Our Sponsor Sideshow Collectibles Send us News
Lord of the Rings Tolkien
Search Tolkien
Lord of The RingsTheOneRing.net - Forged By And For Fans Of JRR Tolkien
Lord of The Rings Serving Middle-Earth Since The First Age

Lord of the Rings Movie News - J.R.R. Tolkien
Do you enjoy the 100% volunteer, not for profit services of TheOneRing.net?
Consider a donation!

  Main Index   Search Posts   Who's Online   Log in
The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
On Fairy-stories 2.1: "I shall therefore pass lightly over the question of origins."

visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 27 2008, 2:27pm

Post #1 of 14 (930 views)
Shortcut
On Fairy-stories 2.1: "I shall therefore pass lightly over the question of origins." Can't Post

Welcome to the second week of “On Fairy-stories”. In this week’s discussion, we’ll be looking at the section called ORIGINS, plus the accompanying Note B. Many thanks to Curious for getting us off to a great start last week. And so with no more ado, let’s dig right in ...


Quote
Actually the question: What is the origin of the fairy element? lands us ultimately in the same fundamental inquiry; but there are many elements in fairy-stories (such as this detachable heart, or swan-robes, magic rings, arbitrary prohibitions, wicked stepmothers, and even fairies themselves) that can be studied without tackling this main question. Such studies are, however, scientific (at least in intent); they are the pursuit of folklorists or anthropologists: that is of people using the stories not as they were meant to be used, but as a quarry from which to dig evidence, or information, about matters in which they are interested. A perfectly legitimate procedure in itself – but ignorance or forgetfulness of the nature of a story (as a thing told in its entirety) has often led such inquirers into strange judgments. To investigators of this sort recurring similarities (such as this matter of the heart) seem specially important. So much so that students of folk-lore are apt to get off their own proper track, or to express themselves in a misleading ‘shorthand’: misleading in particular, if it gets out of their monographs into books about literature. They are inclined to say that any two stories that are built round the same folk-lore motive, or are made up of a generally similar combination of such motives, are ‘the same stories.’ [..]



1. Tolkien’s mention of “magic rings” is quite suggestive, given that he had just finished writing The Hobbit. Is Tolkien thinking of his own magic ring here, and therefore including his just-completed work already among canonical fairy-stories? If not, can you think of any traditional fairy-tales containing magic rings about which Tolkien might have been thinking?

2. Considering Tolkien’s mention of the quarry here, from which folklorists or anthropologists dig evidence — is he thinking back to his own lecture/essay on Beowulf two years earlier? (There, he wrote that “Beowulf has been used as a quarry of fact and fancy far more assiduously than it has been studied as a work of art.”) If anyone cares to take a closer look at the earlier essay, please feel free to share any thoughts with us on how “B:M&C” and “OFS” intersect. Caveat lector: this could easily be the jumping-off point for a major discussion — or a huge digression! ;)

3. Can this opening paragraph be read as a comment on source-study in general, and/or of Tolkien’s attitude toward the source-study of his own work more particularly? By the time Tolkien was drafting the lecture, readers had already begun attempting to ferret out sources and analogues in The Hobbit. (Refer back the letter to The Observer from the beginning of 1938, for example. This is letter #25 in Carpenter’s collection.) Tolkien was not yet as inimical to readers’ digging at his sources as he would come to be later in life (but of course, The Lord of the Rings compounds the number of possible sources and analogues many times over).


Quote
Statements of that kind may express (in undue abbreviation) some element of truth; but they are not true in a fairy-story sense, they are not true in art or literature. [..]



4. Is Tolkien right that such statements are not true in the “fairy-story sense”? What makes him sufficiently expert that we should take this assertion at face value, when Tolkien was at pains to point out how inexpert he considers himself (cf., at the outset of the essay, “overbold I may be accounted, for [..] I have not studied them professionally.”). If he is correct, then In what way are such statement true? Or are they not true at all?


Quote
Of course, I do not deny, for I feel strongly, the fascination of the desire to unravel the intricately knotted and ramified history of the branches on the Tree of Tales. It is closely connected with the philologists’ study of the tangled skein of Language, of which I know some small pieces. [..] So with regard to fairy-stories, I feel that it is more interesting, and also in its way more difficult, to consider what they are, what they have become for us, and what values the long alchemic processes of time have produced in them. In Dasent’s words I would say: ‘We must be satisfied with the soup that is set before us, and not desire to see the bones of the ox out of which it has been boiled’. Though, oddly enough, Dasent by ‘the soup’ meant a mishmash [..]. By ‘the soup’ I mean the story as it is served up by its author or teller, and by ‘the bones’ its sources or material – even when (by rare luck) those can be with certainty discovered. But I do not, of course, forbid criticism of the soup as soup.



5. This opening sentence is a bit convoluted. What is it, exactly, that Tolkien is trying to tell us he feels? The desire to unravel a knot? The fascination of that desire? Is it the history of the branches, or the branches of themselves? Tolkien does not deny he feels ... whatever it is — does this imply he feels defensive about it? What does this sentence really mean? And why is the sentence itself so “intricately knotted”?

6. In what way(s) is language a “tangled skein”? Is Tolkien being serious, modest, or falsely modest when he says he only “knows some small pieces” of it?

7. Again, in the Bones of the Ox metaphor, is Tolkien telling us we shouldn’t be looking behind the curtain for the “sources or material” of his own fiction? Why not? Should we take him seriously? And whether he wants us to or not, shouldn’t we reserve the right to do so if we wish? If he doesn’t wish it, then why have so many scholars desired to see the Bones?


Quote
I shall therefore pass lightly over the question of origins. I am too unlearned to deal with it in any other way; but it is the least important of the three questions for my purpose, and a few remarks will suffice. [..] We are therefore obviously confronted with a variant of the problem that the archaeologist encounters, or the comparative philologist: with the debate between independent evolution (or rather invention) of the similar; inheritance from a common ancestry; and diffusion at various times from one or more centres. [..] The history of fairy-stories is probably more complex than the physical history of the human race, and as complex as the history of human language. All three things: independent invention, inheritance, and diffusion, have evidently played their part in producing the intricate web of Story. It is now beyond all skill but that of the elves to unravel it. [..]



8. If Tolkien intends to pass lightly over the question, then why is this fairly lengthy section titled ORIGINS?! And is such a passing-over a cop-out? Or a further admission of inexpertise? In the original lecture, there would certainly have been constraints of time of attention span to concern Tolkien, but in revising it for print, he could (and did) lengthen it. Why not refrain from passing lightly over, and take the time to explore the question more thoroughly? After all, Tolkien implies right from the outset that asking what is the origin of fairy-stories and their constituent elements is, in part, asking what is the origin of language. One would think Tolkien should have a lot to say about that!

9. Tolkien gives us three choices to explain the development of analogous fairy-stories throughout the ancient world: invention, inheritance, and diffusion. But Tolkien seems to find weaknesses in all three. What do you make of the choices? Which one or ones do you think best explain the situation? Does invention, to which Tolkien gives primacy, remind you of theological arguments regarding First Cause (as it does me)? Does it say anything larger about Tolkien’s philosophy of mythopoeia that he gives invention the pride of place in his own (unscientific) theories of folklore?

10. Tolkien then asserts that “the history of fairy-stories is probably more complex than the physical history of the human race, and as complex as the history of human language.” That seems a pretty bold claim. Do you think he’s right?

11. Why does Tolkien shift from his “Tree of Tales” metaphor to the “web of Story” — is it only so that he can postulate unraveling it? After all, you can’t unravel a tree. But taking his mixed metaphors for granted, why does he imply the elves (but not man) are capable of unraveling it? Would they want to?

12. Any further comments on anything up through this point (i.e., through the first four paragraphs)?

Jason Fisher
Lingwë - Musings of a Fish


The Lord of the Rings discussion 2007-2008 – The Two Towers – III.4 “Treebeard” – Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 27 2008, 4:48pm

Post #2 of 14 (274 views)
Shortcut
Thoughts. [In reply to] Can't Post

1. Tolkien’s mention of “magic rings” is quite suggestive, given that he had just finished writing The Hobbit. Is Tolkien thinking of his own magic ring here, and therefore including his just-completed work already among canonical fairy-stories? If not, can you think of any traditional fairy-tales containing magic rings about which Tolkien might have been thinking?

Sure, there are two tales of the Ring of Gyges, one by Herodotus and the other by Plato. There is also Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs, although I suppose that might not be considered a "traditional" tale. There are other tales as well, as collected in this Wikipedia article, or found by Googling. But I do think that Wagner and Tolkien did much to popularize the notion of a magic ring. I also think that looking for other tales with magic rings in them risks the very error about which Tolkien speaks. Just because these tales all involve magic rings doesn't mean they have anything else in common.

2. Considering Tolkien’s mention of the quarry here, from which folklorists or anthropologists dig evidence — is he thinking back to his own lecture/essay on Beowulf two years earlier? (There, he wrote that “Beowulf has been used as a quarry of fact and fancy far more assiduously than it has been studied as a work of art.”) If anyone cares to take a closer look at the earlier essay, please feel free to share any thoughts with us on how “B:M&C” and “OFS” intersect. Caveat lector: this could easily be the jumping-off point for a major discussion — or a huge digression! ;)

I'm sure that Tolkien was thinking of the way Beowulf had been studied, not as a work of literature but as a source of words, which might as well have been a laundry list for all the scholars cared. And he is warning against the same mistake when studying fairy tales. They are not just old tales but delightful works of literature, worth reading for their own sake. And looking for the ultimate source of magic rings or talking fish or frog princes misses the point entirely.

3. Can this opening paragraph be read as a comment on source-study in general, and/or of Tolkien’s attitude toward the source-study of his own work more particularly?

Yes.

4. Is Tolkien right that such statements are not true in the “fairy-story sense”? What makes him sufficiently expert that we should take this assertion at face value, when Tolkien was at pains to point out how inexpert he considers himself (cf., at the outset of the essay, “overbold I may be accounted, for [.] I have not studied them professionally.”). If he is correct, then In what way are such statement true? Or are they not true at all?

I think this is a matter of talking common sense to scholars, who are so wrapped up in studying fairy-stories that they sometimes forget the delight of reading fairy-stories. Tolkien is both a scholar and an author, so although he has not made a scholarly study of fairy-stories, he is familiar with the dangers of scholarship, as he discusses in his Beowulf essay. And on Beowulf he is an expert, perhaps at the time the world's leading expert.

The fact that two tales share a common element does not make them the same tale in a literary sense. The modern novel Grendel, for example, is a retelling of Beowulf expressing much more sympathy to Grendel. It is in some ways the same tale, and in other ways utterly different. Rosencranz and Gildenstern is a play about two minor characters in Hamlet, and it sets Hamlet on its head. If two tellings of the same story can be utterly different, two tales that merely share a similar element can be even more different. In a literary sense, LotR has more in common with the Gospels than with Wagner's operatic Ring Cycle, despite the obvious similarities of the rings.

5. This opening sentence is a bit convoluted. What is it, exactly, that Tolkien is trying to tell us he feels? The desire to unravel a knot? The fascination of that desire? Is it the history of the branches, or the branches of themselves? Tolkien does not deny he feels ... whatever it is — does this imply he feels defensive about it? What does this sentence really mean? And why is the sentence itself so “intricately knotted”?

Going back to Beowulf, Tolkien did not discount the importance of the epic poem as a source of knowledge about the Anglo-Saxon language; he devotes his life to such study, but does not want us to forget that Beowulf is also a work of literature. Again, this essay was originally a speech given to scholars. Tolkien does not discount scholarship, but argues for balance.

As for the sentence itself, I don't find it that complex or knotted.

6. In what way(s) is language a “tangled skein”? Is Tolkien being serious, modest, or falsely modest when he says he only “knows some small pieces” of it?

The origins of language are certainly tangled, and Tolkien is being quite serious, I'm sure, when he says he only knows small pieces of it. There are too many languages, and too much history, for anyone to know more than small pieces of the whole history of language.

7. Again, in the Bones of the Ox metaphor, is Tolkien telling us we shouldn’t be looking behind the curtain for the “sources or material” of his own fiction? Why not? Should we take him seriously? And whether he wants us to or not, shouldn’t we reserve the right to do so if we wish? If he doesn’t wish it, then why have so many scholars desired to see the Bones?

Tolkien isn't against scholarly study the origin of fairy-stories, although he urges the scholars not to forget that fairy-stories are also often delightful stories, to be appreciated as such. But that is very different from looking for the source material in a modern work of fiction, such as Tolkien's. I don't think Tolkien addresses that subject yet, and when he does he will find it even less justified than similar studies of ancient tales.

Nevertheless, in his letters Tolkein too speculates about the source material of his tales, even as he cautions that he often does not know where the ideas originated, and that the speculation of others is often wrong. I don't think there is anything wrong with looking for Tolkien's sources as long as we do so with caution, and do not assume that our speculation is correct, and do not forget the reason we fell in love with Tolkien's fiction in the first place.

When Tolkien spoke of such speculation with scorn it was usually because of the arrogance of the speculators, assuming that they knew Tolkien's mind, often when they did not even know basic information such as when LotR was written. Thus the speculation that the Ring represents the atomic bomb ignores the fact that the bulk of LotR was written before the advent of the Bomb, and that WWI was at least as much of an influence as WWII.

8. If Tolkien intends to pass lightly over the question, then why is this fairly lengthy section titled ORIGINS?! And is such a passing-over a cop-out? Or a further admission of inexpertise? In the original lecture, there would certainly have been constraints of time of attention span to concern Tolkien, but in revising it for print, he could (and did) lengthen it. Why not refrain from passing lightly over, and take the time to explore the question more thoroughly? After all, Tolkien implies right from the outset that asking what is the origin of fairy-stories and their constituent elements is, in part, asking what is the origin of language. One would think Tolkien should have a lot to say about that!

Tolkien might have much to say about the origin of language to a different audience, but that is not the purpose of this lecture or essay. Tolkien wants to gloss over the definition and origins of fairy-stories to get to the good part; his defense of fairy-stories as literature worth reading. This is not a scholarly study but a manifesto and apologia, a stirring tribute to fairy-stories as literature worthy of a mature audience.

9. Tolkien gives us three choices to explain the development of analogous fairy-stories throughout the ancient world: invention, inheritance, and diffusion. But Tolkien seems to find weaknesses in all three. What do you make of the choices? Which one or ones do you think best explain the situation? Does invention, to which Tolkien gives primacy, remind you of theological arguments regarding First Cause (as it does me)? Does it say anything larger about Tolkien’s philosophy of mythopoeia that he gives invention the pride of place in his own (unscientific) theories of folklore?

I think Tolkien wants scholars to give more credit to authors of fairy-stories. Often such authors are judged to be unoriginal because of their use of traditional elements. Yet it is hard to imagine how an author can write a fairy-story without traditional elements. Tolkien suggests that although such authors draw from the same soup, invention is more important than scholars realize. He doesn't have much to support his argument, though, except for his own intuition as a scholar, author, and avid reader of such tales. Still, not many people are successful scholars and authors as well as avid readers, so it's worth listening to what Tolkien has to say. And mostly what he has to say is that the inventive authors of fairy-stories deserve more credit than scholars are apt to give them.

10. Tolkien then asserts that “the history of fairy-stories is probably more complex than the physical history of the human race, and as complex as the history of human language.” That seems a pretty bold claim. Do you think he’s right?

Yes, because there is little physical evidence of such a history. The physical history of the human race leaves remains which can be studied. The history of language or of one of the most ancient of literary genres is much harder to trace.

11. Why does Tolkien shift from his “Tree of Tales” metaphor to the “web of Story” — is it only so that he can postulate unraveling it? After all, you can’t unravel a tree. But taking his mixed metaphors for granted, why does he imply the elves (but not man) are capable of unraveling it? Would they want to?

Tolkien starts with trees and roots when he speaks of origins, but having postulated that invention is more important than inheritance or diffusion, and that what an author does with his ladle is more important than the soup, suddenly the roots of a tale matter less than the intricate connections between all such tales, like those of a web, spreading sideways as well as backwards and forwards. Elves can unravel it because they are immortal, representing the ancient past come to life. But elves have little interest in tutoring humans, and most humans have little interest in learning from elves.

12. Any further comments on anything up through this point (i.e., through the first four paragraphs)?

In the first paragraph of this section, Tolkien discusses what he is not going to do, i.e. he is not going to trace traditional fairy-tale elements throughout literary history. In the second paragraph he discusses why, using the metaphor of the soup, and stating that he is more interested in what authors do with the soup than in the soup itself. "So with regard to fairy stories, I feel that it is more interesting, and also in its way more difficult, to consider what they are, what they have become for us, and what values the long alchemic processes of time have produced in them." In short, he discusses origins in order to reject the study of origins! In the third paragraph he emphasizes how complex literary origins must be, and again emphasizes the importance of invention.

The fourth paragraph I find most interesting. There Tolkien launches into an ode to mythology and fantasy and subcreation, tracing it back to the invention of the adjective.

The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water. ... We may put a deadly green upon a man's face and produce a horror; we may make the rare and terrible blue moon to shine; or we may cause woods to spring with silver leaves and rams to wear fleeces of gold, and put hot fire into the belly of the cold worm. But in such “fantasy,” as it is called, new form is made; Faerie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator.

And so Tolkien does have a theory of origins, although he does not have any scholarly support. Tolkien believes that fairy-stories began with the invention of adjectives, far back in unrecorded history, and that ever since people have delighted in mixing adjectives, and inventing worlds in which such mixed adjectives would make sense.


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 27 2008, 5:14pm

Post #3 of 14 (242 views)
Shortcut
A very through reply. Thanks! :) [In reply to] Can't Post

As to the Adjective (¶5), you're anticipating my post for tomorrow there.

Jason Fisher
Lingwë - Musings of a Fish


The Lord of the Rings discussion 2007-2008 – The Two Towers – III.4 “Treebeard” – Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
“On Fairy-stories” discussion 2008 – “Origins” – Part 1


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 27 2008, 5:38pm

Post #4 of 14 (227 views)
Shortcut
You did say through the first four [In reply to] Can't Post

paragraphs -- did you mean to say the first three? Or does the online version of the essay I found somehow combine two paragraphs into one?


(This post was edited by Curious on Oct 27 2008, 5:39pm)


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 27 2008, 5:45pm

Post #5 of 14 (224 views)
Shortcut
Right, the first four. [In reply to] Can't Post

¶1 — “Actually the question [..]”
¶2 — “Statements of that kind may express [..]”
¶3 — “Of course, I do not deny, for I feel strongly [..]”
¶4 — “I shall therefore pass lightly [..]”

And then:
¶5 — “Philology has been dethroned [...] the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Faërie is more potent. [..]”

Jason Fisher
Lingwë - Musings of a Fish


The Lord of the Rings discussion 2007-2008 – The Two Towers – III.4 “Treebeard” – Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
“On Fairy-stories” discussion 2008 – “Origins” – Part 1


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 27 2008, 5:53pm

Post #6 of 14 (214 views)
Shortcut
Sorry, both of the versions I found online [In reply to] Can't Post

combine what you list as paragraphs 2 and 3. Probably an editing matter, but worth noting. We can't assume that all versions number the paragraphs the same.


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 27 2008, 6:24pm

Post #7 of 14 (211 views)
Shortcut
Yes, true. [In reply to] Can't Post

Definitely worth noting such editing variations. And in fact, as we all know, there are different published versions of the text. Did we agree on a particular text during the planning stages of this discussion? I don't recall. Maybe N.E. Brigand will chime in here. I'm using the text from the new expanded edition, which is (bar one or two small differences) the same text published in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays.

Jason Fisher
Lingwë - Musings of a Fish


The Lord of the Rings discussion 2007-2008 – The Two Towers – III.4 “Treebeard” – Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
“On Fairy-stories” discussion 2008 – “Origins” – Part 1


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Oct 27 2008, 7:58pm

Post #8 of 14 (229 views)
Shortcut
We didn't specify. [In reply to] Can't Post

We delayed this discussion by almost a year because we knew the Flieger-Anderson edition was forthcoming, but participants, including discussion leaders, were directed to refer to whatever text of "On Fairy-stories" they had to hand. To that end, if discussion leaders wish to avoid respondants getting too far ahead, and given that there may be inconsistency as to paragraph numbers (only Flieger-Anderson actually number the paragraphs, anyway), I recommend that cut-off points be identified by phrase rather than number.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
We're discussing The Lord of the Rings in the Reading Room, Oct. 15, 2007 - Mar. 22, 2009!

Join us Oct. 27-Nov. 2 for "The Last Debate".

****************************************
And we're discussing Tolkien's classic essay, "On Fairy-stories", Oct. 20-Nov. 30. This week:

"Max Müller’s view of mythology as a ‘disease of language’ can be abandoned without regret. Mythology is not a disease at all, though it may like all human things become diseased. You might as well say that thinking is a disease of the mind."

+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=
How to find old Reading Room discussions.


a.s.
Valinor


Oct 27 2008, 11:07pm

Post #9 of 14 (233 views)
Shortcut
The Soup as soup [In reply to] Can't Post

Of course, I do not deny, for I feel strongly, the fascination of the desire to unravel the intricately knotted and ramified history of the branches on the Tree of Tales. It is closely connected with the philologists’ study of the tangled skein of Language, of which I know some small pieces. [.] But even with regard to language it seems to me that the essential quality and aptitudes of a given language in a living moment is both more important to seize and far more difficult to make explicit than its linear history. So with regard to fairy-stories, I feel that it is more interesting, and also in its way more difficult, to consider what they are, what they have become for us, and what values the long alchemic processes of time have produced in them. In Dasent’s words I would say: ‘We must be satisfied with the soup that is set before us, and not desire to see the bones of the ox out of which it has been boiled’. Though, oddly enough, Dasent by ‘the soup’ meant a mishmash [.]of bogus pre-history founded on the early surmises of Comparative Philology; and by ‘desire to see the bones’ he meant a demand to see the workings and the proofs that led to these theories. By ‘the soup’ I mean the story as it is served up by its author or teller, and by ‘the bones’ its sources or material – even when (by rare luck) those can be with certainty discovered. But I do not, of course, forbid criticism of the soup as soup.



7. Again, in the Bones of the Ox metaphor, is Tolkien telling us we shouldn’t be looking behind the curtain for the “sources or material” of his own fiction? Why not? Should we take him seriously? And whether he wants us to or not, shouldn’t we reserve the right to do so if we wish? If he doesn’t wish it, then why have so many scholars desired to see the Bones?


I put the missing words back in the above quote because I think the point Tolkien is trying to make is that while it is interesting to try to figure out the origins of all the various components of the soup, it is more essential to simply enjoy the soup as it is served. There is something important in the mix that is being served in the cauldron that is more than the sum of its parts, and indeed simply breaking it up into components to try to figure out where all the bones came from reduces the story AS STORY.

Although he "of course" would not mind people criticizing the story AS STORY ("the soup AS SOUP").

Yes, I suppose he might be thinking of his own story (Hobbit) here, but I don't get the sense that he thinks all this looking for sources or material isn't interesting or possibly useful to "unravel the intricately knotted and ramified history of the branches on the Tree of Tales". I get the impression that he thinks this kind of approach cannot explain the appeal or importance of fairy-stories, though.

There is something essential in story, in other words, and he is going to attempt to discuss stories as whole pieces as they exist to be read: "consider what they are, what they have become for us, and what values the long alchemic processes of time have produced in them".

a.s.

"an seileachan"

"If any one had begun to rehearse a History, say not I know it well; and if he relate it not right and fully, shake not thine head, twinkle not thine eyes, and snigger not thereat; much less maist thou say, 'It is not so; you deceive yourself.'"

From: Youth's Behaviour, or, Decency in Conversation amongst Men, composed in French by Grave Persons, for the use and benefit of their Youth. The tenth impression. London, 1672


"You only see the outside of me"


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 28 2008, 3:17pm

Post #10 of 14 (223 views)
Shortcut
"The long alchemic processes of time" [In reply to] Can't Post

I think you may be describing Tolkien's viewpoint accurately, but I think I might disagree with it in a small, possibly quibbling way.


Quote
I don't get the sense that he thinks all this looking for sources or material isn't interesting or possibly useful to "unravel the intricately knotted and ramified history of the branches on the Tree of Tales". I get the impression that he thinks this kind of approach cannot explain the appeal or importance of fairy-stories, though.



But if a story is popular in part because it utilizes sources and elements from previous stories that were popular, then the investigation of those sources might indeed help to "explain the appeal or importance" of them, no? (Notice that I say "in part" and "help to explain" — it's definitely not the whole story, as it were.) And those earlier stories were popular, or else they would probably not have survived. One might always try to dig up reasons for why the earliest, oldest versions of stories were popular ab origine, but I think that for all later versions, the question of the raw material on which they built is always relevant (if not always the central point). Certainly I see it as relevant in the case of Tolkien's own fiction. Too, "the long alchemic processes of time" seem to me to relate to sources and analogues. Those processes produce new stories and new versions of old ones, don't they? You can't really argue that a story which has changed and evolved over time is still the same story, can you? In which case, its sources (i.e., earlier versions of itself as well as other stories related and analogous) are of interest.

It's certainly not the whole story — anyone is free to enjoy any story without any knowledge of its related predecessors — but I think Tolkien is more dismissive of sources and analogues than possibly warranted.

Jason Fisher
Lingwë - Musings of a Fish


The Lord of the Rings discussion 2007-2008 – The Two Towers – III.4 “Treebeard” – Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
“On Fairy-stories” discussion 2008 – “Origins” – Part 1, 2


Kimi
Forum Admin / Moderator


Oct 28 2008, 9:49pm

Post #11 of 14 (228 views)
Shortcut
The bones of the ox. [In reply to] Can't Post

But sometimes one does need to enquire into the situation of the bones!

An excerpt from a translation of Hesiod's Theogeny:
For when the gods and mortal men had a dispute at Mecone, even then Prometheus was forward to cut up a great ox and set portions before them, trying to befool the mind of Zeus. Before the rest he set flesh and inner parts thick with fat upon the hide, covering them with an ox paunch; but for Zeus he put the white bones dressed up with cunning art and covered with shining fat. Then the father of men and of gods said to him:

'Son of Iapetus, most glorious of all lords, good sir, how unfairly you have divided the portions!'

So said Zeus whose wisdom is everlasting, rebuking him. But wily Prometheus answered him, smiling softly and not forgetting his cunning trick:

'Zeus, most glorious and greatest of the eternal gods, take which ever of these portions your heart within you bids.' So he said, thinking trickery. But Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting, saw and failed not to perceive the trick, and in his heart he thought mischief against mortal men which also was to be fulfilled. With both hands he took up the white fat and was angry at heart, and wrath came to his spirit when he saw the white ox-bones craftily tricked out: and because of this the tribes of men upon earth burn white bones to the deathless gods upon fragrant altars.


When I see "bones" and "ox", I can't help but think of os and bos, the Latin for each word.

Words are fun. That's the beginning and end of my response to this post :-)


My writing (including The Passing of Mistress Rose)

Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there?

- A Room With a View


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 28 2008, 10:01pm

Post #12 of 14 (200 views)
Shortcut
Excellent! :) // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Jason Fisher
Lingwë - Musings of a Fish


The Lord of the Rings discussion 2007-2008 – The Two Towers – III.4 “Treebeard” – Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
“On Fairy-stories” discussion 2008 – “Origins” – Part 1, 2


a.s.
Valinor


Oct 28 2008, 11:25pm

Post #13 of 14 (231 views)
Shortcut
You want my (pure nerd) opinion? [In reply to] Can't Post

Sorry, I just scored as a "pure nerd" on some test in OT. Just being persnickety about it. LOL.

Ahem.



Quote

But if a story is popular in part because it utilizes sources and elements from previous stories that were popular, then the investigation of those sources might indeed help to "explain the appeal or importance" of them, no?...

...but I think that for all later versions, the question of the raw material on which they built is always relevant...




Well, yes, that kind of investigation of sources helps explain the appeal of some stories to me. It's part of the charm of, say, Once and Future King. Or Wicked.

But I don't think Tolkien is saying it's not interesting to try to "investigate the sources" to "explain the appeal or importance" of a story. That is, as an academic exercise, or just plain interesting stuff to do: try to explain why a story is appealing or "important". But he isn't talking about how to explain the appeal or importance of stories.

I think he is just defending story--and fairy-story, in specific. Story as an entity, if you will. The charm of a good fairy story isn't what makes up its bones; it's the story itself. We fall under the spell of the story, and risk that spell-binding when we rip it apart, however interesting it might be to do that ripping. When we rip it apart to find out why it is interesting and appealing, we no longer have the story that spellbound us in the first place. We have the bones out of the soup.

Something like that.

At least, that's what I think Tolkien was trying to get at. The stones and tower and sea, that we'll see later.


Quote
You can't really argue that a story which has changed and evolved over time is still the same story, can you?




No, but I wasn't trying to make that argument and I'm not sure where I slipped up to make you think I was! I don't think Tolkien was saying that, either. He knows stories change, and acknowledges this:


Such studies are, however, scientific (at least in intent); they are the pursuit of folklorists or anthropologists: that is of people using the stories not as they were meant to be used, but as a quarry from which to dig evidence, or information, about matters in which they are interested. A perfectly legitimate procedure in itself


But he thinks this leads to an error when thinking about a fairy-story:


but ignorance or forgetfulness of the nature of a story (as a thing told in its entirety) has often led such inquirers into strange judgments.



Quote
I think Tolkien is more dismissive of sources and analogues than possibly warranted.




Well, I think he is building up to telling us something he thinks is important to the human soul in fairy-stories, something that cannot be found by quarrying the story for sources and etc.

a.s.


"an seileachan"

"If any one had begun to rehearse a History, say not I know it well; and if he relate it not right and fully, shake not thine head, twinkle not thine eyes, and snigger not thereat; much less maist thou say, 'It is not so; you deceive yourself.'"

From: Youth's Behaviour, or, Decency in Conversation amongst Men, composed in French by Grave Persons, for the use and benefit of their Youth. The tenth impression. London, 1672


"You only see the outside of me"


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 31 2008, 6:21pm

Post #14 of 14 (206 views)
Shortcut
It depends on what you call a source. [In reply to] Can't Post

I think Tolkien was very interested in the most ancient of fairy-tales, and generally liked the older versions better than the more recent. He had a problem with the attempt to trace elements of the stories that had little to do with the stories, and classify various stories together based on those elements.

Thus he reacted strongly to later attempts to classify LotR with Wagner's Ring Cycle because they both concerned a golden Ring of Power. Even though this example came long after his lecture, I think it illustrates his point. Just because Wagner and Tolkien both wrote about a Ring of Power, and furthermore about dwarves and dragons and other material drawn from Norse and Germanic sources, doesn't mean their stories had anything in common as stories. In many ways they could hardly be more different, even if they did have various elements in common.

I'm not saying that there is no point whatsoever in studying how rings have been used in fairy stories, or other such motifs, and I don't think Tolkien is completely dismissing such studies either. But I do think he is more interested in comparing the stories as stories, in which case we may find that LotR has more in common with the Gospels than with Wagner. Now there's a source and an analog for LotR that Tolkien might appreciate.

 
 

Search for (options) Powered by Gossamer Forum v.1.2.3

home | advertising | contact us | back to top | search news | join list | Content Rating

This site is maintained and updated by fans of The Lord of the Rings, and is in no way affiliated with Tolkien Enterprises or the Tolkien Estate. We in no way claim the artwork displayed to be our own. Copyrights and trademarks for the books, films, articles, and other promotional materials are held by their respective owners and their use is allowed under the fair use clause of the Copyright Law. Design and original photography however are copyright © 1999-2012 TheOneRing.net. Binary hosting provided by Nexcess.net

Do not follow this link, or your host will be blocked from this site. This is a spider trap.