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PostPosted: Wed Jul 02, 2008 5:05 pm 
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Since I mentioned this letter in the discussion of Letter 52, and it is probably the letter of Tolkien's that I have quoted more often than any other, I thought it would be a good one to discuss (but AJ, don't hesitate to restart the discussion of the letter about marriage that you had posted and then removed in the original thread).

Tolkien starts by reiterating that LOTR is not an allegory of Atomic power, but rather of "Power (exerted for Domination)". Of course, as Tolkien points out elsewhere, the concept of the Ring was created long before the Manhattan Project. But it is interesting that here he acknowledges, despite his oft-cited dislike of allegory, that his story IS allegorical.

He goes on to state that nuclear physics can be used for that purpose (domination) but that it doesn't need to be. He states:

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If there is any contemporary reference in my story at all it is to what seems to me the most widespread assumption of our time: that if a thing can be done, it must be done. This seems to me wholly false. The greatest examples of the action of the spirit and of reason are in abnegation. When you say A[tomic] P[ower] is 'here to stay' you remind me that Chesterton said that whenever he heart that , he knew that whatever it referred to would soon be replaced, and thought pitifully shabby and old-fashioned.


It is interesting that Tolkien cites Chesterton here, a rather controversial figure. But the statement that he quotes sure does resonate in modern times, doesn't it? The 8-track, here to stay. Cassette tapes, here to say. VCR, dvd's, the first generation of personal computers; there are too many examples of the fruits of technology that are out-of-date almost as soon as they are widely accepted.

More importantly, this concept of "abnegation" is obviously of prime importance to Tolkien (he repeats the reference later in the letter. The first definition of the word that I find is "renunciation of your own interests in favor of the interests of others." The dictionary could just as well place a picture of Frodo Baggins next to it!

Despite his disclaimer that his story is not about Atomic power, he still manages to make the analogy, stating that "there will have to be some 'abnegation' in its use, a deliberate refusal to do some of the things it is possible to do with it, or nothing will stay!" Just as Gandalf and Galadriel (and to some extent Aragorn's) deliberate refusal to use the Ring saved Middle-earth from a terrible fate.

But as soon as Tolkien sets up this comparison, he shoots it down as unimportant:

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However, that is simple stuff, a contemporary & possibly passing and ephemeral problem. I do not thing that even Power or Domination is the real center of my story. It provides the theme of a War, about something dark and threatening enough to seem at that time of supreme importance, but that is mainly 'a setting for characters to show themselves. The real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult: Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race 'doomed' to leave and seemingly love the world in the hearts of a race 'doomed' to leave and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of a race 'doomed not to leave it, until its whole evil-aroused story is complete


There is so much here to talk about; I'm just going to touch on some of it for now, and then let it simmer. Usually when I have quoted this passage before I have started with "The real theme ..." but I think the statement makes more sense within the greater context. The whole theme of power and domination is, as Tolkien says, rather passing and ephemeral. That is because it is basically the story of the actions of mankind. The more "much more permanent and difficult" theme is rooted in the actions of God. At least that is how I see it.

I'll leave it there for right now, and ruminate further, and hopefully get the thoughts of some others, before commenting any more about this stuff, or moving on to the rest of the letter.

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Last edited by Voronwë the Faithful on Sun Feb 22, 2009 2:43 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 02, 2008 6:10 pm 
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The only way we can possibly know of the God's actions is through the actions of his creation.

If there was no creation would there be a God?

(I'm talking about LOTR here, not "the real world".)

I can't agree with this contention, in other words.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 02, 2008 6:37 pm 
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I recognize, vison, that you would like to remove all vestiges of religious thought from LOTR, but the fact of the matter is that Tolkien was a profoundly religious person, and LOTR is at heart a profoundly religious work (even if it can be enjoyed by those who are not religious).

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 5:17 pm 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
I recognize, vison, that you would like to remove all vestiges of religious thought from LOTR, but the fact of the matter is that Tolkien was a profoundly religious person, and LOTR is at heart a profoundly religious work (even if it can be enjoyed by those who are not religious).


No, Voronwë, you misunderstand me entirely. I am merely saying that it is impossible to discuss a god outside that god's creation. Unless you are a god yourself, I suppose.

The only knowledge we have of Tolkien's "creator" is through the events of the Histories that Tolkien wrote. We learn about it by reflection, so to speak.

I don't wish to remove all vestiges of religious thought from LOTR, I just ignore it. I also think that Tolkien's own revisionism, his letters and writing AFTER he had completed LOTR, imposed more religiosity on the work than he originally intended.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 5:43 pm 
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Of course, it is not possible to discuss God's creation outside of his creation, since we ourselves are inside his creation (accepting for the sake of the argument, of course, the existence of God). My point is that the theme of death and deathlessness is explicitly about the nature of God's creation, whereas the theme of power and domination is explicitly about Mankind's actions within that creation.

Or something like that. :P

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I also think that Tolkien's own revisionism, his letters and writing AFTER he had completed LOTR, imposed more religiosity on the work than he originally intended.


That I can't accept. Tolkien certainly didn't suddenly "get" religion after LOTR was written; it was a fundamental part of who he was when he wrote the book, and it was a profound influence on his writings.

The question, however, of how much attention should be paid to Tolkien's after-the-fact statements about his work. There is credible strand of thought both on Tolkien scholarship and in Tolkien fandom (which contains insight that is often at least as intelligent and worthwhile as the most renown Tolkien scholars) that Tolkien's comments about his work should be ignored when studying his work, and only those insights that can be devined solely from examining the text are of value. I think there are decent arguments either way. It may worth starting a separate thread to discuss that question independent of any particular letter. What do you think?

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Unless you are a god yourself, I suppose
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No comment. :spin:

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 7:25 pm 
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Posting very tentatively here, because I am no kind of Tolkien scholar; but I did come away from reading the Letters with a fairly strong impression that later in his life, Tolkien did become more concerned with fitting Middle-earth into a Christian historical narrative than he had been when he first devised it. Weren't there some changes he began to make, or thought of making, to the Silmarillion, that he never quite carried out?

I remember this because for me, though I am a Christian, trying to reconcile Middle-earth with Earth "lets the magic out." The Christian themes in LotR mean more to me as they are: as parallels, echoes, mirrors to the familiar story without being pinned down as part of it.

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


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 9:32 pm 
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Primula Baggins wrote:
I did come away from reading the Letters with a fairly strong impression that later in his life, Tolkien did become more concerned with fitting Middle-earth into a Christian historical narrative than he had been when he first devised it. Weren't there some changes he began to make, or thought of making, to the Silmarillion, that he never quite carried out?


There were changes that he thought of making that he never quite carried out, but they had nothing to do fitting Middle-earth into a Christian historical narrative. They had to do with making this mythology less "astronomically absurd". The only part of Tolkien's writings where he appears to try to fit his mythology into a specifically Christian historical narrative is the Athrabeth, in which talks about Eru physically inserting himself into the world, and even that is very subtle and and vague.

I don't see the letters that he wrote as showing that later in his life he tried to fit Middle-earth into a Christian historical narrative, I just see them as explaining how his religion influenced his writing. Some of the letters were he talked about this are very close to the publication of LOTR, so its not like it was something that he started doing long after the fact.

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I remember this because for me, though I am a Christian, trying to reconcile Middle-earth with Earth "lets the magic out." The Christian themes in LotR mean more to me as they are: as parallels, echoes, mirrors to the familiar story without being pinned down as part of it.


I think they ARE parallels, echos and mirrors to the familiar story without being pinned down as part of it. I don't think Tolkien would have disagreed. Even later in his life. ;)

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 9:41 pm 
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I defer, Professor. ;)

Clearly I need to re-read the Letters. I think I'll start by reading what's discussed here.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 10:06 pm 
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Well, if you come up with examples that seem to contradict me, by all means bring em up and let's discuss em!

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 10:53 pm 
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IAWP.

I don't think it's possible to ignore what an author has to say about his work: unless you don't know what he said! I mostly don't. I deliberately - and I mean, deliberately - have not learned more about Tolkien's comments on his work than I have inadvertently absorbed on the various LOTR websites I belong to.

I have a friend who is a sort of serious Tolkien scholar (not as serious as you, Voronwë!) who states baldly that no one should pay any more attention to Tolkien's views of Tolkien's work than to anyone else's. I don't think I would go that far. But I like my view better than his.

As for Galadriel/Mary, I have to say I think that is absurd. I don't have time to say why just now, I have too much work to do. But I'll try to find the time at some point.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 11:03 pm 
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vison, why isn't your serious Tolkien scholar friend here? ;)

I hope you'll post your thoughts about Galadriel/Mary in the Shibboleth thread about the essay about women in Tolkien's works.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 04, 2008 12:50 am 
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Why isn't she here? I've asked her, but she is reluctant. And shy. And in one way it's a good thing because she has a terrible habit of being offended if you disagree with her!!! I spend a lot of time smoothing her ruffled feathers elsewhere, believe me. But she is such a rare personality, she has had such a life, that I am more patient with her than I am with most people. She is brilliant and highly educated, but her life has not turned out "the way it should have" and she sometimes lashes out in flaming anger over trifles because - I guess - she can't or won't lash out in anger at God.

I will try to find time to say in that other thread why my hair stands on end over the Mary/Galadriel thing. But it does stand on end, and not only because it's really short and I put gel in it. :D

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 04, 2008 1:31 am 
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Tell her that we pride ourselves at the level of courtesy and respect we treat each other with. That probably won't make any difference, but maybe it will. ;)

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 05, 2008 11:37 pm 
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I find this letter very rich and very insightful based on 3 of Tolkien's comments here.

The first Voronwë you have quoted where Tolkien states what he feels the real theme is:

Quote:
about something much more permanent and difficult: Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race 'doomed' to leave and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of a race 'doomed' not to leave it, until its whole evil-aroused story is complete.


So the story is about the view of the Elves on Middle Earth, whose destinies are inter-connected to it until the final battle, and men, who are destined to live on it for a short period and then die, leaving it, seemingly loosing it forever. I think this brings about a change in views in terms of what Elvish immortality means, which is to last until the Final Battle and after that we are not sure, though the Elves I believe think that Arda will be remade unmarred and immortal man and them will exist on it.

It also brings up the notion of the destiny of man, using the story of Aragorn and Arwen. Aragorn knows that as a mortal, that his day will come where he will lay down the great lifespand that had been granted to him. His last interaction with Arwen shows that he has a hope, that beyond this world they will meet again. Arwen for perhaps the first time has pity for the fate of mankind, and with bitterness accepts her fate. I guess for her in a sense, if she did not understand the nature of men's belieft that the body would die but their spirit would go on to a light or brighter place and instead felt that humans died and that was the end, it would be bittersweet. That combined with the fact that Arwen was not "weary of her days" yet was perhaps hard to handle; the fact that she could not choose her own time as Aragorn was giving, but that death is imposed on us.

I don't buy into that thought that Arwen did not know of the belief of men on what happens after death, for Aragorn reminds her that "Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!" Aragorn had a very strong belief in what happened after death to men and women, yet it seems that for Arwen, raised with the beliefs of the Eldar, the reality of that belief had not reach her yet, nor the impact of her choice. For the Eldar, they live on and things in the past are that, a memory to them and that life will continue until the ending of the world. Two very interesting perspectives, immortality until the end of Arda vs death and release from Arda to something greater, with only a short lifespan. This section of the letter had made me decide to go back into Morgoth's Ring and look at Athrabeth Finrod AH Andreth and explore Tolkien's investigation into these concepts.

Tolkien's next main point of the story comes from a quote by Elrond:

Quote:
"Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."

I think we see this throughout the trilogy as small hands do the work because they must, i.e. Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere. Yet it is this notion of small hands that do the work that is in fact one of the things I think most people relate to in LOTR. Most of us are very common people, yet it is the common people that rise up when called upon or when need is present, and do the common work that the great never get around to. It is the common woman or man that does his daily tasks that turn the wheels of the world (interesting choice of words by Tolkien I think). I wonder how much of this came out of his World War I experience?

Finally, Tolkien quotes one of my favorite passages from Merry, stating it is equal to the one in the last paragraph:


Quote:
'the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace, but for them.' I like the whole quote as "Dear me! We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can't live long on the heights. 'No,' said Merry. 'I can't. Not yet, at any rate. But as least, Pippin, we can see them, and honour them. It is best to love first hat you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not.'"


I find it interesting that here we have the heirs of the Took and Brandybuck families who will be something someday in the Shire, as much as anyone can be something there, and yet they have realized that the world is a much broader and bigger place then just their home. Often I think for Merry and for Pippin this journey has been one of discovery, about themselves and about the larger world. I think Tolkien is hinting at though it is important to be well cemented where we are, we have to remember that their is an entire world out there and we need to be able to reach out and glimpse it, and be a part of it. We have to reach out beyond ourselves in order to benefit others, and to see the benefits that others bring to us. We don't need to be more than what we are, but we do need to be.

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1. " . . . (we are ) too engrossed in thinking of everything as a preparation or training or making one fit -- for what? At any minute it is what we are and are doing, not what we plan to be and do that counts."

J.R.R. Tolkien in his 6 October 1940 letter to his son Michael Tolkien.

2. We have many ways using technology to be in touch, yet the larger question is are we really connected or are we simply more in touch? There is a difference.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 06, 2008 12:06 am 
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What is most interesting is that Tolkien uses this point to launch into his declaration of why he does not believe in Democracy, which I quoted in the discussion of Letter 52:

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I am not a 'democrat' only because 'humility' and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Orc gets hold of a ring of power -- and then we get and are getting slavery.


I'll be back.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 06, 2008 2:53 am 
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Yes, and Alberto Mingardi has a very interesting point on this quote in his 2002 Essay called Tolkien and Power
http://www.mises.org/article.aspx?Id=899

He states:

Quote:
One might object that the contemporary era implies a sort of "end of history," because democracy is perceived as the "best form of government," and provides the illusion that no government governs without the consent of the governed. Tolkien would have not agreed. Indeed, as he wrote, "I am not a `democrat' only because `humility' and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Orc gets hold of a ring of power--and then we get and are getting slavery" (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 1995, p. 246)


Mingardi then clarifies this in his next article on Tolkien vs Socialism. He states there:
Quote:
Tolkien was certainly conscious of the dangers of democracy, as we showed in a precedent article (see Mingardi and Stagnaro 2002). In brief, he thought that democracy is nothing more than a means to govern people, and as such potentially harmful.


Perhaps Tolkien is saying that democracy has the potential to become destructive, especially when individuals do not use their moral power to block corruptive people in power/politicians. The message then is that any form of government, even democracy is at risk if the moral fiber of the citizens and people of that country fail to halt the corruption of government and its politicians and can result in slavery and the loss of individual freedoms. So I guess in a way I agree with Tolkien that democracy or any system that is centered on the concept of power, is dangerous to individual freedoms if people in that system fail to stop corruption. Thus the notion that the common person has to do the work of turning the wheel while the great are elsewhere. Just some thoughts and I'll have to think and review some more material on this beises Mr. Mingardi's input.

I will state if I remember right that Dr. Birzer(?) in 2003 argued that Tolkien was also against democracy because it required planning and categorizing and that results in the bloodshed because categorizing of such a complex thing as man, puts him into a 2 dimensional frame when man should be looked at in a 3 dimensional state. Furthermore, democracy in ancient Greece according to Dr. Birzer, meant rob rule and that led to being overcome by other city-states. The successful city-states were ones with structure and with firm governments. I'll have to look that article up in order to make sure I am correct in paraphrasing what I have about his article.

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1. " . . . (we are ) too engrossed in thinking of everything as a preparation or training or making one fit -- for what? At any minute it is what we are and are doing, not what we plan to be and do that counts."

J.R.R. Tolkien in his 6 October 1940 letter to his son Michael Tolkien.

2. We have many ways using technology to be in touch, yet the larger question is are we really connected or are we simply more in touch? There is a difference.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 06, 2008 2:03 pm 
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The key statement is "`humility' and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride." In other words, power that has it's source in humility and equality is bound to convert those very concepts into their very opposites.

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