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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
On Fairy-stories 2.4: "Distance and a great abyss of time"

visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 30 2008, 2:49pm

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On Fairy-stories 2.4: "Distance and a great abyss of time" Can't Post

Apart from Note B and Open Discussion (tomorrow), the following questions should wrap up our conversation on the text of this section of the essay.


Quote
But when we have done all that research – collection and comparison of the tales of many lands – can do; when we have explained many of the elements commonly found embedded in fairy-stories (such as stepmothers, enchanted bears and bulls, cannibal witches, taboos on names, and the like) as relics of ancient customs once practised in daily life, or of beliefs once held as beliefs and not as ‘fancies’ – there remains still a point too often forgotten: that is the effect produced now by these old things in the stories as they are.



1. This seems to be a critical point, which some of you have hinted at already: that whatever the original meaning of a fairy-tale element might have been, it is its effect on us, reading today, that Tolkien says is important. Why is this point too often forgotten? Is Tolkien addressing academics alone, or is he admonishing “pleasure-readers” too?


Quote
For one thing they are now old, and antiquity has an appeal in itself. The beauty and horror of The Juniper Tree (Von dem Machandelboom), with its exquisite and tragic beginning, the abominable cannibal stew, the gruesome bones, the gay and vengeful bird-spirit coming out of a mist that rose from the tree, has remained with me since childhood; and yet always the chief flavour of that tale lingering in the memory was not beauty or horror, but distance and a great abyss of time, not measurable even by twe tusend Johr. Without the stew and the bones – which children are now too often spared in mollified versions of Grimm – that vision would largely have been lost. I do not think I was harmed by the horror in the fairytale setting, out of whatever dark beliefs and practices of the past it may have come. Such stories have now a mythical or total (unanalysable) effect, an effect quite independent of the findings of Comparative Folk-lore, and one which it cannot spoil or explain; they open a door on Other Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside Time itself, maybe.



2. This may be a bit of a tangent, but Tolkien’s point that “antiquity has an appeal in itself” makes me wonder: what about science-fiction? Not all mythopoeia is backward-looking, is it? Can “fairy-stories” be set in the future, or be part of the genre we would normally call science-fiction? What about even in the present?

3. Tolkien is talking about existing fairy-tale canon, which generally is rooted in the old, the past, but can anybody think of any traditional folktales or fairy-stories set in the future? Or did that only emerge with “modern” writers?

4. Tolkien’s comment about The Juniper Tree — “and yet always the chief flavour of that tale lingering in the memory was not beauty or horror, but distance and a great abyss of time, not measurable even by twe tusend Johr” — is strongly redolent of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion too. Comments?
5. Why are children too often spared the more gruesome elements, and why does Tolkien say they should not be? Parents, I suppose, would fall back on calling such stories “inappropriate” for children, but what does that really mean? Were traditional fairy-tales ever meant (or meant not) for children in the first place?

6. “Such stories have now a mythical or total (unanalysable) effect.” Is it really “unanalysable”, as Tolkien says? But Tolkien’s essay is a kind of attempt at analysis, isn’t it? Can “Comparative Folk-lore” really offer nothing to explain it? If so, what is the point of an academic lecture addressed to an audience of comparative folklorists? :)


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If we pause, not merely to note that such old elements have been preserved, but to think how they have been preserved, we must conclude, I think, that it has happened, often if not always, precisely because of this literary effect. It cannot have been we, or even the brothers Grimm, that first felt it. Fairy-stories are by no means rocky matrices out of which the fossils cannot be prised except by an expert geologist. The ancient elements can be knocked out, or forgotten and dropped out, or replaced by other ingredients with the greatest ease: as any comparison of a story with closely related variants will show. The things that are there must often have been retained (or inserted) because the oral narrators, instinctively or consciously, felt their literary ‘significance’.7 Even where a prohibition in a fairy-story is guessed to be derived from some taboo once practised long ago, it has probably been preserved in the later stages of the tale’s history because of the great mythical significance of prohibition. A sense of that significance may indeed have lain behind some of the taboos themselves. Thou shalt not – or else thou shall depart beggared into endless regret. The gentlest ‘nursery-tales’ know it. Even Peter Rabbit was forbidden a garden, lost his blue coat, and took sick. The Locked Door stands as an eternal Temptation.



7. So fairy-tale elements are not “fossils” — are they rather a renewable resource?

8. What is this “great mythical significance of prohibition” of which Tolkien speaks? Why would prohibition, as a general concept, convey or contain mythic significance? Are fairy-tales more often about resistance, in some fundamental way, than acceptance?

9. Anything else you’d like to bring up from this section (not including Note B)?


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


Darkstone
Immortal


Oct 30 2008, 5:12pm

Post #2 of 17 (368 views)
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"Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it." [In reply to] Can't Post

“The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one, at his own caprice. A wise but mischievous creature. Very fond of rum-pots, crackpots, and how are you Mr. Wilson?”

-Harvey (1950)


1. This seems to be a critical point, which some of you have hinted at already: that whatever the original meaning of a fairy-tale element might have been, it is its effect on us, reading today, that Tolkien says is important. Why is this point too often forgotten?

It’s like the difference between the two philosophies of reading the US Constitution as a “Living Document” versus through the lens of “Original Intent”. When you try to put yourself into the mind of an 18th Century colonialist you take with you the experience and education and thus the inevitable bias of a person of the 21st Century. IMHO, you just can’t do it. It’s the same with the “Original Intent” of a fairy tale. You just have to read it as a “Living Story”.


Is Tolkien addressing academics alone, or is he admonishing “pleasure-readers” too?

Who reads “On Fairy Stories” for pleasure? Frankly I read it only because after I finished LOTR I would read anything by Tolkien, even the Sil, looking for the LOTR magic.


2. This may be a bit of a tangent, but Tolkien’s point that “antiquity has an appeal in itself” makes me wonder: what about science-fiction?

I like SciFi.


Not all mythopoeia is backward-looking, is it?

There’s Ragnorak and The Elder Edda. Not to mention the Vedic cycle.


Can “fairy-stories” be set in the future, or be part of the genre we would normally call science-fiction?

Of course. They’re not mutually exclusive.


What about even in the present?

Faerie can be anywhere and any time, here and there, now and then, to this one and that one, at its own caprice, and how are you Mr. Weasel?


3. Tolkien is talking about existing fairy-tale canon, which generally is rooted in the old, the past, but can anybody think of any traditional folktales or fairy-stories set in the future?

The Norse Ragnarok, the Vedic cycle, the Christian Revelation.


Or did that only emerge with “modern” writers?

Nope.


4. Tolkien’s comment about The Juniper Tree — “and yet always the chief flavour of that tale lingering in the memory was not beauty or horror, but distance and a great abyss of time, not measurable even by twe tusend Johr” — is strongly redolent of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion too. Comments?

That definitely meets his criteria “to survey the depths of space and time.”


5. Why are children too often spared the more gruesome elements, and why does Tolkien say they should not be?

“Their books like their clothes should allow for growth, and their books at any rate should encourage it.”


Parents, I suppose, would fall back on calling such stories “inappropriate” for children, but what does that really mean?

Some parents consider the Truth too much for their children to handle. So they lie to them. I leave it to you to decide which is more damaging in the long term.


Were traditional fairy-tales ever meant (or meant not) for children in the first place?

“If fairy story as a kind is worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults.”


6. “Such stories have now a mythical or total (unanalysable) effect.” Is it really “unanalysable”, as Tolkien says?

What does a fish know of water? What do we know of God?


But Tolkien’s essay is a kind of attempt at analysis, isn’t it?

He is analyzing the Faerie Tale, not its effect.


Can “Comparative Folk-lore” really offer nothing to explain it?

I’m a science major myself.


If so, what is the point of an academic lecture addressed to an audience of comparative folklorists? :)

Tenure.


7. So fairy-tale elements are not “fossils” — are they rather a renewable resource?

I’m thinking wind power myself.


8. What is this “great mythical significance of prohibition” of which Tolkien speaks?

It’s like how historians study what laws were passed to find out what was popular back in the old days. For example, they can trace the path playing cards took into Europe by looking to see where and when laws were passed prohibiting them.


Why would prohibition, as a general concept, convey or contain mythic significance?

Two hundred years from now historians are going to be able to deduce a large amount of information about our lives and times by just from what we prohibit. For example, merely the prohibitions on abortion and homosexuality would speak volumes about us to an outside observer.


Are fairy-tales more often about resistance, in some fundamental way, than acceptance?

Either it’s the Outsider who encounters Faerie, or else the Insider becomes the Outsider by the encounter. It’s like in Eastern mythology. Often the hero is at first an ordinary person. When trouble comes he, like everyone else, is not able to counter it. So he must overcome his and society’s resistance to step Outside society. Then he can fight the brutal soldiers, thwart the corrupt bureaucrats, and finally overthrow the Evil Lord. But because he had to go Outside he is changed and can never go back Inside. It’s like Rip van Winkle or Frodo. They can never go back home.


9. Anything else you’d like to bring up from this section (not including Note B)?

Pie is an absolute good.

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



Curious
Half-elven


Oct 30 2008, 5:34pm

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This section reminds me very much of Tolkien's essay about Beowulf, which influenced so many to reassess Beowulf as a work of literature, and not just a source of Anglo-Saxon words. Tolkien wants to expand that attitude to all fairy-tales, both among scholars who study Comparative Folklore and among ordinary readers who mistakenly confine the Brothers Grimm to the nursery. He picks the specific example of the Locked Door and shows that it is not tied to some outdated ancient taboo, but is a literary device used even in a modern tale like Peter Rabbit.

1. This seems to be a critical point, which some of you have hinted at already: that whatever the original meaning of a fairy-tale element might have been, it is its effect on us, reading today, that Tolkien says is important. Why is this point too often forgotten? Is Tolkien addressing academics alone, or is he admonishing “pleasure-readers” too?

Perhaps this point is forgotten for the same reason that fairies have grown tiny -- as it became harder to imagine elves living in unexplored corners of the world, people took fairy-stories less seriously, and they were preserved only by scholars with an abstract interest in old artifacts and parents looking for children's tales. Tolkien addressed the scholars in his original lecture, but addresses a wider audience when he publishes his essay, and even more so when he publishes LotR. After all, "On Fairy-stories" is probably only read by those who already know Tolkien through LotR. LotR is Tolkien's real argument for taking fairy-stories seriously as literature. "On Fairy-stories" is just an outline or sketch of that argument.

2. This may be a bit of a tangent, but Tolkien’s point that “antiquity has an appeal in itself” makes me wonder: what about science-fiction? Not all mythopoeia is backward-looking, is it? Can “fairy-stories” be set in the future, or be part of the genre we would normally call science-fiction? What about even in the present?

Tolkien does say that H. G. Wells' The Time Machine resembles a fairy-story, except for the time machine itself. So there is an overlap. I think many fairy-stories are set in the present, such as Tolkien's own letters from Father Christmas. This works particularly well in movies such as "It's a Wonderful Life," "Harvey," "Miracle on 34th Street," or, more recently, "Groundhog Day," "Big," "Elf," or "Field of Dreams."

And perhaps my favorite contemporary fairy-stories are two Japanese animation masterpieces by Hayao Miyazaki, "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Spirited Away." He has directed other movies which are apparently set in the future but bear a great resemblance to fairy-stories.

Usually, but not always, science fiction does not involve magic. When it does, as in Stephen Brust's Vladimir Taltos series and other of his tales set in Dragaera, I see very little difference between such science fiction and fairy tales. More commonly advanced technology takes the place of magic in science fiction, which gives the story a different feel, although there can still be quite alot of overlap.

Does Star Wars involve magic? Arguably the Force could be considered magic, although I think of it more as a spiritual element in a world of technology. Because of the prevalence of technology, and the spiritual nature of the Force, I think Star Wars is more science fiction than fairy-story, although, again, there is overlap. In particular, I see overlap between LotR and Star Wars, because Tolkien introduces a spiritual element into a fairy-story, while Lucas introduces a spiritual element into science fiction. But it is the spiritual element, and not magic, that I see as the overlap.

3. Tolkien is talking about existing fairy-tale canon, which generally is rooted in the old, the past, but can anybody think of any traditional folktales or fairy-stories set in the future? Or did that only emerge with “modern” writers?

I think the concept of the future being substantially different from the past originated with the Age of Reason and the development of the scientific method, and really accelerated with the Industrial Revolution. Before then there was no need to set a story in the future, because no one expected the future to be much different from the past. On the contrary, many people believed that the future would be worse than the past, and that history was a long decline. And it is hard to have science fiction when you do not yet have science.

But Wikipedia does offer some candidates for ancient science fiction. I'm not sure that any of them qualify as fairy-tales set in the future. More commonly fairy-tales are not set in any time period at all, in "once upon a time," which could just as easily be the future as the past.

4. Tolkien’s comment about The Juniper Tree — “and yet always the chief flavour of that tale lingering in the memory was not beauty or horror, but distance and a great abyss of time, not measurable even by twe tusend Johr” — is strongly redolent of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion too. Comments?

Actually, I don't get that sense of a great abyss of time from LotR or The Sil the way I do from the genuine article like Beowulf. Tolkien developed the conceit that these were ancient tales, and did his very best to recreate that sense of a great abyss of time, but it is a conceit, and it shows, particularly where hobbits are involved. Even in The Sil, where hobbits are not involved, I find it difficult to keep pretending throughout that I am reading an ancient tale. I want to pretend I am reading an ancient tale, but it takes effort to do so, whereas I do not have to pretend when I read a tale which really is ancient.

To the extent that LotR and The Sil have an air of something ancient, it is because Tolkien studied ancient literature, and was better qualified to recreate that air than other authors. For me this works best in LotR, where Tolkien does not really try to write an artificially-ancient tale, but instead colors his modern tale with ancient influences. Thus Meduseld is straight out of Beowulf, as anyone who reads Beowulf would recognize, but because the hobbits are the main characters the tale does not read like a knock-off of Beowulf, but instead like a tale in which modern heroes somehow find themselves traveling to the land of Beowulf. That's different from other modern tales, but also different from Beowulf -- and thus, to me, superior to the mock-ancient stories in The Silmarillion.

5. Why are children too often spared the more gruesome elements, and why does Tolkien say they should not be? Parents, I suppose, would fall back on calling such stories “inappropriate” for children, but what does that really mean? Were traditional fairy-tales ever meant (or meant not) for children in the first place?

I have dealt with this issue myself, and I must admit I found myself holding back when reading Grimm's tales to my daughter, or holding back from reading such tales to her at all. Instead I read them myself and then retold them to her in a much-shortened form. But based on her fascination with Halloween this year, I think she is reaching the age (six and a half) where she will appreciate the more gruesome elements, and not find them too scary or, on the other hand, confusing and boring. So I may try reading the tales to her again, although she would prefer pictures.

I think traditional oral storytelling was meant for both adults and children, and often included all the gruesome elements. The concept of children's literature, meant specifically for children, is fairly modern. But because fairy-stories were originally an oral tradition, it is hard to know whether storytellers changed the stories for an audience of children, or whether they even told stories to an audience consisting only or mostly of children, or whether parents later retold the stories at bedtime in a shortened and censored form. If so, they did not write the stories down in that form.

6. “Such stories have now a mythical or total (unanalysable) effect.” Is it really “unanalysable”, as Tolkien says? But Tolkien’s essay is a kind of attempt at analysis, isn’t it? Can “Comparative Folk-lore” really offer nothing to explain it? If so, what is the point of an academic lecture addressed to an audience of comparative folklorists? :)

The effect of reading literature that is genuinely ancient, like the effect of holding an ancient artifact or visiting an ancient monument, is hard to analyze, and I'm not sure Tolkien tries to analyze it. I think Tolkien's point is that scholars tend to forget that effect as they study such literature, and start to take it for granted, while parents fail to appreciate the loss of the genuine article when they read a censured or modernized version to their children. Tolkien wants to reawaken in others the sense of wonder he feels when reading ancient literature, not as a scholar or a parent, but as a reader and a human being.

7. So fairy-tale elements are not “fossils” — are they rather a renewable resource?

Fairy-tale elements, Tolkien asserts, are timeless, and have literary value, even in a modern tale like Peter Rabbit. They are not dead and petrified fossils but immortal and living ideas and perhaps even Truths, which is why Tolkien tends to put them in capital letters, such as the example he uses here, the Locked Door.

8. What is this “great mythical significance of prohibition” of which Tolkien speaks? Why would prohibition, as a general concept, convey or contain mythic significance? Are fairy-tales more often about resistance, in some fundamental way, than acceptance?

Not all fairy-stories involve a prohibition, just some. It's an example of a fairy-story element, not a requirement for fairy-stories. So we cannot generalize about fairy-stories based on this one element. Furthermore violating the prohibition can lead to very different consequences, resulting in very different stories. So we cannot even generalize about the fairy-stories which do include prohibitions.

As soon as someone sets up a prohibition, you can be fairly sure someone else will violate it. Otherwise, why mention it in the first place? Often a lesson is learned, and the transgressing hero, like Peter Rabbit, ends up with nothing more than wounded pride, a lost jacket, and a bad cold. Sometimes the transgression can actually turn out for the best, as when Bilbo and the dwarves leave the path Gandalf told them not to leave, and later discover that if they had stayed on the path it would have petered out, leaving them lost and stranded. And then sometimes a transgression can turn out terribly, as in the story of Adam and Eve and the Forbidden Fruit, or Pandora's Box.

9. Anything else you’d like to bring up from this section (not including Note B)? See my initial comments.



visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 30 2008, 6:03pm

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I thought of those, but ... [In reply to] Can't Post


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The Norse Ragnarok, the Vedic cycle, the Christian Revelation.



Can you think of anything that couldn't be called "religious prophecy"? I thought of these too (well, not the Vedas), but they're "set in the future" only so far as to foretell events the texts' authors believed would come to pass. Not the same thing at all. I don't think even the most liberal-minded people would call any of these three folktales or fairy-tales.

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, 6:17pm

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What if the myths are no longer considered sacred and true? [In reply to] Can't Post

Myths are "stories about divine beings, generally arranged in a coherent system; they are revered as true and sacred; they are endorsed by rulers and priests; and closely linked to religion. Once this link is broken, and the actors in the story are not regarded as gods but as human heroes, giants or fairies, it is no longer a myth but a folktale. Where the central actor is divine but the story is trivial ... the result is religious legend, not myth."

J. Simpson & S. Roud, "Dictionary of English Folklore," Oxford, 2000, p.254 (emphasis supplied).

By this definition, the Vedic Cycles and the Christian Revelation are still myths, and not folk tales. But what about Ragnarok? Does anyone still revere that tale as true and sacred? Is it still endorsed by any rulers or priests? If not, has it become a folk tale?

However, just because a folk tale is set in the future doesn't make it science fiction, as I discuss in my reply to your original post.


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 30 2008, 6:19pm

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Point(s) taken. // [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, 3, 4


Darkstone
Immortal


Oct 30 2008, 6:38pm

Post #7 of 17 (326 views)
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Well [In reply to] Can't Post

Can you think of anything that couldn't be called "religious prophecy"?

I’d refer to them more as eschatology. Curiously there are many “prophetic” fairy tales that see into the future, such as “The Pedlar of Swaffham”. And a lot of fairy tales do involve trips into the future. For example Rip Van Winkle falls asleep and awakens a hundred years later. His tale is not unique, similar stories being part of Jewish and Chinese folklore for a couple of thousand years.


I thought of these too (well, not the Vedas), but they're "set in the future" only so far as to foretell events the texts' authors believed would come to pass.

Didn’t people believe that fairy tales did come to pass?


Not the same thing at all.

I think differently.


I don't think even the most liberal-minded people would call any of these three folktales or fairy-tales.

Well, Fairy Tales that definitely take place in the future seem to be a product of the 19th century. Which makes sense in that it was then that the concepts of social and scientific progress of the Enlightenment finally developed.

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



N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Oct 30 2008, 7:01pm

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"How are you, Mr. Wilson? Who in the encyclopedia wants to know?" // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
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.


Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


Oct 30 2008, 8:40pm

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In Reply To
Who reads “On Fairy Stories” for pleasure?


Me, me, meeee! Especially as a teenager. That rich prose was so delicious, stuffed with parenthetical remarks like extra treats. It was better poetry than any of his actual poems. I don't have it in front of me now, but I remember the hairs standing up on my arms at the paragraph about the "far-off gleam of Evangelium", or however that went (it's been a lot of years now.) "God is Lord of Men and Angels--and Elves." Whew! That essay was as moving to me as LotR in some ways. Before the Letters came out, it was like getting to know Himself a bit, sit down for a conversation with him on a subject of interest to us both. I read it over and over and over, long before I ever read the Prologue or any of the Appendices to LotR.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo; on a large wastebasket. Dora was Drogo's sister, and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"A Chance Meeting at Rivendell" and other stories

leleni at hotmail dot com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



(This post was edited by Aunt Dora Baggins on Oct 30 2008, 8:47pm)


Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


Oct 30 2008, 8:52pm

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Jumping on your tangent [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
This may be a bit of a tangent, but Tolkien’s point that “antiquity has an appeal in itself” makes me wonder: what about science-fiction? Not all mythopoeia is backward-looking, is it? Can “fairy-stories” be set in the future, or be part of the genre we would normally call science-fiction? What about even in the present?


It's interesting that Star Wars, which is a fairy-story in many ways, is set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." It could just as easily be the future, I suppose, which is what one would expect for a science fiction story, but I think the twist was deliberate.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo; on a large wastebasket. Dora was Drogo's sister, and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"A Chance Meeting at Rivendell" and other stories

leleni at hotmail dot com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 30 2008, 9:17pm

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"Where did you dig up that old fossil?" [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree, and thanks for pointing it out. "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" establishes a great abyss of time and of space. And the references to the Old Republic, Old Ben Kenobi, etc. All of that, I think, is calculated to create a sense of nostalgia and loss, just as in The Lord of the Rings.

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


Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


Oct 30 2008, 10:06pm

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At the risk of offending, [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
5.. Why are children too often spared the more gruesome elements, and why does Tolkien say they should not be? Parents, I suppose, would fall back on calling such stories “inappropriate” for children, but what does that really mean? Were traditional fairy-tales ever meant (or meant not) for children in the first place?


What jumped into my head when I read this question was the parents who showed their young children "The Passion of the Christ", and also a kiddie version of the story I have called "Here Comes Jesus", that features muppet-type puppets singing songs like "Don't be a ch-ch-chicken like Peter was when he lied and denied his Lord who died upon Mount Calvary..." The latter is clearly intended for three-year-olds, and yet it doesn't spare any gruesome details, though they're in cartoon form.

I think the dvision between children and adults is a pretty arbitrary modern invention in some ways. I expect our ancestors, as well as parents who show their little kids passion plays, feel that these stories are very important human stories, and that children, as human beings, need to know them.

When I was ten, my parents let me watch a hideously explicit PBS mini-series called "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", which was six hours of horror. I've had nightmares for forty years as a result, and I guess as a human being I think that's appropriate. It was necessary for me as a member of humanity to know that story.

Do fairy-stories have that same level of importance? Maybe in some way they do. If they're part of our collective unconscious, maybe it's important not to edit out the ugly bits. My sister the dreamworker tells me that the gruesome and upsetting parts of dreams are often the ones that carry the most important messages, and that they are like that because that gets our attention. And I know that as a small child, my dreams were as gruesome as they come, though I had a pretty idyllic childhood.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo; on a large wastebasket. Dora was Drogo's sister, and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"A Chance Meeting at Rivendell" and other stories

leleni at hotmail dot com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



(This post was edited by Aunt Dora Baggins on Oct 30 2008, 10:15pm)


Curious
Half-elven


Oct 30 2008, 10:21pm

Post #13 of 17 (294 views)
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Good point! Whenever Tolkien speaks of the wonder [In reply to] Can't Post

of fairy-stories, he falls into a rhythm that resembles free verse. Perhaps because it was originally a speech, the whole essay is broken into rhythmic phrases, but becomes especially rhythmic when the subject turns to Faerie. I'll just give the examples from the discussions we have already discussed (your example comes at the end of the essay, which we have not yet reached):

I propose to speak about fairy-stories,
though I am aware that this is a rash adventure.

Faerie is a perilous land,
and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold.

And overbold I may be accounted,
for though I have been a lover of fairy-stories since I learned to read,
and have at times thought about them,
I have not studied them professionally.

I have been hardly more than a wandering explorer (or trespasser) in the land,
full of wonder but not of information.


The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things:
all manner of beasts and birds are found there;
shoreless seas and stars uncounted;
beauty that is an enchantment,
and an ever-present peril;
both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.

In that realm a man may,
perhaps,
count himself fortunate to have wandered,
but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them.

And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions,
lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.

...

Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays,
and besides dwarfs,
witches,
trolls,
giants,
or dragons:
it holds the seas,
the sun,
the moon,
the sky;
and the earth,
and all things that are in it:
tree and bird,
water and stone,
wine and bread,
and ourselves,
mortal men,
when we are enchanted.

...

For one thing they are now old,
and antiquity has an appeal in itself.

The beauty and horror of The Juniper Tree (Von dem Machandelboom),
with its exquisite and tragic beginning,
the abominable cannibal stew,
the gruesome bones,
the gay and vengeful bird-spirit coming out of a mist that rose from the tree,
has remained with me since childhood;
and yet always the chief flavour of that tale lingering in the memory was not beauty or horror,
but distance and a great abyss of time,
not measurable even by twe tusend Johr.
Without the stew and the bones—
which children are now too often spared in mollified versions of Grimm —
that vision would largely have been lost.

I do not think I was harmed by the horror in the fairytale setting,
out of whatever dark beliefs and practices of the past it may have come.

Such stories have now a mythical or total (unanalysable) effect,
an effect quite independent of the findings of Comparative Folklore,
and one which it cannot spoil or explain;
they open a door on Other Time,
and if we pass through,
though only for a moment,
we stand outside our own time,
outside Time itself,
maybe.
...

Thou shalt not—
or else thou shall depart beggared into endless regret.

The gentlest “nursery-tales” know it.

Even Peter Rabbit was forbidden a garden,
lost his blue coat,
and took sick.

The Locked Door stands as an eternal Temptation.


visualweasel
Rohan


Oct 30 2008, 10:27pm

Post #14 of 17 (335 views)
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Interesting point of view [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
I think the dvision between children and adults is a pretty arbitrary modern invention in some ways. I expect our ancestors, as well as parents who show their little kids passion plays, feel that these stories are very important human stories, and that children, as human beings, need to know them.

When I was ten, my parents let me watch a hideously explicit PBS mini-series called "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", which was six hours of horror. I've had nightmares for forty years as a result, and I guess as a human being I think that's appropriate. It was necessary for me as a member of humanity to know that story.



I think you're onto something. Surely, in centuries past, children were exposed to much more than they are today, things that by today's standards would be considered horribly age-inappropriate. The fact that your parents let you watch that documentary, that it gave you lifelong nightmares, and that you consider that a good thing is quite interesting. I happen to agree with you there, but I can imagine just as many parents arguing that the nightmares "proved" it was inappropriate, or just as many people in your position blaming their parents for a lapse in judgment.


Quote
What jumped into my head when I read this question was the parents who showed their young children "The Passion of the Christ" [...]



I haven't seen it, but I take your point. I don't want to turn this into a long digression even more likely to offend somebody, but I will say that I find it incredible how many parents have no problem showing their children The Passion of the Christ ("because it's important"), but faint at the thought of letting them hear one four-letter word or see two monogamous adults in some state of undress.

And I won't even mention Grand Theft Auto ... I know: apophasis. So sue me. Tongue

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 31 2008, 12:17am

Post #15 of 17 (310 views)
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Watching violence and having it read to you [In reply to] Can't Post

are two different things. Also, in centuries past, as in parts of the world today, violence was a part of life, and stories about it were the least of their problems.


Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


Oct 31 2008, 4:09am

Post #16 of 17 (275 views)
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I'm with you on that. [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

I haven't seen it, but I take your point. I don't want to turn this into a long digression even more likely to offend somebody, but I will say that I find it incredible how many parents have no problem showing their children The Passion of the Christ ("because it's important"), but faint at the thought of letting them hear one four-letter word or see two monogamous adults in some state of undress.

And I won't even mention Grand Theft Auto ... I know: apophasis. So sue me. Tongue


When our kids were little, we didn't worry if they saw a bit of nudity in a movie, but we tried to shield them from unnecessary violence (though they craved Star Wars and we let them watch that.) When my daughter was seven she really wanted to watch Jurassic Park, and I wouldn't let her, so she asked if she could read the book. I told her if she could plow through that big book she must be ready for it, so she did. We never censored their reading, but we did censor their movies. On the other hand, we had the evening news on most nights, and my daughter often reacted with pain to that. In retrospect, I'm not sure we should have done that, though I was raised watching the Vietnam War on the news every night, in rather gruesome detail, so who knows. But we didn't watch violent movies when I was a kid.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo; on a large wastebasket. Dora was Drogo's sister, and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"A Chance Meeting at Rivendell" and other stories

leleni at hotmail dot com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



sador
Half-elven

Nov 2 2008, 10:24am

Post #17 of 17 (309 views)
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Begging to differ [In reply to] Can't Post

1. This seems to be a critical point, which some of you have hinted at already: that whatever the original meaning of a fairy-tale element might have been, it is its effect on us, reading today, that Tolkien says is important. Why is this point too often forgotten? Is Tolkien addressing academics alone, or is he admonishing “pleasure-readers” too?
Because people don't like to think of themselves as being effected by Fairy-tales.

2. This may be a bit of a tangent, but Tolkien’s point that “antiquity has an appeal in itself” makes me wonder: what about science-fiction? Not all mythopoeia is backward-looking, is it? Can “fairy-stories” be set in the future, or be part of the genre we would normally call science-fiction? What about even in the present?
If what you like in 'antiquity' is the distance, than yes. But sciense-fiction is based on the conceit of "progress", and therefore sells us advanced technology gadgets in exchage for magic, and explores far away worlds to compensate us for the loss of direct contact with Nature. What sop does it offer us for the religious experience?


3. Tolkien is talking about existing fairy-tale canon, which generally is rooted in the old, the past, but can anybody think of any traditional folktales or fairy-stories set in the future? Or did that only emerge with “modern” writers?
I agree with you. Most of those stories are prophecies - we survey the future from a vantage point in the past.

4. Tolkien’s comment about The Juniper Tree — “and yet always the chief flavour of that tale lingering in the memory was not beauty or horror, but distance and a great abyss of time, not measurable even by twe tusend Johr” — is strongly redolent of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion too. Comments?
I strongly dislike that story.
And are you sure Greek children knew all the details about Atreus and Thyestes? I'm not.

5. Why are children too often spared the more gruesome elements, and why does Tolkien say they should not be? Parents, I suppose, would fall back on calling such stories “inappropriate” for children, but what does that really mean? Were traditional fairy-tales ever meant (or meant not) for children in the first place?
I'm far from sure children should be exposed to everything. As a society, there is nothing we love more than destroying innocense - and making sure the 'customer' (in this case, a child) is made bereft of any sense of loveliness or wonder, that horror becomes banal and mundane, and that the sacred has no meaning left to it.
In a way, I think that many parents try to keep their children innocent because they regret their own loss of innocense, and believe they would be better people had they kept it longer. As a minority among those who responded here, I contend they are probably right.
A couple of years ago, someone sent news sites an announcement that he is about to rape his three-years old daughter, and show it live on his webcam. As far as I know, that never happened - but whether the server refused to show the stuff, or he had a technical problem, or second thoughts, or if it was all a spoof - I do not know.
At the time, my daughter was three; and for some time I really couldn't sleep, or even look at her without remembereing this and recoiling in horror. What do you think? Had it been on, say, youtube - should I have watched it?

6. “Such stories have now a mythical or total (unanalysable) effect.” Is it really “unanalysable”, as Tolkien says? But Tolkien’s essay is a kind of attempt at analysis, isn’t it? Can “Comparative Folk-lore” really offer nothing to explain it? If so, what is the point of an academic lecture addressed to an audience of comparative folklorists?
I'll second Darkstone's answer on this one (need to, after the memory invoked in writing the previous answer).

7. So fairy-tale elements are not “fossils” — are they rather a renewable resource?
Depends on which elements of them.

8. What is this “great mythical significance of prohibition” of which Tolkien speaks? Why would prohibition, as a general concept, convey or contain mythic significance? Are fairy-tales more often about resistance, in some fundamental way, than acceptance?
The making of taboos is the endowing of the merely Natural with Spiritual significance. Not merely negative significance - the way to holiness is also by refraining from that which might contaminate, or otherwise hinder you. That's the mythic significance of prohibition.
And in a way, Quest-tales might be about acceptance.


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

 
 

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