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On Fairy-stories 2.2: "A part of speech in a mythical grammar"

visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 28 2008, 2:08pm

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On Fairy-stories 2.2: "A part of speech in a mythical grammar" Can't Post


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Philology has been dethroned from the high place it once had in this court of inquiry. 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. It would be more near the truth to say that languages, especially modern European languages, are a disease of mythology. But Language cannot, all the same, be dismissed. The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval. The human mind, endowed with the powers of generalisation and abstraction, sees not only green-grass, discriminating it from other things (and finding it fair to look upon), but sees that it is green as well as being grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Faërie is more potent. And that is not surprising: such incantations might indeed be said to be only another view of adjectives, a part of speech in a mythical grammar. 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. If it could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter’s power – upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world external to our minds awakes. It does not follow that we shall use that power well upon any plane. 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; Faërie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator.



1. How and why has philology been dethroned? Any thoughts on the competing theories of mythology as a disease of language (Müller) or vice versa (Tolkien)?

2. Is Tolkien right to give the Adjective supremacy among the parts of speech? Might one make an equally strong case for the Verb or the Noun? If not, why not? Or is the proper level of “mythical granularity” yet larger than a single part of speech (e.g., Barfield gives the primacy to metaphor)?

3. Speaking of green-grass, I can’t help but wonder whether Tolkien is recalling his “green great dragon” (see Letters #163; appropriately enough, the letter was written to a poet). Could this childhood fuss over adjectives have elevated their later role in Tolkien’s imagination?

4. Tolkien seems to say that it is in the novel application of adjectives (that is to say, in ways different and unexpected from reality) that Faërie begins. How do we reconcile this with the attitude Tolkien has adopted throughout the essay, that Faërie may actually be real. How can it be if one of its fundamental characteristics is that it is not like reality?

5. Man, in Tolkien’s view, becomes a sub-creator in this very act of using language novelly. That is, Man’s sub-creation seems to be defined here specifically as different from God’s creation (i.e., reality). Would Tolkien call the writer of a realistic novel of manners (say, Henry James) a sub-creator? Or are sub-creators in Tolkien’s philosophy confined to “fantastic” literature?


Quote
An essential power of Faërie is thus the power of making immediately effective by the will the visions of ‘fantasy.’ Not all are beautiful or even wholesome, not at any rate the fantasies of fallen Man. And he has stained the elves who have this power (in verity or fable) with his own stain. This aspect of ‘mythology’ – sub-creation, rather than either representation or symbolic interpretation of the beauties and terrors of the world – is, I think, too little considered. Is that because it is seen rather in Faërie than upon Olympus? Because it is thought to belong to the ‘lower mythology’ rather than to the ‘higher’? There has been much debate concerning the relations of these things, of folk-tale and myth; but, even if there had been no debate, the question would require some notice in any consideration of origins, however brief.



6. A power of Faërie (i.e., a consequence), or a characteristic of it (e.g., precipitating it)? Taking this first sentence with the last paragraph, Tolkien seems to be saying that Faërie confers the power to describe fantasy, which in turn is the beginning of Faërie. Is this a circular argument? Again, their seems to be a dissonance between the assumption on the one hand that Faërie is real, and on the other that it is a created fantasy (“in verity or fable”). Can it or can’t it be both?

7. Man has stained the elves? How exactly?


Quote

At one time it was a dominant view that all such matter was derived from ‘nature-myths.’ The Olympians were personifications of the sun, of dawn, of night, and so on, and all the stories told about them were originally myths (allegories would have been a better word) of the greater elemental changes and processes of nature. Epic, heroic legend, saga, then localised these stories in real places and humanised them by attributing them to ancestral heroes, mightier than men and yet already men. And finally these legends, dwindling down, became folk-tales, Märchen, fairy-stories – nursery-tales.

That would seem to be the truth almost upside down. [..]



8. Doesn’t this “dominant view” apply to Tolkien’s pantheon in the Valaquenta? If not, why not? If so, then what do you make of Tolkien’s statement that this “seems to be the truth almost upside down”?



Quote
Let us take what looks like a clear case of Olympian nature-myth: the Norse god Thórr. His name is Thunder, of which Thórr is the Norse form; and it is not difficult to interpret his hammer, Miöllnir, as lightning. Yet Thórr has (as far as our late records go) a very marked character, or personality, which cannot be found in thunder or in lightning, even though some details can, as it were, be related to these natural phenomena: for instance, his red beard, his loud voice and violent temper, his blundering and smashing strength. None the less it is asking a question without much meaning, if we inquire: Which came first, nature-allegories about personalized thunder in the mountains, splitting rocks and trees; or stories about an irascible, not very clever, red-beard farmer, of a strength beyond common measure, a person (in all but mere stature) very like the Northern farmers, the bœndr by whom Thórr was chiefly beloved? To a picture of such a man Thórr may be held to have ‘dwindled’, or from it the god may be held to have been enlarged. But I doubt whether either view is right – not by itself, not if you insist that one of these things must precede the other. It is more reasonable to suppose that the farmer popped up in the very moment when Thunder got a voice and face; that there was a distant growl of thunder in the hills every time a story-teller heard a farmer in a rage.



9. So, the question of the origins of gods such as Thórr is sort of like the case of the chicken or the egg, is it? Can this be squared with Tolkien’s earlier view that invention, at some definite point and by some definite hand (even if we can no longer pinpoint it or him), is the most fundamental method by which fairy-stories arise?

10. Any further thoughts up to this point? (That is, through the sentence, “When the fairy-tale ceased, there would be just thunder, which no human ear had yet heard.”)

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 28 2008, 3:56pm

Post #2 of 17 (246 views)
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Thoughts. [In reply to] Can't Post

As I noted yesterday, unintentionally jumping the gun, Tolkien theorizes without much evidence that fantasy started when people began using adjectives, and therefore could mix and match adjectives and imagine a world in which a green face, a blue moon, a silver leaf, or a golden fleece would make sense. Tolkien then explores the relationship between fairy-stories and myths, or between the lower mythology and the higher. Tolkien rejects the theory that fairy-stories are a dwindled-down, lesser version of "higher" myths, instead concluding that "there is no fundamental distinction between the higher and lower mythologies."

Tolkien reasons that the mythical gods get their personalities from mortal, human storytellers. Tolkien takes Thór as a specific example, and reasons that nature allegories about Thunder did not devolve into "an irascible, not very clever, redbeard farmer, of a strength beyond common measure"; rather, "the farmer popped up in the very moment when Thunder got a voice and face" and from then on "there was a distant growl of thunder in the hills every time a story-teller heard a farmer in a rage." Although Thór is one of the rulers of the Norse world, there are fairy-stories told about him. And without such fairy-stories, there would be "there would be just thunder, which no human ear had yet heard." Thus Tolkien exalts folklore and fairy-tales, placing such stories on the same level as the "highest" of myths. This will, eventually, lead to him drawing parallels between fairy-tales and the Gospels.

Of course Tolkien doesn't have much evidence to support his theory about how mythology and fairy-tales evolved, side by side, coequal. Tolkien can point to a fairy-story about Thór, but the evolution of Thór is lost in history. Still, Tolkien's argument sounds reasonable, and supports his main argument for taking fairy-stories seriously among a mature audience. Mythology, after all, sounds more respectable and mature than fairy-stories.

But does Tolkien work too hard to exalt his elves and fays? Does he perhaps turn them into something more angelic or even godlike than originally intended? Does Galadriel turn into Mary Mother of God and Gandalf the wizard into a Christ figure? Is this how elves and fays were imagined in ancient literature? Perhaps not -- which is why I like this essay more as a window into Tolkien's thinking than as an authoritative scholarly study of fairy-stories. Tolkien was eager to blur the distinction between fairy-stories and mythology, and so that is what he proceeds to do -- and for me, whether he is right is almost beside the point.

I'll see if I can get back to your questions at a later time, but these are the thoughts that come to my mind as I read this passage.


Darkstone
Immortal


Oct 28 2008, 6:22pm

Post #3 of 17 (239 views)
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1. How and why has philology been dethroned?

By Joseph Justus Scaliger who turned it into mere science.


Any thoughts on the competing theories of mythology as a disease of language (Müller) or vice versa (Tolkien)?

Tolkien got the idea from Owen Barfield. I do agree with Barfield. For example, it’s very illuminating to take a Greek word and meditate on its various nuances.


2. Is Tolkien right to give the Adjective supremacy among the parts of speech?

Yes.


Might one make an equally strong case for the Verb or the Noun?

No.


If not, why not?

Might one make an equally strong case for banging two rocks together over Beethoven’s symphonies? Or a charcoal drawing on a cave wall over Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?


Or is the proper level of “mythical granularity” yet larger than a single part of speech (e.g., Barfield gives the primacy to metaphor)?

It’s like when the first artist scratched on the wall with charcoal, or the first musician banged two rocks together, so it was with the first poet with just nouns and verbs. (“The fox jumped over the dog.”) But when the artist discovered color, the musician discovered tones, the poet discovered adjectives, all was transformed. (“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”) Those are the mythical granules, the monads, of each art form.


3. Speaking of green-grass, I can’t help but wonder whether Tolkien is recalling his “green great dragon” (see Letters #163; appropriately enough, the letter was written to a poet)

Personally it makes me think of the 1966 hit by Gary Lewis and the Playboys.


Could this childhood fuss over adjectives have elevated their later role in Tolkien’s imagination?

Possibly. Or not.


4. Tolkien seems to say that it is in the novel application of adjectives (that is to say, in ways different and unexpected from reality) that Faërie begins.

As well as the novel application of tones and color in music and painting.


How do we reconcile this with the attitude Tolkien has adopted throughout the essay, that Faërie may actually be real. How can it be if one of its fundamental characteristics is that it is not like reality?

The platypus is very different and unexpected from reality, yet it is real.


5. Man, in Tolkien’s view, becomes a sub-creator in this very act of using language novelly. That is, Man’s sub-creation seems to be defined here specifically as different from God’s creation (i.e., reality). Would Tolkien call the writer of a realistic novel of manners (say, Henry James) a sub-creator?

Yes. Lots of realistic novelists use language novelly.


Or are sub-creators in Tolkien’s philosophy confined to “fantastic” literature?

Often not even there. Lots of writers of “fantastic” literature do not use language novelly.


6. A power of Faërie (i.e., a consequence), or a characteristic of it (e.g., precipitating it)? Taking this first sentence with the last paragraph, Tolkien seems to be saying that Faërie confers the power to describe fantasy, which in turn is the beginning of Faërie. Is this a circular argument?

No more so than Schrödinger's cat.


Again, their seems to be a dissonance between the assumption on the one hand that Faërie is real, and on the other that it is a created fantasy (“in verity or fable”). Can it or can’t it be both?

This is basically a restating of Plato’s Theory of Forms. Faerie is the ideal, created fantasy is the reflection. What Tolkien and other sub-creators do is mimic the creator. Interestingly, the question then becomes is the mimicry a mockery? Like, say, Melkor’s sub-creations?


7. Man has stained the elves?

He looks at them through sin-stained eyes. It's like how, say, Jackson stained Tolkien's Edwardian Faerie by looking at it through late 20st century eyes.


How exactly?

It’s like how I draw a picture of my wife, or write a poem about her, and it seems obviously so imperfect and far from what she is and what I wanted to say about her.

However, she seems to like them. Go figure.


8. Doesn’t this “dominant view” apply to Tolkien’s pantheon in the Valaquenta?

Don’t think so.


If not, why not?

These guys really exist in Valinor.


If so, then what do you make of Tolkien’s statement that this “seems to be the truth almost upside down”?

It’s like Jesus. He really existed, yet obviously over time certain aspects have been attached to him. So it probably was with Jupiter, Demeter, Apollo, and others who have now become personifications. Like Jesus they were doubtless people first, then myths.


9. So, the question of the origins of gods such as Thórr is sort of like the case of the chicken or the egg, is it?

More like a fission reaction. Neutrons collide producing more neutrons which collide to form more neutrons and so on. Which came first, the neutron or the collision? The answer is both. Thórr evolved. Which makes the origin of Minerva somewhat oxymoronic, doesn’t it?


Can this be squared with Tolkien’s earlier view that invention, at some definite point and by some definite hand (even if we can no longer pinpoint it or him), is the most fundamental method by which fairy-stories arise?

Like Schodinger’s cat, someone has to look into the box. Faerie cannot exist without an observer, even if that observer can’t quite describe what he sees. But the important thing is the perception, not the description.


10. Any further thoughts up to this point? (That is, through the sentence, “When the fairy-tale ceased, there would be just thunder, which no human ear had yet heard.”)

I like pie.

******************************************
The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”



FarFromHome
Valinor


Oct 28 2008, 6:32pm

Post #4 of 17 (213 views)
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1. How and why has philology been dethroned? Any thoughts on the competing theories of mythology as a disease of language (Müller) or vice versa (Tolkien)?

I think philology lost its stature during the 20th century, with the waning of the 19th-century approach of studying everything from a position of "modern" superiority. That approach would assume that early language, and early tales, were inferior "species", something that might provide insights into how "we" (modern, educated, European males) evolved to our current state of perfection, but with little real value in itself. "Disease" is obviously a loaded word, and I don't think Tolkien means to suggest the opposite of Muller - it seems to me that he reverses Muller's statement just to demonstrate the weakness of Muller's argument. Both Muller and Tolkien, I think, would agree that you can't separate the origins of language from the origins of story. Muller obviously values language but not story, while Tolkien values them both (on the other hand, by suggesting that "modern European languages" might be considered the disease, he does get in a little dig at the - debased? bland? - languages that replaced his beloved, vigorous, rooted ancient ones).

2. Is Tolkien right to give the Adjective supremacy among the parts of speech? Might one make an equally strong case for the Verb or the Noun? If not, why not? Or is the proper level of “mythical granularity” yet larger than a single part of speech (e.g., Barfield gives the primacy to metaphor)?

The Adjective is the part of speech that deals most directly in the abstract and the ideal - "green" expresses an idea quite separate from any specific green thing, for example. Of course there are abstract nouns too (like "greenness", for a start). But adjectives can't help but be abstract, in the sense that they express ideas that exist separately in our minds from any specific, concrete object. If an adjective is a "describing word", as I seem to remember learning way back in primary school, then a metaphor is a kind of developed "adjective" anyway. The point in either case is what Tolkien describes - to put two ideas together and create a new insight directly in the mind, independent of "reality".

3. Speaking of green-grass, I can’t help but wonder whether Tolkien is recalling his “green great dragon” (see Letters #163; appropriately enough, the letter was written to a poet). Could this childhood fuss over adjectives have elevated their later role in Tolkien’s imagination?

Maybe it's the opposite - the child Tolkien already wanted to place his colour adjective first, in the more powerful position, and was prevented by the "reality" of English grammar. Maybe he wanted the freedom to express things as they existed in his mind, irrespective of the rules of the real world.

4. Tolkien seems to say that it is in the novel application of adjectives (that is to say, in ways different and unexpected from reality) that Faërie begins. How do we reconcile this with the attitude Tolkien has adopted throughout the essay, that Faërie may actually be real. How can it be if one of its fundamental characteristics is that it is not like reality?

He never comes right out and says it, but I interpret his assertions that Faerie may be "real" as meaning that what we create in our stories has a reality of its own. This reality is different from the one we live in - for which the metaphor is the mundane world that remains when the Elves leave our shores.

5. Man, in Tolkien’s view, becomes a sub-creator in this very act of using language novelly. That is, Man’s sub-creation seems to be defined here specifically as different from God’s creation (i.e., reality). Would Tolkien call the writer of a realistic novel of manners (say, Henry James) a sub-creator? Or are sub-creators in Tolkien’s philosophy confined to “fantastic” literature?

Based on this particular essay, I'm not sure we can draw any conclusions about this. He's speaking specifically about fairy-stories, after all. I would guess that Tolkien might have seen the realistic novel of manners as a debased form of "sub-creation", over-refined and inwardly-focused. The sub-creator's role is to take us to Faerie, freeing us from the minutiae of the real world and allowing us to look beyond ourselves. The realistic novelist encourages us to look inside ourselves, a lesser aim, I would think, in Tolkien's view.

6. A power of Faërie (i.e., a consequence), or a characteristic of it (e.g., precipitating it)? Taking this first sentence with the last paragraph, Tolkien seems to be saying that Faërie confers the power to describe fantasy, which in turn is the beginning of Faërie. Is this a circular argument? Again, their seems to be a dissonance between the assumption on the one hand that Faërie is real, and on the other that it is a created fantasy (“in verity or fable”). Can it or can’t it be both?

If Faerie is the world of the imagination, and if the world of the imagination is thought of as having its own reality, then the argument sort of works. I think Tolkien works very much on the boundary of what reality really "means". What we perceive as real depends on our worldview, the stories we have heard growing up, the "common knowledge" of the society we live in. If everyone we know believes in trolls, or dragons, or that you can see stars reflected in a particular pool at mid-day, then for us that's "reality".

7. Man has stained the elves? How exactly?

The Elves live in our imagination, and our imagination is not pure.

8. Doesn’t this “dominant view” apply to Tolkien’s pantheon in the Valaquenta? If not, why not? If so, then what do you make of Tolkien’s statement that this “seems to be the truth almost upside down”?

Well, one possibility is that the Valaquenta isn't the "truth", it's fantasy! Actually, as I read his argument Tolkien seems to end up saying not that this is the truth "upside down" but that you can't actually tell which way is up or down. The thunder is the god and the god is the thunder right from the start of human understanding.

9. So, the question of the origins of gods such as Thórr is sort of like the case of the chicken or the egg, is it? Can this be squared with Tolkien’s earlier view that invention, at some definite point and by some definite hand (even if we can no longer pinpoint it or him), is the most fundamental method by which fairy-stories arise?

I suppose it depends how deliberate "invention" has to be. Man did "invent", i.e. imagine, the idea that thunder is caused by a god (or other living being) up in the sky - he is the one who gave this inanimate phenomenon life and intention. And every individual who tells the story, or adds some detail, continues to invent.

10. Any further thoughts up to this point? (That is, through the sentence, “When the fairy-tale ceased, there would be just thunder, which no human ear had yet heard.”)

I find it hard to think of this essay as a real thesis, expressing Tolkien's developed philosophy. He does seem to contradict himself, or make unsubstantiated statements whenever it suits him. I suspect he's indulging himself to some extent, and providing an intellectual entertainment for his scholarly audience rather than aiming for a consistent apologia. It's very hard to get a grip on his ideas - they seem slippery somehow, as if he doesn't really want to lay things out for us in a logical, analytical way. Which makes sense since one of his points is that analysing Faerie isn't such a good idea anyway - "lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost". Or as Gandalf puts it, "he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."

Farewell, friends! I hear the call.
The ship’s beside the stony wall.
Foam is white and waves are grey;
beyond the sunset leads my way.
Bilbo's Last Song



visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 28 2008, 7:00pm

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If so, then what do you make of Tolkien’s statement that this “seems to be the truth almost upside down”?

It’s like Jesus. He really existed, yet obviously over time certain aspects have been attached to him. So it probably was with Jupiter, Demeter, Apollo, and others who have now become personifications. Like Jesus they were doubtless people first, then myths.



Good point, Darkstone. This reminds me of the views of the mythographer Euhemerus. He basically argued that the so-called gods were people (exceptional ones, perhaps, but just people) inflated by the legends subsequently told and retold (and retold ...) about them. As you'll see if you follow the link above, Snorri Sturluson applied Euhemerism to the Norse myths as well, perhaps most famously (and this is not in the Wikipedia article) in the Ynglinga Saga, the first part of the Heimskringla.

P.S. I like pie too. What happened to all the independent pie shops?! And they call this progress! Unsure

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


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 28 2008, 7:17pm

Post #6 of 17 (244 views)
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A personal apologia [In reply to] Can't Post


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Maybe it's the opposite - the child Tolkien already wanted to place his colour adjective first, in the more powerful position, and was prevented by the "reality" of English grammar. Maybe he wanted the freedom to express things as they existed in his mind, irrespective of the rules of the real world.



Well said. I like that. Wink


Quote
I find it hard to think of this essay as a real thesis, expressing Tolkien's developed philosophy. He does seem to contradict himself, or make unsubstantiated statements whenever it suits him. I suspect he's indulging himself to some extent, and providing an intellectual entertainment for his scholarly audience rather than aiming for a consistent apologia. It's very hard to get a grip on his ideas - they seem slippery somehow, as if he doesn't really want to lay things out for us in a logical, analytical way.



I agree. And I would even go further. I feel like the essay is indeed an apologia — specifically of Tolkien's own fairy-stories in progress. Only a little of that material had been published by this time, but he had been writing for two decades already. His ideas were in a state of flux, however, and I think this is one reason we see what appears to be vacillation or slipperiness (as you put it, FFH). I don't know that Tolkien meant to proactively justify his "time-wasting fairy obsession" to others, but maybe he was justifying it to himself. Or just trying to work out what he thought of it all, but again, on his own terms and specifically as applied to his own stories. Fortunately for his audience, his own views had a good deal of application to historical, real-world fairy-stories, but the real importance of the essay to us is as a manifesto of his personal theory of Faërie — a theory against which The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, etc., may be set, enabling us to judge Tolkien's success on the rubric he himself established.

As we know, Tolkien fiddled with the essay several times (the original lecture, Essays Presented to Charles Williams, Tree & Leaf, plus the posthumous Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays). Had he revised it yet again, very late in life, I'm curious what changes he might have made. In a way, the abandoned introduction to Macdonald's The Golden Key and indeed Smith of Wootton Major (precipitated by it) may represent his last word on Faërie and fairy-stories (as "OFS" is his first).

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


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 28 2008, 9:23pm

Post #7 of 17 (242 views)
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A personal apologia, but also a self-critique and a blueprint. [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that Tolkien implicitly expresses some profound dissatisfaction with his own fiction, both published (The Hobbit) and unpublished (The Silmarillion) in this essay, and lays the groundwork or draws the blueprint for his next major work of fiction, LotR. The Hobbit was written for children, something Tolkien now regrets. The Silmarillion, on the other hand, is too much about elves, and not enough about humans. LotR straddles both, and also ventures into something akin to the Gospels, with Gandalf the Trickster becoming Gandalf the Christ Figure, and Galadriel the Rebel becoming Galadriel the Mary Figure. I'm not saying Tolkien had this all worked out ahead of time, but the fact that he came back to this essay and added to it after he was well into LotR leads me to believe that the essay, in its final form, very much reflects what he tried to accomplish in LotR -- and what he judged he had failed to accomplish in The Silmarillion or The Hobbit.


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 28 2008, 9:57pm

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Yes, but ... [In reply to] Can't Post

On the whole, I think you're right, but I would disagree with two points:

1. I think that the lecture, at least, was too early for Tolkien's regret at writing The Hobbit for children. I think that feeling developed later, over the course of the writing and especially revising of The Lord of the Rings. When Tolkien was writing the original lecture, he had only just begun LR, and it still had very much the same atmosphere of a children's tale. Now, by the time he revised it for print for EPCW, that's another story. The regret had probably matured (or was just maturing) by that time. What's the earliest instance where Tolkien actualy spoke of this feeling of regret and dissatisfaction with The Hobbit anyway? Fairly late, isn't it?

2. Galadriel the Rebel certainly did not exist at the time of the original lecture. At what point exactly did Tolkien incorporate her into the Quenta Silmarillion? I could look this up (or ask Doug Kane, hahae), but I don't have the resources ready to hand. But it was definitely at a point much further into the development of LR. So I would say rather, Galadriel the ‘Fairy Queen’ became Galadriel the Marian Figure (through revision of LR), then became Galadriel the Rebel through retroactive interpolation into QS.

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


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 29 2008, 12:56am

Post #9 of 17 (209 views)
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In Letter 34 from 1938 Tolkien is already [In reply to] Can't Post

noting that the "sequel" to The Hobbit is much darker in tone and more for adults than for children.

And although Galadriel may not have been in the earlier versions of The Silmarillion, the Noldor were, and Galadriel was one of the Noldor, and therefore an Exile and a Rebel even before Tolkien put her into The Silmarillion. It was only later, after LotR was published, that Tolkien even considered the possibility that she might not have been a Rebel at all.


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 29 2008, 2:10pm

Post #10 of 17 (232 views)
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Good point (and further digression) [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, you have a good point about the Noldor. I suppose, then, Galadriel's rebellion and exile were implicit before Tolkien ever incorporated her into the Quenta Silmarillion itself.

As to the 1938 letter, it shows the new territory into which Tolkien is venturing but doesn't express regret about The Hobbit. In fact, Tolkien goes so far as to say the sequel "may prove quite unsuitable." The earliest misgivings about The Hobbit that I could find (there could be something among the many unpublished letters, I suppose, or something published that I've overlooked) are in the Milton Waldman letter (c. 1951). But even there, note the concluding comment:


Quote
The generally different tone and style of The Hobbit is due, in point of genesis, to it being taken by me as a matter from the great cycle susceptible of treatment as a 'fairy-story', for children. Some of the details of tone and treatment are, I now think, even on that basis, mistaken. But I should not wish to change much.



The clearest statements of actual regret at the style of The Hobbit beging to emerge (again, at least in the published evidenced) in 1955 (see letters #163 and #165). Unless I'm missing something, it appears to me that those feelings didn't really coalesce until roughly the time Tolkien had finished writing The Lord of the Rings and was assessing what he had accomplished with it.

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


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 29 2008, 3:41pm

Post #11 of 17 (195 views)
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It seems to me [In reply to] Can't Post

that Tolkien's statements in "On Fairy-stories" imply regret regarding his previous fairy-stories, i.e. both The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, neither of which fit standards he offers in this essay nearly as well as LotR, which came after it. The Silmarillion does not fit these standards because much of it is just about elves, and not about humans in Faerie. The Hobbit does not fit these standards because it is written for children, and in "On Fairy-stories" Tolkien expressly rejects the idea that fairy-stories are for children, or should be written for children.


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 29 2008, 4:13pm

Post #12 of 17 (180 views)
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Answers [In reply to] Can't Post

1. How and why has philology been dethroned? Any thoughts on the competing theories of mythology as a disease of language (Müller) or vice versa (Tolkien)?

The meaning of philology used to be quite broad, so that the Brothers Grimm could collect folk tales in the name of philology. Since then philology has broken into various specialties, most of which have abandoned the term philology, perhaps because it was too broad, and perhaps also because of its connection with Germanic Romantic Nationalism, which fell into disrepute as a result of two world wars.

Tolkien rejects the idea that mythology is a disease, or that personified gods devolved from abstract ideas. He also suggests that modern European languages owe at least as much to mythology as mythology owes to languages.

2. Is Tolkien right to give the Adjective supremacy among the parts of speech? Might one make an equally strong case for the Verb or the Noun? If not, why not? Or is the proper level of “mythical granularity” yet larger than a single part of speech (e.g., Barfield gives the primacy to metaphor)?

I'm not sure Tolkien gives the Adjective supremacy among the parts of speech; he just theorizes that fantasy originated with the use of adjectives.

3. Speaking of green-grass, I can’t help but wonder whether Tolkien is recalling his “green great dragon” (see Letters #163; appropriately enough, the letter was written to a poet). Could this childhood fuss over adjectives have elevated their later role in Tolkien’s imagination?

Maybe. It's hard to tell.

4. Tolkien seems to say that it is in the novel application of adjectives (that is to say, in ways different and unexpected from reality) that Faërie begins. How do we reconcile this with the attitude Tolkien has adopted throughout the essay, that Faërie may actually be real. How can it be if one of its fundamental characteristics is that it is not like reality?

What is reality? Is it what our five senses show us? Is it what we imagine the world to be? Or is it the world of ideals? What does it mean to suggest that Faerie is real?

I think Tolkien saw fantasy as a way to get to the world of ideals, which is different from the material world. Fantasy is an introduction to the Mountains, as the Voice says in "Leaf by Niggle." Human fantasies are not entirely true or real, but they may capture an element of truth or reality not apparent to our five senses.

5. Man, in Tolkien’s view, becomes a sub-creator in this very act of using language novelly. That is, Man’s sub-creation seems to be defined here specifically as different from God’s creation (i.e., reality). Would Tolkien call the writer of a realistic novel of manners (say, Henry James) a sub-creator? Or are sub-creators in Tolkien’s philosophy confined to “fantastic” literature?


Any author is to some extent a sub-creator, but a fantasy author is the most pure, because he or she must create the secondary world from the ground up.

6. A power of Faërie (i.e., a consequence), or a characteristic of it (e.g., precipitating it)? Taking this first sentence with the last paragraph, Tolkien seems to be saying that Faërie confers the power to describe fantasy, which in turn is the beginning of Faërie. Is this a circular argument? Again, their seems to be a dissonance between the assumption on the one hand that Faërie is real, and on the other that it is a created fantasy (“in verity or fable”). Can it or can’t it be both?

No, it is not a circular argument. First comes the imagination, and then the power to make it real. Elves clearly have that power, but do Men? Although Tolkien suggests that Faerie could be real or true, he never quite says that until the epilogue, when he suggests that Faerie could be an echo of a truth not apparent to the five senses.

7. Man has stained the elves? How exactly?

When man imagines the elves, he stains them with his own stain.

8. Doesn’t this “dominant view” apply to Tolkien’s pantheon in the Valaquenta? If not, why not? If so, then what do you make of Tolkien’s statement that this “seems to be the truth almost upside down”?

No. Tolkien is not talking about the origin of his own myths and fairy-stories, but of the origin of all myths and fairy-stories. Thus his pantheon has nothing to do with the question of how pantheons originated in the first place.

9. So, the question of the origins of gods such as Thórr is sort of like the case of the chicken or the egg, is it? Can this be squared with Tolkien’s earlier view that invention, at some definite point and by some definite hand (even if we can no longer pinpoint it or him), is the most fundamental method by which fairy-stories arise?

Sure. Both myths and fairy-stories are invented (with, Tolkien believed, one Christian exception), but they are invented together, rather than one deriving from the other.

10. Any further thoughts up to this point? (That is, through the sentence, “When the fairy-tale ceased, there would be just thunder, which no human ear had yet heard.”)

See my previous post in this thread.


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 29 2008, 6:25pm

Post #13 of 17 (203 views)
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And [In reply to] Can't Post

The Silmarillion also has a whole series of sad endings. But we'll get to that, I trust.


sador
Half-elven

Nov 2 2008, 8:24am

Post #14 of 17 (167 views)
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A few thoughts, some to the point [In reply to] Can't Post

2. Is Tolkien right to give the Adjective supremacy among the parts of speech? Might one make an equally strong case for the Verb or the Noun? If not, why not? Or is the proper level of “mythical granularity” yet larger than a single part of speech (e.g., Barfield gives the primacy to metaphor)?
Nouns and Verbs are supposedly objective; Adjectives are more subjective, expresseing one's experience. In a way, the applying of adjectives is the process of thinking.

4. Tolkien seems to say that it is in the novel application of adjectives (that is to say, in ways different and unexpected from reality) that Faërie begins. How do we reconcile this with the attitude Tolkien has adopted throughout the essay, that Faërie may actually be real. How can it be if one of its fundamental characteristics is that it is not like reality?
Faerie is real; in the human mind, it is no less 'real' than the Primary World. I think Tolkien is saying basically that the world as experienced by our senses alone is not essentially more 'real' than when passed through the prism of fantasy.

5. Man, in Tolkien’s view, becomes a sub-creator in this very act of using language novelly. That is, Man’s sub-creation seems to be defined here specifically as different from God’s creation (i.e., reality). Would Tolkien call the writer of a realistic novel of manners (say, Henry James) a sub-creator? Or are sub-creators in Tolkien’s philosophy confined to “fantastic” literature?
Henry James spoke of himself as an architect (in his preface to A Portrait of a Lady). And a common interpretation of Ibsen's The Master Builder is that he is using the metaphor, and in Solness's moving from 'houses for people to live in' to 'castles in the air' - he is speaking of his own moving from the realistic drama of the 1870's and 1880's to the symbolic fantasy of his last decade of work. True, there is hardly any 'Faerie' creatures in that part of Ibsen's work (except for the Rat-woman in 'Little Eyeolf') but he was still building castles in the air.

6. A power of Faërie (i.e., a consequence), or a characteristic of it (e.g., precipitating it)? Taking this first sentence with the last paragraph, Tolkien seems to be saying that Faërie confers the power to describe fantasy, which in turn is the beginning of Faërie. Is this a circular argument? Again, their seems to be a dissonance between the assumption on the one hand that Faërie is real, and on the other that it is a created fantasy (“in verity or fable”). Can it or can’t it be both?
It seems to be he is speaking of Religion. Man must be enlightened to create it; but to a large extent, it is a human sub-creation. The dissonance you point out seems to imply that as well.

7. Man has stained the elves? How exactly?
He has brought them into his world, and then manipulated them into telling his own story. Interestingly enough, he did both by the dexterous applying of Adjectives.

10. Any further thoughts up to this point? (That is, through the sentence, “When the fairy-tale ceased, there would be just thunder, which no human ear had yet heard.”)
Tolkien seems to be trying really hard to both have his pie and eat it.

"If this be jest, then it is too bitter for laughter" - Aragorn


a.s.
Valinor


Nov 2 2008, 9:57pm

Post #15 of 17 (182 views)
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The name creates the thing. [In reply to] Can't Post

Re: paragraph beginning "Philology has been dethroned", Flieger and Anderson comment:


Man beomes a sub-creator. The concept expressed here, and the phrase that describes it, are rivalled only by Faerie in their importance to Tolkien's theory of art. With its partner term sub-creation, sub-creator expresses Tolkien's profoundest views on the creative process, that the Prime Creator is God, His creation is the world of humankind who, following in God's creative footsteps, both make and are made in God's image, using--again, like God--the Word as the primary creative instrument.


Re: paragraph beginning "Thror must, of course, be reckoned", F&A comment:


--which no human ear had yet heard. See paragraph 22 above [I will type that comment below/a.s].A deliberately sweeping statement to emphasize the connection between the word and the phenomenon. The name creates the thing; without the name, we cannot identify the phenomenon, or our experience of it.


Re: paragraph beginning "But that point of interest" (called paragraph 22 in F&A notes):


--origin of language and of the mind. This is Tolkien's compressed version of what has come to be called the Sapir-Whorf linguistic theory, also treated by his fellow Inkling Owen Barfield in Poetic Diction (1928) and other works, that a symbiotic relationship exists between the word spoken and the speaker's perception, hence understanding, of the surrounding world. Language conditions its users, and both create the world they live in and describe. Anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir (1884-1939) published Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech (1921), a copy of which Tolkien had in his personal library. Benjamin Whorf (1897-1941) studied linguistics at Yale in the early 1930s under Sapir.


Finally, here is Flieger herself commenting on her book "Splintered Light":


Now, what is the central theme of the book? That hasn't changed. It's the importance, indeed the centrality, of language to the process of world-making that Tolkien calls sub-creation, and the parallel divisions of light, language, and peoples into smaller and more discrete units as the world grows and complicates. The central image of primary light refracted into colors stands for the whole splintering. Things are broken apart, yet out of this great and unexpected beauty is created. Tolkien drew on the work of Owen Barfield, whose Poetic Diction explores the fragmentation of meaning, the shift from literal meaning to metaphor, and the effect of that shift on perception.


***************************

I put all those above for one reason: although I have read both Poetic Diction and Saving the Appearances, Barfield's works on the nature of consciousness on language, I had a hard time comprehending them entirely--perhaps one needs either a background in linguistics or a knowledgable instructor standing by while reading them. At any rate, I believe the basic premise is that consciousness, language, AND THE WORLD ITSELF--nature, reality, what you will--all began together. Matter does not exist if there is no mind to perceive it, and a mind that perceives it is a mind that names it.

So to answer your question (finally!):


10. Any further thoughts up to this point? (That is, through the sentence, “When the fairy-tale ceased, there would be just thunder, which no human ear had yet heard.”)


I think he is saying that one can go back and back and back in time and watch "the story" in all its changing particulars, until you get back to a time when there would "just" be thunder, which no human ear had yet heard--because as soon as man perceives thunder he names it, and the story of thunder exists from that moment.

Something like that.


7. Man has stained the elves? How exactly?


Man sub-creates "by right" derived from the Prime Creator, but man is fallen. Any elf he sub-creates will be stained with man's own fallen nature; Man has, after all, created the elf.

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


Call Her Emily


sador
Half-elven

Nov 3 2008, 7:43am

Post #16 of 17 (175 views)
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A most beautiful misspelling! [In reply to] Can't Post


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Re: paragraph beginning "Thror must, of course, be reckoned", F&A comment

Loved it!

"If this be jest, then it is too bitter for laughter" - Aragorn


a.s.
Valinor


Nov 3 2008, 9:49am

Post #17 of 17 (182 views)
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heh. Well, cough, I just wanted to see if anyone was reading... [In reply to] Can't Post

no, that's not true, it was my typing in a hurry.

Blush

But at least one person read it! Thanks for that!

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


Call Her Emily

 
 

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