Tolkien's Expanding Universe

Seeking knowledge in, of, and about Middle-earth.
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Voronwë the Faithful
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Oh, I think I know. =:)
"Among the tales of sorrow there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures."
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MithLuin
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Post by MithLuin »

1 followed by 1000 zeros is a google.

A google times a google is a googleplex.

And yes, I learned this long before the search engine existed :P

I had a book called Everything is Somewhere when I was younger, but it was a series of geography quiz questions.

Assuming that the universe is (nearly) infinite assumes that there is a (nearly) infinite amount of matter available to build it out of. That matter can't just spring out of nowhere, and there probably is some limitation to the mass/energy of the big bang. I don't know what it is, but I'm pretty sure it is limited. Not that I have any room to point fingers considering this thread is all about speculation. Oh, and Tolkien's Expanding Universe....


WampusKitty, I agree about 'Leaf by Niggle' - that is what makes the story so awesome for me. It's only a so-so allegory, but what it suggests here is so cool. He ended "On Fairy-stories" in the same way:
Tolkien wrote:All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.
I love this idea that we participate in Creation, and idea of 'creativity' being properly understood as sub-creation. Of course, there is the implicit idea that our thoughts are not perfect, and I'm okay with that, too - we have to submit our work for editing ;)

I wanted to use that as my senior quote in high school, but it was too many words. :( Instead, I ended up using: "The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. [The fruit of service is peace.]" ~ Mother Teresa
Last edited by MithLuin on Thu Dec 04, 2008 10:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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WampusCat
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Post by WampusCat »

Both excellent quotes, Mith!

This is probably not exactly what you had in mind, Voronwë, but I've often thought that every time someone becomes immersed in Tolkien's universe, that universe expands. It takes on the meaning we give it. It reverberates through our "real" lives, changing and shaping them.

There were millions of Frodos in readers' minds long before Elijah Wood took on the role. We all had our own concept of how he walked, how he spoke, how he looked, how he interacted with Sam.

And so it will continue to expand, as long as Tolkien's words are read.
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Post by Primula Baggins »

I wish I could put my finger, though, on what it is that makes Tolkien's work a touchstone: why it is that so many of my friendships began with a mutual interest in Tolkien, and why "people for whom Tolkien is important" seem to be a subgroup of humanity that cuts across any number of common divisions such as age, nationality, religious faith, or political views. The same is not true for the works of John Le Carré or Louisa May Alcott, good as they are.

Maybe it's that Middle-earth is so clearly much larger and older than the part he told us about. There's room for us all to "move in," so to speak. That isn't always true of created worlds; in fact it rarely is.

And beyond that, it's also clear that even the characters we come to know have stories that extend into the past and future beyond what we are told. That, too, gives a sense of time and spaciousness.
“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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Post by Holbytla »

Well I think one of the reasons that Tolkien seems to transcend multiple barriers is becaue of the esapism involved. Say all you want about Frodo and Gandalf, but Middle Earth is the most important character in the story. No matter what your station in life is, everyone loves a vacation. Middle Eart is a vacation.
Meaning, all physically possible fiction and all alternative realities for every conceivable form of life—somewhere they are or were or will be real.
Somewhere out there I am whacking you with a fish in perpetuity. :P
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Post by Primula Baggins »

:x

But it's more than escapism. I've read hundreds of "escapist" books and enjoyed them, but they don't provoke much thought, or discussions with friends who've read them. Not because they're all bad books—Jane Austen is major escapism for me, as is Patrick O'Brien, Dickens, and any number of fine books by fine writers.

But wonderful as they are, they're complete in themselves. I don't feel any temptation to speculate on what would have happened if Jane Fairfax hadn't gone home from the picnic with a headache in Emma, or on why David Copperfield never notices until quite late that Agnes loves him. I don't wonder (much) about what happened after the book ended, or before it began. It is what it is. It belongs to the author. Whereas we all seem to have partly appropriated Tolkien and argue, fiercely at times, for our own visions of Middle-earth.
“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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MithLuin
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Post by MithLuin »

It is true that my first reaction to Voronwë's remark about Frodo sunbathing was...but Hawaii isn't Tol Eressëa!

There is something about the world Tolkien described that makes us want to go there, while we may not yearn to drop in on the world inhabited by the March family in Little Women.

Tolkien was the master of the unexplored vista opening up on the horizon, and that creates a unique type of hunger. But it is also a world worth visiting, in that....

yeah, this is hard to describe.

There is this clean, cold air that washes through it, and the light is all filtered through green leaves, and we just want to take a deep breath and know we are home. Or something like that. That might be escapism, but it isn't fluff - there is something worth escaping to, here.


Luthy's new fiancé recently wrote about the concept of fantasy-as-escape for a movie review of Pan's Labyrinth. I think he has some compelling ideas - and of course he references Tolkien's 'On Fairy-stories' ;)
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Post by Holbytla »

Primula Baggins wrote::x

But it's more than escapism. I've read hundreds of "escapist" books and enjoyed them, but they don't provoke much thought, or discussions with friends who've read them. Not because they're all bad books—Jane Austen is major escapism for me, as is Patrick O'Brien, Dickens, and any number of fine books by fine writers.

But wonderful as they are, they're complete in themselves. I don't feel any temptation to speculate on what would have happened if Jane Fairfax hadn't gone home from the picnic with a headache in Emma, or on why David Copperfield never notices until quite late that Agnes loves him. I don't wonder (much) about what happened after the book ended, or before it began. It is what it is. It belongs to the author. Whereas we all seem to have partly appropriated Tolkien and argue, fiercely at times, for our own visions of Middle-earth.
Dickensian London did exist.
They were all writing about their experiences in this world.

Tolkien created a world. The two are not the same and are really imcomparable. No other author that I know of has created a world with history like Tolkien has. Donaldson has come close maybe, and there are similar messageboards and such where heated discussion takes place.

That is the key I think. We get to escape to a new world. A world which has been created for us, but whose definitions are unique to each of us.

Tolkien is different. Middle Earth is different. This world with its rich history and vastness is different. Its depth and its people are different. The struggles may be similar but the characters handle them in a different fashion. Somehow more noble, more sacrificial maybe.

Tolkien is unique in my opinion and that I think is the reason for the large crossover.
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Post by WampusCat »

A Jungian analyst and author, Robert A. Johnson, once told me that Tolkien's work is so powerful because he drew from the collective unconscious, just as all great myths have done. Tolkien's Middle-Earth is the myth of our time.

That is why we respond to it so intensely, why it worms its way inside of us deeper than other fiction, why its characters become living members of our inner drama. It touches a part of our human experience that our culture has largely lost: the realm of archetype and of universal, unconscious knowing. That is the great gift of myth.
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Post by Primula Baggins »

Excellent point, Wampus.

And, Holby, I picked the wrong examples (partly because I am shy about claiming that the science fictional escapism I read is all good literature). But I do read a lot of books set in created worlds, too—and they still don't "pull me in" the way Middle-earth always does. SF has other aspects that delight me, but I miss that element of "this is a real world" so strongly in fantasy novels that I rarely finish them (even ones that have been recommended to me enthusiastically by people whose taste I respect). It's just . . . not the same.

Maybe I would feel differently if LotR had not been the first "fantasy" I ever read—if instead I'd approached it after reading other authors.
“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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Post by Holbytla »

I really like the world Lewis created for his Space series. I like Dune and a lot of other worlds. Tolkien managed to have a great blend of fantasy and the real world. It seems almost plausible and touches us more closely than other worlds. The history of ME adds yet another dimension.
The Music of the Ainur yet another to those that went on to read the Sil.

I am failing pretty miserably at putting this to words, but Tolkien is like nothing else I have read.
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Post by Primula Baggins »

Maybe that is part of it for me, too: this is an "other" world, but it's ours, too. Tolkien could invent freely, but he could also touch on things familiar to all of us, everything from particular birds and plants to the way the light looks at sunset at a particular time of year. Lesser writers of the fantastic often seem reluctant to tap into the familiar, maybe because their first concern is creating "otherness."
“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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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

I think you are getting to the heart of it, Prim. Tolkien's world is "other" and yet it is our world, too. He taps into ancient sensibilities, but his themes are very apt for "modern" hence the false sense that he was creating "allegory".
"Among the tales of sorrow there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures."
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Post by Frelga »

Yes, this is getting much closer, I think. Holby is right, the world of Dune is meticulous and a spectacular subcreation. OTOH, Middle-earth is no vacation spot, it's grim and dangerous in many times and places. And yet...

I think it's a world where we think we can be what we think we ought to be. If you take my meaning.
His philosophy was a mixture of three famous schools -- the Cynics, the Stoics and the Epicureans -- and summed up all three of them in his famous phrase, 'You can't trust any bugger further than you can throw him, and there's nothing you can do about it, so let's have a drink."

Terry Pratchett, Small Gods
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Post by WampusCat »

Yes. It resonates.
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Post by Holbytla »

I think it's a world where we think we can be what we think we ought to be.
Yeah I think that is it. A place where we can be the best we can be. A place where we can rise above where we are now.
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Post by vison »

When we read it, we think it's real. It should be real - that's the difference, maybe. It SHOULD be real, this would be a much better history for us than the "real one".

But much as I love LOTR, I've been to a few other real worlds.

Not as often, though, and not for as long.
Dig deeper.
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Post by Dave_LF »

What Tokien did with his mythmaking, consciously I believe, was combine the old pagan ideal of heroic courage with modern Christian civicmindedness. Western society is in many respects a Hegelian synthesis of these two things, and I think that fact goes a long way toward explaining why Tolkien resonates so strongly with us.
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Post by Frelga »

I will look up Hegelian synthesis later. You guys are expanding my mind like crazy. :D

I think part of the enchantment is that Tolkien’s world is inherently moral in the way real world often isn’t. There, making the “right” choice is almost invariably rewarded, while taking the low road for the sake of expediency leads to an eventual downfall. And the “right” choice is one made out of love, compassion and loyalty – Bilbo, Frodo and Sam all taking pity on Gollum, Sam coming back to rescue Frodo from the Tower instead of going on with the quest, The Three Hunters coming to the rescue of Merry and Pippin. Actually, I think our real world almost always works that way, too, but it is often hard to see without the magnifying lens of the story.

Tolkien is so masterful in weaving this thread into his world that we don’t see it as sugarcoating or preaching, and he honestly shows how hard and dangerous the “right” choice is. But I think this element of moral satisfaction is what draws us in. This is what is missing from the equally rich and meticulous fictional worlds of Dune or Hobb’s Farseer series.

ETA: Oh! Hegelian! As in, Hegel? OK, I have a clue, then.
His philosophy was a mixture of three famous schools -- the Cynics, the Stoics and the Epicureans -- and summed up all three of them in his famous phrase, 'You can't trust any bugger further than you can throw him, and there's nothing you can do about it, so let's have a drink."

Terry Pratchett, Small Gods
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Post by Dave_LF »

Frelga wrote:ETA: Oh! Hegelian! As in, Hegel? OK, I have a clue, then.
Yes, although they tell me the books got it wrong and the "Hegelian" synthesis really comes from Kant.
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