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JRR Tolkien trained as British spy

News from Bree
spymaster@theonering.net

Sep 16 2009, 2:47pm

Post #1 of 15 (1006 views)
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JRR Tolkien trained as British spy Can't Post

J.R.R. TolkienJRR Tolkien was secretly trained as a Government spy during the Second World War...
"Tolkien, one of his generation's most respected linguists, was ''earmarked'' to crack Nazi codes in the event that Germany declared war. Intelligence chiefs singled him and a 'cadre' of other intellectuals to work at Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre in Buckinghamshire. Its staff - which included Alan Turing, the gay codebreaker - would later decipher the 'impenetrable' Enigma machines. This saved Britain from German conquest by allowing the Navy to intercept and destroy Hitler's U-Boats."

Thanks to Ringer David for sending in the link to this article. [Read More]


silneldor
Half-elven


Sep 16 2009, 4:35pm

Post #2 of 15 (330 views)
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This is a fascinating article. [In reply to] Can't Post

There was a humorous side when it said that he did not enlist because war was not declared on Mordor.

Also info i googled on Turing was very interesting, and really sad. Such brilliance to offer. But it is odd, seems like many cases i have heard, how someone gives so much, but in the end gets so mistreated.

Alan Turing-wikipedia

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acheron
Gondor


Sep 16 2009, 5:00pm

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Alan Turing [In reply to] Can't Post

As a computer scientist, I am a great admirer of Turing (who is responsible for many of the basic foundations of CS, in addition to the code breaking work; I noticed the Tolkien article called him "the gay codebreaker", which I found kind of odd but I guess that's what he's best known for). His story is indeed sad. If you're interested, there was a play called "Breaking the Code" which the BBC did a TV version of. It's mostly about his personal life, not really any of his math or cryptography. Derek Jacobi, a favorite actor of mine, plays Turing and puts in a good performance.

There's also Neal Stephenson's book Cryptonomicon, which is about many things (and is also about 1000 pages), but includes a fictionalized Turing, and touches on some of the math work.

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man, for precisely the same reasons. -- Douglas Adams


Snaga
Lorien


Sep 16 2009, 7:12pm

Post #4 of 15 (291 views)
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I'm wonder if the Tolkien Estate was approached... [In reply to] Can't Post

or more specifically, Christopher Tolkien, by the author of the article. It wouldn't suprise me if his father might have mentioned this to him at some point in his latter years. It would obviously not been put into any written form as this was still classifed I'm sure at the time of the professor's death, but even a passing comment he may have made to his family might be illuminating and of historical interest.

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N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Sep 16 2009, 7:31pm

Post #5 of 15 (298 views)
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Some of this has been public knowledge for at least 28 years. [In reply to] Can't Post

While many of the details in this article are new (at least to me), Tolkien's brief training in cryptography for the war effort is mentioned in an editorial footnote in his letters, which were published in 1981.

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L. Ron Halfelven
Grey Havens


Sep 16 2009, 7:35pm

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I cannot read the fiery letters. Sauron must have been using a four-rotor Enigma./ [In reply to] Can't Post

 



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Aunt Dora Baggins
Half-elven


Sep 16 2009, 8:41pm

Post #7 of 15 (310 views)
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I'm an admirer of Turing too. [In reply to] Can't Post

I first ran into Turing machines (which aren't machines at all, but are hypothetical devices used in mathematical definitions) when I was writing my master's paper. I'm still not sure I understand them completely.

My son, who is a computer scientist, also admires Turing. He suggested I read the Cryptonomicon, and I read a bit, but never got through all of it.

I tell Turning's story to my discrete math classes, since there are biographies included in the textbook. It is a very sad and maddening story.


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squire
Valinor


Sep 16 2009, 9:19pm

Post #8 of 15 (344 views)
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After they parachuted into Berlin by night, Tolkien was appalled when Turing blew their cover by mincing down the Unter der Linden... [In reply to] Can't Post

In the interest of selling the story, the writer has taken some liberties that annoy me.

Working on code-breaking for the intelligence services of your country does not make you a "spy". A spy is an intelligence operative who works undercover in a foreign country. A spy, if caught, is liable to be imprisoned or even executed; or will perhaps be traded back for one that the other side has captured. Nothing in the work that Tolkien was being vetted for was in the nature of spying - breaking a code is not spying on anyone.

Second, I'm appalled that the genius of Alan Turing has been cheapened to the carnivalesque travesty of "the gay codebreaker". Step right up, folks, and see him .... well, I don't want to go on with the joke. The fact is that Turing's homosexuality was used to destroy him and deprive the world of further fruits of his amazing mathematical talents. Code-breaking was only one and the most ephemeral of his accomplishments. As Aunt Dora reminds us, his theoretical construct of the Turing Machine underpins the entire concept of a programmable electronic computer, and the Turing Test remains the definitive challenge in the field of artificial intelligence.

To refer to Turing primarily in terms of the prejudice that hampered and finally ended his accomplishments would be like having an obituary of Sir Ian McKellan headlined 'The Gay Gandalf' Has Passed Into The West.



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entmaiden
Forum Admin / Moderator


Sep 16 2009, 10:22pm

Post #9 of 15 (289 views)
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Well said [In reply to] Can't Post

It's sad that the real story wasn't interesting enough to tell it, but instead the writer sensationalized both Turing and Tolkien.

Each cloak was fastened about the neck with a brooch like a green leaf veined with silver.

`Are these magic cloaks? ' asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder.

`I do not know what you mean by that,' answered the leader of the Elves.



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Ainu Laire
Tol Eressea


Sep 17 2009, 1:05am

Post #10 of 15 (278 views)
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It's a pity that some journalists feel like they must do this to sell a story [In reply to] Can't Post

I raised an eyebrow over the headline as I continued reading on- certainly a misleading headline, though I definitely found the information in the article itself interesting. A more suitable headline would have been just fine.

Ah, well, in the least the headline and story causes little to no damage (unlike other headlines in history... Spanish American War, anyone?)

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acheron
Gondor


Sep 17 2009, 2:18am

Post #11 of 15 (268 views)
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I really liked my undergraduate computability class [In reply to] Can't Post

I just started a master's in CS, and I'll probably take another computability class sometime on the way to finishing. Turing is the father of computability of course, using the Turing machine idea to prove the halting problem, and to come up with his version of the Church-Turing Thesis (which is better than Church's version Tongue). We'll see if I do as well at the graduate version of the class...

To those who didn't take theoretical CS classes, a simplified explanation of the halting problem: basically whether or not you can prove if a program will eventually halt/terminate -- Turing proved that you can't, other than by running it and seeing if it halts or not. (Well, more accurately -- you might be able to prove if an individual program will halt or not, but you can't generically prove that any arbitrary program will halt.) The Church-Turing Thesis has never been proved, but is generally accepted -- basically it states that there are no new "types" of programs that can not be solved by a universal computer... computers can get faster, but can never do something "new". While we're at it, Turing machines are theoretical extremely simple "computers" that can solve anything... if any universal computer can solve any problem, a Turing machine is the simplest possible computer that can do so. Turing-complete programming languages are languages that can emulate a Turing machine, and therefore solve anything. Really just about anything in the field of computability has Turing's name all over it.

You can wikipedia "halting problem", "Church-Turing thesis", "Turing machine", and so on if you're interested. Or go take a class in computability. Wink

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man, for precisely the same reasons. -- Douglas Adams


acheron
Gondor


Sep 17 2009, 2:30am

Post #12 of 15 (284 views)
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on the other hand, you have different fingers [In reply to] Can't Post

The "gay codebreaker" phrase stood out to me too, as I mentioned earlier. I can sort of see the writer's point of view though. The article isn't about Turing. And he's just been in the news in the past week or so due to the British government's "official apology" for their treatment of him, which obviously emphasized his sexuality. And that also concentrated on his codebreaking work, which is much more graspable to the average reader than his work in computability and other fields of math/CS. So while I agree it's not fair that he gets summed up as "the gay codebreaker", I don't necessarily place much blame on the writer of this article.

(As for the spy thing, I thought that too, but that's pushing a rock up a hill at this point. In popular imagination, anyone having anything to do with intelligence is a "spy".)

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man, for precisely the same reasons. -- Douglas Adams


squire
Valinor


Sep 17 2009, 3:15am

Post #13 of 15 (267 views)
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Thanks for those details [In reply to] Can't Post

I didn't know that Turing had very recently been in the news in a context that highlighted his sexuality. That does explain the writer's choice of words a bit.

And I agree that "spy" has become debased and unspecific in the way you indicated, but I hate it.

It remains a vaguely tasteless piece of sensationalism in my book.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


a.s.
Valinor


Sep 18 2009, 12:28am

Post #14 of 15 (290 views)
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completely off this subject: I love your subject line! [In reply to] Can't Post

I might be hopelessly out of touch, but I haven't heard that before. And, to tell the truth, it took me a few minutes to work it out. I read the post and tried to figure out the different fingers that had been featured in the story and to which you wanted to draw squire's attention....

LOL

Anyway, I plan to steal that subject line the next time I have the opportunity to use "on the other hand". OK by you?

Cool

a.s.

"an seileachan"

Pooh began to feel a little more comfortable, because when you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.



acheron
Gondor


Sep 18 2009, 3:32am

Post #15 of 15 (249 views)
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lol [In reply to] Can't Post

Go for it. I'm pretty sure I first heard that from my dad. Cool

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man, for precisely the same reasons. -- Douglas Adams

 
 

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