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Ser Scot A Ellison

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

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Eh, the gender thing about people being male or female despite their bodies is actually something which would work with transgendered people. They are innately female even if they were born male. Which runs into what Tolkien hated about metaphor vs. applicability. Tolkien knew you can apply his work to discussing a lot of stuff but he really was writing about a Ring and a Dark Lord.

The "Rules" of his universe aren't Catholic but some weird Nordic Catholicism Fusion which does without organized religion.

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17 minutes ago, Darth Richard II said:

I talked with a born again Christian a lot about Toikien who was convinced LotR was filled with messages about the evils of the catholic church. Doesn't make it so.

:lol:

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4 hours ago, Jo498 said:

One certainly does not have to be a conservative or religious at all to find this a deplorable thing. All is needed is the idea that a ruler has some kind of duty to his people and should not "desert" his position, even at the bitter end.

Sure, I'm no Denethor fan. But the point there is that Denethor's sin has a religious dimension that is usually overlooked. He is no heathen, and should know better than taking his own life to spite his rightful king (and blaspheme god in the process). Remember, the Númenóreans are a pious people without it ever coming up. They worshiped Eru on the Meneltarma and those rituals were continued by the Kings of Gondor on the Mindolluin. That's why a seedling of the White Tree can be found there.

Oh, and pointing out that Tolkien was a conservative Catholic isn't bashing or anything. It's just fact. I've no issue with that and don't hold that against him.

Quote

Or "gender essentialism". This has been such a common stance in almost all cultures for most of human history (sure there exceptions but they are exceptions) until a few decades ago that it was simply the "unconcious" default position of almost everyone. Very few atheist communists would have thought such a feature remarkable or particularly catholic/conservative in 1955 or whenever LotR came out.

Well, philosophically the idea that an angelic bodiless being should have a gender is just crap. That was clear a long time. I mean, there is a reason why nobody talks about the archangel Michael being male. Yeah, he is depicted as being male and all but if we talk about angels we know they have no bodies and are only spiritual beings, right?

Gender essentialism of incarnated beings who naturally are a union of body and soul is another thing. That a female elf would take again a female body after her death isn't the issue. The idea is that gender differences even affect strictly spiritual beings. The Valar and Maiar are only playing roles when they pretend to have mortal flesh. It is a solidarity thing with the Children (excluded the whole incarnation thing with the Istari, Melian, and the evil guys).

The same goes for physical deities like the Olympian gods. They have bodies and thus can have fixed gender. No problem there, either.

3 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

LV,

Yeah, Eowyn was a real sit at home type. ;)

Ah, well, the Witch-king taught her her place and she became a housewife. Her story isn't a story of emancipation and progress. Granted, she doesn't get herself killed in battle and she overcomes her unhealthy attraction to a man far above her station, but I don't applaud Tolkien's handling of her story. Éowyn becoming the Queen of Rohan as Théoden successor would have been a much better and more interesting outcome, don't you think?

And in general, Tolkien's handling of women isn't all that bad if they show up. Most of the women that have roles are important for the plot. But there aren't all that many of them. The only woman mentioned in 'The Hobbit' is Blibo's mother, Belladonna Took. And she is named after a poisonous plant. I'm not saying this is intentional or meaning all that much. But it is funny.

And the gender roles are clear as hell. Even Galadriel is nominally under Celeborn's thumb. He is the man and the Lord of Lórien. Galadriel may be better bred, have much more personal magical powers and wisdom and all, but it is Celeborn who leads the armies of Lórien. It is he who first speaks to visitors during formal audiences. The woman remains silent. She is restricted to her gender role in this society. If another author had depicted such marriage (a very noble woman married to a not exactly all that great husband - which is even more evident back in LotR where Celeborn is still implied to be a Nando elf in the text rather than a Sinda or Falmar from Alqualonde) Galadriel would have been the unquestioned ruler of Lórien with Celeborn being only her consort.

And if you think about that you realize that Thingol and Melian have exactly the same relationship. Thingol is the king. He calls the shots. Melian is stronger, wiser, and more powerful than he is but she is woman and thus it is not her call to make decisions or rule the kingdom.

3 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Eh, the gender thing about people being male or female despite their bodies is actually something which would work with transgendered people. They are innately female even if they were born male.

Oh, come on, whatever issues they have is dependent on their chemistry. There are no souls this side of eternity.

3 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

The "Rules" of his universe aren't Catholic but some weird Nordic Catholicism Fusion which does without organized religion.

The whole Nordic thing is more prevalent in the earlier version, I give you that, but the older Tolkien the more Catholic his work became. Just look at funny Melko from the Lost Tales hanging out with Tevildo (and Makar and Measse) and the Luciferian Melkor from the later works.

But nobody is saying the Germanic/Nordic/Anglo-Saxon element is not very strong in Tolkien's works. That's of vital importance. Else the man would have written different stories.

3 hours ago, Darth Richard II said:

I talked with a born again Christian a lot about Toikien who was convinced LotR was filled with messages about the evils of the catholic church. Doesn't make it so.

Point taken, but considering that I'm talking about a sophisticated academic not some religious nut. But I really would like to read some of those arguments. Is Sauron some caricature of the Pope, or what?

Oh, and to clarify: I'm complaining about first world problems here. I really like Tolkien. It is just that I've reached a level where I focus more on the shortcomings. But that's my trait in dealing with stuff I like. It doesn't make much sense to praise it all the time.

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21 hours ago, karaddin said:

Have you posted this in another thread? I'd like to make some comments that don't really fit here.

The Queer characters thing or Death of the Author?

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8 minutes ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

The Queer characters thing or Death of the Author?

Queer characters thing

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8 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Being overtly racist is a sin in Tolkien's world. You are bad if you lose the way and deify race or ancestry or other things. But the author himself is also obsessed with race and genealogy in the way he portrays Aragorn as a descendant of the gods, basically, going back to Melian and Thingol, Finwe and Indis, and so forth. In the ideals Tolkien propagates good royal breeding brings forth a good king. Denethor basically is a peasant who overreached himself.

Woah, woah.

  • Aragorn has to ask the permission of the people of Minas Tirith before assuming the throne (he hangs around outside until he gets their consent).
  • Aragorn taking power is actually a political coup d'etat led by Gandalf - there's a power vacuum with Faramir out of action.
  • Related to the above, in the drafts of LOTR, there's an outline where Denethor lives and causes complications.
  • Further related to the above, the Heir of Isildur (Aragorn being the direct descendent of Arvedui) has been rejected from the throne of Gondor.
  • If good royal breeding brings forth a good king, what to make of the clearly bad kings, who have the same lineage? Or Tolkien's comment that Aragorn's successors will probably become "governors like Denethor (or worse)?" 
  • Denethor is no peasant. He's a Gondorian arch-conservative: proud, aristocratic, and coldly rational. He's actually my favourite Tolkien character.
  • Both Faramir and Boromir (via their mother and the line of Dol Amroth) have more Elvish blood in them than Aragorn.

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As for Tolkien and gender - as a rule, female Tolkien characters operate within particular spheres of activity, but they tend to be incredibly powerful within those spheres. Galadriel is far more awe-inspiring than her comparative muppet of a husband. She's also smarter (cf the way they react to Gimli), and ultimately it's her decision that matters (everyone knows who wears the pants Nenya in that relationship).

Other female Tolkien characters - Nerdanel (the one person to keep Feanor on a leash), Luthien, Melian, Ungoliant, Shelob, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Ioreth, Eowyn, Gollum's grandmother... That's a broad range of powerful characters.

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8 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Not for that fact. I just wanted to point out that some of the issues I have with the books (stuff I chew on during every reread) is actually stuff he consciously or unconsciously took from his religion.

That's not always bad. But it sometimes is. Take Gandalf's speech to Saruman about not breaking stuff. That's profoundly anti-scientific if you ask me. You can save that, perhaps, if you add the whole angel aspects and point out that Maiar don't really need to break light to know what its made of (not to mention that they once talked to god on a regular basis) but it is still not the kind of thinking you want to instill in a child in our time, don't you agree?

Could be, but then I talked to a former practicing Catholic a lot about Tolkien in recent years. Perhaps I'm seeing things that aren't there.

I recently listened to Christopher's Silmarillion again, and what make you of the gender essentialism (Ainur being essentially male and female, no matter their bodies) and the roles of women in general?

Galadriel is somewhat an exception but even a more active heroine like Lúthien is very conventionally female, always offering help and assistance, not pushing the real hero, and never raising the point that she is much more powerful than poor Beren.

Women usually only feature in the story when they are plot devices or prizes, and there are very small details like Eärendil leaving Elwing behind while he speaks to the Valar that makes it pretty clear what the place of the woman is.

Or just read 'Laws and Customs among the Eldar'. If that's not 'natural Catholicism' at its finest I don't know what is. I'm referring to the whole the Elves not having all that great of a sex drive nor the inclination to take a second wife (or fall in love more than once in their lives). That's exactly how the ideal Catholic should behave, don't you think?

I think you are attributing a LOT of things to Catholicism that have easier, more obvious influences in time, both his and the time the Germanic/English cultures/mythos he was celebrating. Gandalf and Sauruman, for example; Tolkein's childhood experiences made him very dismayed by industrial encroachment, a view not at all uncommon in UN-Catholic England (dark satanic mills, etc.) and which was strongly reinforced to many who endured the trench warfare of WWI.

The portrayal of gender...I mean, do you remember when and where he was writing? Not to mention that in Beowulf et all it's even more pronounced. And, again, you attribute the par city of sexuality in the works of a man who grew up in Victorian/Edwardian England to...Catholicism?

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Incidentally, I would never dispute that Tolkien was a deeply conservative man. One of my most painful experiences as a Tolkien fan was reading his letters, and running across the one where he expresses pro-Franco sentiments. My point is that the work itself is very hard to pigeonhole in terms of ideology, since Tolkien's conservatism was so idiosyncratic. I've previously described him as a Tory, Catholic version of William Morris - and Morris was a revolutionary Marxist.

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38 minutes ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Incidentally, I would never dispute that Tolkien was a deeply conservative man. One of my most painful experiences as a Tolkien fan was reading his letters, and running across the one where he expresses pro-Franco sentiments. My point is that the work itself is very hard to pigeonhole in terms of ideology, since Tolkien's conservatism was so idiosyncratic. I've previously described him as a Tory, Catholic version of William Morris - and Morris was a revolutionary Marxist.

Deeply conservative in some respects, certainly. But as you mention, he's difficult to fit into any real definition, and his rationale for some of those positions varied with the norms very often. I agree that reading about him can be somewhat disillusioning with respect to modern political morality...but within the context of his time I find his views at least much more considered than most, ie he was a deeply moral and contemplative man who arrived at his positions (and some changed over time because of his contemplative nature) with a real and sincere desire to find what was right, as opposed to what was most convenient for him. 

Edit; I'll ponder the Morris comparison...it's interesting. What would you say about Lewis?

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2 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

The Queer characters thing or Death of the Author?

I answered this in the middle of a bunch of your posts, so you may have missed it. The queer characters thing. If its not anywhere in another thread would you mind if I linked to it in the gen chat LGBTQI thread and put my comments in there? Its not criticism of what you've said btw, just want further discussion.

Lol just saw you started a new thread for it, nvm this question!

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8 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Sure, I'm no Denethor fan. But the point there is that Denethor's sin has a religious dimension that is usually overlooked. He is no heathen, and should know better than taking his own life to spite his rightful king (and blaspheme god in the process). Remember, the Númenóreans are a pious people without it ever coming up. They worshiped Eru on the Meneltarma and those rituals were continued by the Kings of Gondor on the Mindolluin. That's why a seedling of the White Tree can be found there.

Oh, and pointing out that Tolkien was a conservative Catholic isn't bashing or anything. It's just fact. I've no issue with that and don't hold that against him.

Well, philosophically the idea that an angelic bodiless being should have a gender is just crap. That was clear a long time. I mean, there is a reason why nobody talks about the archangel Michael being male. Yeah, he is depicted as being male and all but if we talk about angels we know they have no bodies and are only spiritual beings, right?

Gender essentialism of incarnated beings who naturally are a union of body and soul is another thing. That a female elf would take again a female body after her death isn't the issue. The idea is that gender differences even affect strictly spiritual beings. The Valar and Maiar are only playing roles when they pretend to have mortal flesh. It is a solidarity thing with the Children (excluded the whole incarnation thing with the Istari, Melian, and the evil guys).

The same goes for physical deities like the Olympian gods. They have bodies and thus can have fixed gender. No problem there, either.

My point was not to deny that Tolkien was a conservative catholic but that neither of these points was a strong indication of that stance because they are far too general. When I first read LotR without the background of the Sil and the appendices etc. I almost missed the very indirect hints at Gondorian religion.

As for the embodiment of the Valar: You may well be right but this inconsistency follows somewhat naturally from the Tolkienist fusion of pseudo-norse myth and christianity. The Valar obviously serve the role of a pseudo-olympian pantheon so the anthroporphism extends to gender but in "reality" they are like genderless angels. I am not sure but I think if Tolkien in the 1920s or even the 60s would have shown gender-neutrality or possible gender flips of the bodily "clothing" of the Valar this would have come across as something strange and as obviously making some very progressive (or simply weird) point. Again, I think you are taking what was basically the default position until 40 years ago and that is conservative only in a rather boring sense as indication of something stronger. (No doubt that Tolkien held a stronger conservative position, but these two points are not good indicators for it.)

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I'd also argue that the Valar are actually physical beings versus angels.

Valinor was once part of the physical world.

Hence they do probably have genders.

The same way as the Norse Gods.

 

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The Valar and Maiar are something like incarnated angels who could pick a body at will. Melkor lost this ability and became tied to the body of a dark lord (and apparently something similar happened to Sauron later on - he could not take on a "fair form" after the Fall of Numenor). As the relevant Valar interacted with and loved the elves it seems natural that they appeared to them anthropomorphous as males and females.

Whatever, I think this is not really anything that needs a deeper explanation or theory behind it, it comes extremely natural when constructing a myth from fragments of our mythologies with their anthropomorphic deities. It is certainly not an indication of a specific conservative stance. It actually seems the case today that almost everything that was taken for granted until a few decades ago now seems staunchly conservative (or worse) in the light of actual progressivism.

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7 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Woah, woah.

  • Aragorn has to ask the permission of the people of Minas Tirith before assuming the throne (he hangs around outside until he gets their consent).
  • Aragorn taking power is actually a political coup d'etat led by Gandalf - there's a power vacuum with Faramir out of action.
  • Related to the above, in the drafts of LOTR, there's an outline where Denethor lives and causes complications.
  • Further related to the above, the Heir of Isildur (Aragorn being the direct descendent of Arvedui) has been rejected from the throne of Gondor.
  • If good royal breeding brings forth a good king, what to make of the clearly bad kings, who have the same lineage? Or Tolkien's comment that Aragorn's successors will probably become "governors like Denethor (or worse)?" 
  • Denethor is no peasant. He's a Gondorian arch-conservative: proud, aristocratic, and coldly rational. He's actually my favourite Tolkien character.
  • Both Faramir and Boromir (via their mother and the line of Dol Amroth) have more Elvish blood in them than Aragorn.

Wholeheartedly agree with all your points, particularly the bolded, although I imagine for very different reasons!

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17 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

 

By the way, Denethor's sin is not realizing/accepting that the king has returned. He has no authority to rule on that because that is an event outside of his control, announced and sanctioned by a Maia from the West and Eru himself (if you take the seedling White Tree as a sign of divine blessing from Eru, which I do).

In addition, he also commits suicide and is willing to watch his people die, too. That's a deplorable thing from the point of view of a (conservative) Catholic. This is one of the few instances where the 'natural Catholicism' that imbues Tolkien's work (people acting like good Catholics in a fantasy setting without ever mentioning that or making references to god) becomes sort of explicit. Gandalf mentions those heathen kings of old who also killed themselves.

Being overtly racist is a sin in Tolkien's world. You are bad if you lose the way and deify race or ancestry or other things. But the author himself is also obsessed with race and genealogy in the way he portrays Aragorn as a descendant of the gods, basically, going back to Melian and Thingol, Finwe and Indis, and so forth. In the ideals Tolkien propagates good royal breeding brings forth a good king. Denethor basically is a peasant who overreached himself.

 

I'd say that Denethor's sin (in religious terms) is in giving way to despair, and self-killing.  In political terms, his sin is to abandon his own people in their hour of need, when they needed a military commander.

Denethor is the opposite of a "peasant who overreached himself".  He's the Head of State of a great power, whose ancestors have ruled for over a thousand years.  Aragorn's family haven't been royal for centuries, and even when they were, Arthedain was pretty tinpot by comparison with Gondor "last of a ragged line, long bereft of any lordship or dignity".  Aragorn had a claim to the Throne, but he had to prove himself worthy of it, first, as a war leader.  Had he been a Joffrey, nobody would have considered him.

 

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8 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Woah, woah.

  • Aragorn has to ask the permission of the people of Minas Tirith before assuming the throne (he hangs around outside until he gets their consent).

I know that, but wouldn't you agree that this is more show for the public rather than them actually having the right to decide who should be there king? The way Tolkien spins the tale it is quite clear that Aragorn is the rightful king and people rejecting him would have been wrong.

Lets broaden the topic by asking the question what made Arthur or Jesus king? The will of god and the miracles who expressed/confirmed god's will or the will of the people?

Aragorn has the right ancestry, fulfills ancient prophecy, is heralded as king by a divine being, and has the correct artifacts to identify him as the king (the reforged Narsil, the Elessar, the banner Arwen made him).

8 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:
  • Aragorn taking power is actually a political coup d'etat led by Gandalf - there's a power vacuum with Faramir out of action.

Sure, but Faramir is a good little sorcerer's pet. He would have crowned Aragorn in any scenario.

8 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:
  • Related to the above, in the drafts of LOTR, there's an outline where Denethor lives and causes complications.

Well, those weren't realized, were they?

8 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:
  • Further related to the above, the Heir of Isildur (Aragorn being the direct descendent of Arvedui) has been rejected from the throne of Gondor.

Nobody said the Gondorians are all good and always do the right thing. But they pay for that. Rejecting Arvedui and Fíriel as the new rulers of Gondor and Arthedain led to the victory of Witch-king in the North and the loss of Minas Ithil and the end of Anárions line in the South.

The Kin-strife was also bad, of course.

8 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:
  • If good royal breeding brings forth a good king, what to make of the clearly bad kings, who have the same lineage? Or Tolkien's comment that Aragorn's successors will probably become "governors like Denethor (or worse)?"

Well, considering that there is no United Kingdom of the Dúnedain in our days something must have happened that brought it down. But Denethor wasn't as bad as ruler. He was interested in his own land and people - Aragorn saw the larger picture. The idea that his successors would always see that is very unlikely. There is a reason why he was the last Númenórean.

8 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:
  • Denethor is no peasant. He's a Gondorian arch-conservative: proud, aristocratic, and coldly rational. He's actually my favourite Tolkien character.

That was hyperbole on my part. He is a Dúnadan nobleman, of course. But he doesn't have (sufficient) royal blood in his veins to ever claim the throne and crown of Gondor. And that's the reason why he is inferior to Aragorn and his bloodline. He is a servant not a ruler, and he forgets that he and his predecessors were just stand-ins for the king until his return. Faramir understands that, and Cirion understood that, too.

8 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:
  • Both Faramir and Boromir (via their mother and the line of Dol Amroth) have more Elvish blood in them than Aragorn.

That is of no matter. Aragorn descends from Elvish royalty and has a drop of Ainur blood in his veins. The Princes of Dol Amroth are descended from the servant of Nimrodel.

By the way, I like Denethor, too. Tolkien's best characters are the conflicted ones although he more often than uses them for some stupid moral lesson and kills them.

8 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

As for Tolkien and gender - as a rule, female Tolkien characters operate within particular spheres of activity, but they tend to be incredibly powerful within those spheres. Galadriel is far more awe-inspiring than her comparative muppet of a husband. She's also smarter (cf the way they react to Gimli), and ultimately it's her decision that matters (everyone knows who wears the pants Nenya in that relationship).

I'm not challenging that. But the point remains that Galadriel publicly defers to her husband and is not acting as a military leader. She apparently wouldn't have done that had she taken the One Ring and become a Dark Lord. I mean 'all will love her a despair', right? As far as we know nobody loves Sauron, suggesting that Galadriel's take on supreme power would have Tolkien's nightmare of the ultimate femme fatale...

And if we take Thingol-Melian as the model for the Celeborn-Galadriel marriage we don't know so many details about the idea I get is that Galadriel wouldn't have had the right or the opportunity to take matters in her own hand and boss her husband around, preventing him from making mistakes.

Melian advises people, Thingol included, she doesn't take action despite the fact that it would have been quite for her to say 'Look, husband, it is my presence and my girdle that defends your lands. If you don't behave I will leave and then you and your people can see how they defend themselves against Morgoth. This is not an equal relationship.'

There are instances in the story where Melian doing stuff or preventing people from doing stuff would actually have saved people's lives. Most importantly in the whole Beren-Lúthien conundrum - where she allows the petty feelings of Thingol (and Beren) to prevail - but presumably also later in the whole Nauglamír story, at least in the way Tolkien himself might have envisioned it.

8 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Other female Tolkien characters - Nerdanel (the one person to keep Feanor on a leash), Luthien, Melian, Ungoliant, Shelob, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Ioreth, Eowyn, Gollum's grandmother... That's a broad range of powerful characters.

Well, those are mostly extras. I mean, who was Nerdanel as a character. All we know about her is that Feanor listened for her at a time. That's it. And Gollum's grandmother is a character that is sort of flashed out in a letter. And even there Tolkien got around the idea that the woman was legitimately in charge of the family but made her a widow sort of taking over after her husband had died. 

I'd concede the point that Tolkien's supernatural/divine female characters definitely are powerful and impressive. But the Valier also fall completely into conventional gender roles - which is very odd considering we are talking about angelic beings.

8 hours ago, James Arryn said:

I think you are attributing a LOT of things to Catholicism that have easier, more obvious influences in time, both his and the time the Germanic/English cultures/mythos he was celebrating. Gandalf and Sauruman, for example; Tolkein's childhood experiences made him very dismayed by industrial encroachment, a view not at all uncommon in UN-Catholic England (dark satanic mills, etc.) and which was strongly reinforced to many who endured the trench warfare of WWI.

Sure, I never said that him favoring trees and idyllic nature the way he liked it was a Catholic trait. It isn't. Catholicism of his time didn't care about the environment at all. He was different there. But even Tolkien's environmentalism is more the 'I want things to stay the way I like them' approach.

8 hours ago, James Arryn said:

The portrayal of gender...I mean, do you remember when and where he was writing? Not to mention that in Beowulf et all it's even more pronounced. And, again, you attribute the par city of sexuality in the works of a man who grew up in Victorian/Edwardian England to...Catholicism?

I'm not faulting him for that so much. I just like to point it out that his handling of these matters could be better from out point of view.

I'm aware that Anglicans weren't all that much better in his day and age. But, say, the way Tolkien's marriage came about (or almost not came about because his legal guardian, a Catholic priest, forced him to break up contact with Edith Bratt until he was an adult) strongly points towards the Catholic influences in his life not so much the time in general.

You have to keep in mind that Tolkien's mother converted to Catholicism in Anglican England and that Tolkien actually saw her as sort of a martyr due to her early death. His religion was a very ingrained part of his personality as far as we can judge these things. That's even the way his own family describes him. And there other things that reveal this kind of thing - him being pissed that Lewis converted to Anglicanism rather than Catholicism or that he was irritated by the fact that Lewis married a woman who would soon die (the doctrine of the Catholic Church on marriage is that you should only marry if there is a chance that you can have children together - that basically is the only why you should consider a marriage at all).

8 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Incidentally, I would never dispute that Tolkien was a deeply conservative man. One of my most painful experiences as a Tolkien fan was reading his letters, and running across the one where he expresses pro-Franco sentiments. My point is that the work itself is very hard to pigeonhole in terms of ideology, since Tolkien's conservatism was so idiosyncratic. I've previously described him as a Tory, Catholic version of William Morris - and Morris was a revolutionary Marxist.

You shouldn't be surprised by this. The Franco regime was restoring the Catholic Church to power and securing their interests and assets in Spain (among other things, of course). The idea that a conservative Catholic like Tolkien would have been principally opposed to that isn't very likely. Unfortunately, it is still not very likely in our days.

I think he is only very hard to pin down where ideology is concerned because he did not talk about that so much in public.

4 hours ago, Jo498 said:

My point was not to deny that Tolkien was a conservative catholic but that neither of these points was a strong indication of that stance because they are far too general. When I first read LotR without the background of the Sil and the appendices etc. I almost missed the very indirect hints at Gondorian religion.

Sure, me too. And the reason why 'The Lord of the Rings' is such great literature is that it is so open as a text and you don't have to read it through Christian or Catholic glasses (you sure as hell should not).

If you take Christopher's Simarillion and the HoME texts the picture changes, though. And a lot of the stuff that wasn't really there or only very implicit in LotR now becomes pretty obvious. If you talk about Tolkien and his views and all his work you have to take that into account.

4 hours ago, Jo498 said:

As for the embodiment of the Valar: You may well be right but this inconsistency follows somewhat naturally from the Tolkienist fusion of pseudo-norse myth and christianity. The Valar obviously serve the role of a pseudo-olympian pantheon so the anthroporphism extends to gender but in "reality" they are like genderless angels. I am not sure but I think if Tolkien in the 1920s or even the 60s would have shown gender-neutrality or possible gender flips of the bodily "clothing" of the Valar this would have come across as something strange and as obviously making some very progressive (or simply weird) point. Again, I think you are taking what was basically the default position until 40 years ago and that is conservative only in a rather boring sense as indication of something stronger. (No doubt that Tolkien held a stronger conservative position, but these two points are not good indicators for it.)

Well, it is not just the gender thing there. The problem is the genesis of the Silmarillion mythology out of the longer versions of the Lost Tales. Back then the Valar are physical beings, not spirits without bodies. That's why they built the city of Valmar in their land which has physical houses and walls. 'Naked spirits' wouldn't need any of those yet because Tolkien never actually rewrites the story from scratch with his new concepts in mind things look sort of weird in the half-finished myth cycle.

But the gender thing is just telling because Tolkien actually spends time to elaborate on the fact that spirits/souls have gender. He didn't have to do that. I'm not talking about him including a cross-dresser Vala or something of that sort.

35 minutes ago, SeanF said:

I'd say that Denethor's sin (in religious terms) is in giving way to despair, and self-killing.  In political terms, his sin is to abandon his own people in their hour of need, when they needed a military commander.

I agree there.

35 minutes ago, SeanF said:

Denethor is the opposite of a "peasant who overreached himself".

I think he is in the sense that we restrict this to his wish that everything should remain as it was while he and his fathers (the other Stewards) reigned. He wanted to be king or effectively remain king in all but name and that's the very definition of overreaching oneself in this context. He simply had no right to wish for something of this sort.

35 minutes ago, SeanF said:

He's the Head of State of a great power, whose ancestors have ruled for over a thousand years.  Aragorn's family haven't been royal for centuries, and even when they were, Arthedain was pretty tinpot by comparison with Gondor "last of a ragged line, long bereft of any lordship or dignity".  Aragorn had a claim to the Throne, but he had to prove himself worthy of it, first, as a war leader.  Had he been a Joffrey, nobody would have considered him.

Well, a king like Aragorn is never going to be Joffrey-like creature in a story written by Tolkien. He is the king. And he is acting like a king should.

The heroes might make mistakes in such a story, or fail do the job they are not really equipped to do, but it will only be the evil or fallen guys who speak as dismissively about Aragorn as Denethor does. It is not the place of the subject to challenge the nobility of the king.

I see Aragorn's actions more as him expressing that he is the king rather than proving himself to another authority. Aragorn isn't the king of the people.

Other thing where I find the religious and the fantasy sphere are sort of at odds with each other:

In our real world we usually don't meet the Devil Incarnate in person. In Middle-earth this happens a lot (both with Morgoth and Sauron). In Christianity you have to choose between the temptations of the devil and god's plan for you and all mankind. If there is sort of a balance between these two (as is in reality where neither god/angels nor the devil/demons are likely to show up) it makes sense that people have sort of a free will and the chance to get confused and not immediately see what's right and wrong.

However, in Tolkien's work people routinely meet the devil who is also some sort of immortal demigod in the neighborhood. The mortals encountering such forces are very likely to be impressed and aghast by this amount of supernatural real power. The idea that these people have any other choice but to worship such beings makes little sense.

The good guys (Eru, the Valar, etc.) don't show their faces as prominently as the evil guys, essentially rigging the game in favor of the evil guys.

The other aspect of this is that in a world where the devil actually rules the land as an immortal king the whole theological aspect of the devil wanting set himself up as a deity, leading elves and men away from Eru, etc. makes little sense. I mean, what's Melkor's goal in all that? He does know for a certainty that Eru exists. Why would he want to convince the elves and men of something else? Not to mention that Eru himself could easily enough expose Melkor's lies by showing himself to the people he tries to corrupt.

The fact that neither god, Jesus, angels, and demons show up in the real world is a core problem of Christianity. But the whole paradox is actually strengthened and reinforced in Tolkien's world where we know god, angels, and demons exist but only the demons feature very prominently while the angels mostly stay out of the game and god himself essentially does nothing but 'work in mysterious ways'.

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