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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
When can darkness be good?

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Aug 21 2017, 11:30pm

Post #1 of 14 (2528 views)
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When can darkness be good? Can't Post

Quite an ironical time to ask this with the eclipse in the US. But as darkness is often thought of as bad and threatining and evil in Lotr and most fantasy literature, I did wonder when can darkness be good and welcome. I suppose one obvious one is if you are ill or have a bad head, sometimes you would prefer the dark. And of course, like it or not, nightime is a big part of our lives. We do not live on a planet where it is perment day, if it suddenly was that would have quite an effect on us I would think. Also there are many creatures that prefer the dark such as some birds, bats, marsupels etc. I wonder if anyone else can think of times when dark is best!


Meneldor
Valinor


Aug 22 2017, 2:45pm

Post #2 of 14 (2454 views)
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When I was flying missions in Iraq [In reply to] Can't Post

I felt safer at night. It's harder for the bad guys to shoot at your plane when it's flying in the dark with all the lights off.


They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. -Psalm 107


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Aug 22 2017, 3:52pm

Post #3 of 14 (2443 views)
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My spouse is subject to migraines [In reply to] Can't Post

When Tayna has such a headache, she definitely prefers resting in darkness.

The dark also comes in handy for ground-based astronomers and other star-gazers!

"Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.” -- The Doctor

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Aug 22 2017, 3:54pm)


Bracegirdle
Valinor


Aug 22 2017, 7:31pm

Post #4 of 14 (2428 views)
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I have an 8" reflector. DARK-DARK-DARK-- PLEASE! [In reply to] Can't Post

I have to drive 10-15 miles out of town into the dessert to find some anymore. If you think the eclipse was a wow - you should see our wonderful universe through a large telescope -- larger than my puny 8" reflector of course...

‘. . . the rule of no realm is mine . . .
But all worthy things that are in peril . . . those are my care.
For I also am a steward. Did you not know?'

Gandalf to Denethor




Darkstone
Immortal


Aug 22 2017, 7:57pm

Post #5 of 14 (2427 views)
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Darkness produces the scary sounding chemical N-acetyl-5-methoxy tryptamine! [In reply to] Can't Post

Aka, melatonin, which tells our bodies to go to sleep.

******************************************
Queen Beruthiel, Queen Beruthiel, there's no one like Queen Beruthiel,
She's broken every Gondor law, she breaks the law of Earendil.
Her powers of feline-ation would make Aiwendil stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime - Queen Beruthiel's not there!
You may seek her in the Hallows, you may search throughout the square –
But I tell you once and once again, Queen Beruthiel's not there!

- Old Tollers' Book of Fat Cats on the Mat



Alcarcalime
Tol Eressea


Aug 23 2017, 9:59am

Post #6 of 14 (2396 views)
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Huh, [In reply to] Can't Post

I certainly don't think of an 8" as puny. I've seen such wonders through my little 60 mm refractor. OhioHobbit is more uptown -- he has a 6" reflector. But you have our complete agreement on dark. Amateur astronomers thrive on it!




noWizardme
Valinor


Aug 23 2017, 4:23pm

Post #7 of 14 (2365 views)
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I suppose that.... [In reply to] Can't Post

Dark is good and light is bad in the fantasy fiction of intelligent nocturnal creatures (if there are any out there in this vast universe).

Smile

~~~~~~
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


Darkstone
Immortal


Aug 23 2017, 5:09pm

Post #8 of 14 (2361 views)
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Also, "We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness." [In reply to] Can't Post

"We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness."
-George Orwell, 1984

This turns out to be a jail cell in the Ministry of Love, where artificial light is kept on 24/7 to torture the prisoner by not allowing him to sleep.

******************************************
Queen Beruthiel, Queen Beruthiel, there's no one like Queen Beruthiel,
She's broken every Gondor law, she breaks the law of Earendil.
Her powers of feline-ation would make Aiwendil stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime - Queen Beruthiel's not there!
You may seek her in the Hallows, you may search throughout the square –
But I tell you once and once again, Queen Beruthiel's not there!

- Old Tollers' Book of Fat Cats on the Mat



squire
Half-elven


Aug 23 2017, 6:14pm

Post #9 of 14 (2362 views)
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There are indeed examples of dark-loving creatures in fantasy fiction [In reply to] Can't Post

One fantasy fiction of intelligent nocturnal creatures that I've read shows a rather ambiguous attitude towards the darkness they are born to. On the one hand they are used to it and find comfort in it; on the other the godlike powers that rule them seem to think that a lit world is superior, but only for the superior folk who choose it over the darkness.
But at the bidding of Manwë Mandos spoke, and he said: “... it is doom that the Firstborn shall come in the darkness, and shall look first upon the stars. Great light shall be for their waning. To Varda ever shall they call at need.”

Then Varda went forth from the council, and she looked out from the height of Taniquetil, and beheld the darkness of Middle-earth beneath the innumerable stars, faint and far. Then she began a great labour, greatest of all the works of the Valar since their coming into Arda. She took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, and therewith she made new stars and brighter against the coming of the Firstborn; ...

It is told that even as Varda ended her labours, and they were long, when first Menelmacar strode up the sky and the blue fire of Helluin flickered in the mists above the borders of the world, in that hour the Children of the Earth awoke, the Firstborn of Ilúvatar. By the starlit mere of Cuiviénen, Water of Awakening, they rose from the sleep of Ilúvatar; and while they dwelt yet silent by Cuiviénen their eyes beheld first of all things the stars of heaven. Therefore they have ever loved the starlight, and have revered Varda Elentári above all the Valar.

This ambiguous attitude, a kind of primeval preference for the starlit night sky in despite of its ability to enable and conceal evil, is carried through the entire fantasy legendarium:
...when he saw her come glimmering in the evening, with stars on her brow and a sweet fragrance about her, [he] was moved with great wonder, and he said ...: ‘At last I understand why we have waited! This is the ending. Now not day only shall be beloved, but night too shall be beautiful and blessed and all its fear pass away!’




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


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


Rembrethil
Tol Eressea


Aug 23 2017, 7:43pm

Post #10 of 14 (2353 views)
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Darkness and Light: Not quite the opposites they appear to be. [In reply to] Can't Post

Well hullo! Been a while since I've been to TORn, but it is good to be back for a visit and see some familiar faces among the RR crowd!

Your question intrigued me, Hamfast. As a chronic over-thinker of things, I probably pondered it far longer than I should have, but it did lead me down an interesting (to me at least) path of inquiry.

Why is darkness so closely associated with evil in fiction? When you want to easily distinguish the 'good guys' from the baddies, just see who is wearing dark colours, is ugly, and lives in dark places. The simplified formula seems to be: Darkness = Evil. Following that logic, if darkness is Evil itself, personified, then the use of darkness would be morally wrong in itself. This absolute thinking poses all sorts of sticky issues with Aragorn and the twilit Oathbreakers, and any time our heroes hide in shadows. On the other side you have the beautiful, light-dwellers and problems with an fair Annatar and the white robed Saruman. To me, this seems to make it clear that there is not such a great dichotomy between light and dark as might be put between 'good' and 'evil' (Confining ourselves to the context of fiction where questions of morality are often more plain.)

Reaching that point, I began to consider what the true roles of 'darkness' and 'light' are within fantasy and fiction. I have come to some tentative conclusions, and would appreciate any comments or opinions to help further explore the topic.

First, I came to the conclusion that 'light' itself is definitely used as a measure of a character's goodness. What more, this 'light' quality is an intrinsic trait. While this quality is intrinsic, however, it is not immutable, but rather a trait that is defined by the character's individual choices.

On the other hand, I see darkness as an inherently extrinsic value. Optimist that I am, I consider 'dark', evil characters as the sum of choices to let the darkness inside of themselves. This choice is not irrevocable, and thus I also allow for the much more rare occurrence of a 'bad' character becoming 'good'.

Under this system, I would propose that 'darkness' (as the OP defines it) can never be 'good', per se, but is rather amoral in the sense that a tool like a scalpel can be used both to hurt and to heal. A 'good' character then can take advantage of the tool of darkness because his/her inner 'light' serves to keep the outer darkness at bay. I would propose that a character with a sufficiently strong moral compass is able cautiously navigate the treacherous darkness for short periods as long as he has a clear course set to return to the light. Such journeys, however, would be carefully considered and not attempted too often. Evil characters, then, are those who misuse darkness in a way contrary to the guidance of their inner light. By doing so, they gradually decrease their inner stock of light until they are lost within the darkness without guiding principles to lead them out. Trapped, they take on the appearance of their environment--the only place they can call home.

Sing a song of long lament.
The days be past, the years are spent.
The flames of fire, on funeral pyre
The warrior's soul it's wing'd way hath sent.


noWizardme
Valinor


Aug 24 2017, 9:19am

Post #11 of 14 (2325 views)
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whose ambiguous attitude though - the light-loving author? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
One fantasy fiction of intelligent nocturnal creatures that I've read shows a rather ambiguous attitude towards the darkness they are born to. On the one hand they are used to it and find comfort in it; on the other the godlike powers that rule them seem to think that a lit world is superior, but only for the superior folk who choose it over the darkness.


Thanks for these passages - I think they highlight well something I have been musing about.

In Tolkien (and elsewhere in fantasy fiction, folklore, the Bible etc.) light acts as a metaphor for various of which the author approves - knowledge, wisdom, virtue, God. Darkness, then, is either the absence of those qualities, or a countervailing force of evil. Those who 'live in darkness', or are not 'enlightened' might do so through ignorance (perhaps they are metaphors for atheists, other religions, the uneducated, or those who have lacked opportunities) , or they are evil, in the author's understanding of that term . In Tolkien, there was also a time when darkness was innocent - before its abuse by my latter group.

I was wondering why the metaphor always seems to go that way around, and never (in any work I've read) the reverse. Why is light good and dark is lack or bad?. Tradition may be one reason, but something has to start tradition, and I'm wondering about influences of biology. Our human vision is not very good in the dark compared with many other species, and we have not organically evolved other senses to compensate*. So we experience darkness as a lack - where is the colour, the visual acuity and the fine depth perception that most of us can use in good light? Further, we're all the descendants of earlier people, hominids and apes who survived the dark - all its hazards to poor seers, from predators to accidentally stepping on a snake, or even an injury from a trip or collision. Such minor injuries - infected scratches even - might prove fatal before medical technology. So perhaps it's unsurprising that we're instinctively wary of the dark, and the things that might be out there, much more capable of navigating it than we are. Our stories are built upon this stuff, I think.

So, to answer the OP ("When can darkness be good?") I imagine a race of highly intelligent nocturnal creatures, and the stories they might tell one another- distinct from the stories that a light-loving human author might tell about them, you see. For example, imagine if it amuses you that humans evolved from nocturnal mammals, and so we're dark-adapted. I end up with the metaphor flipped - the wise and sensible prefer the dark, perhaps; the foolish and vain and otherwise excessive or hubristic folks are those who seek the light, usually with tragic consequences. The evil seek to use light for their own ends.

*One might say we have evolved the ability to compensate for our poor night vision technologically, as with the devices that enabled Mendalor to fly by night, or allow Bracegirdle to enjoy a magnified view of the night sky. Technically speaking, we 'visualise' thngs through tehse gadgets rather than see them. So we're aware of our gadgets being outside of us - I'm supposing a bat's experience of its sonar is different from Mendalor's sensations when interpreting his aircraft's radar.

~~~~~~
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


Ethel Duath
Half-elven


Aug 25 2017, 3:03am

Post #12 of 14 (2285 views)
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Rem so good to see you here! I'd like to expand on Squire's ROTK quote [In reply to] Can't Post

and I always think of it when this type of discussion comes up. This again:
"And Frodo when he saw [Arwen] come glimmering in the evening, with stars on her brow and a sweet fragrance about her, was moved with great wonder, and he said to Gandalf: 'At last I understand why we have waited. This is the ending. Now not day only shall be beloved, but night too shall be beautiful and blessed and all its fear pass away,'" along with this, "Then Gimli bowed low. 'Nay, you are excused for my part, lord,' he said. 'You have chosen the Evening; but my love is given to the Morning. And my heart forebodes that soon it will pass away for ever,'" makes me think that Tolkien, at least in his conception of Middle Earth, but perhaps also in his view of the original state of our real world, prior to "the fall" may have held the view that night is not intrinsically evil at all, and was intended as a necessary part of the whole that Iluvatar created, to more fully express the beauty he intended, but (as others have said here) was used opportunistically by evil creatures. Of course, "darkness" in the moral sense, as a metaphor, is another story.



(This post was edited by Ethel Duath on Aug 25 2017, 3:12am)


enanito
Lorien

Aug 29 2017, 9:10pm

Post #13 of 14 (2173 views)
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Per Eru, is Darkness always Good? [In reply to] Can't Post

I know, this isn't an answer to the O.P. about when darkness might be good, rather continuing on the theme of Darkness/Evil in Tolkien's world. I'm still thinking about the O.P. but wanted to share this first...

In terms of Darkness being a representation of Evil, I thought back on my remembrance of the Ainulindalë. I've always found it interesting how all that Melkor did to sow discord, was actually taken by Eru and woven into something that made the original Song even greater than it would have been without. Not only that, but the opposition that Melkor's sowed was already accounted for in Eru's grand plan. Darkness (opposition) is a good thing!

So in that sense, Good cannot exist without Evil, and the Light (goodness) needs its counterpart in Darkness (badness).

Obviously this is in a broad thematic sense, not in the individual examples in-text where light/dark might not always follow the pattern of good/bad.


noWizardme
Valinor


Aug 30 2017, 1:19pm

Post #14 of 14 (2149 views)
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or 'oft evil will...'? [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien certainly seems to like what you might call Eomer's paradox -
'oft evil will shall evil mar' - whereby evil plans or actions end up being self-thwarting in the long run. For exampel, one could argue that Saruman inadvertently gives excellent service to the cause of destroying the Ring. There are many other examples (e.g. see http://newboards.theonering.net/...i?post=535159#535159 )

But it seems to me that evil Saruman goes about his contribution in a different way than good Saruman would have, and the short-term mischief, mayhem and misery he causes keeps him distinguishably evil rather than good.

~~~~~~
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

 
 

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