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Tolkien's views on homosexuality



Shelob'sAppetite
Valinor

Mar 5 2012, 7:17am


Views: 17665
Tolkien's views on homosexuality

While a consideration of Tolkien's views on homosexuality is often deemed controversial, it should not be. This thread seeks to explore the topic.

First, an assumption must be punctured. It is often assumed that Tolkien, a devout Catholic, likely held conservative views on sexuality. However, there seems to be little evidence to suggest this, and some evidence to suggest that he may have been far more open-minded than many of his contemporaries.

For example, Tolkien once remarked in a letter that he was reading (and enjoying) Mary Renault's "Last of the Wine," which is at its narrative heart about an Athenian man named Alexias, and his male lover, Lysis, during the later stages of the Pelopponesian War. Now while homosexuality, and bi-sexuality, was a popularly accepted lifestyle in the Athens of that time, and so an appropriate subject for such a book, it is interesting that Tolkien found the story compelling. In any event, he clearly did not have his mind closed enough to keep him from enjoying this kind of a tale.

Another piece of evidence is based on something stated elsewhere on TORN, but for which I cannot find the source, which is that Tolkien edited a piece of fiction about a lesbian nurse. Again, if this is substantiated, it would seem to suggest that Tolkien was liberal enough in his consideration of homosexuality that he found value in stories that explored it.

What say you? And does anyone have any other evidence of Tolkien's views on the subject?


FantasyFan
Rohan


Mar 5 2012, 12:35pm


Views: 15690
there are Catholics and there are Catholics

Not every Catholic holds conservative social views. It is important to distinguish between the mandates of the hierarchical Church and the promptings of individual conscience. This is probably more of a prevalent attitude now than it was pre-Vatican II, and possibly more prevalent in the US than in other areas of the world. Just saying it isn't necessarily helpful to apply an only partially -true generalization about a whole group to one individual's attitude.

Having said that, Tolkien lived in an era when Catholics were much more conditioned to unquestionably accept every teaching of the Church on the same level. If sister said you were going to hell, then you were, whether it was for being gay or being left-handed. But I'm still not sure we can tell what he thought in his heart.


"That is one thing that Men call 'hope.' Amdir we call it, 'looking up.' But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is 'trust.' It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and First Being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End. Of all His designs the issue must be for His children's joy."
Finrod, Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, HoME X Morgoth's Ring



Faenoriel
Tol Eressea


Mar 5 2012, 5:17pm


Views: 15602
Tolkien loved mythologies but dissagreed with their moralities

He wasn't pleased with the moral codes of many if not any of the mythologies he so loved. And why should he have been. It's possible to enjoy some part of a piece of art without enjoying all of it. This freedom is related to person's ability of tolerating people he doesn't agree with in everything. Tolkien was a very wise, mature person, and I'm sure he could make the differece between the human individual and his actions: appreciating what is appreciatable in that person, and dissagreeing with those actions of his that are dissagreeable.

Please do note that his own mythology has pagan (or semi-pagan) form, but its moral code is very strickly Roman Catholic. The Valar are Scandinavian and Greek in appearance, but Christian in behaviour. Also his heroes are superficially from the pages of the sagas, but follow more or less Christian ideals. Can you imagine Manw taking the form of a swan and having sex with some clueless mortal girl?

Therefore I wouldn't make too many conclusions of him appreciating texts with homosexual characters. All we know of him speaks of a very devout Catholic Christian who kept to the old teaching and was "not ashamed of the Genesis". If he was pro-homosexuality, his relationship witth Christianity would have had to be dramatically different than we know, because it would require him denying the literal interpretation of Bible ("Bible is written by God, not by mortals, and ment for all generations from antiquety till the end of time without alterations".)

<3 Gandy, Raddy, Sharkey, Ally & Pally <3


Faenoriel
Tol Eressea


Mar 5 2012, 5:28pm


Views: 15603
Everyone of any faith or ideology is ultimately an individual

Yes, there are people who blindly accept what the other people tell them to believe, and those who are more "wise" and believe in what they themselves conclude to be true. (Both of these roads can equally lead into being right or being wrong.)

But there's also a third group: those who devote themselves to some belief system and then follow it faithfully. I'd say Tolkien belonged to this third group. He really believed in the authority of the sacred writing (the Genesis comment), but this doesn't render him into being one of those who just follow the herd.

<3 Gandy, Raddy, Sharkey, Ally & Pally <3


kareniel
Lorien

Mar 5 2012, 6:12pm


Views: 15605
He lived in an era. . .

when people of all faiths -- not just Catholics -- were more prone to accept the teachings of their respective churches without question. But the Catholic church has never preached that you would go to hell for being left-handed or gay. Goodness!


geordie
Tol Eressea

Mar 5 2012, 7:13pm


Views: 15663
I don't recall that -

quote - "Another piece of evidence is based on something stated elsewhere on TORN, but for which I cannot find the source, which is that Tolkien edited a piece of fiction about a lesbian nurse. Again, if this is substantiated, "


- but then (as I've had cause to say recently) I can't remember everything. Can someone tell us more about this?


Shelob'sAppetite
Valinor

Mar 5 2012, 8:17pm


Views: 15671
That may be so

But at least it demonstrates that Tolkien, as a mature individual, could at least appreciate works of art and literature that centered on homosexual relationships.

The same cannot be said of many culture warriors of today...


Otaku-sempai
Immortal

Mar 5 2012, 9:50pm


Views: 15760
Well, Prof. Tolkien wssn't a scientist...

But, he was an academician and a scholar. As such, he might have been less prone to take Catholic teachings at face-value. One can't fully understand one's faith until it is questioned and tested. I think that Tolkien would have understood that principle.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.


FantasyFan
Rohan


Mar 6 2012, 1:45am


Views: 15544
Yes you are right

It was a bit of hyperbole (I should know better, I can't pull that off successfully.)

However, my father was repeatedly slapped on his left hand by a nun whenever he tried to use it. Didn't work; he was determinedly left handed all his life. Different era, that would never happen now. But gay people are said to be inherently disordered, and that hasn't changed. Doesn't mean everyone who is a faithful Catholic believes that is correct. Again, different era.


"That is one thing that Men call 'hope.' Amdir we call it, 'looking up.' But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is 'trust.' It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and First Being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End. Of all His designs the issue must be for His children's joy."
Finrod, Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, HoME X Morgoth's Ring



Farawyn
Rohan


Mar 6 2012, 1:56am


Views: 15473
That WILL change.//

 

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eralkfang
Lorien


Mar 6 2012, 2:52am


Views: 15450
Huh!

I was under the impression that the lesbian nurse novel in question was The Friendly Young Ladies, one of Renault's novels, which seems to indicate that most of his exposure to gay relationships was through Renault's writing. I'm looking for where I found this, but I can't seem to dig it up, and it's that source that also claims he mentored her. Hmm.

I agree with FaenorielI don't think Tolkien was ever overtly accepting, but I also think he was mature enough to appreciate works with homosexual themes.


kareniel
Lorien

Mar 6 2012, 2:55am


Views: 15477
Tolkien's reading a book

whose central characters are homosexual isn't a good clue to his personal views. An interesting character is an interesting character! If we read only books about people whose lifestyles are in harmony with our own, we would give reading up as a boring enterprise.

Anyway, why would his Catholicism deter him from reading such a story? Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited is a novel written by a Catholic about a Catholic homosexual. Religious and lay critics alike consistently rank it among the best novels of the 20th century.


kareniel
Lorien

Mar 6 2012, 3:12am


Views: 15493
Catholics don't interpret the Bible literally.

The Catholic interpretation, like the interpretation of many other Christian faiths, views the Bible throught the lens of tradition. The traditions of the culture from which the Bible arises are now and always have been studied and taken into careful consideration throughout the interpretation. These traditions are rich in symbolism and allegory, which are included in the Catholic interpretation.


Farawyn
Rohan


Mar 6 2012, 3:38am


Views: 15420
*mods up* //

 

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Farawyn
Rohan


Mar 6 2012, 3:40am


Views: 15544
No, Catholics

often interpret the Bible literally. The Body and Blood is THE Body and Blood. Ohter Christian faiths see this as symbolic. Catholics see this as literal.

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Altaira
Superuser / Moderator


Mar 6 2012, 6:02am


Views: 15494
I wouldn't classify that as

*often*


Quote
Catholics often interpret the Bible literally.The Body and Blood is THE Body and Blood




I don't think that one instance translates into 'often,' or even literal: Catholics don't believe they're literally eating flesh and drinking blood - they believe that a miracle occurs every time the host is consecrated, just like, from their POV, Jesus performed a miracle at the Last Supper that allowed plain bread and wine to become part of himself.

But, now I'm also guilty of veering off of the topic BlushLaugh In an attempt to steer the topic back onto the subject of the thread (and directed at no one in particular), short of finding a direct statement by him, we'll never know his views on homosexuality, and inferring approval or disapproval from his religion (there *are* gays who are Catholic, and Catholics who embrace them Smile, even back in the day), his reading material (he loved a good story), his friends or anything else, while interesting, is about as far from conclusive as it's possible to get.


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(This post was edited by Altaira on Mar 6 2012, 6:04am)


geordie
Tol Eressea

Mar 6 2012, 9:32am


Views: 15357
I should like to hear more -

- as far as I'm aware Tolkien didn't edit pieces of fiction - well, apart from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and other mediaeval texts. Smile Neither have I heard or read that he mentored Mary Renault.

Can anyone remember the Torn discussion where this was raised; or the source whence it came?


geordie
Tol Eressea

Mar 6 2012, 9:37am


Views: 15441
Hang on, I've found it

- here -

http://newboards.theonering.net/forum/gforum/perl/gforum.cgi?post=253120;search_string=renault;#253113

I'm still getting the hang of this interweb thingy. Search facilities here are very good, aren't they?

Smile

*edit - here! looking further, I see I took part in that discussion myself; I'd completely forgotten about that. Well, well.


(This post was edited by geordie on Mar 6 2012, 9:42am)


squire
Half-elven


Mar 6 2012, 12:43pm


Views: 15391
Why compare Tolkien to today's 'culture warriors'?

The man was born in the 1880s. I should think it would only be meaningful to compare his interest in - or ability to appreciate - art with a homosexual theme to that of other writers, artists, and everyday literate people of his own generation. Renault's novels sold well enough for her to be still in print today and remembered as a major genre novelist of the 1940s-1970s. The one or two I have read are good gripping reads and immensely enjoyable for the way they immerse a modern reader in a rather alien culture of the past.

I also noticed in her biography that she was at Oxford, concentrating in English, in the 1920s when Tolkien had just started teaching there - I would certainly suppose he knew her personally from that clue alone. Then add the note that as a married man, he was considered 'safe' with female undergraduates so that he had a number of them under his tutelage - he even wrote a long, rather sexist but characteristically thoughtful appreciation of the intellectual differences between young men and women students. He may not have 'edited' The Friendly Young Ladies (her so-called lesbian nurse novel of 1943) but perhaps he previewed it for her as a personal favor?

But since he didn't really like fiction set in the mundane modern era, I suspect that Tolkien most enjoyed her ability to enter and make real the world of classical mythology - a subject she began writing about in the mid-50s. He of course knew about classical attitudes towards what we now call homosexuality. I doubt that Renault's accurate exploration of that part of that world upset or surprised him in the least.



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entmaiden
Forum Admin / Moderator


Mar 6 2012, 1:48pm


Views: 15349
The old boards

Had a search function, but it broke when the LOTR movies came out and never worked again. Extremely frustrating, but I'm grateful every day for these new message boards and the robust search function.

Here's another research puzzle: I remember a comment from Tolkien that he was completely unaware of homosexuality until he was nineteen. If we could find that comment and the context in which it was made, we might gain some insight into his opinions.


geordie
Tol Eressea

Mar 6 2012, 3:12pm


Views: 15377
He said he was -

- actually, what he said (or more accurately, wrote - in an unpublished letter offered for sale a couple of years ago) - was 'I am a poet and a scientist' - meaning, a philologist.

On another topic - I can't find the interview with Mary Renault which Darkstone referred to in the other thread; but I did find this -

http://www.iyicreative.com/maryrenaultsociety/who-is-mary-renault.asp

- v. interestng.

On the topic as a whole - I'm not sure what value there might be if we were able to ascertain Tolkien's 'views' on homosexuality. We know he was very interested in Mary Renault, both as a writer and as a person. Same goes for W.H. Auden, who was a staunch supporter of TH and esp. LotR. He wrote a poem for Tolkien; 'Ode to a Philologist', published in the festscrift published by Allen & Unwin in honour of T's 80th birthday, in 1962. Tolkien himself wrote a poem to Auden, 'For W.H.A.', published in 1967 in a periodical called Shenandoah - a special issue in honour of Auden's 60th. I don't recall hearing or reading anything about any 'views' Tolkien may or may not have had on Auden's sexuality. I don't suppose he thought about these things, much. I know I don't.


(This post was edited by geordie on Mar 6 2012, 3:13pm)


geordie
Tol Eressea

Mar 6 2012, 3:39pm


Views: 15329
Yes -

- the search function here is very good; i shall have to make more use of it.

As for the 19 - year old Tolkien - I have heard or reaad that remark; I think it might have been in one or other of Carpenter's books. can't remember where exactly, though.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal

Mar 6 2012, 3:41pm


Views: 15294
I stand corrected.

I would have been more correct to state that Tolkien was not so much a 'hard scientist' as a scholar. However, I'm not sure that this adds much to the discussion.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.


geordie
Tol Eressea

Mar 6 2012, 3:54pm


Views: 15349
I'm not sure it's that important a point -

- I only mentioned it because I was touched by Tolkien's assertion that he regarded himself as a poet (something which few of his critics seem to take seriously; not even the kind ones) - and also a scientist in a field which was (as far as I can tell) as demanding as any of the 'hard' sciences (if I got the term right).


Modtheow
Lorien


Mar 6 2012, 4:18pm


Views: 15451
Found it!

Humphrey Carpenter's biography talks about Tolkien's school days at King Edward's School and how Tolkien found a lot of good friends there. Carpenter states: "Certainly the older boys did have prestige in the eyes of the younger, but it was the prestige of age and achievement rather than of caste, while as to homosexuality Tolkien claimed that at nineteen he did not even know the word. Nevertheless it was into an all-male society that he now threw himself." (Page 53 in my paperback edition).

That "Nevertheless" is rather odd when I think about it. Also, I have no idea what Carpenter is basing this on -- a conversation with Tolkien? a letter?


Xanaseb
Tol Eressea


Mar 7 2012, 12:24pm


Views: 15103
And the in theUK. Lay Catholics here are generally very progressive (can't say the same for some of our upper echelons: cough cough Keith O'Brien cough)

(that man make's me physically sick to call myself a Catholic!!.....)

Anyway, yes, I'd definitely like to think that Tolkien was thinking a bit outside the Catholic Church's box at least..........What I am very very interested in however is to what extent he disliked Vatican Council II...........I know that he detested the Latin --> English change, but what about the rest of it? The progressive and inclusive stuff?? Plus, the teaching on Homosexuality is more clearly defined there, with reference to 'natural law' etc. (still wasn't much change however in that respect...)

I think, being a great great human being, Tolkien probably did have inner qualms about some aspects of his faith, just as every other Christian should really have......it is a good thing to question faith, that is certainly acknowledged by the Church. (Now at least anyway)

Smile

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Alassa Eruvande
Valinor


Mar 7 2012, 2:49pm


Views: 15059
Just out of curiosity...

If you found out for sure that Tolkien's views on homosexuality differed from your own, would it affect your enjoyment of his work?

Just stirrin' the puddin'...Angelic



And suddenly the Tornadoes saw afar off a greenlight, as it were a cloud with a living heart of flame;
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SirDennisC
Half-elven


Mar 7 2012, 3:43pm


Views: 15083
*snert* you stirrer you. //

 


Gwytha
Rohan


Mar 8 2012, 8:47pm


Views: 14990
It's an interesting question

probably impossible to know if there aren't any specific letters or quotes of him on the topic. I think it's really hard to make comparisons between people's current views on homosexuality and those of people living through Tolkien's lifetime. I am pretty sure that you could still get sent to prison for homosexual acts at the time of Tolkien's death--E.M. Forster died two years before Tolkien in 1971 and came out shortly after with the publication of his posthumous novel "Maurice"; he mentioned this in the foreward, that his charactars would still be at risk of going to prison. I think the diversity of opinion ranged from thinking it was a unforgiveable sin to viewing it as a sickness. There were people in those days who considered homosexuality to be a natural orientation, but they were pretty few and nobody much was listening, at least until very close to the end of Tolkien's life when the gay rights movement was beginning to take off(though it had been around a lot longer than that). I would guess Tolkien, like most people, probably didn't think about it enough to really have well formulated "views" on homosexuality, but it's unlikely IMO that he considered homosexuality to be "normal" behavior. Whether he thought it a sickness or a sin, I think he would still regard homosexuals as human beings worthy of compassion.

It's interesting that the European countires with the most repressive anti-gay laws in the 19th and 20th centuries were Protestant(Britain and Germany)rather than Catholic.

Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm. -Joni Mitchell

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Gwytha
Rohan


Mar 8 2012, 8:55pm


Views: 16292
I've wondered about that too

I suspect Tolkien would share some of the conservative views of today's "culture warriors" but I don't think he'd approve of hate speech or violence towards those he disagreed with. He deplored the Nazis but he also deplored the aerial bombing campaigns that killed thousands of German civilians, despite the thousands of Britons that had been and were being killed by German air raids. The one thing I think is true about Tolkien is you can't pigeonhole him as far as his opinions go. I would think it must have taken some courage to disagree with the bombing of German cities in during those terrible days.

I used to assume if people wrote something that awed and moved me as Tolkien's work has that they must share political opinions with me, and I appreciate Tolkien for disabusing me of that notion!

Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm. -Joni Mitchell

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