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Unfinished Tales

thorinoakenshield
Rivendell


Sep 14 2013, 8:12pm

Post #1 of 15 (333 views)
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Unfinished Tales Can't Post

I have been wondering for the past few days weather or not unfinished tales is considered "canon". The only reason I say this is because, as you probably know, the stories are not exactly finished. I have always considered it "canon", but I wanted to know what others think.


(This post was edited by thorinoakenshield on Sep 14 2013, 8:14pm)


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Sep 14 2013, 8:48pm

Post #2 of 15 (209 views)
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It depentds on how you define 'canon' [In reply to] Can't Post

If we count only the material prepared and finished for publication withing Prof. Tolkien's lifetime as canon then even The Silmarillion is non-canon.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


demnation
Rohan

Sep 14 2013, 9:11pm

Post #3 of 15 (191 views)
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There are so many varients [In reply to] Can't Post

of certain stories, and so much posthumous material, that I think it is practically impossible to define what is canon and what isn't.

"In the beginning the Universe was created.This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


Elizabeth
Valinor


Sep 14 2013, 9:27pm

Post #4 of 15 (194 views)
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You can accept everything in it as "canon"... [In reply to] Can't Post

...except for all the things Tolkien changed his mind on. Unfortunately, they're numerous and hard to track.








Fredeghar Wayfarer
Lorien


Sep 17 2013, 5:11am

Post #5 of 15 (130 views)
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Mostly canon [In reply to] Can't Post

From an internal continuity standpoint, I'd consider Unfinished Tales (mostly) canon. Most of it can work without contradicting the other published books. Plus, there's some pretty important info that would have to be disregarded if it's non-canon, like the Wizards being Maiar.

Where you run into trouble is with the chapters that are collections of notes like The History of Galadriel and Celeborn. Was Celeborn a Falmari or Sindar Elf? Did Galadriel participate in Feanor's rebellion or did she leave Valinor on her own? I like to look at these chapters as legends that are told within Middle-earth about important people. They can be seen as canon tales, just ones with unanswered questions.


(This post was edited by Fredeghar Wayfarer on Sep 17 2013, 5:12am)


noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Sep 17 2013, 9:19am

Post #6 of 15 (114 views)
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"Loose cannon"? - versions and traditional tales (Tam Lin as an example) [In reply to] Can't Post

I think it's important to remember that Unfinished Tales is Unfinished - as with the Silmarillion and material found in HoME, we have texts which had not been completed and passed for publication by JRRT. It's down to speculation what changes he might have made during the completion of these stories (for consistency or otherwise), had he finished them himself. So the picture is less tidy (and more interesting) than if we only had the material published by Tolkien during his lifetime.

With Tolkien of course we do have a lot of material to work upon, lovingly assembled into HoME, and other posthumous publications. So it is an odd situation. A sort of hierarchy probably presents - you might hold that:
What Tolkien wrote and published himself is more canonical than unfinished published works.
Anything written by JRRT is more canonical than stuff written by someone else...

Though of course that is disputable: if more people have seen the films than have read the books, or if more people prefer an aspect of the film version, does that become, in a way, more canonical? (I presume that would be what would happen in a tale which spent time in oral tradition before variants were collected and studied - a sort of Darwinistic process would be going on, the more popular ideas being the ones likely to be retained in future tellings).


Prof Tom Shippey has an interesting argument about this in his book The Road To Middle-earth. He notes that the effect we're left with is something quite like the situation in the traditional tales with were part of Tolkien's inspiration. Shippey's idea (as I understand it) is not that Tolkien created this effect deliberately, but that he might not be displeased that this is what we are in fact left with. Stories such as Sir Gawain, Shippey points out, have passed through many minds, tongues and pens: so multiple and sometimes contradictory versions exist. Plot details and character motives (stated or implied) can move around. Shippey has an example involving a story of Brunhilde; but I have lent the book, and don't remember the details (and similarly, if I have mis-presented Prof Shippey's idea because of having to do this from memory, please do chip in & say so, if you know more!)

As an example I know better, I can offer you Tam Lin, a story from the English-Scots borders, which is known in multiple versions (Childs alone collected 14 variants). Sadly, I can't now find a web page which tabulates a lot of these. But here is a flavour of the "usual" plot and its variations. I think it will provide a good example to compare with the Tolkien situation.




So - Tam Lin and his variants:


Core: Janet, a noble maiden, is warned not to visit Carter-haugh, because the faeries are occupying it, and exacting tribute from any visitors. But Janet says that this land is hers by right and goes there.
Variants: Different details of what the tribute might be, and whether it is possibly going to be (or very likely to be) her virginity. Some versions have Janet acting in ways that are likely to be provoking to the faeries (wearing green, plucking plants, plucking a rose specifically). The audience can gather different inferences about whether Janet is a foolish girl to ignore sensible anti-faery precautions, or is doing these things as a deliberate challenge.

Core: Tam Lin appears, and takes Janet to Faerie. On her return, she discovers she is pregnant.
Variants: various inferences as to whether Janet has been abducted and raped, or whether she and Tam are willing lovers.

Core: At Janet's castle, folk are aghast at Janet's pregnancy. She sets out again to Carter-haugh
Variants: In several versions Janet gives a robust defence. The possibility of a herbally induced abortion is usually mentioned. Differing statements and inferences about whether Janet is determined not to do this, is considering it, or plans it. Does she go to Carter-haugh to try and meet Tam again, or to collect abortifacients?

Core: At Carter-haugh, Janet and Tam meet again. She discovers that he is a mortal man, held prisoner by the faeries. He tells her of a way in which she can rescue him, after which they will marry. She must ambush a procession in which he will be riding, drag him from his horse and hold on to him, despite the changes in form he will then magically undergo.
Variants: Information on Tam's background, including details making him a highly eligible husband. Tam offers Janet this way forward as an alternative to abortion; or she extracts some or all of the necessary information from him by the "correct" questions.

Core: Janet ambushes the procession, and successfully drags Tam from his horse, holds on to him through several magical transformations, and so wins him as her husband.
Variants: The faery queen either rages at Tam for having tricked her, or congratulates Janet (for her bravery, or for the excellent match she has made).

I think this is a good example for the way that stated or implied character motivation moves around. One imagines that the details of sex and abortions were too much for some storytellers (or audiences), whereas others might have wanted to turn this into a moral tale about ladies venturing out unprotected. Some versions make less sense than others, perhaps because of omitting details which can be found in other versions. Overall interpretations therefore vary hugely - in the bleak corner, one can imagine that Tam cynically engineers the whole thing so as to use Janet as a means of escape, and will dump her shortly after the credits finish rolling. But I much prefer it as a story of a brave and resourceful protagonist who stands up for herself and rescues her lover.

I used "core" in the above plot outline to indicate features which are always or nearly always there. But there are no rules (except that boring or incompetent stories tend to get either mocked or ignored). Someone wanting to write a variant now can do so; either holding with the "core" or deliberately pushing against it (e.g. one could write a version in which the Faery Queen is the wronged party, with predatory Janet seducing & making off with her lover...

The original version of Tam Lin is now well lost from the Tree of Tales - those leaves have long since blown away, but the branch remains hale and each spring it puts forth stories anew. Shippey, with his Brunhilde example, suggests that the original story might be reconstructed by a sort of philological or phylogenetic method. Myself, I'm not so sure that's either possible or desirable: it seems a bit like the simplistic search for a "missing link" fossil - something that would be conveniently part man part ape. I imagine that if we could magically recapture every variant of a story such as Tam Lin, we'd find a very complex patter of mutation and interbreeding. Nor, of course is there any guarantee that the earlier versions would be "truer" or even better as stories.

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimė I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


squire
Valinor


Sep 17 2013, 12:13pm

Post #7 of 15 (109 views)
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"The original version of Tam Lin is now well lost from the Tree of Tales" [In reply to] Can't Post

That's a fine example of the nature of legend, and how the process of retelling a story changes it - like a literary version of the game of 'telephone' or 'six degrees of separation'.

I'm not sure if this illustration is really applicable to Tolkien's writings, whose 'original versions' are anything but well lost. They are well-documented as to authorship, sequence of composition, and nature of publication (i.e., whether by the author or by his sole executor). The books Unfinished Tales and History of Middle-earth are not dusty manuscripts researched in some archive. Their contents were such manuscripts (or typescripts), of course; some seem to claim that this qualifies the posthumous books as legends. But 30 or 40 years of dust accumulated in an Oxford garage owned by the known author is just not the same as 300 or 400 years of dust from assorted libraries across Europe. It's way too soon to be accepting all of Tolkien's variations on his tales as equally "likely" depending on which we like more, and I'm not sure I'll ever accept your suggestion that "Anything written by JRRT is more canonical than stuff written by someone else..." as if canon was a prize awarded for literary merit.

I've never liked the idea of 'canon' when talking about Tolkien's literary world. The question I usually ask when someone inquires about whether this or that piece of writing is canon is, "what do you need to know for?" That is, what is the purpose of a canon construct when reading imaginative literature critically? As far as I can tell, the most common use of the canon idea is writing new stories that are agreeably consistent with some existing set of stories. More casually, I guess canon becomes a short-cut to reading about the stories with a sense of their authority; one needn't pay attention to this one, it's not canon, but that other one must be read because it is. The issue gets even weirder when story-facts are considered canon but are found within stories that as a whole are debatably canon or not. That's a situation endemic in Tolkien's fantasy work, I think, because he was so fond of constructing his later stories from an existing set of story-facts. And there's the problem that Tolkien himself was interested in maintaining a mock-historical consistency in his published works - giving those who pursue the idea of canon some reason to believe that Tolkien himself would approve of and could answer such questions were he still around to ask.

For myself, I'm quite happy reading 'contradictory' versions of Tolkien's stories and wondering at the scope of his imagination and the range of his literary skills. It never occurs to me to ask which is more and which is less 'correct' or 'real' in relation to the sheet-anchor of his world, The Lord of the Rings and its appendices. The more one reads of his other writings from his own editing and from his son's, the less useful seems the idea of saying, this is real ... but that is not.



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'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Sep 17 2013, 1:27pm

Post #8 of 15 (104 views)
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clearly I must learn to write more clearly :) [In reply to] Can't Post

Quite so: Tolkien's work, known from the typescripts and notes of one author are not the same as an oral tale grown up over goodness knows how long, via many storytellers (presumably). I think the parallel (if you agree that there is a parallel ) is interesting because the two situations are so different, not because they are they same.

I advanced the idea that "Anything written by JRRT is more canonical than stuff written by someone else..." but then said it was contentious. My own view is that an early Tolkien draft, abandoned perhaps for reason of inconsistency with his other ideas, or for because of various writerly problems is not necessarily any more what he meant Middle-earth & its characters to be than something written by a fan-fiction author. The Tolkien piece might of course be interesting as part of the study of how his ideas evolved and how his mind worked - the fanfic piece cannot have those merits, of course (it might have other ones).

I certainly agree that , if it is useful at all to ask whether something is canonical, it is not wise to expect a straightforward answer!


Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimė I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


CuriousG
Valinor


Sep 17 2013, 2:15pm

Post #9 of 15 (100 views)
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Elves [In reply to] Can't Post

Go not to the Elves to ask if something is canon, for they will say both yes and no.

Dwarves will forge a cannon for a price, Men will shoot a cannon at you if you inquire too closely about it, and Hobbits will plant flowers in the cannon bore or place it in the garden as a bird house. Tricky question depending on whom you ask.


noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Sep 17 2013, 2:19pm

Post #10 of 15 (100 views)
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"The dominant mode of criticism in fanfic circles is to compare a work to the canon" (Cory Doctorow)... [In reply to] Can't Post

This seems like an interesting quote (from an essay "In praise of fan fiction" (2007) - it picks up on some of the issues (is it useful to divide things into cannon and not-cannon? On what grounds? Who gets to decide?):

Quote

The question of respect is, perhaps, a little thornier. The dominant mode of criticism in fanfic circles is to compare a work to the canon — "Would Spock ever say that, in ‘real' life?" What's more, fanfic writers will sometimes apply this test to works that are of the canon, as in "Spock never would have said that, and Gene Roddenberry has no business telling me otherwise."

This is a curious mix of respect and disrespect. Respect because it's hard to imagine a more respectful stance than the one that says that your work is the yardstick against which all other work is to be measured — what could be more respectful than having your work made into the gold standard? On the other hand, this business of telling writers that they've given their characters the wrong words and deeds can feel obnoxious or insulting.
Writers sometimes speak of their characters running away from them, taking on a life of their own. They say that these characters — drawn from real people in our lives and mixed up with our own imagination — are autonomous pieces of themselves. It's a short leap from there to mystical nonsense about protecting our notional, fictional children from grubby fans who'd set them to screwing each other or bowing and scraping before some thinly veiled version of the fanfic writer herself.

There's something to the idea of the autonomous character. Big chunks of our wetware are devoted to simulating other people, trying to figure out if we are likely to fight or fondle them. It's unsurprising that when you ask your brain to model some other person, it rises to the task. But that's exactly what happens to a reader when you hand your book over to him: he simulates your characters in his head, trying to interpret that character's actions through his own lens.
Writers can't ask readers not to interpret their work. You can't enjoy a novel that you haven't interpreted — unless you model the author's characters in your head, you can't care about what they do and why they do it. And once readers model a character, it's only natural that readers will take pleasure in imagining what that character might do offstage, to noodle around with it. This isn't disrespect: it's active reading.


Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimė I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Sep 17 2013, 2:19pm

Post #11 of 15 (84 views)
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I wish we had a "like" button :) // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimė I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


Ethel Duath
Valinor


Sep 17 2013, 3:52pm

Post #12 of 15 (86 views)
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We (sort of) do. It's "Mods up!" And I second your "like" and suggest [In reply to] Can't Post

we quaff a tall glass of cannonade in tribute. Laugh


Fredeghar Wayfarer
Lorien


Sep 17 2013, 6:54pm

Post #13 of 15 (92 views)
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Different strokes, Squire [In reply to] Can't Post

The idea of canon is important to some fans and irrelevant to others. It depends on how you approach Tolkien's work. One reader might simply want to enjoy Tolkien's writing skills and imagination or learn about the different drafts a work went through over time. Another reader might want to play the "great game" (to borrow a phrase from Sherlock Holmes fans) and pretend that Middle-earth was a real place with a real history. This kind of reader enjoys the exercise of determining what was the "real" version of events. It's this last group that cares about canon and I don't think it's right to dismiss this approach (especially since I tend to favor it myself).

For this group, the purpose of canon is to create a fictional world as internally consistent as possible. This helps it come alive more fully in the reader's mind. As fascinating as the many drafts and versions of the stories are, they call attention to the fictional nature of Middle-earth and undermine the internal narrative. If one's goal is to establish an "official" version of Middle-earth, the contradictions and issues of canon become important.

In my case, I approach fiction this way partly because I grew up a fan of comic books. Comic book universes have elaborate internal "continuity" (i.e. canon) that establishes what is or isn't true about the characters. These universes often have cosmic events that alter reality and make changes to the continuity. It thus becomes important to know the canon to fully understand the story and what version of a character you're reading about. My brain is sort of hard-wired to approach fiction this way. There is an official canon for a fictional character's world and any inconsistencies or early drafts are merely legends or are in need of an explanation (even if it's only in my own mind. "Head-canon," I believe is the term).

I find this approach to stories to be fun and challenging. Your mileage may vary.


noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Sep 17 2013, 8:59pm

Post #14 of 15 (79 views)
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Hmm- perhaps it's like… [In reply to] Can't Post

Hmm- perhaps it's like some other genres: some authors of historical fiction take great pains over fitting their story into the actual events (or feasible interpretations of them). Some crime writers are careful to follow genuine police procedures. Some readers of these fictions also care about this, & complain about errors (or, presumably enjoy accuracy as a merit).

This instinct can apply to a surprising range of fiction- I remember talking to a train buff who told me that the original Thomas the Tank Engine stories observed real railway operating procedures well. If you mentally removed the sentient engines, you got incidents which could have happened on the railway, or actually had done so at some point. He didn't like the work of Audry Jr so much, because it became more fanciful.

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimė I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"


noWizardme
Tol Eressea


Sep 17 2013, 9:33pm

Post #15 of 15 (88 views)
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"the exercise of determining what was the "real" version of events" [In reply to] Can't Post

A lot of us get involved in that on this site, whether or not we see it as the Hunt for Cannon*. We have fun with lots of questions which are then examined by reference to the texts and by deduction or inference from them.

"The Hunt for Cannon"? I believe that Aragorn found it in the forest after much searching & brought it home in a sack… Wink

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimė I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"

 
 

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