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Ser Scot A Ellison

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

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30 minutes ago, TrackerNeil said:

And (to just back a bit) why is giving Mordor to the slaves necessarily wise? Sure, it's good, but then so was much of what Danaerys did in Meereen, and that really hasn't worked out well for the people of Meereen. George Bush toppled a dictator, but in the judgment of many (me included) the consequences were far worse. To know if Aragorn's move was good, I'd need to know more about the specifics of the handover of Mordor, which, as you say, we don't know. So I'm going to withhold judgment as to the worthiness of Aragorn's reign.

If nothing else, Aragorn gives the impression of great competence, combined with a merciful nature, during the course of the story.  That doesn't guarantee that he'll be a good ruler, but those attributes lead one to be optimistic about how he'll perform.  Unlike Robert Baratheon, we've no reason to suppose he'll turn out to be an alcoholic wife-beater.

 

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58 minutes ago, TrackerNeil said:

And (to just back a bit) why is giving Mordor to the slaves necessarily wise? Sure, it's good, but then so was much of what Danaerys did in Meereen, and that really hasn't worked out well for the people of Meereen. George Bush toppled a dictator, but in the judgment of many (me included) the consequences were far worse. To know if Aragorn's move was good, I'd need to know more about the specifics of the handover of Mordor, which, as you say, we don't know. So I'm going to withhold judgment as to the worthiness of Aragorn's reign.

What should Aragorn have done if not free the Slaves of Mordor and give them Mordor as compensation for their slavery?  Are you saying taking down Sauron and destroying the Ring is an act comperable to taking out Hussien?

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the more i read, the more i am of the view that tolkien's was a singular and nuanced vision which he was able to realise in an extremely approachable manner. the rigour and breadth of his part-romantic/part-creative/part-scholarly approach appears to me to be unparalleled not just in fantasy, but in literature as a whole. a lot of modern criticism directed at him is limited by the opaqueness of its ideological blinkers, which means it sacrifice nuance, understanding and rigour at the altar of sordid optics.

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2 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

What should Aragorn have done if not free the Slaves of Mordor and give them Mordor as compensation for their slavery?  Are you saying taking down Sauron and destroying the Ring is an act comperable to taking out Hussien?

I'm saying that Aragorn's good intentions do not necessarily mean that his actions were wise, from the point of view of a ruler. Freeing slaves is a good and just thing, sure, but giving them their own kingdom...well, I'd want to know more. How much of Mordor will they get? What kind of government will they have? Who will lead them? How will their economy function?* These questions are highly relevant to the decision to hand over a historically hostile nation to a bunch of people you don't know.

As to your second question, I don't want to relitigate the Iraq invasion here, but it could be argued that toppling a dictator is a good act that can easily have terrible consequences. (Which it did, IMO.) That's not to say that Aragorn's generosity would be equally disastrous, but I know if I were one of his advisers, I'd have raised big red flags on the decision to hand over Mordor. 

*EDITED TO ADD: One of the reasons I love ASOIAF is because GRRM does ask these kinds of questions. Being a hero is great, but the actual work of governing is much more difficult, because doing good is hard, and evil isn't always easy to see, much less overcome.

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Tracker,

So, before Aragorn attempted to stop Sauron he needed to decide whether allowing Sauron to rule the world would be a better option that opposing Sauron and Sauron's despotic evil rule?  And are you really claiming that overcoming Sauron was easy?  That there were not long term serious consequences and sacrifices that resulted from destroying Sauron?

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Tolkien was wise enough to know that a lot of stuff about economy and actual ruling would be dead boring and irrelevant for the narrative. That's why you frame a narrative wisely and know when to end. Both of which GRRM has not done all that well in ASoIaF, I fear.

The problem goes deeper. It may be possible to write good and exciting books about such stuff as economy and ruling an empire but neither LotR nor SoIaF are these books nor are they trying to be (thank goodness!). They have entirely different topics. If one took the "economy" of Littlefinger etc. seriously, it would fall apart very soon (I guess that dissection has been done elsewhere on the board). If one wanted to do such stuff realistically one would have to do a lot of background work and the books would not be about anything else, think John le Carré and espionage vs. Dan Brown and cultural history.

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1 hour ago, TrackerNeil said:

I'm saying that Aragorn's good intentions do not necessarily mean that his actions were wise, from the point of view of a ruler. Freeing slaves is a good and just thing, sure, but giving them their own kingdom...well, I'd want to know more. How much of Mordor will they get? What kind of government will they have? Who will lead them? How will their economy function?* These questions are highly relevant to the decision to hand over a historically hostile nation to a bunch of people you don't know.

As to your second question, I don't want to relitigate the Iraq invasion here, but it could be argued that toppling a dictator is a good act that can easily have terrible consequences. (Which it did, IMO.) That's not to say that Aragorn's generosity would be equally disastrous, but I know if I were one of his advisers, I'd have raised big red flags on the decision to hand over Mordor. 

*EDITED TO ADD: One of the reasons I love ASOIAF is because GRRM does ask these kinds of questions. Being a hero is great, but the actual work of governing is much more difficult, because doing good is hard, and evil isn't always easy to see, much less overcome.

The problem with this view is that Tolkien didn't write the opposite of Martin-esque fantasy and while things are emotionally satisfying on the part of the reader, Tolkien made it very clear that it's also not exactly the "good deeds equal good results" that people keep assuming Martin is subverting.

Good deeds in Tolkien's universe routinely result in great suffering and great struggle. Giving Mordor to Sauron's former slaves isn't necessarily going to work out perfectly because Tolkien never said it would. However, there's no dramatic point to the thing because there's no "lesson" being parted. There will be struggles, conflicts, and political strife the same way there always is. Because Tolkien never writes a happily ever after, there's never a happily ever after to subvert.

Leogolas and Gimli don't result in an eternal friendship of Dwarves and Elves. It's just their own friendship. Showing Gollum mercy destroys the Ring....by the fact Gollum steals it and tries to murder Frodo. The Shire isn't protected from the war's aftermath as it becomes Saruman's Elba for a few months. Aragorn and Arwen's child might be a real asshole. Basically, the more you dig into the LOTR, the more it's just a complicated mess which keeps going and going.

Like the above statement, "Aragorn and Gandalf might spare orcs but I bet a bunch of regular soldiers massacred them when they were captured."

Tolkien would probably say, "Yeah, probably. Then Aragorn would hang them and then he'd deal with the negative feedback from his troops."

There's no magic handwaves in Tolkien.

As to your second question, I don't want to relitigate the Iraq invasion here, but it could be argued that toppling a dictator is a good act that can easily have terrible consequences. (Which it did, IMO.) That's not to say that Aragorn's generosity would be equally disastrous, but I know if I were one of his advisers, I'd have raised big red flags on the decision to hand over Mordor.

The alternative of annexing Mordor would have perhaps a few unfortunate implications with the brown-skinned people having their leader overthrown by the fair skinned people for their own good.

:)

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32 minutes ago, C.T. Phipps said:

The problem with this view is that Tolkien didn't write the opposite of Martin-esque fantasy and while things are emotionally satisfying on the part of the reader, Tolkien made it very clear that it's also not exactly the "good deeds equal good results" that people keep assuming Martin is subverting.

Aaaand we come back to the difference of opinion over whether the work stands alone or not, so we've covered this ground.

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6 minutes ago, TrackerNeil said:

Aaaand we come back to the difference of opinion over whether the work stands alone or not, so we've covered this ground.

Are you attempting to indict Tolkien for not spelling out what happens in greater detail with regard to the economic and political sausage factory that is any State?

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As I said, the main problem with opening such cans of worms is that if one wants to read e.g. ASoIaF or "First Law" as essays in statecraft or political philosophy and practice they fall at least as short as Tolkien does, despite "grey characters" and explicit blood/gore/rape. It seems a ridiculous demand to make from a fantasy novel...

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53 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Are you attempting to indict Tolkien for not spelling out what happens in greater detail with regard to the economic and political sausage factory that is any State?

No, and in fact that is really the main conflict in this thread, as far as I can see. I am not indicting Tolkien (of whom, believe it or not, I am a long-time fan) but, yes, I am criticizing him. There's not a whole lot of moral gray area in The Lord of the Rings, and I am not the only one to say this. (Trust me, the paper I coauthored had to pass an editor, then an editorial board, before the publisher okayed it, and all of these folks are academics and not one of them went easy on us.) That doesn't mean you have to agree with a single word we say, but our criticism doesn't exactly come out of nowhere. Others have said the same things, and more eloquently. In fact, I find it amusing that already Charles Stross and George Martin, both noted fantasy authors, have expressed similar opinions and have been here dismissed. Again, it's fine to do that--no one's going to stop you--but for myself I feel that I'm in pretty good company.

(Cue accusations of Appeal to Authority.)

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24 minutes ago, TrackerNeil said:

No, and in fact that is really the main conflict in this thread, as far as I can see. I am not indicting Tolkien (of whom, believe it or not, I am a long-time fan) but, yes, I am criticizing him. There's not a whole lot of moral gray area in The Lord of the Rings, and I am not the only one to say this. (Trust me, the paper I coauthored had to pass an editor, then an editorial board, before the publisher okayed it, and all of these folks are academics and not one of them went easy on us.) That doesn't mean you have to agree with a single word we say, but our criticism doesn't exactly come out of nowhere. Others have said the same things, and more eloquently. In fact, I find it amusing that already Charles Stross and George Martin, both noted fantasy authors, have expressed similar opinions and have been here dismissed. Again, it's fine to do that--no one's going to stop you--but for myself I feel that I'm in pretty good company.

(Cue accusations of Appeal to Authority.)

I do appreciate that cricitism.  But LOTR is a romantic novel they generally don't go in for a lot of grey. 

That said there is grey in the novel.  The Ring itself acts as strong enticement to people of power.  See the temptation of Galadriel in the chapter "The Mirror of Galadriel" in Fellowship of the Ring.  Boromir was a hero who wanted to defend his people.  He fell to the temptation of the ring and attempted to take it from Frodo and then gave his life in defense of Merry and Pippin.  Grima Wormtounge, by Theodan's own admission was not always "evil" and was corrupted by Saurman.  Saurman wasn't always evil.  He was seduced by the Ring's darkness and offer of power.  How about Denethor, the powerful and noble steward of Gondor who while never surrendering to Sauron allowed his heart to be so corrupted by despair that he attmepted to kill himself and his son rather than face defeat at the hands of the Enemy.

All of those are examples of "morally grey" characters in the LOTR.
 

If you want to see real Grey Characters look at the Silmarillion it is full of them.

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7 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

I do appreciate that cricitism.  But LOTR is a romantic novel they generally don't go in for a lot of grey. 

That said there is grey in the novel.  The Ring itself acts as strong enticement to people of power.  See the temptation of Galadriel in the chapter "The Mirror of Galadriel" in Fellowship of the Ring.  Boromir was a hero who wanted to defend his people.  He fell to the temptation of the ring and attempted to take it from Frodo and then gave his life in defense of Merry and Pippin.  Grima Wormtounge, by Theodan's own admission was not always "evil" and was corrupted by Saurman.  Saurman wasn't always evil.  He was seduced by the Ring's darkness and offer of power.  How about Denethor, the powerful and noble steward of Gondor who while never surrendering to Sauron allowed his heart to be so corrupted by despair that he attmepted to kill himself and his son rather than face defeat at the hands of the Enemy.

All of those are examples of "morally grey" characters in the LOTR.
 

If you want to see real Grey Characters look at the Silmarillion it is full of them.

I think perhaps we disagree on what a morally gray character is. To me, that indicates someone whose motivations and/or actions are not easily categorized as good or evil, but IMO it's pretty clear what the reader is supposed to think of Saruman. His goals are not noble and neither are his actions.

Boromir is IMO harder to categorize, because the evil he does is driven by the madness of the Ring. Denethor I grant you, and in fact that's why he's my favorite LOTR character. He has a valid point of view and a nobility all his own that has nothing to do with Gandalf's agenda. In fact, he's the only "good guy" who refuses to uncritically accept Gandalf's advice; wisely, he is well aware that Gandalf tells you only what he thinks you need to know.

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Tracker,

Have you read the Silmarillion?  If not you should.  Galadriel came to Middle-Earth to be a Queen.  She refused the pardon of the Valar for the Noldorian exiles because she wouldn't surrender that power.  Galadriel is a very morally grey character and Frodo has no idea how great a risk he took in offering her the ring.  She wasn't lieing when when she said "I have greatly desired this."  

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2 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Tracker,

Have you read the Silmarillion?  If not you should.  Galadriel came to Middle-Earth to be a Queen.  She refused the pardon of the Valar for the Noldorian exiles because she wouldn't surrender that power.  Galadriel is a very morally grey character and Frodo has no idea how great a risk he took in offering her the ring.  She wasn't lieing when when she said "I have greatly desired this."  

I have, yes. I don't know how gray I find Galadriel; she didn't participate in the kinslaying, and all she's really guilty of is a bit of ambition. Feanor, however, qualifies, at least in my view; the man went crazy, sure, but he had a legitimate grievance, and one the Valar did not address very well. 

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Tracker,

Everyone was manipulated by Morgoth.  Feanor was hugely prideful and Morgoth exploted that pride to build resentment between Feanor and his younger half brothers Fingolfin and Finarfin.  Morgoth played on Manwe's forgiving nature and misunderstanding of those who desire power to allow these divisions to be created in the first place.

Morgoth manipulated masterfully.

My point about Galadriel is that while you dismiss her fault as a "bit of ambition" she really did want to take the ring understanding fully that she would lose herself in the process and that she would give the ring a being of such power that it would be impossible to stop her once she choice to weild that power.  Her moment was dangerous, supremely dangerous. 

Think about it this way.  Had Galadriel taken the ring the power of the Elven rings would never have been lost.  The realms of the Elves would have stopped their decline and a very different ending the LOTR would have had to be written.

Some speculate that it was her refusal to take the ring, and thereby allowing the final full diminishment of the Elves, that is what allowed her to travel back to Valinor with Gandalf, Elrond, and Frodo.

 

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1 hour ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

My point about Galadriel is that while you dismiss her fault as a "bit of ambition" she really did want to take the ring understanding fully that she would lose herself in the process and that she would give the ring a being of such power that it would be impossible to stop her once she choice to weild that power.  Her moment was dangerous, supremely dangerous. 

What I said is that her desire to leave Valinor was ambition; I didn't speak to the Ring. However, I don't think that the fact that she was tempted by the Ring makes her morally gray; Sam was tempted, too, and so was Frodo, Boromir, etc.

As I said, I think what makes a character morally ambiguous is when her goals run contrary to those of the protagonists, and yet are understandable and even defensible, even if her tactics are not. Even though I don't condone the Kinslaying or the burning of the ships, I completely understand and sympathize with Feanor's passion to pursue Morgoth to the ends of the earth. Saruman, on the other hand, has as his goal to dominate the free peoples of Middle-Earth, which is kind of hard to sympathize with, at least for me.

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I don't think Tolkien would actually think about Good and Evil in the terms we normally do with "White, Gray, and Black" ones. I think part of the point of the LOTOR is that good and evil are choices which are made in terms of actions versus who a person is. While Sauron is basically the Devil or the Anti-Christ along with the fact Orcs and Ringwraiths are not really characters so much as obstacles, the rest of the series is about characters with rounded motivations and personalities choosing one side or the other.  Sauron is evil but that's because he chose to make an evil choice rather than it being the sum of his character.

Which is what separates Tolkien from almost all of his imitators.

 

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