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Analyzing Qualitative Data
July 16, 2015
This week, something completely different! A guest blog from our own Kristin Schroeder!
Most of our blog is a serious and (hopefully) useful exploration of current topics in qualitative research and how to use Quirkos to help you with your research. However we thought it might be fun to share something a little different.
I first encountered qualitative research in a serious manner when I joined Quirkos in January this year, and to help me get up to speed I tried to code a few things to help me understand the software.
One of the texts I used was a chapter from The Lord of the Rings, because, I thought, with something I already know like the back of my hand I could concentrate on the mechanics of coding without being distracted too much by the content.
I chose ‘The Council of Elrond’ – one of the longest chapters in the book and one often derided for being little more than an extended information dump. Essentially lots and lots of characters (some of whom only appear in this one scene in the whole book) sit around and tell each other about stuff that happened much earlier. It’s probably not Tolkien’s finest writing, and I suppose, most modern editors would demand that all that verbal exposition should either be cut or converted into actual action chapters.
I have always loved the Council chapter, however, as to me it’s part of the fascinating backdrop of the Lord of the Rings. As Tolkien himself puts it in one of his Letters:
“Part of the attraction of the L.R. is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist.”
Of course, if you are a Tolkien fan(atic) you can go off and explore these unvisited islands and distant cities in the Silmarillion and the Histories of Middle Earth, and then bore your friends by smugly explaining all the fascinating First and Second Age references, and just why Elrond won’t accept an Oath from the Fellowship. (Yes, I am guilty of that…)
Looking at the chapter using Quirkos I expected to see bubbles growing around the exchange of news, around power and wisdom, and maybe to get some interesting overlap views on Frodo or Aragorn. However, the topic that surprised me most in this chapter in particular was Friendship.
I coded the topic ‘Friendship’ 29 times – as often as ‘Relaying News’ and ‘History’, and more often even than collective mentions of Elves (27), Humans (19) or the Black Riders (24).
The overlap view of ‘Friendship’ was especially unexpected:
The topics ‘Gandalf’ and ‘Friendship’ overlap 22 times, which is not totally surprising since Gandalf does most of the talking throughout the chapter, and he is the only character who knows everyone else in the Council already. But the second most frequent overlap is with Elrond: he intersects with Friendship eight times, which is more often than Frodo who only gets five overlaps with Friendship!
Like most of the Elves in Lord of the Rings, Elrond is rather aloof and even in his own council acts as a remote facilitator for the other characters. Yet, the cluster view on Friendship led me to reconsider his relationship not only with Gandalf (when Gandalf recites the Ring inscription in the Black Speech, he strongly presumes on Elrond’s friendship, and Elrond forgives him because of that friendship) but also with Bilbo.
Re-reading Elrond’s exchanges with Bilbo during the Council, I was struck by the gentle teasing apparent in the hobbit’s reminders of his need for lunch and Elrond’s requests that Bilbo should tell his story without too many embellishments and it need not be in verse. The friendship between Bilbo and Elrond also rather explains how Bilbo had the guts to compose and perform a song about Elrond’s father Eärendil in the previous chapter, something even Aragorn, Elrond’s foster son, described as a daring act.
Perhaps none of this is terribly surprising. Within the unfolding story of the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo has been living in Elrond’s house for 17 years - time enough even for busy Elflords to get to know their house guests. And for readers who grew up with the tale of The Hobbit, Bilbo’s centrality may also not be much of a surprise. For me, however, looking at the chapter using Quirkos opened up a rather pleasing new dimension and led me to reconsider a couple of beloved characters in a new light.