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littlemanpoet 12-30-2004 11:23 AM

Mythic Unities in The Lord of the Rings
 
Over the past year or so, I've posed myself a difficult question to answer, which is why it took me a whole year to find the answer.

The Question(s): Is mythic fantasy qualitatively different from other genres of literature, and if so, how? Another form of this question might be rendered: Why do I love LotR and find so few books that come anywhere near its standard? (reminiscences of Kalessin's rant, eh?)

I came up with a definition of mythic fantasy that sufficiently answers the question for me. Call it "LMP's personal definition of mythic fantasy", for what it's worth. So I'll quote myself. :p

Quote:

Mythic fantasy is story that contains the stuff of myth, legend, and fairy tale; it works like waking dream and nightmare; in it, concrete and abstract, previously distinguished, have been reintegrated; it is apprehended by the reader as a unity of meaning and being; the signal of this apprehension is a sense of wonder or a thrill of horror, or both.
If you choose to read any further, you will see that this amounts to a thesis of sorts. Maybe some of you here can help refine, or explode, this definition or thesis and its explications. I welcome either action.

Member Alert! The next section is full of theory and may be a little deep. Venture forth those of you who care for this kind of thing.
**********************************************
BEGIN ESOTERIC BACKGROUND

I think the qualitative difference in mythic fantasy has to do with the nature of language. Owen Barfield, in his seminal work, Poetic Diction, demonstrated how meaning has evolved in the languages of the West. He says that among the early speakers of Greek, Latin and English, for example, language was simpler and more organic. And meaning was not splintered into a mix of things we sense on the one hand, and concepts we comprehend on the other.

The best example, but certainly not the only one (English is littered with examples), is the Greek word for "breath" and "spirit", which was "pneuma". It has entered our language as "pneumatic", which means, "of or relating to the use of gas (such as air)". The early Greeks were not confused in naming both breath and spirit the same thing. Rather, they saw no difference. Breath was spirit and spirit was breath. It meant the same thing to them. They would be confounded by our separation of the two. They saw no need to distinguish between them. Later Greeks, such as the early philosophers, did see a distinction, because their ability to do abstract thinking was developing. Greeks are credited as the first people to think abstractly. But the later Greeks continued to use the same word for the two different meanings, using context to distinguish between them. If that seems silly, so be it, because the English language is rampant with multiple meanings for the same word. Look up the word "irony" in the dictionary some time - I chose that one just by flipping it open and finger pointing!

But so what? Here's what: It's the nature of myth to retain the unities of meaning. To quote Barfield:
Quote:

"... myth ... is intimately bound up with the early history of meaning. It is the same with innumerable words; if one traces them back far enough, one reaches a period at which their meanings had a mythical content ... [such as] "panic", "hero", "fortune", "fury", "earth", "North", "South".
The concrete "breath" and the abstract "spirit" are held together as one. It is this unity in myth and fairytale that calls to us. Why? These unities of meaning are the means by which we are able to access the unity of being.

But aren't the distinctions that we've discerned over the ages, valid? Aren't we better off knowing that breath is a biological phenomenon having to do with the interaction of lungs and oxygen? This knowledge has resulted in much good; but at a price: spirit has become disembodied. We've lost our grasp of it, and are forced to use theology (abstraction!) or artful (and sometimes tortuous) metaphors to get a grasp at what spirit is and how it affects us. And this has happened to us in every case in which a distinction has been discerned between a concrete and an abstract. Is it any wonder that there's a school of thought that has decided that only what we perceive with our senses is real? And is it any wonder, having lost the unity of abstracts to their concretes, that we crave unity of meaning and being?

This unity is what story is all about. Through story, or fiction, we achieve unity as in no other way. Myth and fairytale achieve it best, because they are closest to the original unity. It should come as no surprise that Tolkien was so successful at it in LotR, being a philologist and a monist (Roman Catholic). He knew language and myth from the inside. There is no better knowledge base for creating new myth. Was he completely successful? Probably not; but no modern writer has done better.

END ESOTERIC BACKGROUND
***********************************************

It was unity of meaning, and not nostalgia, nor magic, nor romance, nor Elves, Hobbits, or what have you, in and of themselves, that drew so many people to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. His work is free of the splintered and dead abstractions of the world in which we live. It partakes of myth.

Can mythic unity be exhibited in LotR? If my guess is right, at least in part, we should find instances in the story where the abstract and the concrete have been joined in a harmonious unity. But allow me one clarification. Above I said that Elves, Hobbits, etc. in themselves, did not draw people to LotR. I stand by that. So my examples of Elves, Hobbits, and Tom Bombadil and Goldberry may seem like contradictions; they are not. Middle Earth, which is what LotR is about, must be taken as a whole, and these three examples are only three that, together with the totality, achieve the myth. They are my three examples because I think I can explain them most easily.

The Elves are such an instance. Like Native Americans and many other so-called primitive cultures, they are close to the earth. But they are not primitive; rather, they are an advanced culture, complete with a technology and developed languages, joys and sorrows, wisdoms and foolishness, characterized by a need to talk to everything. They are spirit married to matter in a way that cannot be found this side of Eden, nor before it - for Elves are fallen and still at unity with themselves. Being Elvish is to be both spirit and matter in harmony with a destiny wrapped up in the world they live in.

Then there are the Hobbits. It has been said, I think mistakenly, that Tolkien set them up as a pre-World War One utopia about which he is nostalgic. This misses the point. For one thing, it does not account for the animality of Hobbits: the hairy feet and barefootedness; the penchant for eating at all times of the day; living in holes; their ability to move quickly and quietly so as not to be seen by Big Folk. This aspect of Hobbits has been made endless fun of, but that misses the point as well. Hobbits are quite comfortable with their animality; they frankly revel in it. At one and the same time they are quite clearly human: they farm, they smoke, they read and write, they have a society with customs. Though drastically different from Elves, the Hobbits live in a unity of being. They too are fallen, rife with all the pettinesses of pride and foolishness and greed; yet they live in a unity of being.

So in one case we see the unity of spirit with matter; in the next, we see the unity of animal and human.

Tom Bombadil and Goldberry are another example of unity of being. I sympathize with those who complain that Goldberry is stereotypical; but to ask that she be different is like asking for fuel injection before the combustion engine is invented: Tolkien did the most humanely he could, writing in the era he did. But it must also be remembered that Tolkien is constructing myth, and Tom and Goldberry are Father and Mother. The two live together as in a dance, each having their roles, confident in themselves and in each other, in control (but not abusively) of that which they rule. They are at unity with themselves, each other, their home, and their surroundings. They are married to their lives in a unity of harmony and bliss. It is not an empty bliss that ignores or is deluded about the Darkness beyond their borders, but one that recognizes the realities of their lives, including precisely where their borders are. To be guests there is to be safe and at peace, and in the case of at least Frodo Baggins, to partake of myth. In short, to live within a myth.

If these examples do not prove my claim, they at least provide some weight of evidence.

Are there other unities in LotR? Am I all wet? Are there refinements needed, to my definition and/or explication? I welcome your responses.

LMP

obloquy 12-30-2004 11:57 AM

Phat post. Wish I had something to add to it, but I can't come up with anything at the moment. Oh well, phat post anyway.

Kuruharan 12-30-2004 12:26 PM

Ave LMP.

Quote:

Mythic fantasy is story that contains the stuff of myth, legend, and fairy tale
Hmm, I fear if this were a real thesis you would probably be battered about the head and shoulders to provide clear definitions of these as part of your background.

I like the way you trace back the changes in languages to help the definition of myth. I would be interested to see more about how in modern times the story requires the presence of archaic languages to give the story the right tone. This is something that was totally unnecessary in the early times of myth and legend.

Quote:

for Elves are fallen
In what sense do you mean this? I believe Tolkien said that the Elves were not fallen in a theological sense i.e. they do not “sin.” (At least I believe I read that.)

mark12_30 12-30-2004 12:54 PM

Kuruharan, I am not certain (not having Letters with me) but I think it was that elves do not have 'original sin.' In terms of their behavior, however, they are not blameless. Feanor, without sin...?

lmp, this will require much further thought. You are on a similar direction as Flieger, but you are taking a different track. Very intriguing. (Don't get distracted....)

At the moment I feel that finding such re-united splinters would be greatly helped by knowing more about language history (as you do.) For some reason I keep veering off into other authors' works... response TBD.

Kuruharan 12-30-2004 01:12 PM

That does sound about right. My copy of Letters is about 300 miles north of me at the moment. I'll have to look that up when I get home.

EDIT: Disregard the second part of the original post (now deleted). I misread mark's statement. :o

littlemanpoet 12-31-2004 12:37 PM

clairifications and definitions
 
Quite right, Kuruharan.

Actually, my purpose in using all three terms (myth, legend, & fairy-tale) is for the sake of inclusivity and overlap. It's quite hard to pin down definitions of myth, especially. Tolkien comes close to defining fairy tale in On Fairy Stories, and I'd have to say that I use that as my basis for the one term. In the P.J. movie, the Galadriel character narrates the opening prologue, and at one point she says that history has turned to legend, and legend to myth. That seems like the usual transition. One of the fundamental aspects of the transition is distance in time. Another seems to be the untrustworthiness of the facts of the story.

However, since Tolkien, a more positive idea of myth has come into usage, especially among those who are fans of Tolkien. It names, for example, the story of Jesus of Nazareth, and all the events leading up to it, a myth, only in this case (as Tolkien - and I - would say), a true myth. What about the Christian story is mythical? Plenty. Incarnation. Miracles. The resurrection from the dead. But in this one case it claim historicity. In the same sense, the LotR story partakes of myth. Many strange things happen that are not explainable scientifically, but the events have an element of historicity that Tolkien intentionally put in the story.

Based on that, here are some definitions, from Webster's:

Myth:
Quote:

1a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice. 3 a a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence b: an ill-founded belief held uncritically especially by an interested group 4 the whole body of myths.
For our purposes, I would dispense with 3b but incorporate the rest of them. That which I describe in terms of the Christian myth falls under the rubric of 1

Legend:
Quote:

1 a: a story coming down from the past; especially one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable b: a body of such stories <a place in the legend of the frontier> c: a popular myth of recent origin d: a person or thing that inspires legends
There are other definitions of legend having to do with inscriptions and captions, but we know that's outside our scope. As you see, it's no longer quite historical, but not yet myth.

Fairy-tale:
1. From Webster's:
Quote:

adj:a characteristic of or suitable to a fairy tale; especially marked by unusual grace or beautynoun:1a narrative of adventures involving fantastic forces and beings (as fairies, wizards, and goblins) - called also fairy story 2: a made-up story usually designed to mislead.
We can dispense with 2. Notice that Webster's seems to be accounting for Tolkien's seminal treatise!

2. From Tolkien's On Fairy-Stories: To summarize, Tolkien said that Webster's 1 is too narrow to cover actual usage, while 2 is hopelessly vast. Tolkien rejects supernatural as causing more problems than it solves. In the end he says,
Quote:

Most good "fairy-stories" are about the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches. ... The definition of fairy-story .... does not depend on any definition or historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faërie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country. I will not attempt to define that, nor to describe it directly. It cannot be done.
If the master refused to define fairy-story, who am I to make the attempt? At least he has pointed us in the right direction.

mark12_30 01-01-2005 11:11 PM

I am uncertain if these categories are a bit too sweeping but pneuma drives me towards ideas of similar scope. Although I still suspect I'd do better if I had a clue about languages, nevertheless I will wade in. The worst that can happen is I drown.

Holiness of character is unified with emanating (holy) light. Sometimes seen easily (the elves seen as a shimmer in the woods of the Shire) and sometimes seen by those who have eyes to see, such as Frodo seeing Glorfindel's light; Gandalf seeing Frodo shining a bit in Rivendell; Sam seeing Frodo shining in various instances as they near Mordor; Aragorn shines at need. The shine is an indication of power and holiness and purity of character; they are mythically rejoined by Tolkien. In a different sort of illustration, the light of Earendil (permission by Valar that he wear the Silmaril) is due to his persistance in acting on behalf of Middle-Earth. He shines because he sought the light (and ensuing freedom) on behalf of Middle-Earth.

Spoken Word (rhema??) is reunited with power. Sometimes the power is magical/ supernatural; sometimes it is simply a bond of honor. Word is not lightly broken. Broken word can bring bad-power or a curse (Paths of the Dead.) Even Sam gives Frodo his word (I have something to finish before the end; I must see it through, sir, if you understand me.) That spoken word is in union with the power of his loyalty; it is inseparable from his devotion to Frodo. Spoken Word and power (in this case, powerful devotion) are unified. Examples aboud, for instance Faramir's casual but binding word (Wouldn't pick it up by the roadside).

Power and Music are (re-)united throughout the legendarium, from Eru and the Valar singing the Ainulindale, Yavanna singing the trees into being; Melian, Luthien; Gildor's song driving the black rider away; Goldberry's songs, Arwen's hymn, Galadriel's songs ... etc.

Name and power: "More deadly to him was the name of Elbereth." Aragorn's litany of names. Treebeard's caution on teling just anybody your name. More can certainly be said on this one.

Language and allegiance are re-united, mostly in the ancient tongues (but not in Westron.) . Those who speak elvish are Good Guys. Those who use the black speech are Bad Guys. But both orcs and men speak Westron at need. Interesting that the language of men is useable by the corrupt while the language of elves resists use by corruption (or vice versa.)

davem 01-02-2005 04:29 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Helen
Those who speak elvish are Good Guys. Those who use the black speech are Bad Guys. But both orcs and men speak Westron at need. Interesting that the language of men is useable by the corrupt while the language of elves resists use by corruption.

I agree - yet wouldn't Sauron as Annatar' have spoken Elvish with the Elves of Eregion? And I also find it interesting that Sauron actually created the Black SpeechIts a language intended to create a new kind of link between name & thing named. Its an attempt, in a sense to change the world, to impose a new meaning on things- actually to alter the way his servants think about the world.

Surely, what he's attempting with the Black Speech is to change 'perceptions'. Its a bit like calling wild creatures 'game', or foxes 'vermin'. If a language is full of words for ugliness, violence, cruelty, that must inevitably affect the mindset of those who speak it. As we know, it never caught on among the orcs - perhaps they retained enough of their 'eruhini' nature that they couldn't adopt it fully, but the mentality behind it seems to have 'infected' the Westron they used. The orcs seem to have spoken almost a 'black Westron'.

Language, the words we use to refer to the 'things' of experience, affect the way we relate to them, so manipulation of language affects our behaviour, because it determines the way we treat things.

So, 'Those who speak elvish are Good Guys. Those who use the black speech are Bad Guys.' Yes, but are to what extent do the Elves 'speak' a 'good' language because they're 'good' beings, & to what extent are they 'good' because they speak a 'good' language'. & obviously the opposite point could be made in regard to Orcs? Do races (&individuals) shape the language they use, or does it shape them?. How 'orcish' would an orc be if he had been brought up speaking only Elvish? Or, how much 'magic', or 'genetic manipulation' did Morgoth use in making Orcs from Elves? Maybe his most powerful tool in that 'transformation' was language.....

mark12_30 01-02-2005 09:57 AM

Quote:

Yes, but are to what extent do the Elves 'speak' a 'good' language because they're 'good' beings, & to what extent are they 'good' because they speak a 'good' language'. & obviously the opposite point could be made in regard to Orcs? Do races (&individuals) shape the language they use, or does it shape them?.
That's the point. It's a unity: cause and effect are effect and cause... sort of. Well, I didn't say that very well but I'm not sure how to improve on it.

And it's not the chicken/egg thing either. It's that they are the same thing, mythically. Not that one causes another; they both are inter-related. Undividable. ..... edit: okay, that doesn't work either because obviously we've divided them. But we've only divided them lately, so to speak. They used to be one and the same.

littlemanpoet 01-02-2005 06:42 PM

Helen, I was going to give davem precisely the same answer to precisely the same quote. By Jorje, I think you've got it! :D (sorry, folks, inside joke)

The unities you pointed out are on target, and reminded me of yet another (I'm watching the extended dvd of all three right now, and it's like reading Cliff's notes, if you know what I mean). Gollum can't stand the Elven rope or Lembas. He's tortured by the former and chokes on the latter. This tells the reader/viewer that Gollum is so corrupted that he cannot abide that which is uncorrupted, or to use a less indirect word, holy. We would do well to recall another unity: the relation between holy and [/i]whole[/i].

davem, your comments about language remind me of a comparison between Norman-derived English vocabulary and Anglo-Saxon-derived English vocabulary. Or, for that matter, Latin-derived, and Greek-derived. Anglo-Saxon words are the heart of the language. Norman words are at one remove. Thus we have words like beef and pork standing in for cow and hog. We eat the one and raise the other, but it's an artificial distinction that removes us one step away from the concrete reality that we kill in order to eat; the process has been sanitized. French-, Latin-, and Greek- borrowings into English are at an even greater remove from the concrete.

Related to this is that writers often give their villains the most latinate forms of speech. Thus, the Black Speech functions somewhat like Latin does in English. I would not at all be suprised if this is an aspect of why Tokien so deplored the Norman conquest.

The Saucepan Man 01-02-2005 07:45 PM

A Question
 
A very interesting topic littlemanpoet, and one that certainly has me thinking, since I would certainly place LotR (together with The Hobbit) apart from other examples of fantasy literature in terms of its impact on me.

But I do have one question. You put the Question as follows:


Quote:

The Question(s): Is mythic fantasy qualitatively different from other genres of literature, and if so, how? Another form of this question might be rendered: Why do I love LotR and find so few books that come anywhere near its standard?
And you answer this Question by positing that it is because LotR brings unity of meaning, in the sense of unifying the abstract and the concrete within the story.

Now it is a long time since I read any fantasy literature other than LotR. But it does seem to me that the examples of unity of meaning that you and Helen have given are commonly found in other stories within the fantasy genre. For example, there are often beings present who have a unity of spiritual and physical presence in the same way that you describe Tolkien's Elves. Similarly, fantasy stories will often contain beings who unify the animal and the human, much as you describe Hobbits. Fantasy novels will also often unify the spoken word and/or music with power, and almost all of them equate the concepts of light/good and darkness/evil.

So what is it about LotR that sets it apart from these other stories that use similar techniques (often, indeed, borrowed from Tolkien). Is there something more than just unity of meaning that lends LotR its mythical quality? Or is it simply that Tolkien uses this technique more effectively than any other authors in this genre? If so, how?

And what of the (no doubt) many people who have read LotR who do not find it making any impact on them, or any impact which is significantly greater than other works of literature that they have read?

davem 01-03-2005 05:28 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SpM
So what is it about LotR that sets it apart from these other stories that use similar techniques (often, indeed, borrowed from Tolkien). Is there something more than just unity of meaning that lends LotR its mythical quality? Or is it simply that Tolkien uses this technique more effectively than any other authors in this genre? If so, how?

I suppose it could be that Tolkien was not writing a 'genre' novel, so he was not bound by the requirements of 'fantasy'. He was attempting to recreate England's lost mythology. Perhaps its because he put so much real mythology into his creation (modified to some extent) that we get such a strong sense of his stories being real'. In other words, with most fantasy novels we have a feeling, however well written they may be, however clever the plot, that we're reading an invented story, because its all coming out of the author's imagination. With Tolkien I get more of a sense that he's telling me something I once knew, but have forgotten - he's reminding me of the 'Truth', not simply making up a story to entertain me. There was a pupose behind Tolkien's work. It grew out of his desire to recreate England's lost mythology, & he wanted to do that because he felt it was important that his country have its own story - & that that story should be the right kind of story. He wanted it to affect, & in some real sense to change his readers - perhaps 'morally', but certainly in terms of their 'perception' of their history & of the land they lived in.

I think its this that makes Tolkien's work different. How many modern authors want to change their readers in that way - how many believe they have anything to teach? I think this would apply especially to writers of fantasy. I can only think of Ursula Le Guin who takes this approach - though to be honest I'm not a fan of fantasy fiction as such. I think we respond to Tolkien in the way we do because on some level we feel we're learning (or re-learning) something important.

Quote:

Originally Posted by LmP
Related to this is that writers often give their villains the most latinate forms of speech. Thus, the Black Speech functions somewhat like Latin does in English. I would not at all be suprised if this is an aspect of why Tokien so deplored the Norman conquest.

I suppose it does - in the particular way that you mean. However, Tolkien often referred to Quenya as 'Elven Latin' (aside:in the documentary 'JRRT A Film Portrait, his som Michael tells a nice story about how when attending Mass after Vatican II 'did away' with Latin Tolkien would still try to read along from his little Latin)Missal). Latin for Tolkien, I suppose, was the language of the scriptures, the language which 'reavealed' the Light of God to mankind. In Middle earth Black Speech does the opposite, it reveals the darkness. Your point still stands, though, in terms of the way Latin may be used - just not in terms of its function or what it symbolises.

mark12_30 01-03-2005 05:35 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by The Saucepan Man
So what is it about LotR that sets it apart from these other stories that use similar techniques (often, indeed, borrowed from Tolkien). Is there something more than just unity of meaning that lends LotR its mythical quality? Or is it simply that Tolkien uses this technique more effectively than any other authors in this genre? If so, how?

'Ere's me tuppence: Outside of a character, within the machinations of "the world", it's fairly easy to grasp the old unities, I think. Name/Power, etc. And it's entertaining, because it would be nice to be able to do that.

But Tolkien (more, IMO, than other writers) takes the mythic unities deeply *inside* his characters, dealing with character and holiness and struggle and purity. What other author would give his mythic "Enchantress of the Golden Wood" her own personal history of rebellion, repentance, and desire for redeemption? As we are exploring elsewhere, Boromir is redeemed, and even Gollum gets a shot at it. Amazing stuff. (Here again -- the dead Boromir, floating past Faramir while he is on watch, *shines* with an inner light-> redeemption & forgiveness produced holiness in him, and if he's holy, he must shine, for mythically they are one and the same.)

And in that sense he brings the myth inside our own souls as well, and we can tell our story in similar terms.

Quote:

And what of the (no doubt) many people who have read LotR who do not find it making any impact on them, or any impact which is significantly greater than other works of literature that they have read?
You tell me, Saucie! Is it possible for a reader to enjoy and understand something that others believe in but the reader does not? If the reader believes in five dimensions and the author discusses six, can the reader enjoy the sixth without believing in it? Can he understand it? The question sounds extremely familiar, despite my leaky memory. I do love your tenacity, old bean. ;)

Cheers, old chap, and it's good to see you here. c|_|

Edit: Cross-posted with davem...

mark12_30 01-03-2005 05:53 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by davem
With Tolkien I get more of a sense that he's telling me something I once knew, but have forgotten - he's reminding me of the 'Truth', not simply making up a story to entertain me. ..... that that story should be the right kind of story. He wanted it to affect, & in some real sense to change his readers - perhaps 'morally', but certainly in terms of their 'perception' of their history & of the land they lived in.

"High, purged of the gross." (How can I possibly disagree?)

Quote:

Originally Posted by davem
I think its this that makes Tolkien's work different. How many modern authors want to change their readers in that way - how many believe they have anything to teach?

That I wouldn't want to guess at; but how many still are teaching-- deeply-- after a twelfth reading?

Quote:

Originally Posted by davem
I think this would apply especially to writers of fantasy. I can only think of Ursula Le Guin who takes this approach ...

She's the one who popped into my mind, too. Odd. But (and I'm referring to her Earthsea stories here) they had an impact on me, but it was not the same, not as deep or as lasting. Her main impact on me was that she could write an incredible sentence. One that haunts me over two decades later: "He raged at his weakness, for he knew his strength." Brilliant. But I don't put her on a par with Tolkien; and I don't embrace her myths as my own. I didn't feel that Earthsea was a place I'd been before, nor was it a place I felt at home in. She certainly dealt with character; but the resonance wasn't on a mythical scale, not for me personally.

Quote:

Originally Posted by davem
I think we respond to Tolkien in the way we do because on some level we feel we're learning (or re-learning) something important.

I would heartily agree.

Lalwendë 01-03-2005 06:04 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SpM
I would certainly place LotR (together with The Hobbit) apart from other examples of fantasy literature in terms of its impact on me.

Quote:

Originally Posted by davem
I suppose it could be that Tolkien was not writing a 'genre' novel, so he was not bound by the requirements of 'fantasy'.

I too would certainly place Tolkien outside any notion of 'genre', not just in terms of his impact, but quite literally. His work was not a 'novel'; LotR was just one moment, one extract if you will, from an entire work, a lifetime's work. It is a story frozen at one point, and it is easy to imagine that had he not been asked to write it by a publisher, it would never have been finished.

Also worth considering is that LotR was published in very different times. Today literature is very much 'product' to be consumed and as such needs to be marketed. This is how we have come by such strong notions of genre. They did exist in the past, as an example, the Gothic novels of the 18th/19th century period were perceived as 'genre' fiction. But fantasy fiction came along as a genre after Tolkien. He was the predecessor and as such was able to do exactly as he pleased with no pressure from editors to make his work 'fit'.

LotR was not written as one novel, it was seemingly just one part of a greater whole, a whole that was growing all the time. It was one part of a greater artwork that just happened to be published an in effect 'fixed'. The fact that we can all spend so much time endlessly discussing Tolkien's work shows that there is a lot more to it than just one novel. A comparison is hard to find, the only thing I can think of is a dictionary - which is also constantly changing; the 'edition' we have is just that dictionary as it is at that point.

mark12_30 01-03-2005 06:48 PM

Anybody out there have a working knowledge of the septuagent? I'm developing a theory on a possible catholic perception of genesis 1-3 to speculate on whether that might show similarities to the Ainulindale...

Actually for the catholic view of Genesis I should probably check the latin... ack! Latinately clueless, even worse than hebrew or greek. At least with hebrew or greek there's strongs...

The Saucepan Man 01-03-2005 07:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mark12_30
Cheers, old chap, and it's good to see you here.

But of course. It's precisely the kind of discussion that always has me scurrying for my keyboard. ;)


Quote:

Originally Posted by davem
Perhaps its because he put so much real mythology into his creation (modified to some extent) that we get such a strong sense of his stories being real' ... With Tolkien I get more of a sense that he's telling me something I once knew, but have forgotten - he's reminding me of the 'Truth', not simply making up a story to entertain me.

Quote:

Originally Posted by mark12_30
But Tolkien (more, IMO, than other writers) takes the mythic unities deeply *inside* his characters

Quote:

Originally Posted by Lalwendë
LotR was not written as one novel, it was seemingly just one part of a greater whole, a whole that was growing all the time ... The fact that we can all spend so much time endlessly discussing Tolkien's work shows that there is a lot more to it than just one novel.

Fair answers. And ones which most certainly ring true. But isn't this really the same as saying that Tolkien was simply more skilful than other authors in his use of this technique and/or that he devoted far more time and energy into doing so? (I do, of course, accept that his motives for doing so was entirely pure and devoid from commercial considerations, at least at the outset.)


Quote:

Originally Posted by mark12_30
Is it possible for a reader to enjoy and understand something that others believe in but the reader does not?

Which rather implies that all those upon whom LotR has made an impact share the same, or at least similar, beliefs, and that those who do not respond to it in such a way do not share those beliefs. And I don't think that that's the case. So why is it that LotR appeals to so many different kinds of people with so many different kinds of belief, and yet leaves many others cold?


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I do love your tenacity, old bean.
Well you know me. It's rather a habit. ;)

davem 01-04-2005 01:52 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mark12_30
Anybody out there have a working knowledge of the septuagent? I'm developing a theory on a possible catholic perception of genesis 1-3 to speculate on whether that might show similarities to the Ainulindale...
.

There's a very interesting essay in the collection 'Tolkien the Medievalist': 'Augustine in the Cottage of Lost Play: The Ainulindale as asterisk cosmogony' which may answer some of your questions. Its too long & complex to go into at the moment, but is certainly worth looking at. The author shows that the Ainulindale account is much more than merely 'similar' to the Biblical, & in fact could almost be seen as a variant version....

drigel 01-04-2005 12:06 PM

language
 
Facinating thread and posts!

The unifying factor for me is language. We are blessed to have the author's primary love and talent to be language. Through it, he was drawn into (or pulled back) ME, and with it, he was able to create something so concise in idea and purpose that people of many cultures can not only enjoy but relate to. Here was a man who also understood myth enough to recognize that the essense that translates so well was the truths that lie in the kernal of any myth. At its source of course was language of the spoken word.

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Language, the words we use to refer to the 'things' of experience, affect the way we relate to them, so manipulation of language affects our behaviour, because it determines the way we treat things.
What other than language (besides visual art and mabye mathematics) decribes our universe? Here was the tool that binds (hehe) the story to the myths. Whats facinating to me is that what is the "real" feeling that we get? This gets into what makes a myth a myth. Is it the use of mythological references that makes the story real, or is it that we feel in our genes that there is something real in the myth that was referenced? Here IMO is the unifyer - we are all on different branches of the same tree, but it's roots we all share.

JRRT's world/myth to me is not the unifyer - its the idea that is presented. The sub-creation is as flawed as it's creator. His mind's eye saw something, and his language presented it to us. But his vision was only a splinter among billions.

Littleman - here is my shameless plug for my own thesis concerning hobbits:

hobbitses

mark12_30 01-04-2005 01:41 PM

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Which rather implies that all those upon whom LotR has made an impact share the same, or at least similar, beliefs, and that those who do not respond to it in such a way do not share those beliefs.
Disagreed. Many folk who do not believe in Tolkien's catholicism at all nonetheless percieve the truths that he reveals, and describe his myths and eucatastrophes as impacting and working in their lives. And some who enter without the beliefs eventually come around to the beliefs through the working of the myth; therefore the belief can't be a limiting factor, or the lack of belief would block the impact of the myth and forbid the journey into faith of those so affected.

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So why is it that LotR appeals to so many different kinds of people with so many different kinds of belief, and yet leaves many others cold?
We've wrestled with that before. But is discussion 'appeal' the same as discussing 'mythic unity'? Certainly the reader has to survive the books for the mythic unities to work. Perhaps their effect is stronger when there's appeal. But

Threadwise I think the pertinent question might be do the mythic unities under discussion transcend the readers' conscious belief systems, penetrating below their awareness and affecting them on a mythic level? However, although I do think that's a pertinent question, I don't see how we can decisively answer it this side of eternity.

;)

littlemanpoet 01-04-2005 07:11 PM

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So what is it about LotR that sets it apart from these other stories that use similar techniques (often, indeed, borrowed from Tolkien). Is there something more than just unity of meaning that lends LotR its mythical quality? Or is it simply that Tolkien uses this technique more effectively than any other authors in this genre? If so, how?
Thank you, Sauce Pan Man, for your astute question.

Thanks to davem and Helen for their equally astute observations by way of attempting an answer. Your points are apt and I think they add insight.

I do think that Tolkien's LotR is unrivaled in its achievement in terms of re-creating mythic unities, and it is because Tolkien was uniquely gifted to achieve it. He knew and understood the connectedness of myth, folklore, history, and language, in ways that we can only dream of. He was able to play with and create languages with as much ease as Mozart composing. Added to that was Tolkien's Beethovian perfectionism (generally lacking in Mozart).

Owen Barfield was a member of the Inklings, and it would be surprising if his ideas had not been discussed in one or more of their meetings. It is known that Tolkien did read Barfield's Poetic Diction, and it comes as no surprise that he agreed with him; what is uncertain (at least to me) is whether Tolkien was influenced by Barfield, or whether it was the other way around (or both ways).

At any rate, I think that Tolkien's unique ability with language as well as his understanding of its connections with myth, folklore, and history, came through in LotR such that he was able to bring about so many mythic unities. I'm sure we haven't uncovered them all, nor the depth of them in LotR.

This thread has sent me back to Tolkien's biography, and I'm finding this second reading of it quite enjoyable already!

I am far too busy this week and have been able only to give this thread a cursory reading and response. I'll do better as soon as I can.

The Saucepan Man 01-04-2005 08:10 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mark12_30
Many folk who do not believe in Tolkien's catholicism at all nonetheless percieve the truths that he reveals, and describe his myths and eucatastrophes as impacting and working in their lives.

Which is precisely the point that I am making. It is not the resonance with an individual's particular beliefs that causes them to respond to LotR, but something much deeper. It seems to me that LotR can still have great appeal to those who have (and continue to have) no, or very vaguely defined, spiritual beliefs. (The latter would describe the 70% to 80% of UK residents who describe themselves as believing in God but do not adhere to any organised religious group.)

This is the reason why I find littlemanpoet's thesis on mythic unities so interesting. For me, it touches on ideas of archetypes, shared experience and synchronicity, although I know far too little (or have forgotten far too much) about these concepts to go into great detail. All I can say is that LotR, it seems, touches a significant number of people on a much deeper level than any defined form of belief system.


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But is discussion 'appeal' the same as discussing 'mythic unity'?
Well I think that "appeal" is relevant here, since it is the widespread and consistent appeal of LotR (which exceeds that of any other single novel, if the polls are to be believed) that makes me respond to the idea that there is something more than simply "a darn good read" at work here. Put simply, LotR appeals to a great many people. And, as you say, for a significant number of people (although perhaps not the majority of those to whom it appeals) it takes on a greater meaning, in the sense of making an appreciable difference in their lives. Why is this?


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Threadwise I think the pertinent question might be do the mythic unities under discussion transcend the readers' conscious belief systems, penetrating below their awareness and affecting them on a mythic level?
In light of what I have said above, I would answer yes to this. And while there may be no decisive answer to the question of why this is the case, it seems to me that littlemanpoet has made a worthy and credible attempt to come up with one. I certainly think that it merits further exploration.


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Originally Posted by littlemanpoet
I do think that Tolkien's LotR is unrivaled in its achievement in terms of re-creating mythic unities, and it is because Tolkien was uniquely gifted to achieve it. He knew and understood the connectedness of myth, folklore, history, and language, in ways that we can only dream of. He was able to play with and create languages with as much ease as Mozart composing. Added to that was Tolkien's Beethovian perfectionism (generally lacking in Mozart).

Spot on. Although you are, in effect, again saying that Tolkien had a particular flair in this department, you capture perfectly for me precisely what it is that sets him out from other authors in the fantasy genre and, indeed, literature in general. Was he in fact unique in these regards or have there been other authors with the same mix of skills?

What I think might be useful is to examine exactly how he used these skills, not simply by pointing out the mythic unities to which littlemanpoet refers, but by also considering how he uses them in ways that set LotR apart from the works of other authors who have used similar techniques, and which give the book its widespread appeal. I fear that I may be poorly-qualified to comment further in this regard, but I would be interested to see the thoughts of others.

davem 01-05-2005 01:53 AM

I wonder if the 'uniqueness' of LotR is in part explained by something Lalwende alluded to in her comparison of the work with a 'dictionary'.

What is unique, certainly, is that the stories were never 'fixed', never 'finished'. Even the published versions were subject to revision. Major changes were made to The Hobbit ('Riddles in the Dark' being the prime example of a major change, but there were other lesser ones). There were changes made to LotR for the second edition & this is something that is continuing - we've had between three- & four hundred amendations to the text for the 50th anniversary edition. The unpublished (at the time of their author's death) writings went through constant changes & a steady evolution up to his death.

In this sense the Legendarium was never finished & probably never would have been - however long Tolkien lived. In this sense it is like language itself, constantly evolving & developing. It was in a constant state of change. As its author grew & changed so did his creation. This is perhaps why it is unique, why it seems so 'alive' to us. I can't think of any work of art which is comparable. Certainly no modern work of fantasy is like it. Authors now want to finish & publish & move on to something else. They are looking to bring their work to completion - they actually don't want the thing to keep changing & evolving.

Perhaps its because Tolkien was so affected by the way Language changes & evolves (& by the way myth & legend - & particularly folkore - do as well) that he thought differently to the way the rest of us do & that came out in his writings, in the way he worked.

There is another 'unity' - that between the author & language (& myth) that maybe explains Tolkien's uniqueness.

Perhaps also this is why the movies don't satisfy in the same way as the books - the movie makers wanted to 'finish' their movies, to bring them to a state of 'completion' - though the EE's do resemble Tolkien's approach in a kind of way, as they are also 'revisions' of an original version.

I think it was this freedom that Tolkien had to amend, revise, evolve his work that makes it seem more 'alive', more 'true' (or even 'True') than other works of fiction. Its not a fixed, 'dead' thing - or that's not the sense one gets about it from immersing oneself in it. Its almost as if something of the 'uncertainty' of the secondary world that the author felt himself is communicated to us. Its 'alive' because its 'moving' & changing, always in a state of 'becoming' - like language itself, like his own invented languages, which were never 'fixed'. In that sense his languages never became like Latin for us - a dead tongue. The whole creation was in flux from the moment it came into being, so it was always 'alive' & I think that's what communicates itself to us, & why we keep going back to Middle earth. Its never the same for us - its' 'changing' state reflects our own.

Or something like that......

The Saucepan Man 01-05-2005 07:56 AM

Your points are well made, davem, and no doubt account for the appeal of Tolkien to his more committed fans (such as us). But the evolving nature of his work cannot account for his broader appeal, given that most of his readers will only have read LotR and (possibly) The Hobbit.

Where it is quite possibly relevant in this regard, however, is in giving the impression of a wider history and wider world than simply that depicted in the book. Because there was such a vast wealth of evolving material for Tokien to draw on, he was able to incorporate aspects of it within LotR (the tales of Beren and Luthien and of Earendil the Mariner, for example). Not only does this enhance the credibility of the world that he portrays, but it gives it its own sense of mythology. Thus Tolkien is weaving "real world" myth and folklore in with his own mythology (itself deriving in many respects from our own myth and folklore) to create something akin to a "complete" mythology.

davem 01-05-2005 08:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SpM
Where it is quite possibly relevant in this regard, however, is in giving the impression of a wider history and wider world than simply that depicted in the book. Because there was such a vast wealth of evolving material for Tokien to draw on, he was able to incorporate aspects of it within LotR (the tales of Beren and Luthien and of Earendil the Mariner, for example). Not only does this enhance the credibility of the world that he portrays, but it gives it its own sense of mythology. Thus Tolkien is weaving "real world" myth and folklore in with his own mythology (itself deriving in many respects from our own myth and folklore) to create something akin to a "complete" mythology.

So there's a 'dual' process of growth & development percievable, a 'parallel evolution' - the evolution within the Legendarium which I described & a corresponding one - the evolution of England's mythology into Tolkien's Legendarium.

Its as if we have the process taking place in both the Primary & the Secondary worlds at the same time???

That's if I understand your point correctly....

littlemanpoet 01-06-2005 05:31 PM

By way of summary (in preparation for continued dialogue)
 
By way of summary, I'm going to try to state that which we have either agreed on or at least suggested:

LotR and The Hobbit ...
  • touch us at a deep level
  • are qualitatively different and better than any other literature like them
  • often do not lose their appeal over the course of readers' lives
  • have had lasting appeal to a broad readership
...and this has been accomplished by Tolkien through the use of varied and rich mythic unities.

Q1: How did Tolkien do it?
A1: He was uniquely gifted in terms of his knowledge and understanding of language, myth, folklore, and history, and the ways they are connected to each other; he used these as the means by which he wove the mythic unities into the fabric of the story.

Q2: What are the mythic unities?
A2: We have pointed out the following so far:
  • Elves as both natural and spiritual
  • Hobbits as both human and animal
  • Tom Bombadil and Goldberry as married to each other and the land
  • holiness and light
  • spoken word and power
  • music - specifically singing - and power (subset of the previous)
  • name and power
  • language and allegiance

There are most likely many more; they will best surface in the context of the next question.

Q3: How did Tolkien do this "weaving" of mythic unities into his story?

SpM, if I have adequately paraphrased your question, I have generated, so far, six possible, provisional and overlapping answers to the question.

1. Tolkien had a mission to give England its own mythology. This does not so much answer your question as posit a basis for the following answers.

2. Tolkien created something he could believe in. I do not mean this only in terms of Secondary Belief, although that is certainly important. This provisional answer harks back to davem's fascinating statement which seems true to me:
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I think we respond to Tolkien in the way we do because on some level we feel we're learning (or re-learning) something important.
I think that Tolkien was answering questions like, "what story/events in the past could have generated a name like Earendil?" His language capabilities (as drigel has said) made him singularly gifted to posit believable answers to such questions.

3. Tolkien wove feigned language, history, myth, and folklore into a believable if seamy fabric. The very seaminess of it is part of its charm.

4. The works were never completed. This is an additional aspect of the feignedness/life-likeness.

5. The content is real; that is, we feel its realness in our bones. Tolkien has modified that which really was to fit his corpus.

6. Tolkien was a realist and modern who straddled the "great divide" between the pre-modern and modern eras. Tolkien was born in the pre-modern era, and loved it. He lived through the change to the modern era, and while mourning the losses that accompanied it, had a modern man's mindset, and was therefore able to communicate all he knew from myth to a modern audience such that we could make it our own.

In the late Humphrey Carpenter's biography (paperback page 66), quotes Tolkien as having said of the Finnish Kalevala in his first year at Oxford (1912),
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These mythological ballads are full of that very primitive undergrowth that the literature of Europe has on the whole been steadily cutting and reducing for many centuries with different and earlier completeness among different people .... I owuld that we had more of it left - - - something of the same sort that belonged to the English.
One last thing. I've played around with a theory that Western Civilization is made up of three branches: the Romano-Greek, the Celto-Germanic, and the Judeo-Christian. All three of these branches are still functional at very deep levels in all Western people. Tolkien's LotR is grounded in all three branches as well. By this I'm not saying that Tolkien was using LotR as an evangelical tool! Not even that LotR was "consciously Christian in the revision", which Tolkien himself claims; rather, I'm saying that the mindset of LotR consists of Christian content, although at a very deep level, every bit as much as it consists of Romano-Greek and Celto-Germanic content.

Kuruharan 01-10-2005 04:39 PM

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holiness and light
Painfully obvious observation here, but evil and darkness.

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Tolkien had a mission to give England its own mythology
Now for a vague observation/question of sorts.

I’m not entirely certain how Tolkien’s work fulfilled the role of providing a mythology for England. I’ve never really been able to see a strong connection between the tales and some feeling of primordial “Englishness.” Yes, I know the hobbits are sort of English, but the stories are so much more than them. Any theories on this?

It may be that my sense of history is too strong that I can’t suspend it. The fundamental problem with developing a mythology for “England” is that the “English” all came from someplace else and knew they had come from someplace else. Of course, Tolkien referred to his desire as “absurd.” (Letter 130)

Formendacil 01-10-2005 04:54 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kuruharan
Now for a vague observation/question of sorts.

I’m not entirely certain how Tolkien’s work fulfilled the role of providing a mythology for England. I’ve never really been able to see a strong connection between the tales and some feeling of primordial “Englishness.” Yes, I know the hobbits are sort of English, but the stories are so much more than them. Any theories on this?

It may be that my sense of history is too strong that I can’t suspend it. The fundamental problem with developing a mythology for “England” is that the “English” all came from someplace else and knew they had come from someplace else. Of course, Tolkien referred to his desire as “absurd.” (Letter 130)

It was Tolkien's ORIGINAL intention to create a mythology for the English. By the time he had written and published the Lord of the Rings I don't think that the good professor was actually working with the English (or any modern culture) in mind. By then he was simply working within the confines of his own world. It was the dearth of English mythology that gave them the drive to START his legendarium, and if it has turned out to be the mythology of the Geeks rather than the English, it is not perhaps that bad a thing. ;)

Kuruharan 01-10-2005 05:06 PM

True, but the Sil (in one form or other) was the beginning and the basis for all that came later.

I thought it might be worth considering if some 'roots' of the original intention might still be discernable in all the stories taken as a whole.

(psst...nice avatar. ;))

littlemanpoet 01-10-2005 08:32 PM

I agree with Formendacil, but would like to go a little deeper (surprised, anybody? I thought not. ;)) "A mythology for England" was not, to be sure, his sole motivation, not even at first. There was his deeply emotional response to languages and words, from which derived his hunger for Welsh and Finnish, clearly not English languages in the least! Which means that his Elves were not really meant to be English at all, but strange and wonderful beings that his Englishmen - no, let us say, his Men - would encounter in Faërie.

His faith was also a key element.

I recently read Carpenter's take on Tolkien's motivation for the Sil and the Legendarium. Qualifier: Yes, it's an authorized biography, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everything in it is complete accurate; just quite likely. p. 103:
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...in what sense did [Tolkien] suppose The Silmarillion to be 'true'?

Something of the answer can be found in his essay On Fairy-Stories and in his own story Leaf by Niggle, both of which suggest that a man may be given by God the gift of recording 'a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth'. Certainly while writing The Silmarillion Tolkien believed that he was doing more than inventing a story. He wrote of the tales that make up the book: 'They arose in my mind as "given" things, and as they came, separately, so too the links grew ... I always had the sense of recording what was already "there", somewhere: not of "inventing".'
Make of it what you will.

But I think I may have stumbled across the critical element to at least a few of the six preliminary answers I offered above. It is something that I already knew, but failed to connect to this discussion, namely how Tolkien went about sub-creating the entire mythos. To summarize Carpenter, Tolkien had two approaches.

First, he carefully created names in his made-up languages. Then he asked himself, "how did that name come to be?" A typical philologist's question. So he subcreated stories that explained the names.

It was in the stories that the second, and to my mind more crucial element arose. In the heat of writing the story, Tolkien would come up with a good sounding name on the spur of the moment, following his artist's sense rather than his philologist's care. Then he would go back and see the name he had created, and ask the philologist's question: How did that seemingly impossible construction arise?

Now, most writers (I have done this myself), when faced with these problems of inconsistency, take the seemingly obvious way, and remove the inconsistency. Not Tolkien. His approach was to research the linguistics, to search out the histories, the myths, the legends, and figure out how the inconsistency actually fit after all!

Now, will this approach not more likely create a legendarium that feels more real than the cleaned up stuff most writers write? But they way, writers are taught to do the obvious thing, and perhaps rightly so, since Tolkien was the linguistic genius and none of us can possibly hope to get anywhere with his approach.

Kuruharan 01-10-2005 09:40 PM

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First, he carefully created names in his made-up languages. Then he asked himself, "how did that name come to be?" A typical philologist's question. So he subcreated stories that explained the names.
Aha! I think we’ve stumbled upon something. Tolkien did something he loved, and then made the story out of it. That helps to create the sense of expansive background.

littlemanpoet 01-11-2005 07:32 PM

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Tolkien did something he loved, and then made the story out of it. That helps to create the sense of expansive background.
Please pardon my obtuseness, but .... how?

Kuruharan 01-12-2005 12:23 AM

For instance, I think one of the most important things is that it provides for a vast array of potential materials for the created world. As long as the love of the source remains, there are always layers to be explored.

It is sort of that “there’s always something more” effect.

Sophia the Thunder Mistress 02-22-2005 06:21 AM

To resurrect the thread...
 
An excellent thread, and I think it's time to take another look at it.

I have several things to say, most of which were brought up already by mark12_30 in this thread, and by reading Bethberry's posts in the CbC thread on Treebeard. And a few that are my own, and are developing through conversations in my classes and things I've been discussing with LMP lately.

First and foremost is the three way unity of Truth-Beauty-Good.
This unity is found in Greek philosophy, particularly, I believe, in Platonism. It is also present in Jewish and Christian thought, and so it is likely a strong subconscious factor in current Western culture, although I think recently we've tried fairly hard to escape it.

This unity is certainly present in LOTR, particularly the unity of Good and Beauty. Sauron, through his consistent failure to do good, loses his capacity for beauty; the works of the enemy are evil and ugly; Saruman, when he falls, destroys the former beauty both of Isengard and the Shire. Those who do good are consistently described in terms of the beauty of themselves and their surroundings: Faramir in Ithilien, Minas Tirith (compare descriptions of the White tower to those of the Towers of the Teeth! Both were built by Gondor, but when used for evil purposes, the beauty seems to have departed entirely from Narchost and Carchost), Elrond in Rivendell, Galadriel in Lorien, Celeborn at the Havens [leaving that for humor value, but I did mean Cirdan]. Even Treebeard's Wellinghall is beautiful, Rohan houses the Glittering Caves, Moria is beautifully solemn. Even the long abandoned land of Eregion is still beautified by the long ago presence of the Noldor.

There are exceptions to this, the Barrow Downs and the nearby Arnorian ruins being one where the original inhabitants were good and the place has turned ugly. The beauty of the Silmarils brought about horrible destruction, Rath Dinen is rather horrifying, and the Dwarves are hardly physically beautiful. But as a rule, I think it holds.

I haven't quite worked Truth into the picture thoroughly yet, but I thought I'd throw it out for comments.

The other thought I had on the subject, is whether Tolkien would want to incorporate the idea of Joy into this unity? His idea of Eucatastrophe brings Joy-Beauty-Truth together almost seamlessly, I think that Good is hovering in there beneath the surface as well. What would this shift in unity say about his larger view of the world I wonder? How would it work into LOTR and perhaps more interestingly, Silm?

Secondly is the unity involving NAME
. This is where I thought I would be strongly influenced by Helen and by Bethberry. Warning to any who are irritated by outside references, I'm going to dive right into them here.

The proposed unity has many component parts, or at least factors, which include but are not necessarily limited to Name-Word-Power-Language-Story-Identity

Word and Power are exemplified in ideas like Gandalf's Words of Command, Name and Power in the invocation of Elbereth.

Name and Story are clearly identified with each other by the Ents and perhaps, as Helen suggested in Aragorn's list of titles; and Language-Name-Power is a connection established by the Dwarves who hide their secret names in Khuzdul. Perhaps this is also seen in Elvish naming customs: the mother name, the father name, and many elves seem to pick up other names as they go. No name is their "real" name; all the names together describe who and what the elf is.

Identity becomes a factor with the case of Aragorn's many names, in which each name is almost another persona he steps into. It is interesting that Aragorn has a different 'feel' as Strider than as Aragorn, and interesting to note that when he steps momentarily back into his Ranger-Role (Book 3, ch. 9) Pippin and Merry immediately comment that 'Strider' has returned. This same thing occurs with Gandalf as well. He has faintly different personas for Mithrandir and Lathspell, and particularly Olorin. Name and Identity seem to be involved in the Dwarves' wish to hide their names as well.

I think, however, that this identification comes most strongly into play in the case of the Nazgul. They not only lose their identities and become faceless wraiths in the service of Sauron, they lose their names as well. Khamul is the only recorded name we have, and never once in the story is the name used, nor is it ever indicated that it was used after his subservience to the Ring began. In a way, this also happens to Frodo, who as the Ring begins to take more control of him he loses his identity to it. He ceases to become 'Frodo' to a certain extent and becomes 'the Ringbearer:' an eerily similar word to Ringwraith, really.

Alright, enough with my speculations, lest this post becomes unreadable. Here are allusions to a unity of this kind I found outside Tolkien. I think these are important and relevant as they set the tone for this particularly unity being one that is key to understanding the nature of myth (true and otherwise), fantasy and fairy story.

Name and Power- The Ten Commandments, "thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain." If I'm recalling correctly Orthodox Jews still don't even pronounce the word Yahweh for fear of lowering it to common status. Instead the phrase "THE NAME" is used. Also brings to mind the story of Moses asking God to reveal his name so that the Israelites would believe his (Moses') message.

Language and Power- davem said:
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I also find it interesting that Sauron actually created the Black SpeechIts a language intended to create a new kind of link between name & thing named. Its an attempt, in a sense to change the world, to impose a new meaning on things- actually to alter the way his servants think about the world.
This idea forcibly reminds me of George Orwell's 1984, in which Newspeak is so structured as to make independent thought impossible. Sauron as the original Big Brother... hm.

Name and Identity- this is a theme found in much of fantasy (good and bad). Not only do revealed lines of descent play a large role, and sometime become sources of power (here I'm reminded of the rather subpar, in my opinion, Shannara novels, and also Terry Goodkind's character Richard Cypher/Rahl), but in some fantasy names are things of power in themselves. Particularly Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea is a world where names are so powerful that they are never revealed, save to people who are utterly trusted or by those who are strong above the norm. For instance, the Tombs of Atuan is amost entirely about this idea: Tenar loses her name when she is made the One Priestess and becomes Ahra, the Eaten One. Supposedly her identity goes with it, but through her experiences she becomes one of the rare ones who casts off the name Goha, her commonplace "epesse" (if I may transplant the Elvish here) and uses her real name. Likewise, Ged the Archmage (formerly Sparrowhawk) and Lebennin, the young King (formerly Arren) use their real names in public. The true name of the young girl, Tehanu, also has some real significance.

Name and Power- There is a lot of play on this in Harry Potter. Particularly with the names of Voldemort: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and the anagram of "Tom Marvolo Riddle" and "I am Lord Voldemort." Rowling seems to have chosen even her minor character's names, however, carefully and with purpose.

I think there is significance to this idea in the story of Adam naming the animals. To name a thing is to have dominion over it. The Entwives would certainly think so.

There is so much here. I think this is the longest non-RPG post of my life, and I've barely skimmed the surface. Thanks for your perseverence.

Sophia

Lalwendë 02-22-2005 07:55 AM

Sophia, that was fascinating stuff, and I have to respond to some things, though how random they will be I am not sure yet. :)

Good and beauty - I can see that there is this link in Tolkien's work, indeed it is something that would be common through most of literature and art, that the inherently good is usually portrayed as beautiful. I say usually, because sometimes it is not portrayed as beautiful. And this happens in Tolkien's work too. Consider Aragorn's words at The Prancing Pony:

Quote:

'I look foul and feel fair. Is that it? All that is gold does not glitter, not all those that wander are lost.'
Even in terms of language, those who speak beautifully can be speaking words which have evil intent, Saruman being the prime example. The Silmarils are beautiful, but they also provoke turmoil. The One Ring is an eye catching item, literally, and it tempts Smeagol into murder. Perhaps things of evil necessarily have to adopt the appearance of beauty in order to worm their way into the hearts and minds of the good. So Gandalf's words to Frodo, "All that is gold does not glitter" can not only apply to Aragorn as Strider, but to many things Frodo is likely to come across on his way.

I have also been thinking about the link between language and power lately in the light of the 'dumbing it down' thread. In seeking to make his films more accessible, Jackson's team have edited and altered Tolkien's language, which I see as denying audiences the chance or the opportunity to enjoy that more complex and beautiful language. Cultural products are all too often deemed 'too complicated' for large groups of society, including the young, the supposedly less well educated, and watered down versions are presented instead, if indeed at all. The works of Shakespeare and Chaucer all too often come in for this kind of treatment in our schools. News also suffers in this way in much of the media. This is the exercise of language as a tool of power. We offer a simplified version but in the long run this can also deny the audience the full truth. And it can work the other way. In the workplace bosses will often produce documents wreathed in complex language in order to confuse and bewilder and effectively exclude those who they deem ought not to be included. Personnnel departments frequently do this with contracts, as do financial companies, hoping for the innocent debtor to sign on the dotted line for excessive payments. Language and power are inextricably linked.

In Tolkien's world, there are many examples of this. Saruman attempts to coerce Gandalf by using language which those listening do not understand; the image used is of people listening to a king talking to a minister. They are excluded. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Eldar are not supposed to use Quenya in exile, which makes me think of periods in our own history when we have attempted to quell use of languages which have political significance, such as Gaelic in Ireland. And yet Quenya is the 'high' language. Would this not exclude the elves who have never been to Valinor? The 'native Sindarin speakers'? Again I'm reminded of the Norman invasion of England and the use of Latin as the 'official' langauge, which excluded English speakers from high office; the introduction of the English bible and prayer book was nothing short of a revolution. Could this link be drawn to the more widespread use of the Common Speech over Elvish tongues?

I hope that didn't ramble too much, I've had such thoughts in the back of my mind for a while but haven't written them down til now. ;)

Sophia the Thunder Mistress 02-22-2005 08:05 AM

a very short reply, perhaps more later.
 
Quote:

I say usually, because sometimes it is not portrayed as beautiful. And this happens in Tolkien's work too. Consider Aragorn's words at The Prancing Pony
I knew I had forgotten something I intended to mention. Thanks for catching it for me.

Although he looked fair enough to me. :p

littlemanpoet 02-24-2005 08:59 PM

Quote:

The other thought I had on the subject, is whether Tolkien would want to incorporate the idea of Joy into this unity? His idea of Eucatastrophe brings Joy-Beauty-Truth together almost seamlessly, I think that Good is hovering in there beneath the surface as well. What would this shift in unity say about his larger view of the world I wonder? How would it work into LOTR and perhaps more interestingly, Silm? - Sophia
Was there a eucatastrophe in The Sil? The only one that comes to mind is Beren and Luthien getting the Sil back from Morgoth. Otherwise, the Sil seems to be a reflection of the pessimism for which Tolkien was known by his close friends.

He did say that Fairy Story is more real than much of modern literature because it accounts for real evil, as well as the evangelium, in which is joy, according to the professor.

I've just realized all over again that my first exposure to the importance of naming came from the Bible. Adam and Eve resonate with meaning. So does Abram/Abraham. Moses. Joshua/Jesus. Every name has a meaning, and the people who names, recognized the importance of names. This would be an example that the Bible is home to mythic unity. It's obvious that Tolkien drew from this rich source of mythic unity as well as the Nordic, in the Sil.

I'm a little unclear what you mean by "shift in unity", actually....

Aiwendil 02-25-2005 10:32 AM

Quote:

Was there a eucatastrophe in The Sil?
Morgoth was defeated.

mark12_30 02-25-2005 11:00 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by littlemanpoet
Was there a eucatastrophe in The Sil?

I thought so: tuppence

littlemanpoet 02-28-2005 01:45 PM

Helen: I appreciate your "tuppence". The analogies are indeed debatable, but your main point of the location of the eucatastrophe in the Christ Myth, is apt.

Aiwendil:
Quote:

Morgoth was defeated.
Yes, but was this not because the Valar gave over their authority to Iluvatar, asking the One to intervene? How is that a eucatastrophe? Hardly an unlooked for turn if it was begged for, don't you think? Or am I getting the sinking of Numenor and the destruction of Angband mixed up? It's been a long time since I read the Sil.


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