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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 12:24 am 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
vison wrote:
It didn't make me "sad" that you posted it. I did the little *sigh* and :( thing because it makes me "sad" that I realize once again that you and I are simply never going to "agree" on this issue. Not really "sad", but that little emoticon is about as close as an emoticon is going to get.

Why? Because we are coming at the thing from different places. LOTR and his other works mean fundamentally different things to you than they do to me. Than they are EVER going to mean to me.


But why is that something to be "sad" about (or anything reasonably approximating "sad")? We have long known that we come at this from different places and are not likely to agree on this issue. What is wrong with that? Isn't there room in the world for different perspectives?

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The quotes you provided are interesting, but the sentiments and ideas expressed in them do not apply to me in any way. It isn't that I "disagree" with them, it isn't that I don't understand them, it isn't that I don't comprehend them, it is that: I don't think about Tolkien's writing that way.

"Experts" do think that way. Scholars think that way. I don't. I have basically never found that anything written by such scholars of Tolkien as the person you quoted above have increased my pleasure in reading LOTR. Nor does learning more about the man himself increase my enjoyment. Rather, the contrary.


That is certainly your prerogative. But that doesn't mean that the thoughts of someone like Verlyn Flieger -- or for that matter, of myself -- do not have value. Automatically rejecting ideas because "scholars think that way" is just as wrong as automatically accepting ideas for that reason. Please don't begrudge those of us who find value in looking at the meaning of Tolkien's work as applied to the world in which we live the right to do so.


Voronwë, I must admit that I don't at all read vison's post as prescribing what other people should think—just describing what she thinks. How is it "rejecting" an idea to just state that the issue in question isn't important to your own appreciation of Tolkien's LotR? This of all books is important to a vast range of people for a vast range of reasons, from "Aragorn's so kewl" on up.

If you and I value different things about the book, that's not a rejection of what you value about it; I'm not saying your opinion is invalid because it's different from mine. In fact my experience of the book has been greatly enriched over the years by hearing what other people see in it that I may have missed. There's still plenty to talk about.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


Last edited by Primula Baggins on Sun Sep 06, 2009 12:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 12:25 am 
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I formed my thoughts and opinions on LOTR over at least twenty years before I ever met a single other person who had even read the books. It isn't that I "came up" with my opinions in contradiction of yours, or of anyone else's. My views on the book are of long standing and the result of quite a bit of thought. For years, feeling as I did about the book, acknowledging the effect it had on me, I wondered why, and spent a lot of time considering it, turning it over and over. I arrived at certain conclusions and have not found any reason to change my conclusions.

Gandalf was the Wizard who knew about Hobbits. An obscure branch of Lore, as he said. Well, in the world of English literature, we who love LOTR are like Gandalf: it is not part of the mainstream lore, for one reason or another. It is important to us, but not so much to English literature in general. That's reality. I don't dismiss it as so many critics do. I think it IS literature, albeit of a specific and rare kind. That doesn't lessen its value or importance to me, or to you.

Everyone's thoughts on the matter have value, if they have actually read the book. But that is not at all the same as saying I share those thoughts. We all respond to a work of art differently. There is no party line, there is no required adherence to any point of view. If there is, then I'm in the wrong place.

edited to remove bad temper

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 12:34 am 
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I don't think vison rejects anything, v-man, or believes what you and other JRRT scholars do or think is valueless. That's not the vibe I get at all.

Perhaps an example from a different art will help. Does it help to "understand" a van Gogh if you know what pigments he used, or that his works were sometimes varnished with egg whites by his brother, or that he might have had this or that condition that made colors "pop" for him? The answer depends entirely on what "understanding" means to the individual.

If I just like the composition, or the brushstrokes, or the feeling it gives me, much of that information is irrelevant to my "understanding." That doesn't mean it's pointless, it just means that analysis does not have an intrinsic connection to emotional appeal. If my understanding is what happens when I look at the picture, and nothing else, that is a complete and whole understanding, even if no analysis takes place.

You can like something without having analyzed it, and analyze things whether you like them or not. Now, if you like something, you're probably more prone to analyze it (if you're of that bent) and once you do, you will find, no doubt, things that make you like it more. That's great. That's the academy. It can be a rewarding approach, and in many regards, it's my own. But it's not the be-all and end-all.

xpost with prim and vison!

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 12:59 am 
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 1:48 am 
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axordil wrote:
But it's not the be-all and end-all.


You mistake me, Ax. I'm not saying that anything is the be-all and end-all. Quite the contrary. The very point that I was making is that there is room for many different perspectives, and therefore there is no reason to be sad when someone else looks at things differently. In my world, saying that how I look at things makes someone sad is tantamount to rejecting that way of looking at things or considering it valueless. Obviously, you and others see it differently.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 1:58 am 
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I'm sad that not enough people think Aragorn is kewl. Because he is. Especially book Aragorn. :)

My dear Voronwë, you can be sad that you and someone you respect are having difficulty finding common ground without rejecting the other views. "Agreeing to disagree" sounds easy, but in most real-life situations I know of, it makes one or the other person (or both) sad. Not because of the disagreement but because of the strain it puts on their relationship.

Wouldn't it be comfortable if we all agreed? Boring and limiting, but comfortable. A little sadness is OK.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 2:09 am 
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I guess I just don't understand that, Wampus. I'm not sad at all that vison looks at things differently than I do; I think it is cool that she has her own perspective about things and I respect her for that.

In any event, I would much rather hear what people think about the content of what I wrote in response to Di's question, if anyone has any reaction to it at all. :)

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 2:10 am 
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WampusCat wrote:
I'm sad that not enough people think Aragorn is kewl. Because he is. Especially book Aragorn. :)

My dear Voronwë, you can be sad that you and someone you respect are having difficulty finding common ground without rejecting the other views. "Agreeing to disagree" sounds easy, but in most real-life situations I know of, it makes one or the other person (or both) sad. Not because of the disagreement but because of the strain it puts on their relationship.

Wouldn't it be comfortable if we all agreed? Boring and limiting, but comfortable. A little sadness is OK.


I was/am "sad" because when it comes to me talking to Voronwë it always goes sideways.

When Voronwë says I am saying his opinion is valueless, what I hear him saying is that mine is valueless - because I don't agree with him. I am not a Tolkien scholar, and will never be a Tolkien scholar. I am a reader. No more, and no less.

If I WAS a Tolkien scholar, I might easily come to different conclusions than Voronwë, anyway. And then where would I be?

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 6:48 am 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
Pearly Di wrote:
Why is LotR important? Seriously: why? :)


My favorite commentator on Tolkien work, Verlyn Flieger, poses a similar question, more broadly about Tolkien's work, in the Preface to her seminal work Splintered Light. She provided an answer in the first edition of the book in 1983, and then when she greatly revised the book for the second edition in 2002 she expanded on that answer.

Verlyn Flieger, in the Preface to the Second Edition wrote:
The Preface to the first edition of Splintered Light defended the importance of Tolkien's fantasy as a vehicle for philosophical and metaphysical speculation. It was correct in this, but too limited, I now believe, in suggesting that its subject matter was more relevant to such speculation than to the concerns of ordinary modern life. The intervening years have shown increasingly that Tolkien's work is highly relevant, that it speaks to and for the anxieties that marked his century (now past) and speaks even more profoundly to the new one he never lived to see. Moreover, it expresses those anxieties more tellingly precisely for being couched as fantasy fiction and has lasted longer than many more realistic works that have come and gone since The Lord of the Rings was first published. The first Preface asked "Why should anyone read Tolkien?" My answer at that time was, "For refreshment and entertainment." I know more about Tolkien and his work now than I did then, and I would amend my original answer to read: "For refreshment and entertainment and, even more important, for a deeper understanding of the ambiguities of good and evil and of ethical and moral dilemmas of a world constantly embroiled in wars with itself."


There is no way that I could provide a better answer than that, nor would I even want to.

As long as I have Splintered Light open to the Preface, let me add this quote, since we have been talking about "On Fairy-stories":

Quote:
Tolkien's great essay "On Fairy-stories" is the best and deepest consideration I have encountered of the nature, origin and value of myth and fantasy, as well as the most cogent commentary on his own work. here, among the many nuggets of pure gold, is the clearest statement of his working theory of fantasy. "For creative fantasy," he writes, is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it."

Just so. Things in the world are as they are. It is the function of fantasy and its greatest strength to make that hard recognition and enable the audience to make it as well. That audience may come for escape to another world (or think that they do), but they must return to their own with the recognition, hard and uncompromising, that things are so in this world. This is the ultimate importance of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion to Tolkien's own, to this or to any century.


Just so. There is the answer to your question, Di, in a nutshell.


But can't a story be important for its own sake? For illustrating human frailty and greatness? Must it be tied to our own fears and frustrations and concerns? You know I follow politics, Voronwë, and thus spend a lot of time alternating between frustration and anger; for me what Tolkien has to say about courage and despair is meaningful to us as human beings more than as inhabitants of the West in the 20th/21st century.

I see the parallels, intentional or not; they're easily drawn. But I don't think Tolkien had an answer to evil any more than we have found one all these years later; and dwelling on that one parallel between ourselves and Middle-earth, on "the ambiguities of good and evil and of ethical and moral dilemmas of a world constantly embroiled in wars with itself," makes me feel only despair.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 1:23 pm 
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Prim, I think you are saying exactly the same thing that Verlyn was saying, in a different way. That's why she says that "This is the ultimate importance of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion to Tolkien's own, to this or to any century." Because it is applicable to the human condition, not to a particular time and place.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:02 pm 
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Quote:
That's why she says that "This is the ultimate importance of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion to Tolkien's own, to this or to any century." Because it is applicable to the human condition, not to a particular time and place.


Or rather, it can be seen that way. It can also be seen in a variety of other ways, equally valid and equally idiosyncratic. But no text has essential qualities. That's not how writing works.

BTW, I've always had one beef with "On Faery Stories." The fundamental flaw in Tolkien's essay is that he feels obligated to prefer stories with happy endings, a preference simply not borne out in the actual literature of dealings with the larger class of beings one might reasonably call faeries. The reason is obvious: his Eucatastrophe is an essentially Christian one, and faeries are decidedly un-Christian, as a rule, not simply by creed but by worldview.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:47 pm 
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Any great art is "applicable to the human condition". That might be the test of "greatness".

axordil, you articulated some of my unwritten thoughts about Fairies and Faery - but I was very reluctant to bring Tolkien's religion into the discussion. As I have said before, one of the first reasons I loved LOTR was that is a moral tale but not a religious tale. Or, rather it need not be read as a religious tale. I saw no Christian symbolism in it, and still don't. That others do, I understand. But that's their view and not mine. For me to "see" it, I would have to fundamentally alter my approach to the book.

To the Christian church, Faery/Fairies represented the old religion. That became associated with evil and with Satan, and away we went.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 4:17 pm 
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No reason why that should be the elephant in the room. It is part of Tolkien's enduring legacy that, despite the fact that he considered LOTR to be a "fundamentally Catholic work" that it speaks just as clearly and (dare I say) truthfully to those who neither share is beliefs in general, nor see his work in that way.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 6:10 pm 
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I'm a Christian, yet I agree that one of the great strengths of LotR is that it isn't even a masked "allegory of Christianity." Yes, parallels are there, but that isn't why they are there, or at least it doesn't appear so. I think they're there because great stories often include selflessness, sacrifice, and loss. That these are also present in the story of Christ doesn't make every such story an allegory of Christianity.

As a result, people with a wide range of religious beliefs or none at all can respond to these elements in Tolkien as they could not if the story were explicitly or even surreptitiously "Christian" in purpose.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 6:43 pm 
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Prim wrote:
I'm a Christian, yet I agree that one of the great strengths of LotR is that it isn't even a masked "allegory of Christianity." Yes, parallels are there, but that isn't why they are there, or at least it doesn't appear so. I think they're there because great stories often include selflessness, sacrifice, and loss. That these are also present in the story of Christ doesn't make every such story an allegory of Christianity.


:agree:
As any worthwhile artist, Tolkien held deep, serious, interesting ideas about the world that inform his work. Certainly his were shaped by his religious beliefs, as well as his experience, and his love of words and stories. Christian, particularly Catholic, themes are in the story not because Tolkien had set out to preach or proselytize, but because they are part of the way he saw the world or wished for it to be.

Personally, as a non-Christian, it is the parts of the story that carry out universal themes that I love the most. Where his worldview and mine part company, I am less satisfied with the story. In particular, this manifests in the idea of moral perfection or divine intervention being necessary for successful fulfillment the quest. of For myself, I find Pratchett's humanistic philosophy much closer to mine than Tolkien's Catholic one.

Most of all, I like Tolkien because he tells such a rollicking good yarn.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 7:32 pm 
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I think Frelga makes a very good point. And although I find Tolkien's pretty overtly religious stuff (Athrabeth, Laws & Customs, parts of the Ainulindalë etc etc) interesting (p'raps because they're not too different in viewpoint from my Chestertonian Christianity)- they are nothing like a rollicking good yarn. One reason I have differed with Vor over parts of his book is my belief that including more than a minimum of this would effectively tie a boat-anchor to The Silmarillion.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 07, 2009 3:51 pm 
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Yes, particularly in regards to the missing Second Prophecy. And that at least in part goes back to the issue of Eucatastrophe. The Second Prophecy, in which Morgoth is finally completely defeated and Arda is Healed, was the Eucatastrophe of Tolkien's myth. But the thing that makes this aspect of Tolkien's work (and so much else of Tolkien's work) so intriguing is how is melds his Christian sensibility with his influence by other traditions. As Verlyn Flieger says (sorry vison), "Tolkien wrote that the legendarium ‘ends with a vision of the end of the world, its breaking and remaking, and the recovery of the Silmarilli and the “light before the sun.”’ . . . It would be strange if he had not envisioned such an end, for the mythologies on which he draws most heavily, Judeo-Christian and Norse, both included remaking and renewal in surprisingly similar terms.”

Another commentator, Elizabeth Whittingham (sorry again, vison), wrote “Tolkien did not want to remove the mythological aspects from his tales – he was writing a mythology – but he did want the truths he believed to be evident in his work ... Tolkien endeavored to make Middle-earth believable and true, reflecting his understanding of the primary world, which included the Christian faith that was central to his life.” I think that comes close to expressing my own view of Tolkien's Christianity informed his writings, without overwhelming (as, for instance, Lewis's Christianity overwhelmed his writings). Tolkien's understanding of the primary world was broad enough that the values that get filtered through his writings are so universal that they appeal to Christians and non-Christians alike. So much so that the redeeming hope of a final victory that Tolkien writes about in the Second Prophecy, and which was so strongly influenced by his Christian beliefs, can be so appealing to a non-Christian like myself.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 07, 2009 7:07 pm 
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I wonder if another distinction between Lewis as a Christian writer and Tolkien as a Christian writer is that Lewis almost always had instruction and example in mind (or so I would gather, having read much of his fiction). Whereas Tolkien wasn't being didactic; he was describing the world as he saw it. Because he didn't try to explicitly connect everything he saw to his religious faith, or to shape Middle-earth to promote or illustrate Christian beliefs, non-Christians are free to see the same "surface" as painted by Tolkien and provide their own underlying structure.

Lewis was famously converted by a long intellectual process, and greatly against his wishes, and he seems in his writings to want to "put a finger on the scale" throughout to ensure that readers are led in the right direction. The result can be oppressive even for a Christian to read. Tolkien's descriptive approach, in contrast, doesn't appear to make people feel targeted or talked down to.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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I think that pretty well describes the difference between them, and why (in my opinion, at least) Tolkien is the superior artist. The irony is that Tolkien had such a significant role in Lewis's conversion to Christianity, though he was unable to convince him to join the Roman Catholic church.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 07, 2009 9:19 pm 
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The influence of Christianity in LOTR comes across in subtle ways, but, to me, it's as blatant as the influence of Nordic mythology and the folklore of the British Isles. I can't not see it. But, even though I so easily spot the parallels and analogies, I've always been more than willing to take Tolkien's word for it when he said LOTR wasn't an allegory. As Prim said, the Christian influence is more of a coloration than an actual structure. A writer brings what they know into their writing. Tolkien wasn't telling a Christian story. He was simply a Christian telling a story. Elements of his religion found their way in - to me, the most profound influence is how tame his pantheon is when compared with all the other divine beings that get personally involved in the mortal world. The closest he ever gets to the good old maiden-ravishing tendencies of the old gods is Melian and Thingol...and in that case it's a female angel and a male elf and the whole thing is entirely consensual and the elf isn't even mortal to start with. Not very similar at all really, except for the bit where a divine being falls in love with a not-divine being.

Lewis, OTOH... :help: He just takes a big ol' Christian stick and beats you bloody with it. It gets a bit tedious.

ETA: x-posted with Voronwë.

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