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PostPosted: Mon Oct 14, 2013 6:51 pm 
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A parallel criticism is the difference between the Nazguls' apparent ineffective in the early chapters versus their comparative strength in the later chapters, particularly that of the Witchking himself. That can partly be explained by the fact that they were bolstered by Sauron himself, but I think it is mostly a product of exactly the writing dynamic that Alatar references.

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 16, 2013 11:14 am 
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I expect that, were Tolkien writing today, a modern editor would tell him to go back and re-write Book I for the reasons Alatar mentions. The story meanders while he tries to decide what it is about.

Of course, modern word processing would make that much easier.


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Alatar wrote:
My own criticisms revolve around logical inconsistencies, which are an obvious result of Tolkien's writing style. He pretty much started at the beginning without much idea of where he was going and was half surprised himself many times at where he ended up. While that makes for a brilliant, unpredictable novel, it also leaves us with some gaping plot holes. One of the most egregious ones for me (and I apologise to those who you who already heard me moaning about this one) is the almost omnipotence of Sauron by the time the company reached the Gates of Moria.

We have Sauron manipulating the weather on the gap of Caradhras from Mordor, with pinpoint accuracy, followed by a direct attack from magic wargs who disappeared once killed. That sort of power should have been completely unopposable. And yes, I've heard the arguments that after Moria, he lost sight of the ringbearer so his attack became less focused. But seriously, that's just people making allowances for wildly random writing. Where were all these magic Wargs at the Pelennor where they might have been useful? Did he only have the one batch, conveniently located at the gates of Moria? Or where there loads of them, but he decided not to bother once the first batch failed? Sauron had a palantír and he knew the three ways past the mountain. He knew they weren't taking the gap of Rohan cause Saruman would nab them there, and he knew he'd blocked the pass. So, the logical assumption for an all powerful evil being who's been around since pretty much the dawn of time is to.. just ignore the Mines of Moria and say "Well, Henry will probably get them"? Not even train his palantír on the East Gate for a few weeks? Or, I dunno, maybe stick a band of orcs there just in case? We know the orcs were chasing them at Amon Hen. They knew the company was on the river. Surely either Saruman or Sauron was capable of generating a flood? Elrond was only half Elven and he could manage that much.

Anyway, you could continue in this vein all the way through the books. Where Tolkien succeeds is that most of the time you don't want to, cause its just good fun. That doesn't mean the flaws aren't there.


Never in all my readings did I interpret any of that as omnipotence. There are baddies that are influenced, in various ways, by the will of Sauron (who is, like Morgoth, deeply connected to Middle Earth), but I don't for a minute believe Sauron was directly commanding those beasts, and those events, such as on Caradhras.

Also, there is a difference between omniscience and omnipotence, which is highly relevant to the real world.

One can be "all-seeing," as various intelligence apparatuses try to be, while not at all being "all-knowing." That's mainly because the "all-seer", in this case, Sauron, misinterprets the large amount of information he gathers (much like intelligence agencies do) brings his own ideological interpretation to events (eg never crosses his mind that the hobbit 'spies' in Mordor may have been trying to destroy the ring, or that Aragorn's "challenge" was a diversion, rather than evidence that he had claimed the Ring for himself) and is ultimately rendered over-confident by his belief in his own omnipotence (he so arrogantly believes in his final victory, that he makes big mistakes which seem very little to him, from atop his throne, but when he is legitimately threatened by Aragorn, he makes foolish mistakes in the opposite direction - attacking too early).

These elements of Sauron's behavior are, IMO, some of the most realistic depictions of a powerful, authoritarian individual that I have ever read in modern fiction. And that's coming from an expert on authoritarian regimes (it's my day job)!

The Slate piece below addresses some of these very issues, though I find the US to be a far more benevolent power than Mordor [If I were to place the US in Tolkien's world, it would likely be Gondor under the Stewards, but before they despaired]:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2013/07/tolkien_v_orwell_who_understood_modern_surveillance_best.html


Last edited by Passdagas the Brown on Wed Oct 16, 2013 5:02 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
A parallel criticism is the difference between the Nazguls' apparent ineffective in the early chapters versus their comparative strength in the later chapters, particularly that of the Witchking himself. That can partly be explained by the fact that they were bolstered by Sauron himself, but I think it is mostly a product of exactly the writing dynamic that Alatar references.


This is another element that I find highly realistic. Spies and agents deep in enemy territory, and cut off from supply lines of information and personnel support, are far less effective than those same agents closer to home. Especially if those agents are among people who are very resilient to their methods (eg. hobbits are not so susceptible to the kind of 'wraithing' that men are).

I find this difference in their strength to be very effective, and to simultaneously make very strong thematic arguments about the ultimate weakness of any power bent on hegemony.

Whether or not Tolkien would have written it that way, were he to have a stronger narrative plan, is really beside the point. IMO, this not only not a flaw in the story. It's a great strength.

What a lesser story LOTR would be if Tolkien cleaned up all such alleged logical inconsistencies. They make the story richer, and IMO, far more applicable to reality.

I'm with Emerson. To paraphrase, he thought 'consistency' was a hobgoblin!


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 16, 2013 5:12 pm 
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The Slate piece also got me thinking.

If Orwell had written the Lord of the Rings, Sauron would have had spies at the Council of Elrond, those spies would have efficiently delivered the correct information about the quest to destroy the Ring, and Sauron would have interpreted their strategem at face value (i.e. he would not even have guessed that perhaps they were creating a diversionary tactic, while sending to the Ring to Gondor to be used in the war). Better yet, the Shire would have been littered with spies, and Frodo would have been seized in Bag End. In his world, the Nazgûl would have been brutally efficient and effective - never making the kind of mistakes they made in Eriador. This omniscience, even when applied to the USSR (and even very oppressive regimes like North Korea) is highly unrealistic, especially compared to how Tolkien viewed power.

Now if Tolkien had written 1984, half the telescreens would have been broken, the repairmen would have been running behind schedule, and the Thought Police would have addressed the wrong Winston Smith because of a filing error.

In this scenario, Tolkien's 1984 would have been a superior work of fiction, and Orwell's Lord of the Rings would have been a far lesser one.

Closer to their own concentrated power centers, the powerful can be quite effective and efficient. But venture outside those power centers, even a little, and it diminishes very quickly. Just as Soviet power diminished dramatically in the mountains of Afghanistan, I find it perfectly realistic for Sauron's power to have diminish dramatically in Eriador, even to the point of rendering the Nazgûl incompetent.

Tolkien's preference for the "varied applicability" of history is to thank for this, IMO - as opposed to the "purposeful domination of the author." To me, it is one of the fundamental reasons why Tolkien should be recognized by the literati as a very, very important, and highly relevant, 20th century author.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 21, 2013 2:59 am 
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Here's one: Legolas and Gimli become friends really abruptly. They obviously dislike each other first and are making snide comments and sniping at each other all through the first half of Book II (some of it is pretty funny actually). They're still doing it just before Lothlórien. Then when leaving Lórien, Tolkien casually mentions "they had become fast friends." No explanation of how it happened, no scene showing them getting along better, just a switch flipped.

One thing the movies actually do well is having their relationship evolve more gradually. Of course, the movies have other issues with both characters.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 21, 2013 4:39 pm 
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kzer_za wrote:
Here's one: Legolas and Gimli become friends really abruptly. They obviously dislike each other first and are making snide comments and sniping at each other all through the first half of Book II (some of it is pretty funny actually). They're still doing it just before Lothlórien. Then when leaving Lórien, Tolkien casually mentions "they had become fast friends." No explanation of how it happened, no scene showing them getting along better, just a switch flipped.

One thing the movies actually do well is having their relationship evolve more gradually. Of course, the movies have other issues with both characters.


Agree with that, though I am generally happy for the non-hobbit characters to be drawn broadly. It really isn't a story from their perspective, and if the hobbits saw the friendship as growing quickly, then so be it! It actually keeps the story neater and more coherent (i.e. not everyone needs a long and detailed character arc).

Also, sharing a life-changing experience, like being in Lothlórien, often makes fast friends of people.

But I admit that Tolkien could probably have done a bit more to build that up.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 21, 2013 4:57 pm 
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Just to show how different people's opinions are, I love the fact that Gimli's sudden reverence for Galadriel so quickly overcomes the hostility between him and Legolas. I never have questioned why the "switch flipped".

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 21, 2013 5:07 pm 
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Hey V. Would be curious to get your perspective on my past few posts on Tolkien's depiction of power, its failings, and the difference between omnipotence and omniscience. Agree? Disagree? Partially agree? Partially disagree?


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 21, 2013 5:25 pm 
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I know you didn't ask me, but I both agree and disagree. You make some valid points that don't contradict what I argued and which I agree with, but I don't feel you addressed any of the issues I raised satisfactorily enough to convince me in any shape or form.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 21, 2013 5:37 pm 
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Now if Tolkien had written 1984, half the telescreens would have been broken, the repairmen would have been running behind schedule, and the Thought Police would have addressed the wrong Winston Smith because of a filing error.


I've seen the movie version of that. It's called Brazil.

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Passdagas the Brown wrote:
there is a difference between omniscience and omnipotence, which is highly relevant to the real world.

One can be "all-seeing," as various intelligence apparatuses try to be, while not at all being "all-knowing." That's mainly because the "all-seer", in this case, Sauron, misinterprets the large amount of information he gathers (much like intelligence agencies do) brings his own ideological interpretation to events (eg never crosses his mind that the hobbit 'spies' in Mordor may have been trying to destroy the ring, or that Aragorn's "challenge" was a diversion, rather than evidence that he had claimed the Ring for himself) and is ultimately rendered over-confident by his belief in his own omnipotence (he so arrogantly believes in his final victory, that he makes big mistakes which seem very little to him, from atop his throne, but when he is legitimately threatened by Aragorn, he makes foolish mistakes in the opposite direction - attacking too early).

These elements of Sauron's behavior are, IMO, some of the most realistic depictions of a powerful, authoritarian individual that I have ever read in modern fiction. And that's coming from an expert on authoritarian regimes (it's my day job)!


This is an interesting perspective but I think I take some issue with this. The idea of this as "realistically flawed" power do not mesh well with the general idea that these people/beings are "mythic archetypes". IMO, you can't defend one criticism with the latter and then defend another with the former. No, I think it's safe to say that for lots of stuff he was just making it up as he went along.

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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
Just to show how different people's opinions are, I love the fact that Gimli's sudden reverence for Galadriel so quickly overcomes the hostility between him and Legolas. I never have questioned why the "switch flipped".

Yes, Galadriel obviously softened Gimli's attitude toward elves in general, but I still think there's something missing, especially since the hostility was just as much on Legolas's end as on Gimli's. The Lothlórien chapters could have contained a brief conversation or two. Maybe about their journey so far or about missing Gandalf.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 21, 2013 6:19 pm 
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Passdagas the Brown wrote:
Hey V. Would be curious to get your perspective on my past few posts on Tolkien's depiction of power, its failings, and the difference between omnipotence and omniscience. Agree? Disagree? Partially agree? Partially disagree?


Pretty much fully agree. Which I guess is why I didn't address it, since I had nothing to add.

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axordil wrote:
Quote:
Now if Tolkien had written 1984, half the telescreens would have been broken, the repairmen would have been running behind schedule, and the Thought Police would have addressed the wrong Winston Smith because of a filing error.


I've seen the movie version of that. It's called Brazil.


That's right! A far more interesting vision than Orwell's, IMO.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 12:32 am 
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yovargas wrote:
Passdagas the Brown wrote:
there is a difference between omniscience and omnipotence, which is highly relevant to the real world.

One can be "all-seeing," as various intelligence apparatuses try to be, while not at all being "all-knowing." That's mainly because the "all-seer", in this case, Sauron, misinterprets the large amount of information he gathers (much like intelligence agencies do) brings his own ideological interpretation to events (eg never crosses his mind that the hobbit 'spies' in Mordor may have been trying to destroy the ring, or that Aragorn's "challenge" was a diversion, rather than evidence that he had claimed the Ring for himself) and is ultimately rendered over-confident by his belief in his own omnipotence (he so arrogantly believes in his final victory, that he makes big mistakes which seem very little to him, from atop his throne, but when he is legitimately threatened by Aragorn, he makes foolish mistakes in the opposite direction - attacking too early).

These elements of Sauron's behavior are, IMO, some of the most realistic depictions of a powerful, authoritarian individual that I have ever read in modern fiction. And that's coming from an expert on authoritarian regimes (it's my day job)!


This is an interesting perspective but I think I take some issue with this. The idea of this as "realistically flawed" power do not mesh well with the general idea that these people/beings are "mythic archetypes". IMO, you can't defend one criticism with the latter and then defend another with the former. No, I think it's safe to say that for lots of stuff he was just making it up as he went along.


Not sure him "making it up as he went along" contradicts anything I said. When Tolkien made stuff up, he was certainly drawing on subjects he knew (or thought he knew) something about! My sense is that he had specific ideas about what constituted an "evil" power, and that those ideas were more realistic than Orwell's. Tolkien may have not been fully aware of how realistic his assessments of power were, but speaking as someone who analyzes power for a living, I have to say that his Sauron is someone I recognize very well!

Sauron certainly has characteristics of a mythic archetype (in a broad stroke, he's really just a Satan figure), but Tolkien was certainly drawing on characteristics of those with too much temporal power, and the hubris that comes with that, when sketching the behavior of Sauron. IMO, there is much evidence in his writings that suggest that he had a keen sense of how he believed the powerful tended to operate.

Though he obviously denied any interest in allegory, he did hint at the fact that his experiences and observations of power in the modern world colored his depiction of evil in his stories.

IMO, Tolkien was both a medievalist, and a profoundly relevant 20th century author.


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Alatar wrote:
I know you didn't ask me, but I both agree and disagree. You make some valid points that don't contradict what I argued and which I agree with, but I don't feel you addressed any of the issues I raised satisfactorily enough to convince me in any shape or form.


Fair enough. I recognize some of Tolkien's story-telling dead ends, that he had to write himself out of, particularly since he wrote about them in his letters! So he obviously wasn't perfect.

But I strongly believe that his organic approach to writing, and his preference for the loosely-structured semi-incoherence of history, over the more disciplined structure of the modern novel, is a huge part of what makes LOTR so great, and deserving of literary merit.

In that context, the "flaws" we often hear about are minor inconsistencies. And I like them!


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 7:40 am 
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Well then we agree. I think Tolkien was a genius, but pointed out that he was far from perfect and that there were plenty of flaws in his writing. If you recall, this was in response to your post suggesting that you would brook no criticism of his writing.

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Alatar wrote:
Well then we agree. I think Tolkien was a genius, but pointed out that he was far from perfect and that there were plenty of flaws in his writing. If you recall, this was in response to your post suggesting that you would brook no criticism of his writing.


I think we agree almost entirely.

And yes, I recall that comment. It was, of course, made in jest. :)

However, I have yet to read any criticisms that I find compelling, beyond those that look at minor narrative inconsistencies (some of which I agree are 'flaws'- though that is a loaded word).

Literary critics, for the most part, criticize the very idea of a fantastical story, and rarely, if ever, delve into the actual story in LOTR or TH. Most of them seem not to have actually read the books, particularly given their surface-level perception of how Tolkien treats good and evil. They assume his narrative is simplistically Manichean, and it's not. In such assessments, they conveniently ignore such characters as Gollum, Boromir, Denethor, Thorin, and Frodo himself, who ultimately failed to resist the Ring's power.


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Passdagas the Brown wrote:
Literary critics, for the most part, criticize the very idea of a fantastical story, and rarely, if ever, delve into the actual story in LOTR or TH. Most of them seem not to have actually read the books, particularly given their surface-level perception of how Tolkien treats good and evil. They assume his narrative is simplistically Manichean, and it's not. In such assessments, they conveniently ignore such characters as Gollum, Boromir, Denethor, Thorin, and Frodo himself, who ultimately failed to resist the Ring's power.

I agree with this - many popular criticisms of Tolkien are based on a highly selective surface-level reading of LotR. Recently the "Tolkien's morality is flat and simplistic" criticism has become popular again to elevate George RR Martin in comparison (who I like somewhat, at least the first three books, but I have waned on him somewhat as I've gotten older).

Plus there's The Silmarillion and various other writings like Aldarion and Erendis. No one can say Túrin or Húrin or Fëanor are too simplistically good.


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