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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
On Fairy-stories 2.3: "But what of the banana skin?"

visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 29 2008, 2:34pm

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On Fairy-stories 2.3: "But what of the banana skin?" Can't Post


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Something really ‘higher’ is occasionally glimpsed in mythology: Divinity, [..] Yet these things [mythology and religion] have in fact become entangled – or maybe they were sundered long ago and have since groped slowly, through a labyrinth of error, through confusion, back towards re-fusion. Even fairy-stories as a whole have three faces: the Mystical towards the Supernatural; the Magical towards Nature; and the Mirror of scorn and pity towards Man. The essential face of Faërie is the middle one, the Magical. But the degree in which the others appear (if at all) is variable, and may be decided by the individual story-teller. The Magical, the fairy-story, may be used as a Mirour de l’Omme; and it may (but not so easily) be made a vehicle of Mystery. This at least is what George MacDonald attempted, achieving stories of power and beauty when he succeeded, as in The Golden Key (which he called a fairy-tale); and even when he partly failed, as in Lilith (which he called a romance).



1. At this point in his life, Tolkien still calls MacDonald’s The Golden Key successful, a “story of power and beauty,” but by the middle 1960’s, Tolkien had changed his mind about its author. Invited to write an introduction to a new edition of The Golden Key, Tolkien embarked on the project but quickly found the story no longer to his liking. He wrote in a note to Clyde Kilby: “If I had gone on I should only have written a severely critical or ‘anti’ essay on G. M[acDonald].” Why the change of heart? The Golden Key, and indeed most of MacDonald’s work, seems to fit Tolkien’s theories of fairy-story as expounded here in “OFS”, no?

2. What’s the difference between the Mystical and the Supernatural? With “Mystery”, does Tolkien have the religious sense in mind, or a more conventional meaning?


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No one, I fancy, would discredit a story that the Archbishop of Canterbury slipped on a banana skin merely because he found that a similar comic mishap had been reported of many people, and especially of elderly gentlemen of dignity. He might disbelieve the story, if he discovered that in it an angel (or even a fairy) had warned the Archbishop that he would slip if he wore gaiters on a Friday. He might also disbelieve the story, if it was stated to have occurred in the period between, say, 1940 and 1945. So much for that. It is an obvious point, and it has been made before; but I venture to make it again (although it is a little beside my present purpose), for it is constantly neglected by those who concern themselves with the origins of tales.

But what of the banana skin? Our business with it really only begins when it has been rejected by historians. It is more useful when it has been thrown away. The historian would be likely to say that the banana-skin story ‘became attached to the Archbishop’, [..]. That way of putting it is harmless enough, in what is commonly known as ‘history’. But is it really a good description of what is going on and has gone on in the history of story-making? I do not think so. I think it would be nearer the truth to say that the Archbishop became attached to the banana skin [..]. Better still: I would say that [..] the Archbishop [was] put into the Pot, in fact got into the Soup. [..]



3. What do you think of the banana skin story? Does it seem a suitable illustration, or out of place? Is Tolkien’s tone mocking or sarcastic? But he is trying to make a serious point that historical figures (or even nameless, i.e., unremembered and unremarkable, people) end up in the Pot of Soup, along with more important people (e.g., Arthur) and fairy-tale motifs. How effective is Tolkien’s argument, for you?


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It seems fairly plain that Arthur, once historical (but perhaps as such not of great importance), was also put into the Pot. There he was boiled for a long time, together with many other older figures and devices, of mythology and Faërie, and even some other stray bones of history (such as Alfred’s defence against the Danes), until he emerged as a King of Faërie. The situation is similar in the great Northern ‘Arthurian’ court of the Shield-Kings of Denmark, the Scyldingas of ancient English tradition. King Hrothgar and his family have many manifest marks of true history, far more than Arthur; yet even in the older (English) accounts of them they are associated with many figures and events of fairy-story: they have been in the Pot. But I refer now to the remnants of the oldest recorded English tales of Faërie (or its borders), in spite of the fact that they are little known in England, not to discuss the turning of the bear-boy into the knight Beowulf, or to explain the intrusion of the ogre Grendel into the royal hall of Hrothgar. I wish to point to something else that these traditions contain: a singularly suggestive example of the relation of the ‘fairy-tale element’ to gods and kings and nameless men, illustrating (I believe) the view that this element does not rise or fall, but is there, in the Cauldron of Story, waiting for the great figures of Myth and History, and for the yet nameless He or She, waiting for the moment when they are cast into the simmering stew, one by one or all together, without consideration of rank or precedence.



4. Having elements of fairy-story become attached to a historical figure is evidence of that figure’s having been boiled in the Pot of Soup. How does one get into the Pot in the first place? Does an inventor, a sub-creator, at some point make a conscious decision to do this? Or does it “just happen” to some figures, but not to others? Why?


Quote
The great enemy of King Hrothgar was Froda, King of the Heathobards. Yet of Hrothgar’s daughter Freawaru we hear echoes of a strange tale – not a usual one in Northern heroic legend: the son of the enemy of her house, Ingeld son of Froda, fell in love with her and wedded her, disastrously. But that is extremely interesting and significant. [..] History often resembles ‘Myth’, because they are both ultimately of the same stuff. If indeed Ingeld and Freawaru never lived, or at least never loved, then it is ultimately from nameless man and woman that they get their tale, or rather into whose tale they have entered. They have been put into the Cauldron, where so many potent things lie simmering agelong on the fire, among them Love-at-first-sight. So too of the god. If no young man had ever fallen in love by chance meeting with a maiden, and found old enmities to stand between him and his love, then the god Frey would never have seen Gerdr the giant’s daughter from the high-seat of Odin. But if we speak of a Cauldron, we must not wholly forget the Cooks. There are many things in the Cauldron, but the Cooks do not dip in the ladle quite blindly. Their selection is important. The gods are after all gods, and it is a matter of some moment what stories are told of them. So we must freely admit that a tale of love is more likely to be told of a prince in history, indeed is more likely actually to happen in an historical family whose traditions are those of golden Frey and the Vanir, rather than those of Odin the Goth, the Necromancer, glutter of the crows, Lord of the Slain. Small wonder that spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.



5. Is the allusion to Froda of any larger significance here, or is it mere coincidence? Frodo was still Bingo in the inchoate Lord of the Rings at the time Tolkien first delivered the lecture (though there was another incidental Frodo), but The Lord of the Rings was nearing completion by the time Tolkien revised “OFS” for Essays Presented to Charles Williams.

6. Likewise, does Tolkien have Necromancers on his mind because he just finished The Hobbit, which happens to have one of them at its margins?

7. “History often resembles ‘Myth’, because they are both ultimately of the same stuff.” Where does Faërie fit into that? Faërie isn’t quite the same as Myth, is it? Is it “of the same stuff”, or not?

8. Anything else you would like to discuss up to this point? (That is, through “Small wonder that spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.”)


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


Darkstone
Immortal


Oct 29 2008, 9:33pm

Post #2 of 15 (317 views)
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More like flypaper than banana skin [In reply to] Can't Post

1. At this point in his life, Tolkien still calls MacDonald’s The Golden Key successful, a “story of power and beauty,” but by the middle 1960’s, Tolkien had changed his mind about its author. Invited to write an introduction to a new edition of The Golden Key, Tolkien embarked on the project but quickly found the story no longer to his liking. He wrote in a note to Clyde Kilby: “If I had gone on I should only have written a severely critical or ‘anti’ essay on G. M[acDonald].” Why the change of heart? The Golden Key, and indeed most of MacDonald’s work, seems to fit Tolkien’s theories of fairy-story as expounded here in “OFS”, no?

I expect it is the same reason Tolkien was critical of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. As he got older he realized he didn’t agree with the religious aspects. Indeed, with time he began to be dissatisfied with certain religious aspects within his own writing.


2. What’s the difference between the Mystical and the Supernatural?

The Mystical is when you encounter Faerie. The Supernatural is when Faerie encounters you.


With “Mystery”, does Tolkien have the religious sense in mind, or a more conventional meaning?

I’d say the Catholic sense. “Mystery” is the supernatural truth revealed when you look through the door into Faerie. Of course you may not be able to comprehend it, but you can perceive it. That’s the important part of Faerie stories.


3. What do you think of the banana skin story?

Makes sense.


Does it seem a suitable illustration, or out of place?

Plausible.


Is Tolkien’s tone mocking or sarcastic?

I think it’s playful.


But he is trying to make a serious point that historical figures (or even nameless, i.e., unremembered and unremarkable, people) end up in the Pot of Soup, along with more important people (e.g., Arthur) and fairy-tale motifs.

Yep. It’s like how memorable quotes from otherwise nameless, unremembered, and unremarkable people usually end up attributed to Ben Franklin or Winston Churchill. Like the title of Yogi Berra’s book, "I Never Said All Those Things I Said."


How effective is Tolkien’s argument, for you?

Quite.


4. Having elements of fairy-story become attached to a historical figure is evidence of that figure’s having been boiled in the Pot of Soup.

I kind of prefer C.S.Forester’s analogy of a log slowly rising up to the surface and sinking down to the bottom of a harbor, slowly growing with nautical accretions.


How does one get into the Pot in the first place?

You have to be memorable.


Does an inventor, a sub-creator, at some point make a conscious decision to do this?

Usually it’s more a case of laziness and poor memory. “Lessee. Who was it that did that? I'm too tired to look it up. That seems like something Davy Crockett would do, so that must have been who it was.”


Or does it “just happen” to some figures, but not to others?

Ralph Keyes in “The Quote Verifier” calls them “flypaper figures”, people like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Will Rogers, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain.


Why?

Because they’re memorable. So it’s like, if you’re trying to remember who made a certain quote in English in the 14th century you’re going to guess Geoffrey Chaucer because who else is there?


5. Is the allusion to Froda of any larger significance here, or is it mere coincidence?

Yes.


6. Likewise, does Tolkien have Necromancers on his mind because he just finished The Hobbit, which happens to have one of them at its margins?

It’s the nature of a flypaper figure.


7. “History often resembles ‘Myth’, because they are both ultimately of the same stuff.” Where does Faërie fit into that?

It’s behind both.


Faërie isn’t quite the same as Myth, is it?

Nope.


Is it “of the same stuff”, or not?

Myth comes from Faerie. Faerie does not come from Myth.


8. Anything else you would like to discuss up to this point? (That is, through “Small wonder that spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.”)

I really like fried pies.

******************************************
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.”



(This post was edited by Darkstone on Oct 29 2008, 9:36pm)


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Oct 29 2008, 11:33pm

Post #3 of 15 (256 views)
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Bananas were quite scarce in England during WWII. [In reply to] Can't Post

A fact I didn't know until reading the new edition, but an important one for understanding his point here.

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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".

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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."

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FarFromHome
Valinor


Oct 30 2008, 9:31am

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Regarding The Golden Key [In reply to] Can't Post

In addition to Darkstone's comment, which is perhaps the most important reason for Tolkien's change of heart, I think perhaps the obviously allegorical nature of the work may have come to displease him. Although the allegory in The Golden Key isn't made explicit in the story, it really has only a single, religious interpretation. And the two children have no personality or life beyond their role as agents of the allegory.

Although this approach to storytelling may have influenced Tolkien's vision, he moved far beyond it, and I think what makes LotR so powerful is that it does not limit itself to a religious interpretation, and certainly never forces a religious interpretation on the reader.

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



Curious
Half-elven


Oct 30 2008, 11:17am

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Thoughts. [In reply to] Can't Post

Religion in the strict sense means conduct indicating a belief in a divine power, while a myth is a story about divine beings. Tolkien argues that fairy-stories, although primarily about Magic and Nature, may also incorporate Mystery and the Supernatural if the author so chooses.

I think this once again signals a difference between LotR and The Hobbit or The Silmarillion, at least as Tolkien had written The Silmarillion up to this point. The Hobbit does have a spiritual element to it, but in LotR Tolkien strengthened that element considerably. I would argue that LotR is also more about the Supernatural than most of The Silmarillion, with the possible exception of the initial creation story involving Eru. The Valar are characters in The Silmarillion, and are not characters in LotR, but LotR, I believe, says much more about Tolkien's own religious beliefs. And of course Tolkien himself later called LotR a "fundamentally religious and Catholic work."

Tolkien then returns to his Soup, and discusses how historical characters get tossed into the pot, which he considers quite an honor, and become attached to other much "many things older, more potent, more beautiful, comic, or terrible than they were in themselves (considered simply as figures of history)." He also suggests that just because a story about historical characters resembles a much older tale doesn't mean that the historical story isn't true. It may mean that the story of the historical characters resonated because it resembled that much older tale. Thus the story of the marriage of Froda to his enemy's daughter Freawaru may survive in poetry and resonate with audiences precisely because of its resemblance to the much older story of the god Frey or Ing and his marriage to Gerdr, daughter of the giant Gymir. Tolkien even suggests that such a story might even influence the behavior of people brought up in such traditions, and notes that "spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men."

I wonder if Tolkien discusses historical characters because he will, in his epilogue, discuss the Gospels, and the story of Jesus, which he believes to be a true story, although the Gospels sometimes contradict each other, and sometimes seem influenced by the older tales in the Old Testament, and also resemble myths told about divine characters like Dionysus. Even those who are skeptical about Christian belief might be willing to suppose that Jesus was a historical character. But was he another Arthur, a relatively insignificant historical character who became something much greater in legend? Or was he mostly what the Gospels say he was, despite the resemblance between the Gospels and fairy-stories? There might be a reason why Tolkien argues that stories told about historical characters can be true despite their resemblance to much older legends, but doesn't choose Jesus as his example.

1. At this point in his life, Tolkien still calls MacDonald’s The Golden Key successful, a “story of power and beauty,” but by the middle 1960’s, Tolkien had changed his mind about its author. Invited to write an introduction to a new edition of The Golden Key, Tolkien embarked on the project but quickly found the story no longer to his liking. He wrote in a note to Clyde Kilby: “If I had gone on I should only have written a severely critical or ‘anti’ essay on G. M[acDonald].” Why the change of heart? The Golden Key, and indeed most of MacDonald’s work, seems to fit Tolkien’s theories of fairy-story as expounded here in “OFS”, no?

Perhaps he liked the example set by MacDonald before he wrote LotR, but disliked it afterwards because he considered it, like the Narnia tales, too explicitly religious. But I really don't know why his opinion changed.

2. What’s the difference between the Mystical and the Supernatural? With “Mystery”, does Tolkien have the religious sense in mind, or a more conventional meaning?

Tolkien gives us a clue about his meaning: the Mystical is to the Supernatural as the Magical is to the Natural. I think it has to do with a sense of Wonder. Magic restores our sense of Wonder about Nature; Mystery restores our sense of Wonder about the Supernatural. I do think Tolkien means the religious sense of Mystery.

3. What do you think of the banana skin story? Does it seem a suitable illustration, or out of place? Is Tolkien’s tone mocking or sarcastic? But he is trying to make a serious point that historical figures (or even nameless, i.e., unremembered and unremarkable, people) end up in the Pot of Soup, along with more important people (e.g., Arthur) and fairy-tale motifs. How effective is Tolkien’s argument, for you?

The banana skin story is trivial, but Tolkien uses this trivial example to make his point, and then ties that point to stories that are not as trivial, including, ultimately, the Christian Gospels. I think his argument that legends about historical characters are not necessarily untrue, even if they resemble older tales, is a valid one, and by discussing the banana peel and Arthur and Hrothgar's daughter he induces me to accept his argument as reasonable before turning to the more controversial subject of Jesus in his epilogue.

4. Having elements of fairy-story become attached to a historical figure is evidence of that figure’s having been boiled in the Pot of Soup. How does one get into the Pot in the first place? Does an inventor, a sub-creator, at some point make a conscious decision to do this? Or does it “just happen” to some figures, but not to others? Why?


Most people suppose that fairy-stories get attached to historical figures with no basis in fact to give the stories more relevance and authenticity, but Tolkien argues that the historical figures get attached to the stories as a way to honor the historical figures, and furthermore that the stories about the historical figures could be true, even though they resemble much older stories.

5. Is the allusion to Froda of any larger significance here, or is it mere coincidence? Frodo was still Bingo in the inchoate Lord of the Rings at the time Tolkien first delivered the lecture (though there was another incidental Frodo), but The Lord of the Rings was nearing completion by the time Tolkien revised “OFS” for Essays Presented to Charles Williams.

It's not a complete coincidence that Tolkien, who was so intimately familiar with Germanic and Norse tales, would eventually name his hero Frodo, and would also talk about Froda in this essay. But I don't think he talks about Froda because of Frodo in LotR, who as you note was not even named when the original lecture was given, and as far as I can tell bears little resemblance to Froda in Beowulf.

6. Likewise, does Tolkien have Necromancers on his mind because he just finished The Hobbit, which happens to have one of them at its margins?

Could be, hard to say. It's interesting, though, that Odin, to whom Gandalf bears resemblance, is the Necromancer.

7. “History often resembles ‘Myth’, because they are both ultimately of the same stuff.” Where does Faërie fit into that? Faërie isn’t quite the same as Myth, is it? Is it “of the same stuff”, or not?

If history and myth are of the same stuff, why wouldn't myth and fairy-stories be ultimately of the same stuff? I think Tolkien is deliberately blurring the distinctions between myth and fairy-stories and history.

8. Anything else you would like to discuss up to this point? (That is, through “Small wonder that spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.”)

See my initial comments.



Curious
Half-elven


Oct 30 2008, 2:04pm

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I just read it online, where it is readily available. [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm guessing the copyright expired, or just isn't being enforced.

I agree that The Golden Key makes rather broad hints at a religious meaning, although not quite as broad as the Narnia series. But MacDonald certainly doesn't bury the religious subtext as thoroughly as Tolkien. But I struggle to come up with an example closer to what Tolkien had in mind before writing LotR, which may be why Tolkien chose that example, but also felt compelled to write his own story that would be an even better example.

Interestingly, though, Leaf by Niggle, which Tolkien wrote at the time of his original lecture, is far more allegorical than The Golden Key, which makes me wonder whether Tolkien was wholly satisfied with Leaf by Niggle! Or, to be more precise, at the time he delivered his lecture he liked and admired both The Golden Key and Leaf by Niggle, but after writing LotR he apparently considered such stories too allegorical and overtly religious. Tellingly, Smith of Wootton Major, which he wrote late in life, is much more subtle about its religious subtext than Leaf by Niggle. And indeed Smith was intended to be a preface to The Golden Key, but instead became a story in its own right, and a contrast to MacDonald's overtly-religious allegory.


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 30 2008, 3:04pm

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Not in the original lecture [In reply to] Can't Post


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I wonder if Tolkien discusses historical characters because he will, in his epilogue, discuss the Gospels, and the story of Jesus, which he believes to be a true story, although the Gospels sometimes contradict each other, and sometimes seem influenced by the older tales in the Old Testament, and also resemble myths told about divine characters like Dionysus.



According to Flieger and Anderson's expanded edition (and shown by MS. A, which they reproduce in full), the epilogue did not exist in the original lecture. Nor does it seem Tolkien discussed the Gospels extemporaneously when he delivered it, as the contemporary newspaper articles reviewing the lecture make no mention of any such thing. The gospels were brought in later, when Tolkien was revising and extending the lecture for print. But mention of historical figures was in the lecture from the start. He may have been anticipating adding a reference to the "true myth" later, however, or he may have simply had it in the back of his mind as an unconscious corollary.

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, 3, 4


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 30 2008, 3:05pm

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Correct; it's not copyrighted. [In reply to] Can't Post

The Golden Key was first published in 1867, so it has long been in the public domain.

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, 3, 4


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 30 2008, 3:16pm

Post #9 of 15 (201 views)
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Yes, and ... [In reply to] Can't Post

Ironically, I've just read about this again in Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, by Dan Koeppel (see pp. 112–5). Not about Britain specifically, but about interruptions in the worldwide banana supply. U.S. consumption of bananas was at an all-time high, too. Interesting.

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, 3, 4


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 30 2008, 6:21pm

Post #10 of 15 (183 views)
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I think he was hesitant to bring up the Gospels, but [In reply to] Can't Post

I feel sure he had them in mind. I take it the "far off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world" was in the original lecture.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Oct 31 2008, 3:53am

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Did Tolkien believe that, deep down, all peoples are monotheistic? [In reply to] Can't Post

In a footnote to this section, he writes of "'primitive' peoples" that a


Quote
hasty survey finds only their wilder tales; a closer exmination finds their cosmological myths; only patience and inner knowledge discovers their philosophy and religion: the truly worshipful, of which the 'gods' are not necessarily an embodiment at all, or only in a variable measure (often decided by the individual).



Flieger and Anderson in their commentary on the essay say that here Tolkien is far "ahead of Lang, not to mention other anthropologists such as Lévi-Strauss", some four decades ahead of anthropology, in fact. Is that right?

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
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."

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How to find old Reading Room discussions.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Oct 31 2008, 6:16pm

Post #12 of 15 (207 views)
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I don't see the monotheism [In reply to] Can't Post

The quote you give seems to imply that it's not a personal god or gods that makes a religion, but the mental attitude of "worshipfulness", which arguably might be aimed at Nature, or at human ideals (love, justice, etc.), or even - to pick up on Tolkien's term 'cosmological myths' - at the cosmos itself, rather than at a personalized God. Tolkien doesn't seem to be specifying the object of the religious attitude, at least in this quote - simply he seems to be saying that the 'gods' of early mythologies, with their human foibles, are not satisfactory objects of that all-important "worshipfulness".

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



(This post was edited by FarFromHome on Oct 31 2008, 6:20pm)


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 31 2008, 6:34pm

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What did Lévi-Strauss [In reply to] Can't Post

have to say on the subject, and when did he say it? What did anthropology say four decades after Tolkien? Did it say that deep down all people are monotheistic? Or did it say, as Tolkien did, that a people's myths, or stories involving divine characters, do not necessarily tell us about a people's religion, or conduct indicating a belief in divine power?

I don't think Tolkien believed in the commonality of religions. He was no Universalist-Unitarian, but a pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic. I think he believed in a church which respected and incorporated many of the customs of the populations it hoped to convert to Catholicism, though, rather than burning non-Christian literature and destroying non-Christian monuments and art. And one of the reasons the Catholic church did not need to destroy non-Christian literature, Tolkien might argue, is that such literature did not really have much to do with religion.


(This post was edited by Curious on Oct 31 2008, 6:44pm)


a.s.
Valinor


Nov 2 2008, 10:29pm

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mystical perception of the supernatural [In reply to] Can't Post


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Something really ‘higher’ is occasionally glimpsed in mythology: Divinity




2. What’s the difference between the Mystical and the Supernatural? With “Mystery”, does Tolkien have the religious sense in mind, or a more conventional meaning?



The Supernatural is God and God's Heaven and all God's creation that is beyond the natural world, the world of man. The Mystical is the way (the only way, since we cannot ourselves be "super-natural" but only "natural") humans have of perceiving The Supernatural.

Tolkien is speaking of God, of "Divinity", of the occasional glimpse we can attain of The Supernatural through fairy-story.

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


FarFromHome
Valinor


Nov 4 2008, 5:46pm

Post #15 of 15 (169 views)
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Lévi-Strauss is a structuralist [In reply to] Can't Post

And the structuralists, as the name implies, studied the structure of myths and languages looking for patterns that might help them understand human thought processes. But that sounds a bit too much like wanting to see the bones of the ox to me. I've always thought that Tolkien's attitude is much more like that of the post-structuralists (such as the linguist and novelist Umberto Eco) who moved away from this approach of using language and ancient literature mostly as a way to consider other problems, of anthropology, psychology or whatever. What's important for Tolkien is the story - not the scientific knowledge that can be quarried from an old story, but the effect of the story, as a story, on a new reader. I think that's very much the post-structuralist attitude, i.e. that it's the what the reader takes from a story that really matters. It's the reader's job to interpret the story in the way that seems right to him - I think that's why Tolkien never imposes any one interpretation onto his storytelling, but leaves things ambiguous enough that every reader has room to approach the story in their own way.

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


 
 

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