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Old 11-08-2003, 12:28 AM   #1
The Saucepan Man
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Tolkien Psychological depth in Tolkien's characters

This topic has been touched on in a number of threads, most recently in "Dumbing Down the Books", but I do not believe that it has a thread of its own.

The Independent, a UK newspaper, has a weekly spot where readers are invited to pose questions for various "celebs". This week was Philip Pullman's turn (and I have to admit to not having read any of his books, although I have one on my "to read" pile).

He was asked:

Quote:
Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings?
He replied:

Quote:
Um. This is one of those Archbishop of Canterbury 12-second silences. I can't really answer the question. I read The Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager and I didn't really like it. I have tried to read it since, but it doesn't really say anything to me because the characters have no psychological depth. The only interesting character is Gollum. And I've only read one Harry Potter book, the second one, and it wouldn't be fair to comment on that basis, although I thought it was funny and inventive. Neither are my particular favourites.
Putting aside the curiosity of one of modern fantasy's current standard-bearers remarking unfavourably on one of the genre's founding fathers, I am most interested in people's views on his comment that Tolkien's characters lack "psychological depth". Is Pullman right on this? Or is there some depth to Tolkien's characters? If so, which ones and how is it brought out?

I won't give my own views for now, save to say that I think he is on safe ground as far as Legolas and Gimli are concerned. But, Gollum aside, here are a few possible candidates for inner conflict and/or psychological development in LotR:

Frodo: Just an unlikely hero, or is there some depth in his struggle to resist the Ring and his treatment of Gollum? And what about his ultimate inability to stay in Middle-earth in consequence of the travails that he has undergone?

Aragorn: Paper-thin would-be King and all round good guy, or does the Book (rather than the films) bring out any sense of his uncertainty over his destiny? Is there some depth brought out in his realtionship with Eowyn?

Samwise: Simple Gardener and loyal servant/friend, or do the Choices of Master Samwise bring out some depth in the struggle that he undergoes?

Meriadoc: Hobbit sidekick 1, or a Hobbit whose interest in the wider world leads to his development as a heroic character?

Pippin: Hobbit sidekick 2 and repository of light relief (in the Books, that is), or young innocent whose inquiring mind leads to an incredible transformation?

Boromir: Ring-seizing stooge, or a Man tortured by the conflict between his oath to serve the Fellowship and his desire to serve the interests of his people?

Denethor: Carboard cut-out mean tyrant and overbearing father, or a Man driven to desperation and dark deeds by despair (the chapter on the Palantiri in Unfinished Tales has some good material in this regard)?

Faramir: Too noble and perfect to be believable, or does he undergo a real conflict between his duty and his desire to prove himself to his father and his instinctive feel for what is the right thing to do?

Theoden: Simply under Wormtongue's spell or is there an inner struggle going on before Gandalf releases him from the effect of Wormtongue's words? And after that, is there some sense that he is struggling to decide what is the right thing to do by his realm and by his historical allies in Gondor?

Just a few characters. Feel free to bring up more, from LotR or Tolkien's other works. Does Tolkien imbue his principal characters with real psycholgical depth, or do they merely serve to tell the greater story? Is the fact that his stories are told from the perspective of just a few characters (Frodo and, to a lesser extent, Sam in LotR, Bilbo in the Hobbit, and no one in particular in the Silmarillion) a hinderance in this regard? If so, how does Tolkien get round this device to bring out the inner struggles of his characters (if indeed he does)?
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Old 11-08-2003, 01:03 AM   #2
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Tolkien repeatedly states his books are about applicability, i.e. you can apply the lesson of the book to many things. Meaning, there is no overriding metaphor, nor definite allegory to cling to.

Look at the characters in this regard: they are lacking in some *stated* psychological detail, but in the eye of the reader, much of the depth you mentioned (the second descriptions for each character) can be implied. In turn, then, the reader is left some freedom with the story. When you make the characters more iconic, as Tolkien has, you let the reader relate more to the story and the characters. Applicability - the reader can lay the story over whatever events they wish - if they wish to apply it to something - and not be bothered with hugely detailed characterizations like you may find in a New York literary piece. Those stories can be allegory, but cannot be easily applied to real life, as Tolkien's work can. LotR gives the reader some freedom in deciding why people do what they do - even Saruman can be a tragic hero if you want.

That's my opinion.
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Old 11-08-2003, 02:14 AM   #3
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ok, it's really late(almost 2 in the morning... I was up watching TTT), so I'm only going to put up a short post, and continue the rest tomorrow. I think there is depth to a lot of different characters. Or at least, there can be, depending on the reader and how he/she percieves it. To the reader who just quickly reads over it, not putting a lot of thought or effort into it, doesn't typically read much, or isn't old enough to understand fully, there may not seem to be much depth to the characters. But those of us who are older, or read a lot more, so can have a better grasp of it, I think there is great amount of depth to some characters. Not all of them are as developed as others, but that's the case in all books. Saucepan, I think all the depth you mentioned in the latter part of your descriptions is there, just some readers may not pick up on it. For instance, Pippin is a young, curious hobbit who hasn't yet come of age. He is innocent and naive, and grows up a great deal through the books. I don't think he's foolish at first, as some people have stated before, but he is young, and has a lot to learn. And he certainly learns a great deal throughout his journey. By the time of the Scouring of the Shire, he has grown up quite a bit, and not just in height. He's wiser, and has been through many things. I think there's quite a bit to his character. I'll try to post more of what I think of the different characters tomorrow. My poor, tired brain can't handle any more right now.
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Old 11-08-2003, 08:33 AM   #4
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It is refreshing how Tolkien chose not to overtly draw attention to the psychological conflict his characters faced. By just touching on the circumstances of these people’s lives it gave a greater depth to the work, similar to how he dealt with the historical aspect of ME. And yes, it does seem to let the reader fill in the rest in a way they can understand.

So I would say there is implied psychological depth to quite a few, if you are looking for it. I would not say that it is a hindrance to have the stories told from a character’s viewpoint, rather it is more like real life; you have to read between the lines. Tolkien seems to get these internal struggles across by clues in conversations, characters actions and the reader’s common sense. By that I mean, the reader realizing how anyone is apt to feel under those conditions.
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Old 11-08-2003, 11:05 AM   #5
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Saucepan Man,

At the risk of raising issues that go far astray from the question you posted, I am going to plunge ahead....

The minute that I saw the interview was by Philip Pullman, a red flag went up. I think it is impossible to assess the comments put forward about Tolkien's characters without considering who the author is and where he's coming from.

Let me begin by saying that, if you have not read His Dark Materials trilogy (and unlike the Rings it is a trilogy), you are in for a treat. I consider it one of the finest fantasy series written since Tolkien, at least if you are judging by things like creativity, believability, and writing style.

On the face of it, Pullman and Tolkien have quite a bit in common. Both lived and taught at Oxford. Pullman's degree is also in English. I understand that New Line Cinema is negotiating to get the rights to His Dark Materials to turn it into a movie! Like Tolkien, Pullman writes a story of good versus evil and hearkens back to older sources, with a religious or mythological slant. He also confirms that the biblical creation story in the Garden of Eden and "Paradise Lost" were the major influences on the series. Like Tolkien, Pullman's story is shot through with religious and philosophical meaning.

At that point, however, the similarity ends. What Pullman does is stand Tolkien's Legendarium on its head. The Authority or God-figure is a distant, dislikeable figure who is pulling a sham on all of humankind. The heroes are those who rebel against him. The church itself plays an important role as an authoritarian institution; those who are moral are those who oppose it. Pullman grew up as the son of an Anglican clergyman and obviously developed some very strong likes and dislikes!

In my fantasies, I have dreamed of getting Pullman and JRRT together in one room, locking the door, walking away and coming back in a few hours!

My main point is this: I don't think you can evaluate Pullman's comments without understanding where he is coming from philosophically and religiously. My gut feeling is that Pullman would be incapable of giving an honest, balanced assessment of Tolkien's characters. I think those characters have too much of Tolkien himself in them--his world view and beliefs--for Pullman to empathize with their plight. And the same thing would probably have been true of Tolkien. If he had read His Dark Materials, he would probably have disliked it.

To be truthful, how much can any of us divorce ourselves from our basic values and ways of looking at things? And how much does that influence our assessment of a piece of literature? When I read His Dark Materials, I couldn't put it down. I knew it was very well written and creative. Yet at the same time I was reading it, I found myself disliking the underlying philosophical and religious assumptions. My own stance, while far from identical with that of Tolkien, is closer to his views than those of Pullman. (Now, if you had asked me that in the late 60s, I might have said something else!) And yes, as a historian, I have studied instance after instance of religious institutions acting in cruel and unconscionable ways, so I know Pullman has a point. But, even with this said, my basic sympathies lie with Tolkien.

It is quite clear to me why Pullman would be uncomfortable and critical of Tolkien. They come from totally different vantage points, and I don't feel that either would be able to appreciate or understand the other.

BTW, I once put up a thread comparing these two authors, but had few takers. Still wondering if anyone out there has any views and opinions on Pullman in relation to Tolkien.......
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Old 11-08-2003, 11:08 AM   #6
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I agree with you, Hilde. If you read a book like LotR quickly and easily, you won't get the character developement of the characters (which has been said before so I apologize).

But here is another character to add to the list:

Eowyn A young woman who pines only for adventure and has a crush on Aragorn, but when he leaves turns fickily around and marries Faramir? Or does she turn from a bitter, cold woman into a contented lover? That's a big change.
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Old 11-08-2003, 11:34 AM   #7
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Hilde Bracegirdle wrote:
Quote:
So I would say there is implied psychological depth to quite a few, if you are looking for it. I would not say that it is a hindrance to have the stories told from a character’s viewpoint, rather it is more like real life; you have to read between the lines. Tolkien seems to get these internal struggles across by clues in conversations, characters actions and the reader’s common sense. By that I mean, the reader realizing how anyone is apt to feel under those conditions.
I think this is exactly right.

In the "Dumbing Down the Books" thread, I argued that there are two major schools of characterization. In the "modern" school, characterization is internal. This method attempts to give the audience direct access to a character's inner thoughts, conflicts, and so forth. It is an implied supposition of this school that it is the inner life of the characters that is important. In, for example, Crime and Punishment, this technique is central to the story.

In the "ancient" school, characterization is external. Character is revealed through actions and speech rather than through direct access to the character's thoughts. This has certain advantages and certain disadvantages in comparison to the modern school.

Of course, these two techniques are not mutually exclusive. Though Tolkien relies primarily on the latter, he not unaware of the former, more modern, technique. Particularly in the character of Gollum, he makes some use of this internal technique. This is probably why Gollum stands out from the rest as an especially vivid character, appealing even to those with a bias against the external method.

It is the internal method that is typically associated with "psychological depth", for here we actually enter into a character's thoughts and plumb the depths of his or her psyche. But the external technique allows a kind of implied psychological depth to which modern critics have a tendency to be blind. It is this implied depth that chiefly characterizes, for example, Denethor, Frodo, or Boromir. We are not told Denethor's thoughts directly, but we learn enough about him to understand his despair, his inner conflict, and his madness. This kind of characterization is a lot more subtle than Tolkien is generally given credit for. It calls on the reader to piece together (perhaps subconsciously) various things that are said about Denethor, things said by him, actions he performs, and so on. It has the (I think major) advantage that this is the way we actually come to know people in real life.

But there is another layer of subtlety: sometimes pieces of this implied characterization are achieved through association with other characters and events in Tolkien's mythology. This is more true of The Silmarillion than of The Lord of the Rings. For example, some of Feanor's implied depth comes from the mythological persona of Aule, and from associations already built into the mythology around Aule.

It must be admitted that there are some characters that are not given such great depth, implied or direct - Legolas and Gimli, for example. But here we come to another conflict between ancient and modern literature. In addition to disagreeing on what techniques to use for characterization, they disagree on the importance of characterization as part of the story. There is a modern tendency to consider characterization the most important aspect of literature. But this was not always so. Beowulf is not about the character of the protagonist, but about his deeds (and not only in so far as they imply psychological depth). Again, neither way is right, and great works of literature have been achieved in both schools. But the force with which some critics criticize Tolkien's characterization seems to arise in large part from the supposition that character is the most important aspect of any story, and that this is a universal truth.
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Old 11-08-2003, 11:43 AM   #8
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In my fantasies, I have dreamed of getting Pullman and JRRT together in one room, locking the door, walking away and coming back in a few hours!
From the sound of it, you might need to strap each to a desk with a pen and paper also. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

Thread well-done, Saucepan Man. I'll post a little later on.
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Old 11-08-2003, 11:58 AM   #9
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Quote:
Child: In my fantasies, I have dreamed of getting Pullman and JRRT together in one room, locking the door, walking away and coming back in a few hours!

Quote:
Legolas's response: From the sound of it, you might need to strap each to a desk with a pen and paper also.
Yes, that would probably be the safest thing! Too bad it just isn't possible. An exchange of ideas could produce some interesting sparks.

Aiwendel's lucid post and my own actually seem to deal with two sides of the same coin.

Pullman as a representative of the "modern" school, both with his emphasis on internal characterization and his questioning stance on religious belief and institutions....

Tolkien as the defender of "tradition"---standing much closer to the epic works that spell out the story by external deeds and acts, along with his sympathies for more traditional religious views.

Interestingly, in "real" life, we stand somewhere between the two in regard to characterization. We have access to our own thoughts and feelings, but can only interpret others through the prism of their speech and acts.

Perhaps, that is one reason JRRT's characters seem "real" to me. As in real life, I can only guess at what's going on inside somebody unless they choose to confide. But Tolkien does such a fine job depicting the character's words and actions that we feel we can venture a guess at what sentiment or thought actually lies behind them. To say nothing of the fact that we can spend endless hours debating those guesses on this site!

[ November 08, 2003: Message edited by: Child of the 7th Age ]
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Old 11-08-2003, 12:39 PM   #10
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Quote:
Perhaps, that is one reason JRRT's characters seem "real" to me. (Child)
Real! That is the wonderful thing! But what if we talked about real 'psychological depth.' What is psychology? I think first we must answer that.

All people of some intelligence are going to have a psychological part, if you will, of their lives or minds. There is some degree of psychology related to everything, as the human mind is really related to everything: thoughts, actions, speech.

Pullman sees this all in an obviously 'scientific,' or, as Child so nicely put it, 'modern' way. And, the modern way is secularism, atheism. So, when Pullman searches for his 'psychological depth,' he will not find it in Tolkien's 'outdated' writing, or any writing by someone who knows of more to psychology - has faith. Many times people feel like they need to delve deep into someone's thoughts, know their memories, know their darkest temptations, in order to understand them or at least, in books, to get the most out of following a character in a story. Or, sometimes - actually, many times - people just want to read about all these complex thoughts just to get into all the 'juiciness' of the drama. The thing is, these people don't think they experience enough 'psychological depth' in their own minds. Part of the reason they believe this is that they don't have something to really believe in, and the other part is that they just don't get it. I think they make the whole idea of psychology and the human mind in general a much larger deal than is truly necessary.

Okay, one last thought: How can someone say that there is no 'psychological depth' in a work (literature or otherwise), when it is written by a human being with a human mind. (Well, most have a human mind.)

At least, that's what I think. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

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Old 11-08-2003, 02:28 PM   #11
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Well, it has(i think) also to do with the good vs evil. In modern life there is gray in between, so characters can not behave "out of the box" wether(sp?) it be good or evil.

well those are my thoughts(so no one else has to agree [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img] )
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Old 11-08-2003, 02:33 PM   #12
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Characters are written to take specific roles. Since human beings are not created to take specific roles (usually), characters often seen to be flat, and have no psychological depth. We have to realize that they're characters, not real people.
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Old 11-08-2003, 03:14 PM   #13
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Child of the 7th Age wrote:
Quote:
Pullman as a representative of the "modern" school, both with his emphasis on internal characterization and his questioning stance on religious belief and institutions....

Tolkien as the defender of "tradition"---standing much closer to the epic works that spell out the story by external deeds and acts, along with his sympathies for more traditional religious views.
I think you are right - but at the same time, I don't think Pullman's modern outlook alone is enough to account for his inability to find psychological depth in Tolkien's characters. Rather, it is a particular type of modern outlook, indeed a particular type of modern literary outlook; and this need not be tied to a modern outlook in other regards.

For example, I would say I have a rather modern outlook (though not "post-modern") with regard to science, religion, and such things. I would call myself a secular humanist; and I would say that I am tend toward an anti-religious, pro-scientific, supremely analytical view of things. And yet The Lord of the Rings is my favorite book; and yet I in many ways prefer the traditional school of external characterization to the modern. It takes something more than a modern outlook to be blind to the kind of implicit depth Tolkien gives his characters.

Quote:
Interestingly, in "real" life, we stand somewhere between the two in regard to characterization. We have access to our own thoughts and feelings, but can only interpret others through the prism of their speech and acts.
Very true. One might say, if one were prone to making blanket over-generalizations, that the modern preference for internal characterization is an outgrowth of the Enlightenment's focus on the individual.
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Old 11-08-2003, 10:58 PM   #14
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Yes, I can see that there is a difference between Pullman's "modern" approach of giving the reader direct access to his character's inner feelings and conflicts, and Tolkien's manner of showing us his characters inner feelings and conflicts through their actions and their interactions with other characters.

The question is whether Tolkien is successful in this. To Pullman's mind, he clearly is not (with the exception of Gollum), since Pullman does not consider Tolkien's characters to have psychological depth. And, if Tolkien is not successful in conveying his characters "inner selves", why is it that his works are so popular?

It has been said that the psychological depth in Tolkien's characters is to be implied. And I can accept this to a certain degree. This, to my mind, is certainly true of Denethor. Aiwendil said:

Quote:
We are not told Denethor's thoughts directly, but we learn enough about him to understand his despair, his inner conflict, and his madness.
And I thoroughly agree with this. For me, Denethor is a prime example of one of Tolkien's characters whose psychological depth is very well-mapped. When I first read LotR, I never had the sense that Denethor was an evil character, although neither is he all good by any stretch of the imagination. Through his actions, and through his relationships with other characters, we get the sense that he is a tragic character. He is flawed, yes. This much is apparent from his differing treatment of his two sons. But he is a tragic character. A man who started out with the most worthy of intentions to do the best for his people, but who, through his use of the Palantir, came round to thinking that there was no hope. A man who lost his beloved son, and whose other son was a source of disappointment to him. But even then, there might have been some hope in his remaining son, until he too languished on the point of near death. Even without realising the sense of guilt that he probably felt over the death of his wife (for this is not really told in LotR), we can understand the state of despair that drove him to the terrible deeds by which he took his own life and almost that of his son. Yes, there is definately psychological depth in Denethor.

Similarly with Boromir, but less obviously so. When I first read LotR (admittedly at a young age), I had no sympathy for him. And yet, in subsequent readings, I came to understand the struggle that he went through and to see him as an incredibly sympathetic character. Here is a man who was under intense pressure to do what was right for his people. And, yes, perhaps to steal a bit of glory for himself. Why should he have listened to the words of the wise? He did initially, but the thought of using the Ring to defend Gondor and perhaps defeat Sauron was ever present. And this was what the Ring worked on, giving rise to an intense internal struggle which he was ultimately unable to suppress.

But these are the "grey" characters, who are neither wholly good nor unacceptably evil. Gollum fals into the same category, and Pullman (rightly) acknowledges him as a character who does have psychological depth.

But is this perhaps a shortcoming in Tolkien's style? The actions of these "grey" characters and their interaction with others tell us volumes about their inner feelings and struggles. But what about the "good" characters? Do we really "get to know" them? Can we really understand their inner conflicts? Or does the fact that they are on the side of "good" render any understanding of their motivations impossible (other than that they are striving against "evil" in the form of Sauron)?

Take Aragorn, for example. The films give him some depth in his doubt over whether he is truly worthy to take up the mantle of Isildur's heir. We get some sense of this in the Book, in his doubt over what to do for the best following Gandalf's fall in Moria, but overall he was pretty much resolute in the path which he had to follow and comfortable in his destiny. Does this really give us any sense of depth in his character? Perhaps if we were given access to his inner thoughts, we would get a sense of this depth. But we are not. We see him as the Hobbits saw him. A man in respect whom they are at first distrustful but who earns their trust, and who then goes on to prove himself as a mighty warrior and a worthy King. This tells us that he is a heroic character but, in psychological terms, it tells us more about the Hobbits than it does about the character of Aragorn.

Aiwendil, again, said:

Quote:
There is a modern tendency to consider characterization the most important aspect of literature. But this was not always so. Beowulf is not about the character of the protagonist, but about his deeds (and not only in so far as they imply psychological depth).
Aragorn surely falls into this category of those who are characterised more by their deeds than by their inner persona. That is all well and good. But does it really work that we learn more about the "inner selves" of those who are struggling on the edge of good and evil than those who are resolutely on the side of good?

Child said:

Quote:
Interestingly, in "real" life, we stand somewhere between the two in regard to characterization. We have access to our own thoughts and feelings, but can only interpret others through the prism of their speech and acts.
That is absolutely true. In the absence of direct access to their thoughts, we react to people on the basis of their deeds and their interaction with us. As readers, we are placed in the same position. So, we (largely) react well to those whose deeds seems to us to be noble, and perhaps have a more adverse reaction to those whose deeds are less than ideal (even though we may find it difficult to live up to the ideal ourselves). And yet it is those "less than ideal" characters who are so much more fleshed out by their words and deeds, and it is perhaps them with whom we should be able to identify more closely.

Does this mean that "psychological depth" (ie inner conflic and struggle) is less appealing to us as readers and that we are looking for the ideals in our reading material? Is this perhaps a plus in Tolkien's approach, rather than a flaw? Is this where he succeeds over other writers in that, in his most obviously commendable characters, he is offering us an ideal? Do we react better to these ideal characters than to those who (albeit in a more grandiose fashion) might represent more closely our own inner struggles?
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Old 11-08-2003, 11:38 PM   #15
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But is this perhaps a shortcoming in Tolkien's style? The actions of these "grey" characters and their interaction with others tell us volumes about their inner feelings and struggles. But what about the "good" characters? Do we really "get to know" them? Can we really understand their inner conflicts? Or does the fact that they are on the side of "good" render any understanding of their motivations impossible (other than that they are striving against "evil" in the form of Sauron)?
I think that your question largely answers itself. Why do we not find as much psychological depth in the purely good characters as in those with inner conflict? Because they are purely good characters that lack inner conflict.

In other words, I don't think it's quite fair to say that we don't get to know the good characters as well as we do the grey. We get to know them just as well - it's just that there's less about them to know. Aragorn is just what we see: a resolute, noble, well-intentioned king. To demand more is not to demand better characterization; it's to demand a different story.

To make a somewhat crude analogy: a biography of Tolkien will most likely be shorter (or have less content, anyway), than a biography of, say, Gandhi. Is this because we know more about Gandhi than we do about Tolkien? No - it's because Gandhi's life was more event-filled than Tolkien's.

One could argue that if inner conflict and ambiguous morality is what gives characters depth, then Tolkien should have written a story with more characters in inner conflict. But this (in typical modernist fashion) mistakes the point of the whole endeavor. For, as I argued before, it is not universally true that all literature ought to be primarily about character.

But, if I may say so without undermining my above argument too much, there are good characters that have something like psychological depth - the hobbits, for example (particularly, I think, Bilbo and Sam). And in the Silmarillion there are great epic heroes with a certain depth (at least I think so): Beren, Hurin, Tuor. (Some will no doubt disagree. But I think this is one of the examples of the overlooked subtlety in Tolkien's characterization. It's not something that's easily picked up on the first, or a cursory, reading. But spend enough time with the Silmarillion material and you will begin to see these heroes more skillfully drawn. I omit Turin from the list because most would claim that he falls into the grey area).

So. I think that in part the apparent lack of depth seen in Aragorn is explained by my first point - we see all that there is to see. But I think that to some extent, in light of my second point, it must be admitted that Aragorn is not the best of Tolkien's characters, not even the best of his purely good characters.
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Old 11-08-2003, 11:42 PM   #16
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Turin and Feanor more than one-dimensional characters, as can Galadriel if you think of her total character arc.
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Old 11-09-2003, 12:04 AM   #17
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I think that your question largely answers itself. Why do we not find as much psychological depth in the purely good characters as in those with inner conflict? Because they are purely good characters that lack inner conflict.
OK, to re-phrase the question, is Aragorn a believable character, lacking as he does any inner conflict? And, if he is not, is the ideal which he presents nevertheless appealing to us as readers? If so, why, if he is not a believable character?

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Beren, Hurin, Tuor.
I do not feel that I "know" these characters at all, other than as heroic characters.

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But spend enough time with the Silmarillion material and you will begin to see these heroes more skillfully drawn.
Indulge me.
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Old 11-09-2003, 01:29 AM   #18
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ok, once again I stayed up late watching LotR, so this post will not contain as much as I wish I could put. Anyways, another character I think has psychological depth is Eowyn. She grew up as a woman in a man's world, and I'm sure that must have been very hard. She was cold, and I'm sure didn't show much feeling. When Aragorn came along, she saw him, the ice started melting a bit, and she started caring for him. She really wasn't in love with him, though. I think it was more like how fangirls say they're in love with the actors. They aren't really, they just love their image. She loved Aragorn's image. Then he didn't return the love, she felt he pitied her, and she started freezing up again. Then there's her going off to fight, helping slay the WK, and having to be healed. She ends up falling in love with Faramir, and the ice in her heart finally melts. I think there is a lot of depth to her if you read between the lines, and look at her actions, and determine how she must have felt. She isn't one diminsional at all, and has a lot of depth. I really think the amount of depth one gets from the books all depends on how much of it the reader is able to percieve. How much they pay attention to the book, observe the actions of the characters and how they fit in with their surroundings, and how much the reader enjoys the book. I know from experience that if someone is reading a book that they don't like very well, the person will most likely just skim over it enough to get a basic idea of what's going on. He will not get deeply involved with the story, hang on every line, and drink it all in. He would be bound to miss quite a bit. Well, that's all my tired brain can conjure up right now.
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Old 11-09-2003, 03:54 AM   #19
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Maybe critics can't perieve depth unless it's forced into their mouths?
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Old 11-09-2003, 07:20 AM   #20
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Interesting topic, Saucepan Man! [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

Orson Scott Card, in his book, Characters & Viewpoint, wrote that there are
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four basic factors that are present in every story, with varying degrees of emphasis. It is the balance among these factors that determines what sort of characterization a story must have, should have, or can have [author's italics].

The four factors are milieu, idea, character, and event.

The milieu is the world surrounding the characters - the landscape, the interior spaces, the surrounding cultures the characters emerge from and react to; everything from weather to traffic laws.

The idea is the information that the reader is meant to discover or learn during the process of the story.

Character is the nature of one or more of the people in the story - what they do and why they do it. It usually leads to or arises from a conclusion about human nature in general.

The events of the story are everything that happens and why.

These factors usually overlap. ...... Each factor is present in all stories, to one degree or another. Every factor has an implicit structure; if that factor dominates a story, its structure determines the overall shape of the story.
Card goes on to describe how LotR is a milieu story, and shows how Tolkien's characterization is appropriate to a milieu story. Card didn't discuss Pullman's story, but I have read it, and would venture to say that Pullman's story, for all its milieu, is a characterization story. Its structure is centered around the two major protagonists. They are what drives the story's structure. Since it's a characterization story, psychological depth is going to be a primary element. The characters are going to be deep, deep, deep, because that's what's appropriate to a characterization story.

Yes, there's psychological depth to Tolkien's main characters, but as one of you said, it's implied.

Happy Discussing! [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]
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Old 11-09-2003, 07:53 AM   #21
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Saucepan Man,

I'm going to digress from your question for one minute regarding Aragorn to pick up on something Aiwendil said regarding hobbits. Eventually, I hope my point will bring us back to Aragorn. I am phrasing my answer strictly in terms of LotR, rather than considering Silm, at least at this time.

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But, if I may say so without undermining my above argument too much, there are good characters that have something like psychological depth - the hobbits, for example (particularly, I think, Bilbo and Sam).
First, Bilbo.... His growth and maturation is the central theme not of the LotR but of The Hobbit. And there is little question that it is the central theme of the entire tale. (Whole books have been written on this point.) Given the possibilities of a children's story, I don't see how anyone could argue that we don't get inside Bilbo's head. We certainly do! At the end of The Book, we know a great deal about Bilbo--how he has grown and changed, his little quirks, likes and dislikes, his sense of humor, how he conquored fear in the tunnel to creep forward and get a look at Smaug, etc., etc.

Secondly, I would add Frodo to the list of hobbits about whom we know something in depth. It is true that we are never told what particular dream or lure is attracting Frodo to the Ring, but we definitely know that there is conflict going on and there is a desire that he is fighting to resist. Similarly, we are aware that, at the same time he is being tempted, his "good" side is also maturing as seen by the Elven light that gleems in his eye, Gandalf's assessment of him at Rivendell as possibly being transformed into the Phial of Galadriel, and the later scenes where pity comes into play with Gollum.

From hints dropped quite early in the book, in Tom Bombadil's house and Rivendell, we are aware that Frodo is beginning to yearn for the Sea and to conceive of a shining place that lies beyond the Shire itself, even at the same time when all Frodo's actions (as well as those of Sam) are obviously motivated by a desire to save the Shire and its way of life.

And, of course, we have Frodo's continuing struggle at the end of the book suggesting that he still desires the Ring as well as the fact that he is in need of healing for past injuries.

The book also shows Sam, Merry, and Pippin maturing. Merry and Pippin, who are the "youngest" at the beginning of the tale, evidence physical growth that is reflective of what is going on inside: a new seriousness and commitment to take action, the ability to make a vow and carry it through. Sam's own path involves several key themes that reflect his maturation: rejecting the temptation of the "super-gardener" presented to him by the Ring, his steadfastness towards Frodo and his ability to reach out and call upon the steadying image of the Shire even in the midst of Mordor's waste, and, finally, his struggle with himself involving pity and mercy in relation to Gollum, which reaches its climax beside the fires of destruction of Mount Doom.

For this reason, I think Pullman is short sighted for stating that only Gollum, out of all the hobbits, is a well developed character. I think he basically dislikes the book for reasons addressed above and is not capable of seeing what is there.

Finally, I would argue that it's not surprising that, of all the characters in the book, we can most easily see growth and change in those characters who are hobbits--both Gollum and the four fellowship hobbits. This is done through two means: the deeds and words of the hobbits themselves and some instances of actually getting inside their heads, especially with Sam. It is generally accepted that most of the action of the LotR is filtered through the hobbits' eyes. Frodo is ostensibly composing much of the narrative, presumably after he's compared notes with his fellow hobbits! Accordingly, we see the action and learn about things from their own perspectives. And just as in real life we are more aware of what's going on inside our own heads, we are more aware of depth of character with the hobbits than with the other strangers whom they're encountering for the first time.

This whole hobbit-centric viewpoint is especially evident in the character of Sam. And because most of us can aspire to be a Sam in our daily life, but not scale Frodo's lofty heights, we are given the most intimate glimpses inside Sam's head. Tolkien was aware of what he was doing: he states this quite bluntly in one of his Letters. During the War, JRRT wrote to his son Christopher and admitted that it was with Sam that he tried to delineate a character in depth, more like what he had earlier done with Bilbo:

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Cert. Sam is the most closely drawn character, the successor to Bilbo of the first book, the genuine hobbit. Frodo is not so interesting because he has to be highminded, and has (as it were) a vocation. The book will prob. end up with Sam. Frodo will naturally become too ennobled and rarified by the achievement of the great Quest and will pass West with all the great figures; but S. will settled down to the Shire and gardens and inns.
For all these reasons, Tolkien intends that we see Aragorn as the hobbits see him, which is in a certain limited way: as the heroic figure who was ordained by a whole string of historical events. Overwhelmed as they were with everything new going on about them, could the hobbits have detected the subtle nuances in Aragorn's personality? My personal opinion is 'no'.

You know it's strange. By training and early profession, I am a historian. When I read LotR, and even more when I read Silm and HoMe, I feel, on some level, as if I am reading history (admittedly mythological!) rather than literature per se. And because of that I do not expect the intimate interior glimpses of folk that is so popular in modern literature. Indeed, I expect to see these folk as I see characters in the pageant of history. Some of their motives and feelngs are clearly evident and others are much less so. I am grateful for the interior glimpses I get, but I do not resent the instances like Aragorn where I can only guess at what is going on inside. For me, it is part of the mystery and enchantment of the whole book. Would I have been happier to have been presented with all the answers such as we get in the depiction of many characters in modern literature where we know them inside out? I personally do not think so. But, at heart, this is a matter of individual preference rather than something that critics should determine. Or that's how it seems to me!

Addendum: I was so long typing this crazy post that I missed Littlemanpoet's comments, but I certainly agree with them.

[ November 09, 2003: Message edited by: Child of the 7th Age ]
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Old 11-09-2003, 08:12 AM   #22
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*applauds Child of the 7th Age*


I sincerely agree with you. Much of the perspective of the characters in the book influences how the reader sees them. To the Hobbits, small, vulnerable, and needing guidance, Aragorn seems like a mighty King of old, flowing cloak, gleaming sword, etc. They don't really get much of a chance to know him as a person, and thus, he seems like the archetypal hero-king.

Another thing that I have noticed is that many people don't "like" Frodo because they claim that he is just too weak. I beg to differ. Throughout his possession of the One Ring, all of Frodo's resources are directed inward, to help him wage a war inside himself to resist his temptation to claim the Ring. When all of his resources and mental capabilities are diverted like that, it is extremely difficult to "take care of yourself." That was why he needed Sam.

Some people also dislike Sam because they claim his love for Frodo has homosexual undercurrents. That is absolutely preposterous. Along with the blessing of more openness in this society, has come the curse of seeing innuendo in just about every part of daily life. Yes, it is rare to find a completely platonic relationship in which two people love each other completely, but the Frodo-Sam relationship is indeed one such rarity.

[ November 09, 2003: Message edited by: Finwe ]
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Old 11-09-2003, 08:24 AM   #23
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Saucepan Man, this is a great topic! I am enjoying everyone's posts very much. I for one like both kinds of books, those with ‘mind reading’ and those where I have to read between the lines for characterization. Obviously, since I’m here, I appreciate Tolkien’s way of writing his characters – perhaps because it leaves me more leeway for my own interpretation?!

I would like to break a lance for Aragorn's character. There is one part of the story that has endeared him to me greatly – his relationship to Éowyn. I find his tact and compassion shown in the way he handles a very difficult situation, being loved without returning that love. The fact that he is aware of her intense interest and beginning infatuation soon after their first meeting shows a perception that not every man in a similar situation would have. Later, when he parts from her to pass through the Paths of the Dead, one brief sentence shows us that he does not take her feelings lightly: “Only those who knew him well and were near to him saw the pain that he bore.” Doesn’t that sound like the traditional British way? – Not flaunting emotions does not mean that they do not exist.

The next time the two meet is in the Houses of Healing; what Aragorn says about her shows how perceptive and sensitive he is, and that he lets himself be touched by the emotions of others without losing track of himself:
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Few other griefs amid the ill chances of this world have more bitterness and shame for a man’s heart than to behold the love of a lady so fair and brave that cannot be returned. Sorrow and pity have followed me ever since I left her desperate in Dunharrow and rode to the Paths of the Dead; and no fear upon that way was so present as the fear what might befall her. And yet, Éomer, I say to you that she loves you more truly than me; for you she loves and knows; but in me she loves only a shadow and a thought: a hope of glory and great deeds, and lands far from the fields of Rohan.
That shows a perceptive insight into Éowyn’s character.

Aragorn is able to acknowledge her beauty and worth without having ulterior motives. Éowyn’s final scene in the book is at her wedding to Faramir. He says: “No niggard are you, Éomer, to give thus to Gondor the fairest thing in your realm!” Then to Éowyn, “I have wished thee joy ever since first I saw thee. It heals my heart to see thee now in bliss.” These passages give a deep look into his character, as I see it.

Another interesting glimpse into an unexpected aspect of Aragorn is shown to us in one of my favourite chapters, ‘The Houses of Healing’. Here we see his sense of humour. First of all, the fact that he is not offended at being called ‘Strider’ by Pippin after being revealed as king, but even takes that name for his royal house, shows humour and humility.

Then, Aragorn manages to see the funny side of his conversation with Ioreth without hurting or belittling her. When her tongue rattles on and on, he says dryly, “One thing is also short, time for speech.” Then, “run as quick as your tongue…” To the herb-master he says. “I care not whether you say now asëa aranion or kingsfoil, so long as you have some.” Granted, these are not thigh-slapping jokes; they need attentive reading, but they crack me up every time!

His generous and considerate nature is also shown in another brief sentence - the King even has a smile and some words for the errand boy, Bergil, who fears that the kingsfoil he brings might not be enough or fresh enough – “It will serve. Stay and be comforted!”

Some pages later in the same chapter, Aragorn encourages Merry to smoke despite his feeling of loss after Théoden’s death. There is such a gentle kindness to his words, then he cracks me up again with this speech:
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Master Meriadoc, if you think that I have passed through the mountains and the realm of Gondor with fire and sword to bring herbs to a careless soldier who throws away his gear, you are mistaken. If your pack has not been found, then you must send for the herb-master of this House. And he will tell you that he did not know that the herb you desire had any virtues, but that it is called westmansweed by the vulgar, and galenas by the noble, and other names in other tongues more learned, and after adding a few half-forgotten rhymes that he does not understand, he will regretfully inform you that there is none in the House, and he will leave you to reflect on the history of tongues.
That is pure British understated humour at its very best, which is what we should expect of Tolkien as an author; I’m sure not all readers share a taste for it and appreciate it, but I do!

Are compassion, kindness, gentleness and humour less interesting in a personality than struggles and weaknesses??
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Old 11-09-2003, 12:51 PM   #24
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The Saucepan Man wrote:
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OK, to re-phrase the question, is Aragorn a believable character, lacking as he does any inner conflict? And, if he is not, is the ideal which he presents nevertheless appealing to us as readers? If so, why, if he is not a believable character?
I think that there are two questions to be distinguished here. First, is Aragorn realistic? I don't think so. The Lord of the Rings is not realistic; nor ought we to demand that it be.

The second, and more important, question, is whether Aragorn is a believable character within the context of The Lord of the Rings. As Tolkien said somewhere (perhaps it was in "On Fairy Stories"? I can't recall), "the green sun" is a perfectly believable phrase if given the right context. In other words, if you can create a world in which it makes sense to have a green sun, you are perfectly justified in using the phrase. Similarly, if one can create a world wherein it makes sense to have heroic characters without inner conflict, one is justified in using them. It is not realism that matters; it is believability (and realism is just believability within the context of the real world).

The Saucepan Man wrote:
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I do not feel that I "know" these characters at all, other than as heroic characters.
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Indulge me.
I do think that these characters have some depth; but that is just an opinion, and others may certainly disagree. I didn't mean to imply that I know the Silmarillion better than anyone else, or have access to some characterization to which others are blind.

But, since you asked, I'll talk about the ways in which I perceive Beren's character to be subtly drawn; then I'll comment more briefly on Hurin and Tuor.

Beren is the quintessential hero. At first this might sound like a detriment to his characterization, but remember that Tolkien believed strongly in the ideal of heroism and, if I may say so, in it's depth.

Right away we have some "associations" for Beren. He is of the House of Beor, of whose members it is said "if these [the folk of Hador] surpassed them in swiftness of mind and body, in daring and noble generosity, the Folk of Beor were more steadfast in endurance of hardship and sorrow, slow to tears or to laughter; their fortitude needed no hope to sustain it" ("Of Dwarves and Men" XII 308). The last bit is the most important; I'll return to it in a moment.

The House of Beor is also associated with Finrod Felagund and his house (as opposed to the House of Hador, associated with Fingolfin). And indeed, the friendship of Finrod plays a major role in the story. Finrod is always presented as the most reasonable and fair-minded of the kings of the Noldor.

Another association comes from the character of Gorlim. Observe the points of similarity between Beren and Gorlim: both desire escape from the war; both identify this escape with an object of love; both are bound by an oath (to Barahir for Gorlim and to Thingol for Beren) which is tested against this desire. Beren's oath passes the test; Gorlim's does not. But the character of Gorlim shows us that it is not inevitable that Beren prove loyal to his oath in the end; it gives us a glimpse at the other option which Beren must have considered and rejected. (One could do quite an essay on the theme of oaths and their fulfillment and betrayal in the tale of Beren and Luthien).

The most important aspect of Beren's characterization, though, is his shifting motivation. At the outset, he has no particular motivation beyond what is common to all of Barahir's band (though this in itself is somewhat strong - their homeland was overrun). But with the death of Barahir and his companions, things change. Beren vows to seek vengeance for his father's death. He remains in Dorthonion alone. But he is without hope:

"As fearless Beren was renowned,
when men most hardy upon ground
were reckoned folk would speak his name,
foretelling that his after-fame
would even golden Hador pass
or Barahir or Bregolas;
but sorrow now his heart had wrought
to fierce despair, no more he fought
in hope of life or joy or praise,
but seeking so to use his days
only that Morgoth deep should feel
the sting of his avenging steel,
ere death he found and end of pain:
his only fear was thraldom's chain."
(Lay of Leithian, III 343).

Now recall "Of Dwarves and Men": "their fortitude needed no hope to sustain it." Beren is like a Norse hero. He is certain that he will eventually be defeated, and yet he continues to fight. Interestingly, the above passage is one of the few instances of internal characterization in the Silmarillion material.

But when he is surrounded and on the point of being caught and killed, something changes. His despair wasn't absolute after all (though it must have been nearly so). For he flees Dorthonion and climbing into the mountains he sees Doriath and "There it was put into his heart that he would go down into the Hidden Kingdom, where no mortal foot had yet trodden" (Silm. 198). He was without hope, motivated only by the desire to do harm to Morgoth. Now he is motivated by a kind of unknown hope.

The unknown hope becomes known when he reaches Doriath: it is love for Luthien. It is as if the Norse ideal was answered, unlooked for, by something like the Christian ideal. When "the song of Luthien released the bonds of winter" (Silm. 199), it had a similar effect on Beren's despair.

But this love is turned back into Norse resolve without hope before the end. After his release from Tol-in-Gaurhoth, Beren sees little hope in his quest - but his fortitude needs no hope to sustain it. "Then being now alone and on the threshold of the final peril he made the Song of Parting, in praise of Luthien and the lights of heaven; for he believed that he must now say farewell to both love and light . . . And he sang aloud, caring not what ear should overhear him, for he was desperate and looked for no escape" (Silm. 216). This is a kind of ironic intensification of the Norse hero's situation. For now there is a goal for which to strive and a satisfactory conclusion can be envisioned; but Beren deems the achievement of that conclusion utterly hopeless. And again this hopelessness is answered by hope unsought when the quest is achieved.

Beren's psychological depth, then, consists in great part in his inner conflict between hopelessness and hope. Another way to think about the same thing is in terms of a desire to escape (a theme which is central to "Beren and Luthien" - observe the subtitle of the Geste: "Release from Bondage"). He desires escape from Dorthonion and later escape from his oath, but he denies these to himself. And he eventually achieves escape from both mortality (for he dies and returns to life) and immortality (for he nonetheless dies again in the end, and Luthien with him).

It would be fun to repeat this exercise in full for Hurin and Tuor (and others). But alas, I don't have the time (did I just hear cries of joy from some readers?) But I offer some notes.

Hurin: Hadorians are typically tall and fair-haired, Hurin is fair-haired but short (the opposite of his son, who is tall but dark-haired). This means that while we can expect many of the associations of the House of Hador to apply to him, others will not. Chief, perhaps, is his steadfastness, which is more typical of the House of Beor. There is a great deal of interesting contrast with Morwen (a striking character herself). When Lalaith died, Morwen "met her grief in silence and coldness of heart. But Hurin mourned openly" (Narn i Chin Hurin, UT 64). Hurin's steadfastness is a complicated thing: in a sense he defies Morgoth to the end, refusing to betray Turgon. But in another sense he fails, for he is made bitter and grim, and he brings ruin to Brethil and to Doriath. It is fascinating to compare the Hurin of the first part of the Narn with the Hurin of "The Wanderings of Hurin".

Tuor: He is closely associated with Ulmo. And Ulmo is associated with the fair and simple, the free and natural (as opposed to Aule the artificer) - and thus, for example, with the Teleri rather than the Noldor. So Tuor is fair and simple (simple, obviously, not meaning un-intelligent but rather un-contrived, un-ironic). He does not grow up in splendor, but in the rugged woodlands. He is the first human to reach the sea, and thus the first to know the sea-longing of the Elves. He is contrasted in an immediate sort of way with Maeglin, who has an unnatural infatuation with Idril and is a miner (Aule associations). He is contrasted in a larger sense with Turin (there are many parallels between these two). Turin is dark, Tuor is light. Turin fights against his unhappy doom, Tuor accepts his happy fate. Turin, with the best of intentions, unnaturally refuses to give in to his love for Finduilas, but accepts his unnatural love for Niniel; Tuor accepts his natural love for Idril.

In this way, I think that a careful reading of the Silmarillion material reveals a great deal of subtlety in characterization, though it is not characterization of the typical sort. A great deal relies on what I have called "associations". There is a natural urge to dismiss these, for they are not what we typically have in mind when we think about characterization. But within Tolkien's legendarium, these associations really do have force, and they really do contribute to the pictures drawn of it's great heroes.

littlemanpoet wrote:
Quote:
Card goes on to describe how LotR is a milieu story, and shows how Tolkien's characterization is appropriate to a milieu story.
I have this book! And I have, to be honest, always felt a little ill at ease with Card's categorization of LotR as a milieu story. I would call it a plot-driven story, though certainly the milieu is a major factor. But in any event, I think you are right in contrasting it with the character-driven story.

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Given the possibilities of a children's story, I don't see how anyone could argue that we don't get inside Bilbo's head. We certainly do!
Right you are. In The Hobbit we actually get quite a bit of internal characterization of Bilbo, and even, occasionally, internal characterization of other characters.

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I would like to break a lance for Aragorn's character. There is one part of the story that has endeared him to me greatly – his relationship to Éowyn.
I had always thought that it was Eowyn's character that gains most from this interaction; but I do see something of your point. There is definitely some implied depth of feeling here that is extremely well-hidden by Aragorn.

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Old 11-09-2003, 04:35 PM   #25
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One more note on Aragorn. I do believe Tolkien would have had to be careful his tale did not detract from the main story, as it well might have.
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Old 11-10-2003, 03:42 AM   #26
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My views about this issue have probably been expressed enough in the “Dumbing down the books” thread but I will add a little here.
Reading through this thread I found this comment

Quote:
To the reader who just quickly reads over it, not putting a lot of thought or effort into it, doesn't typically read much, or isn't old enough to understand fully, there may not seem to be much depth to the characters. But those of us who are older, or read a lot more, so can have a better grasp of it, I think there is great amount of depth to some characters.
to be perhaps a little arrogant in its assumption that if you have a problem with the characterisation in LOTR then you simply aren’t intelligent enough to understand it.

As a more general observation though I would note that most of the people who have been posting their defence of the level of characterisation of Tolkien’s characters have been able to summarise their “deep” characters with the use of a single paragraph. And on occasion that paragraph has included some padding.

For me Pullman got it almost bang on. He should possibly have added Denethor to the list of deeper characters.
However in regards to the others he is spot on.

Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are perhaps overused examples of paper-thin characters so let’s pick another example.

Faramir is occasionally portrayed as a complex character and evidence is sited of his attempts to gain his father’s good grace as a reason for this. In reality this is woefully thin. Faramir was a character that Tolkien idealised in many ways and as a result you have someone who is so “good” its painful.

Boromir too. In the film they attempt to give him some depth and portray the conflict within. After all from Boromir’s point of view he is a good character. He genuinely believes that using the Ring is the best course of action, he is not doing it because he is evil. But in the book he is portrayed as the “least noble” of the fellowship from the beginning. Reduced in many ways to the role of pantomime villain.

Comparing Tolkien’s characterisation with other famous novels is perhaps a way of spotlighting how lightweight Tolkien’s are.

Compare Boromir to Captain Ahab for example.
Take a look at Pip’s journey in Great Expectations.
Holden Caulfield in A Catcher in the Rye.
Pinkie in Brighton Rock.
The amazing characters in I, Claudius.

I think we can debate the “why’s” of Tolkien’s shallow characterisation. There may well have been reasons why he did it like he did. But it is hard to deny that in comparison to other “classic” works Tolkien just wasn’t interested in the characters.
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Old 11-10-2003, 11:06 AM   #27
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I found this comment to be perhaps a little arrogant in its assumption that if you have a problem with the characterisation in LOTR then you simply aren’t intelligent enough to understand it.
I didn't mean it in that way. People who do read through a book quickly, sometimes just skimming it over to get through it, may not catch everything. I've done this plenty of times myself. If I don't particularly care for a book, or even if I really like it, and just want to see the ending quicker so I know what happens, I will read through it really quickly, and miss a lot of things because I'm not taking it slowly, and thinking about what I'm reading. I missed so much last year when I read LotR the first time! Because I really wanted to know what happened, and how Frodo ended up, if the ring was destroyed, and what happened to everyone. But when I read it again this year, I made myself take it slowly so I could pay more attention to it, and I saw a lot of things I had missed the first time through. I'm sorry if what I said came across as arrogant. I didn't mean it in that way at all.
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Old 11-10-2003, 12:08 PM   #28
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The Saucepan Man wrote:
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Does this mean that "psychological depth" (ie inner conflic and struggle) is less appealing to us as readers and that we are looking for the ideals in our reading material? Is this perhaps a plus in Tolkien's approach, rather than a flaw? Is this where he succeeds over other writers in that, in his most obviously commendable characters, he is offering us an ideal? Do we react better to these ideal characters than to those who (albeit in a more grandiose fashion) might represent more closely our own inner struggles?
I would not say necessarily that “psychological depth” is less appealing to us as readers, though I do know that I tend to be drawn to books that are concerned with ideals and/or the struggle to fit that ideal, whatever it may be. So I do not find that psychological depth is unappealing. (Though I prefer Thomas Hardy & George Eliot to Dostoevsky.)

Tolkien’s works on the other hand, are uplifting and serves to give us a model of nobility of spirit to strive for whether it is Sam or Theoden or Aragorn, which other books do not. It is a more hopeful and inspirational work, though admittedly less realistic.

It doesn’t seem correct to speak on whether an approach is right or wrong, for a book should be judged on how effective it is, does the method employed work? In Tolkien’s case I think it worked very well. If it would have been written with more of the internal workings it would have turned out an entirely different book.
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Old 11-10-2003, 12:48 PM   #29
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I only had time to skim through this great looking thread, so a quick point first.

re
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BTW, I once put up a thread comparing these two authors, but had few takers. Still wondering if anyone out there has any views and opinions on Pullman in relation to Tolkien.......
I think Pullman calling Tolkien's character's having no physcological depth is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

His dark materials are refreshingly great, but I can see NO example of his characters having any MORE depth than the main characters in LOTR. And yes I HAVE read the books, really like them, and have feelings towards the characters. I can gauge this by crying at the end of the 3rd book as I do in LOTR. And it's quite a simillar ending to LOTR when you think about it isn't it? I won't spoil it, but for you out there who have read it, see if you can get what I mean. Think of the position of the main 2 characters in both books and how they finish up respective of each other..........

So Mr Pullman, those without sin cast the first stone etc!!!!

PS Faramir is one of my favourites for his characterisation. A master interrogator.
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Old 11-11-2003, 11:35 AM   #30
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And that's the thing - if you empathise with a character to the point of going through heir emotions, inc crying, surely it's psychology is in no position to be criticised?
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Old 11-11-2003, 08:19 PM   #31
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Different people cry for different emotional intensities. What could make you cry is probably vastly different from what would make me cry. For example, books by J.R.R. Tolkien, Mercedes Lackey, and Susan Cooper make me cry. To other people, books by Mercedes Lackey and Susan Cooper may not be emotional enough to cry over. It is a matter of personal opinion.

I personally believe that Tolkien's characters have great psychological depth. Pullman can believe what he wants to, after all this is a free country. I just think that he needs to take into consideration the type of story that Tolkien wanted, the type of characters, and the writing style that he used. All of those criteria influence the characters. Pullman's "criteria" are vastly different, and thus, his characters are vastly different. Unless you have the same "criteria," you can't really compare characters, or claim that they have no psychological depth.
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Old 11-13-2003, 01:12 PM   #32
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Let's not discredit Pullman for having an opinion.

I've read his stuff, and I don't have to agree with any of his ideas to know that this man knows the score when it comes to good literary characterization.

Saying that Pullman's secularism and adherence to modern standards somehow takes away from his ability to make a fair assessment of what's going on with Tolkien's characters doesn't jive with me.

What is this nebulous modernity that we are trying to define in relation to Pullman's views on Tolkien?

If Pullman is "modern," so are you. And you and you and you. And me. That doesn't stop us from enjoying Tolkien, right?

I think the matter lies largely within the confines of personal taste and personal expectation.

Was Tolkien good at creating psychologically believable characters? Personally, I'd say, not really.

But I didn't pick up the LotR expecting to find some fascinating Freudian parallel contained within Aragorn's relationship with his sword.

I leave that stuff to the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and so on, and so forth.

Tolkien fills that other niche for me, the part in my mind that longs to read about galloping steeds and shining rings and kingdoms far, far away.

I don't need psychological depth to enjoy this particular sort of story.

Pullman does. So what? Maybe he knows something we don't. He's seems to be a pretty capable dude, secular or not, "modern" or not. He's been kicking major literary butt, and deservedly so, and I think we ought to take heed of his words, without necessarily letting them tarnish our enjoyment of Tolkien.

I mean, it shouldn't matter if Aragorn will never be as psychologically deep as King Lear.

As long as you are still able to have fun while reading, thinking about, and discussing the story.
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Old 11-14-2003, 03:17 AM   #33
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I find it interesting that some of you feel like 'defending' Tolkien by arguing that his characters have as much depth as any. But by agreeing that Tolkien's strong point was not characterization, but creating a certain atmosphere, the milieu from littlemanpoet's quote - you don't undermine his quality of a writer. I agree with Lush that Tolkien's stories simply serve a different purpose than, say -Tolstoy's. At times I may feel like reading about the turmoils and ridiculousness of human emotions - it's then that I turn to another favourite writer of mine: Iris Murdoch; at other times I feel like reading about ideal characters and brave deeds and mythic ages, then I turn to Tolkien and the Norse myths.

But what happens is - after a long period of reading Tolkien I find it very difficult to turn to another type of book and viceversa, because I find the other shallow and unnatural. This - to me, is the ultimate proof that the fantasy genre lacks what you have been calling 'psychological depth'. But, as I said before, I do not consider this a flaw.
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Old 11-14-2003, 07:42 AM   #34
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Tolkien’s works on the other hand, are uplifting and serves to give us a model of nobility of spirit to strive for whether it is Sam or Theoden or Aragorn, which other books do not. It is a more hopeful and inspirational work, though admittedly less realistic.
It's only less realistic when one lives in a society where striving for nobility is not valued. We seem to think nowadays that striving for nobility is hypocritical or a waste of time. Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Theoden would have disagreed-- and so would Tolkien. (And so do I.)

Nowadays many of us view character development as, "from slime pit to acceptability". Tolkien, I think, views character development more from Acceptability to Nobility. As was mentioned in the Great War thread, we don't value character nearly as much as we value happiness; we strive for what we value. So heroic striving for nobility looks unrealistic to us, which is too bad. I think we'd be happier anyway if we were striving for genuine nobility. But we often dodge this struggle because we might fail and be called a hypocrite. Yes, everybody has a weakness or thirty. Many of Tolkien's characters, however, have already fought off twenty-five of their weaknesses.

Any software engineer knows that 80% of the development takes 20% of the time, and 20% of the development takes 80% of the time. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth spending all that time striving to get the last 20% of the development right. In our modern age, character development has come to mean moving up in the first 80% of improving our character. We don't understand the struggle to finish the final twenty percent. As long as we'renot in trouble, we figure we're doing okay; and that's our current societal value. We don't value sainthood any more. Too bad.

LOTR seems unrealistic to us because the characters are further along the road to nobility than we are; does that surprise us? We don't journey towards what we don't value, so why should we be surprised that we haven't arrived? I love LOTR precisely because it calls us higher, and shows us what (as a society) we have forgotten and abandoned. In his letters, Tolkien referred to unprincipled men as orcs. I wonder how he'd feel about modern society. I shudder to think.

Aragorn is 87 years old. We're not privy to his early development-- sixty-some-odd years of sleeping in ditches and swamps and strolling through Mordor. We get to watch his final struggles; we see him finally accomplishishing in two years what he prepared sixty-seven years for. He's already developed courage, perseverance, determination, purity, etc etc. His final polishing-- perhaps it's more like the final 5% of his preparation-- is in Leadership. In Bree, he's a loner. Down the Anduin, we watch him struggle to lead the company, and his development, one decision at a time.

Well, that was a wild ramble, and just in case my point was lost in the confusion, let me restate it: I think TOlkien does a superb job of developing characters who struggle through that final 20% of development of nobility and virtue.

[ November 14, 2003: Message edited by: mark12_30 ]
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Old 11-14-2003, 09:06 AM   #35
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It's only less realistic when one lives in a society where striving for nobility is not valued. We seem to think nowadays that striving for nobility is hypocritical or a waste of time. Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Theoden would have disagreed-- and so would Tolkien. (And so do I.)
Whilst I agree to an extent with your view of today's society when you say "nowadays" you give the impression that it was somehow better in the past.
This is not the case I fear. Mankind has always been flawed, its just that modern technology has given us the ability to be flawed on a much greater scale than before.
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Old 11-14-2003, 11:53 AM   #36
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Here, here Helen! I think I should have said such characters are a rare find rather than unrealistic in today's world where cleverness is valued above honor. I have had the pleasure of knowing some noble spirits whose struggles with evil are on a different scale. But I'm wandering off topic I believe.
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Old 11-14-2003, 11:57 AM   #37
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Of course mankind has always been flawed. Tolkien wrote endlessly about the fall and its repercussions. Those repercussions are everywhere.

But society has not always valued pleasure and happiness over character and virtue. There is a great contrast between the pursuit of truth and virtue, versus the pursuit of happiness. And there have been numerous seasons where society valued truth and virtue more.

(Edit) Thanks, Hilde!

One of the things I find oddly comforting about Tolkien is his ability to value both virtue and happiness. The hobbits are praised for their enjoyment of everyday blessings; and Strider crowned Aragorn can still enjoy a pipe and a mug of good beer. But the pipe and the beer don't make him less virtuous. What am I getting at? It's not a rabidly puritannical avoidance of pleasure.

I think we come full circle to innocence again; I'd like to develop that but haven't the time at the moment...

[ November 14, 2003: Message edited by: mark12_30 ]
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Old 11-14-2003, 01:13 PM   #38
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Quote:
I think TOlkien does a superb job of developing characters who struggle through that final 20% of development of nobility and virtue.
So true! But even within the context of the characters who are struggling with this final 20%, I see humanity within the nobility, so to speak. I have recently re-read the portions of the Two Towers wherein Frodo, Sam and Gollum are travelling towards Cirith Ungol (before the Stairs and Shelob), and the "rarified and noble" character of Frodo resonates so deeply at this point that I, the reader, like Frodo, fall into a keen, almost unendurable despair at the sight of the Morgul host marching West, until Sam awakens him with a tone that Frodo might hear if Sam were in the Shire saying, "Your breakfast is ready." My identification is so close with Frodo at this point that Sam's words snap something and make me exclaim aloud "Thank Eru for SAM!" I don't think that I would have this reaction if the friendship between Faramir and Frodo had not been so finely drawn in my perception; the effect of Frodo's watching the army marching towards Faramir plucks this invisible but firmly drawn thread that links the two in mind and purpose, and I feel a desperate need to warn Faramir and a despair that Faramir and the forces of Gondor will be able to deal with the vast host I am watching on its march from Minas Morgul. At this point, I have become Frodo in my own experience and fallen into the book. Frodo's weakness is my own, although I do not pretend I would ever be able to walk in his hairy footsteps, as he is far more developed in nobility than I ever will be! There is an intense identification with a character who is unquestionably noble but also human, so far as Hobbits are human!

I know this is not everyone's experience, and I think perhaps it depends on your own point of view which character or which author's characters, if any, have this effect on you. But this does not happen with every book I read, and I attribute a fine sensibility to Tolkien for being able to "turn me into Frodo" for a few moments so completely that I can feel the keenness of his need for Sam and his struggle with despair.

OK, I hope y'all haven't minded indulging me in yet another rhapsody on Frodo's character again...just can't help it sometimes, especially when I am re-reading some of my favorite passages. I'm sure there is very little argument that Frodo is well developed, being the main character and all, but even main characters in other works, for all their finely drawn psychological traits, do not engulf me so completely as Frodo does.

I hope this at least marginally fits the topic! [img]smilies/biggrin.gif[/img] Thanks for your indulgence!

Cheers,
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Old 11-14-2003, 01:38 PM   #39
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But society has not always valued pleasure and happiness over character and virtue. There is a great contrast between the pursuit of truth and virtue, versus the pursuit of happiness. And there have been numerous seasons where society valued truth and virtue more.
Still not sure I agree. Many societies may have valued truth and virtue, or at least they appeared to.
Take the Victorian age as an example. An era still beloved by Conservatives everywhere. So much so that a political party in the UK preached for a return to Victorian values.

And yet the Victorians were the masters of hypocricy. At ease with the extreme diferences in wealth, presiding over some of the worst slums the world has ever seen. Secure in their religious persecutions of 'lesser' races.
Preaching a strict sexual code and yet rampant with perversion.

In my opinion there has never been a golden age which valued truth and virtue, at least never without also engaging in hypocrisy.

Then against that take the foundation of the NHS. One of the greatest examples of doing something for the benefit of the needy.

Take something like "Band Aid". Perhaps the biggest event ever to publiscise the plight of the poor of Africa.

There are many other examples.

To my mind the values you seek our there if you look for them. The only difference is that people are more cynical now and more easily spot the hypocrits and those that do not practice what they preach.
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Old 11-14-2003, 03:31 PM   #40
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Eurytus, you have taken the words out of my mouth (sort of) and I demand reimbursement. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

I am studying Victorian literature this semester, and beneath the facade of virtue and nobility Victorian society seemed to espouse there lay a teeming pit of every kind of sexual, psychological and religious perversion.

Furthermore, the papal authority preached "virtue," while the popes took on mistresses and surrounded themselves with jewels and gold (Schism, anyone?)

Freakin' JFK was the paragon of the noble spirit of American character, and he treated women *** very badly *** <--- BW's edit

The Golden Age, if there ever was one, could not have possibly been contained within the plane that human beings have occupied since the dawn of history. I largely view it as something more metaphysical, and not bound to any particular time-frame.

What I'm trying to get at (perhaps not too eloquently) is that the values that Tolkien espouses do not clash with the modern age (though his style might, at least for some...but then again people all over the world still read Chaucer, so perhaps that point is largely moot).

And Philip Pullman's attitude toward the work has, once again, little to do with where Western society stands in terms of its morals and ethics today.

The fact that Pullman was able to articulate his viewpoint in the first place is more related to current attitudes and styles (imagine His Dark Materials being published in the afore-mentioned Victorian times!), but not the viewpoint itself.

Yesterday's sin is today's sin in a new package, and it should be arriving dressed up in some creative variation on our doorstep tomorrow (though there are signs in the Bible that say that things will get worse before they get better, I do not view the growth of sin in the world to be a linear progression that would allow us to accurately state that yesterday was better than today).

Basically, if it seems to us that society values pleasure over character today, it may be because society has become a little bit more honest with itself.

As in: We all suck. Huzzah.

Furthermore, Helen I find that the pursuit of truth and virtue should go hand-in-hand with the pursuit of happiness, because a person that is truly happy is also both truthful and virtuous (as in, the people that chase drugs and sex and violence for a nebuluous version of "happiness" are, in fact, quite miserable folk, as I know firsthand). And I think we can see that in Tolkien.

But as I said before, Tolkien really wasn't big in exploring the human psyche and its pursuits.

His strengths lay elsewhere.

[ November 14, 2003: Message edited by: The Barrow-Wight ]
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