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Old 02-07-2010, 10:46 AM   #1
Faramir Jones
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Palantir-Green "Behold your Music!", Kristine Larsen

Taking a lead from Bęthberry, I'm starting a thread on Kristine Larsen's '"Behold your Music!": The Theme of Ilúvatar, the Song of Aslan, and the Real Music of the Spheres'. It's the first paper of the book and one of my favourites; because I love C.S. Lewis's Song of Aslan creating Narnia in the The Chronicles of Narnia, and saw comparisons between it and the Music of the Ainur. Also, I was interested in the idea of both being the result of the influence of the ancient Greek philosophical idea of the 'music of the spheres'.

In this piece, Ms. Larsen, a physicist and astronomer, not only compares the two in the light of the 'music of the spheres', which she correctly points out is not the only example of the connection between the universe and music. (Before that, there were ancient creation myths where the earth or universe came into existence due to sacred words or songs of power.) She then looks at Tolkien's and Lewis's mythologies in the scientific context of the theories of how the Universe was created (including the Big Bang theory) and how it might end, and comes up with some very surprising conclusions.

She says that

In the cosmological worlds of Tolkien and Lewis we also see the twin threads of theology and science intertwined. (p. 24)

Like Aslan's Song and the Music of the Ainur,

our universe owes much of its early history to the force of acoustic waves, also containing three movements or themes. (Ibid.)

As Narnia and Middle-earth were

ultimately marred by the dark hand of evil, so too is the fate of our universe bound up in the unseen force of dark energy.(pp. 24-25)

How she gets to these conclusions I'll let present and future readers of Music in Middle-earth find out for themselves. But I can assure you all that it's well worth the effort!

Last edited by Faramir Jones; 02-07-2010 at 10:48 AM. Reason: A space left out
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Old 02-07-2010, 02:34 PM   #2
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All right, at the end of a lovely weekend it came the time for me at last to crown it by opening this book. As Kristine Larsen's essay is the first one, and I had no preference as to jump to any other at the moment, it was naturally the one that I have read. And I must only second the things FJ says about it.

Aside from the generally appealing topic concerning Ainulindalë and then Narnia (which is, to note, generally far more distant and less familiar to me than Tolkien), the author introduces some interesting insights to the field of our "real world" astronomy where they could be related or compared to these writers' mythologies. Myself, sharing the "amateur astronomer" interest with the Prof , found those really, let's say, heartwarming to read, nourishing exactly this kind of scientific curiosity I possess. The essay connects the perfectly scientific approach with Tolkien/Lewis' works and it can be well seen that Kristine Larsen is an astronomy scholar herself; however, in the writing she is certainly not treading any obscure grounds unintelligible to a common mortal. I have been sort of thinking whether people like me might not be exactly the "best type of audience" for her essay, i.e. people with "hobby" interest in astrophysics as well as ancient mythologies and Tolkien/Lewis. But I think even any average Tolkien/Lewis "scholar" will find this essay very interesting - even if he or she didn't have any interest in the scientific aspects of our universe.

Last thing to mention, at least what caught my interest, are a few pieces that Kristine Larsen uses as reference and which I'd like to get my hands on (that of B.L.Eden, especially). In either case, given my current studies in the course labeled "Myths and Music", I think this book came just at the right time for me, both as a motivation, companion and even as a possible source of even deeper reflection on the subject I guess I just have to reserve a good space in my weekly schedule fo reading further, if it stays so interesting...
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Old 02-07-2010, 03:43 PM   #3
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I enjoyed this chapter very much as well, even though my knowledge of physics and astronomy is very rudimentary at best. Larsen brings a unique slant to the topic of the Great Music, with connections to science that are both fascinating and insightful. I think this chapter is an excellent one to start off the various points-of-view on Tolkien's creation mythology, though I need to reread it to remember details.
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Old 04-02-2010, 08:22 AM   #4
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As I am quite fond of physics and astronomy I decided to read this chapter first, not because it was first in the book, but because I found it most interesting after taking a quick look at the table of contents.

I like the comparisons to our own universe, the idea of the primordial music still existing.

However, one crucial point escapes Mrs. Larsen - which given the fact that she is a physicist surprises me - namely string theory. Why? Because the idea of string theory fits in perfectly with the concept of the world being created by music, by resonating strings in the 11th dimension.

To best understand this concept, I strongly recommend watching these four videos on YouTube by leading string theorist and futurist Michio Kaku:

1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnQLsERqTIg
2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMG7LA4Rsq8
3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOzP6XhtAXo
4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Du0LqsBe_iw

Especially part three explains it well: "we believe the mind of God is music resonating through ten dimensional hyperspace".
That really sounds a lot like the primordial music of Eru. You can also establish the connection to the Ainur and Melkor, other strings produced negative objects in our universe.

And what is also nice is the possible link to the theme to come creating Arda Unmarred. As Mr. Kaku explains in the fourth part, string theory may not help us out a lot right now, but it could save the human race and even the entire universe from extinction at a certain point. As the universe cools down - as also explained by Mrs. Larsen - we will need to find a way to create a new universe in which to live in, to decrease entropy significantly, and for that we could very well need string theory, we would need to "play" our own strings to save ourselves.
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Old 05-13-2010, 08:59 AM   #5
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Since this is the first essay in the book, I started by reading it, even though the subject is rather remote for me.
I'm not qualified to any judgement, nor good at writing at all, so please bear with me if I'll just relate my very personal impression & feelings.

The essay was certainly very interesting to read and I learned a lot!
But what shall I say, the longer I read on about the origin and the ultimate fate of our earth and of the universe, the more I felt I kind of chill. Quite the opposite of what Legate felt:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Legate of Amon Lanc View Post
Myself, sharing the "amateur astronomer" interest with the Prof , found those really, let's say, heartwarming to read,
I find this all rather frightening and was suddenly reminded of Tolkien's Mythopoeia:

Quote:
a star's a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.

At bidding of a Will, to which we bend
(and must), but only dimly apprehend,
great processes march on, as Time unrolls
from dark beginnings to uncertain goals;
I know this is reality, but I'd rather not think about it too much, but prefer to look at it this way:
Quote:
He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since persued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
unless the mother's womb whence all have birth
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Old 01-13-2011, 10:28 AM   #6
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In addition to being a fantasy nerd (mostly Tolkien, having used Narnia as a gateway drug at the tender age of 8-10), I'm also something of a science-fiction nerd. While, admittedly, I tend to hie closer to the fiction aspect than the science aspect, astronomy is one of those sciences that I am more generally interested in, so I stand with a number of those in this thread who enjoyed the connections being made. The connections made between the medieval and Greek conceptions of the music of the spheres and the music of the Ainur was not one I'd made before, though the connection seems, in hindsight, quite obvious.

With regards to the Narnia angle of the essay, I find myself wondering if Aslan's creation is really as "scientific" as Eru's. Of course, Larsen uses "scientific" in an older sense, indeed, a more appropriate sense etymologically, if one thinks of the Latin root word "to know." Nonetheless, despite the fact that Tolkien definitely plays with metaphor, I'm somewhat inclined to think that Narnia is more metaphorically-laden than Middle-earth, which is therefore somewhat more "scientific." Of course, with a knowledge of the real world (or at least of what medieval and/or modern science had concluded about it as of Lewis' day), and with the comparative guide given in Middle-earth by an author with close intellectual connections, it is easy to see how the metaphor applies.

All the same, Aslan literally sings Narnia into existence (as the eyewitnesses from our world--or should I say "earwitnesses"--can testify), whereas the music of the spheres that Larsen plays out as the cosmic acoustics are only musical by analogy, and the Ainulindalë takes place before Time, outside of Space, and is likewise only music by analogy (or because that is how the Ainur explained it to the Eldar). Different analogies, of course, but both analogies.
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Old 01-19-2011, 08:54 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Formendacil View Post
With regards to the Narnia angle of the essay, I find myself wondering if Aslan's creation is really as "scientific" as Eru's. Of course, Larsen uses "scientific" in an older sense, indeed, a more appropriate sense etymologically, if one thinks of the Latin root word "to know." Nonetheless, despite the fact that Tolkien definitely plays with metaphor, I'm somewhat inclined to think that Narnia is more metaphorically-laden than Middle-earth, which is therefore somewhat more "scientific." Of course, with a knowledge of the real world (or at least of what medieval and/or modern science had concluded about it as of Lewis' day), and with the comparative guide given in Middle-earth by an author with close intellectual connections, it is easy to see how the metaphor applies.
Interesting point. Also remember that Lewis was writing for children and so there was a limit to the level of analogy and metaphor that he could expect them them to grasp. So whereas I believe that Tolkien was describing the music as he actually imagined it to have been, Lewis was "constructing" more to make the metaphor simpler and more graspable.

This is not just true of the creation but of Narnia as a whole, where many situations are clearly set up especially so that certain points can be made or lessons taught, whereas in middle-Earth the message comes more naturally.

If you look at Lewis' other works, and most especially the Space Trilogy, although the concept of creation is not covered, we do see that Lewis' game with metaphors is at least as sophisticated and natural if not more so than Tolkien's. Perelandra doesn't cover creation as such but it covers temptation paralleling the biblical Garden of Eden and hence the part of the Bible that immediately follows Creation. Also in Out of the Silent Planet, we don't get to see any creation per se but we hear Malacandra speak of the bigger plan and the ultimate end of the world, and we see depictions of the different planets and their different harmonies which ties in very much with the topcs discussed here.
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Old 02-18-2024, 07:30 AM   #8
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Wow, Kristine! This comparison between the Song of Aslan and the Music of the Ainur is mind-blowing! Can't wait to dive into your insights. Thanks for sharing! I even set it as my phone ringtone.
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