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7365Re: Tolkien and technology

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  • David F. Porteous
    Jan 2, 2003
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      <<Alexei wrote: I can't agree. What the Elves do doesn't at all resemble
      traditional models of magic.>>

      What traditional models are you referring to? I can't dispute that point
      unless I know what you have established as a basis for "real" magic.

      <<Fëanor and the Noldor are consistently portrayed as craftsmen, not
      magicians; the Silmarils and the Rings of Power are "forged", clearly put
      together by some sort of physical process, even though it's not one we're
      familiar with.>>

      I would be curious to learn how you would go about constructing a ring which
      you considered magical and what part of that process you feel is lacking in
      the construction of these rings. Simply because the rings of power were
      forged does not by itself mean they were not magical. As for Fëanor being a
      craftsman he certainly was, but as I said that does not preclude him from
      also being able to make items of magic. "Then he began a long and secret
      labour, and he summoned all his lore, and his power, and his subtle skill;
      and at the end of all he made the Silmarils... And the inner fire of the
      Silmarils Fëanor made of the blended light of the trees of Valinor...." --
      (Sil. p67). Note the terms "power" and "subtle skill" -- the Silmarils were
      not simply an application of technology, of "lore", they were a creation
      beyond technology which depended on something being given to them by their
      creator. Part of that something may have been art or craft, part was most
      certainly magic. If you are implying that the elven understanding of the
      physical universe was sufficiently advanced to trap an endless source of
      light in a crystal I would say that such advanced technology would be
      otherwise represented in elven culture, it is not possible to go directly
      from living in trees to manipulating wave/particles; there are several steps
      in-between and while I'm prepared to countenance that elves may be very
      advanced I would first like to see some kind of evidence of these
      intervening steps.

      <<The passage Jan Galkowski just quoted from FotR (about the elven-cloaks)
      makes it clear that the Elves don't think of what they do as "magic"...>>

      No it doesn't, it makes it clear that the elves don't think of the cloaks as
      magic, which they aren't. I haven't heard anyone say they are. The quote
      actually tells us how the cloaks are made, somebody weaves them -- perhaps
      it's very technologically advanced weaving? If the elves had been
      questioned about the mirror I doubt their answer would have been as prosaic.

      <<...it looks like "magic" to outsiders (viz. the old chestnut: "A
      sufficiently advanced technology is undistinguishable from magic").>>

      And of course the reverse, magic might easily be mistaken for very advanced
      technology, is necessarily true. Unless of course your contention is that
      magic does not exist at all in Tolkien, in which case we cannot have this

      <<It seems evident to me that Tolkien (not himself a scientist) envisioned
      his Elves as possessing a science that gave them a far more intimate
      knowledge of the workings of the universe than 20th-century human science
      has managed to achieve, and as having a technology that reflects this.>>

      You may think it strange, but I would agree with that. Only in general
      sentiment though. Elves, as is the case with many of the peoples of our
      earth, have a spiritual understanding of their world and that this
      understanding does not derive through equations and formulae. But isn't
      this closer to what we would consider religion and mysticism than science?
      I've posed that question and I apologise as I'm also going to answer it. It
      is religion and mysticism -- which for Tolkien's world is real; discussions
      on how this pertains to our world are tangential and irrelevant -- which is
      only the shortest of steps away from magic.

      <<He didn't bother to speculate in detail on the nature of this science and
      its technological applications (which would have turned his books into
      science fiction), since this was not where his primary interest lay.>>

      Couldn't the argument be made that the reason Tolkien didn't speculate in
      this way was because there was nothing on which to speculate? Tolkien
      didn't speculate on a great many things which weren't part of his books.

      Tolkien did however use the actual words "magic" and "sorcery" in the
      narrative of his books, not just as misconceptions by characters. I cannot
      believe he would use such terms when he in fact specifically did not mean
      magic or sorcery, but technology.

      -- David
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