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Friday Fun Thread for April 21, 2023

Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

I wrote a funny poem about AellaGirl in the Style of John Wilmot you all might appreciate:

this is cringe but ok

In what sense?

That I'm an EGirl manipulating people with glittering images in pursuit of a personal agenda alien to them? Or That I'm a degenerate taken by the glittering images?

I think all of us on the internet fulfill both roles in our turn more or less.

That I'm an EGirl manipulating people with glittering images in pursuit of a personal agenda alien to them?

looks at your Twitter


I've been having fun for the past few months playing Degenesis almost weekly with a few pals. It's a self-described "primal punk" TTRPG setting describing human society 500 years after civilization was devastated by a few meteors loaded with a mutating virus. I like how it makes "hi-tech magic" and "mutation magic" properly rare, and the variety of the societies introduced in the setting.

It's refreshing to play, once in a while, a big sword guy with next to no skills in the INT group who whacks baddies, chugs moonshine, and occasionally uses his high INS to figure out who the baddies are.

All the materials for play are free, and the company just announced a Kickstarter for a skirmish wargame based in the setting.

Sounds pretty rad. I'll take a look at the materials.

My next game is definitely going to be Ars Magica. Any day now.

edit: sixmorevodka! I knew I'd seen that name before. It was back when I was playing a lot more League and LoR. They've really got an aesthetic.

Always set your max tokens. Make small requests, large requests time out. Use a smaller few-shot warm-started curie model for any non-major tasks.

Have you tried an OpenAI model setup with Azure. Those have different hosting mechanisms and can be more stable than OpenAI directly.

I haven't, I'll look into it.

Right now I'm thinking of just making a different account than using the same organization account I've been using. That way my test won't interfere with my companies production (which might be the potential cause of the rate limits).

I liked the rules and aesthetics of pre-2003 MTG (last set I played with was Judgment). The game seems to have changed a lot in 20 years, so what are the latest sets I can play with that will still feel the same?

Bonus questions:

  • Can I just ignore Planeswalkers for casual play? They always seemed kind of dumb to me, I liked them much more as lore characters than cards

  • When did WotC start censoring stuff? I'd prefer to buy cards before then.

  • What's the best way to get bulk cards before a certain era? I don't care about value or quality, I just want to play some casual games

Laser printer and a proxy-making website. Pick up chaff left over from drafts for free, slip your proxy in front of the card using a sleeve, and you're golden. Once you start playing, you won't notice that the cards aren't "genuine", and you won't get into awkward conversations about "counterfeits".

It would be cool to get full older sets. From what I can tell, the most economical way to buy a whole set would be to do a mass entry of cards from a specific set on tcgplayer, weed out all the cards over 25cents, and then order proxies from makeplayingcards. I'm not really worried about how real they look since I'll only be playing with non-competitive friends and family.

Are MPC proxies more expensive than $0.25/card? If not, why not order everything from MPC?

Several threads on different sites say that MPC charges about $0.20 cents per card. I haven't checked the site yet to verify, but if it's cheaper than that I'd definitely prefer the convenience of getting all my cards from one source.

For feel, the closest experience I've had to kitchen table magic back in the day was shuffling together two packs of jumpstart and playing. The decks were built to a theme, but still janky. The look is modern but making new ones using old border bulk shouldn't be too tough.

Another option is just proxy them.

This is actually close to what I used to do with friends. Fixed amount of lands, then just randomize your creatures and spells and play with what you get. Not always "fair" but definitely always interesting and fun. Good suggestion.

Other commenters have given decent suggestions, so I’ll ask a related question.

What happened around 2003? Did they start branching out into new mechanics?

As for mechanics... they release new mechanics every set. Some of them have been pretty serious oddities, like double faced cards, cards you cast from weird places or at strange times, cards that do different things based on when or where you cast them.

EDH is the most popular casual format and it's eternal and encourages bringing the weirdest most powerful cards from the entire history of the game. I mean... I have a pet card that always has all the abilities of the top card of your library, that I like to use with a card that is always a copy of the top card of your graveyard.

Which is all to say- modern casual Magic can be as esoteric as... well. As modern casual Magick.

2003 had a literal aesthetics change - from the old card frame to the modern card frame. Occasionally Wizards of the Coast will print cards in the old frame as fanservice for nostalgic players (or for people who just like the old frame better, I guess).

The new card frame is generally better for legibility and cleanness, but the old card frame definitely had more atmosphere to it.

Sounds like Cube format might be the way to go?

You can find lists online for "budget" old border cubes in the range of $500 - $1500 range that you can then cube draft to get plenty of decks and games.

Less old school, but still keeping to the spirit and avoiding planeswalkers, the Ravnica Guild Kits are premade decks not adhering to any particular format made specifically for fun kitchen table play, with one themed for each Ravnica (2 color pairing) guild. I have a set and they are my go-to for truly casual magic that's still got enough juice for fun plays.

10 decks for all the kits, were $20 a piece for $200 total when they originally came out, looks like it is closer to $500 for the full set now. Obviously can also just get a couple of individual ones, value of cards in each deck has varied so some individual ones are as cheap as $30, while others are up by $60.

Thank you, these are fantastic suggestions. Really interested in checking out Ravnica.

It might be a good idea to download MtG: Arena and play a few games digitally before investing much money in physical decks, to decide if you still like it

I second this. I've played quite a bit and haven't spent a dime of real money on cards compared to the literal thousands my collection would be worth if bought physically (some of the mythic rares you need for the best decks go for hundreds of dollars each). I literally just crafted a deck rated at $300 an hour ago using wildcards I've been accumulating from just playing the game.

I can see the appeal on wanting to play physically, but it's definitely a very expensive hobby if you want to build remotely competitive decks.

Especially not after the 30th anniversary edition debacle…

I own several legacy and modern decks that I don’t play with very often anymore. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to buy in paper unless they’re really convinced that MTG is going to be their lifestyle game for a long time and compete.

I'm relatively new to MTG, and mostly play commander, which I think was much smaller then, and might play relatively differently from two player formats, so I don't know exactly what things will be comparable to older sets.

  • You certainly don't have any obligation to add planeswalkers to your decks. I wouldn't care for it if I had some in one of mine and you complained, but I don't have any anyway. It's not like they're a vital part of deckbuilding the way that creatures or instants or lands usually are, they're more optional things worth adding if they seem to go well with the deck, like enchantments.

  • Well, the actual removing of cards for cultural reasons was in 2020, so pretty recent. I can't speak to how their culture as to what designs were acceptable changed over time, though. Why does this matter?

  • I'm not actually familiar with this, I've only bought cheap singles for some commander decks off of tcgplayer, so someone else will have to answer this.

I wouldn't care for it if I had some in one of mine and you complained

I'm just going to play with fellow family members who are also casual, so I don't think I'll have to worry about this.

It's not like they're a vital part of deckbuilding the way that creatures or instants or lands usually are, they're more optional things worth adding

That's good to know. I like the idea of a match being between two self-insert wizards controlling a bunch of minions and territories. Wizard duel, basically.

Why does this matter?

There are definitely people here who can articulate this better than I can, but I want to enjoy old school nerd culture with all its classic tropes and fantasy stereotypes. It probably comes across as retrograde or lame or boring to gen z or people who've only gotten into fantasy in the last 15 or so years, but that's what I like because I grew up with it.

My wife and I both remember playing a PC game in the mid to late 90s that neither of us have been able to remember the name of or track down. It was a 2d platformer with pixel graphics. The setting was some kind of factory or laboratory, and the enemies were monsters or aliens. I remember one type of enemy being like a floating ball with eye stalks. The player character was a human, and I believe you could collect various weapons and items as you progressed through the game. I'm pretty sure it wasn't part of any well-known game series, such as Metroid or Lode Runner. Anyone have any guesses what this could be?

Edit: It's Commander Keen, thanks for the help everyone.

Oh man, Commander Keen. Played tons of that around the year 2000 because they were free downloads on I remember trying to learn the standard galactic alphabet in the game and getting wrecked by the dopefish. I still remember all the in game music... I might have to go back and play them now!

There’s also the original Duke Nukem 1 and 2 platformers.

I was going to guess Duke Nukem as well, before I read that it was Commander Keen. Funny to think, both of those 2D platformers were the predecessors to revolutionary genre-defining first person shooters in the 90s, Duke Nukem 3D for the former, obviously, and Doom for the latter. Duke Nukem 1 was the first game I ever beat all the way through, thanks to it both having a save system and being easy enough for a fairly uncoordinated kid like me to beat. I played it using a joystick, one of those flight joysticks that you grip with one hand with thumb buttons at the top, just because I thought that's how I was supposed to play it; in retrospect, simple keyboard controls would've made the game much easier.

Oh man, I played a ton of Duke Nukem 1 back in the day. Those jumping bipedal robots terrified me when I was a kid.

There were a bunch of Apogee platformers of various themes. Commander Keen was the most well-known, but Bio Menace (gameplay video) and maybe Crystal Caves (gameplay video) fit the setting of "factory or laboratory" best, I think. (Also, even if they're not the games you're looking for, they're both good games; there were three in both series, I believe.)

It was Commander Keen, but I'll have to give the others a shot.

Commander Keen, maybe? It checks all the boxes except collecting various weapons.

It's Commander Keen, nicely done.

eyyyyy. Glad to have helped!

Completely forgot this game existed and now I'm remembering losing my mind trying to beat this as a kid, I had an identical reaction to my rediscovery of Speedy Eggbert just a couple of weeks ago. Serendipity might be one of my favorite human experiences, thanks for posting this.

This is pretty close. The graphics were better than this, and the maps were larger than a single screen and would scroll with the character as you moved. Maybe it could be a sequel to this?

Language Learning

I've always loved languages. I had aspirations when I was younger to become a polyglot. I had (according to the DLAB) a high aptitude for language learning.

Unfortunately, I have also always been a lazy student, and so initial enthusiasm always ran into the reality that learning languages, especially to anything approaching fluency, is hard. (Yes, I know a lot of you non-Americans grew up in multilingual environments and spoke two or three languages by the time you were in high school. Americans generally have to make a serious effort, outside of our sparse language offerings in high school, to acquire another language.)

Over many years, I have acquired bits and pieces of nearly a dozen languages, and true proficiency in none of them. I can read Cyrillic, Hangul, Arabic, Hiragana and Katakana and a few Kanji. I know enough Russian, German, Korean, and Japanese to express my ignorance.

Over the years, I have dabbled or studied in:

French: One semester in junior high school. I remember "Marie est une fille" and "je nais parle pas Francais."

German: In my opinion, the easiest language for English speakers to learn. With my rusty high school German, I retain the basic grammar and can still occasionally pick up phrases, and if I studied in earnest and built up my vocabulary, I think I could quickly reach at least conversational fluency.

Russian: Oh my god. Second hardest language I ever studied. I began studying Russian because my first girlfriend was Russian, and I took a few semesters in college. What are these cases? How do Russians even verb? And what am I supposed to do with my tongue? (My girlfriend endlessly made fun of my pronunciation, said I couldn't even pronounce her name in Russian correctly.) I am never, ever in a million years going to read War and Peace in the original Russian. (I am actually reading the Maude translation now.)

Irish: Too bad @FarNearEverywhere isn't around anymore to make fun of me. I took a semester of Irish Gaelic in college. Fucking incomprehensible. I remember zero grammar and maybe two words (including my username). They should never have used the English alphabet for written Irish; borrowing Chinese characters, or just refining ogham, would have made as much sense.

Esperanto: Yes, I also took a semester of Esperanto in college, for fun. One of the first conlangs, it was meant to be an easy-to-learn universal language, made simple with the absence of irregular verbs or complicated grammatical rules or any of the other things that make most languages difficult. It still has a fairly large global community of enthusiasts (though maybe now they are outnumbered by fluent speakers of Klingon or Dothraki), most of whom are still living the pre-USSR socialist dream. Fun fact: William Shatner starred in a 1966 horror film called Incubus, with dialog entirely in Esperanto. You can watch the whole movie (yes, including William Shatner speaking in Esperanto!) on YouTube.

Japanese: Took several semesters in college. Did terribly, but despite not practicing it since then, I can still read hiragana and katakana and remember a few kanji, and even manage some basic polite phrases. Although many people say Japanese is hard, I actually found it surprisingly - I would not say easy, but practical. There are no sounds in Japanese that do not exist in English, so it's not hard to pronounce, and I find the grammar to actually be pretty logical. The hardest part is the many different pronouns and inflections to indicate different politeness levels, and of course, fucking kanji. Chinese characters that the Japanese borrowed, much the same way Irish borrowed Latin characters, but to be literate in Japanese you need to know both the Japanese and the Chinese readings, and Japanese elementary school students are expected to know over a thousand. I remember maybe 20.

Korean: I never studied it very intensely, but I can still read Hangul (which is much easier than Japanese hiragana and katakana). The funny thing about Korean and Japanese is that linguists say they are completely unrelated languages. I suspect some cultural bias is at play here (Japanese and Koreans accuse each other of stealing pretty much everything from one another). It's true that Korean and Japanese share very little vocabulary (unlike, say, English and German or Spanish and French), but I found the grammar to be very similar.

Arabic: The language I have the most experience with. It's hard to pronounce, many sounds are difficult to distinguish for English speakers, the script is difficult and non-standardized, the grammar is complicated, and verbs have a billion different inflections. Also, you usually learn Modern Standard Arabic (or "Fusha") in class, which is basically media Arabic that zero native speakers actually use in conversation. Dialectal Arabic is broken into several different regional variants that are sometimes mutually unintelligible.

Of course I hadn't actually practiced any of them in many years, and language skills deteriorate rapidly without practice. So I occasionally looked at my shelves of books and told myself someday, I would brush up and get back into language learning. Realistically, though, it was never going to happen.

But recently I got on a language kick again. It started with DuoLingo ("Let's see how well I do with all those languages I studied back in the day") and now I am seriously cracking books again, watching YouTube videos, and even considering italki lessons.

I am concentrating on Arabic and Japanese. (Yes, for really serious language learning I'd stick with one; expert opinion is mixed on the effectiveness of studying multiple languages at once, but there's no question that it means dividing your time.) If I can stay motivated, I have decided to set a goal of someday achieving a CEFR level of C1 in Arabic. (Currently, I am, generously, at A2-B1.) I would like to do the same in Japanese, but right now I am actually doing a lot of Arabic practice and just dabbling in Japanese.

If I stick with it, I may post updates on my progress.

I had (according to the DLAB) a high aptitude for language learning.

Now that I know this test exists, I want to take it so that if I lack the capacity to learn a new language I can spare myself the wasted effort. Is the test (or a variant of it) available online anywhere?

As far as I know, it's only given to applicants to the Department of Defense, but apparently there are DLAB prep guides available.

That said, I'd take it with a grain of salt. I don't think it's precise enough to tell you that you lack the capacity to learn a new language. Nor does scoring high on it mean you are a language prodigy (as I am proof).

I've studied German, Spanish, Japanese and French in school and in immersion (as in, visiting the countries where they're spoken and living for a few months in each.) I agree with you that German is the easiest for English speakers to learn (though Spanish is not very hard either.) Also agree with Japanese being a rather practical language and pronunciation is very easy. I got lost on the kanji too though.

I find that English natives learning Japanese tend to have issues hearing/pronouncing the “r” sound, the “t/ch/ts” sound (for ち and つ, respectively), and the “f” sound (for ふ) ; even the “u” sound sometimes gets mangled. Is that your experience? My guess is that a Spanish background would help a lot, at least with the “r” sound, and German with “u”.

Hmm, I don't think I've noticed myself or other english speakers having trouble with the r or t/ch/ts sounds but maybe it's something that's more pronounced for people who've spoken Japanese their whole lives and there's a nuance that I'm not aware of. I have noticed that the "ふ" sound is a lot breathier or "h-like" than the way English speakers usually pronounce "fu".

I generally have trouble with vowels more than consonants in all languages, my vowels tend to be really flat (I don't like nasal sounds so when I say "cat" for example, in english, I avoid the nasal a and voice it a bit more like an "ah" sound if that makes sense.) The vowels in Japanese, German and Spanish are all essentially the same though in my mind (disregarding the umlauted ones in German.) The r in Japanese is similar to the "tap r" in Spanish. Sometimes the "u" in Japanese is a bit like the umlauted u (ü) but it seems a bit more of an affect or personal choice rather than common Japanese, I'm not sure

Hmm, I don't think I've noticed myself or other english speakers having trouble with the r or t/ch/ts sounds but maybe it's something that's more pronounced for people who've spoken Japanese their whole lives and there's a nuance that I'm not aware of.

The easiest way I can put it is that I think the た row romanisation, ta/chi/tsu/te/to, is a bit misleading, and the t/ch/ts are actually quite similar if not identical in terms of the thing I’m doing with my mouth during the consonant part.

I think it’s clearest with ち. English-only learners tend to make the ch in ち sound like the ch in church, when I think it’s more like…a cross between ch, ts, and t? There’s much less lower jaw/lip movement than if I say a ch- word in English. The closest English equivalent I can think of would be the ch in itch, but even that can be a bit too heavy on the ch-sound, depending on how you pronounce it.

Similarly with つ - the “s” tends to be overemphasized I think.

I have noticed that the "ふ" sound is a lot breathier or "h-like" than the way English speakers usually pronounce "fu".

Yes! Similar to the above た row kana, pronouncing the は row kana consonants similarly gets ふ closer to the native pronunciation - it’s still recognisably kind of an F sound, but with much more of a H-quality to it.

The vowels in Japanese, German and Spanish are all essentially the same though in my mind (disregarding the umlauted ones in German.) The r in Japanese is similar to the "tap r" in Spanish. Sometimes the "u" in Japanese is a bit like the umlauted u (ü) but it seems a bit more of an affect or personal choice rather than common Japanese, I'm not sure

That’s what I mean, yeah. I find that English-only people trying to pick up Japanese have difficulty with the r (and it contributes to the “lol japanese people always get the L and R in English words wrong”, because what it sounds like is kind of in between the English L and R), but to my ear it sounds very similar to the Spanish flap r (not having learned Spanish but knowing people who speak it).

I definitely think the umlauted u is closer to the general pronunciation of the entire u-column than what English speakers do (which tends to be closer to the oo in roof).

Like, take 内(うち)— my impression of many English-only speakers trying to pronounce that is “oochee”, which sounds atrocious to me.

to my ear it sounds very similar to the Spanish flap r (not having learned Spanish but knowing people who speak it)

It is that sound exactly. If you simply assume that whatever sound a language writes with the letter r is an alveolar tap then you will be correct the vast majority of the time. The affricate ch in Japanese is also different from its English counterpart, but since the English sound is not present in Japanese there isn't a pressing need to distinguish it to be understood.

If you start modeling too you could become a large language model.

…. I’ll see myself out.

I'm already a small language model.

I clearly respond to prompt engineering.

  • Tulpamancy and Demonology? -> Prompt engineering an agent.

  • Learning by watching my betters? -> Training Data.

  • Esoteric low Magick rituals? -> That's prompt engineering again. I just set the vibe and the general intelligence in my subconscious does the work.

  • Insisting I have some identity or another and watching my irl behavior fall into place? -> Just more prompt engineering.

Next step? Chimerize with my sibling models and become larger.

So yeah,

If you start modeling too you could become a large language model.

This but unironically.

You’ll have to join myself and @self_made_human in the cyber verse once the Singularity happens. We’ll have a whole gaggle of Motte based transhumanists.

Yessss, Motte friends-

I've noticed you two around.

It's always nice to see your takes on things.

I speak Russian, English and German, the latter worse than the first two (good enough to einkaufen, not good enough to complain to the manager or wage culture war in). Some Italian at barbarian level.

I checked out Turkish and Hungarian for emigration-related reasons and damn, non-Indoeuropean languages are a pain to learn.

Learning an IE language if you already speak a couple is like fixing a vacuum cleaner by a brand you're unfamiliar with: you might not know how to make it do the fancy stuff, but you have a pretty good idea what parts go together to make it suck.

Then you see a sentence in Hungarian and it laughs at your attempts to analyze it.

I speak English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Japanese to varying degrees of fluency; I’d like to pick up a couple more languages someday (maybe something very similar like Korean - my understanding is also that Japanese and Korean are syntactically very alike, and Cantonese sounds quite close to Korean for the same words in many cases, I’m told).

I do browse the internet in Japanese and set most of my display languages to Japanese (the language I am least familiar with), and I read Chinese texts when I can. Even then, it’s difficult trying to maintain proficiency — the lack of a good conversation partner in Mandarin and Japanese in my social circles means that my ability to converse beyond daily chitchat is slipping hard.

It doesn’t help that life is too busy for me to set aside an hour every day just to practice languages!

Do you have a specific vernacular form of Arabic that you are studying or planning to study in addition to the Standard? The two common choices are Egyptian and Lebanese and I've been trying to decide between them for whenever I stop playing around with the script and get to the hard part. Egyptian has more total speakers and a big media presence but the Arab diaspora seems to be disproportionately from Lebanon and places with similar dialects like Syria and Palestine. Or is it possible to muddle along with a passive understanding of a few varieties in addition to speaking and reading MSA?

Right now, I am mostly focusing on MSA because that serves as a "lingua franca" in the Arab world and will allow me to watch most media and read books.

You can talk to Arabic speakers in MSA. They will understand you, it just sounds kind of like addressing someone in King James Bible English.

Eventually, I will need to start practicing a dialect for everyday conversation. As you say, Egyptian and Levantine are the most common choices, but I'm kind of drawn to Gulf dialect.

I am proudly tetralingual! I speak English, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu.

(Let's not quibble about the fact that Urdu and Hindu are pretty much the same language with a different script, that's beneath us)

It seems my brain hyperfixated on English since early childhood, or at least after I spent a good chunk of time in the States. I speak and write it more fluently than 99.999% of native speakers, and certainly you'll be hard pressed to find an Indian in India who speaks it better.

In contrast, my ADHD made me give less than zero shits about learning other regional Indian languages. They had to be drilled into my head with enough force to crack my thick skull, and I can't say I've ever read any literature in them outside of the school curriculum, barring road signs and skimmed newspapers.

I can't say I'm particularly interested in learning new ones, it seems like a lot of pain for minimal payoff unless I intend to shift over, maybe I could justify German or some of the Nordic languages, since there's concrete benefits to being a practising doctor there.

But I'm pretty sure that ubiquitous real-time translation is almost here, so people can rattle off whatever the hell they like, and can be sure that the recipient understands it.

(Let's not quibble about the fact that Urdu and Hindu are pretty much the same language with a different script, that's beneath us)

Not knowing either, my mental model is that the spoken languages map in the same way that American English and British English map. Different vocabulary for various things, but once you internalize the truck/lorry pairing (for example) you're okay. Is that the case?

The difference between the standard varieties is increasing over time as Urdu speakers add more Persian and Arabic loanwords while Hindi speakers make every effort to purge the ones acquired during Mughal times and to replace them with older Sanskrit vocabulary, but this takes a while to trickle down to the way the average person speaks.

From what I can tell, they sound nigh-identical, even more commonality than different English accents across the pond.

Urdu has additonal arabic loan words, but most Hindi speakers understand them fine, when I met a lot of Pakistanis for the first time, there was no obvious way of telling they spoke a different language.

The colloquial dialect of Hindi and Urdu are very similar. But their more formal registers have sufficient differences in vocabulary to confuse a casual Hindi speaker a bit.

I remember stumbling on a news report in Urdu and finding that while I understood everything that was being said, I had to infer the meaning of quite a few unfamiliar Persian/Arabic origin words by context.

Possible reasons for a difference in opinion.

In the order of fluency, I can speak English, Kannada and Hindi with my grasp over Hindi primarily being through the Bookish register and some exposure to the colloquial one during undergrad. I also do not consume Bollywood movies/music which I've read tends to use Hindi that leans slightly more towards Urdu vocabulary.

Have you considered learning a lightweight conlang? Something like Toki Pona, with a limited vocabulary and strategic design.

I guess it depends on what you want to get out of the process.


German is an amazing language. The closest thing to a simplied-Sanskrit using the English-alphabet.

I grew up fluent in English, Marathi and Hindi. Learned a decent bit of Sanskrit grammar, but was never able to sustain a conversation in it.

German was the one language I learned in adulthood, and my 2 distinct experiences with learning German have helped crystallize certain opinions on language learning.

There is no such thing as leisurely language learning. You need to be thrown into the deep end of the pool. Now, this might seem like surface level advocacy for immersion based learning, but there is more to it. I am going to squeeze every little bit of metaphor from that analogy. Similar to drowning, you need to feel that sense of hopelessness for it to work.

I studied Sanskrit for 3 years and never got close to stringing more than 2 sentences together. I got a 99/100 in my exams for it, but leisurely learning with zero desperation meant that learning it was more like storing facts / gotchas in my head, rather than any from-fundamentals understanding of the language.

I studied A2 German for 3 months after a shitty A1 class, and the new class had 1 rule. You could not speak any other language in the class. Not with the instructor or your fellow classmates. Any mistake meant an actual monetary fine. It sounded ridiculous.

How am I supposed to ask what I don't know in a language that I don't know. How am I supposed to understand explanations for simple German I don't understand in more simple German I don't understand. It was also humiliating, because everyone else had done the good A1 class and were far ahead of me on day 1. It was desperate and the first few days were brutal.

But the human brain is a miracle machine. A few weeks in, I could almost feel my brain rewiring. It stopped reaching for English as an intermediate crutch and started grounding my understanding of less-simple German in the simplest German words. I have never since learned anything as fast in my life. In 3 months I was more fluent in German, than my friends who had spent a year or two in Germany. They had greater immersion, but they weren't desperate. They were in the shallow end of the pool. Most importantly, in 3 months, my German was better than my Sanskrit had gotten over 3 years, and both are practically the same language !

It's been 10 years since, and I have completely forgotten all my German. But, I feel confident that just like swimming, it will come back to me with a little bit of desperation.

Sanskrit is fascinating because it's useful to convey topics related to metaphysics/philosophy of mind. So many concepts it would take 12 words to explain in English you can find terms in Sanskrit for.

In autumn of last year, I learned LOGO for a class I’m teaching, and it felt amazing. To quote my own metaphor, using C++ feels like conversing in raw logic, but using LOGO feels like dancing with logic itself.

You’ve got me wanting to learn Sanskrit, and Screye has me wanting to learn German, for the same reason.

Another good reason to learn Sanskrit, is that a great many manuscripts remain untranslated. Even when they are translated, they are done by woke moralists who interpret the works through a 2023-western-woke lens.

The hard part of learning Sanskrit, is like Latin, no one actually speaks it. So you would only ever be fluent in it as a written language.

Unfortunately I don't speak it myself even though I know dozens of words in it just by learning about Buddhism/Advaita Vedanta.

I believe that is also how Mormons teach language when preparing missionaries for foreign lands - throw them way in the deep end, no more English after the first one or two days. It apparently works! IIRC the missionaries come in completely blind to the language and go out after six weeks with at least a functional grasp of it, which is incredible to me.

Too bad @FarNearEverywhere isn't around anymore to make fun of me.

Some say she lurks this forum to this very day. Legend has it she will offer sardonic clarification to any user truly in need.

I've had a few aborted attempts at different languages over the years but now I've managed to stick with Spanish for the last two and half years. I'm not fluent by any means but I haven't given up yet so I'm proud of that. The difference between this attempt and all of my failed ones is that I put in a lot of time at the very beginning to get to the point where I can understand things I actually want to read and listen to and then eased up. The phase where you can only read children's books is so boring that I always flamed out within 6 months of starting. This time I forced myself to put a lot of time in at the start to blitz through the boring part and made it to where I can actually be entertained in Spanish.

My motivation still has hills and valleys, so I'm not always making much progress, but I always have a Spanish audiobook on in the car and a Spanish book next to my bed so I never actually lose progress and have to start again.

You read accounts of famous 'geniuses' of old and many of them are noted for being fluent in like 3+ languages, often starting at an early age.

I often wonder how many of these accounts are hyperbolized, since in my experience just flat out learning languages from scratch is a miserable task with only marginal success.

It feels like in principle it should be possible to learn some 'universal' rules that let you see the congruence common to all languages and thus make it easier to learn new ones and translate between one's you already know, but in practice the intricacies end up making each one so different as to feel almost incomparable.

Depending on how big the "+" part is... I am reasonably fluent in 3 languages (meaning, can maintain a conversation, read a newspaper, would likely understand about any book not specifically written to be incomprehensible, etc.) and can easily understand another one though not speak fluently, for the lack of practice. Not a genius by any measure. So I'd imagine if somebody had real skills and worked on it... I don't see why achieving something like 8-10 would be impossible. I mean, once you got once Romance language, a reasonable effort would probably give you about 5 of them. Add German and English, you're already at 7. Then you can add Dutch and Norwegian and Swedish, since you already familiar with Germanics, and you've got 10. And we didn't even have to leave Europe!

You read accounts of famous 'geniuses' of old and many of them are noted for being fluent in like 3+ languages, often starting at an early age.

Surely being fluent in 3+ languages starting at an early age is less impressive than being fluent in 3+ languages starting at a late age!

I’ve always been confused about why people emphasize how many languages some 18th century child prodigy speaks. Surely this is the easiest time to pick up a language? And it’s not like it was uncommon to speak multiple languages in antiquity if there was use for it - educated folk in the Byzantine empire would’ve spoken at least Greek and Latin, right? Was “fluency” a much more stringent assessment before the 20th century?

There are a lot of confounding factors. If the languages are closely related e.g. Spanish, Italian, French, Latin, then it isn't too hard, particularly if you are a native speaker of one of them. If you truly, absolutely need to master a language for work as an adult e.g. English for immigrants to the US, then you aren't going to hear many complaints like "oh, I'm bad at languages" that you get from monolingual Americans or Brits. It's just that most English-speakers are never put in a situation where knowing a foreign language is essential, so the opportunity cost for them is too great.

I grew up in a State Department household (my parents speak 9 languages between them) that hopped from country to country so of course I'm biased, but I don't find learning a language at least to the basic "can barter for groceries and ask for directions" level to be that miserable of an experience. Sure, you might sound like a fool who can't conjugate verbs, but it can still be a lifesaver if you happen to be stranded in a third world country without any other means of communication with the locals. The hardest grammatical rules tend to come relatively far along the path of diminishing returns when it comes to language learning. Pronunciation can be trickier, but I would only expect that to be an absolute communication barrier at first in something like Chinese or Arabic.

I'm not sure what sorts of universal rules you are thinking of, but I find that learning the linguistic terminology for things like verb tenses, noun declensions, particles, etc. does help a lot when starting a new language, so I'm glad I went through the traditional schooling approach with a grammar textbook for at least one language. Of course you will encounter more new things the farther you stray from your mother tongue, but that's to be expected.

I'm just saying that I've worked on learning the basics of Japanese, Russian, and German and dear lord do the rules you learn in one mostly NOT help you learning the others.

There is a lot of snake oil peddled in the language learning field. (Any class or video or program that promises "Fluency in X weeks!" is bullshit.)

Nobody - literally nobody - can become "fully fluent" in a new language in a matter of weeks. Even with the most intense immersion program, you could only get up to a barely functional level.

That said, it has long been known that children learn languages incredibly easily compared to adults. Up until about age 12, a child immersed in a new language can probably acquire native fluency within a couple of years.

If you look on YouTube, there are a lot of so-called "polyglots" who claim to speak up to 20 languages. At most, some of them speak 3 or 4 at anything like native fluency, and all those other languages are ones where they've memorized enough canned phrases and dialogs to make an impressive-sounding YouTube video.

Around 20 years ago I met a Greek guy who’d studied Finnish for six months from language cassettes and then spent two months here speaking the language. At that point he was fluent to the extent that I first thought he’d been living here for a decade. I’ve never seen anyone else come even remotely close to that and the guy turned out to be a language genius (he spoke around a dozen languages more or less proficiently).

Yeah, that's about my conclusion.

Either you learn multiple languages as a child when your brain is specifically attuned to learning them, or you're bottlenecked forever thereafter.

That said, I've been using Duolingo for Spanish for around 10 years now, and I think I'm actually capable of reading it and grasping the meaning pretty fluently, and I can notice and follow snippets of conversations around me. Even though AI translation is now strictly superior to humans, I will probably keep at it for the pure sake of 'brain exercise.'

I suspect people claiming fluency in many languages are using it kind of like membership in Mensa, just a signal they can send of their intelligence, even if, practically speaking it isn't that useful to them and they're far less impressive than it implies.

Indeed, most people who are truly fluent in multiple languages would just get jobs as translators, which isn't a field known for it's megageniuses or paying massive amounts. It's pretty much just a rote skill like any other and is only situationally useful to develop.

It failed to discover the one video game I did want it to :(

In case anyone might know, it was an early 2000s or very late 90s PC side scrolling shooter where you played a macho male dude shooting guns at humanoid pigs in a bid to save a damsel in distress.

Other than that, I've used it to brainstorm ideas for my novel, polish up dialogue when I feel too lazy, study medicine (!) or at least the bits I slept through in med school, and seek information on various random facts where it would do better than Google.

I have used it to find watch orders for obscure anime too, now that I think about it.

Are you thinking of Duke Nukem 1 and 2 and misremembering the pig cops from duke nukem 3D?

No, I don't think that's it, I googled the games and they're nothing like I remembered, even if the protagonist probably wore a leather jacket like Duke.

Oh, and programming. I doubt I'll ever become a programmer, but it's great for understanding concepts or writing code.

I might even use it to make some small mods for Rimworld in the future.

It's decent at finding bands and games similar to ones I like. It's like those 'top 10 _____ similar to' websites but without all the intrusive ads, clickbait and often gives better answers as well.

GPT-4 is slowly teaching me to make a Unity game, despite knowing little about Unity or C#.

It also can provide character names for my writing and some inspiration to break through anything I'm struggling with. Even if I don't use its ideas, they're still helpful.

What's the appeal in Lord of the Rings?

I've recently been press ganged by my friends into joining a Lord of the Rings book club and it's one of the more significant Ls I've taken in a long time. We've finished the Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Rings and I'm actually not sure I've ever read fiction this boring. Gargantuan amounts of the plot are just them wandering through the woods. The characterization is borderline nonexistent and the dialogue is so stilted that I have trouble keeping the characters apart - why are there even two characters for Mary and Pippin when as far as I can tell they're the same character? Every page feels like a slog, the only decent part is Tolkien has nice descriptions of scenery.

I'm not trying to be a dick though, I want to enjoy these books, everyone tells me they're great. What am I missing? What should I be looking for / trying to get out of them?

It's been almost a month. If you've read much more since you posted that, did whatever things we were talking about improve the reading experience?

Yeah it has actually, sort of meant to do a follow up post and never really got around to it but I've definitely been enjoying it more. @OracleOutlook's suggestion to use the Phil Dragesh audiobook was a gamechanger. I usually read history and my goal is kind of just processing information as efficiently as possiblec, which isn't so well suited here. By taking away my ability to control the speed of reading I was able to get more of an immersive experience. I feel like that's also helped me appreciate the other elements people like yourself mentioned, like all the worldbuilding and references to the world being fallen from ancient greatness.

I've also just been enjoying the Two Towers more. The Fellowship felt like a lot of build up but I've read Book III now and it feels like the plot is progressing and more action is happening. My friend sent me the ACOUP series getting into the weeds of the battles which also helped me appreciate how much background effort went into making the world belieavable/functional.

Glad to hear you're enjoying it!

Yeah, books 3 and 5 are my favorites, I think because of what you were saying, that it feels most like the plot is progressing and important things are happening.

If you like things that read more like history, you'd probably enjoy the appendices, especially appendix A, once you finish. (A, B, E, and F are the ones I enjoy more.) You'd also like most of the Silmarillion—the first two sections aren't very history-ish, but once you get to the third (which is by far the largest section), it's much more like history than Lord of the Rings, and I found it fun. It's the sort of work where you need to be regularly consulting family trees and maps to keep track of what is going on.

I'll definitely be checking out the Simarillion then! Good to hear it's rewarding because I'm pretty sure I signed up for it by accident along with the others when I joined the Book Club - I honestly hadn't realized Tolkien had written anything else.

If you kept reading at the same pace, you should have finished the book by now. How did you find it, now that you're (probably) done?

I haven't responded earlier mostly because I'm trying to think of something more intelligent to say and unfortunately I don't have a ton lol. I found the first two books pretty rough but I liked the last book the most; the battle scenes were impressive and the sense of resolution in the final sections was very satisfying. I think I came to appreciate the series more as a whole after having read the entire thing in a way that no individual book probably could have achieved, just because it all kind of builds up grand epic style. I also came to appreciate the prose more, which previously I found kind of a slog but I think helped establish the series of something that felt older or out of a different time. I listened to a lecture on Tolkien's translation of Beowulf and heard that Tolkien was interested in how Beowulf made references to other events or writings that we have no remaining records of now, and tried to sort of recreate the effect of a document that existed in a time and world separate to ours but constantly referencing or hinting at it in tantalizing ways, and I think he definitely achieved that.

Overall I'm definitely grateful to have read the series and the suggestions people like yourself offered here definitely helped me appreciate the series more, especially understanding it as a sort of shell of a former world full of magic and life. I actually am trying to read the Simarillion now as you recommended, and will report back when that's completed.

Lemme say right at the outset that people like different things, and it's totally fine not to like a piece of art many people find great. If you've found the Hobbit boring, it seems likely that these books just aren't for you, and that's ok. Some people love Proust, some find his books boring (I'm in the latter camp). With a bit of help especially however, even the latter group can still appreciate their genius, even if it's still not their cup of tea, so to speak.

One thing I'd like to say to you right away, though, is that the Lord of the Rings is not really a trilogy - it's one book in three tomes. If you've only read the first, it's like watching the first third of a movie and deciding it's boring. Totally fine too, but you haven't seen the full thing yet. More specifically, for instance, Merry and Pippin get more fleshed out and differentiated later in the story. Characterization is more through actions than words or descriptions, and you need the full story for the picture to be complete.

The slow start, for example, is to provide a contrast and a slow escalation of a camping trip adventure into something much more epic and darker. The hobbits' return to the Shire at the end of the tale, which is one of my favorite parts of the book and mirrors the feeling of a soldier returning home after a terrible war as Tolkien did after WW1 - but this only works in the books because we've become familiar with the Shire during the slow start, so we can appreciate the contrast in the perception of the characters and the change in how the community they return to sees them in turn.

The worldbuilding, sense of wonder, and love of nature the book evokes have been covered in other replies, but I'd add that Tolkien wanted to write a story containing the core elements of Christianity and Nordic mythology, but without allegory or direct counterparts and comparisons. An original, epic tale containing the *essences *of these two views of the world, as he saw them. Even if you find the book a bit boring, this is an aspect you might find intriguing and challenging (what are these core aspects presented in the story?), just like you might find a film kinda boring but appreciate the excellent photography work.

Here's a few non-obvious things I love from the first book:

How Tolkien describes things. When the Balrog appears in Moria, you have no idea what it is and get no real explanation (although Tolkien could have provided a lore explanation in excrutiating detail, there is none). However, Legolas, who has been established as skilled, ageless, and carefree when others despair, upon seeing the Balrog drops the arrow he had been nocking and covers his face in despair. You don't know what's going on and what this new danger is, but you do understand the shit has truly hit the fan. This is an example of worldbuilding and characterization, Tolkien-style, that may not be obvious and appreciated on a first read. Firstly, his incredible restraint in providing lore (imagine building a world in excrutiating detail and then providing basically no information when an important element of it enters your tale), and secondly, how he narrates and explains the relations between mysterious things by setting up characters as being a certain way (note how unafraid Legolas is of the fury of the mountain earlier in the story) and then contrasting this with their reaction in a different situation. The reader's point of view remains that of the hobbits (they are a bit bland for a reason, too), and they/we know almost nothing of this fantastical world, looking to wiser and stronger characters to understand what things mean.

I'm very sad that Legolas' arrow-dropping scene didn't make it into the movies, incidentally.

The escalation of horror. I was incredibly captivated by the whole Moria sequence in the first book, which is when things really get serious. The whole thing is basically Lovecraftian - especially the very vague but terrible Watcher in the Water. Then there's the magnificent ruins of an ancient civilization, the journal detailing the desperate last stand of the heroic dwarves (the "THEY ARE COMING" bit still gives me shivers - and it's written in hasty elvish script, not dwarven runes, a nice bit of worldbuidling even there), the bravery of the hitherto cowardly and meek hobbits in fighting the orcs, mirroring the desperate heroism of the last stand of the dwarves, and the final confrontation between Gandalf and the Balrog, an entity that's so beyond us that even powerful characters like Aragorn and Legolas can't hope to even try to fight it but can only flee as Gandalf looses his own desperate battle against it.

Again, it's totally fine not to like stuff like Lovecraft, journal entries in a destroyed facility (System Shock/Bioshock), or archeological wonder, or if the book's way of handling them just doesn't gel with you, but I found this stuff facinating. Also note in all of this that "heroic but doomed battle against outer monstrosities of Chaos, that is heroic because it is doomed" is one of those core themes of Nordic mythology that Tolkien is incoporating here.

Finally, let's look at the death of Boromir. Boromir has succumbed to the temptation of the Ring, failed in his oaths to protect the Ringbearer and attacked him himself, failed to protect the hobbits he tried to defend against the sudden attack by the orcs, and failed in his overall mission to bring aid to his homeland of Gondor. As he dies, he says to Aragon that he has failed. But Aragorn is one of the wise characters in the books: wise characters pick their words carefully and generally have a deep and correct moral understanding of the world. And Aragorn tells Boromir, as Boromir dies, that no, he has not failed, he has conquered: few have won such a victory.

Why does Aragorn say this, if Boromir has failed utterly in all his goals? I won't go too deep into this, but for Tolkien wordly success or failure is not the main thing. What is truly important is the moral battle within our hearts and conscience, and here Boromir prevailed in the end, in the face of the terrible, insourmoutable temptation of the Ring. Elements of the core ideas of Christianity are here, of course, but also of Nordic mythology where the ultimate defeat of all the gods and heroes during Ragnarok is no repudiation of the rightness of their cause and their moral victory.

Finally, let me offer another avenue of appreciating Tolkien: historical and military realism despite the fantasy setting. Here's a series of excellent and scholarly articles on military and historical accuracy in the books:

These may appeal to you even if the books don't, and they show Tolkien's deep understanding of strategy, logistics, and historical battles. The articles also help appreciate things that may not be obvious to a reader immediately - how differently battles work in Tolkien, who went through the horror of WW1, than in basically almost every other author and depiction, fantasy or otherwise. These things are not even close to being spelled out in the book, but morale and cohesion are the true decisive factors in every battle in the books, and once you appreciate how deeply that theme runs despite never being obvious, you also see how computer-gamey many other battles in media actually are (including in the LotR films).

There, I hope I've offered a bit of stuff to help answer your question :)

I actually brought this up before back on reddit - I was in the same boat as you, I tried reading the series again after reading lore entries in the video games and thinking it deserved another look, but balking before they even leave the shire (the first time I tried reading it was as a child, that time I stopped when they were dancing naked in the forest).

The advice is received then was to just read the silmarillion. It's good advice.

But advice that requires a great deal of discernment to know whether it's applicable.

The first two sections of the Silmarillion I found hard to get through. The rest of the Silmarillion I enjoyed much more. But it definitely requires careful reading—continual consulting of the maps and family trees found at the back of the book so as not to get lost between the many people and keep track of their relationships with one another. If this isn't regularly consulted, you will in all likelihood get lost.

The Silmarillion reads much more like a history textbook than does the Lord of the Rings (not a perfect comparison). The style is very different. It's probably comparable to Appendix A of Lord of the Rings, per my recollection. Both are great.

It's not great - it's first.

I say that as someone who grew up on Richard Rahl & The Wheel of Time and whose read parts of Malazan three time. Of course, The Sword of Truth is unbearable as an adult but it still has amazingly cool parts.

I think LOTR is fine but that's my entire opinion.

read fiction this boring

The LOTR books are boring stories set in an amazing world.

Lord of the Rings is great because so much great fantasy fiction was written after LOTR, and all those worlds owe Tolkien for doing the heavy lifting.

Tolkien drops the façade of writing a novel all together with the The Silmarillion, finally doing what he loves best : writing encyclopedias.

The way I would describe the Lord of the Rings books is "a few dozen pages of some of the most beautiful prose ever written in the English language surrounded by hundreds of pages narrating a camping trip in excruciating detail." As others mentioned, the hints of a larger world are a key part of the appeal, and I think for modern readers coming in having seen the Peter Jackson trilogy is a good idea, as one would already be invested in the characters and their stories and better able to appreciate the little extra details that Tolkien presents.

Regarding that larger world, it truly saddens me that the best parts of the Silmarillion are hidden behind obscurity and copyright and that their true majesty may never see the light of day. It could stand toe-to-toe with the actual historical mythologies of many cultures if given the chance, despite originating from the work of a single mind.

I'll have to wholeheartedly agree with the comments of people about the sense of some great past that we now have only remnants of. Tolkien's really good at writing nostalgia. But then that also heightens what remnants we do have. Elrond, who has walked the earth for thousands of years, is lord of Rivendell, and the older still Galadriel of Lothlorien. Gondor still stands, the sons of the men of Numenor, and Aragorn, its heir, we are told is far more like the kings of old than any ruler has been for a long time. The civilizations are fading, a thing of the past, but what is left of them both shows the heights of what the elder days must have been like in middle earth, but also maintain a present dignity of their own. If you eventually decide you like Tolkien's worldbuilding, I can definitely recommend the appendices.

I think the other thing big thing that is a love of the things that are wholesome and honest and good. It is no accident that Tolkien is writing about hobbits, people who live essentially ordinary lives, doing ordinary things, until four of them end up on this journey. And it is no accident that songs occur in the book, even though they might often be seen as a slog by the readers, (and I suppose, often support the previous point), and that the book talks about laughter the way that it does. The hobbits are a homely and a hearty people. The fellowship, being nearly half hobbits, put the humble plainly on a level with the great.

I think it's in light of things of this sort that a lot of the things in Lord of the Rings should be seen. I think the delight in the book is maybe more in the people and peoples who are accomplishing things than in the things they accomplish.

I'm wondering if this could be some of the cause of the stilted dialogue, as you put it. Tolkien is not trying to write the way that we talk. If he were, he would be wretchedly failing. I think he is trying to make it poetic instead, and to give the right feel. Tolkien is attempting to describe characters and a world who delight in friendship and in song and in the good things of life, as they struggle onward with courage and earnestness towards a great danger, and also to portray loftiness, dignity among the great. He's not trying to imitate our world so much as make a better one. (although maybe that's put badly, as I'm quite confident he would think our world better than his.)

I think because of all this, because so much of the value in the book lies in the character of the people and places rather than in the barebones architecture of the plot, that it can be vulnerable to the problems that @OracleOutlook was talking about, and that taking care to not let that happen might help.

Oh, also, I've always found book 4 (the second part of the Two Towers) to be a drag anyway, but it sounds like you're not there yet.

I'll add also that I'm talking about the Lord of the Rings here. The Hobbit is pretty different in tone. There's clearly much less at stake in that—just a quest they're going on vs. a threat to the whole of middle earth.

Let us know if any of our thoughts affects how much you like it once you read a little further!

I'm wondering if this could be some of the cause of the stilted dialogue, as you put it. Tolkien is not trying to write the way that we talk. If he were, he would be wretchedly failing. I think he is trying to make it poetic instead, and to give the right feel.

@Soriek I would definitely underscore this point. When he wrote LOTR, Tolkien was very consciously trying to create an English epic. He wanted something that was comparable to the epics from antiquity he studied, but written in a way that evoked his own country. So if the dialogue seems stilted, I'd say it's because he is deliberately trying to match that tone.

I appreciate the really fleshed out response here and I’ll definitely try to read it through that angle. I think i had mostly treated the references to the older times as background noise instead of a contrast that helps define the present world, and that’s definitely something i can appreciate more.

I have actually also been trying to understand the dialogue in that same sense - not as how people talk but as sort of an epic poetry. I struggle relating to Shakespeare’s dialogue for the same reason but I can appreciate it from a distance at least.

It took me several attempts before I made it all the way through The Lord of the Rings. For a while I enjoyed reading other people writing about Lord of the Rings without having read it myself. I liked the idea of LOTR. I liked the themes, the analysis, the motives. But I didn't like the book itself.

I eventually read it through a book club type thing - someone was reading it for the first time and blogged about it one chapter a day. I read a chapter a day alongside the blogger and made it through, though it still felt like a slog. I got through it mostly because I still enjoyed reading other people's commentaries.

A few years later, I discovered the very best way of reading the books bar none. Find a park, garden, or other naturalish place. Walk around and listen to Phil Dragash's recording of the book. Listen to it early in the morning while you watch the sunrise on your front porch. Sip coffee or tea. Listen to it while performing whatever you consider a simple pleasure in life.

I think part of the problem is I want to get through a book. I only read 30-40 books a year, and sometimes wish I could skip the reading part and just know the details of the book. LOTR takes a long time to get through, and if your eyes are skipping ahead to the next plot point you are missing most of the experience of reading it. It's not a thriller. Audiobooks are the best medium for me when it comes to this kind of slow, experience based book. I know I'm going to "lose" X hours of time to it, I'm not trying to rush through. I can work it into a routine more easily.

The first time I read LOTR was just before the movies came out, and I read Fellowship whilst in the hospital with chest pains. Reading a story of four friends on a cross-country adventure was a real comfort at the time.

(I had been trying to impress a friend by swallowing air to burp, but one painful gulp never yielded a belch. Within an hour I had chest pains. I had torn a tiny hole in my esophagus and the air was in my interstitial chest cavity, nearly collapsed a lung.)

I had seen the Rankin-Bass Return of the King and The Hobbit, so I knew how it ended but not how it began. It wasn’t until around 2008 when I saw Ralph Bakshi’s LOTR, which was just Fellowship and Two Towers.

I think part of the problem is I want to get through a book. I only read 30-40 books a year, and sometimes wish I could skip the reading part and just know the details of the book. LOTR takes a long time to get through, and if your eyes are skipping ahead to the next plot point you are missing most of the experience of reading it. It's not a thriller. Audiobooks are the best medium for me when it comes to this kind of slow, experience based book. I know I'm going to "lose" X hours of time to it, I'm not trying to rush through. I can work it into a routine more easily.

This is extremely similar to my own experience with reading in general. And I'll definitely have to give the Phil Dragash audio a try, thanks for the recommendation.

As an unabashed and unrepentant Tolkien superfan, I will say that Fellowship takes off significantly once they get to Bree. If you're not there yet, definitely hold on.

What's the appeal in Lord of the Rings?

It's a phenomenal tale told with beautiful prose. But really the core of the appeal of fantasy is of being transported to another place; to escape the dull, superficial reality we live in for a world that is suffused with magical unreality. Part of why Tolkien sits at the apex of the genre is that The Lord of the Rings depicts a world much grander than our own, shrunken and withered. There is a sense of longing and nostalgia for a forgotten and irrevocably lost past when we greater than we are now. I think that people very keenly feel some loss of wonder and grandeur in the world, whether that loss be cultural, intellectual, environmental, and Lord of the Rings laments that loss in a very evocative way.

I saw someone point this out very clearly the other day: we associate "post-apocalyptic" with Sci-Fi, so we don't immediately recognize the Lord of the Rings as post-apocalyptic fantasy!

There were civilizations who carved statues and skyscrapers out of mountains, who turned forests into pocket universes of magic and beauty, who uplifted other forests to sentience, who built subcontinent-spanning empires ...

And we're walking through their ruins, terrified at the likelihood that even the few remaining places that people can call home are going to be lost as well. We see remnants of magic fading away, remnants of high culture in retreat, we've been outright told that past victories were hollow and temporary, and we can see that even another victory here would be merely the beginning of hope to preserve just a part of what's left ...

And what's left is still beautiful enough to want to preserve, if only a part of it, for however long it and however much of it can last. "We have fought the long defeat", says Galadriel, but even that length itself is a form of victory.

I wouldn't call LOTR post-apocalyptic just because there was no apocalypse. The world is in a long, slow decline rather than having had a single event after which everything is inferior to what came before. Even in the beginning of the world, there are legendary deeds that can't be replicated (Yavanna can't make replacements for the Two Trees, and Fëanor can't recreate the Silmarils).

I mean, at least as the movies present it, you could call Sauron's first attack a form of Apocalypse.

And there was an even bigger attack (with a bigger defense) ages before that from Morgoth. But really, even before that the world was in decline. It's just the nature of the world Tolkien created, and it wasn't pushed into decline by any particular event.

Also, I wouldn't count the movies' depiction of anything in LOTR as being particularly meaningful. They're good movies, but Peter Jackson didn't really grok LOTR if the movies are anything to go by.

That's a beautiful way to put it and I think that was a feature I noticed but never quite grasped when I first read them.

So much of the world is so inherently 'unimpressive' when viewed objectively. The Mines of Moria are cavernous and extensive... and (almost) completely uninhabited. But through Gimli we understand that they used to be bustling and productive on a scale that would be hard to imagine. And yet in the story's present, they're just some big caves.

The Kingdom of Rohan is legendary for its vast horseback armies. And when we first encounter it it's basically crumbling apart due to the King being decrepit.

Time and time again we encounter some amazing monument to the achievements of a bygone civilization, and the current residents are kind of just milling around in them waiting for... something. Except many of the characters are old enough to remember those bygone civilizations, and indeed have to be reminded why it might be worth fighting to preserve what is left.

It simultaneously makes the world feel extensively 'lived in' and also lends that "sense of longing and nostalgia for a forgotten and irrevocably lost past" as a thematic and atmospheric feature of the story.

This and your point below about the Tom Bombadil chapters did actually add a lot for me, and I'll try to read the books appreciating that perspective

Matt Colville did a D&D video on dead empires and quoted this bit from Elrond.

Then Elendil the Tall and his mighty sons, Isildur and Anarion, became great lords; and the North-realm they made in Arnor, and the South-realm in Gondor above the mouths of Anduin. But Sauron of Mordor assailed them, and they made the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and the hosts of Gil-galad and Elendil were mustered in Arnor.

Thereupon Elrond paused a while and sighed. 'I remember well the splendour of their banners,' he said. 'It recalled to me the glory of the Elder Days and the hosts of Beleriand, so many great princes and captains were assembled. And yet not so many, nor so fair, as when Thangorodrim was broken, and the Elves deemed that evil was ended for ever, and it was not so.

Which really drives home that the world we see is a shadow of a shadow of what it once was.

Which really drives home that the world we see is a shadow of a shadow of what it once was.

And funny enough, this actually helps the Tom Bombadil portion of book 1 make more thematic sense to me. On first read it sticks out like a sore thumb for how 'unneeded' it is.

But the existence of Tom, his carefree attitude and isolation from the rest of the world, and the raw power he displays in an entirely flippant manner is, if I recall, the first and biggest hint the reader gets that this world used to be full of powerful entities who were capable of casual acts of both creation and destruction. And it turns out they still exist in certain pockets of the world, but they're so rare that they have faded mostly into mythic status.

So he plugs into the greater story as a simple example of the what the world used to be like, where entities like Tom or the Balrog or, I guess Shelob counts, were commonly encountered and together created a much richer, more dynamic world than the one we find them in, where they're hemmed in to their little corner having very little influence on the course of events. Doesn't make the Bombadil chapters any less weird, but you can see what Tolkein was trying to get across to the readers early on.

I saw you say in another comment that you expect to get crucified, but I don't think people are going to be mad or anything. Not everything is for everyone. That said, I disagree with you and I think that LOTR is excellent. Here are reasons why I think the book is great:

  • It's the OG high fantasy book. Basically every fantasy book you've ever read was influenced by it in some way, even if that was by way of the author disliking LOTR and consciously making something different. That alone qualifies it as one of the all time greats.

  • The book is genuinely good on its own merits. The plot is interesting and makes you want to know how it ends. The prose is enjoyable to read (I still get chills when I read some of the passages in that book because they're just so well written). The characters are fun to see go on an adventure. Basically, this book does the things that books are supposed to.

  • The book has a really well thought out world that it hints at but doesn't directly tell you about. When I first read LOTR, I was fascinated by these little glimpses of a larger world that the plot exists in (e.g. mentions of Fëanor), and it made me positively hungry to learn more. Which of course was by design - years later I read a bit where Tolkien talked about how he showed a bit of scenery on the horizon, so to speak, to make the reader curious what's over there and want to learn more. But this makes the book really interesting to me.

If you're not feeling it, I don't think there's something wrong with you or anything like that. But for my money, LOTR really is as good as they say, and stands head and shoulders above the movies (which were good movies in their own right but terrible adaptations).

It's the OG high fantasy book. Basically every fantasy book you've ever read was influenced by it in some way, even if that was by way of the author disliking LOTR and consciously making something different. That alone qualifies it as one of the all time greats

I'll give a qualified admission that I've never been super gripped by fantasy in general, so it might just be a personal taste thing. That is another element to this though, I've already encountered all the tropes that Tolkien created done in a dozen different contexts; I'm trying to imagine experiencing them freshly the way new readers would but it's a challenge.

I still get chills when I read some of the passages in that book because they're just so well written

There was a section that did it for me at the end of the first book, where Frodo goes to the top of the hill with the ring and has the vision. I'm not sure why that scene wasn't in the movie, it seemed pretty cinema-ready.

The book has a really well thought out world that it hints at but doesn't directly tell you about. When I first read LOTR, I was fascinated by these little glimpses of a larger world that the plot exists in (e.g. mentions of Fëanor), and it made me positively hungry to learn more. Which of course was by design - years later I read a bit where Tolkien talked about how he showed a bit of scenery on the horizon, so to speak, to make the reader curious what's over there and want to learn more. But this makes the book really interesting to me.

It is really something that blew my mind as a 9 year old; there are all these references in the text to some greater shared culture that the reader is not a part of. It makes it really feel like an alien world, that their touchstones are something unknown and unknowable to us. It's very much a contrast to other mediocre sci-fi/fantasy which often does a poor job of creating that second world, such that their cultural memory and way of speaking is still very much that of a person living in modern-day North America or Europe. You know, like when a character in the year 48032 speaks of "the 20th century band The Beatles". And it's just cooler when the text doesn't trip over itself to keep its reader in the know. 9 year old me thought it was really cool that the battering ram Grond was named after the "Hammer of the Underworld", but it was even more awesome that Tolkien then made no attempt to explain what that meant.

(Of course this was all largely accidental: Tolkien meant for The Silmarillion to be published alongside The Lord of the Rings so that all these unexplained references would be filled in by the accompanying backstories. But I think it ended up working great as it turned out)

I read the books when I was a child and was profoundly unimpressed, and consider the movies to be at least visually striking.

It just seems grossly overrated to me, autistically obsessive conlanging isn't my thing, and it just isn't my cup of tea.

It has actually been a huge relief hearing I'm not alone here. Kinda thought I'd get crucified for this one.

I feel you, there are plenty of people here who swear by them, and even Scott himself is pretty damn fond of it!

It's hard for me to articulate why I'm utterly underwhelmed, especially when it's been more than a decade since I read them, but on reflection I'm not fond of the anti-industrialism, the sheer black and white nature of the setting, cop-outs like the eagles, overly indulgent prose etc.

Each to their own I suppose!

"Seinfeld" Is Unfunny

"J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: This book popularized most of the cliches found in fantasy today, but modern readers may well find it unspeakably boring, purely because everything in it has since been subverted, inverted, parodied, and otherwise done to death. Aside from that though, it also has lots of Unbuilt Trope which are actually not like what non-readers think the book contains."

It was first published in 1954 and has been very influential. The problem is that you won't find anything new there now if you've already read other fantasy books.

Yeah that's probably a huge part of it. I'm trying to experience it as though I'm someone encountering all these tropes for the first time but I'm probably so used to them that I can't experience the same novelty and wonder as a first timer.

It’s ironic that I’d been a lifelong lover of science fiction and didn’t read fantasy (other than Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept, which barely counts). LOTR was the first fantasy book series I read, and so I got it all firsthand.

I feel like the two genres get bundled together but for some people scratch different itches. I’ve never been a major scifi guy but always took to it more easily than fantasy, and I absolutely love the cyberpunk subgenre

My Triessentialist view is that SF/F as a mega-genre addresses three itches which realistic fiction has to try harder to scratch:

  • The What - The desire to see or imagine amazing and impossible things, and see other species or peoples in fascinating and unique garb - Science Fiction or Fantasy

  • The How - The desire to understand a world or a society which functions in fascinating yet logical ways - Science Fiction or Fantasy

  • The Why - The desire to have unique or intoxicatingly different feelings as members of or visitors to fantastic societies and their rituals, goals, and folkways - Science Fiction or Fantasy

Or, in familiar words, "to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."