Thursday, January 31, 2019

Further Tolkien Branching

Reprinted from 2009. Tolkien is always more complicated than one notices at first glance. Commenter Earl Wajenberg has pointed out to me what happens to Tolkien's humans when they try to use magic; not is the effect uniform on the other races. Something similar happens in Lewis's books.

Reflecting on the liberal vision as reflected in fantasy literature, I discovered that Tolkien records many types of vision in LOTR. There are dreams, vague but accurate for Frodo, specific and revelatory to Boromir. The pool of Galadriel shows possible things, the Palantir only true ones, though it can mislead. There is the searching eye of Sauron, which many can sense and occasionally see; plus creatures from other realms, such as Nazgul - the ability to perceive these is heightened by the ring, but Glorfindel seems to do so unaided. There is the waking memory of the elves; Sam's vision of himself as gardener of the world when he takes the ring; Faramir's apprehension of Boromir, a true sight which seems like a vision to him; sights and sounds in the barrow, candles in the Dead Marshes, and the intuitions of many. Quite a thorough list for one book.

This in turn reminded me of an earlier post of mine, including the widely different experiences of extended life in Tolkien: elves, wizards, Gollum, ents, Bombadil, dwarves, and various monsters all have long lifespans, but their experiences are quite distinct. Another thorough list by Tolkien.

Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy has a post of how LOTR is really about property law, and the various means of acquisition.

I. Acquisition By Creation
II. Acquisition By Conquest
III.Acquisition By Find
IV. Acquisition By Adverse Possession
V. Acquisition By Agreement
VI. Acquisition By Gift
VII.Temporary Acquisition By Necessity
VIIIAttempted Re-acquisition By Self-Help

Somin links to a similar article by Canadian Jacob Kaufman.

Where does it end? Tolkien's characters experience not only a wide range of temptations - power, honor, escape from duty, simpler life, beauty, wealth - but many methods of temptation. There are varieties of government and varieties of evil, all in fairly thorough detail


Retriever said...

These posts on LOTR are great! All of us are LOTR obsessed (especially. the youngest). Endless dinner arguments and debates about characters, which end with somebody leaving to cue up the movie or open the book to point to the deciding evidence for their theory

OBloodyHell said...

You may also find the probably out of print "Rosinante" series (SF) by Alexis Gilliland of interest.

"Governments get money the same way that individuals do... Primary Production, Secondary Production, Forced Redistribution, and Voluntary Redistribution - make, trade, steal, and beg. There are no other ways.
The difference is that Governments are inefficient at making, trading and begging(except from other governments), so they have to steal."

- Alexis A. Gilliland -

Texan99 said...

Nearly all serious stories about societies are about how people deal with the idea of property. Only the vaguest sort of yarn neglects the problem, as if the problem of how to ensure that people are motivated to grow food and make other necessities of life were trivial distractions from the plot. Even in LOTR, food more or less appears out of nowhere, just as it does for small children whose parents take care of the hard stuff. In many fairy tales, food is openly a result of magic. Who needs property when magic forces supply your material needs?

sykes.1 said...

People miss Tolkein’s deep preparation. His immersion in Nordic, Anglo-Saxon, and Finnish mythology, his experience of WW I, including his service at the Somme, and his professional training as an academic philologist. No other writer of mythology, sword and socery, has anywhere near his background. And that is the source of their inferority.

By the way, both Auel and Howard conducted deep research into the history and anthropology of their sagas, which is why their stories worked. Who does that today?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ T99 - your comment about meals appearing is enough like Lewis's that I suspect you have read it and are letting us in on it. He uses the example of "The Wind in the Willows," praising that type of story, whose characters have a foot in both the adult and children's world, as correct for particular purposes. It is in On Stories which I no longer own, but I think is in the essay "On Three Ways of Writing For Children."

There is also "Food in The Hobbit," which I linked in 2009. It is meant to be evocative, and cannot be realistic.

Texan99 said...

I don't remember reading it, but it's entirely possible that I did and retained the idea. I've read nearly all of his stuff at one time or another.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Well you got it just right. Mind like a steel trap.

Grim said...

In fairness to Tolkien, he does touch on the issue in FotR, when Frodo is afraid to go by Farmer Maggot's because he thinks the old man will remember him as a boy stealing mushrooms from his fields. Maggot is portrayed quite justly there, not as a mean spirited hoarder but as a farmer who has every right to be angry even about boyish thefts (and his home is also populated by big dogs, who are there precisely to protect his property from interlopers, him living near the edge of Hobbit country).

Texan99 said...

Right, but the farmer appears for one scene to make a point. The rest of the time the food just shows up in the stewpot. Sometimes there's brief mention of catching a rabbit and finding a wild onion. Other times the elves put magic crackers in your packs that last for months. Very early in the quest there are still inns, which I guess are close enough to the farms to buy supplies. Then there are big cities; there may be markets, but you never see one.

Korora said...

Thing is, if Tolkien was an allegorist then I'm Tar-Minastir.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I agree. I think the thing runs deeper than that. I don't think he set out to illustrate the different possibilities of life extension, use of magic, or ownership of property. I think these things just emerge from his having thought through over many years how "people" really do act in different circumstances. I don't think he set out to show how extreme life extension would affect simple and decent creatures, but then he had Gollum and needed to think through why?