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Author Topic: PC032: Senator Bilbo  (Read 28409 times)

Heradel

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Reply #25 on: November 10, 2008, 05:27:48 AM
… I especially hate stories whose only purpose is their political agenda. Not only does it make for bad fiction, but it makes for poor political discourse as well. This story had no plot to speak of, a weak main character, and was a poor use of Tolkein's creation.
Hear, hear! (no offense to the author or Rachael)
I've always enjoyed Animal Farm and 1984.
To each their own I suppose. I've never read the latter, but didn't much care for the former.

Look, I'm not saying that politically motivated stories can't backfire horribly, but politically motivated stories can be the giants in their genre just like any other story. For example, the Grapes of Wrath is indisputably political. You might not like Rand, but hers come from a very political place. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, I haven't read it yet but Little Brother certainly sounds pretty political, Wells' The Time Machine was political. Now, these stories also do other things, and work as stories, but they start from a purely political place.

I also disagree that it makes for poor political discourse. Stories, like the ones above, can cut through and deliver a visceral experience that can sway public opinion (Cuckoos' is probably the best example of this). Now, they don't always work, and most won't cause that, but it's unfair to fault someone for trying.

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Reply #26 on: November 10, 2008, 04:05:12 PM
Tolkien's people called themselves "Hobbits" and I understood them to be a "pure" race (not interbred with any othrs). "Halfling" is what the D&D rules called Hobbits.

Okay, that I can understand and thank you for reminding me.  Writing SQL queries and other nefarious code while listening to PC and EP can sometimes move my brain in odd directions.  I do distinctly remember this story using the word halfling, not hobbit, and that's why I was referring to them.

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“Why, with the delegation from Buckland. . . long known to us all as a hotbed of book-mongers, one-Earthers, elvish sympathizers, and other off-brands of the halfling race.”

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MacArthurBug

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Reply #27 on: November 10, 2008, 04:24:34 PM
not bad. I've never been a big LOtR fan, but this ran well, if a little dry.  I liked the com-uppance feeling at the end.

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Reply #28 on: November 10, 2008, 05:22:26 PM
Sorry I misinterpreted you, Eytanz.

Quote
But mostly, I want to hear more about the comparison to O'Connor, which I haven't thought about. Could you please explain what you mean by "a fantasy equivalent"? Equivalent in what sense?

"Everything That Rises Must Converge" is O'Connor's moving story of how a woman's life is hollowed out and ruined by her racism. It's a story of the tragic effect of racism on the racist (a theme often reinforced by anti-racist advocates, and which can even be seen in the narratives written by former slaves such as Frederick Douglas and Harriet Jacobs who escaped while slavery was still a solid institution, and wrote about their lives to try to inform northerners about what slavery was and persuade them to oppose it). The characterization is a mixed experience, swinging the reader between disdain for the woman's racism, and pity for how pathetic she is.

Senator Bilbo is a similar figure -- except that we're in his head, instead of in the head of another character. He's a great and powerful man, with much invested in his self-image as a great and powerful man -- but in fact, his power has leached away. Time has moved away from him, so that now the traits which made him great and powerful make him mockable. Again, ideally, this should be a painfully mixed experience to watch. We, the audience, share the sensibilities of those who laugh at Bilbo. He's funny, and despicable, and easy to mock. But inside his head, we see how ruined he is, how pathetic; we cringe for him, uncomfortably.

Near the end of his life, my grandfather embodied this uncomfortable mix of despicable behavior and being pitiable. He was an unmitigated ass, who had been abusive toward his children, creating a great deal of psychological damage to my mother and her sisters. In the hospital, after he was simulatneously hit by a car and afflicted by esophagial cancer (either of which he could have survived, the combination of which killed him), he would reach out desperately for someone to hold his hand -- for some comfort, any comfort. He was a terrible person, but I cringed for his need and I pitied him, and I wept as I held his hand.

In "Everything That Rises Must Converge," OConner kills the racist woman. She literally dies of her inability to change; her racism not only damages, but kills her. Or, in a different analysis, the racist woman refuses to change, but time continues to move on, and one of them must give way to the other.

I actually find Bilbo's ending much more moving and unsettling. By the end of the story, Bilbo has realized that his time has passed. His illusions are gone; he sees himself as pathetic. But unlike O'Connor's character, he doesn't die, he doesn't fade -- he has to live with his realization and ruin. As my grandfather, fragile for the last few days of his life, had to live with the lack of power that he'd taken pride in (and used to hurt other people), as he asked my father (his son-in-law) for help peeing in a bottle, and begged my mother and my grandmother to spend just a few more minutes in the hospital, even as they nodded with exhaustion.



Talia

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Reply #29 on: November 12, 2008, 01:05:20 PM
enjoyed the story. Not much bothered by politics in fiction, and i actually found the timing appropriate. To me it was a believable account of what could happen if the hobbits in the idyllic shire were to fall into the habit of modern human politics. Anyone is vulnerable to being trapped into old ways and old mindsets. The inability to change creates stagnation, whether you're a person, a town or a country.

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eytanz

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Reply #30 on: November 12, 2008, 01:52:59 PM
Rachel - thank you for the explanation.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with it, though. For one, O'Conner's story is about more than just the racist woman - it's about the relationship between her and her son. It is not so much about how a single life is tainted by racism but rather on how it affects the people who care for them as well. In fact, I'd say it's more than son's story than the mother's.

Which is part of what I find unsatsifying about this story. The senator can influence other people's life by virtue of his political power, but no-one around him seems to actually care about him. On an emotional level, his racism affects no-one but himself; everyone else turns out to be pretty well-adjusted and normal. O'Conner's story is much more challenging and honest.

Thanks, by the way, to ajames for pointing me to the historical senator Bilbo - I guess I now know why set the story in the Shire; it's a play on the two disperate uses of the name, taking the politics of one and putting it in the world of the other. So now I no longer think it's arbitrary, but I still think it's a bad choice on the author's behalf, since A - that explanation only works if you've heard of Theodore G. Bilbo, which I doubt most people have these days (though maybe Americans are taught about him in school, I don't know), and B - it's a flimsy pun that doesn't hold the weight of the themes of the story, and in my opinion collapses under them.



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Reply #31 on: November 12, 2008, 05:36:24 PM
Got less than a minute into this one before giving up.  I'm not a fan of Tolkien, nor Mr. Key.  Sorry.  Next.



JoeFitz

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Reply #32 on: November 13, 2008, 10:07:42 PM
I found this story sadly uninspiring on many levels.

It didn't work for me as a send up of Tolkien because it disrespects the work itself and disrespects the political system it intends to parody.

It imposes a simplistic view of American nativism (itself a real but widely overplayed political movement) onto a poorly rendered Middle Earth.

This story lost me at the use of "halfling."

And please, orcs as misunderstood beings? No hint in the Tolkien canon ever expresses the slightest doubt that orcs literally are pure evil with no capacity for good. Choosing them as the "misunderstood other" implying it orcs are like real human immigrants was weird and frankly insulting to the immigrants and Tolkien. There are literally dozens of groups in Middle Earth that would have been a good choice for an allegorical immigrant, orcs was just wrong.




Loz

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Reply #33 on: November 15, 2008, 09:44:07 AM
So I was the only one thinking of Boss Hogg from the old Dukes of Hazard TV show then?

This was amusing if not laugh out loud funny. These revisionist parodies of work tend to work best in very small doses (see: the Imperial press conference talking about the 9-11esque tragedy of the Rebels attack on the Death Star) and I found this story over long and sometimes as predictable as the source material, half the length would have worked best for me. The best thing, as ever, was Frank Key's delivery.



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Reply #34 on: November 17, 2008, 09:00:47 PM
So this is what CSPAN would do to Tolkien? ;-)  Seriously, I don't mind political pieces, but this was rather dry for me.  I love Tolkien and there has been a lot of discussion about the racial tone he takes with the Orcs, dwarfs, elves, and humans.  I just didn't find the metaphors and characterizations that interesting in this piece.  I did not feel the drama of him spitting in the orc's face, and the trolls kissing just felt unnecessary extra.  And those parts, at the Inn, were the most interesting parts.  The obvious Gandalf send up attempted to call up his style of manipulation and mannerisms, but didn't carry it off.  I lost interest in all the political rigmarole so I couldn't enjoy the narrative nor the ideas.

Of course, my own Tolkien interest probably helped sink the story with me.  The idea of Bilbo the racist senator is somewhat disturbing to my image of him.  I think of him as a kind, bumbling character, that really doesn't hate anyone, and gets forced into his more violent actions.  I also fondly recall the interesting narratives at the end of the Lord of the Rings sagas, which went in depth about what occurred in the Shire upon returning from the adventures.  That was one of my favorite parts of the books, and it gets certainly twisted in this parody.



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #35 on: November 17, 2008, 11:46:33 PM
"I also fondly recall the interesting narratives at the end of the Lord of the Rings sagas, which went in depth about what occurred in the Shire upon returning from the adventures."

This story is about Bilbo's grandson of the same name, isn't it? Am I misremembering?



eytanz

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Reply #36 on: November 17, 2008, 11:59:50 PM
"I also fondly recall the interesting narratives at the end of the Lord of the Rings sagas, which went in depth about what occurred in the Shire upon returning from the adventures."

This story is about Bilbo's grandson of the same name, isn't it? Am I misremembering?

That was never mentioned in this story (in fact, if I remember correctly, the senator's name is never given in the story itself, just in the title). And there are way too many elements in this story that explicitly contradict Tolkien's world building for it to be worth trying to fit it in in any way.



deflective

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Reply #37 on: November 18, 2008, 01:11:52 AM
Bilbo was a confirmed bachelor and never had children, the same with Frodo and Sméagol (Gollum).
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Reply #38 on: November 18, 2008, 01:15:47 AM
If I remember correctly, at one point the Senator is said to be named for an illustrious ancestor - presumably Tolkien's Bilbo Baggins.  (But, like deflective said, Bilbo never had children.  Maybe he had a niece or nephew with kids?)  

The name "Bilbo" only gets mentioned in the title.  I assume it's got something to do with keeping the lawyers for Tolkien's estate at bay.

Even after reading all the negative comments, I'm going to go out on a limb and say I really liked this one.  I'm not sure I can really articulate why, apart from "it amused me".  

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deflective

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Reply #39 on: November 18, 2008, 01:33:30 AM
Samwise named one of his many children Bilbo but the suggestion that his natural dislike of gollum and the orcs was passed on & amplified in a son is depressing. much more likely that the story didn't try to follow lotr faithfully.



Anarkey

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Reply #40 on: November 18, 2008, 11:42:29 PM
I really liked this story, overall.  I did think it was a little too slow in places, and could have gotten to its final scene a little more quickly.  With my sample set of two for Duncan I'd say leisurely may be a stylistic marker for him.  I was happy with the use (or misuse, as some would have it) of political elements.  I am so happy Rachel made the comparison to Flannery O'Connor...that resonance was occurring for me but on a level just below my awareness, and when she said "Everything that Rises Must Converge" I went "Oh, yes.  Yes!" inside.  Southern Gothic in the Shire.  I'm so there. 

Like others, loved the gay trolls who can speak articulately but go out of their way to pretend in front of the wacko racist. 
« Last Edit: November 18, 2008, 11:45:42 PM by Anarkey »

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stePH

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Reply #41 on: November 19, 2008, 05:26:19 AM
It didn't occur to me that the trolls were gay.  I don't remember the sex of either of them being specified, so when it was revealed that they were a mated couple, I just assumed that one was male and the other female, and the Distinguished Gentlehobbit just hadn't bothered to note that about them.

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DKT

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Reply #42 on: November 19, 2008, 04:53:49 PM
I think the tell was when the senator kept referring to them as his "boys."


Listener

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Reply #43 on: November 20, 2008, 02:09:34 PM
I haven't read the thread yet or even had time to finish the story, but I really, REALLY don't like this one already (I have about nine minutes left in the MP3). It's like LOTR fanfic meets Strom Thurmond meets the Republicans meets that story on EP where the Liberals won and Wyoming is still a segregated land...

Too many ideas. Too much going on. Too slavish to LOTR. Stories inspired by, okay. Stories derivative of, not so much.

The reading is up to Frank Key's usual standards, but that's the only good thing. This story is a pastiche that, in my opinion, tries to hold a mirror up to the American political process and ends up smashing that mirror over our heads.

Sorry, Andy Duncan. I'll have to give this one a FAIL.

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stePH

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Reply #44 on: November 20, 2008, 02:13:22 PM
I think the tell was when the senator kept referring to them as his "boys."

Ah.  That got by me.  Maybe I wasn't liking the story enough to pay close attention.

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mt house

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Reply #45 on: November 27, 2008, 08:26:35 PM
Hilarious! Best podcastle yet! I was trying to do yoga at the same time and almost hurt myself I was laughing so hard!



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Reply #46 on: November 28, 2008, 01:28:36 AM
wow, I just read the comment AFTER posting mine. LIGHTEN UP PEOPLE! This is SATIRE! My favorite form of story. Reading the posts reminds me of an e-mail I got (pre-election day) about Obama being "anti pledge of allegiance, and anti national anthem." It was all bogus, of course. It was a piece of satire that was eventually taken as fact and e-mailed with reckless abandon around the globe. The world needs more laughter, more Frank Key, and more FUNNY fantasy stories! Thank you Rachel!



stePH

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Reply #47 on: November 28, 2008, 09:58:44 PM
Reading the posts reminds me of an e-mail I got (pre-election day) about Obama being "anti pledge of allegiance, and anti national anthem." !

So what if he is?  So am I.  It don't mean anything ....

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mt house

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Reply #48 on: November 29, 2008, 05:37:11 PM
The point isn't whether he is or isn't (although when you run for president, it's USUALLY a good idea to buy into that kind of stuff), the point is that it was a piece of satire written by a comedian journalist but it was taken as fact by some, well, gullible (to put it nicely) people.



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Reply #49 on: November 29, 2008, 05:44:59 PM
The point isn't whether he is or isn't (although when you run for president, it's USUALLY a good idea to buy into that kind of stuff), the point is that it was a piece of satire written by a comedian journalist but it was taken as fact by some, well, gullible (to put it nicely) people.

Wizard's First Rule:  "People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it might be true."