At 04:26 PM 4/13/2003 -0400, Susan wrote:
>Well, it's one of the more *glaring* examples of Providence, let us say; and
>Tolkien's Providential worldview, in my experience, is one of the things that
>people who don't like the book tend not to like about it. If you don't
>believe in such things in the world, they merely seem hokey in fiction,
>rather than wonderful.
That depends, in my view, entirely on how the author handles them. I do
not see the world as Tolkien does: but Tolkien enables me to see it as he
does. That is the greatest achievement of any author, surely: to enable
readers of different bents to see inside their minds and inhabit their
>And if you do believe in them in the world, sometimes
>they *still* seem hokey in fiction: "Signs" is a good example of this. I
>have as Providential a worldview as anyone I know, and I detested that movie
>because so much of it was cheap string-pulling; one of my parish priests felt
>exactly the same way.
I felt the same way, and so did Berni. Either Shyamalan doesn't really
believe in the view his films propose, or he has a shallow and slick
theology, which would be a shame considering the high level of his
craft. The problem with "Signs" is that it postulates God pushing
characters around like chess pieces, to accomplish weirdly specific things
which, were God so immersed in minutiae, He could have arranged not to need
to happen in the first place; and, were He so minded to do such things to
cause characters to regain their faith, He is just as responsible for
having caused them to lose it in the first place.
Something similar is going on in the latest episodes of the TV series
"Angel", where it is being postulated that all the characters have been
moved around, and some indeed have been born in the first place, for the
sole purpose of being in the right place at the right time to do specific
things, usually either accidentally or otherwise inadvertently, when those
things could just as easily have been accomplished in some other way.
Tolkien does not do anything like that. His Providence never pushes around
characters, it merely lays opportunities out for them, opportunities which
the characters then have to seize, and by doing so, prove their
mettle. For instance, Merry and Eowyn fulfill a prophecy when they kill
the Witch-King, but they are never forced or manipulated into doing it:
they each have to seize their courage on their own initiative, and do so
more than once each, in order to get into that position. There is never
any sense that either was born to do this one thing, or provided with a
specific character trait in order to do it, the way Shyamalan does with his
glasses of water and baseball bats.
>Usually I find Tolkien's view of Providence moving and compelling. Sometimes
>his symbolism strains my credibility, though, as when Aragorn finds the beryl
>in the middle of the bridge: the elves have evidently been flinging
>gemstones around just in case he passes that way, and the thing hasn't gotten
>covered in mud, and none of the bad guys have found it first and picked it
That is only improbable if one is minded to dismiss it casually.
The Elves aren't "flinging" stones around on off-chances. Their minds
don't work that way. We learn why the stone was there: Glorfindel left it
as a token, as he tells Frodo when they meet. He was specifically looking
for Frodo, and others looking in other directions might have left their own
tokens, which do not come into this story. (And why was he
looking? Because Elrond had sent him out. And why did Elrond do
so? Glorfindel explains that too: because Gildor, the Elf that the hobbits
had met in the Shire, had sent word that the Enemy was hunting Frodo. See?
Tolkien leaves no loose ends to be explained by "somehow, I just knew.")
Aragorn specifically takes its presence as a sign that it's safe to pass --
I suppose because if the bad guys were around, they would have found it
first, but more importantly because it tells him that Glorfindel, or
someone like him, has been in the area recently, so he and the hobbits are
not entirely alone and friendless in the wilderness. He is on the bridge
specifically looking for tracks and clues, and if anyone can find a
gemstone covered in mud, he can. (It _was_ in the mud: he says so.)
>I suppose that scene could be compared to the later one when the three
>hunters find the broach of Lothlorien, but I have far less trouble with the
>second, for some reason.
Perhaps because you've seen the occasion it was placed there, and why this
was done; and in the vastness of Rohan, with the orcs already passing, it's
less improbable for it not to have been found; and because by this time
we've seen Aragorn's skill as a tracker, so we know what he can do.
- David Bratman