all the stupid Star Wars and Indiana Jones references.

    Mark December 11, 2011 at 6:03 pm: I am guilty of this myself. I don’t quibble that Superman is ridiculously strong, but I winge non-stop when he picks up an aircraft carrier in one hand. I point out he would just tear a small hole in it.

    You might love Niven’s “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex,” which is either the most extended science-quibbling rant ever, or a parody of same…since it’s hilarious, I suspect the latter.

    Daniel December 11, 2011 at 6:11 pm: I always took the “can only be destroyed by the fires that created it” thing to be an aspect of the magical nature of the ring, not a property of the fires.

    Just so. It’s what we called a “place-specific artifact” in my D&D days.

    D.A December 11, 2011 at 6:13 pm It’s that long drawn out few seconds that seem like an eternity before you die thing when the brain slows everything down and makes you hyper aware of your surroundings to give you a better chance to find a solution.

    Well, the filmmakers may have intended that, but in reality it doesn’t happen. Perception at the time is unaffected; what happens is that memory is stored more intensely when the adrenaline is pumping, so that the memory of what happened seems to be in slow motion. Kind of like turning up the speed on an old-fashioned movie camera; the result when the film is developed is slow motion, but nothing actually got slower.

    How this was determined is complex and amazing; there’s a RadioLab episode about it, which is how I heard.

    HAWA Scalzi December 11, 2011 at 7:23 pm: Indeed, I often described my Creative Consultant gig at Stargate: Universe in much the same terms — if we got you through all sixty minutes before you said “wait a minute –” then we won, and my job was to help them do it.

    See, this is the thing. The “wait a minute—” is different for everyone. I personally wouldn’t have been popped out of the story by the flying snowman, and I didn’t notice the problem with the lava, but the things that do bother me are legion.

    Jonathan 12:03 am: Shelob looks like a spider, but she is not.

    Just so. She’s a demon in spider-form, like her mother Ungoliant. In the book she’s “the last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world.”

    Phil 11:17 am: The reviewer was able to accept faster-than-light travel and communication, and able to accept the transporter(!!), and much other dubious science, but couldn’t accept time travel. I felt like telling him that it was fiction, not reality.

    I like to tell them that according to all the physicists I know, FTL travel IS time travel. I don’t fully understand why, of course, but I like making their heads spin.

  140. The physics of the shadow are different than our Earth physics. (viz. Zelazny’s Amber) We haven’t seen other volcanoes in Middle Earth, especially people being thrown into them, so we don’t know if other volcanoes have the same physics; however, is there any reason to assume it’s not just the way volcanoes work there? In that shadow, people are more buoyant in lava (or whatever).

  141. “Jay and Silent Bob spend entire scenes taking apart some piece from Star Wars.”

    No, they don’t. Perhaps you’re thinking of Dante and Randall in “Clerks” or Banky and Holden in “Chasing Amy”, but Jay and Silent Bob do not discuss things with each other (in general).

    It’s more accurate to say that Kevin Smith writes whole scenes in which his characters tear apart Star Wars films, yet it is very likely that they are some of favorite movies (the original trilogy, anyway.)

  142. I’ve always been annoyed by people who are annoyed by “sounds in space” as a criticism of film and television. While sound doesn’t propagate in a vacuum, of course, these people don’t often complain about being able to hear dialogue when the camera is in a long shot (e.g., two people walking down a busy city street). I mean, there’s *no way* you’d be able to make out the conversation from more than ten feet away and here the camera is across the street.

  143. Elizabeth: it was 12 minutes.

    Seriously, if memory serves, the Kong vs. dinosaur scene is almost exactly 12 minutes long. I know this because that’s as far into the movie as I ever got. The scene was so ridiculously long that I checked the time counter on my DVD player. I then ejected the disk, put it back in the box, and set it on the kitchen table to be taken back to Blockbuster. It’s one of the only times a movie bored me so much I refused to watch the rest of it. I’m not proud of that, but there it is.

  144. @A Different Daniel: There’s some (disputed, naturally) evidence that HFCS, unlike table sugar and other nutritive sweeteners, has a particular balance of glucose to fructose that the body’s sugar-processing system doesn’t handle particularly well. (Personally I use maple sugar in pies that call for corn syrup because I just don’t LIKE it.)

    I get irritated with the “once you’ve accepted 1 or 2 fantastic things, you should be willing to change/accept anything and everything else” pretty quickly, because the things that people have a hard time suspending their disbelief about tend to be the things they know the most about. As someone with a master’s degree in history who spent a lot of time studying the history of early science/magic (before they separated) I have a much harder time with fantasy than with science fiction, honestly. Particularly the old canard about “if magic works then electricity and magnetism &c stop working.” That throws me right out of anything, because 1) science and magic used to be the same discipline and b) more importantly, if electricity and magnetism and all no longer work, I want to know how people’s neurons are signalling each other and why all humans have not gone into massive simultaneous cardiac arrest.

  145. There were no other known volcanoes in Middle Earth. So Orodruin was special in being unique. But I never took it to be magical, and I still do not, Jackson or no. That Sauron forged the One Ring there I took as meaning (a) he needed some real hot hot, or at least that made it easier, and (b) Sauron was superduper magical (already known). Occam’s razor says only one superduper magical entity is needed. So, yeah: if I knew anything about lava I probably would have disliked that scene a bit.

    On the other hand, I tend to be very forgiving about allowing anything in fiction that would not utterly violate the world-premise. In this case, it makes no difference whether Gollum bounced, sank, or swam, so long as the Ring itself was destroyed. So if someone points this out I can just ignore it: in the book, anyway, Gollum’s fate was not detailed. What is unforgivable in Jackson’s work is the neutering of the people of Middle Earth, from people down to cardboard cutouts who act as the Plot requires to get our heroes from A to B.

  146. MikeT:: I’m having to deal with my 3.5 year old’s questions about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and one that comes up again and again is, “Why does that snowman have an umbrella?”

    The umbrella actually belongs to Mary Poppins, who lost it in a freak windstorm; Sam is holding onto it for her until either (a) Mary Poppins is able to come up to Christmastown and collect it, or (b) Christmas Eve, when Santa will drop it off with Mary in the course of his usual rounds.

  147. Doc Rocketscience: Thanks, I didn’t know exactly how long the dinosaur attack was. Far too long is all I could be sure of from memory, which honestly was probably why I found myself dwelling on the active malice that those dinosaurs seemed to bear Naomi Watts’ character. Jackson is a good director in a lot of ways, but GOD he likes to draw things out. Maybe that’s part of the problem?

  148. Jackson claimed he didn’t have time to put the Scouring of the Shire in. This, the part that Tolkien said was the whole point of the story.

    He had plenty of time. He just used it for a lot of drawn-out boring-ass battle scenes and really stupid jokes.

  149. This post and thread of comments contain so much of what I love about Whatever!
    Thanks!

    (And the lava at Mt. Doom is definitely not normal, run-of-the-mill lava. It’s a little poetic the way it slowly sucks Gollum down, reabsorbing the ring and melding Gollum with it.)

  150. The difference between magic and giant spiders on one hand and the lava on the other is that the first are deliberate departures from reality and the second is not. If you aren’t willing to accept magic and giant spiders, there isn’t any point in reading or watching fantasy. But there has to be some enough resemblance to reality to make sense or it’s just random surrealism.

    Sure, the lava thing is a minor nitpick, and it’s easy enough to handwave an explanation (say, the Ring was cooling it’s surroundings in an attempt to avoid destruction using the same method that kept it from just being melted down in any forge in Middle Earth.) But it is still a possible distraction.

    Any way, if people are getting into giant comment threads discussing it, most of them are probably doing it because they think that sort of nitpicky discussion is fun, and from that perspective someone who wanders in and says “This is silly, who cares?” comes off as kind of a killjoy.

  151. sselis@2:26 pm in the long introductory exposition Gandalf delivers to Frodo. I

    I took a look at the FOTR and didn’t see any thing like that in Gandalf’s discussion.

  152. But back to Superman.
    Us primitive humans have this really complex plugin for the human body: An
    artificial heart.
    It stands to reason that the Kryptonians*, being a much more advanced
    civilization would have much more complex plugins, such as superpowers.
    Now, Lois getting cut into three pieces by Superman’s arms when he scoops
    her up at speed? Him going right through the airplane instead of holding it up?
    The designers of the superpowers plugin noticed those minor bugs in version
    1.0, and eventually fixed them by having his superpowers selectively extend
    to whatever he is touching.**
    My flying snowman: His superpowers are solar powered, and one second
    of light at the bottom of a deep well fully recharges them? Dude, ain’t that
    much energy in that little flash of light!


    *Kryptonian? For a ‘dead’ race? I prefer Cryptians. No, Cryptites. ;p
    ** In one of the movies Lois and S. where flying, and she was doing fine as
    long as she was touching him. She let go and not so fine. he /had/ told her
    to not let go.

  153. Esther:

    “The difference between magic and giant spiders on one hand and the lava on the other is that the first are deliberate departures from reality and the second is not.”

    The Fires of Mordor, the only place in which the One Ring may be destroyed, are not a deliberate departure from reality?

    Perhaps the issue is not that TFoM are not extensively noted out as being exceptional in nature, but rather that people seem to let that fact continually slide off their consciousness.

  154. Xopher: yeah, ya see one big elephant stepping on a horse, ya got the picture. Enough already! But I always thought the Scouring of the Shire was totally essential, and was disappointed at its deletion from the movie.

    But the Flying Snowman for me was that scene with Frodo and Sam lying on a rock with fire burning all round them, and they’re not frying like eggs on a hot skillet. Bothered me in the book, too.

  155. sibley @4:34 – That’s interesting, I could well be misremembering the explanation. But I have a very strong sense that this is the nature of Mount Doom’s power over the Ring, and I’ve seen other people say so as well.

    I don’t have the books nearby; a Google search shows The Encyclopedia of Arda saying “So powerful was the sorcery used in the making of the Ring that it could not be unmade, except by casting it back into the same fire that had forged it,” but they don’t give an attribution. I feel like it must be made explicit somewhere.

  156. Jon Marcus at 2.33, find me a reference to the fires of Orodruin being dense, molten rock and your vague possibilities might have a little more force. Why should we have to search for facts to disprove your proposition when there is no factual basis except assumptions?

    Xopher at 2.48, the languages of Stargate really annoyed me but in the 100 or 200th episode they hung a lamp on hanging lamps on everything so they could get away with anything. Like inventing the universal USB.

  157. @ssellis I think it’s one of those written everywhere and nowhere things. If you are even slightly familiar with folkloric works then it’s woven through every conversation, so much so that it is never spelled out because it never needed to be. If you aren’t familiar with folkloric works, or not prepared to buy into the conventions, then you aren’t going to see it because it isn’t delivered flat out. Setting aside authorial intent (which is something Tolkien liked to be a bit vague on, believing that the author wrote in partnership with the reader), we can still be more than certain that Tolkien himself was steeped in folklore and mythology, so it’s unlikely he felt the need to spell it out. He’d have instinctively felt the connection.

  158. CrypticMirror @5:08 – That makes sense. The folkloric, linguistic nature of Middle-Earth is so evident to me that it’s hard to come up with alternate, mechanistic explanations for things that happen in the text.

    Scalzi @4:44pm – But even if my memory is wrong about the nature of Mount Doom, aren’t TFoM extranormal in two different, opposing ways–hot enough to destroy magical artifacts, but not hot enough to crisp living beings? This is actually in answer to the question you ask viewers to consider in your post about worldbuilding. Inconsistencies with external reality don’t bother me, but this is internally inconsistent.

    Ultimately, those commenters who are saying that everyone has a different threshold are right. If it grates, it grates, and if not, not. But there’s an explicable reason for the grating in this case.

  159. It cannot be lava-as-we-know-it, because Frodo and Sam sit just a few feet above a stream of lava and carry on a conversation rather than die instantly from the super heated air.

    Also, in Total Recall, it is obvious that it does not take place on Mars as we know it because Arnold doesn’t die in the vacuum at the end.

    Thirdly, wow, 12 minutes for the Kong/TRex fight? I remember it dragging on. I had no idea it was that long. I don’t think you missed much if you missed that movie.

    Oh, and my general pet peeve is any scene where military people are moving around and someone says ‘watch your spacing’. It is almost as predictable as seeing a fruitcart and knowing something will crash into it.

    Lastly, in the realm of nonsuspension of disbelief, in the movie Aliens, when the marines went down to the planet and left the mothership/carrier empty and unmanned: couldn’t an enterprising pirate make a living following these guys around and steal their carriers once the marines go to the surface?

  160. ut I have a very strong sense that this is the nature of Mount Doom’s power over the Ring, and I’ve seen other people say so as well.

    I’ve seen them say it as well, largely in this thread. No one’s come up with any actual evidence,

    we can still be more than certain that Tolkien himself was steeped in folklore and mythology, so it’s unlikely he felt the need to spell it out. He’d have instinctively felt the connection.

    Well, if we’re going to use imaginary evidence, then I’m going to make up a quote by Tolkien:

    “Dude, the lava was totally magical! It was Mount Doom! Did you not get it from the name?”

    so much so that it is never spelled out because it never needed to be

    “Only the Special Sparkly People ™ understand.”

  161. Especially jarring is that Mt. Doom is CLEARLY an andesitic volcano, yet the animated lava flows are modeled after those of the more photogenic mafic volcanos in Hawai’i. For shame!

  162. It was Mount Doom! Did you not get it from the name?”

    Not sure if Tolkien would have used the word “Dude”, but considering the older meaning of “doom” was “fate”, making Mount Doom the Mountain of Fate, then yes, yes I did get that from the name. And so would Tolkien, dude. If you are wanting a completely scientific explanation of that, then you are reading (or viewing) in the wrong genre.

    LotR isn’t High Fantasy, it’s Low Mythology.

  163. If you are wanting a completely scientific explanation of that, then you are reading (or viewing) in the wrong genre.

    I’m in the camp that’s not bothered by the lava.

  164. I am working on a snowman story. A little girl builds a snowman. Then she puts an old silk hat on top of it and the snowman comes to life. They play games together. Then they to downtown and they see an old man getting mugged. The snowman attacks the mugger with laser vision. Then a terrorist shoots a plane out of the sky and the snowman flies up and catches the plane before it crashes. Then aliens attack and the snowman teleports them back to their home planet and wipes their memory so they don’t even know Earth exists. While he is in space fighting aliens, the little girl gets hit by a car and dies. So the snowman flies around the earth really fast and turns back time enough to save the girl before the car hits her.

    Then a wind comes along and knocks the hat off the snowman and he melts. The girl tries building a new snowman but the hat doesn’t bring any of them to life.

    The end

    I believe that it might be possible to write this story so that people enjoy it. Maybe as a comedy. But clearly, there are many ways this could be written that readers would say “oh come ON!” and it would be a valid complaint. I don’t think “you accepted the magic hat, therefore you must accept everything after that” argument holds any water.

  165. HAWA Scalzi 4:44 pm: The Fires of Mordor, the only place in which the One Ring may be destroyed, are not a deliberate departure from reality?

    John, do you utterly reject the argument that it’s not so much that the place itself is magical as that the Ring was made in such a way that it could only be unmade in the place it was formed? That argument has been made several times in this thread, but you keep saying this about the Fires of Orodruin…did you miss that point being made?

    I’m not sure I entirely buy it either. But it does make sense that, if you were making something place-specific in that way, you’d make a place that’s a) difficult to reach, b) defended by your whole army (Orodruin is in the middle of Mordor), and c) bloody dangerous to be in.

    Also, Sauron made the Ring to bind the other rings. He had to do that because he had nothing to do with the forging of the Three, and he used up a lot of his magic to do it. So he had reason to want the Ring to be hard to destroy: that is, it wasn’t just that the Ring was forged in the hottest fires in Middle Earth (though that could also be true).

    And recall that the volcano was a safer place for Sauron than for Elves or Men. He’d lost his fair semblance (human appearance) in the Fall of Númenor, and appeared as a great black demon-thing, so hot to the touch that the Ring displayed its flaming letters just from being on his hand, and was hot enough to seriously burn Isildur when he took it.

    M.A. 4:56 pm: But I always thought the Scouring of the Shire was totally essential, and was disappointed at its deletion from the movie.

    Oh, it’s worse than you think. It wasn’t cut from the movie. It was never filmed at all. Peter Jackson is a bigger jackhole than you dreamed.

    Pat 5:03 pm: the languages of Stargate really annoyed me

    Yeah, like how come everyone they meet in another galaxy speaks perfect English, but they still have trouble communicating with the Czech guy?

    Greg 5:13 pm: Also, in Total Recall, it is obvious that it does not take place on Mars as we know it because Arnold doesn’t die in the vacuum at the end.

    No, it’s not Mars as we know it because it IS a vacuum. Mars has an atmosphere; it’s just too poor in oxygen (and, yes, at too low a pressure) for humans to breathe. And btw humans can survive for a surprising amount of time in an actual vacuum.

  166. Xopher:

    “John, do you utterly reject the argument that it’s not so much that the place itself is magical as that the Ring was made in such a way that it could only be unmade in the place it was formed?”

    In the canon of LoTR, it’s made clear that the volcano in question is infused with magic (see my earlier link to the LoTR wiki on the matter), so textually the argument that Mt. Doom is magical in itself is valid. The film is silent on the specific issue, so if one is only regarding the film, the argument is more ambiguous. If one makes the ground assumption that all conditions are as Tolkien established them unless the filmmakers actively changed them (which, of course, one might not), then, yes, the place is magical. It may also be that the Ring was made in a way that it could only be unmade in one particular place — it’s not an either/or proposition.

  167. Point of order on the security of Mt Doom and the destroyability of the Ring. Those are non-issues as far as Sauron’s thought processes regarding forging it in the first place. Sauron created it where it was handy and convenient to do so, and he was so arrogant he thought it would never be taken from him or lose it. Of course he was wrong in that, wouldn’t be much of a story if he weren’t. However one thing that is spelled out very plainly is that Sauron would not even be able to grasp the possibility that someone would have the Ring and then try to destroy it, that was a complete Outside Context Problem for him. Sure he could grab the idea of someone having the Ring, all that power, and challenging him for dominance of the world (and thus bring the ring back to him along with a tide of new slaves), but to have that power within your grasp and destroy it? Inconceivable.

    Of course, he was actually right on the money with that as well. Frodo was just about to try and claim Mastery of the Ring when Gollum stepped in. If Gollum hadn’t taken a hundred foot backstep into the fires, then Frodo would have been hauled back to Barad-Dur by the Nazghul for an up close and personal mental conflict with Sauron over it.

  168. OK, John, that makes more sense to me now.

    CrypticMirror 5:50 pm: Inconceivable.

    He used that word a lot. I don’t think it meant what he thought it meant.

  169. The flying snowman in the story works for me since it uses simple and ubiquitous dream-physics, just take the correct steps and float away. But I am on board with the concept.

    The lava scene has never been a problem, but that might be related to the effort I need to put in to suppress the ‘it is different in the book’ reflex.

  170. Magic lava is less dense. Everyone knows that.

    If this had been some other mountain in the same universe and it hadn’t been touched by magic of the sort that allows you to craft rings of power then Gollum would have hit it the lava like a steak hitting a warm plate.

  171. to the big guy at 6:08: awesome. just fricken awesome.

    I just recalled some writing advice from way back that may be relevant. When someone gives feedback about your story, the part of the story probably has SOME kind of problem with it. The problem cited by the reader may not be the actual problem. But consider that they are pointing to the location of the actual problem.

    For our flying snowman, this may mean that the stated problem (that said snowman flies) may not be the real problem. But the problem is possibly located in that section of the story.

  172. John,
    It is interesting that Gollum’s sinking into the lava was one of the few parts of LoTR where I lost my willing suspension of disbelief. Gollum should have burst into flame on contact with the lava. A live snowman I can accept. A flying one I find ridiculous. As someone who makes a living from getting people to willingly suspend their disbelief, instead of trying to hammer these incongruities out of existence with logical consistency, you should be asking yourself, “Why does the sale of suspension of disbelief fall down here for at least some of the audience?” Your livelihood depends on knowing the answer.
    My only thought on the matter is that the audience will accept one given, and all that logically derives from that, but if you try to throw more in especially towards the end of a story, they reject it.

  173. Dave Moore at 8.52, why should Gollum be flammable? The Ring changed him drastically. The Ring has some of the nature of the Fires by which it was forged. Perhaps the Ring drove off the organic and left him as magically animated (and dense) mineral.

    Considering the massive success of both the film and book of The Snowman I don’t think Raymond Briggs needs to think about crowd-pleasing. Thank the Muses he didn’t or we would not have had the disgusting “Fungus the Bogeyman” and the terrifyingly banal “When the Wind Blows”. I found the flying Snowman marvellous and delightful. I like surprises. I like my authors to make new stories not bounded by anything but imagination.

  174. pdxseeker at 9.03, if we are looking for definitions let us go to the professionals:

    “In modern use fantasy and phantasy, in spite of their identity in sound and in ultimate etymology, tend to be apprehended as separate words, the predominant sense of the former being ‘caprice, whim, fanciful invention’, while that of the latter is ‘imagination, visionary notion’.”

    Oxford English Dictionary

    http://www.oed.com

    I am surprised to see from the same source that the meaning of Fantasy as a literary genre is first referenced in 1949. Then:

    1955 F. Brown Angels & Spaceships 9 Fantasy deals with things that are not and cannot be. Science fiction deals with things that can be, that some day may be.

  175. Took me a while to remember.
    Superman fans should read book: Sister Alice by Robert Reed.

    And.
    Fight over who gets to eat smaller than a tooth King Kong girl?
    She smells like chocolate and bacon.
    ;p

  176. I wish that this wasn’t so late in coming, but anyway… here is an essay I wrote a while ago. I’ve edited it down to make it applicable to the discussion. Left off works cited, but can provide it if needed.

    “Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. (“Tree and Leaf” 76)

    On Establishing Inner Consistency and Verisimilitude: the Means to Believable Fantasy

    Teachers, writers, and readers like to say that Tolkien set the standard by which all fantasy must be measured. It stands to reason then that when reading part one of The Lord of the Rings a reader will not only notice themes of good and evil, struggles of light over dark, and the empowering bonds of fellowship, a reader might also notice the larger theme that underlies every chapter, every paragraph, and every sentence—that in The Fellowship of the Ring Tolkien has created a believable reality that is predicated on our own. There may not be a more important theme in his writing than the reality of Tolkien’s world. He explores this virtue in his essay “Tree and Leaf.” “The achievement of…‘the inner consistency of reality,’ (that is: which commands or induces Secondary Belief.) is indeed another thing, or aspect, needing another name: Art, the operative link between imagination and the final result, Sub-creation” (68). It is his Art then, The Lord of the Rings, which must represent a conceived alternate reality to our own. If the question is Where is the art? Then the answer must be in the fantastic creation of the real.

    Tolkien’s world has spawned a genre of writers who have endeavored to write stories that take place in their own ‘inner consistencies;’ sometimes these stories succeed, and we applaud their imaginative departures from Tolkien’s first step, and sometimes these stories fail—poor echoes of half realized worlds. Tolkien explains why these stories sometimes fail: “[T]he inner consistency of reality is more difficult to produce, the more unlike are the images and the rearrangements of primary material to the actual arrangements of the Primary World. Fantasy thus, too often, remains undeveloped” (69). Novels like Jennifer Roberson’s Karavans highlight this problem of departure. Her novel is a depiction of caravans leaving a countryside, but the reality within is so drastically different to ours that astute readers begin to see through the holes in her reality. Ironically, fantasy must then be grounded in the real habits and routines of everyday life. John Gardner describes this sort of verisimilitude in The Art of Fiction: “[The writer] must present, moment by moment, concrete images drawn from a careful observation of how people behave, and he must render the connections between moments, the exact gestures, facial expressions, or turns of speech that, within any given scene, move human beings from emotion to emotion, from one instant in time to the next” (24). Here we have our formula for well-realized fantasy: an Art that induces a belief beyond our reality to an imagined secondary reality, one that is portrayed through Gardner’s lists of verisimilitude—gesture, expression, speech, and above all else, emotion.

    It is no coincidence that of all fantastic events contained in The Lord of the Rings, the story starts with an ordinary event, one which includes all humans: a birthday party. Bilbo Baggins’s ‘eleventy-first’ year of life forces readers to depart from known realities. Few of us are lucky to reach such a number, but strangely, what gives that number its foundation in ‘the inner consistency’ is the hobbit phrase ‘eleventy-first.’ Tolkien cuts descriptions of hobbits who use colloquial phrases like “if you follow me” (43) to such a degree that we readers begin to rightly feel ‘eleventy-first’ is exactly the phrase a hobbit might use to describe a person’s one hundred eleventh birthday. Oddly enough, sensing the rightness of ‘eleventy-first’ helps us believe that the age is attainable in Middle Earth. And if that is not enough, Tolkien takes the opportunity to slip more ‘inner consistency’ over us: that Bilbo might not have reached such a number except for his possession of the one ring.

    So, within the first few pages of Tolkien’s story, we come to believe an imaginary number because a phrase seems believable to an imaginary people. That Tolkien introduces a magic ring by tying it to the reality of hobbit speech is a mark of his knowledge about belief—that we will believe his magical assertions if he provides us with realities in context of characterization. It is human expression which makes these fantastical hobbits real—their human emotions become the verisimilitude that anchors the story. Without Sam’s utter devotion to his master, without Frodo’s compassion for the flawed Gollum, and without Gollum’s tragic struggle, we would see that these characters are, in fact, just figments of an imagined world—yet while it is their humanness which makes them believable, it is also their humanness which makes them real.

    Tolkien ends The Fellowship of the Ring with as much confidence as he began it. His final paragraph shows how Frodo and Sam “drew the boat out, high above the water, and hid it as well as they could behind a great boulder” (479). It says a lot of Tolkien’s adherence to verisimilitude that on the last page of his story he uses such simple images from our world: a boat, a body of water, and a rock. They are the sort of facts that lull us into belief, into believing his parting phrase: “and down into the Land of Shadow” (479). So one must wonder, with Tolkien’s great pains at verisimilitude, did he intend Gollum to go down into lava? Does this unrealistic moment lessen Tolkien’s effort or is it in keeping with the inner consistencies of his world? But then, these questions do not even attempt to describe the metaphor inherent in a character like Gollum sinking into the corrupted fires of Mount Doom. Regardless, for those who seem to need the fantastic to be so real that they have disregarded Tolkien’s fantasy in favor of reality (or even physics), remember that verisimilitude exists only in the creation of inner consistency.

  177. Actually, I am unconvinced that Mount Doom is supposed to be all that special of a volcano. The question is: is it the only volcano in the area, and is that why it is considered to be the only possibility. Now I am not a LoTR scholar, but using the wiki you linked too, it seems no other known volcanoes remain (there existed other, but they were apparently destroyed). And the bit where the wiki says Mount Doom is apparently no regular volcano because Sauron can control its fires would need more original Tolkien context, because it seems to me that might just speak of the power of Sauron, not of the nature of the volcano.

    So, maybe just any volcano would do the trick, it just so happens this is the only volcano around?

    But in any case, even supposing that this volcano is magical, then it is supposed to be more insanely powerful than normal lava. Which means it would probably be hotter and more deadly than the usual thing. So even without getting in the viscosity issue, it seems to me Gollum wouldn’t have lasted as long as he has in there… And I haven’t read the books in quite a while so I may be wrong on this, but I don’t recall there being anything about Gollum swimming around in lava, only him crying out as he is falling. So there seems to be no reason to mess around with physics to keep the bit.

  178. To Carney at 9:58 pm. Thank you for a visit to the reality that counts.

    Others have pointed out that Tolkien never said Gollum fell into lava — nor, sfaik, mentioned there being any live flowing lava in the mountain. As to what really happened in Mount Doom, Google books showed this:

    http://books.google.co.in/books?id=hFSx37SaQRoC&pg=PT197&dq=gollum+bit+edge+finger&hl=en&ei=tunmTsX9O-SWiAKYr_CgBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&sqi=2&ved=0CE0Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=gollum%20bit%20edge%20finger&f=false

    Google won’t let me copy, but on that page the passage (which limits itself only to what little Sam can see) only says: “The fires below awoke in anger, the red light blazed” [....] Out of the depths came his last wail [....] Fires leaped up and licked the roof.”]

    This passage is very tight third: grounded, if you will, in Sam’s emotion of his fragmentary perception of the fog of war. As McIrvin said above, “the scene in the book is so startlingly abrupt, and it’s a remarkable moment.” McIrvin would have Jackson follow Tolkien’s abruptness instead of going omni POV with swelling music to show what actually became of Gollum. I disagree with McIrvin here. In the book passage, abruptness works, because we can double-take and read it again, or pretty soon put the book down and go, “Huh? Hm. Okay….” In a movie, I think we need this important moment drawn out and shown in multimedia, so we don’t miss the point by blinking at the wrong time.

    And if that means using stock Hollywood lava, okay. Gollum is really gone this time, and we need that fact rubbed in, and a conventional Hollywood image does it. For most viewers, Hollywood lava is a familiar, simple image from our world

  179. But…but… Okay. Hang on. Your wife was thrown out of the story by the flying snowman. Others were thrown out of the story by the manner of Gollum’s death in the lava. You find it puzzling that, after walking trees and giant spiders, viewers simply can’t accept the handwave that the lava is vaguely and in a non-specified manner, magical. How then do you account for the failure of the flying snowman to convince?

    I don’t know if The Lord Of The Rings is the first fantasy to establish a magical world through extensive worldbuilding and the careful application of rules and methods, but I’m willing to hazard that at the time it was a relatively atypical approach to magic. Magic was not about rules, it was about the breaking of rules. It was about chaos, the suspension of order and the reign of disorder. Thus on the Blasted Heath or through the rabbit hole or in a field in Tipperary, when magic occurs anything can and does happen. Three witches plot mischief, the Mad Hatter holds a tea-party and the fairy queen turns into a cow and leaps across the Shannon and back with the brave piper on her back. There are no rules. The Snowman is a story where there are no rules. A snowman can eat soup and fly, at the same time, if he wants. Lots of children’s stories are like that, and have no rules. Modern fantasy, after Tolkein, is chock full of rules. Worldbuilding is fetishized to a tedious degree, which is not to say it isn’t important, it’s just, why would you apply it, in terms of critical viewing, something like The Snowman? Or, to pick a random example, Pixar’s Up?

    (Er, not to say that’s why she was thrown out of The Snowman.)

    So: would the lava scene have worked if it had been carefully established that the properties of the lava of Mount Doom differ significantly from the lava we are all so intimately familiar with, viz, whatever random unspecified properties are required for the director’s notion of a really cool death scene? Answer: good God, what the hell is wrong with you? No! The scene just doesn’t quite work. It’s not an egregious failure, it’s not a fatal failure, and it’s far from the only one, and others might disagree, but they are, of course, wrong. Sam and Frodo breathing and not being broiled to a crisp while surrounded by lava is another example: you know in the back of your mind that that ain’t right, that it’s about how cool it looks above all else, but only dedicated vulcanologists are going to be actually up in arms about it. Worse by far were the reforging of the sword and the bouncing-on-the-bed cheesy-grin reunion. Magic THOSE away, Mr Scalzi, if you can!

    But talking trees! Giant spiders! Neither Jackson nor Tolkein go out of the way to establish anything especially magical about trees or spiders that would explain the physical properties of either! And if they did then it would probably not be very interesting! The bits of the films about walking trees and giant spiders don’t throw you out of the film because they are successfully about walking trees and giant spiders, to risk a truism. The bit of the films about a guy falling into lava is not successful! The success or lack thereof has little to do with the internal rules of magic of trees, spiders or lava, and more to do with the guy behind the camera. Consequently, the more you know about the viscosity of lava, the less successful it becomes, whereas learning more about spiders and trees fails significantly to detract from his success in portraying talking trees and giant spiders.

    If your wife can buy a snowman eating soup but not flying, it’s not because insufficient screen-time was devoted to the aerodynamics of snowmen, probably due to the amount of time taken up with their digestive systems, it’s because something about the way it was portrayed didn’t work for her. I don’t know what or why that is, because it worked beautifully for me. The lava? I think I do. Now pardon me, these lungs aren’t going to cough themselves up, you know.

  180. Whether they were or not, it hardly matters. Some scenes and elements were more successful than others. Return in particular had some very weak bits. The Grey Havens was more or less straight from the books, and that wasn’t very good at all. He should have just put in twelve minutes of dinosaurs fighting instead.

  181. I think ultimately this scene (though it didn’t really bother me that much) is an example of something that’s a bit of an Achilles heel for Jackson, and Return of the King in particular: the need to push dramatic moments WAYYYYYYYY over the top, sacrificing plausibility for bombast. Sometimes you get greatness and beauty out of this, like, say, the insane downhill charge at the end of the Battle of the Hornburg in TTT, Other times you get the “comet Denethor” scene where, having caught fire, he runs out the doors of the tomb and then another, oh, three miles just to plummet headlong off Minas Tirith’s convenient diving platform. That’s my particular Flying Snowman (or Plummeting Steward) for ROTK. Because while I could see the potential argument that “magical lava/liquid fire is extra watery” if you’re interested in furious retconning, there ain’t nothing extra-specially magickish about John Noble on fire. It happens again with the “Legolas murders everyone on an oliphaunt” scene, which is frankly kind of awesome until PJ pushes it too far and has him surf down the dying beast’s lumpy trunk with nary a scratch, because he felt the need to one-up the shield-surfing scene from Helm’s Deep. In that respect, my qualms with these scenes have as much to do with sledgehammer-unsubtle narrative as they do with physics. Probably more.

    The other thing about the “hey, maybe Mount Doom’s lava is extra watery” argument that doesn’t hold, um, er, magma for me is that it behaves like lava at every other point we see it, really — the various eruptions and flows throughout the rest of the trilogy all look like how lava really behaves, whereas if it was super-watery because-Sauron-that’s-why, the eruptions would probably look like a glowing Super Soaker or something. WHICH WOULD BE GOOFY, which is kind of the point.

    Personally, if I ran the world which I clearly don’t, Gollum’s death would have been better handled if PJ had just dialed it down a little and had him burn to ashes during that wonderful moment, mid-fall, when he realizes he has the ring back at last and hugs it to him in ecstasy. Then FOOM, and he’s gone, and plink the ring lands on top of the magma, and struggles not to melt then does anyway as in the film. Similarly, Denethor should have just died on the pyre like he does in the book, with the doors booming shut and whoosh.

  182. hm, I think there may be a much simpler way to resolve this. Did the CGI guys for LOTR say to themselves ‘This is magic lava. We need to modify our wholly accurate computer models we currently have ofhow lava flows and make it behave magically”?

    Or did they disregard completely the question of mundane versus magical lava and instead do whateve “looked cool”.

    Because I am guessing they just went for the ‘look cool’ solution. And as such they wanted Gollum to make it all the way to the lava rather than burst into flames before he hit the surface. And then have him “sink” in watery lava for the dramatic effect.

    In which case, the viewers have become aware of the hand of the movie maker, and it goes back to the movie maker not doing their job.

    If you really want to get down to it, it doesnt matter what the intent of the movie maker was. What matters is whether a viewer becomes aware of the ir presence, rather than being lost in the story.

    As it happens, I do remember the lava scene the first time I saw it and I do remember thinking: I dont think he would sink that way.

    The scene was smack dab in a lot of “Frodo and Sam looking at each other all teary eyed to the point of wondering if they were going to kiss” moments, so I had been kicked out of the suspension of disbelief and had spent quite a bit of time atround that part of the movie getting bored. So when Gollum fell in, finally, it had been dragged out so much that thinking about lava physics was more interesting for me.

    Which goes back to what I said earlier: When someone criticizes fiction, they are probably pointing to a part of the story that has a problem. The thing they say is the problem might not be the actual problem.

    So for someone to complain about insufficiently viscous lava, the problem might not be the lava, but that the whole ending was so dragged out by that point that people were bored and lava physics suddenly beacme more interesting than the movie.

    And I think that is the biiger problem at the end of ROTK. If it hadnt dragged out, if we hadnt spent so much time with Sam and Frodo gazing into each others eyes, if it hadnt slowed down to the point of frustrating the viewer, then the lava would not be noticed.

    My guess is that the thing that threw your wife out of the flying snowman wasnt that it flew bit something around that point of the story. Like the power of flight could have come in handy earlier but never showed up. Why walk when you can fly? but then at the end, for the finale, for dramatic effectand independent of story consistency, the snowman flies.

    If a reader is thrown out of the story, blaming the reader for not properly explaining WHY they were thrown out misses the bigger point: that the story did something that threw them out.

  183. Now that I think of it, by the time we got to the end of ROTK, my eyes were rolled so far back into my head and I had to pee so badly that I may not have actually seen the lava.

    I am not optimistic about The Hobbit, as when you map Peter Jackson’s films from LOTR through King Kong, there is an definite arc toward bloviating suckage.

    Can suckage bloviate? A: Only if it is magical suckage.

  184. It has just occurred to me that Peter Jackson was the man who acted in, wrote, directed and produced Bad Taste. I think we should be grateful that Lord of the Rings went as well as it did. If you have any other stories you care about you should buy them up now and find a director you can trust. I really recommend that you don’t watch this film. I remember it all too clearly from 24 years ago.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092610/

    If it weren’t for Peter Jackson the trilogy would never have been made. At least you have something to build on when you want to hack it into a Tolkien fan’s cut when home video editing/CGI is good enough. Falling, glowing charcoal should be easy to paint.

    Good casting though, surely we can all agree?

  185. Did the CGI guys for LOTR say to themselves ‘This is magic lava. We need to modify our wholly accurate computer models we currently have ofhow lava flows and make it behave magically”?

    You could make the same argument for the living trees, elephants, Nazgul, etc.

  186. Xopher: What was the show/movie where the aliens’ ancient language was the precursor of all Earth languages…you could tell, because it combined alphabetic characters with hieroglyphics and Asian pictorial scripts…?

  187. Richard Brandt: Stargate

    So let me get this straight — you can forge magical rings in regular old lava? Two exhausted, bare-foot hobbits and a magically altered hobbit in a diaper can stand on the edge of an active, lava spewing volcano vent and not be incapacitated by the gas fumes, hot ash, smoke, unstable rock and enormous heat, but instead have a knock down drag-out fight over the magical ring? But the big problem is the lava thickness? The lava was magic and symbolic. The ring was symbolic. Gollum was symbolic. (His regular Hobbit name includes the German word for mirror.) And the return of the ring and Gollum as the ring’s servant, corrupted by greed and glory, to the magical lava which Sauron used to make the ring and which held Sauron’s magical essence and thus could dissolve the ring, releasing Sauron’s spirit’s hold on Mordor and Middle-Earth, was symbolic. As were the giant eagles that rescued Sam and Frodo a bit later, and why the hey couldn’t they have tried a magical eagle assault to drop Frodo and Sam in there earlier, if we’re looking at logic. Magic alters physics repeatedly in Middle-Earth. But more to the issue, the lava being magical was the whole point of the entire story of Lord of the Rings. So trying to make that the one physics exception that gets your goat seems entirely strange to me. It’s like nit-picking the sword being in the stone or being able to pull it out. I would think Legolas surfing off a mastodon would cause more whining.

    As for The Snowman — the book basically shows the boy having a dream in which the snowman he made comes to life, has hot soup with him and takes him flying. Then when he wakes up the next day, the snowman has melted. I think people confuse it with Frosty the Snowman, and for the t.v. adaptation of the book, they did change it from being a dream, but the book is purely the boy’s imagination. I do, though, really like the term the flying snowman for this phenomena.

  188. Slight Tangent: Mars has an atmosphere, albeit notmuch of one, vacuums aren’t instant death for humans AND the whole point of the end there was that he was dying until he activated the device that instanta- terraformed (or at least insta atmosphered) the whole planet. I haven’t seen the movie in fifteen years, but that is actually the point of the plot, making Mars liveable.

    Lava: I was never bothered by the lava thing, but I did notice it. Not being a geologist, I don’t know how lava is really supposed to act, but I am aware that it’s made of, you know, melted rocks and therefor must be incredibly hot.

    That said, I’m not onboard with the notion that it’s obvious that the fires of Mt.Doom were obviously magical and that their effect on Gollum was down to the magic. The way they talked about Mt. Doom always seemed to imply that it being where Sauron made the ring was important, not inherent qualities of the lava/fire itself.

    In any case, if the lava is meant to be magic lava by the film makers (which I sincerely doubt) then it is poor world building. If Aragorn suddenly developed the ability to fly at the end of the movie, very few people, I expect, would just chalk that up to him being special and magic, even though he actually is special and magic.

  189. “The way they talked about Mt. Doom always seemed to imply that it being where Sauron made the ring was important, not inherent qualities of the lava/fire itself. ”

    That should have seemed to imply TO ME

    I don’t think John’s interpretation is wrong, but I don’t think it’s clear and obvious.

  190. Silbey: The point is, you don’t have to.

    Kat Goodwin: Physics schmysics, magic schmagic: it didn’t work. When you’re sitting there watching and you’re thinking ‘Well, that’s a bit meh,’ then all that wonderful magic framework that allows for the suspension of disbelief has stuttered and faltered. Having to go groping to the indexes of the fifth edition for a footnote to suggest that a magical effect once existed in an early draft of the unfinished prequel that could possibly wavy-fingers-look-into-my-eyes explain why the spectacle presented might have worked the way it did is not a sign of high artistry or consummate craftsmanship. In fact, it was just a bit meh.

  191. silbey@12:46, with ents, for example, it is clear they started with a model of a tree and made it sentient. The ents have faces. They had to design them to look like that.

    The designers choices for the lava isnt unambiguous. It could be they chose nonstandard lava to make it magical. Or they could have ignored whether it was magical or not and simply made it behave in whatever way looked visually appealing and dramatic.

    The ents have faces. The designers had to create that to match the world as described by Tolkien. The lava could have been done with no regard to Tolkiens description of the lava and every choice made to fit the visual effect it would give the movie.

    The thing is it would require a conversation with the CGI guy and they would have to be honest about their intentions had been.And as House always says, people lie.

    Given thats not going to happen on this thread, I think the fallback position is simply that some people reported being sistracted by the lava. And therefore the movie failed to fully do its job for them.

  192. Xopher: I don’t have the time right now to scour the Internet (snerk) for the quote, but to my recollection, Jackson didn’t eliminate The Scouring of the Shire for reasons of time. I believe he said that he felt the chapter was anticlimactic to his film. He may even have used the word “downer”, but I’m not sure.
    As to Tolkien’s feelings to the importance of the chapter, I did just find a refernce that Tolkien was trying to recreate his sense of things being actually, physically different near his English countryside home in the aftermath of World War I. I’m not sure this makes sense in the context of the book. The Shire is so physically removed from the war that it’s like finding changes to an aboriginal village in Australia after WWI.
    Rather than filming the Scouring (and it’s attendant battle scenes and confrontation with a side villain after the main villain is dead, hence the anticlimax), Jackson went a more subtle route. He showed the Shire exactly as the four Hobbits had left it. It was Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippen who had changed. I actually agree with Jackson here – that’s a much more poignant ending.

    Greg: “the viewers have become aware of the hand of the movie maker, and it goes back to the movie maker not doing their job.”
    Well, that’s a debatable point of film theory if ever I saw one. :)

  193. I thought the scouring of the shire felt like a bolt-on in the novels. Looking at the three novels as a threee act play to destroy the ring and Sauron, the Shire being scoured by Sauramon was like a mini sequel than an integral part of the story.

    The movie could have spent a scene or two showing the four hobbits and how much they changed comparrd to a hobbit who stayed in the Shire the entire time. That would have required a ‘mile marker’ character, and Frodo et al would have to interact with them before they left and after to really emphasize the way Frodo et al changed when they returned. But Kackson didnt really do that. He had them mope around the table drinking beer, and then Sam finally approaches Miss Cotton. But that was about it.

    Doc, not sure what you think is debatable. If a movie maker is somewhat analogous to a stage magician, then both need to maintain the illusion that the magic (or story) is real. If the audience sees the magicians mirrors and wires, then the illusion fails andj the magician didnt do his job. If the audience becomes aware of the hand of the creators behind the movie, then the movie people didnt do their job.

    If I am immersed in the Return of the King movie but then the movie stalls and falters to the point that I am bored and thinking about whether the lava is realistic or not, is that something you consider a ‘success’ on the part of the movie makers?

    Not that an artist has to please the entire world as an audience, but if I was part of the intended audience and the artist intended to keep me enthralled in the movie, isnt ot a failure on some level on their part if they fail to do that?

    Alternatively I suppose one could define “good” to be “that which sells”. Or something like that. But then how does one dare criticize any piece of fiction or art if it turned a profit?

  194. silbey@12:46, with ents, for example, it is clear they started with a model of a tree and made it sentient. The ents have faces. They had to design them to look like that.

    And I’m guessing that they went the artistic route in adding those faces on, rather than consulting with biologists about what a realistic face on a tree would look like.

  195. Kat: “The ring was symbolic”

    Ah. Isn’t that the “literature” approach to fiction? As in: if it is symbolic, then the author doesn’t have to do the work of writing an actual story?

    I don’t mind symbolism. Stories that work on a symbolic level can be fine. But a story first has to operate at the level of “story” before it gets to operate at the level of “symbolism”. “The Old Man and the Sea” is a great literally told story that can also be taken to have all manner of embedded symbolism. But it is a well told story at the literal interpreted level first.

    The lava doesnt get to be a symbol for anything if it doesn’t work at the literal level too. The ring of power that corrupts those who wear it is a symbol of the corruption that comes from power but it also works as its literal form of a magical ring of power.

  196. silbey, oh really? you think the audience would buy into Treebeard the way he looked in the movie just as much as if he looked like a giant Mr Potato Head jammed on top of a bush? Because you are arguing that magical trees dont have to look “real” because they are magical. And a Mr Potato Head derived Ent shows just how nuts that is. No, they may not have consulted a plant biologist to determine how a tree face would look. But you can bet the farm that they were concerned about whether or not their creation would land as “believable” for the audience or not.

    I recall a behind the scenes thing about Empire Strikes Back and the special effects guys were terrified that the audience wouldn’t believe in Yoda as a character. And if they hadnt pulled that off, ESB would have been the last Star Wars film we would have. Just because ESB was SciFi doesnt give it a free pass that the audience must accept yoda no matter how poorly he was implemented. See Jar Jar Binks for an example of the audience rejecting a character. You could argue that Jar Jar is an alien and there might be a race of aliens somewhere that are exactly like Jar Jar, therefore the audience has no right to reject Jar Jar. And yet they did.

  197. You cannot forge a metal ring from lava in the real world. Sauron was able to do so because he put magic into the lava and through that magical lava formed the rings. If the magic in the ring is brought close to the magic in the lava that made it, then Sauron is able to draw more power through it and use it — the ring grows in its control over its bearers and attempts to be reunited with Sauron because of the two magical power sources producing an amplified effect. This is why Sam, Frodo and Gollum are able to have a knock-down brawl in an environment that in the real world would not allow that possibility — because the magic of the lava and the magic of the ring are close together. If the ring is reunited with the lava, however, then the magic in both is reunited which destroys the ring which destroys Sauron’s anchor and ability to control the magic enough to maintain his spirit connection to Middle-Earth and his enemies win. This is the whole point of the story — reuniting the magical ring in the magical lava that against all laws of physics created the magical ring.

    If you accept that the ring was forged from the lava, then you accept that the lava is magic. If you accept that the ring has to be cast into that particular vent of lava or otherwise it will not be destroyed, then you accept that the lava is magic. If you accept that the hobbits could fight despite fumes, etc. because the magic ring is super powerful near the lava that formed it, then you accept that the lava is magic. To then insist that the lava is not magic in the way that it kills Gollum, the ring’s servant who attempts to save the ring at the last, or that the ring’s magic should not have allowed it a last moment of floating magically on the lava and holding its shape before being reunited with the only lava that can destroy it means that you are personally flip-flopping on the magical lava and the magical ring, not that there’s a logical inconsistency actually in the story. Only if the lava is magic is there a story of The Lord of the Rings. So like I said, it is, for me, a peculiar choice for a flying snowman for that story.

  198. I have read the Hobbit and the 3 LOTR books but I haven’t read much else that might give more backstory to how the rings were made. i.e. I havent dug around onlune to find a lotr fansite that explains more about the ring than was in the original trilogy plus prequel.

    Having said that, my understanding was that the “fires of Mt Doom” tm were used to make the ring as a source of heat and by the somewhat common tropes of magic, embued the ring with some form of positional magic. the ring was forged in the fires of Mt Doom, therefore only the fires of Mt Doom can melt it. Obviously, there is more to the ring than lava because lava doesnt cool like gold and engravings dont shimmer when heated, and neither lava nor gold notlr any other metal I am aware of has the power of invisibolity or mind control.

    I assume that if the lava in Mt Doom was magic lava that other sorcerers and wizards would be casting their own rings of power, rings of invisibility, canes of mind control, and batwings of crime fighting.
    An enterprising elf could set up a walmart of magical trinkets based off magical lava. Or at the very least, Sauramon could have worked as a trinket apprentice for Sauron and created more magical items.
    Since Middle Earth is not in fact awash in magical trinkets of power, I assume that it was not in fact the lava that was magical but rather the power in the ring came from Sauron himself. His magical powers were captured in the ring when he formed them. He imbued them with their powers by using some of his powers.

    The lava, then, became the achilles heel o the ring. The krytonite, the Mary Jane to Spiderman, the standard weakness that all powerful things have in much fiction. The ventilation shaft of the death star.

    it isnt anything magical about the ventilation shaft on the Death Star. It is simply the one weakness the heroes learn about that gives them a target to take down the otherwise invincible evil.

  199. Greg: film theory, like any theory of art, has a lot of schools of thought. A visible “hand of the filmmaker” is not verboten in all of them. There’s a trailer out now for a film (whose name eludes me at the moment) that is essentially a filmed puppet show. The puppets are carved to resemble the actors voicing the characters – apropos to this discussion, one of them is an Elijah Wood puppet. Everything in that trailer, including such mundane aspects as the surface of an ocean, is puppeteered. Strings are visible everywhere. Talk about your hand of the filmmaker.

    Now, whether or not these theories of film can be applied to LotR is, of course, equally debatable. But I will say this: we’re discussing the film adaptation of a very widely read novel. Much hand wringing has been done over changes made “to the book” in the filmmaking process. (The book, of course, remains unchanged.) That’s “hand of the filmmaker” stuff there. Would you consider that to be a failure of Peter Jackson? Some totally would. I think they’re wrong, and that that comes of not understanding how adaptation works.

  200. Yeah, see, that’s a lot of flippin’ work to do for what is a fairly brief effect. I’m all in favour of films asking the audience to work to get full appreciation and all that, but… no. Magic lava? I mean… was there a magic lava appendix in the books that I skipped? A chapter of the Silmarillion? A magic lava specialist DVD commentary I never bothered with? The film showed Sauron swinging a hammer and filling a mould. No lava appeared to be involved in the process. It doesn’t matter, though! You choose to rationalise it thusly. Fine. Whatever works. I just thought it was weak film-making. Something that requires that amount of rationalisation is almost by definition weak film-making. So is the fighting in the fumes, by the way. I gave both a pass at the time. I still do. They weren’t snowmen moments for me, probably because I expect films to operate that way sometimes, and make allowances for it. They fought in the fumes and Gollum melted not because of the story but because films frequently take license to portray events that do not accord with our sense of how reality works, and it seemed obvious to me that the fighting and the melting were nothing to do with the magic of the world but with the license of the film-makers, and that was why I thought it was weak. Searching for in-story explanations is all very well but it’s simpler for me to accept that it’s actually spectacle at the expense of story-telling and/or consistency and move on. Or get thrown out of the story. Or whatever.

  201. Greg: “I assume that if the lava in Mt Doom was magic lava that other sorcerers and wizards would be casting their own rings of power, rings of invisibility, canes of mind control, and batwings of crime fighting.”

    Yes, because wizards just totally wander into Sauron’s backyard and use his magical vent to forge mind control canes, even though there’s no evidence that you can do anything else with it but make rings of power. In fact, they didn’t even need Frodo to return the ring. Gandalf could just bop in on an eagle, drop it in, and voila. That should have been the movie. Screw Frodo. Screw the idea of corruption of the ring and the ring’s power growing stronger the closer you bring it to the totally normal lava vent. Screw the fact that Frodo, Sam and Gollum would have been burning their skin and gasping for air from the fumes standing over the vent on terrain that can quickly crumble with heat if it was a normal lava vent, and largely unable to slam each other around. Screw the fact that most of Middle-Earth’s landscape has various magical aspects connecting characters to the land in places of power and the blasted land of Mordor is suffused with Sauron’s magic, allowing Sauromon to pull super orcs from the mud when the blight spreads. Screw that the way to the vent is guarded by a giant stinger demon spider. Screw the entire mythic construction of the story. That lava vent is perfectly normal. :)

    I think I’ll just go with Scalzi’s Flying Snowman theory.

  202. my understanding was that the “fires of Mt Doom” tm were used to make the ring as a source of heat and by the somewhat common tropes of magic, embued the ring with some form of positional magic. the ring was forged in the fires of Mt Doom, therefore only the fires of Mt Doom can melt it.

    People keep saying this, and no one has actually provided any evidence from, you know, the actual books.

    (Yes, authorial intent is meaningless, blah blah blah).

    Any citation at all would be appreciated.

  203. David (and indirectly Kat): I don’t have to provide any reference in the book for this because magic lava is in certain respects a “Caesar’s Palmtop” problem. If you have a story with Julius Caesar walking around what appears to be the Roman Empire as we know it, bu t he has a palmtop computer and apparently it was built by some Roman scientist, then I can extrapolate that the tech advances requiredd to make a palm top would result in a world that looks a lot NOT like the Roman Empire as we know it.

    If the lava is magical then other magicians would be making trinkets out of it. If the lava is that magical there would be *wars* to control the lava like there are wars to control the spice or wars to control oil. If the lava has the power to make the ring, and the ring is such a powerful thing that the story portrays, then there would some non zero number of wars since Sauron was defeated 600 years ago for men to control the lava. Men from Gondor. Men riding elephants. elves. At the very least, if Sauron controls the magic lava, he would have had SAURAMON or some other wizard build more magic items to maximize his power.

    If the power of the rings came from the Lava and not from Sauron, then Middle Earth should have a much different history.

    If Tolkien really did say the lava was the source of the rings power and Sauron merely guided it, then Tolkien committed some bad writing in the form of a Caesars Palmtop.

    The qhole story is about power. And if the power is in the lava then the ring itself was nearly irrlevant compared to all that raw untapped power in all that lava pouring out of Mt Doom.

    So, I dont need a reference that says the lava was non magical. All I need to do is point out that if the lava is the real source of power, then Middle Earth should have a history since Sauron was defeated of fighting over control of the lava.

    Since they don’t have that history, I can assume the lava has no innate power. And if Tolkien actually said in aome reference material that the lava was magical, that the e lava was the source of the rings power, then the lack of absolutely any history in Middle Earth fighting over this source of power is bad world building on Tolkiens part. It would be a Caesars Palmtop.

    At the very least, the elves and folks like Gandalf would realize that the defeat of Sauron is irrelevant when all that power is just pouring out of Mt Doom for someone else to tap into.

  204. My favorite flying snowman movie came in the movie The Terminator, which I saw in the theater with a friend of mine who was pursuing a math PhD while supporting himself as a programmer. The terminator was at the motel chasing Sarah Conner when the POV shifts and we see commands and such through his vision. My friend leaned over and said, “Huh. The Terminator is programmed in COBOL.” He could get past a machine from the future coming back, but couldn’t accept that they wouldn’t be using a better programming language. It actually effected his view of the movie.

    Yet I had a similar reaction. I was watching X Men: First Class. It was set in 1962, with events around the Cuban Missile Crisis. And it’s a comic book movie, and one I actually liked. But all of the female characters walked around in mini-skirts, even when not doing super-hero things, and, indeed, when meeting with members of the FBI/CIA. That’s one thing for the hyper-sexualized Emma Frost, but even in their daily lives they wore skirts that were barely mid-thigh. Now, while my heterosexual male libido would never, ever object to Rose Byrne, Zoe Kravitz or (especially) Jennifer Lawrence with less clothing on, my knowledge of the era kept screaming, “NO! Minis don’t come into the greater fashion lexicon until significantly later, and even then were largely limited to hippies and the coasts. I still remember my sister being sent home from school in the very late 1960’s or early 1970’s (I was born in 1965) for wearing a skirt that came to mid-thigh.”

    And I walked out thinking, “Wait. THAT was the thing that broke the fantasy for you?” I suspect it has something to do with creating an alternate history that includes superheroes. You’re allowed — nay, encouraged — to do that in a comic book movie. But you don’t play with the visuals that serve to raise the stakes of the superhero confrontation. It would be like showing Superman flying Jews out of Nazi Germany (why didn’t he do that, anyway?) or the Submariner raising the Titanic so it didn’t sink. It just brought out that they were setting the X-Men in the era instead of telling the alternate history.

    But I do admit that I felt silly for accepting Cyclops and Magneto and Professor X, but I had a problem with showing some leg in those scenes.

  205. Upon further thought, I feel a little compelled to ask …

    Why assume it was the lava that was different and somehow not behaving like “normal” lava …

    Gollum was clearly different. The One Ring imbibed him with abnormally long life and twisted him …
    And what was he holding? That’s right. The Ring. It did not want to be destroyed. It tried hard to survive. Most fire would not heat the ring and maybe, just maybe, it was the power of the ring that kept Gollum cool too. Briefly. It tried to float Gollum on top of the lava as it struggled to find a way to escape escape. A Gollum raft of sorts? Perhaps. But, alas, it failed. Failed. Mt. Doom being the one place it could be destroyed …

  206. Two things:

    “One does not simply walk into Mordor.”

    and

    “There is only one Lord of the Rings. And he does not share power.”

  207. another example of “positional magic” in Tolkiens world: the Dead Marshes. The marsh itself has no magic except that which happened as a result of all the dead buried there.

  208. Hm. I just read Scalzi’s piece over on AMC. I think there are at least two different approaches to the whole flying snowman thing, which may be part of the source of issue: Scalzi says: ” The reason to ask the question is to discover whether your Flying Snowman moment is about your own personal quirks (in which case it’s about you, and there’s nothing the creator of the work could have done about it) or whether it’s brought on by poor world building (in which case there’s something the creator of the work could have done about it, and he or she was just falling down on the job).”

    That seems to be searching for a right/wrong approach to whether a thing is a valid bit of storytelling and the reader is being pedantic or whether the writer failed to write well.

    I am not quite looking at it that way. As far as I can see, the transaction is between the creator and the individual viewer or reader. So I am not looking to determine if the story is “good” for some absolute sefinition of good, but whether or not the story worked for each viewer reader and whether it *could* have worked without making it not work for some other group.

    The lava was something I noticed while watching the movie the first time. But I dont think the lava was the actual problem, but rather a symptom of how drawn out the movie had gotten by that point.

    tighten up the movie and I probably wouldnt notice the lava.

    Also the original article being referemced in all this didn’t say the movie didnt work or the movie failed. Just that the movie and a lot of other movies got this part of physics wrong.

    Folks seem to have jumped on this guy because they think any criticism of lotr demands that the movie is an absolute failure. Therefore the lava must be defended. As far as I saw, the geologist was simply reporting something he noticed after the movie was over and he stopped and thought about it. Not something that hrew him out of the movie in the moment.

    If you take this as “stories either are good and the viewer is wrong OR the story is bad because the author failed somehow” then you don’t leave a lot of room for friendly grousing and other comments.

    Oh, and probably the other thing that is probably relevant: the geologist pointed out thT most movies get lava wrong. Most movies get it wrong in similar ways. So it is less likely that the LOTR special effects guys said ‘this is magic lava. lets take our geologically correct model of lava and modify it to be magicall” and more likely that they were influenced by other movie lava models.

  209. Greg: psh, next you’re gonna tell me you need, I dunno, wizard-ninjas or something. With lasers.

  210. So, I dont need a reference that says the lava was non magical.

    Sure you do. You can spin fantasies about why there should be thousands of magical trinkets flying around Middle Earth, and I can come up with counter-fantasies about why the lava only works for Sauron (and the ring, by extension) or how making the ring took away the magical-trinket-making-power of the lava but kept it different in other ways. Absent those kind of fantasies, how about we come up with some actual textual evidence for the assertion?

  211. “You cannot forge a metal ring from lava in the real world.”

    Why?

    Or rather, why couldn’t a being who was immune to fire do so? Lava is hot enough, certainly, to make gold malleable enough to be forged.

    The rest of your argument is based on the fact that regular lava can’t be used to forge a ring, which isn’t true in this context, and ignoring the possibility of the place being what’s important and magical, not the lava.

  212. “And when someone encounters a Flying Snowman, and tells me about it, I ask them why it’s this particular thing that causes them problems when so many other things of equal ridiculousness fly under their radar.”

    OK, that’s a fair question. I have a friend who not entirely facetiously calls the various CSI shows science fantasy – because she actually works in forensics and DNA tests don’t magically return results in minutes. For dramatic purposes, there’s a hell of a lot of flying snowmen & pure handwavium in police/forensic procedural shows. But I can totally understand why real scientists get a tad tetchy about bad science.

  213. Craig, my SIL works in a real lab (sports drug testing, not criminal forensics) and she says she can overlook all that, along with the fact that Abby puts things in the GC Mass Spec that would completely destroy it. For her the Flying Snowman is Abby’s habit of drinking a beverage in the lab. THAT, apparently, is unthinkable (and it’s not hard to see why if you think about it).

  214. Greg: So, I dont need a reference that says the lava was non magical.

    David: Sure you do. You can spin fantasies about why there should be thousands of magical trinkets flying around Middle Earth, and I can come up with counter-fantasies about why the lava only works for Sauron

    See, the basis of my argument is logic. If a thimblefull of lava has the power that requires all of Middle Earth to go to war and defeat Sauron, then a cubic mile of the stuff is even more valuable and powerful. Since they don’t go to war over who controls Mt Doom and since Sauron hasn’t had Sauramon or any other wizard come into Mt Doom in the last 600 years to build more objects out of the lava, one can assume that the lava is not the source of the power, but rather Sauron is. That isn’t *spinning fantasies*. That is taking what we have been told in the stories and applying some basic logic.

    You reply to this *logic* by making stuff up that isn’t mentioned anywhere in the story. That the lava only works for Sauron? Where is your reference for that?

    I took what information was actually provided me and applied logic. You then tried to argue that you can disprove that logic by asserting various fictions which were never given to us in the novels.

    And the funny thing is you were the one who started the demand for references for various things.

    how about we come up with some actual textual evidence for the assertion?

    That right there? Given the “lava only works for Sauron” counter fantasy? That is hilarious.

    Craig: I used to watch CSI Nevada pretty religiously when it first came out. Then I got stuck on jury duty for a serious crime for a number fo months. After that, I stopped watching the show.

  215. Greg (at all hours), you haven’t read Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion” and you feel you have the necessary data about the history of Middle Earth to pontificate on the nature of its Magic? Geek fail, you lose the internet.

  216. Pat@6:28, do you have a specific reference from the Silmarillion that you think is relevant? Or are you just making an ad-hominem attack on Greg here, rather than arguing against his point?

  217. See, the basis of my argument is logic

    That’s nice. Do you have some reason to think that logic applies to Middle Earth?

    You reply to this *logic* by making stuff up that isn’t mentioned anywhere in the story. That the lava only works for Sauron? Where is your reference for that?

    In the same place that your reference for the lava being normal is.

    Oh, wait.

  218. Brian, how do you suppose one can claim, as Greg does,

    “That isn’t *spinning fantasies*. That is taking what we have been told in the stories and applying some basic logic.”

    when one has not read all the stories? The nature of Tolkien’s world is complex and Greg thinks he can extrapolate from the partial knowledge he has. I think he is mistaken. There is such an abundance of information about the nature and history of Sauron alone and the nature of magic in Middle Earth that his opinion is of little value until he has read The Silmarillion, or at the very least the section “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”.

    Please explain to me how you thought my attack was, ad hominem? Is pointing out that the argument is based on ignorance an attack on the arguer or the argument?

    I am afraid that I am not inspired to borrow a copy of The Silmarillion to fillet it for references to demolish Greg’s speculations and see if lava is ever even referred to in any way in the text. I suspect it is not but I read the book over thirty years ago so cannot be sure.§ I cannot even remember whether the materials the Ring is made from are mentioned, just that it was forged in the Fires of Mt Doom. It would indeed be strange if it were forged from the Fires as Greg seems to assume.

    One thing I can correct. There were only ever five wizards, two went to the far East and were never heard of again. Radagast dropped out and spent his time with the animals. That just leaves Gandalf and Saruman, the latter being Sauron’s henchman. Unlike in D&D, there were not a crowd of wizards out for power launching commando raids on Mt Doom for magic materials. Most beings in Tolkien’s world knew their ordained place, unless they were corrupted by Morgoth or Sauron.

    § It was one of the most turgid, boring pieces of fiction I have ever read, I would not want to even dip into it again. Only William Morris’ “The Well at the World’s End” was worse.

  219. The only thing that really bothered me in LOTR was Jackson’s butt-ignorance of military tactics. Tolkien’s fight scenes were often quite carefully choreographed; see the confrontation with the Balrog for an example. The film version just makes no sense.

    With other films that folks have mentioned like the Star Trek reboot and “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull”, my disbelief never got suspended in the first place. I laughed at them all the way through. (Useful D&D treasure: Suspenders of Disbelief.)

    The worst one I can remember was in Jackson’s “King Kong”. Near the end, there’s a scene where Kong is jumping around in (I think) Times Square, and the physics is just *wrong*. Kong jumps and travels in a parabola (correct) at *constant speed* (made my brain hurt).

    I think the problem comes because we have certain expectations about how things behave in what we jokingly refer to as “the Real World”. If somebody throws a stone in a story, we know what to expect — it will fly in an approximate parabola and hit the ground. In a fantasy story, we may establish that it’s a special magical stone, and we’ll accept that it will behave oddly (the quidditch “balls” in Harry Potter, for example). OTOH, if stones just behave oddly for no reason, at best it’s irritating and at worst it gives you a “flying snowman” moment.

  220. Given that there were only five Wizards total, all of whom were sent from Valinor specifically to rally resistance to the Shadow, I’m not sure where all of these gadget-making sorcerors were supposed to come from. Middle-Earth was not actually particularly big on spellcasting. And I find it plausible that as a Maia of Aulë, the Vala of smithwork and craftsmanship, Sauron might have special skills in working with enchanted lava. Certainly, Orodruin’s fires seemed to respond to his will. Saruman might have envied Sauron, and studied lots of Ring-lore, but he could still have lacked the chops to harness Orodruin’s power. And of course, by the time Saruman fell into evil, Sauron was already regaining his own strength.

    As to the positional versus inherently magical bit: Sauron supposedly chose the location of Barad-dûr to be convenient to Orodruin, and he began building Barad-dûr centuries before he ensnared the elven-smiths of Eregion into forging Rings of Power (using his demonstrable vast knowledge of magical smithcraft). Finally, since it’s clear that other forges could make rings of power, why wouldn’t Sauron simply set up a forge in Barad-dûr’s basement, rather than use a cave inside a volcano miles away? Again, there must have been something special about the site already, which is why Sauron “used the fire that welled there from the heart of the earth in his sorceries and his forging.” If it were purely positional correspondence behind the One Ring’s vulnerability, a forge inside the Dark Tower makes even more sense from a security viewpoint.

    Still not dispositive, of course. And my primary objection to the whole scene remains how dragged out it seemed.

  221. Apologies to Pat for reiterating your own points about wizards. It ended up being a looong time before I actually hit “Post Comment”.

  222. @Xopher: that’s kind of how I feel about shows like Law & Order. It doesn’t bother me that they skip over, say, authenticating documents, because that just kills the drama. But FFS, a seasoned district attorney should be able to conduct a freaking cross-examination instead of sitting there fuming impotently when the witness won’t answer a question.

  223. mds at the witching hour, no apology necessary, you wrote it better than I could. Also, for some reason I wasn’t thinking of Sauron as a Smith god/demon until you made it clear. Despite the volcano/taught by a smith thing. Not many evil smiths in legend that I can recall.

  224. David: In the same place that your reference for the lava being normal is. Oh, wait

    Oh get over yourself.

    From: http://fritzfreiheit.com/wiki/Caesar%27s_palmtop

    “Caesar’s palmtop is a handy device a writer introduces, in all innocence, whose existence in this particular fictional universe implies a huge offstage infrastructure that demands so much overhead explanation that it knocks the reader out of paying attention to the story.”

    Read that again. At no point does the idea of Caesar’s Palmtop require “references” for logical implications of something presented by the author. Author shows Caesar with a palmtop. Readers get to go through logical implications of what it would require for the Roman Empire to produce palmtops and get to point out that said implications are wholly missing from the Roman Empire as we know it. If the story is cast in the roman empire as we know it, but Caesar has a Palmtop, then the author committed a massive world building error, and no “references” are needed to show the logical implications of the palmtop.

    If the lava is in fact the source of power of the ring, then the logical implication of that is that the ring represents a thimbleful of lava and Mt Doom holds a cubic mile of the stuff. If men battle over the ring, then they should battle over the lava by orders of magnitude more.

    SInce they don’t battle over the lava, then that means that if the lava is actually the source of power of the ring, then Tolkien committed a massive Caesar’s Palmtop worldbuilding error. Because if the lava is the source of power, the ring is irrelevant compared to all that power in the volcano.

    Do you understand this, David? I don’t need a reference for logical implications. If the lava is the source of the ring’s power as you suggest, then Middle Earth’s history should look a lot different than it does. Which means, either Tolkien was a consistent world builder and the source of power is not the lava, or the source of power is the lava but Middle Earth shows none of the logical implications of that sort of lava and Tolkien committed a massive Caesar’s Palmtop world building error.

    Get it?

    If you say the lava is the magical source of power of the ring, then the logical implication of that is Middle Earth history should look a lot different than it does. I don’t need to provide “references” for that logical implication. That’s just how logic works. Now. If you want to say the lave was the source of power AND it didn’t affect middle earth history because of (insert some random excuse here), then you actually do need a reference for that. Because that isn’t a logical implication of what was presented in the novels, but rather, what you would call a “counter fantasy”. Something you made up not based on anything in the novels, but rather simply because it would “prove” I’m wrong, but only if it were actually true, and you haven’t proven it true.

  225. Pat@11:19: there were not a crowd of wizards out for power launching commando raids on Mt Doom for magic materials.

    I think about half of the Fellowship has magical items if you count the magical swords (and I count them) and the gifts from Galadriel.

    We also see the Palantiri held by Saruman.

    Then there is the door into Moria (“Speak friend and enter”) and the mirror pool that Galadriel uses to see the future.

    That’s just off the top of my head.

    magical items do in fact seem rather common in the novels. Maybe those 5 wizards were just really busy.

  226. Tolkien never said lava invented the Internet. If his “fires of Mount Doom” didn’t walk like molten lava or quack like molten lava, maybe they weren’t even meant to be molten lava. They sound more like leakages of natural gas that caught on fire, perhaps ages ago.

    Ordinary gold was smelted for ordinary purposes throughout Middle Earth. The extraordinary, magical Ring needed hotter temperatures than an ordinary forge — but not necessarily as hot as molten lava. The fires of Mount Doom — natural gas flames in what was effectively a giant natural oven — could be the hottest place in Middle Earth (at that time) without being anywhere near as hot as molten lava. And a horizontal passage adjoining that oven could have temperatures lower than the heart of the oven — with the effects described.

    Imo Jackson was right to bring in his lava, for dramatic/pacing reasons described above. But any sloppy world-building here is Jackson’s, not Tolkien’s.

  227. Greg, you are still talking as though you know the history of Middle Earth. Read the history then get back to us with your insights. If you have not read the Silmarillion you are logically incapable of drawing any conclusions. You can nitpick about our statements all you like but it won’t change what we know.

    Nobody is saying the Fires are the sole source of the power of the Ring. It is a subtle interplay between the power of the Fires, Sauron’s craft and the previously forged Nine, Seven and Three Rings. It took Sauron 300 years to teach the most skilled and magical smiths in Middle Earth just how to forge the first of the Rings of Power. Not my opinion, that is canon Middle Earth history. Perhaps the One Ring was even trickier? Perhaps the Fires were not helpful in the making of self-cleaning handkerchiefs and +1 armour codpieces.

    Really, Greg, go and find out why people are arguing with you. You are ignorant of the history of Middle Earth. The fact that you are still wriggling just makes it a geek fail squared. End of argument.

  228. Are we arguing about anything substantive here at this point or are we just doing the thing where we’re mostly stabbing at each other because we have to be right? Because, I have to tell you, it’s looking more like the latter to me at this point.

  229. [Deleted because this it was the very sort of passive-aggressive personal snipage I was trying to hint should be stopped -- JS]

  230. houseboat: But any sloppy world-building here is Jackson’s, not Tolkien’s.

    Yeah, I’m starting to get the impression that certain people on the thread are simply True Fans making sure that Tolkien’s reputation is held as infallible by all, and any potential criticism of the story is refuted at all costs, or at the very least, blamed on someone else.

    Pat: I do just need to point out to Greg at 1.32 that a prequel is generally published after the original work, not 16 years before.

    Hi true fan Pat. How are you?

    Second of all, if this were an argument based on logic in any way whatsoever, then even if I used the word “prequel” wrong, that wouldn’t alter the validity or invalidity of anything I said. It would appear that we’re not having an argument based on logic, but rather, I am possibly suggesting Tolkien may have made a mistake, and you’re more than willing to use any approach to get me to stop insulting the infallible Tolkien. Which isn’t to say my game of logic isn’t better than your game of True Fan-ness. But having gotten a clearer picture of things, I’m not really interested in playing the “Tolkien’s Writing Is Infallible” game.

    Third of all, yeah, I know the Hobbit was written way before the LOTR trilogy. In the Hobbit, Tolkien related to the ring found by Bilbo as nothing more than just another magical doo-dad that the characters found during the story. It wasn’t until after the Hobbit was written that Tolkien saw the potential for a more profound story within the ring and tweaked things to fit. He modified “The Hobbit” so as to make room for the ring to become the One Ring. He retconned it into the world.

    He is a writer. He is mortal. And he made mistakes. The most obvious one being that if Gandalf can rescue Frodo and Sam from Mt Doom with eagles, then why didn’t they simply use eagles to take the ring there in the first place. If you go to the “how it should have ended” site and look for lord of the rings, this is precisely the plot flaw they point out.

    It’s an understandable mistake. Tolkien fought in the trenches in WW1, and much of LOTR is based on his experiences of war. He introduced what would essentially be helicopter technology into Middle Earth which fought with swords and horse cavalry, and the effects of the availability of vertical envelopment tactics wasn’t seen by humans until Vietnam.

    But if you talk to a True Fan of Tolkien about this, they have every excuse ready in the book to explain “the plot hole that are the eagles” away, and it becomes clear that criticism of Tolkien really isn’t allowed.

    To me, LOTR is a great series; not perfect, but great. And the Eagles is one of those plot holes that I just try to ignore when reading the books or watching the movie. Its almost like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If the whole story rested on the cup being a port key and they needed Harry to touch it to transport him to Voldemort, then the entire novel could have been avoided if the bad guys simply used Harry’s toothbrush as the port key. It’s a huge gaping plot hole, but if you don’t focus on it while watching it, you can still enjoy it.

    But thank you for pointing out that The Hobbit isn’t a “prequel” to the Lord of the Rings. It really clears up the sort of person I’m talking with.

    David: Any citation at all from the LOTR would do.

    So, I guess what you’re saying is logic doesn’t work on you. Good to know.

    So, the logical implications of having Eagles in Middle Earth capable of carrying Frodo and company creating a plot hole of why didn’t they use the Eagles to take the ring to Mt Doom? Do you need a “reference” for that? We can’t simply “think” through the implications on our own?

    Cause I’m getting the distinct impression that the only way you will allow that Tolkien made any mistake of any kind is if I find a “reference” written by Tolkien himself that confesses the error. And if no such “reference” exists, then Tolkien is infallible.

    And lastly, as far as the insufficiently viscous lava goes, the “how it should have ended” video gets it wrong as well:

    And in the original article, the geologist says that every movie he’s ever seen gets it wrong. And applying Occam’s Razor to that factoid would suggest that they all got it wrong for the same reason, or similar reasons. It would be an interesting bit of exceptionalism if every OTHER movie got it wrong because they didn’t know how lava moves and flows, but LOTR got it “right” because LOTR lava is magic lava and therefore behaves exactly as shown in the movie.

  231. So, I guess what you’re saying is logic doesn’t work on you. Good to know.

    See, now you’ve forced me to do it: explain a little known bit of Middle Earth history. The lava actually *wasn’t* magical until Sauron used it to make the one ring. After that, it was magical, but a magical power that could only be used by him, with the exception of certain side effects like a lower density. When Sauron fell the first time, there was in fact a brief period where lots of wizards tried to make magical items in the lava, but they discovered quickly that the item powers were 1) not what they had hoped for, and 2) had a tendency to corrupt the user. The result was that Mt. Doom very quickly got a “Do Not Disturb, Bad Mojo” sign hung on it by the magic-using community and the few trinkets that had been made were destroyed. The sign was on the other side of Mt. Doom, otherwise Sam and Frodo would have seen it on their way up. Gollum had, in fact, seen it in one of his wanderings, but had forgotten how to read.

    There: a perfectly plausible and even (eek) logical back story as to why there wasn’t a flood of magical trinkets. And it, apparently, has exactly the same amount of textual support as your ideas, Greg.

    So, the logical implications of having Eagles in Middle Earth capable of carrying Frodo and company creating a plot hole of why didn’t they use the Eagles to take the ring to Mt Doom? Do you need a “reference” for that? We can’t simply “think” through the implications on our own?

    As a matter of fact, no. See (and here you’re forcing me to reveal some of Sauron’s deep secrets), the borders of Mordor were, in fact, covered by a magical defensive aura put in place by Sauron because he feared exactly that kind of quick strike. The eagles could come up to the borders of Mordor, but not within, at least until Sauron fell. Thus, they could rescue Frodo and Sam, but could not enter before that. It’s a tragic fact that the only really guaranteed way through this magic aura was the route that Gollum took Frodo and Sam, as Shelob was much too magically powerful herself to allow Sauron to block her hole. Gives a whole new impression of the little bugger, doesn’t it?

    (In fact, some later Middle Earth scholars argue that Gollum’s fall into the fire was not accidental, but deliberate, a self-sacrifice forgotten because of Frodo and Sam’s misunderstanding of what Gollum was saying as he stood on the edge.)

    Again, this has exactly the amount of textual support as any of your precious logic, Mr. Spo—, Greg.

  232. Are we arguing about anything substantive here

    How lava in one particular volcano should behave in a Hollywood film based on a fantasy trilogy, using background of said trilogy and/or Dungeons & Dragons as references. Also, whether snowpeople gain the power of flight from hot soup cooked by the fires of Mount Doom. So, yes.

    or are we just doing the thing where we’re mostly stabbing at each other because we have to be right?

    [Hastily conceals +1 short sword (+3 vs internet) behind back, whistles nonchalantly]

  233. I’ve always been irritated by the “why didn’t they just fly the Ring in on eagleback” argument. There are really any number of reasons why not. Ones that haven’t been cited above include Eagles, like most natural creatures, are averse to the anti-life power of Mordor and won’t go there. This changes when Sauron falls.Mordor is well-defended from the air by the flying Nosedrools, who all perish when the Ring is destroyed; their steeds, unguided, wander off. Prior to that, the Nosedrools would have swatted down the Eagles effortlessly, even though Sauron didn’t suspect that anyone would be trying to destroy the Ring.Sauron could have stopped anything he saw coming. The point of sneaking Frodo in on foot was that Sauron didn’t notice. He could hardly have failed to notice Eagles flying into his airspace, even if he were being mooned from Minas Tirith. They needed to distract him massively even to get the sneaky ground-level mission through, because Sauron has the ability to know about anything that happens in his realm.Hobbits are clearly somewhat resistant to magic, at least to Sauron’s kind of magic. Humans become wraiths after wearing a ring for a relatively brief time; the One Ring killed Isildur off pretty quickly. Then Sméagol gets hold of it and uses it extensively; it turns him into Gollum, but he doesn’t become a wraith by any means. Nor does Bilbo, who gets it next (though Bilbo doesn’t have it long). Frodo takes much more ill-effect from the Ring than Bilbo, even though he has it for even less time, because Sauron is exerting himself to find the Ring, and the Ring is exerting itself to make Frodo betray the mission. But it doesn’t work. So hobbits are resistant to Sauron-magic; this, along with surprise and distraction, enables Frodo to get through. Eagles have no such resistance to Sauron’s magic.John, this is intended as a general response (useful for future encounters with it) to the Eagle argument, not as a continuation of the back-and-forth sniping you’ve called a halt to above. If it seems too like that to you, I will humbly accept your deletion without resentment.

    OT: my spellchecker redlines ‘Frodo’ but accepts ‘Bilbo’ without complaint. Why is that? *looks it up* Well, what do you know, it’s a kind of sword.

  234. Hey, how about another plausible and logical backstory? The lava became magical when Sauron made the ring and, worrying that others would try to make their own trinkets in it, he set a trap. Any trinket made in that lava would immediately cause its maker to leap into the lava. This held true while the One Ring still existed. After Sauron’s fall, there was in fact a wave of attempts (mostly by low-ranking wizards who were jealous of those more powerful–notably by Surloin the Pink, Radagast’s very good friend), with tragic results (Surloin the Crispy Black). That has the additional virtue of explaining why there were so few wizards left by the time LOTR happens.

  235. More readable version of the rant above (like anyone cares).

    I’ve always been irritated by the “why didn’t they just fly the Ring in on eagleback” argument. There are really any number of reasons why not. Ones that haven’t been cited above include

    1. Eagles, like most natural creatures, are averse to the anti-life power of Mordor and won’t go there. This changes when Sauron falls.

    2. Mordor is well-defended from the air by the flying Nosedrools, who all perish when the Ring is destroyed; their steeds, unguided, wander off. Prior to that, the Nosedrools would have swatted down the Eagles effortlessly, even though Sauron didn’t suspect that anyone would be trying to destroy the Ring.

    3. Sauron could have stopped anything he saw coming. The point of sneaking Frodo in on foot was that Sauron didn’t notice. He could hardly have failed to notice Eagles flying into his airspace, even if he were being mooned from Minas Tirith. They needed to distract him massively even to get the sneaky ground-level mission through, because Sauron has the ability to know about anything that happens in his realm.

    4. Hobbits are clearly somewhat resistant to magic, at least to Sauron’s kind of magic. Humans become wraiths after wearing a ring for a relatively brief time; the One Ring killed Isildur off pretty quickly. Then Sméagol gets hold of it and uses it extensively; it turns him into Gollum, but he doesn’t become a wraith by any means. Nor does Bilbo, who gets it next (though Bilbo doesn’t have it long).

    Frodo takes much more ill-effect from the Ring than Bilbo, even though he has it for even less time, because Sauron is exerting himself to find the Ring, and the Ring is exerting itself to make Frodo betray the mission. But it doesn’t work.

    So hobbits are resistant to Sauron-magic; this, along with surprise and distraction, enables Frodo to get through. Eagles have no such resistance to Sauron’s magic.

    John, this is intended as a general response (useful for future encounters with it) to the Eagle argument, not as a continuation of the back-and-forth sniping you’ve called a halt to above. If it seems too like that to you, I will humbly accept your deletion without resentment.

  236. David, the Wizards were Maiar sent to Middle-Earth by the Valar, with specific missions. Gandalf was the human masquerade of the Maia Olórin. He was given one of the Three (this is from memory, and I can’t recall the name of it, but it was the Ring of Fire) at the Grey Havens when he arrived in Middle Earth. His specific mission was to be the Enemy of Sauron.

    Don’t have to go to The Silmarillion for that. It’s all in the Lord of the Rings itself (might have to read the Appendices for some of it).

  237. Oh, and the reason there were so few is that there were only EVER five of them, of whom only three are mentioned in the text.

  238. David, the Wizards were Maiar sent to Middle-Earth by the Valar, with specific missions

    Surloin the Pink’s was to bring good steaks to everyone. The other Wizards didn’t like to talk about the fallen ones because it was so embarrassing (Getting caught in a trap like that?). So they’ve been written out of the history. Sad, really.

  239. The borders of Morder were protected by a magical aura put in place to prevent eagle attacks but not, oh I dont know, detect whenever any of the rings of power entered the aura?

    Doesn’t that sound the least bit as a convenient arbitrarily rule that Tolkien made up? (assuming your explanation came from Tolkien). The somple solution to the gaping plot hole would be to remove the eagles from the entire story. They arent needed for the plot or character development. the only problem would be Tolkien would have to lose the acene were Frodo and Sam are surrounded by lava, facing certain death, only to be rescued at the last moment by the eagles. They throw the ring in, an d then they walk down the mountain. Not as dramatic. Which might explain why he put them in there. raise the stakes so we think they are going to die after succeeding in destroying the ring..

    Out of curiosity, do you have any example of bad writing on Tolkien’s part? Anything significant in terms of plot holes or inconsistencies on the world he built?

    Xopher, at the very least, the eagles could have carried the Fellowship to Gondor and shaved better part of a year off the trip.

    There are storyline limitations, such a s vampires are imortal but cant go out during the day, where those limitatiins show up as ‘lets build a character class like this and see what happens” and then there are the kinds of limitations that really seem arbitrary and implemented by the author because, oh crap, if this and that, then the entire story collapses. the existence of the eagles create all manner of plot /world consistency problems, and arbitrary rules like ‘tSauron installed an anti eagle aura around Mt Doom, but not one to detect the Ring itself” just make it worse.

    The simple solutiin would be to remove the eagles from the story. But that would require admitting Tolkien was fallible and didnt write a completely perfect story. I would say he wrote a great story which had some dlaws in it, Great but not perfect. And the eagle stuff is the most obvious example. Rather than twist ourselves into knots trying to justify them, its a lot more straightforward to admit Tolkien made a minor mistake and shouldnt have had eagles in Middle Earth. Or any other form of helicopter like transportation.

  240. I will just point out that an “anti-Eagle aura” appears nowhere in my comment and leave it at that.

    Sorry, John. Looks like I put my foot in it. *waits for MLC*

  241. only five wizards? none of the elves or dwarves or anyone else can perform magic? No one else at all? Man, for all the magic going on in Middle Earth, those five wizards must have been busy little beavers.

  242. The borders of Morder were protected by a magical aura put in place to prevent eagle attacks but not, oh I dont know, detect whenever any of the rings of power entered the aura?

    I accounted for that. Read the explanation again.

    (assuming your explanation came from Tolkien)

    You’re really not following the conversation, are you? You’ve asserted that logic tells you certain things about Tolkien’s world, regardless of whether there’s any textual evidence for it. My counter point was that, freed from the need for textual evidence, I can come up with lots of logical and plausible back stories that make the text work.

    Surloin the Pink didn’t give it away? Should I have called him Surloin the Medium Rare?

    Out of curiosity, do you have any example of bad writing on Tolkien’s part? Anything significant in terms of plot holes or inconsistencies on the world he built?

    Of course, I do. Lots of them. But I could come up with plausible back stories for them, as well, if I had to and was freed of the need to find textual references, as you have done with your dismissal of the need for citations.

    (eg, I think Arwen’s a terrible character, terribly handled, in both the books and the movies).

  243. The nazgul didnt ride those pteradactyls until book 2. They rode horses up till that point. And if they rode pteradactyls before book2, why were they riding horses in book 1? There is no advantage gained riding around looking for the Fellowship on a horse if you can ride on pteradactyls. So either they didnt start riding pteradactyls until book2 which means if they had used eagles in book1 tthey would have gotten to Mt Doom without running into pteradactyl patrols, OR they always rode pteradactyls and Tolkien made an error showing them on horses in book l1, something they would have no reason to do if they usually ride pteradactyls.

    pretty much any time Tolkien introduces stuff that flies, he appears to miss the consequences those things should have to the plot. which makes sense if you realize the books were written around the 40’s before helicooters showed how much they affect war tactics and strategies.

  244. Greg, go read the Lord of the Rings. You obviously haven’t. Being able to do magic doesn’t make you a Wizard in Tolkien’s universe. The Wizards are those five specific beings, no matter who does magic.

    And the Elves repeatedly say that they don’t understand what the hobbits mean when they say “magic.” They don’t distinguish between things they just know how to do and what seems like magic to the hobbits.

    You can argue logic, but you seem to have a base-level unfamiliarity of the world you’re talking about. You can’t do logic effectively if you don’t know the premises, and you don’t. Go read the books.

  245. And yet you know where a particular thing appears in the book! How odd. Why the complete fail on Wizards? Strange.

    I don’t think the flying creatures appearing first in TTT means they weren’t developed before then; I think it represents Sauron still trying to be subtle and sneaky, at least well away from his own land. The air defenses of Mordor itself are a completely separate matter.

    And you misspelled pterodactyl.

  246. freed from the need for textual evidence? Ok. Clearly, the problem is a lack of understanding of logic.

    we start with some premise that is agreed to be true. we then use logic to develop those premises into further implications that must also be true.

    The premise could be something in the book that Tolkien wrote. Such as the Eagles are capable of carrying Gandalf and Frodo some distance.

    We can then use logical implications to show that flying eagles creates a logical inconsistency, such as they should have used eagles to take the ring to mordor. You dont need to have a reference from Tolkien to follow the logical implications of his premises. You just need logic.

    Saying there is some magical aura that prevents the use of egles isnt logical implication. It is making stuff up. In the realm of logical arguments it would be called a faulty premise. The existence of your aura isnt guven by atolkien and it isnt a logical implication.

  247. The premise could be something in the book that Tolkien wrote. Such as the Eagles are capable of carrying Gandalf and Frodo some distance.

    We can then use logical implications to show that flying eagles creates a logical inconsistency, such as they should have used eagles to take the ring to mordor. You dont need to have a reference from Tolkien to follow the logical implications of his premises. You just need logic.

    And, freed from the need for textual reference (since you keep refusing to give citations as evidence for anything), I can come up with a perfectly logical backstory that deals with your analysis. Which is exactly what I did.

    Your logical fallacy is that you are assuming that your information is complete and thus can be used to build a logical case. But it isn’t complete (how do we know? Tolkien wrote lots more about Middle Earth than appeared in LOTR).

    None of this helps Surloin the Pink, by the way.

  248. Where are you getting this “magical aura” bullshit, Greg? YOU invented that, not me. I’m talking about the Eagles’ aversion to Mordor, which is a place of death.

    But I notice also you ignore my other reasons to focus on the one that seems silly to you. What about the fact that Sauron would have noticed the giant eagles flying in?

  249. Where are you getting this “magical aura” bullshit, Greg? YOU invented that, not me

    He’s getting it from my comment at 9:05 am, thank you, and I think it’s quite plausible.

  250. Very late to the party here, and hope I’m not just throwing chaff and keeping the sniping going, but I feel I have to point something out, as I’m seeing a lot of people talking about how the One Ring is lava (or powered by lava or made with magical lava).

    The One Ring is a physical manifestation of Sauron’s power. It is magical not because of how it was forged or what it was forged with, but because Sauron invested much of his own power into the ring. I don’t have access to the books at the moment (as I’m at work), but even a quick glance a Wikipedia’s entry on the One Ring (at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_one_ring) states the following:

    “The One Ring was created by the Dark Lord Sauron….[H]e aided the Elven smiths of Eregion and their leader Celebrimbor in the making of the Rings of Power. He then forged the One Ring himself in the fires of Mount Doom…. Sauron intended it to be the most powerful of all Rings…. Since the other Rings were themselves powerful, Sauron was obliged to place much of his native power into the One to achieve his purpose. Creating the Ring simultaneously strengthened and weakened Sauron’s power. On the one hand, as long as Sauron had the Ring, he could control the power of all the other Rings, and thus he was significantly more powerful after its creation than before; and putting such a great portion of his own power into the Ring ensured Sauron’s continued existence so long as the Ring existed. On the other hand, by binding his power within the Ring, Sauron became dependent on it — without it his power was significantly diminished.”

    Also stated in this entry are other aspects of the the Ring that are caused by Sauron’s power (impervious to damage, unable to be melted by dragon fire, ability to change size)

    Also mentioned at Wikipedia is an interesting fact about Mount Doom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Doom): “Orodruin is more than just an ordinary volcano; it responds to Sauron’s commands and his presence, lapsing into dormancy when he is away from Mordor and becoming active again when he returns. When Sauron is defeated at the end of the Third Age, the volcano erupts violently.”

    I know, TL/DR; but the short form is this: Sauron is magic. Sauron made Mount Doom magical by working there. It is not an ordinary volcano and this is presented as such in the texts. This is not presented as well in the movie, so they use standard Hollywood lava to represent Mount Doom; while this might jar others, it works for me. I bought into the setup that Mt. Doom was not normal and therefore didn’t expect it work like a normal volcano and have no problems with it.

    I didn’t having any flying snowman moments in the movies…. (On the other hand, in the books, I got annoyed at the 10 year wait between Frodo getting the ring and Gandalf realizing it was dangerous — but that’s another story.)

    Anyway, just throwing my $0.02 in, hoping I’m not just muck-raking cause more strife when it’s not needed.

  251. Right, sorry, I forgot we were ignoring authorial intent and the actual text as written in this discussion…. My bad, although to be honest, I was more responding to the earlier comments about people talking about how the ring was made of lava and was powered by lava. Sorry about that; I’ll let you and Greg and Xopher continue and shall await the MLC as well.

  252. I’m ashamed of my participation in something this stupid. John, my apologies AGAIN for not stopping even after I realized it was pointless. When someone says something sufficiently outrageous it’s hard to resist replying; however, I ought to have resisted, and I apologize.

  253. xopher, the first half of my message at 10:54 was to David. I forgot to address that part to him. The secpnd part, starting with “Xopher,” was directed to you. apologies for the confusion.

    David, I thought we were simply misunderstanding one another. But I see now that its a more fundamental difference than that. I see a difference between following the logical implications of information we are given versus just making up any old explanation that fits. As far as I can telll, you see any logical implication as being exactly the same as making arbitrary rules up. Given that, we can not talk about story flaws without talking in circles.

  254. John, it was not personal nastiness. I really care about the correct use of language (for values of care with Asperger’s – might as well say, as I came out on the other thread). Especially when someone is claiming to use logic as their weapon of choice. There is a reason logic is derived from λόγος.

    Genuine question (please help with my problem comprehending “normal” people): Did I really say something worse than “So, I guess what you’re saying is logic doesn’t work on you. Good to know.”?

    Everybody else please ignore this message, it really is an aside for John who can ignore it or answer as he wishes. Thanks in advance.

  255. As far as I can telll, you see any logical implication as being exactly the same as making arbitrary rules up

    If it’s based on the assumption that you have complete information and without qualification, then, yes, it is the same as making arbitrary rules up. The logic of medieval astronomers was unimpeachable given their assumptions and observations; it was also completely wrong.

  256. And I should have said, sorry for seeming horrible when I didn’t mean to be.

    How about we restart the discussion and push this to over 300 with some more Flying Snowmen and no argument and lots of compliments and pleasantries, you lovely people?

    For me Greenfingers was spoiled by Helen Mirren waving at a flower border of annuals and praising the Daphne that clearly was not there. They went on to use Saintpaulia flowers stuck on wires in a bunch of violet leaves and called them violets. My television was in danger at that moment, let alone my suspended disbelief.

  257. Pat, I know we’ve come a long way since last night, but the reason your attack at 6:28 pm was ad-hominem was because you were claiming Greg was incapable of furthering the discussion based on something about HIM, namely that he hadn’t read the Silmarillion. For the attack to not be ad-hominem, you could simply state what thing in the Silmarillion was relevant, (which it appears you later did).

    Personally I don’t find the Silmarillion relevant to the discussion at all, because the story ought to stand on its own, without me having to do out-of-band research of the world the story exists in. It’s nice if there is such a world, because it can lead to a richer experience as you read stories that all take place in such a world, but any given story within the world should include the relevant departures from reality relevant to what it presents.

    So, on the original point, the MOVIE version of Return of the King, which has Gollum interacting with the “Fires of Mount Doom” portrays them as appearing much like Lava, but differing from Lava’s behavior with living beings. Given that, the MOVIE ought to include something that explains why that would be so. Plenty of people have argued in this thread that Gollum’s corruption from the ring is enough to signify that he might interact with the lava differently, and frankly, I buy that. I also didn’t notice the problem when watching the movie, because I don’t know much about lava, and hadn’t given much thought to how you might or might not sink in it. But the fact remains that something ought to be present to explain the departure from reality, preferably before the moment of tension.

    I frankly don’t even think the Movie is allowed to rely on the original 3 books to explain things. You can’t, for example, have the movie skip the introductions of the ring making people invisible, and then suddenly have it turn people invisible with no preamble. Anybody whose read the books might understand, but it’s no good to anybody who hasn’t. The movies should stand on their own, and as such need to include the relevant departures from reality. In general, they do a great job of this.

    But that’s why I think the Silmarillion is irrelevant to this discussion. It might inform us of interesting things about the world we wouldn’t otherwise know, but if any of those things are directly relevant to the LotR Trilogy, it ought to be included in that Trilogy. It’s okay to say those 3 books are related (by calling them a “Trilogy”) because you’re expected to read them in order. The Silmarillion is out-of-band, and not included as part of the Trilliogy. It just exists in the same world.

    Look to Terry Pratchett as another (much more light-hearted) example. The Disc World has all sorts of crazy things going on in it, in multiple story lines. If you read all the books you learn all sorts of interesting and amusing things about the world, and how they’re all inter-related. If you read only the Town Watch books (“Men At Arms,” “Guards! Guards!” etc.) they build on facts presented earlier in the series (though the important ones are re-stated in each book they’re relevant to). One of the developments in that story is the inclusion of a Werewolf in the Town Watch. In ANOTHER story, “Going Postal,” which is not part of the Town Watch series, but which takes place in the SAME CITY of the same world, a notorious criminal is trying to flee the guards. The author makes special mention of how this notorious criminal has heard a rumor that the town watch has a werewolf in their ranks.

    If you think the Silmarillion is relevant to discussions of LotR consistency, then you might argue that they don’t need to mention the Werewolf in “Going Postal.” The criminal should just take precautions against werewolves, that otherwise make no sense, or be caught by a werewolf suddenly and turned into the watch by them, and the reader should just accept that. But I disagree. The book needs to stand on its own. If the Watch has a werewolf because the universe says it does, than any book which relies on that fact has an obligation to establish that fact independently. And that’s something Pratchett does pretty well. It doesn’t take much, in this case he just “heard a rumor” and it’s enough that the rumor turns out to be true. If you’ve read the other books, you get to take pleasure in knowing where the rumor comes from, and also that it’s true before that’s revealed. But if you HAVEN’T read the other books it still works, because they establish the werewolf watchman in the story you’re reading.

    In short, if you have to go outside the story to explain something that happened inside the story, then the story made a mistake. Therefore the Silmarillion, being part of the WORLD, but not part of the STORY, is off-limits on this discussion.

  258. the logic of medieval astronomers was unimpeachable?
    Like I said, we are operating from completely different definitions of ‘logic’.

  259. Speaking of using Dungeons & Dragons as a reference, just what level Magic User was Gandalf, anyway? I thought of bringing him up to support my thought that Tolkien’s “fires of Mount Doom” were never meant as lava. Tolkien’s depiction in the book would better fit flaming natural gas leakage, producing a sort of natural oven hotter than any Middle Earth forge.

    To us standing on the shoulders of D&D etc, a Middle Earth with no molten lava anywhere, thus a natural gas leak the hottest place in the area, seems a little tame. But Gandalf as one of the most powerful Magic Users in Middle Earth, makes Middle Earth magic a little tame too, doesn’t it? Isn’t all of “The Hobbit” sort of Level 1-4?

    (John, sorry if I sounded snippy at the wrong time. I’m very new here.)

  260. the logic of medieval astronomers was unimpeachable?

    Given their observations and assumptions, yes. They made certain observations and assumptions and then used logical inferences to build a picture of the world. It was a logical one, if completely wrong. When new information came along, they made another set of logical inferences and built a different picture of the world. It was also quite logical, and also almost entirely wrong.

  261. My favourite piece of world-building, with no Flying Snowmen? “Welsh Incident” by Robert Graves (Should be read in a Welsh accent, isn’t it?)

    ‘But that was nothing to what things came out
    From the sea-caves of Criccieth yonder.’
    ‘What were they? Mermaids? dragons? ghosts?’
    ‘Nothing at all of any things like that.’
    ‘What were they, then?’
    ‘All sorts of queer things,
    Things never seen or heard or written about,
    Very strange, un-Welsh, utterly peculiar
    Things. Oh, solid enough they seemed to touch,
    Had anyone dared it. Marvellous creation,
    All various shapes and sizes, and no sizes,
    All new, each perfectly unlike his neighbour,
    Though all came moving slowly out together.’
    ‘Describe just one of them.’
    ‘I am unable.’
    ‘What were their colours?’
    ‘Mostly nameless colours,
    Colours you’d like to see; but one was puce
    Or perhaps more like crimson, but not purplish.
    Some had no colour.’
    ‘Tell me, had they legs?’
    ‘Not a leg or foot among them that I saw.’
    ‘But did these things come out in any order?’
    What o’clock was it? What was the day of the week?
    Who else was present? How was the weather?’
    ‘I was coming to that. It was half-past three
    On Easter Tuesday last. The sun was shining.
    The Harlech Silver Band played Marchog Jesu
    On thirty-seven shimmering instruments
    Collecting for Caernarvon’s (Fever) Hospital Fund.
    The populations of Pwllheli, Criccieth,
    Portmadoc, Borth, Tremadoc, Penrhyndeudraeth,
    Were all assembled. Criccieth’s mayor addressed them
    First in good Welsh and then in fluent English,
    Twisting his fingers in his chain of office,
    Welcoming the things. They came out on the sand,
    Not keeping time to the band, moving seaward
    Silently at a snail’s pace. But at last
    The most odd, indescribable thing of all
    Which hardly one man there could see for wonder
    Did something recognizably a something.’
    ‘Well, what?’
    ‘It made a noise.’
    ‘A frightening noise?’
    ‘No, no.’
    ‘A musical noise? A noise of scuffling?’
    ‘No, but a very loud, respectable noise —
    Like groaning to oneself on Sunday morning
    In Chapel, close before the second psalm.’
    ‘What did the mayor do?’
    ‘I was coming to that.

  262. houseboatonstyx, if Mt Doom was formed as a result of natural gas fires rather than lava, I think that points to Sauron as the first person to do fracking on a large scale.

    ;)

  263. The Hobbit gave Bilbo what was at the time a ring of invisibility. I can’t recall D&D levels clearly at all, but that seems to be far above a level 4 character. Depends on the DM as to what magic doodads you run into, but most times I seem to remember each player might have at most one truly magical item like that. I think I recall getting up to level 7 or 9 or something. But the neurons for most of that memory got destroyed by alcohal around that same time frame.

    mithril wasnt magicll but it was powerful and rare.

    Bilbo did quite well for that one adventure.

  264. NOT getting back into the argument, but it’s pretty clear, at least to me, that mithril is platinum. It’s easy to work, the right color. and “the Elves could make of it” an extremely hard metal (I’d speculate they did this by alloying it with iridium).

    A chain coat of platinum-iridium alloy would be a) extremely expensive and b) very touch indeed.

  265. Can I just point out with the eagle thing, the eagles in Middle-Earth are sapient creatures and an ancient race in their own right. For most of the war, as far as they were concerned, it was a groundling matter and nuts to that basically. They didn’t even hang around at Rivendell for the big meeting after they dropped Gandalf off, so weren’t available for transport purposes even if the Fellowship wanted them. Their interests did not, as far as they saw it, coincide. Hey, politics is fun, even in Fantasyland.

    As to why the Nazgul moved to the semi-pterodactyl like creatures from horses. When they were tooling around in the shire with the horses Sauron wasn’t quite moving openly yet. Oh, he was almost there, but not quite. The Nazgul were doing their equivalent of low-profile, and even if the Shire wasn’t hostile territory, they’d had to cross hostile territory to get there. If they’d been Top-Gunning it in flying steeds that would have upset the applecart more than it was already and started the war off before Sauron was ready to do it. Plus they could have kissed goodbye to a covert acquisition of the Ring (and Ring-bearer), which they still hoped to get right up until Amon-Sul.

  266. @ Greg 4:23. Nice. ;-). But did anyone say “Mt Doom was formed as a result of natural gas fires rather than lava”? Apparently it was formed by a natural lava-spreading volcano centuries ago, but by the time of the story, the only thing still coming out of it was smoke and fumes, from what sounds like natural gas or something similarly flammable. Sauron may have set fire to the gas, thus ‘creating the natural oven’. But that wouldn’t mean he carved the rock into an oven-like shape, either.

    As for your earlier comment, sure Tolkien may have made some mistakes various places. (Imo some reason for not using eagles first, should have been discussed onstage by the characters in the text while they were making their plans). But the hobbits coming so close to molten lava and surviving, isn’t a Tolkien-fumble issue, since Tolkien never said the ‘fires’ were lava at all. Whatever Gollum fell into, was Jackson’s addition (for good cinematic reasons, imo).

    @Pat. Was it you who brought up Tolkien’s policy about keeping the setting itself quite realistic, apart from the specified magic? Excellent point, anyway.

  267. Hey! @crypticmirror @houseboatonstyx Greg is not going to accept anything that isn’t logical! It can be wrong, but it has to be logical. LOGICAL!

  268. The first time I really noticed this ‘flying snowman’ phenomenon was in watching Mission to Mars at the cinema. I nearly stood up and started shouting at the screen during the scene where Tim Robbins’ character dies tragically and in complete contravention of any known physical laws.

  269. Hm. Fwiw, and back to John’s OP question, the sort of thing that throws me out of the story is seldom scientific blunders, but characters not even considering some obvious course. I’d accept nearly any excuse for not asking the eagles to fly into Mordor — if the characters had just discussed it. And I’m still fuming about why Miss Pym didn’t apologize to [spoiler] after realizing her mistake.

  270. Cryptic: The Nazgul were doing their equivalent of low-profile

    Heh, “low-profile Nazgul” is like saying “tactical nuclear weapon”.

    ;)

    But if you want a low profile Nazgul, put him on a Pterodactyl, fly at night, keep it above five hundred feet, and dont’ fly when there’s a full moon. Even stealth fighters prefer to fly on cloudy moonless nights. And if there’s no pterodactyl radar, and you’re high enough up that people can’t hear your flapping and roaring, you’re as good as an f117 stealth fighter.

    Not to mention, the Nazgul “plan”, if you can call it a plan, boiled down to this: Torture Gollum until he named the Shire. Then go to the shire and wander around aimlessly and try to find the ring. Turns out that plan was completely useless until Frodo put on the ring, at which point, they had his GPS coordinates for a few moments. Which means, they only got lucky that they were close enough when he put the ring on that they could ride to his position on horseback before Frodo moved.

    Now, change it to modern military aviation tactics. Put the Nazgul on pteradactyls at a thousand feet altitude at night, completely low profile because *no one ever sees them*, have them take up various orbits between the Shire and Mordor. They essentially run CAP missions over the Shire, on standby, waiting for a call for close air support. As soon as Frodo puts on the ring, at least one Nazgul is within a minute or so of dive bombing his position. Scoop up the ring before Frodo and friends knows what hits them, jet back to Mordor with the one ring, and kick back with a tall frosty one before dinner. Seriously. Imagine the fight at Amon Sûl, but have the Nazgul on pterodactyles. The only reason Frodo kept the ring was because Aragon fought off the Nazgul. Have Aragon fight off the nazgul while they’re riding pteradactyls and see how good his odds are.

    If they don’t find Frodo by dawn, land in various remote but local locations and maintain a low profile, out of sight, out of the sky, and wait for night fall again, which means the entire time they are looking for the ring, *no one ever sees them at all*. It took Frodo months to make the trip. That’s a lot of nights where they could have found him. And if Frodo put the ring on during the day, they’re still local, but they can fly, so while some folk might see them that day, it’ll be the last day they see them, cause they’ll get the ring, and jet home. That’s a hell of a lot better plan than the ones the Nazgul were following in the novel.

    People who don’t fly and who don’t know military aviation often commit the Khan mistake of only thinking and maneuvaring two dimensionally.

    Tolkien? He fought in the trenches of WW1. His portrayal of war and its horror reflects his hands on experience with it. But he clearly didn’t think through anything to do with aviation. He wrote the novels during WW2, so vertical envelopment didn’t exist yet. Which is fine, because the nazgul acting dumb on horseback isn’t central to the plot. It’s not like the Tri-Wizard Cup is a portkey in Harry Potter adn the entire plot revolves around getting Harry to win the tournament so he’ll touch the cup. And then the question becomes, why not just turn his toothbrush into the portkey instead?

    But basically, if you know aviation, and read LotR, Tolkien’s handling of flight is somewhat reminiscent of the old stories about UFO’s where they are constructed out of large rivets and various tech levels that match the time the story was written. It isn’t quite as bad as reading the story of Icarus, but that’s the same basic idea. He wrote flight based on a model in his mind that was pretty much just plain wrong. His experience was fighting trench warfare, not air mobile, and it shows in the way he presents flight.

    The stories are still great stories, but the parts involving flight all full of feathers held together with wax. In reality, flight capabilities would have altered how things would have been done in major ways. I’m willing to unfocus my eyes and gloss over those parts while reading the books or watching the movies. But if someone wants to have an honest conversation about plot holes in Tolkien’s works, this is probably the biggest one.

  271. Oh brother, Greg, please stop. Tolkien’s ideas about air warfare are certainly more shaped by WWI, but yours are hardly better. Your plan involves multiple Nazgul hovering over the west for months at a time. That’s not going to draw attention, darkness or no? From Elrond? From the Rangers? Tom Bombadil? Next, what’s the loiter time of the Nazgul-mounts? How long can they stay aloft before needing to land? Can they recover during the course of a day? What are their fuel requirements? They’re logically (eek!) likely to need large amounts of food per day. Where are the Nazgul going to get that? How well do they do in the cold weather?

    Next, note that Aragorn did set the party up initially not at the summit of Weathertop, but down below, in a small bowl. So, he’s aware of potential dangers at the peak. Next, an air assault would limit one Nazgul at a time attacking. There just isn’t room for more than one to get to the travelers. In addition, the mounts are insanely vulnerable to ground fire and Aragorn is an excellent hand with a bow and with burning torches, both of which would cause serious problems.

    After Rivendell, it just gets worse. Now, you have multiple bowmen, including the greatest archer in Middle Earth (Ye Olde Elephant Surfer) and directed energy weapons (Gandalf) hitting you from the ground. That’s not a permissive environment by any means.

  272. John, oh thanks. Sorry for giving you extra work. I swear I checked everything before I hit ‘submit’.

    Break: the most jarring example of a flying snowman I’ve run into: I could suspend disbelief to allow for a secret world of wizards, to allow for a secret world where wizards go to school. To allow for a talking fricken hat, and an all powerful wizard whose spell for murder is thwarted by love itself.

    But goddamn it, the fact that the triwizard cup was actually a port key to Voldemort??? That not only threw me out of suspension of disbelief, but pissed me off.
    Oh and another

  273. Oh, and another arial strategy, this time taken from spec op teams in afghanistan: A small team on the ground with a radio and laser rangefinder, mucking around up close and personal with the enemy. When they find a target, they dont engage, but rather cal in air support with a radio and use a laser designator to pinpoint the target for laser guided bomb or missile.

    So have the nazgul on horseback on Frodo’s trail. All the stealth (and the exact same logistical capability) that they already have in the existing version of he story. But have a couple of ptrodactyls on standby. When they find Frodo they dont have to fight and defeat aaragon, they simply have to follow at a distance, not reveal to the fellowship that they have them targeted, and just trail them till a pteradactyl or two show up. aaragon is niblets, and they have the ring.

  274. David: “The mounts [pterodactyls] are insanely vulnerable to ground fire”

    As demonstrated during the battle of Gondor when all nine pterodactyl mounts were shot out of the sky by thousands of bowmen below them. Aaragon and Legolas both shot one out of the sky and Gimli told Legolas that only counted as a single kill. I dont know why the Nazgul even bothered riding them, they were as fragile as butterflies.

  275. As demonstrated during the battle of Gondor when all nine pterodactyl mounts were shot out of the sky by thousands of bowmen below them. Aaragon and Legolas both shot one out of the sky and Gimli told Legolas that only counted as a single kill. I dont know why the Nazgul even bothered riding them, they were as fragile as butterflies.

    Oh piffle. Invulnerable to regular bowmen, but Legolas, Aragorn, and Gandalf? I don’t think so. The Witch-King’s mount was killed pretty easily at Pelennor Fields.

    You’re not saying they’re magical beasts, are you? Cause that would be destroy your entire argument about the lava.

    And you haven’t even addressed the other issues: where are the Nazgul getting their food during their months in the north? Even figuring half a cow per mount per day, you’re talking 4.5 cows/per day to feed all nine. That’s 135 cows/month. Really?

    During this time, they’re not going to get noticed by Elrond, the Rangers, Tom Bombadil, and (I left this out the first time) the eagles, Glorfindel, or Arwen?

    We haven’t even talked about sortie rate: if the beasts can stay aloft for six hours at a time every night, that means you need two beasts per night to cover one area. Assuming the need to cover the Shire, Brandywine, Bree, Fornost, the East-West Road, the North-South Road, and the Last Bridge (you did want one within minutes of any possible point, right?), that’s 14 Nazgul required, and you only have 9. That’s assuming that the beasts can do that night after night without respite. If they need a one day break for each sortie, then you need 28 Nazgul to cover each two-night period.

    And it just gets worse after the Party leaves Rivendell. Now you need to cover both sides of the mountains, which means the Nazgul lose contact with each other. You still have to worry about all the other powers in the area and throw in Beorn for good measure.

    When they find a target, they dont engage, but rather cal in air support with a radio and use a laser designator to pinpoint the target for laser guided bomb or missile.

    Yeah, this is a good example of the difficulties of air support. What you don’t see in this is the enormous logistical tail that was required to get those planes over Afghanistan. Either there was an American carrier in the Indian Ocean (c100,000 tons of logistical support) that flew off not only the attack planes but tankers to refuel them, or there were Air Force tankers refueling them multiple times as they flew to Afghanistan (one tanker unit refueled 77,000 aircraft during the war). It’s also a good example because a SOF team wiped themselves out when they accidentally relayed their own GPS coordinates to a plane above that promptly bombed them, rather than the actual Taliban target.

    There’s an old saying that “amateurs think tactics, professionals think logistics.” You’re thinking tactics.

  276. Gandalf was at Gondor when the pterodactyls showed up. Number he killed? zero. Where is your reference that it is other than how the text demonstrates?

    The pteradactyl was killed rather easily? Really? So, the Nazgul would have been safer riding horses? Horses are like tanks? The way the movie portrayed the woman loppong off the Pterodactyls head was another flying snowman. Slice through several feet of flesh plus a spine like it was pudding? yeah, no. That was a ‘bad guy is invulnerable until the story required him to die’ moment. No matter how hard or easy it would be to kill a pteradactyl, a horse is going to be more fragile. or at the very most, no tougher than a pteradactyl. if for no other reason than they’re about an order of magnatude heavier.

    As for feed logistics, you have any idea how hard it is to travel with horses? How much food they need? how many pounds of oats they need? how much water they need? how much grooming and care they require in real life??? I grew up on a farm. Horses in movies and most fantasy stories are treated like they were automobiles. Certainly there would be feed concerns for pteradactyl. But it is only a problem for teradactyls because you alow the feed and other logistical concerns for the Nazgul horses to be handwaved away. Where the hell do the Nazgul shoe their horses? horses can only ride maybe 20 to 25 miles a day, after which point, do the Nazgul make camp? Wagon trains in the old west preferred ox puled wagons cause horses *sucked* from a logistical standpoint.

    So sure there are logistical issues with food, but Tolkien made it clear up front he didnt want to deal with it when he gave the fellowship an apparently unlimited supply of lembas bread.

    So if you want to say that pteradactals searching for the ring between the shire and Rivendell breaks your suspension of disbelief because of logistical food issues, then you have to raise the same issue for the horses.

    If you give Tolkien a pass for treating horses like automobiles, then you dont get to dismiss pteradactyls because you dont think there are enough sheep in the shire.

    All you have done is demontrated how much you are willing to accept so long as it means Tolkien’s teclxt is above criticism. But you won’t accept similar logistic rules if it means Tolkien made an error. Horses never eat. But pteradactyls? where are they going to get the 5.8 cows per day they need to survive?

  277. Oy… Let me skip pass all the LOTR wankery and go all the way back to the Flying Snowman problem:

    Any time a story includes elements of the fantastic, there are at least three sets of rules in play; if those rules are violated, you’re liable to get a Flying Snowman moment. “Liable”, not necessarily “will”, because different readers or viewers are variously sensitive or knowledgeable about the three rulesets:

    1) Common experience represents the readers’ experience of the ordinary world. That can include varying degrees of scientific literacy or expertise, but there’s always reference to everyday experience. The ideas that most stuff falls down, that if you throw rocks at someone they get pissed, that friends stand by each other and when they don’t it’s Bad — those are common experience.

    2) Consistency represents the reasoning we use to interpret unfamiliar environments and situations. This applies to both behavior of objects and creatures, and the implications thereof. Of course, some people chase implications further than others — but if the boulder that just smashed through a barn, then gets carried off by a 6-year-old, that warrants some explanation! Maintaining consistency is where “world-building” is most important, because this is what holds together a scene that’s full of unfamiliar elements. Consistency binds together, and mediates between, the other two rulesets.

    3) Magic represents the intrusion of the exceptional, the wondrous, the fantastic. The laws of magic are not the laws of the material world, but the laws of the human mind. Sympathy, contagion, belief… those aren’t how things work, they’re how people work. The “psychic technology” of modern-style wizards isn’t dictated by this sort of magic, that’s just an inserted element, a “what if” to play with. The idea that “some folks can do special things”, is this sort of magic. The ideas that an object remembers its creation, that a tool shapes its wielder, that the inanimate could awaken to move and speak… those are magic. (Note that the Rule of Funny is magical in this sense!)

    Maintaining suspension of disbelief involves interweaving and balancing all three sets of rules, and that includes letting the reader (or viewer) know which rules are active at any given time — but you don’t always get to pick which rules they’ll find most important. I’m guessing (with a couple of prior commenters) that Krissy reacted to the Flying Snowman as a failure of consistency — up to then, the conceit had been “the snowman acts like the boy”, and flying was “not in that”. In the (infamously bad) movie Krull, I got thrown when the protagonists turned their marriage-magic into a weapon — not even a “purify evil”, but “blast the bad guy”. To me, that failed magical-symbolic rules. Others get thrown by whooshing spaceships because they’re starting with “I know what space acts like” (not actually “experience”, but still ruleset 1), and that broke consistency for them.

  278. for suspension of disbelief triggers around horses, see tvtropes “automaton horses” and even more extreme “somewhere an equestrian is crying”.

  279. Hmm. OK, My ohnosecond yields one error at the beginning and one at the end. At the beginning, that should of course have been “skip past”. At the end, I mistakenly overloaded the word “consistency” — that should be “failed real-world knowledge”.

  280. I’ll note that you’re avoiding the issue of sortie rates or detection or Aragorn settling in below the peak of Weathertop, or the difficulties of more than one flying Nazgul from attacking at a time, so I’ll take those as conceded.

    Gandalf was at Gondor when the pterodactyls showed up. Number he killed? zero. Where is your reference that it is other than how the text demonstrates?

    Oh, I see, *now* we get to use textual references, do we? You do go back and forth depending on what point you’re arguing, don’t you?

    As for feed logistics, you have any idea how hard it is to travel with horses? How much food they need? how many pounds of oats they need? how much water they need?

    Yes, as a matter of fact, I do know that, and it’s a lot less than a pterodactyl. Cavalry horses got about 12 pounds of grain and 14 pounds of hay per day. But some of that could be substituted with grass, plentiful in the northeast of Middle Earth, water was freely available, and moreover the local agricultural economy was well-suited to producing grain and oats in mass quantity, in a way that they weren’t suited to producing a mass number of domestic animals (certainly not 135 full size cows/month). The Nazgul (as we say in FOTR) have contacts in the local communities (I’m sorry, that’s a textual reference. Are you accepting those now, or not?), and getting them to buy a large amount of grain (or getting horses shoed) would certainly be workable, in a way that buying an entire community’s worth of cows on a monthly basis would not.

    Getting supplies for horses wouldn’t be easy for the Nazgul but it wouldn’t be as insanely impossible as getting hundreds of cows for the pterodactyl.

  281. I can’t believe a) that this is still going on or b) that the argument is now about how many cows it takes to feed a pterodactyl.

    And btw the pterodactyls in the film were wrong wrong wrong.

    Feathers, people. They’re supposed to have feathers. Sheesh.

  282. David, text references are the logical premise. From there you can make logical arguments from the premises, but thre argument itself is not in the text.

    Gandalf was at the battle of Gondor, saw the pterodactyls for a long period of time, and never killed any of them. That is a reference as you call it or a logical premise. A logical implication of that is he did not have the power to shoot them out of the sky. If he could have done that, he would have. You saying Gandalf could shoot them out of the sky with his “energy beam weapon” isnt a logical implcation of the premise. Its just something you made up to reach the conclusion you wanted to reach: that Tolkien is infallible

  283. David, the simple rule of logic is you have to follow it wherever it leads. You are clearly only following it if the path will take you to the conclusion you like: that Tolkien is infallible. I keep making the mistake that we are simply misunderstanding the facts and where they lead. But saying the pterodactyls would be shot out of the sky by Gandalf’s death ray is neither facts nor following them. And that goes for everything else you’ve said.

  284. Greg at 10.37,

    I thought the simplest rule of logic is:

    “An inference is deductively valid if and only if there is no possible situation in which all the premises are true but the conclusion false.”

    You are, perhaps, making this logical mistake:

    “Abduction allows inferring a as an explanation of b. Because of this, abduction allows the precondition a to be abduced from the consequence b. Deduction and abduction thus differ in the direction in which a rule like “a entails b” is used for inference. As such abduction is formally equivalent to the logical fallacy affirming the consequent or Post hoc ergo propter hoc, because there are multiple possible explanations for b.”

    The fact is the Nazgul do not ride their winged steeds early in the story. Your explanation (it is an error in world-building due to a misunderstanding of warfare) is only one of many possible explanations for which we have no evidence. Perhaps Nazgul like to ride horses when there is an H in the month. Perhaps the pterodactylish mounts were in the breeding season and not in the mood. Perhaps they were at the vet. Perhaps they were helping Sauron with his filing and correspondence.

    You may think these are improbable but they are possible. The fact that the reason is not mentioned in what I consider to be already an overlong book (I am definitely not a True Fan, as was evident from some of my comments above) may be a valid literary criticism. It does not excuse trying to write Tolkien’s back story from your imagination and insisting it is the only “logical” consequence of the facts.

    Xopher at 7.39, Tolkien describes them as “without quill or feather” and after the book says they were intended to be pterodactylish but not pterodactyls.

  285. Ugh. Insight it seems is never pretty.

    So, I have this default mode of operating, that I’m usually not aware of, but it is there in the background. And the default mode is something like “Strive to teach, Be willing to learn”. I’ve had conversations with people where they’ve pointed out some mistake in thinking I was making (i.e. the gist of what they say to me is “You say you want xxx, but the outcome of what you are doing will be yyy”) that results in me completely altering what I’m doing in my life, cause I realize through something they tell me, that I’m making some error and my actions don’t line up with my intent.

    Usually, those kinds of insights occur in the middle of very intense conversations where we’re all very strongly advocating for our poitn of view. And sometimes, I might point something out to the other person that causes *them* to have insight about some mistake *they’re* making, and sometimes I have that insight about some mistake *I* am making.

    And I realize that I sort of have this default mode of operating that goes something like “A person would only engage in a conversation because they want to teach something while being willing to learn”. If it’s **obvious** they’re not teaching/learning, I won’t make that assumption. Like reading all the insulting stuff over on Penny Arcade about Scalzi’s guest comic, it was obvious to me that there was no point in engaging them.

    But if a person can present themselves as *sounding* reasonable, I tend to assume they *are* reasonable. If they’re invoking terms about logic, reason, empericism, facts, etc, my disposition is very easily convinced that they’re actually reasonable, and they’re interested in teaching what they know and willing to learn if they’re making a mistake.

    But sometimes people invoke terms of logic, reason, facts, and such, and have absolutely no interest in teaching/learning. They’re no different in their internal mindset than the insulting folks over at Penny Arcade, i.e. immovable, but they present their internal mindset in a different wrapping. They use different words, so they sound reasonable. And I am susceptible to taking reasonable sounding words and assuming the person is truly reasonable.

    There were some folks on this thread who were clearly (to me anyway) *not* being reasonable and I pretty much ignored them. But there were some people who sounded reasonable, pretty much, in their choice of words. But if I step back and look at their position, it’s clear they are immobile and they are uninterested in moving. They’re no different than the insulters at PA in the sense that there is no point in trying to change their opinion because they’re immobile. But they are different from the insulters at PA in that they present their position as if they’re willing to move, even though they’re not.

    And I realize this morning, I have a weakness around this where I tend to naively believe the presentation that says “I am open to movement, to learning” even when its clear they’re never going to move. I am easily swayed to believe someone is willing to be logical when they present a logical sounding argument, to the point of ignoring that they use “logic” when it suits them and ignore logic when it means they would have to change their opinion.

    And so I tend to engage in a conversation as long as the person *presents* as movable, as open to change, even when a lot of other people have already figured out they’re not interested in moving or changing their opinion, at all. Which ends up having me annoy the shit out of everyone else cause I think I’m having a conversation with potential for movement (for me or for them) and everyone else gets its going nowhere.

    Looking back this morning, I can see there wasn’t any movement in the last chunk of this thread, at least as far as flying snowmen are concerned. I did, however, have some movement around realizing that how I percieve a conversation has a certain blindspot to it. Quite a ways off topic of the original post, but it was movement. I just have no idea how to improve my perception of certain kinds of conversations.

    I think in face-to-face conversations, I’m better at picking up the emotional cues that say “I’m not interested in moving” and will get that cue is more important than the words coming out of their mouth that say “Oh, lets follow logic to wherever this leads us”. But, on the web, with nothing but plain text, and the emotional cues removed, I tend to assume that someone presenting as movable is really movable. And I keep screwing up that part.

    ugh.

  286. John, my post at 10:19 was a long winded lead up to saying “sorry”, but then I realized I left that actual apology out. You were right. We were talking past each other and I didn’t see it.

    Pat: I thought the simplest rule of logic is

    well, an underlying rule to all of it is Occam’s Razor. Certainly, there are multiple explanations we coudl invent for anything. But occam’s razor would suggest when multiple explanations can be made to fit the facts, choose the one with the least amount of invention in it. “They were at the vet” is an invention that has a slew of other inventions attached to it, like “they only have 9 peradactyls because blah blah blah” and “the vet took months to cure them because blah” and so on.

    I could invent a number of explanations that would have ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” make sense, but the simplest explanation of all is that they made the cup a portkey because the author wouldn’t have a story if they made his toothbrush the portkey instead.

    Maybe that’s the difference between me and some of the people on this thread. When multiple explanations are possible, I allow for explanations that include “the author made a mistake”. And sometimes, that’s the simlplest explanation of all according to Occam’s Razor. Sure, other explanations will say that it wasn’t the authors mistake, but it requires several other inventions in the world that weren’t explicitely mentioned in teh books.

  287. Occam’s razor? You say yourself that it suggests a solution. It is not a rule of logic, it is just a tool or guide.

    Is the simplest explanation:

    a) the author made a mistake because he did not understand the implications of his world-building due to his personal experiences and lack of knowledge of aerial warfare, geology and biology

    b) the author had a reason but didn’t bother putting it in

    c) the author had a reason but edited it out for artistic loveliness

    d) it is a mystery?

    I am willing to learn where I am taught things I cannot falsify. I have learnt things from this thread, insights into Tolkien and his world, even from you. Thank you for discussing it. But I can’t agree with your main propositions as you frame them.

  288. houseboatonstyx at 10.16, I have the same problem with apparent idiocy in characters who are supposed to be bright but I think we have to accept that real people can be very bad at deciding on the correct thing to do.

    A remarkable example of this was aired on the radio yesterday:

    A British worker in America got lost on the highway system. He saw some police by the roadside so he parked up and went over to ask for directions. He saw they were with some men in orange jumpsuits and assumed they were road workers helping the police clear away an accident. The police drew their sidearms and pointed them at him, shouting for him to put his hands in view and get on the ground. He was wearing an expensive suit he didn’t want to dirty so he just put his hands up and carried on walking towards the police! They fired a shot in the air and screamed stuff he couldn’t understand while they herded the men in orange as far away as possible.

    He survived but only from luck and the cops’ dislike for paperwork.

  289. @houseboatonstyx says:
    Hm. Fwiw, and back to John’s OP question, the sort of thing that throws me out of the story is seldom scientific blunders, but characters not even considering some obvious course.

    Up to a point, but there are some genres where that’s a feature not a bug. Hell, your average slasher flick would a short if the Slutty Blonde Cheerleader & The Jock With A Permanent Erection didn’t find mortal peril such an overwhelming turn-on and everyone else just got the hell out of town. Hell, where would The Walking Dead be if Rick didn’t have a perverse genius for making the worse possible decision at every point? :)

  290. Pat: You say yourself that it suggests a solution.

    I did choose the word “suggest” for a reason. I’m not sure how exactly you think you’re using it against me.

    It is not a rule of logic, it is just a tool or guide.

    Sure. And it’s a really good guide. I get the distinct impression that you’re using the word “guide” the way creationists like to point out that evolution is just a theory. I am trying to point out a logical inconsistency in Tolkien’s world building. And you defend Tolkien by taking a figurative dump on Occam’s Razor?

    Is the simplest explanation: c) the author had a reason but edited it out for artistic loveliness

    If Tolkien edited it out for artistic reasons, and that deletion caused a lot of people to fall out of suspension of disbelief, because flying creatures in LOTR stopped making sense to them, then that’s Tolkien’s fault, not the reader’s.

    But I can’t agree with your main propositions as you frame them.

    My main proposition is that it is always the author’s job to enroll the reader into suspending disbelief and maintaining that suspension. And when disbelief is no longer suspended, it’s the author’s responsibility.

    If you weren’t thrown out by the eagles or pterodactyls, hey great, good for you. I’m not saying you HAVE to dislike the eagles, or you HAVE to take issue with the pteradactyls. I am simply trying to report a specific flying snowman I experienced in LOTR. I was using logic and occam’s razor and everything else to try and communicate what is essentially my subjective experience of reading LOTR. I had a problem with the flying creatures, and it is because of this, this, that, and this. Feel free to point out stuff I missed in the story. Feel free to point out something you know about how creatures really fly that would make my assumptions wrong. Feel free to point out some logical error I made in my process. Feel free to point out some straightforward implications of information Tolkien put into the novel that I missed that would affect the relationship of flying creatures to the rest of Tolkien’s world.

    But giving me some post hoc explanation that Tolkien left out the explanation for artistic reasons? What does that do for me? Am I NOT supposed to take issue with the eagles because Tolkien decided he ran out of space? Should I not have my subjective experience of the story that I had while I was reading it because of some post hoc explanation you invent? Should I not have the experience I had of the story because I was unwilling or unable to invent the fantasy that eagles only fly in September? Because that would explain everything, right? But that wasn’t in the novels anywhere nor even remotely hinted at, so how should that have affected my experience of the story as I was reading it, exactly?

    Because there is a flavor to this entire thread that really just seems to boil down to: “That part of the story didn’t bother me because I made up this complete fabrication to explain it away, so it shouldn’t have bothered you”.

    Taken far enough, that’s really nothign more than “It’s fantasy, so if you accept its fantasy, you have to accept everything”.

  291. Craig: there are some genres where that’s a feature not a bug. Hell, your average slasher…

    Reader’s definitely have to be aware of genre norms and should avoid genres that use tropes that generally throw them out of the story. I generally avoid Horror as a genre because the accepted tropes often include characters looking at all their available options and taking the second worst possible one.

    But Fantasy usually doesn’t have “have everyone do the worst possible thing” as its standard trope. And much of Fellowship of the Rings involves the characters spending quite a lot of time gathering information and weighing their options and taking the best course they can. A lot of the lead up the meeting in Rivendell is just figuring out what the ring is and realizing how powerful and dangerous it is. At Rivendell, they say it has to be destroyed, so Gimly takes his axe to it. That was done partly so that Tolkien could demonstrate that the ring could not be destroyed by mundane means and therefore the trip to Mt Doom is justified as the only possible way to destroy it.

    In the mountains, the decision to enter Moria has a cost/benefit analysis of sorts, but with only vague costs being hinted at by Gandalf, and the benefit being they can’t pass over the mountains but they might make it through the mountains. The Balrog then raises the stakes by removing Gandalf for a time, and making the characters and readers believe that death is possible for any of the fellowship.

    Near the end of Fellowship, Boromir’s attempt to take the ring demonstrates how dangerous the ring is on a personal level. It also demonstrates that very few individuals can actually carry the ring to Mt Doom. It also justifies what would otehrwise be the dumbest decision in LOTR there is: Splitting up the party. Only Frodo can be trusted to carry the ring. And Frodo only trusts Sam to go with him.

    Every fork, every decision, every change in their course of action, that the characters take in Fellowship is deeply considered based on the demonstrated consequences of the ring and its effects. Fellowship establishes the novels as almost the complete opposite of an unthinking slasher movie. Every decision is explained and justified in some way by Tolkien by what he has the characters demonstrate and what those demonstrations mean to the other characters.

    Much of Fellowship establishes that the “genre” of Lord of teh Rings is a kind of “thinking person’s fantasy”. Things make sense on some functional level. Some functions are based in magic. But everything makes sense, and the characters all make decisions based on thinking through all the options and taking the best (and sometimes only) course of action.

    In which case, the fact that none of the characters ever bring up the eagles as a possible way to get to Mt Doom, or at the very least to get over the mountains of Moria, or to get from the Rivendell to Gondor and then walk the rest of the way and trim several months off their journey, is a gaping hole in the story.

  292. Greg, I tend to share the sentiments of your 9:39 post. The characters talked about other options, so why not talk about the eagles, even if to dismiss them. Even just a few words en route: “Frodo wished that Gandalf [or whoever] had been willing to ask the eagles to take them further.” That would have shown that no one was overlooking the possibility, and saved me a lot of tooth-grinding. I wouldn’t have insisted on knowing why Gandalf had not been willing to ask, or why the eagles might have refused, etc — since there could have been any number of reasons which would not contradict any facts we were given.

    Pat, I’ve been wishing for a breakdown of these levels. An actual contradiction in the world-building (such as a river running uphill ;-) is one level of mistake. Omitting to tell us about an important conversation (such as considering the eagles) is another level. For the eagles, imo the simplest explanation is your (b): a short conversation somehow got left out of the manuscript.

  293. Greg: I am among the first to take a meta approach to literary analysis and point to authorial (or editorial) error to explain inconsistencies in a story. But to claim that Tolkien made a mistake is not significantly less of an invention that “at the vet” (where was never a serious suggestion anyway). To be proven true requires not just an analysis of Tolkien’s background. It requires knowing his thoughts throughout the writing process. You’re generating a plausible scenario out-of-universe rather than in-universe. But the one is not fundamentally to be preferred over the other. Also, do be careful not to use Occam’s Razor in the sense of “My argument makes a lot more sense to me than yours does, therefore Occam’s Razor.” Occam is about how you construct an explanation, not about its truth.

    FWIW, I agree, the eagles represent a significant plot hole that Tolkien neglected to plug. But, although it strains the plausibility of the plot, I don’t think it breaks it. Mostly, I think the eagles could have gotten them to the borders of Mordor faster than walking. I have a hard time believing the orcs wouldn’t have shot them out of the sky miles from the volcano, let alone any other power Tolkien could have set up inside Mordor. The Nazghul mounts are even less problematic, as the early part of the story need not change much whether they ride or fly.

  294. Pat (here raises an important point. What seems like a stupid decision to people raised in one culture is often a perfectly sensible one to people raised in a different culture.

    I’m not gonna get into the differences between UK/US justice System and police duties, because (a) off-topic and (b) flamebait, but as far as Tolkien is concerned the problem is that modern works have a culture where everything has to be explained. Every “magic” act has a technobabble explanation, everything the characters do must be put in dialogue. What Tolkien was writing came from a different writing culture in which mythic themes (like the link between creation and destruction), heroic acts about battles, and the importance of self with the link between person and device being much stronger, are automatically taken for granted as being part of the background. These things didn’t need explained.

    Fantasy writing has changed since then, and its especially problematic since Tolkien wasn’t writing for the fantasy genre (which didn’t really exist as we know it at the time), but for a mythic and folkloric genre that doesn’t really exist anymore. We read the work set in one genre and through our own (in)experience try to view it though the culture of another. And so we get thrown out. Its one of the things that Tolkien meant when he would talk about the partnership of author and reader (or in this case director and viewer), he can write the story but unless we view it through the right mindset we are not gonna enjoy/understand it.

  295. Oh man, I don’t know how I missed this comic, DM of the Rings was written in 2007, but if you’re a D&D gamer (or played on in college), then this thing is hilarious.

    I just read through the entire strip from beginning to end. My stomach hurts from laughing for the last several hours. Awesome. Just fricken awesome.

    Anyways, here are two strips that relate to this thread in funny ways:

    First: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1278

    Never mind the logistical issues of feeding 9 pterodactyls flying around the Shire, these guys figure out that the idea of orcs working as *farmers* on a plain of stone and swamp in Mordor, creates a slight worldbuilding flaw.

    Second, http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1322

    In terms of trying to explain why characters would do something that makes absolutely no sense, the DM starts to violate the laws of probability. Look for the line that mentions a “a very specific level”. You can *justify* anything in a story, no matter how stupid it is otherwise, if you can backfill with a very specific level of backstory.

    If you haven’t read the comic, and if you have any D&D experience, go read it. hilarious.

  296. Cryptic: “Pat (here raises an important point.”

    I took the gist of Pat’s comment to be that real people can do stupid things, and then he provides “A remarkable example of this was aired on the radio yesterday”. The point, as best as I can figure, is he was sort of implying that we can’t always expect characters in fiction to make good decisions because people are stupid in real life.

    The thing is, to quote Mark Twain: It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.

    Reality can be nonsense. Reality often IS nonsense. And nonsensical Reality often makes for horrible stories.

    The different expectations of different genres have been brought up on this thread, but there are expectations of fiction itself, and the main expectation is that stories make sense, not compared to the real world, but compared to the reader’s experience of the story.

    Deus Ex Machina’s happen all the time in teh real world. They suck in fiction. It might be “realistic” as in “sure there might be a cavalry unit just out of sight behind those hill that we never knew about until just now”, but that doesn’t mean it is good fiction to have the characters saved at the end by a cavalry unit that shows up out of the blue and with no prior mention earlier in the story.

  297. If you have a good swamp you don’t have to farm – just gather wild food. Waterlilies (roots, seeds and leaves), duck potatoes, duckweed, sedge roots, manna grass seeds, bulrush (various parts), salep and even many berries and nuts. Orcs were probably never short of marshmallows.

    Swamps tend to have a huge bird, fish and mammal population but I like to think orcs are vegans. I might not be recalling the stories correctly, though.

  298. Well, maybe. Historically speaking, when America was first founded, it was an agrarian society that had developed and pretty much perfected the technology of swamp farming which enabled it to feed the population. Eli Whitney invented the swamp gin. And I grew up on a swamp farm myself and we raised swamp steers and swamp swine, and we fed them swamp grass harvested from the swamp land with our swamp gin.

    So, there would be that.

    I guess if there were enough swamps in Mordor, and they had swamp gins and some swamp trolls to pull them, then they could probably feed an army of a hundred thousand orcs or so.

    I remember the swamp grass soup dear old mom used to make. (wistful sigh)

  299. Food, now we’re talking. Swamp grass soup? All the recipes I can find say it contains coleslaw but no swamp grass.

  300. John Costello: Carbonatite lavas are very viscous at a very low heat.

    Checked out your videos. That’s some crazy lava. I think you mean “non viscous” though, rather than viscous.

    It looks almost watery, like the movie. Except it isn’t glowing red/orange like the movie. It’s a dark color, like mud.

    So, maybe they meant carbonatite lava in the movie, but they got the color wrong….

    either way, the videos were cool.

  301. houseboatonstyx, I didn’t get the impression Orcs were fussy about their food. Probably didn’t even roast their marshmallows, the barbarians. Plants can generally still produce until the pollution gets very, very bad.

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  303. See… to me, the stretch of inanimate objects becoming “real”/alive is a completely different stretch than things without wings being able to fly. The first seems to violate biology, but the 2nd seems to violate physics, which I feel is more fundamental. Hmm.

  304. Is it outrageous for me to say:

    “Who the hell cares?”

    So what if he splashes or sinks into the lava? Are you telling me that you sat through over 12 hours of a trilogy and enjoyed it, but as soon as you saw the “Not quite right” lava, It broke the whole movie for you? Or annoyed you enough to post an entire article…or spend more than 30 seconds expressing your disdain?

    There is difference between critique and nitpicking; and I know, we geeks LOVE to complain about anything…everything…at almost anytime, but really?

    Like has been said before…why is it so appalling to believe that the fires of Mordor are magical? They where an integral part of the smelting process when it came to the one ring, they are the only place it can be destroyed. so why wouldn’t The “Magical” elements of that have some effect on the thickness of the lava.

    Here’s some food for thought: inside a volcano can be anywhere between 700-1500 degress or more…why didn’t frodo and gollum die of heat exhaustion? Why didn’t their clothing even char or smolder…if not flat out ignite?

    Where their skin, cotton shirts and wool cloaks magical as well?
    I mean in real life scientists even getting close to a volcano have to don some serious anti-heat gear…why didn’t Frodo have to do the same?

    Because it’s a freaking story!

    All of this sounds me like humans doing what humans do best.

    Complain about something until there is a new thing to bitch and moan about until the very joy and spirit of “fantasy” is taken out of the movie/show/play/book.

  305. Schuyler Howland – their cloaks were magical.

    Beyond the fact that the Fires of Mount Doom were in fact magical (as made very clear in the book and the movie), the argument that a body could not sink into lava due to issues surrounding viscosity is naive. How dense is Gollum’s body? Oh wait, we don’t know? The argument that life is magical and unique and spiders can be gigantic in this world means that Gollum could be super dense – so dense that he sinks through lava. The assumption is that his density is equivalent to a human who looked like him, but that’s wrong because he wasn’t human BEFORE he was twisted and corrupted by the ring, he was a hobbit. I don’t know if we ever see him drinking water, so maybe all his time underground with the ring transitioned his cells so they’re full of dense minerals instead of water, so really he’s made of flexible quartz.

  306. “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” is a delightful piece. http://www.rawbw.com/~svw/superman.html
    In that Tommy Lee Jones movie about a volcano in LA, there’s a scene where a guy walks through lava (getting shorter with each step) while carrying an unconscious subway driver. They really stretch it out. I’d bail at the snowman drinking hot soup (unless he’s sipping really slow), but the flying really gets me. He’s held together by gravity and I’d expect him to fall apart if he was flying. I like the monkey brain explanation of why we accept the rumble of spaceships.

  307. This seems just the place to make a comment on the sfwa cover.

    If Princess Leia can strangle Jabba the Hutt in a gold bikini, why can’t a well built barbarian princess take out a troll in the same thing?

  308. First you’d have to get the troll into the gold bikini, and it’s very hard to find them in that size.

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