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Ser Scot A Ellison

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

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1 hour ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Tracker,

Yet how tempting would it he to restore the glory and power of the Firstborn.  To foster a Renaissance for Elvish culture and art.  To allow the Three to be used for the purpose for which they were created without Sauron's touch or direct involvment.  By allowing Frodo to continue the quest this opportunity was lost.

Tell me why that isn't "morally grey".

I don't consider experiencing a bad temptation as immoral; I consider giving into that temptation immoral. (Depending on the temptation.) Galadriel may have had a desire for the Ring, but when crunch time came she did the right thing, which to me doesn't make her very gray. But, again, this is basically a difference between how you and I define the term.

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25 minutes ago, Weeping Sore said:

You're imagining a meta-fiction from Galadriel's perspective, not the story as told. In LOTR the ring is clearly evil and will eventually corrupt any user. Even as Galadriel envisions the consequences of taking the ring, there is no mention of the good uses she would put her power to, only how (literally) awesome it would make her.

No, we are presented with the temptation.  We are presented with the knowledge that without the power of the Three rings the works of the Elves will fade and fall.  I'm making a natural inference from exising text of the options available to Galadriel and why she might have seen those options as desirable thereby making her choice morally ambiguous.

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8 minutes ago, TrackerNeil said:

I don't consider experiencing a bad temptation as immoral; I consider giving into that temptation immoral. (Depending on the temptation.) Galadriel may have had a desire for the Ring, but when crunch time came she did the right thing, which to me doesn't make her very gray. But, again, this is basically a difference between how you and I define the term.

By making that choice to refuse the ring and thereby allowing her people to fade, flee, or die without any surety (as RBPL points out) of victory how is Galadriel's choice not allowing a lesser evil for a potential greater good and therefore inherently morally ambiguous?

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I don't know, I feel like Melkor is the only character in Tolkien who really chooses evil for recognizable reasons rather than just being too weak to resist evil.

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1 hour ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

By making that choice to refuse the ring and thereby allowing her people to fade, flee, or die without any surety (as RBPL points out) of victory how is Galadriel's choice not allowing a lesser evil for a potential greater good and therefore inherently morally ambiguous?

I don't think choosing a lesser evil makes a character gray, and I doubt that most people would say, "Oh Galadriel, you should totally become an evil overlord in order to maybe restore your people to prominence in Middle-Earth." I find it pretty hard to judge Galadriel harshly on that score, but YMMV.

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1 minute ago, Weeping Sore said:

I don't know, I feel like Melkor is the only character in Tolkien who really chooses evil for recognizable reasons rather than just being too weak to resist evil.

I think the mark of a gray character is that she either doesn't think the choice is evil, or else she figures that it's in service of an even greater good. There's always some sort of justification, and not "I know this is wrong, but f*ck it."

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10 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

http://www.tolkiensociety.org/2014/04/grrm-asks-what-was-aragorns-tax-policy/

All interesting points, of course - I have far more respect for Martin than Moorcock - but I'll get to those eventually.

These might be interesting points and RPG settings in Middle earth during Aragorn's reign might want to come up with some answers. But I cannot see why Tolkien should deal with it in LotR. As you said, the book is about the hobbits, not about Gondor. And for someone bringing this stuff up as criticism, GRRM is very cavalier with the nuts and bolts of logistics, economy and warfare in ASoIaF...

The failure of Robert Baratheon or the shortcomings of Dany as a ruler cannot be simply understood as a comment on "if the king was a good man the land would prosper". Apart from the fact that the medieval (or supposedly Tolkienist) stance is nowhere that simplistic, Robert is obviously not a "good man" in that sense. Good here means virtuous, namely just, wise, courageous and self-controlled. Robert is only courageous and strong and according to ancient wisdom the virtues form an interdependent unity, so a strong and courageous person who is an unwise, lecherous drunkard is obviously not a good/virtuous man and because of his strength, energy and courage more dangerous and less fit to rule than a weaker man (who might be more careful and heed wise counselors). Dany might be good in the sense of well-meaning (and she is more virtuous than Robert) but she lacks (or has only very little of) the experience, education and counsel medievals would take as necessary for someone to take on the office of a ruler. Obviously Aragorn is designed as both virtuous and extremely experienced in all kinds of stuff (because of his long travels) so it is not such a daring extrapolation that he will be a good and wise ruler.

The closest thing to a "deconstruction" of the wise ruler or instance of  "of good man, bad ruler" trope might be Ned Stark but it does not work well either. He supposedly is a good ruler in the North, he is courageous, just, self-controlled and reasonably wise and in KL he basically is a victim of the circumstances, not because he was not really fit to rule in general but because he is too trusting (something that might have been a positive in the North), lacks support and is overwhelmed by ruthless and cunning schemers.

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5 minutes ago, TrackerNeil said:

I think the mark of a gray character is that she either doesn't think the choice is evil, or else she figures that it's in service of an even greater good. There's always some sort of justification, and not "I know this is wrong, but f*ck it."

That's my point.  Galadriel really considered the "it's evil but look at the beauty that I can preserve or make greater with this power".  Further, to choose as she did she allowed her people to die in order to facilitate a wild outside chance of true "victory".

Tracker,

What is your response to RBPL's point that if Fantasy really is about "stasis" or holding up the status quo as "good" Sauron should have been the hero of LOTR given the purpose of the Rings as created to extend existing, power, wealth, life, and beauty?

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22 minutes ago, Jo498 said:

These might be interesting points and RPG settings in Middle earth during Aragorn's reign might want to come up with some answers. But I cannot see why Tolkien should deal with it in LotR. As you said, the book is about the hobbits, not about Gondor. And for someone bringing this stuff up as criticism, GRRM is very cavalier with the nuts and bolts of logistics, economy and warfare in ASoIaF...

The failure of Robert Baratheon or the shortcomings of Dany as a ruler cannot be simply understood as a comment on "if the king was a good man the land would prosper". Apart from the fact that the medieval (or supposedly Tolkienist) stance is nowhere that simplistic, Robert is obviously not a "good man" in that sense. Good here means virtuous, namely just, wise, courageous and self-controlled. Robert is only courageous and strong and according to ancient wisdom the virtues form an interdependent unity, so a strong and courageous person who is an unwise, lecherous drunkard is obviously not a good/virtuous man and because of his strength, energy and courage more dangerous and less fit to rule than a weaker man (who might be more careful and heed wise counselors). Dany might be good in the sense of well-meaning (and she is more virtuous than Robert) but she lacks (or has only very little of) the experience, education and counsel medievals would take as necessary for someone to take on the office of a ruler. Obviously Aragorn is designed as both virtuous and extremely experienced in all kinds of stuff (because of his long travels) so it is not such a daring extrapolation that he will be a good and wise ruler.

The closest thing to a "deconstruction" of the wise ruler or instance of  "of good man, bad ruler" trope might be Ned Stark but it does not work well either. He supposedly is a good ruler in the North, he is courageous, just, self-controlled and reasonably wise and in KL he basically is a victim of the circumstances, not because he was not really fit to rule in general but because he is too trusting (something that might have been a positive in the North), lacks support and is overwhelmed by ruthless and cunning schemers.

Even in the North, where Ned knows everyone, he's not "too trusting".  He doesn't trust Roose Bolton.  He doesn't trust Balon Greyjoy.    He only trust's Littlefinger beause Cat vouches for Littlefinger.  

Ned is had.  His failure was his mistrust of Robert and his belief that Robert would kill Cersei and her kids.

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I think a grey character is very simply one who has qualities of both good as well as evil, without being wholly defined by both.

Denethor
Thorin Oakenshield
The Elf King of Mirkwood
Boromir
Feanor and his brood

Galadriel was a grey character in her backstory but ultimately chooses good.

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28 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Tracker,

What is your response to RBPL's point that if Fantasy really is about "stasis" or holding up the status quo as "good" Sauron should have been the hero of LOTR given the purpose of the Rings as created to extend existing, power, wealth, life, and beauty?

I haven't read the more recent posts, so I can't respond to that, and I probably shouldn't anyway. The paper lays out our thesis pretty well, and those who aren't persuaded by that won't likely be persuaded by anything I say now. 

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4 minutes ago, TrackerNeil said:

I haven't read the more recent posts, so I can't respond to that, and I probably shouldn't anyway. The paper lays out our thesis pretty well, and those who aren't persuaded by that won't likely be persuaded by anything I say now.

Awwww man.  This is no fun if you guys don't get into a dialogue.  I do see what you are saying what I think is problematic for you are those who've gone deep on Tolkien and his universe.  It really isn't all about stasis, at least stasis isn't portrayed as a positive.

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53 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Awwww man.  This is no fun if you guys don't get into a dialogue.  I do see what you are saying what I think is problematic for you are those who've gone deep on Tolkien and his universe.  It really isn't all about stasis, at least stasis isn't portrayed as a positive.

Uhh...I'm not sure what "those who've gone deep on Tolkien" means. Evidently I'm coming across as a Middle-Earth lightweight. I can assure you that my editor "goes deep on Tolkien", and he thought the paper was good enough to include in this work. So I find the assertion that Tolkien experts are united against me a bit...unpersuasive. Certainly the work hasn't found much support on this board, but there's a whole world out there.

And your second sentence reveals that you simply disagree with the premise of my argument, which is fine but doesn't leave much room for discussion. It's like trying to talk about mathematics with someone who doesn't agree on the numbering system you're using. Where do you go from there?

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1 hour ago, TrackerNeil said:

I haven't read the more recent posts, so I can't respond to that, and I probably shouldn't anyway. The paper lays out our thesis pretty well, and those who aren't persuaded by that won't likely be persuaded by anything I say now. 

Tracker,

How is stasis portrayed as a postive in Tolkien's world?

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1 minute ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Tracker,

How is stasis portrayed as a postive in Tolkien's world?

I think it's a bit of a projection because Tolkien wasn't pro-industry. The elves are pro-stasis but I think Tolkien makes it clear their goal is futile and unnatural.

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2 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Rob Stark is, BTW, the character you want to look to in order to get "Good man, bad King."

Rather: Nice and charismatic but immature boy, bad king. (Actuallly he didn't really have a chance to rule except lead his folks in a war which is very similar to all that we are shown from Aragorn in LotR and GRRM complains about that very fact about LotR in the quote further above... go figure...) 

If one wants to think of some idealized monarch, one really has to go with a character much closer to Aragorn. Not with a nice but inexperienced boy who is controlled by his d*ck at the wrong time. (A good man would have resisted the Westerling temptation, a smart man would have found some way out of it instead of "honorably" messing up his war strategy by becoming honor-bound to a strategically irrelevant house and dependent on opportunistic turncloaks like Bolton and the Freys. So Rob is either not virtuous enough or not cunning enough.)

And of course, "tradition" (Tolkien) knew that men are frail and fallible, so nobody would have fallen for simple equations like good man = good ruler. The most idealized kings of the judeo-christian tradition, David and Solomon, were supposedly controlled by their libido at the wrong time...

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1 hour ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Tracker,

How is stasis portrayed as a postive in Tolkien's world?

That's detailed in the paper, and more eloquently than I would do so here in 100 words. I believe it's still available to read for free.

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5 hours ago, Jo498 said:

These might be interesting points and RPG settings in Middle earth during Aragorn's reign might want to come up with some answers. But I cannot see why Tolkien should deal with it in LotR. As you said, the book is about the hobbits, not about Gondor. And for someone bringing this stuff up as criticism, GRRM is very cavalier with the nuts and bolts of logistics, economy and warfare in ASoIaF...

Oh agreed. I meant it was interesting in the sense that Martin (unlike Moorcock) actually "gets" Middle-earth, and isn't on some weird ideological war-path. Martin is like those people who contacted Tolkien in the aftermath of LOTR's publication:

…while many like you demand maps, others wish for geological indications rather than places; many want Elvish grammars, phonologies and specimens; some want metrics and prosodies… Musicians want tunes, and musical notation; archaeologists want ceramics and metallurgy; botanists want a more accurate description of mallorn, of elanor, niphredil, alfirin, mallos, symbelmynë; historians want more detail about the social and political structure of Gondor

On the good person/good king front, Tolkien throws up several examples of these not going together:

  • Tar-Palantir - The Numenorean who tries to repent. Too little, too late.
  • Theoden - A kindly old man, but what was he doing listening to Wormtongue in the first place?
  • Denethor - Highly intelligent and competent, yet paranoid, petty, and a bit too fond of playing politics.
  • Ar-Pharazon - If you value expansionism and military might (which Tolkien admittedly didn't), up until the end, he was one of the best Kings Numenor ever had. The guy defeated Sauron when Sauron had the Ring, to the point where even Elendil's Heirs remember his actions with pride.
  • Earnur - Last King of Gondor before Aragorn. Great warrior, terrible and irresponsible King.
  • Feanor - Toxic personality, amazing charisma.
  • Maglor - The nicest of Feanor's sons. But gets pushed into everything by the more assertive.
  • Thorin Oakenshield - Things go to his head, and he spends his short reign basically screaming "I am the rightful King! You will respect me!" But he was Bilbo's friend before then.

Et cetera.

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If we're discussing Tolkien versus Martin we should also note that Martin HAS released his own version of the Silmarillion and it was co-written with the hosts of this site with THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE. That particular book, particularly the Targayren section of the book which was written almost entirely by Martin, *IS* basically his thesis on good governance and the qualities of being a Good Man vs.a Good King. We also get things like tax policies, mercy vs. threat, religious policies, and so on.

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