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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
X is for X-Ray vision ...

NottaSackville
Tol Eressea

Mar 25 2010, 4:12am


Views: 759
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X is for X-Ray vision ... [In reply to] Can't Post

 
(I'm glad you posted this early [early for Eastern US time, at least) as I'll be in a business meeting all day long)

Trust me, there's some Tolkien after the science...

[Science mode on]

We've probably all seen the representation of X-ray vision in cartoons or comic books - some nasty-looking rays shoot out of someones eyes, revealing some trinket hidden behind a wall, under a box, in a safe, etc.

How exactly these X-ray beams work, I don't know. When I was a kid, I used to think that our eyes worked by ray-vision as well - somehow our eyes "looked out" and saw stuff that was lit by light. But in reality, vision works when little packets of energy (photons of light) bounce off things and then into our eyes. Once in our eyes, they hit specific molecules and excite them. These excited molecules send a signal to our brain that eventually get interpreted as our eyes having "seen" those somethings that the light bounced off of.

The important thing here is that vision results from external light ENTERING the eye, not leaving it.

[Science mode off]

As I was reading the Hobbit for the eleventy-eleventh time recently, I resolved to post a topic in the Reading Room about something that has long bothered me in Tolkien's writing: Tolkien seemed enamored, particularly in the Hobbit, with the X-ray vision method of seeing things - rays of light shining out of the eye somehow help in seeing things.

We've got Gollum with his "pale, lamplike eyes". Bilbo sees Gollum off on his island as "two small points of light peering at him", and soon "the light in Gollum's eyes had become a green fire" and "he turned and saw Gollum's eyes like small green lamps". And once Bilbo is behind him (removing any possibility that Gollum's eyes are merely ultra-reflective and shining Sting's light back at him), "Bilbo could see the light of his eyes shining palely even from behind", and Gollum was "turning his head from side to side, as Bilbo could see from the faint glimmer on the walls", and finally, Gollum was "only a black shadow in the gleam of his own eyes".

Clearly this is not a case of Tolkien's frequently used method of "seemed as though", or "as if", or similar language to make us wonder whether the observer saw magic or just something natural but wondrous - there is no doubt that Gollum's eyes emit light.

But Gollum isn't the only Hobbit creature with overly-bright eyes, as we see when good lo' Smaug the Magnificent gets into the act: "He [Bilbo] was just about to step out on to the floor when he caught a sudden thin and piercing ray of red from under the drooping lid of Smaug's left eye." Since we'd just been told that "only the faintest glow could be seen" in Smaug's lair, there's no way Smaug's eye is just reflecting ambient light in a "piercing" way.

Finally, even protagonists get into the act during the Battle of Five Armies: "Out leapt the King under the Mountain, and his companions followed him. Hood and cloak were gone; they were in shining armor, and red light leapt from their eyes".

Smaug and the Dwarves only get ray-vision momentarily for dramatic effect, but Gollum gets it for a specific reason - so let's look at Gollum a little more closely.

Clearly his bright eyes are meant to help him see in the darkness. But shouldn't they really do just the opposite? I'm sure the idea is that the light emitted by his eyes bounces off things and helps him see them. But that just doesn't work! Much of the light emitted by his eyes would be immediately reflected right back into them. Light tends to reflect off of air/liquid interfaces such as the surface of our eyes - that's why our eyes have those nice, attractive specular highlights in them and are often described as "bright" and "shining", because they reflect part of the light that hits them. Well, any light emitted from inside our eyes would do the same thing, only this time it would be reflected back INTO the eye rather than away from it, effectively blinding the eyes rather than helping. One could maybe speculate that the liquid on the surface of the eye was the emitting material, but that would be even worse, because (since molecules don't have a front and a back) as much light would get emitted into the eye as away from it.

I basically envision all this ray-vision as the equivalent of shining a flashlight in your eyes to see in the dark - it does way more harm than good.

Gollum's eyes have been discussed here before - I found some discussion here.

Some questions:

1) Who needs an invisibility ring when everything runs around blinding itself anyway?

2) We know why Tolkien gave Gollum ray-vision, but why does Smaug have it?

3) Do the dwarves eyes really glow, or is that poetic license?

4) Does Tolkien's ray-vision bother you?

5) In a world where Smaug is both large enough that he can ruin entire mountain sides, his fall splinters an entire town and causes the lake to come "roaring in", but yet small enough to traverse through Dwarven tunnels killing the dwarves and collecting all their treasure, and a world where Smaug is capable of living in a vast wasteland with no food, coming out so infrequently that entire generations doubt he exists and yet he's capable of generating large amounts of energy and flame at a moments notice, is it wrong that what bothers me is his glowing eyes?

6) Are there any other creatures in Tolkien's works that have glowing eyes or ray vision, or is this a Hobbit thing? (Other than the extension of Gollum into LOTR)

7) Do I now need to forgive P. Jackson his laser-beam Sauron, since not only did he not really invent the idea, but it's practically canon for Tolkien's major evil creatures to have ray-vision?

8) Are there other famous examples in literature of creatures with ray vision? Did Tolkien maybe draw on any of these for his ideas?

My ability to participate during the day is going to be limited, but I'll check in before and after work -

Notta


Subject User Time
It's Tolkien Reading Day! Post your ABCs of Tolkien here. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 25 2010, 3:48am
    C is for Cerin Amroth... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 3:57am
        Wow - nicely done! NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Mar 25 2010, 11:57am
            <Bows low> GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 1:24pm
                GREAT ELEPHANTS! GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 3:27pm
                    No problem - it's a common mistake NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Mar 25 2010, 3:53pm
                        But you did so... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 4:56pm
        A question Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Mar 27 2010, 1:42am
            Yep.// Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Mar 27 2010, 3:01am
            As Lady Elizabeth says... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 27 2010, 3:18am
                It *raises* the question... Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Mar 27 2010, 4:09am
                    <chuckle> GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 27 2010, 5:57am
                    A good poet is aware of all levels of meaning in his work. Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Mar 27 2010, 2:32pm
                        But he never tells us... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 27 2010, 3:56pm
                            A guess... Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Mar 27 2010, 6:20pm
                            A good poet offers the poem not its meaning Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Mar 27 2010, 6:26pm
                                (smile) GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 27 2010, 7:07pm
                                    Simbelmyne or Evermind in ths common tongue Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Mar 27 2010, 7:16pm
                                        Thank you! GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 27 2010, 7:21pm
                                            Yes it is about time I reread the Silmarillion. It has been a couple years.// Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Mar 27 2010, 8:09pm
                                    The Heart of Elvendom on earth Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Mar 27 2010, 8:03pm
                                        Am I to understand then... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 27 2010, 8:21pm
                                            A bit more difficult to explain Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Mar 27 2010, 8:41pm
                                                Cool! GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 28 2010, 1:44am
                                                The perilous realm FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Mar 31 2010, 4:22am
                                                    Nicely said! // Voronwë_the_Faithful Send a private message to Voronwë_the_Faithful Mar 31 2010, 2:33pm
                                                        No. Night Wolf Apr 1 2010, 4:58pm
                Perhaps the place chose them. // Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Mar 27 2010, 2:22pm
    T is for Tolkien Magpie Send a private message to Magpie Mar 25 2010, 4:10am
        Very "British"... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 3:25pm
            British wit Magpie Send a private message to Magpie Mar 26 2010, 1:16am
                "Frank-ness" GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 1:32am
        well... batik Send a private message to batik Mar 26 2010, 1:11am
            re: coffee Magpie Send a private message to Magpie Mar 26 2010, 1:14am
    X is for X-Ray vision ... NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Mar 25 2010, 4:12am
        LOL at #5 :-) // Magpie Send a private message to Magpie Mar 25 2010, 4:16am
        Interesting question! FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Mar 25 2010, 7:21am
        E is for Emission Theory Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 25 2010, 3:46pm
            Interesting - good to know I wasn't alone... NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Mar 25 2010, 3:54pm
        I think.... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 4:54pm
        Light of eyes White Gull Send a private message to White Gull Mar 26 2010, 2:00pm
        The answer to Smaug's powers... Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Mar 27 2010, 2:05am
    P is for Peregrin Took! fairelvenlady Send a private message to fairelvenlady Mar 25 2010, 4:46am
        Give or Took... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 5:20pm
    K is for Kirith Ungol Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Mar 25 2010, 5:32am
        corrected link Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Mar 25 2010, 12:33pm
        Tolkien - word pictures. Istari68 Send a private message to Istari68 Mar 25 2010, 4:16pm
    "Ha, hmm, my friends, let us go for a walk!"... batik Send a private message to batik Mar 25 2010, 5:54am
        sidestepping the quiz for a comment on the word Quickbeam Magpie Send a private message to Magpie Mar 25 2010, 1:57pm
            Wow! GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 5:32pm
            My son is Rowan Kangi Ska Send a private message to Kangi Ska Mar 27 2010, 3:15pm
        Hmmmm.... Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Mar 25 2010, 7:38pm
    T is for Thursday! sador Send a private message to sador Mar 25 2010, 6:10am
        How subversive, satirical and sharp of you SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Mar 25 2010, 7:49pm
    E(ä) is for Eärendil Night Wolf Mar 25 2010, 7:15am
        Interesting SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Mar 25 2010, 9:13pm
    B is for Beowulf SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Mar 25 2010, 9:35am
        worthy of study Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Mar 25 2010, 5:56pm
            I'm glad we agree! SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Mar 25 2010, 9:18pm
        Scholarly... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 6:01pm
            Thank you SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Mar 25 2010, 10:33pm
            Yes but don't forget... FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Mar 26 2010, 4:52am
                (laughs) GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 1:30pm
                    I have to agree FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Mar 26 2010, 2:05pm
                        Cool stuff! GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 4:14pm
                Would that be a stoat? N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 26 2010, 5:51pm
                    Whoops! FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Mar 27 2010, 1:13am
                        Regardless of the typo SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Mar 27 2010, 3:38am
    F is for Fëanor Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Mar 25 2010, 10:03am
        In pity for Feanor... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 6:39pm
            Thank you! Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Mar 25 2010, 8:05pm
    I is for Ioreth dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 25 2010, 10:15am
        I think it says a lot... Magpie Send a private message to Magpie Mar 25 2010, 2:07pm
            Yes, a favourite SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Mar 26 2010, 3:42am
                Intriguing idea indeed! GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 1:33pm
                Concurring with GAndy dernwyn Send a private message to dernwyn Mar 26 2010, 3:43pm
        Ioreth is a fun character. fairelvenlady Send a private message to fairelvenlady Mar 27 2010, 8:26pm
        A little learning... FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Mar 28 2010, 1:01am
            From a medieval history syllabus... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 28 2010, 1:51am
                my own favorite quote sevilodorf Send a private message to sevilodorf Mar 28 2010, 5:43pm
    L is for Lothórien drogo Send a private message to drogo Mar 25 2010, 10:19am
        through a high window Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Mar 25 2010, 5:49pm
            I'd never thought about it that way Oiotári Send a private message to Oiotári Mar 25 2010, 9:36pm
        Nasmith, for me. Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Mar 25 2010, 10:46pm
        Thanks for those links! Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Mar 26 2010, 1:00am
        Middle-earth in HD... batik Send a private message to batik Mar 26 2010, 9:16pm
        I guess it depends FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome Mar 29 2010, 1:09pm
    J is for Josef Stalin Pryderi Send a private message to Pryderi Mar 25 2010, 11:36am
        It seems, SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Mar 25 2010, 9:32pm
            He does seem to dislike "globalisation" doesn't he?... Pryderi Send a private message to Pryderi Mar 25 2010, 11:01pm
    'D' is for Denethor Hamfast Gamgee Send a private message to Hamfast Gamgee Mar 25 2010, 11:38am
        Denethor, son of Ecthelion GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 6:57pm
    W is for Woses! Tweezers of Thu Send a private message to Tweezers of Thu Mar 25 2010, 12:22pm
        always something new Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Mar 26 2010, 12:20am
            Oh, yes! Even after 44 years (gasp!)... Tweezers of Thu Send a private message to Tweezers of Thu Mar 26 2010, 4:58pm
        Ack - they're everywhere! NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Mar 26 2010, 12:24pm
            Another example! Flame-eyed Elves! Tweezers of Thu Send a private message to Tweezers of Thu Mar 26 2010, 5:36pm
    "L" is also for "Letters" Elwen Send a private message to Elwen Mar 25 2010, 1:37pm
        (Soft, benevolent smile for Frodo) GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 7:17pm
    O is for Olórë Mallë Oiotári Send a private message to Oiotári Mar 25 2010, 2:33pm
        Roverandom? GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 7:23pm
    R is for Rosie Rosie-with-the-ribbons Send a private message to Rosie-with-the-ribbons Mar 25 2010, 3:27pm
        (laughs) Getting two in at once? GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 7:29pm
            Yep Rosie-with-the-ribbons Send a private message to Rosie-with-the-ribbons Mar 26 2010, 9:23am
                Wish I had your impishness! GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 4:50pm
                    Muchos gracias Rosie-with-the-ribbons Send a private message to Rosie-with-the-ribbons Mar 26 2010, 6:59pm
                        It's not too far off... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 7:14pm
                        Close enough... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 7:21pm
                    Marido Oscuro, lol... Evernight Send a private message to Evernight Mar 26 2010, 7:03pm
                        <Takes his lumps> GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 7:16pm
    G is for Gandalf Nerdanel Send a private message to Nerdanel Mar 25 2010, 6:01pm
        At a guess... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 7:35pm
        laughter Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Mar 26 2010, 2:33am
    S is for Smith of Wootton Major. Evernight Send a private message to Evernight Mar 25 2010, 6:08pm
        (Daubs tears) GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 7:44pm
        "Why is Faery important? How important is it to you?" SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Mar 26 2010, 4:12am
    A is for Arkenstone! entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden Mar 25 2010, 6:53pm
        Because you asked... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 25 2010, 7:51pm
        It just so happens Oiotári Send a private message to Oiotári Mar 25 2010, 8:57pm
    Z is for Zirakzigil weaver Send a private message to weaver Mar 25 2010, 8:29pm
        "I need no map," said Gimli... N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 25 2010, 9:20pm
            Aha! More Z's! weaver Send a private message to weaver Mar 25 2010, 9:46pm
            On living rock. Pryderi Send a private message to Pryderi Mar 25 2010, 11:34pm
            Zis monument, carved into ze hillside - it is zuspicious, no? squire Send a private message to squire Mar 26 2010, 1:53am
    U is for Uolë Kúvion, the Man in the Moon Dân o’Nandor-on-Anduin Send a private message to Dân o’Nandor-on-Anduin Mar 25 2010, 10:43pm
        How charming... SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Mar 26 2010, 2:48am
    E is for Erendis acheron Send a private message to acheron Mar 26 2010, 12:39am
        I really like this story Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Mar 27 2010, 1:49pm
    V is for Voronwë Voronwë_the_Faithful Send a private message to Voronwë_the_Faithful Mar 26 2010, 2:12am
        One of the amazing things about the depth of Tolkien's writing - NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Mar 26 2010, 12:48pm
            I remembered... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 4:55pm
    H is for Halfling! aranelthehobbit22 Send a private message to aranelthehobbit22 Mar 26 2010, 2:21am
        No worries SirDennisC Send a private message to SirDennisC Mar 26 2010, 2:30am
    Thank you GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 2:40am
    M is for Morwen Saelind Send a private message to Saelind Mar 26 2010, 2:54am
        The saddest... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 3:18am
            M is for Morwen Saelind Send a private message to Saelind Mar 26 2010, 3:48am
    'H' is for, hip, hip, hooray, everyone! Altaira Send a private message to Altaira Mar 26 2010, 3:33am
    N is for Niggle Finding Frodo Send a private message to Finding Frodo Mar 26 2010, 4:11am
        Whoops! Finding Frodo Send a private message to Finding Frodo Mar 26 2010, 2:33pm
        Niggle and Tasks... GAndyalf Send a private message to GAndyalf Mar 26 2010, 4:33pm
    Y is for Yggdrasil. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Mar 26 2010, 6:42am
        How did drasils turn into wargs? NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Mar 26 2010, 3:47pm
    A is for N.E. Brigand - NottaSackville Send a private message to NottaSackville Mar 26 2010, 12:28pm
        Seconded! sador Send a private message to sador Mar 26 2010, 12:31pm
        Thirded! entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden Mar 27 2010, 12:09am
        All in favour Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow Mar 27 2010, 1:57pm
            And a big thank-you from me, too Lily Fairbairn Send a private message to Lily Fairbairn Mar 28 2010, 6:03pm
    Wow! This is great! Compa_Mighty Send a private message to Compa_Mighty Apr 4 2010, 7:52pm

 
 
 

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