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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
the gnawing things far below

Alveric
Rivendell


Apr 23 2017, 3:17pm

Post #1 of 16 (2380 views)
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the gnawing things far below Can't Post

In Two Towers ("The White Rider") when Gandalf is reluctantly describing his battle with the Balrog, the two of them fell to the bottom of the abyss, "to the uttermost foundations of stone", and then:
"Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he."

Any idea what these nameless gnawers of the world are? It's a hell of an image: all they do is chew on the planet! And they're older than Sauron, who was one of the Maiar, so... pretty old! Yet I don't recall any other reference to them.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 23 2017, 3:26pm

Post #2 of 16 (2347 views)
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Lovecraftian Horrors? [In reply to] Can't Post

This is one of the few passages that make me wonder if Tolkien was influenced by any of the same writers who influenced H.P. Lovecraft. Maybe not so much Poe as Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany and/or Algernon Blackwood. Does anyone know if Tolkien had any opinion on Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros?

Another such statement also comes from Gandalf, when the Fellowship is traveling through Moria: "There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the World."

"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Apr 23 2017, 3:31pm)


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 23 2017, 3:59pm

Post #3 of 16 (2330 views)
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Tolkien on Eddison [In reply to] Can't Post

It turns out that Tolkien was slightly acquainted with E.R. Eddison and had read his works. He elaborated in Letter 199 (From a letter to Caroline Everett - 24 June 1957"), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.


Quote
I read the works of [E.R.] Eddison, long after they appeared; and I once met him... I read his works with great enjoyment for their sheer literary merit. My opinion of them is almost the same as that expressed by Mr. Lewis... Except that I disliked his characters (always excepting the Lord Gro) and despised what he appeared to admire more intensely than Mr. Lewis at any rate saw fit to say of himself... I thought that, corrupted by an evil and indeed silly 'philosophy', he was coming to admire, more and more, arrogance and cruelty. Incidentally, I thought his nomenclature slipshod and often inept. In spite of all of which, I still think of him as the greatest and most convincing writer of 'invented worlds' that I have read. But he was certainly not an 'influence'.


"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Apr 23 2017, 4:00pm)


noWizardme
Valinor


Apr 23 2017, 6:22pm

Post #4 of 16 (2315 views)
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Any idea what these nameless gnawers of the world are? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
"Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not.


Well, they're poetry for one thing - how satisfying it is to read that passage aloud, with its rhythm and consonants.

Perhaps the point of the nameless things is that they are unknown? For me, this is one of the places where no amount of information would be as good as leaving it mysterious.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 23 2017, 6:38pm

Post #5 of 16 (2308 views)
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Perhaps... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Any idea what these nameless gnawers of the world are?


Some might look something like Lovecraft's Dholes:



"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Apr 23 2017, 6:41pm)


InTheChair
Lorien

Apr 24 2017, 7:18pm

Post #6 of 16 (2228 views)
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Through Valleys, Up Mountains [In reply to] Can't Post

It's certainly an interesting statement.

First, it comes from Gandalf, whom we trust to know what he is talking about.
Second, Gandalf had recently been there.

From this we can deduce that these things really do exist, probably in the physical. Gandalf is not speaking in metaphore or attempting to create mystery. (Even if Tolkien is.)

Third, if these things are older than Sauron they must have been there from the creation, or have entered into the world before Sauron did.
Fourth, if Sauron knows them not, then that could mean (though doesn't have to) that the Balrog also knows them not.

So besides Gandalf the Balrog also for the first time will have seen these things at the deepest bottom of the world. Though he died before that knowledge was of any use to him.

Fifth, Middle-Earth seems to have held no legends about these things. At least not among the elves or their allies. The dwarves maybe might have had som they didn't share.

It's possible the chasm of Khazad-Dûm, is deeper than any other place on Earth that a human could fall down to. After that Gandalf climbed the whole way back up again, and directly after that the whole way up the mountain, and right up to the Tower of Durin. Now none of the things down there, ever attempted that. Gandalf is badass.


(This post was edited by InTheChair on Apr 24 2017, 7:18pm)


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 24 2017, 8:20pm

Post #7 of 16 (2218 views)
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Old Ones [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf must be referring to things that have their origins in the Marring of Arda. Some might even be the physical incarnations of some of the first Ainur that Melkor corrupted such as Ungoliant (if that is her true nature). A few might approach the level of power of some of the Valar.



"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Apr 24 2017, 8:22pm)


Darkstone
Immortal


Apr 25 2017, 2:14am

Post #8 of 16 (2209 views)
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Well [In reply to] Can't Post

http://middle-earth.xenite.org/...ed-by-h-p-lovecraft/

******************************************
Boromir: "One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its Black Gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the Great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust, the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this.”

Gandalf: “Well, Sauron doesn't consider a nine-member fellowship to be any threat, or they'd have a tighter defense. An analysis of the plans provided by Lord Elrond has demonstrated a weakness in the Dark Land. But the approach will not be easy. You are required to pass over the mountains of Mordor and cross the plateau of Gorgoroth to this point. It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The Cracks of Doom lead directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy Barad-dûr."



Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 25 2017, 2:30am

Post #9 of 16 (2203 views)
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Not actually Lovecraft [In reply to] Can't Post

As I was speculating, Tolkien was acquainted with at least some of the same writers who influenced Lovecraft. But I'm not sure that any of them count as influences on his own work.

"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 25 2017, 3:11am

Post #10 of 16 (2203 views)
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Morlocks? [In reply to] Can't Post

Might the Morlocks of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine have been an influence on the development of Tolkien's Orcs?

"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes


Darkstone
Immortal


Apr 25 2017, 4:10am

Post #11 of 16 (2194 views)
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Morlocks! [In reply to] Can't Post

Indeed, for the Eloi and the Morlocks there would be a better claim than for the Lilliputians. Lilliputians are merely men peered down at, sardonically, from just above the house-tops. Eloi and Morlocks live far away in an abyss of time so deep as to work an enchantment upon them; and if they are descended from ourselves, it may be remembered that an ancient English thinker once derived the ylfe, the very elves, through Cain from Adam.
-On Fairy-Stories

Let us not divide the human race into Eloi and Morlocks: pretty children—“elves” as the eighteenth century often idiotically called them—with their fairy tales (carefully pruned) and dark Morlocks tending their machines.
-ibid

Why should we not escape from or condemn the “grim Assyrian” absurdity of top-hats, or the Morlockian horror of factories?
-ibid

******************************************
Boromir: "One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its Black Gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the Great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust, the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this.”

Gandalf: “Well, Sauron doesn't consider a nine-member fellowship to be any threat, or they'd have a tighter defense. An analysis of the plans provided by Lord Elrond has demonstrated a weakness in the Dark Land. But the approach will not be easy. You are required to pass over the mountains of Mordor and cross the plateau of Gorgoroth to this point. It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The Cracks of Doom lead directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy Barad-dûr."



(This post was edited by Darkstone on Apr 25 2017, 4:13am)


squire
Half-elven


Apr 25 2017, 4:37am

Post #12 of 16 (2191 views)
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The times they are a-changin' [In reply to] Can't Post

As Darkstone notes, Tolkien was perfectly aware of Wells' Morlocks. Does that mean Wells "influenced" Tolkien in his conception of his Orcs, as you asked?
I'm not so sure. All of upper-class England (all of the upper-class West) was contemplating the apparent creation of a new 'race' in those years (late 19th-early 20th centuries): an industrial proletariat of brutal manners, technical skill, and physical degradation. Some like Tolkien noted the apparent similarities to the nightmare creatures of the medieval or pre-modern imagination, goblins, trolls, and fiends. Others like Wells or Orwell simply posited them in their own time and place: the Morlocks are just the Proles of 'Nineteen Eighty-four', moved forward a few thousand centuries.
Lewis said one could not 'influence' Tolkien. That's a stretch, I think. But Tolkien's imagination was unique in its ability to mash up the present with the past; any author he might have been influenced by was up against a mighty fount of knowledge of earlier ideas and stories in J. R. R.'s brain. One might almost say that Tolkien wasn't influenced by Wells (in his creation of the orcs). Rather, Wells was influenced by Tolkien, or more precisely, by Tolkien's unmatchable knowledge of where Wells got his ideas in the first place!



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'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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Darkstone
Immortal


Apr 25 2017, 7:35pm

Post #13 of 16 (2154 views)
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Log Soup? [In reply to] Can't Post

In Dasent's words I would say: “We must be satisfied with the soup that is set before us, and not desire to see the bones of the ox out of which it has been boiled.” Though, oddly enough, Dasent by “the soup” meant a mishmash of bogus pre-history founded on the early surmises of Comparative Philology; and by “desire to see the bones” he meant a demand to see the workings and the proofs that led to these theories. By “the soup” I mean the story as it is served up by its author or teller, and by “the bones” its sources or material—even when (by rare luck) those can be with certainty discovered. But I do not, of course, forbid criticism of the soup as soup.
-On Fairy-Stories

The casual phrase dropped by a friend in conversation, the paragraph in a book, the incident observed by the roadside, has some special quality, and is accorded a special welcome. But having been welcomed, it is forgotten, or at least ignored. It sinks into the horrid depths of my subconscious like a waterlogged timber into the slime at the bottom of the harbor, where it lies alongside others which have preceded it. Then, periodically— but by no means systematically — it is hauled up for examination along with its fellows, and, sooner or later, some timber is found with barnacles growing on it. Some morning when I am shaving, some evening when I am wondering whether my dinner calls for white wine or red, the original immature idea reappears in my mind, and it has grown. Nearly always it has something to do with what eventually will be the mid-point of a novel or a short story, and sometimes the growth is towards the end and sometimes towards the beginning. The casualty rate is high — some timbers grow no barnacles at all — but enough of them have progressed to keep me actively employed for more than forty years.
-C.S. Forester, “Some Personal Notes”, The Hornblower Companion

******************************************
Boromir: "One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its Black Gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the Great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust, the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this.”

Gandalf: “Well, Sauron doesn't consider a nine-member fellowship to be any threat, or they'd have a tighter defense. An analysis of the plans provided by Lord Elrond has demonstrated a weakness in the Dark Land. But the approach will not be easy. You are required to pass over the mountains of Mordor and cross the plateau of Gorgoroth to this point. It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The Cracks of Doom lead directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy Barad-dûr."



Alveric
Rivendell


Apr 25 2017, 8:08pm

Post #14 of 16 (2149 views)
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how it reads in Chinese [In reply to] Can't Post

If you don't mind a tangent here, I had a look in the three Chinese versions, specifically the line "the world is gnawed by nameless things." One version implies that the nameless things are trying to bite their way out. Another uses a term for "gnaw" which is more like erosion or corrosion. And the third specifies that they are digging tunnels down there. Nothing fundamentally different, but still, some nuances.


noWizardme
Valinor


Apr 25 2017, 8:31pm

Post #15 of 16 (2147 views)
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Thanks! [In reply to] Can't Post

I enjoy reading about the nuances that translation give.
And I enjoy a good tangent!

An earlier discussion about translation (here: http://newboards.theonering.net/...i?post=876030#876030 ) mentioned this passage as it appears in German. It was mostly about how Tolkien uses verbs such as shall, will, and how a target language might force a translator to be explicit where English is ambiguous.
We didn't have a Chinese speaker to contribute at the time (but our threads remain ever open if anyone wants to make a late contribution!)

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Apr 25 2017, 8:37pm)


uncle Iorlas
Bree

Apr 8, 10:22pm

Post #16 of 16 (955 views)
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the Sublime [In reply to] Can't Post

This puts me in mind of a couple moments where CS Lewis also offers a fleeting peek at a vast, teeming underground world beyond the knowledge of the surface dwellers (in the Silver Chair and in Perelandra). Not the only time I've felt like these two friends settled on parallel approaches to a subject; each also performs a similar maneuver to institute a pantheon of gods while making just enough mention of one shadowy boss god above them to maintain their clean conscience as monotheistic authors, for example.

As to what these beasts were and how to explain them and bring them into alignment with the rest of the mythology, though, I think the answer must be much the same as with Tom Bombadil. Some things are meant to be mysterious; I think the author, while he would appreciate all the loving attention to his mythos that his readers bring, would nevertheless say that some of his riddles simply won't benefit from closer and closer scrutiny. He who breaks a thing to find out what it is, and all that.

Intellectuals in the eighteenth century were much exercised by the idea of the Sublime, and there was a vague but extensive written dialogue between writers trying to grapple with a fairly nebulous idea put forward by a classical writer called Longinus. And there was a lot of variation in how these scholars and blowhards tried to explain the idea, but it was at least something more specific and subtle than just "sublime" meaning "really great." To borrow from Edmund Burke, if I remember right, some characteristics of the sublime were that the sublime is fearsome, that it is associated with large things and high things and old and faraway things, and critically for our purposes here, that what is sublime must never be fully revealed. It is always obscured to some degree.

This last characteristic is all over Tolkien's approach (and I can't doubt that he and Lewis were well aware of all these writings, more than I am surely). Tolkien loved to say that in good stories the reader could hear "echoes of the horns of elfland." And Middle-Earth is loaded with them; there is a suffusing sense that an ancient, beautiful, altogether higher and better world is slipping away as the elves pass into the west, as the ents dwindle, as the scions of the Numenoreans grow fewer and live less long. And the threats, too, are kept in the shadows for the most part: Sauron, the prime mover of all the action and arguably the single most important character, is never seen directly in the trilogy, the Nazgul are hooded and only rarely and fleetingly visible as what they are. Again and again it happens that some character with a lot of veiled power stands up a little straighter and seems to grow taller and more terrible for a moment. He loves this sort of imagery; the examples go on and on. But it is important to his idea of a fairy-story that it is animated, not by the horns of elfland, but by their echoes. The sense that there is more around the corner, if only you could crane your head to see it, makes the actual story seem higher and deeper. The end is never final. There is always more to discover, another layer of the onion. It's like real life.

So, to me it seems almost axiomatic that at the deepest point anyone digs in Tolkien--no matter how deep that is--inevitably, what they will find there is a signpost saying that there's much more to see if only they would go yet deeper.

 
 

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