Saturday, January 5, 2013

More Trivia

So, having been disappointed by a recently purchased Tolkien trivia book, you'd think I'd avoid another new Tolkien trivia book. Or at least stay away from them for a while. Such are not the ways of Tolkien scholars, who are both indiscriminate in always wanting any Tolkien book they don't already have and demanding of a high level of accuracy from said books.

This newest addition to the overloaded Tolkien tie-in shelves is THE UNOFFICIAL HOBBIT TRIVIA CHALLENGE by Nick Hurwitch, which I think had just been published* when I found it in the Barnes and Noble in Little Rock, where I stopped to check e-mail and tea-up on my way out of town for the drive down to Magnolia (this being Saturday, December 8th). I read part of it on the plane coming back, then put it aside and only resumed it a few days ago.

First and foremost, it needs to be said that this book is a far cry from MacKay's TOLKIEN TRIVIA. For one thing, it's a much more ambitious project. It's also much more substantial, running over two hundred and fifty pages and a detailed (9-page) index. The cover promises over eight hundred questions but, ironically, it turns out to be wrong about that. The end-of-chapter answer keys often give a maximum score that's several points in excess of how many questions were actually included in that chapter, with the cumulative effect that while Hurwitch believes his book has 825 questions, it actually totals 799 -- close, but no Nazgul.

Reading this book, and taking its test helped confirm to me a growing suspicion that Tolkien's gotten too complex for anyone but a savant to hold the whole in memory. Unlike MacKay, whose downfall seems to have been consulting bad sources, Hurwitch I think suffers from inconsistent precision. He has a fair number of trick questions, where the wording of a question is all-important, but he has many others which contain (mostly) small errors in the question that we're not to take into account. And there are many questions to which there shd be more than one right answer, but Hurwitch only gives credit for the one he intended. For example, the very first question in the book asks what Bilbo's home had whole rooms devoted to. The 'correct' answer is clothes, but food is just as right, based on the pantries mentioned in the book, but that's not included as a valid answer. Elsewhere he asks what monster Tolkien discussed in his BEOWULF essay: the 'correct' answer is Grendel, yet JRRT also devotes a good deal of discussion there to the Dragon. Other questions are simply flat-out wrong ("Ered Luin" is not the "Dwarvish" name for the Blue Mountains but Elven --Sindarin, I assume; Lake Town was not rebuilt on the shore following Smaug's death; Tolkien did not replace "goblin" with "orc" in later editions of THE HOBBIT; Dorwinion is not an "elvish city").

On the plus side, Hurwitch knows a lot about Tolkien and clearly went to a lot of trouble putting this book together. He even cites my book at one point (and clearly drew on it in another dozen places), which warms my cold, hard, blog-reviewer's heart towards his project. On the whole he's done a good job, and includes a lot of interesting stuff.  I just wish he'd been more careful; there's a good book here that cd have been so much better.

Oh, and my final score? I got 602 right, by my reckoning. At the end of each chapter he has an answer key and three rankings, and I got in the top ranking in eight of the nine chapters. But then at the end of the book he gives five rankings for the compiled tallies, and my showing placed me in the next to bottom of these. I'm chagrinned by some of the ones I missed that I really shd know, but I don't feel any compunction over not knowing the name of the tv show from which the famous clip of Nimoy singing "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" comes, or the names and various production details of various non-Tolkien Peter Jackson films, and the like. I did get the question about Honda Harold right, thanks to Darrell Martin's having shared this bit of trivia with me years ago.

The one line most likely to give Tolkienists a purple leptic fit? That'd be the paragraph in which Hurwitch compares Tolkien to Bilbo, who sailed across the seas to the Undying Lands, leaving Middle-earth in the hands of its new king: Peter Jackson/Aragorn.

Despite which sentiment I'd say this is clearly the most ambitious, and by far the most interesting, of all the Tolkien quiz books I've seen.

--John R.

*at one point he refers to three HOBBIT movies and at another to two, so he clearly was finishing up the book at the time of the expansion from two to three films was announced, hence within the last few months.

1 comment:

David Bratman said...

Even Bart Andrews' Tolkien Quiz Book, something of the gold standard in this particular subgenre, expects the well-informed Tolkienist to remember the track numbers on the LP sides of Tolkien's readings from the Caedmon records. That struck me as a little excessive.