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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
How do you think Tolkien's war experiences *really* affected his writing?
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noWizardme
Valinor


May 12, 9:45am

Post #1 of 29 (3007 views)
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How do you think Tolkien's war experiences *really* affected his writing? Can't Post

This seems a topical question, given that there's a film out about Tolkien's life which (I understand) tries to link what Tolkien wrote to what happened in his life. But let's not discuss the film here. I propose we do this discussion Reading Room style-- "Critical analysis and discussion of Tolkien's literary works" as the board's description on Main Index says. That means we treat the Biopic as we do the PJ films when discussing LOTR or The Hobbit - refer to them if helpful, but don't make the films the subject of discussion, and don't treat them as a reliable source.

Please note I asked "How do you think... ?" rather than "How did...?" My intention is to open this discussion up to anyone who wants to offer a personal opinion, rather than just contributors who have read (or written) a lot of Tolkien analysis and biography. But opinion and fact are different things, and past experience suggests it's very helpful for people to distinguish the effect the book has on them from statements of fact about Tolkien, his works etc.


~~~~~~
"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.


squire
Half-elven


May 12, 12:15pm

Post #2 of 29 (2914 views)
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One thing I note is there are a lot of wars in his "mythology" [In reply to] Can't Post

I can't be sure, but I get the feeling that "national mythologies" (Norse, German, French, Finnish, etc.) of the kind that Tolkien felt was missing in English culture involve quests and individual's stories. They don't generally have a World War going on in the background.

But to make up for this 'lost mythology' he wrote the Book of Lost Tales (Tolkien's first stab at the cycle of legends that became The Silmarillion, wherein Elves settled on an island that would eventually become England) while recovering from his wartime injury/illness. In it the endless wars of the Eldar and Valar against the Enemy Morgoth form the backdrop to all the little quests and adventures of the heroes and heroines. From time to time epic battle scenes are fought out and various strongholds conquered by military force (or dragon fire, granted).

Suppose the Great War had not been part of Tolkien's life? Not just that he hadn't served, but that the war itself was not happening: say, he was ten years older and began writing his stories in 1907 as he developed his literary tastes and knowledge of other legendariums. Couldn't the struggle to regain the Silmarils have played out differently in terms of the history of Middle-earth: i.e., couldn't the Elvish Armies and Realms and Wars not be integral to the story of Beren and Luthien. Perhaps this would apply to Tuor and Turin as well, both of whom start out as typical "outlaws" fighting the oppression of the tyrannical King Morgoth on a one-on-one basis, a la Robin Hood (who was a traditional English figure of individual liberty, not a war-fighting captain).

It's impossible to imagine the first half of the 20th century not being dominated by the "Second Thirty Years' War" (as some historians refer to the conflict of 1914-45), but if we continue this hypothetical, would The Hobbit necessarily have climaxed in a huge and unexpected Battle of Five Armies, after the death of the dragon?

And in the famous sequel, which Tolkien admits was influenced at least as much by his First War experiences as by the Second War during which it was written, could not the hobbits' quest of Mount Doom to destroy the Ring have played out in a world essentially at peace, though threatened by the power of the new Dark Lord? No War of the Ring, in other words - just a struggle to defeat the Lord of the Rings by moral force, stealth, and plain Hobbity good character!



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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noWizardme
Valinor


May 12, 3:50pm

Post #3 of 29 (2885 views)
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Bravo! [In reply to] Can't Post

I really like that idea (and also like your form of answer so much that I'm about to do my own...)

~~~~~~
"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.


noWizardme
Valinor


May 12, 4:33pm

Post #4 of 29 (2877 views)
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I notice some caution over how (not whether) evil should be resited [In reply to] Can't Post

There is no good, we're repeatedly told in LOTR, in using Sauron's Ring as a weapon to fight him. Even if the new Ringlord beat Sauron in such a contest of force, he or she would become the next Dark Lord, just as bad as Sauron. The imperative to fight evil is absolute in Tolkien, I think, but the way to do it is not by adopting its methods. Doing just that is a temptation so great that nobody is good or powerful enough to be safe from it. Indeed the more powerful someone is, the more they're in danger from using the Ring (and the more everyone else is in danger from what the powerful one might become by using the Ring). Of course such ideas may have been nothing to do with Tolkien's experience of having lived through one World War, and then writing LOTR during the Second. But certainly wars of the Twentieth Century involved all parties doing almost anything to win, and Tolkien himself (in the Foreword to 2e LOTR) argues that if he had made the story as an allegory of the Second World War, then:

Quote
...certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.

Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference.

In that passage, Tolkien is of course arguing a different point - that LOTR isn't an allegory in the sense of simple x = y (perhaps "Saruman = Hitler, Sauron = Stalin, Ring = A-bomb" or something like that). I'm taking that as read and not using quote to discuss whether or not LOTR (or another work ) is an allegory of a given war. What's relevant to our discussion here, I think, is that Tolkien has in passing told us how the story would go if his characters had behaved like he thought real-world leaders would have done.
Perhaps too, this insistence about looking at means as well as ends accounts for some of Tolkien's appeal in the Vietnam-era USA, where Tolkien's sales really took off against the background of a war whose meaning and methods many of the public had come to question?

Possibly a similar theme of becoming evil if you're not careful appears in The Hobbit, where no sooner has Thorin taken ownership of Erebor from the absent Smaug than he starts to behave in a somewhat dragon-like fashion, wanting to hoard the treasure.

I wouldn't go as far as to say that this business of being careful what you do is all in response to Tolkien's experiences of total warfare. I'm aware that Tolkien also commented about the dangers of fixing things up the way you think they ought to be (and breaking more and more eggs to make that omelette), rather than following the divine plan. I see that playing out in his various Middle-earth works. But I wonder whether the wars had something to do with it. I see similar themes in some other works roughly contemporaneous with LOTR (Lord Of The Flies, for example seems to argue for a universal savagery within us all, if we let go of our 'cultures' inhibitions).

~~~~~~
"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.


noWizardme
Valinor


May 12, 4:46pm

Post #5 of 29 (2877 views)
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"Look to your front" [In reply to] Can't Post

Here's a nice excerpt from a talk given by Prof Tom Shippey, which might be relevant to us now. It's a transcript of a speech he gave about differences between LOTR book and LOTR films. In this section, Prof Shippey has been discussing how the LOTR story moves between different sub-groups of the Fellowship, such that nobody knows what is going on, and has to do their best in the hope that it will all work out. Attempts to break out of the "fog of war" (by using palantir, for example) usually just lead to faulty conclusions. Having discussed how this is all done (book versus differently in the films), Prof Shippey moves on to why (and I think it will be obvious why it might have something to do with Tolkien's wartime experiences):

Quote
The moral of all this is quite clear I think. If you speculate, you will draw the wrong conclusion. Why does Tolkien do this? And why does he have this complex net of criss-crossings and bewilderments and speculations? Well I'd say the answer to that, is fairly clear. What he's saying is, and I can sum it up in four words, which is the old motto of the British Red Coat [British soldier]. Which is, "Look to your front." You don't look to the sides, don't look to see what your mates are doing. You don't need to know that, cause if you're looking to see what they're doing. They'll be looking to see what you're doing. And you will have frightened each other in no time. Certainly don't look behind you, look to your front. ... Once you start making your decisions on the basis of what you think other peoples decisions will be, you are speculating. And when you start speculating, you will inevitably get it wrong. You will actually frighten yourself, and drive yourself to wrong conclusions. Like Denethor and indeed like Sauron.

“Tolkien Book to Jackson Script: the Medium and the Message” a lecture by Prof Tom Shippey to an audience at Swathmore College, PA, USA [I'm not sure when]


~~~~~~
"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.


CuriousG
Half-elven


May 12, 10:59pm

Post #6 of 29 (2861 views)
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Not as much as others think [In reply to] Can't Post

I do think his wartime experience affected his writing (siege of Gondor, passage through Mordor, the Southron corpse Sam ponders in Ithilien), but I think the heroic legends about war and heroism influenced him more. As you say, the question is how to defeat Sauron, not should we fight him at all? We never see a pacifist or "better Sauron's slave than dead" faction anywhere--Rivendell, Lorien, Rohan, Gondor. Rohan wants to avoid war at first, but then rejoices in battle when it comes. So, think of the Rohirrim charging the Pelennor and "the joy of battle was on them." Really--joy of battle? From an author who was in WWI--was there joy in trench warfare? In charging the enemy lines and being mowed down? Wasn't that fun? No. But it's the way epics sound.

Also reflecting on his personal experience in WWI, if it really influenced his writing that much, then why didn't he kill off most of the Fellowship since his own "fellowship" mostly died in the war? Gandalf comes back from death, and no one was deeply emotionally invested in Boromir. Frodo's hobbit companions have a little bubble of invulnerability around them so they might get nicks and scratches but certainly don't die. OK, Merry was under the Black Breath--for less than 24 hours.

Reading Letters, Tolkien lamented the loss of life on both sides of war, but we don't see Theoden or Eomer lament the deaths of Dunlendings nor Aragorn, etc regret the killing of men from south and east. They were enemies and had to die, that's how war works.

I think his war experience influences things in more subtle ways. Frodo is not technically shell-shocked because he was never in a typical battle anyway, but he resembles a shell-shocked person. But he had the whole inner struggle with the Ring going on, and I think it's oversimplying to say he was one of the walking wounded, just that he had things in common with them, including coming home and feeling like it could never be home again.

I'd say overall, he romanticizes war the way heroic epics did, but he subversively nibbles around the notion that it's all glory and wonder.


noWizardme
Valinor


May 13, 1:27pm

Post #7 of 29 (2802 views)
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like making compost, or ox soup, then? [In reply to] Can't Post

I think you're right that "I think his war experience influences things in more subtle ways." I don't know of any war experiences that translate directly into the writing, or any characters from Tolkien's real life on whom his fictional characters were closely based - but people who know more about Tolkien's life are welcome to put me right if I'm missing several celebrated examples. So far, at any rate, I don't personally think that Tolkien was writing a disguised autobiography, or a disguised musing or sermon about the War or wars.

I once read someone likening the process by which some writers turned their life experiences and reading into stories to the process for making garden compost. Into the container go the banana peels, onion skins, apple cores, weeds and other bits and bobs. After a while, all being well you get a sort of rich fertile mud from which things can grow. It would be hard now to find a specific apple core, for all that it's in there somehow. Maybe it's like that?



Come to think of it, Tolkien had a pretty similar metaphor in his lecture On Fairy Stories:


Quote
"So with regard to fairy-stories, I feel that it is more interesting, and also in its way more difficult, to consider what they are, what they have become for us, and what values the long alchemic processes of time have produced in them. 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."

Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, 1936 (appears in several collections e.g. The Monsters Adn The Critics)


So I think here Tolkien is talking about what he prefers to enjoy about a story. But the metaphor would also, I think, work for trying to find the war- experience 'bones' in the 'soup' of the writong.

~~~~~~
"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.


(This post was edited by noWizardme on May 13, 1:36pm)


CuriousG
Half-elven


May 13, 3:02pm

Post #8 of 29 (2782 views)
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OK, compost [In reply to] Can't Post

I think the idea might be related to Tolkien's objection to calling LOTR allegory, the direct mapping that CS Lewis did in Narnia, where Aslan = Jesus, etc. There's not a linear path to follow with Tolkien. I long ago read an article where someone pointed out Christ-like elements scattered among Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, and I think this is the compost approach, where things get mixed together, processed, and redistributed. His views on religion, history, war, friendship, good vs evil, botany, family, love--everything that made Tolkien who he was--get composted together to provide a fertile field where his imagination could borrow here and there while also creating things from scratch.


Solicitr
Rohan

May 13, 7:31pm

Post #9 of 29 (2758 views)
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Indeed [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Here's a nice excerpt from a talk given by Prof Tom Shippey, which might be relevant to us now. It's a transcript of a speech he gave about differences between LOTR book and LOTR films. In this section, Prof Shippey has been discussing how the LOTR story moves between different sub-groups of the Fellowship, such that nobody knows what is going on, and has to do their best in the hope that it will all work out. Attempts to break out of the "fog of war" (by using palantir, for example) usually just lead to faulty conclusions. Having discussed how this is all done (book versus differently in the films), Prof Shippey moves on to why (and I think it will be obvious why it might have something to do with Tolkien's wartime experiences):

Quote
The moral of all this is quite clear I think. If you speculate, you will draw the wrong conclusion. Why does Tolkien do this? And why does he have this complex net of criss-crossings and bewilderments and speculations? Well I'd say the answer to that, is fairly clear. What he's saying is, and I can sum it up in four words, which is the old motto of the British Red Coat [British soldier]. Which is, "Look to your front." You don't look to the sides, don't look to see what your mates are doing. You don't need to know that, cause if you're looking to see what they're doing. They'll be looking to see what you're doing. And you will have frightened each other in no time. Certainly don't look behind you, look to your front. ... Once you start making your decisions on the basis of what you think other peoples decisions will be, you are speculating. And when you start speculating, you will inevitably get it wrong. You will actually frighten yourself, and drive yourself to wrong conclusions. Like Denethor and indeed like Sauron.

“Tolkien Book to Jackson Script: the Medium and the Message” a lecture by Prof Tom Shippey to an audience at Swathmore College, PA, USA [I'm not sure when]



Shippey is spot on here; I'd take it a bit further. Tolkien was, specifically, a Signals officer. His job was communications, or what in modern times is called C3- Command, Control and Communications. To control a battlespace, the decisionmakers have to know what's going on, in a timely manner, and react (one hopes appropriately) and transmit the necessary orders in a timely manner. As Tolkien knew well, this just didn't happen in WW1. He was sent out with a flare gun, a notepad and a cage of carrier pigeons. Field telephones were nearly useless if you could get a wire strung across no-man's land at all; and wireless (still Morse, no voice) was for your own trench's communications with higher echelons- nobody had invented a portable radio transmitter.

Therefore what happened at the Somme- and thereafter - was that in many cases the Tommys would actually succeed in crossing no-man's land and getting into the German trench system (the "everyone gets mowed down before they get close" thing did happen, but not all the time). But what then? The troops in the German trenches had pretty much no way to report back to their own commanders, and those commanders didn't have the least bloody idea what was going on. Result: successful assaults weren't reinforced or supported, and the German counterattack usually drove them out or captured them.

This has a HUGE amount to do with the Lord of the Rings, which gets back to Shippey: everybody, but especially Sauron and Saruman, has very little idea what is happening where, and is trying to act on speculation based on spotty, garbled and always stale information. The whole plot of LR turns on Sauron not knowing what the hell is going on!

PJ never got this, so everyone in the movies knows way too much (except when Narrative Causality requires they don't).


newrow
The Shire

May 13, 8:10pm

Post #10 of 29 (2745 views)
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Fear [In reply to] Can't Post

At the end of the day, why do you write?
In my opinion, writings are about fear. A fear that what one knows will be forever lost.Long ago, tales were passed orally. Then why then were the tales put on parchment?Tolkien was in war - the worst kind. Nothing but mud, pain, equipment, and body parts.His writings were more than that. Is not the landscape explained in the tales worththeir own recognition? He wanted to preserve something.
I watch shows about civilizations living thousands of years ago. I see rock carvingsof spirals, and other bizarre images. Something had to happen; something changedfor the worse to make that person carve into rock; as a rememberance of a timeof joy and peace, so to know when it has returned or when the tough times have arrived.
Why is that we do not have a long, long list of morals, numbering in the millions, to live by?Maybe it is because lessons are written in stories to become immortal and never lostor forgotten? How is it that Beowulf was perserved? There has to be a thread of truthin it to last the dark age? Why dark? Who needs writings that others can hide fromthe whole?

I may be wrong about Tolkien's war experience affecting his genius, but I think I amclose to the mark about fear driving one to write or to carve. Besides, his life experienceplaces his work among the brightest of stars that wil outlast much that is written today.


(This post was edited by newrow on May 13, 8:12pm)


Solicitr
Rohan

May 13, 11:10pm

Post #11 of 29 (2726 views)
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Tolkien [In reply to] Can't Post

from his war experiences certainly understood fear. He witnessed shell-shock at first hand, may well have experienced it. And this appears, directly, in The Siege of Gondor:


Quote
At length even the stout-hearted would fling themselves to the ground... or they would stand, letting their weapons fall from nerveless hands while into their minds a blackness came, and they thought no more of war; but only of hiding and of crawling, and of death.


War, ultimately, is about fear, or what military writers describe as morale, that combination of training, motivation, patriotism, love of comrades or whatever else goes into the mix that keeps soldiers fighting despite their fear. If morale breaks, the soldier runs, or hides, or surrenders. The goal of battle is to achieve that end, not kill the enemy to the last man, although the engine of breaking the enemy's morale usually is to kill enough of them that the survivors run. Napoleon (who knew what he was talking about) said "A battle is simply two large groups of men trying to frighten one another."

FEAR. Tolkien knew it; Peter Jackson couldn't comprehend it. He's a slasher-movie director, not a soldier. This is why his Nazgul have to be converted from what Tolkien wrote, soul-sucking emanations of visceral fear, into mere physical threats, trebuchet-wrecking, horse-snatching dive-bombers.


noWizardme
Valinor


May 14, 7:25am

Post #12 of 29 (2688 views)
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Fear - how do you comprehend it. [In reply to] Can't Post

I think this is an interesting angle!

In Reply To
FEAR. Tolkien knew it; Peter Jackson couldn't comprehend it. He's a slasher-movie director, not a soldier. This is why his Nazgul have to be converted from what Tolkien wrote, soul-sucking emanations of visceral fear, into mere physical threats, trebuchet-wrecking, horse-snatching dive-bombers.


Some folks who contribute here have been to war, or have had other extreme things happen to them. But many people in our user group will, like me, have led comparatively peaceful lives. For many of us war and terror are things that happen to other people and that we've seen in the media. I suppose that was similar form most British people up to 1914 - unless you enlisted, wars were likely to be far away things you read about in the newspapers if you wanted. It was the World Wars that introduced conscription and mass casualties, the first rationing since the Napoleonic wars, bombardments and air-raids of the home territory, refugees and other horrors. That began to affect nearly everyone. I'd expect some sort of effect on both writers, and the reaction they'd expect to conjure from their readers.

So, for just one example, we did the Hobbit Read-through recently and got to the bit where Bilbo and Co. scramble through the magic door and listen to Smaug smashing and crashing outside. I remember thinking that might have worked differently on Tolkien's first audiences. Aside from those who'd gone to war, being a civilian taking cover from air-raids would have been a very common experience for people reading a book in the 1940s or 1950s. I expect it would enable them to imagine it differently from how I do.
As another example, here's part of CS Lewis's review of LOTR:

Quote
This war has the very quality of the war my generation knew.

It is all here: the endless, unintelligible movement, the sinister quiet of the front when “everything is now ready,” the flying civilians
[as in 'fleeing', I think: refugees], the lively, vivid friendships, the background of something like despair and the merry foreground, and such heaven sent windfalls as a cache of tobacco “salvaged” from a ruin....

C S Lewis' review of Lord of the Rings. Like Tolkien, Lewis fought in World War I


~~~~~~
"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.


noWizardme
Valinor


May 14, 7:58am

Post #13 of 29 (2680 views)
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And yet - "Compost police, arrest that man?" [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm glad you like this 'compost theory'. I was also thinking that 'OK Compost sounds like a Radiohead album for the zero waste movement...
The 'compost theory' does of course have a rather alarming corollary. LOTR can be a 'fundamentally Catholic' work, for compost reasons - it is 'fundamentally Catholic' despite not containing anything overtly Catholic that I can see (no Priests, Rosaries, Mass, Churches or - as you've already said - even a character who is 'meant to be' Jesus). So maybe someone could say that LOTR is 'fundamentally a war story'.
...But wait! For a minute there, I lost myself? Tolkien said that LOTR is a 'fundamentally Catholic' story. People can disagree with him (do you remember that thread, which got a bit obdurate?) But to me there's something unreasonable in flatly contradicting Tolkien about what his own work meant to him. As far as I know Tolkien didn't say much about how he thought is war experiences had affected things (and, as usual, people are welcome to point out things that I don't know or have forgotten here).

Where does that leave us? I suppose without any way to reach an agreed conclusion, but that's probably doesn't make discussion worthless.
--

There was once an Internet meme "What the Author Meant", along the lines that Your English Teacher wants you to believe that when a certain writer says "the curtains were blue" it's for various complicated reasons, but [epiphany from the back row of class, perhaps] what if the curtains just happened to be blue, like, by chance? I also recall a piqued response to this (Blogspot post by Chris Brecheen, and English teacher and writer), on the grounds that it basically assumes the liberal arts are a bunch of made-up hogwash. It's a decent rebuttal - it's bit sweary and over-excited, but that mostly comes across as amusing to me. It then got some thoughtful comments and a follow-up post in response tho them (a link to that is included in Mr Brecheen's first post, so I won't try multiple links).

~~~~~~
"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.


Solicitr
Rohan

May 14, 2:04pm

Post #14 of 29 (2657 views)
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Well, [In reply to] Can't Post

there are places that Tolkien's faith can be discerned between the lines, if one is looking for it; but perhaps nowhere more strongly than in these two words: Frodo failed.


CuriousG
Half-elven


May 14, 2:33pm

Post #15 of 29 (2644 views)
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I'm a bad boy today. "Flying civilians"? So, civilians have wings, like Balrogs? // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


CuriousG
Half-elven


May 14, 2:54pm

Post #16 of 29 (2640 views)
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More seriously... [In reply to] Can't Post

Good points about those liberal arts types arguing over differing interpretations on a single thing. And it can get ridiculous! At the same time, it made me think about how multiple people can go to the same movie, or party, or other event where they're equally present, and they come away with very different reports about what happened and how it felt. So in that sense, I think liberal arts debates stay true to human nature, where different people have different perceptions about The Truth Behind Something.

And I think it's the same here. I would hesitate to ever say LOTR is about any one single thing or reflects only one aspect of Tolkien. I *do* think his war experiences are woven into part of the tapestry of the whole (so I'm abandoning the compost metaphor for textiles, but if the fibers are organic, you can still compost them if you like). And fear is a part of LOTR. So are other things like love of nature, the bonds of friendship, moral duty, and on and on.

There are some stories where I would argue there's only one interpretation. Appointment at Samarra is a nice, short fable about a man trying to avoid fate only to fulfill it. Done. It's not about the patriarchal oppression of women, or how spoiling the environment leads to societal collapse, or how the real hero of the story is the unnamed horse he probably rides. No. It's simple and direct with a delicious taste of irony, and that's it. It's like one string and not a woven tapestry. It's when the weaving happens and things get complex that I think singular conclusions aren't possible.

Maybe that plurality is evident as soon as we start the discussion: war experienceS. He experienced fear, boredom, loneliness, comradery, bravery, sacrifice, futility, hope, despair--right? All those things fed into the compost (*cough* tapestry) along with other aspects of his life. I'm not sure that any one aspect dominated all the others. But it is a great topic to discuss, it's interesting to see what others think, and thanks for bringing it up!


noWizardme
Valinor


May 14, 5:27pm

Post #17 of 29 (2622 views)
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Certainly [In reply to] Can't Post

I hope I didn't sound like I meant "I suppose we'll have to take Tolkien's word for his work being 'fundamentally Catholic' even despite nobody else seeing what he was getting at." I agree, you can find it if you look. But, it seems Tolkien decided (letter #131) that to include explicit Christianity (as, say, in the Arthurian cycle) would be "fatal". He goes on to say: "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 form of the 'real' world."

On your Frodo failed bit, we had a vigorous discussion about it back when we did the last Read-through of Mount Doom (discussion starting here: http://newboards.theonering.net/...i?post=913387#913387 )

In preparation for leading that I'd consulted a friend of mine who is a Catholic Priest, who said I could include the following comments:

Quote
I would say, and you can paste this in if you like, that the LOTR is fundamentally Catholic because it is infused with a Catholic way of thinking about the world which is difficult to explain unless you are a Catholic. For example the fact that Frodo does not succeed is classic. Quite a few of the characters are Christ-like at times, but none are an allegory of Christ (not even Frodo or Sam) not least because Tolkien abhorred allegory, and also because as a Catholic there is only one source of success against insurmountable evil and that is God acting in Christ. So the combination of different people, each imperfect in some way, and yet used by God to bring a final defeat to evil is the point.

Fr Martin Flatman, pers. comm. published here with his permission.
Martin also did a series of Tolkien-based homilies at one point, and these expand his ideas further ( https://frmartinflatman.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/my-tolkien-homilies/ ) Several folks found them interesting the last time I posted a link to them, a couple of years ago now.


~~~~~~
"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.


noWizardme
Valinor


May 14, 5:53pm

Post #18 of 29 (2623 views)
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Maybe I'm being a Paranoid Android but... [In reply to] Can't Post

Maybe I'm being a Paranoid Android but I can think of a few times when someone on this board has become confused about a description of someone 'flying', when I think the solution is clearly that Tolkien (or someone writing about him) was using the older meaning of the term. For someone who doesn't know that meaning, LOTR is, actually full of bizarre images of unexplained aviation:

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"‘It can’t be helped, Sam,’ said Frodo sadly. He had suddenly realized that flying from the Shire would mean more painful partings than merely saying farewell to the familiar comforts of Bag End."--

You speak of danger, but you do not understand. This is no treasure-hunt, no there-and-back journey. I am flying from deadly peril into deadly peril.’"--

"How Shelob came there, flying from ruin, no tale tells, for out of the Dark Years few tales have come."
--
"‘The first circle of the City is burning, lord,’ they said. ‘What are your commands? You are still the Lord and Steward. Not all will follow Mithrandir. Men are flying from the walls and leaving them unmanned.’ ‘Why? Why do the fools fly?’ said Denethor."


~~~~~~
"Go down to the shovel store and take your pick." Traditional prank played on dwarves when they start down the mine.


CuriousG
Half-elven


May 14, 7:33pm

Post #19 of 29 (2606 views)
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Those dreadful comments on flying can be taken as literal references to Ryanair, from what I hear. // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


Hasuwandil
Rivendell

May 14, 7:39pm

Post #20 of 29 (2610 views)
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Knights of the Air [In reply to] Can't Post

As an infantry officer in World War I, airplanes flying overhead would have been a common sight to Tolkien, and it makes sense that he would incorporate references to that experience in his writing. It's a shame the recent movie completely omitted this important part of his life. I think the movie would have been greatly improved if it contained a scene with an enormous spider in the cockpit of an Albatros D.II, strafing the Tommies as they went over the top.


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

May 16, 7:42am

Post #21 of 29 (2452 views)
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The siege of Minas Tirith [In reply to] Can't Post

Although Tolkien always said he disliked allorgy, I can't help but think he must have been influenced a bit by the events of his time. For example when he was writing about Minas Tirith been under siege, the first circle been on fire due to missles been fired into it, and homes ablaze, one can't help but think of the blitz which was on either at or just before when he was writing that chapter. And there are dangerous, flying things from the enemy in the sky. Shrieking shrill words of death. And is it any coincidence that the first 3 letters of Nazgul are the same as Nazi?


Hasuwandil
Rivendell

May 16, 8:24pm

Post #22 of 29 (2407 views)
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Applicability [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien could hardly have helped drawing from his own experiences, or things he read or heard tell, when writing his works. That's just the way imagination works. I think allegory, as Tolkien understood the word, is so much out of fashion (perhaps partly thanks to his disapprobation) these days, that we have had to water down the meaning of the word. But I believe when Tolkien said he disliked allegory, that he was thinking of entire stories conceived of as metaphors, either for some (usually contemporary) real-life event, or to illustrate some supposed truth. In such stories, internal consistency tends to be sacrificed for strained attempts at a one-to-one mapping of elements of the real-life event or supposed truth to the elements of the allegory.

I think also that it may be useful to make a distinction between what influenced Tolkien and how Tolkien felt his books should influence his readers. I'm not sure that Tolkien always made that distinction clear himself, which I think is a reason why he tended to get defensive when certain possible influences were pointed out. However, as an author he championed "applicability" rather than a narrow reading of an author's works:


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I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.


So, for example, Tolkien's conception of the Shire may have been influenced by his childhood in England, and Rivendell and the Misty Mountains may have been influenced by his trip to Switzerland in 1911, but that doesn't mean that The Hobbit is an allegory of Tolkien's trip to Switzerland (or of anything else), or that you have to have been to England and Switzerland to appreciate The Hobbit, or even that you have to associate the Shire with England and the Misty Mountains with the Swiss Alps in order to properly enjoy The Hobbit. The Hobbit is a story about a journey from a familiar, comfortable place, to a wilder, more dangerous place (and back again), which is something probably any reader can appreciate, no matter his or her background.

Likewise, probably anyone could appreciate the siege of Minas Tirith. It may have more immediate meaning to those who experienced the Blitz, or the Zeppelin attacks of the previous war, or the German and Japanese civilians who also experienced bombings in World War II, or other civilians before or since to whom war has come uncomfortably close. However, even those of us who have never had war come to our doorsteps can appreciate the Gondorian civilians' fear thanks to Tolkien's writing.

With regard to the similarity between Nazgul and Nazi, I would just say that I think it's fine for some readers to make that connection, and it wouldn't have been out of character for Tolkien to associate Nazis with evil. However, there is also the coincidence of the Scottish Gaelic word nasg, nasc in Irish, which has meant variously "brooch", "collar", "link", "bind", etc. If that was Tolkien's source for the Black Speech nazg ("ring"), then the Nazi connection becomes unnecessary, whether or not it occurred to Tolkien.


CuriousG
Half-elven


May 16, 8:49pm

Post #23 of 29 (2399 views)
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Good points [In reply to] Can't Post

And thanks for bringing them up.

In particular, your statement

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Likewise, probably anyone could appreciate the siege of Minas Tirith. It may have more immediate meaning to those who experienced the Blitz, or the Zeppelin attacks of the previous war, or the German and Japanese civilians who also experienced bombings in World War II, or other civilians before or since to whom war has come uncomfortably close. However, even those of us who have never had war come to our doorsteps can appreciate the Gondorian civilians' fear thanks to Tolkien's writing.


made me remember my first read of LOTR and how horrified I was by one part of that siege in particular, part of Sauron's psychological warfare which we'd call a war crime in modern lingo. No, I've never come close to seeing anything like this firsthand, but I don't need to for it to seem more bothersome than the fires Sauron was starting with his other missiles shot over the wall.


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Then among the greater casts there fell another hail, less ruinous but more horrible. All about the streets and lanes behind the Gate it tumbled down, small round shot that did not burn. But when men ran to learn what it might be, they cried aloud or wept. For the enemy was flinging into the City all the heads of those who had fallen fighting at Osgiliath, or on the Rammas, or in the fields. They were grim to look on; for though some were crushed and shapeless, and some had been cruelly hewn, yet many had features that could be told, and it seemed that they had died in pain; and all were branded with the foul token of the Lidless Eye. But marred and dishonoured as they were, it often chanced that thus a man would see again the face of someone that he had known, who had walked proudly once in arms, or tilled the fields, or ridden in upon a holiday from the green vales in the hills.



Solicitr
Rohan

May 18, 3:58pm

Post #24 of 29 (2199 views)
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As to [In reply to] Can't Post

Nazg, as "ring" in BS- Tolkien had come up with it before the war.


Morthoron
Gondor


May 20, 2:45am

Post #25 of 29 (2028 views)
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There are, of course, direct referential sequences... [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien himself mentions “My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflexion of the English solider, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognized as so far superior to myself.” And certainly most of you know the vividly hideous spectre of faces bobbing up in the Dead Marshes is a recollection of soldiers' corpses in flooded shell holes on the pocked fields of the Somme.

But there are more subtle marks, hidden wounds, that Tolkien encountered and reflected on. Frodo is a great example of the haunted soldiers who returned to England, but could not, in fact, ever go home. There was no joy in the peace, and no peace in their souls. Perhaps Tolkien granted these walking wounded respite in the form of Frodo sailing for Valinor.

Tolkien escaped their fate, maybe secure in his faith, or because of his love for Edith, but the reverence he held for soldiers in his stories remained indelible, whether that be for Faramir or Beregond or the stalwart batman Samwise.

The savagery of battles often were glanced over, and only individual acts of heroism were dwelt on, or sometimes were told in past tense: Bilbo, for instance, received a blow to the head, and only finds out what happened in combat later. It seemed to me that Tolkien may have considered war to be justified if it were for a just cause, but couldn't necessarily describe the battle with all its gory details. And in many of the main battles, he instead focused on those that died, Theoden, Thorin, and the mournful litany of the dead after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.



(This post was edited by Morthoron on May 20, 2:45am)

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