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Ser Scot A Ellison

Why Tolkien is not coddling his readers, why Tolkien is awesome

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Our very own Roose Bolton's Pet Leech has written a wonderful rebuttal of (our very own) Trackerneil's criticism of the "conservativism of Fantasy".  RBPL linked his most recent writting in the last post of that now closed thread.  I'm starting this thread to give us more space to discuss why Moorcock and Stross are off their heads in their criticisms of Tolkien and his wonderful works:
 

https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/of-j-r-r-tolkien-and-status-quos-part-iii/comment-page-1/#comment-27

From the rebuttal:

It is, in short, nonsense. For Tolkien explains what he means by “consolation”:

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’, nor ‘fugitive’. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

In short, it is the message that however dark things may get (and if one reads The Silmarillion, one sees that Tolkien can go to some very grim places), there is no reason to accept that that sorrow and failure will last forever. Lying down and dying is not an option in Tolkien (well, it is, but those who choose that route, like Denethor, are clear failures). Instead, the implicit idea is that we have to keep the flame alive (so to speak) for the unlooked-for moment where the tide turns, a sentiment utterly at odds with what Moorcock (and Stross) think Tolkien is getting at. Rather than trying to put people to sleep with soothing poison, Tolkien’s “consolation” urges us to stay awake in the darkness, so that if dawn comes, we will be there to see it, and thereby derive both strength and powerful joy. Of course, we might not be the ones to actually see the dawn, but our grandchildren might.

...

(2) Rohan had come at last

This one shows you can still achieve a powerful “turn of the tide” without needing Divine Intervention. This is the moment where the brave defenders of Minas Tirith – having held out for so long – are faced with the Witch-King himself riding through the gates of their city. As far as Gondor knows, it is doomed. Then something happens, starting with that most simple (and biblical) of images, a rooster crowing:

And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the city, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, reckoning nothing of war nor of wizardry, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.
And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns, in dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the north wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.

Does this strike you as mollycoddling the reader? Not to me, it doesn’t. This is a brave denial in the face of all that has come before – not a “go back to sleep; it’ll be all right in the end”, but rather a “we’re not finished yet, you bastards” worthy of a Winston Churchill speech (I know, I shouldn’t bring the Second World War into this, but you know what I mean). It’s the sort of literary passage where if you don’t get chills, something is wrong.

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2 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Our very own Roose Bolton's Pet Leech has written a wonderful rebuttal of (our very own) Trackerneil's criticism of the "conservativism of Fantasy".  RBPL linked his most recent writting in the last post of that now closed thread.  I'm starting this thread to give us more space to discuss why Moorcock and Stross are off their heads in their criticisms of Tolkien and his wonderful works:
 

https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/of-j-r-r-tolkien-and-status-quos-part-iii/comment-page-1/#comment-27

From the rebuttal:
 

 

I especially liked RBPL's observation, in his previous essay, that far from Sauron representing disruption to a cosy middle class status quo, he is the embodiment of order and stability on Middle Earth (albeit, a very unpleasant kind or order and stability).

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tolkien can say whatever he wants about consolation, but am not obliged to credit an author's intention, especially when laden with theistic notions.

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Sologdin,

I'm not burdened with your dislike of the author's "theistic notions".  I love the idea of "eucatastrophe".  I've experienced such a moment a number of times in my life.  It is not a "happy ending" but is miraculous nonetheless.

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The problem with Tolkien is his pessimism, that the world is gradually decaying, and that the side of "good" is fighting the long defeat. The facts are to the contrary. The state of the human race has continually improved in all meaningful measurable ways, we have just enjoyed decades of the most peaceful time on earth in human history, there is the highest average standard of living in human history. In short, humans are fighting a long victory and there is no reason to doubt that they will continue to do so.

Ecologically speaking, the world is in dire straights. Tolkien at least got that right.

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8 minutes ago, Sword of Funny said:

The problem with Tolkien is his pessimism, that the world is gradually decaying, and that the side of "good" is fighting the long defeat. The facts are to the contrary. The state of the human race has continually improved in all meaningful measurable ways, we have just enjoyed decades of the most peaceful time on earth in human history, there is the highest average standard of living in human history. In short, humans are fighting a long victory and there is no reason to doubt that they will continue to do so.

Ecologically speaking, the world is in dire straights. Tolkien at least got that right.

Highest standard of living, ok.  But the peace thing... What period are you referring to? 

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It should be noted that the majority ot RBPL's criticism so far is not of my paper, but of the quote with which my coauthor and I open the paper. That was by Charles Stross, and although I don't disagree with Stross, my work is not his and his is not mine.

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38 minutes ago, sologdin said:

tolkien can say whatever he wants about consolation, but am not obliged to credit an author's intention, especially when laden with theistic notions.

Also, this is totally on point. We don't judge a work by what the author says about it; we judge the work by the work.

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13 minutes ago, larrytheimp said:

Highest standard of living, ok.  But the peace thing... What period are you referring to? 

I am referring to human violence data from prehistoric hunter gatherer tribes up to the present day.

Here's a link to some graphs about it:

https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Better-Angels-of-Our-Nature-in-Graphs-and-Numbers

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23 minutes ago, Sword of Funny said:

The problem with Tolkien is his pessimism, that the world is gradually decaying, and that the side of "good" is fighting the long defeat. The facts are to the contrary. The state of the human race has continually improved in all meaningful measurable ways, we have just enjoyed decades of the most peaceful time on earth in human history, there is the highest average standard of living in human history. In short, humans are fighting a long victory and there is no reason to doubt that they will continue to do so.

Ecologically speaking, the world is in dire straights. Tolkien at least got that right.

Yes, but he lived in a time when the two worst wars in humanity's history occurred, and when it seemed that the primary purpose of technological advancements was not to improve the standard of life, but to find more efficient ways of ending it. So I can understand his pessimism. 

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6 minutes ago, Corvinus said:

Yes, but he lived in a time when the two worst wars in humanity's history occurred, and when it seemed that the primary purpose of technological advancements was not to improve the standard of life, but to find more efficient ways of ending it. So I can understand his pessimism. 

They were not the two worst wars in human history. See my post above for examples.

I think Tolkien was influenced by the Wars, yes, but even more by his religion, which is after all an apocolyptic religion.

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3 minutes ago, Sword of Funny said:

They were not the two worst wars in human history. See my post above for examples.

I think Tolkien was influenced by the Wars, yes, but even more by his religion, which is after all an apocolyptic religion.

From your very own link

" World War II was certainly the worst thing that happened in human history in terms of absolute number of people killed. It’s not clear whether it was the worst in terms of the proportion of the population that was killed, "

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42 minutes ago, TrackerNeil said:

Also, this is totally on point. We don't judge a work by what the author says about it; we judge the work by the work.

And the examples of Eucatastrophe in the work is judging the work by...?

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26 minutes ago, Sword of Funny said:

They were not the two worst wars in human history. See my post above for examples.

I think Tolkien was influenced by the Wars, yes, but even more by his religion, which is after all an apocolyptic religion.

They were petty much getting there.  I can't think of many worse places to have lived in than Eastern Europe or Eastern China between 1930 and 1950 (perhaps Northern China, during the Mongol invasions).  Extreme pessimism would seem very natural in the aftermath of WWII.

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22 minutes ago, Which Tyler said:

From your very own link

" World War II was certainly the worst thing that happened in human history in terms of absolute number of people killed. It’s not clear whether it was the worst in terms of the proportion of the population that was killed, "

Exactly. Absolute numbers are not as helpful as proportions of populations, since the human population has exploded this past century.

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42 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

And the examples of Eucatastrophe in the work is judging the work by...?

I'm echoing a general--and important--point that was made by someone else. Criticism of The Lord of the Rings is not rebutted by something Tolkien might have said in an interview or written in a letter. 

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The nitpicking if some Mongol conquest or Chinese rebellion (spanning decades) were worse than WW I and II is completely beside the point. For people living through the first half of the 20th century they were clearly and by far the worst wars they knew of not only from their own experience but also from recent or distant history.

The point is also not some absolute death toll (that's a ridiculous pseudo-scientific and ahistorical measure anyway) but that WW I and II were 1) spanning most of the "civilized" world, 2) coming after centuries of mainly local or colonial conflicts (with the exception of the Napoleonic wars but they had been 100 years past in 1914) and 3) also after hundreds of years of supposedly "continuous improvement of the state of the human race in all meaningful measurable ways", namely the unprecedented enlightenment and technological, cultural and civilisatory progress of the 18th and 19th centuries.

But on-topic: I really enjoyed Roose Bolton's Pet Leech's blog posts and highly recommend them as well as other stuff on his blog.

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6 minutes ago, TrackerNeil said:

I'm echoing a general--and important--point that was made by someone else. Criticism of The Lord of the Rings is not rebutted by something Tolkien might have said in an interview or written in a letter. 

I don't agree.  I believe authorial intention matters and is important.  Regardless of that point the linked article gives three examples of eucatastrophe in LOTR and points out how these are not the "shiny happy endings" Stross and Moorcock accuse Tolkien of delighting in they simply aren't.  They are turning points where despite the hope engendered by them desperate struggles for survival must still continue.  They are far from "happy endings".

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37 minutes ago, Jo498 said:

The nitpicking if some Mongol conquest or Chinese rebellion (spanning decades) were worse than WW I and II is completely beside the point. For people living through the first half of the 20th century they were clearly and by far the worst wars they knew of not only from their own experience but also from recent or distant history.

The point is also not some absolute death toll (that's a ridiculous pseudo-scientific and ahistorical measure anyway) but that WW I and II were 1) spanning most of the "civilized" world, 2) coming after centuries of mainly local or colonial conflicts (with the exception of the Napoleonic wars but they had been 100 years past in 1914) and 3) also after hundreds of years of supposedly "continuous improvement of the state of the human race in all meaningful measurable ways", namely the unprecedented enlightenment and technological, cultural and civilisatory progress of the 18th and 19th centuries.

But on-topic: I really enjoyed Roose Bolton's Pet Leech's blog posts and highly recommend them as well as other stuff on his blog.

However he reached his view, Tolkien depicted a world spiraling inevitably to destruction. This isn't objectively true. It may be subjectively true, but Tolkien is writing on level that addresses a universal Good and a universal Evil. I could go on and on and on with examples of how Good is winning (in the real world, and Tolkien meant ME to reflect reality).

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