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where did Hobbits come from?
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TheNazgul
Rivendell


Sep 2 2010, 3:05pm

Post #1 of 41 (787 views)
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where did Hobbits come from? Can't Post

i have wondered this for a while we know where ents came from and dwarves but what of Hobbits the where not in the sil and now real history was givin in lotr for them besides gollums peaple so where did they come from????

Et Earello Endorenna utulien. Sinome maruvan ar Hildinyar tenn` Ambar-metta!
(For those who dont read Elvish)
Out of the great sea to Middle-Earth I am come. In this place I will abide,and my heirs, unto the ending of the world
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vtboyarc
Lorien


Sep 2 2010, 4:25pm

Post #2 of 41 (408 views)
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Hobbits. [In reply to] Can't Post

First of all, welcome.
One thing to read that you may find somewhat insightful is "What is a Hobbit?" At the beginning of The Hobbit (in my version, it is right on the inside front page, before the introduction and map, etc).
More importantly, you should read the prologue to The Lord of the Rings. He mentions that they first settled near Anduins shores, near Mirkwood. He says more about them in the prologue than what I said here. Certainly read it!
And also, the link might help for a more in depth analysis! http://tolkien.cro.net/hobbits/mberlin.html

Theres some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for.


CuriousG
Valinor


Sep 2 2010, 4:29pm

Post #3 of 41 (408 views)
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How were they created? [In reply to] Can't Post

At least, I think that's Nazgul's question. We're given the origin of everything, even orcs, but we're not told how hobbits were created. Another theme in the Music of the Ainur that's not mentioned? Creations of Yavanna, since they seem most aligned to her as the dwarves are to Aule (but that's a stretch)? Their divine origin doesn't seem laid out anywhere.

Though I'm not sure where Mim and the Petty Dwarves came from either, unless they were one of the Seven Houses, I guess the runt of the original litter.


(This post was edited by CuriousG on Sep 2 2010, 4:30pm)


FarFromHome
Valinor


Sep 2 2010, 4:52pm

Post #4 of 41 (397 views)
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They evolved [In reply to] Can't Post

from Men, as I understand it. From the Prologue: "It is plain indeed that in spite of later estrangement Hobbits are relatives of ours..."

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Eldorion
Rohan


Sep 2 2010, 7:14pm

Post #5 of 41 (365 views)
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Not enough time [In reply to] Can't Post

For Hobbits and Humans to have evolved from a common ancestor there would have had to be hundreds of thousands if not millions of years between their awakening and the War of the Jewels. Whatever Tolkien meant by "relatives" it was clearly not evolutionary. Further evidence of this is that the quote you give goes on to imply that Elves and Dwarves are also "relatives" of humans; relationships that are definitely not evolutionary.



There's a feeling I get, when I look to the West...



Eldorion
Rohan


Sep 2 2010, 7:15pm

Post #6 of 41 (359 views)
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I have long assumed... [In reply to] Can't Post

...that they awakened alongside the first humans. It's possible that Hobbits had their own awakening (like Elves, Dwarves, and Men) but given they are more similar to Men than any of the other races are to each other I think it's reasonable to suggest that humans and hobbits awakened together.



There's a feeling I get, when I look to the West...



Snaga
Lorien


Sep 2 2010, 10:08pm

Post #7 of 41 (365 views)
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Mmmm...poor hobbits [In reply to] Can't Post

They seem to have been left out of all of the old lists. Wink

"Alas for Boromir! It was too sore a trial!"

-Faramir


Curious
Half-elven


Sep 3 2010, 12:23am

Post #8 of 41 (315 views)
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You raise an excellent question [In reply to] Can't Post

which Tolkien never answers. Nobody knows where Hobbits come from, because Tolkien never said. They weren't even first noticed until the Third Age, which is long after Men first appeared. But did they appear with Men and then remain unnoticed for two Ages, or did they appear sometime after Men? Or did they somehow evolve from Men?

Furthermore, what about other races and subraces? We know the Woses were around in the First Age, but did they first appear, created by Eru, at the same time as the other Men? What about all the strange varieties of men described in the armies of Sauron. Did they all awake together? Or are Woses and Hobbits and black-skinned men and straw heads all descended from the original men? Were Hobbit always divided into Harfoots and Stoors and Fallohides, or did those sub-subraces evolve or devolve over time?

We know Middle-earth is not a Darwinian world. For the most part, it is a de-evolutionary world, with everything getting smaller and shorter and weaker over time. So I can see hobbits as descendants of the original Men, grown tiny almost as an outward manifestation of their natures. I actually have a harder time imagining the relationship between Woses and other men -- they just seem like a race apart.

The de-evolution of men reminds me of Beowulf, in which the monsters of the world are said to be descendants of the first murderer, Cain. How dragons could descend from a man is not made clear.

Anyway, this doesn't answer your question, because there is no answer. But your question does raise lots of other interesting questions -- none of which Tolkien answered.


Kangi Ska
Half-elven


Sep 3 2010, 1:41am

Post #9 of 41 (397 views)
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In my humble opinion [In reply to] Can't Post

Hobbits came from somewhere near Brea Hill, Cornwall UK.

Kangi Ska

Make the Hobbit Happen Now!

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FarFromHome
Valinor


Sep 3 2010, 9:03am

Post #10 of 41 (331 views)
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You got me [In reply to] Can't Post

on that quote - the Prologue muddles the issue by mentioning Elves and Dwarves.

How about this one, from Letter 131:
"Their origin is unknown (even to themselves)* for they escaped the notice of the great, or the civilised people with records, and kept none themselves, save vague oral traditions..."

--------
* The Hobbits are, of course, really meant to be a branch of the specifically human race (not Elves or Dwarves)... " [Tolkien's italics]
So, according to Tolkien, there is no story-internal origin for the Hobbits, because the story is told as if it's taken from existing records of the time, and there are no such records regarding the hobbits' origins. But he also makes it clear ("of course") that he expects us to see beyond the story-internal point of view, and realise that the hobbits are a "branch of the ... human race".

It's true, as Curious says, that Middle-earth isn't Darwinian. Of course not, it's a pre-scientific age, and the people at that time wouldn't have been thinking along the lines of mechanistic natural selection at all. But Middle-earth is, after all, our own earth seen through pre-modern eyes, and Tolkien seems to expect us modern readers to figure out that evolution was going on anyway, even if the people at the time didn't know it. (Curious' argument that things getting smaller isn't "Darwinian" doesn't really make sense to me - Darwinian theory doesn't say organisms keep getting bigger and better, just that they get more "fit", or adapted, to their environment. In a poor or hostile environment, animals can get smaller.)

And even in the Prologue, we are given the impression that the hobbits "evolve" according to their environment:
"Before the crossing of the mountains the Hobbits had already become divided into three somewhat different breeds: Harfoots, Stoors, and Fallohides. The Harfoots were browner of skin, smaller, and shorter, and ... they preferred highlands and hillsides. The Stoors were broader, heavier in build; their feet and hands were larger; and they preferred flat lands and riversides.The Fallohides were fairer of skin and also of hair, and they were... lovers of trees and of woodlands."
I'm not sure where you get your hundreds of thousands of years for a relatively small evolutionary change such as the size of hobbits relative to men. And anyway, do we know how long the First Age may have lasted?

So, I'd say that if you want an answer to the origin of hobbits, there are really only two options: Accept the story-internal fact, confirmed in this Letter by Tolkien, that no-one knows. Or look beyond the story and accept Tolkien's opinion that "of course" they are a "branch of the human race".

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Curious
Half-elven


Sep 3 2010, 12:07pm

Post #11 of 41 (355 views)
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So is The Silmarillion mythology? [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Tolkien seems to expect us modern readers to figure out that evolution was going on anyway, even if the people at the time didn't know it.


I'll admit that in LotR we hear very little about origins, so it could, theoretically, be a Darwinian world in a pre-Darwinian era.

But The Silmarillion? If that's history, it leaves no room for Darwinian evolution. If it's mythology, true only in a mythopoetic sense, that's another matter. Is that what you are arguing?



Eldorion
Rohan


Sep 3 2010, 12:55pm

Post #12 of 41 (314 views)
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Well... [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree with you that since Middle-earth is supposed to be our own world in the distant past it is Darwinian, even if it's inhabitants had no awareness of that theory. (Very good point about size, btw.) If we're trying to make a somewhat 'scientific' analysis of the secondary world, I think it's clear that hobbits, humans, and Elves are all part of the same species.

A common biological definition of species is a group of organisms that can have fertile offspring with each other, which Elves and humans are clearly capable of doing. The Prologue quote "far nearer to us than Elves, or even than Dwarves" suggests that Hobbits and Dwarves are both more closely related to humans than Elves are. This raises the very interesting possibility that humans and Hobbits or humans and Dwarves could have reproduced, though I don't think Tolkien ever touched on that. I admit that I'm speculating here, but I think it's a reasonable hypothesis.


In Reply To
I'm not sure where you get your hundreds of thousands of years for a relatively small evolutionary change such as the size of hobbits relative to men. And anyway, do we know how long the First Age may have lasted?


It took humans in the real world millions of years to evolve from very similar early hominids. Hobbits, if they evolved from early humans, would have had to undergo major physiological changes (height, hair, 'build', etc.). Unless we assume that Tolkien worked the theory of evolution by natural selection into his work after arbitrarily changing aspects of it, a few thousand years isn't enough time for those changes. Look at humans: we are still very physiologically similar to people from 10,000 years ago.

As for how long passed, in most versions of The Silmarillion it was a few hundred years tops between humans awakening and arriving in Beleriand, with less than six thousand after that before the discovery of Hobbits. Tolkien posited in Myths Transformed that there was a much longer period, since human societies like the ones we see in The Silmarillion couldn't have feasibly developed from nothing in a few hundred years, but that was late in life and he never followed through on all the necessary re-writes. Without having Morgoth's Ring on hand I can't say how long Tolkien suggested pass.



There's a feeling I get, when I look to the West...



FarFromHome
Valinor


Sep 3 2010, 2:13pm

Post #13 of 41 (304 views)
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Yes. [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Quote
But The Silmarillion? If that's history, it leaves no room for Darwinian evolution. If it's mythology, true only in a mythopoetic sense, that's another matter. Is that what you are arguing?


I'm arguing that the Silmarillion can be read as mythology. And I'm also suggesting, based on the way Tolkien expresses himself in Letter 131 (and elsewhere), that that's how the author intended it to be read.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Curious
Half-elven


Sep 3 2010, 2:37pm

Post #14 of 41 (308 views)
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Can you give me some quotes? [In reply to] Can't Post

The part of Letter 131 you quoted in this thread doesn't seem to address that issue, does it?


FarFromHome
Valinor


Sep 3 2010, 2:50pm

Post #15 of 41 (314 views)
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A clarification [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm arguing that the Sil can be read as a combination of mythology, legend and mythologised history (like real ancient manuscripts). The creation myth (including the origin of the various peoples) would be just that, a myth, and the timelines in that part of the text would be about as literally true as the equivalent ones worked out by Bishop Ussher for the Bible. Later parts of the text might be more like medieval history - a blend of fact and legend, impossible to separate because for the people who wrote it, there was no difference between the two.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



FarFromHome
Valinor


Sep 3 2010, 3:22pm

Post #16 of 41 (315 views)
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I thought it was implicit [In reply to] Can't Post

even in the part of the Letter I quoted before, where Tolkien distinguishes between what's known or believed in Middle-earth and what he intends the modern reader to infer.

But as far as the Silmarillion being meant as myth, there's a section earlier in the same letter that seems more explicit:
"The cycles begin with a cosmogonical myth: the Music of the Ainur [...] It moves then swiftly to the History of the Elves, or the Silmarillion proper; to the world as we perceive it, but of course transfigured in a still half-mythical mode [...] These tales are 'new', they are not directly derived from other myths and legends, but they must inevitably contain a large measure of ancient wide-spread motives* and elements. After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of 'truth', and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode...."

* I think he means what we usually call 'motifs'
Tolkien goes on to describe the gradual evolution of the Silmarillion from myth, through the half-mythical and legendary modes, to stories that are "less mythical, and more like stories and romances", where "Men are interwoven". That's what I was trying to say in my clarification post, before I saw yours and started looking for quotes.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



squire
Valinor


Sep 3 2010, 3:32pm

Post #17 of 41 (299 views)
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To Sil or not to Sil, that is the question [In reply to] Can't Post

I have long thought that Tolkien got majorly hung up about writing the Silmarillion as a simulacrum of blended mythology, legend and history - as you say - because of the presence of actual living immortals on the ground in his sub-created universe. Thus, as he realized more and more in his later years, especially after writing the far more historically-imagined Lord of the Rings, many features of human mythology would actually not be found in the Elves' compilations.

For instance, the events of the Ainulindale and the Valaquenta - matters of world-creation and godly conflicts which we would like to say are entirely mythical and based on archetypes of human understanding of nature - are in Tolkien's world supposed to have been transmitted directly from the Valar to the Eldar, as "eye-witness" accounts. The History of Middle-earth is where all this hangs out the most, because there we can see JRRT madly trying to square the circle of just why there would be "half-brothers" (a standard trope of legendary human royal family conflicts) in a race that never dies and never divorces; or oddly insisting on writing out Annals that give, in the end, exact solar year equivalents for all the events in the mythological age, which is about as helpful to the story as Bishop Ussher's 6000 years is to our understanding of Genesis. In a related sphere, his explanation of why Elvish languages changed significantly over thousands of years along classically human philological lines, while being spoken by the same individuals the entire time, was finally worked out but it is, to put it kindly, labored.

To his credit, Tolkien pokes fun at this problem several times at least in The Lord of the Rings, for instance when Elrond solemnly cleans Frodo's clock on the historicity of the Last Alliance, or when Galadriel reminiscences about fun times in the First Age. But the upshot is that the story-internal Sil is only half in, and half out, of the world of mythology as we conceive it. Which leads to odd discussions of whether Hobbits could have "evolved" from Men through an actual Darwinian process!



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


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


Curious
Half-elven


Sep 3 2010, 4:10pm

Post #18 of 41 (316 views)
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So when we get to Beren and Tuor and Turin, [In reply to] Can't Post

it's less mythological and more historical? Well, that would cover the creation myth, I suppose. But it's very hard to imagine a Darwinian race of immortal elves, let alone immortal Valar.

I like another letter better, the one where he is challenged to explain the immortality of elves, and how they could interbreed with humans, and says something like "I don't care." I find it very hard to try to combine the non-Darwinian myth with the world in which I live, and not very pleasant to try. You are welcome to do so if you like, but I'm not at all sure that's what Tolkien had in mind.

Middle-earth is middle-earth, the Primary World is the Primary World, and any resemblance between the two is probably unintended. They do have elements in common, so that the Secondary World can teach us a new appreciation for the Primary World. Better yet, perhaps it can inspire us to recreate the Primary World. But in most ways they are intentionally different, and, as far as I am concerned, vive la différence!


TolkienOtaku
Rivendell


Sep 4 2010, 5:27pm

Post #19 of 41 (307 views)
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The stork. [In reply to] Can't Post

I kid, I kid. Seriously though, I don't think it matters that much how Hobbits came to be. They themselves don't really seem to mind not knowing their origins. In any event, they are in Middle Earth now, and frankly, it would not be the same without them.

I have no personality whatsoever. Cower before my blandness!


FarFromHome
Valinor


Sep 4 2010, 10:26pm

Post #20 of 41 (310 views)
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I thought it might be interesting [In reply to] Can't Post

to look more closely at the Letter I quoted (Letter 131, to the publisher, before publication of LotR, and potentially of the Silmarillion), and the one Curious referred to (a response to a reader in which Tolkien answers a criticism with "I don't care".)

The first letter sets out what look to me like two competing aims:

1. A sense of scientific and historic realism (specifically in the languages):
[the Elves] are assigned two related languages...whose history is written, and whose forms...are deduced scientifically from a common origin...This gives a certain character (a cohesion, a consistency of linguistic style, and illusion of historicity)...
and 2. Myth:
"But an equally basic passion of mine ab initio was for myth (not allegory!) and for fairy-story, and above all for heroic legend on the brink of fairy-tale and history...

In a footnote, Tolkien says that the relation of these two ways of seeing the world is "fundamental" to his work:
It [the work] is, I suppose, fundamentally concerned with the problem of the relation of Art (or Sub-creation) and Primary Reality.
And another footnote says that the perfect union of the two is symbolised by the light of Valinor:
As far as all this has symbolical, or allegorical significance, Light is such a primeval symbol in the nature of the Universe that it can hardly be analysed. The Light of Valinor...is the light of art undivorced from reason, that sees things both scientifically (or philosophically) and imaginatively (or subcreatively)...
(This always reminds me of the philosophical theories of Inkling Owen Barfield, who imagined early men having just such an integrated view of the world, in which the real and the metaphorical, or the physical and the imagined, were experienced together, and not analysed and separated as they tend to be in the modern world. Tolkien mentions the idea himself in On Fairy Stories, where he suggests that the thunder and the thunder-god - represented as an angry farmer - arose simultaneously in the minds of early people: "...it is asking a question without much meaning, if we inquire: Which came first, nature-allegories about personalized thunder in the mountains, splitting rocks and trees; or stories about an irascible, not very clever, redbeard farmer...? It is more reasonable to suppose that the farmer popped up in the very moment when Thunder got a voice and face; that there was a distant growl of thunder in the hills every time a story-teller heard a farmer in a rage.")

Tolkien recognises of course that the ancient "legendary" mode, in which the real and metaphorical are blended, translates into a different "reality" for us. Here he puts the relationship of Elves and Men in "legendary" terms, while the footnote explains the metaphor in modern terms:
...a recurrent theme is the idea that in Men (as they now are) there is a strand of 'blood' and inheritance, derived from the Elves, and that the art and poetry of Men is largely dependent on it, or modified by it.*

*Of course in reality this only means that my 'elves' are only a representation or an apprehension of a part of human nature, but that is not the legendary mode of talking.
Elrond in particular is said to have an essentially symbolic or metaphorical role in the story:
Elrond symbolises throughout the ancient wisdom, and his House represents Lore - the preservation in reverent memory of all tradition concerning the good, wise, and beautiful. This is a place visited on the way to all deeds, or 'adventures'.
Tolkien also touches on the changing viewpoints from which he tells the stories, and the change of modes (from "myth and legend" to "the earth") that accompanies the change:
But as the earliest Tales are seen through Elvish eyes, as it were, this last great Tale [LotR], coming down from myth and legend to the earth, is seen mainly through the eyes of Hobbits.
(Here's where things can get a bit surreal, as 'history', from the hobbits' perspective, gets blended with 'myth' - for example, when Elrond reveals that he witnessed events from ancient history! When the real and the metaphorical become one and the same, as they are in 'myth', and then introduced into something that reads like 'history', it can bring a modern reader up short. But Tolkien, used to reading medieval literature where the lines between history and legend are much more fluid, perhaps underestimated how difficult it would be for modern readers to accept that things can appear very different in the "legendary mode" from the underlying "reality" that modern readers would normally expect to see.

Of course, he makes it all the harder when he introduces modern scientific elements into his stories - like the "scientifically" evolving Elvish languages mentioned above, which are incompatible with the Elves' "mythic" immortality (because of course logically, immortals' languages shouldn't evolve as short-lived mortals' do). There's a tension here between "Art" and "Primary Reality" that can only be resolved if we can hold both ways of seeing the world in our mind at the same time, like the Light of Valinor, "the light of art undivorced from reason, that sees things both scientifically (or philosophically) and imaginatively (or subcreatively)". Not easy for anyone but Elves, I think Tolkien would admit!

Towards the end of the Letter, Tolkien admits that he's too close to his work to really judge how it will appear to others:
Hardly a word in its 600,000 or more has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution to the whole of all the features, incidents, and chapters has been laboriously pondered. I do not say this in recommendation. It is, I feel, only too likely that I am deluded, lost in a web of vain imaginings of not much value to others...
("Not much value"? Hardly! But perhaps he did sense that the uneasy truce he tried to create between "myth" and "reality" would not necessarily hold... )


All the above quotes were taken from Letter 131, written before LotR was published, when Tolkien's ideas about his own work had not yet been influenced by the feedback he received from the general public.

The second Letter I looked at (Letter 153) is the one Curious mentioned, intended for a member of the public (a Catholic bookshop owner) who had complained about various aspects of the story.

Early in the letter, Tolkien seems to admit that some readers are taking an approach to his work that he had not intended:
The tale is after all in the ultimate analysis a tale, a piece of literature, intended to have literary effect, and not real history. That the device adopted, that of giving its setting an historical air or feeling, and (an illusion of ?) three dimensions, is successful, seems shown by the fact that several correspondents have treated it in the same way - according to their different points of interest or knowledge: i.e. as if it were a report of 'real' times and places, which my ignorance or carelessness had misrepresented in places or failed to describe properly in others. Its economics, science, artefacts, religion, and philosophy are defective, or at least sketchy.
He seems pleased on one level that his historical style has convinced readers, yet surprised that they have drawn the conclusion from that that the story should be read as 'real history', and criticised for falling short of the standards of modern history, economics, science and so on.

He tries to answer the criticisms about his "defective" biology by suggesting that many unknowns remain in modern biology, before deciding that the supposedly defective biology doesn't matter - in his imagined world, mortals and immortals can have offspring no matter what modern biology might say. But his explanation makes it clear that that's because the purpose of the story is "largely literary", and the Elves "are certain aspects of Men". In other words, in the mythic literary style he has chosen, biology doesn't matter, but metaphorical truth does:
I suppose that actually the chief difficulties I have involved myself in are scientific and biological...Elves and Men are evidently in biological terms one race...But since some have held that the rate of longevity is a biological characteristic, within limits of variation, you could not have Elves in a sense 'immortal' - not eternal, but not dying by 'old age' - and Men mortal ... and yet sufficiently akin. I might answer that this 'biology' is only a theory, that modern 'gerontology'...finds 'ageing' rather more mysterious, and less clearly inevitable in bodies of human structure. But I should actually answer: I do not care.
...
its purpose is still largely literary... Elves and Men are represented as biologically akin in this 'history', because Elves are certain aspects of Men and their talents and desires, incarnated in my little world.

So these are the two levels on which Tolkien seems to view his own work: the mythic/legendary/fairytale mode within which metaphor and symbolism are primary and are to be read as literally true; and the 'literary' mode that allows the metaphor and symbolism to be analysed and related to the real world as we know it. The "chief difficulties", I'd say, are in making the two levels work together - it's those two levels that give the sense of what I've sometimes called "ambiguity", the uncertainty about whether something is literally true (within the fiction of the story, of course) or metaphorically/mythically true. For me, the tension between those two modes of seeing the world of the story is one of the most powerful elements in my enjoyment of it. But I can understand that it can also be seen as a source of frustration, or indeed a flaw in the work!

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Curious
Half-elven


Sep 5 2010, 3:22am

Post #21 of 41 (274 views)
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I don't understand your last paragraph/summation. [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for digging up the letter I remembered, Letter 153. Reading the excerpts, I like it even better; it captures my frustration with those who insist on treating LotR as real history, rather than feigned history. It's like that scene from Annie Hall where Woody Allen's character brings Marshall McLuhan out from behind a sign to win an argument. I'll have to remember to cite Letter 153 in the future!

As for Letter 131, I love the fact that Tolkien tried to make myth realistic and realism mythical. His passion for doing so drove his obsession with a Secondary World which was, we fans believe, of great value to others.

But he never met his own high standards. That's why he was still rewriting and reimagining The Silmarillion until the day of his death, and perhaps the reason he could never finish it. In "Myths Transformed" from Morgoth's Ring, a collection of thoughts written towards the end of his life, he contemplates abandoning the story of the Two Trees because it is not sufficiently realistic. Can you imagine the story of The Silmarillion without the Two Trees? I can't.

In LotR, however, he did not have to choose between realism and myth. He could maintain ambiguity and gloss over the contradictions. He could use the immense amount of work he had done on The Silmarillion to give LotR a sense of depth and feigned history, but when challenged about the details he could say it is a work of fiction, not history or science. He didn't have to square the circle, as squire put it.

So for me, there's no need to try to do what Tolkien couldn't, and discouraged others from doing, to treat LotR as "real" and to resolve any discrepancies that arise when we do so. It's fantasy! As Tolkien might say today, get over it! Of course privately, Tolkien himself did not get over it, and continued to try square the circle. But there's no need for us to do so, and he strongly advised against it!

So that's what I get when I read your post, until I reach your last paragraph, which I don't understand at all.


Quote
So these are the two levels on which Tolkien seems to view his own work: the mythic/legendary/fairytale mode within which metaphor and symbolism are primary and are to be read as literally true; and the 'literary' mode that allows the metaphor and symbolism to be analysed and related to the real world as we know it.


What? What does this have to do with the tension between realism and myth? Neither of these "modes" seem to encompass realism. Myths and legends and fairy tales are not realistic. Yet the "literary" mode is not realistic either; it's a way of making myth and legends and fairy tales applicable to the real world. Neither of these require us to treat LotR as a real history.

I see no tension at all between the two modes or levels of reading you describe. Within the confines of the Secondary World, or the "fiction of the story," everything is literally true. From the perspective of the real world or Primary World, none of it is literally true -- it is only "metaphorically/mythically true."

The tension arises only if we try to turn LotR into something it is not -- a real history, set in the Primary World, but written in a the language of myth and legend which must somehow be translated by the reader. Every discrepancy between Middle-earth and the Primary World must be explained by labored devices like the one Tolkien initially proposed to "explain" immortality: "modern 'gerontology'...finds 'ageing' rather more mysterious, and less clearly inevitable in bodies of human structure."

It's like the astronomers who insisted on tracing the movement of the planets as if they all circled around the Earth -- the movements they described weren't wrong, they were just incredibly complicated. Putting the Sun at the center made everything so much easier.

I say, let fantasy be fantasy, don't get carried away by Tolkien's device of feigned history. Accept that Middle-earth's "economics, science, artefacts, religion, and philosophy are defective, or at least sketchy. " Don't look at them too closely. Nothing to see here, move along.

It isn't the tension between myth and literature that I find frustrating -- I don't even see any tension there. It's the insistence on treating LotR as neither myth nor literature, but as a real history set in the Primary World, that I find frustrating. As Tolkien said, it is not what he intended.


squire
Valinor


Sep 5 2010, 3:52am

Post #22 of 41 (267 views)
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Well said [In reply to] Can't Post

I had the same reaction, but couldn't find the time or words to express it.

On the other hand, I believe FarFromHome has captured the essential contradiction in Tolkien, and may simply have misstated it in her finale. One thing is for sure: Tolkien's "balancing act" varies wildly in effectiveness at numerous points in his legendarium, and thereby gives us all so much to chew on. I don't believe FFH, or almost anyone else, truly treats Middle-earth as "real history" in their efforts to find internal explanations for all the textual problems. Rather they are taking the literary conceit as they see it begging to be taken.



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


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Curious
Half-elven


Sep 5 2010, 4:09am

Post #23 of 41 (260 views)
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Yes, Tolkien does go to great [In reply to] Can't Post

lengths to feign history, and so I guess I can't blame any of his fans for taking him up on that and carrying it to extremes. Letter 153 shows that Tolkien did not intend for that to happen, but it also shows that he is perversely proud that his literary conceit worked so well. So maybe I should get over it. Smile


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Sep 5 2010, 4:17am

Post #24 of 41 (268 views)
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Tolkien never considered abandoning the story of the Two Trees [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
In "Myths Transformed" from Morgoth's Ring, a collection of thoughts written towards the end of his life, he contemplates abandoning the story of the Two Trees because it is not sufficiently realistic. Can you imagine the story of The Silmarillion without the Two Trees? I can't.



I keep seeing people saying this, and it simply is not true. What Tolkien contemplating abandoing was the story of the creation of the Sun and the Moon, because it was "astronomically absurd". But, as Christopher Tolkien explicitly points out, he never contemplated abandoning the story of the Two Trees, even though that was no more realistic. In his commentary about the "Myths Transformed" notes in which his father suggested that the the creation of the Sun and the Moon was too astronomically absurd (although aethetically very satisfying), Christopher wrote:


Quote

As he stated it, this may seem to be an argument of the most doubtful nature, raising indeed the question, why is the myth of the Two Trees (which so far as record goes he never showed any intention to abandon) more acceptable than that of the creation of the Sun and the Moon from the last fruit and flower of the Trees as they died? Or indeed, if this is true, how can it be acceptable that the Evening Star is the Silmaril cut by Beren from Morgoth's crown?



I could say a lot more about this subject, but I don't think I will. At least not here.


'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

www.arda-reconstructed.com


Curious
Half-elven


Sep 5 2010, 4:48am

Post #25 of 41 (273 views)
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Thanks for the correction. [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think it changes my point about the inherent conflict between realism and myth. If anything, CT's comments highlight that conflict. But I should get my facts straight, and I'm glad you brought it to my attention.


(This post was edited by Curious on Sep 5 2010, 4:49am)

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