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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Letter #131: In the Beginning

Brethil
Half-elven


Sep 17 2013, 4:37pm


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Letter #131: In the Beginning Can't Post

Hello Fellowship of the Room!

I'm thrilled to lead off this discussion of a fascinating insight, in the man's own words, into JRRT's world and creative process over the next four weeks. I will move somewhat in order of the topics covered within the Letter, but at times a thematic question may be more inclusive of several Ages. At times other Letters and works will be referenced in passing - but you do not have to have access to them all to join in this discussion.
You can discuss as many or as few points as you like - feel free to respond to whatever interests you.
As people have posted in other threads, there are various ways to get the Letter, and I hope you have had a look at it - if not, what are you waiting for? Wink
He plaintively finishes with "I wonder if you will ever read this?" I hope you both read and enjoy, and I can't wait to read your thoughts.


The Letter leads off with JRRT describing it as a 'resume' of his efforts in the hope of persuading the intended reader that The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion were 'interdependent and indivisible'.

** On his desire for creating an "English" myth: "Also - and here I hope I shall not sound absurd - I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality that I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands. There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish (which greatly affected me); but nothing English, save impoverished chap-book stuff. Of course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be missing. For one thing its 'faerie' is too lavish, and fantastical, incoherant and repetitive...
"Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogenic, to the level of romantic fairy-story - the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendor from the vast backcloths - which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country."

So in summation, JRRT's assesment of what suited the English myth would be more spare, more based in reality, coherent and clear ("somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our 'air'...and, while possessing [if I could achieve it] the fair elusive beauty that some call Celtic...") and singular, not repetitive . He speaks of levels of tale and scale, with a framework (like stages with their sceneries) uniting them. So, let's start with a straighforward question: based on his goals, and what he achieved, how close to or far from the mark do you feel he is?


**JRRT extensively addresses his view of the nature of literature as 'escape' in On Fairy Stories. He also addresses it here in the Letter:
"For another and more important thing: it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion. For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known of the primary 'real' world. (...And I will not repeat to you what I tried to say in my essay, which you read.") [Note: I believe the reference here is to 'On Fairy Stories'.]

And a famous phrase that we can address: "I dislike Allegory - the conscious and intentional allegory - yet any attempt to attempt to explain the purport of myth or fairytale must use allegorical language. (And , of course, the more 'life' a story has the more readily will it be susceptible of allegorical interpretations: while the better a deliberate allegory is made the more nearly it will be acceptable just as a story.) Anyway this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality and the Machine...In the cosmogony there is a fall: a fall of Angels we should say. Though quite different in form, of course, to that of the Christian myth...there cannot be any story without a fall." (bold by me)

So here is, in his own words, the rationale for creating a non-Christian cosmogony; do you find this approach unusual for someone whose real-life faith was very strong, or not?
Falls seem to drive the tales forward, don't they? Why do you think JRRT felt that a fall was needed as the basis for a mythos?

**His perceptions of the uses of Allegory I find interesting, laid out, as it were like a choice: write a story full of 'life' and be hounded with armchair analysts (whoever would that be?) forever, propounding theories and perceived connections. Or write a clear allegory - but accept that the tale, as just a tale, will simply remain on the paper? Is that truly the two options available to writers of fantasy? And do you think that affected his choices in not creating an obtrusively Christian universe?

The phrase, "Fall, Mortality and the Machine." In the sense of the entire legendarium, do all these elements relate to the various races and tales, the great 'backdrop' story of Arda - or can you see it as the summation of the journey of Man alone? Or something else?
"I have not used 'magic' consistently...but the Elves are there (in my tales) to demonstrate the difference." He refers to the 'magic' of the Elves as Art: with the quick and complete object of sub-creation. Later the 'magic' of the Enemy is equated with the Machine, and Domination. So where does "Magic" fit, in this scheme, and how does it relate to the 'magic' of other works and authors?

**"I would draw some of the tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd." (A small personal confession: I love and feel so much sincerety in his use of the word "Absurd!" that when I write it or say it, I feel like I ought to attribute it to JRRT, like a quote.) Tolkien seems at times to be generally open to the idea of filmed adaptations (as long as they were not 'Disnified.') What are your thoughts on this statement, both about the man and the concept of 'other minds and hands'.


Is there a Tolkien topic that you have wanted to look into more deeply, and write about your thoughts on it? If so, we'd like to hear from you for the next TORn Amateur Symposium- coming in November. Happy writing!








(This post was edited by Brethil on Sep 17 2013, 4:39pm)

Subject User Time
Letter #131: In the Beginning Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 17 2013, 4:37pm
    The fall, free will and redemption Dame Ioreth Send a private message to Dame Ioreth Sep 17 2013, 7:35pm
        The noble can't exist without the simple Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 18 2013, 12:11am
            Do Fall, Mortality and the Machine seem to be related in this work? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 19 2013, 5:49pm
                Perfect summation Furincurunir! Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 1:53am
                When machines fall on mortals CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Sep 20 2013, 7:59pm
                    Guilty TV and other Falls Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 10:28pm
                    Machines and mortals noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 21 2013, 12:26pm
                    Missing Mortality? Rembrethil Send a private message to Rembrethil Sep 21 2013, 4:51pm
                        Interesting question Rem Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 21 2013, 5:40pm
                        More on mortality, Elves and Men... Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 22 2013, 6:24pm
    On religion (and allegory) Terazed Send a private message to Terazed Sep 18 2013, 1:09am
        Fantastic parallels Terazed! Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 18 2013, 3:39pm
            great quote which brings me to noumenon vs phenomenon Terazed Send a private message to Terazed Sep 18 2013, 11:40pm
                More excellent points Terazed! Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 3:15am
        In support of your Romantic influence Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 6:10pm
            I think you found something important in letter 310, Philosophy and faith Terazed Send a private message to Terazed Sep 21 2013, 1:46am
                More on noumenons Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 21 2013, 5:27pm
                    The Numenons:are those the guys from Numenor? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 21 2013, 6:12pm
                        They are the ones who speak Latin and declined to go... // Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 21 2013, 6:14pm
    Thoughts and Random Ramblings..... Rembrethil Send a private message to Rembrethil Sep 18 2013, 9:26pm
        Thoughts back Rembrethil Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 1:49am
    For England? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 19 2013, 5:03pm
        But that was then, and this is now squire Send a private message to squire Sep 19 2013, 6:29pm
            Why the nostalgia? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 19 2013, 9:00pm
            Hmmm. fascinating Squire. I would second NoWiz's query... Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 1:55am
                I can't work it out... noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 20 2013, 3:57pm
                    Especially starting with 'But once upon a time...' as he does Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 4:22pm
                        A confusion between literature and rugby union? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 20 2013, 5:42pm
                            Or, as satirised by comedians Flanders and Swan? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 20 2013, 5:59pm
                                Hmmm - Britain vs England Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 6:19pm
                                There is nationalism and then there is nationalism Terazed Send a private message to Terazed Sep 21 2013, 5:14am
                                "It's not that they're wicked, or naturally bad... Na Vedui Send a private message to Na Vedui Sep 23 2013, 4:12am
                                    The song nicely lampoons the problem I'm talking about…// noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 23 2013, 5:50pm
        What about as ancient history? Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 3:20am
            I can imagine... noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 20 2013, 4:26pm
                Beren is fundamentally different from Aragorn, in this context squire Send a private message to squire Sep 21 2013, 2:00am
        England or English? Or Europe? Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Sep 20 2013, 8:44pm
            More points about Europe Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 10:49pm
                Yes Na Vedui Send a private message to Na Vedui Sep 23 2013, 3:11am
                    The Home of the Mythos... Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 23 2013, 3:36am
            An epic for anyone (who likes that kind of thing). noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 21 2013, 11:45am
    Arrrrrrr! CaptainMorgan Send a private message to CaptainMorgan Sep 19 2013, 9:13pm
        One point, Captain... Meneldor Send a private message to Meneldor Sep 20 2013, 12:17am
            Love your most *Fitting* Avatar Meneldor !!!!! Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 2:34am
            Or... Dame Ioreth Send a private message to Dame Ioreth Sep 20 2013, 3:01pm
        Ye please me mightily with yer celebratory lingo today Cap'n! Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 20 2013, 2:24am
    This letter....the bane of Tolkien Studies Bombadil21 Send a private message to Bombadil21 Sep 21 2013, 4:55am
        An interesting debate: are we better or worse off having the Letters? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 21 2013, 12:16pm
            Nah Dame Ioreth Send a private message to Dame Ioreth Sep 21 2013, 2:29pm
            It is a question...Letters or no Letters? Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 24 2013, 7:31pm
        Reply to: This letter.... Art vs Allegory Terazed Send a private message to Terazed Sep 21 2013, 4:27pm
        Hopefully that is what we are doing here Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 21 2013, 5:31pm
        But wait, I thought letter #131 was expressly a manifesto? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 22 2013, 10:23am
            On the other hand, if Tolkien had been asked to write a memo "demonstrating that LOTR and the Silmarillion were interdependent and indivisible", what did Waldman think when +this+ turned up ?!// noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 22 2013, 2:01pm
            Good points - it had a purpose...which begs another question about TH... Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 22 2013, 5:21pm
                Author journey, reader journey noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Sep 22 2013, 8:19pm
                    TH perceptions and the need for Sil Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Sep 23 2013, 2:31am

 
 
 

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