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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Thank you for the excellent summary

FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 25 2012, 3:53pm


Views: 105
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Thank you for the excellent summary [In reply to] Can't Post

of the three different ways of approaching Tolkien's work:


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The one of "proper" scholarship. what NEB once called "Tolkien studies", is to analyse how Tolkien's attitudes developed, and try to figure out what that says about him as a thinker and an artist.

Yes, that's the kind of in-depth work you'd expect Tolkien scholars to perform, depending as it does on close study of the chronology of Tolkien's writing, rather than just looking at the finished work. However, unlike the "modern" writers who were his contemporaries (Joyce, Proust and so on), Tolkien seems to be more interested in telling a story than in examining and expressing his own interior life. In that respect, he really is more a kind of "craft" writer, aiming to make a finished work that exists independent of its author, rather than a writer of "literary" fiction, at least as it was usually practised in the 20th century. For that reason, I think focusing on the author rather than his creation may be less appropriate for Tolkien than for other modern writers. (Although, like every good craftsman, he does put a lot of himself into his work, no disputing that!)


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The path you seem to adopt, is that of "Middle-earth studies" - trying to map the varying attitudes as reflecting different sources, each with its own traditions, lacunae and even prejudices.

Yes, you're right, it's the way I prefer to look at the body of Tolkien's Middle-earth tales. I've noticed a number of references in his Letters and so on to his own thinking in this direction, so I feel that it's a valid way to approach his published work. As with all writers, his drafts belong in a different category, interesting for scholars who want to examine a writer's creative processes and so on, but not to be considered as part of the finished work that the author set out to create. The complicating factor with Tolkien, of course, is that he had work that he intended to publish but that wasn't in publishable form when he died, so it's impossible now to know exactly what he would have chosen to publish. What we do know is that Tolkien did have "framing devices" for the tales that became the Silmarillion, which his son omitted. Perhaps they wouldn't have worked, but I think they are an indication that Tolkien himself intended his tales to be viewed through such a prism, rather than taken as ordinary fiction in the modern sense.


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A third one is to try and evaluate the different versions critically, as to which works better.

Well, providing you're talking about the published work, I mostly agree. It's just that your phraseology makes it sound as if it's necessary to choose between the versions, as if one is bound to be "better" than the others, rather than each having its own value. Tolkien wrote in his Letters about his early ambition to create stories in many different modes, from myth to fairy-tale, and I don't think he felt that any one way of telling a story was better than another. If you're talking about evaluating the different versions to see which appears most likely to be "true", then I agree completely!


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While the "Middle-earth studies" approach is great fun, I really don't think we can attribute it to any deliberate attempt of Tolkien's side to reconstruct a web of different historical accounts and traitions. My impression is that he did try to achieve a single coherent vision of what "really" happened, and simply never attained it.

There I guess we differ. I do feel (based on what I've read particularly in his Letters) that Tolkien did have in mind, at least in the early days, the idea of creating a web of different accounts, telling of the same events in different styles and from different perspectives. Although I agree that he tried to achieve in his own mind "a single coherent vision of what 'really' happened", as you put it, I don't think he ever intended to tell that story "straight" - that is, directly from the omniscient authorial perspective - I always get the impression with Tolkien that his stories are filtered through the perspective of the inhabitants of the world he created. This, surely, is what "feigned history" is - an attempt to recreate the experience of reading various accounts of events and synthesising the views of different witnesses to gain a complex understanding of what "really" happened. The trouble with this approach, I guess, is that without any concrete events that did "really happen" to anchor the stories, it must be difficult to keep the storytelling disciplined. It reminds me a bit of the writing style in works such as The Children of Hurin, where we have a "feigned translation" with no underlying "original text" to impose discipline on the language. If the legendarium got away from him, perhaps that's one of the reasons it did - whereas if he had wanted to write straight "fiction", rather than a "feigned history", things would have been much simpler. Straight fiction is more or less what Christopher made of it, I think, and certainly what many readers prefer. But not me...Crazy


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Except for the Riddles in the Dark episode, I know of only once when he played with this idea - when he came to the conclusion that the story of the world being made round at the Fall of Numenor made no astronomical sense, and the elves would never have made such a stupid mistake - therefore the whole Silmarillion must have been a garbled Mannish tradition. I'm glad that Christopher decided to drop this development.

The very fact that Tolkien considered it shows that it wasn't alien to his thinking, though, doesn't it? And Christopher deciding to drop it is also an indication of how Christopher's own taste was (necessarily) imposed on his father's work, giving it a different cast than it might have had otherwise.

There's also the example of the part of the Silmarillion that inspired our debate here - On the Rings of Power and the Third Age. This was written after LotR, yet it misrepresents Frodo's role in the War of the Ring in a way that must be deliberate on Tolkien's part. Gollum is omitted, and Frodo is turned into a straightforward hero, throwing the Ring of his own accord into the Fire. If that's not meant to be an example of how a legend grows up around "real" events, what exactly is the point of it?


In Reply To
As far as the sentence you've quoted goes, you might be correct; but I think the following sentence means more:

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You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?
Had I wanted to superimpose skepticism on The Hobbit, I might have managed to; but I think this is a clear indicator of Tolkien's own belief.

Yes, fair enough. The word "managed" does seem to give away the idea that there's someone pulling the strings, doesn't it?... Although since Gandalf is denying that things were "managed by mere luck", does he mean they were managed but not by luck, or that they weren't actually managed at all? Gandalf is pretty good at keeping things ambiguous! (And I do agree really that Tolkien is hinting at his own belief in a Higher Power here, but I wanted to make the point that even as he does so, he keeps things ambiguous enough that you can't be completely sure. It's not about "skepticism" though, IMO, but rather about faith. The lack of certainty, while making skepticism possible, also makes room for faith.)

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings


Subject User Time
The Last Stage, part V - Prophecies and Providence sador Send a private message to sador Nov 20 2012, 7:33pm
    The Necromancer Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Nov 20 2012, 11:26pm
        In The Hobbit alone, you are right. sador Send a private message to sador Nov 22 2012, 3:53pm
            The name of the Necromancer FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 24 2012, 5:43pm
                But I thought sador Send a private message to sador Nov 25 2012, 9:11am
                    That's the odd thing. FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 25 2012, 10:52am
    prophecy, providence and pforesight telain Send a private message to telain Nov 22 2012, 6:22pm
        True or false viviosns? sador Send a private message to sador Nov 23 2012, 10:48am
    Both no and yes... FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 24 2012, 5:13pm
        Thank you! sador Send a private message to sador Nov 25 2012, 9:52am
            Thank you for the excellent summary FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Nov 25 2012, 3:53pm
    Gandalf had a lotta splainin' to do! squire Send a private message to squire Dec 1 2012, 8:11pm
        The Hobbit a train wreck as a prequel to Lotr????????????? Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Dec 4 2012, 12:21am
    Thanks for a wonderful post! Ardamírë Send a private message to Ardamírë Dec 3 2012, 9:15pm

 
 
 

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