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3707Tolkien's runes of power (was Re: Digest Number 632)

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  • Michael Martinez
    Jul 22, 2001
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      --- In mythsoc@y..., "David J. Finnamore" <daeron@b...> wrote:
      > --- In mythsoc@y..., "Trudy Shaw" <tgshaw@e...> wrote:
      > > The "native talent" description is supported by Tolkien at the
      > > end of letter #155, where he says, "Anyway, a difference in the
      > > use of 'magic' in this story is that it is not to be come by
      > > by 'lore' or spells; but is in an inherent power not possessed or
      > > attainable by Men as such. Aragorn's 'healing' might be regarded
      > > as 'magical', or at least a blend of magic with pharmacy
      > > and 'hypnotic' processes. But it is (in theory) reported by
      > > hobbits who have very little notions of philosophy and science;
      > > while A. is not a pure 'Man', but at long remove one of
      > > the 'children of Luthien'."
      > It seems to me, then, that there is a clear distinction between
      > what he, as an "outside observer" believed about what was behind
      > his tale, and what those who (in theory) reported the tale
      > believed. The story itself, unless my memory is failing, makes
      > numerous references to a relationship between magical power and the
      > learning of lore.

      I cannot think of any such references. However, the paragraph cited
      above is the same one against which Tolkien wrote the marginal note
      pointing out that Numenoreans used spells in making swords.

      I was sure it wouldn't be long before an Anglo-Saxon-centric argument
      was made about Tolkien's magic, but it can be shown that his magic
      closely resembles nothing and vaguely resembles everything. I am
      sure that was his intent, but I doubt he ever confessed to doing
      things that way in writing.

      Gandalf and the wizards, for example, exhibit powers which are found
      in Greek mythology, from Zeus hurtling thunderbolts at people to
      various gods changing into animals and trees (Radagast being a master
      of shapes and hues, although there are people who argue endlessly
      and, in my opinion, pointlessly about how Gandalf's comment cannot
      possibly refer to anything like Radagast changing his own shape).

      And Tolkien made a point of calling the Rohirrim "Homeric horsemen",
      although there were no such horsemen in Homer (that I recall). On
      the other hand, Tolkien exhibited a fondness for Alexander the Great,
      at least to the extent that Alexander is mentioned more than once in
      Tolkien's letters.

      The Rohirrim thus appear to be loosely based on the Goths as they
      were perceived to be in the 1940s (at the time of their entries into
      the Roman Empire) as far as culture goes; their "translated" language
      and nomenclature are taken directly from Anglo-Saxon (Mercian,
      according to some people, but I don't know enough to distinguish such
      features of language); their ideas and values are "Homeric", even
      down to men forseeing their deaths and taking oaths which carry them
      to the far ends of the world; and they are very close to being a
      rewrite of the Third House of the Edain, the Marachians.

      Helm Hammerhand resembles Hurin in some ways, and Eorl the Young
      might be modelled on Hador. At the time he wrote THE LORD OF THE
      RINGS, Tolkien knew far more about those earlier characters than he
      was revealing to his Hobbit readership, so he seems to have had no
      qualms about borrowing from himself. And both Helm and Hurin owe a
      little something to Herakles, being men of great strength with
      tempers that get them into trouble. And they both lose their
      families because of their actions.
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