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PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 9:35 pm 
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Having recently been examining the myth of Prometheus, I noticed how contradictory certain parts of the tale were, depending on which source was referred to. For example, the Prometheus is famous for bringing fire to mankind, exposing himself to the wrath of Zeus. Yet there are conflicting accounts of how this act occurred. It is agreed he used a fennel stalk, but did he take a spark from Hephaestus's forge, or from the “sun wheel”? Ovid credits Prometheus with creating mankind from clay, but nowhere is this to be found in the earliest records, those of Hesiod. Is Prometheus immortal? Yes, if the eagle that pecks out his liver each day is to go by, because his agony is perpetuated by the fact his liver regrows each night; he is immortal. But no, if the immortal centaur Chiron, grievously and eternally wounded, can exchange his immortality with the mortal Prometheus, and so die and cease suffering.
There is an answer, although no solution, to these discrepancies and contradictions; the tale of Prometheus is syncretic, being the melding of a multitude of folk tales, interdependent but distinct. To strive for orthodoxy is a mistaken endeavour.
Which brings me to the purpose of my ponderings. Although there was only one author, I maintain that Tolkien's Middle Earth mythology has equivalent syncretism, and ultimately, it is as impossible to create an orthodoxy of Tolkien's work as it is to create an orthodox Prometheus. There is a plethora of Tolkien critique and explanation that, I feel, strives for the impossible. Of course it is useful to follow the creative process, and I voraciously consumed HoME as each volume became available, but I concluded that there was, and is, no fundamental “correct” interpretation. One of the criticisms of Christopher Tolkien's Silmarillion is his editorialism, but his was the impossible task of entwining threads that cannot, in essence, be entwined. Disparate by origin, and disparate by chronology, this is a narrative in conflict, just as Prometheus's narrative is in conflict.
I know that it is incorrect, in that it ignores the immortality of the Elves, and their first hand knowledge of events, but I am most comfortable approaching Illuvatar and the creation, and much of the Silmarillion, as myth and legend, rather than history. By doing so, it allows syncretic aberrations. By trying to formulate and compartmentalise, I wholeheartedly believe we lose the magic.
Are there others who feel, like me, that “blissful ignorance” enhances myth, and intrusive analysis can destroy the illusion?

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 9:58 pm 
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Yes, there are, and I am one.

Too much analysis rubs the bloom off the rose.

But I suppose there is this issue: how much analysis is "too much"? :)

I take the LOTR as "history" in that there are living persons who saw many of the events long prior to Bilbo finding the ring: Galadriel for one. But I don't have anything like the same faith in The Silmarillion. Maybe if I could sit and talk to Galadriel and Celeborn I might be able to.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 1:44 am 
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I may have something to say about this (other than "read Arda Reconstructed) at some point.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 5:13 am 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
I may have something to say about this (other than "read Arda Reconstructed) at some point.


I have read it! Twice!!! :D

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 2:10 pm 
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I'm impressed!


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 26, 2010 12:31 pm 
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Syncretism is the natural state of any active mythos, even a personal one.

I've always been one of those intrigued, rather than put off, by seeing the seams in the garment, but I'm a writer and a long-time (if now retired) professional student of literature. I have to know how things come to be--it's in my job descriptions.

I do miss raw enjoyment, though. :help:

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 26, 2010 6:08 pm 
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Ghan, I'm still gathering my thoughts on this topic -- and hoping to gather up enough time to put them together -- so I ask for your patience. I do intend to respond substantively, as I think you have raised a very important subject.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 26, 2010 8:27 pm 
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Since my metaphor was deleted as being off topic, I will only say I don't like it when contradictions are present in a group of literary work.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 27, 2010 7:30 pm 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
Ghan, I'm still gathering my thoughts on this topic -- and hoping to gather up enough time to put them together -- so I ask for your patience. I do intend to respond substantively, as I think you have raised a very important subject.
Thank you for giving it such substantive consideration, Voronwë. I look forward to the presentation of your thoughts. :)

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 5:53 pm 
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I know I promised to provide a substantive response to this thread, but I haven't really had an opportunity to sit down a write a cohesive response. Rather than continuing to wait, perhaps indefinitely, I thought I would at least throw some random thoughts out there.

I agree with Ghan's basic hypothesis that even though Tolkien's work was written by only one author, it is functionally equivalent to a traditional body of mythology with fundamental contradictions built in. But far from finding that to be a weakness, I think that is one of the things that makes Tolkien's work so compelling. It is truly remarkable (and perhaps without precedence) that one person could create such a body of work.

Where I differ, perhaps, from the statements made by Ghan and vison, is in the belief that too much analysis destroys the illusion. Its just that it needs to be the right kind of analysis. After all, the plethora of analysis of traditional myths has not rendered them irrelevant; on the contrary, works by such mythologists as Joseph Campbell have provided a whole new framework that have given old myths a whole new relevance in the modern world. Where I agree with Ghan (and perhaps it will turn out that we really are in overall accord) is in the belief that it is limiting to try to find some kind of overall consistency in the legendarium. The work is bigger than that, and deserves to be looked at as a whole. Fortunately, some Tolkien scholars have recognized this. It is worthwhile, I think, for me to quote from a review that I wrote recently for the journal Mythprint of the great Verlyn Flieger's wonderful book, Interrupted Music: The Making of Tolkien's Mythology.

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Interrupted Music is perhaps the first book-length attempt to look at Tolkien’s legendarium as a whole, as written (incompletely) by Tolkien himself, and as presented (to a great extent) posthumously through the herculean efforts of Christopher Tolkien, particularly in the twelve volumes of HoMe. ... ¶ ”). Flieger certainly does not attempt in Interrupted Music to say everything there is to say about Tolkien’s mythology or the material in HoMe; far from it. But perhaps her greatest contribution with Interrupted Music is that it has helped broaden the scope of Tolkien scholarship by encouraging looking at the legendarium as a whole, rather than focusing on its individual pieces. For instance, it is clear that Elizabeth Whittingham was inspired by Interrupted Music in writing her book The Evolution of Tolkien’s Mythology: A Study of the History of Middle-earth, which looks at a similar subject matter, but from a different angle.# I hope that others continue to follow this lead.

# I also certainly took inspiration from Interrupted Music in writing my own book, Arda Reconstructed.


I love the metaphor that Flieger takes from Tolkien's own work in describing the nature of the creation of Tolkien's mythology. Again, quoting my review:

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Flieger uses the creation story of the Ainulindalë, in which the music of the Ainur is interrupted several times and never ultimately completed, as a metaphor for Tolkien’s creation of his “mythology”. She notes in her introduction that “The result has been that, over the course of time, the entire structure came to resemble real world mythologies in the cumulative process and temporal span of its composition, as well as in the scope of its subject matter.” (xiv.) And she concludes that “The fact that Tolkien never completed his mythology is its flaw and its virtue, its greatest weakness that is also its greatest strength. The general outline (especially if we discount the never concluded time-travel stories) is secure, but the elements, as with most real-world mythologies are within their own parameters, dynamic and changeable.” (143.) In between this introduction and conclusion she probes the motives, methods and narrative strategies referred to above to paint a compelling portrait of how one remarkable and complex man created a body of work that (without conscious intention) so closely mimicked real-world mythologies.


I would argue that the kind of analysis that Flieger does is liberating, not limiting. By looking at the legendarium as uncompleted whole (contradiction fully intended), we are able to learn more about what Tolkien's work means to each of us individually, rather than limiting ourselves to seeking some mythical universal truth. I find that very satisfying.

Of course, such an analysis would be impossible without the incredible work of Christopher Tolkien. As Ghan has pointed out, many have criticized the published Silmarillion for his editorialism. Indeed, if you go to the Wikipedia page on Christopher Tolkien, you will see that it cites my book as an example of this. However, such criticisms would be impossible had not Christopher also provided us with such a broad presentation of the raw materials from which he created the published Silmarillion. On the other hand, I would argue that it would have been virtually impossible for him to have presented the contents of HoMe without first having a published a unified version of The Silmarillion (flawed though it may be). As it stands, he has given us the best of both worlds. Or at least as much of the best of the both worlds as he could. And for that I salute him.

My friend Jason Fisher wrote a very interesting piece that was published in the retrospective book, The Silmarillion: Thirty Years On. His paper was entitled "From Mythopoeia to Mythography: Tolkien, Lönnrot, and Jerome" and his basic thesis is that Christopher's work in compiling The Silmarillion is functionally equivalent to the work done by by Elias Lönnrot in compiling the the Kalevala and that Jerome did in compiling the Latin Vulgate Bible. This, I think really demonstrates how truly Tolkien's overall work mimics that of a traditional mythology, even though his work was written by only one individual, not many.

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 8:51 pm 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful says:

"Where I differ, perhaps, from the statements made by Ghan and vison, is in the belief that too much analysis destroys the illusion. Its just that it needs to be the right kind of analysis. After all, the plethora of analysis of traditional myths has not rendered them irrelevant; on the contrary, works by such mythologists as Joseph Campbell have provided a whole new framework that have given old myths a whole new relevance in the modern world. "

I tend to disagree still. Tolkien's story is a novel, and IMHO it must stand or fall as a novel. His "conceit", using an old meaning of the word, was to pretend it was Myth, and moreover, he provided the Myths. He succeeded marvellously well within that conceit. IMHO, it lessens the importance of his work to regard it as "real myth". As a construction, it is nearly divine. As an imitation of "real" myth, it fails. IMHO, of course.

The other "of course" is that Tolkien did make use of "real myths", his book is full of allusions to them. This does not harm the work, IMHO, but adds to the enjoyment. Since he regarded it, himself, as a fundamentally Christian (Catholic) work, it is obvious as well that he drew on Christian mythology as much as pagan mythology.
:)

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 10:29 pm 
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vison wrote:
I tend to disagree still.


I know. :)

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 3:52 am 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
vison wrote:
I tend to disagree still.


I know. :)


:D

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 8:11 pm 
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Quote:
Tolkien's story is a novel, and IMHO it must stand or fall as a novel.


Yes and no. Were LOTR not successful as a novel, the rest of JRRT's work would be irrelevant (and invisible). I don't think that's up for debate. The fact that it is successful, though, means we have access to the process and context behind it: the mythos. The mythos only matters because LOTR matters, but since LOTR matters, it gives significance to the mythos.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 9:06 pm 
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Voronwë, please excuse the brevity of my response, as I don't have time to give your statements the detail they deserve at the moment. What I would like to state is that I am somewhat in agreement with you. It is not simply the analysis of the underlying mythos that I find "futile" (for wont of a better term), but the desire, even need, to create orthodoxy. I would not go so far as vison, and relegate the mythos totally to the background. It is true that, where Lord of the Rings is concerned, the "here and now" of the novel takes absolute precedence over the framework on which it is built, but I would suggest that, to Tolkien, it was the framework that predominated. Although not in LotR... :)

My complaint is not over the importance of the myth, as the myth is fundamental, but in regarding it as myth rather than myths. Middle Earth, its creation and Gods are syncretic, and are contradictory at times. This imbues them (as I think has been professed) with a "realism" that is enriching; that elevates them above the mundane fantasies of other, lesser authors. Perhaps it is perverse, but it is the very inaccuracy of Tolkien's mythos that, I feel, adds to its beauty, and which over-analysis and the striving for orthodoxy can diminish.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 9:19 pm 
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Yes, we do agree.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 3:54 am 
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Um.


Yes.

Sort of. :)

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 4:21 am 
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I believe that Tolkien felt this himself, if (at times) with regret.

"Leaf by Niggle" was something that I see as an attempt by Tolkien to express this idea of incompleteness and contradiction in any such attempt at an all-encompassing vision.

It is my own belief that if everything were fitted together perfectly in Tolkien's Legendarium, it would seem unreal (in a psychological/literary sense, not in the trivial sense that it is obviously a fantasy).

I am reminded of the example of Akira Kurasawa's "Rashomon", and how the reality of that film's events is heightened by the contradictions in the various characters' points or view.

The real or apparent contradictions in such artistic visions as those of Tolkien or Kurosawa reflect human (or Elvish/Dwarvish or Samurai/Thief/Commoner) modes of reflecting and knowing and perceiving the world. In the case of Tolkien's work, there appears to be two causes of this. In the case Rashomon, it was an intentional plot device.

In Tolkien's world, the two causes are accident and intention, working in tandem. In the Legendarium itself, multiple sources and points of view are postulated explicitly; this was intentional, and one might expect some contradiction, both real and apparent. The accidental aspect arises in view of the fact that Tolkien (at the various stages of his life) was not really the same man when he wrote the different pieces, and so may have disagreed with his former or future self.

Some of the interest in such works comes from the attempt to reconcile the contradictions, in that a deeper synthesis may be discovered. In some cases, these seeming contradictions were resolved by Tolkien in this way (as in the case of Glorfindel) and sometimes they were left with multiple traditions co-existing (as in the case of Galadriel and Celeborn).

BrianIs :) AtYou

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 8:56 am 
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Tolkien was deeply Christian, and a Catholic at that. The more fundamentalist approach to Scripture among Protestants is to try to figure out how to reconcile the different gospels into a seamless whole. But the common approach in the mainstream is to see the differing gospels as different human views of the story, without trying to make them fit together. All have value when seeking meaning, but a man of Tolkien's intellect would have been well aware of the differences.

I suspect this might have made Tolkien less bothered by his own inconsistencies than he might have been otherwise.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 2:01 pm 
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That's an interesting suggestion, Wampus, that I had not really considered before. Thanks.

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