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Ser Scot A Ellison

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

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10 minutes ago, Sword of Funny said:

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).

At the point Tolkien was writing, tens of millions of people had died in WWII, the Holocaust had been revealed to the World, Stalin ruled Eastern Europe, Mao ruled China, war was raging in Korea, and kicking off in many European colonies.  Nuclear conflict seemed like a real possibility.  Still to come were the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot's rule in Cambodia, the Vietnam war, Biafra, civil war in Zaire, Angola Mozambique, and Yugoslavia, genocide in Rwanda, and the current wars raging in the Middle East, not to mention a whole host of smaller, but still nasty conflicts like Northern Ireland.  Pessimism was logical when he wrote LOTR, and for a long time afterwards. 

It is very good news that economic growth in a lot of poor countries has ended starvation for millions of people, and helped them to establish relatively decent institutions of government, but we shouldn't overlook how many horrors there have been along the way.  And, horrors may come again.

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1 hour ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

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".

Well, that's your view, but to me it means that one cannot critique a work without knowing everything the author ever wrote/said on the topic. So to discuss The Lord of the Rings, we had all better read everything Tolkien published, or that was published under his name, and every interview he ever gave, every letter he ever wrote, etc. Personally, I judge the work on its own, but as you like.

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1 hour ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

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".

it matters and is important--but as a matter of principle the author has no monopoly on the meaning of a text, which is furthermore not limited to a solitary significance. suffice to say that author should be taken seriously as the first reader of the text, one member of the democratic hermeneutic polis.

also, we might take the recent discussions in the RSB threads as confirmation that the author is not a particularly good source of information about the text, given the possibility for error and mendacity.

third, even in the absence of knowable error and mendacity by author--and this is the key to the critique--the communication from the author wherein authorial intention is purportedly found is as yet just another text subject to the same interpretive difficulties.  it merely removes the mystery one step to argue that text 1 really means A, as disclosed in text 2.

i am accordingly not impressed by the totalitarian attempt to subjugate everyone to the monologic imperatives of author-heroism.

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I'm not much impressed with the totalitarian attempt to prevent anyone from giving credence to an author's explanations of his intent, I can certainly believe that an author's work may include meanings that he did not consciously place there, but I have a very hard time regarding a work of fiction as a miraculous entity in its own right, which the author is merely the first, and probably not the best due to his ideological shortcomings, person to interpret!

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I don't think either view must be absolute.  I don't believe the "the Author is dead" or that "Authorial intent matters not at all".  Neither do I think it is the be all end all of existence. 
 

Tracker,

That's a strawman.  No one is saying you can't criticize a work of litarature without having read everything the author has written about what the author wrote.  What I'm saying is the intent of the author is impactful and important to me.  As such I will not discount it nor will I say it is the end of all discussion regarding that work of literature.

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Let's take an author who would be spectacularly bad at supplying the meaning of his books, Lev Tolstoy in 1897, when he published the treatise What is Art?, wherein he denounces any work lacking utility in raising the position of the common person. He was at this time a vegetarian Christian anarchist and claimed to find no value whatever in War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

Or look at the atrocious decisions George Lucas made in updating "his" original Star Wars movies. 

The author is no longer the same person. 

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Well, if an author says he did not consciously place meaning in the book, but others find meaning therein, good for them. That does not seem to me to devalue the case of an intelligent and educated author who did consciously pace meaning in the book expounding on that meaning and being believed, at least to the intention, as long as the reading of the book can support that assertion.

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20 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Tracker,

That's a strawman.  No one is saying you can't criticize a work of litarature without having read everything the author has written about what the author wrote.  What I'm saying is the intent of the author is impactful and important to me.  As such I will not discount it nor will I say it is the end of all dicuss regarding that work of literature.

I think that an author's intent is a useful thing to consider, but in the end, the work has to be judged on its on merits (or lack of same). For example, an author who is not himself a racist can have a racist element in his work, and nothing he says or does after the fact necessarily changes the way we evaluate that element. It might, however, influence how one evaluates the author, for those who are interested in evaluating authors.

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1 minute ago, TrackerNeil said:

I think that an author's intent is a useful thing to consider, but in the end, the work has to be judged on its on merits (or lack of same). For example, an author who is not himself a racist can have a racist element in his work, and nothing he says or does after the fact necessarily changes the way we evaluate that element. It might, however, influence how one evaluates the author, for those who are interested in evaluating authors.

And that's fine.  I simply don't buy into "the author is dead".

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41 minutes ago, Hereward said:

I'm not much impressed with the totalitarian attempt to prevent anyone from giving credence to an author's explanations of his intent

come now.  hardly totalitarian to dispute with argumentative force that compels immediate agreement because no objection other than conclusory counter-allegation might be made!  

i think that the author is an important reader of the text and should not be summarily disregarded.  

10 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

And that's fine.  I simply don't buy into "the author is dead".

'death of the author' simply means that we don't limit interpretations of texts by authorial biography, that the text is not reduced down to mere epiphenomenon of authorial opinion.  you have agreed with that principle, supra, i think.  (there's a bit of proto-reception aesthetics here, insofar as barthes thinks that the meaning of a text lies ultimately in the readerly production of significance, which is authorized even by authorial intentionists insofar as they argue that the relevant evidence in assessing the significance of the text (i.e., from their readerly perspective, of course) is the ultra vires statements of the author, or inferred authorial attitudes, and so on.)

 

 

homework time:  thread go read barthes.  then foucault.  then wimsatt & beardsley just because.

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1 minute ago, sologdin said:

come now.  hardly totalitarian to dispute with argumentative force that compels immediate agreement because no objection other than conclusory counter-allegation might be made!  

It's hardly totalitarian to argue that the author's intent should be respected and given credence if it can be supported by the text, either!

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I actually subscribe to Death of the Author generally (I have a go at J.K. Rowling's Dumbledore for that very reason in my article on Queer characters in fantasy). In this case though I am clearly battling fire with fire - the Stross quote is an allusion to Moorcock's analysis, which is itself derived from Tolkien's On Fairy Stories commentary. Moorcock and Stross want to hang Tolkien by his stated authorial intent, not by what is actually in his books - I reply with a clarification of the original quote and some examples from The Lord of the Rings. Because the nice thing about Tolkien (in contrast to Rowling) is that it is rare for his authorial commentary to contradict his other stuff (not unknown though, especially towards the end of his life).

TrackerNeil is right though - my first three pieces on his article have been having a go at the Stross quote that gets pride of place. I haven't actually tackled the meat of the article yet.   

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8 hours 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.

Shockingly, quite a few people hold them.

:)

But on a more serious note, I call bullshit on the idea Tolkien was actually depicting a fading world which was objectively getting worse. For all the people pointing to Numenor and the loss of the Elves, the end of the books is the RISE of Gondor and the re-establishment of the Trees.

The world is entering a new golden age WITHOUT Morgoth (until the End of the World) or Sauron.

Did people forget this?

Also, Tolkien's Catholicism aside, has anyone noticed the Lord of the Rings is one of the least religious worlds in fantasy? There ARE no organized religions in Middle Earth.

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8 hours 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.

I get why that assosciation plays, but he was also intellectually steeped in <nihilistic Ragnarok, and while his personal faith might creep in unconsciously, his overt thesis is to celebrate that cultural bedrock. Not atheistic, but certainly contrary to the idea that he's comfort food. 

In my mind what RBL's getting at is that the cynical certainty of UN-Tolkein is, in it!s own way, safer than the possibility of redemption in Tolkein. In a way it's that poignant possibility that requires greater moral courage to endure. To go tangential, it reminds me of a bit from Bangs' otherworldly review of Astral Weeks;

It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim. It's no Eastern mystic or psychedelic vision of the emerald beyond, nor is it some Baudelairean perception of the beauty of sleaze and grotesquerie. Maybe what it boiled down to is one moment's knowledge of the miracle of life, with its inevitable concomitant, a vertiginous glimpse of the capacity to be hurt, and the capacity to inflict that hurt.

 

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8 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

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".

I actually agree with this, but I think you and I and Bakker(see the feedback thread for fun times) are the only people on earth who do. I will now read the restt of the thread and probably want to bang my head against a desk.

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8 minutes ago, Darth Richard II said:

I actually agree with this, but I think you and I and Bakker(see the feedback thread for fun times) are the only people on earth who do. I will now read the restt of the thread and probably want to bang my head against a desk.

I believe authorial intent matters but is not absolute.

If someone believes my books have a green aesop and they can find justification, let them.

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1 hour ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Shockingly, quite a few people hold them.

:)

But on a more serious note, I call bullshit on the idea Tolkien was actually depicting a fading world which was objectively getting worse. For all the people pointing to Numenor and the loss of the Elves, the end of the books is the RISE of Gondor and the re-establishment of the Trees.

The world is entering a new golden age WITHOUT Morgoth (until the End of the World) or Sauron.

Did people forget this?

Also, Tolkien's Catholicism aside, has anyone noticed the Lord of the Rings is one of the least religious worlds in fantasy? There ARE no organized religions in Middle Earth.

Yeah, although I don't by into that epic pooh bullcrap, I don't think LotR is that bleak. Now, The Simil...ilil....hold on how do you spell that?. Yes. The Silmarillion That's some dark fucked up shit.

I also find the people who seem to object to Tolkien purely based on his religion then try and cry "death of the author" to be, well, what? That's not how that works.

 

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4 minutes ago, C.T. Phipps said:

I believe authorial intent matters but is not absolute.

If someone believes my books have a green aesop and they can find justification, let them.

Yeah I mean, I see how both techniques are valid and have good points, but I don't think one or the other is the be all end all of literary criticism.

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That not I really care about this, but i find it absurd to say authorial intent does not matter. I mean, they wrote the book with the intentions to tell a story and convey certain messages. How can it not matter. As Bakker famously said during all of the Women vs Bakker shenanigans, "If you go looking for ghosts, well, you will find ghosts." (That's not verbatim what he said, but the gist of it. And, well, it's not famous either, I just see the reality of it. If someone wants to find sexism, they will surely find it.) I guarantee, 10 people can read the same book and will come to ten different conclusions about this or that. When others simply don't see it, because they don't go into it looking for it. Now, some of it is justified and I'm not saying that authors don't put things such as sexism and racism in their books without meaning to. Its inevitable, I believe.

 

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