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LotR, Book III Discussion: The Road to Isengard
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Curious
Half-elven


Mar 9 2011, 9:27pm

Post #76 of 94 (168 views)
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Okay, I guess a distinction [In reply to] Can't Post

between orcs who eat human flesh and orcish ruffians remains, although I'm still not sure that distinction would last if Saruman remained in power. For example, Saruman implies that Wormtongue, who is human, was capable of eating Lotho. And Gollum, too, ate goblins and was rumored to eat babies. So humans and hobbits can be reduced to the level of orcs, which seems implicit in Saruman's breeding program. Given time, even the hobbits of the Shire might have been reduced to cannabilism. And who knows what happens to the ruffians once they are exiled from the Shire?

Returning to the agenda, I agree that Tolkien seemingly paid little attention to the strategic value of his fortresses. He seemed more interested in romantic illustrations. Even Amon Sul is near a higher range of hills. And Rivendell is at the bottom of a gorge. You mention Gondolin, but remember that Gondolin was invaded not through the seven gates so elaborately constructed, but over the mountains that surrounded the valley in which it was hidden. Mountains are not good walls, and yet Tolkien treats them as if they are walls.

Isengard does not resemble any fortress or fortified city I've ever read about or seen. I suppose the closest real-world counterpart is the Great Wall of China, which was created to stop horse-riding nomad invaders, or possibly the Roman walls that cut off Scotland from England. But I do not get the impression that Isengard's wall continues over the mountaintops like the Great Wall of China; rather, it seems to me that Tolkien once again treats the mountains as if they are walls.

I agree, though, that there could be a bolt hole Saruman is too proud or too scared to use.

I also like seeing the hobbits through the eyes of others, for once. We have spent so much time away from the hobbits that suddenly they seem out of place, and we get to appreciate the perspective of the Rohirrim and even of their longtime companions.

Actually, Denethor reacted surprisingly well to Pippin. The hobbits do seem to have the ability to charm those they meet, even when exhibiting outrageously inappropriate behavior; another hidden talent, I suppose.

I think there is some gentle mocking of High Speech in this chapter -- not ridicule, but intentional comedy relief. At the same time, the hobbits are also gently mocked. What's interesting to me is that Merry and Pippin have, in fact, done very well for themselves, but seem to do everything they can to deflect any notion that they have acted heroically. As you say, they exhibit similar behavior in the Houses of Healing, but perhaps with less success, since Aragorn realizes Merry's role in dispatching the Witch-king.

I'm not sure that Aragorn understands Merry and Pippin as well in this chapter as he does in the Houses of Healing. It seems to me that Aragorn consistently underestimates the hobbits right up until the episode in the Houses of Healing, where he realizes what Merry has accomplished.

I think that Merry and Pippin are puzzled by the presence of pipeweed fromt the Shire, but they just can't conceive of the possibility that the Shire, their safe haven, has been overrun or infested by evil. Aragorn is more aware of the effort it took to protect the Shire, and of the weakness of that protection now that Gandalf and Aragorn are otherwise occupied.

I hope you had fun following everyone else's posts last week.


Felagund
Lorien


Mar 9 2011, 9:42pm

Post #77 of 94 (212 views)
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Rhovanion ancestors and the burning of prisoners [In reply to] Can't Post

Sador, your post reminded me of the bitter generational struggle between the Northmen, ancestors of the Rohirrim, and the Wainriders, one of the most warlike groups of Easterlings. Tolkien depicted this grim period vividly in Appendix A of RotK and in the 'Cirion & Eorl' chapter of Unfinished Tales and it struck me as a suitable crucible for legends about the burning of prisoners.

In 1836 of the Third Age the Wainriders wrested control of Rhovanion from the Northmen, enslaving the survivors, and virtually exterminated the descendants of those survivors in 1899 after a failed, desperate uprising. Tolkien wrote that the remnant of the Northmen who rose up in 1899 set fire to the homes, storehouses and fortified camps of the Wainriders. He also wrote that the main combatants on the Wainriders' side were the males considered too young or too old to join the main Wainrider army, which had earlier marched south to fight Gondor, and the women. War between the Northmen and the Men of Rhûn became an all or nothing struggle in which the taking or sparing of prisoners by either side appears unlikely, and niceties about who was / wasn't a combatant appear to have been cast aside. The specific reference to burning of homes and storehouses in particular suggest a more brutal episode in the history of the people who later would emerge as the Rohirrim - and perhaps just enough of a hint in the available text to support Saruman's aspersions 1000+ years later. An interesting aside - in the Unfinished Tales Saruman is described as being well travelled in the East in the centuries before the establishment of the White Council in 2463. A speculator might hazard that he had some real knowledge of the tragedies in Rhovanion, however twisted these later became in his communication with the Dunlendings.

A similar desperate uprising, ending in massacre and a burning took place in Dor-lómin, in 495 of the First Age. There, enslaved Edain of the House of Hador briefly rose up against their Easterlings overlords at the hall of the Easterling chieftain Brodda (The Children of Húrin). The struggle ends with the Hadorian noblewoman Aerin setting fire to the hall, killing herself and anyone else too slow to get out - whether Easterling or Edain.


Felagund
Lorien


Mar 9 2011, 10:04pm

Post #78 of 94 (189 views)
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Rivendell not a credible choice for a refuge / stronghold [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree, Tolkien designed some pretty strange locations for his most well-known fortresses and Rivendell, which you mention, has to be one of the strangest. To me, it is also one of the least credible.

Appendix B of the RotK and the 'History of Galadriel and Celeborn' chapter in Unfinished Tales contains the best material for the foundation of Rivendell / Imladris. It was established by Elrond in 1697 of the Second Age as 'a refuge and stronghold' after Sauron's sack of Eregion and was subsequently besieged for the next four years. Unfinished Tales makes it clear enough that Sauron's main army was deployed against the Grey Havens at the time but even so, how on Middle-earth could a refuge / stronghold at the bottom of a gorge hold out for four years? Surely all you had to do was drop rocks on top of it!


Curious
Half-elven


Mar 9 2011, 10:41pm

Post #79 of 94 (157 views)
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My best rationalization/explanation [In reply to] Can't Post

is that elves defend their strongholds in different ways than men, such as the flood at the Ford, the difficulty people had even finding Rivendell, and, in different contexts, the defenses we see around the Elvenking's home in Mirkwood, Lothlorien, and the various elven kingdoms in Beleriand. Sometimes the defenses seemed conventional, but often they were more mysterious and magical, such as the Girdle of Melian. And in Mirkwood and Lothlorien the defenses seemed to involve a combination of magic and trickery.


Curious
Half-elven


Mar 9 2011, 11:01pm

Post #80 of 94 (173 views)
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Well, if "woe" means the Ring, [In reply to] Can't Post

then it seems strange to say that the Ents are older than something which isn't really that old, all things considered. I suppose, though, that it would still seem old to the Rohirrim.

Elves are Good in LotR; not so much in The Hobbit or The Silmarillion. But yes, I think Gimli is special.

I only meant that the lack of mercy shown to the orcs is a symptom of fantasy if we do not choose to treat it as a great evil, on a par with genocide in the real world. Certainly there are real-world examples of people being treated like monsters, but they should not be treated that way, whereas in fantasy it isn't so clear. In "On Fairy-Stories" Tolkien said something about how the people who despise fantasies are the most likely to confuse reality with a fantasy, with disastrous results, whereas those who love fantasy usually have a firm grasp of the difference between fantasy and real life.

If you do not like the orcs, then I think you do have trouble distinguishing their treatment in LotR from genocide in the Primary World. But I think Tolkien intended to raise questions about the fate of the orcs, and whether we should feel comfortable about their slaughter, and whether there is orc blood in us all. So if you feel uncomfortable about how the orcs are treated, I think Tolkien intended that effect.


a.s.
Valinor


Mar 9 2011, 11:53pm

Post #81 of 94 (162 views)
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no, not "the Ring", but "something like" [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
something physical ("wrought") like the rings




I just meant the coupling of the two lines indicates to me he is trying to talk about the wroughting (good God, is that a word??? what do I mean, I am having a senior moment....) of something physical that brought with it a malediction on Middle Earth, as did the Ring. Not specifically the Ring, though. However, he could have meant "ere the Ring was made and thereby woe was wrought in the world".



Quote

I only meant that the lack of mercy shown to the orcs is a symptom of fantasy if we do not choose to treat it as a great evil, on a par with genocide in the real world.




Yes, I see your point there, and it's a good one.



Quote

If you do not like the orcs, then I think you do have trouble distinguishing their treatment in LotR from genocide in the Primary World. But I think Tolkien intended to raise questions about the fate of the orcs, and whether we should feel comfortable about their slaughter, and whether there is orc blood in us all. So if you feel uncomfortable about how the orcs are treated, I think Tolkien intended that effect.




Do you? Well, I don't "not like" the orcs, per se. I do deeply regret the inclusion of the orcs as written. I don't like the way Tolkien invented orcs and stuck to them. I am not really convinced that Tolkien intended me to feel bad about orcs, though. Perhaps later, when he reflected on making rational, tormented humans/elves be somehow converted to an eternally evil race/entity when they still had Eru-given souls of some kind, human or elven, as he cannot have beings with souls who are not potentially capable of using free will to be good and thus redeem those souls. Which orcs are not, apparently, they are not only bad but all their children are bad and they are bad even if they are not living under evil dominion and consequent maltreatment and abuse.

I wish Tolkien had re-thought orcs and just made them plain old Goblins, no corrupted elves/humans, just evil bad guys without the complication of those souls I worry about. But he tried to have it both ways ("subcreators cannot create, they can only subvert", to paraphrase).

mary

"an seileachan"



squire
Valinor


Mar 10 2011, 1:40am

Post #82 of 94 (197 views)
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Wright or worng? [In reply to] Can't Post

From a quick search, I think I discovered that wrought is an antique past tense of the verb we know as "work" - the o and the r were transposed (as happens often enough, I guess), so think work=past tense=worked=older; and watch for the switcheroo!=wroked=even older=wrocht=so old you could plotz=wrought, or something like that.

So you would say "...he is trying to talk about the working of something physical that brought with it a malediction on Middle Earth, as did the Ring." Pretty boring, considering how sexy a word wrought is, but there you are.




squire online:
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Curious
Half-elven


Mar 10 2011, 6:12am

Post #83 of 94 (160 views)
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Yes, Tolkien didn't take the easy path. [In reply to] Can't Post

That's what I mean by intent. He could have stuck to plain old goblins without the complication of corrupted souls. But in LotR he chose the more difficult path, and deliberately raised the question of whether orcs and humans were really all that different, except in the degree to which they had been corrupted and were enslaved to the evil will of the Dark Lord.


sador
Half-elven


Mar 10 2011, 7:10am

Post #84 of 94 (120 views)
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I have also understood so. // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

"Let me think!" - Aragorn.

The weekly discussion of The Lord of the Rings is back! Please join us in the Reading Room for Book III.

"Even Saruman with his powers cannot do much more than run when faced with a furious tree giant."
- Canto.



sador
Half-elven


Mar 10 2011, 7:16am

Post #85 of 94 (168 views)
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I have forgotten that. Thank you! [In reply to] Can't Post

However, I'm not sure that the Aerin episode is quite similar; and it was definitely not an act of war per se, but an act of revenge combined with suicide.

"Let me think!" - Aragorn.

The weekly discussion of The Lord of the Rings is back! Please join us in the Reading Room for Book III.

"Even Saruman with his powers cannot do much more than run when faced with a furious tree giant."
- Canto.



(This post was edited by sador on Mar 10 2011, 7:20am)


a.s.
Valinor


Mar 10 2011, 12:59pm

Post #86 of 94 (137 views)
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I will think about this [In reply to] Can't Post

It would help me to think Tolkien deliberately made the orcs the way he did, although it would have been better to have seen at least one repentant orc. Or to even have orcs discussed as potentially salvegable.

What already helps me reconcile the whole thing is the conceit that the story is just that, an interpretation of events as reported by hobbits with a hobbit interpretation of the world, and a hobbit's understanding of orcs.

a.s.

"an seileachan"



Curious
Half-elven


Mar 10 2011, 1:24pm

Post #87 of 94 (191 views)
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Aragorn does parlay with the orcs at Helm's Deep. [In reply to] Can't Post

And Gandalf does say he pities the least of Sauron's slaves.

As far as repentance goes, I'm not sure it's available to anyone in Middle-earth who has truly crossed the line into evil, or what Roman Catholics call mortal sin. It's an Old Testament world. The very few examples of successful repentance come from people who were not guilty of murder or the like -- Boromir, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins -- and even they paid a terrible price for their venal sins. Others like Smeagol and Wormtongue tried to repent, and failed, perhaps because they had committed too many mortal sins.


a.s.
Valinor


Mar 10 2011, 2:46pm

Post #88 of 94 (286 views)
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do you mean in theology, or in ME? [In reply to] Can't Post

Cool
Even in a pre-Christian era, if I recall my catechism, any truly repentant sinner would simply wait in the underworld for Jesus and his redemption.

Souls, if they exist, exist to be eternal; and God, if he exists--and if in fact free will exists and eternal damnation is not predestined--has given all souls a chance at immortal life in Paradise. Even orcs.

We just don't see that.

a.s.

"an seileachan"



Curious
Half-elven


Mar 10 2011, 3:15pm

Post #89 of 94 (159 views)
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As I understand it, mortal sin cannot be forgiven after death. [In reply to] Can't Post

And those who committed mortal sins before the coming of Christ are out of luck. Christ does rescue souls from Hell, but only those who did not commit mortal sins.


Curious
Half-elven


Mar 10 2011, 4:25pm

Post #90 of 94 (146 views)
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Gimli does seem more down to earth, [In reply to] Can't Post

more life sized, if you will, than the larger-than-life Legolas, Aragorn, or Gandalf. That's especially true now that Aragorn has revealed himself as the heir to Isildur, rather than just Strider, and now that Gandalf has returned from death as Gandalf the White. Even Legolas is, after all, an elf, and from time to time reminds us that he is much older than Aragorn or Gimli, and can also do things like walk on top of snow and listen to stones and trees and go without sleep and see details leagues away.

Gimli, on the other hand, must try to keep up with Aragorn and Legolas, then must share a horse with Legolas. He's often a fish out of water, a dwarf out in the open, above ground, in plains and forests and rivers -- not quite as out of place as the hobbits, but more so than a Ranger, Elven Prince, or Wizard. And although he is capable of fancy speeches, he is just as likely to puncture the mood with a comment that isn't so fancy, but more pragmatic or even humorous. Unlike the hobbits, though, no one questions Gimli's value in a battle -- as long as the battle is not fought on horseback.

I'm not convinced that Gandalf is referring to his healing of Theoden when he says he hasn't displayed his wizardly powers, but then that's part of the charm and ambiguity of Tolkien's approach. He keeps us guessing, and we still don't know how much magic was involved. As others have noted, though, it seems that Gandalf needed his staff when he silenced Wormtongue and healed Theoden, and doesn't that imply some magic? I also agree that Gandalf himself might not think of that as magic, especially if he was relying on Higher Powers. Maybe he was using his prophetic powers, or channeling some Other Power.

In light of the forest that just appeared overnight, I think Gandalf might have been believed. But perhaps it was too soon to tell everyone that Saruman was no longer a threat, until not only Theoden but Gandalf himself made sure that was the case. Also, I still like the idea that Gandalf's Trickster personality was showing, now that he had the momentary luxury of reciting riddles and playing coy.

Doesn't Aragorn treat the orcs as human when he parlays with them, and warns them of their fate? It is the hobbits -- first Merry and Pippin, later Sam -- who overhear the orcs speak, which makes them sound human.

As for sympathizing with the human enemy, it is Erkenbrand who gives the Dunlendings amnesty, and later King Elessar who does the same for humans in Sauron's armies. It is Gandalf who says he pities the least of Sauron's slaves (although he doesn't say whether that includes orcs). So that's not just the hobbits.

I think that when Tolkien melds the modern with the ancient he does raise questions rarely pondered in ancient literature about monsters. Even though he never satisfactorily answered all those questions for himself, let alone for others, I think he was okay with the discomfort he caused for the perceptive reader, and even with the discomfort he caused for himself.

When you say you have felt the tension Legolas describes among the huorns, do you mean you have felt it among the trees? Or, as I have suggested, that you have felt something similar among humans whose expressions you could read, and whose mutterings you could overhear, or whose reactions you could anticipate? I don't think I've ever felt such tension among the trees, although I suppose I could try to imagine it when trees have been threatened. Certainly I have felt bad about the loss of trees, and other times have felt awe in the presence of ancient trees. But I haven't gone so far as to attribute emotions to the trees.

I think Gandalf and Tolkien are suggesting something like strangling or swallowing or burying of orcs -- something active. But I think Tolkien was wise not to actually described what happens, since anytime he descibes a tree acting like a person he risks sounding ridiculous.

I've always thought the caverns of Cheddar Gorge inspired the Glittering Caves, although I've now forgotten where I picked up the idea -- presumably in the Letters or biography or both.

Great point about Tolkien's reluctance to describe the Ents' assault first hand because it allows him to gloss over something which is difficult to imagine! I think you have something there. It's similar to the way he treats the huorns at Helm's Deep. And it's similar to the way he treats Gandalf's battle with the Balrog or the journey through the Paths of the Dead and the subsequent assault of the Dead on the Corsairs. Even the final fall of Mordor and the fate of all Sauron's armies is mostly described in summarized form while Pippin and Sam and Frodo lie unconscious, or in retrospect after they finally recover.

I also agree that seeing the hobbits through the eyes of the Rohirrim gives Tolkien a chance to play with the contrast between the hobbits and the heroic epic in which they have become entangled.


(This post was edited by Curious on Mar 10 2011, 4:27pm)


Curious
Half-elven


Mar 10 2011, 10:00pm

Post #91 of 94 (142 views)
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I finally have the opportunity [In reply to] Can't Post

to begin to address your very thorough answers. Thank you, first, for devoting the time and energy to answering every single question in this manner, as well as offering your own thoughts and questions. I'm honored.

A. - C.


Quote

To the degree that Gimli and Legolas’ first subject of conversation is their mock-humorous orc-killing competition, the effect is to represent the release of tension that both parties must have felt as to whether their friends had survived the night.


The injection of humor is what I meant by a change in tone. I didn't mean to imply that Gimli starts talking like a hobbit. Sorry if I wasn't clear about that. Maybe I should have said "serious" and "humorous" rather than "formal" and "less formal."

I do think it helps release the tension for the characters, but I also think the injection of humor immediately after the "epic conclusion to an epic battle" helps a modern audience relate to the story. I judge that for the most part ancient heroic epics are more serious in tone like The Silmarillion rather than striking the balance found in LotR.

D. - F. I'm still not sure that the thunderstorm during the healing of Theoden was happy coincidence; indeed, as you know, my working hypothesis is that the weather in LotR is never coincidental. Also, there's the matter of Gandalf needing his staff for the confrontation and healing, which implies some measure of magic. But I like your point that Gandalf has his own standards for "mighty" wizardry, and may not consider thwarting Wormtongue a particularly difficult feat, even if it did involve wizardry.

G. I agree that several factors made it simply unnecessary for Gandalf to use mighty wizardry at Helm's Deep. I also think that at Minas Tirith it seemed to Gandalf as if he would need to use mighty wizardry, and that the Enemy thwarted him from doing so by driving Denethor mad and putting numerous people into the Houses of Healing with the mysterious ailment known as the Black Breath. Gandalf is more worried and frustrated at Minas Tirith; at Helm's Deep he feels in control, and takes himself out of the battle for strategic purposes, rather than because of the actions of the Enemy.

H. I guess to me it is simply ambiguous whether Gandalf is quoting or making up his own riddle.

I. - J. I suppose to Theoden, older than the Ring would be old indeed, even though it pales in comparison to Treebeard's real age. By the way, isn't Theoden the only one who knows that the Ring has been found, if indeed Gandalf told him that much? Does the line about the Ring mean anything to any of the other Rohirrim?

K. - O. I agree that the most satisfying explanation for Gandalf's coy behavior is that he is simply having fun, and reasserting the Trickster personality we saw in The Hobbit.

P. - R. I think I have a hard time accepting the orcs behavior because in many ways Tolkein de-emphasizes the differences between orcs and men; yet when it comes to the end of battle there is a clear distinction in how the orcs behave and how they are treated. The orcs don't act like zombies when they talk amongst themselves, and they can interbreed with humans, yet when the battle is lost the orcs might as well be zombies.

It is true that Japanese soldiers were conditioned not to surrender; nevertheless, as you note, some were still captured. That's apparently never true of the orcs.

S. - W. Yes, the orcs are monsters who never surrender, and yet, as you note, the orcs, "though brutish, are sentient and alive in the essential meaning of the terms" and "[t]o kill them all, even in self-defense, is horrifying." Tolkien could have gone the easy route and made orcs less human, but he didn't. He also could have raised more questions about the behavior of those who slaughter them, but he doesn't really do that either. Instead he matter-of-factly and impersonally describes a wholesale slaughter, and leave it to the reader to find it disturbing or not, as the case may be.

X. - Y. I agree that the huorns would probably not have distinguished between men and orcs, although it is possible that ents could have controlled their behavior in some way.

No, we know little about what the Rohirrim ate. It seems strange that they would herd horses and not, as far as we know, cattle. They apparently have not fenced in the plains and turned them into wheat fields or sheep farms. There may be some reference to bread, I am not sure. Bread and 'taters are the only starchy staples I can recall in LotR -- I can't recall any mention of rice or noodles or porridge.

It has been a while since we heard Gandalf laugh, hasn't it? There does seem to be a general notion in this chapter that the good guys have been granted a reprieve, and can take a little time to mourn the dead, yes, but also rest, to laugh about being alive, and to eat, drink, smoke and make merry. They are still doing things, but they aren't racing to do it. In hindsight, though, it is a very short reprieve, and indeed Aragorn does all he can to make it shorter. Even Gandalf is surprised at how quickly things go bad, until he guesses that Aragorn had something to do with it.

That line about “ere elf sang or hammer rang” doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the riddle, since it implies that ents came before elves or dwarves, while the rest of the riddle just places them before the Ring and the Moon. And, as you note, it also doesn't fit with Treebeard's story that elves woke the ents by singing to them, although Tolkien did sayTreebeard can be wrong. The whole riddle, including that line, seems to me a little makeshift, perhaps indicating that Gandalf really was composing it as he went along. I think the point of that particular line, though, is that the answer to the riddle is not Elves or Dwarves.

I also like Gandalf's dare, which I characterized as being coy. I like his Trickster personality asserting itself.

I have no answer for you about whether 20 men is a military unit in Rohan. It's an interesting idea, though, and as you say it fits with the division of 120 men. It could also be two units of ten, which is often the size of a section or patrol.

I think Tolkien periodically reminds us that Theoden is considered old, or at least considers himself old, in part because his transformation has been so remarkable, and in part because it makes his death more palatable. Despite Theoden's protestations, however, his age does not handicap him at all. On the contrary, he seems to grow stronger and stronger during the story, and strongest of all just before he is cut down. I might almost call it miraculous, if it had happend in the Primary World.

As for novel vs. romance, I think LotR straddles the line, if there is a line, between the two.

















a.s.
Valinor


Mar 10 2011, 10:18pm

Post #92 of 94 (111 views)
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possibly true, but I thought we were talking about [In reply to] Can't Post

repentant orcs. I didn't mean to sashay into what happens to orcs after they die, and am not sure how I got here.

LOL.

I mean only this: we only see bad orcs, and the "backstory" we get about orcs indicates they were once either elves or men and somehow they were converted into evil beings. And that is what I object to, as I would assume any elf or man who had a soul (if there is such a thing as a soul) has a chance to choose to do good, even if he had been orc for generations of generations.

I don't wish we had more characters feeling sorry for orcs. I wish we did not have corrupted soul-possesing creatures devolved into something else to begin with. I wish we just had monsters, plain and simple.

a.s.

"an seileachan"



Curious
Half-elven


Mar 10 2011, 10:39pm

Post #93 of 94 (133 views)
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It does make things complicated. [In reply to] Can't Post

And perhaps the paradox Tolkien creates is ultimately impossible to resolve.

I wonder what would happen if an infant orc was raised by good humans? By the time we meet most orcs, they have already committed mortal sins and, by my understanding of Tolkien's Secondary World, have no real chance to repent. Whether that is nature or nurture or some combination of the two is unclear.

On the other hand, it really shouldn't be up to the good guys to decide that the orcs cannot repent, so it is important that Aragorn offers them the chance to do so, and that the slaughters of the orcs are in part brought about by the orcs' refusal to surrender.


Curious
Half-elven


Mar 13 2011, 7:10pm

Post #94 of 94 (363 views)
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Okay, back to your answers. [In reply to] Can't Post

Sorry, I got distracted there for a while.

Z. - DD. Nice point about Freca, in particular, being an unsavory character who might burn captives alive. Also, nice point about burning captives not always considered shameful -- I would add that for long periods in history it was an accepted form of capital punishment. Thanks for noting the questions about whether the Rohirrim really hunted the Druedain.

In general I think it is possible to believe that there is a grain of truth in Saruman's lie. As you say, it doesn't seem credible that the Rohirrim would have been squeaky clean for 500 years. Then again, maybe there is no truth at all -- sometimes the most outrageous lies work because people figure there must be a grain of truth in them. No one would just make it up out of nothing, would they? Sometimes they would.

EE. I find it interesting that Erkenbrand feels authorized to grant the Dunlendings amnesty. But then Erkenbrand is Lord of the Westfold, which is adjacent to Dunland. Perhaps Theoden would not expect him to seek permission about such matters, even if Theoden is readily available to discuss it. And perhaps, as you suggest, it is such common behavior among the Rohirrim that it does not occur to Erkenbrand to bring it up. It seems to me that the protocol might be different in Gondor, where power is more centralized.

FF. - GG. I agree that by the rules under which Middle-earth operates, where oaths have real power, Erkenbrand and King Elessar are not guilty of being naive.

HH. I don't know if you deliberately misunderstood my question or not, but you raise a good point. If the Rohirrim did not pay reparations for taking Rohan, why then should the Dunlendings pay reparations now?

II. - KK. I agree that it would be unlike Tolkien to directly comment on specific real-world events. However I think the general contrasts between Middle-earth and the Primary World are intentional and didactic. I feel quite sure that Tolkien believed in mercy in the Primary World, and not just in the Secondary World, even where showing mercy seems risky.

LL. - MM. Then again, Tolkien seems to bend over backwards to make LotR a conflict between free peoples and monsters, with Saruman and Sauron's human armies kind of caught in the middle, deceived and misled, rather than just as monstrous as their masters. The monsters are offered mercy but never, ever take it. The humans are offered mercy and take it. Thus Tolkien externalizes most evil, which is mostly wiped off the earth, and happy days are here again -- except that some evil lives on in humans who exhibit monstrous behavior, i.e., a modern kind of evil.

NN. I agree that lumping all ancient dramas together is unfair. It does seem to me, though, that a certain genre of ancient literature exults in bloody victories, even while others -- for example, The Iliad -- do raise questions about whether victories are worth all the blood. They are war stories from a time when war was personal, when warriors fought each other hand to hand. Slaughter by great warriors is part of the excitement, even if questions get raised later. In the case of ancient monsters, though, few if any people regretted stories of such slaughters.

More later.

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