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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Another question about dialogue

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Apr 17, 10:53pm

Post #1 of 10 (1427 views)
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Another question about dialogue Can't Post

Seen as the first one created an interesting discussion. This one concerns Denethor. Now it seems a bit nit-pikey to worry about dialogue when the fate of the world hangs in the balance, but his one has given me thought. Now at the last debate, Gandalf says that Denethor sees things shown to him in the Palantir by Sauron that drove Denethor to despair. But then Gandalf says, 'I do not bid you to despair as he did,' But does Gandalf mean that they should not despair like Denethor or not to despair as Denethor counselled? Or possibly both as Denethor did both!


squire
Half-elven


Apr 18, 12:24am

Post #2 of 10 (1392 views)
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I always have read that to mean that Denethor despaired, not that he bid others to do so. [In reply to] Can't Post

Both are what actually happened, of course. After Denethor finally succumbed to despair, he projected his feelings to others as in his speeches to Pippin and Gandalf after he'd lost it.

But Gandalf's sentence, which you are asking about, need not be so complex. "Did" takes an understood verb, and the closer verb is "despair", not "bid", and the sense of taking the closer verb is valid: he did despair.



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CuriousG
Half-elven


Apr 23, 1:44am

Post #3 of 10 (1279 views)
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I think it was both. [In reply to] Can't Post

Meaning don't despair like Denethor did, and don't poison your mind with his negativity, even if his perception of the facts was more or less accurate. (Denethor did see vast forces mustering in the South and East that would overwhelm his own dwindling forces eventually.)

But if you're going to bring up dialogue and Denethor, why do you suppose he's the only one besides the Witch-king to speak archaically?

Quote
'Nay, I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Fool. For thy hope is but ignorance.'

One could say that it's because he's the Steward, and that's how they talk, but neither of his sons talk that way, and Boromir was groomed to replace him. Why doesn't Boromir drop a thee or thou now and then? With Faramir as the more learned of the two, I have the same question.

And then think of people much older and more learned than Denethor: Elrond, Saruman, Galadriel: no thee's or thou's.

Witch-king:

In Reply To
‘Come not between the Nazgűl and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.’



Asger
Bree


Apr 23, 6:43pm

Post #4 of 10 (1246 views)
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You/thou [In reply to] Can't Post

The professor explained this somewhere (appendices? HoME ?) AS the difference between Shire-westron and Gondor-westron being reversed in the English text

"Don't take life seriously, it ain't nohow permanent!" Pogo
www.willy-centret.dk


squire
Half-elven


Apr 23, 7:09pm

Post #5 of 10 (1239 views)
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Yes [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien originally conceived of the Gondorian nobility as speaking in an archaic form, showing that their language was closer to its Elvish roots. The drafts of HoLR, for instance, have Faramir and his rangers of Ithilien speaking with a lot of thees and thys to Frodo and Sam. He dropped it, I think, as being annoying and distracting, and left just the footnote in the Appendices about Pippin addressing the Steward with the intimate "you" rather than the formal "thou", which amused Denethor and convinced others that Pippin was truly a Prince of the Halflings.

Anyway, Denethor does assume a more ancient mode at his panic-stricken end, and I think the effect is rhetorical rather than exemplary. He is clinging to the authority that his own madness is robbing him of, when he berates Gandalf with a shower of antique pronouns.

The Witch-king, likewise, is made to speak in the same mode for the same reason: it alienates and elevates him into being a kind of 'other', different from the other nobles, knights, and lords in that he is several thousand years older than them, and still speaks in the Numenorean mode of his Second Age birth.

Scary scenes, in both instances. But as noted, Tolkien rendered stuff like that with a tight brush. Sauron doesn't speak that way to Pippin in the stone; Saruman doesn't either, nor Treebeard or Tom B, all of whom are older than the Witch-king. Aragorn only speaks in the ancient mode during his crowning:
Aragorn took the rod and gave it back, saying: ‘That office is not ended, and it shall be thine and thy heirs’ as long as my line shall last. Do now thy office!’ - LotR VI.5




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InTheChair
Rivendell

Apr 23, 9:54pm

Post #6 of 10 (1225 views)
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Pure speculation, and there's probably nothing in it, [In reply to] Can't Post

but I remember that the Mouth of Sauron also referred to Gandalf as thee. Have we not heard of thee and thy somethings...

Maybe Denethor reverting to such speech is a way of indicating that he is under Saurons delusion? Wether it comes from the way Stewards used to speak in formal situations, or something he picked up from listening in.


(This post was edited by InTheChair on Apr 23, 9:54pm)


Petty Dwarf
Bree


Apr 23, 10:47pm

Post #7 of 10 (1221 views)
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As for me, [In reply to] Can't Post

I always assumed it was just formal speech. Doesn't Eowyn drop a few "thee"s and "thou"s while talking to Faramir?

"No words were laid on stream or stone
When Durin woke and walked alone."


FarFromHome
Valinor


Apr 24, 8:34am

Post #8 of 10 (1198 views)
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Appendix F (II) On Translation [In reply to] Can't Post

The you/thou explanation you recall may be this, from Appendix F of LotR:
One point in the divergence may here be noted, since, though important, it has proved impossible to represent. The Westron tongue made in the pronouns of the second person (and often also in those of the third) a distinction, independent of number, between ‘familiar’ and ‘deferential’ forms. It was, however, one of the peculiarities of Shire-usage that the deferential forms had gone out of colloquial use. They lingered only among the villagers, especially of the Westfarthing, who used them as endearments. This was one of the things referred to when people of Gondor spoke of the strangeness of Hobbit-speech. Peregrin Took, for instance, in his first few days in Minas Tirith used the familiar for people of all ranks, including the Lord Denethor himself. This may have amused the aged Steward, but it must have astonished his servants. No doubt this free use of the familiar forms helped to spread the popular rumour that Peregrin was a person of very high rank in his own country.
As Tolkien says here, he found it "impossible to represent" - the problem being that 'thee/thou' was originally the 'familiar' form in English, and 'you' was the polite or deferential form, although to modern English ears it's 'thee' and 'thou' that seem formal. This change didn't happen in other related languages, such as French and German, where 'thou' (French 'tu', German 'du') is still the familiar, used to speak to friends and family, children and subordinates, with a different form corresponding to 'you', that you use in more formal situations. I think the 'reversed' usage you mention is about exactly this - in English 'you' is really the formal word but we now use it for everyone, whereas in the Shire it's the familiar word that's used for everyone.

I think Tolkien does sometimes try to use 'thee' and 'thou' not just to show heightened or archaic language, but also to show the attitude of a speaker towards whoever he (or she) is addressing. One of my favourite examples of this is Eowyn, giving away how deeply she feels for Aragorn by switching to the familiar "thee" as she begs to be allowed to go with him. They both use 'you' though most of their dialogue, but at the last moment she switches. Here's where it happens:
[Eowyn:] “...Yet I do not bid you flee from peril, but to ride to battle where your sword may win renown and victory. I would not see a thing that is high and excellent cast away needlessly.”

“Nor would I,’ he said. ‘Therefore I say to you, lady: Stay! For you have no errand to the South.”

“Neither have those others who go with thee. They go only because they would not be parted from thee – because they love thee.’ Then she turned and vanished into the night.”
(The Passing of the Grey Company)
On the other hand, when Denethor and the Mouth of Sauron use "thee" to talk to Gandalf, I see that as being deliberately insulting - addressing Gandalf as if he's an inferior. The familiar forms can be used for many things in languages where they still carry their original meaning - they are a way of getting beyond the politeness of mere acquaintances and showing your feelings - whether it's about love and friendship or anger and disdain.

It's perhaps a shame that using familiar forms has become something that English speakers have no feel for, and after years of living in France and speaking French pretty fluently it's still something I find very tricky. It's easy to give offence by using the wrong form, because using the familiar form with someone you should speak respectfully to can sound quite insulting - like calling someone 'pal', maybe, when it would be more appropriate to call them 'sir'. On the other hand, not using the familiar form with someone you know well and are friendly with sounds stiff and standoffish. It's a minefield!

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



Murlo
Rivendell


Apr 24, 5:46pm

Post #9 of 10 (1177 views)
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This is also how the Reader's Companion explains it. [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I think Tolkien does sometimes try to use 'thee' and 'thou' ... to show the attitude of a speaker towards whoever he (or she) is addressing. One of my favourite examples of this is Eowyn, giving away how deeply she feels for Aragorn by switching to the familiar "thee" as she begs to be allowed to go with him. They both use 'you' though most of their dialogue, but at the last moment she switches...

On the other hand, when Denethor and the Mouth of Sauron use "thee" to talk to Gandalf, I see that as being deliberately insulting - addressing Gandalf as if he's an inferior.


The Reader's Companion also says Tolkien used thee/thou as informal speech or a sign of familiarity, and "you" as a more formal speech and a sign of respect. Denethor, the Mouth of Sauron, and the Witch King are using thee/thou to talk down to others, because using the differential "you" would be a sign of respect, or recognizing the other's status/authority.

I'm guessing it was the familiar/casual thee/thou that was dropped from Pippin's speech in Minas Tirith, since that would be very distracting.


noWizardme
Valinor


Apr 25, 9:49am

Post #10 of 10 (1109 views)
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If your leader has despaired, how do you feel about the cause? [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree - it's a bit of both. I think a leader despairing would have a terrible effect on morale - implicitly bidding others to despair, whether or not the leader says that explicitly.

It would be interesting to hear from our military and ex-military contributors about this. But, even in a business setting, it's hard to rouse much enthusiasm for something the boss doesn't think is worth bothering with.

As I read the text it's pretty clear what Tolkien suggests Denethor ought to be doing - lead as if there is a possibility (however remote) of victory, and failing that, resisting for as long and as bravely as possible. Gandalf tells him as much, and the contrast with Theoden (and Aragorn out side the Black Gate) makes this clear in any case, I think.

~~~~~~
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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