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Ser Scot A Ellison

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

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8 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Taking a break from TrackerNeil, and having a comment on someone else:

https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/tolkiens-dwarves-and-alleged-anti-semitism/

Dwarves are meant to stand in for Jews but in a very very difficult to see way,

They're also a Proud Warrior RaceTM and the flawed heroes of the piece.

Furthermore, everyone but Bilbo and Gandalf is gold hungry.

So it's more stereotyping and mildly so at that.

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Thinking it over, the allegation of "mollycoddling" may lie in the fact that Tolkien did not describe violence, torture, and rape in graphic terms.  Horrors abound in Middle Earth, but most of the details are left to our own imagination.  Sam discovers a "dreadful place of feast and slaughter" in Ithilien, but we get no description of who died there or how.  Eowyn is threatened, not with death, but with something worse;  an eternity of torment in the "Houses of Lamentation".  We don't know what these are, but we can assume they're something far worse than the average torture chamber.   Severed heads are hurled into Minas Tirith, and it's suggested that the victims died badly, but we get no account of their deaths;  Saruman's armies set the Westfold ablaze, but we are given no details of the murder, pillage and rape that must have ensued;  Celebrian was "tormented" by the Orcs, but we don't know what they did.  And so on.

Personally, I think this reticence on the part of the author is a good technique, but I can see how other readers would disagree.

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Oh, and Celebrimbor. Sauron didn't mess around.

As for examples of rape in Tolkien...

  • A very early version of the Eol/Aredhel story has Eol "forcibly taking Aredhel to wife". This was toned down later.
  • Turin stops an attempted rape during his time among the outlaws.
  • Celebrian - use your own imagination.
  • In one of the "round Arda" versions, Melkor rapes the Maia of the Sun (I prefer the fruit of the Trees version anyway).
  • Morgoth's thoughts when Luthien dances before him.
  • The production of the Uruk-hai implies male Orcs raping Dunlending women (turned into pod Orcs for Jackson's adaption).

That's pretty much it. As you mention, it's not dwelt on, but it's there.

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On 19/10/2016 at 8:27 AM, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

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).

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

On 21/10/2016 at 0:30 AM, SeanF said:

It's counter-intuitive, that the War of the Ring was won by an act of pity and mercy on the part of Bilbo, 80 years previously, and by acts of self-sacrifice and self-denial on the part of the powerful. 

This fits with my (unpopular I suspect) view that Frodo is ultimately a failure, that while he resisted right up until the threshold he ultimately was broken at the same point as Isildur. This is my interpretation for why he isn't able to find happiness in normal life afterwards, because even if no one else regards it as such he knows that he failed and they were all saved only by that act of Bilbo so long ago.

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I agree; I also had the impression that the evasive reports of the torture of Celebrian hinted at sexual abuse. Of course there is tradition of "unspeakable horrors", often including rape, that are not explicitly mentioned, both for reasons of decency (we easily tend to forget how discreetly/indirectly some things had to be handled in literature in (post)Victorian times) and for making the unmentionable even more horrifying.

Eol/Aredhel would certainly be considered abusive today, even after being toned down but it's par for the course if you look into any saga/myth/etc.

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6 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Oh, and Celebrimbor. Sauron didn't mess around.

As for examples of rape in Tolkien...

  • A very early version of the Eol/Aredhel story has Eol "forcibly taking Aredhel to wife". This was toned down later.
  • Turin stops an attempted rape during his time among the outlaws.
  • Celebrian - use your own imagination.
  • In one of the "round Arda" versions, Melkor rapes the Maia of the Sun (I prefer the fruit of the Trees version anyway).
  • Morgoth's thoughts when Luthien dances before him.
  • The production of the Uruk-hai implies male Orcs raping Dunlending women (turned into pod Orcs for Jackson's adaption).

That's pretty much it. As you mention, it's not dwelt on, but it's there.

When you think about it, Isengard in Saruman's last years must have been a concentration camp.  No wonder Treebeard describes the blending of orcs and men as a black evil.  When I first read LOTR I didn't take the point (I was 12 at the time) but it seems obvious now.

1 hour ago, Jo498 said:

I agree; I also had the impression that the evasive reports of the torture of Celebrian hinted at sexual abuse. Of course there is tradition of "unspeakable horrors", often including rape, that are not explicitly mentioned, both for reasons of decency (we easily tend to forget how discreetly/indirectly some things had to be handled in literature in (post)Victorian times) and for making the unmentionable even more horrifying.

Eol/Aredhel would certainly be considered abusive today, even after being toned down but it's par for the course if you look into any saga/myth/etc.

It's natural to infer that Celebrian was raped by orcs.  Although, I think it depends why she was kidnapped.  If it was an opportunistic orc band, then we can assume they'd behave towards prisoners much as the Bloody Mummers do.  If the orders came from higher up, then the torment might have taken a different form.  The reference to the "poisoned wound" and leaving Middle Earth is reminiscent of what happened to Frodo.  Perhaps she was wounded with a Morgul-blade, with a view to reducing her to a wraith under the control of Sauron. Celebrian as wraith would doubtless be a very useful servant to him, as well as being a horrible blow to her family.

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6 hours ago, karaddin said:

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

This fits with my (unpopular I suspect) view that Frodo is ultimately a failure, that while he resisted right up until the threshold he ultimately was broken at the same point as Isildur. This is my interpretation for why he isn't able to find happiness in normal life afterwards, because even if no one else regards it as such he knows that he failed and they were all saved only by that act of Bilbo so long ago.

I think that your view was certainly Tolkien's.  In his letters, he wrote that Frodo failed, albeit, nobody could have succeeded.  Amusingly, he encountered one angry reader who said Frodo should have been hanged for treason at the War's end, rather than being honoured.

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10 hours ago, karaddin said:

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

This fits with my (unpopular I suspect) view that Frodo is ultimately a failure, that while he resisted right up until the threshold he ultimately was broken at the same point as Isildur. This is my interpretation for why he isn't able to find happiness in normal life afterwards, because even if no one else regards it as such he knows that he failed and they were all saved only by that act of Bilbo so long ago.

Karaddin,

I actually like that interpretation. It makes the ring more powerful and Frodo more genuine.

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19 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Karaddin,

I actually like that interpretation. It makes the ring more powerful and Frodo more genuine.

Didn't Tolkien comment on that in one of the letters? Stating that Frodo did all he possibly could do but wasn't capable (as a mortal being) to resist the Ring where Sauron's power was strongest.

As to the general topic:

I find Tolkien both pretty good as well as pretty bad when he is dealing with those core concept of Christianity. He is good when he explores on them in a reasonable manner and very bad when he just takes them for granted.

Take Melkor as an example for the bad stuff:

The devil's motivation to betray his creator is one of the core nonsensical tenets of Christianity. And angelic being is neither affected by original sin nor otherwise limited to understand the divine will and the divine plan. The idea that such a creature would turn against its creator (and boss) in a way that leads to ultimate corruption knowing fully well that it cannot win in the end is just ridiculous. No such being would ever do such a thing, ever.

And if it did, the creator would have to be blamed for that, not the creation. The way you create something defines it. Thus a creature like Melkor would not come evil because of free will but because of flaws in its design, and for those would be the creator to be blamed.

Tolkien makes it even worse with the whole concert analogy in the Ainulindale. The artist is to blame if his art is bad. Eru made Melkor and all the other Ainur. He knows their minds and nature, he defined it. Free will or not, it was Eru's call to allow Melkor to participate in the Great Music and it was he would made the whole thing real. Eru knew what would come of that music while Melkor did not. The guy had fun messing with and ruining the music - but would he also have done that had he known what this music was about?

We have no idea. The problem isn't even addressed.

In addition, Eru was also under no obligation to allow Melkor and his cronies to enter into Ea after the universe had been created. Presumably the world would have been a much better place if Melkor hadn't been there, personally, to corrupt it even more. Thus why not imprison the guy or at least not allow him to interact with your most prized creations?

If you are in mindset where the existence of the devil is a reality you don't really question whether such a creature is an intelligent or coherent concept (it isn't) and that really shows in Tolkien's work.

Another thing would be his strict adherence to the concept that some things simply are bad, no matter what. I mean, why exactly the Rings of Power are problematic is never discussed in detail. The Elves are forced to live in Arda Marred (thanks to Eru allow Morgoth's will and essence to do its harm in the world) and thus have to fade away over time. That wasn't part of the original plan. Therefore the question remains: Why is it bad if the Elves make magical artifacts to slow this decay and preserve beautiful things?

The good is Tolkien's whole take on the problem of death:

His portrayal of the good death of the Númenóreans - no sickness, no dementia, no pain, just going to sleep and to let go of life voluntarily - is an example for a world where the deity actually makes it clear who is favored and who isn't favored (which unfortunately doesn't happen in reality). Seeing the mystery of death and the wish to remain in blissed state for ever as well as the desire to understand why the hell people have to die in the first place is a much more interesting conundrum than the Bible's take on original sin with the weirdo snake and the fruit trees.

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12 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

 

Another thing would be his strict adherence to the concept that some things simply are bad, no matter what. I mean, why exactly the Rings of Power are problematic is never discussed in detail. The Elves are forced to live in Arda Marred (thanks to Eru allow Morgoth's will and essence to do its harm in the world) and thus have to fade away over time. That wasn't part of the original plan. Therefore the question remains: Why is it bad if the Elves make magical artifacts to slow this decay and preserve beautiful things?

I suppose the answer to that would be is that it's wrong to try to remain a ruling caste forever, and to try to prevent change forever, however understandable.   

At any rate, Tolkien saw it as wrong.  I've said upthread, that if I were Galadriel, or another powerful being, and were offered the One Ring, I'd have taken it.  I'd see it as better to defeat the enemy that exists here and now, rather than worry that I'll become a tyrant hundreds of years hence.

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1 minute ago, SeanF said:

I suppose the answer to that would be is that it's wrong to try to remain a ruling caste forever, and to try to prevent change forever, however understandable.

That isn't the vibe I get from JRRT at all. Divine rule is completely okay in his world. It is the basis for Aragorn's rule as well as the rule for any other rightful king. And that's unchangeable throughout the ages (and true to this day, presumably, considering that Tolkien was living as a monarchist in a monarchy).

The vibe I get is that the problematic thing is if you try to accomplish something or do something you are not supposed to do (because it is against natural law or divine law). Eru (Jesus) saving the world eventually and making it anew is fine. But you mortal (or immortal) creation should not try to do that.

I mean, we are talking about Eregion and perhaps Lórien here (I don't think Celebrimbor intended to share his power with Galadriel while he was making the Three - he only separated them after he realized Sauron had betrayed him after he had completed them), not exactly a large realm.

But then, the whole concept of the Valar and Eldar effectively hiding in their private paradise also isn't a concept that is very good. Yeah, it is part of the pre-history of mankind things and a ad hoc explanation why the gods and elves are no longer visible among us. But there is no good explanation as to why the Valar and Eldar leaving is a good thing. In fact, it is a sign of defeat and essentially the triumph of evil. Morgoth and Sauron remain for rather long periods of times with the Children of Eru and shape and form their destinies to a much higher degree than the Valar. Sure, there are some people in the West of Middle-earth who accidentally are born at the right time at the right place to learn to do the right thing. But if you are born in the SA in the middle of Sauronland you are pretty much fried.

If you are not questioning that the world is a sinful place full of evil then it makes sense to write stories the way Tolkien did. But just as Christianity itself Tolkien fails to explain why the hell things should be the way they are. And that is a thing a fantasy literature covering the creation of the world and the universe should do. Especially if your mythology is a lot better than natural mythology (which Tolkien's most definitely is).

And thinking about that another pretty ugly aspect (deeply ingrained in Christianity as well) is the idea that life is just some sort of exercise you can learn something from (especially through suffering). Eru tells Melkor that he will eventually learn who the boss is, and his time in Ea-Arda basically is a lesson for him and the other Ainur (as well as, to a lesser degree, to his other Children). But using the suffering and deaths of a lot of innocent beings as a means to teach some angelic being a lesson isn't all that fine.

Why couldn't Eru just explain Melkor things in a less violent way? And why can't Eru not talk to the humans in his world to reveal himself and console them when they are sad or desperate? It is not their fault that they don't understand why the hell they are stuck in an imperfect world that was ruined by evil angel at the beginning of time? And it should be pretty hard for them to figure that out empirically.

I know that there is the story of the Fall of Man in Tolkien's work but that one is just a bad adaptation of original sin. No sane being would punish me for a thing my great-grandfather did, right? And god most certainly wouldn't do such a crappy thing.

If the final goal is a perfect world - which it is with Tolkien and Christianity - then there is no reason why an omnipotent being shouldn't be able to create such a thing at once rather than only at the end of time. And one has to consider the fact that people very much fucked by life (like Túrin and Nienor, for instance) really should need quite some time get over their traumas in the afterlife). Túrin couldn't fit in Doriath - is he likely to be fit in paradise/heaven?

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14 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

 

 

14 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

That isn't the vibe I get from JRRT at all. Divine rule is completely okay in his world. It is the basis for Aragorn's rule as well as the rule for any other rightful king. And that's unchangeable throughout the ages (and true to this day, presumably, considering that Tolkien was living as a monarchist in a monarchy).

 

Well, the British monarchy today is a very different thing to the English monarchy of say, 1300.  Trying to preserve the monarchy unchanged over the intervening 716 years would almost certainly have destroyed the institution.  So, while I may be putting words in Tolkien's mouth, I imagine that he'd accept like the Whigs that things have to change if one wants them to stay the same.  Denethor's statement to Gandalf that he wants Gondor to remain as it was in his forefathers' day and their forefathers' day, or else come to an end,  is not portrayed in a good light;  nor the way that Faramir describes the Numenorean ruling classes' social exclusivity and their obsession with bloodlines and ancestry.

 

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11 minutes ago, SeanF said:

Well, the British monarchy today is a very different thing to the English monarchy of say, 1300.  Trying to preserve the monarchy unchanged over the intervening 716 years would almost certainly have destroyed the institution.  So, while I may be putting words in Tolkien's mouth, I imagine that he'd accept like the Whigs that things have to change if one wants them to stay the same.  Denethor's statement to Gandalf that he wants Gondor to remain as it was in his forefathers' day and their forefathers' day, or else come to an end,  is not portrayed in a good light;  nor the way that Faramir describes the Numenorean ruling classes' social exclusivity and their obsession with bloodlines and ancestry.

Oh, change in itself isn't necessarily bad, I guess. But there are hints that there is good change and bad change and Tolkien (and Eru/the divine forces in his works) is the judge of that. And it is mostly going by personal preference there. I mean, you see this with his focus on the natural world and the environment. That's Tolkien not liking that stuff he likes is destroyed or changed.

But there are interestingly revealing aspects of his character in comments of his son Christopher of his father's rage over all those trains in the English countryside. Not to mention his unwillingness to adapt to the new Catholic liturgy in old age. One of his grandsons was very irritated when Tolkien loudly and stubbornly stuck to the Latin during mass.

Those are very conservative traits. I actually can relate to all that on an emotional level because I don't like changes effecting me, personally, but one should learn to deal with that and not complain or idealize the past and the good old days where everything was better.

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.

But we can say that there is a good racism in favoring the Western people over the faceless Southron and Easterling invaders who essentially are faithful servants of the enemy. It is not heavy-handed racism, rather a general feeling where a certain culture and its people is embodying everything that's good and noble in humankind. Other cultures and races don't fit in and are not really addressed.

That's an underlying trait going back to the Lost Tales which essentially were a mythology for England. That makes it explicit that the English are very special and blessed people in the whole context of that conception.

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41 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

LV,

So, your criticism of Tolkein is that he was a Conservative Roman Catholic?

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?

39 minutes ago, Darth Richard II said:

Yeah I think you are finding way more Catholic symbolism/allegory then is actually there.

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?

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In addition, he [Denethor] 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.

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.

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.

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