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"and all one it may seem whether Fëanor had said yea or nay..."

noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 25, 11:25am

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"and all one it may seem whether Fëanor had said yea or nay..." Can't Post

I've found myself thinking about a Verlyn Flieger essay I once read and enjoyed, though I wasn't confident I fully understood it (The essay is “The Music and the Task: Fate and Free Will in Middle-earth.” It is from Green Suns and Faërie: Essays on J.R.R. Tolkien. Verlyn Flieger. Kent State University Press, 2012.). IN discussing Fate and Free Will in Middle-earth, Prof Flieger chooses the behaviour of Fëanor.

As you probably remember, Fëanor is asked to give up his masterpiece, the Silmarils, in a desperate attempt to repair the magical two trees. But he can't bear to. What neither Fëanor nor the people he's talking to know that that point is that Fëanor's decision is moot on a practical level because the Silmarils have meanwhile been stolen, so are no longer in Fëanor's possession to return. But Tolkien suggests that Fëanor's decision does matter in some way, and has some effect on what happens next, rather than just being an insight into Fëanor's character, morals, or state of mind:

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“The Silmarils had passed away, and all one it may seem whether Fëanor had said yea or nay to Yavanna; yet had he said yea at the first, before the tidings came from Formenos, it may be that his after deeds would have been other than they were. But now the doom of the Noldor drew near.”
Flight of the Noldor

Prof Flieger's idea about this is that perhaps Fëanor is doomed to lose the Silmarils, and try to get them back, but the circumstances of this are down to him. (For example, had he been able to let go of the silmarils in principle, might he have been part of a Valar-sanctioned effort to recover them, rather than a damned one). She argues that elves in general are more circumscribed in their actions than 'men' (including hobbits).

This idea's reception by Tolkien scholars is summarised in Douglas Kane's review of her book:

Quote
This essay first was presented at Mythcon 39 and stirred considerable controversy then ¼ and since. It later was published in Tolkien Studies 6, and continued to be so controversial that a rebuttal essay was even published in the following year’s issue. The controversy is largely generated by Flieger’s willingness to take Tolkien at his word in his statement (published in Chapter One of The Quenta Silmarillion but actually written as part of the The Ainulindalë ) that the Music of the Ainur is “as fate” to all of the denizens of Arda other than Men, a statement that existed virtually unchanged in any significant way for the entire history of Tolkien’s legendarium. However, by focusing on rejecting the contradictions that this acceptance creates, these critics miss the point that Flieger is making. The importance is not the bare fact that Men have free will and the Elves do not (a statement that has little real meaning when stated in bald black and white terms). The importance is in the discussion of the reasons for this seeming contradiction. Flieger notes that there are strategic and personal reasons, as well as a sub-creative one, the latter being “to provide a plausible mechanism for change in an ordered universe” (36). The discussion, particularly of this latter sub-creative reason, expands upon thoughts that Flieger has previously explored, particularly in Splintered Light, and represents in some respects the culmination of her long exploration into the meaning of Tolkien’s work.

Review by Douglas Kane, first published in Mythprint 49:6-7 (#359-360) in June-July 2012, and available from The Mythopoeic Society, here http://beta.mythsoc.org/...-suns-and-faerie.htm

I was wondering: can anyone summarize for me the main points in the scholarly debate about this?

Of course folks are also welcome to discuss ideas about Fëanor, or about Fate and Free Will in Middle-earth generally too.

~~~~~~
My profile picture is "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck") from the 23 October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/...2%80%93duck_illusion )


noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 25, 2:16pm

Post #2 of 22 (745 views)
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I came to praise Flieger, not to bury her [In reply to] Can't Post

Looking back at my post, I realize that in saying I didn't fully understand Prof Flieger's point, I could seem to be criticizing her for poor writing. That would be most unfair - her book is a good read, it's just that parts of it are aimed at the sort of audience who might regularly attend Mythcon, or subscribe to (or write for or edit) Tolkien Studies. We do of course have contributors here who have been at that level for years (friends... lend me your years). But I'm not one of them. So the only way that bits of it wouldn't be over my head would be if I had a very big head. Trying not to Wink

~~~~~~
My profile picture is "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck") from the 23 October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/...2%80%93duck_illusion )


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Aug 25, 7:05pm

Post #3 of 22 (735 views)
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I didn't get the sense that you were criticizing Verlyn [In reply to] Can't Post

Though I appreciate the clarification. The topic of fate and free will in Tolkien's work is such a large and daunting one that anyone who thinks that they have a full handle on it is probably fooling himself.

I might have more to say, but for now I'll let my old words that you kindly quoted stand, and see what others might have to say before commenting further.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 26, 9:03am

Post #4 of 22 (713 views)
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Thank you - it is indeed a big topic [In reply to] Can't Post

Should you (or anyone else) have time to write something about that debate, I'll read it with interest. But I do see that I might be asking for something that can't really be done as a forum post (needs an essay, Masters project, book etc.).

I think the subject matter is interesting, if tough to think about. To paraphrase a point I either remember from that essay, or came to think after reading it, Tolkien creates fictional works that revolve a lot around individual choices, and for me at least the drama would be flatly compromised if those couldn't have real and potentially large consequences. But the consequences of actions are unclear, and if that wasn't so then it would also probably be difficult to make the stories interesting. Yet Tolkien suggests pretty strongly that some things are meant to be.

So that means reconciling two things that could seem incompatible: let's imagine that Hama is fated to die at the battle of Helm's Deep (perhaps 'so that' Theoden will remember his sacrifice and resist Saruman's voice). It's then hard to imagine how he has any free will about whether he goes to the battle or not (he's got to end up there for his fate to work out). One can of course imagine that his choice is whether to go bravely and die well (as he does) or to be taken under armed guard. A similar pair of choices and consequences seem to play out for Turin's companions when three of them go to fight the dragon. Or yet again, one can point out that we expect people often to behave according to character and habit even if they theoretically could decide to do something else. (So that theoretically Hama could avoid being at Helm's Deep, but there was no way he would try to do that).
...And so on! Philosophers and Theologians and other thinkers and scholars have debated 'Fate and Free Will' with respect to real life for thousands of years, without any consensus emerging. And (again something the essay points out, if I recall) Tolkien probably wasn't in the business of formulating a solution to this problem and then dressing it up as fiction. So there's no reason to suppose he did have some fully-worked out and consistent philosophical or theological scheme that we can detect by close reading.

The gap is, as usual, filled by readers' own preferences, beliefs and so on (duck or rabbit, or is the whole thing a canard?). I notice that I like stories in which a character is driven to ruin by their own flaws failings (e.g. Macbeth), or are given an unexpected boost from their virtues (the pity of Bilbo ruling the fate of many, as Gandalf predicts). If there's a prophecy, I prefer it to work out unexpectedly in some way, or be ignored and then work, or seem to come true because of someone's reaction to it: something a bit tricksy anyway. But I know other people Iike different things, including watching as a character is the helpless victim of their birth or circumstances, or of outside forces natural or supernatural. Such preferences probably colour our guesses about how fate and free will works in Middle-earth (if we're unwise enough to choose to think about it, or are fated to do so Wink )

I note that once again Tolkien appeals to both fans of fate, and fans of free will. You can read him that “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future” (this being offered, of course, a reading of Tolkien coming out in the PJ movie scripts, not JRR himself, for all that the Internet often mis-cites it. I don't think it's a ridiculous interpretation, though in another way it also begins to seem 'of its time'). Or you can enjoy how things are beyond anyone's control (or beyond your control in particular), despite everyone's best efforts (should they manage to make them, which can't be guaranteed).

~~~~~~
My profile picture is "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck") from the 23 October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/...2%80%93duck_illusion )

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Aug 26, 9:05am)


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Aug 26, 5:02pm

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It is a subject very near and dear to my heart [In reply to] Can't Post

Regarding the ongoing debate over Verlyn's essay, I would not be the best person to comment. N.E.B. and Squire might have more to say than I would (visualweasal certainly would, but he hasn't posted here in a long time). The essay that I referred to in the review that you quoted was "'Strange and free'—On Some Aspects of the Nature of Elves and Men' by Thomas Fornet-Ponse, who takes a very explicit Catholic view of Tolkien's work. I don't recall finding his essay very compelling, but it has been a long time since I read it.

I apologize for once again bringing up my paper in this year's Tolkien Studies (which should be published early next month, I hope!), but I have a long section in that paper entitled "Fate, Free Will, and Death in Túrin’s Tale" in which I note that the interplay between fate and free will is particularly murky in Túrin’s story. On the one hand, how much is Túrin's woes driven by Morgoth's curse (and how much does Morgoth's curse actually reflect Eru's will, since after all, Eru does say to him, "And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite.”) And how much are they the result of Túrin's own actions? I won't give away more of what I say, but I did want to note that one paper that I quote (in addition to extensively citing "The Music and the Task" of course), is Janet Brennan Croft's "Túrin and Aragorn: Evading and Embracing Fate." I note that in invoking Flieger’s suggestion in “Music and the Task” that the players in Tolkien’s secondary universe have the power by their choices to affect what happens, Croft suggests that “For Túrin, less stubborn pride and willfulness in his dealings with men and elves alike might have led to a less tragic and more eucatastrophic version of the fate in store for him.” But the point that I wanted to emphasize here is that the example that Croft is pointing to is exactly the one that you quoted in starting this thread, Fëanor’s response to Yavanna’s request that he allow her to use the light captured in the Silmarils to try to revive the Two Trees, a request that on its face was meaningless since the Silmarils had already been captured by Morgoth. Flieger’s point is that nonetheless if Fëanor had responded differently his subsequent actions might have been different. However, that perhaps calls into question the supposition that unlike Men, Elves were completely bound by the Music, showing that Flieger's point was much more nuanced than the people who were criticizing her understood.

Are you familiar with Verlyn's keynote address to the Mythopoeic Societies 50th anniversary conference, "The Arch and the Keystone?" In it, she elaborates extensively on the reasons why Tolkien is able to appeal to people whose views are so disparate (such as, as you say "both fans of fate, and fans of free will") She notes that Tolkien “is the center held in place by the two sides of his own nature. That nature … can see his work as Catholic yet describe it as not Christian. … It is the pressure of competing forces not against each other but against what keeps them separate—the keystone that holds the arch. It is these same forces that generate the curious power of Tolkien’s work.”

That paper can be read in the MythLore archives at: The Arch and the Keystone. It is one of my favorite essays about Tolkien's work, and is well worth reading.

Thanks for bringing up this topic and allowing me to think about it some more.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 27, 9:03am

Post #6 of 22 (671 views)
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Thanks for this! [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't mind you mentioning your upcoming paper at all! It's clearly relevant to what we're discussing, and I hope it is well received.

Turin does indeed seem an excellent - and as you say, murky - example. I don't want to push you towards pre-empting your paper, so I'll just say I remember our last read-through of Turin's tale, where we had a good (but of course inconclusive!) discussion about how Morgoth's curse worked. We too wondered whether there was an outside agency affecting Turin, and how that interacted with his own choices Certainly were Turin to write to this newspaper agony aunt, I can imagine her relying "I’ll start with the obvious: you’ll need more than my help to solve this. You’re enacting patterns that mystify you and imperil what you care about, you want to stop but you don’t know how: that combination is a hallmark of needing a therapist." But in other times, places and cultures a curse or other compulsion from outside would be the more obvious explanation.
Going back to Fëanor’s response to Yavanna’s request that he allow her to use the light captured in the Silmarils to try to revive the Two Trees, it was when I was reading your post that I realized something that is most likely an 'epiphan-me' (in which I realize something that others might not find at all novel or surprising). It reads to me that there is a possibility, however small, that Fëanor could bring himself to give up his Precious silmarils for the common good. It doesn't read to me as if he's being asked just to discover how the next few bars of the music goes: it seems as if Fëanor is making a genuine choice. Since he doesn't know at this point that the silmarils have been stolen, a decision to give them up would be sincere, and the theft of the silmarils would be irrelevant to that sincerity. If that's the case then it is clear that Elves are not bound by some pre-written program (The Music) in every last respect, as if they were no more than automata running a computer script. I wondered whether this was the kind of rebuttal to Prof Flieger's ideas you meant, and which might not be a very good rebuttal because she was intending something more nuanced?

Thank you so much for the link to The Arch and The Keystone! I do intend to read it (but can't do so immediately because of other commitments today). Perhaps, in fact, that situation would work as an example for my observations about Fëanor. It seems to me that I am choosing freely to read the link. If, unknown to me, the article has already been removed from the Mythlore archive, that has no effect on the fact that I am making a choice here. Of course if Mythlore remove it, that could affect the practical outcome of whether I get to read it. But that would be a matter of the future not working out as I wished, rather than negating the point that I've made a decision!

~~~~~~
My profile picture is "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck") from the 23 October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/...2%80%93duck_illusion )


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Aug 27, 8:17pm

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epiphan-me? [In reply to] Can't Post

Your realization about Fëanor is exactly what I was trying to say, and I honestly don't know if it is something that others would consider obvious. In Janet Croft's essay that I referred to (which you could also use your free will to read if you choose because it is also in the MythLore archives, unless some greater power removes it Tongue), she very casually cites this observation in Flieger's essay in order to make the point that if Túrin had acted with less stubborn pride and willfulness his fate may have been different, without noting that Túrin was Man (and therefore not "governed" by the Music) and Fëanor was an Elf and therefore was supposedly governed by the Music.

This is a puzzle, but only if one treats Fate and Free Will as two separate and non-overlapping things. If one realizes that Free Will is itself a manifestation of the Music, then the puzzle dissolves away.

But then, why does Tolkien explicitly state (as Flieger notes) that only Men have the virtue to virtue to shape their lives beyond the scope of this music, but also explicitly states (as Flieger also notes) that if Fëanor had said "yea" at the first, it could have have "affected his subsequent deeds ". Wouldn't that also be shaping his life beyond the scope of the music? There are only two possibilities that occur to me. One, it is simply a contradiction in Tolkien's writing between two incompatible statements (one written as part of the Ainulindalë but moved by Christopher to the text of Chapter One of the published Quenta, and the other written as part of what was Chapter Seven in the later Quenta, but became Chapter 10 in the published version, but both written in around the same time period). The other, which I think is more likely, is that the meaning of these two statements taken together is that while Elves did in fact have free will, there free will was actually a part of the Music, whereas the Free Will that Men had was outside the Music.

Whatever the heck that means!

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 28, 5:04pm

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"Epiphanus" then? ;) [In reply to] Can't Post

"Epiphanus" then, since it has occurred to both of us? But never mind the word game, I'm supposed to be discussing fate & free will. Evil
So Fëanor seems to make a genuine decision. As a second example we haven't discussed yet, Galadriel seems to make momentous decision too, when Frodo offers her the Ring. This suggests that either:
  1. Free Will is itself a manifestation of the Music, which leaves places at least where the Elf genuinely decides what happens next (like you I prefer that explanation), or;
  2. A Music that denies Elves any meaningful free will nonetheless allows them to appear to make decisions (the outcomes and consequences of which, presumably would already be baked into the music). That seems a bit over-complicated to me, and I don't see how it would work unless the entire universe was so scripted (otherwise what happens when the Music dictates an Elf must do something that isn't possible now because of the actions of a man, working outside of the music?). But if someone wants to argue it...


I wonder whether it is significant here that Prof Flieger (and Tolkien) concentrate on how Fëanor's decision affects him, rather than whether it has any effect on the course of history. Perhaps Elves cannot make a decision that will fundamentally affect the course of history, but Men can?

At first sight this seems almost insulting, like getting toddlers through bathtime by asking them whether they want blue or yellow bubble-bath* But I think it does still give the Elf scope to make a decision that has significant results. If I recall, Prof Flieger suggests that Fëanor saying "yea" might not prevent him dying in an attempt to recover the silmarils, just under different circumstances. But an Elf's legacy is important! Also, Tolkien says "had he said yea at the first, before the tidings came from Formenos, it may be that his after deeds would have been other than they were. But now the doom of the Noldor drew near. [my italics]" I can read that "But" as meaning that the doom of the Noldor draws near because of that "nay", though it isn't clear cut**. In that case, Fëanor's decision affects some elves in real practical terms (kinslain or not; banished or not; guilty of fratricide or not).
I've also been thinking about whether the decision affects the decider. I think it does. I think that Fëanor knows really that he ought to hand over the goods and so feels guilty and ashamed that he can't. This emerges as anger. I think that's partly why he then accuses the Valar of being about to force him to hand the gems over. He sees the Valar more and more like those Morgothian conspiracy theories claim them to be... and we're edging him closer and closer to leading the Noldor away by any means possible.

Whether that is exactly right or not, I think we've all seen people double down on bad decisions made earlier, when it would be wiser for them to stop or reverse.

I think it might work the other way around too - Fëanor saying "yea" would have been met with a lot of gratitude and understanding; and I suppose he would have started to see himself as the hero who could give up his Precious for the common good. That might make the next 'good' decision slightly easier or more probable.

..or of course we could all be coming up with ingenious explanations to patch what's just a simple, accidental contradiction in the Tolkiens' texts. But the explanations would still be ingenious... Smile


--
* The idea is that this bubble bath colour is a decision of no consequence to the supervising adult, and so the toddler may safely be made responsible for it. Either decision envisages a future where the toddler is going to have a bath, and with a bit of luck that just seems to them to be settled now and they don't argue about it. Compare the result of the adult asking or telling the toddler to have a bath -- you tyro: they will resist mightily. On a bad night of course even the blue/yellow decision is too weighty a burden for the youngling, and it results in the toddler equivalent of a General Protection Fault, the error message for which is WAAAAAAAAH!!!!!, accompanied by pounding the floor Smile
I remember when the WizKids were small telling my boss about this blue bubbles/yellow bubbles trick I had just learned. She went quiet for a moment and then said it was funny, but her boss had just got her to agree to something by a similar sleight of logical 'hand'.Smile
--
**I also I note it draws near but has not yet arrived - maybe there is still some way to avoid it, though the favourable options might be narrowing; or maybe Tolkien just means it is going to happen soon.

~~~~~~
My profile picture is "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck") from the 23 October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/...2%80%93duck_illusion )

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Aug 28, 5:05pm)


noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 28, 6:18pm

Post #9 of 22 (607 views)
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I have just read "The Arch and the Keystone", and enjoyed it greatly - thank you [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
That paper can be read in the MythLore archives at: The Arch and the Keystone. It is one of my favorite essays about Tolkien's work, and is well worth reading.


~~~~~~
My profile picture is "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck") from the 23 October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/...2%80%93duck_illusion )


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Aug 28, 6:57pm

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Glad you enjoyed it! [In reply to] Can't Post

I will respond to your other post when I have more time, and have had an opportunity to further consider what I want to say. I am enjoying this discussion.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Aug 29, 6:06pm

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Great minds (etc.) [In reply to] Can't Post

I had the same exact thought about the focus in Tolkien's comment about Fëanor's decision affecting him specifically. But looking again at the statement about Men, it is that they have the virtue to shape their own lives beyond the scope of the Music. So somehow if there is a distinction it is that Fëanor's decision affecting him is still part of the Music, whereas Men are able to make decisions that shape their own lives outside the Music?

That doesn't quite make sense.

Though the focus in my paper is on the interaction of fate and free will in Túrin's story, since I tend to look at Tolkien's work as one large amorphous work, I spend a bit of time looking at examples from LOTR to demonstrate how Tolkien presents the interaction of fate and free will with regard to mortals (with all due respect to Lindir the Elf, I follow Flieger in not making a distinction between Men and Hobbits in this regard). I'm going to be lazy and just quote myself verbatim:


Quote
But even among “the race of Men (including Hobbits)” there is a balance between fate and free will. Tolkien makes this most clear in the “Shadow of the Past” chapter in The Lord of the Rings. On the one hand Gandalf tells Frodo, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us” (FR, I, ii, 51), confirming that he had free will to impact what happened. On the other hand, Gandalf also tells Frodo “Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker” and that Frodo himself was “meant to have it” (56), suggesting that they were on some level governed by fate. Gandalf then expressly combines the two concepts, telling Frodo, “But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.” (61.) The implication is that while what happens may be part of Eru’s plan, that does not mean that individuals are not responsible for their own actions within that plan.


Honestly, I think that could be applied equally to Men or Elves, despite the distinction that Tolkien makes and Flieger emphasizes.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 30, 10:59am

Post #12 of 22 (531 views)
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"The reader may or may not be convinced that it is that cut and dried" [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm happy to see you quote yourself verbatim! Thanks for that passage and those further thoughts.
Two further thoughs of my own back, and then something that comes out of reading the Janet Brennan Croft you kindly recommended for me

  1. Let's add Gildor to our list of decision-making elves: he's concerned about Frodo's news and predicament, and wants to be helpful. But he's quite clearly unsure what to do. He's explicitly cautious because he says of elves and mortals: "Our paths cross theirs seldom, by chance or purpose. In this meeting there may be more than chance; but the purpose is not clear to me, and I fear to say too much." So clearly Gildor thinks the encounter could have been set up by some Power (perhaps is part of the Music?) but he is free to bungle his role in it.
  2. I've been wanting to say that I agree with an earlier comment of yours, to the effect that it's unhelpful to take fate and free will as polar opposites, and only available as a binary choice. I've already said that I cannot personally be enthusiastic about a Middle-earth where every elf's least deed is pre-scripted. I also doubt that any Middle-earth Man could take a totally free decision, if one were to insist on the purest definition of that. That is because I think people don't and probably can't make a decision that has no prior causes whatsoever. We all process what we think the situation is, what the options seem to be, and what course we feel would best suit us (or is best for some wider group or cause). That processing might be done intellectually, by instinct, or by allowing emotion to have its way. So the decision will reflect knowledge, character and outlook as well as other factors. Such factors would presumably also apply to an elf making a decision.


So I agree with you it probably isn't all that cut and dried. My post title is in quotes because I'm quoting the article you recommended, by Janet Brennan Croft, comparing Turin and Aragorn. I really enjoyed that (thanks!) and it contains much to think about (some relevant to our current discussion and still more about, for example, the significance of names). Some of the material relevant to us here appears in this quote from the article's conclusion:


Quote
More interesting, and more important, is what each character [Aragorn and Turin] has to show about Tolkien's understanding of the way fate and free will operate in Middle-earth. And this may help explain why, apart from the writing challenge, Tolkien returned to the overly dramatic, not very likeable Turin after concluding things so tidily with the almost-too-perfect Aragorn. It could be that Tolkien was still, using the character of Turin, wrestling with the thorny issue of how fate, hope, and free will work together in Middle-earth and how to incorporate this conundrum at the level of character and motif. Turin graphically demonstrates the dangers of resisting one's wyrd, and Aragorn the benefits of willing and hopeful acceptance. Flieger makes the broad overall assertion that according to the terms of Eru's creation, Men operate with full free will (Silm. 41-2) while Elves, the older creation, are fated. The reader may or may not be convinced that it is that cut and dried, and in these two characters we do see a sort of shading between the two concepts: Aragorn and Turin are both quite obviously fated, even though fully human, but equally obviously it is the exercise of their free wills that determines how their fates will play out.

Croft, Janet Brennan (2011) "Túrin and Aragorn: Evading and Embracing Fate," Mythlore: A Journal of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Mythopoeic Literature: Vol. 29 : No. 3 , Article 11. Available at: https://dc.swosu.edu/mythlore/vol29/iss3/11

Points I'd like to note from that are:
  1. That Tolkien did significant work on the tale of Turin after LOTR was completed. So it is probably not that Turin represents early ideas about fate and free will, and LOTR represents later thought. (Or, perhaps there is some aspect of that, but if so Tolkien was working on the Turin tale without choosing to change the plot significantly because of any new ideas about fate and free will. This encourages me to think that we can look at it all as "one amorphous work" as you say; something that we should not take for granted when Tolkien was known to change his mind over the years.
  2. Tolkien didn't finish Turin for publication (or perhaps it would be better to say that Tolkien JRR didn't: Tolkien C did of course publish Children of Hurin as I suppose the best available finished product in the circumstances). I suppose it is possible that Tolkien JRR was snagged on precisely this point, unable to make the Turin tale as consistent with fate and free will elsewhere in his works?
  3. I'd agree with "Aragorn and Turin are both quite obviously fated, even though fully human, but equally obviously it is the exercise of their free wills that determines how their fates will play out". I wonder whether it would also be true to say "Feanor and Galadriel n are both quite obviously fated, even though fully human, but equally obviously it is the exercise of their free wills that determines how their fates will play out" ?
  4. I have been thinking about whether wyrd has anything to do with this, and next I might try to get my thoughts typed up and posted...


~~~~~~
My profile picture is "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck") from the 23 October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/...2%80%93duck_illusion )


noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 30, 11:51am

Post #13 of 22 (534 views)
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wyrd [In reply to] Can't Post

Wyrd is an idea about fate and free will from Norse cultures. I read various things about it that I found confusing, until I hit upon this, which I think I can understand:

Quote
The procession of events in the world, and in any person’s life, could only be understood with reference to fate, but fate itself could not be understood. Those who practiced the magical art of seidr could sometimes see what fate had in store, but there was no particular rhyme or reason in why some particular outcome was fated when an alternative outcome was not. Fate had no moral significance, and there were no caring or cruel motives behind it. It was merely the whims of the Norns, which were perfectly arbitrary relative to any and all human desires (and, for that matter, the desires of the gods and other beings as well). Likewise, fate and its creators were utterly implacable; there was nothing that anyone could do to change his or her fate. One Old Norse poem, Fáfnismál, warns that struggling against fate is as pointless as rowing a boat against a fierce wind.[4] The Old English poem The Wanderer concurs: “Wyrd is wholly inexorable.”[5]

...[This] imparted a prominent element of tragedy to the Vikings’ mythology and religion.
...
[But it wasn't totally nihilistic because ] the Vikings believed that one’s fate was hardly more important than what one did with one’s fate – that is, the attitude with which one met whatever fate had in store. There was no honor in merely passively surrendering to fate. Instead, honor was to be found in approaching one’s fate as a battle to fight heroically – even if it was a battle one was ultimately doomed to lose.

Dan McCoy, Norse Mythology for Smart People; article on Wyrd/urd https://norse-mythology.org/...ts/destiny-wyrd-urd/

I'd like to emphasize some points that I think are relevant to Middle-earth, while also pointing out some key differences.

Wyrd is:
  1. Utterly inevitable: if your wyrd is to slay a dragon and be slain by it, then this is going to happen somehow or another, and nothing whatever can be done to avoid it
  2. Meaningless: the Norns do not appear to have any grand plan to which anyone's wyrd contributes (c.f. Eru, who does have an ongoing and benevolent design for the universe)
  3. Without moral significance: In some religions it is right and good to further the divine plan, and sinful to rebel against it. Rebelling against one's wyrd would be neither good nor bad, heroic nor villainous: merely delusional because it is pointless. Rebelling against Eru's plan is a recurring plot-starter in Tolkien. It is probably just as futile as rebelling against one's wyrd; but it is evil in that the divine plan still completes, only it now involves pain and suffering that could have been avoided. Tolkien also of course loves situations where doing an evil thing has unintended good consequences.
  4. Not all there is to life.
    1. If your wyrd is to slay a dragon and be slain by it, then you hope to kill the dragon in battle, in the approved heroic fashion. Your wyrd would still be completed if you made yourself a laughing-stock by running from the dragon, and it caught and ate you only to choke to death by gobbling a warrior and chortling at the same time. But that would not be heroic.
    2. Your wyrd constrains life's choices in some ways (you must somehow be drawn to that encounter with the dragon). The wyrd of other beings constrains your life too (e.g. the dragon must also be drawn to that encounter, and must be slain by it). But that should leave plenty of life that is not dictated by wyrd and determined by free will or by other kinds of outside forces.
  5. Just the sort of gloomy but gritty and magnificent 'Northern' stuff that Tolkien liked, in balance (or in tension with) his tendency to be hopeful, and his enjoyment of eucatastrophe
Clearly Tolkien didn't adopt this idea of Wyrd wholesale to underpin fate and free will in Middle-earth. He has incorporated a benevolent and omnipotent creator like those of the Abrahamic religions. This necessarily gives fate in Middle-earth a meaningful and moral component. And free will has a distinct 'divine plan' purpose too in Middle -earth:

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The struggles undergone by the characters who inhabit Tolkien's fictive world require both order and spontaneity to justify them, to give them their meaning, and above all to create that uncertainty of outcome which is a hall-mark of effective fiction. The story needs its readers awareness of both the Music and the Task. Thus, we as readers must recognize that the original great theme, proposed by Iluvatar and spoiled in the making by Melkor, is embedded first in the ensuing Music and then in the world created through that Music. We must see that the spoiled Music goes uncorrected by the godhead, who instead assigns that task to one race of his created beings. We must honor the decision (not really Eru's but Tolkien's) to introduce into this unhappy, unfinished world the two unanticipated races of Elves and Men; and the further decision to give one race, men, the freedom to change their lives and through those lives to change the Music and thus the fate of Middle-earth and its inhabitants.

Verlyn Flieger, The Music and the Task: Fate and Free Will in Middle-earth


Quote


~~~~~~
My profile picture is "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck") from the 23 October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/...2%80%93duck_illusion )

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Aug 30, 11:52am)


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Aug 30, 3:31pm

Post #14 of 22 (523 views)
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Galadriel and Wyrd: Interlace, Exempla and the Passing of Northern Courage in the History of the Eldar [In reply to] Can't Post

You may (or may not) find this piece by Richard Z Gallant (with whom I am otherwise unfamiliar) that was published in the Journal of Tolkien Research last year interesting, particularly since the author compares and contrasts Galadriel's decision to reject the temptation of the Ring with Fëanor's refusal to give up the Silmarils to Yavanna for the greater good. Some of this is very dry, but still worthwhile, I think.

Galadriel and Wyrd: Interlace, Exempla and the Passing of Northern Courage in the History of the Eldar

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 30, 4:30pm

Post #15 of 22 (523 views)
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'and how does that help us?', you may ask [In reply to] Can't Post

my last post left things "wyrded out", without the synthesis that peoepl may have been hoping for. To be honest, I'm not sure how much of a synthesis I can offer.

I think this comes to something like the idea of 'prophecies with wriggle room' as Brethil used to put it when she posted here. Some things in Middle-earth are going to happen (in a wyrd-like way, perhaps), but the when, the who and the other circumstances could remain fluid.

I do suspect that Tolkien was trying to combine old Norse ideas about the Doom-dealing Norns with more hopeful ideas consistent with his Catholicism (Hmmm - does that make him a "Norn-again Christian"? Wink )
Exactly what is going on at given points is likely to continue to elude us, I suspect!

~~~~~~
My profile picture is "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck") from the 23 October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/...2%80%93duck_illusion )


noWizardme
Half-elven


Aug 30, 4:31pm

Post #16 of 22 (523 views)
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Thanks for the recommendation - I'll give that a go! [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
You may (or may not) find this piece by Richard Z Gallant (with whom I am otherwise unfamiliar) that was published in the Journal of Tolkien Research last year interesting, particularly since the author compares and contrasts Galadriel's decision to reject the temptation of the Ring with Fëanor's refusal to give up the Silmarils to Yavanna for the greater good. Some of this is very dry, but still worthwhile, I think.

Galadriel and Wyrd: Interlace, Exempla and the Passing of Northern Courage in the History of the Eldar


Thanks for the recommendation - I'll give that a go!

~~~~~~
My profile picture is "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck") from the 23 October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/...2%80%93duck_illusion )


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Aug 30, 6:07pm

Post #17 of 22 (511 views)
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Are you sure you haven't already read my paper? ;-) [In reply to] Can't Post

You keep mentioning things that come right out of what I wrote. Another section is titled "Tolkien's Hybrid Mythology" in which I note "The legendarium reflects Tolkien’s effort to assimilate his own Judeo-Christian monotheism with the multi-deity pagan mythologies of Northern Europe and elsewhere that he was so fascinated by." Sound familiar?

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


Omnigeek
Lorien


Aug 30, 6:52pm

Post #18 of 22 (512 views)
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Feanor's sons would not have been bound under the doom of their oaths [In reply to] Can't Post

If Feanor had been able to give up the Silmarils toward the healing of the Trees, I think it would have dramatically changed the nature of his and his sons' quest to recover them. I don't think they'd have made oaths that eventually doomed them all and embittered their relations with other Elves. Most importantly, the Kin-slaying at Aqualonde need not have taken place.
There are aspects of Fate that I think restrict the concept and notion of Free Will but the sense I got from JRRT's novels was that Fate presented opportunities and circumstances but exercise of Free Will in those opportunities and circumstances by Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits dictated the outcome. In the case of the Silmarils, Feanor's single-minded love and pursuit of them locked in the choices available to his sons which then dramatically affected what happened later. The Oath of Feanor bound them and eventually diminished their integration with the other Elven forces to counter Morgoth. This in turn led to the loss of other High Elven princes and their kingdoms -- something that may eventually have happened anyway in Iluvatar's plan but perhaps over a longer period of time and with less pain and tragedy.


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Sep 1, 7:26am

Post #19 of 22 (470 views)
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Good point, I suppose it is also possible [In reply to] Can't Post

That had Feanor accepted that he was going to lose the jewels that he would have accepted them been stolen by Morgoth in a better mannor.


Cirashala
Valinor


Sep 2, 8:03pm

Post #20 of 22 (446 views)
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THIS [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
There are aspects of Fate that I think restrict the concept and notion of Free Will but the sense I got from JRRT's novels was that Fate presented opportunities and circumstances but exercise of Free Will in those opportunities and circumstances by Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits dictated the outcome.



This ^^^ I think this is the best explanation I've seen to describe how Tolkien uses fate and free will in his legendarium. This allows for free will on the part of the actors, but they're not exempt from the consequences of their actions.

It reminds me of this quote (if I knew who originally said it, I'd credit, but I don't) that I've seen floating around the internet:

"You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choice."

I think this sums up Tolkien's legendarium very well.



My writing and novels:

My Hobbit Fanfiction

My historical novel print and kindle version

My historical novels ebook version compatible with all ereaders

You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!


(This post was edited by Cirashala on Sep 2, 8:06pm)


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

Sep 10, 1:01am

Post #21 of 22 (320 views)
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"And so cleansed his heart." [In reply to] Can't Post

I have one last thought on this topic, if you will indulge me. I have been endeavoring to read the entirety of HoMe as one continuous long work in preparation for reading and reviewing the new book The Nature of Middle-earth. I have reached Morgoth's Ring, and have just been reading the Annals of Aman. It is such a bizarre aspect of Tolkien's legendarium that he created these parallel versions of the tales, and even more bizarre that the published work consists of dizzying mishmash of them. As I mentioned earlier in this thread, the portion that you quote is taken from the actual later Quenta Silmarillion, but most of the rest of the chapter actually comes from the Annals of Aman, which includes a version of the statement that you quote, but with an interesting difference. What Tolkien wrote there was the following:


Quote
The Silmarils had passed away, and all one it may seem, therefore, whether Feanor would have said yea or nay at the last; yet had he said yea at the first and so cleansed his heart ere the dread tidings came, his after deeds maybe had been other than they were. But now the doom of the Noldor drew nigh.


"And so cleansed his heart." Just a small phrase, but I think it vastly clarifies what Tolkien was trying to say. I don't say this in my book, but I do wish that Christopher had used that in the published work.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


noWizardme
Half-elven


Sep 12, 10:43am

Post #22 of 22 (246 views)
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Indulged! cleansed hearts and dizzying mishmashes [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I have one last thought on this topic, if you will indulge me.

Of course it's just a delight to carry on this interesting conversation. May the threads run ever on and on, down from the post where they began!
(Of course the feeling of "Now far ahead the thread has gone...." is familiar too Smile)

I like the 'cleansed his heart' version too. It's a nice line, and it suggests strongly that there would have been some benefit (psychological? spiritual? whatever) to Feanor personally.

Your scholarly stamina continues to amaze me, Voronwë_the_Faithful. And I'm sure the rest of the community will shortly benefit greatly once again from your efforts. Maybe one day it would be fun to have a discussion about why "It is such a bizarre aspect of Tolkien's legendarium that he created these parallel versions of the tales, and even more bizarre that the published work consists of dizzying mishmash of them." - that is, the choices by the Two Tolkiens that brought this about, and the effect of that on us readers.

Right now though, I'm thinking of an odd way in which this seems appropriate to the current discussion.

I'm thinking about a strange and amusing co-incidence. After the 'spoiling' of his original theme, Tolkiens' fictional universe creator, Eru might quite possibly have been capable of vaporizing Melkor, and re-performing The Music more as intended. But if he could have done that, he didn't. Rather "We must see that the spoiled Music goes uncorrected by the godhead, who instead assigns that task to one race of his created beings." (quoting Prof Flieger's paper again, a passage I've cited earlier). The world is better that way, perhaps. In an amusing parallel, I suppose the Two Tolkiens could quite possibly have published the one best-effort authorized version of everything, burned the rest of the papers, refused to answer any more mail and and gone off for a long...well whatever it is that a father-and-son team of Professors might have done to relax and spend their royalties. But if they could have done that, they didn't. The parallel is that Middle-earth has come out unfinished and imperfect and with multiple possibilities --both from the inside and the outside of the story, as it were.



~~~~~~
My profile picture is "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck") from the 23 October 1892 issue of Fliegende Blätter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/...2%80%93duck_illusion )

 
 

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