Media previews

For discussion of Amazon's new television show "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power"
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Stranger Wings
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Re: Media previews

Post by Stranger Wings »

Kidding. (Well, not entirely, as I agree with most of it). Kidding about that being my only response. Will write back more fully in due course! I do admit that my perception of the Faithful may be rose-colored, as though they are obviously a class-upholding group who believed themselves to be greater than their, well, lessers, Tolkien generally wrote them as not abusing that philosophy, except for in the clear instances you’ve laid out (which I acknowledge). It still reads to me that the sins of the Faithful flowed from aberrant actors, but I do see where their root philosophies can lead logically to the kind of ethnic cleansing that occurred in the Tal-Elmar situation. Anyway, more to come!

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Re: Media previews

Post by Stranger Wings »

Eldy wrote: Thu Aug 11, 2022 7:37 pm I'm delighted to have such a fascinating, thoughtful post to read and reply to! Thanks for this, Stranger Wings, and I'll echo what you said about hoping Voronwë jumps in. :)

To reply to your points sequentially:

1. Clinging to life As you say, I think we are more or less on the same page. Whether or not Tolkien himself would have been dogmatic here, the fictional characters and cultures he wrote about certainly were. I want to emphasize that Númenor is ostensibly a society where every single person committed suicide before experiencing old age until more than 2000 years into the history of the realm. (I have a hard time taking this seriously and prefer to imagine that Tar-Atanamir was merely the first member of the ruling class to flaunt this religious directive, but there's no particular grounding in the text for this.) Given that the First Age Edain had no such custom, and that "long life and peace" was their request of the Valar at the start of the Second (NoMe, p. 316), I seriously doubt this attitude arose organically from them. The alternative is that it came from the Valar and/or Eldar, who were the only outside cultural influence on the early Númenóreans, since the Valar instructed Círdan to stop providing transportation between Númenor and Middle-earth (HoMe XII, p. 145; NoMe, p. 339). But what did the Valar or Eldar know about the value of life in old age? The greatest insight we have into their perspective on this matter is Finrod in the Athrabeth, but Finrod's idea of consoling his brother's lover, after Aegnor left Andreth rather than watch her grow old, is to say that "the Eldar ... would rather have a memory that is fair but unfinished than one that goes on to a grievous end. Now he will ever remember thee in the sun of morning, and that last evening by the water of Aeluin in which he saw thy face mirrored with a star caught in thy hair" (HoMe X, p. 325). It's not necessarily surprising that immortal beings would be so averse to watching loved ones grow old and die since they have little to no experience of doing so, but that's precisely why they have no business trying to make this call. It's like the Primary World phenomenon of people routinely underestimating the quality of life possible with various health conditions and disabilities. The Valar and Eldar are no more qualified to say if elderly mortals have lives worth living than able-bodied humans are qualified to say if paraplegics should give up and die.

2. Fate of the soul As a philosophical materialist, I'm not the best person to weigh in here. I think the Valar were in a tricky position, so I don't want to be unfair to them, and it's worth noting again that the Númenóreans being granted extended lifespans was, in at least one text, done at their own request (NoMe, p. 316). My main objection to the Valar is the clueless, patronizing response of their messengers, who immediately finger-wagged at the Númenóreans and insinuated they were showing signs of moral corruption because they did not want to die: "if that grief has returned to trouble you, as you say, then we fear that the Shadow arises once more and grows again in your hearts. Therefore, though you be the Dúnedain, fairest of Men, who escaped from the Shadow of old and fought valiantly against it, we say to you: Beware!" (TS, p. 265) I'll also note that I think early humans being punished with reduced lifespans for worshipping Melkor is profoundly unjust, given they were left completely on their own, with no support or knowledge of the wider world to help them avoid being tricked/forced into it, but that can't be pinned on the Valar except insofar as they should have been more vigilant and not abandoned Middle-earth for Valinor.

3. Language of government As I mentioned previously, I don't approve of the King's Men infringing on the rights of the Faithful, and I include their linguistic rights in that. As such, I don't really have any disagreement with you. The main thing I will mention, though, is that I think the severity of this offense by the King's Men depends on whether there were any native Sindarin speakers in Númenor: I consider banning the mother tongue of a substantial minority of the population to be worse than banning a dead language which is preserved only as a method of gatekeeping law, government, and education (though that gatekeeping could have been undone without a complete ban). Like many fans, I'm fond of the idea of there being a Sindarin-speaking commoner population in the Andustar region, in addition to the Sindarin-speaking and Quenya-literate nobility (the situation presented in Aldarion and Erendis). The Akallabêth itself is vague on this point, but LOTR Appendix F makes no mention of Andustaris, saying only, "the native speech of the Númenóreans remained for the most part their ancestral Mannish tongue, the Adûnaic, and to this in the latter days of their pride their kings and lords returned, abandoning the Elven-speech, save only those few that held still to their ancient friendship with the Eldar." Of Dwarves and Men goes further, saying that Sindarin had been a language of lore in Númenor (the same status Quenya has in A&E), and that the Faithful elite only stopped speaking Adûnaic because of its association with the anti-Valarin Kings. Only in the Faithful-controlled colonies of northwestern Middle-earth did "[a]ll men of high lineage and all those who were taught to read and write [use] Sindarin, even as a daily tongue among themselves. In some families, it is said, Sindarin became the native tongue, and the vulgar tongue of Adûnaic origin [i.e., Westron] was only learned casually as it was needed." (HoMe XII, p. 315)

Again, this isn't to excuse the King's Men's actions, but I find the linguistic situation in Númenor fascinating, so I couldn't resist bringing this up. :halo: I'll also note that, if Andustar was majority Sindarin-speaking, the forced resettlement of Elf-friends described in the Akallabêth would have been a massively more disruptive event than that text gives the impression of. We're talking on the scale of Soviet deportations of nationalities: something of such magnitude and expense that it can only be justified, even to an already prejudiced population, in times of war or other national crisis. So if one wants to construct a syncretic picture of Númenor, my inclination is to imagine Ar-Gimilzôr's persecution of Sindarin speakers provoking a rebellion in Andustar. Which is not the same as a generalized Elf-friend rebellion, since the aristocratic Faithful were by that point mostly closeted, like the House of Valandil, who spent centuries successfully portraying themselves as loyal King's Men. Then again, the aristocratic Faithful would have been a minority of the whole Sindarin-speaking population in such a scenario.

4. Faithful colonialism I'm afraid I don't see the tolerant Faithful philosophy you refer to in the text. Faramir gave a brief sketch of the Gondorian hierarchy of peoples in The Two Towers, and Tolkien elaborated on this in Of Dwarves and Men: the ranking of High Men (Númenóreans), Middle Men (theoretically any Edainic-related people, but in practice those friendly to the Númenóreans), and Men of Darkness. He makes it clear this hierarchy was devised in the Second Age, and that it was deliberately based on the Númenóreans' misunderstanding of the Elvish division into High (Calaquendi), Middle (Sindar), and Dark (Avari) Elves. This is clearly not something arising from the Adûnâ ethnonationalist tradition. As for Tal-Elmar, the title character was one of the indigenous "Pre-Númenórean" inhabitants of Gondor, whose people were threatened with death if they did not leave the area the Faithful Númenóreans had decided to colonize: "Your time of dwelling in these hills is come to an end. Here the men of the West have resolved to make their homes, and the folk of the dark must depart – or be slain." If this isn't chauvinism, I'm not sure what is. :P I think pointing to Aragorn is misleading at best, given that he lived more than 3000 years after the Downfall of Númenor. A more instructive example would be the early Kings of Gondor: "All told the Dúnedain were thus from the beginning far fewer in number than the lesser men among whom they dwelt and whom they ruled, being lords of long life and great power and wisdom." (LOTR, Appendix F) The indigenous and mixed race peoples of Gondor remained on the outs for thousands of years. Although Eldacar's victory in the Kin-strife established that someone of Northmen descent could inherit the throne, the House of Anárion ultimately failed because "no claimant to the crown could be found who was of pure blood, or whose claim all would allow" after the death of Eärnur II (Appendix A). It was only the Stewards who "recruited the strength of our people from the sturdy folk of the sea-coast, and from the hardy mountaineers of Ered Nimrais" (TTT, IV 5), finally allowing the majority of the population of Gondor proper into the fold. But even during the War of the Ring, the "mingled" blood of the men of Lossarnach and Lebennin was contrasted unfavorably with the "high blood" of the men of Dol Amroth (ROTK, VI 1).

I think you're right about the political parallels between the late-stage King's Men movement and modern nationalist and populist movements, though as noted directly above, I think the worst elements of their worldview were already present in pre-divide Númenor (and were also carried forward by the Faithful in slightly different form). By the time we get to Ar-Gimilzôr, we're talking about a movement a thousand years removed from its spiritual forefather, Tar-Atanamir. I make no secret of sympathizing with Tar-Atanamir on the topic of religiously and culturally mandated suicide (I'm very much not on his side when it comes to his treatment of the peoples of Middle-earth, but all the Kings from Tar-Meneldur onward were at the very least complicit in colonial crimes), and I'm also open in my disdain for the Valar, so I'm inclined to interpret the early King's Men through a positive lens. This obviously can lead to motivated reasoning, and I certainly would not claim my interpretations are in any way definitive. But I'm reluctant to take what we know of the late-stage King's Men and project it backwards with no further reflection. The American Revolution is less than 250 years removed from the present, and while there are many valid criticisms one can levy at the Patriot side, one criticism you can't make is that they were Christian Dominionists looking to establish a theocracy. And yet there are millions of people who believe they were. When I look at the progression of the King's Men—from advocating for personal autonomy (the right to live out one's full life) and removing barriers to participation in government and education, to trampling over their fellow Númenóreans—I'm inclined to see a similar progression. But, as in the American analogy, we shouldn't forget that their poor treatment of non-Númenóreans was present from the start.

I'm not super happy with this post, but like you I am now out of time, and want to get this done with so that when I have free time again later this afternoon/evening I can focus on other things. :smilespin:
1. Clinging to life. I most certainly do not agree with a policy of forced suicide/ euthanasia for the elderly, and so there's no disagreement there. I think you can measure the health and compassion of a society by how they treat their most vulnerable citizens, and that includes the elderly. But as you note, it's not quite clear what that custom derived from. I don't assume it was the Valar who encouraged it. To me it always felt like it arose organically among the long-lived early Numenoreans. But that perceptions has just as much textual basis as the perception that the Valar may have encouraged it. Which is essentially...not much.

2. Fate of the soul. I'm afraid I place the blame for the desire for immortality squarely on Númenórean shoulders. Perhaps the Valar could have been less paternalistic in reprimanding them for this desire, but ultimately, I think coming to terms with mortality is fundamental to the human condition, and for me personally, not fearing death is one of the most spiritually liberating experiences one can have. And though I'm a materialist in matters of social and political justice, I do not extend that philosophical perspective to personal or psychological health. So we'll just have to disagree on the "gift of men" as I do see it as the Valar see it. As a gift. And as a critical element of the creative and destructive processes that define the universe.

3. Language of government. I don't require that there have been a native Sindarin minority in Númenor to judge the severity of the King's Men suppression of Sindarin, and those who maintained amicable relations with the elves. Even if the Faithful were not native Sindarin speakers, and spoke fluent Adunaic (which I suspect characterizes most of them), they are still a political minority that is suppressed by an autocratic nationalism instituted by the King's Men. And it has to be noted that though the Faithful were not an ethnic minority, and the King's Men perhaps can't be accused of suppressing an ethnic minority within Númenor, they did aggressively advance and institute a racist policy towards the Eldar. But in any event, I know you don't agree with any such policies. Perhaps we do disagree on the early King's Men, whoever, who first insisted on Adunaic representation. I think they erred from the start by insisting on representation that was more closely tied to language, culture and ethnicity. Their moral standing would have been higher, for me, had they insisted on a more impartial, legalistic representation instead. One that respected majority and minority political voices. In essence, a consociational system. But once again, this would have killed the drama of the Akallabêth, and I'm glad Tolkien set the King's Men on this slippery slope.

4. Faithful colonialism. I'm afraid I'll have to generally agree with your take on this. :) There are indeed fundamental principles of Faithful exceptionalism that taken to their extremes, can lead to the justification of ethnic cleansing of men deemed lesser (which did indeed occur). However, unlike with the King's Men, there seems to have been a legacy of tolerance among the Faithful that was primarily tied to their interracial experiences and attitudes regarding their relationships with the Eldar, with the men of Middle Earth they interacted with, and their greater respect for nature (vs. the desire to dominate and conquer nature, which was central to King's Men thought). Though the "Tars" of Númenor were indeed the first colonialists, Tolkien stresses that they generally acted as teachers and traders among the men of Middle Earth, while the King's Men stressed the domination of such men, and eventually, oppression and enslavement. Yes, the Faithful were the first, and yes there were abuses committed among their ranks, but I don't think Tolkien would have been explicit about the generally more benevolent nature of their interactions with the men of Middle Earth, if he didn't mean for readers to come to that same conclusion. That all said, the Faithful were not perfect, and their belief in their inherent superiority could easily be utilized as a justification for oppression, and that is worth of critique.

In summary, concepts of ethnic superiority are clearly there from the founding of Númenor. And it was probably a mistake for the Valar to create these supermen, granting them longer life and a fancy island to get rich on. Those are the seeds of the colonialism of the later years. But the Numenoreans still had a choice of being humble and magnanimous towards other men, or imposing their will on other men. And while the Faithful were not perfect in their choice, it's certainly the King's Men who went furthest in the latter direction.

That's all for now. Will dwell on these topics a bit more over the next few days as it's nice prep for the show. But I think I'll say no more until Voronwë weights in. :pancake:
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Re: Media previews

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

One of my very favorite places in the world is the Redwood Loop at Henry Cowell State Redwood Park, which is about 6 miles from where I live. There are numerous otherworldly old-growth Redwood trees on the loop, of unfathomable age and beauty. I've been there literally hundreds of times, and the sense of awe that they inspire in me never abates. But one of my favorite trees on the loop is an old, stately Douglas Fir. It too is beautiful and old, even though it pales in comparison to its neighbors. A few years ago, having reached the age of a couple of hundred years old, several times older that a "normal" tree, it reached the end of its life and now it serves the forest as a nurse log, continuing its existence in the greater whole, while its neighbors continue their unfathomable lives, seemingly unchanged and infinite. My friend (and namesake) tree did not cling to life beyond its natural lifespan, longer though it was than most of its "kind", nor did it succumb to envy of its neighbors of unfathomable beauty and seemingly unlimited life spans.

I'm tempted to leave it at that, but I will add a bit. I strongly disagree with the characterization of the Numenoreans voluntarily giving up their lives when they reach the end of the extended life-span granted to them as "suicide" or even worse, as elder abuse. There is no indication that I am aware of that the individuals who did not cling to life threw themselves into a fire or leaped off a precipice or took poison Hemlock, or otherwise took some affirmative step that caused their deaths -- or that someone else did so to them! My understanding is that their deaths were like the one of their descendent Aragorn - an acceptance of death, not a taking of an action causing death.

Like my namesake tree friend, this is a case of accepting death at its time, at the end of an appropriate - indeed extended - period of time. It is helpful to look at what Christopher wrote in Note 1 to The Line of Elros:
But in the latest writing on this subject (which derives, however, from about the same time as the latest work on the tale of Aldarion and Erendis) the distinction in longevity is greatly diminished. To the Númenórean people as a whole is ascribed a life-span some five times the length of that of other Men (although this is in contradiction to the statement in The Lord of the Rings Appendix A (I, i) that the Númenóreans were granted a span "in the beginning thrice that of lesser Men," a statement made again in the preface to the present text); and the difference of the Line of Elros from others in this respect is less a distinct mark and attribute than a mere tendency to live to a greater age. Though the case of Erendis, and the somewhat shorter lives of the "Bëorians" of the West, are mentioned, there is no suggestion here, as there is in the tale of Aldarion and Erendis, that the difference in their expectation of life was both very great and also something inherent in their destinies and recognised to be so.

In this account, only Elros was granted a peculiar longevity, and it is said here that he and his brother Elrond were not differently endowed in the physical potential of life, but that since Elros elected to remain among the kindred of Men he retained the chief characteristic of Men as opposed to the Quendi: the "seeking else-whither," as the Eldar called it, the "weariness" or desire to depart from the world. It is further expounded that the increase in the Númenórean span was brought about by assimilation of their mode of life to that of the Eldar: though they were expressly warned that they had not become Eldar, but remained mortal Men, and had been granted only an extension of the period of their vigour of mind and body. Thus (as the Eldar) they grew at much the same rate as other Men, but when they had achieved "full-growth" they then aged, or "wore out," very much more slowly. The first approach of "world-weariness" was indeed for them a sign that their period of vigour was nearing its end. When it came to an end, if they persisted in living, then decay would proceed, as growth had done, no more slowly than among other Men. Thus a Númenórean would pass quickly, in ten years maybe, from health and vigour of mind to decrepitude and senility. In the earlier generations they did not "cling to life," but resigned it voluntarily. "Clinging to life," and so in the end dying perforce and involuntarily, was one of the changes brought about by the Shadow and the rebellion of the Númenóreans; it was also accompanied by a shrinking of their natural life-span.
While I don't disagree that forcing someone to die because they have a certain disability would be a horrible form of elder abuse, that is simply not what is happening here. Another text worth looking at is a note printed in The Nature of Middle-earth in the text "The Aging of Numenoreans":
The long life of the Numenoreans was in answer to the actual prayers of the Edain (and Elros). Manwë warned them of its perils. They asked to have more or less "the life-span of old", because they wanted to learn more.
While it is not clear, presumably the reference "the life-span of old" is reference to the time before Morgoth put some shadow on the race of men. But the peril that Manwë warned of was that as a result, the Numenoreans would lose sight of the special place that humankind had in Arda. As it says in Appendix A:
For though a long span of life had been granted to them, in the beginning thrice that of lesser Men, they must remain mortal, since the Valar were not permitted to take from them the Gift of Men (or the Doom of Men, as it was afterwards called).
The conversion of the "Gift of Men" to the "Doom of Men" is related to that that Morgoth put on the race of men. As Tolkien wrote in the Ainulindalë (which was moved by Christopher to Chapter One of the Quenta):
It is one with this gift of freedom that the children of Men dwell only a short space in the world alive, and are not bound to it, and depart soon whither the Elves know not. Whereas the Elves remain until the end of days, and their love of the Earth and all the world is more single and more poignant therefore, and as the years lengthen ever more sorrowful. For the Elves die not till tile world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief (and to both these seeming deaths they are subject); neither does age subdue their strength, unless one grow weary of ten thousand centuries; and dying they are gathered to the halls of Mandos in Valinor, whence they may in time return. But the sons of Men die indeed, and leave the world; wherefore they are called the Guests, or the Strangers. Death is their fate, the gift of Ilúvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy. But Melkor has cast his shadow upon it, and confounded it with darkness, and brought forth evil out of good, and fear out of hope.
Of course, for Tolkien that Gift relates the Christian concept of an after-life, but it doesn't have to mean that. As SW noted, "Tolkien and the Buddha had a lot in common." One of the most important Buddhist texts is the Diamond Sutra, or the Vajracchedika Sutra—the “thunderbolt” or “diamond” that “cuts through illusion." In the Diamond Sutra the meditator is urged to throw away, to release, four notions in order to understand our own true nature and the true nature of reality: the notion of “self,” the notion of “human being,” the notion of “living beings,” and the notion of “life span.” As Thich NhatHanh writes:
Observation tells us it is impossible to pass from something into nothing, to go from someone to no one. There is only continued manifestation in different forms. Before we were born, we were already there, and, after we die, we will continue to be there. Nothing can pass from the realm of being into the realm of non-being. As the scientist Lavoisier discovered, “Nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything transforms.”

Hanh, Thich Nhat. Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet (pp. 29-30).
Like my tree friend, the Numenoreans that accepted death at their appointed time did not stop being; they joyfully moved into a new existence. They did not commit suicide; they accepted their transition to a new state of being at the appointed time, rather than clinging to life. To quote from a more prosaic source, one that has been much-criticized for not being "true" to Tolkien, but which I have always felt did a good job of getting at a deeper truth in Tolkien's work:
Peter Jackson and Friends wrote:End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take.
"Spirits in the shape of hawks and eagles flew ever to and from his halls; and their eyes could see to the depths of the seas, and pierce the hidden caverns beneath the world."
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Re: Media previews

Post by Eldy »

Thank you again for making me think (and double-check various books), Stranger Wings!

1. I don't claim to be able to answer this question with complete certainty, but based on what Tolkien wrote about Númenóreans (and Men in general) and mortality, I think it's highly unlikely they came up with the idea of voluntarily dying on their own. In Letter 131, Tolkien said that the Númenóreans' "long life aids their achievements in art and wisdom, but breeds a possessive attitude to these things, and desire awakes for more time for their enjoyment" (Letters, p. 154; emphasis in the original). This is the opposite of a mindset that leads to giving up the chance to live even longer. In the same letter, the Ban of the Valar is said to be implemented because the Valar anticipated this problem, but while the early Númenóreans' "obedience [was] free and willing" it was "without complete understanding." And in Letter 212, Tolkien said, "It should be regarded as an Elvish perception of what death – not being tied to the 'circles of the world' – should now become for Men, however it arose. A divine 'punishment' is also a divine 'gift', if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing..." (p. 286; emphasis in the original). I think this is fairly unambiguous that the Gift of Death concept came from Elves and was later imparted to Men. This is also consistent with the Athrabeth and the Tale of Adanel, where the original Mannish belief about death is very different. I just don't see the suicide custom arising without this external idea being adopted by Númenóreans, who I'll again note were deliberately cut off from the rest of humanity—and from the Eldar of Middle-earth who wanted to live independently—by order of the Valar.

2. I'm willing to agree to disagree where we differ here. :)

3. I think we're basically on the same page here; the length of my response to point 3 in my previous post was mostly just me seizing the opportunity to ramble about tangentially related topics I find interesting. :P I will note, though, that in the scenario where Andustar was mostly Sindarin-speaking, that's because it was settled by Bëorians, so there is to some extent an ethnic element there. Obviously, the Hadorians and Bëorians were originally related and had already begun to intermarry in greater numbers in Beleriand, meaning no one in Númenor would be of purely Hadorian or Bëorian descent after thousands of years, but Tolkien himself noted that these mixed origins meant that "Númenóreans were not of uniform racial descent" (NoMe, p. 323). Obviously, this does not make the King's Men look better, and I'll agree that even without a native Sindarin-speaking population the later Kings' linguistic policies were wrong and immoral.

4. I strongly disagree that we should take the Akallabêth's description of Faithful colonialism at face value. As a text with an ostensible in-universe authorship—Elendil himself, according to The Line of Elros, though I have a hard time taking that seriously since it doesn't read like a firsthand account—it's necessary to keep in mind the biases and motivations of those authors. (This is fundamental to my method of reading the legendarium; I've made the case for it elsewhere.) Naturally, Faithful writers want to portray their people in a good light, but I dispute that there is such a thing as a benevolent colonialism. Tolkien himself was no fan of empire, and he stated in Letter 100, "I know nothing about British or American imperialism in the Far East that does not fill me with regret and disgust, I am afraid I am not even supported by a glimmer of patriotism in this remaining war [i.e., the Pacific War of WWII]" (Letters, p. 115). I understand this is not as sweeping a statement as mine, but when Tolkien portrayed the earliest stage of Númenórean colonialism—Aldarion's and his successors' actions in the Enedwaith—as involving widespread death, displacement of native peoples, and environmental devastation (significant from such a noted lover of trees!), I simply cannot take the Akallabêth seriously when it claims colonialism was good for the peoples of Middle-earth. Especially not when its justifications so neatly mirror those of Primary World apologists for empire. If there were specific counter-examples in other texts of Faithful (or pre-divide) colonialism benefitting indigenous peoples, I might feel differently, but I don't think it's an accident that Tolkien didn't give us any. And since we have considerable evidence that post-Downfall Gondor was at odds with the Pre-Númenórean inhabitants of the region (much of it recounted in my previous post, but note also that Minas Anor was build to guard the Anduin valley against them, according to OTROP), I don't think that approach arose out of nothing, nor do I think there's any reason to believe Tal-Elmar was an isolated case of bad apples.

Fake edit: cross-post with Voronwë; I'll have to come back to read his post later.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Eldy »

Voronwë the Faithful wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 6:20 pmI'm tempted to leave it at that, but I will add a bit. I strongly disagree with the characterization of the Numenoreans voluntarily giving up their lives when they reach the end of the extended life-span granted to them as "suicide" or even worse, as elder abuse. There is no indication that I am aware of that the individuals who did not cling to life threw themselves into a fire or leaped off a precipice or took poison Hemlock, or otherwise took some affirmative step that caused their deaths -- or that someone else did so to them!
I would like to be clear that I have not attempted to argue that anyone forced Númenóreans on an individual basis to die. While I'm disturbed by a culture and a religious tradition which claims that people who do not voluntarily die at a certain point in life are morally suspect, as insinuated by the messengers of the Valar in the case of Tar-Atanamir, I would not invoke the concept of elder abuse here. (Indeed, the custom, when observed, would prevent people from becoming elderly enough to be increasingly vulnerable to abuse in the first place.) I think one can reasonably describe religious doctrines of this sort as involving social pressure, but this is very different from people being shoved off cliffs because they don't want to die on their own initiative.
Voronwë the Faithful wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 6:20 pmMy understanding is that their deaths were like the one of their descendent Aragorn - an acceptance of death, not a taking of an action causing death.
The custom was to die before the point that they would from natural causes, and there had to be some proactive choice in the matter, because the later Númenóreans refused to make it. "Atanamir is called also the Unwilling, for he was the first of the Kings to refuse to lay down his life, or to renounce the sceptre; and he lived until death took him perforce in dotage." (UT, The Line of Elros) If the original custom were merely talking about acceptance of death at the point at which it became inevitable, then Tar-Atanamir not dying until it was beyond his control would not have been notable, nor would he have been the first Númenórean to become "witless and unmanned" in his old age (TS, Akallabêth), a pejorative but fairly clear description of senescence.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Stranger Wings »

I have to admit that I also never read the Nunenorean practice of willingly dying as “suicide,” and so was a little taken aback when you described it that way, Eldy. Is there really enough in the text to justify that interpretation?

Regarding “benevolent colonialism” I certainly don’t believe in the concept myself. I was simply noting that Tolkien stressed that early adventures in Middle Earth from the Faithful were allegedly not exploitative, and that later on, where some exploitative behavior was practiced by the Tars (as I like to call them), they are ultimately a lesser evil than the explicitly authoritarian, exploitative and slave-taking colonialism of the King’s Men. I just don’t think there’s a good argument for much of a moral equivalence between the two. Yes, perhaps Elendil is an unreliable narrator, but Tolkien created a moral contrast between the Faithful and the King’s Men for a reason.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Stranger Wings wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 7:25 pm I have to admit that I also never read the Nunenorean practice of willingly dying as “suicide,” and so was a little taken aback when you described it that way, Eldy. Is there really enough in the text to justify that interpretation?
I believe that it is 100% clear that that is NOT what Tolkien meant. But how one reads it is up to the individual reader. In my opinion, reading it that way loses something very important to what Tolkien was trying to say, but that does not invalidate a contrary reading.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Eldy »

Stranger Wings wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 7:25 pmI have to admit that I also never read the Nunenorean practice of willingly dying as “suicide,” and so was a little taken aback when you described it that way, Eldy. Is there really enough in the text to justify that interpretation?
I'm well aware that using the term suicide is unusual, but this is not the only topic on which I have a minority, transgressive interpretation of something in the legendarium. :P Certainly, I do not claim Tolkien would have called it suicide. But I believe the text is fairly clear that the Númenórean custom of "laying down" one's life involved making a proactive choice to die at a point earlier than they would have if they chose to continue living until they died of natural causes. That's suicide in my book, even if it's not a violent death. But others are obviously free to disagree.
Stranger Wings wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 7:25 pmRegarding “benevolent colonialism” I certainly don’t believe in the concept myself. I was simply noting that Tolkien stressed that early adventures in Middle Earth from the Faithful were allegedly not exploitative, and that later on, where some exploitative behavior was practiced by the Tars (as I like to call them), they are ultimately a lesser evil than the explicitly authoritarian, exploitative and slave-taking colonialism of the King’s Men. I just don’t think there’s a good argument for much of a moral equivalence between the two. Yes, perhaps Elendil is an unreliable narrator, but Tolkien created a moral contrast between the Faithful and the King’s Men for a reason.
As noted, I do not take texts with ostensible in-universe authors to be objective statements in Tolkien's own voice. The Akallabêth depicts a stark moral distinction between the Faithful and the King's Men because it's presented to us as the work of the Faithful, or a Faithful sympathizer if you want to imagine Aelfwine as the author. If one wants to make the case for the moral superiority of the Faithful, I think it's better to look at events in Elenna itself. Moreover, I think it's misleading to attribute slavery to the King's Men ideology without at least acknowledging that the practice only began after Sauron (who had the Ring with him, and presumably used it) began directing things.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Eldy »

Voronwë the Faithful wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 7:28 pmI believe that it is 100% clear that that is NOT what Tolkien meant. But how one reads it is up to the individual reader. In my opinion, reading it that way loses something very important to what Tolkien was trying to say, but that does not invalidate a contrary reading.
I'm curious as to your "100% clear" interpretation of what the texts tell us about Tar-Atanamir's death, and why it was unusual, if you believe it was not previously the custom of Númenóreans to voluntarily die before severe symptoms of aging set in. What does it mean to "lay down one's life" if you are already dying of natural causes?
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Re: Media previews

Post by Stranger Wings »

Voronwë the Faithful wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 7:28 pm
Stranger Wings wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 7:25 pm I have to admit that I also never read the Nunenorean practice of willingly dying as “suicide,” and so was a little taken aback when you described it that way, Eldy. Is there really enough in the text to justify that interpretation?
I believe that it is 100% clear that that is NOT what Tolkien meant. But how one reads it is up to the individual reader. In my opinion, reading it that way loses something very important to what Tolkien was trying to say, but that does not invalidate a contrary reading.
I personally always saw it as having primarily a metaphorical meaning, rather than a literal one. The willingness to let go of the temporal world, rather than grasping onto it, during one’s life as well as in the moment of death. I also didn’t see this as an implied judgment against anyone who lived on longer than the average Númenórean because they experienced joy longer than others. That’s why I always fixated on the “beyond the end of joy” line. That qualifier tells me that Tolkien, and the Numenoreans he was writing about, simply frowned upon a possessive approach to life, and a desire to conquer death.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Exactly what I said earlier; that he was not willing to accept death and instead fought it until he could no longer. There is nothing in the quote that you cite (or in anything else that Tolkien wrote that I am aware of) that suggests that the Númenórean's before Tar-Atanamir (or Aragorn) took some affirmative action that caused their deaths, rather than simply accepted death. Anything to the contrary would be completely antithetical to Tolkien's core beliefs. Which is part of what makes Túrin's (and Nienor's) story so remarkable, but that is another discussion.

x-posted with SW.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Eldy »

Stranger Wings wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 7:37 pmI personally always saw it as having primarily a metaphorical meaning, rather than a literal one. The willingness to let go of the temporal world, rather than grasping onto it, during one’s life as well as in the moment of death.
Voronwë the Faithful wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 7:42 pmThere is nothing in the quote that you cite (or in anything else that Tolkien wrote that I am aware of) that suggests that the Númenórean's before Tar-Atanamir (or Aragorn) took some affirmative action that caused their deaths, rather than simply accepted death.
"A good Númenórean died of free will when he felt it to be time to do so." (Letters, p. 205 fn)

"It was also the Elvish (and uncorrupted Númenórean) view that a 'good' Man would or should die voluntarily by surrender with trust before being compelled (as did Aragorn)." (Letters, p. 286 fn; emphasis in the original)

How does one die voluntarily before being compelled without making an affirmative choice to do so? What is metaphorical about this?
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Re: Media previews

Post by RoseMorninStar »

I agree with V. I love the analogy of the tree. I ascribe to the view of death as a gift of acceptance and moving on. While I do not follow the same (or any) religious views, I have seen people live many long years in suffering and pain waiting to die of 'natural causes'. It's torture and torment with no hope. A painful burden I wouldn't wish on a beloved pet. It isn't the same as suicide or murder. It is an acceptance of a (hopefully) life well lived and time to move on. To live long beyond one's time would be like too little butter spread over too much bread, golum-like, with the life sucked out of one, becoming something of a living wraith.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Eldy wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 7:44 pm
Stranger Wings wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 7:37 pmI personally always saw it as having primarily a metaphorical meaning, rather than a literal one. The willingness to let go of the temporal world, rather than grasping onto it, during one’s life as well as in the moment of death.
Voronwë the Faithful wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 7:42 pmThere is nothing in the quote that you cite (or in anything else that Tolkien wrote that I am aware of) that suggests that the Númenórean's before Tar-Atanamir (or Aragorn) took some affirmative action that caused their deaths, rather than simply accepted death.
"A good Númenórean died of free will when he felt it to be time to do so." (Letters, p. 205 fn)

"It was also the Elvish (and uncorrupted Númenórean) view that a 'good' Man would or should die voluntarily by surrender with trust before being compelled (as did Aragorn)." (Letters, p. 286 fn; emphasis in the original)

How does one die voluntarily before being compelled without making an affirmative choice to do so? What is metaphorical about this?
None of those quotes remotely contradict what I am saying. They accepted death willingly. They didn't take poison. They didn't leap into a fire, or a river below. They didn't fall onto a talking sword. They just accepted death. Nothing that Tolkien wrote says otherwise.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Eldy »

Voronwë the Faithful wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 8:16 pmNone of those quotes remotely contradict what I am saying. They accepted death willingly. They didn't take poison. They didn't leap into a fire, or a river below. They didn't fall onto a talking sword. They just accepted death. Nothing that Tolkien wrote says otherwise.
Nowhere have I claimed that the Númenórean custom of laying down one's life involved violent death, so I'm not sure what your point is there. That the method of dying was peaceful and without physical action (other than literally lying down, based on Aragorn's example) has no bearing on whether "dying voluntarily" involves making a choice, the consequence of which is to shorten one's life. I'm not even arguing that it's an illegitimate choice; my objection is strictly to a fictional belief system which considers people morally suspect for doing otherwise.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

We seem to be talking past each other here, so I'm not going to continue, other than to repeat that by definition calling it "suicide" requires that the person take some action that causes their death, rather simply accepting death. You seem to have a different definition.
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Re: Media previews

Post by RoseMorninStar »

Tolkien was Catholic and one of the seven deadly sins is greed (avarice) and a desire to grasp beyond what is due and the grace of humility in relinquishing what is beyond one's due. I believe his thoughts in the matter center around this.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Eldy »

Voronwë the Faithful wrote: Fri Aug 12, 2022 8:35 pmWe seem to be talking past each other here, so I'm not going to continue, other than to repeat that by definition calling it "suicide" requires that the person take some action that causes their death, rather simply accepting death. You seem to have a different definition.
In the Primary World, if a person "accepts death," they don't die right away, unless they were already at death's door. The acceptance of death has no immediate causal relationship with dying.

According to Tolkien, Númenóreans who "died of free will" were able to choose the time of their death ("when he felt it to be time to do so"). I think this indicates that their choice led to their death in short order—I call that a causal relationship. And yes, I think making a choice that directly results in an earlier death than you'd naturally have is, in effect, suicide. I should probably stress that, for me, that's not the same as calling it morally wrong.

In general, I try to be clear that I don't consider my views to be the last word on any given matter, particularly since I take "heretical" stances on a number of legendarium-related topics. But it's frustrating to try to have a conversation with someone who insists it's "100% clear" their interpretation is correct, and that the alternative is "completely antithetical to Tolkien's core beliefs," when they refuse to elaborate on their points or offer interpretations of any of the quotes I've provided, other than repeating the original point practically verbatim. It's not my intention to say that people can't legitimately disagree with me, but when that sentiment is seemingly not returned—and if you are going to fall back on patronizingly implying that I don't know the meaning of the word suicide—I see little point to talking about Tolkien here.

I understand that by replying to a thread after you've said you're leaving, this post runs the risk of coming across as a petty attempt at getting in the last word. Maybe it is, but I'm already stressed and strung out from IRL stuff this month, and not in a mindset to keep quiet in response to snide jabs at either my intelligence or my honesty. Which is probably a sign that I shouldn't be on forums at all right now.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

I certainly did not mean to insult you, or add to your stress. Both you and SW strongly asked that I respond and I did so to the best of my understanding of what Tolkien wrote, what he intended, and how I interpret it. I wish that I had just stayed silent.
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Re: Media previews

Post by Eldy »

I mean, this is your forum, so if one of us should stay quiet it's definitely not you. The last thing I want is to make others feel unwelcome in a discussion, though I understand I sometimes fail in this regard.

Anyway, I apologize for not handling this better. I'll try to pull myself together and come back when I'm marginally less of a mess.
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